Saturday, May 26, 2018

Perfect Moment Music

It's raining. Sully's watching a show in my bedroom; Scarlett's asleep. I'm listening to quiet music and drinking coffee. I'm writing (obviously). Behold, Internet, here it is: the perfect moment.

I have learned something since becoming a mom, and that is that you can't expect perfect moments like this to go on for even a second after you become aware of them. The very realization that you are in such a moment might be all you get. So you just need to get it in you as fast as you can, like taking a deep breath with your brain.

Even as I finished writing that sentence, the rain stopped and Scarlett woke up and I drank the last drop of coffee, all at once. But look at this: proof in writing that that perfect moment existed.

Just for kicks, here's the playlist I'm listening to right now. Very good perfect moment music.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Comprehensive Breakdown of All the Imaginary People Who are Living or Who Have Lived or Been in My House

Sullivan has a lot of imaginary friends; I have a hard time keeping them all straight but he doesn't. I have decided to make a list for future reference for myself and for current reference for you, in case you care.

I am consulting with Sully as I write this.

(He just told me that he actually wants me to refer to him as Sullivan in this post going forward, as he likes names that end in N better than names that end in EEE. So. Okay.)

So, you've heard about Jemano, the carrot cutter. Except he quit his job as a carrot cutter and got a different job as a cheese grater. Then, he quit his job as a cheese grater and got a different job as a baseball player. He plays right field for the New York Yankees and his best friend is Aaron Judge.

Then there are Myles and Charlie, who were in Sullivan's band. They were hit by a car last month ("both of them at the same time, Mom"), and are now, in Sullivan's own words, "sleeping in the hospital forever." That's sad, but at least I know he knows the importance of checking both ways before crossing the street.

Next, we have Stadefani, Stef, and Stephanie. They all work at a coffee shop together. Stef is a man. The coffee shop's name is Coworker. Stephanie is the most recent hire; before she worked at Coworker, she didn't work anywhere because she "didn't have the tools." Then she got the tools.

Mario and Raligi are some of Sullivan's oldest friends; they've been around for over a year. They were in his band too, and they lived with us for a while, but when Scarlett came they moved down the street. They bought a baby from Baby Centre (who, I am told, gets its babies in bulk from Costco), but the baby grew up literally overnight and they sent it to live with their friend, Mark, next door. Then they moved to Chicago, where they tried a variety of interesting jobs such as door-making, flower-smelling, and taxi-driving, before moving back to Regina, much to Sullivan's great delight. Now they work at the chocolate hospital, as doctors. Raligi recently offered a position to Sullivan there, and his job is to keep the children in their rooms. Sometimes I'll ask Sully to do something for me (clean his room, pick something up, whatever), and he'll pull his imaginary phone out of his pocket and check it and roll his eyes and say, "Sorry, can't, Mom. Raligi needs me at the chocolate hospital. The children are getting out of their rooms."

Lastly, we have Mr. Mark and Mr. Bulb. Mr. Mark is kind, but Mr. Bulb will burn your eyes out. Don't look at Mr. Bulb.

Sullivan has wandered off, so this blog post is over for now. I think we covered everyone though. I'll be sure to keep you updated on our growing household.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Office

When we moved into this house, it was so we'd have a place to put a baby. Our old place was 480 square feet; all the living room furniture touched. We had to put our bed in the basement. There was no room anywhere for a crib unless we wanted to put it on the couch, which I think would've been unsafe and impractical.

This house is almost exactly twice the size of that one. Barclay and I took the master bedroom, put a crib in the second bedroom down the hall for Sullivan, and made the third an office.

It was a great office, with a big window looking into the backyard and a bookcase and a desk that Barclay made for me based on a picture I had in my head that he managed to transfer to a sheet of graph paper without losing any of the details. I used to sit in that office and work on my book with the window open, listening to Barclay playing baseball with Sully just outside the window. I used to sit in that office and write hopeful query letters, while Sullivan sat at the desk beside me and coloured pictures. I used to sit in that office working on edits while Barclay sat beside me working on music.

Last summer, though, we moved the desk into the basement. My office has been relegated to a corner of the living room.

We put the crib back up. The office is now a nursery; we'd wondered if it might be someday, though I know we never thought it would happen quite this way.

I've been mulling this blog post over for a while. Words have never been so tricky for me. I want to write it in such a way that makes sense but is still purposefully vague so as to protect the privacy of all the right people. Some would say that's a good reason not to broach the subject online at all, but the fact is: there is another person living in our house now, and we love her a lot, and it would be (has been) hard to pretend she's not here, even if it's just on social media. And if I just started mentioning her with no explanation, that would be weird too. She should be introduced, I think.

Her name is Scarlett. Her parents chose that name, and I love it.

She came to live with us last summer; she was about seven months old at the time. Sully and I travelled to get her, just the two of us (it all happened rather quickly; Barclay wasn't able to get time off to come along). I have a lot of memories of that trip, but the most vivid is pulling over to the side of the road, just five miles away from where we picked Scarlett up, to check that her car seat was buckled right and that she was comfortable and that she wasn't scared. I remember getting out of the car and opening the door and seeing the two car seats there instead of just Sully's and feeling just as shocked as if there was a whole football team crammed in there staring back at me. I had so many moments like that in the days and weeks that followed.

It was a bizarre summer.

(That said, I'm not going to elaborate further on that part of Scarlett's story; it's not my story to tell, especially not before she knows it herself.)

So we've been getting to know this girl, this Scarlett.

She's such a wonderful little person. So quick to laugh, so friendly, so active. Stubborn, strong, outgoing. Hilarious.

Sullivan is head over heels for her and she loves him right back. She is his opposite in every possible way, and I've already seen them balance each other out in a lot of areas. He has taught her to dance and drum and air-guitar and build blanket castles. They give each other a lot of hugs. She mimics his every move. He has introduced her to all his favourite bands. When he cries, she runs to him and kisses his cheek. They make each other laugh so hard that she shrieks and he runs out of breath. He had to get used to her following him around and wanting to do everything that he did, but now he gets mildly offended when she doesn't. And sometimes, of course, they fight. This morning, for example, if you'd walked past our house, you would've heard Scarlett laughing hysterically and Sully screaming, "MO-OMMMMM!!! SHE'S TRYING TO DESTROYYYY MEEEEE!!!" (She pulls his hair sometimes, and she thinks it's funny, and he doesn't.)

Every morning, she comes running into our bedroom with a big grin on her face, laughing and reaching for a hug. She greets Barclay the same way when he comes home from work at the end of the day. She likes to hold my hand in her sleep, and often calls me into her room for that reason in the middle of the night.

We don't know what the future holds for us, for Scarlett. But my parents did foster care for most of my growing up years, and the thing I learned from watching them do that was that sometimes, your job is just to love someone as much as you can for as long as you can. And, I mean, no matter what happens from here, I can already confidently say Barclay, Sully and I will just keep on loving her forever.

So that's where we're at right now. In case you were wondering about the office.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

All About Querying! Get Excited!

Disclaimer: Quite a few people have been reaching out and asking questions about how a person goes about getting an agent—either out of straight-up curiosity or because they wrote a book and would like to see it published traditionally someday. So if you're one of those, read on, and if you find all this shop talk boring or annoying, skip it! I promise I will not only talk about Publishing World from now on (but perhaps with a little more frequency).

Ever since I began querying my novel, about 2.5 years ago, I have been completely obsessed with other writers' query trench stories. I think most of this fascination has to do with solidarity, needing to hear over and over again that it's hard for pretty much everybody, that it wasn't just hard for me because I'm a bad writer. But a thing I learned in the process of querying is that you can be a fine writer and a really terrible querier at the same time—and, truth be told, I was a really terrible querier.

For the uninitiated—because I didn't know what querying was two seconds before I started doing it myself—querying is the process of sending letters to literary agents to introduce them to your book and ask them to attempt to sell it to publishing houses (you can't approach most traditional houses with your own manuscript; they will laugh and laugh and laugh and throw it out the window). You have to have a representative. 

(Note: Lots of smaller houses will allow unsolicited/unagented submissions, just FYI, and self-publishing is obviously also an agent-free option, so if this querying/agent thing sounds like a headache, totally look into those! They're valid!)

So you research literary agents, you find one who is reputable and looks legit and represents your genre (two websites I used for this were Manuscript Wishlist and  Quick Brown Fox), and then you write a super concise letter that says who you are and what your book is about. You attach, maybe, the first ten pages or the first three chapters of your manuscript (most agents post submission guidelines on their websites—FOLLOW THEM TO THE LETTER OR DIE). And then you wait.

And wait.
And wait.

Some agents never write back. Some send a very polite form rejection within six weeks. Some send a really sweet personalized rejection within six weeks. And some—and this is what you hope for—send a manuscript request.

If that happens, you pull an all-nighter, agonizing over every single comma—is it good enough? HOW DO I DO THIS AGAIN I DON'T KNOW WHAT LETTERS ARE send the rest of your book. Of course, of course. And then you wait.

And wait.
And wait.

Some agents, again, never write back. Some send a very polite form rejection. Some send a very sweet personalized rejection—and sometimes even a request to see future work. And some—and this is what you long for with all of your heart—ask if they can call you on the phone.

Because writers are known for their creativity and particular way with words, we call this part of the process The Call. 

The Call is a two-way interview. Both parties are asking questions—both want to know if the other is someone they can work with, what their expectations are, what they're willing to bring to the table—after all, neither party makes money without the other (people have asked me how much money it costs to have an agent. The answer is: Nothing. If an agent ever asks you to pay them anything up front, run away! The agent gets a percentage of what you make on your book; all the [hours and hours of] work they do for you prior to the book deal is done in faith that it will pay off down the line. Kind of incredible, hey?). 

There are countless lists all over the internet of the things a writer is supposed to ask a potential agent on The Call. It's a big, big deal. And at the end of it, if everybody's happy, the agent might possibly offer representation. 

That's it, in a nutshell. 

If you've done the math, you already know that from the time I started querying my novel to the time I got The Call was 1.5 years. In that time, I sent out 28 query letters. 

28 Agents at 25 agencies. 

People will tell you this is normal, and I've heard of many writers who have queried for a lot longer—a "rule" I've seen a few places now is don't give up on a project until you've sent 80 query letters. I just read an article written by a woman who sent out 400 queries before finding an agent. I read yet another article written by a woman who's been trying to get published for something like 25 years, and heard a podcast the other day about an author who took almost a decade to get her book deal (like I said, I'm obsessed with these stories). 

And, I mean, man alive, all the stars that have to align in order for you to send an agent exactly what they're looking for at a time they feel there's a market for it and are even in the right frame of mind to fall in love with your exact project (you know how sometimes you just don't feel a book and then you try and read it a few months later and are like "WHAT WAS I THINKING THIS IS AMAZING"?).

But even so, I feel like the process could've been less painful if I'd known going into it what I know now—as with, like, every other thing in life. 

I remember finishing my manuscript, being like, "Yep, ready!" and sending out 12 terrible query letters rapid fire. In turn, I received 12 rejection letters. Fair trade.

12 is not 80, but still. I quit querying for a while. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to write a better query letter and sharpening up my manuscript. And I tried again. This time, I sent out ten letters altogether. And this time, I received nine rejections and one manuscript request...which did not result in an offer of representation but definitely buoyed my spirits. I took it as an indication that I was moving in the right direction. 

I took a step back again. More learning, more tightening. 

The next time I queried, I sent out only six letters, and it was just under one month from the time I began that round of querying to my very own The Call. 

When it's written out like that, it doesn't seem all that bad. It felt like a long time, at the time, but now I just count those months as education. They were valuable. 

And for those who are now about to embark on that strange journey, here are some things I would tell myself if I had a time machine, but will tell you instead. Because, duh, I don't have a time machine. 

1. Don't start querying until you've spent quality time Googling different variations of "how to write a great query letter" or gotten advice from someone who knows a bit about the practise. Writing a great query letter is actually a skill you have to hone. Don't pound out a letter in five minutes and assume that your charm and wit will get you further than following query guidelines and industry standards. I read a blog post written by a lit agent once where they casually mentioned they read about 200 queries a day. Can you imagine? I feel like, at that rate, you'd just want everyone to get to the point, say what they need to, and stick to the rules.

2. Advice I swear by: research the agent you're submitting to, find out what books they like, pick one that's similar to yours in voice or subject matter or whatever, and mention that in your letter. (ex: "I saw on your MSWL profile that you loved Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down. My novel is similar in tone and has some of the same themes throughout...") 

3. Get someone else to proof-read your query letter. I had my friend Sarah do this for me, and it was so super helpful. It's hard to write a book, but an even harder thing is writing about your own book with objectivity. An outside perspective is key, and will help you not to get all wordy and self-important. And, obviously, get a whole bunch of people to read your manuscript. Spend a whole bunch of time tightening that thing up. What good is a query letter if the manuscript sucks? Why waste a perfectly good manuscript request?

4. Most importantly: remember that an agent is a regular person with their own particular taste. Try to conjure up memories of a book club meeting where you read a truly fascinating, heart-wrenching, well-written novel, and a third of the room thought it was great, a third hated it, and a third got bogged down and stopped reading one chapter in. Now imagine that each of those people is a literary agent, and you're asking them one by one to represent the book in question. Even if you've done everything 'right', it's still largely a matter of luck, of happening to ask the right person first. Plus, take into consideration that of the people who loved the book, you have to find someone who's willing to put in countless hours of work, unpaid, to polish it up, create a submissions packet for it, and stake their reputation on it in sending it out to editors. They don't just have to love it, they also have to believe they can sell it. It should take a little time, at least.

This is obviously not The Only List you need to read before you start querying a novel. This is just four things I think would be helpful. And if you have already done the whole querying thing and have things to add, please do! And if you haven't, but plan to, try to enjoy yourself. Here, this is a blog post I wrote two months into my own query journey. I was so naive and optimistic still! But I stand by most of what I said in that blog post.

Okay. Off with you. Go find an agent.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Meanwhile, in Another Universe Entirely...

The book publishing world is, in fact, another world—an alternate reality with its own time and rules and atmosphere. You can't get to it by simply hopping on an airplane, you need a transcendental vehicle of some kind, like the wardrobe in the Narnia books.

(Or email.)

And you can only access it using very powerful magic.

(Query letters.)

And you can't just go to this mystical place, you must be summoned by the powers that be.

(Literary agents.)

Last May, this happened to me; I stumbled through my own "wardrobe" into Publishing World by way of an email from a lit agent named Victoria. Since then I've maintained communication with that world through emails and phone calls, little things that briefly pulled me out of this universe and into that one. But aside from these fleeting otherworldly encounters, life hasn't changed all that much. I worked on edits with Victoria for about half a year, and then we took my book on submissions.

The submissions process was no joke. It was like the querying thing all over again, except this time it was my agent sending my sweet baby novel to the editors at big publishing houses. And they were reading my work and passing it around their offices and getting second and third opinions and discussing its saleability and its characters and its potential, and even writing their thoughts on it down for me to read. It was exhilarating! It was an adrenaline high! It made me want to kind of puke a little bit!

It was also incredibly (surprisingly) validating. Editors, as it turns out, are kind and encouraging human beings who want your book to be the next big thing just as much as you do.

So Subs experience. One which I do not necessarily care to repeat any time soon, but also one which I...loved. Kind of. I don't know.

Here's another thing about Publishing World: time there is like water: it freezes, and then it flows. Nothing happens at all, and then huge things happen all at once, like explosions, like a sporadic, ob-nox-iously spaced-out fireworks show in a peaceful night sky. It's because there are so many moving parts in this machine. So many people to read so many words and make so many decisions and send so many emails. And even after something happens, the effects aren't felt in our world for a long time.

Which is why I'm only now allowed to write this blog post. But here it is! As Etta James would say, Aaaaaat laaaaaaast. Boom that song's stuck in your head forever.

In January, we sold my first book—and, at the same time, my second book (which isn't even written yet, because apparently in publishing, things either happen way after you wish they would or way before you thought they were possible).

The first little book baby is due June of 2019 from Lake Union Publishing. I had a really great phone call with my editor there back in January, before I accepted their offer, and was immediately in love with her and Lake Union and all of their wonderful ideas. They seemed so excited about my book, about working together, and I think that remains one of my favourite parts of my adventures in Publishing World to this point: those moments where I feel like I actually belong there, am wanted there, like I didn't just wander in accidentally. You know?

The day of the offer, I went out for supper with Barclay to celebrate and then, while Victoria negotiated my contract, my life went back to normal and I wasn't allowed to say anything and it felt like it had all been a wonderful dream. The same dream I've been having since I was, like, five.

I thought that maybe, when it became Internet Official, when the deal announcement went up on Publishers Marketplace and I wrote this blog post, that it would all feel real, and that Publishing World would feel like a place on this planet. But then today, I received a little package in the mail from my author relations manager, a notebook embossed with my new publisher's name, the name that will be on the spine of my books, and I realized that it probably never will feel completely real. It might always feel like a dream.

And I'm quite okay with that.