Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On the Hooves of Failure

That could be the title of my autobiography! It’s been a pattern. I wrote my first book while I taught high school (I used that in-class experience later while teaching writing workshops at conferences, retreats and on cruises). Though my agent was unable to sell my first novel, I had written its first draft while working as a weight loss counselor. That experience later helped in writing the proposal for a cookbook which didn’t sell despite three agents trying.

I wrote another book, food themed, and that led to my decision to try to sell the cookbook again. It failed with another agent. I raised two boys. As a writer, I was lucky enough to stay home, be involved in my boys’ educations, and speak at the schools. One thing I did was speak on writing topics. Along the way I failed to sell my third novel.   

On the side, I did some in-home cooking instruction. I coupled that with my experience cooking with my hubby's Chinese family and my weight loss counseling expertise, pitched myself, and was paid for my food thoughts and recipes. A dollar a word seemed like a lot of money for something that was sheer pleasure.

The cookbook set aside again, I started a suspense novel that involves food and Asian themes, then I tossed in an amateur sleuth who is a cooking instructor. Somewhere in the middle of all this I started a horror novel that instead became an award-winning screenplay that didn't sell, the same fate of eleven of my subsequent award-wining screenplays. But the experience improved my fiction, and my sample scripts ended up catching the attention of a producer which landed me a connection and job with an indie director and later script doctor work.

I have eight file drawers filled with all of my drafts. After writing for over 20 years, my “submissions” spread sheet has far more rejections on it than acceptances. My dear “sister,” Janet, made a great suggestion. I shouldn’t call them rejections; I should call them “declines.” So I changed the heading of that column. She was right. The publishers declined my submissions; that didn’t mean they’d rejected me or even my skills. They simply had declined that project. For whatever reason.

My life seems to have the theme of: OK start another book but do something else at the same time.

I continued to edit for others, becoming a script and book doctor.  I continued to teach writing. In fits and starts I wrote for newspapers and magazines and blogs. The exposure got me writer-for-hire gigs and allowed me to coach and midwife successful books for other writers.

Another agent took on the cookbook, she brought a contract to me, I signed and the photographer backed out at the last minute. The cookbook went on hold again. From the time I started writing to today, I’ve had poems, shorts, essays and flash pieces accepted and published, both in paper and on line. These were the little things that continued to feed my confidence that I would eventually sell a longer work and be able to do one of those fun key note speeches about my “overnight success.”

Last year, a client referred me for a celebrity ghostwriting gig that some would feel was the writing job of a lifetime. It might have allowed my husband to retire, but it ended up getting sabotaged and thrown into a tailspin.

Even that traumatic experience ended up being grist for the mill and there are 300 pages of that story in my memory stick now. Along the way I’ve been offered representation by seven agents. Yet none of my own book-length works--fiction or cookbook--has been published.

In true lemons-to-lemonade style, I don’t discount all the benefits I got along the way from those efforts. I am proof that success can follow on the hooves of failure, IF you parlay the experiences. Looking back on it, all my writing detours led to something good. If nothing else they gave me a theme for the column I write for BTS Book Reviews, appropriately name “Karen’s Writing Detours.”
 All I do now to make money, to forward my name recognition, to land that next cruise gig, to reach out for another chance to write, all my opportunities come on the hooves of failure.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Folio's Writing Detours

I began writing novels decades ago, and having just prepared my daily post for the 359th Fighter Group's Facebook page, I paused to consider how far I've traveled on my writing journey. And the directions I've turned.

My first novel was high fantasy, and when I won 3rd place in a contest, I just knew I was on my way, that editors would line up to meet me! Talk about high fantasy!  But I was smart enough to attend a Life Long Learning class on how to get published, and that detoured me into my first critique group and dear, dear friends of Uff Da Cum Laude.  Our writing has grown together as has our love and respect.

The path widened into a two-lane road as I attended conferences and learned even more about this [insert verb of your choice] business.  Years passed.  More close friends discovered.  I drafted my second novel, then a third, and I joined my second beloved critique group, the Sisters of the Quill.

And then, a highway exit loomed!  My first agent!  Down shift and accelerate!  Oops.  Hit the brakes. A complete re-write of my third novel, but no sale.  Alas, my agent had personal problems, so I made the difficult decision to let her go. A dead end?  No. Because the re-written book was better than the original.

Another conference, another agent, a fledgling this time.  She liked my voice and suggested I write contemporary romance.  I tried, but my heart wasn't in it.  We parted ways and she's now a successful agent representing only romance writers.  An opportunity lost when I didn't signal and turn right into romance?  Perhaps.  But I followed my heart. The highway was before me, and I sold that third novel to a small press.

Manuscript number four earned first place in mainstream in two contests, but the story remained firmly under 60,000 words.  So I never queried an agent, instead sending it to the long-term parking lot. I rolled on.

A detour loomed, one I never anticipated, and after transcribing the World War II diary of my late father-in-law, my husband and I drafted a book around it.  Non-fiction?  Me?  World War II?  Yep.

After learning how to drive in the non-fiction world, we contracted with a military history publisher, were nominated by the Air Force Historical Foundation for the best WWII book reviewed in Aviation History, and became firmly entrenched with the 359th Fighter Group Association and good friends with its Historian.

For several years now I've prepared a daily post for the 359th's Facebook page.  I've facilitated the return of an ID bracelet to the son of a fighter pilot, communicated with men from the Netherlands as they sought information about crash sites, and had the honor of becoming friends with 90-year old veterans.  Now, in my mind, I regularly fly Mustangs and Thunderbolts in addition to negotiating county roads, and it's fulfilling beyond belief.

This detour is special.  Preserving history.  Honoring the men that fought for freedom, who gave so much.

Yes, I'm a fiction writer and I adore it. In fact, I have three manuscripts in progress, with that long-shelved mainstream to be self-published in the spring. But I feel particularly blessed to travel in the wake of the 359th Fighter Group.  A journey I never anticipated.  A detour well worth taking.

~ Folio

Friday, November 15, 2013

Brave New World

by Nib

“Listen to this.” I rattled the paper and read from the classified ads. “Wanted: Finance and Accounting manager for village of Culbertson.”

My long-suffering partner raised his eyebrows. “And?”

“Culbertson is only eleven miles from here. I’m qualified. Maybe I ought to apply.”

He walked the three steps that took him from the far side of the kitchen through the dining room to the living room where he stood in the six inches between the sofa/desk/cafĂ© and TV to emphasize his point. “But you’re a full time writer. You don’t have time for another job.”

I shrugged.

“Right?” He pushed. “Right?”

Right. By now, I’ve been a stay at home writer for two weeks. I’ve written a ton of words and started to apply myself to all those writerly things I’ve never had time for previously. I’m studying about audio books and indie publishing. Making marketing plans and reading about the industry. I’m even trying to give myself permission to read a lot of books.

For many reasons, we made the decision that now is the time to drastically downsize our lives so I can devote my energy to writing. To make this possible, we moved to a small town in Nebraska where we plan to stay for 591 days until my partner retires and we head south. I’m thrilled and excited and full of ideas and ambition.

And scared to death.

I’ve enjoyed the push and rush of a business career. I like dressing for the office, having an excuse to buy shoes, needing a closetful of skirts and dresses and having places to wear them. I work well with schedules and routine. I really, really love a fat paycheck.

I’ve lived in rural places for big chunks of my life and I’m not too put-out with our 100 year-old house with 800 square feet of living space. I can do without the dishwasher, the automatic garage door (and in fact, the garage) and couldn’t care less about the lack of fine dining and shopping malls.

I get to live the dream. Days full of writing and time to invest in doing it right.

The awful truth, though, is that I’m not making any money. We planned for this and expected it. I've got the budgets and spreadsheets to plot my way through this new venture. My business plan doesn’t even call for income for another several months, perhaps a year, probably more. Even then, it won’t be as much as my MBA earned me. Ever. It won’t be reliable and steady.

That’s how business and life works. You take risks and do your best. You weigh quality of life issues and set heart and money on the scales. Make a decision and jump with both feet.The key for me is put away guilt and doubts. Set aside the fear and step out into this new adventure with confidence and courage.

I folded the newspaper and reached for my computer. If I’m going to write the first draft of this novel in a month, I can’t waste time reading want ads.

We all give up something to be writers. We sacrifice time with our families, money for conferences, trade-offs with recreational and relaxing events. What do you give up and is it worth it? Does it take courage to pay the cost for your writing dream?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

BTS Reviews Gets Great Review

My new post on BTS Book and Book Trailer Reviews affiliated with Barnes and Nobel is about Hollywood’s money game, how it works.    

And great news: 

The Las Vegas Guardian Express has recognized BTS for the great review resource that it is.

                                  All of us involved in BTS are proud of how the magazine is catching attention.



Saturday, November 2, 2013

Writing is Like Painting

Richard Diebenkorn's ten rules for beginning a painting:
1. Attempt what is not certain.  Certainty may or may not come later.  It may then be a valuable delusion.
2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued--except as a stimulus to further moves.
3. Do search.  But in order to find other than what is searched for.
4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
5. Don't "discover" a subject of any kind.
6. Somehow don't be bored but if you must, use it in action.  Use its destructive potential.
7. Mistakes can't be erased but they move you from your present position.
8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
9. Tolerate chaos.
10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

My good friend and great writer Tony Van Witsen sent this list to me.  
Stay tuned, I hope to apply these rules for beginning as I enter into a new contracted project.  More details on that later.     -  Hugs from the Inkpot