K Paoletter 34: Coming Attractions

Hello esteemed KPaoletter readers!

The KPaoletta you’re accustomed to hearing from is currently holed up inside Rachel Monroe’s writing shed in Marfa, TX, surrounded by four desert cats and the 350-odd pages of his soon-to-be-completed manuscript. 

And so, the woman who has witnessed your beloved author put all these words on the page over the last year is tagging in for this month’s dispatch. That would be me, Theresa, his concept editor, proofreader, and wife. 

As a writer myself (copywriter by day, poet by always) I know that lots of people have romantic visions of the practice of writing, picturing gorgeously tortured wordsmiths surrounded by half-empty coffee cups who just “sit down at a typewriter and bleed” (literally no, and GROSS, Hemingway). 

Naturally, most people are curious about how a book gets made! (Much to Kyle’s deep disquietude… dude’s gotta work on his elevator pitch before this book tour.) But the act of writing a book in 2023 happens to look a lot more like, well, this: 

~8:00am: wake up, shower, see what havoc the bunnies have wreaked throughout the night. 

8:15am: make the first cup of coffee and settle in to read on the couch. It’s time to dive into a title like A Field Guide to Sprawl or Storming Caesar’s Palace or Phoenix in the 20th Century that you have either sourced from a niche online used bookstore using your precious advance funds or checked out from MIT’s architecture library by impersonating your post-doc neighbor with his university ID. Oh, the glamor!

8:45am: rise from the couch, let loose one of the day’s first heavy sighs, and prop your laptop open on the kitchen counter while making coffee #2. Work then migrates to the kitchen table for a while, where you eat a bagel, read various articles and grim headlines about climate change and policy (“Hey honey, did you know that 500 people in the Rio Verde Foothills no longer have water?”) and pick up where you left off writing yesterday.

9:30am: now seated at your desk, surrounded by a precariously-balanced ziggurat of all the (60+?) books you’ve read while reporting, the time has come to get FOCUSED, okay? Your schedule has you writing one chapter, about 10k words, every two weeks. 

~Noon: at this point, your wife invites you to eat lunch and go on a walk. Thus begins the day’s transition from “soft pants” to “hard pants,” wherein first you bemoan the fact that she’s already dressed while gesturing vaguely at today’s combo of flannel and Golden State Warriors sweats. Finally, once ready to face the day, you leave to feel the sun on your face (aaand probably pick up another library book or six. And more than likely complain about the weather in New England.)

1:00pm: once home, it’s time again to clock into the word factory, but not before circling the apartment a few times while bemoaning the afternoon’s events. You have a CALL today, an INTERVIEW! With a water manager or a professor or an esteemed architect or a baker pioneering the use of heritage Southwestern grains and flours! And you need to prepare your questions but you are simply SO tired and how are you supposed to get any work done anyway when the bunnies keep lying around sleeping and showing off their excellent fluffy tummies?! And yet, you soldier on, like the true professional you are. 

~5:30pm: your wife enters the room to a familiar sight—shoulders up around your ears, fingers typing at the speed of light, steam practically rising from your scalp. She massages your head, tells you your brain must have a six-pack by now, and your work for the day starts winding down. “I wrote 2,000 words today,” you say. And then you do it again tomorrow. 

So now you know how the veggie sausage gets made! No literary coffee shop scenes, no typewriters, and a lot of time spent looking at a screen. 

There are a few things that didn’t make it into this illustrious day in the life, though, that I would be remiss to skip. 

The 50 hours a month also spent doing part-time work from that very same desk, because book advances don’t pay out all (or even half) upfront, and writers still have to pay rent even when you’re eyeball-deep in such a massive project. 

The calls and emails back and forth with magazine editors, because once you turn in the book you’ll need to have a few more projects lined up. (See previous point.)

And the sheer determination, force of will, and gratitude that Kyle has brought to this work. 

We went out for dinner to celebrate a mid-manuscript milestone, and talked about this: that he’s wanted to publish a book for basically his whole life, and every day that he spends writing means it’s actually happening. That not everybody takes their deadline seriously, but he does, because not everyone gets this opportunity, and he did. That writing a book is nowhere near as grueling as crossing the border without water under the blazing sun, or trying to support your family on $29,000 in America in 2023, or surviving an orphanage and then incarceration and teaching yourself to read and write in a jail cell—and that it’s a privilege to be trusted with these stories. (You’ll read about it all.)

On June 1, he’ll send a simple-looking email with a big ol’ attachment, and that’s what it’ll look like to turn in this book. Decades of writing, years of pitching and querying, and 12 months of reporting trips and days spent at the keyboard, all rolled up into one doc. 

So do me a favor—hit reply, tell him he’s a genius (our 3-year old niece says so, so it must be true!), and remind him that after June 1, he can take a couple of long naps just like the bunnies. 

Thanks for letting me hang out with you!



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