On Finding an Agent (or Two): A Post with Pictures for the Visually Curious

You know what else is this way? Finding an agent. I like to tell myself that's what makes life interesting. ( also like to delude myself. Coincidence?)

You know what else is this way? Finding an agent. I like to tell myself all the mystery is what makes life interesting. (I also like to delude myself. Coincidence?)

Last April I broke up with my agent of nearly three years. It was necessary, and risky, and terrifying. It meant leaving the only person in publishing who’d thus far agreed to champion my work, in order to find someone else who would, you know, champion my work.

Writing that message was hard. It couldn’t be undone, and there was no guarantee I would find another agent. Worst of all, I don’t ever want to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially someone I like, and someone who gave me a chance before anyone else in publishing ever did.

Some things need to be done, however. This was one of them.

Because my newest book was ready to go — or so I thought — I jumped into the agent hunt fairly quickly. I had my query letter. I had two different synopses. I had a query-specific email address with a unique chime that gave me a miniature heart attack every time it announced a new message. I even had an agent spreadsheet so detailed that my writing buddies took every opportunity to tease me about it — and then asked me to share it with them when they, too, were ready to query. (Vindication feels good, by the way. In case you were wondering.) (more…)

The Time I Almost Went to Art School (Except I Had No Talent)

When my brother and I were children, my parents believed in nurturing our talents and helping us become whatever we wanted to be. Kindergarteners have a very small skill set, but they get to paint a lot, so one September day I brought home a roll of manila paper. It was heavy with paint, damp and creased from where my fingers clutched it on the walk.

Jackson Pollock No. 9 – It really does look like that long-ago painting, manila paper and all.

Prepared to gush over any bit of artwork, no matter how rudimentary, Mom and Dad watched me unfurl the paper and thrust it their way. Stunned, they stared at the masterpiece I’d so casually brought into the house. It was like something out of Jackson Pollock – The Kindergarten Years. Bright splashes of color dotted the paper, flirting and frolicking in an arrangement that dazzled the eye. Abstract and playful, it was the work of a confident painter, one much older than five.

The next day they quietly began saving for a fancy art school. I would be the first artiste in the family, and they wanted to make sure I had an opportunity to mix more media than crayons and fingerpaints.

Excited to show off their daughter’s talent, they had the picture framed and hung in a place of prominence over the dining room table, where we could admire it.

And then one night during dinner, as my brother kicked me under the table so my parents couldn’t see, my mom turned to me and asked, “What made you decide to put that dab of blue right there?”

“What?” I asked, more worried about Mom catching me kicking my brother back than about answering her. (more…)

The Trouble with Audiobooks

Warning: Moderately explicit imagery ahead. If you are young and impressionable, easily shocked, or my parents, feel free to move along.

This morning I kicked off my list of errands with a stop at the fitness center, where I pounded out a 55-minute suffer fest on their diabolical machines. I find that ignoring exercise is the easiest way to get through it, so I queued up an old audiobook that I bought last year based on an inexplicable number of five-star reviews and never could finish.

Almost immediately, the two main characters jumped into bed together (and by bed, I mean the shower). Since I’m not one for the, uh, more intimate scenes, I set the player to double speed and hoped the hero and heroine found quick gratification.

They did not. Their staying power was impressive, their stamina improbable. And the author described everything in such detail that even the most die-hard love scene fans would find it tedious. It went on. And on. And on. Annoyed, I finally gave up, stopping the book well before the big finish (if their recent performance was any indication).

Over the next hour Sunshine and I drove all over town, ticking through my to-do list. Just before lunchtime, when my exercise session and the accompanying book were a distant and unpleasant memory, we hit our final stop. (more…)

Shh! Baby’s Sleeping.

I am sitting in our family room in the dark, listening to my baby cry in her nursery, just as I have for the last hour. At ten months we are finally, supposedly, teaching her to fall asleep on her own, and apparently it involves tears. Her torment is incessant, a tide of misery building into giant, shuddering sobbing fits and then subsiding, only to rise again. It is impossible to listen to, and unthinkable not to.

At regular intervals I slump into her darkened room to check on her. Each time she is standing at the foot of her crib, bawling, loudly waiting for my return. I am sweet but firm, a difficult combination with all this guilt clawing at me, urging me to end her sadness, to try this process again another night. Instead I murmur to her, brush her hair from her wet face, lay her down, and rub her shuddering back until she quiets. And then, as advised, I back out of the room to let her figure out how to sleep without me. Her howls follow me down the hall.

I feel cruel and selfish and desperately tired. I swore I would never leave Sunshine to cry it out, but those were pre-parent vows, the promises of someone on the other side of all of these sleepless nights. I am doing the right thing. I am. I know I am.

On my web browser, ten tabs open to articles about sleep. The words are different, but they almost all say the same thing: let her cry. Let her cry, and she will fall asleep. It’s not mean. She has to learn. It’s only a few nights. It’s time. I read through them again for affirmation. Still, I nearly rise and go to her a dozen times before the clock says I may.

Finally, her cries slow to an intermittent whine, a tired drizzle. And then…nothing. I blink into the silence, torn between relief and worry. I can go back to bed! Yay! But is she okay? Did she just fall asleep? Did it actually work? I can’t check now, risk repeating all this drama tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough. And, yes, we will have another round of this tomorrow night. And the following. And, all those websites assure me, a few nights after that. But we can do this. For now, baby’s sleeping. And soon, I hope, so will I.

Rattled

“There’s a rattlesnake up ahead,” the man said, eying the camera I’d slung around my neck before I set off on my hike. “Just thought you’d want to know.”

“Really?” Wow. That hadn’t taken long. I’d been in Tucson about four hours, and already people were warning me about snakes. I adjusted the brim of my baseball cap so it blocked the afternoon sun, then tugged one of the straps of my backpack, sliding it off my shoulder. “I’d better change lenses, then. Where is it?”

The man’s wife grinned in understanding, her eyes mirroring the enthusiasm that must have been in my own, while the guy half-turned away from me and gestured up the narrow gravel path. “Up there about a hundred feet. On the left.”

I thanked them and nodded goodbye as they passed, then dug my telephoto out of my day pack, which was now hanging from the crook of my arm. I pushed my discarded lens into a thick sock to protect it, then gently rolled it into the bag.

Camera clutched in my hands tourist-style, I crept along the trail, alert for any movement, heart hammering in a rhythm that was half nervousness, half excitement. I passed several statuesque saguaro, then a cactus flower blooming a cheerful hot pink in the April sunshine, and made a mental note of both. I’d come back after I found the snake.

Only, there was no snake. I went my hundred feet, more, and…nothing. Disappointed at missing such an opportunity, I changed to my macro lens (for closeups) and strode back to the flower I’d seen. At least it had stayed put for me, posing prettily all the while.

Once on the trail again, I paused often for pictures. One such stop required a few illicit steps off the path, but the flowers were worth it. And just ten to fifteen feet further were more, clusters of huge lavender thistles and delicate cactus blossoms.

Already planning how best to photograph the flowers, I picked my way through the shrubs and rocks, then stopped short — three steps from a Western diamondback. It was coiled behind a paddle cactus, its tail hidden and silenced, its slitted eyes watching me warily.

Adrenaline washed through my paralyzed body in a cold tide. A cacophony of unprintable words screamed in my mind. Slowly, steadily, keeping one eye on the snake, I backed up, foot by careful foot.

Around a bend and out of sight I slid my pack off my shoulders, pulled it open with trembling fingers, and located my telephoto lens.

Pit viper or not, that snake was mine.

Excitement, fear, adrenaline — something had my hands quaking so violently I knew I’d never get a clear shot without help, so I yanked my tripod out next, opened it at top speed, and fastened my camera into place. I lowered the pack to the ground and swiveled back toward the bushes where the snake hid, then slunk forward, hoping that the rattler hadn’t fled, that I was not too late.

It hadn’t, and I wasn’t.

rattlerblog1

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Click here or on picture for larger image.

How Not to Get a Job

I looked up when she came in the door, this girl in her twenties wearing jeans and an old tee shirt, blond hair pulled back in a messy pony tail.

“Can I help you?” I asked, thinking I sounded like a stereotypical sales girl.

“Uh, yeah.” She leaned forward against the counter between us. “Do you have any job openings?”

Since it’s not my place to make personnel decisions, I told her when Those in Charge would return. “Or,” I added, trying to be helpful, “You could always drop off a resume.”

Her eyes lit up. Ah. This was the perfect solution. “Great! Where can I get one?”

For a second, I couldn’t speak. Perhaps I’d had an advantage, as the daughter of small business owners, but this seemed like common knowledge. Then I reminded myself that she probably thought I meant to say “an application”. I tried to decide how to phrase this tactfully, in case she truly had misspoken.

“Well, actually, I’m not sure where the applications are,” I told her slowly, thinking aloud, putting a bit more emphasis on applications. “But if you write up your resume, then you can come back with it.”

She wrinkled her brow in confusion. Okay, so apparently it was possible that someone in her mid-twenties might not know what a resume was. Maybe she’d never needed one before. But she must have had other jobs. I tried again. “You know. A resume? Where you list all the jobs you’ve had?”

“Oh. Okay.” Her eyes drifted toward her hands. The left moved vigorously, picking at the cuticle on her right thumb. Then she looked up. “By the way, what do you guys do here? I’ve done lots of cashiering. I have tons and tons of experience with it.”

I glanced around the room, which held plenty of evidence of our products. Itching to explain the finer points of job-hunting — including dressing professionally, researching the company, and preparing the appropriate paperwork — I summoned up a kindly smile and briefly outlined our tasks, none of which included working the ancient cash register hunched on the counter between us.

“That sounds fun!” she chirped, swinging her sagging pony tail in her enthusiasm. “I’d like that a lot.”

Moments later she skipped out the door, full of cheerful promises that she would return later that afternoon to pick up an application. I never saw her again. Perhaps getting a job the traditional way just turned out to be too much work.