10 May 2010 [critique of first 30 pages of a novel]

Dear Peter:

This draft of your first 30 pages is a lot better than the first one I saw. There's action now, and there are parts that are well described and written. I like the addition of the Mexican boy who insists on washing dishes. The dialogue is good. There's a few things an editor would note, however, that would keep this story (so far) from being convincing reading.

1. The poetic, highly detailed accident report, with the woman in white "who looked like a white flower in a gilded box" is not realistic. It's a police report, and therefore in real life it would probably be short and curt, and in Spanish as well. By the way, can Vance speak/read Spanish? Speak it well? Where did he learn it? If he doesn't speak it, how comfortable is he going to Mexico to find his father?

2. All-night diners, and beat-up-looking diner waitresses with hearts of gold, are big clichés, especially when they're working the night shift in lonely, isolated places. This we saw in Hemingway in 1930. Give Zoe another profession, have them meet somewhere they'd meet today. If she has to be a waitress, give her a busy job at a big busy interstate truck stop. I don't believe she wouldn't have opened Leonard's satchel if she's Leonard's close friend (Leonard would want her to have his money or goodies because she's an old friend, right?) Why did she keep it, unopened, if it had no value and she expected never to see its owner again?

3. I don't believe Vance would have refused to take his father's satchel to his father in the hospital. I don't understand why he'd give it to Zoe instead. As a sentimental thing?

4. I'm not quite sure from this draft if Leonard is actually dead. At one place his "body" is referred to, so I assumed he was dead, but later your readers are told he's hospitalized.

5. I expect that Eric, who appears in the first paragraph, re-emerges in the novel somewhere, but I wonder what happened to Eric after that night of getting lost.

6. What job is Vance leaving behind so he can go look for his father? How did he arrange to get away? Does he have the money for an extended trip to Mexico?

This particular opener for your novel starts out a lot better but requires more realism. Fiction creates an entire world from scratch, and readers are transported into it only if the people in the story are realistic and act like real people. But if you change one thing, please stay away from diners and diner waitresses (and if you planned to have a hitchhiker; get rid of that, too). But I am happy to say this sample shows a lot of progress.

Catherine