I never intended to become such an iconoclast as a novelist. I never intended to make things so rough on myself as far as becoming published. I just sat down and wrote my first novel because I liked the story lines, not to satisfy some marketing guidelines.
Let me backtrack here. I know most of you are unaware of what that first novel is about, just because I have been so tight-lipped about the content and you weren't given a manuscript to read. I have done that because all the feedback from agents has been that my idea is original, hence my hesitance to divulge my secrets. I will try to give a general idea of my novel's structure without giving away too much info. So here goes:
One part of the novel is based on the fantastic, a story about a man thrown into an uncomfortable world where he must face his greatest fears again and again. That repetition of facing fears and the reality that he is powerless to stop it put him on the knife's edge of sanity. If you read my little exchange on this blog (Aug. 3, Turning a Character's Life Upside Down ... Again), this is the John Craft story line.
The second part of the novel is based on a real-world set of challenges, the kind of challenges you and I could face any day of the week. I want readers to see themselves in this second story line, the Sean McNabb section of the novel. Sean might not be you or me, but we probably know a Sean McNabb at work, at church, in our personal history. I want to make him very approachable to readers, the kind of character someone can examine and say, "Yeah, I know that guy." They might not like him at times, but he's just the real deal.
The problem with this approach is that I obliterate the lines between literary genres. Most writers try to carve a little niche within a genre and then "build a platform" within that genre. My approach takes me into crime story, romance, military references, spirituality, etc., etc. That wandering through many genres means my work is categorized as "mainstream fiction" ... which is a catch-all that really equates to "every novel that doesn't fit anywhere else." It is a crowded field of novels.
The reactions to my approach have been interesting. One agent loved my premise but said she couldn't see the subject matter being an easy sell to her established contacts at publishing houses. She passed on my project. Another loved my premise but said I wasn't using the type of narrative voice he was looking to represent. He passed on the project. Several others have given the generic "this isn't what I am looking to add to my list of representation at this time." I had an editor show interest, but she said that my book would have to be a tome of immense size if I developed the story lines the way they needed to be developed. Well, I am an experienced journalistic copy editor. One part of our job in something of this size is to sift out the b.s. and keep to the main points. Hence, my novel comes in at just a little more than 92,000 words. That means it is a good-sized novel but nothing of "tome of immense size" volume. (I pulled the plug on that editing relationship, for more reasons that I detail here.)
So what am I left with? It's a good novel, or at least a great premise. It's just not an easy sell. But I will put on my best "Kathryn Stockett as suffering writer" mindset and trudge on in order to get published in the standard way (get an agent, who gets me a book deal). There is an agent out there who will accept my focus, stand beside me and help polish a diamond in the rough. The sooner the better.