Pitches & Rejections

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted. Spring Break has come and gone and we are almost done with the semester. I need to spend a little bit of time catching you all up.

Since my last post:

I pitched my novel during Carina Press’s Twitter pitch session and a very nice, very cool editor said she wanted to see it. AHHH! It was completely by surprise, as I just happened to go on Twitter after dinner and saw that there was about an hour left of the session. So, thinking WTH, why not? I wrote a quick tweet and took the dogs on a walk. Of course, I obsessively checked the updates while they checked the pee-mail other dogs had left them, and what do you know? An editor wanted to know more. I tried to remember how many words the thing had when I stopped writing and guessed around 90k (actually more like 115k!) And then she said she’d like to see it and would I please send it her way?

WOULD I? WOULD I? Of course I would. After I freaked out a little bit, I realized that although the novel was actually complete, I hadn’t done another revision since my beta readers got back to me. So, since I had 72 hours before it was due on Sunday at midnight, I spent the next 24 of those hours right here, at this computer and in this (quite hard, now that I think about it) chair, with an imaginary razor in hand and a vicious, take-no-prisoners mentality that allowed me to cut nearly 11K words. I also re-wrote a little bit. And then I sent it off, my heart in my mouth, biting back nausea and nerves. I went to bed and lay there, shocked at how hard I’d worked and what I’d actually done for the first time in my life.

Sadly, I just heard back a few days ago that although she liked the characters and the romance and the plot, there were some things she didn’t like and so she was going to pass. My first rejection. My first pitch and my first bite of interest, and now my first rejection.

I always thought I’d take rejection hard. That my poor skin would be flayed off and I’d want to disappear into a dark corner, pulling my shreds of dignity about me (I get a little dramatic sometimes). But this rejection hurt like peeling a Band-Aid off. There was an initial sting of disappointment and hurt, but then it was gone, and I could think clearly again. And I agreed with the editor. There are some very good things about my novel, but the flaw she pointed out should definitely be fixed. And it was couched in such nice things that the criticism was constructive and helpful. In addition, I learned so much about revising and improving my writing that this learning experience was priceless, no matter what happened. And, now I have great ideas for what I want to change in my next draft, as well as reinforcement that I’m not doing a terrible job.

I think it also helped that I had no real expectations of this. Sure, I was excited and pleased and wanted good things to come out of it. But it was all so spontaneous and quick that I hadn’t built up any true hopes or dreams that might come crashing down. It’s not like I’d researched agents and editors for weeks, carefully crafting a cover letter for days (of course, I did carefully craft it, but there was a deadline) and finally decided to try. It all happened in about thirty minutes, and then the manuscript was gone in three days. No time for anything. Besides, what kind of an asshole writer gets their first novel published after their very first pitch? I’m in it for the long haul!

So, what have I learned?

  • It never hurts to try
  • Revision is about re-learning
  • Rejection is about learning, too
  • Spontaneity can be helpful in keeping hopes in check
  • Having a supportive SO is so very lovely and appreciated.

Forcing Myself to Wake on My Own Schedule & My Wild Spring Break Habits

I’m on spring break! I want to shout it out like Lil’ Wayne “SPRIIIIIINNNNGGG BRAAAAAKKE!” Yes, I know that’s not how it’s spelled, but when I hear him in my head that is how it is spelled.

So, spring break and I should be relaxing. I am, sort of, but I always seem to use school break as my chance to do work I don’t have time for during the school year. Last year I finished art projects and organized my house. The year before I did that as well. Over Thanksgiving I spray painted a drop cloth to function as an outdoor rug. And I am super happy about it. I feel very Martha Stewart. Over Winter break I started sharpie mug gifts for family members.

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Early Morning Rising Helps Me Stay Motivated

And now I’m following that pattern again, but also trying to re-establish my formerly good habit of writing in the mornings. I’m slowly forcing myself to wake up earlier and earlier, in 15 minute stages so that eventually I will be waking at the same time of 6am every day. My younger self is appalled by the desire to wake at such an early hour every single morning but my older, wiser and more mature self thinks it’s great. My dogs, who ALWAYS wake me at 6 a.m. every morning also think it’s great. Usually our morning routine consists of Penny waking me at 5:45a.m., thinking I’ll feed her earlier. Then I fall back asleep, or get up and give in. I stumble through their breakfast and go back to bed until my alarm forces me up. The one thing I pride myself on is that I rarely hit the snooze (unlike the husband who uses it like an unconsciously lobbed torture device specially for me. Seriously, he can sleep straight through it and I can hear it in the next room if I’m up).

But besides being chipper for the dogs’ breakfast, why would I want to rise at this hour? Well, I’ve been listening to some interesting podcasts that have done a great job of motivating me and helping me establish what I want. And one podcaster, Pat Flynn at Smart Passive Income, has explained that he switched to a morning routine because it’s become “me time” for him. Not rising because you have to get to work, but because you want to start your day the way you want it leaves you feeling more relaxed and in charge of your day. I’ve seen this happening already in my life, but I want to get better at streamlining my day so it flows better.

I already love my morning routine but I’d like to get more work done on my book, so I’m trying to add to my lovely, calming morning routine with at least half an hour to a whole hour set aside for both writing and a long, doggy walk. It feels so amazing to know that I’ve both gotten in 30-45 minutes of exercise and about 1,000 words before I do anything else. Then, I can focus on other things, or let the subconscious take over and think about tomorrow’s writing session. It doesn’t always happen right now, but when it does I feel unstoppable.

Overlapping Lines

Damnation!

That is a favorite swear word of Regency rakes and frustrated lords across the romance world. And now I’m muttering it myself as I swill my scotch.

Why?

Because while I was listening to another excellent episode of Dear Bitches, Smart Authors podcast Sarah Wendell mentions a Lisa Kleypas novel. I’ve been intending to read Lisa Kleypas for a while, having heard good things about her and knowing she’s grouped with some of my favorite authors. But I haven’t read her yet. This fact will become important in a second.

Sarah was mentioning a sub-genre of the historical romance novel, if you will. American heiresses in need of a title. And a series that Lisa Kleypas has written with an American heiress named Lillian Bowman who finds herself married to Marcus, a peer in England. Maybe now you’ve figured out why I’m muttering “Damnation!” over my scotch?

Because my novel, my first, dear little novel, the one I broke my teeth on, and my head, and my heart over? It features an American heiress named Lillian Blythe in search of an English lord who falls for a man named Morgan. There’s even a love scene in the library in both. And a scene where the heroine is a trifle drunk (although not the same scene).

So what do I do? My ingenious little idea, and even my heroine’s name taken already! Of course, the idea isn’t worth much. I’m sure our stories are still quite different, even though the premise is similar. That’s not the problem. In fact, it might even be a selling point. Loved Lisa Kleypas’ novel about an American heiress and her English lord? Try Evelyn Isaacks!

No, my frustrated moment is that fact that the names are so similar, and even some of the plot. How is that even statistically possible?!

I guess I need another name that is as excellent as Lillian. Damnation!

Getting Stuff Done

I feel like Calvin’s dad. Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 to take my husband to work. Then, when I came home I sat down and wrote 1,000 words. When I was done with that, I ate cottage cheese on English muffins with apples (one of my favorite breakfasts!) and took the dogs for a run in the drizzling rain. Granted, it was only in the 30s and I didn’t run nearly as far as Calvin’s dad, but I came home and felt just the same. The cold, red cheeks, the chipper sense of accomplishment at 7:45am. It was all the same. And then I went and taught my classes for the day.

Then, today I went for another run! What am I? An exercise machine? Well, actually, I am trying to be more fit. My dogs need more exercise, the lazy mutts. And I tried on a pair of underwear (lacy! cute!) and was certain I’d accidentally shrunk them. Can you even shrink underwear?

And I wrote some more. And taught a class for a colleague who’s home with a respiratory infection. It was a very nice experience. I’ve never subbed for someone before, and their class is very different than my bunch of students, which was a nice change. I had a great time and afterwards a student came up and complimented me on my approach to analysis, saying it was unlike most perspectives he’s seen before and was I a writer?

So, all in all, very accomplished and it’s only Tuesday! Now, I need to go to bed early so I can keep up this awesome streak.

I feel like Calvin’s dad today.

Music & Love & Guitars.

Music: The Milk Carton Kids, “The Ash & Clay” from The Ash & Clay

This song just came on my iTunes Americana playlist and I had to double check because for a moment I thought it was playing Simon & Garfunkel. This duo has very similar qualities– the picking guitar, the soft harmonies, the interesting lyrics. All of it. And they also reminded me of one of my other favorite duos, The Kings of Convenience. That link takes you to one of my favorite songs off their first album I ever got.

What is it about a guitar and a harmony that makes my heart quiver and my legs shake? Seriously, any guy playing guitar and singing (and doing both reasonably well) can pretty much count on my love and adoration. In fact, that was one of the things that made my husband sit up and take notice. That, and my outstanding vocabulary.

We met on Chemistry.com and my profile mentioned that I really like guys who can play guitar and he thought to himself, “I can play guitar!” And thus, a guitar playing man won my heart. Now if only I could get him to play more often…

Beta Readers and Research in First Drafts

Word Count: 505 

Music: Wilco, “Forget the Flowers” from Being There

I’ve gotten feedback from two of my beta readers and mostly they were positive. Hurrah! I cannot adequately express how much of a relief this was. I’d been having momentary bouts of panic a few times a day, questioning whether or not I was being foolish and am secretly a terrible writer. It’s strange. I don’t suffer from that fear while I’m actually writing. No. Then, it’s all “Wow! I am SOO good at this! I’m the best writer ever! Bow before my genius!” But as soon as I let myself become vulnerable by having others read it? I’m a quivering mess.

They’ll learn my secret, that this is just a pile of bones I call a romance novel. They’ll see that I know nothing about love and my own marriage is clearly a fluke, since I know nothing. They’ll see my sex scenes and giggle at the ridiculous notions of sex I have. They will not like the characters at all, and think they are boring. 

That is what I start thinking. But luckily, or just because I have very nice friends, they were mostly positive. Of course, I have things to fix, but overall they weren’t terrible. I can breath again.

And now I’m starting a new draft of a new novel. It’s another historical, only this time I’m jumping back two hundred years from my last one, and shifting the focus to French Canada. I don’t want to say too much, but I will say this: RESEARCH can be your best friend. I had some ideas for the conflict but nothing concrete and after researching a little more I’m starting to feel my way through the mire and actually figure out what these characters are deal thing with. Some people hate research. Some say that research bogs down their story telling. For me, research is what pads out my story, like the padding on a dressmaker’s form. The structure of a romance novel is what holds it up, but the research is what creates the final form. At least, that’s my metaphor for it this week.

Practicing and Trying

I’ve started a new manuscript and I’m very much excited about the scenes that are playing in my head, and the awesome, great characters that are already making themselves known as I think and discover, but I have to admit that I’m a little frightened to be starting again.

I spent about a year and a half on the manuscript for the story I just finished. Much of that time was just thinking and planning because I was also teaching full time. I lived with that story for so long and I still had so much grinding to do when I got to drafting and then revision. I wrote one draft and almost completely re-did the last half of the story and now I’m facing more re-writes when my beta-readers get back to me (at least one has trickled in with both praise and suggestions). I really enjoyed writing and thinking about my story but I was also really excited to be DONE with it.

And the new story was knocking at my brain, eager to get to the page, so I jumped into research quickly and even more quickly started drafting. I researched for a much shorter time because I was just so excited about the new characters and telling their story.

But getting back into the grind of world building, character development and plot is feeling very overwhelming at this moment. I’m excited and also reserved. I think about it a lot but it’s hard to know what to do when I sit down. Where does this story go?

I learned SO much with my first story, and I’m beginning to see what writers mean when they say that every book is a new lesson. I’m using some of those previous skills, but I’m also finding new challenges. Each story is different and each story has its own quirks. Hopefully, I can get past this hump with this story of “Where do I go from here?” and will feel the rush of excitement with this one soon.

For now, my only two pieces of advice for myself (and anyone else who wants to take it) are these:

The secret of it all is to write…without waiting for a fit time or place. – Walt Whitman

I have that on a coffee mug I made myself. It’s a good reminder of BICHOK, that writing only gets done when you do it without waiting for inspiration. Instead, make inspiration find you ready and open to it.

The second piece of advice comes from one of my earlier posts about Lin Ullman’s advice. I’ve been trying very hard to listen, to step back from what I want, and instead listen to what the story is telling me, which direction to follow based on what has come before. It’s very meditative and also a bit of an exercise in release. So I’m practicing, and trying. And I guess that is all one can hope for.

I Finished My Draft!!

Yay! Yay! Yay!

Two things are going through my brain right now. First, I am so super excited to have finished the draft and to be able to say that I am done (for now) and let my brain rest for awhile. This draft was hard to finish, and I worked really long on it. I enjoyed it, but it was not easy. I do think that this draft is much better than the first one and am much more excited about it than the first draft, but it wasn’t butterscotch cupcakes and sunshine. Actually, today is, because that’s what I had for breakfast and it’s sunny as I type. I’m about to take the dogs to the dog park (but don’t tell them yet).

The second thing going through my brain is what my beta readers are thinking of it (or whether they are even reading it!) I know there are probably so many problems, and I’m really anxious about what my beta-readers say about it. They have it right now, and I’m pretty terrified. I usually don’t let other people read my work. I’ve been in workshops before, and that can be really stressful and I don’t always like it. There’s something dreadful about taking this thing you’ve spent hours and hours on and letting people at it with red pens of death. So I’ve never really done it and never really minded, but now I am. I want my work to be publishable and that means other people have to read it. Sometimes when it’s not very good.

And especially with this genre I’m even more anxious. I feel like I’m opening myself up to all sorts of snickers from a few of my friends who don’t read this type of fiction and will, next time I see them, think to themselves about all the ways I described “doing it”. I did grow up with a Southern Baptist mother who used to criticize if she saw any skin that could even possibly be considered cleavage. Being so open about sex feels uncomfortable for me.

But, I know that I can fix it, and I can  make it better after I take a break and get feedback. And I know this next comment is weird and doesn’t work for everyone and I don’t want this to be a habitual way of thinking for me, but when I get so caught up with trying to make every little, goddamned thing perfect, and worrying about the universe collapsing if I don’t get it right, and having panic attacks about grammar, or accuracy, or believability, I like to remind myself of all the crap romance novels I’ve read out there. Or all the ones by authors I really like that fell a little flat for me. I don’t want to be a crappy writer, but they’re like talismans, reminders that they do not have to be perfect. And with each novel I’ll get better.

A PEER'S PRIVILEGE

This will come in handy when I plot my dastardly climax!

Georgian Junkie

 

THE PRIVILEGES OF A PEER

From Admirals to Generals, politicians to Royal bastards, a peerage has been the highest honour bestowed by a grateful Crown for almost 750 years. Over 2,560 hereditary peerages have been created by the Crown since the mid-13th century, of which 828 still survive. Additionally, 1,130 life peerages have been created in the last one hundred and thirty years, of which 595 are currently sitting in the House of Lords.

But what, precisely, does ennoblement entail?

 

FREEDOM FROM ARREST AND IMPRISONMENT

“That they are free from all arrest for debts, as being the king’s hereditary counsellors. Therefore a peer cannot be outlawed in any civil action, and no attachment lies against his person. This privilege extended also to their domestic servants, as well as to those of members of the lower house, till the year 1770.”

The privilege of freedom from arrest applies to…

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By Heart

Last night, before bed, I read this article on The Atlantic‘s weekly series, “By Heart”. It was their end of year round up of the series which interviews writers and asks them to discuss their craft based on a sentence they love. There were lots of excerpts that were excellent and although I disagreed with some of them I found them all valuable. This thing of writing is so personal and so often romanticized that to see how other people approach it, and what works for them is so damned useful. Rather than think, “oh, Jim Harrison does it this way, so I have to as well,” you can look at another author and go, “yes, that feels right to me.” Not that Jim Harrison’s way is wrong, but it might be wrong for you. I think I responded most to Linn Ullman’s quoted interview (full one here.) She talks about needing a place for her characters to inhabit before she can really understand what they do and what these actions mean for the story and for their characters.

Here is the part that The Atlantic excerpted:

When I begin writing, I need to have a place.  It can be a small: even a single room, though I like to be able to see the layout, the colors, the objects inside. I need to have that stage so that my characters have a place to move around. If I can develop that sense of place—and that other crucial quality, the narrative voice—then I feel sure I will find a story, even if it takes some time.  If I don’t have the place, and I don’t have the voice, I’m writing without a motor. It all becomes just words. But once the voice comes, the “here” comes next, and then the “something happened”—what we call plot—follows from it.

In this way, writing becomes a listening experience—a way of being responsive to what you have written, and letting it guide you. Some writers say “the characters come to me,” or the “characters become alive to me at night.” Bullshit. I don’t believe that my characters are alive. But the process requires a form of artistic listening, of understanding the consequences of the decisions you’ve made. If you are lucky enough to find voice and place, there are real consequences to those choices. Together, they limit the possibilities of what can possibly come next—and they help point the way forward. Your role, then, is to not stick to your original idea—it is to be totally faithless to your idea. Instead, be faithful to voice and place as you discover them, and to the consequences of what they entail.

I think I responded so much to this because I agree with what she says about world building, because without place we don’t have context. We don’t have space for our characters to move around in. And we don’t have real consequences for the choices a character might make. I love that she says “they limit the possibilities of what can possibly come next– and they help point the way forward.” I completely agree, and I like it as a function of story craft. It is the events and the characters that dictate the story.

If I were to choose my quote it might be the one that is currently emblazoned on my coffee mug. It’s by Walt Whitman and it reads: “The secret of it all is to write… without waiting for a fit time or place.”