In early June, I posted that Judy Healey—a friend and published author of historical fiction—was reading “The Reluctant Spy,” a novel I’ve written that takes place in first-century Palestine. Judy suggested that I explain unfamiliar words, such as jasper ring and tamarisk, and clarify the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Responding to these suggestions will take little time or effort.
Her bigger concern—one demanding a restructuring of the first third of the novel—was the dynamic between two of its characters: Ephraim and Daniel. She wanted to know the background of their dissension much earlier than I provided in the novel. I had presented their past in several scenes sprinkled throughout the first third of the manuscript. I hoped this would intensify tension and suspense. That didn’t work for Judy.
While in Minnesota recently, I enjoyed a working lunch with her. Having read only the first third of the novel, Judy believes its main thrust is the story between Daniel and Ephraim.
For me, as the author, that thrust is between Ephraim and Yeshua. That’s why I began the novel with a scene between the two of them. However, Yeshua does not appear again with Ephraim until nearly a third of the way through the book, when Part II begins in the Galilee. Then the story line becomes theirs. In the latter part of the manuscript, Daniel re-emerges several times. He’s the catalyst of the ongoing need for Ephraim to attach himself to Yeshua, a man for whom he has only contempt.
Orchards in the Upper Galilee.
Back in January an editor read the manuscript and made suggestions that led to the deletion of 9,000 words. She thought the novel was ready for publication. So after returning from Minnesota, I was left with a conundrum: to publish the novel as is per the editor’s counsel or to change the first third per Judy’s recommendation.
Unable to untie this Gordian knot, I asked a friend, who’s a prolific reader although not of historical novels, if she would read the manuscript. I gave her a series of questions to consider in her reading. She’s now gotten back to me. Here’s her e-mail response:
I just finished "The Reluctant Spy" and found it fascinating! I don't usually (almost never) read historical novels because I generally find them to be slow. I tend to skim through the descriptive parts and to read only the narratives thoroughly. I determined to read every word of your book and I'm glad I did. Yours required a lot of description in the beginning, but the pace picked up at about page 20 and stayed strong throughout.
There are quite a few instances of incorrect punctuation and random typos and spaces that need to be corrected.
I loved Ephraim’s conversations with God/Hashem.
I felt I got a true understanding on why the characters, especially Ephraim and Yeshua, acted as they did.
The only suggestion I can make is to make sure you get it published!
Model of Herod’s Temple at the Israel Museum.
While my friend’s response delights me, I’m still perplexed. Judy is a published author so her opinion sways me. And yet I know that any reading of a third of a novel over a three-month period needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We seldom hold the intricacies of a book in our heads for three months when we do sporadic reading.
On the other hand, a friend often cannot be objective even when trying hard to be. Still, this friend has been honest with me before when something I wrote didn’t work for her. Perhaps only those first twenty pages of the novel need recasting.
Given these three responses, I’m befuddled, wondering if I need to hire another professional editor—Judy gave me the names of two who have helped her—or if I need simply to go for publication.
As you read this posting—in the United States or Great Britain or Australia or wherever you are—please send me your best thoughts about this manuscript. The truth is I’m confused, wondering if I need to continue to fish or if I should cut bait!