It’s true: I’m revising my (no longer so) new novel yet again. When I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, my editor and I met for a long talk where I wound up convinced of the wisdom of (most of) her ways. Donna prompted me to one big, all-important change in FOX STREET, and a pretty massive overhaul of MO WREN. Once again, after I finished groaning, fuming, sighing, kicking, and did I mention groaning, I have wound up trusting her. Back to work.
One of the things I’m fixing is something I know very well—something I’ve said aloud in workshops untold times. The child is the hero of your story. He’s got to be the one who makes things change. In my novel, Larry was always at the heart of things, yet too many of his discoveries were more or less being handed to him—he wasn’t the actor so much as the receiver. Where’s the fun and excitement in that?
I also didn’t have enough at stake—another thing I’ve said in many critiques (is there by any chance an adage about seeing other people’s faults far more easily than your own?) Working on that has been the best part of this round of revisions, even if I’ve had kill off a really sweet, apple-cheeked old lady– RIP, dear Granny!
Even after all the work I’d done on the book, some of the minor characters still had STOCK stamped on their foreheads. Really, you can’t ever know how many cliches your brain harbors until you sit down to write. Giving everybody a new wrinkle has been satisfying. What I think is that for me, plot—what happens next—is so monstrously difficult, I fall back on the easy way out with other things. And that’s okay. as long as I go back and fix them.
Just for fun, here are three openings I’ve used so far. I won’t tell you which one I think is going to stick:
1) Larry’s parents were creatures of habit. Every morning his Mom staggered into the kitchen with her arms straight out, rigid as the walking dead. Slowly, she rejoined the living, rubbing her eyes, blinking, and looking surprised all over again to find herself in a little house, on a tiny island, in a great lake.
Dad? He inspected his gun.
2) Some fathers sit at the breakfast table and read the newspaper. Others check their calendars, or help their kids practice spelling words, or if they’re really talented, all three at once.
My father? Larry Walnut Sr.? He inspects his gun.
3) I was five or six when I first understood: I live on a dot of land 100% surrounded by water. It freaked my primitive, little kid brain. What if the island sank? What if it drifted away like a boat that slips its mooring and is never seen again? Dad took me on his lap to explain that Pinch Island has a stony anchor that goes all the way to the bottom of the lake. Don’t you worry, he told me in his deep, Dadly voice. This little island’s going nowhere.
Were truer words ever spoken?
Favorite writing quote of the week. Anne Lamott on being afraid to use family and acquaintances in your fiction: “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”