28 January 2014

How I Got My Agent

I read a lot of blog posts like this. Aspiring authors who finally get an agent after years of trying.

Usually it seems like those stories have some almost fantastical element to them.

Mine doesn’t. I hope someone finds that inspiring.

The first novel I wrote -- which is literally in a drawer in my house -- is terrible. Dreadful. Awful. Hang-my-head-in-shame bad. But everyone’s first book is this way. (By the way, I still think the idea for this novel is great; I just have to figure out how to make it work.)

I wrote another book. This one was based on incidents from my grandmother’s childhood. Because it’s written in a vignette style, it was harder to pitch as a first book. I set it aside.

Then I wrote another novel, this one for young adults. I wrote and revised and wrote and revised and worked hard to make it perfect. Then I queried agents. I got rejections. I revised some more. I queried again. I got rejections. I revised again. Sometimes agents would ask for the partial or the full manuscript, and then I would get a rejection. This process took about two years, and I eventually got more than 100 rejections for that novel. Somewhere about the time I had seventy-five rejections, I told myself I would buy an iPad if got 100. And I did.

Then I set that novel aside.

I wrote another young adult novel. I never queried it, but I did send it to an editor I met at a conference. It was rejected, but the rejection was quite positive.

I wrote another young adult novel. I remembered reading once that writers didn’t really learn what they were doing until they wrote their fourth book. This was my fifth. I felt positive about this book. I felt like this was “the one” -- this book would take me to the next step.

With more patience than I ever thought I had, I wrote. I worked on this book for about two years. I slashed scenes. I added characters. I dropped ideas. I changed details. I took my time to get it right.

Then I queried.

I sent out four queries and got rejections. I sent out four more and got a request for the full manuscript.

Then I got the email that stopped my heart. She liked the book but wanted to see some changes. Would I care to talk to her about it?

Of course I said yes. After listening to her, I knew her ideas would make the book stronger. She would be willing to read the manuscript again if I addressed her concerns.

I took my time and re-submitted to her.

And she offered representation! I actually cried when I read that email.

But it was a great day, and in October 2012, I signed with Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency. Now we’re on to the next stage.

Meanwhile, I’m working on another novel.

22 January 2014

Vacation Stories: The Key in the Trunk

In 2003 Mom and I traveled to Alaska. It was wonderful trip. We flew to Anchorage and rented a car. We drove down to Seward and up to Denali National Park and on to Fairbanks. We took a day trip (by air) to Barrow, and we even visited North Pole.

This trip produced quite a few stories that have become family lore. Our favorite is about Mom locking the keys to the rental car in the trunk.

This wasn’t the first time Mom locked a set of keys in the car. She had done it years ago in Mississippi (the police opened the truck for her).

But this time was more unique than most.

We were on our way out of Anchorage to drive to Seward. I was driving, and the car needed gas. Stopping at a gas station in Girdwood, I pulled up to the pump and filled the tank. Mom needed to get something out of the trunk, and I thought nothing of watching her dig around for whatever she needed.

I went inside the store to pay, and when I came out, Mom was coming in to buy a drink. I asked for the keys so I could move the car.

This is where the trouble began.

“I don’t have the keys, you do,” she said.

“No, I don’t. You have them.”

“I don’t have them, Sara.”

“You do.”

She searched her pockets and came up empty. Realization hit her. “I bet I left them in the trunk.”

Eleven years ago there weren’t smart phones, and my cell phone did not work in Alaska. We both went into the store and told the cashier our dilemma.

What you need to know is that Girdwood is a small town -- only about 1500 people at the time. Odds were pretty good we were going to have to wait for someone to come out from Anchorage, about 45 minutes away.

The temperature was dropping, my coat was in the car, and we were blocking one of the gas station’s pumps.

But the cashier knew a guy in town who could do it. “Let me see if he’s home,” the cashier said, picking up the phone.

Fortunately, he was.

We waited outside for him to arrive. When he pulled up, we showed him to the car. The man, tall and skinny with black hair, carried a tool box with him. He set it down beside the driver’s door, opened it up and pulled out a small, thin book. “I’m still learning how to do this,” he said.

At this point, Mom and I gaped. There was a book about how to open car doors?!

I watched a logging truck pull into the parking lot of the gas station. A short blond man climbed out and walked toward the store. Noticing our lock-picker, the man asked if we needed any help. The lock-picker assured him that he was fine.

The lock-picker had a thin wire with a loop on the end worked through the top of the window. This would have been perfect if the locks weren’t molded plastic that contoured to the wall of the car door. But he was getting close. He could get that ring around the lock, but it would slip off. Over and over, he tried to hook that lock.

The blond came back outside. He again offered his services. “Are you sure you don’t need help? I used to do that for a living.”

I have no idea if he meant that in a legal or illegal way.

Our lock-picker decided to let the man try. He walked over, picked up a Slim Jim, jammed it down into the car door. Boom. Boom. Done.

I think our lock-picker would have had the door open in about five more minutes.

We thanked the blond profusely, and he climbed back in his logging truck and drove off. We paid the lock-picker, popped the trunk and got the keys out.

As we drove off, we both laughed at the whole situation. It was utterly ridiculous, and if it hadn’t happened to us, I would never believe another person telling me this story.

The lesson learned from this little experience? You can apparently buy a book to teach you how to open locked car doors.

And I keep the keys.

14 January 2014

How I Became a Librarian

Short answer? In my last year of college, my mother said I could go to graduate school, but it would have to be a public school. I had two options -- International Relations or Library Science. Like any good future librarian, I consulted the Peterson’s Guide to Graduate Programs and discovered that library school did not require a thesis. Ding, ding, ding! That’s why I chose library school.

Although the above answer is true, there is more to it than that.

When I graduated high school, I went to Texas Lutheran University (then it was still Texas Lutheran College; the name changed after my second year there). I was a communications major and hoped to eventually be a film critic. For my four years at college, I served as the arts and entertainment editor for the university newspaper, the Lone Star Lutheran.

But TLU changed the requirements for communications majors and overhauled the department. I thought the changes actually weakened the degree. Let me be clear, the newspaper advisor was excellent. Many of the things she taught me, I still use today (yay, library marketing!).

At the time of the overhaul, I was taking an American government class that I thoroughly enjoyed. I decided to double-major in communications and political science. That lasted about a year before I realized I wouldn’t be able to graduate in four years. I was attending a private university. Although I had several scholarships, I also had some pretty significant loans. I had to graduate in four years.

So I dropped communications. By that time I thought about joining the U.S. Foreign Service.

But I was also working in the school’s library at this time. It was fun work, and I adored seeing the new books. I also rediscovered my love of children’s literature through the library’s small collection of titles, mainly used by education majors.

When Mom said I could go to graduate school, I had a decision to make.

Foreign service or public library?

I chose librarianship, and one of the biggest determining factors was not having to write a thesis. But the fact that Texas has three American Library Association-accredited library schools helped. Of those three, I chose the University of Texas and earned a master's degree in library and information science.

Looking back at how U.S. foreign policy has morphed over the past fifteen years, I know I made the right decision.

Despite the fact that my path to library school was circuitous, some of the classes I took at TLU have proved useful in my professional career.
  • Newspaper Writing -- I have to write, read and review press releases. I also have proofread signs, online ads and plenty of other written documentation.
  • Public Administration -- I work for local government, so this is easy to understand. Most important thing I learned in this class? Never answer a question with “I don’t know.” Always say, “I’ll have to get back to you about that.”
  • Statistics -- For those of you who don’t know, librarians actually love numbers (whether they love math is a different matter). We use statistics to justify adding programs, dropping programs, increasing budgets, our entire existence basically.

You never know what the future holds for you, and the things you learn along the way may prove useful in ways you never imagine.

07 January 2014

Not for Teens After All

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, and I need to get better about doing this. My new goal is at least one update a week (but let’s not kid ourselves, I’ll be happy with twice a month).

Anyway, an update is required.

Last summer, I got more passes from editors and more comments. This time there seemed to be a trend -- “it sounds like a middle-grade novel.”

So guess what I did?

I revised again. This time I had to change the ages of my two main characters, delete quite a few chapters and change the beginning. Again.

But all that was done before I went on vacation.

My agent has submitted the revisions to editors again, and now we wait.

That’s how the publishing business works. Lots and lots of waiting. I am learning patience through this process.