Literary Agents and the Writers’ Crazy

A long, long time ago (2004), in a land far, far away (lower Manhattan), I worked briefly as the assistant to a literary agent.  The job lasted only a few months, as the employment intersected with my flight back to Boston. It was a short, but really interesting bit of employment, and it introduced me to the special crazy of the aspiring writer. My mental trajectory regarding slush (the submissions that writers send to literary agents) went something like this:

“Each one of these packages could be a work of genius, what a honor to be involved in this artist’s process!”

to

“Some of these are pretty good. I mean, once you get to the middle. And they are writers, so of course they’re intense about their work. I get it.”

to

“I don’t think I understand high fantasy. Why is everyone using the word ‘phantasmagoric’? It’s kind of creative that this woman sent in a scrapbook of her cats with her query…right?”

to

“I’m going to start pretending that this is a pizza delivery place if another author calls up to tell me how stupid my boss and I are for not recognizing his genius.”

phone fear

“…I’m sorry, this is Domino’s. Domino’s Pizza. I…I can’t help you with your dreams.”

Back then, there was no Twitter to connect with other professionals and aspiring authors. Also, my boss was very busy and often out of the country. There was no one to confer with about the process and what’s normal. Man, that would have been useful! But now, I follow a number of great agents and marvel at their tweets regarding the strangely divine hubris of some unpublished writers. The proclamations of greatness! The threats! Yikes. It’s half funny, and half terrifying.

Now that I’m on the other side of the equation, being one of those crazed (quietly though, super quiet crazy) aspiring authors sending my work out to different agents, I have nothing but love and gratitude to all those who take the time to read my query. Extra special love for those that make requests, of course, but I don’t take any agent or assistant’s time for granted. It’s hard to sift through all that material, and even sending out a polite “no thank you” is a ton of work when multiplied by 300.

So thank you, assistants. Thank you, agents. And to that lady who sent in a scrap book of her cats along with her story about elves…I hope you found what you were looking for.

Personal thoughts on this particular sorrow.

This is the first time I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time.  It’s the book we’re currently reading to the baby before bedtime. We’re only about half way through, and even though it’s a classic, I honestly don’t know how the story ends.

Where we are in the novel, there is a black, malignant entity that has been discovered. Without the people of earth realizing it, this negative force has created a cloud over the planet. The heroes: Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, are going to play an important part in fighting it, that much we know. But this thing is so bad and so destructive that stars have given up their life force in battle with it – just to make a dent. I have faith that good will triumph, but that’s just because it’s a kid’s novel and it’s got to come out ok.

And I guess that’s how I feel about Friday.

I have two modes: complete denial, and sobbing. I haven’t found the in between yet. I’m confused about the world and about god and about a lot of things. The image of that big black cloud keeps surfacing in my mind, covering up the planet.

I want to do a productive thing, but the only truly productive thing I can think of is to invent a time machine.

However, there is something about reconnecting with beautiful things in the world that has given me a little bit of peace. This is entirely personal, but for me this video feels like a balm of some sort.

It makes me feel something about why it is important and good to be a human in the world. That there are landscapes so big and imaginations so beautiful that maybe god lives there. I don’t know if that makes sense, but for my personal chemistry, this is what has soothed me. It brings home the importance of things like music, books, art, plays. The things that can transport me when I need a ticket out of town ASAP.

There’s the politics and the anger too. And again, the desire to do something for the people are truly going through this tragedy – but what? That’s not rhetorical and I’d really love input. What’s meaningful right now besides just thoughts and prayers?

I have the feeling that we’re halfway through this novel. That right now, the black entity has covered up a lot of hearts and homes with sadness. But I also want to believe that we’ve yet to come to resolution. And I want to believe it will be a good, renewing resolution that feels like growth somehow. This is not a kid’s novel, but I have to believe it will come out ok.

Gratitude in the Red Zone

Once upon a time, when she was queen of the chopping-vegetables-for-dinner-in-America hour, Oprah decided that gratitude was in fashion. As I remember it, no one was thinking about gratitude, and then Oprah started keeping a journal and *BOOM* an enlightened population. I believe the same thing happened with The Secret a few years later. This post wasn’t designed to be a meditation on the awesome power of Ms. Winfrey, but, damn…right?

Anyway, of all the lessons she taught us during her tenure, this is the one that (for me) has legs.

We judge people on their character, and I think the level of gratitude that someone has for their own life is a major, major hallmark of that character. It never ceases to amaze me when I come across someone who has encountered terrible circumstances, but it seems to roll of their back. They give tragedy its space, but focus energy elsewhere. These are the most inspiring people in the world, and the kind of people that I aspire to be like.

Then, there are other kinds of folks. You know, especially if you’ve worked in customer service or attended high school, who I’m talking about. Although, I think teens generally get a pass on this because it’s evolutionarily imperative that we all spend a few years in a**hole jail before we get to be fully developed humans. But in general, when you encounter an adult who bandies about the term “fml” with frowny exuberance, you pretty much know what you’re dealing with.

This is all brought home to me as my third trimester inches closer to the red zone. The red zone is what I’m calling the space of time when all the crummy parts of pregnancy that one has dealt with in isolation (e.g., nausea in the beginning, muscle pain checkered throughout, insomnia once in a while, indigestion, etc.) all come back together like it’s the final number in a musical, or the series finale of a long running sitcom and every character we’ve ever cared about comes back for a cameo or some plot resolution (spoiler alert: it was all the dream of someone who fell into a coma at a snow globe factory, so screw you, the viewing public).

That’s the longest sentence I’ve ever written.

I will tell you that I have had a blessedly easy few months and am unbelievably grateful for that. And when things start to get red zone-ish, that’s what I have to concentrate on. I won’t lie – I’ve whined on Facebook. But I am resolving to keep that kind of junk to the bare minimum.

Because the thing is, I AM so grateful. It’s not a stretch or anything admirable – just the truth. I’ve got a good thing going, even when all I want to do is puke. I’m a grateful girl who wants to puke her guts out.

And guys, it’s Hobbit day. And almost Christmas.