Friday, October 29, 2010

When the thrill is gone

I haven't been in a good place lately.

No, I don't mean that I've been lurking in back alleyways or sinister bars. I'm talking more metaphorically. As we used to say back in the day, my head is in a bad place.

How so, you ask? Well. My personal life has been a bit, um, precarious the past couple of weeks. Kids and leaking roofs and bitter disappointments. Rinse and repeat. If there truly is a God, then He's been piling on of late.

But perhaps the biggest concern, for me anyway, is my recent reluctance to write. Be it this blog or my new book, I have been avoiding the keyboard like the plague. It's not even a reluctance, actually. More of an intense YAWN. Like, who the frick even cares?

Being an inquisitive little bugger, I've spent several days researching my dilemma and I believe I've stumbled upon the answer.

I am, in a word, paralyzed. (See? I'm a genius, aren't I?)

There's a reason for my nascent malaise, I believe. I suspect (or at least, I hope) some of you can relate. See, I spent so much time earnestly working on The Devil You Don't Know, naively believing that I would write my masterpiece and then, somehow, just get it published!

I mean, duh. Why would I not want to publish it? So, having no clue as to what I was doing, I rolled up my sleeves (as best I could, since I tend to write in tee-shirts) and wrote my book. Only after the two years it took me to write it did I learn enough of my craft to realize that it's JUST NOT THAT EASY.

While I'm not ready to say just yet that TDYDK will never be published, I admit I'm not as confident as I once was.

And now, I've sat down and started writing book two, Empty Spaces. It's a really awesome book, if I may say so myself. Really, really good. I've done my homework. It has pacing, snappy relevant dialogue, a smart plot and enough tension to string it between two electrical poles.

So what, you ask, is my problem?

To be honest, I sit and allow myself to look forward to another year or two of incredibly hard work, only to find myself right here again.

Look, I am a writer. I must write. Or die. It's that simple. But like most of us, I secretly want to succeed at it, to have others read it. To have an agent and ultimately a publisher love it as much as I do.

I want to -- let's be honest here -- make money at this thing called fiction writing.

I would give anything to go back in time, to that point when all I did was sit down and write, without worrying about all the crap that was to come.

So tell me, how do you soldier on when the thrill is gone?

ROLLER DERBY UPDATE: For those who care, my beloved Hard Knocks lost 134-109 Saturday night. It was a great bout and a tremendous success. The place was sold out, alternative rock and roll blared and the media was all over it. Very cool. And the wife took a teeth-jarring hit and bounced right up, although one girl on the other team was knocked unconscious for a few seconds.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's bout time!

So, this week has been crazy busy with extreme family things (sigh) and roller derby mania. Consequently, I wasn't able to get nearly enough writing done.

I shall do better next week. I hope.

But. Peoria's debut roller derby exhibition bout is tomorrow and things are getting crazy for the ladies and those of us helping behind the scenes. In fact, I'm leaving in a few minutes to help move the floor to the East Peoria Convention Center, where we will then assemble and lay it. Yikes. By floor, I mean several hundred tiles of rubber-like material that will need to be laid and positioned just so. Then, we can stripe the floor and start setting up seats and everything tomorrow.

I'm also getting a bit nervous, mainly for my wife, the lovely Genghis Mom (seen at left in her new publicity shot for our team, the Hard Knocks). We've had several injuries in scrimmages the past few weeks and I worry about her. That said, I have to confess that I am utterly in awe of these women. Never have I seen athletes work as hard as they do (and I played a lot of sports in my younger days). We had several in Tuesday's scrimmage hit so hard they vomited.

A bit gross, but damned impressive. These ladies rock.

Oh, and the bout has sold out! That means countless folks will be on hand to watch tomorrow and we all feel the pressure. This bout will determine the sport's future in our city. So, we need to put a quality product out there to entertain the crowd.

I'm confident they will do it. As bench coach, I'm also a little worried about my performance. I'm still learning the ins and outs of the sport. It was relatively easy at practice. I suspect it will be far more difficult in front of hundreds of people (and possibly more).

I'll post the results of the bout between the Hard Knocks and the hated Polka Bots on Sunday. Then I promise to get back to more writerly posts for the foreseeable future.

Wish us luck. Until Sunday ...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesday -- TDYDK

Last week, I used a selection from my work in progress, Empty Spaces, for Teaser Tuesday. Today, I'd like to reach into the vault and use a vignette from the first third of The Devil You Don't Know.

There's a lot going on in this scene, much of which the reader won't yet understand. But the young soldier and whether he is what he claims to be plays a large role in the developing plot.

Perry Dorian is a famous televangelist with more than a passing resemblance to the late Jerry Falwell. Dorian's assistant, Jim Shapiro, lurks in the background of this and all of the scenes in which he appears. Hey, you think maybe there's a reason for that? ;)


* * * *

On Friday mornings, as it did each week, Freedom University’s sleepy campus awoke with a start. Three large network trucks, each its own little control facility, lined the shady street outside the Stephen A. Dorian Auditorium as the studio audience began arriving for the Hour of Freedom’s weekly filming.

Backstage, Perry Dorian scanned his script while a pretty young attendant blow dried his hair and another applied pancake makeup. Jim Shapiro, his personal assistant and the show’s director, knocked briskly on the dressing room door and entered.

“The young man we discussed earlier will be sitting in the front row,” Shapiro said, consulting his clipboard. “The storyline is that he was wounded recently in Iran and he’s in a wheelchair. The doctors at Walter Reed have told him he will probably never walk again.”

“That’s too bad,” Perry said, shutting his eyes as the attendant sprayed his hair.

“Yeah, well, his parents slipped me a note. They want you to bless him on the show.”

This wasn’t an unusual request. Each week, members of the audience came forward and allowed Perry to place his hands on them as he prayed. It was a moving and integral part of the broadcast.

“Be sure he’s in the front and out of the way of the cameras and cables,” Perry said, winking at the attendant as he admired himself in the mirror. “The last thing we need is some war hero toppling over in his wheelchair in front of the cameras. Okay?”

Shapiro nodded and hurried off. Perry again went over his script, mouthing the words and practicing the gestures he would use at the appropriate times during his monologue—eyes rolling upward, head tilting toward Heaven, arms raised. It was pure theater, and Perry was among its finest practitioners.

Today’s show focused on the miracles Christ performed along the road to Jerusalem on what would become known as Palm Sunday. Perry wanted to illustrate how Jesus, aware he was heading to his own death, unselfishly stopped to heal the sick and maimed lining the road into the Holy City.

The show went as scripted. As it wound down, Perry found himself standing at the lip of the stage, exultant in prayer as organ music swelled in the background. A dozen or so people rose from the audience and came forward, some limping or handicapped in one way or another. Among them was a very young man in uniform, being pushed in a wheelchair by his parents.

Perry had done this every Friday for years and while he always felt a degree of sympathy for those who sought his blessings during prayer time, he never looked them in the eye. Human hearts can only hold so much sorrow, he reasoned. Therefore, he thought it best to just do his job and avoid eye contact.

As Perry moved to his left down the stage, he came to the boy in the wheelchair. For reasons he would never fully understand, he looked down and straight into the eyes of the young man. Perry’s heart immediately ached for the boy, who in his infinite sadness reminded Perry of Stephen, his own son. Stephen had died tragically some years before, died before Perry could help him. Died before anyone could help him. Died alone, young and confused.

Only one other time in his life had Perry felt the power deep within his very soul. Now, he could feel the power pour from his aching heart and shoot to his fingertips. Leaning down, Perry gripped the blond head of the young soldier with his powerful hands and prayed mightily, eyes squeezed shut.

“Gawd-uh, heal this boy! Heal him at this moment!” he bellowed. Offstage, Jim Shapiro dropped his clipboard and made a violent slashing motion across his throat.

“Cut!” he yelled into his mouthpiece to the main control truck. “Right now, goddamn it!”

“Give me a second!” a voice in his headphones screamed back as technicians scrambled to cut off the taping process. The guys in the truck knew what Shapiro was doing. The last thing they needed was an unfulfilled miracle onstage. That would, of course, be bad for ratings and book sales. Very bad.

Onstage, Perry remained frozen above the wheelchair-bound soldier, his eyes closed and his face purple, contorted. The crowd was silent except for a few whispered prayers floating toward the rafters.

And then, slowly at first, the boy began to rise from his wheelchair.

“Gawd-uh, I beseech you! Heal this boy!” Perry shouted.

“Hold on a second,” Shapiro whispered into his mouthpiece. “Keep rolling.”

A murmur began in the crowd and grew to a roar. The boy stood up, swaying slightly, a look of shock and pure joy on his young face. His mother screamed and began to cry as she stroked her son’s hair. His father clutched his Bible and prayed aloud.

“Thank you, Heavenly Father,” Perry whispered, dramatically removing his hands from the boy’s head and stepping back with the grace of a bullfighter. The crowd, now standing and praying, broke into riotous applause. Perry blinked in the bright studio lights, smiled wanly and abruptly bolted offstage.

Shapiro caught up with him in the bathroom adjacent to the main dressing room. Perry was seated fully clothed on the toilet seat, his handsome face pale and sweating.

“You all right?” Shapiro asked, peering in at his boss. “Mind telling me what that was all about?”

“I’m not really sure, Jim,” Perry said, shaking his head. “I guess the spirit just moved me.”

“Well, whatever in the hell it was,” Shapiro said, grinning. “Be sure you do it again next week.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Derby, writing and a new nickname

I know I've been AWOL lately, but it's been for a couple of good reasons.

See, our roller derby league's first exhibition bout is this coming Saturday. As bench coach of the Hard Knocks, we're busy getting ready to kick some Polka Bot ass. And that, my friends, has been fairly time consuming.

[The photo at left is my lovely wife, Jennifer, aka Genghis Mom of the fabulous Hard Knocks, doing what she does best.]

We had practice and team photos tonight and have a full-blown scrimmage with more photos tomorrow night. Then we start getting ready for the bout. Surprisingly (or not), we've nearly sold out the East Peoria Convention Center! Wow. It's going to be so very cool.

And, I'm pleased to announce, I have my new derby name! Yes, even us men have to come up with a weird name. Mine is (drum roll ...) Rusty Razor! It's appropriate, since I only shave a couple of times a months when I'm writing. (It's a weird superstition thing. Don't ask.)

On top of all that, I'm back hard at work on the new WIP, Empty Spaces. I did some major rewriting today and I'm ready to start moving the story forward again after a few weeks of spotty work. It feels good to be working again.

I'm also still hard at work querying for The Devil You Don't Know. I've heard nothing from any agents since my partial rejection last week, but I'm holding out hope. Of course, I still have about 200 agents yet to query, so this baby ain't over yet.

I just wanted to check in with everyone. How's your lives and writing coming along these days?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hope conquers all

Well, it happened. It was bound to, of course. I received a thumbs down on my partial. My smart phone buzzed at 11:40 last night and, figuring it was junk mail, I impulsively checked it while watching Craig Ferguson's monologue.

Hi Terry,

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to look at this.

I don't think I'm the right agent for this project -- you're a fine writer, but my interest wasn't maintained for the length of the partial, and as a result, I didn't find myself invested enough in the lives of your characters to continue reading.

Considering the subjective nature of the business, I encourage you to query widely and I hope that you will find someone who thinks differently. Best of luck in your search for representation.



Ouch. This was no rejection of my query or even the first few pages. This was a rejection of the very foundation of my story. The idea. The plot. The characters. The work itself.

I'll be honest about my reaction, lying there in bed with my wife snoozing next to me: I was relieved. Numb but relieved. I don't know why, except maybe that knowing the answer -- to me, anyway -- is far better than waiting.

This morning, after sleeping surprisingly well, I experienced the more typical reactions: Anger, sadness, pity.

But not once did I consider giving up. For some reason, this has made me even more committed to getting TDYDK published. The agent was right, of course. This is a very subjective business. Hell, I needn't look beyond my wife to know that. We are very much alike, in many ways. And our reading tastes do overlap. But there are authors and books she loves that I loathe, and vice-versa. I couldn't tell you why. It's just so.

Sometimes, a story touches us because of something that happened in our lives. We can relate in a very subjective kind of way. Sometimes, the writing just clicks with us, and we're willing to follow the author anywhere. Who knows?

I'm convinced the perfect agent is out there somewhere right now, sipping coffee and reading queries and just waiting for my book. I really do believe this.

I think part of the reason I'm taking this so well (other than I know that rejections are the norm in this business, unfortunately) is that I was under no illusions. While some accuse me of negativity, I prefer to see myself as realistic. I expect rejection, and when it comes, I soldier on. No big deal.

Part of this comes from my recovery. I was taught long ago to "play the tape all the way through." That means that when I'm holding something shiny in my hands, whether it's a drink or a sent-out partial, I need to think things through. All the way through. If I allow my brain to caress it and want it bad enough, it's Katy bar the door.

So on the rare occasions when I think of a drink, I make myself see the entire process through -- until I see myself waking up the next morning hung over and wishing I was dead. It's a surprisingly effective way to avoid doing something stupid, I've found.

Same with querying. If I see myself at some point down the road, published and rich, I am setting myself up for misery. When the inevitable "no" comes, it can be devastating. But if I see myself getting rejected and then working even harder to succeed, well, it takes away the sting.

So, I am rolling up my sleeves and querying more. And I'm going to work on my new book, which I'm convinced will be better than the first (as they often are). If I don't get this one published, perhaps I'll get the next one there.

Hope, it turns out, is frighteningly persistent. And so am I.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Teaser Tuesday -- Empty Spaces

Since I've been unable to write much on Empty Spaces lately, due mainly to my anxiety at having my first partial out, I figured I would start a new weekly series, Teaser Tuesday.

It's my hope that once I get either a thumbs up or a thumbs down on the partial, I can relax and get back to my WIP. I decided to go with this particular weekly feature because it's commonplace among writer blogs, and it's relatively easy.

Before we start, I wanted to let you know that my blog, A Writer of Wrongs, was a featured blog on The Written Connection, a new directory of writer blogs assembled by A.M. Kuska. It can be found here

My blog was rated 7 out of 10, and I received relatively poor marks for my lack of responding to comments and dearth of writing tips. I hereby pledge to do better on responding to comments, but I'm holding the line at offering advice, since I honestly don't feel I'm far enough on my journey to publication to be posting any writing tips.

I was interviewed for the feature, although I'm afraid I came off sounding like a doofus. (Interesting sidenote: I was just talking to a friend on the phone and asked him how to spell doofus. "Are you blogging?" he asked. Sigh. He knows me all to well.)

Now, on to my teaser for this week. It's a selection from Chapter 3, right after 17-year-old Annie DeWitt's suicide attempt. College teacher Grant Bachman, who survived a horrific school shooting along with Annie, arrives at the hospital and, upon learning the girl has no parents, takes her home. It sets up pretty much everything, plotwise. Enjoy:

* * * *

By 9:30 that Tuesday morning, the concentration of vodka and valium in her blood had decreased enough so that she could be released. The emergency room doctor, a young man with a fresh haircut who wore sandals with his khakis, spoke to Grant in the hallway as a nurse helped Annie get dressed.

“She hasn’t been very helpful in terms of how this happened,” he said. “She’s unwilling to tell us where her parents are. They don’t answer their house phone.”

Grant shrugged. “I’m afraid I can’t be of much help. I really don’t know her well. She’s a student of mine, but classes just started a couple of weeks ago.”

The doctor nodded. “I realize that, Mr. Bachman. You seem like a nice guy, so I’m willing to release her into your custody. Take her home and make sure someone keeps a close eye on her. She’s been through a lot and, while I can’t prove it, I suspect her accident last night might not have been so accidental.”

The doctor placed his hand on Grant’s shoulder. “I would strongly encourage you both to get counseling. No one goes through what you two did and comes out of it unscathed. I can recommend someone if you’d like.”

“Thank you,” Grant said, smiling. “That would be nice.”

“And you’ll speak to her parents?” the doctor asked as he scribbled a name on a sheet of paper and handed it to Grant.

“Yes,” Grant said, sliding the paper into his jeans pocket. “I will.”

* * * *

An hour later, they pulled up in front of a ramshackle Cape Cod on West Avenue F. The front yard looked like it hadn’t been mowed in weeks and ivy creepers covered one of the two front windows. He killed the engine and looked at Annie, who slumped in the passenger seat looking pale and ill.

“You’re home,” he said, aiming for cheerful and missing badly. “Let’s find your parents and get you to bed.”

“Parents,” she repeated, gazing at her home. “That might be a problem.”


She turned to him and he was surprised to see tears in her eyes. “I don’t have any fucking parents. Not anymore.”

“You don’t?”

“The sperm donor left when I was a baby and my mom took off with some skanky meth addict a few weeks ago.” The girl blinked back tears, and Grant again fought the urge to take her into his arms. She sniffed and continued, “Mom likes to get wasted, and sometimes she just leaves. You know? Usually, she comes back in a few days. But not this time.”

“Crap,” Grant muttered, running his hand through his hair. He’d texted Lindsay to tell her he was taking the girl home, but by now she was at her part-time library job and the girls were at daycare. He’d been looking forward to a nice, long nap and then maybe a Red Sox game on television—anything to take his mind off of the past twenty-four hours.

“Look, Mr. Bachman—”

“Grant,” he said. “Call me Grant. Please.”

“Whatever. Grant. Just let me go in. I’ll be fine. I’m used to it.”

He shook his head. “I can’t just leave you here. You’ll have to come back to my house, until we find your mom.”

“I’m not a fucking kid,” Annie said, opening the car door. “I can take care of myself.”

Grant jumped out of the car and caught her just as she was sticking her key into the front door lock. He spun her around, harder than he had meant to, and held her by the shoulders.

“Look, Annie, you just tried to kill yourself. There’s no way in hell I’m leaving you here alone.”

“It was an accident,” she said, her lower lip quivering. “And you’re hurting me.”

“Sorry.” He let her go.

She smiled up at him. “Why don’t you come in and watch TV while I take a nap, if that makes you feel better? We don’t have air conditioning, but I think the cable is still working, unless the fuckers shut it off again.”

He hesitated. This was not a good idea. But leaving the girl alone was an even worse idea. And really, what else did he have to do today?

“Okay,” he said, “as long as you promise to talk to me about your situation when you feel better.”

She beamed. “It’s a deal, Grant.”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The art of pinging

It's kind of funny when I think about it. I mean, I've spent the last few months agonizing over whether any agent would be interested in my work. When I started querying, I watched with envy as other writer friends got requests for partials and fulls.

And me? Nothing. Zip. Form rejections. I felt like a complete failure, as though I would never even get to the starting blocks, let alone into the race.

We have a saying in my family for folks who start obsessing about something that hasn't happened yet. We say they are "pinging." It's somehow related to sonar pings in submarines -- where you blast your sonar outward and then listen for the incoming pings to see what's out there. Well, I was pinging big-time about my querying. Twenty-one queries and 15 form rejections and six no answers by last week.

Ping. Ping. Ping.

Now I know, that's not a lot of queries. And frankly, the reason I sent out so few was because a.) I was using the rejections to keep polishing my query letter, since I didn't want to blanket every agent out there with my query and then find out it sucks. And b.) I'm a coward.

Then, last week, I was blindsided by an agent who actually wrote me a personal e-mail and said he/she was intrigued by my query and first ten pages and asked for the first fifty.

Whoa. This was new.

Of course, I was thrilled. Elated. My ping had come back and, yes, there was something out there. Yay.

So what, you ask, is my problem now?

Well, now I'm pinging over whether the agent will ask for a full. I mean, it's been like five whole days and I've heard nothing.


Ping. Ping. Ping.

Now please realize that I'm aiming for humor here, and I'm not really as neurotic as I come off in this blog (as far as you know). But it's funny how, once I take a step forward in my writing career, I find I have yet another horrifying thing to worry about.

And if that request for a full comes, I'll worry myself sick wondering if he/she will offer representation. And then, of course, I'll worry about whether he/she can sell the damned thing. And then, I'll worry about whether readers will buy it.

And then ....


So. What do YOU ping about?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What I've learned

In 2007, when I decided to pursue fiction writing full time, I was crazy confident that I would succeed. It's been my life's dream forever. Publishing novels has always been something I knew I would do, and do well.

All of my life, I've been a confident person -- and yes, I can hear all of you out there laughing right now, given the content of most of my blog posts during the nearly one year of this blog's existence. But it's true. In real life, I come across as so confident that some (okay, many) have perceived me as arrogant.

I'm not arrogant. Really. But I usually feel pretty good about my abilities and, I believe, my track record backs me up on that. It's funny, but I've always managed to succeed at whatever I've tried in life, with only a few exceptions. Now success is a relative thing, of course, and my idea of success might be different than yours. But nonetheless, if I set my heart on something and really try at it, I usually assume I will succeed at some point.

Ah, but this writing thing has proven to be the mother of all exceptions. So far, I would hasten to add. So far.

My nearly three years in the fiction trenches -- first brainstorming, then writing, then editing, then revising umpteen times and then, finally, querying my first novel -- has been an eye-opening experience for me.

During all of this, I've learned two very important things about myself that I only tangentially knew before.

1. I am impatient as hell.

2. I have a very nasty little voice inside my head that hates everything about me.

Let's look at impatient first. To be really honest, I guess I've always been impatient, it's just that spending all those years in a newspaper newsroom -- where everything happens RIGHT NOW -- apparently allowed this particular character flaw to remain hidden for years.

But this ... this writing thing has brought it out for the world to see. I mean, big time crazy as hell impatient.

I'm working on it.

Example: I have one of those electric toothbrushes that vibrates after two minutes. I mean, that's a good thing, right? It keeps me brushing for the entire two-minute span. No problems. Dental hygiene is a good thing.

Ha. I swear to God, by the time the damned thing vibrates, at least a fricking month has elapsed! The more neurotic I get (and it's getting worse as the writing career goes on), the more I want to throw the toothbrush through the bathroom wall. I mean, the damned thing must be BROKEN. It has to be set to ten minutes. Sheesh.


Oh. Did you know that if you push the REFRESH button on Gmail enough times, the whole damned Internet freezes? No? Well, it does. Trust me.

Television commercials. I mean, when did they expand to ten minutes? And my coffee pot now takes approximately a week to make twelve cups.


And that hideous little voice? Where in the hell did THAT come from?

You know the one, don't you? No? Then consider yourself lucky.

For me, it whispers deadly, hateful little things in my ears all day and all night:

You can't write.

You're not good enough.

What were you thinking?

Everyone else is laughing at you for even trying this.

You have let your family down when they need you most.

You are a loser.

You will never get published.

You suck.

Write a whiny blog post about how much you suck so EVERYONE will know.


It gets old, listening to this hideous little voice drone on and on and on ...

So I get out of bed some nights -- when the voice gets too insistent -- and root around in my humidor for a cigar. Then I quietly go downstairs and put on my Ipod and listen to music. Sometimes, I feel like crying. Honestly, I do. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself. Usually, I just listen to the lyrics and search for the answer to whatever question is nagging me.

And you know what? I've learned a third thing about myself during this time.

I am a survivor. I do not quit. I do whatever I can to find that inner strength to overcome my lack of patience and my insecurities.

I keep on writing, because I've found that deep inside my heart, I still believe I can make it.

What have you learned about yourself from this writing thing?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A new ending for DEVIL

I've spent much of this week crafting a new (and, I think, better) ending for The Devil You Don't Know.

A couple of beta readers had mentioned that the ending wasn't as satisfying as they would have liked, that it maybe left too much to the imagination. That wasn't my intention, of course, but it did end rather abruptly. (Seriously, I think I just ran out of gas. Hey, it happens.)

One reader in particular talked to me about how I might fix this and, after giving it considerable thought, I agreed. So, I rolled up my sleeves and went back to work on the manuscript I thought was finished months ago.

Yes, I ended up adding about 450 words, but I think the net effect is awesome (if I do say so myself).

In fact, the last chapter is pretty much a roller coaster of action. When I ended it yesterday, I was literally out of breath. I suspect that's a good thing, although time will tell. I went back today and polished the new stuff and tightened it quite a bit.

I'm very happy with it. I always kind of liked the ending, but I love the new one. It even gave me the opportunity to circle back and tie up a couple of loose ends in a very cool way that hadn't been possible before.

A couple of days ago, I sent out two more queries after re-working the query letter yet again. Less than 12 hours later, I got my first partial request. While I remain realistic about my chances, at least it shows the query is getting there. The agent in question wrote me a very lovely note saying how intrigued she was with the query and the pages I had submitted.

I realize the odds are still stacked against me, as it is all of us. There's a lot of slush in the pile these days, and agents are really under the gun just wading through it. But getting that first request from a real live agent is satisfying. I feel like I finally took another step forward in my career.

And that's a good feeling, regardless of the outcome. Now if I could just stop checking my email every ten seconds ...