The Quest Begins: Looking for a Literary Agent

Sun, Sep 13, 2015

Stories

I’ve got about 40 pages left to edit and improve in the first book.  A dear friend has helped every step of the way; two minds that think very differently creating something better than either would alone.  Once those final pages are done, it’ll be time to knock on doors to find someone in the industry to buy into it.

It must be an odd vocation being a literary agent.  They seem to be so inundated with prospective writers that most are e-mail only.  I’m sure if every submission was paper, the weight would influence the tides more than the Moon.  And they have to cut down their workload even more – many are one-page covers only, some ask for the first five pages.  And then comes the reality of viruses from those knuckleheads that devote their talents to causing havoc, so the agents mostly require everything to be plain text in the body of the e-mail.  It’s all understandable, but interesting just the same how the industry has adapted to the new world.

So several years ago I had an experience that inspired me to write a story.  It took maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months to transfer my thoughts into Word.  The story sat there, although I’d play with it upon occasion, for years.  Was it two years ago that I applied myself?  Sounds right, although it could be longer.

Here’s where I am now … wait, that experience.  Allow me to share it with you.

I was driving a friend on an old country road.  On my left was the West Branch of a major river, perhaps along this route 150 feet side to side.  On my right was the base of a mountain, part of the Appalachians.  That last part means that it is not a mountain in the sense that Colorado might present.  These mountains are old and worn; they gradually rise and in the same manner greet rivers.  Roads that interrupt that greeting are many times, in my area, macadam over an 1800’s dirt road expanded from an old Indian trail.  The roads rise and fall, twist and turn.

As I drove with that friend, the road crested and bent to the right.  I had enough vision to maintain the 35 MPH limit, but small blind spots on such roads are common.  Without any time to respond, just after the crest and bend, a pheasant flew into the road.  And into my passenger front tire.  I saw the flash of flying colors then heard the gentle thump before my hands had time to turn the steering wheel.

I was bummed.  My friend was bummed.  We had a moment.

I don’t recall if it was that same day, but it was close in time, that a thought struck me:  That wasn’t an accident; it was murder.  Somehow, some way, I knew that the pheasant that flew into my path was compelled to, forced to by a couple of game-land murderers.

The story flowed out of me.

I learned also the way I am most comfortable writing.  I had been writing for years, but it felt forced.  I then learned that I can’t use an outline.  For me, that forces the story along a path determined well before the story unveils itself.  Stories flow through us; they are not created from a sewing pattern. What do you do as the story evolves, rewrite the outline?  How many times do you rewrite the outline before you give up and just write?

No, instead I write in the present: The scene, the characters in front of me.  If I notice something as I sit in that scene, I write it.  Then as the scene closes itself and carries me forward, I often find that something I noticed earlier all of a sudden has meaning.  I guess I could call those at-present observations breadcrumbs.  I call it writing backward.  I love when a spilled vase first written because someone left in a hurry becomes a key piece of evidence later on.

As I wrote that first story, I was amazed when it ended.  The bad guys got nailed.  Good.  But I had no idea if I had five paragraphs left to close the story or 50 pages.  The story unfolded, presented itself, and told me when it was done.  In that instance, my main character wanted to expend energy so he would sleep well.  He flew high then landed on the branch of a dead tree high above the brush within which he would sleep.  He landed then coyotes noticed him.  Then he realized the bad guys were inside the brush.  That progression unveiled itself to me as I wrote.  I had no idea it was coming.  I wrote it in one stream.  I recall lifting my hands from the keyboard afterward.  “Hunh,” I thought, “didn’t see that coming.”

Sometime later, and probably when my dear friend joined the game (not the one that witnessed the murder), I started to write more stories.  In all, I have about 14 or 15 stories in various forms.  Nine or so are ready to rock and roll.  In each instance, when I sit to write, I have an opening sentence, at most a paragraph – more importantly, somewhat of a 2-D picture in my head.  I write it, place myself inside, then look around and write more.  The still photo becomes a movie.  I write what happens.

The finished stories run 10,000 to 14,000 words each.  The first drafts, the skeletons, are 7,000 to 9,000 words.

The stories are crime dramas.  Humor and mystery weave throughout.  I grew up on Columbo, so that influence is there.

So, yes, the stories are all about talking animals.  But the audience is that Middle Grade, maybe stretching further into Young Adult.  They are certainly not for younger kids.  My granddaughter is seven years old.  I’m not going to introduce her to murder, kidnapping, burglary, and the like.

The society I’ve created is complete:  Hospitals, stores, homes, diners, Council (patterned after the House of Commons).  The interaction can be lighthearted but is also intricate.  Evidence is gathered and analyzed.  Characters commit foul acts only to be tripped up by their weaknesses.  Law enforcement is done by the Royal Wood Constabulary.  Cribbage, my favorite card game, is present.

I plan on having five stories in each book.  A few more pages and the first book is ready to share.  Another draft needs to be finished then a few drafts refined and the 2d book will be done.

I’d like an agent for a few reasons, primarily because they are the professionals.  They know the industry.  I’d rather rely on an expert than stumble through on my own.  If I have to go the e-book route, I will, but that’s a decision for another time.

So … the opening to the last story in Book One …

Terrence sat in his Study filling out a report.

“I don’t like this,” he said to the empty room. “Don’t like it one bit.”

“Two Sycamore,” he wrote in the first column.

He glanced at the report his boss had rejected. “145 good boards, 15 bad boards.”

“He wants more,” Terrence muttered. “Always more.”

“135” he wrote beneath “Good Boards” on the new report; “25” under “Bad Boards.”

He worked until he completed three replacement reports, all of which increased the number of Bad Boards.

“I don’t like this,” he said again as he walked to his Stove Room. “Not one bit,” he uttered as he tore the rejected reports into small pieces. “NOT ONE BIT!” he yelled as frustration welled inside of him. He threw the pieces of the report in the garbage. “AND I’M GOING TO TELL HIM TOMORROW! I’M DONE WITH THIS!”

§

“Toes up,” a Senior Detective said as Reginald walked around the hammock in the backyard. A full Forensics Team was at the scene. Two Turtles walked around the hammock trying to pick up a scent. An Inspector on each side of the hammock lifted pillows, inspected the ropes holding it between two trees, and wrote in their notebooks everything they saw. A second Detective bent over the body using a clean stick to open the decedent’s vest and peer inside.

RG stepped between and over game to get a look. “He’s got claws, not toes.”

“You know what I mean, Constable,” the Senior Detective responded.

Reginald looked to the back door where Sgt. Chamberlain stood. He lifted his wing and waved it in a circle.

“Alrighty, lads,” Chamberlain said. “Everyone out! Give the Constable some time alone. Get a move on!”

You’ll just have to wait to read the rest!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.