Three years after starting the novel, and a year after finishing it, I sent out the first query letter for Barnes County to an agent. As much as I know that writing is a business, and that the only way to get published is to submit, there is still so much anxiety tangled up in that process. It is not simply the business-end of an artistic process; it is the act of throwing the work out into the world for criticism and comment. Though that may be the point of writing, expression, there is always so much to worry about.
I've certainly sent my share of short story submissions (not enough, certainly), but this was my first query letter. I didn't realize just how hard it would be to distill 90,000 words into something short and coherent. Especially Barnes County with its many points of view and interwoven stories. Here, though are the central paragraphs of the query:
When Terry Stegman, a beloved female sheriff’s deputy of rural Barnes County, Missouri, is killed by a meth dealer, the men around her must find a way to go forward, to adjust, and set a new course.
Though Terry’s killer is injured and jailed, Sam Summers, a big-city transplant, friend, and fellow deputy whose feelings for Terry may have been something stronger than friendship, is on the hunt for why the killer murdered two others that day. Aging Barnes County Sheriff Bill Wallis is suffering through the break-up of his marriage, the changes taking place in the county, and the growing distance from his teenage son. Terry’s hired man and close companion after her husband’s death, Franklin Redbird quickly falls into drinking and trouble. Logan Wallis, the sheriff’s misfit son, outcast because of his public profile and rebellious appearance, meets a romantic interest, but when she winds up in trouble, he seeks a violent vengeance. A recent immigrant to the county, Harlan Lustig quickly falls in with a dangerous meth cook and, after learning the trade himself, seeks to usurp him. Their stories meet, mix, mingle, and collide among the back roads and abandoned farmhouses of the fictional Barnes County in Southern Missouri.
While there are elements in the novel of mystery and suspense, Barnes County, at 90,000 words, is a story of people in flux, how they struggle to find the right way, and how some fail at it.
While I don't know that this really gets to all of it, all of the conflict and tension, all of the psychological inquiry, I think this might get someone interested.
Dropping the envelope into the box was a relief. I'm happy to have done it and have it out there. Now comes the anxiety about how it will be received.