Looking Forward

It’s the end of the decade and the beginning of the twenties. I wonder if these will roar as loudly as the previous twenties did. And if not, what will they do? Are we about to enter the Exploding Twenties? The Whimpering Twenties? We’ve just been through the Dumpster Fire Teens, at least where politics is concerned.

Ahem. No politics, Anna.

This is a time of year, that nebulous, hazy time between Christmas and New Year’s, when people take stock of things. What have I accomplished in the past year? In the past decade? In my life? What do I want to do next?

I am of two minds about this practice. While I always think it is a good idea to write down your goals–it makes them permanent–I’m not always sure doing it this time of year is the best. We go into January with giant expectations of ourselves. For instance, I could say that I want to lose fifty pounds, learn Greek and Norwegian, start and Etsy business, Marie Kondo my house, and land myself a literary agent.

But I am sure I would only end up in a tepid teacup of bitter disappointment. The expectations we place on ourselves probably aren’t unattainable. I mean, I could do all those things above, but would it make me happy?

Probably not. Sure, I would have a huge sense of accomplishment, but I think I’m starting from the wrong angle. Instead of thinking about correcting my deficiencies (for example, my shameful monolingual-ism or my cluttered bedroom), maybe I should think of things that I know would make me happy and start there, working backwards to it.

Maybe we need to focus less on what we should be doing, and concentrate on the things that make us happy. Unless you’re a serial killer, of course.

On March 31, 2010, at approximately 4:45 pm I was hit with the bolt of inspiration that led me to write my first novel. I’d always thought of myself as a “writer” before then, even though I had only written a few short stories and some terrible poetry in college. But that day I was researching Greek mythology and I came up with the idea of writing a modern day take on the muses.

I confess, I might have been doing this at the end of my work day (Shame! Shame!) But at 5 pm I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go with the story and I roughed it out with my husband as we went for a walk after work. I was frolicking in circles around him, I was so excited.

I wrote the first draft in twelve weeks. I remember bursting into tears right after writing “the end” at the bottom of the page. Even though I wasn’t published, I had the chops to finish a novel! I really was a writer.

Since then I have worked very hard at my writing. I did my homework about the publishing industry and sent out queries to literary agents. I slaved over that first query letter. Every word was lovingly selected and combined into what I thought was a sculpted thing of beauty. I got a few nibbles, agents asking to see more than the initial pages I had sent out. But no one took the worm and pulled.

I did not give up. I thought the first novel might work better as a young adult story so I rewrote it completely. I queried again. Several agents asked to see the whole thing, but ultimately, I once again did not find someone to represent me.

I did not give up. I wrote a new book. This one was a young adult historical thriller set in Tudor England that is very dear to me. My wonderful husband, who is also my first-line editor, worked with me every night after work to hone that manuscript until it sparkled like a gem. (Let’s go with rubies, I really love rubies.)

I sent it out to agents starting in February of 2015. I got lots of positive responses, but still no takers. But then, after about 140 rejections, at the end of July, a brand-new agent from a huge agency in New York wrote to me to say he was head-over-heels in love with my book. I remember opening that email. It was on a Friday afternoon that I was off work.

I shrieked. My husband came running in from the other room. All I could do was put a hand over my mouth and point at the screen. I moved so he could sit and read. By the time he was done I was on the floor, on my hands and knees, and pounding the rug. (This is not a euphemism.) I was screaming and crying and filled with joy.

I had found an agent! Within a couple weeks I signed a contract and we started getting the manuscript in shape to send it to editors.

EDITORS. People who publish books. I had made the next rung on the ladder!

We queried editors until Christmas. Many were extremely favorable about the book but ultimately it came down to one thing: young adult historical is extremely hard to get past a sales team. I had many interested, but no takers.

And if you think that it stings less when an editor says no, you’re so wrong. It hurts like a motherfucker.

Finally, my agent had to break it to me that we had to shelve this book because there was no one left to send it to. I was devastated. I loved that book with everything I had.

I did not give up. I did my homework. I went out and grabbed up YA historical new releases and gobbled them down. It seemed that all the YA historical fiction that was being published (and still is) has some sort of fantasy element to it.

I wrote my third novel, another YA historical thriller with a fantasy element. I had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it. My agent said he was very excited to take it out to the editors. We sent it out. And once again we did not succeed in snaring an editor’s attention. The reason? There were too many YA fantasies out there right now and mine would just get lost in the mix.

I pounded my head on my desk. I wept. I felt like shit for quite a while.

In fact, about this time my mother’s health began to fail in earnest and 2018 was filled with me watching her die and then grieving for her. I did not write. I didn’t even read. I couldn’t. But there was that spark in me, that one that loved the process of crafting stories that wouldn’t be quenched.

But my contract with my agent expired and he did not offer to renew. I was heartbroken that I hadn’t had success when it had been at the tips of my fingers.

I did not give up.

In 2019 I started to come out of the well. I started by writing some flash fiction. I wrote a few short stories. I wrote a non-fiction piece about anxiety. And lo, when I sent some of these out, they were published! I had a flash piece called “Teeth” in Everyday Fiction. My essay on anxiety ended up in Vamp Cat Magazine. And two more flash pieces ended up printed in The Mangrove Review.

I went to The Mangrove Review launch party. I gave a reading. I LOVED it. I’m not just a writer, it turns out I’m an excellent public speaker too. I read with inflection. I crack jokes. Dammit, I’m witty.

I went back to a novel I had been thinking about since I was an undergrad taking art history. There is a famous Renaissance painter named Fra Filippo Lippi who was a monk. He used a young nun as a model for the Virgin Mary and ended up falling in love with her kidnapping her, and spiriting her away from the convent. You can’t make that shit up.

Or can you? I took that seed of an idea and started working on my fourth novel: a paranormal thriller set in Italy in the 1400s and present day. This one is for the adult market. I have it on good authority that the adult historical fiction market is hot.

While I’ve been working on this novel I’ve built an acquaintance with a literary agent. He has been very kind and given me good advice.  I sent him my second novel at the end of October and he responded with delight. He is a great agent: he started as an editor and now has a cadre of talent all over the spectrum. He’s seen all sides of the industry and really knows his stuff.

I know there’s no guarantee he’s going to take me. It isn’t his job to take me on because he likes me. He has to love my writing. But I have the talent and the drive. If he doesn’t take me I’ll keep going until I find someone that will.

I will not give up.

So to go back to the beginning, what am I expecting of myself in 2020 and beyond? I’m going to say “fuck you” to the resolutions and keep doing what makes me happy. That is writing. And even if I never get anything published, I will have had a satisfactory career as a writer. Because I love it.

The Muse Wields a Sledgehammer

NaNoWriMo

On November 1st I am going to embark on a writing frenzy. Every day for a month I am going to write an average 1,667 words until I have a grand total of 50,000 by November 30. This is National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated twice before, once in 2011 and once in 2013, each time I wrote over 50,000 words.

Yes, my book is still on submission, and while I am waiting I have been toying with a book idea. I’ve started writing the thing three times and each time I’ve been dissatisfied with the results. The plot, the characters, all feel derivative, like I’ve seen it before a million times. That is a disaster waiting to happen.

And in the past two days I’ve gotten three passes, which is hard to take. I know it isn’t personal, but each one is another little cut until I’m stinging and bleeding all over the place. Yeah, I suppose that’s dramatic, but I allow myself to wallow in misery for a night and then I suck it up and move on.

So last night after a visit to Royal Scoop ice cream to drown my sorrows, I went to bed. I was idly thinking about a tweet my agent had put out last week about how he would love to see a Western. So I started thinking about how I love Westerns myself, and what I would do if I ever wrote one.

That’s when the muse descended and whacked me in the back of the head with a sledgehammer. I had a hard time falling asleep because my brain was galloping away in a thousand directions, coming up with brilliant ideas and details. I kept having to get up and write them down.

This morning I have two protagonists, a setting, the rough outline of a plot, and even a title. I’m calling it West of Never and on November 1st I am going to start the first draft. The rest of October will be given over to drafting an outline, character sketches, and general noodling. I’m pitching it as True Grit meets Thelma and Louise.

This. This is going to be wicked fun.

And that’s what writing is all about, right? If it isn’t fun, you shouldn’t be doing it.

The Day After the Storm

After our second night on the floor Irma had blown through Ocala as a Category 1 hurricane. It was very early when people started getting up and packing their things. Our classroom was interior with no windows and no power so it was very dark, but some came prepared with battery-powered lanterns and flashlights. Some used their cell phones to illuminate their way. In a matter of a couple of hours we were a few of the last people in the building. We couldn’t leave because we needed gas to go home.

We asked the police officer in the registration office and he told us gas was waiting on the Port of Tampa to open, they were bringing in fuel on tankers, but the winds had to fall below a certain level before they would open again. So we were pretty much stuck.

We had breakfast. We left our dungeon-like room for a exterior classroom with windows. Then we heard from the staff that they were consolidating everyone left in the cafeteria. We shuddered when we thought of the linoleum floor and our one blanket.

The power was still out but in the afternoon they got the generator working in the cafeteria and there was air conditioning once again. Both Kosta and I were beginning to crash hard–two nights on the unyielding floor with noisy neighbors left us sleep-deprived and longing for our bed. It was a long day of doing very little. I was too tired and distracted to read, and I ended up sitting and watching people while Kosta read my novel on his computer.

And then at dinner they made the announcement: due to the reopening of the high school on Wednesday, they were transferring all the remaining folks to a temporary shelter at Central Florida College.  Since we had a car and didn’t have to wait for the bus we jumped on it to get a choice spot of floor at the new place.

We were the second to arrive. We were shown to a large conference room that, mercifully, had air conditioning. There was a stage jutting out into the room and we found a tidy corner tucked behind it. We spread out our bedding and found that when we sat down we were quite hidden from the rest of the room. It was a nice as sleeping on a concrete floor in a roomful of strangers could be.

The Salvation Army gave us a hot meal and some reading material about Jesus. I was so grateful for the former I didn’t mind the latter at all. I looked around and saw a lot of people with nowhere to go. I knew that when we got gas again we would be on our way and how lucky we were to be in that position.

We settled down to sleep and groaned as our bruised tailbones hit the floor. It was a long night–well, not really–it just felt long. We were up before the dawn and out on our way to find gas before most of the rest had even rolled over in their sleep.

Post Hurricane Irma news: My agent and I have agreed the the book is ready to be submitted to publishers and he is shopping it around now! I am excited and terrified. It was so much work–a labor of love, to be sure–but it was a long time coming. I am ready for the next step up in the game.

Finger crossed for me, please!

 

Only Good Things

Good things happened today.

It is the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter being published in the US. That is a marvelous anniversary to observe. I always thought about which house I would have been sorted into. I don’t quite know if I’m quite clever enough to be a Ravenclaw, I know I am not ruthless enough to be a Slytherin, but I am a hard worker so I think I would have done nicely in Hufflepuff.

Today was a good day for another reason–I sent the manuscript of my book to my agent in New York. Can I just pause for a moment and give him some love? Alex Slater at Trident Media Group is my champion. He fell head-over-heels in love with my first book and demanded (very politely) that he be allowed to represent me. Goodness, who doesn’t want that? He’s tirelessly enthusiastic, kind but direct, and believes in me and my writing. I know how lucky I am to have him in my corner. I hope that he will love The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt as much as I do.

Now that I have sent it off to Alex I am quite without an occupation. I’ve been slaving over this manuscript in every spare moment for months now. I know I should be looking ahead to the next book and I shall, but first I think I’m going to do a little reading. It might be time to revisit the Harry Potter series and remind myself that I would have done well in Gryffindor too.

The final lap…

“Been around that track a couple of times but now the dust is starting clear…” ~Dead Horse, Guns N’ Roses

Last week I officially finished draft three of my manuscript. My husband and I edited it together, and I have to say he is a wizard when it comes to pointing out flaws, or places where I can massage the story a little more. It’s a miracle that we can work together as well as we do, and that we’re still happily married.

So now all of the pieces are in place and have been filled out to their best potential. Tonight we start on the final polish. I will read it aloud to him and we will tweak the hell out of it, polishing until it shines like the top of the Chrysler building. (Shout out to little orphan Annie.)

As in my last post, I am so far down the well of editing that I have hardly had time for anything else in my life but the book, book, book! I am looking forward to having a little breather after I send it off to my agent. (Who am I kidding? I’m going to eat my nails off one-by-one until I hear back from him.)

That being said, I am really proud of this book. I am so pleased with the way it all came together in the last draft. I am excited to move forward and find this little book a home at a publishing house.

It’s time.

 

Never Never Never Give Up

never never never give up

Today is an anniversary for me. One year ago today I spoke on the phone with Alex Slater at Trident Media Group and accepted his offer to represent me as a literary agent.  It had been a phone call that was years in the making: two books, and hundreds of queries later and I had done it. I found someone who was head over heels in love with my novel.

I was ecstatic. I had finally broken through a door on the road to becoming a published author. Many times along that journey I had become discouraged and hurt from all the rejection (trust me, there was A LOT). But there was a fire burning in my heart that kept me going. I love writing. This is what I want TO DO with my life. And of course, I have my husband, my parents, and all of my family and terrific friends who have supported me and bolstered me along they way when I got down. I finally felt I had arrived.

Now, a year later, I am still waiting to arrive. My agent, Alex, has been amazing. With his enthusiasm and drive he has worked so hard to find a home for my novel. He has sent it out to over thirty young adult editors and ten adult editors. And while the reaction has been that it is great writing, it just didn’t find a place for one reason or another. In fact, we are about to shelve this novel and I am going to concentrate on writing my third. (I’m about 40 pages in so far.)

Yes, I did the amazing, almost unheard of feat of finding an agent. But the submission process was no less brutal. True, I do have a champion fighting in my corner, and for that I am so grateful and lucky. But this level of rejection is even worse than trying to find an agent. It’s funny because they don’t even use the word rejection–it’s a “pass.” But that doesn’t make it any easier.

As sad as I am that my novel didn’t sell, that fire still burns within me. As much as I am dragging my ass around and moping today I am still going to get my butt in my chair and write tonight. Winston Churchill might have been rallying a nation to fight the Nazis when he said the above quote, but it can apply to anyone and any situation. I will not give up. I will write another novel and I will try again. And if that doesn’t sell I will try again. This is still what I want to do with my life. That will not change.

I may be bruised and tired. But I will never, never, never give up.

F is for…

FFranklin

This last summer of 2015 we spent out vacation not abroad as we usually do. I had recently acquired a literary agent (a hard-won victory!) and we had a manuscript to shape and get ready for submission to editors. So we rented a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina outside of Franklin.

Also beginning with F: The Feathered Nest, our cabin for 10 days.

Also beginning with F: The Feathered Nest, our cabin for 10 days.

This window was right next to the table in our cabin. I was quite startled the first time the chicken hopped on the sill and stared at me.

This window was right next to the table in our cabin. I was quite startled the first time the chicken hopped on the sill and stared at me.

The town of Franklin was cute and our cabin was heaven. It was the perfect place to hunker down and work on the story for several hours a day. In the off times we drove around, went hiking, sightseeing, and usually ended our day at the Lazy Hiker, a microbrewery in downtown Franklin.  It had just opened and was a truly marvelous place.

Yum.

Yum.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

It is a weird week. Not a bad one, just different, schedule-wise. Kosta and I have taken tomorrow off to add to our already three-day weekend, so today is my Friday. But our usual Wednesday night person is on vacation so I am working the late shift to fill in for her. That’s why I got to go here this morning:

2016-03-16 08.15.30

Ah…

The beach in the morning is one of my favorite places in the world. It brings me back to myself when I’ve been living in my head too much. And I have lately, and here’s why:

My novel, Cloak and Dagger, isn’t selling. I’ve had lots of favorable feedback from different editors but no one has ultimately taken the bite. The thing I have heard most frequently is “I really love this book, but I couldn’t get it past my sales team because it is historical fiction.” Apparently while historical fiction is a huge thing in the adult market, it is a very tough sell in the YA world.

What I’ve been doing since December is taking out the first novel I wrote, The First Muse, and rewriting the beginning and editing the rest. I knew the first third had flaws and a tough time getting going, but I believe I fixed those issues. I am almost ready to send it off to my agent and see what he thinks about it. Trust me, I am terrified he won’t love it, but that’s just a little part of me. I know this book is good and the series has amazing potential.

It’s just hard, you know? Getting the agent was an incredibly grueling endeavor, but this part is no easier. The funny thing is, when you are searching for an agent, you get rejections. But when you ascend to the next level and your agent is sending your manuscript to editors, you get passes. Sounds a lot less awful, but really, it’s just as painful. Especially when the months drag by and you’re still waiting.

But I don’t give up. I will keep plugging away until I get a win. My agent loves my writing and at least one editor asked to see anything else I wrote. That is encouraging. If my contemporary fantasy about a kick ass group of girl goddesses doesn’t sell, I will dust myself off and write another book.

I expect to finish my final polish of The First Muse by Friday and then I’ll be sending it up to New York and crossing my fingers. I’m looking forward to some rest now that it will be with Alex. I’ve been working two full-time jobs really, and I’m exhausted. Even so, I know the work won’t be done, as I am sure he will have suggestions to make the story tighter. After all, I’m a talented writer, but not a flawless one.

Then it will go out into the world to be loved or rejected, and I won’t be able to do one thing about that.

Tom Petty said it best: The Waiting is the Hardest Part.

 

What Happened to My Reading Life?

my reading life copy

It is Friday, February 19, 2016. So far this year, I have not finished reading a book.

Not. One. Single. Book.

For those of you who know me, this is about as batshit crazy as I get. My husband calls me a “Reading Fool.” When I started this blog, I had hoped to write one book review a week. It started out that way but when you don’t read, you don’t review.

What the hell happened, you ask? I can’t believe this, but I got too busy to read. Since January 1, this is me:K7bdG

I’ve been working on opening an Etsy shop. (More about that soon.)I have been purging all the closets in my house. I have been shooting arrows. I have been going to the gym. Above all, I have been editing my book. I have almost finished editing this draft and then all that’s left will be the final polish to make it shine like the top of the Chrysler building. (Bonus points to anyone who caught the Annie reference.)

Seriously. When I get a spare moment, and they are far in between, I am usually so tired I fall asleep. And when I do try to read (for instance on Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee and a purring cat beside to me), I can’t concentrate for very long because I feel there are other things I should be doing. So I read a few chapters and then get going with my day.

I do know that this particular cycle can’t continue. I will read two books in the next two months, if only because I am leading two book discussions at the library: one in March and one in April. March’s selection is Longbourn by Jo Baker and April is How to Be Both  by Ali Smith. Yes, I chose both books without reading them only on the merits that they sounded interesting. I do that all the time with book discussions. We librarians play fast and loose with your literary lives and you don’t even know it.

So I am going to have to force myself to slow down and read for a bit. Either that or I am going to have to be very good at faking my way through a book discussion…

Just kidding. I’ve never done that before.

Honest.