Jennifer Hillier

I wish I knew how to quit you

Nov 2, 2009 | Uncategorized

I spent four hours yesterday trying to write a basic three-act outline for the sequel to CREEP (tentatively titled THE CHASE), but it wasn’t working and I gave up.  The seed of an idea is there, but it doesn’t seem to want to evolve into anything more.

Simply put, I can’t envision the story.

I’ve written two novels in my lifetime, and both started off strong.  Both had endings in my head, even though those endings changed multiple times as the story grew.  But with THE CHASE, I don’t know how to force an idea to develop.

I guess I never had to worry about it before.

So, for NaNoWriMo, I’m going back to MAGNOLIA.  It’s the very first novel I wrote, and it never got past the first draft stage.  I decided two years ago that it was too structurally flawed to just revise, but last winter I began to think I could rewrite it entirely (dropping all of the characters – and a few new ones – into a similar but much-improved plot, and changing it from a horror to a thriller).

The rewrite eventually stalled last summer at about 24,000 words, but reading back the eleven new chapters I have so far, I still feel a spark with that damned novel.  I can’t seem to let it go.  As Jack said to Ennis in Brokeback Mountain, “I wish I knew how to quit you!”  I know exactly how he feels (minus the secret gay cowboy love story, of course).  Sometimes you can’t let something go, even if it is causing you all kinds of heartache and stress.

If I can make my NaNo goal and add 50,000 words to MAGNOLIA (and yep, I have every intention of stealing what ideas I can from the original draft), I’ll have a novel that’s pretty close to being done by the end of this month.  Not sayin’ it will be any good, but all writing is rewriting.  And more rewriting.  I just want to finish it already, so I can work with it.

In other news, I’ve retooled my query for CREEP.  I thought my first one was good, and so did my beta readers, but I realized this weekend it was lacking something – a strong voice.  Yeah, I’ve stated who the protagonist and villain are, and what the stakes are, blah blah blah, but I don’t know that there’s anything in my current query letter to suggest I can actually write fiction well.  In a query, a strong plot and interesting characters are essential, just like they are in the novel.  But also like in the novel, a writer’s voice sells it.

I believe I have voice in my novel, but not every agent asks for sample pages right off the bat.  Sometimes that one-page query letter is all you have to make to an impression.

And I don’t know that I’ve been making an impression.

I guess my first rejection really stuck with me.  If I can’t grab an agent’s attention with my prose, then I’m good as screwed, because we all know the serial killer thing has been done to death (pun intended).  And considering just about every plot has been dreamed up already, your voice is sometimes all you have.

For the record, I’m not changing the manuscript.  That baby’s done.  But I’m learning I’ll have to continue to rework the query as often as I need to, depending on the results I’m getting.

As for my strategy, I’ll continue to query five agents a week.  Frankly, it sucks up too much energy to query more than that.  Every letter has to be personalized to some degree, and every agent’s submission guidelines have to be triple-checked.  Some have blogs I need to read.  Almost all have websites.  Some want sample pages, some want a synopsis, and some want both.  And the list goes on and on.  Keeping my queries to five per week gives me a chance to make sure each one shines, that I haven’t missed any small details, and also gives me a chance to rework things if I’m not getting the results I’m hoping for.

Keeping it to five also gives me a life outside Query Hell.

As for that life, I managed 651 stinky new words today for MAGNOLIA.

Hey, it’s a start.