…that precious manuscript to an agent is probably the most delayed action in every writer’s life. At least once you’ve had the experience of rejection. You never feel adequately prepared, remembering – in my case – more than one example when I sent an MS off to an agent only to later bitterly regret it. Oh, no wonder they rejected it, it was inevitable, I think to myself with typical 20/20 hindsight. And yet at the time my novel seemed perfectly honed, that covering letter just right. But if only I’d given it a bit more time. So won’t be rushing to send it off now, whether post or email.
Not that rejection could definitely have been avoided. I might be fooling myself into thinking the work had commercial potential if only I’d got the presentation right – the pitch, or made that change to the first page and chapter. Fact is, there are always things you think could have been done better, but you have to eventually move on to the next one. Science fiction is especially tricky when you’re pitching it through a synopsis; it can seem to get bogged down in fantastical-seeming detail which requires too many words to explain why in fact it’s not so fantastical.
I don’t think any author can really know what will meet with wider approval. Even those who are supposed to be objective about these things can often get it wrong. And usually their default judgment is negative.
Here’s an extract from a Guardian interview with this year’s Booker winner Marlon James, who had one novel rejected 78 times.
“No! No,” he says, shaking his head, as if it is the question that is mystifying. “This is why I tell students when they ask for advice, if you’re a writer, you have to believe in yourself.” He bangs accompaniment to the last three words with his hand on the table. “Because if you’re a writer, you’re going to come across that moment where you’re the only one who does.” He sounds freshly disappointed when he adds: “And I failed that test.”
You might read the first sentence or two and then you’ll be distracted. Perhaps it’s an email or twitter update from that person who once said something personally relevant, or even profound, and is bound to do so again; well, maybe not this time.
I’m currently reading Iain M Banks – The Hydrogen Sonata. I’ve read almost all of his SF books – avidly – but am finding this one a struggle; can’t seem to get immersed in it and find it difficult to follow certain strands of the plot. Is the problem with me or the book? I get the feeling I would have found it easier to read had it been around ten years ago.
So what’s happening? Am I being caught up in the great digital distraction by things such as blogs, or is it those pernicious shooter games giving me that immediate short-term reward? There’s just so much, well, content and it’s so readily available, and there’s always something better – more useful – just a click away. This is one of the reasons i avoid twitter (for which the twitterverse can be grateful) or spend much time on any social media.
It’s reported that distraction can become even more of a problem with the natural ageing process. Maybe in part due to that incipient sense of time running out. I hear it being discussed increasingly: Are computers and smart devices ruining our ability to concentrate? In my case, I’ve never had the greatest attention span but have noticed it is getting worse.
Ironically, the number of self/published novels is increasing exponentially, while my generation or younger have (on average, in the UK) a lower ability to read and write than the over fifties. There’s an argument there about changes in forms of communication. Anyway, the education debate is for another blog/ger. So if you’re publishing today without an agent, a traditional publisher or a considerable number of followers, or a successful back-catalogue, it’s going to be tough to get noticed. Not that the pre-digital method (which depended on people seeing your book in a store and taking the time to consider it) was ever ideal. So does this mean the conventional form of the novel has to change to accommodate the digital environment? I hope not. I hope it can always remain in a pure form although only in content; I’m not one to fetishize the dead tree medium.
I’ll stop now, ’cause you’ll be wanting to check that new message. But thanks for giving this your attention.
The short answer is yes, as far as I’m concerned. A successful and talented enough writer could write from the point of view of the most despicable character and be praised for it. Being a big name in literary fiction affords you that freedom.
Myself, on the other hand, would avoid writing a first person narrative of, say, a sociopath. Certainly anything more than a few thousand words would become unbearable. I wrote one short story about someone who planned to commit an atrocity, and doing so in the first person made it a more interesting if not powerful narrative than how the idea originally came to me. But it felt risky, making it seem personal.
Few people nowadays at least under the age of 50 would have any qualms about playing a game from the viewpoint of a killer, even if that character is a brutal drug-dealing gangster. Although I’ve played many a 1st person shooter I haven’t played the GTA games but I can see the appeal: it’s a chance to be transgressive in a controlled and safe way. Maybe it’s even a safe outlet for that darker inner self. The same could be said for those who write crime or horror fiction; it’s perhaps a truism that they are considered to be the nicest and most well adjusted people.
Yet I always harbour a concern that writing through the eyes of a warped or nasty character would somehow reflect back on me as an author. After all, they say write about what you know, which often gets interpreted as write about what you have experienced. And of course, we don’t live in a bubble; life must have some influences that come through in the work. But if actors can play at being bad without the consequences then why not writers? OK, slightly different: an actor interprets and channels someone else’s work rather than creates it.
Well, one piece of advice i’ve taken is don’t let your creativity be thwarted by what others might think.
It’s a mysterious thing, the creative process. Truth is, I try not to analyze where those ideas come from, otherwise it can feel like the spell is broken. Most often, though, there are subliminal influences from the myriad of media we ingest and somehow it gets distilled down into a seemingly original work. I’m not even sure if anything is totally original these days.
However – and this blog will now take a darker turn – an idea can truly come from the unconscious (or subconscious). Almost never does a dream translate into a coherent narrative, much less a story; they exist with a different set of rules to the logic of reality: the surreal, the inconsistent is accepted. But on one Saturday morning I had a dream that was clear and vivid. I watched – like a movie – someone planning an atrocity, a man angry at the world and how it had treated him and his kin. So all a bit dark, and seemingly random at the time. Still, I couldn’t get it out of my head and had get it down into a story to see if it made sense. Well, it did that evening after hearing the news reports of the atrocities in Pakistan, Iraq and of course Kenya. I had a different take on it in my dream/story. Of course, as humans we look for connections and patterns where there are merely coincidences. So I’ll leave it to you to decide.
My short story: http://www.scribd.com/doc/170073967/Something-About-Mary
Got a request from Amazon to write a review of NOD by Adrian Barnes. I read lots of book reviews but rarely write them; however this novel stood out for me.
~Imagine a world where most of the population was unable to sleep, and you were one of the few adults who could. This is the story of NOD.
Paul, an etymologist and misanthrope, charts the disintegration of society in Vancouver. He witnesses at close hand his wife deteriorate through a shared mysterious insomniac condition. Some of the descriptions are graphic to the point that made me want to skip over them. But I’m glad I didn’t. Through his protagonist Paul, Adrian Barnes shines a harsh light and focuses powerful lens on the subjects of his journal – and doesn’t turn away, even though the reader may want to at times.
This book is densely written in a way you would find in many literary novels rather than typical genre. And though at times can seem self-consciously wordy (with a number of obscure words, at least I had to mark a few out for definitions) and can seem overwritten, that’s the nature of the protagonist – the first person narrative where the author can be showy. But at its best the writing is superbly insightful, or at least has that verisimilitude. I don’t know exactly what would be the effects of sleep deprivation over more than a few days, but the descriptions of paranoia and insanity seem about right. However, it may not satisfy SF fans who are looking for scientific explanations.
In all this is a novel that forces you to pay attention. It may make you uncomfortable but is compelling enough that you’ll want to keep reading. If you like your fiction dark and dystopian then this is the book for you.
Though I gave it four stars above, I think 4.5 is more deserving.~
Firstly, thanks to everyone who read and followed my blog.
For some reason i am not able to likewise follow – when i select follow it tells me my email is invalid. Also if i select “like” it doesn’t seem to register.
Maybe someone from Admin/IT can give some advice. I’m wondering if it’s my version of Firefox.
Might hold off future blogging till the problem’s resolved.
Well, it’s late. But now is the time to dip my toe in the water with my first blog. I’d be tempted to opine on a number of matters, particularly science fiction. Been reading others’ thoughts for years, but never took the plunge. Was finally motivated by the need to move out of the shadows, after the trouble I’ve had getting a book published. Nothing unusual there I guess.
Hope to add more content soon.