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Life

Life Happens. So Do Hurricanes.

I live on Marco Island, which is several hours south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast of Florida. About a month ago, the island took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, which I believe was a category 4 storm at the time.

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Image courtesy CNN.com
Had the eye stayed a little more to the west, the resulting storm surge could have been as high as fifteen feet. As it was, I believe we got more like four feet, which was high enough to swamp the island and come most of the way up our driveway but not high enough to get into the house.

We evacuated the day before the storm hit, knowing we might very well come back to . . . nothing. Irma barreled through on a Sunday and we were allowed back onto the island on Monday; turning down my street and waiting to get a glimpse of my house (or whatever remained of it) was one of the most dreadful moments of quiet, terrified anticipation I’ve ever experienced. We were very, very lucky — we got plenty of cosmetic damage, but the roof stayed mostly intact (although it still most likely needs to be replaced) and we didn’t lose any windows or doors. We spent days without running water or electricity (September in southern Florida without air conditioning, man, NO). We’re still waiting on a lot of repairs. We’re trying to budget for what insurance won’t cover (which, as it turns out, is probably most of the damage, ugh). My father always handled these things when I was younger; not having him here to arrange repairs and make decisions is bringing up a lot of emotions on top of everything else.

 

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This used to be our screen enclosure. It looks so much better in the photo than it did in real life.
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We lost more than half of our trees, including this 30-ft palm that blocked our driveway for nearly a week. The debris in the driveway marks the height of the storm surge. You can also see several downed power lines near the street.
I’ve been through so many hurricanes that I can’t even keep them all straight anymore, but I’ve never experienced one like Irma. I’m dealing with a lot of delayed anxiety, a newfound sensitivity to mold (the island has huge piles of molding debris everywhere waiting on county clean-up), and a still-unreliable internet connection. Once everything blows over, I’ll be back to blogging more regularly. In the meantime, I’ll be taking out my anxiety on the coconuts that got knocked down by the storm. We’ve got a lot of coconuts, but I’ve got a lot of anxiety, so it works.

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CONSIDER THE COCONUT.
Writing and Publishing

Lightning Strikes Twice

Last month I posted about what can happen when your literary agent doesn’t like your next book. Here’s how that’s been working out for me.

So. By spring 2017 I’d been unagented for nearly two years.

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I queried new agents when I had the time and determination, but between being a caregiver for my dad*, who had renal failure, and digging up whatever freelance opportunities I could, I didn’t have a lot of emotional headspace left for agent hunting. Especially when the rejections I got were variations on a theme: “I love the voice/concept/whatever but there’s no room in the market for plus-size** characters.”

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(Pun not intended. And, I mean… What? ELEANOR & PARK was on fire when I was drafting MAMMOTH in 2013-2014, DUMPLIN’ took off in 2015, THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED was on the way… The audience is there! Plus, MAMMOTH is a story about personal authenticity and paleontology geekery. Its protagonist happens to be plus-size. She’s also smart. Clever. Ambitious. Conflicted. Brave. Flawed. Obviously I’m biased, but I think her value as a character goes beyond the size tag on her jeans.)

In April, an agent I followed on Twitter, Eric Smith of P.S. Literary, tweeted that he’d be closing to submissions in a few months. Eric seemed super cool, and he represents several writers I know (Rebecca Enzor, a friend from my toy-collecting days, and Rebecca Phillips, who I knew from the ABNA), and I figured, why not? I was spending a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms, so that’s where I drafted a new version of my query letter. Within a couple of days, Eric requested the manuscript. Yay!

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A few days after that I saw this tweet and wistfully thought, “Aw, I wish he was talking about MAMMOTH!”:

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BUT. BUT. HE WAS TALKING ABOUT MAMMOTH.

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He made a few revision suggestions that I totally agreed with, and a week or so later I signed a contract. His enthusiasm has been nothing short of remarkable, and I don’t know how he finds enough hours in the day to accomplish all that he does. Eric’s just awesome. Plus, I gained an amazing group of supportive agent-siblings!

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MAMMOTH is now out on submission, and I can’t wait to prove that the market has plenty of room for Natalie and her dig site discoveries. THIS IS HAPPENING.

*My dad passed away in late May, and one of the last things that made him really happy was knowing I’d signed with a new agent. As overwhelming as the last few months have been, I’m really glad he knew I’d found my footing again.
**Not everyone likes “plus-size” as a label. I acknowledge that, and I’ll address the reasons I use it for Natalie in a future post.
Geekery

Okay, Who Brought the Dog?

Back in May I was 100% jazzed by the news that paleontologists named a newly-discovered ankylosaur species Zuul after the terror dog from the original Ghostbusters movie. A paleo spin on my favorite franchise? YES, HAVE SOME.

Here’s an artist’s rendering of the newly-named pupper (image courtesy Royal Ontario Museum):

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And here’s Zuul itself in Terror Dog form (image courtesy Columbia Pictures):

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I can see the resemblance.

The dino’s full name is Zuul crurivastator. The species name is Latin for “destroyer of shins,” a nod to the animal’s clubbed tail. This Zuul was a herbivore, but at its size (as heavy as a rhino and as long as a pickup truck), it would probably do even more damage to Louis Tully’s apartment than the fictional keymaster version.

Next can we have a Slimersaurus Rex?

Reading

The Enormous Egg

I’ve been sorting through a lot of long-buried possessions, and I recently came across this book about a boy who finds and hatches a mysterious egg (SPOILER ALERT IT’S A DINOSAUR EGG YEEAAAHHHH!!!):

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That chicken is not having any of this.

I was six or seven when I got this. I remember being intimidated because although it looked like other chapter books, the print inside was so much smaller than I was used to — but I loved dinosaurs, so I jumped in. Years before I read Jurassic Park, I encountered my very first fictional paleontologist, Dr. Ziemer:

Dr. Ziemer

The Enormous Egg was originally published in the 1950s, and some elements of the story haven’t aged that well, but I’m still fond of it as a product of its time, and I still adore the illustrations. And I still want an Uncle Beazley of my own:

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COME ON THO HOW ADORABLE IS THAT AND CAN IT BE LITTERBOX TRAINED

I’m not someone who normally has a lot of maternal instincts, but show me a teeny baby triceratops and suddenly I’m all:

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Of course, large dinosaurs don’t make particularly good pets.

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THAT SIDE-EYE. THAT SQUISH.

So, I mean… I guess that dream’s ruined. Still, as a kid, I always hoped I’d stumble across a mysterious egg, just like Nate did.

(Okay, I admit it. To this day, I still kind of wish that could happen.)

Writing and Publishing

What If Your Agent Doesn’t Like Your Next Book?

When you’re trying to break into traditional publishing, landing an agent feels like finding the holy grail — you’ve completed the quest, you’ve leveled up, you’ve done the thing.

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Then you start digging into everything that comes after, and you realize that signing with an agent is just another step in the process. And oh boy, you’ve still got a hike ahead of you.

So. You sign the contract. Your agent probably wants a revision, so you get that done. The two of you put together a submission package, your agent starts reaching out to editors, and for half a second you can BREATHE because the process is mostly beyond your control. (You should still be developing your platform, extending your reach, all that good stuff, but at least the submission process itself can chug along without you for a bit.) In that moment of calmness, you start thinking about that new idea that’s been wiggling in the back of your head. That’s when the anxiety sets in because…

What if my agent doesn’t like my next book???

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This is EXACTLY what it feels like.

I’ve seen this question on so many writing forums and Q&As and subreddits. It’s a dreadful thought, and I can tell you from experience that it feels even more dreadful when it actually happens. So what does it mean when your agent just doesn’t connect with your new work?

The scenario can play out in several ways, and it mostly depends on your agent. If you guys work well together but your new idea is in a genre or area that he doesn’t represent, he might try to work something out with another agent (probably someone in his agency) who has more experience with that genre. If your new idea is still just that, a vague and nebulous spark, and you haven’t put a lot of time or work into it yet, your agent might suggest that you put it aside for now and work on something she’s more likely to be able to sell.

Or . . . You and your agent might decide to part ways. Cue the tiny violins and sad trombones!

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I experienced that third option. In 2014, my then-agent was still trying to sell UNDERBED when I sent her the first draft of MAMMOTH. We worked through a series of MAMMOTH revisions, but in the end, she just couldn’t connect strongly enough with the main character to represent the project, and I felt too strongly about MAMMOTH to give up on it.

Because of that, and because she’d been unable to do much with UNDERBED, she and I parted ways in 2015. That happened on my birthday, by the way. I don’t recommend that. Really kind of ruins the day.

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So yeah. These things happen. Sometimes you have to take a step or two back. However, that doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, or that the project in question isn’t viable. It just means that you and your agent weren’t the literary soulmates you both hoped you’d be, and if an agent doesn’t fall in love with a project, she’s not the one you want selling that project anyway. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right fit in this industry.

I sent out a couple of MAMMOTH queries that same day. Finding a new agent took longer than I expected (more on that in another post!), but now that I can turn around and look back at that rocky hiking trail from the other side . . .

I think it was all worth it. I’ve still got countless trails stretching out in front of me, but I conquered that one.

Breaking up with an agent sucks, but it’s not the end of your career. You mope for a bit, you vent to your friends, you post GIFs of the Doctor standing in the rain, and then you stand up and dust yourself off. You keep going.