Epitaph update, and getting started on Poe

The semi-final manuscript for Epitaph went to my agency Dystel and Goderich a month ago. That was the first time they’d seen it since selling the first 150 pages to Ecco at HarperCollins a couple of years ago.

If I’d asked for help along the way, I’m pretty sure either the agency or the publisher would have been willing to give it, but I’m always reluctant to send the manuscript to New York. I’m afraid that an early draft will be disappointing to the people whose support is critical to the book’s success. I don’t want them to be discouraged by editing and structure problems that I’m already aware of, so I soldier on alone.

Well, not alone. I get a lot of feedback as I write. My front-line readers are friends who comment chapter by chapter and draft after draft. There have always been two or three readers with me every step of the way, from concept to completion of a novel. If you like my work, you should be very grateful to the amateurs who’ve pushed for more clarity, more depth, less showing off, less background, better dialog, fewer characters — and fewer commas, for the love of God!

So. Epitaph was complete last July, but it was almost 198,000 words, which is 766 pages in standard manuscript format. (For scale, Doc was 144,086 words and 599 pages in manuscript.) I knew Epitaph was going to be longer than Doc. It’s a bigger story covering a long stretch of time, but I set a goal of cutting 30,000 words, just to provide some discipline for myself. I didn’t quite hit that mark, but it’s close: 173,000 words, and 662 pages in manuscript, which is about 455 pages, published.

Miriam Goderich is looking at the revised manuscript right now, to see if I’ve fixed the problems that she identified last month. If so, it goes to Ecco on Monday. Next step is for the editor at Ecco to go over it and give me notes. At the same time, I’ll send the manuscript to several Tombstone historians for vetting. There’ll be another round of corrections and cutting, more smoothing out of prose, additional tweaks to structure in response to the comments and suggestions I get back.

In the meantime, I’ve started the background research for the Poe book. The basic structure is going to be first-person, in the voice of his first and last fiancee Elmira Shelton. Ordinarily I do all my own research but very little is known about Elmira, so I’ve turned to a group of readers who are willing and able to dig through Ancestry.com and public records to see what they can find. The Genealogy Genies found some wonderful stuff for Epitaph and they’ve already sent me heaps of things about Elmira and her family.



4 thoughts on “Epitaph update, and getting started on Poe”

  1. It’s so refreshing – and helpful – to hear of honest struggle – it’s what makes your books so good. Inspired by the tip to get a group of readers, rather than one, I’ve asked a book group if they will help with my current work. Awaiting their response with a great deal of trepidation!

  2. As I eagerly read the new book, I will be aware of the huge amount of work (blood, sweat, and tears!) that went into it! I know it will be another masterpiece…now I know more about how much it takes to actually turn it into that masterpiece!
    God bless you for sharing your talent with us, Mary! 🙂

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