Confessions of a Confused, Disorganized Writer

Does the drifter know anything?
     That’s what it says at the top of a page of writing notes (okay, scribbles) that I found a while ago in my desk drawer.
     I’d give anything to find out if the drifter knows anything. As a matter of fact, I’d give anything to know who the drifter is.
     The most troubling aspect of this question is that the note is definitely in my handwriting. Perhaps the query refers to my grandpa-may-have-been-a-serial-killer screenplay, since there are other cryptic notes on the same page such as Maybe Jessalyn was her mother, not her aunt, and I do have a deceased character named Jessalyn in that story. There’s also kind of a down-and-out handyman, but he’s always been part of the community; he’s not really a drifter.
     Then again, since there’s another scribble on the same page about designer sunglasses that I recognize as a reference to Undercurrents, my marine-biologist-dies-in-the-Galapagos mystery, maybe the question pertains to that novel. But while there’s a drifting corpse in the ocean, there’s not really a character that I would really call a drifter in that one, either.
     I search my memory banks. How about Call of the Jaguar, my find-the-other-lover-in-war torn-Guatemala novella? Endangered, my missing-kid-in-national-park mystery? Shaken, my earthquake/arson/is-our-heroine-committing-insurance-fraud romance? Nope. No drifters.
     Perhaps I was going to add a drifter somewhere? Or perhaps it belongs in a future story? I have another note about a mystery solved due to an error overlooked in digitally altered photographs, and that doesn’t match up with any story I’m currently working on.
     I haven’t always been this way. Who’s to blame for my current mental and physical confusion? I blame editors and agents.
     When I first decided to turn my writing talents from “how-to” manuals and books to fiction, I sat down and wrote Endangered, my first mystery novel, in about six months. Total focus. I sent out query letters.
Not taking new clients at this time.
Not distinctive enough to stand out in a crowded market.
     Not for us.
     Not right for us, but this is subjective; others may feel differently. Good luck.
    
The few agents who asked for samples hinted that the story seemed awfully close to Nevada Barr’s writing. I’d never heard of her at the time, but when I read some of her books, dang if they weren’t right, my protagonist (park ranger), setting (national monument), and story (was the missing child eaten by a cougar?) could have been written by her. The tone was even similar. I suspect Nevada is my long-lost twin.
     So, I changed the protagonist and the story slant substantially, and sent it out again.
My client list is full.
     Not distinctive enough to stand out in a crowded market.
     Well written, but I advise you to lose the technical stuff and focus on the outdoor adventure.
     Excellent writing, but add more technical stuff and lose some of the outdoor adventure and nature aspects.
     Not for us.

     Oh, I did get a contract in the mail from an agent who wanted money up front, which seemed a little suspicious. I called to get more information. When I asked about this person’s experience and publishing contacts, I discovered she was no more of a literary agent than I am.
     My novel did finally intrigue one agent from a reputable house sufficiently that she jotted down several very good suggestions for changes (bless her!) and agreed to see the novel after I made changes, along with samples of all my other work. Thank God, I thought, and applied myself to making the changes. Five months later (hey, I was working full-time in a software firm), I eagerly mailed my much smoother novel to her. I promptly received in reply a note from the head of the agency:
This agent has quit agenting. We shredded your manuscript.
    
If my four cats hadn’t kept reminding me of an imminent tuna crisis, I might never have scraped myself off the floor.
     I wrote a children’s book about a Kikuyu girl who wanted to save the hippos around her village in Kenya. It was a prizewinner in a local contest. A publisher was interested until she found out that I wasn’t African-American.
     I went to screenwriting school in an attempt to revive my sagging creative spirit. I wrote my first romantic adventure screenplay, sent it around.
Not taking new clients at this time.
     Client list’s full.

Not for us.
     I heard a romance editor talking up an outdoor adventure novel as ‘exactly what we’re looking for.’ After reading that book, I was a) confused, because in no way was it a romance (the protagonist’s lover is dead from the get-go) and b) enthused, because the book had a tone and theme similar to Endangered. I fired off a query to that editor, referencing the conference and the book she’d mentioned. No response.
     Meanwhile, having read that it’s much easier to publish mysteries if you’ve got a series, I worked on sequels to Endangered. (That series has five books now.)
     I finished a romance. I started to send out queries on it, while still trying to find a place for Endangered and its sequels Bear Bait and Undercurrents.
Not taking new clients.
     Got any non-fiction proposals?
     Not right for us, pardon the form letter.
     Agent deceased.
    
I did finally get a contract for three mysteries with Berkley Prime Crime. After the first one was published, my editor/champion moved to a nonfiction position, and no editor left in the original group was even mildly interested in marketing my mysteries. So, after two years of stagnation, I got the rights back and published them myself.
     Now I’ve got eight mystery novels, three romantic suspense novels, two drafts for children’s books, dozens of outlines, crowds of characters, hundreds of clever clues, and a score of half-baked plots romping through my head. “You must like banging your head against the wall,” my mother once remarked. (I’ve always had such a supportive family.)
     I’m a fast writer, and a good one, according to my fans. If I had only had honest feedback on what editors and agents wanted, or encouragement to run down any particular path, I would have galloped to the kill like a cheetah after a bushbuck. Instead, I still seem destined to become like the giant sunstars I see on my scuba expeditions; a creature with so many appendages that it’s a miracle it can move at all.
Does the drifter know anything?
    
I really hope so. And I hope he shows up soon to share it with me.

7 thoughts on “Confessions of a Confused, Disorganized Writer

  1. Sounds a lot like my publishing history, but I also had 3 publishers die–and 3 who decided to no longer be publishers. Crazy business we’re in.

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  2. Pam, It is so frustrating! That’s why after a few years with a small publisher, I went Indie. I can write what I want and my readers like without someone else saying yes or no to the story. If I hadn’t placed in many of the RWA contests over the years, I probably would have given up. It was knowing I had something readers liked that kept me writing and sending to agents and editors who usually said, I like it but I’m not sure where it would be placed. I tend to write multi-genre books. Great post!

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    1. Indies rock! It’s good to be in control, isn’t it, Paty? I know so many authors who have horror stories about their publishers. Traditional publishers whine about Amazon, but the truth is that even they sell more books through Amazon than they ever sold before. And online book sites have made it possible for authors to sell their backlists, when before those books were simply declared out of print by the publishers.

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  3. Thanks, Carolyn. Oh, those are only a few of my frustrating stories of dealing with agents, editors, and publishers over the years… Unfortunately, I know I’m not alone. I’ve met one author whose publisher simply “forgot” to include her book in their catalog, and another whose publisher insisted on putting a gleaming cross on the book cover when the story was about a dog’s loyalty. I think that book title was The Ultimate Devotion, and she cancelled the publishing contract rather than have readers think it was a religious book. Publishing is a wacko business. That said, I’d love to have a good publishing partner, but so far, haven’t managed to get an offer from any company that would commit to any marketing efforts.

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  4. You’ve really been through the mill but at least you have the opportunity (and drive) for self-pubbing. I find notes about story ideas all the time and finally typed them all onto a single page, which I can check whenever I’m looking for an idea. Your perseverance is admirable, and it’s what we all need if we’re going to make it in this business. The line about your family made me LOL.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Susan! I’m glad someone is more organized than I am, and I hope most authors have supportive families, too. My brain is always at work on the next novel, although my fingers are often busy typing something completely unrelated.

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