A glass dome atop a wood base, encircling a tiny steam train. Water and glycerin submerge the train on its track. Shake the dome and sparkles snow down on the scene, lending a sense of childhood wonder as the toy train becomes a living world captured in your palm – for a few seconds.
When I was a kid, snow globes imparted a magical experience, a snowing miniature world glittering with whatever fantasy I imagined. Shake, it snows then settles until shaken again. Glitter snow so thick it covers the little train, all details obliterated. Stilled, a slightly different arrangement of the glitter, and I notice the black smokestack is ringed with a gold band. Shake, settle again, and the caboose dangles a pea-size lantern. Didn’t see that before. Enchantment in my palm.
I’ve been shaking up my writing recently, revising my three novels, making sure I’ve written the story I intended. Checking to see that I’ve addressed each character consistently, maintained logical internal chronology, excised every “that” (oh boy.) Ach – Toby jogs around the second novel even though he only lives in the first. Emily was born in 1989 in one chapter, 1976 in another. Embarrassed me until I realized nearly everyone does it. I ensure the story is complete, all loose ends tied up or snipped away, displacing the reign of confusion. Theme carried through, consistent voice, suspenseful surprises in every chapter, chasms and traps to make the characters stumble, then right themselves, stumble again. An ending no one will expect until they get to the end and exclaim, “Great story!” Reviewing a book finished a year earlier affords an opportunity to repair and reconsider. A chance to see the lantern on the caboose – nice touch – also the teapot on the smokestack – oops! Delete. Correct. Three complete novels banked on my computer, checked, revised, ready to send out to agents.
Now I face the task I most dread: querying. I don’t like writing queries yet I know ain’t nothing getting traditionally published (my preference) without the hard work of compressing my story into a paragraph of scintillating seduction and mesmerizing mystery. I’ve assessed my resistance to query writing and come up with a list.
- My story is 120,000 essential words. How can I compress it into one page and still convey its tone, theme, and clever development? Two hundred fifty words, a phenomenon of literary grandeur. Or a castle whittled to a splinter.
- What will capture an agent’s attention? Queries that worked tickle the imagination of a particular agent because of a personal comment (so I’ve heard): “I see you like vodka poured over your dry cereal. That’s exactly how my main character eats hers.” What box of cereal, dear agent, will grab you and never let go?
- How can I be sure the agent is still accepting unsolicited manuscripts? The process is long and arduous. Send query, wait an acceptable amount of time, move on to the next potential agent. How much wait time is acceptable? My clock is ticking – I only have this lifetime.
- How much should I include of the story? I know not to give away the final resolution, but how much plot do I inkle? Too little, not enough intrigue foments to excite a stranger. Too much, I’ll give everything away. My toe scribes on the sand a line of perfect distinction.
- Will my story get beyond the slush pile, the midden of manuscripts tossed over the ledge by interns and first readers? Literature to me, trash to a stranger, my baby thrown out with their crushed soda cans.
The list lengthens, more ridiculous as it adds excuses. Finally I admit I’m stalling. I don’t like writing queries, it’s like tromping over a bed of nails. I have to stop putzing around to have a chance of anyone but Mom reading my books. The glitter in the snow globe drifts to the bottom. The train is still, the tiny locomotive and miniature cars curled on the Lilliputian track. A world locked in a glass sphere. The most important task I face is to sit myself in front of the computer and start writing. Not the story but the description of the story to entice the person who may assist at getting it published. I am not a writer if I don’t address this essential part of getting my book into print. Query, baby, query like the glitter won’t stop.