James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

Encouraging Rejections and DOGS OF PARSON’S HOLLOW

From my latest encouraging rejection: “I like the premise but wasn’t happy with the execution.”

Now, what we have in this is code language to soften the blow, execution as euphemism for the writing itself. For the thin-skinned nascent writer, such a rejection can be devastating. For me, however, this spurs me on to evaluate and edit the text of my novel with a fresh eye. All the quote-unquote encouraging rejections have shared a commonality in that these agents have been taken with the logline but clearly did not find the manuscript itself to be worthy of further consideration (or rather, what few pages they read—many agents admit that they don’t read more than a page or two before tossing someone’s work aside and moving on). So what to do?

Take a fine-tooth comb to the manuscript.

Francine Prose (as fortuitously a named writer and writing teaching as there ever was) discusses in her book Reading Like a Writer her teaching concept of “close reading,” in which she takes a careful consideration of every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph chosen by a writer. Make no mistake, the writer must also do this to his own text in order to make the work sing. So, in this spirit (and as a response to the last rejection) I’ve begun a true close-reading edit of DOGS OF PARSON’S HOLLOW, the first such edit in over six months. Within moments of beginning, I’ve seen how to make the first chapter much tighter, much cleaner, much better.

The first 10-50 pages are crucial in terms of marketing any manuscript, and this one is no exception. The rest of the novel is, I believe, in reasonably good shape; these opening chapters, too, are far from fatally flawed—they simply need to be leaner, meaner, and must get  us on our way quicker to the suspenseful and frightening elements that comprise the bulk of my protagonist’s journey into the darkest corner of Edgewater County. There is backstory that can be shifted to a later point in the narrative; there are a couple of scenes that have been with us since very early drafts, pages that have nagged to be cut for a long time now. Cutting otherwise good scenes that don’t move the story forward fast enough hurts—they call it “killing your darlings”—but this kind of editing is crucial to the success of any writing project.

Editing like this can be brutal, especially on a manuscript that’s been through the wringer already a few times. I often run into problems at this stage of writing, if for no other reason than fatigue with the material. I can set DOGS aside and chalk up its writing to another learning experience, i.e., my attempt to write a more commercial rather than straight literary story. However, the process I’ve followed in creating this story, both in careful consideration of plot, character, and theme, as well as getting feedback along the way from other writers and readers, has led me to believe that this piece is worth continuing to edit and market. And so, I will.

NOTE: Tonight begins my six-week Fiction Writing I class at the Harbison Campus of Midlands Technical College. The process of editing of DOGS will be much discussed, I suspect, over the course of these class meetings, and I very much hope taking the students along for the ride, so to speak, will be of benefit to them.

About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest book, a story collection called The Year They Canceled Christmas, releases in November 2017.

3 Replies

  1. Dmac…you rock..constructive criticism is a pill most people can not take, whether it be writing or another endeavor. I am so looking forward to reading your novel…the title sounds interesting and titillating.
    One of the things I really like about you is your honesty, it is so refreshing.
    I see some of your expressions when you are overhearing people talk and I secretly smile to myself. Is that bad of me?
    Cheers my friend.

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