High Hopes

Querying is hard. That’s kind of a no-brainer–crafting a business letter to basically say “I promise my story is good, please give me a chance!” is as bad as writing a cover letter for a job (I mean, essentially, it’s the same thing). For me, it’s been disheartening and nerve-wracking and left me wanting to pull my hair out. I wrote a freaking novel–please don’t make me condense the plot into a single-page synopsis!

Sending out queries is terrifying, too, because I don’t know if the base of my letter is any good. I’ve poured over blogs and revised, revised, revised, and I *think* I’ve got a decent hook and capture the stakes and introduce the conflict in three short paragraphs, but I won’t know if it’s enough until the requests start rolling in. And when they *don’t* roll in, I can’t be sure if it’s that my query letter isn’t strong, or my writing isn’t good, or my story isn’t appealing, or if it just doesn’t fit on that specific agent’s list at this point in time.

Guys, requests have NOT been rolling in.

Out of 23 agents queried thus far, I’ve received 10 rejections. That’s flirting dangerously close to 50%–and those other 13 aren’t guaranteed requests by any means. To make it harder, I received 5 of those rejections in the space of a few days.

And it’s fine–I understand that it only takes one “yes”, that Stephen King had hundreds of rejections nailed to his bedroom wall and Harry Potter was rejected over 30 times, that a pass doesn’t mean my writing is poor or my story not good enough…I know all that. It doesn’t make it suck any less, though, so I just want to wallow a bit.

But.

Last night, after two more “thanks but no thanks” emails, I was telling my husband I’m thinking of switching gears and returning to a WWII story I’ve been working on when it happened. An email notification was sitting on my phone’s home screen, and I recognized the name of another agent. My heart sank, even as I read the preview saying I provided a great writing sample. I expected to see the “but” as I clicked it open.

But nothing, baby! The agent requested 50 pages to keep reading.

This isn’t any more of a guarantee than any other step in the process, but it *is* the next step. And it feels amazing to know a professional read a snippet of my story and said “more, please!” Even if they end up passing, my confidence has been boosted enough to face down the next 10 rejections with minimal sulking.

Querying

Well, I did it! I sent out a query letter to a handful of agents! I’ve got to polish my synopsis and try to ease off tweaking my manuscript because it is time, baby!

Or maybe not–I’ve got another list of agents to query next week. I’m hedging my bets a little bit and leaving myself options if my query or first few pages don’t seem to hook anyone in this first round. There’s always room for improvement, so if I’m being completely honest, I’m not going to stop tweaking my query letter or my story until I start getting requests to read the full manuscript. I’m just really excited because that first step has been taken and, request or rejection, I’ve at least put my story out there.

Never-Ending Edits

I’m currently on draft number who-even-knows-anymore of my work in progress, Blood and Water. The cool thing is, every time I finish a draft, I feel really confident in it, like it’s the best I could ever accomplish. (To be fair, it really is my best work at that point in my life.) Then I get to see how much I’ve grown as a writer when I return to that draft a few weeks later and think “this is actually kind of garbage.” So I revise and rewrite and get a new draft I love so much.

The thing is, after submitting it to my writing groups for feedback, I’m still getting tons of suggestions for re-wording things, clarifying sentences and plot points, and rearranging paragraphs for better flow. A lot of this, I’m slowly recognizing, is due to personal preference and the writing styles of those lovely people offering the feedback, since they, too, are writers. It’s getting easier for me to disregard some suggestions, because they don’t fit my style. Also, I’m coming to terms with the fact that they’re *looking* for issues–a casual reader likely wouldn’t notice that “I struggle not to cry” fits better than “I refuse to cry,” or that I just used “I” to start the last three sentences of that section, a big repetitive no-no.

Still, some comments are really great. People are still catching plot holes and subtext that’s too subtle or foreshadowing that’s too obvious. I’m endlessly grateful to these friends who are taking the time out of their busy schedules to read my work and offer constructive feedback.

It doesn’t stop me from yelling LEAVE ME ALONE at the screen a few times once I’m several hours into the critique-review process. That’s when I take a break to post pics to Instagram or work on a blog post. 🙂

Writing Vacation

Last week was a crazy adventure. In the course of 9 days, I spent over 24 hours in a car, 3 hours on a plane, and traveled to 5 cities in 5 different states to see friends, family, and watch the St. Louis Blues bring home the Stanley Cup (#LGB!).

This came at a really opportune time, because I’ve reached my wits end with the current draft of my novel. I still believe it in, but I’m so, so tired of it. There are about two chapters waiting for complete overhauls that I have not been able to stir up the motivation to complete. I’m impatient for it to just be finished and out in the world, looking for an agent to represent it, but can’t bring myself to give those last couple chapters the attention they need to be done. I’m sure there’s some psychological phenomenon at work, a reluctance to polish the ending and admit “I’m finished”. Or maybe I just am bored with the story I’ve focused on for the past year. I’m ready to move on to one of the other sagas bouncing around my mind.

Whatever the reason, I needed a break. I’ve tried taking them before, binging TV epics with the Mr. or losing myself in a good (already published) book, but Solvi & co. always lurked in the back of my mind, mingling with a slight sense of guilt I couldn’t quite shake.

Last week, so much of my time was spent on the road or visiting with loved ones that all I could do was sleep in my free time. It was amazing and exhausting and best of all, it’s given me a truly fresh perspective as I return to my story. I’m looking forward to getting this draft polished!

Blood and Water: Playlist

I’ve got a few hundred “inspirational” songs that have gone into writing Blood and Water. I’ve narrowed them down and compiled a list of 21 songs that I think best represent most of the novel, and/or were the most influential for some scenes. The entire playlist can be found on YouTube. Enjoy!

  1. Please Don’t Say You Love Me – Gabrielle Aplin
  2. Kvervandi – Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik (one of the “Viking”-esque songs I listened to on repeat for the fight scenes–Plus this one’s by Einar, I mean, come on!)
  3. Wolves – Sam Tinnesz, Silverberg
  4. Hunter – Adam French
  5. The Pines – Roses & Revolutions (this one makes me think of Solvi and Maiken)
  6. Blood and Bones – Kodaline
  7. Long Way Down – Matthew Mayfield
  8. The Hunter – Adam Jensen
  9. Dark Times – The Weeknd, Ed Sheeran
  10. Dangerous Man – Little Dume
  11. World Gone Mad – Bastille
  12. Wicked Game – Matthew Mayfield, Emma Hewitt
  13. Fire – Saint Mesa
  14. Dawn – Von Grey (Maiken/Solvi song)
  15. A Grave Mistake – Ice Nine Kills
  16. Feet Don’t Fail Me Now – Neoni
  17. World Gone Mad – The Phantoms
  18. Stone – Sawyer Fredericks
  19. Smoked Out of Heaven – Saint Claire
  20. Better Than the Pain (Acoustic) – The Woodlands
  21. Unspoken – Welshly Arms
  22. New Kings – Sleeping Wolf

As always, if you prefer a Spotify option you can check out the list here!

The First Raid

Solvi:

Mam is buried beneath her blankets again. It’s been two days, but still she refuses to rise. Maiken burned the stew she reheated for breakfast—again. Now, it’s nearing dinnertime, and Mam doesn’t stir. Papa, Ulf, and Tarben will return soon, but the longhouse is empty of the scents that usually greet them.

No one seems to be very hungry, which is good because Mam isn’t cooking.

I wonder what’s wrong with me, then, that my stomach won’t stop growling. Why doesn’t my body understand like the others’ that now is not the time for petty things like food or comfort?

Kennet will never eat another meal.

That should be enough to strip me of my appetite. We lit his pyre yesterday, and all I could think as the smoke carried his soul to Fallne Hallen was how much the air smelled like roasting pork, and how hungry I am. It’s the time of year when the leaves turn vibrant and the animals are fat and sleepy, but not yet hidden away. Normally, we eat best this time of year.

Except no one seems to be very hungry but me.

The men take their time returning tonight. Maiken keeps glaring at the door as she slices vegetables at the rough-carved table. Usually, she makes me help—and I offered two times already—but tonight she just stands and slices and glares, not doing anything worthwhile with the growing mountain of carrots and onions piling up beside her.

The baby starts to cry. Ib is always crying. There’s a rustle from the blankets; Mam adjusts her hold on him and he quiets. At least one of us is feeding.

I reach for a carrot and—quick as a viper—Maiken raps my knuckles with the flat of her knife. A thin line of blood wells up on the back of my middle finger. I pop it into my mouth with a glare of my own directed straight at her.

She ignores me.

That’s nothing new.

A sudden cry in the village brings both our heads around toward the door. My eyes drift to Maiken, but she remains alert, like a forest cat who has sensed a barn mouse. If she had a tail, it would twitch behind her.

Finally, she blinks and returns to her task. “Must’ve lost another one.”

As if Torblirost is a forgetful child spilling its toys in the forest. As if the plague that has gripped us these past weeks is not stealing lives it has no rights to.

The door bursts open. I jump. Maiken already has her knife in a warrior’s hold, the vegetables forgotten.

Mam doesn’t move.

Tarben pants in the doorway. “Maiken! Papa sent me…” He gasps for air, his eyes wild with terror, and my stomach goes hot. “Night Raiders.”

Maiken moves from behind the table before I’ve registered our brother’s words. She shoves a spear in Tarben’s hands and reaches for her sword. I follow them to the door, but Maiken spins on me.

“Stay here, Solvi.”

“I want to help!”

I’m ten, for Vöder’s sake. It’s time she sees me as a warrior.

Perhaps she reads defiance in my eyes. Her jaw works but her tone is confident when she wraps my fingers around her knife. “You need to protect this house. If anyone but us comes in, you know where to stick this.”

“Between his legs if I can’t reach his throat.” It’s one of the first lessons she taught me.

One side of her lips lifts and she claps her hand against my cheek. Then she’s gone, chasing Tarben and glory into the sinking sun.

From the door of our longhouse, I can hear a shriek here and there. Half-hearted and bitter. Torblirost has lost so many to the plague, what more damage can a band of mythical terrors do?

This logic doesn’t stop my heart from drumming like an execution song. What’ll I do if one of those demons shows up here? I know what I’ve told Maiken, but it’s another matter entirely to actually stab a man. My hand is hot and slimy around the knife. I switch my grip and wipe my palm against my thigh, but it doesn’t seem to help.

“Mam?” I whisper, backing away from the door. “Mam, did you hear?”

She must not know we’re under attack. I don’t want to take my eyes from the door, as if by watching it will keep anyone from entering. I back up until my legs bump the bench where Mam sleeps.

With a deep breath, I rip my gaze from the entry to Mam. She lies on her side facing me, Ib wriggling in her arms, her eyes open but as unseeing as Kennet’s were. My stomach lurches.

She blinks. Focuses on me.

“Solvi,” she says. I wait, but she doesn’t rise. She doesn’t demand a weapon or take charge.

“Mam.” Horrifying tears crowd my eyes. I blink them furiously away. I’m too old to cry, no matter how helpless I feel. “Mam, you need to get up now. We’re under attack.”

Her eyes slide closed. I want to shake her. I’m terrified to touch her.

“Take your brother,” she says, her voice little more than a breath. “Take your brother and hide.”

My heart still thrums that killing beat, but my breaths come easier. If she’s telling me to hide, it’s because she’ll protect us. I offer her the knife, but she shakes her head.

“Take your brother. Then let them come.”

My body flashes hot then frozen and I take a step back. “But Mam…”

“Solvi.” Her voice is broken, like the rest of her. “Solvi, I can’t…”

The knife is still slick in my palm, but my fingers tighten around the handle.

“Someone has to.” I don’t know if I say it for her or myself, but I know it is truth. I move back to the door to wait.

I am a warrior of Torblirost, and I will not let anyone harm my family.