Sappy Stories
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I spent a good portion of a recent Saturday morning researching publishing houses for a picture book I'd like to see in print. It's a concept that came to me about seven years ago when my daughter had one of those profound—only kids could say that—moments. I immediately wrote down her thought and got to work.

So many years later this book still sits in various layers on my desk: critique groups have looked at; I have labored over the words and constantly revised it; and my agent even read through it, then turned it down saying, \"there's just not enough punch—and it rhymes—it won't sell...\"

I come from Basque heritage—do you know who the Basques are? They're a sort of wild, renegade people who live between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. They've been known for many things like handball and dancing on top of wine glasses and playing tug of war and singing long ballads, but I think they're better known for smuggling and blowing things up. (I do not condone blowing things up, just so you know! More about that next.) From the Basques I think I get a certain bulldog quality. I am stubborn and tenacious, and don't give up easily on stories that I've labored over, and I like to sing long ballads and watch people dance on top of wine glasses, too...

I also am Danish and Irish and Scottish and English and a tiny bit German. I think all these other blood mixes formed in me a sort of peace treaty—they had to for my survival!—and that explains the part of me that loves harmony. As a sister I played mediator between the various family escapades that arose, as a friend I quelled arguments between classmates that had to do with whether the ball in foursquare actually hit the line, and in my stories I have a particular aversion to poisoning, threatening, or lopping off the heads of any of my beloved characters.

Okay, so maybe that begins to explain why yesterday, as I was reading through submission guidelines, and perusing the blogs of young editorial assistants at big houses, that I returned to my little story and suddenly realized, \"Yikes! That story that I've now been working on for over seven years (!!!) is pure, sugar-coated, honey-flooded sap!\"

What to do? What to do? The Basque in me can not let go, and the Mutt in me seeks a happy solution.

You know, it's weird. When I put on my editor's hat, I am a good Sap Spotter. One whiff of it sends me straight into rejection letter mode. (And as I'm sure you can guess, you will never get a nicer rejection letter than from me :) ) But with my own stuff, I goo and ooze, and just can't migrate to the conflict side of things! Until I learn this lesson, I'm afraid, I will forever be revising some of these adventure tales that I've dreamed up. All those words, all that time... Help me, I'm drowning in my own sweetness!

At a conference once, I climbed a long set of stairs to a podium, perched in front of a large audience, where I read the first chapter of a story for a critique. I stood poised, and read well, despite the nervous twitter of the paper in my hands. I loved this novel and thought I had got the book off to a snappy start. \"Well,\" began the prof who was critiquing. \"Do you drink much caffeine?\" he asked bluntly.
\"No sir, I don't.\"
\"The words are lovely, the phrases flow from one thought to the next with ease and grace and elegance, but you're too nice. You had me in a trance. You suffer from niceness and I recommend you get a good strong cup of something before you sit down at your computer to compose.\"
\"Umm, okay,\" I muttered. \"Thanks.\"

So there you have it. A recommendation of Performance Enhancing Drugs. If I want to succeed in this business, and do more than write lovely rejection letters, I better get some caffeine and fast.

Any thoughts on a cure? I really don't do coffee—it gets me all fluttery. Any news on inventions of Sapometers? Any of you ever written a sappy story?

Okay, enough of this blabbering. I have a story to rewrite. Seven years is nothing to a Basque; I'm gonna hole up in a mountain town and herd my words until they're zippin' and fightin' their way off the page!