Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Levels of Rejection

Big news! My most recent submission got rejected! With a personal letter!! It was a pretty big deal really. It means that I am close. That someone out there who isn't a friend or family member obligated to like my work likes my work! The letter said that my piece was good but it needed a bit more development. That I should continue to submit as they were interested to read more of my stuff. WIN!!

Sometimes it's the little things, really. The baby steps.

I actually got rejected three times in one week. The first was for a flash fiction piece that I am really proud of but haven't found the right audience yet. The email came when we were visiting my sister-in-law, and I'll be honest here, it made me cry a little. But my husband, my sister-in-law and my best friend (via text) all told me I needed to keep pushing forward, that it took a lot of courage to get this far and I should be proud of that. The second rejection was the personal letter. It was for a short story I wrote back when I was teaching - as a model for the students. I've been tweaking it here and there and it is slowly taking on a more publishable shape. My writing group friends and critique partner agreed that the letter was good news, and I was reminded of Stephen King's advice in On Writing (if you haven't read the book - it's a great one!) that you need to take these sort of letters to heart. People in the publishing world know things. Listen to them. The third rejection was one I was already expecting, but came officially via form letter. Last fall I submitted a piece about our first adoption and how it changed my life. It was a real tear-jerker. Got both my parents to cry. But it didn't make the cut. It is a good piece, and I am hoping to find a home for it someplace else. The bottom line is that my writing will come across the desk of someone and if it doesn't speak to them, they will pass on it. But someday soon (and it has happened before - so I am hopeful) it will come across the desk of someone and it WILL speak to them.

My novel is nearly done. Once the first draft is finished I'll need to go back and revise, and I hope to get the opinions of some trusted readers (if you are interested - let me know!) along the way. Then the querying will begin. The sending out of my baby into the world to see if the professionals think it has a chance. I am both excited and terrified about this step. People are always posting good news online - securing an agent, getting a book deal, successfully self-publishing. Of course they don't post the bad news. The piles of rejections. The heartbreak. It's there. And I guess my advice for today is to look for the levels of rejection and try to find the positive. Advice from someone who generally sees the glass as half-empty, but who is trying to shift her perspective ever so slightly.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Kate's New Book!!

Back in December, thanks to my PTA partner in crime, Dee, I hooked up with a great group of writers. We meet weekly to write and chat, and they have been a wonderful addition to my life. One of the members, Kate, has a new book coming out in June. She writes YA with a paranormal feel and names her books after famous songs (her first one was called Another Little Piece). My review is below - check out the book when it comes out in June. Or go to Goodreads  for a chance to win an advance copy!

(Don't You) Forget About Me(Don't You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Don't You) Forget About Me will be officially released in June, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story slightly outside the realms of reality. The town of Gardnerville exists as a sort of sanctuary for those who are sick and looking to improve their health and extend their life. Of course there is a flip-side - those coming of age have powers that turn typical teenage moodiness into destructive behavior and force a large part of the population into a soul-sucking reformatory. The story follows Skylar on a quest to find her sister Piper after a particularly disastrous event, alternating between the present and the past. Quinn does a wonderful job developing character relationships, building tension and making you desperate to find out what happens next.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Simpler Life

My eight year old and I are making our way through the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I never read the books as a child but grew up watching The Little House on the Prairie on TV and thought it would be a fun series to read and discuss with the boy. Wilder's writing is sweet and memorable. She makes you feel like you are right there with the family, experiencing their joys and hardships. We are currently reading Farmer Boy, which tells the story of Almanzo Wilder (Laura's husband) as a young boy living in Northern New York. Both the Ingalls family and the Wilder family are incredibly hard working, and I love sharing these stories with my son as a way of demonstrating how easy life is now compared to then. Last night we read how Mrs. Wilder used beef tallow to make candles. It was a day long process, and they needed to make enough to last the entire year. Everything they did took time, a tremendous amount of energy, and careful planning. There was no running to the grocery store in the middle of winter to replenish the pantry with food and supplies. 

The other thing I love about the stories is the cyclical nature of everything. Each book (well, the three we've read so far) journeys through the seasons, explaining in detail how the families took advantage of what was available and learned how to preserve what they needed for the upcoming months. Barbara Kingsolver wrote a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that describes how her family spent a year buying only locally grown or manufactured products. There is this wonderful part where they are gathered in the kitchen cleaning, cooking and pickling a mountain of produce, and I was reminded of it as we read through the harvest section of Farmer Boy. Both books serve as a metaphor for life. Be prepared. Seasons change, life becomes difficult. We need to preserve the good things to last us through the short, cold days.

I am amazed at how the stories are affecting me. While I don't envy Mrs. Ingalls and Mrs. Wilder their long hours cleaning, preparing food, and making clothing, I do wish things could be simpler. Simpler food, simpler living space, simpler responsibilities. As a mom, it can get tiresome doing the same activities over and over. Activities that often go completely unappreciated. But I am trying to shift my attitude to one of mindfulness - finding joy in things otherwise taken for granted.

If, like me, you only watched Laura Ingalls on television (the book is much, much different) or even if you read some or all of the books as a kid, I recommend [re]reading the series by yourself or with a member of the younger generation. We could all benefit from the lessons in those pages.

And go out and enjoy the springtime. We've earned it this year!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How Things End

WARNING: This post contains How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) finale spoilers.

Last night was the series finale of a fantastic show, How I Met Your Mother. My husband is a die hard fan, faithfully watching every season and then watching it again on DVD and again on Netflix. He prides himself on besting our friends in HIMYM trivia and picking out the little inconsistencies on the show. I have enjoyed the series over the years, although I have certainly had moments of shaking my fist at the television or walking away to get a snack when the story line just wasn't holding my attention, and I could write full length essays on theme, characterization and symbolism. But that isn't what this post is about. It's about endings. And last night's finale has created a social media storm worse than the ending of LOST.

To break things down: The show is supposed to be about how Ted meets the love of his life, the mother of his children, whose name we learned last night is Tracy (although those of you paying attention during season one already knew that). After they finally meet, fall in love, and take an uncharacteristically long time to get married (Ted is a hopeless romantic), we learn that Tracy dies and their children want dad to move on (after six years) and hook up with Aunt Robin. The woman he spent most of the series pining over and then dramatically let go. The woman who married one of his best friends. Was the love of Ted's life really Robin? After his big "I don't love you like that anymore" speech in last week's episode, why would the writers end with Ted going back to her? If this was the plan all along, shouldn't they have called the show something different? I felt unsatisfied. The moments where he first sees Tracy, first speaks to her, gave me stone cold chills. It reminded me of the first moment I saw my husband. We were in high school at the time, but I knew when we met that he was the love of my life. After dating for a while, then going our separate ways and ultimately finding each other again, you would think I would applaud a story line that brings two people back together. But it just felt wrong to me, and I feel like it would have been better to leave things hanging in the unknown. End the show with Ted and Tracy under the umbrella. I don't want to think about her dying. I don't want to think about Robin and Barney breaking up or Marshall and Lilly traveling through their lives together and growing apart from everyone else. I don't want to think about how sad it is that you have amazing friendships that become more and more difficult to maintain when life gets in the way.

After the episode ended, I started thinking about other books and shows that take me into the future of the characters and their lives post-novel/series. This may not be a very popular opinion, but I DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AFTER IT ENDS. To me the fantasy begins with Chapter One and ends with The End. I want to close the book and imagine how things went after that. But cliffhangers make people mad. They want closure. Why? We often go through life without it. When I broke up with the last guy I dated before getting back together with my husband, it was ugly. We went on a road trip, got in a fight in a parking lot at three am, and then I drove him to the bus station. The end. Never saw him again. I've had friendships fizzle out and leave me confused and hurt. No closure. It stinks. But it's life! Should television and literature reflect that? Or help us to escape from it?

As I approach the last chapters of my book, I am conflicted. I have always known how I wanted it to end, but what if the characters have other plans? And do I have to resolve everything? It is meant to be a snapshot, not an epic tale. But I want people to read the story and enjoy it. What makes us love or hate an ending?

No amount of shaking my fist at the television is going to change how the writers ended HIMYM. They obviously had that ending in mind during the early days of the series, because Ted's children look the same. Was it done to create an internet buzz? The show is trending everywhere today. Is a controversial ending a surefire way to gain popularity?

My husband just sent me a text message: "I liked the finale. I actually thought it made a lot of sense." He's the expert, not me. And maybe it appealed to his inner romantic. The one who came back to me after almost marrying someone else. Perhaps I need to loosen up, but I know I am not the only person who struggled with last night's ending. People were angry. But it is time to move on, and hope that 70's hair is not going to make a comeback in 2016.