Crazy like a fox? Maybe.


I feel like an idiot. I knew better but went ahead and did it anyway, with predictable results. The one saving grace is that I will be able to redeem myself. You see, about 9 months ago I submitted another novel to my publisher, Dundurn. Foolishly, I thought that having been published by them once, that I would get my work looked at faster than if it simply went into the slush pile.

Didn’t work out that way. Maybe it was quicker by a month or two, if that. Seems to me 9 months is about the time it took them to accept my first novel, A Dark and Promised Land. This isn’t the only experience of this kind of thing I’ve run into as a writer; although I’ve published dozens of articles with the magazine Pacific Yachting, there are times when I float an idea to them that they simply don’t respond, or it takes them weeks and even months. And I even have the email of the chief editor.

The sad fact is that publishers of all stripes are swamped with content, and any one author is just cattle, unless you happen to be one of the dozen or so national literary elites that everyone fawns over. Although they wouldn’t have product without those of us creating it, as individuals we are meaningless drones, any one of which is completely replaceable.

It’s not just the editor’s fault, however; with so many media competing for eyes, profit margins are razor thin, and every editor is harried beyond belief and has little time for handholding or giving preference. You would think it would make their job easier having a stash of competent writers in the Rolodex, but it doesn’t seem that way. Each time I approach an editor, I seem as unknown and anonymous as the last, and it doesn’t get any easier getting a work looked at and accepted. That’s sure not how I thought it would be.

Anyway, back to my main point. I screwed up. I sent in a novel that really wasn’t fully worked out, and after that long 9-month wait, they sent it back as not ready for publication. There was a great deal to like about it – strong writing, interesting characters, vivid historical details. But the overall story structure didn’t work.

Deep down a part of me knew this, knew it wasn’t ready. But I had feedback from an editor that it was, so tossed aside my hesitation and sent it in. And now I have a rejection from my own publisher, and 9 months wasted. Unless you are JK Rowling, nothing happens fast in publishing, and so my career timetable has been pushed back almost a year. As if at age 54 I have time to waste.

That’s the moaning part out of the way. Because at the same time, I’m glad it isn’t going out into the world like that, as I can do better. I’ve struggled a lot with this book, and it’s had an interesting evolution. It started out as a simple, linear narrative with a theme of how the world feeds upon the sensitive and fragile among us. A historical novel set in a depression-era fishing community, a macho version of A Streetcar Name Desire in novel form. Once this version was complete, somehow it seemed insufficient, and I started rewriting it over and over again, until I had another character that seemed the antithesis of the protagonist, and I clumsily mashed their two stories together in a way that fooled neither myself nor my publisher. No matter how I tried I just seemed to have two separate stories that I couldn’t weave together. I loved both characters and yet couldn’t get them to occupy the same pages.

But now I see why I’ve had this problem for so long: in a way, they are the same character, but two sides of the one, two different approaches to the same problem. My conscious mind was writing them as if they were protagonist and antagonist, but my unconscious was really creating the same character with opposing solutions to the question of how the heart responds to oppression. One approaches the world wide-eyed and open, and is wounded over and again, while the other shuts down and becomes tough, becoming a perpetrator rather than a victim. In the end, one sacrifices their life while the other sacrifices their soul. Which way is better?

Approached in this way, the story suddenly makes much more sense, and how to combine their two narratives becomes clear. The story transforms from a simple narrative to one much more complex, with no clear answer at the end (it’s not like I’ve figured it out.)

While I hate the fact that I had to take this labyrinthine path to get here, processes have their own logic, and I’ve worked for years on that manuscript trying to get it right by just dogging away at it. I’m not sure why I had to go this route to find the answer, but the answer is here now and it wasn’t before. And I’ve learned something else: if I don’t feel fully confident in a manuscript, if I have a niggling feeling about it, it’s not ready yet. In the future, I will trust that.


My first novel. Buy it or I’ll eat a kitten.

Dark and Promised Land

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2 thoughts on “Crazy like a fox? Maybe.

  1. Not wasted time, Nathaniel. I really enjoyed reading that book. I firmly believe it will find a way to sort out its idiosyncrasies and find its own market.
    Also, be reassured you have such a strong gut feeling (even if you didn’t always listen to it!).
    At the Victoria Writers’ Festival someone asked Polly Horvath, the kids’ writer, how she knew when a project was ready to send to the publishers. She said it was like clinking glasses with someone, sometimes the glasses give out a dull thud. When the glasses give that the clean “ting”, then it’s ready. This sounds very fanciful now I’m writing it, but I really associated with it when she said it. Your gut told you the sound was a bit off. You’ll work out how to do make the book work, once you’ve had a break from it and come back with fresh eyes. Also keep drinking wine and clinking glasses anyway to get yourself in the mood. Hugs.

    • Yeah, I’ve been writing long enough that I know. I’m just not used to being able to say I know. More learning. And it’s already to send back; the solution was obvious.

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