Posts Tagged ‘literary agent’

Seed Season

September 24, 2012

Seeds are usually associated with spring, and fall with fruit. But autumn is seed season, too.

Yesterday I snipped the spent flowers from the tithonia, aka Mexican Sunflower, the brilliant orange annual we grow beside the garage. It grows to nearly six feet, and is apparently indestructible. Last year, when Hurricane Irene snapped its stems almost in two, our tithonia kept on stubbornly producing its fiery flower heads. We’ve been starting it from plants we buy at our local land trust’s yearly plant sale. But my mother-in-law wants to try it at her home in Colorado, and asked for some seeds.

Maybe I’ll keep some more myself and try it from scratch next year. We’ll see. The point is, I’m thinking about seeds.

Take my new novel, for example. The seed of the idea is still compelling, but the story refuses to grow. I have been vacillating between two desires: to submerge myself in a whole, long book, and to write a series of connected short stories, which would be easier to commit to than another big book.

When I admitted to my agent the other day that the big book wasn’t going, she gently suggested I might want try the short stories, instead. So yesterday, after collecting those tithonia flower heads, I started writing a new short story, taking the seed of my novel idea and trying it out in compressed form. We’ll see.

And then there’s that old picture book idea of mine. The one I’d set aside years ago, and recently retrieved and revised. My agent is now sending it out. And although it hasn’t found a home yet, one of the editors who read it liked my writing enough to invite me to try my hand at a picture book idea she has had in mind for a while.

I started working on it last week, and completed what I would call a serviceable first draft. I went to bed last night thinking I needed a stronger “hook,” an approach to the idea that would be fresh and compelling, something that would deepen the story, make it be about more than just itself. This morning I woke up with four ideas of how to do that. I’m hopeful and excited. But we’ll have to see how it goes.

You never know what’s going to work. At least, I don’t. At the risk of belaboring the metaphor I started with, some seeds never germinate, either because they land in the wrong soil, or they don’t get enough water, or they weren’t any good in the first place. And even when they do grow, you don’t know how they’ll end up. Some flowers are cut at their prime and brought inside to be admired, and some get left to mature and create the seeds of next year’s plants.

While I was outside collecting those tithonia seeds, I spent a while with our tomato plants. I harvested ripe fruit, removed withered leaves, propped up sagging stems, and took stock of what was left of the season. Dozens of tomatoes were still green or just beginning to redden, and a few cherry tomato branches had new flowers.

And then I noticed a fruit I had forgotten all about. It was one of our first black krims. I had waited too long to harvest it, and it had split and rotted on the vine. I had considered removing it, but it was too slimy to touch. So I left it where it was, and before long the growing vines and leaves and other tomatoes had obscured it. But now that the plant had died back, it revealed itself once again.

It was paper white, pleated and creased like crinoline, as wrinkled and puckered as a scrotum. Beautiful in a way I had never imagined a tomato could be.

Here’s to autumn, the season of new beginnings.

La la la la la lovely Linda

March 23, 2012

Clink clink clink. (That’s the sound of my spoon tapping the side of my glass.)

Thk thk thk. (That’s me testing the mike.)

Chrm. (That’s some crap in my throat.)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to announce that I am now represented by Linda Epstein, an associate at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency .

I couldn’t be happier!

Linda and I have been (mostly email) friends for a while. She’s warm and smart and thoughtful and funny, and she knows from books. Most importantly, though, she really gets me, and she totally believes in my writing (maybe even more than I do, sometimes).

After reading queries and interning and otherwise learning the ropes by working for other people, Linda recently joined the well-established and highly respected Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. When it was time for me to make a move, I was absolutely delighted that Linda (and Jennifer) agreed to take me on as a client.

The way I see it, it’s the best of several worlds. I get the experience and support of a proven agency, the energy and enthusiasm of an emerging agent, and the familiarity and fun of working someone I already trust and understand.

On to the next chapter. Woohoo!

Thank you for your attention. (And thank you, Linda!)

Marked Up

October 11, 2010

Miss me?

Since the summer I’ve only posted here sporadically. Most of my writing energy has gone to revising my novel.

When my agent returned my marked-up manuscript in July, he wasn’t just fixing grammar or flagging inconsistencies. Mark questioned my characters’ underlying motivations and asked me to do the same. He called me on passages I’d jotted down as place holders and then forgotten to return to (how could he tell?). He suggested I reconsider my ending, which has an unconventional format that made it hard to follow. And he pointed out the biggest problem with my parallel-plots structure: the parallels needed to be clearer.

It was all a bit overwhelming. (And by a bit, I mean a lot.) There were days when I was sure I couldn’t do it. But after three months, I think maybe I have. Here’s how.

Once I’d finished freaking out, I took Mark’s suggestion to spend a week jotting down notes. I reverted to the comforting, old-school technology I used forty years ago, when I started writing: a ballpoint pen and a spiral notebook.

One week and dozens of scribbled pages later, I opened the electronic version of my manuscript. My first task was to go through the mark-ups one by one, addressing as many as I could on the spot. I clarified ambiguous passages, inserted notes about character issues, cut over-writing, made specialized vocabulary more accessible, and rewrote the last chapter, keeping my non-conventional format, but making it easier to follow.

To keep track of what I was doing, when I opened the manuscript each morning I saved a new version with that day’s date in the title. The result: 57 versions of the complete, marked-up manuscript, and no doubt whatsoever about which is most current. Plus, none of my changes are irreversible — I can always refer to an earlier version.

To keep moving forward, when a problem seemed particularly perplexing, I flagged the issue and worked on something else. There was always something else to work on, and when I returned to the difficult passages, they usually turned out to be not nearly as insurmountable as they’d seemed the first (or second or third) time through.

After I’d addressed Mark’s comments, I started going through the book character by character, reading only those scenes that included that person, and reading as if the character in question was the center of my story. Because each character is the center of his or her own story. I traced narrative arcs, tweaked pacing and fixed inconsistencies and logistical mistakes. Since six characters needed fixing, I went through the book this way six times.

Along the way, I tightened my writing, cutting the fat. I found a lot of fat. I needed to add some new scenes, and had worried this would make the book too long. By the time I’d finished deleting an adverb here, a sentence there, the final word count is slightly shorter than when I started.

More to the point, thanks to Mark’s honest, keen-eyed observations and the hard work they inspired, the book is better. The writing is clearer, the scenes more focused, the action better paced, the various interwoven plots that comprise my ambitious structure work together more smoothly, and the characters are better realized.

I am absolutely certain of this. At least, pretty certain. Hopeful, anyway. I’ll have a better idea when I actually read the thing with a fresh perspective. Did I say fresh? That won’t be easy, since I’ve been immersed in this project for 10-plus years. But I’m doing what I can by taking a week off.

I’ve already filled the week with more plans than I can possibly accomplish: Get my hair cut. Get the car serviced. Get a flu shot. Get back into my garden. Get to some of the books I’ve been putting off reading (first up: The White Tiger). Get back into my blog.

When I get back to my manuscript, I’ll find out what more I need to do before I send it to my agent. Then he’ll let me know what else he thinks it needs. And when he and I are finally ready to submit it to publishers, if everything works out as we hope it will, a whole new round of revisions will begin.

I’ll keep you posted.

Back to the Garden

July 20, 2010

I used to be a timid gardener, willing to plant but reluctant to weed or prune or replant. Who was I to say which growing things deserved to live, once growing, how far they could extend their reach or where they were rooted? Live and let live was pretty much my motto. The result wasn’t pretty.

Well into my second full summer here in Rhode Island, I have found my horticultural heuvos. I pull weeds with a vengeance and prune branches with confidence. And I’m beginning to get into the idea of digging up specimens and tucking them back into the soil somewhere else.

Just this afternoon, I took up those three flowering tobacco plants whose leaves turned out to be way larger than I’d expected, and I put them behind the impatiens they’d upstaged. Then I took one of the impatiens plants and slipped it into the space where the tobacco had been. And then I gave the plants a nice soaking to help them settle into their new homes.

The whole operation took less than fifteen minutes. It was enormously satisfying. The corner of the bed no longer looks stupid, and I feel that much less like a helpless bystander in my little plot on earth. I’m feeling the same way about my writing.

For the last little while I’d been anticipating my agent’s editorial notes on Little Grandma’s Mirror. As I waited, too distracted to work on any other project, I started imaging worst-case scenarios. Sure he liked the book enough to take it on, I reasoned, but now that he’s gone over it more carefully he’s realized he made a mistake.

The edits arrived in my inbox on Sunday. They were very thorough. The cover letter stretched over six page – about three times as long as I’d expected. And the attached copy of the manuscript was covered with the electronic, track-changes equivalent of red ink.

Of course he said nice things. He told me how much he loved the book and assured me that I could pull off the revisions it needed to be really great. But those words barely registered. All those questions and comments had thrown me into defensive mode.

I worked as an newspaper editor for several years, so I’m familiar with red ink. But not from the receiving end. Never before has anyone had so much to say about anything I’ve written. Then again, never before have I written a novel of 300+ pages.

I spent a day “processing.” That is, I forced myself to read the comments carefully enough to summarize them in my own words, and I got used to the idea that my ambition to be a writer was ridiculous and unnecessary. Plenty of people live perfectly happy lives without ever trying to publish novels. Without all that pesky composing and revising I’d have more time for less stressful pursuits. Like gardening. All I had to do was work up the nerve to tell my agent when we talked on the phone this morning.

Of course, that’s not what happened. It’s not as if I wimped out. It’s that two minutes into the conversation, we were discussing my book’s structure and themes and characters more seriously and productively than I had ever discussed them with anyone. Having to explain my characters’ motivations made me understand them better. That made me see which of their actions didn’t make sense, and how incidental details could be better used to further my themes.

Yes, my agent was asking me to do a lot more work. But hearing the enthusiasm in his voice convinced me that the effort would pay off. And that made me eager to get started.

I’ll be creating new scenes, weeding out those that don’t belong, pruning those that do, and moving others around. Before I dig into the manuscript, though, I’m going to take a couple of weeks to get some perspective on what I need to do. I’ll do most of that away from the computer: jotting ideas down in a spiral notebook and mulling things over as I muck around in the garden.