In early July I buckled down to preliminary revisions on my cookie jar book (my time-travel book set in Indiana, where the kids travel to the past via placing cookies baked from historic recipes into an enchanted cookie jar). Then I printed out six copies of the 240-page manuscript (oh, the cost of printer cartridges these days!) to distribute to the six other members of my critique group for their comments. After that: nervous waiting for the very first reactions from any readers on the planet - and not just ANY readers, but the highly discerning readers of my writing group.
One evening last week I was at the Colorado Music Festival up at Chautauqua, where I bumped into my writing group friend Mary, who told me that she had started reading the manuscript and was loving it so far. Yes! Then I saw her again during intermission at a concert later in the week, and we chatted about the book some more. I told her my chief worry about the story: that Maisie, my viewpoint character, doesn't really grow and change through the course of the book, that although Cole gets to keep his beloved dog, Oopsie, and Maisie's feuding great-grandmother and great-great aunt reconcile at last, nothing really changes for MAISIE. Mary and I started brainstorming solutions to this problem, right there during intermission, and then I was so distracted thinking about them during the second half of the concert that I hardly listened to brilliant Olga Kern playing Rachmaninoff piano concerto #4. What could Maisie want that she ends up getting? What could change for Maisie?
The next day, Mary emailed me a detailed memo about the book, with some further thoughts: what if what Maisie wants just is to heal the quarrel between her elderly relatives? This change would just involve rewriting the opening of the book so that now we see Maisie herself being actively distressed about the current situation and longing for it to change. This could work!
My writing group friend Leslie read the manuscript next, and we set up a breakfast date at the historic dining hall at Chautauqua to talk about the book. Her chief critical comment was that the final time travel sequence needed considerably more development to bring out the scary suspense of the tornado; right now it was clear that I was rushing through these crucial scenes to get to the end of the book as quickly as possible. I told Leslie Mary's proposed solution to my Maisie worries, as Leslie's omelet arrived, an omelet that featured "heirloom" tomatoes. That was all the cue Leslie needed.What if Maisie, already established as an only child with no extended family, is yearning for an "heirloom" family? - a traditional large family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-great-aunts. THAT could be what she wants and then finally gets, once the feud is resolved. YES!
So now I'll establish Maisie's yearning for a large "heirloom" family at the beginning of the book and amp up the tornado scenes at the end of the book. Hooray! Of course, I still await comments from Elizabeth, Annie, Marie, and Phyllis, and who knows what they will suggest. All I know is that whatever they suggest, it will make the book better. And maybe I can think about their suggestions while listening to Rachmaninoff or eating an omelet on a beautiful verandah with a view of the Flatirons. . . .