Anyone Want to Be a Beta Reader?

So I haven’t written much on this blog of late. My apologies. By way of explanation and not excuse, I thought I’d tell you why.

I’ve been producing a whole lot of content for the Deseret News, including a weekly column that you can find here if you’re not reading it at the moment.  My latest column about the moral dilemmas posed by “Breaking Bad” was published online last night and in the print edition today. Maybe I should publish them here, too, so it gives the illusion that I’m keeping this blog up to date.

But that’s not the whole story. I’ve been doing work for the Deseret News for over a year now, and I’ve still managed to produce some original content for this blog. The difference now is that I’ve spent every possible writing opportunity for the past few weeks in revising my novel, which attracted the attention of an agent in New York who hooked me up with an editor that provided invaluable feedback on what I need to do to get the book ready for publication. She gave me a lengthy overview that went through the book chapter by chapter, and then we had a Skype session where we were able to discuss the details in person.

She was filled with great advice. She objected to my use of the phrase “smooching like there was no tomorrow” and the word “poopiness,” insisting those were both too juvenile for the audience I was trying to reach. I gave her “poopiness,” as I didn’t even realize that word was in there, but it took a bit to put me at ease with letting go of “smooching like there was no tomorrow.” But let go I did – the things I do for my craft!

Um, yeah. Anyway…

The best advice she gave me, however,  came when she questioned one of the mythological components of the story. “Yeah,” I said, “I’m a bit fuzzy on that, too.”

“Well, if you’re fuzzy, then there’s no chance your readers won’t be fuzzy,” she said. She then insisted that I write a concise backstory that outlines the mythological framework of the whole book, so that I don’t break my own rules as I tell the story.

“That’s the reason Harry Potter is great and Twilight isn’t,” she said. “J.K. Rowling understood her universe and never broke her own rules. But Stephanie Meyer broke them all the time. Readers are completely unforgiving when a writer breaks their own rules.”

That was good advice, but it was easier said than done. My book has gone through various iterations over the course of twenty years, and it’s been hard to keep track of what the rules are. When I sat down and tried to flesh out the backstory, I ran into so many contradictions that I became frustrated that I would be able to make the book work at all. I was tempted to abandon it.

Then a reprieve came in the form of my nephew Matthew, who has just begun his service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Little Rock, Arkansas.

At a family party, I shared with Matthew the part of the backstory I had been able to come up with, but I felt I had written myself into a corner. We swapped ideas, and he promised me he would think about it.

Then, about a day later, I received a 2,500 word opus from Matthew with an entirely new backstory he had fashioned out of whole cloth. Well, not entirely whole cloth – it still relied on the characters and the basic premise of my novel, but he wasn’t at all afraid to toss out garbage I’d been holding on to for the sake of tradition more than anything , and it took a bold new approach to the story, using fresh eyes to see the problems and solid suggestions to make the thing work.

I didn’t adopt all of Matthew’s suggestions, but I did use a good chunk of them, and, even more importantly, his overview gave me the catalyst I needed to bring order out of chaos. I set out to rewrite the book, and even though I already had a draft, it felt like I wrote the whole thing again from scratch. Characters were radically modified, combined with other characters, or discarded altogether. No section survived without major revision, and, in an 80,000 word book, about 20,000 of those words constitute entirely new material. It also has a new title, and the original title of “Captain Jumper” is entirely dead, since no character uses that name in this version.

And now for the good news is – the draft is done! Done! Honestly! I finished the unfinishable! Huzzahs all around!

But I’m not going to resubmit it to the agent just yet.

The editor and my nephew provided the fresh eyes I needed, and I’m hoping I can impose on you – yes, you, the person reading this – to help me polish this version. If you’re reading my blog, you don’t have a major aversion to what I write, so you might be interested in being a beta reader for my novel, now titled “Gods, Monsters, and Jeff Downey.” I’d love it if you’d be willing to read through the book and tell me what you liked, and, even more importantly, what you didn’t like. All suggestions and criticism are welcome, ranging from fixing grammar and poopiness-level word choices to massive, overarching thematic visions you think I’ve missed.

If you’re interested, send me an email to and say so. I’ll send you back a message with a copy of the book in an MS-Word file, and I’ll eagerly await your feedback as you dive into my fictional world.

(One caveat – if I don’t know who you are in real life, I may balk at the idea of sending my book to you. I’m not saying I won’t send it, but I would ask that you provide me with enough personal info to help me be comfortable with the idea of trusting someone I don’t know with a copy of my unpublished manuscript.)

So, with that said, who’s in?

Understanding the Enemy
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