Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Have a Dream...Too

            For as long as I can remember, I’ve led a charmed life.  Not in any tangible way.  I’m not wealthy.  I’m not famous.  I’m not even popular.  But I have always had all those things in life that truly matter.  That make a person fulfilled and happy.  Growing up, I had two parents that loved me and put their children before all else.  I had two brothers who were always kind to me—well mostly anyway—one of whom treated me like a best friend for many years.  I had the best education in wonderful schools, mostly private Catholic institutions that instilled a feeling of belonging and spirituality.  I got to travel and I lived in many interesting locations, exposing me to different people and cultures. 
            When I was barely an adult, I met the most incredible loving man in the world who gave me the most precious gift another person could ever give:  a child—two, in fact.  I’ve had the great fortune of raising one of those amazing children and he is so smart and articulate, kind and generous, loving and supportive.  And my husband is what every woman in the world wants in a man.  I hit the jackpot.  There’s no other way to put it.  And while there are, of course, many other things I want, I do, in fact, have everything I need.  So I am happy.  Content.
            Lately, I’ve been watching the American Idol judges whittle their list of hundreds of aspiring singers down to the top twenty-four.  I watched as the last forty or so walked that long, lonely course up to the final judging platform.  It was inspiring to see the faces of those who made the cut, but it was the faces of those who did not that struck me most.  It affected me more this time than any other because I finally realize what it’s like to have a dream.  A really big dream.  One that seems nearly unattainable.  One that means so much, my entire identity is wrapped up into it.  So when those who were cut stood from their seats and took that long, even lonelier walk back, their faces wet with tears and their hearts crushed with loss, I understood and I cried along with them.
            Because I have a dream, too.  It is a modest dream when compared to Martin Luther King’s or John Kennedy’s.  I don’t aspire to unite the world or solve a lifelong dilemma.  I’m not trying to cure what ails us as a species, make buttloads of cash, or become well-known.  I just have this little dream of becoming a published writer.  But that dream starts with a smaller dream—or rather two smaller dreams.  The first, I’ve already accomplished.  I wrote a novel.  My first in what I hope is a long line of them.  When people hear for the first time that I completed a book, they smile and say, “Wow!  That’s amazing!”  It was quite an accomplishment for me and making it the best it can be has been even more so.  But while I once told myself if nothing ever comes of it, I will still always be proud, it really doesn’t ring true any more. 
I want the whole dream.  So the next step is finding a literary agent who loves my book and wants to represent me.  I did not know about this when I started writing.  I did not once during all those months even think about the next step.  I just wrote.  And when I was finished, I jumped on the Internet and researched the next step.  Boy, was that ever disheartening.  There are so many stores out there of aspiring writers who have been crushed by the system, their dreams destroyed and their hopes dashed.  Reading all that felt like a glass of water was being thrown in my face.  Or maybe more like a five gallon bucket of ice water.  But I’ve tried to keep in mind that I really don’t have anything to lose.  I have the product, my book.  No one can ever take that away from me.  Now, I just need to be persistent.  To not give up.  To not let the process beat me down with every rejection I receive. 
I can tell you, that is a difficult feat unto itself, not letting the rejections beat me down, I mean.  To be perfectly honest, when I finished my first draft and made my first round of revisions, I did what countless other aspiring writers have done:  I started to query for an agent.  I did this before I even had my first round with a critique partner.  I didn’t query many agents, mind you.  Just a small handful.  And it was more about feeling out the process than anything else.  But I did get a few rejection letters.  Four or five, I think.  And it did hurt.  I won’t lie.  But I learned quickly the proper way to go about it all. I worked with several critique partners and polished my little novel to a spit shine.  Then I wrote my synopses—four of them, I think.  And lastly, I wrote my query, summing up 85,000 words into roughly 260 in order to ignite some spark of interest in as many agents as I could. 
Just over three weeks ago, I began sending out those query letters.  Mostly in limited batches of five to seven.  I researched each agent to make sure I was querying only those with an interest in my genre, the thriller.  I found out what each agent wants to see in their query package, be that a letter only, sample chapters or even a synopsis.  On the second day of querying, I received a request for a full manuscript.  This was actually my second request for a full, but the first was kind of cheating as my friend asked if her agent would look at mine and she did as a favor, but it was not to her liking and she passed.  The second request hit me like a ton of bricks—albeit, really nice bricks.  I thought, cool, my query letter is good then.  Well, this is a subjective business as so many agents are willing to tell me.  And they tell me in the form of…you got it…rejection letters.
To date, I’ve received about 14, total.  They kind of slide off my back now, but each and every one of them serves as a lost opportunity, a burned bridge, if you will, because I can never go back to them.  They are forever beyond my reach now.  So I do sink a little lower every time I receive a rejection letter.  That pool of possibilities grows that much shallower.  And now I am beginning to question that query letter I thought at first was pretty good.  Maybe I will have to revise that, too.  Maybe it is too vague.  I did get my first request for a partial.  The first fifty pages.  The tiniest of smiles pulled up on my lips when I read that request yesterday.  That’s a big shift from the five minute long screaming happy dance I performed when I got that request for a full three weeks ago.  I think I am becoming jaded.  My head is slipping into that place all those aspiring writers have before me, believing that the chance of ever finding representation is so miniscule, so impossible as to be laughable. 
But then I read this blog yesterday.  It was written by aspiring writer, Claire Legrand, and expresses her joy, which feels palpable through her words, at finally acquiring an agent.  And it was not an easy or pretty experience for her.  She went through hell, but she never gave up.  She found her agent while querying for her second novel.  And now she might even have a chance at selling her first as her agent is standing behind her.  I cannot tell you what it meant to read her reaction to landing an agent.  It felt like that tiny speck of hope inside me suddenly puffed up like a kernel of popcorn in the microwave.  In her last post on Monday, Claire explained just how difficult the process had been for her.  Her final message was one that my friend, Lisa has been telling me all along:  “Don’t give up.”
And so, no matter how many rejections are piled up on my shoulders, I vow to not give up until I have worked my way through a very long list of agents who rep my genre of fiction.  And by then, enough time will have gone by that I can start all over again because no one will likely even remember me.  Lisa did that and she landed her agent.  So what the hell.  I want that moment like those finalists on American Idol.  I want to scream and cry and jump up and down knowing I have come a little closer.  Because I have a dream, too.                     

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