Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Being Steven King

So you’re a creative person who likes to make things with words or paint. You’re also a nice person, or anyway, you usually think you are. There are love stories in you, flower petals to paint, and poems to your new baby or grandchild. You make pretty art; you paint sweet words; you kiss butterflies on the nose.

Then again...

What if you’re a nice person who also wants to cover a canvas in thick black paint, or fill it with naked bodies writhing in erotic passion? Can you allow yourself? What will people think? What if, in the story you’re writing, the bad guy—or worse, the good guy—licks the spit-up off the baby’s face. Ick. That's totally gross.

What if what comes out of your keyboard is unintentionally mean, revengie, and/or disgusting? Or worse...what if it’s sappy, stupid, preachy, or boring. What if it’s bad and you’re humiliated for life?

But what if it’s good and no one sees it?

Insecurity is having a party in my head, self-questioning is dancing a polka, doubt is twerking it’s fat butt at me. I just finished a final—I can’t say “the final”—revision of my novel about a suicide and what happens to the survivors, and I’m trying to be brave.

You can be creative without being brave. Your can hide your manuscript in a drawer or in a file folder on the computer, your drawings can be held captive in the closet. If you never expose your work, no one can judge you.

When Steven King writes one of his scary novels do you think he worries about whether anyone thinks he’s nice (which I’ve read, he is). He just does what he does, and then has a few trusted friends read it before going seriously public. 

So the first step after writing the book (which is really the first step) is imposing your masterpiece on some of your friends. 

The reviews of my novel (if graphed) would look like bad teeth.
  • Barbara, John, Ann, and Joy all said they liked it. Were they being nice, or did they really like it? Maybe I should ask them again?
  • Pat hated it (but loves me), and emailed, “I thought the characters were too black and white. Lacking nuances.” She was disappointed not to see the sly humor of my blog, which—since I’ve been working on novels—has been neglected. (The sly humor and the blog.)
  • Carol wrote, “So intelligent and perceptive—a flowing, delightful writing style. The characters were very real.”
  • Kristen, my environmentalist granddaughter, loved it and interspersed the manuscript with post-its of “Fun Facts,” most of which I added.
  • Louise read two pages and returned it, she didn’t have time then, but never asked for it back.
  • Jim DeLorey, who wrote an exciting thriller, Scream Cruise, took the time to write pages of valuable positive and negative comments. 
  • Ed, retired professor of literature, had some helpful suggestions, but, bottom line, he said it deserved to be published. 
  • My daughter, Sue, liked it, and I know she always tells me what she really thinks. 
  • Bonnie said, “Ehh.” 
  • Colette thought I should write a sequel. 
  • Mary Cay said she liked it so much that she read it twice.
  • Alison said, “The way you interwove the environmental issues felt very much like what Barbara Kingsolver does in her work, and I thought you did it equally well.” I immediately reread Flight Patterns. Alison’s comment was a stretch, but fun to hear, especially since I’m a fan of Kingsolver.

Most of these folks (likers and dislikers alike) had suggestions—excellent, helpful, and wise. 

Then five agents rejected the book.

After six months, with only an auto response saying they got it—the agent I was most hoping to work withemailed, “We would be pleased to consider your manuscript, INTENTIONAL, for possible representation.” 

Woo Hoo! Yippee! Yay! Can you believe!

Nine weeks later—NINE WEEKS LATER!—that agent sent a rejection email, a nice one, but still a rejection. Six months plus nine weeks, that’s a lot of waiting time, and I’m aging quickly.

Friends say, “Hey, listen, five rejections is nothing. You know how many times Harry Potter was rejected?” The reassuring legend grows; the last I heard J.K. Rowling was rejected twenty-seven times.

Steven King is, from what I’ve read, a nice person, a gifted literary writer who writes terror in black paint. “Carrie” was rejected ten times.

But I’ve decided I’ve had enough rejection. Years ago self-publishing was a huge no-no, but times have changed. I’m going to be brave. I want people to read me. If they like me, great, if not, that’s okay too.

Two weeks ago I sent my book to a professional copyeditor. I should have it back in early December. Then, after more editing by me, and more fussing with my cover design, hopefully, by January (two and a half years since I began) it’ll be a real book. 

PS. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (my much appreciated readers). I want to be able to ask them to read the next one.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Love, Luck and Language

In my last blog post I told you about my husband, John, having open-heart surgery, but that wasn’t the whole story. 

On Monday, September 8th, we left the farm in Wisconsin, where John had been helping his brother Walt reroof the garage. We drove through miles of cornfields and the dead zone—no Internet, heading to Chicago where we’d spend the night with John’s mom. The next day we planned take his great aunt to lunch before heading back to Detroit.

Since John’s mom has Sanka and no internet, we decided Starbucks was our last stop before her place. We’d get ourselves fueled up, and check our email.

The first email message I saw was from Jake. Jake lives in Pennsylvania. I’ve never met him or spoken to him, but I know who he is—my friend Ann’s son. As soon as I saw his name I was overwhelmed with emotion, and tears blurred my vision, Jake sending me an email couldn’t be good news. And it wasn’t.

On Sunday, Ann had been visiting her family in Birmingham, Michigan for her other son Jesse’s birthday. After dinner, she was feeling tired, and said she was ready to drive home. Her granddaughter Alyssa begged her to stay longer, so she did—she’s a very good grandma.

She was in the kitchen talking to Jesse. They hadn’t sung happy “buttday” (as she likes to say, instead of birthday) or had his vegan cake yet, when suddenly he took her by the hand and quickly lead her out to the car. She had been speaking garble, making no sense, and Jesse realized that she was having a stroke. He drove her to Beaumont Hospital. He drove Fast. He knew the FAST signs of a stroke.

            F...Face drooping
            A...Arm weakness
            S...Speech difficulty
            T...Time to call 911

Lucky. Lucky Jesse knew the signs. And lucky too, that Alyssa asked her to stay longer. She could have been driving home alone when the stroke hit.

Jake had flown in from Pennsylvania. He was in her hospital room with her when he emailed me on Monday. The only thing that was affected by the stroke was language. Lucky. She had no paralysis, and her motor function was fine. Lucky. He emailed his cellphone number and said that she wanted to talk to me.

I didn’t understand most of what she said on the phone, but she sounded chipper.
We left Chicago early on Tuesday, skipped visiting John’s great aunt, and by 2:00 that afternoon, I was in Ann’s hospital room. She was as beautiful as always, smiling, gracious and talking. The words she said weren’t always the right words—usually not, but she was alive.

Ann’s beautiful, oh yeah...I know, you think I mean pretty, and that’s very true, but she’s a beautiful person inside. She gives homeless people money, when others won’t even give eye contact. She’s loyal to a difficult friend (not me, I’m easy—relatively). She has a very generous heart.

Ann was an opera singer, and a few years ago she lost the quality of voice that she had cherished. Sometimes she dreams that she’s singing, but as she says, “My voice is only a shadow of what it once was, even in dreams.” It makes her sad.

Ann paints lovely abstracts with colors that make you want to travel to New Mexico.

When I think about her, I always try to sit up straight, because she has wonderful posture. She can get up out of a chair without the help of her hands. I can’t. She does a little ankle crossover thing and rises gracefully into the air like a ballerina.

She’s ten years older than me and sometimes (irrelevant of age) she reminds me of my mother—when she’s being cynical, bossy and opinionated. Don’t tell her, but I actually like that about her.

When John went into the hospital a few days after she did, I went back and forth between their rooms. She got out of the hospital several days before him.

Ann Amenta
Last week she was able to start driving again. Yay!

She’s getting speech therapy three days a week, and her speech is improving every day. But it’s hard. In the hospital she was very jolly, laughing at her own wrong words, but now the happy drugs have worn off, and learning to read and speak and write again are hard work and stressful. But she’s brave and determined.

John was lucky. If he hadn’t gone to the doctor when he did, he could have died. Ann’s lucky. If Jesse hadn’t recognized that she was having a stroke she could have died.

And I’m the luckiest, because I still have these two special people in my life. I love them both.