Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Novel's Beginning Scene

Here’s an update on what’s happened in the last week with The Reluctant Spy. I sent eight e-queries. In seven of them, I pasted in, per each agency’s web site instructions, a number of pages from the manuscript. The pasted sample ranged from five to fifty pages. I was able to send out three on Monday, one on Wednesday, and four on Friday.
         Within that same time, two of the eight agencies declined to represent the first-century Palestine novel. Still, this is just the beginning. I continue to believe that at least one or more agents will ask me to send the entire manuscript of 122,000 words. Then of course there will be the anxious waiting to see if, after reading, an agent will want to represent the historical novel.
         While all this has been going on, I’ve been considering the opening pages of the novel. Somehow the first scene has never felt right to me.
         Late last night, after staying up until 1:30 am to finish an intriguing mystery, I turned off the light and thought about the beginning of the novel I’d just finished reading. That led, quite naturally, to thinking about the beginning of The Reluctant Spy.
         Several years ago, an author asked me to read her manuscript for a historical novel. After doing so, I asked, “Do you like your main character?” The simple question startled her. Somewhat disconcerted, she admitted that she wasn’t sure any more.
         I explained that if she, the author, didn’t like the character, readers wouldn’t either. Readers need to be pulling for the protagonist. So in the first scene in which the main character appears, she or he must be shown in a way that will attract the readers' empathy and concern.
         Last night, I remembered that conversation and realized that in The Reluctant Spy I hadn’t followed my own advice—the novel begins with a scene in which Ephraim displays the darkest parts of himself to a man he considers his rival. Thus, the readers' first impression would probably be negative. That impression might color everything else they subsequently read abut him.
          Yet within a number of pages the story shows the strength of Ephraim and the burdens of his life. He then becomes a sympathetic character . . . and thus reader-friendly.
         So at 2:00 am this morning I sat here on this computer chair and began to reconstruct the first fifty pages. Now the novel begins with Ephraim showing himself in a good light so that readers will, I hope, root for him throughout the rest of the story.
         By the time readers come to the original opening scene, they will better understand why the main character is jealous and angry. They’ll understand, I hope, that like all of us, he is human. That is to say—flawed.
         After reorganizing the first fifty pages, I’ve ended up with a new first chapter and a more sequential telling of the story.

         I’m pleased with this decision, which was made on St. Michael the Archangel’s feast day—Michaelmas. That’s significant to me because just this past Thursday I found a slim manuscript about angels, which I’d written in 1995. Reading it again, I found myself wondering if it held any promise.          
          Perhaps Michael is now watching over me and has helped me find the right beginning for The Reluctant Spy.
         For many years, I’ve believed that I had fourteen guardian angels—my own, given to me at birth, and thirteen others, whom other humans had declined. All of them have stood by me in difficult times.     
         This week I, along with Michael and those fourteen guardians, will continue to send out queries. But I’ll be even more hopeful because the beginning is right. Peace.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Not Much to Report

Hello All on this lovely day here in Missouri. This past week, I polished the generic query letter, the synopsis, and the first fifty pages of the manuscript.
         But somehow, no matter what plans I have upon awakening, I never get done all that I need to do in order to start sending out queries. As the saying goes, “Life happens.” And while it’s happening, I’m napping, walking, dealing with a headache, doing errands, simply staring off into space . . . or reading mysteries!
         I did go to a number of agent web sites this past week and read them carefully to determine exactly what materials each agency wants beyond the query letter. Also, I read the lists of authors each agency represents. If I discover an author whose books I’ve read with pleasure, I can add that to my query and personalize it.
         So now I have a list of 8 agents to whom I hope to send queries this week. I’ve found 104 agents who represent historical fiction and I’ll write to all of them if need be in my search for someone to represent The Reluctant Spy. My hope of course is that several will ask to read the entire manuscript. That may be an unrealistic goal, but I’ve always believed in dreaming big.
         I won’t be posting again on this blog until I have something to report. That may or may not be next Sunday. Please just keep those fingers crossed for me. 
        No need to take your treasured time today to leave a comment. I know
and so appreciatethat you'll rooting for me. Peace.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Agents, Here I Come!

Hello on this Sunday morning here in Missouri—a morning that reminds me of autumn in Minnesota. The hot-tempered weather has cooled off: a good day for writing.
         Many of you wished me abundant sales at the fair last Sunday. So you may be as disappointed as I was to have sold only two books. But that fact has a flip side: I met several vendors who gave me ideas for other local fairs, like those held in hospitals and schools. So now I have some research to do.
         In 2011, the trade paperback publisher of A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story sent me the final 600 copies of the out-of-print book for the price of shipping. I still have 400 copies in the garage. That’s a lot of fairs, folks!
         Now to the present.
         I spent the past week critiquing a manuscript for a first-time novelist. Back in July, I’d done the same. After that reading I encouraged her “to situate” her scenes by providing details so that readers could visualize where something was happening. I also recommended the use of detail when writing dialogue so that “talking heads” would not confuse readers.
         The author sent the manuscript back to me for review in early September. As often happens, in an attempt to show facial expressions and body language, she had added too many details. Moreover, the timeline was confusing, and in at least one crucial scene she missed the opportunity to create drama.
         I completed my reading, critiquing, and slight copyediting on Thursday. The next day, she and I went through the manuscript on the phone for 3 ½ hours. I explained what still needed to be done—most of which could be accomplished by the deletion of words and the condensing of some scenes. Having words to cut is always easier than having to add words.
         Because this is a young adult novel, it is supposed to be only about 75,000 words. The present manuscript has over 100,000. So the author welcomed the cutting I suggested.
         As we’ve worked together in July and again this month, I’ve come to admire her dedication and maturity as a writer. She’s committed, open to advice, and professional enough to take those recommendations that work for her and to discard the rest.
         She also has a reserve of fortitude and tenacity—necessary virtues when seeking publication. In recent weeks, she’s persevered and sent out eighty-five query letters to agents. Yes—85. Two have asked to see her manuscript.
         I don’t know how you are responding to that ratio, but I’m impressed. Getting an agent is so difficult today and two of those eighty-five intermediaries between author and editor have asked to see her completed novel. That’s great news.
         She plans to do the cutting and have the manuscript ready to send out by early October. I’m so hoping that one of those two agents will want to represent her writing.
         Having completed that project, I’m now going to return to my own query letters to agents. The book 2013 Guide to Literary Agents lists 104 agents who represent historical novels. I have my query letter ready; I’ve visited agent websites; I’ve selected the first few to whom to send a query. Now the journey begins.
         This week I hope to contact several agents to seek their representation of The Reluctant Spy. Start visualizing!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fairs and Writers

I’m writing this posting on Saturday afternoon, but it will appear on my blog tomorrow. Here’s the thing, today I did my walk, then baked a chocolate zucchini cake for the family picnic, and then drove over to St. Mark’s Catholic Church on Lee’s Summit Road to set up my display for tomorrow’s fair.
         When I got back home, I caught up with reading and commenting on blogs—finally got through my list of 70 for the week and learned so much about the wonderful bloggers whose writing takes me away from this desk and into other states and countries and times. In a few minutes, I’ll take a shower, get dressed, put the cake in the car, and drive to the picnic where I’ll probably go way over the 26 points I get a day on Weight Watchers.

         Now what does all this have to do with a writing blog?
         Tomorrow—Sunday—from 8 am to 2 pm I’m going to be sitting behind a table at St. Mark’s Church selling copies of A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story and A Cat’s Legacy: Dulcy’s Companion Book. Also I’ll be selling two books by E. C. Stilson, The Golden Sky, a memoir, and The Sword of Senack, a fantasy.
         When Dulcy’s first book was published I did this fairly often, but that was twenty years ago and I’ve neglected to attend fairs since moving here to Missouri. So this is a first for me in my new home state. I want Dulcy’s stories to reach many readers and for that to happen, I have to do my part. All writers do.
         The rental of the booth space at the fair was $50. In moving from Minnesota to Missouri four years ago, I misplaced the small easels that I’ve always used to display books. So in August, I meandered over to Hobby Lobby, a craft store, found them on sale, and bought six for $18. 
         Thus, I have $68 invested in the fair. I’m hoping that I’ll recoup that money with Dulcy’s two books. I’m selling the books for $10 apiece or two for $17.
         If four people bought both books, I’ll have the $68. Any more sales would be gravy! And if seven people bought just one book apiece, I’d make $2 beyond what I spent. Hip! Hip! Hooray!
         Of course, I’m hoping I’ll sell more books than that but I saw the other booths being set up today and there are some interesting and lovely things to buy. We all have only so much discretionary money, and I don’t know whether the attendees will be readers who love cats. We’ll see.
         So wish me luck . . . and an abundance of sales!        

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Belief Behind a Query

Hello again on this rainy Sunday morning. I can almost feel the pores of the hard-packed earth absorbing the moisture, yielding to gentleness. The rain gentles both the ground and us today. And so I’m thinking again of how the word fascinating gentled my own held-fast inflexibility with regard to my opinion of all I wrote.
         All that is except for Dulcy’s first book—A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. In 1989, Dulcy gave me our story; I simply edited her words. Because she, not I, wrote it, I believed in that book from the beginning.
         In fact, two days after she began to channel it through me, I stood in the doorway to my Stillwater office and said, out loud, “This book is going to be published. And it’s going to be published by Crown. And it’s going to touch the lives of many people.”

         I just knew, deep down where Oneness and certainty dwell, that Dulcy’s book was a gift not only to me but also to the Universe. For almost two years I never doubted. Never that is until rejection letters from editors piled up. Then doubt crept in. Believing that I’d failed Dulcy, I felt guilt over my inadequacies.         
         In April 1991, a letter from the editor Jane Meara arrived. Fifteen months later Crown published the manuscript. It touched many people’s lives and continues to do so.
         But that was Dulcy’s book, not mine. And as the years passed, publishing changed. An agent became a necessity and the rejection letters once again piled up as I sought representation for my writing. Any certainty I’d ever had fled.
         During this past week, I’ve considered that one word—fascination. I know it’s the view I now have of my writing. But I think it’s also affecting how I’m crafting my query letter for The Reluctant Spy.
         Slowly I’m realizing that my lack of confidence may have tinged with doubt any query letter I sent out during the past twenty years. Perhaps the words I chose or the tone of the letter indicated that my manuscript was somehow lacking in something essential for representation and publication.
         A long-time friend once said to me, “What you send out into the Universe, Dee, is what returns to you.” Perhaps in those letters I sent out doubt, and the agents turned down representation because they doubted that my manuscripts were well done or would have an audience. I’ve sent out doubt and doubt has returned to me.

         In her comment on last Sunday’s posting, Inger wrote,

I sense your self-confidence here. A bit different from the past and, yes, fascinating. I believe that a strong belief in your novel, in that it is not only good, but also fascinating, will find its way into your letters to these agents. And they may start to worry if they don't respond, maybe someone else will, and they will lose out on a major novel. Dee, I have no idea where all the above came from, but came it did, so I will leave it there.

To which I responded . . .

Dear Inger, I am so grateful to receive these words of yours—wherever they came from. Just this morning I said to a Minnesota friend that I thought the query letter I was crafting was different from those I've written in the past. Why? Because I'm different: I believe now that I can write and I believe in my writing. And so my attitude has changed. I'm hoping this newly discovered confidence will be apparent in the query I send out. You've just delighted me with your comment. Thank you, Inger. Peace.

So there you have it—how one word can seep, gently, into the pores of a person’s life and bring change. Once again I thank Fran for that word. And I thank all of you for sticking with me through this process. I’m still working on my query letter while compiling a list of agent names to whom I’ll send it. I’ll keep you in the loop! Peace.