When an editor says “Show me more”

Last Saturday, with a synopsis and three chapters written, Susan pitched to an editor.  A pitch is all talk, no text, and she only had 10 minutes to get a positive response.  Susan being Susan, she walked away with gold sheet, that is, the editor said, “Show me more.” Then the other shoe, “Pump up the suspense.”

Suspense?  What suspense?  As a coauthor who did not meet with the editor, my interest was not academic.  It turns out that, if you read this editor’s resume, this is her bread and butter.  But… but… but…

Essentially, she was asking for a different book.  New synopsis.  New chapter.  Oh, and get it in by the end of the month.  Interesting challenge, eh?

Neurons fire.  Questions bounce.  Vertigo.  What planet are we on again?  Okay.  Okay.  This is actually good news.  A door is cracked open for a novel, and how often does that happen?  Can I write suspense?  Sure.  I’ve done it many times.  Do I want to write Lucky Numbers as a suspense novel?  I don’t know.  I have to go out, grab new characters and talk to them awhile.  Maybe.  What about Susan?  Looking at other novels the editor had edited (and Susan can read these in about three minutes while it takes me three days — advantage, Susan), Susan pronounced them “grim.”

Grim.  That is, with no opportunity to the strongest card in her hand, humor.  And with the very real danger of causing her to distort her voice and lose all the fun.  (Fun is one of my critical success factors for writing.  It’s not a trivial part of the process.  It’s not just for…. uh… fun.)

Okay, we’ve identified the biggest fear, and I’m filled with remorse for taking her away from a wonderful novel she has been working on solo and redirecting her toward this path that is filled with lions, tigers and bears.  But she is a grown woman.  She wants us to go for it.

Highlighters come out.  Pages get printed.  I slog through text, mouthing each word, demanding more of the moron part of my brain.  Meanwhile, Innovation Passport, my nonfiction book, brings its own demands if it is to make a Sept/Oct pub date.  I make promises to provide a new synopsis the next day, then the next day, then the next day.  I wake up in the middle of the night, hearing Susan’s fingers drumming impatiently.  It is only a dream, but it has become background noise to my imagination.

Then she has a day off.  She doesn’t say much.  Just stares at me.  The way the cats do when it is dinner time.  Okay, Peter.  Be brilliant.  Please.  I promise to provide a synopsis by noon.

I retreat to the study with my highlighted notes, sample synopsis, novels and my copy of Shakespeare for Dummies.  (“Help me, Bill.  You’re my only hope.”)  I press a well-structured but poorly worded synopsis that I found online against my forehead.  I make pencil notes on the lefthand side of my notebook, the side that doesn’t really count.  I have conversations with the new characters and try to find out why I should like them.  I defecate masonry, to clean up a Damon Knight phrase (meaning I put down nouns and verbs).  Click!  It gushes forth.  Right format.  Right graces notes.  Even the right number of pages.  And I drop the pages off at noon exactly.  (Having worked in radio, this is not magic.  Just something I had to do, time and time again.)

Is is good?  Is is something we can work for?  What does Susan have to say?  Wait, where is Susan?

I wait for her to return from parts unknown.  She gets back.  Wonderful news.  Sunday’s adventure with bumper cars + rain = a trunk full of water.  For some reason, this takes precedence over reading the synopsis.  Everything comes out, including the spare tire.  Puddles are wiped up.  And then it’s lunch time.  We don’t want her reading on a full stomach, do we?  (It would be good drama here to claim that I was too nervous to eat.  But no one who knew me would believe it.)

Now, the last synopsis was read with a running commentary.  So continual, I had to leave the room.  This time, there is not a sound.  She is reading, reading, reading.  Is this good news, or bad?

Good as it turns out.  Only one note is added to the text.  And then we talk through the first scene (once I assure her that I can’t simply rewrite the already finished chapters).  So, the adventure continues.  Only 10, 00o words between now and May 31.  Oh, actually May 26, since this has to go out by snail mail.  Piece of cake.

BTW, the cover for Innovation Passport is locked in.

Innovation Passport cover

Innovation Passport cover

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