I’ve begun a new chapter in my fiction writing life. The novel I’ve been working on for eight or nine years, The Siren’s Lyric, formerly titled Deshay of the Woods…yeah, I’m completely bagging the project.
Well, sort of. Here’s the story:
I graduated with a BA in English and a minor in Business Administration in 2003, after which I grew a little burnt out on fiction altogether. Stopped reading regularly and stopped writing fiction. Instead, I started moonlighting from my regular job, writing articles for various print and online publications around the US. When the recession hit, however, this money diminished significantly and so I teetered away from this creative outlet. I was playing guitar and recording music for fun, but I still needed something to fill the writing void. An old writing buddy of mine nudged me back into the world of fiction. The first thing I cranked out was horrible. I mean, it was bad. This was the very first version of Deshay of the Woods. It was my idea, but this writer friend helped me out by co-authoring the piece as a novella. Let me be clear, it was bad because of me, not her. Honest. Comparing my writing to hers made me realize that. I mean, it was clean and polished and all that, but as a work of fiction…let’s just say I had no idea what I was doing. Having spent the last five or so years writing more technical pieces, I’d picked up some habits that didn’t translate well into fiction writing.
But, I really wanted to write fiction well, and so I took the project, more or less scrapped it but, still liking the world I’d created and the characters, started again with a new story. This version was better, but still not so wonderful. I kept going back to this project as a kind of tool to help learn how to write a novel. I didn’t want to just pump a bunch of mediocre stories out and call it good. My goal was and has always been to write for the sake of writing and respect the craft by learning to be the best writer I could be. I know I have talent—that’s been validating several times over by successful agents, writers and even publishers. But being a good writer doesn’t mean you’re a good novelist. I wanted (still want) to be both.
So I kept at it. The Siren’s Lyric has undergone several facelifts as a result. Some things about it have been really, really good. Some things less so. A version of the work was recognized by peers on the now-defunct Harper-Collins’-run site, Authonomy, and received a review by one of their editors. My suspicions were confirmed here, as well, when the editor told me I could write very well, but that my manuscript still read like an early draft.
I kept at it some more…even started a couple other novel WIPs (a dystopian titled Leech and another called The Queen of Clubs). When I thought I was finished with The Siren’s Lyric, I went through trouble of querying to high-end agents (targeting ones who’d represented books with national success first). The first wave of this had me realizing that I really needed to master (or come close to mastering) the craft of pitch writing. Seriously, folks. That’s almost as important as the novel itself when it comes to being picked up by an agent or publisher. The second wave of querying yielded a bit better results (11 of 15 partial requests and some real feedback). I still fell short of reaching my goal, however.
Over the years, I’ve developed some writing friendships. Among them are a few whose opinions I really trust. These are my harshest critics, but they know what they’re talking about. I always felt that, at least a few of them, were ho-hum about my writing. They liked what they read, but understood why my stuff wasn’t getting picked up. Something was missing. I was never under the delusion that they were wrong. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. It was maddening.
At a point, maybe sometime late 2014 or early 2015, a few of these friends, as well as a couple of new ones, made some revelations about the piece, specifically why it was being passed over. Now, the thing about writing tricks of the trade and all that, and I’ve been around enough aspiring writers to know that –and this is a very important thing for people to remember—thinking you understand a concept and really having it resonate are completely different things. As a writer, we toil over our work so much that we become too close to the mosaic to see the bigger picture, even sometimes when it’s pointed out to us and we understand and even agree with the logic behind it. I KNOW to avoid info dumps early in the story, for instance, but one of the revelations I had about my WIP was that, despite knowing this, I WAS DOING IT ANYWAY. Another revelation? The stakes for the MC were insignificant. I loved my world so much, I was focusing too much on it at the expense of the character. I wasn’t showing the world through the character nearly enough.
And then there was the other ah-ha moment. This novel had undergone several facelifts over the years, but never did I start over. Not really. Not in regards to the story itself. Instead, I took what wasn’t working and applied Band-Aid fix after Band-Aid fix. The result was a storyline that was so complicated and full of tangents that it was impossibly tedious to follow. Do I think it was altogether bad? Not at all, but nor do I think this method was very effective.
So I took a break—life events got in the way. My wife had our third child; we moved suddenly (in the same time frame of having the baby); work got busy; etc. I re-energized myself and now I’m back at it, with a new story in mind. A better story (I really do believe this), because it’s a story about Alex, my main character. I’ve been told this is a ballsy move, but understand I am not an impulsive person; I’m a calculated person. To the point of a complex, sometimes. This was the move that needed to happen.
Another part of what triggered this decision was my attempts at different novels, which I will likely go back to at some point. These, Leech and The Queen of Clubs. I focused completely on the MC in these ones, maybe to the detriment of setting development and other things, but I wanted to break this bad habit of mine.
I’ve learned a lot, and the result is that—at least in its early stages—my harshest critic friends seem to really like what they’re reading. Even the ones who aren’t typically fans of the genre. This feels good, not because I need to be patted on the back, but because I know I’ve earned it. Now, to continue that work ethic onward. It will be hard. Damn hard. But I’m excited. I think I may have something here.
You can read the first chapter of this new version of The Siren’s Lyric at Bookcountry. I would love to hear your honest feedback—good and bad. Just be sure to make it constructive. “This sucks.” Does me no good. “This sucks because of specific specific specific…” That I can work with. J
Thanks for following my little journey and for the continued support.