Writers Need Friends

Being an artist is hard. I don’t have to tell you that. There is so much rejection and so many unexpected tiny cuts to your confidence and determination. It seems like successes are so rare and fleeting.

Yet, when you gather a group of other artists around you — and it doesn’t even have to be in your own art — you have strength in numbers. Screenwriters, poets, musicians, visual artists and audio artists are all fighting the good fight. When they are your friends though… you can rejoice in the battles they win as well. There have been so many days when I have tried to convince myself that the work is pointless. Then I stumble on new work by friends, an essay that guts me, a song that takes my breath away, a cartoon that I can’t stop turning over in my mind and I’m inspired again. You all know who you are. I can barely articulate how grateful I am that your work keeps me going.

I am even more grateful when a friend in another genre collaborates with my work and the resulting collision takes me somewhere new and at a breathless pace. Friendship should be a journey, but I love it best when its an adventure.

So I’m not ashamed to say that I wept when I listened to the surprise recording Xe Sands sent me last night. She is like listening to my subconscious only without the filters. When Xe reads my writing, I find myself holding my breath, hearing not just what I wrote, but what I meant and didn’t quite admit to myself.

I thought it would be so much easier to write once I got home and when it wasn’t I thought it would be easier when I settled and when it wasn’t then maybe when I had some work and didn’t have to worry as much about money and when it still wasn’t easier I had to admit that it just doesn’t get any easier.

I’m barely writing, but Xe reminded me that every little bit counts if you make it count. Listen to her read, I think you’ll understand what I’m saying. I’m suddenly not just grateful to be home, but for all of you.

Representing

Literary Nightshade...?

Finding an agent has been nothing like anyone told me it would be. I was never discovered online or in a literary magazine. I was never plucked from the slush pile and propelled into my future. I really haven’t sent out hundreds of queries over the years… I’ve sent out many, but I’ve stockpiled my writerly rejections in other ways than in queries. I just have my own brand of weird luck, good and bad.

LIFT had two agents. The first abandoned the project as a proposal. He wanted a book focused on surviving as a woman in the “man’s” world of falconry. He wanted to call the book “Sky Trials”.  It wasn’t the book I wanted to write, but I was so thrilled to have an agent that I would do anything to please him. I tried to write what he wanted anyway and not surprisingly, he hated what I wrote him and stopped answering his phone.

Two years later, the manuscript finished, I found another agent who swore she loved the book, but shopped LIFT to one editor at a major house and when that editor said, “no one but falconers will want to read this,” my agent told me to put it on a shelf and write her another. When I stuttered and suggested that Red Hen Press wanted to see it, my agent said to go ahead and send it myself. She too stopped answering emails and phone calls and I signed the book contract with Red Hen Press myself.

That was five years ago and though I’ve tested the waters now and again with new projects, I haven’t seriously sought representation since. I think I’m not really afraid of rejection so much as I am afraid of abandonment.

I’ve met a handful of agents I have lusted over along the way, agents with catalogues I drool over and personalities that I adore. These agents thought I was a wonderful writer, offered words of encouragement, but just didn’t love whatever project I was working on at the time enough to offer representation. I firmly believe you should suck up every little bit of encouragement you can along the way, however, and I have. No one has to take the time to say kind things to you. It essentially costs them to do that, it costs time that could be spent on clients they are already promised to or who they could be the right champion for and no matter how magnanimous, time really is money and the industry is tough for everyone. I am grateful. I say thank you. I should probably say it more.

The bottom line is that agents can’t represent everyone just because they “like” them or think they have potential. They can’t represent things that are a “maybe” to them and if you don’t believe that, I remind you again of my first two agents. Neither should have offered representation in the first place. Agents can’t represent with lukewarm feelings or even out of the goodness of their heart, not even if the writer is a friend. Everyone loses.

Which brings me to one of those agents who happens to be a friend. She was my editor when I published my first book, Falcon’s Return with Avalon twelve years ago. We double-dated at RWA in Denver one year, perhaps the only two women who gleefully tormented their boyfriends by making them attend. I’d like to forget my boyfriend at the time, but Erin married hers and we’ve kept up ever since. Shortly after, she became an agent. Erin has been there for me when I needed a friend to talk to me about book contracts, about retainers, about finding a publicist and the various dramas of publishing, but I’ve never had a project that was right for her.

She’s a great agent. She would never pick up a book she couldn’t get 100 percent behind. And a couple of days ago Erin offered me representation for What We Lost When We lost Barbara Jean (the prologue is over here at The Rumpus).

I know Erin. She’s going to kick my ass and make this an amazing book. I’ve already seen some of her notes. She’s also going to kick ass shopping it. And I feel like my long journey to finding an agent (the RIGHT agent) was the exact road that was meant for me. I have learned a lot about patience, about gratitude, about the vagaries of life being capable of shaking up all matter of things. My expectations of Erin the agent are separate from my expectations of Erin the friend, but I am thrilled I get to have them both at a time in my life where perhaps I can truly appreciate the synchronicity and possibilities of partnerships.

It’s been a hell of a road to get here, but you know what, it was worth it. I think you get what you need in life, but only if you don’t give up. So keep writing. Keep believing. Don’t buy into the idea that there is only one way to get where you are going. The journey is going to be yours alone and good things happen when you stay on the road. I bet they’ll happen to you too.

Much love,

Rebecca K. O’Connor, Author
Represented by Erin Cartwright Niumata, SVP Folio Literary Management

Read to Me

Twitter is the most amazing thing. Don’t get jealous Facebook, I love you too. It’s just that Twitter is so often an introduction to people who I end up totally crushing on. One of those people is the pitch perfect narrator Xe Sands. We found each other on Twitter through my tweets about narrating the audiobook for LIFT. Xe was encouraging and full of wonderful information and her website always has new and wonderful listens. My favorite is a narration of the Velveteen Rabbit (with gorgeous storybook for an interactive listen), but don’t take my word for it. The Publishers Weekly  “Listen Up” blog is a big fan as well.

While I felt the best thing would be for me to narrate my own memoir, I absolutely fell in love with Xe’s voice. And as I began to work on the memoir/novel that investigates my grandmother, Barbara Jean’s death, I kept hearing Xe’s voice in my head. The project is two fold – it is part an investigation into my grandmother’s short life and mysterious death   and part a re-imagining of the novel that Barbara Jean wrote and my grandfather burned upon her death. As I worked on Barbara Jean’s novel, it was Xe’s voice I heard as narrator.

So when Xe offered to read the essay on The Rumpus, “What We Lost When We Lost Barbara Jean”, I couldn’t say “YES PLEASE” loud enough.

When I heard Xe’s exquisite reading, it brought me out of my own head and to my knees, especially when she got to the sections that were the novel. It was as if I had never heard myself before and more, Xe made me willing to listen.

Listen. I think you’ll enjoy it too.