I hope I never forget the first words of feedback I got about Arugula’s Mother. My parents and sister were vacationing in the Adirondacks, and they left a message on our answering machine. It will date this entry to say that the machine in question had an actual play button, if not a real cassette tape.
“We’re reading this on the rock beside the river,” my mother said on the machine. “And we’re passing the copies back and forth as fast as we can read.” Pause. “I LOVE this novel. So does Dad, so does…”
You get the idea.
It was extremely gratifying.
But did I mention how long the novel in question was?
Those of you who write will know that this was a completely unworkable word count. A few multi-generational sagas, some fantasy epics, run to such lengths. But psychological suspense? I daresay never.
I got plenty of criticism from my group of trustys, and it led me to my third, fourth, and fifth drafts. But no one criticized the length. No one knew that the baby I was so proudly showing around was not cutely pudgy, or even bordering on fat, but obscenely, grotesquely overweight.
I knew it. I’d been reading books on writing and publishing and manuscript preparation. One of the deeper points I was picking up on was that there’s a reason books of certain genres settle at a certain word count, and when they are in the ballpark of the “right” length then they are tight reads with a good flow. Pushing the boundaries on this produces all sorts of flaws in the manuscript: meandering plot threads, characters that serve no purpose, dialogue and scenes that wander.
Somehow my writing was interesting enough that my trustys didn’t object on this level. They were willing to follow all the extraneous material. They critiqued it when it fell off in any number of ways, but they didn’t suggest cutting it.
One of the books I devoured during that period was Lawrence Block’s Writing the Novel and in amongst the many pearls of this great writer’s wisdom was one grain of sand I glommed onto as if it were a life buoy and I was drowning.
To paraphrase, Mr. Block said something like, “Certain big books sometimes run to greater lengths, even upwards of 150,000 words.”
Well, there you go! Or rather, there I went! I was writing a big book, wasn’t I? Hadn’t Dorothy compared it to the best selling Deep End of the Ocean? Of course it needed every one of its bloated, rotund 180,000 words.
Between Dorothy , Mr. Block, and my own naivete, I was about to jump in at the deep end myself.