Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I have to Try, but I do not have to Succeed

Negativity breeds negativity. This explains why I haven't posted in a month's time. I have been at a creative low, and although I don't ever mind airing my dirty laundry, it didn't feel right to expound on my doubts, lack of motivation and loss of confidence. So I haven't blogged.

In lieu of my usual heart-to-heart, I'm going to list some motivational quotes. At least for today, I sought to solve my current lack of heart by seeking encouraging words from one of my many books on writing. Today's quotes, including the title of this piece, come from the book Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle (M. E.). I'm only up to page 81 today, but for your own encouragement, here are a few thoughts to ponder:

"...when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening." -- M. E.

"All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake."
--Jean Rhys in the Paris Review

"I've long since stopped feeling guilty about taking BEing time; it's something we all need for our spiritual health, and often we don't take enough of it." -- M. E.

"Listen to the silence." --M. E.

"When I am constantly running, there is no time for being." --M. E.

"We lose our ability to see angels as we grow older, and that is a tragic loss. " --M. E.

Someone once wrote "The principal part of faith is patience."

"It is the ability to choose that makes us human." --M. E.

"It's your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite quietly, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures." --Chekov from his letters

Enjoy this day, one you'll not have back again tomorrow, special in its own way. -- Toni Evans to her fellow bloggers:-)


Friday, August 26, 2005

Glorious Blue

Staples has forever earned me as a loyal customer, since that first commercial with the father dancing down the school supplies aisle to the theme music, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” I said, now there is a marketing rep who knows their customer base.

When my four children return to school, it is quite a momentous occasion for me. Anticipating it lifts my mood further with each passing week of August. Like most things in life, the anticipation can be better than the reality. I felt slightly blue yesterday morning when I realized dd#3’s toothless grin would not be popping into my peripheral vision at any point for the next six hours.

After 16.5 years of full-time motherhood, last August I felt the peace and pleasure of time to myself, when my last child entered the school doors for a full-day of book learning. I was giddy with excitement, didn’t know what or where to celebrate first. It was the color of blue so pale it looks white until you hold it up to the true white. Just a hint of blue, as I realized I’d never return to the preschooler days. Mostly, it was glorious.

This year, after a full-year of sanity-saving solitude, mental health-inducing quietude, and mind-centering hours of privacy each week, I feel slightly more blue.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still feeling the glories. The glories of a cup of tea with only the dog to watch me sip and nibble and contemplate. The glories of straightening a room and it staying that way for SIX full hours, an unbelievable feat of domesticity during prior years. The glories of writing for days at a time, taking up my dream I’ve had on hold for so many years of writing a novel, learning and growing in this occupation I’m trying to adopt. Many more glories than not.

But this August I feel a slightly darker blue. Maybe the blue of a pale sheer curtain, blowing against a sunny window. An almost imperceptible increase in the saturation level of the blue. Because the more time you spend away from your children, the better you can appreciate them. I feel like repeating that one. I look at my daughter and think wouldn’t it be great if she was my only child. If I could have all four children, but raise them each one at a time. Because individually they are gifted, loving, creative, funny, wise and my baby.

So this time, the celebration was a little shorter, and I had a visioin of future Augusts, as each year, my glorious feelings ever-so-slightly dim, and my blue feelings gradually deepen to sky, then royal, then somewhere down the line, a cobalt blue. Having time alone maybe won’t be the glorious high it is today.

But for today, I’m still celebrating. And I’m writing again. My office is cleaned up, my desk reorganized, my files all filed. I am ready to start on another nine-month odyssey as I delve further into my second novel. Nine months that is, until summer, and the four children, return to the center of my universe.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Dog Days of Summer

August is one of my least favorite times of year, also known in my journaling as "Limbo-land". Limboland to a controlling type such as myself provides me with a single-minded goal: to escape, and return to 'Pretending to have control' land.

Even when I was seven or eight years old, I didn't like August. The wading pool was limp, and the water tepid. The toads and tadpoles and lightening bugs had lost their zing weeks earlier. We'd played tag and ridden bikes one too many times, and everyone was blah-ed out. I'd ring on doorbells and instead of "Mom, can I play with Toni?" I'd get glazed eyes, a lifted lip, and "It's kinda hot out, isn't it?" The hours ticked by as slowly as the brownish grass grew. The days were survived with games of tic tac toe in a cool-ish garage or resorting to the basement to watch my mother iron shirts.

As an adult, and a mother, August has that same flavor, of Sunday evenings, of a large, slightly unpleasant task looming ahead. The back-to-school weeks. Now, I love school supplies as much as the next person, but when forced to spend half my grocery money for the week on highly priced dry erase markers or calculators or sports fees, I'm grouchy. Other than school supplies shopping, our one bright spot, we are soaked with anxiety. We are waiting to hear which teacher child #3 got, and who is in her class. We are wondering if we can find our way around the new school, as we get promoted. We wonder if we'll find our scheduled classes and hate our teacher. Limbo, wondering, waiting. So much of the next nine months depends on how smoothly things go over the next couple of weeks.

You might wonder what this has to do with becoming a published author? Let me clue you in: nothing. I've got the dog days bad. Instead of writing, I'm in limboland, waiting to see if everyone survives the next three weeks. Instead of querying, I am cleaning bedrooms and trying to find last year's protractor. Instead of revising, I am dreaming, of September. That luscious month when my regular writing schedule returns, along with the slam of those school doors, with my precious but chaotic offspring on the other side. In my daydreams, I'm driving away from the school, back home, to my writing nook, to meet an old friend--Toni the writer.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Little Successes

From everything I see, hear, and read, we aspiring authors must cling to the little successes in our careers. If we wait to celebrate the publication of our first book, it could be a very boring ride, or as my formerly adorable six year old is suddenly prone to saying, "I'd rather chew my arm off, than wait that long." Authors take years, if not decades to land a contract, and those are the ones we hear about. We don't hear much about the ones who, eighteen years into the process, give up.

So, here are a few goals I have achieved in the last two weeks, which I am celebrating. If you are out there, experiencing the same ups and downs with me, then take heart and try to come up with a few of your own 'mini-goals':
Achieved in July:
--Received a request for a full Manuscript from a reputable agent
--Received a second request for a full
--Agent requested 'exclusive' while she read my book
--Favorite author emailed me to see how my writing was going
--First live human to read my book cover to cover gave her generous and thoughtful critique
--Taking online writing class from another favorite author
--Got my first compliment on my query letter
--Gave up on two lousy printers, and the problems printing at the copy store from a diskette, and bought a new laser printer. Printed my book last night, 375 pages, in about 20 minutes, clear and clean.

Mini-goals for next month:
--Re-read any positive encouragement received to date (emails, letters)
--Take notes at least five separate times on book two
--Complete writing course
--Choose and ask second person read manuscript
--Write at least once a week, and stop beating myself up for not writing more than that.
--Not lose my sanity as I get the kids ready for school to start again.

One of my writing assignments in the online class was to list twenty five things I love, and one of them was lists, so I thought I'd capitalize on that pleasure, right here:-)


Monday, July 11, 2005

The Plate Spinner

This is one of those weeks where I feel like the plate-spinner on the Lawrence Welk show, He would spin the plates on the end of a six or seven foot dowel rod. This is a very early memory, so maybe it was instead on a different entertainment show from the 1960s or 70s, like Carol Burnett, or Mike Douglas shows. But I remember him spinning one plate and we were like 'Big deal.' and then he'd add two more and we were like 'Hmmm...' and then by the time he got up to ten or twelve plates spinning, you were digging your nails into your palms, squirming in anticipation of the plates crashing to the ground, and perhaps blinding someone with their jagged spray of glass.

I have a lot of plates spinning this week. Nothing life or death. Just a conglomeration of little details and medium tasks all jumbled together with work and play in such an arrangement that even my ever-so-brilliant brain has not been able to untangle the mess. I'm now on auto-pilot.

In writing news: I just started an online writing class in Voice with one of my favorite authors, Barbara Samuel, and I'm very excited about this. I won't bore you with all the other stuff happening in my life this week, or it might even put me to sleep. But let's just say I'm really looking forward to next Monday:-) Anyone else have weeks like that?

I also got some positive responses on my queries last week. Haven't had time to update my spreadsheet yet. Soon!


Friday, July 01, 2005

Anal-retentive, anyone?

When I was in fifth, eighth, or eleventh grade, I always threw the adults who asked me, "So what is your favorite subject in school?" I would say "English and Math". This would usually stop them in their tracks with a wrinkled brow, school teachers included. All my friends, they either liked reading or they liked math, but they definitely, no way, uh-uh, liked both.

I pursued the math side of my brain for decades, due to my basically materialistic nature. I believed a career in business would better suit my tastes in blue jeans and my desire for exotic vacations. Why do they let eighteen-year-olds pick their own majors anyway? I worked in banking for years, in the computer department, and then I quit work to stay at home with my young children.

I returned to different part-time jobs and full-time employment over the years to help keep my family to a reasonable level of debt, but figured out soon after my first son was born, that the reading/writing side of my brain brings me more pleasure than the number-crunching side of my brain. Why-oh-why didn't I figure that out back in college, so I could conveniently take courses in narrative or plot development?

Alas, now that I spend as much time as possible creating my fictional world on paper, I still dally in the number-crunching that satisfies a certain itch of mine. And, I'm posting my current statistics here, not to bring on your pity, no, but for those fellow writers out there who just want some accurate data on what other aspiring authors are up to, in their quest for publication. If I occasionally update these stats, I will not give such a long-winded explanation, but will simply post with an asterisk to 'See Anal-Rententive'.

Peace to all,
Current State of Toni's querying efforts:
Number of queries to date 132
Number of Equeries 41
number of snail mail queries 91
Number of Positive Responses 7
Number of Declines 51
Number of Non-Responsives 74
Average days to respond 10.2
Percent acceptances 12%
Number of partials outstanding 3

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Vacation, Vacation, da da da da da, de de de de de....

Isn't vacation wonderful? I think at age 42 I've finally figured out it doesn't matter where you go or what you do. The key is to get away from the routine, hum drum, every day work, chores and appointments life, to the life of possibilities that vacation brings.

We have vacationed over the years in places such as Disney World, the mountains of Tennessee, the beaches of Fort Morgan, AL. Last week we went to a family camp in Gull Lake, Michigan. In every case, the beauty of vacation, is being whipped out of everydayness with a vegeance, to an entirely different existence. It refreshes, it stimulates, it challenges us, it throws us together. And in the end, it makes us yearn for our own shower-head and familiar sheets and a little bit of everydayness back in our lives.

For anyone who is interested in a family church camp, this one was stellar. I had certain expectations going in and almost all of them were surpassed by a large margin. The only thing that wasn't as nice as I'd pictured beforehand, was the condition of the cottage we stayed in. It was clean, but old, worn, and a little barren. But we were hardly ever there, and the rest of the week was amazing. My four children have come away from it begging to go back next year, the location was beautiful, the weather was perfection (high of 83, low of 65!), lovely buildings, inspiring speakers, and so much plain old fun, you can't list it all here. But the highlight of the weekend was the staff, about 40 college kids and 5 or so a bit older. They were ENERGY personified. They were smiling, enthusiastic, ready to help at every turn in the road. They changed a typical vacation into a genuinely special memory.

Here is the link for the ministry website: www.gulllake.org and click on 'summer family camp'.

Now I'm back to reality, but the songs and the scenery are still echoing through my head this weekend. I think reality is a bit changed.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

So what is your book about?

I wonder, do all writers feel the same way? I feel shy about discussing my book. The chances that the person who has discovered I'm a writer, enjoys the same type of fiction that I do are so slim. People will say to me, "OH, when can I read it? I like books. I read the latest Star Trek book last night."

Replace Star Trek with the novel of your choice. As if all books are alike, they are just books?

"So Toni, what is your book about?" If they persist, I'll try to summarize it in a short sentence or two, hoping their eyes won't glaze over too quickly.

"Well, it is about a small village in Illinois. Set around a lake. A woman moves there and..."

"OH, I bet it's Lake Shelbyville? No? Let's see, Lake Bloomington? No?"

"No, I just made the lake up. It isn't a real place. That is what fiction is, you make stuff up..."

And about this point in the conversation they notice their son really needs their help tying his shoes. Or they look at their watch. I never get very far. Which is why I don't want to start explaining what my book is about. Telling someone what a book is about is like telling someone what color a town is. You can't just pick a color and label things.

But, I'm in the middle of query season on book one, and I need to summarize the book. Not just summarize, but shrink it down to a paragraph or two. Man, am I having trouble with this. No matter how I try to get to the gist of the novel, I leave so much out. I change it, then I edit it, then I rework it, and then I end up throwing up my hands. Who knew the query letter would be as hard to write as the book itself?

For the purposes of this blog, let me tell you in one paragraph what my book is about, in an excerpt from draft #31 of my query letter:

"Jane Woolley leaves her staid suburban existance, dragging her teenage son along with her, to the quaint rural community of Lake Newberry, IL, population 711. On moving day she not only meets her neighbor Crystal, nineteen and independent, but ends up becoming intimately acquainted as Crystal goes into labor and needs Jane's help. Walter Cohen is seventy-nine and bored with retired life. He knows the chest pains he is having are not a good sign, but he ignores them, hoping they will go away.
These three characters meet in ALONE TOGETHER, a 76,000 word completed novel about friendships, interdependence, and support. They all seek the same thing: meaning in life. Alone they couldn't find it, but together, they can."

There you go, any of you that want to know what my book is about? You now know. If only I was sure that really encapsulates the pain and pleasure of the Lake Newberry folks.... Maybe I should try for draft #32?

If it sounds like a book you'd love to read, please forward my blog link to your sister-in-law, who just happens to be a very competent and caring, well-connected, literary agent, waiting to make my day.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Starting Again

I started this novel-writing process with the idea that the first book that comes out of my fingertips might just be OK. It might not be so good it deserves to be published. Even so, I have followed the submission process to agents, and will continue. I think it is good experience, and I do learn something, if only to have a thicker skin.

I still like my first book, but what I really like is writing. Just writing. So I have a seriously ambitious schedule for myself to finish two more novels in the next 15 months. I'm already behind schedule because I took May off. But on June 1st I at least wrote a paragraph. I uncovered all my binders and organized my desk so I could write again. And book two is now officially begun. It feels wonderful.

Life continues to intervene though. I have jury duty this week and a family vacation next week. But somehow I will write a small amount each day, no matter how small, no matter how inspired (or uninspired). The disciplined approach is what got my first book completed. I was very happy while writing my book, and I'm looking forward to returning to Lake Newberry, my fictional town, and my characters as they grow in the second book.

Summer is officially begun--all four kids home. My submissions to date are 40 query letters, 4 requests for partials, 2 still out there :-)


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Time off for good behavior?

Remember your college Econ classes where every session you are studying overheads of a bell curve of some kind? I should--I was an Economics major in college. Well, my writing life resembles one of those curves, only it isn't one big hump, it is a long series of lows and highs with very little time spent on any kind of even keel.

I wouldn't say I'm at a low, creativity-wise, but time-wise. I have a year-long work schedule for my writing, and after 17 years as a parent, I was wise enough to give myself the month of December completely off. It makes it hard to pick things back up in January, but it is a practical reality for the next ten years or so. Well, I wasn't wise enough to give myself May off, but it has been a month with no writing included anyway. I find it ironic that I was so deeply entrenched in my writing vocation in April, that I felt compelled to initiate this blog, and within weeks I'm so far from that deep perspective, I barely remember the title of my latest work.

May is filled with obligations, endings, beginnings, holidays, school activities, you name it. I have five things on most nights, and I decide that afternoon which items to cross off (as even I can't be five places at once). I also took on remodeling and spring-cleaning to prepare for a family gathering, helping with field trips and class parties, and was required by my day job to attend eight days of professional development classes, outside of my usual work hours.

To make this very short story long, I haven't been writing. I have been visiting my favorite bulletin board, writers.net. I have been raking in the rejections from a very ambitious mailing I did a few weeks ago. I have someone reading my first novel from beginning to end, the first person to do so. But I have taken time off from writing. While it goes against my long term plans, I think it is safe to say that I better work most Mays out to fit this model, as while May includes Mother's Day, it is more of a iron-woman challenge than a holiday for most mothers.

It is also the most beautiful weather, and lots of fun mixed in with all the obligations. I'm a spring/fall lover myself. I do not crave the sun, I crave 60s and 70s with a mild breeze. So May leaves me feeling mellow and relaxed when I get to spend time out of doors. And hopefully prepared to make June a highly productive month for this writer!


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Writer Interrupted...

Ever plan an event at your own home and suddenly every remodeling project you ever thought needed to be done seems to need to be done this week? That is where I've been.

Having an 8th grade graduation/confirmation shin-dig for dd1 next weekend, and suddenly we are painting walls, picking out flooring for the entryway, building a bookshelf, and more. It doesn't hurt that we are getting a nice big tax refund for the first time ever. How does a bookshelf fit into party plans, you might ask? Well, that is going in my writing nook, but before we put it up there and fill it, we of course (why?) want to repaint the walls--dark reddish brown as it happens, so three coats are needed. Then we can move all the books from the china hutch upstairs, and the china hutch can become home to dishes for the first time ever. Perhaps you have to be sitting here next to me to understand how that makes the grad party go better...hmm....

Anyway, my writing nook contents (desk, printer, laptop, etc.) are now spread all over the upstairs hallway, and unavailable to me, so writing has been on hold, but the querying continues.

Status check:For my first novel, LIFE SUPPORT, I have received 4 requests for the manuscript from agents, and 37 declines (my nice word for rejections) to date. Not a good track record. I'm going to rework the query before I send out the next batch.

I also have a bad cold, but I am going to my writer's group anyway. I'm too sick to cook dinner of course...

Saturday, April 23, 2005

How did I get where I am, and where is that?

Where am I on the path to becoming a novelist? I'm on Draft Five of my first novel.

I remember in the late 80's reading my first library book about 'being a writer'. It was by Phyllis Whitney, and in 1987 it was yellowed and outdated, but it struck a chord in me I'd never heard before. This is it. I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. Of course I didn't drop everything and listen to the voice, like I should have. No, it took almost 20 years for me to wake up to that call.

In my twenties (along with my ever-present day job) I tried to become a magazine freelancer, but I decided that the six months (mostly time passing, not hard labor) it took to get an article purchased by a NY mag for a whopping $400 was just not cutting it. Add all the rejections, I wasn't up to it. I needed cash and kudos.

In my thirties I tried essays, which I still enjoy writing. I had a two-year stint as a newspaper columnist, with a monthly appearance. Only one article due per month, and I eventually quit due to the stress of this deadline. Huh? My 40-something self doesn't understand or sympathize. But it happened.

I turned to fiction, and tried to teach myself how to write it. I had the number one requirement, which is that I read enough to fill my own library.

I read and read and took a workshop and a couple creative writing classes. But when I'd sit down to write fiction those early years, I just wanted to look over my shoulder to see who was laughing. Just writing the words "she said." made me feel like an imposter. I'm a reader, not a writer. You imposter, you.

In recent years I've read so many books on writing, I feel I could give a presentation myself. The problem with that theory, is that when I re-read said books (last night was re-reading "The Forest For the Trees" by Betsy Lerner, very good), it appears to be brand new information. What has happened to my memory since passing the 40 mark? (rhetorical question, I'm getting old? Yes. No. I forget.) I got through all my years of schooling simply by memorizing everything, with little effort. No longer possible.

So, back to books, workshops, books, classes, books. I finally get serious about all this around my fortieth birthday, but, honestly, even I didn't like anything I wrote. I tried a YA novel. I tried a cozy mystery. I had the mistaken idea that it might be easier to write genre than straight fiction. None of it was worth keeping even to revise.

In early 2003 I wrote the first ten chapters of my current book. In July I attended a class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and then came home, put my novel away, and didn't write again for 15 months. I was too depressed at how far my own style was from everything I learned at Iowa, in one short weekend, let me add. It doesn't take much to discourage me, bring out all my rampant insecurities.

But this past fall my youngest went to Kindergarten, and I took on writing as my second "job". I am disciplined, I am persistent. I keep writing even though it isn't good, just so I can see what happens next. And in February, I finished the first draft of my first novel. (woo hoo) I found the process of writing the first draft to be (drum roll, please) fun. Fun is good. That chord that I heard in 1987 turned into, well not a symphony, but a nice little melody, or even just a bridge, but "I like it, I like it, Yes I do" (think Rolling Stones).

I was right. Writing is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life.

So, that is where I've traveled so far, and today finds me working on draft number five of my book(more about that soon).

It is great loving what you do! Now, if only it was what I did for a living.

Where are you on your path to becoming a novelist?


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

If Patience is a Virtue...

We writers must be darn virtuous. I feel sometimes all I do is wait. My controlling personality is thwarted as my fate lies in the hands of others in the publishing industry. I can only make contact, I can not do anything further but calmly (huh?) wait for a response.

I wait for the mailman to deliver a magical letter of encouragement from an agent who has read my work.

I wait for the e-mail replies that mean my efforts are not wasted.

I wait for readers in my critique group to respond to the latest installment they're reading for me.

I wait for free time from my busy life life that allows me to write my words.

This blog is in response to all that waiting. This is one concrete thing I can do, share the torture, commiserate in the process, and hopefully share my success too. Those times when the pain of waiting is made sweet, by the outcome.

Join me as I ramble on about the process of becoming published.