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Archive for September, 2012

As my hordes of faithful readers know, I have been writing fiction in a pretty serious way for the past seven years.  The first three years produced a long, disorganized and malformed science-fiction novel and taught me lessons in how not to go about a long project.  Since 2008, I have written two short novels of “straight” fiction, A Perfect Wife and The Burning House, centered on a family in the town in Mississippi where I grew up, starting at about the time that I was born.  I am working on a third, following the same characters, with the working title Daughter of Sin.  In 2010, I made some tentative attempts to shop APW around to agents.  I had some response, although nothing that worked out.  I also managed to con a couple of people into reading all of APW, and the responses I got were positive but seemed to tell me that it needed some revision, particularly at the beginning.  For the past six months or so, I’ve been revising APW, in part in reaction to the comments. 

A member of my writing group (there’s another post about this group yet to be written) asked if she could share it with her book club.  I said sure – but then she told me that she would want ME to attend and interact with the group.  Of course not, I said.  That would be really weird.  That was the price of having them read it, I learned.  If you are a struggling stand-up comic or a musician, you can’t turn down a chance to perform in front of people; if you are a struggling writer, you can’t turn down readers.  So I said yes, with some trepidation, and I went to the meeting.  There were seven people there, aside from myself.  We met at my friend’s house, and she and a helper had made a wonderful dinner to he had after the official book club discussion. 

This was an interesting group, probably the first and only “D.C. dinner party” that I’ll ever attend: a college administrator, a couple of people who work at the International Monetary Fund, someone from one of the big management consulting firms, one person who is some kind of executive with the Post Office, a teacher of Spanish literature.  It was a diverse, well-educated group, all of whom had read APW in order to talk about it.  I could not have asked for a better group – if anything, it skewed better than any group of readers I could expect to have.

This is all a long wind-up to say the following: they liked my book!  I wanted to hear what they had to say rather than telling them about myself, so I tried to be quiet for most of the discussion.  Eventually I did speak up and answer some of their questions – they seemed interested to know that there was another installment to the story.  But the book inspired quite a bit of discussion among the group, along the lines that I intended (or think I intended) – I tried to create a situation in which each character has a point of view, things he or she wants, strengths and flaws.  I ended up asking the group questions – what did you think about Curtis? – to find that the readers had actual opinions about the characters, different ones that they liked and disliked.  Also, the consensus was that it was a brisk and easy read.  Page-turner was a word that more than one person used.  (And yes, I know that a certain politeness may have been involved, since I was sitting right there – but I believe it was more than that.)

If all this sounds self promoting – it is!  Or rather, it is book-promoting.  The point is that, at a time when I have been pretty bummed about how things were going – all this work!  For nothing! – a group of smart, interesting, literate people read my book and liked it!

What does this mean?  It means a lot to me, to my sense of myself as a writer.  It is the basic definition of success, in that people were entertained by my fiction.  It means that it is worth my time to finish my revisions and market the thing, try to find an agent and then a publisher – not because I want these things (though I do), but because the book itself is good and deserves it.  It is worth the effort, and I’d be an idiot not to try.

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