Friday, September 28, 2012
The Novel So Far - Quitting Time
This is the third (and final) report on my novel progress. My first post was in October 2009. At that time I had been at work on the novel, “American Jukebox,” for three years. It was always an “accidental” novel. I took a course on novel writing at the Graham School and since I didn’t have a novel I borrowed a short story I had written and just kept expanding it.
“American Jukebox,” is the story of a minor-league pitcher, who hurls a perfect game and loses everything. Since 2009 I’ve rewritten it at least three times. With each rewrite it got better, more novel-like, more focused. I had a lot of professional help over the years. I hired an impressive lineup of successful novelists to read and critique my work: Barbara Croft (“Moon’s Crossing”), Patrick Somerville (“The Cradle”), Whitney Otto (“How to Build an American Quilt”), Sands Hall, (“Catching Heaven”), Marita Golden (“After”) and finally this spring, Pamela Erens (“The Understory”). I also had friends like Ania Vesenny, Laura Krause, Joel Altschul and Joyce Armstrong and my novel workshop group (Anny, Jill and Ben) who read all of the versions and offered invaluable feedback and encouragement. They all helped me to become a better writer. I look at them as sort of my ad hoc MFA program.
When I finished American Jukebox again this spring, I knew it was truly finished. It was as good as I could make it. I’m proud of the work and in my heart I believe it “deserves” to be published. But that’s not my call. I’ve queried one hundred literary agents and also submitted the manuscript to a dozen small independent presses. Agents are overwhelmed with submissions and it’s hard to get noticed. Two agents asked to see my manuscript based on my query letter and one publisher who had looked at the earlier version agreed to reconsider the newest version. But it’s been weeks and I’ve haven’t heard from them and that’s usually a pretty good sign they are not interested.
I had planned to self-publish, but I’ve changed my mind. There are a lot of good self-published novels out there (also a lot of not-so-good ones). With Amazon and other programs I could have American Jukebox on the market in a couple of weeks. I like selling and if a publisher had bought my book I would have sold the hell out of it. It would have been fun. But without a seal of approval, I just don’t have the confidence to trump the decisions of the gatekeepers. Hawking my self-published book would take all my time and I need to get back to writing again. Something new. Something better.
It’s not a total loss. I have had four of my chapters published as short stories and one of them one won an Honorable Mention in a writing contest last year. And next month the prologue and opening chapter will be published as a novel excerpt in another online literary magazine (maybe it will be discovered).
I plan to have a couple dozen copies of American Jukebox printed. I want to have one on my shelf to show my grandkids someday. Also I figure it will make a great Christmas gift for all those family friends who read all the earlier versions.