“I almost finished the final chapter, but I got stuck and had to go back and revise parts of the first few chapters because of the ending. It’s like working a puzzle that sneaks in another twist after you think you have it solved,” I said with my nose wrinkled and my brows knit as I remembered the knot in my stomach when I realized all the rewriting my new ending necessitated.
“It’s a lot of work.”
Deep sigh. “Yeah, but it’s the most fun kind of work I’ve ever done.” I grinned at the small, white-whiskered man who slouched back in his chair with an echoing grin and crinkled hazel eyes.
“If it’s a labor of love, you’ll succeed.”
“What’s the status of your book?” I asked him.
“Your Kansas City mystery—the one we critiqued for the past two years.
“Oh. That book.” He shrugged.
I looked at Chris over my glasses and raised an eyebrow while a surge of warmth from my heart area threatened to turn up the corners of my mouth. This guy had given each of us good feedback on our chapters, asked questions that made us think about how to improve, and supported us on social media with “likes,” comments, and links to helpful sites. His chapters submitted for critique were so well-written that we needed only to enjoy the story and praise his use of witty dialogue. Now, we were reading a second entertaining story of his, chapter by chapter, but what had happened to the first?
“Did it get scooped up by an agent or a publishing company?” I probed.
“Why do you ask?”
“I like that story. It’s good. Should be published so lots of people can read it.”
“We should all be published,” he said.
“I want us all to be published by the end of the year,” I said looking upward with a melodramatic “wishing on a star” demeanor.
“Publishing contracts for all during the holidays—a time of miracles.” He nodded with a serious expression and regarded me with eyes that now looked golden brown.
By the end of September, everyone in the writing group, except for our newest member, had written and sent out multiple query letters. While helping to critique the queries, Chris had declined to share one. My head reeled with imaginings of my letters sitting unread at the bottom of great piles on agents’ desks or in their e-mail accounts. I’d received a few flat, generic replies telling me the agencies weren’t accepting new clients at this time or said, “You story does not fit our criteria.” What were the criteria my story didn’t fit? What criteria would my story fit if not those stated in the agency and publishing house Websites? Other group members had similar experiences, and it helped little when we told each other that some best-selling writers had tried for years before they were published.
In early November, I got an e-mail from an editor at a local press asking for a summary and the first three chapters of my book. The poor editor probably heard my whoops and squeals all the way downtown in her office. A couple weeks later, the editor asked for the entire manuscript.
~~~I floated into my critique group meeting on the third Thursday of December and tried to remain calm as my fellow writers straggled in and took seats. My toothy grin and triple-enthusiastic greetings to each of them may have been a clue that something was up.
“I have a publisher! They offered me a contract this morning.” I proclaimed without preamble and then sat back expecting open mouths and astonished congratulations.
Instead, all four others who’d written queries announced that they’d also received offers from different local publishers, all in the past few days. Our new member was absent, and Chris Elfin sat with his arms folded on the table, his eyes twinkling in a brilliant blue color, and a smile under his whiskers as we all elaborated on our successes. Chris’s eyes returned to their normal hazel as we proceeded with our regular critiquing session, but I couldn’t help thinking he looked as if he knew more about this contract coincidence than he was telling.
~~~“You haven’t told us if you have a contract for your book yet,” I said to Chris outside in the cold after class. “If any of our books deserves one, yours does. Maybe you should query one of these local publishers.”
“Maybe so,” he said.
“Remember when I wished that all of us would be published by the end of the year and you said the holidays are a time of miracles?”
He nodded with a secretive grin on his face.
“Well, the miracle isn’t quite complete unless you have a contract, too.”
“Miracle or not, you all deserve to have your hard work rewarded and your fine works published. By the way, I am self-published and starting to do well.” Chris Elfin walked away toward his parking spot. “Happy Holidays,” he boomed back at me from a golden sports car with a red hood ornament.
I stepped into my car, closed my eyes for a minute, and shook my head. When I looked again, I saw only a white Honda pulling away from under a light pole decorated with colored lights. I drove home looking forward to celebrating a special Christmas.