Slow and Steady Wins the Race

1 Jun

tortoiseWow, It’s hard to believe that last post was in September. Now that many moons have passed, it’s a good time to take a look back, see what I’ve accomplished creatively and look at where I go from here. Let’s see…there was:

September, in which I gained a mentor and lost a stepfather

One of the many benefits of #PitchWars is that I got a mentor (Yay!)  Even better, she’s a super-awesome writer of middle grade fiction who lives in the South. (Like me!)  Her name is Lisa Lewis Tyre and her book, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, comes out this Fall. I can’t wait to read it! If you like to read tween/teen stories or you know middle school or upper elementary readers who do, you can pre-order it here now. Anyway, Lisa loved my story and was so encouraging, while still giving me lots of feedback and suggestions for adding flavor to it. I was thrilled to work with Lisa.

But often when one hand giveth, the other taketh away.  At the same time this exciting thing was happening with my writing, my stepfather was fighting for his life against a brain tumor. It came out of nowhere in August. By the end of September, he was gone. I spent more time with my extended family in that month than probably in the last five years combined. And every minute was worth it. There are some things that are more important than writing, and it’s a good thing to remember that, especially when you are living in rejection-ville, as happens when you are querying.

October, in which I learned how bad I suck at queries

You’d think that putting together one short paragraph that hooks the reader and gives them the basic concept of your book would be easy, especially when you’d already written a whole book. You’d be wrong.

I wrote, got feedback and rewrote those three paragraphs approximately 8,332 times and finally settled on something. But you never really know for sure until you throw it out there.

November, in which I got two full requests(!) 

So maybe I wasn’t so bad at queries. I wasn’t great but I ended up with a couple partial requests from PitchWars anyway (Yay!) And, I got another outside that, too (Yippee!) Then, I got a rejection (Boo.) But then…I got two follow up requests for full manuscripts. (Yahooo!)

December, in which I read a lot and tried to pretend I wasn’t waiting for anything

The header says it all. The waiting stinks. And, as you hear of others landing agents even during the holidays, it’s hard to convince yourself that you just haven’t heard anything from agents yet because they just haven’t opened your email.  But it was good to read a lot just for pleasure. I haven’t indulged in that nearly as much as I’d like in the past year.

January, in which I stopped waiting and jumped back into the race

I started querying in earnest but slowly. And I started getting requests, especially when I included sample pages, which means hey, my writing doesn’t suck. But the process of finding an agent who is just the right fit is often a long one. 

Since then…

I’ve gotten more rejections and I’ve gotten more requests. I’m sticking with it, listening to the encouraging feedback I’m getting from agents and fellow writers, and improving my work.

I have to give myself credit for all I accomplished. I…

1) finally finished the book

2) did well in a couple contests and got some notice

3) got a fabulous mentor

4) learned how to revise and produce a polished end product

5) got some agent interest

And what got me these accomplishments was: to just keep doing the work, step by step, and find the joy in that. To make my writing the best it can be and keep putting it out there. Slow and steady wins the race (I hope!)

Read Or Write Anywhere

26 May

I am luxuriating in the plush covers of my bed, looking out over the moonlit pool deck while soft music plays in the background. I type the perfect sentence to complete my novel. THE END. Ahhhh.

Ah, who am I kidding? It’s midnight, I’m keeping my eyes open with toothpicks. I’ve written and erased the same sentence over and over. I’m only on Chapter Two. But it’s all good, yo.

When I decided to get back in touch with my love of writing, I didn’t have kids. I could spend unbroken hours reading Poets & Writers, crafting story ideas and dreaming of where it all might lead. The thing is, I didn’t do all that and I didn’t get much completed.

Fast forward a few (sixteen!) years. Now I’ve got two kids with very full schedules, run a business, accept speaking engagements, volunteer with my kids schools (plural), belong to a critique group and yet…I’ve written more in the past two years than ever before. In this time, I completed a middle grade novel, made it into PitchWars 2014, revised and revised and revised that book and am now querying it.  I’m now 13,000 into my next novel.

How? I stopped waiting to “have the time”. I stopped waiting for huge chunks of uninterrupted hours to sit down and write. In short, I took the advice of Barbara DeMarco Barrett, the author of Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Fire Within. If I found fifteen minutes or ten or five, I wrote. IMG_6856

I wrote in the car line at school, I wrote at the kitchen island while dinner simmered on the stove, I wrote on road trips, I wrote in between soccer games. The key is: I wrote.  No amount of time was too little.

To all those writers out there whose lives are also over-full and chaotic, if you feel overwhelmed, just know that you are not alone. And, do whatever you can to squeeze in writing. Whenever, wherever. Which brings me to this awesome campaign I’m a part of, hosted by the YA Chicks, called #ReadOrWriteAnywhere. It’s a fun way to show how you are keeping reading and writing on your priority list as this summer kicks off. And, you can win some prizes – books, Author Skype visits, critiques and more!  Check it out at http://yachicks.blogspot.com/ and enter to win now through May 31st. And keep writing and reading!

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When are wars good? When they’re #PitchWars

4 Sep

I’m in! I’m in! I’m in a war. A Pitch War.

Earlier this summer, I wrote about taking small steps in my writing journey in this post. I’d finished a manuscript, gotten some recognition in a contest based on a query and first page and gotten some initial interest from agents. All good stuff. Really good stuff.  I celebrated, ready to take my next step. Then I realized in a panic that my manuscript was NOT READY.

Fortunately, my lovely and trusted beta readers started sending feedback. They laughed. They cried. And nothing–nothing, I tell you–makes me happier than making people cry. In a good way. They also gave me suggestions on how to make my story stronger. I listened. I revised. But I knew it still was not ready. I continued seeking feedback. And then along came Pitch Wars, the awesome contest by the even more awesome Brenda Drake.

I decided to go for it. I did my research and read the interests and backgrounds on every single mentor, narrowing it down to the maximum four allowed who fit my story, a middle grade contemporary with a twist of magic/sci-fi. I submitted my entry and crossed my fingers. I was asked to send more pages, then the full manuscript. Eep! More waiting, until finally, at midnight of the appointed day, I refreshed the Pitch Wars page obsessively until…*cue angels singing and harps playing*…there it was: the list. And I was on it!

I so needed this right now. In the midst of other challenging things happening in my world, this is a bright spot. And, though it doesn’t guarantee I’ll land an agent or get a book published, I know that no matter what, I’ll grow as a writer. And that is a prize worth fighting for. funny gifs

Violence, Women, and Art

5 Jun

Note: I drafted this post a few weeks ago, but hadn’t published it yet when events in the news spawned the #Yesallwomen conversation. I wasn’t sure I would publish it because I didn’t want to sound too preachy. But now, I’ve decided to, in the spirit of #Yesallwomen. (If you haven’t read the Twitter feed on that hashtag, do it. You will be amazed, horrified, nodding your head, saying ‘yes, me too’ and more).

 

Here’s my original post:

As someone who values and admires creativity, my ideals include validating and encouraging all art.  But reality has come smack dab up against my ideals.  Here’s the problem: violence against women.

The other day, I was listening to a streaming music station on my iPhone as I worked in the yard.  Happily, I clipped along to the playlist of one of my favorite artists. A song came on with a beat and lyricism that you cannot resist singing along to. It included a collaboration with a rap artist, embedded in the song. I love these collaborations – they’re super cool and interesting musically. I’d heard the song before, but had never really paid close attention to the lyrics. All the lyrics. As I did, they hit me like a ton of bricks. And I thought:

“This guy is calling a woman a b* and literally saying he’s going to eff her up because she isn’t pleasing him. And I’m singing it with him. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?” Yes, I was yelling at myself inside my head.

But then I said to myself, “Self, this isn’t the first song you’ve heard (or sung) with lyrics like this. Why are you freaking out now?”  And, then I freaked out even more at the fact that I hadn’t freaked out about this before. 

WHY hadn’t I freaked out before? WHEN did it become acceptable to glorify beating the stuffing out of a woman?  Are we in the Twilight Zone, people?  If you were to replace gender with race in these songs, people would completely lose it. And rightly so, because it would be wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Where is the outcry when these things are said against women?

In art, we explore many things. But when there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of songs which include lyrics that make it sound okay, normal or that glorify violence toward women, we are sending a message. A horrible message.  Millions of small choices make up our culture.  I, perhaps you, and millions of other men, women, teenagers and even young boys and girls are happily listening to lyrics that imply that women are: beneath men, here only to serve men, deserve to be harmed in some way if the men in their lives are not pleased.  And then we wonder why there is so much violence against women in the world. When we buy, stream and listen to these songs, we are saying it’s okay.  And, it’s NOT okay.

So, I’m making a small choice. I can only choose for myself, but I hope you’ll consider joining me. I’m not talking about censorship. I don’t believe in the big brother approach. I believe in the power of the market. The power of the people.  If people choose not to buy or otherwise support these songs, fewer of them will get made. Fewer of these hateful messages will be put out there.  And fewer little boys and little girls will grow up thinking that women are nothing but objects that deserve to be used and abused.

From now on, I will not buy songs that have a mysoginist message, I won’t stream them, and I’m removing them from my playlists. I admit I’ll be sad to see some of the songs go, because I do love me a nasty bassline. But it’s gotta be done.

Small Steps on My Writing Journey

2 May

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~Lao-Tzu

One step at a time

One step at a time

For 2014, I decided my theme for the year would be to focus more on polishing what I’m already working on instead of starting a bunch of new things. One of the things I wanted to focus on was a middle grade manuscript I began early in 2013. I’d already weeded out other projects that were taking my time and distracting me from my goal. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other (i.e., words on the page) and git ‘er done.

Finally, I did! I had a complete first draft. Time to celebrate, right?  Well, sure, but…a first draft is not a final-ready-to-send-agents draft. So, my next step was to revise.  I began. But at the same time I entered a contest on an awesome website called Adventures in YA Publishing (if you write YA or MG, check it out here.)

In this contest, you submit a pitch and first line, and if you are in the first 100 submissions, you get feedback. I thought, awesome – I am going to get some feedback which will help me make it stronger. I didn’t actually think I’d get to the second round and get asked to submit my first page for critique as well. But I did. Eep!

From there, the top ten were selected to go on and get their entries judged by prominent agents. When I checked the list of finalists, I closed my laptop with a sigh. Oh well, I got some good feedback and that’s why I entered in the first place. But wait! What was that? My title? I flipped my laptop back open, and sure enough, mine was listed. Now I started to actually get excited. Big-time agents would read my work. Maybe even like it!  Of course, getting your hopes up is a recipe for a shattered heart, so I tamped down my excitement and just focused on getting the feedback.

So, how excited was I to receive a request to see my full manuscript from not one but two awesome agents?  Yeah, this excited:

Not me, but this is what I looked like on the inside

Not me, but this is what I looked like on the inside

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

A day later, I was notified I’d been named a runner up in the contest!  Out of 100 people, I was one of the top few. Double eep!  As a runner up, I received a first chapter critique from the fabulous Roseanne Wells.  Her critique gave me great insight and new perspective on my story and I am so grateful to her.

As I’m getting more feedback from beta readers and critique partners, I’m taking one step at a time to make my manuscript stronger. And soon, very soon, I’ll be ready to submit my final, polished story to these agents.  I cannot know where that step will lead me, but no matter what, I know it will be something good.

It’s great to look back now and see how many steps I’ve taken just this year. And it’s exciting to think of what steps are ahead. I just have to do my job and keep on walking.

Inspired by Spring

28 Apr
Chicks hit the beach!

Chicks hit the beach!

Here’s a small thing that we enjoyed this past week: a beach day!  It was only a day, but it felt like my own little Spring Break, since it was too cold during our actual Spring Break to wear a bathing suit (or anything less than a jacket.) Nothing like a day of true relaxation to rekindle the creative spirit.

We loved every minute of our beach day. We also enjoyed having our guest chick, Maya, with us!  What are you doing this Spring?

LIFE IS A JOURNEY

16 Feb

“Life is a Journey with problems to solve, lessons to learn, but most of all, experience to enjoy.”

My dad passed away in a horrific car accident on November 2002 in which he caused.

That’s when my life changed!

I  knew very young that life was not going to be easy, and that I was going to have my challenges along the way.  I was not a great student, was not overly smart, did not have a creative talent.  Knew that if I wanted anything in life I would have to work hard for it.

journeyBy November 2002 I had a wonderful husband and a beautiful little girl.  That day when the phone rang and I got the message that my father passed away it was the worst day of my life.  It wasn’t that I did not expect it.  He was an alcoholic and I knew that death was just a step away for him.  What hit me so hard was how he died.   Not only did he pass away he also caused someone’s death because of his addiction.

The effects of this incident have stayed with me for many years and made me evaluate my own life.  It’s made me think how precious life really is and how short it can be.  When we are young we think that we have our whole lives to do anything we want, that we have time.   We let fear and  insecurities stop us from pursuing what we have always dreamed of doing.  We talk about our dreams, but we never make that first step toward them.  We make excuses why we can’t pursue them.

November 2002 changed all that for me.  Yes it took a few years for me to get all my ducks in a row.  When I turned 40,  I focused in and made personal changes.  The funny thing was that I was thinking of a whole different journey for myself, a more creative journey. That is how 4 chicks started.  But life had different plans for me.  I went back to school, I knew that I wanted to study Holistic Nutrition but with my husband traveling for work so much and having 2 small girls at home, I knew it was impossible for me to go to a campus-based university.  So I researched the best Holistic Nutrition distance learning college to help me achieve my educational goal.   Some disagreed with my choice of school.  But I believe in trusting one’s intuition and going with the flow of life and seeing where it will lead.  Many were asking what are your plans for life after college.  Truthfully, I did not have a plan at all.  I knew I wanted to help people get healthy.  I really enjoyed the learning process without all the stress of  what specific job this was leading too.  I have great faith in life and know that I’m the only one that can change my future.  I knew I was going to have obstacles along the way and was prepared to face them.  In January 2014 I finished! Where will this all lead me?  I don’t know but I’m excited to find out :-).

It still makes me very sad to think about my father.  More because he did not value his life or the consequences to others of his actions.  He did not understand that life had great plans for him (as it does for each of us).  He lived his life with the notion that ‘if you have lost it all, why even try’.

I believe that everyone is put on this earth for a reason and YES life is hard but it’s up to us to make a difference within ourselves, family, community and world.  If we stop blaming others for our challenges in our life and focus more on how to move forward in a positive and uplifting way, we really then begin to enjoy the journey.

And life is a journey, and we must learn to enjoy it and not focus so much on the final destination.

So what happens now at mile marker 2014?  I can’t wait to find out!!!!

2014 Muse Challenge: What Now?

30 Jan

 Join the 4 Chicks this year to stay focused on the next SMALL thing!

Now that it’s one month into the new year, are you moving closer to your creative goals? Perhaps, like the recording artist Rihanna, you may be asking yourself “What Now?”

If you “just can’t figure it out,” you’re not alone. For 2014 I’m challenging my 4 Chicksand youto ask yourself this same question as often as possible: What now?

But instead of screaming it in reaction to events happening around you, stay calm and query yourself for an answer. Something very specific and very small. What’s the next immediate, tangible action you can take?

Here’s one: Join my 2014 What Now? Challenge. To celebrate and share your beautiful little victories, feel free to check in with the Chicks one of the following ways:

What Inspires Me

23 Jan

At a writing conference this weekend, I realized the speakers that always inspire me the most are the illustrators. It makes sense because I think in pictures when I’m writing. If only my hands could create what I see in my head. *sigh*

Anyway, I also realized the need to use visuals more in my writing process simply for the inspiration they provide. Here are a few that are inspiring me this morning.

Making 2014 SPARKLE!

7 Jan

Okay, yes I know that SPARKLE! was our December power word.  And, yes I know it is now January.  And, no, I didn’t write a post in December. That’s because, frankly, I didn’t feel very sparkly in December. I felt chaotic, thankful, busy, relieved, and a lot of other mixed emotions but not really sparkly.  In the last week of the year, when most of the hosting and feasting was over, I was simply happy to feel and be lazy.  Because I’ll admit – I was exhausted from 2013.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do choose an overall “theme” for each year.  For the past few years it’s been: to be uncomfortable as much as possible. In other words, to constantly say “yes” to new things, to push myself, to make possibilities realities. Because the more uncomfortable you are, the more you grow.DSCN0049

And, it’s worked quite well. To name just a few results, I’ve gotten my own business running on all cylinders, developed some wonderful clients, taught at my former college, become a public speaker of sorts, started a new networking group, learned to paddleboard, learned to surf (barely), learned to play the piano (sort of), kayaked for the first time, made a music video with my Chicks, and written a LOT.  However, I still feel like a beginner at many of these things.

Mario Sarto CCA-SA 3.0

Mario Sarto CCA-SA 3.0

So this year, I’m changing things up a bit.  Always doing new things is great, but now I want to focus on doing things better. I’m going to focus on polishing my craft, whether professionally or personally.

In particular, in my writing, I am in the final stages of completing an approx 35,000 word Middle Grade manuscript.  I’ve started an awful lot of stories before, and finished very few.  This is the one I’m most proud of so far. And, to give myself the chance to make it bloom into something bigger, I have to stick with it, polish it and give it a chance to SPARKLE!  So, our power word for December has become my Word to Live By in 2014.  I’m gonna make it SPARKLE!

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