In The Query Trenches

One of the goals I am hoping to achieve this year is getting an agent. I know that goal is not completely dependent on me, but my goal is to take the query steps I can to make that happen.

So, since I have a manuscript ready to submit, I started the process in December. After many hours exploring agents, I discovered the top ones in my genre. I created a database of 50 agents, and prepared to contact them in January.

I worked on my query both with my 2 co-authors for this manuscript and with “outside” eyes for objectivity. After we had the skeleton, I wrote all the query letters, personalized them and formatted them as the agent specified in their submission guidelines. I pasted the appropriate number of manuscript pages and any other requested material (such as synopsis) after the letter. Also, I made sure my contact info and links to my website and other social media were included after the signature of the letter.

Every Monday I sent out 10. If I got a rejection back, I would send out another immediately. By January 23rd all the queries but 2 who were closed to queries until February were sent. I had ended up with a total of 51 queries because one agent referred me to a fellow agent as a better fit.

So how’s it going? With 49 queries out, I got 11 rejections, 2 full requests, and the rest are still pending. Eventually I will have to start marking the “no response means no interest” people off my list, but I usually wait at least 2 months for that.

Now that the queries are out, it’s a waiting game. I am moving my attention back to another manuscript that I hope to have ready to query sometime this year. So if the current one on submission doesn’t land me an agent, maybe the next one will!

Anyone else on the query-go-round? How are you holding up?

The Fish Mafia: Something’s Fishy Here

I wrote about our newly acquired Fish Mafia a little while ago—including cannibalism and a war for leadership. At the time of that writing, we had 4 surviving fish. The most aggressive fish was Sparkleshine, the one who we believed cannibalized his tankmate on his first night (Jan 7th). But no other fish had mysteriously vanished, so we hoped things would settle down.

Then two things happened:

RIP SPARKLESHINE. Sometime between 10 PM Monday (Jan 16th) and 1 AM Tuesday (Jan 17th), the guppy Sparkleshine passed away in his tank. He was a pioneer, first populating this tank with Seashell. He ate his first tankmate in the dead of night, and waged a constant battle for dominance with his 3 new tankmates. An unexplained midnight leap from his tank left him mostly dead, and he survived only a couple of days thereafter. His young owner found him expired half-hidden under a seashell decoration this morning, and he has received the proper burial at sea. Young owner has agreed to stick with the three surviving fish for the time being, as they seem to get along without the fights and harassment seen with cannibal fish Sparkleshine.

Sparkleshine of the Fish Mafia

RIP Sparkleshine

We closed off the 1/8th inch gap around the top of the aquarium with some mesh. The remaining 3 fish—Seashell 2, Flower, and Gem—live peaceably together under the leadership of Seashell 2.

And then this happened:

FISH NEWS FLASH: SPARKLESHINE EXONERATED! Yesterday (Jan 21st), Young Owner’s Father noticed something by the back leg of the aquarium table. Further investigation found it to be the remains of Seashell 1, who vanished under mysterious circumstances on his first night in the aquarium. Young Owner’s Parents feel bad they did not discover this earlier, because immediate anti-leaping deterrents would have saved Sparkleshine, who leapt to his own death just last weekend. This discovery clears Sparkleshine of the suspicion of cannibalism which had clouded his short life since Seashell 1’s unexplained disappearance. While this clears Sparkelshine’s name and puts Seashell 1 to rest, the mystery of how both these fish managed to leap through a 1/8th inch opening in the top of the aquarium in almost total darkness in the middle of the night remains open. RIP Seashell 1. RIP Sparkleshine–no longer known as the cannibal fish.

The mystery of Seashell 1’s disappearance is solved, Sparkleshine’s name is cleared, and peace reigns in the Fish Mafia. But for how long? The aquarium experiment continues.

Seashell 1 of the Fish Mafia

RIP Seashell 1

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Thoughts Inspired by Writers Resist Philadelphia

Writers Resist PhiladelphiaLast Sunday, at the Writers Resist Philadelphia event, I was reminded of the power of words to create  history. Where would the American Revolution have been without the pamphlets of Thomas Paine? Where would the Civil Rights Movement have been without the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Where would the larger cultural movement of the 1960s have been without the protest songs that still resonate today?

I was reminded of the power that writers have to encapsulate their time. To take a snapshot of history. To speak of hidden truths. To remake the world.

On Sunday in Philadelphia, we remembered and relived the past so that we could envision the future. We came together, writers and freedom lovers—men and women and children, people who are white and black and Hispanic and Asian and somewhere in between. Our gathering felt not so much like a protest but—if I may coin the term—a Remembrance. A day to remind ourselves what our country is, a reminder of the freedoms that we are all guaranteed, a reminder that there is an America worth fighting for that has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, and has everything to do with the rights of every one of us to enjoy the promises listed in the Constitution.

We heard words from men and women, black and white, Jewish and Arabic, disabled and gay, Native and immigrant—all the voices blending together to tell a story that is uniquely American. The voices were many and varied, yet they all spoke of the one thing that unites us all—our  Humanity.

We in America have been blessed for the last 240 years to have freedoms not often seen anywhere else in the world, to have them written into our Constitution and given to us as a birthright. On Sunday, we remembered how lucky we are, and we reminded everyone who heard those words that we have come far—but we still have such a long way to go.

Writers Resist PhiladelphiaWe reminded ourselves why we speak, why the words of these people still matter—because these are precious rights, and we in America have often taken them for granted. We cannot be complacent, because there are always those who would take those rights from us if we let them—and we must not let them.

On Sunday, we marked the progress of our journey toward equality, but it has taken such a long, long time to get here. We have traveled a great distance, but we are nowhere near the end of the road. We cannot—we will not—sit back and lose the progress we’ve made.

We were reminded that We The People are the power in America—and that means all people. We must not allow political demagogues and media pundits to define who we are as Americans. Anyone who lived through the horror of 9/11will remember what it meant to be American first—without party, without ethnicity, without race. On that day, we were Americans—united in spirit, in purpose. Together we rose from the ashes of the Twin Towers.

Throughout history, writers have spoken truth to power. On Sunday in Philadelphia, we reaffirmed our commitment to continue to do just that. On that day we reminded America how hard the road to this mile marker in time has been—and  how unforgivable it would be to betray all the blood, tears, and suffering it took to get here.

On Sunday, Writers Resist Philadelphia made a promise to all Americans:

The voice of America will not be shouted down in a press conference or kicked out of the White House. The writers of America are watching. We will speak. We will not be silenced.

And we are legion.

Writers Resist Philadelphia

 

 

 

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Inspiration: From Fish Tank to Think Tank

People are always asking writers where they get their ideas. Truth is, inspiration can come from anywhere. A song, a person, a place, even just mashing two disparate ideas together. Anywhere you look in the world, you can find inspiration.

Even in a fish tank.

My daughter has been begging for a pet for years. She finally realized we were not getting a dog, or a cat, so she settled on fish. She wanted fish. We acquired a free fish tank, so we decided to give it to her for Christmas. Glee!

On January 7th, we got two fish to start with. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I cannot do something as simple as buy fish without it becoming an anxiety-producing drama. So we got two fish, which my daughter named Sparkleshine and Seashell.

Sparkleshine, the inspiration for the fish Mafia

Sparkleshine

Seashell, victim of Sparkleshine

Seashell

 

 

 

 

 

She fell in love. Even ate dinner in her room so she could watch them in the tank. Went on and on about how they were friends and seemed happy in the tank. She went to bed glowing.

And the first thing I heard the next morning was, “Mom, Seashell is missing!”

Great. The fish WAS missing. Not floating at the top, not out of the tank (we have a cover, but I looked anyway). I picked up and wiggled all the in-tank decorations in case she was stuck. Nothing. Could only reach one conclusion:

Sparkleshine ate Seashell.

To my daughter’s credit, she didn’t get that upset. She fake-cried a little bit—you know that cry when you think you should cry but can’t really work up to it. Then she seemed to take it in stride. “Well, Sparkleshine does look a little fatter than yesterday.”

She took it well, but I didn’t, because I could picture exactly what had happened in the morning. My daughter woke up, remembered she had fish, hopped out of bed beaming her smile of joy that illuminates her whole face, ran eagerly to her tank…and found only one fish. The smile wiped away. The joy doused.

I hated that stupid cannibal fish.

But, after losing sleep obsessing over this hurt to my daughter, I carried on. My friends and I joked about it on Facebook. One suggested that Sparkleshine had always secretly hated Seashell, but didn’t have an opportunity to off her until she had her alone in my daughter’s tank. Too many witnesses before. A fish assassination.

My husband bought 3 more fish to add to the one remaining. So we welcomed Seashell 2, Flower, and Gem. Sparkleshine did not seem happy with the new company, although my daughter’s face lit up and she hugged her dad over and over. I went to bed that night expecting to wake up to a bloodbath.

Seashell 2, replacement for the first victim

Seashell 2

Flower, a new fish

Flower

Gem, a new fish

Gem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankfully, four fish still inhabited the tank the next day. But now I watch as Sparkleshine and Seashell 2 seem at odds, constantly harassing each other. Is this how fish play? Do fish play? I don’t know. But as I watch them scuffle, I now hear a dialogue in my head. Two Mafia members joust for top position in the fish Mafia. Back and forth. A battle of wills. Who will win? And will any byswimmers become casualties?

“If you cross me, you’ll sleep with the humans.”

Inspiration can come from anywhere.

Even a fish tank.

 

* While I know the fish we have are male, my daughter insists she wants them to be female, so they are all “her”.

** As of this posting, all four fish are still alive.

***Sparkleshine leaped out of the tank and died about a week after this posting.

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Productivity: Checking in with 2016

Some of you may remember that at this time last year, I created a new work schedule to boost my productivity. So, how did it go? Let’s look at the numbers and find out.

I had some hope of hitting 500,000 words this year, but I fell short. My grand total was 417,914. Not bad at all. Now, I didn’t write all those words from scratch—those are how many words passed through my brain in some form or another this year.

I break my word count into 3 categories: Drafting (words from scratch), Revise/Rewrite (major reworking of already existing words), and Copyedit/Polish (nitty-gritty editing in the final stage of writing). The breakdown looked like this:

Productivity word count breakdown

Not surprisingly, the Drafting was the lowest number (25.3%) since it takes the most time and effort. Revision/Rewrite (also a lot of thinking involved) came in at 27.1%. Copyediting/Proofreading (when the manuscript should be fairly clean) topped out at 47.5%.

Here’s what my monthly word totals came to:

Productivity word count monthly break down

You may recall that in August I bemoaned the low total for July. So you are probably wondering if I also lost my mind when I saw the abysmal 8,586 for December. No, I did not.

Part of my reason for not getting down on myself for December’s low productivity is that I had adjusted my expectations. The Thanksgiving-New Year’s timeframe is always a very hectic time, with lots of traveling, visiting, and special events to attend. Even hitting my monthly average of 35,000 words would have been unrealistic.

The other reason the number didn’t upset me was because I had a very important project that I simply could not quantify via word count. I finished a new book with my co-authors, and by December it was ready to be sent to agents. So I spent a great deal of time in December researching agents. Once I compiled a list of 50, I put together the query letters and their accompanying pages/synopses.

So, I begin 2017 content that my work schedule has increased my productivity, and hopeful that the queries I send out in January will move my career ahead by getting me an agent.

Have you re-evaluated your current work routine? Is it still working for you? Will you be making changes in 2017?

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The Best of The Goose’s Quill 2016

As 2016 winds to a close, I take a look back and see what Goose’s Quill posts resonated with my readers the most. I often get surprised! Here are the top 20 of the year:

  1. Productivity and Expectations
  1. A Clean-Out Vacation
  1. Summer Slump: Is it September Yet?
  1. Gans Family Reunion 2016: Blood is Thicker than Water
  1. Beta Readers: A Vital Part of the Process
  1. Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  1. The Best of the Goose’s Quill 2015
  1. Research and Citations: Save Time, Get it Right from the Start
  1. The Dread Synopsis
  1. Book Launch! But What to Read?
  1. Critique Groups: A Resource Worth Having
  1. Book Fair Magic: Casting a Reading Spell
  1. Evolution of a Speaker: From Wrecked to Relaxed
  1. A Successful, Grateful Book Launch for The Witch of Zal
  1. My First Author Panel: The Student Becomes the Teacher
  1. Learning to Excel: Spreadsheets and Writing
  1. How To Cope With Book Launch Anxiety
  1. My Biggest Takeaway: 2016 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference
  1. Musings on Grief and Comfort

And my #1 read post of 2016:

  1. The Witch of Zal Book Trailer

Thank you everyone for reading The Goose’s Quill! Have a safe and Happy New Year, and I will see you in 2017!

The Goose's Quill logo

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Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Trans-Siberian OrchestraSometimes among the frenzy of the season, it’s good to take a break and relax a little. So last weekend my husband and I went to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. We managed to pick the only day so far that we have had ice and snow to go to the show, but we arrived in good time.

While the seats in the Wells Fargo Center were a squeeze even for my small frame, they were in a good position. My husband would have liked to be closer to the stage, but once the show started I felt that being as far back as we were gave us the best vantage point for all the special effects.

Most people are familiar with a few of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s songs—most likely the Wizards in Winter, which many people use in their fancy Christmas light displays. Their music is energetic, rocking, and enthusiastic. Their stage show is mind-blowing, with psychedelic lasers, flashing strobes, a huge screen with quick-cut montages, and pyrotechnics.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra Trans-Siberian Orchestra Trans-Siberian Orchestra

 

 

 

So needless to say, I had a panic attack.

After spending the first 20 minutes of the show with my eyes closed to block the sensory overload, the worst of the panic ebbed and I could relax enough to actually watch (most) of the rest of the show.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Their first act consisted mostly of a themed story, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, tying all the songs together. The story itself was simple, but it served its purpose to frame the music admirably. The second act had their older hits, rounding out the night with a mix of ballads, jazz, and rock.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Audience lighting up a ballad

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

 

 

 

 

The lead band member said they had been together for 20 years. I would love to see what their early shows were like. Neither technology nor budget would have allowed for the early shows to be anything like they are now. A video on the evolution of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra would be fascinating.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

When the lights came up, a haze filled the building. For one moment of blurred reality, it seemed the haze had made its way outside, for a dense fog filled the warming midnight air.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

The music was wonderful and the show amazing. I am so glad we got to see this dazzling Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas show.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Merry Christmas, everyone! Have a happy, peaceful holiday season.

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Holiday Book Con 2016

This past weekend I wrapped up my 2016 book event schedule. My last event was a Holiday Book Con in Ocean Grove, NJ. For a first time event, I thought it went well.

The Jersey Shore Arts Center, a magnificent old building with tons of character, housed the Holiday Book Con. Our hosts, the Jersey Shore Writers, set up chairs, tables, a gift wrapping station, and a dessert table in the holiday be-decked hall.

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About 20 authors attended the event. I knew a few, such as Marie C. Collins, Laura J. Kaighn, and J.R. Bale, but most I had never met before. We spent some time going to the podium and giving a short pitch of our work, then we broke for food. After that, the Open Mic commenced. I took the reindeer by the horns and signed up to do my very first public Open Mic!

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I managed not to have a panic attack, which I consider a Christmas miracle. To my surprise, I even enjoyed my reading! Sharing my work aloud with a crowd was fun. Who knew?

While the Holiday Book Con did not draw the public crowd the hosts had hoped for, this was their first year. I thought the day worthwhile—listening to the readings, hearing the stories of how other authors got where they are, trading information, and simply being festive together with other creative minds. As a result, I will do it again next year if they hold it.

So now to take a break from the running around, lugging boxes, getting up too early, and listening to my friendly GPS as I drive.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to all my friends! Wishing you peace and goodness in this holiday season—and all year round.

Table setup at the Holiday Book Con

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Year-End Reflections: Looking back to move forward

I know that we still have a few weeks until the end of 2016, but I’m in a reflective mood. Thanksgiving was a time to reflect on the many good things in my life. My upcoming birthday is a time to see where I am and where I’m going. Christmas is always a time of joy and hope. And eventually the New Year will be here. So my year-end reflections linger for quite a long time.

Thanksgiving was hectic this year, with a compressed travel time, but the holiday did hold some quiet moments—and a great deal to be thankful for. My family means the world to me, and the fact that we are all healthy, safe, and content in our lives is a blessing.

Witch of Zal year-end reflectionsOn my “book birthday” I looked at where I started with my book, The Witch of Zal, and where I stood after a year. I needed to assess the way I spent my time and energy in marketing the book to see what worked, what didn’t, and where I could improve. So it is with my real birthday—I need to assess what I have done through the past year, and what I need to change or tweak to get me closer to the goals I have for my life.

Christmas has long been my favorite time of year. The idealist in me has always responded to the “peace on earth, goodwill to men” mantra of the season. I’m all for anything that makes people actively think about how they treat other people, and encourages generosity and inclusion. With the recent election leaving so many people reeling and frightened for themselves or people they love, I need the healing power of Christmas to help me get back to believing in the inherent goodness of people.

Christmas decorations also brings back a lot of memories in my year-end reflections. So many of my ornaments are sentimental as well as beautiful. The Little Drummer Boy commemorating the year I played said character while having a high fever and dealing with a similarly ill cast:

Little Drummer Boy ornament year-end reflections

An Egyptian-themed ball that I bought for my best friend, who died before we exchanged presents:

Egyptian ornament year-end reflections

Many horse and unicorn ornaments, because, well, horses and unicorns!

Unicorn ornament year-end reflections

New family ornaments for my wedding and my daughter’s birth:

Family ornament year-end reflections

I don’t need an angel to show me that I have had a pretty wonderful life.

Then comes New Year, that time of year is intimately associated with resolutions. No resolutions for me, but I do create goals for the year—both personal and business. For instance, I have new plans for marketing my book. Also, I need to push outside my personal comfort zone to continue to expand my career.

So this past week I have indulged in some year-end reflections. Overall, I’m happy with where I am, and looking forward to the road ahead. I’m a little nervous, because life stories always have unexpected plot twists, but I hope I can rise to meet any challenges I face.

Does the end of the year make you thoughtful, or is it just another time of year for you?

Christmas tree year-end reflections

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My First Author Panel: The Student Becomes the Teacher

I’ve been on the marketing road for a year now, but my first author panel happened yesterday. The panel was part of a Founder’s Week celebration at my high school Mount Saint Joseph Academy. Five alumnae authors took the stage to talk to the girls about the writing life.

MSJA Author PanelMy fellow authors were Jane Kelly (class of 1966), Elizabeth Barker (1974), Louise Pisano Simone (1977), and (via Zoom—kinda like Skype) Cat Zakrzewski (2011). Louise and I met as we wandered the halls together trying to find our pre-panel coffee and donuts. Once we found the others, we traded stories of what the school had been like when we went there.

The students (all girls) were enthusiastic and eager. Each author spoke a little about how we came to be writers, and we all had very different stories. This illustrated that no writer’s journey is the same, and comparing your journey to others’ only leads to frustration.

Our different paths (and our age spread) also gave many perspectives on the business of publishing, although I did warn the girls that anything we told them today would likely be out of date in six months, that’s how fast publishing is changing!

The students had a chance to ask us questions, including one about how to handle rejection. The other authors spoke about the opportunities of self-publishing or hybrid publishing, and using rejection to motivate you to reach higher. I used my experience as a reader for agent Marie Lamba to explain that rejection is usually not personal. It’s not a statement about you, or even about your work, it is more often a business decision that has nothing to do with you personally. So we all stressed to not allow doubt to creep in and to keep going—persistence does pay off.

MSJA Author Panel

Kerry Gans, Elizabeth Barker, Louise Pisano Simone, and Jane Kelly (missing: Cat Zakrzewski)

After the author panel, the girls came up and speak to us if they chose. I have to say that 1) their uniforms now are much nicer than the ones we had, and 2) so many of the girls reminded me of me and my friends at that age. They had questions for me about fan fiction (which I mentioned that I had written when I was at the Mount), about process, and about how to make a re-envisioned story like The Witch of Zal your own. (That last was from a young lady who liked to write fractured fairy tales.) Great questions, although I prefaced most answers with, “This is my way, but it may not be your best way.”

The high point of the event for me was when the fractured-fairy-tale student first approached me. She had this huge grin and said, “I read your book with my little sister! I loved it, and when I saw your name on the list here I couldn’t believe it!” As the first reader I have ever met who I didn’t know personally, she is now my favorite fan!

After the event, I snuck backstage (I had been a theater geek in high school). I found to my surprise that the initials my friend and I had painted on the wall with glow paint were still there, along with a poem written on the back of a dressing room door written by another classmate.

My initials backstage at the author panel at MSJAPoem on the door at MSJA author panel

The whole morning was a great time from start to finish. I am so grateful that my first author panel was in a place that still feels like home.

Where was your first author panel, and what was your experience?

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