Thursday, March 31, 2005
Back for more? Sheesh, y’all are masochists.
Ron, I laughed at your comment. And Kelly, I see now that my last line could easily have been misunderstood. (Maybe I need an editor for this here blog.) I didn’t mean to be telling y’all that I’d be sliding downhill from then on. I meant to say I was expecting that selling books from that point would be all downhill. In other words, no more worries.
So I finally, after 9 ½ years, held a bonafide, real life contract in my hands. I was gonna be a published novelist!
This house had been around a long time and was an established publishing company. However, with the recent explosion of Christian fiction at the time, fiction was a rather new market for it. The house decided to get into fiction in a major way. So they started acquiring—fast. I was one of those acquirees. (If that’s not a word, it oughtta be.)
The above paragraph is a very good example of telling backstory. However, it’s also something you’ll eventually need to know.
Before I proceed with my tale, I want to shift gears to the present for a moment. I’m just beginning to hear back from people who’ve read Dead of Night. Now they are fast, indeed, because the books just hit stores. Some of these folks bought a copy from me at Mount Hermon. I am very pleased with the letters so far. The people who’ve written really love the story—call it fast-paced, intense, and all that. But they all have mentioned the spiritual emphasis of the story on prayer. Man, I hope letters like this continue. The majority of letters I’ve received in the past have talked about how much people love such and such a book. Far fewer letters have mentioned being spiritually moved in some way by the story, even though all my stories have a strong Christian emphasis. I think with Dead of Night, I’ll see a shift in this. It’s interesting. Dead of Night is by far my most intense novel—pushing the envelope. And yet—when do people need prayer and belief in God most? When they’re in big, bad danger, right? I find it amazing how this book, with its darkness, freed me all the more to weave in God’s truth. Those of you out there who choose to read this book—please let me know what you think. Honestly.
Okay, back to story. We’re over the first major hurdle that took half an eternity. I had a contract. Now. There’s a huge part of this story I haven’t even mentioned to this point. I’m a little leery of saying anything, frankly. But here goes—without a lot of details.
As soon as I had such a change of heart toward God in 1998, and as soon as He clearly called me to write Christian fiction, I got hit with ye ol’ spiritual warfare like you wouldn’t believe. If you haven’t experienced this and aren’t clear what it is, it may sound a little, um, weird to you. Let me just put it this way. Satan and his demonic forces are as alive and well today as they were in biblical times. And they fight Christians today in the same way.
The “hits” against me and my family would take just about every form. Thank God for Mark’s and my very strong marriage—that was a secure point. But all around us was chaos. God was in control. He was protecting me. This I know. I also know that sometimes, the more we follow God’s plan, the more He has in store for us, the harder the forces of evil will try to stop us. God’s bottom line is to bring each person closer to Himself, through whatever means it takes. Satan’s bottom line is to keep that from happening—whatever it takes.
We writers know all about this kind of stuff in our stories. It’s called conflict.
I wasn’t quick to call everything that went wrong “spiritual warfare.” In fact, I’ve been very clear that many of the “wrong” things were really God shutting doors until He opened the right one. And many more doors would close, even after I sold my first novel. But I can tell you that the minute I sat down to rewrite that first novel, Cast a Road Before Me, as a Christian story, the warfare began.
It would last four years.
Four times during that period, in times of highest oppression, God sent word to me through other Christians. Two had dreams that they just had to call the next day and tell me about. The dreams meant nothing to them, and they felt like idiots, but they just “knew” they were supposed to call me. They didn’t know what was going on in my life, but God sure did. Both dreams told me very specific things about the oppression happening around me, and what I should do. A third person had a “word from the Lord” that she was to pray against certain forces in my life. This person, too, had no idea what was happening with me, and hadn’t seen me in a long time. Her prayers shattered through a problem that was coming to a head—and then suddenly just poofed away. That’s the day she prayed. The fourth person was woken by God’s voice calling her name in the middle of the night. She then had a vision, and God told her to pray right then for me. She couldn’t have known that 3000 miles away, I, too, was awake at that same hour, facing some serious trouble.
You want to know why I write about God’s power today? This is why. I’ve seen His power in my own life. I continue to see it.
So at the time I signed that first contract—and Cast a Road Before Me was indeed on the way to being published—I was facing this spiritual warfare daily, as well as the ups and downs of the writing life that you have seen. I would prevail—not because I’m any great shakes. I’m nothing, and certainly weak as a kitten when facing the forces of evil. BUT—my God is EVERYTHING.
He’d carried me through 9 ½ years; He’d carry me the rest of the way. And that way wouldn’t be easy.
Read Part 26
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Sorry about the late post. The blog posting site was down. Sheesh, computers.
I enjoyed the comments from yesterday. Especially laughed over Ron’s comment about The Longest Day. Yes, I did eventually get published, as you all know. But as you’ve also seen, it seemed to take an eternity. Becky, your question will be answered.
So. Summer of 1999. I somehow managed to unfreeze my body enough to reach toward that fax machine, gather up the pages and turn them over.
First page was a cover letter from Editor C to my agent. Offering to publish my novel Cast a Road Before Me. Jane had written on it—Congratulations! Call me.
My hands shook.
No. Wait, wait. I’d read it wrong. There had to be some tiny print at the bottom of the page I was missing. I read the letter again. Turned it over to see a blank page. No little print at the bottom.
They wanted to publish my novel.
They wanted to publish my novel!!
You can react in the strangest of ways after you’ve waited for something for so long. Almost like your body can't quite handle the news. I just stared at the paper, my mind on some other plane. Still trying to figure out a way to convince myself this wasn’t real; there was a catch. Because if I allowed myself to believe it was real, if I let loose the emotion dammed up and swirling higher by the minute in my chest, I’d never get the dam in place again. So I’d better be good and sure . . .
I skimmed the other pages. A bunch of legalese and gobbledegook. In other words, a publishing contract. Had my name on it. My novel’s title on it.
Hey, yo, Brandilyn! This is it. You prayed for it, you said you believed God for it—Now. Here. It. Is.
That did it. I sank to my knees, papers in hand—and did something I rarely do. Absolutely sobbed.
For a long, long time.
And through those tears, I did a whole lot of thanking God. Rather in jibberish form, but I think He got the message.
I cried so much my head throbbed, my make-up all washed away, and I had to take my contacts out because they were killing my eyes. Oh, yeah, and I wanted to take a nap because now I was exhausted.
But wait a minute, no time to rest. I had to call Jane. And my husband. My mom and sisters. The world . . .
Okay, Brandilyn, pull yourself together. You got only so much time before you have to pick up the kids at school, and you don’t want to sound like you’re underwater when you call Jane . . .
So I ran around the house like an idiot, singing, fixing my face, etc. Somewhere in there I called Jane just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I even managed to sound half sane. They want to publish me? Oh, okay. Sure, fine, I’ll consider it. You know I do this kind of thing all the time . . .
I got off the phone and danced. And it was no ordinary dance, mind you. It was a climb-the-walls, swipe-the-ceiling, whirl-through-the-house downhome bugaloo.
Dear readers, I suppose you’ve noticed something by now. I have not named this house or editor. Decided not to, for reasons you’ll see in time. It’s kind of a long story . . .
But that day, that afternoon, I knew nothing but a joy that could barely be contained. I’d done it! After 9 ½ years of working like a fool to learn fiction and not making a single penny from it, I’d done it! I was on my way. No more problems. Man, I had two more novels to sell before I even had to write another book. My journey had been the pits at times, but now I was on the mountaintop! Yay and yippity yay! Hum baby, and bring on the world!
It would all be downhill from here.
Read Part 25
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Thanks, y’all, for the comments yesterday. I know a couple of you had trouble posting at first. Becky, to answer your question—No, I didn’t pitch to any other editors that first year at Mount Hermon. I would learn how to do this by the following year to some interesting results (that story still to come), but not yet.
As I said at the end of yesterday, for the first time I couldn’t quit. But I also had something wonderful and ever-plentiful to fall back during this wrenching disappointment—God’s strength and encouragement. I knew I was doing the right thing. I knew I’d rewritten three books for His glory. Books that weren’t preachy, but carried God’s message of salvation. I could look back at the way He’d closed doors for me during the first 9 ½ years. They’d been purposefully closed, until He opened the right one. That had been true with my agent. It had to be true with publishers also.
Yes, Brandilyn. Right.Okay, Editor B’s letter was crazy. So what if God had a quirky sense of humor when closing a door? Had to give Him credit—He’d shut it good and tight.
A word of defense for this editor. Today B and I are real pals, and I absolutely think the world of this person. We can talk and laugh together, and enjoy each other. B was not wrong in writing that rejection letter, even though to this day I can’t understand it. I really think what may have happened is that B didn’t read the entire book. Cast a Road Before Me has a heroine who isn’t a Christian, and who mentions in the beginning of the book how peaceful Buddhists look when they worship. Well, I guess if you stopped there, you’d wonder where the Christian message was. So, after picking myself up off the floor in that summer of '99, I clung to the belief that the rejection, strange as it seemed to me, was one of God’s more interesting ways of closing a door. Today, I can look back and know that this is true.
I had one more hope. Editor C.
Okay, God, I’m gonna trust You. If C’s a closed door, too, I’ll know that’s what You want. But, uh, could You just . . . please, please, please . . .?
Dear readers, you have hung with me now for 23 parts. Do you realize we’ve been at this for over a month? It’s about time I got a sale, don’t you think? Have we not all agonized enough together over how long this has taken?
I waited. And prayed. And tried to prepare myself for another rejection.
One day I was sitting at my computer. The fax clicked on. A page spewed out. Another one. A third. What's this? My pulse did this odd little quiver. Almost as if it knew something . . .
The machine whirred. I watched the pages birth. They were upside down. But didn't that vague blackness look like a lot of writing on the other side? Then the weirdest thing happened. My body froze. I couldn't reach out and pick up even one piece of paper. Absolutely could not.
I sat like a stone, watching pages spit out. Click, whir; click, whir. My heart rattled into a dull thud. You know how people say when you die, your years flash before you? Trapped in my chair, tense-muscled and sputter-breathing, I saw the past 9 ½ years flash through my head. The hope, the tears, the determination. Days of plotting. Nights of writing until dawn. Watching the mail, trembling at the ring of a phone. The scenes zipped before me in a kaleidoscope of emotion and sheer dogged will—
The fax machine fell silent.
I stared at the pages.
Hey, Brandilyn, relax will you? So some solicitor got a little long winded . . .
I remember managing a prayer. Not a long one. Something desperate like, “Okay, God.”
Pulse scudding, I reached out, gathered up the pages . . . and turned them over.
Read Part 24
Monday, March 28, 2005
Happy Monday. Thank you for returning to my blog after your Easter weekend.
Well. Time to get my head on straight. I’ve been spinning like crazy for a number of weeks. Before Mount Hermon I had about 13 straight days on the hefty rewrite for Web of Lies. I'm talkin' morning til night. You want to be edited good and hard, try getting a double edit from two of the best in the business—Karen Ball and Dave Lambert. Sheesh, those folks make me work! They also make my books so much better. Anyway, then it was off to Mount Hermon, which I love, but which is also a lot of work for staff people. I drove home from Mount Hermon to our California home (about an hour up the road from the conference), then next morning flew out to our Idaho home for Easter. Got back around midnight last night, and here I am in my California office, trying to remember which way is up, and what was I doing?
Oh, yeah. I have about one more day’s worth of heavy work on that Web of Lies rewrite. I tell you, this has been one tough book, from beginning to end. I think it’s the spider thing. The arachnid world is definitely fighting back. Yesterday my husband and I were in the car, and I saw a little black spider traipsing across the ceiling above his head. I pointed to it. Mark smashed it with the palm of his hand. Thing fell on the console—still very much alive and skittering. Toward me, of course. See? They have it in for me. Mark smacked it again, turned over his palm—and nada. The spider just up and disappeared. No doubt still hunting for me.
Mark wiped his palm on my sleeve and laughed.
Don’t you just love teasing husbands?
Okay, back to story. Oh, yes, one thing first. Now that I’m back on my regular schedule, I do plan to post earlier in the mornings as I did before. Promise. At least, I’m very sincere about it at the moment.
So. My Eyes of Elisha manuscript was at my agent’s, awaiting her word as to its readiness for publication. Or not. And Cast a Road Before Me was out on three editors’ desks. This was in the summer of 1999. I’d been on my journey for 9 ½ years. And I’d been on my journey to write Christian fiction for about a year. I now knew without a doubt that I was doing what God wanted me to do. That He’d protected these books all along until my heart was set right with Him. These books had always been His; I just hadn’t known it before. Now that I was diligently working in the Christian publishing world as He wanted me to do, I’d start selling with no problem.
Editor A contacted my agent about Cast A Road. (If you’ve forgotten who Editor A is, check back to last week’s posts.) She liked the writing, but her personal preference was for third person multiple POV, not first person. If I was willing to rewrite the story into third person, she’d love to take another look at it.
I’ll tell ya, I thought about that for all of two minutes. I had very much the same feeling as I had when Big New York Agent (BNYA) had flung open her door to me, but I knew her agency wasn’t the right fit. Here I finally—after 9 ½ years!—had an editor who’d like to publish me—if I made her requested changes, and to her satisfaction. But in my gut, I knew it wasn’t right. Cast a Road Before Me was Jessie’s first person story. After that book came Color the Sidewalk for Me, which was Celia’s personal story. And no way was I rewriting that one.
I told Jane, my agent, to say thank you, but no thanks to Editor A.
No worries. I still had Editors B & C left.
Editor B contacted Jane--with a rejection of Cast a Road. Jane forward me the letter. I read it, went “Huh?” and read it again. Then a third time. Wait a minute. This editor must have put somebody else’s rejection letter in my envelope. This couldn’t be about my book. The editor said that the Christian content wasn’t noticeable. Was it in the book at all? Because the house respected Jane so much, if I would answer some questions to explain what the Christian content was, and what I was trying to accomplish through the story, then maybe there’d be a way to re-look at the book . . .
No Christian content? Were they crazy? Of the three novels I’d written, this had way more content than the others. In fact, I’d worried that I’d been too preachy. This made absolutely no sense. My stomach twisted in a dozen knots. I’d been slapped down—again. I’d written this book as a Christian story; Jane knew it was a strong Christian story—and this house says it’s not Christian enough for them?
God . . . what? Is this your idea of a joke? I’m not laughing . . .
Friends, I can’t tell you how sick I felt. I thought I’d finally gotten it. I’d learned the craft. Then God had changed my heart. I was now writing for Him. I knew this book was ready to publish. I knew this book had a very strong Christian message—in fact, one that the world hates most—that you can’t get to Heaven just by being “good.” That Jesus is the only way to salvation. I’d done everything I knew to do—and I wasn’t being “Christian” enough?
I sank into despondency. This was worse than all the other times. You know why? Because now my writing wasn’t just for myself; it was a calling. This was what God wanted me to do with my life.
Which meant, for the first time, I couldn’t quit.
Read Part 23
Friday, March 25, 2005
It took six weeks to rewrite my suspense novel.
Plot-wise, the story was all there. Interesting to go back and look at it after a few years. There were some things to clean up. I had learned more about writing since I’d last worked on it. By the way, this is a very good thing—looking back at past work and seeing how you’d now write it differently. I’ve heard authors say they despair to look back at their former published books and see errors they wouldn’t make now. I say, hey, don’t despair; be glad! Imagine looking back on work from years ago and not seeing anything you’d do differently. That would mean you’d stopped learning. And in this craft, we can never stop.
Anyway, plot-wise, the story was fine. But I had to give the characters new motivations and therefore new inner conflicts, especially my main character and the Christian detective. Some of the other characters needed conflicts against the thought of Christianity. This is what took the time. Now I’m kinda amazed that it only took six weeks. But I did jump in and work very hard.
I’ve mentioned that turning the two Bradleyville books (Road and Sidewalk) into Christian novels really improved them. Gave these stories a raison d’etre that they lacked before. This happened again with my suspense novel—but ten times more. Because of the twists in that story, when it was a secular story about a psychic, it lacked a character arc. It lacked a “So what and who cares?” once the story was finished. With the Christian element added, the story soared. Everything made sense. The motivations, the conflicts. The protagonist gained a character arc. The book had meaning. Again, I could see God’s hand at work. He’d not only given this story back to me, He’d made it so much better.
Now, I needed a new title. And I wanted a Bible verse to tie to the story, placed right up front in the book. I remembered the story of Elisha in II Kings, chapter 6—in which the enemy king of Aram was trying to kill the Israelite king. Time after time they laid traps for the Israelite king, but every time God told Elisha where they were, so the prophet could tell the king, “Don’t go over there; go this different route.” Until the king of Aram got so mad, he called all his men together and basically said (in BV—Brandilyn’s Version), “Which one of y’all is rattin’ me out every time?” And one of the men, fearing they’d all be killed, said, “Hey, King, it ain’t us. It’s that prophet Elisha over there in the Israelite camp. That guy knows what you do in your bedroom.” No, the bedroom part is not my version—it’s really in the Bible.
Eyes of Elisha. Hm. Eyes of Elisha. It had a nice ring to it. Rhythm and alliteration goin’ on. And it said what the book was about—my main character, Chelsea, would have the eyes of Elisha. This satisfied all my requirements in a title. (Some day, if I ever finish this story, we’ll talk about titles.) In the book, I slipped the phrase "eyes of Elisha" into a conversation. Now it was solidified.
If you’ve been keeping track, you’ll know that Cast a Road Before Me and Color the Sidewalk for Me were already rewritten as Christian novels. Now, this suspense—the first novel I’d ever written—became my third Christian novel.
Well. Hm. Time to do what I loved best—Not. Send off a manuscript to an agent and wait. I’d told Jane I was rewriting this story that she never knew I had, based upon my conversation with Editor A. So off went the manuscript.
We’re now up to the summer of 1999. Recap: One Christian novel (Cast a Road) on three editors’ desks. A second Christian novel (Color the Sidewalk) ready to sell to whatever editor was smart enough to buy Cast a Road, the first in that two-part series. (At that time, there were only those two books in the Bradleyville series. I did not plan to write a third.) And a third, totally different, suspense novel now sitting on my agent’s desk. Resurrected from the dead, it was. Nine and a half years after I’d started writing it.
God, this books are Yours. Have Your will in where they sell, when they sell. Open and close the right doors. I will trust You. I will, even if I get a lot of closed doors. But, um, God? It’s been a long, long time. I’d really appreciate a break soon . . .
By now you know the drill. What did I do?
Read Part 22
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Sorry this post is so late in the morning (Pacific time, that is). I’m a little worn out from Mount Hermon 2005.
Backtrack to Mount Hermon Conference 1999 . . .
Editor A asked, “Do you have any suspense?”
I blinked. Blinked again. My brain did this little rev thing—how am I supposed to answer? Sure, I had a suspense manuscript. All done, in fact. One I’d promised God I wouldn’t try to publish, because it didn’t honor biblical principles.
In that little rev moment, God sent a strong impression to me—say yes. So I did. Then spent some very nervous moments clarifying. Um, it wasn’t really for the Christian market. And, uh, my agent didn’t even know it existed. And I’d promised God not to try selling the thing. But, hey, other than that—no worries.
I can’t remember Editor A’s response. Doesn’t matter. By that time I was too busy listening to God’s voice. (I’ll pick His over anyone else’s any day—even an editor’s.) For the rest of that conference the understanding began to birth within me. Maybe there was a way to rewrite that suspense. Maybe it, too, could be redeemed.
Meanwhile at the conference I met Editors B and C, who also had Cast a Road Before Me. All were good meetings. I was flying pretty high by the time I got home. Daring to think big thoughts like—maybe after 9 ½ years, I’d finally sell a novel. (Is that too much to ask, God?)
So I got home, all wound up. Couldn’t stand to sit around, waiting for responses. It could be weeks. I was praying like crazy over the suspense manuscript. It nagged at me. So one day I went up to my office and opened that drawer . . .
Have you experienced the truth that you can’t out-give God? I have, many times over. One of the greatest of these experiences centered around that suspense manuscript. I loved that story. I still do. I knew it was a complex, page-turning tale. But God had so changed my heart that, even after years of working on it, and then trying to sell it—going through two agents—I’d had no problem laying it aside, because I knew at the time that’s what God wanted me to do. Now I look back and wonder why I didn’t throw the manuscript away. I guess God was just looking out for me. He saw down the road when I didn’t. I didn’t bother to burn the manuscript and throw away all electronic files. I just let them sit and went on to other things.
But in the days following that conference, God began to quickly show me how He wanted that suspense manuscript. How it had been His from the very beginning. That’s why it had never sold—He’d closed all the doors one by one in the secular market. He saw the finished product the very day I wrote the first line. As the Bible verse says, “His works were finished from the foundation of the world.”
At God’s prompting, I began studying visions in the Bible. Began to see the vast difference between the visions of a psychic and visions sent by God. Over and over again, in the Old Testament and the New, God sent His people bits of supernatural knowledge—always for a very specific reason. The Bible makes it clear. There are two and only two sources for supernatural knowledge. Bottom line, if it ain’t from God, it’s from Satan. A human by himself/herself does not possess supernatural power. This is why the Old Testament was so firm in telling the Israelites not to mess with mediums—because Satan lies behind that power. And we know Satan is a liar, even as he might masquerade as light. At the same time, prophets like Samuel and Daniel and Elisha were given supernatural knowledge—for the good of God’s people and kingdom. And in the New Testament, visions continued with Peter, Paul, John and others.
And so, as I studied, I heard God’s prompting to rewrite my suspense story. Tell it from a Christian perspective. Keep all the tension and drama. But weave in teaching about the difference between God’s supernatural knowledge and Satan’s. “Okay, God,” I said, rather shaking in my boots. “I’ll do it. But I’m sure gonna need Your help on this one.”
I sat down at my computer and opened the file.
Read Part 21
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
I saw the comments from yesterday about Mount Hermon. I’m now back home after the conference. It went terrifically, as usual. Liz Curtis Higgs was the keynote speaker. She’s warm, wise and wonderful. If you ever get a chance to hear her—take it. I was on critique staff—that is, one of the people critiquing manuscripts—and I also taught two workshops. One on “Bustin’ the Backstory,” since backstory constantly trips authors up, and the second on “Coloring Character Passions,” dealing with creating multi-level emotions rather than just the stereotypical, surface stuff. “Coloring Passions” was adapated from my book Getting Into Character. “Bustin’ the Backstory” is not really from GIC, but more effective use of backstory is a natural product of following the character motivation techniques found in the “Actions and Objectives” chapter of that book.
You can go to the conference Web site at www.mounthermon.org and find the writers’ conference area to buy CDs of any workshop and Liz’s keynote addresses. CDs are only $7 each, and go down in price if you order something like 5 or more at a time. You might want to browse the topics and teachers, and see if there’s something that interests you.
It is true that each Mount Hermon conference in the past seven years has marked another year of my career in fiction.
When I attended my first in 1999, I was expecting to talk to the three editors who’d asked to see Cast a Road Before Me about that book. I need to back up here and remind y’all of something. Remember how I ended up signing with agent Jane Jordan Browne through my Color the Sidewalk for Me story? Then I wrote Cast a Road Before Me? She’d kept me so busy rewriting those stories that I’d never even told her about my suspense, Eyes of Elisha. (Which wasn’t titled that at the time. I went through enough titles that I now can’t remember what had been the last.) Then when I experienced such a change in my spiritual life and realized I was being called to write Christian fiction, I’d put this story in a drawer, sadly, but convinced that it could never be “redeemed” because it was a story about a psychic. I loved the story. And I felt I’d rewritten it enough to get it in pretty good shape. Plus, it was my first novel, so I’d always have this special love for it. But—when I turned to Christian fiction, that was the end of this suspense. It would never see the light of day. It did not honor biblical principles, never could--so that was that.
Now, a little further background. In Christian fiction over the past 6-7 years, we’ve come a long way, baby. In 1999, suspense was just starting in the Christian market. Publishers and booksellers were kinda scared by the whole idea. What? Christian suspense? We’re gonna have books with violence and blood? Agh! But slowly, interest in the genre had been building, until, that spring of 1999, suspense was the hot new thing. Every editor was looking to acquire it. I say this because I know it now. I didn’t know it then.
So I went to Mount Hermon. All prayed up. God, You’re wonderful and awesome. You’ve brought a purpose to my writing. May Your will be done at this conference, and in the selling of Cast a Road . . .
Okay. Herein begins the part of my (evidently very lengthy) tale that involves individual editors and houses. The road ain’t all downhill, folks. I’m not going to say any editor’s or house’s name unless it’s one I end up selling to. I’m not here to talk up or down any houses. Each has its particular feel for fiction, and its particular target audiences. None is wrong. They’re just different.
And as I would begin to see, I couldn’t write for all of ’em.
So at the conference I sit down with Editor A. She is so gracious and warm. She tells me that Jane said she had to meet me. That I would be the next So & So (famous author’s name withheld) in the Christian scene. I was floored. What a comparison! And I felt very humbled by this editor’s taking the time to encourage me. Then Editor A, who was meeting with me to talk about my women’s fiction, said the most unexpected thing. Totally non sequitur. Out of her mouth popped, “Do you happen to have any suspense?”
Read Part 20
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
So I write 17 parts of my story, finally mention kicking a cabinet—and that gets a rise out of y’all. What is it--the visual? Pain for the woodwork? At any rate, whether I do it literally or not, “kicking cabinets” long ago became my metaphor for those moments of utmost frustration in writing.
Like when my agent told me to rewrite my novel—again.
But, as I said, I was now on a path, so I hunkered down and did the rewrite of Cast A Road Before Me. I altered much of the main character’s internal problem and her arc of change within the story. Wove the spiritual aspect deeply into the plot. As I was writing, I knew I’d gotten it.
Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard this before.
So off went a novel in the mail. Again. (One of the greatest things with e-mail these days is not having to send hard copy manuscripts through the post office. A click of the send button, and it’s gone.)
Finally, back came Jane’s answer. Yes—you got it! Manuscript’s ready to send out to those editors at Christian publishing houses. !!!!!!! Oh, man, oh, man. Maybe now . . . After all, by this point it was 1999. I’d begun my tenth year of writing fiction. To say I was ready for a sale was like saying the ocean was a tad moist.
Jane contacted some houses, giving ’em her “hot new author” spiel. Three agreed to look at the manuscript. Aaahhh!
Please, God, please, God, please God. . .
While I waited, I had to channel my energy somewhere. I flung myself into a rewrite of Color the Sidewalk for Me for the Christian market. Don’t ask me what number of rewrite this was for that story—I’d already lost count. But this one, just like my Christian rewrite of Cast a Road, made such a huge difference. The spiritual aspect gave it deeper motivation, greater conflict, more emotion. The story shone like never before.
Meanwhile, I’d been hearing of this terrific Christian writers conference put on every spring in Mount Hermon, CA—just an hour down the road. Jane encouraged me to go. All three editors who had my Cast a Road manuscript would be attending. I didn’t need to pitch my story to any more editors, but the networking and meeting these folks face to face would be very helpful. Jane made sure to tell the editors I would be there. My assignment was to track the three down and schedule some one-on-one time to meet with each of them. However, I couldn’t expect that any of them had yet read the manuscript since they hadn’t had it for long.
Okay. But I could always hope . . .
So off I went to my first Mount Hermon conference, scared to death, intimidated—and not about to show it. As it turned out, I would come away from the conference with something far different than I’d imagined.
Read Part 19
Monday, March 21, 2005
Happy Monday. I’m continuing to post from Mount Hermon Writers Conference. A couple of my regular blog readers are here—Becky and Rich. This is why they’re not commenting at the moment. They’ll have to go home on Tuesday and read the last 5 days’ worth, so they tell me.
I could play a little trick on ’em. Delete the last 5 blogs. Confuse ’em like crazy . . .
Methinks I shall continue with my tale instead. Good grief, it’s only day 17 now. You’d think by this time in the story I’d be published, published again and on the bestseller list.
I left the story on Friday with me being a changed person. And my writing changed. Now I just had to tell my agent.
So I did. Intimidated as all get out, but determined. It went something like this. (Imagine timid little voice.) “Um, hi, Jane. You know that manuscript for sitting on that editor’s desk? The one I’ve worked so long to sell? It’s uh, kinda, well, I don’t want to sell it anymore.” Insert cough here. “And, while we’re talking about it, you know those producers who were interested in film rights for Color the Sidewalk for Me? See, it’s like this.” Cringe. “I don’t wanna sell that either.”
Duck, cringe some more.
Well. God had gone before me. He’d prepared the way for this particular conversation. Just as He’d prepared the way for my entire 8-year journey so far. Jane said, “Fine. Write what you need to write. Christian fiction? I can sell that, too.”
I took another look at Cast A Road Before Me, thought it was ready. Sent it to Jane.
And then I waited. Again.
I’ll digress here a moment to say that I really believed at this point things would happen quickly. After all, I was now on God’s page. (Pun intended.) I was writing stories with the message of salvation interwoven within. All God had been waiting for was the turning of my heart and attitude.
Well, yeah. He had been waiting for that. But . . . maybe I now faced new hurdles. Like learning a new market. What did I know about writing Christian fiction?
I got the manuscript back. Jane’s bottom line: “Sorry to tell you this manuscript is not yet ready for the Christian market.” Main problem—I had “dusted on” the Christian message rather than really weaving it into the story. “Try again,” said Jane.
Let me get this straight. Eight years now. Heart turned around. And I’m supposed to do another rewrite?
I didn’t quit that day. I was now on a path I had to follow.
But I did kick a cabinet. Hard.
Read Part 18
Friday, March 18, 2005
I was caught.
Caught between a Jesus who loved me and had transformed me, and my fiction writing that I’d worked on for so many years. What was I going to do?
A couple months went by, God started talking—loudly—to me about the sex scenes in my novels. They didn’t follow the biblical pattern for living. Why should I, a Christian, be openly espousing sex before marriage in my stories? Okay, one might argue that I didn’t really espouse it. My characters just engaged in it. That wasn’t the same as saying it was okay, was it?
Yes, it was. I wrote my characters to be as life-like as possible. I wrote them so that readers would empathize with them. So if they’re engaging in certain acts that I, the author, know to be wrong, but the gist of the story says it’s okay—that’s the worldview I’m presenting to my readers. It’s an entirely different thing to show characters engaging in acts that they come to realize are wrong, or at least other characters in the story label them as such. Something in the story has to stand against the wrong behavior. Or it’s allowed to stand as right behavior.
And the suspense story about the psychic. I couldn’t rationalize that one either, for the same reasons.
Meanwhile, I still couldn’t read any fiction but Christian fiction.
Okay, so I have a hard head. It took awhile for me to begin thinking—maybe Christian fiction is what I’m supposed to write. How ’bout it, God? Am I on the right track?
Nope, no lightning bolt from heaven: THOU SHALT WRITE CHRISTIAN FICTION. Just silence. Except for that feeling in my gut . . .
I prayed some more. Asked my husband about it—what do you think? He said some very wise words to me. And so simple. Try it. Take one of your books and rewrite it for the Christian market. See what the experience is like.
So I did. I took Cast a Road Before Me and began rewriting. It didn’t take long—halfway through the book, I knew this was what I was supposed to do. Suddenly writing wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about God. The very experience warmed my new input soul. And amazingly, the story got better! It had a raison d’etre like never before.
My call to write Christian fiction came—strongly—during the six weeks or so of that rewrite. By the time I finished the book, there was absolutely no question in my mind that God had called me to do this. Now I could see God’s leading. Why He’d absolutely closed the door in my mind to Big New York Agent, when she’d flung it wide open. Why He had sent to me Jane Jordan Browne. Jane, an agent who already worked in both the secular and Christian markets. Jane, the agent who’d helped Francine Rivers when she crossed over to write Christian fiction. I even discovered that Francine had undergone something very similar to me—when she had a deep experience with the Lord, she couldn’t write anymore. It took her some time to understand what she must do. Jane hadn’t fought her, hadn’t yelled—what are you doing, trying to bust your career? She had instead just waited Francine out. Jane had been through this process. Now she was my agent. If I’d gone with Big New York Agent or anyone else, Id now have to go through the process all over again of finding an agent willing to work in the Christian market.
Plus—look at all the time-wasting fiascos. The manuscript mix-up in Jane’s office. The lost manuscript at the publisher. The editor who had to take a leave for health reasons. All of these things—just “wasting” time until God could get my heart ready. I saw these events now through God’s eyes and was amazed. And so thankful! I was blessed not to have sold my stories with the content in them that I now didn’t want. What if Id sold Color the Sidewalk for Me months ago? It would be too late. Now I could start my career in the Christian market fresh, with no embarrassments over past books.
For years God had been helping me get ready craft-wise. When that was accomplished, He needed to change my heart.
Well, this all sounded great. Just one thing remained.
I had to tell my agent—and the editors who had my books—that the manuscripts were no longer for sale.
Read Part 17
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Happy Thursday, all. I’m posting from Mt. Hermon, where I needed to report two days early as a person on critique staff. One of the comments suggested I tell you stories from Mount Hermon. I promise to do that as, er, situations arise. The conference doesn’t really start until Friday noon.
For now I’ll return to my story. The night that would change my writing—and my life.
Quick recap. Remember I had been a Christian for years. Raised in a Christian home, and now living in a marriage founded on God. Was active in the church. But I couldn’t seem to have much joy in my Christian walk. And my writing was definitely for me. Bottom line, Jesus was my Savior but not my Lord. I was.
One night I attended a prayer meeting in a couple’s home. I will not go into the details—that would take even more time than I’m already taking. But I’ll tell you the end result. God met me in that meeting. He healed me of some past baggage and poured out His Spirit, filling me up. I literally walked out of that meeting seeing the world through different eyes. And suddenly, I was hungry—no, starved—for input about God. I was like that robot in the movie that would run through the library and read every book just to keep himself getting ye ol’ input.
I craved anything with a Christian message in it. Christian music. Reading the Bible. Praying. I craved a close relationship with God. And I did something I should have done over 8 years before, when I began learning how to write fiction. I gave my writing to God. Can you imagine? Actually asked Him—who’d given me the talent and drive for writing in the first place—what He’d like me to do with it.
What a concept.
So I read the Bible, and read and read. And prayed and prayed. My Christian life was totally revamped, revitalized. I was running on the energy of the Holy Spirit rather than my own. Trust me, the Spirit’s is better.
Except one thing happened. I couldn’t write fiction anymore. In fact, I couldn’t even read fiction.
I can’t tell you how much this threw me. I, who’d lived to read fiction and write fiction. I tried and tried to pick up novels. Couldn’t keep interested in ’em. Not. At. All. This was a definite problem. I’d just begin to get somewhere with the agent and the editor thing. Now I couldn’t write or even read anymore. What was I supposed to do?
I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. And one day I found myself in a Christian bookstore, in front of the fiction section. Now understand, I’d never given Christian fiction a thought. Hadn’t cared a whit about it. The Christian market? So much smaller than the secular market? Which, by the way, I was finally about ready to break into. No, I’d turned my nose up at Christian fiction before.
But now I picked up a novel. Thought maybe I’d try to read it. I did. The whole thing. And it kept my attention—riveted it, in fact. It had two worlds in one—a good story and a Christian message to feed my input soul.
So I read another one. And another. I became acquainted with the writing of this woman named Francine Rivers. Now I’d actually talked to Francine before. She had the same agent as I did. Yup, Francine was with Jane Jordan Browne when she was writing for the secular market. And when Francine became a Christian, Jane successfully took her career over to the Christian market. I loved Francine’s books. Read Redeeming Love and her Mark of the Lion trilogy. Kept feeding my input soul.
But the more Christian fiction I read, the more I couldn’t write. Plus, I had an even bigger problem. I started to look at the novels I’d written. Cast a Road Before Me and Color the Sidewalk for Me had sex scenes of couples outside marriage. Eyes of Elisha was about a psychic. I started studying the Old Testament about psychics. Found out Christians weren’t supposed to go there. At all. And I already knew sex outside marriage didn’t follow biblical principles.
Now I was finally close to selling. An editor was really interested in Sidewalk. Three production companies were looking at it for possible film rights. This after over 8 years of working, working, working for nary a dime. Finally—almost there.
And now . . . I no longer wanted to sell the book.
Read Part 16
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
So my agent and I figured out our miscommunication—and she read my latest rewrite of Color the Sidewalk for Me.
After that things began to happen quickly. Well. For a while.
She loved Sidewalk. It was ready, more than ready. No more changes needed. Jane contacted some publishers, told ’em she had a hot new author they wouldn’t want to miss. (That’s agent-speak for please let me recoup some money after all the time I’ve spent on this newbie.) Numerous folks said they’d look at it. That’s the power of a strong agent. He/she can get the attention of top editors, send ’em a manuscript, and it goes to the top of their piles.
Jane also sent out Ashes to Angels. Except that by now it sported a new name. At the time a very popular book was on the bestseller list—Angela’s Ashes. “Too close to that one,” Jane said. Drat. I lost my great title. So I cast around—haha—and came up with a name that went with Color the Sidewalk for Me. Namely, Cast a Road Before Me. When I chose the title, I found a way to write it into the story. And I went back and worked in all the symbolism for road, just as I’d worked in symbolism for sidewalk in its sister book.
My memory gets a little fuzzy here. Were the two books sent out together or to different editors? Sheesh, I must be gettin’ old. At any rate, they were both out--somewhere. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. How long had it been since Eyes of Elisha had been sent out by an enthusiastic agent? Maybe two years? It had taken me that long just to regain the ground I’d lost. Now I wanted to dance.
Except one thing. The memory of that last fiasco plucked at me. That agent had sent out Eyes of Elisha—and no one had bought it . . .
Well. That wouldn’t happen this time.
I waited. Again.
We received a few rejections. Okay, it happens. Then an editor who was really interested asked for an exclusive on Color the Sidewalk for Me. (When the manuscript is sent to no one else while he/she looks at it.) “Okay,” said Jane, “for a finite amount of time.” Meanwhile three production companies were looking at Sidewalk for possible screen rights. This is always a real long shot, but hey, sounded good to me.
Jane sent the manuscript.. We waited. And waited. This was going on too long. Jane contacted the editor. “What happened, where’s your answer?”
“Whadya mean where’s my answer? Where’s your manuscript?”
Huh? “You mean you never received it?” Jane asked.
No. Editor had not.
Lost in the mail. Oh, for heaven’s sake. More months wasted as a result.
Jane resent the manuscript.
Then the editor, who was very pregnant by this time, had to stop working immediately due to complications. Well, hang on, she said, maybe she could read the manuscript from bed. So we waited some more. Then the baby came early. He was healthy, but little. Suddenly the last thing this woman was thinking about was reading a manuscript. Okay, these were circumstances out of our control. We’d wait no more. Jane left Sidewalk with this editor, but--with permission--also sent it out to others.
Months had passed between these back-to-back fiascos. And, of course, they were added to the months lost due to the miscommunication with Jane. Why was all this happening? Had I not waited long enough? I just couldn’t believe it. If it wasn’t one thing, it was something else. Was this career ever going to get off the ground?
And then came the night that would change my life.
Read Part 15
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
We’re up to somewhere in the first three months of 1998. When I quit writing. Again. There was nothing else I could do to rewrite Color the Sidewalk for Me. I’d done all my agent had asked. Now she wanted it done all over again, saying I’d accomplished nothing the first time around. I knew she was wrong. She obviously thought she was right. We’d never see eye to eye. And so I quit.
A number of months went by. I did not call Jane. What would I say? That she was crazy, and I couldn’t work with her? No way. So I just . . . did nothing.
To Jane’s credit, as busy as she was, one day she called me. What happened, had I fallen off the face of the earth? Where was my rewrite?
I was too nervous to even sit during the call. Taking a deep breath, I pulled her last letter toward me. Oh, yes, it had never gone very far from my desk. I’d kept it there all those weeks—just to torture myself. I started asking her a few timid questions, a tiny hope niggling in my stomach. Maybe we’d manage to work this out, somehow . . .
Jane started talking. Saying all the things she’d said already—what I needed to fix. Stuff I knew I had fixed. My hope drained away. This was not going to work.
Then she said something. Mentioned a certain sequence in the manuscript that she’d wanted me to take out. Huh? I stopped her. "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Are you talking about scene x, y, z?"
Yes, she was.
“But,” I stared at my check-offs on her letter, “I took that scene out. Like you wanted.”
Long pause. “You did?” Shuffling papers. “But here it is, on page so-and-so.”
Like a brick over the head, it hit me. I sank into my office chair. “Jane. That’s the old manuscript. My first rewrite. You read my old manuscript--again.”
And she had. Somehow, in all the piles of paper in her office, the old manuscript hadn’t been tossed out. When she got around to reading my current rewrite, she picked up the old version. My mistake, really—I hadn’t dated the versions.
Let that be a lesson to you writers out there.
No wonder. No wonder . . .everything! That she thought I’d made no changes. That I knew I’d made them all. She wasn't crazy. I wasn't crazy. Oh! Oh, oh, oh. I couldn’t dance around my office. It wasn’t joy I felt, but nauseous relief.
She’d read my old manuscript.
I didn’t have to quit writing anymore.
Back to waiting. Again. Notice how this is the story of a writer’s life? Jane promised to get to Sidewalk right away—the correct version, that is, which she found in her office. She apologized profusely about the whole mix-up. So did I. Sorry, sorry, all around. I didn’t care whose fault it was. All I knew was that I hadn't lost all my sanity after all. This would be it now. I mean, for real this time. My agent would accept my manuscript. She’d love it. She’d send it out to publishers. They’d love it. Buy it. For big bucks. I’d be a PUBLISHED NOVELIST . . .
Read Part 14
Monday, March 14, 2005
I interrupt this “How I Got Here” broadcast for a special announcement.
Here’s the thing. While I’ve become so long-winded in relating my story, meanwhile life goes on, and there’s all sorts of other stuff I should be telling you. So heads up on today’s info. Tomorrow, I promise to return to “How I Got Here” with part 13.
DEAD OF NIGHT, BOOK 3 IN MY HIDDEN FACES SUSPENSE SERIES, RELEASES THIS FRIDAY. It will start hitting stores in the weeks following that date, and should be most anywhere by end of the first week in April. Would you like a free copy of this book?
I'm now putting together the influencers' list for this novel. Influencers receive a book directly from the publisher. In return, we ask that you commit to reviewing the book online (at places such as amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and christianbook.com), and that you tell others about the book. I’m talkin’ shout the news from the rooftops. Of course, I can't expect you to promise to give me rave reviews before reading the story. But I'm gambling that, if you are brave enough to read Dead of Night, you will like it.
Warning: Dead of Night is intense. My protagonist, forensic artist Annie Kingston, is up against a serial killer. If you are interested in being on the influencers' list, please visit my Web site and read the back cover copy and the two-page prologue. (Link to Web site at left.) The prologue puts you immediately in the head of the killer and sets the tone for the book. (The rest of the book is told through the first person point of view of Annie, interspersed with more short chapters in the killer's point of view.) After reading the back cover copy and prologue, if you want to be on the influencers' list, please e-mail me with your street address. There’s a link on my site for contacting me. You’ll have to do this pronto, as we have a limited number of people who can be on the list.
I am very excited about the release of Dead of Night. True, the book is intense. Yet it is this very backdrop of darkness that affords the story its message about the power of prayer over evil. My hope is that through this book, readers will see prayer as they've never seen it before--and be challenged to deepen their own prayer lives.
End of announcement.
By the way, wonderful readers, the comments are now working. Well, at least they were as of Saturday. Please do me a favor and leave a comment just to let me know you’re out there. Sheesh, it got lonely with no feedback.
One more bit of housekeeping. Just want to point out the envelope icon that’s next to the comment link. This is a cool thingy that lets you email the post to someone.
Okay, tomorrow I return to my story. Promise.
Friday, March 11, 2005
We’re up to almost eight years of my journey—approaching the end of 1997. I was waiting on pins and needles to hear from Jane about Color the Sidewalk for Me. In the meantime I couldn’t bear to just sit around. I’d started looking at the chunk of story I’d cut out of Sidewalk. And at a certain supporting character named Jessie. It occurred to me—Jessie had her own story to tell. A story of how she had come to the town of Bradleyville when Celia was just a baby. It would be a prequel to Sidewalk. The details began to form in my mind. A tragedy would befall the town—a strike at the saw mill . . .
I wrote the book in less than three months. The large section I’d taken from Sidewalk moved into Jessie’s story. Original title for this book: From Ashes to Angels.
Finally Jane’s response to the latest version of Sidewalk came through a long faxed letter. Once more I gathered up an agent’s response from my machine, trembling. This had to be good. I knew the manuscript was so much better.
Her bottom line: It needed another rewrite.
I couldn't believe it. Could not! But what to do? I wasn’t about to quit now. I’m come too far. So back to it I went. I pored through Jane’s letter over and over again, point by point. Did every single thing she asked. The rewrite took a couple months. By the time I finished, my eyes crossed at the mere thought of the book.
But—I also knew in my heart that the book was ready. Really ready.
I sent it off. I also sent off From Ashes to Angels. “Here’s a prequel,” I told Jane. “How about that—you now have two books out of me!” “Great,” she said. She’d look at it.
Dear readers, don’t leave me now. Hang with me. Because here’s the point in the journey when things really get crazy. As if they hadn’t been before. Here begins the period of, shall we say, Unfortunate Time-Killing Events. I look back on this period now and see their fortunate side. God’s hand was in it all. In fact, He orchestrated the whole thing, crafty God that He is. Amazing, the things he’ll do. But at the time, of course, I knew nothing of this.
Jane’s reply came. It astounded me. Utterly and completely astounded me. She was kind in her letter but firm. I had in no way done what she’d asked. Try again.
I stared at the words, open-mouthed. They just weren’t true. I knew I’d done all that she’d asked and more. I’d carefully checked off every point. Every point! What was wrong with her? What did she want from me? I’d tried and tried, learned and learned. Every time I really thought I’d gotten somewhere—that I’d honed my craft. What now? There was absolutely nothing left for me to do to this manuscript. Nothing that I hadn’t already dealt with.
Obviously, I could not work with this woman.
This would be my third failed agent in a row. More than eight years had passed. I really, really felt I was at the publishable point. I could look back at my earlier writing and see how bad it was. I’d learned much. Studied, studied, studied, wrote, wrote, wrote, When I wasn’t writing, I was reading and studying some more. I understood story structure and characterization techniques and theory like never before. I’d written three novels, and I finally knew what I was doing!
What. Was. Wrong. With. This. Agent?
I tried. Really. For a week or two I struggled to think what I could do with the manuscript that I hadn’t already done. And, apparently to Jane's thinking, it would have to be a lot. I just didn’t understand it. Once more, the gut feeling I had about my work didn’t match at all what an agent was telling me. Not at all.
Sick, crushed and weary, I did the only thing I possibly could.
Read Part 13
Thursday, March 10, 2005
So sorry for the late post. The Web site for posting wasn't working. Grrrr. Finally, back to story . . .
I signed my contract with Jane Jordan Browne in June 1997. I had an agent again! Yippity yay and kiss the clouds! Of course, it would matter little if I couldn't rewrite the book to her satisfaction.
Details, details.Remember Color the Sidewalk for Me was sitting at 200,000 words. I type those numbers today and laugh. Back then I didn’t know much better. I thought, okay I have to cut it. The agent’s probably talking maybe 10,000 words.
Not. Try 80,000. And even that, she said, would leave me with a 120,000 word book, which was really pushing it. Especially for a first time novelist.
Eighty thousand words. That was 40% of the book!
What to cut? I mean, we obviously were talking about more than just tightening here. I had to take a good, hard look at my saga of Celia’s life. I had her in four life stages--at age 6 for the opening, then a section at age 10, one as a teenager, then at 35. This was a slow process, but I ended up learning something very important. You don't ask what can I cut? Instead, you ask what is my story?
On the surface they may not sound like very different questions. But they are. When you focus on what the nuts and bolts of the story really are, the other stuff begins to stand out as extraneous. This also helps because it's a more positive approach. Less likely to get you down--which happens to us writers all too easily. If you focus instead on what to cut, suddenly it all seems so very important, and the process is negative. Agh, I can't cut that--it's a terrific scene! Well, it may be a terrific scene. But if it's not germane to your story, it ain't that terrific after all. It's only extra weight.
And nobody likes extra weight. 'Specially we female types.
So the real story began to emerge. Sidewalk wasn’t just a tale of a young woman’s emotional rollercoaster life. It was the story of Celia’s emotional estrangement from her mother. When did she realize that her mother didn’t love her? At age six, when she colored the sidewalk. Okay, so that part had to stay. It was the inciting incident of the story (kickoff of the conflict). When did the chasm widen? When Celia was a teenager and falling in love. Okay, so that stayed too. When did all the issues come to a head? When Celia returned at 35 to the town she fled.
Hmm. So what exactly what was the 10-year-old section for?
Don't you know my mind fought this. It would cycle back to the "what should I cut?" kind of thinking in a heartbeat. But all kinds of neat stuff happens in that section! It features the town and the strike at its saw mill, and the bestin’ feud between Celia’s granddad and his best friend from way back. I don't wanna lose that! Well, yes it did have a lot of cool stuff. And some great scenes. But it wasn't absolutely essential to the story of Celia's estrangement with her mother. And so I took out the whole section and set it aside.
Note: don’t ever throw your writing away. I would return to these pages—and sooner than I'd ever have expected.
I was still left with, oh, 155,000 words. Now came another lesson I use to this day—learning how to cut wasted words, sentence by sentence. I was amazed what came off. I even invented a little game that I still use. Cutting every line counted. So if a paragraph dragged over to a half-line at the end, I’d figure out a way to cut that much out somewhere so I could lose a line in the paragraph. I began to see certain tendencies in my writing. I found I used introspection too much (easy to do in a first person story). I found that I told the reader too much. I learned how to give the reader more credit. They don’t need to be beat over the head with telling. If I show emotions properly, the need for telling goes away. I went back to my acting days, adapting Method Acting techniques even more in characterization than I had before.
In short, I wrote my heart out for the next three months. I learned as much during that cutting process as I’d learned in perhaps the last two years of writing put together. In the end, I had 120,000 words. And I was exhausted.
Okay, here I went again—sending Color the Sidewalk for Me off to an agent. I mailed the manuscript with my heart in my throat. Last time I’d tried this, my agent had dumped me on the spot. This time Jane could do the same thing. Sure, she’d liked the original—but only because she saw its potential.
What if I hadn’t fulfilled that potential?
Read Part 12
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Man, look at that heading. We’ve hit double digits. I’m getting longer winded than my Aunt Martha.
If I had an Aunt Martha.
Question from yesterday—yes, I will blog from the conference. Monday through Friday, you can count on me. The posts may be a little later than usual, but hey, no worries. Meanwhile for the next week I remain in ye ol’ office.
So I careened into sleep in a Chicago hotel.
Next morning I headed downtown, emotions on hold. I would meet this agent, see what she had to say. If we didn’t connect . . . well, I’d survive. So I’d have to start the agent-hunting thing all over again. So it had taken eight months.
I couldn’t think about that. I didn’t have the energy.
This woman’s agency was in an old building, up some rickety elevator. I’m talkin’ the ancient kind where you fold back the metal collapsing door. Not exactly snazzy Madison digs like BNYA’s. But a whole lot quieter. I stepped into the nothing fancy office. Whoa. Chaos. Manuscripts everywhere. Stacks of ’em. Numerous assistants scurrying around, looking harried. What had I gotten myself into?
Out came Chicago Agent.
CA had to be near her seventies. Not too tall. She wore no classy business suit like the smooth BNYA. Just a regular dress, her hair somewhat frazzled. She introduced me to everyone, then took me into her private area. More chaos. Worse, even. We sat down among the piles—and got right to business.
Let me tell you something right now about CA. She intimidated me like you wouldn’t believe. The woman was intense. And talk about straightforward. CA would tell you your baby was ugly. But she was also terrific. She told me what was right with my manuscript. What was wrong with it. (“Well, for one thing, it’s much too long.”) Everything she said struck me as insightful, right-on. This woman understood Color the Sidewalk for Me, title, theme and all.
Uh. One note here. I didn’t ask CA exactly what “much too long” meant.
I can’t remember how long we talked. I only know that this woman, with her determined movements and lack of pretense—and did I mention straightforwardness?—made a deep impression on me. She knew what she was talking about. Plus, she obviously had plenty clients and didn't need me a whit. But she was gonna make room. She saw something in me--a real potential. In me. Wow. And she was willing to guide me through the rewriting process.
“Um. So.” By the end of our interview I was nearly stammering. “Do you think you can sell my book?”
She hitched her shoulders up high. “If you fix it.”
I said I’d give it my best. And we had a deal--Jane Jordan Browne and I.
When I arrived home, I called BNYA to tell her many thanks, but I’d accepted representation at another agency. She sounded shocked.
As for me—pure elation. I had an agent again! Well, pretty much . . . sorta . . . almost had her. I just had to fix the manuscript. I’d been writing fiction for 7 ½ years now. I could do whatever she wanted—shouldn’t be that hard.
Read Part 11
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
I must tell you all, I am approaching brain-deadedness. (Ooh, did Word underline that one in red.) My editors really cracked the whip this time, and I’m on a hard rewrite for my spider book. Have to get it done this week ’cause next week I’m on staff at Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference. Sheesh. Compared to the rewrite, this story-of-my-life stuff is a breeze. Methinks in Heaven I shall write nothing but blogs.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .
Rather, the noisy office of BNYA (Big New York Agent).
So we sat down to talk after my all-night flight. Thinking straight proved a little tricky. First BNYA talked about planning my career. For example, this book would be a mass market paperback. I’d need to stick with writing MMPs for oh, at least five to six books. In time maybe I could move to hardback. I wasn’t too thrilled with this. Guess I’d had my sights set a little higher. But hey, who was I to complain?
Then came the subject of my book title. It was too long. BNYA and her assistant had been “playing with it” but couldn’t come up with anything else yet.
My eyes bugged. “You mean you want to change my title?”
She shrugged. “It happens a lot in this business.”
“I know, but this title—it is the story. The very heart and soul of it.” My passion for the book poured out—Celia’s struggle with her mom, the “sidewalk” symbolism throughout the story. Maybe it was lack of sleep, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop. After all, I’d worked on this book for months now. I’d rewritten it and rewritten it. Been up and down, through hill and valley with it. Now maybe the story was going to break loose, and she wanted to change the title? Couldn’t she see that there was no other title? That the title reflected everything the book stood for?
BNYA let me gush on. (After all, my writing had made her cry.) By the time I played myself out, I thought I had her. I mean, really. The way she listened so attentively, head tilted. Finally my words trailed away.
BNYA frowned out the window, a finger against her lips. Then drew a long breath. “Well. I’ll have to think about it.”
She’d have to think about it?
My mouth smiled. My voice said, “Okay, thank you.” But a boulder sank in my stomach. She didn’t get the book. She read it, even loved it. But she didn’t get it.
We ended the interview with my expressed gratitude for her time and a promise I’d call her soon. She knew I was meeting with another agent. In the cab back to the airport, I could have cried.
I tried to tell myself I was being stupid. Too picky. Who cared if she got the story? She wanted to represent me, wasn’t that enough? But I imagined placing the book in her hands, following her leads for editing. If we couldn’t even agree on the basic theme of the story, would I agree with her edits? And what about those (mass market paperback) titles down the road? As my agent this woman would steer my career. Did I want to place myself in her hands? She and I hadn’t connected at all.
Face it, Brandilyn. Your gut’s screaming at you right now. It says this isn’t the agent for you.
Shut up, gut. After seven years, beggars can’t be choosers.
You’re not a beggar. You can write. Even if BNYA doesn’t catch your theme.
Looking back, I am amazed at how strongly I felt our lack of connection. I would not understand until much later why that happened. At the time I could only feel misery. It would have been no worse if the agent had shut the door in my face. Now it felt shut anyway. By me.
I called my husband, bone tired and sick to the core. I’d come all this way. I just couldn’t understand myself. But the feeling would not leave. BNYA was not the agent for me.
Like the walking dead, I caught a plane to Chicago. Cabbed it to a hotel and fell into bed. One more agent had bitten the dust. One final chance left tomorrow.
Please, God, let this next one be it.
Read Part 10
Monday, March 07, 2005
Happy Monday morning. Again, thanks to those of you who posted comments/questions. Some are giving me ideas for future topics. These are good. Remind me when this current topic is over, okay? So very many things to talk about. While I’m telling this story, meanwhile things are happening currently that I’m not covering either. Such as—Friday one of my characters e-mailed me. Always quite disconcerting when this happens. I’ve had it happen three times, once even from beyond the grave. I’ll tell y’all about it sometime.
One question I must clear up first. At this point in my journey, I was not targeting the Christian market. I was dealing only with agents in the general market, trying to sell to general publishers. I was a Christian, but my books were not. Eyes of Elisha at that time was about a psychic. Color the Sidewalk for Me had sex scenes in it. And my writing was still all about me, no prayer involved. I had a great deal to learn. God was just waiting to teach me. And when He did, and I would look back on the years of my journey, suddenly everything that had happened, even all the closed doors and heartache, would fall into place as a part of His plan. The tapestry would turn from its ugly, bulging underside to the intricate beauty of its woven pattern.
But I am again pushing ahead of my tale.
So back to story. Which seems to be going on forever. Sheesh, avoid authors who talk too much about themselves.
I was shaking in a chair, phone pressed to my ear, praying that I’d hear good words from Big New York Agent. By this time it was spring of 1997. I was in my seventh year of writing fiction.
“I loved your book!” she told me. “Absolutely loved it.”
Oh, man. I was not sitting in this chair; I’d died and gone to heaven.
“I actually bawled at the end. Don’t know if it was just hormones or what . . .”
No, not hormones, the book, the book.
She was interested in representing me. Could we talk about? Oh, yeah, we could talk, all right. Maybe I could even come see her first. We’d work it out.
In quick succession I heard from a second agent, this one in Chicago. She, too, had read the entire manuscript and was interesting in representing me. Oh, wow! I was like that dog on those old commercials, the one who’d eat a biscuit, then float in the air. Life was good, life was sweet. I was getting somewhere.
My wonderful husband helped me work things out for a quick trip to New York. And I do mean quick. It wasn’t easy for me to leave the home and our two kids, since Mark had to travel so much in his work. So I booked a red eye. I’d travel all night, arrive in New York about 6:30 a.m. My meeting at the agent’s Madison Avenue office was at 9:00. After that it was back to the airport for a flight to Chicago. There I’d crash in a hotel, get up early the next morning, meet with agent #2, and fly home. Sheesh.
So off I went. Full of hope and heart soaring. Have to say it sank somewhat on the plane. I don’t sleep on those things, so the night was awful. I arrived in New York feeling like a truck had run over my chest. Adrenaline, hope, terror, and lack of sleep do not a good combination make.
I ate some breakfast, tried to fix my sagging face in an airport bathroom. Hailed a cab for Madison Avenue. Walked into that nicely appointed office with heart pulsing in my throat, trying to appear poised. And my head! Man, that office was loud. Cars honked constantly outside. New York drivers. How did this woman work in such racket?
We sat down for our talk. No big thing—only the discussion that could finally start my career. Everything was going to be rosy.
And then she opened her mouth.
Read Part 9
Friday, March 04, 2005
Once again, thanks to you who commented. Ya make my day. Becky and Kelly, e-mail me and I’ll answer your questions privately. (You can e-mail me from my Web site if you don’t have my address.)
Okay, so it’s 1996. I’m rewriting Color the Sidewalk for Me. And I don’t have an agent.
I knew I needed an agent. To me, that’s always been the only way to go. If you want to get your manuscripts before the big houses, you need representation. Thing is, my last one had surely put me in my place. Who’s to say I knew what I was doing with this rewrite? But I had to try.
Meanwhile, I loved the writing. How could I have ever left it? I worked on the story whenever I could, sometimes all night. In fact, all night was my favorite time to work. No interruptions. No kids, no phones. Just me and the computer. Seems I’d just sit down, and the sun would come up. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And deep inside me, that feeling came back. The feeling that I was good at this. Yes, I still had much to learn. But I knew I was writing a story that mattered. It occurred to me that my former agent, who’d never really represented fiction before, may not have known enough about it.
Oh, please, God, am I just deluding myself again?
Within a few months, I finished the rewrite of Sidewalk. It was much better, but still almost 200,000 words. Oh, well, if it’s a great book, they won’t care how long it is, right?
I bought the latest version of Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents. Herman’s agent section contains a lot of information on what they’re looking for. I scoured over each agent’s guidelines, creating an A, B and C list. My A list contained around 30 names. I sent out simultaneous query letters. All my marketing writing through Vantage Point now came in handy. Writing an intriguing one-page query letter didn’t come hard to me. I included a short passage from the book that I thought well represented my style of writing.
Amazingly, I received almost 50% positive responses—send the manuscript, or a portion thereof. Now, I’d been through this process before, when I found my last agent. I knew there were plenty of hoops left to jump through after receiving a positive response. Still, 50% was phenomenal! I danced around my office, hope growing with every new good response.
Okay. Not all were good. One editor circled the bottom of my letter, where I’d said the manuscript was 200,000 words, and wrote: You’ve got to be kidding. Another circled my quoted passage and said it sounded too literary for her. But others circled it and exclaimed, “Beautiful writing!” Sheesh. See the subjectivity here? No wonder the business drives us poor authors crazy.
Some agents asked for an exclusive look at the manuscript. I put them at the bottom of the pile, thinking I’d send to them if everyone else fell away. Eventually from an initial 15 or so, the number of seriously interested agents fell to 6. Mind you, this took months of waiting. Every day I’d run to the mailbox, heart in my throat. Every morning I got up wondering if I’d soar that day, or if some negative answer would ground my writer’s spirit in the dust again. What if all the agents ended up saying no? I couldn’t imagine starting the process all over with my B list.
A couple more months passed. One day a Madison Avenue, New York agent who’d read the entire manuscript called. When she identified herself, I sank into a chair, shaking. Hoping I wouldn’t sound like a complete idiot.
And praying she’d have something good to tell me.
Read Part 8
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Thank you for all the comments yesterday. I appreciate them immensely.
Okay, back to story.
So in 1996 I quit writing.
I want to pause a minute here in my tale to make a few points. First, you readers out there, are you beginning to get the picture of just how hard it is to learn fiction and get published? And believe me, you ain’t even heard the whole story yet.
And you novelists—have you noticed two issues so far in my story? Two very important issues? Smaller one first: I was going it alone.
I don’t mean not having the support of my husband and parents and family. I did have that. But at that point I wasn’t yet on e-mail. The Internet wasn’t what it is today. I didn’t belong to a writers’ group or a supportive writers’ loop such as American Christian Fiction Writers. In short, I lacked the network that has become so important to me today. Nowadays there’s so much support out there for a writer. Take advantage of it! And if you happen to be writing fiction for the Christian market, you need to join ACFW. Pull a Nike and just do it. (Web site link over at the left.)
Second major issue, far, far more important: I was a Christian, but I wasn’t praying about my writing.
I’d been raised in a strong Christian home. My parents (Ruth and J.T. Seamands) were missionaries in India for twenty years. My father preached all over the world. Both my parents were Christian writers. My uncle, David Seamands, is still well known for his nonfiction books, including Healing for Damaged Emotions. Now that I was married, my husband and I had founded our partnership on Christ. As a result, we had (and still have) a strong, loving marriage. I was active in my church. Jesus was my Savior. But He was not my Lord. I was. And my writing was for me.
I never stopped to think about where my talent for writing came from in the first place. Never stopped to think that the God who’d placed it within me just might have some purpose for having done so. I was too busy thinking about my own purpose--becoming successful and famous.
By the way, do you have a talent you haven’t turned fully, completely over to God? My friend, you are making a big mistake.
I could easily start preaching here. Instead I'll return to my story.
For, I don’t know, maybe six months, I didn’t write. I was raising two children, with my husband often gone on business. I was still doing some work for my Vantage Point clients. I sang soprano in the church choir and often did solos. I stayed plenty busy. But there was an empty place within me. That empty place was the need to write fiction.
Eyes of Elisha stayed in the drawer. It had gone through just about every major publisher anyway, so who’d ever want to buy it? But Color the Sidewalk for Me-- just maybe . . .
One day I pulled that taped-up letter from my ex agent out of the file. With fresh eyes, I could see that some of the things she said were right. I was also now emotionally distanced enough to discern that she wasn’t right in all points. That, in fact, Sidewalk had a lot of good in it and was certainly redeemable. It just needed a whole lotta work. Remember, for one thing it was still 200,000 words. That’s two books, not one. Sigh.
One day I plunked myself down at the computer and embarked on the journey of learning how to do major cuts. Surely when this process was done, Sidewalk would sell.
But wait a minute—I had another problem.
I didn’t even have an agent anymore.
Read Part 7
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
For over six years I’d been learning how to write fiction. And, doggone it all, before that I’d been making very good money at my Vantage Point marketing business. I’d given up almost all my clients to work full-time on becoming a novelist, making not one dime. All the financial support of our family had fallen to my wonderful husband. If he hadn’t made the excellent salary that he did, I never would have been able to work so hard—for zilch.
Now I waited to hear from my agent about Color the Sidewalk for Me. Meantime I dreamed about how much she’d love it. About being published. Becoming a real novelist. I even had marketing ideas for the novel already. Man, I was gonna make such a splash in the literary world. I’d be famous. Readers would love me.
The fax from my agent finally arrived. I watched the pages spit out of the machine, my heart hammering. Picked them up with trembling fingers. I can still remember the sound of my own breathing as I read the first paragraph. “I read your manuscript—every word,” the agent wrote. Every word. As if it had been a chore.
She hated the book. It lacked character motivation, was poorly written, and was way too long. “Why did you do this and why did you do that?” she demanded. None of it worked for her. In fact, this was such an awful book, it wasn’t even redeemable. And further, since I’d written such an unredeemable book, and since she’d worked so hard to sell Eyes of Elisha (which she really liked) but couldn’t, it had become obvious to her that I was not a client she could keep. End of conversation. Adios, fare thee well, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
I stood in my office, staring in shock at the blurring pages. Then I ripped them up into tiny pieces and threw them in the trash. My husband tried hard, but was unable to console me. The dream of my lifetime had been ripped away. With two pages. That’s all it had taken. Two lousy pages spit out of a fax machine—and seven years of work slipped down the drain.
I walked away from writing that day. Obviously, I did not have it in me. Obviously, something was very, very wrong with my thinking. Because you see, the whole time I wrote, I knew deep inside that I was good at it. I knew I had much, much, much to learn. But I felt a raw talent there. It just needed honing. I knew I could connect with characters, make ’em live on the page. Knew I had a facility with the language—
Well, I thought I knew. Evidently I was wrong. With such skewed thinking, what did I have left to do but quit? My characters lived on, in my heart, my mind. But no one else would ever read about them.
The next day I glared at the trash can. I’d quit writing. That was final. But those ripped pieces of feedback about my novel plucked at me. I fished them out. Painstakingly taped them together. Read the hated words again. Good, Brandilyn, just keep tormenting yourself. Rub it in. Rip out your soul one more time.
For some ridiculous reason, I saved those taped-up pages. Stuffed them in a file where I wouldn't have to look at them.
Then I went on with my life. I had a great husband and two kids. I had plenty to do. So what if I never wrote fiction again?
Read Part 6
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Question from yesterday—Yes, Serena got her new trial. The whole thing was quite fascinating, even as the reason for it all was tragic. A Question of Innocence is now out of print, but you can buy used copies at online stores, if you’re interested.
When I was five years old, my best friend found herself with a new baby brother. One sunny afternoon her dad drove to the hospital to bring her mom and new brother home. My friend and I wanted to give them a special present. We hit on a brilliant idea—well, brilliant to a five- and six-year-old. We took chalk and colored their entire sidewalk from street to porch. I mean the whole doggone thing. We worked until our fingers cramped and our little backs ached. Oh, my, we were so proud of that sidewalk!
I can’t remember how my friend’s mother reacted to the sidewalk. But her father’s reaction wasn’t at all what I’d anticipated. He must have been tired, worried over his wife and new son. And he must have seen that sidewalk as nothing but a huge mess. Mind you, this was over 40 years ago, long before the days of sidewalk chalk that washes off with a simple rain. These chalk pictures would remain there for months. I still remember his words to my friend’s mom: “Well, I guess we won’t spank them because they were trying to give you a present.”
I was absolutely crushed. I stared at the sidewalk, unable to imagine how anyone could look at that beautiful sight as a mess. And we’d worked so hard on it!
Incidents like this, readers, are how books are born in the mind of an author. It would take me thirty-five years to pull this scene out of the recesses of my brain and put in on paper. And the rest of the book would be entirely fictional. In fact, the parent who reacted so negatively would be the mother. And her six-year-old daughter would wonder why her mother could not love her. Then that little girl would grow up, and the rift between mother and daughter would widen—until it threatened to destroy them both . . .
To this day, Color the Sidewalk For Me remains my favorite among the novels I’ve written. I love its depth. I love its characters. Certain scenes in it can still make me cry. This is the book that’s brought many women—and men—to tears. It’s amazing to me the variety of people it has touched.
I poured myself into writing this book. Got lost in the characters. I’d stay up all night, writing. Remember that at this point, I’d written Eyes of Elisha, and had sold A Question of Innocence, but that’s it. I had yet to sell a novel. I was on my second agent (more on this in a minute), and had been rejected by just about every publishing house in the U.S., it seemed. And I'd been working on learning fiction for six years already. As I'd done with Eyes of Elisha, I wrote and wrote, and studied and studied. I read other women’s fiction novels to learn about characterization and dialogue, and on and on. I finished Sidewalk—that is, written, edited, totally done—at 5:00 one morning., then stood in the shower and bawled. I had absolutely lived and breathed my characters and their problems. All their emotions poured out of me, now that the book was over. Yeah, I know. We novelists are crazy.
The book was 200,000 words. I didn’t know enough yet to realize that was not a good thing.
By this time I’d broken with my first agent—the one who’d sold A Question of Innocence. That agency had been a partnership that became reduced to one person who couldn’t possibly keep up. I pulled Eyes of Elisha away set out to find new representation. It took months. Even though I’d sold one book, it hardly mattered. It was a nonfiction—a true crime—and agents already seemed to want to peg me as a true crime author. “Hey, you wrote one successfully, why change now?” Finally I landed a new agent. She was more of a nonfiction agent but trying to get into fiction. She said I needed to change certain things about Eyes of Elisha. So I did. One more rewrite. Then she set out to sell the thing. Again-rejection after rejection.
I should note here that Eyes of Elisha was not this suspense’s title at the time. In fact it went through numerous titles before receiving its final one when I joined the Christian market some years later. But that’s getting way ahead of my tale.
So now I had agent #2, who’d had no luck selling my suspense novel, but who said she’d look at my new novel that I was so excited about. “Yes,” she said, “send Color the Sidewalk for Me.”
I did. And waited on pins and needles. I'd now worked for almost seven years. I so wanted to be published in fiction. Surely, this was it. This was the novel of my heart. This was the novel whose characters still talked in my head, whose agonies could still make my own heart clutch. I just knew my agent would love it.
One morning I received the long-waited fax . . .
Read Part 5