Chinese Water Torture

It’s maddening. It truly is. The slow yet constant drip of rejections, coming at an unpredictable rate. I never know when I’m going to open my mailbox to find a letter from an agency I queried. I got one Sunday morning, when I wouldn’t have expected agents were responding to queries. Then I got one last night before bed. Sweet dreams.

Without even opening these emails, I immediately feel defeated somehow knowing it’s a rejection. Lately I try to pause and allow myself the sliver of hope that it might be a request for my manuscript. I remind myself that things can change any second. It only takes one yes. The results haven’t been any better.

Then I read a tweet from an author saying, “My lifelong dream to be a published author is finally coming true.” I clicked on her profile.

She’s 24. Her lifelong dream has maybe been ten years.

As someone who is susceptible to insecurity and a lack of confidence, the battle to keep going is requiring more energy than I expected. I’ve decided I need to do two things. First, I need to look at the first five pages, which is pretty much all they allow you to send them. When I wrote this chapter, it was in chronological order, and my editor snatched it from the middle of the book and made it my prologue. I’ve realized there are things discussed in that chapter that would be familiar to the reader by the time they got to the middle, but would have no meaning whatsoever to someone not yet immersed in this world. I need to look at this chapter with fresh eyes and see what can be improved. The difficulty with that is that my prologue is already at 5 pages, and if I expand on description, I will not be able to send the entire prologue as my sample.

After I’ve improved those first five pages, I need to read the entire manuscript. I’m beginning to doubt my story, my writing, my characters, and pretty much everything else. I know when I’ve read it before, I’ve gotten sucked in and kept turning the pages. I need to remind myself of that. It’s been long enough since I read it that it might even feel a little fresher. I need to regain my confidence that someone will recognize the value in the story I’m telling, and I just need to keep looking for them.

So many agents are looking for books with a quick hook, and I’ve read those books. They’re fun. But a year later, I couldn’t tell you the plot or characters of most of them. I might remember the stunning location where it was set or maybe a scene that was impactful but the rest fades away. They’re fast food fiction. Really enjoyable in the moment, but not really sustaining.

My story doesn’t have such a quick hook. I’d like to think it’s intriguing, but I take my time introducing characters and unwinding the story at a comfortable pace. As the book moves along, and the conflict builds, so does the pace. So is it going to grab you by the throat right away? Probably not. It’s why I’m so frustrated that the entire book is judged by the first few pages. Not only can you not judge a book by it’s cover, you can’t truly judge a book by it’s first few pages.

Now, I get it. Agents are buried under queries and manuscripts. One agency responded in their rejection letter that they get 500 queries a week. One agency – 500 queries in a week. How could anyone possibly keep up with that? There has to be a quick way to weed through and focus on the best choices, so they’ve decided the first five pages and a snappy query letter are the way to do it. I wonder how many quality novels have slipped through the cracks because of it.

There’s nothing to do about it, but keep searching for an agent that will give it a read. I’ve also found two publishers that will accept hardcopy manuscript submissions without an agent, so I intend to print one out and get that in the mail soon. And of course the final option will be to self-publish and let the public decide. The amount of marketing I’ll have to do is daunting, but hopefully I’ll have book two finished by then and in the editing process (if I can afford it) so can focus more on marketing.

Until then I will reread, perhaps rewrite, and try to keep my sanity and hope under the drip, drip, drip of rejections.

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Keeping the Faith

Prepare for a somewhat rambling, stream-of-consciousness blog.

I’m sitting on my sun porch listening to the sounds of the night. Perfectly synchronized tree frogs, crickets, and other unknown insects are creating a symphony. They are accompanied by the urgency of sirens, and the groan of traffic.

The blue fairy lights wrapped around the old growth trees in my yard are all pulsing, completely out of sync. I spent the afternoon repairing one strand that a squirrel had decided was a chew toy. I’m taking great pride in seeing it twinkle, though I miss the fireflies that added white lights to the dance.

The writing has been coming at a slower pace, partly because I’ve been busier socially. It’s so hard to find that balance. I’m either holed up, or never home.

Another query needs to go out, and yet I find myself hesitant. Once again I feel like the outsider in the agent world.

Perhaps it is who I’m querying. They all seem to be about 22, bouncy, and adorable. They post about all the books they represent that are coming out and many seem instantly forgettable. They tweet all the story ideas they’re looking for, which sound an awful lot like mine, yet the rejections keep dripping in. And then they tweet about all the mistakes querying authors make, and this process begins to take on a familiar feel.

It reminds me of Hollywood, where I was never quite good enough. I was expected to play by rules I had nothing to do with setting up. It didn’t matter how much talent I had, or how many original ideas I had, if I didn’t meet certain expectations and play the games of the men in power.

Now, instead of sexism, I feel the weight of ageism. I feel the need to be hip and current. I’m expected to condense my book into 140 characters in a twitter pitch fest, or find just the right combination of words to win over an agent in a few paragraphs. And then there’s the whopping 5 pages of my manuscript I’m allowed to submit. I think about Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and wonder how it ever got published. The first 100 pages were excruciating, yet if I don’t wow them in 5 pages, I have no chance. Once again, I’m just not hip enough. Not cool enough.

Then there was the depressing moment recently when an agent I was really interested in, revealed her love of Twilight.

She is clearly not my agent.

I have a good story. In fact, I have a really good story. I’ll admit, there may be times I don’t tell it as well as I would like, but it’s as good, if not better than many of the books lining the shelves of bookstores. It will take three books to tell that story, and somehow I have to get an agent who has the patience to see where this is going. Either that, or I have to find a way to support myself while I write all three books. 45’s recent attacks on healthcare make that more and more unlikely.

But I don’t have just three books. One agent I follow recently tweeted that too many authors focus on breaking in with their first book and not on building a career. Frustrating! After this trilogy, I have an entire middle grade series in my head. I also have an adult dystopian book with a killer title, Dwellers of the Eye. I would love to build a career, but I need the income of breaking in with my first book to do it. Why is it so hard for those who have broken in to remember the frustrations and struggles of those still trying?

When I send a query off, I am filled with confidence. I’m certain this will finally be the agent to request my manuscript. When I receive a rejection, I am filled with fear and doubt that I have just wasted my entire life savings, and I am going to spend the rest of my life struggling to keep a roof over my head.

I had the silly idea that as this went along, the rejections would get easier. They do not. They get far harder, and with each one it also gets harder to keep the faith that I’m not on a fool’s errand.

Still, what else is there to do but to forge ahead. I’ve chosen my path and I have to see it through. Peak after valley, after peak, after valley, I will keep riding this publishing roller coaster and do my best to keep on keeping the faith so I can keep on sitting on my sun porch, listening to the music of the night, and living a life that feels filled with purpose.

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Stand

Do you remember when you were really little, before you understood the complexities of the world, and the national anthem would play. You would stand tall and straight, with your hand over your heart. There was such a feeling of pride. America was the good guys. We were a shining light in the darkness, and it felt so good to be on the winning team.

On Sunday night I turned on my TV and just happened to land on the playing of the national anthem for the game that night. Despite intending to watch another show, I stayed on the game for a few minutes to see what the teams would do. I watched the camera pan across the kneeling players, linked arm in arm. What I noticed more than anything, was their faces. They weren’t celebrating their jab at “the man.” They weren’t mocking. If anything, they looked pained. They took no joy in what they were doing.

There’s no doubt in my mind that when those kneeling players were kids, they had the same rush of pride I did. How painful to no longer have that pride. How painful to have your naivete eroded away as you grew up and watched your country let you down, finding out that the light doesn’t burn so brightly for you if your skin is dark.

I’ve heard commentators rail about how ungrateful these players are. They’ve been given an opportunity to make millions of dollars by this country. How dare they protest anything?

I agree that this country has given hem an amazing opportunity. They were so very lucky. Many, not all, but many of these players come from poor families and poor neighborhoods. Their schools are underfunded and overcrowded, so education is not necessarily a way out. They have the option of making a quick buck through crime, and that seems pretty appealing when there are no jobs. But that quick buck will probably lead to jail and maybe even death. Then they discovered they had a remarkable physical talent that rich people love. Suddenly there was a way forward and they paid for it with years and years of sweat and punishing hits that may eventually turn their brains into monsters living inside their skulls.

Now they have reached the pinnacle. They are playing professional sports and being paid very, very well for it. Having achieved so much, what kind of men would they be if they didn’t look back to their friends, families, classmates, and neighbors who weren’t so lucky to be gifted with physical ability. There’s no golden ticket for any of them. Their life will be lived in a cycle of poverty where they can die for wearing a hoodie at night in the rain, or for selling single cigarettes. They aren’t kneeling for themselves. They’re kneeling for the people from home.

But, that Travon Martin kid was known to smoke pot. He was no angel. Yes, and so do a whole lot of white high school kids. Do you think their parents would be cool with a neighborhood watch guy killing their kid and then the media smearing him? Being a teenager is hardly a crime deserving of death. And that Eric Garner was flouting the law by selling single cigarettes. You essentially commit the same crime when you take part in an office pool, pay someone under the table, or fudge a little on your taxes. Those are equal crimes in that the government is cheated out of some of its income, except you’re comfortable with your crimes, but not so much with a poor, black guy trying to hustle up a few more dollars for his family.

How, in good conscience, do you stand with pride to honor a country that leaves your family, friends, and classmates lying dead on the street. How do you feel a part of this country when the very citizens who should stand beside you in unity, mock your children and their deaths? Why are they required to respect military service when we don’t respect their service? Black soldiers, who fought for this country, returned home to find they didn’t have the same rights they fought for in Europe. Or when they get home from Vietnam and discover that cabs won’t pick them up because they can’t see the marine uniform and only see a n*. We refuse to respect their service, but dadgumit they better know their place and respect ours.

There is no disrespect in their protest. They’re not flipping off the anthem, or wandering around talking, laughing, and slapping each other during it. With our history to black people, they’d probably be justified in doing that, but they aren’t. They are doing their best to say, “Yes, I am grateful for this country and the opportunities it’s provided and I’ll do that by being silent and recognizing the anthem is being played, but I am also recognizing that the country could do better to live up to its ideals. And I’m asking it to do better. For my friends. For my family. For my people.” It’s a beautiful compromise in a painful situation.

I have no doubt these players would love to stand with pride when they hear their country’s anthem played. Who wouldn’t? But to do so at this time would be a lie. And they’re so terribly sorry they’re interrupting your entertainment to inform you of the injustice they live with. The thing is, if this country would have united and stood with them when Sandra Bland was arrested for DWB and died in jail, and call out the injustice, they wouldn’t need to kneel. If this country would unite and call for bad cops to be removed, and bad policing practices to end, they wouldn’t need to kneel. If we would unite in trying to find a way out of the cycle of poverty, they wouldn’t need to kneel.

If you want these protests to end, than stand.

Stand with them, so they don’t have to kneel.

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You May Say I’m a Dreamer

The process of sending out query letters has begun. It’s likely going to be a long and frustrating process, but I’m glad it’s started. I read an article that said not to give up until you’ve received 80 ‘no’s. That means I have 78 ‘no’s or 1 ‘yes’ to go before I end the search for an agent.

But that’s not what’s really on my mind tonight. Charlottesville is on my mind. Once again, my heart is broken. It’s broken for so many reasons. I think, just as in the election, the biggest heartbreak comes from my fellow citizens.

 

Nazis.

Nazis were marching in our American streets.

In 2017.

Let that sink in.

And a significant portion of our country, mainly the ones who support Trump and who felt personally offended by the Women’s March, shrugged their shoulders.

The Nazis, and that is what I will call all of them collectively, because essentially that is what they are, came to their march with shields, concealed weapons, helmets, and sticks.

Other people came to protest these disgusting Nazis because they actually remember history, and that their grandfathers, you know, that greatest generation, were partially great because they beat the Nazis.

And then one terrorist plowed into a group of people, changing lives forever, and ending one.

Still, so many shrugged. It was one of those awful liberals who died, so who cares. After the Women’s March, I saw some who I had thought were decent people sharing memes laughing at the idea of running over protestors in the street. Guess they thought it would be funny to see me dead, too. And so you know… I guess in Charlottesville those disgusting leftists just got what was coming to them.

I made the mistake of reading some of the Nazi’s propaganda and listening to one of the speakers from last weekend say Heather Heyer deserved it. They called a woman with a passion for helping others, a “fat, childless slut.” They have publicly spoken about how Trump did not denounce them, and in fact said he loved them. They are ready for the next event, feeling even more certain that they can act with impunity.

And still so many, who claim to have love in their heart, are silent. Nothing but resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

The world is upside down. Republicans first embraced Putin and Russia, and now seem to be ready to embrace Nazis. Hatred and exclusion is now celebrated, and love and inclusion is mocked. Peacefully protesting is unpatriotic. Violence and murder is barely worth noting, (unless it’s a brown person doing it). Loving your neighbor and wanting them to be well makes you a commie. Spending your time and money to become educated makes you an evil elite, while remaining ignorant is seen as a virtue.

It’s enough to make me not want to ever get out of bed again. Because there is no fix for this. 45 is the symptom of a broken nation, not the problem.

When someone asked G.K. Chesterton “What is wrong with the world,” he wisely answered what each of us should answer to that question.

“I am.”

But luckily for us, it’s the same answer to the question, “What is right with the world.”

“I am.”

I am what’s wrong with this country, and I am also what’s right with it.

And so are you.

I cannot control those who want to divide our country by skin color. I cannot control those who want to divide our country by religion. I cannot control those who think I am less than they are, or that others are less. I cannot control those who hate.

What I can control is myself. I will not hate someone because they have a different shade of skin, culture, religion, or language. I value the variety in the world and see how life improves when you add to it.

What I will do is show love to everyone I come in contact with. It’s what is right about this country, and so I will be that.

When I was a kid, I sneaked into my sisters’ room and went snooping. Under my oldest sister’s mattress was a poem. I thought she had written it, and that she was quite subversive. It was only years later that I discovered John Lennon singing it, and for just a brief moment I thought he was singing my sister’s poem, until I realized, no, she had a copy of his song under her mattress. Doh! The things kids will think.

It has since become my favorite song. I’ll always love John Lennon’s version best, but this one is perfect because Pentatonix is America – gay, straight, bisexual, Latina, black, white, Jewish and Christian. Together – as one – they create so much beauty. Many people might consider my idealism foolish. In fact…

They may say I’m a dreamer.

But I’m not the only one.

I hope someday you’ll join us.

And the world will live as one.

Truly, I hope you will join us.

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Rejection

It’s official. I’m a writer. I’ve been rejected. It’s actually not the first time, just the first time for a novel. Despite being told I would probably not hear back before September, it o only took a couple of weeks to be rejected.

I had told myself to expect it. Afterall, nobody gets in on their first try. Still, it hurt. Reading the reasons hurt more.

I gave myself last night to feel lousy about it, then today I would get off the pity pot and climb onto the perseverance pot. Even in my angst, I reminded myself of some things – like the comments I’ve gotten from people who’ve read it. And the fact that neither agent actually read my book. They sampled it. If I can get someone to actually read it, perhaps I’d have a better outcome.

This morning some other facts dawned on me. I know that most writers get rejected many times before someone takes them on. Each person who rejected them had a compelling reason for the rejection… but that didn’t make them right. J.K. Rowling was rejected dozens of times, and obviously those agents reasons were idiotic.

One agent that rejected my novel said its was good writing, good pacing, but too familiar and wouldn’t stand out. Another one said he didn’t care for it and couldn’t follow it. Two agents. Same agency. Two completely different reasons for rejection, and frankly two that don’t even work together. If it’s good writing and too familiar, how could it be difficult to follow? It occurs to me that I can’t take any of their opinions to heart. If down the road, every agent is saying the same thing, then perhaps I should take them more seriously, but for now, I simply have to find an agent whose personal opinion is more closely aligned with my readers.

Other reasons cited for rejection were a weak market linked, in part, to the chaos in Washington. Lucky me. i decide to make my leap of faith at the same time a quarter of my fellow citizens go nuts and decide to destroy the country. Hopefully they don’t take my dreams down too.

This afternoon I did some research on how to properly construct a query letter. I already have several agents in mind that I’d like to query. One in particular interests me greatly, but only allows for 10 pages of the book to be submitted. That means I better have a killer query letter to sell then entire series.

Onward and upward. It’s not the last rejection I’ll get. But I won’t quit. Not yet. Perhaps not ever, because I only fail if I quit. I will persist.

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Another Step Forward

Progress is never a straight line. It’s always a few steps forward, a few steps back. That’s exactly what the past few months have been for me.

While waiting for my editor to return to work, I had someone from my target audience read Fear Unleashed — a 12-year-old girl who reads voraciously and loves scifi/fantasy. The verdict? She loved it. I even had a chance to sit down and ask her a few questions and hear her suggestions. It was a confidence booster. She was anxious to read the next book, so I better get it finished! One step forward.

Beyond the test of patience while I waited for my editor to return to action, it felt like I was faced with another test. I came home last week, opened my mailbox, and instantly my heart froze in my chest. It was a letter from the IRS. It’s the one piece of mail that instantly signals bad news. It’s never a letter saying, “Hey, we found out you overpaid and now we’re sending you thousands of dollars.” It’s never that. No, it’s always something scary and something bad. I instantly went to a dark place. I saw my dream ending. I saw the last of my savings gone. This leap left little room for error. A serious illness, injury, a totaled car… all things that could put me in a desperate place. I never figured in the IRS, but that could do it too. It felt like once again the football was being pulled away just as I was kicking. A huge step backward.

I went to the dark place, but I didn’t stay. Even as a lead ball formed in my gut, I attempted to reason my way out. I read and reread the letter, looking for an indication of what they thought I might owe. While I realized it would be painful, I could take the loss. I got ahold of my accountant, and was reassured that everything was fine. This was a computer error that would quickly be straightened out by him. Once I got him all the forms he needed and signed where I needed to sign, I felt back on track. Having had a chance to get my feet under me for the past two years, it was easier to regain my balance. Being a part of a supportive community also helps me remain steady.  So, I managed to deal with a delay in submitting my manuscript, and a threat to my finances without losing hope. Yay, me! Two steps forward.

Today I finally took the next big step forward. The manuscript is in the hands of a literary agency. It may be months before they make a decision, so there is nothing for me to do at this point except keep writing and wait. But Fear Unleashed‘s journey has begun. Will this be the start of rejection until I finally find a “yes?” Or will I defy the odds and land an agent straight off? Stay tuned to the unfolding saga.

And even though I’m celebrating my steps forward, I recognize I will surely have to take a step or two back yet again. Going with it instead of fighting it, is a more graceful response and turns the whole process into a dance. And that’s what I’m hoping to do… dance all the way to publication. Cha cha cha.

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Crossing Boundaries and Pushing Limits

A few weeks ago, I posted this meme on my Facebook page.

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It made me think about artists and their progressive/liberal nature. Many conservatives look down on Hollywood for being a bastion of liberals… and it is. Without a doubt, conservatives are the minority in that industry. But it’s not some liberal conspiracy. We didn’t all get together and decide the best way to infect the world with our sickness is to go into the arts and insert our message into stories for the unwitting masses to consume.

In truth, artists are progressives because that is the very nature of art. Art is looking at the world in a new way. It is exploring the human experience, in all its dimensions, and reporting back. It has been my belief for some time that conservative thinkers cannot be true artists. They may engage in artistic endeavors, but they’ll never break free to create something truly unique. It’s impossible, because every time they step up to the boundary of what’s never been done before, they will retreat.

Last night I finally watched Moana and that message was reinforced. Moana’s father wanted her stay safely within the boundaries of the reef. It was dangerous out there. Bad things would happen. If she stayed home, there would be adequate food, and life would be pleasant. Yet Moana felt an irresistable pull to go past the boundaries. She refused to listen to those who held her back, and you know what? Her father was right… bad things did happen. There were moments of great despair and brushes with death. But he was also wrong, because by pushing her limits and going past the reef, she brought new life to her people.

Years ago I watched a documentary called The Lords of Dogtown. It was about the skaters who revolutionized skateboarding and took it from riding sidewalks to doing aerial tricks on ramps. They did this by breaking into abandoned homes in Los Angeles and skating in empty pools. They were trouble makers. They were jerks. They were at times, destructive. If it had been my home, I would have hated them. Yet, by pushing limits and breaking boundaries, they enriched our culture. They brought us a new sport and a new way of experiencing life.

It’s the outliers of society that move us in new directions. We generally despise them at the time, but looking back, we appreciate what they did for us. Just as many conservative women today, who at the time would have fought against women’s rights as ungodly, now enjoy and appreciate the rights those devil-influenced, rabble-rousers gave them.

I’ve never really understood the religious objection to the creative type, especially since one of the main worship-able qualities of God is creator. Yes, artists live lives conservatives don’t like. We live in a world of grays, not in the easily identified blacks and whites that they prefer, but our nature is God’s nature – one of creator. Satan is the great destroyer, yet so many religious people support war and despise artists. It makes me wonder who they are really following.

Right now society is in a time of retreat. Those afraid of what’s ‘past the reef’ are in charge. Now is when artists have to be most brave. We have to find the stillness in the cacophony of nay-sayers and listen to that still small voice of truth. We have to push past the limits and defy the boundaries they throw up in front of us. We have to move forward and bring new life to our people. As Howard Zinn said, we must speak to the world and wage the battle for justice. It’s what we do.

I’m proud of my tribe. It’s not an easy life, and it’s one lived on the edges. But we are creators, and we almost always find ourselves on the right side of history. If you are a member of that tribe, take heart. Be brave. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. There’s a lot to be done, and we need you to take us to the other side of the reef.

 

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Everything is Possible

It’s been a long while since I posted, mainly because little was happening with the book. It was with the proof reader and all I could do was wait. Sure, there was the next book to begin work on, but it felt as if time stood still while I waited for the first one to be polished.

Finally, it was back in my hands. I spent an entire day going over each change suggested and either accepting or rejecting them. More time consulting with the editor. A few more changes and I fired it back to the editor, waiting for a final chat this weekend before it was given to the literary agency that has some interest.

It’s kind of a surreal moment. I’m like a plucked harp string – thrumming with excitement. Everything is possible… perhaps not probable, but possible. For instance, it is not probable that I will top J.K. Rowling in sales, but it is possible I will publish this book and finally be able to support myself doing what I love. It’s also possible it will be very successful, be turned into a movie, and I’ll get sucked back into the very industry I fled. Or it’s possible it will get published, fail, and I’ll still have to find another way to earn a living. Who knows. It’s pretty much all possible.

I feel change on the horizon, and as I drove to work the other day, I reminded myself to be present because it’s possible my life could be changing. And I have been far more mindful. Two years after I replanted myself in Missouri, it still feels like paradise. I sit at my desk to write this blog and look out across the green field in front of me, binoculars nearby to watch the little red foxes that live in the park and sometimes come out to play… as well as the human wildlife that occasionally jogs by on their way to the greenways trail. I have just come in from sitting on my sun porch, sipping on my first batch of homemade kombucha, and eating a couple of mulberries from my neighbor’s bush that drapes into my yard. We had a delightful thunder storm last night, and today puffy white clouds with dark undersides push their way across the sky, telling me more storms are coming. Tonight I will go to a drumming circle with my friends at the Friday Night ArtWalk.

It all feels perfect. In the past two years there has not been one microsecond of regret for the move.

Perhaps that’s what made it easier for me to absorb the latest bad news, when I found out the book is being put on hold just a bit longer. My editor is unexpectedly unavailable until next week, and once again I’m cooling my jets and putting my dreams on pause. One silver lining, I am pleased with my ability to absorb the disappointment and not get dejected. In LA, the frustrations had piled up to the point where even the slightest disappointment led to a spiral of despair – proving to me once again that I was never destined for a career as a writer – that the universe was conspiring against me. This time I took a deep breath and went on with life. No big deal. So, if that was the test from this hiccup, I think I passed.

I’m grateful to have made some personal progress, if not book progress. I’ll focus on that for now. It’s good to take the time to notice when you handle your struggles a little bit better, and then celebrate it. So what did you handle better today than you did last year? Give yourself some credit for improvement. Celebrate. Look out the window. Listen to the birds. Take it all in, before it changes, because it will. It’s inevitable.

Hopefully the next time I post, it will be with the news that I have an agent, or the news that I am continuing the hunt for one.

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Inching Forward

Writing a novel is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. I knew this before I started. I know it more now. I’m days away from having the final product from the editor. Well, sort of final. I then have to make one more pass to put in a few changes. Clarity on details keep coming.

In some ways, this is the most frightening thing about declaring this novel “done.” There are two more books to write before this story is told, and this world is still revealing itself to me. I know there are more surprises ahead. Which one of them will make me realize that I didn’t set that up in the first novel, and now I either can’t use it, or I use it and hope nobody notices. I almost want to finish all three before trying to publish, but there is simply no way I could afford to do that.

When this one is done, it has to be well enough crafted to be a solid foundation to tell the rest of the story. That’s terrifying. Though, I will probably be done with the second novel before the first would be published, so I suppose maybe there are still opportunities for edits to volume 1.

In adding new chapters at the end, I was pleased to see not only an improvement in my writing, but an improvement in my attitude. When I first got notes and questions from my editor, my inner voice was defensive and resentful. I had worked so hard. How could there be holes? How could there be problems? How on earth was I going to find a way to fix them? It was impossible and I should just give up! I’m a terrible writer and too old to be starting novels. This time, when I got notes and questions, I was excited. I have come to realize whenever I have been pushed, either by a professor, or now an editor, the end product is always vastly better than the original. Those notes and questions mean I’m going to tell a better story. That excites me. While there will always probably be a tinge of panic that I can’t find a solution to the problem, it is quickly smothered with the curiosity of following the problem to its source and its solution, as well as the excitement of a better story. Growth!

By the end of the week I plan to have the manuscript to a proofreader, and after that, it is off to the literary agency that expressed interest in reading it. I really should be working on a query letter for other agencies, because the chances of being taken on by the very first agency are about the same as me winning the lottery tonight. Well, slightly better since I don’t have a lottery ticket. And maybe in this case, just a fraction better than normal because this is a connection from my editor. But still, I shouldn’t start planning my first book tour just yet. Oh goodness, I dread that part of the job (though would be lucky to experience it). Writers are introverts. Crowds, especially crowds of strangers, drain us. Why on earth would you make us do book tours and public appearances? Just let us sit in our offices and dream stories!

The last two years have been beautiful. I will always be grateful for this opportunity. I hope it’s not over. I hope my talent is enough to get me to the other side of the chasm, and I can continue to do what I love to do.

Here we go…

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The Best and Worst of Times

How many times have I heard the first line of A Tale of Two Cities? I always thought I knew what it meant, but now I feel it in my bones.

For those of us who see the big picture, the last few months have been difficult. It’s been like watching a slow motion train wreck. We see the tracks are laid straight towards a mountainside, and yet everyone on the train is celebrating because they think they’re finally going somewhere. We screamed. We hollered. We jumped up and down and waved our hands, trying to stop the train before it slams into the wall, and for that we were ignored and ridiculed.

The right had to make up garbage to fear about Obama – He’s a secret Muslim from Kenya who is going to bring sharia law to the US, take our guns, create death panels to kill our parents, and build FEMA camps to put all his enemies in. Despite us being the creative types, liberals didn’t have to imagine any fears of 45. He laid out his vision for this country, which included taking away people’s health care with no idea how to replace it, banning people for the accident of their place of birth and religion, and if not banning them, then making them register so that when the country needs to deal with them, they know just where to find them. He at one point wanted to punish women who have faced a difficult decision about a pregnancy, and made the choice HE thinks is wrong, because we women should all be subjected to what HE thinks. He thinks the environment is only there to be raped and profited from by big business. And he wants to turn us into a nation with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a country that only thinks of itself and doesn’t care if we destroy other economies as long as we WIN! He has vowed to bring back torture, a policy that has never provided any actionable intelligence, but has created many, many enemies and endangered our troops. And as a cherry on top of the cake, he thinks nuclear weapons should be used if we have them.

He is a walking, talking, dystopian nightmare.

The damage these policies will do is immense and doesn’t take into account the damage that will be done by the policies of those pulling his strings. Those around him have learned it’s easy to control little donny… praise him and he’ll think you’re brilliant and listen to all your ideas. Criticize him and you’re going to be ridiculed, abused, and discarded. So, you want to privatize programs Americans have paid in to, and deserve to draw from… Paul Ryan just whispers sweet nothings in his ear, and voila… they’re working on plans to do away with the social safety net, despite 45’s promise to leave it alone. Easy peasy. He’s a puppet whose strings are pulled so easily.

We are becoming isolated in the world. Allies are not sharing intelligence. Trade deals are evaporating and becoming more difficult. If he continues on this path, we could face sanctions. Let’s hope it doesn’t go far enough that some other country decides we need regime change.

The despair is palpable among those who still believe in the promise of America – that all men (and women) are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just those who look alike, think alike, love alike, and pray alike. All! Instead we’ve watched him dismantle the policies that protect our people and the environment. There are Nazis in the White House forming policy. I’ve tried to reach out for common understanding with the other side and the response seems to be, “We won, you lost. We’re right, you’re wrong. We don’t care about understanding.” So much for uniting the country. 45 is beginning to appear mentally unstable, and we’ve given that man the nuclear codes. I’ve heard silver-haired Americans say, “I’ve never been scared for my country like this before” and they lived through WWII. It feels like the worst of times.

Yet, despite this, it also the best of times. The Women’s March kicked it off. There is power in connection. There is power in unity. There is power in love. We who marched were drawn by the connection, unity, and love, then left completely empowered. We found our voice together. We found our purpose together. The sniping by the right couldn’t even take a dent out of it, probably because their criticisms were so off-base, and also because it was easy to see a tinge of exclusion and jealousy in their words. It’s okay. They enjoy their somewhat equal status because women like us marched for them, also with the criticism of conservative women of the time. Their granddaughters will thank us.

And our show of resistance led to the defiance of National Park employees, as well as other federal employees. Watching the rebellion grow was inspiring! It gave me hope like nothing else. The tyrant can sit in his high tower and issue all the decrees he wants, but if nobody follows them, he is nothing but a silly gas bag.

His most odious act so far, choosing to refuse the entry of refugees and others on National Holocaust Remembrance Day (but only from Muslim countries where he doesn’t do business) felt like a directive coming straight from Bannon and the alt-right(Nazis). It felt like a gut punch. And then we, the people, mobilized. The connections we’ve made allowed protests to spontaneously break out across the country in airport after airport. Americans of every color, size, and religious belief, stood side by side in defense of Iraqi translators, visiting relatives, and refugees who had spent two years being vetted, and were finally on the verge of safety.  The ACLU became our voice in the courts and stopped that atrocity for now.

The worst of times have woken us up to rediscover our connection to each other. It’s hammered in the lesson that democracy is not a spectator sport. We can’t just sit back and let politicians handle things. Without any leadership, we are bypassing the parties and finding each other and our power. We are talking. We are formulating plans. We are on the move. We are united. We are one. It is the best of times.

At our march, one speaker acknowledged that we were able to march that day because we stood on the shoulders of those who came before us. We called out their names in remembrance of their sacrifices. Standing there, I realized it was my turn to provide a place for future generations of women to stand. Our shoulders are needed. We have some very dark days ahead. The struggle is hardly won, but we know we will win because as MLK said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it inevitably bends toward justice. There will be losses and casualties ahead, yet I see hope. And rebellions are built on hope.

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