Diving in

So for the curious, here’s an update on writer happenings around here.

I set a goal several months ago to self-publish one of my novels by June 1.  It was an audacious goal. I wanted to challenge myself, spur myself forward, make things happen because I’d been stuck and stagnant so long. 

And that’s happened for sure. I did another edit of my novel. It was absorbing and exciting and fun. But in the middle of that I was thinking again about whether I want to pursue the traditional publishing path or self-publishing. Both paths seem daunting, both paths offer pros and cons. 

But I was searching for what was in my heart - what I really want, in spite of the fear. And what I want is to give traditional publishing a try. I feel like I would regret it if I didn’t. And what do I have to lose? Well, I stand to lose time and emotional energy, but I'm not going to get anywhere if I'm not willing to invest my time and energy and take risks.

So, here I am, weeks away from June 1, and I will not be slapping my lovely little novel up for sale on Amazon. But, I am okay with that.  I’ve kickstarted the process, I’ve gotten myself moving and that’s what I wanted to do in the first place.

So instead, I'll be working on the process of getting traditionally published. For those of you unfamiliar with the publishing process here’s a quick overview of how it looks from an author's perspective: 
  • You send a query letter, a short blurb about your book and usually a sample, to agents who you’d like to represent you.
  • Based on the query letter if an agent is interested they ask to read your whole manuscript. 
  • If they like your manuscript and think it’s sellable and a good fit, they contact you to offer representation. 
  • After you’ve signed with an agent, you may have another round of revisions and edits to your novel. 
  • And then the agent will start to pitch your novel to publishers. 
  • And then if a publisher wants your novel, there will be negotiations before the contract.
  • Once the contract is signed, there will then be another round of edits and proofreading before your novel gets sent to print.
It is not an easy or short process to be sure. But it is what it is, and I’m diving in at the beginning. The last month I’ve spend most of my energy on getting ready to query.  

It's taken me longer than I wish because I’ve been sorting through complex emotions - chief among them fear - to get to a point where I am ready to start sending query letters. I feel vulnerable admitting this, admitting that I am not bullet proof, that I’m thin skinned and sensitive. It’s true, I am. And I wish I wasn’t. So I’m having to psych myself up to go through this. There is a lot of rejection and criticism. It’s par for the course. So here I go.

I’ll be starting to query soon and I have no idea what that will look like - how long I’ll be doing it, how many agents I will query, how soon I will hear back from them (if at all).

So… don’t expect me to be posting every little detail here as I'm pretty sure it would bore you to tears.  And don't expect me to be telling you in a month that I have some magical fairy dust publishing deal! But if you have a bag of magical fairy dust, please send it my way. ;-)

In the meantime, I’m trying to reignite what I love about writing in the first place and working on a new project. I want to keep the creative flow flowing! 


Ex Machina: Men, Women, Robots & Love

So I watched Ex Machina last weekend. Haven't stopped thinking about it since. And I love that. There are so many layers to this movie, so many ways to dissect and discuss it.  (Please don't ask me about this movie at lunch because I will be talking for an hour.)

But the aspect that jumped out at me was the feminist angle. I consider myself a feminist, but I'm not one of those people constantly looking around for patriarchal boogeymen to jump out of the bushes. To me, most of our problems around this place called earth are not problems of patriarchy, but just human nature, male or female.

But the feminist layer of this movie is just so strong. Women are so clearly objectified in this movie - although the movie is self-aware, using it to make a point, so it's not mindless objectification. It's not meant to merely titillate or enrage, but invites dialogue.

Okay, spoilers ahead if you haven't seen the movie. so I'm warning you. If you haven't seen the movie yet and you plan to, well, don't read this!


Nathan, creates a female AI (Artifical Intelligence), named Ava. Later you learn he's created other prototypes before her, also sexy females. One of his creations is Kyoko, essentially a mute servant whose sole job is to look pretty - well, let's face it, sexy - and do house chores, but never to argue, never to interact, never to talk. It's also implied that she serves as a sexual companion to Nathan.


Oh Man, did this get my goat! As it was designed to, I think. Because if you could create truly sophisticated lifelike "robots" these would be some of the first uses - sexual gratification and menial labor. The cynic in me says that men would create women that would be objects, to be used, without complications, without problems, without souls.

Honestly, watching the movie it stirs up all these FEELINGS. Is that all we're good for as women - to be beautiful, sexy, to be sycophantic servants to men? Is that all they want us for? We're human beings! With needs and feelings and thoughts and talents and personalities. We're not pretty sexy dummies!

This might be a good place to interject that my husband does not make me feel that in any way. He's awesome! And I know many many other respectful amazing men out there. But it's more about general messages from society that women are valued the most for being beautiful and attractive, young and nubile.

It is the ultimate male fantasy, a woman who is attractive, sexually available at all times, graceful, perfect, domestic, quiet, no drama, no feelings, no interests of her own, she is completely centered around the man in her life. She worships him.  She is his slave.

It's easy for me to get my feminist panties in a twist at this point. But wait, but wait. Hmmm. Let's be fair here. Okay?

What is the ultimate female fantasy? Well, if you read popular romance novels or watch chick flicks, it's pretty obvious. It is getting the ungettable man.

*Ewan McGregor in Down With Love

He's handsome, he's rich, he's powerful. Often he's a bad boy with commitment issues. Every woman wants him. But no other woman has been able to get him until YOU. Because you're just so unique and amazing and special and gorgeous and he adores you. Now suddenly he's willing to commit. He's all in. He's all yours. You're all he can think about all day and night. The wild man has been tamed. He worships you. He is your slave.

(Wanna know exactly what I'm talking about? See my Chick Flicks list for movies featuring Bad Boys and Good Girls.)

I have to admit, even my beloved Pride and Prejudice (helllloooo Mr. Darcy) and North & South (helllloooo Mr. Thornton) uses the fantasy of the ungettable man - a noble man, perhaps, but still ungettable, unless the right woman comes along, at which point he promptly turns into jello.

So wait. Hmm. This female fantasy sounds a lot like the male fantasy, doesn't it? It's a little different, but in the end it comes down to another human being worshipping you - their whole life centers around you,  for them, no one else exists but you.

And uh, that's not really love, is it? That's not a healthy equal relationship with another flawed human being. That's not love, that's a fantasy that's all about self-gratification and ego.

So while this movie made me want to shake my feminist fist at the sky in protest, in the end it just reminded me that male, female, none of us are perfect. We all want to be loved. And maybe we all want to be worshipped, just a little bit.

But that doesn't leave room for love - being part of someone else's life, with all the imperfections, sharing life that includes hurts, problems, inconveniences, forgiveness, self-sacrifice. To love you have to set aside self-gratification and ego, and it's the same, whether you're a man or a woman.


Jane's table

I've been reading At Home with Jane Austen recently. Well, mostly looking at the pictures, but they are lovely pictures. One of them stood out. It's the picture of the table where Jane Austen wrote most of her novels, or so we are told. It's such a small, simple table and chair in such a small, simple room - a hallway really.

Supposedly she sat at this little table, squeezing in moments of writing here and there as she could, often hiding her work from passersby in the house, who didn't even know she was writing novels, but thought she was writing letters instead.  She was a secretive novelist.

She had no laptop, no Scrivener, no writer's group, no writers conference, no blog, no Twitter, no Facebook. It was just her, and paper and ink, and a table.

And the thought of this cheers me, the sight of this little table. Because before Jane, those stories did not exist. The idea that a humble, unimportant little human being made these incredible stories that people have now enjoyed for hundreds of years - that she sat at this little table writing them, completely unaware of their future reception and her future glory, which she would never experience personally - it's awe inspiring.

Because sometimes as a writer I just feel so dang small. I wonder why I am doing this. I wonder if anyone will ever read what I wrote. And I wonder if anyone will ever enjoy it, much less love it. I wonder if it will ever matter.  Sometimes the daunting nature of it all, the possible soul smashing rejection of it all, makes me want to give up.

And then I think of Jane at that little table. What if she had just given up? She had every logical reason to give up. But she wrote on because of passion, because of love, some inner drive. And millions of people have gotten to enjoy the fruit of that labor.

I'm not saying I'll be the next Jane. But Jane's table reminds me that I have no idea what I will be and it's not really my job to know - it's just my job to follow the muse and enjoy the journey.


Early morning walks and comfort movies

For some reason I woke up this morning before seven. I decided to roll with it, made coffee and went for a walk. The sky was pink, the breeze was cool, the birds were singing and I felt like Keira Knightley in this scene from Pride and Prejudice, in spite of the distant hum of traffic on the highway and the suburban scenery.

I just re-watched that movie this week and it made me wish I could take long walks everyday over the British countryside.

I have to re-watch it every couple of years. It’s one of my comfort movies. Sometimes I need the familiar, something I know I’ll love. But I’ve forgotten just how much I love that movie.

It’s a great story, I mean hello. I have a shamefully documented love of Jane Austen. But for me, this movie transcends that. It’s a piece of art.

It’s an impressionist painting made up of emotion. Every scene is so deliberate - the angles, the costumes, the light, the music. It’s a compressed version of the story. A haiku. Watching the movie feels almost as if you are looking into a tiny dollhouse that’s come to life. And the cast, the cast is amazing too. So many seasoned actors and so many who've blown up since!

I would love to sit down with Joe Wright for a few hours and just talk about how he made the movie and his artistic choices. I have questions, you know?

And I want to go to England.

And of course every time I watch the movie again, it makes me want to read the book again! Ha!

Do you have any movies like this in your life? Comfort movies you turn to again and again?

p.s. It’s now 4:30 in the afternoon and I feel more like this:


Why self-publishing?

So today I've finished editing 8 out of 18 chapters in my novel. More than halfway there. Cause for celebration, don't you think?

Maybe I shouldn’t be celebrating, because I’m nowhere near my original timeline, but I’m moving. Crawling, walking or running - movement is movement.

I still have the same excited energy I’ve had since I started working towards my audacious goal, but I’m starting to get nervous.

The editing and writing part is easy for me. Not so easy are the steps that follow - finding beta readers, creating an author web site, finding a professional editor and proofreader, figuring out how the heck to market this thing. I will admit, I’m a little scared. But I’m still moving!

So I thought I’d address a question… Why self-publishing?

This could be a very long answer, but I'm going to just share a key moment.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time - to go the traditional publishing house route with an agent, or to self-publish an ebook. I’ve heard all sorts of arguments, pro and con on each side. The voices are deafening, the choices confusing. I’ve been debating with myself for YEARS. I’ve been uncertain. I’ve been afraid.

It seems as if it’s lots of hard work and risk and there are no guarantees of any level of success, no matter which road you take.

I was sitting on a Valentine’s Date with my husband, enjoying steak and a glass of red wine, pouring my little heart out, telling him all of my thoughts on the subject when I had a breakthrough.

I realized that I’ve been hoping for an easy, obvious answer - a series of steps I could take that would result in guaranteed success. (Can you hear me laughing at myself? Really. I’m so ridiculous.) But this, of course, does not exist. The fact is the odds of success are against me, no matter what I do. So it doesn’t really matter which path I choose - what matters is that I do something.

And suddenly… I felt free. Free to choose. I don’t have to have the perfect answer, because the perfect answer doesn’t exist.

I chose self-publishing because I don’t want to spend the next two years just trying to find an agent. Ugh. Did I just say that? Yes, I did.

I want to put my work out there. I want people to read it. That’s my dream. I hope it comes true.

I still have doubts. I’m still scared. But I’m moving!


Favorites lately

It's spring! And I'm ready for new things!

Back in the Day Bakery: Made with Love. This lovely cookbook just arrived on my doorstep yesterday and I can’t wait to cook from it. Their first cookbook is one of my absolute forever favorites that I always turn to when I want something to be delicious.

As I was searching for a picture of the book cover, I actually stumbled across the designer of the book  cover's web site. Her name is Emily Isabella (what a lovely name, btw) and her work is lovely too.

I've been thinking about book covers lately (shocker!) and thinking how little we know about the actual people who design the art for books. So many books are so enjoyable due to their ingenuity, and yet we know so little about them.

I've stumbled across two other visual artists this week that I love too:

Abstract art by Mark Lovejoy. It’s spring, and I love the riot of color! I just can't resist abstract art.

And I am now obsessed with Emma Block.  I stumbled across her work on Pinterest. So quirky and  evocative. All the things she puts in her work are things I love: bicycles, cafes, baths, Paris, flowers, books, pastries, and feminine romantic sensibilities.

On a deeper note, this is the thing I've read online this week that impacted me the most:
Negativity online: An essay inspired by over 200,000 comments on Design Sponge

This is just such a fascinating topic to me - so many layers here. I’ve struggled with feeling envy, inferiority, confusing what I really value in my own life - from what I see online.

I love beauty, beauty, beauty - in art, in homes, in food, in fashion, in parties, in words - and I love to see it online.

But I also love contentment. I love being happy, right where I am, right now! Being bombarded with visual perfection and high aspiring beauty on a daily basis gives me a bad case of “I-want-itis” and the dreaded blue “lesser-thans”.

I have my OWN triggers online - things that will send me into a spiral of intertwined rage and envy.  If I have to see just ONE more blog or web site talking about “cool moms” or “hip moms” - who seem to be women who are young, beautiful, effortlessly slim, wealthy, NY or LA stylish, designers, or owners of boutiques, etc. who are always doing something in the photo like jumping on a bed in their OH SO killer hiply decorated kids room, having a pillow fight with their adorable and super stylishly dressed child, while being dressed themselves in vintage Pucci, with their perfectly blown out beach waves bouncing in the air - well, I will just scream. (I’m looking at you, The Glow.)

I mean don’t we moms have enough to deal with, without saying “these moms are cool” leaving the implication that if you don’t meet up to their level, well, you’re not. Okay, okay. I’m 40 and I’m still worried about being cool. Pretty lame, huh? I am laughing (blackly) at myself.

Based on this rant, you might notice I might know a little something about the emotions that inspire people to leave negative comments on web sites. But I don’t. Not my thing. But it affects me in my own way. Emotional crap bombs I step into the moment I open up Bloglovin or Pinterest.

It’s getting me thinking, how do I get a little more space from all this, how do I guard my mind from the crap bomb? How do I build contentment, instead of dreaded discontent? (Maybe stop looking at The Glow, I don’t know!)

So much I could say on this, but I just love how thoughtful this article is.

p.s. Looking at The Glow, I want to judge, I want to envy, I feel my bile spilling over.  I think the photographs here are a little like boudoir portraits for motherhood - not really really real, more of a highly crafted and edited view. But with a little distance I could also say it's a portrait of one moment in time, of the beauty of motherhood, of that little golden fading moment that will not last forever, of a mother's love.


Chaos, curves and flow

Dear Writer's Diary,
A progress update...

So, I’ve set my audacious goal, to self publish my novel by June 1. And I’ve been working, I definitely have.

But I'm laughing at myself already. I thought I could do any necessary re-writes and edits on my ENTIRE novel by March 14. (What was I thinking?)

Well, it is now March 12. And I have only worked through Chapter Two. Chapter Two, my friends, Chapter Two. Ahem.

But I’m so pleased with what I’ve done with it - things I can see clearly now after several years of distance - that it’s impossible for me to be upset with how behind I am.

It takes the time it takes. It is what it is. What matters is that progress is happening.

Recently I started reading this book that I so wanted to like. It shall remain unnamed. But by the first chapter I knew I wasn’t liking it. It was a nice premise with a Jane Austen related twist to it, that made me want to like it. But the writing style was just so workmanlike. So dry. Dry bones. No juice. No zest. No quirk. No emotional tug, tug, tugging.

I flipped through the pages, reading a page here and there, hoping to find the words that would pull me in. No dice. I put the book down. I couldn’t bring myself to read any more. Not a word.

But what got me was the fear that I write just the same. All straight lines and no curves.  All “and then he did this and then she said that and then he said this” and no heart-breaking, soul-aching poetry.

It’s hard, because I hear all this advice as a writer to cut, cut, cut, edit, edit, edit, make your work as minimalist as possible, as sleek as a seal, and so I cut and I trim and soon my writing glides through the water frictionlessly, because it has not an ounce of fat on it’s body, but the fat is what makes it juicy, what makes the difference between a humorless, artless, bore and the un-put-downable, unforgettable, underlinable book.

So I’m back, working again, working at the balance between athletic minimalism and chaotic beauty, wanting to find my voice, somewhere in the middle, beckoning my voice to surface, to be brave, be indomitable in the face of literary rules and cliches.

I’ve enjoyed spending time writing again. I wanted my mojo back and I feel like I have it. It is so much easier to find time to write now, here, there and everywhere. Everyday I set a goal to write for 45 minutes, even if it’s only 3 sets of 15 minutes, but I’m finding myself doing much more (when I can).

I’ve forgotten how good it feels when my fingers are on fire, when I’m in the flow, lost in time. I’ve also forgotten how bad it feels to neglect other areas of my life. But everything is a trade off.

On to Chapter Three.