Amity … October 15, 2009 – March 5, 2014
I didn’t want to admit this, but I have to. My novel is dead.
Really, it’s been dead for a while, but I’m saying it aloud now, today’s the day on the death certificate. It’s been in a vegetative state since November-ish. For the writerly types, it’s been trunked.
Also notice I actually admitted how long ago I started the damn thing. Fun story, I actually started it in Ireland. My reading material I brought with me on the honeymoon sucked. I abandoned it in a bed and breakfast in County Claire and started putting pen to paper. One of the protags was named Claire because of that. Anyways, I didn’t really want to admit how long I worked on it either, but I feel like I need to. Saying all this stuff out loud is the only way I can digest what went wrong and make the current work in progress better.
I actually finished the draft of my novel on my 29th birthday. I detoxed from the crazy final push of the novel where I wrote 45% of it in five weeks. Then I spent eight months editing. My edit process was mostly addition but there were plenty of subtractions. I cut out heirlooms from the twin protag’s dead mother. I cut out the first five pages all together because it rambled. I enlisted a dozen or so beta readers. Some were well versed in sci fi, some weren’t. My best beta reader was my wife. I think it was largely that she knew exactly what kind of things I needed to here while some people were hesitant to hurt my feelings. I polished a lot. I dedicated scenes to Myke Cole and Saladin Ahmed because of the influence they had on my writing. The one I dedicated to Cole was actually my favorite scene in the whole book. I polished and polished and finally, at the end of August, decided it was go time.
Querying a novel for the first time is a special kind of hell. All the other writers who have gone through it are nodding knowingly. I compiled an agent list, made data spreadsheets, wrote up my query letter, all that good stuff. I remember I stared at the computer for an hour with my hand hovering over the send button. I clicked it and almost threw up. I sent out my first batch of five at 1030 or 11 at night on a Wednesday.
At ten am the next day, not twelve hours later, I got a request for pages.
Holy shit I was jacked up. It wasn’t my first choice, but damn I was in a happy place. Even if that first one didn’t bite, I must have been doing something right and someone on my list would want to rep my awesome little space adventure of long lost pirate twins. It was a long five days until I got that rejection.
And then all the rest started coming in. I got a few one line “No thanks” emails. I got plenty of form emails. A few of them didn’t even copy my name over and just said “Dear Author.” I even had one say “Dear [Insert name].” Seriously, with the brackets and everything. Some never bothered sending anything back. Some took a really long time. The record was four months. That one trickled in back in February. Not even a nibble from anyone after that first one.
I distracted myself by working on the next (and now current) novel, with mixed results. I say they’re mixed because I am restarting it after ditching 11k words and genderflopping my protag. But the frustration was there. A lot of it. I know why form letters are used. I know how practical they are. I get all that. I still felt like I was screaming into a vacuum. If I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, how in the ever loving hell was I going to fix that?
Months removed from writing off Amity as a lost cause, I can see the forest for the trees a little bit. I’ve joined with the Online Writing Workshop. My wife and some twitter pals recommended it to me. More than one author I really enjoy have used it successfully. I haven’t put any novel chapters up there yet, but I twigged onto a pattern after some of the crits of a side project short story. (Other than the fact I suck at commas) My characters are strong. The skeleton of my plot is. But I rush from one tentpole moment to the next without letting the plot grow in between. With the short story in question, I had these two really important, intense moments I wanted to hit… and didn’t hit enough in between to connect them.
I can see where I did that with Amity now. I have these scenes and moments I’m crazy proud of. They’re not connected right though. Especially towards the end of the book, as I was hitting the high word counts in the last act, the plot makes some jumps which must have hurt it. There must have been some jumps in the front end too, since that’s the part that went out with the query letter. Honestly, I think the middle of Amity was the strongest. As counterproductive as it sounds, I need to take my time with my prose. I need to not write so damn slow, but that’s a problem of time management.
I think it was too easy to miss where I needed to tighten up the prose itself, too. I don’t think it was in a “married to the prose” kind of way. It was too familiar with it to see what was wrong. I spent years with this manuscript and my brain could just fill in the intent of the broken sentences without having to actually fix them. Overfamiliarity is also why I don’t write characters like myself.
I like to think I’m improving. I’ve gotten sick of behind the scenes work with the godpunk novel and I’ve started going headlong into the word count again. The opening is completely new from when the protag was a guy. I’ve backed up the timeline a couple days. The protags don’t need to meet on page one. I hope it’s getting better.
Most days I can convince myself that all that time spent working on Amity was not a waste. It made me better at what I’m doing and all that good stuff. I’ve had a quasi-independent sequel for a long time now. I may still write that. Bernadette, Claire and Tomas don’t want to fade off into the ether just yet, but they’re going to have to dig out of a coffin first.
Because, for better or worse, Amity is dead.