I’m a bit numb. You’d think after a few days, this feeling would wear off – but no. I’m still having trouble sleeping because I can’t turn my brain off.
Last week Thursday, I went into my gmail, like I do a couple times a week. Only this time, there was an email from a publisher saying they would like to offer me a contract for All Falling Things if I am still interested. This is the publisher from #DVPit. They’ve had the manuscript for ten weeks without any other communication, so I had figured it was over. But nope – there they were, in my email.
I did what any hopeful author would do: I freaked out internally so as not to frighten the cats. I asked my BFF/Writing Buddy to FaceTime and help me sort out my feelings. He calmed me down. (Thank you, Jack.) Still, I did not sleep well that night, which wasn’t great since I was on nephew duty the next morning.
I did email the publisher to say that I would be interested in viewing a contract. Couldn’t hurt to look, right?
Then I did what any hopeful author would do: I obsessively checked my email, even over the weekend when I knew they wouldn’t likely be working. And last night, the contract showed up. And I read over it. And Jack calmed me down. And Cody calmed me down again. And I didn’t sleep well. (Do you see a pattern?)
I remember sitting in so many sessions through AWP and UntitledTown, listening to authors talk about how they landed their publishing contracts – which usually involved a path that one could not follow. Chance seemed to play a big part in all of it. I think that is why this process can feel so isolating. I mean, here I am sitting at my kitchen table reading a contract, and I have no idea what to say to my sister when she asks me if it is “good”. I don’t have an agent* to fight on my behalf – an agent far more well-versed in all this than I am. Someone who can tell me if it’s “good” or if I’m getting screwed. But no, it’s just me and a large cup of coffee I probably don’t need to be drinking. I can’t sleep as it is.
I remember being so frustrated during all those sessions – like, how am I supposed to get my book to print if there isn’t a path to follow, if it’s all chance and luck? This doesn’t help me at all.
Yet here I am, contract in hand, and it was all by chance. And because it’s all chance, I have no idea if this is good for me or not.
The publisher’s editor in chief did offer to answer any questions, so this morning I wrote out my thoughts, had Jack read it over, and then sent it. And now I wait. Again. During which I will probably obsessively check my email and fail to sleep.
*On the same day that I received this contract, I also received a rejection from an agent who had, thus far, the most crushing rejection letter to date – telling me that perhaps someone else might see possibilities in my book, but she just didn’t. So, you know, there’s balance.
On March 13, life shifted for me. Officially. The college where I teach decided to shift to remote learning. The following week was turned into another week of break for our students (in addition to our actual spring break set the week after – when I was supposed to finally get to go out to WA to see my BFF…) and into a work week for us. I was devastated that the decision came when classes for the week were over and that I would not get a chance to see my poets in person again. I made a trip the following week to grab much needed supplies from my office (like my coffee pot), and I haven’t been back since.
I feel really lucky that I have a job that allows me to teach from a distance. I can’t even fathom the fear other folks felt, and are still feeling, the ones that had to continue going into their work place. I also feel really lucky that I have been teaching online for years. For one, a couple of my classes were already online in the Spring, along with release time for my Teaching Chair duties. I only had one class to move online…and it was a beast to do so. I, once again, can’t even fathom how my colleagues who don’t teach online and aren’t familiar with the tech even managed to survive the last half of our spring semester. But they did. I saw my colleagues pull rabbit after rabbit out of their hats. We all managed to get across the end-of-semester finish line one way or another, even if it meant dragging each other across it.
When it came to reading for fun, well, that didn’t happen. Who had the time? But when summer rolled around, a semester I usually teach online only as an effort not to have to commute such a distance, I found I still didn’t have the energy to pick up a book and get lost in it. I couldn’t find the right mood. I would try – but would just end up reading the same page over and over without retaining any of it. Eventually, I just stopped trying.
When I did have free time (which I suddenly had a lot of since I wasn’t able to spend my Wednesday downtown at the farmer’s market or to plant myself at my favorite coffee shop and write for hours on end or even to wander through the bookstore…), I would re-watch things – TV shows and movies. By this time, my social media feeds were all inundated with articles and studies about how creative folks were having trouble creating and everyone was having trouble with new things. Why? Anxiety. I mean, duh? The world is figuratively and literally burning down around us. Of course, we’re anxious. But books and movies and shows – stories – have always been my escape. Let me escape!
Turns out, those studies show that we tend to gravitate to things we know – in other words, endings we can be sure of – when there are other things we aren’t sure of. Makes sense.
But the world is still burning – that hasn’t changed. But for some reason, at the end of July, I felt the need for something new. So I watched a few movies on Netflix. I ran through the available episodes of Sweet Magnolias (y’all – Aida has upped and moved to South Carolina!!!). And I DEVOURED all four seasons available of Lucifer (three times…in a row…that show is something else). I’m still not sure what sparked this ability to consume new things once again – but I was grateful for it. It was refreshing to not know what was coming next.
On Aug 14, I started reading again. Still no idea what switch got flipped (or where such a switch is even located), but I haven’t been able to stop. I’ve managed to devour five books so far. Devour is the best way I can come up with to describe the feeling – because I seriously just gobbled them up.
I started with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – a book I stumbled upon when I was trying to find comps for my query letter. The premise promised an unusual character (which Honeyman delivered on), and reading the first couple pages was enough for me to want to know more about Eleanor.
I came across Judson Brewer through his interview on the podcast Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard (a podcast I really love – my one regret about not having a long commute at the moment is falling so far behind). The interview was fascinating, and his book, The Craving Mind, was mentioned. I added it to my list, and this was the second book I tackled. It definitely got me thinking about some of my own habits, especially their roots, and opened some stuff up.
The third book is a memoir by a friend of mine from college, Failing Better by Christina Brandon. Written about her two years of teaching English in China, Christina is open, honest, and reflective about her time there – what she learned not just about the country and its people, but about herself and her reactions to what she was experiencing. She’s not afraid to lay her own imperfect moments on the page – and I think we can all learn a lot from her about that.
There’s a drive in movie theatre where my sister lives (where I lived from the age of ten until I left for college) – the Skyway Drive-In, owned by two of the kindest brothers you’d ever want to meet. During the summer of 2015, my sis and I, with my then three-year-old nephew, went for the double feature. We figured he’d be asleep before the first movie even finished. We were wrong [strained smile]. We ended up leaving about fifteen minutes into the second movie, The Martian – a movie I still have not seen – but that fifteen minutes was enough get me hooked. I did buy the book, though it sat my shelf for a bit – so this was the next one I picked up. And Oh. My. Goodness. It felt like a race to finish it. I’ve been talking about it nonstop – and I’m pretty sure people are sick of me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But I’ve also convinced a few friends to read it. (Weir did an amazing job with the science of it – I didn’t ever feel like I got lost. I also appreciated what a smartass the character is without becoming insufferable.) Now to get my hands on that movie. And Andy Weir’s other books.
The book I just finished tonight is How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong. I stumbled across this book when Christina (who wrote the memoir) posted a photo of it on her Instagram account. It’s a fascinating look at how we are “supposed” to construct families here in the States – and alternatives to that idea that are far more successful. What she had to say made a lot of sense (especially about chosen families and creating villages to raise kids) – and I do believe she is right: this American Dreamism and individualistic society we live within is making us all miserable.
Up next – The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. I’m sure there’s some escapism happening in my insatiable urge to read – but I’m just gonna let that ride for now. Bring on the stories.
For those who may be interested, #RevPit has released their 2021 Submission Window: April 10-11, 2021. I highly recommend participating if for no other reason than to just get your butt moving on writing that query letter and synopsis. You might also get some good feedback (my manuscript was not chosen, but I did get some great advice regarding my query letter).
The further into this story I get, the deeper I have to dig into the world of Alice in Wonderland to find ways to connect each character to Lewis Carroll’s story/concept. This one might be a little bit of a stretch, but I’m going with it – because the character’s physicality is based entirely on the real life singer P!nk. She’s fierce, badass, strong, and feminine. (If you ever get the chance to see P!nk perform live, do it. I’m not a huge fan of large venues or overdone concerts, meaning flashy lights and confetti falling from the ceiling – but what P!nk does with her show is BEYOND anything I’ve ever seen. It’s so well thought out and put together and demonstrates what a magnificent human she it.)
Meet Simone. (Connection: P!nk co-wrote the song “Just Like Fire” for the 2016 film adaptation Alice Through the Looking Glass. Her daughter appears in the video with her.)
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m part of an online writing group that does writing swaps/positivity passes. Though I know this is an international group, it didn’t really sink in until I got my latest piece of feedback from our swap:
Y’all, someone in GERMANY has not only read but liked my writing. I’m just gonna sit with this for a little bit.
In a Twitter Q&A with an author I follow, there was a question about how to find agents. This is the million dollar question, is it not? They are the gate keepers between finishing a book and landing a deal with a major publisher. The author provided two resources, both of which will let you search a list of agents based on the genre of your book/their interests: AgentQuery.com and Manuscript Wish List (MSWL also has an editor search). Be sure to pay attention to the agent’s preferences (sending them something outside of their genre lists will mean not being read), word count (for the same reason), and if they are open to queries. I highly recommend tracking who you send your submissions to so that 1) you don’t query more than one agent at the same agency at the same time, and 2) can track when you sent them so you know when the “if you don’t hear from me in six to eight weeks, assume I’m not interested” has expired.
Then brace yourself. Rejections can be hard, but they are inevitable.
Originally, when Ann and Amy were done reading through my WIP, I intended to take them for a nice dinner as a thank you. COVID has, of course, changed that plan. I felt bad that Amy opted to mail me my manuscript back (she lives in IL) because I figured it would be expensive – but I was also thrilled with the chance to read her thoughts.
Soon as it arrived, I tore open the package and plopped down to read through each page. She had typed some overall comments that will be supremely helpful, as well as wrote notes and marked errors. When I got to this one, I couldn’t help but smile. It is important, after all, to get the right beta readers – folks you can trust to be honest with you, even if it means being critical, but also folks who can make sure the story you are telling is an authentic one. Right down to the relish.
I’m part of an online writing community that is actually attached to an online fitness program I’m a part of. (Writer friends come into your life in the most unexpected of places, don’t they?) The admin for this group is also participating in #RevPit and offered the idea of a Positivity Pass to our group (something some of #RevPit editors do for their top submissions even if they don’t choose them as the finalist). A Positivity Pass is just someone reading over your work and letting you know what they like about it/what they think you are doing well. It can feel good as a writer to hear what we are doing right. She is also offering a chance for the writer to indicate if they would like a critique on top of that pass (yes, please).
I jumped at the chance to participate – if for no other reason than to see what some other folks are writing about. 🙂 I do miss workshop.
One of my readers (each submission went to two people, and we each got two things to read in return. We did not necessarily get work from the people who were reading our own – if that makes sense) is Rebekah, the admin for the group. She has had kind things to say about my first ten pages, as well as offered some advice, which is always welcome!
On the flip side, I am working my way through (hoping to finish in a bit) her own submission – y’all, I never knew I NEEDED an introverted nerdy (and capable) princess story. If you need it, too – just know it’s coming!
One of the fun things about #RevPit are the mini games they play throughout the month. The one today is at the request of Jeni Chappelle, one of the editors – the novel aesthetic. This is simply a collage of pictures that represent your novel. It sounded like a fun exercise, and I am a visual person, so I put this together (I do not own any of these pictures – I hope those with the copyrights don’t mind… [strained smile]):