Dealing with rejection

Rejection stings. As if anyone who survived middle school needs to be told…

Rationally I understand I’m going to have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding my (publishing) prince, but it’s still a drag when someone says “thanks but no thanks” to the story I spent nearly two years crafting. It’s awfully hard not to take it personally, to start questioning my work as well as my dream. Just remember, I tell myself, NO story appeals to everyone. You just need to knock on the right door, find the right person. It’s true, I know, but patience is not one of my virtues.

So on I trudge, doing my best to keep chin up, spirits high, and optimism flowing. Someone will like this book of mine!

ETH


Checking in after a long absence

Two years have flown by so fast it’s scary.

I completed the draft of my first novel – a sci/fi thriller called Bent – last fall. Writing it, while incredibly gratifying, was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. The writing, itself, wasn’t hard. That’s not to say I didn’t toil over some scenes until my eyes went blurry, but the true challenge was sustaining my spirits over the course of the eighteen months it took to complete. Some days I was awash with confidence, certain that I was penning the next chart-topper. Other days I knew without a doubt that whatever drivel I’d managed to spout up to that point would never see the light of day, consigned to some literary purgatory far, far from any eager readers. The highs were great; the lows excruciating.

Yet on I wrote, one word after another, weaving sentences into paragraphs, pages into chapters, until, at last, on September 7, I wrote the final two words every author longs to see at the bottom of the page: the end.

After letting it marinate for a month (thanks for that suggestion, Stephen King!), I began revising. Those who know me are aware that I harbor an irrational fear of the revision process, dating back to high school when I was required to chop a twenty-page paper to ten – the most difficult writing assignment I ever undertook (until Bent, of course). Consequently, I wrote my draft with painstaking slowness, hoping that I was nailing every word so that I wouldn’t have to revise a thing. Yeah, that didn’t work.

To my surprise, I really enjoyed revising, and I can laugh now when I remember how frightened I was to begin. Between October and December, I chopped nearly 25k words (of the original 130k) from the draft while cleaning, polishing, and reworking the parts that remained. Just before Christmas, satisfied that I’d whipped it into shape, I printed five copies for my first beta readers. Up until that point, no one had read a word. Nerve-wracking!

Initial response has been very positive. I’ve fielded a number of helpful criticisms, some of which I implemented, some of which I filed away as “that’s interesting, but I don’t think I’m going to use it.” For the most part, I just wanted to know whether the story was entertaining and the characters believable. From the feedback I received, the answer is yes.

In January I began working on my query letter (for those who aren’t familiar, this is a one-page pitch to literary agents consisting of a high-level synopsis of the story, an introduction to me as the author, and an explanation of why I’m contacting that specific agent for representation). I soon discovered that this little one-page letter was, in many ways, more difficult to write than the book itself. When you have 350 pages to make an impression, there’s not nearly as much pressure to make each and every word pop as there is when you’ve got one lonely page to sell yourself and your work. I joined an online forum and got some great feedback which helped me hone my query into a sharp little missile of self-promotion, then began sending it out.

Just when I thought I’d jumped through the last hoop, I discovered that many agents also request a detailed plot synopsis (yeah, try condensing an entire novel into a page or two while maintaining narrative voice) and author bio. Back to the drawing board I went and produced these two additional submission samples.

I’ve now queried nine agents, received three rejections and one request for a partial manuscript for further review. Upon receiving the first rejection, I could scarcely contain my excitement. Many agents have a “if we’re not interested, we won’t reply” statement on their websites, so the fact that someone took the time to write back and say “thanks but no thanks” was incredibly validating. I’d been noticed! You can imagine how excited I was when an agent e-mailed me to tell me how intriguing my premise was, asking to see more. So the waiting game continues. Nothing moves particularly fast in this business and I’m just going to have to deal with that. But damn it, I want to know! Meanwhile, I’m continuing to search for agents and sending out additional submissions. After all, John Grisham received something like 28 rejections for A Time to Kill before someone finally bit. And J.K. Rowling only made it when an agent’s daughter picked up the manuscript he’d brought home, read the first three chapters, and promptly asked for the rest. You just never know when lightning will strike.

And last week, I began my next project, another sci-fi/thriller tentatively called Time Lapse. Regardless of what happens with Bent, I’m moving forward, pursuing my passion. What more can I ask for?

I intend to make regular updates to this blog now, describing my progress, thoughts, and challenges as I write Time Lapse while also tracking my attempt to publish Bent. I hope you find this interesting and will follow along with me. Please feel free to share this link, too, with anyone you believe might enjoy it.

Off I go!

ETH


A drink for the ages

Not that long ago, I was a Budweiser kinda guy. It wasn’t until Matthew and Jim started introducing me to IPA’s, Belgians, stouts, porters, etc. that I realized just how provincial my taste in beer had been. These days, the breadth of brews available to the average consumer is astounding. Beers are available at my local corner store from all over the country and, indeed, the world. It’s a far cry from the days when Milwaukee and St. Louis dominated the domestic market. Of course, the beheamoths are still standing, but micro- and craft-brewers are enjoying amazing success as the word spreads that beer is for the snobs, too.

As my tastes have developed, I’ve also started dabbling in single malt scotch and, to a lesser extent, sipping tequila. While beer is the new kid on the block when it comes to a respected alcoholic beverage, scotch has arguably been considered the pinnacle of spirits for generations. It’s easy to envision, while sipping on a deliciously peaty dram, the gentlemen of yore dressed to the nines, gathered in a dimly-lit smoking room enjoying a fine cigar and a snifter of scotch.


Part of my attraction to scotch, besides enjoying the complex layers of flavors, is that it is relatively affordable when compared to wine of similar vintage. I like the idea of drinking a glass of scotch that was distilled before I was born, knowing that it spent the past 2-3 decades undisturbed in an oak cask in a cool, dark, Scotish distillery. With each sip, not only am I immersed in a bouquet of flavors ranging from vanilla, toffee, marmalade, leather, peatsmoke, pineapple, cinnamon, and so on, but I also contemplate the events that occurred while that scotch lay dormant, waiting to fill my glass. I imagine what I was doing the day it was distilled (if, in fact, I was even alive!). I think about the places I’ve been, people I’ve met, and experiences I’ve had while my drink was aging, maturing, and becoming a singular masterpiece in a bottle. I suppose these thoughts appeal to my sentimental nature.


So to me, a glass of scotch is much more than a tasty beverage. It is a means of connecting to the past and to a far-off place that I may never visit, but of which I may enjoy a small part.


Gee but it’s great to be back home…

For nearly eight and a half years, I’ve lived 1,000 miles from home.

After all that time, New Hampshire is still home in my mind and heart, as I imagine it will always be in many ways. I often wonder what other people think and feel when they reflect on the meaning of home, for I believe my family and I have had a unique and wonderful opportunity to experience a deep sense of connection and belonging to the place we call home by virtue of our tradition and longevity. The farm is not just a place, but rather a member of our family, replete with 380 years of history and memories. It shares its story with me every time I visit, not through spoken language, but by subtler means: a breeze whispering through rows of corn, the smell of freshly harrowed earth, or the crunch of frost beneath my boots as I traverse the pasture below my grandparents’ house.

pasture

Now, I experience the strongest connection to the place and all its history on my late-night (or early-morning, as the case may be) walks from my grandparents’ to my mom’s, and this always reminds me of Grandpa once saying: “I get my religion watching the sun come up in the cornfield.” I imagine him cutting lettuce or digging carrots early in the morning, dew clinging to the tender leaves, the silence broken only by sparrows and crows taking flight, as he continues along the path that nine generations of Tuttles blazed before him. And in my own way, as I walk alone through the delicate early-morning silence on the farm, I find a religion of sorts as I marvel at the sheer magnitude of all that came before me and that which, even now, allows me to revel in these moments of joy and wonder.

When I left NH to “head west young man, head west,” I reached Grinnell with equal parts excitement and trepidation. My application essay (which I lament has been lost) told the story of a boy who loved his home, but who now hoped to bloom into a man by exploring the world in the newer, larger cornfields of Iowa. Indeed, my years at Grinnell altered my trajectory in ways which will, no doubt, continue to manifest themselves throughout my life (If in no other way, at least by allowing me the small pleasure of facetiously responding, “Childhood dream” to the query: “How did you end up at school in Iowa?”). Though my intention always was to return to NH and become involved in the farm and business, it was important for me to find my own place and purpose in the world, to test myself.

The ink still wet on my Anthropology degree, I moved to Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, land of deepdish pizza and those “loveable losers” the Cubs, in August of 2002. What an adventure! Lucy and I found a small apartment, I got a job selling cars, and I imagined that living in Chicago would be exciting for a year or two before I returned home to begin building a life for myself on the farm. Of course, a year or two turned into a few years, which turned into five, which now has turned into the better part of a decade. I’m currently working my 5th job, living in my 5th apartment, and (phew!) only on my 2nd girlfriend, but Chicago has, over the years, become a familiar and comfortable place to me. It’s become my adoptive home as I’ve built a relationship with Marta, cultivated many close friendships, and started a career.

In October, 2009, I learned what I might have suspected for at least a year or two: that Mom and Uncle Will would, born of necessity, be listing the farm and store for sale within 6-12 months if business didn’t stage a dramatic about-face. We had all known, I think, that a tipping point was approaching, but this notion only became “real” to me when Mom and Will sat me down one afternoon in the tractor shed to tell me just how bad things had gotten. My mind churned constantly for the next few months trying to think of something – anything – that would forestall the loss of the farm and the traditions our family has built upon it. No small amount of that time was spent second-guessing myself, asking myself what might have been different if I had returned or even if I had never left. Would I have been able to prevent this? Could I have saved the farm? There are some questions life puts to us that may never be answered – questions like these. I will never know if I could have made a difference, but I will always wonder.

As I sat at Grandpa’s bedside on a cold December evening in 2002, looking upon the shell of a man who had always been a hero to me, I spoke to him privately of how important the farm was to me, how fortunate I felt to be part of something so meaningful, and how proud I was to be his grandson. That night, I promised him I’d return one day and find my place as part of our family’s nearly four-century tradition. This was not a commitment I took lightly, but I knew then, as I’d always known, that my purpose and future were intertwined with the ancestors my grandfather would soon join. Grandpa died later that night, and now that the sale of the farm is inevitable, I will never have the opportunity to fulfill the promise I made to him. I am certain, though, that Grandpa will forgive me, because in spite of the concern he undoubtedly felt about the farm’s future, I know that his children and grandchildren’s happiness was more important to him than the continuation of a tradition which was already fading when he passed.

Gee

A yellowed newspaper clipping on my old bedroom door reads: “Gee but it’s great to be back home…home is where I want to be,” a snippet from an old Simon and Garfunkel song hung there by Mom when I returned from St. Paul’s in 1993, a scared and homesick high school freshman. I’ve lived 1,000 miles from home for eight and a half years, but the farm will always be my home whether the name “Tuttle” is on the deed or if, after this incredible run, a new name is signed on the dotted line. We have all made lives, some on the farm, some far from it, but because of our shared origins – our home – we will always be a part of something much larger than ourselves. And that can never be taken from us.


Opening the Door

I’ve always thought I’d enjoy being a writer, but what to write about? The lightning bolt of inspiration that I imagine all authors receive had long eluded me until last week, when I finally hatched an idea for a story. Since then, I’ve been making notes and trying to flesh it out so that I feel like I have a place to start and a path to follow as I begin putting this down on paper.

Generally, I don’t have trouble coming up with ideas I think are marketable for inventions, businesses, websites, and so forth, but the motivation to see these ideas through to fruition has been difficult for me to muster. My tendency is to come up with an idea and then promptly talk myself out of pursuing it by reasoning that I don’t have the know-how, the resources, the time, the connections, etc. to realize it. Really, though, I just haven’t had the courage. I’ve already “written” my own story, and in it I’m an underachiever who has great ideas but simply can’t execute them.

That pattern needs to stop now. When I look at my life and realize that something isn’t working or that I’m not happy with what I’m doing, I need to make a change. No longer can I wait for life to open doors that I simply may walk through, but rather I must begin opening doors for myself. And the first door that must be unlocked is the one that leads to self-confidence and the belief that I CAN and WILL pursue my dream to write.