It’s funny what draws us to a book. But even those we wait for with great anticipation often disappoint. More to the point is what causes one to take hold of us, to think about long after turning the final page. The characters, the story, the voice; that unique something, which grabs us and won’t let go.
Editors are notoriously jaded. We read, after all, tons of manuscripts and stories. A good buddy who’s a VP at Kensington, and one of the most irreverent people I’ve ever met (and who will remain nameless here so he doesn’t shoot me), confessed that he cried watching Titanic in the theater. It still gives me a chuckle today. Although a softy at heart, it literally takes the Earth moving for a story to get to him.
And as a novel editor, I understand entirely. You can’t read as much as we do and be moved all the time or we wouldn’t get anything done! And yes, the old, “Ya gotta grab ’em on page one,” applies. The hook is vital. Editors know on the first page whether this is for them. The company line is that they read the first fifty pages. In some parallel universe! That’s why writers come to me daily, saying that they’ve received rejection after rejection that says, “This just wasn’t compelling enough for me.” Agents mean that literally.
Yet and still, stories grab us for so many reasons. And often, they don’t fit any sort of mold.
I’m a big John Nichols fan. If nothing else (and there’s always a boatload else), I know I’m gonna laugh myself off the chair. On Top of Spoon Mountain, his latest, had me rolling. And it’s not a funny premise-an aging, infirm man who’s as dysfunctional as they come, the fruit of that bearing out with 토토핫 his grown children and disastrous romantic relationships, simply must climb the mountain of his youth (preferably with said children in tow) to prove, well, whatever it is aging men must prove, no matter how they couch it in “family.” A slim novel, it’s the antithesis of the book and film that made him famous, The Milagro Beanfield War, which rambled for 800 or so pages and made me laugh on every one of them. The thing about Nichols is that under all the comedy, lies the essence of what makes us people, community, cohabitants of this planet Earth.
I recently finished editing a slender, literary work that just haunts me. Almost all the action occurred in the beginning. A huge crash, actually, seen by the three narrators, none of whom were involved in the event, although each reacted in character. And each stayed in character for the remainder of the story, which was one of quiet desperation for all, leading to the climax that took my breath away. It will haunt you too, once published.
So what is it that “compels” us to get involved in a book? To not put it down?
1. That hook. That thing up front that’s different, unique, too funny not to keep on reading, so poignant without being purple that it grabs us. Done well, the hook doesn’t have to be about major crashes or aliens or the murder of a celebrity, although McCarthy’s The Road, which opens after the Earth burns up, the reason for which isn’t even of great importance, will clutch you by the throat and not let go. Yet, as with all McCarthy’s work, the hook isn’t even what forces you to keep reading.