You know how some people are gorgeous criers? Their eyes glisten as they well up with tears. Their already doe-like lashes seem to amplify with the moisture. Their complexion becomes rose-like and dewey from whatever happens physiologically when we cry. I had a friend in college like that. Two of my kiddos are that way.
This is what happens when I cry: My skin becomes blotchy and swollen (my husband likens it to how a food allergy looks on some people). And it’s not just a quick there and back again kind of blotchy. It sticks around for awhile – at least twenty minutes after the waterworks have stopped. And for whatever reason, when the tears begin for me, my nose runs. Fiercely. I’ll go through a mega-box of tissues for one good cry. When I cry, I become a blotchy, swollen, snotty mess.
I avoid crying, and things that will make me cry, like the plague. Especially in public. Oh my goodness, I’ll never forget the humiliating moment when the lights came up after Titanic, and the people around us in the Nebraska movie theater were staring at me like I was some kind of squid who had dropped from the sky: trembling, gasping for breath, covered in goo. Horrifying.
Last night, Thomas and I went on a date. The first in months. It was a much-needed outing. We’ve got a lot going on, and we needed some grown up time, big time.
As we were waiting on our food at this great new dive we found (Fizz in Wichita. Seriously excellent food, people. Go there. Now.), my phone dinged. New email. From an agent I was waiting on an answer from with baited breath. I really liked the looks of this agent, and my hopes were high.
Oh, man. Rejection.
I’m getting better at this rejection thing. Anybody who has queried a book will tell you, rejection is just part of it. Nobody’s book is going to be everybody’s cuppa. That’s just the way it is. And I’m cool with that. But this rejection caught me off guard. It actually hurt. Not because she was harsh or mean or anything like that. Not at all. It hurt because, one, I really really liked this agent, and two, because (oh, crap), she said something that caught my attention.
Actually, it’d be more accurate to say it caught my husband’s attention. Back to the date. We’re sitting across from each other in our booth. I have just slipped my phone back into my purse. My face is rapidly changing from it’s freckled-ivory self into a swollen-blotchy monster. My nose is immediately out of control, and I’m grasping blindly for napkins. Thomas is watching this, wondering what the hell is going on with his wife. I’m finally able to spit out the word, rejection.
He immediately gets it. He doesn’t have to ask which agent I mean. He knows me so well; he knows who I’ve been waiting to hear from. He asks to read the email. I refuse. (Did I mention that crying also makes me utterly irrational?) He insists. I cave and wait, sniffling, as he reads it.
When he’s done, he asks this question:
What does she know after reading the first 50 pages of your book?
I answered the question, and he looked at me kindof funny, and said,
Myndi, sweetie, that’s not your book. Your book starts when…
and then he went on to give me a run-down of my book through his eyes. The things he loves about it, the things that make him care about it, the things that make him want to read it.
And none of those things are in the first fifty pages.
We paid our check and left. I cried some more as we walked and talked, now not nearly as upset by the rejection, but by the fact that I’d missed something. Something BIG. Something writers aren’t supposed to miss. Granted, I’m an untrained newbie, but whoa. If I haven’t enticed the reader to care about the big picture of the story within the first couple of chapters, I’m screwed. And the scary thing was, I thought I had done that. I mean, good grief. I’ve read, re-read, read aloud, re-read aloud, and read again. I’ve polished until you can’t see some of the letters on my keyboard any more. I’ve spent sleepless nights going over plot, developing characters, imagining in fine details. How on earth did I miss something so huge?
Anyway, all this to say, I’m stopping querying immediately. I’m going back to work. I love this story; I love my characters; I love these books. And, yeah, I could stick them on a shelf and say they were my first try, and just be proud of that. But I don’t want to. I want to do this right. I want to grow. I want the pain of criticism and rejection to spur me on to do better things than I would have otherwise. I want to be able to say I gave this story everything I had, that I didn’t cut corners. Even if, in the end, it never sees the light of day, I want to be able to look at it and know the real success in the endeavor can be found in the process – in the growing, the changing, the learning.