Monday, April 18, 2011
I have written three novels for adults in the past. One became, after fifteen years of radical reworking, the El Salvador memoir, Still Love in Strange Places. One, following equally radical shifts and reimaginings, became the young adult novel due out this October, You Are My Only. The third former adult novel is at the tail-end of a redrafting process; you'll be reading more about that no-longer-an-adult novel soon.
Last year, I sat down to write my fourth novel for adults. This time, I would not tolerate the ersatz in me. This time, I would work the novel and set it aside, work it and set it aside, until finally I asked my agent, Amy Rennert, and my friend, James Lecesne, to read. They had wise things to say, loving things, hopeful things, and I listened to them—reworking the structure of the book at Amy's brilliant suggestion and intensifying the heart of the story, at James's. I worked the book, set it aside, worked the book, and made a decision: Before sending this book to any editor in the land, I would mail the whole to my friend Marjorie Braman, who recently stepped down from her role as editor-in-chief of Henry Holt to launch a literary consultancy. I value what Marjorie has to say; I have learned from her counsel in the past. I wanted to know what she would make of a story that means so much to me.
This is to say that I made the right choice, for Marjorie's notes, like Amy's notes, proved to be invaluable. It's not just that she was so enthusiastic about this project. It's that she read with care, wrote notes with precision, pointed me to places that needed rounding out and places that needed trimming. She was honest and she was galvanizing. I could not sleep (and I have not slept) for I had been given a new key to my own strange land. I have rounded passages and abbreviated others. I have softened and also clarified.
This blog post, then, is a thank you—to Amy Rennert, for sharing my hope, for believing in this dream, and for so conscientiously delineating ways that I could make this novel better; to James for being the love and light that he is; and to Marjorie for demonstrating her continuing commitment to the clarified page.