Tuesday, March 27, 2007


My writers' group did some revolutionary "re-writing of its by-laws" recently. (Translation: we all stood around the kitchen eating brownies and complaining how long it took to get a full novel critiqued) Now, instead of submitting a novel piecemeal, three chapters or so at a time, over the course of a year and a half or more, members with completed novels (or just a big-ass chunk) are now permitted to submit the entire MS for immediate critique. Two consecutive sessions are devoted exclusively to one novel. Then everyone brushes their hands together in satisfaction and the critiqued author goes away for another six months or so.

Lucky me, I was the first to benefit from this new process. Everyone agreed that not only is it more helpful to the author to receive a critique on the book as a whole, it's more insightful and just plain more fun to read the book all at once versus three chapters here and there. Imagine watching one episode of "Lost" every three months and trying to make sense of it.

Shockingly, this was the first time my writer's group had read "Ring of Fire" in its entirety. I had gotten their invaluable input on problematic sections in the past (notably the backstory-riddled first few chapters, when the damn thing was still 184K words), but this was to be the true test of if my book merited agent representation or not. No matter that I already had an agent--if my group trashed the book, I had some revising to do.

Last night, I got their feedback on the
first half of the rest of the book. They liked it. Cue swelling violins/relief music. Sure, they pointed out a few things that stuck out, didn't flow, etc., but nothing egregious plot-wise, character-wise, or structurally.

At least not in the first half. Next session, they tackle the rest of the book, through the end. Not out of the woods yet...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Getting the Word Out

How do you market something that doesn't exist? Hell, I'm in advertising, so if you count the "benefits" of the various products I've shilled through the years, it should be second nature for me. But when my agent asked me to put together a "marketing plan" so he could submit my novel to a smaller press, I froze up. I wrote a novel, for cryin' out loud, isn't that enough? Apparently not for some smaller publishers, who actually require a marketing plan as part of a submissions package. My agent said sometimes that can be the deciding factor between two books of roughly equal caliber.

So I rolled up my advertising sleeves, sharpened my pencil and immediately emailed the only published author I know personally to ask him what he did. Springboarding off some of his brilliant/shrewd tactics (he just secured his place in the acknowledgments), I augmented and free-formed the rest of it and sent it along to my agent--just a Word doc that ticks off one by one the "ideas" I have to hype my book and get my face out there. Doesn't mean any of it will actually happen, but it shows I'm eager to participate in the process.

Ideas I left off the list:

1. Skywriting
2. Printing "Ring of Fire" on Simon's, Randy's and Paula's drink cups
3. Stalking Oprah

No response yet. But as usual, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Dog-Shaped Hole

Take it from me--when you bring home your 3-month-old Golden Retriever, the last thing on your mind is where you're going to scatter her ashes. Yet one day, there you are.

Not so long ago--not quite 10 years--our lives were turned upside down by the excitedly anticipated arrival of our newest family member. Kids were still a couple years off and she was the perfect addition to our new house, carpeted entirely in off-white berber.

To this day, I maintain that raising kids--twins, even--was made more bearable by weathering the chaos that comes with training a puppy. What was changing a couple of diapers at once after you've mopped up massive pools of you-know-what from your previously off-white berber? And no toddlers could wreak havoc on our landscaping like Hayley when she put her mind to it. She dug up azalea after azalea like Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel.

When the boys came home, the jealousy was apparent. But she was our first "baby," and only girl, so we were careful to keep her included whenever possible. And she returned the favor by shredding the occasional baby toy. But not once did we fear for our children. She never raised a cross paw to anyone, ever. And I've never heard a dog bark less. It's true--they do make lousy watchdogs. But that's not why we got her.

We got her to enrich our lives, and that she did, beyond all expectations. She appeared in our Christmas cards, took our family vacations with us, attended nearly every party we threw (including a one-year blowout for her) and even found her way onto the nursery wall, where I rendered her in acrylic paint above each of our boy's cribs.

She was, above all, a trooper. She could ride ten, twelve hours in the minivan to Florida or New York and never utter a peep. She'd take her bathroom break at McDonald's with the rest of us and you wouldn't hear from her the rest of the trip. Ear infections, pancreatitis, tail-pulling, being ridden horsey-style, little yappy dogs barking at her through picket fences--she took it all in stride.

Even the hip dysplasia. She was probably hurting a lot worse than we ever knew before we figured it out. But with therapy and meds, she bounced back from that as best she could.

But something finally caught up with her that she couldn't shrug off, try as she might. Every day, her breaths came harder and faster. The vet told us four to six weeks. A mere four days later, we said our goodbyes years ahead of our schedule. We weren't ready to let go, but she was.

I'm picking up her ashes from the vet today. Since she loved digging in the yard so much, it makes sense to put some of her there. The rest of her might end up at the beach, because that was truly her favorite place on earth.

The healing will come, eventually.

But until then, there you are, with a dog-shaped hole in your heart.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Show Me the Indifference!

Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it? But after my initial euphoria of securing an agent wore off, we got down to the true business of getting published.

At least if you're not Nicholas Sparks, who, according to
his website, mailed out about three meticulously researched queries, got an agent the next morning and a million dollar advance before dinner. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

I thought editors would be snapping up my book, reading a couple pages and immediately launch into a bidding war, complete with movie rights.

But that ain't how it happens--after you spend all that time querying to get an agent, what does he have to do to attract the interest of an editor? He
queries! No freaking way! Yep, that's the process. But he generously sought my input in constructing the query, advising me that no, my novel was not a "contemporary suspense," but in fact a "commercial mainstream" (which actually translates into a larger audience). Fine by me, but if I had gone into with the intention of writing a commercial mainstream novel, it might have come out differently. Whatever!

So we get the query down to where we like it, and he gets some bites right away, from big time editors at Kensington, HarperCollins, Penguin, Viking, etc. Several ask to see sample chaps, several more ask to see the whole MS. I'm stoked beyond belief. This all happens within a couple weeks in early November, by the way.

Then December hit, and my agent told me the industry pretty much shuts down until January. Lotta shopping to do, apparently. I try to forget about it. January rolls around and the two editors who have been sitting on the MS for months both come back in the same week with praise-filled rejections. Hopes dashed. Beer consumed.

So we start again. Meanwhile, I'm mapping out...Book #2.