Our Souls at Night is Kent Haruf’s last novel, as he died last fall. I’d read two of his novels years ago and enjoyed them. His work is always set on the plains of the Midwest or at the foothills of Colorado. His style is spare and tight, the reading easy. His new novel is a short work about two 70 year old neighbors who have each lost their spouses and are lonely. They begin to sleep together not for passionate sex but for the comfort of companionship. It is a beautiful story…until her son intervenes and does what people do. His own moral code and selfish righteousness upset the satisfying peace of these two lovely people.
When I finished the book, I was not ready to say goodbye to this author so I ordered two older books of his. Haruf wrote in an unusual way physically. He put a cap over his eyes and was “blinded” to the real world as he typed what he saw, saving corrections for second drafts. I wonder if I could/should do this? The world definitely intrudes on my writing. I think as writers we do whatever we have to do execute our stories.
As I was finishing the last pages of this book, I got a long email from an editor, a rejection of course. But he was so kind and it was not a form letter. He told me he read my work several times and liked it, but in the end, he just didn’t “love it”. He encouraged me to submit more work. So again it is “close but no cigar”…or always a bridesmaid, never a bride”. How can we as writers know what exactly it is that editors are looking for? How can we toss in that line or detail that makes them love the work?
I search a lot of markets and many try to give enticing prompts describing what they want. Most I do not find helpful when they say things like “send us your best work” (do they think we writers choose our second best to circulate?), “send us innovative and cutting edge submissions” (ah, how do writers know what editors think is innovative rather than risky and peculiar works?), or “submit compelling stories (whose compelling?) with characters we can respond to”. These guidelines are so vague for writers to truly know what is expected.
How about some guidelines for editors? How about some standard they stick with to help writers know just what they are looking for? I would like to see an editor be very specific in the call outs. Say “don’t send me any stories with horses or firemen”, “I am looking only for characters with red hair and fiery temperaments that learn hard lessons”, or “please submit stories with plenty of metaphors and long sentences”. I just think trying to hit the mark with editors can be like hitting the archery bullseye while facing backwards and using a bent arrow!