Posts from ‘Writing Life’
Today’s a day for venting.
Mine is a common lament for those seeking a publisher, so my perspective will not be new, but I need to vent anyway.
The world of publishing is a complex, arcane invention. Some might call it obtuse, others impenetrable, still others will call it broken, saying the industry is in desperate need of fixing. My agent is a hero battling the everyday entangled processes of this mighty beast and for that I thank him. But I’m frustrated. And flummoxed.
During the past ten months we’ve had lovely compliments like ‘riveting characters’ or ‘wonderfully researched’ or ‘Mary is clearly a skilled writer with a talent for descriptive narrative’ or ‘she hits so many of the signature elements of a strong woman’s novel’ or ‘Tod’s ability to indicate the chaos, the loss, the horror of the war is impressive’. And you know what the next word is, don’t you …. BUT.
A few days ago, we received this delightful gem: the book ‘doesn’t have the alchemy of favourite fiction’. I wonder what that means and, at the same time, wonder if the editors at publishing houses have any idea what makes for favourite fiction. If they had, my line of argument goes, they wouldn’t be in such difficult financial and competitive circumstances.
I found it interesting to consider two definitions of alchemy (both from Merriam-Webster).
- a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold. Ancient scientists had no luck with that one, although I can understand the fascination with creating gold. And with all the positives we’ve heard, I don’t believe my novel is of the base metal variety.
- a power or process of transforming something common into something special. Perhaps, this is what the editor had in mind, the ‘something common’ being a novel while the something special is a ‘runaway hit’. And in this case, the judgment was that my novel remains something common.
- I’m captivated. You write sooo beautifully. From the 1st sentence with Helene in the library overhearing her father’s conversation, I was hooked! I love your characters, am amazed by your command of the history and your ability to create a story which is so realistic, personal and charming. That it takes place in a foreign land and, yet, feels so authentic is truly amazing as well.
- Bravo. Very, very good. What a great ending, leaves you craving for more.
- I thought that the story developed quickly and I got sucked into all the characters right from the get go. The character development was fantastic. I loved how the women were very distant with each other but once they moved to the country the walls came down once they left high society in Paris. I liked the twists – and how you left us hanging at the end!! Can’t wait to read the next one.
- I read your book on my flight back from Vegas and loved it. It’s so good!!! I devoured it in about 3 hours straight. I thought the characters were all interesting and relatable and I especially liked that it was a war story from a female perspective.
I don’t blame publishers for wanting to find products – for that’s what our novels are – which will become roaring successes. Every company strives for that. But I have trouble reconciling the feedback I receive from those who’ve read my book with the reaction received from the industry.
Sigh … some days I feel like I’m banging my head against the proverbial brick wall.
While on holiday I read Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley – you might remember the rant I wrote about selecting books from Amazon and finding only one I enjoyed. It’s a lovely tale mixing present day and past (1664) with a twist: the protagonist feels she’s been in that past world and writes accurate details even before she’s found the research to back them up.
I’ve read a lot of books where the author incorporates a writer as a main character into the story – almost a compulsion to write about what they do for a living. But perhaps that’s for another blog post. A particular passage caught my eye:
“Writing got like that for me, sometimes. It could be all-consuming. When I got deep in a story I forgot the need for food, for sleep, for everything. The world that I’d created seemed more real, then, than the world outside my window, and I wanted nothing more than to escape to my computer, to be lost within that other place and time.”
And that’s what happens when I write about WWI and WWII. I become obsessed with not only the writing but knowing as much as I can about the time. I read books, watch movies, listen to music, look for pictures, whatever I can find to help me be in the space.