That probably could have gone better.
As you may have gleaned from a prior post, I’m starting the networking and marketing and politicking I’m told will be needed for me to ever reach out beyond a close group of friends who’ll perhaps feel obligated to buy A Sword Into Darkness when it finally does go on sale. Part of that is joining up with the pro and semi-pro writers’ organizations in the local area. Today I met with Milt, a very nice older gentlemen who’s a fixture among the Hampton Roads Writers circles. He tried to find out what I was looking for and tried to relay what he and the wider organization could provide. As part of that, he asked me to send him a sub-assembly of the novel: First 10 pages, then various pages from three major plot points, pages from the climax, a two-page summary, a logline, and a description of the book in terms of other major books already out there. Today, we met and he gave his impression.
Yeah. Not a new fan apparently.
He was very nice and professional about it. He told me up front that he doesn’t read SF, his forte is more in the John Le Carre spy thriller realm, but he could give general advice and generally his advice is that I halt everything and do a full rewrite.
He liked the plot and thought the writing samples I gave him were great. He just really didn’t like the flow as related by the synopsis. He thought it was too jumpy, either accelerating too fast between scenes or skipping big chunks of time (it’s the latter, which is not apparent from the synopsis, granted). He loved the scene in Chapter 2 where Nathan’s ship is sunk, he just thought that it didn’t have a need to be in the plot and should probably go in a completely separate book. He thought Kris coming up with her enhanced photonic reaction drive, the device that drives the latter 2/3’s of the plot, was way too convenient. And he took issue with the character of Sykes, the SECDEF who is both venal and noble in his interactions with Gordon and Lydia in developing the destroyer, USS SWORD OF LIBERTY. (Apologies for the unexplained references, you’ll just have to buy the book to find out!)
Me, I think the issues were one (or two) of four possible things: My synopsis lacked the details that would have assuaged many of his questions–which is my fault–but the book itself is fundamentally sound. Or, my version of military SF / hard SF / space opera is just not his cup of tea (he, for one, did not know what a wormhole was or why it should mean anything to the plot). Or, he’s partly right and I’ve got some problems to fix, and I’m not so full of myself to believe otherwise. Or, I’m a complete hack and editors and agents were right to run from me screaming.
So, tough meeting. As for me, ASID is what it is at this point. I’m not of a mind to trash it and try again. I will take anyone’s edits and tweak the manuscript, especially if you’re a pro-editor and your buy decision rests upon those edits. And I know not everyone is going to love my work, nor that I’m the greatest writer with the greatest book that ever existed. But, at this place in the book’s existence, it’s time for it to sink or swim on its own. If Baen does not revise it or buy it, it’s coming out before the end of the year. I explained this to Milt and he agreed. I appreciated the look he gave it. We shook hands as we parted and I look forward to making use of his insight on future projects, but I wish we had come together closer on our opinion of ASID.
The day approaches soon and the market beckons. I only hope there’s more readers like me out there than like Milt.
What do YOU think?
8 thoughts on “Lost in Translation?”
I’m going with this option: My snyopsis (sic) lacked the details that would have assuaged many of his questions, which is my fault, but the book itself is fundamentally sound.
Your book is excellent…don’t be discouraged by this feedback. I guess someone who doesn’t know what a wormhole is must’ve been pretty lost in your universe.
Thass wha i git fer not usin spellechek.
Thanks, Melissa. I’m not one to want sunshine to be blown up my backside all the time, and I appreciated his honesty. Any reader that finds a fixable flaw before this piggy goes to market is valuable, but I’m past the point where I’m willing to pull it and start over. We shall see.
Leave it alone. Please. ASID is brilliant. Don’t hesitate to correct any typos you find, but please, Please, PLEASE don’t go monkeying with the story. It’s not just a great space combat novel. It’s the best I’ve EVER read (and you’re talking to somebody who reads just about everything in the genre).
If it helps any, I got similar comments about ‘The Seventh Angel,’ shortly before the book won the Clive Cussler Grandmaster Award and the MWSA Gold Medal for Navy Fiction. It subsequently went on to become required reading at the Naval War College, and was selected for the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading List. If I had listened to the well-meaning yahoo in-question, I could have seriously damaged the book.
Thanks, Jeff. No, I’m going forward as is. The only major edits I’d make at this point are ones directed by you or one of my other mentors, or one directed by the Baen Slushmaster pursuant to a sale. Milt did have some great, non-substantial edits that I might add. He is the second person to tell me I don’t need and should remove my beloved second chapter, with the wet navy battle. I’m VERY reluctant to do that.
I’m put in mind of that observation by one Harry Callahan who drew a parallel between rectums and opinions.
This guy, as well-intentioned as he might have been, seems singularly unqualified to render the kind of judgement he did. You don’t mention his professional writing creds or editorial background so I’m sort of presuming he didn’t have much in either area.
If I were you, I’d lean more toward Jeff’s advice and relegate what ol’ Milt had to say far down on the Ladder of Opinion.
Ha, ha. Love that. No, Milt is a good guy and he acknowledges that he’s only an experienced amateur. I appreciate his opinion, but it’s not going to halt the process at this point.
I can give you forty reasons why the (wet) naval combat scene needs to stay. Here are just five…
#1 It brings action into the story early, as a promise of things to come.
#2 It sets up Nathan’s redemption, which occurs later in the story. (You can’t have redemption without the moment of failure which makes it necessary.)
#3 It demonstrates that the underdog can defeat a technologically-superior adversary.
#4 It shows that the good guys (as defined by the story) do not always win.
#5 It’s a damned fine bit of writing that advances the plot and increases the emotional complexity of a major character.
In other words, this chapter does exactly what a good scene should do. If you cut it, you weaken Nathan’s character, you weaken the story arc, and you lose the sense of urgency that an early dose of action creates in the minds of the readers.
I’m not questioning Milt’s skills as a writer, nor his right to hold an opinion. But you don’t go to a football player for advice about your golf swing. His skills and interests lie in other genres. By all means, seek (and utilize) criticism from readers and writers, but you can’t get expert advice from someone who doesn’t understand and enjoy the field you’re working in.
Oh, I’m in full and violent agreement. That’s why I wrote it. But you never know if it throws someone else right out of the narrative, which was the nature of this charge. I guess I’m too forgiving as a reader. I generally stick around for the author’s vision, to see where he’s going without complaint, ESPECIALLY on Chapter 2. He has to meander senselessly for a long, long time before I’ll give up. And I don’t think I do that here. I think “Death From Below” kicks ass.