In my previous post I introduced you to Jane who read BLUE last summer. When she finished it, Jane promptly called and left a message on my answering machine. Her compliments made me feel I'd written one of the best books of all time! It so happens that Jane had polio during the "Miracle of Hickory" epidemic so she does know what she's talking about when it comes to life in the 40's and also in regards to polio.
For this reason Jane is now one of my experts. So, in addition to interviewing her, I also wanted her to read and critique my sequel. I emailed it to her last week. And her message on my answering machine later says something like this, “I was just going to read the prologue and ended up reading the whole thing – I only got up twice - once to refill my iced tea and once to go to the bathroom. Sorry Jane, when you make friends with a writer your privacy goes out the window! :0
Jane was so complimentary that I remarked to some family members that maybe she wasn't a literary critic. Sorry, again, Jane! Please don’t go away mad.
Was I ever wrong about that! Here's how I know. Jane and I met for lunch last week (see previous post). During our meal she told me there was one thing she didn't love about my sequel manuscript. It had to do with a potential reunion of two characters – a meeting that did not happen. So I confessed to her that I'd written such a chapter but had taken it out.
"Send that to me," she said.
So I did.
She called me. And this time she did not get my machine. “You've got to include that!" she said.
I told her I removed it partly because it almost seemed beside the point of the rest of the story and the book was getting too long and... I would have rambled on about my reasons except that Jane interrupted. “But you don't get to decide,” she said. “This isn't about you writing a book. This is about those characters and what they would do. And it’s absolutely what they would do. It's got to be in there!”
Now there’s a reader who understands the mystery and the power of story! As a writer I’ve been surprised countless times by a plot line that takes an unexpected turn.
This is not so mystical or so powerful that the writer can't (as I did) cut that part out or decide to ignore the muse. Ultimately I am still in control.
But fortunately there are experts out there who remind me that I don't get to decide. Some things are strictly the business of my characters and I'd better not, as Jane put it, "let some editor mess it up!"
Well, I am lucky to have an editor who would never dictate my characters’ actions to me. And thanks to Jane I have been reminded that I should not dictate to my characters either.
So thanks, Jane! You are, a literary critic extraordinaire!