Nascar on the Upper West Side

Dear Younger Me

Dear Younger Me,

What are you doing awake at 4am? Writing, you will answer. I know you think that just because you’re pouring your heart out at all hours of the day and night onto that Word document that you are “writing”, but I promise, what you are doing is mostly learning. You are discovering how words fit together, how characters come alive on the page. You’re mentioning things like the fact that the girl is wearing purple mascara because you probably read that somewhere else and it appealed to you – nevermind the fact that your character would never wear purple mascara in a million years. You will spend a full page trying to get the description of the “aluminum hills” right, while breezing over the emotional content of the climax. In the future, you will be happy that nobody else has read these little stories. Embrace your newbie status – it will never be as much fun as it is right now.

That’s okay. This is what you should be doing. Just this weekend, the One told me that I have unrealistic expectations of myself, and as I mull that over, I think it is a chronic condition. I can remember at age fourteen, writing my first novel, believing it would be a world-wide best seller just because I wanted it to be that way. But you won’t know success for a very long time. You will be rejected by many literary agents. But even then, you’ll get notes back with good advice, little pieces of encouragement, and it will keep you returning to the page. Cleaning up your prose. Putting more thought into the plot. Trying to find the angle.

The first time you get an agent, don’t shriek in her ear. Nevermind, shriek in her ear. Be happy about your successes.

When you get an editor and she buys your book, don’t shriek in her ear. Seriously, don’t.

When she “un-buys” your book, don’t cry on the phone. Just thank her for her time. Calmly accept it, and move on. Write a new novel.

Don’t fall in love with it too much. Remember you’re making a product, like a shoe on an assembly line. It has to conform to certain quality assurance standards, and it has to fit a broad swath of the public. It’s good you love to write, because you’re going to be doing a lot of it. For now, quit trying to create a new market. Just write something to fit in an established market.

It’s not the only novel you’ll ever write, after all.

You’ll know more rejection. You’ll keep the important ones – the ones with personalized encouragement – the one from a top agent who said you could be a “very commercially successful author”, the ones who asked to see the next thing you wrote.

You’ll eventually find the real reason you write, and all those ups and downs will seem like buoys in the dark water, keeping you in the lane that will bring you right where you’re supposed to be.

Recently Read Books

[Spoilers included!]

After finishing Breaking Point by Pamela Clare, which I thought was good, I needed to break up the romantic suspense streak I’d been on. I chose a contemporary romance, Icebreaker by Deirdre Martin. I enjoyed Icebreaker, though the end required a bit of adjustment for me. I had to remember that my HEA is not necessarily the author’s or character’s HEA. At the end, Adam becomes a stay-at-home dad and lives in the country while Sinead lives in Manhattan and works full time. That sounds too much like a problem for me to be greatly pleased with it. I just don’t think that is quite HEA. But, as I said, I accept that maybe it works for those characters.

While I was on the last chapter, I checked my mailbox and found Jaycee Dugard’s memoir, A Stolen Life. I devoured it in two hours. I literally sat on the sofa and did nothing but read. It was just plain amazing. It is really fascinating because she was only eleven when she was kidnapped and in the text, she still sounds very young. I know that she had help writing it, but it sounds like they gave her miles of latitude because it really does sound like she’s sitting across from you, describing the kidnapping, the rape, the craziness of having a baby at the age of fourteen.

In the book, Dugard says she always loved writing and words. I could definitely tell. She really does have a knack for telling stories and I hope that she continues. It would be wonderful to read a novel by Jaycee Dugard in the coming years.

Her memoir is an amazing start to her career. Definitely one of the best I’ve read so far this year.

Currently I’m reading Sweet Return by Anna Jeffrey. I’m only on page 20 or so but I will say this much: she knows Texas and Texans like the back of her hand.

Remembering Amy Winehouse

It was the hair and the missing tooth that caught my eye. The giant bee-hive hair which looked like an image from a 1960s yearbook. When she smiled or sang, a gap in the right side of her upper bridge showed, and I was both disgusted and compelled to look. Why didn’t she get her teeth fixed, I wondered. Was it some kind of activism? Some sort of feminine protest against unrealistic male standards of female beauty? I had no idea but every time I felt less than stellar walking out of my house, I’d think, at least I have all my teeth.

Amy Winehouse probably blipped across your radar screen for a different reason: her god-given pipes. The sultry, husky sound of her jazzy voice was blared all over the place during 2006, the summer Rehab came out.

They tried to make me go to rehab
I said no, no, no.

The lyrics struck me as weirdly personal. Like a cry for help. But that voice was just amazing.

I saw her on tabloid covers – she was a mainstay in the tabs from her first flicker of fame until last week. She was always great for a tabloid story – the boozy, high, girl on a self-destructive highway to hell. It sold magazines.

And now she’s dead at the age of 27. I will miss her jazzy songs, and the fact that no matter how bad I looked I could comfort myself that I wasn’t Amy Winehouse fucked-up. I guess that’s a poor reason to like someone. I’m not proud of it – but it is the truth. She was the yardstick against which I could judge myself – she was the low point that made me realize I would have a long, long way to go before I was anywhere nearly as fucked up as she was.

I have never done drugs. I don’t even understand them. But I know what it is like to be terrified of life, and to try to fill that self-hatred inside of you with other things. I guess I felt some sort of kinship with her because I knew darkness too, and I’ve clumsily at times tried to monkey way through it, only to fail and fail and fail.

She seemed like a nice girl, if you’d ever get past the drugs. She seemed really scared. But then, I could always spot a trapped animal from a mile away.

Rest in peace, Amy.

Agents and Rejection: How To Get A Better Request Rate

I need to preface this by saying I am not looking for an agent right now – I love my agent. He does a terrific job and he’s wonderful and I am quite happy where I am. However, I’ve been reading a forum in which burgeoning writers vent about agent’s rejections – or, surprisingly often, the lack of rejection, and I thought I might have an idea or two that could help improve agent’s responses.

The traditional reasons for the silent rejection (that is, you get no reply at all to your query) is that agents are too busy to reply to everything that comes across their desk. Some use an analogy of junk mail: you don’t reply to every single piece of junk mail that shows up in your mailbox, do you? The difference between that situation and agents is that agents really are always looking for books to swoon over. They want to fall in love. And every agent reads queries hoping to find The One. Since agents are *looking for books*, the analogy of junk mail doesn’t work.

So I started thinking about Seth Godin. Seth Godin, for those who don’t know, is a marketing genius. He discusses permission marketing” at length – which is exactly what it sounds like:

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

And:

Real permission is different from presumed or legalistic permission. Just because you somehow get my email address doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because I don’t complain doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because it’s in the fine print of your privacy policy doesn’t mean it’s permission either.

Real permission works like this: if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went.

I think querying is a perfect opportunity to practice permission marketing. I think one obvious way to get good attention from an agent is to be a valuable commenter on their blog, Twitter or Facebook. One caveat to this though. I see a lot of ass-kissing on agent blog and it makes me queasy. It is impossible to respect someone who slavishly fusses all over you, so your comments shouldn’t be just about how wonderful the agent is. That’s almost as bad as the jerks who are disruptive or have nothing nice to say. Just show a spark of intelligence and wit and it will get your point across.

When it is time to query, keep the focus on the story. The agent is in the business of “buying” (not actually buying but using the marketing analogy, I’m going with it) stories. So keep the focus on the story, not how much you love to write or your degree program (unless it is directly related to what you’re writing about.) Just get in, summarize the story, and get out.

By being one of the letters that are not spam, you’ve upped your chances quite a bit.

The hard part is writing a really good story. I think a lot of writers don’t really realize that they aren’t ready to query yet. Though you can find an exception to anything, in general, it takes at least two full-size novels before you’re really ready to write for the masses. Sometimes it takes more. Some writers sell their sixth or seventh book. Some never sell. But though those novels don’t sell, they’re invaluable for the experience you get writing them. You learn how the story hangs together. You need to be able to realize your first book sucks donkey balls before you’re ready to start querying.

If your query is good, and your book is stellar, you’ll eventually find an agent. That doesn’t mean your book will sell. I had an agent at one of the best agencies in the business (Sanford J Greenbuger) and my book never sold. It was great – but it just fell in between the cracks. It wasn’t quite romance, and it wasn’t quite straight fiction. It was somewhere in between and though several agents were interested, marketing people looked at it, poked it with a stick and said, “what is it?” So maybe you’ll have an experience like that. Or maybe your book will sell in an hour. Or a year or never. But the point is to keep trying. Keep being polite. Keep being respectful to the professionals you interact with. And most of all, keep writing. Don’t just keep writing the same thing. Write better. One day you will thank the stupidity of your early drafts, your ignorance, and your silly ideas. You will know they were the empty auditorium you needed where you cleared your throat, and you will be thankful nobody was there to see your failures. They arrived just in time to see your success.

Dog Bites Shark

I love this dog.

Finally Some Shark News

FINALLY! I’ve waited all summer for the Jaws music to begin and now it has.

First, a great white that was breeching the water miscalculated his gymnastics and landed inside a research boat. The researches poured water on its gills to keep the poor beast alive and then finally freed him with the help of a crane. The shark beached himself half an hour later, so they rescued him again, and he finally regained his strength, got oriented, and swam away. He seems like he’s probably a little slow.

In other shark news, a five year old girl was bitten by a shark in North Carolina. There is no word yet on the child’s condition.

I’ve always said that I root for the shark in human vs. shark fights, but I’ve found my exception. Children can’t make a decision for themselves whether to go into the water and they can’t take precautions if they think they see a shark. So in this case, I pray the little girl is okay and I hope they murder that shark.

As my friend Lisa reminded me on Facebook, Shark Week starts next week. Anyone watching it with me?

I Want To Live In This Picture

Dirty Mind, Dirty Book Cover

I’m currently reading “Breaking Point” by Pamela Clare. It’s very good, so good that I’ll probably finish it tonight after starting it yesterday. But I keep gazing at the cover, wondering if this weird penis-shaped shadow was completely innocent or if the cover artist is being coy. Yes, I get that it is supposed to be a ridge of his abs. But come on. Nobody has big wang-shaped ridges on his abs.

But I am on to you, Photoshop vixens.

The Obedient Body

The San Francisco Marathon has a special place in my heart. I first ran it in 2000, then did the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon the next year, the Houston Marathon the year after that, then the San Francisco Marathon again. By the last time, I knew I would never run again. Not seriously. My knees were completely destroyed. They would swell up the size of footballs, and I’d actually feel them shifting around even when I was perfectly still. It was thoroughly disgusting.

I was also an accomplished cyclist. I rode the MS-150 a couple of times and won several metric centuries. My legs were fierce though I did worry that my thighs, though rock hard, were a little too bulky. I was in the best shape of my life but my body wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do, which is to be lithe, like when I was a teenager and very young adult and I danced ballet all the time.

In January of this year, I started doing the Bar Method. It kicked my butt the first time. I was shocked at the intensity. I actually felt indignant during part of it, like how dare you hurt me like this! But by the end of the class, I was floating. I was sore, exhausted, and totally stretched out and relaxed.

I stuck to it. I’ve gone at least three times a week (usually five or six) since the last week in January. The results have astonished me. The other day I put on a pair of jeans I haven’t worn since 2001. I kept them in my closet for 10 years because I was determined to fit back into them – and now I do. My legs are strong and thin. My arms have definition, my abs are amazing. And my butt is just not to be believed. I feel amazing and flexible (I can do the splits!). So thank you, Bar Method!

Also I’ve been running a little again. My knees seem somehow stronger than they used to – I’m able to tolerate (very) light running again. Here are my stats since November 2010 (according to Nike+):

It feels nice to be in decent shape again; I’d let myself get soft for a while. But I’m pretty much back in action.

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