Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Am I Still a Novelist?

In case any of you are wondering if I'm still a novelist, I sometimes wonder this as well. I'd certainly like to be, and I hope another eleven years won't have have to pass between my previous novel and the next. THROAT SPROCKETS was published in 1994, and THE BOOK OF RENFIELD is now two years old and counting. (Incidentally, Ryan Murphy's option on the Renfield book has expired, and we are now entertaining new offers for the screen rights.) I've begun work on a new screenplay, based on a book I'm adapting, but something deep inside me isn't feeling the profound satisfaction that I get from writing fiction, and I miss it. Now that I've finished editing my second monthly issue of VW in a row, the old fictive itch is asserting itself once again, beckoning me to complicate my life and deadlines once again.

You may remember that I've mentioned here in the past a novel-in-progress, one which I've actually finished several times but never fully to my liking, called THE ONLY CRIMINAL. I first got the idea for this book almost as long ago as I began researching the Bava book; it's the best idea I've ever had for a novel, but for some reason, I could never quite find my way out the other end of its maze. Some months ago, at the request of my agent, I sent her a nearly-but-not-quite-finished draft of the novel because she had found an editor who expressed interest. Last night before going to bed, I sent her an e-mail asking if there was an update. This morning, she copied me on the editor's response, which I reproduce here in full, minus his signature:

"Thank you for sending over THE ONLY CRIMINAL. I thought this was a fun, well-written book supported by a great, fantastical idea. However, I would have liked if the author focused more on one or two main characters, instead of jumping around so much, and began digging deeper into what the Only Criminal really is earlier in the book. I hope you find a good home for this project."

I must be getting old, because I can remember 1) when "fun", "well-written" books with a "great idea" were in demand by publishers, and 2) when editors still worked with writers on promising manuscripts to make the most of them. Those days, it would seem, are somewhere over our shoulder in the next county.

This editor didn't know my work, evidently, or understand the book, even if he derived pleasure from it. Like my other novels, THE ONLY CRIMINAL is about a central character and others in his immediate orbit, but it's more importantly about a global phenomenon tied to found artifacts of, shall we say, infernal provenance. That's my thing -- I've worked hard to make it my own, and according to the reviews I've received over the years, it's well-liked. You wouldn't ask J. G. Ballard to please resubmit his latest after beefing up the characterizations and leaving out the clinical lingo and psychosexual sociology, would you? And dig deeper into "what the Only Criminal really is earlier in the book"? Never mind that I begin asking that question as early as the first chapter!

This careless little paragraph got me angry enough to spend the day doing something I haven't been able to do in longer than I would care to admit: I finally finished THE ONLY CRIMINAL to my own liking. It was much closer to being finished than I suspected, and perhaps part of me hadn't been willing the cut the cord until now, until the Bava book was behind me. I sensed what still needed to be done the other day when it occurred to me that I might conclude the climactic chapter with a passage I had used to finish a novel I wrote back in the 1970s and never tried to publish, a segue from my own words into words and images imported from the Bible. I did this, and voila, it fit like a missing jigsaw piece. THE missing jigsaw piece. I excitedly spent the rest of the afternoon polishing some other areas, changing some street names and such, and now I feel the book is as good as I can make it -- at least as good as I can make it until it finds its way beneath the wing of strong editorial guidance. If such a thing still exists. I believe it does.

I've printed off a copy of the manuscript and I intend to ship it out tomorrow to another agent who has agreed to consider me as a client. It's time for a change. I'm hopeful; it's a special book. In the meantime, please be so kind as to light a candle for me and THE ONLY CRIMINAL... or I may just give T.O.C. your address.

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