Friday, July 6, 2012

Of Course, You Can Read My Manuscript, Dear. (Gulp.)

By Kim

Since finishing the manuscript for The Oak Lovers I’ve been through several rounds of critique and revision. I’d like to think I’ve developed a thick skin, that I can take most of what is thrown at me graciously, and consider comments carefully before deciding if I agree with them or not. I turned into a quivering mass of raw nerves, however, when I handed the novel over to a certain reader yesterday.

I sat at my desk pretending to work. Behind me I heard a lot of typing. This reader is not the type to give many “roses” and so he must be finding a lot of “thorns.” He likes science fiction, fantasy, espionage and high-octane stories with big body counts. The Oak Lovers has no alternate universes, car chases, gore, or doomsday scenarios. It’s a (gasp) love story, and the only political intrigue takes place within the Toronto art circles of the early 20th century.

I paint with words. My husband, Mr. PhD-in-physics, prefers to think in equation form.

Madonna Ahrens circa 1910
I knew he wouldn’t be familiar with a single historical figure in the book other than Carl and Madonna, and he only knows them because Carl’s art hangs on our walls and he sees their photographs on our walls. This artfully-posed nude photograph of Madonna playing a cello hangs within sight of his desk. When he encounters a sex scene, will he picture her a little too clearly and feel he must keep his eyes forever averted from that wall?

If an agent hates my book, there are always other agents. If my husband does, I’ll be heartbroken.

Five chapters in, he called me over to his desk and went over his comments. As I suspected, literary references went over his head. There aren’t many, they aren’t obscure, and they make sense in context, but the unfamiliar names tripped him up. He called the story “enjoyable” though, and he’s neck deep in the courtship phase, which will be the least interesting to him.

Much of what he brought up won’t be a problem in my genre and tripped up none of my other readers. I don’t discourage him from marking up the book, though. The fact that he points things out and takes the time to comment on more than a stray typo proves he loves me enough to read carefully, even if it isn’t his type of book. It shows he’s taking an interest in my work and has a vested interest in my success.

To my writer friends: At what point do you show your work to your spouse? What has your experience been?


  1. Helen Kalmans06 July, 2012

    I'd always been told to get objective critiquers, that your relatives won't give you an honest review, they'll only say nice things. However, the first time my mom read my manuscript, she suggested I take a community college writing class. That hurt my feelings. I'm happy to say that she approves of the current draft!

  2. Kim...My experience was VERY Similar to yours! I showed my MD Pioneering Engineer spouse my manuscript AFTER receiving critiques from my writing and graphology mentors. He marked it up his way...I struggled with some of his remarks and tried to incorporate his thoughts into my work. Some worked and some didn't. THe Most FABULOUS part was the look of Pride on his face when readers commented to him about how much they enjoyed and benefitted from my book!! LOVE this writing Process!!! Thanks for sharing...

  3. I didn't want my wife to read until the whole trilogy was done. She doesn't read historicals or fantasy of any sort. Ever. I think it surprised her how much she liked it. She just finished my most recent ms on a trip to Montreal (about 8 months after the first draft was done).

    She really wants to be a part of the journey. It's true, she doesn't find much fault, but her suggestions and ability to help me brainstorm the series have been hugely beneficial. We can make inside jokes to one another ("She's so Skolani," or "I had an Amaga-scale dream last night.").

    While she was reading this last ms, sitting on the train, she gave me one of the greatest compliments. She turned to me, obviously moved by what had just happened in the book. I said, "Did *blank* just happen?" She said, "Yeah," then she smiled and added, "For a second there I forgot you wrote this." I love that she was that lost in it.

    I'm sure you two will love sharing this additional dimension to the journey, too, Kim!

  4. Helen, I've heard the same thing about relatives reading your work. My mom will definitely point out when I'm being lazy because she's also a writer. Most beta readers of mine aren't relatives. In the past my husband has only ever marked a few typos and said the story "flowed well" so I was shocked when he started marking this one up. Glad your mom likes the current draft better!

    Betty, much of what he's marking I really wouldn't be able to incorporate. He doesn't read literary fiction and wants every little reference explained, even if it could be understood in context. That's not to say he won't have valid comments in there and I'll certainly consider them and perhaps ask others if they were tripped up on the same things. He does have a good eye for detail.

    Vaughn, that's great that you and Mo have inside jokes about your book. I like the "She's so Skolani" line because that gives me a definite picture in my mind. :-)


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