Since the publication of my book in January of this year, I have sold approximately seven copies. Much of this is doubtless due to my ignorance of promotion and advertising. But perhaps it might also be due to my actual skill as a writer. Out of four ratings on GoodReads, and three on Amazon, I have gotten six five-star ratings, and three enthusiastic text reviews. Still.
I was lately discussing some of the critiques I have received for my novel MEDOUSA with an online acquaintance of mine, hoping for some encouragement, yet wondering why the heck I am not convincing more people to purchase my work.
What I was told was that my writing seemed “emotionally distant.” This surprised me, because I had thought that I had explored much of my characters and their inner lives. Or at least, Medousa’s inner life. When I mentioned this specific criticism to my friend and sometimes editor R., he said “In your entire book, not once is there casual physical contact, the meeting of gazes, or any kind of behavior that would hint at the actor’s emotional state.” I could have sworn that I hadn’t written that barren a landscape. But I was told that all the actions taken by the characters were being described as if from a distance, by a disinterested observer.
Sadly, this probably says a lot more about my own upbringing and experiences. I personally don’t remember too much touching, unless its intent was to inflict pain of one kind or another. –Though perhaps that is unfair of me.
Another criticism I received was from one of the better reviews I received on Amazon: I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but I felt that it lacked a certain element of narrative tension. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what that was, and the best I can do is that we know that Medousa is a tragic figure and that she is inevitably hurtling towards her (unjust) destruction, but in the book this is portrayed as being, to a certain extent, bad luck. Which is entirely realistic–people like Medousa are generally the victims of bad luck–but with the echoes of Greek tragedy reverberating in the background, it was slightly unsatisfying for me. Because we see everything from Medousa’s point of view, we never really get to know why Athena wanted to punish her, which left the story a little bit flat in my opinion.
So I am now seriously thinking of going back to my MS and seeing how I could improve, or fix, the narrative. This will not be easy; I have spent most of my life as a loner, and emotionally distant from people, and have always found physical touch to be distasteful. But, I suppose I shall have to overcome that in order to write a “truer” characterization of my heroine. Or, I could write her from my own point of view and allow her to find emotional displays to be uncomfortable. Of course, I would still need to acknowledge that this is probably not how those around her live.
The other challenge will be to somehow bring more of a feeling of classical Greek Tragedy into the narrative. The problem here is that, as the reviewer rightly noted, I did try to bring Medousa’s tragedy out of its classical context and into something more immediate. But, as the book is in fact set in the Hellas of ancient myth, I can see how it would be disappointing not to adorn it with the traditional trappings of classical Tragedy.
There, my problem is that Greek Tragedy is less familiar to me than the religious myths of my own background, and when I mentioned this also to R., he said, “Fine. Make it a midrash. Use the story of Job to highlight Medousa’s tragedy.” I must admit, to so explicitly do so would give a firmer structure to the novel. At first I balked, but as was pointed out to me, using a three thousand year old poem as opposed to two thousand year old plays wouldn’t be all that different. I would be using the older traditions of tragedy and fate by using the books of Job and Koheleth (Ecclesiastes), than by using the plays Oedipus, or Antigone, or Medea, or Prometheus.
One big difference, though, would be the theme regarding the cause of personal calamity; the Greek Tragedies set great store by Hubris being the cause of a person’s downfall, whereas the books of Job and Koheleth both note that bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and vice versa. And there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Happily, though, it will give me a chance to subvert yet another trope. For in this case, although Medousa is the victim, it is not through her own Hubris, but through the Hubris of both Poseidon and Athena.
And of course, all of this musing brings me to another question: WHEN IS A NOVEL REALLY FINISHED? Am I really correcting narrative flaws, or am I simply fiddling with minutiae? How do you really know when a story is done? I seem to remember DaVinci being quoted as saying “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
Perhaps by returning to work on my book, I am committing a grave error. Or, perhaps it is just what the novel needs.
Perhaps when I finish work on this “Second Edition,” I shall try to find a traditional publisher again. Or, perhaps I will serialize the entire book here. Or, perhaps I will simply update the text through CreateSpace and leave the rest alone. Or, perhaps it’s better to leave well enough alone and turn to my other books in progress.