Why are you the Person to Tell This Story?

Why are you the Person to Tell This Story?

I found that question in a query form for an agent that I reached out to. For those of you who don’t know querying is like your book applying for a job, save with more rejection. Agents want various degrees of things to query them. The most essential being a query letter…that and a completed, edited, beta-read, edited several more times, novel. But the query letter is the most important because most aren’t going to make it to your novel.

Why are you the person to tell this story?

I stared at that question for a very long time, but not because it was difficult. I knew the answer right away, it escaped me like a gasp, like a laugh, like a god damn growl. “Because it’s mine.”

As writers we all bump into stories that aren’t ours and sometimes tell them anyway. Maybe it’s something that happened to a friend, or anecdote we heard at a party, a footnote in a history book that we found intriguing, or an article we read online that begged to grow a plot and expand off the page, something that needs research and care and that question ‘Why are you the person to tell this story?’ But a novel? But my novel?

The pitch for my novel, The Beast of Domarr Fell, is Beowulf meets Yojimbo. I’m not the person to tell this story because I can read Old English or have a deep understanding of the works of Akira Kurosawa, I can’t and I don’t. The pitch is the pitch, the novel is the characters, and they are made of me.

Fianna’Dale bard to the High King of the Vottr, is filled with my confidence and shaped by my humor, formed from what I think is clever and what I think is brave. Isha, young seer, daughter of warriors and thralls, lost to angst and power and struggle of identity, is shaped by teenage years and battles with insecurities and the constant search for self. Dayur, the Red Druid, reluctant monster hunter, tired old man forged of guilt and fear with a paunch, baldhead and red beard is so very obviously made of me.

Dayur is bond to a familiar, called Whisper. She is a half-formed ghost covered in a cloak made of moth wings and is always hungry. She screams and throws tantrums and rages within him and her needs determine much of Dayur’s life. Dayur and Whisper were bond when Dayur was twelve and forever he has questioned if there is something wrong within him. The other druid children received familiars in the shape of birds and foxes, while he received a banshee that can’t touch or move or live without him.

Much of my childhood felt fragile, made up of responsibility and failure and the constant sense that I had done something wrong, that sense grew and transformed into a fear that I, in fact, was something wrong. And from there, were struggles with phantoms that raged and hated me and called me the worse possible things and yet also needed so much of my attention. 

My life is not dramatic. I didn’t team up with my anxiety and depression to slay monsters. I didn’t confront or resolve my phantoms the way Dayur does. My pain was not epic like his. It was born of small days and likewise quiet and small defeats that I eventually overcame. And I have had love and support and second chances that Dayur never got.

He is also quite different from me and not just because he’s a Viking warrior with a battle axe. He’s kinder than me with near infinite patience. He’s quiet and solitary and I’m not. I talk way too much, especially when I get nervous like Fianna. Dayur has trouble talking to people at all. He is of my image, made from parts I wish I had and parts I’m glad I don’t have, but all of them are of me.

Even the characters that feel farthest from me have my philosophy, have my understanding of the world or are shaped in opposition to it, or come from questions of it. At the very least they are born of a world that works by my logic and are funny or stupid or cruel by what I deem to be so.

Now, because it’s my novel, it’s imperfect. Hell, it might even be bad. I don’t think so, but it’s possible. It’s probably too long. I keep wading in and trimming it, but I never can seem to get it down as much as I would like. The plot might be too cliched, it’s certainly not revolutionary, but I’m proud of it. I’m proud of my characters, mined from me, shaped by my words but living their own lives. Me and not me, but certainly all mine. Just as ‘The Beast of Domarr Fell’ is mine.

So why am I the person to tell this story? Because I’m the only one that possibly could.

On Rejection

On Rejection

I’m querying my first manuscript. The process involves receiving a lot of impersonal rejection letters and reading a lot of articles about ‘writing the perfect query letter’. Querying has made me realize how much of a novice I am when it comes to traditional publishing and how much an expert I am when it comes to rejection.

When I graduated college in 2010, I entered teeth first into the great recession. It took me three years of near constant searching to find a job that even remotely justified the money spent on my degree. Dating has been even more instructive and humbling. If you really want to know rejection download Bumble.

I don’t bring either example up looking for pity. Rejection to me isn’t a bad thing, it’s just something that happens. It’s almost never about you, at least not the way you think it is. It’s just the world saying ‘no’, and it’s only dangerous if you fear it or misinterpret it.

Rejection to me is different than failure. It’s usually much less informative. I can try to run a 5k and fail and learn a lot about running and how to succeed next time. Failure is personal, internal. It is me not meeting a goal. I have all the steps, all the insights. Rejection is external. Another person or organization giving me a flat NO. It’s often coming from a source that I can’t get feedback from or any real explanation as to why I was rejected. When I send a query letter to an agent and they respond with a form ‘thanks, but no thanks’, I don’t learn anything other than that agent isn’t interested in my story.

Rejection to me is most instructive when there’s a lot of it. Most of the things we get ‘rejected’ from are a numbers game: dating, job applications, query letters, etc. A certain amount of rejection is excepted in each and we all do things to try and strengthen our odds: apply for jobs in fields we have experience in, ask for dates from people with similar interests, and so on. If you’re continuously getting rejected, then it might be a good idea to try a new approach. Do further research, ask for feedback from friends or colleagues, or other experts. Try a new strategy, go to local events to meet new people, try networking rather than job boards, try to get a short story published.

If feasible, ask for feedback from someone who rejected you, but if you do this understand, you will not change their mind. If someone has rejected you for whatever reason, it is not an invitation to debate them. The answer is NO, and you must accept that. Maybe that person will change their mind about you later, it’s a big random world out there, but its super unlikely and it will never happen from you trying again and again and again to change the NO to a YES.

Also, if you do get a reason for your rejection understand that it will probably have little to nothing to do with you. If I query an agent that’s tired of epic fantasy stories or hates orcs or just isn’t feeling the title, there’s not much I can do. If I don’t get the job I interviewed for, maybe it’s because there was an internal candidate or the company had a surprisingly bad quarter and couldn’t afford the position, or the manager didn’t think I was a good culture fit. The list goes on and the answers are never satisfying.

Rejection is about acceptance. You have heard a NO, from someone that isn’t you. The intensity of your will, wants, and desires do not matter. The reason does not matter, you will not receive closure from asking. The rejection means nothing beyond the NO. It doesn’t mean you aren’t talent, good, or worthy of love. It just means NO. It’s not a puzzle, it’s not problem, accept it and let it go. I understand it sucks. I understand that it stings. You get rejected enough and you will feel bitter and sad, and it’s okay to feel that. But you don’t need to linger there and if you do, that’s on you, not the rejection.

If rejection has taught me anything it’s to understand what I have control over and what I don’t. Love and success are things that will require a YES from someone else, but you can’t make anyone say yes. What you can do is work on yourself. Expand who you are, what you can do, and keep trying, keep looking for new opportunities. There is a lot of rejection in life, don’t fear it, don’t build it into something it’s not. Accept it, keep trying, I don’t know if we’ll get there, but trying and moving past rejection is the only way forward.