In the last couple of weeks, I’ve moved into the next stage of writing my YA novel, Orange. After I’d sat on it for a while and worked on feedback from a few people I trust who’d read the whole thing, I decided it was time to start querying. Two humdinger agents had been sitting on my middle grade novel, Samson Blake is Doomed, for several months, so I did the old query/nudge combo. I queried them about the new novel, while politely, gently reminding them about the old one.
Within a few days, one of them wrote back (via her assistant) and said that while she was passing on the old novel, she’d ‘LOVE” to see 75 pages of the new one at my ‘EARLIEST’ convenience (upper case added for effect). So I did a little dance and sent off the requested pages. This agent is fantastic and represents a Newberry winner. Plus, she’s a funny tweeter, which is important to me. And she’s from an uber agency.
While waiting to hear on that, I decided to start querying other agents, so last weekend, I wrote to ten great agents with the first five pages of Orange. A few days later, I heard back from one, and her assistant said the agent would love to see the entire manuscript. This agent is more than my dream agent. I danced again, threw my head back and let out a great big fat belly laugh, and sent off Orange. So now TWO humongously fantastic agents had either part or all of my novel.
A day or so after sending off the full manuscript to the second agent, I heard back from the first agent, via her assistant’s intern… The agent liked lots of things about it, but there were two things she was concerned about, and she suggested that I try rewriting in 3rd person to address these two issues, and then I could resubmit it. If you haven’t queried a million agents before, and received a million form rejections or no response at all, you might think that this is a less than great response. Agents, in fact, rarely give feedback, and the opportunity to resubmit is wonderful. That said, I’ve been mulling over the idea of rewriting in third person, and I don’t think I want to. I think I can address her concerns without doing that.
Now, I have a problem. One of the first agent’s concerns really resounded with me, because someone else in my critique group had felt quite strongly the same way. As I said, I think I can address this problem without rewriting in third person. In fact, I think I could sort this out over the weekend.
So … I don’t know whether to wait and see what the second agent thinks, or email her and ask her to hold off reading it while I make a few minor adjustments and resend. I’ll look like a sausage if I do that, but I only have one shot! I’m telling you—she’s amazing!
I hate writing queries, but I secretly enjoy the part where you start sending out your work and then drive yourself crazy checking your email constantly to see if anyone’s written back. It’s terrifying fun! While I haven’t found an agent yet, I have had quite a few agents request to see more work, and give me great feedback. The quality of my rejections is definitely on the up and up.
So you know what I’m talking about, in a whacky fit of risk-taking, here are the first few pages of Orange.
I’ve been to 179 funerals in three years.
I know what I want and don’t want at my own. It’s not like I’ve got a Pinterest board, but when it’s my turn in the box, my best friend Marcus has a list that had better be followed. The first rule: Do not let the mortician do my make-up. I do not want the glow of the living.
You’ve seen it before. It’s a special kind of creepy when your great great aunt has suddenly regained the rosy youth she lost seventy years ago. It’s more disturbing when she’s wearing the dress she wore to your cousin’s wedding last month, and—despite the cherry red lips (she wore the palest of pinks in life), she looks ready to reach out and tug at your skirt hem, telling you some things should remain a mystery.
She won’t. She can’t. She’s dead.
I’m sitting at the back of Roseleaf Memorial Chapel, a funeral home on the west side, with Marcus.
Gray-haired, pink-cheeked Arthur Stewart, the star of today’s program, definitely has the glow. He looks like a colorized version of the black and white photo that has been blown up to Broadway proportions on an easel next to the podium. His slightly younger self stands next to a car. No smile. No dog. No one else.
There are only eight people in the pews in front of us.
No matter the size of the audience, the deceased will be glorified. I’ve seen it 179 times.
This man probably hadn’t heard from most of these people for years before his death. That’s the way it works. When you’re dead, people appear from far away and long ago, to see you shine brilliantly one last time before they move on in a world in which you no longer exist. They come to prove that there was a time when you were not dead. They want to assure themselves that you were real. It’s as if every action, every relationship, every achievement of your whole life is all compressed into 45 minutes of eulogies, photos, and tears, of which I’ve seen bucket loads.
Marcus and I don’t wear black. We wear our regular street clothes. He has cultivated a raw, scruffy look, and it suits him, but he tends to choose his least wrinkly jeans for our Saturday funerals. He’s tall and blond, and he looks great in pretty much anything he wears. I just try to look normal—a skirt, orange top, and print jacket. No one cares about what two teens up the back are wearing. People focus only on their own grief at funerals.
I know I did.
I am fifteen. I am sitting on a hard, wooden pew. I am tired. Silent. All I can see is coffins. Aunt Gina is crying. She is sitting right next to me but the sobs she is trying to stifle sound far away.
“Corinne,” whispers Marcus. “You go first.”
We’ve played this game a lot. “Acrobat,” I tell him. “He worked in the same circus for forty years.”
“No, everyone loves acrobats. The place would be packed. I’m thinking more along the lines of organ pirate,” he says.
“He trafficked in human organs.”
“Organ pirate. Marcus? Is that what the kids are calling it nowadays?”
Recorded panpipes surround us.
“Married?” I whisper.
“She left him because he was an alcoholic.”
“An alcoholic organ pirate. He’s in entry-level pine. Shouldn’t he have died rich? ”
“Some CEO came after him when he got a dud kidney,” says Marcus. “The business went bust. He started drinking.”
“They hate him.”
“The car in the pic?”
“Totaled in a DUI.”
“Too obvious, Marcus,” I say. “He was a spy, as are four of the eight guests. He sacrificed his life for his country. Or for money. For something. He was a good guy, in a spy kind of way.”
Marcus looks at the mourners. “They’re not spies. Look at them.”
“Really? What do spies look like?”
“Spies don’t wear mothballed suits from 1973 to a funeral.”
“The clever ones do.”
The minister begins. “We will remember Arthur Stewart as a quiet man who never harmed anyone.”
“Don’t let them say that about me,” I whisper.
“Arthur Stewart grew up on the family apple orchard,” the minister says, “working in the business into adulthood. He loved the land, and when the business failed, Arthur fell upon hard times.”
“You’re right,” I tell Marcus. “Alcoholic.”
He nods, and we listen to the rest of the eulogy, which takes about 60 seconds. We’re then treated to a staticky recording of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, after which tea, coffee, and store-bought choc chip cookies are served.
We eat a couple of cookies. No one speaks to us. Sometimes you can’t get away from people during the refreshments phase. They need to ask you how you knew the dead person. They want to connect all the dots between the people at the funeral—draw some giant web of the deceased’s life, to hold on to them a little more tightly, for a little longer.