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What was your favorite read in 2018 - fiction or nonfiction? Mine was Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehishi Coates. This book took me out of my four walls and really made me think in a way I haven't in a long time.
Yesterday, I took the plunge and sent out my first agent query letter.
"Good luck" my writer friends tell me in voices etched with sarcasm.
"Is that something hard to do?" my non writer friends ask with innocence.
Truth be told, I don't really have any firsthand knowledge. I've never tried to land an agent before. I have heard stories though, and they haven't been good.
When I first joined a writing organization, I found myself surprised by the bucketfuls of negativity around me. "Don't plan on making a living on writing fiction, you'll have to have a second job." "Traditional publishers only look at established or serial authors , you'll have to self publish." "By the way, did you know there are over 10,000 books a day self-published on Amazon? You'll never rise to the top without help."
I did my best to keep up my spirits and not let the skepticism of my fellow club members squash my motivation to write and complete my novel - a monumental task in itself. I reminded myself of the numbers of guests who filter in and out of our club who are full of delusion about both the writing and publishing process, and really could use a serious reality check.
Someone does publish new writers, or I wouldn't see their books out there, right? There are agents accepting new clients or there wouldn't be these things in twitter-land called pitch parties. Besides , I told myself, each month my organization has a program speaker and most of the seem to have an agent and publisher, and of course the one thing I covet more than anything - a professional editor.
I'd almost had myself convinced, then I started to notice a disturbing trend. The non self-published authors had either landed their agents years ago, or they wrote nonfiction. Uh-oh!
No matter the odds, I'm still going to give finding an agent my one hundred percent! The neat thing is that if I fail, I can still self-publish. There's also a whole world of independent publishers in between that I can explore.
I liken the process to finding an agent to job hunting. It's not just about having the perfect resume, or in this case agent query letter, I believe it is just as much about networking and putting myself out there.
As I spring off my diving board and soar into that exciting land of limbo, I remind myself it doesn't matter how many "no's" I get, it only takes one "yes". Sure, a belly flop might hurt, but I can always get up and try again.
You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place,
The Waiting Place . . .
- Dr. Seuss
Last fall started off as a whirlwind for me, as I placed my draft novel into the hands of critique readers for the first time. I tackled my mile long to-do list, beaming from ear to ear, while I waited to hear back from them.
I'd been floored by the number of beta reader offers I had received. In fact, I had so many, I asked several to be on a round two list, because I knew I'd need fresh eyes to look at my next draft.
I heard back from a handful within a couple of weeks, which got me really revved up. They liked the story and finished it out of desire rather than obligation, but had some general comments that I knew would require a serious round of edits. I'm a measure twice and a saw once kind of person, so I patiently waited for my other readers in hopes of more specific feedback.
One month turned into two. Halloween, the deadline I had given readers, arrived and passed. I sent out gentle reminders. Only one responded.
Two months turned into to three. My chest tightened every time I thought of the precious editing time I had set aside whittling away. Thanksgiving arrived. Then, the truth smacked me in the face. I had stagnated.
Now, it is important to note I had not been idle while waiting. One by one, I'd chipped away at the tasks on my to-do list. I'd successfully elevator pitched an agent to accept a query from me once my book is ready. My website, blog and Facebook author page are now up and running, a task I liken to getting teeth pulled. I'd even begun turning my book into a screenplay, though I quickly abandoned this effort reticent to continue knowing I had impending story changes. Remember what I said about measuring twice and sawing once?
I began to spin. I started to dread encountering people I hadn't seen in awhile, and the first question off their lips - "How is your book going?"
"It's not!" I longed to shout, but instead would smile politely and explain my situation.
In desperation to further accomplish something , anything, I broke out a short Sci-Fi story I've been sitting on for months, wrote up a query and hit the send button to a magazine publication.
A few days later, a friend of mine listening to my woes hit the nail on the head with a simple question.
"Well, you have been writing, haven't you?"
Sadness engulfed me. Of course I'd been writing - a contractor work scope, President's letters for a nonprofit organization I belong to, even an event manual. My frowned deepened, as I knew what he was really asking. In terms of furthering my goal of writing fiction, in my heart none of these documents are worth the time it takes to click the e-mail send key.
Here's the reality check. Last year, in the same three month time span I've spent piddling around in limbo, I spit out the rough draft of an 85,000 word novel.
The winter holidays were marching toward me, and with the New Year right around the corner, I made my first resolution for 2018 - NO MORE WAITING.
Sure, I didn't receive the detailed feedback I'd desired. But I did find out something important, very important. People liked my story. Waiting had simply eroded my confidence.
If I had the ability to write a book, than I certainly have the skill to ratchet up the tension in it a notch or two. Then, it hit me. I already have everything I need at my fingertips to critique my own work. I have faith in myself.
The New Year is here. I've plunged back into my fishbowl, and guess what? The smile is back on my face.
It's been a great many years since I have seen a movie that truly frightened me, let alone read a book that scared me. Of course I've stumbled across some with distressing subject matter, if not alarming, but none that have given me the prolonged uncomfortable nervous feeling of anticipatory dread I hunger for when consuming horror genre fiction or film.
In my own effort to write and publish a book that evokes this type of response from people, I find myself facing an obvious truth. It is impossible to scare myself with my own story. I already know the outcomes. I will never be able to measure my success through my own reactions.
So how do I create suspenseful tension for others, if not downright fear and terror? It's really not that different for what I have to do with any type of writing (technical, fact, or fiction) which is to tap into my own feelings, emotions, and experiences and let them flow out through my words.
I have to dig deep into what makes me afraid.
The most terrifying movie I have ever seen is The Exorcist. I was eight years old, and had to leave the movie theater. For several nights afterward, my mom had to sit at the top of the stairs and wait for both me and my older brother to fall asleep. The next film that comes to mind is Alien. This one I saw at the much more mature age of thirteen, and found myself riveted to my seat in fear.
Why did these movies scare me so much? Was it my age? My lack of experience? The novelty of the story? The first time experience of Hollywood's special effects? I also have to ask why things no longer scare me so much now. Have I simply become jaded over time?
The answer is all of the above. I was young, impressionable, and inexperienced. The stories being told were not yet recycled to nauseam, and the technological effects were groundbreaking. Yet, something more caused me to feel afraid and sometimes still does.
What truly scares me, and this applies to both real life and fiction, is the unknown causing me harm and being unable to stop it.
I break this into three distinct elements that only when put all together pack a lot of punch. First is the unknown. This can be supernatural, spiritual, alien, or a predator - an undefined threat. The second ingredient is the knowledge that this undefined threat intends or will cause harm. This could be death, physical pain, or the loss of oneself or something one loves. The third component is the sense of powerlessness, the lack of control or ability one has to stop the threat.
I find myself rethinking the words of our Franklin D. Roosevelt, during his inaugural address, " . . . the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts . . ." Of course, Roosevelt's words were spoken in the heat of the Great Depression, but don't they apply to almost anything we face in life that scares us?
Out of curiosity, what scares you?
I created the blog Outside the Glass with the goal of whisking you, the reader, beyond the confines of your daily grind and into a world of possibilities. While I hope to entertain and engage you, my ultimate goal is to get you to think. For those of you drowning inside the walls of the fishbowl in which you find yourself passing time, I also strive to broaden your dreams and ambitions as well as help motivate you to achieve them.
I firmly believe people need limits. Though we all collectively share in the wondrous phenomenon we call life, as we each travel the path of our individual destiny, never are we so utterly and completely alone. The vastness of our universe, coupled with our own self-awareness, can easily overwhelm us.
Fortunately we have geography, societies, families, friends, professions, hobbies and interests to stake out the boundaries we need to survive. Sadly, these same factors can also lock us in a box. They can keep us channeled into a limited, parochial mindset that prevents us from finding joy in our own lives or perhaps causes sadness in the lives of others.
The very act of reading this has already taken you outside the glass, if only for a brief moment. Whether you read my blog, stories, or books keep in mind the monitor/screen you are looking through is no longer the wall of your fishbowl, but of mine. Peer in whenever you like.
I'd like an occasional peek into yours too, so if I've got you thinking, please leave a comment!