Sunday, December 10, 2006

Size Matters

I have just completed something that, for most people, would be a cause for celebration, or at least relief: I finished rewriting my novel, making it certifiable for resubmission.

But I’m not like most people, and in this case, the difference is not for the better. For while I restructured and rewrote and re-everything, I came away cutting 30 pages. Only 30 pages. For a 380-page book, that’s less than 8 percent. That works out to about 1 percent a month.

Wife, far wiser and pregnant than I shall ever be, noted quite correctly that size doesn’t always matter—even when less is more—and that 30 pages consigned to the dumpster, of itself, is not bad.

But if the dumpster is not full, the author is then sure constipated still. My expectations were cut about 50 or more pages: a lean mean fiction machine. In rejecting the novel, almost all the editors said what held them back was that they’d lost interest by the end—the plot was too confusing, and while they dug the characterizations and writing, it wasn’t enough to ultimately win them over.

(It is creepy to read letters that are about you but are addressed to someone else, in this case, my agent. You’re referred to in the third person — “Bookfraud left me a little cold”—as if you were a corpse being examined by medical examiners. )

I am missing the point, of course, which is if was the right 30 pages, I done well. Streamling is not my natural course of action: when in doubt, I’ll lard on characters, description, action, and exposition.

A lean mean writing machine

What is ironic about this was when I first sat down to write the novel, I feared that the premise was too vaporous upon which to build a book. Unconsciously, I went over the top in some places, as if filler would somehow confer “weightiness” to my labors. It’s always better to overwrite than underwrite, and if this was not a rationalization, it certainly gave me the thinnest of reasons to stack word upon word, building a tower that would surely fall if I were to remove a single sentence.

So I came away with an unwieldy door-stopper, some 450 pages of this novel, of which, I’d gather, at least 200 pages were crap. I rewrote and rewrote, until I got it down to the 330-page, sorta-kinda-perhaps streamlined machine of fiction that resides on my hard drive.

Mind you, I’m not expecting miracles. The book has been turned down about 20 times, and even though many of the rejection letters said the same thing, my agent was steadfast in insisting that I shouldn’t rewrite it. “It’s like giving Christmas gifts,” he said. “You have to find the right present for the right person.”

Sears probably had fewer returns on Dec. 26. To make matters worse, I’ve been given advice from another agent, who told me, in so many words, that I’m fucked. He told me that agents hate taking previously rejected work, don’t want to look like they’re “stealing” clients, and don’t resend work to editors who have rejected books in the first place.

Fair enough. But he told me directly that I should probably stick with my current agent, because nobody else is going to want to take me.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m at wit’s end. It makes me feel like the past eight months rewriting the damn thing is a waste, no matter how different it is. Add the fact I only pared 30 pages, and you get one seriously neurotic fellow whose idea of fun is curling into a fetal position more tightly than his yet-to-be born child is in right now.

And then I woke up

Rarely have I felt more at a loss about what to do. I’ve even written Miss Snark in the desperate hope she’ll answer my letter (sadly, she did. Advice: you’re fucked. Though said in a nice way.). I’m thinking about having a Bookfraud Burns the Novel Party, one last shot at merriment before the baby comes.

I realize that I have ventured far from the original thread of this post, but certain topics simply drive me nuts, and it is extremely hard to keep focused, and hell, let’s face it, I just wanted to get all this stuff off my chest.

Once you think you have this writing thing licked, it licks you right back. After eating at Taco Bell.