Thursday, December 4, 2014

When Your "Mommy's" (Author's) Voice Screams NO! ... by Lynn Chandler Willis

As authors, we consider our books our “babies.” We nourish them, cherish them, fix them when they are broken, and when we think they are ready—we send them out into the world. And we hold our breath that the world will not only accept them, but actually like them, too. So yes, writing and publishing a book is a lot like having a baby.

Whether it’s your first or your tenth, there’s also this thing that comes with motherhood, or authorhood as the case may be, from which we can not escape. It’s called intuition. Some have a more keen sense than others, but most authors, and mothers, have it.

My intuition was never stronger than when I was shopping Wink of an Eye. I had been lucky enough to score a much sought after agent pitch session at a conference and spent days leading up to it spit-shining my manuscript into submittable form. So when the day came and there I was sitting across from said agent, I was in heaven. I remember holding my breath while said agent looked over the first few pages and when the agent said they liked it, they really liked it, I finally breathed. The agent remarked that the thing that struck them so vividly was the main character’s voice. They not only liked it, they loved it.

We made arrangements for me to send in the entire manuscript and the agent’s associate would work with me on it. Within a matter of days, the associate had the entire manuscript and again I was reduced to waiting. But this time, like having a baby, I knew something good would come of this wait. Or at least I thought so.

The associate got back to in a few days and said they, too, loved it! They loved the voice. They loved the detail. They loved the character. They loved the back-and-forth banter between characters. They loved it!

But—there was too much dialog. There was too much detail. It read very visually, meaning the reader could visualize it, like a movie. Which, according to the associate, wasn’t a good thing. People read books to read books, not to see a movie.

I was a little, um…perplexed. Yet at the same time, I was so excited. I was actually working with an agent. I listened to all the things they wanted to change about Wink of an Eye with honest intention of making the changes. I even tried several times to make the changes. Should I re-type the whole thing? Should I copy and paste? Should I really change from first person to third?

I never got past the first chapter. Actually, the first few pages would be more like it. Every time I went to revise it, that little “mommy voice” screamed NO! Finally, after several weeks of agonizing over it, I came to the painful conclusion that having an agent wasn’t worth sacrificing the heart and soul of my baby. So I deleted all the false beginnings of the new, improved manuscript, backed up the original and started looking again at markets.

When I came across the call for submissions for the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America PI Novel competition, I submitted the manuscript as it was, in its original form. With too much dialog, too much detail, too much visual effects, and too much banter between characters. The rest, as they say, is history.

Not only did Wink of an Eye win the 2013 St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel competition, I was the first woman in a ten year history to win it. And I did it by listening to that little voice inside my head that told me to walk away, and with a character named Gypsy Moran who has a tendency to talk a lot.


Lynn Chandler Willis worked in the corporate world (hated it!), the television industry (fun job), the newspaper industry (burnt out), and even at a daycare center (stayed sick the entire time). She is the author of best-selling true crime, Unholy Covenant (Addicus Books 2000), inspirational mystery/suspense novel The Rising, (Pelican Book Group 2013) and private eye novel Wink of an Eye, released Nov. 18 2014 from Minotaur Books. Wink was chosen as the winner of the 2013 Minotaur Books/Private Eye Writers of America Best First PI Novel Competition.

Learn more about Lynn and her books at her website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You stuck to the story you wanted to tell - good for you!

Anonymous said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Lynn.

Lynn - You made the right choice to trust your instinct! A great reminder that in the end, trusting yourself is really valuable.

Lynn said...

Thanks, Alex and Margot. A good reminder that "moms know best" :)

Eileen Goudge said...

That little voice in our heads seldom steers us wrong. We make wrong moves when we ignore it. Your story proves it, Lynn. Congrats on your win and publishing your first novel!