Poets & Writers

Agents as Editors

IN THE summer of 2011, Anthony Marra sent what he hoped would be the final draft of his debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth, 2013), to his agent, Janet Silver. Marra, who met Silver a year earlier when he was studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, had worked through a full revision of the book with her already, starting over from page one and rewriting every word after he received her critique. This new draft, he figured, would be the charm.

MICHAEL BOURNE is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

But as she had with his earlier draft, Silver, a respected editor who had recently switched to working as a literary agent, highlighted lingering problems with the story. As Marra began the laborious process of retyping the entire novel all over again, he recalls, “I just got really bored with my own work.” In earlier drafts of the novel, set in the war-torn former Russian republic of Chechnya, Marra had narrated each chapter from the perspective of a different character, but now he experimented with employing an omniscient narrator who could see not only beyond each character’s point of view, but into the past and the future.

“This time through, I sort of peeled off in the first chapter and spun out the history of this completely incidental minor character,” Marra says. “I remember realizing the book could be much more capacious than I had thought it could be, that it could be a book in which every character, no matter how minor, got their sentence or two in

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