I seem to be paralyzed by anxiety or something right now. I think it's a mix between a critique I got from an editor that shouldn't bother me, but does, the time of year, and some recurring comments about whether I really think a Civil War book written from the "wrong" perspective will have any appeal. "You do know the south lost the war, don't you?"
Well, yes, I think I read that somewhere. I'm sure if I were writing about a female Union spy everything would be hunky dorey. Unfortunately, that's not the story I was given.
If the editor had told me I couldn't write, I don't think it would have bothered me. But, "If you can't do basic research on this period, write something else." hit me between the eyes. I've been pretty meticulous about my research and the whole thing boils down to fact is stranger than fiction.
There are times when I want to wring editors' and agents' necks for this kind of off-the-cuff, surly note.
The idea that there is a "wrong" perspective on the Civil War is ludicrous. There are lots of stories yet to be told about this great American tragedy and if an editor is so poorly educated as to not realize that, well s/he should turn in their sheepskin.
If anything, the perspective that ISN'T often heard is the one I'm most interested in.
It reminds me of the exhibit at the Met of armored horses in Europe.
The full exhibit is of six of these armored horses all together, facing you as you walk through the door.
Now, imagine you live in what we now call Mexico about five hundred years ago. You live in a village with people who look like you, and you trade with people who look like you.
You hear rumors of strange creatures coming up the river. One day, you're fishing and you look up and see something you've never seen before. A giant beast, with a rock man on top, coming toward you. You've never heard noise like this before in your life, or seen anything like these creatures.
When we imagine aliens arriving on earth, that's exactly what the people of meso-America thought when the Spaniards arrived.
Now, which perspective sounds more interesting? The Spanish invaders, or the people seeing aliens arrive?
All this to say: editors and agents can be wrong. I've been wrong. I hope it's not often but I'm sure I have been.
And I don't mean about subjective things of whether I liked a book or not, but about what I think will sell, or what would make a good book.
Part of the process of being a writer for publication is learning when to NOT pay attention to what an editor tells you.
I have this discussion with my clients fairly often. When we get rejections on projects, we go over the reasons pretty carefully. Sometimes those reasons will help us spot a flaw in the proposal or novel. And sometimes, the opinion is just wrong.
Agents and editors are not endowed with clarity of vision. We're muddling through like everyone else. Yes, we have more experience and yes, most of us have years of reading and some scholarship to inform our world view but that isn't a guarantee of perfection vision. Would that it were!
So, know your strengths and have confidence in them.
And know when to say "fuck off" to someone who's intent on making you feel something other than respected.