Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LITERARY AGENTS-Good, Bad, and Ugly

It was always difficult for a writer to get a good literary agent. My first one, I suspect, didn't even submit my novel. It wasn't a very good novel anyway, so maybe he did me a favor. And then I fired him.

My second literary agent tried to talk me out of finishing my novel, WIREMAN. Write something like THE THORN BIRDS, he said. I tried to explain that wasn't the kind of fiction I wrote. The suspense of WIREMAN is what I wanted to write.

Once off the phone I wrote him a letter and fired him. What good was he if he didn't realize I was already writing in the area I should? I knew it, why didn't he know it?

I was without an agent for almost a year and then I heard of a new agent hired on at the William Morris Literary Agency in NYC. I was too shy to approach him, even by mail. My husband, an audacious man, called the agency from work (I didn't know) and someway got through to the agent. He proceeded to tell him his wife was the best writer in Texas and she'd just finished a new novel. The agent said this was highly irregular, but my husband was to tell me to send it in, he'd take a look. He warned, "We only take the cream of the crop, you know." My husband told him that's exactly what he was going to get.

When he came home that afternoon and told me what he'd done I was shocked and embarrassed. You didn't call them! You didn't say that about me being the best writer in Texas!

But he had and it paid off and I had to mail out the manuscript to the most prestigious agency on earth. Within two days of receiving the manuscript the agent called me. "I want to sell this book," he said. "I like it a lot, it's great."

My husband Lyle got me in the door and the book cinched the deal. Within a couple of weeks it was sold and they offered an advance for my first litle novel of $3500. I told my agent I had to have more. The computer I wanted for writing cost $5000. (Imagine that!) He said, wait, let me go back, see what I can do. He came back in less than hour to say they'd raised the advance to $5000.

I, of course, was ecstatic. I'd reached a dream. I'd sold a novel. And now I could afford a computer. It was 1984 and the only persnal computers in my area of Houston for sale was a big, clunky CPM operating system machine with a green cursor and it cost almost $5000. I bought it. CPM was before DOS, even, and I had to put a big floppy in with a word processor on it, take it out, and put in another floppy for the word processor to write a file to. Oh God, I loved it. No more white-out. No more typewriters. No more carbon copies. It was heaven.

Now today I don't know it's any harder to get an agent as it was in 1984. If it's harder, that's bad. It was hard enough, despite how it worked out for me in a serendippity way, that no one else in my novel writing club was able to get an agent for years more.

I was with the Wm. Morris Agency until I stopped writing in the mid-90s (more on that some other time). They sold all the novels I wrote. They believed in me and when my novel, NIGHT CRUISE, didn't bring home the Edgar, my agent was livid. He believed so strongly there was no contender.

I loved my agents there. I had two, the first one who became Vice President of Wm. Morris, then another agent who is still my friend today, though he's moved on to another agency. The treatment and care of a good agent is to always treat him with respect. If  you disagree over something, do it politely. He wants the best for you because if you do well, he does well.

The moral of this true story may be that being brave and audacious might work. But the product has to stand on its own. No amount of charming banter will save a bad manuscript from being rejected.

You never know when you'll find the right agent, but don't be afraid to fire one if the fit is bad. When you do luck into a good one, hang on tight and do good work.  A career can last for years, for your lifetime, if you know how to nurture it and do most of the right things. Or at least a few of the right things. None of us can be perfect.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

FROM THE TRENCHES: Top 10 List of Advice on Battling Cancer

This will be a joyous and life-affirming blog. Don't get depressed, not for a minute.

I thought today of how nifty my short, thick hair is compared to when I was bald. I remember one picture of me when my hair was almost all fallen out due to chemo, and there was one strand still stuck to the top of my skull. I looked like a concentration camp victim.

Don't look like a concentration camp victim.

Here's some of my advice from having lung cancer and going through 33 targeted radiations to my lung, 10 full brain prophylactic radiations, and 5 months of intravenous chemotherapy.

1. If your hair begins to fall out, go ahead and shave it smooth. Don't wait until you end up with a picture like I have.

2. I lost my hair twice. Be brave about this. It's just hair. Wear wigs and headgear, scarves and hats and such if you like. If you don't mind the coolness of being bald, go bald. Whatever you do rock it. Rock it good.

3. Don't think negative thoughts. If one comes to mind, imagine grabbing it with your hand, the whole thought, and throwing it away from you. Preferably into a corner never to be thought again. The truth is we think bad things when we fight cancer. That's natural. Just don't think it long. Throw it away. If you've thought about a dreadful future for more than five minutes, that's too long. Throw it all away.

4. Think beyond this situation to the future. See yourself on the other side of it. Make plans. Be forward thinking. Don't look back.

5. When people want to tell you about their experiences with cancer in their families or themselves, listen with an open heart. This disease touches at least one out of every five people and we're all together in this. Be kind and loving.

6. If you believe in a higher power, call on it now. And believe you're heard. If you do not believe in a higher power, call on your strongest inner self and believe you'll make it. We have to grow a backbone for this experience and like my mom once said, "Dip your backbone in cement."

7. See this as a chance to tally your positive characteristics and what you need to improve about yourself. I had a problem letting go of resentments over perceived wrongdoings on the part of others. I didn't try to get revenge, I just disengaged. Now I make an effort to let those old resentments go and engage again with people. Who appointed me judge, right? You can change. Now's the time. It's never too late. Tell those you love that you do love them. Forgive those who wronged you. Be understanding of the foolish, the liars, the hardened, the envious, and the horrid. Step away if they invade your territory and make you unhappy, but otherwise stop judging. Repair yourself by fixing what's wrong with you, or what is imperfect. Get happy.

8. This is a chance to see if you've done enough. Done enough loving and forgiving. Done enough of your life's work.  Done enough soul-searching.  Take the time now to do what you didn't have to do before.

9.  Stand tall. Take your treatments without complaint. Face the facts, but never let them dominate you into thinking you can't make it. If you have a doctor who is morose over your condition and chances, CHANGE DOCTORS NOW. I did. It made a big difference. Once you hear a terrible prognosis, you can't unhear it. Try to surround yourself with positive caretakers.

10. Don't give up. I saw a woman on the news recently who fought cancer nine times. She's still kicking. I had a 20% chance of survival. I'm in remission. I knew a woman who had cancer four times in different places on her body and survived every one. If it takes you, then there's nothing you can do about it but feel acceptance for a good life given you. If you beat it, then you too can write a blog like this and tell people good advice about living through cancer. Either way, do it with at least some joy still left in your spirit. No point in bringing others down or making your loved ones and friends suffer with you. Be strong. It's the only way.