Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Cloud photography and metaphors and such
My head's been full of snarls today because I've reached the stage in my latest book where the end is in sight and I'm beginning to think about ways to pitch it to agents. This is my very least favorite part of writing - crafting the story is worlds easier than trying to sell it. Especially because I don't have the benefit of pamphlets and a slide show presentation and a knock-out oral summary, my good gray pants and a polite smile with which to get across my point. No. I get one letter. One measly letter in which I have to tell the agent that, no, I have never been previously published. I have just a few paragraphs in which to admit that I don't have a stamp of approval from some other publisher somewhere, and then I have to make a three-hundred and fifty page book sound super exciting in just a handful of lines.
Never have I read the back cover of a book and felt it did justice to the story inside. And for me, you can have the idea of all ideas that sounds great in three sentences, but if it's executed sloppily, with hurried, inartistic writing, I wouldn't give you ten cents for it. Some of my favorite books are not necessarily the most edgy or original, but they're so unique in the telling. The author fleshes out characters in a way that can never be conveyed in a quick summary.
This is why query letters frustrate me. It's the equivalent of telling someone over the phone: "A storm's coming in."
Yes, the person knows it's a storm, they know what goes along with storms, they can anticipate the wind and rain and overturned patio furniture. But they miss the experience of it.
They didn't watch the fat white thunderhead double over on itself like biscuit dough, bubbling and frothing, rising with angry, magenta pinches of yeast.
They didn't see shifty-eyed cloud banks skitter across the tops of the neighbor's pine trees until they slid together like fingers, an ominous handshake that agreed to swap a little rain for a little electricity.
They missed the pebbled beach look of the sun blasting through the last of the day's happy, careless summer clouds who scrambled away from their dangerous cousins.
Just like, in my letter, when I describe a boy who had to grow up too fast because his mother needed him, and a girl who is the youngest of five who lives in the outdated comfort of a suburban home with not enough bedrooms and ugly counter tops, but in which love is stacked floor to ceiling, the agents don't get to see the steam on the windowpanes or hear Randy bellowing from out in the garage like he thinks people can hear him. They don't get to see ten-year-old Jo's dodge ball scars and seventeen-year-old Jo's hopeless stolen glances at her brother's best friend.
I wish they had time to get settled in and comfy, to listen to the chaotic bickering of a big family and find Tam's comfort in it, because if they knew Tam, they'd understand how much this borrowed family means to him.
They don't get to read the invitation to Mike's wedding and roll their eyes at the country club swagger of the new in laws. To count their pennies along with Beth and wonder how they can possibly afford the rehearsal dinner her new daughter-in-law will expect.
They don't get to take the trip to Ireland. To make sideline observations with Jordan and get shitfaced in Talon's Pub.
My problem is, the moment I say "suburban family" or "family wedding" or "childhood sweethearts who wrecked each other", I doom myself to the rejection pile for being unoriginal. And I wish there was a way to convey that this story is grounded in the ordinary, down-on-the-streets reality of middle class Americans, but that its heart is in the relationships between this big tangle of people who love each other and hurt each other and who need each other and who keep secrets because they feel like they have to. That's LIFE. It's not vampires or werewolves or billionaires jet-setting around, it's real people with extraordinarily real connections to one another. That's the kind of story I can identify with, that everyone can identify with.
But I've got one letter. One page. And trying to make it all fit gives me a headache.