Saturday, February 14, 2015

Query Question: what if my subject is "unpublishable"

I just received your rejection letter from you which is no surprise after receiving 56 other rejection emails. By this point I don't feel anything and I guess that is okay. But it makes me question something that has been in my head ever since I finished the novel. What if the writing is good but the subject is unpublishable?
My novel deals with the mass shooting in a community college, and while I've seen other novels deal with the issue I would guess that the subject itself is controversial. While googling the subject I just discovered the story about a Stephen King novel that I didn't even knew existed: Rage.
Originally published under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman, the book has been linked to several shootings and even the author wanted it out of print which is something that I didn't know when I started writing the novel. So my question is: Are there subjects like these that act like a drawing of Mohammed for publishers? Is there a list out there?(1)  Or it really just depends on the literary agent?(2)
I was thinking in putting my query to the query shark to refine but I guess no matter how much I refine a query, they would probably end up rejecting it.(3)   

If the only book you can find about school shootings is Rage by Richard Bachman, you haven't done the most rudimentary of research. I can think of several books on this topic off the top of my head, no Googlemonster required, one of which won the Booker Prize in 2003. And if you do google the topic, you'll find lots of them.

So, it's not the topic. There are lots of books out there about this.  It's the treatment of the topic or more likely, the writing.

And no, agents don't keep a list of things that are unpublishable (2).

And yes, agents have particular likes and dislikes (3)

And if you assume rejection (4) you should stop writing now. Rejection should motivate you to work harder, not quit.



Kitty said...

My novel deals with the mass shooting in a community college, and while I've seen other novels deal with the issue I would guess that the subject itself is controversial.

Just my personal opinion, for what it's worth... Your writing could be exceptional, but the subject matter is nothing I want to read, even if it's fiction. And it's not that it's controversial, it's because it's depressing. As a reader, there are certain subjects I will not touch, and mass shootings is one of them.

SiSi said...

Some TV shows boast "ripped from the headlines" storylines. Some of these shows are very popular. Some are even well-done. TV shows that are ripped from the headlines can often be written and produced fairly quickly, within a year of the real life incident.

Novels are a much slower process, so fiction about a headline event probably won't be read until at least a couple of years later. I would imagine this means agents and publishers want to make sure the story hits some deeper theme or a clever plot twist, something that is more than a retelling of the original event.

As Janet says, there are lots of books about this topic. Maybe you can focus on making sure yours stands out from the crowd (or make sure your query shows how it will stand out from the crowd) so agents won't see it as "ripped from the headlines."

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I reiterate what Kitty said.
As a few here know, I am a parent of an adult child who lost one of her best friends at Newtown. I cannot begin to describe the horror and lasting pain of that horrible day.

Since Charles Whitman climbed to the top of a tower on a Texas campus in 1966 we have as a nation, and a world, had to deal with the reality of the unthinkable far too many times. For someone to fulfil their writing aspirations per that kind of subject matter is abhorrent to me, unless, and this is a very tentative “unless”, some solutions and good come from the story.
For someone, on the periphery of grief to fictionalize that kind thing kind of turns my stomach.

You may be an excellent writer but please ask yourself this question, is your subject matter to inform or entertain. As citizens we certainly are informed about mass shooting, entertained by them, dear God I hope not.

Sam Mills said...

I definitely agree that how you treat the subject is PARAMOUNT. My high school was one of the early ones on the list, so I cannot read/watch anything related, but I do understand why it might fascinate others. The media was so intent on finding a reason to empathize with the shooter ("he was young and felt like an outcast!"), which was just so sooo offensive to the rest of us who were the same age and knew right from wrong. (Apologies if you also experienced this and don't need it repeated!)

So, personally I think that portraying shooters as sympathetic is what lands you in "Rage"-like hot water. Decide what you want your novel to convey, and consider the audience that would find that message attractive. If you believe in your project, don't let a few rejections wear you down.

(This is supposed to be about query approach and not subject matter in particular, so I'll lay off now! Best of luck)

MB Owen said...

Mass Rejection is tough. I like to think of writers who've endured mass rejections but punched through. I also like the advice to work harder. Analyze your writing + be tough on that, not the process. In the meanwhile, start on your next project. Try not to let bitterness find their way onto the page. Read books that are written well. And write. Writers write.

Sam Mills said...

Carolynnwith2Ns - your comment popped up while I was still hemming and hawing over the comment screen deciding whether to talk about this. My sympathies to you and your child.

Anonymous said...

As Janet said, there are several books about this subject. It's not the subject, though there are probably agents who won't read that subject. The Sharque says she doesn't want more horror even though she reps one of the best horror authors out there. I don't blame her.

Someone has a book about a lot of sexual abuse for a good cause. I guess it's like Jerry Lewis Telethon with whips and chains. "Would you like to beta read for me?"

"Umm, no, thanks, but good luck."

Yes, I know 50 Shades of Yuck is doing great, but it's not for me.

She's upset because she keeps getting rejected. I suspect it's a combination of subject and treatment, but who knows?

I'm considering wallpapering my office, when I get one, with rejection slips in various shades of gray and calling my room 50 shades of nay.

Which reminds me of an interview I was doing with a horse trainer once. Now, you have to envision this 50-year-old, soft-spoken Texas trainer who just never utter a curse word, is the epitome of the southern gentleman and well known for his kindness and love of horses.

John's been taking a lot of flak from some people because he has a little nothing horse who is tearing up the track and beating high dollar horses right and left. Lots of people are convinced he's running her dirty somehow because it's just not possible this $500 horse from a nothing stallion can be beating their million-dollar horses.

It's getting pretty ugly.

So, I ask John how he's doing and he replies, "Oh, you know. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me."

LynnRodz said...

It seems the real question and answer are here. The questioner asked, "What if the writing is good but the subject is unpublishable?" And Janet answered that by saying, "So, it's not the topic. There are lots of books out there about this. It's the treatment of the topic or more likely, the writing."

It's hard to hear that your writing may not be up to par, but the only way to improve it is to keep on writing. If your dream is to one day hold your book(s) in your hand and see it on the shelf in a bookstore than you have to keep on writing no matter how many rejections you get. Good luck and don't give up hope!

Susan Bonifant said...

I'm being preachy, but I feel strongly about this, being in the query process myself right now.

At some point after the rejections pile up, and we are as without feedback as we were in the beginning, it's tempting to create reasons.

But it reminds me that as complicated and sprawling as a situation might look, it usually comes down to simple truths:

You could have written about babies and puppies and fields of flowers, but if you approach an agent with an aversion to those things for whatever the reason, you will be rejected.

I didn't understand this before but I do now. If a particular agent can't get his or her heart into your story they can't sell it. Simple as that. It doesn't meant there isn't one who can, but that might be a long road you travel before they are come into view.

I also want to echo Janet's last comment: rejection should motivate you to work harder. It's true and it's simple but you must factor in time to sulk for your own mental health. And then hopefully you will discover another simple (but hard) truth: you would like to quit, but you can't.

See? Preachy, but helpful I hope.

Kitty said...

My sympathies, Carolynnwith2Ns.

Anonymous said...

Carolynn, we were on some other blog when you talked about this, and I know it still lingers. I remember you talking about how bad you hurt to see your daughter hurting.

As to this post, I believe people won't/can't read about what hits a little too close to home, as eluded to above.

I can read *just about anything as long as the story is 1) exceptionally written, 2)not overdone, 3)not sanctimonious

*There is a topic where I can't go, and would say is definitely not in my wheelhouse. Animal abuse/torture/killing. Any animal. I also hate those shows on Discovery or whatever channel it is that shows lions, tigers (and bears oh my!) slowly taking down whatever. Yeah, the circle of life and all that, but spare me the morbid details. I love to eat chicken, but I sure don't want to know the process.

With humans, it's weird b/c although I can be sympathetic, empathetic, feel anger at another human for treating someone badly, there is something about the animal kingdom that puts my tolerance and gut ability to handle a story centered on a subject like that at zero.

The books that have gut punched me, didn't go into that realm, but were dealt with more delicately. They were about the loss of a beloved pet, causing me to do that sort of crying I call "jerk crying." Like I did as a kid. Think books like The Yearling, Old Yeller, Where The Red Fern Grows, Me and Marley, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, etc. It was SO HARD to read them, but the author didn't go overboard. I read them. Loved them despite the fact they made me sad.

Ms. Janet gives two possible reasons. The writing, or the way the topic is treated. We are told to read books that would compare to ours, or to read in the same genre, see how it's done. Maybe if you take the time to do some reading, you could revise, if you find you've somehow come at it the wrong way. Or, if it's the writing, all I can say is you might want to try another story. I was stuck on coming of age for a while, then tried suspense, and found I love writing that. So. From a book about an eleven year old growing up in Alabama, to one considered hard crime. That was an eye opening experience.

Anonymous said...


My deepest sympathies. I feel so bad for everyone who had to go through this. Knowing the pain it evokes, I wouldn't want to read about it either.

I have some topics I just can't deal with and have to excuse myself on the forum when the stories come up for critique. One is a story about incest treated so "romantically and with such beauty" I suppose, but it makes me want to gag.

What you and your daughter went through changes your lives. There is no denying. If you ever need someone, I'm here.


James Ticknor said...

You didn't feel anything at the rejection? Well, you're getting that thick skin that Janet has been preaching writers need to get. You shouldn't question whether your book is publishable, but where the market is for it. If there's money to be made from a market, there will be a publisher. There's several funny facts about books that were banned, and one of my favorite banned books (because it's so hilarious) is the popular children's book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" The Texas Education Board banned this book because the confused the author, Bill Martin Jr., with Bill Martin (who wrote Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation").

Mister Furkles said...

Nabokov wrote a book, Lolita, in 1955. It's about a middle-aged pedophile who's obsessed with raping a particular twelve-year-old girl. It sold very well. So it's not the subject howsomever—pardon my Ozark—disgusting it may be.

If you enjoy writing and learning, all is not lost. Find an online critique group and use your novel as a learning platform. If the first such group doesn't work for you, try another.

At least discover whether it's the story-telling or the prose that's holding you back. Both will improve with practice. And if you must be the next John Grisham for it to be worth your while, then find something else to do.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

56 rejections. Been there, done that. Face your denial. It's the writing. Write another book. Maybe you can fix this current one and publish it later, after the better book.

Plus, there isn't a subject or theme out there that hasn't been written about in some shape or form a dozen times over. It's definitely not the subject.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Controversial subjects make for good reads when well written.

Personally, I would not buy this story to pass my time, but that's my opinon. I don't even read the news stories about these horrible events. There are too many of them.

I wonder how much empathy your characters bring to the reader. I think that only empathy would compell anyone to want to read this. Or if it were presented as some kind of social commentary. Or if it was racially oriented.

Perhaps it is just not the right subject for now, assuming your writing is awesome.

I read Missing, a memoir about someone's mother who committed sucide. I hated it and did not finish it. The writing was compelling, the voice excellent but the subject, green vomit.

It's like some contemporary art that is so awful only museums buy the shit. It's supposed to make us think, and you have to read why it's interesting. Drawings of prophets are blatent provocations that compel violence. Is that what you are doing?

Last night we saw a reportage of the 50 shades pheonemena, as it was the veille of Valentine's day. It seems that S&M shops are having a heyday. I can't imagine the repurcussions on our kids' future as this becomes normal and mediatic. More green vomit.

Dena Pawling said...

This got me curious so I did as Janet suggested and googled it. Both fiction and non-fiction appeared, so assuming this writer's book is fiction, I added the word fiction to the beginning of the search. The first link says “School shooting fiction (47 books) – Goodreads”

Lots of other links, including one about a teacher banned from school for writing a book like that, and one to Wikipedia regarding the book Nineteen Minutes, which was a NYT#1 best seller.

Maybe read those books and research the agents who represent those authors?

I also tried googling topics publishers won't publish, and a few links showed up regarding topics to avoid in certain markets, especially textbooks and overseas markets. Several links regarding Charlie Hebdo.

Publishers want to make money. It appears the topic doesn't matter, as long as it promises to be profitable.

Here's my take on your questions, not that my take matters, since I'm not even published [yet]:
1. Try google. Lots of good info on topics to avoid in certain markets, books similar to yours, etc.
2. Yes, agents are human [I know that's difficult to believe], and have their likes and dislikes.
3. Yes, an agent will reject a query if it touches on one of his/her dislikes. I'm sure there are other agents out there who won't have that dislike. It's just tough to find him/her. Try looking at those similar books, see #1 above.
4. Yes, assume rejection, because all writers are rejected, and dig in to find the agents who will like your work. Or, find a writer's group and/or some beta readers and get their input. Or, put this manuscript aside for now and write something else.

Good luck!

Pharosian said...

The querier doesn't mention taking any steps to get an independent evaluation of his/her writing. One of the best ways to figure out whether your writing is ready is to submit it (or a couple of chapters) to a good critique group.

There are some really good groups out there. I participated in the Online Writers Workshop for a while, and I was impressed by the quality of the writing and commentary.

Based on nothing but the phrasing of the question posed to Janet, I suspect the writing still needs work.

Andrea van der Wilt said...

I love Julie's idea of "50 shades of nay". I might do that when I get my own office. Right now I write in our living room and I don't think my artist boyfriend would appreciate it if I stick my rejections next to his unsold paintings. Or possibly he would appreciate the irony.

I don't think there's anything that infuriates me more than child abuse, but Nabokov's Lolita is one of my favourite novels (and the film by Adrian Lynn one of my favourite films). I never sympathised with Humbert Humbert, but for some twisted reason the story fascinated me, and at the end the realisation of how he had destroyed her life hit hard. I still have zero sympathy for paedophiles or adults who have sexual relationships with teens, but I also still think Nabokov handled this extremely sensitive subject brilliantly.

Once I came across an agent who stated she didn't want to read any novels in which children died or were harmed. Which meant I couldn't query her, but then I thought, so she would never have taken on Harry Potter, for example. Or Beloved, or To Kill a Mockingbird, to name a few. I also thought that even if my novel didn't have any dead or harmed children, if this agent would want to represent me, I'd never be able to write anything, whatever it was, involving a dead child. So censorship before having even sold one novel to a publisher. Of course it's an agent's right to say what they don't want to read, but I think no topic should be avoided in writing, as long as it is done truthfully and thoughtfully, and not used as a cheap gimmick to attract attention.

Which reminds me of a horror novel I once started reading, whose opening scene was a young family being literally nailed to a wooden floor by a psychopath. No thanks. It didn't shock me or intrigue me, it just made me feel sick.

DLM said...

I cannot address the emotional implications of this issue, because it's beyond my competence to put that in words.

But as to the practicals of the question - there ARE lists of verboten topics, everywhere. For individual agents. This is like *everything* else: there. is. no. industry standard.

However, on agent's bio pages on their agency sites, on Agent Query and other query research sites, agents are often very emphatic and clear about what they will not consider and prefer not even to be queried about. As they specify genre, they specify trigger issues they won't touch. Violence against children, 9/11, and rape generally top these lists, and they're often in bold or italics. I'm actually a little bewildered how it's possible not to have seen this, if one has queried (and presumably researched) 56 agents.

Colin Smith said...

OK, I'm probably not saying anything new, but the day wouldn't be complete if I didn't comment on Janet's blog. Don't feel like you have to indulge me--you can skip to the next comment if you like. :)

I know people who would never read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS because the topic is way too close to them (and they know John Green is fearless, and doesn't pull any emotional punches). There were other issues I had with the book (which resulted in one of the longest comment threads ever on my blog), but I won't deny it is beautifully and brilliantly written and deserving of its success. John Green is the finest YA writer alive today. That's why it was published.

If you're writing to shock, stir controversy, or cash in on a hot topic, forget it. Or self publish. Unfortunately, you'll always find a market for the sensational, no matter how well or badly written if you're willing to work at marketing it.

But if your motive is to tell a story you really believe in, that you have a passion for, then keep going. Don't give in. Look for agents that represent that genre and hook them with what the story's about. Is the story about the mass shooting, or is it about the characters and what transpires from that situation? Is the mass shooting the story, or is it just the catalyst for the story? No-one who enjoys good literature wants to read a fictional account of a mass shooting for the sake of it. But if there's a good story within that tragedy--acts of heroism, redemption, unremitting evil brought to justice against insurmountable odds, even a love story--that's what agents, editors, and readers will look for.

At least that's my opinion. :)

Susan Bonifant said...

Colin, I worried that you'd overslept and missed the bus.

Anonymous said...


Well, the wallpaper rejection slips isn't new, but it's something I've entertained for years. When I gutted and remodeled our last house, I converted one large bedroom into what would be my office. I had every intention of tea staining rejection slips and wallpapering one wall. The door to the supply closet was an antique door with a half glass. That, I was going to replace with a stained glass version of my first novel cover.

Oh, yes, I had plans.

I let the ex have the house I worked my butt off on in the divorce because, as my oldest son pleaded, "Dad needs a place to keep his horses and you don't need this big house."

So, there will be another office and another wall.

"Once I came across an agent who stated she didn't want to read any novels in which children died or were harmed"

Anyway, I'm not a fan of child abuse or pedophilia. I've noticed some agents say if you harm children or animals, don't submit, too. That leaves me out. In Far Rider, the story is leading up to a massive civil war. People and horses will die. I just finished the scene where an entire fortress has been destroyed. It wasn't pretty. Unfortunately, civil war isn't civil.

I don't know what the answer is. I just have to trust someone will click with me and my vision. If they don't on this book, then that means I've laid another foundation stone in my career and move on to the next one.

D. B. Bates said...

Rage is basically The Breakfast Club with hostages, with more emphasis on teenage sexual fantasies than violence. It doesn't portray a massacre, but I think the reason it inspired a handful of school shootings is because of the idea that the main character becomes an iconoclastic hero. He realizes his classmates are just as angry as he is; they just handle it differently. Even though the book doesn't have nearly as much violence as one might expect, it normalizes the main character's mental illness and psychotic impulses. And there's really not much worse than something that makes a psychopath think his impulses are normal.

So, in the case of Rage, as Janet says, it's not the topic but the treatment, and to an extent the writing. (Rage isn't poorly written, but King's choices make it into a lurid, pulpy thriller that conflates teen angst and sexual impulses with violent rage.)

In the case of the questioner, I can't agree with any of the commenters who are emphatically insisting it comes down to the writing and the handling of the subject. Finding the right agent--for both the author and the agent--is like finding a needle in a haystack, and rejection is a huge part of that even for really well-written, mainstream novels. In this case, everything this author describes creates a bigger haystack (or maybe a smaller needle).

If this is the story he or she wants to tell, the challenge is to find the agent who can sell it to the publisher who will get it out to the right market. I've read far too much trash to think it all comes down to the quality of the writing or the way the subject is treated. Sadly, there's an audience for pretty much anything.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

After thinking about this I realize I was wrong. I just finished Mr Mercedes that 'deals' with sensless a mass murder. You describe your novel as such.

I wouldn't want to read "My novel deals with the mass shooting. It's not compelling. Who is the main charcter? What do they want?

D.B. Bates and Colin have good points.

I'll read anything Stephen King writes because I know I will empathize with the characters even if they are phsychotic.

Your presentation is blasé, I haven't seen the query and like Dana I am not unpublished so don't listen to me. But 'deals with a mass shooting' doesn't intrigue.

Mark Songer said...

Rage is one of my favorite books by Steven King. I wrote a screenplay for it and another Bachman book, The Long Walk, back in the late 80s but I was told "We have people to write Mr. King's screenplays."

Colin Smith said...

@Susan: Yes, and for being late to the show I end up making the same points as everyone else. *sigh* As long as my fiction's original. :)

@DLM: To your comment yesterday (see, I really don't have anything original to say), I only noticed a few days ago that Gossamer had replaced the sloth. Don't get me wrong, the sloth was cute, but I don't think anyone would dispute that Gossamer the Editor Cat is the unofficial blog mascot. So it's appropriate. Now, if you can just get him to pose in a bucket... :)

DLM said...

Goss LOVES being *In Things* so I may have to go to the basement for my trusty black bucket and try that, Colin! The current photo is sweet, but he looks either slightly ill or half asleep. :)

I adore the idea he's a bit of a mascot here. So does he, he assures us all, as he licks that magnificent chinchilla-soft fur clean. So does he.

Anonymous said...

Diane, what? Ill? As in grumpy? He's looks pure tee giddy compared to Grumpy Cat. Gossamer's "look" is just being "cat."

As in, "I am cat. Therefore I rule. I do cat things. Like this look. I have no time for you. Or you. Unless I am getting a back scratch. That I will tolerate. Scratch. Now, go away."

DLM said...

That's the thing about my kits. All of them, ever. They've all been friendly and snuggly. My one ginge, a big couch of a boy named Byshe, was phlegmatic but still sweet with our friends. And Gossie? He is a total puppycat, gregarious and purr-intensive and ... darling. He's a good, Southern little darling.

Janet once called him her honeypie. She has no idea just how right she was. He's a babydoll.

Colin Smith said...

Donna/Diane: Yes, that look is definitely, "Sure, OK, I'll let you take my picture for Janet the Agent Human. Finished? OK, now go away I want to sleep. I'll call you later when I'm hungry." :)

Colin Smith said...

Diane: "Big couch of a boy"--I think Sam's going to end up like that. He's not that old, and he's already as big as our oldest cat.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Kitty. Sam and Julie, thank you and thank you Donna for remembering.

I thought about this post all day today at work. When I left at four I had NPR on the radio in the car and listened to The Moth, their storytelling show.

Coincidence is a strange beast and it rode with me on the way home.

The first story told was by Paul Knoll a school guidance counselor. (800 Heros)
In a quiet voice he gently told the story of what happened at the school where he worked four years before Columbine. When he started to speak I thought God was playing a cruel joke on me, why this story, why today. God wasn’t joking, he was teaching me, (a person who always has an answer for something), a lesson.

As the story continued I was riveted. I had never heard about this incident and yet it seemed so familiar because of all the other incidents which have ripped at my heart.

It was snowing when I left work so I was driving slowly. As I neared home, and the story came to a close I drove even slower, not wanting to miss the ending, even though I was sure what it would be. It was not.

My comment this morning was a knee-jerk reaction to grief. I’m not apologizing for that. I do stand by my words BUT…to the questioner I say this:

If you can write your book, like Paul Knoll told his story, you will see it published. I’d read it and I never thought I say that…ever.

Susan Bonifant said...

Carolynnwith2ns, if you lived closer, I'd know you in person. But then, I wouldn't wish New Hampshire on anyone right now. That said, I thought about your experience all day.

The Sleepy One said...

Has anyone mentioned that a fairly recent National Book Award for Young People dealt with the aftermath of a school shooting at a middle school? The narrator's older brother was one of the victim's of the attack.

A little publishing house named Penguin (Philomel imprint) was willing to take the chance on this title and market it for Middle Grade.

Put me in the "I doubt the subject matter is the main problem" in this sticky wicket situation, although the subject matter can turn some readers/agents/etc off.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I am currently working on a YA about the aftermath of a town-killing EF5 tornado.

I'm drawing on the experiences of a friend who survived the destruction of the Walmart in Joplin and stories I heard when I was in emergency management about the first few days after the town of Greensburg Kansas was essentially wiped off the map. Also how I felt when I went to Joplin and stood at a crossroads I knew like an old friend and it. was. all. gone.

Parts will be quite bleak, but the story comes down to how these kids relate to each other and react to the events, especially when the tornado uncovers a big crime. It is not a recitation of how tornadoes work and are really really bad. I could write a dissertation on the science of tornadoes. But, the storm will probably only be 10 pages of the book. Everything after that is dealing with the changed new world.

Is the shooting the story, or is it the backdrop for the story? If it is a story about the mechanics of the shooting, then it may well be too far on the bleak side for the current environment.

Give it another look and see where the characters fall in the spectrum. It the story about the shooting or about the characters' lives that are affected by the shooting. Make sense?


AJ Blythe said...

Carolynnwith2NNs, I'm so sorry to hear about your daughter's friend.

Like many commenters there are things I won't read. As a general rule I try to avoid reading a book that doesn't have a happy ending.

I totally get what her sharkness means by rejection making you work harder. When I graduated from university there were no jobs going in my field. Some positions had over 2500 applicants. Many of my peers took work elsewhere, but I was determined to prove those rejections wrong. I got the 101st job I applied for. So the publishing world had better watch out because I'm totally prepared to have a "50 shades of nay" house (love that idea, Julie.M.Weathers).

Anonymous said...

TLC, your latest project sounds so great. I can't wait to see it in print. And the premise - an EF5 tornado. OMG. We had a "little ole" EF1 whip by the house here about 4-5 years ago. I remember it well. My husband got hurt helping a neighbor. Big weather events like that are as scary as shooters (MO) It's about the unpredictable nature of both.

Lilac Shoshani said...

Carolynn, my deepest sympathies to you and your daughter. I was so saddened to hear about this. And like Julie (and all of us), I'm here for you.

Anonymous said...


I'm glad you shared both experiences. We had a discussion about something on Books and Writers not long ago that led me to discussing my daughter's death. Without going into all the details, I will say if it could go wrong, it did.

My mother-in-law came to the hospital and told me she knew I was going to kill the baby.

My Sunday school class teacher came up to the hospital and brought me a plant and told me how beautiful the baby was. The blood drained and I asked her where she saw her. Right down the hall in the nursery. Mirinda had died the day before. I staggered down there and sure enough, there was a bassinet with a dark-haired baby and the card, "Baby Girl Weathers" I thought they had left her body on display. They had simply not removed the card and put another baby in the bassinet.

Obviously, I was freaking out.

Don was in California and couldn't get back due to an airline strike.

When he did 5 days later, we went to the funeral home to pick out the casket. I had made all the other arrangements from the hospital, but that needed to be done in person. The salesman kept apologizing for not having more caskets, but business was so good they couldn't keep baby caskets in stock. After the fifth time saying this, I got up to strangle him and Don told him to shut up.

At the funeral, the pastor said, "We cannot know the pain Julia is going through. However, in days to come, she will be able to comfort others. She'll be able to say, I know how you feel and share their pain."

I thought, how dare you lay that curse on me! How dare you wish for me to be around someone who hurts as much as I do. I couldn't get out of the pew as I was blocked in on either side, so I started to go over the one in front of me. I was going to beat the sh!t out of him. Dom pulled me back.

In years to come, I would go in places I had never been and really had to desire to go. A woman would look at me and I'd look at her. Then I'd say, "You lost a baby, didn't you?"

She'd nod. We'd cry. I'd let her talk and tell her, "No, it never stops hurting, but it does get better." Then we'd pray.

So, sometimes, sharing the story does help. Would I write a story about a baby dying simply for the shock value? Never.

Would I write a self help book? rofl No, I am the ultimate example of what not to do.

I might write a story about loss someday if it fits.

Life is an odd and twisting journey.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Julie, you break my heart. I am so, so sorry. I cannot find the right words because there are none.
On this day which is supposed to be about love, I wish you all love to the highest. Thank you all.
Now I am going to eat an entire quart of Rocky Road ice cream. Seems fitting I think.I'd cry but I'm drained dry.

Anonymous said...


Bah, I didn't mean to be such a downer. I just want to encourage you. It does get better. Let your experience be for something good. I know it seems impossible, but you never know who will cross your path and know that so many people care about you, your daughter and all those who went through this.

Who knows, perhaps the OP's book will have a profound impact on someone?

Lilac Shoshani said...

Julie: like Carolynn, I feel that I can't find the right words because there are none. But I want you to know how profoundly saddened I am that you had to go through this. I'm sending you a virtual hug and many loving blessings. And if you ever need someone, I'm here for you too.

Carolynn, the ice cream sounds good.

Anonymous said...

And now that I realize I'm bringing everyone down, I can't delete the darned comment. Perhaps Miss Janet can.

Love you all.

Craig said...

I don't wish to pass judgement on this manuscript by just this question. It is obvious that you have some pain over the subject and it might have helped you to write it.

In truth almost everyone who has made it past twelve has been wounded in some way. Everyone has a wound they don't know if they want to close. Some of those are accidents and some intention. They are still dents in your soul.

I doubt that the manuscript is as hurtful as the real world can be when something happens. It is possible that your presentation might strike the wrong chord. It might even be that your first five pages should be buried deeper.

All of us are still asking why and seeking something better than the network news gave us. What I dislike more is how hypocritical some aftermath books have been. If you can offer something beyond escapism please push until it gets out. It might be good for all of us.

AJ Blythe said...

Julie, no-one ever knows the words to say to people when tragedy strikes like this. I'm sorry for your loss never seems to be enough. (((hugs)))

And don't apologise for what you wrote. That you are strong enough to share is remarkable, and you never know when your words might help someone else.

Ardenwolfe said...

Honestly, if I were an agent, I wouldn't touch this topic right now. Another shooting yesterday.

It's gone from a yearly, to monthly, to damn near weekly and daily event now.

Bad enough we have to deal with this destructive nonsense in our lives.

Do people really want it in their entertainment too? Willing to pay money for it?

For me?

Not a chance.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Craig, dents in your soul.

I love this, not enough to destroy but enough to leave a lasting mark. Excellent.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Janet must be sleeping in. That or she's still trying to distill all of the marvelous comments from this week, especially the influx on this particular post.

Well, it's sunny (but freaking cold for the south - wind chill in single digits)

Cuppa hot Earl Grey, anyone? I didn't think so.

stacy said...

Julie Weather, I am so sorry for your loss. I'm glad things got better for you, eventually. Good luck and godspeed on your journey.

Carolynnwith2Ns, I hope time brings you healing. That's an awful thing to go through.

Anonymous said...

"Craig, dents in your soul.

I love this, not enough to destroy but enough to leave a lasting mark. Excellent."

I like this very much also. Who wants a shiny, unblemished soul that looks like it never left the showroom floor at the end of their days?

Sometimes I wonder if it isn't like a break, though. A couple of years ago my bronc riding son bucked off and broke his arm badly, as if there can be a good break. The break was complete and the bone shifted. I assumed the doc would put the bone back in place, but he didn't. As long as the bone wasn't completely not touching, they leave it alone now.

The theory is the bone will grow back together and be stronger there because it has to also cover the distance it's shifted. It has an extra layer of bone or a sheet of bone armor over the break.

Maybe our souls grow a little armor also over time, but hopefully not enough that we no longer feel.

Corrie Ten Boom was a prime example of overcoming the wounds to the soul, methinks.

Kitty said...

I've referenced this 2007 NYT article before, and I think it's worth posting again for everyone who's received rejections.

No Thanks, Mr. Nabokov: In the summer of 1950, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript after receiving a particularly harsh reader’s report. The work was “very dull,” the reader insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” Sales would be small because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor especially appealing. “Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely,” the reader wrote, “I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.”
Knopf wasn’t alone. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, would be rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies are currently in print, making it one of the best-selling books in history.

Anonymous said...


Thank you. I try not to speak about rejections because I think it's unprofessional, but some others are going through the rejection blues also. So, I decided to write a blog post about them. The Diary of Anne Frank is a prime example.

Thank you for reminding us.


Craig said...

The Dented Soul. I wrote it up for some friends a few years ago. It is part of the reason someone asked me to immortalize them in print.

It was a small piece meant for a very limited audience. I didn't want it to pander to others' sympathies. I also didn't want it to skewer the hypocrisies of organized religion though I no longer have any truck with such entities.

A year or so after something traumatic you begin to hammer out the dent. No matter how carefully you pound on it there will always be tool marks. A coat of Bondo over that, a new paint job and it looks good. You always know that it isn't though you try hard not to draw attention to it

A said a year or so because if the trauma was strong enough each new day is a reliving of that trauma from a different perspective. A new introspection every day.

Les Edgerton said...

What??? There are unpublishable subjects? I never knew...

LE. Author of The Rapist and The Bitch

Megan V said...

Add me to the "it's not that the subject is unpublishable, but how the topic is treated" train. If you work with the controversial, then it had better be written beautifully. Good writing will help you land an agent (but you have to do your market research as well). Great writing will stay with the reader and maybe help them grapple with their own experiences. IMHO controversial topics must be fictionalized well or not at all. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I speak as a writer working with a controversial topic (a book my critique partners know as "The Rape Book")and as someone who also received some personal experience with mass shootings when a hate-filled individual gunned down people not 3 miles from my childhood home. Thanks to that individual, good people that my father knew lost their lives. There is no way of bringing those people (or the victims of Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech and many more) back into the arms of their loved ones.

So their memories and their loved ones deserve no less than the best that writing can give.

Carolynn, I can't even begin to imagine the pain that your daughter felt. I can't imagine the hurt you experienced watching her suffer. I hope you'll accept my condolences and my pitiful offering of hopes and prayers for you in the future.

Julie, there are no words. I am sorry for your loss.

LynnRodz said...

Julie, as AJ said, don't apologize for what you went through. I can't think of anything worse than a parent losing a child. Thank you for sharing your private grief with us to show that although you never get over something like that, as you said, it does get better.

Carolynn, there are no coincidences in life. Everything happens for a reason and God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it, has a way of teaching us (sometimes with an ironic sense of humor). Thank you for sharing your experience as well. It shows us we should never say never.

D.B., your comment got me thinking that maybe I shouldn't have been so hasty in my comment. I've read numerous times on the Writer's Digest blog where an author landed an agent and sold his ms after years and more than 70+ rejections. So, to the questioner, as Pharosian said, you didn't mention whether you've let others read your ms to see if it's not the writing. If not, keep going, keep querying and don't give up, it only takes one to say yes.

Les, my bookshelf on writing has both Hooked and Finding Your Voice, thanks!

And now, to quote Jeff Somers, "to the bar!"