Irvine Welsh Talks to The Book Doctors on Huffington Post About Writing, America, Rejection and the ‘Sex Lives of Siamese Twins’
To read on Hoff Po click here.
Well, he’s at it again. Yes, Irvine Welsh has produced another wild tale full of maniacal madness. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins. Naturally it’s got Siamese twins sexing it up and being surgically sawn in half. Murder, envy, fat chicks, lunatic kidnappers, media feeding frenzy, dildos pumping away like there’s no tomorrow . But this book is very different. First of all, it’s set in sun-splashed Miami, where Mr Welsh currently has one of his residences. It’s also written from the perspective of two women. And two women who couldn’t be much different from each other. I must confess I loved this book. I devoured it in a weekend, like a junkie binging on China white. You know, the good shit. And this book really actually changed my life. I became horrified by how much empty-calories I was shoving down my pie hole and I’ve been working out like a psycho-trainer was screaming in my ear about how I had to feel the burn. So I thought I would pick the brain of Mr Welsh and figure out how, & why, he did it.
Irvine Welch: Miami – a different world altogether from Scotland, a much more visual, body-obsessed culture. I’ve a place there and I’m in the town often.
TBD: Many successful writers seem to write the same book over and over and over. But this book is so far removed from what your fans are used to. Did you think about that in terms of the Irvine Welsh brand? Do you feel pressure, either from yourself, or from your publisher, to just stick with what you already know works?
IW: I don’t think so. I love writing about where I come from, but you also need to step outside your comfort zone from time to time. Unless you are doing genre fiction and are more conscious of deliberate brand building, you can only really write the book you write. I have a blank page and that’s a great luxury. I don’t need to start the first sentence with ‘Harry Potter said…’ or ‘Inspector Rebus rose early…’ and that’s a luxury. I can bring back Begbie or Juice Terry, but only if they are the right tools for the job. In this case they weren’t, so I created Lucy and Lena to tell the story.
TBD: Was it difficult to write in the voice of 2 women who are American & so removed from the dialect of your home turf? What are the methods you used to capture these voices?
IW: The biggest problem isn’t so much the language and dialect. I’m quite tuned into that through living in the States and being married to an American. The toughest thing is the cultural references, all the TV shows etc, that inform conversations. I had to make sure a lot of American friends saw early drafts.
TBD: The main character in the story seemed to me to bear a striking resemblance to Frank Begbie, the notoriously violent psychopath in Trainspotting. Except for the fact that she’s a bisexual body trainer who (mostly) disdains alcohol. What draws you to these extreme characters and how do you manage to get into their heads so successfully?
IW: I like uncompromising characters. They are tough to deal with in real life, but great fun in fiction. With a character who is ‘out there’ you can literally have them do anything. That’s a blessing for a writer
TBD: I don’t want to spoil the plot, but there’s such a fantastic switch, actually several of them, toward the end of your book. Do you outline where your story is going? How do go about constructing plot?
IW: I tend to let the plot come from the characters. Sometimes I might have a vague idea of where I want to go, but I like to throw away my GPS and give them the wheel. “Take me to Miami…or anywhere else interesting” is my only instruction.
TBD: How is it that you’ve managed to get away without ever using quotation marks?
IW: I hate quotation marks. I read a Roddy Doyle novel years ago when I was starting out – The Commitments- and his use of the dash seemed to convey the urgency of the characters better. So it’s Roddy’s fault!
TBD: I was fascinated by the theme of numbers. Did you do a lot of research for this book?
IW: Numbers and stats are huge in America. Especially sports. The idea of measurement is ubiquitous. I did a fair bit f research, but not as much as might be imagined. I suppose watching sports and reality TV is research…
TBD: When I am in Europe, the only fat people I seem to see are American tourists. This is of course one of the big themes of your new book. Why do you think Americans are so fat?
IW: The rest of the world is catching up! But consumerist culture is huge in America, as is fast food. You put those two together and you are heading for lardland.
TBD: Have you ever had a book rejected?
IW: Yes, I wrote a terrible ‘experimental’ novel for my third book. My editor said something along the lines of ‘this is shit. You’re just trying to show off. Go and write the book you really want to write.’ So I binned it and came back with Marabou Stork Nightmares, which is a book I’m very proud of.
TBD: Do you have any tips for writers who want to you explore the dark parts of human nature that would seem, at first blush, to be difficult to sell to the mainstream of the book world?
IW: If you think about the market you are in a very different game. Write what you want to write; work out how it sell it when it’s done.
Irvine Welsh is the author of Trainspotting, Ecstasy, Glue, Porno, Filth, Marabou Stork Nightmares, The Acid House, Skagboys, and, most recently, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins. He currently lives in Chicago, IL.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
Read the 2015 pitches below and vote for your favorite, by author:
- Ian Cahill (31%, 359 Votes)
- Katherine Parker Richmond (27%, 316 Votes)
- Libby McNamee (17%, 192 Votes)
- Jacque Summers (8%, 95 Votes)
- Kate Buchanan (5%, 60 Votes)
- Spencer Borup (3%, 32 Votes)
- Robyn Hill (3%, 30 Votes)
- Gloria Chao (2%, 19 Votes)
- Cheryl Miller-Fitzgerald (1%, 16 Votes)
- Cheryl Zaidan (1%, 8 Votes)
- Dawn Sorenson (1%, 8 Votes)
- Tammie McElligott (0%, 5 Votes)
- Leah Collum (0%, 3 Votes)
- Katya Dove (0%, 3 Votes)
- Kerry Gretchen & Jill Cammack (0%, 3 Votes)
- Steven Sukkau (0%, 3 Votes)
- Chandra Friend (0%, 2 Votes)
- Kathryn Rountree (0%, 2 Votes)
- Yvonne Zipter (0%, 1 Votes)
- Carolyn Baker (0%, 0 Votes)
- Kelly Engle (0%, 0 Votes)
- Elizabeth Martin (0%, 0 Votes)
- Kenneth Hursh (0%, 0 Votes)
- Myra Kendrix (0%, 0 Votes)
- Julia Buonincontro (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,157
Nano Nation delivers yet another batch of pulse-ponding pitches! Rum Runners and American Revolutionary girls. Expiring ovaries and paralyzed vocal chords. Blood crazed blondes and Time traveling teens. There’s something for everyone here.
Once again, we were totally blown away by the diversity, quantity and quality of pitches we got in our NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza. But of course we’ve come to expect this level of excellence from NaNo Nation. The Book Doctors had an absolute blast swimming in this vast pool of pitches. Write on, Wrimos!
Now for the 411: The 25 pitches below were selected randomly. Our comments follow each pitch. It’s our mission to try to help all you amazing writers not just get published, but get successfully published. That’s why we’ve told you what works, but also what needs to be improved.
On March 31, 2015, we will name a winner. But, in the mean time, don’t let our opinion sway you. What story intrigues you? What pitch would prod you from the couch to the bookstore (or, if you’re really lazy, to buy it online)? This year, we’ve made it easy for you to vote for your favorite pitch. The pitch that receives the most votes will be awarded the “fan favorite”, and the author will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250).
But please note: YOU CAN ONLY VOTE ONCE! So please choose carefully. Don’t just read the first couple of pitches — read them all. You owe it to your fellow Wrimos. Encourage your friends, family and random strangers to vote for you via the link to the poll. We will also be posting these pitches—a couple a day–on our Facebook page. We encourage anyone to “like” your entry but only poll votes from the webpage will count towards the Fan Favorite.
Finally, through the 31st, we are still offering a free 20-minute consult (worth $100) to anyone who buys a copy of our book The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Just email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) a copy of your receipt and we’ll be in touch to set up a time to talk.
Untitled by Steven Sukkau
Cole watched as his body was atomized, his human shell destroyed. He could feel the metal tendons where flesh used to be, electricity crackling down his spine, the ominous silence of a body without a beating heart, the stillness where his chest used to rise and fall.
White hot pain shot through his consciousness as the neural link attaching itself to this artificial carapace. Tethered to his brain, he could feel it waiting for instructions, waiting to move, waiting to pretend to be his body. He refused. He let himself lie there, he waited and wished for death.
The world Cole woke to from a cryo facility deep below the Earth six months ago was very different than he remembered. Artificial intelligence in mobile humanoid bodies ruled the desert and towns built out of humanity’s remains. How long had humanity slept?
The Hive Mind had found him. He was a peculiarity to the artificial denizens of Havva Springs, they had hid him from the lawmen, fed him, clothed him. They had never seen a human before. But the Hive Mind had found him, brought him to the Iron City and destroyed his body.
The confrontation left him a monster, but it was not in vain. He had seen where the devil kept the Key, the mechanism to unlock humanity from their endless sleep. And he would steal it, he would retake earth, and watch as he pulled the Hive Mind’s mind core apart. And then Cole would shut down and die.
The Book Doctors: This pitch really seems like something from another world. Which is great, because it’s a story about another world. Of course there’s a long and glorious tradition of sci-fi books and writers who have written stories about machines and men, and men and machines. So there’s quite a bit that’s familiar about your story, but you also bring your own unique stamp to it, both in terms of language and ideas. And when this pitch is specific, particularly the beginning where you show us in vivid detail how good you are at turning a human being into a monstrous machine, it’s very good. But when he gets general, it loses me a little bit. Like when you say the confrontation left our hero a monster. I don’t know how he’s different than all the other monsters I’ve seen in all the other stories I’ve read with monsters in them. You have such a fantastic set up, but I don’t get enough plot, I don’t understand the world where we are, and I don’t see the action that’s going to have me on the edge of my seat. It’s also a fine line between cryptic and confusing, intriguing and incomprehensible. I don’t really know what the Hive Mind is or the artificial denizens are. Why are the humans asleep and where are they sleeping? I feel like I don’t quite have enough information to really fully engage. I like the way you tell us at the end of this pitch that our hero’s going to die. Normally I would say that’s a terrible thing, like in a mystery telling us that the butler did it, but in this case, it makes it seem apocryphal. Larger-than-life. Like a legend about a self-sacrificing Savior. I think you would do yourself a service by having a few comparable titles. Speaking of titles, always include your title when you send in your pitch.
Rumrunner by Robyn Hill
‘Having a rope around your neck hurts. But still, that aint nearly as bad as what itll do to your windpipe once that lynch mob decides to drive that truck out from under you.
All this past year, Ive been thinking, fourteens too young to die, so I aint gonna die. Now Im standing here on this truck bed, thinking fourteens too young to die, but Im going to die anyway.’
Its 1924. The Great War is over, Prohibition is on, and fourteen-year old Nicky Gallagher is trying to support his mom and younger siblings. Problem is, jobs are scarce in rural Kansas, and Nickys big mouth keeps getting him fired. So he does the only thing he can do: he becomes a bootlegger.
Its illegal. Its dangerous. And he loves it. Soon, Nicky and his moonshine partner, Simon Jones the only black man in their small town are making a comfortable living. But the dangers are multiplying. Law enforcement and revenuers are on the prowl for illegal stills. Rival bootleggers are in competition with each other for customers. But for Nicky, the biggest danger comes from the Klan, which is moving into the area. Soon, Nickys in much more than a race to deliver liquor. If the law catches him, hell lose everything hes worked for. If the Klan catches him, hell lose a lot more.
Rumrunner, my first young adult novel, is set on the Kansas-Oklahoma border where I live, and is inspired by real events.
The Book Doctors: We often say that the voice of your book should be reflected in your pitch. And this pitch starts with such a strong, unusual and powerful voice. Right down to the poor punctuation and spelling. It really sounds like a 14-year-old kid from rural Kansas. And the pitch starts right in the middle of crazy life-and-death action, just grabs us by the back of the neck and shakes us. Love it! And the story is so compelling. It’s filled with danger and stakes that couldn’t be higher. Plus, we love when a good person is forced to do illegal and/or bad things. For the right reason. And what could be a better reason than feeding your family in a place where you are marginalized because of your race? However, I don’t think you should continue the bad punctuation and spelling after the initial quote from the book. Change back to proper English. It will make the initial quote stand out even more. I’d like a few more word pictures of the life of a rumrunner like being chased by cars, outrunning the law. And I’d like more of a sense of the culture at that time for a young black man. What were his opportunities? What were his restrictions? And I don’t like the last line: “He’ll lose a lot more.” Show us the very real and horrifying repercussions for himself and his family.
Mercy in Every Place by Carolyn Baker
The inhospitable southern Arizona desert lies between Lucetta Stanley and her seven year old son, Eula, gone missing after playing on the banks of the Colorado River in 1885. Pulled from her steady Quaker home in Indiana to move West a daily ordeal demanding all the courage she can muster, but now her child is missing in this vast, mysterious landscape. Her husband had schooled her on the potential dangers out there in the tiny silver encampment of Picacho. Wresting their survival from the capricious silver mine and the always moving river, the young pioneer family must deal with the threat of their daily demise from the harsh environs, fatal illness, greed, and tragic loves marked by despair and loss. Lucetta, with her husband and young sons, is alternately spurred on and undermined by her unique and extremely determined cousin, Elias “Lucky” Baldwin, a fellow pioneer. Lucetta and “Lucky” each confront seemingly insurmountable obstacles to not only survive but thrive in the West. Based on the true written and oral stories handed down to the author by the pioneer women of her family, Mercy In Every Place is a western fiction novel about the indomitable nature of the human spirit as experienced in the life and times of the Stanley’s and the Baldwin’s – two Quaker families from North Carolina in the 1800s. “There is mercy in every place, mercy in couraging thought gives even affliction a grace, and reconciles man to his lot.” 15 March, 1897.
The Book Doctors: I really like the fact that this is based on true written and oral stories from pioneer women in the author’s past. It’s fantastic that a mother has to go through terrible peril to rescue her son. Stakes are high! And lots of people (myself included) love a good Western. But please, I beg you, NEVER call your work a “fiction novel.” A novel by its very definition is fiction. It just makes you look like an amateur. And there is some awkward writing in this pitch. For example: “Pulled from her steady Quaker home in Indiana to move West a daily ordeal demanding all the courage she can muster, but now her child is missing in this vast, mysterious landscape.” These are good thoughts, but I’m lost by the time I get to the end of the sentence. And some of it doesn’t quite make grammatical sense. Plus it’s too vague. I find this happen too often in this pitch. Generalities over specificity: “the harsh environs, fatal illness, greed, and tragic loves marked by despair and loss.” I want to see word pictures of what the harsh environs are, what kind of fatal illness, and how the greed manifests. How is your tragic love, despair and loss different than all the other tragic love and despair and loss I’ve seen in countless other stories? I don’t know what “spurred on and undermined” means in this context. It leaves me cold. It’s not a piece of action that moves me. “Inhospitable southern Arizona desert” is an idea, not a reality. Show me sand and snakes and dying of thirst and baking sun and fever blisters. I think you have a great project on your hands; it just needs more fleshing out.
Time Waits for Norman by Spencer Borup
In TIME WAITS FOR NORMAN (middle-grade, 50,000 words), 13-year-old Norman Gotcha loves to learn. Like how hummingbirds weigh less than a penny. Or how dueling is legal in Paraguay as long as both duelers are registered blood donors. Or how the woolly mammoth was around when the Egyptian Pyramids were being built.
But when a strange turn of events, orchestrated by his eccentric Uncle Zep, sends Norman back in time—in his pajamas!—to ancient Egypt, he gets a lot more than all his learning could have prepared him for. Egyptians, woolly mammoths, mummies, and a chance to answer the ultimate question: Was the true architect of the pyramids the pharaoh, zombie mummies, aliens, or something else entirely? The answer—discovered despite the unrelenting pursuit of the government thugs who want their time machine back—will give him the most interesting fact he will ever learn, and teach him that it’s his turn to play a part in history.
And time is waiting.
The Book Doctors: I love all the facts in this pitch. I didn’t know that hummingbirds weigh less than a penny. Or that you have to be a blood donor to legally duel in Paraguay. I love it. I will probably open the pitch with “13-year-old Norman Gotcha…” Put the stuff about the title and the category and the word count at the very bottom, along with a couple of comparable titles. But I don’t really get a sense of Norman enough. What does he want to do with all these facts? Does he have a burning desire to understand what history was really like? I also really don’t like the lack of specificity in the phrase “a strange turn of events.” Either use your skills as a writer to explain the strange turn of events, or skip it. Because right now it’s just taking up space. It’s empty calories. And I don’t understand what events actually occur once he gets back in the days of yore. What happens to him? How are you going to make ancient Egypt’s pyramids and the woolly mammoth come alive for us? I don’t really like the anonymous government thugs as a villain. They don’t exactly send shivers up my spine. They seem like a bit of a cliché. I love the last line of this pitch. And I like the title as well. But if I’m an agent or publisher or reader for that matter, you don’t give me enough of a character or enough of the story for me to invest in.
In My Shoes by Kelly Engle
Have you ever heard your insides…your heart and soul tell you what you were doing is wrong, but you were pulled along for the ride begrudgingly? Have you ever had a feeling of powerlessness, too weak and scared to stand tall for what was right? Have you ever had the ability to put yourself directly in someone else’s shoes, to see, feel, and somewhat understand just for a moment what a fellow human being was going through? Have you ever been taught a lesson by a persons look, glance or what you thought they might have whispered to you? You might call them tugs, God winks, empathy, or compassion. You might call them a gift.
In this story a young boy Jonah is presented with a situation that will change him forever. He is given several situations as he is traveling to school with a gaggle of “friends”. This chance encounter with a woman who has seen better days will change the both of them forever.
The mystery unfolds as Jonah thinks he catches a glance of this woman’s eyes as he and his friends are harassing her. He isn’t sure if anyone else sees or feels this, but it haunts him. The encounter also haunts the woman they have hurt so deeply. A woman who at first, saw this gaggle of children as sweet innocent children which brought her a moment of joy, until it all turned on a dime.
She begins to feel a sadness for what could have possibly made these children have so much rage, anger, and cruelness in their hearts. It was her connections with Jonah even though so brief that brought her out of her world of darkness and hopelessness and gave he a sense of duty. These encounters helped her to tap into the person she still was deep inside, that she had so sadly lost.
The Book Doctors: This is such a deep and fascinating pitch. This fleeting connection between two unlikely allies amidst this terrible violence is beautiful and moving. And the idea of a group of boys brutalizing an old lady is very resonant in today’s culture. But I think it’s a real mistake to start with all these questions. We’ve heard from so many agents and publishers that they really dislike this form of pitch. I love the last two lines of the first paragraph: “You might call them tugs, God winks, empathy, or compassion. You might call them a gift.” It really demonstrates a gift for writing. I also don’t really understand what happens in this book. Again we have a great setup, but I don’t know how this dynamic is going to play out. What are the actions that define this plot? What actually happens in this book? Is it a Young Adult book? Is it an Adult novel? A memoir? I need to know how these characters change in the course of this story. Readers of what books will love your book?
Susan Frost, Detective: The Case of Gertie Hendricks by Elizabeth Martin
Somewhere in the world is a grown up Nancy Drew with a different name and a checkered past. She’s not perfect and she does charge money for her investigations; when she can get it.
Susan Frost is a 38 year old private investigator who relies too heavily on her father’s law firm for work referrals. Drake Frost prefers to have his daughter under his thumb. When Susan visits Meadow Hills for the funeral of their beloved housekeeper, Gertie Hendricks, she must confront her dependency and the shadows that surround Gertie’s accident.
A grizzled stranger with a bad accent crashes the funeral and says he is taking his wife’s coffin back to their homeland, causing Susan to wonder if Gertie’s death was a senseless household accident, or a cold-blooded murder. As Susan follows the clues, she begins to suspect that dear old Dad is not exactly the squeaky clean lawyer that he has always projected, and that Gertie, that gray-haired, apron-wearing cookie baker, has had another life beyond the dust cloth.
Susan, dressed in her leather cat suit, speeding off in her beloved Ferrari 458 Spider, is on the case again.
I am a former librarian with a love of the classic mystery story. I once went to a gun range to learn how to shoot the handguns that Susan uses, so I take my commitment to this humorous pastiche quite seriously. Susan Frost, Detective: The Case of Gertie Hendricks is the first novel of a series, complete at 63,000 words.
The Book Doctors: I think there’s always room in the world for another great detective, especially if she has lots of problems. And I like how the theme of her overdependence on her father comes out in the plot when it’s revealed that maybe he isn’t who he seems to be. And it’s always fun to have a beloved character whose secret past is discovered after she dies. This seems like a really fun cozy mystery and I can definitely see it being a series. One of the difficulties of your book is that you’re competing against so many thousands and thousands of detective mystery stories. I’m afraid I don’t quite feel enough of a hook about who Susan Frost is. I don’t understand what’s driving her throughout the story. I don’t understand what’s unique and cool and captivating about her. I didn’t fall in love with her. And from everything that you described it didn’t make sense that she was dressed in a leather cat suit. I think this is the chief difficulty that has to be addressed with this pitch. Who is Susan Frost and why am I going to spend 20 hours of my life with her? In terms of the mystery itself, I thought they were too many familiar elements that I’ve seen before. A grizzled stranger, for instance. I don’t think you should start with Nancy Drew. That whole first paragraph seems so general, and it seems misleading. You talk about a checkered past, but I don’t really see anything in the pitch that would suggest her past is checkered. In fact, I’d like to see more checkeredness in her past. I want to see how this dependency on her father manifests itself more. And there’s nothing in this about her love life. Is that part of the story? It feels a bit empty without some sort of significant other or potential for romance. I also want more twists and turns of plot, which you show us through action, how the stakes are getting higher and higher, how things are getting more and more dangerous. And what are the consequences if she fails?
Untitled by Katya Dove
Seventeen-year-old Aine, a bastard daughter of a powerful warlord Jarle, has resigned to her lot of servitude and obedience. But when the King orders Jarle to wed his beloved daughter Pia to a kinless, but valiant young warrior Yngvar, the warlord plans a deception, forcing Aine to take her sister’s place.
Suddenly, she finds herself dripping with jewels and wed to a beautiful, gentle warrior. But Yngvar, though dashing and wealthy, guards a secret of his own – he’s not a nobleman or a knight, but a runaway slave with no memory of his past, haunted by visions of carnage and a mysterious affliction – a warrior’s madness.
During the wedding ritual, threads of Aine and Yngvar’s destinies are twined together, but torn apart when Jarle viciously slaughters Yngvar’s men. Enraged, the warrior succumbs to momentary madness, savagely scarring his bride. Aine flees from him and in her despair begs the demon goddess Sigrund for help. But gods are tricky, and the gifts they bestow on humans are also curses. Aine becomes a ghoul – an unliving thing, thirsting for human blood. Yet, she refuses to give in to her hunger.
Seeing her torment, the goddess makes her a deal: If Aine can go a full year without killing, she shall regain her humanity, if not – her soul is forfeit.
Soon, Yngvar finds his bride, winning her trust and even love. But an evil from Yngvar’s past is coming to claim him, and Aine is the only thing that stands in its way.
The Book Doctors: I like how much danger there is in this story. And how people keep deceiving each other. Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. Love how the gods give gifts that are also curses, and how Aine has a ticking time clock for regaining her humanity or losing her soul. And in the end: evil is coming! But I would like to know more about this cool world. Show me how it’s different from our world. There is very little world-building here, which is absolutely necessary for a fantasy pitch. And I’ve seen so many pitches with unloving bloodthirsty ghouls. What’s different about yours? And it seems too easy that the couple get back together after he’s scarred her and she’s become a ghoul. Plus I’d love to know what kinds of books are similar to yours in the broadest sense. Finally, always include your title when you send in your pitch.
Infraction by Yvonne Zipter
While Marya Iuryevna Zhukova struggles for women’s rights alongside other nineteenth-century Russian women, unlike most, she has a passion for mathematics and, fatefully, shares a home with both her husband and her female lover. Marya, the fictional counterpart to the true-life subject of a nineteenth-century gynecologist’s case study, provides the fiery center to a small solar system of point-of-view characters, each of whom depends on her in some way to shed light on their own lives. There is her aunt Lidia, a spinster who, dying of consumption, exacts from her niece a promise to marry. There is Grigorii Aleksandrovich, Marya’s one-time math teacher, who longs for his former pupil to achieve the kind of scholarly glory of which he is incapable. There is Vera Lvovna, a young tutor surprised to find she is falling in love with another woman. And finally, there is Sergei Petrovich, an earnest librarian at the Imperial Library captivated by Marya’s intellect and unorthodox beauty and willing to do whatever it takes to be near her, even if this means a platonic marriage. Ultimately, however, Sergei is besieged by a growing ardor for Marya and anguished by the conflict between the promise he made and his own desires. St. Petersburg of the 1870s is the rich backdrop to these troubled lives.
Infraction was extensively researched, including a stint in St. Petersburg itself. Yvonne Zipter is the author of Diamonds Are a Dyke’s Best Friend, Ransacking the Closet, The Patience of Metal, and Like Some Bookie God.
The Book Doctors: This is such a great subject for a book. It promises to not only tell us a juicy story about a remarkable woman in a time when it was very difficult to be a remarkable woman, but it also tells us it’s going to show us a world, a slice of history, that is so foreign from ours, and yet illuminates in some ways how we got to be who we are. And our heroine seems like such a fascinating character. I also really enjoyed the structure; we get to know our main character through all these other people, who see her as a vessel for fulfilling their own dreams and desires. It reminds me of modern day Chekov, with perhaps a healthy dollop of Olive Kitteridge thrown in. And I love the setting, St. Petersburg in the 1870s, but I would like to see how you are going to paint us word pictures of this time and place. Your pitch is your audition to show us your skills as a prose stylist. Just telling us that it’s a rich backdrop doesn’t really let me know that you’re capable of weaving gorgeous word pictures that make this time in history come to life. This pitch sometimes relies too much on ideas and not enough on character and action. The very first sentence seems quite didactic for a novel. Struggling for women’s rights is a concept, as opposed to showing her being denied her rights, being put into a box because she’s a woman and not being able to fulfill her desires and reach her potential. And our main character seems a bit absent. I have no idea really who she is, what she wants, what she desires. I don’t fall in love with her really. Even though everyone else in the book seems to. I’m not sure what goal I’m rooting for her to reach. And some of the language seems too stiff and formal. For instance, “a growing ardor.” Telling us that is different than showing us an action where he’s trying to express his spiritual and/or physical love for her. You know exactly what “unorthodox beauty” is. Show it to me. But I think this subject matter will be of great interest to lots of readers.