3 months from today!!

What my life looks like these days (although imagine more cardboard boxes and dust. Lots of dust.)

A few days ago I was cleaning out stacks and drawers of papers (writers have LOTS of random stacks of paper hanging around) and I found my very first draft of The Hideaway! It was like finding an old friend I'd lost touch with. Along with it was the first timeline I drew to figure out Mags's life and random notes I jotted down on a piece of construction paper because I couldn't find real notebook paper. 

I threw a lot of unnecessary papers away (like the foot-tall stack of edits from THE CARTEL (you know who you are...) but I'm not getting rid of these. It's good to keep reminders of all the work that went into The Hideaway. As if I could forget! 

I'm going through all these papers (and closets and kitchen cabinets and under beds) because we are moving. As if digging into revisions on book 2 isn't enough chaos in my life, we decided now would be a good time to move. Just kidding--a little. It is a good time to move--we are outgrowing our sweet little house and want more room to spread out--but I have to work to keep from panicking that I'm spending my time working on the house and not on revisions. I have started revisions though--the break from the story over the holidays was wonderful and I'm kind of excited to be getting back into the story, even though I know I have a lot of hard work ahead of me. Three months until this second book is due to my editor.

And three months until release of The Hideaway! I'm still waiting on the advance copies and can't wait to get them in my hands. If you have preordered the book, it'll land on your doorstep on 4/11. I have no idea what life will be like as the day approaches, but I'm excited to find out. I have heard from other authors, however, that the actual release date is quite anticlimactic. You've worked so hard to reach that day then it comes...and your day looks pretty much like every other day! But I'd imagine it will still feel pretty unbelievable. 

A few links I've stumbled across recently that I enjoyed or that made me laugh:

This woman lived quite a life and had an extraordinary career (including seeing the start of WWII from under a flapping sheet of fabric that delineated the border between Poland and Germany.)

This article features authors talking about how you can write a bestseller and still hardly make any money--or at least, not for a long time. "At times, the entire fiction-writing profession resembles a pyramid scheme swathed in a dewy mist of romantic yearning." 

Chris Stapleton? I'm way behind the times. I just discovered him today on Amazon Music and wow--he's pretty great. I'm not generally a country fan so when I hear about a new male country artist, it tends to go in one ear and out the other because they all seem to be part of the "bro-country" trend (yes, that's apparently a thing, and it perfectly describes the type of country music that really grates on my nerves!) But this guy isn't that at all. He's the real deal, a throw-back to great country-rock artists from decades ago , but also really fresh and new. Here's a video of him performing on SNL. 

 

Lastly, Matt and I have been rewatching The Office and loving it all over again. I leave you with Jim and Dwight. 

How It All Went Down

Everyone knows the process of publishing a book is a long slog. Even I know that and I’m still at the bottom of the hill. Maybe a few steps up from the bottom, but significantly closer to the bottom than I am to the top. I always like to read about how a person goes from hopeful writer to published author—who was a slush-pile standout, who had an awesome connection, who got their agent through a writers’ conference or other face-to-face meeting, who won a contest. Because there may be someone reading this blog who also likes to know the order in which things happened to catapult a hopeful writer into “the publishing world,” I’m going to outline what happened to me. (This is also to have a record for me, so I can look back and remember how all this came about. Because details tend to fly out of my head sometimes.) And first, let me say I always wanted to be one of those slush-pile standouts. I wanted to be able to tell other hopeful writers—“See?! It happened to me, it can happen to you too!” I can still say that (because what happened to me really is sort of random and unorthodox), but it didn’t involve the slush pile. (Although I can’t even count how many query letters I wrote that no doubt languished in slush piles all over New York City. In fact, I still get random rejection emails from agents who are really behind on their query letter reading.)

So, without further ado…

February(ish) 2013—I began writing The Hideaway.

June (ish) 2013—got sort of stuck in the middle and panicked because I loved the story and the characters and I really didn’t want to lose the story, so I enrolled in a Fiction Workshop class at Samford University, taught by the wonderful Denise Trimm. I took two courses of this workshop, which was priceless. Through the workshop (and the writers’ group that came out of this workshop), I was able to hone The Hideaway into something worth sending to agents. I honestly think if it hadn’t been for this group of people, I wouldn’t have had a novel worth anything.

December 2013—finished first draft.

January 2014—began process of editing and revising. Some of this was on my own, but a lot of it was with the workshop/writing group. They gave such valuable feedback at every level. Also sent manuscripts to beta readers—some were other writers, some were just readers.

June 6, 2014—I entered a query critique contest through Writers Digest. I had just barely begun tinkering with a query letter (since I knew I was nearing the end of my revisions). I won the contest and hurriedly went over my query letter, taking out unnecessary words and streamlining it as much as possible, and sent it off to the agent. All she had to do was read the query and send some feedback—that’s all the contest offered—but she said she wanted to see it again once I made her changes. Then she requested the first 50 pages. (Cue mic drop.) I sent them.

June 24—With a burst of excitement due to the first agent’s enthusiasm, I decide to query my TOP CHOICE AGENT! I’d researched her, knew she liked and had repped Southern fiction, and I liked her demeanor and humor on Twitter. I crafted an awesome query personalized just for her (I mentioned something she’d recently said on Twitter), and sent it off. The NEXT MORNING at 6 am, she emailed me back asking me for my full. I ran to the bathroom where my husband was showering, told him she requested the full, and then burst into tears. Happy tears, mind you, but I was elated like nothing I’d experienced in quite a while. (Other than my wedding, the birth of my children, etc.)

After spending a day finetooth-ing the manuscript, I sent it to her. Or I thought I did. I actually sent her a blank email without the manuscript attached. Then I realized it the next day and sent it to her for real. Then I sat back and waited for my ship to come in.

August 6 2014—Top Choice Agent sent a very nice rejection email. She gave helpful feedback that I ultimately, as in several months later, took, but she was kind, and I appreciated that.

August 15 2014—Hadn’t heard anything back from Contest Agent about the requested 50 pages, so I asked if I could send a revised 50 pages (I did this a lot—asking agents if I could send revised partials. Rookie mistake.) She said yes.

Between August and end of the year, 2014—I queried a whole bunch of agents. I started off with the ones I really wanted, as evidenced by my querying my TOP CHOICE AGENT first. I went down the list querying the ones I’d starred as ones I really thought would be a good fit for my type of story. Some people tell you to start with your top choices, others (many others) say to start somewhere in the middle so you can use their feedback to finetune, then query other higher-choice agents. I went with my top choices first because I figured I might as well get them out of the way first, then I could move onto other, more likely agents. I don’t know—I had to pick a route, so I chose that one. Hindsight, and all that, but that’s what I did.

October 2014—I had coffee with Patti Callahan Henry. She is the author of a large handful of lovely Southern novels, and she happens to live in Birmingham. I’d been keeping track of her (in a very non-creepy way) for a while, and finally met her at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. We made plans to meet for coffee. We chatted about life and writerly things, then she asked about my book. I gave her the rundown, and she asked me to send her the query and synopsis. I did, and she emailed and asked if she could send the query and synopsis to an editor friend of hers, Ami McConnell, at Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins. Obviously, I said yes.

November 2014—Patti connected me and Ami. Ami read my query and asked for the full manuscript. I sent it.

November 2014—Contest Agent finally sent a rejection email. She gave feedback similar to what my Top Choice Agent gave.

December 2014—participated in PitMad, a pitch contest on twitter where agents request manuscripts based on a short Twitter-sized pitch. I got several requests. I highly recommend these because they give you a chance to hone your pitches, query letters, and manuscript.

February 2015—Participated in SunVsSnow, another Twitter pitch contest. An agent who requested my manuscript during PitMad (and ultimately rejected it) requested it again. I’d made some revisions, so I sent it on with a note saying she’d read an earlier version. She rejected it again but gave me a key piece of advice—she suggested I cut the first two chapters entirely and start with chapter 3, because that was where the action really started. This resonated with what the very first two agents had told me—so I did it. Manuscript now begins with chapter 3. Much tighter and makes a lot of sense.

Early part of 2015—querying, querying, querying. Never heard back from Patti’s editor friend. I read in Publisher’s Lunch that she moved to another publishing house. I assumed my manuscript had gotten lost in the shuffle.

April 2015—I got an email from Karli Jackson, an editor at Thomas Nelson. She told me the editor friend of Patti Henry had gotten had passed my manuscript on to her before she left the company, saying she liked it and wanted another set of eyes on it. Karli said my manuscript was still bouncing around their offices and she wanted to know if I’d have any luck in the agent department. (Cue mic drop #2.) I told her no agent yet but that I had several partials and a couple fulls out and was hopeful. I asked if I could send her my revised manuscript, since what she had still had those first two chapters I’d decided to cut. I sent her the revised ms.

May 2015—Got a rejection from an agent who had been very promising. Emailed Karli to ask if she had any suggestions for agents she knew who might be interested in my type of novel. (Usually I would never ask an editor that, but this was already an unusual situation and Karli had been super helpful and encouraging. I figured I had nothing to lose, but possibly a good deal to gain by asking.)

June 5 2015—Karli emailed to say my novel would be discussed at the next week’s acquisitions meeting. EEEEKKKK! I got on the horn (as an old boyfriend used to say) and emailed all the agents who had a query, partial, or full and let them know of the development. I put *Editor Interest* in the subject line to get their attention. A couple passed right then, and a few thanked me for letting them know and said they’d read what they had asap.

June 6—I looked at some of the Thomas Nelson authors who write women’s fiction and looked up who their agents were. One name, Karen Solem, stood out, and when I looked her up, I was shocked to find that she was looking for the exact type of story I had written. I didn’t know how I hadn’t run across her in my agent search. So I sent her a query and first three chapters, explaining that my story would be in TN’s acquisitions meeting, and that I was still hoping to find an agent who believed in me and my story.

June 8—Karen wrote me back saying she was very interested in the story and would read asap.

June 9—Karen wrote saying she loved what I sent and set up a time for us to talk the next day.

June 10—we spoke on the phone. She told me she loved the synopsis and first three chapters and offered to represent me. (Eeeekk!) I did what I had been advised by every writer’s blog and discussion thread from here to the moon and told her I needed time to let the other agents know and said I’d give her my answer in two weeks. I could tell she wasn’t too pleased with the wait time! (In hindsight, I should have said I’d give them a few days. If they wanted the story bad enough, they could have made their mind up very quickly!) I also told her I was thrilled she loved the first three chapters, and that I was even more excited to know how she felt after reading the whole thing.

In next two weeks, I waited for answers from agents who had queries/partials, particularly one agent who had a full and who I also thought would be a good fit for me. I’d originally queried her back in May but never heard from her. I’d written her again with “Offer of Rep” in subject line.

June 22—spoke on the phone to the other agent I’d been waiting for. She offered rep. We spoke for an hour and clicked really well. She liked my book a lot, had some suggestions, and hoped to work with me.

(FYI, I was at the beach with my family at this time. Totally freaking out.)

2:00—phone call with Karli and two others at Thomas Nelson. Discussed how my book would fit into their audience and vision. Told them I was trying to decide between Karen and the other agent who had offered me rep. Great conversation that left me super excited. They had not yet made the decision to offer me a contract, but things were looking good.

After a LOT of pacing and thinking and making an actual pro/con list, I decided to work with Karen—she’s been in the business a long time, she’s worked extensively with Thomas Nelson and knows the editors, and everyone I talked to about her (other writers) thought it was a BIG deal that she offered me representation. Called her and gave her the news—she was super pumped. Called the other agent and told her the news—she was disappointed, but said good luck. I decided I did not like being on the other side—the one actually giving the rejection.

July 9 2015—Karli emailed me and Karen telling us the team at Thomas Nelson had decided to move forward with The Hideaway. The next step was to talk to the sales team.

July 29—Karli emailed saying they received all the feedback they needed and everyone was in full support of my little novel! (Eeeeekkk!) They would begin circulating all the necessary paperwork and hoped to send an offer soon.

August 11—morning of both of my kids’ meet the teacher orientations at school and I got a phone call from Karen saying she’d gotten the offer from Thomas Nelson—a two-book deal with the first book coming out spring of 2017, next book a year after that. My brain was fried for the rest of the day.

August 12—spoke to Karli on the phone and had a great conversation. She’s super easy to talk to, very excited about my book(s), and we totally clicked. Couldn’t be more excited! (Thinking back on this conversation even now makes me smile.)

Between August and November I tried to be very patient. Emailed Karen once a month to check in (which means I tried not to sound like a bothersome nag but I really wanted to get my signature on the proverbial dotted line!)

November 9 2015—finally got the actual contract. Read through it, talked to Karen about it, then signed four copies and mailed them back to Nashville. Woohoo.

So where am I now? I am not writing! To be more specific, I’m taking time off from writing—time to enjoy the holidays, read, watch Friday Night Lights, notice Christmas before it passes by and is gone for another year. Just before Thanksgiving, I finished a supremely rough draft of what I’d originally thought would be book two, but now I’m thinking I will work on something else in January—a story I previously started but paused because I thought it was too heavy for a second book. Now though, in light of the pain and grief I’ve seen people go through over the last little while (including my own family as my sweet mom has been diagnosed with the beast of cancer), I’m thinking a book with teeth and meat on its bones is what’s in order. It’s tentatively titled Hurricane Season, and I love the idea of it. (And I’m experienced enough with this sort of thing to know that part of the reason I love it is because I haven’t yet really gotten into it, and any book seems bright and shiny and full of hope and promise before you actually begin writing it.)

Until next time, folks.

 

Writing as a balm for real life

I began this blog as a way to document my journey to what I hoped would be publication of my first novel. Things are good in that realm, and while I wait for the official okay to give more details about that, I need to write about something in my non-writing life, because of how it will affect my writing life. I’ve just found out my mom has cancer. And it’s likely pretty advanced. To say it’s heartbreaking is a profound understatement. I was thinking about it yesterday on a long solo (as in stroller-less) walk I took yesterday afternoon. So far in my life, probably the hardest thing that’s happened to me is our “journey” (sometimes I hate that word) through infertility. But that process was a slow dawning of realization, a creeping acceptance that took time—months, years—then finally, it was over. But this? A kick in the gut that came out of nowhere. We were all tra-la-la,-ing through life, then BAM. We all (the four of us and my brother and his family) dropped everything and drove home to see my parents on Friday forty-eight hours after hearing the news. We don’t know many details yet—hopefully more will come soon. Because if waiting for fertility procedures and waiting for publication news is hard, it’s nothing like waiting to hear your precious mom’s diagnosis and prognosis. It’s excruciating.

Interestingly, ideas for both my current story and the one I’ve put on pause until I finish this one have been coming fast and furious over the last few days. I’ve been scribbling notes hither and yon, little bits of conversation, small snapshots of life in these places I’ve created in my mind. Little things I don’t want to forget, so I can run back to the computer and type them up. I’m also thinking of books I want to read. It’s like I’m mentally stacking them up, saving them for later when things are hard and shutting my brain off is preferable to real life. I’m making a list in my head of very non-scary books—things like The Rosie Project. A Walk in the Woods. Maybe rereading Where’d You Go Bernadette. Good books, but nothing that will make me cry.

I realized this weekend that reading and writing—two of my favorite things—may help get me through this. They, along with copious amounts of prayer, may serve as my coping mechanisms. Yes, I realize it’s unhealthy to shut down when things get hard, but it’s also a form of self-preservation. Reading has always been a form of escape for me—a way to shut out real life or a long day and let myself get carried away with someone else’s story. Writing is my way of creating those stories for other people. Additionally, the thought of giving my mom something great to read while she’s in treatment gives me even more motivation to keep my butt in the chair and write as much as possible. Finish this draft of my WIP so I can polish it, then start on the next. For me and for her. Keep them coming, so she’ll have fun things to read and I can have this imaginary dream world to escape to when my own world is too harsh and jagged. Keep writing and keep praying—not just for healing and faith, peace and strength, but also for the real end—for Jesus to return to get us all out of this mess. Life is beautiful, but sometimes it feels like walking on broken glass with bare feet—hopping around trying to dodge the pain, but knowing it’s coming sometime. It’s also not home. I long for home more and more every day. Reading stories where things mostly work out in the end, and writing those same stories, is a way to bring a little bit of heaven to readers—and to myself. The books I read and the ones I write aren’t heavenly by any means, but they speak of love and family, community and hope. We surround ourselves with those things to stave off evil in the world—evil that comes to us through news reports of faraway places, and evil that comes to us through an innocuous phone call on a Wednesday morning about something, someone very near to us that changes our world.

I’m not always very good at dealing with emotions—especially hard ones, like grief and sadness. I don’t like to cry, especially not in front of other people. But right now, say the wrong thing to me, and the tears come faster than I can blink them away. It may be like that for a while. Who knows, I may be like that from here on out! But I also know things that help. Prayer is one. That’s where I find hope and peace, so it is—He is—where I go when I need to drink from water that heals—or at least band-aids—my broken heart. My husband is one—he’ll likely be the one who takes the brunt of my pain so I can put on somewhat of a brave face for the world.

And reading and writing will help too. Discarding my own life for even just a few minutes and putting on someone else’s, dealing with someone else’s hardships, humor, and mysteries instead of my own. Being choosy about what I read. Creating stories that end just how I want them to. Life doesn’t give us that option, so I’m thankful I have a “job” that allows me to choose how to things work out in the end. I’m also thankful that ultimately, things will work out—there will be peace, joy, healing, and no more tears. A gut-punch like this reminds me even more to pray for that day to come swiftly. While I wait—for all kinds of news—I’ll keep creating stories that give other people a chance to lay their burdens down and escape.

Put it to bed (better late than never)

I've started querying again. But the difference is, this time around, I'm not running to the phone every time my email dings and I'm not waiting with suspended breath for those responses to come in. The first time around was exhilarating. When I got my first request for a full, I ran into the bathroom where my husband was taking a shower, blurted it out to him, then promptly started crying! I don't think that will happen again! (The crying, not the full request--I do hope that comes again.) I think I was so raw the first time around, it being the first time I'd send my little "baby" out into the world--kind of like the first time you send your child off to school, hoping she is happy and makes friends and people like her. SoI sent the original batch of queries (10-12 in all, over a period of about 4 weeks) and waited. It didn't take as long to get responses back as I thought it would. That's part of why I went ahead and sent a big handful out--I'd heard over and over how it can take months to hear anything back. My novel was finished, but I admit, there was still a bit of fine-tuning to be done. I was counting on those agents taking forever to get to my little query in the slush pile! When the first agent asked for the full less than 48 hours after I sent it, I was so elated, I didn't pause to think about the fine-tuning in the back of my mind. I was satisfied with my story as a whole.

But the feedback she gave me was so valuable. Among the good things she said, she pointed out that she thought there was too much backstory at the beginning. My first thought was, "Man, if she thought this had a lot of backstory, she should have read my first (under the bed) novel!" That thing had pages and pages of unnecessary backstory, and I used that novel as a lesson to myself to not include as much in The Hideaway. Except that once I started thinking about what she said, and browsing through my ms, I realized, "Sh*t! It's here too!"

So I did a revision. I printed the whole thing out, highlighted blocks of unnecessary backstory, and cut chunks of explanation and character histories. Nothing about the plot changed, but I ended up CUTTING OUT the first two chapters of the novel. Now, the novel starts with what was chapter 3, and it has *6,000* fewer words! It is mean, lean, and ready for action. I thought the novel was in a finished state before, but now I truly know it is. I do think you can edit a thing to death, so I have stacked up my two-and-a-half-inch thick stacks of paper, added a title page with the completed word count, and resumed querying. This time, I am more confident in my story's potential. I sent a revised 50 pages to the agent who had originally requested them, and another agent has a partial as well.

I will say this though--it was HARD to cut out most of those 6,000 words. Probably 2,000 were easy to lose, but cutting the rest really taught me the meaning of "murder your darlings." I thought I knew what it meant, but cutting some of  my favorite parts of text was super hard. I saved them all in an "unused stuff" file, so if I ever want to reread it, it's there, but it was hard to take it out of the story. But I do think the book as a whole is better for it.

So, onward. I sat down at the computer this morning and wasn't sure exactly what to do. In the waiting period after sending my first batch of queries and before I did the revision, I'd started writing something else, but I'm finding it hard to get back to that. My past experience is that once I start a story, I have to keep rolling with it every day or I lose steam. Hopefully I can find some tendril of steam to pick up on and get back to that story. My fingers itch to write, not just edit and revise.

Good writing vibes to everyone!

Lauren