Monday, August 13, 2018

Statistics!

So the big news in my life is I GOT AN AGENT! You probably already knew that, since I've been bubbling over with the news since it happened. I can't help it—I've been querying for months, and finally, finally, finally Zoe Sandler at ICM saw the potential in my manuscript that I always knew was there. It's extremely validating.

Also, extremely bananas. I have an agent. An agent. What? Is this real life?

[listens in earpiece] Sources tell me that it is, in fact, real life.

Anyway, I thought my fellow writer friends out there might be interested in the statistics of my querying process. It won't be the same for everyone, of course, but I found it comforting to read other people's experiences while I was querying. Hope this is comforting for you, too.

First, if you're not using QueryTracker, you're doing it wrong. It helps you to research agents (links to their Twitter feeds, Publishers Marketplace profiles, etc.), organize the agents you're planning to query, and track your progress—all for free. And because so many people use it, you can see on average how long it takes for various agents to respond. It's an amazing tool.

The other thing you should know is that I queried on average 2 agents per week. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how busy I was. I had one standard letter that I used—and I worked on that letter a lot before I started querying—but I tweaked it for every agent that I queried to include information regarding why I was seeking them out specifically.

Date I started querying: 12/1/2017
Date I received offer: 7/31/2018 
Total agents added to my list: 78
Total agents queried: 75
Full manuscript requests: 9
Partial manuscript requests: 1
Rejections (not including those who initially requested manuscripts): 26
No response: 39

And out of all that, I received a single offer of representation! Fortunately for me, Zoe is the best. I know this because she and I agree that 10 Things I Hate About You is one of the finest films ever made. Also because her other clients say she's the best.

Here are some other resources I found useful while querying:
  • Writer's Digest has a "Successful Queries" column where agents and authors share the query letters that got the job done. If you're not sure how to write a query letter, this is a good place to start. 
  • When Zoe set up a call with me, I wasn't entirely sure which questions I should be asking. Happily, there are helpful lists out there—like this one from agent Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, which I modified and used. 
Now that Zoe's on my team, she'll be compiling a list of potential editors, and hopefully we'll sell this manuscript! Which is totally surreal! Ahh! 

I'll keep you posted on major updates, as always. Thank you all for being so supportive—not everyone receives constant love and cheerleading when they decide to do "impractical" things like write a book. I'm forever grateful for your kindness. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Plans on plans on plans

Oh, foolish Becky. So naive to think you could write a whole second novel draft this summer.

True, the summer's not over. But summer plans always seem to multiply without warning. Things I have done lately include:
  • Attending the final day of Pitchfork Music Festival. (Noname was on fire as always, Chaka Khan was freaking amazing, and Lauryn Hill actually played!) 
  • Witnessing the glory that is Ezra Furman, savior of rock'n'roll. 
  • Getting my first pedicure—not as scary as I thought it would be.
  • Going to see Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again with my parents because we're adorable. (Surprisingly good.) 
  • Going to see Sorry to Bother You. (Brilliant—it belongs in a genre all its own.) 
  • Meeting up with Leta's parents for dinner. 
  • Playing D&D. 
Things I have coming up include:
  • Joining a competitive online trivia league.
  • Reliving my teenage years at a Franz Ferdinand concert.
  • Rocking out at Riot Fest. (They lowered the ticket price to $99!)
  • Picnicking with friends for Okie's birthday. 
  • Attending my cousin's wedding.
It's too much! And on top of all that I'm trying to finish reading this French novel, and I need a haircut, and Geri's due for her 10,000-mile checkup, and Okie's still in obedience lessons, and on and on and on. 

Overall I'm glad to lead a busy life—it's better than boredom. But I would love one weekend with no plans at all. Perhaps I should just steal away to some cabin in Wisconsin with the doggo and ignore you all for a while. You know. In my spare time. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Love Stories

A few weeks ago I saw the film Call Me By Your Name for the first time. I wasn't expecting to like it—the previews struck me as overly saccharine, and my guess was that one or both lovers would die at the end, as is virtually always the case in romantic dramas. But as it turns out, I loved it. I watched it twice in two days!

One reason I liked it so much was the kissing. Excellent kiss scenes, my friends. Truly excellent. There should be an Academy Award for making out.

But the main reason I liked it—and I had a difficult time articulating this until yesterday—is that Call Me By Your Name did upend the tropes of romantic films. It wasn't a goofy rom-com, nor was it a lovers' tragedy. (Everyone lives!) Instead, the film perfectly captured the breathless infatuation of a summer fling. And the ending was bittersweet—not exactly sad, not exactly happy. Elio and Oliver couldn't stay together past that one summer, but at least they had that one summer, and all was well.

What's more, it's a 1980s gay love story that doesn't end in AIDS DEATH AIDS DEATH! Not that we should stop talking about the AIDS crisis—it's an important part of our history (all of our history, not just queer history), and it deserves attention. But so many movies that feature gay romances end in tragedy. It was wonderful to see one that didn't. Gay people are allowed to have happy relationships, too.

I'm not sure I've ever seen another film that was such a love story, pure and simple. Regardless of the couple's sexuality, most movies that address love seriously tend to end in death, and those that don't end in death tend to be romantic comedies. I enjoy lots of romantic comedies, but they're not the same. Rom-coms are about intrigues and misunderstandings; they're not about love itself.

So now I'm on a quest: does anyone know of other movies that are genuine love stories and are neither tragic nor comedic? Let's just say I'm feeling sentimental these days.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Dance

On Thursday night I went to see my personal Lord and Savior/girlfriend Janelle Monáe perform at The Chicago Theatre. It was everything I wanted it to be. I'm obsessed with her newest album Dirty Computer, and she performed literally every single song on that album, in addition to several bangers from her previous albums. I love that she is essentially Prince/Michael Jackson/David Bowie/Stevie Wonder/James Brown all rolled into one, but better because she is a woman. Though she's popular, she doesn't get as much credit as she deserves, and I'm sure it's because she's female. Case in point: Childish Gambino is a "genius" for one song about the state of America, whereas Janelle Monáe is not, even though she wrote an entire album about the state of America and simultaneously released a 40-minute movie to go with it.* Not that "This Is America" isn't a genius song and video. It's just that Janelle is a genius, too!

Putting aside the genius discussion (she's a genius), I feel it is important to note that THE VAGINA PANTS ARE REAL AND I SAW THEM WITH MY OWN EYES. #blessed

I've never seen The Chicago Theatre so riled up. Initially I was disappointed that they decided to hold the concert there, simply because rows and rows of chairs don't make for good dancing. Fortunately, the entire audience disregarded those chairs and danced anyway. We were all soaked in sweat by the time we left--I didn't know such a large venue could get so hot. It was the best queer anti-Trump dance party in the entire world.

Which brings me to my next point: I really miss dancing. I gave up my legendary, semi-professional, 1960s-style gogo dancing career to move to Vegas and become a writer, and now I live in a third-floor walk-up. I suspect my neighbors wouldn't appreciate me stomping on the squeaky wood floor--I feel pretty bad when I fall over doing yoga. I'm not sure how viable taking a class would be; it sucks to leave my dog home alone all day and then leave her home alone all night again.

But I do miss it. Gogo always made me feel sexy and fun and confident. While I still feel fairly confident, I feel way less sexy and fun these days.

What is the opposite of sexy? A sexless blob? I feel kind of like a sexless blob.

Which isn't to suggest that I'm not strong. I go running all the time. But running is not sexy, nor is it fun. Honestly, it's kind of annoying. I'd give it up if it weren't a quick, efficient, and free way to burn calories.

Any dancers out there? How do you squeeze it in? Do you have to stay up late on weekends? I'm not sure I can do that anymore--I'm a sexless blob of an old lady. Unless you're Janelle Monáe--I'll do anything for Janelle.

*The Childish Gambino vs. Janelle Monáe "genius" discussion is not my original thought. I saw it on Twitter, and no matter how hard I search, I can't seem to find the original Tweet now. My apologies to the smart person whose idea I'm citing.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Summer 2018 Playlist: Annotated

It's finally summer, so the playlist is heeeeeere! The weather's been somewhat strange lately--lots of rain, the Midwest's very own monsoon season. The temperature keeps soaring into the 90s, then plunging back into the low 70s. I think this playlist reflects those highs and lows.

1. "Paint Yo'nails," White Mystery: Whenever summer rolls around, I'm always happy to listen to White Mystery, one of Chicago's finest garage rock bands. Thought I'd kick this playlist off with a straightforward retro jam.

2. "Plastic Skeletons," Jealous of the Birds: Found this song on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist a few weeks ago, and I was obsessed. It also starts out with a garage vibe, but the chorus moves into more of a punk sound. 

3. "Out Of," Cuesta Loeb: This is an artist who keeps popping up for me on Spotify, and I always like her songs, but she only ever releases singles? Why no album?! Want!! I feel like this song would be on the Twin Peaks soundtrack if Twin Peaks were a sunny, happy show. It's like alternate universe Twin Peaks

4. "Cheated Hearts," Yeah Yeah Yeahs: I've been listening to lots of Yeah Yeah Yeahs while running lately, because apparently cardio exercise + gloomy weather = Yeah Yeah Yeahs in my brain. I decided to include this classic because it's endlessly magnificent. 

5. "Run to Your Mama," Goat: Last fall I listened to a great podcast about the mafia in Providence, Rhode Island called Crimetown. This was the theme song. At the time I thought to myself, "This song is going on my summer mix." I made it happen.

6. "Lifeboats (Freestyle)," Jorja Smith: I first encountered Jorja Smith on the Black Panther soundtrack, but this pretty little song is off her new album. Her voice is amazing. Cutest British accent ever.

7. "Pynk," Janelle Monaé featuring Grimes: As many of you know, I am madly in love with Janelle Monaé, and have been for years, and her new album is the best, and I'm putting songs from it on all of my playlists for the foreseeable future. Now go watch her Dirty Computer movie. I want to join the roving gang of Bowies.

8. "Be Careful," Cardi B: This is the summer of Cardi B, so I felt she ought to be included. Or maybe last summer was the summer of Cardi B? At any rate, it's the first summer after she dropped her full length album. I like this song.

9. "The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever)," Villagers: Because what goes better with Cardi B than Irish folk music? Initially I wanted this song to be a coda on the entire playlist, but I had to put the Mountain Goats at the end because SOME PEOPLE like to leave a whole minute of silence on the end of their recordings. I think it works here, though. Something about the bouncy bass part even seems to mimic the music in "Be Careful" to a certain extent.

10. "Big One," Madeline Kenney: This is another one that Spotify handed to me on a Discover Weekly playlist. The first line is "my other car is your face," so that means it's my new favorite song.

11. "Not Abel," Hop Along: The perfect song for when you want a folk punk waltz with a Bjork-esque vocal line that somehow ends in 4/4 time.

12. "If You Could Know," Shannon and The Clams: Bringing back the garage/surf vibe with one from Shannon and The Clams' latest album. I saw them once in Vegas on what was potentially a date? It was unclear.

13. "Cardboard Castles," Dengue Fever: I can't remember who it was, but someone pointed me to the band Dengue Fever when I was traveling around Cambodia, because their lead singer is Cambodian. Thanks, whoever it was! I like this band--another with the retro surf sound.

14. "Sticky," Ravyn Lenae: Ravyn Lenae is great and I'm going to see her at Pitchfork in July! I felt that the organ in this song followed the previous song well.

15. "deep end," Lykke Li: I was disappointed in Lykke Li's new album. It was nothing like her previous album, which was more like sad-sad-sad-pop-folk, and while I typically have no problem with artists experimenting, it was jarring in this case. However, I kind of like this one.

16. "Date Night," Father John Misty: Unlike Lykke Li, I am *so pleased* with Father John Misty's newest album! It reminds me more of his first. There were lots of good songs I could have picked, but this one seemed summery, and also bitter AF, as is his wont.

17. "Everything is Everything," Ms. Lauryn Hill: I am also going to see Ms. Lauryn Hill at Pitchfork! I'll get to relive my childhood! Assuming she shows up! This song is a classic. Duh.

18. "Nobody," Three Dog Night: This was a later addition to the playlist. I was listening to my dad's old copy of Golden Biscuits on vinyl (the 70s were a special time), and it just seemed to fit. So joyful.

19. "We All Die Young," The Decemberists: Though all the songs on I'll Be Your Girl sound like they belong on separate albums, they're still good songs individually, and this one is no exception. It's very glam, like The Decemberists do Gary Glitter. Minus the serious criminal charges, I hope.

20. "Absolute Lithops Effect," Mountain Goats: In May I was fortunate enough to see Mountain Goats perform an acoustic show at Old Town School of Folk music. I've seen them several times, but never so raw. It was delightful. I love this song because it's hopeful, and I think we all need a little hope this summer. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rest and Relaxation

I just returned from a trip to Denver to visit my lovely Letakins. Aside from my return travel—40 minute train delay due to lost power, 6 hour flight delay due to weather—it was a calm, stress-free vacation. I'd forgotten how to relax!

We went to a fun but poorly attended Motown dance party. We read books outside in the park. We took Denver Pride by storm. We strolled through the botanic gardens. We ate all the food. All the food.

We watched movies! I hardly ever watch movies anymore!
  • The 2001 Josie & the Pussycats film totally holds up.
  • Love, Simon is freaking adorable.
  • Ever After is just as delightful as it was 20 years ago. (oh god.) 
  • Empire Records is still in my top 3 films of all time. What's with today today? 
We also powered through several episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. That show is never not funny. Its writers deserve every award under the sun. 

Speaking of writing: I WROTE THREE WHOLE CHAPTERS OF A THING. THREE OF THEM. 

It was glorious.

Considering how awful the news has been lately (here are some scripts for calling your senators and representatives post-executive-order-which-doesn't-help-anything), it was nice to get away from the office and other responsibilities. Missed my dog, though. We were very happy to see each other when I finally did get home at nearly midnight on Tuesday.

I should take vacations more often. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Bookish Sunday

Yesterday I got my butt out of bed, dug my wrinkled raincoat out of the closet, and took the L downtown to make my mostly-annual visit to the Printers Row Lit Fest.

It really was miserable outside, but fortunately, the events I came to see were both inside. First I went to see Jac Jemc (author of the ambitious and ultra creepy The Grip of It) and Augustus Rose (author of The Readymade Thief, which I have not read) speak about their work. The tickets said the conversation was supposed to be an hour, but it ended up being only a half hour, which was too bad. On the other hand, it was a small crowd, so I was able to actually speak with both authors. And I got a lot of compliments on my passport stamp tattoo sleeve. [insert painting nails emoji here]

Later I went to a performance celebrating a new Black Girl Magic poetry anthology, hosted by none other than the *freaking amazing* Jamila Woods (listen to her music immediately), with performances by several other brilliant artists including E'mon Lauren, Britteney Black Rose Kapri, Eve Ewing and more. Not to mention DJ Ca$h Era who brought all the best 90s jams. Mind blown. [insert explosion emoji here]

I also bought lots of books, because who do you think I even am? Of course I bought books.
  • The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic, edited by Mahogany L. Browne, Idrissa Simmonds, & Jamila Woods - Picked this one up before I saw the show. Excited AF.
  • Mammother by Zachary Schomburg - I almost always pick up a book from local press Featherproof when I'm at Lit Fest, and I've heard good things about this one. 
  • Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring by Zach Plague - One reason I always buy from Featherproof is that they have good deals. Got this one for free. 
  • The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose - After seeing him speak, I thought his novel sounded wonderfully weird. I also felt bad that most people were there to see Jac Jemc instead of him. I'd hope that someone would do the same for me. 
  • Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky - I've been wanting to read this one for a while, but I haven't been able to find a paperback copy. Thanks, Sandmeyer's Bookstore
For a while I'd been trying not to buy any new books, since I already own so many I haven't read. Hence The Backlog. But here's the thing: thanks to the corporate job, I have the money to buy books. And independent booksellers need money. If my purchase helps a nice bookstore to stay open another day, I'm happy, even if I never find time to read the book.

Literary good citizenship, y'all. Literary good citizenship.