Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Not Yet Deterred

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

I might have mentioned a time or two … or three or four that I’ve completed my third mystery novel and have been querying agents for the past several months. Granted, I haven’t been at it as long as some writers, but even in this short span of time the process has been a draining experience. I read somewhere that I shouldn’t give up though until I receive at least 100 rejection so I quickly found forty more agents to query in order to meet the inevitable quota.

I honestly can’t blame them for being picky though. To reject or accept a manuscript these days is purely a business decision. Let’s face it, the outcome of a poor decision puts the agent’s/agency’s reputation on the line and who can afford to make a bad choice these days and expect to survive? All of that aside, my hopes hadn’t faded. I’d been rejected, not deterred and thus I began an unstoppable quest to write the perfect query if there is such a thing.

After a while, I had no idea how many versions I’d written. My wonderful spreadsheet had more red lines than the pages of Rand McNally. The agents’ names began to blur and the motto around our house quickly became, “A day without mail is a day without rejection.”

Eventually the pain vanished into a desensitized attitude toward the gee-interesting-but-not-for-me-and-good-luck-to-you responses. Most were standard form letters that were neither written by the agent nor addressed to me.

There was, however, one letter that I’d been waiting to receive. It was the first query I mailed and after waiting longer than the usual 4-6 weeks, I knew in my heart that it would be another rejection, but this is an agent I respect and hoped it wouldn’t be a case of a no response.

That letter arrived a few days ago. Damn, I hate to be right. Another rejection. Surprisingly though, when I read it, I felt a flicker of hope begin to stir. This agent indicated that the story had a fair bit of tension to carry the plot. Do you have any idea what it means for an agent to take the time to write that? He rejected my query on the basis that he couldn't get a good sense of my character then briefly offered his thoughts. Again, wow! I read his letter several more times and knew I needed to act. I couldn't think of a better way to figure out the characterization thing, than to I looked up information on one of my favorite authors, Robert B. Parker. I found an article that discussed Parker’s characterization of Spenser of the Spenser for Hire series, and decided to compare it to my characterization of Rhonie Lude to determine what might be missing from the first five pages of my manuscript. Here goes:

Spenser’s characterization:

• Ex-boxer
• Ex-state policeman
• Gourmet cook
• Reader of serious literature
• His social character separates him from the lonely gunfighter
• Hawk is his asocial, violent tendencies
• Susan represents his rational and social side
• Each story has a moral or ethical dilemma—gives light to Spenser’s personal code of behavior.
• Raised a Catholic/lost his faith.
• Tensions inside the family are among main theme in the stories/often behind Spencer’s cases is parental failures at love.

Lude’s characterization:

• Ex-Chicago cop.
• Can’t cook to save her life.
• Hobby? Hmmm. None yet but …
• She is the lonely gunfighter. Lude is a woman PI in 1962—her counterparts don’t take her seriously until she proves them wrong.
• Her elderly friend Evy is her conscience.
• She's still secretly waiting for the love that got away.
• One character in the book represents everything corrupt Lude has fought against in law enforcement.
• Moral/ethical dilemma: Lude has a tongue as sharp as her sense of justice. Regardless of who is exposed, ethically there’s no questions Lude must work against corrupt individuals who are responsible for a cover up that led to a triple murder.
• Theme: Uncover the truth behind the lies. Cope with the reality behind the lies.

If I were to put my mind to it, this list would be much longer, but the value in this exercise was to see if all was lost--it isn't. I'm grateful for this recent letter because it got me out of a terrible what's-the-point frame of mind and rekindled the drive that keeps me going.

Incredible isn’t it how a few positive words can mean the difference between the unquenchable will to write and the hopeless desire to quit?

About the author:

Marta Stephens writes mystery/suspense and the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).

Her books are available in paperback, Kendle, and e-book format online at Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, Smashword, and Powells. For more information about Stephens and her writing, visit


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Don't give up, Marta. I had so many rejections before I ever got published and many after too.


Marta Stephens said...

Thanks so much, Marilyn. I won't! :)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta, I love your analysis of Rhonie. I don't remember if she has a favorite type of music or author or movie... but that could be a nice little colorization you could add to her in the next go 'round.

You know my Gus LeGarde loves Chopin and classical music. He cooks those huge comfort food feasts for his family, which helps comfort him when he's mourning the death of Elsbeth when the series opens.

Sam Moore loves Ella Fitzgerald, his gardens, Amaretto, and his grandkids. I try to incorporate the music and kid scenes to round out the characters, as well.

I'd like to see what Rhonie does when she's not being a cop! (Besides talking to Pops, who I love, and eating his yummy greasy hamburgers!)

Just a few thoughts to toss around when you're in your next series of edits. ;o)

Kim Smith said...

That is food for thought, Aaron! Marta, I know you will do a great job with this. You haven't disappointed a fan yet!

Marta Stephens said...

Well dears (Aaron & Kim), :() Ya know she loves her Rock 'n Roll. Remember? That's one way I grounded the novel in the 1960s, the music she listened to.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Ha. Told you I'm getting old. Of course she loves her rock music! Now I remember it blasting from her car radio! LOL.