Tag Archives: writing

Meant to Be

17 May

Around this time fifteen years ago, my world came crashing down. You may already know my story— god knows I’ve talked and written about it extensively over the years: Mom of three almost grown kids finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at forty-two and gives birth to a fourth daughter, who at the age of two is diagnosed with leukemia. Almost three years of chemotherapy later, that daughter is considered cured, and life goes back to what it was before.

Except that it doesn’t.

I think about the woman I was before my daughter’s cancer diagnosis—unfulfilled, stressed, and oh, so judgmental. In my quest to be the perfect mom with perfect children, I was critical of everything and everyone around me. I wallowed in my unhappiness, preventing myself from experiencing the beauty and joy that was offered with each day. It took my baby girl almost dying to snap me out of it.

I want to go back in time and have a conservation with that young mom. I want her to know that despite the trauma she faced as the daughter of an alcoholic father, it was never her fault. I want to wrap my arms around her and tell her how incredible she is—that she is beautiful, smart and talented, and that her creativity has no bounds. That there’s nothing she can’t accomplish if she just believes in herself. I want to tell her to let go of the fear.

On June 7th, a book will come out entitled, Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis. It is a compilation of essays, poetry and artwork exclusively by women. My essay, The Artistry Within Us will be featured. Here is the description of the book:

Art keeps good alive in the worst of times. In the face of ugliness, pain, and death, it’s art that has the power to open us all to a healing imagining of new possibility; it’s art that whispers to the collective that even in the ashes of loss, life always grows again. That’s why right now, in this tumultuous time of war and pandemic, we need poets more than we need politicians.

In response to the multitude of global crises we’re currently experiencing, Editor Stefanie Raffelock put out a much-needed call to her writing community for art to uplift and inform the world, and the authors of She Writes Press answered. Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis—a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating, but universally relatable collection of prose, poetry, and art about living through difficult times like these—is the result. Addressing topics including grief and loss, COVID-19 and war in Ukraine, the gravity of need and being needed, the broad range of human response to crisis in all its forms, and more, these pieces explore how we can find beauty, hope, and deeper interpretation of world events through art—even when the world seems like it’s been turned inside out and upside-down. 

Any and all royalties from Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis will be donated to World Central Kitchen.

 

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=art+in+the+time+of+unbearable+crisis&crid=2Q1HW86SGH58U&sprefix=art+in+the+time%2Caps%2C218&ref=nb_sb_ss_retrain-deeppltr_1_15

Fifteen years ago, I never thought I’d fulfill my dream of becoming a writer, let alone publish a novel. And while I wouldn’t wish my daughter’s cancer experience one anyone—ever, it truly was the catalyst for changing me into the person I was meant to be. For this I am beyond grateful.

My youngest is seventeen now. She is everything I should’ve been at her age: proactive, poised, and confident. Fearlessly, she dives into the depths of each day, never considering how deep the water might be. She knows how to stay afloat.

And even though I spent most of my life dog-paddling in the shallow end, I was able to rise above my self-imposed limitations, and teach my daughter to swim.

Not Over Yet

19 Apr

About a month ago, I ran into a young woman who had attended Kindergarten through high school with my oldest daughter. I hadn’t seen her in years, and we chatted about how our families have been coping during the pandemic. I told her that I had published a novel that had come out right after the lockdown, and she said she’d pick up a copy at our local bookstore. I smiled and thanked her, figuring there was maybe a fifty-fifty chance she’d actually buy it.

Last night I attended a lecture at our local university (Father Gregory Boyle discussing Home Boy Industries—incredibly inspiring, by the way (https://homeboyindustries.org/) where this same young woman rushed up to me, her eyes shining with excitement above her mask.

“I was hoping I’d see you here!” she exclaimed. “I wanted you to know that the very next day after you told me about Lost in Oaxaca, I went down to Chaucer’s Bookstore and bought two copies of your book—one for me and one for my sister! I loved it so much!  I actually read it in like 24 hours, and now I really want to go to Oaxaca!”

She has no idea how much this meant to me. To be honest, I’ve been feeling a little lost myself lately. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the launch of my Lost in Oaxaca, and I’ve been asking myself when I should stop talking about a book that’s almost two years old. Like a bride whose wedding got canceled with no hope of ever rescheduling it, I feel like the pandemic robbed me of my big celebration. I do realize it’s time to move on and dive into the next project, but this has been difficult because I’m currently suffering from pandemic distraction syndrome (I made that up, but you get it.)

I’m told that the average book has a lifespan of three years, so I guess I have approval to prattle on about Lost in Oaxaca for at least one more year. Like a proud new mother, I just can’t stop talking about my literary baby. I give you my full blessing to roll your eyes and shrug with disgust as long as you leave me a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

And if it’s not too presumptuous of me—maybe consider purchasing a copy for a friend?

Happy Anniversary, little book!

https://www.chaucersbooks.com/

Lost in Oaxaca: A Novel https://www.amazon.com/dp/1631528807/ref=cm_sw_r_em_api_i_E8XXZ79PMRATTEM09XH8

Avoidance

17 Nov

For the past fifteen minutes, I have written at least ten sentences and then immediately erased every single one of them. They were terrible sentences— all of them trite, dull and uninspired.

I’ve gotten up from my desk four times; once to run downstairs to watch the cat stare out the window at the birds snacking at the birdfeeder; another to switch a load of laundry (because those sheets gotta get dry), once to pee, and finally, to bring the portable speaker upstairs so I could play some Spotify music, which I somehow believed would inspire me to write beautiful and moving sentences.

I wake each day with the purest intentions of doing what I love—and often hate—more than anything: write. Yet, for the past year I have found the feeblest of excuses to avoid doing just that. I did start writing my second novel: a shitty first draft of chapter one is actually down on my computer—yet the rest remains sequestered in my head. The story wants to come out, but unfortunately my avoidance gene has been vibrating in high gear as of late.

I’m an expert at avoidance. I’ve practiced it my entire life. I used to do it with not practicing the piano; I did it with not completing assignments in high school and in college. Maybe it’s a form of ADHD—a trait that runs in my family—or maybe it’s a learned behavior. Either way, my brain is wired to tell me that I shouldn’t bother, because whatever I do, it won’t be good enough. That I’m nothing but a big fraud.

So it’s just easier not to try.

I think many of us avoid following our dreams for this very reason. We worry about others criticizing or rejecting us. Society has bombarded us with these unreasonable expectations of what success is—how our bodies should look; what possessions we own; what we should have already accomplished in our lives. Even though most of us are savvy enough to understand the false beauty of the images we see in advertising or social media, we still compare ourselves to that impossible standard. And if we can’t reach that standard, WHY BOTHER?

If I don’t try, then no can tell me I’m not good enough. And while I’ve embraced avoidance as an easy alternative to facing the pain of this imagined rejection, I know in my heart that it will ultimately kill my creative soul.

And so I’ve forced myself to write today. I’ve pushed through the avoidance and spilled out some words, and I feel different now than when I first started. There is a tiny seed of accomplishment growing inside of me—that maybe something seemingly insignificant has grown into something more meaningful. Maybe I’m not a fraud after all—that the voice in my head telling me I’m not good enough is the real liar.

Perhaps it’s not what we accomplish that gives us the real joy, but the process of doing that gets that dopamine going in our brains. Finishing something feels good, but the pursuit of getting there is where the real rapture lies.

Thank you, my dear readers, for helping me get to where I need to go.

On to chapter two!

The view from my writing desk.

Distracted

15 Apr

I almost didn’t sit down to write this morning. As the queen of procrastination, I’ll pretty much do anything to avoid getting started on any writing project. These days, even the thought of constructing a simple blog post is overwhelming.

I’d already backed the minivan into the driveway with the intention of ridding it of a year’s worth of Covid-19 garbage, including my collection of discarded disposable masks that somehow all smell like a barnyard (I sincerely hope that my breath isn’t really that foul!) Then there are the multiple crumpled up Starbucks treat bags, bits of dried leaves from last fall, and enough dog hair to stuff a small pillow. I had originally looked into getting my car detailed, but the hefty price tag persuaded me that I should do it myself. So what if it took me four hours and came with the probability of straining my already sore back? As I bounded upstairs to change into some sweats and a ratty t-shirt, I passed my laptop sitting alone on my desk, its screen covered in a sheen of dust.

“You’re an asshole,” it whispered.

A true friend always tells it like it is.

Yes, I’ve been distracted lately, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of writing going on. I could blame it on pandemic-related depression (a valid excuse for many of our struggles these days), but the truth is that my avoidance of writing has always been related to my feelings of self-worth. Throughout my entire life, I’ve fought with that malicious bitch in my brain who lies to me about my abilities. And after more than a year of isolation, change, and a constant stream of worry, she has made herself comfortable in my head, soaking in a tub brimming with doubt and insecurity.

Oh, you know her, too?

My personal struggles pale in comparison to what others have been through during this pandemic, and I do realize I am one of the lucky ones. But isolation is difficult nonetheless. I miss my family. I miss seeing my piano students in person. I miss interacting with people—I want the world to see that I’m smiling at them. I’m dying to embrace people again.

I do know we’ll get through this. It’s getting better day by day (at least where I live) and even with all of my worry and distraction, I’m beginning to feel a slight sense of hope again. My family and I are vaccinated. Summer is just around the bend, and maybe, just maybe—we’ll go back to a semblance of normalcy. And when that time comes, be prepared. Because I may hug you and never let go.

There. I’ve written a few words. That bitch in my head has temporarily submerged herself under the water. She’s quiet—at least for now.

Off to clean the van!

Nah. I’ll do it tomorrow

Liar, Liar

11 Feb

img_0434Writing is not fun. The people who tell you, Oh, I love to write so much that wish I could spend all day doing it are lying. Because if they had the time to write all day long, they would use every distraction at their disposal to avoid actually writing something. I know this, because I am one of those liars myself.

Right now, while I may actually be writing something, it’s not what I’m supposed to be writing. I’m supposed to be starting my next novel. In fact, I should’ve started it ages ago—or at least created a substantial outline of what I want it to be. At this point, even a completed paragraph would be good.

Unfortunately, when you complete your first novel, and it’s about to be published, it’s assumed you’ve been at this writing thing since you were twelve, and that you have a minimum of two or three completed manuscripts in the bottom of a desk drawer somewhere that you can pull out, polish up a bit, and send off to your publisher.

Insert eye roll emoji here.

I really do want to start my next book. And I actually have a general idea of what I want to write about. It’s just that it’s a sensitive subject that’s close to my heart, which makes it that much more scary and overwhelming. I’m not afraid of expressing vulnerability, but I do worry too much about what others think of me. Especially since I’m a two on the Enneagram scale (truly weird how accurate this test is) which means my personality makes me only want to please. https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-2.

While the topic of my next novel may not please everyone, maybe it will help others, which is also part of my personality type. So I ask myself—which is more important—pleasing, or helping? With all the hate and division going on in the world these days, I think I’ll stick with helping.

Okay I’m done. I’m posting this, and then I swear, I’m not getting up from the computer until I write an entire page. Or maybe a paragraph. Or at least one really great sentence.

I’ll keep you posted.

Lost in Oaxaca

Shutting Her Up

7 Feb

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When my youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia almost thirteen years ago, my life changed profoundly. In the middle of all that fear and chaos, I somehow found me. I discovered just how strong I was; I learned to focus on what was most important in life—family, friends, finding joy in the little things. I began to ignore that malevolent voice who was always telling me I wasn’t good enough to pursue my dreams. With her silenced, I found my true passion: writing.

So now, over a decade later (where the heck does the time go?) I’m about to make a really big dream come true—publishing my first novel. And I should be over the moon excited about it, but instead, I’m nervous. More like petrified. As my publishing date approaches, that nasty voice that I told to shut up all those years ago has sensed my vulnerability and she is on the attack. She’s bitchier than ever—telling me how stupid I am to think to anyone will read my book; that I’m a total fraud, and what makes you think you’re an actual writer?

Lately, I’m wondering why I allowed this bitch to get into my head again. Most of my advanced readers have loved Lost in Oaxaca. The Book Club Cook Book loved it. https://www.bookclubcookbook.com/galleymatchbookclubsrecommend-copy-2-2/  So what am I afraid of? Rejection? After 150 outright NOs from publishers and agents, I don’t think that’s it. Criticism? Maybe. Perhaps it’s because I feel like I’m about to give birth to a child that I’ve spent seven years creating, and I want everyone to love her unconditionally. Yet I’m savvy enough to know this is not going to happen.

So the voice scolds and rebukes me; tries to get me to believe that I won’t be a success. But if there’s one thing I know—it’s that I won’t ever stop writing. I love words and stories and books too much. I love colorful characters who are flawed and scared. I want them figure it all out, just as I’m figuring it all out. And writing is my pathway. It allows me to share my doubts and fears with you, so that maybe in our shared vulnerability, we can connect on a deeper level. That’s what really makes me want to write.

Thirteen years ago, when I was at my lowest, I somehow got that bitch to shut up.

I can do it again.

 

I’d love to see you at Chaucer’s Bookstore on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. for my book signing!

Dream Come True

5 Nov

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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)

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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