Friday, November 26, 2010

The extra mile

Not sure what's come over me but I've been a competitive fool lately. The last month spent in a workout competition at my gym, logging an insane amount of miles on the cardio equipment. Won a frozen turkey. Day after, the turkey trot, my first road event. Running is different than putting miles on cardio equipment but I talked myself through two miles, a first since I don't know when. Probably has something to do with needing minor victories. Teaching myself endurance, patience. Learning to push a little more. Can you do one more mile? Can you go twenty more steps?

Can you write another page? Can you send another query letter?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


A short piece for Three Word Wednesday. The words are advance, pander, shuffle.

Mornings came earlier and night came sooner and people seemed more tired, hungry. Truckers wedged themselves into vinyl seats and made her feel important. She was the go-between, the pander for their addiction to coffee and stale danishes. Old men with crossword puzzles, young men with want ads. The old men wanted to chat, the young men didn’t. Times were tough but people still ate out. They saved money by not tipping. She saved money by not paying her bills. If her phone got turned off, so what? She only heard from creditors and her ex. They sounded the same. She’d pin the phone between her ear and her shoulder and say, yes, I know, and shuffle through her deck of dollar bills – once fifty-two of them, exactly – and think about how quickly they’d be dealt. Hospital, credit card, electric. Babysitter, phone, gas. Rent, groceries. Every month was a test: All of the above, none of the above, or choose A and B? Maybe she’d “borrow” another bag of bread, another giant can of vegetables from the diner. If Emil noticed he never said. Maybe he knew that the deck was stacked against her. Once he advanced her a check when her car wouldn’t start – something with the transmission, the mechanics told her, and then handed her an estimate for seven hundred and some. No car, can’t get to work. No work, no rent money. Pay for the car, rent goes unpaid anyway. Sleep in the car, lose the child. She smiled through it, smiled at work, because if you didn’t smile and pretend then you made even less money. She was an actress paid to perform. A tight-wire act.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jobs for Haters

Got a kick out of this Yahoo article, "Jobs For People who Don't Like People." Or, as the URL says, "Jobs for Haters." Funny because 'writer' is on the list. Also funny because introversion is invariably and erroneously equated with hating people. (Just because I don't care to yammer on endlessly about nothing...) Extraverts get their energy from being with people. Introverts get theirs from being alone. And honestly, I've got enough conversations going on inside my head...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quote of the day

"Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterwards summer may not come." --Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday, November 19, 2010

Faith and Love

I’ve had two requests for full manuscript from literary agents …and two rejections. It feels as bad as you think – you finally break through the steel walls only to get tossed back over the side. You know you have to start over, if you can recover from the jolt. Four or five weeks of imagining that “maybe” might turn into paper and ink and glory and everything you’ve been working for. But instead it feels like everything is breaking.

Two choices: Give up or don’t. I don’t have the magic formula for getting through but so far this is what’s worked for me:

1. Wallow. Let yourself have the moment but put a time limit on it, as hard as that is. Stop thinking about what might have been and focus on what will be.

2. Contact friends and/or mentors and tell them the sky is falling. They’ll remind you that it isn’t. (One wise friend told me that if it’s too easy, people will hate me and I won’t have a good story to tell…)

3. Realize that if you got that far, your query letter must be pretty good. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

4. If you got feedback, accept it as a gift and say ‘thank you.’ Take another honest read of your manuscript. Do they have a point? Will integrating their suggestions or addressing their issues make the story stronger? Take what you can use. (I received feedback both times – the first made sense, the second maybe not as much.) Realize that agents have widely varying tastes and it could be simply a matter of finding the right person.

5. Revise. Going through your manuscript again can help remind you why you fell in love with this in the first place. Madly in love. That you and writing were made for each other.

6. Don’t lose the magic while pursuing the magic moment. Dive back into your novels where the magic lives.

7. Write. Write some more. Keep going. Are you writing?

8. Send out more queries. My advisor tells me about another student who sent out 99 query letters and struck on the 100th. (Which makes me wonder why it’s never the first or second? But he does have a good story to tell...)

Got some work to do.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Sometimes the universe throws a bone. The free table at my tiny local library usually contains tattered remnants of mystery novels or the latest issues of a popular Lutheran publication. Happened to pass by on a day when the library was cleaning out its literary reference library. Why not just Google, you say? Reference books are an informational and inspirational minefield. Flipping through turns up information you wouldn't have thought to Google. Tidbits that can spark story ideas. Did you know, for instance, that people born on Saturday "have the gift for seeing and detecting vampires"? Straight from the Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend (pictured). Yup. Useless information is the stuff novels are made of.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Recipe for frustration

ME: (Returning Aimee Bender's fabulous literary novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake to the library, hoping to start a discussion about the book's magical realism.) This is a great book. It's about a girl who discovers that she can taste the emotions of whoever who made her food.

LIBRARIAN: Oh, does it have recipes in it?

ME: Um, nope. No, it doesn't. (End of conversation.)

I suppose I could have kept trying but had a moment of what's-the-pointism. Been walking around a bit stunned since I started teaching, wondering what kind of educational budget cuts or saturation of bubble gum culture have brought me students who have never heard of A Catcher in the Rye? Claude Monet?

How one of the most frustrating questions in the world has become "Do we have to take notes?" because what it really means is "Do we have to know this?"

Yes, dammit. Yes, you do.