How Do You Sum Up Your Novel in a Pithy Soundbite?

During the promotion of my novels, I have found that it is hard to come up with a quick description of my book that does it justice. In some ways, I am just too close to it. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time with the characters and the plot and all of its nuances. It becomes especially hard with a book that is interior and literary like my first novel Angel.  I got to where I can talk about its plot and central conflict. I even have a joking twitter version. “Boy meets boy. Boy is a Christian minister. Oops.”

That is what the story is about, but it is not what the novel is.

The new novel, Identity Theft, is a bit more plot driven and less interior. Still, to simply reveal the story line (and you get into that problem of how many of the plot twists to reveal) leaves out much of what the book is. I have also found that describing the process of writing the book and the various sources of inspiration runs the risk of creating a false impression of what the book is. Sometimes you don’t even realize that you’re setting up a false impression until you see it reflected back to you.

I was really thrilled to discover today that my Identity Theft project was written up in the local paper, the Rochester Patch.  The short article talks about the inspiration for the novel, the initial spark of an idea came during a brief period when I was working at The Arlozone, an Arlo Guthrie merchandise and coffee shop located in the building where he then housed his offices.

It is an interesting origin story and true, as far as it goes. I was sufficiently amused by the fact that I worked in an Arlo Guthrie merchandise and coffee shop itself to think it was worth recording. The shop did not have huge traffic. So I had a lot of time to sit and think about writing. It was there that I started to imagine that a famous person’s office (and the mundane, every day tasks there) would make a good setting for fiction and to further imagine that a great dramatic conflict would be to have someone use his insider status to pose as a celebrity and wreak some kind of havok– what kind, and how it would play out I did not initially know.

So that was the initial spark. But I would hate to create the impression that I have written an autobiographical novel about my experiences or to over-emphasize a part-time job that I held for a very short time. It is a novel with a setting that was colored by that experience, but it is not a novel about my experience and certainly not about Arlo Guthrie. (I rarely interacted with him in my role as Arlozone employee.)

I sometimes compare the process of writing a novel to that of recounting a dream. At least this is how it works for me. I let my subconscious do a lot of the composition. The story draws on all kinds of experiences, lived, researched, imagined. They get all mixed up and what comes out does not represent any one of them but it is its own animal. I, as the writer, am not always entirely sure what that animal is. It is a process of layering. I start with one idea and I get the sense that it is somehow incomplete, and I put it aside. Then after some time has passed I start to focus on other things, and different intellectual questions occupy my thoughts. I come back to the story and some new dimension presents itself. Then I get stuck, feel that it is somehow incomplete, and I put it aside again.I tend to be unable to finish a novel until a story is tied into some greater intellectual question or questions I am wrestling with.  The ideas color the story and the story helps bring out aspects of the idea. Of course, if I were to talk about those intellectual aspects (which I admit I am overly fond of doing) people’s eyes would glaze over. It wouldn’t sound at all like a fast moving book with a lot of humor. When I talk about my book, I want to somehow reveal all of those seemingly contradictory elements. I don’t know how to put that into a compelling soundbite. Maybe such a thing is impossible. If you could express all of it in a tweet, you would not need to have written the book.

I think a lot of writers dislike book promotion, in part, because the marketing needs of a book– the need to distill it down to something you can sell– feels as though it undoes some of what you were doing in the writing.

That is why I like to read reviews. I let the readers tell me what I have written.

A few weeks ago, I had a beta reader who I met through Goodreads take a look at Identity Theft. I had not met her prior to that and therefore I appreciate her impartial feedback. She volunteered to write a review of the book so that I can share a reader’s view of the book. I will post her response here when she has completed it.

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