Note: for a period of one year, Kimmery posted every week on TheDebutanteBall.com, a website about five traditionally published debut female authors (Kimmery, Julie Clark, Lara Lillibridge, Cass Morris, and Kaitlyn Sage Patterson). Please visit the site to read a variety of writerly topics, including interviews with big-name authors, advice from literary agents, writing tips and more.
Kimmery's Dream Book
Remember that summer when everyone was surreptitiously reading Fifty Shades of Grey on their Kindles, eyes darting shiftily as they tried to project the air of a person deep in thoughtful analysis of some highbrow masterpiece? Yep. I read it too, and I had the same thought as everyone else: Geez. I could write a book. Not a flaming porn book, maybe (although I happen to think I could rock that too, assuming anyone else would have an interest in nerdy almost-porn). No, it was the writing that motivated me.
Fifty Shades didn’t become a bestseller because of the stellar writing, I know. But it did drive home the point that in our new digital world anyone could publish a book about anything. This struck a chord: somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain lurked a budding author, who’d been patiently biding her time until I woke up to her presence.
In a fit of misguided confidence I sat down and started a novel. To make a long story short, 5000 revisions later, The Queen of Hearts was released. Having your first novel published is fabulous, but the downside is you don’t have a bunch of other manuscripts in the drawer and you don’t have a lot of writing experience. Therefore I am going to talk today about the unwritten manuscript in my mind.
The Dad Book.
I have this idea I’d like to base a protagonist on my father. My dad was a singular dude, unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. He was also my favorite person and he died, suddenly and shockingly one night, in the midst of perfect health. After he died, his brother in Arizona went through his stuff and we discovered—to no one’s surprise—that an old IQ test indicated he was literally one of the smartest people on earth. He knew everything: as a child, in the pre-internet era, I used him as an encyclopedia whenever I had a question about physics or geopolitics or economics or literature or history or anything except fashion, basically. (No exaggeration on the fashion front: at the time of his death, Dad wore the exact same size and style of clothing he’d always worn, not appreciating the point of wearing different sorts of outfits on different occasions and certainly not appreciating the point of spending money on clothing. He had maybe four outfits, and refused to wear a tie, ever, on the grounds they were pointless and stupid.* Every now and then in a crowd I will spy the tall, slim silhouette of a man wearing worn black jeans and disintegrating army boots and it makes me want to weep.)**
He saw the world in a different way than the rest of us: supremely logical, he could build anything, make anything, figure out anything, often after only a casual glance. Well, I say he could figure out anything but there was one notable exception. Baffled by superstition and bias and any form of nonsensical behavior, he was frequently bewildered by other people, especially if they failed to behave with integrity.**
In addition to his intolerance of fools, Dad possessed a wicked sense of humor, a keen sense of social justice, and a number of almost fetishistic idiosyncrasies, chief among them a total inability to operate a vehicle without losing his mind over the pokiness of other drivers. (He was completely irony-proof, too: when the rest of us did our Dad-In-Traffic impersonations, he’d smile but then immediately launch into another rant about some slow-ass tractor that had pulled in front of him yesterday.) He loved any sort of machine, the faster and more complex the better. He was utterly unmotivated by wealth—he and my mother met in Kentucky in the 1960’s, where they’d both gone to volunteer in the war on poverty, and where he remained for the rest of his life even though he possessed about as many Southern Appalachian characteristics as Winston Churchill. He never spent money if he could avoid it: he built himself a tiny house in the mountains, rebuilt an ancient 1930’s era truck out of random prices of salvaged metal, read thousands of books from the library, and jerry-rigged the shit out of any mechanical contraption that broke. Or he just invented new machines. You know the cliche of the smart guy whose glasses are held together by duct tape? Yes. That was my dad.***
So there’s my main character, in a nutshell. There’d be a couple key differences: because I write medical/women’s fiction, Dad would have to morph into a brilliant, idiosyncratic female doctor. Given his innovative way of thinking, he—she—would be an infectious disease doctor, I think, on the cusp of a major discovery during a horrific worldwide pandemic, wearing battered work jeans as she battles corruption and venality with a single-minded determination to impose logic and peace upon the world.
And, of course, she’ll drive fast.
*Trying to get Dad to wear a tuxedo to my wedding led to a battle of epic proportions, which, because he loved me so much, he eventually lost. He looked remarkably handsome, but in retrospect I wish I’d let him wear his hideous 1960’s blue wedding suit—the only suit he ever owned.
**He would certainly not have survived the current political era, for instance.
***Several years after my dad’s death, I’d cry my way through The Martian by Andy Weir; I’m probably the only person on earth to lose it over the main character’s obsession with duct tape and math. But despite his fierce intellect and his scientific mind and all his lovable weirdness, my Dad was the one man on earth I could count on for pure unconditional support. And, like most children, I failed to realize what that was worth until it was gone. I wrote the poem at the beginning of this piece in a haze of grief the year after he died, on Father’s Day while flying home from a work trip, trying to capture the the tiniest fragment of what it was like to be his daughter.
Writing While Female: Kimmery Discusses Gender
The Upside—It’s a scientifically proven thing that women are vastly superior to the Y-chromosome crowd when it comes to using cognitive and emotional abilities to function in interpersonal relationships*. Women are instinctively good at getting into people’s heads and that’s a huge benefit when it comes to creating fictional human beings. Score one for the chicks.
The Downside—Listen, we have enough going on trying to process our friendships, family relationships, work relationships, online relationships, geopolitical relationships, faith relationships, and the misguided relationship our BFF is having with some repugnant jackass she met on Tinder without having to stress out about all these fictional relationships too. But we do it, because managing the angst and drama of imaginary people is now our job ... MORE
The Queen of Hearts Is Born!
Welp. This is it. I have waited for this day to get here for the last five years. At first it was with a fatalistic acceptance that I was never going to achieve what I wanted, then timid hope, then cautious excitement, and now exhilaration. This may sound a bit overblown because I didn’t cure anyone, or ease anyone’s pain, or invent anything brilliant, or any of the things that count in my day job. I didn’t even manage to write meaningful, elegant literary fiction about the world of medicine. (Don’t get me wrong; what I wrote may be on the entertaining side, but it’s reasonably smart too.) I tried SO HARD to make this happen, y’all. I worked on my manuscript every day until my eyes crossed. I suffered through so many rejections from literary agents that my cheeks would flame up in pre-emptive shame every time an email came in because I knew it would be another form rejection. I re-wrote it a thousand times. I kept going back to it, again and again, until I finally wrestled it into decent enough shape to sell. Then I rewrote it again for the publisher.
I’m the world’s biggest book nerd, and this was my dream. ...MORE
Inside Kimmery’s Brain: Deadline Edition
One week until article about deadlines is due. No problem; is loads of time. Would start immediately, except, much like childbirth, you cannot force creativity. It happens when it’s ready to happen. Well, technically you can force childbirth, but you know what I mean: forcing creativity would result in boring article. Which is not to say, of course, that forcing childbirth results in boring child. Omigod, Kimmery, please focus. Maybe will have snack now.
Six days. Not yet time to actually write but is fine to brainstorm about topic a bit. Deadlines are … deadlines are … I hate deadlines. Perhaps could do ten-point list on logistical management or something? No, that’s insane; anyone with time to read a ten-point plan for dealing with deadlines would probably be the sort of person who would complete the work as soon as assigned and would therefore not need a bullet list for emergency management of deadlines, while meanwhile the sort of person who would need a list of planning strategies (i.e., me) would be too panicked to implement said list because it would be far too late by the time she read it. So…that’s a nonstarter... MORE
The Call: It Doesn't Always Go Like You'd Think
When I was an aspiring author, I read every query letter success story I could get my hands on. There was a common theme to these essays, which tended to go something like this: the writer, having long since given up hope that she’d ever become published, is strolling through Target one day when her phone rings. She glances at it, realizes the phone is displaying the 212 area code, and promptly suffers a small, excited seizure.
This is it. The Call.
She answers to find the agent of her dreams on the other end, burbling effusive praise for the manuscript. They chat for an hour about their goals and aspirations for the book. After they’ve hung up, the writer shrieks with glee, and, much like a newly engaged person, calls everyone she’s ever met as she simultaneously posts a long, heartfelt ode to joy on Facebook.
My call went nothing like this, given that it happened on one of the worst days of my life.
When Kimmery Gets Distracted
Today’s topic is Writing Through Distraction, which I feel eminently qualified to discuss because my God, it is freakishly cold in here. I think my hand just fell off. Where did I put those fingerless gloves and the little ski-package hand warmer thingies?
The key to writing through the inevitable maelstrom of carnage that will occur as you are trying to finish your assignment is holy smoke! Modern Mrs. Darcy just followed me back on Instagram! Must call best friend to discuss.
When distractions occur, do NOT bite! How many times have I said biting other people is not an acceptable means of resolving disputes, even if they did mess with the X-box in the middle of your game? Oh, you mean she bit you? He called you a Giant Stinky Butt? Whatever. Figure this out quietly or I am going to count to three, and then I am going to
Kimmery's 2018 Writing Resolution Checklist
I typically don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, on the theory that I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl (a pantser, as we dorks say in writing parlance). However, I’ve been assigned the topic of resolutions so I’d better acquire some, stat. In the interest of making other writers feel better about themselves, I’m going to be brutally honest.
Ideal: Finish Novel-In-Progress.
Achievable: Finish current chapter.
Keeping It Real: Finish tweet about current chapter.
Kimmery's Must-Read Books of 2017
Let's start with Leonardo da Vinci (biography) by Walter Isaacson: A masterpiece befitting its remarkable subject, this epic tome about one of history’s most fascinating human beings is not a quick read. Nor is it a light one: aside from medical textbooks and coffee table art books, it’s the heaviest book I own. I nearly fell over when I first picked it up. But I’ve long been consumed with curiosity about da Vinci, the ultimate—and literal—renaissance man, whose genius on multiple levels is staggering. I can dive in and out of this book whenever the mood strikes me and it is always interesting. I cannot fathom the amount of research it took to write this, however. Isaacson must be as brilliant as da Vinci. Or, uh, almost.
Kimmery's Top Five Favorite Quotes About Writing (Plus One Quote About Coffee)
We all know December is traditionally hellish, what with the looming holiday madness, the ten thousand “festive event” obligations, and the ubiquitous viral plague that bitchslaps everyone into total uselessness. Here at The Deb Ball, we decided to take it easy on ourselves this week. So instead of writing real columns, we’re ... MORE
Kimmery's Timeline to Publication
Back when I was engaged in the humbling process of querying, I held a keen interest in other people’s publication stories, especially if they were full of initial angst and failure. I wanted to know this: how long did it take, and how hard was it? Because for me, it took forever, and it was hard as hell.
I can state with confidence that all debut writers are intensely curious about other people’s timelines, both for the querying process and the process after you’ve been accepted for publication. I can also state with confidence that you’re making an error of catastrophic proportions if you look at someone else’s timeline and think that yours will mirror it. It won’t. Someone else’s manuscript is always going to get picked up faster than yours while hogging more attention and resources. Her manuscript is not as good as yours, of course—in fact, it’s crap—so, obviously, that writer must be dating the publicist’s cousin. Nevertheless, that’s how it goes.
Being an ER doc by training, I am highly primed for action. I like to zip around as if I’m on fire, so the geologic pace of the publishing industry, while not unexpected, did cramp my style a bit. It will have taken me nearly four years from the time I finished writing the manuscript to the time of publication. I can no longer remember exactly when I started The Queen of Hearts, but I did come across this exuberant Facebook post from mid-2014:
Oh, the sweet naiveté! Just finished my book!!! Ha! I had no idea.
As best I can remember, it took about nine months to arrive at that first draft. So here’s a reconstructed timeline, from typing the first words in 2013 to the glorious date of publication: February 13, 2018.
Mid-2013: Initial Draft Started
June 11, 2014: Initial Draft Finished
—Beta-reader opinions sought and rendered
—Local editing help acquired
—Multiple revisions of the manuscript
—First of many incoherent queries sent
—Attended first Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC
—Query revised multiple times, followed by another substantial overhaul of the manuscript.
—Here’s a tiny sampling of my query responses to demonstrate how they evolved over time. Most of the time I reviewed no response at all—even from agencies who claim to respond to all queries—so often I was left wondering if my query had gotten through. (Please, literary agencies, take note: set up an auto-response to indicate you received the query!)
This is also a pretty good illustration of how query responses can vary. You might think I made up this first form letter, but I swear I didn’t.
Dear Writer: Not for us. Thanks.
Dear Ms. Martin, Thanks so much for writing me about your project. I’m sorry to say that it isn’t quite right for my list. All My Best.
Dear Dr. Martin, Thank you for taking the time to send us the query for your upmarket women’s fiction novel, which we have read with interest. Though the premise sounds compelling, we are sorry to say the project is not right for our list. We wish you luck with your work. All best.
Hi Kimmery – Thanks for sending these pages along. As you know, I was intrigued by this concept, so I was eager to take a look. Unfortunately, however, I had a hard time connecting with the writing here. You have a very funny voice and there are some hilarious moments but ultimately, the narrative just didn’t feel immediate to me. This is purely a matter of personal taste, of course, and not an objective criticism, but you deserve an agent who is over-the-moon for your writing. With that in mind, I’m going to step aside and wish you all the best of luck with this project. Thanks for the opportunity to consider your work. All best.
Dear Kimmery, I started your manuscript last night and am very much enjoying it — you’re a terrifically witty and engaging writer. So I will try to get back to you on our end as soon as possible. All best to you.
Dear Kimmery (what a terrific name!), I would very much like to work with you on selling your novel. You are a fantastic writer and this story is very reminiscent of the kinds of books written by Liane Moriarty, I think. I am in my office all day today to talk – so, please let me know when you and I may chat. I very much look forward to next steps. Best.
January 7, 2016: Full request from multiple agents, including Jane Dystel of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.
February 4, 2016: Accepted offer of representation from Jane Dystel after conversations with multiple agents.
March 1, 2016: Manuscript sent on submission after minimal revision.
March 16, 2016: Accepted offer from Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, contingent upon major rewrite to include an additional specific plot line.
March 28, 2016: Deal memo received from PRH.
April 2016: Official contract signed.
April 27, 2016: Deal announced in Publishers Marketplace.
May 25 2016: Initial revision completed.
July 5, 2016: Revision accepted, suggestion received from PRH editor for second round revisions.
November 2016: New Title
December 2016: Final Revisions accepted
January-February 2017: Author’s Note and Acknowledgements Due
February 2017: First galleys printed; publication date set for February 2018
March-April 2017: First-pass and second-pass pages due and accepted
April 2017: Cover Art finished
May 2017: Metadata uploaded to retailers, Goodreads and Amazon profiles set up, cover reveal on social media
June 2017: First foreign rights sale, marketing plan shared, author photo due
July 2017: ARCs printed
September 2017: First Goodreads Giveaway
October-December 2017: A few interviews, reviews, and press mentions
January 2017: TBD at this time
February 2018: Publication!
... Orginal article
Kimmery's Top Ten Tips For A Good First Draft
Our topic this week is first drafts, and let’s be honest: I am not a trained writer. I don’t have an MFA or a background in journalism or even an English major. So it might amaze you that my novel (now titled The Queen of Hearts) was in near-flawless form when I finished its first draft. Revision? Ha! I had to look up the meaning of the word. I’m not saying I managed to hit every one of the guidelines listed below, y’all, but I came darn close. It takes a special kind of literary genius to accomplish so much right out of the gate, but I’m not selfish. To commemorate my foray into the novel-writing world, I have compiled a list of tips—based on my initial manuscript— for anyone out there who might be struggling with their own first draft. You’re welcome. ... MORE
On Dream Jobs: Kimmery's Fork In The Road
Today we are writing about the road not taken, a subject I like to spring on unsuspecting people at dinner parties. “What would you do if you weren’t managing hostile corporate takeovers?” I’ll say to the man next to me, and he’ll look at me like I have four heads and then mumble something about how he also likes hedge funds. On reflection, maybe my city is not the best place for this kind of conversation, since everyone here seems to be in finance.
What I mean, of course, is not what would you do that is feasible, but what would you do if you could have your dream job. And not just any dream job, but ... READ MORE
What Makes You Notable: Kimmery's Fake Bio
I have a question for you: What constitutes a noteworthy life?
Over the course of the ages some 100 billion people have walked the face of the earth. Only a tiny fraction of them will accomplish enough to be remembered by their fellow humans, but fame is a funny thing, of course. Sometimes it’s conferred upon you because you made a stunning discovery in quantum physics and sometimes it’s because you’re really gifted at posting photos of your giant bottom on Instagram. Nonetheless, we deem some of us to be more memorable than others.
The question of who has accomplished enough to make history and who has not is a weighty one, but luckily there’s a remarkably simple answer: 0.00011%. That’s the percentage of people alive who are currently notable ... READ MORE
Kimmery's Top Five Writing Fears
1. Fear of Being Considered a Grey’s Anatomy Knockoff: I hear this a lot. My book contains some similarities to the TV show Grey’s Anatomy, apparently. That’s fine, especially because people love that show. For the record, though, I just wanna state: I have never, even once, watched it. I don’t like medical dramas, partly because I’ll fixate on some inaccurate detail and then ruin the show for everyone else by complaining about it, and partly because who needs medical dramas on TV when you’ve got them live every night in front of you? Still, I must be attracted to this on some level because the real-life drama is what inspired me to write.
2. Fear Of Everyone I’ve Ever Known Thinking They Are A Character In The Book: Let me just be upfront on this point. You’re not in the book. There is one character who is semi-based on a real person and as of right now, that person is tiny and still basically illiterate, so any fallout should be a few years off. Everyone else is made up, or at least a fusion of four or five random people plus some wholly imaginary traits... Read more HERE
Kimmery Is Not Old
I just got around to checking this week’s topic and nearly fell off my chair when I realized what it is: Debuting As a Writer When You’re An Ancient, Shriveled Fossil.
So many things wrong here. First, I am not old. I mean, I don’t feel old, but possibly that is because I am immature for my age.* Second, I was thinking of passing myself off as a twenty-something author—possibly a twenty-something male author—so being outed as an elderly woman isn’t gonna help.
Before you start yelling at me about cultural appropriation or ageism, here’s how I got the idea of portraying myself as age- and gender-mysterious. My friend Sameena, who is a voracious reader, recently finished Hanya Yanagihara’s 720-page literary masterpiece A Little Life. “It’s rare that I read a book and can’t extrapolate anything about the writer,” she said. “I couldn’t guess much here—not gender, not age, not nationality. This author is a total cipher. I actually went and looked her up.”
“Hey,” I said, excited. “That’s just like MY book. People will wonder: was this written by a seventy year-old Chinese man? A gay accountant from Suriname? A warlord from Turkmenistan? Who?” And then we laughed, because ... read more HERE
Take Kimmery’s Custom Quiz: Do You Have The Personality Of A Writer?
This week on The Debutante Ball, we are describing our personalities. To be honest, I have a hard time describing my personality, which varies according to the person with whom I am interacting and whether or not I’ve had my coffee. Plus, meta-cognition is not really my thing.
Therefore, I have decided to focus on your personality. Specifically, I am going to assess whether or not you have the personality of a writer. To this end, I spent a bunch of time devising a free interactive quiz online, only to discover at the end of the process that I’d have to pay to actually put it on my website so other people could use it. I regret to say that this caused a temporary but significant deterioration in my personality.
Because I am too cheap to pay for you to take a fun quiz, I chucked the clever one I’d made and started over with a crappier non-interactive quiz, which you can take HERE
Kimmery's Cure for Brain Freeze
Today we are talking about creativity and how to get some. Here’s a fun factoid: one of the most interesting things regarding the question of where creativity comes from is where it doesn’t come from. Research indicates that when people are allowed to improvise, the region of the brain associated with planning, inhibition, and self-censorship deactivates itself. That’s correct, writers! In order to do your job well, you must allow yourself to morph into a freewheeling freakshow with no filter. Embrace the drama and really dive in there! This is excellent advice. I mean, we all know nobody’s gonna read a book with no drama.
I write every day, dividing my time between my novel-in-progress, posts for The Debutante Ball, my travelogues, interviews, book reviews, opinion pieces for national websites, and a whole lotta social media nonsense. If I lose creativity, I’m dead in the water. So ... MORE ...
Dear Agent: XOXO from Kimmery
Note: this week, we are discussing the process of landing a literary agent. For anyone unfamiliar with this torturous process, it involves writing a one-page letter, describing your book and yourself, in which you are supposed to entice, or at least not frighten, the agent.
You wanna talk about the sting of rejection? Settle in, child. I am the patron saint of awful query letters. In the beginning, I tried very hard to write a concise, hooky one but I failed. I had an unmentionable number of rejected query versions, including an unfortunate batch I discovered one morning after I’d had a teeny bit of Ambien the night before. (Oh, the horror. I awoke feeling ridiculously confident, turned on my computer, and nearly vomited on my shoes to find ... MORE ...
Kimmery Investigates Slow Time
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an article in National Geographic about the longest train ride through India. You know how every now and then you read something that triggers some awakening in your mind, as if the author had composed his language solely for you? To me this article was so arrestingly beautiful, so beautifully phrased, and so poignant that it seemed personal.
Gorgeous: the writing, certainly, but also the concepts: slow time, avoiding a preoccupation with the future, savoring the present. Wait, what? Savoring the present? Who the hell savors the present?
The present and I are engaged in an epic life-or-death struggle in which I am trying to raise some kids, write a new book, promote the old book, write a weekly article or three, write a bunch of book reviews, do some doctoring, do some volunteering, and maintain a household. The present, cackling like a drunk cartoon hyena, is actively trying to murder me. ...MORE ...
In Which Kimmery Thanks Five People* You Wouldn't Expect
For this post about people without whom The Queen of Hearts would not exist, I decided to go rogue in order to list a few unexpected influencers: a cranky genius, a maligned but immensely successful author of erotica, a fictional six-year-old, a group of 70,000 over-sharers, and, uh, me. To the usual suspects in a thank-you list (my agent, my editor, my beta readers, my writing groups, and my long-suffering friends and family) I owe you a separate article. And a really nice bottle of bourbon.
… MORE ...
Book Nerd Extraordinaire:
Kimmery here. I am so excited to be a member of the Debs! However, I must confess that the challenge of writing a post introducing myself caused me to spin off into a brief but dramatic existential crisis where I stared at my blank computer screen for a few hours wondering who I was. Eventually my writer’s group poured some ice water over my head and I snapped out of it … MORE...