Friday, November 04, 2005

Two and a half years ago, I took to my writer's group a five page opening to what I thought might end up as a short story. Most everyone seemed to like it, including the people whose opinions I held in high esteem. One of them told me, "You're on to something there, stay with it."

So I stayed with it and when the state conference rolled around six months later, I had twenty pages. I bravely sent in the first ten for a manuscript critique. It was my first conference and I wanted to participate in everything.

The lady who did my critique was an agent. She liked it. She asked me if it was complete. I felt like an idiot as I had to tell her that I only had twenty pages. She said I was brave to subject it to a critique so early. I felt like a bigger idiot. Then she said that when it was complete, I should query her.

Now that would have lit a virtual firestorm under most people. Me, not so much. It did motivate me to think more seriously about where I wanted to go with this story, which became known in my group as "The Meg Story". (I've tried several times to get a manuscript naming contest going on, as titles are not my strong point).

Two years later, well, truthfully, two years and four months later, it was a nice 80,000 word manuscript. Well received and wonderfully critiqued throughout the writing process by some pretty sharp cookies.

So a few weeks before the state wide writers conference this October, I sent a friendly little email to the agent, reminding her of who I was, what my manuscript was, and her suggestion that I query her. I offered to bring any amount of said manuscript that she desired to the conference.

Two days before the conference, she emailed me back telling me that I could bring the first five chapters, a synopsis, an author bio and a SASE to give her.

Two days! Okay. Problem number one: I, for whatever reason that I try not to worry about anymore, am incapable of writing in chapters. I just write. Solution: average chapter is 10-12 pages, take the first 50 pages. Problem number two: I have no synopsis. Solution: go in to full-out panic mode.

Really. Fine. I'm an idiot. I know. Every writer's magazine, book, conference and workshop stresses the synopsis until the point of nausea. I just didn't have time to get to it. I'd just fininshed the damn thing and was happy to get a first go-through edit completed.

So I emailed Heidi, a fellow member of the group who happens to be represented by this agent. What does the agent want? A short two paragraph summary or one of those scene by scene discriptions of the entire book? (Cross fingers, toes, arms, legs and eyes while chanting: short summary, short summary.)


Well shit. I have one full day. Who needs sleep? I settled at the kitchen table with the manuscript, a spiral notebook and a pen. And two kittens who think writing is a game where the goal is to jump up, knock the pen out of my hand and bat it under the refridgerator before I can get it back.

By the time Jason gets home, I'm practically manic with the stress. I've outlined the whole story in short declarative sentences. I've typed it up. He reads it over and declares it acceptable. (I've lost all objectivity by this point, so yield to his opinion, besides to agree means I don't have to work on it anymore.)

He does, however, take pity on me and rewrites the two paragraph summary. I read what he's done. It's perfect. It's beautiful and succinct.

It's also so very obviously the work of a writer other than myself. Jason and I have very different writing styles and voices. He is very literary and lyrical. I am very general fiction and matter of fact. But at this point, I don't care. His summary goes on top of my synopsis and the entire package is shoved in a manila envelope. For better or worse.

I spend the first day at the conference wandering around staring at people's chests, trying to read name tags without squinting. (My eyeglasses are about three years old and I need new ones, but the optometrist told me I needed bifocals and I refuse to accept it just yet.) But I don't find the agent. I can't remember what she looks like.

That evening, at the reception, I found Heidi and she kindly pointed out the agent to me.

The next morning, after the keynote speech, I approached the agent, introduced myself, gave her the package, made a small joke based on something the keynote speaker had said, shook her hand and thanked her.

It wasn't until I sat back down that I started shaking. I sat there for about fifteen minutes before it stopped. Jason patted my hand and told me I'd done just fine.

But it wasn't that. It wasn't the act of giving her my manuscript. It was what it meant.

I'd been calling myself a writer for a long time. But it was mostly just a little fantasy, a game, an amusement that I let myself pretend while tapping away at the keyboard, inventing these people.

But now it was real. I'd declared myself a writer to a professional agent who, if she desired, was going to try to sell my story to a professional editor at a real publishing house. There was no going back. No "this was just a lark".

So now I'm grateful that Jason picks up the mail in the afternoon. I'm developing a real writer's anxiety that everytime I see the mail truck, I am convinced that there is a nice little "thanks, but no thanks" letter tucked into my SASE just waiting for me out there.

In the meantime, the weather is nice and I sit on the deck overlooking the creek, watching the fiddler crabs scurry about while the people who live in my next novel whisper their stories to me.

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