Novel, Take Two.
September 22, 2008

So here I go, again, drinking the writing antidote, but gallon-sized, this time.

I read somewhere that John Grisham always starts a new book the day after he finishes the book he’s writing, and although I needed a little more time than that, off I go, again.

Most of all, I feel relieved that I’ve even come up with a new novel premise; I really had to dig deep. As I told a writer friend, my new novel is going to be about a nineteen year old young woman who dies before her time, and has to come back to “life” as another person, namely, her same aged next-door neighbor, to continue with her life.

She will then live next-door to her “previous” parents, sisters, brothers, family, without being allowed to disclose who she really is.

I’ll have her interact over the backyard hedges, as a babysiter for her (old family) next door neighbors, and play with family dynamics on both sides, along with all the personal conflicts that go with it, along with her attempts to fit in to her new place in the world, and her new family.

I’ll balance out both lives with the main character, who told me yesterday that her name was Carly before she died, but is now Kinsey, having a talent or ability her old self didn’t have, maybe better parents, different financial situations, her old boyfriend being attracted to her new self, too, etc. and etc, along with exploring the inner conflicts that come from losing her old family.

I don’t have all the details yet — I know from my past novel that it’ll come as I’m writing.

This will either be a novel, again, or a YA book, maybe series. I’m thinking, since YA is so hot these days, with an age group known to read and spend money on books, besides it being a great genre for books in series, AND with a usual word count that is approx. 1/3 the count of my finished novel, it could be a smart move to write in/break in through this genre.

I remember the first time I heard a more seasoned writer say that if you couldn’t break in with your first book, you write another — and sometimes another, and even another. I found the concept horrifying and absolutely mind-boggling — not just the amount of work indicated, but you think, what about THIS book, the one you wrote for years and put all the hard work into, emptied your soul into, not to mention the query, synopsis, edits and rewrites.

But that’s not it — only now do I really and truly get it — you can’t drown or live in just one book, no matter how attached you are to the characters and story. Even as the writer instead of the reader, still the last page turns. Nor, hopefully, do you want to write only one book, if you plan to make writing your career.

So, now I’m looking at it like, in the future, when Harper Collins (or some such yummy publisher) offers me the three book contract, wouldn’t it be awesome to have the three books already written?

The first page and a half of my new novel is copied below, still drafty, of course. I’m going to have fun with this one.

New Novel, Still Untitled: Working Title: The Girl Next Door.

Untitled Chapter One

When you die, you wake up in a huge Winn Dixie feeling as confused as you always felt under those blinding florescent lights. I’d been expecting a different kind of light, and angels playing harps — not muzak, and The Carpenters singing Rainy Days and Mondays. Wandering the aisles in a daze, (I’m not the only one), I linger in the produce section, studying myself in the mirror over the dewy heads of iceburg lettuce.

Wow — the big zit on the left side of my chin has (poof) disappeared. Also gone is the scar that, for as long as I can remember, etched a thin, white road across my left eyebrow, separating it into two sections if you looked real close. The ragged scar on my right kneecap that I sustained at age ten after taking a dare to ride my bike down Mammoth Hill without using brakes is also gone. So is the beauty mark on my cheek.

All identifying marks are gone! I don’t even have fingerprints, anymore! I think I’m about to lose it! I’m freaking out!

Breathe deep, says the kid in charge of carts (there’s still a kid in charge of carts).

Huh?

“I said, take a deep breath. It’s okay.”

Only, he talks in my head; his lips don’t move at all. He’s the same guy who’d handed me a cart when I first arrived, manifesting next to me as soon as I walked through the automatic doors. Pointing me toward the shining aisles as if all of this was perfectly normal stuff, he’d also handed me a list: a survival list for death. (I swear!)

As it turns out, you still have to eat.

You don’t need money, though. And, just like the wish of women everywhere, you also don’t gain weight. You can choose your own face, hair, skin color, body type and age; at least that’s what I heard over the p.a. system earlier, when they welcomed us. (That, and can Wanda please report to aisle five for clean-up.)

However, I guess the shape shifting stuff happens further down the line. If going by my life means anything anymore, I have a feeling I’ll be stuck at death 1.0 for a long time. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve always been pretty much okay with how I look. Although it could be fun to change things up a little bit, I’m already so over change I can’t even tell you, after finding myself here.

I think they pump some sort of happy gas through the store ducts, too; not like the kind the dentists use, but more like an infusion of wisdom, part of the very air, that helps you get your bearings, shop for your list, and integrate the fact that you’re dead.

I see Maybelline’s Great Lash is hanging in its usual slot in the cosmetics aisle, a comforting beacon of green and pink just as hard to miss here, too. I take two, and put them in my cart. You never know when they might throw the Afterlife Ball, and of course you’ll want to look your best when The Big Guy (That’s what they call him, here – The Big Guy) asks you to dance. (The guy wrapping roasted chickens even said, though not to me, that everyone gets at least one dance.) A long, thick set of lashes always sets off a gown beautifully; I still know at least that much – I did go to prom, and even a wedding, once.

I better grab an eyeliner pencil, eye shadow, eyelash curler and lip gloss, too. Mom always said we should put our best face forward.

The Big Guy’s helper, his intake worker, I guess, has a long table with three stacks of forms set up right in front of the Deli section. And, drum roll please, he happens to be the Easter Bunny. (And he’s eating purple pickles.)

I know, I know; at first I thought it was a joke, too, but it’s no joke. The lady behind the counter weighing tubs of macaroni salad said that it helps the newly dead children, puts them at ease, and that the adults at least find it funny, if not comforting. I have to agree; there isn’t anything scary about the Easter Bunny. He looks like a real rabbit, too – a jack rabbit, going by his ears, although walking upright. The kid in charge of carts waves me into line, parking my cart full of makeup next to the boxes of saltines. I’m wearing the same unisexual, baby-blue, long-sleeved nightgown as everyone else, and still feeling woozy.

Each time he’s done writing, the Easter Bunny looks up, smiles, and sends the newly registered off to finish their shopping lists, but not before pressing a foil-wrapped chocolate bunny into each person’s hand. I’m allergic to chocolate; I always was, and I know that chocolate bunny is going to taste like – dare I say it? – heaven. I’d hazard a guess that I’m not allergic, here. Not to chocolate, nuts, shellfish or cats.

I wonder when I can get a cat? Will it be a dead cat, too?

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’m dead. Instead, I’m noticing irrelevant things – like, how white the Easter Bunny’s teeth are, and how the icing on the donuts in the Bakery section has been so artfully and impeccably applied.

But I’m dead!

It’s still all a little disjointed, the details of what happened, or how it happened, because it all happened so fast. It’s the last thing you’d expect to have happen on a sunny, quiet Tuesday morning. I’m supposed to be babysitting for the Maxwell’s this afternoon, and little Joey is expecting me to read him the new Junie B. Jones book. Truth be told, I couldn’t wait to read it, either. Those are some funny books.

Query Road Rage.
September 15, 2008

“Yet hold it more humane,

more heavenly, first,

By winning words to conquer willing

hearts,

And make persuasion do the work of

fear.”

Milton

Paradise Regained.

As you chug down Query Road, no different than any other road, it’s very likely you will encounter road rage, with one major difference: instead of the rage being other-oriented and aimed at you, it’s more likely to be your own rage aimed at yourself.

As you diligently contort and twist your vision into the proper query and synopsis key-shape that opens the door to publication, shake off the highway-hypnotism and keep the bigger picture in mind. Remember that every query and synopsis can be rewritten and refined for better chances, that a lack of skill or knowledge can be fixed by buying and reading books on the subject, and that there are things you can do to help yourself — you aren’t a helpless “victim” in the process. Just keep doing your homework.

(A friend in the know who is willing to help never hurts, either.) 

If you find yourself veering off the road and writing email subject lines such as, “Shoot me with a query, strangle me with a query, smash my brains out with a query”, it’s time to pull over into the next rest stop, (named after your favorite author), roll up the windows and scream at the top of your lungs, just to get the negativity and frustration out of your system. Negativity and frustration will ferment into poison until all perspective is lost.

Remaining balanced, level-headed and emotionally restrained is great, but being human, the query process does get discouraging, frustrating and overwhelming at times for the best of us, especially when continuously receiving “Dear Author” rejections. So, let the frustration out, before it turns into sugar in your gas tank. Do what you need to do — say screw it (temporarily), walk away for a week, take a break; attach your rejection letters to the nearest tree and get out your bow and arrow and have at it until you feel better.

Just whatever you do, DON’T GIVE UP. No one has ever reached their goals or dreams by giving up. There are plenty of querying writers out there who won’t give up. Be one of them. Use the query process to make yourself a better writer, a more experienced writer, a more determined writer. 

If you find yourself living out of your car at the rest stop, temporarily adopting the address as your own and emailing other writer friends things such as, “Today I lost it for a second and decided my next novel should be about a frustrated writer who hops a plane to NYC, and, office building by office building, beats agents to death with his/her brilliant but rejected manuscript”, then forget the soft pretzel and slurpee consolations, and go straight for the double scoop, gooey chocolate milkshake.

Last week, on a writing group I frequent, I read a thread by a writer (a good writer, too) whose frustration and discouragement was so viral it was contagious; I came down with it, myself. It took me a week’s leave from querying, along with a dose of “Annie” and a few rewinds of “The sun will come out, tomorrow”, to finally put me back behind the wheel.

I know I’m a hard worker. I’m an excellent driver, too. So are you. Identifying the obstacles on Query Road, including the ones we create for ourselves as writers, is the only way to keep chugging along. (It also doesn’t hurt to stop at the next scenic overlook, preferably with canyons, and yell “I am a writer, I’ll never give up!” and hear your strong, beautiful voice echoing back exactly what you need to hear.)

A Request For Pages.
August 16, 2008

“An ice age here, a million years of mountain-building there, plates of bedrock grinding against each other over a span of millennia… Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really. Pressure and time.”

The Shawshank Redemption

 It was just about the most exciting thing that’s happened to me yet — a few days ago I checked my email and found a response from an agent I queried, written like a regular email, devoid of stock industry phrases, requesting manuscript pages after reading my query letter and synopsis.

I’m just so excited.

It’s good to know an agent thinks my novel’s premise can hold up in the publishing world. She wanted to see if my writing style was a good fit. I’m still waiting to hear the verdict.

“Opinions vary widely in this business”, as you get used to reading in rejection letters, and it’s true; we’ll just have to wait and see if it’s my time to shine. If it is, great; I’m ready to go because I’ve done the hard, hard work, and I’ll continue to do it. If it’s not, it’s not, and my time will come. I believe that’s true for all of us.

The days have been getting kinder in the desert, a welcome break for humans and animals. The temperature during the day is still one hundred degrees or more, but the evenings are finally cooling off as the monsoon rains sneak in at night and work their magic.

Last night, sitting on the porch as the storm built up, my hot hair off my neck in a clip (and the breeze worth ticket money), I imagined the email with the next request: a partial.

In anticipation, I woke up early this morning and went back over the first one hundred pages.

Stumbling into the kitchen a few hours later and seeing me typing away, my husband groaned at my declaration that I would continue to go over the whole manuscript, all 387 pages, “just one more time”. He now laughs when he hears me say “the book is done!” or “I’m done editing”, because we both know the insidious, book-writing truth: it’s never really done. A writer will always reread, recheck and fiddle.

A writer friend, upon hearing of the request for pages, was happy I’d no longer have to fret over disinterest or form rejections.

However, just last night another impersonal, form rejection arrived in my inbox. It just goes to show how subjective the business really is — “Opinions vary widely in this business” — as you sail your book out into the world, say, tasting like pizza, when the agent had more of a hankering for wild cherries.

You just never know. It’s why rejection is never a good reason to pack it in — the pizza-loving agent may only be a query letter away, looking through her inbox, famished.