So, Beat. Sigh. I’ve let it sit, untouched, for six months. I haven’t thought about it (the actual book, not the getting published thing, that I’ve thought about, and how) at all. I haven’t wanted to. I’ve deliberately avoided any musings about the plot, the structure, the characters, all of it. I have, however, recently sent it to an editor in Perth whom I greatly respect and asked her to look at it for me. I sent her various chunks of feedback I’ve received in several rejections, most of which say the same thing:
It’s well written but hasn’t reached its potential. It doesn’t know what it is, one publisher told me.
So I packed it off to this editor, asked for her opinion, got back to my short stories, and forgot all about it until this weekend when I opened her email. And what she had to say is very interesting indeed. Firstly she concurred with the other professionals who’ve been interested enough to give me feedback:
You write extremely well. Each sentence and paragraph and page and section is beautifully conceived, balanced and executed. Your pacing, style, dialogue and characterisation are good. You know how to handle transitions, flash backs and shifts between different narrative focalisations, rarely falling into the trap of leaking one focalisation into another as is so often the case with even experienced novelists…
Jeez, I needed to hear that! Of course what follows is several pages of what’s not working:
There’s not enough conflict. Can what I’ve set up really happen in real life? (It can, I researched it with an emergency doctor’s help, but if the reader doubts it then who cares, right?) Are the loose ends all tied up rather too neatly? Will the ending put off half my readership?
This editor also concurred with the other feedback I’ve received that what I have is quite unique, but that it needs a different dramatic arc. She also said that changing what I have is very very tricky and that in giving me guidance it’s the first time she’s been at a bit of a loss. And you know, even though it’d be great to get a concrete solution to all these problems, it kind of made me feel good. It means that what I have is different and that’s a good thing. Now I just have to make it better!
One of E’s suggestions was to turn it into a film script. This is not the first time I’ve heard this about my manuscript. Peter Bishop, from Varuna, also commented on how filmic it is, as did my sister, and CJ. I suppose coming from a theatre background like I do, it’s hardly surprising that I write long prose in this sort of style. I certainly did break down the chapters into very short scenes. And although I think this is one of the strengths of the book, I’m not ready to turn it into a film yet. Sure, if it gets published, becomes a huge hit, Hollywood buys the rights for 1.1 million dollars, why not? But until then…
Another suggestion that I read and immediately dismissed was that I turn it into a novella and add some short stories that fit with it and submit that. My mind immediately set itself to whine mode. But I want to be a novelist. I wrote a novel, damn it. I’M A NOVELIST! Once I subdued whine mode with several glasses of cheap wine, however, I began to see the wisdom in this suggestion. Beat is already very short (just under 70,000 words) and was always intended to be a short, punchy novel. It spans an hour and ideally the reader should be able to read it in an hour, but at the moment it’s too long for that. There is much I can remove from it and still keep the story.
I was recently longlisted for the Olvar Wood Fellowship and in their feedback they wrote: Beat is an immediate and engaging story… Ultimately we felt Beat did not quite deliver on its promising set-up. The beginning of the book has received nothing but praise from everyone who has read it. I do manage to keep up the pace for quite some time, and then I get into trouble and meander off into a rather unsatisfying ending. So why not chop it? Maybe that’s me trying to wheedle out of a great deal of hard work in restructuring the entire book, but I don’t think so. I really did want to write a novel – so much so that I’m prepared to put in many many more hours, months, years of hard work. But I also want to be true to the story, and the story really is there, it’s just surrounded by stuff that isn’t the story. See? I guess I better ponder ‘pon it some more.