Tag: writer’s life

Who’s Your Gatekeeper: Writer’s Edition

Sometimes I swan around with a pen in my mouth not unlike a writer might.

Today I saw a quote attributed to a writer, shared by a different writer, and then commented on by a bunch of writers.  Here’s the magical gem itself:

Writer’s block? I’ve heard of this. This is when a writer cannot write, yes? Then that person isn’t a writer anymore. I’m sorry, but the job is getting up in the fucking morning and writing for a living.

I’m not actually going to say the person’s name to whom this quote is attributed.  I will only refer to him as “him” or possibly “that crusty old knob”. This quote definitely got a reaction out of almost everyone who read it.  I found this quote (by an author I’ve never heard of) revolting on so many levels I felt compelled to dust off Ye Olde Bloggenfort to unpack the misery of the above statement.

Let’s open this fucker up with the first nugget of shit it’s composed of:  the dismissal of writer’s block as simply the choice to write or not write, evidence of laziness basically. No writer chooses to have writer’s block, to sit down to their desk again and again to find that the conduit between their thoughts and the page has been broken, damaged, or become blocked up. Typically, when a writer experiences this enough times in a row they become so frustrated with the shit that’s coming out that they take a break to clear their head. Then they come back again and hope they’ve shaken off the dust and unclogged the pipeline of clear thinking to workable words on a page. Sometimes it’s just a blip. You shake it off and get back to the work.

But sometimes this continues on for such extended periods that a writer begins to doubt themselves, starts listening to all kinds of suggestions for getting their word skills back that they were sure they used to have. Sometimes it’s the story they’re trying to tell that’s the problem and maybe if they work on something else for a while and come back to the stuck story later they’ll be able to sort it out. Sometimes it’s the life all around them that’s blocking up the brain-pipes. Writers write, but they also have lives outside the words and also bodies that can become injured, ill, or exhausted caring for other injured or ill bodies that fall within the realms of their responsibility. Other things that can clog the conduit of brain-to-page flow is emotional or mental issues.

That Old Crusty Knob of a writer is saying that you must sit down to the page every day and fuck you and your troubles. Real writers power through no matter what and suck it if you become deathly ill – didn’t write this morning? I’M SORRY BUT YOU MUST HAND IN YOUR WRITER CARD AT ONCE BECAUSE YOU ARE NO LONGER PRIVILEGED TO CALL YOURSELF A WRITER. What a cuntish thing to suggest. The only part that old crusty knob gets right, in my opinion, is that if you want to make a living out of writing you can’t simply wait to be in the mood or hope for inspiration to move words out of your head and onto the page when and if they do. It’s true that you need to write on a regular and consistent basis because you can’t sell what you haven’t written. However, that’s a very simplistic way of looking at this writing life.

I wrote nearly every day from the time I was 10 years old until I gave birth to my son when I was 30. I filled a hundred notebooks with poems and essays and attempts at fiction. I submitted many poems to periodicals. I published my own crappy little zine of poems. I did not get published through those efforts. I did not get paid a penny. I had only flashes of brilliance mixed in with a whole lotta slosh. But I sat down every fucking day and I wrote and I got better at it every day. For twenty years. TWENTY YEARS. I was 23 years old when I decided to tell people I was a writer. That’s when I realized that it didn’t matter if I got published, or paid, or known. I might die an unsuccessful writer but at 23 years old I stopped letting anyone be my writing gatekeeper. I write. I am writer.

But like I said, after my son was born I tried to keep writing and found myself dried up inside. I had plenty going on inside my head that I was desperate to get onto a page but every time I sat down to get them out they evaporated like meager drops of sweat hitting the hot rocks in Death Valley. What came out was a pale reflection of my previous ability to put what was in my head onto the page. I still sat down to write and tried day after day until it became so frustrating and demoralizing that I just gave up for months. That was my first bout of writer’s block and it was awful. Losing that conduit from the mess of my loud brain to the clarity and satisfaction of the page made me feel like I’d lost a vital function of myself. But I was still a writer. I was a writer who suddenly couldn’t write a decent sentence. I played that game where you just get words on the page and worry about making them good later in edit stage. You can’t edit what you haven’t written, after all. But I couldn’t even get editable shit on the page.

Here’s what I realized much later as I eased my way back to language: the brain is a fertile field that can be worn down hard by too many crops that deplete it to the point where nothing grows in it any more. Some writers are good at frequently replenishing their brain fertility by reading books, watching movies, walking in nature, traveling, doing other creative things, or taking classes. But sometimes, even if you do this, you may find you need to let the writing fields go fallow. Maybe for a few days. A month. A year. There’s no right or wrong to it. There’s no good or bad to it. You don’t lose your writer’s card because there is no card that anyone can give or take away from you.

I’m going to also suggest that women experience a much harder time replenishing themselves while writing because, believe it or not, they are still the main caretakers of their children and partners and often ALSO have to work for income. We still don’t live in an equal world and I notice men find it much easier to shut their family responsibilities out so they can get their writing in and they have a greater expectation that their families will and should give them the space and time to do this. Even when women have really supportive spouses it’s difficult for them to shut out their family responsibilities to write. I did it to write my one finished novel and there’s no way in hell I would ever have finished writing my book (and then re-writing it over and over) if I hadn’t relegated much of the daily expectations my family had of me to my partner who did his best to give me the space I needed. It was hard on them and I’m not sorry I took the time and space I needed to finish my novel but I have ONE child and a supportive spouse, many women have multiple children and less than supportive spouses. Many women can’t do this without a great deal of guilt and push-back from everyone around them. So fuck anyone who doesn’t take into account that we do not all have equal situations, lives, experiences, spaces, monies, or time to write in.

Let’s unpack the other big hideous assumption the above quote makes: the assumption that every writer’s job is writing. Until you’ve broken through and already started making money with your writing you are most likely writing between other jobs that take up a lot of your time. For most people working towards a goal of writing for a living it’s a really tough balancing act that stretches resources and (as mentioned above) the needs of those in your life to the limits. The Crusty Knob who said that “the job” is sitting down to fucking write every morning is one who’s actually making money on his writing, so yeah, that’s now his actual job which is awesome. I don’t doubt for a single second that he worked his ass off getting to where he is. That is NOT in question. And most writers who make it commercially at some point put in a lot of writing time between other jobs and responsibilities and I am in no way saying you can achieve success as a writer without writing as often and as prolifically as your able to.

What I’m saying is that most writers aren’t making any money writing so writing is the dream job they’re working towards and not the actual job paying the bills and feeding the babies or dogs or self. We don’t all work at the same pace either. Even if every writer had all the time in the world and not a bill to pay, some writers can pump out books like a machine while others take a decade to finish a single book. Or a lifetime. I happened to take years to write a single book. I’ve finished exactly one book and it’s looking like I’ll have another one done possibly before I die. Maybe two if I live to be very very old. I’m envious of those friends of mine who finish a book a year or two books a year. Definitely jealous of them. But some people are jealous of my rapid pace of one book every decade or two.

We all have our own paces, our own processes, our own goals, and our own ideas about what success means to us. There is no right or wrong way to write and as long as you have put in a lot of time writing and working on your skills – taking your growth as a writer seriously – you’re a writer even when crossing a vast desert devoid of words. Once you’re a writer, you’re a writer. It isn’t just a “job”, it’s a passion and a driving force. If it wasn’t, writer’s block wouldn’t feel so much like a betrayal.

So let’s ditch The Old Crusty Knob’s entire quote now. Let’s toss it in the trash heap where it belongs and the next time you or I encounter another asinine opinion on writing like that, let it follow this one straight into the trash. Here’s what I want to put in its place: no one is the gate keeper to your writing life, your identity as writer, or your success as a writer except yourself.

There are enough challenges ahead of all of us who want to make a living being a writer without other writers breaking us down and telling us who we are or aren’t. I love listening to other writers talk about their processes, their struggles, their successes but I never want to be that voice that shuts another person’s dreams down.

I wrote reams and reams of poetry, short stories, and hideous attempts at novels and I became a writer doing it. Then I wrote blogs for years and even had an audience. Then I wrote and self published a novel that has gone exactly nowhere. I haven’t finished a single writing project for the last four or five years since I published my own novel because I seem to have been drained out in some way. I keep coming back to the page because I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t still try to get words out. I might never finish writing another novel but I will be a writer til I die. Once you’ve become a writer inside yourself, once you know yourself to BE a writer, it ceases to be “the job” or even “the dream”, it becomes part of your identity as a human. I may die an unknown and unpaid author but I will die a writer.




I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage in 2 1/2 weeks. I’ve been super grouchy and prickly. I haven’t wanted to be around any humans. Yesterday was a particularly thorny day. Got my feelings hurt on Facebook by a group of people that brought me to tears. I try to wear a thick skin when skating around on social media but sometimes thoughtless spears and careless conversations stab through the softer bits. Not drinking alcohol means a whole layer of protection is missing.

I’m still on a news fast. I’ve been on a news fast for almost 2 months. There’s no way I can let myself go back to reading the news while I’m not drinking. I can’t handle it. I see the headlines so I know what everyone’s getting mental wedgies over but I have clicked on no news links and watched no news programs. I miss The Daily Show a lot. The day I found out Jon Stewart is leaving the show I felt so betrayed and depressed. When the only sane voice in news gives up on us all – it’s pretty much OVER. I realize that someone else will take his place. I also realize that his team will still be there writing and producing a good show, but without him…I can’t even bear to think about it right now.

I have spent a lot of time on my couch under my favorite blanket watching Murder She Wrote. Most days that’s all I can do after I come home from work and take care of Max and do a few dishes. My days off I try to get work done on my apothecary business. But to be honest, I’m just tired all the time.

I know I’m not going to be like this all the time. I know this fog will lift. I know I’ll move forward. I know I’ll get some energy back. So I guess I’m just in a holding pattern until I can dislodge whatever has been blocking all my words and shake them loose. Every morning before work I open Scrivener and I try to get a few words out. Some mornings it’s like shoving my head into a plastic bag, other mornings I squeeze out a couple hundred words and it feels great. I try not to focus on all those times I wrote 5,000 words in a day.

I’ve found solace in quilting some evenings and have almost finished the quilt my friend Pam sent me over 6 years ago. I’ve also been finding some peace in my front garden. I don’t like my back yard. That’s where the dogs poop and we don’t keep up with scooping it up. It’s over-run with bamboo and oak. But the front garden is all mine. I can sit on the porch to enjoy it. I can do little things to it, plant just a couple of flowers, weed one bucketful, and it makes a big difference because the front is so small.

I’m excited about making more potions. I’m excited about learning to make soap which is the next skill I want to add to my arsenal. I still love living in the house we live in. I’m still incredibly happy to be in Santa Rosa. I love this place. I’m excited that Max is taller than me* and his shadow mustache is growing more distinct. I’m enjoying the last kisses on those baby-soft cheeks of his because they’re going to be rougher soon. I’ve let him mature at his own pace and it’s paying off.

Five years ago I worried so much about his eating issues and now he loves trying new foods and though he still doesn’t like much produce for its own sake, he ate fried plantains not long ago, ate coleslaw on a pulled pork slider, and eats avocado (and sometimes tomato) on hamburgers. He’s become a gourmand just as I predicted he would someday be.

My mom is doing really well. She gets stronger all the time even though she still feels tired a lot. I’m hoping this year will be surgery free for her.

I guess I’m giving all the updates today.

I’m going to pour another cup of coffee and chisel a few more words out of my brain into one of my manuscripts. Later I will be heading to the library to renew my card and find history books on San Francisco in the 1870’s if they have any, and costumes from the same period. I also might look up a book or two on typhoid for fun.

I hope you all have a peaceful day!

*He thinks it bothers me that he got taller than me so don’t break it to him that I enjoy seeing him grow taller.

What Pestilence Killed All The Words Inside Me?


My Mandarin Orange is blooming.

My fiction writing continues to not happen. I knew this was going to be the case when I had to get a job. That’s why I freaked out for a week making my desk into my own wailing wall. It obviously doesn’t help that I spend a lot of time working on my apothecary business in my off hours. Then I take care of my family.  There’s no time left to get into the writing mode. It’s making me feel like a used up old sock. I just had 4 days off and spent most of it just tired. I did a tiny bit of gardening. Hung out with a couple of friends. My family. And not much else. I did open scrivener with the intent to write and I did torture a couple of sentences to death editing a a chapter of Spring, the next Cricket and Grey book. But there was no energy in it. It feels like all the words are dead inside of me.

Maybe it’s writer’s block. Maybe it’s the general annoyance at having no beer to look forward to. (Haven’t had any alcohol for 2 weeks now). Maybe it’s just a deep funk. The majority of my writer friends are cranking out book after book, some of them writing a book every 3 months. I thank other people’s weird gods for the few writer friends I have whose process is a much slower thing, who stumble and crumble from time to time as I do. Without them I would definitely forget that a lot of the best books in history took years to write. Granted, they had to hand write that shit, but still. These speedy writers just take all the skin off my nose.

I did finally get the first chapter of “Bad Romance” finished. That felt good. This is my effort to write a fun breezy fast book. No need to get all wound up in writing exquisite prose, I just thought it would be really funny to trap a couple of modern people in a bad romance version of historical San Francisco. I thought it would be my writing palate cleanser. I’ll just write like a mad-woman, I said to myself. I’ll just crash right through this book and not care about every goddamn sentence like it, I don’t know, like they all matter individually. FUN! BREEZY! ROMANCE! You can’t tell me that most of the romances I’ve read took a year to finish the first draft or even the whole thing. Those things are whipped out. They follow fairly predictable plots. SO WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I DO THAT?

So I thought I’d start chapter 2 of the breezy fun romance novel. Maybe even “wing it” like so many of my writer friends do. But then I realized that to describe the streets of North Beach or China Town in the 1870’s I need to do a little research first. At the very least I need to know if all the streets were dirt back then. What was going on there? So this morning I looked up San Francisco on Google images. Know what I discovered?  San Francisco in the late 1800’s is a very dark place if you’re not white. Well, I kind of knew that anyway but the way people talk about SF in the good old gold rush days always makes it sound like everyone could get by if they wanted to.

My main character, Geneva Thoms, is half white and half Miwok who is always being mistaken for a Mexican. The other main character, Simon Wong, is Chinese American, several generations in. So if I plonk those two (plus Geneva’s misogynistic white ex-boyfriend Rick) into late 1800’s San Francisco, they aren’t going to experience the gay* fun side of the city. Now my book is a little less fun.

I love doing research for books. I’m wondering how much research the average romance writer does for each of their books? I feel I need to read a couple of books about opium dens, the racism against Chinese people (what is the “China Town quarantine” all about?), and about both China Town and North Beach specifically as that’s where most of the book will take place. Not so breezy. Not so fast. Not so fun.

The original idea was to set them into a bad romance version of SF, so in theory I can make shit up and not be strictly correct. I can paint a San Francisco based on broad stereotypes and people’s idea of San Francisco as the heart of the wild west (as opposed to the stark reality of it). Prostitutes with hearts of gold and all their teeth and no veneral diseases; villains dressed in all black flashing gold teeth (but probably not missing any), wearing an entire arsenal of weapons; heroes with long silky hair, losing their shirts at random moments so that pert-nosed feisty heroine’s can fight their desire to touch those bulging oily muscles…while my modern main characters scoff and try to figure out how to get back to reality.

I too want to write quick books and this was supposed to be my first quick romance book. For years I’ve thought that maybe I could make an actual living writing romances. This was going to be my first one, my charming debut, my fling with fast writing and lots of fun.

But damn. I just can’t let go of the details. Of getting them right. And funny isn’t my gig. I constantly intend to do funny and end up poking all the light out of the sky and raining darkness down on my characters. Rape, torture, murder, mental illness, sickness, death is where I always end up in my writing, but with happy endings of course. I intended my first novel to be a dystopian version of a Mary Stewart suspense novel. That was my inspiration, if you can believe it. I wanted to be the new Mary Stewart. I wanted to write suspense books that always have some element of romance in them. Intelligent richly written novels of suspense.

I’m meant to be a novelist. I’ve always been a novelist and a poet in my heart. So why is it like pulling my own teeth out with pliers to get even one lousy chapter written in the course of several months? I miss the energy I felt writing my fist novel. I felt the passion and excitement from beginning to end of writing that novel and editing it several times. Where did that fire go? Am I dead inside now?

*as in “carefree” or “happy”.

A Journey of Magical Discovery: Syphilis

Laundry day near Stockton

I spent half of Sunday reading about Syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases.  I learned what serous fluid is and that serum is specifically the serous fluid from blood but that another serous fluid is saliva and also the clear liquid that rises to the surface of cuts and abrasions on the skin and that looking at serous fluid in a microscope is essential in the diagnosis of syphilis, though not necessarily the only test you need to administer to make a definite diagnosis.  I learned that the real danger of many STD’s, whether they are curable or not, is that they are often asymptomatic so that people don’t get tested and spread it to many others but also that by the time they are detected they have often gotten to a stage of irreparable damage to the body.

I also saw a picture of a dark slide of syphilis and the bacteria is kind of cute, this thing that can ruin your life and make you go crazy and even distort the shape of your head all before it kills you.  It’s a cute little corkscrew shape – looking cheerful on its slide like a clever lush early in the evening who’s the life of the party.

My conclusion after reading 75 facts and statistics about STD’s is that none of us should ever have sex again.  This has the additional blessing of fixing the overpopulation problem at the same time.

If you would like to know how to diagnose syphilis too I invite you to read the paper I was reading:  The Laboratory Diagnosis of Syphilis *

Today I ate an obscene amount of cheese.  I feel sick about it.  I can’t even understand why I did that to myself.  From now on I will keep only Parmesan and feta in the house.  Perhaps an occasional ricotta will find its way into my fridge.  None of these are cheeses I can eat on their own as a snack.  I also met an old man working in the Italian deli downtown who revealed that he is a vegan and I was impressed and surprised.

In talking about my nightmares here and also on facebook I have come to accept that while I do wish I could sleep better more regularly I believe my dreams  are the more perfect expression of the world stripped down and lit with naked luminescence  than my waking life.  It is the link between my primal language and the language of the everyday human.  It is a bridge between sanity and insanity and provides me with a comprehension I couldn’t otherwise have of the minds of the more tortured members of my tribe (the mentally ill).  I don’t want to lose that.  My dreams keep me somewhat raw and connected to something wild in myself that I need access to.

That is all I have tonight.

*This will need to be put in a separate post for the research link posts I like to do for my books for reference so if you don’t feel like reading this riveting paper now, there will be future opportunities to be reminded of this illuminating document waiting for you.  I think Sunday is the most proper day to read it.

Writing Career Confusion

A year ago I was very clear about the direction I wanted my writing career to go and how I wanted to go about it:

write novels + land agent + get book deal = get published the traditional route

But I keep reading articles and listening to interviews of various authors and agents and I’m really confused.  I don’t know any more whether I should continue accruing agent rejections (start submitting my manuscript again) or re-edit my book to polish it up completely and then publish it myself using all the new and shiny self publishing tools offered by businesses like Amazon or should I just publish my book on my blog in small bites until the whole thing is published with the idea of gaining a fan-base and then attracting an agent or publisher who will then publish it in book form?

How realistic are any of these choices?  It’s tough to land an agent through submissions.  It could take years.  Self publishing has come a long way in both quality, price, and respectability but then you have to pay attention to all the details like cover design, editing (ideally professionally), and type setting.  Then I just read an article in Writer’s Digest by Nina Amir suggesting that publishing your book on your blog is a great way to get published – you develop a big readership and prove your book has commercial appeal and you either gain the notice of agents/publishers or you can approach them and show them how great your book is.

People do get book deals based on their blogs but it’s not as simple as publishing your book online and then publishers just publish it up for you.  From everything I’ve read – publishers expect extra material in a blog to book situation.  Also – I have yet to hear about any fiction being picked up from a blog.  Amir is confident that this whole angle works for fiction but where are examples of this happening?

I already plan on working harder to increase my readership for Stitch and Boots and I have my non-fiction Post Apocalyptic Kitchen project with my friend Emma if we decide to go forward with that – it’s my fiction I’m confused about.  So then part of me wonders if I shouldn’t just publish Cricket and Grey piece by piece on this blog simply for the enjoyment of my personal friends and readers who have expressed interest in it and have been very supportive of it.  Then I can perhaps start working on the second Cricket and Grey book.

What should I do?  I cannot decide.  Is it still important for me to publish novels the traditional way as I always intended?  Will I ever be able to write a pitch fetching enough to catch the eye and the confidence of a literary agent?  Will I still be sending out queries for this one finished book in ten years and paper my office with rejections (difficult when they’re all electronic now).

Here’s what I want from my writing career:

I want to write fiction that is compelling and entertaining

I want to give people new characters to root for or hate and I want to give them a way to escape from day to day reality because that’s one of the greatest gifts literature has given me.

I want to write non-fiction that is as entertaining as it is USEFUL

My favorite kind of non-fiction is the kind that informs with solid knowledge and research, that gives you information you can rely on and put to use in your life but that simultaneously is humorous and down to earth.  There is no reason why non-fiction has to be humorless and “serious”.  Being “serious” in tone doesn’t make you more or less of an expert.  You either are, or you aren’t and I’ll be able to tell just by reading your work because I’m not dumb.  There is the idea that if you don’t maintain a “serious” tone that people won’t trust you.  That may be true for some people out there but I think it’s an old and musty belief.

I want to make a living as a writer

I really do.  I’m not sure if I care if I somehow managed to simply get enough readers on Stitch and on this blog to actually make those ads make me a living or if I publish books and get royalties or if I’m making money from e-books or publish on demand.  I would just like to make a living from writing before I die.  I’d like it to be sooner than later.

I want to earn respect as a writer

I’m not the kind of writer who will write Pulitzer winning material.  I know my level and it isn’t high brow.  I hope to always be improving but I don’t have Pulitzer dreams, if I were to reach that level I would obviously feel deeply rewarded for all the work I’ve put into my writing but it simply isn’t in my sites.  I want the respect of other writers and from my readers.  I don’t want people to think of me as a trashy writer you’re almost embarrassed to like.

So what do I do?  I realize that no one can actually answer that one for me.  But that’s what I want.  I want someone to tell me the best route to reaching my writing career goals.

Ditching Strategy For Instinct

I keep trying to figure out what my strategy should be for my career as a novelist.  Should I start working on the next Cricket and Grey?  After reading a lot of industry blogs and articles about getting published, what agents are looking for, what people are actually buying, and how writers should build their careers and their “platform”*, I thought that was the way to go.  I don’t want to just stumble down the road towards some ill-defined goals, do I?  I need to know EXACTLY what I’m aiming for, make a plan, follow the blueprint to success without wavering.  Right?


If I set aside all the research I’m doing that says a book series will sell better than a literary fiction one-off, if I ignore all the formulas for writing success that are offered by the published masses, my instinct tells me to work on the first book I wrote.  The one I had to set aside for two years to let it breathe.  I mentioned it here a few times since finishing Cricket and Grey that Jane is speaking in my head and won’t shut up.  It’s a complete wild mess right now, that story.  I don’t quite know what to do with the plot and I know I need to figure it out before I dig myself deep in the hole of writing it again.  While doing agent research I have this nagging thought that Jane Doe is more likely to get printed.  It makes no sense.  I feel very good about Cricket and Grey but the other story is something powerfully visceral to me and it isn’t good for a series.  It’s a one off.  It’s very dark.  I made a concerted decision that I wanted to write mainstream fiction because I want a career writing novels, I want to actually sell books.  That’s strategy.  That’s smart.  But does it matter what’s smart strategy if underneath everything there’s a story that really needs to see the light of day that doesn’t fit into the plan?

I’ve come to an important conclusion.  We all have our roles in life, in our chosen industries, our chosen paths.  In the publishing world it takes editors to polish manuscripts, agents to sponsor them- to get publishers to publish them, and marketing firms to market them, and book sellers to bring them to the public.  There’s such a long string of people that have important roles in bringing books to life and light.

The writer’s job, as I see it, is to put their fingers on the pulse of their community and the world they live in and translate what is living underneath the surface of life that everyone feels but don’t have the words to describe.  Writers say what others are powerless to say for themselves.  Writers are the eyes and ears of our times, just as other artists are, and tell the truth with lies.  And sometimes, their greatest work is to make you forget your own life for a little while so you can face another day of it.  Each writer has to trust their own instinct for what they have to tell, what they are here to reflect, share, voice, or expose.  There’s no one way to do it.  There’s no one method to be the writer you’re meant to be.  Keeping in touch with and trusting your own instinct is the only way you’ll truly know.

That there is an opinion.  You may contradict it if it isn’t true for you.

See what I mean?  Everyone has their own version of how to become the writer they need or want to be.  I have been paying too close attention to what other people think I should do and how to appeal to the right people.  I think I will appeal best if I follow my instincts.  I have never been steered wrong following my gut.  Never.  So I will continue to send queries for Cricket and Grey because I think it’s a great story and when I find an agent who’s excited to represent it maybe they’ll tell me I need to immediately write a second book.  I’ll listen, at that point.  But right now, while I look for an agent for that book, I know I need to sort out the first one because it is taking up too much space in my head and so must be finished to make room for whatever story is next.

This week I finally figured out what the real title of the Jane Doe book is.  Ready for it?


I was talking about it to another writer friend and I suggested this might be the title and as soon as I said it I knew it.

It’s nice when things are so clear.

I am opening files now as I finish this post.  Files of notes, notes about the disaster of the first draft which is such an emotionally heavy work trying to get to the surface of the ocean from the floor.  My job is to cut the cement from the body of the story and stitch it up before the sharks find the blood.  It will continue to be heavy with water but clear with light.

I can do this.

*I loathe that expression as much as I loathe describing oneself as a “brand”.  It’s just splashy marketing words that have become obnoxious and pompous.

My Great Mycological Achievement

I have done what no woman has ever done before.  Is it any wonder I constantly amaze my friends and family?  No.  It is quite clear that I am more talented than all of you.

I have grown a mushroom in my bathroom.

That thing in the disgusting neglected corner you see there is a fruiting fungus.

I refuse to tell you the secrets of my success.  If you want to be as amazing as I am then you need to get there on your own damn merit.

This marks my greatest triumph as a homeowner and as a woman.

In other news, I got my first real query rejection today.  Obviously the agent has not yet heard of my great mycological achievement.  I’m sure that would have clinched it.  But seriously-what I’m really appreciative of is the fact that I got a personal email back from the agent.  I’m obviously a bit deflated now that I’m at the rejection point but this was expected.  It is expected I’ll get tons of rejection.  From what I understand, if an agent rejects a query by email they do it with a form message of rejection.  But most agents just say that if you don’t hear back from them in a certain amount of time, then you can consider your query rejected.  To get a personal rejection is thoughtful.

I’ve sent out three queries this week so I can honestly say that I am truly back on track with my writing goals.  I think it’s better to send queries early in the week rather than at the end of the week so my task for the next few days is to continue lining up agents to query next.  I’ve got about three lined up and I’d like to have at least three more on the list to query early next week.

Fiction Book Trends

I spent much of yesterday researching literary agencies and managed to send out two queries.  One of the things everyone in the book business says is to research agencies to see what they specialize in, to be sure you know what specific agents are accepting, all to see if they’re right for you.  I get the importance of doing your due diligence.  It weeds out the real idiots.  If you want to sell a bible, you’re going to have a hard time selling it to someone with a bloody scythe in their hand, wearing a grin.  However, it does become obvious after going through the titles that five different agencies carry that there is a trend and the trend is pretty much the same from agency to agency.  Scifi/fantasy and romance are HUGE.  Literary fiction (and where is the line between “mainstream” and “literary”, that’s something I’m very curious to know) is definitely not a large category for anyone.  I am reading individual agent bios to try and figure out which ones are most likely to want to read and carry my book.  It’s not that difficult to say why I would send my manuscript to one agent over another in the same agency, but why approach one agency over another?  That I can’t answer.  My chances of finding an agent increase in proportion to the number of agencies I query.  All of them carry tons of titles in my genre.

Though, as always, I am having a very hard time accepting that Cricket and Grey is truly science fiction and it isn’t likely I’ll be writing any other science fiction novels.  Or fantasy.  Will an agent care if I want to skip genres?  After the last bout of publishing research I became convinced of things I’m now unsure of.  But those thoughts will keep for another post.  Last night I discovered a couple of interesting trends in genres and I want to note them here.

In Science Fiction/Fantasy (not the same genre but lumped together as I believe there is much crossover and they share the same audience):

Vampires.  Duh.  You knew that.  They’re everywhere in fiction.  Good thing I didn’t write a vampire story because, surely, the market has reached saturation point with them?  There are teen versions, urban modern versions, vampire detectives, vampires on motorcycles.  You name it, there are teeth everywhere.

Werewolves.  Well, that isn’t surprising either.  I think it must stem from the same inspiration.

Girls in leather kicking ass: seriously, does it matter what they’re really doing in the story or who they are?  The covers speak louder than the stories.  Lots and lots of babes in tight leather in various stages of coverage.  They are hot, they are fierce, they are hot, and did I mention the leather?

In romance there are some very surprising trends going on:

Tycoons.  Mostly Texan Tycoons.  I guess men from Texas are supposed to be super sexy and obviously they’re pretty much all either rich cattle ranchers or Tycoons in Stetsons (to remind us that they started off as cattle ranchers? What is it with the Texan love for Stetsons?  I personally think they’re awful.  But whatever.  Of course I do.  I’m a west coast girl.)

Vampires.  Wait, what?  Yep.  Where “drink me” is both literal and metaphoric.  Sexy vampires getting it on.  Or sexy vampires trying to drink up non-vampires but getting distracted by all the tight leather (Yes, plenty of tight leather here too.)  Seriously,  I get the appeal.  I was a huge fan of the Anne Rice vampire books when I was a teen.  Those were very romantic.

Babies.  This one freaks me the hell out.  Women getting pregnant by their lousy ex-lovers and turning to their best guy friend (who is secretly in love with her, obviously) to do “the right thing”.  Or, men falling for single mothers.  Or a woman getting pregnant by the man she is in love with but who only meant to have an affair with her and she doesn’t tell him she’s carrying his baby but tries to win his love while gestating.  Really?  This whole thing with babies and pregnancy in the romance genre really freaks me out.  I can think of almost NOTHING less sexy or romantic than being pregnant.  And babies.  NOT SEXY and NOT ROMANTIC.

Amish Fiction:

This one is very surprising to me.  The only place I’ve seen it is on a rack near the checkout at Winco*.  They have at least 10 Amish themed novels.  After eying them curiously for many months I finally read all the back covers to discover if they were steamy romances for regular women with an Amish fetish or if they are gentle stories written for actual Amish women.  Do Amish women read mainstream fiction?  These are not steamy books.  They are very chaste and alarmingly gentle and Christian in flavor.  I don’t know who’s buying them here in McMinnville but I’m pretty sure we don’t have any Amish nearby.  There are many Mormons and Mennonites.  Could it be that Mennonites are reading them?

I’m off to continue my agent and agency research.

*The photo in this post may or may not have been taken at a Winco or other grocery establishment with a strict “no camera” policy.  No one is admitting anything here.

The Importance of Readers

I have written a book.

Two people have read the book.

I have received their notes and the assessment has begun.

Both of my readers liked the book but their questions, the strengths they perceived, the weaknesses they detected, and the things that resonated were different, except where they met.

One thing is certain:  everyone LOVES Shockey Robbins.  Though no one could possibly love him more than I do.  Only two people have read the entire book but quite a few people have read through the first three chapters.  It is gratifying to me that everyone loves Shockey.  He came to me as one of those complete fictional and necessary beings, not comfortable, but real and with a backwards charm that comes from god knows where.

I knew I couldn’t approach the third draft without outside perspective.  Everyone kept telling me it was me who needed to back off and take some time to let the story breath.  Get some distance.  Take a break.  What I really felt was that there was no way for me to see the problems at this point because I have become so damn close, so enmeshed that I fill in all the details as I proof that maybe other people need but I don’t notice they’re still only in my head and not on the page.  I knew I needed other eyes.

Emma and Lucy did this honor and I will try to express how much it means to me that they were willing to take on the first readings.  This, I realized after I got both of their notes, can’t be easy.  Writers are known to be a pretty sensitive lot.  Who wants to  be the person to say “Hey, this isn’t bad, but how come your head is up your ass?” and be the cause of a whiskey bender of mythic proportions?  When I gave them the book I was confident that I could take whatever they had to dish.  I think you just know when it’s time to set a work free to other eyes.  It was time.

Still, I was unprepared to feel as stripped as I did.  Some of this feeling is for reasons too personal to even say out loud.  I got both their notes the same day.  That night I felt weirdly naked even though neither of them said anything alarming or unhelpfully critical.  My two friends were both incredibly thoughtful and diplomatic.  I realized that this is just one more part of the process of writing a book.  I have always cringed when writers talk about a book as a baby but I understand the analogy now.  It’s a creation, it’s something you spend an inordinate amount of hours working on, labouring over, investing everything of yourself in (hopefully), and then you let it go.

You let it go and suddenly it is a thing.  A thing that exists outside yourself.  It’s a thing that isn’t just an excited conversation you have with your friends about what you’re up to.  It has a life of its own when it leaves you and enters someone else’s head.

If you’ve never written a book before this will be new to you.  This was new to me.  The work of over a year, largely done in private, always in my head.  It’s just weird.  Having readers give you notes on it is like getting a report card for your kid.  It doesn’t really matter what the grades are, it’s a little unnerving to know your kid has to live his or her own life and have complicated relationships you won’t be part of.

Maybe this part of the process won’t interest others but I record it here because it interests me and I wish that I could dig into the intimate process of writing a book as other writers experience it.

I think it’s really important that you choose readers who you trust as people.  Whose opinions you already know you respect.

After reading both sets of notes the fact that I had them to compare to each other was a big help.  They each had a different take, a different perspective.  The thing I most wanted and needed to know was what needs the most revision in the whole book.  Which chapter, or aspect, is the roughest.  It was immediately obvious to me that anything my readers mutually agreed on as needing work is not to be ignored.

Both Emma and Lucy agreed on this:

They want the story to go DEEPER.

With regards to both plot and character motivations/characterizations.  This is something I felt I needed to do as I was writing but was so focused on getting a complete working plot and decent dialog that I didn’t feel I could go too deep yet.  When I finished the last chapter I felt it was too short.  I knew from word count I had plenty of room to develop the plot and characters better.  So everyone agrees.

That’s my biggest broadest goal for the third draft, to go deeper.

Next I used their diverging opinions to come up with a blueprint for the tackling of smaller, but not less important details.  Lucy thought Cricket was unlikable and unrealistic because I show her to be really pragmatic but then have her acting in obstinate irrational ways.  Emma loved Cricket and understood her character and motivations really well.  Lucy’s questions about her character have got me doing some really good thinking.  For two days now I’ve been considering Cricket’s nature and her actions and asking myself why – why does she refuse to listen to any of her friends who are trying to help her?

The answer I came up with was instinctual.  Cricket, in spite of a pragmatic nature, won’t let her friends help her pay off her big financial tax debt because then she’d be in their debt too much.  She would feel beholden to them in an untenable way.  Why?

I will take food, temporary shelter, clothes, and pin money from friends in times of great need.  A year ago when we kept getting to the point of no money in the bank on a Friday, not particularly desperate by desperate standards, more than one friend gave me beer money.  I accepted it as the warm and thoughtful offering it was.

I wouldn’t allow any of my friends to discharge any large amount of money on my behalf.  No matter what my trouble was.  I’ll take the necessities but I will not let any friend pay my mortgage, I wouldn’t let any friend pay a chunk of money down on my house to lower my mortgage.  This is essentially what Cricket’s friends are offering.  It is, to her, unethical to take large sums of money from anyone but closely related family.  Cricket’s close family are all dead.

These are important things to know.  To be able to explain.  It might not be likable and I can understand Cricket being hard for some people to sympathize with.  Part of the issue, and something Lucy pointed out, is that I don’t take full advantage of the potential for internal dialog to explain why Cricket makes the choices she does.  This is a fact.  I am not actually all that much like Cricket myself, she is who I wish I was, but we do have some things in common and those things I take for granted are obvious.

They are not.

So I am taking both Lucy and Emma’s thoughts on Cricket and her motivations (Emma had a lot more questions about the nature of Cricket’s relationship with her parents) and I’m coming to some point in the center because readers at large are a whole lot of individuals who are going to all have their own perspectives but I want to aim for the most amount of people to understand Cricket and what drives her because I love her so much and wish I had half her spirit.

Another point that it’s clear I need to work harder on is: A Sense of Place and Time.

Again, Lucy and Emma had very different reactions to the question of when this story takes place.  What’s clear to me is that there needs to be a little better anchoring in time and place sooner than I establish it in the second draft.  I refuse to declare a specific year that my story takes place.  It’s in the future between 60 to 100 years from now.  There is no catastrophic event that leads to the end of oil supplies.  I don’t believe we’re going to have an Apocalypse.  I believe we’ll just slowly drain our resources until there just is none left for the average person.  This is speculative fiction so it’s how I imagine it’s going to go down.  This is how I imagine my community is going to be when we don’t have access to gasoline anymore.

I don’t intend this book to be a heavy political commentary.  I don’t intend it to be a big speech about what our wicked ways will reap.  It’s a fictional story about how I imagine my community will be down the road when there’s no money for the consumption we’re used to now.  When manufacturing isn’t completely over but everything is really costly so you have to make hard choices about what you’re going to buy.  This is about what happens when there’s no middle class anymore.

Place and Time.  Every novel needs to anchor the reader in place and time.  I have missed my mark a little.  While I don’t want to write a heavy handed cautionary tale for fat capitalist consumers, I want readers to understand that this slow demise has transformed the simplest of activities into more strategically difficult ones.  Between Emma and Lucy’s take on Place and Time (I capitalize that for emphasis) I see where I need to fall and I’m not sure how to achieve it.  But I will.

My first chapter really needs some radical change.

A lot more needs to be accomplished with it and I am starting to see, now, how I might achieve it.  I need to let this all percolate a little longer.  My head is swimming with the notes, digesting them, putting them in context, considering them against the immutable aspects of my story.

I am motivated to make Cricket and Grey a piece of great writing.  I am not so concerned about writing the great American novel, nor do I expect to write a Pulitzer winner, but what I do expect of myself is that anyone can pick up my book, read it, and regardless of whether they really like my style or not, recognize a piece of well written fiction.

The way I feel about Bukowski and Steinbeck, both of whose style I LOATH but whom I respect deeply for their skill and brilliance.

The best thing about having these valuable notes is that some of my worst fears have been laid to rest.  Neither of my readers seemed to think the dialog was reprehensible and neither thought this story a paltry embarrassing romance.  Things I didn’t to believe I’d created but which I deeply feared.  Maybe I should trust myself a little more not to create a bodice ripper out of a genuine story of growth out of grief and partnership with friendship.

I’ve got a lot of ground to cover with the third draft and I wouldn’t even know where to begin if it weren’t for Lucy and Emma.

Ladies: It’s such a privilege to have your help with my first novel.  I promise not to go on a whiskey-sodden bender.  I’m encouraged, energized, and percolating my next move madly!