Or, When Orson Scott Card Read My First Chapter
Ok, so this is the last Boot Camp post.Â Really this time.
Card took us Boot Campers out to dinner Thursday night, and we started the evening off with some general getting-to-know you conversation.Â Someone asked me what I do.
“I write,” I said.Â “No one pays me to do it, but I write.”
And this segued into me telling the table about my book, and Card offered to read the first pages for me.Â I was, I guess I hardly need tell you, delighted.
The time came on Saturday afternoon, after we had finished up class and people were making their way out of the building.Â Card read my pages and shredded them.
And, ho-ly crap!Â Did they deserve it!
There were so many things that I knew about my first chapter that Card didn’t get at all.Â I mean, important, establishing details like where Kitty’s coming to Chicago from and exactly what her purpose is there.Â I know part of the problem was that this was a new first chapter, written to replace my original straight-into-flashback first chapter, which I loved but ultimately could not stand by.Â And when I wrote the new one I did a bad job of imagining how much detail would be enough for my readers to understand the situation.Â Moreover, the only one who read the new pages was Mark, who had already read a couple of versions of the entire novel â€” naturally he wasn’t confused.
But Card was.Â About a lot of stuff.Â And though I knew how the mistake happened, it was hard to sit there next to one of the great contemporary fiction writers, listening to him ask question after question about my story, and realizing more with each moment that I had dropped a major ball.
When he finished reading, Card looked me in the eye and told me that despite all the problems he had pointed out, the thing he really wanted to tell me was that it was very good.Â That I felt like a professional, and that the pages felt very commercial.Â I have to admit, I blinked at that last bit.Â Because I do still occasionally travel in circles where “commercial” would be the worst insult you could fling at a writer.Â But that wasn’t how Card meant it, and after a half-second’s thought that wasn’t how I took it, either.Â He meant that the thing felt salable.Â It felt like a book.
So in the wake of that review I felt a little embarrassed, you know?Â But mostly?Â Mostly just grateful.
Not for the praise that came at the end, but for the fact that I feel I can see now what must be done.Â I feel like I now have a road map to the last 5% of work I need to do to get this thing really sold.Â That is huge.Â That is a gift.
So I will never, absolutely never regret letting Orson Scott Card eviscerate my first chapter.
I only regret I didn’t ask him to sign the pages.