Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
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:
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.