Tag Archives: family

My Apology

I’m sorry for disappearing.

I should have told you the truth sooner. Maybe you would have understood. I wasn’t trying to avoid you. I was just unable to write.

For over the last year, I’ve been embroiled in the process of ending 23 years of marriage to my biggest fan.

I pushed through the first six months, propelled by the sales and marketing campaign for my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, and the resulting nationwide book tour. But when I returned to California last November, I stopped writing. I would pick up a pen, but I could not find the words to express what was going on or what I felt or needed to say. I could not tell a story, write a poem, or compose a letter. I thought my writing days were over, that I had done what I needed to do, and that my career was finished.

But once my ex-husband signed the final marital settlement agreement, I felt my spirit lighter and my attitude brighter. The first half of my adult life was over. I was free to start again.

Instantly, the words returned.

The first thing I wrote was an apology to you, my fans, my community of readers, my extended family.

I want to thank my ex-husband for the gifts he gave me. For 25 years he protected me, cared for me, guided me, and partnered with me. He helped me grow up and into the woman I am today. He read every story I handed to him, encouraged me to continue on the writing journey despite rejection letters and other setbacks. He never said, “Quit. Get a real job.” I will always cherish those memories of unconditional love and support.

I admit I failed him. I broke his trust and his heart. I didn’t give in and I eventually gave up.

It’s always been difficult for me to write a good ending. That was my ex-husband’s specialty. Getting those last few words right. He isn’t here to do that anymore. It’s one of the many skills I am going to have to learn going forward.

And that’s alright because you’re here with me. We’ll help each other, one word at a time.

Sacrifice for Success

Sacrifice

The other day, my husband asked, “What more do I have to sacrifice for your success?”

I had just announced I would be missing another family function in order to audition for a radio spot that would air in October to promote my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck. Since January, I had been pitching articles, essays, videos, appearances, and speaking engagements in anticipation of snagging prime spots to showcase the book in the hopes of increasing the number of pre-orders and garnering more sales.

Of course, my husband didn’t understand. I hadn’t publicized my other books outside of social media and local appearances. But after discussing my goals with my publisher, I decided to hire a publicist and expand my marketing efforts beyond anything I had ever anticipated doing. My family cringed when I announced how much time and money I planned to devote to this book. My husband said, “We need a new car!” My daughter asked, “How am I going to afford college?” My son, who can’t talk, didn’t say anything. But if he could, I’m sure he would have protested too.

No one knows the magic formula that causes one book to rise to the best seller list and another book to remain unknown. Publishing experts offer advice, but the truth remains a mystery. Otherwise, the formula would be replicated without fail.

My family knew I was gambling, placing a bet on something that may or may not pay off. But a lot of the risks we take in life are gambles, including the biggest risk of all: falling in love. Exposing yourself to another human being with the chance of being hurt and disappointed doesn’t stop most people from taking the first step to connect.

So when my husband asked, “What more do I have to sacrifice for your success?” I responded, “Whatever it takes for however long it takes.”

Success doesn’t have a deadline. Neither does love. Or anything else that’s worth the sacrifice.

The Cult of Social Media

Frustrated Woman Using Laptop

“Not everyone can be a hero. There are more people who need to be saved.” -Anonymous

My fourteen-year-old daughter videotapes me. I am dancing and singing to the latest hip hop tune on the radio. She quickly uploads the video to Snapchat and labels it, “My Mom is Silly.” She giggles as she plays it back for me. When I fail to protest against the post, she deletes it. “Why did you do that?” I ask. “I want to be the most popular mom on Snapchat.”

She shakes her phone at me. “No, you don’t.”

I laugh, but inside I feel like my father. He wanted fame and fortune for his four daughters, but he didn’t get it. He taught us to dream big; not knowing our dreams would leave us orphans living ordinary lives.

But with the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and other social media, everyone is entitled to their daily shot at fame and for some, even fortune. Everyone has a chance to be a hero. Everyone has a chance to save the world with a few clicks at the keyboard. Suddenly you are the star of your own show, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have enough followers to inflate your ego for weeks at a time…or at least until your next post.

With all of this power comes the threat of loss of privacy, loss of intimacy, and the loss of self. Some video bloggers record everything about their day from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep. Sure, those 12 hours may be edited to last only 15 minutes, but those 15 minutes shared are now owned by the viewer, whether it’s one person or one million people.

My daughter values her privacy. That’s why she only uses Snapchat with the hopes that the 30 second videos that disappear shortly after being posted are truly deleted from the Internet and won’t resurface three years later when she’s applying for college or a job.

As a middle-aged parent, I understand her concern and her guardedness, but as an author and a public speaker, I can’t afford anonymity. I can’t “save face” as my father always preached. I have to show my face whether or not what I’ve done is shameful or glorious. It’s part of the job.

We sometimes forget the public doesn’t need to know everything, especially when we are sitting in the comfort of our living room posting our thoughts and feelings for the world to see. It gives us a sense of belonging that temporarily erases the loneliness of our increasingly solitary lives.

But is social media the panacea to our isolation? And does it truly replace the intimacy we crave?

We go online for everything from shopping to information, but we go offline to live. It’s in those moments of being face to face with another human being that we get a chance to express what we hold in our hearts to be true: our irreplaceable uniqueness is what makes us sympathetic and real.

The Quest for an Agent

Man holding a note that reads 'call me'
Searching for an agent is like dating.

I start by letting friends and family members know I am ready. My book is finished. It needs to be sold, and who better to sell it than an agent with a great reputation, preferably one who works with a writing friend. It’s a lot like scoring a date with your best friend’s brother. You know the family, get along with them well, and your future sister-in-law already feels like family. It would just be making it all official.

Of course, the chances of it working out beyond the first date are infinitesimally small.

The number of writing friends who have an agent who represents adult fiction dwindles considerably once I factor in the genre: suspense, thriller, crime, and mainstream. Those are the genres in which I feel the book fits. Trying to convince my friend’s agent who represents romance that my manuscript would be perfect for her would be a lot like trying to convince my friend’s brother who is gay that dating me would be a match made in heaven.

Once I exhaust the friends and family route, I determine to strike out on my own to meet The One. That’s a lot like being in the right place at the right time and saying the right thing to get the right response. I hang out where agents hang out: writer’s conferences, book expos, national and local writer’s groups, and publishing conferences. To mitigate the cost, I apply for grants and scholarships and chances to win an all expense paid for trip and an exclusive one-on-one meeting with the agent of my choice by writing a contest-winning essay or story. Hundreds of thousands of other writers also apply for the same chance to win. After paying the entry fee and waiting several months, I discover the winner is another lucky writer, not me. Since I have too many home and auto repairs to cover the entrance fee into the conference, not to mention travel, lodging, and meals, I proceed to Step 3 of my quest: Internet dating.

After all, I’ve heard so many stories of others finding true love through Match.com. Why can’t I find a literary agent through one of the online match making companies that bring writers and agents together? I fill out the online questionnaire, opt for the four week no cost special, and upload the first 100 pages of my manuscript into the database. Several times a day I check my mail, hoping someone read my partial manuscript and wants to see the rest of the novel. Whenever a new agent joins, I make sure I “wink” at them if they represent the genre in which I write. Sometimes they wink back and a dialogue begins about my book. Most of the time, however, they don’t. A few request the full manuscript, promising to get back to me within six to eight weeks with a response. Many, however, decide to pass.

Although I’ve abandoned my search for an agent many times over the years, I am hopeful this time I will find The One. It took three years before my husband finally asked me out on a date. Hopefully, it will take less time to find the perfect agent.


GPlus Share

Return to the Zone

A Crime Novel_Pic

I’ve been wondering what to devote my writing hours to besides the articles and essays that put food on the table. The nonfiction book proposal I’ve written and rewritten hasn’t come together in the way I had imagined. The sample chapters are nothing that any reader would appreciate. Fifty pages into the book I knew something was wrong, but I continued writing. By the time I reached 150 pages, a sagging disbelief in my ability to communicate something meaningful gnawed at my soul. I decided to not write for a while. I would lay fallow. Take a vacation. Go visit family and friends. Let my thoughts bubble up and float away like helium balloons instead of jotting them down in my notebook.

Only one week passed without writing before something miraculous happened.

On the drive through the desert, I passed the location of the beginning of my crime novel and felt a jolt of joy and enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in months. When I wrote that book I knew it was only a draft and not a very good one at that, but I had been content to hole up in my office tapping away for every moment I could steal until the story was done. My husband warned me to hurry up and finish before I became too lost in the imaginary world I created and lost my job, my children, my family, and my friends. I wrote about the entire experience in “Surviving the Zone” which is currently under consideration. If I had been at a writer’s retreat, I could have indulged my obsession and polished off the book in two weeks. But I had other responsibilities that interfered. People who didn’t know what I was working on commented that I seemed distracted. Of course, I was. I was living in two worlds, not sure which one would pull me under and claim me first.

Passing the scene of the crime reawakened me. Why am I writing a nonfiction book? I asked. I’m a novelist. I should be writing novels.

That’s when I decided to return to the crime novel that held me captive for so long. If it possessed that type of power for me as a writer, what type of power would it possess for a reader? How selfish I had been to shelf the draft and never look at it again. No matter how disappointed I was with the imperfections, everything could be fixed. Fact-checking, plot structure, and characterizations should not be an excuse to deny the heart of the story, which pulsed with as much life as an actual event I had lived through and needed to share.

All of my fears melted as soon as I returned home and unburied the manuscript from underneath my desk and started reading. The chapters flew by effortlessly. It didn’t read like something I had written. It read like a good book I could not put down.

So this is how I will be spending my summer: returning to the zone.


GPlus Share

When the Dream Becomes a Nightmare

My husband had a dream we divorced because I am married to writing.

Sure, the majority of my social events center on writing and literature and book promotions. Sure, I spend a good portion of my day writing and a good portion of my nights editing. And the weekends, well, they fall into the dark side of creativity.

My family constantly makes sacrifices to support my writing habit. My husband assumes all responsibility for childcare and housework, letting me have the space and time to concentrate at home instead of renting an office downtown. He postpones intimacy so I can meet deadlines. My children wait and wonder when I will have time for them. Sometimes they understand. Other times my son will shut the notebook I am writing in and shout, “The End!” before grabbing my hand and demanding, “Eat!” My daughter fluctuates from pride in promoting my work to frustration in wanting to eat breakfast with me without the clutter of notes on the kitchen table and a pen nearby in case inspiration strikes.

I have been writing since I was ten. That means long before I met my husband and gave birth to my children I had logged in hundreds of hours at the desk, typing away on an electric typewriter, writing draft after draft. I had my first poem published when I was 15. By the time I was 17, I was writing for the local paper. Two months before my twenty-fifth birthday, I received a check for my first piece of fiction.

But to dream that all of that came before him and displaced him, left me feeling bereft and helpless to convince him otherwise.

How can you tell your spouse the written word means less to you than he does when the only vehicle you have to use is words?

Showing him didn’t help. That meant canceling speaking engagements, book launches, signing parties, and other literary events. It meant pulling back instead of reaching out, but if I didn’t do something, my marriage, my family, the foundation I stood on, would crumble.

Sure, he says the dream was just a dream. He doesn’t feel that way. Not really.

But still…I have to be wary…how much do I push the envelope before the whole contents spill out?

I’ve been told I’m ambitious. I have enjoyed moderate success as a writer, enough to pay some bills, obtain some local recognition, and open a few doors to big-time opportunities, but not enough to replace the income from my other jobs, gain national recognition, or capitalize on any of those big-time opportunities. I’m what the industry calls a mid-list writer, one who falls between the cracks of oblivion and fame. But the potential exists to break out of that rut, to possibly become more, with each new poem, essay, article, screenplay or book.

That’s the real threat to the marriage—the breakout novel that will catapult me from where I am to where I want to be—that’s what will cause all the rest of my world to tumble down. And that’s the tension I live with every day: not whether to write or not to write, but whether to write better and reach further, to stop doing what I’ve already done and reach for something more.

That “more” tips the scales between the best wife and the best mother and the well-paid, well-recognized and well-respected writer.

I cannot predict the future, but I can tread lightly on the present. And that means declining some opportunities for more time to devote to those who have come into my life either by choice or circumstance to form what I call my family. To sacrifice one for the other isn’t ideal, but it is reality.

That’s why I chose to help my husband with much needed home repairs instead of attending another book festival. That’s why I refused to travel out of the country on a three month writing retreat to be with my family—correcting my daughter’s homework, discussing behavioral strategies with specialists for my son, supporting my husband emotionally as he reorganizes and expands his business. For in the end, it does not matter whether or not future generations study my novel in their junior high English class, but whether or not I showed the ones I love I care more about them than anything else…and that they feel it and believe it and know it to be true.

2012 Litquake: Women Writing for Change

Litquake 2012

 
For those of you who missed my presentation, here’s the introduction of my discussion about women writing for change presented during the opening day of Litquake, as part of the Off the Richter Scale series:

A woman who writes for change is unafraid of taking on the challenges of the real world and exploring solutions through her writing. As a writer of women’s fiction, my stories tend to focus on how the larger world affects the character’s smaller world. For example, my latest novel, Out of Balance, grew out of my interest in how the Great Recession impacted women, particularly women forced into the workplace like my narrator, Beverly Mael, who was content being a stay-at-home wife and mother until her husband became unemployed.

Men lost 3 times as many jobs as women in 2009, according to Falling behind: the Impact of the Great Recession and the Budget Crisis on California’s Women and Their Families, published by the California Budget Project. This research coincides with a study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2010, in which 22 percent of women were found to out earn their husbands. This phenomenon is not limited to any socio-economic class. It is culturally pervasive. In the June 2012 issue of Allure magazine, actress Elizabeth Banks discusses what it feels like to be a woman who out earns her husband. “It’s not easy,” Banks says. “We’re the first generation to do it. And it’s very ingrained even in our DNA that men are hunter-gatherers who are meant to go off and provide. And that we are really meant to stay at home and have kids…We’re all figuring the same thing out.”

My interviews with women confirmed what Banks expressed: it is true that more women are employed and earning more than their male counterparts, but a lot of them feel ambivalent about their role as breadwinners. They no longer have the luxury to take a lower-paying job that’s more fulfilling or stay home and raise their children. They have to work. The men I spoke with are just as confused and disheartened by being thrown into the role of primary caretakers. They are learning how to be room parents and tutors and chauffeurs, chefs and housekeepers and bookkeepers. Both men and women have had their worlds thrown out of balance.

To discover how one couple adapted to their new roles, read Out of Balance, available in hardback, paperback, and e-book (Nook, Kindle, and other formats).