Well, here we are! I truly enjoyed reading the submissions, and it was difficult to pick just one. I believe that authors are the movers and shakers of the world, and it is so inspirational to be a part of such a talented community.
To ensure the author’s anonymity, I have used only the first initial of the character’s names.
Congratulations Submission #8!
This manuscript opens in Pompeii, J— stumbling over the crouched body of S—, a woman he hasn’t seen for ten years, and whom he has loved since he was a boy. She was bending down, caressing the ruts of the ancient road, tracing the grooves of history in the “city-sized graveyard.” Years later, they are married with a seven-year-old son when J— drives his car over a cliff. Readers follow J—’s narrative voice through afterlife “therapy” where he alternates between revisiting scenes from his past and watching his family struggle through their present grief.
I was immediately attracted to this manuscript because the author writes like an artist. Her work is compelling not only by the strength of the plot, but in the way she challenges traditional perspective, drawing readers to notice life in unanticipated ways. I loved that J—’s wife is a visual artist, fascinated by “myopic details,” and how her obsession with texture is the first image of the text:
[She] crouched in the middle of a shimmering hot road. Sweaty tourists, cameras slung around their necks like giant all-seeing necklaces, limped past her as she caressed the warm, smooth ruts in the ancient Pompeian street. She might have been rubbing a copper pot in hopes of releasing a genie, her touch gentle and tentative, as if frightened of the magic she might release and the consequences of her discovery.
S— then points out “small, sparkly, inch-square tile[s] embedded in the stone” called “cats eyes,” whose reflections in the moon’s light were used to guide nighttime travelers. Later that day, J— and S— jump from a cliff side into the “huge swells” of the ocean and swim into a grotto. When they return, J— describes:
The sun seemed to have shifted, emitting a slightly different range of color, as if the Earth had begun spinning in a new direction during our time inside the grotto.
For me, the artistic elongation of these evanescent moments is what made the manuscript. There are authors who are storytellers, and there are others who are artists—and one of the marks of a good artist is to change the way that people experience different elements of life. Days after reading this manuscript, I found myself unusually aware of the sensation of wood beneath my fingertips, stemming from S—’s description of her grief:
I touch wood obsessively against my bizarre thoughts of doom…. Falling asleep, or in those precious moments before waking, an image or feeling comes – a car crash, a kidnapping, a fire. Some unnamed disaster, fuzzy at the edges of sleep, waking me in panic, heart ferociously trying to escape my chest, like a trapped bird. I reach to the bedside table as if a tiny stroke of its slick, cherry wood surface might calm the chaos wracking my mind.
The author’s ability to create descriptions that linger beyond the space of the page is one of the greatest strengths of this manuscript. I would encourage the author to emphasize these moments in the revision process.
While this manuscript comes to us in strong shape, I would encourage the author to focus specifically on dialogue while revising. There are some moments when S—’s dialogue feels stiff and artificial, and I would like to see her conversations embedded with the same artistic sensibilities that her actions are. Examples include:
“J—? Ohmygod! What are you doing here?” and “Ooh! I just love Pompeii!”
Although I understand that phrases like “ohmygod” and exclamations like “ooh” are common in modern vernacular, they seemed unnatural juxtaposed against the spirited potency of S—’s character.
As a reader, I also wanted more detail about the physicality and tone of the speakers, especially in S—’s first few lines. In communication, it has been found that the total impact of a message is about 7 percent verbal (words only), 38 percent vocal (including tone of voice, inflection, and other sounds), and 55 percent nonverbal. Including details such as eye movement, shifting weight, facial expressions, and gestures will bring energy into the dialogue. Using J—’s narrative voice to study S—’s facial reactions, and really pay attention to her, is also a way to reveal how she captivates him.
J—’s first conversation with his afterlife therapist offers a thought-provoking perspective of life and death as a cycle, where J—has “been [t]here many times before.” It was a good structural choice. J— will explore the past through the therapy sessions, stimulating the reader by continuously transitioning from past to present. However, although it is important to communicate the facts, I would encourage the author to revise the dialogue, and maybe ease in with the details, leaving more to be revealed in later sessions. I would also encourage the author to focus on emphasizing the therapist’s “grandmotherly” characteristics instead of relaying the necessary facts—sometimes it’s okay to keep the reader guessing a little while longer!
The author should consider revising the first sentence, and completely removing any mention of the phrase “boyhood crush.”
My boyhood crush crouched in the middle of a shimmering hot road.
Although the reader is only able to witness J—and S— ’s relationship for a brief time, it feels like a deep, adult love that the phrase “boyhood crush” undercuts. Every time it is mentioned it leaves me with a sense of a juvenile, puppy-dog affection, and I believe the story would benefit if the author uses a consistent tone emphasizing that their love was mature and passionate. Readers will have much more empathy for J—’s struggle observing from the afterlife as S— dates her old boyfriend if he is presented as one of S—’s true loves.
From a marketing standpoint, the author has pre-established channels to sell her book, which offers a huge advantage. Her first book was published a few years ago and is a memoir illustrating her own experience as a widow, a “testament to finding the silver lining of grief and loss, to discovering the defibrillator effect of trauma and its power to awaken us into really living.” She also has a blog centered on the same topic, an author’s website, and has spoken about grief and loss. I believe that this fiction manuscript would be a seamless addition to her author platform. Focusing on the same niche audience will expand her reach and establish her in the community. Also, a series of books on similar topics affects sales—because the author is a strong writer, many people who read her first book will most likely be interested in her second.
As a reader, this manuscript moved me. Utilizing structure strategically can be difficult, but the author used the moon as a central image in her title as well as throughout the text. The moon serves as a good metaphor for the book—because of the moon’s otherworldly quality and the author’s unique way of imagining death through the vehicle of the moon, this manuscript seems like it’s bathed in a metaphoric moonlight, and the romanticized view of life is inspirational. The author’s attention to detail and ability to re-imagine life with fresh eyes elevates this story to the level of art, and allows the reader a glimpse into the narrator’s revelation, “I had sleepwalked through my whole life, only now waking up as a dead man.”
Well done! Keep writing—I’ll be looking to pick up my own copy after publication!
Hanna will be providing free editorial feedback for a different author every other Monday, and will be sharing the feedback with the Wise, Ink audience! The next one will be FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2012, and the FINAL CALL for that contest submission will be FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2012! To submit, please follow submission guidelines HERE.
To see Hanna’s blog Write with Hanna, click HERE!