Gold Star / Candy Bar

•July 12, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Ok, I feel a bit better now.

Yesterday’s post turned into a bit of a rant, which was cathartic to get the chaos out of my system and helped me to get my head on straight. I went home after work, ate dinner, tidied the kitchen, then sat down and set out my very first query letter to an agent.

I’m sure I made any number of faux pas that I will soon learn to be embarrassed about: you wrote WHAT in your query letter? You sent it to WHO?! But for now I feel good for just getting over the hump of getting started: querying has moved from future tense to present tense. From planning to implementation.

The way I see it, I probably have hundreds of rejections ahead of me, so maybe it’s a numbers game that I should try to lean into: see how many of them I can earn for myself this year. Not because I think I’m going to fail (I’m going to get accepted rental) or that I’m not finding good fits (I’m doing my best to find likely matches) for the work or that the work isn’t good (it’s goddamn fantastic) but because I realize that it’s a numbers game and hopefully this will prevent me from getting too precious about any of my individual submissions. And if I can stay focused on the process I’ll get less frustrated than if I focus on the results. Did you send your query today? Yes? Gold star. Did you get rejected? That’s ok: have a candy bar.

Rejection might as well taste sweet.

So much for living without goals. Dangit. Just can’t seem to help myself.



•July 11, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I need to make more money.

The thought woke me out of a deep sleep and refused to let go of my brain for the rest of the night. I lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. In recent weeks I’d had a number of opportunities to discuss job satisfaction and pay with family and friends and one theme recurred, painfully, every time: everybody was making better money than me. Significantly better. Five digits better.

I can’t think about that now. I told myself at the time. I need to finish my novel. The drive to complete my draft was all-encompassing, and I turned to it regularly as an excuse to avoid anything that I didn’t want to think about: rejection, exclusion, depression, insecurity… Everything was pushed aside by the mighty prow of the good ship AmWriting.

But now the draft was finished and I wasn’t allowed to touch it for three months. And now I was lying awake at four in the morning on the day of my thirty seventh birthday, winding myself into coils over the fact of my evident underpayment.

I felt a sudden sense of panic: I couldn’t live like this anymore. I liked my boss, and I didn’t hate my work, but I doubted I’d be able to get a three dollar raise just by asking for it. And I didn’t want to have to ask for it: I was one of two check cutters in the office and my co-worker, while having the advantage of seniority, regularly rolled in the door two hours late, and once fell asleep art his desk with such impressive force that his snores could be heard four offices away. I’m eighty percent certain he’s trying to get himself fired. I’m one hundred percent certain he gets paid more than me.

I was reliable but I was new. I’d temped for nine months before getting hired on while two other check cutters were hired and subsequently fired. I was uncomplaining about my work and about my pay and it was presumed that this meant I was happy, but mostly it meant I was too comfortable to commit to a hardcore job search and too afraid to rock the boat. And the Powers That Be felt no need to fix a situation that did not appear to be broken.

So I focused on my novel.

The sense of being undervalued, unrecognized and unimportant flooded over me like a tidal wave. It seemed to strike me on many fronts at once: personal, social, professional- I was looking at my life beneath the magnifying glass of a birthday and I didn’t like what I was seeing. Without my usual creative pursuits to retreat to, I was forced to recognize the truth: that I wasn’t happy with my life, and that I couldn’t keep on getting by with Good Enough.

And then I continued to panic because I didn’t know where to start. The changes felt massive and out of my control, and they still do, but I’m coming around to the realization that they have to happen now. One step at a time- I don’t even know what direction, but I need to start making changes in my life.


•July 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

When it comes to the task of buying snacks for travel, it turns out that I am a ten year old child with a fist full of sweaty dollars burning a hole in my pocket in the junk food aisle. There were no healthy choices involved: Slim Jim’s, and Takis, and pork rings, and candybars, and gummy bears. Oh my.

My only acknowledgment of adult restraint was to stick to a budget of only eight sweaty dollars worth of junk food as I flitted around the dollar store. Luckily, by the time it came to eat all these magnificent treats, I had regained some further self-control, and managed to pace myself. Somehow, I even managed to get home with about half my loot unopened.

My taste for empty calories was not limited to foodstuffs: I found myself at the library searching for reading material for the plane. I want EASY READING. I told myself; I’d been having difficulty finishing books for the past six months. I blamed it on my writing- that too much of my bandwidth was tied up in finishing the draft of my own novel to find any other books appealing. But now I wanted to get back into the habit and by jingo I did not want to be challenged. I wanted something fun. Something with momentum. A best seller.

My philosophy was simple: choose a book based on how much shelf space the author had colonized at the local branch of the library. Michael Crighton. Ken Follett. Neil Gaiman. I balked a bit at the vast estates of Danielle Steele. I didn’t quite know how to approach the imposing territory of Tom Clancy.

I still walked out with more books than I could carry on my flight. I chose three of the narrowest books for my carry on: The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (finished on the outbound leg of the journey) Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley (finished on the return leg of the journey) and Big Fish by Daniel Wallace (never once cracked).

Well, at least I was getting back into the habit of reading.

So clearly I’m feeling the impulse to prioritize simple pleasures. I suppose that’s fitting for the summer months. Now without my writing I feel a bit adrift, which is maybe a good thing for a change. I’m interested to see where this takes me.

Funny Bone Ache

•July 2, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Now that every circuit in my brain isn’t tied up in writing, I thought I’d make an effort to do some reading for a change. We’ve had a copy of George Carlin’s book “When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops” on the bookshelf for a while: it was a gift from my Mom to the Curmudgeonly Lion at Christmas because of a running family joke about the fact that they always seem to serve pork whenever we come to visit. I hadn’t bothered trying to crack it for the last six months, but it seemed like it might be a fun and easy book to give me a toehold back into the reading habit.

This has not turned out to be the case.

I *think* the book is supposed to be funny, but if it is then I still haven’t gotten to the good bits. The text is divided up into disparate units under various headings which may or may not relate to one another. It’s like reading the train of thought of your misogynist uncle who got ahold of a dictophone after having a few beers.

Generally speaking, I like the comedic styling of George Carlin: I like his irreverent attitude towards institutions of power, and I don’t mind jokes being slightly off color of they make a good point… That said, the humor in this book (Copyright 2004) has not aged well. Men are stupid. Women are crazy. How gross can we get about sex and gynecology? Good, political correctness is the worst, amiright?

Have I, as my generation had so often been accused, lost my sense of humor? Or is it shitty humor that people used to get away with? I mean, I know that humor lives in the same neighborhood as transgression and discomfort, but usually it has a twist that makes a point. So far this book just feels like someone just trying to push the edge for the sake of edginess, and to say things that are shocking just to get a rise out of people. But it mostly feels like being pummeled. A lot of the jokes feel like they are “punching down”: making fun of people with less power than the speaker like a bully telling a joke about the weird kid on the playground: it’s easy and obvious and I expected better.

Anyway, I’ll give it a few more pages, but I might have to give it up. I used to be the kind of person who would hate-read a book to the end just to finish it: as if abandoning the book without finishing it was somehow letting the terrorists win. Increasingly, though, I keep telling myself that there are too many good books in the world to waste my precious reading time on one that doesn’t resonate with me.

Now What?

•July 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was Monday morning and the Curmudgeonly Lion had already left for work, so I had the house to myself for about forty five minutes. Normally, I would’ve used that time for writing, but the draft was finished now. Finished and spell checked. Finished and spell checked and printed, laboriously, on the household printer: requiring a new ink cartridge and multiple infusions of paper. It was time for me to stop picking at it, already.

I contented myself (no pun intended) by creating a table of contents and a title page and a handful of other small formatting tasks. Trying to be near the work without actually working on it. I’d promised myself that I’d put it aside for the summer: the whole summer, and let it rest. But I’d worked on it so long and hard that now I was struggling to let go. I’d spent the weekend occupying myself with social pursuits: going to a friend’s Game Night on Saturday, taking a scenic drive along the coast with the Curmudgeonly Lion on Sunday, going to another friend’s housewarming party afterwards, and after that hosting my writer’s group. I did laundry. I taught myself how to make Cornish pasties (*Actually, they’re only considered Cornish pastys if they come from the Cornwall region of Great Britain, otherwise they’re just sparkling meat pies*); Anything to keep my mind occupied.

But now it was Monday morning and now I was getting on the bus for my morning commute, and now what was I going to do?

Surf social media, is what.

I’m sure there were more productive things that I could do with my time, but I caught myself avoiding them. I’d spent so much time in the company of this particular muse that now I didn’t know what to do without a project at hand. Now that I’d completed the story, would the voice leave me? Had I set enough of it free that it wouldn’t need me anymore? This character had belonged to me for so long that he felt like family: but he wouldn’t be mine forever- as soon as people began reading his story he would belong to them. And maybe the book would take off and gain a life of its own- a part of me felt this was inevitable- and then he would be bigger than me and evolve in unexpected ways that I wouldn’t be able to help our control.

I hoped the world would be good to him, but there were no guarantees.

I thought I might be starting to understand what parents go through.

So, I spent the day in a kind of neutral holding pattern between feelings- waiting for some reaction to hit. A sense of victory or a sense of loss or a sense of satisfaction…

It didn’t really hit until therapy. I was trying to describe my sense of self and suddenly strong emotions bubbled up over the fear of losing this part of me that had gotten me through such a tumultuous time in my life. I wondered whether I needed to let go- to set this part of myself free. Aurelius pointed out that i wouldn’t really be losing a part of myself: that this part of me was just as connected to me as any other person: real or remembered or invented and that I couldn’t lose that. I wasn’t sure I understood completely, but I felt reassured.

So, I gave myself permission to stay near the work for a while: to write up a summary, to update my query letter, to consider questions to ask my beta readers. With a little time and space, hopefully something new will come along to seize my attention.


•June 28, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I have crossed a threshold, friends and readers: I’ve graduated from someone who is writing a novel, to someone who has written a novel.

Past tense.

Mission accomplished.

I’m pleased to present: the complete first draft of “Enfant Terrible”: a boozy, neon spiral of sex, drugs, rock n roll, colorful language, explicit content and poor taste.

Damen Warner is the front man for a metalcore band that has hit the skids. Stranded and broke, he and his bandmates return to their hometown of Chicago on the promise of having a chance to play Lollapalooza, but once there he is forced to confront his past and reconnect with his estranged family in order to grow up… or die trying.

942 pages. 256,767 words (792 of which are the word ‘fuck’ and derivations thereof, reader be warned). If Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson and Neil Strauss were to meet at a crossroads at midnight on a moonless night to duel for literary supremacy with ink and prose, this book would be the creature that crawled out of the ashes and gained sentience to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world. A monstrous tome, indeed, if I do say so myself.

And I couldn’t be more proud.


•June 27, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I went straight from work to the hairdressers yesterday in order to get my hair trimmed. We have a wedding coming up on the first weekend in July and I keep having to remind myself that that is next week.

Yikes. Where did June go?

This is what happens when you get to preoccupied with a deadline: it tends to be kind of blinding to everything else. If it weren’t for this wedding and the logistical arrangements related to it, I wouldn’t have started thinking about July at all, frankly. Partly this is because all my mental resources are tied up in work, housekeeping and writing right now, and partly because I have this fantasy of spending a few months living without goals for a change, which sounds pleasantly unstructured, but is hard to look forward to in any specific way. And there’s a chance my best laid plans of having no plans might be thwarted anyway: already I’ve had a friend ask if I’d be interested in collaborating on a film, and I’ve made a list of interesting outings that I hope to share with the Curmudgeonly Lion, and I’ve become the new de facto leader of my writers group, and… and… and…

But that’s how it goes sometimes.

For now, I’m still in writer mode for another few days. I’m sure you will be reading ALL about it since I seem to be incapable of blogging about anything else these days, but it should ease off after that. Stay tuned.

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