Swoon Author Tarun Shanker: The Infinite Potential of Editing

Hi Swooners,

Tarun here. And I have two-day-old news to report. Our book is actually out in the world! We’ve witnessed it firsthand. After all those days spent reading in bookstores as kids, or taking motivational trips while we were working on our manuscript, it’s a bit surreal to see a book with our names sitting on a shelf. Even though review copies went out last year and we got a box of our finished copies a few weeks ago, there’s just something about seeing it in a store, purchasable and readable by anyone, that really drives home how final and finished it is. I'm actually writing this solo because Kelly is still at the bookstore, petting the cover. Please bring her snacks.

kelly tvm

It’s exciting of course, but it’s a little sad as well. Because we’ve worked on These Vicious Masks for so long, there was actually a part of me that was weirdly comfortable being in an endless editing stage. It probably stems from the way I first got into writing. When I was in high school, I started a website, hoping to be a film critic one day, but after a while, I noticed my reviews weren’t quite satisfying enough to write. Whenever I saw a bad film, my mind went all over the place coming up with alternatives and solutions to turn it into the film I wish I’d seen. Whenever I saw a good one, I wanted to figure out how I could experience those magical parts again, but also somehow in a new way. Creative writing ended up being the perfect way to accomplish this. Or rather, creative revising. First drafts have always felt like an endless stream of failure flowing from my fingers, but in edits, I could look at the plot and characters logically and find ways to solve the problems. There’s not much that feels as good as finding ways to make a messy story fit together better.

In editing, it feels like there’s infinite potential. I can always revisit that meet-cute, smooth out the imperfections and make it even more magical. The perfect witty line for a scene might randomly pop into my head three months after writing the rest of the scene, but I can just slip it in right where it belongs. And I can write a thousand different versions of a first kiss, looking for the best one while having fun writing the other ones along the way. It’s always nice and motivating to look back at my writing from a couple months earlier and see how much it’s improved since then. At the same time though, it makes my imagination go wild: if I continue at this rate, how much better will it be with two more months?

Fortunately, I have a smart co-author and editor who kept that from continuing until the end of time. But even with the book out in the world, I have to remind myself to admit there’s nothing else to be done. If I see a quote of ours online, I can’t move a word to make it more poetic. If I see a criticism, I can’t brainstorm through possible solutions, as if I was in a writing workshop. When I read the first kiss, I know that version is how it’s going to stay. All the other possibilities are gone. It’s out of our hands. Kelly and I are basically readers now, too.

But the best part is that we aren’t the only readers. We aren’t the only ones who can argue about which characters are trustworthy or which powers are dangerous. The book community is where the infinite potential goes. We get to see all the unexpected ways people will interpret this world, how they will react to the characters and what hints of ours, purposeful or accidental, they might pick up on. I think that’s a pretty good trade-off. And in any case, I can still take comfort in all the possibilities for Book 2.

Author spotlight

Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

Tarun and Kelly met in a freshman year writing class at NYU and started writing These Vicious Masks a few …

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