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Tag: agent submission

Old Stories Found

After a long hiatus, I submitted a couple of short stories to literary magazines today.

I’ve been working on the new website, mulling over what stories I wanted to include. The website will have a “Photo Bio” featuring a sentence about my life that reflects a dominant themes in my work and a representative photo. Click on the photo and you can read (or listen) to work that engages the theme.

For example, under the “I grew up to be a lawyer and show clothes on the runway,” you will be able to click on a glamor shot and read The Dress, which appeared in Skirt! Magazine, or listen to “Show the Clothes.” where two models get into fisticuffs.

Given my recent proclivities, much of the fiction will be in audio form, but I also want to include PDFs folks can read. I knew I’d use “Held at Gunpoint,” the story that received a Special Mention from Pushcart Prize, Best of the Small Presses. But what else?

In search of an answer, I wandered through old stories lurking inside folders entitled “Odd Devices” (where the structure doesn’t follow a standard “and then this happened” telling); “Distance Stories” (where the narrator is not as close a point of view as I normally use), and one folder I can’t tell you the name of without blushing.

Inside the “Women” folder, I found two old stories I liked so well I don’t want to “self-publish” them by placing them on the website. Instead, I slipped them into envelopes (yes, no email submissions) and sent other copies to Submittable and other online submission processes.

One story is a post-Katrina story set in Jackson, Mississippi. I’m hoping the topical nature of it, given the upcoming 10th anniversary of the storm, might help with its acceptance. The other is a story about a young woman who had to leave her children and live on the street. Because I wrote this BEFORE I began facilitating a writing group of men and women who live on the street, I shamelessly began my submission letter: “For seven years, I’ve facilitated a writing group of men and women who know homelessness.” I measured the story against that experience to see if it rang true (it obviously did), but I had no fear of exploiting the experience since I wrote it prior thereto.

We shall see if anyone wants them, but here’s the primary thing: they are good stories. Right now, when I’m going through so much rejection trying to get an agent for the novel, it was really nice to run across these stories and realize with the cold eye of not having seen the work in a long, long time—you CAN write.

As I always say, you never know why you’re going from A to B but, most of the time, it’s not the reason you think. I thought I was getting my new website ready for launch, but what I really was doing was laying a balm on my soul.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The Good News

When I was young, my mother told me I’d gotten a phone call. I was whining about what terrible news it was certain to be, and she said, “How can it be good news if you don’t leave room for it to be good?”

I think of this every time I’m about to open a SASE. You know, the letter that, incredibly, some very high-end literary agents still use—no internet for them. My natural pessimism kicks in until I remember my mom, and I think, Ellen, you need to leave room for it to be good.

Today as I slit open the letter, I took it one step further. I said, whatever is in this envelope is good news. There’s lots of ways to spin this into truth, the primary one being he or she wouldn’t have been the right agent for me anyway. More importantly, it makes me read the letter looking for the good in it, which might otherwise slip by unnoticed.

I’m not going to identify the agent—she probably didn’t expect to be quoted, and I also don’t want anyone to be negative about her. To be clear, she did NOT offer representation. What she offered was hope.

She praised my characters, my writing, my keen observations, and my publishing credentials. I don’t mean to be blasé, but she is not the first agent to do so. What she did that hasn’t been done until this draft of the manuscript was to praise the storyline.

I have worked so hard on the story. I poured my heart into fixing the plot, making it work, pulling it into something desirable in a process that reminds me of my grandmother hand-pulling old-fashioned taffy, the taffy searing to the touch, Mamo working it into ropes before it cooled too much to be formed. To have someone say the narrative promises to be unique and entertaining is balm to my soul.

That’s good news.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Where I am Now

For those of y’all following my novel(s) saga, I thought you might like an update. Also, I need your support—just getting it out here helps me feel I’m not all alone on this journey!

TRAIN TRIP: LUCINDA MAE’S QUEST FOR LOVE, HONOR AND THE CHICKENS, is being read and considered by four agents. Many queries are still outstanding, and I have about 25 more to submit.

MODEL FOR DECEPTION has been reviewed by my paid editor and, mercifully, she sent a mild revision list. She really liked the story, loved the character, and thought it had great “salability” as a women’s mystery. She now has my draft query letter, and I hope to receive her comments shortly. When I do, I’ll begin sending out that query as well.

I chose to revise IN THE NAME OF MISSISSIPPI next, and I’m now done with the final (God, that is such an iffy word) read. I will send this novel on to the editor as well. Who knows what she will think of it:

a young documentarian returns to the South to film a historic civil rights reparations lawsuit, but when the case begins to fall apart, the mixed-race young man must examine his own place in the world.

The manuscript up next will either be THE BONE TRENCH or JAZZY. THE BONE TRENCH should be a quick revision (famous last words) because I have revised it SO much already. On the other hand, I’m eager to get on to the Hurricane Katrina novel, JAZZY. While JAZZY is “finished,” that’s a mere technicality. I don’t even consider it a first draft—which smart authors say doesn’t exist until at least one outside reader has read it. Returning to the world of this young girl who lost her daddy and awaits the birth of a sibling as Hurricane Katrina approaches would be pure joy, a treat after the many months of revision.

In the meantime, the short story collection CAIN’T DO NOTHING WITH LOVE won an award in an independent publishers’ contest, the 2014 CIPA EVYY Awards in Audio Book! I’m so pleased for the success of this experiment I pretty much made up myself—Hey, why don’t I record a collection of stories, pair the stories with charities, and make the collection available almost exclusively for free online. The podiobooks.com listening site has had over 7000 (!) downloads with some wonderful comments. When you add listeners on YouTube, iTunes and the website, you get over 8000 downloads. I think that’s great for (1) short stories (2) that are literary and (3) very Southern. From this, I’ve learned (among many other things) what I want in a website; that many folks for whom English is not the first language can understand my Southern accent; people like my reading voice. It really has been an informative process.

About the website thing, I’m about to consolidate my web presence. Not to get too philosophical, but I feel the time has come to integrate the various bits of me that now exist on the web. From making crosses to this umbrella blog to the story collection site to my old ellen morris prewitt website—they need to be pieces of an integrated whole. My webmaster tells me I can transfer all of y’all to the new site, and no one will be lost. I certainly hope that’s true.

Thanks again for following my journey. I much appreciate it.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The Stink of Failure

I have just sent—for the last time—to the interested agent Train Trip: Lucinda Mae’s Quest for Love, Honor, and the Chickens. After three (count ’em, three) prior attempts, I have either successfully managed to revise the manuscript into a “market ready” product or I have not.

I am telling y’all this because I need to share. I’m not sharing my success. I’m sharing my possible failure.

See, I often don’t tell y’all what I’m attempting to do. Contests I’ve entered, submissions I’ve made. If I don’t disclose what I’m trying to do, you won’t ask, Hey, what happened to the ABNA submission (FYI, I didn’t make it into the third round.) I won’t have to face the questions and admit I’ve failed. This is good, because of course I don’t want to look like a failure.

Yeah, I can talk a good game—”I advise from failure” is one of my standard lines—but that’s admitting failure IN THE PAST . . . after I’ve demonstrated success. This position is similar to what I’ve observed about being poor: everyone’s proud of growing up poor, but no one brags about it while they’re still in it.

So here I am—in the midst of becoming a success or on the verge of failing again. I don’t know which way the weather vane will spin. If it’s not good, I’ll try something else. Ultimately, I have faith that it will all be good. I just want to admit, right now, while the jury is still out, that I may be about to fail. Again. And again. For the fourth time again.

And I’m okay with that.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Redeeming the Synopsis

I know you hate it, but consider writing a synopsis of your novel. Not to accompany a submission to an agent—usually the only reason any of us take on this mind-stupefying task. Do it to see the holes in your manuscript.

Like many, I have long hated the idea that in order to gain agency representation, the writer had to reduce her 80,000 word manuscript to one single-typed page. Where goes the art? What about the lost intricacies of plot? So true, so true. But, over time, I have come to realize that being forced to give a “big picture” view of my novel helps me see, quite logically, what should be there but often is not.

A difference of opinion exists on what exactly a synopsis is (doesn’t it always?), but helpful to me have been the recent articles I’ve read which don’t focus on synopsis as condensed plot. Rather, they encourage a synopsis to focus on the main characters’ motivations, goals, and conflicts. Once I began to write such a synopsis, I immediately saw where the plot was zigging when it should have-if I had truly been following the needs of my main characters—zagged.

For example, in The Bone Trench, I added a major scene where the Mother Mary character is forced to relive her experience at the foot of the cross so she can face her fear that, unless she does a better job as a mother, God will again let her son die. Since this desire to be given a chance to keep her son from harm is the major motivator of this character, for this scene not to have been previously included is almost an unbelievable oversight. But it wasn’t in there until I wrote the dreaded synopsis.

As a bonus, when the time comes to actually submit the synopsis to an agent, the current one is SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING. Rather than a staccato “this happened, then this happened, then this happened,” this approach makes me actually want to read the synopsis. I find myself thinking, wonder what happens next?

One way to start this undertaking is to re-envision the synopsis. The synopsis no longer is something you MUST do. It’s a great tool you have at your disposal.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

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