Big news: I got a book deal!

It’s an almost-Christmas miracle, everyone!

i got a book deal

Actually, I’ve had the news for a while, but I was expecting someone important (my agent, my editor, my publishing house, God) to say, “JUST KIDDING, SUCKER!” That has not happened, yet, so I’m pretty sure this is real.

How it all happened is both a short and long story.

The short story: I wrote a novel, did major edits/overhauls a couple times, then sent it out into the world. I started with a list of agents who had rejected me before, but in a nice and supportive way. The first person on that list, Andrea, read the book and loved it. I signed a contract with her. She sent the book out into the world and I got a number of rejections. Twelve or thirteen, something like that. And then there were a few people interested, actually interested. Brenda was my favorite. She even talked to me on the phone. She saw great potential with the book and encouraged me to do a revision. A big revision. I was defeated at first–another revision? But then I felt grateful that she took a liking to me. I revised the story. It went back out into the world. In the end, I had two offers, but I chose Brenda.

The long story: I started writing stories when I was a little kid. I’d staple together pages and call them books. I don’t know where I got this drive. My parents are not creative people. I wrote my first book–a mess of a memoir–in college (I named it Into the Light). Then I wrote another book in college (Love and Leave). Neither of these ever went anywhere besides a couple writing workshops. I can’t remember exactly when, but I wrote another book (The Real Victor). Then I decided to go to grad school for writing. And I wrote another book Chasing the Crows). I got an agent with that book, but she couldn’t sell the book. I wrote another book (AWOL). I got an agent with that book too, but she couldn’t sell it. So I wrote another book (Cherry Blossoms), but never finished it. And then I decided to write another book, based on an idea I couldn’t get out of my head. That became People Who Knew Me. And now, if all goes according to plan, that book will get published.

The projected publication date is early 2016, which seems eons away. I’m thinking that in the next year, I’ll revisit some of my old books and see if they’re worthy of work. It’s all very exciting, I must say. And overwhelming.

It’s hard to express why this means so much to me. It’s not the money, because the money is small. I guess it’s the opportunity to share stories with people, to have some kind of conversation. There’s this sense that I have a path now, more of a purpose. After years of rejection, I considered so many times that I just sucked and should stop writing. That doubt is easier for me to fight now.

I just read this in the Editor’s Note of the latest Poets & Writers magazine and it’s so true:

“I believe that most of us write not for the money (‘What money?’ many will, and should, cry) but rather as part of a lifelong pursuit of creative expression. We write because we love writing; we can’t live without it. If we can get a book deal that includes some much-deserved stability, it’s a clear win, in a culture that doesn’t reward its literary artists as often as it should. But without that book deal, without that money, we will still write. And most of us–not all, but most of us–do not ‘write for the market’ (whatever that might actually mean).”

I still believe that getting a book deal is based less on talent than on luck and persistence. I mean, yes, you have to be a good writer. I’m a good writer. But you have to just keep trying, again and again and again. And again.

MORE gifts for the writers & readers in your life

It’s beginning to creep me out how Facebook stalks me. I posted last week about gifts for writers and readers, and ever since then, I’ve been getting all these notifications in my feed with additional gift ideas. Some of them are pretty cool, so even though I’m creeped out, I will share.

This company, Litographs, takes words from famous books and puts them on t-shirts, totes, and posters. The photos below represent Heart of Darkness, Walden, and Moby Dick, respectively. It’s hard to see the tiny print in the photos, but the novels are actually printed on there. Click through to see. I want.

litographs
From the Unemployed Philosophers Guild (which has lots of cool stuff), there’s this awesome mug, featuring opening lines from 22 great works of literature (ie, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” “Call me Ishamael”). Talk about morning inspiration.

mug

I am a huge beer fan, so imagine my excitement to see these Edgar Allen Poe-themed beers.

poe beers

Continuing with alcohol… this rum, named after Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat, is licensed by his estate.

rum

Last, but not least, this Mark Twain bobblehead is perfect for those writing days when you are getting delirious and just need to laugh at something ridiculous.

bobblehead

Now, let’s see what other ideas my Facebook feed has…

 

 

 

 

Gifts for the writers & readers in your life

Now that the holiday madness has officially begun, I have a few gift ideas for those literary types you may have the good fortune of knowing. Shout out to my loved ones: I have not purchased any of these yet.

FictitiousDishes hc c.JPG
This book features fifty photographs of meals described in famous books–ranging from The Secret Garden to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s a good coffee table book to have at parties when the conversation gets awkwardly dull.

tequila mockingbird

This is another good book to have at parties.  It features 65 delicious, literature-inspired drink recipes–paired with wry commentary on famous novels. Drinks include such hits as “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita” and “The Last of the Mojitos.”

texts from jane

This is a book of hilariously imagined text conversations from favorite literary characters. Here’s an excerpt:

texts from jane 2
I think this would be fun at a party too, after a few drinks from the Tequila Mockingbird book…

notable-novelists-02

Last but not least is a site I’ve mentioned before: OutofPrintClothing.com. As you can see, they have a ton of cute stuff:

outofprint

1. Little Prince onesie   2. Library card tote   3. Little Women tee   4. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn fleece   5. Emerald City pennant   6. Holden’s hat necklace   7. Poe-ka dots phone case   8. Banned books notebook   9. Moby Dick kids tee   10. Matchbook set

And for today only, there’s this!

sale

I swear, these people don’t pay me for advertising. They should.

Running and writing, part 2

I didn’t expect to find a story about writing in my beloved Runner’s World magazine. But then I did. It shouldn’t really surprise me. I see running and writing as going together like PB and J. I didn’t become a runner to improve my writing. That was an unexpected side effect–and is probably why I’ve stuck with running. But, to be clear, I didn’t even set out to “become a runner.” It just sort of happened, gradually. Now I’m training for my first full marathon, which not-so-curiously has aligned with finishing my novel (news coming soon, I promise).

In the latest issue of Runner’s World, Michael Heald runs with and interviews (yes, at the same time) Jamie Quatro, whose first short story collection I Want to Show You More got a ton of good reviews. Michael has always been a reader and writer. He says:

“Everyone talks about ‘escaping’ into books, but even as a kid, the escape was never what I looked for. The characters might not resemble me in the slightest, the setting might be totally unfamiliar, but I’ve always hoped to find some new piece of myself–a string of words capturing my own feelings exactly. My favorite kind of reading is like looking through a window at a rainstorm: You’re staying dry, but once in a while, the light might allow you to see your own reflection out in it.”

Yes, yes, yes, that’s it. I would trust this guy to interview any writer. He gets it.

Jamie Quatro at her favorite "office" away from home, as featured in Runner's World magazine

Jamie Quatro at her favorite “office” away from home, as featured in Runner’s World

Jamie Quatro tells him (and us) that running is a big part of her creative process. Before smartphones, she’d stop on a long run to scratch a word or two into her arm with a stick so she’d remember what to do with a story when she got home. Sometimes, still, I take a stack of post-its and a pen with me because I’m not a huge fan of typing notes into my iPhone. But that’s just me.

Here’s how Heald sums up running and writing for Quatro:

“When she’s done for the day, or when she just needs a break, she’ll put on her shoes, and within a mile or two be totally absorbed, just relaxing into her run, when suddenly she’ll realize that what she’s actually doing is figuring things out, thinking back over what she worked on that morning.”

Quatro reiterates:
“Most of my best ideas come away from the computer. That kind of reflection just isn’t possible online.”

She goes on:
“It’s amazing the things that can happen on a run. Especially when I go straight from writing to running, all these solutions will occur to me.”

This has been exactly my experience. In general, running is mind-clearing, and I need a clear mind to work through my writing. In a way, writing helps my running too. If I didn’t have stories to contemplate on my long runs, I’d get incredibly bored.

I’m not saying all writers should take up running. I still think running is slightly crazy and strange. But, there is something magical about finding an activity (any activity) that puts you in that proverbial zone. For some writers, it’s a dog walk. For others, an alcoholic beverage. For others, yoga. For others, a day at the movie theater.

I can’t wait to read Quatro’s book. It just arrived on my doorstep. Here’s an excerpt I love from one of the stories, “Ladies and Gentleman of the Pavement.”

Quatro-book-cover2-216x300“You hear a lot about the so-called runner’s high. Before I was a runner, I figured if there was such a thing, it would hit you like an injection. You’d be jogging along and zing–a sudden leap into euphoria, the overwhelming desire to jump for joy and shout hallelujah. But it’s not like that. It’s a gradual transition into a state of mental clarity. You don’t realize it’s happening until you’re there. For me, it begins around mile eight. The smallest details become sharp. My senses open up and I can take everything in–telephone wires silhouetted against blue sky, layered bark on the trunk of a tree. The chuk-chuk-chuk of a woodpecker. By mile ten I no longer feel my feet touching the ground. It’s as if my mind has entered its own physical space, apart from my body, as if my body is dead but in no pain–never any pain, these middle miles. Because my body is gone, or more accurately, is on autopilot, my mind is free to roam. This separation of mind from flesh, spirit from matter, is what keeps me coming back for more…”

As cliché  as it sounds, I really couldn’t have said it better myself.

>> Check out my first “Running and writing” post

Some of the greats on writing

I know, it seems like I do a version of this post every other week, but I’m like a fly to shit with these types of things. I just love to hear how the greats write. It’s inspiring.

This latest collection of wisdom was gathered by the New York Public Library.

Zadie Smith on writing and belief:
“Each novel I’ve written, any novel anyone writes, it’s not that you sit down saying ‘I believe this, and now I will write this,’ but by the nature of your sentences, just by the things that you emphasize or that you don’t emphasize, you’re constantly expressing a belief about the way you think the world is, about the things that you think are important, and those things change. They do change. And the form of the novel changes as well. A very simple example is in a lot of my fiction I’ve delved very deeply into people’s heads, into their consciousness and tried to take out every detail, and the older I get and the more that I meet people and realize I don’t know them. My own husband is a stranger to me, really, fundamentally at the end you don’t know these people. That should be reflected in what you write, that total knowledge is impossible.”

zadie smith

Etgar Keret on form
“I’m not saying that form isn’t important, but you feel that here in the U.S. sometimes, especially in a creative writing department, it’s a shrine of form. It’s like people comparing sentences, you know, people writing beautiful sentences and putting them in a wooden box and saying, ‘I’m going to use this sentence sometime.’ But you don’t use the sentence sometime because if you have a good pickup line for a Chinese midget, you will not meet a Chinese midget in your life. So don’t write a story about a Chinese midget just because you have a good pickup line! Write your story. When you get there, find a good sentence. If you don’t have one, use a cliché. Maybe it will work, you know?”

Geoff Dyer on not suffering the anxiety of influence
“The fact that stuff’s been written about before liberates one and frees one from having to do the donkey work of conveying facts and stuff. So, for example, so much has been written about D.H. Lawrence. There are great biographies of Lawrence so that meant I didn’t have to do all that stuff. I could just write my crazy book about Lawrence. A book like that couldn’t reasonably be the first book about Lawrence, so it’s good I had all those things to draw on.”

Toni Morrison on writing what you don’t know
“I tell my students; I tell everybody this. When I begin a creative writing class I say, ‘I know you’ve heard all your life, “Write what you know.” Well I am here to tell you, “You don’t know nothing. So do not write what you know. Think up something else. Write about a young Mexican woman working in a restaurant and can’t speak English. Or write about a famous mistress in Paris who’s down on her luck.”

toni morrison

Cheryl Strayed on how to make it as a writer
“It’s about having strength rather than fragility. Resilience and faith and nerve. And really leaning hard into work… Writing is hard for every one of us, straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”

>> More here

Making it work

eric croslandThis is film director Eric Cosland. On the topic of creative work, he says:

“If it feels good while you’re doing it, you’re not doing it right. You should be suffering a little bit.”

So true, right? My nagging insomnia in the midst of writing/editing attests to that. My stories always keep me up at night. Always.

Eric Cosland is one of several camera-driven visual artists featured in Gabriel Beltrone’s video about making a life (and a living) as an artist. A lot of what they say, and the advice they share, applies to writers (or any creative person for that matter). They touch on the push and pull between what your gut tells you and what sells, the fear of failure, the courage to take risks, the challenge of having faith in the midst of struggle. Sound familiar? Then watch the video.

Some favorite snippets :

“You have to hustle.” <—— Ain’t that the truth. Furthermore, you have to keep hustling, even when doors close on you.

“I don’t know if that fear ever goes away. There are still moments where I’m unsure of what I’m doing. But I have to have faith that it’s gonna work out.” <—— Most writers probably nod along to this. Every time I write something, EVERY SINGLE TIME, I question it. I feel completely unable to objectively assess my own work … until I get some distance from it.

“If you’re faced with the fate of being an artist, then you have to figure out a way to do it. This is not an easy life.” <—— Truth. I think I chose a writing-based day job because I knew I needed income to free up my brain to write novels. There’s always a compromise, a negotiation.

“Uncertainty is necessary.” <—— As much as I hate things being uncertain, it’s the mystery that drives people, isn’t it? There’s always that anticipation of something great. There has to be.

Check out the video. What stands out to you?

 

Firsts

**BOOK UPDATE**
Well, it’s a developing story. And an exciting one at that. I will share details when I can. How’s that for leaving you hanging?

On another note… what do all these books have in common?

debuts 1debuts 2debuts 3debuts 4debuts 5debuts 6

They’re all great, yes. But, besides that, they have something else in common. They’re all debuts, first (published) books by previously unknown writers.

I love to get my hands on a good debut. I feel for the writer. I assume it took years for the book to be written, and years for it to be published. I assume there is so much anxiety that goes with publication, putting yourself out there to the world. As a reader, it’s always magical to latch onto someone new. When I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I fell in love with Dave Eggers. And I’ve been first in line every time he releases a new book. There’s something cool about being a long-time follower.

I think many readers assume a debut book is the writer’s first book. Sometimes that’s true. But sometimes it’s not. I’ve written a handful of books, and the latest one looks like it might be the first one I publish, my debut. I am insanely excited to revisit the old novels and apply all the things I’ve learned through this process to those stories. Because I’ve learned a lot…begrudgingly.

What’s your favorite debut book?