Made It Moment: Carolyn J. Rose
I have a special feeling in my heart for this Moment by Carolyn Rose for two reasons. One, it’s a story eleven years in the making, and as most of you know, I can relate to one of those. And two, Carolyn hails from a part of the world I just love. Read here about the novel that pulled itself up by its bootstraps–with more than a little help from its author, of course.
With an innocent sense of optimism about its future, I began writing Hemlock Lake in 1999. Had I known it would be such a “hard luck” book, I might have taken a hammer to my keyboard, turned my monitor into modern art, and embarked on a career creating something easier to sell, like broken umbrellas or failing dot.com stock. But I didn’t have a crystal ball then—still don’t—so I forged on with a story that, from the start, felt like it wanted me to write it.
Confident about my first 100 pages, I sent a few chapters to a friend. They returned with gallons of green ink flowing between the lines and into the margins. If I’d laid the pages out on the ground, they might have been designated a wetland.
I’m sad to say that I didn’t handle the situation like an adult. Although I told myself that criticism is subjective and there was nothing vindictive about comments that I had solicited, I raged about the house repeating that she, “just didn’t get it,” and, “wasn’t much of a friend.” My husband, meanwhile, cowered in an upstairs room checking for an expiration date on our marriage license. Eventually I slammed the manuscript into a box (we were in the process of moving from Portland to Vancouver at the time) and ignored it for several months.
When the small TV station I worked for folded its tent and laid me off, I had time on my hands to consider her comments once more. But, practicing avoidance is one of my hobbies, so I painted the interior of our house, changed out the electrical sockets, and organized the garage before I unearthed the manuscript.
Time had given me emotional distance and I found that her comments weren’t as cutting or extreme as I’d first thought. In fact, most of them pointed to the need for material that had never made it onto the pages I’d sent her—descriptions and character details I’d carried in my head but never got down on paper because they were so obvious to me.
With a sense of mission, I went back to the keyboard, revised, and took second place in the 2000 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Competition and was a finalist in the Colorado Gold Competition. Emboldened, I began a search for agents. I soon found that no one wanted to touch Hemlock Lake for a variety of reasons, most of which will be familiar to any writer who has ever sent out queries:
· client list was full
· didn’t feel committed to the project
· couldn’t relate to rural setting
· couldn’t successfully market it
· had found editors were intent on potential mega-hit novels
· wasn’t wild about the premise
· was transitioning to a film management agency
· enthusiasm just not great enough
· not completely confident about this endeavor
· overbooked at present
· wanted a hefty fee for representation costs
And then I received the ultimate rejection: “agent has passed away.”
I remember opening that letter and dropping into a chair in stunned silence. Would someone rather die than represent this book? Was Hemlock Lake destined to spend the rest of my life in a box at the back of the closet under the stairs?
Stay tuned for part two…
Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She has published a number of mysteries and lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband, radio air personality Mike Phillips, and a motley collection of pets. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking. Surf to www.deadlyduomysteries.com for more information. And watch the book trailer for HEMLOCK LAKE at http://www.trailerspy.com/trailer/10179/Hemlock-Lake
Hi, Carolyn, I love your honesty (so sick of authors who only put out picture perfect PR) and really love your book trailer! It’s just the right length, doesn’t drag or get redundant, sets the mood, and piques my curiosity. Did you make it yourself or did you hire someone? I will indeed come back for part two.
Comment by Sara — August 12, 2010 @ 11:52 am
Well now you have me on the edge of my seat! I hope part two comes tomorrow!
Comment by Judy — August 12, 2010 @ 12:04 pm
Oh, man, please make part 2 come soon. After 10 years of trying to market my novel, and going on agent #3, I could really use a lift!
Comment by Savvy — August 12, 2010 @ 12:29 pm
Clearly, Carolyn knows how to pen a cliffhanger, right? Part II comes tomorrow…!
Comment by jenny — August 12, 2010 @ 12:40 pm
I hung by my fingernails for a decade and I’m glad I can share the pain. LOL.
Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — August 12, 2010 @ 2:14 pm
Oh dear Lord…really? The agent died rather than represent you? I thought I’d die reading that. And, of course, you took it personally. As would any decent writer. And I’m sure the entire scene flashed through your mind; opening the query, thumbing through the attachment, wailing to the assistant that she just couldn’t read any more, she just wasn’t thrilled and she already knew you wouldn’t pay any reading fees, slamming down your manuscript and clutching her throat.
Poor thing. She’d have done better by offering you representation.
Comment by Melanie Sherman — August 12, 2010 @ 6:14 pm
A wetland of green ink. Verr-rrry interrestink. I feel your pain, my friend, in so many ways. Congratulations!
Comment by Patty H. — August 12, 2010 @ 6:36 pm
Yes, Patty, it was a wetland. I still have some of the swamp creatures that inhabited it living in a dank corner of my basement. LOL
Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — August 12, 2010 @ 7:01 pm
Carolyn- I can so relate to the “emotional distance” comment, and how it can make such a big difference in the final product. Looking forward to your next post!
By the way, I wanted to watch the book trailer, but the link was broken.
Comment by Shelley Stout — August 12, 2010 @ 7:12 pm
Congratulations on Hemlock Lake. I read it on my Kindle and it is a great read! Your post is a little scary, despite the obvious happy ending. I have found it easy to swallow the green ink on my attempts at fiction since I am transitioning from another style of writing (nonfiction) and know that I have much to learn. I wonder how a seasoned author like you can tolerate the careless way that writers seem to be tossed away by the publishing world.
Comment by David E Cournoyer — August 12, 2010 @ 8:37 pm
Developing thick skin is a must for writers, but it certainly isn’t easy, especially at the start.
Comment by Morgan Mandel — August 12, 2010 @ 9:42 pm
The agent dead? I’m worried about your husband’s health now. I wonder if he sleeps with a stun gun under his pillow. Carolyn on a rampage, watch out! I think the saving grace is that the comments were written in green, not red, ink. My revenge fantasy is that your published book, well books, would be stuffed into the dead agent’s coffin, forced forever more to realize her/his mistake, and you get paid for them out of the estate, with interest.
Comment by EL — August 12, 2010 @ 10:40 pm
Carolyn, thanks again for appearing, and to everyone for posting such great comments. This thread has made me laugh out loud more than once.
Welcome, new readers, and can I say a special hello to Elizabeth Lyons, whose SELL YOUR NOVEL TOOLKIT not only helped me get my first agent, but which I recommend to every writer who asks me for advice about making the leap from writing as hobby to professional pursuit? I’m honored to have you all here at Suspense Your Disbelief!
Part II of this post will appear tomorrow!
Comment by jenny — August 13, 2010 @ 12:15 am
Thank you all for “tuning in” for part one.
Sorry the link to the video didn’t work. It’s up on YouTube and Trailerspy if you want to go directly there. My friend Steve Skipwith shot the video for the script I wrote, found the terrific music, and did the amazing editing.
Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — August 13, 2010 @ 9:34 am
Hi Carolyn, I know there’s hope for the future when a published book has been given so much rejection and is now on the store book shelf. I look forward to tons of rejections when my first book is complete. Thank you for all your classroom help and I wish you the best with Hemlock Lake
Comment by Jason Garcia — August 17, 2010 @ 1:33 pm
Jason, welcome to Suspense Your Disbelief! Any student of Carolyn’s is a friend of mine Sorry I missed your comment for a while–as you’ll see from the latest entry, I am travelin’. Please keep me posted on the story of your own work…I love the journey of a novel, and ultimately, collecting more success stories.
Comment by jenny — August 23, 2010 @ 8:58 am
Jason, welcome to Suspense Your Disbelief! Any student of Carolyn’s is a friend of mine Sorry I missed your comment for a while–as you’ll see from the latest entry, I am travelin’. Please keep me posted on the story of your own work…I love the journey of a novel, and ultimately, spreading the word of more success stories!
Comment by jenny — August 23, 2010 @ 8:58 am