What Happens When You Soar Too Close to the Sun?

I know. I promised James that I would let him talk about query letters next, but something happened over the past two weeks, and since it’s Christmas and Chanukah Eves, I had to step in. After all, this is my blog.

Hi! It’s me, Ollie, James’ Old English Sheepdog, coming to you from snowy Vermont. Without further ado, drum roll please….

Earlier in December, the three of us, James, Ron and I, went looking for a Christmas tree. We didn’t want an ordinary one from a tree farm, but one that had been growing for years on our own farm, Skygate. James and I previewed several select options before asking Ron to pick his favorite. Understandably, he chose the one closest to the house.

Leaving me at home, which I must admit pissed me off (Well, it did, damn it.), James and Ron got a saw and hiked to the tree. I could see them from the mudroom window. Ron stood holding the tree while James sawed the bottom and removed several lower limbs. From where I was, the tree looked a little small, but things in a distance always look different than they actually are, or so James told me.

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(The gap between these trees is where the “Fall of the Tree of Christmas” tree was cut.)

They dragged the tree through the snow up to the house and had a debate on the best door to use to bring it inside. Ron came in and, with my supervision, got the tree stand ready. After that they brought the tree in through the double doors on the terrace. It was then I saw how huge the tree actually was.

I parked myself on the side of the room to watch as they tried to raise the tree and put it in the stand that Ron and I had strategically placed on a coffee table. We put the stand on a coffee table each year so the tree looks taller than it is. Well, this year the tree, once they had it in the stand, was about six inches from the ceiling. Now if you’ve been in our living room, you know that we have a cathedral ceiling and at the apex is roughly sixteen feet. There was no way they were going to reach the top of the tree and decorate it if they left it on the coffee table. (Truth be told, I knew they’d never get to the top even if they took it off the coffee table.)

So they made the decision to put the tree on the floor. The struggle to do that without the tree falling had me silently giggling to myself. Yes, this was like an episode of the Key Stone Cops played by two of the Marx Brothers. It got even funnier when they tried to stand the tree straight in a five-foot tree stand. They realized they needed a larger stand, but wanted to leave it in the small stand over night since it was late afternoon and the sun was already setting. Wouldn’t you know it, as if on cue and written in the script, the tree stand, made of plastic, broke.I was already in stitches, rolling on the floor with my side aching by this point.

James didn’t want the tree to dry out, so they positioned it in a bucket of water. They didn’t want to risk it toppling over inside, so they took it out on the terrace and leaned it against the house. The temperature was projected to go into the single digits, making James afraid their tree would end up in a block of ice at the base. Ron, always the clever one (Why isn’t Ron around when I deserve a treat?), informed James that if they filled the bucket with water it wouldn’t freeze. I have to admit that neither James nor I believed him.

The next day both James and Ron, with my assistance, went shopping and brought home different versions of a ten-foot tree stand. It was the largest tree stand they could find. Now, remember, the tree is roughly around fourteen feet tall. I watched as they debated on which stand to use, and what the benefits and drawbacks were of each. They ultimately decided to go with Ron’s since it was slightly larger and would hold more water for the tree to drink. The only drawback was the fact that the one James bought had spikes on the bottom to hold the tree in place and Ron’s didn’t. When I tried to tell them the tree might slip, all I got was, “Go away,” “Leave the tree alone,” and the like.

Now, if you remember, the tree had been outside standing in a bucket of water in single-digit temperatures. To top it all off, it had snowed that night so the part of the tree exposed to the elements was now covered with snow. James and I went out on the terrace and he shoveled the snow up to the tree so he and Ron wouldn’t have to drag it through the snow when they brought it back into the house. I suggested that James knock the snow off the tree and check the bucket to see if it was a solid block of ice. Well, while I watched, James had trouble getting any of the snow off as it appeared to be glued to the branches, and he took the handle of the shovel and knocked against the ice in the bucket. We both let out an audible sigh. The water had only frozen at the top about half of an inch.

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(The snow covered tree in a bucket of water on the terrace awaiting a larger stand.)

After setting up the stand, Ron and James dragged the tree into the living room and maneuvered it into place. They screwed some of the base into the trunk and checked to see if the tree was straight. They then screwed some more and repeated this exercise while the snow on the tree proceeded to melt all over the floor and James, who was doing the screwing. All of this bored me so I took a nap. I awoke while James was putting water in the stand. Walking around the tree as stealthily as possible so as not to track the water or be made to leave, I noticed that the tree was leaning ever so slightly into the room. Believe me, you had to be an Old English Sheepdog to notice this. No matter how I tried to inform them, neither James nor Ron would listen to me. That was when I decided I’d keep my distance from the tree. I did not have to be told twice to get out of the way.

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(The tree in its larger stand sans lights and ornaments.)

James got their tallest ladder and attempted to put the star on the top. No go – no star. The lights began about two feet from the top, and this was after James flung the string of lights up into the tree trying to reach the top. No go – no lights until two feet from the top. The lights did look beautiful. James even considered leaving the tree with only the lights on it. No go – James had to soar.

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(The tree without a star at top and with lights beginning two feet from the top.)

It took two days for James to decorate the tree. He takes his time and is calculating as to where each ornament comes to rest. He’d put an ornament on the tree only to move it two or three times until it found the right place. Even the color scheme of the ornaments had to be perfect. Then, at night when the lights went on, James had to rearrange the decorations yet again. When he finally agreed to accept the tree as a masterpiece, of sorts considering the top two feet were bare, James went in search of his camera to take a picture.

I was sitting in the hall about twenty feet from the tree when I noticed it begin to move. I jumped up and looked down the hall to try and notify James or Ron. Before I could even bark, the tree came crashing down. As I ran into the kitchen so as not to be blamed, I heard James ask, “Was that the Christmas tree?” Ron replied, “I hope not.” Well, I waited patiently while they came down the hall to find the tree on the floor surrounded by shattered ornaments and water. It was a mess.

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(The “Fall of the Tree of Christmas.”)

My fear quotient had risen exponentially to how far the tree had fallen. I knew that James would cry and Ron would console him, but then James would blame Ron, or me, and all hell would break lose. However, the only sound I heard was James laughing. That’s right. He found it funny that their beautiful tree and sentimental ornaments were shattered all over the living room floor.

It took James about a nanosecond to decide to get rid of the tree and simply clean the mess up and call it a Christmas without a tree. He got the orchard lopper and slowly took the tree apart, limb-by-limb, while removing the surviving decorations and lights and moping up the muddle before sweeping away the clutter. I kept waiting for James to break down, but all he did was laugh out loud. To this day when he talks about the tree falling or even thinks about it he grins or chuckles. It was due to his mirth that I was allowed to dictate about the “Fall of the Tree of Christmas.”

In conclusion, I do have to add something that James said. He loves having a Christmas tree and decorating it with the many, most still remaining, ornaments he has accumulated over the years. It’s how he begins feeling the spirit of the season. When he looks at the tree all lit and lively, it makes him want to go out and buy people gifts. He likes to think that the tree is one of his gifts to Ron and others who drop by. This year, however, James had to admit that he tried to fly too close to the sun.

Have you ever had a Christmas tree fall after it was decorated? Did you laugh or cry or both? You are welcome to let us know in the comment section. I always enjoy hearing from you, so please leave a comment on this blog post about this or anything at all.

In two weeks, James and I will be back to focus on how to, as previously promised, write a query letter to a literary agent regarding your novel. This is also easier than you might think.

Until next time,
Short Stories - Author Webpage Help Needed
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (you can call me Ollie)

Paw Prints courtesy of www.pawsitivelyloved.com
All photos © James Stack 2016 unless otherwise indicated
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What Do You Do After Writing a Novel?

Oh, boy!!! Winter has arrived and there is snow everywhere. As an Old English Sheepdog I find the cold and snow invigorating. I love playing in the powder with James and all my friends. I’ve been praying for the white stuff for weeks now. In fact, I’ve been longing for winter and snow ever since last spring when it melted.

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Ollie’s first winter with an abundance of snow.

Yeah, it’s me, Ollie. James and I went out playing in the recent dump of white powder so he could take a break from work. He claims that when he’s in the snow he thinks of nothing else but the fun he’s having outside during the winter. It provides him with a break from his most recent writing activity – querying agents.

James has reached a point where he believes his novel (the one he’s been working on for years) is ready to be considered for publication. What he told me was that he has two decisions he needs to make now. One: whether or not to self-publish this novel like he did his memoir, World’s Fair. Two: if not self-publishing he needs to reach out to agents to see if they will represent him with a major publishing house. I didn’t want to have to correct him, but there is a third option: he could reach out directly to indie publishing companies to see if they will publish his novel. (YES!! James agrees and I got a special treat for that one.)

Well, James has asked me if I would discuss the second option above as this is the path he is going down this time around. Now the question becomes: how to find the right agent for his work. The first place James looked was in the Writer’s Market put out by Writer’s Digest. He had paid good money for that book, yet found it less than helpful. Perhaps the “deluxe” version is better. So, what’s a writer to do? Save your money and search Google!

Now there are all kinds of searches one can do on Google. After a couple of fruitless attempts, James went with finding the top fifty literary agencies. From there he began searching the individual agents listed online for each agency. Well, he didn’t search all fifty of them right away. He took the top ten, which ended up being the top twenty since some of the “top shops” don’t accept unsolicited queries. He then searched within their agent listings page to find out which ones were looking for new clients. That’s what they call writers – clients.

Once he had identified the agents looking for new clients/writers, he looked at what type of work they were interested in representing. James’ novel is a New Adult, coming-of-age story with a mystery and legal bent. It also takes place in the south back in 1972 so it deals with bigotry. Agents who might be interested in one or more of those elements were then selected as potentially queryable. (Okay, that may not be a word, but I like the sound of it. Yes! A treat! James likes the sound of it, too.)

The next item to be identified was in what manner each agent wanted to receive a query. Some were still interested in hearing from writers/potential clients via mail – the United States Postal Service. The majority of agents have moved to wanting to receive a query via email. The address, whether physical or virtual, was supplied for those agents interested in new clients.

From there, James looked to find out how the specific agent was interested in receiving information on his novel. It appears that only a very few are willing to receive an attachment. Most want their requested information within the body of the email itself. It appears that agents have run into viruses once they’ve opened an attachment. This can make for a lengthy email depending upon what the agent has requested.

James has found that most agents want a query letter along with the first ten pages of the novel. Others may want as much as the first three chapters along with a synopsis. Some only want the query letter by itself. When querying an agent, it is imperative that they receive only the items they have requested. If more or less is sent, time is being wasted.

Once agents have been identified that might be best suited to represent the work, a running tab on which agents within which literary agencies have been queried should be kept. Also, the date on which the query was sent should be noted. This is because most agents specify how long they typically take to respond, if they will respond at all. Some ask that a follow-up email be sent if they have not responded by a specified period.

All of this is very time consuming but hopefully worth it. It’s a means of staying organized and motivated to keep searching for the right agent. The right agent is key to getting a publishing contract with a leading publishing house.

Had James known this after completing his memoir, World’s Fair, he would most certainly have sent his manuscript to more than one agent. Having one decline (known as “rejections” in the trade) is hardly something to cause one to become discouraged. James knows that now. That’s why James wanted me to write about this. He wants as many writers and other creative people to know that there is method to the madness of getting work recognized.

Have you been successful in querying an agent? Have you tried, like James in the past, to reach only one agent? What experience do you have to share? You are welcome to let us know in the comment section. I always enjoy hearing from you, so please leave a comment on this blog post about this or anything at all.

In two weeks, James and I will review how to write a query letter. It might surprise you how easy it actually is. It surprised me.

Until next time,
Short Stories - Author Webpage Help Needed
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (you can call me Ollie)

Paw Prints courtesy of www.pawsitivelyloved.com
All photos © James Stack 2016 unless otherwise indicated