Monday, November 15, 2010

Night Thoughts: When Counting Backwards From 100 to l Didn't Do It

At 3:00 a.m this morning I realized that I should not have sent out twelve query letters for Graffiti Grandma the same week I laid fifty invitations to  a Holiday party on the doorsteps of my condo neighbors. I can now expect rejections in not one but two areas in my life and I'm not sure my ego will survive.

Just how much stress can an old lady handle? An even better question might be: Why did she think she needed to do either kind of reaching-out?  And what inspired her? The long hours in front of the computer, the tentative smiles from strangers on the elevator, the panting novel, the hope to move past smiles to names?

In the midst of that night-churning I forced myself to think about other things,  about the four novels I've finished.  Each is about a woman who needs to solve a few problems.  In fact, one of the protagonists is dead already, but still trying.  And each woman is older than the one in the previous book.  Just as I am getting older.  They've gone from sexy to arty to philosophical to crabby.  Just like me.  They worry about marriage, divorce, children, loss, and redemption in the same ways I have.

What seems to be clear now that it is light outside and I've had my coffee is that I've spent the past fifteen years chronicling my life as I wandered through it.

How uncreative of me, I think, pouring another cup.  Then I run my glance over my book case full of old and new books that I love enough to make me unable to donate them to the library used book sale.  I see that I am not alone.  Roth, Updike, Hemingway, Smiley, Proulx and even Evanovitch, I betcha, seem find their truths and their characters first in themselves.  I'm thinking that most writers do.  While I'm not in the same league as these writers and most of the others on my shelves, I am beginning to understand that I write to learn more about myself.  And that it is okay.  Maybe even healthy.

So my next story will involve a woman who sits bolt upright in a midnight bed and discovers a way to deal with  an heavy onset of rejection.  Maybe she'll start testing recipes for Holiday punch and discover that after a few swallows, rejection isn't that big a deal, just life.

Jo Barney Writes

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wise Words from a Couple of Old Women and a Young One

My grand daughter is learning to make mac and cheese the old fashioned way. She stands next to me on her cooking stepstool and lets out not one but three gigantic groans as she stirs the white sauce.

"It takes a while to thicken, but keep stirring," I advise, first making sure it is impatience and  not pain that has prompted her misery.  "A watched pot doesn't boil,"  I add, feeling very old and wise.

Later, after the mac and cheese, she turns the table on me.  I am doing some groaning of my own.  I have sent out five query letters inviting agents to take a look at Graffiti Grandma.  No response after two weeks, despite my hourly checking of my email.  "Patience is a virtue," Hannah says. "Remember?"

The thing is, although I know that some agents get a thousand queries a month and maybe ask for pages from three of those queries, and although the books advise submitting writers to make their queries so intriguing from the first word on that an agent's finger will tremble as he/she reaches for the Send the Manuscript button, with the hope that he/she will be the first to read the whole thing--although all that, my response to Hannah is "I remember.  And hope springs eternal, you know."

But I do have a vision of my selected agents glancing at the first word, or even the subject bar, and bringing a whole fist down on the Reject button.  "I'm sorry, I did not fall in love with your novel," or the alternative,  "We just aren't the right agency for you,"  automatically appear on my screen. Three  seconds it takes to squash a hope.

But the springing part turns out to be true.  Rejection #l.  After a dark moment, a little green blade of hope pops up and cheers me. I still have four queries out there. Who knows?  The Help had fifty rejections before an agent said yes.  Also,  I have a list of four hundred more agents.  All I have to do is live long enough to contact them all.

 Besides, a new story is percolating somewhere near my heart, making me wake up at night, dialogue from unknown characters ringing in my dreams.  Something about an old man in a wheel chair.

"Be up and be a'doing with a heart for any fate, still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait."  This time it's my mother's voice I hear.  I open a blank page, decide to do a little laboring while I wait.

Jo Barney Writes