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Fall for Fiction

Trees are ablaze, apples are sweet, air is crisp, and for me, fall spells fiction.  My to-read pile is as deep and inviting as the leaf pile on my lawn, with Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton, an ARC of Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs  and Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety.  Reading good books makes me hungry for new projects.  Very hungry.  It’s not unlike having a tapeworm.  So e-mail me your queries, attach your first chapters, and know you have an interested audience.  My tastes are wide ranging—recently I’ve liked The Forgiven (shades of Paul Bowles and Laurence Durrell) the twice Bookered Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies, Ann Patchett’s glorious State of Wonder  and  J. Courtney Sullivan’s intergenerational tale, Maine, whose  characters were as real (and prickly) as folks I know.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m always on the lookout for smart nonfiction, but today’s post is an open invitation to the novelists among you.  I do represent polemics on my nonfiction list, but I am suspicious of novels conceived to further an obvious agenda—whether political, humanitarian, or spiritual. When a query letter begins cause first, story second, I worry. In the framework of a novel, it seems to me that readers care about characters and not issues, and nothing is worse than a story inhabited by sock puppets, each rehearsing the arguments of their author.  I am a fan of historical fiction, characters that travel to far flung settings, first person narration, and rueful humor (think Lorrie Moore).

I’d love to see a well-turned spy thriller, a literary fantasy along the lines of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians or Susanna Clarke’s masterful  Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,  or a novel that plumbs the relationship between sisters (I have three) .  I have trouble with high fantasy and space opera—my knowledge of the genre is just too shallow–and I am too lily-livered to linger much with horror, serial killers or kids in peril.   So with those few caveats, drop me a line. I’d love to see my inbox ablaze with fiction!

5 Responses to Fall for Fiction

  1. Giora says:

    Let’s just talk about YA fiction. I agree with you that teens care mostly about characters and great storyline. But it’s a mistake that teens don’t care about issues. Teenages girls care about body image, and 80% of them want to change their body and appearance. The issue is the media putting pressure on teenaged girls and then we can proceed to feminism for teenaged girls. Many adult women define themselves as feminists, but this issue start at high school. Should we assume that teenaged girls want to read only about hot boys, or can we assume that teenaged girls are also educated, brainy, informed .. and interested in issues. The publishing industry look at the past and prohect to the future. It looks at YA fiction that sold well and make projection about each fiction if it can sell, based on the past. And we get 50shades that surprise everyone and prove that the assumptions were wrong. Shoudl teh publishing industry promote only YA fiction sending teens to imaginary world that don’t exist and don’t help teens to find who they are and prepare them to the real world of audlts? Or should introduce some issues to open a new YA genre and make novel for YA Book Clubs where teens will talk about issues. Again, first characters and storyline. You decide.

    • Kevin A. Lewis says:

      Hmmm…Well, this post didn’t seem to be so much about YA per se, but you brought up some excellent points nonetheless. (And by the way Jessica, I’d love to honor your invitation to drop in-especially since my current project is symbolically wrapped around Thanksgiving, but my ambassador is currently paying his respects elsewhere at D&G) A lot of YA is set in a faraway world good or bad where girls can show off their ninja skills (or whatever) and boys are pretty much second-banana baggage because that’s how the market is trending, and to Jessica’s point about “causes” and such, I’ve noticed I get a certain amount of gatekeeper pushback simply because my dystopian society happens to be set in the real-time 1940′s; scares the hell out of everybody even though I just selected it as the best setting for a ripping good thriller. Kind of an interesting dilemma; does one knock off the CW like everyone else and hope it somehow stands out, or does one do something a bit off-script and hope it can outrun the Originality Police? I’ve just a supercharged vehicle betting on the latter, so clear the sidewalks…

  2. giora says:

    And be kind and ignore the many errors. Usually you can delete the comment and rewrite it better. Best wishes.

  3. Lorelei says:

    Querying you. I adored Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and was inspired by it as I wrote this one.

  4. D.C. DaCosta says:

    I think every book should have a reason for being. Some, like P.G. Wodehouse’s works, exist merely to entertain. But most of us aren’t as clever as he, and most of us have a message we’d like to impart to someone beyond our nearest and dearest. Hence, the novel as a vehicle for the message.

    No matter how interesting your characters are, if they don’t have a REAL reason for doing what they’re doing, you’ve got nothing. “The Horse Whisperer” comes to mind: mesmerizing writing, interesting characters, but completely preposterous events and decisions, so that you throw the book across the room at the end and shout, “Who cares?”

    I want to read — and to write — novels that will compel the reader to THINK when the book is through and ask himself the same questions the characters have had to address. (And still be as entertaining as Wodehouse!)

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