The Winding Road

Everyone’s path is different. Sometimes it’s easy; you query a few agents and get an offer right away. Other times, it’s a near miss or outright passes, or, sadly, total silence.

You wonder what’s wrong and fall into an abyss of despair and doubt. Why hasn’t everyone fallen in love with your pretty, shiny, new bauble that you labored on for months, even years?

The short answer, it’s a crapshoot.

The long answer, it’s a crapshoot.

God must love writers because She made so many of them.

Back in 2017, I was at a crossroads in my writing.

A little backstory here: for several years, I’d been the 24/7 caregiver of my Mom. For much of that time, her Alzheimer’s was manageable. She forgot things. Getting her to the doctor was an exercise in futility. She couldn’t see too well because of her cataracts (surgery was a fiasco). Unfortunately, her decline was shockingly quick, and she passed away in Hospice.

I’d begun and put aside several novels during that grueling period, trying to juggle Mom, my family, a full time job, and other assorted family dramas that ate up my time and energy. Being a novelist had always been a personal goal. As a teenager, and then as a young wife and Mom, I went to bookstores and envisioned MY book being on display there one day.

Someday, I told myself. Someday.

With Mom gone, I finally realized that someday was NOW, and a project that had been collecting dust on my hard drive came back to life.

So this is a roundabout way of announcing that I’m thrilled to be represented by the amazing Heather Cashman of Storm Literary. I can’t wait for you to meet Charlemagne, Violet, and all the other characters that have been taking up space in my head for so long (in a good way).

I think Mom would be pleased.

The Summer From Hell

It’s a warm late summer night on the cusp of the fall season, and I for one will not be sad to see summer go.

May-July was busy. Heck, every month was busy. But I put my nose to the grindstone and burned through a revise and resubmit on a project very dear to my soul. I had a self-imposed deadline and was determined to beat it. Now no one was pushing me to work so hard except me.

But once I got started, I went into that wonderful writing zone and when you’re in it, you just have to ride the wave like a surfer. And once it was done, I breathed a sigh of relief and put my faith in the Universe.

And it was a good thing I hit THE END on that project because the minute I did, the Universe decided to unleash a proverbial horse potato storm over my head.

Now the summer wasn’t all bad. There were a few (a few) bright spots.

LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE, my debut picture book, got great reviews on Amazon. I did a couple of author events and didn’t embarrass myself too much.

I had a couple of really good hair days.

I have no cavities.

Succession on HBO came back, the best show on TV. As much as the final season of GOT rankled, Succession exceeded my expectations. Each week the writing and acting is superb. Brian Cox is KILLING it as Logan Roy and should win every Emmy in the book.

And after that…uh…

There were some weeks I thought it couldn’t get any worse, and it did, like a bad horror movie.

But even with all the drama and mayhem and chaos, I wrote.

Exhausted, some days I thought, why bother? No one cares if I write. If I stopped writing tomorrow, would the world as we know it cease to exist?

Jeopardy bonus answer: probably not.

But I’d know. And it’s not me. Writing is in my DNA. Even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. I have too many ideas taking up precious real estate in my head.

So though some days were a tough slog, I wrote, even if it was just a sentence or to jot down an idea.

I know it’s a cliche, but if you want to write, I mean, really and truly want to write, you’ll find a way.

Even in a Summer of Hell.

The Journey

In two words: it sucks.

You want an agent.

You want to be published.

Here’s a secret for you: WE ALL DO.

This isn’t like sending wind mills to Mars.

No one wants to write just for the sake of writing. Oh, writers may say they do (ahem) but the cold, hard truth is, we’re not writing for posterity or just for the sake of storing stuff on our hard drive.

Get real.

When I’ve been rejected and passed over like a week old monkfish, I’ll rant and say I don’t care, as long as I like it, who gives a motherclucker.

But when I calm down, and I always do, I realize it’s just me blowing off steam.

My computer hard drive is slow enough. I don’t need to add more stuff to it that no one will ever read.

We all get anxious, frustrated, antsy, depressed, down in the mouth, about our writing, our progress, or our lack of it. And a writer who says they never have a moment of doubt, isn’t being honest.

I freely admit that I’m my own worst enemy. But I’ve been through the wringer and lived to tell the tale, so that’s something. I’m still standing, warts and all.

Which leads me to my next rant, uh, musings.

Lately on various writer blogs, a hot topic has been when to accept an agent’s or publishing offer. No, I don’t mean you, or you. Just general observations on my part. Unfortunately, some of these posts have the whiff of desperation, and it clings like cheap after shave. And since I’ve been stuck in that valley of low self-esteem, I can sympathize.

But I can’t emphasize enough: a bad agent is worse than no agent. And re publishing, money goes to the writer, it’s not the other way around.

This isn’t rocket science, but it bears repeating every millennium.

If a publisher asks you to pay for publication, RUN.

If a publisher says you need to pay an illustration fee, SKEDADDLE.

If a publisher looks sketchy, their online presence is minimal, they have no track record, their website looks like something a toddler threw together at nap time while their caregivers were busy on their cell phones, SCOOT.

And as for agents…please, I implore you, my fellow writers, don’t sell yourselves short.

Take this from the voice of experience. Don’t accept the first agent offer that comes along out of fear you’ll never get another or some misguided sense of well, this was a huge fluke so I should say yes before they find out I’m a big, fat fake.

And don’t accept onerous terms because you’re a lowly nobody and agent person is a big somebody.

We all have our demons. Mine is being thought “mediocre”, as I was told early on. Even now, as a mature writer, I still have to slap myself upside the head fighting against feeling like I’m a fraud and a failure.

And if you’re a baby writer, it’s just as crucial to take a step back and do your research.

This is your career. Your life. But it’s business, plain and simple. Don’t make it personal—well, it is, but you have to conduct yourself in a professional manner. But you’re not being a nerd or a nudge not to hop on the first streetcar that swings by.

Some writers seem afraid to ask questions, like it’s offensive. It’s just the opposite. Beware the agent, agency or publisher who doesn’t welcome questions and lots of them.

If you were advised that you needed brain surgery, wouldn’t you ask for a second opinion and find out as much as you could about the surgeons, hospital, your condition, etc.? Or would you pounce on the first car mechanic who came around the corner to perform the operation simply because they were handy with tools?

DUH!!

And listen, take it from me, if you get liked at pitch contests, as exciting as it is, you must do your due diligence to avoid disaster.

I’ve turned down publishing offers from pitch contests. It was a new outfit that made a big splash on social media and was liking everything under the Tuscan sun. I was suspicious, and when they offered me contracts on two picture books in a matter of days, it didn’t take me all of two minutes to decline and withdraw. My gut told me that this was fishy as all get out, for many reasons, and I wasn’t surprised to hear a few months later that it all blew up. Whew. I’d dodged a bullet on that one.

Same thing with agents. You think they hold all the cards, the power? In fact, it’s just the opposite. They need YOU. They need your stories, your vision, your voice, your passion. They need fresh meat, I mean, new clients.

I get that it’s scary and overwhelming and sometimes you make mistakes. And that’s okay. Because on this journey it’s going to happen. No one’s perfect, not even me. And you learn from those missteps, and sometimes you cry and take solace in a big bowl of vanilla ice cream.

You fasten your seatbelt and put on your big pants.

The saddest book is the one that is never written.

Don’t let your book be a sad book.

In The Zone

Writing can be a long, rough, exasperating, never-ending, demanding, heartbreaking slog. Anyone who claims that they were an “overnight” success, ahem, I’d take that with a grain of Himalayan pink salt.

Writing is lonely. The only people speaking to you are the voices in your head. And if you don’t listen to them, man, do they get cross.

Writing is physically demanding. If you wait for inspiration to strike, you may end up as old as Methuselah. I have written through flu, sinus attacks, kidney stones, the kids throwing up in pots beside me, and other untold miseries and tragedies…you name it, I’ve done it, survived and even thrived. I’m not saying I’ve done it well or that it’s easy. That’s a story for another day.

But when you’re in the zone…ahhh, it’s bliss, it’s orgasmic, it’s floating on air, it’s that wonderful, heady, intoxicating zone, and there is no better feeling in the entire world, besides, maybe, a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream or snuggling up to your loved one on a cold winter night or rocking out to John Fogerty. And I’m saying that’s a big freaking maybe.

But the zone, that elusive zone…I never know when I’m going to be in the zone. The muse is fickle and fleeting. But when the zone comes knocking, I damn well know it and I must heed the call. I take full advantage of it because who knows how long it’s going to last.

For I have learned the hard way that the zone has a mind of its own and I ignore it at my own peril. My hard drive is littered with half-completed books, barely begun scripts, and aborted first pages. I allowed myself to be distracted by other shiny new objects. Now I’m older and wiser. I let the zone do the driving. I’m merely the passenger.

So what does being in the zone mean, exactly?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but it’s when I’m seized with an idea to the point of obsession and exclusion of all other ideas. Oh, to the outside world, you seem completely ordinary. You do the routine, mundane chores like laundry and going to the market. Nothing to see here, move on.

But inside…that’s a different story entirely. I breathe it like a forbidden romance. I literally cannot think of anything else, no matter what I do or where I go. It’s branded into my brain. It courses through my veins like a rolling river. I close my eyes and voila, it’s all there, unfolding like a movie: the plot, the characters, the voices, the surroundings, complications, drama, everything and anything. I may not have the entire story fully fleshed out from beginning to end, but I have a general sense of how it goes. I find that writing it down in an outline is NOT helpful and even hinders me. I’ll usually write a paragraph or so, sometimes even just chapter headings as a guide post, but that’s it.

And also with the zone, and maybe this is the most crucial part, it waits patiently, well, maybe not so patiently, for me to write it all down before it disappears like cotton candy in a five-year old’s sticky hands.

When I’m fully enmeshed in the zone, it’s like being on auto-pilot. The words pour out of me, all coming from a higher power, and I dream up with things that later, even I wonder where the hell did THAT come from. The best way to describe it is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. I know I’m going to hit land eventually, and I hope that when I do, I’ll be okay, gulp.

Over time, I’ve learned to trust my zone. Now that isn’t to say that when I’m in it that there aren’t ebbs and flows. There are, plenty of them. It might steer me in the wrong direction and I have to make a course correction. Sometimes I’ll write something not knowing how it’s going to play out and then, boom, subconsciously the answer will come to me when I least expect it or when I’m doing something else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with a brilliant scene washing my hair or taking the dog out for a walk.

And when I do hit a low point, as all writers do, I just keep writing, even when it seems it’s hopeless, it’s treacle, it’s horrible, I don’t know what I’m doing (add your own reason). I know that eventually, the zone is going to come through if I just keep plugging away to finish the first draft. Once I finish that, the revising, the re-writing, all that is doable. The zone, the passion, carries me until I can type THE END which we all know, really isn’t.

Many people call it different things, for me it’s the zone. But whatever you call it, when it comes, grab it by the tail and don’t let go. And now, if you’ll excuse me, the zone, my BFF, is calling.