Failure.

Ever tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett

The instructor of the first writing workshop I ever attended shared this quote with us all on the first night of class and it has stuck with me over the years. We live in a success focused world. Yet, seldom does success occur in the absence of failure. Listen to any person you consider to be successful speak about how they arrived at the place they are today and I’m certain they will mention something that went wrong. You have to listen closely though, because they will likely give this a prettier name than failure – it will be a challenge or setback or stumbling block.

This instinct to dress up failure stems from the need to make certain that it wasn’t all dust and ashes and scraps; make it clear that there was a lesson. “I faced a challenge that made me stronger.” “It was a setback, but now I’m back on track.” “I stumbled just a bit, but I’m standing upright again now.” I am a fan of the positivity of these statements, yet find myself drawn to the bluntness in Beckett’s words. To me, there is freedom in simple and dressed down statement – I failed. The permission to close the door and move on.

I wrote a second novel. I wrote it to fill a formula that I created from editors’ rejections of Neverending Beginnings: a big premise, strong secondary characters, and a separate story line for those characters. I sent it out to a few agents and received standard rejections (note: this is not the part about failure, this is normal). I sat the novel aside for just a few weeks while I waited to attend a workshop on query letters to polish mine a bit. After this event I sat down to re-write a super-shiny new query letter and decided it would be helpful to skim through my work again for inspiration. With that foolproof formula I had created no longer so front and center in my head, I realized something that I had missed until that moment – my story had no soul.

There was a big premise, and strong secondary characters moving through a lovely little vignette but there was no spark. When I was writing Neverending Beginnings I would lose myself in Kate and Ben and Amy and Jack for hours. Sometimes I would forget they weren’t actually people I knew. With Novel Two this never happened. I never connected. I failed to let the story lead me and instead tried to cram it into a very specific, incorrectly sized box. I tried to treat this experience as a little hiccup (a stumbling block, if you will). I tried to make edits to revive it, but it was really still a crumpled mess. Labeling it a unrevivable failure is what finally allowed me to move on.

And yes, of course I learned something from this; there are huge lessons in the mess. But I am happy to say I failed.

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Making a Space

Photo Skitch Document

 

Deciding where the characters in a story live  is key.  The world you create, has to be real to the reader, whether it exists or not.  In fantasy this requires detailed descriptions to help the reader see a world with pink trees and streets paved in black licorice as if it were their own. (Fantasy writers please pardon my terrible example. This is precisely why I don’t write in that genre).  In realistic fiction it involves giving enough detail that readers can see your characters in their space without being drawn out of the story by idiosyncrasies (i.e., “wait a second, K street doesn’t intersect DuPont”).

So when I started Neverending Beginnings I decided to set it in Richmond and I moved my main character, Kate, into the apartment I lived in when I first moved to the city.  It was a fabulous one bedroom in the Renaissance Conference Center .  The apartment was on the second floor, the same floor as a large ballroom that can be rented out.  I still laugh about the December evenings I would run into the fabulously dressed couples headed to their corporate holiday parties while I (wearing sweatpants) was on the way upstairs to do my laundry.  The other awesome thing about this apartment was that the building had previously been owned by the Masons.  The walk-in safe that was part of their offices became my (huge!) closet; the painted, cast iron safe door a prominent feature in my bedroom.

Safe/ Closet Door

Safe/ Closet Door

The safe/closet interior. (aka the closet that made all other closets in my life seem inadequate)

The safe/closet interior. (aka the closet that made all other closets in my life seem inadequate)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from my novel featuring the building and the safe turned closet:

“Well, this is me.”  I said stopping in front of my building.

“No way. I just helped my friend’s girlfriend move in here this past weekend.”

“Is her name Carolyn, by any chance?”

“Yeah. You know her?”

“We were college roommates, freshman year.  In some weird twist of housing fate, she’s my next door neighbor now.”

“No way.”  I just nodded, and he continued. “This is an amazing old building.  I think it was a Masonic temple at some point, right?”

I nodded again.  “Did you get to see the ballroom on the second floor?”

“It was locked.”

“You have to catch it when there’s a wedding reception or party that they’re setting up for. I’ve gotten to peek in a few times.  It has this amazing high ceiling and huge windows.”

“I saw the windows from the back of the building the other day.  They are pretty impressive.”

“The closet in my bedroom is actually the old safe from when the Masons were here.  It has the original iron door and everything.”

“You mean, right there on the wall in your bedroom.”

I nodded.

“Wow.  I would love to see that sometime,” he said, still staring at the building. Then he snapped back into reality, and quickly, apologetically, stumbled. “ I mean I’d love to see the how they repurposed the old safe, uh . . . not specifically your bedroom.  I wasn’t trying to be an ass.”

“I knew what you meant,” I said.

“So, this was fun . . .” he said sort of softly.

“Definitely.”  I shuffled my feet and started glanced at the ground.

“Right, so I guess I’ll see you Friday, um . . . at the rehearsal dinner.”

“Right.  See you then.”

“Okay,” he said as he turned and walked away.

As I watched him walk away I thought strong my urge to kiss him had been, pretty much from the adorably unnecessary apology on.  Much like my disappointment when he explained his move to Seattle, I had no idea where the idea even came from.  But the one thing I did know was that there was no point to any of it if he was leaving.  Why bother, if I already knew the ending?

Published

pic 1

It was sort of a surreal experience; one moment there was this manuscript on my computer and the next it was out there in the electronic universe, just waiting to be clicked on. It still doesn’t particularly seem real to see it’s little icon sitting there on my virtual bookshelf.

Just like the band labeled an overnight success has actually played in basements and bars for years, my published overnight novel has a much longer backstory. It all began with a few chapters in a writing class at Visual Arts Center, probably about four years ago. I enrolled in the class just to explore whether or not I enjoyed writing and I left with the beginning of a story that wouldn’t let go until all 365 pages of it were out.

I finished the novel right around the time of the James River Writers annual conference and decided to pitch it to an agent. My plan was for this to be a “practice pitch” so that I would get some pointers on things to include in the query letters I would soon begin writing. The agent I spoke to asked me to send her the first few chapters. Then the full novel.

She ultimately passed on it, but offered some very insightful advice on how I might improve my manuscript. She indicated I should feel free to submit other work to her in the future. I loved her suggestions and could immediately see how they would make my work stronger; my themes more poignant. I made some fairly significant changes to my original manuscript and queried the same agent again. She accepted.

After numerous submissions to editors and another significant rewrite it became clear that the novel was not going to sell. I set it aside and began working on other projects. For way, way longer than I would like to admit I told myself that this novel would just end up being my second novel, after I published something else.

I can’t say exactly what caused the major “ah-ha” moment for me. The thing that finally caused me to give serious consideration to self-publishing. It was certainly something I knew existed as an option, I just didn’t view it as the right option for me until recently. It’s not at all that I’ve stopped believing in traditional publishing, or even that I won’t still try to go this route with my current projects in progress. I think it’s just that I finally realized that stories are meant to be read. On paper. On iPad. On Kindle. On Nook. On Kobo. On whatever else. It was time for my story to be heard.

I’m so excited that “Neverending Beginnings” is no longer just a file on my computer. I’m thrilled to be sharing it with all of you.

Here’s the “back cover” synopsis:

Kate is alarmed to find out that her best friend Amy is getting married after dating for only six months. Her alarm turns to shock when she learns that the groom-to-be is Kate’s old college ex. As the big day approaches, Kate’s inability to hide her feelings is threatening to ruin her friendship with Amy.

Kate’s last minute, vodka-fueled wedding toast has her wishing she could turn back the clock and make things right. Imagine her surprise when she wakes up the next day and finds out she can.

Forced to relive one of the most painful weeks of her life, Kate slowly works to repair the damage she has done. In the process, she learns a lot about herself and a finds herself looking forward to getting to know the cynically charming best man, Ben, better.

And here’s where to find it at your cyber-bookstore of choice:

Smashwords (downloads available in the format for most any reader, 15% off with code: GA82P )

iBookstore

Kobo

Amazon

Nook Bookstore *coming soon*

Thanks for reading, I’d love to know what you think!

Thank You.

Last month marked one year of blogging for me.  I can honestly say it is one of the few things in life that I started with a sense of obligation (i.e. “I really should start a blog.  Writers have blogs.  I then, must also have a blog.”) that ended up enriching my life in ways I never imagined.

Sometimes the words come easy.  Sometimes the stories flow so fast I worry my fingers won’t be able to keep up.  Sometimes the ideas keep me up at night.  This year hasn’t been particularly full of these times.  I don’t know why.  I don’t particularly believe in writer’s block, nor do I want to spend copious amounts of time (over) analyzing the situation.  Mostly what I want to do is nurture the part of myself that loves words and sentences and paragraphs and poems and songs and novels.

Blogging has allowed me to do just that; create my own words, read those of others.  But it’s also given me you.  It’s given me readers.  Honestly, I started this and wondered if anyone would ever even visit (it was, after all, just another WordPress.com  site  . . .) I never expected people to follow.  To like posts.  To make comments.  I certainly never imagined that people would tell me in person that they read my blog, but it’s happened countless times in the last year.  Often from those I never imagined were reading, always with kind words.

So I wanted to pause and say thank you.  Thank you for making this an amazing experience.  Thank you for chosing to take your precious time to read my words.  And thank you for encouraging me.  Every comment, every like, every mention has done it’s part to nurture this writer’s soul.

Here’s to another year . . .

 

My Studio

This week in my writing class we talked about the importance of having a space dedicated to writing. It was certainly a concept I was familiar with, the idea of an office or a studio. However for me, creating space to write has always been more about carving out time and less about an actual physical location.

The concept of space or studio seems so much easier to apply to the visual arts. Clearly the painter needs a place for huge canvases and the photographer needs a darkroom. My canvas is a blank document on my laptop and my mind is the darkroom in which ideas develop; neither needs much tangible space.

However, there is another function of the artist’s studio that I had not really considered until recently. Above and beyond storage and pure functionality, there is the idea that entering the space causes a shift in consciousness. It signals to the brain, it is now time to shut out the other noise of life and focus on the painting, sculpture, photograph, story. It is time to create.

And when I began to think of it that way, I realized that I do have just such a space. That space is not the space pictured above. Instead it is this:

That’s right. I have a nice office, with a great desk and even a skylight; but my space is a small couch. I’m not really sure exactly how it happened, but that couch is where I started writing and it’s where I still write today. When I sit there each Sunday night my body, my brain, and my soul know it is time to write.

So in the end, I do have a studio. I still believe that the time I carve out is the most important part; but I can see now that having a space helps me make the most of that time. Maybe it’s a bit unconventional, but isn’t that the beauty of the writer’s craft? We can make our studios in coffee shops and libraries. Anywhere from closets to corners of spare rooms to couches.

The most important thing is just to make room for the story.

Well Said

Words.   What can I say?  I’m hopelessly in love with them.  Song lyrics and essays and blog posts and novels and poems.  Thousands and millions and billions of ways to string them together and create beauty.  Inspire deep thought.  Shift the lens through which I see the world just a bit.  Express perfectly and succinctly exactly the things I wasn’t even quite aware I felt.

And sometimes (not unlike the people we fall in love with) these lovely perfect words come from the least expected of places; when we’re not looking for them at all.  I’m not a mother.  I would never have sought out a blog about being one, but today I followed a link from a friend’s Facebook page right into this beautiful bunch of words, which were exactly what I needed.*

A big thank you to Glennon and all the other writers and  bloggers and lyricists and essayists and poets whose words enrich my life daily.

*See especially the second half of her post.

(Also note: my mention of using Facebook in no way means I have abandoned the attempt to disengage a bit referenced in my last post.  I’m working on it, I promise . . . just as soon as I log off . . .)

Independence

Last night my husband was talking brewing with the gentleman next to him at the bar.  After they had been talking for a few minutes the gentleman’s wife asked me, “what do you do while he brews?”  I replied that I write.  We struck up a great conversation about reading/writing/general creative-ness.  This morning, going through some pictures, I ran across the one above and had to smile, because it so accurately sums up the previous evening’s conversation.

I love beer.  I love checking in on the boiling pot of sweet-smelling wort.  I get excited when the resting beer starts to emit tiny bubbles signaling the beginning of fermentation.  And of course, I love all the sampling.  Above all, I love my husband and am proud of each and every beer he makes.  I have no desire to brew beer.

Similarly, my husband gets as excited about views and likes and comments on my blog as I do.  He understands completely when I need to stop in the middle of dinner to jot an idea down in my little writer’s notebook before it escapes me.  He’s helped me with query letters and proofread countless blog posts.  And yet, he has no desire to be a writer.

I love our independent hobbies, because in them we get to celebrate and learn from each other’s uniqueness.  I know more about the brewing process than I ever imagined I would.  Similarly, my husband knows more about the writing and publishing than I’m sure he ever imagined he would.  We are each enriched by the time we spend doing our “own things.”

Obviously shared hobbies are immensely important too, but I think even those are enriched by individual interests.  For example, travelling is one of our shared hobbies.  Our most recent trips were to England where we visited Stratford-upon-Avon and the pub where J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ writers group met (quite writer-ly) and to Denver, CO for the Great American Beer Festival (quite brewer-ly).

So today we’re celebrating the holiday with a quiet morning of writing and an evening spent raising a pint of craft beer.  Happy Independence Day!

*I’ll also leave you with this, in light of my previous music-inspired post:

On Blogging

I’ve been blogging for about eight months now and should confess that I started the whole thing with a bit (by which I mean, a lot) of skepticism. It was something I mostly thought I should do. I am a writer, writers have blogs; therefore so shall I. Needless to say “should” is rarely a good reason to do anything. But in this case it has turned out brilliantly.

I’ve been in a bit of an in-between;  finished one project with no immediate ideas for a new one. But I need to write. It is my balance, my gravity. And so I have blogged. And I have really, truly enjoyed it.  Not for one moment has it felt like a should-y chore.  I can now honestly say I blog because I like to blog.  Period.

The other extremely pleasant surprise that has come out of blogging is the generosity of other bloggers.  Of course I intellectually understood the concept of keeping an online journal that anyone can read; but I’m not sure I ever really thought about the idea of a community of bloggers.  The fact that people would like things you have written.  Choose to follow your every post.  Offer encouraging comments.

They’re all busy with things like starting a brewery , practicing down to earth yogadealing with a loved one’s illness  and growing old gracefully.  And yet each one of these fellow bloggers (among many others) has taken time, not only to share their thoughts and words and emotions; but to appreciate mine.  And that is what has made this experience downright amazing!