Here’s an update on what’s happened in the last week with The Reluctant Spy. I sent eight e-queries. In seven of them, I pasted in, per each agency’s web site instructions, a number of pages from the manuscript. The pasted sample ranged from five to fifty pages. I was able to send out three on Monday, one on Wednesday, and four on Friday.
Within that same time, two of the eight agencies declined to represent the first-century Palestine novel. Still, this is just the beginning. I continue to believe that at least one or more agents will ask me to send the entire manuscript of 122,000 words. Then of course there will be the anxious waiting to see if, after reading, an agent will want to represent the historical novel.
While all this has been going on, I’ve been considering the opening pages of the novel. Somehow the first scene has never felt right to me.
Late last night, after staying up until 1:30 am to finish an intriguing mystery, I turned off the light and thought about the beginning of the novel I’d just finished reading. That led, quite naturally, to thinking about the beginning of The Reluctant Spy.
Several years ago, an author asked me to read her manuscript for a historical novel. After doing so, I asked, “Do you like your main character?” The simple question startled her. Somewhat disconcerted, she admitted that she wasn’t sure any more.
I explained that if she, the author, didn’t like the character, readers wouldn’t either. Readers need to be pulling for the protagonist. So in the first scene in which the main character appears, she or he must be shown in a way that will attract the readers' empathy and concern.
Last night, I remembered that conversation and realized that in The Reluctant Spy I hadn’t followed my own advice—the novel begins with a scene in which Ephraim displays the darkest parts of himself to a man he considers his rival. Thus, the readers' first impression would probably be negative. That impression might color everything else they subsequently read abut him.
Yet within a number of pages the story shows the strength of Ephraim and the burdens of his life. He then becomes a sympathetic character . . . and thus reader-friendly.
So at 2:00 am this morning I sat here on this computer chair and began to reconstruct the first fifty pages. Now the novel begins with Ephraim showing himself in a good light so that readers will, I hope, root for him throughout the rest of the story.
By the time readers come to the original opening scene, they will better understand why the main character is jealous and angry. They’ll understand, I hope, that like all of us, he is human. That is to say—flawed.
After reorganizing the first fifty pages, I’ve ended up with a new first chapter and a more sequential telling of the story.
I’m pleased with this decision, which was made on St. Michael the Archangel’s feast day—Michaelmas. That’s significant to me because just this past Thursday I found a slim manuscript about angels, which I’d written in 1995. Reading it again, I found myself wondering if it held any promise.
Perhaps Michael is now watching over me and has helped me find the right beginning for The Reluctant Spy.
For many years, I’ve believed that I had fourteen guardian angels—my own, given to me at birth, and thirteen others, whom other humans had declined. All of them have stood by me in difficult times.
This week I, along with Michael and those fourteen guardians, will continue to send out queries. But I’ll be even more hopeful because the beginning is right. Peace.