We’re getting a whole new look! And it’s just in time for our exciting news! Find us at www.audreyrlwyatt.com. And make sure to check in because we have two VERY BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS the week of January 4th! Hope to see you at the new site!
A few years ago our beloved blue-point Siamese, Isis, died. To say hearts were broken would be an understatement. Several months later the desire to share our lives with a pet overcame our misery and we went in search of our new companion, a dog. The decision to switch species was based entirely on the fact that I am terribly allergic to cats and was enjoying being medication free. But I digress.
With a “humane society friendly” extended family we had one choice – adopt. Despite several false starts we found our new best friend, Dodger, a beagle basset mix. The owner was ill and wanted to place him before her condition deteriorated further and very much liked the fact that he would be going to a family with children who would undoubtedly fawn over him. So a well-trained Dodger came home with us.
Dodger was in our house twenty-four hours when he stole an unopened raisin bread off the kitchen counter and devoured it in its entirety. To fully appreciate the absurdity of this it is important to note that he has stubby basset legs and the raisin bread was pushed back on the counter. But this hound’s determination to find everything he could possibly eat propelled him off the ground and far enough onto the counter to claim his prize. We changed his name to the Artful Dodger and vowed to keep things as far back on the counters as possible.
In the few years we’ve had the Artful Dodger we’ve pretty much destroyed any and all good behaviors he once had. He’s well loved, ridiculously well fed and probably the happiest member of our family. He’s had many “bad thief” episodes, though I’m sure that nothing he’s stolen has made its way back to Fagan. For example, when he got into my older daughter’s halloween candy one year I know he kept it all for himself because we were seeing wrappers, and picking them up with new incarnations of their former contents, for days.
But it’s the Artful Dodger’s new talent that has prompted this writing. His ability to catch the wildest toss has become legend. He can actually leap several feet in the air, despite his stubby basset legs. He can catch while in any position and has been known to launch toward a morsel only to fall backward in his nearly 100% successful attempts to obtain the object of his desire. So we fear he may be leaving us in April, having become such an amazing catcher that we expect a letter any day informing us he’s been drafted by a Red Sox minor league farm team.
Let me tell you about my husband, Jim. He wants a Sugar-Mama and I think he’s earned it.
Sixteen years ago I took a four month leave to have our first child, Emma. It was a joyous time until I started exploring daycare options. What I discovered was that the people in the “baby rooms” of the local daycare facilities were overburdened and the children that got the most attention were the noisiest and most demanding. Emma was a really good baby; I was afraid she’d never get any attention. And for that privilege we were about to part with a high percentage of my salary. So Jim and I assessed our situation, decided to do without … well, everything and he said, “stay home.” He’s borne all the financial responsibility for our family ever since.
When our younger daughter, Abby, arrived thirteen years ago, I began to write professionally. Writing has a long apprenticeship, especially when you’re trying to squeeze it in during naps and after bedtime. Through the exhaustion of two small children and an unpaid pipe dream of glory my husband supported me, cheering every success. And with each corporate move he was determined that I let him handle more of that settling-in so I could get my writer’s groups up and running and get back to the novel I set aside. Through these many years I’ve honed my craft, published numerous essays and short stories, won six awards and written two novels.
We celebrated our twenty-first anniversary in June, our blackjack anniversary, and I’ve been feeling very lucky. After all these years of working I’m on the cusp of realizing my dreams. Excited though I am, I keep thinking about Jim. He made it possible for me to pursue my dreams. He’s been an amazing support. He believed in me when I ran out of belief in myself. He never wavered. He just keeps saying he’s waiting for me to succeed so I can be his sugar-mama.
So Jimmy, with success on the horizon, I’m using this very public forum to tell you how grateful I am and how absolutely incredible you are. I am soooo going to be your sugar-mama!
It has been thus since Gutenburg invented the printing press. Once they printed their fill of bibles, publishers began printing books based on their love of literature. They weren’t in it for the money, which was just as well because they weren’t going to get rich in publishing. In fact, they knew that the top ten percent of their list would support the other ninety percent, thus assuring, hopefully, that they wouldn’t lose money. These publishers believed in the work they did. And they believed that bringing new voices to an eager audience raised the level of all human discourse. And so it was.
In the second half of the twentieth century two things happened. The first was that multi-national conglomerates took over every company they could leverage, including publishing houses. These corporate titans didn’t read great literature, they read spreadsheets. And they weren’t interested in new voices. They were interested in dollars. Suddenly, the ninety/ten rule was out the window and profit was the new king of New York. It became harder and harder to enable new voices to be heard and literature began to suffer for it.
Now the second thing that happened began, slowly, to negate the first. In the second half of the twentieth century technology began to take off at lightening speed. From the B movie sci-fi scenarios of the fifties we wound up in the nineties, where everyone had a computer in their house, to the new century where many people carry one in their purses or bags. And the playing field began to level.
These days, with traditional publishing only willing to take a chance on a known quantity, writers are looking to technology to give them voice. And technology has responded in full force. Welcome to the era of the Indie Author. Writers are now taking their destiny into their own hands, eschewing traditional publishing for methods they can control. The Indie Author movement is spreading like a wildfire through the west and traditional publishing has no hope of putting this fire out. Newer writers as well as established authors are exploring the opportunities that technology and pragmatism have joined together to create. Publishing 2.0.
A librarian friend recently expressed concern on this issue, citing Barbara Bush is an Alien as an example of why the Indie Author will always be viewed skeptically. But I don’t think so. The market will shake out the silly, the irrelevant, and most importantly, the badly written. But for those who are looking for the next frontier, this may be it. And to them I say, “bon chance.”
In my novel, Poles Apart, Frieda cooks. A lot. Now this is in no way surprising because Frieda is Jewish and Jewish women cook. It’s required – in the DNA or something. And Jewish women are good cooks. Very good cooks. I’ve never actually heard of a bad Jewish cook. Oh, you hear of the occasional badly made dish… For example, I had an aunt whose matzo balls were so hard I heard they were licensed by the American League for world series play. But I digress.
So Frieda cooks because her family needs to eat. But that’s just the beginning of why Frieda cooks. Frieda loves to cook and she knows that the mere mention of her cooking sets the mouths of those who know her to watering. She’s that good. People don’t even need to catch a whiff of the aroma. She loves that. But she also cooks because there is no Jewish culture without food. Food is used in religious ritual but it’s more than that. It’s about coming together around the table. No matter what else is happening in life, in the community or in the world, everyone has to eat and you might as well make it a celebration.
But my favorite reason that Frieda cooks is because Frieda loves. Deeply and completely. No matter what she’s up to, matchmaking, meddling in her family’s lives, or creating a feast, Frieda gives her love through the food she feeds them. And they feel the love in the eating. And that’s what really makes Frieda’s cooking so delicious.
It’s funny, too, because he doesn’t actually know me. But a while back he said, as I’ve mentioned before, “Being an Author is a complete cycle of “I’m a piece of crap/I’m the king of the universe” that oscillates on a minute-by-minute basis.” So, like I said, he totally gets me. That statement is an accurate description of my life these past few … well for a long time but especially these past few weeks.
When I started sending out queries in an attempt to secure representation I was completely logical about it – or as logical as I get, anyway. I understand this business, I know how it works, my eyes are open to the reality of the process, blah, blah, blah. The true reality is that impatience sets in quickly, which is a direct path to Christopher Moore’s prescient understanding of where I’d end up.
One of the first queries I sent was to an agent in the west that I respect. She’s notoriously picky. Within twenty-four hours she asked me for a partial (meaning a limited number of pages for you non-writers). I was ecstatic, but still a realist. I remember telling my husband that even if she doesn’t offer representation she has framed my entire experience more positively because my first response was good. Yeah, that was two weeks ago.
Since then, I’ve received her rejection, two other rejections and one other request for a partial from an agent with a prestigious New York firm. Besides that, nothing. Now, I understand the reality, which is that it’s way too soon to hear. And I also understand that on the strength of a one page letter, half the initial responses have been positive, which is huge. Doesn’t stop my minute by minute oscillations, though. Doesn’t even slow them down.
Hopefully, I’ll find another quote, from another author who’s been where I am, that helps me keep things in perspective. In the meantime, for any editors who happen upon this post, I offer this quote from Erle Stanley Gardner, “It’s a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.”
It’s happening again. At first I tried to ignore it; I wasn’t ready. But they will not be silenced.
There are voices in my head. Again. At first it’s just one, Marcy. She whispers enticingly, trying to get my attention. She keeps trying to tell me about herself – where she came from, where she’s going, what her hopes and dreams are. I put my hands over my ears, utterly ineffective when the voice is on the inside.
I guess she got frustrated at being ignored because she brought reinforcements. People come out of the woodwork trying to get me to pay attention. Next thing I know, her father is speaking up on her behalf. I didn’t even know she had a father! They trot out the three kids, maybe hoping for some “mom to mom” sympathy.
“Hey,” I shout, “I’m trying to take some time off.” I sit down with my copy of Elmore Leonard’s The Hot Kid and, defiantly, read the next chapter aloud. Does no good whatsoever. I throw the book across the room. Sorry Elmore.
“What do you want?” I demand. “What’s your deal?”
Suddenly Marcy and her gang of phantoms are silent.
“Well?” I ask again. “Tell me what you want.”
“I can’t,” she responds. “I have to show you. You have to come with us.”
I try to tell her that I need a break, that I want to read for pleasure for a change. She says I can bring my book along – she seems to approve of the choice – but tells me I won’t have a lot of freedom to read. It’s time, she tells me.
So I grab the book and head back to my office, resigned to my fate. It’s time to start another novel.
The process of trying to shepard a novel through the sale/publication process is fascinating. But that’s an academic assessment made by someone who has never done it before. It’s also frustrating, agonizing, daunting, likely foolhardy and, hopefully, rewarding.
Christopher Moore once said, “Being an Author is a complete cycle of ‘I’m a piece of crap/I’m the king of the universe’ that oscillates on a minute-by-minute basis.” Nowhere is that sentiment more true then in this part of the process. The highs and lows come so quickly that your head becomes a spinning top, most closely resembling Linda Blair in The Exorcist. 81,187 words later, I find myself having no choice but to move past the manuscript and on to phase two: The Query.
In this stage I write a one page letter to an agent (they can occasionally be two but brevity is rewarded). An agent/author relationship is a funny thing; the agent works for you but you’d dance with the devil to get a good agent to let you hire them. But back to the letter. I have somewhere between a nano-second and five words to wow the agent, totally mesmerizing her or him into begging to read my entire novel before the sun sets that very day. Now, to put this in perspective, Kurt Vonegut was rejected more than 800 times before he was published. And he was Kurt Vonegut the entire time. How different would our cultural discourse be without him? I can’t even think about it. Hopefully, inspired by Kurt’s determination, I whip out a brilliant query letter. On to phase three: The Synopsis.
In the synopsis I get a full five pages (sometimes more, sometimes less) to tell the agent the entire plot of my novel — including the ending. That’s right, it’s like Cliff’s Notes for the time-challenged. Not only do I have to condence 448 pages down to five, but I have to be riveting, show the agent my writing style and the tone of the book and, oh yeah, it better be damn good. Every time I’ve ever accomplished this I’ve celebrated with a simulated wrist-slitting. Once that’s done it’s on to phase four: The Approach.
This is the part I’m looking most forward to. Here’s where I send my obviously pithy query (with or without my brilliantly riveting synopsis, as they command) to agent after agent after agent. These days many agents take e-queries, so that, at least, cuts down on the expense. But it certainly doesn’t save me from having minute pieces of my soul dug out of me with a dull spoon. I’ve been published so I’ve had rejection. Lots. Some have been complimentary. The worst told me to study craft and then compared me to Faulkner, Kipling and London. Go figure. I can’t wait to see what new forms of rejection I’ll receive. I’m thick-skinned so I can handle this process. Especially because at the end I know, I just know, beyond all doubt, that I’m going to get a letter offering representation. And then the craziness begins anew.
I recently spoke with a woman I know. She’s older, in her seventies, and likely as right-brained as I. For the time I’ve know her she’s been writing a book. It’s a thriller but it’s loosely based on her experiences during the war. She tells me she’s nearly done.
“It’s about 400 pages,” she says.
“Good length,” I reply.
“Yes,” says she, “it’s 190,000 words.”
Imagine my horror! 190,000 words is more than double what the publishing industry wants to see. But as I’m trying to decide what to say next it dawns on me that the math isn’t right. And then I ask the question I regret as soon as the words escape my lips, “that isn’t single-spaced, is it?”
The next twenty minutes are a debate. On my end we’re discussing what the industry is looking for – font, spacing, word count – and how she can get her manuscript where it needs to be. From her perspective the only topic is her desire to add her name to a laundry list of writers who have put out very long books, J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and of course, Stephen King. She is oblivious to the notion that these cash-cows could write a phone book and their publishers wouldn’t bat an eye.
I have mentored a number of novice writers over the years. It can be pain or pleasure, depending on their attitude going in. But with this particular writer, who I adore, I wound up telling her that the rules are only true until they aren’t, i.e. that if she’s determined to try she could, possibly, succeed.
Now, the reality is that I know she probably won’t. But she didn’t want to hear how to fix things. She wanted me to tell her that she’s the exception, which I won’t do. I don’t think there’s nobility in telling someone what they want to hear if you believe it to be untrue. But I also don’t find grace in forcing my advice on to someone who clearly doesn’t want it. The situation leaves me stuck between the proverbial rock and it’s cousin, the hard place.
What is my point, you may ask? Well, airing frustration comes to mind. But more importantly I suppose, is a caution to the novice writer: you are not Stephen King. You may well have great talent coupled with high hopes and aspirations but in 2009, publishing is all about big business. You need to follow the rules, at least most of them, to achieve success. We all do it. We decide where we won’t compromise and then we compromise everywhere else.
As for Stephen King, I met him once — at Harvard. Nice guy. I’m sure he doesn’t remember me. But once upon a time he paid his dues, just as we’re paying ours. Just as those we mentor will pay theirs. And you know, I kind of like it that way.
I’ve often wondered, if I were to blog, what I could possibly write about that anyone would find interesting?
I mean, it’s one thing to tell stories, I’m a good storyteller. I craft characters that people care about, write natural yet compelling dialog, drive a story forward in an organic way. People like my stories. They’re evocative in one way or another.
But to speak as me, just Aud, with no characters to hide behind. Jeez, I don’t know. It’s like being naked in the middle of the library. So here I stand, unable to hide behind books, short stories, essays; even the occasional note to the teacher is unavailable to me. And I have to wonder again what I could possibly say.
I guess what I want to say is THANK YOU. As must be abundantly clear, I do have something to say — feelings and ideas to share that I’m fortunately able to wrap in interesting packages. I’m very grateful to anyone who spends a bit of time with the friends that I create. I hope you find your time was well spent and as long as you come to visit, I’ll be here … babbling.