I got hooked into reading a manuscript the other day. I did it as a favor to a friend who had a friend -- a lawyer, of course -- who had just finished writing his FIRST legal thriller. It was "a more literary John Grisham," he said. Would I read it, to, you know, give my opinion....?
So I started it last night. (I know, I never learn). I got maybe 20 pages in and I began hearing this voice in my head. Not my usual muse voices. This one was whispering: "Get out!"
Took me a while, but I realized it was the demon voice who had screamed at James Brolin in "The Amityville Horror." Only this voice was really me yelling at the writer of the misbegotten mess of a novel I was reading.
Get out, now, buddy. Get out of any notion that you could possibly ever succeed as a writer. Because you are tone-deaf to dialog, blind to characterization, and utterly and completely unable to tell a basic linear-plot story. Worse, you didn't bother to learn a damn thing about the craft that goes into fiction writing before you tried. You had the brass balls to think you could shortcut all that.
God, this just rots my socks, this whole idea that anyone can just write a novel these days. I have had it with professionals who write and think that just because their printer spat out 200 double-spaced pages of typing, they have made the leap to professional writer.
I am not alone in this frustration.
I have a new hero, a guy who is blogging on a site called Evil Editor.. He takes actual query letters and dissects them (I highly recommend his site for those of you struggling with the fine art of query writing). But this paragraph from Evil Editor to a writer who had queried him caught my eye the other day:
"Look, here's the thing. The competition to get published is fierce. If Evil Editor tried to write a symphony, he would expect someone with an MFA in music to mock his first attempt mercilessly. If Evil Editor tried to create a giraffe or a Dachshund out of a balloon, you would laugh at his comic ineptitude. So it shouldn't be shocking when Evil Editor suggests that while what you've learned about people, natural perceptions, and history may be impressive, what you've learned about English, particularly the craft of writing (so far), isn't going to get you to your goal. Take classes, join a critique group, read a lot, and maybe ten years from now you'll read this letter and laugh. When you're not groaning. Sorry, my friend."
Preach on, brother Evil.
Postscript: I awoke this morning to find out George Lutz, the owner of the real Amityville horror house, died May 8. Rest in peace. He finally got out.