To continue discussing the rejection of my novel Coming Attractions (What? You’ve got an appointment with a supermodel?) It might be a good idea if you knew what the book is about:
In the darkness of an Indiana drive-in movie theater, Maddie McKinley returns from the concession stand, climbs into the wrong van, and gets tackled by the father of the kids inside. Logan Chandler is embarrassed about roughing her up, but also intrigued by the beautiful young woman from Boston, who arrived alone at the movies wearing an expensive dress. Unfortunately, he’s the local businessman leading a battle to save the drive-in from developers--and she’s the attorney sent to make sure it’s torn down.
See, there’s your back cover blurb. Coming Attractions was actually outlined, and some of the first draft written, at the Auburn-Garrett drive-in theater. My kids and I liked to get there early to grab the best spot, and we brainstormed this book while people-watching and hitting the popcorn.
Over the years I’ve made many changes. The biggest came at the request of a major romance publisher, when the editor agreed to take another look if I made revisions. I did so, the biggest being splitting up a climactic scene and moving part of it closer to the end of the book. In the end they still rejected it, saying Maddie wasn’t a relatable heroine: They thought she came across as “very snobby and rather unlikable”. Also, the word hoity-toity was used.
In the opening scene Maddie has just finished an exhausting flight from Boston. She feels she’s been exiled to Indiana, after a very bad public breakup with her boyfriend—a partner in her firm. She’s in career purgatory, and she’s doing grunt work, and it’s the low point of her adult life. So yeah, she’s not sunshine and puppy dogs.
But it doesn’t matter what an author intends; you can’t go explaining your intentions to each individual reader. (Well, you can, but you’ve got another book to write, fella.) I thought I’d made her more sympathetic in edits, but apparently not enough.
I won’t go into detail on the second editor’s rejection letter. Much of what the editor had to say made sense, and will be addressed before I move on. But there was one thing.
Over the years the rules for romance novels have loosened quite a bit, and there’s not such a cookie cutter approach to what is and isn’t allowed. But there’s one big trope the industry as a whole sticks to: When the couple acknowledges their love for each other, the story is over.
In other words, the primary story in a romance is the romance. Not the mystery, not the adventure, not the legal thriller. No matter how many balls you have in the air, once the path to the couple’s happily ever after looks clear, the juggling is over.
No matter how much Maddie and Logan love each other, there are huge issues in the way of their happiness. For complicated reasons, it’s way more than just business for either of them. The story’s climax is a sometimes comic court battle, ending with a scene I love so much deleting it would be the very definition of the cliché “kill your darlings”.
The thing is, the only way I could have them refuse to acknowledge their feelings for each other would be if Logan blamed her personally, but that’s not who Logan is. Meanwhile, Maddie would have to keep hiding things from Logan, and she prides herself on her honesty.
So the characters talk it out. There’s still a whole battle in which they’re on opposite sides, but that doesn’t keep them from acknowledging their feelings.
I reject that a romance story has to stop the moment they say “I love you, we’ll figure it out”. I think it can go on through the figuring it out stage, and still be interesting, and romantic.
Does that make sense? ‘Cause this is getting way long.
There’s a place for stories that don’t fit the conventional outline, so I’m considering self-publishing Coming Attractions. I’d rather get a contract with one of the big publishers, to get into bookstores and not do all the work myself. (By myself, I mean my wife does a lot of the work.) I could go to small publishers too, although that doesn’t guarantee the bookstore part. But I believe in this story.
I know some people are firmly on one side or another of the self vs. traditional publishing debate, but maybe this is one of those books self-publishing was originally made for. What do you think?
In all the work and fuss over getting Hoosier Hysterical published, I haven’t had time to deal with the other works I sent out into the cold, cruel publishing world. Over the last several months they’ve all come back to me via rejections—except in some cases when I hauled them back in after not hearing from publishers/agents for several months.
I wondered about the best way to start the New Year. I rarely drink, and had no desire to see Miley Cyrus' Epiglottis on New Years Rockin' Eve. What I do want in 2014 is to get published again.
So three hours into the New Year, I sent my Radio Red manuscript to a publisher. That means all seven of my completed but unpublished manuscripts, four novels and three shorts stories, are out and about and seeing more of the world than I. What do I do next? Well, I have a few more stories that just need some polishing ...
I know what you're thinking: "You lazy sod, why didn't you send it three minutes into the New Year"? Well, my paranoia had me pouring over the query letter and synopsis for hours before I uploaded the manuscript and hit the send button. Besides, I have a morbid fascination with seeing how incapable the folks in Times Square are of finding and using a trash can.
The revised manuscript for Coming Attractions is winging its way back to Harlequin Special Edition after some extensive edits. I need a beer … and I hate beer.
This was especially difficult for me, and I think I’ve figured out why. In the last few years it’s been with other editors, and with my one-time agent, and in contests. I polished it up and made it as perfect as I could get it, and my subconscious mind said, “That’s it. It’s done. A finished story.”
Then I was asked to tear it apart and put it back together again. Oh, don’t get me wrong: The Harlequin editor knows what she’s doing, and my book is better for it. But it’s hard to go back into a “finished” manuscript after all that time. And, if she likes the “finished” product … she may ask for more edits! That’s the writer’s life, and I embrace it.
I’d eased off a bit on the Harlequin edits for Coming Attractions due to various medical issues, but I’m going to concentrate and get back on the editing horse while everyone else is busy with NaNoWriMo.
It helps that we are, in a word, broke. Nothing says “Go work on your career!” like trying to figure out how to pay the bills.
I've been avoiding Dad for a couple of weeks while suffering this sinus infection (and I’ve still got it! It’s hard to let go) but he's fighting an infection anyway, and has lost some weight. The good news is that the swelling in his lymph nodes has gone down ... we just need to get him through chemo.
Meanwhile, and on a not entirely unrelated note, I started on the Harlequin edits for Coming Attractions on October 1st. I had to get some other work out of the way first, and I also took a little time to mull over the suggestions. But now I'm on it, and in addition to getting the work done it keeps me busy and fills my mind with things other than worrying about stuff I can't do anything about. Being productive is always better than pacing, although not as good exercise.
Harlequin Special Edition wants me to do edits on Coming Attractions, then resubmit. This is not a guarantee they’ll buy it.
But it’s also not a rejection, and gets me a step closer. The editorial assistant used such words as “loved”, “skill”, and “write very well”, which ain’t too shabby when accompanied by “I would welcome a revised manuscript”.
Then there are those two long paragraphs detailing what she didn’t like. Some of the problems were niggling at the back of my own mind, which tells me I should have listened to my internal editor from the first. But a few suggestions include major, moving the whole book around stuff, of the “months of revisions” variety.
So, am I going to do all that work, or move on to a different publisher and try again with the story as it stands?
Well, it’s Harlequin, man!
Yes, I’m aware some writers hate Harlequin. No, I’m not afraid to take a pass. However, the editor is right about almost all the concerns she mentioned. I’d be a fool not to take advantage of that critique, make the changes, and try it again … so that’s what I’m going to do. However, I’ll start by making the obviously needed changes, save that version, and then go on with a new Harlequin version.
I guess free time will be out of the question for me between now and the holidays.
Oh, and my TV interview on Indiana’s News Center is (for now) rescheduled for the six p.m. news tomorrow, Independence Day.
It became clear to me a few days ago that I didn’t make the cut in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest, but I wanted to wait until the judging period was officially over before commenting about it.
Anyone who wants to make a living as a writer must learn to live with rejection, develop a thick skin, be prepared to rebound, and have a day job. There are thousands of deserving writers out there; I know some of the top 28 finalists, and they’re both good writers and good people. Congratulations to them, and I wish them the best of luck as they go on to the next round.
There is also, of course, the fact that this sucks.
We all want to win – not necessarily to beat other people, but to succeed. Like many writers I want to someday write full time, and doing that requires people paying for your writing. That requires getting the interest of a publisher, or winning contests, or self-publishing and selling, or in the worst case scenario being a b-list celebrity. No matter how deserving the winners are, I wouldn’t have entered if I hadn’t wanted to be one of them. Recognizing that writers get rejected doesn’t make the rejection hurt less.
But that’s okay, because suck happens and people need to deal with it. One of the real problems with this world is that people don’t want to face suckage. Face it, people.
Face it, then conquer it. I didn’t win SYTYCW, but I have a completed, polished manuscript ready to go to its next destination. I have some deciding to do: My next target was Harlequin American, but my understanding is that Harlequin’s editors were all involved in the contest, so it can be assumed American’s editors have already seen it. Would it be a waste to send it to them the regular way? I’ll have to think on it.
But think on it I will. Then I’ll take action, and send Coming Attractions out the way I did Storm Chaser, and the way I will many future manuscripts. Someday I’ll get The Call again, and a year or so after that you’ll be ordering your autographed copies, and giving it five stars on Amazon.Because when life sucks lemons, you scoop in a few spoonfuls of sugar and make friggin’ lemonade, people. And lemonade’s good stuff.
Your palms sweat. You pace nervously. You check your e-mail obsessively. Do that for six months or so, and you have an idea of what it’s like to be an author.
Seven hundred or so authors – minus those few who’ve already heard back – are anxiously awaiting news of whether they made the cut for the next round of Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest. The announcement period was October 12th through the 18th, but Harlequin posted early on that no one would be contacted those first two days, because it was a weekend. Even editors need a day off now and then! It was thought that most of the winners would get word on Monday – after all, the top 25 would be tallied by popular vote, and how long could it take to do that?
Ask the people in Florida that question.
As for me, while I’m as anxious as anyone, I’ve been in the game of trying to get published for thirty long years. I’ve learned possibly the most important personal skill a writer can have: patience.
When you're trying to get traditionally published, you quickly – or should I say, slowly – learn that old Army adage: “Hurry up and wait”. Even agented or requested manuscripts take weeks or months to be returned, as overworked and undermanned editorial offices go through stacks of them, trying to sort out the ones with possibilities. If you came in through the slush pile, as I did when I wasn’t giving up in complete discouragement, it takes even longer. A response time of several weeks is common; months can go by.
Then you get The Call, and everything’s a rush! Wait, no it’s not. From the moment I got word that Storm Chaser would be published until the official publication day was over a year.
(Self publishers have a fast track in many of those areas, but even then there it seems to take forever to get the manuscript perfect and formatted. Print runs often have their own delays.)
Over the years I’ve learned many things about myself and the publishing industry. One of those is that I would despair of ever getting published, and give up completely – every winter. That realization led to my diagnosis of Seasonal Affected Disorder, and since beginning treatment for that I’ve stayed on the writing bandwagon year-round.
But the most important thing I learned – the most important thing any writer can learn, when it comes to contests, submissions, and the editorial process – is patience.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go jog around the house ten or twelve times, then check my e-mail.
Popping back in yet again, coming home from a doctor’s appointment and headed for a few hour’s sleep again. Less than six hours left to vote in the So You Think You Can Write contest! Thanks, everyone, for your support.
Way less than a day left in the 2012 So You Think You Can Write contest, and since I’m off to sleep now I’m dependent on the rest of you to spread the word. So, if I get the top prize this year, everyone who can prove they voted for me will get a puppy!*
But seriously, there are a lot of great entries this year. So, if your conscience tells you to cast your daily vote for someone more deserving … ruthlessly beat it into submission.
*offer void where prohibited and where not prohibited.
Before I get on to my weekly column, don’t forget that we have less than 24 hours of voting left to go in the So You Think You Can Write contest:
It’s getting tense!
This article first appeared in the Albion New Era during 2009’s Fire Prevention Week.
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
1. Fire Prevention Week was begun after a huge fire burned:
a. The City of Chicago.
b. The entire town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin.
c. A huge swath of Wisconsin and an even larger area of Michigan, all the way from one Great Lake to another.
d. Donald Trump’s hair.
The answer: All of the above. The most devastating forest fires in American history roared through Northeast Wisconsin and lower Michigan on October 8, 1871, leveling at least 16 communities, killing 1,152 people, and blackening 1.2 million acres of land – those are the conservative estimates. The disaster didn’t make much impact on the national news because of that little dust-up going on in Chicago at the same time. I was just kidding about Donald Trump.
2. President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation in:
d. OMG! Nobody told me I’d have to memorize dates!
The answer: d. Meanwhile, since the early 20’s Fire Prevention Week has come during the same week as the anniversary of the Chicago and Peshtigo fires.
3. On the spot where the Great Chicago Fire began now stands:
a. The Chicago Fire Department Fire Academy
b. A shrine to Oprah.
c. Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
d. The burial spot of Donald Trump’s hair.
The answer: a. Can you sense the irony?
4. Okay, here’s an easy true of false question:
The Great Chicago Fire first burned down the O’Leary home.
The answer: False. Although the fire started in the O’Leary barn, a lucky breeze spared their house. However, rumors that Mrs. O’Leary’s firebug cow kicked over a lamp made them a pariah at the Homeowner’s Association meetings for the next 130 years. Later research revealed there’s no proof the O’Leary’s – or their cow – had anything to do with the fire’s origin. In fact, there’s some speculation that a fiery meteorite broke apart as it fell to Earth, explaining how several fires over three states all started at once.
5. Most fires are started by:
a. Mice with matches.
b. Men, women, and children.
d. A small, square animal called the Woozy that shoots sparks from its eyes.
The answer: b. Zeus is a myth, people – and the mouse was acquitted. Bonus points if you can tell me where I got that Woozy thing from.
Cooking, electrical problems, smoking, and children playing with fire-starting materials are the main causes of fires. Kids with matches or lighters cause hundreds of deaths every year, and that ain’t funny.
6. If a fire sets off a sprinkler system:
a. All the sprinkler heads go off, allowing our hero to escape in the confusion.
b. All the sprinkler heads go off, allowing the villain to escape in the confusion.
c. All the sprinkler heads go off, allowing the hero to electrocute the villain.
d. Only the sprinkler heads directly above the fire go off, saving untold lives and property every year.
The answer: d. You might want to consider getting a guard dog, because sprinklers are designed to control fires while doing only minimal water damage.
7. Your smoke detector batteries should be changed:
a. So you have fresh ones available for the TV remote.
b. Every spring and fall, when the clocks change.
c. Because otherwise they could develop serious diaper rash.
d. Because their behavior is just unacceptable.
The answer: b, no matter what time zone you’re in. Could we Hoosiers give that time zone dustup a rest, already?
8. E.D.I.T.H. is important because:
a. She’s the only woman James T. Kirk ever really loved.
b. I said so.
c. Exit Drills In The Home help families escape from home fires.
d. How would Archie get along without her?
The answer: c (and b. Come to think of it, all of the above). Smoke and toxic gases from a fire can fill a home within minutes, so practicing how to safely escape from a fire, and meet up in a safe spot afterward, saves lives. Firefighters are great, if I do say so myself, but most fire victims are dead from smoke inhalation long before fire trucks can reach the scene.
9. Firefighters die:
a. Because that gray is unacceptable.
c. in the wool.
d. At the rate of about a hundred every year.
The answer – is pretty obvious, and not very funny. Not only is the easiest fire to fight the one that never starts, but the least dangerous fire is the one that never starts.
10: Fire is:
a. Fast, sometimes engulfing a home in five minutes.
b. Dark, producing dense smoke and toxic gases.
c. Hot, over 1,000 degrees in a typical structure fire and searing lungs even at a distance from the flames.
d. Deadly, killing 2,900 people in 2008, injuring 14,960 others, and causing over twelve billion dollars in damage.
The answer: All of the above, and that’s no joke. So the next time you see or hear something serious about fire prevention – pay attention. When the real test comes, it’s life or death.
Recently I posted five interrelated blogs about the creation of my novel Coming Attractions, which is (as I’m sure you know by now), my entry in the So You Think You Can Write contest here:
In case you’re interested in the process and may have missed one or more, here they are in order:
Hope you enjoyed them … I’m sure I’ll write in more detail on those subjects in the future.
I've described the contest and my novel, put up several miniblogs about the process of writing, blew my own horn, and begged. So ... questions? Comments?
(Oh, don't think I won't be back tomorrow!)
In my novel Storm Chaser, the main characters aren’t all that different from standard romantic comedy leads (on the surface). The supporting characters, on the other hand, were quirky and memorable enough that some of them headlined their own tales in my short story collection, Storm Chaser Shorts. You don’t want supporting characters to overwhelm the leads, but you do want them to be interesting and fun.
In Coming Attractions, the general description of the main characters is also not all that off from the norm, although turned around: It’s the woman who’s a Type A power broker working on her first heart attack, and the man who provides the voice of reason and emotion.
But the same rules apply to their friends and family – they have to do their jobs for the story, but also keep things interesting. Logan Chandler’s kids are pretty much your typical tykes: Faith, the sometimes bossy older sister, and Conner, who’s quick to point out that he has achieved age five. The family matriarch, Judy Chandler, is not all that different from Elsa Hamlin of Storm Chaser (although she has a secret).
After that I made things deliberately … odd. Outside of the Chandler, the main supporting characters of Coming Attractions are:
Tupper, who resembles Shaggy from the Scooby Doo cartoons. Tupper – “My mother sold Tupperware, and she’s pretty hardcore” – is eager and wants to be helpful, but his intentions are sabotaged by the fact that he’s essentially clueless. It’s a mystery to Maddie why her high powered law firm hired Tupper as her Indiana contact, but she soon meets him again in the most unexpected of places.
No, he doesn’t own a large talking dog.
Dena Hantaywee is Maddie’s personal assistant and best friend. Part Native American, Dena is as opposite her boss as you can get: brash, disrespectful, and effervescent. She’s also psychic and can see spirits, or so she says – a possibility that runs contrary to Maddie’s world view.
They’re a true odd couple, arguing and defending each other, and we soon learn their friendship runs deeper than just being coworkers.
More supporting characters pop up as the story goes on, hopefully keeping things interesting. We meet the drive-in’s dedicated owner; a haughty, conniving partner from Maddie’s firm; the Chandler family’s wheelchair-bound pastor; and Maddie’s intimidating boss, the most senior of senior partners, among others. We also meet Logan’s dead wife – sort of.
Of all the supporting characters it’s Dena who I’m most proud of. Who knows? Maybe, if Coming Attractions is published and becomes successful, she’ll headline her own book, someday.
Oh, one more thing: There’s also a brief appearance by a character from Storm Chaser, although that character is never named.
Voting is still up! The fastest way to someday see the whole story is to vote for it at:
The elections' almost here!
No, not that election. I mean voting for Harlequin's SoYouThinkYouCanWrite contest is almost over. My entry, complete with first chapter and synopsis, is here:
If I win ... I promise not to raise your taxes.
Although I saved the characters until now, they were one of the first things I worked on once I came up with the basic idea for the story; after all, a well-defined character can lead a story in ways it might not otherwise go. If Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird had been a lazy drunkard, none of the events in that story would have taken place the way they did.
Since my experience going to the drive-in as an adult usually involved my two kids, I gave my male lead two kids, too. Since it was a romance, their mother was out of the picture – well, not entirely, as you’ll see in the story, but I made Logan Chandler a widower.
Where did I get the name? I spend a lot of time on naming characters, and Logan was the result of a great deal of searching for something that seemed to fit just right. Chandler? My kids and I were big fans of the TV show Friends.
I took a chance with my romantic hero in this story: He’s not the typical Type A personality we’ve come to expect, certainly nothing like Storm Chaser’s take-charge action junkie Chance Hamlin. Logan is a laid back family man, a small businessman with a sense of humor and a mild personality – mild until his family or his community is threatened. Then he’s not mild at all.
Madison McKinley, on the other hand, is no damsel in distress: As an attorney at a high class Boston law firm, she’s Type A+, focused on career advancement. Family? What’s that? (But there are good reasons for Maddie’s lack of a personal life.)
Maddie’s named after a Founding Father and a US President. Her personal hero is another Massachusetts lawyer, John Adams, so there’s a certain connection there. I could go on about it thematically fitting with the small town’s fight against bigger, more powerful aggressors in a Revolutionary War type of way, but that wasn’t intentional. (There’s a more personal reason for Madison’s name, but it’s … personal.)
Just the same, Maddie likes to quote Adams, and she’s in all ways in control and comfortable with her life and career. Then she gets thrown into the world of handsome, laid-back men, small towns and little children, and she’s not comfortable. Not at all.
In true romance fashion, Logan and Maddie are, of course, instantly attracted to each other. But if it were that easy there wouldn’t be a story, so the two have to deal with the fact that Logan has taken on the mission of keeping the drive-in open … while Maddie’s job is on the line if she can’t get it shut down.
Next: The support staff. And the vote, of course – don’t forget: