Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where is my Madonna poster?

I am the golden retriever of people. We owned a golden retriever for years. His name was Jak. Whenever the doorbell rang, Jak rushed to the door and shook with great enthusiasm . The minute I opened the door, Jak dashed ahead of me to make immediate contact. Most people don’t mind a welcoming dog. What people mind is what I call The Sloppy Velcro Dog. The Sloppy Velcro dog doesn’t go away after a few pats. He leans himself up against your leg, panting and drooling. He might drape his stringy saliva across your freshly pressed black pants each time he nudges your hand for more attention. As a guest, you politely pretend not to notice, not to care, while secretly hoping that this lovely pet is an “outside” dog and will leave to romp in the yard any minute now.
I should have known not to attend a meeting with so many letters strung together. SCBWI, what in the heck could that stand for? I didn’t find out until I came home and Googled it. It turns out it stands for Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. This information probably would have been good to know prior to the meeting.
I barely made it to the meeting in the first place. Today was the day a literary agent would give a presentation about why an agent is important, how to get one, and what they do for you. This woman had also offered to critique a draft of a children’s book or novel for a small fee. I jumped at this chance, as I still need 4 more rejections to make my New Year’s Resolution of acquiring 5 rejections. And secretly, I knew it would motivate me to finish one of my drafts that have been taking up memory in my computer.
I worked on my story, revised it, read it to the kids, reworked it again and finally submitted it to the agent. I knew it was just a start, but I enjoyed developing the story, playing with the settings and deciding how it should end. Kai requested to hear it again and again. Secretly I wondered, “Could this be it? Will something come of this?”
And yet, I tried to also prepare myself for the worst. People get rejected all the time, I told myself. You need to practice just persevering, practice just allowing others to read what you write, just be proud of yourself for going to the meeting, for writing what you did.
So I arrived early that Saturday morning and sat in my parked car with the windows down, breathing deeply, trying to keep my nerves in check. Other cars made their sweeping turns into rectangle parking spaces. I watched various women look up at the gray building, cross reference their written directions and then confidently march inside.
I eventually slid out of my car. I was starting to feel like a undercover cop waiting around for the action to drop. Following the signs, I walked up the rainbow colored stairs of the community theater into a room filled with folding chairs facing a miniature stage.
With my name tag firmly affixed to my turquoise cardigan, I chose a seat. “What do you write?” asked the woman sitting in front of me. Oh, shit. I hadn’t thought of that question. What do I write? I write whatever comes into my head. How about that? What the hell am I doing here? What do I write? Is there a wrong answer to that question?
“Oh, I am pretty new,” I said, trying to feel my way through, “I submitted a children’s picture book to be critiqued.”
“I write Middle School aged chapter books. I have one book published right now, but it’s with a small publishing company, so that’s one of the questions I have for her today. I’ve got another book I am trying to get published, but so far no luck.”
And there it was, that word, “published”. Suddenly, as this woman continued to share her writing history with me, I heard it bouncing around the room like an overzealous bouncy ball. “…she called me about wanting to publish a Cajun version of my story. There is no way I am giving permission for that…”
“…my agent says that they’ve had a run on boys books lately…”
“ I published a lot in the eighties and am now trying to get back into it…”
Have you ever had one of those “Holy crap” moments, when you realize you are totally in the wrong place, out of your league, and there is no way for you to quietly exit stage left? I felt like someone who was just starting an exercise program and somehow landed myself in the Olympic village.
Oh, please no one else talk to me. Please let this thing start on time. Of course it didn’t. But after another 5 minutes or so of small talk, and a brutal round of “Introduce yourself, where you are from and what you write, “ I was off the hook for two hours. I learned quite a bit about agents, writing a query letter, how the publishing business works.
Afterwards, the agent handed back our critiques and people lingered to chat. A few other women from Carmel approached me. “Oh, we should get together to do some critiquing sometime.” And of course, I cheerfully agreed and with that, like fastening your harness on a roller coaster, my nerves took off. The two women introduced themselves. I proceeded to pepper them with every question I could think of, anything to keep them from asking anything about me. My voice rose an octave. My eyebrows were probably rooted into the base I thought I’d hit the jackpot when one of the women mentioned that they owned a bike shop in town. “A bike shop! “ I squealed, “bikes are my second love!” Yes, I thought, let’s talk about bikes, not writing, not publishing, not agents, bikes. Let’s get into components, wheels, trails maintenance, and good group rides in the area. It was as if this poor woman unsuspectingly pulled a ball out of her pocket and I kept knocking it out of her hand to retrieve it. Isn’t this a fun game? Huh, huh, throw it again. Here let me show you how… I swear, thank God I don’t have a tail, it would have been noisily thumping the wide paneled wood floors.
Any good dog knows when he is losing the attention battle and eventually leaves to lay down and wait for the next opportunity. I could tell by the woman’s somewhat averted gaze that she thought I was a not- quite- bright- overly perky- highlighted -light weight. She was published. She had the book to prove it. Me, I was acting as if I had just downed three Red Bulls with a chocolate cake as a chaser. I made a few more attempts to redeem myself, then excused myself. I cited my work to do today and sang a final, “Nice to meet you!” before sailing back down the rainbow stairs.
Hoping back in my car, my cheeks flamed. I felt like an idiot. Why can I not just shut up? Why do I have to be the overly friendly chirpy girl? It’s okay, I thought as I looked at my folded up critique. I got what I came for and it was sitting right next to me. There it was, a judgment on my story. It could change everything. I drove home as quickly as I could and went upstairs to read it by myself.
I took a deep breath, sank into the welcoming plaid chair next to our bed and began to read. It wasn’t so good. Basically, she kindly and politely told me I have quite a bit of work to do. Then she gave me lots of concrete examples of how to make the story better. At this point, I’d like to write, “And I was okay with that.” I would like to tell you that I took her suggestions in stride, that I said, “Okay, those are great ideas and I’ll get to work on revising this story right away.” Technically, I can say that. I took it very well and was very well adjusted for about 10 minutes. Then, I cried. I felt so stupid. What was I thinking submitting that story? Really, what do I think is going to happen here? What the hell am I doing?
Despite my ridiculous crying, I needed to work and it had to be done that day. I called my sister. I called V. I called my mom. They were all wonderful and supportive as all good friends are. They took all of my fears and concerns out for a walk and smoothed out my bruised pride. I am not going to quit. I didn’t even feel like quitting. But here is the thing. It sounds so good to say, “Do what you love!” “Go after your dreams!” But when it IS something you love, when you are trying to grasp the dream that lives in the quiet, private corner of your mind, it hurts like hell when you fall on your face. It feels like everyone can see the scabbing scrapes on your nose and is thinking, “Does she really think that will work out for her?”
To overcome this feeling, I’ve established a new philosophy going forward. So, I may be a crappy writer. Fine. Let’s start there. Well, is Madonna the best singer in the world? No she is not. But she has a hell of a drive. She’s passionate. She‘s made herself an icon with that passion and determination. And so, I am adopting Madonna as my new, “You don’t have to be the best to make it work” philosophy.
I just want to write. I’ve got three more rejections to go. Game on, I may be a golden retriever and that’s fine. Throw me the damn ball and let’s get this thing moving again.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Stranger at the stoplight- AKA Poodle guy

There are many everyday things that bring me joy, identifying a bird by their song, mowing the lawn, watching people sing in their cars and of course, good hair day. Today, while waiting at a stoplight on my way to a swimming lesson, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. Turning my head to look at the car waiting in the lane next to me, I saw a teenaged guy who looked just like Troy’s best friend in High School Musical, fluffing up his poufy hair in his rear view mirror. His hair reminded me of a poodle’s fur, soft, brown, curly and most of all, big. It sprung out from his head with a sort of reckless abandon. If he were a friend of mine, I’d put my face squarely in that mass of curls, just once. I’m guessing it would tickle and smell like some kind of overly scented shampoo that teenage boys seem to favor in the quest to smell manly. I watched as he peered into his rear view mirror, fluffing his hair out just so, trying to obtain that fragile balance between, styled and slightly tousled hair.
Poodle guy, perhaps sensing my gaze, turned to look at me. Laughing, I smiled and blushed for being caught snooping. He smiled back, wide and easy with lots of white teeth. From behind his lightly tinted window he laughed at himself and shrugged his shoulders. I turned away, embarrassed. I studied the red light with a sort of ridiculous intensity. But then again, out of the corner of my eye, there was more movement. Poodle guy waved his hands back and forth across the window in a sweeping X motion, trying to recapture my attention.
Turning once again, he raised his eyebrows and rolling his eyes up towards his halo of curls. He requested my input by signaling a thumbs up sign or a thumbs down sign to me through his window. It was now my turn to smile widely. I gladly gave him my best thumbs up sign. He gave an exaggerated sigh and leaned back in his seat, obviously pleased with the given approval. The light switched to green. I quickly made my turn.
As I drove down the street alone in my car, I couldn’t help but smile broadly to myself. What a funny and sweet guy. There are many times a day when I have to remind myself to not take everything in life so darned seriously, to “lighten up” as my Dad sometimes demands of me. Poodle guy did just that, he didn’t take himself or his hair too seriously and laughingly appreciated my own noisiness. It made my day. Who knew a good hair day for someone else could jump start a stranger’s day without one word exchanged.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Family Mission Statement

In our family love is a big blanket. It covers all of us and never goes away. Words and actions matter in our family. We problem solve. Ideas and feelings are shared and listened to. We look out for each other.

In our family, we are allowed to be cranky, angry, frustrated and upset. It will pass.

In our family we grow our dreams. We help each other tend to the fragile seeds of our dreams, caring for them each day, celebrating together as they grow.

In our family we sing, play music, read, dance, explore, pray, imagine and create.

I've wanted to write some kind of mission statement for our family for awhile now. We're trying to have weekly family meetings and I feel that the kids are old enough to start to get and appreciate just what being a family means. As we talk about issues during these meetings, I keep coming back to these central themes. We'll see how it goes down. I tried to write it in a way that my 6 year old and 4 year old could relate to easily. I wanted something in thee about service to others as well, maybe I'll do another draft, but for now we'll see how this one flies.

Does anyone else have a family mission statement? Want to share? Or do you have family meetings ever? This is new for us.

On other fronts, I did submit a draft of a children's book to an agent who is coming to speak next weekend in Carmel. For a fee she will read it and critique it for you. This was a pretty big step for me, as she could totally hate it. Here is the thing, at this point, I feel okay with that possibility. I imagine all of this submitting like weight lifting. Rejection is a heavy blow, but it will build up the strength of my determination. Each time I "hit the weights" again, I will get stronger and the muscle will grow a fiber at a time. I may get sore, but that's okay. No pain no gain.

**Note to friends and family--remind me of this bravado later when I am feeling crushed! :)