Year End Reflections

I like New Year’s Eve/Day, for the same reason I like Valentine’s Day. Yes, I suppose we should make goals and reflect on our lives and reach again for the things we want every day, not just at the beginning of the year. But we don’t. Sometimes it’s nice to have a marked occasion for it. (Just like, on Valentine’s, it’s nice to have a marked occasion to express the love we should express every day anyway but sometimes don’t.)

I might do a post tomorrow on goals for 2015, but for now, here’s 2014 in review: it was a heckuva year.

10 11 Highlights

Signed with my agent (and I got to meet said agent in NYC)

– And I couldn’t have picked a better one. Not only did this career step make me feel validated as a writer, but it felt like a good life choice, something I’d be grateful for not just this year, but all the years to come.

Graduated with my bachelors degree

Had something published with an international audience

Swam in the Atlantic ocean (and then dolphins swim just where I’d been swimming)

Whale-watching in Tadoussac

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My brother came home after serving two years in Washington D.C.

I got a pretty cool new sister-in-law (because that same brother got married)

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Finally went to New York City and saw four Broadway shows, on Broadway

– Four different mornings I got on the subway to Times Square, where I’d wait in line for an hour with my book and get the student rush ticket, then I’d romp about the city and come back to see the show that night (or afternoon, if I got the matinee); it was lovely.

Went airboating in the Everglades

IMG_2077Fall 2014 Trip 038

Making new friends/connecting with old ones

– I guess this is not technically specific to 2014, but they were still some of the best parts of this year.

Seeing my name printed in a book’s acknowledgements as an editor

– P.S. You should go buy that book (“Little Dead Riding Hood”); the illustrations are pretty snazzy too.

5 Disappointments

Submission is a nasty thing, and I hate it

– I had this goal to be published before I graduated. That way, I wouldn’t have to get a real grown-up job. (Ha ha ha.) I signed with my agent in March, and technically graduated in August, so I thought – well, I may not be published, but there’s a good chance I could get a book deal pretty close to graduation, so that counts. But getting a book ready for submission takes a long time, and even getting there does not mean your book will be published. This year, it wasn’t so much the “not knowing” that was hard, as it was me putting off finding an actual job on the hope that my writing could possibly support me. The disappointment wasn’t failing (that’s still pending), it was, I would say, accepting I might have an average climb to success instead of a Cinderella story. (Which I know sounds obvious. It’s my flaw and strength to dream big first and then be disappointed.)

That awful apartment that was only $100

– This was the year of making almost no money and chasing dreams. And there was one apartment I stayed in over the summer that was . . . well. It will make a great detail to my still-pending “success” story to know that I once lived in such squalor. The place was awful. But it was only $100 a month. Chasing dreams is nice, but being an educated adult with no money is a bummer.

Thinking ponderously about running for half a year, but not really doing it

– Ha ha ha. Nothing quite like unrealized good intentions to make you feel good about yourself.

My first C in an English class

– I have gotten a C before, just so you know. Not like this cracked my glittering 4.0, but I’ve never gotten a bad grade in an ENGLISH class. This happened just after I signed with my agent. Besides being a full-time student with a job, I put all my energy to furiously working on my novel revisions. (Screw Jane Austen! I’m going to BE Jane Austen!) My professor was a smart dude who typically wrote on my papers, “Nice voice, nice concept, but very undeveloped–needs a few more drafts.” I know why it happened, but still. That C was a slap.

Missing out on signing a book

I had another goal this year, namely, to find a book I could champion and publish. And wouldn’t you know, I did find it. I pitched it to our editorial team. Everyone liked it. My boss told me, “Since you discovered this one, you can take the helm, negotiating with her agent and signing the deal.” I loved the author, loved the story, was so excited to mark it as the very first title on my own list, and then . . . the deal didn’t go through. Such is publishing. Sometimes things don’t work out for reasons that have nothing to do with enthusiasm or talent. But it was still a little crushing and still made me wonder, “Was I the doomed factor?”

3 Good Pieces of Advice (or Things I Learned)

“You don’t need to know the future to enjoy today.”

– Picture an office, where I’m handed a warm plastic cup of Dr. Pepper. An old guy with a bow tie telling me sometimes we can feel out of whack when we’re going through something hard. And me saying, “But there’s nothing!” and him saying, “Well you’re graduating soon. Do you know what you want to do? The next step can be scary.” And then, after acknowledging said in inner-terror with a sense of wonderment, he said, “Put seven pennies in your left pocket. Move them all by the end of the day, and for each penny, tell yourself, ‘I don’t have to know the future to enjoy today.'”

“I think you need a plane ticket.”

– My dad is the sort of parent who has instincts about his children. If you’re in trouble, he’ll feel it in his gut, like an intuiting wizard. And one night, driving through the winding roads of a canyon as it snowed in early spring, he said, “I’ve been thinking about you, and I think you need a plane ticket.” “A plane ticket to where?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “Wherever you’re going.”

“Get out of that.”

– One of my creative writing professors was also the Utah poet laureate, and he graciously let me work on my own novels instead of specific class assignments. I was still ghost-writing then, and told him the specifics of that job. “I’ve never heard of anything like that,” he said. “You should get out of it.” To which I replied, “Yeah, but, I still need a job. Better this than scrubbing toilets.”

“Maybe,” he said. “But scrubbing toilets doesn’t drain you creatively. Sometimes we have to find a balance of what we love and what we need, and what we can do to give ourselves the ideal space and time to do what we love.” And shortly after, I quit.

5 Best Books I Read

(Not necessarily my favorite books, and not necessarily published in 2014, just the ones that impacted me the most this year)

Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott

Essays on spirituality. Lamott is so funny and raw and real. I picked this up because BIRD BY BIRD is one of my favorite writing books, and it was worth it. Maybe it helped that I read it almost entirely on the bow of a sailboat.

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

– Beautiful illustrations. Haunting story. I may or may not have cried at a particular paragraph, which wasn’t even a sad part, but sometimes in a book, you read a line and think, “Yes, yes, that’s just how it is.”

Winner’s Trilogy and Grisha Trilogy

– I read so much YA this year, but these are two fantasy series I feel pretty confident recommending (they were fun and adventurous and not cursed with a love-triangle). 

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

– Technically a murder mystery, but it was so funny too. Charming and intriguing. The perfect “enjoyment” book

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear

– This is a children’s picture book, and I read it on the couch of a dear friend who showed it to me, and I was trying not to react too obviously, except to say, “Oh it’s lovely!” But it was more than lovely. It felt deeply personal and moving and pricked my dry, shriveled tear ducts.

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Sometimes, Running Away Works

Rebecca Solnit, in her book The Faraway Nearby, said:

“The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.”

I’m currently a nomad, traveling around, and I give this introduction only because people tend to ask me, “But what are you doing out there? Why did you go?”

“Nothing. I wanted to.”

I’m terrible at taking pictures. But I’m very good at remembering things. So here goes—first up Boston!

Here are some lovely things about Boston:

1) Louisa May Alcott’s house (Little Women!), an assortment of pens on dead authors graves, and Walden Pond. Even better than the pond itself, was walking the entire perimeter chatting about book contracts with two people who totally knew what they were talking about. And even better than that was the ice cream we got after—which was so rich I didn’t even finish it, but it stayed in my soul.

Fall 2014 Trip 002

Walden's Pond

Walden’s Pond, also Awesome Boston Friend

2) Seeing The Lion King musical for the first time and getting the chance to see Finding Neverland before it premieres on Broadway in March. I WEPT. (And even better? The kind of friend who doesn’t bat an eye seeing two musicals in a row.)

3) The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I just. I can’t even. Isabella Stewart Gardner traveled the world and amassed a remarkable collection of art. In 1903, she completed the construction of a personalized museum to house her collection. Everything is arranged in such a loving, deliberate way, and there’s a mix of paintings, furniture, textiles, and objects from different cultures and periods among well-known European paintings and sculpture. It’s beautiful, and Isabella is one of the coolest ladies in history.

isabella2

4) Walking all around Boston. I saw the balcony where they first read the Declaration of Independence, saw the “Make Way for Ducklings” duck statues in Arlington Park, read my book in the stunning Boston Public Library courtyard, watched sailboats on the river, and climbed aboard the U.S.S. Constitution. (Even better: going to the children’s section of the museum and pretending to be a sailor and playing all the games.)

constitution

test jewel 040

5) Having a wonderful friend who will not only act as a tour guide and let you use her discount at the bookstore, but who will talk about books and writing and publishing and musicals and all sorts of odd topics in between for four days straight and never feel like we’ve ran out of things to say. Not to mention, when your friend is a bookseller, you will leave with new books you’ve been dying to read in your bag, and you’ve also been introduced to lovely books you didn’t know existed. (Virginia Wolf, the picture book! Bloody Jack!)

6) Nothing is Ever Not Wonderful.

Just kidding. I caught a mega cold right when I got there and spent a literary party huddled in a blanket, hacking on the floor while I watched Netflix.

But otherwise, yes. Everything was perfect. (;

Next stop, Canada!

I Hate Exercise

To put it kindly, most writers tend to be of the pasty and pudgy variety, if not distinctly overweight, then at least soft to the touch. We spend a lot of time in front of a screen and are fueled by a combination of caffeine and a short list of specific “nutrients” that we probably buy in bulk and eat with 9-hour stretches of no-eating in between. To an outsider, it’s a quiet work. If you have the energy to lift a cup of coffee, then you can write a novel.

But we all know that even if your body is not hopping around doing jumping jacks, there’s a grueling, demanding labor going on inside you. Writers use their entire being to think. To quote Haruki Murakami: “The whole process—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.”

In short, my brain is an Olympic Warrior. On the inside, I’m a raging warrior goddess who bows to no one.

But on the outside . . .

Last spring I traveled to the UK and hiked my way from Scotland to London over two months. I loved it, and except for one strenuous adventure on Scafell Pike, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. Walking, I loved—and also scenic English countryside. Then I got home, and suddenly my world was consumed by school and work.

Work means: writing (of many varieties), editing (also of many varieties), ghost-writing, reading so many manuscripts. School means: reading and writing. Free-time: reading and watching all five seasons of Parks and Rec so my brain can decompress. If reading burned calories, I’d look like Heidi Klum.

I’m not saying I spend every minute in front of a computer. I do stuff (I do!). But the ratio of computer-sitting to movement is significantly disproportionate. I started doing yoga because I was worried that after ten years of sitting hunched over a laptop, I was going to look like this:

hunchback

And I enjoy it immensely; it makes me feel better, even though I’m possibly the most inflexible person alive. But basically—how I do it—it’s an hour of glorified stretching. Me and my back need the stretching—and the inversions and deep breathing. But there’s no cardio. It’s good for you, but does not require a lot of physical exertion. My body was starting to take on what the Oatmeal calls “computer shape”:

ultramarathon_diagram

 

So.

What to do?

I decided recently on running, for a number of good reasons.

1) You can do it for free. We all know what would really happen if I forked out $50 a month for a gym membership. That would be two very expensive sauna trips per month.

2) It’s outside. So . . . sun (ew), and fresh air.

3) Alone. ‘Nuff said.

4) Remember my Olympic-sized brain? Being alone with my thoughts for an hour is not only not boring and not difficult, it’s also probably necessary so my head doesn’t explode. I do this anyway, when I walk, but now I will just . . . go faster.

5) I can eat more carbs.

Once I decided to do this, I spent more time reading memoirs about running than actually running. I thought about running a lot. And then finally, eventually, there was nothing to do but go. People run all the time around Provo, they’re basically part of the scenery, so I wasn’t self-conscious. I figured I’d go for roughly half an hour. That was a good beginner’s start right? Besides, I’m not a completely non-athletic person. I hiked the UK. I played basketball and tennis in high school. I ride my bike and walk most places I need to go. I’m not a total newbie to exercise.

After half a mile, half a mile, my face was flushed into my ears and as I slowed to an unsteady walk, I thought seriously that I might pass out on the side of the road. I’ll just walk for a minute, I thought. Five minutes later, I tried again, with same results, only it happened faster, less than a quarter mile this time. The running app on my iPod asked, “Do you want to post your time to Facebook?” Um, no. Actually, I thought I should probably turn around soon so that I wouldn’t need an EMT stretcher to take me home.

Me:

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On one of my multiple breath-catching moments, this shirtless guy passed me (going uphill!!), and he didn’t even look like he was breaking a sweat, mouth closed and serene. Maybe slight dampness at the temples. I thought: You are an alien or you are lying.

In fact, everyone who says they love running is a liar.

This is the only explanation.

Because it suuuuucks. When I finally got home, I was thinking, is this what running is going to feel like every time? Is each run going to mean confronting this pain, shame, and rage? Why do people do this?

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I mean, to be fair, I know this was the first time. I will probably give running a few more chances before kicking it to the curb. Actually, even if it sucks indefinitely, I will most likely still do it because computer shape is worse than the agonizing torment of jogging (maybe).

But do any of my readers run? Is there a way to make it less torturous? ANY TIPS? Or is this going to be a necessary evil in my life no matter what I do?

My Writing Process – Bloghop

My dear friend Sara Butler, who writes a speculative fiction series about monster-hunting and other awesomeness, invited me to participate in this bloghop:

We writers share these things, but informally during workshops and at conferences (and, for a handful of established writers, in printed interviews), but not so much through our open-forum blogs. With the hashtag #MyWritingProcess, you can learn how writers all over the world answer the same four questions. How long it takes one to write a novel, why romance is a fitting genre for another, how one’s playlist grows as the draft grows, why one’s poems are often sparked by distress over news headlines or oddball facts learned on Facebook . . .

So, onward.

What am I working on?

I’m just starting the first draft of a YA contemporary book called The Dark Backward, a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Prospero, a brilliant teen trained by his con-artist grandfather, is the master of a small public high school in Pennsylvania – all he wants is revenge on a trio of boys who bullied him as a freshman. We’ll see what it turns out to be, but right now it’s a story about forgiveness, deception, acceptance – and the way bullying, abuse, and social networks affect teens lives.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My retellings are historical and realistic, but they hover near the edge of being too unbelievable; they’re cinematic. I’m not so much interested in hardcore realism as I am telling a good story. I’m not writing to the characters in my book, I’m writing to the people who read it, and my philosophy tends to be that it’s much more important to be a good storyteller than to stick too closely to what’s real. I mean, if a reader were solely interested in reality they wouldn’t be reading a novel.

Why do I write what I do?

Ha ha, I don’t know to answer this question. Because I want to? Not to sound too mystical about it, but these stories chose me. All of my books are different (in approach, in genre, in purpose), and the reason I write them is because that’s the story that comes into my head. Sometimes I get an idea for a book in a genre I don’t even particularly read that much. If I like the idea, I will write it, because I want to and because I need to.

How does my writing process work?

I research quite a bit. I usually have a few pages of notes and snippets. Then I write a loose outline – longhand, on a legal pad – and go for it. I write “higgledly-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way” as Kurt Vonnegut says, and I write fast. I can finish a first draft in a month or two usually, and then comes the second draft, which is almost always completely different. I basically consider my first drafts a level of prewriting, though I’m trying to change that – work smarter, not harder, as they say. Then REVISION. My books are made in the process of revision.

All right. Enough about me. It is my honor to tag these three lovely ladies in this bloghop:

I met Mackenzi Lee because we both interned at the Friend, and she was (luckily) open to my insistent idea that we were destined to be friends. Her debut novel THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING, a (totally awesome) reimagining of Frankenstein in steampunk Geneva, comes out Fall 2015 with Katherine Tegen Books, and imprint of HarperCollins.

Rebecca Lamoreaux is an old Pandamoon friend who writes lovely historical romance, the latest of which is called LORD HYACINTHE. She also runs an amazing business that hosts online book launch parties called Loving the Book Launch.

And finally, my dear friend Rae Chang – who most of you probably know as the indomitable assistant and Pitch Wars mentor on Brenda Drake’s blog – but she is also a fantastic writer herself (her latest is an edgy take on Sleeping Beauty called CIPHERS), as well as a skilled freelance editor.

Check them all out – they’re awesome.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Manuscript

I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but I experience ups-and-downs in regard to how I feel about my current WIP – actually, in fact, with everything I’ve written, whether “in progress” or not. Last week, after getting some notes back from my agent, I had a moment, after opening the Word document and beginning the fine-tooth-combing process of final revision tweaks, of what I can only describe as a wave of loathing.

I mean, I was reeeally not fond of this story. “This is shallow as a puddle. And boring. And every sentence I try to write is more tissue-paper flak around this essential pile of crap.”

Part of it is that I’m one month shy of hitting the year mark from when i wrote the very first sentence for this book. Am I not finished yet?!  The other part is that I have the notes and outline and first two chapters of a new manuscript, and that one, I’m convinced, is going to be dazzling immediately  (we’re in the honeymoon stage). I am fickle in my affections, apparently.

Now, I got over it. I got over it by letting my two main characters bicker for a few pages. I deleted most of it, but it reminded me that I did like this story and it didn’t need to win a Pulitzer for me (and other people) to hopefully enjoy it and make it worthwhile. But it made me think how bipolar this whole process is, and how rocky the relationship between creator and creation can be.

First, there’s the idea stage. The meet-cute between you and your future book. Love at first sight.

first sight

Then, you start getting more ideas and writing them down and slowly realizing this is going to be the greatest book of all time.

letmeloveyou

Then you start writing the first draft.

proposal

And everything’s fine for the first three chapters are so, and then you realize this is ms is so needy.

be cool

And it’s not what you thought it was.

whoareyou

And you get finished and you’re just like . . .

disgust

But whatever. You said you were in this for the long haul. Clearly it’s time to whip that ms into what you originally dreamed. You’re pretty brutal.

brutal

You’re not sorry.

sorrynotsorry

But then you start letting beta-readers read it and OMG! they love it. The fuzzy feelings are starting to return.

youlooknice

Also you’re getting ideas on how to make it EVEN BETTER and again it’s the greatest thing in the world.

perfect

And yeah. That ebbs too. But even though the rose-colored glasses are off, you accept your ms for who they are.

accept

You renew your vows to each other to see it through to the end.

together

But then, surprise, brand new plot-hole that is going to need a truckload of rewriting.

shit

And you never really get to a point where you’re finished, but you eventually arrive at a place where you know where you stand, where all you can think is:

ruin

And:

perfect

 

Because, in the end, we all feel a little like Walt Disney when he said in Saving Mr. Banks, “That mouse, he’s family.” My stories, anyway, feel like family. And I guess that’s why they alternately drive me crazy and make me so happy in the same week.

How I Got My Literary Agent

I decided to do one of these posts because when I was in a position to start looking for an agent, I became mildly obsessed with knowing the “path to publication” of each writer I read, and was always disappointed when at least some information wasn’t provided, while the stories I did find served as inspiration (such as that of A.S. King and Shannon Hale). Also people keep asking.

February 2013 was the first time I ever pitched to an agent. I’d finally finished and polished a whole manuscript (to death, really) and there was nothing left to do but go for it. I paid for a ten-minute session with an agent at the LTUE conference and was nauseous I was so nervous. Looking back, I think it wasn’t so much that one pitch, but rather that I was owning up to the fact that I wanted to be a published author and this was the first leap off the cliff (except I didn’t so much leap as I did close my eyes and tip over). I’m read Seraphina a few weeks ago, and there’s a quote that describes this perfectly (but is actually describing a dragon hunt; accurate, I think): “There’s the exhilaration of an exciting chase mixed with the fear that it may all end in nothing, but there is never any question that you will try, for your very existence hangs on it.”

jump

Despite my nerves, the agent was nice and asked me to send the full manuscript. I was clearly a bit awkward, but I had an interesting concept (this will turn out to be a pattern in my other publishing attempts as well; I fumble in nearly all areas of this process, but by darn, I do have good ideas). From there I sent query letters to 50 other agents. I used the “Guide to Literary Agents” and agent websites, plus blogs like Miss Snark’s to make sure my query was properly formatted. I’m not saying I did an awesome job, but I did try and fully recognized that I needed to put my best foot forward, even if I was still figuring out what that was.

Some of you may have guessed, the manuscript was Once Upon a Nightmare*. Roughly five agents wanted to read it, but all of them ultimately turned it down for basically the same reason: nice idea, needs some work on the execution. The rest were form rejections or no answers. At this point, I had two choices: go back and rework OUAN again and get it up to snuff . . . or I could move on. I chose to move on. I think a lot of new writers fall into the trap of nursing their one book, babying it, when really what they need to do is write more books. [*It’s still online because I’d put it up on FictionPress before ever trying to query, and when I took it down I got some very distraught e-mails from old fans, so I’ve left it up for the people who still enjoy it.]

So I wrote more books. I wrote a speculative mystery novel, then I went to the UK and was completely blown away watching Shakespeare plays at the RSC and the Globe Theater. I remember seeing As You Like It and thinking, “You could make such a freaking cool novel out of this.” I added the thought to the multitude of notes I’d made in my Shakespeare class last semester of different retelling ideas. But I didn’t really think I could write books based on Shakespeare plays, because wasn’t that kind of cheating? Or overdone? Or laaaaaame?

Meanwhile I got home the end of June and did some more rewrites on the mystery novel. Time to query again! Except I ended up not querying, because I entered it into a contest for adult fiction and it got picked up by a small publisher. Shortly after, I read an editor’s tweet saying she’d love to see a retelling of Much Ado About Nothing. Um, what? That’s my favorite play (not just favorite Shakespeare play, but favorite play period). I had so many things I wanted to do with it . . . which meant, could I actually write this?

I took it as permission and (re)watched every adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing I could get my hands on, and read the play again, highlighting all the best lines, of which there are many. I watched Ken Burns six-hour documentary on Prohibition and read multiple books on the 1920s and bootlegging. My excitement grew. I wrote my retelling faster than I’d ever written anything (though to be fair, I was following the play pretty closely, so it was like having a built-in outline). I was so jazzed about it, I wanted to come back to the story every morning and was sad to leave it when my eyes started to blur from staring at my screen too long.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, I showed it to some readers, got feedback, rewrote some scenes and chapters, polished it up, and decided to query again. (At this point I just sigh and pat my past-self on the head; my excitement outran my patience, to say the least.) I was much more specific in my research this time. I used querytracker.net and narrowed my search field to include young adult and historical fiction. From the agents that popped up, I studied each one more to narrow my list even further. I wanted a semi-younger agent (younger in the business, not in age) who would hopefully be my partner for my entire career. I also looked for, in addition to young adult and historical fiction, an agent who could handle a flexible spectrum in fiction and was interested in high concept books. Nearly all of my books, or at least the ideas and notes I have for them, are fairly high concept and different from each other in many ways.

I sent the first batch of 20 or so queries out, got a few form rejections right off, then entered my ms in Brenda Drake’s PITCH MADNESS contest. I ended up with five bids, in addition to a handful of “ninja” agents who also wanted to see it. Then two agents I sent queries to asked for the full. Then #pitmad happened and I got additional requests from that. I also, as a result of #pitmad, got an e-mail from an agent* I’d already queried who saw my pitch on Twitter and was like, “Wait, didn’t I already ask for that?”

Suddenly, within what felt like a relatively short period of time, over a dozen agents were looking at my manuscript. One of the #pitmad agents responded in a few weeks, and I really liked her. I was hoping she’d write back and she did, asking for rewrites of the first chapter to see if I could take feedback and edit well. This was another case of: nice idea, execution needs a little work. Except this time people were willing to give me a chance to improve the execution. I severely over-wrote and slaughtered that rewritten first chapter; it was terrible. But the agent, bless her heart, saw the effort and potential and offered representation.

yay

Dreams come true! Dreams come true! I was over the moon, but still knew the professional thing to do was let all other agents who had my manuscript know that I’d had an offer. At this point, I was slowly realizing that in my over-eagerness I’d sent out a manuscript that still had a way to go, so I wasn’t expecting any passionate pleas for all future works of genius (cough).

About 2/3 of the agents very politely and warmly stepped aside, citing various reasons they weren’t personally as excited about it as they’d hoped to be. (I just want to make a quick aside here that it’s easy to see agents as these Gandalf gatekeepers between us and our dream going, “You shall not pass!”, but they are truly some of the nicest people in the world.) The last third asked for more time to finish. Of this third, most ultimately passed, giving me good feedback, but one had a full page of notes that ended with, “If any of this resonates with you, I’d be happy to talk, but do know that I would expect a lot of additional edits.” Ha—you and me both, I thought.

I couldn’t quite tell if she was very interested or not, so I wrote back and said, “I agree this needs additional elbow grease. Um, would you want to represent the book?” That’s a paraphrase, of course. Actually when I look back on some of these e-mails to both agents, I cringe. I, at least, can tell that I was a screwed up ball of anxiety.

nervous

In short, second agent and I talked on the phone, lots of her edits did resonate, and I was left in an unanticipated situation where I liked both agents and didn’t know who to choose. I also knew my novel was going to drastically change. What if I signed with one agent, made the changes, and they hated the new draft?

If the cringe-y e-mails weren’t bad enough, it was nothing compared to the second phone call I had with the second agent, where, in retrospect, I think I was presenting ideas and subconsciously trying to wring a confession out of her to admit she would like the changes (before I’d even sent them) and be happy she signed with me and we’d ride off into the sunset. Which is crazy. And I remember getting to the end of the phone call, when she was maybe starting to see through the fog of my crazy, and she said something to the effect of: “You know, I get how important this is to new writers, but at the end of the day, you can say no to both of us. That’s not the end of the world. And if this book never finds an agent, then you’ll write a new book and try again with that one. The fate of your career doesn’t have to be decided in the space of this phone call.”

It was good advice in general, but really good advice for me personally. Plus, she’d sort of talked me off the crazy cliff, which I suspected might be a useful skill for a future agent of mine to have.

Thus . . . I said no to both, because clearly it was important for me to chillax and rewrite this book on my own terms. So I rewrote my manuscript, incorporating the plethora of professional feedback I’d received. It was a massive undertaking, almost 80% new writing. During this time, funnily enough, two other agents I’d queried asked for the full ms, one who later declined and one who I later declined (I only add this detail because one of the requests seriously came six months after I sent the query, so you just never know). Then I waited for the first two agents to read the rewrite and while I waited I cyber-stalked them. If they uttered a word on the world wide web, I probably read it. I’d also made sure to ask them questions about their clients, what they envisioned for the book, are they a member of AAR, etc., etc.

In the end, they both were still interested and, honestly, it just came down to what felt right in my gut, because they were both genuine, qualified, lovely people. I looked at it from a business angle as well as a personal angle and chose the second agent, the indomitable Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates, who is pretty much fantastic. I love that she is an editorial agent and is never going to tell me, “Yeah, yeah, it’s fine,” when it could be better (I also like that she thinks I’m capable of making it better). I’m not sure how many writers feel like that they’re getting a mentor into the publishing world with their agent, but that’s been the case with me. I used to read the acknowledgments of books with authors describing their agents as ninja/sword-wielding/super people, and thinking, ‘They can’t all be like that.’ And maybe they’re not, but Katie is (after our first phone call I described her to my friend saying ‘she has a lioness quality’).

[*She was also the agent who I sent a regular cold query to, but who e-mailed me back after seeing my pitch on #pitmad, so I never know to which venue I should attribute the contact.]

So top lessons learned: be patient. Don’t take every e-mail from every agent like it’s the start or end to your life. If you truly love writing, you’re probably in it for the long haul, so just relax. And finally, hold out for an agent that really gets you and gets your book. Many aspiring writers, myself included, are ready to say yes to whichever agent makes you an offer first. If that first agent at LTUE had made an offer for OUAN, I would have jumped on her like a koala, refusing to let go, but I’m grateful for all the delays and side-turns that ultimately landed me with agent I have now.

Give it 100

So, tentatively, without much confidence, I have mentioned in passing that I used to be an artist. Here is the short story of my artistic career.

In middle school, I watched the show Lizzie McGuire and saw that little cartoon that represents her thoughts and said, “Anyone could draw that.” So I drew an entire comic of Lizzie McGuire cartoons intended to look like me and my five friends going on awesome adventures. When I moved to a new high school as a freshman, I kept drawing, doodling in my notebooks during class and letting people see them.

Soon, that was who I was. I was the artist (the cartoonist, actually). I drew the cover of our yearbook. I won a painting contest for the town phone book cover. I was the Art Sterling Scholar. When I attended an art camp during my senior year, I was offered a scholarship to the college hosting the camp. In those shaky years of adolescence and insecurity, I clung to both an identity (The Artist) and the constant praise I received.

I went to college as an art student . . . and slowly had the artist strangled out of me. At the end of the day, I was a decent artist—but not particularly amazing.

(I still liked cartoons; I did stuff like this):

Hearts_by_missjak

Diamonds_by_missjak

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clubs_by_missjak

Spades_by_missjak

 

 

 

 

 

 

My tiny bit of talent was no match for my lack of ambition or innovation. Suddenly I was surrounded by hundreds of “The Artist”s and instead of feeling praised, I felt hugely inferior.

Break out the tiny violin, right?

Obviously hard work and criticism are part of life. But I felt miserable, grudgingly doing my drawing assignments, spending my free time not drawing, but . . . you guessed it: writing.

And, oh man, I had no talent for writing. No one had ever praised my writing skills. In fact, I deliberately hid any signs that I wanted to write because I was too massively embarrassed by it. But I adored it. Hard work? I am loving every miserable minute! Criticism? All I want is to publish something before I die and I’m young and healthy.

So, the rest is history. Now I’m a writer. Not an artist.

45692

But I miss it. Not so much being an ~*artist~*, because I’m still not sure I’m cut out for it, but I miss drawing cartoons. I miss giving visual faces to characters I love (in my head and not). And I still love art—enjoying it as a viewer.

Have you heard of “Give It 100?” It’s a nifty little site where you can pledge to do something, anything, for 100 days, ten minutes every day. You’re supposed to video those ten minutes and post it, buuutt . . . I’m not doing that. I’m just stealing the idea. I’ll be stretching the ol’ drawing muscles, doing a drawing a day, seeing if I can’t get my pencil and sketch book back into shape.

I’ll be posting the drawings on DeviantArt in batches of ten, and using this amazing site to help me practice. And this time, there’s no pressure; I’m not doing it for the attention or praise. I know I’m a writer and that’s where my heart and soul is. This is just fun.