Guest Blogger: Kelly Jones

28 Oct

I’m at my first writers’ conference, about to meet my first real agent.  I’d sent the manuscript ahead for a reading, just a portion, ten pages.  I wait outside the conference room until my name is called.

Before I’m even settled in my chair, he says to me:  “Books with foreign settings are hard to sell.”  Mine is set in France.  Very well researched, as I’d actually gone to Paris and Lyon. (I know, poor me.)

I sit wordless, confused.  Isn’t that why readers read?  To become transported, to go off to far-away places?  Didn’t Hemingway write about Paris, Spain, Cuba?  And what about those wonderful stories set in England that I love—“Rebecca,” “Jane Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights”?  Oh, British writers, I realize, feeling embarrassed though I know I’ve said nothing.  And, of course, I’m no Hemingway.

The agent goes on to tell me the writing is a little “flowery”—well, it is set in a garden, after all! But then, amazingly, he says he’d like to see more.

After the conference I send it off, a few more chapters, just as requested.  It’s returned, unopened, envelope stamped on the outside with the word REFUSED.  I still have the envelope, one of the many reminders of how we writers must learn to accept rejection.

Did I toss the manuscript?  Start writing the great American novel?  Set, naturally, in America.  No.  I was off to Italy, now working on my second novel, while still trying to pitch the first.

I’m not generally described as a rebel, but it seems when it comes to writing I like breaking the rules.  “Write what you know”?  How boring is that?  I’d rather go exploring, take off for my foreign lands, do some authentic research, learn something new.

With the internet, videos on YouTube, anyone can now step into an exotic or foreign setting without leaving home.  In doing research for a new story, in which a small church in Prague plays an important role, I found a 360˚ photo of the interior on the internet that could almost make a person feel she were there.  But the church is empty—just a building—and I can’t smell the incense, candle wax or ancient stone.  I can’t watch that nun snip and clip the altar flowers, observe a visitor praying, or another rudely commenting in a loud voice.  And I can’t feel the coolness in the air, or the warmth of the sun on my face as I step outside.  I want to be there, see firsthand, employ all my senses.

Eventually I did sell that first novel, THE SEVENTH UNICORN, after over 70 rejections from agents who didn’t like the setting, or found the work did not fit their present needs, or just didn’t fall in love with it. I found an agent who, like me, wasn’t afraid to explore.  This first book was followed by a second, THE LOST MADONNA, set in Italy. My third novel, THE WOMAN WHO HEARD COLOR, takes place primarily in Munich, and was recently released by Berkley/Penguin.

I discovered something very interesting in the process, too.  People all over the world read.  Sometimes in English.  Often books translated from the original English.  I now have a dozen translations of my books sitting on the bookshelf.

What am I working on now? That story set in Prague.


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10 responses to “Guest Blogger: Kelly Jones

  1. Carley Ash

    October 28, 2011 at 6:04 AM

    This is a great story, Kelly. Thanks for sharing it today.

  2. Linda Anger

    October 28, 2011 at 7:04 AM

    Great post, Kelly!

    A dear friend of mine, with multiple traditional publishing credits, once submitted a novel set in Paris during WWII. One agent sent the manuscript back with a note saying “it’s obvious you’ve never been to Paris and don’t understand the culture…”

    We laughed and laughed at that one, because my friend, totally French, was a child living in Paris throughout WWII.

    I love most of all that you didn’t give up… that courage and dedication is exactly how JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series became a $15 billion/year brand.

    You Rock!

  3. Janis McCurry

    October 28, 2011 at 7:06 AM

    Kelly, thanks for visiting Gem State Writers. I’m currently looking for an agent to be my champion and it’s taking a toll. Thanks for the inspirational story.

  4. ramblingsfromtheleft

    October 28, 2011 at 8:07 AM

    Kelly, this is a wonderful story. You did after all write what you knew, the diverse global cultures that capture our imagination … to take us on your amazing travels and allow us to sample the flavors,the sights and the wonders of other worlds. That is not boring, that is a gift 🙂 Isn’t it grand that you found an agent who also enjoys the adventure of travel !

  5. Liz Fredericks

    October 28, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    Kelly, thank you for the message about not giving up. I’m also a big fan of karma. ‘Refusals’ don’t have to be crass and unkind and those little offenses add up over time – not for the recipient, but for the offender. It’s sad to think the harm unkind people do to their own souls.

  6. Meredith Conner

    October 28, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    What a wonderful story Kelly! I love your determination, both to find the write agent and write the stories of your heart! Thanks for blogging with us today.

  7. Mary Vine

    October 28, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    One more look at write the book of your heart. It sure worked out for you. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. lara hentz

    October 29, 2011 at 6:50 AM

    Love writing and trust yourself – thank you for inspiration

  9. Clarissa Southwick

    October 29, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    Congratulations on the new release. Your books sounds fascinating. I would love to see more foreign settings 🙂

  10. Susan Russo Anderson

    October 31, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    This is a great post, an inspirational story of persistence. Thanks.


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