Mark Terry

Friday, September 26, 2008

Writers and their Agents, Research, Etc.

September 26, 2008
I enjoyed yesterday's conversation about the editing/writing/agenting/idea process. Jude and Zoe, thanks for keeping me on my toes and for helping me think through things a little bit.

As for agents and when they do or do not like things in your manuscript.

Well, an agent is supposed to be your partner in this business. Your advocate. You may not agree with them all the time, but you should listen to them. If you find yourself at odds with your agent ALL the time, then it's probably time to look for a new agent.

In fact, there are many, many reasons to seek a new agent, but this wasn't one of them.

There's a lesson in this story for all writers, though, and it's an important one. It is:

Don't take all criticism at face value.

It's nice when an editor or agent can point out something wrong with the manuscript in a very specific way, eg., your climax is anticlimactic and predictable, you need to put some sort of twist in there and raise the stakes a bit.

That's nice. That means they've put their finger on the problem.

The thing is, you're more likely to get: "um, your ending didn't really work, fix it." Or, "the ending was kind of soft."

In an essay Michael Crichton commented once that figuring out your editor's code language was part of staying sane and being successful at writing. His example was an editor saying something along the lines of, "I think your main character should be a woman instead of a man."

Obviously, that would create a ton of work and change everything in the manuscript. Crichton made the point that what the editor probably meant was the character was too hard-edged and needed to be a little softer and more sympathetic.

As I mentioned in my last comment in yesterday's post, I've been short on alternative ideas. Then I decided, since the ending of Fortress is all wrapped up in Hopi mythology and Anasazi culture/myth, that I should go back and do some more reading. And as soon as I did--really, it took me about 5 minutes--I got a good idea, one that, in fact, I had considered when I was originally writing the manuscript. I've slept on it, and promisingly, it was the first thing in my head this morning.

Is it better than my original idea and concept? I'm not so sure. But I DO think that it might be more appropriate for the age group the book is aimed at. So I've got some work to do.

And finally, I got an email this morning from a friend I used to work with telling me that Kristina Zubrickas, another woman I used to work with, died of breast cancer on Monday and the funeral is today. Kristina was in her late-40s, and her twin sister, Regina, also worked in the laboratory I worked in. She was married with two children. I would guess the kids are now in high school, possibly even college. Kristina was a lovely, lovely woman and my thoughts and condolences go out to her family and friends. What a tragedy.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mark, I dropped over from Erica's blog and read the last two days' worth of comments. For what it's worth, I often remind myself that Dickens changed the ending to Great Expectations in response to criticism...

And I've been in this exact position. An editor on submission liked my book ... sort of. Except for the 16 single-space pages of criticisms she leveled at it that caused me to do two end-to-end rewrites, drop the last 75 pages, and pretty much dig down deeper into the story than I thought possible.

When I read her first critique letter, my thought was: No effing way I can do this. I wouldn't even know where to begin. I literally blanked.

But I did the same thing you did. I read more. I went back into notebooks. I put everything on the table and rethought the whole story. And I took a break. I gave myself some time.

I don't know how my particular story will play out yet (still in revisions), but I sympathize totally with you. And I also agree that this is a business, and for those of us who make a living writing, it's kinda important to get paid. So good luck with your process and new idea.


7:27 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

That's tragic. I'm so sorry. It just kills me when kids lose their parents early. I suppose there is no good time. Still, it breaks one's heart.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Sorry to hear about you friend, Mark.

Best of luck with the revisions.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.

11:02 AM  
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