As many of you know, I began querying my novel, The Oak Lovers, back in September. As many of you also know, the querying process can be a bit of a rollercoaster with extreme highs (full requests!) and lows (not for me, thanks) with a lot of waiting in between.
I’ve kept publicly silent, and have only shared news among my What Women Write colleagues if they specifically ask for updates. As much as I’d love the pats on the back when the highs come, and they have, the lows can be far lower when you have to relive them for an audience. After a while, the audience will start to doubt your talent even as they tell you to keep submitting. This only compounds the doubt already well-established in the minds of even the most successful among us.
There must be something wrong with my query letter, I thought. So I rewrote my query, and then I rewrote it again. More requests came, and so did more rejections.
Eventually, I received an e-mail from an agent who gushed about my prose and said she even shared pages with her partner. She tried to pinpoint exactly why the story itself wasn’t grabbing her as she hoped. Her struggle to say no was so palpable I couldn’t even be stung by it. It did leave me thinking, though.
It’s difficult to novelize a true story. Real life meanders instead of following a typical story arc, and meandering is already a common fault of “pantser” writers like me. I had to admit there were times I went off on tangents, desperate to work in pieces of Carl and Madonna’s true story that I loved, or that I thought would appeal to certain segments of my audience. The book probably should end shortly after the climax, not 12,000 words later, no matter how interesting or lyrical those words may be. Character arcs were defined in my head, but a tad fuzzy on the page. I had tension galore (good) but that tension did not always tie back to a central problem (bad).
|Three's a Crowd|
Whose story was it anyway? Carl's? Madonna's? Both? Equal billing it is.
I also reconsidered point-of-view. Third person limited allows for gorgeous prose, but it shows readers the sun rather than letting them feel the warmth on their arms. This is an intimate story. Would it not be better served by shining a light into the darkest corners of a character’s heart—never mind the cobwebs or rats lurking there? First person it is.
I’m well into the revision process now, murdering darlings without remorse and reshaping and recycling what I can, which is thankfully quite a bit. The task is neither painful, nor daunting. It’s liberating. The old, truer version can be shared with relatives or passed down to my children as a family legacy.
Everyone else will just get a story.
Note: All images are details from paintings by Carl Ahrens with fictional titles.