Always a Silver Lining… The Upside of the Great Pager Swap Fiasco

If you read my last post, you might think the Great Pager Swap 2009 was all hassle and no payoff. But you’d be mistaken.

I have an unpredictable schedule that can keep me away from a computer for big chunks of time. I also have in-laws with dial-up whom we visit frequently.

Like every other author seeking representation, I don’t want to miss a reply from an agent when I can’t get online. So I set up an email filter that forwards messages with “Query” or “The Edge of Memory” in the subject to my text pager.

This works great, overall, but it did backfire on me once.

An email reply on my full manuscript was forwarded to my pager from an agent who’d requested my full after reading my partial. My pager displayed the beginning of the message:

From: Awesome Agent

Re: Requested Full Manuscript of The Edge of Memory

Dear Heather,

Thank you so much for letting me review The Edge of Memory. I’m really intrigued by the premise and definitely think it has appeal in today’s market

<snip>

As you’ve probably guessed, I thought this might be good news, but the next sentence (which didn’t make it onto my pager display) started with “However.”  When I finally made it back online, I was crushed.

It turned out to be a great response nonetheless, since her feedback gave me a Eureka moment that made my manuscript much stronger. But I could have done without the false hopes.

Well, my new pager displays more than twice as much text as the old one did. And I doubt any agent will beat around the bush that long before lobbing a “However” or an “Unfortunately” at me.

So, you see… there is a reason for everything. Even for the Great Pager Swap Fiasco.

U Got the Look: Novel Marketing and Prom Ensembles

Well, Prom season is upon us. You may wonder what the heck that has to do with marketing a novel. Well, I’ll tell you.

But first, I’d like to introduce this into evidence:

That’s me (with my sister) on my way to the prom circa 1992.

Now, if you’re like me, after looking at this picture, you’re rubbing your stinging nose with one hand while wiping the coffee off your laptop with the other. Which is hard to do when you’re shaking with laughter. I mean that is really quite the look, right?  Check out the asymmetric hair-do and the “floating pearl” necklace. Not to mention the white iridescent tights. And when you’re uberpale, the best look is almost always baby pink patterned satin over white tulle, natch.

Here’s the thing:

At the time, I thought I looked awesome. Other people thought I looked awesome, too. I overheard my date’s younger sister whining that her brother must have bribed me or something cuz OMG, she’s actually pretty!

Unfortunately, I believe writing is a bit like fashion. I finished the first draft of The Edge of Memory in 7 weeks. I did a quick grammar edit, and then shipped the manuscript off to a bevy of test readers for feedback, while I took a month away “for perspective.” (yeah, right.)

Over the next several months, I completed several major edits. I then decided I was done tinkering and ready to seek representation. I read the blogging agents mantras of “Don’t Query Before You’re Ready” and “Write a Great Book” and felt confident. I loved my manuscript. I didn’t think it was perfect, of course, but I thought I’d reached the point where I needed professional feedback to progress further.

I was both right and wrong.

Since that first stopping point (when my book was titled “Still Haunted”), I’ve done at least six more rounds of editing. And each time I finish a round of edits, I cringe to look at the previous drafts. Just like that prom picture, I look at those versions and wonder, “what the heck I was thinking?”

In February, an agent who had requested a partial and then my full manuscript pointed out a plot detail that bothered her. She gave me a eureka moment and I subsequently rewrote several scenes. I am very pleased with the resulting manuscript, and have not edited again since (which, of course, shatters my previous record of approximately nine minutes between edits). I think this time I finally have reached the most polished version I can produce.

Naturally, I wish I had known that I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was when I first began querying. But then, I’m not sure I would have reached this place without the submission process. Certainly, I might never have had the eureka moment without that agent’s input.

The take-home point here is that I’m glad I’ve never been a Query Player (much as I’ve tried). If I had queried a zillion agents when I first thought my manuscript was ready, I’d have burned all my bridges.

But since I’ve only queried a few agents at a time, I’ve got a chance to show my best work. And I’m grateful for that.

Empathyfail: A Writer-Doctor’s Thoughts on Agentfail

If you’re the sort of person that reads my blog, chances are outrageously high that you have heard all about Queryfail and Agentfail. I’ve read all 230+ comments on the BookEnds post.

And what struck me most about the more angry comments posted there was the lack of understanding. I hate the crickets treatment as much as the next writer, but despite the fact that, indeed, it would take only a few seconds to send a reply, I understand why some agents can’t do that.

It’s true… if an agent reads a query and knows instantly that the project is not for them, it would take only a few seconds to paste a rejection. But if they waffle just a bit, they might not want to reject it instantly. Maybe a day or two later, one of those not-instant-rejections will stick out as something that interests them after all. Keeping track of every yes, no, and maybe can quickly get overwhelming, as any bride can tell you. Since the default response is “no” regardless of the agent’s policy, I can understand why a no-reply-means-no policy is the path of least resistance, given the numbers of queries received. Don’t get me wrong… I greatly prefer to receive a response, and certainly favor agents who take the time to respond, but I understand the ones who don’t.

Perhaps the gripes that hit home the hardest for me were those where people complained about agents tweeting or blogging about things like snack foods and reality TV, arguing that these agents had no right to be behind in responding to queries and manuscripts if they had time for such trivialities.

Yikes. I have been on the other end of this argument too many times. I totally get this. As a physician, I have worked crazy hours for over a decade. I frequently work through meals, go without sleep. On several occasions, when I’ve taken a break to run to the bathroom or down a cup of coffee, I’ve had family members chastise me.

“Glad to see you’ve got your coffee, Doc, while we’ve been waiting here for an hour.”

And I get it. I get that they’re frustrated, cuz they’ve entrusted their kids to my care and all they want is for someone to give them an answer on what’s going on and what to expect. A cup of coffee seems unbearably trivial when you’re worried about someone you love.

And so I put things like coffee and meals, my own medication when I’m ill, etc. on hold a lot of the time, but I can’t do it always. I know that sometimes I need a few minutes or a graham cracker or something to keep my stamina up, or I won’t be any good at my job in the first place.

A lot of writers love their books like children, so I understand the frustration and the desperation. But, you know… we’re writers. We’re also supposed to be better than the average bear at putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Agents need to look after their own needs… which includes indulging on occasion. No one can work every second and be good at what they do.

I’m not saying agents or writers are perfect, cuz heaven knows none of us are, but I do think we deserve to try to understand each other a little better.

Back on the Chain Gang: Heart to Heart

This round of the blog chain has gone all creative-writing-assignment.

The topic, chosen by Jessica Verday:

I’ve chosen to put all of you writers to the test and am throwing down the challenge to…WRITE! I want a short story. (Mine is 250 words. Feel free to write one hundred, three hundred, five hundred…whatever! words)

Mary Lindsey was before me and I’ll be the last link this round.

Now the last time I wrote a short story, was the last time I actually had a creative writing assignment. Read: high school. Short stories are not my medium, but here goes:

Shape of a Heart

Brice patted the lump in his jacket pocket as his eyes darted to the entry once more. Any minute now. A drizzle of cold perspiration crept down his right side. Maybe he should have rented a tux, but then Desiree would guess for sure and Brice would never live that down.

He threw back the rest of his gimlet and then sucked on an ice cube as he waved at the waiter for another drink. The waiter whisked the empty glass away just in time.

Desiree stood posed in the entryway, the slender straight-away of her long legs drawing his eyes to the gentle slope of her hips. She slid soundlessly across the room, her dark curls barely daring to bounce. At the table next to Brice’s, a man made a hollow sound and bent to rub his shin, revealing familiar daggers in the eyes of the woman who’d done the kicking. If Desiree hadn’t told Brice herself that he should propose, he would never have believed she’d say ‘yes’ to someone like him. But she did tell you, he reminded himself, so what are you so nervous about?

Brice leapt to his feet to pull back her chair as she wafted towards his table. “You look beautiful as always.” He kissed her cheek and adjusted the chair as she settled into place.

Her lips permitted a slight curve. “That hardly gives a woman cause to make special effort.”

He cringed as he slid into his own seat. “Now, honey, you know that’s not what I meant…”

“Especially when her boyfriend shows up in the same brown designer knock-off suit as every Friday night for the last six months.”

“I thought you liked this suit.” His collar had shrunk at least an inch. He wiped his hands on his pants.

Her large diamond pendant flashed candlelight in her cleavage as she leaned over to look through her lashes at him. “I said I liked you out of that suit.”

He smiled as he shifted in his seat. “Well, this is a nice restaurant. They require pants. So we’ll just have to wait until after dinner.”

“So let’s order.”

He exhaled as her eyes disappeared behind the menu. All he had to do now was keep her in a good mood until dessert.

*

Brice hardly touched his chicken piccata. Actually, he didn’t care for chicken; he’d just gotten used to ordering whatever was inexpensive. Desiree raised one dark eyebrow like the blade of a scythe as she wriggled her seafood fork deep in her lobster tail. She’d be ready for dessert soon. Slipping his hand into the lumpy pocket, he felt the soft heart-shaped velvet box roll into his palm. He perched his fist on his knee and his fingers clamped until his knuckles hurt. His tongue felt too big for his mouth and he took a gulping sip of his wine.

Desiree’s eyes settled on his loaded plate. “If there’s something wrong with your food you should send it back.”

“No, it’s fine.” Brice stabbed a large hunk of meat and packed it into his mouth. “It’s delicious.” He struggled to speak normally with his lips stretched tight over his full mouth. “Perfect,” he meant to say, but the meat lodging in his windpipe snuffed the sound. Not now! He forced a smile as he twisted his fingers into an “OK.”  No way was he coughing that thing out in front of Desiree… especially not with her engagement ring in his lap. He kept the ring out of sight as he shot to his feet and Desiree’s eyebrows rose almost as quickly. Fighting the burning tightness in his throat, he held one finger aloft and nodded towards the restrooms before walking away.

He could feel Desiree’s eyes searing the back of his head as he entered the men’s room. Deserted. His chest and belly spasmed as he gave in to the urge to cough. Silence. Setting the velvet heart on the counter, he caught his own wide eyes in the mirror as his shoulders shook in silent convulsions. His face was red as his tie. Balling his hands into fists, he plunged them into his belly, pushing up as hard as he could, but the chicken wouldn’t dislodge. He felt dizzy. His face blazed purple. He fingered the cell phone in his pocket, but how could he call when he couldn’t talk? His eyes darted to the door, still stubbornly closed. Didn’t anyone ever use the bathroom in this place?

He knew he should return to the dining room where someone could help him, but Desiree would never let him forget something like that. He had to find a way to get it out himself. His lungs were filling with sands and pin-pricks swarmed over his legs like fire ants. He couldn’t make it back to the dining room if he tried. The edges of his vision faded to black as his gaze tunneled on the heart-shaped box clamshelled open with the 4-carat ring inside.

Desiree had said three carats minimum. The same day she suggested he switch majors from music to business. His vision narrowed to a pinpoint on the flash of the diamond, the clearest diamond the jeweler had available. But even under the jewelry store lighting, the stone hadn’t sparkled like this and that’s how Brice knew he was dying. He grabbed at it like a toddler at a soap bubble. Each facet reflected images from the last few months: his guitar in a box for Goodwill, the look in Boomerang’s eyes when Brice left him at his brother’s.

Brice wondered how long it would be until they found him, dead on the marble floor with the ring in his fist. He pictured Desiree’s face smooth like powdered sugar when she saw him. “Such a shame,” she’d say as she reached for his hand. “This wasn’t what I wanted at all. The cut is all wrong.”

Enough! What am I thinking?

Pushing against the cold porcelain of the sink, he hoisted himself from his slump. He staggered towards the hazy charcoal lines that he knew must be the bathroom stalls, dropping the ring box at the base of the commode. The toilet seat seemed glued in place as he ripped it up and then belly flopped, driving the edge of the toilet seat into his diaphragm. He heard a slap and a plink as the ball of chicken bounced against the wall and landed in the toilet. Sucking in the sweet coolness of air, he leaned against the cold metal wall of the stall, panting. He pulled a few sheets of toilet paper from the roll and mopped his forehead. “That was close.” His voice scratched.

The wheeze of his cell phone echoed through the bathroom. Brice wiped his watering eyes with the heel of his hand and read the Caller ID: Dave.

“Hello?”

“So are you and your hottie girlfriend engaged yet, bro?”

“Nope.” Brice cleared his throat. “And I don’t think we’re going to be.”

“What happened? Chicken out again?”

Brice’s eyes darted from the box, its jaws open like a carnivorous plant, to the ball of meat in the toilet. “Yeah. I guess you could say that.” He grinned. “I chickened out.”

Brice chuckled quietly as he hung up. Then laughter shot out of him with more force than that stupid piece of chicken. Chicken out… it was ridiculous. He pounded his fist against the wall of the stall as his whoops bounced off the walls. When he finally managed to stop laughing, he smoothed his jacket and straightened his tie. Desiree would be ready to pitch a fit he’d kept her waiting so long. Reaching for the ring, he snapped the box closed and tucked it back into his pocket. He couldn’t wait to see what kind of fit she’d pitch when she found out he was leaving her.

Maybe he’d show her the ring first.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist

I feel like the father on A Christmas Story: “I’ve won a major award!”

If you’re the sort of folk who reads my blog, you are probably well acquainted with the ABNA contest. For 2009, Amazon accepted up to 10,000 entries of finished novels in February.

They narrowed the entries down to 2,000  on the basis of the Pitch (basically the meat of a query letter). Excerpts of the 2000 novels were then reviewed and scored before the 500 quarterfinalists were announced.

And The Edge of Memory was one of those 500 novels.

At this point, the contest gets a bit American Idolish… the quarterfinalist excerpts are posted on Amazon.com for Amazon customers to review. Based on these reviews and a formal score/review of the full manuscript by Publisher’s Weekly, the entries will be cut to 100 semifinalists on April 15th.

So, if you have the time and inclination to read and review my entry, I’d greatly appreciate it. You can download the excerpt here, and then click “Create your own review” to leave your thoughts and star-rating (the button to leave a review is on the right side of the page, just below the “Customer Reviews” heading.

The Doctor is In. In Deep Smit, that is…

Friday again. Yippee!

And this week I am deeply smitten with my awesome blog readers. As you probably know, I’ve been co-authoring the QueryTracker.net blog since December. I’ve recently started a feature there answering writers’ medical questions for their works of fiction.

It’s been a heck of a lot of fun, and the questions are now starting to roll in, which is very exciting.

So big thanks to everyone who’s already jumped in to get the ball rolling. And thanks to those of you who plan to send in your questions later, too.

You’ve Got a Friend: Back on the Chain Gang

Hello, bloggy peeps! Another blog chain in progress, this time chosen by our own Terri Rainer.

Leah Clifford had the link before mine and Jessica Verday will be up next.

I’ll be answering the “Alternative Question” Terri posed:

Alternative question: Do you brainstorm with a friend when you are plotting, or do you prefer to be the only one who knows what your characters are going to do?

Well, I have to say… I am quite grateful that Terri chose this topic. Because up until now, I have never properly acknowledged the awesomeness of my BFF Clara.

Although I do a LOT of pre-writing plotting, there are always the detail issues that come up along the way. Whenever I find myself sinking into a plot hole or running into a wall, I torture poor Clara by making her hear all about it.

Seriously, she is the best listener ever. She doesn’t tell me what to do or suggest something can’t be solved. If I give a possible solution(s), she simply tells me whether or not she thinks it will work or which solution might work better.

At risk of jinxing myself, I have always solved my plot problems within 48-hours of talking to Clara. The solution may not come during our conversation (in fact, it usually doesn’t) but talking it through with someone encouraging, but not leading, really helps me organize my own thoughts.

God bless BFF’s. Seriously.

And a ginormous  to Clara, the best BFF ever.