Tuesday, 27 October 2009

SUBMISSION SPOTLIGHT 6: Adult Readers

Because I'm about to start my very own literary consultancy, Pen2Publication  -  gulp  -  I won't be doing many more of these Submission Spotlights. (So please don't send any more.) But I thought I'd try to use a small number of the backlog first.

If you haven't commented on one of these before and don't know the system, please go and read a couple. (Click on the label "Submission Spotlights" in the list of posts on the right.)

Remember: all I have asked for is a covering letter and first 500 words  -  NO synopsis or anything. (That's why the letter says there's a synopsis but there isn't, if you see what I mean.) Please ignore any errors of formatting  -  it will be my fault.

Comments should be constructive, honest and informed. If you are someone who doesn't normally read this genre, say so but DO still comment. And please, everyone, DO comment. Our brave author needs you!

____________________________________________________

Dear (name of Literary Agent)

Please find enclosed a synopsis and the first three chapters of my novel Filbert’s Mind Rooms (literary, 72,000 words) for your consideration of representing my work.

After a powerful dream, Donald Filbert wakes up in a wardrobe. He dresses as a woman then takes a train to his new job as a security guard of an empty office block. Filbert is mentally ill, a prisoner within his own mind. Due to his strange mental state, he mixes thoughts of the past and present with surreal fantasy, relating these to a recalled psychiatrist.

There are two tragedies in his life: the loss of his father and the loss of his wife Birnadette. His mental barriers which screen him from recalling those poignant memories are slowly eroded until he finally remembers the shocking truth.

I have written another novel entitled Stubb, A Gothic Tale (gothic/magic realism, 74,000 words) and I am writing my third novel called The Turquoize Traveller (magic realism, 20,000 WIP).

I would be glad to send you the complete manuscript of Filbert’s Mind Rooms for your review. Please note that my proposal is on submission to other agents.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to your earliest reply.

Yours Sincerely
________________________________________________

First 500 words of Filbert's Mind Rooms (slightly over to a natural break):
The fisherman is coarse faced with rudder ears; he hoses down already slippery slats, moonlight painted. Restless knife-sharpeners: one touches an oilstone, engrains oil in whorls on his thumb. Spectators with white faces huddle and blink at whipping wind.
‘Let’s hold your hand.’ She is gazing at me and I ask: ‘When, then?’

That mournful horn answers from the ship shape ahead, ebony block against grey, avoiding spotlights from the quay.

A growling from the generator. Chains, powdered with rust, scrape up the slats and become taut in shifting shadows. For every link consumed on a winch reel, the waves give another.

‘See?’ Birnadette says, ‘not long,’ and this difficult watery birth (umbilical cords of iron) begins.

The tail fin first – as tall as I stand – then the body emerging with the sea foaming from the labour. Those tons of flesh keep on coming, gigantic and glistening. The harpoon is an obscene desecration of its flesh. The tip protrudes from the beast, gouging the slats. All is a scraping, rattling, creaking, until even the wind quietens and the generator stops.

This slaughtered and humiliated whale is longer than a train carriage. The bank of flesh builds from the flagging fin curled over those cruel chains.

The butchers sharpen their knives – hear the hissing steel. I shall visit this wondrous mammal. It shouldn’t be here under these cold stars and stares. Its place is the empire of the deep, its monstrous yet refined form surging within an ocean. What stratum of consciousness have we insolently wrenched it from? I have plucked one of the filtering bones and it is so pliable, I almost expect a tone to be produced, perhaps harp-like. I’m able to stroke the inside of that cavernous mouth. It’s like a fur and as soft to the touch. I’ll run my hand over its smooth leather blueish skin.

Step back to the side now. A fishermen has raised a curved knife. He is slitting the creature about its head with a honed experience, his yellow oilskins squeaking.

Birnadette is even-mouthed, breathy, chilled; I stand behind her and bring her to me. She pulls the sides of my coat around her while I lightly rest my chin on her head. I smell shampoo mixed with a stronger, alien odour from the air. Am I imagining the whale breathing so gently as to be barely perceptible? Now more chains slither like tentacles. Hooks are hasped to their ends then embedded into that slit. The sea is sending fingers of foam racing up the sloped slats, trying to take back her child, soughing and whooshing; never reaching.

The generator groans into life again. Those chains jerk on the hooks until the thick skin folds back from about the slit. It’s being pulled away with a loud ripping noise, exposing fibrous white blubber with the inner surface of skin looking like the pith of an orange. Clouds of stinking steam rise to reek this night air. Dancing, prancing mad shadows. No pause to allow remorse or mourning: the flashing knives have been plunged into the peeled animal. They are cutting sizeable chunks of red meat and laying them on a metal platform as though building blocks to some gruesome nightmare igloo.
_________________________________________________

Over to you all for comments. And thank you to the author "gyroscope". Good luck!

PS  -  yes, I have changed "course-faced" to "coarse-faced" as requested  -  sorry I didn't get to this as soon as gyroscope asked.

32 comments:

Lexi said...

The extract starts with a spelling mistake; ‘course faced’ should surely be ‘coarse-faced’. With this, and the terse style and unusual expressions, I read the first paragraph several times before I got its meaning. (Is there a reason not to spell the name the conventional way, ‘Bernadette’?)

I found it easier to read as I went on; some nice description and imagery that I’d probably be more enthusiastic about were I a fan of literary fiction.

The query letter: ‘Donald Filbert wakes up in a wardrobe. He dresses as a woman then takes a train to his new job’ – this struck me as unintentionally comic. The query did not make me want to read the book; quite the opposite, but then I am certain I am not the target reader, so my opinion is unlikely to be useful.

gyroscope said...

Hi Lexi

Thank you for your comments. You are correct: "course faced" should be "course-faced". I have corrected this on my manuscript. (Nicola, would you mind correcting it in the sample also please?)

The terse style is deliberate to an extent; the first person narrative is meant to be the main character's thoughts and the reader soon discovers he is recalling memories to a remembered psychiatrist. (I'll mention here that the novel is a balance between first and third person narrative). The terseness calms down later on; these particular thoughts are a half dream/memory while in the wardrobe. This was my interpretation of stream-of-consciousness of Donald Filbert. I'm sorry you didn't like the style. I'm unsure what you mean by "unusual expressions".

Concerning the spelling of Birnadette: even my wife has pointed this out! I'm fairly insistent though that I'll stick with the less-used spelling (although if a future agent/editor insisted I'd back down!)

The two sentences which you found comic in my query letter is a bit puzzling to me, to be honest. Sorry to hear you wouldn't read my novel, but then of course, not everyone enjoys literary novels (however good, bad or indifferent mine might be). It would be the same for me if the genre was horror or romantic fiction.

Your opinions have been useful Lexi; they were interesting especially as you mention you are not a fan of literary fiction.

Clare said...

My overwhelming feeling on reading, and re-reading, this piece is that it is either a translation into English or it is written by someone for whom English is not their first language.
While the meaning of the words can be deduced they do not flow effortlessly eg "recalled psychiatrist", "proposal is on submission" which rendered it quite hard work to read.
The plot sounds intriguing but very complex.
Inconstencies in style such as the narrator using I have, I'm and I'll within the one paragraph also detracted from readability.
There is some great description and vivid imagery though - I love the picture of the sea "sending fingers of foam racing up the sloped slats, trying to take back her child, soughing and whooshing"
I get the impression the author is familiar with life on a fishing boat - not necessarily whaling! - because the writing is at its best, and most comfortable, while describing events thereon.
Good luck gyroscope!

Nicola Morgan said...

Yes, will change the spelling mistake (though it's still wrong in your comment, gyroscope!)

I am a fan of lit fic, but lit fic does not deny the importance of plot, story and pace. I agree that there is some excellent description here but I agree that some of the phrasing is not quite natural or easy. It's sometimes laboured and there's too much change of syntax / flow, making the reader have to work too hard instead of drinking in the language. "What stratum of consciousness have we insolently wrenched it from?" doesn't feel sytlistically smooth. This sentence: "Restless knife-sharpeners: one touches an oilstone, engrains oil in whorls on his thumb." - really hard to fit within the context of the one before and after. The reader keeps having to twist the linguistic brain cells to work out meaning.

There's also a little too much self-consciousness: "stars and stares" eg. Unedited lit fic writing can croos the line from clever to clever-clever and if I was an editor I would want to rein your exuberance in and make your writing more powerful by giving it shades of power and peace, instead of constant purple. "Ship shape" is another example of clever-clever, and is not right here, I feel.

But my main advice would be that this is not the start of a novel. This is a powerful scene, a focused descriptive scene, which requires intense effort from the reader at the point in a story where the reader hasn't decided whether to invest. So, what the reader thinks at this point, I feel, is "Oh, here's someone who loves language, but is he going to grip me or is he just in it to play games with language?" I'd strongly suggest launching us into the story before we have this sequence.

Even in a descriptive passage, we need narrative flow. My senses were bombarded from different directions and I was asked to look at so many different things instead of being introduced more logically to the scene before me.

Loved the way the man pulls the woman to him and smells her hair.

Loved lots of phrases and felt you really conjured the atmosphere wonderfully.

Re the letter - yes, I'm afraid I also thought we were in for an amusing story because of exactly the same bit that Lexi mentioned! The voice of that part of the letter doesn't reflect the voice of the sample.

gyroscope - I hope you'll take both positive and negative on board? It's very hard to do this in a public forum but we are your potential readers and we matter! You'll disagree with lots of things, of course, but remember that they're offered to be helpful. Far better see how readers read you now than after publication!! I wish I'd had this chance myself.

Sally Zigmond said...

I do read a lot of literary fiction and the idea behind this novel sounds intriguing. However, I was of the firm opinion that the idea of the main character waking up in a wardrobe and dressing as a woman was meant to be comic and I thought this was going to be a humorous novel but with a serious point. (I mean, his name is Filbert and a filbert is a nut.)

The letter would certainly make me want to read your manuscript, although I did wonder what the point of it was and whether he would recover his wits by the end. You don't actually explain how his poignant memories are eroded. Is it by re-telling them? And I too am not sure what you mean by a 'recalled' psychiatrist.

But, the opening 500 words were a real struggle for me, even as a reader of literary fiction. It looked good on the page and there were some nice imagery but didn't actually make a lot of narrative sense. For example in "That mournful horn answers from the ship shape ahead, ebony block against grey, avoiding spotlights from the quay." How does a ship avoid spotlights? And: "It’s like a fur and as soft to the touch. I’ll run my hand over its smooth leather blueish skin." How can something be like a fur and leather at the same time? I understand that this is a dream and/or thoughts of a disturbed mind, but it's asking a lot of a reader. You see, I worry that if the whole novel is written at this intense level it would be a very difficult read.

If I were an agent, I would be thinking that there aren't too many publishers who would be willing to take this novel on. The market is small and the agent may well not be prepared for the slog of selling it.

Having said that, I would want to read on to see if Donald is an compelling enough character to hold my interest and if I felt his story was worth reading. (After all, an account of mental illness is not the most rewarding of reads and I wonder whether I would have the stamina to wade through another 71,500 words of this.

I, too, found the language a little off-centre as if written by an non-English speaker. It also seemed as if you were trying that bit too hard to be original and felt mannered and awkward. And I also found the bizarre spelling of Bernadette irritating.

However, there may well be a niche readership for this type of novel but it's not one I think you'll find easy to place. Good luck.

Peanut said...

I have a tendency to agree with what many of the people here have already stated. The query letter was in sharp contrast with what was actually presented in the opening of the book. The idea of a man waking up in a wardrobe, then going to work in women's clothing, evokes an extremely different image than the one that is presented when the book opens.

Concerning the book opening itself, I had difficulty with it. It is well written, but I found myself drowning in prose. It was simply too purple, too abstract. Insanity, I think, would have been better conveyed with just disjointed thoughts, rather than poetic disjointed thoughts. Or, it might work later in the book, but could just be too intense for the first 500 words. That is something that might need to be built up to, rather than just jumping into it.

Good luck! =D

gyroscope said...

Hi Clare

Thank you for your comment. I'll take another look at the query letter: "recalled psychiatrist" doesn't sound right, I agree; "a remembered psychiatrist" would be better, I guess. I think, trying to be formal in the query letter, I've perhaps overdone it, "proposal is on submission" being one of those overdone phrases.

I'm glad you find the plot intriguing; it is relatively complex though, and I guess that will alienate some readers but perhaps in this instant, it is what it is. To simplify it would not work as far as getting the main strands of plot across.

I've never been fishing but I do love the sea! Quite a few scenes in the book are by the sea.

Hi Nicola

I'm finding this exercise most helpful and gladly take on board positive and negative comments. Thank you again for this opportunity! And any constructive crits are more than welcome now rather than after publication, definitely.

I'll amend the query letter now; two people finding the sentences possibly comical! (Although I'm still not certain why...)!

"Course faced": my grog, how many years has that spelling mistake been poking its tongue out at me?

I wholeheartedly agree that literary fiction must not deny the importance of plot, story and pace. I'd like to think that these elements have not been diluted in my novel.

I'll take a good look again at this beginning (which at one time was further in). I wanted to grab the reader with powerful imagery as well as introduce the stream-of consciousness style which appears a lot in the novel. But of course, if it's difficult to read then I've lost the race from the start with some readers, as you mentioned. I wouldn't be able to find another place further in the novel now unfortunately, so I'll just have to get this to work.

I'll take another look at some of the sentences to smooth the flow more; thank you for that observation.

Part of my "problem" concerning this novel is to let the reader in on the style as quickly as possible, to get them to realise that not only is it first person stream-of-consciousness but it's unusual in as much as Filbert's narration is not spoken to the reader, as such. It's spoken to the psychiatrist; in a way, the reader is eavesdropping inside his head. Well, that's the idea anyhow.

I've only just realised how many blinkin' alliterations I have in that one short section; Although I like a lot "stars and stares" and wouldn't really like to change that, I agree with "ship shape" as one too many, and the sentence reads just as well with the word "shape" deleted. Thank you for that!

Quote: "Oh, here's someone who loves language, but is he going to grip me or is he just in it to play games with language?" Good grief, one of the editors from a publishing house many years ago said practically the same thing. The trouble here is, all I can do is stamp my foot and yell: "I'm not trying to be clever, honest! And if there's any games with language, it's not me, it's my character who's playing games with language!" Oh dear, even that sounds like I'm trying to be clever...

Thank you for your comments Nicola, both positive and critical. I'll amend the letter and try to smooth the beginning few paras so that it becomes easier to quickly digest.

:)

DOT said...

I would have stopped reading after the initial typo. If an author cannot check, double-check and check again their submission, I feel the rest will be slipshod.

Having ploughed best as I could through the rest, I believe it tries to hard. It is not the terseness of the style I find awkward, indeed, I like it though it may prove too exacting over the length of a novel, it is the forced metaphors and analogies that trip me.

Example:
'For every link consumed on a winch reel, the waves give another.'

The logic of this sentence is the sea is pushing an extra link of chain out of the water for every link being pulled out by the winch.

'The harpoon is an obscene desecration of its flesh.'

I don't know what this means. I know what it is meant to mean but even in context it is ambiguous.

To be constructive, allow the terseness of your narrative style to colour the image you are creating, and concentrate on describing in simple terms the scene before us.

A psychotic, I believe, doesn't think in a chaos of metaphors, but sees things from a different perspective.

gyroscope said...

Hi Sally and Peanut (I hope you don't mind me replying to you together)

Consensus of opinion can't be ignored: I'll have to find a different way of explaining his strange sleeping quarters and wanting to dress as a woman (which is actually fully explained in the novel). There are a few tongue-in-cheek aspects and even slightly comical characters at the beginning, but this is not comedy by any means. (The reason for the slightly odd characters is to make the tragic ending even more powerful; that was my idea).

Yes, his memories are eroded through the telling of them to his remembered psychiatrist. The word "recalled" is definitely going!

OK, consensus again: I'm going to change "Birnadette" to the more usual spelling, thank you!

I'll go through each sentence again to ensure the meaning actually makes sense!

I'm not trying to be clever or original, I promise. I'm trying to put a person's memory seen in his mind's eye, explained to a person who's not there in reality, but who is, as far as Filbert is concerned, inside his head. And Filbert has a rather poetic way of describing his memories (the reader later finds out that he wanted to be a scriptwriter). It's a complex aspect which is impossible to explain in 500 words. I just hope that I can get people to read past that point, where this fundamental aspect of the novel is slowly explained.

One word that Peanut mentioned was "insanity". With respect, my character is not insane, he is mentally-ill. From my perspective, there is a difference.

This first 500 words is intense, I agree, but it becomes less so even after another 250 words or so.

I hope I don't come across as "having an answer to everything" here; I guess I'm agreeing with lots and disagreeing with a few others, as Nicola said I would!

quink said...

I agree with much of what has been written here about the letter and whether this is the start of the novel or not and so won't bore you with repetition.

But I do think that your letter could perhaps try harder to sell your novel than it does at the moment. The set up is intriguing, but I don't get a sense of how the story is going to unravel and what is going to change - and what's going to keep me going through the novel, whether that's character or plot. And I have to say that the prospect of spending 72,000 words in someone else's head, particularly someone with a strange mental state, isn't that appealing to me on its own. One thing that might help with this would be if you mentioned the reactions and responses of some of the people around him - at the moment it seems as though it's going to be fairly solipsistic.

In terms of the extract, I found it very dense (and I like literary fiction!) and would think that even if it came later in the book. It read more like prose poetry than a novel, and the words sometimes seem to be getting in the way of what you wanted to say, rather than drawing me into your world. There is also some word repetition too. Slats recurs four times and yet I'm not entirely sure what it's referring too - a few synonyms might help my understanding.

Jayne said...

Hello gyroscope. Thank you for this opportunity, I hope it’s useful to you! I also agree with the other posters that the beginning of your query sounds unduly comical, perhaps too light-hearted, and gives the impression the story will also be in the same vein, when it clearly isn’t. However I also tried reading it using this sentence as the starting point:

Filbert is mentally ill, a prisoner within his own mind.

And this sounded a lot better – a clear concise statement which sums up your protagonist. Maybe experiment with that as your beginning and see where the wardrobe and other points fit from there?

I would also agree with the others about the wording 'recalled psychiatrist', it’s not very clear what you mean with that – recollections of past therapy I guess, but you don’t want me (potential agent/publisher) to be having to second-guess you here. The other thing is I am delighted you are considering changing the spelling of Bernadette – your original spelling really clangs on the eyes for some reason.

The actual premise of your book sounds interesting, I would be curious to know what the shocking truth was about those two deaths (his father and his wife). Sounds good!

As to your 500 words… to be honest, when I was an editor (and in a past life I was, although not fiction) I would have stopped reading at ‘course faced’. I would instantly assume that the rest of your words are riddled with the same errors, and that I would have to do double the work to make you viable. It depends of course on whether you were recommended to me by someone I trust, whether I have seen any of your previous work and liked it, whether I have a moment of time while I am drinking my coffee and whether your query got me sufficiently interested to keep going.

Let’s say I am interested… this doesn’t feel like the start of a novel, but pages taken from somewhere within. You have a lovely way with words but your best sentences feel drowned with overblown description. I think you could possibly pare it down and give the reader a bit of breathing space here and there – we want to be able to read your words after all and this feels too heavy going for me. However I would like to say that literary isn’t my genre of choice, and I would be interested to know which authors you feel (or would like!) to be your contemporaries within this field.

gyroscope said...

Hi DOT

Yes, that initial typo has been there for years; I became "word-blind" to it! I'm guessing though that there's only 0.01 typos left....maybe....possibly ;)

I am a layman when it comes to psychiatry, so the following is my uninformed opinion only: Filbert, who suffers a mental illness, is not psychotic (until the end). As far as I know, psychosis is a state within a mental illness, not the illness itself. So his "chaos of metaphors" (are there really that many metphors? I'll have to count them) is more to do with his personal way of describing memories to his remembered psychiatrist. This may seem a cop-out, but I guess you need to read the third person narrative to compare. The first person narrative is akin to dialogue; that's the way he is speaking in his head, as he describes things.

Concerning your logic about the winch reel: "The logic of this sentence is the sea is pushing an extra link of chain out of the water for every link being pulled out by the winch." With respect, the word in the sentence is "consumed" so it's for every link pulled in by the winch.

And without being pedantic, the meaning of the sentence "The harpoon is an obscene desecration of its flesh." is Filbert's opinion concerning the whale being a sacred sentient mammal, (sacred in the way that a human can be called sacred) whereby the harpoon through it is a violent disrespect, being obscene in the way of repugnant or offensive to moral principles. OK, after that explanation you might think I'm an arty-farty blowbag trying to be clever, but...um, that's what I meant (for Filbert too have meant).

Thank you for your comments though DOT, they are appreciated.

Hi Quink

I'll certainly work harder on my two paragraphs of the letter to convey more of the core plot of the novel, thank you.

I'll take a look at the repeated word "slats"; perhaps I have overdone it...

The denseness is only at the beginning; I can assure you it lightens up further on. As for spending 72,000 words inside someone's head, there is at least 50% of the novel in the third person, so there is some relief from his strange mind!

I guess the intensity and prose aspect of the first 500 words is putting a lot of people off; I'm a little confused at the moment as to the solution which I'd be happy with (for the reader to be happy with).

Peanut said...

Apologies for posting again. I found something I wanted to clarify, and something I had thought I added to my original comment, but did not.

In regards to what gyroscope said-
"One word that Peanut mentioned was "insanity". With respect, my character is not insane, he is mentally-ill. From my perspective, there is a difference."

I wanted to clarify that I agree, there is a difference. And I wanted to be sure that I had caused no offense by my use of the word. I tend to view sanity as varying views of insanity when I write, so the word slipped.

Also, I forgot to add that this probably would be a book I would investigate. The idea is very interesting, especially in the way you seem to be presenting it throughout the rest of the novel.

Sheila said...

If I were the editor in question, or indeed someone browsing in a bookshop, the slightly comic wardrobe touch would make me want to read the book as it wouldn't sound so much like a grimm dense literary read! With that in mind, I would quite likely skim-read the beginning, just taking in that there was a whale involved in it somewhere, and go on to the rest, interested in finding out what happened. So for me the strategy (which probably wasn't a strategy) would have worked.
Not the spelling mistake though - that never works. Or the recalled psychiatrist.

gyroscope said...

Hi Jayne

Your comment is appreciated. That's a good idea to reorder the novel description sentences in the query letter, I'll get onto that, thank you. Also "recalled psychiatrist" is definitely out of the window! I'll reword that also.

I've just changed 112 instances of "Birnadette" to "Bernadette", and it didn't hurt one bit!

As for "course faced" instead of "coarse-faced" I'm beginning to howl a bit now: the literary agent I'd "sell my grandmother for" has the first three chapters of the novel with that mistake. I hope she's forgiving!

The prose style at the beginning is more "amplified" than anywhere else in the novel; I am beginning to get the picture that this should be calmed a bit.

As for authors I would like to be my contemporaries is a difficult one; although I could mention some authors I adore who have influenced me to varying degrees: two spring to mind (neither living unfortunately), Mervyn Peake and Angela Carter.


Peanut: I'm certain you haven't offended anyone, including me. Psychiatry is a complex subject with opposing opinions even within the profession anyway. There are many terms which have filtered into everyday use, some totally at odds with their true "professional meaning.

Thank you for telling me that you'd probably investigate the novel, that helps my confidence!


Hi Sheila

My reasoning for mentioning the wardrobe and the dressing as a woman was to cause the reader (in this case, the literary agent) to be intrigued. I didn't bargain on people finding it comical! Slightly comic maybe, as you wrote. It certainly is (and meant to be) highly unusual and a little odd. I want the agent to think: why on earth is he in a wardrobe? There is, in fact an explanation over and above the "fact" that the character is mentally ill. I'm really glad you'd want to find out what happened; I'd like to think of the novel as a "literary page-turner" (but then I would, wouldn't I!)

DOT said...

I am glad my comments have not been received like a harpoon in the buttocks.

Just to qualify: the comment about the logic of the protagonist's thought is not dependent on whether or not he has reached a state of psychosis or not - it is, after all the process that ends in him achieving that state - it is more to do with his POV. The best example I can think of as a model is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, where you, as reader, are completely sucked into Christopher Boone's individual way of viewing the world.

Mark Haddon inhabited the skin of Christopher and if you can do the same with Donald, your book will sing.

I wish you every success and am sure you will do it.

gyroscope said...

Hi again DOT

Quote: "I am glad my comments have not been received like a harpoon in the buttocks."

Hee! "Harpoon in the buttocks" sounds very Monty Python!

No really, I appreciate your opinions as I do all others; although I was getting a bit down concerning certain sentences not being understood. I realise that my style "given" to Filbert is not everyone's cup of tea, although I would point out that part of my job is to convince the reader that, whether or not you agree with what Filbert is thinking, you understand the way he is thinking, and later on, why he is thinking that way. It perhaps takes at least another 500 words to catch on to my way of expressing Filbert's thoughts. That doesn't let me off the hook though if sentences don't make any sense at all.

Concerning that, if I might hark back to comments Sally pointed out in an earlier post: "How does a ship avoid spotlights?" I meant to imply that the captain of the ship is avoiding coming any closer to the activity on shore, and thought this would be an interesting way to put it. I'll certainly look more closely at that sentence. Thank you for pointing that out, Sally.

Also, "It's like fur" refers to the inside of the mouth; the following sentence concerns the outside skin of the animal, if I may point out.

I haven't read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; (shame on me!); it sounds very interesting. I'd like to think that Filbert's individual way of looking at the world is "attractive" to people in a curious and fascinating way, I guess I'll have to wait until the possibility of readers reading the novel one day to find out if I've convinced them.

I've also realised that some readers are "not for turning" when it comes to reading novels outside of their chosen genre. I guess that's obvious now I've said it...

Quote:"I wish you every success and am sure you will do it."

Thank you so much DOT; us writer's are fragile beings aren't we! That sentence means a lot. (As does all the other compliments).


A huge thank you to Lexi, Clare, Nicola, Sally, Peanut, DOT, quink, Jayne and Shiela for your constructive crits, etc; it's highly appreciated.

I'm going to change the query letter as per suggestions; look closely at the 500 words again to see how I can make it less prosey; I've amended the typo, taken out a few odd words, and changed the name (Bernadette). It's been very much worth taken this opportunity given. So a special huge thank you to you, Nicola!

I'll post a "it was me all along" post with my real name now if you like!

gyroscope said...

Hi all, hope it's OK to post again so soon.

i've just read the 500 words again within the blog post. I think one reason why it takes time to latch onto the fact that it's first person SOC is because its in a regular font. All of the first person narrative in the novel is in italic. This clearly defines the first and third, as well as a "learned" aspect by the reader that italic printing means first person. (This is used a lot in science fiction, as I'm sure you know).

This doesn't solve the problem of those readers who find the 500 words full of purple prose, or too dense, or too descriptive. But at least, simply by presenting it in italic, the reader is automatically tuned into expecting a first person narrative.

I just thought I'd point this out...(I hope you don't think I'm labouring this now).

:)

Jan said...

Hello brave gyroscope. I hope I can make some helpful comments for you. On the letter:

* You could delete "of representing my work". It sounds awkward and the sentence actually doesn't need it.

* You might also think of another way to say recalled psychiatrist that isn't ambiguous. I didn't know whether the psychiatrist had somehow been defrocked in his/her profession or was being remembered.

* I think that giving the titles and word counts for your other books, especially the work in progress, may not be useful to the agent/editor. Yes, they would like to know that you write steadily and are prepared to produce more. But these details somehow seem to make the letter all about you. This impression gets reinforced by the "earliest reply" line that directly follows. And although in a sense the letter is about you in that it's about your book and your potential career, I think people respond better on a gut level when they get the feeling that you have also thought about their needs and respect their professionalism to reply to letters as soon as they can. I'm not an agent so I could be completely wrong. But I do know as a magazine editor who gets lots of query letters from writers that pressure to respond quickly always makes me feel harassed.

The story I can't critique, because I don't read literary fiction at all - personal taste. I also always have a lot of trouble getting into anything written in the present tense. But I actually did enjoy your rhythms, rhymes, assonances and alliterations in the beginning; I can see how much effort you've put into this piece. Best wishes! And kudos again on your bravery in posting it and your grace with all the feedback.

Anonymous said...

gyroscope:

I started reading this earlier, then stopped, because it's very much not my genre, which renders my opinion worthless. But you're so damn mature about accepting criticism that I thought I'd try a little experiment. I explained myself, but screw that. I'll just apologize in advance, instead. Here's the result:

A fisherman hoses down the slats. A knife-sharpener touches an oilstone, engrains oil in whorls on his thumb. Spectators huddle and blink at the wind.

‘Let’s hold your hand.’ She gazes at me and I ask: ‘When, then?’

A horn answers from the ship, an ebony block against grey, avoiding spotlights from the quay. A growling sounds from the generator. Chains scrape the slats and become taut in the shadows.

‘See?’ Birnadette says, ‘not long,’ and this watery birth (umbilical cords of iron) begins.

The tail fin emerges first – as tall as I stand – then the body rises, with the sea foaming from the labour. Those tons of flesh keep on coming. A harpoon protrudes from the beast, gouging the slats. All is a scraping, rattling, creaking, until even the wind quietens and the generator stops.

The whale is longer than a train carriage. The bank of flesh builds from the fin curled over the chains, and the butchers sharpen their knives – hear the hissing steel.

I shall visit this mammal. It shouldn’t be here, its place is the empire of the deep, surging within an ocean. I pluck one of the filtering bones and almost expect a harp-like tone. I stroke the inside of the whale's mouth , run my hand over its smooth skin.

Step back to the side now. A fishermen raises a knife. He slits the creature about its head, his oilskins squeaking.

I stand behind Birnadette and bring her to me. She pulls my coat around her while I rest my chin on her head. Am I imagining the whale breathing? More chains slither like tentacles. Hooks are hasped to their ends then embedded into the slit. The sea sends fingers of foam up the sloped slats, trying to take back her child, soughing and whooshing; never reaching.

The generator groans into life again. The chains jerk until the thick skin folds away from the slit with a loud rip, exposing fibrous white blubber with the inner surface of skin looking like the pith of an orange. Clouds of steam rise and reek in the night air. The flashing knives plunge into the peeled animal.

Proe Perkins

Nicola Morgan said...

"anonymous" Proe Perkins (getting less and less anonymous by the day) - now, you and I know that you're a curmudgeonly old bugger who likes to wind me and my other blog-readers up with your curmudgeonliness. However, that is an really excellent piece of prose. It has all the atmosphere and slithery salty feeling of gyroscope's piece, but with precision and crystalline delivery. (I'd still have kept the smell of shampoo, because it contrasts so well with the ugly smells of the dead/dying whale and all that blubber.) gyroscope - you may feel Proe has killed too many of your darlings but he has given an excellent example of great editing. This is prose which slips into the reader's mind like seaweed, ensnarling him and drawing him down. Proe may says this isn't his genre. I'd say it should be. It's still your work, your writing, but its inner beauty is now revealed rather than hidden.

A really important thing writers must remember is that a reader only has so many books he'll read during a year, and for ours to be one of them means that we have to woo the reader, not expect him to desire to understand our motives without due cause.

Proe - thank you: you are in severe danger of earning my respect. Gyroscope - thank you for producing a piece of writing that has ended up being a perfect lesson in what an outside eye can do for an writer's inner voice. As I say, you may not find it easy to prefer Proe's editing, but I hope you'll think about it and perhaps come to a compromise? It will help your chances of publication.

gyroscope said...

Hello Jan

Thank you for your wise words concerning the query letter; excellent advice there. I'll be amending the letter some time today. I'm glad you enjoyed my writing! (Although now, it will be edited....)

Hi Proe (Anonymous)

My goodness: this is the very first time any of my writing has been edited. I thought that if ever there was to be any editing by a publisher's editor or an agent, it would be a painful process. But far from it: reading your edited version of my sample, a quite unexpected feeling came over me: elation.

I've lived with this novel for so many years (I won't tell you how many!) that I've been blinded to the fact that these 500 words (+ not many more) are overcooked and slightly at odds with the rest of the first person narrative. (Not far past the end point of this piece the denseness of prose disappears).

I'm actually thrilled that you've solved a niggling problem which has been hovering below consciousness for a long time. Thank you so much! That is enormously appreciated, really.

Hi Nicola

So my darlings were killed without so much as an "ouch"! Well, not strictly true: to use another analogy, Proe pruned the tree marvellously but I might just hang a few, just a few, of the baubles back on (as well as putting back in the "smell of shampoo" sentence). .... I'll be careful though! So there's not much compromise needed, I'm quite getting used to the "pruned tree".

THe only thing here is, I'm in a bit of a quandary: as I mentioned earlier, the first 3 chapters of the novel are with an agent now. Do I phone or write to them to explain I've changed the first 600 words or less and would like to resubmit, or would that hinder more than help, would you consider, Nicola? (They've had the chapters for over 3 months now; I found the courage to phone them only a couple of days ago to ask if I would still be receiving a reply; their answer was yes. Perhaps it might be seen as hassling them unnecessarily, I don't know...)

Anonymous said...

gyroscope:

Thanks for taking that in the spirit in which it was intended! I actually sat down to simply delete every single adjective, just to see what that looked like, then surprised myself by getting drawn into the scene. It took less than 10 minutes, though, because it's still 100% yours. You've got a lovely voice and a real eye for detail. And your willingness to accept criticism speaks incredibly well of your professionalism. (My approach is slightly different, and revolves around elaborate revenge fantasies.)

And Nicola, the 'Perkins' is in honor of Maxwell. I'm American, so insist that you furriners learn my cultural references. And in my genre, all books start with, 'When the Colonel stepped into the elevator, Addison shot the first bodyguard in the temple and the second in the throat.'

Proe

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

gyroscope, I won't add to the critiquing because everybody has already said everything that needed to be said. Proe has indeed done a lovely job of paring your prose back to its more beautiful bones.

I just wanted to add some peripheral stuff. Firstly, editing. Sadly most publishers don't spend a lot on editing these days, so make the most of what Proe has done for you: You may not be as lucky with an actual publisher. This is important, because you can't assume a publisher will take your ms and polish it into something really amazing. They may - horrors - just take what you've written and fling it out there with very little revision. Personally this has happened to me twice and was a bit of a shock.

The other thing I wanted to mention was the thorny business of whether to resubmit to agents after an edit. I've been there too; spotted glaring problems after submitting and then wanted to ring them up and shout at them not to read the version they are holding. It's very difficult. Most agents will be quite impatient with someone who does this, and may well ignore the rewrite. Then again, they may appreciate your conscientiousness. It's OK to prod them after three months, by the way. Six weeks for a partial, three months for a full ms. But no sooner than that.

Personally I'd resubmit, but you can't get away with doing this more than once, so you need to be absolutely sure the new version won't be superceded by yet another. Also be prepared for them to be unimpressed. And take the whole experience as a cautionary tale: Never submit anything to anyone until you've slept on it for a good few weeks, let it percolate, done a final edit and are ABSOLUTELY sure it's in the best shape it can possibly be.

Hmm, what am I doing giving advice? I'm supposed to have given up the game altogether!

Nicola Morgan said...

Beleaguered Squirrel says "Sadly most publishers don't spend a lot on editing these days, so make the most of what Proe has done for you: You may not be as lucky with an actual publisher."

Please note, everyone: the level of editing which Proe has done on gyroscope's work is absolutely way beyond what any (especially first-time) author can expect. Or should expect. Even in the old days. This would cost the publisher too much if applied to the whole book, (and with no evidence of likely sales) and publishers would be mad to spend that fortune when they've got plenty of books pushing their noses up requiring less. So, this high-level editing is something which the author must do. If I, as a published author whose publisher asks her for novels, produced something which needed this level of work, I'd be told to go away, drink more coffee and deal with it. Myself. Now that Proe has demonstrated how gyroscope can extract the meaning more clearly from his work, gyroscope must apply it to the rest - that's what will make him a writer. It's the sort of direction I will offer writers through Pen2Publication - taking sections of work and reconstructing it, and then guiding the author through how this is done. It's one of my favourite activities - the shine-revealing power edit!

Gyroscope - I am thrilled with how this has turned out for you. Quite the best result of any Sub Spotlight, partly because of Proe and the other commenters (all very apt and mostly agreeing, which helps) and partly because you have really taken it as a lightbulb moment.

You asked: "... the first 3 chapters of the novel are with an agent now. Do I phone or write to them to explain I've changed the first 600 words or less and would like to resubmit, or would that hinder more than help, would you consider, Nicola? (They've had the chapters for over 3 months now; I found the courage to phone them only a couple of days ago to ask if I would still be receiving a reply; their answer was yes. Perhaps it might be seen as hassling them unnecessarily, I don't know...)"

My feeling is that you're going to have to avoid hassling further. And yes, this is what it would look like. Either they will say they're interested in seeing more, or that they'd be interested if you write something else, in either of which cases you can send them your re-worked MS (after you've applied the Proe method to it all...). OR, they'll say they're not interested, in which case the best/most you can do is say you've had the benefit of some great editing advice and wonder if you could resubmit. I think if you contact them now before they contact you, they're going to see you as indecisive and unready. There are many many more agents to approach. So, get this MS right, really right, and then start approaching afresh.

gyroscope said...

Hi Beleaguered Squirrel

(Every time I see a squirrel, I say: "Ooh, look, a squirrel! AND it's a grey one!" Then the same thought process: "Hang on, it's the red squirrel that's rarely seen". ;)

Yes, I think it's a fine balancing act with editing; as an author wanting the odd sentence rearranged perhaps; the odd adjective deleted and still the sneaky typo's laugh dutifully smothered. But not a wholesale overhaul so that the work no longer is yours. Although as you say, editors don't do that any more, thank goodness, either a novel is good enough or it's not...

Thank you for your advice concerning resubmitting; I've taken your phrase "...be prepared for them to be unimpressed" and Nicola's advice concerning this. So I won't be bothering them and hope....well, just hope.

Quote: "Hmm, what am I doing giving advice? I'm supposed to have given up the game altogether!"

Ah, I'm sure you'll meet the ghost of Arnold Writernegger some time soon enough, drawling: "You'll be back!"

Hi Nicola

Yes, I so much appreciate what Proe has done with the editing; and I don't expect this from a publishing editor, for certain.

Quote: "Now that Proe has demonstrated how gyroscope can extract the meaning more clearly from his work, gyroscope must apply it to the rest"

Luckily this passage of writing is the only overbaked section in the whole novel (but I'm going to read through just one more time - the 50th time? - just to be on the safe side). There's a "historical" reason for why this is, but I won't bother you with that... For certain one part of it is word-blindness to a piece of so-familiar writing.

Pen2Publication (what an excellent name!) sounds brilliant and if the agency decide not to read the full MS I might be tempted by your new company's services. I guess it'll have it's own website?

I'm definitely not going to resubmit to this current agent, just keep fingers crossed and see what happens. Thank you for your advice there also, Nicola.

Quote: "There are many many more agents to approach. So, get this MS right, really right, and then start approaching afresh."

Definitely; if I have no luck with this agent, I've a list of almost 40 others I'm prepared to send to. I'm going to do this properly this time around...

gyroscope said...

Whoops, forgot to reply to your last comment, Proe.

Thank you for your complimentary and encouraging words!

:)

gyroscope said...

Just for the record, the agent whose had my three chapters for over 3 months has just sent a rejection email.

Ah well, onwards and upwards, as they say. All of the constructive crits are going to help enormously, thank you all once again.

gyroscope said...

And finally...... (I do hope you don't think I'm overdoing this now Nicola, especially as "the spotlight has been turned off and the audience gone home") but I thought I'd show passers-by to this post my edited version of the 500 words, based on Proe's excellent editing eye. As I wrote previously, I've "hung a few of the baubles back on the tree". Hope I haven't overdone it; I don't think I have...


A coarse-faced fisherman hoses down slippery slats, moonlight painted. A restless knife-sharpener touches an oilstone, engrains oil in whorls on his thumb. Spectators huddle and blink at whipping wind.
‘Let’s hold your hand.’ She gazes at me and I ask: ‘When, then?’
That mournful horn answers from the ship, ebony block against grey, avoiding spotlights from the quay. A growling from the generator. Chains, powdered with rust, scrape the slats and become taut in the shadows.
‘See?’ Bernadette says, ‘not long,’ and this difficult watery birth (umbilical cords of iron) begins.
The tail fin emerges first – as tall as I stand – then the body rises, with the sea foaming from the labour. Those glistening tons of flesh keep on coming. A harpoon protrudes from the beast, gouging the slats. All is a scraping, rattling, creaking, until even the wind quietens and the generator stops.
The whale is longer than a train carriage. The bank of flesh builds from the fin curled over the chains, and the butchers sharpen their knives – hear the hissing steel. I shall visit this mammal. It shouldn’t be here under these cold stars and stares, its place is the empire of the deep, surging within an ocean. I pluck one of the filtering bones and it is so pliable, I almost expect a harp-like tone. I stroke the furred inside of the whale’s mouth; run my hand over its smooth, leather skin.
Step back to the side now. A fishermen raises a knife. He slits the creature about its head with a honed experience, his yellow oilskins squeaking.
Bernadette is even-mouthed, breathy, chilled; I stand behind her and bring her to me. She pulls the sides of my coat around her while I rest my chin on her head. I smell shampoo mixed with a stronger, alien odour from the air. Am I imagining the whale breathing? More chains slither like tentacles. Hooks are hasped to their ends then embedded into that slit. The sea sends fingers of foam racing up the sloped slats, trying to take back her child, soughing and whooshing; never reaching.
The generator groans into life again. Those chains jerk until the thick skin folds away from the slit with a loud rip, exposing fibrous white blubber, with the inner surface of skin looking like the pith of an orange. Clouds of stinking steam rise and reek in this night air. No pause to allow remorse or mourning: the flashing knives plunge into the peeled animal. They are cutting sizeable chunks of red meat and laying them on a platform as though building blocks to some gruesome nightmare igloo.


OK, the stage manager has just kicked me out of the theatre now.... ;)

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

I think that's much better, although remember about killing your darlings... the whipping wind, for instance, is unnecessary I think.

It's reminded me of something I thought first time though, but forgot to say: Given that you describe the book as being about someone who wakes up in a wardrobe, I was distracted throughout by the lack of a wardrobe. I kept expecting it to make its appearance. It didn't. There's no indication that the book isn't set on that quay. I wonder if some clue might be wlecome, that this is all in his head?

gyroscope said...

Hi Beleaguered Squirrel

I'm glad you think it's better, thank you. And you are right about the word "whipping"; I've deleted it now (as well made even more subtle changes).

Concerning the wardrobe: hey, that is so perceptive of you! The wardrobe is mentioned towards the end of this first chapter (still in the first person) in a dream-like way; then an explanation of his physical presence within it fully described at the beginning of the second chapter (third person). For interest, this second chapter used to be the first, but as Filbert's strange internal dialogue with his remembered psychiatrist is the telling of the whole story - the core of the novel - I decided to move another chapter to the beginning, which includes, not only Filbert's unusual thoughts, but introduces the remembered psychiatrist.

So I'll get my "creative-writing" hat on again, before I get my editing hat on, and introduce the wardrobe earlier on as well. Thank you very much for that; you are so right. (I'm regaining some lost enthusiasm again concerning this novel, enthusiasm which has become so diluted by the course of the many years passing since I wrote it...)

:)

gyroscope said...

Here's the real and final finally ("he just won't go home will he?" ;) I promise Nicola, this will be last time.


See, doctor? That fisherman hosing down slippery slats, with the moonlight painting them? Now a knife-sharpener touches an oilstone, engrains oil in whorls on his thumb. Spectators are huddling and blinking at the wind.
Here’s my beautiful Bernadette. ‘Let’s hold your hand,’ she says.
Watch her gaze affectionately to me while I ask: ‘When will it start?’
A mournful horn answers from a ship, ebony block against the mist, avoiding spotlights from the quay. A growling from the generator. Chains, powdered with rust, scrape the slats and become taut in the shadows.
‘There we are,’ Bernadette says, ‘not long,’ and this difficult watery birth begins.
The tail fin emerges first – as tall as I stand – then the body rising, with the sea foaming from the labour. Those glistening tons of flesh keep on coming. A harpoon protrudes from the beast, gouging the slats. All is a scraping, rattling, creaking; until even the wind quietens and the generator stops.
The whale is longer than a train carriage. The bank of flesh builds from the fin curled over those chains, and the butchers sharpen their knives – hear the hissing steel. I shall visit this mammal. It shouldn’t be here under these cold stars and stares, its place is the empire of the deep, surging within an ocean. I pluck one of the filtering bones and it’s so pliable, I almost expect a harp-like tone. I stroke the furred inside of the whale’s mouth; I run my hand over its smooth, leather skin.
Step back to the side now. A fishermen raises a knife. He slits the creature about its head with a honed experience, his yellow oilskins squeaking.
Bernadette is even-mouthed, breathy, chilled; I’ll stand behind and bring her to me. She pulls the sides of my coat around her while I rest my chin on her head. I smell shampoo mixed with a stronger, alien odour from the air. Am I imagining the whale breathing? More chains slither like tentacles. Hooks are hasped to their ends then embedded into that slit. The sea sends fingers of foam racing up the sloped slats, trying to take back her child, soughing and whooshing; never reaching.
There seems to be a moment of silence and inactivity. Can you view that wardrobe standing in the sea, doctor?
The generator groans into life again. The chains jerk until thick skin folds away from the slit with a loud rip, exposing fibrous white blubber, with the inner surface of the skin looking like the pith of an orange. Clouds of stinking steam rise and reek in this night air. No pause to allow remorse or mourning: the knives are plunged into the peeled animal. They are cutting sizeable chunks of red meat and laying them on a platform as though building blocks to some gruesome nightmare igloo.