Maybe even years.
FEEDBACKThe last time I blogged about Half-Truths, I was excitedly sending my manuscript to beta readers. Since then I have received feedback from teens, adults, critique partners, and several sensitivity readers. I learned that Kate's character wasn't developed enough and there wasn't enough tension in the first half of the book. I was well into revision when I heard back from my last sensitivity reader.
Here are some of her comments:
Since you are in the process of revising now, I wanted to take a few moments to share some macro-level thoughts you might take into consideration as you work. I know you have been working on this labor of love for more than 10 years and you probably feel that it is close to where you want it. If that is the case, I'm sure you're hoping to enter the submissions process sooner rather than later, so feel free to keep the following comments as reference material in the event that you don't find an editor for the manuscript.
My first suggestion is to consider writing this manuscript from the perspective of Kate alone. Your grasp of Kate's life and voice are more authentic than your grasp of Lillie's and honestly, I'm not sure a sensitivity reader is going to be able to help you add the authenticity needed. At best, we can alert you to potential areas of offense--but even in that, it won't be full-proof because African-Americans are not a monolith and things I might not flag as offensive might turn out to be offensive to others. Which brings me to my next point....
Your writing HALF-TRUTHS from Lillie's perspective might not go over well in today's social and political climate. The movement for "own voices" (which I admittedly support) grows stronger by the day, and people of color are hyperaware of works being published by white people that star POC main characters. Yes you have two main characters, but Lillie is especially main. The book even opens from her perspective. The honest truth is that even if you got Lillie's story 90% right, you would likely get called out for the 10% of missteps. Because I know you personally, I know your intentions with this story are nothing but honorable (and I think your overall plot is interesting). I would hate for your book to end up the target of a negative campaign because of inadvertent missteps. For many reasons, today's kidlit atmosphere is fraught, and the cultural scrutiny/backlash of this moment is pretty unrelenting. There is no patience for mistakes of any kind.
I was shocked, overwhelmed and discouraged. I first wrote Half-Truths from Kate's POV and would never have considered writing it any other way if an editor hadn't suggested the two points-of-view during a SCBWI-Carolinas conference.
Did I really have to start all over again? Did I waste eight years pursuing an unreachable goal? Were all these books and all of my expert interviews with African Americans a waste of time?
Even bigger, how was I going to face people in my family, like my brother who never failed to ask, "So, how is the book coming along? You ready to publish it?" And how would I tell you, my faithful blog followers? I felt like a failure.
ADVICE AND VIRTUAL HUGSI shared my news with my writing friends who commiserated, advised, and told stories of their own not-so-smooth path to publication. Linda Phillips (author of CRAZY) said she had worried about me taking on the black POV but figured an editor would give me that feedback. Joyce Hostetter wrote, "Don’t forget that I have abandoned two books that I spent about 4 years each on. And I have lots of other abandoned projects from back before BLUE. That might be called failure but I learned tons while writing those books. So I call it an education."
Augusta Scattergood said, "After almost eight years of writing, revising, and submitting, I was critiqued by an agent I truly clicked with at an SCBWI regional conference in Maryland. She eventually decided that novel (which would much later become my second published book, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY) wasn't for her. A year later, I dusted off GLORY BE, sent it to her, and the rest is my publishing history."
I chatted with Kathy Wiechman, author of the award winning book, LIKE A RIVER, on Facebook. After reminding me that this was an opportunity to make my book better she said,"Enjoy working on the revision. That is my favorite part of the process, and I do truly enjoy it. It was that love of doing it that helped me stick with it for 39 years of not being chosen."
Rebecca Petruck, who read multiple drafts of the story and loved the two points-of-view, checked with her agent to make sure I should follow this advice. She also suggested I ask an industry professional. We both received the same response: This wasn't a good time for me, a white author, to write from Lillie's POV.
While my brother was more empathetic than I expected, my sister, Barbara, advised:
- You may need to develop a new way of seeing this story.
- There’s not something wrong with you that you're starting over.
- The process is as important as the product.
I spent another week re-outlining and figuring out how and what Kate would learn from Lillie and how Kate's backstory is going to impact Half-Truths and, voila--I'm back in business.
As I re-vision and rewrite Half-Truths as Kate's story, I'm back at the "Start", but yet I'm not. All the information I've gleaned and all those previous drafts aren't worthless-they will enrich my story.