Today, I have a special guest. One-half of the husband/wife writing team of Rosemary and Larry Mild has offered to write a little something for you all to enjoy:
Rosemary and Larry Mild coauthor the Paco & Molly Mysteries: Boston Scream Pie (new!), Locks and Cream Cheese and Hot Grudge Sunday. They teach mystery writing at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland. They’re members of Mystery Writers of America and both the Chesapeake and Hawaii chapters of Sisters in Crime. Visit them at www.magicile.com. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Larry Mild
One gloomy afternoon I was feeling low, way down after a few too many rejection slips. So I picked myself up by writing the following tongue-in-cheek piece. I took the point of view of a manuscript so as not to jeopardize my future chances as an illustrious author.
Hello! I am Manuscript, a neglected one at that, and whether you know it or not, stories like mine have feelings, meaning, and purpose. My creative parents have endowed me with certain of their finest attributes, and I have an obligation to convey these to my readers. Despite my eagerness to please and inform, I am also bound to endure a long and arduous journey.
One doesn’t easily forget the anxiety of being suppressed in the dark recesses of a mind—mulling, gestating, and waiting for a life on paper, or at least a trial at lip service. During my struggle to exist, I’m called many things; finally, I’m baptized with a working title. My initial exposure to the monitor is terrifying. I’m in my first draft and shaking. My prenatal experience is filled with disruptive punctuation, spelling, re-phrasing, and annoying forethoughts and flashbacks. Then, emotionally torn from my birth printer, I arrive in complete innocence—all eight-and-a-half by eleven inches and twenty-pound bond of me. If I am not perfect, how can this be my fault? I had nothing to do with my origins. In fact, I appeared on the purest of blank pages made from humble rag and mere pulp.
I crave my parents’ affection. Do they think me precious and commendable? If I’m rejected, what will become of me? I could be thrown in drawers to jaundice away, shelved to gather layers of dust, locked up in loose-leaf binders to serve some guiltless sentence, crunched and mutilated beyond repair in deep round baskets, and utterly abandoned for eternities.
I survive, but there are worse travails ahead for the likes of me. My pages are deemed worthy to travel to one or more meccas of literary processing gurus—there to be judged, not only for gems of wordsmanship, style, content, or cohesiveness; but mostly for the possible wealth and privilege I can generate in the publishing field. My touted attributes and my parents’ pedigrees are included in many initial query letters to addresses obtained on websites that vociferously solicit submissions of my particular phylum, family, and genre. I try to contain my emotions when I see these letters eliciting only a modest number of form letter responses—a few with invitations to submit in the future and a considerably larger number to effectively take a literary hike. I’m further insulted when the message is “My stable is full,” or “We’re not taking any new clients until the next millennium,” or “We are no longer accepting submissions of that genre.” The negative responses make me wonder why they are still soliciting on their websites. Yet the affirmative few turn a bright new page in my life.
What happens next? I’m forced to lose weight, shed numerous words, and even endure a physical makeover. My margins need to be girdled to accommodate some ideal figure. My header is messed with and my footer is stepped on or truncated. My pagination requires a new location. And all of these hoop jumps are the result of fickle cosmetic forces called submission guidelines that are specified on very differing guru websites. These same guidelines warn against simultaneously submitting my cloned siblings elsewhere, even though the decision on my submission may take up to a year. Good grief! At that rate, we’ll all be in the Great Filing Cabinet in the Sky before very many gurus can be queried. Only a writer who believes in the tooth fairy complies with that one.
With mixed feelings, my cloned siblings and I finally leave home for the first time, but not alone. Accompanied by an SASE, a cover letter, and an acknowledgment-of-receipt postcard, I am slipped into a manila envelope, sealed into darkness, and stamped abruptly on one shoulder before being dropped altogether in some postal receptacle. Getting there is grueling—thin air, rough handling, more stamping, and finally, I’m deposited in someone’s In basket. My package is opened, and my cover letter perused by one or more recent English majors of school-teacher proportions, who make the first level decision—either I’m someone they’d love to read or not. The nots are redirected toward the dreaded “slush pile,” unopened, but not quite refused—yet. There’s the slim chance that I’ll see sunlight again if another first-level decider wants a look before automatic rejection time. The pile containing my cohorts and me is picked over periodically, and if I haven’t been orphaned from my SASE, I am returned home to Momma with a rejection slip. Otherwise, I am listed as dead and sent to the Potter’s Field of manuscripts. All the while, my parents eagerly await word of their beloved offspring. The non-replies hurt most.
But wait! A publishing house pronounces my plot fit, of sound meaning, and full of promising dollar signs. Apparently, I also have enough luck and talent to get past first readers, editors, marketing sages, and executive councils. And so my creative parents are offered a publishing house contract. I’m so excited I can feel the words pumping through my sentences. Wow, a lowly member of the Manuscript family like me being promoted to Book! And with covers, too!
When the initial excitement wears down, I find that I have been sold on the block like some slave with neither basic nor extended rights. I learn that I’ll be indentured that way for years to come. I’m to serve in darkness, not knowing my actual publication date, nor any other milestone in my development. I have no approval in how my appearance will be altered. Suddenly, e-mails and phone calls go unanswered. Have I been forgotten? Or worse, lost? What has become of me?
One day, my text, clothed in a fixed format, arrives for proofreading. My parents examine me line-by-line and my faults are duly noted and transmitted back in record time. Weeks pass, and an out-of-nowhere cover design turns up. Not exactly what I had in mind, but I can live with it. Hey, I’ve got an ISBN number and a price tag now. And my parents’ names, they’re in large print. That’s got to mean something. Still no publication date yet.
That is, until a package finally finds its way to the front door. Undressing me from my plain brown wrappings, my parents find a revelation within. I have my arty covers and hundreds of printed pages. I am dedicated and acknowledged as well. I am truly Book.