Here’s the opening paragraph from Scenes from a Homecoming, the book I can’t decide whether to self publish or submit to a traditional publisher. It feels ready to be cast out into the world, but it’s less than 57,000 words, and I’m having great trouble reducing it down to the dribble agents seem to want these days. Anyway, enjoy and please share.
Frank Moran entered his childhood bedroom for the first time in over twenty years. He flicked the light switch; a forty-watt bulb in its dusty shade gave the room a derelict patina. He went to the window to draw back the curtains and see the room in natural light. His head pulled away as the opening curtain revealed a new darkness. A beat or two before Frank realized tinfoil covered the glass. He stepped away and looked about the room, as if the explanation were somewhere in the shadows.
After almost two weeks of work, I finally finished the first draft of a new poem. I won’t be publishing it here. I’m saving them up to send to magazines. I’ve been learning blank verse, which I discovered is what I’d been trying to write all along. Who knew! It’s fun and challenging, and a couple of months ago I would have considered it finished, but there are rules to follow – not slavishly, but still. The funny thing is, having a definite structure is actually quite liberating and stimulating. I doubt I’ll ever be an instapoet, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ve discovered this is a life pursuit for me, so even if I never publish again, someone sometime might find it useful or amusing. Meanwhile, I get to write it.
I’m calling this post Writing Advice because I said on the About page that there would be no writing advice.
Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever had came in a rejection slip. I don’t know if it was intended as advice, but it worked. The Editor said she could see how much work and creativity had gone into the book. After I got over my initial disappointment, which included a lot of ‘What the hell does that mean?’ moments, I had another look at the manuscript and discovered it was so overwritten it could be fairly described as the work of someone desperate to prove they could write.
As I write this there’s one thing that comes back to me. The protagonist, Jack Higgins, is a burglar, and in one sentence I had written ‘To Jack, burglary was an art form, and those on whom he practiced his art…’ It goes on. When I read it out loud I couldn’t believe how bad it was. The idea was fine, the expression was terrible. It took a few rewrites before I arrived at ‘the victims of his art’, much better.
I went through the entire book like that, making the language as straightforward as possible without compromising the story. In some parts I cut whole sections. When I finished I had cut about twelve thousand words. I had also turned what was a run-of-the-mill thriller into what I’m told is a literary thriller, a term I’d never heard.
Unfortunately the finished book was too short for publishers. I didn’t mind that because indie publishing was by then a serious option, so I went that way. Now if I could just figure out how to market a book that’s written for the characters instead of the reader, I might actually sell a few copies!
That book is The Company of Thieves
I thought it was about time I shared some of the work in progress. This is from chapter 10.
John opened the sitting room door to find Fats Waller on TV, singing about the spider and the fly. Mary, asleep on the couch, snored along. John stood in the doorway, watching her; feeling all of the life they had shared. He had seen her sleeping many times; he had seen her sick, happy, sad, fat; he held her hair back while she puked morning sickness into the toilet. But watching her this morning he was overwhelmed with joy that she was his; that even when they fought, and in the early days there had been many fights, fights where she had thrown him out, fights where he had thrown her out; even through that, there had been the quick knowledge of love, not showy but constant, and he marvelled now at how rich that love had made them.