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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Sexism

There is much I could share about the editing process of my book, but there’s a more important topic on my mind today.

Sexism.

Yesterday’s Humans of New York post has sent ripples through the internet. Please read it if you haven’t. Try to forget who it is about. Just listen to her story.

As a young woman, I never really thought about sexism, and didn’t really see it as an issue. When I arrived in Hollywood, I began to see things differently. When I applied to be a teleprompter operator, I was flat out told that it wasn’t a woman’s job, because you had to carry heavy equipment and have mechanical ability to trouble-shoot problems. I convinced him to let me observe a shoot. The male prompter operator was not so sexist, and offered to train me on the job. He reported back that I was good, and the man who discouraged me would get past his stereotypes and hire me. A year later he told me, “From now on I’m going to hire more women, because you do a great job, there’s not so much ego, and you get along with clients so much better.” Granted, this was still subtle sexism, because I had been trained as a woman to be submissive and he liked it. Still, it opened a door, and today there are many, many women in the job. In fact, today it might be considered more of a woman’s job.

However, going out on shoots, I still got a lot of men on the crew saying, “Honey, (or sweetie) can I help you carry that?”  At first it annoyed me, and then one day I realized, if they’re so stupid to want to do my work, let them. Though, after a few days on a job, when the men saw how strong, smart, and competent I was, not only did the offers of help stop, but so did the condescending titles. Very often friendships could then begin.

When I landed a network job, my supervisor, who was a woman, talked about the sexism in television and at the networks. I scoffed. Surely talent and hard work would overcome. Wouldn’t they want the best person in the job?

The resounding answer to that was, “NO!”

Hollywood, in general, could care less about talent. Half of the graduates from film school are women, yet less than 2% of major films are directed by women. You see, when those in charge are men, and their favorite after-work activity is going to a strip club together, or maybe if they’re a little more evolved, the cigar bar, there is no opportunity to bond with anyone other than men. And when a position opens up, who do you think the man in power is going to hire… the quiet, hard-working, efficient employee they don’t really know or the guy they’ve misogynistically bonded with after work? Women are fine to have around, as long as they stay in their place, and make their superiors look good.

And then there’s the other messages women get. I was once told, “You’re so dramatic!” And when my response was to glare back, he added, “What? That wasn’t an insult.”

Right.

Because we so often hear men saying, “You know what I love? A dramatic woman.” No, that was a not-so-subtle way to tell me to control my emotions and be more acceptable to men.

Then there was the time I watched a group of male coworkers smugly patting themselves on the back for “playing the game” and getting ahead. They weren’t feeling proud of their talent, hard work, or creativity. No, they were suck-ups, and thought that was awesome. Inside I was laughing because not five minutes before they were complaining about the person in charge who had done the same thing. No experience, no real talent for the job, but he sucked his way up to the top, and was now in charge.

And people wonder why there’s nothing but super-hero movies and remakes coming out of Hollywood these days.

I don’t.

For too long men have been the default standard and women had to contort ourselves and measure up to them. Men won’t admit this; much like conservative whites can’t see that their culture is the default standard, and minorities have to contort themselves to try to measure up and fit in.

There’s a part of me that is taking great pleasure in being alive at this time in history, as women come into their power and stop looking to men for permission to do so. I remember one of my bosses complaining about how he felt marginalized and unrepresented. Oh, poor baby. For the past few years you haven’t felt like a king in his castle. Try it for a few thousands years, then get back to us.

So men… your time is over and ours is coming. At least you’ll benefit from the fact that we have a lot less ego, and get along with people better. And maybe if you meet our standards, we’ll even give you the respect and equality you never gave us.

 

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The Joy of Writing

It seems my posts have been a little heavy lately, so I will change things up a bit and talk about the joy of writing. Quite often I’ll read an interview with a successful writer, and am amazed when they talk about how much they hate writing. They complain about what a painful process it is, and describe their misery. James Joyce said, “Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” I always want to ask writers who hate writing why they do it if it’s so painful. Seriously, isn’t there something out there they enjoy doing more? Why don’t they do that? Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Thank goodness, or I’d still be a teleprompter operator.

Now, I’ll admit that writing isn’t always easy. It requires a great deal of discipline, and that’s something I struggle with. There are times that inspiration seems as rare as tolerance at a Tea Party gathering, and that’s when the mental struggles begin. Am I a fraud? Am I fooling myself? Should I find a new passion? A new dream? Is there any point to this? Yes, that is painful, but that has to do with doubts, not writing.

And honestly, that’s about as unpleasant as writing gets for me. Thankfully the joys are much more numerous. First, there’s the initial jolt of a great story dropping into your brain. For me it has come while watching a TV commercial, an interview about politics, a news article, or from an offhand comment I overhear at a table next to me. When it hits, it’s overwhelming. Conversations, reading, TV, and all thoughts of anything else are brought to a grinding halt. The brain wants to do nothing more than roll that story idea around. It’s play time!

That kernel of an idea leads to the glorious question, “What if…” What ifs are fantastic! They’re exhilirating. For someone who loves stories it’s like a kid walking into a toy store and being told they can have anything and everything they want. The mind starts running down aisles and grabbing things off the shelf. Sometimes when you get something into the cart, you realize it isn’t what you want, and it goes back on the shelf, but all the possibilities are what fill those moments with utter joy.

Eventually the cart is full of all the right things and I sit down in front of the computer. This is where the work comes in. Translating that glorious idea into words that others will enjoy is hard. There are so many things to keep in mind. What voice? Whose story? Building conflict. Changing values. Character arcs. Layers of meaning. Story structure. A satisfying conclusion. You have to juggle all the elements of a story while not losing that initial spark and inspiration of the original idea.

Hard work? Yes. As painful as enhanced interrogations? Not even close, I would imagine.

The other day I’d reached a point in the story where I really wasn’t sure what came next. I hadn’t had adequate daydreaming time to figure out exactly how the villain was going to proceed with his plans. There have been times that means I just don’t write. After all, if I don’t know what to write, what is there to write? But this day I forced myself to sit and write anyway. Granted, I did my best to procrastinate a bit, but eventually I just sat and stared at the page on the screen. I put myself into the character’s place, and imagined what I might do if I were them. Suddenly, as if dropped like a gift from the sky, it was all so obvious. Not only did it make sense to move the story forward, but I discovered an entire layer of deeper meaning to add to the theme of the book. I happily spent the next few hours putting those ideas on the page and watching them come to life. Utter joy!

Yes, it was a struggle to get there, but the joy that followed from breaking through made it seem like a minor anoyance. Perhaps that’s how women who give birth feel. Perhaps there wouldn’t be that joy if there weren’t that struggle. The joy is so much greater than the pain, and I don’t understand talented writers who say otherwise. Maybe that means I’m not as talented as they are. All I know is that I’m grateful that I have a talent and passion for something that makes me happy.

Hearing the story first is a priceless gift, transcribing it for others is a fantastic adventure. Being allowed to pursue this career – all joy.

Write on!

 

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