Chronicle - Part One




A couple of you wanted to hear the official story of how I signed with Sarah Negovetich, my literary agent. But if I’m going to tell the story…I’m going to tell the WHOLE story. And so to not put you to sleep with a ridiculously long post – I’m going to break this into two parts. I’ll post the second part next week. So…here goes.

In 2007 I wrote a short story.

What’s so surprising about that is the fact I hadn’t written anything fictional (unless you count my previous year’s tax return) in…roughly 27 years. At my job I have an opportunity to compose a lot of procedure manuals and instruction guides, but writing this story was night compared to day. You see two of our three children were grown and out of the house, so I had lots of free time on my hands now and it was either find something to busy myself, or do more chores around the house. I wrote the story about a road trip to Panama City that my buddies and I had taken during our college days, but little did I know what I was awakening inside me.

The first thing I ever officially wrote was in tenth grade...and it was to impress a girl. Our class was given a group assignment to record a 15 minute audio tape in the style of old radio shows - all from original idea's. The prettiest girl in school…much less our class…or my group…took charge and asked if anybody had any ideas for a story. The active imagination I always possessed was about to be put to good use as I quickly blurted out I would write the script for us. After recovering from 3rd degree shock (is there such a thing?), I went home and wrote a scary tale about a young boy who becomes enamored with his reflection in an antique full-length mirror that his mom brings home one day. Our recording was well received by the class, but the teacher was sullen and pulled us aside afterwards. She couldn't believe that the material we used to make the tape was original, and wanted to know where we got it from. After we convinced her that I had written the story from scratch, her rebuke turned into praise and suggested I submit my work to a short story contest...but I never did. But what that experience did do is prompt me to join the school newspaper. I wrote mostly sports articles for The Ram, but occasionally they let me write general interest pieces and my most notable (and controversial) one was entitled “The Art of Skipping”.

When I went to college (LSU) I started off majoring in Journalism, but soon realized that life in that world could prove to be financially challenging. So I decided to pursue more lucrative majors (ending up graduating with a business degree) and writing slowly faded into the background as I confronted the realities of GPA’s, school loans, interviews, early morning alarms and late-night dinners, heart-stopping love, dirty diapers, mortgages, car pools, coaching duties, scholarship applications and everything else that tend to induce follicle disembarkation and enlarged prostrates.

Decades later, after I had written that short story, something changed in me. The experience of writing it was so exhilarating, I had to write more. I decided that I would turn my short story into a full blown, fictional, book. I could do that, right? I mean…how many pages were in your typical book (I didn’t know yet you’re supposed to speak in terms of words…not pages), how many words on a page, how many pages per chapter? The numbers of questions were staggering and the sheer magnitude of writing a book seemed overwhelming. But I REALLY wanted to write more, so I made up my mind to do it. How hard could it really be? (Yeah…I cringe now when I remember thinking that).

So the next decision was what to write…that is…what kind of book? (No…I didn’t even know about the term genre back then. – Please don’t judge me.) I’ve always been an avid mystery/thriller reader, so I decided why not start there? I laid out my outline (with my wife’s help), identified the characters I wanted/needed, and really made sure I wasn’t over-stretching. I went to work, writing mostly on the weekend, and three months later I had a book…and yes…I use the term loosely.

Now this is where the level of my embarrassment peaks and you get to see just how much of a novice I was back then. What do you do with a book you’ve written – you send it to publishers…naturally. That’s right, I emailed my 1st draft…unedited…135,000 word of festering excrement to a half-dozen publishing houses. I still groan when I think back on that. I had to be the Gomer Pyle of the publishing world.

Of course nothing happened, and that’s when I got serious. A little bit of research ultimately led me here to the blogosphere…and slowly I started figuring things out. I found out the difference between self-publishing and the main-stream where you needed an agent, and if you went the main-stream route…no agent was going to look at a book from a newbie author at 135K words. Either I had to cut out almost 50% of my book, or write a different one that met the requirements. I chose the latter.

That was in 2009.

So I wrote a second book – another mystery/thriller -- which was actually a sequel to the first one (but able to stand on its own), as well as a couple more short stories. I also started my own blog. Over the course of the next couple years my writing slowly improved and my blog built a fairly sizable following. I finally got up the nerve to query that second book  -- then I kind of floundered around for a year.

 



In March of 2011 I bottomed out…and quit. Though I had become a successful blogger, my real writing was going nowhere and I didn’t feel I was able to put the time and energy into it to improve, so I shuttered by blog. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made – because I truly loved the interaction with the wonderful blogging buddies I maintained – but in the end it was the right choice. Six months later I bounced back – fully invigorated and ready to go.

In 2012 a small piece of legitimacy and respectability came my way in the form of a short story accepted for publication in an anthology series entitled An Honest Lie. I can’t tell you how much that little accomplishment rejuvenated me. It was like Popeye downing a can of Spinach! "I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam… a-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah!" I doubled my querying efforts for my mystery/thriller book, pitched it to an agent at a writer’s conference and landed a couple of full-requests. But since it wasn’t getting many nibbles, I decided to try a different direction. YA Horror. The first draft flowed from me like blood out of a head wound and I was more excited than ever (and so was my CP). My theme for that year was making it uncomfortable in my comfort zone…and it was starting to payoff.

Then the train de-railed on December 21, 2012 and everything changed. You could say it was pre-determined. Those of you with a good memory will remember that December 21 was the day the Mayan calendar predicted the world was going to end, but instead we received the diagnosis that my wife had breast cancer. I knew right then that most of the next year was going to be arduous. Life was going to force change upon us that I hoped would rally our family together, require maximum effort to overcome a deadly threat, and no small amount of personal sacrifice.

I was right.

An Open Letter to my Future Agent - Revisited


I penned this letter and posted it here June of 2011, and I thought it appropriate to re-post it now.  It's scary how much of it turned out to be true.

This is dedicated to Sarah...my new Agent!



Dear Mr. or Ms. Agent,

I can't address you by your proper name yet because we haven't officially met, but I know you're out there somewhere.  I'm as sure of this as I am of a setting sun in the west or the beauty of a newborn child.  When we do meet I'll probably read you this hokey letter and we'll laugh about it, then you'll point out my grammatical errors and chastise me for the weak paragraph structure.  I'll be so juiced that I'll just nod my head incessantly like one of those bobble-head toys, unable to wipe the stupid smile from my face.

We haven't connected yet because I'm still finding my way through this maze of a process designed to bring us together.  I've been spending hours upon hours scouring the database of QueryTracker and AgentQuery, or turning the pages of my well-worn Writers Market, searching for your agency's name and jotting down submission guidelines.  My query letter has been tweaked more times than Joan Rivers and the version number on my synopsis is approaching triple digits.  Whoever thought that the same skill set that served us so well while writing our manuscript should prove useful in boiling 300+ pages down into a couple of paragraphs, is frankly confused.  I feel like a college student who's been studying algebra all year long and the first question on the final exam has to do with organic chemistry.  But I'll continue to plod away, confident that I'll finally find the right collection of thoughts to jell into a coherent letter and then wait for that special day when the planets align and you click on my e-mail.  It's then that you'll first feel a tug of interest as you read about my story, and just as you're about to habitually reply with a standard form rejection, you'll pause.  Unable to put a finger on why, you'll feel compelled to read my first chapter a second time and your interest will deepen into genuine curiosity.  You'll need to read more.  The requested partial will only further stoke your interest and as soon as you ask for the full manuscript, that's when I'll have you.

After finishing my novel you'll realize you've discovered a slightly flawed project with a HUGE amount of potential.  The commercial possibilities and ways to promote it will be endless, after all, every one of my friends tell me they would pay money for my book.  Have you stopped laughing yet?  More importantly, they'd pay more money for the next one.   You see, a vote of confidence in this book is actually a future sale of two (or more).

But I understand you're not going to be 100% sold just yet because although the material is a large part of a successful partnership, the synergy has to be there as well.  That will lead to the phone call where you'll size me up and gauge our rapport.  You'll be pleasantly surprised to learn that I'm slightly older than most of the other aspiring authors you've been interacting with and confess to being willing to exchange youthful exuberance for mature ebullience.  I'll brag about the modest following my blog has accumulated and might even mention that Rachelle Gardener tweeted about it once. Then I'll warn you about my introversion and oftentimes debilitating shyness, but quickly counter by pointing out I never have a problem discussing topics near and dear to my heart...such as my writing.  That's when the conversation will drift back and forth between my book, the vision of where I see my future as a writer heading, and your ideology as an agent.  Our chat will last for almost an hour, but we'll both have made up our minds in the first five minutes.

I SOOOO look forward to spending hour after hour on the phone with you discussing the book, listening to your suggestions and agreeing to changes we both find necessary to lift it to where it must be.  I can't wait to see that final version the two of us will craft together and send out to publishers so they can experience what we both believe it possesses. Wings!

So, I know you're weary and that slushpile of query letters is more backed up than a three-hundred pound man following a twelve hour trans-Atlantic flight, but I need you to stay on top of your game.  I can't afford for you to wake up on the wrong side of the bed the very day my email jumps to the top of your queue.  I'm counting on the fact that you'll look past the fact that I put the genre and word count in the first paragraph (or the last) and concentrate less on the technical appropriateness of my query and focus on the heart of the story.  That's where you'll find me.

I'll be right here...waiting...patiently.

Sincerely,
DL

PS.  I hope you'll notice that this post, like my blog, like my query letter, strives for subtlety by saying something about me...without saying much about me.  That is to say that despite my tongue being planted firmly in cheek, my eye is on the target.  If your unable to see that, then maybe you're not my agent after all.
 

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