So how does a book get started?
That’s a stupid question so I shall rephrase…how did my book, Reference to the Unspoken come about?
After I finished To Walk Among Strangers and began the querying process, I learned two things.
1. Wow, I could finish a book and be proud of the work I completed.
2. I can’t spell for crap.
3. (I’m adding a 3rd), I will not commit to another book because it takes too much time.
So, I discovered short stories. I love writing them. With over thirty written, and with a central theme I consider quite clever, I finished and began the query process again. Trying to get short stories published is about as easy as sending a newborn back where it came from. So what, I write them because they are fun.
At my laptop one day I started another short story and wrote the words, “I am beige.” Three innocuous words that on the surface say very little but when you think about them they describe a lot. From those words Reference to the Unspoken emerged and at 70,000 words and complete, has a cast of characters as full of fun and family secrets as my own. To say I love my characters is to say, well, I love my characters; I know it’s a very cliché kind of writery phrase, but did I say I like my characters?.
When I began the querying process, yet again, I thought my lead paragraph was brilliant and posted it here along with the entire query. Then I read an agent’s post which said never post your query on your blog because it will bite you in the behind. Not sure why the agent said that but I took it down and posted only the first paragraph, the brilliant one.
Then I read an agent’s blog, (I read too many agent blogs), which said to never lead a query off with a concept of thought or analogy. I’m supposed to grab the agent by their ‘I-wana’-read-your-book-balls’. In one paragraph I am supposed to describe, and entice the agent to love my be-zillion words; a query is a writer-to-agent-foreplay maneuver. So I took down my brilliant paragraph, which I am reposting now. Sorry experts but it best explains the backbone of the book.
Reference to the Unspoken is about elephants. Not about the ones which roam the African veld or performers the likes of Sara Gruen’s Rosie, but about the huge beast in the middle of the room about which no one speaks. It is also about the elephant which quietly dozes in the corner. That one has been around so long people often forget it is there.
I mean really, what is wrong with that? The writing is okay. Sure it says nothing specific but it lets the reader know that my book is about the baggage we all have and are mute about.
From the first three words of chapter 1, ‘I am beige’, the reader learns about Lillian, a never married, childless, college professor, who considers her life at almost-forty a cruel joke. At her nieces wedding she meets Royce, a recovering alcoholic and single-father who reeks of Jack Daniels. They don’t get along right away, ah…predictable, but when they begin to discover their feelings things get interesting. Enter the elephants.
There is a tragic reason Lillian is still single. Her elephant in the room is the one dozing in the corner and Royce’s is the huge beast in the middle of the room everyone dances around. As I added family members, ex-wives, and children, and break your heart incidents, my so called romance novel began to take on a much more serious tone. (It does have amusing parts too.) I’ve been told it is NOT a romance novel but contemporary fiction, which is okay with me because I didn’t want to write pure romance anyway. I’m not criticizing the genre it’s just that my characters say fuck too much.
Dig deep my writing teachers always said, go beyond where other writers may not seek to explore, so I dug, with shovel and pick-ax into incest and marital rape, as exculpatory regarding secondary characters, and realized mid-point in the story that every single family has secrets. If you don’t think yours does then you are the one they are keeping the secrets from.
And then the OMG WOW moment, the surprise of all surprises I cannot even hint at or the WOW is lost. (No spoilers here.) My God I cannot believe I came up with what I came up with. I love it. I love where it goes. I am proud, can you tell.
So, the book I said I would never write, because it takes too long to write a book, I wrote. It’s done, finished, edited ad infinitum. I went to Staples and had three copies printed, (258 pages each), and 3-hole punched. (I wanted them bound but their binding machine was broken so I bought three binders); they sort of look like books but really like huge homework assignments. 80 bucks later I handed over the copies to members of my writing group who graciously offered to read them.
Okay so I have to get over the idea that these people are blowing smoke of my dress. One of our group teaches writing at the college level, is published, honest and tough. She said she couldn’t put it down and she used the word phenomenal. I will not go into what others have said because repeating accolades is boring to the reader because, I know what you are thinking, ‘hey they are your friends, hey, they know you, they don’t want to embarrass you, or themselves, by telling you the last nine months of effort is a stink-pile’. But one of the people, I had a 4th copy, mine, who read it IS beyond honest and doesn’t give a shit how much time I spent or whether I am embarrassed…she loved it too.
Fourteen queries so far, two partials and yes a few rejections but what I find interesting is that they rejected my query, not the book. (It’s only been 3 weeks.) I find it amusing that even though I am a published essayist, well over 50 tear-sheets to prove it, my query sucketh. I'm on my hundreth version.
I have come to the conclusion that writing a book and getting it published is like losing weight. Once you make up your mind to do it, it is easy. Maintaining the weight loss is like getting your book published; remain focused, don’t get discouraged and stay on track. Yup it’s exactly like losing weight. Did I mention that two years ago I lost 92 lbs. ? I went from a size 22 to an 8 and yes I have maintained the loss of every frigging ounce. But that’s another story.