Category Archives: First Reader (aka Husband)

My Author Photo

Taking a picture of myself that is worthy of a book cover is nearly impossible.  The only other process that comes close to requiring perfect sync of so many variables is the miracle of conception.  Yet the world is full of author photos, and agent and editor both neeeded mine yesterday.  On a day when hair, weight, and attitude were momentarily aligned, I called husband and invited him to lunch at the arboretum.  We took 200 pictures.  Upon review, not one was a keeper.  In case we were being too picky, I sent a batch to my good friend for her honest advice.  She said, “Do you have any shots that look like you?”  

We tried again and again, always with the same results.  We took turns making a case for improbable shots where half of my face was in shadow, for instance.  Under pressure, I sent a selection of the best to my agent.  “Do you have any shots that look warm and inviting?” she asked.

We sought the expert skills of a fashion photographer we know, and although his pictures were museum quality, he could do only so much with the subject (me).  On a photo shoot, overcome with the pressure to look warm and inviting, to be a face that sells books and still look like myself, and wondering what any of this had to do with writing, I sat on a picnic table and cried.  Those are the very worst pictures of all.

Then, one evening, husband had an idea.  “Let’s just think of this as practise,” he said.  We took our wineglasses onto the deck and, in the waning light of a summer evening, took pictures until it grew dark.  This time, we got an angle that seemed to work.  The only problem was the background:  two wineglasses in plain view and a blue mini-van emerging from my left temporal lobe.    

Time was running out.  Two more sessions and absolutely no good shots later, my editor requested a picture.  ASAP.  I pulled out the practise shot and turned on the photo editing tools.  I cropped as close as I could to take out the wineglasses, and painted green foliage over everything that didn’t belong in an author photo.  Then I braced myself and hit send.    

My editor wrote, “Do you have any shots where you look less startled?”  

I envy photogenic authors who do what comes naturally and get a great photo in one session.  I sent her my other shots and she opted for startled.


Filed under Agent, Cindy Jones, Editor, First Reader (aka Husband), My Jane Austen Summer, The business of writing...

I Am Thankful for Instant Messaging

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wish to express gratitude to technology for promoting close ties with my loved ones (pictured right) even if it occasionally feels too close for comfort.  Take my cell phone.  Please.  Family members can catch me in the book store, girl lunches, and the hairdresser’s shampoo station.  Husband invariably calls both times I visit the pedicure salon, and since he doesn’t really know what a pedicure is, makes me repeat the word five times and seek other words to describe what I’m doing, until all 17 fellow pedicure clients glance up from their magazines to lament my short leash.  

Take Instant Messaging.  Please.  By touching a few letters, my sons can cryptically inform me if they are in any kind of need, a state they interpret widely to include hunger, gym clothes, and homework.  But.  Instant messaging is a two-edged sword, and thanks to the  high school family network, I see their grades before they do, (if I’m paying attention).  Thanks to Facebook’s lack of privacy, I know what they’re broadcasting on the cosmic information superhighway soon enough to protect them from themselves.  

If I’m paying attention.     

You can experience this same degree of intimacy with MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER.  Enrolled in Facebook?  You can click on the icon to the right of this post to gain instant access to the intimate details of a novel’s birth.  You can experience the labor and delivery of baby fiction as if you were present at the printing press, bear the author’s endless self-promotion, and know what reviewers say the moment their thoughts first occur to them.  How many of your closest friends are books?  MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER has a total of 22 fans.  While this is high achievement for a lemonade stand, it will not impress the Head Office.  So go ahead and friend the book.  It can’t talk back and will never text you for homework, lunch, or gym clothes.


Filed under Cindy Jones, First Reader (aka Husband), launching things, Motherhood, teenagers

How I Found My Literary Agent

First Reader/Husband on Boat (Filed under: Important Writing Relationships)

 Five years ago, I listened with 500 unpublished writers in a huge hotel ballroom as a panel of literary agents introduced themselves to the Writer’s League of Texas.  We were there because we all wanted one thing:  a literary agent.  But who among us had what it took to be signed by one of these?  Even newbies understood the supply side of this dynamic.  But I wasn’t a newbie anymore.  I’d been around long enough to ditch my first novel in a drawer along with a pile of rejection: thankful agents stepping aside so that other agents who will feel differently about my manuscript can wish me all the best with my writing.     

 Agent representation had begun to seem like an impossible dream.

 In the hotel ballroom, the last agent stood to speak.  As she introduced herself, she carefully placed her authors’ books upright on the table in front of her.  Her manner reminded me why I was there: because I love books.  I read books and write books and would live in books if I could.  I wanted to be one of her books.  She looked into 500 pairs of eyes and told us slowly and clearly what she was looking for:  a compelling narrative voice.  During the happy hour I stood in line to pitch my novel to this agent.  I’d practiced my pitch on fellow writers, in front of the mirror, and in my head.  It was late and she was tired.  She accepted a glass of wine from an enterprising fellow pitcher, and turned to me.  She listened carefully to my pitch then looked at me apologetically.  The room was very noisy and she had to lean in to tell me—she’d run out of business cards.  But she wanted to see ten pages when the book was ready. 

 I did not go straight home and send her 10 pages.  Instead, I resolved to do what published friends, teachers, agents, and people paid to give writing advice had been telling me to do for five years, none of which is a secret, all of which required effort outside of my comfort zone, and felt a lot like doing sit-ups and eating right.  First, I finished my novel.  Then I researched the market, honed my query package, and polished the compelling narrative voice until it said, “one of us has to go.”  Almost two years had passed.  I sent my materials to the agent I’d met in the hotel ballroom, as well as nine other agents. 

 The first rejection came within two minutes of my email submission.  Three more rejections came later.  But that was all the rejection it got.  Three agents never responded, and three agents asked to see the whole book.  Two of those offered representation, one being the agent from the conference.  I signed with her. 

 This is not to be confused with happily-ever-after or the end of the story, just a really good day in my writing life.


Filed under Agent, First Reader (aka Husband), The business of writing...

First Bird Leaves Nest (Got a hankie?)

Oldest Son at the Helm


We dropped Oldest Son at college last week, our first to leave home.  As we packed the car early Sunday morning, a young couple entertaining a toddler on their front steps watched our separation unfold.  A perfect moment for me to witness the startling truth of how swiftly 18 years can fly by.  I could show them pictures.    

From this: 

Preschooler in Fridge


to this: 

Teenager in Fridge


And explain how it happens in no time at all.        

But they wouldn’t believe me.  

As we packed the car, I was able to maintain my composure, having unevenly confronted the idea of his departure earlier in the summer.  Packing lists and trips to Target had distracted me from regret.  Occasional loggerheads reminded me it was indeed time for him to paddle his own canoe.  (God invented teenagers for a reason).  Nevertheless, I knew our lives were about to change forever.  Bags were stowed, bicycle tied on top, and the last items crossed off the list.  I was okay.  And might have made it, except he unexpectedly stooped to say goodbye to the family dog.  I immediately reached for my sunglasses.  And put them on.  In the house.  I did not stick around as he woke his sleeping brothers, his best friends in the world, to say goodbye.    

The couple with the toddler went inside.  

I sat in the backseat where I could privately regain composure, wiping tears with my hands.  It occurred to me that the connection a mother feels to a child is not the warm fuzzy thing you normally think of as love, but more like a vital function.  From the minute he had a heartbeat, I was joined to this child for better or worse.  Separating now was like having a vital organ ripped out of me.  While I sat in the backseat facing a future without lungs or kidneys, husband and son talked about bicycle locks and Rangers’ end of season prospects.   

At the university, we hauled his belongings up three flights of stairs (we are a freshman) and admired the private bathroom.  We met the roommate, plugged in the refrigerator, and picked up textbooks.  Undergraduate life is so cool.  I offered to trade places, but by then my son was whistling a happy tune and making plans for the evening.   

I hugged him and watched him walk away (with my lung) until I couldn’t see him anymore. 

On the long ride home, Husband and I discovered an unexpected sense of accomplishment.  Not about the 18 years of parenting, but the enormous transition to college.  From application deadlines to extra-long sheets, it came together in the end.  I confess; we did a happy dance.  And I learned that I will survive, even though some of my vital organs are now living in another part of the state.   

It is a really good thing I have three more of these Birds still living in the nest.


Filed under Cindy Jones, First Reader (aka Husband), launching things, moment of clarity, Motherhood, My Jane Austen Summer, teenagers

Inside Story: The Title Diet


Teenager Not Playing Video Games


My Writing Teacher warned us not to waste calories worrying about titles for our books.  Editors replace working titles–in a heartbeat–at the appropriate time.  Nonetheless, I secretly wasted calories worrying about titles.  I burned calories I could have used writing a sequel.  

FYI:  Title Worry consumes the same number of calories as enforcing time limits on Xbox players.          

I descended into title madness between 3 and 4 am on select nights, generating a vast graveyard of titles too embarrassing to exhume.  Example:  DITCHED BY JANE AUSTEN which I submitted to Editor before First Reader was awake one morning.  Sadly, some of my working titles came within a mere word of the winning title but I couldn’t close the gap, as if my synapses weren’t quite up to the challenge.  Was this a symptom of a deeper affliction?  An inability to grasp the meaning of the 90,000 words I’d spent five years writing?    

Both Agent and Editor referred to my book by randomly choosing a word from the working title collection and writing it in ALL CAPS.  Sometimes Agent called it MANSFIELD PARK.  Sometimes Editor simply called it JANE.  And then one day Editor said, “I keep thinking of this book as THE SUMMER OF MY JANE AUSTEN.”  Taught by my Writing Teacher to eliminate excess articles and needless words, I regrouped and said, “What about MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER?”  High concept with a hint of irony.   

I burned exactly .0395 calories fueling the two heartbeats that helped nail the title.  About the same caloric demand of shooting one video game zombie.  But the calories I wasted on Title Worry would feed an Xbox party of four for the rest of the summer.  I guess I shouldn’t worry about it.  

NEXT BLOG:  My Novel Picks Up a Subtitle


Filed under Agent, aging synapses, Editor, First Reader (aka Husband), My Jane Austen Summer, My Writing Teacher said..., teenagers, Writing Nightmares

Weather Porn for Texans: How I Chilled on My Summer Vacation

First Reader on Vacation, Not Vaporizing

I’ve never written weather porn before.  (I swear).  But cryptic vacation updates from Facebook friends reporting low temperatures have left me lusting for sensual details: like cool air sliding through open windows at night and bare feet freezing in mountain streams, for instance.  I vowed when I returned from my own chilly vacation, I would produce the goods in full graphic detail.  

You know you want it. 

The high desert air uplifts and makes me feel I can do anything:  hike in broad daylight without vaporizing, fish mid-day without heat stroke, picnic outside without losing my appetite.

Think:  October cold snap in Dallas without Halloween decorations.  

But just when we were about to take the glorious weather for granted, the rain came to stay, pelting our windows and dripping from deck furniture for two days solid.  We closed windows and dragged blankets to the sofa.  The temperature lowered and we wore socks to warm our feet.  Our cabin grew so cold we built a fire in the fireplace.  We read books for hours.  I’ve never been so happy on vacation.  Who else would enjoy endless reading in a freezing cold cabin with a roof leak?  In a moment of chilling clarity, as First Reader sat surrounded by books, journal, and coffee, I realized: I married someone the same crazy as me.  Without him the cabin would be damp, dreary, and depressing. 

The roof leak would not be cozy.  

Even on sunny days, the temperature dropped provocatively at night.  Windows open, we unzipped the old sleeping bag and piled it on top of our other covers so we would not freeze to deathIn August.


Filed under First Reader (aka Husband), moment of clarity, writing exercise