Two years ago we moved into the house my parents lived in from 1990 (a year after I graduated High School) till 2008 (right before my youngest’s first birthday.) Although it’s not my childhood home, it holds many memories for me.
It also holds a lot of junk. My parents cleaned out a lot of their stuff before they retired to warmer climes, but not everything. Also, since this is the place I came “home” to as an adult, there were lots of my things here even before we moved in full time.
Today I came across a treasure from my return to college as a non-traditional student. My husband and I attended Chittenden County Community College, where I got my first degree in Liberal Arts. My favorite class was ceramics, and a friend of mine gave me a bunch of old molds. I just came across one that looks like Bigfoot’s footprint.
Keep in mind, I was not a kid when I acquired this; I was in my late twenties, and married. Still, I thought it was awesome! (Yes, I can use that word. I was a teenager in the eighties.) But today, finding it in a room we’re cleaning out, there was no question that I really don’t want it anymore. Maybe someone else out there will appreciate it; maybe it will end up in the trash.
As a writer, we have to throw away precious things all the time. Or, if not actually discarding them, we shut them away in the files of our computers and desks, never to see the light of day.
It is the kind of thing you do not want to tell someone who is just starting out in becoming a serious writer. “That first novel you’re so proud of? It will probably never see the light of day.” Even if you add the caveat “…but that’s all right, because it will strengthen your writing, and your second or third full length novel might just be good enough to catch an agent’s interest…” this is still of little comfort. Personally, I like to add “And a hundred years from now, when you’re long dead, the world will finally appreciate all of your creations and your descendants will publish those first, unappreciated works posthumously.”
I also practice answering interview questions for Barbara Walters.
Just in case.
Last week, I sent my query letter for Dogs, Cats, and Allergies to my twitter and blogging friend AB Keuser to be critiqued. And oh, I am so glad I did. I’ve been immersed in the world of Kingdom Come for five months now, writing three full length novels. The world was clearly formed in my head long before that, with several unfinished novels and short stories set in the world. I can’t see it from the outside, and I find myself getting almost flustered when someone asks me “So, what’s it about?”
Now, that is a question that all writers need to have a clear and ready answer for. (Writers should also not end a sentence in a preposition, but I’m doing that a lot lately.) Even if you are published, you can’t assume that everyone knows your basic premise. Sitting at a table autographing books for fans, an author has to be gracious when someone drops by and says “This looks interesting, what’s it about?” Right now, I still don’t have a concise way to briefly introduce people to my world.
AB (The query-critiquing AB, not me) sent back my query with a very encouraging note, and a lot of red. As in, almost every single word I’d written, red. Now, I did not send her a sloppy rough draft. I read through all the query critiques on her website, and tried to apply all her advice to my own query. I carefully wrote a “back cover blurb” to begin the query, and ended with a “This will appeal to…”
There are a couple of big problems, not to mention a host of small ones. First, since my stories have a theme of group marriage, the novel has eight main characters. Dogs, Cats, and Allergies is divided into three parts. Dogs is about three characters. Cats is about four characters. Allergies is about the eighth character, and how they all come together. Having too many characters is a problem, as is dividing the story up. It reads well as three stories, but that’s a bit overwhelming for a first novel.
The second big problem is that, although the book is Science Fiction Romance, there was absolutely nothing in my blurb that gave the reader any hint about my Science Fiction setting. Come to think about it, in the stories themselves, the futuristic science is hardly more than flavor for the setting. Something else to think about.
AB Keuser suggested I revise the query and send it back. There was just too much wrong with it to put it up as a sample critique. I briefly felt like going Jacqueline on her (the writer’s form of going postal) but it didn’t take me a day to realize how right she was. It took about five seconds.
Over the next couple of days, I started trying to think of how I would rewrite my query. I could neglect to mention some of the characters who end up in the requisite “happily ever after”, but that doesn’t seem right. I could add more about my Sci-Fi setting.
Or, I could decide that this “first” novel (even though it is not the first one I’ve written) should not be the first novel at all. Fortunately, my stories are not about saving the galaxy! Each stands alone, although there are a few continuity points that make more sense if you read them in order. I could simply write another full novel, set it slightly before the others, and keep in mind all the things that a first novel, and its query, should include.
I have a lovely collection of erotic bedtime stories by Jean Johnson. Her story Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is about a woman in a group marriage. But instead of focusing on all eight spouses, Jean tells one woman’s story. I did that in my own short story Undone Fantasy, concentrating on just two of the five spouses. It doesn’t mean the other spouses are unimportant, it simply means the writer is focusing on that part of the story.
So, maybe I won’t be querying in May as planned. Maybe I’ll be writing a fresh Kingdom Come story that makes a better introduction to the series. And those other three stories? Well, I’m not giving up on them. I still think readers will enjoy those stories.
And there’s always the fall-back of waiting for my grandchildren to publish them posthumously.