Time Exposure was my first full-length novel. It was the great American novel, er, great American mystery novel. (Is there such a thing?) I had done my research, been to the places where I set my scenes, talked to the experts of the time. My writing was superb, just like a movie script. I figured I had a book contract cinched.
Was I ever surprised, when, after reading the first ten pages, the critique group leader, a college professor asked me this: “Do you write a lot of reports for work?”
“Excuse me?” I said. “What do you mean?”
“Your story has a great deal of potential . . . but it’s not a . . . story.”
I waited, blood thudding in my ears.
“It’s a report,” he said. “You tell, not show, you give us no way to visualize the characters, the action or the settings. You use too many adjectives and adverbs. The word ‘was” or ‘is’ shows up in every other sentence. And, there’s no emotion, no background, not much action–you give only the facts.” Ma’am.
I went home dumbfounded. Although I am proud to say I didn’t cry at the group session. That came later. Then I made a decision. Do I throw the manuscript in the trash or figure out how to fix it? How to write a good mystery, in other words? And that’s what I did. I took all the criticisms and read, researched, and re-wrote . . . again and again and again. Chapter by chapter, scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph.
Did I learn? I believed I finally made the grade from report writer to novelist, when my boss at the Science Museum said to me: “This sounds a bit flowery and dramatic for a report. Sounds more like a novel.”