I’ve been seeing this phrase in many of the reviews for the Amazon Novel Contest losers, among whose number I reside: “It loses focus around the midpoint and the pace slows down.”
Okay, I can understand what they’re talking about as far as pace . . . they want the Harry Potter speed without any of the musing or figuring-out or what’s called “sequel” in the scene-and-sequel paradigm. Some people don’t care to take a breath when they’re reading. Others do. Sometimes it’s appropriate for a story to proceed at a slower pace. That one I’d have to take on a case-by-case basis.
But the FOCUS issue bugs me. It’s too vague. What IS focus? A few of the books that I read were slammed with this ambiguous hammer, but when I read them, I didn’t find that they meandered, wandered off topic, or became picaresques akin to “Don Quixote.” In a couple of cases, I did find that the protagonist’s goal changed, and therefore the protagonist stopped chasing A and began pursuing B. I don’t consider this “losing focus.” In another book, the protagonist’s life changed and the situation became so different that the earlier goals made no sense. Again, that is CHANGING focus, I would think.
I just wonder what exactly they MEAN, because it’s a vague term. I suspect different readers will feel differently about what this means, but I would like to know what it COULD mean when they say that.
In other news . . . LITTLE RITUALS is a free bird again. As soon as it was released from the Amazon contest by not making the finals, I re-contacted an agent who had been interested in it several years ago and who had said that if I revised, she’d like another look. Well, I’ve revised several times, and I think the book hangs together. I queried the agent by email and got the go-ahead to send the first hundred pages and a synopsis. She also wanted to know: “What’s the book about? I don’t want the pitch, but what the story really is–what the heroine has learned–the AHA that we get from reading it.”
Here’s what I ended up putting down for that one (usually, agents don’t want anything that comes close to that, so I had never written a query-graph with that in mind):
The “aha” we get is that if we have been living like Daphne–relying on “luck” and “breaks” to navigate through life–we are making a serious mistake. If we have been living by luck and drifting as Daphne has, it’s time to trim our sails and control that ill wind. Help is available from the most unlikely of sources if we only allow ourselves to SEE it. There is also help that comes from within. Magic is all around us–for what is everyday life but a manifestation of some deeper magic? Tell me that the world itself is not miraculous and sprang out of nowhere with no purpose, and then we’ll sing the Song of Discordia together. But if you believe there is order in the universe and use your little rituals to structure your life rather than use them as a fantasy escape hatch to hide from reality, you can create your entire life the way you want it to be. If that doesn’t work, do the best you can with what you have. (It’s all we’ve got.)
At the end of the novel, Daphne can finally put ritual into its proper perspective in her life. She comes to realize that although luck (as well as all of life’s little rituals) can be good or destructive, we can choose the effect these things have on us. She can move from wishful thinking to working toward goals by taking concrete steps. She can take another chance on love, possibly even with the co-worker who helped her understand that the power to change her luck was always within her grasp. Perhaps she did find that magic she was looking for, after all. It’s all part of growing up and taking responsibility for your own life.
Who knows what all that blather means . . . but it’s the “AHA” I see at the end of LITTLE RITUALS.
My detractors will also be thrilled to hear that I finally received my rejection from the Delacorte First YA Novel Contest, postmarked April 15th. I’ve been monitoring several e-mail lists and boards where people have been reporting in as to when their rejections came, and most of them were received in March or before. The prize is announced on April 30th, so I conjecture that CAMILLE’S TRAVELS made at least the semifinal round of judging. I suspect that what keeps her from hitting a major publishing house between the eyes is the sexual content; there is no explicit sex, but if the book were published by a major house, reviewers or book banners might yell, because (and these are artistic decisions that were necessary for the book to be authentic):
* the reader is told that the reason this sixteen-year-old has run away from home is that her new stepfather started abusing her and her mother didn’t believe her. (Her mother said, “You little liar. You lied about who you were going out with last month, and you lied about where your friends were going before that, and this is just another lie. It’s to ruin my life because you hate me for not mourning your daddy. You can’t stand that Jerk and I are happy.” And so forth. So there was nowhere to turn. She couldn’t get away from him any other way, to her mind.)
* it is implied that in exchange for escaping from a police officer/security guard after she gets arrested for shoplifting, Camille gives him a, um, let’s say a sexual favor that Bill Clinton did not consider sex. The scene is not shown and nothing is said but some slang terms, but that could be a concern for moralists. The ploy doesn’t work, BTW; the guy simply laughs and puts the car back in gear to head for the pokey. That’s when she has to invoke the magic that she doesn’t yet know she is in possession of. . . .
* at the end, she doesn’t See The Error Of Her Ways and go back home, but instead makes a new life on the road with a Renfaire troupe. It wouldn’t make sense for her to go back to the abusive home or into foster care, but some editors want a happily-ever-after ending no matter what. (In other words, have the mother see the error of HER ways, have the stepdad disappear, etc. Not likely stuff to happen. Whereas I have known two cases that are remarkably similar to this–where the aging mother chooses the new husband over the teenager no matter what, even saying in one instance that “she’ll be leaving home soon anyway, and I have the rest of my life to think about.” Yes, I know we don’t think that way, but she did.)
Now, I’ve read a lot of gritty, dark, edgy YA stuff, and so my novel is nowhere near as “dirty” as many of them. But it just makes the hurdles tougher to jump.
CAMILLE may end up having to go to Lulu, no matter what. Even though I believe it is a good YA dark fantasy/urban fantasy.
Haven’t heard from the editor at St. Martin’s about the Marfa Lights novel yet. No news is good news.
Also, 1 + 1 = 3 on alternate Tuesdays, by decree of the Slomo Police.