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Finding a literary agent in a metaphorical tornado

Last night physical and spiritual madness struck at once. Feels like my last sane moment was running on a wooded lane in Bon Air, with a border collie barking his fool head off at me. Next thing I knew literal and metaphorical winds were threatening to blow my house down. By which I mean, the wind went nuts, tornadoes threatened, and Dad’s dementia carried him to a place where none of us could follow.

I spent the night at Mom and Dad’s house. Bob was there with me for a while, providing succor and good humor (he’s a SAINT), but when a tornado watch appeared in an ugly little line at the bottom of the TV screen I sent him home, convinced that even our self-reliant 12 year-old shouldn’t be alone in a tornado. Eventually, Mom convinced Dad to go upstairs to bed, but of course Bob was gone by then and Dad was sooooo shaky . . . So there I was, supporting him from behind (he’s still a big man) as he made his tottering way up the staircase. And me trying to hold him up but knowing that if he keeled over backwards there was no way to prevent him from falling.

But he made it, and Mom took over, and after a while convinced him to go to bed. And I went downstairs to the guest room and put my head between my knees until the terror passed.

Of course it was impossible to sleep. So . . . what do writers do?

No, they don’t write. They try to figure out how to get an agent. Noah Lukeman is an agent who has very kindly made his book, How to Land a Literary Agent, available for free on the Internet. I had downloaded it onto my phone and last night spent a few hours reading it. He’s kind of a nag, but it was something to think about at 1 a.m., and he got me researching agents. Lukeman says I should have a database of at least fifty agents. Well, I now have seventy, and every one of them has expressed interest in YA and fantasy.

Of course, by this point it was long past my bedtime, and I had to get up and teach in the morning, but the agent search carried me beyond the fear of the dark night, and of tornadoes, and of dementia. The work sometimes seems crazy but last night it felt like sanity.

So if anyone wants my list of seventy agents interested in YA and fantasy, just leave me a comment with your email and I’ll send it on. And if you get a chance, check out the Writers Digest lottery—you get to pitch a YA novel to an agent. http://tinyurl.com/a8msdw2

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Just the silent trees

Running twenty-four miles alone on dirt trails through a state park gives a writer a lot of time to think. Some of the thoughts are obvious – does that thunder mean I’ll get struck by lightning? And, if I get struck by lightning how will anyone find me, since I haven’t seen a soul (unless you count the disappearing white tail of a single white-tailed deer) in two hours?

Those aren’t the kind of thoughts a writer seeks, but just about any thought can come on a run this long. The most common thought strikes like a determined horsefly: Why the hell am I doing this? Along with the lightning thoughts and the accompanying trees fall when the wind gets too high thoughts, there come more literary thoughts. Times when a scene in one of my books works itself out. Then I have to pull out my iPhone and tell Siri to take a note and not worry when she mangles it, because all I need is the note and I’ll remember.

Those are good thoughts but they aren’t the best thoughts. The best thoughts are, actually, a single thought, and it has no words.

It is a living picture, fixed in my head. It was born in mid-December when I did my first distance run at Pocahontas State Park. Each time I train long distance the picture grows deeper. I believe the roots of the trees in my picture, the ones whose branches sketch bare fingers against the sky, are growing down into my soul.

In the picture, I’m alone and running. The woods are absolutely silent, because for some reason this big state park seems to have fewer birds chattering and squirrels scolding and hawks shrieking than the suburbanized woods around my home. The only sound is my feet (and the occasional roll of thunder) hitting the ground. The trees grow into me and the thought in my head has no words. My mind knows, and my heart and my legs and my often-sore feet know only that I will be running for a very long time.

Those are the times that bank peace in my soul. The times that come to me as a gift on an endless run in a forest. Nothing accomplished, nothing rewritten, no great insight or  aha about my writing or my work or my life.

Just the silent trees and my feet, pounding the ground.