Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hiho the Derrio a Querying I Will Go!

           Well, my friends, it is done.  My book, that is.  After ten months, I’ve finally arrived at the point where I can say that, where I feel I have nothing left to say, that is until someone in authority—an agent or editor perhaps—informs me otherwise.  Honestly, I could probably keep writing, editing, revising and adding until the day I die, but there has to be some point at which I tell myself, “That’s enough, honey,” and I think I’ve finally found that point.  I am satisfied, but I’m not happy about it.
I feel a great loss in my life right now.  I’ve spent nearly every minute of every day, twelve to eighteen hours a day, for the last ten months working on this story.  I have carved out lives for my characters and become intimately involved with them, and I mean intimately.  I have taken every step of their terrifying journey and experienced every emotional and physical blow they have.  I have wept at their losses and rejoiced at their victories.  And now I have stepped away from them and that hurts more than I can say.  It feels like I’ve lost a dear loved one, like they’ve moved far away and I might never see them again.  I miss them all so much.  But I want others to experience their journey, as well, and that won’t happen unless I find myself an agent and work towards getting published. So, my friends, I’m off to the land of querying.
During the last six months, I’ve educated myself on the entire process of properly formatting my manuscript, writing a kickass query and finessing remarkable synopses, both one and four page—thanks so much Nathan Bransford and Anne Mini.  While polishing my manuscript to a high-gloss, I’ve written, rewritten, edited and had my query and synopses critiqued by my wonderful friend, Lisa Regan, until they, too, sparkle and gleam like Edward Cullen on a sunny day (yes, I did read the Twilight series.)  So I am ready to march onward into that dark, terrifying abyss that is querying for an agent.  (Cue ominous music.)
 I’ve been reading all the blogs and forums where hard-working writers describe their querying experiences, and frankly, I am terrified!  It is so disheartening to hear how long—often years—and hard they have all been submitting their queries and receiving nothing but hundreds of form rejections, or even worse, no feedback at all.  Worse still is Natalie Whipple’s nerve-wracking story of being on submission for fifteen months!  FIFTEEN MONTHS!  And all that after landing the beloved Nathan Bransford as an agent only to lose him when he left the business this fall.  Alas, she did find another and seems quite content. 
But still, we writers really have no hope of publishing—traditionally, that is—unless we land ourselves an agent.  And even then, things are not guaranteed.  I read a recent blog by Betsy Lerner where she asked for her writer follower’s worst agent stories, and boy did I get an eyeful of disheartening and downright scary stories.  It’s enough to make an aspiring writer hide under the covers until the coming of the Apocalypse.  But I’ve worked way too long and way too hard to give up without even trying, no matter the bad news out there about how e-books and e-readers are ruining the traditional publishing industry.  I will prevail!
So it is with great enthusiasm and even greater hope that I now declare the opening of the Nancy Thompson Starts Querying Games!  Of course, I just had to pick the worst time of year to start the process, the dreaded holidays.  I hear most agents more or less close up shop between Thanksgiving and New Years then return to their offices positively swimming in a sea of queries received during that time.  Their advice?  Wait until after the Martin Luther King holiday to submit your query.  By then, the agent assistants will have worked their weary selves through most of the slush pile and be ever ready for more.  So that is my plan, readers.  In the meantime, I am compiling a list of appropriate agents to query, hoping somewhere in that list lies the agent of my dreams, someone who truly loves and believes in my book. 
           On a side note, and quite exciting at that, my friend, Lisa, has graciously referred me to her agent who read and accepted my query and then proceeded to request a full manuscript and synopsis!  A request for A FULL!  Can you believe that?  My very first serious query and she asked for a full!  I am humbled and happy and terrified all at once.  I couldn’t eat all day yesterday after I sent the package off to her (and some of you know how amazing that statement is.)  Now I realize this is a long shot.  I mean, come on, no one lands an agent on their first query, right?  Well, one can only hope, I guess.  She has my query and manuscript exclusively until January 17th, after which I start querying in earnest, although I would love nothing else than to land this particular agent at any point in The Games.  So keep your fingers crossed—plus your toes and even your eyes—that I am successful at my querying endeavors.  And I could always use a few well-placed prayers if you’re into that.  I know I am!  God help me! 

And as always, I am looking for followers for my blog, so click that follow button, people and join me on my journey.  I am willing to do the same for your blog, as well.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How Music Influenced my Book

I’ve wanted to write this blog post for quite some time because it is about music and music is what started me on my new journey and what specifically prompted me to write my manuscript, The Mistaken.  I cannot live without music in my life.  It is everything to me.  It brings me joy and makes me reflect on all things, both happy and sad.  My very life has what I would call a soundtrack.  To this day, when I hear a song that was popular on the radio when I was say 13, I am instantly propelled back in time to 1977 and with it comes all the emotion I felt at that time.  It’s very much like a mental time machine. 
A few weeks ago, Nathan Bransford posted a blog asking a question: Do you listen to music when you write?  Well, yes, of course.  I couldn’t write if I didn’t listen to music.  But even more important is the inspiration behind the idea of my novel.  Never before was I ever inspired to write fiction.  I love to read and I enjoy helping my son with his homework when he has to write a paper, but other than that, I never felt compelled to write anything.  That is until I heard a particular song.
My husband bought me a car a few years back, a sexy BMW 330i convertible.  It is what I call my happy place.  I live near Seattle which, as many people know, is gray and rainy eight months out of the year.  So when it’s sunny, I jump in my car, put the top down, hook up my iPod and go for a drive, usually around beautiful Lake Sammamish.  Last spring during one of these rare moments, I heard a song that I’d downloaded for the first time.  It was Hurricane by 30 Seconds to Mars. 
The haunting lyrics and melody really struck a chord in me.  The chorus asks, “Tell me would kill to save a life?  Tell me would you kill to prove you’re right?”  Well, that really got me thinking.  What could possibly make someone kill, someone who always navigated on the straight and narrow path of righteousness?  Could a truly good person be driven to do something against their very nature?  That is the premise behind my novel and where it all started. 
I thought long and hard about that dilemma.  I even dreamed about it.  And when I woke up, it was like a switched had been thrown.  It was as if I woke up possessed by some unknown force who had the answer to that question and needed to write it all down in the form of a novel.  So I went along for the ride.  I started writing an outline for this story that was bursting forth from my brain at light speed.  I could barely keep up with my thoughts.  I had a complete outline in about four weeks.  And then I started writing and had my first draft in an additional six weeks.  I don’t know where it came from or why, but it could not and would not be contained inside me.  It simply had to get out.
During that time, I did listen to a lot of other music, but it was only with half an ear.  I really fell into the musical groove when I began to edit and revise.  I found myself listening to the same fifty songs over and over and that they inspired me in a spiritual way.  Weirder still, when I really paid attention to the lyrics to some of these songs, I realized they acted as an opera of sorts, putting my story into song.  I could literally hear my story in the lyrics to these songs.  It was so strange to hear my characters struggles come to life within the music.  It really freaked me out.
At first, after I realized how strong the connection was, I couldn’t get enough.  I listened to those singled out songs again and again as I revised The Mistaken.  I was driven by the emotion of my story set against the melancholy tunes and lyrics of these fourteen songs.  But then a problem arose.  I got too absorbed into my story, experiencing all the pain of human loss, the burning need of revenge, the relentless sense of guilt, the debilitating fear of violent death, the blinding need for forgiveness, the loss of hope and, ultimately, the joy of renewed love that makes up my book.  The problem with that is that I couldn’t find a way out of all the turmoil of those emotions.  Even when I jumped into my happy place, the music filling my car took me back into that dark, scary place my characters were living.  I began to feel trapped and then depressed.  I didn’t make the connection for a couple of months until I literally started to cry when one of the songs came over the speakers in my car.  I realized I had to break away from that music so I could feel whole and well again. 
So I stopped listening to my playlist as I revised and felt much better for it.  Now that I am finally done, I can sit back and listen to the music and see the story unfold.  I can cry for awhile and laugh at the end when I know my characters are reunited.  I feel a great sense of hope and accomplishment.  I would like to share that playlist and give a little insight to why each song means so much to my story.  I have embedded the music or lyric videos for the songs in the titles.  Just click on the song title to see the video and lyrics and hear the hauntingly beautiful music that inspired me.  (Click on the back button to return to my blog.)

Brother by Dark New Day

This song signifies Skylar’s (my protagonist) sadness at the loss of his parents and young sister in a car accident caused by his younger brother, Nick.

All the Same by Sick Puppies

At this point, Sky finally accepts that Nick, as troubled as he is, is all the family he has left and that he will always be there to help clean up whatever mess Nick gets himself into.

Without You by My Darkest Days

Skylar meets, falls in love with and marries Jillian, the love of his life and they are soon expecting their first child. 

Alibi by 30 Seconds to Mars

After Sky’s wife, Jillian, is killed, he says goodbye to her at her funeral then spirals into alcoholism.

Alone With Nothing by Smile Empty Soul

Despondent and bitter beyond reason, Sky’s soul is eaten away by his need for vengeance.  He and Nick fantasize, planning revenge against the stranger who drew Jill toward her death, a woman named Erin Anderson.

Hunter by 30 Seconds to Mars

Skylar, with the help of Nick’s associates, Alexi and Dmitri of San Francisco’s Russian mafia, misidentifies the wrong woman and stalks Hannah Maguire to her home in Seattle.

The Red by Chevelle

Skylar exacts his revenge during an unspeakable act of violence, but he instantly regrets his behavior and pulls back only to discover he has mistaken the wrong woman for his target.

All Is Numb by 32 Leaves

Realizing he cannot follow through with his sordid plans to turn the woman, Hannah, over to the Russians, Sky convinces her to leave her home and go on the run with him so that he can keep her safe and out of the hands of the Russians and a life of sexual servitude.

Change by Deftones

Nick confesses to Skylar that he purposely got Sky abusing alcohol in retaliation for Sky making Nick feel as if he is solely responsible for the accident that took their parent’s and young sister’s lives.  He uses this confession as an excuse as to why his brother should not attempt to save him from the Russians who have captured him.

Pieces by Red

After the all the guilt of his parent’s and sister’s death, the feeling of helplessness concerning Nick’s captivity by the Russians who are using him as leverage to force Sky to turn over the woman, and the overwhelming remorse and shame of what he has cost Hannah, Skylar experiences an emotional break down.  Hannah is desperate to help him.

Anywhere But Here by Sick Puppies

Sky is kidnapped by the Russian mafia and joins his brother, Nick, in captivity

The Battle Of One by 30 Seconds to Mars

Skylar witnesses the brutal dog-fight style battle that takes his brother's life.  He then finds out that Hannah has also been captured.  Sky himself battles his way out, freeing Hannah and killing one of the Russian bosses who is responsible for Nick’s death and Hannah’s recent assault.

A Modern Myth by 30 Seconds to Mars

Skylar is coerced by the FBI to testify against Dmitri, the last remaining Russian mafia boss.  Because he has to enter witness protection, Skylar must say a tearful goodbye to a heartbroken Hannah, admitting that they will never see each other again.

Breathe by Angels and Airwaves

After Dmitri’s death, Skylar is free to reunite with Hannah, but will she take him back? 

Monday, December 6, 2010

E-Books vs. the Real Thing

Last week, Nathan Bransford asked a question on his blog:  Will you ever buy mostly e-books?  And for the first time in the four years since he first asked this question, the yeas outnumber the nays, 32% to 30%.  I was not surprised since e-readers are the gift of the season this year and many of my friends and family now use them, but when I put the questions to myself, a woman who loves electronic gadgets of all sorts, I answered with a resounding NO!

There are several reasons why, most of them having to do with the nostalgia of holding a book in my hand.  There is something about the way a real book feels that is sensual in so many ways.  It’s almost like holding and caressing a lover in its sensuality.  First, I love the smell of the ink and the paper on a new book, especially a hardback.  I love to run my fingers over the pages from front to back and let the scent of the fanned air caress my face and fill my nostrils.  It smells almost as good as freshly baked break or newly ground coffee. 

And then there’s the feel of the book, its heft and breadth, the substantial bulk, that makes me happy.  And I love a really long, big, fat book because that means I get to be absorbed in a story and the lives of its characters for a very long time. I can fall in love with them and hug them as I pull the thick volume close to my chest before I put it down for the night.  I also love the way it feels when I rest an open book above my upper lip and below my nose as I gaze over the top edge at the TV or a loved one when they interrupt my reading.

When I read a real book, I place my thumbs along the open pages and slip the middle finger of my right hand into the as yet unread pages on the right, gauging how many pages I have left, how much more time I have remaining with my new love.  And when something I’ve just read confuses me, I love to fan back through those pages I’ve already read to find the previously read passage that will straighten me out.  When I do, I often note the few places where the corner of a page became dog-eared or where I spilled some food or drink, creating a small speck on the once clean paper, because I never, and I mean never, sit at the table and eat without a book opened in front of me.

My favorite passages often sit open at attention because I’ve run my hand over the binding so many times.  And when the book falls off the table or chair where I’m sitting, it automatically opens to that exact passage and I picture that scene in my mind all over again.  I even love the way I can see the texture of the paper beneath the contrasting ink.  And I love the cover art, which, if I’ve left the dust jacket on, I will see every single time I pick up my book, noting the placement of the bookmark and my progress through another magnificent story.  I love the way the title and author’s name are raised, pressed from below on the jacket so I can feel it every time I hold it in my hand.

Reading a book is so much more than just the story within.  That’s why publishers put so much time, money and effort into it.  I agree that e-readers are convenient, allowing you to carry every book you’ve ever known and purchased no matter where you’re going.  But I’ve spent a lot of money designing and building floor to ceiling library shelves to hold my most cherished collection:  my books.  They sit like pieces of fine art, deliberately displayed (without their dust jackets) and artfully arranged by author, size, color and topic.  They’re my trophies and I am very proud of them.  I feel like I have a piece of the author residing with me.  I often run my fingers over the spines of my growing library and smile as I remember each story, where I lived, or what I was doing when I read it for the first time.  They are like memories of my own life and I want to be constantly reminded of them every time I stand before the tall shelves.  And I can loan them to my friends, too.    

You just don’t have any of that with an e-reader and an e-book.