February 2, 2005

How Low Can You Limbo?

There is the BEGINNING of a VERY interesting discussion over at BUZZ BALLS and HYPE (MJ Rose's blog). If you are a writer (or if you are interested in knowing the behind the scenes guts of how the profession of novelist actually WORKS), that blog is a fascinating read. Here is the entry in question... SKIP NOT THE COMMENTS!

I have not commented...I almost never do on the industry blogs I haunt. I generally don't feel qualified to speak on the topics that come up as I am still 2.5 months away from my first novel's release. I'm DEWY. I BELIEVE things. I speak in hyperbole and am all FERVENT and stuff. It's a bad mix when the base is ignorance. I am likely to have my cheek patted and be told I am awful cute for a fetus and to come and back and sit at the grown-up's table after the book comes out and I have tasted the heady mix of hydrogen, oxygen, and environmental toxins that lies outside of the protective womb of "SOLD BUT NOT YET PUBLISHED." But HERE at Faster than Kudzu, where I CLEARLY don't MIND looking like a dork, I am going to join the discussion.

The question, for you incorrigibly click-shy link abstainers, is: What WON'T YOU DO to get a book deal, or for those already book dealed, to get your next MS approved, accepted, slated for publication. Not in the SLEEP WITH ROBERT REDFORD FOR A MILLION DOLLARS way, (DIGRESSION: That's a STUPID movie premise---most women would sleep with Robert Redford for a wink and a curried shrimp puff.) but in a "what creative line won't you cross, what won't you COMPROMISE" way.

Good question.
My answer? NOT MUCH.

But. There is always a but, isn't there...I say "NOT MUCH" from my dewy, believing, fervent place of knowing only how one agent and one editor work. And they BOTH have recognized and supported my (and here I blush to say "artistic") goals for my novels (my agent for 4 novels now--- and my agent is an ex-editor who is not shy about asking for changes--- and my editor for 1.75 novels now---We are still doing edits on Between, Georgia, BUT WE ARE GETTING CLOSE!) I get the idea that this is OFTEN not the case. But since for me right now it IS, my answer remains...not much.

In the editing process for both gods and Between, I had a strong sense that my editor understood and liked what I was doing and wanted to help me do it BETTER. Therefore, my attitude has been that ANY criticism my editor makes is invaluable and MUST be heeded. I don't mean I feel I had to do whatever she said, yes boss, *genuflect* yes boss. In fact, I may have radically different ideas about how to RESOLVE whatever her issue is, but THAT is where the discussion takes place...on the level of how the problem can best be addressed. It's a waste of my time and hers to argue on the level of
As far as I'm concerned, I'm Toni Collette, she's Haley Joel Osment, and if she sees dead people, I need to begin researching exorcisms.

EXAMPLE: In Between, Georgia, she did not like my last five or six sentences. The closing image didn't resonate with her. Left her cold. And I read this in her editorial letter and I stood up and I said to the letter, LETTER! I said ARE YOU ON CRACK?!?!?!

I dialed her immediately because GACK! I could see it SO CLEARLY, it was PERFECT, it was GLEAMING, it was DRIPPING GLORY, I had drafted the last fifty pages of the book in a BLAZING WASH OF BAD SENTENCES that took WEEKS of revision before I could even let her SEE them because I rushed through them SO FAST so I could GET to this end and type in the lines I could ALREADY SEE riding white horses toward me from the roseate horizon. I blush to confess that when I FINALLY got to the end and could at LAST grace the page with those lines I burst into tears, rose from my pnuematic office chair, and LEAPT around the house---LEAPT, I tell you, as in JUMPED, as in LITERALLY made two circuits of the house in such a manner that I either had two feet on the ground or was airborne.
THE ENDING (forgive me, forgive me) WAS GLORIOUS.

In my head.

In fact I was so in love with its theoretical beauties that I didn't realize how MUCH I had failed to do THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE BOOK to allow the reader to recognize what the image means, and I was so dazzled by its white-hot gleaming perfection as it revolved enticingly in my brain that I didn't describe it HALF near well enough. I said enough to revive it in all its RADIANT GORGEOSITY in MY head, but the words were touchstones for ME because I already knew what it looked like. A touchstone can only recreate, it can't create, so the image as it stood was only effective for people who had previously seen and understood the image in their own imagination. Assuming my target audience is not PSYCHIC IMAGE-SUCKING VAMPIRES...yeah.

I saw in the editorial letter that she had a problem with the end, and so---after I was finished making the letter take a pee test---I took it on faith that A PROBLEM WAS THERE. Sure enough... on a fresh read-through...I could SEE it.

MAN, but it's a LONG TRIP, from the brain to the page.

To return to the initial question... I don't know what I would do if my situation was different, if I had an editor who either couldn't see or wasn't interested in what I was trying to accomplish and who asked me cut out what I see as the book's living, breathing heart in favor of a more commercial formula, and if I refuse, that's okay, thanks, have a nice career. Elsewhere.

I'd LIKE to say I am FILLED TO THE BRIM with artistic vigor! and principles! and glare down my nose at lesser, more malleable mortals, shrieking, "SELL OUTS! HACKS!" But...it is VERY easy to brim when you are a stay-at-home-mom who's used to living on ONE income, and you aren't in charge of MAKING it. One's artistic rigor-level is probably different if your family DEPENDS on your writing income to buy little luxuries like bread and medicine. And while I am SO HAPPY that Scott is home right now to be SUPER DAD while I am touring, I am ALSO glad he is job hunting, and will go back to work when I am home again.

It's a question I don't have to know the answer to this year, and I may be a fetus in this industry, but I am savvy enough to recognize that I am luckyluckylucky. And for this, I am gratefulgratefulgrateful.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go mail a letter.

I am kind to little animals! And babies!
I promise if I stay lucky, I will stay grateful!
Sincere love from YER FREND!
Joshilyn Jackson)

Posted by joshilyn at February 2, 2005 10:53 AM

You are the most entertaining fetus I know!

(Dear Karmic Wheel: I'M REALLY SORRY!!)

Posted by: Mir at February 2, 2005 12:25 PM

Good luck getting anything to the Karmic Wheel -- last time I tried to drop it a note, it returned "Forwarding Order Expired."

Maybe Santa can help?

It is interesting to hear the "sell out/hack vs. artistic purity" argument. Especially from folks who haven't sold anything yet. From my standpoint on the outskirts of my DH's writing group (some established professionals, some barely even writing, and all stages in-between), it's almost funny to see how apoplectic the no-sales folks can get about defending their vision and they'll never sell out. Comparing that with the established folks realism/cynicism is fascinating! I'll forward the link to DH and see what his responses are (there's the initial and then the more thought out one... he doesn't have multiple personality disorder!).

Kudos to you for 1) recognizing that people who aren't in your brain may see things differently and 2) for not CALLING your editor and insisting that SHE take the piss test. Making her letter do it in the house was much safer, career-wise ;-)

Posted by: Kestralyn at February 2, 2005 3:20 PM

I would never give up my principles.
I would suspend my principles if it allowed me to harvest gobs of money.
I would then revert back to my principles with the liquid assets in place to enforce my convictions.

Interesting discussion item all around.
as a side note:
Notice the stuff Snoop Dogg endorses now.

Posted by: Shawn B. at February 2, 2005 4:19 PM

My apologies in advance if this question was intended more for professionals' reply.
Wow. That's some pretty heavy stuff for a not-even-close-to-being-a-writer-yet guy like me. Probably, I should just be quiet and watch from the sidelines, but I've never been all that sensible. Besides, this is a very pertinent issue for people like me at this stage of the game. I haven't gotten anywhere near this bridge yet. Might not ever. But this issue of What Wouldn't You Do is something I've thought about from time to time and I have indeed wondered just how significant/essential this sort of "flexibility" is for anyone who earnestly desires to write professionally. That is, whether or not this one issue could make the difference between being a saleable writer and being a literary hobbyist. On a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being "makes all the difference" how would you rate this? Can it even BE rated, given that all editors and publishers are not all the same?

Posted by: David at February 2, 2005 7:32 PM

I have no idea. Honestly. Like I said, I'm a fetus, and I wrote what I wanted to write and it sold.


Posted by: joshilyn at February 2, 2005 8:27 PM