99,588 is my new favourite number

One more quick run-through in the morning and it's out of my hair.

I don't know what I'm more excited about – finishing the manuscript and feeling like it's the best it's ever been, or knowing that I can get back to work on my other novel.

Do I have to pick?

The Incredible Shrinking Manuscript!

Another all-nighter, but what can you do.

My book is sitting at a lean, mean 99,900 words.  And I'm not quite finished with the edits.  But for sure on Saturday, it will be off my desk and in my agent's inbox. And then I can go to Las Vegas with nothing hanging over my head.

Confession:  I tried to weasel out of cutting it down this far.  Not because the book wouldn't benefit, but because I didn't think I could do it.   But my agent wouldn't let me off the hook.   She told me not to fret, and said that not only did she believe I could get the book down to under 100k, but once I did, it would be that much better.

She was right on both counts.

I'm alive!

I've finally climbed my way out of my flu fog and am feeling mentally more like my normal self, if not so much physically.  I don't get sick very often, but when I do, I get slammed.  At least this year it didn't turn into anything more serious, and I didn't need antibiotics.  I let myself sleep as much as I wanted to, and I think it really helped.

But.  Now I'm staring at a big fat manuscript that needs to have more fat trimmed.  I plan to work my ass off tonight and tomorrow in the hopes I'll be able to get it back to my agent by the end of this week.  It would be nice to go to Las Vegas for the weekend without the revisions hanging over my head.

I'm editing in hard copy right now, and there is something quite joyful about taking a purple pen (purple is my favorite ink color) and slashing needless words and phrases. There's no more glorious feeling than writing CUT in big purple letters across a paragraph or two of useless backstory.  But it's also tedious, and I find myself alternating between loving the book and hating it.  Right now I hate it. Everything about it seems wrong.  The characters feel too "cartoony" (perhaps not a real word, but my agent uses it), the story feels contrived, and the writing seems stilted and overly formal.  I know it's not true, but that's just how I feel today, and I hate when I get overly critical of myself. It accomplishes nothing except to make me crazy.

I need my writing mojo back.  If you see it, let me know, and approach with caution... it bites.

Disoriented

Finally back home after not one but several mishaps (okay, that's too nice a word, let's call them fuck ups, since that's what they were) at the airport.  Long story short, I should have been home Monday night.   I got home Tuesday night.

I love visiting Toronto, my hometown, but for some reason, the traveling part never goes smoothly.

I am now sick with a cold or the flu (I can't tell which) and I'm totally panicked at the thought of diving back into revisions for Creep.  I haven't worked on Creep since I left home almost two weeks ago.  I can't remember what I was revising.  I know I need to cut six thousand words, but I can't remember which six thousand I was planning to target.   I stayed up late last night catching up on bill paying and everything else I let slide because my trip home to Toronto was not planned (I went back for a funeral... the last three times I've gone back have been for funerals), and I slept terribly because the cats were so excited to see us that they wouldn't stop bugging us all night.  Not that I blame them, they've practically been alone in the house for two weeks (we didn't have the heart to lock them out of the bedroom).  And did I mention I woke up sick this morning?

Going back to Toronto is not the same thing as taking a vacation.  It's always great to see our family and close friends, yes, but it is utterly, utterly exhausting.  Eerily, this past trip was almost an exact replica of my last visit in June 2009, which I blogged about here and here.

I woke up this morning confused about what my definition of home is.  Home used to be Toronto, unequivocally, which is the city where I grew up, where I went school, and where the majority of my friends and family are.

But now I feel like home is Seattle, where my husband is, and where my house is, and where my pets are.

I feel all out of sorts.

Love is

Until today, I thought I knew everything about love. After all, I love my husband Steve and have loved him for seventeen years. I love my family. I love my friends.  I love my cats. Love is the feeling I get when Steve holds my hand. Love is the pot roast my mother makes when she knows I'm coming to visit. Love is the side-splitting laughter I share with my girlfriends when we're gossiping about somebody we shouldn't.

But today, while visiting Steve's sick grandmother in the hospital, I met a man named Mark. Mark's wife has multiple sclerosis. She occupies the bed next to Grandma's. But unlike Grandma, who's 86 and has only been in the hospital for a couple of months, Mark's wife is in her mid-40s and has been in the hospital for four years.

I didn't get the chance to ask Mark what his wife's name was. I wish I had. Because today, Mark and his wife taught me a new way of looking at love, and it was a way I might never have learned otherwise.

Mark's wife can no longer speak. She can't eat or dress or bathe or use the toilet or do any of the basic things most of us take for granted. Her hair, once long and beautiful, is shorn down to a crew cut to make it easier to wash. Her fingernails, once long and always painted with the latest trendy color, are now kept short and bare.

But her eyes are open, and she can hear. And when we walked into the room to visit Grandma, she watched us with eyes that saw everything. Her head turned to follow us as we filed in, and she watched our faces as we reunited with family members we hadn't seen in years. She listened to our laughter and easy conversation.

Mark came into the room shortly after we did. Grandma told us he visits his wife every day in the hospital. Every day. And today, like every other day for the past four years, his step was lively and purposeful.

I watched her face as he approached. Her mouth didn't curl into a smile, because it can't. She didn't lift a hand to wave, because she couldn't. But her eyes lit up when she saw her handsome husband.

He leaned over the bed. He took her face in his hands and looked straight into her eyes.  He smiled brightly and spoke to her in a clear voice. "Hello, my love. How are you today? I'm so happy to see you. I love so you much."

And then he kissed her. On the lips. It was not a chaste kiss. It was not an obligatory kiss.  It was the kiss a man gives a woman he loves deeply, with all his heart. I felt like an intruder watching them, but I couldn't not look. The room was too small, my chair was facing in their direction, and they were only a few feet away. So like a peeping tom, I watched... not that they cared. They were in their own little world built for two.

Mark spent the next few hours making sure his wife was comfortable. He straightened her pillows. He massaged her bare feet. There were plenty of nurses available, but he changed the fluids in her IV himself. He bustled around her bed making sure her blankets were neat. He pulled out a spray bottle of disinfectant and wiped down the bed railings so she wouldn't get the virus that's been floating around the hospital for the past week.

And every few minutes, he would pause to kiss her. To stroke her hair. To look into her eyes and tell her how much he loved her, how beautiful she looked, how happy she made him. To smile at her.

Grandma says he does this every day. Every day.

Steve didn't have to ask what I was thinking as I watched Mark and his wife. He already knew. And when my husband took my hand and said, "Yes, I would do that for you," that's when I realized that everything I think I know about love is just the beginning of what love really is.

God bless you both, Mark.

And the winner is...

Version A!

I am seeking representation for CREEP, a psychological thriller, complete at 106,000 words.

Dr. Sheila Tao is one of Seattle's most popular psychology professors. She's also a closet sex addict. And when she wakes up chained in the basement of a killer's house, she knows she's hit rock bottom.

When her three-month affair with her teaching assistant ends, Sheila vows to get her life back on track. She recommits to her twelve-step Sex Addicts Anonymous program. She says yes when her investment banker boyfriend proposes. She makes wedding plans.

But Ethan Wolfe can't move forward so easily. He didn't pursue his professor for as long as he did to get dumped for some balding, middle-aged suit. That's not according to plan, and Ethan doesn't take rejection well.

Most serial killers don't.

Kidnapped by Ethan a week before her wedding, Sheila reels from the revelation that her former lover is actually the monster responsible for the murders of several women in the Seattle area. And now Sheila's own days are numbered, if Ethan's state-of-the-art kill room is any indication.

With her arms and legs bound, Sheila fights back with the only weapon she has: her mind. Using everything she's learned as a psychologist, she must peel back the layers of Ethan's façade to find out who he really is—and what drives him—if she hopes to survive long enough for someone to find her.

There's just one glitch: nobody's looking. Because nobody thinks she's missing.


Good eye, guys! I'm impressed!  Version A is indeed the query I sent to my agent, who then requested the full.

But my personal favorite?  Version C.  In my humble opinion, it had the most voice and the most spirit, and it took the least amount of time to write (about twenty minutes).  To me, Version C is the best representation of the style of my book.

The version I liked the least?  Version B, which was actually the first version I sent out.  And since none of you picked it, it looks like you guys didn't like it much, either.  I'm sure we can all agree it had no voice. It was all tell, no show, and while I think I did an okay job of getting the idea of the book across, I don't think it showed the flavor of the book at all.  So I eventually rewrote it and came up with Version A.

But here's the thing:  all three versions so far have generated a 10% request rate.  This may change over the next couple of months as more responses trickle in (because it's only been about seven weeks since I sent out my last batch), but as of today, all three versions got the same results.

So what have I learned from all this?

1).  Queries are subjective.  A query that will turn off one agent could very well turn on another. It will resonate or it won't.  And you have about 30 seconds to pitch as best you can and find out.

2).  At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how great your request rate is (and at 10%, I'm told mine is decent, but certainly nothing to brag about).  If your book isn't up to snuff, you will not get an agent.  You can write a killer query, generating a 30% request rate (and yes, I've seen stats like these on the writer's forum I belong to), but what's the point if you haven't polished your novel?  I spent a lot of time on my query, sure I did.  As I should have.  Days and days and days.  But I spent a year and a half on my book.  My agent liked my query enough to request the full manuscript.  Once she did, the book had to stand on its own, and the query no longer mattered.   Ergo,there's no point in writing a query that's better than your book.

So for my writer friends, here's my advice.  Don't sweat the query.  Sweat the book.

Which query got me my agent?

Many of you have asked to see my query, which of course I understand because it's always interesting to see the query that helped get a writer her agent. Of course, it's ultimately not the reason I got my agent, but it is how I got her attention.

But before I tell you, I thought we could have some fun. There are actually three versions of my query for CREEP floating around out there. I've posted them all below. You'll notice two are sort of similar stylistically, and one is vastly different.

Take a guess which one got me my agent! (Keep in mind that these are not necessarily presented in the order I sent them.) And, after you've guessed, I'd be interested know which one you would have requested had you been an agent looking to represent thrillers.

GO!

* * * * * 


Version A:

I am seeking representation for CREEP, a psychological thriller, complete at 106,000 words.

Dr. Sheila Tao is one of Seattle's most popular psychology professors. She's also a closet sex addict. And when she wakes up chained in the basement of a killer's house, she knows she's hit rock bottom.

When her three-month affair with her teaching assistant ends, Sheila vows to get her life back on track. She recommits to her twelve-step Sex Addicts Anonymous program. She says yes when her investment banker boyfriend proposes. She makes wedding plans.

But Ethan Wolfe can't move forward so easily. He didn't pursue his professor for as long as he did to get dumped for some balding, middle-aged suit. That's not according to plan, and Ethan doesn't take rejection well.

Most serial killers don't.

Kidnapped by Ethan a week before her wedding, Sheila reels from the revelation that her former lover is actually the monster responsible for the murders of several women in the Seattle area. And now Sheila's own days are numbered, if Ethan's state-of-the-art kill room is any indication.

With her arms and legs bound, Sheila fights back with the only weapon she has: her mind. Using everything she's learned as a psychologist, she must peel back the layers of Ethan's façade to find out who he really is—and what drives him—if she hopes to survive long enough for someone to find her.

There's just one glitch: nobody's looking. Because nobody thinks she's missing.


* * * * *


Version B:

CREEP, a psychological thriller, is complete at 106,000 words.

When Dr. Sheila Tao wakes up chained in the basement of a killer's house, she knows she's finally hit rock bottom.

A popular psychology professor in Seattle, nobody knows Sheila is a recovering sex addict in therapy, not even her NFL center-turned-investment banker fiancé, Morris. On the surface, Sheila is the picture of professionalism, a well-liked educator who genuinely cares about her students. But she's far from perfect, and far from recovered, as her three-month affair with Ethan Wolfe confirms.

Ethan is her teaching assistant and almost two decades her junior. Sheila ends the affair when Morris proposes, but the break-up doesn't go smoothly. It turns out Ethan Wolfe has secrets of his own, and he doesn't take rejection well.

Most serial killers don't.

Trapped in her ex-lover's state-of-the-art kill room, Sheila must figure out a way to survive long enough for someone to find her.

The only problem is, nobody's looking. Because nobody thinks she's missing.


* * * * *


Version C:

Everything bad that's happened to popular psychology professor Sheila Tao is her own damn fault.

Had she told her investment banker fiancé about her sex addiction from the beginning, maybe he wouldn't have walked out a week before their wedding.

Had she not had an affair with her student, Ethan Wolfe, maybe her career at the university wouldn't be dangling by a thread.

Had Ethan Wolfe not been the serial killer responsible for the deaths of several homeless women in the Seattle area, maybe Sheila wouldn't be shackled to a bed in his state-of-the art kill room, wondering how the hell she could have been so stupid.

Complete at 106,000 words, CREEP is a character-driven psychological thriller that explores what happens when you cheat on your fiancé with Hannibal Lecter.


* * * * *

So, which query got my agent's attention?  Click here.

You know you're in Canada when...

The first thing you mutter when you leave the airport is, "Fuck, it's cold."

The stranger in the washroom who misses bumping into you by a few millimetres still says a heartfelt, "Oh, I'm sorry!"

You use millimetres as your measurement unit in a sentence.

You spell millimetres the French way.

You write washroom instead of restroom in your blog post.

You pass by no less than five Tim Hortons on the drive home.

You ponder the snack aisle at Wal-Mart and notice that ketchup-flavored chips, Maltesers, and Cadbury fingers are part of the selection.

The guy at Wal-Mart who nearly bumps into you says a heartfelt, "Oh, I'm sorry!"

Your Bank of America debit card can only be processed as a credit card.

You find yourself at an ice hockey game unexpectedly and mutter, "Fuck, it's cold."

You overhear people discussing Canada's win over the U.S. in the Olympic gold medal hockey game and realize it's not boastfulness you're hearing in their voices... it's relief.

You wonder why your wallet's so heavy and realize it's filled with toonies and loonies.

A tank of gas which would have cost $35 in the U.S. costs $50.

The stranger who nearly bumps into you in the restaurant washroom says a heartfelt, "Oh, I'm sorry!"

You order an iced tea and it comes sweetened already.

You say thank you when the server brings your meal and he doesn't say, "Uh huh."  He says, "You're welcome."

You complain about the cold to your best friend and she laughs at you and says, "Actually, it's nice out."

Your best friend tells you it's been way too long since she last saw you, and you respond with, "I know, eh?"

Man, it's good to be home.

The Not-So-Serious Book Club

So I've started a book club on Facebook.  As I've written about in previous posts, I'm really trying to get my mojo back for reading.  Not just because it makes me a better writer (it does) but because I really do love to read, for entertainment's sake.  I love books more than movies or TV (and that's saying a lot).  And I love to talk about what I'm reading.  So why not get a bunch of like-minded folks together?  It could be a lot of fun.

It will be a very informal group and everyone, regardless of whether you've read ten books or a thousand, is welcome.  I don't plan for it to be pretentious – I detest pretentious! – so don't go thinking it'll be a bunch of literary snobs who will only want to read literary fiction.  In fact, we'll be keeping literary to a minimum... think mainstream fiction instead.  And genre.  Wouldn't it fun to read genre! 

We start March 8th.  This month's book is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  If you're interested in joining, please send me a note, or find the Not-So-Serious Book Club page on my Facebook profile and click to join.

Hope to see you there.