Friday, April 8, 2011

Collaboration: A Cautionary Tale

S. wrote a lovely novel about two ordinary middle-aged women, C. and M., who join forces to find the murderer of C.’s oldest son, a feckless yet beloved young man.  S. brought the novel to her writing group, where a few readers suggested that S. inject more humor into the novel, moments of levity despite the dire circumstances.  So S. turned M. into a wise-cracking optimist, rather than the inhibited widow she once was, and she cut the whole bit about M.’s love of chamber music and the purchase of an antique violin and well, even the part at the end where M. hesitantly enters her first violin lesson, trembling with desire.  M. became someone who laughed too loudly and fried bacon, and always had a smart remark for C.  Another aspiring writer in S.’s group thought that more should be known about the crime.  “It didn’t pull me in,” he claimed.  So despite the fact that the whole novel hung on the solving of this murder, and what the ramifications would mean to the lives of C. and M. and all the presumptions they had about this son, despite this, S. wrote in a bit about the murderer and the drug situation that escalated into violence.  Which meant that she had to amend later sections, of course.

A friend of S.’s had another friend who had published a instructional book about herb gardens, and she introduced S. to the editor of the small publisher who had printed it.  This man, Mr. H., thought that the novel needed a bit more sex, and although he crossed and uncrossed his legs in a disturbing manner as he relayed this, S. thought that perhaps he knew best.  Originally, M. was a widow and C. was long-divorced and bitter on men, but S. wrote in a new character, a neighbor, G., and she had him flirting with M. at her mailbox and admiring the aromas of her bacon. 

“A journey is what you need,” S.’s mother told her after reading the novel.  “These women need to get out of town, experience something.  Wouldn’t hurt to have a younger man on the scene, something to look at.”  S. patiently told her mother that the solving of the crime was the thing that had these women uprooted from their normal lives, but S.’s mother just gazed out the window, past her own herb garden, out to Route 14.

In the end, S. was lucky enough to meet with a literary agent, another referral from someone in her writing group.  The agent thought that C. and M. really should act more their age, that cavorting with young men and leaving their responsibilities for a joyride was probably something that wouldn’t resonate with middle-aged women, the audience for whom S. should be writing, he said, since she herself appeared to be middle-aged and quite ordinary.  S. sat in his sunlit office, smiling to herself as she recalled the murder scene as she had originally written it, and excitedly waited for him to stop talking so she could return home and fix her book.

1 comment:

  1. Ha, oh yes this is such a familiar tale... we cannot possibly listen to all those voices and must learn to filter, somehow. It's hard to know what's useful commentary - will lead to a better book - and what is going to kill it completely.


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka