I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I liked words, homework, writing, and all the nerd girl stuff even though I got my first C on a report card in the third grade and thought my life was over. Eventually I learned to accept that Cs were going to be part of my life especially in science and math. Acceptance is key, after all.
Today I am an author. I spent three years writing my first book and dreaming of being published. Is that every writer’s dream? No. Maybe. To some degree. Would it be amazing to be the female version of John Grisham and write amazing stories that everyone loves to read? Sure. Would it be just as amazing to not have a day job that while enjoyable takes time away from writing? Definitely. But being published isn’t the reason I became an indie author.
I chose to publish my book on December 26, 2015 against the advice of a professor, despite the lack of an author platform, and despite the fact that my book could have used another twelve months of simmering and revisions not because I’m rebellious and don’t know how to listen to sage advice. I became an indie author that day because it was my gift to my daughter.
Rachel James (the MC of Soaring Alone) has been roaming around in my head since I was eight years old. She didn’t have a name then, but her story was already forming and became solidly implanted in my heart and soul about four years ago. Around that time she coughed up her name and we started to get chummy. Sound strange? It was and still is when new characters introduce themselves to me.
For the next three years I worked on Rachel’s story. The majority of it was written during NaNoWriMo 2013. That November I logged 86,139 words for the story whose working title at the time was “Identity Crisis”. That year I also experienced my first 10k writing day. It was bliss. The few days following when I had to wear braces on both wrists because of the pain were joyous as well. The pain was totally worth it.
I continued to work on my book off and on for the next three years. The word count rose to 180k and then was pared down to just under 100,000 words as I tried to work out plot issues. In February 2014 I spent a long weekend in San Francisco with my husband and children where I learned more about the art of writing and even pitched my story to an agent.
It was something like an additional fifty dollars on top of the cost of the conference that gave you two minutes to pitch to some incredible people. Yes, you read that right: two minutes. I formulated my pitch on the fly having absolutely no idea what I was doing or what the outcome would be.
One agent requested the first seventy-five pages of my novel. Nothing came of it yet I still wanted to tell this story. So I kept writing and revising.
I hit pay dirt when I came across #10MinNovelists on Facebook. An international group of time crunched writers getting together to form a community, share resources, encourage one another, and eat invisible snacks…they were just what I needed. I also found my editor there: the great Anna Snow Berck.
She read my novel and bled red ink all over it. I was in writer heaven. I learned about beta readers and got more feedback. I revised Rachel’s story some more. Then I hit a wall.
I lost interest. I didn’t want to revise it anymore. I procrastinated with other projects. I went back to school. I changed day jobs. I found reasons to put off the publication of Soaring Alone.
When I did experience moments of interest, I did odd things. Like change the title and the name of a major character. I cut out an entire section and revamped the ending until it bore no recognition to the original telling of the story. I participated in NaNo twice more.
During the six months prior to publishing my first novel I noticed something else that was happening. My daughter, my cheerleader, my task master…stopped asking me how the book was going. She stopped talking about a publication date. She stopped checking my calendar to see if I was writing and asking about my word count.
The silence was painful to endure.
I didn’t ask her why she stopped talking about the book because I didn’t want to hear her answer. I was afraid she would tell me that she stopped believing it would happen. Or worse yet, that she would tell me that she had stopped believing in me.
So when I was ruminating over the Christmas list and trying to decide what to purchase for our brood of children, I broached the subject with my husband and suggested publishing Soaring Alone in time for our daughter to open it on Christmas morning. He immediately got on board.
It took me approximately two months, asking for help from two people, and some anxiety that it wouldn’t happen on time for the project to be finished. Her response that morning was worth every minute of it. By December 25, 2015 my daughter held the final author proof copy in her hand with tears streaming down her face. The next day I hit the publish button on CreateSpace.
Rachel James’ story is complete. It might need some additional polishing and will likely undergo a second edition in time, but it’s out there. The world has access to the story of an ordinary woman who learns she was kidnapped at birth and must now decide what family means to her.
Meanwhile, my journey is not complete. I have much to learn as a writer and as an author. I still have two years and a couple of months left of an MFA program. I have yet to learn the art of author branding and book marketing. I have other stories waiting in the wings to be told.
Thankfully though one thing I no longer have is a daughter who is still waiting for an example. Maybe I did things backward and should have kept whittling away at Rachel’s story until every last item on the indie author agenda was met, but I couldn’t let another day go by without my daughter seeing that it could be done. This book was for her.
While my story might make some (authors) cringe as they read this, in shock that my author platform is mediocre at best, I hope the true message that lies within will resonate with other parents whose children are looking up to them. One book –maybe even everyone’s first book—is about being an example to your child, or the neighbor kid you mentor, or to your niece or nephew. It’s about proving to yourself even that you can shrug off the chains of self-doubt and fear of rejection to stand firm in your belief that the story you’re telling needs to be told.
Soaring Alone was my best as a novice author. It was my beginning; my show of courage. My hope is that those who read it will know they aren’t alone in whatever situation they are in the midst of. That they’ll find the courage and the support to chart their own course in life and find a way to be unique.
The first step is always the hardest, the scariest, and the one we’re going to use as a stepladder to get further along in this world. May your first step be your gift to someone…maybe even to you.
This morning I woke up in a terribly cranky mood. For what might seem like no particular reason. And I’ll be honest –any reason (read: excuse) I can even fathom here isn’t a real reason. Nothing significant happened in my life that justifies the amount of irritability I’m dealing with right now.
So I’ve been trying to sort through it. I may not be one of those morning people that jumps out of bed singing and dancing my way to the office, but darn it, I’d like to be similar. I’d like to be a smiling person who steps calmly out of bed and waltzes my way to the office if nothing else. You know, happy and all, but still quiet because let’s face it…the act of getting out of a warm and cozy bed at five a.m. any day of the week isn’t worthy of all that noise.
Back to my current mood. I am oh so not happy. But why? I don’t believe it’s as simple as having gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. I mean what is the wrong side of the bed, anyway? Exactly. A cliché of an excuse for all those people out there who wake up irritable and then make those around them suffer right along with them. –I told you I was in a bad mood.
After getting my second cup of coffee and hollering at Omar for getting into the drawer of dishrags (again) I had a thought. It was somewhat random but I think I’m on to something. It had to do with a book I finished reading last week: Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes. Have you heard of it? If not, you can find it here.
It’s a pretty great book once you get past the first chapter. The first chapter wasn’t bad, there were just several characters all introduced one after the other. I had to make note of their names and how they were related so that I could keep them straight. A minor annoyance at best.
After that, I settled into the story pretty quickly. The book is rich –full of eloquent phrases, an excellent story line about immigrant workers, and filled with some really beautiful verbs. Gorgeous, leaping off the page kind of verbs. I’ve been thinking a lot about verbs and word choices in my own writing since reading this novel.
And if that wasn’t enough, there was one sentence. This perfectly amazing, glorious sentence that she wrote. It basically summed up my life in less than fifteen words. I remember reading it during the lunch hour (I’m trying hard to be a good steward of my time) and sitting up straight when I came across the line.
I’m also a fan of good quotes. I like to have one in my work e-mail’s signature line. I change it periodically though I’ve been known to have the same quote in there for a year before. It was a good one about how things aren’t easy, but they can be worth it. Yeah, it got me through this last first year in a new position at the company.
I had recently changed up my quote after reading Joe the Engineer –also a good book about the working class dichotomy of staying (in the working class) and moving out of it. –Hmmm. Interesting. As I was typing the latter part of that last sentence I was reminded of the television show “The Jeffersons”. Have you heard of it? I realize I’m dating myself just mentioning it, but the theme song for that sitcom was in my head as I typed the word “moving” and I’m now intrigued with the idea of finding old episodes to watch. I have a feeling that show was about the working class dichotomy too given the song’s lyrics “moving on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky”.
Let me explain: my current work in progress is about the working class. A life situation that is near and dear to my heart. Not only that but I have recently discovered there is such a thing as the working class struggle among folks –who stays in the working class and what happens when someone decides to leave. Or in George Jefferson’s case “move on up” to something different and maybe even better.
The thing is, this working class saga…yeah, I didn’t even know it existed until I was turning in the first chapter (now completely rewritten) of my WIP to my professor in the MFA program. I had simply thought what I’ve experienced for the last…every day of my life…was just that. My life.
Turns out there might be something bigger and deeper there than I’d ever imagined. But that’s an issue for another post entirely.
So as I’m reading Under the Feet of Jesus during my lunch hour and super proud of myself for utilizing my time wisely as I work toward getting another degree, there it is. The quote to end all quotes (so far). I circled it, I highlighted it, I changed the quote in my corporate e-mail to display it for all the world (or whomever I e-mail) to see. It is just. That. Good.
-- Tell me to go to the devil, Petra replied, tell me I’m crazy. But don’t tell me that. Don’t tell me I can’t.
Isn’t that breathtaking? Let it sink in for a minute.
Petra is an immigrant woman working long hours in the field alongside her oldest daughter and her common law husband. She’s broke, destitute, sun-burned, tired, and stressing about all the superstitions her culture has raised her to believe in. Then, a poor boy from the same culture shows up on her doorstep. He and Petra’s daughter develop a fondness for each other –giving Petra yet another thing to worry about. She knows how babies are made and despite her full house, precarious situation in life, and her age…she’s pregnant again. The last thing she really needs is for her daughter to wind up with child or another human being to care for in the form of this boy that Estrella is crushing hard for.
But he’s fallen ill. And his doting grandmother is miles away waiting for him to return home with enough money to send him to college. What’s Petra supposed to do but listen to her mother heart and take the boy in to nurse him back to health?
Petra’s husband, Perfecto? No. He’s against it. They can barely feed the children they have. He is vacillating between staying with this family he’s taken on as his own or returning to where he came from –alone and aged with the weight of life’s burdens already on his shoulder.
His response to this absurd idea that Petra voiced? No way. Not happening.
--I can’t allow it. He tells her.
--Not now, he pleaded. Not now.
The man is tired. He’s worried about everything. And he doesn’t want to think about the consequences of taking on yet another child. Not now.
--What’s the matter with you? Petra asks him, appalled at his behavior.
He doesn’t even bother to explain. Maybe he can’t find the words. Maybe he doesn’t want to speak them out loud.
--I say you can’t!
In one short breath, he forbids her to follow her heart and help save this young man.
And she doesn’t listen. She doesn’t even hesitate.
-- Tell me to go to the devil, Petra replied, tell me I’m crazy. But don’t tell me that. Don’t tell me I can’t.
The mother warrior comes out of her. She staunches the argument completely with her resoluteness and her determination. Don’t tell me I can’t.
Just remembering this scene and reading the words of it leave me silent and in awe.
The writer uses the words to stop an argument, to give Petra, this make believe woman, a voice. Yet I can’t help but think that at the same time, Viramontes is giving all women…perhaps even all people…a voice with these words.
And when things go wrong or become overwhelming as they have this week in my life, the words are this shout that come up from my soul.
The printer won’t cooperate? Don’t tell me I can’t…print that necessary sheet of paper.
Omar won’t listen to what I say? Don’t tell me I can’t…train my unruly puppy.
Being on-call at work is hectic and messy? Don’t tell me I can’t…enjoy a quiet evening at home without having to worry the phone is going to ring off the hook.
I wake up to wonky internet service that won’t allow me to enjoy reviewing my social media? Don’t tell me I can’t…ease myself into another work day.
None of these things are true cause for an irritable mood. None of them. Yet I’ve spent my morning stewing over the minutest of things and feeling this unsettling crankiness in the depths of my being.
Don’t tell me I can’t…
And definitely don't tell me I can't when it comes to the bigger things in life. Maybe it's the 2nd child rebelliousness in me talking here, but when someone tells me I can't (or that I shouldn't for whatever litany of reasons they can come up), I am more determined than ever to make sure I can.
You say I can't buy a house and go to college and have a baby? Just watch me.
You say I shouldn't publish a book because I'm a novice? We all have to start somewhere.
You say I can't have it all (whatever the "all" is that I decide on)? I'll find a way.
As I mull over Petra’s words and have sat here typing through my frustrations, I feel justified in my mood. And somewhat better. More determined, if you will.
I’m sure I’ll be frustrated again. It’s part of being human, I think. But I hope Petra’s voice continues to ring loud and clear in my head and my heart when that happens.
What about you? How do you handle life’s frustrations? And what do you think about the working class saga?
I’m lacking serious motivation this morning. My daughter refers to it as needing to “find” her motivation when she feels this way. For me though, that would require getting off the couch to go look for it and frankly, if my motivation isn’t lying at the bottom of the coffee pot, I’m not moving for another hour at least.
What do I need motivation for? Writing of course. Getting ready for work. Pulling out my bike and biking to work.
I want to do all these things. But it’s dark out and cold. Have you been there? Maybe not here in the literal sense, but lacking motivation?
As I sit here putting forth great amounts of energy to come up with each word I type, I can’t help but wonder what motivates you. Or anyone. Is it a job well done? A need to prove something? The fear of failure? Or success?
For me, at least this morning, is direction I think. In which direction should I take my novel? Contrary to the belief of some, writing a 300 page masterpiece is more than sitting down with the muse. If I’m going to blog…what exactly will I say?
When it comes to getting ready for work and biking there –it’s pure logistics and a lack of want to. Logistics: Do I have all the necessary equipment to make it there? Headlamp….I’m not really sure where that is because hubby borrowed it the other day. Is the bike in good working order? I’ve only biked a couple times this season so one can’t be too sure.
When I get into this unmotivated mood it’s best to start small and work my way toward the goals.
Writing: start with blogging and work toward novel writing.
Biking: the plan has been to start up again next week. Continue telling myself that and start getting the equipment in order before then.
Somedays all we can do is the baby steps. Typically –those somedays include every single Monday.
Other days we have to do away with all the excuses and time wasters and claw our way to the place we want to be. I will definitely need more coffee to get into this camp.
For now I’ll have more coffee and work on planning the big steps while simultaneously working on the baby steps.
How are you this fine Monday morning? Are you motivated yet? If not, what’s holding you back? Let’s commiserate together.
As 2015 drew to a close I did something I’ve talked about doing for years. I published my first novel.
When you’re a mother it’s hard to find the right gift for your children and my youngest had been on me for quite some time to finally finish Soaring Alone. She helped me with the identifying the arc of the story, read bits and pieces of it, grumbled when I changed the title, and even put expected completion dates on the whiteboard. –The latter more the once. So when I was down to only 60 days before Christmas, I knew that making this long awaited dream a reality was the perfect gift for my daughter.
Secretly, my husband helped me with the details involved. A couple of dear friends did final reads of the manuscript. I scrounged for the perfect author photo. Made a dozen or more calls to CreateSpace when I wasn’t sending them an e-mail. I fretted often and second guessed the whole idea a handful of times.
Then I held my first proof copy and was overcome with delight. The second proof copy came. I corrected a big mistake I’d made in the cover. Note to self: pay attention to detail! I approved the final revisions. I tracked the shipment of the author proof more times than I’ve ever tracked anything.
It arrived at the post office on a Saturday –an hour after the post office had closed and I had stopped there twice to check the box. When the green tracking line indicated it had been delivered I had a serious desire to break into the building just to hold the book in my hands.
With only a few days to spare, I had it. An actual proof copy of a novel that I wrote. It was amazing.
I wrapped it in a box covered in the best wrapping paper I could find and put it in the closet until Christmas Eve. The next day I spent a full eight hours at my desk at work filled with anxiety –worried she wouldn’t like it. Stressing that her only reaction would be: “Oh it’s a book. That’s my good good present?”
My husband assured me that wouldn’t be the case. He smiled whenever we talked about the subject –proudly in a way that made me believe him a little bit.
The wait was horrendous. I told no one about it. Not my editor. Not my former professor. Not my incredibly amazing unbiological sister to whom I tell everything. Not even my other kids.
After the initial excitement and shock wore off and the anxiety dissipated, I finished work for the week and made my way home in blizzard conditions following a quick stop off to purchase one final gift for my other daughter.
Hubby and I cleaned house in preparation for having our large brood of kids over for the holiday. We took all the wrapped presents out of their hiding space in the closet and put them neatly under the tree until morning.
Our daughter woke us shortly after 8a.m. She was giddy and ready to tear into the gifts. Some coffee, breakfast preparation, and texts to her less than punctual older siblings later we were gathered upstairs. Coffee in hand I watched her impatiently suffer through the others’ opening their stockings before she began handing out gifts to everyone.
We took turns oohing and ahhing over one another’s goodies. Scarves, clothes, kitchen gadgets, and coffee cups were scattered amidst the torn wrapping and ribbon. Jewelry was exclaimed over and a few explanations given about gifts that needed them.
Finally I noticed her opening the carefully wrapped box. I hesitated and cautioned her, my anxiety flaring up again. I considered getting out my phone and videoing her response but didn’t want her to feel obligated to put on a show if she did end up disappointed. As she used her brother’s pocket knife to cut through the tape, she began to talk. For a moment I turned away, distracted by something one of the other’s said. Then I heard her:
“It’s a book.”
Pause. Pause. Pounding heart.
She looked closely at the cover.
“It’s your book.”
I looked at her, nodded.
“It’s real? Like you did it?”
“It’s your book. I’m so proud of you. I can’t believe it.”
And she cried.
“I’m so proud of you. It’s your book.”
And I cried.
“Open it. Look inside.”
She turned to the title page and showed it to me as she wiped her tears.
“Keep going. There’s more,” I told her eager for her to see her name and the short message I’d scrawled inside.
She turned the page and read the handwritten note.
“It says my name,” she cried.
The room filled with five young adults and hubby was quiet. All attention was on the scene unfolding closest to the Christmas tree.
She turned another page and read the dedication.
“It has my name again. My name’s on all the pages.”
She flipped through the pages and looked at the back cover.
“You’re crying,” hubby said to her. “You don’t like to cry.”
“I know. But I’m just so happy. I’m so proud of you Mom. It’s your book.”
I’m crying as I type this just remembering the moment and the sound of her voice.
As she passed the book around to her siblings, she wiped her face one last time and continued to open more gifts. Hubby and I told her (and the others) the story of how we’d spent the last two months in secrecy working to get the project that had lain dormant for nearly a year completed in time for the holiday.
The next day I pressed the buttons to make it real and available to others. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. It has been every bit worth it.
In 2016 I plan to continue writing. I have a historical fiction novel in the works. It’s a story very dear to my heart. I hope to get an opportunity to immerse myself in the book’s setting for a while so that I can complete some much needed research. I’ll learn some about the marketing side of being an independent author.
Oh and probably…I’ll fret about what to get my daughter for this year’s Christmas. Publishing another book in 11 months is a bit unrealistic given the fact I haven’t touched my manuscript in about a week. But regardless, Christmas 2015 will go down in history for our family as the year Mom finally did what she’s been talking about doing for ages.
If you haven't yet ordered a copy of Soaring Alone, it's available at the websites below in both paperback and e-book form. Already purchased your copy? I hope you'll leave a review & tell me what you thought of Rachel's story. She's one ordinary woman going through an extraordinary journey to decide what family means to her.