Last night, I emailed a query to a literary agent in regards to my novel, Stealing Wishes. Her bio says she can take weeks, months even, to respond. Two weeks ago, I sent a proposal to an independent publisher via email for the same book and got an immediate blanket response that it had been assigned to an editor and I should get a reply in 3 to 4 weeks.
In early 2007, I was contemplating a character in my head who was an obsessive compulsive. In my mind, he was telling me in great detail the steps he goes through to prepare for each day. He wakes up at a specific time, he resets the clock to time his shower, he brushes his teeth, he puts clothes on in a certain order, he eats a specific breakfast based on what day it is. I wanted the guidelines of his day to all revolve around a specific number and be constant and orderly. I chose the number 32 because that is how old I will be this year. And so, it seemed only fitting that my character be the same age as me and maybe he’s obsessing over turning 32 in a year.
In May, I sat down and started putting my character and his oddities on paper. Keeping the chapters very short, I was soon completing two and three chapters a day. Blaine, my main character who tells the story from his point of view, took over and began telling me his story. I often like to refer to myself as a character medium. They get in my head and take over the story and it comes pouring out of me when I sit down at the computer, like a pianist at the keys.
Since Blaine was to be such a complex character, I wanted the story to be somewhat simple. Blaine wants to go on a date. That’s it. But finding a date brings on great complications because of his sickness. I went ahead and made him 32 years old, and added lots of other references to his magic number. His apartment number is 32, for instance. Blaine works in a coffee shop and is best friends with the owner, Sallie. My own experience of working in coffee shops really helped draw out this setting and I’m quite proud of how I made coffee such an important part of the story. Blaine compares the unusual caffeine beverages that people request to their social status. “No one orders a plain black coffee anymore,” he says.
For some strange reason, I wanted Blaine to be like Christopher Isherwood so I added a lot of references to the author. Blaine quotes him. Blaine also takes pictures for a hobby, which is another big part of the story. This comes from the “I Am A Camera” story by Isherwood. Sallie is the most obvious reference to Isherwood’s character, Sally Bowles. A coworker at the coffee shop is named Auden (W.H. Auden), after Isherwood’s real life love interest.
Blaine arrives at work one day to learn Sallie has a date with a man she’s just met that morning. But Blaine has no time to be jealous, as Sallie’s beau has a gay friend who Sallie wants to set up with Blaine on a blind date. Blaine soon falls for Edward, his date, but discovers they are complete opposites. But Blaine is convinced that a relationship with Edward is curing his obsessiveness.
Opposite all of this, you have Auden, Blaine’s coworker. I really enjoyed creating Auden as a character. He’s an extremely open minded carefree art student who dresses all in black with greasy hair. He’s covered in tattoos of fairy tale characters. Blaine obsesses over Auden’s sexuality, but doesn’t have enough nerve to ask if Auden is gay or straight. Auden tells Blaine about an amateur photography contest at the art school, giving Blaine something new to obsess over as he searches for the perfect picture to submit as an entry. Will Blaine change who he is to try to be happy with Edward? Or will he find his Kodak moment in Auden instead?
I finished the novel at 63,000 words in early August, calling it 32 and Counting. After two edits, I set it aside and began writing another story of characters who had started talking to me. On October 1st, Amazon.com announced they were hosting a contest called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. They were accepting up to 5,000 manuscripts of which 1 winner would be chosen to win a huge HP entertainment package, a $25,000 dollar advance for their novel, and publication of their work by Penguin. The winner would be announced in April 2008.
I immediately signed up and had 7 days to submit my work. I edited 32 and Counting again, added an additional 2,000 words. After submitting, I need only wait till January 15th to find out if I had been chosen as part of the 1,000 semifinalists. In the meantime, I enjoyed the gossipy message boards along with the other participants. 2008 quickly came along with the deadline for the semifinalists to be announced. My rejection email came the day after. Yeah, I frowned at it but was glad that I could finally exhale. I was tired of this waiting game and ready to just move on.
My biggest disappointment with this contest was the lack of communication with Amazon. Questions on the message boards went unanswered. Over 100 of the exerpts from entries leaked out on Amazon in December, making people wonder if the finalists were being announced early. Those exerpts were quickly pulled down, but it was later determined they were actually part of the finalists. Amazon said there would be 1,000 semi-finalists but there were only 856. Customers can go to Amazon now and download and review exerpts from the entries (the first 5,000) words. Of the few I’ve read, some are absolutely horrible and I can’t believe they made it this far. Oh, and good luck even finding the entries on your own. Amazon has done very little in the way of advertising the contest. But by now, I’ve distanced myself from the contest and the message boards.
Two weeks after my rejection letter, I was watching COPS where Law Vegas police were arresting a homeless man for stealing coins out of a fountain. They made him throw the money back in and let him go, only to arrest him again 10 minutes later for doing the same thing. So, he’d either gotten away with stealing wishes, or they’d arrest him and he’d get a bed and a meal that night in jail. It was a win/win situation for the homeless man. Stealing Wishes? I liked the sound of that.
I opened my 32 and Counting manuscript and quickly
crossed through the title. I replaced it with those two words: Stealing Wishes. Now, in the story, I had already written how Blaine liked to go to a park downtown and snap photos. He mentioned a fountain in the middle and described it, saying the reflection of the water had a coppery look to it against the face of the angel at the top because of all the wishes in the water. I decided to make Blaine also obsessed with “stealing wishes” out of the fountain and keeping all of them at home in a jar, a strange compulsion of his that no one else knows about. As I laced this into the story, it quickly added another 2,000 words to the book. This was the fresh new outlook I needed to get me excited about this story all over again.
Less than a week later, I was writing a synopsis and emailing it to the independent publisher. Last night, I took a chance and sent it to the agent I mentioned. They say 90% of a writer’s career is rejection. I think I read that somewhere. I guess the other 10% is waiting.
And so, I wait…