Sunday, July 21, 2013

In the End, There's Always Hope

She's running through the woods. Limbs and thorny branches grab at her like little children at play, only these grasping hands rip her thin dress. Her feet, pounding across the dirt, try to find a place, anyplace, to hide. Even though she doesn't see him, her pursuer is close behind. She can smell him, rich and oily like the polish he uses to shine his boots to a blinding glare. The stream looms before her, small, but big enough to lose any trace of who she is. As soon as she steps into that stream, her hope is to come out beyond his grasp, beyond the horrific life she once knew and never loved...

Back in 2005, my husband and I experienced a pretty horrific car accident. Along with a lot of pain, weeks in the hospital, months away from our home, and years of surgeries, physical therapy, and painful recovery came a lot of pain killers accompanied by a certain dream that kept replaying in my sleep.

Her name is Hope. The girl I introduced to you, here, in the beginning. And for months after the accident I couldn't get her out of my mind. So, I asked my husband if he thought it would be weird if I sat down (because basically that's all I could do since my leg was shattered) and wrote her story. He said it wasn't weird at all. Bless that sexy man for not thinking I was going crazy!

With the aid of a healthy dose of Kelly Clarkson at the time (yeah, I know), I wrote my first novel. Now, I'd tried my hand at writing before. You know, the obligatory essays in college, the endless French papers about French authors, a final thesis for grad school, even my first attempts when I was in junior high and high school. The thing of it is that I've always had an active imagination. And I've always loved history. It came as no surprise to me that I chose Historical Fiction (no, I don't mean Historical Romance, because there is a difference) as my favorite genre in which to write.

I took Hope's story, along with some badly written short stories, and tried my hand at contests. The short stories never went anywhere, but, BINGO! Hope's story started hitting it in contests. I thought I had something good going on.

Then I got my first rejection.

The agent thought the story would work better for a YA agent. What?! This was not a YA novel (no offense to the YA authors out there), but hard-hitting literary fiction!

Okay, so I guess I needed to educate myself.

And that's exactly what I did. I took classes on how to construct a novel, what elements to look for that really pull the reader in, and how to know what genre I was even writing. I attended conferences, mainly in hopes of catching the right agent's eye, but also gleaning a thing or two about how this whole writing thing worked. I bought a few books on how to write a good book (not too many, because like with historical research, too much just bogs down your brain with unneeded information) and I learned how to deconstruct my own manuscripts and how to look at my characters with every step they took.

In the end, I eventually set Hope's story aside. My feedback from agents and contest critiques was inconsistent. I loved Hope, I loved her world, but I had to shelve her for the time being. And perhaps that was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. I had poured so much of my own frustrations and pain into this character, but I wondered if she would ever go anywhere, and much to my own dismay, I thought the same of myself and this thing called writing.

But then I picked myself up and went to work on the next novel. At first I didn't love that main character as much as Hope. She didn't come saddled with as much baggage as Hope. Her life was too prissy and I began to wonder if I'd ever really like this new character.

But you know what? I realized I had to find that place where I could connect with my new MC. I visited a small town in the Midwest that eventually became the backdrop for my story. I saw her in the house that at first would feel strange and unwelcoming, but would soon become a hub of revealing secrets and open arms. I stood under an elm tree in the cemetery, envisioning a key moment in her story, seeing her struggle and at the same time seeing her fate. I walked Main Street, spoke with the local minister and a woman who worked in a church that is so crucial to my story and brings everything to a fatal head. In the end, I found out who this character was.

And after that, I loved working with her story.

I also knew I had a strong novel. I began the querying process. I'd get a few requests, send them out, get replies that said something needed to be fixed, and then I'd move forward again. It wasn't a constant path of every day querying, but rather done in spurts. Rejection can be a little overwhelming in the beginning, especially when it feels like you're just one of many receiving the same form rejection. You begin wondering if anyone is even reading the stupid query letter! So it's good to pace yourself.

By the beginning of this year, I decided I needed to take some time off, do a little spiritual soul-searching, and see if what I was doing was even the right path for me. After taking a month to rework parts of my novel, I decided I'd go with one round, maybe two, of querying and then I'd shelve this book as well. In March I sent out about a dozen queries and within a week I got five requests for fulls. I'd never had that many agents reply that fast and all at one time, so I was optimistic, but also very very cautious.

Okay, so let's cut to the chase, shall we. I'd like to announce that I've recently signed with Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency and I'm very excited about the next step! Getting published is a long road and, as you can see, I've been at it for a few years, but I'm prepared to keep going until I get there. From the time I started querying this novel to the time I signed, it took me about a year and a half to find representation. In the meantime, I didn't sit at home chewing my nails and watching my email inbox. Instead I kept working, writing two more novels in hopes that at least one of them sometime soon would get picked up.

Do I regret setting Hope's story aside? Sometimes, yes, but I know when it's time to move on. I enjoy going back to her story and thinking about the sequels I want to write (hers is the only story I've written where there will one day be sequels). It's sad to finish a novel, knowing you're finished with those characters, but with Hope I can always wander back to her world.

So, yeah, even when things seem bleak or overwhelming or just plain uncertain, I always have hope to go back to. Keep that in mind for yourself if you're struggling through this writing thing!


  1. Babe, you've so earned this. Cheers, M&M! May the road to getting an editor and a publisher be as solid as you.

    And congratulations to Ms. Fleissig for knowing a good thing when she spotted it!

    1. Thank you, Suze! You and I both know how long and difficult this road can be and it's always nice to know you're not the only one out there struggling. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens next!

  2. Hello Mary! So wonderful that you've been picked up by Ms Flessig after your long haul. I love the sound of Hope and hope you pick her up again one day! But I look on my first novels as the best writing-craft course I ever did and am not ready to throw them on the scrap heap either! Who knows? I love the way you took the time to love your new MC. You have to or your readers will pick it up.

    Please keep us posted. I loved the excerpt you posted. It is wonderful how you made some good of a traumatic situation.


    1. Thanks, Denise! I will 100% agree that the first novel is always a crash course in writing. There's also something pure that goes into that first novel, because you have no idea what the heck you're doing so you make tons of mistakes and then learn about them later. But it's fun, and I love writing and putting stories down on the page. You'd have to or you'd go crazy!

  3. There is something special about first novels, isn't there? It's so hard to let them go. I don't know if it's because we dream and sweat them for so long, or because we put so much of us in there. It's almost like a first love, all our writing innocence poured in there. I also keep going back to my first novel and wonder if there are ways to make it more marketable, if there is still a chance to get it published, etc. [sigh]

    I'm super excited about your new agent, Sister. I think the two of you will do great things together!!!

    1. I loved writing my first novel, and I think that's why I always think about that character from time to time and like you, wish it could get it published. But, you never know. Maybe the time will come for it to see the light of day, but for now I'm just as happy with my other novel having a chance. It was hard for me to connect to that story in the beginning, but like I mentioned, I took time to finally get to know this new woman and figure out what makes her tick.

      Thank you for your excitement!

  4. Congratulations again, MM! I am so happy for you, and I wish you the speediest of publication stories from here on out. I can't wait to see that book in print! I also really like your Hope excerpt.

    1. Thank you, Stephanie! BTW, My Hope excerpt isn't really taken from the book, although the story starts out in a similar fashion. It' just what was running through my mind every time I closed my eyes. This may sound weird, but it's what helped put me to sleep on some very sleep-deprived nights.

  5. Sounds like an excellent process of discovery and development. Many congratulations!


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