More stuff from the writing world

My wife and I in the cafe atop the Reichstag, Berlin

Yesterday, Sunday, I finished reading through the manuscript of “And it’s only Love.” It has ended up (still) 352 pages, and 99,570 words. My method of writing line by line, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, and not moving on until satisfied with the immediately preceding, left very little to be changed or fixed during this read-through. Found maybe half-a-dozen typos (which always surprise me, given the meticulous and multiple readings each page gets along the way), and decided to be a bit more critical with the use of semi-colons. In a crucial scene some twenty or thirty pages from the end, I realized there was some ambiguity in the dialogue that needed to be repaired; that took the addition of four lines. Then I argued with myself for a while over whether or not to add an “afterword,” which I had considered off and on along the way, tried one out, then rejected that idea. So that’s it. I’m done and moving on.

My wife (she is the beautiful woman in this picture) has just started reading it, and after a few pages has pronounced it “very autobiographical.” This is not true. She has been living with a novelist for twenty-eight years and ought to know better by now. She knows the difference between “autobiography” and “writing what you know something about.” This is the latter.

The major character, Tom Valen from my novel Possessed by Shadows, is around my age, or the age I was at the setting of the story, he is a philosophy professor in both books (as I used to be), he is a climber, he lives in places I have lived, he says things I have said (and my wife remembers often too well), and he has friends who are like friends I have. But if this makes it “autobiographical,” then almost every novel is autobiography in essence. I do not think this is the case.

Although I like and have always liked Tom Valen, so I don’t too much mind being associated with him. But in this case, I am awfully glad to have not suffered what he is suffering. And he is a better man than I am or have ever been. (Fantasy is a fine thing; we can dream ourselves better than we are.)

My agent is on holiday; I will send the mss to her at the end of the month.

And then what?

This will be the first time in a writing career that has lasted thirty years that I do not have a novel “pre-sold.” Each novel from my first on has carried a next book option in the contract, and that option has always been exercised – seven times. But not this time. After my small publisher relinquished commercial decision-making to the world’s largest publishing conglomerate, I do not have an option for the next book; that is … this book.

There is an irony here. This book is the most logical follow-up to the last book of mine they published; it is its sequel. I cannot judge if it is an appreciably better book than Possessed, but it is distinctly more complex and plot-driven. So it is probable that the sequel to the best book of mine they published will find a home somewhere else.

At least I hope it does.

But I am done with it. Shed of it, as folks like Brad would say (which is pronounced “shit” of it, if being correct).

Now I am going back to the memoir-based novel I wrote before “Only Love,” which on the good advice of my agent has a changed title: from “Island in the Pines,” to “Blossom.” The novel began its life as a memoir, so when I decided to make it a novel instead, I maintained the 1st person voice and restricted point of view. The only option for a memoir, of course, but it did not serve this novel well. So before this mss goes out into the world, I am going to start at the beginning and write it anew, with a 3rd person voice and a less limited point of view.

So in a while I am going to have two novels making their intrepid way into the bowels of the beast which is contemporary book publishing.

I have not yet decided if I will ever write another.


9 replies »

    • Let me get some idea of how long it may take for this to become a book – if at all – and if it’s going to be a stupidly long time – or never – I can send it to you as a Word doc file.

      If no publisher buys it, I have not decided whether or not to seriously consider one of the variety of DIY options.

      If my books are not going to be published in the future, I will enjoy writing in my journals, and consider an occasional non-fiction project: something in travel, maybe a philosophical or political essay … ?

      And your news?

      • I have no news. I received a rejection from another agent (3 rejections thus far) and am still waiting on a handful of others. One requested partial pages recently, the others have thus far offered silence.

        I’m struggling to start something new. Not sure what’s wrong. Fits and spits followed by thorns under nails and garment rending. Perhaps that’s a bit hyperbolic. Of course, this is my first exposure to having finished a novel and starting a new one, so I figure I have a few things to hash through. It’ll come together and the second one will be better than the first.

        I’m less obsessed with being published now and more concerned with simply writing well. There’s greater satisfaction in the latter.

        I look forward to reading Only Love in whatever format I can get it.

        • Even in the best of times, and they are surely long gone, 3 or 4 or 10 or even 20+ refusals from agents is par for the course. These are bad times, so you just put your agent search on autopilot, keep making contacts with them, one after the other, and otherwise move on.

          If this book is finished enough for you to be sending it out, then it is finished period. The only loyalty you have to it now is to maintain the process of submissions, and otherwise let go of it.

          Of course, if someone takes it, and especially when it is picked up by a publisher, you have to regenerate your old feelings for it, making it shine all bright and wonderful in your mind. But wait until that happens, and until then, forget it.

          When there is a new story ready to come out you, it will insert itself into the foreground and you’ll have no choice but to take off with it.

          I have started rehashing Blossom and you know, it’s really not all that bad. I’m kind of proud of it, and can see it will be even better (more appropriate for the story) when I put the narrator’s voice into the 3rd person.

  1. I, also, am looking forward to Only Love, in whatever format it arrives. And what comes after that.

    I will also be following its progress to publication with great interest. If you, an established author, have difficulties, what chance have us, the unknowns?

    Rose, need any other readers for “Jack?”

    I’ve got Brad beat – I’m up to 17 agent rejections. I had a recent crisis of confidence on the thing and haven’t been querying these last weeks but I’m going to start it on up again.

    In that spirit, here is a good rejection letter Ursula K Le Guin (she of the coolest writerly name ever) once received:

    • Mostly, we’ve all been in the same place in the beginning. Before my first (to be published) novel was sold (astonishingly easily) in 1981, I had been trying to sell a novel (the one before the first one) for about five years, and I lost count of the rejections. I’m guessing at least 50.

      Book publishing is not staffed with people who have a lot of imagination … most of them want to be novelists, but lack the imagination … so the more imaginative and creative your work, the longer it is going to take to come across someone smart enough and imaginative enough to want to buy and publish it.

      If it’s quick you want, write a simple and obvious genre novel. You have to write something any dolt can figure out how to sell. If you aren’t easy to shelve by category, you loose the less imaginative workers. So you can write the best you can and wait for someone smart enough to see that, or you can write some shlock genre book that any moron knows how to sell, and avoid all these rejections — remember that you are being rejected by people who simply are not smart enough to know what to do with a really good piece of creative work.

      I just finished supper and a bottle of wine, so I had better not go on with this much more. I need to put some cream on my dry cracked feet, brush my teeth, and get into bed with one or another of the four books on the bedside table.

      in vino veritas