Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Always a new trauma....

And this one is silly...

So the last agent who requested my book got back to me with a "it moves too fast--both the readers and the characters need a pause here and there to rest and get to know each other." This was a variation on a comment I got from another agent who read the book pre-rewrite, and I had tried to fix the problem. You can see my reaction on the previous post about this. And it was even a quick response, well-phrased, and kind! I guess I just had to cry it out once, since I don't remember crying over any other rejection ever. She wasn't even an agent I've been following online for any amount of time, or anything like that.

Still, I went through several days of "Do I change it, or is the book what it is and it's time to move on?" and also "So I know I can write a killer query--can I write a book, or am I wasting my time?" and also, "Being mormon is an integral part of me and my outlook on life, and therefore the output of my writing. Is it possible that there really aren't any other women who want squeaky clean, plot-driven books--is the outlook too sweet for the content to be sellable?" and also, "Some of the stuff I want to write is driven by the conflict a main character has between their Mormon beliefs and their interactions with the real world, but one agent told me that Mormon references are a no-no in literature, even if it's a cultural rather than didactic reference (in other words, even if the character is mormon and neither of us is preaching). If I get tied up in a career as a writer, would I lose the freedom to tell these stories, too? Is it better to give up and feed my writer soul and never be published than to be constrained to fit someone's view of what should be written?"

I decided the only answer is that I can only tell the stories I have to tell, not anyone else's. And that nobody else can tell my stories. Orson Scott Card, in a lecture at BYU years ago, said that if you don't tell your stories, they are lost to the world, and that's a tragedy. I also concluded that the reason I write is because I need to write like I need to eat and need to love. To feed that need, I have to just write, and not worry about what is going to come of it.

That settled in my mind, I was perfectly content to never even pursue publishing again.

THEN I found my thoughts drifting to the reality that in times of turmoil and stress (think the '30s and '40s, for example), people need an escape and they seek out music, dance, social events, and the so-often disdained 'escape fiction'--just the stuff that I like to write. Many of the enduring forms of art in America really took hold and became a force to be reckoned with during those hard times, including jazz, American-style partner dancing (swing, etc), and the ever-popular murder mystery. Bad times promote good art, and also create consumers of fun art--not the depressing, 'literary' stuff, but the stuff that takes you away for a little while. So if this time of turmoil continues and gets worse, which I think it will, wouldn't it be a favor for the 'lightweight' artists of the world to provide an escape for people?

So, with all that floating in my mind, I checked my email and discovered an agent got back to me. I had emailed her the day before I got the previous rejection because on her blog she had expressed a new-found interest in a genre I write. I had been following her agency's blog for over a year because they have a fantastic reputation, and I liked their blogging personalities. I also really liked the insight and encouragement I got from their client guest-bloggers.

I assumed it was another rejection, since she's a top-of-the-game agent, and not a 'baby agent' in a good agency. Still, I always read them.

And I nearly fell out of my seat--she wanted to see the first 3 chapters of the book.

Instead of being excited, I was horrified and absolutely overcome with doubts about my work.

It took me 24 hours to open my manuscript and see if I could fix the chapters and still mail them in a timely manner. It was another hour before I could make myself read it. And I had the same experience I did when I was studying for finals in college and got to a point when I was just done, regardless of whether I felt like I knew enough to pass the test. I realized that I am done with that book. It is what it is, and I'm ready to move on. For now. If an agent or editor wanted to work with the book, I'm sure I'd have no problem dusting it off again, but for now, I just can't go on changing the manuscript for every person's opinion. I mean, really, the agent before the one who said it moves too fast said it moved too slow!

It was another 8 hours before I printed the pages and decided to send them. 25 pages won't hurt her to read much (and she could quit after 1 or 2; I've heard agents can tell right away if they're going to like something). The worst that happens is she says, "No thanks." If I never send the pages, it's an automatic "no thanks."

But what happened to my resolve to settle myself happily in a private, non-published world and feed my writerly soul and spend happy hours with my children? Can I take the continual ups and downs of trying to get published, or will I finally be content to let it go and not care as much about the outcome?

(and isn't it when you finally adopt that attitude that things start to happen?)

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