This summer, I added cycling outdoors to the various ways I like to stay active. Though I started spinning classes four years ago, I couldn’t figure out how to negotiate highly trafficked roadways with cars, trucks, motorcycles, even scooters, zipping along the streets. It seemed an impossible and daunting quest, so I removed it from the fore of my thoughts and laid it to rest in the furthest corridors of my mind. In other words, I fuhgottabout-it!
At the end of last year, I sent my novel Eleven Light City around to publishers and agents. I got responses like: “Lovely.” “Great characters.” “Oh—what a great voice!” A well-known writer friend of mine tells me that any positive response from publishers, agents, and/or a contest is a “good thing.” I believe that. But as one agent said to me, “It is lovely, but ultimately I didn’t fall in love.” After reflection I thought, “Ahhh! Now I have something to work with—falling in love.”
This year I set out to find an editor to work with me on ELC. I targeted four writers. One came through. It only takes one. The editor I was introduced to is seasoned with many years of publishing experience. After reading ELC she said: “The words feel alive.” “Deliciously lyrical.” “Beautiful parts.” “But there is no narrative arc, only a series of events. No building to the climax, no resolution.”
Needless to say, my heart wanted to stop; but I listened carefully and I knew she was right. I asked the question that weighed heaviest, “Do you think I need to rewrite the novel?” She replied quickly, “Oh—no! Just round up all the chapters and eliminate any part of story that doesn’t drive the narrative. Pare down the dialogue and sharpen your authorial voice, it can fill in the blanks.” Then she said what helped the most: “A novel only needs to be as long as it needs. Three hundred and fifty pages can become two-fifty and be a better novel. It’s still a novel.”
Over the last few months since we spoke, I’m getting it. I can cut out or take away words, dialogue, characters I’ve come to love over the years, and still have a great story. I can say less, and in that less the story can blossom and I can fall in love with fewer words and with newer words. I can like what ELC will become as much or perhaps more than this version.
In my spinning class I heard of a fundraiser and bike tour. The idea of it excited me, but even after I got my bike prepared for the road it was at the last minute that I actually decided to go on the tour. My reasons were: “It’s too early in the morning.” “Is forty dollars too much money?” “The other riders are probably more seasoned.” I ended up riding thirty-six miles and I kept up the entire way. I was tired when I got home but that journey has altered my life. Now several times a week, I ride from my house to the Berkeley Marina and back home. I always stop at the Marina and look across at the Golden Gate Bridge—the sun sprinkles light on it as if it has burst through the fog. I am working on the rewrite: bursting through the fog of words, characters, and authorial voice of ELC to get to the heart of the novel, all while I hold on to my love of the novel. The way I see it, navigating the unknown, breaking through to the other side of the writing, are the acts that can help facilitate the readers to fall in love with the story, much like I fell in love with bike riding on the busy streets of Oakland, California.
The key to biking and writing is beginning!