Posts Tagged ‘novelist’


John Lutz is the author of more than forty novels and more than 200 short stories. He has written everything from horror and occult, to humor, thriller, mystery and suspense. His novel SWF Seeks Same was made into the movie Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. His novel The Ex was made into the HBO original movie of the same title, which he co-wrote the screenplay for. John is a past president of both Mystery Writers of America and Private Eye Writers of America. He has won such awards as the MWA Edgar, the Trophee 813 Award, the PWA Life Achievement Award, the PWA Shamus, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Lifetime Achievement Award.

I met John Lutz at a book signing for his novel Serial. He signed a copy of the book for me, which I have to admit, was one of my most exciting rock star moments! I’ve been reading his books for many years, so when I actually met him in person, I was a little nervous. As it happened, I found him to be intelligent, funny in a charmingly quirky way, and very pleasant to be around. I asked him to be a part of the author interviews on my blog because he is one of the novelists who have inspired me to write. He’s a great guy who has taught me much through his excellent novels and his willingness to answer questions about the craft. I am thrilled and honored to pass on some of his views on storytelling, his thoughts on the publishing industry, and a little bit of insight into his own writing process. So… here are my questions, and here are his answers! (For more information, check out John Lutz Online at: http://www.johnlutzonline.com/)

Q: What year was your first book published, and what are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in publishing industry since then?

A) First short story in 1967. Thieves’ Honor, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. First novel in 1971. The Truth of the Matter, Pocketbooks.

I don’t think publishing changed much in fundamental ways until the advent of the e-book. Now it’s changing so fast, and in unpredictable ways, that it’s difficult to keep up with it. Scary, but truly interesting.

Q: When you first got published, what did you do to celebrate?

A) Exhaled. Had dinner with my wife.

Q: How many ‘No’s’ before you got a ‘Yes’?

A) “Many ‘No’s’.  Most writers of my time and ilk would say the same. Usually writers’ “first” novels weren’t first efforts. The e-book has made publishing easier, cheaper. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Q: As a writer, what has been your greatest disappointment?

A) There are a few things I’d sill like to see happen (like seeing one of my novels made into a play), but I don’t think in terms of disappointments. All in all, I feel that I’ve been extremely lucky.

Q: Your novel, SWF Seeks Same was made into a movie, Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. How did that come about, and what was it like for you?

A) As with some other books that my agent thought had movie potential, the manuscript was sent to his west coast affiliate to shop around. And it found a home.  The rights were bought before the book was published. The entire movie thing was great fun. Yes, I did meet the cast. Watched filming in NYC. Attended premier in LA. Was presented with a screenplay signed by cast and crew. A very positive experience.

Q: Did you meet any of the actors?

A) Met them, watched them work, got to look over the director’s shoulder, tried not to trip over any of the cables. Actually seeing a book made into a movie strengthened my opinion that for best results the movie shouldn’t follow the book chapter and verse.

Q: In researching serial killers, what about them has surprised or intrigued you most?

A) The extent of the violence and physical damage in a stranger-on-stranger rape. And the fact that, according to FBI studies, once a serial killer takes a first step toward his intended victim, if there is no interruption, no matter what the intended victims does, there will be a confrontation. Most serial killers are kind of like guided missiles that have locked onto a target.

Q: What is one question you wish people would ask you, and how would you answer it?

A) “Are you going to write more books?” “Yes.”

Q: You’ve been featured in several of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines and in several anthologies edited by Alfred Hitchcock. Did you ever meet Alfred Hitchcock, and how did his editing style differ from other editors?

A) I never met Hitchcock. To my knowledge he never did any editing, but there was and is a distinct overarching “Hitchcock type” story, featuring suspense, dry humor, and surprising turns. When someone says “Hitchcockian” I think most people have a pretty good idea of what is meant.

Q: What do you think is the greatest misconception people have about you and your work?

A) I can’t be sure about that, because I don’t know what their misconceptions are. Many people do seem to think that writing fiction is easier than it is. You not only have to learn how to write. You have to learn to write. Like you have to learn how to dance before you learn to dance. Takes a lot of dancing.

Q: What do you think is the greatest misconception new and/or aspiring authors have about the industry?

A) That once their book is out there, it will automatically sell. To sell in large numbers books have to be actively sold, ideally through various kinds of advertising that reach large numbers of people. However, the rules are that there are no rules, and sometimes word of mouth can turn a book into a big seller. Or fortunate timing. And yes, now and then a book is so damned good it simply can’t be ignored. But most of those are heavily advertised as books that are so damned good they can’t be ignored. Having said all that, I am aware that I don’t really understand our rapidly changing industry. At this point, I don’t think anyone really understands, or can predict.

Q: In the course of your career, you’ve undoubtedly done an awful lot of book signings. Do you still enjoy them?

A) Sure. It’s nice to make contact with readers, see before you proof that they are actually out there and enjoy your work.

Q: Of the characters you’ve created, who was your favorite, and why?

A) Hard do say. Maybe Nudger, the star-crossed P.I. more suited to selling appliances, with a suicidal girlfriend, a fear of guns, an office above a doughnut shop, and a constant need for antacid tablets.

Q: Are there any of your books that you feel deserved more recognition?

A) Maybe BONEGRINDER, which got great reviews but remains largely unread. It’s kind of hard to fit into a category. Horror, maybe. Or maybe not. It’s recently been republished as an E-book.

Q: Since beginning your career, what invention has most impacted your life as a writer?

A) Has to be the electronic book, but I haven’t yet figured out how.

Q: As a writer myself, I cannot even imagine the days of writing, editing and revising on typewriters. What was it like having to use one for those purposes?

A) I like typewriters. When you’ve run several drafts through one, you have an intimate knowledge of the content, every letter. However, I like writing on computers more. It’s a lot easier in obvious ways, but it takes some tricky adaptation to make the most of it.

Q: Your novel, The Ex, was made into a HBO Original movie of the same title for which you co-wrote the screenplay. How does writing screenplays differ from writing novels, and how are they similar?

A) I think it seems easier to write a screenplay. Maybe it is easier to write a passable screenplay. But they are deceptively simple. To write a good screenplay, worthy of being translated to film or digitalization, is difficult. Lots of people can, and do, write screenplays, but there’s a reason why not a lot of  people write them successfully, and those people, with that rare ability make a lot of money.

Q: What do you consider the highlight of your writing career?

A) I suppose SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, when it was made into a hit movie. It was the number two movie in theaters, and number one in video sales. Would have been the #1 movie if it weren’t for UNFORGIVEN. Also it inspired a lot of women to get their hair cut and dyed in that hairdo that looked great on J,J, Leigh and B. Fonda. On the other hand, maybe I haven’t yet experienced the highlight of my career.

Q: If you could say one thing to a new writer, what would it be?

A) Write, write, write. Write some more.

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I’ve been blathering on this blog for the past year and a half about my own experiences in writing, my own observations about this business, and all the things I have learned along the way. As much fun as I’ve had doing this,  it recently occurred to me that maybe folks would like to hear from some other writers as well. After all, probably the greatest thing I’ve acquired on this journey is the friendship of some very fascinating people. On that line of thought, I’ve decided to interview some of the writers I’ve met, getting their perspectives, experiences, and lessons learned on their paths in this business.

The first person I chose to particpate in this was Kim Williams-Justesen. It was important to me that she get to go first because she’s my personal mentor and I owe her an ocean of thanks. I met Kim in March of 2010. By then, I’d been beating the hell out of the same novel for about two years. I’d read all the how-to books and attended some small workshops, but for all I was learning, the book just wasn’t getting written. When a friend of mine, who was probably tired of hearing my frustrations, mentioned that she knew an author named Kim Williams-Justesen, I was ecstatic and I hassled her till she set up a time and a place for me to meet Kim.

The first time I met Kim Williams-Justesen was in a tiny cubicle in a stuffy office at Broadview University in West Jordan, Utah. We were introduced to each other and after shaking hands, we were left by ourselves to get better acquainted. We looked at each other stupidly for a while but were eventually able to make the empty small-talk of complete strangers. It was awkward. It wasn’t at all how I had it planned out in my head. I’d been certain we were going to get along swimmingly and instead, I was sure this woman hated me. I just knew she thought I was some kind of talent-junkie who thought I was going to ask her to “hook me up” with an agent or something. As I later found out, she thought it was me who hated her. Probably because, by nature, I look annoyed. 😉

I went home disappointed by the meeting and feeling like a bit of a loser. Still, I’d done one thing right that day: before leaving the office, I asked Kim if we could exchange e-mails. I wasn’t sure if this might come across as too invasive, but I was desperate and all alone in the world of writing! This woman was the only person I knew at the time who had any experience in professional writing and being published. After meeting her that first day in the office, I’d concluded that I had to find a way to make her adore me, and ultimately… teach me everything she knew about writing! It took me two weeks to send her my first tentative e-mail, but I was delighted and surprised when she kindly and promptly e-mailed me back. We spent the next several weeks getting a feel for each other in an ongoing e-mail Q and A – mostly about writing-related topics. After a while, an unexpected thing happened: we became friends.

Since that day just over two years ago, Kim has walked me through my first novel, she is the co-author of my second novel, Beautiful Monster, and she is currently giving me the same level of what seems to be endless tolerance and infinite support on my third book. We plan to begin another collaborative effort as soon as I am finished with the project I’m working on now. I’ve been lucky to be a part of Kim’s own writing career as well. Just less than three hours ago, she and I finished the final revisions of The Deepest Blue, a manuscript of hers which is scheduled for release by her publisher in the Fall of 2013.

Kim Williams-Justesen is the author of My Brother the Dog, The Hey! Ranger! series for children, and co-author of the nonfiction self-help book, Love and Loathing with Randi Kreger. Also, her novel My Brother the Dog, is scheduled for re-release in hardcover under the new title, Kiss, Kiss, Bark! in Fall of 2012, and the possibility of a sequel for it is being discussed. Our first collaboration, Beautiful Monster, is currently making the rounds, looking for a home, and Kim is on the brink of finishing a project I’m especially in love with, a novel under the working title of Death Kiss.

She’s been a vital component in my growth as a writer, as well as an instrumental part of my life in ways that go far deeper than fiction. What follows are some questions I asked her about her own experiences as an author. I hope her answers might help you the same way they have helped me.

Kim Williams-Justesen

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

A: I don’t think there was a specific time I said “Oh yeah! I want to be a writer!” I’ve always loved words and writing, so I think I just evolved into doing this.  

Q: What is the first story you remember writing?

A: In third grade I had to write a book report. We went to the library to pick books off the shelves, but I either had read what was there, or I didn’t think it was interesting (boy books, yuck!), so I went home and wrote my own book called “A Pony of My Own” – which was wishful thinking on my part. I even had a pen name – Pearl Bluebonnet. It was about a girl who finds a “stray” pony and talks her mom and dad into letting her keep it. Typical 8-year-old thinking!  

Q: Every writer has his or her own writing process. What is your personal process?

A: My process varies. I used to have a set writing schedule, but I’ve learned to adapt. I have to know the basic structure of the story before I begin – beginning, middle, and most importantly how it ends. From there, I develop the characters and try to learn more about them so I can understand why they do what they do in the story. Then I dive in and start writing. I try to write complete chapters at one sitting, but I’m also finding that grabbing a paragraph here or there is just as effective.  

Q: Where do you do most of your writing?

A: Anywhere I can. Mostly in my bedroom at the small desk in the corner. I will also write at work if things get slow, or in the car, or if I’m waiting in an office or something. I will hear pieces of conversation between characters in my head and I write them down no matter where I am.

Q: Who are your favorite authors?

That’s a long list! Shakespeare, Poe, Paul Zindell, Christopher Moore, Eric Larson, Isaac Asimov, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Earnest Hemingway, and a lot of others I can’t think of at the moment!

Q: Which authors would you say have most affected your own writing?

A: I heard Jane Yolen speak at a conference about the mood of a story, and it had a lot of impact on me. I began to think about story differently because of that and I think she helped to change the way I write for the better. Eric Larson writes nonfiction in such a compelling way that it feels like you are part of history. This taught me to pay attention to details in a way that I also believe has strengthened my writing. The writers I worked with while getting my Masters degree also had a huge impact on me.

Q: Which of your own characters is your favorite, and why?

A: I think Donny, the little brother from “My Brother the Dog” is one of my personal favorites. He was so fun to work with, and he makes me laugh every time I reread him.

Q: Which of your own characters is your least favorite, and why?

I dislike Julia, the mother in “The Deepest Blue” because she is based on two real people, neither of whom I’m very fond of.  

Q: Do you believe in muses? Do you have a muse? If so, who or what is your muse?

A: I do believe in muses, and I have many. Some are real, some are only in my head. One of my muses is a nasty woman who is always telling me I can do better, but she inspires me to push harder, even if her methods are not kind. I have actual people in my life who are muses. They inspire me with ideas and they encourage my writing. I value them dearly.  

Q: Which of your books was the most difficult to write and why?

A: “Beautiful Monster” was the most difficult because it caused me to confront some aspects of my own life that were not very pleasant, and that’s really all I want to say about that.

Q: What events in your life do you think lead you to the path of writing?

A: I think that any event which triggers introspection can cause that desire to write. For me, it was simply a love of words and a sense that playing with words was fun. Even when I was in PR and I was writing about obsolete chemical weapons, I enjoyed the challenge of working with the words to serve a purpose.

Q: When you are writing, do you have anyone in specific who you feel you’re writing for?

A: When I’m writing the first draft, I try to focus on story rather than audience. Later, in revision, I focus on who I think the story is aimed at so I can tighten the details and make them appropriate to that audience.

Q: Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?

A: Yes – more than once. The first time I had writer’s block it was so severe that I would have full-blown anxiety attacks just sitting down at the computer. I had to overcome it because I was in the middle of my MFA program and I was at risk of not graduating. I overcame it by working with a mentor who tricked me into writing. I started by collecting words, then organizing those words into categories, then playing with the words in interesting combinations, then creating sentences from those combinations, then paragraphs, and in time, I was back to writing without the dread and fear that had frozen me. I use this same technique now when I start feeling stuck.

Q: What are your biggest pet peeves about the books you read?

A: Silly and stupid errors. Things like grammatical mistakes that should have been caught by a good editor. Or ridiculous tag lines that need revising. I also get very peeved when a character does something that is totally out of line with the psychological presentation that the author has created.  

Q: In the course of an average week, how much time do you dedicate to writing?

A: It varies a little, but I typically spend at least 12 hours a week with my butt in the chair working on a book. I will spend other time reading, looking through information for a story I’m working on, or doing things related to writing. For example, if I need to find a specific setting for a scene to take place, but I haven’t been there, I’ll find something close to what I need and go for a visit. This counts as working on writing for me.

Q: How has your writing changed since you wrote your first novel?

A: Oh – wow – it’s like I’m a different writer.  I know so much more about the craft now than I did then. I know so much more about all the aspects of story that I had no idea of at the time I started writing my first book.  I still think that first story idea is solid, but the execution is terrible. I often think about rewriting it because it would be so much better now.

Q: When did you first get published, and what was your experience with that? How did it happen?

A: I got started with publishing when I wrote articles for internet companies like CitySearch. It was great experience learning to compress my language and to meet deadlines. My first book publishing experience was when I coauthored a self-help nonfiction book with another author. Seeing my words in print became an instant addiction. That box of books arrived on my door step and I just wanted to have more!

Q: What was your first book signing like?

A: It was thrilling! My publisher paid for me to attend the Book Expo America convention. It was in Washington, DC that year. I got to walk around and learn more about other publishers, see all the books that were coming out, collect tons of free samples! It was heaven. When it came time to sign, I was so nervous, but it was an absolute thrill. It felt like nothing would ever be better! Of course, other book signings have also been thrilling, but that first one was just awesome. Crazy awesome!

Q: As a writer, what do you think your strengths are?

A: I’m pretty critical of my writing, and so I have a hard time identifying this, but I think I am really good at building a solid story structure, and I’m also good at dialog. I like listening to people, so I think I have a natural ear for how people speak.

Q: And what are your weaknesses?

A: These are like job interview questions!  Haha! Actually, I think one of my weaknesses is the first draft. I get caught up in making things perfect the first time, and that tends to slow me down. I’m also really bad about including sensory detail. I skip over the stuff that can really bring a scene to life, and then I have to go back and add it in during revision – which of course is what revision is for, but I just wish I could remember to do it the first time out.

Q: In writing, what has been your most wonderful moment?

A: I have two – when my box of author copies of my first novel arrived at my door. That was a thrill beyond words. The second one was when someone I was mentoring completed his first novel. I felt almost the same thrill as what I feel when I finish one of my own.

Q: How has the publishing industry changed since you first got published?

A: E-Publishing has become such a huge component in publishing, and that’s really only been the last five years or so. When I first published, that wasn’t even a blip on the radar.  I think it has made some really nice things happen in publishing, but I also think it has opened the door to some terrible, second-rate work getting produced as well.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going from here?

A: This is such a time of transition in publishing. I remember being at a conference 15 years ago and a guy said that “Rocket Books” were the wave of the future and would be the death knell of the traditional publishing industry. And now we all say, “What’s a Rocket Book.?” It was pretty much a Kindle or a Nook, just 15 years too early. I have no idea what is going to happen from here. I just know that there will always be a place for a good story, and I want my stories to be part of that future.

Q: What is the best advice you have to offer new writers?

A: Focus on the craft. Love the writing. You can’t control the publishing world, unless you want to self-publish that is a whole different topic. Learn how to write better. Go to conferences, workshops, classes, and focus on becoming as good as you can be. By the way, that’s a never-ending process.

Q: What have you learned about yourself as a result of your experiences in writing?

A: I’ve learned that I can actually write pretty decent stuff at 3 a.m. when I need to. I’ve learned I am stronger because of choosing to do this, but I am more humble, too. I’ve learned that my writing friends are some of the best friends in the world. I’ve learned that I can become very OCD when I’m in the middle of a book, and that isn’t always a good thing.

Q: Who were your mentors?

A: I was blessed to have amazing mentors throughout my writing life. Carol Lynch Williams, who is also a very dear friend; Rick Walton, who taught me that funny is subtle; Tim Wynn-Jones, who taught me to look for interesting detail that benefits a scene or a character; Alison McGhee, who taught me that you need to know a character’s mind so well it becomes your own; MT Anderson, who taught me that voice is something you can learn, and if you can’t learn it you shouldn’t be writing; and the late Norma Fox Mazer, who taught me how to dig deeper into a story and see what’s sleeping beneath.

For more about Kim-Williams-Justesen, check out her website at: http://www.kwjustesen.com/Home_Page.html

And to get some of her books, go to: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/kim-williams-justesen

Jared S. Anderson & Kim Williams-Justesen


    

     Life is incredibly short.  The saddest part about this is that we spend so much of what little time we have wondering how to spend it, and once we do figure out how we want to spend it, we are met with resistance, negativity and that two-letter word we all hate most of all: No. After so much of this, we just want to throw our hands in the air and go back to our places in line, accepting the grind as our lots in life and carrying on, moment to moment, day after day, playing it safe and making sure not to rock the boat of monotony.   This might work for a while, but eventually, those notions of something greater, something more meaningful, will catch up to us, tackle us, and pin us to the ground, demanding we heed our own instincts that we’re capable of more.  When we’ve reach that point in life where we’ve put fear in its place and thickened our skins enough to take the punches, there are a few things we can do to counter-balance the effects of the coming obstacles and impediments in order to keep our spirits and our passions in check.  At the forefront of that list, in my opinion, is to have a support network. 

     Whether you’re a writer, a college graduate, a stay-at-home mom, or a poodle groomer, you don’t have time to divulge in anyone else’s version of reality, unless it supports your own success unequivocally.  The fact is, no one but you knows those core truths about you that, if listened to and acted upon, will carry you to your root allocation in life.  We’ve all been out of our elements.  We’ve all taken jobs that simply paid the bills, we’ve all catered to the fear of failure and we’ve all fallen into the designs of someone else’s masterpiece.  It isn’t a good place to be.  We struggle, we fight, we get by… and we don’t even know what for; and all the while we try to ignore the fact that we simply don’t have time for that; that sadly, life comes… and then it goes.

     I’ve reached a point in my own life where, if someone dared to tell me I couldn’t do a thing, I would smile, nod and walk as far away from them as my feet would take me.  My own mother wouldn’t be afforded the luxury of discouraging me, so one can imagine how I might feel about even the gentlest of promptings from a stranger, a friend of a friend, or a stagnant and embittered second cousin through marriage.  If I let these people affect me, I will be discouraged and impotent,  and, as far as I’m concerned, if I let these people make my decisions, I have no right to occupy my own body. 

     So I surround myself with people who have dreams of their own and who believe in mine.  I don’t view this as a simple choice so much as a strategy move essential for survival.  Whatever paths we choose to execute in life, we will be met with enough interference, restraint and discouragement.  It’s just not lucrative to allow it into your immediate personal space.  Your social life should be reserved for those who foster your goals, stimulate your drive and help cultivate your personal empowerment.  In his book, The Master Key to Riches, Napoleon Hill refers to this as the “Mastermind Alliance.”  While I am not typically a fan of self-help or motivational literature, I think he was definitely on the right track with that one, and I recommend the book to anyone.

     If you’re walking, talking and breathing, you have passion.  Even if you have to look for it a little, it’s there.  And passion without purpose and precision is just white noise.  Part of who and what you surround yourself with is part of that precision, so I’ve come to believe in the value of choosing wisely my immediate environment.  I’m standing in a foreign place in my life right now.  Not just in my writing but in everything else as well.  I am at a precipice, looking over the edge at everything I know, just daring the wind to blow a little and knock me off my feet.  But everything I feared is twice removed.  There are a million reasons I can’t succeed and yet all I can think about is the one reason I can: because I want it that damned bad.  Now, more than ever, I’m glad I have nothing around me except the highest caliber of believers, and I’m grateful that, as depressing as it is, I realize how little time there is.

     There isn’t time to listen to anyone else tell you what you should do.  All you need to know is that fish belong in water, painters belong on canvas and writers belong on paper.  It’s just a matter of finding out who you are… your station in life will follow.  Time is precious.  So, if you’re going to stop and smell the roses, first be sure you’re not standing in someone else’s garden.


     In September of 2010, I met my first literary agent at a writing conference in Salt Lake City.  She’d flown in from New York City to be on the panel and to meet new writers.  At that time, I was just more than half way finished with my first full-length novel, The White Room.

     This agent is maybe five feet tall, weighs perhaps ninety pounds wet, and is probably nearly ten years my junior.  I had no reason to be intimidated by her.  However, as we talked and she asked me more and more questions, I grew very anxious.  For the first time that I can recall, I broke out into a terrible and embarrassing sweat.  I was that nervous.  But she was very polite.  She asked me all about the story, the dynamics between the characters and how the story would end.  After trembling my way through the conversation, she did something every aspiring writer dreams of: she handed me her business card.  Then she said something every aspiring writer hopes to hear.  She said, “When you are finished, and if you are interested, I’d like you to send me the full manuscript.”

     “I’ll be finished by the end of November,” I said, and even as I spoke the words, I mentally kicked myself for having said them.  No way was I going to be finished that soon.

     “Don’t rush,” she said, “I want you to write a good story.  But if you can have it finished within the next six months, just send me the manuscript and your cover letter.  If it takes longer than six months, send a query letter as well, just to remind me who you are.”

     I went downstairs, not really understanding the weight of what had happened.  My mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen (Mimi) was sitting on a sofa in the lobby (we were at a hotel by the airport).  When she asked me how it went, I told her placidly that I guessed it had gone okay.  As I told her the details of my conversation with the agent, she became ecstatic.  “Do you realize what this means?” she said.  I replied that no, I really didn’t.  “It means she asked you to send your entire manuscript!  And you can send it ‘requested material!'”

     I went home that night and plowed into the story with everything I had.  For the next two months, I did nothing but write.  I wrote sometimes for twelve hours straight.  I didn’t eat.  I didn’t go out with friends.  I didn’t do anything outside The White Room.  I even called in sick to work on several occasions to write. 

     I finished the first draft of the manuscript on October 24th, 2010.  With the help of Kim, I’d been revising and polishing quite a bit as I went along, but I still needed to do a full read-through and incorporate more revisions.  That took just over a month, and by the seventh of December, Kim and I were standing in line at the post office, manuscript in hand.

     We got into my car after mailing it off.  I looked at Kim and I remember saying to her, “It’s going to kill me if she doesn’t take it, you know that, don’t you?” 

     I’d promised myself I wouldn’t get too excited.  I was fully aware of the odds.  To meet one agent, one time, on your first book, and being taken by that agent… well, that’s a lot of lightning to strike in same place at once.  I knew this.  So I wasn’t going to get my hopes up… but a funny thing happens when you’ve finished a novel and sent it out to an agent that has expressed interest in you:  you get your hopes up.  Despite the odds, despite the plethora of rejection letters every writer is wise to expect, you get your hopes up. 

      “It won’t kill you,” Kim said, “this is just part of the game.  If she says no, you’ll send it to someone else.  And if they say no, you’ll send it out again.  I hate to tell you this, but writing the book is the easy part.”

     For the first month or so after sending the manuscript off, I was fine.  By week seven, I was a mess.  According to the website, it takes four to eight weeks for the agents to respond to manuscripts sent Requested Material.  Despite my efforts, I was obsessed with whether or not the agent had read it and whether she loved it or hated it.  Then I began obsessing over whether or not it even made it to her.

     In the meantime, Kim and I began a joint project we’re currently calling An Evil Heart.  This new book was the only thing that distracted me from the imagined fate of The White Room.  It makes no sense to write a book, send it off and wait.  Most agents require sole viewing rights to your manuscript, which means you can’t print off a hundred copies of your book and send each one to a different agent to further increase your chances of snagging someone’s attention.  Well, you could do this, but it is considered unethical and unprofessional, so I surmised that with me being so new to the game, I would be wise to play by the rules.  Since this agent had personally requested my manuscript, I figured she deserved that much from me.

     But here’s the hard part about that.  As of tomorrow, this agent will have had The White Room for three full months.  If I get an e-mail, a phone call, or a letter in the mail saying, “Thanks, but… well, this sucks,” that’s three months the book could have been circulating among other agents who might be interested in the story as well.  I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bother me just a little bit.

     On the plus side, I did receive an e-mail from the agent on February 8th saying that due to the holidays, she was behind schedule and thanks for understanding.  I guess that’s something.  But again… that was a month ago.

     Truth is, I don’t know if I’m tough enough for this.  I’m not saying I will quit if the agents passes on The White Room, but I am saying that, despite my efforts otherwise, it will not be easy for me to accept.  I went into this business full knowing I was in for a lot of waiting and a lot of rejection.  I thought I could handle it.  But what if I can’t?  The waiting alone just floors me some days and I am continually astounded by the wide range of emotions this whole thing invokes.  It’s exhausting is what it is. 

     There are days I think I’ll be okay if she says no to me.  After all, there are thousands of agents out there, not to mention, I have about a hundred more books to write before I die.  But then there are the other days when I am sure that if she says no, especially after all this time, I will implode on myself and lose faith in my writing… and never dare put myself through this again.

     But this is part of the game.  This is how it works, and I know of only one thing that alleviates the agony: keep writing.  Write your ass off and start dreaming of the next storyline, the next agent… the next novel.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  I’ve decided that I need to understand the difference between the things I can control, and the things I can’t.

     This is what I can control:  I can keep writing and I can write damned good if I want to.  I can continue to search for the next great storyline and I can learn and improve the skills I need to execute it beautifully.  I can present myself accordingly and hopefully garner a reputation as professional if not a marketable writer. I can understand how this business works and continue to send my work to agent after agent after agent if I have to…

   And here’s what I can’t control:  I can’t control who publishes any of my work or when.  I can’t control what anyone thinks of my style, my content or my talent.  I can’t control the market, nor can I accurately predict what’s hot and what will sell.  In short, I can’t control the world or anyone in it.

     But, despite the agent’s silence, I am at peace now.  I’ve decided that I’m not in the results business.  It’s up to me to do the footwork and write the books, and write them well.  But it’s up to the agents, the universe, whoever… to control the results.  I can’t control any of that.  All I can do is write and be good at it, and that’s okay.  The writing of the story is the real joy of this process.  That is a fact I nearly forgot.  So I don’t need to think about my manuscripts once they’re in the mail.  It’s not my business anymore.  All I can do is… keep writing…

     So I’m gonna.