Thursday, August 04, 2016

Trust Your Advance Readers (even if it's Mom)

Stephen King, in On Writing, says, "The editor is always right." In the publishing phase of a book, King's meaning is pretty obvious: Your editor has usually seen everything twice, and her advice comes late in a manuscript's life and focuses on additions and/or deletions. But there's a stage (or stages) before that. And when writers are drafting, spending hours alone, fearing a leap into the wrong rabbit hole, many of us seek advance readers – people with whom we share works-in-progress, valuing any and all feedback and reactions.

Usually, these readers simply validate choices you've made, catch embarrassing typos, and provide motivation to write quickly – they're reading as you write, after all, and they want to know the ending.

Sometimes, though, they offer feedback that changes the way you think of your book. I had that experience recently.

Despite my love for Stephen King's work and admiration for the man (he is, after all, a fellow Mainer), I, like many writers, get married to my work-in-progress. I'm lucky to have three or four friends who love crime fiction and read with discerning eyes. One is quite literally the most positive human being I've ever been around. (I must tell her to be mean when she reads.) In a former life, she was a biologist who hunted and fished where Peyton Cote fictitiously does. Now she's a research librarian. Another is a semi-retired math teacher, who reads two to three books a week and watches nearly as many Red Sox games. Another is (and don't smirk) my mother, who is a voracious reader and has the odd habit of offering me her opinion whether I want it or not (I bet that gives her something in common with your mother).

A funny thing happened on the way to the 50-page mark of this latest work-in-progress: My mother read the wrong book.

Not all her fault. I'm writing a version of a book I started almost four years ago when I was between Peyton Cote novels. The first two readers are offering feedback, liking it, and spotting my typos – nothing unusual. But then 10 days ago, I got some notes from my mother and quickly realized she was reading the wrong book – the one I began in 2013.

I stopped when she wrote, "I like this version much better than the other one. Nice rewrite."

The "old," version, the one that's been sitting in the bottom drawer of my Google desk for two and a half years is after all a very different novel – same lead character, but a very different plot, more thriller than mystery. I called her immediately. What did she like so much about this rewrite?

As I listened to her praise this older version, I heard a lot of things that made sense (yes, Mom gets smarter as I get older).

So, where does this all leave me? Looking for ways to combine what I like about the new with what I know my mother is correct about the old – and in my second week working on a lengthy and detailed synopsis.

In the end, all this reminds me to trust the people I trust – even if it's you know who.

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