Five words…

I was a graphic designer for nine years, and while I was decent at it, no one would ever call me brilliant. I wasn’t on the right path and I knew it, but without knowing where to go, I stayed the course. Then, the newspaper industry took a hit and the paper hubby and I worked at offered “voluntary separation packages” as a prequel to layoffs. We took them. We left our jobs and lifelong home in NJ and move to Maine, for more space, less traffic, and maybe because we needed to do something bold for once. We moved into a lovely log home in a hillside development. It was our first spring up here, and we’d walk up the street to the top of the hill in the evenings, to watch the sun set over the mountains, turning the sky gold and setting the lakes on fire.

One particular evening, the couple living at the top of the hill were having a little barbeque. They stopped us as we walked by, offering a beer and a burger and a warm smile. We accepted.

“Where are you from?” The wife, Renee asked me.

“New Jersey,” I replied, and accepted the skeptical look that everyone who is not from NJ, always gives those of us who are.

She took a swig of beer. “You’re home during the day. Whenever I drive by, your car is always in the driveway.” Then, she said the words that changed my life. She leaned in close and lowered her voice to a reverent whisper. “Are you a writer?”

I’ll never forget that moment. My breathing stopped. Time stopped. There was nothing, nothing I wanted more, than to answer her, “yes.”

As much as I hated to do it, I had to say, no, I was an out-of-work graphic designer who took a buyout from a newspaper, and blah, blah. It tasted like vomit, saying those words.

The next week, I started my first book. It was about vampires and it was truly awful.

I joined RWA, got involved in my local chapter and joined a critique group. A few years later, a couple more books, writers’ conferences and online classes, I signed with a literary agent.

Renee will never know the effect of her words. I’ll never tell her that one whispered question she’s long forgotten, showed me who I needed to be. Maybe the universe sends messages that way––through random comments from random people––and it’s up to us to tune in and then do something about it. Five words did it for me. I’m happy to say that now if someone were ever to ask me if I am a writer, I can say, “yes.”


My meat computer is a Mac

The Meat ComputerNot too long ago, I wondered if maybe it was time to give this stupid dream of being a writer and go back to a snug, secure cubicle. I understand cubicles, having spent nine years in one. Rejection letters were coming every day, hot and heavy: “While your writing shows promise, your project isn’t a good fit…”, “Thank you for querying me, but your concept just didn’t grab me…”, etc. Rejection hurts. It just does. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t a human being.

It was during this time of self doubt that I ran across this article on the existence of free will. Neuroscientists claim that our brains are essentially “meat computers,” and any decision we make is simply the result of the wiring of our brains. We can’t make choices. We simply execute commands issued by the synapses in our brains. I have to say, the science guys made a compelling argument. Compelling enough to make me really upset.

By this reasoning, every stupid, cowardly and just plain bad decision I’ve ever made was the output of my meat computer. I stayed in that cubicle for nine years, in a state of static self-loathing, until electrical impulses in my brain lit up and said “now, we go.” That’s just depressing. Nine years of knowing I was doing the absolute wrong thing with my life but too afraid to change anything.

I figured, if I gave up and quit writing for publication, my meat computer truly was defective. I’d come so far. I’d written a book I was very proud of, revised it until I couldn’t stand looking at it and really, the rejections weren’t killing me. When it came down to it, I simply wasn’t going to stand for a substandard brain that said it was okay to quit when things got difficult––I’d done this before. It never got me anywhere.

So, I kept going. I recorded my rejections in my account, tweaked my query letter––again––and sent out another five. And one day, when I least expected it, an agent who I thought was miles and miles out of my league, emailed me. She loved my book. She stayed up ALL NIGHT reading it. She couldn’t stop thinking about it and wanted the chance to convince me that she was the best agent for me. Yes, that was in the email. I nearly peed myself.

So maybe there isn’t free will. And maybe there is. it certainly felt like a choice to push on, slog through all the “no’s” to get to the “yes.” Either way, I have new respect for my meat computer. I wouldn’t be here without it.

Ode to a coffee table

This is possibly the worst poem I have ever written, but it is heartfelt. When giving in to the inevitable realities of “responsible parenthood,” don’t begrudge yourself a moment to mourn the passing of your carefree days.

Ode to a coffee table

Oh, sturdy coffee table of the living room,
from upon your surface, many meals have been consumed.

You’re the first one I bought––I still have your receipt,
indeed, the first table, I did not pick up off the street.

Through the years you’ve cradled my junk mail and slop,
piled so thick, I ne’er saw your top!

Faithful, you’ve been with my tea and my bread,
but lo! There’s a baby who keeps whacking her head.

Your corners and edges are simply too sharp,
and her cries when she bumps you are breaking our hearts.

So alas! With regret, you’ll be going away,
down to the basement, for a dark, lengthy stay.

But fear not, loyal table, for one day you’ll be back!
To hold up our cups, our remotes, our knick-knacks.

Holy crap, I’m a 2012 Golden Heart® Finalist!

The following conversation took place on Monday, March 26th at 9:50 a.m.:

The phone rings. I look at caller ID and see “Tucson, AZ.” Damn. It’s not from Houston (RWA headquarters), it must be a telemarketer.

“Hello?” I answer in my best I’m-not-going-to-buy-insurance-from-you voice.

“Hello, may I please speak to Megan?” asks a sweet southern-sounding lady. Not a typical telemarketer.

“Speaking.” I keep it surly. I’m still suspicious and the baby is waking up.

“Oh, hello Megan. I’m _____ (totally forgot her name) and I’m calling from RWA to tell you that The Silent Sister is a finalist in the 2012 Golden Heart® contest.”

It takes me a moment to switch gears and get what she’s telling me, because I really was expecting her to try to sell me insurance. But I do recover. “Are you freaking kidding me?”

By the grace of God, I substituted “freaking” for a different word. Hey, I’m from New Jersey. We use that word as frequently as “hello.”

The nice southern lady responds, “Why no, I am not, kidding you.”

I start to pace and squeal things like “Oh my God,” and “I don’t believe this,” and I fear there may have been a “holy shit,” in there somewhere. Eventually, though, the nice lady from RWA managed to convey the rest of her message. I was to expect a UPS delivery of some sort. I needed to provide an author photograph. What name did I want to use on the RWA website? Will I be attending the national conference in Anaheim? Oh, and a very big congratulations on the final. What an honor.

Yes. A very big honor, indeed.

To be like a shark

Before my husband was my husband, he used to have this little saying that went something like, “women are like sharks. They’re always moving forward.”

Whatever. It was him being nervous-guy about not wanting to get sucked into commitment. Turns out, he couldn’t stomach fighting the good fight and settled into domestic bliss with nary a squawk. But the phrase stuck with me, because in my case, it’s true. I’d change the word “women” to “writers,” though, and this article by Erin Bowman at The Crowe’s Nest blog lays it out perfectly:

“When you are querying, you just want an agent. When you get an agent, you just want a book deal. Once you have the book deal, you want your editorial letter. You’re anxious to move into revisions, and line edits, and copy edits, and cover art, and ARCs, and marketing, and tours, and reviews, and seeing your book on a store shelf. And then you want to sell the next novel, and the next, and repeat the process all over again.”

I am querying, and all I want is an agent. Among the rejections, requests from agents to read my book are starting to roll in at an alarming rate. My feelings on this range from giddy excitement to looming dread. If I’m soundly rejected, it means my book is flawed, fatally so. If I sign with an agent, I level up into a professional world that is currently foreign to me. I suppose in order for a writer to become an author, she has to want that next thing more than anything. Otherwise, no one would ever, ever write a query letter. And forget about a one-page synopsis. Just the words “one-page synopsis” makes me throw up in my mouth a little. But we write the query, and we write the  synopsis, because like a shark, writers are always moving forward.

First person or third person?

So, I’m working on my new work in progress. It’s young adult, of course, because I’m a “first love” addict and can’t get enough first kisses and first hand holding and oh! My heart beats faster just thinking about it. My last book, which is out on submission at a handful of literary agencies (fingers crossed, people!), is a first person narrative, has a crazy high concept and is pretty intense all the way around.

This book is more…sensitive. True, it’s about mermaids who hibernate and there’s a dead body and a love story, but at it’s core it’s about a boy who comes to realize he’s not a loser pothead, after all and falls in love with a girl who spends six months of the year sleeping in the mud on the bottom of a frozen lake. I’m writing in the third person, and struggling with it, frankly. The book feels like it should be written in the first person, but the main character is a seventeen-year old boy, and I honestly don’t feel qualified to write from that deeply inside the brain of boy at all, let alone a teenaged one.

Because really, it’s no big secret what dominates the brain of a teenage boy, and there’s not much of a story to it. As of now, I’m not sure if I should just go ahead an switch to first person, or keep slogging along in third. I feel like I’m hammering a round ball into a square hole. One thing I’ve learned about writing is, a solution always comes. Usually in the shower or in the moment just before falling asleep, unfortunately, but that’s a rant for another post.

Submission fail

So today, this post is inspired by my own idiocy. I spent a ton of time writing my book. Revising it. Editing it. Revising it again. And again. The query letter took weeks. I sent out the query to five agents, and lo and behold, I got a request to read the manuscript. I was very excited, so what did I do? I wish I could say I took my time, went over a checklist detailing everything that should be included in my submission, but no. I did not do that. I sent that submission out as fast as my little fingers could click. Not my best moment.

Guess which one of these fails occurred when I sent my submission:

A. I sent the whole thing in 16 pt. Ariel font
B. I left my name, contact info and book title off the submission pages.
C. I sent an old, angry version of the book riddled with swear words wherever I couldn’t find an appropriate adjective.
D. I sent the submission to the agent one down in my inbox, from whom I’d just received a form rejection.

They’re all great and terrible submission fails, but if you guessed “B,” you’d be correct! left my name, contact info and book title off the submission pages. The title is the file name, however, and both the query letter and the accompanying synopsis has all that information, so I decided (after several agonizing hours) not to resend it. I thought it would be more annoying to send a “oh, I’m resending this because I’m a dumbass and am already proving myself a pain to work with.”

Still, I feel like an idiot. Lesson learned: Slow down, breathe. And make a damn checklist.

Dad and his new-fangled-gadget

My father got an ipod for his birthday. This is the conversation that followed:

Dad: (examining ipod) It’s so small. How do I get my music on this thing?
Me: You have to put your CDs on your computer, then load them onto the ipod.
Dad: (frowning) All right, but what about my tapes?
Me: Tapes?
Dad: I have old songs I taped off the radio. How do I get them on my computer?
Me: Um…maybe you can buy the songs from the itunes store.
Dad: (looking confused) The ice cream store?
Me: The eye-tunes store.
Dad: I’ve never seen one of those. Is there one in the mall?
Me: No, it’s online. It’s an online store.
Dad: (looking really confused) But why would I buy them, anyway? I already have them.
Me: (rolls eyes) Yeah, on tape.
Dad: (grunts, eyes ipod skeptically) Damn useless thing. What good is it, if it doesn’t even play tapes?

There you have it. My father does successfully operate a computer, and so far hasn’t given his bank account number to any Nigerian “business associates,” so we figured he could handle an ipod. It’s a work-in-progress, like all things.

Not really there

It happens sometimes. The following is an actual conversation. This is what happens to writers when regular life gets intrudes.

Setting: Me and Hub (short for my husband) in the car, pulling into our driveway after several numbing hours in big box stores.

Hub: Did the mail come today yet?
Me: (not really there) I don’t know.
Hub: Today may be some sort of mail holiday. I’m not sure.
Me: (still, not really there) Yeah, I don’t know.
Hub: I saw the neighbors had their flag up.
Me: (finally tuning in, confused) What flag? The American flag?
Hub: (parks the car and makes a face) No, the Iraqi flag they insist on flying. Their mailbox flag. Were you listening?
Me: (laughing) No. No, I was not. I was wondering if people could live on one of the moons of Jupiter. And what they would eat there.”
Hub: (getting the baby out of her car seat) Oh. Okay, then. (pause) Can you grab the diaper bag, please?


You gotta read this article in the Huffington Post by Glennon Melton. It’s humorous, and it’s about not getting stressed out that sometimes kids are too much of a pain in the ass to be enjoyed, but there’s a line about writing that pulls it together nicely. This was it: There was a famous writer who, when asked if he loved writing, replied, “No. but I love having written.”

I don’t know who said this, but I so get it. On both the writing side and the the parenting side. I do not enjoy Nugget’s 3 A.M. wake up call, and sometimes I do not enjoy writing. Writing is hard. Really, really hard. To do it right––to bring together all the components needed to make whole book work––is VERY hard. Like any activity, it gets easier the more you do it, but sometimes it’s pure labor.

Like now. I’m slogging through my edits. Some of the notes I made in the margins of my manuscript are as discernible as primordial cave art. I’m not enjoying it. But there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.