Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Yesterday, Sherri asked how I deal with comments and criticism from my editor and the people that are reading the draft in advance of my submission. That's a good jumping-off point for today's update.

Last night I received my first feedback. Yes, non-blogger Wayne managed to get through the 350 occasionally confusing pages in record time, so we met for drinks (you expected something else?) to discuss his thoughts.

He actually seemed wary about telling me where he saw problems, for fear of offending me. I reassured him that I wanted the feedback so we grabbed some fortification of the liquid variety (hey -- I didn't know what was coming either! Plus, that is what I do!) and settled into the rear section of Posh for a short talk.

I won't repeat everything he said, but I found almost all his points valid. Some of them were already on my punch-list, others were new thoughts. He noted some inconsistencies, as well as a major character who could stand to be much more developed, and caught some typing my fingers did when my brain wasn't paying attention. (Chiffon? When and why the hell did I type that?) Oh, and speaking of 'chiffon,' he also helped me dress some of the characters. Valentino and Donna Karan, kids.

Here's the thing, Sherri. Someone out there is going to say that you have an ugly baby, and I'd rather hear that from friends when I have a chance to fix things than from, oh, Publishers Weekly when the book is in print and it's out of my hands.

And trust me: this, I know. In 2002, when The Night We Met was released, I was pleased with the response, but there was something in me that felt the book wasn't all mine. Over the course of several years, it had been read and edited to death by a dozen friends -- including a New York Times best-selling author -- and that was before my editor took a whack at it. By the time it was published, I didn't feel like the author. I felt more like Chairman of the Author Committee. Yes, the story was mine, and yes, I did all the actual writing, but it didn't feel like a creation wholly of my own.

So the next time out -- that would be Trust Fund Boys, of course -- I had my story to tell and I wrote and edited alone. Even my editor kept his hands pretty much off the manuscript. And the result was... different.

Don't get me wrong: I like Trust Fund Boys, and it has a lot of fans. And I think a lot of the criticism has more to do with the general unlikeability of most of the characters -- which was done on purpose, by the way -- than the craftsmanship. But maybe it would have benefited from having a few more eyes on it. Maybe someone would have, oh, commented that it was overly driven by dialogue, or suggested a plot device to make the narrator a bit more likeable. Or maybe everyone would have said that it was perfect and PW would have still ripped me a new asshole.

Who knows? All I know is that you're going to get criticism one way or another -- which is only fair, since I spend a lot of my blogging time criticizing others -- so, if you can, you might as well aim for the constructive variety and use it to improve your manuscript, rather than take the hits from strangers.

And remember that not all comments are good comments. If you don't like a suggestion, you're always free to ignore it.

Which brings me to my question of the day. Wayne had a suggestion I could go either way on. In this book (as in The Night We Met, but not Trust Fund Boys), I have written a few graphic sex scenes. Now, despite my inclusion in the Strange Bedfellows anthology, I hate writing sex scenes (and it probably shows in the draft manuscript, since the scenes were hastily written and I still haven't gone back to, er, 'fluff them up.') He suggested scrapping them, making them 'fade to black' instead of getting into the whole body-fluidicious write-up. I'm inclined to follow this advice -- my mother and stepmother read these books, after all -- but I want to throw the question out to my readers.

Sex scenes: fade-to-black or show us the skin? Discuss.