“Al – what’re you doin’?” Flint jogged up to me. I didn’t answer him but reached into my pocket and grabbed my phone. I tossed it with one hand and he caught it. He was shaking his head. I picked up the pace and started to pull harder and faster. I could see Jabari talking to someone near the wall, a girl who was gesturing with her hands. He wasn’t watching me.
“Albie! The water is freezing . . . and that’s a shark, friend!”
“A baby shark,” I answered over my shoulder, as if that made any real difference. The water began to splash up my leg.
“Yes!” Flint yelled, seeing that I was going in. “A baby SHARK. With a MOTHER . . . where is she? Dude! Seriously. Stop!”
-NOW AND AT THE HOUR, pg. 46
Something was happening that I couldn’t explain. It felt like my body had been infused with a delicious super power. My brain was on fire. The red trolley car pulsed past as though it had emerged from glowing embers. Every sip of coffee was coating my throat with sweet lava. The crisp air reminded me of the Ice Lounge in Vegas, a space cooled down to an exhilarating minus 5 degrees.
I often felt this way when vacationing; the thrill of travel translated into a welcome and pleasurable rebooting of the senses and mental capabilities. But this trip to San Francisco was more intense and more exciting than anything else I’d experienced – because everywhere I turned parts of a novel were coming into sharp relief in my imagination.
As a writer, typically every part of this scenario would be embraced as freaking awesome manna from heaven. When parts of a story are forming faster than you can get them down it feels like gold is falling from the sky. And with every destination on our trip more material began to take shape. Most vividly, as my husband and I prepared to hike through the Presidio we paused at the veterans’ memorial section of the park. I stood silently reading the stone monuments honoring the fallen, and a full character formed in my mind: Albert’s dad, Timothy Davidson, US Army, deployed during the surge in Iraq . . . I could picture his handsome face so clearly; I could feel him. My heart seized a bit and I felt like I might cry.
But this emotional response was most likely because of the real-life impetus for my story, a dear and fierce friend whose battle against peritoneal cancer had led her to surgery, and chemo, and more chemo when the cancer returned. And finally, a year later, to Rome on a pilgrimage to pray in the city of her faith. The subsequent details of her journey took the old me and stomped it out like a loving steamroller that slayed the cynic but stretched her hopeful heart. We talked about her experience at length and she encouraged me to write about it.
In those early days I couldn’t know what was ahead. The raw emotion. The not knowing what I didn’t know. The daunting thrill of learning what was required for the genre I was determined to write. The coming to terms with all that had been written that ultimately would not work in the manuscript (beautiful Timothy Davidson, so fully formed that day in the Presidio like a lifelong friend, would say all of zero words in the final manuscript – although he would powerfully permeate the back story). All of this to get to the time to quest for someone who loved this book as much as me.
That is the point of my quest – to find that special someone.
Today I am reviewing the agents whom I plan to query next. This involves revisiting their agency websites, Googling them for articles or blogs, and checking in with their Twitter (since I’ve been following them since they first came across my radar). I’ll read QueryTracker (to see what other author’s experiences have been) and Publisher’s Marketplace.
What am I trying to discern? A few critically important points: Are they still open to submissions; are they still seeking my type of manuscript; other authors they’ve represented; some comparable titles they’ve sold. It’s helpful to read about what other authors have experienced when querying them.
This all takes me to my query letter, version #32. There have not been tremendous changes to it as I’ve revised it, but each updated part hopefully represents a thoughtful and strategic improvement. When trying to perfect this sucker it’s amazed me how quickly I can fall down a rabbit hole of possible modifications; it could truly drive someone insane to fully engage in this exercise of possibilities. Maybe it’s better to have comps [comparable titles] in the beginning . . . no, that’s boring, hit them with the good stuff right away . . . and maybe my comps aren’t right . . . will they think I’m a delusional egotistic ass if I compare my MS to these great books . . . maybe I just shouldn’t have comps . . .
The above torturous exercise, once reconciled, will represent exactly one sentence in my query.
But that’s ok. It’s daunting and scary and exciting to wade into the unknown in this way, to take a chance, to risk upsetting your usual equilibrium of feeling reasonably confident and proficient in your life. It’s what gets you to the next level.
Not every part of the process can be as thrilling and inspired as my original West Coast epiphany. Some of it’s been downright painful. But I’m still gratefully determined to ride this Train as far as it can go, with warm memories from the city that started it all sustaining me through the rough patches:
I’ve been high
I’ve been low
I’ve been yes
I’ve been oh hell no
I’ve been rock-n-roll and disco
Won’t you save me San Francisco?*
*Train- Save Me, San Francisco