A Happy Misunderstanding and the Power of Collaboration
As many of you know, I’m working with an agent and an editor on my third novel, Finding Imogene. We’ve exchanged multiple drafts for their feedback over the past six months, and in my humble opinion, we’ve made a great team – I love working with them and look forward to a long-term relationship. But when I submitted what I thought would be my final-final-final draft two months ago and waited for their praise, they instead responded along these lines:
What’s the name of the bird? I like the idea of a pet bird, but we never hear about it again after the first scene. Use the relationship with the bird to your advantage—show Winnifred’s soft side. Later, after the diagnosis, share her concern – Who will take care of the bird when she is gone? Use this to build empathy.
Me: (scratching my head) Huh? Bird? What bird? There’s no bird.
I opened my manuscript to sort out the confusion, started reading their in-line comments, and I laughed out loud.
At the beginning of Finding Imogene, Winnifred is anxious to get home and roast a chicken. Her adult children are coming for dinner for the first time in weeks. But after her son cancels, and then her daughter, she realizes she can’t sit in her car and have a pity party because the “bird” is still waiting for her.
I meant the chicken was waiting for her—the ready-to-roast chicken.
But as I reread the agent’s and the editor’s comments, I thought, Why not give Winnifred a rescue bird to show her softer side?
I remembered this story about the parakeet who randomly adopted my brother in Arizona. It’s a hysterical story, especially when my brother tells it. Click here to read it.
Inspired by my brother’s story and my agent’s and editor’s enthusiasm, I wrote a rescued parrot* into Finding Imogene and returned the manuscript for their approval.
Ta-Da! It worked. We had a good laugh about the happy miscommunication**, and a week ago, Finding Imogene was pitched to publishers for their consideration. I’m trying not to count my chickens before they’re hatched, but I’ll let you know once I accept an offer.
How are you? Let me know what’s going on in your life.
As always, thank you for being you.
*I named the rescue bird after my mother, Bonnie. If she were still here, she’d love this idea (and she was as stubborn as the bird turns out to be).
**To be fair, my excellent editor had suggested I add a “Save the Cat” moment in an earlier draft. In the Save the Cat method of storytelling, “If your main character starts off somewhat unlikable, then, in the early pages of your story, they should save a cat (yes, like from a tree or a burning building, or a shelter), or do something comparable that immediately makes the reader root for them, regardless of their original unlikability.” – Save the Cat Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody, based on the books by Blake Snyder (p. 7-8)
I had thought I’d addressed Winnifred’s unlikability differently and without an actual cat or dog, and I had, but once my editor saw “bird,” she thought I’d finally come around. A happy misunderstanding indeed! She was right. Of course, she was right!
P.S. If you are looking for books that will inspire you to make or embrace changes in your life this year, consider reading my novels, Tiger Drive and In the Doghouse.
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