Intriguing But Not Compelling

Posted: February 1, 2011 in John C. Caruso, The Whole Works

“Intriguing But Not Compelling” by John C. Caruso

Well, Portland Mayhem Company made it through a bumpy start to the new year, but it seems like we’re all as committed as ever to keep bringing you fresh fiction each Friday and sharing with you our daily tragedies and triumphs here in the trenches as “early career” writers.  We’ve got some great things planned for the coming weeks and months, including some guest posts from a few local writers whose novels and stories you may have read.  Keep coming back for updates on this.

A couple weeks ago, my friend and colleague Aaron Hilton shared with us the rejection letter he received from an editor who had been considering his first Grunge Operatives novel.  It’s a hard thing to get a rejection, and I admire Aaron’s courage in the face of this as well as his willingness to share with all of us his process in dealing with this apparent set-back.  The thing about being a writer at this stage is that you put in long hard hours behind the scenes and when you emerge with your manuscript, ready to share it with the world, you’re often not quite prepared to be banished back to the study.  After sending your little treasure off to an editor across the continent and waiting patiently for several silent months of secret hope, you feel a cold shock when your months of labor are answered with a brief reply of just two or three paragraphs.  Try as you might, you can’t quite read between the lines well enough to fathom whatever cryptic pearls of wisdom may be offered.

You want to be logical about it.  You want to be rational and really take in the criticism so your writing can get stronger and you can do even better next time.  But it’s hard to be clear-headed and analytical about a rejection because, well, it’s a rejection.  Emotions get mixed up in there and you tend to take it hard.  I know I do.

Just this last week I got my own rejection letter from an editor who had been looking at my novel The Lawn Man for several months, and since he had requested the full manuscript this had been just long enough to get my hopes up.  He sent a nice rejection.  Not the best one I’ve ever gotten, but at least I could tell he’d read the whole thing and seemed to appreciate a lot of things about it.  He said he liked the escalation of the crimes committed.  He said he “found the characters interesting” and enjoyed the “clever elements . . . throughout.”

Ultimately, however, the answer was no.  Although the plot was “intriguing,” he hadn’t enjoyed the novel as much as he had hoped.

“Intriguing but not compelling” is a phrase I’ve heard before.  My previous novel, Gasoline, still unpublished and now collecting dust in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet also made it pretty far with several editors but never saw its way into print.  And the rejections, polite as they were, boiled down to this phrase.

I haven’t given up on selling The Lawn Man.  Far from it.  This is just the beginning, and I’m still confident that it will find a publisher — and plenty of enthusiastic readers — but as I work on my next novel, I know what I need to do: make damn sure from day one that I have something compelling.


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