Created: Friday, 16 May 2014 15:02
By the time you’ve been married to the same person for 20 ½ years, you can get lulled into a sense that there are no surprises left. Or—this being generally the age when Mid-Life Crisis Rot begins to set in—you can find that the surprises are unwelcome ones. Like, your husband might surprise you by developing a penchant for thick, gold necklaces and open-necked Hawaiian shirts right around the time he [also surprises you and] spends half his retirement savings on a red convertible that comes with a twenty-something blonde woman installed just in front of the glove box. Fortunately, that’s not the kind of surprise that happened to me.
Instead, last week, Tim ran out on a really urgent errand with a buddy from work, and the next thing I knew, there was an enormous sailboat and a canoe sitting on a rusted trailer in the middle of my back yard.
A word about the canoe.
Read more: My Husband Was a Closet Boat Addict
Created: Monday, 10 March 2014 18:21
Someone asked me yesterday, “So how does it feel to have a book about to be published?”
“It feels terrifying,” I told her.
Ernest Hemingway famously said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." This, to clarify for Hemingway and myself, refers only to the daily, private act of writing itself. The bigger act of having written a book the public is about to hold in its hands and read isn’t so much like sitting at a typewriter and bleeding. It’s more like laying yourself across a butcher block, plunging a knife into your guts, and inviting strangers to come and have an opinion about your blood.
I realize this is a problem I’ve always wanted to have. And the fear of how my book will be received is nothing compared to the fears I had not all that long ago: that I would never publish a thing. That I would spend the rest of my days punching a time clock and not get a chance to do the thing I loved most—write—for a living. Still, launching a first novel feels a lot like being a new kid at the most awesome school in the world: you may believe that good things are ahead, but the first day is still hard. You know everyone thinks your hair is weird. They whisper about your funny accent. It is now obvious that your skirt, which at home seemed so perfect, has turned out to be a disastrous fashion choice.
Slicing through your own soul and bleeding your thoughts, feelings, and ideals across the page is not for the faint of heart. My book is about a family whose belief in God is central to their identity. They pray as easily as they converse. Some of their values will seem old-fashioned to a morally modern society. Some readers won’t like that. They will give me two-star reviews on Amazon and call my book “preachy,” although I didn’t feel like I was preaching when I wrote it. But you can’t please everybody. In the end, you can only listen to yourself with great care, and write what rings true with you. Still, in that tiny, less-objective corner of me that seems to be nestled right behind my spleen, criticism continues to sting.
I assume criticism because I am a critical reader. I can’t help it: it’s just who—in the process of writing—I have become. Leslie Leyland Fields, in her 9 Woes of the Writing Life says, “Once you take language and books seriously, you will be unable to turn off your writer and editor’s eye. Writing that once offered distraction and escape will seldom survive the mental red pen, shrinking your list of favorites. You will give up on bestsellers. You will feel culturally stranded.” This is the way I read the writing of others, and this is the way I assume others will read mine.
The other side of the pancake (as my friend Patti says,) is that there are also people who will love this book. They already have, as a matter of fact. Here are some of the people who have to love your manuscript in order for it to get published in the first place: The screener for your agent. Your agent. Your agent’s acquisitions team. The acquisitions editor for a publishing house. A team of editors at the publishing house who are willing to pay you actual money in the belief that other people will love your book, and it will sell and make them a profit. And of course, if your mother and your husband happen to think it’s the best thing to ever grace the printed page, that’s just the syrup on top of the pancake.
What I’m learning through my agony on the butcher block is this: if you’re going to survive to write another day, you have to learn the art of bleeding without thought for the onlookers. This is good advice for life in general. Bleed freely and merrily and warmly, and with everything you have. One thing nobody can argue with is your authentic story: tell it. It is your blood: bleed it. In the end, that’s all you can do.