f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: I Never Forget a Pretty Narrative Arc

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I Never Forget a Pretty Narrative Arc

The Lemonheads, an imminently forgettable 90s “alt-pop” band who got big by unnecessarily remaking Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” once said, “I’ve never been too good with names, but I remember faces” in their other hit, “It’s a Shame About Ray.”

That's not true for me. I’m awful with names. But I make up for it by forgetting faces, too.

However...what I’ve found is that bits and fragments of your proposals—at least those that’ve caught my attention—do stick with me. I’ve been around long enough that not only am I meeting people, I’m re-meeting people. And when I do, this is how I’ve responded:

“Yeah, you’re the 900-page fantasy novel woman. There was a spark there.”


“Yeah, you had that great opening chapter with the EMT.”

There are, it must be admitted, forgettable proposals. I look at hundreds, possibly thousands of ideas a year, so there’s no hope of remembering them all. (Or, on occasion I remember proposals for their atrociousness.)

But I think acquisitions editors across publishing are wired to react to strong ideas. It’s like a gold panner whose eye is trained for the glint of aurum. Or a muskellunge glimpsing a lure out of the corner of his eye. Or a Houston church-goer enticed by a preacher's spangliness. A character or plot or something will click and suddenly you see a hint of a cover, hear a whisper of a title, see the shape of the novel, and the book just seems like it’s there, ready to be the next hit.

For all of these “glints” of course most turn out to be literary pyrite. But the memory lingers. Of the next possible project. The one that “could work.”

So if you contact me, it’s almost inevitable that I’ll forget your name. It’s possible that I’ll stare at you blankly, perhaps mere hours after talking to you. But if you send me a good idea—even only in part—then you’re likely to be locked away in my brain forever.

To paraphrase the Pixies, (Christopher Fisher’s new favorite band) I’m not looking for the mother lode. I’m digging for fire.

And you’re the sparks. Or something like that. I need to go home.