A King’s Ransom.
April 23, 2009

It’s been a good, hard few months. These moments, below, are the defining ones:

1) I’ve toiled over my quirky YA novel, The Girl Next Door, seven days a week since November 2008. Time not spent on life’s basics (or tending to dogs and horses) was spent in a sort of mental pilates, making TGND tight and lean.

I’m tired, but happily so. I’m very pleased with the end results, too. It ‘s amazing how abilities and skills solidify from one novel to the next — it’s what a writer always hears about, but to experience the process as it’s happening is pure magic.

Writing skills can morph into writing gifts if a writer is willing to put in the work. And even if you already have a knack for writing, still, it takes work.

2) We lost a bunch of photographs a few years ago when an old computer crashed. We certainly learned the hard way. At the time, I was devastated. I’ve often thought wistfully about those photographs.

I lost photos of old friends, photos of a friend who passed too young, some wedding photos, pet photos (some of the pets having since crossed the Rainbow Bridge) and photos from the apartment where we used to live, including our first Christmas lights together and a 9/11 memorial I’d started on the apartment lawn in the dead of night. (Originally being an East Coast girl, 9/11 hit hard. I’d also worked on the 79th floor of the World Trade Center after college.) The memorial was against the apartment rules, but they bent the rules for a whole week.

Just a few weeks ago, I came in from flaking the horses to see my husband bent over some strange device on the kitchen counter with a hard drive laying next to it. I still don’t know what it was, but it was miraculous; it accessed ALL the photographs we thought were irretrievable.

Wow.

I’ve spent the last few weeks going through the pictures a little at a time, surprised by the emotions that shadow these images, on the verge of tears (both happy and sad) — to see old friends, former lives, former selves — and to see my animal babies, their likenesses captured so clearly it feels like, in a small way, they’ve come back to me.

The photos have even seeped into my dreams, and in my dreams, whether they be about horse, dog or cat, I remember scents, mannerisms, barks and meows I’ve been unable to hold onto in my waking life.

It’s both salty and sweet

how the heart remembers in dreams

what the waking mind can’t keep.

I kept a hank of Takoda’s tail (my first horse) who died of colic in July of 2007, although it broke my heart to cut it even after he was gone. I vacuum-sealed the hair in a plastic bag to keep his scent close, but even so, the scent disappeared.

Gone is really gone.

3) Querying is tough. Chasing the dream is tough. You toil and research and pray. You put in the work and hope for good results, but even then, you can’t be sure. For writers, that’s part of the journey; it builds character and characters. It’ll prove you to yourself in one way or another, holding up a mirror to both your writing and your fortitude (or lack thereof).

The query process is curiously endowed with more than its original, intended aim. I understand why it drives some writers crazy. I understand the intensity and the despair. Nothing of great importance comes easily, and perhaps it shouldn’t. But perspective and a bird’s eye view remain a querying writer’s best friends.

No doubt about it — staring your dreams in the face is heady stuff. You roar, you soar, you crash, but you still burn. You rise up from the ashes humbled but determined and even more sure that you’re the real deal: you’re a writer. You need no ones permission. You are who you are. Now, you REALLY know.

Sure, you could quit. Go ahead — quit. Seriously. Most likely you’ll find you can’t quit for long. You’re a writer, you know. Pens and paper, keyboards and fingers, words and thoughts, they go together like up and down, on and off, light and dark.

Rejection is tough, dream-chasing is tough, remaining steadfast is tough. And yet, there’s no other choice. We want to master our craft. We want to share new worlds. We want to be published, yet not sell our souls nor sell out.

All these things and more rear their subterranean heads; important things withheld in the past and those who withheld them. Feelings of not being good enough. Voices from long ago, critical or incredulous or condescending. Self-doubt, heavy as an avalanche, along with the dizzying flight of believing in yourself and your abilities during those crystal-clear, this-is-why-I’m-here moments.

The query process is literally haunted by one thousand ghosts.

If you’re a querying writer, validation can be hard to come by. Please feel free to plug yourself into the letter below:

Dear My Querying Self,

You ROCK for hanging your lily-white a** in the wind and sailing your work out there. Sure, it can feel like TORTURE at times, but you have to keep putting your work out there — it’s the only way to get to HERE.

I admire your courage and cajones, by the way. They’re just what’s needed to make magic happen, on or off the page.

The world can always use more magic, more understanding, more connection, more alternate worlds that teach us what’s important in this one. Do what you need to do, amigo, but whatever you do, don’t give up.

I know it can look bleak down there in the query trenches, but we got where we are now because of those rejections — they paved the way to that one YES that changed everything — EVERYTHING. The process made you tougher. It made the writing better. It was sooooooo worth it.

You want proof? See this book I’m holding in my hands? That’s YOUR first novel! So keep querying, keep dreaming, keep hoping and keep working — but most importantly, KEEP WRITING.

With gratitude and admiration,

Your Published Self From The Future — I owe it all to you!

P.S. I’m really sorry about the a** in the wind thing, though.

Postcards From Query Road.
March 18, 2009

I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” 

Albert Einstein

As a struggling (but still-hopeful) writer on Query Road, there’s nothing to stop you from taking your car at one hundred miles an hour and plowing it into the next tree, as you gather rejection letter after rejection letter. Symbolically and deep down, where those crises of confidence and self-esteemless moments lurk, it stings to have The Gatekeepers of Hopes and Dreams not even slam the door in your face, but refuse to open it in the first place. 

While we as writers try hard not to take it personally, it can take an uber-steady will to separate rejection from our hopes and dreams. As we hope agents will make at least a little fuss over our polished offerings, and dream of one day holding our book in our hands all fresh and pink and full of promise, there remains a fine, sketchy line between heart and publication.

So, put it on cruise-control, worthy writers, and take in the scenery. It’s really true what they say about it not being the destination but the journey. As you bravely collect rejection letters yet remain steadfast in your quest, you are learning, growing, marinating, maturing and earning your “masters degree” in self-confidence, hard work, persistence and patience — all things that will not only make you a better writer, but a better person who writes. 

And a better driver as you cruise down Query Road, bopping to the tunes and spying the perfect turn-off for a picnic — a writer has to eat, after all — where, on the grassy slope, the light bulb goes off, as you’ve just thought of an idea for your next novel.

What a lucky writer you are, indeed.

 “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Albert Einstein

Thoughts Are Things.
February 15, 2009

005

 

I hold it true that thoughts are things;

They’re endowed with bodies and breath and wings

And that we send them forth to fill

The world with good results, or ill.

That which we call our secret thought

Speeds forth to earth’s remotest spot,

Leaving its blessings or its woes

Like tracks behind it as it goes.

We build our future, thought by thought,

For good or ill, yet know it not.

Yet, so the universe was wrought.

Thought is another name for fate;

Choose, then, thy destiny and wait,

For love brings love and hate brings hate.

– Henry Van Dyke

 

006

Photos by Emily Murdoch

 I stumbled across the poem above, and it stuck to me like gum on my shoe. Wonderful gum. 

I hope everyone had a great writing weekend.

As I chug down Query Road, I read the signs along the way. “Be brave”, “Write hard”, “Choose your words carefully”, “Don’t give up”. Rest areas become writing forums, writer’s blogs, writing friends, and all the people, places and things that encourage, commiserate and make the trip bearable, and even, sometimes, amazing. 

Thank God for the rest stops along the way. 

If you, like me, are clutching a rejection slip (or three) in your hand this weekend, don’t forget that Jack Kerouac couldn’t get any takers for On The Road, at first. How sad it would’ve been if he had given up. Or, how about Madeleine L’Engle, Newbery Award winning author of A Wrinkle in Time

She flouted popular wisdom by writing in a style that editors and critics thought was too difficult for young people to read, too childish for adults — even though the scientific concepts and philosophical ideas actually were not that easy even for grown-ups to grasp. So it took ten years for her unusual stories to be published. The manuscript of A Wrinkle in Time collected rejection slips for two and a half years before a publisher took a chance on it. “You can’t name a major publisher who didn’t reject it. They all did.” But she was never tempted to compromise her vision in order to play it safe.

From Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi      

So chug on, brave and weary writers, because you never know what tomorrow has in store. (Yup, that’s me in the car next to you, waving wildly and honking the horn and using exclamation points!)