Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Little Bit Country

I am an impressionable reader. There, I said it. And I know that I’m not alone. For example, I know people who have tried the kind of Scotch or port that their fictional heroes drink. I might just take it a little bit further though. In the past, great fiction has inspired me to read poetry (Shiver introduced me to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke), t0 purchase a horse (The Black Stallion by Walter Farley), and to travel to Australia to ride a horse through the Snowy Mountains (The Man from Snowy River, both the film and poem by A. B. “Banjo” Patterson).

Knowing I’m like this, I shouldn’t have been surprised about what happened when I recently enjoyed the guilty pleasure of reading a western-themed, romancey-type book (and I’m not admitting to anyone, not even my BFF, what the book was called). But, there were cowboys. And I swooned. And then started listening to country music again (for the first time in a decade). I’m actually listening to a song by John Rich (of Big & Rich) right now... and later Garth and Lady Antebellum may make appearances.

So, addicted to country music now—check. But I wondered if my clearly impressionable nature would stop with the music. And... not so much. On Saturday, I went to a rodeo event with a friend of mine. That’s right, my first rodeo. And I loved it. The horses and bulls. Barrel racing. And—and you knew this was coming—cowboys. Eight seconds. Seriously amazing and exciting, and I can’t wait to see my next rodeo. I’ve actually considered turning on my TV (which I don’t do very often) to see if there are any televised rodeo events in the near future.

I see being impressionable (regarding healthy things, of course) as being open to new adventures. And the rodeo was certainly an adventure, though I would guess my friend and I were the only people there who dined at a schmancy vegan restaurant right before attending a rodeo. But well, eclectic is a word I like.

I’d love to know if any blog readers have gone on fiction-related adventures or developed music addictions because of beloved stories. Off to listen to more country...

Quote for the Day from Wild West Show by Big & Rich

“Only forgiveness,

Will finally end this.

There won't be a witness if we both fall.

There's never a hero,

In a battle of egos.

There's never a winner of the quick draw.

Hey yaw, Hey yaw!”

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Best Presents Ever!

A pony? No. Chocolate? Not so much. A new Ferrari (as though an old Ferrari would be somehow troubling)? Nope. In recent months, I’ve been gifted with a couple presents that top all others, because their wealth of meaning is almost limitless. And what were these marvelous gifts: two e-mails. Pretty exciting, huh?

As a writer seeking representation, it’d be easy to think these e-mails might be requests for partials and fulls (and those are lovely to be sure), but these e-mails struck deeper because they came from the past. Or rather, the collective pasts of myself and the senders of the e-mails, both of whom I haven’t seen in about ten years.

I’ve mentioned before that, for six years, I taught social studies, mostly at the middle school level. My belief is that teaching is one of the most important jobs out there, and while a teacher, I worked obsessively to make my class something unique, something challenging, and, every chance I got, something fun. History class lends itself perfectly to battle re-enactments and hands-on strategies. Some of my most enjoyable education-related activities included: having the students ride a boat (made of all the desks dragged into the hallway) across the English Channel to attack the beaches of Normandy; a wild trench warfare battle, complete with bubbles (mustard gas, of course); and a stealth mission through the jungles of Vietnam to teach team building, leadership, and a little history (on the sly).

I loved being a teacher, even though it was the most exhausting job I could ever imagine. But one of the hardest things about teaching is that it is very much like investing with everything you have in a future you will never see. Never. Well, that’s what I thought until some of my students sought me out. And I have to say a big thank you to technology in our modern world that allows people to be found.

The thrill of hearing from former students just can’t be measured on any scale I can think of. The first reached out several months ago, and I’ve had the good fortune to hear about his life now. What an absolute treat. In middle school, he was the kind of kid you had to smile at no matter how much he tried to usurp power through his role as class clown. I’ve heard of parents who scold kids while trying to hold back their laughter, and I can only imagine he was that kind of kid for his parents. And now? He is the youngest sergeant in his unit in the Army and recently returned to Iraq. I am so proud of his choice to serve his country... and maybe a little worried, too. Current events are a lot more powerful when you know people whose dedication to the United States places them in harm’s way. But regardless of worried former teacher syndrome, I am so glad that he found me and shared his grown-up life story with me (he’s even got a very pretty fiancĂ©e now). And it is a wonderful compliment that he sought out a teacher from a decade ago.

The second contact from a former student came just a couple weeks ago and seriously made my day (and every day I think of it). This former student was in my class the same year as the previously mentioned one, and she was one of those amazing kids you recognize from a mile away. Compassion. Intelligence. Courage. All great things, just not normally found in a middle school student. Most are struggling to find their place in the scope of life, and she just knew hers. So, to hear from her, to be thought of by her, is a great honor. And her words... absolutely priceless.

Here is some of what she wrote (printed with her permission of course):

I wanted you to know that you were the most inspirational teacher I ever had. As cliche as that may be, it's true. As I get ready to move forward in my academic career, I have you to thank for challenging me to think beyond the realm of the classroom and stand up for what I believe in. I have thought of you and your class often, knowing that part of the reason I have had the courage to do many of the things I have done in the past four years is because of what you taught and instilled in me in middle school. Teachers like you are hard to come by, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from such a passionate and incredible teacher and person.”

She absolutely made me cry the best kinds of tears ever. And when she mentioned the things she’s had the courage to do... that included volunteering in Africa. Amazing.

I always felt blessed to be a teacher and honored for the role I played in the lives of young people. And, yes, teaching is investing in a future you most likely won’t be able to see, but when you do get to, it is one of the most amazing feelings imaginable. These two former students turned fantastic, courageous adults humble me by reaching out to their middle school social studies teacher, to not only share their lives but to ask about mine. One funny thing is how awkward it is when I tell them that since they are all grown up, they can call me by my first name. He has made it through Miss Julie and settled on Teach, and she is working on it.

Huge thanks to both for giving the best presents ever by sharing their current lives with a person from their pasts.

Quote for the Day from Mary Anne Radmacher

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lily Pad Leaping — Agent Style

Anyone who’s been querying for a while has probably noticed that agents are a mobile group. It’s common to see that Ms. Fab U. Agent started her career at the Agency of Beloved Books, moved to The Obsessive Book Devourers Agency, and is now happily situated at High Faluting Books. This is so common that it got me thinking (as fictionally prone people are known to do) about the reasons why so many agents move around, and I thought I’d share a few.

To protect the identities of these agents, I have renamed them. I certainly wouldn’t want to accidentally stumble upon the truth and pull people into or out of their sacred life bubbles.

And speaking of bubbles...

I decided that one amazing agent, Clara Readerlee, decided to move agencies because her old agency involved group query reading exercises in a bubble-filled hot tub. Why would she leave, you ask? Those pruny toes began to interfere with her chi, of course.

Another Agent, we will call Tallulah Longbottom, left an agency to move to another because at the new agency, a studly romance novel cover model provided foot massages and fed her grapes while she strolled through queries at an alarmingly slow pace. The happy hour mai tais may have been another factor in her decision.

Agent Marinique SoontobeCrestfallen left one agency after a nefarious page embezzlement inquiry. Seems she had been stealing all the page forty-sevens from the other agents' To Be Read piles and keeping them for herself. Her book, Pilfered Pages, is due out next year. We wish her all the best.

And lastly, Drake Goodlooking started up his own agency above his favorite bakery so that he could use the color puce on every surface without hearing all the puce-discriminating comments of others.

If you’d like to add your own theories... or even a few facts (if you must), please feel free. And I do apologize for all the wacky places my mind goes while participating in this lovely writing journey.

Okay, back to querying!

Quote for the Day from The Princess Bride (movie)

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Inigo Montoya

Monday, February 1, 2010

Help! I Need a Support Group... Cause I’ve Got an Agent Crush!

When my agented friends speak (read gush) about their agents, it’s very much like a love affair. So, I guess it stands to reason that before the love-in begins, it’s all about the crush, and I’ve fallen in crush with an agent. Or two... maybe three. I’ve even got an agent-ish crush on the assistant to a successful agent (cause she gives good rejection... no, truly, I’ve never received a nicer or more supportive letter in my life). And just like in real dating, just because things don’t click doesn’t mean that you can’t still think highly of each other and wish the best for your future lives/careers.

What I will say is that when you have an honest to goodness agent crush, the waiting for a response is that much harder because it’s not a total cyber stranger who has your full or partial; it’s your crush. There’s always the risk you will get too smitten, and I’ve been guilty of this in the past, though I’m trying to live clean now. You know... testing out how their name will look on the Publishers Marketplace announcement of your forty-seven book, ten trillion dollar deal (that you are of course going to use to save the world, pay off the national debt, end world hunger, and outlaw the existence of calories in frappuccinos), just like you would test out a guy’s last name with yours (sometimes before the first date).

But, like I said, I’m trying to live clean. I’ve gotten downright detached about the whole thing, but then the crush strikes. The crush catalyst can be an agent having an amazingly forthright website, representing a beloved author, or giving an interview that shows enough personality to make me think we’d be a great duo.

Now, I do draw the line at outlining the agent’s name with hearts and rainbows on my querying spreadsheet, writing epic poetry declaring my crush-ness, or renaming my pets with the agent’s name. Boundaries. It’s all about the boundaries.

So, are you now or have you ever been in crush with an agent? And how do you make it through the waiting time?

Quote for the Day from Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

“A wave of feeling passed over his bronze features as he said slowly:

‘My friend has come.’

That was all, but it was everything; welcome, confidence, appreciation.”