Writerly Update

So one of my dream agents emailed me yesterday to say he is reading my manuscript now.  Trigger excitement!

This agent was the first to see to the heart of my manuscript, tell me what worked, what didn’t, what needed work, and advised me to revise it into an adult fantasy, beef up the word count, and add more exposition and characterization.  He even let me pester him with questions about my novel for revision purposes when most agents will give you form rejects on fulls.   To say I am eternally grateful is an understatement.

He was gracious enough to take another look at the revision I did half a year later and has some amazing projects he has worked on from New Adult Sci Fi about virtual reality combat to a really awesome LGBTQA+ story about two competing male love interests for a girl that end up falling in love – with each other!

Crossing my fingers and working on my next novel to distract myself.  If anything, I’ll get great feedback, so it’s a win-win situation. 🙂

Happiness, Completion, and New Phases

So I’m making April NaNoWriMo Lite, with the goal of finishing Darn Precious Messiah before #DVPit at the end of April. I have a few 30,000 words to go but who knows, it may be longer. It is my favorite thing besides Space Oddity yet that I have written, and a delightful story that comes from my soul.

Sensitivity readers are vital when writing outside your culture, and my best friend Misha, a Haitian-American Voodoo practitioner, is certainly an expert on the lwa.  Funny thing, she told me Legba actually does have dogs due to being associated with Saint Lazarus, funny in that I included his pet because it just struck me as a very Legba thing to do.  I’ve done so much research on the lwas and Voodoo since I started the novel at around 18, plus some ritual workings with them, reading everything I can get my hands on, but at the end of the day Zora Neale Hurston isn’t enough – you have to talk with your friends who live that culture, and as an outsider, I have to err on the side of caution and respectfulness while writing diversity.  I don’t want to offend anyone and I want to get it painstakingly right.

As a white woman who is privileged in many ways besides being neurodivergent, I will never know what it is like to be oppressed.  My book isn’t about racism at all, as the whole cast is mainly African-American, and I don’t think I have the expertise to write about such a sensitive topic.  I’d probably screw it up as an outsider.  That’s why I set it well after the Civil Rights movement and it’s not another book about slavery or oppression.  Instead it’s the idea that the savior of New Orleans is none other than #blackgirlmagic, an awesome hashtag, quite literally.

My best friends – Ariel, Lauren, Misha, Gladys – they are all some of the strongest women I know and have overcome so much, having to be “twice as good to get half the recognition” of a white woman.  They make me proud.  They teach me so many things about overcoming adversity that though different, can apply to being disabled.  We were all born with stigma attached to either our ambitions – a standout woman of many talents who happens to be of color or a bipolar woman trying to hold down a professional career – or our very essence – mentally ill with no hopes of recovery, or the thought that an African American woman can’t be a neuroscientist like Gladys, a psychologist like Lauren, nerdy like Ariel, or a cosplayer like Misha.  I incorporated all of them into my character May Laveau, but she’s also a piece of myself, as all characters are.  I’m really excited to see where this novel leads to and hopefully finish it soon, if not by April, than by the summer when my dream agent opens to queries again.

Odds are good I may find representation before that, as I still have three fulls and three partials out.  But the best thing to do while waiting is to work on another project, and if my Russian novel doesn’t get me published, something else will.  I am making progress – so many requests, my query letters are in great shape, and I’m finally writing novels worthy of reading.  The agent who passed on my full last night was so sweet and said “I have no doubt you will find this an amazing home.”   Coming from someone like her, that meant a lot to me – she didn’t fall in love with the novel enough to take it on, but still loved many parts of it overall and was overall enthusiastic.  That is very encouraging and means I might actually be able to go somewhere with my Firebird retelling.

And if not this novel, than the next one!  I am very happy, my new job is going swimmingly, I love my new townhouse, grad school is fun, my friends are a blessing, and all, in JK Rowling’s words, is well.  Spring has sprung, my soul has awakened, and all is right in the world.

Morning Surprise

Woke up this morning to a full request from a big name agent to one of my favorite authors!  I literally hopped up and down on my bed in glee.

That’s 9 total full/partial requests with the new query, 13 rejections, and 21 queries I’m waiting to hear back from – that’s a 40% total request rate for this novel so far – pretty amazing, considering all the rejection to my godawful queries from 2015 through early 2016 – with hopefully more requests to come.

If all goes well, I’ll have a literary agent soon!

Chuck Wendig’s Brilliant Post on Pre-Rejection

I just got another request today from an amazing literary agent – that’s over a dozen requests so far with this query alone, and loads more with pitches.

But the odds?  It will probably end in a rejection.  However, all it takes is one yes, and you have to be brave enough to put your stories out there.

I don’t know if I’m a good enough writer yet to be professionally published – that’s up for agents to decide – but I’m a hell of a lot better than I was last year, and the year before that, and the year before that…

The difference between me and others who are afraid of failure?  I’m not afraid to get rejections.  I have loads of them.  I’ve been querying shitty novels, then less shitty novels, then maybe-okay novels, since 2015.  That’s two years with a steep learning curve.

Most agents will reject you, it’s just part of the process: loved the concept but the writing was off, writing was lush and evocative but they wanted something contemporary – more exposition, less exposition, more background, a faster pace – all this conflicting advice, but at least with those rejections comes invaluable ADVICE.

Personalized rejections are a godsend.  Feedback on fulls and partials even better.  You never know when an agent might fall in love with your manuscript.

After all, all you can do is persevere.

Repeat after me:

That’s all right. I can try againI can get better.

But you have to give yourself the chance to try again.

You don’t get better by just chucking manuscripts in a drawer.

You need the agitation.

You need that fear, that uncertainty, that courage.

You need input from other human beings. Which means:

Fuck your pre-rejection.

You want to get rejected? Do it the old-fashioned way.

Let someone else reject you. Take your shot. Worst you can do is fail. And failure fucking rocks.

Sure, maybe you’ll get rejected. But maybe, just maybe, the opposite will happen.

How else do stories reach their audiences, you think?

Chuck Wendig puts it brilliantly – on why you should put your work out there, and cherish rejections.

On Imposter Syndrome, Brokeness, and Beauty

I am, to date, my most successful at querying since I started at 22, so from 2015-2017 at a ripe old 24 years of age I’ve learned a few tricks.  I have three fulls out right now with stellar agents and three partials with top notch, six-figure-and-above dealmakers that would be dreams to work with.  If any were to offer, it would make my life, though the chances of course are slim.

It’s only been nine days since I queried my top batch of agents and I got three requests so far, with dozens more who have yet to respond.  I have never, in two whole years, ever been this successful.  Still, I wonder – am I imagining this?  Am I an imposter?  Does my writing, well, suck?

I know I’m young.  I’m barely out of college, still in grad school, and still developing my voice, or voices, seeing as I seem to have Multiple Persona Disorder when it comes to writing..  Agents have given me great feedback, but many times, they tell me they love the premise, or that I have a great concept, but that something just didn’t work.  The execution was rough.  I need more characterization.  The writing was lush and evocative, but I’m not quite there yet.  Needs more background, less background, more exposition, more action, less detail, more detail – rarely do two agents think alike!

My Firebird retelling has truly been a labor of love, and I look back at my ten paragraph queries from two years ago and the teensy awful 50,000 word manuscript it used to be and think, how could I have been so damn naive and unsavvy!  And oh god, how could I have sent this off to those patient as saints agents???

I’m not a natural at this, I’m basically a stick in the mud, who only learns when she gets hits on the head a lot.  Agents made my manuscript what it is today, and they made it that way through suggestion and rejection.  It’s the best it’s been, and while it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written (those projects are still unfinished 😉 ) it’s pretty damn solid by my own meager standards.  Which are probably not enough to get published at this rate, but at least I’m creative.

And still, I always think I suck.  That I got these requests on accident.  That agents loathe my writing and think what I create is trash.  That out of the seven requests I have out right now, they will all end in scathing rejections, even though that has never in my life happened.  Agents have only ever, at worst, given form rejects.

I’m just so used to being broken mentally, I think my writing is broken too.  That there is some piece of storytelling craft that I am missing because hey, I have OCD, manic depression, psychosis, and a host of other disorders, and under a CT scan my brain would have a shrunken prefrontal cortex and scars from manic and depressive episodes.

It ties into my extremely bad anxiety and panic disorder, bolstered by mixed episodes that combine the loveliness of suicidality with depression and crippling panic attacks/obsessive thinking and intrusive thoughts to self harm and mutilate, or just jump in front of that car, and the truth is, querying and putting myself out there is not mentally healthy for me.  It makes me unstable.  I’m managing a brand new job, a new townhouse with great roommates, a disorder where I can’t even look at alcohol, have to be in bed by 10 pm, not even drink frigging grapefruit juice, which I love, and one that ends with 1 in 4 people committing suicide.  Chances are high I won’t live past 25, and that was the date I set in my mind at the ripe old age of 15 when I realized life as a mentally ill person with snowflake diagnoses was, well, hell.

But I’m over exaggerating, and rambling, and because I’m broken, sometimes I can’t see beauty.

I’m as stable as I’ve ever been, making a great salary in a great city with a great boyfriend, working for an organization that is amazing and saves so many of my favorite animals and aids communities around the world, doing amazing work that helps people, when I may not ever be able to help myself, at least I stopped rhino poachers or saved endangered lemurs and birds or gave people with no livelihoods hope.

I am whole in so many ways, and because of that, I think it’s okay to take a break from this whole publishing quest.  I have half a mind to rescind all my full and partials and just become a hermit like the Tarot card, but I know that’s just a kneejerk reaction that is from my impulsive self-destructive craving for death and mayhem.  I have a huge Thanatos drive.  I have wanted to die so many times that perhaps a part of me has died already.  I die a bit every time I finish a story, it’s like another piece of my heart has been taken from me and eaten.  I serve my heart up on a plate for onlookers who judge its merits, when really, they’re judging my soul.  And it sometimes hurts.

I know you’re not supposed to take literary rejection personally, and I usually don’t, but sometimes, in my moments of weakness, I circle back to the thought that I’m a shit writer.  That all my successes, however small, so far have been flukes.  That my poetry is trash.  That I am trash.  I have such a low opinion of myself that sometimes I think I’d be bettering the world if I dove headfirst into the subway.  I have to stand far away from the oncoming trains, because almost every time, I have the urge to jump, even when everything is going right in my life.

Maybe it was the stress of my dad being hospitalized this weekend that made me reevaluate my creative aspirations, the thought that the person I hold dearest besides my mom could be ripped away from me by something as cruel as death, that spurred me to feel unstable.  Usually I’m the first to put myself out there, first to volunteer, to lead a class discussion or group project, I reach for the stars, and figure hey, if I fail, at least I can say I tried.

But it always circles back to the imposter syndrome.  I was trying to enjoy Girls last night, one of my favorite shows, when Hannah Horvath was interviewing a female writer, and part of it just made me cry.  All my efforts felt futile – Hannah is a struggling writer, always reaching so high but failing, not realizing what she already has, and maybe a part of me felt like I was, in a sense, this TV character I loathed.  Maybe I always see the glass half-empty.  And my mood swings be damned, I’m elated one second and terrified or a soul sucking black hole the next, even though I’m on five different medications, see a therapist once a week, abstain from even Mike’s Hards, have never so much as smoked or toked once, live a straitlaced boring existence where I do everything right, break and break and break again as I try to appear stable and sane, when inside I am mad.

Inside, I will always be damaged, but in ruin is beauty, and the cracks in my mind let the light slip through.  So persevere on I do, and no, I will never give up.

Only a sane person would.

On Why Literary Agents are So Important

So I got a full request rejection from a very well-known agent today that was sweet and to the point. He went out of his way to take a chance on a newcomer and though it was a disappointment, it was an honor for him to just look at my manuscript as he rarely requests them or takes on newcomers.  I’m still kind of over the moon he gave me the time of day!

I still have three fulls out and a few partials, and Twitter Pitch Parties are coming up.  I just did PitchMadness, and though I didn’t win, I have learned so much from all  the constructive feedback I’ve gotten from agents so far.  I’ve come to realize that I am always learning, and as a very young writer of 24, I still have a lot of the craft left to master, and it will take me my whole life to even get close to being good.  Even if all six agents reject me, that will be okay, because my Firebird retelling – the second novel I ever finished – has been a stellar learning experience.

I have anxiety so that makes putting myself out there in queries hard, and I used to be a shrinking violet in terms of putting myself out there, prone to wilt at the slightest moment, but now I appreciate all the detailed feedback, all the revisions upon suggestions and above all, the encouragement.  Agents have gone out of their way to make me a better writer, taking a chance on a query shy young twentysomething and saying yes, you are finding your voice, you are talented, you can do this.

This may not be the novel that gets me published.  My third or fourth novel might not.  But I don’t write to get published – I write because my best friends, the Twitter and WordPress community, and my family encourage me, I write because writing is like breathing to me!  And at the end of the day, each agent has wildly different opinions.  Some have hated my manuscript and some have loved the characters or setting, it all depends on taste.  It is true I am a green shoot, but I am growing, and for that, and their guidance, I remain forever thankful.

 

On Killer Query Letters

So that’s my third manuscript request in four days.  Clearly, all it took was a query letter revamp, a hook, and instead of going months between full requests, I have a 50% success rate with full or partial requests for my novel.

What changed?

I added a hook:

A Cold War fairytale.  A family of Russian monsters.  A bastard prince.  A witch Kaschei the Deathless covets like a golden firebird.

My story is multilayered: a story set during Ivan Kupalo, a retelling of the myth behind the Ivan da Marya flower where a sister of night falls in love with a son of fire, a reimagining of  Stravinsky’s Firebird ballet in which the firebird – this time a witch – saves herself and her beloved prince – and her entire kingdom – from Kashchei the Deathless.

My comp titles are UPROOTED meets DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE.  My query letter used to be ten paragraphs of rambling trash.

You’ve seen me struggle with this, when I started posting the very first chapters of my novel at 21 on this blog in 2014 to the great novel overhaul of 2016 where I added 30,000 words to my manuscript and major edits and plot points to the framework of the story.

None of that mattered if I couldn’t sell it.  If I didn’t have a hook.

Now the novel is with seven agents, and only a year ago I couldn’t get a single one to look at it.  I’m beyond proud of myself, but I’ve racked up my fair amount (a lot) of rejections from being young, naive, and a shittier writer than I am now.

A writer that didn’t know how to make something sound marketable.  Someone that didn’t know the very genre she was writing in, just writing something from her heart that she loved, because she believed in the story of her favorite characters, and because it was, beyond all else, fun.

I think good things are coming.  I really do.  I’ve spent enough time with shitty periods in my life – suicide, depression, panic attacks, constant drowning anxiety that doesn’t let you breathe, PTSD, night terrors, the rollercoaster of mania and crash that comes afterward, getting laid off, not once, but twice within two years due to company downsizing, losing 50 pounds, dealing with toxic people that were driving me mad.

I am a walking pill that never stopped writing.  I slept on that fairy hill and went mad.  I ate the fruit of the underworld and now my soul is unearthly.  I have been through the harrows of hell that is mental illness, been hospitalized with no hopes of recovering, clawed my way up through thorazine drips and antidepressants and antipsychotics and intrusive thoughts of cutting off my toes, biting off my tongue, driving into that tree, and despite all expectations – nay, promise to myself – that I would die when I was 25 – I’m 24 and now I actually want to live.  Now I actually believe in myself.

I think I can be a real writer.  I’ve given up over a decade of my life to this craft, spent days mourning rejections on full manuscripts, written the same damn story over and over again until I got it right.

I put the madness of a crazy, violent brain under wraps and only let the demons inside me come out in dreams, in sick visions and violent delights as my mind rapes itself.

I did all the shadow work, ran for 5 years from him, learned to grow a spine and not be a doormat, and never did I stop writing.

I didn’t stop when I tried to drown myself.

I didn’t stop when I was in the mental ward, grip on reality nonexistent, devils and angels seeking me out and driving me insane.

When I was manic, I wrote.  When I was depressed, I poured all that pain into my writing.  When I was barely alive, catatonic and bloated with drugs I wouldn’t give a horse, I put pen to page and raged.

My writing is an act of resistance.

An act or rebellion.

The pulse of my blood.

My declaration that I am alive, not a slave to my diseases, but master of them.

There’s a reason my query letter is killing:

Because I have already died a million times.