Damned writer’s block. I’ve been afflicted with this debilitating condition for several months now, suffocating me in gloomy frustration. Granted, my year has been busy, leaving me little time to attempt to heal. Finally, however, I am starting to feel the warm sap of literary creativity rising in my veins.
Back in late spring, I attended the Writer’s Guild of Alberta convention here in Edmonton. It was delightful reconnecting with my fellow scribes, sharing stories of triumph and woe in negotiating the labyrinthine publishing process. As I had recently finished a total rewrite of my first book, Dark Earth, I especially looked forward to the presentation by Carolyn Forde, an agent for Transatlantic. Her talk was enlightening, and when she opened it up to Q and A, I raised my hand.
“I have two completed books of my planned trilogy,” I said. “Should I wait to complete the entire set and submit it to an agent as a whole, or should I try to sell the first book first?”
“Definitely submit your initial book first,” she replied, “and in your query letter note that there is series potential in your story.”
Alrighty then. I went home, recommitted to polishing my query into a sparkling gem. I wrote and rewrote, and then rewrote again, examining every word and phrase with a sternly critical eye. At long last, it seemed perfect. After a few days of researching prospective agents (including Ms. Forde), I sent out five submissions with hopeful confidence.
Crickets. That’s all I heard. Where had I gone wrong? Did the query letters suck? They obviously hadn’t grabbed an agent by the lapels, screaming, “You have to represent this book!” Or perhaps tales of adventure through a dystopian world aren’t in vogue right now. The literary universe does tend to run in cycles: One month, memoirs of alarmingly dysfunctional families top the best seller lists, only to be abruptly bumped off by stories of alien romance or magical lesbian Vikings. Damn it, what ever happened to the allure of a good-old exciting adventure tale? Would I have to tailor my writing into a narrow popular genre that may just become immediately passé?
I pondered my options, sinking into a writer’s funk as the unproductive days turned to weeks, and then to months. Should I start anew, breaking out the funny chick-lit novel I’d gotten several chapters into? Should I pay someone to critique my query letter? I was stuck, trapped rigid between walls of indecision and despair.
A simple text from my aunt was the catalyst that broke my inertia. I had sent copies of the first two books to her and my grandmother, and she mentioned how much they had enjoyed the story. “What happens next?” she asked. “I hope they get out of their dilemma!”
PING went a tiny bell in my brain. I had stranded Leni, Nick, and their plucky band of survivors in dire straits in Nelson, and that just wasn’t fair. They’d become quite real to me, even to the extent of them forcing me to rewrite parts of their stories. How could I be so cruel as to leave them hanging in desperate limbo?? That very day, I parked myself in front of the computer, determined to deliver them to their destinies.
It being the holidays, my progress has been erratic, shoehorned between shopping and baking and festivities. Adding to the challenge is my uncertainty as to what will actually happen to my intrepid warriors. I knew exactly where the final story would start (a funeral), and how it needs to end (triumph! Or not? You’ll see!), but the vast middle remains indistinct. For now. As in the past, the tale will evolve as my characters mold it. My job is simply to narrate their struggles.
It feels great to throw off the yoke of narrow publishing expectations. To hell with them! My epic saga needs a conclusion, and who knows? Perhaps gripping and well-written adventure/romance/suspense novels will claim the new top spot on every agent’s wish list.
And if not? Well, at least I’ll wipe out my guilt at leaving my beloved Nick and Leni in mortal danger!