Thursday, September 2, 2010

Novel #3: I need a (not-so-secret) agent


"Joy - heart-swelling, button-bursting, exhilarating, uplifting, exuberant joy - is at the centre of Margaret Gunning's first novel, Better than Life. The details, the turns of phrase, the sharp observances that evoke both place and characters in a small town in Ontario at the end of the 1960s, are infused with a sense of lightness and humour that borders on the divine. Redemption overrides judgement every time in this carefully crafted novel, and Gunning manages to illuminate that which is dark and secret with that which is rich and riotous in colour. She is an author able to open up the world of a fractured but seeking people and bring them into light, healing and hope. Better Than Life is fiction at its finest."
- Edmonton Journal

"As Anderson-Dargatz did with her town of Likely and Stephen Leacock did with Mariposa, Gunning has created a fictional place that's recognizable to anyone who has ever lived in a small town. . . This delightful novel looks like a contender for the Leacock Medal. It may be just the book to bring some light into the room as the grey days of the rainy season settle in."
- Vancouver Sun

“Gunning does period ambience with a minimum of well-chosen references. Her expressive turns can spur shivers of pleasure. It’s a book that seduces quickly, then pulls you happily through an afternoon.”
- Globe and Mail

“It’s short and breezy, by times droll, intermittently serious and, ultimately, warm as toast. It could be in every shopping cart in the country.”
- Montreal Gazette

"There is a contagious energy to Gunning's prose which often -- and accurately -- delineates Mallory's intense emotional improvisation, child-like perspicacity and surprisingly mature realizations. Marketed as adult fiction, this is a book that could very easily attract a younger crowd, hungry for the extremes of experience and sensation Mallory represents.”
- Globe and Mail

“Margaret Gunning writes with uncanny grace and unflinching clarity about what it is to be a young girl forgotten by the world. She captures the heartbreak of loneliness and separateness, the fear and self-loathing of adolescent girlhood, with a gentle, sympathetic touch. And she manages to make Mallory complex and fully human in the process -- both victim and torturer, brilliant yet painfully naive, innocent yet seething with awakening sexual desire. The ominous feeling that underscores much of the novel is reminiscent of the best work of another Canadian author, Ann-Marie MacDonald, whose girl heroes seem to inhabit this same dark world.”
- Edmonton Journal

OK, maybe you needed to read these first. Maybe that's why my original post disappeared as I tried to cut-and-paste this. Maybe now you'll see why I am so frustrated.

There's a myth floating around in writers' circles that if you have one book that is favorably received, you're "in" and don't need to worry any more. So what happens if you have two? The comments above are just a small sampling of my reviews for Better than Life and Mallory, my first two novels. Mallory got no negative reviews at all, and BTL got only one. Both were very favorably reviewed in the books section of Canada's national newspaper, the Globe and Mail. Several of the reviews appeared in American publications which hadn't even been sent a copy. This just doesn't happen, and my first publisher called it "a miracle" (implying it had been a spontaneous act of God and not the result of my own skill and hard work).

Funny how miracles can come apart, almost as if they never happened. Sales of my first two books were abysmal, and I can't tell you why. I do know, after 25 years of being a reviewer, that some books generate "buzz" before they even go to press. Why? I will never know. It's an alchemy, a magic I don't seem to be able to capture.

I need someone to represent me. That much is plain. I need to make that leap. The novel I am ready to publish is called The Glass Character: a fictional retelling of the life and work of a long-ignored genius, silent screen comedian Harold Lloyd. I didn't just research this topic: I became Harold Lloyd, I saw the world through his glasses, I climbed high, hung on to the hands of the clock, and fell from a great height.

I am ready. But for what? For more head-banging, more trudging around, more slammed doors? I recently received the following rejection, no doubt carefully worded so as not to bruise my delicate feelings: "We may be turning down the next best-seller here, and I am sure it will find a good home soon, but I regret to tell you the answer is no."

People get there, they do. I see it. As a reviewer, I notice that a lot of very ordinary books of a certain genre do very well, and I mean every season. I'm probably breaking the writer's code of keeping your mouth shut no matter what hell you're going through. I should keep smiling while the best book I am ever likely to write goes nowhere.

Does my track record mean nothing? I wonder why no one in the industry can see that I made that "miracle" happen. It was my work, and I have a lot more. Here it is.

My e-mail address is Perhaps it should appear in every post from now on.