No Writer is an Island

I was a little sheltered as a kid. Okay, I was a LOT sheltered as a kid. I was home schooled. I went to the theater for the first time at the age of fifteen, wasn’t allowed to go to sleep overs, use swimming pools, wear swimming suits or say fart. Pootie was an acceptable replacement, though. (POOTIE??? How is that any better? It’s not MOM! It’s not! Lol! Love you, Momma.) My entertainment was limited to black and white reruns of the Dick Van Dike show, Perry Mason and Lucile Ball. We were allowed to watch AMC, so the classics became my reality. In my head, I started talking in short burst like the main characters in those black and white detective shows and ending everything with, ya see? One of my favorite movies was NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, a 1962 war movie starring Jeffery Hunter.

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The main character in the movie was an escaped POW being hunted. He was helped by many villagers as he made his way across the country to freedom. The point of the movie was that, though he was alone, he couldn’t have done it on his own. It’s the same for us.

No writer is an island.

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Yes, you are unique.

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Yes, you have worked hard.

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And your work is entirely a product of your dedication and talent.

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However, you could not, and cannot, do this on your own. As unique as you wish yourself to be, you are a piece of a puzzle.

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You need other people. We all do. In the beginning process when we’re critiquing one another’s work. In the middle when we are supporting one another through the rejections. In the new beginnings when we find representation and pursue publication. And, contrary to popular belief, we need one another more than ever after publication. It’s the people on the street, on their laptops and cell phones and around water coolers that sell books. It’s other authors on the same path. These are the people we need. So how do we ask for help and rely on these people without being a burden?

There’s an old adage I learned during my sheltered upbringing:

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Sow encouragement, time, energy and finances into someone else’s life and someone — maybe not the exact individual you helped, but someone — will sow into you.

So, while islands are lovely places (my latest thriller takes place primarily on an island so I’m partial), we have to reach out, for our own success, for the success of others, but mostly because that’s our purpose. Look around. Nothing on this planet is created to survive without being connected. How are we any different?

Getting the Call

There is nothing more surreal than a realized dream.

Nothing.

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I’ve dreamed of so many little things: the day I get to change my Twitter bio to say “repped by _____”, or the moment I get to post the announcement, “Guess what everybody! I’ve signed with ____.” I wondered if the real moment would be as gut tinglingly thrilling as in my daydreams.

And it was.

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In December of 2015, over Christmas break, I wrote my fifth book, and my first thriller. It gushed out of me, a lake from a leaking dam. It was different than anything I’d ever written. This main character had no traces of me in her. She was someone I didn’t know, someone I’d discovered, and gotten to know. I was scared of her and mesmerized by her, and felt for her.

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Me and my new imaginary friend.

I didn’t want to query this book right away, which was out of character for me. I’m usually dying to get it out there when it’s done. Years of writing was finally starting to mature me though, so I waited. After taking my time to polish, I decided to start querying seriously in April, 2016. By May I had serious interest. I received phone calls from agents in June. Things were happening. For real. I couldn’t believe it. Not long after, I saw a pitch contest on Twitter. I hadn’t planned on entering it, but I make a habit of always having pitches in my back pocket, ready to go if needed. It was a busy day, and I didn’t have time to tweet all day, so I just put one tweet out.

One tweet.

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It received attention from a few more agents that would later result in some wonderful conversations with real, beautiful, talented people. Offers of representation came in July. Was this really happening? Yes, in fact, it was. But a strange thing occurred. Something I didn’t expect. Something that sort of sucked a little bit of the joy out of the process for me. The decision. I didn’t realize how emotionally connected I would become to the people who showed interest in my manuscript. They were so encouraging and they believed in my work. They believed in me! They had ideas and visions for the future. My decision meant I would be ending those dreams for someone. I don’t know how agents make these kinds of stress-filled decisions on a daily basis. I’m in awe of what they do.

giphy (2) After much consideration, many late night talks and drives with my other half, my husband and I made a decision. A beautiful decision. I would be represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management in New York.

I am thrilled about the journey ahead. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what made this book more successful than the others I’ve written. I hope that maybe some of my reflection will help other authors out there on the same journey. Here are the factors, beyond the fact that lots of reading and writing and time have grown me as a writer, that I believe helped this time around. Timing. I’ve always hated when other authors mention this, because it takes the control out of my hands. But sometimes it’s a right time/right place scenario that comes into play. Marketability. I love every single one of my stories, but I think the plot for this one is timely for the market, and that helps.  A concise pitch. For once, (thank you Jesus!) I was able to boil my whole book down to a single, hard hitting sentence. I believe, initially, this is what resulted in ten full requests right off the the bat. A good way to get your creative juices flowing in this direction is to look at the insides of book jackets to see how they describe their books. Apply it to your work, and let it inspire you! Waiting until it’s ready. Agents are always reading, always considering work. Getting yours out there faster doesn’t ensure you’ll get an agent. Good, polished writing will do that.  And finally, networking. If you’re not on social media like Twitter, you’re missing out on entire writing communities that can be very helpful to your work and connect you with wonderful people. Writers conferences, online contests, and Facebook writer’s groups are all ways you can hone your work. I told someone the other day who was just starting this journey to think of it like college. You put four to five, maybe more, good years of hard work in to learn a skill so you can do it well. Expect to do the same thing in writing, before you make it to the next level. Then you’re not setting yourself up for disappointment, and the journey can be quite thrilling. It has been for me, and I can’t wait for what’s ahead.

Come with me!!

 

 

 

 

 

Are Writers Control Freaks?

Control.

Is it why we write?

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Think about it. The worlds we create are entirely at the mercy of our every whim. If we don’t like the way a character is shaping up, or the direction a story is going, we can change it. If the ending doesn’t suit our fancy, we can mold it until it does.

Even the process of writing is an act of control, down to our very methods. Whether we’re pansters or plotters, we usually do it the same way every time. No matter how disorganized it may seem to others, we each have our specific formula for creating that works for us.

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So, does that mean writers are control freaks?

For a time, maybe. But that’s only because in a short while, after we’ve finished our creations — or when we choose to walk away from them because they’re never truly finished — we’ll give up that warm, fuzzy, comforting sense of control and exchange it for the cold, distant, angsty feeling of uncertainty.

We know, ultimately, it’s coming, that moment when we are going to have to let go, watch our creation fly from the nest, and wonder if, where ever it has landed, people will see the beauty and potential in it as we do. It’s a heart-shredding feeling. It’s an exciting feeling. I like to compare it to the beach, because…beaches.

Sending your work off is like going to the beach.

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Putting our work into the hands of others is like walking off the shore and into the water. The waves of emotion are strong sometimes. Especially when things actually start happening. The possibility of our dream is within reach and the waves grow stronger, switching from excitement to dread and back again. I’ve found I can’t linger in this wake for too long or it will pull me under and own me. I’m learning it’s best to feel the power of the wave for a moment, then get back on the shore, and start building another sand castle. Though, despite what I’ve learned, I still put my toes back in the water, sometimes. Thankfully, I have friends on the beach that keep waving me back onto the shore. That was a really long metaphor, but you get the point.

Whether you’re on the shore or you just dove into the water, you know all too well the process is a mix of emotions. Which is precisely why we do it. Are we control freaks? Maybe, a little, but it’s only to balance out the experience. Because, after all, we are telling our own stories, and in the end, a well-balanced plot is what it’s all about.

Is Writing Success A Fluke?

“A fluke is one of the most abundant fish in the ocean. So if you go fishing often enough, your bound to catch a fluke at some point.” 

I’ve recently developed a love for The Office. I know. I’m a decade late, but better late than never, right? In one of the later episodes, Dunder Mifflin competes in a trivia night. To the surprise of everyone at the office, the not-so-bright Kevin scores the winning point and $1000.00 to help the company meet their quarterly goal.

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Oh, Kevin.

And then he says something that blows my mind. He says, “Some people might say that tonight was just a fluke. But I want to leave you with this piece of trivia. A fluke is one of the most abundant fish in the ocean. So if you go fishing often enough, your bound to catch a fluke at some point.”

Flukes. Beautiful beasts, aren’t they.

So, what am I getting at here? Am I suggesting that publishing success is purely luck. That talent, and a good story, and skillful prose has nothing to do with getting the attention of agents, editors and publishers?

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Uhhh…no.

There’s a certain amount of good fortune needed to get noticed. You need to catch the attention of the RIGHT agent, at the RIGHT time. Sometimes your story hits them on a personal level at just the right time in their lives. Maybe they have a craving for a Romance with robots or a Thriller with farmers, and at that very moment, your MS passes over their desk. But even then, if it isn’t skillfully written, if it hasn’t been combed over repeatedly and fine tuned, if it lacks depth and passion, well, you probably won’t be having fluke for dinner.

Writing is composed of writer guts — all of them, all the organs, just splayed out on paper, stress induced hernias from squeezing out all the passionate words, (this is getting really gross), the author’s soul, and Adamantium-reinforced determination.

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So, this writing thing, it’s not up to luck. It’s not like playing the lottery. Yes, there’s a certain amount of right time/right place involved, but essentially, it comes down to honing your craft, getting better, the best you can make it, and trying. Over. And over. And over. Keep putting that line out there, and eventually, you’ll catch yourself a nice fluke.

She’s Not Antisocial; She’s Creative

She’s a little quirky, not very good at holding conversations, forgetful, late, and wears odd thing. She hides during lunch and takes frequent bathroom breaks during gatherings, just to get away from the noise. A lot of people think she’s anitsocial, but she’s not.

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She’s creative.

Here are a few things about Quirky-antsocial-girl that might help you to understand her.

Noises get to her. 

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There’s a lot going on in her head. I mean, A LOT. She looks at the color of your shirt and considers how it will work in her next painting. You mention a book you’ve read, and she automatically thinks of how she can apply your favorite parts of the book to her novel. So, when you add noise to the noise that already exists in her head, it can be very distracting to her. She may have trouble consentrating on her environtment or the converstation she’s participating in. She knows that about herself, so she often avoids noisy environments. And what’s noise to her might not be noise to you.

She really, really, really wants to say the right thing, but rarely does. 

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Because of this internal noise, she finds it hard to say the right things. Or, worse yet, she just blurts out the noise, which leads to pressumably nonsensicle responses. To you, her comments might not make any sense, but to her, there’s a perfectly logical connection in her mind.

She’s much better on paper. 

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Due to the communication block, she can appear dense, but she’s really very deep and has some very cool and informed outlooks on things. She’s better at communicating if she can write things down. It gives her time to sort out her thoughts and filter some of those crazy rabbit trails out of the conversation. You might get a lot of emails, texts and hand written notes from her that are really impressive, but when you meet her in person, she’s not quite as spectacular. Rest assured, there’s no one writing her messages for her. She’s just much better on paper.

She weighs her options. 

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She’s very intuitive and in touch with human emotions, yours and hers alike. Because of this, she’s very aware of how uncomfortable she makes people. So she weighs her options. Sometimes, to avoid the awkwardness, she chooses isolation.

Minutes should not be wasted. 

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This is why she’s always late. It’s also why she’s a bit forgetful. Every minute is an opportunity to create. EVERY MINUTE. She rarely sits to watch a movie or socialize. Unless she’s napping due to creative fatigue, she’s always up and moving and doing something. She feels a little piece of her wasting away if she doesn’t. Five minutes before she needs to be somewhere, she often finds herself knee deep in an extensive project. It’s usually pretty hard for her to disconnect from it. Even when she steps away, she leaves a part of her mind behind to finish up.

She’s really very happy. 

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People see the isolation and the oddness and assume she’s tormented, lonely or unhappy. But the truth is, she’s not. Every day is an opportunity to her. She’s excited by the smallest things in nature. She creates exciting stories in her head and is always thinking about the next project. So, don’t feel sorry for her or assume that her motives are self absorbed. She’s okay. She’s happy. She loves you, and she wants you to understand her and love her too.

RESPECT THE STRUGGLE

Why do we love stories about the good old days so much? Why are the classics still held in such high regard? The simple answer is: We respect the struggle.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

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In 1960, just 50 short years ago, there were only 3 billion people on the earth. Today, it’s speculated there are more than 7 billion. Technology has exploded over the past fifteen to twenty years. Highways have widened. Foods have been modified. Fields have been turned into subdivisions. Everything is created in mass. It’s pretty hard to find anything that’s original any more. Before all of this, in the good old days, things seemed more valuable, because there was just less of everything in general.

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We’ve all heard our grandparents’ stories of walking to school uphill both ways. Tales from the olden days are like lasagna, better with each passing day. Like Grandpa’s retelling of the time he fought five grown men to protect your grandmother’s secret chili recipe, stories like UNBROKEN, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, pirate adventures, WWII stories, and escapades of pioneer times all draw us in because we’re fascinated by the struggle of life. We have this primal urge to survive which, let’s just face it, isn’t satisfied too often in modern life. So, we fulfill that deep inner longing by putting ourselves in the place of these gritty characters when we read about them, or watch them in movies and television. We all hope that if we were in the same position we’d have the guts to do what they did, whether it’s living without electricity, crossing the country in a wagon train, or surviving the brutality of a POW camp.

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There’s sort of this universal respect among humans for “the struggle.” It’s part of the reason why the classics in literature hold value even today. If you were to enter any number of classic novels into a writing contest today, they might not make the cut. With so many writers out there, criteria have been tightened up, the market has been specified, and the filtering process is, frankly, brutal. But just because these pieces wouldn’t make the cut according to today’s standards doesn’t reduce their value. The struggle for these writers was real. They wrote 100-thousand-word manuscripts by hand, more than once. They had to foot the bill to have multiple manuscripts printed out and sent them by mail to editors. There was no spell check. There was no internet. If they wanted to know the best place to hide a body, they had to go out and interview a serial killer to find out. So basically, they wrote their stories uphill both ways.

There were perks for these writers too. There was less competition. There were fewer amazing stories vying for the attention of publishers. For many, a whole step was eliminated. They didn’t have to find an agent to get an editor. So, someday, when we’re telling our story, we can talk about our struggle too. Because…

The struggle is real.