Sunday, August 12, 2007

Muddy Waters


This formidable Curtis Brown agent, Mitchell S. Waters, had a lot to say about the books I should be writing when we spoke on the phone after the above email exchange. He wanted to represent my novel, but only after I'd turned it into something else.

Talk about misguided rewrites! Being desperate for representation, I undertook a fairly complex revision, got the new "improved" book to him, and then never heard another word. Only later did I realize that the rewrite sent me down a really wrong path. It took me about a year to get untangled and back to the story I wanted to tell.

Note: this was not the agent's fault, but my own.

Writers beware of being too eager to please. Be true only to the story; in the end, I've found, nothing else (and no one else) matters.

5 comments:

good copy said...

Wow, that really takes the cake. In this case you have to wonder if it is better not to hear anything as opposed to a rejection for a book you never intended to write. That is infuriating. But the last line of your post says it all, pretty eloquently.

Writer, Rejected said...

Right? Actually, I have a hazy memory of writing to him eventually and telling him that I got another agent a year or so later because I can't stand to have any unfinished business with anyone. I think he wrote a gracious note back. I'll have to dig around in my rejection drawer for it, so as not to give the guy a bad rap. I'll post it if I find it. Maybe he's just a slow reader?

writer, lapsed said...

To change the subject, sort of, I remember some very wise advise someone gave me a few years back while I was contemplating reworking a novel after getting various rejection letters with very specific criticisms: Don't rewrite your work to please someone who doesn't actually like it.

good copy said...

Yes, there is a difference between rejecting the work because you don't like the writing and rejecting it because it isn't working yet. I know this is all subjective.I've read some things by writers I really liked--people who created characters that I was really interested in, with a great voice but they couldn't combine all those things into a work that was communicating their ideas. Like that rejection of mine you posted--it was in no way a ghost story. It was a very emotional story about the narrator coming to terms with his dying mother and a relationship that ended badly. But that story was hard to get to with all this extra stuff that added distraction from getting to the heart of the story. BUT, sometimes an agent or editor is just not interested in the writing and should probably just leave it at that and not force their vision on their writers.

Slightly off topic: I heard Annie Dillard on NPR talking about her new novel--her first in maybe 12 years--saying it began as a 1,200 page book and ended up somewhere around 275 pages. She realized there was all this stuff that sounded good, but that didn't actually help tell the story.

Anonymous said...

I had the same experience with this guy. Not a good person.