Out in the world, much has been happening. All the boys are out of the cave. Little Croatia kicked Russia’s ass in the World Cup. And it’s August already? Here in my world, you know how it can be, you pay some bills, think you’re doing OK, and then another bill shows up . . . and Jesus, where did that one come from? I was going to buy some mink underwear. Now I have to make do with the old silk stuff.
Even when I try to spend time in my imaginary world of words, reality intrudes like a steel wool pad dragged across your belly. About a month ago I decided I was ready to begin looking for an agent to sell the just-completed novel (Birds Above the Cage). Part of being ready to do that of course was finishing and polishing the book until it was as shiny as church shoes. Another part of being ready to go agent-begging with a new book was to conclude that it was time to give up—for now—on selling another book (The Invention of Colors).
Here I am a month later, and every day I try to send out a query letter to contact one agent. I only aim at one person a day, not more, because I find the process so debilitating. That seems like a big word, so I’ll throw in a dictionary definition here, from Merriam Webster. Debilitate: “to impair the strength of, enfeeble” and they gave the example of “sailors debilitated by scurvy”.
As you can see, sending out query letters to look for a literary agent is similar to having scurvy. In this case, the cure is not lemons or limes but rich red wine, or any wine, actually, just whatever you have, and some dark chocolate would be good, although peanut M&Ms will do if necessary.
Here’s what normally happens when you send a query letter: [this space represents the silence of outer space]. Not that the agents can reply to all the mail they get, I understand that. In a few cases, you get a form letter thanking you for letting them reject your book, and reminding you that it’s not you, it’s them, no really, and you should keep trying, and good luck. My highpoint in this process has been twice when someone wrote me a nice little note to say they didn’t want the book. The notes were very personal and pleasant, and I almost felt good about being rejected. That’s how hard this business is, when a nice rejection feels like a good thing.
In case the literary agents grow weary of rejecting Birds Above the Cage, I’m currently writing another book (Moonapple Pie), so they can later reject that. This week I finished a chapter that makes the book one-third written. Unless I’m out somewhere having fun (which happens now on the weekends, since I have a girlfriend), then I’m home writing, or feeling like I ought to be writing, or taking a nap so that I’ll be rested enough to write, or at least rested enough to think about how I ought to be writing.
In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever written a book I enjoyed working on as much as this one. Why would that be? Am I finally getting enough naps? This book is set in my home town of Gainesville, Georgia, but I don’t think that’s what makes the writing such a pleasure. My home town, by the way, is famous for chickens, and I have not yet included a single chicken in this book. Or wait, I think there was a bowl of chicken and dumpling in the last chapter.
I think I’m enjoying getting to know the characters in this book, two twin brothers (Eston and Elliott) in their early 40s and their sister who is ten years younger. Oleander appeared in their family mysteriously around the age of two years, when she was found wandering in a store and no one ever knew how she got there.
So one word follows another, until a sentence happens. If the words don’t move along and get into place quickly enough, I drip a little lime juice on them. That puts a little fancy in their pants, and they hop to it after that.