The Three Novel Problem

Four words writers fear most from a potential reader: So what’s it about?

If someone were to ask me to summarize a novel, one I have been spending the last 3+ years committed to, I’d like to think I wouldn’t disappoint them. Surely not if I had my synopsis written down, all agent-submission prepared. And yet, responding to a question about themes, or deeper meanings, well, I’d be struggling. The same would apply with my last two novels. But at least I would be in good company, for that is what acclaimed novelist Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem) was tasked to do by a reporter; questions about his fiction sourced from a Chinese mid-grade school text book. He got them all wrong. In his defence he responded: “I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.” As a multi-million selling author his work, of course, has been well analysed.

Since, it’s fair to say, my work hasn’t been I can produce most any answer and sound convincing. So my sympathy goes out to Cixin Liu. Much of creative writing operates on a subconscious level. For me, it’s about progressing the story, making it interesting and entertaining. And just good. Maybe some big issue of the day influences my protagonist’s actions and dialogue or even the story arc. But to suppose there is some profound plan behind the plot, or intentional allegory, is to ascribe a level of awareness beyond anything I’ve managed to attain.

My problem now has been unearthing the central themes and deeper meanings of my novel to pitch in a submission. I could say it’s about the nature of time, of memory; sentience; lost love; obsession; displacement; isolation; loneliness; the dangers of technology, of power; the need to find a greater purpose; sacrifice. I’d be tempted to say: it’s about all the things that matter in contemporary life transposed into a future universe. For all that would achieve.

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Rejection and Beyond

One good thing about rejection: it focuses the mind. Makes you realise how much getting published matters.

After three years of writing, rewriting, and rethinking, I submitted my novel to an agent. And then soon regretted it, but none so much as now. Yet another revision was needed. The synopsis was, frankly, badly written. I’d made the mistake of setting myself a deadline (to send it off just before my holiday). Deadlines are dangerous!

It was not that the agent left a critique – they rarely give feedback, but said he had to completely love a book to take it on. Not a high bar to clear? Well of course it always is. Confronted with hundreds of submissions a month I’d be rejecting all too readily, probably much of what ends up being traditionally published to great success. Even if all was in my chosen SF genre.

My rejection happened after more than 3 months since submitting it. Really, by then I’d reconciled myself to the fact that it would not be accepted. Then I saw the email had appeared, and I must admit to being afraid to read it for a while; a prepare-yourself-to-be-stung moment. But after so much time, to receive a short rejection borders on insulting. Maybe it got left in a must reject folder with a time-code, and he thought leaving it this late would lessen the blow. No it doesn’t! Ten weeks has previously been the longest wait, and they said they had been giving it careful consideration.

But it’s never a bad thing to have to go back to a previous (apparently) finished work after a few months, even in a state of despondency. You see it with completely fresh and certainly more critical eyes; whereas before, you’re still emotionally caught up in that grand literary project. Hardly surprising after over 3 years of it.

Still, I learned not set myself a deadline for the next submission. Just keep on with the next grand project.

Links to my published fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Ready to Submit?

A few weeks ago I sent off my first submission query for Worlds Apart. It felt like I had already procrastinated way too long. Now reading over the email, mistakes glare back at me – silly errors: a misplaced apostrophe, even a missing word! Great first impression(!) How could I not have noticed? And the MS still needed more work.

Then there was the dreaded synopsis.

Surely, I believed, I’d developed some skill over the years for summarizing a 100,000 words-plus novel in a thousand or less. But if you read Synopsis Hell! you’ll see why I struggle. My latest experience: discovering how to write a synopsis really badly. That is, simply document each significant event using bullet points. But hang on, I thought, what constitutes significant?

I was lost. Lost like a small child in a dense forest. It became overwhelming.

I can honestly say that writing a synopsis in under a thousand words is more of a challenge than writing the novel itself. I used the present tense because I don’t feel I’ve succeeded. Instead I have created the ultimate spoiler, gutted my novel into convoluted description void of any narrative arc or theme. And yet I managed a coherent blurb-style precis with relative ease. Problem is, most literary agents aren’t interested in those.

So it feels like I have fallen at the first hurdle. The vast majority of agents surely don’t have the time, and therefore patience, to read beyond that first impression.

I only hope I’m wrong.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

The Function of Fiction

…is to make my life better.

At least I look for a novel to make me feel better. But maybe of late my demands have become unreasonable. Should its purpose be to solve my problems, to find answers to unresolved (if not unresolvable) issues?

A good story is no longer enough. Now it’s difficult to find a book to fill that void; reading the blurb, the first few pages, or even the reviews may only give a clue in my search. Just as well, then, I’m not a literary agent!

So my own work should be aiming for such an exemplary standard, right? The only problem is, if you use your novel for laying out a psychological fix it can come across as indulgent. It shouldn’t be therapy. But that’s how it can feel. There’s only the hope that others will relate to the protagonist’s issues. Of course sometimes that happens – and you’re on to a winner! Some of my most inspired writing has come from a dark place.

I’ve never been sure if fiction should always have a function beyond entertainment. If its enjoyable then that’s a lot; humorous or just fun – it’s a big achievement by the author!

Yet I can’t seem to pin down the ultimate value of fiction. In a novel you can be in another person’s shoes – they don’t have to be the hero or even relatable – and understand their thoughts and feelings in a way that’s usually only hinted at in movies. A novel gives you knowledge interwoven in the narrative rather than merely dry facts; though so much of mainstream [so-called] Science Fiction has steered away from the scientific, of late. Well maybe that’s fine if it’s entertaining, if it makes you feel better.

Since I am writing the kind of books I like to read it’s impossible to be sure if I am writing for anyone other than myself.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

Can you try too hard?

To not give maximum effort goes against conventional wisdom. To try your best, fail, and try again, and only give up when there’s nothing left – maybe at the point of death. But what does that mean in the process? Perhaps it means living with an obsession, letting it rule your life if not your time; shaping you into someone who, while viewing yourself as focused on a goal, is seen by others as self-isolating, or maybe even selfish (or likewise self+ words). Anyone who is trying to make it as a successful writer will understand this single-minded drive. It is your life’s purpose, everything you do, hear, read and experience in whatever way can surely feed The Writer, influencing all future creative endeavours.

But how about simply letting go?

I tend to obsess about things as a matter of course. Often trivial, it might be something I’ve lost: such as a door key I was certain had to be somewhere nearby in the house, or that pocket radio I lost in my back garden. And then only recently when for no particular reason glancing down on the ivy-covered end of lawn just behind that chair I last remembered seeing it on, there it was! So obvious – its little white plastic case and headphones in tact. But surely I’d already looked there? Had looked everywhere else; had put way too much time and effort into finding this old radio I could easily live without. The same kind of thing happened with the key: only after I’d finally resigned myself to not finding it, even got another one cut, suddenly – of course it had to be there!

So perhaps you can focus too hard or too narrowly on a goal.

Trying for perfection was what ultimately put me off art: the painting/drawing was never finished. The same is near enough true for my novels. And also thinking I’d never put enough work into selling them to an agent, despite that in-depth synopsis and overall summary and theme, expounding my grand scale ambition and inspiration behind it all; how what they’re getting is the complete package – the novel, me and the irrefutable potential therein. I mean, how could they possibly reject me after all that?

I don’t want to make an argument for being careless or mediocre (though so much mediocrity has been successful) or not giving your best. I just think there’s something to be said for taking a step back and seeing it’s not so vitally important; or just getting away from it, maybe when the work is becoming frustrating. Easier said than done though, from my experience! But that is accepted advice in the creative stage of writing – ideas often coming when you’re not trying to think them up.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

When and where to finish

At the start the thought of reaching 100,000+ words seemed like the equivalent of scaling one of the higher Himalayan mountains; a mind-boggling feat that was best not contemplated. Just one step at a time. A slow journey for me with so many distractions if not setbacks. But no excuses, because no one asked me to do this. So if I failed it was only me to be disappointed.

To extend the mountain analogy (perhaps to excess): I mostly seemed to be wading through low clouds and finding myself lost. But occasionally they would clear to reveal a landscape that while unfamiliar had features I could pick out, which combined to be something meaningful. Then finally reaching what seemed like the top but under a misty haze, though still seeing way below and feeling I could go no farther. Still, the happy relief of a load removed and a kind of jadedness from struggling my way through the difficult bits (of which there were many) impaired any perception of reality. So it’s better leaving time to recover before coming back down. Before attempting that second draft.

It’s not uncommon to write a third or fourth draft. Somehow details are missed, inconsistencies. (Funny how glaringly obvious errors have escaped my attention even after 3-4 read-throughs!) I’ve been accused of writing disjointed chapters, so am careful now to keep everything tied into as tight a narrative as the story allows. But there’s always the chance of some fundamental flaw which makes that impossible. Too early to tell. This is still the time to have – faith. Meanwhile: take a break of at least a month, maybe another project, and then face the sobering reality of how this latest novel fails.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

Fear & Hope – a revision of…

I’m owning up to my biggest fear: Rejection. Not just any rejection, but from someone whose response would matter more to me than anyone. A certain literary agent.

Rejection is not unfamiliar to me now, having plunged into the dispiriting reality of the querying/submission process. So I’ve decided to take the safe option and not submit my work to this person. I’m sure some would say that’s a wise choice given previous failures. It’s surely dangerous to conflate a personal (I’m reluctant to use the word romantic here as that would seem to be getting carried away) preference about a person with an objective regard for how suitable they’d be to work with. But especially when only based on a photo and a short description of the type of fiction she likes. Is it even better for them to publish a picture, one professionally taken, no doubt? Images are so powerful, especially the human face. It’s difficult not to read character into a portrait photo, believing to be uncovering some essence – some truth. And sometimes we are led to do so. Pictures are deceiving, Photoshop and its ilk the creators of illusions manipulating our most innate judgements.

Anyway. If there truly is something sublime about this person, then to be rejected by her (even if it is only for a work of fiction) feels more personal. It will hurt!

Of course such a reaction is not rational. They say develop a thick skin, or you’ll never succeed. After all, it is not actually me that is being rejected. But a lot of it comes down to these two questions: How much is your work is representative of who you are? And: How important are the preferences of the person that can hold the key to you success – and potentially happiness?

These questions are difficult to answer and can maybe be explored in a future post. But suffice to say, even when you thought you’ve avoided autobiography, it somehow creeps in under the radar. The work is never a thing in isolation.

So, I hope I will not be left that one difficult dilemma. I hope another agent will accept my submission. Otherwise I may end up plumbing the depths of that vast murky ocean of self publishing, and never be discovered. Okay, that negative view is a grim exaggeration for effect. Personally when looking for a book online, traditional or self-pubbed is not something i even notice. To stretch a metaphor, maybe that murky ocean is finally clearing to reveal its treasures.

Revised version of a previous post.

My author website: http://www.adriankyte.com/