Welcome fellow workshoppers from UTSA grad English Creative Writing Fiction class. Some answers to questions are at the end of this post.
In The Creative Writer's Survival Guide, author John McNally says it is crucial to get your book's description down to about a hundred words that summarize while sparking interest. This is not useful only for the query letter, he says, but helps it get pitched later as agents, then editors, and publicists try to sell it to the next level. This is the kind of copy you see on the inside of a dust jacket on the finished novel, only there one doesn't give away the ending.
I have found it enlightening to try to do that as I am getting enough material together to finally know what my book wants to be. Here is my 188 word dust jacket version:
A Thousand Wonders
1965—students protest, civil rights workers march, and feminists demonstrate for change. The music of the time reflects the nation’s mood with “[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction” and “A Hard Day’s Night.” Change comes slowly, if at all, to some places. In Tennessee's Chickahatchie County, 8-year-old Betsy Hanson sees life transforming on a more personal level.
Betsy is a scrutinizer, noticing every detail. After tragedy sends her to live with Grandy and Memma, she brings her visual giftedness to the tiny community of Bourne—Grandy and Memma, Preacher, SweetPea, Mrs. Nonnie and her nurse Circe, and a congregation of others.
From her perch in a white oak tree Betsy sees Bourne, but can’t understand its people at all. Her guide is nine-year-old Lucy Belle, who has a hideaway in the Negro Baptist Church. Kelso the mule driver opens the church to Lucy Belle, bringing more than just sanctuary. The two little girls have each other—and Kelso—for three crucial years.
After travelling the world, Betsy is compelled to return to write the stories of Bourne. Only after 30 years can Betsy make sense of all she saw. And she saw plenty…
Since my book it not done, I'm happy to sell John McNally's:
Creative Writer's Survival Guide
Workshop issues that are not addressed above: A Thousand Wonders
The various "chapters" come from different residents of Chickahatchie County. The same person may be presented through first-person, third-person, or any other combination of POV and person. The titles will reflect a good bit more than you might think. Look for unreliable narrators.
What is up with the names? Elizabeth is her real birth certificate name. Memma calls her Lizbeth. She calls herself Betsy. People don't know which is right. There is plot in the name thing.
What is up with the writer and her travels? Elizabeth has been a lot of places. She has grown in more than just the usual ways. It's much easier for her to understand things now. She wants to revisit Bourne with this perspective. Elizabeth is interspersed in the novel. It will, at the urging of you all, begin with Elizabeth in Bourne on the first day of her return. Everything we need to know about what she did in the intervening years will come in flashback. How much of Betsy we see in Elizabeth at any moment is interesting to me. Wait til you see where Elizabeth lives while she writes.
In some places, people who work on farms are called farm hands. In rural Tennessee, the trope of synecdoche defines them as simply hands. There is so much in that fact. Mechanization had not taken great hold across the board in 1965, so there were still farms (of usually older owners) that relied on hands to do much of the work.
Both girls daddy's are dead. They are both white. Kelso and Circe are black. There are inhabitants of both and mixed races. Color, cloaking, and undercurrents are motifs, as is the tree, with its various components. Poverty of person and character is a controlling theme.