I finally put my story idea down in words for my agent, (whom I'll call Agent X because it sounds cool.) I put it at the end of an email - just pounded out a short description without stopping to think or consider if it was any good. Here are the words I wrote:
There's a newspaper reporter whose beat (classical music) is dying and whose paper is dying; an old- fashioned librarian who has lost her job to younger more media savvy colleagues; and their daughter, a high school senior, who doesn't get into a single college. All of them are dealing with the concept of ambition and failure, but they're a family so of course they're dealing with it within their intimate relationships. The violinist Joshua Bell becomes a touchstone for each of them to find a way to cope. The Pulitzer Prize-winning article about Bell playing in the subway is the central inspiration -- two of my characters decide that they will (secretly) play in the subway, too, but for very different reasons and to very surprising results; and I think the third character, the librarian, will decide to launch a project that has similar "new media performance" elements to what Bell does, giving her an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" vibe that's very disturbing to the rest of the family. This sets up an argument about what constitutes "success" and what constitutes "failure," and what the value of things like music, God and love are in a commercially-driven world. So while it's still about my favorite themes (talent and ambition and success and failure and family), for the first time, it's also about where we are as a society right now. At the moment, I'm calling it Faith in God and Joshua Bell
It's interesting that what I wrote was mostly about character - who these people ARE, what they DO (which is central to my understanding of character -- more on that later), and how they relate to each other. And then there was a lot about theme - the big idea of the novel. There was almost nothing about plot - what will happen, what action will take place, what will keep people turning the pages. That's where I need to do some work.
Agent X replied. She thought my ideas sounded "amazing" (I think she would probably say that if I said I was writing about scrambled eggs - she's that supportive) and she also told me to, "Think Big" - which is what Editor X (the editor of my last three novels) encouraged me to do with The Threadbare Heart. "Think Big" What, exactly, does that mean? That's a question for tomorrow. For now, it's just a great feeling -- to step off the cliff, write down my idea, send it to someone, get a small reaction back.