The Only Perfect Novel There Is

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Beachmere-Flag-400x225-300x168I just finished my latest novel, and it’s perfect.

Not perfect perfect, of course. It’s honeymoon perfect. It’s sunny, flag-fluttering, best-wave day at the beach perfect. Which is to say, it can’t last.

I finished the first draft early last month, and then spent a couple of weeks cleaning it up, fixing problems, making it do pushups and sprints, getting it in tip-top shape to send off to my early readers. These women are wise and kind and so darned good looking (and are hopefully taking a few minutes off from inking up my “perfect” manuscript to see these compliments to their wisdom and beauty).

I sent it to them on a Sunday night, and since then I’ve been as giddy as a 4-year-old in red-sparkle shoes. It’s not that I don’t love writing. I do. And I wasn’t getting sick of my characters, as sometimes will happen, or anxious that the whole thing wasn’t working. It seemed to be doing just fine. To me, anyway.

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Good Willing Hunting. Will (Matt Damon) is explaining to his therapist Sean (Robin Williams) that he isn’t calling a girl he really likes because right now, in his mind she’s perfect. If he gets to know her a little better, he’ll start to see her flaws which will ruin it. Sean replies, “Maybe you’re perfect right now. Maybe you don’t want to ruin that.”

Nope, I definitely do not want to ruin that. However …

Yesterday, a friend told me that she’d started reading one of my previous novels. “I loved that Deirdre acted out the whole Harry Potter series for Kevin,” she said. “She wasn’t good at the normal caretaker stuff, but there were little ways that she really connected with him.” Kevin is her nephew, but his parents are gone, and she and her elderly aunt are his guardians.

There had been no acting out of Harry Potter or any other kindly auntie behavior before my early readers got to Deirdre. “She’s too harsh,” they told me. “She almost completely ignores him.” They wanted some softer edges, some unexpected bright spots.

As her creator, I’d thought Deirdre was pretty spot on as she was—cold, angry and determined to have things finally go her way. “She has every reason to ignore him,” I tried to explain. “She’s desperate to get on with her life, and no one was there for her when she was a kid.”

My fairy god-readers weren’t having it, and they were fairly unanimous in their appraisal. That’s when you really have to buy your return ticket from fantasy-land and start accepting your story’s imperfection—when everyone agrees there’s a problem.

So I added touches of color and warmth—not many, mind you. Deirdre was practically raised by wolves, and that still shows. But what she got, thanks to my wise, kind and highly attractive early readers, was dimension, and it’s a huge improvement.

As much as I’m enjoying this temporary delusion of perfection, I am deeply grateful that anyone—much less the amazingly insightful group I have—wants to read a hundred thousand of my words, and then spend time gently explaining to me what isn’t cutting the mustard. Every story requires that kind of careful outside scrutiny, and yet not every story gets it. Even in the publishing process, editors now spend much more of their time shepherding books through the labyrinth of packaging, marketing and sales than marking up drafts during the work day. An editor at a major publishing house recently told me that actual editing happens in her off hours, nights and weekends. She doesn’t get paid for the time she spends doing the thing that her title ostensibly means.

This of course makes those early readers even more important. As we now hear all the time, every story has to be at fighting weight to have a chance. No more showing up at your editor’s door bloated with extra verbiage or slowed by confusing plot threads.

Even after your pals have read the early drafts, and your editor has gone through it to the best that her time allows, and it’s sitting on a bookshelf somewhere, there are always those little nagging things that crop up. My first novel came out over 5 years ago, and I still occasionally think of something I wished I’d done a little differently.

There really is no such thing as a perfect novel … except perhaps now. It’s the best that I alone can make it, and in my mind it’s just right. For these last few weeks, I’ve been in a blissful solitary state with my creation. But soon I will have company, and thankfully they will have their say.

8 Responses to “The Only Perfect Novel There Is”

  1. Cathy Smtih Says:

    October 6th, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    yes. i love my Jitter Bug novel. i am on the fifth complete re-reading and re-editing. you know that feeling of floating through your own words, yet watching carefully for changes and mistakes. a famous thriller author told me to shred it. i thought some things that i do not want to repeat here.

    then so many sucessful authors told me how many times they were rejected. like you for example.

    ha…i just write for me anyway. so there.

    by the way, i really like your books. a lot

  2. Susan Salluce Says:

    May 28th, 2015 at 10:14 am

    So well put. Those early readers are gems. I’m reading a manuscript for someone right now, and when I feel tired or weary of making comments, I’m reminded of the kind women (and my husband!) who spent hours reading my work.
    I loved your honesty of how sick we get of our characters- hah! We tire of them, and then miss them when we bid them farewell…they become our family.
    Love your work!

  3. Juliette Fay Says:

    May 5th, 2015 at 7:34 am

    Brenda, thanks so much for your kind words – it means the world to me!

  4. Brenda George Says:

    May 2nd, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    I had a long day and reading you have a new novel on the way makes the long day much better. Yay! I look forward to your next book. I will have reread the previous novels to pass time until the big day. Please know how much your books mean to your readers.

  5. Juliette Fay Says:

    March 24th, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    I hope your readers find your novel to be just as perfect as could be, Laura … but I suspect they’ll have some great feedback on how you can make it even better. For now just enjoy taking a break! Best of luck ~ Juliette

  6. Laura Says:

    March 24th, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Juliette – I’m a huge fan of your books. I just put the finishing touches on my own novel and your post found me at exactly the same point in the writing process. I have three writer friends reading it for me now and I’m anxiously awaiting their feedback. Then, it’s time to take the next step. I’m looking forward to reading more of what you’ve written.

  7. Juliette Fay Says:

    March 23rd, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Thanks so much, Karen. And I loved LOVE WALKED IN, too. I’m a huge Marisa De Los Santos fan.

  8. karen stroud Says:

    March 22nd, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    i felt that Shelter Me was a perfect novel – thank you so much for writing it. Love Walked In by Marisa De Los Santos was another perfect novel. Cannot wait to read your next one.

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