Monday, February 3, 2014

We've Moved!

It's a New Year, 2014, and true to it's very title and nature, Where In The World are the Kittels?! is moving! After five years, my blog has grown up into a full-fledged website! Please come and visit us at our new address: There you'll find us swimming around with new posts, new books and all kinds of fun, new critters. Thank you for following us and please, click on the link and join us on this brave, new adventure! Hasta!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"It's Not That I Can't Help...

I just don't want to..."

This morning I'm reminded of this, my favorite quotation from the movie, Volunteers, about the Peace Corps. The film came out when I was an idealistic young volunteer-in-training a few decades ago and we all went as a group to see it in Miami before heading off to the jungles of, well, Jamaica. I was a tiny bit offended by it (as was the Peace Corps itself, according to Wikipedia) and I may have even left the theater early but I did laugh when Tom Hanks delivered that line. (Daily Trivia: this is the film where Tom met Rita, still his wife; also when I met Andy, still my husband!) Gene Siskel stated that the film had "two lame performances by its leading actors, the vastly overrated Tom Hanks...and the consistently disappointing John Candy.” Just saw that "overrated" guy at the Golden Globes and I wonder if Gene ever regretted saying that.

And so this was brought to mind when my fellow She Writes Spring author and Goodreads pal, Rossandra White, wrote on her blog, “So here I am now trying to negotiate the rocky shoals of publicizing the book, like interviews, public readings, etc. My brain keels over every time I think about it, and I break out into a cold sweat.” Yes Rossandra, I, too, am feeling nervous about my impending public speaking engagements (which are literally months away) for my debut book, Breathe, and find it all a tiny bit ironic.

For some time now I’ve been trying to wrap my own brain around my impending public speaking as well, wishing I’d joined Toastmasters so many years ago as I’d planned. (Be brave; do hard things!) Instead, I switched colleges to avoid taking public speaking, which was probably misguided. And I’ve been trying to think of a good analogy, like, hey, you're a WRITER and you're publishing your book. That's great! NOW, even though you've worked for seven years in total seclusion, could you get your chair-shaped ass out of that chair, yes, stand right up, and TALK to people about it? Is that like so, you host a great TALK show or you’re a fabulous STAND-UP COMEDIAN, now could you go home and sit by yourself for a few years (or more) and WRITE about it? Or, you PAINTED a masterpiece, now get right on out there and DANCE about it? Anyone have another?

Where’s Dale Carnegie when I need him? I don’t even like to talk on the telephone. If I did, I wouldn’t be sitting by myself in my Grinch pajamas typing away, I’d be living in Mumbai as a "Customer Service" Rep for Spirit Airlines (don’t even get me started on that topic) or I’d be a Saleswoman, or maybe even Speaker of the House!

It’s not that I can’t speak in public, I just don’t want to.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The History of Breathe, Part Two!

When last we left off, our unsung heroine, um, that would be me, was in Guatemala kneeling at the feet of famous authors while they filled her head with their infinite wisdom (“avoid taking the reader to the bathroom!”) on the banks of Lake Atitlan—the bellybutton of the planet—but she was also a tiny bit lighter, as she’d just lost one of her diamond earrings in the lake . . .

Okay, back up, back to first person, still in Guatemala where mornings found Eve and I donning our caps and goggles at the end of our dock, then swimming along the shore, around a punta and into the cove to Joyce’s dock where we hauled out and joined her in the sauna. One morning, I climbed onto her dock, yanked off my tight red cap, and one of my earrings plopped right in the lake. I just stood there, watching helplessly, as it sank into the clear, green abyss. The news spread via grapevine, like it does in the tropics, and by afternoon a bevy of brown-skinned boys were diving off said dock in search of gold, like some kind of historical role reversal of the conquistadors. I offered a reward, I think $100 (it still stands and I can’t wait to go and deliver it) as the slippery boys came up time and time again, naked and smiling, but empty handed. Since that time, the lake has risen some 15 feet and Joyce’s dock and her lovely recycled glass bottle-dotted sauna walls have been reclaimed by the caldera-filling waters. Since that time, I’ve been carrying the many lessons learned, never forgetting the feeling I had when Joyce’s eyeballs drilled me to my chair, never quite losing the echo of her voice in my brain, “I want to know, how have you changed?”
I returned home to RI from Guatemala to finish packing up our house, sell a bunch of things I still miss at our garage sale, load up the black panther, and wave adios to Andy, Micah, and Dunkin on their isthmus driving adventure, following soon thereafter by plane. We settled into our new lives in Costa Rica for the school year, 2008-9, where we walked the beach and swam daily. I started this blog as my New Years resolution and began working on my publishing platform, with one of my essays called “Noah’s Name” soon thereafter published in We Need Not Walk Alone, a bereavement magazine. Without friends, my YMCA/Starbucks routine, or TJMaxx to distract me, I sat my ass in a leather-strapped chair and I wrote. And I wrote. Some days I’d look up from my keyboard and half expect to see Noah come toddling across the tile floor to me, arms outstretched. Some days I’d see my kids off to school, sit down with a hot cup of coffee at our dining room table, and greet them seven hours later when they walked back in and said, “Mom, have you been sitting there in your pajamas all day?” And, mostly, I had.

I’d stretch and change into a bathing suit, then walk the beach with Christiana, puzzling out the story structure and plot while throwing coconuts into the warm, salty sea of Conchal for Dunkin, gone and missed now these past two years, to retrieve. We’d hike back home through the orange sunset-infused air and jump in our pool while flocks of parrots screamed their way to bed and bats emerged for the night, swooping the pool’s surface but always just missing us. After dinner, we’d take our quads to a nearby deserted beach where we’d stroll along the water’s edge, kicking bioluminescent sprays of warm sea water and watching sea turtles laying their eggs. I finished the manuscript again, this time calling it The Light of the Son, but it was still very, very long. Start over.
 We moved to the coast of Oregon where we built two yurts on a lovely piece of ground hugged by a creek and surrounded by national forest, just two miles from where Noah was run over. This was the last place on earth I wanted to live, but it’s also the place that holds my husband’s heart, his home, and it was time to make peace with it. We moved in without heat or running water for Christmas of 2009. I attended my second writing conference near Seattle and Wordstock in Portland and became the Willamette Writers Coastal Chapter Co-Chair, learning something about the craft of writing every month. By then I realized that my unspoken motto seemed to be, “Why write less when you can write more?” so I bit the economic bullet and hired an editor to help me “trim” my manuscript to a manageable size. I wore my colorful alpaca glittens and drank cups of coffee that winter in my yurt, writing all morning while Bella was at Kindergarten with the elk bugling outside and the salmon spawning in our creek. Then I’d pick her up and head for the pool, swimming lap after lap while puzzling out some story problem or amusing myself with potential names for my characters. And when school was over for the other kids in the afternoon, Christiana and I took long walks along the creek, brainstorming book titles.
In the Fall of 2010, I moved back to Costa Rica after attending my first Willamette Writers conference where I pitched to five agents face-to-face for the first time. I unpacked in our treehouse (recently featured on Househunters International), got the kids off to school, set my laptop up on yet another table, finished my revisions from my editor, then sent my ms off to the agents with a prayer. A few months later, we moved from the treehouse into the beach house in front of it, Casa Azul, where the surf sang us to sleep each night and I began homeschooling Bella. Life on the playa means walking twice a day, sunrise and sunset, and I left a lot of footprints in that sand. I met a greeting card writer at school and another writer during one sunset walk and we started a writing group called Tuesdays with Amy. We lounged, poolside, at the Langosta Beach Club, eating salmon paninis and drinking real sugar Cokes, trading literary agent contacts and trying to figure out how to get our manuscripts published. They also became two of my first five readers. I queried over 150 agents from my casa on the playa in between beach walks, swims, and teaching Bella much more about bide-riding and marine biology than math and also submitted my chapters to WeBook with good reviews. I also continued working on my platform, writing the Costa Rica section of Getting Out:  Your Guide to Leaving America, which was published the following year.

In the summer of 2011, I moved back to the yurts, went back to the WW conference and pitched 8 more agents, went to Wordstock again, and my co-chair gave me a full ms critique. I revised again. My WeBook advanced to Round 2, I queried another 20 agents, and I paid for another partial ms critique, revising with ratchets and levers and other scene and sequel techniques and changing the name to East Meets West. I also joined SheWrites and an essay I wrote in Guatemala called “Yoga Matt” was accepted for a travel humor anthology—Moose on the Loose. I continued swimming laps and walking the beach watching seals while thinking of character development and agonizing over theme.
In the summer of 2012, I went back to the WW conference for the third time, pitched to 7 agents, then moved back to RI, where I read about the new SheWrites Press, sent in my $25 and chapters, and was accepted as a Track 2 Writer in September. But with two more kids now in college (not selected for the free SW Passion Project) and still hoping to hear something positive from the agents I pitched, I hemmed and hawed. 

I joined the Providence Writers Group (now Guild!) and spent another nine months submitting and revising my book in its entirety with their excellent advice and fiction-writing feedback. Then I submitted to the WW agents again, still hoping. I guest blogged a piece called “Sea Turtles and Moon Baths” in Polliwog on Safari, published an essay called “Summer Fun Made by Mr. Richardson” on the Wayne in Focus website, wrote the new website content and several success stories for the Coastal Resources Center, and authored articles on scallops and quahogs and a book review on narwhals for 41N magazine. And remember those six pages about salmon? Well, they became an essay called “Dam It” which was just published in a literary journal called Gold Man Review.

All in all, I’ve sent over 200 queries and pitched 20 agents, fielded over 120 rejections, attended 2 workshops, 3 conferences, and have worked with 5 editors (3 partial, 2 full). I’ve been in three writing groups and have had 15 readers of my full ms including 3 agents. I’ve spent a lot of time and even more money getting to this point. I spent the past winter and spring working and trying to save some money for publishing, which didn’t go so well, but in July we received an unexpected payment on an outstanding debt owed to us. The opportunity to publish with SWP was at hand. I received my edited ms at the end of tail end of July but was still working and enjoying summer so I tabled it until the kids were back in school. The day after Labor Day I was laid off, which wasn’t exactly in the spirit of the holiday, and I spent the rest of September revising my ms full-time. Again. In the middle of August, Andy’s cousin was preparing to head out on the highway for the Sturgis Rally Harley trip of a lifetime with her husband, sister and brother-in-law when she felt ill. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and instead of seeing Mt. Rushmore, she was confined to her death bed where she exhaled her final breath only two months later. She wasn’t much older than me. And if that’s not incentive enough for any one of us to get up off our chair-shaped asses and start moving in our intended directions, I don’t know what is.

I signed with SheWrites press on September 28 to publish my memoir, Breathe, and a week or so later I received my draft tip sheet from my publisher, Brooke Warner, with my publication date—May 14, 2014. May 14 is the day that Jonah died and was born. In addition to that, an excerpt from Breathe recounting that same day was one of 80 pieces recently selected out of 600 submissions for an anthology called “Three Minus One” which is also forthcoming in the spring to accompany a movie, “Return To Zero.” I am sincerely hopeful that at last I will be given another chance to successfully birth something on that date. And that many people will love it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The History of Breathe, Part One

Well, I've done it again. I've been recalcitrant in my blogging duties and have finally written a new blog post but I'm afraid it will greatly exceed your patience to read. So, I'll post it in two parts. Here, at long last, is The History of Breathe, Part One.
Next Spring will mark seven years since I began writing my memoir, now called Breathe. For two or three decades now, even before this story began, people have asked me when I was going to write a book. This was often in response to them receiving, of all things, my annual holiday letter which arrived anytime between Christmas and Easter. And interspersed among these votes of confidence was the voice of my mother, sighing and saying, “You’re such a gifted writer, it’s a shame you never did anything with it.” 

“Hey,” I’d counter, scribbling yet another note to one of my kids teachers, I write every day!” 

After the events in this story had transpired in real time, I started answering, “well, first I have to figure out how many of my family members I want to alienate.” And then I lost them all anyway. By then I’d given birth to Bella, at age 42, and this book, which I referred to as Naptime, began.
Bella Grace is born!
While the other four kids were at school and Bella slept in the afternoons, on most days I resisted the temptation to crawl in beside her, forcing my ass into my office chair instead to finally start writing this book. I figured I needed the old college deadline so I set myself the goal of having it done to mark the tenth anniversary of Noah’s, death on August 10, 1997. Yes, one year plus a few months to wrap things up sounded completely attainable as I sat down to begin. (If you haven’t written a book, this may seem perfectly attainable; if you have, you’re probably smirking about now.) By then it had been about ten years since the story timeline started—the opening scene being Noah’s birth on May 18, 1996—and it was Easter 2006, which seemed like a good time for resurrections.  
Noah Patrick
The first thing I realized was that I had to start at the end. The final scenes of the story recount our medical malpractice trial so my first task was to transcribe the trial because, lucky me, our courtroom had the technological innovation of videotape vs. stenographer. For many months, during naptime, I sat in front of our VCR with my notebooks and pens and wrote, word for word, every testimony from seven full days in court. My kids would come home from school to find me seated in front of the TV, stopping, rewinding, and starting the seven VCR tapes over and over again, until I was finished. By then, it had been four years since the trial, so this exercise served as a good refresher. And when I’d pressed the stop button for the last, blessed time, I still had to transfer them from my notebooks to my computer. 

That done, I searched through cupboards, closets, and storage bins in the basement until I’d found all the baby books, photo albums, calendars, journals, sympathy cards, newspaper clippings, church bulletins, bills, receipts, and birth, death and medical records from the five-year span of story time, researching and reliving those events over and over until they, too, were fresh in my head and in my heart. And I learned the absolute truth of the saying:  the heart remembers what the mind forgets. One of the many things I unearthed in the process were notes I’d taken from a Compassionate Friends conference for bereaved parents that Andy and I had attended in 1999 where I’d asked a well-known grief writer, “how long should you wait to write your story?” And because I can’t remember even my own phone number, for five years by then I’d felt like I was running behind because I remembered her answering, “five.” But when I found my notes, I discovered she’d really answered me by saying, “You should wait five years to tell it, but ten years to write it!” So, I was right on track.

In November of 2006, the same year I began writing, Andy and I went on a sailing trip with friends to Martinique. On November 13, I sat on the deck after my 45th birthday dinner under a starlit night with the Caribbean caressing our catamaran. My friend told me I could make a birthday wish. I was still nervous about saying I was writing a memoir, hadn’t told anyone yet, what if I didn’t finish it?, but the night cradled me its warm, magical spell so I said, “My wish for my birthday is to publish the book I’m writing.” They were silent at first, so I figured I’d better have a back-up plan, adding, “and to see a sea turtle.” Then we all toasted my birthday wishes those seven years ago and the next day while we were snorkeling, I swam ahead of the group and there, just in front of me, I saw a beautiful hawksbill turtle breaststroking along. As I screamed through my snorkel, the turtle turned its head and looked at me with a round, soulful eye and I felt my birthday blessing, happy that I’d added a wish that could be so quickly granted. My other wish, as you know, took much longer. But I was happy to have the encouragement of this ancient reptile whose ancestors had been swimming in the sea for over 250 million years and whenever I grew frustrated, I’d imagine my birthday turtle patting my hand with its flipper and saying “all in good time, my dear, all in good time.” 

One year later, I had still only just begun to fathom the mountain I’d set out to climb as we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Noah’s death in August of 2007 by hiking in the White Mountains, climbing Mt. Carter and staying overnight in a hut with Hannah, Christiana, and Micah instead.  We brought a sprinkling of his ashes and buried them at the peak, making it just a teeny bit higher.

In the past seven years, I’ve solidified our familial reputation for being late for everything, telling my kids, “Just a minute, I need to finish this sentence,” my fingers flying across the keyboard before hitting “save” and speeding them off to one soccer game or another wondering what on earth we were having for dinner. In the time that I’ve been writing this memoir, we’ve moved from Rhode Island to Costa Rica and from Costa Rica to the Oregon coast, then back to Costa Rica for another year, back to Oregon for yet another, and last year we returned to Rhode Island.  When I started writing, my oldest daughter, Hannah, was a junior in high school looking at colleges and I was still nursing Bella, who was two. Hannah graduated from Georgetown two years ago with degrees in Physics and Portuguese and Bella, now nine, has never known a time in her life when I haven’t been working on this book. In this time, she’s been weaned and potty trained, lost her first baby tooth and grown X number of her permanent ones, learned to walk, skip, swing, swim, dance and ride a bike, and she’s learned to speak in both English and Spanish.  .

After completing my crash course in stenography and historical research, when I finally sat down to begin writing the story off the top of my head, what came swimming out of my fingertips were six pages about salmon. And when I got to “the end” for the first time, the manuscript was over 500 pages long, raw and uncut, was entitled Shoveling Sand, and contained not one scene or sentence of dialogue, except what I’d transcribed from the trial. I was beginning to understand that I needed help learning to craft a story. I wrote to Ann Hood and in July 2008 I went to my first writing conference in Guatemala, at her recommendation, where she told me, “This story needs to be told and you need to tell it,” and Joyce Maynard said, “You sound angry; start over.”  
Joyce and Ann


Friday, July 26, 2013

Summer Fun: Made by Mr. Richardson

Mr. Richardson, proprietor of Richardson’s Cottages in Wayne, Maine where we vacationed every summer, lives in my childhood lake memories as a fixture more constant than sunscreen (which I don’t remember.) I never knew George as a fall, winter, or spring guy. For all I knew, he returned each summer to Pocasset when the ice went out. Like the loons. Like we did.

As soon as we arrived at Pocasset Lake, we burst out of our packed station wagon and raced down the ramp to the dock. Waiting there was the wooden boat that came with the cottage, both of which George had built along with the wooden oars painted a matching gray and tucked beneath the seats. And usually, as we scanned the lake for our summer friends, we’d spot the signature white, flat-top crew-cut that was George (Mr. Richardson to us) motoring towards us in his own boat which was also wooden in my younger days but transformed to aluminum and fiberglass as the years went by. We waited impatiently for him to get to us, always excited to see which boat motor he’d chosen for us to rent and how many horsepower would propel us around the lake in the weeks ahead, always hoping for a 12.

Once that was checked off the list, we ran inside to change into bathing suits and sped to the beach. The beach was dotted with colorful Adirondack chairs and presided over by a red boathouse with white trim, all made by George. And by the time the man who’d built our summer vacations with his own two hands arrived from his lunch break each day, at least 20 kids of all ages were lined up and ready to ski. George had one of the few ski boats on the lake for many years and few, if any, of us renters owned one. So he spent his afternoons sticking to the red vinyl seat of his shiny silver boat, circling the lake for hours and teaching us all to ski by proffering his characteristic favorite advice—silence. And it worked. We all eventually learned to sit like we were in a chair, skis parallel, rope in between, and to let the boat pull us under George’s quiet, patient tutelage.

But the most fun we had with Mr. Richardson came towards the end of dinnertime every few nights when we heard the sound of his truck coming through the woods towards our cottage. We guzzled our milk, washing down the final bites of our dinner, and jumped up from the table with a quick, “Can I be excused?” The screen door slammed behind us as George lifted our garbage can off the nail in the tree where it hung out of the reach of raccoons. We greeted our friends already in the back of the red pick-up and clambered in beside them, ready for the dump run. 

While we picked the last bits of corn from our teeth and fooled around, George worked, cruising the shoreline and unhooking trash cans from their respective nails outside each cottage, cottages his wife, Janet, had christened with Indian names—Sitting Bull, Hiawatha, Pocahontas. I recited these ancient words to myself, committing them to memory in a sacred soliloquy for these people who’d walked the woods before us. One by one, kids from these other tribal homes let their own screen doors slam behind them and jumped in the truck to join us, leaving their own families still seated around their meatloaf dinners.

George tucked paper bags of trash in the bed around us, gradually filling in the rectangular space until we reached Willowash, the end of the line. The setting sun perched on the tree tops across the lake, coloring our adventure in shades of orange and pink, as George turned the truck away from the lake and into the cool, darkening woods. By then we lined the side rails like T-shirted decorations or sat across the open tailgate, bare feet hanging down.

We all knew the road by heart, anticipating the bumpy places where we’d exaggerate the bounce with a “Whoa!” while the tailgate sitters stretched their legs and brushed bare toes along the hard-packed dirt tracks or dragged them through the softer pine needles nestled in between. The braver souls, usually boys, “accidentally” fell off the tailgate, running and laughing to catch up and jump back on. We grabbed at the leaves which overhung the road and, like kids do, turned a simple trip to the dump into a thrilling game of daring adventure.

Not to worry. Like everything else he did, George drove slowly and purposefully while we, of course, pretended otherwise. The forest shadows cooled our eternally sunburned faces and the evening air ruffled through our still-damp hair from the day’s waterskiing. We layered our childhood memories with the spicy scent of pine trees, selectively forgetting the too-sweet smell of rotting fruit.

Always too soon, we arrived at the dump—something else George had made.  It was nothing fancy, no recycling station, no attendant, simply a quiet clearing in the woods where George eliminated the unwanted parts of our summer vacations. Yet somehow this place held an aura of mystery that engendered a thrill in our tight bellies and we always hoped to see something exciting, like a rat. We stood and helped, handing the bags of refuse down to George. I secretly dreamed of being Jacques Cousteau but at the dump I switched channels, surveying the landscape like Marlon Perkins on Wild Kingdom from the safety of my pickup perch while George, unaware of his role as my Jim, heroically braved the dangers of the dump from the dirt level.

His task complete, no wild animals in sight, George climbed back into his truck and we rode back towards the darkening lake, laughing with the happiness and relief of having lived out our adventure. George slowed down near our respective cottages and we jumped off at Kinoka where the lamps had just begun to glow, backlighting my mother washing dishes in the kitchen window. We had no televisions in our summer cottages. At night we came together as a family or with friends. We ate dessert and played cards or board games. We went to bed early with the songs of loons in our heads. And we dreamed of water and earth and the promise of more summer adventures to come.


*Note: This piece is a revision of an earlier post I wrote when George Richardson died and appears on the website Wayne in Focus at

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Moon Baths and Sea Turtles

Today I am the guest blogger on the blog:  Polliwog on Safari!  It's a piece about watching sea turtles lay their eggs in Costa Rica in the moonlight and you can read it at:  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dear Kelly

Right.  So it has been a couple of months since I last posted a blog.  Grab a cup of coffee and a comfy chair because this will be long.  Been busy moving back onto Mohawk Drive where, after four years of renters, everything I touched needed either cleaning or repairing or both.  Fortunately for me, the military moved all of our tenants stuff except their cleaning products.  So, I have a random sample of the cleaning products preferred by three American military families, which is almost interesting.  And even though it seems questionable whether or not they ever actually used any of them while they lived here, I now have a nice selection of scents with which to clean the toilet.

As the dust has settled anew, the other thing I’ve been preoccupied with is my writing.  I have, as you may or may not know, been trying to realize my dream of being a writer, a published, paid author that is for I have, indeed, always written something, whether it be emails or blogs or notes to teachers. (Or to myself.)  I have had some considerable ass-in-chair time over the past five years and, yes, my ass is distinctively more chair-shaped than it used to be as proof.  I’ve written and revised my manuscript countless times, queried 200 agents, pitched 20 agents in person, attended writing workshops and conferences, worked with five editors, started one writing group, joined another, and have had a couple handfuls of people read various iterations of my manuscript.  Because that is what it is called—a manuscript.  A manuscript dreams of being a book when it grows up.

And in my spare time?  I have been working on “The Platform.”  No writer these days can simply write.  Or drink and write. Or eat opium and write. Or move to Paris and be bisexual and smoke Gauloises and commiserate with starving painters who will be famous once they’re dead and live a bohemian rhapsody lifestyle.  And write. Not, that is, if you want to reach the hallowed halls of publishing before you, too, are dead.  This busy little platform is so important that many writers are actually out there, right now, studying engineering and constructing little toothpick projects even before they have written one single word of their book.  The modern day writer can not simply sit in front of a keyboard and create.  We must also be both businessman and architect, ever mindful of building our venerable platforms or risk writing ourselves straight into obscurity. 

We cannot simply stand, or sit, on the hallowed ground which we inhabit.  We must constantly grow our social networks, tweeting and blogging ourselves above the crowd.  We must become experts in our field or our genre or otherwise.  We must build our mailing lists.  We must win the Miss Congeniality award of the writing pageant to which we all aspire.  Our names must be known.  We must be, as Glinda so aptly sang to Elpheba in Wicked, “Popular.”  (Or Poppa-LEE-ur, as Bella used to say.)  And we must be verbal yoginis.  We must not only write our book as a book, we must flex our fingers and twist our prose into pretzel-like positions, telling our story in one perfect word.  Or one sentence.  Or three.  Or in a paragraph.  Or in a one page synopsis.  Or a three-page synopsis.  Or a five-page synopsis.  Or in a chapter outline.  A scene summary.  A proposal.  A song.  A poem.  An essay.  An excerpt.  A Modern Love column.  I am not kidding.  Except for maybe the song and poem part, but I’m sure some agent out there right now is thinking, “A song? Hmmm…” 

And so, in addition to “just” writing a book, I have also been bending my book into all these shapes in my quest to be not only popular, but published.  Because, just as everyone—including my soon-to-be-98-years-old-mother-in-law—who has ever said, “Someday I’m going to write a book,” will learn, writing the damned thing is actually the “easy” part.  And what you probably don’t know until you’ve fulfilled your threats and finally written that book is that behind every manuscript lurks a literal Mt. Everest.  When you’ve scribbled “The End” and looked up from your laptop screen for the first time in years, you’ll suddenly notice that a) your kids are gone and b) you are sitting on a literal false peak.  For there, looming before you, lies the real challenge—the snow-capped mountain of publishing.  Strapping on your sunglasses and tightening your boot laces, you must rise from your chair and set out anew, clutching your precious manuscript with hope in one hand and determination in the other. 

You will find the path ahead littered with the corpses of writers who’ve come before you, those who succumbed to the obstacles of rejection and the elements of dejection, those who had thin skin or got cold feet.  Some will have left their footprints as they slogged back to their day jobs, burning the pages of their dreams alongside the trail for warmth and choking on the ashes.  But if you can persevere on this path, paving the way for those who follow with the scattered breadcrumbs of your own essays and rejection letters, you might actually, eventually arrive at the tippy top of that snowy peak. 

And there, just beyond Hillary’s Step, you will find a tiny, little, teeny-weeny sign post.  And if you can manage to crawl through the final 3,000 feet of elevation affectionately known as “the death zone” and up, up, up to the 29,029th foot peak, heaving yourself up with your last bit of energy as your brain begins to eat itself, you will see that the sign says, “Unless!” No, that’s a different story.  Instead, what you will find nailed to that piece of weather-beaten wood is a clipboard.  And attached to that clipboard will be a flimsy piece of paper flapping in the jet stream whose infernal triple-digit winds will threaten to blow it, and you, clear off the mountain any minute now. 

But. IF you can manage to cling to that rickety sign and clutch that piece of paper, squinting through your snow blindness to decipher the words inscribed in some ancient Himalayan language known only to the Dalai Lama and a few others that looks something like this, सगरमाथा, every other word of which sounds suspiciously like the F-bomb, THEN you will see that it is a contract!  From a major publishing house!  And it has YOUR name on it followed by a bunch of legal stuff you wouldn’t understand even without the fog of altitude sickness.  And there, at the bottom, is a blank line that says, “Sign here.”  In English.  Now, you are way above the tree-line and there is no stick or pencil to be found.  Will that stop you?  I certainly hope not.  Because after all you’ve been through, this, you see, is the final test. 

If you are a real writer, one worthy of the quest, you will leap this hurdle by gnawing off the end of your fingertip, just as you have done every single day for all these many, many years as you struggled to recall Mrs. Petersen’s seventh grade grammar rules, eating your nails for lunch and wearing your fingertips thin as you erased all traces of letters on your keyboard, your fingers flying across its smooth plastic surface until they melted together like the grilled cheese sandwich you wish you had time to make.  Yes you, and only you, are equipped to pass this final test.  Bite your brittle skin, sign that contract with your own blood, and receive the holy grail.  For then, and only then, will your manuscript realize its dream, magically transforming before your very eyes into a book.  And, then, and only then, will you, yourself, undergo the final metamorphosis from writer of “Dear Diary” entries to Author! 

Yes, folks, the path from chair to peak is paved with disappointment.  Which you may want to remember the next time you bite the head off your book group selection.  And part of preparing the venerable platform is submitting essays to various magazines and contests so you can say that you have been published somewhere, even if it’s only in an anthology called “Moose on the Loose.”  And so it was that I awoke this morning to read the first email on my Crackberry before the sun had even thought about shining:

Dear Kelly,

Thanks for sending "Dam It" (yes, the real name) to Osprey Magazine (no, not the real name) -- and forgive me for the amount of time that has passed since your submission. (four months) All of us at Osprey Magazine were happy to have the chance to consider the piece, but I must take credit for the delayed reply. (um, okay, and ?!)

Though we admired many things about the piece, (that’s nice) we unfortunately must pass. (that’s not)  As you know, Osprey Magazine only publishes six issues a year, (even though you get an email from us weekly) which means decision-making is always quite difficult.

Thanks again, Kelly (at least he didn’t call me Kitty), for considering Osprey Magazine as a home for your writing. (but sorry, you’re still homeless)  Best wishes for a peaceful and productive fall.

James Audubon (not his real name)
On behalf of Osprey Magazine's editorial staff

Yes, folks, this is the kind of love letter we “writers” receive all too often.  Or at least I do.  And we’re never supposed to complain, especially not in a blog we are using to build our platform and can be read on the World Wide Web.  Which I’m not.  I’m simply sharing, as in show and tell.  This is the kind of thing that we are supposed to celebrate as one more “no” on our way to “yes!”  In lieu of gnashing my teeth or kicking the proverbial dog, I graciously poured myself a cup of coffee and beat someone at Words With Friends instead.  And then, drowning in caffeine-laced disappointment, I decided to give you all a little taste of what it takes to be an aspiring author.  Now I think I'll go clean a toilet.

The End