Getting It Together

tatoo girl

This is the cover of the Clare and I collection on wattpad.com.

Publishing the book on-line has been a pain in the neck. I love the opportunity and the possibilities digital printing offers but, for each site I’m on, there’s a whole new layer of technical capabilities/directions/rules/kinks.  There’s probably very easy ways to do the things I want to do in these stories (see post below where I bitch about it).  I’m just not finding things as intuitive as I personally, in my very stubborn idiotic way, think they should.

All of which is to say–publishing is never easy.

I read an obit recently of a mystery writer who for most of his life had incredible success–big publishers, huge following, awards, etc. Fifteen years ago, he started to branch out, wrote scripts for his books, thinking they’d be a breeze to sell to some movie producer: didn’t happen. Meanwhile, he decided he was going to write something other than  mystery novels–no one bought them.  He never published again.  He shot himself.

There’s a lesson here to remember. I suspect I may never be commercially published again. I’ll never make my long-suffering agent ecstatic, never get a contract, another advance, an editor who loves me, a galley to proof,  the weight of a physical book in my hands, the readings and fan letters. For a length of time, these things were the measure of my worth and then, like any other job, something happened. Things changed. Passed me by.  I wasn’t able to figure out what was wrong.  Maybe it couldn’t be figured out. It just was, and everything I did before appeared to be a mirage, at best a fluke.

I know what that guy was going through.

There were at least two times when I either symbolically (i.e. threw/burned manuscripts) or in reality (drinking; a lot of pills; walking into the ocean off Brighton Beach)  was going the way the mystery writer went.  The first time was after eleven long years where I couldn’t for the life of me get published–rejection letters; phone slamming down; editorial laughter abound concerning nearly everything I sent out into the world.  The second was a year after finishing up my last book, with three well received books before it.

Since then I’ve sent handfuls of proposals to my agent and talked up a lot of ideas with friends. Nothing panned out and another darkness was always hovering two inches away.  There was nothing artistically romantic about all this. My writing was pretty much all I hung my hat on. Family, friends, all of the rest of life didn’t matter at all–useless to them, useless in the world, a walking illustration of a foolish dud. I was coming up against what we all come up against–the limits of our youthful beliefs and the discovery of what we will, or will not, endure.  Eventually the good husband kicked me  to someone who knew what to do, who gave me the drugs I faithfully take every morning. It took six wobbly months for my head to clear and begin to find a worth beyond a book with my name on it.

All of which leads to Clare and her friend. The stories are coming at a pace of once a month, including obsessive polishing, although my husband says they need more proof reading, too. There’s no vanity in putting them out.  For all the hard work I’m putting into them, they could all suck, but perhaps they don’t,  even though the average number of readers hangs around 20.  About That Night, though,  got up to 35–but there’s graphic sex and a suggestion of incest in that one, which always helps. I think maybe my sister may briefly check in but I’m pretty sure my agent or any editors haven’t.

What the hell, though.   The girls are out there.  Last week, I even decided I’m going to start sending them out to magazines of all kinds. I haven’t received rejection letters in a while so this should be fun. The difference is, they won’t matter.

And you never know.  It’s better than the alternative silence.

Just for fun, here are the stories.

The Fashion Of the Day

1950s-felt-party-halter-dress-size-extra-small_5

 

Swans

swim rope

Parallel Dilemmas: The Things We Have to Do to Get Out of Here

_Math-Equations1.large

About That Night

alone girl

Moms At Rest

table glass

 

 

Writing 101: Staying true to your inspiration and vision

hedgehog-1The writer as a scared hedgehog

Teachers present themselves as authorities, master survivors of everything a student will encounter along their way to becoming just like their teacher. For awhile, I felt that way–authoritative and steadfast with a handful of good books at my back. When I stood before my first class, I was finishing a memoir that I thought was all about my long marriage to a patient man who always seemed more constant that me. The subject was intriguing and the writing fine enough that agent and editors cheered it on. I felt confident I could give my students everything they needed to survive.

Five years and a lot of bruising later, I stood in front of what would be my last class feeling pretty much like a fraud. The marriage memoir was in tatters. I had put it aside to travel and write another book, and by the time I returned to the story, I was mid-way in recovering from a drowning depression and ensuing break down.  Clarity was in short supply and I began to rely on others for the kind of directions that are almost always wrong:  I listened too intently to everyone who read the book and offered advice on what they considered would make it better, i.e. more sell-able to the public. Each subsequent draft moved further from my original vision and intent. The writing itself lost its funny frothiness  and took on a muddled stridency. Every time I read one of my students’ stories, I realized it was better than anything I had accomplished at my desk that day. I recognized how little I could claim before them. The fact that I got through to the end of the semester with them believing I had imparted anything worthwhile is a testament to being a skillful liar. I said goodbye to them, hugged the ones that wanted hugs, then collapsed at the empty table with my face in my hands and cried a bucket of shame. Then I went home and completed another awful draft.

hedgehog-2

The writer as a discombobulated hedgehog

That was two years ago. I tried to think up other stories to write. I sent my agent a slew of ideas for follow-up books that she gently told me would never work out and which I never had enough interest in to prove her wrong. Great silence ensued during which anytime some well-meaning relative or friend asked me what I was working on I fest up and said I was working on nothing, an alarming confession they eventually realized they didn’t want to hear.

It could have all ended there. Out of long habit I still went to my desk every morning. I’d turned on the computer, dawdle over some research and typed a few pages until completing the customary hours  and then I went off to waste time with things I once never had time for, like gardening and painting my house and seeing friends and feeling empty and useless. As it turned out, my body didn’t like this much, especially my brain which should have shriveled with neglect but instead insisted on raking over the memoir. I’m convinced that big heart attack of a few postings back was my body’s way of shaking me. Nothing like mortality to get you going again, plus a long recuperation that gave me time to read and get annoyed at how what was once a little treasure had imploded. What the hell, what else was I doing? I uncovered the memoir’s first draft under the twenty pounds of  barnacles attached to it. I found its true path again, which turns out is not marriage but the redemption of love, a common enough theme but one of our most powerful, especially in the midst of every day cares.

hedgehog-3

The write as a hopeful hedgehog

A step back is a step forward. I started teaching again, which is why I thought about writing this as a lesson in stubborn belief.  It no longer matters to me that the patient agent or any editor at a nice publishing house will read me ever again. I just want this out in the world and hopefully do all the things good writing is supposed to do: entertain and enlighten and entertain again. This link will send you to the opening chapter.  I figure every month I’ll put up another chapter and hope you keep coming back to read more.

http://members.authorsguild.net/patwillard/the_invention_of_marriage_105143.htm

About the hedgehog: Is there not a more perfect creature–small, given to curling in upon herself, needing coaxing and confidence to come out and be herself again–to represent a screwy creative life?

Thank you Sara for your inspiration and talent!