Saturday, January 30, 2010

Agent Research

It is exhausting researching agents. Searching their websites, their lists, their submission requirements, their likes, what authors they represent, etc. requires a lot of time and concentration. My reading glasses prescription needs to be stronger. And what must they go through, reading, reading, reading, hundreds, maybe thousands of queries and picking a few to ask for full manuscripts? Too bad the queries and manuscripts aren't on the audio kindle.

So far I'm only a quarter of the way through the agents on the agent query site and my list of fabulous sounding agents has grown to 31.

These sunrise pictures cannot be helped. My little car races past predawn fields of gray cows and gray horses and gray llamas and dark wheat fields and I start to hold my breath in anticipation as "the place" gets closer. I round the corner and there it is, Mt. Hood in all its splendor and glory. Each day the sun rises later and later and the view changes. Sometimes gray clouds hide the mountain and secret the beauty. Sometimes the ticking clock forces me to speed on to spend the day in the closet at work. But sometimes, just sometimes, my little car screeches to a stop in a "no parking anytime" zone, my window slides down and the beauty of the scene settles over me like a misty spring rain on bright green baby leaves. My breath catches and my eyes take in every detail of the field, the house in the distance, the trees against the fire of light, the mountain, tall and majestic, the brilliance of color.

It is a gift. It is happiness.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shades of Gray

The Colors of Gray

I follow the awe inspiring Wendy Morrell's blog from down under (Twitter: quillfeather). She is a delightful breath of warm summer air (when it is winter here) and lends a view of what it is like to be a writer in New Zealand. I've always wanted to travel to Australia and New Zealand and through Wendy's blog, I'm able to catch a glimpse without having to check luggage.

A few days ago Wendy honored me with the above award, which thrilled me. But then I read there are strings attached. The rules are simple at first glance. The receiver of this award must list 10 honest things about themselves and then pass on the award to seven worthy recipients who must also list ten honest things about themselves, and so on.

This is much harder than it appears. I could easily think of ten things to list, but they all seem to be flaws. The harder I tried to think of positive things, the more negative things popped into my head. So then I tried for neutral items. I could say I like the color blue. But I also like the color gray, like in the fog or the color of the sky before the thunderous downpour. And I green also. But how can one shade of green be singled out? I like the color of grass. But I like that no better than the color of the moss clinging to the Alder trees. And what about the color of the Douglas fir and the heather? And is there anything more beautiful than the color of new leaves in spring?

So if I said I liked green, I'd have to list all the various shades of green. Listing negatives would be shorter.

  1. I am not a morning person. It is wise not to stand between me and the coffee pot.
  2. It is sometimes difficult for me to trust strangers. For instance, when I’m on hold and the recording says, “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly,” I have trouble believing it.
  3. When they were handing out "Patience" I was at the coffee machine. As an example, after I’ve heard the recording (see #2) every fifteen seconds for three minutes, I become impatient and might say, “I don’t think so! I think if you really thought my call was important, you would have answered already.”
  4. Much as I hate to admit this, I get cranky. After listening to the recording listed in #2 for six minutes, I am apt to say, “You are annoying in the extreme, you blithering sack of wharf rats.”
  5. I can be argumentative and accusatory. After ten minutes of listening to the recording in #2 it is not uncommon for me to raise my voice and shout, “LIAR. You will NOT be with me shortly. Shortly would have been nine minutes ago. And you don’t find my call important at ALL. Admit it, you seething pile of maggot infested cow pies.”
  6. I can be vindictive. After fifteen minutes of listening to the above recording I start planning the demise of the anonymous voice taunting me with lies.
  7. I’ve been known to hurl threats. After listening to the recording for twenty minutes, I might, for instance, hiss out, “Listen, buddy, you get someone on the phone right now or I’m going to slam the receiver back in the cradle as loud as I can, you hear me? Get a human on the phone and do it now or else.
  8. I’m a pantywaist. When a human finally comes on the line, I retract my aggressive behavior and, instead, ask my question as if nothing had occurred during the half hour wait.
“Can I claim all my classes, writer’s conferences and all the books I have purchased for research as a deduction if I haven’t sold my book yet?"
"Okay, thank you."

At this point I decided to try very hard to think of something that wasn't negative, just to be different. This is all I could come up with after a great deal of deliberation.
9. I've successfully avoided being mauled or murdered by the wildlife around my house.

Here is where I stopped and asked a co-worker if she could think of anything positive I might say about myself. She said, "You could tell them you are rich and successful and everyone admires you."

I sighed. "No, it has to be something truthful."

"Oh." She thought for a while. "You could tell them you've never burned down this building."

My jaw dropped. "That is the only positive thing you can say?"

"I'm still thinking," she defended.

I rolled my eyes and went back to my closet.

10. I've never burned down the company building.

And now I'd like to bestow this award to the following bloggers.

TheFirstCarol's blog--Carol is witty and charming and posts about all sorts of different subjects, including celebrities who have met her. She is an excellent writer and has completed one and three-quarters books.

Karen Maxwell's blog--Karen is a writer who has vowed to give up television for one year. Her blog is hilarious and will keep you from watching television too.

Dale Blodget Paintings--Dale is a fabulous painter. Check out the beautiful work she does on her blog.

Single Dating Mommy's blog--A fresh new look at the dating life of a single mom with attitude.

Sharon Axline blog--Sharon is writing a terrific action/adventure book. She also has two precious dogs she writes about.

Ginger's blog--Ginger has written several books during NaNoWriMo. In her blog, you'll see she has many other talents as well.

PLAnneAnderson's blog--She is a young adult author on her exciting journey toward publication.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Red Sky in Morning

Was this, perhaps, not the day I should begin my attempts at writing a query letter? Is this a warning? Shall I weather ship, shorten sail, batten down the hatches?

(And I was nearly late to work trying to get this picture.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Painted Birds vs Real Birds

I wasn't going to post anything else until I finished the edit. And I'm so close. So close. But over the weekend a traumatic event sent me into a tail spin. Right there, in my driveway, near the garage door, a bird rested on its side on the wet pavement. I made a stealthy approach, easing up along the side of the car and peering down. It didn't move.

It looked dead. I danced around the garage, flapping my arms and trying to control the "Eeeeaak". A glance up the driveway showed only a few brown leaves fluttering at the edges. I hoped to see a stray salesman or wildlife ranger. Pursing my lips, I tip toed over to the snow shovel leaning against a shelf. I hate having to remove dead creatures, and wondered if I could just leave it there until it returned to dust. Judging the distance from the tires of my car and the line of travel I'd have to take, I'd have to remove it unless I wanted a new bookmark.

So I approached the little gray bird, its wings covered with raindrops, and cooed to it. I slipped the blade of the shovel under and bird rolled forward off the shovel. His other wing was gone. No where to be seen. What must the little bird have suffered to have lost its wing and landed in front of my garage?

I tried again to scoop him up. He rolled off. By now tears slid down my cheeks, accompanied by a set of horrified shivers. We played out the scene; shovel, roll, shovel, roll until we reached the grass at the edge. With him finally balanced on the blade, I carried him over to the hillside and flung him into the bracken. I tell myself it is better than being put in a plastic garbage can. On the hillside he can provide a home for a host of tiny creatures and eventually become one with the soil.

I said good-bye to him, carried the shovel back and drove away in silence.

The picture was painted by my sister, Dale, and given to me for Christmas. It does not look like the wingless bird on the hillside, but it is in commemoration of him that I post the painting.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Serious about Editing

I'm on my final edit (Who am I kidding? Is there such a thing as a final edit? Perhaps I should say, I'm going to finish this edit and then submit the manuscript to my friend, Lilith, who will use an entire box of red pens and send me packing for another edit.) This is why I'm not posting much right now.

Above is a painting done by my sister, Nina, and given to me for Christmas. She has asked me to take a picture of it without flash. However, as I go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, it will be a while before I can do that. The flash makes a difference. It washed out some of the color. It is not as vibrant. And I am miserable at cropping. I think I will have to let her take the picture for her own website. She is not only an artist, but a photographer, too.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

With the Wind at His Back


At Starbucks a few days ago something happened that made me sigh and sent my heart rate up one notch on the metronome. A man in brown slacks, a tan dress shirt, and a short, black overcoat, walked by and turned into hallway. A woman--just out of my range of vision—waited outside the women’s restroom, and I heard the man breath out an “Oh.” He tried handle to the men’s room. It turned and the door popped open a few inches. He pushed it wide and then swept his other arm from the direction of the waiting woman to the empty men’s room and smiled in an unsolicited gesture of gallantry. She must have turned down the generous offer for he mumbled out, “Are you sure?” She, again, must have declined, for he dipped his head, sent her a smile and with an “Okay,” slipped into the room and closed the door.

I find this type of gallantry appealing, especially from a man. This may be another one of my flaws, but if a woman had done that I would have thought she was particularly sweet, but it would not have made my heartbeat quicken. When the man came out, I hid behind my computer and watched him leave, my lips tilting up in a wistful smile.

Dave Hayden at Timothy Lake

I had the good fortune to meet a chivalrous gentleman not too long ago. His name is Dave Hayden. For those of you who live around the Portland metro area, you know of the Hayden Island Yacht Club. On a warm summer day, you can sit on the dock at the Island CafĂ© and watch the yachts glide by on their way to adventure. I asked Hayden if he hailed from the family upon which Hayden Island was named. A flicker of a smile flitted over his lips before he shook his head, but in my mind I’ve no doubt he’d one of them, as he carries the same classy magnetism and easy elegance of a man raised in the best social circumstances.

A few years ago, Hayden read an article about a couple who had spent two weeks aboard a tall ship, learning to haul in sheets and unfurl sails in the bawdy ocean breezes. It reached into his subconscious and bore into his brain like malware. Brains have no antivirus scanners. It slithered and wound its way until he found himself applying to board the Lady Washington for a two-week training course to become a “volunteer”.

He remembers his elation as he boarded, but he also remembers how foolish he felt. He knew nothing about sailing. He “was the worst landlubber” one could imagine. To make matters worse, he came aboard with another man who built models of tall ships and knew every sail, every halyard, and every brace. “But,” he said, “the captain and crew of the Lady Washington were great.” They really wanted to teach him and he really wanted to learn. It was a marriage of desire and opportunity.

Within a week he and the other landsman were ready to climb to the top of the mast—a sort of rite of passage for a sailor. But, the fates were against him. Not the capriciousness of weather, but of visitors. They had a full complement of passengers and Hayden was asked to stay ashore in order for the ship to remain within safety limits. He sighed. It was only a three hour passage, after all, and he had a whole week left to accomplish his feat.

They set off from the harbor and hoisted the mains’l, to the delight of the passengers, and disappeared over the horizon. Now, in modern times, one tends to forget that sailing on a tall ship is dangerous. One false move, one misplaced foot, one muscle spasm can have the same disastrous result as it might have had two hundred years ago. And on this day, it did.

His fellow landsmen fell from the rigging.

“I knew something was wrong when I saw the Lady returning early, her sails furled, but without the gaskets stowing them neatly in place,” he said. He looked past me at the wall while memories ignited within. His eyes returned to me. “And then I heard the sirens.”

As the diesel engine ripped through the water toward port, the thwap-thwap-thwap of a helicopter grew nearer. Paramedics and fire trucks screamed to a stop at the water’s edge. The ship glided up to the dock and crew swung from ropes across the expanse of water to the wooden platform. Ropes were thrown. Passengers stood silently. Gurneys and backboards and respirators waited. Crew wrapped lines from amidships around the cleat, belayed the stern, secured the bow.

“The ambulance took him to the helicopter and he was ‘life-flighted’ to OHSU. It was a harrowing time for the captain and crew. We were all transported to Astoria where we had to submit to drug testing.”

I nodded. A lot of business requires such testing, but I wondered if this were a maritime requirement.

“And we had to wait for the results before we were cleared to get underway a day or two later.” He looked at me quizzically. “You know, I’m glad I wasn’t there. Really, I am. He was my shipmate and we had gotten to be good friends. But, in some ways it separated me from the rest of the crew. I became an outcast, even worse than a lubber trying to fit in with able seamen.”

I knew what he meant. Experiencing trauma unites people. My first full-time job at Toys R Us saw twelve-hour-days and no days off in an effort to get the new store open in time for the Christmas rush. The employees were mostly young, hardworking people and friendly with each other. When I finally had a day off, a couple weeks after opening, a couple of blood thirsty gunmen held up the store, shot the security guard and made off with a bag of money from each of the ten cash registers. The criminals were caught, the guard recovered, but I always felt excluded from the inner circle after that.

It wasn’t as if the crew meant to make Hayden feel outside the camaraderie of shipmates, but not being there at the catastrophic event makes one sit outside the window and look in as the others close rank.

“It was really awful for them. It was traumatic,” he explained. They were short-handed and routine chores took more thought than usual. They needed help and he valiantly offered to stay an extra week. The Lady Washington agreed with a sigh of creaking wood. As is the case with shipboard trauma, life had to go on and the crew rallied. During that extra week, things got back to normal. The sailor who fell recovered. Hayden returned to his land job and the Lady Washington eventually sailed over the horizon to new ports.

Hayden hasn’t returned to the Lady Washington, although he could. But the life; the sailing, the sea, did its work during those weeks. It captured him and has not let go. He built a small sailboat and has sailed on his own. He is currently building a Navigator. He sent me a link, but I cannot download the picture. It is currently just the framework of the hull.

He has a great deal of pride and admiration for the captain and crew of the Lady Washington and it doesn’t surprise me. Accidents do happen, but once it did, the captain and crew did everything right to save the life of their crewman. That wouldn’t have been possible two hundred years ago. If not for their professionalism, their quick-thinking and their ability to do all that is necessary to bring the ship back in, the results may have been different.

Then Hayden did one more gallant thing, which sent my heart rocketing. He handed me his copy of the “Lady Washington Crew Training Manual.”

“Here, you may have this,” he said, and smiled. “For your research.”

I’m a pushover for gallant gentleman. I “friended” Hayden on facebook and “followed” both his wife and him on twitter. What is more, they’ve followed back. I feel so privileged. And a few days ago I asked him to send me a picture of himself for this blog, which he kindly did, with an embarrassed disclaimer. How sweet is that? I look forward to seeing both Hayden and his wife sometime soon, perhaps at the launching of the still unnamed Navigator he building (hint hint). I’ll bring the champagne.

Fair winds, Dave Hayden, and may you always have following seas.