By the time I was seventeen years old and starting to apply for colleges, I was certain that I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know if I’d ever be published. I didn’t know how publishing worked. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t even very good at it. But I knew one thing for certain: to be a writer of fiction, one must be an apt liar.
My college admissions essay was called Fantastic Exaggeration and it was all about a writer’s ability to lie, and to lie well.
Ten years later, having earned my BA in English, published two novels and spent some time around editors, authors, agents, bloggers, and readers, this still holds true. When a reader selects a work of fiction, they are asking to be told a lie that they can believe. They are asking for imaginary people that they can love with a ferocity and bravery that is rare in the world of the true and the living.
And to be an author of fiction, one must possess that sort of power.
That’s what it is: a power. An author has thousands of people in his or her palm, believing everything that is said. And there are so many types of stories, from books that make a girl fall in love to books that make us all afraid to turn off the lights. Readers want to fall in love, or be horrified, or worried sick, or content. This is a book’s job and an author’s job, and it is not a power that should be taken lightly, because, but by bit, it’s the stories that can do this that change the world. Books get braver, and people get braver with them.
We read books that were written hundreds of years ago, and those books are what define that generation for us. Sometimes the opinions we form are unfavorable, or silly. I keep a stack of vintage manuals in a basket by my desk. They were printed in the 1920s-1960s by various nom de plumes that most likely belonged to men. The manuals, part of a series, instruct women on how to be supportive wives and good housekeepers, and how to mind their emotions, and how to help their husbands get ahead. One in particular, “How to be a More Interesting Woman” has a place of honor in my living room, because it is such a great conversation starter. Everyone who visits will comment on it, and sometimes we flip through and read the sentences aloud. We do this with laughter, and with gratitude that we live in a time in which this sort of thing seems absurd.
At least, I think we do.
There’s a trend in literature that concerns me. This sort of book starts the same way: A bright young girl is moderately discontent with her circumstances but otherwise forging a path for herself in the world. The girl meets a boy. The boy is debonair but distant. Somehow the two are forced to make acquaintances.
The girl forgets that she is a fully realized person the moment this boy starts bossing her around. The girl spends a few hundred pages tripping over her own feet while the boy tsks and sighs and convinces her that she would be nothing without him. And the girl agrees. The boy will lock the girl away if it comes to that, and tell her whether she can continue on with school or stay later at the party (probably not). If the boy leaves, the girl will forget to eat. She will cry. Supporting characters—friends, siblings, other potential love interests—fall by the wayside, earning a sentence or two just to show that the story takes place in a world where other people meander about without purpose. All that’s really important is the boy. Without the boy, the girl is nothing, and all the reader can do is wait and hope for him to come back so things can get interesting again.
It happens with about as much subtlety as an actual, real life abusive relationship would. It’s desperately unhealthy, and it sends some dangerous messages to the women of the reading world.
Anyone who follows me around the internet at all knows that I am all for unapologetic writing. Books are supposed to shock and amaze and make us believe. We love to feel scared and excited and relieved right along with the characters. But once a reader has turned the last page of a horror novel, the notion of ghosts and things that go bump in the night will eventually subside.
However, somehow, the message of the controlling boy and that once-in-a-lifetime love resonates and is recharged by the next such story that gets written, and the next. There may be more of these stories than there are manuals on how to be a good housewife and how to entertain a dinner party and raise little darlings.
I’m not saying don’t read them. I’m not even saying they can’t or shouldn’t be written. But they, like the manuals, should not be taken as fact. They are not a representation of who women are or what boyfriends should be. Hundreds of years from now, when a student in a “literature of 2000-2020” class reads the stories of today, I don’t know about you, but I want that student to think we were all pretty damn amazing and strong.
Hi guys! Wow, over 500 entries for this ARC of SEVER. It makes me sad that I only have one spare to give away. But I also have an ARC of THE HALLOWED ONES by Laura Bickle, which is an unclaimed prize from a previous giveaway, so one lucky winner will get that as well! It’s a fantastic book, and my personal recommendation can be found on its Amazon page and I believe it may also appear on the cover: http://www.amazon.com/The-Hallowed-Ones-Laura-Bickle/dp/0547859260/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1341619228&sr=8-1&keywords=the+hallowed+ones
Also, because I am so so so appreciative and moved by all of the entries, I’ve selected a few random commenters to receive personalized bookplates. Winners were all selected using random.org and the order in which the comment was posted.
The SEVER winner is: EMILY! who posted this tweet: https://twitter.com/emilybookaholic/status/220985467410190336
The THE HALLOWED ONES winner is: CARINA who posted this tweet: https://twitter.com/CarinaOlsen/statuses/218058745777897473
The bookplate winners are:
Molly Frenzel: https://twitter.com/dg_molly/status/218549035387191296
Sabrina Khan: https://mobile.twitter.com/breephoenix/status/218535600024858626
Winners, email me your info at lauren at laurendestefano dot com. Let me know how you’d like your ARC or bookplates personalized. If you don’t specify, I’ll assume you just want them signed! It’s your responsibility to reach out to me. If I don’t hear from you in a week, I’ll assume you were eaten by a large mutant goose or something and your prize will go to somebody else.
If you didn’t win, no worries, here’s a delicious cheese danish, and I adore you.
I recently tweeted about something funny that happened to me. I was in a pizza place, and yes, I know I’m supposed to be like this big health nut tweeting about hummus and running at the gym, but I just finished my proofreads for Sever and I wanted to celebrate with what is essentially a doughy wheel of cheese. Get off my back.
Anyway, the owner of this pizza place has been a family friend for decades. My parents and I have been going there for dinner since I was a toddler. He hasn’t seen me in a few years, and he asked what I was up to. I told him that I write books. The words still feel strange in my mouth, because writing is one of those job titles that come with a lot of questions. And I don’t even see it as a job; it’s more like I tricked a publisher into paying me to do what I love. And people either think I am dirt broke, or a bajillionaire, and they are shocked that I’m wearing sweatpants from old navy and they assume these Target CZ earrings are the finest of blood diamonds. Or they assume that I took out a loan to pay for these shoes (by the way, Payless).
I suppose my pizza-spinning friend chose the dirt poor assumption, because he gave me a sort of piteous smile and said, “Just keep looking for a real job.” I smiled and told him to take care.
Obviously, I came right home and tweeted about the exchange. A few of my followers were amused, and a couple were angry on my behalf. For the record, I was never angry about it. The truth is, I get things like this a lot. And, as I told someone on twitter, because I’m a writer, people often think they can say whatever they want to me. A very wise and experienced industry pro overheard me talking with my agent about a hilarious/infuriating thing that was said to me at a signing, and this industry pro told me, “No matter how long you’re in this business, people will always find a new way to offend you.” This was coming from someone who has been in publishing since before I was a zygote, so she knows her stuff. And if people were still finding new ways to offend her, I supposed I should just accept that this would be a part of my journey.
Writing may be a whimsical profession, but it has more or less the same ups and downs of any profession. Before Wither, I was a switchboard operator for a small lending company. I was the only person directing calls, 8-4:30, Monday through Friday. Every single person to call the office had to go through me, and, this being a loan office, a lot of people functioned under the delusion that I was personally responsible for their low credit scores or for their account representative being out of the office that day. I was called a lot of things I couldn’t repeat in polite company (and I pride myself on this blog being family friendly, besides). For the first month or so, I took it. I referred to each caller as “Sir” or “Ma’am” and in response to venomous remarks, I apologized, saving my curse words for after I’d hung up.
But eventually it took its toll. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I was raised to be respectful when addressing another person. This isn’t a practice universally acknowledged however. One afternoon, a gentleman called and asked to speak to his account rep. The rep was out of the office that day, and another rep was filling in. I explained this, and he was angry because the rep filling in was a woman. He demanded that I get my fat lazy (redacted) off the chair and go find his rep’s home phone number. And while he was in the middle of a tirade, which I honestly can’t remember, I hung up. Maybe it was a knee jerk reaction, maybe it was anger, or shock, but that’s what I did. A minute later, the gentleman called back. I answered the phone. And, folks, it was like I’d never even hung up. He was still ranting. When he paused for a breath, I told him, “Sir, like it or not, I am the only person who can direct your calls, and I’m not going to put you through to anyone until you learn to speak with some respect.”
He hung up. Didn’t call back. And for all I know, he’s still learning. But I felt better, and that was what mattered. I felt like I had shown this gentleman that I wasn’t just a voice on the phone, but an actual, fully-realized human being. I feel like people forget this, and that’s why they act the way they do. And from that day forward, I was better prepared to handle the more venomous callers. Sometimes they even apologized.
When I left my job to pursue writing full time, silly me, I thought I had seen the last of rude people. Looking back I’m not even sure why I thought this.
Now, to be clear, I am not here to discuss reviews, or blogs, or opinions of any kind. I take absolutely no issue with anyone disliking my work, my person, or my face. I advocate freedom of speech, and if someone wants to tweet about how stilted my prose is, or write a seven-page review detailing why my writing is inferior to the poo of a Montana mountain lion, that is a-okay with me. What’s said about an author is really none of the author’s business.
However, when one is addressing another person directly, respect is kind of standard. Unless I ran over your puppy or insulted your mother, there is no reason to talk to me the way that caller did.
I don’t think the owner of the pizza place meant to be disrespectful. Or at least I choose not to. But what I told that person on twitter is true: since I wrote a book, people really do feel that it’s okay to say whatever they want to my face. Last week during the reveal of my latest book cover, a person tweeted to me publicly, firing off some venom about my cover art, which this person had seen on Goodreads. This person used words like “green THING” among others. In the interest of keeping the peace, I won’t quote it directly, but I assure you it was enough that my jaw about hit the desk. The approach was reminiscent of the mean girls in my high school addressing me about my hair. I was stunned that someone would be so blatantly disrespectful to another person’s face (or, you know, computer screen). Even thinking back on it, words like “flabbergasted” and “befuddled” come to mind. Did I mention that this person’s tweet is how I learned my cover was even up on Goodreads? I don’t mind that this person hated the cover. But no one on this magical green sparkly planet has the right to talk to another human being like that.
But I’m no longer a switchboard operator, and I can’t just hang up. I was struck with inspiration to type out some most unladylike responses before I finally replied that yes, that was the cover, and I loved it, thanks for asking. I don’t think it occurred to this person that I’m as much a human being as they are, and I’m sure they’ll never see this, so I can only quietly hope that this person learns some tact. But nonetheless, I maintain that it’s important for people to show respect to others, regardless of profession. We are all people here.
I hope I’m an approachable person. I’m not on twitter to receive throngs of praise and be fed grapes. I want readers to feel free to say “Eh, this cover, not so much” or “THIS CHAPTER MAKES ME WANT TO PUNCH YOU A LITTLE” (assuming it’s done in jest; please don’t actually punch me). I enjoy hearing from readers. If you love something, like something, or hate something, I’d love to hear from you. All I ask is that when you reach out to me directly, I’m shown the same level of respect any one person should show another person. What matters isn’t what is said, but the way in which it is said.
If a few tweets like that one and some pizzeria snark are the price of being able to tell my stories and interact with all of you wonderful readers and followers and fans, then I happily accept. And even if you are rude, I’ll most likely give you a respectful reply, if I do reply at all. That’s what I’d encourage anyone to do. And then I’ll probably stick my tongue out at the screen. Just saying.
Giveaway is closed! Thanks for participating. Stay tuned…
I promised that I would give away an ARC of SEVER as soon as I hit 7,000 fans on twitter, and by gosh, somehow you guys managed to convince 7,000 people to follow me. I don’t know how you did it. Maybe you threatened with tickles. Maybe you told them I was a fanpage for strawberry syrup. Maybe they owed you a favor on their daughter’s wedding day. However it happened, I have 7,000 glorious, sparkly people following me around on twitter.
And to say thanks, I’m hosting an international giveaway for an ARC of SEVER! All you have to do is tweet/facebook/tumblr/whatever about it with a link to this blog post (if you’re on goodreads, please link and comment on www.laurendestefano.com/blog as goodreads comments will NOT be counted).
Winner will be chosen using a random number generator.
Here are the terms:
One entry per person.
SEVER ARCs are still being printed and it will be up to my publisher when I’m able to actually start distributing them. So there may be a bit of a wait before it ships. Sorry about that!
Please please PLEASE check back to see if you’ve won! More than once, I’ve had unclaimed prizes and I can’t get in touch with the winner. It is your responsibility to check back when the winners are announced and email me with your mailing address. If I don’t hear from you in a week, I’ll assume you either lost interest or were eaten by a giant rabbit, and I’ll choose another winner.
I’ll be choosing a winner on July 6th at some point, so check back, tell friends, go forth and be glorious!
I have, in my inbox right now, emails from three different, unrelated authors. All of them are friends and colleagues who debuted around the same time. All of them are fiercely talented. All of them are in various stages of distress.
A few years ago, I sat on the reading side of the publishing world. I saw all of those pretty books on the shelves, and it was all about what I liked and what I didn’t like to read. It was about having discussions about the characters and the plots with my fellow readers. It was about enjoying literature. I also swooned over the glamorous life each of those authors must be living. I didn’t know how much money they made; I didn’t know if these authors were friends, or enemies, or what they tweeted about. I held to my romantic visions of grandeur.
And so, in 2009, when my agent called me to say that Simon & Schuster had made an offer for my debut, I had NO idea what the next year of my life would be. That night, full of Rice-A-Roni and newly-realized dreams, I had the best sleep of my life. I wasn’t stressing. When I tried to imagine my life as a published author, all I saw was a blank white page. I couldn’t even come up with a suitable daydream.
I also made the common mistake of assuming that all of my problems in life would now be solved. I was going to be published. I had been validated. How could I ever have doubts again? I could go skydiving if I wanted to. I could carry myself with swagger. My hair would now be voluminous and glossy, because I WAS GETTING PUBLISHED and the world was now mine.
To that I now look back and say: Ha. (I mean, I was right about my hair, but couldn’t have been more wrong about those other things).
I spent 2010 behind the curtain in my authorial costume, waiting for the show to start, sweating under the heat of the spotlight and hoping I didn’t fart on stage or something. I learned about ARC distribution, and line edits versus copyedits. I learned how to work with an editor. And my agent learned that I can cry about as much as a toddler watching as the bus speeds away with her favorite toy left on one of its seats.
I had a blast. I truly did. But even having gone into it with no expectations, it was still not what I had expected. All my life, writing had been my happy place. It was something I did out of love and desperation. It was what I did to get AWAY from my work, and now suddenly it WAS my work. I still loved it, but now it was intermingled with all of these numbers and tour dates and expectations. I was trying to learn how to interact with my readers. I once received a phone call from my agent, in which she said, “Er, you can’t tweet that.” (It was a spoiler, whoops).
Getting published had not been my lifelong dream. It was merely the most logical career for me to pursue. But writing was a personality trait, and, coincidentally, the only thing resembling a skill that I had. The week that Wither launched, I was a kitten in the headlights. I was startled and terrified and COMPLETELY out of my element. It was like I’d been living all my years under a rock, writing my little stories, and suddenly someone lifted up that rock and now I was exposed to the world (or the dozen or so people who came to my first signing). The world expected me to be ready, and here I was feeling like I’d just been spun around a bunch of times and then thrown before a crowd. My agent had to give me one hell of a pep talk as we stood outside of the bookstore. And I knew it was serious when she started the conversation with, “Hey, you look really skinny and pretty! =D”
Now it’s 2012, and I have two books under my belt. I adore this life and I’m so glad that I pursued publication. I love to find emails from my agent or my publisher. I think I finally have this twitter thing down. I love interacting with readers and am surprised by the support and the questions they send me. And, not gonna lie, I feel pretty damn legit when I get on a train to NY to have lunch with someone on my publishing team. Oh, Thursday? Just lunch with my agent. We’re going to discuss all the things, maybe get manicures, maybe smash a few champagne glasses. No biggie. (This is where I lower my sunglasses over my eyes and rifle aimlessly through my clutch).
Now, back to those three authors in my inbox. A few years ago, I would have thought the holy light was shining upon me if my inbox could be graced with the words of real, published authors. But what I’ve learned is that yes, they are talented. Yes, they are incredible. But they are also people. I am just as much a person today as I was before I knew what a print run was. The doubts and the worries never go away. I promise, I’m not a big deal.
Once we’re published, the rock is pulled up from over us, and we are no longer writing for ourselves. We’re there for anyone in the world to come and find us. There’s a lot of talk about ARCs and print runs. There’s a lot of longing and vying for the New York Times bestseller list, and the USA Today bestseller list, and film options, and end caps, and blurbs, and corrugated displays. And yes, any of these things are an honor for an author to have and something to be excited about.
But here’s the thing: They are good things, but they’re not EVERYTHING. These things are only a moment in time. A book is on the bestseller list, or it isn’t, and then it’s not anymore. A book gets a film option, or it doesn’t, and in all likelihood the rights expire without a film ever being made. A book is displayed on an end cap, or it isn’t, and then it’s not there anymore. And so on. These are all just moments in time. These are all in the here and now. And they are all COMPLETELY out of the author’s hands. No amount of hard work can make an author hit a bestseller list or earn a film deal. Every author works very hard. Every author loves what he or she creates. And once that lovingly-crafted book is put out into the world, what happens next is not up to them at all. There are many factors behind what makes a bestseller or a film option happen, but I can assure you that the author’s hard work, love, long hours, and tears are not factored in. (There should really be a “Yay, you finished a G.D. book” award).
So it hurts my heart to see three talented authors—whom I deeply admire—stressing over things that are but a mere moment in time. The book will still be out there in sixty years, when most of us are probably dead or eating through straws. Nobody will be talking about where it was placed on the bookshelf or whether it had a film option or how many weeks it spent on the Times list. All that will matter will be the words on the page.
Words on the page. That’s what was important to us before we were striving to be published. I knew this when I was seven years old, writing on a yellow legal pad I found in my mom’s purse. Surely I can retain this knowledge as an adult.
Eventually, all of the glamour and the shine will fade away. The quarter that was dropped into the hype machine will expire, and the machine will go still and cold. But the story will remain. New readers will still find it, even if it’s only available in garage sales. And today’s readers will still remember it. It’s our job as writers to create a story we’ll still be proud of then. I will only put my name on things that, when I’m on a liquid diet and grumbling for kids to get off my lawn, I will still be proud to call mine. Because, if we can do that, really, who the hell cares about the rest?
The winner of the THE HALLOWED ONES ARC goes to comment #100: Rosa who tweeted here: https://twitter.com/#!/FarPastMidnight/status/202013780513800192
The 15 bookmark winners are:
Comment #15: Katrina https://twitter.com/#!/klc72720/status/199873577313509377
Comment #29 Rachel https://twitter.com/#!/readwriteramble/status/199627408381444097
Comment #22 Lente https://www.facebook.com/LenteArlya
Comment #131 Darla https://twitter.com/LUCKYLADY4663/status/206112917848993794
Comment #136 Grace https://twitter.com/peachandblue/status/206538970614603776
Comment #77 Lucille https://twitter.com/#!/LucillePalma/status/200304143716458497
Comment #165 Kiana http://www.facebook.com/kiana.fekette
Comment #119 Amy K https://twitter.com/#!/StatesOfDecay/status/204788194405912576
Comment #81 Stephanie http://twitter.com/#!/EdwardsBloodTpe/status/200669795400683520
Comment #152 Amber http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo
Comment #7 Samantha http://www.facebook.com/#!/sandrus52
Comment #69 Tal https://twitter.com/#!/kyo0chan/status/199945007954800641
Comment #63 TheDaydreamer3 https://twitter.com/#!/TheDaydreamer3/status/199894977474600961
Comment #42 Lisa https://twitter.com/#!/Miz_Maliciouz/status/199692824243998722
Comment #49 Michelle https://twitter.com/#!/mikiao/status/199769900556881920
The winning numbers were chosen using the random number generator at random.org If your name is listed above, please email me with your mailing address at lauren (at) laurendestefano (dot) com! Please be sure to include your name as you’d like it to appear on the envelope as well. A lot of people forget to give me their names, and it’s a little awkward writing “Er, blogger person” on the envelope! I’ll try my best to get these in the mail this week, or early next week.
Didn’t win? Check back soon; I’ll be doing more giveaways when I have something for you guys! And remember, I’ll be giving away an ARC of SEVER as soon as I reach 7,000 followers on Twitter! https://twitter.com/#!/LaurenDeStefano
Giveaway closed! Thanks to all who entered; I’ll be posting the winners on Tuesday.
Well, it’s somewhere between 3 and 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon, which means that it’s time for me to give you free stuff. OBVIOUSLY. Today I have an ARC of THE HALLOWED ONES by Laura Bickle, as well as a bunch of these really cool THE HALLOWED ONES card/bookmark thingies. I don’t know what you actually call them. You’re probably supposed to tape them to your doorknob at night to ward off garden gnomes. And during the daylight, hey, you can use them to hold your place in your book.
The text on the cover reads “If your home was the last safe place on earth, would you let a stranger in?”
SPOILER ALERT: It is. She does. And it’s epic.
I had the honor and the pleasure of reading this a few weeks ago, and guys, it was pretty much the most intense thing I had going on in my life at the time. Here’s the goodreads summary:
Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning
When I was a kid, I was a fan of a little show you may have heard of called Are You Afraid of the Dark? In one particular episode, the characters found themselves in a silent theater. One of the vampires stepped out of the screen, into the theater, and effectively killed my chances of sleeping without a nightlight for the next five or six years. I have a little cousin who is eight, and when I told her about this freaking scary vampire, she didn’t believe that a vampire would be so terrifying. “That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll PROVE it to you.” I hopped onto google images, and it took me the better part of ten minutes and several queries before I found a very small, very blurry thumbnail image of this vampire. PS? Still scary.
THE HALLOWED ONES is going to make you dust off your childhood nightlight. When you get up at night to use the bathroom, you’ll be turning on all five lights between your bedroom door and the door of the commode. It is creepy, and realistic, and creepy again. It’s also wonderfully written. The protagonist, Katie, is astoundingly brave and strong while still mostly conforming to the rules of her Amish heritage. This is NOT something you want to miss. It comes out this fall, but if you start reading it now, you can buy up all of the nightlights and then sell them back to your friends at triple the price when they read it in September.
This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL. That means you are eligible to win whether you live in the US, Canada, Istanbul, or in the belly of a whale. Whenever I host an international giveaway, there are always “will you ship to X?” comments. The answer is YES. If you live on the moon, I will hire an astronaut. No worries. Cool stuff CAN be yours no matter where you live; believe it, my friend.
In order to enter, tweet/facebook/blog/tumblr about this giveaway with a link to this blog entry (if you are on goodreads, please link to and comment on my blog post here: http://www.laurendestefano.com/blog/ as comments on my goodreads blog will not be counted). Then enter a comment below with the link to your tweet/facebook/blog/tumblr post. On Sunday, May 27th, at 11:59 PM, EST, this giveaway will end and I’ll select the winner using a random number generator. Your entry number will be based on the order in which you commented. The first randomly-generated number will determine the winner of the ARC, and 10 others will win the bookmark/postcard/gnome ward thingy.
Due to an overwhelming volume of email inquiries regarding the publishing industry, I have decided to post this handy guide for those of you hoping to enter the fray.
How to be a Published Author (A Beginner’s Guide):
You will need:
A word processor
A whisk or wooden spoon
A 4″ baking pan
A gas or electrical oven
A window ledge
A literary agent
A pair of fancy slacks
A few foldout chairs
A unicorn (a pony, spiral shell and superglue will also do if you’re on a budget)
An ability to pretend to know what the (expletive) you’re doing.
Step one: Combine talent with word processor, and stir sentences until smooth. If you stir too rapidly or too slowly, powdery clumps will form in the batter. That persistent residue is caused by self-doubt and must be beaten with the whisk or wooden spoon. Failure to destroy doubt may result in unfinished manuscript, electrical shock, or public nudity.
Step two: Pour word batter into your baking pan. Preheat oven to 450 fahrenheit and bake for however many months or years necessary. The finished product will appear supple and golden. Despite vigorous whisking, some doubt clumps may have caused bubbles or minor erosions in your manuscript. You may wish to do some minor touching up, but excessive prodding will cause the manuscript to collapse. These minor flaws are not a cause for concern at this time.
Step three: Set manuscript on window ledge to cool. Once the aroma takes to the wind, hungry literary agents should gather in your yard. There are many types of literary agents. I chose the one with $10, a zombie apocalypse survival guide and a meat tenderizer in her Kate Spade bag at all times. The more maniacal your agent appears in public, the better. When selecting the right agent for you, ask yourself, “Would I want to stand opposite this person in a battle for the last cupcake at the supermarket?” If your answer is, “Dear God, no,” then you may have your ideal agent.
Step four: Your agent will have you sign some light paperwork. He or she may treat you to lunch, and will then ask you to wait at the Starbucks on the corner while he or she enters a publishing house with a sack of jellybeans, a rubber mallet, and a plastic duck that can quack the national anthem. Enjoy your coffee of choice. Wait for your agent to emerge victoriously from the publishing house with a shiny new book deal.
Step five: Discreetly change into fancy new slacks.
Step six: Arrange chairs in a circular fashion. Fans of your newly-published book will gather.
Step seven: Ride in on a unicorn like a (expletive) boss.
Step eight: Engage with your readers and pretend you knew what the (expletive) you were doing the entire time.
Step nine: Ride unicorn some more.
Today has been, so far, a pretty good day. After a week of being bedridden with some kind of medieval disease I swear I thought had been eradicated from modern society, I’m finally up and about, wearing actual non-pajama clothes to the grocery store. The weather’s been so nice that I have the skylight in my office cracked open and for once, the neighbor’s seven-pound hound from hell isn’t yapping. The furniture company finally refunded me for my damaged chair, and seriously, you guys, I am eating the best sandwich ever.
My having a good day isn’t wholly uncommon. I love my life with the ferocity of a puma chasing another puma. Trust me, pumas love to chase other pumas. However, I’m always wary of April. It hasn’t exactly been kind to me in the past. April is a 30-day battle scar I must endure annually, and from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, I’m filled with a distant sense of catastrophe.
When you lose someone you love, the first effect you feel is a chasm in your life. There’s a voice that doesn’t answer your calls, a phone that rings forever. There’s a half-gone glass of milk on the end table and the DVR is set to record a show that won’t be watched in death. Clothes that won’t be worn. And your life is still trying to act around this wound; everything you do is empty and strange. The first time you hear a new song on the radio, you’re outraged and frightened that time is passing, that the world is filling with new sounds all the while.
And then, bit by bit, the chasm forms a scar tissue. It smoothes over and it leaves a rivulet on the skin. It becomes a scar that you don’t think about every day. There’s guilt when a whole day passes in which you don’t acknowledge it, but that too will dull down. April is my month of scars, as has been the case for six years now. I distract myself, I cry unprovoked, I turn sullen, I remember.
Another thing happens every April. Ants march out of my garbage disposal. I’ve lived in three different places over the last six years, and this has happened to me every spring. I find one of the cats chirping as he follows a little black cavalcade from the sink, down the cabinets, across the kitchen floor. I’ve tried everything to be rid of them, from catching them and letting them loose outside, to vacuum cleaners, to cloths soaked in vinegar. But ants are a curious thing. Attack their little colony, and they scatter, but immediately return. Stomp on their little hills, and they rebuild.
Here’s the part where I get saccharine and tell you that grief turns us into ants. A kid with a magnifying glass burns our world. A giant cat swipes at us. We get disrupted and then we’re left to deal with the casualties. Living becomes an act of defiance.
Today has been one of the more defiant days. I’m under a bright sun, and my head is full of ideas, and every day the radio is filling the world with new songs while I write new things and try to fill the world with new books. We’re resilient things, whether or not we want to be. There are days for rain clouds and umbrellas and bad poetry, of course. But then there are days when you pull out of your driveway, and the road goes on before you, dotted with white, and it really feels like you’ll live forever.
When I was in college, I took a night class for creative writing. And one evening, on my way into the room, a woman stopped me and asked a few questions about the course. After chatting for a bit, I suggested that she sit in on a class to see if she’d be interested in signing up the following semester. That’s when she told me, “Oh, no, it’s just that my son really wants to be a writer and I’m not sure if I should encourage him.” She didn’t say as much, but I think she meant to say that it’s kind of a pipe dream. And I’m not really here to say that it isn’t. Growing up, when I told people I wanted to write, the response was usually “Okay. And what else?”
So, standing outside of this classroom, years before I would write and publish my own novel, I felt a kind of sympathy for this woman who clearly cared about her son. I think about this woman sometimes, and her son, who I’m sure is well into his wondrous formative years by now. Because the truth is that no mother’s protection and love can stop a writer from being a writer. I’ve seen the parents who discourage creativity, and the effect is like shaking a 2 liter bottle of soda. You can hear the bubbles fizzing around in there, you can sense an explosion, and in a way you even crave it.
There is also no “wanting” to be a writer. There’s wanting to be published, sure, and there’s wanting to be better. But if this is your path, then in all probability, there comes a day in which you reach the awareness that you just ARE a writer. You wake up in the morning, and the awareness is swimming in your brain. You sit in a classroom at a desk identical to those around you, and you have this secret. Maybe you’re even smug about it. It doesn’t even matter if you write things down. It doesn’t matter if the stories begin in your head with bold, certain lines, and then taper off like sand where the ideas cease to continue. It’s there or it isn’t there. It can’t be helped.
If you’re a writer that wants to be published, it gets increasingly hard to be timid. Your work will be emailed to agents, emailed to publishers. It will probably not stand out in some piles, and if you’re lucky, it will glow among at least one stack of other manuscripts. It will be discussed. It will be analyzed. It will be given a monetary value… and you’ll probably gag and maybe throw up in your mouth a little, whatever that value is.
Your work will be given a name, given a cover. The cover will be alien to you, but it will forever be a part of what readers will see. Your work will be discussed again. It will be praised, adored. It will be loathed, prompt disgust. It will be tossed aside in a malaise of someone’s cynicism. Your picture will be on the internet. People will ask you about your favorite TV shows and you’ll wonder how this is relevant. You’ll become a sort of character–strangers will use your work to justify points you never considered, much less intended. And then you, not your work, will be praised, adored, and loathed.
Individual experiences may vary, but the above is the norm. So you must be certain of your words. You must be proud of them. They will be your only shield. You’ll be judged for what’s on the page, and those words, printed in a font of your publisher’s choosing, will speak for you. It’s inevitable and unavoidable that those words will piss somebody off. They’ll also cause a lot of discussions, for which you won’t be present. Your book will wind up in places you’ll never visit. People will glorify you, and others will think the worst of you. You’re a genius; you’re a hack; you’re too arrogant; you’re too shy; you show instead of tell; your work is a lovechild of Sebold and Shakespeare; your agent must have been high to sign you.
Be unapologetic. I can’t say this enough. Write what’s there in your head, in your blood. Tell the story the way it’s meant to be told, because you are the only one who can tell it. There are so many people in this world. Forget what the population surveys say, there are too many people to be counted. So few of those people will have their words printed. If you have that opportunity, don’t take it lightly. Don’t waste your pages trying to fit a genre or to profit or to abate fears. If your characters run down dark alleys, follow them. Hide behind a dumpster and watch what unfolds. Tell the whole story. This is your only legacy. One day you’ll be gone and it will be all that’s left. Someone will find it in a garage sale and your twitter account will be a hundred years deactivated, so make sure it’s all there, bound and glued–everything you wanted to say.
Do not ever, do not ever, say you’re sorry.