happy 2017

I’ve been busy, notwithstanding my bad habit of neglecting my blog.

During the last half of September and the first part of October, I reworked my query letter before plunging into more revisions on the ms for The Door to Yesterday. At the end of October, I felt ready to send out another round of queries, this time to my top tier of agents.

In early November, when the rejections started rolling in—the first one from someone I’d always thought of as my “dream agent”—I felt like I’d died a little inside and began to wonder if my confidence had been misplaced.

Then, halfway through November, I got my first rejection containing constructive criticism about why an agent had passed. Finally, something I could use. Close on the heels of the helpful rejection, I received my first partial request. Sadly, that agent ultimately passed, saying five little words I’ve come to dread: “This is not for me.”

In spite of the disappointment (and I think in someways because of it), for the first time I began to internalize what I’d been hearing at SCBWI workshops and reading on writer and agent websites: this business is incredibly subjective and what “is not for” one agent may just be another’s cup of tea. I’m grateful for this shift in perspective, because through most of the querying process so far, I’ve tormented myself with thinking if I just tweaked this or that in my query or first pages, then I’d finally get some interest. My query was clearly doing its job if I’d gotten a partial request; I just needed to keep searching for the agent who clicked with my story.

So, I didn’t give up. Instead, I took a step back from revisions and queries to clear my head, and gave myself a creative break by working on poetry. I pitched a poem about fishing with my grandfather to a new zine on Medium called The Stories. I’d seen their call for submissions because I started following Sara Benincasa after reading her brilliant, sidesplittingly scathing take-down of a fat-shamer, “Why Am I So Fat?” (which hit a nerve with me because I’ve been shamed because of my weight, too, and only wish I’d had the backbone to respond as bluntly and directly as she did).

Christmas came a week and a half early when Sara emailed with a request to see my poem. Then on December 30th, she followed up by sending me a W9 to fill out. As in, yes, she wanted to give me money for my writing. Having this particular poem published—and being paid for it—was especially gratifying because I wrote it about my grandfather, who’s been my inspiration as I’ve pursued my writing career.

Just when I thought 2016 was already ending with the best possible bang…

On New Year’s Eve, I stood hunched over an ironing board down in my basement—because while folks around the world slept off their hangovers, I’d be in church on New Year’s day, wearing a dress. I’m not sure if that makes me overly pious or merely pathetic. Both, probably. Anyway, as I pressed out a sleeve, my phone beeped with an email notification.

My first full request.

In hindsight, the screams emanating from our basement probably inflicted unnecessary trauma on my poor children…but I really couldn’t help myself.

Meanwhile, my poem “Lac Des Roches, 1977” posted to The Stories first thing this morning. Please take a look and let me know if you like it.

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Posted in holidays, Medium, poetry, query, revising, Sara Benincasa, SCBWI, The Door to Yesterday, The Stories, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

the value of a moment: why i journal

why-i-journal

Theodor S. Geisel—better known as Dr. Seuss—once said, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.” In a nutshell, this is why I keep a journal.

I first began collecting my thoughts on paper almost 40 years ago. My third grade teacher Ms. Shadow assigned her students to keep a journal including both personal reflections and homework assignments. Since that elementary beginning, my journal has assumed many forms: several loose-leaf binders; a rainbow-hued Judy Blume diary; an old accounting ledger; a collection of letters to my sister while she was on a mission; two volumes of entries from my own mission; multiple blogs; two therapy journals (which I plan to burn at some point because no one needs to re-read those things—not even me); and most consistently, a collection of bound volumes dating off and on from middle school all the way through adulthood.

I’m not going to get into an esoteric discussion on the difference between diaries vs. journals. Here’s a thumbnail: diary=what I do in my life; journal=what I think about my life. For more details, Hubpages has a good comparative discussion here. Part of the beauty of keeping a journal is I’ve always been able to adapt it to whatever budget of time and/or money constrains me—even if I only have 15 or 20 minutes a day and a cheap spiral notebook.

Journaling has been invaluable in so many ways, like being able to look back at the past and gain perspective, articulating and clarifying reflections about personal challenges, recording important events, and (failing other avenues) availing myself of a judgment-free sounding board. Over the years (lately, more often than I’d care to admit), I’ve gone back to check names, dates, and events to trigger my memory. For me as a writer, though, the enduring value boils down to cultivating my craft. Practice makes, if not perfect, at least proficient. One entry at a time, I write a bit better, I become a little more attuned to my own voice, I learn how to listen and take dictation from life.

Don’t just accept my word for it, though; here are a few other advocates of the humble journal, some of whom include excellent ideas about why and how to get started:

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Posted in creativity, journaling, life, writing | Leave a comment

keeping busy while querying

Thanks to a bout of insomnia at 4 a.m., this morning I put the finishing touches on my second text for a picture book (I finished the first one, Gooseberry Pie, last week). The ms for Kaleidoscope Girl is rewrite of a poem about my daughter, from back in 2011. I wrote the original poem in dactylic tetrameter. For the ms, I’ve tweaked the meter so the rhyme lands at the end of each line, and written several new lines to flesh out the middle of the poem.

In addition to taking my mind off the Sisyphean waiting game that is querying, this was a great exercise to flex my poetic muscles, which I haven’t done in months. Here’s a teaser:

“…now she paints the whole rainbow and rides on the moon
learns to dance brand-new steps while she hums her own tune
as the Milky Way curves in its arc through the sky
she writes poems, equations, the digits of pi…”

Posted in Gooseberry Pie, Kaleidoscope Girl, picture book, poetry, query | Leave a comment

living the dream

I’m just two and a half weeks into querying, which means I’ve barely begun to experience what all my published friends warn me is at best an incredibly protracted process. Before now, waiting has never been my strong suit. In the past few months, I’ve been girding my loins for this baptism by fire—I even went out and bought a big binder (houndstooth, of course) for filing all my rejections. Out of the fifteen queries I’ve sent, I’ve received five rejections so far. Here’s what I’ve done after each one: scanned it for any useful feedback (none to date), printed, three-hole punched, and filed it in the binder. Then I’ve turned around and sent out another query the same day, to the next agent on my list (and yes, I have a spreadsheet because that’s how I roll).

I’ve been surprised to discover patience is possible, one day at time, when I focus on the gratitude I feel for just being alive in this moment, doing what I love: writing, putting myself and my work out there, and trusting the universe will respond when I show up each day to take this risk all over again.

Posted in gratitude, I love houndstooth, inspiration, query, writing | Leave a comment

it never hurts to ask

Back in June, I attended my niece’s graduation on Orcas Island. Orcas is located in the upper northwest corner of Washington State and recently gained some exposure as the setting for Kelli Estes’ debut, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk. It’s an eclectic and tight-knit community, and the commencement festivities showcased that in a dramatic way.

Case in point: Robert M. Gates, former president of Texas A&M and Secretary of Defense to three US presidents, gave the keynote address at the graduation ceremony. The senior class president introduced him. This young man, whose father had retired from state politics in Olympia and moved his family to Orcas several years ago, said he’d been nervous about approaching Gates to ask him to speak, but kept telling himself, “It never hurts to ask.” Listening on commencement day, I’d assumed he’d been acquainted with Gates because of his father’s political connections.

My sister, who has lived on Orcas for almost 20 years, later disabused me of this notion. She told me the senior class president only knew Gates by reputation–Gates has lived on Orcas for many years, made extensive charitable donations to the local school district, and long hoped to be asked to be a speaker. Only when the young man in question approached him, did he have the chance to accept.

His speech, by the way, stands as the best commencement address I’ve ever heard. It spanned generations, and bridged economic, racial, and ideological backgrounds. Sharing deeply personal stories from his own life, Gates inspired all within the sound of his voice to rise above their mistakes and keep working toward their dreams–whatever those dreams might be.

I’ll resist the urge to draw any heavy-handed lessons out of this story; it speaks for itself.

It speaks to me now, as I just sent out my first batch of queries this morning. The worst that can happen is for someone to say no–in which case, I’ll move forward and keep asking until someone does say yes.

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radio silence

I’ve been ignoring my blog. No excuses, because they’re all lame.

It’s such a deeply ingrained pattern at this point, I’m not sure I’ve got the bandwidth to break myself of it. And frankly, writing several different versions of a synopsis and a slew of individually tailored query letters is taking up most of my creative resources. I mean, I’ve written a 78K-word novel–how can it be so mentally exhausting to pump out one- and two-page variations of a story I’ve been eating, breathing, and sleeping for the past three years?

One amazing resource that’s made the challenge considerably easier is this well-conceived article by Susan Dennard over on Pub(lishing) Crawl. Maybe it’s that her all-time favorite movie is the same as mine and she uses it as her example, but the way she dissects the essential points of a tight synopsis is brilliant.

So, if you’re in the same synopsis-ring-of-hell, check it out. And keep fighting the good fight.

Posted in query, Star Wars, synopsis, The Door to Yesterday, writing | Leave a comment

i triple-dog-dare ya!

‘A Christmas Story’

‘A Christmas Story’: the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare

I should know by now any blog post written after midnight runs the risk of being utterly incoherent, but I’m too tired and excited to care. Over the next couple days–probably by the end of Monday–I’ll put the finishing touches on draft 6 of The Door to Yesterday and send it off to the last of my gentle readers.

Very briefly, I considered skipping this final round of beta-reading altogether because after more than three years, I just want to move forward and start querying. I’m aware of how nutty that sounds (bring on the rejection!) but I have faith in my lovely, imperfect little manuscript and in my heart, I believe somewhere out there is the agent who will see in it what I do. So, in the spirit of due diligence, I’m taking the time to get feedback on the rather substantial re-writes I did after my last round of beta-readers.

I’m cautiously optimistic that when this much smaller group of readers finishes, I can incorporate their feedback, polish a new draft, and at last be ready to begin the querying process. I did a lot of work on my pitch last year, utilizing the great advice I got from the Book Doctors during Pitchapalooza. It feels ready (although I’m sure I’ll look back at it someday and think, “What a mess.”)

Being this close to sending out queries, it’s starting to feel more real–even though I still have a long way to go. And I suppose this post is a sort of triple-dog-dare to myself to see it through.

Because I’ve already come this far.

Posted in revising, The Door to Yesterday, Uncategorized, writing | Leave a comment