Query letter never to be sent


Dear Someday Agent or Editor,

I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve got something you would really like. I just don’t know who you are. I know that to get your attention I have to write a knock-out query that grabs your attention. Good writers do that.

But I’m the kind of person who upon a first meeting will trip over my two left feet, wear spinach between my teeth, and knock myself out trying to go out the in door. First impressions terrify me.

Dear Someday Agent or Editor, I don’t write because I want to get rich. My goodness. I spend everything I make from writing and much I make from my full-time job learning how to be, not a good writer, but a great writer. I wish I could make you believe in me. I’ve always been a worthy investment.

In the past, it seems as if almost everything I tried turned to gold. I didn’t understand what a rejection letter was. God has been so good.

But God knows how to temper his child. I walked into my first ACFW conference thinking I would walk out with a contract. I walked out acknowledging I had a lot to learn. But God is good like that. He didn’t humiliate me. He surrounded me with other Christian writers who shared wisdom about the craft. They weren’t arrogant or condescending. They were compassionate and encouraging. Someday, given the chance, I will do the same.

And so I joined a writers group who patiently taught me, and I entered the Genesis contest. I was a semi-finalist. The next year I finaled with a different manuscript!

But Dear Potential Agent or Editor, the bottom of my world dropped out. I lost my mom and dad. Becoming a semi-finalist just wasn’t as thrilling as I hoped it would be compared to my grief. I entered again this year, but the pain still hasn’t gone away after two years.

Dear Potential Agent or Editor, I feel as though I can’t find you. I’m like a traveler who missed the train. I’m sitting at the depot, wondering if I should board the next train or just go home.

I wish you could find me, but it doesn’t work that way. All of my writing friends have gone on with their lives, and I’m still at the station, watching the clock. To board or not to board. That is the question.

Dear Agent or Editor, I don’t want your sympathy. I just want to board that train, and I hope that when I will arrive, you will be at the station.

Please overlook the spinach and my two left feet. May it be my head that the door bops and not yours when I go in the wrong way.

Very sincerely yours,
Teresa Lockhart

Writer dare or truth


I have the pleasure of teaching a creative writing class at my school, and every day I’m thankful, so thankful, I get to follow my passion, my creativity. Sometimes, like tonight, I deliberately do the same assignment I give my students.

We’re working out of Julia Cameron’s book The Right to Write. During one of her Initiation Exercises, she asks the readers to complete the following sentence ten times.

A writer is _______.

Cameron then asks the reader to follow up with an explanation, a positive spin to what some writers could have initially considered to be a negative.

For example, one person might say, “A writer is broke.” An optimistic outlook would point out that the writer spends her money on conference fees and ink cartridges so that there’s no money left over for those delectable, calorie-laden pastries, available wherever $5 cups of coffee are sold, pastries like scones and cupcakes and pumpkin bread and donuts that add to the waistline and deplete the wallet.

I’m taking the challenge, but with a twist. I’m calling it Truth or Dare, the (unpublished, totally unknown) Writer Truth or Dare, only backwards.

A writer dares to be adventurous.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer’s idea of adventure is going to a workshop by herself for the first time. She walks into a large convention room for the opening mixer and picks up a fancy dessert and drink and sits down at a table with a group of people who have been congregating at this particular conference for the last decade. These people are so excited to see one another again that they don’t notice the outsider, that is, until she gets up to leave. Then the other people at the table assume she is part of the help, and they hand her their dirty dishes.

A writer dares to write 1,500 words a day, no excuses.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer writes 1,500 words a day…and then erases them one by one even though she has been taught to write first, edit later. It’s not easy being a perfectionist. Has anybody other than God ever gotten it right the first time?

A writer dares to take on every interview, every guest blog, every question to promote her book.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer sits down with her favorite group of busybodies and prepares to answer their questions and to listen to their free advice:

“Your Johnny told my Johnny that he had to eat another supper out of a fast food bag last night. In my house, we consider missing a deadline if we’re all not sitting down at the dinner table at five. Just what do you consider a priority at your house? Maybe you should put away your little hobby for a little while and focus on what really matters.”

(Never mind that she has worked all day at a full time job, delivered all the children to their dance lessons, football practices, and scout meetings on time, and saved up enough extra cash to treat the kids once a month to their favorite happy meal so she can finish another chapter.)

A writer dares to write every opportunity she gets.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer will wash the dishes, wash the laundry, wash the car, and wash the dog before she writes one word because she is afraid that one word will be the wrong word. She will also sweep, dust, and mop. And, yes, she will do windows if it means she can procrastinate twenty more minutes.

A writer dares to flaunt her glamorous writing lifestyle, which may or may not include sharing a cup of coffee with Jan Karon, Karen Kingsbury, or Kaye Dacus.

THE TRUTH: The unpublished, totally unknown, downright desperate writer dares to flaunt even the most pathetic detail of her “glamorous” writing lifestyle, especially after she has attended a big writer’s conference:

“I just made my first elevator pitch!”

“No, it wasn’t with an agent…it was with Terri Blackstock’s housekeeper.”

“What? How do I know that was her housekeeper? I was watching her room to see if I could catch a glimpse of Terri Blackstock.”

“No, I do not consider that stalking. I call it research and investigation. Anyway, I think the housekeeper liked it. She smiled a lot…before she ran out the door.”

Cat Whisperer

Stevie Ray

“Mom, if you keep talking like that, people will start calling you the Cat Lady.”

Brandishing his infinite wisdom, my college-age son once again offered his advice. And called me the Cat Lady!

Cat Lady? Visions of a deranged, lonely woman surrounded by hundreds of hungry, yowling felines invaded my imagination. Okay, the scenario is technically possible, but what my son doesn’t know is that I AM The Cat Lady, better known as The Cat Whisperer. I talk to my cat, and he talks back.

He doesn’t speak English. If he could, I think he’d prefer to talk like an Egyptian due to his breeding, but, nevertheless, he speaks. He just doesn’t use words.

He shows rather than tells.

Stevie Ray, named after the legendary blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, is a highly intelligent tabby who communicates with subtle and not-so-subtle cues.

Stevie Ray is a free spirit. He comes and goes as he pleases. I don’t force him to stay. He’s a back-door man who taps on my sunroom’s glass door with his velvet paw when he wants to enter.

Stevie Ray is refined. He requires no litter box. He sits by the door and meows when he needs to excuse himself. If I don’t respond soon enough, he sharpens his claws on my potted plant and shakes the leaves until he has my attention. If necessary, he topples the plant, which is nearly five feet tall.

Other than the occasional tree toppling, Stevie Ray, never, ever, violates my home–which is a whole lot more than I can say for the Scottish terror who invades our  living room and kitchen. She, with her vindictive attitude and predisposition for stealing quesadillas on take-home Mexican Monday, is jealous of Stevie Ray. Given the opportunity, she sneaks into the sunroom where Stevie Ray and I hang out, and leaves a nasty “gift” on the carpet by my computer.

By nature, I’m a dog lover. In addition to Maggie, the Scottie, I am also the proud owner of a yellow lab and a Hellhound. I’m sorry. This IS a rated-G blog. But it’s true. The same college-aged son who accused me
of being the future Cat Lady once brought home a sweet little black puppy we named Scooby Dee. I relented and let her stay, never imagining what she would turn out to be.

Little did I know that this black puppy with the big paws would grow into a shiny ebony monster with a Cheshire cat grin that resembles a Capuchin monkey. She has a body that’s a cross between a black lab and a Great Dane and the face of a Pit Bull or some other flesh-gouging canine straight from the depths of ….

But she’s a sweetheart, despite her looks. Scooby talks too. Literally. She tries to mimic our speech. But I don’t understand her words. I have to watch her actions. When Scooby wags her lethal tail, she’s happy, so happy, she knocks me off my feet.

Lacy, her yellow sister, is the runt of a litter of 13, the baby. And you know what they say about the baby. She always wants attention. I enrolled her in obedience school, and the leaders almost kicked us out because Lacy was too social. She barked constantly and wanted to rub noses with ever pup in the place.

Nevertheless, Lacy SHOWS her affection by trying to snuggle in my lap. Nevermind she’s at least 50 or 60 pounds. She flops at our feel for belly rubs and shakes hands over and over again because she knows it makes me happy.

My pets don’t tell; they show. And that’s what effective writers do.

My juniors are preparing for the TCAP Writing Assessment Test. My goal is for them to show vivid examples, not just tell about them. We’ve been practicing this objective all week. I usually throw in a personal example like the one below to make a point.

As a naïve, young teacher I agreed to sponsor a band concert for Homecoming, not realizing that five-foot little old me would be the ONLY chaperone of 500 hormonal teens. And because it was a concert, the only lights available were on the stage.

I could tell you I was terrified. Better yet, let me paint you a verbal picture and show you.

Being the naïve young teacher, I feared two things: procreation and illegal drug use. I was moderately worried about the mosh pit, forming at the front of the stage.

I watched with hawk eyes, and then I saw saw it. The glow of a red light. My imagination soared. I had to save my students. I assumed some shady perpetrator had sneaked a funny cigarette into the theater. I flew into combat mode and attacked the unknown suspect, yanking him over the back of the theater chairs.

Can you say overzealous?

Ironically, the red light on the alleged smoke was actually a laser that beamed from a Rebel Canon EOS camera. I had just wrestled my newspaper cameraman to the ground. I didn’t recognize him in the dark. I think I scarred him for life.

Can you say embarrassed?

A picture is worth a thousand words.

The greatest piece of advice my mother ever gave me was, “Actions speak louder than words.” You can only truly judge a person’s heart by examining his actions. Some people are takers. They depend on other people to make them happy. They always want something and possess a “What’s in it for me”attitude. Other people are givers. They find their happiness in doing something to make others happy, even if it means sacrificing something for themselves.

When it comes to writing, readers want to get to know their characters. They want  to fall in love with the characters in our books just as we want to fall in love with the characters in our lives. Actions speak louder than words.

Being the hopeless romantic, my heart melts in the presence of a giver. And that’s what I want my readers’ hearts to do when they meet my characters. I can’t just tell my readers the protagonist in my book is wonderful. I have to show them. I have to make the character do something that makes the readers’ hearts melt. Actions speak louder than words.

Just ask Stevie Ray. If he flips his tail, he’s telling you to back off, but if he purrs, he invites you to enjoy his presence. Right now he’s sleeping at my feet—he wants to be near me. That’s how I know he loves me.

At least that’s what his actions say.

A-mused again

Linus had his Great Pumpkin, but the good little children and their teachers have Mr. Flurry, who makes all their wishes come true.

Beware–it’s not your typical blog today….

Today is one of those magical days reserved only for kids—and teachers. It’s a snow day! Writers, take note. Even if you’re not in school,  don’t you deserve a play day? Your creativity grows with your experiences. Why not venture into my winter wonderland? Put away your laptops, revisions, and research. Let’s play.

There is one thing you have to know. You have to keep your eyes open to catch your muse. They’re everywhere, but you can only see them with a child’s eyes.

The Watcher

Take, for instance, The Watcher. He stands, waiting in the shadows…just like the next villian in your novel. Look closely. Does he resemble someone you know?

Danger lurks.

What you see isn’t always what you get

Perhaps your muses come in pairs. Is a love story brewing between your characters? Look closely. Don’t assume what you see is really what is really there. The snowman on the left is obviously Scottish. He’s wearing a kilt. And the lovely snowwoman on the right? She used to be a supermodel. And now you’re all set. Go write your romance.

Cold hands, warm hearts?

The Abominable Snowman

Looking for a muse that’s tall, dark, and handsome? How about we settle for tall? Few snowmen are dark. This one is kind of cute–in an abominable sort of way. Poor guy, always being referred to as loathsome. He’s not all bad, just misunderstood.

Clearly misunderstood


Maybe your muse is the romantic type. Picture the silhouette of a cowboy riding against a tequilla-colored sunset sky. Maybe the tragic hero in your next novel is a cowboy. Make him a gunslinger, and he’s even more desirable. He rides into town and runs into your reluctant heroine. She tries her best to guard her heart, but he has a quick draw and a deadly aim.  Bang! Shot through the heart. Who’s to blame?

He gives love a bad name.

Where’s Waldo?

And sometimes your muse will pop up out of the blue. Look closely. You may find him or her in the last place you expect. A cabinet to Narnia? A ceiling? A barber shop? Rome? One never knows.

He could be hiding anywhere.

Fantasy and sci-fi

Perhaps your creativity takes you to other worlds, even ones you create. There’s a muse for every occasion.

A little out of this world

Going cyberpunk
Keeping up with the trends? Look for a muse with attitude. How about going cyberpunk? It’s a little bit “high tech,” a little bit “low life.” Picture your story in a near-future dsytopian world, and you’re almost there. Let your muse guide you through a world of hackers and artificial intelligence.

Domo arigato, Mr. Robato

Everyone struggles

We’re coming to the close of our play day. Keep in mind, dear writer friend, we all struggle. The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. How many times have you made these excuses?

“But he  has a book deal.”
“She has an agent.”
“Her story has already won three contests.”
“This is her 25th novel.”

If you are a writer, you will always struggle. No writer has it easy. Even published writers. Don’t despair. There’s joy in the journey. You have to go out and grasp it. It will not come to you if you sit there and despair.

Need encouragement? Maybe your muse take the form of your best friend, critique partner, co-worker, teacher–the person who helps you believe in yourself.

Still searching for your muse? Let me introduce you to Grassy the Snowman. (I borrowed him from writer Jen Stephens. Check out her website if you want to know more about her blog and book series  http://www.jenstephens.net/ .)

He's a cousin to Frosty the Showman.

We are the champions!

All write, righters! Go to it. Grab hold of your muse and follow the plan God has set before you.

Go forth and conquer the page.

Revenge of the psycho writer chick

I hope you don’t think of me as a ruthless taskmaster of a teacher. But looking back over my decades of teaching, I realized something sad. I make my students cry.

I don’t mean to. Please indulge me a moment to roll a mental video so that I can explain.

Picture an old school TV sitcom in which the main character, a girl, wears many disguises. Maybe she has overbooked the night with too dates lined up. She can’t make up her mind which one she likes best, so goes out with all of them at the same time and meets them at the corner grill.

She starts off with Date #1, Mr. Football Player, a guy who digs chicks who can talk an iso-blocking scheme and a corner blitz. She snuggles in her favorite oversized NCAA jacket and meets him at a table. She spends the next 15 minutes reliving last night’s game, play by play. She doesn’t have to talk because he’s forgotten she’s there. The guy comes up for air, and she excuses herself from the table and says she has to go to the little girls’ room.

She rushes in the door, throws the football jacket in a corner, and pulls a peace sign out of her pocket. She slips it over the psychedelic tie-dye shirt she’s been wearing under the jacket. She kicks off her shoes and slips on the flip flops tucked away in her backpack. She’s off to meet Date #2, Lyric Man.

He waits for her at a table on the patio under the stars. Coincidentally, he has his guitar with him. He always has his guitar with him. And together they write a song on an old napkin. Then he sings it to her. The emotion is too great, and she runs to the bathroom.

As soon as she enters, she slips on the jacket again. Changes shoes and digs through the backpack for her brother’s old laptop. Doesn’t matter what she wears as long as she has the computer. She searches the outer edges of the restaurant for the guy who’s wired—Captain Geek Squad.

There he is. He’s plugged in the only available outlet. Gotta save the battery. He’s not worried she’s late. He’s got Wi-Fi. She shows him her PC and says she’s thinking about converting. He weeps. Then he launches into a deep emotional discussion of the benefits of owning a Mac vs. PC. He talks until a friend texts him with a problem—the  blue screen of death. Captain Geek Squad has no other choice but to console his buddy, and she takes advantage of the situation and rushes to the bathroom.

You know what happens next. Our protagonist runs herself ragged switching from one date to another. She finally blows her cover when she wears her peace sign and tie-dye with the football player, hands Lyric Man the computer, and tells Captain Geek Squad she runs a Power I instead of Windows 7.

I can relate. But my identity crisis centers around writing.

When I’m a sociology teacher, I’m laid back, but I follow the rules. “Yes, start with a topic sentence so the reader knows what you’re talking about. How many sentences? Oh, I don’t know—maybe four or five. Whatever. Just do a good job of proving your opinion. State some facts.”

When I’m a junior English teacher, I preach writing assessment. “Five paragraphs! You can’t possibly write an essay without five paragraphs. Where’s your hook? You can’t score a 6 without your hook!”

When I become English teacher at large, I speak only in Shakespearean sonnets, and I turn up my nose at persons who split an infinitive or use a nominative case preposition where an objective case pronoun should go.

When I play college teacher, I’m become the Grim Reaper of Comma Usage. Instead of a scythe, I carry a red ink pen and yellow highlighter. Can’t you hear my eerie laughter as I spout off Little Brown’s comma rules? 25A, compound sentence! 25B, introductory elements! 25J, no unnecessary commas. NO UNNECESSARY COMMAS! Ba ha ha ha ha. (Evil laugh.)

When I merge from death mode and become a journalism teacher, I bury my attributes, one by one. And, by the way, no, we DON’T put a comma before the conjunction in a series of items.

And then I go home and write. And I cry, just like my students. I thought I was a pretty good writer until I tried something new—writing fiction. Writing is hard. It’s like a puzzle; all the pieces have to fit. There are rules. You can’t cut off the edges and force a piece to fit.

You can’t teach a person to become a good writer. You can only provide the opportunities.

Academic writing is easiest for me. I can’t remember ever failing at academic writing. In fact, a few days ago I ran wildly through the house, screaming with joy because I Googled my name and found a professor who praised one of my academic articles that appeared in a book that was published last year. I wrote the article decades ago. I’ve learned so much more since then.

But it hasn’t come easy. I write every day. I’ve learned that only a fool turns his or her head to wisdom. I glean wisdom from other writers who have paid their dues. It probably didn’t come easy for them either.

Yet a lot of my students think it should.

They tell me how stupid academic writing is, how it stifles their creativity. Their pride takes a major hit when I splash their paper with red ink and tell them to revise.

I’ve been there. It hurts. As I said, I thought I knew something about writing—until I started writing a novel.

My students offer excuses. “I just can’t write if I’m told what to write.” “I have to have a deadline.” “Academic writing isn’t writing. There are too many rules.” “I’d rather write songs or poems. I need to express myself.”

What my poor, sweet, innocent students don’t realize is that all writing has rules. All writing—except writing for personal blogs or journals. You can pretty much get away with anything that you allow yourself, but then you’re writing for an audience of one—yourself. (If you’re writing for an audience of One, God–that’s a different story.) Generally, we have a need to connect with other people, and we can do that with our writing. Our blog writing can turn into professional blog writing, a ministry, a launch pad to devotional writing, etc. But there are rules. The key to effective writing is discipline.

Creative writing sounds easy. Want to know a secret? Creative writing is the most difficult type of writing I’ve ever pursued in my life—both in writing novels and writing songs. I have a LONG way to go in songwriting. That’s a different story.

I make my students cry because I make them “toe the line.”

Conforming to a standard isn’t easy. I know. I’ve wanted to give up too. I’ve thrown things. I’ve said ugly words. (But I haven’t written them.) I have grown. I have gotten better.

I hold my students accountable—even if they cry—because, like me, I know they can do better too. I can’t give them the ability. They have to find it within themselves through opportunity, and opportunity comes with practice, practice, practice.

Sometimes they come to a writing opportunity wearing “the wrong attire”—similar to the girl with the three dates. It’s inevitable. They’re going to end up frazzled unless they can write to their audience. I can’t help them if they refuse to change. It’s foolish to argue with stubborn pride.

By now, you know I’m a conundrum—wacky one minute and OCD serious the next. But here’s one thing you should know. I let down my guard with a person who tells me the truth—somebody I can trust, somebody who tells me I need to “toe the line.” And I, the psycho writer chick, almost never let down my guard.

And dear student, if by chance, you read this. Know I am your biggest fan. I believe with all my heart you will make it—if only you don’t give up. I’ll cry with you if I you want me to. Let down your guard. Believe me when I tell you that you can do it. Together we can “toe the line.”

I hear voices!

Let ME out of here and put ME on the page!

Finally! I’m hearing voices!

For the last week, I have been relentless, tormenting my English students, trying to bleed them so that their unique personalities will pour out into their writing.

My torture techniques are working. Some of them are actually catching on!

Sadly, we English teachers have taken a bad rap for stifling our students’ creativity. As much as I hate to  admit it, in some cases, it’s true.

We force our darlings to conform to the state-mandated guidelines that require them to write a five-paragraph persuasive essay in 35 minutes. The results are carbon-copy essays: Introduction, body 1, body 2, body 3, conclusion.

Yada yada yada.

Of course, there’s a place for academic writing, but I want my writers to be in control of their writing—not to be controlled by it. I want them to choose to use academic writing, not use it by default because they aren’t aware of other options.

Dr. Frankensteins, that’s what we English teachers have become. We’ve created mindless little monsters. We’ve conditioned our pupils to follow such rigid rules that their writing has become stiff and unimaginative, displaying no evidence of personality or individual style.

Thank goodness there are a still few teen rebels out there who are willing to try something new—even if it means sacrificing their A for innovation. Most are too afraid of lowering their GPA to take a risk.

In the last week I’ve tried all sorts of methods to breathe life into my teens’ writing. Yesterday, I had them respond to me in class, using the “voice” of a well-known character or celebrity. I heard “The Situation,” Elvis, Paris Hilton, Eminem, Britney Spears, and even the Water Boy.

Ah ha! Once these kiddos realized they had to alter their diction and syntax to create a “voice,” they caught on.

But when I asked them to pour out themselves on paper, they didn’t know what to do. Once again their words sounded almost identical. I don’t think I could tell one paper from the other if the students didn’t put their names on them.

My evaluation sounds harsh. Don’t get me wrong. I have the BEST students in the world. They are wonderful, respectful, hard working and creative.

But writing is HARD for most of US, especially when we have to put ourselves on paper for the world to critique. It’s easier just to write “safe” without revealing our vulnerabilities.

Bottom line, my students have voice problems. They don’t know who they are yet. Some of them are nervous to test the waters, so they’re reluctant to develop their own unique styles.

Newbie novelists like MYSELF have this problem too.

We’re still in the process of getting to know our characters. Until we really get to know them, they all sound alike, or, even worse, they may not sound believable at all.

I write these words of wisdom as though I’m some kind of writing guru. I’m not.

It’s just that I myself have started to catch on to this wonderful element of writing called voice.

Earlier this fall I met with best-selling YA author Ellen Hopkins at a conference in Nashville. We are so different! Yet she offered me advice that transformed my writing technique.

“Voice. Work on your character’s voice,” she said.

My first manuscript is written in limited third-person POV. Ellen suggested I re-write part of it—as  practice—in first person POV so that I could hear my character’s voice. I wasn’t too crazy about the idea at first, but now I understand why.

My main character TJ Westbrook has his own style, his own diction, his own syntax—just like those characters and celebrities I asked my students to emulate.

In order to create a convincing character with a unique voice, I first had to get to know him, spend time with him.

Well, duh.

I took Ellen’s advice and revised my manuscript. I actually left the comfort of my sunroom, where I do most of my writing, and I found a cozy spot where my characters and I could “talk.” We went on a date.

So here I am now an official participant in NaNoWriMo. I must write fast and furiously. Yes, I can revise later, but I think I can do a better job and write more efficiently if I totally immerse myself in characters’ lives so that I can hear their voices.

No, I’m not going to the extreme as some method actors have. Daniel Day-Lewis trained 18 months with a former world champion for his role in The Boxer. Robert De Niro worked 12 hour shifts as a cabbie in preparation for his role in The Taxi Driver. We all know how Heath Ledger’s personality shifted when he took on the dark role of The Joker.

So don’t worry. It’s not like I’m going to go to school with a “mojo hand” and dare all my wayward students to meet me at the crossroads. (Think Memphis. Think the Delta blues. For my current WIP, my main character mixes it up with a little magic as he returns to Memphis to find out who killed his best friend.)

But I do need to make time to go on a few “dates.” It’s not like I’ve got time for a five-hour trip to the Blues City Café—unless one of you suggests an impromptu road trip. I’m up for that.

More than likely, I’ll just chill out in my sunroom and listen to a little Stevie Ray Vaughn. Then again, I might have to make it to the nearest BBQ place in town. But the point is, I may be on hiatus from Serendipiteeblog for a few days as I get into the groove my NaNoWriMo endeavor.

I’m not sure where TJ and I will go on our next “date.” I just hope he’s paying—or, better yet, he and his voice pay off in the form of a book contract.