Janet Sumner Johnson
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Courage

“The Butler” and Standing Up for What You Believe

Jun

16, 2014 |

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This weekend I finally saw Lee Daniel’s The Butler. Yes, yes,
I’m behind in the movie-going world, but that’s what you get when you have 3
kids and a husband still in training. (Let’s just say the medical path is a long one, my
friends).

But getting back to the point, this movie had me all over
the emotional chart. You read about the civil rights movement, and the events
and the horrors, but it’s different seeing it a bit closer. So much courage! So
much patience. I am in awe of Martin Luther King Jr. and his conviction and
understanding of how to change people’s minds. He and Dumbledore would get
along great, because the answer really is LOVE. And the world desperately needs
more men and women like him.

But I digress. There is so much I could say about this
movie, but I won’t. I’m choosing to focus on one aspect. One aspect that is the
main theme, but I feel gets buried a bit by the end.

You see, the movie does this amazing job of showing the parallel
lives of Mr. Cecil Gaines and his son, Louis. Cecil is a butler at the Whitehouse.
Louis is a Freedom Rider who takes part in the sit-in at Woolworths, and other infamous
events.

Louis is out doing. He is fighting for his freedom, and for
the freedoms of all African-Americans. He is brave. He sacrifices his time, his
safety, and even his family for what he believes. And he suffers. Countless
stints in jail. Beatings. Every time he stands up in protest, he risks death.
In short, he is a hero. Very obviously. No question.

And then there is Cecil. He does not fight. He plays the
role that society expects of him. Subservient. Soft-spoken. Not allowed to
express political views at the risk of losing his job. He is paid less than
white men doing the same job, but doesn’t even dare express discontent about
that (at least at first). In short he fears. Fears for his life. Fears for his
son’s life. And yet . . .

And yet, he is a noble figure. In his own way he is fighting,
too. It is not obvious. It is not brazen. But he is fighting, and his influence
is felt. At one point Louis speaks of his father with Martin Luther King, Jr.. Louis
has been ashamed of his father his whole life, but Dr. King responds with this:

“Young brother, the black domestic defy racial
stereotype about being hard working and trustworthy. It slowly tears down
racial hatred because it’s an example of a strong work ethic and dignified
character. Now while we perceive the butler to be mainly subservient, in many
ways they are subversive, without even knowing it.”

In short, Cecil is more powerful than either of them
realized. Cecil’s honest decency. His care and concern for others regardless of
their personal views. He influenced people. He changed them.

There are so many parallels to this story in today’s world.
We are called on to stand up for what we believe in (whatever that may be).
Sometimes we think there is only one way to do that. That we must fight. We
must be brazen heroes like Louis, with courage that is obvious.

But quiet heroism. Love for others. Treating others kindly,
even when you know their views diametrically oppose yours. That is power, too.

**Don’t forget to enter for (link–>) a chance to win a Pre-order of RED BUTTERFLY**

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How I Got My Agent

Oct

15, 2012 |

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First of all, thank you to everyone who stopped by to wish me congratulations last week! It’s such a great feeling having so many supportive friends. 🙂 I’m still working through the comments, but I might be slow. So in the mean time, know that every comment was VERY appreciated!

Anyhoo, last week you got the short version of my news, so today, for those who like this sort of thing (I always do), I give you the long version. I totally understand if you skim. Because it’s long. Especially for me!

Many moons ago, when I was but a wee lass, I wrote a book. It was amazing. A best seller. Humorous. Touching. Emotional. Gripping from page one. (Okay, I’m lying. It was TERRIBLE. But that’s how I felt about it.)

I queried precisely one agent. And I got precisely one partial request . . . and then an exceedingly kind rejection. And I KNEW. I put that book on a shelf and moved on to the next book.

The next book took me . . . um, A LOT of years to write. Because by golly, I was going to get it right this time! I entered one pitch contest, and got one full request (I know! Crazy, right?). And then I got the rejection. And I KNEW. This book was not ready. I tried to fix this one, but just never felt ready to let it go. So I moved on to the next book.

Except, really, I moved back to the previous book. I re-read it. Groaned at how awful it was. But I saw the spark in my characters. I replotted. Made my darling husband talk plot points on date night. Carried a notebook with me everywhere so I could write in every spare minute. But before I was done, I sent the first ten pages to be critiqued by an agent at a conference.

And people, you are going to laugh, but I got a full request! So I worked even harder and finished the first draft (I use the term loosely). I edited it, polished it, and finally sent it off (Jan. 2011). And then . . .? Nothing. So I took a deep breath and began querying in March. Slowly. V-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y. And I got some requests, but one by one, they all came back as rejections.

Something had to be done. Come October 2011, I battled in an online auction for an editor critique. I paid my money, and got some fabulous advice. But alas, it meant major revisions. So I dug in, and by February 2012, I was raring to go again. So I sent off ten more queries, and got a couple of requests. I even e-mailed some agents who had rejected the full, and they all agreed to look at it again. I was feeling good!

But when those rejections came, I was crushed. CRUSHED. I came to the only conclusion I could. My book was not ready. Irrational, I know, but there we have it. I stopped querying last April.

So I threw my heart into my next book which I am absolutely in love with. And this time I was feeling it. This was going to be THE book. My breakthrough.

Halfway through draft two of THE book, I got an email from a former CP telling me how she had given her novel one last shot and actually gotten an agent. I was so happy for her, and so humbled. Deep down, I knew I hadn’t really given my previous book a chance. So I told myself: “One last hurrah. And then I can’t say I didn’t try.”

Right about this same time Brenda Drake was starting Pitch Madness. 300 entries. 60 finalists. 9 agents.

I entered, and was lucky enough to be pulled from the slush by Dee and chosen as a finalist by Erica Chapman.

Now see, I had read all the agent bios. One had already rejected this ms, and 3 or so didn’t do Middle Grade. Of the remaining 5, based on interests, I thought I’d probably get one request. Two if I were particularly lucky.

That week I bit my nails (which I DON’T do), followed the #pitchmadness twitter conversation religiously, and tried my best to sleep at night. And of course I told myself, “It’s not like anything’s going to come of this. Even if I do get a request.”

Yeah. Pessimist, much?

The day arrived. With shaking hands I went to twitter for the announcement of which agent won each entry. But my entry didn’t come up. They skipped right past my number. I felt sick. But wasn’t it just the inevitable? No interest. More of the same.

Dejected, I went to my entry just to make it real, and my jaw dropped to the floor to find that SIX of the nine agents had expressed interest! SIX!!! Including the one who had previously rejected it. And including an agent I KNEW didn’t rep middle grade. There had been a tie, which is why my entry hadn’t been announced.

I was agog. I must have stared at that screen for a full minute with my mouth still hanging open.

Anyway, to bring this epically long post to an end, I ended up with three requests in addition to the winner. One of those being the agent who had previously rejected this book.

So when I received an e-mail from the said agent a mere six days later, I assumed she had finally realized her mistake.

I could not have been more wrong. She wanted to talk representation!

I know!

We had a wonderful telephone conversation in which she told me what she loved about my ms (among other things), and though I tried to keep an open mind for the other agents still reading, I knew I wanted to work with her. And if you haven’t guessed by now, yes, this was Victoria Marini. SHE WAS THE AGENT WHO HAD REJECTED THIS VERY SAME BOOK! Form rejection of the query, no less.

I tell you this because I had written her off. She hadn’t like it. So even though I’d done a major revision, I had no plans to re-query her.

Mistake.

Writing a book is a bold endeavor. It takes hard work, patience, and lots of courage. And querying is no different. Be bold! Be brave! BE BRAVER THAN ME. Don’t be afraid of a ‘no’ . . . or even a second ‘no’.

And there I shall end, but for those who like stats, here are mine. I’ve combined contest requests with queries, just to make it less convoluted:

Time spent querying: 9 months actively (over span of 1.5 years)
Total queries sent: 63 (fyi, I only sent 55 queries, the rest were requests from contests)
Query Rejections: 28
Non-responders: 20
Partial requests:  8
Full requests: 9
Offers of Representation: 1

It just takes one, right? Don’t give up. And BE BOLD!

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