Love Your Heart!

I love this book. It’s about a young woman who goes on a cross-country train trip to clear her dead daddy’s name and winds up repairing her relationship with her mother. It’s funny—really funny—and sad. And, in parts, wise and faintly political—it decries the commercial abuse of chickens. The main character is Southern to her core, but she’s wildly open to new experiences and people and learning. I just adore her. And the ending. The ending is great.

The thing is, I wrote it. I started writing it too many years ago to count, and I put it in the drawer for a while. I picked it back up two years ago and began an extended revision process that included an interested agent and a wonderful editor. When the agent ultimately decided to pass, I put it aside again.

Then I thought to myself, Ellen (I always use my name when I think to myself), you need to take ownership of this novel. You’ve had wonderful advice from the editor and readers and, yes, even the agent. Now. Pick it up. Imagine it has been published. And no one but you is responsible for what is on the page.

When I did that, long-ago comments from readers burbled into my brain. I merged scenes (“the scenes are wonderful, but are they all necessary?”). I killed off characters (bye, bye Biloxi school teacher). I fixed some back-and-forth scenes (why are we leaving the Gminskis, going to dinner and returning?). I also added back in some phrasing I loved, because—remember—I am totally responsible for what is on the page.

Most importantly, as one of the readers had suggested, I moved an interior monologue to the opening paragraph. This paragraph created a lens for me to see the novel through. I spied the true message of the thing. I changed the title to reflect that message: Love Your Heart. I saw, as the agents say, the “bigger story.” The novel changed from a “Southern” novel to a “Universal” novel told in a Southern voice.

I’m serious. All this happened. And I love the novel. I am ready and willing to fight for it. I feel like—and this is really sappy in a meta kind of way—that I went through the process my main character went through, learning what she learned. I learned to take advice, listen to comments, then love my own heart.

I have only one question: how do you feel about exclamation marks in a book title? Is it too cheesy? (Obviously, cheesy is okay, but I don’t want to be too cheesy). Love Your Heart! It’s how Lucinda Mae says it. What do you think?

I am so thankful for this novel.

getting an agent, losing an agent, Love Your Heart!, revising your novel, southern novels, working with a paid editor

Comments (12)

  • I never thought about exclamation points in book titles before this post but why the heck not? This title seems perfectly appropriate with an exclamation point. In fact, I think it improves the title. If it isn’t there, it seems kind of dull. Who says “Love your heart” with no feeling? It DEMANDS an uplifting punctuation mark. The process of your novel’s development is fascinating, too. What perseverance you have!

    • Yes, that’s it — it demands an exclamation point! My new motto: be exclaimed or be boring. (Richard Bausch when he critiqued it in our class called it “propulsive”– how could a propulsive novel not have an exclamation point?)

  • Maybe you can negotiate by starting out with two exclamation points? I’m so happy to hear that the book is feeling your own again!!

  • You got me with the bit about the book speaking up for the chickens. I’m so glad you love your book! Of course, I was jealous about you being responsible for everything on the page. Such is the happy circumstances of the fiction writer. Sigh. (No, no, I do get your point, but still). Re the exclamation point, honestly, I don’t really care for it. A book title has to sort of stand alone, you know?

    • One of the agencies I queried asked for my favorite line from the book. Throwing caution to the wind, I typed: “Personally, I don’t see the point in being in business with chickens if you aren’t gonna be nice to them.” Interesting point about the constraints of memoir—that makes me feel even more responsible for what goes on the fiction page. And speaking of points (for the third time in one paragraph), I shall put you in the “anti-exclamation point” camp. 🙂

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