Sunday, December 27, 2009


Britanny Murphy reading.

Megan was here for four days over which time we had a chance to talk about the novel I have been trying to write. What she told me was that I have written a fictional memoir-and although the writing is lovely, it is too long and drifts too far from a crime novel to sell it as such. It is a literary novel with a crime in it. If it were actually my life story, I might sell it. But she is doubtful I can sell it as a piece of fiction.

So she advised me to 1) put it all in the first person from the POV of the daughter. 2) Get rid of most of the back story 3) Tell the story like Henry Hill did in Goodfellows 4) Center a lot more on the central crime and its aftermath. Stretch that day into half the book. 5)Make it half the length-maybe 180 pages.

This means excising scenes I love though-I have a whole chapter, for instance, on a woman cleaning a hotel room while her lover waits for her in the guest bed. Another scene of her destroying a house, room by room. This character loses her voice now and it would be difficult to work even a page or two in.

Will I do it? I don't know. My temptation is to forget about it and return to short stories, maybe salvaging a few chapters as short stories. Maybe I am a short story writer and shouldn't fight it. Except my short stories don't fit into many of the current zines very well. Which was why I turned to trying a novel. Make that two novels.

Oh, my. I am depressed.


the walking man said...

I say this...make a complete and unedited copy of everything you have done to date and seal it up, put it away and take the second copy and do what Megan suggested.

Once the edits are done, seal that copy up and open the other and read it.

You will know by the end of that reading which way to go. Writing them is soooo much easier than changing them around from what you saw as you wrote.

Hope it was all good for you these past few days Patti.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That's just what I may do, Mark. Thanks.

Deb said...

Look at it this way--you get the benefit of having one of America's best young writers give you feedback and recommendations. And she had to have derived and developed her talent from somewhere--and her mother is probably one of those sources.

Instead of being depressed, say, "If I can raise a daughter who can write Bury Me Deep, I can get my book written!"

Of course, it's easy for me--not a writer--to say that--so, best wishes and good luck on your book. I know I'll read it.

Charles Gramlich said...

I agree with Mark. Save an orginal copy of the manuscript and then try whatever you want to try with the second copy. the original will always remained untouched in case you ever want to go back to it. I do this all the time in my own writing.

Hang in there. Depression may even be a necessary part of the writing experience.

Corey Wilde said...

the walking man's advice sounds good, but you'll probably need to put some distance between now and the time you make any of the suggested revisions. A little breathing space, as it were, to help detach yourself from what you have already emotionally invested in your book.

Laurie Powers said...

It is so difficult to take that kind of advice - it's huge and overwhelming to think you'd have to do that many changes. But I'm with the walking man and Corey on this one. Save the first one with the intent that you may go back to it and do a "trial run" with the suggestions from Megan. When I was trying to figure out what to do with my grandfather's memoir, it went through several mutations. Good luck and you'll feel better one you give yourself a little distance.

Anonymous said...

As Stephen King says, "Kill your darlings."

I have become absolutely vicious on that front.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Jim-Did you mean my kid or my book?

YA Sleuth said...

What everyone else said--and create a file of all those darlings you kill. Sounds like they would make good short stories.

For what it's worth: I have 2 manuscripts like the one you're talking about... Sometimes a few months away from it helps to make it all become clear.

Hope the holidays were good!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Can a person who has read thousands of novels, not know how to write one. Or perhaps the day that her novel would have been published is gone.

Deb said...

Patti--I've read thousands of novels and wouldn't know how to write fiction if it sat on my piano with a flashing red neon light saying, "This is how you do it."

There are some writers who seem to excel at the short story or novella-length fiction. Perhaps you're one of them--but I'd say, don't give up on the novel yet. Try some of Megan's suggestions and, if they don't work out, go back to your original. Best of luck!

Dorte H said...

Just read your response to eviljwinter. I am glad that though you are depressed, you have not lost your sense of humour!

Oh, these decisions are so difficult. I also have a novel manuscript I should try to improve, but flash fiction is so much easier to handle (if what you have written is crap, you can just throw it away without too much regret).

Todd Mason said...

It is a literary novel with a crime in it. If it were actually my life story, I might sell it. But she is doubtful I can sell it as a piece of fiction.

--Until such time as you are Dennis Lehane, Cormac McCarthy, Lawrence Block (as with SMALL TOWN even if one doesn't count much of his other work as both "literary" and crime fiction), Joyce Carol Oates, James Ellroy, Andre Dubus, or even such non-bestsellers as Audrey Schulman, Sheila Kohler and Clark Howard?

Perhaps it won't sell easily, and perhaps she's right and its too much all over the road, but shooting yourself in the head in advance doesn't seem to me the best means of ensuring a long life, nor self-censorship before those who are paid to be gatekeepers let you know what they think is the best course. Even if one hates rejection, stymying one's self is just that.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

We probably need to follow our own instincts no matter how sound the advice we receive. That is true simply because we are each unique.

A story: Years ago I connected with a fine agent, tops in his field, gifted at advancing authors' careers, an agent who had several famed clients.

He got me a good contract for a big historical saga running 150,000 words. I started in. After a while he wanted to see what I was writing. I submitted 80 manuscript pages to him and soon he wrote me a devastating note: he didn't like my characters. He didn't like my story. Toss the 80 pages and start over. Make a malevolent minor character the central one.

I had come to a crossroads. Should I continue with the novel I had researched, the characters I had evolved, the theme I had selected? Or pitch it and write the book my agent was requiring of me?

It was an agony. My agent was one of the most thoughtful in NYC. In anguish I chose to follow my own instincts, and realized I could not work with the agent, no matter that I liked and esteemed him deeply (and still do). I continued to write the book I intended to write and shocked him by ending our association.

It sold much better than any other of my novels and went into multiple printings It won a Spur Award. It won a raft of superb reviews. It is considered by many to be my best work.