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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oh, to be a child again

Last night, as I tucked my son in bed and read him "The Grinch That Stole Christmas," I kept glancing up at the underneath of the bunk above us. He always chooses to sleep on the bottom bunk. Lying there, I realized why he loves sleeping there. I had a flashback to our tour of Windsor Castle in London and the King's Chambers. Kings slept in beds with canopies and curtains. A cocoon. A den. A place of solitude created by fabric and artificial barriers. Most newborns can't sleep unless they're wrapped up like a burrito.

There is something about a peace mandated by the environment. Where you're surrounded and must surrender to the boundaries imposed on you. To curl up in peace knowing that you're covered. Restrictions that create liberties. That allow you to succumb and relax because you're safe.

As Americans, we love our liberties. Our freedoms to speak, live, and define ourselves. The Freedom of Speech. The Freedom of Press. The Freedom of Religion. The Right to Bear Arms. The Right to a Fair Trial. The Freedom from Search and Seizure...and so it goes. We have so many blessed freedoms, which we love and we give immense gratitude to those who fight for them.

But sometimes we wish for boundaries. For someone to swaddle us in a blanket and tell us what to do. After a lifetime of choices, we want to surrender to someone else's decision-making. Because despite our desperate desire for autonomy and freedom, sometimes we just want to rest in the safety of someone else's decisions. Someone else's wisdom. Because freedom requires an energy and stamina that can exceed our hopes and desires. Now, I'm not advocating for dictatorship or monarchies. They breed abuse and greed. I love our country and our freedoms. I simply wish sometimes for the simplicity of childhood where dictates define safety.

Writing might seem like the ultimate freedom of expression. We can create worlds, characters, situations and conflicts. We decide what happens with each of these. But the freedom isn't absolute. Once our work is complete, it must pass through the hands of beta readers, editors, agents, and you--the reader--who skims the back cover or the first few pages and decides whether to keep reading.

Over this holiday season, may you find rest and peace in the safety of your own cocoon.

Monday, December 19, 2011

loved.

This weekend in the 7th and 8th grade environment at my church, we talked about what it means to love and be loved unconditionally. Middle school is a crazy time of shifting dynamics, volatile friendships, drama, and change. We wanted to make certain they understood that they're loved unconditionally by the volunteers, the staff, their parents, and God. In our culture, we often forget about the unconditional love that surrounds us. We're bombarded by messages all day: if you wear these clothes, use this product, talk this way, drive this car, or weigh this much, you'll be accepted. Teens strive to be accepted every day at school. We, as adults, strive to be accepted by our peers, our spouse, our boss. Because acceptance is simply love under a different name. And we all crave to be loved.

This weekend was a reminder to me not only of this need, but also that I'm blessed with people who love me that way and whom I love. My children are loud, messy, energy-sucking, needy little people. But they are also smart, kind, joyful, hysterical, and warm. I love them with all my being and that love is unconditional. I don't love them BECAUSE they get good grades. I don't love them BECAUSE they stand up for other kids. I don't love them BECAUSE I gave birth to them. I don't love them IF they clean their rooms. I don't love them IF they mind their manners. I don't love them IF they talk to their grandparents on the phone. I love them. Period. Not for who or what they are or might do, I just do.

I'm also blessed to be married to my best friend. He's also messy, likes all the wrong music, grunts like an old man in the morning, and can't find a thing in the fridge. But he's also loyal and gentle. He'll sit patiently with our son and play Pokemon or chess. He'll cuddle with our five-pound Chihuahua and change his favorite (really bad) music station because he knows I'd rather hear fingers on a chalkboard. But I don't love him BECAUSE of these things. And I don't love him IF he remembers my birthday or is in a good mood. I just love him. Like crazy.

As parents, we must be mindful of the messages we send our kids. With sports, school, and activities, they're constantly being judged on performance, and we're at the top of the judge's list. We question a bad grade or a missed goal or why they sent 5,000 texts last month. But in parenting them and showing them the right way, we must always remind them that we love them. Period. No strings. No conditions. Because in this world, our most precious need to know they have a safe place.

In the world of writing, the only unconditional love is that of the writer. We love words and writing despite the fact that it's a lonely pursuit that takes place at your kitchen table or in a coffee house surrounded by strangers. We love it even though your chances of having a New York Times Bestseller are lower than winning the lottery. We love it knowing that if we persevere and get published and people like our work, they'll read it, close it, and move on. My book club teases me because I remember all the characters names, the settings, and all the other little details outside the plot of a book. The reason is because I know how much thought went into choosing that character's name or deciding to have the story go in a certain direction. We write for the entertainment of others, but these worlds consume us. They're part of us. Whether to name my protagonist's sister Sarah or Lilah was a deliberate decision.

Over the next week, we celebrate Christmas and Hannukah. As we surround ourselves with family and friends, let us remember (despite the drama) that we love them. And may we always shower our children with our love. Period.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thanksgiving in London, Stories, and That We All Have a Story to Tell

My seven-year-old son and I flew to London for Thanksgiving. My honey, a pilot, was going to be there over the holiday, so we decided to join him. England over Thanksgiving is interesting because, of course, they don't celebrate Thanksgiving. We had Italian. And went to Stonehenge. And the London Eye, and Windsor Castle, and rode "The Tube." At dinner Thanksgiving night, we passed around a notebook and each person at the table added a sentence to a story we created about knights and maidens and other worlds. Of course, my son had the best imagination and spun the story to new places. It kept him occupied during an "adult dinner," and made the grown-ups open up their creativity and spontaneity.

England is full of interesting history. When we moved to Pennsylvania from Florida, we marveled at how "old" things were. Our town was founded in the mid 1700's. George Washington's home is nearby. It all seems ancient until you tour Windsor Castle and see a plaque identifying the vault holding the ashes of Henry VIII. Then you tour Stonehenge, which is 3,000 years old, and ponder how they carried these giant stones over land when the wheel hadn't been invented. We walked down cobblestone streets and watched the guards at Buckingham Palace. We stood in front of a royal throne that dated back to 1359.

History was everywhere and you could feel the stories swirling through the rooms and down the streets. So many had walked those paths. Times were so different. The castle towers hinted at their legacies. The ancient swords represented battles from hundred of years ago. It reminded me of the importance of stories. Stories are how we share the past, pass along information, and intertwine generations. I sometimes feel that being a writer is a selfish, frivolous pursuit. But as we circled Stonehenge, I was reminded of the importance of sharing where we've been and what we've seen. What we've experienced.

Another interesting thing about London is its dichotomy. One moment you're immersed in ancient history and the next you're confronted with the most current trends. London is a global center for the arts and fashion. The theatre is as big, if not bigger, than in New York City. The art is incredible. The fashion is cutting-edge European. But I must admit, the coffee is terrible. I had to find a Starbucks for a decent cup!

But in the hustle and bustle of London, and even in the quaint country side, the English made me smile with their directness. The signs for the bathroom don't say "restrooms, bathrooms, ladies room, or mens room." They simply say "Toilet" with an arrow. Exit signs say "Way out." Yield signs say "Give way." Elevators are called "Lifts." I'll admit, I'd rather ask "Where's the ladies room" than "Where's the toilet?" but I appreciate the culture.

England has its layers and its many sides: history, culture, trends, and bad coffee. It reminded me of the layers we each have. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, teachers, advocates, and women seeking our place in this world. We are fathers, sons, brothers, buddies, hard workers, football lovers. In writing, we must make certain to give our characters layers. To make them realistic, they cannot be one-dimensional. There is good and bad, funny and sad in all of us. This must translate into our work.

And in life, we must remember that everyone has a story. Layers. Sides. One part of us might hold a royal throne from 1359 while another is an arrow pointing to a "toilet," but we are essentially the same. And we all have a story that deserves to be told.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Little Brother

Thirty-eight years ago, Michael Todd Kelley was born. He was a sweet kid and a wonderful little brother. Sure, we had our ups and downs. We fought as siblings do. We tattled. We yelled. But we also loved. And laughed. And shared. When our older brother, Derek, was in a tragic accident in 1987, which left him in a coma, our parents needed to be by Derek's side. They held vigil in the ICU, leaving me and my little brother to work through things on our own. We never blamed our parents for their focus and devotion to our older brother. We loved him and worried about him, too. So we turned to each other for support. I remember holding Todd (we often go by our middle names in the South) while he cried over Derek. Todd was only 13. I was 16. Over the next few years, my bond with Todd grew stronger as he began to confront demons. Alcoholism. Drug use. And other issues too personal to share in cyber space. But through it all, I held on tight. He was my little brother and he needed me.

As we grew older, our lives diverged. I went to college, then to law school. I moved to Miami to take my first job as a lawyer, leaving Todd behind in Alabama. I thought he'd be fine. After all, he had incredible charisma and was extremely intelligent. When he was just 12, he was writing programs in binary code on our old Commador 64 dinosaur. He wrote beautiful poems and stories. He was thoughtful, philosophical, and kind. By the age of 29, he was the General Manager of a country club in Montgomery. And good at it.

But on January 3, 2004, the demons that chased my little brother his entire life caught up with him. He was 30. To this day, almost eight years later, just thinking of the way his bright life ended so abruptly brings tears to my eyes.

So I think of him today, on what would've been his 38th birthday. I miss not being able to call him to wish him a Happy Birthday. Or invite him for Christmas. I wonder if he would be married and have children. Nieces and nephews I could dote on the way I love my niece, Rebecca, and nephew, Sam, on my husband's side. I pray that one day I can think of him on his birthday without the cloud of sadness that inevitably arrives on this day. Every year, I wish the pain were gone, but it never is. I miss him. Who he was and who he would've become.

To try to alleviate some of the ache, I write. This is, above all else, why I write. You hear writers, including me, talk about the compulsion of it. The fact that writing is an internal force that can't be contained. But the genesis of that force differs for each writer. For me, many of my words represent tear drops. A physical and psychological release of pain. Just as sadness can overwhelm us, making us unable to contain our sobs, my fingers often move across my keyboard without my conscious involvement. Because I can't force or control my words anymore than I can the emotions flowing down my face with my tears.

Rest in peace, little brother. I love you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Twitter: Connection, New Friends, and Grammar Lessons

Before I took the plunge into Twitter, I asked, "What's the hype? Do I really need to know you're at Starbucks?" I assumed this social networking tool was for the narcissistic compelled to broadcast their every move. My pronouncements were not made out of fear, but misunderstanding. I didn't understand or appreciate the doorways Twitter opens. As I blogged about previously, I've made connections with people I never would have known about or had the opportunity to converse with in the absence of this tool. Twitter is a simple but massive thing. The possibilities are endless. You can network socially or professionally. You can reconnect or make new connections with people who can influence your future. Or just cheer you on.

Many of my friends (and loved ones) won't take the plunge. Our generation (1970's kids) lived without cell phones, the internet, or even the ability to actually record a show or movie and watch it later. What do we 40-somethings need Twitter for? When you take a peek at your children's Twitter accounts, you see references to parties, boredom, and homework. But we don't take the time to explore what it can do for us. How we can use it to further our careers, pare down the massive amounts of information coming at us from other mediums, and keep a pulse on our children's world. It's an underused tool. A secret weapon we're afraid to unsheathe. I've tried to explain this to my BFF's and my honey, but my words fall on deaf ears. I've explained that you can filter the massive amounts of information. You learn who to follow and where to look for those who can provide you with information you actually need. I love scrolling down my Twitter feed in the morning and culling articles from writers, agents, and publishers, and learning something new almost daily about pursuing my dream of getting published.

An analogy: you're in your home in the morning. The TV's on, the dishwasher's going, the news is in the background, your kids are talking to you and one another, the dogs are running from room to room, and your cell phone is going off with reminders, emails, texts, and Words With Friends alerts. But you function, and function well. Because you have an internal filter that alerts you to whether something is important and worthy of your time. It yanks your head aside and forces you to pay attention. It might be a news story playing the background. Or one of your children calling the other a name. Or the washing machine wrongly whistling in its spin cycle. But you can filter out the important stuff. Twitter is the same.

I enjoy absorbing the information I receive from Twitter, and have enjoyed discovering new writers who inspire me and whose words move me. But I appreciate it for another (geeky) reason. I appreciate the content and grammatical lessons Twitter forces on its users. It requires 140 characters. Brevity. Clarity. Condensing thoughts to digestible bites. No room for pontification or gratuitous blabbering. You must say what you mean and do it concisely. As a writer, using Twitter is a daily exercise in editing--cutting out the superfluous. Because if I use Twitter to announce my lunch choices instead of wielding it as a tool in reaching those in publishing who can help me become a better writer, then I'm speaking into the wind. Nothing gets you "unfollowed" faster than minutia.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Necessity of Redundancy

The other day, I glanced left while stopped at a red light. The lane to my left was actually a u-turn to get back onto a major highway. Through the turn were several arrow signs pointing in the appropriate direction of the turn. Not one sign, or even two, but several. I noticed the rest of the day that almost every time I went into a sharp turn on a roadway, the side of the road would be peppered with directional arrows. I asked myself: isn't one enough? I saw the first one. The first warning. I see the bend in the road. If you calculated the cost of all the extra directional arrows in Lancaster County (which is full of twisty roads), it would be high. In this era of unnecessary government spending and ridiculously unbalanced budgets, wouldn't simple cuts like extra road signs make a difference?

In staring at the signs (yes, I'm a dork who ponders road signs), instead of government waste, I saw jobs. Someone designed that u-turn. Someone made those signs. Someone installed those signs. Someone made the equipment that was used to install those signs. Someone did the advertising and bidding for the company that received the contract to install those signs. Jobs. And for the cost of those couple of extra signs, money was poured back into our local economy through the workforce involved in creating them.

I also realized that the issue isn't the cost of the extra signs but the cost of lives because for some people, they are necessary. For most of us, redundancy and repetition aren't useless nagging, but required. If you only told your kids once to clean their rooms, would they? If you only reminded your husband once to grab a carton of milk on the way home, would he? If you only told your dog once to "go potty," would she? We remind our children daily to brush their teeth, do their homework, pick up their toys, say "please" and "thank you." We remind our husbands about teacher conferences, dental appointments, their mother's birthdays, and how much we love them. The redundancy isn't needless, tedious, or annoying (okay, maybe it's annoying). But without reminders and redundancy, life would be much less efficient, stressful, and even painful.

Writing entails much redundancy. In crafting a novel, you create draft over draft as you edit and rewrite. You read the same sentences over and over to discover their weaknesses, and their strengths. You examine and reconsider verbs to ensure they are succinct. Creating your best work requires review, rewrite, redundant reconsideration. Because as in life, once simply isn't enough.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why I Love to Cut The Grass and Paint Rooms

I love to paint. Not canvases, but rooms. Living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms. And I love to cut grass, especially when it's really tall. Okay, so maybe love is a strong word, but I do enjoy these mindless, monotonous tasks. Today, I painted my (almost) 12-year-old daughter's room. It was lime green and lavender with a dozen or so wallpaper flowers I'd lovingly pressed on several years ago. She'd decided her room was too "little girl," and asked if I could help remedy that. She chose the color "comforting," a warm tan that, quite frankly, makes me tear up with its maturity.

So I spent this rainy, cold, November Thursday in her room. Dipping a brush into a bucket and tediously and slowly "cutting" the edges and doorways and windows. Then I rolled between the lines, using muscles that will certainly cry out in protest in the morning when I begin coat number 2. At some point, my honey poked his head in the door and asked, "You like doing this? I hate it." I paused, considered his question, and responded, "Like? No. But I don't mind it."

Returning to my work, I pondered our conversation. Painting--and cutting grass--bring me peace. The monotony and mindlessness of the tasks allow my mind to clear. It's akin to sitting still. Not sitting somewhere waiting for something, but truly sitting still. When you focus on a singular task that doesn't require much mentally, your mind is free to rest. And in that rest, thoughts bubble to the surface. So often, we have our fingers on keyboards, touch screens, and cell phones. Our minds are constantly engaged in what we're working on, and we often multi-task. With the attention required of us most of the time, our minds aren't allowed "free play." That unstructured time that allows ideas, imagination, and solutions to float to the front unbeckoned.

This is one of the reasons why I "love" to paint and cut the grass. The other reason is much simpler. Both of these tasks bring instant, positive results. After cutting the grass, you look at your lawn with pride. Appreciating its beauty and your blessings. After painting a room in your house, it lifts your spirits to see how your space has transformed and been renewed so simply.

In writing, the creative process (for me) feels forced if I sit at my computer and try to make things happen. Not only does this result in writing I end up hashing over and over, I sometimes even trash it all together. Because creativity cannot be forced. The writing pundits preach "write something every day." I appreciate this advice and understand its basis. Just as with exercising, if you stay away from it too long, it becomes easier and easier to de-prioritize. But for me, if I stop focusing on the writing, the ideas come more freely. Driving in my car, taking a shower, and yes, cutting the grass or painting, push the noise to the back of my mind so the thoughts bobbing around inside my heart and soul can make an appearance.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Game of the Decade, Social Networks, and Being Part of a Team

Today my honey sent me a text (he's in Las Vegas on a trip): "Turned down Cirque tickets because I want to watch the game. Am I nuts?" My reply: "It's the game of the decade. Of course not."

After this short conversation, I spoke with a few of my friends. They didn't understand why he would give up Las Vegas Cirque de Soleil tickets to sit in a room and watch Alabama play Louisiana State on television. It's just a game. You can see the final score. Know who won. Why pass up tickets to watch Cirque live to watch the game on TV?

Because it's college football and the #1 ranked team is playing #2. And it's SEC. It's intense. It's watching boys on scholarships giving their all and hoping they've made the right choice. It's parents sharing excitement with their children. It's hotdogs on grills. Tradition. Family. Something to cheer for.

There is so much beyond our control. The economy. The decisions of Congress. Disease. War. But just as with life, in an SEC football game, we cheer for our team. We cling to loyalty based on geography (some call it Bama football, some call it patriotism). But for those few hours, the problems and stress that surrounds us everyday fall away. We focus and find hope in cheering on a group of boys. We find identity. Something that glues us to where we are. Because we all need a tether that grounds us to something. That gives us a sense of belonging.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. It's difficult to find that tether and sense of belonging when you work in a coffee shop surrounded by strangers, or at your kitchen table. But social networking has changed that. Twitter, Goodreads, and Scribed allow me to connect with other writers. Ask them for advice. Cheer them on and receive their encouragement in return. These tools have pulled me into a virtual world in which I'm now part of a team. And just as with the Boys of Fall, I believe I can finally get across that goal line because I'm surrounded by others who want the same thing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Choices, Loving our Dogs, and Deliberately Living

This morning, I walked our dog, Ellie, after Ty got on the bus. It was cloudy, 50 degrees, and windy. As much as I love walking through our neighborhood in Fall and savoring the beautiful leaves, this was not a pleasant walk. I was cold. But I was there because Ellie needed me to be. She needed to expend some energy and, yes, relieve herself. After rounding the first bend, the scene struck me as funny.

My cold self wanted to go back to the house for a cup of coffee, but instead I walked on in the wind because Ellie loved it. It also struck me that I was carrying a plastic bag of her poop. Considering the situation, I asked myself, "Who's the Master here?"

Often in life, we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations in which we surrender our desires to the needs or wants of others. As mothers, we do this on a daily basis. In fact, we do it all day long. We allow a frightened child whose ventured into our rooms at 3 am to slide in to the warm spot we've been creating all night. We get up early to make sure everyone has breakfast, brushes their teeth, and has what they need for their day. A big one--at least for me--is the surrender of career and a life outside our homes because we believe it's best for our families. Especially when the other parent works hard and long hours to provide the life we want to give our kids.

As adults, we all give up the carefree world of childhood. We have little "unstructured play time." Yes, my husband loves being a pilot, but he loves being with us more. It is a sacrifice for him to be away as much as he is. He's fortunate that he can do what he loves, but he's surrendering something. Several of my friends have spouses who are physicians that spend nights in the hospital on call, and weekends away at continuing education seminars. Another friend stays home with his two boys so his wife can travel the world for her work.

In these situations, who is the Master? Our children? Our jobs? Our responsibilities? The answer to that question depends entirely on your perception. I chose to marry a pilot. I chose to stay at home when my children were small. I chose to give up a career in law to be there when my kids get off the bus. And today, I chose to walk Ellie. Rather than see myself as sacrificing for the best of others, I choose to see my life for what it is. A conscious choice that brings me fulfillment and joy.

In attempting to publish The Beauty of Grace, I am not a victim of the process. I don't pump out query letter after query letter and pursue all avenues of social networking with other writers, agents, and publishers because I have to. While writing is a compulsion for which there is no therapy or medication, I choose to put my work out there. To seek a place in the publishing industry. It might be cold and windy, and some days I might feel as though I'm carrying a bag of dog poop, but it is still my choice to be there.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Snow Flakes, Halloween, and Not Rushing Things

This past Saturday, we had a freak snowstorm that came out of nowhere and left people ill-prepared to deal with its effects. Today, there are still many without power. Property was damaged. Schools were cancelled. Accidents happened. People died. I couldn't comprehend the impending several inches. Snow before Halloween? This does not bode well for the Winter to come.

Shortly after "Snowtober," the pictures appeared on the news, Facebook, and Twitter. Our own 25-foot pear tree, whose leaves are still green, sagged with the weight of the snow belaboring it. One of its major branches snapped. The stark contrast of summer's green against the snow.

Other pictures showed orange, gold, and red leaves lying on crisp, snow-covered lawns. Incredibly beautiful, but the images gnaw at a sense of impropriety. The foliage of summer and fall shouldn't be blanketed with snow. It defies the order of things. Yet it's beautiful.

As you drive around the Northeast, you see downed trees and power lines. And hear of people dying. You realize that despite the beauty of this unexpected shower of white, it's inherently wrong. It doesn't--and shouldn't--snow in October because nature isn't ready for it. There is a timing to everything and a reason for seasons. The natural order of change allows for adjustment and adaptation. Rushing things might not initially seem dangerous. Often, we want to rush things out of impatience or boredom or a sense of entitlement.

This is difficult when you're chasing your dream. You want it to happen right now. You want to accept the first offer that comes along. You want to move from standing still. This happens with tweeners who want to grow up too fast. Singles who just want to end their loneliness. Writers who want to see their book on a shelf in Barnes and Noble. Better yet, an end cap. But as with all things, there is a process and we must respect that process. More importantly, we must remember that the process is a means to an end, not an obstacle.

So push forward we must. Remembering that if we try to skip steps or rush things, the weight of what might come will smother our too-green leaves and break us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eighth Graders, Soccer, and Keepers

Every Sunday morning, I have the privilege of working with a group of Eighth Grade girls at my church, LCBC. They're an amazing group of young women and I learn so much from them. Some things are philosophical and some practical. Just last week, I learned a new definition of "Keeper." One of my girls, Joy, is a phenom in the Goalie position. She eats, sleeps, and breathes soccer (Facebooking about it at least once a day). [That's Joy in the picture]

As she filled me in on her recent try-out for travel soccer, she said "There's only one other Keeper." Head cocked, "What?" I asked. "Sorry," she replied. "A Goalie. A Keeper."

The formal definition of "keeper" states: "a person who guards or watches, as at a prison or gate." Of course the wheels of my writing mind immediately began spinning. Oh the metaphors... (Yes, we've confirmed I'm a geek. Who else thinks in metaphors?)

In life, we often use the word "keeper" to refer to friends or romantic interests. The term implies a level of uniqueness about a person. Someone who is kind, reliable, fun, and loyal. Someone you want to spend time with. Someone you want to "keep" in your life. My Eighth-grade life group is full of keepers. My honey's certainly a keeper. As are the friends I surround myself with (even those that cheer for Alabama).

Listening to Joy describe her job as a goalie, her description stretched beyond the scope of her words. I thought of my inner circle of keepers. When I'm hurting. When I'm in a dark place. When I need someone to deflect the shots life is throwing at me, they're my goalies. They protect me from the onslaught. When I need someone to guard or watch over me when I can't do it for myself. This is what it means to be a true friend. A true love. To take the shots for someone else.

Writers looks at agents through the lens of whether they're a Keeper. For the anecdotal reasons above: someone unique, kind, and loyal. For the soccer traits: someone standing between you and the outside world, deflecting shots. And for the layers within the formal definition: someone who guards and watches at a gate.

We writers sit alone and pour our hearts onto a keyboard. A work takes form that we nuture for months, years, or even decades. Our comfy chair, bunny slippers, and laptop monitor belie the journey ahead. Because the publishing world is big. Agents. Editors. Editorial boards. Copy editors. Back cover copy writers. Cover designers. And that's all before the book is published. Then there are marketing people, bookstore event planners, book signing and publicity tours, and you--the reader. To move into this world and expose yourself through your work, you need a Keeper. Someone taking the hits and guarding the gate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Safety of School Buses and Trusting Your "Baby" To Others

This morning as I sat behind a school bus at a traffic light, I was reminded of its irony. Look inside any mini-van with a kid between the ages of 5 and 8, and you'll see them buttoned-up tight. Car seats with harnesses and booster seats. We make sure we have extras for our children's friends. Our cars don't leave the garage or parking lot without making sure everyone is strapped in. Yet we put our tiny, five-year-old Kindergartener on a big, ole' school bus that doesn't have seat belts, much less a booster seat. We watch this hunky chunk of metal barrel down the road full of precious cargo. This is particularly scary if you chaperone a field trip. When my son was in Kindergarten, I sat in a bus full of 3 to 6-year-olds as we rambled 30-minutes away to a farm.

Sure, there have been studies on the safety of school buses and why none have seat belts. The Washington Post reported on a study asserting that not only were buses safe without seat belts, but because of their dimensions, were six to eight times safer than riding in cars. Consumer Reports backed up this claim. The American School Bus Council states on their website that buses are safe for the following reasons: the color and size of school buses make them easily visible and identifiable; their height provides good driver visibility and raises the bus passenger compartment above car impact height; and emergency vehicles are the only other vehicle on the road that can stop traffic like a school bus can. It compares school buses to egg cartons with padding, raised seat backs, and a reinforced shell for protection against impact.

The National Association for Student Transportation quoted tests showing that a bus lap belt could actually contribute to abdominal and spinal injuries in a crash. Safety studies also cite the difficulty in evacuating a bus full of kids with only one driver. I trust that our state and federal governments have researched this issue thoroughly in coming to the conclusion that buses are safe despite any child restraints. I put my own children on buses every day. But I wrestle with the contradiction of our little ones bouncing around, two or three to a seat, when we strap them down in our cars.

Sometimes, things that seem intuitively or culturally wrong might not be. They might test our sense of normalcy or what is appropriate and result in conclusions that make us uncomfortable. Conclusions that force us to trust that someone else has done the homework. Trust that their conclusions are true and sound. Even when they make us shudder with apprehension. We close our eyes and surrender our tiny five-year-olds to the open jaws of a big, yellow hunk of steel that promises with the hiss of its closing doors that the one we live for will be carried to school safely. And brought home at the end of the day.

For both of my novels, I had freelance editors take a peek. An objective eye on my heart's work. I wanted them to point out all the weaknesses, highlight the grammatical errors, and help me focus on making the work stronger. Now, as I face the task of trying to get The Beauty of Grace traditionally published, I'm reminded why I self-published my memoir, Abby. If a traditional publisher signs my book, I'm essentially handing it over to the big, yellow hunk of metal and hoping that it gets delivered to the public resembling something close to what it looked like when I turned it over. The traditional publishing process involves much editing and signing over of the decisions regarding cover art, the excision of pages of work, and how the book will be presented to the public.

I chose to self-publish Abby because I wanted to tell the story of my daughter's stillbirth with no interference. I wanted to put her tiny footprints on the cover in their actual size and not have someone tell me that the book would be published with something else on it. I didn't want anyone to require me to delete any of the pages of the story I so painfully told. But in the business of publishing, to do it yourself can mark you with a tattoo that is impossible to erase. You're no longer a "debut artist," but instead an artist that decided to put her work out there without the filter of the publishing community. It isn't impossible to land an agent when you have a "history," but it makes it more difficult.

So in this quickly-evolving era of eBooks and the rapidly changing face of publishing, I find myself glancing over my shoulder in a 360-degree move. I've worked hard over the past year or so to obtain an agent and be published traditionally. Because to land a publishing contract is akin to being signed to a professional sports team, minus the seven-figure paycheck. It means that you're the cream that's risen to the top. Worthy of advances and publicity tours. But it requires a surrender.

I realize now that sending my books to professional editors was like putting my kids in my best friend's mini-van with extra booster seats. To release your work to a publishing house is trusting your "baby" to a big, powerful school bus and hoping it will arrive resembling your "baby." But you trust because you can. You have to surrender the control you've had since infancy knowing that your "baby" will be better for it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How Clarity Comes Not From Hyper-focus, But From The Opposite

"Fog is a meteorological phenomenon caused by a supersaturation of the air, so that it can no longer hold water vapor." ~ WiseGeek

The fact that I'm opening my blog with this quote indisputably evinces the fact that, yes, I am a dork. But this morning, I opened my front door to a blanket of fog on my lawn. It was eerie and beautiful, but precluded clarity.

I couldn't help but see it as a metaphor for life. You've probably said, "I'm in a fog," or "my brain is foggy." This is sometimes attributed to lack of sleep or caffeine. But, in fact, we often find ourselves in a fog because of a supersaturation in our brains. Too many obligations, too much social networking, too much media. With the constant input that bombards our brains, they sometimes freeze, and a fog results. We can't think of that guy's name or remember why we walked into a room.

While a nap or a cup of coffee can help fogginess sometimes, it's usually a brisk walk outside, an hour of unstructured play with our kids, or the singular focus required of a good book that burns off the fog. And it does eventually burn off. Just as the morning sun rises and sears the fog lingering on our grass, moments of mental respite rejuvenate us and help us clear our minds of the clutter.

In writing, I often get bogged down by the swirling elements of fiction: characters, plot, setting, dialogue, meaning. When I try to write or edit a piece with all of these things in front of me, my mind shuts down. What is so affectionately referred to as "writer's block" can set in, which frustrates all writers. But the harder we try to push through it, the more it resists and the heavier the fog becomes. With writing, school work, family dynamics and relationships, we can't always force the solution because the fog that envelopes us precludes one. We must instead step back, close our eyes, and allow our minds to re-boot. But in order to re-boot, you must first Shut Down.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dichotomy and How My Liberal, Democratic Self Adores My Conservative Husband

My honey and I are complete opposites. He's a Republican, I'm a Democrat. He's an ACC fan, I'm SEC all the way. He's a total carnivore, I'm a vegetarian. He loves his aviation magazines, and I love literature. The yen and the yang. Polar opposites. The Steely Dan to my Black Eyed Peas.

But it works. And it works well. Over the past fourteen years together, our extreme differences have enlightened us. Not that we've pulled one another toward the middle, but we've made each other more understanding of a position that in the abstract we might find offensive. As we watch political debates together, we often find ourselves commenting on the same things. And often in the same way. Because our core beliefs aren't different. Family. Friendships. Loyalty. Being your best and achieving your most. Loving the underdog (literally and figuratively).

Our marriage reminds me on a daily basis why even when people think they're on the opposite ends of the spectrum of thought, belief, philosophy, and logic, they're actually side-by-side. We not only co-exist in our differences, we thrive and become better people by allowing ourselves to stretch our minds by the thoughts and beliefs of others.

Although I will always be frustrated by the futility of the way our votes cancel one another out on election day, I will never regret standing in line at the polling place with him and casting my vote. We re-index one another and bring an entire sphere of opinion into our home. While I might get completely frustrated by his opinions, I am always mindful of how blessed I am to have a husband who not only seeks truth, information, and intellectual growth on a daily basis. He also allows himself to be vulnerable to the constant bombardment of his wife's polar and (to him) potentially offensive pontifications.

In writing, and more importantly reading, we must open our hearts and minds to ideas and opinions that make us uncomfortable. We might read a book or magazine article that rips a shiver down our spine, but it creates dialogue and provides us with a perspective and empathy we might not have otherwise have had. Expression requires openness and openness requires an honesty that reveals not only our vulnerabilities but allows us to consider change.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why Bubble-wrapping Our Kids Not Only Suffocates Them But Cripples Them

"We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future." ~Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I saw this quote for the first time today and it has stuck with me like flies on a cow patty (Southern roots showing there). As a parent, I often worry about my children's future. The pendulous economy. The uncertainties of threats both far away and in our own neighborhoods. The premature exposure to sexual images, bad language, cruelty, and peer pressure. Good grades. College savings. The influence of social networking and unrealistic expectations created by society. In my daily struggle to feed them, clothe them, keep them healthy, and love them, I often feel like a ninja warrior trying to deflect danger flying from all directions. So much is beyond my control. I can't single-handedly change Congress's spending, hunt down and prosecute every predator, or bubble-wrap my children's eyes and ears.

I've come to terms with the limitations of being one person who lacks a superhero's cape. I understand that I can't protect my children from the realities of our world by cocooning them away in a bunker of safety. Not only is it unrealistic, it's actually harmful to them because it prevents them from ever learning how to care for themselves and make good decisions. My job is not to protect them from all that does and will bombard them. My job as their parent is to give them the tools to protect themselves. I must teach them empathy, patience, assertiveness, resiliency, open-mindedness, and honesty. I must arm them with logic, the ability to ask questions, and the art of listening. Rather than stuff them in an armored car and drive them through life, I must teach them how to drive.

For as FDR said, I can't create my children's world. I can only love them and show them how to navigate the road.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why we love orange, Fall, and the Necessity of Change

At this time of year, most of the leaves are turning. Beautiful hues of orange, yellow, and gold. The vibrant, green leaves that shaded us all summer surrender to the cold and change into brilliant colors. The first year we lived here, I caught my breath often at the beauty of Fall. One of my neighbors, who's lived in the Northeast her entire life, said, "But they're such a mess." What I saw as beauty, she saw as something else to deal with in an already busy life.

As I walked our dog, Ellie, today, I held onto that initial gasp of wonder I felt seven years ago when we moved here from South Florida where the leaves never change. I embraced the crisp air and thought of the changes to come. How the leaves will fall from the trees. Making them bare during the coldest, harshest temperatures. This is why we in the Northeast savor Fall. Because it represents a transition and a time we want to freeze as we brace ourselves for the difficulties of Winter. You see orange everywhere. Pumpkin pie. Apple cider. Fall mums blooming in the crevices of summer's goodbye. Echoing the colors surrounding the ever-dwindling twilight landscape as the days grow shorter.

Such is the complexity of life. To truly appreciate the summer afternoons that extend past bedtime, and the crisp Fall mornings that transform everything around us, and embrace the beauty of the first white-washed snowfall in December--we must surrender to the difference. Drastic change is necessary not only to renew us, but to force us to appreciate the phases of our lives. Requiring us to embrace both the beauty and the difficulty of change.

Writing is an evolution of the soul. You find a spark, an idea, that forces you to sit and write it down. However messy or difficult it might be. And as the seasons change, you embrace the simplicities of what you're trying to express, while understanding how it might be messy and bare and exposed. But you know that what is inside of you needs to move through the seasons until it blooms into the thing you hope it to be.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

More on periphery, Auburn football, and kids

Tonight was the Auburn-Florida game, which doesn't mean a lot to most people north of the Mason-Dixon. But in the South, SEC football is always the highlight of Saturdays. Sure, it's 60 minutes of boys throwing a pig-skin and hoping for 10 yards at a time. But it brings anticipation, excitement, and a few hours of re-focus from whatever ails you. Although the Auburn-Florida game isn't the same rivalry as the Auburn-Alabama game, there's just something about SEC football that makes each match-up mean something.

Tonight, I babysat my friend's two-year-old so she could enjoy some much needed respite and dinner with her mom. Lars and I sat on the floor and played with play-doh. Attempted to read books. Raced Matchbox cars. All while the Auburn-Florida game played in the background. I would glance up at big plays, rejoice at touchdowns, and half-hear commentators as I engaged a sleepy, grumpy two-year-old and tried to navigate world peace over putting on pajamas. All while the game played on. A game I'd been looking forward to watching in peace all week. A game that suddenly became just a game. Because what was more important was sitting on the floor with this two-year-old that I love and rolling balls out of play-doh.

Sometimes, the things that we look forward to, focus on, and hang our happiness on become periphery. We realize in hindsight that our priorities need shuffling. That having a morning dialog with our child is more important than reading the morning paper. Or doing a puzzle together is more important than cleaning the windows. Or calling a friend to chat is more important than making sure your e-mail inbox is empty. Sometimes, things that are in our crosshairs fall into our periphery for a reason. An involuntary re-index. Because what we assumed was important actually isn't. Yes, I love Auburn football. But I love my friend's son more.

In seeking to publish traditionally, I've focused on trying to get an agent. Wanting to walk into Barnes and Noble and see my book under "S" in Fiction. Hoping to see my book cover on the front page of the New York Times book review. Praying Oprah stumbles on my other books on Amazon.com and says, "I gotta have this woman on OWN."

But its all periphery. As authors, we write because we have to. It's a compulsion we hope someone finds worthy of indulging and spending a few moments to share with us. To allow our words into their minds and hearts and hopefully ignite thought, reconsideration, or a new idea. That somehow our work and what's inside of us that begs to be expressed will evoke a change in even one person.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Make You Miserable"

Over 150 years ago, President James Garfield uttered this famous phrase. The first section is based on John 8:32 in the Bible, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount delivered almost 2,000 years ago. Sometimes the oldies are the goodies.

I've found this phrase particularly profound lately. Our lives fill with people, experiences, tragedies, and circumstances. Some are joyous and fun and interesting. Others are painful, difficult, and incomprehensible. And every once in a while, the two converge. You take a new job that seems exciting and challenging only to find it stressful and unmanageable. You make a new friend with whom you laugh out loud and feel exhilarated around only to later be hurt by something said or left in their wake because they've moved on to a newer, more exciting friend. Or you have an experience because it seems fun, feels good, and pleases you at the moment, only to wake the next day with regret.

Part of growing older and maturing requires us to stare reality in the face, take a bite, and stomach the bile that tries to fill our mouths as we grope with the truth. Be it betrayal by a friend, desperation over a circumstance thrust on us by the economy, anger at a parent or child, a medical issue, or confronting demons from the past lying in wait. It's so much easier to gloss over the uncomfortable. To pretend we don't see that friend across the hall who is angry with us. To ignore the pain in some part of our body that just won't go away. To engage in small talk with someone whom we really need to dig deep with. To confront the economic or social circumstance that has altered our reality. To face that thing that never lets go.

Facing our truths is painful and difficult, but as the quote says: "It will set you free." We try to bury our pain and frustration and embarrassment. But it's akin to putting a lid on a pressure-cooker. It will only stay so long before it blows off and shatters on the floor. You can shelve your anger at a friend, parent, spouse, or neighbor. You can bury the pain of a childhood hurt, a friend's betrayal, a job lost, an opportunity wasted. You can refuse to confront whatever lies within you that keeps trying to bubble to the surface. But it's futile. Although facing your truth will make you miserable (or sad or embarrassed or angry or exhausted) at first, it will set you free.

How does this tie into writing, you ask? As authors, we must excise, rewrite, delete entire scenes and characters. It's a constant pruning after spending hours or weeks making a chapter or scene just right, only to learn that it needs to be chopped completely. Spending years on a novel only to cut chunks in a re-write feels like cutting off appendages. But it's necessary. To produce the best work you can, you must confront the truth of the inadequacies in your writing. You must realize that it isn't the place to vomit agenda or show how descriptive you can be. You must face your work with an eye focused solely on making it the best it can be. As we must do with life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fifteen Years of Hard Work = Fifteen Minutes of Fame or A Nice Bathroom

For the past week-and-a-half, my husband and a friend have torn our guest bathroom apart. Seven years ago, we moved into our home, which we love, but that was outdated. I'm talking 1980's fake brass, formica, linoleum outdated. Is it livable? Absolutely. Are we blessed with this home? Undoubtedly. But we decided to make some changes so it would mirror our style rather than 80's big hair.

So my honey and our friend have ripped out linoleum, thrown out the mauve toilet, and pulled out the "hot-cold" singular bulbous knobs. Electrical, plumbing, and venting were all re-routed because of the creation of a pocket door to give our pre-pubescent daughter her own, in-suite bathroom. Sheetrock, plywood, liquid nail, P-traps, and wiring caps all worked together to create a new, beautiful space. There's still a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that will go into this tiny space. An act of love for our budding girl. (My friend, Amy, just similarly experienced major construction when she created a new room for her daughter, Courtney, and can attest).

But when the process is complete, the result will be seamless. Guests will venture into the bathroom and use it's beautiful new sink. Flush its state-of-the-art toilet. And quietly slide the convenient pocket door that took my husband half a day, and lots of under-the-breath words, to install.

Point is: to create something people enjoy without realizing how long it took and how hard it was to create is art. Your favorite song took a lyricist, a band, a producer, a studio, an agent, and a record company all believing and investing to pump out three-and-a-half minutes that you'll love for a couple of weeks. Your favorite clothing company employs designers, stylists, factory employees, and marketing people to pump out this season's latest jean that you'll wear for a few months. Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, and all your other favorite social networks put in years of creativity, begging investors, tweaking ideas, only to have to evolve every few months to keep up with everything new.

Writing and publishing are living, breathing things. A novel can take months or years to write. Days are spent contemplating character names, subplots, settings, words, and things as simple as the placement of a comma. The reader doesn't see this. And shouldn't. True artistry in literature requires the reading of a story where the reader doesn't hiccup over a misspelled word or have to flip backwards because the writer inadvertently created an inconsistency that the reader caught. To be a good writer requires a seamless, flawless flow of words that evoke other worlds, emotions, and vacations from reality that can't be violated by the writer's errors. And all of the behind-the-scenes work. All of the linoleum ripping and paint-tape-excision and sanding must be transparent. Because to reveal the blood, sweat, and tears, and seek validation in the work itself, is to put artist over art. We are storytellers. We love the words. Their beauty. Their ability to move hearts, minds, and mountains. To do them justice, we as writers must become invisible and live in their shadow.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

College Football > Pro Football. Any. Day. Of. The. Week.

I love football. How could I not? I'm from Alabama. Where the Auburn-Alabama rivalry is palpable and football is another form of religion. In middle school and high school, football Fridays meant pep rallies and bands and lots of school spirit. People spent just a few dollars to stand in the bleachers and cheer on their children and their friends' children. Everyone has a stake. Be it familial or hometown or high school alma mater. In Alabama, there is nothing more exciting that watching Auburn or Alabama play. The RV's pull in days before and set up grills and flags and friendships. It means something. Almost everyone in the parking lot and the stands has a tangible tie. So when the band fires up and the pom poms shake, the excitement builds.

So as I sit here and watch the NFL, I'm disappointed. Sure, there are geographical ties, but the loyalty is to a name. Sit in a living room with people watching an NFL game and not one of them will have an actual tie to the team they're cheering for, other than the fact that they might have lived in the city the "team" plays for. Or they might be following someone from their college team. But the ties are tenuous. As are the alliances. Because you might love the QB, but chances are, he'll be somewhere else next year. The NFL players lack the loyalty and passion of the college players. It's become a business. It's no longer about the Friday Night Lights or the Saturday band playing your fight song. It's about fans who pay a ridiculous amount just to sit in the stadium, then pay an even more ridiculous amount for a bottle of water, a cup of beer, and a hot dog. This is business. It's not about the love of football, but about exploiting the experience of football.

I'm sure my NFL-loving friends will give me grief, but let's be honest. Watching the NFL isn't about you, the fan, who pumps money into your team and fuels the business that used to just be a game we loved.

Such is the business of trying to get published. You want to make it to the show and get published. You want more than anything to walk into a bookstore and see your work on a shelf. But once that becomes the goal, it no longer becomes about the writing. I've found myself losing my sense of passion over words and poetry as I focus on my goal of getting published. I don't want to lose sight of the Friday Night Lights and the band and the reason I started this journey in the first place.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Puppies and Unconditional, Inexplicable Love

A little over 13 years ago, a colleague told me about a puppy he'd seen in a shady pet store. He knew I had a Jack Russell puppy and, working long days as an attorney, that puppy needed a constant companion. When I went to the "store," I was appalled. This sweet, young puppy tried to stand in a cage that was too small. She couldn't stand, and had to eat, drink, and eliminate in this tiny area. I begged the "owner" to let me take her then, but she refused. She promised that if I came back tomorrow, I could take her home. So I returned the next day and paid a ransom to this "owner" and took my sweet Taylor home. It wasn't the Humane League, the Pound, or a typical rescue, but this "shop" was closing and this sweet girl needed saving.

She was a mess. After being confined to a cage that she couldn't even stand in, much less move around in, Taylor was afraid to be in an open space. She would hide under pillows, beds, behind toilets. Everything frightened her. Except me, my boyfriend (now hubby) and Paisley, my Jack Russell. She realized she was safe and began to trust us. She curled up with her "brother" and became my shadow. I haven't been to the bathroom alone in 13 years. And I love her as ferociously as she loves me.

My friends tease me that she has a water bowl beside my bed. And my mother-in-law desperately wishes to be reincarnated as Taylor. But the bottom line is that despite all her crazy, annoying, ridiculous faults, this cranky 13-year-old dog embodies loyalty, unconditional love, and acceptance.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone. Embrace the unusual and sometimes unlovable, and hope for all the pee spots you clean up and the bizarre and cranky behavior, that you find something that gives you deep and unending joy. Such is the journey of writing and trying to get published. There's a lot of poo and pee, but in the face of it all, you remember why you write in the first place. Because of the inexplicable and immeasurable love.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Auburn football and trying to escape shadows

One year ago, a relatively unknown football player named Cam Newton hit the plains in Auburn. By the end of the first game, it was obvious to all that the kid was gifted. His golden arm, his speed, his electricity. Not only could he throw and run and read plays like he was reading minds, he was a leader. Of course scandal ensued. Many of my Bama friends taunted, "Yeah, best money can buy." His talent and passion became marred by external factors. But the fact remained that Cam Newton dominated college football last year, even winning the Heisman Trophy--the holy grail.

When the season began this year, with Cam now in North Carolina, we Auburn fans watched the first game with excitement, anxiety, and breath held. Young Trotter didn't disappoint. Despite being in the backseat, he's stepped up to his role leading the Auburn Tigers. He's shown character, intuition, and talent. Yet we've struggled as a team, and even lost last weekend to Clemson, as our defense struggles to find itself after the loss of Nick Fairley.

The commentators, either during the game or on ESPN during updates, all discuss the Tigers in terms of Cam Newton and the wake of his exit. Regardless of Trotter's talent, the focus remains on a ghost who's moved on.

I feel for Barrett Trotter. As a writer, I understand that we can't all be Hemingway, Dickens, Stephen King, or Dan Brown--successes in publishing that become the benchmark for every other writer. Regardless of our heart, talent, and uniqueness, every query letter sent to an agent is compared to one of the "biggies." It isn't enough to simply be good or even a great writer. You must be Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and--yes--Cam Newton. Almost super-human. Able to produce sales and publicity and branding. It's no longer about the beauty of words. Their poetry. Their ability to encapsulate, ignite, uplift, wrench. Case in point: Snooki has a book. The Situation has a book. Chelsea Handler has lots of books. Because they sell. It saddens me that one of the things I love the most--the written word--has sacrificed itself. I understand that publishers can't exist without money and, unfortunately, these books sell. But there is talent out there. It just needs a chance to throw the ball outside of a shadow.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Floods and Periphery

Tonight, as I tucked my seven-year-old son in, his fan caught my eye. It's not a particularly interesting fan. In fact, it's the fan that was here when we moved in years ago. From the 1980's. Brass. Ugly. But it works. And as it spun on medium-high, I stared at it. Its blades blurred into a smear of cool air. Then I looked up, into the bottom of the top bunk of my son's bunk beds as I lay with him as he dozed off. I noticed that the fan--in my peripheral vision--became more defined. The blades no longer spun in a blur, but were individual. My eyes shot to the fan, then to the bunk above me. An experiment of sorts that continued to validate itself.

As I lay there, visions of recent events fell into this perspective. Just today, I worked along side a dozen high school and middle schoolers as they helped two "older" couples expel inches of water from their basements. The collective was a blur of buckets, water being tossed, furniture moved, mission accomplished. But as I observed each one of the kids, I noticed their smiles. Their enthsiasum despite spending an unexpected day off of school by helping their neighbors dump water methodically, tediously, one bucket at a time. Instead of seeing the haze of a downpour, I noticed the individual drops of rain splattering my windshield. How they are individual and only one. But together, they flood basements. And highways. And fields. And move concrete, and mounds of earth, and change landscapes.

In the chaos and wreckage, I was inspired.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Facebook, Twitter, Teenagers, and Publication

Over the past three years, I've had the privilege of working with a group of middle-school girls at my church. Sometimes people raise their eyebrows when I tell them this. We all remember our own middle-school days and how turbulent they were. Some of us as parents of middle-schoolers know how emotionally challenging this age can be to parent and guide. But I love the girls I've been trusted to mentor and have so enjoyed watching them grow in maturity over these three years.

This weekend, I attended a leader retreat/seminar as a ramp-up to the new school year. One of the breakout sessions discussed social media. An interesting point was made about this generation and how they have to school their parents on social media because it is new and foreign to our generation and certainly our parents' generation. Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Stumble Upon, LinkedIn, Oovoo: these are new languages for us and can be incredibly intimidating. Last night, I had dinner with dear friends who parent teenagers. They voiced their lack of understanding of the social media their children use and their frustration with this lack of understanding. My daughter is too young to be on Facebook, but the girls I work with at my church are on it. And, as Adam Hann (check his brilliance out here: http://adamhann.com) and Matt Parks (check out his beautiful art and thoughts: http://ponderingloudly.blogspot.com) so artfully put it this weekend, these posts are a window into their souls. As parents, we must develop an understanding because social media isn't a fad. It's the way our children communicate. I mentioned to my friends last night that it actually allows us to monitor our children's activities and relationships in a much more intimate way than our parents were able to monitor us.

What does this have to do with my journey to get The Beauty of Grace published? Well, this weekend reminded me that I can't ignore this blog (as I've done over the last month), and I must learn how to effectively use social media to reach other writers, readers, and especially agents. The publishing industry is changing so rapidly. If I don't develop and nuture an online presence, I will be left behind.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

True friends, keepers, and my favorite new MG author, Leslie Blow Rivvers

When I was in high school, I had two best friends. But as in life, the friendships didn't bleed into one another, were disparate, and each had their own purpose. One of those was Leslie Blow, now Leslie Rivvers. She was a blond beauty, on the cheerleading squad, a tiny pint of power, and an amazing friend. The fact that she was one of my best friends was ironic considering I was a geek (hard to imagine, right?), not a blond cheerleader and part of the "in-crowd," and I dated a football player from the rival school (treason in Alabama). I remember sleeping over at her house and daydreaming about college outside of Alabama. We both felt the need to escape. And I remember powdering our noses in physics class and joking (in a completely dorky way) about why putting a little powder on our noses would somehow make us infinitely more beautiful.

Bottom line: we got each other. But, life continued and we literally moved to the opposite ends of the country. She went to Alaska (then to Vermont) and I moved to Miami. We both married, had careers and kids, and then (no props intended) through the beauty that is Facebook, we reconnected. And the 8,000 miles and 20 years melted away. I love looking at pictures of her babies, Cameron and Grace, and chatting about how our paths paralleled one another. We both moved far from Alabama, but we both have an anchor in our Alabama roots. And we both love writing.

Leslie blessed me with her wisdom and edited my new novel, "The Beauty of Grace." Her comments were honest and incredibly helpful. She then honored me with the first draft of the first few chapters of her middle-grade novel, "Blackberries and Cream." I loved it and knew I could be honest with her about my thoughts.

You know how you have those friends who because of life's chaos you go months, even years, without talking to, but when you do, it's as if life hit a pause button? They're keepers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Mama's Smile

When my little brother, Todd, started talking as a toddler, he couldn't say my name because he couldn't say the "L." So he called me "Seesa." It only lasted a short time, but my parents found it adorable. Throughout my childhood, my Mom would affectionately call me "Seesa" sometimes. I haven't heard it or even thought about it in years.

Then two weeks ago, I flew down to Alabama to visit my dad and check on my mom. Her condition over the last six months has remained unchanged. She is wheelchair and bed-bound. She's lost her speech and depends on her caregivers to literally do everything for her. Most days, she sits with her eyes shut. Lost in the abyss of her disease. The day I arrived in Alabama, I found her in that condition. She opened her eyes for just a moment, but looked right through me. She didn't recognize my face. Of course it broke my heart.

But the next day as I leaned into her face, my dad whispered, "Seesa's here." My mom's eyes opened, she looked at me, and she laughed. A few more times that day, I would lean over and say, "Mommy, it's Seesa." Each time, she opened her eyes and then smiled at me. My voice--and my dad's--reached down deep into the recesses of her memory and snagged a tiny piece of her. Her dementia has smothered her almost entirely, but pieces still exist. Floating around in her darkness. And familiar voices combined with a word anchored in love reached her.

Last night, I wanted to give up on my writing dream. The chaos of life with young children and a busy husband loomed over me, shadowing my dream of getting published. It often feels like a painful exercise in futility. But then my fingers touch the keyboard and the words flow. Despite my focus on the business side of this endeavor, I am reminded of why I began the journey in the first place. Writing has always been, above all else, my catharsis. My love of words and the comfortable familiarity of the solitude reach deep inside of me and pull my fears, my pain, my frustration, and my joy from where I've buried them. Writing reaches into me and brings light to my eyes. Reminding me of who I actually am.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Words and Muffin Tops

We've all seen them...bellies hanging over pants that are a few sizes too small. I've even done it myself when I needed to wear dress pants that I'd bought when I was 10 pounds lighter. I camouflaged it with a "blousey" shirt, but it was underneath. Ready to make an appearance if I sat the wrong way or the wind blew too hard. I first heard the term "muffin top" come out of my husband's mouth several years ago after a trip that took him through the Miami Airport. I'd never heard it, but laughed at the preciseness of what it described. When you see muffin top on the street or in the grocery store or at the beach, you tend to see only that. The person might have a blinding smile or the darkest red hair you've ever seen or the sweetest eyes, but you miss the beauty and uniqueness of them because you can focus only on the muffin top.

I love words. When I read a poetic phrase in a novel, I re-read it. Letting the words sit on my tongue. I savor them. And hope that my work rises to that level some day. But no matter how beautiful prose is or thought-provoking or moving, there can be too much. As a reader, you find yourself tripping over the author and losing focus on the story. This is true in everyone's daily lives--not just readers and writers. We often say too much and want to take it back. Or push away someone who was so close because we didn't stop talking when we should have. Just one extra word can negate an entire conversation.

I've posted a few chapters of my new novel on Goodreads. If you do me the honor of checking it out, please let me know if you spy muffin top.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Daddy

My daddy is a quiet soul. A righteous man. Growing up in Alabama, he taught me grace, humility, and patience. In my 40 years, I've never heard him yell. He will be 70 this year, which amazes me. In my mind, he'll always be that guy that I ran with up and down our driveway. Who I planted daffodils with in the yard. Who took us to the beach and held me on a float while I rocked the waves. Who knocked the crab off my back that grabbed skin and held on. Who taught me how to drive. Who helped me pack my stuff in a truck and drive down I-95 in traffic to dump the few things I owned into a 400-square-foot room on South Beach when I was 24-years-old to start my life as an attorney. Because he believed in me. He trusted my judgment. And although it killed him, which as a parent I can now finally appreciate, he let go. He trusted that what he'd sunk his heart and soul and life into for 20 years would stick. And that I would be okay.
On this Father's Day, I'm not going to tie the blog into my writing journey. Instead, I'm going to take the time to honor the man who has never, ever disappointed me and has always been my biggest cheerleader. He is the best dad. In. The. World. For those of you who know him, you know what he's been through. My older brother was in a car accident that left him paralyzed on one side. My dad stood beside him through painful and endless rehab. My little brother accidentally overdosed at 30. And my Mama lives in a nursing home dying of a horrible, degenerative brain disease. But my sweet daddy remains, and will always be, my hero. For his strength. And humility. And faith. And unconditional love.
I love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bama Football and Haters

In Alabama, there are many religions. One of the biggest is college football. You see, in other states, professional teams pull money and loyalty away from college sports. When I moved to Pennsylvania seven years ago, I heard about Penn State. But I heard more about the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies and Fliers. The car tags, flags adorning front doors, and jerseys worn in grocery stores all showed allegiance to the professional teams. What you see depends on the season. In the fall, you see Eagles and Steelers jerseys. In the winter, the Fliers orange and black abounds. And in spring, the Phillies red and white is on every cap and t-shirt.
We don't have that down South. In Alabama, there are no professional football, baseball, or hockey teams. There's just Auburn and Alabama football. (If my friend, Jason Mitchell reads this, he'll note the obvious mention of Auburn before Alabama--War Eagle.) Because of this, the line in the sand runs deep and wide. There are no other teams to distract your loyalty. So on the day of the Iron Bowl (the annual Auburn-Alabama game), the streets go quiet because everyone is somewhere watching the game.
Then, something happened to bridge the divide. On April 27th, a series of tornados tore through the South causing unimaginable damage. At least 350 people were killed, homes were destroyed, and thousands were injured. In Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama, a mile-wide tornado laid an unbelievable path of destruction. Within days, Toomer's for Tuscaloosa was born. "Toomer's" is short for Toomer's Corner in Auburn, the heart of campus. Days after the storm, a few Auburn fans gathered to help their rivals, but brethren, in T-town. They utilized Twitter and Facebook to cry out to their neighbors to help thousands. If there was a need, someone would tweet or Facebook Toomer's for Tuscaloosa and boots were on the ground within hours. The help ranged from water to diapers to food to debris removal. As the movement expanded, clothing, furniture, and mobile homes were added to the list of things delivered. This grassroots effort provided miracles to people all over the state who were affected, and it was done so by volunteers.
As donations and help poured in, the founders of Toomer's--who are all volunteers--began the process of creating a non-profit to handle the donations and deal with the paperwork. But its number one priority was to field requests for help. To this day, they work tirelessly into the night to answer emails and dispatch donation trucks and clean-up crews.
But as with anything, there are haters. Their Facebook page has been peppered with people spreading rumors about the propriety of their work and where the money is going. The (volunteer) administrators have tried their best to field the questions and provide answers--all while continuing to dispatch resources and respond to cries for help. Yet, still there are the haters.
This illustrates a very important lesson for me. No matter who you are, what you do, or how altruistic your intentions, certain people will find a reason to criticize you. To be cliche: you can't please all of the people all of the time. I refuse to compare my manuscript with the mighty work being done by Toomer's for Tuscaloosa. But it reminds me that people will hate my work. They will read, "The Beauty of Grace" and say I'm anti-motherhood. Anti-faith. That I advocate suicide and vanity. But they will be wrong. Just as most haters are.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why the query process is a bit like "The Deadliest Catch"

My husband, Jamie, and I love to watch "The Deadliest Catch." Why? Neither one of us fish. Or venture to Dutch Harbour, Alaska. Or suck on cigarettes at 2 am while sliding across a slimy deck. But there's just something about it that pulls us in. It's an hour of watching young men get thrown around a sloshing ship deck. Hauling gear. Setting bait. Swearing, smoking, reeling lines. In the abstract, the idea is boring. We watch these guys stick stinking fish guts into fish carcasses, climb into steel crab pots, and string it up. We watch them laboriously haul these pots overboard, one after the other, in the middle of the night. An endless, dark sky above them. Freezing water rushing over the deck and soaking them. Yet they continue to dump the pots, sling out the buoys, and stuff fresh bait. Over and over and over again. Hoping something bites. Praying that when they return to their pots, there will be crab. They dump all their gear into a bottomless ocean, then tuck themselves into bed with a prayer on their lips that their work won't be in vain. Because you see, with Alaska crab fishing, if nothing bites, you don't get paid.
I'm sure the metaphor is obvious, but such is the query process. You research your fishing grounds, making sure that you narrow where you throw your pots (query letters) to the most fertile grounds--agents who represent the type of novel you write. Then you work tirelessly to stuff your bait (craft your query letter) and sweat into the wee hours throwing it into a dark, bottomless chasm (cyberspace) hoping that something (an agent) will bite. You work, you sweat, then you climb into bed and dream that when you wake, you'll have a bite. Because if you don't, your blood, sweat, and tears were meaningless. Which means that the book I've poured my heart, soul, and little free time into, sinks to the bottom of the ocean and comes up empty. Making all the icy spray (rejections) I've felt along the way in vain. Yet still I must fish.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Confession and Bieber Fever

I have a confession to make. I love Justin Bieber. So most of you are closing the blog window now, BUT WAIT. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I love him not because of his hair or his stupid backwards cap, but because of his commitment to his dream. I finally saw "Never Say Never." Yes, it was filled with a plethera of pre-pubescent girls screaming, but it also was full of love and dedication to his dream. This kid was born to a teen-aged Mom who nurtured his talent and allowed him to be himself. He drummed on chairs and sang on street corners and crooned into the abyss of YouTube. And now, whether you like it or not, he is an icon. At 17. Many of the boy bands of the 90's were manufactured, like N'Sync. But at its heart was Justin Timberlake, who has gone on to became a Grammy-award winning artist, an actor, and an hysterical comedian (his Saturday Night Live skits will make you pee in your pants). I'm not saying Justin Bieber is the next Michael Jackson, but the kid has mad skills and will be around for a while.
As I watched his movie with my kids, I found myself singing along. Caught up in the giddiness that is the naivety of chasing dreams. But it reminded me of a quote I read recently on one of the writers' websites: "The difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is perseverance."
This, and a baby-faced kid from Canada, makes me think that if I work hard enough and never give up....

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chihuahuas and ChiWowWows

My 11-year-old has a four-pound Teacup Chihuahua. People see her and ask, "Is she a puppy?" At this point, she's usually growling, with fur up, assuming the spirit of a Bull Mastiff. "No," we say. "She's fully grown." But don't tell her what they said. She is four pounds of Tuffff. One "f" for every pound. A salesperson who knocked on our door once confused her for a squirrel. A beloved friend calls her a rodent. Another "The Rat Dog." But make no mistake. She is beautiful and tough and the biggest personality in our house of seven. Friends ask, "Doesn't she get underfoot and stepped on a lot?" "No," I reply. "She knows how to dodge the people who carelessly fail to see her."
Pursuing a writing career often makes me feel like Chloe, our four-pound ChiWowWow. Small, overlooked, but full of spunk and value if given a second look. Except I don't bite. Usually.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

RSVP "Regrets Only" and Agents

As the Northeast finally thaws out, the party/picnic/get-together invitations roll in. Between birthdays, graduations, holidays, and just fun by the pool, we embrace the heat and one another. Happy to emerge from hibernation. An ever-growing trend is the "Regrets Only RSVP." Like my friend's recent 40th birthday party. Almost 60 people were invited via a gorgeous invitation containing the "Regrets Only" line. As the party date approached, the hosts grew anxious. One week out, no one had regretfully RSVP'd. In making Costco and Party City runs, food orders, and deciding how big of a cake to buy, the hosts had to assume that all 60 were coming. The day before, a few people called to say they wouldn't make it. Babysitter snags or last minute illness. But the night of the party, even more didn't show up. This is a flaw with the "Regrets Only." Guests can delay or just not even show because of the lack of commitment required. With the traditional RSVP, guests call the host, commit to the date, and can offer words of encouragement or excitement: "Can't wait to get together with everyone." There is a lot less ambiguity.

So goes the query process. When I finished the manuscript for The Beauty of Grace, I poured through my agent's bible, "The 2011 Guide to Literary Agents." I highlighted. I researched. I checked websites to ensure the agents I queried represented my type of novel (women's fiction). I did my homework. Then, I worked on my query letter, which is a one-page introductory letter to an agent that briefly describes the plot of your book, introduces you and your qualifications, and provides contact information. It's the knock on the door.

Before email, authors sent Self-Addressed Stamped Envelopes (SASE) along with their query letters. Agents would read your query and if they weren't interested, would print a form rejection and stick it in the envelope. Just like the traditional RSVP, this ensured a response. Most of the time. This type of query also required more effort on the part of the author. Printing the letters individually, buying postage for both the letter and the SASE, and, in the case of some agents, incurring additional postage and copy costs if a sample was required. Commitment. There are a few agents that still use this method, but with the advent of email, many receive queries either exclusively or preferably via email. This is a positive because it allows writers to reach out to more agents. It also gives agents a bigger pool to choose from. And I won't even mention the incredible benefit to the environment!

But with this growing trend, I wish more agents would employ the traditional RSVP method. The "Regrets Only" policy in publishing is actually an "Acceptance Only" policy. Many agencies state on their websites: "If you don't hear from us, assume we've passed." As a writer pursuing a dream, wearing her heart on her proverbial sleeve, and putting her work out there for strangers to judge, this sucks. Recently, an agent simply responded to my email query with a "Not for me." Bless you, bless you, Paul Levine. Just receiving a response allowed me to cross his name off my list of pending responses.
Thank you agents for opening up the door. Thank you for helping the planet by requiring email only queries. But please don't employ a "Regrets Only" policy because it leaves us waiting, holding our breath, by the phone (aka email inbox). A "not for me" takes four seconds. Please.

Did I just shoot myself in the foot with this one?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Law School Professors, Agents, and Friends

At the end of my first semester of law school, we took final exams over the course of a week. How this differed from college and high school was that our law school final exams were our only grade. There were no quizzes or tests before that. Just one big final that lasted hours after four months of cramming information into our brains and then summarizing it in "outlines" that were a hundred pages long. I knew the information. I was going to ace this. I, like many of my Emory cohorts, entered law school with an enormous amount of confidence. We who graduated top of our class in high school and college. We who believed we would excel at whatever we did. We who carried enough hubris to cloud our vision of reality.

Until I got my contracts exam back. Professor Abrams had peppered it with red marks and topped it with a giant "78." A 78? I didn't get 78's. I didn't get "B's." I stormed up the steps to the third floor and right into Professor Abrams office. A short man with a proclivity toward bowties, he had a stare that stopped you cold. When I crossed the threshold of his office and met his gaze, my self-righteous indignation fled through my shoes. Recognizing my deer-in-the-highlights shock, he motioned me in. "Professor Abrams, I reviewed my contracts exam and I'm not sure why I got a 'C.'" He took my Blue Book from me and spent a few minutes going over the plethera of red streaks. Defeated, I asked, "What did I get right?" I'll never forget his response: "The parts that don't have any red on them."

Trying to get the attention of an agent feels frighteningly reminiscent of my afternoon in Professor Abrams office. Most everyone at Emory Law was bright. Some were even freakishly brilliant. We'd all spent most of our academic lives being praised for our efforts. Now, excellence was presumed. We could only improve if our errors, rather than our successes, were the focus. There are thousands of great manuscripts out there waiting to be discovered, and only a handful will make the cut. Hubris, entitlement, and expectation are unaffordable liabilities. No matter how many times I revise The Beauty of Grace, I always see room for improvement. I can't--and don't--expect an agent to sign me. I must simply continue to work at it and shoot for the stars in the hopes that someone will take a chance on me. I love my friends dearly and they've been incredibly supportive. Many have read my manuscript and given me sincere and reassuring words of encouragement. But I need red marks and brutal honesty. If I ever do get an offer of representation or *little prayer* a book contract, I know that will be the beginning, not the end. There are many more red marks in my future and I welcome them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why do we chase our dreams?

Writing poetry has always been my first love. When I was a little girl, I wrote because I loved the way words could be strung together to create worlds or images. Seemingly unrelated words form a canvas that evokes more imagery and emotion than the most descriptive prose. But back then, I just thought it was pretty. Now, I appreciate its power. Over the four decades of my life, I've often used writing as a catharsis. As my fingers type away, my worries and fears and unresolved pain bleed through my fingertips onto the keyboard and, ultimately, the screen. It allows me to explore the crevases of my experiences and manipulate the endings through fiction, giving me a sense of power and control over some of the most terrible things: my little brother's death, my mother's disease, the loss of my sense of self. Until just a few years ago, I limited myself to short stories and poetry. Pieces I could complete in an hour and shelve. Akin to a good cry.
But eight years ago, my daughter, Abby, was stillborn. The pain of her birth/death paralyzed me. I couldn't speak about it. I couldn't speak about her. I couldn't share the details of our taking her ashes to Pebble Beach and scattering them in the ocean. Each day was a struggle to simply breathe. But I felt an obligation to our family and friends who stood by us. I wanted to tell them of our experience and share it with them. More importantly, I promised Abby that we would never forget her. So I began to write. For two months, I pulled off the scabs and wrote without censor. Honest and raw, I allowed myself to feel for the first time in months. What emerged was a short memoir. Its length reflects the shortness of her life.
I've asked myself one question many times over the past few years as I've written, re-written, edited, shared, added to, and almost scraped The Beauty of Grace. Why not self-publish this one, too? I self-published Abby and my first novel, In Search of Solomon's Wisdom. I wasn't taking a short-cut or naive about the publishing industry. I just wanted them in print so I could share them with my family and friends. In Search of Solomon's Wisdom is fiction, but its main character dies the same way my little brother did. I wrote it to explore my own questions about why he died, and to deal with my anger at him for dying. I self-published both books so I could go on about my life.
Then, The Beauty of Grace bloomed in my mind. With the chaos of raising small children, running a household, and being involved in 8,000 things, Grace took much longer to finish. As it sits at 300 pages in my laptop, it gnaws at me. I could go the same route and self-publish it, but I want this one out there. I want to go into Barnes and Noble and see it sitting on a shelf. So in answering my own question, "why not self-publish this one, too?" a new question has surfaced: "Why does anyone pursue their dreams?" Why write, paint, dance, sing? Why does anyone choose to pour their heart and soul into a pursuit that, to achieve commercial success, requires enormous effort, endless criticism, and almost impossible odds? Is it because we believe that what we have to say is so important? Or entertaining? Or is it because we arrogantly think that our ideas deserve public debate and discussion? The only answer I can fathom is simply because I have to. Writing is a big part of who I am and to achieve commercial success, i.e. traditional publication, would validate my writing. And, therefore, would validate a piece of me.
Are you chasing your dreams? If so, why? If not, why not?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Perspective

My dad came up from Alabama this weekend to participate in a 5K with me that benefits the Association for Frontal Temporal Degeneration. For those of you who don't know, my 63-year-old mom suffers from this disease. Actually, the irony is that she isn't the one suffering. FTD is a degenerative disease that essentially eats the mind. Eleven years ago, when she was only in her early 50's, we realized that she just "wasn't right." My loving, vibrant mother had become depressed and apathetic. Her personality changed. An MRI revealed that both of her frontal lobes were gone. Not diminished. Gone. Over the past decade, her disease has eaten her temporal lobes, as well, and part of her occipital lobes. She is now in a nursing home, completely dependent for care. She rarely opens her eyes and simply sits in a wheelchair all day. She eats if a spoon touches her lips, but that is about the only movement at this point. It crushes my heart to see her this way.

I remember vividly when we started down this road and the many stops between there and now. Today, as we sat listening to two families talk about how they recently put their family members with FTD in a nursing home, a part of me thought, "They're lucky." Of course they aren't. And when we put my own mom in a nursing home because my dad simply couldn't care for her anymore, we didn't feel lucky. But at that time, she recognized us. She said our names. She made eye contact. She smiled. She sometimes even said, "I love you." That is all gone. If you'd asked me then if we were lucky, I would've looked at you as if you were crazy. But right now, what I wouldn't give to have her look me in the eye and say my name.

When writing The Beauty of Grace, I tried to be sensitive in broaching certain topics. When I did this, I blindly assumed that my readers would view the material in much the same way that I do. But in the years since this journey began, I realize that this not only isn't so, it's impossible. Everyone has a story and it frames the way you view the world and the myriad issues we face. Once I realized that each reader would bring a different perspective to Grace, it freed me to simply write rather than aim to please. I have to let readers bring what they bring, knowing it will only enhance their experience and mine.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Platforms...and I ain't talking shoes

The evolution of technology over the last decade has changed every aspect of our lives. I grew up in the 70's and 80's. When Mom wanted us home, she yelled (or hollered--I grew up in Alabama). If we were too far away, we knew it was time when the street lights came on. In high school, we passed notes in class or whispered in the hallways. When "the cute guy" finally called, you stretched the phone cord as far away from the kitchen wall unit as you could to get privacy. I remember shutting myself in the pantry or the laundry room. If you were lucky, you actually had your own phone in your room. Wow.
In college, we relied upon bumping into one another on campus or getting a message through friends. Back then, we read newspaper book reviews or asked for a suggestion from a friend to pick our next great read. Technology has changed this for the good, I believe. I can text my daughter and know where she is in seconds. I can Facebook old friends and see pictures of their children and read updates on their lives en masse. I can snap a picture of my gaped-tooth son right after he's lost his first tooth and text it to his grandparents to share in the milestone. These are all good things.
But the changes go beyond our personal lives. They've permeated our professional lives, too. My son's teacher emails me the assignments he's missed because he was sick. My husband can view invoices online and read forums from other professionals in his field to get the pulse of his industry. His cell phone makes him accessible 24/7. Lawyers e-file documents now instead of racing to the courthouse to file them on time, and doctors read x-rays and test results from the comfort of their homes.
Publishing has not escaped this two-sided coin. The e-book has both revolutionized and terrorized the industry. Rumors swirl of brick and mortar stores becoming obsolete as people carry around their Kindles, Nooks, and iPads. But e-publishing also greatly reduces cost, allowing houses to take chances on books that they simply, and literally, wouldn't put paper behind.
One of the biggest changes, I believe, is the way authors use social networking. One of my favorite authors tweets her book-signing locations or links to reviews of her latest novel. Her webpage sports photographs of her book jackets, which link directly to several on-line bookstores where you can purchase her book with one touch. Authors, agents, editors...most of them tweet, blog, and have websites. It isn't enough anymore to simply be a good writer. You have to know how to sell yourself, and social networking is the medium. I began this blog as an online journal but now realize that it, like my Facebook page and the website that I'm furiously working on, is essential. And not just to sell a book, but to even have an agent consider representing you. You must have a platform. It makes good business sense, of course. But it requires people like me--who just want to write and write and write--to become experts in marketing and branding themselves. Who knew when I typed that first word?

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's Been A Long Time Comin'

It's been quite a while since I posted because life got busy and I put my writing on the back burner. Now as Spring has sprung, so has a renewed faith in my work along with a desire to get The Beauty of Grace published. With all of the changes in the publishing industry in light of e-books and budget cuts, the competition is fierce. Sometimes it feels like I'm an American Idol contestant standing with tens of thousands in a stadium hoping for the chance to be heard. I've learned a lot about rejection over the past year, which is a particularly bitter pill when the rejection is based on a query letter rather than after reading my actual work. The publishing business is subjective, just as the types of books one loves is subjective. I know that I've hated New York Times Bestsellers before while embracing others, and I've devoured obscure debut novels I plucked off the clearance table. I remind myself of this each time an agent says, "no." I remind myself that (hopefully) it isn't the quality of my work but the taste of the agent I'm querying.
Just as I was beginning to doubt this concept of subjectivity and beginning to wonder if instead of "It's not you, it's me," it was actually me. Then, I received a much-needed breath of fresh air. A few friends have read the manuscript for The Beauty of Grace and told me how much they enjoyed it, but that's what friends are supposed to do. In an attempt to test the veracity of these claims, I sent the manuscript to Jamie's aunt, Randy Thomas. Randy is a highly-successful voice-over artist who has been immersed in all aspects of American culture for decades. She's done radio and is now in television as the voice of Entertainment Tonight and The Insider at CBS. She was also the first woman to announce the Oscars, the EMMYs, and the TONYs. She's also published a book herself and is working on a television program. She truly has her pulse on the entertainment industry. AND SHE LOVED MY BOOK!! She read the manuscript and called me immediately. I can't explain how that felt. The validation of someone in the industry truly being touched by my work. And because of her belief in my work, she's reaching out. Maybe all the blood, sweat, and tears will be worth it.