On the off chance, you couldn't hear me scream from Atlanta all the way to where you are, I figured a quick blog post was in order. So, slacker blogger that I am, I see my last post was from October as I was gearing up for NaNoWrimo. I did it. 50,000 words in 30 days and enough to get my WIP (work in progress) to the finish line. The first draft anyway. Working title is THE SODA FOUNTAIN SISTER AND THE FLOWER LADY. I still have loads of editing to do and have no clue if my agent will love it but at least I've got the bones of the story down. Then I did something on a whim. I'm very active in WFWA (Women Fiction Writer's Association). This is where I got my first big surprise ... winning the Rising Star Award in 2017. I've not been so active in Romance Writers of America (keep that freaking word AMERICA in mind. It's big!) because I don't write traditional romance. Well, it's December of last year and I get an email notice that the deadline for entering the Golden Heart contest is coming up. Golden Heart is like Rising Star because it's for unpublished authors. Yes, I'm lucky to have an agent, but I'm not published yet. Insert sad face here. ANYWAY, it was a perfect storm. Deadline. Last year for Golden Heart. Finished rough draft on my computer. So being the practical gal I am, I thought why not send in this not-quite-polished manuscript. What have I got to lose? I promptly forgot I entered. Fast foward to mid-March. Get email that GH finalists will announced March 21st. Didn't really make much of impression on me, except to think ... oh yeah ... I entered that didn't I? Thursday morning I'm driving to work and a call comes in (hands-free, of course!) from a number I don't know. The woman introduces herself as a board member of the RWA and she hopes she's about to make my day. I almost drove off the freaking road. My book was a finalist in the mainstream category. Apparently this is a big deal. All the other finalists are all online screaming. There's a live twitter feed announcing all our names. I can see my name on the RWA website. I'm in the "GH club" now. It's been crazy. There's a big conference and awards ceremony in NYC the end of July. It's not cheap either ... especially NYC but I'm mulling. It seems like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. And I'm so grateful that on this journey, when I start putting on my big ol' suit of self doubt, the universe sends me a little reminder that I'm on the right path. If I listen close enough, my heart tells me that every day.
This month, I am trying to do NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place every November. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world register at the NaNoWriMo website and pledge to do their best to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. For those of you shaky in math, that comes out to over 1,660 words a day. And if you fall behind on a day, woe be unto you, though you will lie to yourself and tell yourself you'll make it up on the weekend.
I've done this two times before and while it's fun in the same way it's fun to keep pushing that loose tooth around with your tongue ... it's hard! If you lived on a desert island ... okay, scratch that ... you wouldn't have internet. If you had no other obligations in your life it might be easier, because having a job, committments, kids, pets, and all that stuff makes it tougher to glue your butt to the chair. But because I'm a world class procrastinator, even if I had all the time in the world, I'd find a way to waste some of it. Plus, just because you have the time, that doesn't mean the words are going to flow.
I started two novels the last two times I did NaNo. I was pretty pleased with the results. At worst, it put me 50k into a new work in progress with each attempt. This time I am struggling. I'm starting in the middle of a book, having written about 42k before November rolled around and things aren't flowing like I'd hoped.
I thought the accountability of NaNo would help push me over the finish line of the first draft of this book. It's a story I care about, but it's miles from where it needs to be. Someone told me the other day that the first draft is you telling yourself the story. That made a lot of sense to me. I know there are whole bits that I'm writing that won't see the light of day (or my agent's eyes) and there are others that aren't in the book, because my heart hasn't found them yet.
I put so much of my soul into my second book that I wasn't sure I had any left. My agent, who is a swell person, emailed me the other day that she was "heartbroken that my book hadn't sold yet." I needed to hear that. My heart is broken, too. But I need to do some soul searching, some soul mending and some soul replenishing and go out and find the heart of my next book. It's a process. The heaven and hell are in the mix.
As hard as I try to stay positive, and not let things get me down, it's never a one hundred percent proposition. Submission can be a brutal process. Everyone says to write to keep your mind off it. Persevere. And yes, I realize this is a business and if a publisher doesn't think they can sell your book and make money, or are not sure where to place it in the market to sell it and make money, well then ... they're not going to take that risk, especially on a debut novel.
I still believe with my whole heart that this is a good book. A really good book.
My friend Alison, she of the same name as my main character and the person who led me to WFWA and also put my agent on my radar, is having a great month.
She got an agent just a few months back. She did her revisions and her agent started submitting her book. She got one, maybe two rejections, and then an offer from a publisher. So happy for her but a glaring reminder, that I don't have an offer yet. The thing to do when you have an offer, but other editors have your manuscript, is to let them know an offer is on the table. That usually will nudge the others one way or the other. In Alison's case, it nudged a couple of other editors to talk to her on the phone. She will probably end up with two or more offers. Nice to have choices.
If I have to self publish, so be it, but it will be a crack in my heart. Not enough to break it, but it will sting. I've been set on traditional publishing from the start.
If my agent decides at some point, it's not happening on this book, then I will seek her counsel and we will go from there. In the meantime I'll keep working on the new book, because it's what I do, what I need to do and so much damn fun.
The jumping off point for the story is something that happened to my grandmother. When she and her sister were very young (younger than the characters in my book who are five and six), they were abandoned by their mother in a soda fountain in Atlanta, Georgia. Their mom ran off to Baltimore with another man, and their father picked them up pretty quickly. I heard that story as a child and it never left me, so that's the catalyst for the story ... everything after is fiction ... made up. And that's the fun part. Well, off to write. I'll try to focus on the lovely view out of my window, the beautiful weather today, the cat curled up in my lap, my family's health and happiness. Even a temporary funk can't dim those good things.
I hate that I feel the need to write this blog.
I hate that someone said something awful and I let that make me angry.
And I wouldn’t be doing this here, in this forum, had it not had a direct impact on my writing.
I’m working on a new book. Typically I hire an editor on the back end. I thought it might be interesting to get feedback at the start and compare the two processes.
A woman wrote a book on writing. I read it. I hired that woman for two sessions. I send pages, she’s gives feedback. First session went pretty well. She seemed to have a sense of humor. She talked fast and a lot … but I was paying for her input and I managed to get a few questions in. I knew she bounced between California and New York and I admit, it flashed through my mind that she was probably a liberal, but it flashed right back out because we were talking about writing, not politics.
We were to have our second session in a few days. I woke yesterday to an email from her titled “refund.”
Apparently, she saw something I said on Facebook (why she was looking my posts, I have no idea) and she didn’t like it. She decided it was impossible for us to work together, hence the refund.
I can think of about 5,000 ways she could have handled this better. Let me throw this one out:
I’m sorry to have to do this, but I stumbled across one of your posts on Facebook. We all have a right to our opinion, but this left me feeling uncomfortable and so I think it would be hard for us to continue our working relationship. I hope you understand. I have issued you a refund for the remaining session.
I would have been disappointed. I would have thought her unprofessional, but I would have gotten over it. It would have been fine. It’s her company. She can do what she wants. If a baker is free to decline to make a cake on religious grounds, she can decline to read my pages on … whatever grounds these are.
But that’s not what she choose to do.
She started with an emotional diatribe about her granddaughter and how she was the same age as the crying child in a photograph from the border. She went on and on as if she were building the moral hill from which she was going to slay me.
Even that, I probably could have taken. But she wasn’t finished.
She needed to tell me I was a different “species” from her, and that she had no interest in trying to convince me of something I wasn’t “wired to feel”.
So this woman, that doesn’t know me … knows nothing about my life or opinions or how I came to hold them, decided she would sit in judgment and assume what I was capable of feeling.
Those of you who know me, know I could spend the day watching dog rescue videos and crying. I just rescued a feral cat with a wonky leg, and I’ve sponsored kids from the Philippines or Honduras since I was an 18-year old without a pot to piss in.
You probably also know I’m a conservative … Republican by default, but a live-and-let-live girl when it comes to social issues.
No, this woman doesn’t know me. But she choose to judge me based on politics.
This is what it’s like now.
“You can’t care about children unless you think like I think.”
“You can’t care about women, or race, or poverty, or anything, unless you think like I think.”
“And if you don’t think like I think, it’s perfectly acceptable for me to call you names.”
If you care about children, and the law, and the Constitution, it puts you in a quandary. I find it odd that some of the people screaming the loudest for diversity, can’t abide diversity of thought. Some of the people yelling for compassion and understanding seem incapable of exhibiting those traits themselves.
I’m sure this country had it’s share of problems in the early 1900s with the European immigrant influx. We’ve had economic and diplomatic issues since this country began, but I don’t know that we’ve ever been at each other’s throats like we are now.
It’s a sad state of affairs. And I don’t consider myself blameless. I’m sure I’ve upset some folks like she upset me. And for that I apologize and I can only try to do better and keep the discourse civil.
There’s a chance my path will cross with this person in the future. The writing community, while large, is tight. I will be … civil. But I will always be disappointed in her.
Her book made a nice trash can liner.
Since I started this blog to chronicle my journey to become a writer, I figure I'd better not bury the lede.
I have signed with an agent! And she's pretty damn awesome. I have a dear friend that loves this agent so I feel a bit like I've stolen her prom date, but she's been super gracious and supportive about it.
I was weary of querying ... it takes so much time (but unfortunately it is a necessary evil) and it's pretty much a crapshoot. Now, no more querying and more time to write. Win, win, people.
Now for the "journey" part of this tale.
When I decided to start writing, I figured it couldn't hurt to be part of a network. So I joined the Atlanta Writer's Club (went to maybe two meetings). I joined Georgia Romance Writers (never went to a meeting) and Romance Writers of America (entered a contest and judges said my book wasn't a romance ... that should have been my first clue that I was in the wrong place).
While I was querying my first book, I was working on my second. I missed the community of folks I had clicked with at authonomy.com (Harper Collins UK has closed down the site, sadly). The Women's Fiction Critique Group from authonomy migrated over to Facebook so I joined up with them. I had tried some face-to-face critique groups but I either didn't like the format, or there were two many genres. I did find a small group focused on women's fiction but the leader had to cut me and another woman lose after only two meetings when a couple of former members wanted back in. I guess "the more the merrier" wasn't part of their charter.
I digress :-)
Through that online critique group I met the aforementioned friend. Let's call her Alison. That's the name of the main character in my book. It just so happens to be her name as well.
Alison told me about Women's Fiction Writer's Association (WFWA), so I checked it out and joined. The women in the association were so nice, so talented and the group was very proactive in terms of helping their members so I took advantage of every opportunity I could find. Pitch Workshop. Check. Signed up. Alison came through with a killer pitch for me while I drank mint juleps by the pool (kidding on that second part). Pitch Week. Check. Ab out a dozen agents stop by and read the 50 word pitches. Got some nibbles. Yeah for fishing analogies!
Every year, WFWA has two contests for their members. Star Award for those who are published, and Rising Star Award for those who are not. I thought, what the hell, I'll enter. You submit a synopsis and the first 35 pages of your manuscript. I'm a designer so I know subjectivity. Obviously that comes into play in this type of contest. As does good, old-fashioned luck. It depends on the judges you get. And let's be honest. Your first 35 pages could shine and it could all go to hell on page 36 and no one is the wiser. Anyway, I kept my expectations low and entered. To be honest, I'd forgotten all about it until I read a post that the five finalists would be announced on a certain date at 10 a.m. I was about to head into the office and logged in to check when I got a phone call about a freelance project I was working on. So already, I'm going to be late for work and it was 10:20 before I could check the announcement.
Time. Stood. Still.
There ... among the list of the five finalists was my name ... and my book.
If you know me at all, you know I probably burst into tears. And you'd be right to think that.
I was shaking. I was incredulous. I was so happy. It was so ... affirming to have that sort of validation. There is a butt load of self doubt that comes with this journey so I was grateful to have this to throw in the mix! It would be another month before the awards were announced at the annual WFWA retreat in New Mexico. One of the finalists, Lainey, set up a live feed so that those of use not in attendance could watch the awards. I hoped I'd at least place in the top three and and had put a substantial bet down in Vegas on Lainey to win (JK). I was sick as a dog with the almost-flu so I had to crawl out of my bed at 10 pm and hobble to the computer. The amazing Peggy Finck, who ran the contest, came to the podium and announced the third place winner. When she awarded second place to the woman I thought would win, a small and hopeful thought entered my brain ... maybe ... just maybe? Then Peggy started reading my book blurb and I lost it. Right there on the live feed for the entire ... (well, there were only six of us :-) group to see. I don't think that many consecutive "thank you's" have come from my lips since my kid was born healthy and I was on anesthesia.
In addition to a huge kick-ass trophy, a few days later I got one big surprise. Peggy told me that one of the agent judges wanted to see my full manuscript. This. Is. Huge. Of course, I got a panic attack about the whole page 36 thing. But this was THE agent my friend raved about. I totally stalked her instagram page and she was just too cool for school. She's exactly who I'd want to be if I was ... thirty ... super smart ... beautiful with great taste.
You do know I'm totally assuming she'll never read this haha.
The one thing Peggy didn't tell me was the agent's email. Fortunately, I had her "work" (not personal) email from the pitch week submission guidelines. I sent my manuscript with a big subject line to her attention.
About a week went by and I started to worry a tad. Maybe a few more grey hairs popped up. By then, Alison the great (who I had told all about her dream agent) had given me the agent's personal email. So I put on my big girl panties and emailed her to check in and inquire if she'd received the book.
She hadn't checked the other email so was very happy I'd touched base. Since I'm on the other side of this, I can now say I was in for AN EVEN BIGGER SURPRISE ... one of those, is this really happening??? moments. Agent emailed me back. In a nutshell: read the book in one freaking day. LOVED it (her all caps). Could we talk on the phone?
I immediately went into freakout mode and emailed Alison, who was freaking out with me, but had the presence of mind to tell me that they don't call you to reject you. Good info.
Agent and I made plans to talk in two days. I had to drive to Candler Park to meet my daughter for a high tea, but on a side street, beneath an old oak, in the quiet of my VW Passatt, I called. She was so nice. So supportive and she wanted to work with me. Me. Me. Work with me. She would love to add me to her list. I know she was talking at normal speed and volume, but everything was in slow motion. She encouraged me to do my due diligence and check out the other agents that had my book (I had already :-) plus... did I mention I stalked her instagram?
I said yes, we both said hurrah and I went to meet my daughter. I walked up to her smiling like a mad woman and did my happy dance. I HAVE AN AGENT!!!
There are lots of things that have to happen to make it to publication. A lot of stars have to align, but I respect this woman, I have faith in my voice and my book, and I believe she wouldn't take a chance on me if she wasn't equally optimistic that this could really happen.
I am excited to see where this journey takes me. The past month has been one sweet, wild ride.
Love you all.
For the past couple of years I've been doing the soul-crushing work of querying my first book. In fact, if someone wanted to make a movie called "The Soul Crushers," the life of a hopeful, unpublished author would be a good place to start. I've had enough warm fuzzies along the way to keep me going, but 100 rejections is my magic number because that's how many Jodi Picoult got before she found an agent.
Lately I've turned my attention to my second book, because while the first book was meant to be more of a beach read, this one is more complex and I feel strongly about it. I've also been thinking happy thoughts, looking for fairy dust on the internet and praying to the writing gods.
And sometimes the Universe answers.
I belong to a great online women's fiction critique group and through the group I met Alison. (I liked her immediately as that's my main character's name!) Alison told me about the Women's Fiction Writers Association. I joined and right away felt like I found my tribe. It's well run, the members are super supportive and they do things to really help us on our journey. Recently, I participated in their pitch workshop. 80 of us helped each other fine tune our pitch. A pitch is your novel synthesized down to 50 words, hopefully with a hook that will entice agents to give you a request for pages. And yes, it's as hard to do as it sounds.
Alison came to my rescue again, and helped make my pitch better than I could have ever done on my own.
Once our pitches were solid, 80 of us participated in pitch week. We posted them online and about a dozen agents came by for a look. Sadly, a lot of folks didn't get request, but many got 1 or 2. A few got 7 or 8 and I got 5!! Thank you universe. Three of those have come back and requested the full manuscript.
Around the same time the WFWA announced the five finalist for the Rising Star Contest (unpublished authors...that's why we're rising :-) SHUT UP! When I saw my book on the list I seriously thought I was hallucinating. I'm so humbled, and the other finalist are so great ... we're all rooting for each other! Winner to be announced Sept. 22. Fingers crossed!
At the end of the day, I know publishing is a business. I know agents and editors and publishers want to be wowed. Maybe I'm not a wow kinda gal, but the affirmation I've gotten of late was much needed and oh so appreciated. This may lead to something...but just as easily could come up goose eggs. No matter, I'll keep on until I write that book they can't say no to.
In the meantime, if anyone knows where to buy that fairy dust, give me a yell. (This is the lovely badge the WFWA folks gave me to put on my website.)
The people that write the books want to write a good book. The people that read the books want to read a good book. Sounds simple enough. But in between point A and point B there is a lot of hard work that makes the actual writing of the book seem like the easy bit.
I was surprised when a friend found out I had written and book and asked if they could go get it at Barnes and Noble. (Dear Samantha on Bewitched: Could you wiggle your nose and make that happen, please?)
What really happens after you write your book is that you edit it ... look for typos, changes in tense, stupid mistakes, grammar errors. Then you rewrite. Again and again. Then you ask friends to read it and give feedback. Then you rewrite. Again. Then you join a critique group and get feedback from other people writing books. Then you take a pause while you lose your mind.
When you find your mind again, you rewrite. Then you start to query. This means you have to write a query letter. Damn. And a synopsis. Double damn. A query is the most important and best damn (but short and concise) letter you can write to sell your book to an agent. Prepare thyself for rejection. Lots of it. Think that boy in third grade that didn't want you for a girlfriend broke your heart? You ain't seen nothing yet. You can also go to conferences and meet editors and agents face to face. Most are nice and put their pants on one leg at at time. But that doesn't mean they're not intimidating. You stutter a lot and find out what little salesmanship skills you have. I got lucky at a recent conference that one of the editors I met was from the same town as me. She gave me her card and told me to call her when I got an agent. Ahhhhh. There's the rub. That means that instead of rejections you have to get an agent that says "send me your full manuscript." And they have to fall in love with it. I mean passionate love. And they have to take you on. Let's suppose for a moment you're lucky enough to find that special agent. Then they are going to most likely want you to change some things in the book you've already rewritten ten times. Then they have to have good relationships with editors and publishing houses and hopefully convince an acquisitions editor to take your book and sell it to the publisher. And then you'll have an editor who will .... take a guess ... wants some rewrites. Then if the magic happens and you're actually published and there is an honest-to-god book with a cover and your name on it, well then you have to market it. That bit actually sounds fun, but you're left wondering where in all this, do you find the time to actually write that NEXT book. (Publishers don't really like one hit wonders.) So do you do the thing that brings you joy and write and not really care if anyone but your best friend from high school and your Aunt Jo reads it? Or do you jump on the carousel and try for the brass ring, even if you are getting slightly nauseous from having gone around in circles so many times? I think, hope, pray it's a bit of both and I can find the balance. Wish me luck.
Wow. Only two months since my last post. That, my friends, is progress.
About eight months ago, I joined an online women's fiction critique group. Once a month, a member submits their work and the rest of us read and give feedback. The polite and proper thing to do is to return that favor and critique those kind souls who have given your work a read.
I'm trying to do the polite and proper thing but it takes up a lot of time. The good news is I finally figured out how to get the word documents on to my Kindle Fire so that makes the reading easier and I'm more mobile ... not chained to the Word application on my computer.
So, I just finished my critique that's not due until May 6th, AND just emailed my thoughts on a swap read with another woman in the group. I was fully committed to reading over the last few days (when I wasn't binge watching "Last Tango in Halifax." I may have a bit of a British TV addiction. Don't judge.)
I'm also half the way through "The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper" ... a novel of an elderly English gentleman who finds a charm bracelet belonging to his late wife and discovers each charm has a story that reveals much about her he didn't know. After that, I'm dying to read "Jane Steele." I peeked at the first chapter and it has its hooks in me already. A woman has committed a murder and she has a deep affinity for the title character in "Jane Eyre" (a novel I read once a year).
I also ordered "As I Lay Dying," as an attempt to get my feet wet in the waters of William Faulkner. My granddad was a big fan of Faulkner and I'm embarrassed to say I've never read him. Rumour has it he's damned hard to wade through but worth it in the end, so after googling "what's the best Faulkner to start with", I feel ready to push forward.
But for today, I'm putting the reading aside to concentrate on what I really love ... the writing. I simply can't write when someone else's voice is in my head. Now that the weather is nicer, I think I'll take a bike ride on the trail beside the Yellow River. If I forego my headphones, I can think about the book as I pedal. It's a nice palette cleanser for my brain, as it were. I can flush out those other voices and be ready to write when I get back home.
It's funny ... you tell some folks you've written a book and they immediately assume they can run out to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy. What they don't realize, and what I'm learning, is that the writing is the easy/fun bit. The rest is an exhausting process of editing, rewriting, querying, rejection, more querying, conferences, feedback, and then if you're lucky, an agent, and then if you're really lucky, a publisher ... and then a new round of edits/rewrites/feedback.
I know it's a business. I get that. I write because I've discovered what so many before me knew -- you write because you love it. Would I like to be published ... give readings ... go 'round to signings? You betcha. But Anne Lamont told me in her book "Bird by Bird", that you better do this because you love it, because you're never going to be published and you're never going to make money at it. Harsh words, perhaps, but it just means anything good that happens is gravy. If you love something, I don't think you can ever go wrong. In fact, it's the best reason I can think of for trying to get this right.
So ... I've been out of my mind busy, trying to edit and do rewrites on my second book before the Atlanta Writer's Conference in May. I paid an editor in New York City (Brooklyn to be precise) a not unsubstantial amount of money to edit it for me, and since she is a former literary agent, I took most of her suggestions to heart.
While she had my manuscript (and while I waited the six months for her to have an opening in her schedule), I began co-writing a book with my dear friend, Mark, who lives in the UK. I've mentioned him a time or two in this blog.
Let me try and sound British for a moment: He's bloody brilliant.
He's whip smart and a brilliant writer, just perhaps not as prone to sit down and keep at it as me. In any event, we've created two, I think, amazing characters: Eva and Keaton. But I've had to put them aside to work on my rewrites of The Fifty-Week Wife.
But, as often happens with characters, they become all too real to you, and I missed them. So I had to take a break and read a bit of the work in progress last night.
Mind you, it's first draft stuff. This is very near the end of the book. But it made me happy to visit. The book is called Whatever Words I Say
I stared at the images in front of me. Though so different from the scenes of global grandeur I’d seen back at the cottage, they were just as breathtaking.
A sparrow pecking at gravel in the garden.
The shadow play of my lashes against my cheek as I lay sleeping.
A coffee cup, half in the frame, with rumpled bedclothes in soft focus in the background.
A rusty metal wheel against a weathered wall at the back of the cottage.
Keaton’s reflection in a mirror, hazy and cut off by the edge of the photo.
My fingers drummed along the top of the table as my mind tried to hone in on a idea that was swirling in my brain.
I spent the next hour pacing along the length of the table, picking up this photo, then that one and giving each a harder look. Still my thoughts spiraled into nothingness.
Next, I taped them to the opposite wall to offer myself a different perspective.
Flopping on the couch, I sat, arms behind head, feet on the coffee table and stared. Then I stared some more. I think I may have blinked. Argghhh. What was I even hoping for? He left me these for a reason. It had to be more than to show me he was attempting to be a photographer again? He could have easily told me that and shown me the images in person.
Why the envelope? Why the admonition not to open it until he had left? What did he want from me?
Running my fingers through my hair, I sighed in frustration.
My thoughts began to wander like a restless child. I should really repaint this room. When was the last time I dusted? Is that clock off?
My eyes travelled over to my bookshelf and as soon as I saw it, I knew.
I jumped off the couch as though it were red hot. But I was the one on fire. I grabbed the book and opened it to the first photograph. The image was burned in my brain from having seen it countless times, but the words … Alex’s words … I’d only given them a glance. I was so besotted with Keaton’s language that I didn’t need anyone else’s. But he needed Alex’s words. He needed them and now he doesn’t have them.
Could I give words back to him?
For the next two days I barely moved. The settee was my island and that book my lifeline. I read everything Alex wrote and then I read it again. And again. I studied his cadence, his word choice, his verbal imagery.
I thought of all the writers I loved—authours whose words lifted me. Dickens, Atwood, McEwan, Vonnegut … a list as long as my arm. I pulled book after book off my shelf and reread familiar passages. These novels were the friends I had when I had no friends. They loved me when I was unlovable. They were my salvation until I met Keaton.
Most of all I thought of his words. How, from the first night I met him, he transported me. Praque, Ireland, France. He took me to a place of possibilities and he painted me a picture with his language as surely as if he held a pigment-laden brush in his hand.
I let these words and thoughts fill my head and push out the self-doubt and confusion.
And then I slept.
The next morning Claire dropped off the kittens and their supplies before eight. My living room looked as though a hurricane had torn through a library, but I didn’t care. After she left, I went to shower, leaving the little felines to play amongst the mountain of books.
I’d read once that hot water could open the capillaries in the brain. I don’t know if it was that or perhaps all the words I’d absorbed over the last forty-eight hours had gelled in my memory while I slept, but for whatever reason, I was now ready to write.
Or at least try.
I had my cup of tea and my notebook and my pen.
Time to start.
Yes. It’s time. Going to write now.
What the fuck?
Suddenly that empty sheet of white paper seemed as large as the wall. I made a mark. Not a word. Not even a letter, but a dark slash across the whiteness. The page shrunk back to normal size.
Yin and Yang looked at me from the corner, turning their small heads in my direction before settling in to nap.
I flexed and stretched like prizefighter before a bout. Pen in hand. Check. Paper. Check. Writing now.
The little bird …
Scribble and scratch that.
The small creature …
Who the hell did I think I was? James Fucking Herriot?
Crush paper and throw.
The cats awoke, thinking I was playing some sort of game. To my mind, this was not, by any stretch of the imagination, fun.
Too boring. Crumble.
Too flowery. Crumble.
Pretentious shit. Crumble.
The kittens chased the paper balls, batting them around for pleasure until they became bored and the wrinkled spheres outnumbered them three to one.
Frustrated I went to the kitchen and made another cup of tea, then sunk down into the cushions of the settee and closed my eyes.
How did Alex do this? How did my favourite writers find the words to make me feel ... feel …
Stop overthinking, Evangline. I conjured up the photograph against the darkness of my closed eyes. Any fool can see that it’s a sparrow amongst the gravel. But what else?
Taking a deep breath, I opened my eyes and picked up the pen again. I had clarity.
And so I began.
Peck, peck, peck.
Somewhere in here, there is a bug. There is sustenance.
My markings are those of a burglar but I work honestly for my meal. I take nothing from you. This garden is enough. The flowers are bright in their colour against my white and grey. I blend into my surroundings easily. I’m hardly noticed at all. But you see.
It is a small thing. I am a small thing. But you have found beauty in the small.
Tousled hair. Tousled bodies. Skin slips against skin and satin. We lay loved and fucked and exhausted. Blanketed in kisses, your chest for a pillow, I drift away. A perfect sleep unlike any other. Soon the light will come, but for now I rest in shadow. You watch me. I am safe.
The warmth of our bed. The warmth of a morning coffee. I drink you in. The coolness of your skin. The icy blue of your eyes. Your aloofness, balanced by your total abandonment. We rise and fall, go hot and explode. Then we are one. A single body at rest. The morning beckons. It is a new day, ripe with what is possible. But I have seen the night. I know of its miracles. And I pray for the eve.
Round and round. There and back. The places I’ve been and seen have left their mark on me like a kiss in greeting and a farewell embrace. I am worn, tired. But life stretches out ahead. There are wonders you can only imagine. Experiences your mind has not yet conjured. I would not trade my memories for the world but my time is done. There is a garage and in it an auto, apple red and waiting to be picked. It is your time now. Let the wheels take you. Explore your life.
Your face. Can you see it? Surely you can. Before you, I wandered, always wondering. How will I know? Will I find love? Will it find me? Then, without warning, there you were. I looked into your eyes and you looked into my soul. As surely as though a thousand cosmic truths rained down on me at once, I was struck with the undeniable certainty that you were what love looked like. Love will age, love will grow fine lines around its eyes and its hair will become tinged with grey. Yet I will always recognize its face.
It's hard to admit that I've been a slacker when it comes to this blog. But I have. In my defense, I've not slacked in other areas. I've been hard at work ... at my job, as a mom, a friend, a pet owner, someone who is interested in politics and mainly I've been hard at work writing.
I keep reading that the publishing industry has changed. That now it's about more than a good story, well told. It's about websites, and traffic, and page views and SEO. And while I can understand that ... I mean publishing is a business and people want to make money on every level ... it still makes me sad.
Would I love to one day be able to support myself with writing. AB-SO-LUTELY. I mean that's the dream, but it's not why I do this.
Before I started writing, I would hear or read other writers saying how their characters had a life of their own and how they wrote because they had to.
It never resonated with me. I couldn't understand that feeling of creating something with a life of its own like that. And then, I started writing. And boy, do I understand now.
A friend gave me a copy of Anne Lamott's book "Bird by Bird". It's a slim little volume of her thoughts on writing. She's pretty damn good at it so I think her thoughts are worth a look. My takeaway from the book (and I paraphrase) is this: You'll never get published. You'll never make any money. So you better be doing this because you love it.
I may die with eight unpublished novels. That's not the plan, but if that's the outcome, I'm cool with it because it will be eight novels I'm proud of and that I wrote out of love.
But all the talk of social media and fan base, blah blah blah inspired me to dust off this blog and make a serious effort to keep it alive. I've also published a new domain (an @london domain because I'm a shameless anglophile) so I hope to have another website in the not-so-distant future.
But to catch you up in case you're interested:
My first book Crazy Quilt ... still love it ... still querying.
I've had 15 rejections and some of them included very positive feedback. Just cause, I emailed one of my favorite writers, Jodie Picoult, a couple of months ago, because I heard she was good at emailing back. She told me she had 100 rejections. She's a best selling author now so I figure I owe that little southern novel of mine at least the opportunity to get 100 rejections. If nothing comes of that, I'll self-publish on amazon and see how that goes.
My second book is more of a straight romance ... based on a relationship I had with a man in London about 30 years ago, but it's in a holding pattern for now.
Two years ago I met my dear friend Lisa in her hometown of Dublin, Ireland. Over dinner I told her about my idea for new book. "Stop whatever you're working on and write that book now," she told me. And that's what I did. I'm very proud of it and I did freelance jobs and saved my money for a year so I could hire an editor in New York to help me polish the manuscript. The editor was a literary agent for fifteen years before striking out on her own, so I think that's a valuable perspective to have. I'm sure I'll have my work cut out for me when she sends it back but I'm excited to make it the best it can be and start the querying process on that book.
At the moment, I'm working on a book with a co-writer. He's extremely talented and a friend I met on authonomy.com, which if you've been following me you know I had my first book on that site for over a year and got great feedback. Sadly, Harper Collins shut the website down, but the valued friendships I made (Lisa, Mark and CoeDee) remain. The book is a bit "Me Before You", but not ... and with a happier ending. Writing with someone else slows the process but it's moving along. I'd say we're halfway done then can start the rewrites and editing.
I'm anxious to finish this collaboration because there is a book burning a hole in my head and I had to put it on the back burner to co-write the current manuscript. I have tons of research to do for the next book (on flowers of all things!! Not my strong suit) but I've already ordered two massive books to study. Just as a tease, when my grandmother was a little girl, her mom left her and her sister (my great aunt) in the old Watson's Pharmacy in Decatur (it was across the street from the train depot when I was growing up) while she ran off to Baltimore with another man. She knew their father would come get them but it was a scandal nonetheless, and the girls got their photos in the newspaper. Anyway, the book will be about much more than that, but that is the genesis.
I appreciate you taking the time to visit and I promise to check in on a more regular basis. This ... this writing thing ... has proven to be a great joy in this next chapter of my life. For snickers, here is a short, short story I did for my writer's group that tells a fictionalized version of my grandmother and great aunt's story at the soda fountain at Watson's Pharmacy.
“What flavor do you want?” Carolyn Reynolds asked. She is a year behind me at school and has been working at the Watson’s pharmacy soda fountain for nearly three months. She was pretty in the same as most of the girls at Winnona High—fresh-faced and blonde. Me? I had the dark hair and eyes of my mother.
Watson’s has a dozen flavors of ice cream at any one time, and this will be my 144th free ice cream cone. That’s a cone a month, every year, for twelve years. There is only one other person I know who gets free ice cream, and that’s my younger sister, Bea. She still has another dozen to go, but today I turned eighteen and so the ice cream gravy train is coming to a halt. How we came to get a free cone a week, well, that’s some story.
Seems people will feel sorry for you if your mama leaves you sitting at a soda fountain and runs off with a shoe salesman from Baltimore. Hell, you’ll even get your photo on the front of the newspaper.
My mother was pretty smart, though. She planned it all out, nice and neat.
The sun was already beating down on our desert of a front yard when Mama flung open our bedroom curtains and told us to wake on up. Nothing grew in our sorry excuse for a garden, but that didn’t stop our mother from trying. She’d buy geraniums and pansies on sale and plant them by the front walk. And when they died, she just dug them up and planted more. Daddy considered it a waste of money, but at some point he gave up fussing about it.
I sat up, rubbed my eyes and then looked at the clock.
“Dagnabbit, Mama! I’m late for school,” I hollered.
“You know I don’t like you talking like that,” she said, raising her hand like she was going to swat my leg. Then, for some reason, she seemed to change her mind.
“You’re not going to school today. We’re going to have a special mother/daughter day.”
“Mother daughter day?” I asked, looking over at my little sister. I don’t know why Bea was grinning like a fool. She’s not in school yet so every day is a mother/daughter day for her. “Have we ever had one of those before?”
“For the love of Pete, Delores. Stop acting like you just came down from the planet Mars. Of course, we have. Any time we do something, just the three of us, why that’s a mother/daughter day.” I nodded, the explanation making sense and besides I wasn’t about to argue, not if this meant a day off from school.
There were new dresses laid out for us to wear. Our mother liked to dress us like twins, even though I was 357 days older than my sister Beatrice. It’s a bona fide fact. You can check my birth certificate.
The dresses were identical in style, just not in the details. Mine was pale blue, and Bea’s was yellow. They both had the same puffed sleeves and smocking across the front, though mine had tiny berries decorating the bodice, and Bea had cherries dancing across the front of hers. There were new white socks with lace trim, and our patent leather shoes had not a scuff mark on them.
“So what are we doing today, mama?” I asked as she tied a bow at the back of my dress.
“It’s a surprise. We’re going to take the bus so we need to get a move on.”
Bea was whining that she was hungry but Mama told her to be patient. We were all going to have ice cream for breakfast. Ice cream for breakfast? I could barely contain myself. Bea saw me grinning and, figuring it was okay, she started to giggle.
Mama had on a pretty green plaid dress and pumps. She slipped white cotton gloves on her hands before grabbing a suitcase that was by the front door.
“What do you have a suitcase for, Mama?” I asked. “Are we going somewhere?”
“Well, aren’t you just full of questions, Delores Jean. I told you we’re going to have a mother/daughter day. I’m taking some old clothes to a thrift store that’s down the way. Just a quick errand.”
Mama locked the front door and took Bea’s hand. “Take your sister’s other hand, Delores. Stay together and don’t dawdle.”
The bus stop was three blocks from our house. I tell you, I felt like we were pretty on parade walking down that sidewalk. The sun was already starting to make me warm and thank goodness there was a big oak tree by the bus stop so we had some shade to stand in. Mama kept looking at her watch and tapping her foot, and then she’d look over at me and Bea and smile and tell us to quit hunching over.
A few minutes later the bus pulled next to the curb, spewing smoke and hot air. Bea climbed up first and, with her short legs, she was slow as Christmas, of course.
We smooshed in three to the seat, being as we were little. The ride took about fifteen minutes and the whole time Mama kept smoothing our hair and giving us kisses. It was nice.
The bus deposited us right in front of the courthouse in the town square. Mama and I grabbed Bea’s hands again and we crossed the street. I knew just where we were ‘cause we come here once a month so Mama can get her hair done. She brings crayons and coloring books to keep busy and if we behave, when she’s ready for the dryer, she gives us each a quarter and sends us next door to Watson’s pharmacy. Ice cream for breakfast!
Mama opened the door and a little bell signaled our arrival. She told us to go on over to the soda fountain — she was just going to buy a magazine. We walked up to the counter and pressed our noses against the glass case. Bea had to stand on tippy toe.
The glass was cool and my warm breath caused it to fog up. I don’t even know why Bea is looking. She always gets chocolate. She’s going to get it all over her new dress and Mama is gonna have a hissy fit. Guaranteed.
I’m the same way though, ‘cept I always get vanilla. Sometimes I’ll ask for sprinkles, but most times I like it plain. Here in south Georgia, we don’t get snow and I always thought vanilla ice cream must be how snow tastes.
“My Mama will be here in a minute,” I said to the lady behind the counter, after we ordered. “She’ll pay you.” She wasn’t the same one that was here on Saturdays when Mama got her hair fixed. That lady was Terri. She was pretty and blonde and looked like a schoolteacher. This lady was short and round with pink cheeks.
“No problem,” said the lady. “And what’s your name?” she asked, looking at my little sister.
“Bea,” she said.
“Is that really her name?” the lady asked me, “or does she just know the first letter?”
“Nope, that’s really her name,” I said. “Short for Beatrice.”
“And what’s your name, honey?” she asked me.
“Delores,” I said. “It’s not short for anything.”
Just then Mama came around the other side of the cough medicine display. She put her suitcase down and placed her magazine face up on the counter. Reaching for Bea, she picked her up and plopped her on a stool, while I scrambled for a seat on my own.
“No spinning,” she said, pointing her finger at me. “I don’t want you getting dizzy and throwing up, now.”
“Here’s a dollar,” my Mama told the lady. “You can keep the change. My girls are well behaved, so I’m just going to leave them here to have their treat, while I run down to the corner for a minute.”
“Sure thing,” said the lady, handing my sister her cone. “I’ll keep an eye on them.”
“It’s not a treat. It’s our breakfast,” Bea told the lady.
Mama took Bea’s face in her hands and kissed the top of her head, then did the same to me. “I love you girls. Don’t you ever forget that.”
“We love you, too, Mama,” I said. Bea was too busy licking the ice cream that was running down her arm to talk. “Hurry back so you can get your cone.”
I heard the tinkling of the bell and knew she’d gone out the door. If she’s just going to the corner, she ought to be back before I’m finished with my ice cream. For sure, she’ll be back before that slowpoke sister of mine is done.
When I was nearly down to the end of my cone, I bit the bottom off so I could get the last bit of melted snow. The nice lady got a rag and tried to get the chocolate off Bea’s hands. The front of her dress was a lost cause as I had predicted.
I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I started spinning in my chair because I was restless and Mama should have been back by now.
“How long you reckon it’s been since my Mama left,” I asked the lady.
She glanced at her watch. “I don’t know. Twenty minutes, maybe.
“Does it take long to drop off clothes at the thrift store?”
“Thrift store?” the lady repeated back to me.
“Yes, ma’am. The one down at the corner.”
The lady smiled at me and wiped off the counter even though it was already clean.
“You girls be good. I’ll be right back.”
I watched as she walked around the counter and over to the back of the store where Dr. Watson was doing all his stuff with pills and what not.
He looked over our way, then he called his assistant over and that fella started doing whatever it was Dr. Watson had been doing. Then I saw Dr. Watson come out from his special place.
He walked, head down, to the front of the store, and though I couldn’t see him anymore I heard the bell tinkle, so I reckoned he had gone outside. A few minutes later, it tinkled again and then I spotted him. He walked up to Bea and me, took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“What’s that?” Dr. Watson asked, pointing at the counter, and for the first time I noticed a corner of white peeking out from under the Good Housekeeping magazine.
“It’s my mama’s,” I said. “She already paid for it.”
He reached over and pulled on the triangle. He opened the piece of paper and I watched as his eyes scanned it, left to right.
“You girls stay right here,” he said, his face full of seriousness.
While Bea and I sat there bored out of our brains and kicking our heels against the stools, apparently there was a lot was going on we didn’t know about. First the police showed up, then a newspaper fella with a camera showed up. Finally my daddy showed up, and he was none too happy, I’ll tell you that.
You’ve probably guessed by now, those weren’t old clothes in my mother’s suitcase. And there was no thrift store down on the corner — only a taxicab waiting to take her and the shoe salesman to the train station, and then a train there to take them to Baltimore.
All in all, mama leaving was quite the scandal. Well, outside of our house, anyway. When it hit me that mama wasn’t coming back, panic set in. Then sadness, and finally anger. My mother’s name was never mentioned again. My daddy got colder and he remarried a woman even colder than he was. His only concession to our childhood was to take us to Watson’s once a month for ice cream. Looking back, I think it helped him keep his hate for my mother alive. At least until he died.
But somehow I survived the next dozen years. Bea can make it another year or two. When I get settled and after she gets her last free cone, I’ll come back for her.
“What’s the most exotic flavor you got there?” I asked Carolyn.
“Exotic?” she replied, scrunching her nose up like she smelled something funny. “I dunno. Spumoni, I reckon.”
I liked the sound of that.
“One scoop of spumoni then.”
I opened my purse and dug through the bills, looking for change. I knew it was my last free cone day, but still I got out 65 cents and put it on the counter.
“I think I’d like to pay for this one,” I told Carolyn.
The telltale budge of my wallet spoke to the amount of cash inside. My savings from three summers of babysitting was enough for a train ticket to Baltimore with a bit to spare.
I took my cone, picked up my suitcase and walked out of Watson’s pharmacy for the last time.
I heard they have snow in Baltimore.
I've been a graphic designer for nearly 30 years and for some crazy reason I decided I wanted to write a book. So I did, and now I'm writing another. Looking for that one person to believe in me.
Glue YOUR BUTT
TO THE CHAIR
The ups and downs, small victories and major setbacks of trying to get your first book published. There will be laughter, tears and all that good stuff.