Agent Irene Goodman’s Charity Auction of Critiques!

Agent Irene Goodman runs a charity auction on the first day of every month on eBay. She gives away critiques of novel partials to the highest bidders, and gives the money to a charity that is dear to her heart.

This is a very charitable thing to do, and I decided to take advantage of it a couple of months ago. I got my critique from her within a couple of weeks and obtained her permission to quote it here on my journal, with the caveat that I must be fair and not twist her words around.

I’ve tried to be as fair and balanced as I can be while still explaining why I don’t agree with some of her conclusions and recommendations. I had a number of insights while reading the critique, foremost among them being that the way an agent reads a work is very different from the way I read a work. Agents do not just read a work because they are charmed by it or love it. From the first letter in the first word of the beginning sentence, the agent’s brain is calculating WHAT the book is, how it should be categorized, and how it could be sold (or not.) My brain does not do this at all. There are other differences, but that alone is worth the price of the critique.

I hate to make this post even LONGER, but here’s what I’m trying to do:

* tell people that they CAN pay for a critique, in a sense, and donate to charity at the same time–and then they don’t have to do all that rejectomancy. They’ll know what one of the major problems or objections is, AT LAST.

* make it possible for writers to get a no-punches-pulled evaluation of their work. Do you always get those “your writing is charming and smooth, but ultimately I didn’t love it enough” rejections? These are not enough to tell you what to change–because typically this means you need to revise. (I know I say in this post that I chose not to try to revise the Daphne book into something it isn’t and simply can’t be without losing its essence–and this happens–but most of the time you need to change something. Usually it’s lose the first chapter or backstory, speed up the beginning, move a later scene up front so we see conflict and are intrigued, get rid of “As You Know, Bob” maid-and-butler Moliere dialogue, and that sort of thing. If they’ll just come out and TELL you, you will KNOW. And I am sure this agent will tell you the truth. –yes, MY version of the truth may not be YOURS. *Grin*)

* show off a few of the nice things she said about my actual writing, because so many beta readers conclude that if I’m not published, there must be something wrong with my WRITING itself; after all, they aren’t pointing out things in the characterization or whatever

* talk about what sells today and what probably won’t sell and why

My comments are in [brackets].

I have now had a chance to read and review LITTLE RITUALS, and it is obvious from the first sentence that you are an articulate, able writer.

[This is heartening. I so often hear from my critiquers and from those who read my journal, not to mention from those who reject me, that I should just “write better” and that I have many flaws in my prose style. I still don’t believe that is true, and here is confirmation from a seasoned pro. *squee*]

You write very well, with ease and an excellent command of the language. Everything is clear, well-described, and mildly amusing.

[I’m preening here until I get to “mildly amusing.” This is the first clue that Daphne hasn’t charmed her. “Amusing” is not good. It really should be chuckleworthy or witty or whatnot . . . “mildly” amusing is really not good, because it means she’s not going to engage with the humor in the way that my audience (meaning those who enjoy my work) really must. Still, she admits I’m a good writer. This is reassuring.]

And you have a theme about ritual and destiny, which gives this the beginnings of some kind of structure.

Daphne is a likeable enough character, Elaine is delightful, and Snow is spot-on accurate. Every Korean manicurist I’ve even seen seems to be something like her. You have a great knack for delineating characters quickly and easily, without too much description or encumbrance. That’s an important skill; a story with flat or cardboard characters may be interesting, but if we can’t ever really care about them, it doesn’t much matter what they do.

[More preening and happiness. Yes, I love my characters. I think the knack with them comes from having been an actress all my life. Oops, Daphne is only “likeable enough,” which is another sign that she isn’t going to fully engage and enjoy the book. You sort of have to love the main character in order to love a book. Daph has her flaws and won’t be to everyone’s taste, of course. But you have to be intrigued by her and feel she is fully worthy of being cheered on before you could read the entire book in happiness.]

Where this fell down for me was in the lack of conflict. Conflict means there has to be something happening to make us wonder, something that makes us want to know what will happen next. She sees the odd man at the beginning who then disappears, and I thought that was the beginning of some kind of plot. But apparently not.

[Yes . . . yes, it is the inciting incident for the paranormal plot threads. Daphne continues to think about this and talk about it with the characters in the next scenes, and there IS conflict and a story question that is always raised, in my opinion. But I know what’s wrong. The problem here, and I already know this, is that this book is not an A causes B causes C book. It sets up the dominoes one, two, three, and then they start falling. Scene A is supposed to cause a character action that causes the events of Scene B, and the attempts to fix the results should lead to scene C, in today’s plot paradigm. There is no room in today’s commercial market, it seems, for a book that does its setup in any different manner. There is no trust in an author that things are tied together and that it will soon all become clear. Note that in films, the filmmaker gets around 20 to 30 minutes of allowed setup with unrelated events before things have to start “happening in sequence.” This is probably because the audience is actually SEEING the events, and the actors add a lot because they charm the audience with stage presence. At any rate, this is an uh-oh.]

You went from that to the scene with Patrick outside the house, and then to the roommate scene, a grocery scene, the crisis at the office, the manicure, the convenience store, and finally to Ruth’s birthday party. Where, in all this, is there a story? You have one episode after another, without any apparent links. Daphne refers to her small rituals, and they are the only thing that ties all these random scenes together.

[I don’t see it this way. But I do acknowledge that she sees it this way. I believe that even in a picaresque–which this is not–there’s a story thread trailing along. Here the thread is that during the events of her normal day, Daphne’s life is getting more and more messed up as events snowball to make it difficult for her, and she is doing rituals to try to ward off the crash. We have the wreck with the disappearing dwarf, then a scene with Patrick telling her off, then the roommate (putting away groceries in the background) telling her about problems, then the crisis at the office, the manicure (in which she asks Snow how to get a hex off and what a curse can be caused by), the convenience store (where she sees the dwarfish man again, but he gets away!), and Ruth’s party where she meets a potential love interest. In every other scene she refers more than once to the incident with the dwarfish man who told her she’d better find her calling and get moving on it because she has a mission in life. The second time she sees him, this reinforces the thread. She says that ritual ties together the threads of our lives and blazes a way through the calendar. The rituals she speaks of should resonate with all of us who have celebrated birthdays, marked anniversaries, done a graduation party, had a house blessed before moving in, shaken hands and said “How are you?”–the rituals are endless. They are everywhere. She makes this observation in just about every scene, and as things get worse for her, she tries to fix them. But this is all done in more of a literary-novel way, in a Saul Bellow or John Irving way. It used to be that narrative drive would hold a reader who wanted to know whether Daphne could get her life back on track or not. It may be that very few readers want that type of story. A “women’s story” doesn’t have to be a hero’s journey every time, IMHO. It can be a late coming-of-age sort of story. This is one of those.]

While much of this is amusing to read, it’s not going anywhere that I can discern. Nothing here made me worry or wonder. I was curious about the odd man who disappears, but nothing else happens in regard to that, so that was a thread that went nowhere.

[Okay, “amusing” is not good. Chris Keeslar said “laugh-out-loud,” at least. And if she doesn’t think it is going anywhere, I have not enticed her onto my boat. All this simply says to me that she is not in my target audience. She wouldn’t like many of my favorite books. And that’s fine–we don’t all have to like the same thing. However! The odd man who disappears has reappeared and disappeared again several times just at the edge of Daphne’s vision, and she has pursued him, to no avail. I don’t consider that “nothing else happening.” Readers should be getting a sense of him as either a trickster figure or a fairy godfather–it’s OK if they can’t decide which, but he is recurring. It is by no means a thread that went nowhere. I suspect she was skimming by this point, having committed to read the entire fragment but not really being engaged by it, so she may have missed the clues. Or maybe I *should* bang readers over the head with a brick, but I refuse to do that because I think it would be disrespectful to readers; it’s as if I don’t think they’re smart enough to figure it out, whereas they are. They should be worried that Daphne has been getting in worse shape every scene and should wonder about the hex she keeps talking about and whether her rituals are just OCD or if there’s something to them. That sort of thing appeals to certain readers and not to others. Which is perfectly normal.]

I thought there would be some kind of delivery in the synopsis, but the synopsis was just more of the same–unrelated events that never quite tie together.

[Well . . . the synopsis probably stinks. I haven’t put it across well, is what this tells me. There’s an overall arc of Daphne’s struggle to right herself when her life turns upside-down, and an arc of coming-to-realize. Yes, the novel could be seen as a picaresque of sorts, with Daphne playing the tilting-at-windmills Don Quixote, but there is a story spine. Nevertheless, the agent is entitled to her own conclusions. We’ll have to disagree on this one.]

At first I thought this would be urban fantasy, because of the seemingly paranormal element of the disappearing man. Then I thought it was some kind of romance. Finally I realized that the only thing it could be is chick lit, which died a hard death a few years ago. The hallmark of chick lit was first person with a great voice, without a lot of plot. Still, there was some semblance of a plot, and this story doesn’t seem to have any kind of plot.

[Aha–the agent mind has been trying to categorize it. I think there are still readers who would like good chick lit, and this might fit their tastes, but this story is not about shoes and shopping and boyfriends. I disagree that the book doesn’t have a plot. It isn’t a plot-driven book by any means, but it does have a plot. It is more like books that I used to read as a young adult/twentysomething and books that I read in college than it is like commercial fiction of today. I realize that this could limit the market, but this isn’t supposed to be “about” the plot as much as it is about Daphne’s growing up, turning from a person who feels she is buffeted by fate to someone who knows that even if the wind blows against her, she can trim her own sails and make the best of things. And that there’s always someone rooting for her, even if she can’t see them or doesn’t realize they’re there. It isn’t a plot-heavy book . . . and I can’t change that, because then it wouldn’t be the story I wanted to tell. And the charm would be gone.]

You do have an engaging voice, but that is compromised by your constant tangents, asides, and wanderings. Daphne likes to hear herself talk, and she talks about anything that pops into her head, without regard to form, organization, or focus. Her verbal stream of consciousness is engaging at first, because the writing is good, but after a while it becomes tedious.

[A perfectly rational line of reasoning that I don’t happen to agree with. I definitely don’t agree that she just blathers at random, as she’s usually talking about what has just happened or speculating on what is about to happen or explaining her philosophy about what SHOULD happen. What I love about most of the books that I love is that they ARE narrated by characters who make constant observations and go off on tangents. I believe that a lot of what Daphne says is relevant to the story that I’m telling, and what I have her muse about is philosophically compatible with what’s happening. I realize that most books of today have very little internal monologue, but this does not make it an invalid thing to do. “Stream of consciousness” has a specific definition that I don’t believe applies here–it’s Joyce’s _Ulysses_, Burroughs’ _Naked Lunch_, Kerouac’s _On The Road_, Ginsberg’s “HOWL.” Daphne is not doing stream-of-consciousness. She is an observer who rambles about what she’s thinking about. Anyone who has read Herman Wouk, Saul Bellow, John Irving, John Updike, and so forth has read this type of narrator. Again, it’s not today’s paradigm. But her musings are what I *like* about the book. I think of the novel’s style as a sort of blogstyle; Daphne could be any blogger going on about her life. If you like to read people’s personal blogs, then you’ve read this sort of narrative. Again, it’s what is special about the book. The plot by itself is actually nothing special. That’s why I could not take this book and make it plotty. It would die. As Betty White once said: “If you leave Veal Prince Orloff on the plate for ten minutes . . . it dies!”]

I longed for her to tell me a real story, with one event leading logically to the next.

[Aha! Just as I suspected. I have stories of that type. We don’t have a story of that sort here. I believe that stories can include the “gradual setting up of dominoes only to have them cascade” sort. This is one of those. I’ve written the other type–with one event causing the next, and the attempts to fix these problems causing the next event, and so forth. Perhaps the place we’ll find a lot of “set up and then boom” scene sequencing is in films made prior to 1980. I think that type of story can work nowadays, too.]

Maybe the whole point of this story is that life isn’t logical and everything happens randomly for a reason

[This is what Daphne at first believes. She discovers over the course of the novel that things DO make sense, that the center CAN hold. We have to start at a place where our heroine is kind of screwed up in order for her to learn, grow, improve, and change into a person who is not as screwed up and has come a long way. I can’t start with her already “fixed.”]

but this is a commercial novel, not a literary treatise. This kind of story has to have a more solid structure, or you are going to lose readers before they get to page 50.

[Maybe my problem is that this is NOT a commercial novel, but a literary novel. That’s probably the trouble. I should have sent in one of my mysteries for this critique.]

[The questions that the agent then poses are rhetorical, as posed in the critique, but here I will answer them, just so that you’ll know I have logical answers. THESE QUESTIONS ARE ONE OF THE BEST PARTS OF THIS RESPONSE THAT THE AGENT DID–because any author must have answers to such questions when she or he is writing the book. If I had not known these things, they are among the first things I would have needed to address! Because “what does the character want, what’s in her way, and how does she get it?” is the first thing they ask you in ANY kind of seminar . . . but I never, EVER think that when I am reading someone’s book. I just think, “Oh, she’s funny . . . this is a great situation . . . what a nice line . . . I should steal that description . . . uh-oh, I never saw that plot bit coming!” until it’s finished or I get turned off by something. I never think of these great critique questions when I read someone’s book for pleasure, I mean.]

Who and what is the disappearing man? Is he sent from some alternate universe to advise her? Is he a guardian angel?

[I never come right out and confirm to readers exactly WHAT he is, for most of the time we never really know for sure what these visitations precisely are, at least not on this side of the Veil. She calls him a “leprechaun” and then her “fairy godfather.” Yes, readers can safely conclude that he’s a guardian angel of sorts, because he helps her to save herself at the crisis of the novel, and he’s even seen at the end approving of her new start in life. Most readers who read paranormal or “magic” novels will understand this, I trust, and will wait to find out who he is. In my synopsis, I did explain it {APPARENTLY not very WELL}, but in the early parts of the book itself it wouldn’t be proper to explain it to readers–it’s something that comes out as the story unfolds. The agent knows this–she’s just throwing out questions because she doesn’t think that I have the answers, I guess, or that I ever answer them to anyone’s satisfaction. But I believe that I do. Later in the novel.]

What, exactly, does Daphne want, and how can she get it?

[This is the first thing you ask yourself about the main character, and the “story question” of which I speak is basically “how will she or he get what she or he needs/wants now?” Okay, here is the answer. Daphne stated to Snow early on that she “wants to be worthy” and that she wants to stop screwing up. Think of the Tom Petty song “Last Dance With Mary Jane”: “Tired of screwing up, tired of getting down, tired of myself, and tired of this town.” She also states that she wants a promotion and she wants Patrick back, although she gets over that pretty soon. She wants to get the hex off of herself that she believes she has put on accidentally, and most of the book is showing her efforts to get rid of the hex. What she NEEDS is to grow up, and I believe she does.]

If what she wants is independence and the ability to stop caring about Patrick, it seems like she already has those things to some degree. You say that she still thinks about him all the time, but we never see her doing it, so it doesn’t seem that important.

[Now, this IS a good point. I don’t want to belabor the issue of Daph still thinking of Patrick by putting in a lot of stuff, but I could insert a line or two here and there to show that when she hears a joke she knows he’d laugh at, she almost dials him . . . when she sees something he’d love to have, she almost buys it. That sort of thing. What I mean by saying that she still thinks about him . . . is that sort of thing. You know, like after your friend dies, you’ll have moments where you think, “This would be perfect for Ross–I’ve got to call him,” before you realize you can’t. There should be a way to clarify that. I’ll muse on this.]

She is as independent as any young woman ought to be. Her job may be crappy, but she makes enough to support herself, and she could be doing a lot worse.

[I’m actually happy to hear THIS–because some readers have whined that she’s not independent and she should be doing X, Y, Z. She’s not out in the bars looking for another man or whatnot, which I think is a GOOD thing. I thought of her as independent, and I am THRILLED that it came across! Because so MANY beta readers want someone who is not just independent but psychotically so *GRIN*.]

This could be a story about her search for a better guy and a better job

[YIKES!! Horrible! That is the LAST THING I WOULD WRITE ABOUT. For one thing, it’s overdone and it’s everywhere. For another, I don’t believe that these are our purposes in life. She has been told on the second page by the disappearing man (fairy godfather) that she has a Mission, and her mission now is to discover that mission . . . to become more Aware. To get AWAY from trivial/mundane stuff like “look for a better guy and a better job.” If those things come or are given, fine, but is that what you want to do with your life? Eek! It is the antithesis of everything I’ve ever been about as an aging hippie and philosopher. Why are we here? How should we live? What should be our aspirations? What is the talent that only we have to give? What is our mission in life that only we can perform, and how do we go about accomplishing that? What is right action? That’s what the book is about.]

but she doesn’t seem to be searching. She doesn’t initiate much action, which makes her a pawn more than a protagonist. She’s too busy spouting off clever asides and platitudes to get focused on improving her life.

[She’s trying to get out from under the hex, which I hope I am showing, but NO, she is NOT focused on improving her life in the sense that most people would think of that–a bigger house, a better car, a better job, straight teeth, a skinny body, being popular, whatever. In fact, at first she is bemoaning her fate, and only in mid-book does she realize that if anything is to change, SHE will have to initiate it. This is part of her character arc. It is part of what the book is about. So, no, in the opening of the book she doesn’t initiate a lot of stuff and doesn’t focus on improving her life. This is part of the point. She’s not a pawn so much as a victim of circumstances that keep getting worse and worse . . . eventually, she takes control, but that is part of her character change. Of course everyone will see this differently. But I can’t start her out as a take-control go-getter. This is a really tough thing to pull off.]

[It MIGHT BE that I don’t have the level of craft or talent to allow me to do what I am wanting to do with this book. Very well might be.]

The theme of ritual and fate implies that she isn’t supposed to make things happen for herself, but that they will somehow come to her.

[THIS IS HER PERSPECTIVE at the beginning of the tale. She wises up over the course of the book. It’s called growing up. Thirty is a bit old for that, but hey, better later than never.]

That makes for a static story, because she is always reacting instead of proacting.

[*Cringe* “Proacting” should not be a word, if it is. She is reacting rather than being the instigator, in a way, but that’s because events are coming at her so fast and out of the blue. She soon realizes what she has to do. I believe that as long as a person is reacting and trying to fight off the windmills, it’s not static. Perhaps it should be more obvious that she’s doing things . . . I could be erring on the side of too subtle.]

Perhaps if she did some more dramatic, obvious rituals and then waited to see if they would work, we could get more interested. If she had cast a spell or sprinkled a magic potion around, I would be curious to see what would happen.

[Ah! This is good to hear, because this is what happens. In fact, in the portion of the book that I sent, she DOES cast spells. She throws the salt in the third scene when she’s talking to Elaine in the kitchen, mutters a short spell when Patrick is talking to her in the second scene, and so forth. Near the end of the excerpt, she Googles up a banishment spell (that she has talked at length about with Snow, her Korean friend) on the laptop and prepares to cast it. If the excerpt had been just a little longer, the spell scene itself would have been in it.]

Overall, you have the makings of a story here, if you can inject it with more obvious and immediate conflict and keep it focused on that.

[I do understand what she is saying here, and that she is trying to be helpful. But that is a story that she would like to read, not the one I am trying to tell . . . I have told stories with more obvious conflict and so forth. That is not the purpose of this particular tale. So it’s not commercially viable. That’s what I wanted to know, so I’ll quit sending it out. Maybe I’ll find an MFA program and take it in there as my thesis. *grin*]

You also need to decide exactly what kind of story this is. Is it paranormal? I couldn’t even tell that, because the disappearing man doesn’t show up again (until, according to the synopsis, at the end) and he seems more fanciful than paranormal. Where in the bookstore would it be shelved? It’s not romance, because there is no satisfying love story and it’s written in the first person. It’s not urban fantasy, because it doesn’t have enough fantasy and the voice isn’t edgy enough. Don’t say it’s chick lit, because those days are over. Most of the imprints created for chick lit either went under or drastically changed their editorial guidelines.

[Here is the agent mind explaining itself, and this is helpful. I would call this literary women’s fiction with a paranormal twist, somewhat like Kaye Gibbons’ CHARMS FOR THE EASY LIFE or Alice Hoffman’s PRACTICAL MAGIC, or even maybe like John Updike’s THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK and its sequel. I really don’t worry too much about what genre I’m writing in. I don’t feel that art has to justify itself by being categorizable. I have set out to write mysteries that were specifically genre mysteries, but I don’t feel that I always have to set out with a particular category in mind. And, once again, the dwarfish man makes several appearances in the excerpt that I sent, so I don’t know why that wasn’t more in evidence. . . .]

Your strength is in the quality of your writing, but that’s not enough. Learn the basics of plot, conflict, and tension before you go back to the drawing board.

[Now, THIS is not a fair conclusion! How can someone say that I do not know the basics of plot, conflict, or tension when that person has only read three chapters of ONE of my books? How can we assume that this book represents the pinnacle of my achievements or is even anything like the other books I have written? I feel offended by this assumption, and I think it’s an offhand slap in the face. This is the kind of condescension that I get from pros, and it’s not justified. If it’s not “fair and balanced” of me to observe that, then . . . well . . . as Vonnegut writes, “So it goes. Poo-tee-weet?” I asked for her opinion of the first three chapters of this work. This kind of blanket dismissal is uncalled for. Just tell me you don’t think a story structured this way will sell in today’s market, and leave it at that. –Even though it’s nice to have her again reiterate that my writing is not the problem and that it is of good quality, meaning that I don’t need to take out all semicolons or avoid all parentheticals or use only one-syllable words or avoid mentioning Frank Sinatra and other stuff that “nobody knows what it is any more.”]

Best of luck with your writing. You clearly have talent, so I encourage you to keep going.

[A courteous sign-off. Still stinging from the assumption made and stated that I have no idea about plot, conflict, or tension, but . . . I DO have talent. That is true. This is just not a book that is made for today’s market or today’s average reader. I have books that ARE more fit for today’s market. I shall concentrate on them.]

So! If you are interested in an agent’s serious, detailed critique of your work, you can go onto the eBay site and bid on the auction that will take place the first of next month. There should be two or three offered. You get to choose your charity–a vision or hearing charity. If your work is more closely conformant with commercial fiction, you’ll probably get a lot more out of your critique.

*EDIT*: If you can’t find Irene Goodman on eBay yet, wait until the first day of the month. They have the auctions go live early that morning, and possibly not before. You have three days or so to bid. The bids begin sort of high, but that’s in the range of what I’ve always paid for any charity auction I have ever won–including Chris Keeslar, the late lamented Kate lady from Kensington, a couple of them on the Brenda Diabetes auction, and several others–and I’ll tell you, this one is more useful in writerly terms than some of the ones I have received but not cited. If hubby knew how much I had spent/donated over the last five years or so on these celebrity auctions, I would be . . . well, I wouldn’t still be on this material plane typing this, I don’t think *GRIN*]

Again, I should have sent one of my mysteries or other plot-driven works, and the Tarot reading told me that (for once, it was right)–but I was just so convinced that Daphne would draw people in and charm them. She can do it, but only the kind of person who loves THE SECRET HISTORY (another digressive novel) and the mysteries of Marissa Piesman (incredibly digressive, all the time) and Tobias Wolff’s books, such as his OLD SCHOOL (digressive . . . see a pattern here?), will want to take a look. Or if you love chick lit but always wanted it to be about other than shoes and shopping . . . or if you love Candace Havens’ CHARMED AND DANGEROUS series . . . you might like it.

I never said LITTLE RITUALS was for EVERYbody.

But anyway, I got what I needed to out of the critique. I now know that there’s no reason to send it around to agents who handle commercial fiction, because this is the way they will undoubtedly see it. They know what they can sell (much like the manager at WalMart, even though it pains me to admit it–books as widgets), and they will tell you if your book does not fit. They may also tell you how you could make your book fit into the market by changing it . . . but that’s like Cinderella’s sisters who zapped their own toes and heels in efforts to fit into the glass slipper. Better to find the army boots into which your book is supposed to fit, and wear those. Proudly.

Now, here are some of my general reactions that are not AT ALL pinned on Irene Goodman’s critique, but are only MY personal reactions.

I felt she was saying . . . to some extent, at least . . . that if it isn’t something I can categorize and feel confident I can sell . . . then it has no reason to exist, has no value, needs to be changed or shouldn’t even come out of the trunk. Art for art’s sake? Pfui, keep it away from the market.

Furthermore . . . it’s almost as if the voice of Professionalism is saying, ONLY what you KNOW will sell is worth doing.

Maybe she wasn’t saying that at all. But that’s the subtext that hit me between the eyes.

Okay. One of my favorite novels is Vonnegut’s _Cat’s Cradle_. It is not for everybody. It is as much a philosophical exploration and a satirical tweak at the universe as it is a novel. The readers who so love TWILIGHT probably would not even understand it. “I don’t get it,” said one of my classmates in a reading group. “It’s crazy . . . short chapters . . . doesn’t go anywhere . . . nothing happens except all this nutty talking . . . I don’t know how you can even call it a novel.” When it’s one of the major masterpieces. But perhaps I will admit that it is not for everybody.

_Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance_ by Robert Pirsig tells the story of a cross-country trip taken by a man who was fresh out of Annihilation ECT and was trying to reconcile his “new personality” with the original one that was slowly ebbing back. It is more than half about the “chautauqua” that he is holding in his mind to try to sort out how he fell across the line between genius and insanity. He was so smart that he went insane, and when they did the ECT on him, they took away enough of that smartness that he could live without being crazy. But he wants to go back over that ground so he can know what happened and who he was–and IS. It is definitely not for everyone! Many people told me they could not even get through it, that he was preaching at them or talking over their heads, etc. But I think it is an essential work of modern philosophy and has much to tell us about the eternal human condition.

Not everyone likes Shakespeare. Editors have told me, straight-faced, that they feel qualified to “edit down” the works of Charles Dickens. So . . . I understand that not all readers are compatible with all texts.

Harold Pinter and other absurdists–definitely not for everybody. Do many people stage his plays now? No.
But is his work irrelevant or useless? No. Even if it is art for art’s sake, that makes it worthy in and of itself.

I reject the notion that just because my book is “talky” and is like an old-fashioned book-book (no genre, just a BOOK) and may not appeal to the widest current audience, it does not deserve consideration and is a waste of time and should not exist. I can’t help but think that many items currently being hawked in bookstores are piffle and really don’t deserve serious consideration, but I don’t go around saying they shouldn’t exist.

But anyway. We all knew all along that LITTLE RITUALS missed its window when it missed the chick lit fad (because three agents have already told me that if only they’d had it to sell when pink covers were first all the rage, they could have auctioned it) and that it’s too offbeat to sell as commercial fiction right now. This may change. It may not. So it goes.



Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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