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  • Kurt Dinan

How Searching for a Literary Agent Has Made Me a Headcase – Part II

So after all of the rejections, here’s what happened:

I felt like a failure.

How could I not? I spent four years on the novel, fully believed in it, had it where I thought it was ready to go…then nothing. Close to 500,000 words over the course of seven drafts and little to show for it. (I can hear it now – “Yes, but you learned a lot over those 500,000 words that you can use the next time.” I get that, but that wasn’t the goal, right? I’m not bitter, I’m just being honest. I wasn’t writing for experience, I was writing to sell the novel). It’s probably a confidence thing – or a lack of confidence thing to be more accurate – but working so hard on something and having it sit unwanted has a part of me feeling like I wasted the last four years. That’s a lot of evenings, weekends, and early mornings working on something that ultimately rests in a folder on my computer. By that way of thinking, yeah, I’m a failure. No pity party asked for, I’m just being honest.

I had two options at this point:

Option A: I could revise the novel again. Lucky Town’s premise is a good one, all the agents said as much, and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could make it work. I could make it a more clearly defined YA novel (Note: It turns out YA novels should have more than one teenager in it. Wish I’d known that before). I could print off all of the agents’ comments, make a list of what was needed, and go from there. It all seemed very doable. But there was one problem – I didn’t want to do that.

Ever go back to the town where you grew up? Or revisted the college town you spent four (or maybe six, depending on who you are) years at? Then maybe you know that feeling of “I used to love this place, and this place was very important to me, but I don’t belong here anymore” feeling. That’s what I feel when I seriously considered the idea of returning to Lucky Town. Then there’s what Daryl Gregory said was “the danger of overcarving the pumpkin.” I could work and work on the novel until all of the life was beaten out of it and it wasn’t the book I wanted and then still, STILL, it may not sell. Then what? Probably me in a tower with a rifle, that’s what.

Option B: I could punt and move onto the next novel. I liked this option a good bit. In fact, I spent a couple of weeks doing notes on another novel and had some real excitement about it. I watched a couple of movies on the specific genre I was going to write, I read a few books, and even had the book’s soundtrack figured out. (That’s another topic for another time, but I can’t write until I figure out the music that would accompany the book’s attitude – Lucky Town was written mostly to Trent Reznor’s instrumental Ghosts cds).

But then, I froze up again.

Just when I would get some nice momentum, I’d get another rejection telling me how much they liked the book, how they’d like to see a revision, etc. How could I just walk away from the book? Wasn’t that giving up? But at what point is it best just to move on? Plenty of writers don’t sell their first book. When did they move on? But maybe just one more shot?

See, this is the mental illness – the push/pull – I’ve been going through. Embarrassing, right?

My decision – and by no stretch does that mean it’s a steadfast decision – came last week. Stuck and stressed, I called Daryl Gregory who offered some advice – his verdict: “Stick with the book. People are interested in it for a reason.” And then that night I read an interview with Stephen Tobolowksy, one of the supporting actors in Sneakers, one of my favorite movies. Tobolowsky once asked Phil Alden Robinson, the writer and director of the film, how he’d come up with such a great script. Alden, “blushed and said he had worked on it for nine years. I know spending a long time writing something doesn’t guarantee success. But not giving up on a good idea almost always does.”

I like that quote. No, more accurately, I love it. It was pretty much exactly what I needed to hear, even if it was said by someone I don’t know.

The problem is/was manufacturing motivation to finish the project. I gave this a lot of thought, and ended up thinking back to when I wrote short stories. Usually it would take me a couple of months to complete a sellable short story because I would go through 10+ revisions to get it right. The downside was that this took a great deal of time, but the upside was I always sold those stories. Even before I started writing Lucky Town, which in the beginning was called Lockbox, I knew I would have to revise a lot to get the novel to sellable quality. I just didn’t think it would take over seven drafts.

In the end, the solution was fairly simple – it’s what I used to do with short stories that I felt ‘meh’ about – I decided to blow up the novel. What that means to me is taking a hard, objective look at the story and deconstructing it. Nothing would be sacred, anything could go. I’d been approaching the revisions like triage, quick patchwork surgery trying to keep the thing alive and stop the bleeding but not doing anything too radical. But maybe radical is what is needed. It’s worked with my short stories. And when I applied that to Lucky Town, I saw things and had ideas I never had before. I’ve given myself a week to brainstorm this new approach to the book and see how I feel about it. Already I have a better entrance into the book, and a better set-up for the premise, so that’s good. It’ll change the book a good bit, but still remain true to my original idea that I still like a lot. Oh, and I can put in more teenagers, which would be nice considering, you know, it’s a YA novel. The thought of writing this book excites me a bit, makes me want to write, a feeling I haven’t had in a couple of months. We’ll see where it goes.

So that’s about it. There’s no end to his drama yet, but it feels closer than before.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Onward and upward!

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