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Dream Come True

5 Nov

oax 11

Two and a half years ago I sent out my first query letter for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca. Over the course of that time I’ve received more standard rejection emails than I can count (actually I did count them but I’m mortified to admit to you how many are clogging my inbox.) I experienced some lovely moments of hope after receiving a handful of requests from agents to read the full manuscript. Then I was over the moon when the head of a reputable New York literary agency said she was “this close” to adding me to her list. She ultimately chose to decline.

One agent said I’d written “a well-crafted novel” and gave me some helpful advice. Another said she loved the book but had no idea how to market me. I’m not famous. I have no brand. These days, traditional publishing relies so much on who the author is, or what she looks like—it’s no longer focused solely on the writing. I totally get it. What traditional agency would want to take a chance on a middle-aged piano teacher who has hardly published anything?

All hope is not lost, though. I didn’t spend five years of my life writing/editing a novel to give up that easily. I’ve decided to head in a different direction. Come hell or high water, this novel is getting published.

The exciting news is that Lost in Oaxaca was recently accepted by Spark Press Publications, a hybrid agency that selects its authors based solely on the quality of the writing. https://gosparkpress.com/about/.

I know your first thought is that this is merely a vanity press—that anyone with enough cash can get their work published, not matter how good (or bad) it is. After much research, I’ve learned that this is definitely not the case. While I do have to finance the publication, I don’t have to worry about navigating all the difficult details of publishing.  Those details most likely would have led to a mental breakdown had I decided to self-publish. Keeping my sanity is worth the cost.

I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my early fifties. With a family and a full time job, I don’t have a heck of a lot of time left over to write, let alone market my novel. This might be my only chance, so I’m going for it.

Barring any unforeseen problems, Lost in Oaxaca should come out in sometime in 2020.

Watch for the movie version shortly after that.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

 

photo (28)

 

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Worry

7 May

“When I look back on all these worries, img_2382I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”

–Winston Churchill

You’d think that I would have learned my lesson after all these years. But I haven’t. I still wake up in the middle of the night, riddled with worry about the things that I have little control over. My go-to worry is usually about money—that’s there never enough of it—though compared to the rest of the world, my standard of living is in the top one percent. I worry about our house being eaten by termites. I worry about my weight and my health. I worry about politics (who doesn’t?) I worry about my kids, my husband and my aging mother. I worry that I’ll never find an agent for my book—that people are sick to death hearing about me and my dumb novel and how I can’t find an agent who loves it enough to sign me.

I worry that I’m not a good enough writer.

I lived with some form of worry my entire life, most of it pointless. Almost eleven years ago, my worry turned to terror when our daughter, Isa was diagnosed with cancer. Now, that was truly something to worry about. And boy, did I ever get good at it. For almost three years, I carried a tight ball of fear in my gut that never went away, not even for a moment. And when it was all over and Isa was cured, the worry slowly began to dissipate. I was left with this incredible sense of relief. Everything was sweeter and brighter and more joyful. I began to practice feeling grateful.

I stopped worrying and I found my passion.

I began to write.

And I’ve kept at it. Over the past six years, I’ve written 135 blog posts, published two essays (in actual magazines) and even earned $75 for one of them. I’ve managed to send out my annual Holiday newsletter. Every. Single. Frickin. Year. I’ve become friends with many amazing writers (virtually and in person.) And I wrote an entire novel, which most of the time I think is pretty good if I’m feeling generous toward myself.

But in the process of following my literary bliss (and the subsequent rejection I’ve faced with my efforts of trying to get published) I’ve allowed the worry to come back. I began practicing self-doubt instead of self-appreciation. I’d forgotten that what’s important is the path, not the destination (trite, but true.) I’ve been so focused on getting to the end of my journey that I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy all the beautiful things in my periphery along the way.

The worry attached herself again. She’s kept me up at night with her tortuous ways.

Eleven years ago, she held onto me so tightly that I could barely breathe. I learned to beat her back. And I’ll do it again. She’s a tough one, but I’m tougher.

Bring it on, Bitch.

Taking too Long

25 Oct

img_1069I got another rejection email this morning—nothing out of the ordinary—just another one of almost one hundred agents who have said no to my novel.  “Thank you for sending this,” she wrote, “And I apologize for the delay. Your query looked interesting, but unfortunately it is not exactly what I am looking for at the moment so I will have to pass.”

I sent that particular email in April of 2016—it was one of my first queries. Doing the math, I laughed aloud, realizing that it only took her a year and a half to answer me. I do give her credit for actually responding.

So here’s the question: When do I give up and decide that enough is enough? It’s getting a bit depressing. I’ve been querying agents for well over a year and I’m seriously thinking about self-publishing even though I’ve heard that if I do, I may quash my chances of ever getting an agent to represent me for this novel. Although there is the rumor of the occasional success story of an Indie author getting picked up by a publisher, it’s rare.

I’ve given my novel to well over a dozen people to read and everyone has told me they’ve really enjoyed it—even loved it. And no matter how fond of me they are, I can’t imagine they’re all lying to spare my feelings. It can’t be worse than some of the junk I’ve read over the years, can it?

Researching this whole self-publishing thing is thoroughly daunting. There are so many questions: which company is the best; how much money should I spend—how do I market the dang thing? Ugh. I don’t want to think about these details. It is it too much to ask that someone do it for me?

I just want to write.

 

 

 

 

 

Puzzle

31 Jul

img_1605It wasn’t that long ago that I looked forward to my writing time—a few free hours here and there would make my stomach tingle with eager anticipation. I’d grab my coffee, open my computer and begin piecing together my puzzle of words, sentences and paragraphs. After several years, I watched my jigsaw come together with pages, chapters and finally, a completed novel.

I know I should feel a sense of accomplishment that after many hours of work, I took an idea and turned it into a story with a beginning, middle and end—a story that many people have told me they’ve loved reading.

And yet the truth is, it’s not right yet.

After another round of queries, another agent was intrigued and asked for the full manuscript. He told me he’d get back to me within three days—which he did, but not with the positive news I’d hoped for.

It was another pass. But instead of the standard I’m sorry this isn’t the right fit for me at this time, blah, blah, blah, this guy actually called me on the phone and spoke to me for twenty minutes about what I needed to do to make the narrative execution work. He really liked my voice, but felt I needed to flesh out the main character more so that the reader could better understand her motivation. He said he’d be happy to take another look at after some revision.

More revision? Oh, Lord.

I guess that in my eagerness to finish the puzzle, I neglected to take the time to see if all the pieces were in the correct position. From a distance, it looked fine, but upon closer inspection, it became obvious some of the pieces were not aligned.

When the truth hits you right in the face, it hurts. Especially when you realize that deep down, you knew it all along.

Which is why I haven’t been writing lately. I’ve avoided my computer altogether (except when I waste time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—or spend an inordinate amount of time following the distracting antics of the crazy man in the White House.) Right now I’ll do anything to avoid facing the nitty gritty work that I know I must do in order to make my novel really good.

But it is imperative that I remember I’m not defined by whether or not I get this novel published. Instead, I’m defined by my tenacity in sticking with this process no matter how much rejection and failure I’ve faced. I have a stubborn streak and it will do me justice in the end.

There. I just wrote over 400 words. I guess I’m already back to work. I’ll report back and let you know how it turns out.

Thanks for listening.

Rejection

2 May

Voting and protest concept

I had no idea how hard this was going to be. Don’t get me wrong—I knew there would be rejection. I just didn’t realize how much rejection.

It’s been a year since I began searching to find representation for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca. The very first week I began the process of querying agents, I got a response from a well-known literary house in New York City. The woman who owned the agency emailed me back within a day. “I like this,” she wrote after reading the first chapter. “Send me the full manuscript as soon as possible.”

Well, that was easy, I gloated, expecting her to call me within a few weeks with an offer of representation. LOL. Or TTJTRWJ which means Time to join the real world, Jess. Eight months later, she finally emailed me back.

Dear Jessica,

I have had this for so long that it’s time for me to face up to the reality, which is that I like this but I don’t love it, and that’s why I keep putting it down and picking it up again.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t represent something for which I have only moderate enthusiasm, and that is not something you should want either.

I feel it’s a little too romancey for my taste. The writing is good, but not spectacular. It’s a near miss, but one that I have to take seriously.

Good luck with this. Someone else might be interested, but I have concluded that I am not the right person for this.

Good, but not spectacular. A near miss. Ouch. Okay, so she didn’t love it. We all have different tastes. That’s to be expected. Someone else out there is bound to love it.

I keep a yellow legal notebook pad where I write down whom I’ve queried and the date I sent the email. When I receive a rejection, I write a big “NO” across the name. I have written “NO” forty-eight times. Really. Forty-eight times. I just counted.

I can tell that most of the rejections are form letters. I get it—sincerely, I do. Every day, these people are inundated with thousands of emails from hopeful authors like me—how can they possibly take time to respond with a personal note?

This is not to say I haven’t had some positive response. In the course of one year, I’ve had five agents request the full manuscript. After reading my novel they all graciously declined, but at least they asked to read it. I guess that’s something. Recently, I received the one and only rejection email where the agent (from another well-known New York literary agency) actually took the time to offer suggestions.

Dear Jessica,

Thank you for the opportunity to read Lost in Oaxaca. I enjoyed the detailed portraits of musical subcultures, family life, and travel experiences, and found your imagery quite engaging. I also appreciated the story’s diverse cast of characters and emphasis on inter-cultural engagement. However, this aspect of the story often felt forced and didactic. Characters like Camille’s mother felt too much like caricatures of xenophobia to be convincing, and Camille was often frustratingly naïve, in spite of her intelligence. In order to challenge readers, the story’s political aspects must be more challenging and complex. This manuscript was well-crafted, and I wish you the best of luck with it in the future.

Now, that’s concrete advice I can use. I took her suggestions to heart and have already re-worked parts of my manuscript. What I really appreciate is that she actually took the time to offer her expertise to someone she doesn’t know. That’s true professional courtesy. I think that when I do publish this damn book, I’m going to acknowledge this particular agent for being so thoughtful.

I have many good qualities but my best one is patience. Therefore, I AM NOT GIVING UP. I have sent out eighty-six queries and more than half have said NO. Some never responded. But I AM NOT GIVING UP. Some agent out there is bound to read my query and be intrigued enough to ask for the manuscript. Hopefully, that person will fall in love with my characters just as I have—and then I’ll get the phone call I’ve been waiting for.

And the rest will be herstory.

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Tiny Beautiful Things

1 Mar

I recently read the most wonderful book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, the author of the best selling memoir, Wild. This lovely little book is a compilation of letters sent to the author while she worked writing an advice column for the Rumpus called Dear Sugar. My childhood friend Michele (one of my fellow creative soul sisters) recommended it to me as she understands my constant angst about trying to find happiness through creative expression.

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I needed this book right now. I haven’t felt like myself lately. Each morning when I turn on the television I want to either scream or cry at what’s happening in our country. I need to start my next novel and every time I sit down at the computer–I’ve got nothing. I stare blankly at the screen until I finally give up and log into Facebook where the political posts made me even more depressed. Just before falling asleep in bed each night, my brain manifests all kinds of wonderful and exciting writing ideas, then when I wake up the next morning, I can’t remember a single one.

The best thing about Tiny Beautiful Things is that we learn something that we already know: life is hard sometimes. We are all sad and raw and completely lost at some point in our lives. the trick is to understand that with each experience there’s a lesson to be learned. We don’t always pay attention, but it’s there.

I’m not sure what my lesson is lately. Certainly, I need to feel more gratitude for what I have. And I have so much. So I will pay attention to all the tiny beautiful things that are right in front of me.

 

 

 

Midlife Crisis

17 Oct

sunset-at-carneros

I’ve recently decided that I’m going through my first real midlife crisis. At least I hope that’s what it is—perhaps I have another 54 years ahead of me. Whatever it is though, I’m struggling to find the joy lately.

I could blame my depression on several things:

1) No takers on my novel so far. I do have one agent still looking at it, but no word back yet. I’m savvy enough to know that for new writers trying to get published, this is not uncommon. It’s still hard on the ego, though.

2) The ELECTION. Like a looky-loo at a car accident, I’m sickened but at the same time, strangely captivated. I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from the tragedy playing out on television while eagerly waiting for another car (or scandal) to plow into that already huge pile of carnage.

3) My children are growing up and leaving me. I know this is as it should be, but shedding my role as caretaker of four is harder than I thought it would be. Thank goodness I still have six years left with Isa.

4) Getting older sucks. Menopause, wrinkles, aches and pains all remind me that while inside I’m still that sixteen-year-old girl, my body proves that she is long gone. I should have loved her more when she was around.

“White-privileged, first-world problems,” my husband admonishes me. “Get over yourself.” As a person of color, he’s allowed to say this to me. Growing up poor in Mexico, he knows about real poverty, discrimination and suffering. Sure, I’ve had my moments of pain, but fully understand I’ve lead a privileged life. After recently calculating our wealth on Globalrichlist.com. I’m actually embarrassed to admit how far up on the scale we are. I have NO reason whatsoever to complain.

Still, I can’t seem to shake this feeling of “What if?” What if I’d starting writing earlier? What if I’d made exercise a priority throughout my life? What if I’d traveled the world when I was young and had the energy? What if I’d learned to love myself a long time ago?

Hey Jess—do you want some cheese with your whine?

Okay, rant over. No one can fix me but me. I need to look for the good, so I’m off to practice some intentional gratitude.

I’ll start with a heartfelt THANK YOU for following my blog. I truly appreciate your readership.

There. I feel better already.

Just to remind myself of how lucky I am, I’m posting some photos of things I’m grateful for:

yellow-flowers

Black-eyed Susans in the garden

leah-and-isa

Time spent with my beautiful daughters

goleta-mountains

My daily view of the Santa Ynez mountains

isa-leo-and-cody

Isa and our babies, Cody and Leo

pink-hollyhock

The vibrant color of this late autumn hollyhock.

family photo

There are really no words to express my gratitude for my family.

The Bully

12 Aug

I live with a bully in my head who says awful things to me all day long—despicable things I would never dream of saying to a friend, let alone an enemy (if I had one.) Yet I find myself listening with rapt attention to my tormentor, choosing instead to believe the negative rhetoric when I should be grabbing it by the collar and telling it to SHUT UP once and for all. It’s like having a personal Donald Trump in my brain. Even as I write these words, Donald is telling me that I’m a terrible writer, that no one cares what I have to say—that I’m basically a DISASTER, folks.

mean face

I’m sure my depressed state of mind can be attributed to quite a lot of recent rejection and the fact that I still haven’t found an agent to represent my novel. I was off to such a great start back in May. After querying some agents, several requested to read the full manuscript. I happily emailed my novel off to them, halfway expecting them to all say YES! Your novel is exactly what we’re looking for! Please sign with us!

Yeah, right. Instead, it was “While your writing is quite good, no one here is willing to take on your novel as a project…” or “This is not the right fit for our agency, but as the literary business is quite subjective, I’m sure there are other agents out there who will feel differently…”

We’ve all heard the stories—writers pasting up their rejection letters on the wall or keeping a file folder of rejection emails—or how now famous writers received hundreds of rejections before finally publishing that bestselling novel.

I know I’ve just begun the process of many months—maybe even years of trying to get published. As of today, I’ve received over twenty-five rejections—twenty five people telling me that they don’t want me. I know this is to be expected, but it still hurts. I will hold out hope that I soon hear from the one agent who liked my story and told me that although she had a pile of manuscripts to read, mine was on her list. She told me to be patient.

I will wait. I will keep sending out queries. And I will fight with everything I’ve got to ignore that annoying Donald Trump voice in my head.

That bully is going down.

fortune cookie

Waiting for the Mail

24 May

rusty mailboxMy addiction to the mail began when I was fourteen and developed a mad crush on the teenage drummer of a band who came to play at one of our high school dances. Sadly, I wasn’t there with a date, but as a member of a high school service club I was required to stay and clean up after the dance. The drummer’s name was Bob and he had feathery brown hair and a real mustache. He and the rest of his band mates wore matching peach satin shirts and tight-fitting cream-colored bell bottoms (cue Bee Gees soundtrack) and I willingly gave him my address so he could write to me. Every day for two weeks I eagerly checked our rusty mailbox after school expecting a letter—nothing. I’d pretty much given up all hope when it finally arrived—a square white envelope with my name scrawled across the front in untidy black ink. To this day, I still remember the absolute thrill of holding that letter in my hands.

Thus began my life of waiting for the mail. The college acceptance letter. The Christmas check from the wealthy aunt. The airmail letters from my husband (then boyfriend) who, after our intense three-week affair, left me to go back to his hometown in Mexico.

Although I still love to receive letters in the mail, my new obsession is all about email. Instead of running to the curb to check the mailbox for love letters, I constantly check my phone to see if any literary agents have responded to the queries I’ve sent out about my novel. Most agents tell you that it will take eight to twelve weeks for them to respond. I’ve had some responses—so far it’s been mostly No, thanks, although I have had a couple of requests to read the full manuscript. I’m hopeful someone will believe in my work enough to take me on as a client.

I suspect that this time I’ll be waiting quite a while. Good thing I’ve had lots of practice over the years.

Sorry I’ve got to go now—my phone just dinged!

letters

One of the many letters Rene sent to me from Oaxaca while we were apart.

What Now?

4 Apr

I’ve loved books forever. As a young girl, I was never without something to read. Whether it was a library book (best smell in the world, in my opinion) my brother’s tattered MAD Magazines or the back of a cereal box, I devoured words. Books allowed me to escape into a world of my own choosing; they took me on adventures, they let me be somebody else for a little while when it was too painful to be me.

As a kid, my dream was either to become a concert pianist or a writer. I ended up pursuing music because I was pretty good at it, although I don’t think I was ever competitive enough to make it as a concert artist. Instead, I became a piano teacher. Truthfully, I’m glad I chose that path as it allowed me the chance to raise my four children while I worked from home.

My other dream–the writing dream–never did die out, though. For years I fantasized about writing a novel but never did anything about it–either I was too busy or the fear of failure stopped me before I even wrote that first sentence. That changed when my youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer. I’ve beaten that story into the ground so I won’t rehash it, but I will say that experience was the turning point for me. The lesson was obvious: time is short so follow your passion.

I got to it. I began blogging. I published an essay in a small magazine and one in an online publication. Nothing big, but it was a start. I blogged some more. Then I sat down and began writing a novel. I blogged some more and got better at my writing.  I joined a writer’s group and shared my stuff. They liked it. Now, ninety thousand words later, I have actually finished a novel.

Now what?

Here comes the hard part. Being new at this trying to get your noel published game, it’s like I’m starting back at square one. Everyone has opinions on what to do: send out queries; find and agent; no, no–don’t do that–self publish instead! I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can help you.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what happens. I wrote a novel and I loved the process of writing it. I didn’t do it for the money or the glory (well maybe a little.) I did it because there was something inside of me pushing to get the story out. I did it because I couldn’t not do it any longer.

Dear readers, I thank you for hanging in there with me over the past several years, always encouraging me to keep going. I value your support more than I can ever express. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Now if I can only come up with a decent title for the damn thing.novel on desk