I have a circle of readers I send the “first” draft of my manuscripts new, meaning a draft I’m not embarrassed to have other people see. One of the people whose opinion I value most is a fellow writer who has very different tastes in literature. He hates Jane Austen and loves William Faulkner. I am the opposite, and so we write different sorts of fiction and in a way, that makes him a bit more objective, I think. He has been more successful than I in the past. He has an agent, although he’s had a rather long drought in sales, so I definitely value his opinion on what’s “sellable.”
Which is why I came away from our standard, “I’ll feed you lunch and you give me a critique” encounter depressed yesterday. He had liked my first 100 pages, although he said they were hard to read, because of some personal shared life experiences I won’t go into here, and because, like me, it’s not hard for him to imagine the U.S. sliding into religious fascism. Yesterday, he told me he had to really forced himself to read the the rest of the book, for some of the same reasons mentioned above, and thought it had real problems with pacing, that there was too much exposition, that I had too many climatic points, that in general, the novel had problems that would require a pretty big rewrite.
I’ve been edited a lot, so I don’t generally have a knee-jerk negative response to suggestions I rewrite. But others who have read the manuscript said they found it hard to put down. On the other hand, they were fellow members of my organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, who sort of share my worldview, while my friend is a professional writer, who was giving me a professional assessment from the outside. On the other hand, he was picking it up and putting it down over the course of a month and is in general too impatient to read Jane Austen. If a movie doesn’t interest him within the first five minutes, he will walk out. Some of the places he marked as too much exposition were only two paragraphs long and they covered a period of months.
He liked my second novel, and I realized something today: that novel and all of his novels take place in one location, over a period of a few months, with a few characters. Shea, my third novel, takes place over a period of thirty years, moves from the U.S., to Canada, to Chiapas, MX, to Scotland and England, and also ties in how global events are impacting the struggle to bring down the fascist Christian Republic regime in the U.S. Am I being too ambitious? My book is the fictional prison memoir of a political dissident who describes how he, his wife, Shea, and thousands of other ordinary people brought down the fascist regime of the Christian Republic in the United States. All of the great struggles to bring down fascist and oppressive regimes in recent history have had an international component to them, and my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams basically brings that international component to ordinary people who are struggling nonviolently to resist systemic oppression, so my gut says “no.”
This morning, in my e-mail were two critiques from readers outside of Christian Peacemaker Teams who told me that they found the pacing to be brisk. They are not writers, but they are readers. I probably won’t feel completely easy, though, until I have a professional assessment from an editor or agent about how Shea needs to be revised.