When you blow up your manuscript

A couple weeks ago, the Print Run Podcast read/commented on the first page of The Waiting Game. Something Laura said stuck with me. There was a moment on the page where Alex did the equivalent of pulling your hair back and taking out your earrings before a fight. And Laura said she wanted to see more of that girl.

And I thought…me too. I want more of that Alex.

And I made a major change to the story, in the sixth chapter. A change that will change the rest of the novel in dozens of small ways. Without a doubt, it’s making the story better. It’s hard, because I had a complete second draft and now I have…parts of a third draft, I suppose. But it’s fun.

It’s also distracting, because I’m supposed to be working on the second draft of Haven Strong. And I’m working on that too. They’re two very different stories, and it’s nice to bounce between them, the lightness of TWG keeping me standing when Haven is so hard that it drags me down.

And all because of one line in my story that someone else picked out as interesting.

Where do you get your ideas?

No one’s ever asked me how I come up with these stories, but in case anyone is genuinely curious…


Months ago, while listening to my standard writing playlist (and working on something else), this song came on. And I was struck.

“Your t-shirt’s lost its smell of you.”

And a scene was born. And then a book (slowly). It’s a sad book, and it’s hard already, but it’s happening, and that’s what’s important.

NaNoWriMo 2018

Hooray, it’s November! I’ve been noodling this book around for months, and I’m excited to finally put fingers to keyboard! Below is a rough first chapter.

Chapter One

 My phone buzzed in my pocket for the fourth time in five minutes. I’d assumed spam call the first time, because who uses phones for phone calls. Four calls in a row wasn’t a telemarketer.

I set the bag of groceries on the counter and pulled out my phone. And now I was more confused.

“Girl, just text me,” I said to my best friend.

“Come to the school.”

Ice filled my veins.

“What’s up?”

“Come to the school,” Amanda repeated. “Something happened with the bus. We don’t know what yet. All we’ve got is rumors.”

I glanced toward the living room, where my daughters were arguing over the TV. The bus was carrying the Haven High School boys basketball team across town for a game. My husband and fifteen-year-old son were on that bus. What did she mean something was wrong with it?

“What kind of rumors?”

“That people are hurt. That they’re dead. We’re getting everyone together.”

She said people as if we weren’t talking about our sons, my husband, the boys’ teammates. As if instead of being people we’d known their entire lives, it was faceless names read off on a news broadcast.

“I’m on my way.”

Again, I looked toward my daughters. If I left them here, they might hear that their father and brother were, oh, God, please don’t let them be, dead from a Facebook post, and I couldn’t imagine that. I’d have to take them with me. If Amanda was at the school, then Preston would be too, and the girls would have the distraction of a friend. Yes. Perfect.

“Coats, girls,” I called as I strode toward the door.

“But we just got home,” Addy complained, her hand on her hip. Always the petulant middle child.

“Please, girls.”

“What’s wrong?” Olivia asked, already shrugging on her coat.

“I don’t know,” I replied, wishing I had something reassuring to say. I couldn’t very well say that everything was okay, because it clearly wasn’t. But “Dad and Matt might be dead” wasn’t right either, and oh, God, please let them be okay.

The school gymnasium was crowded and noisy, far more than simply the families of the players. The girls had indeed immediately gravitated toward their friends among the sibling group, and I scanned the room for mine.

I felt a hand on my arm, and was enveloped by my best friend as soon as I turned. Amanda and I clung to each other for a moment, before I stepped back, taking hold of her arms, hoping she had some semblance of an answer.

“What do we know?”

She shook her head. “Someone heard a call on a police radio about a bus crash. I tried calling the hospital, but they wouldn’t tell me anything.”

There shouldn’t be any other buses out. School was out for the winter holidays. The boys had this last away game before they’d be home too.

“Should I try calling Steve? Has anyone tried calling the boys?”

“I tried Landon’s phone. It went straight to voicemail.”

“Are the police around?”

“No one’s seen them.”

“The boys have to be okay,” I said, a prayer, a hope, a reassurance.

That morning I’d sent Steve and Matt off on the bus like I had dozens of times before. Matt was a twenty-five years younger carbon copy of his dad, both of them sandy-haired and freckled and taller than everyone around them, even when they were with the team. Basketball season meant putting my boys on buses, or sitting in stands watching my husband direct the action, watching my son flit around the court. How could a day like so many others have taken this turn?

I fixed my eyes on my daughters, playing a haphazard game of tag. Addy nearly ran into the mayor, and I wondered for a moment if Jim was here too as a parent. But no, Jimmy graduated in the spring. He must be here in his professional capacity.

Oh, God, what did it mean if the mayor was here with us?

“I need to be doing something,” I said.

But there was nothing to do. I chatted with the other parents, comparing notes, pouring over Google search results, obsessively looking for news, as if CNN might know before us that something had happened to our sons. The fact that none of us had managed to reach the boys, or Steve, or Reston increased all of our anxiety. They weren’t supposed to be at the host school yet. They should still have been on the bus, and teenagers stuck on a bus answer their phones.

Other students began to show up at the gym too, and I could no longer pretend things were fine. The boys had all been silent, no texts, no phone calls, not a single social media post in the time since the first rumors had begun. Even the children had realized that things were serious now. No one ran around anymore. Olivia clung to me, her arm around my waist. Addy stood nearby with her best friend, the girls holding hands. I wanted to comfort my daughters, but I didn’t know how.

A wail cut through the hush, the image we’d all been searching for finally found. A small school bus in a ditch, the name of our school district written on the side. The bus was surrounded by emergency vehicles, police, firetrucks, ambulances, unmistakable now that something had happened, even if we still didn’t know what.

The gym echoed with noise again, the hush replaced by children crying, frantic parents trying again to reach their sons, phones chirping with notifications as people who somehow weren’t in the gym heard began to hear the news.

But what news? Even with the picture out there, we had no information. They could all be fine, I told myself, needing it to be true, because the opposite was unimaginable.

Just when I thought that the entire population of Haven, North Carolina, had assembled, more arrived. Police officers, not all of them locals. Amanda’s husband pulled her away from me, both of them being escorted to a corner by an officer I recognized, Lainey Collins, who had been a high school classmate of mine and Amanda’s.

The officer who came to me was unfamiliar.

“Josephine Grant?”

He had to be a state trooper. I would have recognized a local. A local would have called me Jo.

He repeated my name.

“Yes,” I said finally. “That’s me.”

“Mrs. Grant, I’m so sorry.”

Do agents owe writers rejection letters?

There seems to be a ton of controversy in the writing world as to whether agents have some sort of obligation to send an actual rejection vs. stating something along the lines of “if you haven’t heard from us in 6-8 weeks, that’s a no from us.” I have a number of thoughts on this situation, largely influenced by my years of working in publishing.

Neither of the publishing houses I worked for were particularly big, and I’d imagine that even if we were, there’s no way we received as many queries as an agent must, especially a “big name” agent. Still, yes, I believe they owe a rejection form letter, at least.

I was the person who wrote the rejection letters, so this isn’t a matter of me not understanding, say, the time that goes into doing so. Also, don’t get me started on the annoyance that comes from receiving queries for novels when you are a non-fiction publisher.

Moreover, I have discovered something wonderful that may not have existed when I was in publishing: Query Manager (and similar programs).

I don’t know why every agent doesn’t use this. I’ve found it to be a delight – at any moment I can verify that my submission was received, I’ve received both rejections and requests for material through Query Manager, and uploading my materials has been simple.

Send a form letter and don’t apologize for doing so. I personally find the “I’m sorry for the form letter” to be unnecessary – I realize that people are busy. I don’t think people are too busy for common courtesy, and a reply is courtesy (like how you should ALWAYS reply to an invitation, even if the reply is no).

I realize this is controversial, and marks me as one of THOSE people. I’m also someone who queried an agent, never heard back, later re-queried them, and got a request for full. My query letter didn’t change in the interim. Is it possible they never received the original query? Sure. Is it also possible that they had a place for my piece that they didn’t before? Sure! This is why I lean so hard toward sending a response.

Progress Report

I feel like this year has flown by. It was cold this morning when we left to start our day, which means fall can’t be that far off. I don’t know where the time went.

As far as my writing plans for the year, things have gone well! I’m hoping to finish three first drafts (two down – The Waiting Game Parts 2 & 4, the 3rd draft will be this year’s NaNoWriMo project! More about that to come) and one second draft (The Waiting Game Part 1 – in progress, and whoa is it going to be a doozy!).

The edits on TWG are going to be rough. Last year I had a couple beta readers look it over, because I had specific concerns, and they both came back with feedback that things were fine, but I recently heard back from another reader that the problems I was worried about were a huge issue for them, so…lots to fix. That’s okay, though, because I enjoy working with the characters, and I want to make sure they’re coming across to readers the way I imagine them. Apparently they are not.

I got another request for full for Cycling (which I guess I call Trying Times now? It’s a better title, honestly), so the manuscript is with two agents at the moment (yikes!). I’m trying to be both hopeful and not expectant. We’ll see what happens.

I’m not reading as much as I’d hoped this year. I’ve been taking on a lot – I joined a critique group, so I have to make time to read those pieces, and I’ve agreed to beta read a few things, another huge time commitment. I have a couple of vacations coming up in October and November, and I may find time then to read a bit more. We’ll see.

All in all, I’m making progress, getting words on paper (and then later better words on paper!). Hopefully the trend continues.

First ever writing competition

It had never occurred to me in the past to enter a writing competition, but a gal from my NYC writers’ group got her agent through a competition, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

Results came out this week, and while I’m not a finalist, I’m pleased with my scores. Out of a possible 135 points, I got 116, with several 5s (the best grade). One of the judges even said that she’d buy my book! I’m feeling quite encouraged (and being extra cautious about my use of the word “so” because…it was bad, y’all).

I’m glad I entered, because I needed that boost. Hopefully next year, I’ll move up to finalist!


I finished the first draft of Part Two! Hooray! Now to finish Part Four (it’s probably about halfway there, or at least it’s about 35K words, which tends to be around half a first draft for me these days).

I joined up an online critique group to get some feedback on Part One as I get ready to start the second draft. I’ve gotten some helpful notes, so it’s going alright. One thing I probably need to do for the second draft is cut a lot of words (it’s just under 100K right now, which…is too much), and the ladies in my group have, without knowing it, shown me some great spots to cut to make the story better.

So progress continues!

New beginnings

I’m going to start writing something new soon, once I wrap up The Waiting Game (parts 2 & 4 are on-going and about halfway done). It’s been a long time since I’ve written something new, with new characters and a new place and all that. I’m excited to start, but it’s going to be unpleasant (haha, of course it is). I have one scene kicking around in my brain, and it’s making me uncomfortable having it in there. Hopefully I’ll find time to write it down soon.

I’ve also joined a critique group! I’m looking forward to the feedback and getting to spend time with other people’s writing again. Hopefully this will be a good group, and we’ll all make each other’s work better.

This is the busiest time of year for me personally, with birthdays and holidays and such, but I’m still sticking to writing every day, even if usually I’m not writing as much as I’d like. And I finished Theft by Finding and I’ve started Bird Box (the movie version filmed on my sister’s land, so I’ve been looking forward to reading the book, since I’ll have to see the movie). I’m tearing through it, so maybe I’ll be able to fit another book in this month as well to keep on pace for 12 books this year.

Over all, I’m reminding myself that my goal this year is progress, not perfection, and I’m making progress every day!

February Progress Report

So, February FLEW.

Part of the problem is that of course February is short. And then…

I live in West Virginia, and our teachers have been on strike for over a week. And more power to them, I support them 100% for many reasons, the least of which is that I am also employee of the state of West Virginia. If they force the government to give them raises, I get a raise. If they fix the insurance plan, I get a better insurance plan.

But I also have to supervise my six-year-old all day, which makes getting other things done a bit tricky.

So I haven’t finished my reading for February. No big deal, I’ll finish it in March.

But I have written every day! I wrote over 20K words this month, mostly in The Waiting Game Part 2. Yesterday my son was with me while I was writing, and he kept asking if I was okay, so I guess I get agitated when I write the emotional stuff. Not surprising.

I didn’t make a major purchase for the house, but I did make a major purchase for myself. I’ve been wanting to tattoo the opening of The Odyssey on my arm for years and I finally did it. It’s still healing up, but I love it forever (I had better, I suppose).

On to March! I’m excited to keep tackling life.


I received the best, kindest, most amazing rejection this week.

“Thank you for your query. I think there’s a place for this, but it hits a little too close to home for me.”

I cannot stop rereading this. It is, of course, kind of the point of Cycling – it’s supposed to hit close to home. And I 100% get this feeling – in the time since I wrote it, I’ve gone through some of the things the characters go through, and it has made it rough to go back to this piece.

And I need to hear that there’s a place for this book. I need to know that other people, people who know about these things, also see something here. It’s lifted me up a bit in the midst of continuing to wait for some good news.