Monday, July 07, 2008

The Resonance Of The Debut

As writers, we are supposed to compose manuscripts that will "resonate" with a literary agent. What might such resonance be?

When Jill Althouse-Wood queried Denise Marcil, she was possessed of resonance. It's in the first words of her debut novel, Summers at Blue Lake. The author did her research, of course, and knew that Ms. Marcil wanted issue-related fiction that pertained to today's family. Well, maybe today's family in New York City. But it's the beginning that strikes a chord.

"My grandmothers were lesbians" opens the story, and if that doesn't make you sit up and take notice, you'll never understand resonance.

Lesbians as normal people is the sort of modern-day topic that resonates with publishing houses, who think that everyone would like to read more stories about lesbians when they're not devouring books about misunderstood and maligned Muslims. It's a fresh and new wrapper for an old package, a plot device that's not been done to death just yet.

The bad guys in Ms. Althouse-Wood's story are the straight people, of course, and the lesbian grandmothers are hard done by. The lesbian couple that lived down the street from me when I was young were just another set of neighbors and nobody gave a rat's arse if they were gay or straight, but that doesn't make for the sort of story that resonates with the bean counters at Workman Publishing. A novel must adhere to the party line, oppression of the minority by the cruel and unenlightened majority, but the oppressed win in the end.

By using the first person point of view, the author had to resort to the old trick of inserting letters written as if they were short stories, with dialogue for feck's sake, to get the back story in. You might think that's too hackneyed, not written well enough to get published, but it's the resonance factor that takes hold and moves a manuscript through the acquisitions process.

Resonance is the spark that makes an agent keep reading, and an author would do well to remember that the agents they are querying are living in New York and hanging around very liberal types who see everyone as a victim of some sort or other.

Tailor your writing accordingly. Insert oppressed minority character as needed, fluff up the "woman in relationship crisis" story line, and Denise Marcil's your girl.

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