When it comes to writing, practice makes perfect. The more I write, the better my writing gets. The improvement comes in terms of both the mechanical aspects–grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary–and in my ability to create a good story.
In its current form, Glass Houses, the very first book I penned back in 2010, will never get published. The writing is strong, but the memoir violates the first rule of creating a good story: show don’t tell. My tell-all memoir is all tell, and for that reason, there’s not a publisher in the world that would give it a second look.
I, of course, thought Glass Houses was fantastic, an opinion re-enforced by numerous friends and family members who read the 110,000 word manuscript and loved every word. Some pointed out problems–too many characters to follow and comments about parts reading more like a family history than a memoir. But nobody in my giant circle of amateur beta readers pointed out the bigger problems. Perhaps they were just being polite, but more likely, they knew as little about writing fiction as I did.
After several rejections, friends encouraged me to find a writers group. I joined the Athens Writers Workshop in March 2011. Together, the members possess an all-encompassing knowledge of how to write fiction. Every two weeks, I’d read the assignment (5000 word submissions from three to six members), and then listen in stunned silence as the other writers offered criticism and advice about things I’d never even heard of before.
In hindsight, that first year with the group was like a Masters in Fine Arts. I didn’t have to read the classics, but I did read submissions from a wide variety of genres and, eventually, got the nerve to try my hand at writing a novel. My
master’s thesis first novel, Until Thanksgiving, was the result, and it never would have been picked up by a publisher were it not for all the help I got from the writers group.
From the first submission of my second novel, my group has raved about After Christmas Eve. With each new 5000 word chunk, my biggest critic for Until Thanksgiving tells me he’s amazed how much my writing has improved. My beta readers have made similar comments. If Dreamspinner Press liked Until Thanksgiving enough to offer me a contract, I figured they’d love After Christmas Eve.
So imagine my surprise when, earlier this week, I received an email message from the Executive Director informing me that they would pass on After Christmas Eve. The problem? Not enough romance–and Dreamspinner’s web site clearly states: publishers of quality MM romance. That I heard it from her rather than one of the associate editors means she liked the story. She also said if I decide to add the romance, she’d welcome a resubmission.
Before I go on, a little background. In Until Thanksgiving, Thad’s Uncle Philip mentions a lover who had killed himself thirty years earlier. Over the course of the story, we learn that Philip has helped numerous young men whose parents kicked them out for being gay. After Christmas Eve opens with Philip’s lover’s suicide and by the end, we find out why Philip helps these young men. To have him fall in love again so soon after his lover’s suicide would be just…well…gross.
Let me also say that I am not the least bit upset with Dreamspinner Press. MM Romance is what they’re about, and I don’t expect them to make an exception for me. And if they did, their loyal readers would probably complain–loudly, about the absence of romance in my book. Doubt it? Just read a few of the reviews of my first novel on Goodreads. Working with the folks at Dreamspinner has been a pleasure, I’m proud to be with them, and I hope they’ll publish future novels of mine.
So after I got the rejection, I immediately emailed several of my writer friends for thoughts on what I should do. One of the women in my group came up with an excellent solution that would require a massive rewrite. But I love the story just the way it is. Yeah, I can change it up. But before I take the time and effort to do so, I wanted to see about other options.
Several of my writer pals said, unless it’s a romance, getting a book featuring gay characters published is impossible. Let me count the ways this pisses me off. Unless we’re falling in and out of bed with Mr. Right, nobody is interested in the lives of gay men? The only thing we’re good for is titillating love stories? So a guy who is currently not involved with anyone or really even interested in dating is of no interest to readers of fiction. Imagine the outcry if female characters were only acceptable in bodice rippers.
Yesterday I sent the manuscript to a different publisher. A writer pal of mine knows the owner, and talked with her about After Christmas Eve. They publish primarily MM romance, but she said a well-written, ripping good story is the key factor in her decision to publish a novel. And whether they accept it or not, I’ll get a professional evaluation of the manuscript within 90 days that will come in very handy if I end up rewriting the story.
That gives me three months to focus on my third novel (fourth if you count the memoir). I’m 30,000 words into it–an as yet untitled coming out/coming of age story that is all romance. There are no serial killers or dead bodies anywhere in it. The few people who have seen drafts say it’s my best writing yet.
When you write novels, rejections come with the territory. Some “thanks, but this isn’t for us” messages are harder to take than others. Coming from the head lady with an invitation to resubmit says, “this isn’t for us–but it could be.” And for now, that’s good enough for me. I’ll keep you posted on any further developments.
Thanks for stopping by,