The view from my writing chair has changed lately, and not just because it’s fall and the colors are starting to show. After ten years with my agent, I am recently unagented. (For some reason, that sounds better to me than “I don’t have an agent anymore.”)
With the decision came relief that the decision was finally made, and panic that it was really decided and my advocate was gone.
About a month has passed since then. It still feels very odd. Like my tether has come untied and I’m drifting on the Seven Seas and all the harbor masters of the world are not only hard to communicate with but also appear disinterested in my progress. There is no helmsman manning my wheel. (And I’m just throwing out these sailing terms willy-nilly without knowing if I’m using the right ones. But I am unmoored, so what do you expect?)
Trying to figure out who to send my work to has given me the unexpected result of sympathizing with my agent. What a terrible job! But many literary agents write that they love their job, so it must just not be my cup of tea. Which is why I had an agent in the first place. And why I will search for another one. Hoping my boat will find a lovely way to wend through these waters.
Just another chapter in the book that could be called, A Writing Career Is Not for the Faint of Heart.
From Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, illustrated by Flora White (Oxford University Press, 1914)
This summer I spent a couple of weeks visiting at my parents’ house. It’s the same one I grew up in from the time I was four. My mother has been trying to weed out books for the last few years, so it was finally time to decide which books we could bear to give away and which books were coming home in my suitcase.
This “Big Golden Book” of Disney’s version of Peter Pan was one that came home with me. Not because it’s a version I’ll spend time reading again, but because it’s a writing memento.
Writers bring all their experiences in life to their work. I didn’t remember this particular book when I was writing Serendipity and Me, but my heart recognized it when I saw it again.
And I had to wonder about the influence it had on my novel that I didn’t even realize. My narrator, Sara, is supposed to play Wendy in her class’s production of Peter Pan. Throughout my book, there are references to this iconic story. It’s such a rich buffet to choose from. (Spoiler alert. The excerpt below gives something away. Scroll down quickly if you don’t want to know….)
Illustration by Alice B. Woodward, from The Peter Pan Picture Book, 1907
The Big Golden Book was one of my first introductions to Peter Pan. Along with the Disney movie, there was the original Peter Pan in library hardback (with that evocative library smell) that I read when I was about 10. And I can’t count how many other references to Peter Pan I’ve experienced throughout my life. Hook is a special movie shared with my kids. Just last night, I saw a preview for a new Pan movie.
When I was finishing up copy edits of Serendipity, I searched for and found two copies of Peter Pan to buy. One was just a normal edition. One was an anniversary edition, illustrated by Michael Hague. The 100 year anniversary! That came out several years ago. Oh, to be like J.M. Barrie and write a book that lasts so well….
Writing can often feel like hard work. That’s because it is. But you can batter the joy out of your writing if you can’t also bring to it a sense of play.
If you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know I’ve brought many revisions to a novel manuscript called Three Prayers. Sometimes I let it sit like a naughty child in the corner. Maybe an abandoned toy in the backyard would be a better metaphor, because I let it sit for months at a time. Sometimes I think I will give up and stop trying to rework it because selling it seems hopeless. But then I get drawn back.
I decided to play with it again last month.
For some reason (who knows how my mind works), I thought I’d mess around with the point of view. Instead of having three different POV’s writing in third person past tense, what if I changed only one of the three to first person? And then I went further and changed that POV to first person present tense.
It seemed to be working, so I kept on. Although the story stayed the same, Liezel began to speak up in ways she hadn’t when she didn’t get to tell her own story. So even if this POV has to be changed back, I’ll have some new ways to write about Liezel.
Before I got too far with this new POV, I had others read several pages to see if it worked for them. Most weren’t bothered by the odd shift. And I was liking it. So I revised the whole novel with this new perspective. I’m still waiting to hear what my agent thinks of this revision. It was a lot of hard work. But it was still play time. And that’s always good.
I come from a full parentage of teachers. My mother finally retired at 80. My father retired once, but can’t seem to live without the classroom, so he’s traded substituting for teaching. Still at it, at almost 88 years old.
You’d think teaching would be in my genes. But it is nowhere to be found.
I tried it once. I took on a music teacher position at a private school, going from classroom to classroom, kindergarten through 8th grade. It was a disaster. I only survived the kindergartners for a week. (I couldn’t figure out how their brains worked.) I hung in there with the rest of the grades for as long as I could–two months.
It’s not that I don’t like to impart knowledge. I do! I kept the private piano lessons going after quitting the rest. Teaching one person at a time, no matter the age, was fine. When you focus everything on one person, it feels like a relationship, not a scary job. And there’s no crowd-control involved because there’s no crowd.
I admire people who have the gift of teaching and use it. I watch amazed in classrooms as I see teachers encouraging, herding, containing, proclaiming, moving an entire group of kids into an educable hour. How do they keep track of so many people at once? How do they organize all that material so each day is filled with learning? I can’t even grasp how they speak in that teacher’s voice that rises above the others, clearly and with authority.
I’m starting to write a funny, slightly-romantic MG novel. It occurs to me that since my first two novels (unpublished) were also supposed to be funny and sort-of romantic, maybe this is a bad idea.
But it’s an idea that started a year and a half ago, was half-tried, discarded, and has come back around, fully formed. I take this to mean it’s an idea that wants to be written. And it’s an idea that’s been simmering, working itself out beneath my conscious mind.
It’s an idea whose time has come. I hope.
An idea that arose because of circumstance.
I just got back with my husband from a trip celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary. I took a similar trip with my little sister a year and a half ago, celebrating her new life. The first trip sparked the idea, the second trip fulfilled all the necessary research.
The first trip spawned a first page whose voice was–awful. Right before the second trip, I tried another voice. And suddenly, the book seemed like a do-able thing.
It’s nice to know my mind can work on it’s own without me bossing it around. And sometimes (always?), that’s the best way to write.
An infinite amount, if the writer is stubborn and persistent.
Case in point: I now have a novel manuscript that used to be a mid-size novel-in-verse that was once a short novel-in-verse that was once revised to a different gender that was once a picture book poetry manuscript that was once a poem. Got that? Two editors (maybe three) asked for revisions at various points, which lead me to hope for a contract. But it hasn’t happened so far.
Now the novel is out on submissions again, this time in prose, and almost three times the length of the last novel-in-verse rendition.
Why don’t I throw in the towel? Because my agent says he loves it. And more importantly, because my oldest son is the inspiration behind a boy who is passionate about soccer. It’s his turn for a dedication page in his honor.
The padded board book version of Goodnight, Dragons came out a month ago and I am finally getting around to a contest. Valentine’s Day is a week away. It’s time to share the love of a huggable book. If you write a comment below, you will get your name in the drawing for a free board book of Goodnight, Dragons. If you share the contest on a social media platform (tell me where you shared in your comment), you’ll get another chance to win. Contest open to U.S. only. (Sorry–those postal rates to other countries are ridiculous.) Contest closes at the end of Valentine’s Day, West Coast time. I’ll post the winner the following Monday. (If you win and I haven’t gotten in touch with you, it’s because I don’t have your contact information. So send me your email, at that point.) This version has everything the hardback version has except the title page. So you can use it with the story time kit with no adjustment.
Good luck, everyone!