December 29, 2009

This Year I Will

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 10:43 pm

It’s that time of year again.

Time for resolutions.

I don’t mean exercising–which I do plan to do, I even got a mini elliptical from my always attuned hubby for Christmas–or losing weight (if it happens, especially from the tum, that’d be great).  And definitely not make sure to treasure each moment (I really, truly do, except maybe for the ones where a rejection has just come in) or be more patient with the kids ( writing and the thirtieth request for a banana–especially after I’ve already fulfilled the ones for milk, juice, cheese, a plate of strawberries, and even a treat–will just never work; luckily those moments are far rarer than the rejection ones).

No, I mean writing resolutions.

The ones that are in our control (start a new novel) and the ones that aren’t (get a book contract).

Side note. My eldest and I were driving. I was ruminating on the myriad frustrations of life as a mostly unpublished writer. Long silence from the back. Then, “Mommy? Is a book contract the kind of thing you could get…someone for their birthday?”

Yes, my birthday was coming up.

It’s since passed.

I don’t want another one to.

Can you make resolutions you have almost no control over keeping?

What are yours?

December 21, 2009

Life as an Emerging Writer

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 4:23 pm

Tonight I’ll be chatting about just that on the radio show, Murder She Writes.

Please listen at 6 pm tonight by clicking on this link:

You can even call in and I’ll be thrilled to take questions! (347) 843 4128

December 17, 2009

Dejection rhymes with rejection

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:50 pm

I read a great blog post today about one of the perennials of a writer’s life.


The blog post discusses it at one of the earlier levels, that of being in a critique group, struggling with issues ranging from grammatical errors to character development.

But it could just as easily apply to the stage I’m stuck at–novel on submission–and probably long after that.

On this listserv I’m part of there’s a thread going about sucky reviews. Even novels that wound up on some awesome reviewer’s top 20 lists get them. And what is a bad review but rejection by a reader or reviewer?

So rejection is a given if you’re a writer.

And here is why.

Good writing is subjective.

That’s why Hollywood legend William Goldman says, Nobody knows.

He meant nobody knows what makes a hit. And that’s because what one person loves another will hate.

As many of you know, my novel is on submission right now. I have literally gotten the following rejections.

Big house #1 Editor wants to make an offer. Takes it to the board. No, they say. It’s too LANGUID AND LITERARY.

Big house #2 Editor wants to make an offer. Takes it to the board. No, they say. Everything in the chapters moves the pace along. It needs to be SLOWED DOWN.

Big editor #3 Sort of wants to offer. Provides ideas for revision. The reader should know more than the first character. Too much of the first person character.

I add third person vignettes because I thought this was a great, inspiring point.

Big editor #4 Really wants to offer. Board says, The first person character is great. We never have to leave her head. Cut the third person sections.

What is good is subjective.

Rejection, once you reach a certain level of craft, will come down to one thing.

The agent, editor, reader, or reviewer didn’t like it. Not because it’s not good or done right. Just because it’s not done the way they liked it. They’re neither wrong nor right. There is no wrong or right.

Nobody knows.

Do I mean that there are no legitimate criticisms to be made of a piece of writing? Of course not. First of all, even published fiction can be flawed. Dialogue can be stilted. Plots can be contrived. Prose can be purple.

We all see flaws like that in books that are bound in perpetuity. And a good reviewer can assess such flaws in startling and insightful ways. I hope I always read everything written about my books–if they are ever read–so that I can learn from such assessments.

But I am also saying to keep the subjectivity factor in mind when assessing others’ assessments of your work.

When my siblings and I were little, our parents taught us not to say blech or make faces when served something we didn’t like, but just to say, That’s not to my liking.

In a lot of cases that’s why our work gets rejected.

Not because it’s bad or good.

Just not to Reader # whatever’s liking.

December 14, 2009

How to choose an agent

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 5:51 pm

Wait, you mean we get a choice?

Well, if we’re lucky, sometimes we do. And if you’ve been following these “backstory” posts, then you know that hard upon my first offer of rep, I got a second.

Just in case the green eyed monster is swimming in your eyes, not to fear. I have MORE than made up for that dose of luck once my mss went on submission. But that is for a later post.

Today I just mean to tell you how I decided to sign.

There was door number one and door number two and I chose the agent behind…

Number one.

I chose based on three factors.

1) How established the agency was (the one I chose is in fact the oldest literary agency in the United States)

2) How well known the clients of the agency were (Joyce Carol Oates, Gail Godwin, say no more)

3) How long the agent had been in the business for

Were these the right factors on which to base my decision?

I honestly don’t know.

Agent number two was new-ish to the biz at the time–I believer she’d just opened her agency–and is still in business nine years later. (Gasp, yes, I’ve finally given a number as to the time I’ve spent at this.) She has made some wonderful deals, and in the process surely made some wonderful careers, and some wonderful dreams come true.

The agent I signed with has made many deals over the years as well. Her agency continues to be just as well reputed and so does she.

She was a wonderful person to work with, dogged, strong, and encouraging. When I wrote to her recently–another post for the future–she spoke as kindly as ever. “I still consider you an extraordinarily gifted writer.” Words that an unpublished writer–maybe a published one, too–holds close to her heart.

But my agent didn’t sell my book. Not the one she signed me for (which was actually my second). And not the one I had “in the bank” (my first) after the other failed to sell. Still, I think she was and is a great agent, and that I made my choice based on the most likely outcome. The more experienced agent was probably a better bet.

Unless the green, hungry agent would’ve made something happen.

Or unless a sale has nothing to do with either experience or hunger and is in the end simply luck, your book landing on the right editor’s desk at the right time. In which case both agents were equally likely and unlikely to get me an offer.

Bottom line, I don’t regret my decision, except in the road not taken sense.

Next time I will tell you what happened once my agent started submitting.

December 6, 2009

Made It Moment: Shelley Stout

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 1:52 pm

Shelley Stout -- Radium Halos

This week’s Moment is an extraordinary thing: a novel I never would’ve picked up that I wound up loving. Part history, part mystery, part feminist manifesto, Shelley’s book exposes a little known slice of the American workplace post-industrialization. But this novel is much more than a learning experience. Shelley brings the girls of the Radium Dial Factory and their heirs to life, giving them all a dignity and voice that only the best fiction ever achieves. In the process we find out a little something about what to beware of, and what to embrace.

Recently, I met a woman who runs a booth at an antique mall. I mentioned I’d written a novel about the young factory girls who painted the numbers on the old clocks with the glow-in-the-dark dials. The woman told me occasionally visitors come in looking for the now rare clocks. She asked me more about the novel.

I handed her a copy of RADIUM HALOS and told her my publisher is a small press. She flipped to the back cover and read the short paragraph about the dial painters. “This novel would be perfect for my antique booth,” she said. “It takes place in the 1920s, and there’s that connection to the past. Why don’t you bring me a few copies, and we’ll set a little notice next to them with a picture of one of the old clocks.”
My novel. For sale. Where people can actually hold it in their hands before they buy it.

Now, that’s a moment.

There are moments when writers believe just maybe they’ve accomplished something extraordinary, and there are moments when others validate that belief. The first writing award I won—honorable mention in a local contest—meant I was capable of putting eloquent words on a page that would leave an impression. Then, knowing that someone liked my work enough to offer to share it with the masses—also a great moment.

Whether you’re an aspiring writer or a veteran, each little accomplishment is a boost to your confidence. My next moment will hopefully be when my novel is a featured publication at one of our indie bookstores. Later, is it okay for me to pine away for a film option?

I imagine a writing career will generate a succession of “made it” moments, which all have one thing in common: they connect us as writers and as human beings.

December 4, 2009

Where was I?

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 10:24 am

A long, long time ago…

…I was telling the as yet unfinished story of my journey to publication.

I’d broken my foot, fallen to my knees, and gotten the call from the woman who turned out to be my first agent.

But here’s a rather exciting part I haven’t told.

My husband and I (childless at that point–yes, this HAS taken a while) went to stay with my parents about a half hour away. Their house was easier to negotiate with my crutches.

I had just signed up for an email account. (OK, OK, I already said it’s been a long time). I only did that because one of the agents I had queried and been communicating with by snail mail asked if I had one.

So I was no way in the habit of checking whether I had emails or anything like that. I ambled by my computer one day, lazily clicked on something I didn’t even know how to use…and there was my second offer of representation the same week as I got my first!

I can still recall that agent’s words. “I think it has bestseller potential and I would like to offer you representation.”

Ahh, if only that bestseller thing were that easy.

Still, it was exciting to have multiple offers of rep after all those months of querying. And yes, I realize that “months” of querying is really nothing. But it felt like a long time.

I remember that my brother was home for some reason and there are few people who make me feel reassured in the way that my brother does. My husband. Sometimes my dad. Clearly this is a male thing. But my brother, whom I grew up with, and who will know me longer than anyone else on earth–my sister is a lot younger; I think my husband and she are about tied in this respect–has a calming effect on me that I can’t explain.

We weren’t calm that day though when we sat on the sun porch and my brother said to me, “Now that you’re going to be famous we must establish one thing.

“I get sixty percent.”

Poor guy. He’s still holding out for his sixty percent.

But I must admit, I whooped and pretended to be grand in response to his egging me on…

And then I had to choose which agent to sign with.

December 1, 2009

A writer’s prayer of thanksgiving

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:06 pm

You can surmise from how overdue this post is the first thing I’m thankful for.

I’m thankful for my family, which inspires me daily even when it takes me away from writing.

I’m thankful for the Christmas morning feeling of excitement that comes with opening up a new document.

For the knowledge that for better and worse (hopefully a lot of worse) I’m on a barreling ride for the next five months or so of a first draft and I can’t get off.

I’m thankful when the words flow so that I think twenty minutes have passed and I look up and it’s four hours.

For that sudden jolt when a story appears full blown before my eyes. (I’m not thinking then about all the hard stuff, the parts that won’t work, the wrinkles I haven’t yet foreseen, the sentences I will strike…)

For the time when every bush that blows in a breeze, every word I overhear, each thing I see/feel/know will somehow become part of this novel I am creating.

For the guy who waits on me in the diner and unwittingly agrees to be a character.

For the dreadful, wrenching plot twist that because I am sick/a suspense writer (take your pick) makes me grin.

For the discovery of a new author.

For the books I read that remind me of the heights I have yet to scale.

For this joy we call writing even though one word can’t possibly encompass all it is.

Your turn. What are you thankful for?

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