I hate the “A” question.
So, I read a blog post by my friend JES regarding the “A” word–as in What is your novel About?
An agent is currently looking at my first novel, and this “A” question is on my mind. My first novel is about a difficult subject…a conversation stopper subject.
Now let’s be clear. I didn’t begin the novel intending to write about dark and difficult things. I started writing about marbles.
I was with my writing group (which is now no more) and the writing prompt pulled out of the box was “marbles.” Okay. Well, I didn’t want to write about a game of marbles because that seemed too obvious and I don’t know anything about the game. The sound of marbles hitting a hard floor came to mind. This became the sound of marbles hitting wooden stairs.
Why would marbles be spilling down the stairs? Someone dumped them on the stairs. Hmm. Who? A girl. She comes to mind. She stands at the top of the stairs pouring marbles out of a blue jar.
Why would she do this? It would make a mess. Marbles would probably be lost. So they must not be her marbles.
So again–why would she do it? Oh, they are her brother’s marbles and she is angry at him. She wants him to know she is angry.
Why is she angry? He has done something wrong.
And he sees his marbles falling down the stairs, go in different directions, and he yells at her. He chases her. I see them in my mind and she is about 16 and he is about 5 years older…still living at home.
Because he can’t hold a job.
Because he’s an addict.
Because he does terrible things.
And he chases his sister into her room where she hides. He finds her, but she pulls out a knife she keeps hidden her boot to protect herself.
Why would she need a knife?
Because he is violent obviously.
What violent things has he done?
And before you know it (if ten years count as a before-you-know-it explanation), I’ve written a novel with drug addiction, incest, rape, and prostitution. (First chapter here.)
Hmm. What is your novel about?
Well, the novel does have a reasonably happy ending. Does that help?
Usually when people ask the “A” question, I say something vague, “It’s about loyalty and friendship in difficult times.” Yes. I’m a chicken.
I have had a few agents reject the novel because of its subject matter. Which surprised me a bit because these are not new issues for fiction. Maybe if the novel were about a detective hunting down a serial rapist murderer instead.
Anyway, I don’t think of my novel as being about those dark subjects. Crazy as it sounds, i think of it as a novel about friendship–two girls saving their friendship.
All right. So I guess if I struggled to be honest about what my first novel is about, I’d have to say that it is about a girl whose brother raped her best friend, and perhaps it was a secret the girl had kept hidden from her best friend and everyone that allowed the rape to occur.
There. Said it.
Reading posts like this about women writers doesn’t make answering the “A” question any easier.
What is your novel about? Marbles.