Today is no exception. I am still coming off the high of having my novel make it to the quarterfinals of the Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Contest, but the Publisher's Weekly Review I received for my efforts helped to bring me down pretty quickly yesterday. Here it is:
This novel hints at an interesting, fantastical, quasi-biblical, quasi-heretical premise — the construction of an ark in preparation for a modern day flood — but delivers a pedestrian story of familial discontent and a “murder mystery” that isn’t quite a murder. Mariah’s father has been working on a secret project in his barn since before he met her mother, and soon after the rains begin, he dismantles the barn to reveal a boat. Around this same time, Mariah meets a mysterious and compelling boy, who follows her home on the last day before the flood begins, and she pulls him inside, not sure why or even why she’s getting on the boat, just as her family is ready to seal it off. Over the course of the novel, Mariah discovers the boy, Ben, is deaf and guilty of a mysterious crime. Out of this premise is spun a story that then focuses almost entirely on Ben and Mariah with Mariah convincing her family that Ben is a good person, while Ben works to convince Mariah that he isn’t. When Ben’s crime is revealed, it feels overblown, and when Mariah reveals, toward the end, a special talent for communicating with strangers, it feels unjustified by the rest of the novel, which, in the end, fails to deliver on the promise of its premise.
I admit, I was hurt. But only for about five minutes (okay, maybe an hour). Fortunately, I had dishes to do, kids to get ready for school, etc., and that gave my brain time to wrap itself around the whole thing.
And, you know, by the time I'd read it to my husband in the evening (about 9:30 p.m.), without any effort at all, I felt elated. Think about it. When in real life does a novel get an actual set of reasons listed to explain why it isn't taken up by a publisher. I've been sending out various items of my writing for YEARS, and my only response has been a kind, short, completely unspecific form letter telling me it didn't suit their needs at this time, but encouraging me to show the same work to other agents or publishers. No reasons were ever given for the rejection.
Now I have something real to work with as I revise the novel. Now I can approach my readers--the kind people who have willingly spent time reading my novel, show them the review, and ask them what they noticed, too. They'll know I'm serious, and hopefully they won't be afraid to show me what bothered them. Once I have all that feedback, I can work on the novel some more... and make it better.
I'm lucky. Very, very lucky. I feel like hugging Publishers Weekly for this.