Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Okay, I Finally Get It

I don't usually learn the hard way. But the tenacity needed by a writer these days seems to have dulled my previously incisive perception. Or it's simply true that even an editor needs an editor...

As partially chronicled here, although I hit a sweet spot after a year of writing, I had a terrible time figuring out how to start Seven Noble Knights in a way that would draw readers in and do justice to the rest of the story. The version I debuted at the Muse conference session was already the fourth or fifth complete rewrite, so along with the shock, I felt disappointed I wasn't a little closer to right after all that thinking and rethinking and redoing.

Here are the latest facts: I sent the best query letter I could come up with to 144 literary agents. I never dreamed I'd find that many in the first place, much less tap all of them! A few have yet to get back to me, but my record for agents requesting to see the full manuscript stands at a fraction of a percent. I felt a tad like the man with the raised arms in the picture above: those are the heads of his sons being presented to him. (It's an illustration from a nineteenth-century Spanish pulp version of the Seven Noble Knights story: more on that later.)

The most gut-wrenching experience involved my sending a chapter from Part II as a sample. The agent enthusiastically requested to see the entire manuscript. A disturbing silence followed, to be capped off by a severe disappointment when she declined to move forward.

I thought I might have better luck with publishers who accept submissions directly from authors, and while tweaking the query letter for suitability to this new audience, I had something of an epiphany: my synopsis starts at the wedding, my trailer starts at the wedding, the medieval sources I drew from start at the wedding. The only thing that does not start at the wedding is, in fact, Seven Noble Knights, the novel itself.

The problems with the beginning of what is, after all, my first novel, run much deeper than I could have imagined.

How had I gone so far wrong? Why did it take me so long to see it? Shouldn't I have realized something was awry when the agent loved the chapter from Part II and rejected Part I, even knowing that Part II was coming?

Simultaneously with this reeling, I began to forge a new plan. I consulted with Kim Rendfeld, author of two excellent historical novels, refined the plan, and am now following it.

I'm deleting Chapters 2 and 3 and rewriting the important material from young Gonzalo's point of view. This should pick the pace up significantly and reduce confusion as to who the reader is supposed to root for. It will also provide opportunities to develop male egos and make for a convincing Chapter 4, the bloody wedding.

Chapter 4 will become Chapter 3 and will be quite a bit jazzier after the new Chapter 2, but also in its own right with planned additional emotional resonance.

Chapter 5, currently from the point of view of Doña Lambra, will be cut down and redrawn from the point of view of Justa, the long-suffering servant. Chapter 6 will be rewritten. It may be from Gonzalo's point of view to increase reader sympathy, or I may decide to integrate it into Chapter 5 (now Chapter 4) and keep it from Justa's perspective.

Extreme changes will take place in one third of all the chapters in Part I.

Since I'm juggling two other writing projects, taking a class for six weeks, working ongoing editing/publishing projects, and working a full time job, these changes may take a while. Submissions are on hold so I can present the first part of the novel knowing it's the best thing since the printing press. Please bear with me.

In the meantime, that Spanish pulp novel is sure to make another appearance!

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