July 29, 2011

Rejected...but not?

I got my first rejection email yesterday. It was...brutal. Sad. Harsh. Polite.

I mean, I've known it was coming. There's no way I won't get rejected by a gazillion agents before I (hopefully) get accepted. I get it.

But still. It hurt.

I didn't cry, so that was good. But I did have a little self-pity-pout. Luckily, we're with family this weekend, so I had to keep my chin up and I had some great distractions.

But still. It was sad.

But then...

This morning I woke up with a head full of a new short story. I sat up in bed and started typing, and had written just a few paragraphs when Zoe came into the room.

"Mommy," she said. "I have a story about my dream last night. There was a zebra and a giraffe, and they had boo-boos..." She went on to tell me about taking them to the hospital for Band-Aids and that they were orphans without mommies and daddies and so on and so forth.

Then she said, "And I have another story in my head, too, Mommy."

I am so not rejected. At least not today. Not while my daughter and I both wake up with heads full of stories. Because that's a great start to a day.

July 28, 2011

When you don't stop thinking about it...

A few weeks ago, I read a story by Stephen King published in The Atlantic magazine.

It was called "Herman Wouk is Still Alive" and, to be honest, it took me about five sittings to read. It was heady stuff for Stephen King, full of despair and disaster, and since I knew from the outset that it was going to end badly for at least seven children, it was a tough read.

But I persevered because the writing was (as always) amazing, and the juxtaposition of two elderly poets relaxing in the sunshine while two poverty-stricken mothers and their seven children drive towards their end of life was...interesting. Unexpected. Confusing.

By the time the story ends, the mothers have committed joint suicide and murder, and at first I questioned....why the hell did Stephen King write such a sad story? Why should anyone care about this? What the hell? Do I really need to think about how terrible life could be for two unmarried mothers with dead-end jobs and no hope for their future? Or that of their many children? C'mon, Stephen King! Why do you want me to care?

But the thing is, I did care. I cared a lot. And I was upset over a short story.

How strange and frustrating. So I decided to stop thinking about it.

But then last night, weeks after the fact, the story came back to me. I was observing a Karate class in rural North Carolina, and some of the families there were probably of the same socio-economic class as the mothers described in King's story. And at first, I wondered if they were like those two characters: full of despair, hopeless. I felt like King's story spoke for them, and I was sad.

Yeah. And then I woke up and looked around and saw the pride in the faces of the parents as their children jumped and punched. I saw the delight in the children as they landed a good kick. There was no despair there. Only happiness in the moment.

And I thought, "You must be full of shit, Stephen King. What a jerk for writing that story."

But then this morning, it came to me. No matter what, weeks later that damn story was still in my head, coloring my thoughts and making me think. And THAT, to me, is the mark of a brilliant short story. It stays with you. You can't get it out of your head. It makes you FEEL.

That is what Stepen King can do, and that is what I hope to do. Someday. I may not be there yet, but I will be. You just watch.

July 24, 2011


Please, read the title of this post and picture me standing at the foot of a towering edifice, tilting my head back into the pouring rain and yelling for all I'm worth. Really, I could be shouting "Stella!" or "Attica!" or "Kahn!" Take your pick.


I am now *officially* in the process of querying agents for my book. The book is...done. Sort of. The thing is, I feel like I've read every sentence fifty times. I've crafted each paragraph to the best of my writing abilities, and it's come SO far from where it was when I originally wrote the final words. But in my day-job I am a computer software quality assurance tester, and as I always say with testing software, the more you let me test, the more bugs I'm going to find.

Same thing goes for my novel. Every time I read it, I find something else I want to change. So I decided last week, it's now or never. And I sent my first queries out into the world.

The first one was easy to send. No one ever gets an agent on their first query letter, so I knew it was a throw-away, a way to gain experience and maybe some feedback. I didn't sweat it.

By now, I've sent six. Doesn't sound like a lot, but it does reflect three or so nights of researching, emailing, copying and pasting. I only have a couple of hours (if that) per night to devote to my writing career. Querying essentially means I'm not actively working on any books right now.

So, to that end, I like the queries that I can easily send off in one night. I like the agents who ask for just the query letter, and I love the agents who allow emails. If you want a couple of chapters, too? No problem. I can copy/paste like a champ.

But some agents want to see more. Some agents want...a synopsis!!


Ohmigosh. A synopsis of my book? With absolutely no other direction of the kind of info they want? Are you kidding me?

Hardest thing I've ever written. Period.

Because...I assume they want to know plot points, right? But when I tried to focus on that, I got bogged down in the weeds, and my transitions were all "And then...but when...and then...but when..." I actually sounded a LOT like I did the night when I was way too drunk and tried to tell Charles the entire story of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. "And then this happened...and it was scary and intense...and then that happened....and it was scary and intense." That's fine for an amused husband, but not so much for a literary agent.

So I scrapped that. Fast. But then I wasn't sure how to say, in a coherent and rational way, that this is a book about zombies, but it's also a book about good versus evil, about staying civilized in a world that's entirely not, about keeping your sense of humor and ability to love even in the darkest times. How can I say that? Without just copying this paragraph and sending it to every agent out there?

I am stymied by this request for a synopsis. Completely stuck. I want every word to be perfect, and that has me paralyzed.

So maybe it's time to just get it done and forget about perfection. It'll never be perfect, but I think I can make it effective.

I hope.


(P.S. Don't even get me started on the bio some ask for...how to make myself seem funny, sweet, snarky and intelligent, all within a few paragraphs? I have no idea...)