I just did stumble across the blog of Anne Mini today, and it's full of interesting advice. I definitely recommend you take a look if you haven't been there before. Her most recent post, Is that line really necessary?, really hit home for me. This really seems to match what agent Matt Bialer told me (that ten years ago he would have felt confident about selling THE GUARDIAN to a publisher, but not so much now).
This sort of thing is scary to me. I'm not a big fan of slow books, either, and I certainly understand the need for good, fast pacing, but the idea that a new writer must have "a conflict on every page" is a little depressing to me. Read Ms. Mini's post before you comment on that statement. Hopefully the aforementioned "conflict" includes underlying tension, be it suspense-based (something terrible might happen at any moment now) or question-based (I HAVE to know what's going on here). If those are fair game for this "conflict on every page" rule, then I'm game for that. I'm trying to maintain both types of suspense throughout ALDEN RIDGE.
And yes, I know she is saying that the "conflict on every page" is the old rule, and that the new rule is interest in every line. I just take that to mean that useless interjections of backstory and scenery description are no good. That I already knew, and I'm working on that (hence the 1,200 words of cutting yesterday, for instance).
This is what I'm starting to realize: that perhaps THE GUARDIAN just doesn't have some of those qualities of pacing that a debut novel needs these days--or it doesn't have those qualities soon enough in the narrative, at least. But rather than trying to rewrite that book to make it something it's not, I think it's better that I just focus on ALDEN RIDGE. Hopefully that book will have more of the up-front pacing that agents and editors want to see for a debut novel, and if it does well, then I can talk to my agent about THE GUARDIAN. It isn't that I'm giving up on THE GUARDIAN--it's not a trunk manuscript--but I'm definitely starting to think that it may not be my debut. Maybe one of my queries will come back from an agent telling me otherwise, but that's becoming less likely every day. It's too bad, too--the twist and ending of that book are killer. But in the end it's all just a question of timing, and what the market is like at any given point.