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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thanks, Colleen! (Patty Blount)


Starting off a new year by sharing gratitude is a great idea for a tradition or resolution.

Since my debut novel SEND was released last August, I’ve thanked a lot of people. My mom, who inspired me to read. My sons, who dared me to write my first book. Friends like Kelly Breakey, who made me promise not to delete SEND until she’d read it and thank God I listened to her. People I’ve met online who helped me like Bill Cameron, Brooks Sherman, Jeff Somers, and Janet Reid. The legion of book bloggers who read my novel and left reviews. There are people who touch us, shape us, in big ways and in little ones throughout our careers. Many of them don’t even know it.

This is a blog post about one of those people.

Only those closest to me know this secret – the published version of SEND is not the original story I wrote. In the first draft, main character Dan was a twenty-three-year-old motivational speaker who devoted his time to addressing middle school kids about the dangers of bullying. At his latest gig, he meets guidance counselor Julie Murphy and can’t figure out why she’s so hostile toward him. I queried this version in 2010 and while most agencies sent back the form rejection, one did not. One sent me this email:

Hi Patricia -

I'm confused by the characters in the novel; YA characters have to be 18 or younger and preferably still in high school. Your characters appear to be in their 20s.

Can you clarify for me?

With a crimson face for failing to have researched “YA” well enough to know the age limits, I emailed my justification. The agent responded again, pointing out that my bullying premise is essentially a teen issue but my characters are no longer teens. I have to pick a market and stick to it.

God! The sting of those words! In my heart, I knew what I had to do. I just didn’t want to do it. I’d finished the book; typed The End, wrote the queries. I was done – done, I tell you. After my tantrum, I looked at my story with a different eye – a practical one. The character in my head was consumed by guilt after bullying someone to death. I couldn’t change that. That was the heart of my story. But I could certainly shave a few years off Dan’s life.

It would take me almost another year, but I rewrote the entire story, this time with Dan as an eighteen-year-old high school senior. And SEND is a much better story now than it was when I finished it the first time. In the time it took me to finish the new draft, the agent who so kindly set me on the right path, a path that ultimately did lead to finding an agent and landing the book deal, left her position.

Those two sentences changed my story -- no, changed my life, helping me achieve a lifelong dream. I sure hope she doesn't mind that I used this blog to thank former agent Colleen Lindsay for sending me that email. *smiles*

Is there someone in your life who has no idea how much they've helped you? Comment! 

6 comments:

  1. I love hearing stories like this: the story behind the book. I wish I had heard more of these when I was starting out and thought a book somehow just came into being. PS. I read SEND over the weekend and LOVED it. The voice is spot-on angsty teen boy. Can't even imagine your Dan as anything but.

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  2. Thanks so much, Jody! My kids actually think of Dan like an invisible brother now; he's become so real to all of us !

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  3. You're welcome! Glad I was of some help to you. =)

    Colleen

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  4. I love this post--and I love that Colleen got a chance to read it!

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  5. This is a great post! I had a similar experience with freelance editor, Debra Brodie, who got me to rethink and rewrite FAIREST OF THEM ALL.Following her suggestions made it a much better story, too.

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  6. Yeah, I once wrote a YA novel (after I'd had two published), with a 21 year old main character. Live and learn.

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