Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Word Today Is Alleluia!

Today Christians around the world celebrate Easter, a word derived from aurora, the Latin word for “dawn,” and from an Old English word for “east,” from which the dawn arises. Easter celebrates a new way of wrapping our lives in hope. It is the dawn of hope.
         Christians celebrate Easter at the same time all of us celebrate the return of spring, when darkness folds into light. Within the dark earth, hopeful seeds break forth from their dry husks and stretch upward, willy-nilly, to light. To a new way of being.
         For those in the Southern Hemisphere, the season that begins on March 21 reaffirms that the waning of light and the entrance into darkness is part of each human’s journey to wholeness.
         This past spring week, Jews observed their Passover, which commemorates the passing over of the Hebrew people from the prison of slavery in Egypt to the possibilities of new life beyond that land of desert and drought. For Christians, Easter commemorates Jesus’ Passover from one way of being to another.
         Passover and Easter are inextricably linked. According to the Christian scriptures, Yeshua—Jesus’ Hebrew name—ate a final meal with his disciples. A Passover meal. He died on the day before the Sabbath. In his death he discovered the Fullness of Life—Oneness. God graced him with that new life on the first day of the Jewish week. A day of new beginnings.
         Woven through all these seasons, traditions, and feasts is the idea of newness. The idea that we can pass from hatred of our human condition—with its loss and death, flaws and foibles, despair and sorrow—to a newness of spirit in which we embrace who we are.
         And what do we embrace? Our messiness. The very thing that so many of us resist. Yet Easter proclaims that we can hope in the possibilities of ourselves. My 77th birthday is tomorrow. And still I’m in the trenches with the messiness of myself. I still have a hard time believing I am lovable. And yet out of that messiness comes, for me, an ability to show others how lovable they are. That messiness is me living with hope that one day I will embrace this loving and lovable me. And in that embrace will come the gift of peace. I will then be the Alleluia that Oneness proclaims.
         What else do we embrace when we accept this gift of Easter? Passover? Spring? The answer is clear: we embrace our Oneness with every person who has ever lived. With Yeshua and with the serial killer and the homeless woman with her shopping cart, and the child with his Easter basket, and the widow with her grief.  
         All of us are “in” life together. We are united in our flawed humanity. By embracing the darkness and doubt within ourselves, we become the cherished human we long to be. And we begin to treasure the being of others.
         Today then, I wish all of you growth in the human spirit whether as Christian or Jew or Muslim or as a nonbeliever whose belief lies in the hope of spring. I wish you wholeness as you strive to become fully human.
         For myself, I believe that Yeshua was a human being who fully realized humanity within himself. He embraced the darkness and death that lies within each of us and passed over to an acceptance of the possibilities within himself. He donned Life.
         Yeshua became compassion. He became graciousness. He became hope. He became life-giving. He became the poet of possibility. He became the one who saw Oneness every where, every time, every now, every here.
         And that is what this season offers all of us.
         So on this day of spring, this Easter for my Christian friends, this first day of the week for my Jewish brethren, this Sunday for you who celebrate each new dawning, I pray that life will spring forth within you and that you, filled with hope, will enter the Mystery that is the Holy Oneness of All Creation of which you and I and the cats who lie here on my computer desk are a part. Peace.

All the photographs are from Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Long Road to Getting Published

In the past three weeks, I’ve sent an e-query on The Reluctant Spy to four agents, but received no responses. Along with three of those e-queries I sent several manuscript pages. The not hearing means, of course, that my query or those pages didn’t kindle any agent’s interest.

A Gutenberg letter press from the 15th century—one way of getting published! (Wikipedia)

            In tailoring the four e-queries I’ve sent, I scrutinized each agent’s web site to discover two things: Does the agency represent any authors I especially enjoy reading and what topics are of special interest to the individual agents? What I’ve read about queries is that being able to mention something about those two things in the query letter may capture an agent’s attention.
            Here’s the generic e-query I’m sending out, minus the tailoring, which I always put in an opening paragraph:

Within the fast-paced, yet character-driven pages of the historical novel The Reluctant Spy, Ephraim must save an old enemy . . . or betray him. There’s no doubt this first-century scribe can destroy his archrival. After all, just a few months ago his spying led to the beheading of another man—and all because of that Bethany woman.                              

Who knew his chance encounter with her would end in blackmail? Who knew that this man who dearly loves his wife and child and will do anything to relieve their ills would be forced to accept such disreputable work?                                                                                                        
One man holds the key that can unlock the prison Ephraim’s made of his life. But that one man is his sworn enemy.  Caught in web of dishonor, Ephraim stumbles. Will he despair or will he discover a way to help his family and redeem his good name?                                                                                                                                                                       
Blackmail, adultery, intrigue, and a crisis of faith—these four themes of The Reluctant Spy remain as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago. Moreover, the manuscript fits into a perennially popular niche: books based on Gospel characters. One example of this mushrooming trend is The Testament of Mary, which The New York Times picked as one of the 100 notable books of 2012.                                                               
Just as it portrays the mother of Jesus in a new way, so the characterization of the Nazarene and the Pharisee in The Reluctant Spy differs from the usual Christian understanding of them. In truth, its portrayal of the two main characters may both intrigue and enlighten readers.                                                                                                         
As to my publishing history: Crown published A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story in 1992. It sold 14,000 hardcover copies and was then published in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Germany. Wayman Publishing published A Cat’s Legacy: Dulcy’s Story in 2012, and in between, Capstone Press published twenty children’s books I’ve written.
The Reluctant Spy is a completed manuscript of 122,000 words. I’d be happy to send you a sample or the entire manuscript if this e-mail’s pitch has piqued your interest. Thank you for your consideration.

That’s the generic query I’ve tailored, tweaked, and sent out to agents who represent historical novels. However, I’m looking for agents who also represent at least two of the following genres: fantasy, memoir, and picture books. Why? Because I’m working on or have completed at least one example of each of these genres.                   

In the Writer’s Digest book 2013 Guide to Literary Agents, I’ve found seventeen agencies that represent a combination of these genres. I’ve now queried four with no results. So in the upcoming weeks, I’ll query the remaining thirteen. Any thoughts?

The traditional way of erasing and adding material to a manuscript. (Wikipedia)

            My own final thought concerns the manuscript itself. In the writing of it, I’ve often thought that its beginning limps. Numerous times I’ve crafted a new first chapter, but a suspenseful scene eludes me. Given that a writer must grab a reader’s interest in the first sentence or paragraph, I wonder if the beginning chapters I paste into the e-query may 
simply be B-O-R-I-N-G!


Sunday, March 3, 2013

E-Queries to Literary Agents

Hello All. I seem to be moving back and forth between The Reluctant Spy and Three Roads Diverged. Two weeks ago I posted the pitch of the former; last week I wrote about research and background for the latter. 
So this week it’s time to return to that reluctant first-century spy and talk about the process of introducing him to literary agents in the hope of capturing the interest of at least one of them.
Much goes into any agent’s decision to represent someone’s writing. Here are four questions, among many, that she might ask herself when reading a query letter and sample pages of a manuscript:

1.   Does this author’s voice and writing style capture a reader’s attention?
2.   Can the characters and the plotting hold onto that attention for the length of a novel?
3.   Is the market place interested in this particular genre?
4.   Among all the novels for this genre, how does this manuscript differ? That is, does it have anything new to offer?

A table laden with novels in a German bookstore. (Wikipedia)

Finally, the agent has to rack her brain to determine if she knows an editor or several editors who are looking for a new approach to the genre, an outstanding protagonist who differs from others in that genre, or a theme that is relevant to today’s readers.
Back in November I sent e-query letters for The Reluctant Spy to twenty-four agents. In today’s world, most agents simply ignore a query that holds no interest for them. However, a few, even though they don’t want to represent the work, will reply.  Because of that, authors treasure those rejection letters. Early last December, four agents responded to my e-query.
One said, “The story line isn’t fully resonating with me.”
Another, to whom I’d sent ten pages as well as the query, was more expansive: “Though I did enjoy reading the first bit of your novel, unfortunately I was not in love with it. Because I won’t be able to give your novel the support and enthusiasm it deserves, I don’t feel that I am the best agent to represent you at this time.”
The third agent sent what I think was a form letter: “We have evaluated your materials and regrettably, your project is not a right fit for our agency. We currently have a very full clientele and must be highly selective about the new projects we pursue.”
The final e-response was also a form letter—one that tried not to douse the hopes of a writer: “Thanks for your query.  Unfortunately, I do not feel that I could be the best advocate for your work.  Please keep in mind that mine is a subjective business, and an idea or story to which one agent does not respond may well be met with great enthusiasm by another, and I encourage you to continue writing to agents.  Hopefully you will find someone who will get behind you and your work with the conviction necessary in the current market.”

A three-story bookstore in Los Angeles, California. (Wikipedia)

Three months have passed since I received those responses. In the interim, I’ve polished the manuscript, deleting 9,000 words. With your help, I’ve developed a pitch to use in the first three or four paragraphs of the e-query. Now I must begin the task of finding agents who represent historical novels.
In my next posting, I hope to share with you how I’m going about that. I will also post the generic query I’ve devised from your comments on my posting of February 17. Of course, I’ll tailor the generic information to fit each agent I query. I hope to explain “tailoring” also. Peace.