Thursday, February 13, 2014

Winter Seeds in Querying Season

On Writing - dolce memole

 As you know this is a query season for me.  It happens to have coincided with the gloom of winter and the post-Christmas blues, a homecoming from a wonderful trip to England and moving my life from a house I shared with roommates to a small downtown apartment.  As you can see, I had plenty of excuses to hold it off until now... but the biggest excuse, and probably the most reasonable, was the condition of my query letter.  It sucked.  I could not stomach looking at it.  It was pretty but a rambling mess of words, an imitation book jacket not a query.  

(Wait.  Isn't a query supposed to be like a book jacket?  Not exactly.  Shorter than a book jacket.  Very short.  Three paragraphs tops, people, and no more than 300 words to demonstrate your ability to work with Less.  Not three paragraphs for the book and two for an intro and a wrap-up.  One paragraph to tell an agent why you're querying them.  One hook paragraph for the novel.  Third paragraph to give "credentials" or writing credits.  That's all she wrote.  Literally.)

It took about a month of chiseling away at the query and the even uglier synopsis.  With Michelle's coaching, something promising emerged.  I researched a handful of agents and sent out the first three last week.  I braced myself for a round of form-rejections like before saying, "Thanks but no thanks," or "your novel is just not right for us" etc. The same day I got what I'd been praying for over the last year: just one personalized response from an agent.  

It was not a yes, mind, but a paragraph or two of some really helpful insights into the story I am building.  I was not necessarily looking for a "yes", anyway, but some sort of confirmation that my novel isn't crap, that it has a future apart from a query slush pile.  And here it was.  It was not "yes" but it was helpful, friendly, and encouraging. 

What the agent said was (paraphrased), "Awesome idea - but... here's what I was hoping to see..."  In other words, here's how I could possibly make it better. I know it could be better.

First of all, she saw the story (despite its flaws) from a query, a synopsis and 25 pages.  She was convinced the novel could be More.  I still need to work on "showing" rather than "telling", particularly when it comes to setting and how it shapes the world in which my characters' lives unfold.  (Honestly, that's something I know I'll always be working on.) The problem isn't the space I'm trying to build, but my tendency to reveal details and nuances in dialogue.  Third, my characters should be allowed to flourish (her word) even more.  I was beyond excited when she recognized their connection... I thought, "someone who understands..."  

This response was an indication that, at least for now, I am headed in the right direction.  Not only have I crafted a stronger, more professional query letter and synopsis (Thank you again, Michelle!) but I have a plan to make the writing itself - the meat of my novel - stronger, too.  I know Waterwill will be a fluid thing for years until its published. (Okay, if it's published.  But I like optimism.)  The next draft will be about vivifying the setting and the characters' personalities and relationships, as well as paying very close attention to the balance of dialogue and exposition.  

I know she is not my agent, and I won't presume that she'll leap on it if I send her materials a second time.  Yet this experience has given me hope that someone will find and connect with Waterwill further down the line.  I have hope that my novel, while still not quite "there," is closer than ever to where it needs to be.

That said, I've been marking up my drafts with vivifying and show-don't-tell ideas.  For now, I'll hold off querying other agents on my list because, frankly, I want to give out my very best.  I'm excited to be able to strive for it, to have a direction.  Excited.  Encouraged.  Increasing momentum.  I might have a different perspective on that in a month or two, but for now everything feels right - even if I'm still in the same place, between queries, agentless.  

It may still be winter, but remember that seeds are sewn in the wintertime.  Roots dig deeper.  On the surface it may appear that the world is resting, but life is flourishing beneath the snow of Querying Season.

snow days by madeline gibson

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Long Time No See!

It may seem quiet here on the blog, but it's been a busy, busy couple of months for me.  Ideas for posts occasionally circle my brain, only to be swept away by something more immediate or exciting.  But there's good news: the year is still fresh, and my energy is getting back to where it was.

Timeline of Events:

28 November - Thanksgiving
29 November - Jillian gets on a plane bound for the UK
30 November - Jillian and Michelle are reunited in Oxford and a ten-day visit begins.
30 November to 9 December - Jillian and Michelle spend time hanging out at coffee shops (particularly Cafe Nero at Blackwells) reacquainting ourselves with our old haunts, watching Chuck, Farscape, Haven & Doctor Who, going to pantos, taking walks, writing, Christmas shopping (the glorious Scriptum on Turl Street), taking cold medicine, etc.

Highlight, 6 December - Jillian goes to London by herself as she unwittingly gave Michelle a cold.  Visited St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower, navigating the London Underground solo.  Not a small feat for one born and raised in a Midwestern state that has no subway system.

9 & 10 December - the weary traveler makes it back to Nebraska and drives from Omaha back to Lincoln.
11 December - Jillian's car battery decides it doesn't like the frigid weather and promptly dies in the driveway.

Highlight - Jillian starts looking for a new apartment for herself and Ninja the cat.

25 December - Christmas.
6 January 2014 - Jillian finds a lovely little place with a view of Nebraska's capital. 
18 - 21 January - Jillian and Ninja move house.  Ninja puts up a fight characteristic of, well, a highly skilled ninja.  

Since then, it's been a matter of unpacking, rearranging, realizing what kitchen utensils I need, what furniture is still in limbo, getting a cat to adapt to new surroundings without a basement to throw her into.  All the while I've been painfully aware that I've not sent queries out for my novel in a long time, and that I need to get that particular wheel moving again.  

Perhaps it's just taken this long to regain my strength, my mental resolve, and keep at bay all of those doubts and devil voices that like to me that querying is useless, that my novel is crap, that I don't have a strong presence online anyway so why bother.  When you're anxious person, this is the reality, and it's just not helpful.  It drives you away from your everyday writing, the heart-stories and creative activities that define your day, your sense of self.  I don't want to give it up or shrink away so easily this year.

I want this year to be about forging ahead and hesitating less.  Call it a resolution if you will - or perhaps solemn goal is a better term.  Whatever it is, querying is one of those stages in the life of a book that can't be bypassed or jumped over or TARDIS-ed into oblivion.  No, the Doctor isn't going to pull me out of this one.  I have to do it myself.  

So I sent three queries this morning.  At the very least, I hope I'm continuing to learn something about this process, to think of this as a project and an opportunity and a leap of faith.  I am simply starting down the corridor again, and knocking on the doors.  Some day one of them will open.

open doors by kuronakko


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