Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Ummm…where was I? Oh, yes. Now I remember. Before we were so rudely interrupted by my little ghostly hallucinations (which turned out to be my husband falling asleep with his finger on the TV remote), I was telling you about my publishing adventure…

After finishing my first story and editing the tar out of it, I began the QUEST FOR THE ELUSIVE AGENT. My first move was to buy a used copy of Wr!ter’s M@rket from H@lf Pr!ce Books. It lists publishers, literary agencies and agents, and gives advice on how to get published. It also had a free trial for the online version of the book. I spent hours gleaning a list of agents who took my genre, and small publishers who accepted non-agented submissions. Once I had my list complete (or thought I did), I read up on how to write a query letter. I thought I had this thing whipped. I tried to cram as much information possible onto one page. Big mistake. You know the acronym KISS? (keep it simple, stupid?) This goes for querying, too. I found out the hard way.

When the first request for my manuscript from a small publisher rolled in about three weeks into querying, I thought I hit the motherload!  It took everything in me to keep from doing cartwheels down the middle school hallway. I felt like Sally Field getting her first Oscar. They like me! They really, really like me! Well, my Oscar moment lasted about two days. It took me that long to realize I’d been treated to a genu-ine P.T Barnum snozwangle. (Don’t bother looking it up—there is no definition). In other words, I’d been duped. Sucker-punched. After some investigating (remember, I really, REALLY like to stalk, er, I mean research things on the internet), I realized that I was dealing with a vanity  publisher. A vanity publisher will publish just about anything, and in most cases, requires the author to buy dozens of copies. After speaking to several published authors, I finally got it through my head that money should always flow TO the author. (Thank you, YOG!)  I also found out from the YOG-ites that the way to be considered by big publishing houses is by getting an agent. Most won’t accept unagented authors. So, after getting burned a couple of times, I took their Yoggy advice.

I reworked my query even more, shortened it a bit, and sent it out to a new batch of agents. Then I waited. And prayed. And sacrificed small farm animals . . . Just as I eyed my husband’s parakeet (Would he notice that Bird was missing? How bad do burnt feathers smell? I could tell him that the dog ate another one . . .)  the requests started trickling in. From legitimate agents. Who repped best-selling authors. They like me!!!  Long story short, they eventually passed, but invited me to submit future work. The responses definitely pumped my ego, but I’d been querying for almost five months, had a few dozen rejections under my belt, plus, it was the Christmas season, and I was exhausted. So, I took a break and joined the real world. Temporarily.

Five months later, I sat down at my laptop and discovered the map that would lead me to THE ELUSIVE AGENT . . .

Saturday, May 7, 2011

things that go BUMP in the night...

So, yesterday, I woke up around 4:30, tried to look at my alarm clock, and it wasn't there. I found it on the floor between the nightstand and bed. It was totally stuck down there with the cords stuck under the enclosed bottom of the table like they'd been pulled under. After I loosened it, I pulled it up and set it on the nightstand. The lights on it indicated that it now had two alarms set on it (I had set one at 6:45), and even the little button on the side that you need to push to set a second alarm had been moved. I found out later from Tim that the channel had also been moved from my regular one to some Omaha station. Neither of us have any recollection of waking or doing any of this in our sleep.

At 7:20, I headed to work. Got to the edge of town and I thought I noticed smoke or steam coming from under the hood. Drove for another five miles, and when I stopped, it was really coming out, so I pulled into a church parking lot and took a look. I'm thinking a waterhose sprung a leak. The top of the engine had a pool of water on it, and there was a pool of it under the van. Tim had to come and get me and my brother sent a tow truck to haul it back to his shop up in Ames. Diagnosis: the hose system above the engine had pretty much been shredded. Tim said he found a large pool of water in the driveway where I had it parked. This was right outside my bedroom window which is right by my side of the bed.

Cut to this morning, AGAIN at 4:30. The dogs started whining. Tim, being the gentleman that he is, got up and let the dogs out to go potty, let them back in, then he fell asleep on the couch. I, of course, wake up when he gets up, so I lay there listening to him snore. About a half hour later I'm facing his side of the bed, and I hear a voice coming from right behind me. It's speaking in a monotone, almost electronic type voice like a voice synthesizer, and it's in some unrecognizable language. It lasted for less than five seconds, but it got my heart pumping and I was scared to death. My back was about three feet from the wall (where that darn window is open an inch), and I'm thinking someone's standing there between the bed and the wall or right outside the window. Ten seconds later, I hear Tim get up and come into bed. He didn't see or hear a thing.

So what was it? Gremlins? Aliens? Demons? Very talented puppies? Or have I been watching too many episodes of GHOST ADVENTURES?? You decide...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gettin' my crazies on...

I hate to admit it, but I did some crazy things when I was writing. Here are my two biggies:

Crazy thing #1:
Affair is probably an overstatement. Let's just say I had occasional...liaisons with it. Now, I know that sounds horrible, but just hear me out. While reading about writing, I came across a comment that writers tend to imbibe a bit more than a normal person. I thought this was asinine...until I had my first bout with writer's block. I'd sit at the screen and stare. For hours. Night after night. I could almost see the little birdies flying around my empty head. After almost a week of this, I thought my writing days were over. I went into mourning. My book was dead. Having nothing to lose, I broke open the bottle of Irish Mist my family bought me for Christmas. An hour and one modest snifter later, my computer keyboard was on fire! I couldn't move my fingers fast enough to keep up with the thoughts that were flying through my head. Every now and then I'd come up with something fantastic and yell out loud BETTE, YOU ARE A FREAKING GENIUS! It was pitiful, but, I was writing. My daughter, once again, thought I was crazy. Eventually, the liaisons subsided. Of course, it was probably my frugality that eventually brought it to an end. After all, Irish Mist wasn't cheap...and I was.

Crazy thing #2:
Now, don't get me wrong. I didn't go around following a certain person, per se, but I did do a bit of research on the computer. Since my inspiration for THE TIP TOP CAFE' was a certain man whom I hadn't heard from in over thirty years, and since I wanted to get some specific details about our relationship correct, like the make and model of his chocolate brown pickup and the color of his eyes (I really don't know why I felt that way--I was writing FICTION, after all), I tried finding him online. I began my search at the last place I knew he lived--a certain small town in California. I typed his name in on whitepages.com, and within a second, his name and address appeared on the screen. Holy crap! He still lived there! My heart went into overdrive. I thought seriously about going out to buy another bottle of Irish Mist, but I didn't. Instead, I did a people search on Yahoo to come up with the names of relatives living with him. Then I went on google maps streetview, and started going up his road, thinking, I'm gonna see his pickup. Right. He had that pickup back in 1976. There was no way he would still have it. Still, after a couple of weeks, I was desperate to find out the make and model of that pickup and the color of his eyes. It was driving me crazy that I couldn't remember. I had to know. So, I did the craziest thing of all. I contacted his son on facebook. I reasoned in my head that with his son being in education, like me, and if I explained to him that I was writing a book, he would understand my boldness in contacting him. So, I did it. He couldn't have been nicer or more cooperative. He answered those questions (Ford F-150 and brown eyes, BTW), plus the one question I always wondered about: Why did he stay out there? I found out the old man he worked for on the ranch became ill, and he couldn't bring himself to leave. Eventually, he married and had two kids.

Long story short, the son and I are still friends on facebook, even after two years. He eventually told his father about THE TIP TOP CAFE', and even sent me a pic of a receipt from the cafe' his dad had kept all these years. I can't help but think that he kept that because of me.

Hmmm....I think it's time for a little Irish Mist...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I can't imagine writing a book...

My dear cousin, Sharon, just dropped by my FB after visiting this blog for the first time and made that comment. Well, Sharon, before January of 2009, I couldn't imagine it either. I didn't think I was capable of writing a whole book. Sure, I'd thought about it for years, kicked around a few ideas, but, I just sat in the ashes and watched the world go by as I dreamed. It wasn't until January 19th of 2009 that I finally acted on that dream.

I guess the real action started nine days earlier, the morning of my 49th birthday on January 10th of that year. I woke up, looked in the mirror, and it was like someone slapped me in the face with a dead carp. Holy crap! My life is more than half over and I have nothing to show for it!  Oh, sure. I had my kids (I love you all, sweeties!!) I'd been married for almost 28 years. I was teaching. But I had no passion, nothing I could really claim as my own. I floundered around for the next week, thinking I'm having a mid-life crisis! I used to think a mid-life crisis was just an excuse men used to justify dalliances with younger women or an excuse to purchase a convertible that they tore around in for six months, and then sold back to the dealer while their wives shook their heads, clucking their "I told you so" clucks. But, alas, I found out that the mid-life crisis was real, and I was now in the midst of a major meltdown. So, I floundered. I cried. I reminisced. And I read the Twilight series. That did it.

Allison (my then thirteen-year-old daughter) and I were taking turns reading the series. I found her crying (after I'd done my own share), and asked what was wrong. She said she had just read the part where Edward left Bella without an explanation of why he was leaving, and she went totally catatonic. Could someone really love another person that much? she asked. I smiled, walked to my bedroom, and opened my underwear drawer. The crinkled corner of an envelope yellowed with age protruded from the side of the drawer. I pulled it out, held it to my nose, and inhaled. It smelled old...musty...with a hint of Old Spice. That was his scent. My Edward. My first love.

I walked back to Allison and handed her the envelope. Yes, sweetie, you can love another person that much. Of course, Allison looked at me like I was crazy. I urged her to read the letter. She took it from the envelope and carefully unfolded the delicate, cracking pages. Three in all. Written in perfect script. She read. I watched. She blinked and looked up at me. Several times. When she finished, she lay the pages in her lap. I don't understand. He left you?  I shook my head. He was my Edward. Then I explained.

Right before my 16th birthday, my sister set me up on a date with a young man who had started coming into our cafe' with his father and brother. He was a farmer--and a gorgeous one. Way out of my league. I could barely breathe, let alone talk, when I was in his presence. It took awhile, but I was finally able to kiss him without feeling like I was going to faint. I was in love, and, unbelievably, he felt the same way.

One Spring Saturday, after several months of dating, he arrived in the backroom of the cafe'. My mom called me into the back. She looked upset, and busied herself with getting an order out. He was holding a red rose. A smile flitted across his face, then disappeared.  I'm moving to California, he said barely above a whisper. I thought I misheard him. What? He repeated himself, and added one word. Tomorrow. After that, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. He left. I made it to the bathroom, threw up, and collapsed. I felt like my life was over.  Three months later, I received the letter.

Yes, sweetie, you can love another person that much.

Allison then said the one thing that changed my life. You should write a book. So, I did.  By the end of the evening, I had written 1500 words. Within three days, I was up to 8,000. Six months later, writing in the evenings, on weekends, and during vacations when I shouldn't have been writing, I racked up 114,000 words. Over 500 pages. I had written a book. THE TIP TOP CAFE'.  I found my passion.

But that was only the beginning of the story...