According to the internet (and really, if we can’t trust the interwebs, who can we trust!?), Chinese philospher Lao-tzu wrote, “A journey of a thousand leagues begins beneath one’s feet.” The common paraphrase for that, of course, is, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.”
A journey of my own, one I’d been simultaneously preparing for and putting off my entire life, started more than three years ago with the single, not-terribly-kind sentence, “I have come to the conclusion that I am not a very good writer.”
With that sentence, I set about proving to myself that either I could be a writer or, well, just couldn’t. One way or another, though, I was bound and determined to find out.
In the course of the year that followed, I did, much to my delight, in fact, demonstrate to myself that I could write regularly if I put my mind to it. Even more importantly, what I wrote entertained my wife—sometimes to the point of laughing through tears—and that meant everything to me. Better still, not only did I write blog posts for Puddintopia that served as much-needed exercise for my atrophied writing muscles, but I also ended up with a complete novel, too. Oh, sure, I always hoped I’d end up with a novel, at some point, but I had no idea if it might take me half a decade to get there.
Turns out it didn’t.
And then, because writing Famine was more fun—and more rewarding—than I’d possibly imagined, last November, I wrote a second novel while taking a shot at NaNoWriMo. Longshots was intended for my kids (who, through a cruel twist of fate, won’t get a chance to read it until this summer because of school work, but that’s how it goes sometimes), and it was just as much fun to write, if not more.
Then came the holidays. And after them, revisions, because when you sling 50+ thousand words into a word processor in 30 days—four of which are a major holiday—the result isn’t quite as, um, poshly upper class as you’d hope.
In other words, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen chimpanzees fling, um, stuff, that was more immediately appealing than the zero draft (aka, word vomit) of Longshots.
Fast forward then, to the middle of March, when I still toiled in the dark, stinking trenches of Revision Land. That’s when I learned that Blogger and Author Extraordinaire, Brenda Drake, was hosting a pitch contest on her blog, Pitch Madness.
Was Longshots ready for that sort of thing? Well, not to put to fine a point on it, NO, in all caps. Or, as my mom would say when I was a kid and she wanted to accentuate a point, “No. Period. Paragraph.” At the time, I’d yet to have the Puddinette proof it—believe me, you don’t want to see my work before she does the proofing. I’m not sure the language can be considered English at that stage—and I’d yet to even pretend to think about writing the query.
But the window for Pitch Madness submissions was set to close something like twelve hours after I learned about it.
Pop quiz, hotshot: Do you throw together a pitch for your not-strictly ready for prime time novel on the chance it might garner some attention, even though it means busting your hump to tie up the not-inconsiderable number of loose ends flapping around out there? Or do you do the sensible, patient thing, and polish it to a gleaming shine and wait for the next round of opportunity?
Well, patience and I have never exactly been close friends.
There’s a old saying that goes something like, “Fortune favors the bold.” Personally, I prefer the version James T. Kirk spoke prior to travelling back in time in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, “May fortune favor the foolish.”
It may have been bold. It may have been foolish. It was probably some of both, but, as you know, I entered the contest anyway.
And it worked.
My Pitch Madness pitch made it into the finals, and yes, even earned a request.
But, even then, I wasn’t done being foolish yet.
After Pitch Madness was over, the kind folks who hosted it also organized a 10 hour-long pitch session on twitter. The basic idea being that you whittle your 35-word pitch down to 133 characters, tack on the hash tag #PitMad, and then irritate your followers ceaselessly by retweeting it every so often between 8 AM-6 PM. If you’re really lucky, an agent is out there somewhere trolling the hashtag feed and likes your micro pitch.
I don’t mind telling you that hacking a 35-word pitch down to 133 characters is about as easy as pulling out all your teeth and then trying to gum a piece of overcooked sirloin. In fact, my first attempt was so bad, I’m not even sure I wanted to read the book it described. (PS, I wrote the book!) So I waited a few hours and took a second stab at it. That “stab” looked like this:
#PitMad MG SciFi Two bickering brothers and the Governor’s daughter have to stop an intergalactic war in a beat-up, “borrowed” salvage ship.
— Jason A. Rust (@jasonarust) March 29, 2013
Apparently, that one was a good deal better than the first, because those 140 characters earned a request for a query (which, luckily, I’d finally gotten around to writing). Yes, a request from an actual agent.
Who, I’m delighted to say, is, as of Sunday night when I returned the signed client agreement, now officially my agent.
*shoots confetti cannon*
Let that sink in for a second while I compose myself. I’m ahhhhl verklempt.
(Look! Look! I just wrote “My Agent”, and it was totally not the kind of make-believe fantasy that leads to practicing writing married names on the inside flap of notebooks in early high school.)
So, long story, well, long, I’m a proud to announce that I am officially represented by not one, but two awesome agents, Danielle Smith and Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary. Danielle will be handing middle grade fiction like Longshots for me, and Pam will work her magic on my adult novels like Famine. And yes, I have plenty of ideas for new stories in both age groups.
Which is very exciting, even though they’ve already threatened to keep me very busy writing in the foreseeable future.
I’m so squeefully giddy—which, for the record, is not something one can accomplish with anything even remotely resembling dignity, but I don’t care—about both the news in general and the prospects for all these stories, both written and still floating about in my imagination, that I was literally bouncing over it.
Come to think of it, it’s a wonder I didn’t spontaneously combust. Somehow, though, I’m still here, not reduced to a sad pile of fluffy ash. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
What does this all mean at the moment? Mostly just that I have a lot of work to do. It does not mean that publication is imminent or anything, but this surely makes that possibility more likely. This is one very important step along a quite lengthy path.
It’s a huge milestone for sure, but we’re not nearly at our final destination yet.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I took that one. And then another. And another. And over the past three years, with your help, all those steps led me here, to this fantastic juncture. And now, with Danielle and Pam and everyone else who’s been helping me put one foot in front of the other, it’s time to take yet another and see where it leads.
Thank you all so very much, and I dearly hope you’ll all keep taking them with me.