Tuesday, June 14, 2005

So what is your book about?

I wonder, do all writers feel the same way? I feel shy about discussing my book. The chances that the person who has discovered I'm a writer, enjoys the same type of fiction that I do are so slim. People will say to me, "OH, when can I read it? I like books. I read the latest Star Trek book last night."

Replace Star Trek with the novel of your choice. As if all books are alike, they are just books?

"So Toni, what is your book about?" If they persist, I'll try to summarize it in a short sentence or two, hoping their eyes won't glaze over too quickly.

"Well, it is about a small village in Illinois. Set around a lake. A woman moves there and..."

"OH, I bet it's Lake Shelbyville? No? Let's see, Lake Bloomington? No?"

"No, I just made the lake up. It isn't a real place. That is what fiction is, you make stuff up..."

And about this point in the conversation they notice their son really needs their help tying his shoes. Or they look at their watch. I never get very far. Which is why I don't want to start explaining what my book is about. Telling someone what a book is about is like telling someone what color a town is. You can't just pick a color and label things.

But, I'm in the middle of query season on book one, and I need to summarize the book. Not just summarize, but shrink it down to a paragraph or two. Man, am I having trouble with this. No matter how I try to get to the gist of the novel, I leave so much out. I change it, then I edit it, then I rework it, and then I end up throwing up my hands. Who knew the query letter would be as hard to write as the book itself?

For the purposes of this blog, let me tell you in one paragraph what my book is about, in an excerpt from draft #31 of my query letter:

"Jane Woolley leaves her staid suburban existance, dragging her teenage son along with her, to the quaint rural community of Lake Newberry, IL, population 711. On moving day she not only meets her neighbor Crystal, nineteen and independent, but ends up becoming intimately acquainted as Crystal goes into labor and needs Jane's help. Walter Cohen is seventy-nine and bored with retired life. He knows the chest pains he is having are not a good sign, but he ignores them, hoping they will go away.
These three characters meet in ALONE TOGETHER, a 76,000 word completed novel about friendships, interdependence, and support. They all seek the same thing: meaning in life. Alone they couldn't find it, but together, they can."

There you go, any of you that want to know what my book is about? You now know. If only I was sure that really encapsulates the pain and pleasure of the Lake Newberry folks.... Maybe I should try for draft #32?

If it sounds like a book you'd love to read, please forward my blog link to your sister-in-law, who just happens to be a very competent and caring, well-connected, literary agent, waiting to make my day.


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