My Epic Quest for a published book: Beginnings
When I first started writing what became my fantasy, Dreams of The Kindred, I had no experience at all in writing fiction, other than a couple dozen poems. I had never written anything longer than thirty pages, and that was a paper for teacher certification. I most certainly had no idea what a strange and all-consuming process writing a novel would become.
The novel began with a role playing game and story that I told to my two sons (then eight and six years old - now twenty-one and nineteen). I had an idea of a young boy meeting a mysterious creature in a primeval forest. There was something mystical about the creature. I found myself interested in exploring this imagined world and wrote out a few paragraphs describing a scene of hunters circling round a grove of tall trees, blowguns in hand. The scene was exciting, and confusing, what was going on?
Soon I was hooked. I kept writing, and one page turned into five, then, twenty, fifty, a hundred! I was soon lost in a new, yet oddly familiar world, drawn from my own experiences of nature and animals, lost memories of Disney's animated The Jungle Book (seen when I was about five) and aspects of my fascination with Taoism and Buddhism.
I met strong, complex, and charming characters who popped into my head from a deep need to simply tell this story. I felt that I was not inventing a world, but discovering one. Over the years that I worked on that first draft, between teaching and raising a family, I learned what it felt like to fall in love with your own creation.
I shared my story with my family and a few receptive friends and paid for a professional book critique package. i made changes and revisions and rewrote the book again and again. Finally, I agreed to let my wife, Tracey, read it to her fourth and fifth graders, on her request. I was deeply nervous and more than a little hesitant about the idea. But I knew I needed to hear their viewpoint. Would it interest them? Would they like it or even understand it? I was wracked with self-doubt.
Those kids positive response, more than anything else, convinced me that I had a "real" story on my hands, one that could hold the attention of nine and ten years olds and leave them wanting to know - even begging to know - what would happen next. I decided that the time had come to get my novel published.
After weeks or months of researching the process of getting my book "out there", I determined that he first step was to get an agent. I bought the Writer's Market Guide to Literary Agents and Publishers, and sat down to narrow the field to those accepting unsolicited queries for Fantasy.
I compiled a list of 33 agencies and began to research how to write a query letter. For those who have no familiarity with this process it felt a bit like trying to contact an alien species with a shoebox, some tin foil, some wires and a battery. It was DAUNTING! How could I ever hope to convey the breadth and scope of my epic journey in just a few paragraphs?
In the end I figured it out (sort of) , and cautiously sent out a few queries to those agents highest on my wish list. BIG MISTAKE. I soon had a few terse emails saying something to the effect of: "Thank you for sharing you material with me. Unfortunately, I am going to pass. This is just not the right fit for me. I wish you luck in your search for an agent."
This was NOT the response I had anticipated. Where was the glowing review of my brilliant work? Where was the sentence that I had dreamed of reading:
"Thank you so much for sharing you beautiful and evocative story with me. l am requesting the full manuscript of your novel. I am dying to know what happens next!"
This was heartbreaking. Still, I consoled myself with the fact that I still had twenty some odd agents yet to query. Surely ONE of them would want to see more than the query letter? After sending out another batch of queries lovingly crafted to hook the agents into loving my work, I settled down and waited as patiently as I could for a response. Over the following weeks, I received a string of email rejections, each just as terse and unrevealing as the next. I was getting them first thing in the morning, and the last thing before bed. My fragile hopes had been returned to me as lifeless rejections, as if the universe cared nothing for me or my work. I stopped querying and went back to my life.
In August of 2015 my father received the news that he was in stage four kidney failure and that even with dialysis, he might not live much longer. He decided to forego the dialysis and to make the best of his remaining days. I felt a renewed sense of urgency to get my book published, and so I sent out a few more queries. I wanted so much to give him the good news that my my novel was going to be represented by a Literary Agent. He had very little time.
One day, I received an email from one of the thirty-three agents I had thus far sent queries to. She wanted to see more of my work. My stomach fluttered and I got a dry mouth. My heart raced at the thought of seeing my dreams realized! I sent off the requested material - a "partial" in the parlance of the writing world, and crossed my fingers. I joined twitter to follow the agent and read, with a mixture of embarrassment and glee, a short tweet she wrote about three recent works that featured an opening scene in a dream. (MY book was one of those). Alas, a couple of weeks later, as my Dad was getting markedly worse I sat on the couch next to him and told him the bad news.
"Dad, I heard from that agent."
"Yeah", he said, excitedly.
"Yeah, she's not interested."
"Oh, that's too bad. Well, don't give up."
"I know. But I was really hoping that this might be 'it', you know?"
"Dad what should I do?
"Don't give up!"
And so, in a near death-bed conversation with my father I decided to commit myself to polishing my book and trying again to get an agent...