Rejections 13, 14, and 15

9 08 2008

The last two months since the Book Expo have really gone by in a blur. The writing/ publishing process continues to amaze and educate me. I have commented in previous blogs that seeking out and being rejected by agents forces a writer to truly evaluate the readiness of their project. I have believed my book to be “finished” at least five times over the past two years only to learn that this could not be farther from the truth.

A few people have read my book during it’s various phases of completion. The last two were Anita Diggs, a manuscript editor, and my good friend – fellow scribe Stephanie Casher. Anita reviewed the book in May and Stephanie reviewed it in June. I have already commented on Anita’s review in a prior blog. In this blog I wanted to comment on Stephanie’s review and how much each review in their own ways have opened my eyes to the issues in my story and the possibilities that have opened.

Stephanie, in addition to reading the book, also took it upon herself to edit as well (she’s the best!). She really went above and beyond the call of duty and I am forever in her debt. What Stephanie’s and Anita’s reviews have in common is regarding the antagonist of my story. Both of them mention the fact that his actions throughout the story were difficult to believe.

As the writer, I really had a hard time hearing this critique because I felt my villain was perfectly crafted, 3 dimensional, and despicable. Then I realized that they agreed with me. The problem was motivational. The reader didn’t buy his motivations.

During the writer’s conference, I had the opportunity to attend three workshops that have helped me understand this issue much better – Fire in Fiction, Plotting a Novel They Can’t Put Down, and Revising a Novel They Can’t Put Down.

In Fire in Fiction, superagent Donald Maas discussed overcoming reader barriers in science-based or supernatural thrillers. He mentioned the need for the writer to overcome reader resistance in a slow, sure, patient manner. He also described strategies to make settings “live” through the characters who inhabit them. Then he discussed “voice”. Writer’s hear this all the time, how an author has a unique voice. Voice is nothing more than how you speak through your characters. Do you use short punchy sentences, long compound sentences, or a combination of the two. Does this voice work with the type of story you are telling?

Donald Maas was one of my early rejections and he rejected the novel at that time because he didn’t get into my characters and he thought my sentences were too long. My voice didn’t match the tone of a page-turning thriller.

In PNTCPD, writer James Scott Bell described the LOCK system for plotting a novel.

L – LEAD
O – Objective
C – Confrontation
K – Knock-Out

He had a lot of useful advice such as, “A plot is two dogs and one bone.” I love that! He described the three types of lead characters: The positive lead (hero), the negative lead (attractive through power), and the anti-hero (has his own moral code). His number 1 rule for lead characters is NO WIMPS!

In terms of OBJECTIVE, the lead must want something badly, something that is essential to his/her well being. There are 2 kinds of objectives – to get something or to get away from something.

Confrontation drives the plot and here is where we get into what I needed to learn. The opposition character has to be stronger than the lead and three dimensional, meaning, justified in their actions and sympathetic (at least to themselves). He also speaks of confrontation as the adhesive of the story which explains why these two opponents must fight until the end.

The knock-out is the big finish and there are 5 types: The lead wins, the lead loses, the lead wins but loses, the lead loses but wins, or an ambiguous ending.

My takeaway from James linked to Anita and Stephanie’s critiques. I needed to amp up my confrontation!

In RNTCPD, James described the types of problems writers encounter as they revise their stories. You’ve got the slow opening, flat lead, or weak opposition. Here I encountered that my novel suffered from slow opening.

With each rejection, my novel gets stronger and better. I will leave you with my very first query letter for my novel written back in 2006 and my current query letter. You tell me which book you want to read!

Query 2006:

“You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” Malcolm X once said this about America and this insight forms the backbone of my novel One Blood. This novel was written in the tradition of such seminal polarizing works as Native Son, Invisible Man, and Beloved. Although we have progressed as a society since Malcolm X spoke and Wright, Ellison, and Morrison wrote their master works; racism, lies, greed, and murder still persist in this country. America is a broken home, disrupted by division and paralyzed by ignorance. America needs to wake up and move from denial to acceptance to solutions. Publishing my novel One Blood is a definite part of that solution. But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. One Blood (163,000 words) tastes like a well paced supernatural suspense novel that will appeal to fans of contemporary bestselling authors like Dan Brown, Michael Connelly, Stephen King, and Tananarive Due because it contains the best elements of suspense, mystery, horror, and drama.

With its rich tapestry, complex history, and natural vulnerability (as evidenced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), the tragically beautiful state of Louisiana forms the perfect backdrop for this suspenseful tale of Revenge, Revelation and Revolution. It has been said that life often presents us with a choice of evils, rather than of goods. One Blood presents the reader with two men who are products of two very different environments. The first man is an impoverished African-American orphan turned gang banger (Lincoln Baker) sent to prison for life without parole at the age of seventeen after a brutal gang war dubbed The Simmons Park Massacre in which his best friend Kristopher, son of a racist Louisiana Senator, is killed in the crossfire. Over the course of the next ten years locked up inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Lincoln discovers a family he never knew existed and learns that one man is responsible for his father’s death, his mother’s exile, and all of his life’s suffering—the ex-Senator and now current Governor of Louisiana (Randy Richard). Randy Richard has yet to overcome two significant tragedies. In addition to his only son’s murder at the hands of gangs, his father, a Grand Wizard of Louisiana’s most violent chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, was brutally murdered by a group of black militants. Ten years after his son’s violent demise, his teenage daughter is kidnapped and the ransom calls for the immediate release of Lincoln Baker. On the morning of Lincoln’s release, an explosive cocktail of racism, vengeance, serendipity, fate, and truth detonates throughout Louisiana. The tremors are devastating for a diverse cast of characters all linked by the Simmons Park Massacre. When the dust settles, the ending is as unexpected as it is illuminating.

Growing up in Lake Charles, LA, I had the opportunity to witness former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke’s meteoric rise to political power and observe how he almost became Governor. I always wondered what would have happened had he won the office, and Bad Blood is in large part a result of my curiosity. It allowed me to examine and combine American/Louisiana history, politics, prison, and psychology into a blender and produce a novel that is sure to provoke controversy, discussion, and even a bit of fear. I certainly appreciate your time and eagerly welcome your expert opinion, or a request to submit my entire manuscript.

Sincerely yours,

Qwantu Amaru

Updated Query:

Dear Agent Name:

In my first novel of supernatural suspense, ONE BLOOD (90,000 words), the Governor of Louisiana must confront his belief in a two hundred year old curse after his daughter is kidnapped on her eighteenth birthday. And a lifer at the Louisiana State Penitentiary becomes an unlikely protagonist while confronting his belief in his reasons for kidnapping the Governor’s daughter.

Growing up in Louisiana during the nineties, I witnessed former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke’s meteoric rise to political power. I always wondered what would have happened had he been elected Governor. ONE BLOOD is in large part a result of that curiosity.

ONE BLOOD can be described as the book Stephen King and Richard Wright might have written had they collaborated. It examines the power of suggestion and how belief has the power to destroy as well as empower. I appreciate your time and eagerly welcome your expert opinion, or a request to submit my entire manuscript.
Sincerely yours,

Qwantu Amaru

“Oh, great reviews are the worst. They mislead you more than the bad ones, because they only fuel your ego. Then you only want another one, like potato chips or something, and the best thing you get is fat and bloated. I’d rather just refuse, thanks.”

-Chazz Palminteri

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