I have an idea! Let’s play a game of Word Association. You give me a random word or phrase, and I’ll say the first thing that comes to mind. Ready? Go.
Snail: mobile home
Simone Biles: dynamite
Jumping jacks: I pee my pants just a little
Royalty: Toni Morrison
Red lipstick: Grandma Jackie
Grandma Marge: Coors Light
Armadillo: Steel Magnolias
I know. That’s a long word.
A quick recap: In 2010, I got an agent to represent my first novel. We worked on edits and tidied up the manuscript, but before she took it out on submission (i.e. before she started pitching it to editors) she realized she didn’t want to be an agent anymore. Devastated by her decision, I waited for her to change her mind. That didn’t happen. She left her agency and moved to Texas.
In 2011, I started agent search 2.0 and found fantastic Agent #2. She took Book #1 out to the biggie traditional publishers. Two editors wanted to acquire it, but their editorial teams worried I had written a novel with genre identity issues. The story had a child narrator, but editors worried the plot was too mature for kids and the voice too immature for adults.
Still hopeful, I wrote Book #2 for Middle Grade readers (typically kids age 8-12). Again, we came close to selling the manuscript, but more than one editor expressed concern that “a middle grade book can’t end the way this book ends.”
Well, because writing a different ending would have been like stapling a peacock’s plumage to a sloth’s arse, Book #2 was also relegated to no man’s land.
That was 2013.
My agent offered to take the wrongly-ended manuscript out to mid-size and smaller publishers, but ultimately I decided that first I would write Book #3, really making sure that whatever I wrote would fit neatly into the arbitrary and artificially-processed definition of that genre.
It all sounded so easy. It was such a good plan. Nothing but Hope! (It was 2013. Hope was easier.)
Thus, as Captain of the S.S. Hope, I wrote a version for an adult audience. When that was a bust, I wrote another version with a YA audience in mind. Again, a bust. Merrily, I rowed along, writing a few other partial, not-right drafts for Middle Grade readers. It went on from there: versions with first person narrators, others with third person narrators, another with a creepy adult narrator creepily reflecting on her creepy childhood.
I tried writing from multiple narrators’ perspectives. I tried writing in the voice of an adult male, in the voice of a thirteen-year-old girl, in the voice of a thirteen-year-old boy. I wrote in a box with a fox. In a house with a mouse. On a train in the rain and in the park in the dark.
After more than a few years of prolific word wastage, I started to wonder: Was this book so hard to write because putting together a novel is roughly as easy as stitching two clouds together with needle and thread? Or, was this book so hard to write because the story itself was simply not viable?
I wanted someone to tell me.
Well, it’s now 2019, six years into such silliness, and I still want someone to tell me: Fish or cut bait. Poop or get off the pot. Boogie or leave the dance floor.
I’d really like someone to tell me … and by “someone” I mean somebody who is prescient, smart, and utterly savvy about the publishing industry. This someone must be bigger and stronger than my doubt and insecurity. This someone must see potential in the story and, ideally, laugh at my jokes. I’m thinking this someone is a nice blend of Toni Morrison and Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.
I have not yet found this someone. I have found no one who can give me a definitive answer to this question: Am I wasting my time with this particular book?
Usually when I’m writing, I hear and trust the still small voice that’s nudging me along. But recently, there’s nothing telling me to have confidence in things unseen. Under those circumstances, it’s hard to maintain my faith.
I remind myself that in other circumstances, when I have felt close to losing my faith in God or humans or my country, I have forced myself to do three things: [Read more…]