As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I got a No on my most recent Southern Discomfort submission, with some feedback about what they thought were the book’s problems (I’m not naming names even though I think the feedback made a lot of sense).
The good stuff: Great concept. Great title. Starts in the middle of the action
The not-so-good: “This feels like you’re writing an urban fantasy at the pace of an epic fantasy, and the expectations of pacing and genre conventions clash.” Urban fantasy requires higher stakes, with more urgency and tension, and that’s not what I’m delivering. I think that’s a good analysis, I’m unsure whether it’s something I want to fix.
It’s true that an epic fantasy can take a lot longer to develop the sense of threat and urgency because it has more pages to work with. Another comparison could be cozy mysteries like this one by my friend Sherry. They’re all about developing the community and the relationships between the protagonist and her boss/family/neighbors, etc. As Orson Scott Card observed, mystery readers can accept the first chapter or two just sets the stage; they can wait.
The cozy vibe is definitely what I’m going for (though I didn’t use cozies as a template or anything). Southern Discomfort is very much about the community, the impact being run by two elves has had on it, and how the death of Aubric is changing everything. But even by that standard it’s an odd duck. Cozies are typically first person; this isn’t. I have Joan, Maria and Cohen as the main POV characters but there’s several others who get bit POV parts (Father Michael most notably). That’s probably a tough sell too, but I don’t know that I can get the scope I want without it.
My rejection letter recommended I try “getting that sense of urgency and tension into the story before you slide in chapters/moments with the more slowly paced EF chapters/moments.” Can I do that without losing the community feel? Even after the opening chapters (I only sent in Ch. 1-3) it seems like the pacing is still epic fantasy/cozy for much of the book, though the tension increases near the end. Maybe a rewrite just isn’t practical.. Besides, I like what I’ve written. I’m not averse to changing it to be more marketable, but I don’t want to end up with a book I like less. Still, I’ll give it some thought.
Or maybe I won’t. At this point in my career, I’m kind of pessimistic that I can find The One Simple Trick that will make my stuff more publishable. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a steady seller; it takes multiple tries to sell any of my shorts and I’ve never sold a novel. A part of me says screw it, just self-publish instead of trying to change.
Of course it’ll be a while before I have time to write fiction again, so I don’t have to make a decision for a while.
The advice does make me think about The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. The current draft is showing very much the same sort of pacing, as a couple of people in my writing group have pointed out. So when I finally get back to it, I’ll keep that in mind and see if I can’t ratchet up the tension. Whatever I do with Southern Discomfort, the feedback may yet prove valuable.
#SFWApro. Cover art is uncredited.