Friday, January 21, 2011

My New Happy Place

            Before I get into my next post, I should say that I have spent the last four days deliberating whether or not I should remove my last post, “Jealous Much?”  That’s not to say that I don’t still hold that opinion, because I do, but I question my own wisdom at having posted such blatant animosity in such a public forum.  Not that I believe that there are too many folks reading my blog, but I’m averaging about ninety a month or 3 a day.  Not too shabby for a complete unknown.  What worries me most are the literary agents who might poke their head in to take a look after they’ve received my query.  So why don’t I remove that post?  Well, I guess that’s because that post shows a part of who I am.  Happily, that is not a part I show very often, but it is there nonetheless, so the post remains, however shameful I now find it.  Now…getting down to business…
            I have spent the last week preparing query letters to be sent off beginning February 1st.  I am selecting those prime agents I most admire for whatever reason and writing queries tailored especially for each one.  I’m happy most of them accept email queries.  A few still do it the old fashion way so I find myself visiting print shops where I have my query, synopsis and sample chapters printed then stuffing large envelopes with my treasure and a self-addressed stamped envelope for their reply, hoping and praying that they actually will reply.  Emailing queries is easier, of course.  All I have to do is make copies of the files and queue them up to copy and paste into the email.  I’ve even found a few who actually want attachments which is a big surprise as most just want everything in the body of the email.  Sometimes they want fifty pages of my manuscript in the body of the email.  Boy, let me tell you, that’s one long email! 
            And that brings me to a problem I’ve been struggling with lately:  retaining proper formatting within the body of the email.  Every writer knows how utterly important proper formatting is, including me.  So I prepared a sample query, complete with copied and pasted chapters and synopsis, and sent it to myself to see what the email looked like when I opened it.  Boy, was I surprised by how messed up the formatting appeared.  Wonky, Anne Mini called it.  (She promised me she would address this issue in a forthcoming formatting blog next week.  Thank you, Anne!)  There were huge gaps between the paragraphs and the font, which I purposely set to 12-point Times New Roman, the industry standard, reset itself back to Tahoma 10 point. 
Well, I was aghast.  I certainly do not want the agents I query to think I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.  They likely won’t even look at my query, let alone my chapters or request a partial or full manuscript to read if they believe I’m not versed in industry standards.  I tried everything I could think of, but in the end, I discovered that the problem lies within the programming at Hotmail, Microsoft’s email service.  So what’s a writer to do?  Dump Hotmail, that’s what!  So now I have a Google Gmail account that I will use to send all queries.  When I tested it and sent an email to myself at both my Hotmail and Gmail accounts, the Hotmail email was distorted while the Gmail was not.  So Gmail it is!  Problem solved.  Unless my recipient agent uses Hotmail…yikes!
But I’ve been wringing my hands for other reasons, as well this week.  For three weeks, actually.  The whole reason I’m querying is because I believe my manuscript is ready, that it is as highly polished as it can be without feedback from a professional within the publishing industry.  I sent out my first query on December 28th.  It was a referral from an agented writer friend, the very talented Lisa Regan.  Her agent received my query and requested a full (because Lisa said she loved it and her agent trusts her), which I happily obliged her with. 
Unfortunately, when I started reading through a PDF version of my manuscript, I found a few errors.  Nothing too major, one misspelling, an errant quote mark, a missing word.  Not too big of a deal, but enough that I became worried.  What’s worse is that I was always in conflict about my Jillian chapters, those three chapters (6-8) written in Jillian’s voice.  I was never satisfied with them, but since I couldn’t figure out how to fix them, I just accepted that they were okay and I moved along.  It wasn’t until I sent off my manuscript to Lisa’s agent that my stomach started doing back flips over the issue.  How could I have sent it to her when those chapters were not ready?  I’m such an idiot, but there’s no going back now.
Since then, I’ve worked with Lisa to make those three Jillian chapters sing.  They say exactly what I want them to, exactly how I want them to say it.  For the first time since completing my manuscript, I am happy.  Totally, thoroughly, 100% satisfied.  I’ve read it through one more time and cannot find anything that I would change.  But my greatest chance at landing an agent, one to whom I’ve been referred, the most common method agents use to find talent, has been tarnished.  I’m not saying blown at this point because she said she wouldn’t get back to me until February, unless she just didn’t like it, then it would be sooner.  Well, it’s January 21st and I still haven’t heard from her so I think that’s a good sign, at this point anyway.  That is, if she’s even started reading it.  And what if she hasn’t?  God, if I could only get my final version to her.  But it’s a moot point, I’m afraid.  It is done. 
Lisa reassures me that she should have the ability to look past all that and I hope she does, that she would at least give me the opportunity to show her my revisions, but I know, above all else, that this is a lesson learned.  Don’t ever send out your manuscript until you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is ready.  You don’t want to have those feelings of regret or lose that golden opportunity that awaits you.  This process is hard enough without sabotaging yourself.
Having said all that, I am, at the very least, happy …with my book, that is.  I’ve found another happy place, my first being behind the wheel of my sporty little convertible with the top down on a warm, sunny Puget Sound day.  This is a great place to be—my new happy place.  I am ready to start querying in earnest without worrying that I messed up. 
I love my new happy place.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jealous Much? Why yes...yes I am!

            I am not proud to say this, but I am jealous.  I’m jealous of a young woman who has been publicly vilified for being crude, obnoxious, and the very face of self-indulgent youth gone bad.  Can you guess who I might be referring to?  No?  Well, how about Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi.  Yes, you heard me right, Snooki.  And I am quite embarrassed to say so because I hold similar opinions as to her public behavior. 
I despise the persona she portrays herself to be on the MTV reality show “Jersey Shore.”  I feel she puts a bad face on America, especially American youth.  She is kind of a laughingstock, constantly ridiculed for the way she dresses—or perhaps the way she doesn’t dress—the way she speaks, the way she socializes, even the way she tans and wears her hair.  I somewhat agree on most of those points and often wonder why she would represent herself in such a way.  Maybe because that’s the way she really is although she recently tried to convince us otherwise during her Today Show interview, explaining she only behaves that way during the summer months while visiting the Jersey shore.  I don’t really understand it, but I do know she’s paid a crapload of cash for maintaining that persona, real or otherwise.  I certainly can’t fault her (much) for that.  Okay, I can, but that’s not why I’m jealous.
What I find difficult to swallow is her latest endeavor, that of a novelist.  Yes, Snooki has written a novel called “The Shore Thing.”  Catchy right?  Now this is no memoir, mind you.  No, it is an actual novel with fictional characters loosely—okay, not so loosely, entirely—based on her and Jaywow (forgive me if I got that name wrong—I don’t actually watch her show) and—wait for it—it tells the story of their escapades while visiting the Jersey shore.  How fascinating! How original!  And while Snooki admits to having a co-writer, the well-accomplished Valerie Frankel, she boasts that she wrote it herself—in three months, no less—while she was also working on the show. 
Now I don’t find it hard to believe that Snooki wrote a novel herself, nor that she wrote it in three months.  What I find hard to swallow is that there is even an audience for such a thing.  Did she come up with this idea on her own or did one of her producers suggest it thinking it would raise more awareness of her public persona therefore making the show even more popular?  I’m embarrassed for America, that anyone would debase themselves by watching such inane and insipid drivel.  I think we like to watch people like the cast on Jersey Shore make fools of themselves so we can feel better about ourselves, but I digress. 
That’s not my problem with this whole thing. And I don’t actually have a problem with Ms. Polizzi either.  My problem is this whole “dumbing down” of America BS.  My problem is that this book was so easily published when so many talented, hard-working, well-educated writers with well thought out, highly polished stories go unpublished with the excuse being that the market for books is changing, that very few people actually buy real books any longer.  I guess the publisher’s motivation is strictly financial, foreseeing a real niche for such a novel.  (Yikes, I cringe at the thought.) 
I’ve been wondering about the agent who read Snooki’s manuscript, what she was thinking as she turned the pages.  (Click here for an excerpt of Snooki’s book.)  I doubt Snooki even had to go through the seemingly unending hell of querying for an agent.  I similarly doubt she had to shop around for a publisher either.  I think it was most likely a done deal from the word go.  How else could it have possibly happened because I don’t really think that an unknown could have accomplished what Ms. Polizzi has by getting her fictionalized account of her Jersey shore misadventures published.  I think, in this case, it’s all about who you are and who you know.
I don’t fault the publisher either, really.  I know that the business has changed and they are unsure of what the industry will bring in the coming months and years.  They are running scared because so many of the brick and mortar booksellers like Borders are collapsing and not paying the publishers for the books they’ve bought.  They cringe at the thought of newly released books selling for a mere $10 or $15 as they are on Amazon.  
I understand that the publishers are just out to make a buck like everyone else in America.  But as a writer who has slaved over her manuscript, hoping and praying to land a qualified agent who will love my story and characters as much as I do and find a publisher who feels the same, I am frustrated by the ease at which some celebrities churn out trash, making the promotional circuit on such highly regarded programs as the Today Show, The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, who, in turn, frequently ridicule such celebrities for their raunchy behavior. 
But what’s a writer to do?  I’ll just keep plugging away, keep praying and hoping to land that agent, keep blogging away hoping to raise awareness of my novel, of me.  I don’t hate Snooki for her accomplishment or begrudge her for her success.  Hate is too strong a word.  But I am jealous.  I am hella jealous.  Because that is the one and only significant dream that I hold for myself, to get published, to have someone recognize some talent in me, to love my characters and say, “Wow, I really liked that book!” 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Missing My Made-up World

            I’ve always been pretty even-keeled, emotionally speaking.  I rarely have mood swings and I’m generally always happy.  I was, and still am, a very optimistic person, always looking on the bright side of things.  But things have changed in the last six months and for some reason, I always feel like I’m walking on a knife’s edge, fearing that any minute I will fall into an abyss I cannot even see.  Nothing much has changed in the last year except for one thing:  I’ve written a novel—a highly charged, emotionally provocative novel.  And I’ve been living in the world I’ve created for my characters all day, everyday for the last nine months. 
            So in essence, I’ve lost my parents and young sister in a tragic accident caused by my brother who I now worry has become addicted to drugs while he wrestles with gun-toting thugs in San Francisco’s Russian mafia.  I’ve suffered the loss of my wife after she became entangled in the aftermath of a criminal case of fraud brought on by the heartless disdain of a greedy woman.  I’ve spiraled into extreme alcoholism dealing with her loss and have subsequently thrown myself on a reckless course of retribution, drunkenly mistaking an innocent woman and ruining her life.  And then I had to go on the run in order to protect her from the gangsters who seek to enslave her while also trying to negotiate my brother’s freedom from the Russian’s who are using him as leverage in order to get their hands on the woman whose life I’ve ruined. 
            So tell me, is it any wonder I’ve been feeling a bit blue lately? 
Living in their world is exciting, allowing me to escape from the mundane day to day life of a stay-at-home mom whose child is more of an adult and whose business has nearly dried up in the aftermath of the economic meltdown.  My characters have become real to me and though they are each flawed—two dangerously so—I have come to love them with all my heart.  I might even go so far as to say I am in love with one of them.  (Crazy, I know.)  This is my life.  Everyday.  And I sometimes think I’m going freaking insane. 
            But what I’ve come to understand is that this is not unusual.  It seems to be a real pitfall of being a writer.  Sometimes I’m not so sure I like this life of a writer.  It is way too emotional, way too unbalanced, and way too scary.  I wish I could be ignorantly happy again, the way I used to be when all I did was sit at my computer and design fabulous interior spaces, chatting on the phone with clients and colleagues.  Or even after that when my business started to dry up, when I used to spend my days cooking and baking in order to satisfy that basic need inside me to create something special out of something ordinary. 
But now that I’ve written this book, I fear that I can never go back to who I used to be.  I’m still that woman.  She’s still in there.  I still do design work, especially now that the economy is perking up a bit.  But for some reason, it is just not at all satisfying any longer.  I crave the excitement of that crazy, dangerous world I’ve created.  But since I’ve pretty much wrapped up my novel and am seeking representation, I don’t get to spend any time with my characters any more.  And I can’t tell you how sad that makes me.  How lonely I am for them. 
But having said all that, I could not imagine not writing.  Even with all the turmoil, I crave nothing more than to spend my day at my keyboard creating exciting adventures and dangerous complications for my seriously damaged characters.  I want to send them into danger and see if they can fight their way out.  I want to experience their joy of lying in the arms of their loved ones and I want to feel their triumph when they overcome the insurmountable odds I’ve placed against them.  I have some understanding now why so many famous writers have slipped over the edge.  It is a tumultuous condition to live in, but I’ve experienced the highest highs and lowest lows and I feel that I’m living the life I really want to live. 
           Now if I could only make a living at it. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Finding My Book's Theme: Forgiveness

When I was reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” last month, I came across a passage on “thematic thinking” and it prompted me to contemplate my own work, to discover what exactly the theme of “The Mistaken” really is.  When I started writing it, I asked myself one fundamental question, “Could a genuinely good man be driven to do something truly evil and somehow find his way back to the man he once was?”  I certainly hope my story is believable.  I charted the man’s path and man him struggle with some pretty significant problems, but in the end, it all came down to one thing:  forgiveness.
Since I was first thrown on my journey, and by that I mean since I started this whole “I think I’ll write a book” thing, I’ve wondered why I ever thought to do it in the first place.  I’ve stated in earlier blog posts that this whole experience was extraordinarily surreal, that I’ve felt possessed by some force outside myself to write this story.  It was as if someone stood over my shoulder and whispered in my ear everyday exactly what I should be writing.  Because I certainly could never have come up with this stuff on my own, right?  Where did it come from?  I simply woke up one morning and the story was just there.  But why?  Why all of the sudden was it “just there”?
I’ve thought about that nearly every day since I first started writing because it feels like this is something I am supposed to do.  Am I supposed to do it to share a message?  Was I sent on this path to accomplish something personal?  Or perhaps I was meant to meet someone in particular?  Because I have met a few remarkable folks along the way, most notably my friend, Lisa.  She is what has stuck with me most on my journey.
I met Lisa Regan while searching for critique partners in Nathan Bransford’s blog forum.  Along with a few others, she responded to my post and a relationship was born.  She took me down paths I never would have otherwise even seen, prompting me to truly express myself, to become a better writer.  But more than anything else, she became my greatest confidant.  I consider her a great blessing, a truly wonderful friend.  Was I supposed to meet her?  Is that why I was hurled on this journey?  That would be fine with me, even if nothing else ever came of my writing this book, but I still can’t help but think there is something more to it.  I’d like to think that I was simply meant to write this novel.  Period.  But I wonder.  Is it the message itself that was supposed to reveal itself to me?
Twenty-six plus years ago, I had a child, a beautiful baby girl.  I wanted nothing more than to keep her, but circumstances, such as they were, worked against me and my parents, my father mostly, pushed me into adoption.  Because I was the ever-obedient daughter—or trying to be anyway—I went along with the idea, though it had to be on my own terms.  After an exhaustive search, I chose who her parents would be.  And after all these years, she seems to have blossomed into a wonderful young woman, currently serving in the Peace Corps in Thailand.  I try to believe I made the right choice, at least for her.  But down deep inside—subconsciously, at least—I hold a tremendous amount of anger and resentment toward my father.  I know this because in twenty-six years, I have never had one nice dream about him.  Every one is filled with anger and resentment even though I love my father dearly.  It’s never affected my relationship with him, but it’s there nonetheless. 
So, after reading Stephen King’s book, I began to ponder on the theme on my own book.  Forgiveness.  My whole story hinges on that element.  Skylar Karras, the protagonist, simply cannot move forward and get on with his life unless he learns to forgive, both others who have affected his life, and more importantly, himself.  I never meant to write a novel with a theme and I never even saw the theme revealing itself to me, even as I was actually writing it.  Lisa Regan somehow pulled that out of me by asking me to explain a few points that bothered her.  And viola!   There it was, the whole message of my book. 
Now I am wondering if that is the message on my journey, as well.  Is this what I am supposed to take away from this extraordinary experience?  Am I supposed to forgive my father so I can move on with my own life as far as my own daughter is concerned, so that I can truly love my dad like a daughter is supposed to?  I am crying here as I write this because I just don’t know.  I don’t know if that is what I am supposed to take away from this.  And I don’t know if I can actually do that, forgive on a subconscious level.  I want to, desperately so.  Because like my dear Skylar, I need to move on. 
I still want to believe that I was meant to write this story so that it may be published.  It is the greatest dream I hold for myself.  I want to do this in the traditional way, even though the publishing industry is in such a tremednous transition that it seems downright impossible.  Even finding an agent sometimes seems futile, especially after reading all the horror stories out there of un-agented writers still querying after many, many years. 
I am trying to follow the path I believe God has sent me down.  I swear I can feel His hand at my back sometimes.  I am trying to keep the faith, to believe in myself.  And I am trying to find my way and forgive the one thing that still burns in my heart after twenty-six years, three months and twelve days.