Things are different now, and things are the same.

I remember thinking that when I got an agent magic would take over my world. Words would roll out of my fingers like ocean waves. Revisions would feel like a casual stroll rather than a marathon. People would line up at my door to read my beautiful, beautiful words.

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Let me be clear. It HAS been magical. And words DO come. And on occasion, people do like to read the tales I spin. But mostly… mostly, writing now is like writing then.

Hard. Beautiful. Gut-wrenching. Satisfying. Revealing.

Hard

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It’s still hard writing, post-agent. But sometimes for different reasons. I never had writers block before getting an agent. Never. Hate me if you will, but usually I had a hundred stories lined up in my head, waiting for a little attention. There is a mind switch that happens when you start writing for another reason. Revisions start to take priority, and you don’t let your mind wander as often, because you know it’s only a matter of time before you have to revisit that last story either for an R&R or to polish it up for submission. Sometimes the creative whiplash that occurs from jumping from world to world too often is just too much, so you just don’t write between stints of waiting on feedback on revisions. I’m not saying this is a good thing. I’m just saying it happens.

Beautiful 

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It’s still beautiful. Though I don’t get to create freely as often anymore, those moments when the story is taking shape and the characters are speaking… well, you know how it feels. It’s the first gaze into your newborn’s eyes. It’s a dive off the top of a roller coaster. It’s a plunge into icy water. It’s exhilarating and just plain beautiful. Thank goodness, that still happens.

Gut-wrenching

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You still have to wait, post-agent. And waiting can be so hard. Waiting while you know someone is reading your work. Waiting while you wonder if you sent your very best, if you could have sweat a little harder, bled a little more to make it better. Waiting, hoping, praying for good news. Yes, even after getting an agent, writing is still gut-wrenching.

Satisfying

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There’s nothing, before or after getting an agent, that is more deeply gratifying than typing those two final words: The. End. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, it just satisfies this deep, deep part of you that no one else but another writer understands. For me, editing can be almost as satisfying. It feels like clay taking shape under my fingers. The features come into view, start looking back at me with these life-like eyes, and I stare back at them and go, “Holy something… I made that!”

Revealing

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Writing has always been revealing for me, but something about this stage of writing has caused the process to reveal more of my inner self than I could have imagined. Over the past year, writing has been so intensely introspective, a reflection of my values, my brokenness and my strength. I’ve dug deeper and looked harder than ever before. It’s been surprising. And it’s forced growth.

So yes, things have changed in the past year, and no, they haven’t. Writing is the same and it’s oh, so different. It’s still all the things I love and hate. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Typings by a Type A

I’ve always thought of myself as a type B. I’m not a sports fanatic like my husband who somehow turns everything into in a competition. i.e. Who can make the best smoked chicken? Who can peel an orange without breaking the rind? Who can make it home from work the fastest? Even a ballgame is no fun for him to watch unless we’ve put a wager for a back rub on it. Nope, I’m the girl who wants everyone to get a trophy. I cheat for the other guy in card games so he doesn’t feel bad about losing. My face doesn’t turn beet-red if my team isn’t winning. I don’t shake my fist at the ref when the call is idiotic. So, I’m not type A, right?

But what I hadn’t thought of was how competitive I am with myself, especially as a writer. Or how I tell everyone else to enjoy the process of writing while they wait for their big moment but I maintain a vicious inner drill sergeant toward my own expectations. I don’t pit myself against other writers but I do make serious goals for myself that become life altering and massively mourned if not met and epically celebrated if achieved. I’m not status-conscious, however there are certain titles I sweat and bleed to own, namely PUBLISHED AUTHOR. There is, however, one thing I’ll admit to being and that’s achievement-addicted. Finishing a manuscript is my bungee jump, getting a full request is my sky diving.

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(Sky diving elephants seemed appropriate here.)

One source described a type A as someone who works late hours to get things accomplished. But that’s just because I have a day job in addition to writing books…isn’t it? And someone who rushes around, seemingly never having enough time in the day to get things done. But I only do that because I’m an introvert who’s uncomfortable with too much eye contact…right?

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The list goes on. Type A behavior can lead to stress because these people try to do everything themselves and eventually become overloaded. They aren’t always the best team players and rarely delegate work to others. They can sometimes seem non-empathetic because they hold everything in which can lead to a whole other psychological and physical ball of wax. ALL RIGHT! ALL RIGHT I GET IT ALREADY! Where do I go for my label?

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What kind of a writer/person are you? Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself from PsychologyToday.com

(Affirmative responses suggest Type A personality)

• Are you pressed for time at and after work?

• Do you always take work home with you?

• Do you eat rapidly?

• Do you have a strong need to excel?

• Do you have trouble finding time to get your hair cut/styled?

• Do you feel or act impatient when you have to wait in line?

Hostility-related items:

• Do you get irritated easily?

• Are you bossy and domineering?

• When you were younger was your temper fiery and difficult to control?

If the answer to most of these is yes for you, here’s a positive to dwell on: type As are more successful, which means those goals that mean so much to you, that drive you will likely be met. But one thing the Bs have on us As is that they’re better at enjoying the moment. So, while they may have fewer successes, they truly cherish the one’s they achieve. I’ve seen this with so many of my accomplished writerly friends who finally make it. They have the trophy. They’ve arrived, yet the fireworks and the parade and the ticker tape I expected to see in their lives gets put on hold as they push for the next target. Another encouraging part of this study by PsychologyToday.com revealed that most people are not 100% A or B but we do lean toward one side or the other. When we see that our A side is taking over, we As just need to make our goal to enjoy the moment because whatever we set our minds to, we eventually achieve.

2 LITTLE WORDS THAT CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOUR MS: THE END

10488290_10152533971360993_7822460364161932901_nThere comes a point in the life of a manuscript when certain questions must be asked. If a FULL manuscript has lived adventurously, traveling the world through cyber mail, visiting the in-boxes of agents galore only to return to you time and time again, it could be because of ridiculously long sentences like this one or…OR it could be because of the way you’ve ended your story.

It has been said that the most important pages you will ever write are the first and last five pages of your novel. If this is true, and I’m beginning to think it is, we have to learn to write better endings. And being the I-like-to-do-things-backwards type of girl that I am, I have learned this the hard way. So here are some things not to do when writing an ending.

 DO NOT:

1. Tie it into a neat little bow at the end that is all-too-convenient for everyone involved. I know you’ve been writing for eons and you just want the story to end but, don’t do that!

2. Throw your readers off a proverbial plot cliff. Even though things are winding up, your manuscript shouldn’t lose the momentum it had during the rest of the story. It should have the same feel to it even when it’s ending.

3. Be afraid of happy endings. You don’t have to kill your main character to create a twist at the end of your story. Happy endings are still possible. You may just have to think of a funky way for your MC to achieve it.

LOOK TO THE STARS

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An earth shattering ending – how, how, how do we write it? Start by looking to the stars. Is it shameful to look to the work of successful writers for inspiration? I say nay-nay! Let’s face it, there is no new thing under the sun. (A quote from my favorite book BTW.) No story has been written that hasn’t already been told. We just put a new twist on it, spiffed up the characters a little bit, modernize the setting and POOF…“new” story. Recently, I sat down and pinpointed what made an unforgettable ending for me and this is what I came up with:

UNFORGETTABLE ENDINGS ARE MADE OF…

There are  a few different formulas that, for me, produce an unforgettable ending.

1. A magnetic connection to the main character. It might not be the most eventful story I’ve ever read but I am so drawn to the character that I can’t stop reading. I want what he wants and if he gets it in the end then I celebrate with him and if he doesn’t I mourn with him. This type of unforgettable ending is more about the stuff sandwiched in between beginning and end than anything. I KNOW, I KNOW I’m contradicting my earlier statement about the first and last 5 pages. First, shut your snarky face. Second, keep reading and you’ll see that’s still true most of the time. *Sigh* And…I’m sorry I told you to shut your snarky face.

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Moving on. Think about movies like Rudy. Did we really care that he was a scrawny goober who dreamed about fulfilling a destiny that was a size too big for him? I mean come on, isn’t that everyone’s story? Nothing wildly original here. But it was the way Angelo Pizzo wrote Rudy’s character that made us love him, made us want to shout “Rudy!” at the top of our lungs. So when he did make it at the end, which we all saw coming, we felt emotion – not because it was a mind blowing event but because we cared for Rudy.

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Another example is John Green’s Paper Towns. Geek guy falls for popular girl – done a million times over, HOWEVER the sarcastic, irreverent voice of the MC and his cohorts keeps you reading. You want to know what impossibly scornful thing will be said next and before long you are deeply vested in weather Margo will speak to Quentin Jacobsen at school tomorrow or not. I’m a 36 year old educated mother of three…AND I WANT TO KNOW! That, my friends, is the power of an unforgettable ending.

A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.

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2. An amazing twist makes for a unforgettable ending. One of my favorite twisted endings is from The Game, starring Micheal Douglas and Sean Pen. The whole time you don’ t know who Nicholas Van Orton can trust. Everyone has turned against him and he can no longer tell the difference between the game and reality. In the end, *spoiler alert*  his brother shoots him and he falls three stories to what should be his death only to find everyone he knows waiting to congratulate him for making it through the game at the bottom, his brother included. They were all in on it and you never knew it the whole time…or I didn’t anyway. A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.

We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”

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3. Another element that makes for an unforgettable ending is when you are dying to see the villain get theirs. A well developed antagonist can drive your story all the way to the end. Making your reader love to hate the enemy can cause them to hold onto the last drop just to see the villain get what is coming to them. Make it count! Think about it. We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout “I’m melting! I’m melting!” It never gets old.

If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you.

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4. And finally, a romance that makes you fall in love all over again can sear an ending into your mind in a way that makes it unforgettable. When two people have that extra special connection you want to fight for it, because it’s rare. A well written romance can be the momentum for a plot. If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you. Look at endings of classic or popular love stories to see how they worked for other successful writers. Scarlet’s ending wasn’t the sweetest in Gone with the Wind but we all gave a darn. And what about The Notebook? Didn’t it rip our hearts out on a Saturday night right before Easter service? And you cried so hard your eyes swelled shut for church the next morning? No? Just me? All right then. And folks keep your boos and hisses to yourself; book and movie sales say it all. The Twilight series had a grip on our culture for a significant amount of time and left its mark on the Young Adult genre so don’t overlook the ending.

So…what about you? What are some of your favorite endings that you, or I – I’m not ashamed to be selfish here – could be inspired by? Do tell.

 

I DIDN’T CONNECT WITH YOUR MAIN CHARACTER

BlEJtsaCMAA7os9“I didn’t connect with your MC.” I’ve heard it so many times. In one of my more recent rejections the agent doted, saying she “absolutely loved” my concept and that my take on the setting was “genius.” She used the word genius! Ultimately though, she rejected me because she did not connect with my character. After reading this my mind was filled with questions. What was it about my main character that caused you not to connect with her? Is this something agents just say when they know the novel is not for them  but they just can’t pin-point why? If not then how, how, how can I make you connect with my character?

I have one of three reactions to rejection: 1.) A short pouting session where I turn my back on all things literary. 2.) A ravenous search for knowledge where I tear through every piece of advice ever written to improve the fault the agent has exposed. 3.) Both one and two combined in that order. This time I experienced the latter.

So, after completing step one, I did a little research on what can make the reader connect with the main character of a story and here’s what I came up with.

Make your MC Suffer

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We are a sick species who can’t seem to turn our eyes away from tragedy. It twists our insides to watch but we have to see the outcome. Capturing this element creates intrigue and ultimately a story that can’t be put down. One of my earliest mistakes in writing was giving my MC what she wanted too soon without enough trial and tribulation. I loved my main character, providing for her like a spoiled child. The problem with this is that it’s just not an interesting read. We understand more through empathetic and sympathetic communications than any other method. It’s important to put your MC through the cheese grater and then put them back together on the other side before you conclude your story. Sick as it is, it’s what people want to read.

Tap Into Your MC’s Emotions

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From fleeting emotions to the more grounded ones that make your character unique, the reader needs to understand, know and feel your MC’s emotions for themselves. Showing not telling is key.  Her stomach roils, his skin prickles, her blood speeds up creating torrents in her veins. Stressful situations expose the true character of a human in real life. It should do the same in your story. No matter the action or the cleverness of the writing, regardless of the fascinating twists, if the main character’s reactions are not identifiable then the reader will not make a connection and will be left with that “meh – it was all right” feeling at the end of the story. We’ve all been to that movie. The special effects were mind blowing. The character’s were hot, the plot was riveting but you never got to know the character on that deep level of human connection. Those stories are the ones we forget because we didn’t feel anything.

Another essential element of writing emotions is making sure your MC is growing emotionally through the journey. They should not be the same person at the end of the story as they were in the beginning. Maybe they are less  of a person: broken, weak, lonely. Maybe they have grown stronger, realizing their purpose and finding confidence. Whatever the case, it should be a gradual growth the reader can track from start to finish. Though the reader may not realize it, the outer journey should be the subsequent one. The real odyssey should be the inner transformation that is taking place.  It is easy for authors to miss this because we have so much work to do putting the intricate details of a believable plot together. Creating an emotional tracker for your main character and describing his or her state of emotions as they progress can help make sure this development is occurring and provide the dramatic action that makes a story a page turner.

The Reader Needs to Care about the Goal

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Dramatic action revolves around the characters goal and, while the character may not be aware of it, their methods of achieving that goal develops their emotions. Their reactions to the successes and failures that occur while achieving that goal reveals even more and the goal itself helps to define the character.  But here’s the kicker: if your reader doesn’t care about the goal then you’ve lost them. Writing the goal  isn’t the real obstacle though. The goal doesn’t have to be this big flashy thing. Your character doesn’t have to aspire to save the world. It could be something as simple as being a good writer or understanding themselves (Eat Love Pray). The trick is making the reader care about the character’s goals because they care about the character. We can do this by showing (not telling) the MC’s reactions to setbacks and failures and success. Another way to do this is by creating tensions and obstacles for our character to prevent them from achieving this goal too soon in the story.

Now, it’s your turn. How do you get your reader to connect with your characters? I’m a sponge. Fill me!

 

 

The Multiple Personalities of an Author

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THE HAPPY WRITER

On so many occasions I‘ve as asked  my writerly friends on this path of pursuing traditional publication why we put ourselves through this whole torturous obstacle course. Is it some sort of deep rooted need to punish ourselves or twisted masochism that makes us continue?

I don’t know about you, but I experience emotional ebbs and flows toward my writing. It can be the result of a rejection or from reading something that is so magnificent it makes all my work pale in comparison. These emotional ups and downs are fairly common/natural, however they can affect our work.

When we start feeling insecure, it effects the quality and quantity of our scribblings. It’s usually a good idea to take a break from writing when experiencing a valley. I’ve tried to push through and be productive during these times and it usually ends up in a lot of re-writing later. The trick is not letting these pity parties last too long so they don’t effect the quantity of our writing. Many times, we wait so long to get back into “the mood” that we lose momentum in our stories. When it’s been too long, try to find a good quality in your story and build on that. It may mean re-writing and making some plot changes but this approach has resulted in some of my best story lines.

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The Peaceful Writer

Writing Gives Me Multiple Personalities. 

THE PEACEFUL WRITER

Despite the valleys, there are times in the journey that are pleasant. My favorite times are the times of peaceful writing. I’m convinced that most writers are users. They use writing to obtain peace. They love the euphoric sensation of  being swept away to another world – away from their own responsibilities and problems, even if the main character’s problems are worse than their own. While anything can be abused, with balance, pouring oneself into a story, feeling the emotions of the characters and finding creative ways to work out their problems (which often times emulate your own), can’t be all that bad.

 

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THE CARE FREE WRITER

 

THE CARE FREE WRITER

The care free part of me likes to write just for the sake of writing. This is usually in the early parts of a manuscript when I’m just trying to get the story on paper. My fingers fly and the story flows out of me as fluidly as coffee from the carafe, which is typically consumed in high quantities during this stage. I’m not worried about flow or transitions or overuse of adverbs or world building or character descriptions. It’s all about regurgitating the plot. This is a fun time to write for authors. That excitement and passion for our story is there and so is our faith in it.  We know its value. We know it has potential. I’ve been on the roller coaster enough times however, to know the rush I get from being on the peak doesn’t last but that never keeps me from screaming all the way down.

 

It’s these manic episodes, these ebbs and flows, that result in the final product. 

 

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THE DRIVEN WRITER

THE DRIVEN WRITER

Once the story has taken shape and I’ve read over it and made it through the valley of I-Hate-It and the trenches of This-is-Crud, I eventually find myself in the plains of I-Can-Work-With-This. This is when I hit hard. I get a few critic partners to look at it for me and I devour every word they have to say. Then I cut the fat, slash the ramblings, polish the descriptions, obliterate the adverbs and capture the voice…at least those are my goals. I have gone through the full cycle multiple times, from Happy Writer to Driven Writer and back again, during the course of editing a single manuscript. Don’t feel sorry for me though. It’s these manic episodes, these ebbs and flows, that result in the final product.  I endure the multiple personalities of writing, BECAUSE I can’t settle for a mediocre product.

What about you? What are the names for your writing personalities. Come on, you know you have them too!

 

 

 

 

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’VE GONE MANUSCRIPT BLIND

IMG_20130728_113951Perspective. It’s abstract yet it’s everything. It’s what keeps our writing fresh and makes it relevant. It’s what gives our stories that malleability to conform to whatever we want or need it to be and it’s what causes an agent to fall in love with or instantly disconnect with our work. Perspective is essential, yet if we lose it we are spinning our wheels in the proverbial mud that is our WIP. So how do we get it?

Make sure people are looking at your writing.

Many of us are quiet about our endeavors in writing. We tell ourselves we will be more outward with it when we are finally published. (Mostly because we’re tired of answering the question: “Oh, you write? Where is your book sold?”) But if we want to be able to answer that question with a resounding “BARNES AND NOBLE” then you have to let other people see your work. We lack the perspective as humans to stay objective toward our own work. We need a fresh eye and a different outlook. You might be influencing your characters to act the way you would in a certain situation while others would do it differently. Letting other people read our manuscript, opens us up to a whole new range of scenarios for our characters. Think of other people’s input on your MS as deposits into an idea bank. You don’ t have to spend them if you don’t want to but the ideas are there when you need them.

Contests

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Contests are not for the weak of heart. It can be discouraging when you don’t even make it passed the initial selection rounds, however, many contests come with fantastic (and not so fantastic) feedback from published authors, editors, bloggers and the reading public in general. I have been at the place where I worked so hard on a manuscript that the words didn’t even look like words anymore. I had gone manuscript blind. Perspective from contests (even when we don’t win the contest) give us insight to issues with the MS that we couldn’t see before.

Take Criticism

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If someone told you your baby was ugly you’d punch them in the face. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t but you sure as heck wouldn’t give them roses. Our manuscripts are our babies – our blood, sweat and tears – but we MUST learn to take criticism for them. After all, our readers are why we write and if they don’t “get it” then we aren’t doing our job. I say this with total subjectivity. Of course, we don’t write to please all readers but we must be open to change for the sake of the reader if  it’s not compromising our voice or the integrity of our work.

Take a step back for saturation’s sake!

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I know you would never abandon your child and that’s what it feels like when you walk away from a manuscript but sometimes taking a step back to work on another project for a while – and I mean a while – can bring all the perspective we need. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves and the WIP.

What about you? How do you find perspective? I’d love to try your techniques.

Beta you wish you were better at self editing.

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I’m a writer for gosh sake. Grammatical blunders stand out to me like turds in a punch bowl. I can spot formatting errors on a manuscript on the sidewalk from the roof of the Willis Tower. (For your information, that’s the tallest building in the U.S.) I can detect a homophone misuse better than a shark smells blood in the water…UNLESS it’s in my own writing. Dadgum, this chaps my chassy! I just wish I could write something and edit it myself.

Don’t get me wrong I love, love, love my beta readers and the valuable criticism they give. Even if I wrote a squeaky clean novel, I would still give it to them for their input. However, the times I wish I didn’t need them are for the edits that don’t require a full rewrite. Any time I want to clean up some dialogue, add a scene or give a few more details I have to give puppy dog eyes to my betas so they’ll give it another look or in a perfect world give it to a whole new set so the MS is new and fresh to their eyes. That’s what it’s all about really – fresh eyes.

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The reason we are the worst editors for our manuscripts is we are saying the words before we even read them.

We know what it’s supposed to say. Heck, we have it memorized. Taking a month or two break from your MS can help with editing but that is so much harder to do than people think. The only way I can do that is by writing something else and putting it out of my mind for awhile.

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I’m guilty of it. I’ve made a few small changes before sending to an agent. I read it over. I had my husband read it over and it looked great. WHY….why oh why do we not see our typos until after we’ve hit the send button? Is it because we have to psych ourselves out to hit it in the first place? Don’t think just do, we say. Hit send. HIT IT NOW! Once it’s out there I think I’d rather not see the blasted blunders at all because I’m on the verge of vomiting for about three days after I realize I’ve launched my own personal blooper reel into someone’s slush pile.

The moral of the story is, sending a manuscript quickly never feels as good as sending a pristine one. Besides, we all know the turn around rate. It’s not like sending your MS quickly will merit you a thirty minute response.

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Do breathing exercises, have someone talk you down, relive nightmares from the past, whatever you have to do to make yourself send only when your manuscript is ready. Preachin’ to the choir here.

How about you? Have you ever sent too soon? Has mercy and grace abounded to you and you actually got a request from it? Please tell me it’s possible. Tell me your horror stories too! (Horror is one of the typos I sent in a query recently. Guhh!! Two R’s in horror. Finger slipped, spell correct failed me and I was too eager to hit send. Caught it seconds afterwards.)