Getting It

I remember reading a blog post by Emily Wing Smith, author of The Way He Lived, where she said how grateful she was for a particular reviewer who really “got” her book: he understood and appreciated what the book was about, what it was trying to accomplish, what it meant.

As of yesterday I “get” why Emily was so grateful for that! I’ve felt giddy and glowing and happy and hopeful and all those other dancing-around-and-smiling-too-big kind of adjectives.

Our critique group was awesome. It worked out perfectly having four writers, reading each other’s entire novels, and starting our critique discussions with the biggest things first, strengths and weaknesses jumbled together. I’ve got as many revision notes from them as I might get from an editor, and I feel so excited to implement their suggestions and make the manuscript AMAZING before I start querying agents soon.

But my giddiness yesterday and today is specifically because one member of the group — the writer I knew the least, actually — “got” what I was trying to do and loved it.

I know that I’m not writing a book that’s going to appeal to everyone. I didn’t expect all three of my group members to be ecstatic about it. But just having one person — 1/3 of the group — means everything! It means that there is an audience for my book. It means there are people who will love everything about it. It means that all these years I’ve spent learning how to be an author haven’t been wasted. It means I can write something that means something (even if I can’t articulate the feeling itself).

The other two group members were also a huge help, and I don’t mean to discount their contribution. Joel and Holly, thank you so much for all the things you pointed out! It’s so important to get feedback from both your ideal audience and those outside of the audience (who might see it more objectively).golden ticket

But having one person defend my point-of-view choices, my character choices, my thematic choices, and explain to the group exactly what I was doing in exactly the way I would have explained it?

It feels like a golden ticket.

It feels like the book world saying, “Congratulations. You won over another writer. You’ve got a book worth publishing. Please proceed to the next door.”

The next door is still a few months off. Even the group member who loved it pointed out issues I need to address. I’ve got all those revision notes to work through before I can approach agents.

But I understand why Emily was so excited about that review of hers.

Having someone “get” it is huge.

Closure from Haunting Books

Anyone who’s ever read a book they had a hard time getting over, raise your hand.

A book that leaves a lingering ache in your gut, just by being over. A book that breaks your heart not with a sad ending but by ending, period. A book that hurts to close and set on the shelf, so maybe you leave it around for a few days, on the kitchen table or by your bed, so you can open it again, and reread a scene, and prove to yourself that The End doesn’t have to be forever.

I mean, when a book really grabs you, really tears up your insides with suspense and angst and star-crossed romance and whatever, it’s so hard to walk away from that.

One of the first times I remember being haunted badly was after Jane Eyre. It was like breaking an addiction. I couldn’t quit cold-turkey. I couldn’t just shut the book and be done with those characters. Not after everything we’d been through together!

So I hunted down two movie versions: a black-and-white with a pretty, blond Jane; and a ’90s film with a brunette Jane so plain-looking that I spent the whole movie deconstructing our fundamental need to have attractive lead actors. Neither movie “did it” for me. Nothing could–except reading the book itself on endless repeat.

Goodreads helps a little. At least I get to “talk” about the book for a minute, read what other people thought of it, maybe get a few comments from friends who enjoyed it, too.Shiver

This weekend I got sucked into a book so haunting that even the cover and the title and the color of the text inside (same as the dark blue of the cover) fit the mood I’m in after. (I put a picture of it here because I think just looking at it can give you the idea.) There’s a melancholy I can’t shake off, even though one of my goodreads pals chatted with me about our predictions for the sequel right after.

The melancholy is frustrating sometimes.

I have other favorite books that feel just right at the end, that feel like a satisfied sigh, where I close them happily and give them a hug before fitting them snuggly back into their space on the bookcase, giving the spine a last look, thinking, “You are great. I’m so glad you get to live here at my house, available whenever I want to hang out with you again.”

And that’s it. No remorse. I can move on to the next book easily, whereas the books I’m haunted by make it hard to pick up something else.

But on the plus side, haunting books stir up something that intensifies my love of writing. Strangely, the lingering attachment to what I’ve just read often transfers to my own work-in-progress, enhancing my emotional connection to my own characters.

Yeah, crazy; I know.

I’m not sure how many comments I can coax out of readers (or even how many readers I have at this point), but I’d love to know what books wouldn’t let go of you and how you feel about that versus the happy-sigh variety.