Oh, I’ll just write my next blog post tomorrow. Well, maybe I’ll wait another day. Make that two more days. Actually, better just to wait until next week.
Now it’s four weeks later and boy did I drop the ball on keeping my blog momentum going. The good news is, I did not stop writing during this time. I just stopped writing my Monday posts. And most of my Wednesday posts. And Friday posts, too. Although a part of me is realizing (not for the first time) I might have been a tad too optimistic in setting myself up to have three new blog posts each week.
It was easy to let my posts lapse, mostly because I told myself no one would notice. Except someone did notice (no, not my husband). And I’ll tell you what: hearing a friend comment that they read my blog every week and wondering why I had stopped warmed my heart so much it was like I had just drunk a homemade hot chocolate made of Not Your Sugar Mamas dark chocolate (best dark chocolate in the history of time and handmade in Martha’s Vineyard).
I stopped blog writing because I had a February 28th deadline to spruce up my second middle grade book, Top Dog of K-9 Academy. The deadline I was working towards is for the Unicorn’s Writer Conference, upcoming on Saturday, March 25th, at Reid Castle in Purchase, NY.
Specifically, I am meeting with six different agents and editors to receive feedback on the first 40 pages of the Top Dog manuscript.
This opportunity is HUGE in the book world because I get to sit down with industry professionals for 30-minute appointments and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of my manuscript. Usually at writing conferences the agent/editor appointments are limited to 10 minutes or less and you simply “pitch” your idea; that is, you tell them the gist of your story and they say yes or no whether you should submit the manuscript for consideration.
With these pitch sessions, there’s no guarantee anything more will come from the interaction. I’ve only been to one conference so far where I pitched to three different agents, and even though all three asked me to submit my full picture book manuscripts, that was at the end of October and I still haven’t heard anything back.
I’ve also read on several writing blogs and websites that agents consider some aspects of the pitch session to be truly awful. Which I understand. As someone who used to exhaustively critique student research papers for a living, I know what’s it like to crush someone’s dream. In my case, it was a student’s dream of getting an ”A.” In an agent’s case, it’s someone’s dream of getting published.
Given these circumstances, the agent/editor sessions need to be approached carefully. Some of the best advice I’ve received about my upcoming conference appointments has come from someone who worked in the publishing industry for many years for various publishing houses. She told me not to have expectations about getting an offer of representation, but to instead focus on next steps for my manuscript.
Not having expectations will be difficult for me. I have an incredibly active imagination; in fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m able to write so many stories. And who doesn’t love to fantasize about their big break?
I have, however, been working on the challenge of letting go of expectations in other aspects of my life for a few years now, so I’m feeling confident I can remain neutral going into the appointments. As an aside, I credit this step towards enlightenment to my 21-day meditation challenges with Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. They have a new challenge starting on April 10th. It’s totally free and I highly recommend it, almost as much I recommend Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolate.
Anyway, I’m also feeling confident because I have a lot of faith in my manuscript, and as I further progress along the path to publication I can actually why this story could be published. Aside from the fact that it’s funny and well-written (not just my opinion, by the way, but my class from the Mark Twain House and the critique groups I’ve been going to are quite enthusiastic), I’ve done my market research and my story has commercial appeal. Two of the books in Publisher’s Weekly Best Books Middle Grade, 2016, featured animal narrators, and The Secret Life of Pets earned nearly a billion dollars worldwide. In addition, nearly half of US homes have one or more dogs. Considering my story features the antics of a pack of dogs narrated by a scrappy mutt named Lilly, I believe there’s broad appeal for this story in a market that is currently trendy, yet not saturated.
I think the fact that I also now approach publishing as a business and not just as a pie-in-the-sky dream to accomplish makes me a strong partner for agents and editors. I am willing to put forth the time and effort towards branding, publicity, and marketing.
That’s why these agent and editor sessions will be so good for me. Regardless of whether I end up with representation, my manuscript will be even stronger than when I started. I will be in a better position to market myself. And I will be several more steps closer to getting published.
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing on my blog. Most weeks….
Malcolm indeed had places to go. But he didn’t get very far after. He had been running for less than five minutes when he suddenly stopped. The momentum he’d felt after making his choice to leave Evergale Falls and his new friends behind completely clouded over the fact that he didn’t know where exactly he was going.
Malcolm knew he’d made the right decision to leave because in that instant when he realized he would have to stop to figure out a few things first, he felt disappointed he would be delayed in getting wherever it was he had to go. But as Malcolm was quickly learning, some planning could be helpful on journeys to find wise, old owls and seeking unknown waterfalls and mountains.
Finding a nice tree to settle up against, Malcolm took stock of his situation. Okay, he thought to himself, here’s what I know. Nana has been known to live in an Elder tree on the western edge of the forest. But, Milo heard she moved on to Whimzafir Mountain at the northern edge of the forest.
As Malcolm stated the facts of his situation, he realized it wasn’t so bad at all. There were a hundred billion places Nana Owl could be, yet he knew for certain about two of them. Two out of a hundred billion seemed perfectly manageable…now which one should he choose?
Malcolm closed his eyes for a moment. He thought of the mountain and waterfall from his dream. Well, he already found a waterfall, so why not try for the mountain next? Even if it wasn’t exactly the mountain of his dreams, the awe and beauty of Evergale Falls would stay with him for the rest of his life. Maybe it would be even more beautiful?
With these thoughts, Malcolm hopped up and headed northward. Although Malcolm trotted on a straight path, his mind kept wandering off. He imagined meeting Nana Owl and what he’d say. He also thought of what Whimzafir Moutnain would look like. He pictured slate blue rocks jutting up from mossy green walkways. Bright purple and pink flowers peeking out from cracks and crevices. A brisk, cool wind snapping through the trees.
Malcolm inhaled as if he could smell the wonderful things he was imagining. But the scent he picked up was not one of a majestic mountain. No, it was one he was already familiar with. Malcolm had become so lost in thought that he didn’t even notice anyone following behind him. He turned around with wide eyes.
“Hello, there,” came the familiar voice. “Mind if I come with you?”
To be continued….
I’ve shared this picture through social media before, but given how ridiculously cute it is you can expect me to share it every February 14th(ish) until I die. I also like to believe that little squirrel created his tree art just for me, but it could have been for somebody else.
Regardless, I can still remember the wonder I felt as I turned around a corner on the Naperville River Walk
and came across the little fella scampering around.
Then I saw the heart and I could have melted on the spot. Thankfully it was too cold in Naperville for that to happen, but at least my hands weren’t frostbitten enough that I couldn’t take out my phone to snap a few pictures.
Seeing my little squirrely love note came at just the right time, too, because I was feeling pretty lonely at that point in my life. I had recently given up my dog, Jack, to my parents in Harrisburg, PA.
His dementia was getting progressively worse and me being at work for 8+ hours a day wasn’t helping. I feared I would come home one day and find him in agony because he had eaten something he shouldn’t have.
My parents, in one of the greatest acts of kindness I have ever received, offered to take care of Jack. They no longer work outside the home, and my older brother also lives with them, so there’d be plenty of people to keep Jack company throughout the day.
In addition, one of my best friends at work had moved on to a new job. Even though I felt thrilled she was finally out of a position in which she was clearly underutilized and, frankly, not fairly compensated or appreciated for her talents and work, I still missed our daily interactions. I didn’t have many other close friends where my office was located and many days I felt isolated.
So when I came across this message of love in one of my favorite places, by a cute and furry critter no less, I couldn’t help but smile. I even sent the photo off to Shutterfly to have it made into a notebook with the song lyrics, Put a little love in your heart and the world will be a better place on the front cover (lyrics by Jackie DeShannon, Randy Myers, & Jimmy Holiday).
That song had been in my mind a lot at the time. A local musician performed it at an interfaith New Year’s Day celebration in downtown Naperville and I became hooked. I honestly can’t say if I’d never heard it before or
if I just hadn’t heard it with my new evolving life perspective that there was a lot more to the world than the little life I was living.
I ended up playing it on repeat on my iPad many times that winter and each and every time I felt a renewed sense of love and spirit in the world.
I’m very glad I have these reminders about love because as of late, I haven’t been treating myself with very much love. I don’t know why my narcolepsy seems so much worse these past few months, but I feel frustrated and demoralized that some days my greatest accomplishment is making it downstairs in the morning to feed the dogs.
I then surf the internet ad nauseam because it feels like I’m doing something, but I know I’m not, and so I beat myself up for it – I should be writing; I should be reading; I should be working on my website; I should be doing anything other than mindlessly thumbing through social media to the point where my eyes glaze over and I doze off.
Is this because of narcolepsy or inertia, I can’t say for certain. But in addition to feeling tired from a disease, I am tired of “shoulding” on myself (perhaps another disease in and of itself). My husband has very kindly and lovingly pointed out that it’s okay for me to take breaks and maybe I should cut myself some slack. Why is it that these “shoulds” I am more inclined to reject than embrace? These are the same things I would tell (have told) my loved ones when they beat themselves up. I would never let anyone talk to my family or friends that way, yet somehow, I accept it for myself.
It’s a funny situation because when I realize my hypocrisy, I get further down on myself for not remembering to be more enlightened. It seems like an endless patter, until I finally reach a point where I remember that violence in any form, which to me includes emotional bullying, sarcasm, and insults, is unacceptable. And the way I mentally beat myself up is violent.
This recognition is a good thing because above all I want to be a peaceful a person.
And if I can’t be at peace with myself, how can I expect to contribute peacefully to our world?
I put a little love in my heart and I try to remember how much I have to be grateful for, as well as remembering that you never know when you might turn a corner and find something so wonderful you didn’t even know to hope for it.
I met a yellow Lab named Lilly today. Coincidental because the canine protagonist in the second middle grade novel I’m working on is a yellow dog named Lilly. Not a Lab, though. The Lilly in my book is a mutt and she’s based on one of the dogs we’re taking care of in Connecticut. All four of the Connecticut dogs we’re taking care of are in the book,
but for some reason I took a liking to this scrappy little one (she’s on the left) for the story and decided to tell it from her perspective.
I like to think it’s a good sign I met Lilly today because a lot of times with my books I feel like it’s one step forward, two steps back. I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback on this story; particularly with dialogue and humor. The feedback is coming from my writing workshop at the Mark Twain House. The women in my other writing group were also eager to know more as I read them chapter 1.
This past weekend, I took the first 10 pages to a critique group I found through meetup.com. I attended one of their critiques a few weeks ago, and I found it incredibly helpful with revising my first middle grade novel. Despite having taught research writing for many years and being a successfully published academic author, everything I know about fiction writing is self-taught, through reading writing books, attending workshops and conferences, perusing writing blogs, and reading as much fiction in the genre I’m currently working on that I can get through before falling asleep (yes, I’m still not sleeping well).
What this means is that even though I have good writing skills technically and even though I consider my imagination and creativity two of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received (they’re from God, if you’re wondering), I still have some ways to go with learning to write fiction.
That’s why critique groups that can provide me with feedback on the craft of writing are so important to me.
Although I love my family and friends telling me how they enjoy my stories, I’m in this for the business of publishing and that requires a whole other perspective when critiquing writing.
On Saturday, I felt excited to the point of giddiness as I drove the 80 minutes to get there. I prepared the first 10 pages of both my books – one for their morning session and one for their afternoon session. I started with my first book and … got the same feedback I got the last time I read it to the group, even though I had substantially revised it. Of course, I received excellent feedback about the concept, writing style, and voice. But I spent a lot of time last week on the revision and in that moment, I felt like a lot of that work was for naught.
I felt much more optimistic with my second set of pages. This book, the one about Lilly, I plotted out in its entirety from beginning to end. The different story beats are spot-on and I have a good grip on the personality of the characters. That clearly comes across in the writing, as both my writing groups have attested. And even in this critique group, the very first comment after I finished reading the pages was how well written they were. Then came the areas for improvement; well, there was just one really which ultimately is a good thing, but it’s a doozy in terms of underlying story: there are no high-tension stakes. For middle grade novels, I’m learning that the conflict pretty much needs to be shouted out from the very first paragraphs. I thought I had done that. Apparently not.
I felt disappointed, which I know is silly because I want and need the feedback. It will make my writing and storytelling stronger, which in turn will make it so much easier to secure an agent and then get a book contract. I wish I didn’t have to keep reminding myself of these facts, but I do.
It’s also not easy to delete story and plot lines. I created these stories. They are my imagination and my words put out into the world for all to read and enjoy.
To destroy them is like destroying pieces of me.
No one prepared me for how difficult that would be.
Yet, I will continue writing and I will continue to seek ways to improve my work. I have a lot of stories to write and I’m committed to writing them. That’s one of the reasons I quit my job and that’s why I write every almost every day, even when I feel exhausted. It’s also why I take it as a good sign that I met a Lilly dog today. I have faith that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. It helps to believe the universe thinks so, too.
PS – for anyone wondering where my latest chapter of Fox Through the Forest is, it’s still percolating. I’m hopeful to have it ready for this Friday.
PPS – The dog in the photo is appropriately named Faith. She’s the dog that inspired the character of Lilly.