Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board

Dear Diary: Every time I take a vacation, I get an email telling me that an editor/agent does not like my protagonist. My husband tells me to stay away from the email while I'm away, but is that feasible nowadays. (I could have an email telling me something I need to know about family or friends).
Now I have rewritten Violet Hart to be nicer although maybe still not nice enough. She is who she is.
How is it that no one has ever told me that a protagonist in a short story is not nice enough but everyone who's read the novel (okay, five people now) says this about poor Violet? Does she need to be nice from page one? Isn't it possible that someone with her background might be unpleasant for the first half of the book. Believe me I'm not faulting the people who have read it. It's not you, it's me. Clearly.
I think my book falls between dark and light. Falls in the place where no one is quite satisfied with the poor woman or her story. And the story itself falls somewhere between literary (or middlebrow novel) and crime. My daughter says, write another novel. But this novel is the best I can do. Really.


Anonymous said...

Patti: I've been sitting here trying to come up with something insightful/helpful or at least witty. I got nuthin'-- except keep on keepin' on and listen to whatever voices [internal &/or external] make the most sense in relation to your primary goal for this book.
John McAuley
P.S.In case you're not vacationing in MI. It's so grey and chilly here today I had to wear a long sleeve black shirt and a jacket when I went out this A.M. Oh, and I had to turn the heat in the car.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Patti, wish I had some words of wisdom for you, but nothing anyone can say will make the rejections less hurtful. The market is tough and all we can do is keep trying. Don't give up on Violet.

Sending cyber hugs from California,


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, guys. It may be that writing short stories is what I' meant to do.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I almost hate to say it, but I think Megan's right. Sort of. It doesn't matter if this is the best novel you can and will ever write - start writing another. What I learned through the process of writing a different book entirely was something I couldn't get banging my head against the drafts of the book I already thought was perfect, because I just couldn't see my way through it.

It's like this. When I worked with kids with speech delays, one of the hardest things to do was get them to hear the difference in their words. They compensated for the mispronunciation. (It's like we do when we're typing and miss our typos - we visually compensate for the mistakes because we know what it's supposed to say.) But once you did other auditory and speech exercises with them, they began to relearn to hear the sounds, and could identify their mistakes and correct themselves. That was the biggest key to their success.

Writing isn't that different, in a way. We learn by writing, and sometimes working on a new project helps us see the other in a different light, because we've gotten too close to it. We're compensating, and we've lost a bit of our objectivity as a result. It still doesn't mean you haven't written the best book here, but by putting it aside for a time, letting it incubate, you may see layers to the story or different perspectives that will enable you to adjust the story enough to make an agent snap it up.

The main thing I have to say is don't give up on it, or your writing. You're way too good for that. You'll find the right agent and home for this when the time is right.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Sandra. You are a good cheering squad. But it is possible that a good short story writer is not a good novelist. That I don't have the big idea necessary for a novel. Or I don't have the time necessary to write one. If I were, gulp, thirty six instead of the mother of a thirty-six year old, I might think differently.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

I wrote five novels before I published one. And that was when it was easy to get published.

See you soon.

John McFetridge said...

Look at it this way Patti, if everyone loved this novel and it was a big hit, you'd write another one, wouldn't you? So, you might as well write that one now anyway.

Of course, Alice Munro has never written a novel in her life, just short stories and she's doing okay.

Either way, if you've got the stories in your head, you've got to write them down.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I was going to mention Alice Munro, but it seemed hugely presumptious.

Juri said...

Hi Patti,

you don't have to order the issue of Ässä with your story in it. I'll send you one when I get the time (which is next week).

Sorry, I'm not home as I type this, I didn't have your e-mail address at hand. You might want to get back to me via e-mail.

And sorry about your novel. I love protagonists who are not nice.

John McFetridge said...

It's funny you would hesitate to mention Alice Munro.

Her book, "Who Do You Think You Are?" was retitled, "The Beggar Maid," in the US because it was felt 'who do you think you are' wasn't a common enough American put-down.

Maybe you've been living too close to the border for too long.

And you know, some Alice Munro stories are really novellas. Everyone will tell you there's no market at all for novellas, but maybe you could just write longer and longer stories?

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Yes, this is the best novel you could do. Yesterday.

But it's easy for us to forget that we all have more than one story, more than one book, in us.

This might not be the book that catches an agent's attention. Doesn't mean it's a bad book. Maybe the next one will.

At this point, going back to it and making changes to make it more / better / different (whatever all that means) probably isn't in your best interest. You could very well be too close to it and need some distance.

You might want to consider putting it in a drawer and starting something new. The book will still be there and you might gain new insights while you're away from it.

Also, you might find the right person to give it to. What's not going to grab an agent today might very well grab another agent tomorrow.

And as to this, "But it is possible that a good short story writer is not a good novelist."

Well, sure. But that's irrelevant. You're a good writer, period. If you don't want to write a novel and just want to stick to short stories, that's fine. You're excellent in that form. Keep churning them out. I for one can't get enough of them.

But if you want to write a novel, the only real difference is that you've got more scenes. The structure is the same (one scene in front of another) and the focus is the same (people in conflict).

It really comes down to "what do you want?"

Anonymous said...

Having never written a novel I can't be of much help, but there is an article at Flogging the Quill today that might help you look at your story differently. Also Dave Z. at his Small Crimes blog yesterday, touched on this subject of making your protag more likable.

Travis Erwin said...

The right desk on the right day. That's all you need for things to work out but trust me I know how hard it is. And I think we all believe our current novel is the best we can do but by the time you write the next one it will be your best.

Lisa said...

I am really intrigued by Violet Hart and I don't know how many people have found her unlikable, but I'm always a little dubious about that declaration. Could it be that the right person hasn't read it yet?

As a reader, I don't like overly likable protagonists...and I kind of like the ones that sometimes other people don't.

I'm coming from a place of zero experience when it comes to the "business" but I would love to read a little of Violet to satisfy my curiosity. How unlikable could she be? Your short story characters are all great.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sandra-Dave's recent posts have been gold, haven't they. Stephen-you are too kind, as always, but I see you point about going forward. Travis-it's the time involved that puts me off. My age plus the time adds up to a really scary number.
I had lunch with Sandra Scoppettone today and she suggested that I allow myself to write two short stories and then send it out again. That five or six is rejections is not enough. So that is my game plan.
Thanks to all of you. You are pure gold to listen and offer advice. And Lisa and Pat, thanks for liking Violet. She needs friends like the two of you.

Josephine Damian said...

I recently read that Jeff Lindsay met with the same reaction when he first started sending out DEXTER.

Of course, Dex is a man. Maybe what's operating here is a sexist attitude. Nasty men are ok, but not not nasty women?

Did you ask the five specifically to comment on the character likability? Usually you get five different opinions on five different aspects of your book when you ask for comments.

Josephine Damian said...

PS: I'm also wondering if you're setting up false expectations when you send this out. Are you sending it as a crime book? Literary? Literary crime?

I know a lot of agents talk up writers who present a book as one thing but it turns out to be another.

My offer still stands if you want me to read it and opine.

pattinase (abbott) said...

JD-No they came upon it themselves and not all five but three of them.
It seems to me you are hugely busy. Are you sure you want to read it?

Anonymous said...

I suppose whether or not a protagnist is likeable it a legit concern, especially if you're writing genre fiction -- the industry as a biz seems to want that. But I've always operated on the premise that a charcater need not be likeable, merely interesting. I've had this premise confirmed by Loren Estleman, a mainly genre writer, and Mary Gaitskil, a more literary writer.

Perhaps it says more about me than I'd like to share but I "like" "unlikeable" characters.

Chris Lopez