Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Heart and Soul

Those of you who read this blog are probably the choir to whom we (blogging agents) preach. You probably carefully track what agents have which rules and submit your queries accordingly. You probably use blogs as a way to find out what agents are looking for which hot genre and what agents have which hobbies and passions and could make a home for your book baby. And, in your writerly quest to follow the rules set forth so clearly/contradictorally and to attend conferences, workshops, etc. with agents and editors, I bet you've heard the phrase: "I know it when I see it." Yes? It's probably close to the most frustrating phrase an unpublished writer could hear. After all, what exactly is the it that the agent/editor will recognize when s/he sees it? I'm not exactly positive (I'll know it when I see it, ok?), but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with heart & soul.

It sounds simultaneously a little trite and a little vast, I'll admit. It's only one step up from Chopsticks on the piano and often indefinable in our emotional lives. But when an author manages to bring heart and soul into a book in a genuine way--one that mirrors the little nuanced ways that we change and are changed by others' hearts and souls--the author transforms something ethereal into a tangible force. Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is just such a book (and obviously the Newberry committee thinks so too). Miranda's interior life and her understanding of her relationships with her family and friends expand throughout the book, all working in tandem to shape the nature and course of time. The book is touching and true, and it resonates long after it's finished. Sounds like heart & soul to me.

There are more "I know it when I see it" answers than that, of course, and heart and soul wouldn't be an appropriate answer for every "I know it when I see it" question. But it's definitely one of the answers for me, and something I'm constantly looking for when reading queries & submissions.


Kimberly Sabatini said...

I'm relieved that there isn't a formula for falling in love with a book. It might be easier if there were, but the best stories ARE created from hearts and souls. Like people, the really good books make you want to hug them after you've spent some time with them. Great post Naomi-thanks for sharing. :o)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Loved that book! And so happy to see it win the Newbery Award.

Ben Spendlove said...

Getting that heart and soul out from inside me and onto the page are hard enough. It has to get from there into the reader, as well. It's not surprising the connection doesn't happen more frequently. But when it does, I understand exactly what you mean by "tangible force."