#Amquerying

If I were to tell you that the query process has been pure fun, I would lose all credibility. In the moment, it was anything but an enjoyable process. The business side of writing is tedious work. Somehow I endured, through countless revisions and rejections, endless edits to my synopsis and multiple versions of my query letter. Still, no matter how prepared I felt, there was always a sense of dread after hitting send, releasing my work out into the world to be judged.

And there were many judgments made. Slowly they trickled in to my inbox, each highlighted in red on my spreadsheet, mocking me each time I opened the document. There was also the apprehension of how my work would be received, the horror stories of other writers warning me of the cold and impersonal nature of the query process. There were also the tragedies—yes—the offer that I never received, which I learned of long after the fact, and had been rescinded for lack of a response. Somewhere out there it became tangled in the web and siphoned of all its promise.

But there was one thing no one mentioned to me about the query process. Sure, it is daunting to approach established agents and publishers, knocking at their doors and asking for a moment of their precious time. The reception I received from many agents and publishers was far from cold, in fact it has been quite the opposite. There have been many rejections, but the feedback has also been generous. Many have been kind enough to offer a personal response, even compliments. I won’t mention any names, but to all the agents and publishers who responded, I give you wholehearted thanks. Each one of you made the process that much easier and offered a glimmer of hope during the process.

Are you still scared to query? Don’t be. Remember that writing is a people business. Today’s rejection and your response could open the door to tomorrow’s acceptance. Follow-up with your submissions when allowed, be professional and courteous, and always remember you are asking someone to invest in you and your writing.

It’s the people that make the business side of writing the pleasure it can be. As writers, we are always working to build relationships with our readers but shouldn’t neglect those relationships that bring us to our readers, namely those we develop with other writers, literary agents, and publishers. If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve already surrounded yourself with fellow writers. It’s the first step in getting your work out there, and the solid support group needed to survive the wilderness of querying.

Querying isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be—it’s the step in the writing process that separates the writer from the hobbyist. It’s the first step in opening your work to criticism and learning how to accept that criticism—and the surest way to grow as a writer. Put your work out there. Forget the horror stories and prepare yourself to be amazed by the all the talent that exists within the world of writing and publishing.

As for my queries? Let’s just say it’s come to a happy ending. But that is another post all its own.

Happy writing,

H.A.

 

Quandary

Autumn leaves turn their backs
to another frontier of the eulogy
that’s one more summer past
and never to be forgotten

except

in the minds of those mired
in the worries of the future
struggling to reconcile fortune
against a stubbornness to

accept

change in all its forms and
its irascible determination to
forge ahead disregarding the past
laughing at the future and all its

pretense.

 

Errant Release

In the riparian edge to the glen the hollow met its terminus, its darkness collapsing to the green carpet granting its welcome. Hushed silence thundered from the hollow to be swallowed by the songs of sparrows flitting to and fro, evading its advance. There was a lightness to the air, a gurgle in the stream, and light shattered by the canopy above, its shards littering the stream’s edge only to be refracted back to the heavens from where it had come. A deep breath takes it all in, only to be stunted in release, then swallowed by the hollow.

The reeds surrendered to the weight of it all, only to resurrect themselves to conceal their new-found treasure. Around it they kept silent vigil, the crickets’ rising chorus adding dramatic crescendo to a private affair. Down to the loam of their circumstance they celebrated this offering, born of lust and sent their way by a false cupid’s errant shaft adorned with plumage of a foreign land.

With the mistral of the mountain the hollow shuddered, its being cast out into the light of the glen, batting the reeds and rippling the current at their edge. An errant catkin made its freedom from that which it adorned, bestowing upon the current a promise of life yet to come. All this done in exchange for the gurgle of the creek, replaced now by pierced light that fled from the hollow to rest among the reeds. Peace, again, with this offering made, the chalice on its side, foam running over and spilt to the ground.

Shards of shattered light bounced off the beam made wide by time, finding their way above the canopy, repaired and intact, gracing the pastoral beneath its filtered glow. No man’s trophy, escaping instead to solemn decay, its light releasing itself, returning borrowed nourishment to the glen.

 

Grave Matters

It’s October, and Halloween is edging around the corner, soon to embody all that is fall. I also see it as perfect timing for a post that is a bit more on the lighthearted side, and still literary in its theme.

Graveyards: they are places of quiet solitude by day, but as night falls, become haunting in their appearance, attaching themselves to our innate fears of mortality and the other-world. These are themes that loom large in literature, and coincidentally, led me to think about some of my favorite such places.

By far, the graveyard that is most memorable to me is the quaint churchyard cemetery at St. Michael’s in Stinsford, just outside Dorchester in the United Kingdom.

graveyard
St. Michael’s churchyard, Stinsford, UK.

It’s a quiet place, whose old, moss and lichen-enhanced tombstones stand testament to the perpetuity of human mortality.

thomas-hardy
Thomas Hardy grave, St. Michael’s churchyard, Stinsford, UK.

It’s also the final resting place of two literary greats: Thomas Hardy (his heart only – the remainder of his earthly vessel is interred at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey) and poet-laureate Cecil Day Lewis. If you’re a writer, it’s amazing company to spend the after-life with.

There are many other graveyards to consider of course. Poet’s Corner is a must-see for the literary-minded. But I tend to prefer those that are tucked away from view, offering scenes that have melted into the past from which they came. It is the timelessness of these places that sends the chill down my spine as my feet fall upon hallowed ground made even more venerable by the history framing its existence.

Some of my local favorites include Philadelphia’s famed Laurel Hill Cemetery (renowned for the architecture of its memorials), and the Old Pine Street Church, also in Philadelphia, which dates back to our colonial past. There are many more – too small and quaint to list out of respect for these places – that harken back to colonial days or even earlier. Many of these sites dot my local woods, from homesteads that have since receded back into the earth to join their previous occupants.

What are your favorites? Graveyards abound in literature and are all around us. It is the dead’s way of lingering on in the land of the living. With Halloween fast approaching, take the time to find those unique hallowed spaces that stir your intrigue and get you in the spirit of the season.

 

Riverine Paramour

There he sat, alone, his bronzed patina enhanced by the sun’s charging rays.  Mindfully at task, he read the water, and knew it personally.  Every riff, run and eddy, the children of this great river, had personality.  Like their mother, the barometer was the only true indicator of their vacillating moods.

This was his river.  No, he did not own the rights to her waters.  Nor did he hold title to the land which embraced her form.  He had grown to love her and her fickle ways.  Her currents, like her emotions, flowed without remorse.

She flowed through him, capturing his soul like no other woman.  Her kiss moistened his parched lips.  Occasionally she yielded to his advances, allowing him to plunge into her depths.   She bore him fruits from deep within, bringing nourishment to both his body and soul.

river

He shared her beauty with those willing to accept her ways.  To know her was to live, to accept the unknown and to love unconditionally.  She could be harsh, her emotional torrents exploding in manic episodes, lambasting only those closest to her.  Weathering the rapid cycling of her tempestuous moods was rewarded by brief, intimate encounters with her placid and nurturing alter ego.

Because of him, others came to love her, and to respect her frenzied passions.  Her cool waters sustained life, while her voluptuous swells brought forth sustenance from deep below.  In her own narcissistic way, she loved in return those who loved her.

There is no impediment to her will.  She is not to be trusted, but respected in her raw and untamed power.  He was drawn in by her enrapturing trance, and committed to her shores.  There he sits, attending to her whims, led only by her capricious manifestations.

Raised on Writing

Those hours bounding both sides of midnight are special to me. That’s when the magic happens: the distractions of the day fall victim to their slumber, the sound of the breeze is no longer obscured by the activities of living, and on it rides the seeds of inspiration. The late night hours are a mystical time for this writer, a time all to myself and my imagination.

Closing in now on a year previous, I was approaching the thirty-thousand word mark of my current work in progress. Those were evenings I’ll always remember as this creation began to take shape and reveal itself to me as the pen glided across the page. There is always a peace and humility that writing stirs within me. The marathon pacing of novel writing extended those feelings long after the evening waned to morning. In part, it’s what keeps me coming back for more.

Not long after that night, our second daughter arrived. She was our very own plot twist, by greeting us a month earlier than anticipated. Active in the womb, she was ready to throw all in to the fray of life. Looking back, I cherish now the extra time we’ve been granted to share together.

I’m the late night parent. Always have been, and always will be. I’ve always sacrificed sleep to write or get in an early morning run. You only live once, why sleep it away?

Our daughter was perfection in miniature form. But perfect as she was, her body was small and fragile to the world around her. The attention required of a premature infant – mainly the frequent, small feedings – meant little to no sleep as I pulled the night shift. With every ninety minutes the cycle repeated: diaper change followed by a feeding. Unfortunately, like many infants of her term, she developed severe reflux that prevented her from lying flat after each feeding.

Instead her small head rested in my palm and her swaddled body followed the curvature of my arm as I cradled her close to my body. It was the only angle that seemed to keep what small amount of formula she ingested from working its way back up her esophagus.

Writing became a memory for those first couple of weeks. All the while ideas swirled through my mind as my daughter and I spent many an evening together enjoying the magic of cool, moonlit autumn evenings. As the nights ended, we watched as the frost sparkled through the sun’s rays piercing the cool fog. I’ve witnessed the beauty of countless sunrises with her in my arms – far more than I’ll likely experience with any other soul.

We both adjusted to our new schedule. The following two months were short on sleep but long on cementing the bond between father and daughter. Soon I found myself typing away with her cradled securely to my chest. The words flowed again, as if I never stopped. My inspiration took in petite breaths beneath eyelids quelled shut by quenched hunger, until she would awake again, reminding me of all that was perfect in our world.

The rhythm of the keys became her lullaby those first few months. When I reminisce about the process of penning the novel, those nights always appear front and center. Was I creating a writer? Maybe, or maybe not. In the least I’ll be able to recount those nights to her, reliving those precious moments for myself, while the wonder of it all stirs her creativity.

And that work in progress? It’s doing just fine, having been nurtured and polished to near perfection over those many nights. I’m certain it’ll soon find a home all its own before making its way in the world.

Topping Off

Writing dialogue is challenging. It can be painful. It is odd how something that occurs so naturally in our daily lives can be so constricting to our writing. Sometimes we, as writers, put far too much thought into the act. Dialogue that conveys a character’s demeanor or personality can be deceptively simple. So simple that we overthink it as we work through a scene.

Writing one evening, I decided to top-off my cup of coffee. That simple act brought me back to my sole stage experience. Somehow someone saw something in me – something that said “He’s the one,” where I was fortunate enough to be cast as Atticus Finch. My greenness illuminated the stage in those early rehearsals. It wasn’t my body language; I didn’t upstage myself or my fellow actors. No. It shone through in my dialogue, through the simple act of speech. Memorized lines spilled out of my mouth with dulling monotony. They were only broken up by the director constantly calling me out: “Don’t forget to top-off the dialogue!” Her frustration with me was evident.

The solution to my acting woes was something I now use in writing my dialogue to this day. I learned to top off my dialogue, to have a real conversation, not a rehearsed soliloquy of syllables.

Dialogue is conversation, real conversation that flows, and sometimes overlaps as the speakers anticipate one another. At times there are delays when questioned. Sure, dialogue plays other roles and is more than conversation – it builds characters and develops the story. But in the end it is conversation, and when written well, should show and tell without effort.

Sometimes the best way to break out a scene is to escape the writing desk to the real world.

The local coffee shop is my favorite hangout for this exercise, but it works anywhere. Take your spot, open the laptop, grab a cup and settle in. As people interact, take part in the conversation. Think on the fly and respond – anticipate their responses – because after all you are now part of the conversation. How would your character answer? This is the time to find out. As you do you’ll come to understand the pacing and formulation of natural dialogue, and work that in with the telling of your story. Many drafts later that scene will flesh itself out on the page as if it really happened.

Because, in a way, it really did.