Friday, December 31, 2010

Gratitude in Gran's Garden

I'm staying with my sister, Tessa, in Texas for a while. After my mom passed away in 2003, Tessa began creating an outdoor space she's called Gran's Garden (my niece and nephew called my mom Gran). It's beautifully and magically overgrown with bushes and trees; stone cherubs peek out from beneath the groundcover; a rusty metal archway teems with vines; a flagstone area beckons visitors to sit and meditate.

It's one of the most peaceful and spiritual places I've ever been. I love that I can end the year in such a place. I was standing in the garden yesterday, eyes closed. Dozens of birds were flitting about from limb to limb. All I could hear was the fluttering of their wings.

And I said "Thank you" aloud. To whom? I don't know. Spirit. The Universe. Mom. Doesn't matter. The moment was about gratitute. Not longing, not expectation.

2010 has been an amazing year. Did I get an agent or sell my book? Nope. Doesn't matter.
  • I finished my first novel. I revised it and revised it again. It's being read by agents. I have to trust the process is out of my control now.

  • I found a critique partner via a former work colleague. She's 2000 miles away but I feel her support as if she's in the room with me, sharing a cup of coffee. Her insights help me to be a better writer.

  • I wasn't accepted into the Hedgebrook writers-in-residence program, but out of 800-plus applications, I made it to the 80 finalists. That's a compliment I don't want to lose by being upset with the final outcome.

  • I have an amazing spouse, amazing family and amazing friends.

  • I have shelter, food, health, financial security when there is such poverty and want in the world.
My sister tells me I don't need a physical space to feel this way...that I can carry Gran's Garden in my heart. How true.
Do you have a space you go to for reflection?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yes, Virginia, You CAN Wait for Santa Claus

When I was a kid, waiting for Santa seemed an interminable space where day-to-day life was put on hold. “I can’t wait! I can’t wait!” became my daily (internal) mantra.

I’m not waiting for Santa this year but I’ve put myself in a similar tizzy waiting in other ways.
  • One agent who has my full manuscript tweeted that she is going to read all submissions and reply to authors by the end of the year.

  • Three other agents have had my manuscript for weeks/months and I’m still awaiting word on those.

  • By the end of December, I’ll be notified whether I was accepted for a prestigious writing residency at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island in 2011.

Living more in the present has been a lifelong struggle. When I put this much effort into waiting, I become a permanent resident of limbo. It’s not a good way to live. My stomach twists, I stress-eat, I obsess about things completely out of my control.

And if/when I don’t get what I’m waiting for, I’ll feel letdown – both because I didn’t get that agent/residency/big break, but also because I can’t get back these days that I’ve wasted not living presently, joyfully and gratefully.

Sounds like I’ve begun my New Year’s resolution list early.

Any resolutions emerging for you yet?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Gift of Voice

The best Christmas present I received this year was from a complete stranger: an author who put an excerpt of my book in front of 13 literary agents, editors, published and unpublished authors. (see previous post)

While I received some great input on how to improve the opening of the novel, the most important thing I received was affirmation of my writing voice. When I’d completed the novel last May, I knew I’d nailed Cissy’s voice. She spoke to me more clearly than any other character I’ve created. There was no way I could have resisted that voice. It was the reason I dropped two other novels in progress and jumped into her story.

The reviewers who read a snippet of my book heard Cissy, too, and for that I am incredibly thankful. Here are just a few of the comments. While these make me feel great, I have Cissy to thank for allowing me to tell her story.

“Hello voice! I’m right inside her head.”

“The voice here is fantastic- you've nailed it!"

“While I don't gravitate toward books with darker themes- there are some great ones out there (The Color Purple, The Lovely Bones). It was the voice that captured me in both of those and made me want to read the dark plots. Again, magnificent voice! And that's often the hardest part!”

“I actually really enjoyed this first bit of your story. I was drawn right in to her head. Her voice was great. Very believable. From the log line I got that the story is not actually about the incest (which, yes, is really tough), but rather about the adventure and relationship with her grandmother that brings healing to her life. That is what I found myself eager to read about.”

“As for the excerpt, the voice is fantastic and I have absolutely no problem with it being backstory because it gets right to the point instead of being irritatingly coy. The last paragraph is enough conflict to hook me (if I weren't already hooked by that amazing voice).”

“Totally hooked. Beautiful voice, unusual setup of what might be a cliched problem. This character's got spunk, and I'd be interested to read how she handles the aftereffects of her father's abuse and her own actions to stop it.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Selflessness and Rejection

This is the “speechless” edition of The Writing Life.

1. The Good Speechless
I follow the blogs and tweets of several literary agents and writers. I’m utterly dumbfounded by the generosity of some to help up-and-coming writers. AuthoressAnon, a writer trying to get published herself, actually hosts contests where agents agree to critique other writers’ work. Yeah, that’s right. Everyone’s work but her own. I recently got accepted into one of the contests called the Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction. On December 4, a snippet of my book will be posted with those of 39 other writers. Thirteen agents (and the public) will then give feedback on said snippets. Priceless!

Then, earlier in the week the Knight Literary Agency hosted a similar contest in hopes of finding a new client by Christmas. More than 180 writers sent in three pages of their manuscripts. Deidre Knight and her fellow agents chose 50 writers to send in three chapters. Later, the field will be whittled down until they find an author worth representing. I didn’t make the cut but I’m heartened to see busy publishing professionals adding extra work to their schedules just to offer another opportunity for writers to get a leg in the door.

2. The Bad Speechless
In both these contests (and on Twitter) I read of instances of disgruntled writers acting out, sending negative rebuttals and insults when rejected. Not only is this rude, it’s dumb. So dumb. The publishing industry is small and word spreads fast. Rejection is part of publishing. Move on and improve your work.

Since most of my blog readers are NOT writers, here are my general thoughts on 1 and 2 above.
  • Everywhere and everyday, people do thoughtful, selfless things. We only have take notice – and hopefully say thank you. Maybe we might try being selfless!
  • We all tend to take things too personally: not getting asked on a second date, getting a grumpy sales person, having our food order come out incorrect. The list goes on and on. Let’s take some advice from the Four Agreements: don’t take things personally, be impeccable with your word, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. The world is a happier place for all of us when we take this advice.