By Michael Seese
Being an author takes courage. OK, perhaps not as much as a police officer or fire fighter. But nonetheless, writing is not for the timid.
- It takes courage to bare your soul in your written words. There may be authors who can "leave themselves out of it." I'm not one of them. I've found that a little bit of me and my life finds its way into my fiction.
- It takes courage to send your "babies" out into the world, only to be told they're not cute enough. (Non-metaphorical translation: rejection sucks.)
- And it takes courage to know when something isn't working, and needs to be put away, or perhaps just overhauled.
It is the latter I want to talk about today.
I have read blog entries, etc. where a successful writer recounts how he had a story that he loved--that he thought was great--but that opinion was not shared by anyone in the publishing industry. So he had to let go, and write something else.
That hasn't happened to me...yet. Of course, I'm more stubborn than a lot of people.
If you've been following this blog for a while, you may recall that I'm trying to get an agent interested in my YA thriller Nightmares.
Now, if you don't know, when you query an agent, all will want...well...a query. That is, a 100- or 200-word elevator speech to entice them to want to read it. Most will want a sample as well. Some want five pages; others want the first chapter.
To date, I've sent it out to ten agents. And all ten have said "no." (I just counted; to be honest, I thought it was more.) After the first six or so rejections, I decided to tighten up and improve the query. But that hasn't helped.
So I was forced to admit that perhaps the story itself was the problem.
I believe Nightmares is a good, thrilling book. But one thing I came to realize is that the "action" really starts on page 20. And that's 20 pages of a document; I can't say how that would translate to book pages.
Here is how Nightmares used to start:
The sun was in my eyes. But it didn't matter. I could still see her in the distance, just as I had remembered her. She was wearing the same floral print dress. She cradled a dozen red roses in her arms. I had sent them. Somehow. The wind was strong, and whipped her hair savagely across her face, obscuring her porcelain features. Everything, except for her mouth.
I wanted to distrust my eyes. This just couldn't be real. It was as though nothing had changed. It was like...it was like time had simply stopped and stood idly by, in deference to her. It had been...I can't remember how long it had been since I had last seen her. She was so beautiful. All I wanted was to hold her. But the rolling and waving meadow separating us seemed endless. Miles of heather, clover, and goldenrod. And I have hay fever.
We were frozen on opposite sides of an immense gulf. But I was determined to let nothing keep us apart this time. She eyed me lovingly, longingly. I felt a few beads of perspiration gather on my forehead. My palms were sweaty. She licked her lips.
And then we started running towards each other. In slow-motion, just like in the movies. Our arms out stretched, we raced across the field, trying to eliminate the distance. It was taking forever. The sun remained big and bright, and birds were chirping.
Soon I was close, almost close enough to smell her. We ceased running and then walked a few deliberate paces. We stopped, and just stood, staring, not twenty feet apart. The wind now was blowing directly at her face, forcing her to squint slightly, but drawing her hair back in a magnificent amber flow. The wind also playfully lifted that beautiful sun dress, occasionally treating me to a glimpse of her silk thigh. Then it was quiet.
Silent. Dead, eerie calm.
It's actually a dream sequence.
So I decided to take the plunge and put the action right at the beginning. Here is how it now starts.
When you think about, dogs really aren't that stupid. They sleep all day, get their tummies scratched just for rolling over, and don't have to worry about religion, taxes, or bad breath. They're such simple folks, driven only by the simplest of needs and the most basic of pleasures. Take, for example, chasing cars. We, of the intellectual bipedal sort, consider it folly when we see a dog, yelping like an idiot, tongue flapping in the breeze, as he chases a car down the street. We chuckle and repeat the cliché, "What's he going to do when he catches it? Ha ha."
But the dog doesn't care. Most likely, he hasn't thought that far ahead in the process. Knowing only that he wants to do it, not why he wants to do it, is all that matters to him. That's a simplicity that even Thoreau could be proud of. Not a bad life. Not a bad life at all.
We, on the other hand, are on a treadmill. Running like idiots, tongues flapping in the breeze, as we chase after some ideal, or goal, or bank account balance, without getting anywhere. Society today is fast-paced, fast food, instant oatmeal, instant cash. Dog-eat-dog, if you will.
Dogs seem to be an anomaly in that world. They're a throwback to the, quote, good old days, unquote. We describe dogs as loyal and obedient, playful and child-like, protective and selfless. It seems to me like those are words that at one time were used to describe our own species. I think we could all learn something from dogs.
But back to the chasing cars thing for a moment. When you think about it, catching a car isn't all that difficult. Staying attached to it—now there's a trick worthy of a cookie. A big one.
Sometimes I think of the strangest things.
Like now. I was wondering how much happier I could be were I a dog.
And sometimes I do the strangest things.
Like now. For at this moment I was standing on the Euclid Avenue overpass, conducting last-minute physics experiments in preparation for my rapidly approaching idiotic mission.
At first, I thought it would be fairly easy to make the change. About five pages in, there is a lull in the action where my character has a few minutes for contemplation. I thought I could just move pages 1 - 19 to that place. And I pretty much did. The only problem--if this makes sense--is that originally, the 20 pages leading up to the action represented both story line moving to that point, as well as "flashbacks." Now it all has to be a flashback. And that's proving a little harder--primarily from a grammatical standpoint--than I had expected.
But I think the results will be worth it. I hope to have it done and ready to send out in a week or so. I'm sure you'll be hearing about whether it helped.