Agent Search

I finished my novel in March, yet I’m still unsure of the final title. Will it be Melancholy Mondays, or will it be what I originally dubbed it, “Miss!”? Neither will matter, however, until I land the perfect literary agent.

My quest began as soon as I received feedback from someone in the publishing business who had an editor read my novel as a favor. The editor reported an “overall positive read” and suggested some edits, which I completed in April. “Hold off on self-publishing unless you cannot find an agent,” I was told, which I immediately translated into, “It’s marketable.”

Now that another month has passed, I’d like to share the process I’m going through so that when you find yourself in my situation someday, you’ll know a little bit about what to expect.

On May 7th I paid for a one-year subscription to Writer’s Market  (online version: $39.99) and started looking through the pages of agencies that represent my current genre: Literary Fiction. I made an initial list of names I liked (completely silly, but hey, I had to start somewhere). For each agency I followed their specific requirements for new submissions, and noted the name and submission date in my steno book (all while still in my fuzzy fuchsia bathrobe).

By the way, does anyone even know what a stenographer is anymore?

Before midnight on the 7th I sent out 10 query letters (and anything else the agency requested, i.e., the first 3/10/25 pages copied and pasted below the query letter). For online submissions, agents WILL NOT open attachments, so don’t attach anything!

Within a week I started to receive my first “thanks but this is not for us” responses. After the first one (which made me want to gnash my teeth and rock in a dark corner somewhere because it had been from an actual referral), the rest were much less painful, and now I find myself anticipating with pleasure whatever the next response will be–because I know that one of them will come back with, “I’d like to see more.”

After sending out another 8 letters (this is a tedious process, because at each agency there may be several agents, and you must read all their bios and submit to only one), I decided to have my query letter evaluated by a pro. I probably should have ponied up the $42.75 before I sent out any letters, but after reading through countless articles about “What to put in a query letter,” I thought I had the perfect product.

Hubris? Me? Who woulda thunk it.

On May 26th I sent my letter to a Writer’s Digest representative, and with the feedback he provided to me today, which included a more engaging template based on the letter I provided to him, I revised my query letter and sent out four more submissions today, May 31st.

Meanwhile, my wonderful husband and constant source of encouragement–Mike–suggested that I might want to upgrade my steno method of data collection and create an Excel spreadsheet, which I have done.

This will allow me to see more clearly what’s still out, and I can include any special notes for future reference. If I should get a “no thank you” from one person in a multi-agent practice, then I might want to query another at the same agency.

I also learned today that with my Writer’s Market account I can access a tracking tool, but I haven’t yet explored that. When I do, I’ll let you know if it’s better that creating your own spreadsheet.

Lessons learned so far:                                                                                                         1. Querying is a tedious process (get your Writer’s Market subscription)                            2. Agents around the world may not immediately arm-wrestle for your masterpiece of a novel (*Shocking*)                                                                                                                     3. Pay the measly fee to have your expertly crafted query letter evaluated by an actual expert before you spend the time sending out bunches of potentially sub-standard ones     4. Track your submissions efficiently                                                                                     5. Have the patience of Job.






Nocturnal WHAT?

We were halfway up the mountain. Nick was in 5th grade and generally hiked with his father, but on this day he decided to hang out with me instead of running to the top with his mountain goat dad. There was no escaping. Poor kid; he had no idea what he was in for.

“So what are you learning in sex education?” I asked, figuring I might as well use this side-by-side opportunity to ensure that my son was squared away in the birds and bees department. I had read somewhere that the best chance of communicating effectively with the male species is to do it in conjunction with an activity that does not require any face-to-face interaction—like driving, watching television, or a physical activity such as we were doing. Since parents had to sign waivers allowing their children to participate in the school’s sex ed program, I knew that the girls had had their classes, and the boys had recently completed theirs.

“I don’t know,” he answered. I could tell he was troubled. Nick has always been a thoughtful and inquisitive son, and from the time he was quite young, could convince anyone he met that he knew the answer to every question that had ever been asked by anyone, ever. After my husband and I had told him in 3rd grade (while we were driving someplace) that there was no such thing as an ant lion—it was something we had certainly never heard of—and he later proved us wrong, any future time we might challenge his knowledge he would simply smile and say, “Ant lion,” and we would rush to our computers to learn something new. So I knew that he was flummoxed.

“Has your teacher said anything to the class that’s not really clear to you?” I asked, trying to sound as nonchalant as I could. We had a ways to go before reaching the summit, and I didn’t want to appear too anxious to engage in a conversation that would provoke him to run off in search of his father. I also wanted to ensure that there was no question in his mind about what could happen someday with a girl if he found himself in a “let’s play doctor . . . I’ll teach you using my knowledge of Braille anatomy” situation and didn’t possess the right information.

“Kind of,” he mumbled, sounding embarrassed already.

We both caught sight of my husband Mike up ahead; he had already summited and was running back down to check on us.

“I’m pretty sure I can explain whatever was confusing,” I offered.

“Well, he was saying something like how we might wet the bed some night, but he called it something I didn’t get.” He was very embarrassed, but clearly needed to understand why something he hadn’t done since he was in diapers might happen again.

“How are you guys doing,” Mike asked when he finally reached us, keeping up a slower jog while we continued to trudge up the hill.

“Great!” I said. “Nick was telling me about his sex ed class and how they told the boys they might wet their bed some night,” I explained, then turned back to Nick. “I think what he was talking about was something called a wet dream,” I told him, glad that Mike was there and could explain the phenomenon better than I could.

“No, that’s not what he called it,” Nick protested. “He called it something complicated.”

“Nocturnal ejaculation,” Mike said as off-handedly as he might have asked, “What’s for dinner?”

“That’s it!” Nick said, perking up, and before I could protest, Mike began his acceleration away from us to summit once more, leaving me with the rest of the lesson.

“See you guys at the top!” Mike said, smiling at me over his shoulder.

“Chicken!” I yelled. But even though Nick could have left me at that moment, sprinting away from the awkwardness, he wanted answers more.

By the time we reached the summit, he learned more than any of his classmates would learn from the technical jargon presented in class, and since I had a captive and curious audience, I also took advantage of the opportunity to tell him the truth about the all those magical, mythical people, fairies, and animals attached to the countless holidays we celebrate each year.

Discussion on the downside of the mountain was far less serious—Nick’s brain had a bunch to process—and Mike had joined us for the descent. I felt confident that I had provided adequate information in a way that was both informative and minimized embarrassment.

“And don’t tell your brother about the Santa stuff yet, okay?” I requested. I had another two years before I might have to teach those lessons again.

“Okay,” he said. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Hey, what do we want for dinner tonight?” Mike asked while we loaded back into our truck at the end of our journey.

“Chicken!” I said with a bit more emphasis than was necessary. There could be no other choice!

That fine day Nick learned far more than he had bargained for, but I also learned a few things. I learned that school lessons don’t always “sink in,” so I would have to remain vigilant with follow-ups. I learned that not all fathers are comfortable discussing delicate topics with their sons. Most importantly, however, I learned that my oldest son was brave enough not to run away from me when he had the chance, and that he would always choose knowledge over ignorance–a trait that will serve him well in his current pursuit of a medical degree (and no, not in Braille anatomy)!

School Rules

Another school year is ending and our new superintendent is looking for input on yet another new program that will be marketed as “a fix” for our broken school district. Sadly, I was unable to attend the community meeting at the high school where I could have provided my input on both the “Expeditionary Learning” program and the qualities I’d like to see in a new high school principal. Sadder, however, is that I heard attendance was embarrassingly low.

A friend recently asked what I thought about the new program. After teaching both here and at a school in Colorado Springs that closed for consistent poor performance (after trying several new programs), my response was that no program will work until the leaders in our school district open their eyes to one of the biggest problems we’re dealing with in our schools: lack of effective discipline.

It appalls me that the state is not stepping in sooner to deal with this blatant problem. It appalls me even more that parents of students in this district have not been outraged by the status quo that is summarized by the apathetic, “Hey, it’s Leadville, what do you expect?” attitude of our students, and that they have not demanded the resignation of a school board that seems content to throw money at the latest “fix” without addressing the root problem.

How much money will be spent to train faculty on this program in order to see if it will be “a good fit” for our population? I hate to be cynical, but based on my past experiences as a teacher in this district, I’d bet that the decision to implement the program has already been made, and without asking any of our teachers who have tried to tie in the beauties of our surroundings with their curriculum how it has worked for them.

The idea sounds fabulous—and it may even be working at King Middle School in Maine (Way far away from here: Hispanic population=5.7%)—but again, without the ability for teachers to enforce a strict behavioral code—and to be supported by their superiors in doing so—program after program will continue to have our schools in the news as failing our students.

Why not allocate funds for security cameras in hallways and classrooms? How wonderful it would be to have visual evidence of why “Little Johnny” isn’t learning. Why not spend money on a vo-tech curriculum that will serve the needs of the majority of our student population? How about mandatory classes on social etiquette and maturity so our high school students will understand why it’s not okay for them still to be acting like 5-year-olds? I have some other ideas I’d be willing to share—free of charge—to anyone interested in listening.

As for qualities I’d like to see in a new principal—and in those in leadership and teaching positions throughout the district—how about the ability to see a problem and to address it without fear of recrimination? How about the ability to enforce a no-nonsense policy that supports our teachers and allows time for them to do what they’ve been trained to do? How about someone who has the gumption to say no to any number of new “programs” that ultimately only profit companies who neither know nor care about our students?

I don’t know that there’s one reason why large numbers of parents and employees aren’t showing up for these important meetings (though I acknowledge the small percentage who are involved in every decision). Maybe the time isn’t convenient. Maybe we don’t believe that our input will be valued—I have personal experience with that. Or maybe we just don’t care enough to tackle the real problem . . . and no new program will fix that.

The Boys

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a gaggle of women–four sisters, all their girl friends, and a mother who led the neighborhood coffee klatch (and more often the “Sip and Snip,” where the wine flowed as freely as the boisterous conversation)–but with my decision to leave Smith College for West Point, I soon discovered that I was as comfortable spending time with the boys as I was with my “own kind.”

“Do you think you would have done anything differently if you had had daughters?” a friend recently asked. Our husbands were competing in a 12-hour mountain bike race and we were discussing some of our life decisions and laughing about the countless weekends we’ve both spent in support of our men’s athletic pursuits.

“No, I don’t think so,” was my honest reply.

The truth is that while I have gone out of my way over the years to force myself out of my own comfort zone–which is a dangerous place, I believe–I have had the pleasure of expanding both my horizons and my family. Beyond my own two sons (each as different in their definitions of “comfort zone” as my sisters and I are), I have willingly become the Mum/friend/sister of many others . . . and I love it.

I live in the best of both worlds. My sisters and I still share a lifetime of memories and laughter, the girl friends I have stayed in contact with from before, during and after our Army days are as precious to me as ever, and all the boys in my life–my stalwart father (and his bowling buddies who love it when I visit and bowl with their league), my husband and those who look to him for inspiration, my sons and their friends, my brother’s-in-law, my military friends, my teacher friends–provide a balance and a unique camaraderie that is somehow simply refreshing.

If I were the mother of daughters, I would want them to treasure the lifelong relationships they would have with those select women who would remain loyal till death, and to feel as comfortable, confident and happy as I have been hanging with the boys.

Remember the Brave

It’s 5 p.m. on Friday and our friends finish talking about how their son Nickolas loved to fish before presenting their son’s trophy to the match winner. Nick was killed–only 19 years old–by a sniper in Iraq. Others talk of their sons dying far too young and I try not to cry. My sons are still alive.

Mike and I have been invited to participate in the “Remember the Brave” precision shooting match in honor and in memory of our recent fallen service members. Veterans, families, and active duty Marines have come from as far as New Hampshire and 29 Palms, California to compete and to remember.

After a communal chili dinner we are joined by the young Marines who huddle with us around a propane fire pit, but it’s so cold outside that only our common bond and Crown Royal keep us warm. I suddenly miss being part of a military organization–a family that accepts and cares for you wherever you are in the world. The feeling is nostalgic, of course, and as such, pulls at only the romanticized memories, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

Mike and I hop into our truck-camper bed after a day of travel, windy sunshine and dust, and I’m too tired even to brush my teeth or wash my face; we haven’t yet hooked up the water. Still, the camper is luxury when I look out at the wind whipping at the soldiers’ tents. Even off-duty, they sacrifice.

“You look cute with your bird hair,” Mike tells me in the morning when I peek my head out of the covers. He already has the coffee going and the heat on; it’s not quite 40 degrees in the camper. We hug in the close confines of our wheeled home and I make him a breakfast burrito. He’s not a 6:30 a.m. breakfast kind of guy, though, so as he preps to leave for his morning competition, I add some salty potato chips to the remaining eggs and chow down.

I could eat a rhino in the morning, but if I were to tell Mike that (as I have in the past), his response would be something very like, “I’ve got a rhino for you!” And after 30 years together, it’s still always funny, and we laugh together.

Before he leaves, we share a small bar of soap and dribble drinking water from bottles over one another’s hands. I feel like an altar girl before the consecration of the Eucharist, but we’ve already eaten.

“If more people would use water this way, we wouldn’t have to worry about conservation,” he says, and I suppose it’s true. In any case, the moment is special. When Mike leaves, I take my roll of toilet paper to the outhouse, cover the seat, and try not to think too much about the cold breeze–and other things–below. At times like this, I focus on our founding mothers and pioneer women, and I simply cannot complain.

Mike competes with Nick’s father the first day and by the time the mother and I arrive, I’m ready to keep score. We are introduced to a 91-year-old veteran who lost his wife of 68 years less than a year ago, and he show us the rifles he will use for the competition; he built them himself. People were worried about him after his wife died, but his love of the military and love of sport shooting brought him back to life.

Over dinner that evening–steaks on the grill for all, consumed in the relentlessly chilly wind–I’m asked to fill in for an absent 4-man-team member for the final three competitions the next day, and despite the fact that I haven’t yet fired Mike’s Accuracy International AE MK III .308 rifle, I say, “Sure!” I figure that firing a rifle must be like riding a bike, and I’m honored to be one of the guys again.

With finally brushed teeth and a melted ice-block-water face wash, we’re in bed by 8, and before we know it, the birds are singing us awake. Mike and I dance around one another on the camper floor, both of us now prepping to be out the door by 6:45. No time for a rhino breakfast, so we grab bars–Cliff for him, Kind for me–and head to the range.

We meet more family of more fallen soldiers, all who are honored that this weekend is all about those they have lost, and the day flies by. When it’s my turn to shoot, I try to focus not only on the target and my breathing, but also on why I am here.

On the way back home, Mike and I talk about how we would react if we lost one of our sons–for any reason–but realize that we cannot even come close to imagining it. We know that it would be something that we could never “get over,” though our friends were given that advice at one time.

I try to lighten the mood by telling Mike, “I acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifice you’re making to drive back!” and we both laugh. We had recently watched an episode of “The Office” in which the married protagonists had undergone couple’s therapy after falling away from one another. Throughout the episode, they formally acknowledged every act the other did as a way of focusing on learning how to appreciate one another again. Although the dialogue was stifled and scripted, the lesson was, and is, relevant.

“I appreciate the fact that you’re not a namby-pamby woman,” he says. I smile, knowing that he’ll brag to his friends later about how I tied his score in the first match and beat him in the following two.

We arrived home with the knowledge that we had participated in an event that meant the world to families less fortunate than our own. And while even I am guilty of looking at death statistics on the news and remaining emotionally detached–they’re not my family–events like “Remember the Brave” remind me of all that I have to be grateful for, if only for just this moment.

Rest in peace, Nickolas Palmer–and all those who have died to keep our country free. I acknowledge, appreciate, and honor the sacrifices you have made, and will do my best always to remember.


May Day! May Day!

Yesterday I walked to the college in one of my brightest outfits. It was the last “official” class–final projects are due tomorrow–and the warmth of the sun had me removing my jacket within the first half-mile. Ah! The joys of summer vacation!

I might just remain in my fuzzy fuchsia jammies all day today, though. Klaus and I will probably even start a fire soon. Ah! The joys of living in little mountain town!

Happy May Day!