The best part of my week is sharing these stories of inspiration. They are all the more special when it's someone I know from twitter! Tears of joy for this one! Congrats, Diane!
Michelle asked me for a description of my long and winding road to representation. Well, specifically my story – I doubt she understood the “long and winding” aspect. But too late now, girl.
I didn’t set out to be a writer, unless you consider legal argument as writing. Becoming an attorney was my focus from fourth grade on. Okay, I loved studying mythology in high school and won a contest on the subject at a national convention for the Junior Classical League. But, you know, what can you do with an extensive knowledge of mythology?
So I became a lawyer and did lawyerly things that would be of interest only to other lawyers, and probably not even then. (Public utility regulation if you’re curious. Anyone want to know what that entails? I thought not.)
The life I’d so carefully planned changed when I gave birth to two children with special educational needs. My focus turned to taking care of them and trying to see they received the best I could extract from the local school system. My time was spent with researching, observing, explaining, and arguing. And sitting in meetings – many, many meetings. I did some advocacy for special education generally, my old career now an ex-career pining for the fjords, as John Cleese would put it.
My son caught up to his peers in a few years. For my daughter, it took much longer than that. When everything educational fell apart for her in middle school, I pulled her out to homeschool through high school. After they both left for college, I spent some years on the internet explaining my experiences and hearing back that I should write a book. I mean, my daughter was first assessed in the lowest percentile in intelligence and language and claimed to have an incurably dysfunctional brain, but she ended up at Brown University! (Notice the subtle way I got that bit of bragging in there…)
And a book I did write – a long, researched, lawyerly book, complete with footnotes but lacking in a precise genre. I didn’t have any real writers look at it, and it flopped with agents. The best advice I received from them was to turn it into a memoir. I tried to do this but didn’t study writing and, again, didn’t seek out writers to beta read. Not surprisingly, Version 2.0 didn’t do any better with agents.
However, my experience with special education made me stubborn. I wouldn’t let this project die; I would study writing, damn it. I read books, blogs, and discussions on Absolute Write. An idea for a real novel came to me, so I thought I’d play around with that and then return to the memoir. But then I got so absorbed in the story and the characters that it turned into a trilogy. No representation came out of the first, standalone book. I’d purposefully decided on a slow buildup of tension, not the greatest way to capture an agent’s attention for a debut work. I also didn’t have a clear genre, which confused agents. I had a number tell me I wrote well but they just weren’t sure what this thing was that I’d sent them. Mystery? Romance? Comedy? Adventure? Suspense? Literary? I would have known I was setting myself up to fail if I’d only sought out feedback from other writers.
Then an idea for another book hit me – an Adult retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone, one that followed the mythology but added to it and twisted it so she became a heroine and a funny one at that. I shot off a draft during NaNoWriMo in 2013 and the experience was exhilarating. I had so much fun writing the book because I’d never gotten over my love of myth. This wasn’t a book people told me I needed to write or the mystery I thought I should write merely because I love reading mysteries. Somehow, this new book seemed more me. After revising on my own, this time I secured the help of some great betas who were writers. I rewrote and repeated the process until I ended up with a polished MS.
I was enthused when I entered my new shiny manuscript in PitchWars 2014 but devastated when it wasn’t selected. Deciding to give it another shot, I entered Nightmare on Query Street – and I was thrilled to be selected for SC’s team. Holly Jennings helped me polish my query and first 250 words. The request I received didn’t go any further than the ones I’d received from a bit of sporadic querying. But my experience in the contest gave me the self-assurance to continue.
Convinced that Michelle-run contests were my path to writing glory, I entered Sun vs. Snow. I made it on to Michelle’s team this time. Dan Koboldt gave me excellent advice about making the stakes clearer in my query and coming up with a snappier title, which became I, PERSEPHONE. My request from this contest didn’t go the distance, either, but confidence from an improved query inspired me to begin to approach agents in earnest.
In March, 2015, I sent out a flurry of queries. There were some requests, including one for a full by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. I felt a little strange submitting to such an accomplished agent at such a major firm, but she did ask. I told myself not to get my hopes up. Two week later, though, I received her response telling me she liked many aspects of the book but thought it could benefit from some changes. It took me a day to realize she was absolutely right. We had a flurry of emails about these modifications, and I went to work.
At the beginning of June, I submitted my revised manuscript, unsure when I’d hear back because Cameron was now on maternity leave. But two week later, she emailed, saying she wanted to represent me. Once I reread the message several times to determine if I could conceivably be misinterpreting her unambiguous words, I began to worry about The Call. Surely, I would mess it up somehow. But I didn’t. We talked comfortably for over an hour and a half, the awkwardness I thought I’d feel having evaporated within the first half-minute. After looking at all the other agents yet to be heard from, I realized I wouldn’t accept any of the others if they offered – I’d found my dream agent. I didn’t bother to nudge but rather withdrew my manuscript.
I’ve yet to get over the high of signing the contract a few days ago. After all these years, with hundreds of rejections for different books behind me… success.
Or at least the first step to success. Soon enough I’ll begin to worry about going on submission.
Diane McIntire Rose, when she isn’t writing, reading, or bragging about how well her children turned out, attempts to play the piano, rushes outside to chase deer away from her allegedly deer-resistant plants, drags her husband to Washington Nationals games (having given up on opera long ago), and enjoys trying out different hot sauces and chili-powder blends. Being somewhat of an old fart, she hasn’t gotten into the entire social media thing yet, but she is on Twitter (@sistrum42) to the consternation of her children who are not. She also continues to search for a picture of herself that makes her look younger than she is. Given the absence of a picture here, she’s yet to come close.