Is Multiple POV Dead?

When I first started seriously shopping my novel manuscript in 2014, secular agents/publishers said

  1. It’s too Christian for us.
  2. We don’t want more than two points of view.

Christian agents/publishers said

  1. It has too much sex and violence for us (none of it gratuitous, I assure you).
  2. We don’t want more than two points of view.

I expected #1 from both to be an issue that I would just have to negotiate and maybe make some changes for them. #2, however, came totally out of the blue for me. All my life I’ve read and liked novels with multiple points of view (POV). Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel devotes a whole chapter to how to write in multiple POV. But they just wouldn’t seem to budge on that. They really prefer one POV. Even two is pushing it.

When I first started writing this manuscript, I envisioned it as two POV, a criminal condemned to death and his prison guard. It wasn’t working. After trying different things with the plot and working on my writing technique, it improved, but I still didn’t feel like it was ready for publication. When I wrote some chapters in a third POV (the wife of the condemned criminal), that opened up new scenes and characters that made the story and main characters more real to me. I felt I was moving in the right direction.

Then I tried out a chapter from the perspective of the Procurator of the Games, to get access to important Arena scenes and intrigues around the emperor. My critique group loved it, so I wrote some more. So that meant I had four POV characters.

At the time, I had no idea it would even be an issue. When I kept running into the same brick wall, I stopped sending query letters and tried to figure out what to do with it. Can I eliminate two POV’s? And if not, what then?

A sock in the gut from an author and an agent

A few months ago, award-winning author Lynette Eason spoke at the local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). She writes mainly romantic suspense for the Christian market. She wrote one novel with four POV, like mine. It was 90,000 words while mine is 76,000. She suggested they might be thinking it’s not enough words to develop all four of these characters. It was the first thing anyone in publishing said that made sense to me.

However, I recently attended a workshop through Writer’s Digest that suggests I may not be able to overcome this no matter how many words I add. I got to ask all my burning questions to a reputable agent. She asked if there were any bestsellers comparable to mine that

  1. Were written by debut novelists, and
  2. Were published in the last two years.

There’s the rub. I can think of multiple POV bestsellers. Preston and Child’s Pendergast series, the most recent of which was The Obsidian Chamber (2016). George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, which has been adapted very successfully for television. Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, which has seven POV in one chapter. But all of these authors have consistently written bestsellers going back to the 90’s. They have a proven track record. As a debut novelist, I do not. In fact, the last multiple POV bestseller from a debut novelist I can remember was The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009). Eight years ago.

And I can’t fall back on Donald Maass, as great as his book was, because Breakout Novel was published in 2002. Book publishing has changed a lot since then. That’s why in your query letters, when you name published books comparable to yours, you can’t go back more than two years. What sold three or four years ago is already outdated. The one bit of good news I have is I found three novels set in ancient Rome all published this year. But, of course, they are all single POV.

I spent about twelve years working on this novel, writing and failing, writing and failing, over and over again until I finally had a manuscript I believed in. And in that twelve years, the very thing that breathed life into my novel like God breathing life into clay became the thing that makes publishers say, “Thanks, but it’s not for us.”

What to do now?

I don’t know. I could maybe bring down the number of POV’s to three. That’s still too many for the major publishers. Are there any agents, and maybe independent publishers, that are willing to take a chance on a debut novelist with a multiple POV story that is a damn good novel if I do say so myself? I’m going back in the ring to find out. Because after all the work I’ve put into it, I just can’t accept that I created something no one will care about.

If you are a writer, what POV do you write in? First person? Third person, deep POV? Third Person omniscient? Do you use one POV character? Two? Do you ever use more than two?

And whether you are a writer or reader, what do you think about this situation? Are publishers right that multiple POV novels don’t sell any more (unless you are an established bestseller)? Or are they misreading the market? I would love to hear your comments.

_______

In the meantime, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. I wrote a short story imagining them meeting in heaven called “A Requiem for Two.” It’s available on Kindle for only $0.99. And it’s only one Point of View (Princess Diana) in case you were wondering. If you like it, I would so appreciate a rating or review.

Enemy of God, by Bernard Cornwell. A Review.

This is a book review for Bernard Cornwell’s Enemy of God: A Novel of Arthur. It is the second in a series called The Warlord Chronicles or sometimes the Arthur Books. Notice it does not say King Arthur. Cornwell has a different take on these legends and characters. I really enjoyed this book, and I am giving it a five star rating. This review does have a few plot spoilers, but I will keep them as vague as possible.

Cover image of the book Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell

Five Star Rating

There was so much I liked about it. I liked being in England in the Dark Ages – or what we now call the Dark Ages – at a time when Christianity was not yet the dominant religion in England but was a rising force. It was also a time when people still believed in magic, spells and charms, and sometimes believing in it might have been enough to make wondrous things happen.

Cornwell pulls off two difficult moves. First, presenting “the truth behind the legend” in a plausible fashion. He recreates these characters and stories as they were before they got embellished and whitewashed, or as Arthur says, “Before we paid the bards to make our squalid victories into great triumphs, and sometimes we even believe the lies they sing to us.” As an aspiring author, I was impressed with this. Second, he doesn’t lose me when normally I would be thinking, wait that’s not how Lancelot is supposed to be, or wait, Arthur is supposed to be king. He stopped those responses from me even before they began. I think the reason is the narrator. He tells this story through Derfel (pronounced Der-vel), a knight and close friend of Arthur. Derfel is now an old man, and he is telling the story as he remembered it. Incidentally, it was the same way Anita Diamant was able to change the Old Testament story of Dinah in The Red Tent.

There is one disadvantage in this approach. You lose some suspense. When Derfel is in a dangerous situation, you already know he’s going to survive because he’s alive to tell the tale. But I think what he gains in believability makes it worth the trade off. I don’t know any other way Cornwell could make changes in such a familiar story. Using an older Derfel as the narrator makes it plausible because he has the credibility of an eyewitness. It also makes it more interesting in some ways, because you know some details are going to be the same and some different. You’re constantly watching to see how the “real” story compares with the legend.

I haven’t said King Arthur because Arthur is not a king. Mordred is the king of Dumnonia and Arthur’s half-nephew (if there is such a term). Arthur and Derfel are charged with protecting the boy Mordred and keeping order until he is old enough to rule as king. Derfel and others who follow Arthur think he should be king, while Arthur dreams of a quiet retirement as a farmer. Guinevere, on the other hand, wishes Arthur had more ambition. Her drive for power is going to have more impact on the story than you will imagine.

Lancelot is a king and far from being a hero or the greatest knight of Arthur’s roundtable. Merlin is a druid, and he is trying to recover the treasures of Britain. He takes Derfel on a quest to find one of those treasures, a magic cauldron. Merlin believes if the treasures are recovered, the old gods of Britain will walk the earth again.

And it’s not just the old gods that have a stake in Britain’s future. Because of leftover Roman influence, some foreign gods are still worshipped. Guinevere is a worshiper of Isis. Derfel is a Christian but belongs to a society of Mithras. And some Christians are especially troublesome because this story takes place between 490 and 496, and they believe 500 is the year of Armageddon. They believe they must get the world ready for the return of the Lord. In order to do that, they try to rid Britain of all traces of paganism. They go around destroying temples, burning villages, and torturing and killing pagans. They try to purify themselves by self-flagellation.

The Christians are not all bad, but they are often not the good guys in this story. And we have to be willing to admit, historically, that has often been the case. However, I think more than a knock on Christianity, it illustrates that when people believe the world is about to end, they will do things they would not do otherwise.

Arthur is caught in the middle between the traditional religion and Christianity. He is a Christian but does not take up the cause against the pagans. Because of this, Christian extremists call him the enemy of God, hence the title of the book. Instead of a religious crusade, Arthur wants to create a national identity for the Britons so they can unite against foreign invaders, like the Saxons and the Belgians. He creates the roundtable toward this end, though most of the names we are familiar with are missing.

Oh yes, the names. They are difficult. Because Arthurian legends were originally Welsh stories, Cornwell decided to keep most of the Welsh names for an authentic feel. Once you get past familiar ones like Arthur, Merlin, and Guinevere, the names are almost impossible to pronounce. I run into the same problem writing about Rome. The most common complaint I get is, These Roman names are difficult to read. And let me tell you, Roman names are child’s play compared to Welsh names. So I suggest the same trick many people use for Biblical names: Just make something up and move on. No one will care that you cheated.

But what really thrilled me was what Lancelot did to try to claim the throne of Dumnonia away from Mordred. Up until then, I would have given it four stars. It was a great story, well written, and I was enjoying it, but when that happened, holy crap! That was a twist worthy of Game of Thrones. That’s when it became a five star novel for me.

I mentioned this is the second book in a series. I haven’t read the rest of the series yet. So why did I read the second book first, you ask? I am part of an online book club of Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction. Last year, the theme was “second book.” One thing I’ve learned in this experience is with some series, you can read books out of order, and you don’t lose much. The second thing is sometimes the second book is better than the first, so the first book of a series may not always give you the best of what an author has to offer. So far, I’ve found this to be true of the Roma Sub Rosa series and the Saxon Tales series.

I see two reasons for this. First, I think sometimes the author becomes a better writer after the second book. There are lessons learned from that experience that you can carry with you when you write your second book. Second, in some cases, the main characters become better developed as the series progresses. I definitely thought that was true of the Harry Potter series. I know some H. P. fans are going to disagree with me, but I liked the books toward the end better than the ones in the beginning. I saw J. K. Rowling’s writing style and storytelling technique get better with each book, and what she did with the final book, Deathly Hallows, was absolutely amazing.

So now I’m not sure if I want to read the first book of this series or not. But if you are interested, volume 1 is called The Winter King, and volume 3 is called Excalibur, which I will be reading as soon as I can fit it into my schedule.

Book Review: The Pale Horseman, by Bernard Cornwell

This was the August pick of my Goodreads Book Club. It is the second in Cornwell’s Saxon Tales (also called The Last Kingdom) series.
I had some difficulty finding the right version. It looked like there might be different versions. When I looked for it on Audible, there was one version that was about 14 hours, and another about 5 and a half hours. In book listings, there were three different covers, one of which was meant to tie in with the TV series on BBC America, but they are the same book. The short version on Audible is the abridged version. When I knew I had the right book, I started reading.

I was a little worried at first, because the POV character (Uhtred) kept telling how every relationship would progress in the future. Fortunately, he stopped doing that. It’s more fun when you see relationships turn and threats emerge without being forewarned. So once the author focused on each scene as it was happening, I really liked it.

A fascinating story that takes us behind the scenes of one of the most important battles in the history of Britain. I always liked characters who are outsiders like Uhtred. Born a Saxon, raised among Danes, he’s not sure where his loyalties lie. Even when he commits to King Alfred, his paganism still makes things difficult for him. The Saxons don’t completely trust him, Alfred tries to convert him, and it causes tension with his wife. He is brash and sometimes stokes flames of ill will into roaring infernos. But his familiarity with the Danes allows him to gather vital intelligence for Alfred. That and his prowess as a warrior make him indispensable to the Saxons and their emerging king. There are exciting fight scenes and lesser battles, tension and intrigue, loss and heartbreak, leading up to the climactic battle at the end.

As a historical fiction reader, this has everything I could want. I imagine it will appeal more to men than women. Action oriented but with character development. You get an idea of why medieval history was such a rich source of inspiration for George R. R. Martin.

Review: Arms of Nemesis, by Steven Saylor

This is a review I left on Amazon.com

I read this as part of my online book club on Goodreads. I remember reading a collection of short stories around Gordianus the Finder and thinking it was pretty good. This, however, I really liked. I guess this means for me, the characters and stories work better as a novel than short stories. It’s interesting how that works sometimes. In writing a novel versus short story, Saylor was able to do more to develop the characters and ratchet up the tension.

Arms of Nemesis-cover

This is the first novel I’ve read in the Roma sub Rosa series (featuring Gordianus the Finder), though the second in the series. I want to go back and read the first one – not because I think I missed anything from not having read it first but because I enjoyed this one so much. It appears you don’t necessarily have to read the series in order.

It is set in the late Republic, the time of Cicero, Pompey, and Crassus. It’s not the same period I write in, so I was not sure if I wanted to invest myself in the series. Now, I definitely want to go back and read more.

In Arms of Nemesis, Marcus Crassus – the richest man in Rome – hires Gordianus to solve the murder of his cousin, Lucius Licinius, at his villa at Baiae. Crassus believes he already knows who killed his cousin – two runaway slaves who were inspired to join Spartacus in his slave revolt. He plans to kill every slave in the household to set an example for other slaves in the area who may get the same idea. However, at the request (more like cajoling) of Lucius’s wife, Gelina, he agrees to wait until after the funeral to execute his plan. Roman custom has the funeral a week after the death, but even with the fastest ship available, it takes five days for Gordianus to reach Baiae from Rome, giving him and his mute son, Eco, only two days to A) find out if the two slaves really are the murderers, B) if not them, who?, and C) be able to prove it to Crassus’s satisfaction.

Baiae is one of the favorite vacation spots for Rome’s wealthiest and most elite. The case puts Gordianus and Eco in the middle of their circles, the skeletons they hide (figuratively and literally), the slaves that run the household (and who are depending on him to save their lives), the cave of the Sybil, and the reputed entrance to Hades.

It’s a great story with interesting characters popping up throughout. I did not give it five stars because, well, this is a pet peeve of mine, there were too many conversations of the type I call, “As you know, Bob.” These are the type of conversations where someone says something to another character that they both already know in order to give the reader some background information. It is tricky to be able to supply necessary back story without it breaking the flow of the story. But that kind of conversation always looks contrived.

That being said, I wish there were a way to give it a four-and-a-half star rating, because it’s not really worth dropping a full star for that.

Cover Image Survey – 2nd & Final Round

I’m calling the last cover survey. You can see the results by clicking here. Ran into a problem, though. The most popular were the ones with the empty helmet. One respondent pointed out that was a Greek helmet. My book is set in Rome, not Greece.

So in this new survey, I’m asking to pick between the helmet – gladiator helmet this time – and one with the gladiator that showed respectably in the polls. Another problem: in the helmet theme, the one with the T like a cross got the most votes, but in a thumbnail view (necessary for Amazon, B&N, or iTunes listing) the T did not show up well. So it’s down to the correct helmet (with T not t in DEATH) and a gladiator cover.

Your vote is greatly appreciated.

 

Through Fear of Death cover choice1, gladiator helmet
Option 1

 

Through Fear of Death possible cover image, gladiator in arena
Option 2