Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Dreaded Non-response

Well, it's finally happened (and by "finally," I mean "now that three months have passed"): Today I am officially chalking one up in the no-response column on the ol' query spreadsheet. Some closure at last:)

This no-response-means-no policy probably represents an aspiring author's greatest source of angst throughout the whole query process, and lately I've been trying to decide how I feel about it. On the one hand, it can be quite maddening (as in keyboard-chucking and/or straight-jacket-requiring) to compose the perfect query, personalize it appropriately, conform to all submission guidelines--and then spend the next several months and/or years of your life wondering if that e-mail ever arrived and, if it didn't, whether that could have been the One. But on the other, how would I feel if I had to wade through scores, perhaps hundreds, of random e-mails every day, at least some of which addressed me as Krystal or thought I'd be interested in the tragic true story (in novel form) of a half-eaten hot dog in New York City?

In a perfect world, I suppose, every agent would send you a system-generated response to assure you that your query had in fact arrived. But since I don't know how to do that with my own e-mail account, I guess I can't hold agents accountable for not knowing how to do it with theirs.

I know there are agents out there who manage to answer every query that slithers into their inboxes. I know there are even agents who manage to do this without the help of a posse of interns. But rather than crucify those agents who don't, maybe it's best to just give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they're really bad typists. Or maybe they spend all day raising a hyperactive two-year-old, and any spare minutes they have to check their e-mail are spent doing precisely that: checking their e-mail and not sending off form rejection after form rejection. I, for one, can relate to that.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Comparison, Thy Name Is Krista

Of all my faults (and I have a few), the one I seem to grapple with the most is my tendency to compare. Now I’m not talking about arrogance or superiority here, although I manage to pull those ones off pretty effectively sometimes. No, the real fault I struggle with is jealousy: comparison from the bottom looking up.

My first real encounter with this so-called green-eyed monster occurred not long after my husband and I were first married. It started when, a few months later, we discovered we were pregnant. But it didn’t become a problem until, exactly nine days after that, we lost the baby.

Another month went by, then two. We started trying to conceive again, but nothing. And nothing. And still nothing. By the time six months had passed, my insides started twisting whenever I spotted a pregnant woman--and let me tell you, I was a professional pregnant-woman spotter by then. By the time a year had gone by, my insides stopped feeling altogether.

I don’t know why I held onto the jealousy so long. It’s pointless, exhausting work, after all, and I was hurting no one but myself. Thankfully, my pain--and with it, my envy--gradually did begin to mellow. I realized that I could look at expectant mothers again without wanting to scratch their eyes out (horrible of me, I know, especially since pregnant women had been involved), and I remembered this talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a leading authority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a beautiful writer to boot.

Despite their religious overtones, his words apply to a large number of life circumstances, including baby craving. They reminded me that, in the grand scheme of things, another’s success is not my failure. That even when we seem to be competing against each other, we are really just competing against ourselves.

Now I’m having to relearn this lesson in my quest for an agent. It’s so easy to read about another aspiring author who’s just landed that dream agent, or placed seven partials instead of six, or sent a full manuscript to the same agent who only requested my partial (notice how each one of these is becoming more pathetic), and think, “What makes them so special?” or “Why can’t that be me?”

But the fact of the matter is, that success is not my failure. In fact, that success should only give me hope. Because I am not of the opinion that agents are only looking to fill a fixed number of slots on their rosters and turn everyone else away. They are simply looking for great stories, and I just have to find the one who thinks my story’s great. If Aspiring Author Number One can do it, then so can I.

Easier said than done, I know. There are definitely days--and sometimes weeks and months--when all of this feels hopeless, when I’m positive I’ll never see my words in print. But those days and weeks and months eventually pass, and hope returns. That’s what’s so great about being human: We’re generally hopeful creatures. And hope is a powerful antidote to envy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Query Update

Ah, another query update. And here, without further ado, are the numbers:

Total queries: 50
Pending queries: 17
Full requests: 0
Partial requests: 6 (3 pending)
Rejections: 27

So I've only sent out ten more queries since my last query update, and all of them in the past week. I must admit, I let some of the rejection get to me and wasn't sure where I wanted to go with this project. But like the good writer/query ninja that I am (pats self on head), I ultimately talked myself into jumping back on that query roller coaster.

So if you're looking for some motivation, let me be your drill sergeant--sans the standard curse words, since that's not my thing: "Just what do you think you're doing, [insert last name here]?! Forty-two queries, and you think you're done?! You haven't even started! You sit your lousy butt back down in front of that computer, and you get back to work!"

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Outlining for the Faint of Heart

I've never been an outliner. This is probably because I didn't have the patience for it when I first started writing as a kid--or because I thought writing was too creative an endeavor to be manacled by something as stuffy as an outline. This also probably explains why the vast majority of my works-in-progress (most of which, again, I started as a tween or teen) never made it much farther than chapter three.

Then college came and went (I did manage to escape with a degree, thankfully), and although college was in general a muse killer, it did teach my brain a way to think. Ordered my thoughts in a way that they had never been ordered before. So when I was having trouble with the plot of my latest book and my husband suggested that I try outlining it in some way, I didn't snort derisively and lecture him on the finer points of creativity. I decided to give it a try. And it worked.

It wasn't a stringent outline, mind you. And it changed (a lot) over the course of the actual writing. But it was nice to see the plot on paper, to get a general feel for how the scenes would fit together and relate to one another. It made the editing easier, too, since it's easier to move sections of an outline back and forth than chapters in a book.

Lately I've been developing outlines for several other ideas I've had, and this whole outlining process has revealed another unexpected benefit: It's a great way to determine which ideas I'm passionate about and which ones will actually work. I've already put one concept back on my idea sheet because it wasn't going anywhere (or not anywhere I wanted to go, that is), and another one went down when its outline revealed that the concept wasn't plausible, even though I loved its hook. And I'm glad I figured that out now, before I've penned a single word, and not a hundred or two hundred pages from now, when my background in economics finally convinces me that sunk costs are indeed irrelevant.

So now I'm an outliner, although I still consider myself an organic writer, too. Maybe it's simply a matter of balance--and trying something new. So there you have it, folks, another solution to everything: When you find you have a problem (with your plot, your characters, your in-laws, or whatever), don't keep doing what you're doing. Maybe that moron on the other side of the debate isn't really such a moron after all.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Recommendation: HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford

I'm a library person. I typically check out at least one book a week, and often it's more like two or three. When you're a book addict, after all, libraries allow for a much cheaper fix than Barnes and Noble or even Amazon. But sometimes a library book just isn't enough; sometimes, after you've devoured the library's copy, you just know you have to have your own. And that's how I felt about HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET.

Jamie Ford's debut novel is a study in contrasts. Its story is sweeping and yet intimate, its characters bold but still believable. It is the tale of Chinese American boy meets Japanese American girl. In Seattle. At the start of World War II.

The book's backdrop, then, is replete with inherent conflict, but the tension within the relationships provides the story's real substance. Stripped down to essentials, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is a poignant sketch of how a boy becomes a man and how a son becomes a father.

Definitely check out this book. And if you're a writer, take a look at his agent, the indomitable Kristin Nelson, at her website and her blog--and hope that she reps whatever it is you're writing:)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ode to the Underslept

I've never thought myself
a poet
but if the Beatles can compose
high on LSD
then maybe I can manage
on four hours' sleep.
This is for the insomniacs,
the overworked assistants,
the regretful garbage people who
shriek by
at five-oh-seven in the morning--
but mostly for
the mothers
who work three jobs,
refuse to give up on that
math assignment
even though it's after ten,
and still love their children
enough to kiss them
kiss them
kiss them
after rocking
until five-oh-six.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Revisions : Krista :: Kryptonite : Superman

All right, I’ll admit it: Revising is by far my least favorite part of writing. I love that first draft. I love constructing each sentence, yanking each word out of my cerebrum or up from my toes. I love the story’s newness in that first draft, and I love getting to know the characters, seeing how they emerge.

The second draft is all right. Cleaning up my tendency toward verbosity is always a good thing, and scene management is easier once there’s actually something to manage. But then the third draft comes along…and the fourth…and the fifth. By then I’ve pretty much memorized every chapter word for word, the story sounds about as original as a TWILIGHT rip-off, and the characters’ eccentricities are starting to get on my nerves.

Still, I persevere. I do everything I can to make it the best it can be, I get some readers to give me their suggestions, I revise again. I force myself to write a query letter and (much, much worse) a synopsis, and then I stop, hold my breath, and hope that some small voice at the back of my head starts screaming, “All right! Be done with it! Send it off now!”

So I send it off. I close that abominable file for good and let out a very large breath. But then something really terrible happens: Someone likes it enough to request pages--but not enough to offer representation. And I find myself wondering, “What do I change now?”

If revising is my least favorite part of writing, revising during the query stage has got to be one of my least favorite parts of life. Because I usually don’t know what Agent A didn’t like, and Agent B might not agree, anyway. And even if a consensus about a specific problem begins to emerge, what if I start work on a major revision and Agent C stops by my inbox to request more material? Do I send them the (apparently) flawed original manuscript, or do I rush through the changes? Or do I just pitch the keyboard across the room and go find some chocolate?

The truth is, my rational side already knows the answers to these questions. One agent’s opinion is simply that. Many agents’ opinions are probably as good as a divine manifestation (assuming they agree). And just send those pages, flaws and all, with a brief note perhaps about the planned changes. But the rest of me still has a hard time dealing with all the emotional peaks and troughs. Sigh.

At least writing this blog post has been a bit therapeutic. Still, I think I’m going to take a break now and go look for that chocolate…

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th: Remembered

I was watching CNN this morning while nursing my infant daughter, and of course, they were covering the annual memorial service conducted at Ground Zero. Mayor Bloomberg asked us to remember where we were eight years ago today and how news of the attacks reached us, and so I decided to record that here.

Eight years ago today, I was seventeen years old. My senior year of high school had just begun, and I was getting ready for school. I was also getting ready for a trip to the airport. My cousin was leaving on his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; he was headed to Brazil, and we were planning on going to the terminal to see him off.

So I was blow-drying my hair upstairs when I heard my mother, who watches the news every morning and (two or three times) every night, let out an involuntary gasp. I hurried downstairs to see what was going on and arrived in front of the television screen just in time to see the second plane hit live. We watched in silence for several minutes, and then my mother told me that I needed to finish getting ready for school, as my carpool was only minutes from arriving. I was going to go to first period, and then my parents were going to check me out for a few hours so we could drive downtown to the airport (suffice it to say, we never made it).

My first-period teacher often listened to the local news broadcast on the radio before class; on September 11, 2001, she never turned it off. It was from that broadcast that I learned that the Pentagon had also been hit. In another class I watched the first tower fall, then the second. When I got home from school, I learned that there had been a fourth plane, Flight 93, that had gone down somewhere in Pennsylvania.

I remember thinking that it was all very surreal. In my first-period class, I wondered if the world was coming to an end. As I watched those towers fall, it felt like I was watching a movie, not real life. But it wasn't a movie, as the residents of New York, Washington, D.C., and a small town in Pennsylvania can heartily attest. And the world didn't come to an end. Still, September 11th changed everything. It changed me.

So now I ask the same question Mayor Bloomberg asked: Where were you?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Miss Snark's First Victim's Secret Agent Contest

Check out this month's Secret Agent contest, which features an entry from yours truly (I'm #7). Each entry is the first 250 words of a completed manuscript, and the readers are supposed to decide whether they're hooked and would like to read more. It's called the Secret Agent contest because one actual agent is also in the mix; he or she offer constructive criticism, and the ones the agent likes best get to submit sample pages. It's a great idea, and kudos to Authoress for setting it up each month. I hope I win (say that in your head the way Mr. Bean would say it--if he ever talked, that is).

Friday, September 4, 2009

Would You Like a Baby with That Book?

So I was reading Authoress's blog post yesterday, and something she said got me thinking about how writing (and, subsequently, trying to publish) a novel is a lot like birthing a baby. I would know, too, since I recently did both.

Yes, you read that right: I wrote my latest book while pregnant with my second child, and I sent out my first batch of queries five days before she was born (actually, my first request came while I was still in the hospital). Now most people would think this was crazy, and at first thought, I'd be inclined to agree. But strangely enough, it's been this concurrence that's specifically kept me from going crazy. I look forward to the few minutes I get to spend doing query stuff every day because they're a break from my normal feeding/diapering/rocking routine. But then I can't become too obsessed with the query stuff thanks to all of that feeding and diapering and rocking I do.

So there you have it, folks--Krista's solution to obsessive behavior: Just go and find yourselves another obsession. They'll balance each other out, and you'll be one step closer to being a normal person. Actually, I think this is how all normal people become such; they have so many little obsessions that they end up with none.

I guess I'll have to let you know when I find a few more:)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Query Update

I'm right in the middle of my second query process, although this current manuscript is by no means the second book I've ever written. I won't go into details on all of those other novels (most of them never having made it past the fifth or sixth chapter). Suffice it to say that my first query process, which took up all of last summer, was a gigantic learning experience that landed that manuscript in the great query graveyard. I still love that story, and maybe someday I'll come back to it, but for right now I've quietly laid it to rest.

So now for a few statistics:

Total queries: 40
Pending queries: 11
Full requests: 0
Partial requests: 5
Rejections: 24

Of those partial requests, only two are still pending, and several of those pending queries should probably go into the no-response category by now. Still, I'm pretty happy with those numbers. When I first set out on query round two back in mid-June, I told myself I was going to be content with two requests (which should give you an idea of how well query round one went), and I've more than doubled that number already. And this manuscript isn't even on the critical list yet.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What's in a Name?

The blog's name is pretty self-explanatory: I mother. I write. And then I do it all over again. So mother in this particular case is a verb, although I also like the sound of Mother Write, as in Mother Goose or Mother Hubbard. It has sort of an Aesopic ring to it, if I may adjectivize Aesop that way. Hmm. Two new words in one paragraph. I'd better stop there.

If you're reading this, I suppose that means you're my mom (look, Mom, I'm on the internet!), an unwitting victim of search engine failure, or (gasp) an aspiring author like myself. Well, read on, fair mom/victim/aspiring author. I'll try to make it worth your while.