Photo credit: Naomi Frost
She said my main character, Rachel, needed to drive the story. Her parents, her brother, the other characters, they could “set her up” to discover the clues that would solve the mystery, but they couldn’t be the ones to discover the clues, and they sure as shit couldn’t be the ones to solve the mystery.
In other words, Jennie, the literary agent, was reiterating what she’d said in her feedback to my first novel, Walking Distance.
It was Rachel’s story. Let her tell it.
With Walking Distance, Jennie had made that point after making three others: the novel was too long, it was occasionally boring, and certain aspects of its resolution were ambiguous and consequently dissatisfying.
I’d worked hard on The Bridge to address those first three points — and apparently I’d done it, because she hadn’t brought them up — but I’d done next to nothing to address the fourth.
That’s because I’d written what I knew.
And what I’d known was that my two real kids, Max and Mara, would never know the lack of love and support I’d felt as a kid. They would never feel alone.
And neither would my two fictional kids.
I’d asked Max and Mara to pick the names for their fictional counterparts. Max picked Kyle. My wife Amy picked Ava. I’d picked David.
But make no mistake: the family in Walking Distance and The Bridge, it was us.
So when Jennie said my main character had to do things for herself, I told myself Jennie didn’t get it.
We were a family!
We loved each other!
We helped each other!
We would never let each other go it alone!
Jennie said publishers wanted character driven stories — character singular, not plural.
I said Jennie didn’t get it.
If life is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, as I believe, then my kids, both real and fictional, would never have to tell a story about being by themselves.
They would always have me.
And more importantly, I would always have them.
When Jennie said my dad character had to back off, she was telling me I had back off.
Just like that teacher in Max’s elementary school, who once suggested to me that maybe, just maybe, I was smothering my son.
She hadn’t gotten it, either.
Because I write what I know.
And sometimes, to protect myself, I avoid writing what I’m afraid to know.
To be continued . . .