I’m getting pretty tired of hearing that. And it irks me. (There should be a sign over this computer reading, “Do Not Irk!”)
Several agents have written over the past week (because it has been three to five months since I sent them stuff, and that’s how long it usually takes to hear back) to say that they loved the writing in my pages (of either LITTLE RITUALS or MIRANDA’S RIGHTS, two of my almost-mainstream novels), and that they were sorry they’d kept the books so long, but that ultimately yadda yadda and due to the number of queries, good luck elsewhere. [Eek! I have just violated the sacred rule against announcing on the ‘net that you have ever gotten rejections. OMG! If any agents are reading this to check me out, and that turns them off, well, they weren’t being realistic in their expectations–after all, only one agent can be the first agent I ever contacted about a book. I’ll try to do better and send it to you FIRST next time, I promise.] However, all but one of them added, “I was laughing out loud/enjoying the humor/ (what-have-you nice thing), but I wasn’t sure where you are going with this. The sighting of one dwarf [if reading LR]/casting of one spell [if reading MR] isn’t going to sustain an entire book.”
Of course it isn’t. It’s not meant to. It’s the opening!
They were reading the first 15/20/25 pages, depending on the agency guidelines for partials. Okay, so the books start, respectively, with a sighting of a “magical dwarf” and with the application of a witch’s spell as a birthday gift. These are the hooks . . . the kickoffs . . . they set up what you are reading (a humorous paranormal/urban fantasy) and who the star is (Daphne Dilbeck/Miranda Callahan) and what kind of story this is going to be (“things can always get worse”). It sets up the supporting cast, as well (the roommate who doesn’t believe Daphne is not putting her on, in case one, and the mother and best friend who have conspired to cast “Wallflower to Wildflower” on Miranda, in the second instance, to improve her social life.). This is the inciting incident for the full story. It is NOT SUPPOSED TO BE the thing that sustains an entire novel! Has no one heard of starting with something that isn’t the ultimate crisis, but with an incident that alludes to it and then with the building up to the ultimate crisis?
In a short story, yes, we’d need to get right to it. Whatever the incident is that the short revolves around gets going right away. But this is not always the case in a novel.
Why don’t they trust me? Because the problem is that they don’t trust me. If these readers were picking the book up in a bookstore as leisure/pleasure readers–say they were on vacation in England and wanted a book to read in the cottage garden–would they make the assumption that the writer can’t be trusted to follow on with this and turn it all into something larger? I don’t THINK so. A cynic might conclude that this effect happens because I am the Great Unwashed Unpubbed whose work must stink because it is unpubbed, and thus must not BE publishable. **sigh**
No, I don’t think I’m overreacting.
Okay, I’d like to try to figure out why they think I’m not going anywhere with those stories. There may be some signal I’m missing, something that beta readers have missed noticing. I’ll think about it. But not today. I have too much on my real-life plate. (Wish it was a cheesecake instead.)
On the other tentacle, I know that I *can* be trusted to tell a rollicking story. None of the readers who are following SONG FROM THE HEART, my romantic suspense/paranormal book, have been at a loss. The book jumps right into the first indication of the main problem and apparently sustains tension. It has been interesting posting those chapters, because the suspense plot was not even IN the original (which was a “sweet” romance with all the expected trappings of same), and I’ve had to punt in order to make it the focus of the novel. This means that what people are seeing in many chapters is a first draft–which means there will be repeated words, awkward phrasings, and words that need to be changed later. I’d prefer that weren’t the case, but oh well . . . people are e-mailing me to ask where the next chapter is and when they can see it, so I’m plowing forward. I’d say that only about a third (or less) of the original novel remains. However, the characters, setting (Dallas, music store, music conservatory, studio), and so forth were already created and are well known to me, so it’s really not tough to be making them a new life story. I think they (the characters) are actually enjoying it more than the old one, except they’re nervous about the semi-sex scene that’s coming up. Last time, the curtain fell and the waves crashed on the shore. This time . . . will some of it be seen onstage? Tune in tomorrow.
(I mean that rhetorically. I know that most of y’all don’t want to be bothered with going over and signing up and voting and all that rot. But a FEW of you are reading, so you might as well get to look forward to the semi-sex scene. I’m re-reading Henry Miller for inspiration, so expect perversion to at least some degree.)
Sorry to carp on this all the time, but it is very gratifying to think that strangers are actually reading SONG and enjoying it. Presumably without all the carping and carrying on about THIS word or THAT word or phrase that typically happens when I post an excerpt, um, online. **grin** I suppose it all comes of having people who are not writers reading the book.
Don’t get me wrong. You need those critics, the tough ones, as well. But I think you sometimes just need the reaction of a reader to judge whether you should press on and keep typing.
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“That’s not writing! It’s typing!”
“Well, nowadays most writing IS done directly on the computer, so it’s always typing.”
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By the way, have you noticed that since Donald E. Westlake’s passing, there aren’t any of his books in the stores, not even in the used bookstores? AT least that’s the case around here. It would be a cryin’ shame for his backlist to go OOP. Maybe collectors have snapped them up. I found an online place to get Shell Scott mysteries as PDF files, though, so that somewhat makes up for it. . . .