There are times when writers need to hear something, anything to motivate them beyond the usual round of supporting lines. When those times come around, they are miracles. You can’t expect them, you can’t even know those moments are coming. When the words come, they will shake the foundations of the universe and clear a path to the future.
My good friend Angie is a rare individual. She was the first person who read all of Vitamin F. Her comments gave me the compass I needed to get through the dystopian novel, especially when I was discovering many of the details as I progressed through the story. Angie reads a range of things, from true crime, children’s books, fantasy, thrillers, all kinds of books.
I told Angie as she approached Chapter 14 of Vitamin F that there was a twist coming and I would know she’d read it without her saying a thing. On Black Friday in 2008, she approached me between waves of customers with a pent up expression on her face while her eyes stayed locked on me. When she got close enough to whisper, she said, “Holy fucking shit!” Angie not only read the twist, but gave me one great piece of feedback forcing me to realize the emphasis of character over plot. She said, “I always wondered why Bridgett was the main character.”
Fast forward to 2011 and my desire to present thirty good pages to a literary agent. As soon as my pitch was finished, I asked Angie if she wanted to look at those pages of Mind & Machine for me. She said yes.
It took a few days, but she gave me a paper with a few notes. Angie went over those details with me, then offered me a very honest, heartfelt observation. “You suck,” she said. There was a moment when I thought she was saying my writing sucked, possibly that I should quit, but that didn’t seem right. Angie told me that she never had any great desire to read Mind & Machine, partially because it didn’t seem like her kind of book, partially because she knew how much I would torment Kathryn. Angie didn’t want to read it, but she felt compelled by the story, although she doesn’t need another book to read.
I felt pretty good hearing that, especially since the book she’s reading right now is The Name of the Wind. Angie even said that she thought my writing in Mind & Machine might just be better than in Vitamin F. If I’m doing better than either of those books, or at least well enough to keep up with them, I must be doing the right thing.
My overall lesson is that I have enough skill to convince someone who shouldn’t like Mind & Machine that it’s actually a good read. I did this not through an argument, but through writing, characterization, and storytelling. So thanks for telling me I suck, Angie. You’re the best.