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 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.