May. 6, 2010

A Male Jodi Picoult

Yesterday my novel-in-progress reached a critical milestone. My editor and I had a long talk in which we agreed that the story is now all in place. A new ending, which takes the story in a direction I never dreamed of when I began writing page 1, now seems right and credible, even inevitable — in the way that good endings always seem inevitable once you have “discovered” them. So what remains now is just minor changes, polishing. In 2-4 weeks I will turn the manuscript in and essentially be done with it. There will be a few more rounds of edits, but from here on the changes will be increasingly picayune, things like moving commas and checking for internal consistency. Important, yes, but less arduous.

The feedback from my editor, Kate Miciak, has been glowing. Kate is a brilliant editor and not one to bullshit. Lord knows, she has been blunt about my manuscripts in the past. So when she raves, I take her at her word. And she is raving about this book.

The hope is that the book will appeal to a wider audience than my first two have. It is not a gritty urban crime story. The setting (the suburbs) and the characters seem more “relatable.” It should be more accessible to the wide swath of readers who, to be frank, I will have to reach if I am to make a go of this: women, book clubs, general-fiction readers who simply won’t consider genre mystery or suspense, no matter how literate or rich. Not to worry: the book is a crime story. But it is equally a family story and a lot less bloody than my other novels have been. I know, I know — I’m getting old, going soft.

A few other random developments:

  • The book still does not have a title. This has bugged me from the start, as I’ve written here before. A title brings the whole project into focus. A book without a title is like a forgotten name — it is right on the tip of your tongue but you can’t quite find the words. Infuriating.
  • I hope to “publish” the first chapter online very soon. I’d love to share at least a little bit of the story with readers who have been waiting for a long time already and now will have to wait until next summer. Obviously this raises copyright issues but I can’t imagine Bantam will object. They routinely publish the first chapter of upcoming books as a teaser. Stay tuned.
  • The last couple of weeks have been a root canal. I lost energy and focus. Attention fatigue set in; I have been staring at this project too damn long. Worse, I had just expended quite a bit of energy to get the manuscript in, only to be told the ending needed a complete rewrite. So maybe a letdown was inevitable. Still, this was a lowpoint. That’s the way it goes, though. Writing a novel is a marathon. There are lots of ups and downs like this. Now, at least, I am over Heartbreak Hill and racing for the finish. Now run, you lazy bastard, run!
  • The book will be a lead title for Bantam in spring or summer 2011. The precise pub date has not been set yet and won’t be for quite some time. As all publishers do, we will look for a window when no bigfoot authors are rolling out their summer blockbusters. It’s hard enough to generate buzz during the lulls.
  • My editor envisions a hardcover-to-trade-paperback path for the book. That is a big step for me, one I am very excited about. I have always felt that my books are miscast as mass-market paperbacks, and I have always wanted to see them in trade format. (Trade paperbacks are the larger size, priced around $12-$15. The format signals readers that the publisher considers the book a significant one, worthy of the higher price even for a paperback.) There has been some category confusion about my books, I’m afraid. They look for all the world like airport thrillers but they read like something else. What that “something else” is, exactly, is anybody’s guess. “Literary crime”? Good luck finding that section in your local bookstore. Unfortunately, there is no precise pigeonhole for me in the market, which is why my books have been tough for publishers to position. But trade paperback gets closer to the mark.
  • It has been suggested that this book might become a template for me and, rather than pursue more violent tales of urban mayhem, I might just settle down and become “a male Jodi Picoult, with a touch of Scott Turow.” Which sounds just grand to me.

Finally, thank you, sincerely, to everyone who reads this blog and sends emails and “likes” me on Facebook and waits around for years between books. You readers mean the world to me. It is a privilege to be a novelist. You all make that possible. I never forget that.

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