Plumbing Without Conflict

It’s happened again! Another bestseller slipping through my fingers, falling to another agent that has snatched it up and sold it for thousands of dollars at auction. Why do you do this to yourself, Janet? You should have known better. Obviously the public wants to read about mechanics who at the very end of the book slip through a crack in time and arrive in the 1920s! That’s exactly what the market is craving. I am a silly agent. Next time I’ll be on top of it. I’ll be ready.

I had a laughable query come to my inbox this morning, though. The novel was all about a plumber who fixes blocked drains in the Melbourne area. That’s it. No exciting spin on it, no conflict. Just a series of events, depicting the everyday life of an Australian plumber. It was well written, but a novel has to be more than that. It has to be more than everyday life. I’m sure the lives of normal plumbers are interesting, and they do great work for everyone, but let’s be honest, it’s not quite as exciting as the lives of “International Man of Being Mysterious”, Houston Abilities or the “Boy Who Didn’t Die When He Got Shot With Green Light”, Harold Scarface.

The climax of the novel (which, mind you, isn’t supposed to be revealed in a query) involves a drain camera inspection near Melbourne gone horribly wrong. This actually got me interested, because I figured that meant there was some sort of sewer monster the humble plumber had to confront, perhaps as a metaphor for his collapsing life. But no, the author simply meant that the plumber left his drain inspection equipment at home!

Novels need real conflict. It doesn’t have to be a monster. It doesn’t even have to be with a person. But it needs to be there. If the plumber had a terminally ill wife or crippling debt, which gives us a reason to want him to succeed, I would be the happiest agent in the world. Maybe the next one will be my golden goose. Who knows?

– Janet McCallom