I have an agent!

My God, it finally happened.
I signed with an agent.
And he’s even a really nice guy.
Roger S. Williams of Publish or Perish Agency is new to the agent world, but he arrives with an impressive resume. He has worked in publishing for 30 years as a book seller and as a sales director at some of the big publishing houses.
He also represents his wife, Gina Cascone, who has sold 30 YA novels as a ghostwriter (more than 2.1 million copies), two memoirs (both published by Simon & Schuster) and more.
Writing must be in his genes. Not only did he marry a writer, but he is surrounded by relatives who are successful authors. They include two sisters, a niece and a brother-in-law, all of whom have published (or have contracts with) with major houses.
Mr. Williams comes from a different direction than most agents. He made his connections with editors by marketing and promoting the books they acquired, a big plus in my book. Lots of agents can sell books, but this guy knows how to market them. He knows, not only what editors want to buy, but what readers want to buy.
He’s also witty and honest.
Can’t beat that.
It’s still a long road.
He still has to persuade a publisher or two that my books are worth a few sheets of paper.
But at least I have a driver now.
I’m no longer sticking out my thumb on the publishing highway, scrutinizing every car that slows down as the driver studies me and we both try to decided whether it’s safe or wise to take a chance on each other.
And if I keep writing corny analogies like that, I’m going to make his job a whole lot harder.

The "other" Lori Foster

They were closing in on me.
I felt it.
I felt it the moment I introduced myself at the Fifth Annual Readers and Authors Get Together Friday night. I heard it in their murmurs to each other. I saw it as they moved forward, toward the two of us.
Toward me.
I had forgotten that some of those people are obsessed.
Maybe even a little crazy.
And so I got out of there–fast.
It was a dynamic I had not anticipated.
I thought I would waltz into the Marriott 20 minutes from my home, drop off my donation for the raffle and say a quick “hello” to the other Lori Foster, the hostess of the event and the one who really gets paid to write.
I had never met her before, though she lives nearby and folks often mistake me for her.
Not the right folks, I’m afraid.
According to Publishers Marketplace, the “other” Lori Foster recently signed a 7-figure deal for her next romance/erotica series. The people she signed with seem to know where to send her paychecks. They are not at all confused.
It’s the others.
My son’s former teacher was certain that I was the famed romance writer. She was under that impression for more than a year before she finally got up the nerve to ask me. A literary agent once apologized for not getting back to me on her request for the manuscript for my novel. Her assistant had moved my email into the “other” Lori Foster’s file.
A few good friends emailed me years ago, shortly after my first son was born. They had seen a novel on the grocery store shelves. It was written by Lori Foster and the title was the same as my son’s first name.
Now really, would I write an erotica novel with a main character named after my son?
The other Lori Foster and I have exchanged a few emails over the years. I had thought about going to the get-together even though I don’t read or write romance. More than 100 authors were scheduled to attend along with a few agents.
Writers are writers, and it would be nice to share their company, I thought.
But I couldn’t go.
My daughter and husband had already planned a rafting trip with a YMCA group.
And I didn’t want to spend money on a babysitter. My husband’s company recently executed a round of furloughs and we have no idea what will happen when the next quarter begins at the end of June. I just couldn’t justify the cost of the registration and the cost of a sitter for the three other children.
So I decided to donate a gift basket full of writerly things from my business, http://www.exclusivewritergifts.com/, instead. The woman who took my donation laughed when I gave her my name and pointed to the other Lori Foster, who was standing just a few feet away.
She was busy.
The buffet dinner was underway.
The fans and authors had gathered.
Things were hectic.
So I introduced myself and said a brief “hello” to this kind, petite woman with whom I share a name, a city and a passion for writing. I had to speak loudly over the din, loud enough for others around us to hear. I began to stutter a bit when I noticed the odd reaction.
I’m sure the novelty would have passed quickly.
I mean, what was there to say?
But it was too strange to be stared at that way.
And so I left, happy to have finally met her, but relieved that I had not registered.

Giddy

For 11 years, I saw my name in print most every day.
Sometimes, I had several stories in one edition; I believe my record was eight.
I loved it, not because people knew my name, but because I believed in the power of writing. I believed in newspapers (and still do). I believed I was changing lives, even if sometimes that change was barely perceptible to most.
But none of that compares to the rush I got today when I received an email from an editor at Aethlon, a literary sports journal centered at East Tennessee State University. My short story, “Conquering Iwo Jima,” has been accepted for publication.
I was giddy.
Really giddy.
(Okay, so I’d had a little wine before I checked my email!)
This is different.
Different because this is fiction.
And this is my first.
I had stopped writing short stories soon after I finished my thesis for Binghamton University in 2000. My first son was two months old when I earned my degree and I had started teaching as an adjunct English instructor four months later. Then along came my daughter and, after she was born, I started the novel.
I freelanced (changed diapers), taught (changed diapers), and freelanced some more while I worked on the novel. Five years later, after a weekend of revisions, I was finally done.
Then I learned I was pregnant again.
No biggie, I thought (after the shock wore off).
Nothing was going to stop me.
Nothing except maybe twins.
They kind of brought things to a crawl.
But now they are two and, slowly, I am started to emerge from my mommy fog. One day in November, through that fog, I spied a folder on my laptop marked “short stories.” I read through a few of them, made a some minor revisions and started searching for appropriate markets on Duotrope.com.
Within 30 minutes, I found Aethlon.
I submitted “Conquering Iwo Jima” in November and forgot about it.
Then came the email.
And the giddiness.
Just a few weeks earlier, I learned that my novel, Spring Melt, had made the quarterfinals for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I’m competing against 499 other writers, so my chances are slim. But I get at least one professional review of my full manuscript out of the deal and validation that I’ve got something good going here.
That makes it worth it.
I still love writing nonfiction.
I still love interviewing, investigating, creating.
But writing fiction is, for me, like that second child that you love with the same strength as the first, but you love differently. It offers a different path to change. Not better. Just different.
Fiction is a passion for me and one that I have not had the opportunity to pursue as fully as nonfiction. The giddiness comes from the realization that I might, just possibly might, finally get my chance.

The karate scam

Originally posted March 11, 2009

My 7-year-old daughter became interested in karate through a short introductory course, which was promoted as a fundraiser for her school. She was hooked, so hooked that she quit dance and gymnastics to join.
I had the twins with me when I registered my daughter and they were screaming to get out of their stroller. So I didn’t pay much attention when one of the owners explained the six-month contract and the automatic deductions.
I just signed the papers.
Fine.
A six-month commitment was probably a good idea anyway. It would force her to stick with it long enough to know whether karate was really her thing.
And it is.
She loves it.
But now we must quit.
It’s a matter of principle.
It’s a scam.
For the past several months, the folks at the karate school have lured her deeper and deeper with tips on her belt, new belts, more tips, more belts and lots and lots of games. She has anxiety issues and she loves the fact that the instructors simply take control.
They tell her what to do and she does it.
They tell her not to cry and she doesn’t.
They tell her to be respectful and she is.
But two weeks ago, she received a letter. The letter informs me that she is nearing her testing for lime belt and that’s time to make a greater commitment. My daughter may continue only if I sign a three-year contract, agree to let some outside company continue to withdraw funds from my account, pay double the tuition I’m paying now and give 90 days notice for cancellation.
I’m not stupid.
This is about money.
This is about hoping that, if my daughter stops going, I won’t get around to cancelling for a month or two, and then I will still have to pay for another 90 days. This is about using outside companies who have can easily send those who oppose this system to collections, possibly ruining their credit.
This is not about karate.
One of my daughter’s best friends joined about the same time. Her mother, a single mom, recently lost her job. Two months remained in her six-month contract. She tried talking to the owners. They offered to let another family member fill the slot (She has no siblings), but they refused to cancel her automatic deductions.
I have left two messages, asking to talk about the 3-year contract. They have not called back.
Since then, I have learned from others that they will not call back and they will not budge if I approach then face-to-face (which I will do this week). Fortunately, my daughter is very bright. I explained the situation and she understood.
She’s going back to gymnastics, where I pay tuition every eight weeks by check.

Writing friends

Originally posted Feb. 26, 2009

I am used to meeting perfect strangers, to learning the intimate details of their lives within the first 30 minutes of conversation.
I’ve made a career out of it.
But as I drove to Panera Monday night to meet yet another person I’d never seen before, my hands suddenly froze on the wheel.
This wasn’t the same thing.
This wasn’t an interview.
I was meeting a fellow writer with whom I had connected online. We didn’t even know what we would talk about. Neither of us has writing friends in the area. We thought it would be nice to get together and to, maybe, form a writing group.
I had never been in this situation before.I felt socially inept.
I forced my fear down my throat with the greater fear that I would crash if I kept focusing on the issue. I parked and grabbed a book from my van. If things got really awkward, I figured, I would always have my book.
I had just sat down with my coffee when she walked in.More than two hours later, when we got up to leave, an employee had to unlock the doors to let us out. My cell phone rang. My husband was worried because Panera was supposed to close an hour earlier.
Conversation just happened and I realized on my way home how much I crave that interaction with other writers. Just last week, Susan Heim, an award-winning author and fellow mother of twins, agreed to write the foreword for my book. I was anxious and excited to tell someone.I told my husband, a former journalist and an author.
He shared my excitement. I told my sister, who has let me lean on her throughout this process even when she probably had much better things to do.
She was thrilled. But I couldn’t think of anyone else who would understand what this meant to me.
So I told the woman I met in Panara, a writer of young adult fiction whose first novel is in the hands of an editor at Harper Collins. She understood, really understood.
And that felt good.

Know the source

Originally posted Feb. 5, 2009

I have learned a great deal from the folks on the forums of Absolutewrite.com, but a recent thread bothered me. Someone had written an intriguing query letter and had posted it in the “Share Your Work” forum, hoping for advice on improvements.
The responses came quickly: other writers confidently tearing it to shreds.
After the first few replies, some voices of reason began to emerge, published authors or those with agent contracts who suggested that the writer simply polish a few sentences and go for it. It really was good. It just needed a little tweak here and there.
I can only hope that the original poster read beyond those first few replies.
The lesson: know your sources.
The Internet is flooded with forums, blogs and private groups for writers. Absolute Write is one of the good ones. If ever I actually sell a book, I will make a donation. Those folks saved me from doing such crazy things as paying fees to agents, sending silly query letters or signing with publishers that are nothing more than self-publishing companies in disguise.
But every forum has its less-than-credible members and it is important to take advice from their members with a healthy dose of cynicism. Helpful writers will be in tune with your needs and your goals. They will ask questions. They will give answers with confidence, but not with arrogant confidence. They will make you feel good about their replies even if they’ve just suggested that you are going down entirely the wrong path.
I belong to another online writing group that is private. I have found wonderful advice and support there from women who face similar obstacles with their writing, but one fellow writer stood out among the rest. Her advice was often loudly written and left me shaking my head. She always punctuated her harsh words with her experience as a published author.
So I bought her novel (It was out of print, so I had to buy it from a used book dealer.). Her book was awful. The publisher went out of business long ago. When I Googled them both, I found that they had worked together previously. The publisher was likely a friend.
Worse yet, the copy I purchased had been autographed, a gift to a person who had helped her with her research.
Now, when I see her responses, I skip them.
I know the source.

Homesick

Originally posted Jan 11, 2009

If I took the long way home from school—out the front entrance of St. Bernard’s elementary instead of cutting through the church parking lot—I could see them working.
Volunteers from the village and inmates from a nearby minimum-security prison worked side-by-side each day for weeks, lifting 2-by-4-foot blocks of ice from Pontiac Bay with giant tongs and then sliding them onto a large conveyor belt. Depending on how deeply cold the winter had been so far, the bricks could be up to three feet thick.
I tried not to look too often, maybe twice a week. I didn’t want to spoil the effect—the surprise at the appearance of yet another layer of slushy mortar and crystal bricks; the recognition as the architecture began to make sense and the random bricks became towers or castle walls; the thrill of counting down the days with each brick that the crews sawed, pulled and jiggled, dripping, out of the dark water.
Before my eyes, it rose.
Slowly, methodically, majestically. Until one afternoon near the beginning of February, I would step out of school, walk down the street just a bit and realize that it was done. The crews had slipped the last block of ice into place and the ice castle was complete, somehow even more awesome and more spectacular than the year before.
It is during this time of the year that I get homesick, when I know that the ice castle is under construction and that Winter Carnival is only a few weeks away in my hometown of Saranac Lake, N.Y.
The ice castle is the icon, the foundation, the symbol of the weeklong celebration deep in the Adirondack Mountains. It is a week of sled races and cross-country ski races; a week when prominent grown-ups rule as king and queen, college students reign as prince and princess and the popular clique in high school is elected as the royal court.
It is a week of snow sculptures on front lawns and in the park; of parades and fireworks; of snowmobiles storming the ice castle; and, in the old days, of ice skaters competing to see who could jump the greatest number of barrels.
And a week of alcohol, of course.
Nothing is celebrated in my hometown without lots of alcohol.
I miss my hometown in the spring when the sight of concrete through the hard-packed snow where the sidewalk had been the previous October could send a thrill through me. I miss the gulch in the summer and the natural water slide and Champagne Falls. I miss the smell of wet leaves in the fall and the long hikes free of mosquitoes and tiny biting black flies.
But those are memories I have to myself or with small groups of people. Winter Carnival is different. Winter Carnival pulls everyone in from all income levels, age groups, professions. It brings people back, even those who believed they had torn up their roots and vowed never to return.
It is the truest sort of community celebration, the likes of which I have never experienced anywhere else. Locals even get along with the tourists for a bit: no giving false directions; no selling pine cones for $5 a piece as souvenirs; no lying about the names of the peaks when they assume you know all that stuff just because because your mom gave birth to you there.
Heck, what other community enlists prisoners to help build its ice castle? So I’ll be missing Saranac Lake Feb. 6 when the king and queen are crowned, kicking off the festivities. But don’t worry. I will be back someday with four kids and a husband in tow.
And, maybe, with a little peppermint schnapps in my purse.

Readers are the best critics

Originally posted Dec. 31, 2008

When I finally completed my novel, I took the next appropriate step. I sent copies of the manuscript to nine or ten willing readers and then paid an editor to review it for style, grammar and content.
The readers were great.
The editor was a mistake.
He did an excellent job copy editing and he gave me some useful advice, but I hired him because he was a friend. That is where I went wrong. I should have done my research first.
Now, I love criticism—brutally honest, constructive criticism. Those writers who can’t take and appreciate criticism shouldn’t attempt to make a career of writing for public consumption.
And the criticism I received from the readers was excellent. It resulted in the elimination of two characters, a few changes in the minor plots and many, many smoother transitions.
The editor’s criticism led to a faster pace in the earlier chapters and the correction of several errors that had slipped past me. But his content advice, his take on the novel as a whole, was problematic.
If I had not had 11 years of journalism experience and a master’s degree worth of workshop experience, I might have done one of two things: I might have cried and given up, or I might have taken all his recommendations to heart and ended up with a novel that was a Grisham rip-off.
As it turns out, he is a huge fan of Grisham and doesn’t much like literary fiction. My novel does move rather fast, especially through the courtroom scenes. But I am not Grisham and I don’t want to be (Well, I wouldn’t mind his paycheck.).
My style is what it is. The book is an historical novel that is primarily literary fiction, but with a bit of mystery and suspense.
In my years of workshopping and in my experience as a freelance editor, I have had to work with many genres that I find somewhat unappealing. I’ve had to get past my prejudices. I have had to edit or critique the work within its genre.
He couldn’t and, in fairness to him, I never asked.
So here is my point.
I was careful when I selected my readers. I should have been careful when I selected my editor. I should have hired someone who came recommended by other fiction writers and who reviewed the work primarily for copy errors.
I should have simply let the readers do the rest.
The reality is that the readers are the market. They are the people we should be writing for, not the editors, not the fellow writers. Teaching them to critique is easy. Simply give them a few questions to ask themselves when they are done and request that they mark places in the manuscript where they have either stumbled or flown through.
So hire a copy editor. But instead of hiring a content editor or a “book doctor,” contract with a book club. Offer to pay for lunch one day if they will agree to read your manuscript and fill out a questionnaire after.
That’s what I should have done.

After 20 years, I heard her laugh

Originally posted DEc. 1, 2008

When I think about what kind of mother I want to be, Sylvia Bouchard comes to mind. She has been on my mind for nearly 20 years, ever since the day a jury declared her son guilty of murder.
I covered the case. I stood near her in the courtroom. She cried no tears that I could see. She simply clutched her purse and walked up to her son, who had laid his head on the defense table.
Her son, Steven Barnes, was 23.
So was I.
I was a reporter for The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard. I was just barely a year into my career. Sylvia Bouchard and I both knew that Steven Barnes did not kill 16-year-old Kimberly Simon, a cheerleader from the small Oneida County community of Whitesboro.
He did not rape her.
He did not strangle her.
Many in the community knew that too, and they rallied behind him. They raised money for his defense when he was indicted more than three years after the 1985 homicide. They filled the courtroom during his trial. They offered his mother a shoulder to lean on, but I never saw her take it.
What I saw was a woman who was focused and determined. A woman who knew she could not afford to break. She was determined to prove her son innocent, but she was also determined that he would be a model prisoner and that, if all efforts to free him failed, he would serve as little of his 25-year-to-life sentence as possible.
She succeeded on both fronts.
On Nov. 25, Steven Barnes received a call in prison. He turned to tell anyone who could hear him that he was going home, thanks to the Innocence Project and DNA analysis. The guards cheered. The prisoners cheered. They loved Steven. He had all the privileges any prisoner could have. He was good. He was honest. He was the boy his mother had raised him to be.
Steven Barnes was a victim. I am generally forgiving of jurors and even of prosecutors. They are people, just like us and they can easily be wrongly convinced. But the trial of Steven Barnes was a joke. The jurors should be ashamed and remorseful. The prosecutor should be investigated. The police who investigated the case and testified should be on trial themselves.
Their evidence consisted of tire treads, soil samples, hair samples and a 35-year police force veteran who said he saw Steven Barnes driving away from the murder site at about the time Kimberly was killed and that he could clearly identify this stranger as his pickup truck passed at 25 mph.
The expert who presented the soil and hair samples made it clear that the tests were not reliable. The police officer and two other witnesses who claimed to have seen Steven Barnes that night gave grossly conflicting testimony to the grand jury, testimony that was presented during the trial.
No one saw Steven Barnes with Kimberly Simon. No one presented a valid motive. No reliable physical evidence connected him to the crime. No witnesses gave reliable testimony.
Yet the prosecutor pursued the case and the jury found him guilty.
It was enough to make any mother crumble.
In the face of it all, Sylvia Bouchard stood her ground. She did not cower with fear. She did not collapse in despair. She did not let down her guard, at least not publicly.
She was strong.
She was reactive and proactive.
She was mother to her son through two decades of imprisonment.
I talked with her and her son on the phone this evening. It had been 18 years since I’d spoken to her. Throughout the trial and the appeals and the fund raisers, I had never heard laugh. I don’t recalled ever seeing her smile. All I saw was that focus, that determination.
This evening, I heard her laugh.

Writing

Originally posted Nov. 8, 2008

I am a mom.
I am a wife.
I am a stepmother, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a sister-in-law, a niece, a cousin, an aunt, a great aunt, a friend. I’m sure I am even an enemy to a select few.
But no matter who I am to others, I am always a writer.
It is as a writer that I see the world even when I am too steeped in laundry and dishes to reach for a pencil and paper or to tap away on my laptop.
There was a time when I didn’t believe that, when I didn’t believe that writers perceived things all that differently than others and I didn’t believe in myself. Even during my years as a full-time journalist.
But I was over-thinking, and isn’t that what writing is all about?
Writing is about thinking. It’s about perception, analysis and vision. It’s a constant craving to understand the complexities of the world and of human nature and to convey that understanding through written words in a way that excites, energizes and entertains.
When I finally understood and accepted the distraction of that craving and the strength of that lure, when I finally caved in and called myself a writer, other things became clear to me and I began to accept them as well:
That’s why my house is a mess.
That’s why the walls need painting.
That’s why I have no garden and the flowers by the mailbox always die prematurely.
That’s why my older kids roll their eyes when I try to explain the dynamics of their friendships and the various points of view in their arguments.
That’s why my toddler twins grin, cackle and run when they see my laptop.
That’s why I can’t bake a decent cake, knit Christmas gifts, wrap a present with style or learn the art of scrapbooking.
That’s why I don’t get enough sleep.
So I’m sorry PTO.I’m sorry Dr. Sears, Martha Stewart, Suze Orman.
My house is a mess, my desk is a mess, my bills are a mess and I don’t dress well.
It’s not my fault.
I’m a writer.
I write to think; I think to write.