Split Decision/Separation Anxiety

In a previous post, I wrote about a “first” book I read that had an impact on me. I haven’t polled my (successful) author friends to know for sure, but I suspect that many writers have a special place in their hearts for their first — as in their first significant novel/work. Whether that special place is heaven, hell, purgatory, etc. I’m going to guess depends on the writer.

I haven’t written a novel that’s been published, yet. I’ve only written two novels. But I can already tell that the first one, Treasured (or if you think that’s too Disney then Tomorrow the Mountains May Separate Us, or whatever it’s going to end up titled when it gets published), is going to be my writing life’s first love.

The few who have read both books are crystal clear on which one they think is “better.” It’s the one I’m currently shopping around to agents, Collard Green Tamales (a future post will describe).

I wrote Treasured fast because I couldn’t keep up with the ideas pouring out of my head. Even before I finished it, I felt like I’d missed out on so much of it. I still wish I’d taken more notes, paid more attention to all the possibilities of plot, character, theme.

If that sounds overly nostalgic, it’s because it is. “Kill your darlings.” That’s what Mr. King tells us to do. I take his advice seriously (except for the adverb part, obviously). But I’m certainly not suicidal, given the vague resemblance of one of the main characters to me (I know, red flag, autobiographical alert!) And I’m no murderer, so I have some illusions about how good Treasured is.

But despite those illusions, I still think it’s the better book. It’s braver. It wades deeper into themes. It’s setting and characters are more vivid. The plot has more twists and turns. It’s more layered.

It’s also the tougher sell. Fifty plus rejections later, that’s abundantly obvious. Most of them were form rejections. But the few query replies with comments had one element in common — the split point of view.

Treasured was originally an epistolary novel, letters written by a brother and sister who, unbeknownst to each other, both slip back in time to Chang’an, the capital of T’ang dynasty China. In various incarnations, the letters were addressed to different people, from different times, at different times either past or present. I alternated letters, then arranged them into blocks by plot, then wove them by theme. I eventually decided to keep the sister’s letters written from Chang’an (maintaining suspense about her fate), and to transform the brother’s letters into chapters written in first person past tense without revealing exactly when the brother is narrating from until the very end.

None of those changes mattered so far as acceptance goes, and the most recent comment still pointed to point of view. The sister’s voice is stronger (maybe I should become suicidal?), and the transitions between points of view are jarring.

Which is jarring to me as the arcs of the characters and the story depend on the two points of view being kept separate until the climax of the novel, when the two intersect. One of the major themes, connection, plays out through the spiraling points of view.

I know in my head that it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like I’m J.R.R. Tolkien trying to shove the entire Lord of the Rings into one book.

But I feel a little like this woman when I  think about splitting my first book apart.

Though for all I know I might feel like these guys’ parents.

So, as I sit here typing this post, waiting for the upcoming SCBWI-Carolinas writing conference before further working on my current novel, I wonder what to do with Treasured. Do I take the advice of one of my critique group partners and separate the novel into one from the girl and the next from the boy?

Whatever I do, I hope that place in my heart for Treasured won’t look like this.

So much as this.

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