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.