Querying Quandaries and a Slice of Orange

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.

Chapter 1
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.
“Organ pirate?”

“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.”

“Kids?”

“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.

Not today.

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The Unfollowing

Politics, racism, anti-Islam, anti-refugee, anti-women, and other hate posts: I banish you from my Newsfeed.

I’m okay with pandas, bizarre news articles, and time-lapse photography. I just wish it weren’t so easy to shoot misattributed, illogical garbage around the globe as fast as you can click ‘share’.

I understand that Facebook has many functions (How’s it going?): keeping people aware of what you’re eating, posting pics, passing on things that amaze, sharing private griefs, telling the whole world when your relationship ends, expressing indignation, even anger. Here’s the problem: We’re not all angry about the same things.
soap box

Maybe we need to bring back the wooden soapbox. If people used a real soapbox instead of Facebook, they’d have to actually think through what they were going to say, rather than hit ‘share’.  Instead of finding my newsfeed full of hand-me-down hate rants and misattributed baloney, I could make a choice to go and listen to what someone had to say.  I could question their sources and argue with them. I’d know whose thoughts belonged to whom. Angry ideas wouldn’t sit on someone’s page for all digital eternity. It might be fun. We might even go and get lunch afterwards. I guess they could also start a blog.

I know. I’ve been on my own Facebook soapbox many times. My in-some-instances probably liberal views have no doubt aggravated many friends, but they’ve politely refrained from commenting. Me? I can’t leave it alone. I can be a self-righteous, priggish know-it-all, and it’s driving me crazy. My favorite website in the world? (after the weather ) Snopes: buster of all online hoaxes. I can look up its references. I can find out for myself. That’s good. I can’t stop myself from sharing it with almost religious fervor. That’s annoying.

The Facebook usage agreement prohibits hate speech. What does Facebook consider to be hate speech? Content that attacks people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease is not allowed. 

Part of the hate-on-facebook problem is that perhaps people don’t always realize that what they’re posting is hate-driven. For them, it’s fear-driven. People are scared of a lot of stuff and a lot of people. I’m sure that my friends who share anti-people posts don’t see it as hate speech.

I know I post too much. No doubt the volume of my posts has been enough to send some of my ‘friends’ screaming towards the ‘unfollow’ button. Yeah. Sorry about that. Maybe others see things I’ve passed on and think, “Will she just shut up?”

Maybe we should be allowed to post whatever we want, but I’ve always felt strongly that freedom of speech should not extend to hate speech. I’m not American, but I think freedom of speech is a universal notion.

Do you get hate speech in your Newsfeed? How do you deal with it? Is it cowardly to unfollow someone without explaining why?

Never swim with a Sim

Recently, two of my three children were home. We had a lovely week of cave time: eating, sleeping, reading, writing (that was me), watching, playing, (that was them), and more eating. My daughter, 19, and my son, 16, pulled out Sims, a game they used to play a lot when they were younger.

Apparently it’s tough being a parent in Sims. It’s a lot of work. It makes you tired, frustrated, and the kids drive you crazy. You have to press buttons to feed them, clothe them, educate them. One of my kids told me that after you’ve picked the baby’s name and outfit, they’re no more fun. After that they’re annoying and they make you tired and hungry and you don’t have time to clean the shower and the toilet gets clogged. And Sims toddlers have to be potty trained. Oh! The list goes on and on! It’s a nightmare!

My kids worked out a long time ago that there are ways to get around your problems in the Sims. For instance, if you stop your Sims kids from doing their homework, and keep feeding them spaghetti, and put their books away when they’re supposed to read, eventually the ‘social welfare people’ will come and take the SIMS kids away. Hurray!

Since no one but you can activate instructions regarding your babies, you can actually leave your littlies on the sidewalk outside your house, when you go to check the mail. And since no one can interact with you when they come to your house unless you officially greet them, you can just leave the baby outside and refuse to greet the social welfare person who comes to reprimand you.

When parenting really gets to be too much, you can just speed up time and make the hard stuff pass faster. Of course, all of life generally happens faster. One morning, my daughter came down and said that her Sim character, a pregnant mother, made spaghetti and put it on the dining table. She clutched her stomach and became uncontrollable. The Sims game gave the kids the instruction to cry softly, and the whole family went into the living room. The grim reaper turned up and turned the mother character into an urn. The children’s instruction continued to be to cry softly, but the father swung between crying and laughing. The game instructed him to call a therapist. Fun stuff!

Sims teaches other lessons about life. The people aren’t real, so almost anything goes. My son learned ages ago that if someone really annoyed you, you could simply build a swimming pool, invite the offender to go swimming, and then delete the ladder. Sims can’t dog-paddle indefinitely. My daughter came up with another equally good plan. You build a room, put the annoying SIM character in it, throw fire crackers in, and keep instructing the character to play with them. Voila!

I just don’t get why people want to play games that simulate everyday life. And I’ve got doubts about the morals the game teaches. Got a problem with your boss? Invite her to come see your firecrackers. That thing you’re responsible for? Ditch it. The hard stuff? Rip through it at triple time. There’s something Twilight Zone about this virtual experiment in adulthood.

Maybe I should encourage them to play Assassin’s Creed instead. Blood? Sure. But killing the enemy with a sword seems less brutal than inviting them to go swimming.

Wrinkles, hemorrhoids, apostrophes, and millionaires

While on break, I suppose I’ve been more relaxed, and, for the first time, I’ve started to notice how ridiculous a lot of the ads are on my Facebook feed.

I have two concerns. First, I can only imagine that certain words in my statuses, or my friends, have triggered particular ads. That said, I’ve never had hemorrhoids. And I don’t remember writing about wrinkles. Perhaps Facebook made that decision based on my profile. My second concern is the images that are thrown up with the ads. Sometimes they just make no sense.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some the ads that have popped up on my feed over the last couple of weeks.

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I kind of want to go to the apostrophe workshop.

Merry Christmas. Write your report cards.

Christmas vacation: one week of eating, sleeping, reading, watching, writing, reading, some more eating and sleeping; one week of grading, grading, and grading. Here’s what I’ve achieved. The dalek is real.

dalek

If it means anything to you, most of the pile is writing. Stupid, stupid. Every semester I say I won’t collect writing in the final week, but I always do it. Half of this pile is NaNoWriMo excerpts. I was thrilled with what my students wrote!

This afternoon, I grumbled all the way to my classroom and started working out final grades and tidying comments. I was working away busily in my classroom when the door rattled. I ignored it – the wind, no doubt. A minute later I heard someone try the handle. As far as I knew I was the only person at school. Loud banging followed. The guards wouldn’t bang like that. I couldn’t see anyone through the glass panel next to the door. I carefully opened it and saw—

power ranger

My Power Ranger son, accompanied by my human daughter, had come to visit me. After peanut butter and Vita Wheats,  they lured me into watching funny cat videos and Ellen’s greatest pranks. Two hours later, they’ve gone home, and I’m still procrastinating. Not my fault. The blog was really overdue.

They’re going to call me when dinner’s ready.

What have I achieved in the last two weeks?

I did quite a bit of editing on my own NaNoWriMo novel in the first week and sent it to two people I trust. They really liked it. I’m a bit torn about how to proceed with revisions.

I’ve seen a ton of movies: Les Mis (Yay!), The Hobbit, Life of Pi, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, The Andromeda Strain (1971) and today I discovered Portlandia.

I’ve also been reading a lot over the last couple of weeks:

Delirum and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver: Absolutely loved these.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver: I didn’t love this one as much at first, because the MC is quite awful at the start of her journey, but I warmed to it. It’s great.

The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore: Fast fun. I think I like those books because I wish I was one of the ten. No burning scars, though. I guess my powers could still kick in.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: I thought the best way to start this book was to sneak into the school library after dark and steal it. I might not have super powers but I do have keycard access to the library. Kind of the same, don’t you think? And don’t worry. I left a note for the librarian. I’m really enjoying this. It’s pace is very gentle—I’m about two thirds through, and the mood is brilliant. It’s magic in the Victorian, mysterious sense. Love it.

Now I’d really better get to work, or the spaghetti will be cooked and I’ll have nothing to show for it.

Happy New Year!

Winning NanoWriMo

I did it. I won NaNoWriMo. It was a fantastic, crazy, all-consuming Herculean task. On one forum where I often lurk, someone started a thread asking people what they’ve learned during NaNoWriMo. Here’s what I learned.

If you’re the kind of writer who likes to spend half an hour crafting one sentence, you’re in for a shock. It’s a completely different experience to just turn on the word taps and let them gush. You have much less control. You have to trust your brain to keep pouring. Later you can sift it, and see what’s valuable, but in the process, you just gush. Yes, you find yourself thinking about the novel a lot between writing sessions, trying to plan it, but once you’re sitting at your laptop, clock ticking, you just have to let it flow.

This kind of pressure can lead you to places you didn’t expect. When forced, characters may reveal things about themselves that you had no idea about. Your ideas, by necessity rushing onto the screen, may forge their own paths, taking you, quite possibly, into a completely different novel. This is incredibly exciting.

About halfway in, I stopped thinking about it as a ‘first draft’ and thought of it instead as a giant free write. I could experiment—try things as they popped into my head.

There were two downsides for me. I accept that I will have to restructure the plot. No problem. What was a problem, under pressure, was maintaining both authorial and character voice. Even if the plot is completely flexible, I like to create vivid, individual characters. I didn’t always. Hence, I have revision notes like: Give Bob a personality. Yeah. That’s a big one.

I’ve started reshaping and revising. I still like the first chapter. It’s certainly the chapter that was the most planned. What I need to do is build from there. Off it goes to the critique group this week.

Here’s my new opening: I’ve been to 179 funerals in three years, and this is what I know: No matter how happy, sad, pretty, plain, corrupt, saintly, or anything else you were in life, at your funeral, you will be a star.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. It’s a wonderful writing challenge.

Am I sad it’s over? Yes. It was motivating knowing that there were thousands of other writers like me, all pushing themselves to achieve the same crazy goal.

An unexpected perk: Now that it’s over, I can’t believe how much free time I have. What on earth did I do before Nano?

Make her a little more obsessed with death

I said I wouldn’t keep writing about nanowrimo, but since it’s two weeks since I blogged, I thought it might be all right. It’s not like anyone has to read daily updates. Be grateful. At this minute, I’m at 22,000 words—about 6,000 behind, I think. Parent Conferences—83 in 3 days last week—burnt me out, and I’m just recovering. But I’ve been thinking. And watching movies that may prove useful. And ten minutes ago, I promised by nanowrimo buddy that in ten minutes I’d be working hard at it, and here I am, not working hard at it.

One thing I find challenging in nanowrimo is that in order to write 50,000 words, you absolutely do not have time to go back and revise. Perhaps if you don’t have to go to work, you might be able to, but this is not my situation. Not, not, not my situation. One way I cope with this is to keep a list of revision instructions to remind me of things I need to fix after November.

So, here’s my revision list:

• Add writing quotes (Looking back, I have no idea what this means. Drat.)
• Sort out the time continuity
• When Corinne and Marcus spin around on the grass, describe it in more detail
• Make her a little more obsessed with death
• Give her flashbacks of her life – bit by bit.
• Change from Marcus mom’s car to his mom’s old car.
• Make sure each day starts with a msg from Marcus
• Have her take a sweater to the party so she can use it to staunch S’s bleeding
• Go back and have the doctors take an x-ray of Shanelle’s head, rather than a scan, and keep her in overnight. They’ll decide tomorrow whether or not she needs a scan. She goes home in the morning.
• She is in French class in Chapter 11. Add that earlier.
• Compare Shanelle to Barbie
• Don’t make Marcus into the sufi religion so much. Just whirling. The Eat Pray Love lady is into Sufi poetry☹
• Change her AP English novel from 1984 to A Room With a View.
• Make her lie about year book club. She hasn’t really been going. She just says she is. The counselor calls her in about it. She also purposely doesn’t go to her college planning meetings.
• Make sure Corinne and Shanelle are in the same English class.

Riveting, non?

I just thought of a better way to start this blog, but I’m not going back. I’ll add it to my revision list.

Here is one of my favorite sentences:

“Make up your mind. Is he a German or a battery hen?”

Back to it.