Writer’s Craft #105
Justine Graykin is a writer and free-lance philosopher sustained by her deep, abiding faith in Science and Humanity — well, Science, anyway –- and the belief that humor is the best anti-gravity device. Find her work and bloggings at justinegraykin.com
This agent loved the samples I’d sent, read through one manuscript and praised it to the skies (“You have penned a wonderful, magical tale that will stay with me for a long time. I read it in one sitting, the writing was that strong.”) but ultimately rejected it because of some structural flaws (over which I labored long and mightily, and lo, Archimedes Nesselrode will be released as an eBook by DoubleDragon Publishing in 2013). Plus it wasn’t really her genre, and she asked me to send her something more skiffy, if I had it.
So I did. Sent her the requisite samples. She asked for the whole manuscript. In response I got what has to be one of the oddest and most frustrating rejections I’ve ever received:
“I read quite a ways into Tristramacus and while I love your writing (it’s quite beautiful and lyrical), I found myself noticing the words rather than the story and that for me is a show-stopper. … I hope you find an agent or an editor who loves your style and can guide you towards that last edit to make the story zing.”
I was so baffled by this I shared it with some of my associates to see what their take might be. One suggested that perhaps this might be code for “the vocabulary is distracting”, possibly that the words I’m using are slightly inappropriate and draw attention to themselves. Or maybe she had to read the thing with a dictionary. If so, then I’d really rather she had said so, rather than damning me with rich praise.
But another writer pointed out that she misuses the term “show-stopper”, which is actually an expression for a performance so spectacular that the volume of applause temporarily keeps the show from continuing. This could be a clue that perhaps she isn’t as erudite as one might hope for, and I may just be writing over her head.
There are a number of very popular, best-selling authors who have been accused of being unexceptional, even downright lousy, writers. Their books fly off the shelves. Yet certainly there is an audience out there who, as another commenter put it, “devour China Mieville’s stuff precisely because he uses words I have never seen used before – but they are perfect words, and they fit exactly where they should and say exactly what he needs them to say, and I come out of the experience the richer for it.” I may not be in China’s league, but I certainly shoot for something somewhere above Fifty Shades of Gray.
What is your take on this, Dear Reader (and presumably Writer)? Am I too damn lyrical and beautiful for my own good? Should I shovel a bit more grit, thrills, smut and cuss into the mix? Or try to find out who China Mieville’s agent is?