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Editing on the Moon

I gave the words a last once-over, focusing on the new scenes designed to make the novel vibrate. Scrolling, I called it finished and exported the Apple Pages document to a Word document. Hitting “Send,” I sailed Train Trip: Lucinda Mae’s Quest for Love, Honor and the Chickens to the editor.

The editor, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, is eager to get started. Ready, she says, to “focus on Lucinda,” referring to the central character. This is our second go-round of edits, the editor and me. The first edit, she instructed me to “do this.” And I did it, revising a paragraph, tweaking a scene. We are now in a place so radically different it might as well be the far side of the moon.

This round of edits was launched by a “road-map” email from an interested agent. I took the email and broke it down into bullet points. The agent wanted a better outline, deeper character development, more urgent plot, tightening of the prose. When I read the list, a friend’s comment on rhubarb pie rose into my brain: You put enough sugar on anything, it’ll taste good, but why start with a rhubarb? Which is to say, with so much work to be done, why try to repair this novel? Why not start over with something more basically, functionally sound?

The bottom line: I am forging ahead because the agent saw enough in the story to generate the road-map email. A professional, she believed the novel worth revising. Plus, she was interested. To throw the novel back in the vast, deep ocean of potential rejection when I have received the elusive nibble of personal, dedicated interest—well, that takes more faith than I possess.

So I took the novel in hand. I turned a jaundiced eye on it. I outlined plot and emotional arcs. I revised into a more traditional structure; I abandoned a tone I had once found integral. I expanded characters; I added back story; I looped around and used what was already lurking in the story, unexploited. For better or worse, there are no more loose ends in the novel, no more vignettes designed purely for fun. Everything does service to the plot. I have, against all proscriptions I’ve ever read, written a novel that parallels my short stories: you think you’re reading color or detail or comedy. But it’s more.

Now I’m hoping my upcoming experience with the editor—who intends to lead me back through much of what I’ve described above—will educate me. I’ll learn the hardscape of writing a novel. I’ll be smarter about what I’m doing.

Right now, the editor is in Seattle or Portland, reading. Me, I’m on Train 58 bound for Mississippi. Rain trickles down the window. In the passing swamp, bent knees gather around cypress trees like young ‘uns at a mother’s skirt. I wait for word on how I did.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

agent, editor, Lucinda Mae Watkins, revision, rewrite

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