After some time mulling over the feedback provided by several publishers via my agent the other day, I've realized that they're right. In creating a milieu for my story, I buried it in several layers of narrative that were unnecessary and distancing for the reader. Isabelle's Confession has a prologue and an epilogue, a letter/confessional format, and a convent setting, all of which are really extraneous to the story itself. As an inexperienced writer some ten years ago I felt I had to give the story a reason for existing, but in thinking about beginning my second book last fall I realized that was an unnecessary conceit. Although I thought the found manuscript idea that linked the story to my real-life doctoral dissertation very cool, I wasn't thinking of potential readers who would want to open the book or turn on the Kindle and dive right in to a different world, and so it all needed to go.
There was no way I could just abandon this book to a dusty drawer without trying to make it better, so yesterday afternoon I sat down with the hard copy of the manuscript and started cutting. In a couple of hours I got through 152 pages and have already eliminated at least 10. I had to resist the temptation to dig into the file on the computer, but for now I think it's better to stick with the hard copy because the story will need a new introduction. Once upon a time that would have been a very scary proposition, but no longer. I have a couple of ideas rolling around, and I'm sure the right thing will be excavated in due time. In eliminating the letters I also hope to make the story less episodic, with better narrative flow. I don't know if I'll have chapters or books or both, but that's not too worrying. I'll have to decide about the end notes. I think most readers would probably also find them intrusive, so they may also fall prey to the red pen. It bears remembering, as our English teachers have told us, that writing is a process and editing never killed anyone. In his early writing days Stephen King was advised by an anonymous editor that the final draft equals the first draft minus ten percent. I have a strong suspicion I'll be cutting a lot more than that. It'll be interesting to see how many words I have in the end. I'll let you know!