Thursday, July 28, 2005

Online Grief Group and Memorials

I recently read an interview with author John Irving where he said that all of his books feature death in some way, a phenomena he attributed to the ecstasy of becoming a parent and the fear of losing that beloved child. When I read that passage, something inside me clicked. I’ve been a parent for 18 years now and looking back, I can see the same phenomena in my writing. “Death is a Bitch,” a submission to an online writing group short story competition, was an attempt to connect to my father in his loss two years ago of my mother. Unfortunately, I buried the heart of the story between a glib opening and closing.

The theme for that short story competition was to create a story around people from an internet group meeting for the first time at a conference. I chose a grief support group as the setting for “Death is a Bitch,” knowing there must certainly be an online support group for mourning, but not having participated in one. Today, while researching topics for another project, lo and behold, I discovered GriefNet. GriefNet offers space for people to write memorials for their loved ones at GriefNet Memorials. Many of these memorials are therapeutic expressions of people’s anguish in loss, but several of them provide insightful glimpses into human mortality. While I can’t say it’s inspiring, it sure does give you a peek behind the curtain of death.

Care to comment about dying, death, or grief? Click COMMENTS below and share your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

An Agent's Debut Sale

Publishing sages commonly advise unpublished authors to choose their literary agents with the same care they would in picking a mate. One of the most common bits of advice is "examine their sales record," implying that a good agent makes frequent sales. (In terms of choosing a mate, would the advice be "examine their annual salary"?) This is wise advice in most cases. But I didn't follow it. I signed with my agent when she didn't have a single sale. Nephele Tempest, an associate agent with The Knight Agency, had fielded my manuscript, THE NEXUS, after I'd made the initial query. She wrote me encouraging notes during the process from evaluation to offer. I could tell that this woman understood my book. And I could tell she was a go-getter.

When Nephele opened up the West Coast office of The Knight Agency last January she offered me representation. I was her first client. I'd like to say I was her first sale also, but that honor went this week to Nalini Singh for her novel SLAVE TO SENSATION. Nephele is on the way to being one of those agents that publishing sages prefer to refer: An agent with frequent sales. I hope THE NEXUS is next.

Applause for Nephele's first sale would be incomplete without congratulations to Nalini, whose novel sold at auction and garnered her a two-book deal. SLAVE TO SENSATION is about a young woman born to a race without emotions and her encounter with a group of sensual changelings. Cindy Hwang at Berkley won the auction. Nalini is author of four novels published by Silhouette.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Dear Zoe: A Novel by Philip Beard

Several thousand people died on September 11, 2001. The date alone grabs one’s attention and screams REMEMBER THIS DAY. We see the burning tower and the second airliner crashing into the tower’s twin. News reports of the Pentagon and Pennsylvania tragedies spread new shockwaves, while images of the towers collapsing upon the thousands of souls inside sear our sorrow. Philip Beard frames his poignant YA novel Dear Zoe around that day. But not as one would expect.

It was an ordinary day for 15-year-old Tess DeNunzio—ordinary in as much as she’d missed the bus to school yet again and was biding time until her mother would drive her to school. The day became extraordinary when news of the Twin Towers exploded in her life. Of the thousands of people who died that day one of them would impact Tess and her family with the same gripping grief, but played out in a Pittsburgh emergency room.

In the confusion of those moments, when the eyes of the world were on the Twin Towers, Tess’s three-year-old sister Zoe was hit by a car. That Zoe died that infamous day haunts Tess as much as losing her all together. It drives Tess through an adolescence already complicated by enigmatic feelings for her successful stepfather; her doting, but low-life father; her mother’s descent into depression; blended-family issues informed by these dynamics, and finally her emerging sexuality.

While the world still shivers from the terror of 9/11, Tess stretches to understand and eventually seek her own redemption by writing letters to Zoe. In these letters we glimpse the intimate details of Tess’s life, from her obsessive make-up ritual in the mornings, to her lack-luster performance at school, to her first boyfriend and where that predictably goes. Tess’s letters to Zoe dig at the scab covering Zoe’s death, picking and peeling until Tess confronts the awful truth about Zoe’s death.

As important as the story of Dear Zoe is the story behind its publishing. Dear Zoe was Philip Beard’s second novel. Despite the championing of a good literary agent, his first novel was turned down by twenty-seven publishing houses. Dear Zoe, which Philip wrote in part to reach out to his own stepdaughter, had great personal as well as professional significance to him. After the first several rejections of Dear Zoe rolled in with suggestions that the epistolary style be changed to a traditional POV, he caved and revised to first person. The next round of twenty-eight rejections on the revised-to-first-person version crashed his faith in commercial publishing.

Determined to see Dear Zoe in print, Beard established his own publishing house with the intention of self-publishing. During the months of preparation to self-publishing, Beard had given permission for a Penguin sales rep he’d met through a mutual acquaintance to submit the original epistolary version on his behalf. Only days away from writing the check for his first print run, the president of Viking Penguin called Beard with an offer to publish Dear Zoe in Philip’s original epistolary form.

Beard’s ambitions for Dear Zoe were eventually met through traditional publishing. But had the circumstances found the novel released under Beard’s publishing imprint, it wouldn’t have changed the significance of its impact. Growing up is hard. Add some grief and wrap it in guilt for an even harder journey. Dear Zoe could have been just another coming of age novel filled with adolescent angst. Thankfully, it’s not. Beard’s astonishing ability to write in the voice of a teenage girl and his insightful commentary on the age has created a compelling elegy for the post-9/11 generation.

This review of Dear Zoe was commissioned by NimbleSpirit, the Spiritual Literary Review. Read more about Philip Beard and his publishing triumphs.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Birthday America!

Disneyland always puts on a great Independence Day fireworks show. Photo copyright 2005 by Carolyn Burns Bass