Category Archives: life

Don’t quit your day job

It’s one of the most common phrases a writer hears (possibly just after “have I read anything of yours” or “it must be fun to just get to write all the time): something about that day job of yours. Whether you flip burgers or are a neurosurgeon, everyone seems to think they have an opinion on how you earn a living, and that you need to hear it.

Of course, here I am with an opinion, and think you need to hear it. I’m cool with hypocrisy.

Don’t quit your day job. No, really, don’t.

I, like most other writers with middling to piddling success, require a day job. I’ve been lucky that my husband works in an industry that is ever-expanding, allowing me to stay home with our kids when they were young, and then work on my writing career as they’ve moved onto full-time school, and maintaining a Lord of the Flies-like rulings in their kingdom of two.

I also work, part-time. I understand that this might make my point a bit more moot, as I work mornings and have afternoons and evenings more or less free to write, or dick around as much as I want. However, I’ve also held a full-time job, a rather grueling one, requiring fourteen hour days and lunches eaten hunched over my computer in a closed-off office. It was when I was at this job that I started my first manuscript; it was after I was laid off that I finished it.

Writing is an extremely insular art form. Most writers work in solitude, and books are read far from the reach of the writer. While an artist may not be able to stand right next to you and explain their intention in color selection, a painting can be seen by more person than one, at the same time, can be shared by an entire group at once, and discussed in real time. Books require a dedication to read, to consider, and to reach out about. Being a writer is pretty lonely.

I write in the morning, when I first get up, before my brain is awake enough to let the inner critic carry on at me, telling me everything I do is pointless and stupid. I write in the afternoon when she’s in full-force, too, but, in between, I go to work. I do administrative stuff in health care, for a doctor’s practice, inside of a hospital (how’s that for vague?). This means that I interact with, on average, at least 50 people a day, in an important and direct manner.

Every writer has the ambition to be able to live off their writing. I know few who have expressed blockbuster dreams, or millionaire fantasies– most writers just want to be able to call writing their actual job, with a decent paycheck, just like their day job.

At this point in my life, I don’t know that I would want to quit to solely write. I’ve mentioned before that I hate the romanticizing of the artist life, like writers (and painters, weavers, photographers, actors, et al) are doing something deeply enlightened. It’s still a job, it’s still work. And it’s a lonely, drudging job at that. When a chapter is going poorly, and I’m tired and crabby and nothing seems to be going right, there are few people to turn to in my misery. Writer’s groups, in theory, are the outlet for this– but, I feel, everyone is suffering in their own bubble, and they’re just amassing the bubbles in one place.

At a workplace, there’s a shared feeling that is impossible to get solo. It’s that “we’re all in this together” feeling that makes any terrible day feel a bit more manageable.

I have no desire to quit my day job. Writing will always be my chosen career, but, in lieu of some kind of overwhelming (and, honestly, unwanted) celebrity, I can’t see myself wanting it to be the whole focus of my days. I love writing. I also like my sanity.


A year in review

It’s that time of year, where a frantic scramble to get things done is not only predicted, it’s somewhat expected. In my life, we have not only the holidays, but also both of my children’s birthdays flanking Christmas, and my visions of my own personal deadlines so I can look over my year of work and be pleased with myself.

I frequently make myself sick this time of year.

Three days before Christmas, and I still must venture out for a few small presents for dear friends, but this writing business stops for no one.

The year has been a modest one in terms of word count. I started, and then stopped around 50k, a tightly-wound story about a family in the throes of crisis, having written myself into a corner. I hope to go back and figure out how to unravel this, because I think, at the heart of it, the story is a sound one, and interesting. With Laila Blake, I completed a collection of short stories centered around our characters from After Life Lessons (you can find it here), as well as the first draft for the second, and final, book featuring those characters and their post-apocalyptic world. I completed the first in a trilogy about a dystopian world with a mysterious narrator, and rewrote 3/4 of a novel I originally completed last December, giving this year a sort of fun, cyclical sort of ending. Several pieces of erotica were also accepted this year, and a few have come out in print already, with more planned in anthologies next year.

This year, on a lot of fronts, was more dedicated to the publishing side of writing, which is a much newer experience for yours truly. Editing is one of my favorite activities, and one of my greater skills, and I found myself doing a lot more of that this year, with several rewrites and edits on After Life Lessons before it went to print in April, as well as several edits on At the Edge of the World, which came out in August. I also have picked over and helped groom Laila’s first two installments of the Lakeside Series, and the last in her Breaking in Waves trilogy.

From there, I am still a little floundering, still learning to swim, in a way. Lilt Literary is slowly gaining steam, and with it, we are working on aspects of publishing that are mostly new and foreign to us. I used to work in marketing, in advertising, but on the production end: I wrote and composed ads, I did not sell them. I am innately shy, a little terrified of talking to just about anyone– I had a friend once comment that I never looked in anyone’s eyes, something I’d never really noticed, but find myself doing kind of constantly unless I know a person well.

Marketing yourself is hard. It is even harder when you, as a person, don’t do well talking yourself up, not to mention live in a society where women are, for the most part, conditioned to shy away from self-congratulation, from believing they’re worth listening to, or caring about. Selling a book is a little like selling yourself– I’m not one to compare a book to a baby, but, certainly, it represents a large amount of time, and effort, and skills, and, so, it’s a product of you, of your abilities. Telling someone how great it is, and that they should care about it, read it, is like telling them why they should be your friend. It’s uncomfortable at best, horrifying at the worst.

Independant and self-publishing means you’re doing a majority of the work of a book on your own. You write it, you proof it, you edit and re-edit, you design and format and convert files, get it to distributors, advertise. At Lilt Literary, we’re lucky to both be trained as editors, and proof-readers, and pride ourselves on tightly-written and edited work. Laila is a wizard with graphic design, and has produced jaw-dropping covers for all of our books.  We’ve become well-versed with computer formatting for different output (both physical and digital), and in many avenues of distribution.

My confidence wavers at advertising. As a small-time publishing house, we are shut out of many traditional channels: obviously we’re not going to be able to put an ad in a widely-read magazine, or get ourselves on a talk show. Our budget is smaller than a traditional publishing house, and so getting our books on the shelves of local and national bookstores isn’t within our ability at this moment.

There is a stigma attached to independent and self-publishing, too, one that is, and isn’t, accurate. With the ease of Amazon uploading, for instance, a person can take a poorly-written fanfic and have it for sale in 5 minutes flat. What is a beautiful invention– the ability to reach masses with a click of a mouse– can be burdened by lack of quality control. While this is a topic for another time (and I do love talking about it), the point is more: it’s hard to get noticed, harder to get people to read, and believe, in your ability when you are not coming out of a big-name publisher.

It’s definitely been a learning process, but one that is slowly becoming easier, clearer, and showing results. Over the last year alone I, and we, have learned so much about getting our books to readers, and making a successful profit, that I’m actually excited about doing more in the new year, where, even a few months ago, I even loathed writing an email to a potential reviewer.

It turns out writing is an ever-evolving practice. Who knew?

Here’s wishing you the happiest of holidays, and bountiful new year.


On doubt

I want to talk about doubt.

Last summer, we had to put one of our cats down. Otis was about 18 years old, and had been suffering from a thyroid disorder for a number of years, a disorder that left him just a few pounds in weight, dull-eyed and prone to peeing everywhere.

We loved Otis.

oanda2

Shortly before my birthday, we took Otis to the shelter where we’d adopted him 15 years before so they could help us put him to rest peacefully. We were taken into a room to spend his last few minutes with him before we had to let him go into the back for the injections with a volunteer who told us she would hold him the entire time. We cried like babies.

Doubt set in. It was no question that Otis had been ill for a long time, and was likely to continue to suffer if we kept him alive. He couldn’t control his bladder, and we couldn’t leave him alone for more than a few hours at a time without him peeing on everything in the house.

But, I thought, what if the people at the shelter took him into the exam room and decided we were too hasty? What if they didn’t give him the injections, and instead had decided to remove him from our custody and find him a better owner?

I started looking on the shelter website daily, searching through the “older cats” section for his scruffy face. I imagined the bio they would write: Handsome senior cat removed from a home that didn’t see good years left. Lots of love to give. I imagined finding him and rushing to the shelter to claim him back and them declaring me an unfit pet owner. I might have gone so far as to imagine a pet version of CPS coming and removing our other two cats and our dog.

It’s crazy. I’m aware. But even a year later, I still have this inkling of a fear that Otis is still out there, and I’m a horrible person.

Doubt is a hard thing to shake. I do believe it’s a beneficial feeling, and certainly, day to day, it probably keeps us from any number of disasters and missteps. Doubt, though, can trip you up and send you sprawling in the dirt if you allow it to accompany you for too long.

I like to think I don’t spend too much time doubting myself (outside obsessive cat kidnapping thoughts, naturally). There are moments when a second look or hesitation is necessary, but I tend to be maybe stupidly confident in a few areas, including my writing.

This is not a luck of the draw; I am not a naturally confident person. In fact, it could be argued that I have rather low self-esteem and tend to be self-crippling, denying myself even easy success because I’m quite sure I don’t deserve it.

How, then, do I manage to get out of bed at all, let alone sit and type and send out work and face an inbox full of rejection?

Effort. Sheer effort. It’s always struck me as funny that people think I’m naturally bubbly, cheerful, and outgoing. Effort, my friends. I wake up most mornings to some fashion of career rejection, either by low sales, silent agents, or canned rejections in my email. There are certainly days I’d rather curl up in a ball and give it all the hell up.

Effort. It’s always amazed me that people think anyone successful, or confident, lacks any doubt. It’s like it’s a superpower: DOUBTLESS GIRL, ABLE TO SMASH THROUGH FEAR AND ANXIETY IN A SINGLE SLASHING MOTION OF HER HAND AND BACK AGAIN (there’s a reason I don’t write catch phrases). There is no such thing as a person who does not doubt themselves, one time or another. Doubt is like a mosquito: it is there, and the more you scratch it, the more it itches.

I doubt myself a lot. I certainly doubted my cat’s death, my culpability in the whole thing. I doubt my worth often – what truly confident person worries their cat is resold?

Doubt is not a personality trait that is ingrained in us from birth. Doubt is not a birth mark, doubt is not a state of being. Doubt is transitory, and it is defeatable.

I don’t have any advice, though, on HOW to defeat it. My friend and I tend to throw around a phrase: Fake it till you make it. It means smile even when you want to scowl, it means getting up when you want to lay on the ground, it means believing you’re doing the right thing even when you think you aren’t. You fake it, and, when you fake it long enough, you, most times, start to believe it.

This doesn’t always work, of course. I have dark times, I have moments of desperately wanting to give up – on writing, on my career aspirations, on even getting up and washing my hair. Doubt crawls in when I let it. Doubt always looks for the opening.

I’ve managed. I will manage again. If you want to, you can manage just as well, too.


No place like home

This afternoon, I drove past the house I spent my first ten years living in. It’s not far from where we’ve moved, and since my job moved downtown, I can pass the end of the block on my commute. When I spied a dumpster out front, I had to do a swing by.

I’m not sure what’s being renovated, as I decided pulling a super creeper and stopping dead in the center of the street to analyze the contents of the dumpster was not how I wanted to spend my lunch hour. Suffice to say, the bin was full of wood, and so my mind has gone wild.

Is it the all-wood staircase with the carved banister? The hand-scraped hardwood floors from the basement? Could it be the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of the study?

Those stairs are where I slipped and fell, biting through my lip, when I was four. I’d seen a Shirley Temple movie that morning and decided to try tapping my way up to my bedroom… in socks.

The basement is where I had my playroom, with the weird tree silhouette wallpaper, pot-belly stove, and stained-glass window. It was the scene of many My Little Pony debaucheries.

Those bookshelves are where my tree frogs lived, left over from a science presentation on the life cycle of frogs. I had three of them: Croaker, Croaker Junior, and The One Who Died Before I Could Name Him.

Don’t these people understand this is MY house?

It’s been noted that I have a certain romantic attachment to the house I grew up in. We moved when I was ten, just to the other side of town, but I remained attached to the first house in a way that bordered on fanatical for a number of years. My life’s ambition, besides being a writer (and actress, and singer, and doctor, and artist, and journalist and and and), was to move back into my childhood home at the soonest possible moment. The house changed hands twice since my parents sold it in 1989, and the neighborhood became rather coveted. Still, I insisted I would live there again some day.

Not everyone has the same attachment to a house they spent only the barest amount of cognizant time living in. I grew up with kids from military families, who lived in ten houses before they hit fifth grade. I held a deep resentment against my parents for years because they made me leave that beautiful house.

It was an angst that was hard to explain. The house, as it was, was lovely, but hardly any more remarkable than any other house. The kitchen was renovated in the height of the eighties, and so bore orange countertops and brown tiles. There were only two bathrooms, one upstairs where the bedrooms were, and one downstairs, off the kitchen. My closet was the size of a shoebox.

The house is absolutely not my style, either. Built in the early 1900’s, it is somewhat Victorian, crossed with Craftsman, with lots of wood and leaded glass windows. My husband and I bought a house built in the 50s, and our style leans towards Mid-Century, and contemporary. My credenza would stick out like a sore thumb in my childhood home.

I don’t know why, exactly, I love the house so much and cringe at the thought of it being gutted. I spent far more time, and had many more formative experiences, in the house my parents bought after it – I lived there from the age of ten until I was twenty, I spend hours there every week, I’ve been taking my children there weekly for the past ten years. I’ve known that home for nearly three-quarters of my life (I did the math!). Wouldn’t it make much more sense to be abnormally attached to it?

Memory is a funny thing, I’ve found. I can remember the feel of those wood steps under my feet as surely as I can the carpet that is currently under them, thirty years later. I’ve made a map of the house in my head, complete with furnishings, that hasn’t changed in decades. It’s perpetually 1988 in that old house.

At this point, if given the chance, would I even want the house again? I know it’s been remodeled – real estate photos from the last time it was sold show that – and the foyer that used to house our antique coat rack has been closed off and given a closet. The potbellied stoves that I so loved as a child were replaced with gas fireplaces. The vast garden plot my father fervently protected from squirrels was torn out to build a garage in the parking-competitive neighborhood. And now, of course, whatever they’re ripping out and dumping, unceremoniously, into the bin at the curb.

I suppose I’ll keep inhabiting the house that’s in my head, complete with the impressions of a very young child, keeping the height of light fixtures well above my head and the backyard endless up like a field. The memories are mine, and those can’t be renovated out my head.

I suppose, first, though, I really need to stop driving by and gawking. Baby steps.


On Reality vs. Realism

One of my favorite stories to tell about my childhood is about the night a cow ended up on our lawn.

I did not grow up in a rural area – I’m a city girl, and the closest I’ve ever really gotten to nature was the yearly overnight at the Girl Scout camp in elementary school, where I rode a horse named Snowflake. I’ve never been interested in country life: I need places that are open late and grocery stores minutes away. I’m spoiled. We don’t have cows.

Except one night when I was thirteen. It wasn’t really late, about 8:30, but the house was shut-down, all of us in bed reading. When the doorbell rang, my father jumped from bed and I followed from down the hall – we lived in the city, but it’s a pretty safe city. Excitement could easily come from a doorbell after dark.

On our porch was a man in his late thirties, breathless and holding a rope. “There’s a cow on your lawn,” he informed my father, who stared at him, stupefied. The man gestured in the direction of the bushes that lined the edge of our property; I squeezed up next to my father to look.

A cow. I am no expert, so I have no idea what kind, or if it was a large cow, impressive for anything besides being a cow on a city lawn. But, at any rate, it was a cow, on our lawn, that had never seen anything larger than the neighbor’s golden retriever.

“We saw it on the road,” the guy reported. “We followed it up here.” Out on the street behind him were two cars, with several other men standing beside them. These were not cowboys in the least: they wore jeans, but they all had the giddy look of people who were embarking on a random adventure.

My dad looked between the cow and the man. He grew up on a farm, knew from cows, but the whole thing was so out of place, so utterly out of context, he was speechless.

“Can you call Animal Control?” the man suggested, and my father nodded.

I listened in on the call. “A cow.” Pause. “Yes, a cow.” He rattled off our address and there was another pause. “A cow. On the lawn.”

Ultimately, the cow moved on. The majority of our neighbors were unaware of its presence as the cowboys in sedans followed it along our block, back in the direction from whence it had come. The next morning, I examined the lawn for any evidence of the cow visit the night before and found nothing; it was disappointing, in a way, until I realized I would always have this fantastic story to tell, about the cow on my lawn.

There is, of course, a ridiculousness that makes it sound like I’m full of it. Telling the tale of a squirrel launching out of the fireplace and my cat chasing it around the house sounds far more authentic: more people have experienced a wayward squirrel in their chimney, a cat who believes it is a greater hunter than, perhaps, it is. 

The point of the story, of course, is in the telling. A story that sounds untrue will jar you right out of it, out of a conversation, out of a novel. A cow on a lawn in metro Denver? I don’t downplay the best details: there were four men, two cars, all of them completely out of place with a rope that was clearly for tying a trunk closed when moving a bookcase or bicycle. The cow seemed utterly uninterested in the lot of us. My father was dumbfounded.

I love to tell this story because, coming from me, it’s weirdly plausible. Why would I lie about a cow on my lawn? Who cares where the cow came from, why she was roaming our neighborhood? THERE WAS A COW ON MY LAWN.

Realism in fiction is often strangled to death. There seems to be a fine line, in the eyes of critics, between representing life accurately and representing life in fiction. I’ve been surprised more than a few times to hear complaints about some of my favorite books not being “real enough.” 

What is real enough? No one’s life gets broken up by laugh tracks and act breaks. Something dramatics happens and… everything keeps going. A bomb is dropped, and you still have to feed the cat, do the laundry. Characters rarely go to the bathroom, fart, burp, shave their legs.

There is a difference between reality and realism. It’s in the depiction. In my story about the cow, there are elements left out because… it matters little to the telling of the story. No one cares that animal control never showed up or that we never did find out where the cow went off to, what happened to the intrepid Tuesday night cowboys. The story loses wind when I report my parents live a mile as the crow flies from a still-functional farm acting as a museum.

I worry when I hear people criticize dialogue as unbelievable, of situations being too dramatic. While there is a line that can be crossed, it rarely actually is. Reality is not the same as realism. Reality is our world, with its fits and starts, its long, boring interludes, its clogged toilets and cows that come and go. Realism gives the human emotion and condition without the lagging, half-hearted arguments over who forgot to buy coffee. 

Who doesn’t want a cow on their city lawn? Who doesn’t enjoy a dramatic end to a chapter and a start to the next where the heroes awake with the tension of the day before that ended so much earlier? Reality, it is said, is boring, and that is no truer than in fiction. Realism outlines reality in a sharper line, gives it boldness and shape, gives a viewer or reader a place to explore their perceptions and opinions. 

I miss the cow sometimes. I want to give her an ending, though I know hers was, ultimately, too realistically boring. In the telling, my hand shapes your view of her. I have always hoped to do the cow justice.

 


On Feminism

or, subtitled: The Radical Notion Why You (Yes, You), Should Shut the F Up.

Caution: I understand that you may come here for discussion of writing, reading, or humorous anecdotes. This is not any of those. This is your last warning of that fact: I value you, and love you as a reader, but, should the topic of feminism, and the complications of men and media therein, disinterest, or anger, you, then you should stop now. I’ll be back later with something more entertaining – I think about fictional murder.

Further: this is my blog, and, as such, is not a debate forum. While I abhor the use of the concept of “safe space,” this is, indeed, mine. If you have a differing opinion, I am not, currently, interested in hearing it. I’m happy to read something on a blog that might be linked, but comments that are not on-topic, or accusatory, defaming, or outright misogynistic, will be deleted without being read.

I’m not a cruel person. I am not the most intelligent person on earth. However, my views are mine, and I believe in them whole-heartedly. I welcome you to read, and engage, but will not tolerate anything approaching sexism, racism, or any other such prejudice in the name of “discourse.”

That said, read on.

Today, on two different topics, I was spoken down to, belittled, and reminded, oh so kindly, by a man. This was not, frankly, a surprise: quite unfortunately, it is somewhat of a daily occurrence. If you are a woman, I assume you are unshocked. If you are a man, you might have a myriad of thoughts about this fact, including, maybe, that I am an airhead.

You’re not far off-base. I am. But I am also not a moron. I might squeal over John Krasinski, and coo over babies, I am also an aware citizen of our world, politically astute, and quite engaged in many issues.

If you have met me, you are aware that I am the following:

  1. short
  2. glasses-wearing
  3. busty
  4. rather shy
  5. have a lisp
  6. tend towards a sort of dramatic hyperbole in my descriptions

I am easily intimidated, given I am a small female. It’s a fact of my life – I’ve never been tall, obviously, and have always identified as female. I developed early, and have never appeared as anything other than a biological female.

If you are a woman, you know where this is going. If you are a man, it’s likely you have no clue.

It’s not your fault. The thing that can be avoided, that can prevent any fault on your part, is found by the following:

Shut up.

I am married to a man, who I love very much. I have a fantastic father, and very good male friends. I, unlike many other, have had men in my life, all my life, who are great and good and kind men. 

It’s complicated, explaining to men what it is like to be a woman. It’s something, truly, we don’t think about on the daily, ourselves. It’s a way of being, of living, that you don’t really parse out until confronted with the need to.

Confronted with rape, with harassment, with denial of services or healthcare, revocation of rights. Confronted with a media that tells you you are too fat or thin, too short or too tall, too masculine or feminine, too flaky or too ambitious, too maternal or too businesslike. 

I’ve stood in my living room, suddenly faced with a news report that, indeed, I am a lesser woman because I do not have a full-time job. Articles on the internet inform me that because I don’t care to wear heels, I am not attractive to men. I wake in the morning and get dressed, take my kids to school, and am informed that I am not engaged as a parent because I didn’t attend last night’s PTA meeting.

As a woman, you rarely win.

It’s difficult to explain because: men don’t face this. There are give and take situations in everyone’s life, but, as it is, being is not something men have to worry about. They might, surely, if they are a man of conscientiousness, of emotion and thought, but, even then: they are not required. Missing a PTA meeting does not make a man a poor father. Not wearing a suit does not make a man unattractive to the opposite sex. 

I am not here to deny the struggles of men. I just need this space to say: YOU DON’T GET IT AND YOU NEED TO STOP TALKING.

There is a culture of minimizing experience, now. I don’t know if it’s new, or if it sprouted up in the wake of social media, of 140 character commentary, of soundbites that sound clever on Facebook. We post up memes of ten words, Impact font, to replace meaningful discussion. Gifs stand in place of emotion.

I am guilty of all of the above. I like a good, clever quip, a gif of Liz Lemon high-fiving herself rather than spelling out my feelings. This is a right of anyone with an internet connection: to be flippant.

Today, I was spoken down to in short soundbites. “Just sayin'” was uttered. “Why don’t you look again” was recommended.

Shut up.

There is no reason to baby me, but, guys: take an extra moment to think. Do you understand that we don’t have equal rights? Do you understand that, as it stands, we’re not sure we actually have a right to the condition and well-being of our own bodies? My bank demands, despite repeated signed paperwork, that I receive my husband’s approval for major transactions. His name comes first on checks, on bills, on loans. We are buying a house, and a lender waved off any information about me, despite my credit being much higher.

Mansplaining is funny, a joke, until you’re the focus of it. Today a man told me to stop and think. This is not new. It is still jarring, still appalling, and I am sitting, over an hour later, seething at my desk.

I have a degree. I have worked in multiple fields. I have actively participated in political groups, attended rallies and speeches, have combed resources and investigated.

I was told to stop and think, without a second thought on the part of a man.

I need you to shut up. I need you to spend another minute, two, thinking about who you are talking to, what a life that is unlike your own might be like. Where your intelligence is excused, where assumptions take place of facts – where your skirt asserts your fault when walking down a street, where your position begets a personality you have never displayed.

You won’t get it. It’s okay. But until you’re willing to make an attempt:

Shut up.