I started blogging about 6 years ago on Livejournal( LiveJournal.com ) under a pen name (yes, its still up and no, you can’t know my secret name). At that time it was more of an online diary and observations—acerbic, touching and otherwise, about my work in a high school, my kids and their friends: (Emily, Gabe, Hana, Aaron, Kela, Caleb, Tawny, Heather, Sarah, Dallas and a host of minor and supporting characters such as Ms McBride of the colorful outfits and Dragon Lady of Dept of Education fame) and in the comfort and anonymity of my guise I wrote about my therapy work (even then disguising everything I could think of).
It was also where Orchid was born—a short story that took on a life as I added chapters and it became a novel.
I discovered Brigits Flame, an online writing community on Livejournal hosted by the gracious, talented and supportive LaCombe. Through its American Idol style weekly writing/voting contests, I honed my skills in writing to a prompt and responding to reader feedback. Through Talithakalago, a talented writer friend I “met” on Livejournal, I found Authonomy (Authonomy Book Charts), a competitive novel site where authors compete for a review by HarperCollins UK.
I launched Hawaiian Orchid on Authonomy and discovered the sheer awesomeness of having my budding book read! What heady stuff! With a virtual cover, my posted chapters looked like a real book and I began to not only believe I could finish my novel but I could get published. In a flurry of creative writing energy I finished Orchid and cranked out Ginger.
The first novel had taken 18 months to write, the second took 6 months (first draft). I realized I had the necessary obsessiveness, drive, and sheer egotism to be a writer as I drove my family crazy with my daily updates and latest revelations—not to mention interest in firearms, dismemberment and police procedure. (See previous blog entry, The Reluctant Crime Writer)
I developed a huge network of friends all over the world whose work I’d reviewed and who’d read mine. It was a heady, addicting time as I worked Orchid higher and higher in the Authonomy rankings, eventually plateauing at 25 when I knew I had to get it to the top five and keep it there in order to get that coveted review—but with two jobs, I eventually realized I didn’t have the networking time it would take. So after a year, and making a ton of useful connections (including my first editor, the talented Cheri LaSota( Services « Stirling Editing) I pulled my books off Authonomy and switched to Facebook to keep up with my author and other online friends. Some of these amazing people included Jeff Lawdog, Barbara Mayo-Neville, Rocky Lastinger (RIP, dear friend) MM Bennetts, Noelle Pierce, Allen Farnham, Matt Rogers and Dai Alanye. Thanks so much for the critique and support!
By then I Cheri and I had overhauled Orchid to the point I was ready to query, and all the feedback, good bad indifferent and ugly, had prepared me for the gauntlet of querying agents. I went about it systematically, using AgentQuery (link on sidebar) to research, a spreadsheet to track, and a daily goal of five query submissions a day.
After 173 queries and 5 months, I had 6 requests for partials and 6 requests for the full MS. I rode the rollercoaster of emotion from hope to despair as the rejections came along. God ,they suck and folks, it never gets easier—though you tell yourself it does.
Finally one day, a brief note after reading the full MS: “Please call me to discuss” from the amazing Irene Webb of Irene Webb Literary. (Irene Webb Literary)
Then the rollercoaster began in earnest as this coveted agent said she liked the concept and the characters but the novel needed a rewrite. She had suggestions. A lot of them.
I took copious notes and cranked out the rewrite in a month. I am nothing if not focused when I have a goal. I sent if off, high on hubris.
She didn’t like it. I hadn’t fixed whatever it was, and I now I was unable to see what was wrong and getting panicky. Fortunately, she didn’t drop me, but referred me to a new editor with extensive background in the mystery/suspense genre, Kristen Weber (KRISTEN WEBER: Editorial Services).
Kristen reviewed the MS and sent me a huge report with overall suggestions, articles to read, and line-by-line corrections. Whew, this girl knew the genre, the market, and what was wrong!
I buckled down and did a “scene map” — a scene-by scene outline of the MS, a tool that helps an author see redundancies and sags in the MS. While doing it I spotted problems, added in Kristen’s feedback, and saw elements to cut, combine, slice and dice. I read my articles, wrote extensive bios on all the main characters, and plunged back in to my tired and overworked manuscript: suddenly seeing it in a new way.
Within the deadline of a month, I finished that rewrite and sent it back to Kristen for one more round of editorial feedback- and that’s where I am with Orchid. Still not officially agented, but a lot closer. Whatever happens, if Irene doesn’t like this latest version and we part ways, I’ll always be grateful for the time she invested in me for no compensation but my smiley-face emoticons and eternal gratitude J.
Torch Ginger, the sequel, has a hard copy first draft that’s out with a Hawaiiana expert (the incomparable JA, awesome librarian and culturally competent teacher extraordinaire) to give feedback on the much more extensive Hawaiian culture elements and characters embedded in the book. And while all that’s brewing, I’m making notes for the third book in the series which I’ve scheduled to begin in October. It’s tentatively titled Black Jasmine, and I’ve written the all important opening:
“The night wind blew stinging dust into my eyes as the sedan plummeted off the cliff. I found myself squatting low, hands outstretched as if to call it back, the void threatening to suck me in its wake. The impact as it hit the jutting lava rocks at the base of the cliff shuddered up through the earth and smote my ears with the scream of tearing metal.
“Then, silence. Surely that would shut her up.”
Now don’t you want to find out what happens? Me too! Can’t wait for October when I get to write more!
No summary of my journey to date would be complete without a mention of my awesome family who have been beta readers, sounding boards and shoulders to cry on: The Hubby (@NealStudios on Twitter) my incomparable daughter Tawny, sister in law Linda and sister Bonny (incidentally she’s an editor with On Maui Magazine!) my mom Sue who's listened to my whingeing no end, and my writing group.
Shakti Navran, Linda Deslauriers, Rona Smith, Linda Nagata, and Aurora Ariel- you guys couldn’t be more supportive and helpful. Thanks for believing.
So there you have it—for this would-be author, the lurching, potholed journey along the road to publication wouldn’t have been possible without the tools of blogging and social networking. Thanks Peter Liu (link in sidebar) I think you're right about connectedness. The spur of being read and encouraged has increased my output like nothing else could, and doing that for others is again, a golden chain of interconnected possibility.
What are some of your journeys like so far?
Happy to be of service, Toby! Honored to be a part of this journey.
Its a rare thing to see something be born, and I cherish being a part of it. Thank you.
Wow Toby, you are not one to give up.
Stalled… slipped off the radar. I know I have a brilliant and highly original work. Just that no one cares very much, and I can’t seem to get them to care.
So… so… I don’t know what next. I’m starting something new now, after 12 years now on my “big idea” I am moving on and it is gathering dust. I couldn’t gut it and dice it and turn it into something other than what it is. I know it is complete within itself, and I have faith in it. Just don’t think the world is ready, or (I think this more often now) the mental capacity to understand. 🙁
One day that may change. But now… I’m simply invisible, as are my words.
Contact me, Andrew, for you and I have some mutual-type commiserating to do. Your situation strikes a chord with me, and I’d like to learn more about what you’ve come up with. The address is on my site.
Hi Dai, tried but couldn’t contact you through your web page, my computer say no. So, as you know Toby I’ll give her my email address and she can pass it onto you. OK?
rule #1, never never leave your mother out of the support mentions, ever.
Oh dear! See corrections above! *looks abashed*
Wow! What a roller coaster ride! *HUGEST HUG!*
I did find Authonomy very useful in the beginning, and made a lot of needed changes–now, I’m coming to appreciate some of Twitter’s chat sessions. Haven’t tried Facebook, though…now there’s a thought for the future.
Great post, Toby. I applaud your conviction, regarding your work ethic, and not ever taking no for an answer. Small, daily efforts will pay huge dividends in the end.
Perseverance. Shoulda been my middle name.