Featured! Agent-Author Chat

Hey guys! I’m really honored to be featured on Krista Van Dolzer’s latest Agent-Author Chat. Scoot over there and check out my query for DOOR NUMBER FOUR, the manuscript that caught my agent, Mandy Hubbard’s eye, as well as some great advice from Mandy herself.

While you’re there, follow Krista, because she’s pretty awesome.

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been- My Agent Journey

As I’m sure you guessed from the title, I’ve got some pretty big news. Okay, that’s putting it mildly. I’m freakin’ ecstatic! I have an agent! After several manuscripts, lots of queries, tons of tears, and a boatload of perseverance. Here’s how it all went down:

Back in May, I had this crazy dream one night. I don’t remember the date, but I remember the day. It was the day my orthopedic surgeon removed Carl (my leg brace) for good and cleared me to drive again. My brother, and chauffeur for the day, went to lunch with me (lunch buffet at Pizza Hut–just in case you were curious), and I told him about my weird dream. Now crazy dreams are nothing new, but this one…it felt special.

Soon as I got free time, I transcribed my dream idea into words. First, a synopsis, then a first chapter. Then the words just kept coming. I kept writing and next thing I knew, I had 30k or so written and started sending it off to my amazing critique partner. I wrote and edited and finally got it done, then edited some more and got it ready to send to betas. They liked it okay but had some concerns. So I edited some more, went through another round of betas, drafted my query, compiled a list of agents to submit to, researched those agents (i.e. stalked), whittled it down, then, finally, I was ready.

Four months after my dream, on October 12, I decided to submit a round of queries, not really expecting anything to happen, but hoping I would at least see the kind of responses I got to my query. I submitted to twelve wonderful agents, any of which I would have felt extremely lucky to have in my corner–although I must say, I did have a couple favorites.

Because I’m my own special sort of weird, and OCD, I put the agents and their submission info in a color coded spreadsheet, alphabetized by name, grouped by submission requirements, then alphabetized within the groups. See? Kind of crazy. Okay, and maybe I was really nervous about submitting and the more I played with the pretty colors, the longer I put off actually hitting “send.” But send I did, finally. Then I did that thing where I tell myself not to get my hopes up, no that blinking light on my phone is not an email from an agent, agents don’t respond that quickly, they’re busy people and–

Holy crap it’s from an agent! Just two hours later, I got a response, from one of my top choice agents. Not just a request for a full, but a literal “YES, PLEASE!” written just like that, in all caps. I couldn’t believe it! I did a happy dance in my chair, completely forgetting my office door and window blinds were open, and that I’m in a high traffic area of the building. When I collected myself, I started to read over my manuscript again, stopped myself, and submitted the full. I marked it down on my spreadsheet, colored the cell green, then I tried to put it out of my head.

I got another couple requests, but none made me quite as excited. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled with each request, but there was something special about that first email, about the level of excitement for my work. My work! Then I got some rejections. My attempts not to think about it failed. I still jumped every time that green light on my phone blinked, even though I kept telling myself it could take months for the agent to respond. Sometimes they have fulls for–

Nope. Four days after I submitted the full, the agent responded. I took a deep breath, opened my spreadsheet, and clicked the email, ready to mark “Rejection 10/16/12” down and color it in red (of course). But it wasn’t a rejection. It wasn’t an acceptance either. The agent said she found a lot to love, but had some concerns. She asked if I would be up for exclusive revisions. Uh…yeah, of course I would! I did another happy dance and tried to call Hubby, but he was in California for work and didn’t have his phone. The most exciting news of my writing career and the one person I wanted to tell was in Cali-freaking-fornia. I had to sit on the news for hours, then practically squealed in the phone when he finally called. It’s like all that excitement just built, and built, like Mentos in Coke, then came spewing out all at once.

The agent and I exchanged a couple emails, then the next night I received her notes. All six pages of them. Six! Yeah, it was a bit overwhelming, and I didn’t know quite what to think. Then I read a blog post she referred me to by Imogen Howson. Her experience was similar to mine: five or six pages of revision notes, and a lot of trepidation. It worked out well for Imogen, so I decided to give it a shot.

The agent wanted the first seventy-five pages revised. Full of excitement and nervous energy, I opened my manuscript, laid my fingers on the keyboard, and sat there. All of a sudden, I was completely petrified. “I can’t do this. How did I ever think I could do this?” I opened a new document, and found the blank page too intimidating. I went back to the original manuscript and tried writing a new first chapter. Then I deleted it and went back to the blank screen. Nothing.

So I closed everything and tried to breathe. The revisions weren’t just big, they were world-altering. Literally. I had to move the story to an entirely new planet. Problem was, I didn’t know the planet yet, and I was still too close to the original story. I needed space, in all sorts of ways. (The great folks at Absolute Write helped me realize this too).

I turned off the computer, and turned on the television. Finally, I had an excuse to make Hubby watch all the nerdy science shows! “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking,” “Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole,” all the space shows I could find! Coincidentally, the Sunday before I received the revision request, Hubby and I had watched “How the Universe Works,” perfect timing, eh?

Instead of going back to the computer, I pulled out my trusty legal pad, and began drawing: a planet, continents, oceans. I named the planet, the continents, and the countries, wrote back stories for how the people found the planet and how they terraformed it. I figured out how far it was from the sun and how many hours there were in a day. I named other planets in the solar system.

Then, I finally turned my computer on again, and started to write. Those first couple chapters were the hardest. I tried jumping ahead in the story, but had to go back to the beginning. When I finally had something (that I thought was crap) I sent it off to my CP. Shockingly, she loved it! She suggested places I could expand the world-building, and I was off again. Writing like crazy.

I wrote and tweaked and edited and fretted for a month. Exactly a month, although I didn’t plan it that way. Then, November 16, when I thought I couldn’t possibly edit any more, I bit the bullet and submitted, jumping every time that stupid phone light flashed. After a couple other emails, twenty minutes later, she responded. She’d read a little and liked it so far and would get back to me when she’d read the rest.

If you follow this blog, you know I’m the self-deprecating sort, so I prepared myself for her to hate the rest. Readied myself for rejection. Two hours later, I was at lunch with Hubby and the green light blinked. I saw it was from the agent and held my breath.

She loved it. She’d read the whole thing and enjoyed it so much she offered rep right then! Yes, I jumped up and down in my seat in the restaurant. Yes, strangers gave me weird looks. No, I didn’t care. Nor did I care when I jumped more in the parking lot. I still can’t believe it. I have an agent. I don’t think those words will ever get old.

We talked on the phone Monday night and although I was nervous and I’m sure I sounded like some kind of country bumpkin (nerves tend to deepen my already thick Southern drawl), I soon felt totally at ease talking to her. She’s everything I wanted in an agent, but didn’t dare to hope for. She gave me the chance to go back to the other agents who had my manuscript and give them a chance to offer. Instead, I withdrew my submission from them. Let’s face it, I knew as soon as I got that first email I would accept if she offered rep. The excitement she showed from the outset, and continues to show, well, it sold me. I have someone as stoked about this story as I am, how could I say no to that?

Who is that someone? Well, I’m thrilled to say I’m now represented by Mandy Hubbard at D4EO Literary Agency!!

So, dear reader, I want to thank you for going on this journey with me so far. I still have a long way to go to my dream of publication, and a lot of revising left. But dreams can come true. Just ask my main character in this story. One night she was a wacky dream, the next, a character coming to life on the page. I can’t wait to finish telling her story, and I can’t wait to see how it weaves in with mine. Thank you, Mandy, for having faith in the story and in me, and thank you readers for being interested in what a quiet girl from Alabama has to say.

Why Scientists Should Be Looking To Writers

When you think of a happy family, what image comes to mind? A mother and father, two or three kids, maybe sitting around the dinner table, laughing, one of them slipping a veggie to the family dog?

What about romantic relationships? A couple walking through a park, holding hands? Perhaps a midnight swim in a cool lake, or leaning across a table in a low lit restaurant?

When you think of war, what do you see? Tanks? Explosions? Men in camouflage running across sandy terrain with bulky packs? Those same men around a fire at night, this time in their undershirts, joking with each other and thinking about their loved ones at home?

Think of anything: spaceships, a company office, a baseball team, a band, an animal shelter, a Hollywood movie set, an African safari.

How much of the images that come to mind is based on what you’ve seen on television, or in movies, or read in a book? I would hesitate a guess and say most of it. That’s my experience anyway. I’ve never experienced war, or been on a spaceship, or gone to Africa. Every image I have of these things, every preconceived notion has been told or depicted to me by someone else.

I was thinking about this the other day and realized that writers play a pretty big part in shaping our world. Not just our world, but our idea of the world. This realization was little intimidating at first. I mean, the ideas and pictures in my head could possibly influence the ideas and pictures of someone else.

How many of you, when thinking about the distant future, immediately picture flying cars and metallic clothes? Sky high cities and robots? Even if that image is displaced by something else, was it the first thing that came to mind? Did you imagine something like the Jetsons? I do. Because that’s what I’ve been told the future will look like. Popular culture has ingrained it in us for decades.

But this idea, this notion that writers set the molds, it’s not just intimidating, it’s freeing. I’m currently revising a manuscript and setting it, literally, on another world. When I first sat down and looked at the blank page, I was scared to death. Then, slowly, I began to grasp that this new world could be anything I wanted it to be.

No longer am I constrained within the realm of plausibility. I can shape continents, create technologies, craft skylines, and build cities. A couple days ago, I was describing this weapon I thought of to my husband. Hubby, always the engineer, looked at me and said “That wouldn’t work like that. It’s not realistic.” I turned back and said “So? Just because it wouldn’t work now, with the technology we currently have, doesn’t mean it would never work.”

Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick are a great example. Look at “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Computers that were small screens and operated by touch, flat screen monitors, voice activated systems, video teleconferencing. All these inventions that were, in 1972, a mere dream, implausible, not realistic. Yet, we have them today.

You may have heard about Apple suing Samsung for patent infringement of their iPad design. Here’s what I find most interesting about the suit. Samsung argued they couldn’t infringe because the ideas all came from Kubrick’s film, and from another called “The Tomorrow People,” not from Apple. Did these films influence Steve Jobs? Well, I don’t know, but I think the argument is there that it could have. Did “Friends” influence the way any of you saw life in New York City? Did “Sleepless in Seattle” influence your thoughts on love? Did “Platoon” influence how you saw war? Or “Apollo 13” how you viewed space travel?

What I do know is this: scientists, researchers, engineers, and a slew of others have the job of thinking outside the box within the constraints of plausibility. But writers…writers get to push further. We get to expand our minds and create whatever we want, and dare the scientists to catch up. Clarke, and then Kubrick, created these technologies, and forty years later the world made his ideas a reality.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy famously wrote, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” I say, that’s exactly what writers are. The ones who dare to dream. Who knows, that scene you’re describing now may be the first image someone else thinks of when they hear of that place, that couple you just wrote may shape another person’s view of a happy marriage, and those “implausible” inventions you’re creating in your mind today, might one day become a reality.