Switching Gears

Around the middle of June, I finished the first draft of a novel. It’s my third book.

Since I was laid off from my job, I’ve been writing every spare moment that I didn’t spend in my discouraging, fruitless job search. My characters feel very real to me, and I’ve been so absorbed in telling their stories that I haven’t focused on the next step–getting my work out in the world.

I put the last novel away for a while to let it cool before I look at it again. I’m sure I’ll find lots of ways to make it better when it’s time for the second draft. Between books now, I’ve been filling up days and hours jumping from one website to the next, learning about what I need to do to get my books “out there.” I need to send out query letters to small presses and literary agents. Queries need a “hook,” a synopsis, and a bio, all on one page. Am I intimidated? Oh, am I ever! I have to rewire my brain into a whole new mode.

My  Books:

At Play in the Apocalypse — My own experiences as a university student during the Isla Vista riots in 1970. The book opens in San Francisco with the Vietnam War Moratorium, where my boyfriend Joel and I first met, and continues with our romance during the riots, burning of the Bank of America, and the brutal police occupation that followed. Here’s a paragraph:

“All the lights are on in the bank. The broken doors stand open and the fluorescent glare spills out onto the sidewalk. Overturned furniture and loose papers cover the floor along with broken glass, pens, rubber stamps, and smashed adding machines.  A crowd has gathered; everyone stands and stares at the ruined bank. Slowly, we all form into a silent line, and we file through the bank and out again. No one says a word, and nobody touches anything; we’re paranoid about fingerprints and being caught later with anything from the inside of that bank. I worry about the surveillance cameras. Are they filming our procession through the rubble under the harsh, white lights? But for some reason I don’t understand, it feels important to be here, as if we are somehow documenting what has happened.  I think we all sense that this is a turning point, that our lives will never be the same.”

A Shack on the Outskirts of Heaven — The story alternates between Celeste, a twenty-something who finds herself pregnant after a brief romantic interlude with a guy she met while traveling in Ireland, and Eileen, her mother, who became pregnant with Celeste under similar circumstances. It’s about being pregnant without a man around. How do we cope with that loneliness and make do on our own?

“All evening I’ve been sitting here alone at the computer, my mug of tea untouched, getting sadder and sadder. I looked up home births on the Internet; I want to read stories about single moms having their babies at home, but all the birth stories are about married couples, and the men are awesome–totally helpful. What is this? Do single mothers always end up having hospital births because they don’t have any support at home? That’s not the way it is for me—Liz is coming, and Holly and Maddy will be here. They’re all excited–they went to the library and checked out books about pregnancy. But reading about these women with their kind, helpful, loving husbands makes me feel so left out. I feel totally alone, like having my man here is the only thing that matters.”

Looking for John — The story continues where “Shack on the Outskirts” left off. It’s about John, Niall’s young son. Niall is also the father of Celeste’s child. John’s mother kidnaps him, and his dad, frantic and heartbroken, searches for him everywhere.

“Uncle Conor’s red car is parked in the driveway down below. That means he’s home and I have to be careful. I take off my shoes and tiptoe so I don’t make a sound. It’s warm up here in the cupola, sunshine makes the floor tiles shine like gold. I go from window to window, keeping watch. I’m high above the roof and I can look out over the whole city. I look down at the streets and watch for Da’s car. I wish he were here. I haven’t seen him in ever so long.”

I’m reading The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas. Learning to market my work is a lot like going through training on a new job.


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