Hard things and good days

foggybayThis poor blog has been neglected this year. But 2015 hasn’t been kind to this writer. Last year this time, I was celebrating. I had just sold my debut novel. I was staring in wonder and bliss at my deal announcement in Publisher’s Weekly. I was gearing up for my first phone chat with my editor. “My” editor. The sound of that is just lovely. I was ecstatic. Jubilant. All the words there are for happiness. The remembering is painful, because I sold to Egmont USA, and anyone who’s involved with publishing teen fiction knows they closed down early 2015. Contract void. No book, no debut. Sorry about all those dreams come true; have fun back at square one!
“You’ll see: This will all work out for the best.” Continue reading Hard things and good days

How to be an author.

The infectious Avery Flynn in action.
The infectious Avery Flynn in action.

This weekend I attended my Maine romance writers’ conference at the Senator Inn in Augusta. Honestly, I wasn’t ramped up to go. My book’s on submission, I’m torn between a few writing projects and was in a generally hibernative (Is that a word? Spell check says no.) state. However, I had to go because I was on the committee and possessed all the name tags. I got into the spirit of it, and I have to admit, our retreat rocked. With workshops from the brilliant Judith Arnold, the spontaneous Sandy Blair and the absolutely lovely Avery Flynn, I was ready to crawl out of my den and eat some berries.

I’m going to talk about Avery (pictured in action, above), because as I sat there crunching on peanut M&Ms and trying to hold my bladder I was thinking to myself, “I want to be like her when I’m an author.” Truly. And here’s why:

At the end of the conference, when all the awards and prizes were dispensed and everyone was filtering out, Avery very quietly called over Terri, the truly stellar hotel event coordinator. Avery pulled out a promo postcard, wrote down her email address and handed it to Terri with the words, “Thank you so much. Email me, and I’ll send you a free book.” I doubt anyone witnessed this––it wasn’t meant to be noticed––or Terry’s surprised gasp of gratitude. I doubt many of us noticed Terri at all––attendees aren’t supposed to notice the event coordinator. But Avery did and her gesture amazed me. We’re sort of conditioned to worry about rights and contracts and royalty percentages and selling––God, yes, the selling––that it’s easy to forget about giving.

So that wound up being my big takeaway from the retreat. It’s not just about how you write, it’s how you act as a writer. Especially when you think no one is looking.

Avery's smexy book.
Avery’s smexy book.

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 querytracker.com 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.