Followers of my babblings know I’ve been post-Freeborn, but pre-Phreak Show, for a few weeks (months?) now. Writer limbo. Once the 4 requests and 17 outstanding queries run their course, Freeborn will either:
1) Finally finds its home in Publand, or
2) Be laid to rest next to my first novel: Capritare.
That leads me to the third one. You know, THE ONE.
What I learned from the first two:
- 120k words is too damn many. 80k makes much more sense.
- When a novel is complete and revised 3x, my impatient ass is ready to query. I should wait until after at least 4 more revisions. It’s just plain stupid to ‘waste’ those first 2 dozen agents with a poorly crafted query or sucky, not-quite-there pages.
- The flowery, lilting, poetic prose of Capritare was toooo much. Freeborn almost went too far into the Land of Sparse.
- Weird is good. Too weird is unmarketable.
- I am a strong believer in beginning a story in media res. I’m convinced by others’ writings that it can work–to great effect. But the reader must feel firmly grounded in the world in order for that to happen. The tale can kick off in the midst of a key event in the MC’s life, but the reader needs to get a sense of what that life is like.
- Tight, enclosed worlds are easier for the writer, but not challenging to the reader. Wide settings provide opportunities for additional, messy conflicts.
- Emotion is key. A mere observer [as in Capritare] or a numb clone slowly edging towards the capacity to feel [as in Freeborn] are both bad characters to build a story around.
- Voice is key. The writing must ooze with juicy flavor. No bland, dry, pre-formed patties at this cookout.
- An absorbing MC is key. The reader needs to identify with the character on page one. Even better if this connection can happen in the opening paragraph. Preferably, even in the very first line. We must sense, experience & struggle with every tiny thing the MC does.
- Conflict is key: It keeps the pace clipping. It engages us and makes us turn to the next page. The anticipation of a resolution keeps us by the characters’ sides.
- There’s a whole damn key-ring laden with “keys”. The stubborn, multi-slotted lock requires the insertion of ALL of them before it will open.
What I’m doing differently with the third novel:
- This is pretty much spelled out above. I’m remaining aware of these issues and confronting them head-on. Balancing on the tightrope. Teetering. Flailing. Refusing to fall and break my neck. Again. There aint no net down there, honey.
- The story: Phreak Show is starting off with a unique, loaded premise. It has legs. It has a touch of weirdness, but isn’t over-the-top. Also, it quivers with the tightly packed potential to be phenomenally relevant & heartfelt, while offering me the opportunity to detonate these ideas in a fresh, novel way.
- The characters: Each one is loveable. Each one is hateable. They are a ragtag bunch of people you know, people you want to be, people you want to punch in the mouth. I want you on the MC’s side from page one. And I want to bare her strengths and flaws in all their shining, messed up glory. The same is true for the rest of the cast. They are riddled with hangups and issues. They need a cheerleader, a shoulder to cry on, a coach, a drinking buddy, someone to give them a swift kick in the ass. I want to suck the reader into fulfilling all those roles. And then some.
- The setting: There is a grounded community the Phreaks call “home”. But the troupe is mobile. Home pulls up its stakes and travels with them wherever they go. In addition to the conflicts and clashes between members of the group, there is also a second layer of the characters acting as one entity moshing against the new places, cultures, and mindsets they encounter. A new town, city, military base, suburban neighborhood, gaggle of religious zealots, Wal-Mart parking lot–each with it’s own vibe and set of ensuing conflicts.
- The emotion: This is the golden thread that will stitch the characters & scenes together. It will also [damn, I hope!] bind the reader to their lives and journeys. If I find a page without the palpable tugging, yanking & yawing of either hurt, elation, fear, surprise, pain, longing, or success–I’m ripping it out. [Seriously, if you sign up as a CP or Beta, and don’t feel your guts mangled & mawed throughout–you best tell me. Or I’ll send the Phreaks to get you in your sleep.]
I’m excited and hopeful for this one. I know, we all get this way at the onset of a new project.
But you don’t understand.
Phreak Show WILL bust you in your mouth, claw at your heart, challenge the deepest parts of you, make you beg for more, more, more. I promise. [More to myself than to you.] But I’d love for you to join the phreaky caravan as it pitches the tents for the first show.
Consider yourself warned: I intend to expose that living, breathing freak who lives within each and every one of us. When that happens, just remember: Being a freak isn’t about looks. It’s a frame of mind.
I’m rooting for you! Best luck to you. I’m sorry to hear you’re ready to put Freeborn to rest. I really felt like it was The One.
The agent & editor consensus seems to be along these lines: “It’s great. I love your writing. Unfortunately, the concept is just a tad too weird to be marketable.”
I personally disagree. But that’s where things stand at this moment. Chickens.
I do appreciate all the hard work you’ve done, and sharing this insight, wow, thank you. I too have found a ‘mold’ for success in my genre, but am adamant against using it, as it would be catering to a different audience, people quite different than myself. So, I write what I love, what I enjoy, and go the alternate route. Which, you know how much I love Capitare, I’m still miffed that you left me dangling under a purple haze, and would hate to see it and Freeborn shelved. Give in to the dark side of the force, self-publish these. You have the talent to do so and social media savvy to promote the heck out of them and sell them to readers, and it wouldn’t hurt your writing resume to have two books behind you generating buzz. (sending you a new invisible ink pen)
Ahhhh…still searching for the invisible ink…This post almost got a hidden excerpt. Perhaps the next one…
Good luck with it! Sounds like you’ve learned a ton and this will be one heck of a book.
Thx for the g’luck. And it damn sure better be!
Freeborn, shelved? That’s sad news to read….but I’m with scavola: SELFPUBLISH! Fabulous post though. Common sense advise for anyone who’s looking for the love of a traditional market, with the odd point holding true even for us anarchists.
Freeborn still has a lil run left in it. It hasn’t been shoved in a drawer yet.
Self-publish…mercy…I’m definitely not opening up discussion about that can of worms on my poor, little blog. I will say: I’m holding out for traditional publishing for the time being. I wanna have my cake and eat it too.
I can never understand that saying…but good luck!
Agreeing with Scavola and Alexandra. Both Freeborn and Capritare fascinate me, and I’d HATE to not be able to buy them. Of course, I can’t wait for Phreak Show either. People who say your stuff is “too weird” are fools. People WANT weird. It’s like those agents and editors don’t watch reality TV, or read a lot of books. Which they have to, to be good – so I’m sure they do, but apparently not the same ones I read.
I’m totally with you on the weirdness factor. I haven’t even begun to push the concept. I’m gonna try being Lucas-if-he-was-to-stretch-the-rules-but-not-break them–and see what happens. My contention is that if I can make that breakthrough into mainstream, then I will have the ‘clout’ [hate that word] to push further with the next one. But it’s just a hypothesis.
Not a bad one, though. In that it makes sense, not in that it’s good that the system works that way.