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Crossroads

After writing and publishing for over 25 years, I am at a crossroads.

Romance or mystery?

Screenplay or graphic novel?

Self-publish or traditionally publish?

Self-produce a movie or sell an option through an agent?

Upon professional advice, I have made some changes:

1. Given up my Facebook Fan page
2. Queried the top 5 publishers on my bucket list
3. Bought Final Draft to write a screenplay and a graphic novel
4. Solicited my favorite movie production company
5. Read the classics I was not assigned in school

I spent the majority of my summer in a rented space rewriting THE DIVORCE PLANNER on spec. For those not in the publishing business, “on spec” means the editor is interested in the concept but not the execution of a story and will not commit to a contract until the story delivers. Now I am waiting to see whether or not my rewrite results in a written contract to publish the story.

After warning my fans that I would be moving to this website for news and updates, I said goodbye to 10 years on Facebook. That doesn’t bode well if I ever want a job in marketing, but it does give me peace of mind after my business consultation.

Why a business consultation? Because writing for publication is a business. It needs to be profitable. The IRS can deem my writing a hobby if I fail to make the numbers that result in a tax bracket that pays them each year. And, after the time I have invested, I owed it to myself to see what I can do to maximize my potential before I decide to pursue other interests.

Right now, I do not want to commit to another writing project. During my morning runs, a story idea is developing. I have written the synopsis down. But I have not opened up a blank page to write the first chapter.

Why?

Because I need this time to breathe and wonder before I plunge back into the writing waters and swim to another shore.

Pick a Scene

I’ve been asked to rewrite THE DIVORCE PLANNER and have narrowed down the opening scene to the following choices. Please pick one and let me know in the Comments section below.

Scene 1:

Darcy was thirty when she first thought of representing a client through a divorce. Not in a legal sense. But a supportive sense. A celebratory sense. A sense that evolved, after many years of dedicated effort, into a lucrative career. Until she left Southern California with its self-reflective gaze and moved to Northern California to be closer to Joyce, her only daughter, who lived and worked in San Francisco, a little over an hour south of Santa Rosa, where at fifty years old Darcy settled with roommates she hardly saw in a city where she knew next to no one in a life that felt even lonelier than the one she had left behind.

Scene 2:

Darcy sat in her roommate’s living room with her laptop propped on her thighs as she scrolled through the hotel listings, searching for the perfect spot for her client Cyril’s Freedom Party. Cyril was a thirty-five year old working woman finalizing a divorce after twelve painful years of marriage who had hired Darcy as her divorce planner. The hard work of attorney’s meetings, mediation, custody battles, distribution of assets, payment of liabilities, and personal counseling sessions would be over in six weeks, and Darcy wanted to surprise her client with a wonderful Freedom Party in Las Vegas, suitable for her client’s slim budget.

Scene 3:

Darcy realized she should have not picked up her phone when she noticed her daughter’s number, but she pressed the speaker button anyway as she drove in afternoon traffic to the attorney’s office to meet her client, Xavier, for the three o’clock mediation with his soon-to-be ex-wife. Joyce’s voice sounded tinny against the wind that whipped through the open windows of Darcy’s ancient Audi that lacked air conditioning, but Darcy wasn’t about to roll up the windows when her back stuck against the seat from Sonoma County’s summer heat.

“Mom, I need to talk to you,” Joyce said.

“Then talk,” Darcy said.

“I’m getting married and I want you to plan my wedding,” Joyce said.

Scene 4:

As an experienced divorce planner, Darcy was prepared for nearly every kind of emergency that might occur on the big day.

Except for reconciliations. That was a new one.

The distinctive moment when her client, Richard, barged into the Freedom Party to announce he was getting back together with the woman who should have become his ex-wife slithered up her spine like an eerie promotion. All of Richard’s remaining friends, family, and co-workers had gathered in the ballroom of the Vineyard Creek Inn around tables decorated with red, white, and blue streamers drinking colorful alcoholic beverages and listening to loud music while a Santa Rosa Junior college student dressed in an American flag bikini waited to jump out of an American flag cake to give the newly divorced man a lap dance of freedom. Darcy rushed into the kitchen nearly tripping on her heels. “Stop the meal preparations!” she shouted.

Burger Queen

They sat in a booth in a fifties diner after a long drive from Sacramento. It was a locally owned joint with charming black and white checkered linoleum floors and red leather bar stools and framed photographs of the Rat Pack and James Dean on the walls.

“How do you like the food?” the cook asked.

She stared at her hamburger. “It’s not what I thought I ordered,” she said, feeling ashamed.

The cook checked her tab and confirmed she had ordered the hamburger with barbecue sauce and onion rings. “I can make you another one,” the cook said.

“I only need a half,” she said, pointing to her half eaten burger.

“I’ll make you another one,” the cook insisted.

When the cook returned to the kitchen, she sat up straighter. “Mikey would be proud of me,” she said. “I stood up for myself when I usually don’t say anything.”

Her boyfriend frowned. “What’s going on with you and Mikey?”

She sat back, as if pressed against a wall. Her eyes widened with fear and confusion. “He’s coaching me on how to be more confident,” she said.

Her boyfriend stared at her, his frown deepening.

She continued. “He could tell I was unhappy. He had a heart-to-heart with me. He said I was worth being someone’s wife and that if that’s not what you wanted it was okay but that I needed to leave you because I’m not getting any younger.”

His face darkened.

“He was just trying to build up my confidence.”

He glanced away.

“I shouldn’t have told you,” she said.

He turned back to her, his eyes flashing. “No, I asked you to tell me,” he said.

“But you’re angry.”

“I’m not angry.”

The cook returned with her hamburger. She took a bite and smiled. “It’s perfect,” she said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the cook said.

It felt good to be heard. It felt even better to have received exactly what she had asked for, even if it was only a hamburger.

STRANGE AND REAL

“You’re worth it,” he said.

Strange, she thought, that’s the same mantra I’ve been telling myself since October and it still doesn’t feel real, but it is. Real.

They stood in the street in front of his truck after she had shown him a fixer upper house that wasn’t worth fixing. The sun slanted dangerously low in the west.

“I blame your boyfriend for some of it,” he said, “because he’s smart. He should have known better. Women are cyclical. They’re emotional. They change their mind. He can’t pick this, this, and this about you and leave out that, that, and that.” He jabbed the hood of his truck with his fat finger. “I know. I was married to someone like him who only wanted this, this, and this.” He pointed to the spots on the hood he had smeared with his finger. “But I had to remind her I was one person. I came with that, that, and that.” He pointed to the other spots he had previously missed.

Tears clung to the bottom of her lashes. She was not going to cry. Already her teenage daughter had told her that she had cried one too many times this week.

“You know what I’d like for you?” he asked.

“What?” She looked up with an expectant gaze.

“I’d like for you to get your legs,” he said. “Find your bearings. Stand up for yourself.”

She took a deep breath and exhaled. “How do I do that with him?” she asked.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Your boyfriend isn’t a bad man, but he doesn’t like variables.”

“I’m full of variables.”

He laughed. “So am I. That’s why I’m single.”

She smiled. At least, she thought, I didn’t say, ‘Why am I with him and not you?’ like I said the other night at the restaurant when I told him the story about how my boyfriend ordered for me the first night we dined there because the dish I wanted to order was fried, not baked, and he didn’t want me to ‘spoil my lovely figure.’

“Maybe you should invite me over. Let me tell him what is what.”

“Only before he’s had a drink,” she reminded.

“Ah, yes, that’s the dark horse for him.” He gazed up for a moment. “For all of us,” he corrected. “I’m a happy drunk, but he’s closed off. He doesn’t let anyone in, and I’ve known him for 10 years.”

A lifetime, she thought, compared to me.

“Maybe someday we can get together, have a few drinks, talk about life,” he said, a belated invitation. “But right now, we have to talk business. And that means you need to stand up for yourself because you’re worth it. Your feelings are worth it.”

“It takes practice,” she said.

“Then let’s start practicing.” He stood up straight and said, “Say it. ‘I’m worth it. My feelings are worth it.’”

She stood up straight, shoulders back, but still she felt small, crouched over, a coward. “I’m worth it,” she mumbled. “My feelings are worth it.”

“Louder!”

“I’m worth it! My feelings are worth it!”

“LOUDER!”

“I’M WORTH IT! MY FEELINGS ARE WORTH IT!”

“That’s it, dear,” he said. “Now we both have to get home. Tell your boyfriend I said hello.”

She didn’t want to have to return to the empty house with her daughter who huddled behind a closed door completing her homework while her boyfriend was out having dinner with his friends. She wanted to go anywhere but the house he owned. It was the house he would not sell so they could buy a home of their own with money from her divorce and whatever he wanted to add to it. But she had nowhere else to go, no place to call home. She stood up straighter, shoulders back, her confidence abating under her stance. “I will,” she said, her voice weak. “I will,” she said, her voice stronger. “I WILL.”

Writing Between Once Upon a Time & The End

After I finished writing the first draft of my latest novel, I thought I had succeeded in crafting a new genre.

How unaware I was of the dangerous second draft.

Upon rereading the manuscript, I noticed the story fell apart in the middle, although the ending was exceedingly strong. My intention was only to fix the glue between “Once upon a Time” and “The End.”

After editing the first 100 pages, I hit the middle. The sludge depressed me. How was I going to make sense of the mess? The characters had evolved, but not consistently. The conflict had escalated, but unrealistically. The complications were more complicated, but required charts, graphs, and a Power Point presentation to understand it.

Luckily, my daughter came to the rescue. She sat down with me one evening and asked me why my mood reflected the rain clouds in the overcast sky. I confided how I was mired in the middle of my story.

“What should I do?” I asked.

My daughter thought it over. “If I was the main character, I would go to my best friend.”

It seemed like such a simple action, but it cut through the dense confusion that I almost cried from relief.

Immediately, 50 pages disappeared from the manuscript. I started writing where my daughter suggested and a whole new middle unfolded effortlessly.

By the time I reached the third act, the characters had evolved and the conflict needed a new resolution. What was I going to do? I loved the original ending. It was strong. It was unconventional. But it no longer worked.

I had to write a new ending.

Is the second draft perfect? Hardly. But it is one step closer on the road toward publication.

New Year, Same Goals

Welcome, 2017! Make yourself at home. You’ll be here for a while.

Don’t mind the mess. I’ve been working on my goals. Yes, the same goals every year. I’m hoping one day to meet at least one of them.

Thanks for throwing confetti and singing dance songs. I know you’re just trying to get me to smile. I’m sorry I’m not much for partying right now. It’s been a rough start, ruminating on all the things I thought I would have accomplished with half of my life already over. My boyfriend says I’m successfully living Plan B. But, honestly, who wants to proudly say they aren’t achieving their goals, but life is good?

My boyfriend insists the goals I have set out for myself can only be obtained through luck, and it’s not my fault that I’m unlucky.
He’s not the only one who believes this myth. My youngest sister says we were cursed by Di Suk, the oldest uncle on the Chinese side of the family, who said we weren’t really Lams because we were girls and we would eventually marry and become part of our husbands’ families. None of the Lam girls are currently married. They might have been married, but they’re divorced now. They might be dating or living with a man, but they have never become part of anyone else’s family. They are still Lams. My youngest sister says the curse can be broken if one of us marries a Chinese man. She is currently dating an Asian in the hopes of breaking the curse.

I’m not superstitious although I am religious and some people say it’s the same thing. I believe there is a Higher Power who guides the universe and that His Will is often not my own. Often I’ve prayed to align myself with God’s Will in the hopes of reconciling my life with a life of the Greater Good. Only I think I’m miserable because of it.

I know you’re about new beginnings, 2017, and you didn’t come here to listen to me complain, which has become a daily habit, from what you’ve said. I just wish I had already marked those goals off my spreadsheet and created something new to work toward and achieve.

At least I’m not like the people who risk their lives to climb Mt. Everest. Some die even after reaching the top. I don’t know if it’s a happy ending or not. But at the very least, they’ve accomplished something.

Oh, all right. I’ll indulge you with a toast. Here’s to working toward one goal this year, even if it means we must die, either physically or metaphysically, because without a goal there is no passion, and without passion, there is no reason for living, and living is what we are here to do, right, 2017?

Holiday Madness

Five days before Christmas, my boyfriend finally gives his wish list. I overhear him tell his middle daughter that the batteries he wants for his power tools are not the big chunky ones, but the flat compact ones. I bought him the wrong batteries. My eyes well up with tears.

“What’s wrong?” my boyfriend asks.

“I hate Christmas,” I mutter. “I never buy you the right thing and then I always feel bad. Maybe you should leave me home this year and go shopping with your daughter. I just don’t think I can handle it. I’ve been under so much stress. I nearly lost it with the Wal-Mart clerk on the phone when she couldn’t find my daughter’s bike my mother ordered on behalf of my sister.” I wiped the tears from my cheeks with the back of my hand.

“You’re a mess,” my boyfriend says.

I move closer for a hug. He pulls me away and gently says, “Maybe you should stay home if you’re going to have a meltdown.”

I think about sitting at home, alone, except for the dog and then I think again. “Do you want me to come?”

He hesitates before saying, “Yes, but not if you’re going to fall apart.”

I promise I’ll give it a try to keep it together.

We drive to the first store on the shopping list. In the parking lot, I apologize to my boyfriend’s daughter. “The holidays are hard for me,” I say. “I spent the last 25 years in a family where it mattered more about how much you gave and what you gave then the fact that you had a family to give it to. I just can’t measure up and it always tears me apart.”

“You weren’t this bad last year,” my boyfriend says.

I nod. I wasn’t this bad. I was worse. But he didn’t know because I was paying for counseling and I still had friends I could confide in. This year I was taking my daughter to counseling and I had no friends other than my boyfriend’s friends who I could not share anything with unless I wanted it to get back to him. “You helped me through it last year,” I say.

As we stroll across the parking lot, my boyfriend reaches for my hand. I walk beside him and he swings our arms back and forth in an exaggerated arc until I smile from his silliness. Inside the bright store, we follow his daughter down the aisles until we reach our destination in the bedding department.

I think about the first time I wanted to buy my boyfriend a gift. It was a year before we started dating. It was a bat for softball but he wouldn’t accept anything from me because I was married.

“I want to buy you a bat,” I say.

“All the retailers who sell senior softball bats are online. It won’t get here before Christmas.”

“That’s why I wanted your list before Thanksgiving. I gave you mine in October. You’ve had three months to shop. I have only five days.” The tears threaten to overwhelm me again.

This time my boyfriend squeezes my hand and says, “Don’t worry about the gift. Christmas is about us.”

For the first time, I realize I’m with a man who doesn’t care that I can’t afford the dozens of gifts everyone wants. He’s just happy to be celebrating the holidays with me for the second year in a row. He looks forward to seeing me every night when I come home even though I can’t pay all the bills. He tolerates listening to me vent even when I’m an emotional volcano. And he works with me as I struggle through the first year after my divorce. He waits for me to untangle the knots I’ve made of my life, even when his patience runs thin and his heart strains to love me. The more I show him who I am, the less afraid I become.

And that’s the true spirit of Christmas.

Coping with Failure

Fire

Last night, I received my royalty statement for the third quarter for the last book I published in 2015. After viewing the sales and returns, the release of the reserve funds, and the final payment, an avalanche of emotion overwhelmed me.

I am a failure.

Not only can I not support myself as a writer, but I cannot earn enough to call myself a professional either. I am a hobbyist, as a co-worker at my day job called me.

A hobbyist.

To me, that is synonymous with failure.

After all, I devoted 30 years to writing, starting out with the first poem I published for $5.00 to the first article I wrote for $35.00 to the first book excerpt I sold for $2,000.00. But if I cannot pay my mortgage and put my child through college, I cannot call myself a professional writer.

That wave of emotion I felt consumed me for a couple of hours. I sat, editing chapter 28 of my book, a manuscript that is incomplete and hardly worth the paper it is printed on, when I realized sadly my status as a writer has nothing to do with time or talent. . .just sales and net income. Fans will go out of their way to pay for a copy of my work, and new readers still email me to say how much they enjoyed my writing and ask when the next book will come out.

I am, theoretically, a success since I am good at what I do and there is a market for it.

But, technically, if you define success as whether or not you can support yourself financially with your talent or your craft, then I am a failure.

To me, I am a failure because others call me a hobbyist. If I was a stay-at-home author, then others might not place the same label on me. But they have, and it hurts.

It hurts as much as the other labels I wanted and failed to achieve: wife and friend. I am no longer a man’s wife and am currently devoted to a man who has professed his desire to never remarry, which, therefore, eliminates the possibility that I might have an opportunity to reclaim that title and make things work the second time around, if I choose to stay with him. I have also lost the majority of my friends during my divorce and have yet to find replacements, which makes life rather lonely.

I could list other things I have failed at, but what would the point be?

Everyone has failed at one time or another. The important factor is how to move on beyond it and find the motivation and desire to continue to pursue something else, regardless of the consequences.

Most endeavors do not contain any guarantees of success or failure. They are born of hope and pursued with faith. The outcome is independent of the process.

It remains to be seen whether or not I accept the label of hobbyist and resign myself to my small corner of literary life complete with the knowledge I will always need a patron of the arts to support me, even if that patron is myself. All I know right now in this moment is I have to create because it is who I am as a person, whether that creativity takes shape as a book or a painting. To know who I am, regardless of the labels others choose to give me, is enough to sustain the battle wounds and continue with the journey. I am who I am, and no failure can change that.

Wish for The End

Make a Wish
Ideals, dreams, and wishes are not just for children

It’s been almost four months since I started writing my next novel, an anti-romance.

During this time, I’ve spent almost a month in the middle slogging through the difficult challenges and complications that culminate in the story’s climax.

I’m moving through the last 100 pages, eager to reach the denouncement, yet intuitively knowing there must be one last plot twist before the story wraps up and everyone lives unhappily ever after (since it’s an anti-romance).

What I’ve discovered so far is that dreams and wishes plague our psyche, both individually and as a culture. Those dreams and wishes, once thwarted, lead us to make decisions out of desperation to save what we cannot bear to lose — our illusions of whatever it is that will make us happy and fulfilled human beings.

Writing an anti-romance, while wonderfully pragmatic, challenges me to uncover the ways in which we unconsciously live out our desires to the detriment of ourselves and the ones we love the most.

I’m looking forward to that final plot twist and that unhappy ending, which may not be as unhappy as I originally envisioned. Only 25,000 more words will tell.