I was at Panera, waiting for my editor and friend Amy. We were meeting to go over my novel she had finished working on. I rarely like what I’ve worked on, and this novel was no exception. But the fact she was willing to meet me and not just mail back my manuscript was a positive sign that it wasn’t a complete loss as far as novels went. As I waited, I checked my email.
One of the emails was from Amy, titled “editing notes.” The first note started with “It seemed like there were two novels at work…” and then went on to explain why Amy believed the novel was two incomplete stories instead of one. She also stated which section she thought was the strongest of the two and why.
I wasn’t sure what to think. While it appeared I no longer had a completed novel, I did have significant parts of two, and one of those parts “shined.” Shiny was good, right?
I finished scanning the notes; most of them confirmed what I had already suspected as weaknesses that needed fixing—not anchored in a particular place in time, a weird ending (I was tired when I finished it, sick of working on it, and I ended up summarizing the ending, which ended up confusing Amy). By the time I had finished the email, Amy had arrived. Once she had settled herself into the booth, I plunged ahead.
“So,” I said. “Parts of two novels?”
“Yes,” Amy replied, and once she explained her thoughts, I couldn’t argue. She was right, there were two distinct story lines in the novel, each needing to be explored in their own right. One story needs a beginning; the other needs an ending. Amy and I began to bounce ideas back and forth while I took notes. The section we both like best is the second half of the original novel. I now need to write a new beginning and instead of filling me with dismay, I am excited with the challenge. “What if….” gets free reign, with multiple story lines loose in my imagination.
I also have the beginning to a second novel, which means I need to write a new ending. Great news for one of my characters; he stands an excellent chance at resurrection. (I killed him off originally because I didn’t know what to do with him.)
I now feel I have stories I can get behind; ones that excite me and make me curious about how it all going to turn out. Feelings that I lost a while ago, and now I know why, thanks to another set of eyes and a detached assessment of my work.
“It seemed like there were two novels at work….” are not words I want to see the next time I send her a novel to edit, but this time, there are two novels that need completed and sent out as independent stories, able to stand on their own.
Cheryl Russell received her MFA from Converse College in 2013. Her work has appeared in Infuze, Title Trakk, Focus on Fiction, The Storyteller, Ruminate, and Rose and Thorn. She currently teaches at Malone University. She resides in Ohio.