"What is your novel about?"
Oh. Oh! Oh, how I hated it when someone would ask me that. For this is what would happen:
Me: Deer in the headlights look, shuffling feet. Then, "Um, well, it's about this woman and she goes back home - yeah, it's about home and family and stuff, and she spreads her momma's ashes, and stuff happens and stuff, and it's like stuff abounds and all manner of stuffity stuff stuff and then, well, it's got this mountain, see, and did I say it was about this woman and family and home and belonging and stuff happens and stuff?"
Them: now they have a deer in the headlights look, followed by a slow blink. They quickly recover and ask: "So~! What's the title?"
Me: Oh crap. "Um, well, see, it's not titled yet...well, it is but the title is temporary, haha, I mean, haha, you know those publishers - I mean, when I get a publisher (for this was before Bellebooks!) they'll change it anyway - and well, anyway, the title I have for it, just temp mind you - not really the title, haha, ah, er, the temporary title, and it kind of sucks, so remember it will change, is [really bad title here]."
Them: Blink. Blink. Blink. Recover: "Oh! well, that's Great! Really Great!"
And I've lost them.
Can you imagine going to the movies and hearing a trailer like this:
“In a world where a woman goes back home, cause it’s all about home and belonging and stuff, to spread the ashes of her mother, and while there, she goes in the attic and finds stuff and looks at all the stuff and it makes her remember all this stuff! And it’s about family and stuff! And belonging too! And somebody gets killed or something, and there’s this crazy Mee Maw and stuff, and …well, AT YOUR FAVORITE THEATERS! …THIS MOVIE THAT HAS A TEMPORARY TITLE THAT KIND OF SUCKS!”
No. No. and No. I always saw my stuff in the “abstract” – tell them it’s about this and that and they will understand what I’m talking about. When instead, I needed a Blurb, a quick one to three or so line that WAS my book—and I just didn’t get it.
Here’s what Bellebooks wrote:
Contemporary southern fiction about a young woman returning to her childhood home in West Virginia to bury her late mother and reconcile memories of a turbulent childhood. Strong commercial women's fiction showcasing this debut author's powerful, poetic voice. A touch of mysticism makes this a transcendent read. For fans of The Secret Lives of Bees, Ya Ya Sisterhood, etc. The first book in a planned trilogy.
What is so hard about that? But, sometimes we can’t see our Forests for our Trees. We see our work in the abstract – we see the meaning and love for our characters and stories that won’t convey to Reader (or to whomever we are querying) what the novel is About.
I’m going to memorize the above, or the back cover of the novel, or whatever I need to memorize, so that when someone asks again: What is your book about? I can quickly and confidently say, “It’s about… and the title is tender graces…”
No more feeling as if I’ve been smacked by pie in the eye.