I’m still at the stage, and perhaps I will always be at the stage, when I don’t know for sure if a book will appeal to other people. I submitted Third Strike’s the Charm and crossed my fingers. The first email I received from my editor was, “It’s not like your first book. It seems like your heart wasn’t in it or you were rushed.”
I can laugh about this now, but this statement was like an arrow shot into my worst fear. One of the bits of advice to fiction writers is to figure out what is your character’s worst fear? Then do that to them. Now I was having a turn-the-camera-around experience. As a writer you are trying to figure out characters, and then suddenly you are looking at yourself.
In fact I find this happening a lot. At first when I heard the advice to understand why a character acts and feels the way he does, I thought, “Oh brother, people really aren’t like that.” I thought assigning reasons to why characters are the way they are was artificial and forced. People think, therefore we can think our way out of being affected by our experiences. Of course, that reasoning is an interesting reflection of me…but that’s a topic for another day. I started paying attention and can see not only are my characters formed by experience, but so am I.
Actually I cried when I wrote the ending scenes, and I even teared up when I started writing the synopsis! I fell in love with the hero…finally. He gave me a lot of trouble. Jason Ward is a quiet type. He took a long time to open up to me. When I finally stopped trying to force him to a plot outline, he started to whisper his truth to me, and what a secret it was. I was very moved by this character.
In addition to putting my whole heart into this book, I took some risks and wrote very differently. (I will explain my process evolution in a different post.) I was excited about my new process. When I read that statement from the editor, because I tend to doubt myself when it comes to fiction, I assumed that she had pronounced that my new process was a total failure.
I sent out an SOS to my critique partners and then sent a message to my editor explaining that while the book may be horrible, I did put my heart into it. I said if the book is really bad we need to kill it, because the most important thing is to put out a good book. Obviously, I never want to publish something bad.
My editor wrote back immediately and said, oh no, I haven’t read the whole book. I’m sure it’s publishable. It’s just the beginning. Don’t worry, a lot of authors make the mistake of thinking with a sequel that they have to rehash the whole beginning. Don’t do that. Make it stand alone. Go ahead and rewrite the beginning before I send it to the reviewers, if you want to.
Of course I wanted to! I took her advice and did that. Well, actually, I was flat out. Despite the relief of finding out her comment just pertained to the beginning, I was too close to the project. I retreated to bed with a bowl of Trader Joe’s Belgian chocolate while one of my beloved critique partners took my editor’s comments, the manuscript, and the previous version, and redid the beginning for me, using my words, but cutting and splicing. While she did that, I set the chocolate aside and had a mental health day taking photos with friends.
Note to self: get some distance. Writing a novel leaves you vulnerable and over-sensitive.
Last Friday, I was wading through email, and there was a message from my editor. “I’m going to request we go to contract. I really enjoyed it.”
Needless to say, I am ecstatic. I guess you could say the writing life is one of these:
The beginning of the book was a bit mechanical, as I over-worked to show how the characters came to this point. This slowed down the pace because the scenes were about the past. The beginning has to grab the reader.
Note to self: when it comes to the beginning, CUT.
Beginnings are tough. They get rewritten a lot and can end up lacking voice.
Third Strike’s the Charm isn’t over the hump. The senior editor also has to like it, but I’m 95% sure she will. I think if the book can get through the first round, it will make it through the second.
So, like my characters, Third Strike’s the Charm and I have made it through our big black moment (BBM) and just might make it to our Happily Ever After (HEA).
Do you ever find yourself watching a movie, or reading or writing something and realize what is happening on the page or screen is also happening to you?