Photo credit: ikilledkenny1029
Jennie’s email landed in my inbox on October 11, 2007, at 4:40 p.m., just as Amy and I were getting ready to go out for dinner.
The email was only seven paragraphs long, and I thought about reading them right then, but they were imposing looking paragraphs. They contained the agent’s feedback for my first novel, Walking Distance, and I feared that in my haste to get out the door, I might miss something important.
What’s more, what if the email contained bad news? It would ruin dinner for me, and probably for Amy, too. We were in this together, after all.
And what of the friends we were to dine with? Our poor company might ruin their meals as well.
No, better to wait until I got home to read the email.
I read the email.
Jennie was polite, professional and encouraging. She said my novel had the “right mix of humor and mystery” for middle school-grade readers. She liked that my main character, Rachel, was homeschooled. She called that a “fresh” idea.
What wasn’t fresh, she said, what kept her from taking me on as a client and making all my dreams come true, was this:
- The novel’s length. At 250 pages, it was a hundred pages too long for a middle school-grade novel;
- My attention to detail, which frequently descended into mind-numbing minutia; and
- The lack of resolution for Mrs. Lipton.
Mrs. Lipton is a widow who, early in the novel, announces she’s going to die on the last Thursday in September, six months hence. She isn’t going to kill herself. She just knows she’s going to die.
Rachel and her older brother, Kyle, try to determine if Mrs. Lipton actually does die, or if she’s spirited away in the night by her estranged son, but they never know for sure. It remains a mystery.
Although Mrs. Lipton’s story is a subplot, learning to live with mystery is Walking Distance’s central theme.
Jennie felt the lack of resolution for Mrs. Lipton would leave readers unsettled, and perhaps she was right. I don’t know.
What I do know is, Jennie’s final point unsettled me. She said Rachel’s dad played too large a part in her story. She said he needed to fade far into the background.
You know, it’s funny.
I feared I’d miss something important if I read Jennie’s email too quickly.
Years later it would occur to me I had.
To be continued . . .