At various times over the past five years, I have alternated between eagerly anticipating my first agent queries and curling up in the corner with handfuls of chocolate at the mere thought of approaching The Gatekeepers of the Publishing Realm. My calculator says that’s 1,825 days …. 43,800 hours … over two-and-a-half million minutes. Yeah, it’s a long time, no matter how you slice or dice it. A long time to be see-sawing between anxious and confident, uncertain and proud, scared and cocky, despairing and elated. We all suffer from this brand of writer’s schizophrenia, but no one ever tells you this when you’re starting out.
So, on September 30, 2018, no one was more surprised than me by the reckless abandon with which I finally hit that SEND button, hurtling my precious baby off into cyberspace to an uncertain future with a stranger, a stranger who may not ever tell me how they felt about it … or me … or my prospects as a writer. It was a feeling like no other. I felt …
It’s true. Pardon my French–in fact, sensitive eyes need to avert NOW– but I had no fucks left to give. For five years I had read and heard all the horror stories about agents who couldn’t even find three seconds in their day to shoot off a pre-written, generic “No thanks” email. I’d done all the sweating a human can do over verb choices, dialogue tags, beats, colloquialisms, exposition, and backstories–when? how much? where?–because (as was beaten into my head) one misstep could result in your manuscript being flung from an agent’s hands into the round file. And the writers who’d wallpapered their writing space with rejection letters, gone on drinking binges or long stretches of not writing, even giving up altogether? Those were legion.
I had long since ceased to care about all that. I had written a novel–a damn good one–and was–am!–determined to get it out into the world. My letter is professional and businesslike. My manuscript has been critiqued, revised, edited, and polished. What have I to fear? My feeling is: I’ve done my best. I hope you like it.
A not insignificant amount of time was also spent researching the agents on my long list and crossing off those whom I didn’t feel were a good fit for me, including those with a painfully neglected (since the turn of the millennium) website and one with NO website. (Why would I want to be in a long-term business relationship with someone who hadn’t a clue about technology and web presence?) Those who seemed constitutionally unable to understand a Jersey girl sense of humor or an appreciation for the absurdities of life–a worldview I share, by the way, with my protagonist–well, they had to go, too. There were other criteria, of course, and I worked my way through the list, painstakingly researching every agent on it. When my whittling was complete, I began by sending out my first five queries.
The first and only response thus far came at right around the 48-hour mark. The agent couldn’t have been nicer or her reply any more thoughtful. While my story wasn’t for her, she encouraged me to take a second look at some of the other agents at her agency for the right fit. She closed with this:
“Publishing is a long game, keep writing and persevering. I wish you nothing but the greatest success.”
What a lovely letter with which to begin wallpapering my writing space. May they all be thus (although I know they won’t).
P.S. If you’re a writer struggling with rejection, here’s another blog post you’ll want to read. Just be sure to put down your beverage first. Laptops are notoriously averse to the forceful application of spraying liquid.
Q: So, how did you become interested in writing?
A: A nun. With a yard stick. And a mean streak.
Just kidding. No one wants to believe me, but I had the most wonderful nuns when I attended Catholic school. This is my first grade class. One nun, one room, 63 kids. No teacher’s assistant, no room mother. Perfect order at (almost) all times. And, yes, Sister Georgine did instill in me a love of reading and writing.
I am dead center in the second row from bottom. Because … teacher’s pet.
My husband and I went to a local barbecue joint this evening. As we talked and laughed about the day we’d just spent with our nine-month-old granddaughter, my phone beeped. The PM was from a neighbor. The news was incomprehensible: A young woman who, with her husband, had just relocated to our beautiful Maine island from the Boston suburbs to raise their five-year-old daughter, had died on Sunday.
We had closed on our homes on the same day, one hour apart, just a week-and-a-half ago. Their home is at the end of our cul-de-sac, two doors down. We had both been through hell dealing with the general contractor we had chosen. The four of us — Pam and Fred, Tim and I — had struck up a friendship during the incredibly trying process of getting our homes completed, and were really looking forward to spending some relaxing time together “after we’re all settled in.”
A few minutes before receiving this devastating news, a group of about six had been seated in the booth next to us. They were bitching about the president, how Trump was probably thrilled about the hurricanes (!) because they gave him cover by keeping “the Russia thing” off the front pages … about his tweeting … about how much more money the president should have donated to the victims of Hurricane Harvey (“A million dollars is nothing to him!”) …
I felt like screaming, “REALLY??? THAT’S YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN TODAY? DO YOU HAVE NO LIFE OF YOUR OWN, NO PRESSING PROBLEMS OR JOYS TO TALK ABOUT? WHO GIVES A FUCK WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH POLITICS AND ALL THE REST OF THE BULLSHIT THAT PASSES FOR NEWS THESE DAYS? REAL PEOPLE ARE DYING. REAL PEOPLE ARE HURTING RIGHT NOW. A LITTLE GIRL WHO JUST STARTED KINDERGARTEN IN A COMPLETELY NEW PLACE IS NOW FACED WITH GOING THROUGH LIFE WITHOUT HER MOTHER. WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE???”
And then it hit me: We are all “those people.” Every. Single. Day. We get caught up in whatever the hell the media, the political parties, or the people in our communities are buzzing about, sometimes to the point of forgetting what is truly important.
My appetite had left the building and it seemed a good idea for me to do the same. Tim called our waitress over and asked to have our food packed to go. I noticed that “Always Something There to Remind Me” was playing on the radio. I could just barely keep it together long enough to get into the car and out of the parking lot.
Back at home, we picked at our food in silence in front of the TV. I couldn’t even tell you what was on the screen. But I snapped to attention when a commercial came on — again, for what product, who the hell knows? — shocked to hear the same song playing.
I may not have known you long, Pam, but I will always remember you. Rest in Peace, friend.
I can think of only a couple of things it would take the average 50-something a week to recover from. The flu? Base jumping? A particularly wild weekend? (I no longer actually recall what that last one is, but I’m told …)
But I stand before you a survivor. A survivor of 26 hours of labor and a C-section.
Oh, not me, silly. But you can call me Coach.
My only child has given me the greatest gift I could ever receive: a grandchild. After 40 weeks and 3 days, this little angel has come into our family and changed absolutely everything.
I had long ago come to terms with the fact that “grandmother” was not to be one of my job titles. Throughout her twenties, my daughter had said repeatedly that she just could not imagine bringing a child into the world. As someone who’d wanted to be a mom for as long as I could remember, I naturally assumed she’d change her mind. But year after year — 25, 30, 32 — there was no sign of second thoughts. In fact, I’d long since stopped thinking about it at all. Tim and I have a wonderful life here on our Maine island. Our daughter and her fiance decided to join us here three years ago, after a decade of big city life in Philadelphia. We were all thrilled to be living close to one another again in this peaceful and beautiful place. Who needed anything more?
Then, on the day before April Fool’s Day (I kid you not), she sprang it on me. Had she waited a day longer to tell me, I’d have laughed out loud — Hey, good one, kid, that’s a hoot! In the ensuing eight months, as her belly grew and her walk became a waddle, the reality of this child was beginning to dawn on me. But not until November 27, when I finally saw that perfect little face looking up at me, cooing, gripping my pinky finger with her tiny hand … that’s when it became real. Barely breathing, I stood frozen in place. I couldn’t tell you now what I said or even if they were human noises, so surreal was the feeling of seeing her for the first time.
When I look back on this year, on how often I was disappointed with myself for being unable to write very much, I realize how much like pregnancy my own distraction from writing was. It had to run its course. Something bigger was happening, just under the surface, and I needed to nurture it, think about it, plan for it. This is the “project” that has occupied my mind for much of 2016. It’s taken a week to recover my equilibrium enough to even write about this precious and life-altering event, but I’m happy to say we are all now settling into our new roles. A couple became a family. A couple of empty-nesters became grandparents, with the improbable sense of starting anew that brings. A baby due on Thanksgiving Day gave new meaning to the words grateful and thankful.
It’s going to take a lot more than a week to recover from the tidal wave of love engulfing my heart this holiday season.
I’m just beginning to write again in earnest, so in case I neglect to say it later, Merry Christmas to you and yours, and all best wishes for a Happy New Year.
Remember to express your gratitude every day for all the blessings in your life, large and small.
Odd Woman Out
One thing I never considered when I started writing is that I would end up on the outside looking in. What I mean by that is that I tend not to march in lockstep with my fellow creatives. The result is that I, a native-born Jersey Girl of the expected gregarious and forthright nature, often remain silent on matters politic when in the company of others in my field.
To say the least, I am not a reliable liberal voter.
Lest you jump to the conclusion that I am sipping champagne from my Christian Louboutins and cackling as I re-watch Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, let’s be clear: I’m one of those fiscally conservative, socially moderate, lowercase “L” libertarian types. You know, the live and let live type. Not a joiner.
In presidential elections, I have voted for Democrats, Republicans, and even one independent candidate over the last 40 years. Since moving to Maine, I have consistently helped elect and re-elect a Democratic representative to the Maine State Legislature and a Republican to the Maine Senate. I was similarly unpredictable in my voting patterns when I lived in New Jersey.
I believe in the U.S. Constitution and support the limits it places on government.
I understand the difference between peaceful protest and uncivilized behavior; I support the former and abhor and condemn the latter.
I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to our military and law enforcement personnel unless and until there’s a good reason not to do so.
As a woman, I am pro-choice in the early stages of pregnancy but, as a mother and soon-to-be-grandmother, could never support late-term abortion except to save the life of the mother.
I believe my LGBT friends and family members should enjoy the same right to marry as the rest of us; however, I also support the rights of the religiously inclined (I don’t count myself among their ranks) to conduct their businesses in alignment with their beliefs. (There’s that pesky live-and-let-live attitude again.) My position is that there are plenty of bakers and photographers and other wedding service providers to accommodate anyone and everyone who wishes to marry, regardless of their choice of mate, such that it’s not necessary to push anyone into financial straits or out of business for no other reason than to force them to “accept” your lifestyle (because, of course, that tactic will never change even one heart or mind).
It can be lonely out here, with no pigeonhole in which to make my nest among birds of a feather. (Have I taken that metaphor too far? So noted.) I have come to accept this because, honestly, what choice do I have? I am not willing to compromise my heartfelt convictions for anyone, no matter how dear. If we are friends, we are friends. Family – well, it goes without saying, doesn’t it? – we are linked by love and lineage forever. No political race is going to change that. Not for me, anyway.
But today’s post-election social media feeds were eye-opening, to say the least. The melodrama is, frankly, surprising and unsettling. People I love, like, and admire – smart people – are behaving as if the known world is imploding. Some have admitted to tears and sleeplessness. Others are threatening to leave the country. Still others are taking a break from social media to try to come to terms with their dysphoria.
All this, before the current president has even begun packing boxes and calling the movers.
Make no mistake: I am no prognosticator of political success. I have voted for winners and losers in roughly equal measure over the years. I have been elated and I have been disheartened, but I have never felt the despondency some of my friends and acquaintances apparently are feeling today. Nor have I ever given any thought whatsoever to leaving the country of my birth because not enough of my fellow citizens agreed with my electoral choice.
What is going on here?
I suspect some of it is due to an unrealistic expectation that the almost unfettered power afforded to the current President by a Congress that has allowed him to usurp its Constitutional powers meant that the committed left would never again have to face a law, rule, or regulation that didn’t align with their worldview.
Because far-reaching and oppressive regulations decreed by unelected bureaucrats rather than decided by bipartisan legislation have been allowed to go unchallenged by a flaccid Congress, there seemed to be no doubt that it would ever be thus.
Because a federally mandated health insurance scheme (consisting of a bill of almost 3,000 mostly unread pages, followed by 20,000 or so pages of regulations) could be forced upon the citizenry without a single “yea” vote from the opposing party in either house of Congress, there seemed to be no question in their minds that this was a reasonable way to govern.
In short, the disconnect between the People and their elected representatives was mistaken by the left for apathy, or acquiescence, or perhaps defeat. They never seemed to consider that the lack of action on the part of our elected representatives might not reflect the feelings of their fellow Americans at all. Apparently, over the last nearly eight years, those of us in the center and on the right were simply expected to get used to “the new normal.”
In fact, Americans are precisely the kind of people who, historically, refuse to “get used to” things they perceive as unlawful or over-reaching. After stewing for nearly eight years, that pressure cooker was bound to blow. And so it did, in a most spectacular and unexpected fashion. I mean, has there ever been a more unlikely President-Elect than Donald Trump?
Where Do We Go From Here?
Part of me believes that in a few weeks’ or months’ time the rhetoric will simmer down and we will once again come to regard one another as part of the same whole. The other part wonders whether the first part is being naïve, that we will never regain that unity because supporters of the losing candidate are not likely to accept that “normal” is whatever the electorate says it is when they wield the mighty ballot.
Where Congress refused to exercise its powers, the People have now done so. We have reminded them all – the Democrats, the Republicans, the media, and the world – that the ballot is mightier than the pen and the phone. And I don’t think that sleeping giant will be going back to sleep anytime soon.
Let’s hope the next President has taken note of that lesson, too, and is prepared to work tirelessly to heal our wounded nation and restore our sense of unity and shared purpose.
For our part, let’s try not to overreact. We went down this road before – not so long ago, remember? – and somehow the Republic managed to survive. Tattered and divided we may be, but we’re still here. Finding our way back to One Nation Under Whatever Deity You Believe In or Don’t starts with trying to be kind to one another. That, we can get to work on right away.
From the day in March when I learned that Tim and I were going to become grandparents … through the turmoil of keeping our townhouse “show-ready” and searching for a new home, essentially erasing any thought of relaxation throughout the summer and early fall … and then the eventual need to acknowledge that not one but both of my writers’ groups were no longer viable … well, much of this year has been one long series of writer’s distractions.
Not that there haven’t been moments of surprise and delight and pure joy along the way. My brother and his family came to spend a real old-fashioned Fourth of July with us here in Bar Harbor — the first of my four siblings to visit. At a local conference last month, I had the opportunity to meet up with a bunch of writer friends I hadn’t seen since the last conference almost a year ago. There I also made a couple of new friends who were looking for a group of kindred spirits with whom to gather regularly to discuss their work, and we have already enjoyed our first rendezvous. Even the house-hunting process delivered a happy accident: after losing out on a house we thought was perfect, we have now designed an even better version of that home to be built for us on a positively gorgeous piece of property. And the buyers of our current home have agreed to allow us to stay on as tenants through the spring, until our new place is ready.
And somehow, at last, it is November.
Our granddaughter is poised to enter this world and inject such joy into our lives that none of us will ever be able to remember what life was like before her arrival.
The fun and exciting task of selecting the finishes for a brand new home is about to begin.
With the Halloween decorations already giving way to red and green and glitter, we are staring down the barrel at Holiday Madness 2016.
Did I say this writer’s distractions were over? Oh no, not by a long shot, my friend.
So how is it that I’m actually contemplating participation in NaNoWriMo amidst this craziness?
The truth, I now know without any doubt, is that a writer’s distractions are not temporary. They are ongoing and continuous, like waves lapping over one another in their race to reach the shore.
There will always be something: babies turn to toddlers, they have birthdays, they learn to walk, then run, then dance. There’s always something to work on in a house, new or otherwise. There will be joys and sorrows and days when it feels like too much effort to make it any farther than the coffeemaker. But I’m a writer. What can I do but push fearlessly, relentlessly against the incoming tide of distractions-without-end and just write?
So, to November … and getting back to being a writer again!