I always wonder how long an editor or agent takes before he or she decides "No way, this isn't for us," or "I love it!" For me it may actually be longer than the 10 second rule of childhood (if it's on the floor no longer than 10 seconds it's safe to consume), but it's close. Recently after finishing and distributing my monthly newsletter (and writing the accompanying reviews), as well as reading through a few old Ngaio Marshes, I decided it was time to apply the 10 second rule to my own pile of new reading candidates.
I had four choices, and I'll probably read all of them eventually, but it was a question of which one I wanted to read on a cold, blustery, January day. For me 10 seconds is actually the time it takes to read a page or two, though I may read more pages of a Michael Connelly book than a Val McDermid one (his sentences are much shorter!)
Here were my choices: Roanoke by Margaret Lawrence. I absolutely loved Margaret Lawrence's Revolutionary War series, the one beginning with the amazing Hearts and Bones, but sadly those are long gone, and anyway I've read them all. Happily, she'll have a new book out in June titled Roanoke, set during the later years of Queen Elizabeth I, taking place both in England and the nascent America. Here's the first sentence: "The last day of Shrovetide, a damp February in the year 1585, great Elizabeth's twenty-seventh year upon the throne." That's pretty historical, does a nice job of fixing the time period. What I like so much about Lawrence shows up a bit later, in her description of the street: "A delirium of smells - roast goose, Shrove buns, early flowers brought in from the country, cinnamon and cloves in the spice merchants' barrels." Nice, evocative, even lovely. Next!
Off our bargain cart, an ARC of Frederic Lindsay's My Life as a Man. I know nothing about Lindsay except his name, and that he's Scottish. Here goes: "The day my wife died, 15 February 2003, turned out to be an exceptional day of winter sunshine." As first sentences go, that's pretty top drawer. Hard to pass up, and the next two pages were interesting too. Next!
Michael Connelly's The Brass Verdict has been winking at me for awhile now, and sales have slowed enough that I can take a copy out of the front window to read. Connelly's opener is hard to beat: "Everybody lies. Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie. A trial is a contest of lies." Connelly is a master, no two ways about it. It's hard if not impossible to put down one of his books - when my children were small I drove them around so they would fall asleep and I could finish The Poet. Next!
To me Val McDermid is absolutely one of the finest writers alive - she has everything: prose, characters, plots, setting. She's brilliant. Here we go, from her latest novel, A Darker Domain: "The voice is soft, like the darkness that encloses them. 'You ready?' 'As ready as I'll ever be.' " That's right up there with Connelly.
I made my choice and am happily reading (almost finished, in fact), and am wondering which one you would choose? And does an editor or an agent take any longer than that to make up his or her mind? I'm still wondering.