Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mary Lang

I want to bring up the subject of influence. Not necessarily author influence, but rather an event that compels you as a writer.

An event that was significant to me, occured in 1983 in Hays, Kansas. It involved a missing person's case, with undertones of murder. The missing person's name, was Mary Lang. She was about 31 years old, smart and very attractive.

Let me put this in perspective. I grew up in, and then south of, a small town called Zurich, Kansas. Zurich has a population of about 100 people. Hays, is approximately 30 miles northwest of Zurich. Hays has a population of about 20,000. When I was a kid, Hays was the "big city" we could go to, for grocery shopping or to stroll the mall. People just didn't go missing. That kind of thing, just didn't happen.

I was around 11 years old at the time. What I remember most from the incident, was the picture in the paper. All that was shown, was Mary's car door, slightly ajar. That was it. The scene left you with numerous possibilities. Maybe, she ran away. Maybe, she was abducted. Nobody knew then and nobody knows now. Conspiracies and rumors, already a big part of life in rural Kansas, flourished. They remain to this day.

I'm building up to write more in regards to my thoughts on Mary. But I ask you: was there an event like this, or similar in your life, that affects your writing?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm NOT What Willis Was Talkin' 'Bout!

At least that's how I felt merely one day ago. Yesterday morning I got the email regarding the partial I sent out. Not the call, the email. And as you struggling writers know, that ain't what you want my brotha's and sista's. As my father-in-law would say, "Wowzers!"

Let me start this off by saying that I had and still have, a tremendous amount of respect for this agent. From the moment they contacted me, they were up front, firm and corteous. Having said that, I'll try to outline their response, my response (to myself) and lessons learned.

Their response. In short, they did not find the plot all that beleivable. Also, they felt that it is the rare crime novel, which can succeed with a Private Investigator as a central character. Of course, my novel has a PI as a central character. They also went on to express concern about lack of setting, etc. All in all, it was a short and concise response, if not a bit vague. I say vague, because they finished with: "try me again." If someone can tell me what "try me again" really means, I would appreciate it (seriously, what does that mean?).

My response was simple and honest: "Thanks for your reply and feedback. I will put it to good use." I meant every word of it. Of course, this was written while icing my gonads, which felt as though they'd been kicked about twenty times by a large Russian woman, wearing steel toed boots.

I was actually ready to start writing this post yesterday, right after I received the news. Then I stopped and took a step back, letting reality set in. The reality, is that this was one agent and only the first one at that. I then fell apart, slowly but steadily, throughout the day. I finished work, went home, did a lot of thinking while having a few drinks and called it a night.

I woke up late this morning. I remembered my thoughts from the previous night. They rang with Steinbeck, Yates, Matt Hilton and so forth. Why? These guys all had more than their fair share of stumbling blocks in the beginning. And, as far as I can tell, things worked out (well Yates...) or are working out for them. It's called the learning process and it's about what you take away from the experience. I'll list those lessons learned, below.

1. If you have a manuscript to send out, let others read it first. Now, I did this; I let aquantances and a friend read it. Big mistake, at least in my opinion. I would recommend letting someone read your work, who has absolutely no emotional interest in you as a person, whatsoever. It's called putting yourself out there.

2. Think very hard about the query and synopsis you include with your work. Then, go back to step one and include these items in that process as well. Allow people you've never had so much as a conversation with, absolutely shred them to pieces.

3. Have a backup plan for the aftermath. Be confident, but also be realistic. If you get bad news, take a breath, and realize that the world is still turning and will go on turning. If possible, find a place to go and just chill. Are you going to stop the pain? No. But you can at least take steps, not to prolong it. Feeling sorry for yourself, will get you nowhere.

4. Remember that a ton of people are in your shoes. Some have been in those shoes for years and they're still writing.

5. Start writing again, immediately, but do so with a new sense of what you're actually writing. Even if you don't agree with the agents comments, take them to heart and use them. Regardless of how you feel, these guys are the pro's and they do this for a living. You and I, are still just a couple of chuckleheads.

I'm an extreme person who's emotions range from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows. Yesterday was low point: I'd obviously blown my big chance. Today, things look different. Don't get me wrong, I'm still reeling, but I now have something to work with. Before, I was writing off of love for the craft and sheer ambition. I've still got the ambition, and now, I'm also armed with knowledge.

Now it's up to me, to take the next step.

PS. If any of you have questions, want more insight or just have something to add, please feel free to contact me. I've been lucky enough to have several people in the writing community, help and support me. I'd like to pay it forward.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Burning Car

This is a couple of weeks old, so for Floridians, it's old news: Burning Car on Skyway Bridge

I remember seeing the report on television when it happened: they actually displayed the car with "something" burning in the opened trunk. Then they said it was a body. Then, they showed a photograph of her. Sheryl Lynn Laird looked so happy in that picture. The victim's killer/ex-husband meanwhile, was on the railing of the bridge getting ready to jump- it was all caught by a passerby. The picture here, does absolutely no justice to the horrific scene I viewed that morning.

When I write, I give a lot of thought to human feelings and emotions. For me, it's these fragments of joy, anger, jealousy and fear, that truly make the story relatable. Even so, it's difficult to imagine what this poor woman went through before and during her experience. Also, we'll never truly know and can never honestly relate to Sheryl on that desperate level, in that desperate moment. I've tried to do just that and failed. Miserably. To an extent, this would also carry over to the afflicted man who committed the crime; somewhere along his life's journey, Robert Laird's wires got crossed. Brainwaves shorted and sparked. The results, of course, were beyond terrible and affected many lives in the process.

Sadly, this is yet further proof, that real life is in fact stranger and more disturbing, than the fiction we write.

I can always go back and look at that picture of Sheryl. I can see her smile. I can wish the best, for her young daughter now growing up without a mother. Unfortunately, it's the burning car on the Skyway bridge that will stick in my memory. I'll never need to see another picture, to remember that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Brain Sizzle

It's late Sunday afternoon and I've got this little bit of anxiety brewing. Nerves are floating. I'm thought-processing ideas for my next book when BAM! I get this idea for a short story. I'm hesitant. Do I want to spend time on another short or move on?

I think I'll spend some time. I got this character who's head I want to get into. He's got some issues. We've all got some issues. I'll pit mine against his. We're going to party. We're going to play games with each other and see who comes out the other side. It's gonna be a total gas.

Possible problem: this will turn into another idea for a novel and I'll shelve the short story version of it- it's happened before. But I need to write the short. I need to feel that high. I'll also give one last go over my manuscript and start outlining the new book (which started out as a short story).

My brain is sizzling with ideas right now and I flat ass love it. I sincerely hope all my friends are feeling the same way- it's too good a feeling, to keep to one's self.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Best Foot Forward

No word yet on the partial I sent out. Those of you who have been in this situation, know what it feels like. This is my first time. I'd be as cool as the other side of the pillow, if I could say there was no anxiety. There is- a ton of it. I also know that I put my best foot forward. I went over those first 50 pages with a fine tooth comb, a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. Once it was in the mail, I went to work on the rest of the manuscript; if they ask for a full, I vowed to be prepared.

I finished up the manuscript on Tuesday and put it away. I'm letting it percolate. I'll pick it up again today or tomorrow and give it a last going over, which is something I do with all of my work. When I put it away at the end of the day, I'll move on to the next project.

It will be hard letting this book go. I've spent almost 8 months living and breathing with it. However, I think that dwelling on this one book and this one partial, is not the way towards progress. I need to re-charge. I'll do that with my next novel, which comes from a short story I wrote for the Drowning Machine's Watery Grave contest. It didn't win, but I see the potential.

If the partial succeeds and they ask for a full, I'll be a happy man. If it doesn't, I'll get serious sending out queries to other agents. Success or failure- either way, I cannot stop the writing process. Either way, I have to get better. And I do. Every time I write, I get better. Thinking about it, this is the fun part of being a writer; being new to it. You see progress, each time you put something on paper.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who I am...Part One

That's the question you're asking. Then you'll ask "and why should I care?"

Right now, I'm a little known writer residing in St. Petersburg, FL. I started writing about 1 1/2 years ago. I've written a few short stories that have been pusblished online- crime for the most part. I just finished writing my first book. I sent out my first partial, just a few days ago. I'll let you know what happens, good or bad. I'll also feed you bits and pieces of me and my work as we go along.

And that's what this blog is about: trials and tribulations. It's about how you feel, when you've written something great. It's about how you feel, when you get that rejection slip in the mail.

It's about writing the hard way.

Many of you are like me. No, not handsome and smart and funny. You're writers. One day, you decided to pick up a pen and pad or opened up that word document on your computer. You said, "Today is the day," and from there, you began. You wrote that first page. Then a second. It was two more pages than anyone, including yourself, thought you could write.

You did it the hard way.