Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I pulled myself out of bed Sunday morning, poured a cup of steaming black coffee and stumbled into my writing room. I used to be one of those people who jump out of bed, rested, alert, looking good and ready to face a new day full of energy and vigor. Not anymore. Now I struggle to fall asleep, struggle to wake up and would be hard pressed to find anyone who’d say I looked good first thing in the morning.

Cup in hand, I leaned over my desk and switched on my laptop – a morning routine repeated every day of the year. I sank into the desk chair and stared at the creamy yellow wall in front of me. A beep from the computer told me to key in my password. A few taps and I waited. A squirrel scavenged for hazelnut fragments in the shelled picnic area under the overgrown cherry tree. A serious pruning and one more year before decide what to do with the monster. I clicked on Outlook and took a few more sips of hot coffee, willing myself awake, alert.

Outlook opened, and Renee Zuckerbrot was in my Inbox. I’d submitted the query less than 24 hours prior. In less than 24 hours this literary agent in New York opened her own Inbox and looked over my synopsis, bio and first chapter. Her decision: “Moving Mom isn't a good fit for my list.”

I was stunned. This world of email queries was new to me. Less than half dozen years ago when I was querying The Thirty-Ninth Victim few agents accepted on-line submissions, making the process costly, slow and wasteful. Here I had a response, albeit not the response I wanted, in 24 hours and it cost me nothing. Not a single trip to the post office.

I slumped at my desk. Rejection. Such a harsh word. I decided to search for a positive spin. What good comes in an agent’s rejection? At least she read it, I thought. Or, at least she read enough to know it wasn’t a manuscript she’d be successful representing. And that’s what any writer wants, isn’t it? An agent who is as passionate about the work as the writer herself. An agent who feels a strong enough connection to the piece to know she’ll be able to place it with just the right publishing house.

Another positive lies in the quality of the response. Renee Zuckerbrot responded not only with courtesy and respect, but she also included a list of on-line, searchable agent databases to help me locate an agent who might be a better match for my work. A rejection that offers that type of advice and encouragement is definitely a positive.

There could be as many agents as there are writers, and it may be a bit like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack to find the right match, but I’ll put a dozen queries into cyberspace. With each rejection, I’ll narrow my search, blowing the chafe from the stalk, moving the haystack one handful at a time until the needle pricks my finger, until I wake one morning, pour my coffee, click on my computer and find an offer of representation.

For those who are interested, here are the websites that Rene Zuckerbrot suggested: 

AAR online: http://aaronline.org/
Agent in a Box: http://www.webook.com/literary-agents/writers.aspx
Agentquery: http://www.agentquery.com/
The Agent Database at Poets &Writers: http://www.pw.org/literary_agents?perpage=*

Saturday, August 13, 2011


I titled my last post “Seat Time,” a term used in education (hours in the classroom which may or may not lead to learning) and in writing (hours needed to create anything of quality.) The appropriate title for that blog entry would have been “Saddle Time,” hence the correction below. A quick Google search of saddle time shows references to bikes, motorcycles and horses.

My apologies to those educators who know that seat time has nothing to do with anything on two wheels or four legs, to writers aware of the impossibility of creating a decent piece of writing without endless hours of seat time, and to the bikers who had a good laugh at my ignorance. I’ll see you at STP next year.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Saddle Time (formerly Seat Time)

Regularity without some metaphysical value behind it, some beauty of soul or character, was more disappointing – and indeed repulsive – than the honestly haphazard, the humanly messy. It was more disappointing because it promised something that was not there: it should engage the soul, but did not. It was shallow and meretricious.
44 Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith, p. 219

My first purchase was a guitar, the second a bicycle. The guitar is still stashed in the attic four decades later. The bike is gone. I remember it as a yellow, drop bar, ten-speed. I was a high school senior, living in my parents’ home at the top of Tiger Mountain. Like most teenagers, I was driven by a strong desire for independence and a total lack of funds. I didn’t have a car and there was no bus service, so I landed my first job at Clampitt’s Cleaners and bought a bike from the Issaquah Hardware Store. The summer after graduation I rode that bike seven miles to and from work along the narrow, rough shoulders of the Issaquah-Hobart Road with traffic whipping by at fifty. I don’t remember a helmet.

I’ve ridden a bit off and on through the years, but never considered myself a biker, never commuted to work by bike, never participated in long distance, organized rides. A lifetime has passed since that younger version of me rode a bike to her first job. Maybe two or three.

In late May, I was walking Alki Beach with a friend. It’s a weekly routine that we both cherish: a long walk followed by a beer at the local Irish pub.
“I’ve signed us up for the Seattle to Vancouver ride,” she said.

“Us?” I asked.

“The whole family.”

“Do they know it yet?”

“I thought it would be a good way to get in shape this summer,” she said, a laugh in her voice and a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes.
She told me it was a two-day ride, similar to the well-known Seattle to Portland ride, but north bound instead of south and in August rather than July. I’d never heard of it.

“We’ll be riding every weekend,” she said. “Why don’t you join us?”

“Sounds like fun,” I said. “The weekend rides anyway. I’m not so sure about the whole group ride thing. And I’m definitely not up to riding two hundred miles.”

That evening I started googling. I wanted to learn what I could about the ride and about how to prepare for it. I found a training schedule that outlined regular rides three times weekly with target distances beginning in February. We were already four months behind schedule, and I was a good fifteen pounds overweight. Despite regular walks and gym workouts, I was out of shape. I knew that the two-day ride was out of the question, but the exercise sounded like a great idea.

After the first twenty-mile ride, my husband decided he was having none of it. A gentle ten miles on a designated path was fine, but accumulating miles and seat time for an artificial goal made no sense to him. He had better things to do with those hours. But I continued to ride three days a week through June and July.

Now it’s August and each challenge, every hill, has given me greater confidence. I no longer fear living at the top of a hill. I know I can ride it. My quads burn. My knees talk to me. I’ve found muscles and bones I didn’t know I had. But I keep riding.

I’ve always considered myself a very alert person, but with biking I am developing a level of awareness surpassing anything I’ve ever known. But still there are surprises.

A little girl stopped in front of me as I rode the Seattle waterfront. Pink dress, blond curls, she seemed no taller than my front tire.

Her family crossed in front of me from the parking lot to the waterfront attractions. Hands poised on my brakes, I slowed, but there was plenty of space. Then, something caught the child’s attention. She paused. I braked hard and landed on my handle bars. Skidding to a stop, the edge of my front tire grazed one sparkling sandal. Her eyes met mine, round and blue.

“Are you okay?” the father asked me through his cigarette smoke.
“Are you okay?” I asked the child. She nodded to me, and I rode off.

“Look what you did. You’ve got to watch where you’re going.” I heard the father scold the child as I rode away. I smiled thinking of her wide eyes, her nod. I hope she holds tight to her curiosity, to her understanding, to her forgiveness.

Each ride opens my eyes to the city in ways I’ve never seen it before. I often ride Alaskan Way from West Seattle to downtown. A towering wall of shipping containers line the rail tracks on one side, cranes tower above me on the other. The bike lane is rough, uneven and checkered with detours for road construction – a new off-ramp from the West Seattle Bridge, prep work for the tunnel designed to replace the unstable north-south viaduct by boring through the same unstable tide flats that the viaduct is built on.

I ride Alaskan Way through dust and exhaust fumes and think about my ride the day before along the Sammamish River, the sun warm on my back, the sweet fragrance of rugosa roses and fresh cut grass floating on a soft breeze. I remember the words of McCall Smith, words that made such an impression I copied them into the small notebook I use for those ideas that I don’t want to let slip away.

McCall Smith expressed a sentiment I was never able to put into my own words: that more beauty can be found in the haphazard grit and grime of hard work and daily life than in the idealized perfection of a materialized world. For while I loved the natural beauty of the slow moving Sammamish River with tall grasses lining its shores, the open fields once dotted with large dairy herds, and the musical call of a gold finch perched on an overhead branch, the picture perfect condos along certain strips of the trail and the looming reality of Redmond Town Centre, an upscale world of commercial materialism, just beyond the long row of tall cottonwoods swaying in the gentle breeze, made me uncomfortable.

As I wave a morning greeting to the immigrants fishing off the Harbor Island dock, as I ride past the homeless waking under the overpasses, some in semi-established tent homes, others under nothing more than a pile of ratty blankets, I feel the pulse – and messiness – of human life.