I have spent the last month on the emotional tilt-a-whirl of querying literary agents.  I would say rollercoaster, but that’s way too linear.  The tilt-a-whirl, with its undulating vortex of disorientation is a much better analogy.

It’s a process, I suppose I could say that it’s flawed, but I don’t have a suggestion as to how to improve it.  It’s all about who you know, just like in music, and since that’s a world I’m highly acquainted with, I understand why things are the way they are.

As a novelist, you’re expected to write a query letter, which will sell your story to an agent, make them want to read it, and hopefully represent you.  Those three paragraphs end up being the measure of your work, just like the first 15 seconds of an unsigned band’s demo.  I wish I could take back every snide comment I ever made about unsigned bands.  I’m sure this is all coming back to me somehow…

I’m supposed to get a bunch of rejections.  Rejections are good.  It’s one step closer to finding the right fit, a move toward the ultimate reward, which I guess is supposed to be publication.  I still feel like writing the book was the ultimate reward—all of this other stuff is what you do when you’re a grown-up and you’ve put so much hard work into something.  I’ve already started writing the new ultimate reward, as a means of keeping my head together during the query process.  I’m happy to say that’s it’s mostly working.

I’m thinking that I will design some sort of rejection badge, first for myself, and then for my fellow writers who are going through the same process.  We can all get a sash (brown, of course) and I will sew the rejection badge on everyone’s sash (because I am good at sewing) and we can wear them in public, as a sign of being a real writer.  Real writers get rejected.  Here’s to being a real writer…

Hubby Steve and I went to see the Black Crowes last week—Steve and the band have been tight since the late 80s and I came into the fold a few years later.  We all stood around backstage, looking at each other, and somebody said, “How in the hell did this happen?”  We’re all forty.  Or older.  I don’t feel forty.  I don’t even think I feel thirty.  People my age don’t drive around in their car listening to Superchunk, singing at the top of their lungs.  But wait…those guys are getting old too (notice I used the word getting…I don’t want to bruise any feelings, especially not Jim’s…and have you heard the new record?  It’s awesome!).  I guess music keeps us young, because my mom friends and I were shocked when we figured out how old Rick Springfield is.  Sorry, Rick—you still look great, babe.

I’ve been trying to decide when a person becomes old.  We don’t want to describe ourselves as being old, although sometimes it’s fun, just to have someone say, “Oh, no.  You’re not old.”  Forty was the new thirty a few years ago.  Now fifty is the new thirty.  How about if we just come up with a new system?  Like, you’re old when you can’t wear a tube top anymore.  Oh, wait, that ship sailed a while ago.

Rob Sheffield is probably a genius.  That’s no reflection on him that he’s only probably one, it’s just that I’m not qualified to say who is and who isn’t.  What I can say, with certainty, is the reason why I think he’s probably a genius.

I loved his latest book, “Talking to Girls About Duran Duran”, because Rob manages to conjure the exact way it felt to be a teenager in the 80s.  Some might think that would only take a mention of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and a Rubik’s Cube, but that’s not it at all.  Rob was a guy growing up on the east coast and I was a girl growing up in the Midwest, and yet he perfectly captures the essence of adolescent experiences during the age of day-glo and rubber bracelets.

When he talks about wishing he could have been the one male member of the Go Go’s, I totally related.  Of course, there could be a male member of the Go Go’s and of course, Jane Wiedlin would fall in love with him.  I used to wish that I would be called up on stage to replace a suddenly ill Belinda Carlisle so that I could be the lead singer.  A boy once told me at a Suburbs show (Mpls band, for those of you who don’t know) that I looked like Belinda Carlisle.  I was sure that meant he was in love with me.  I’ve since wondered if that was 80s boy code for “you’re a tad pudgy”.

I annoyed everyone in the house when I read Sheffield’s description of Journey’s “Separate Ways” video—I was laughing too hard to even explain it.  The chapter about being the ice cream man is wonderful and I couldn’t help but be touched by the chapter about The Replacements.  There are also some tender moments—enough to make you cry, especially the parts about his grandfather.

Highly recommended—won’t make you cringe over all of the stupid things we did or the clothes we wore.  Quite to the contrary, it will make you realize that you were lucky if you grew up in the 80s.

Having no idea what I was getting myself into, I decided to write a novel late last year.  I began putting words on the screen in November.  They weren’t very good words at first.  That was Lesson #1.

People ask what my book is about and I’m supposed to get good at explaining it quickly and succinctly, so people don’t start dreaming up ways to get away from me.  My book is about Claire, a 39 year-old single mom.  She’s a music writer and she lives in Chapel Hill because that’s where I live.  I don’t like the idea of writing about places you haven’t been.  When Claire was a teenager, she was obsessed with a British band called Banks Forest and their young buck of a guitar player, Christopher Penman.  She did all of the normal stuff teenage girls do when they’re pining for a pop star—stare at posters of him on the wall, listen to his music endlessly, imagine what it would be like to be his girlfriend.  More than twenty years later, Chris is a bit of a media disaster and tabloid regular with a solo career that could use some serious help.  Claire gets an assignment to interview him, with direct orders to drag his closely held secrets out of him.  After that, well, I can’t tell you that—read the book!

I actually started writing Bring Me Back for the first time three years ago although the idea for Chris and Claire came years before that.  I didn’t get very far with writing it the first time.  The title comes from the Plimsouls song “A Million Miles Away”, which I thought was appropriate given that Banks Forest was huge in the 80s.

In June of 2008, we lost our house to a fire.  People talk about their lives being turned upside down—we felt like ours was turned inside out.  Once things were back to the new normal, with a new house, stuff to put in it, and kids happy, I made the decision to do something for myself.  I started the book a few days later.  I stopped sleeping much and although it sounds so incredibly clichéd, the story spilled out of me.  I’m not going to say it was easy because I don’t think my brain has worked so hard in my entire life.

I’ve only let a small circle of people in on this life event, and those people have all been burdened, I mean blessed, with the task of reading and giving feedback.  Now that it’s finished and I’m looking for an agent, I thought it was time to tell the rest of the world.

There are only a few more days until summer vacation is over for my kids and they head back to school.  Emily is getting ready to start middle school, so she’s excited about new clothes, getting a locker, and a new crop of boys to chase.  Ryan will be in the 4th grade and his excitement level is considerably lower than his sister’s.

When the concept of summer vacation was first introduced in the US, it was so that kids could work on the farm all summer.  Certainly, those kids did not feel like they were on vacation.  These days, almost nobody’s kids work on a farm and most of them spend three months allowing their brains to turn to mush.  I try to prevent the inevitable slide, I buy things like workbooks before the end of the school year and we plan to go to the library twice a week but then other stuff happens–we opt for the pool or the mall, they want to have friends over, I crave the solitude of grocery shopping by myself.

I enjoy the lack of structure we have in the summer and any day I don’t have to pack a lunch is a good day.  Still, that lack of structure almost always leads to boredom.  My kids have to pay me a dollar every time they say “I’m bored”, but they worked around it by coming up with code words for boredom.  We all know that boredom leads to siblings trying to kill each other.  It’s survival of the fittest.  The biggest kid with the best right hook gets to use the computer.  I tell myself the kids don’t really want to kill each other, they’re just bored, but I do worry about it every time that blood is shed.

I often come up with a list of activities at the beginning of summer vacation.  We plan to visit museums, make cookies for the elderly, or all learn to read braille.  By the end of the summer, we have visited one museum and the kids complained about it because I picked the one they’ve been to 100 times.  We have made cookies but we didn’t share them with anyone and honestly, I don’t have the patience to learn braille.

So, my kids are heading back to school with mushy brains but we still had fun.  We traveled to see a few of the grandparents, we went to the Asian grocery store for Pocky (that counts as culture, right?) and everybody stayed up way past their bedtime.