When I was a teenager and a HarperCollins Editor Reviewed my Book
So, going back years and years here to my Inkpop days (haha), but I was going through old emails and found this review that a HarperCollins editor gave me regarding a book I wrote when I was seventeen called First, to Dream of Love.
I was young and vastly inexperienced both in life and writing. This book I self-published for a short time, but quickly took down because it was lacking maturity ultimately and was very amateurish. This being said, I owe a lot to this book and might later re-edit it and release it back into the world one of these days... It was definitely my stepping stone to where I am now as a writer. I garnered a large fan base with it (alas, they have largely forgotten me over the years, though I do still have some friends from those days) and I even got it into the top five on Inkpop, which got me a Harpercollins editor to look it over. She only had to read the first few thousand words, but instead she read the entire manuscript.
Her review really influenced my writing today. First, to Dream of Love was written in poetic prose, rhyming and all. I don't even know how I managed that, honestly! But, she pointed out how my writing style was getting in the way of the story ultimately. This made me realize that it isn't about my writing, it is about the story being told! If my writing is excellent, but is distracting from the storyline and characters, then I am failing as a storyteller.
Here is the review:
Firstly, allow me to say that I was astounded by both the maturity of your voice and the deftly woven narrative you have created. For so young a writer these are quite unique and a clear sign of your commitment to the characters you have created and the mythical world in which their narratives unfold. You clearly have a marvellous imagination.
FIRST, TO DREAM OF LOVE sits nicely within a ROMEO AND JULIET tradition of literary romance. Born not only to conflicting families, but on the opposite sides of a raging conflict of good versus evil, the love between Eliza and Michael has the potential to heal a troubled realm, or destroy them. Their relationship would, I'm sure, hold great appeal to readers dissatisfied in the wake of Twilight. However, there is another dimension to these characters, created by the involvement of guardian angels in orchestrating their match, which is interesting for the reader to observe. (These guardian angels are, in fact, my favourite thing in the story. I think the idea of a guardian angel's heartbeat making the sound of a harpist playing is truly poetic. I do feel, however, that proper names, rather than "my guardian angel", would be more effective)
My only problem with Eliza and Michael's romance is actually the characters themselves. They are not quite convincing enough to be endearing. This is largely because of the way they speak to each other (repeatedly calling each other "my love") and, indeed, the way they speak in general. Frequently, the syntax used is jarring for a reader. For example, one character says "you did this not", rather than the more natural "you did not do this". Even taking into account the Arthurian tradition from which you clearly draw—as so many of your fans have noted—this seems slightly ‘forced'. Language is one of the principal weaknesses of this manuscript. The issues that are addressed—nature versus nurture, family, the roles of women—though large, are also universal and will resonate with a very broad readership. However, they are presented in a language that is quite archaic, which makes it difficult for the reader to relate. Assuming you want your writing to reach a mass market, I think this is something that would need to be addressed.
This is not to say you do not write well. On the contrary, your command of language is highly sophisticated. There are sparks of real brilliance in this narrative - the description of the aligned sun and moon in Chapter 51 is a particular favourite of mine. The opening two sentences of the prologue are equally excellent, and really hook in the reader. There is, however, a tendency for sections to seem overwritten. For instance, occasions where rhyme is used multiple times within single paragraphs, even single sentences, of prose can come across as affected. The opening sentences of chapter 2 are a prime example of this: "I breathed death that night. I was still too young to fight; I could see them take flight". The rhyme is slightly over-the-top.
For the most part, however, it is just a matter of economy: "I breathed death that night" is an excellent opener, very evocative; it would stand alone and does not need to be reinforced with rhyme. In general, I feel that toning down the elaborate nature of the descriptions and speeches in the novel would make it much more effective and accessible. Moreover, close pruning, as with all manuscripts, would be valuable. You construct some lovely imagery; however, sometimes the same images are over used throughout the novel. One example is the description of gently brushing away dried tears, which features twice in the third chapter, and on other occasions later on. The original description is sensitive and well expressed, but with its repetition the image grows stale. Perhaps this was meant as a motif, but the effect is slightly heavy-handed.
To return to the issue of characters, being as they are so vital in epic narratives: relating novels through first-person narratives is almost always problematic. In FIRST, TO DREAM OF LOVE, where you plot so many different stories, it is particularly so. Using a third-person narrative would help create more coherence between these different threads of the story. It might also help with the rapid introduction of so many characters early in the novel, which at the moment is slightly confusing. Saying this, I really like the first-person perspective of Eliza's guardian angel; threading this throughout a third-person narrative might be an effective way of using a first-person voice, which you do well, and at the same time emphasising the supremacy and sanctified nature of the angel.
Clearly, this is an extremely well thought out manuscript that is very popular amongst your peers. It is not perfect, but the world you have created is vivid and interesting, and I hope you continue to build upon it. As your writing develops, I can see this coming together well. You are certainly one to watch.