Graduation Day

The Future – dun dun dun!!!

It doesn’t have to be scary.  That’s something I’ve learned from Writing 101 and Blogging 201.  Planning is essential.  I’m looking forward to:

Participating in NaNoWriMo.

My new features every Monday – since I’ve learned this is the day my blog gets the most traffic – flash fiction and a nonfiction piece that will be like having a cup of coffee with my readers, updating you on all the strange happenings in my life.  Here are two of my most popular nonfiction posts:

The Other Side

Vapors

I’ll write flash fiction on other days if I feel so inclined, but I’ve noticed I don’t get as many clicks on Fridays, my previous regular day for flash fiction.  Guess everyone is getting ready for the weekend! Check out some of my latest flash fiction if you have time.

Odd Girl Out

Outcast

I’d Like to Thank the Academy

The most exciting part of Writing 101 for me was getting to interview one of my favorite writers.  I’ve never actually gotten to talk to a published author about a book they’ve written and tell them how much I enjoyed it.  A bucket list moment for sure.  I may make Three Questions With… a monthly feature, if I get more responses from other writers.  Here’s my interview with Ted Heller:

Three Questions with Ted Heller

Finishing a book – once  I decide on which route to go.  I have two totally new ideas now, of course.

Building my social media presence and gaining more readers.

Discovering more blogs and meeting more great writers!  I love reading other flash fiction stories.

Keep in touch, classmates!  Don’t forget to sign my yearbook! Or leave a comment 🙂

Three Questions with Ted Heller

Pocket Kings by Ted Heller is a dark, but sometimes very funny, story about an author, Frank W. Dixon, who is desperate to be great, truly great, at just one thing.  In the midst of being completely ignored by his literary agent and watching less-talented writers achieve undeserved success, he gets lost in the world of online poker, which causes him to lose nearly everything.

Last week, Heller was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about writing and publishing.

Dealing with the publishing world, and all of the soul-crushing rejection that comes with it, nearly destroyed Frank in Pocket Kings.  What advice do you have for aspiring writers on handling rejection?  Besides punching their literary agents in the face.    (That’s my second favorite part in the book by the way.  Don’t worry, I won’t give away the ending.)

I would love to know what your FAVORITE part of the book is.

I know I’m supposed to be encouraging and tell people who get rejected to keep at it, don’t give up, never give up, but I don’t even know if that’s practical or even healthy advice. It’s like telling someone they should eat more Twinkies. I’m not sure of the exact numbers but for me, for every book I write that gets published I think I have two or three that did not. That’s not a good batting average when you realize how long it takes to write a book, how deeply you get connected to the book and how much of yourself you put into it, time-wise and emotionally. I’ve never taught a writing class but if I did I’m sure that in the very first class I would tell my students: I hope you’re here not because you want to get published, because you probably won’t be, but you’re here because you love to write and read.

One thing though. Eventually you do get sort of numbed to rejection. I use to spiral into deep, weird, perhaps even overly dramatic depressions when I got rejected. Keep in mind, like Frank, I also tried writing plays and screenplays as well as novels and short stories. Now if I get rejected I merely bum out for a few days or for two weeks and consider never writing again. After I self-published West of Babylon I did not write a word for months. It took a lot out of me, Only now am I writing again and I cannot stop!

You opted to self-publish West of Babylon, your latest book.  What was the most successful avenue you used in promoting it?

I can’t say I OPTED to self-publish it. No publisher wanted to publish it, so it was either self-publish or stash it away under my bed with the rest of the books I wrote that won’t ever see the light of day. I thought that since Pocket Kings got great reviews I should NOT forget about West of Babylon. In other words, I had to strike while the iron was lukewarm. I had no idea how to go about the process, none at all, but fortunately for me my agent and his assistant took care of everything. They were new to it too so it was kind of like an experiment. There were all sorts of issues that I’d never thought about —trim size of the pages, margins, measurements of the cover— and they handled that. My wife is a very talented graphic designer so she did the cover. Basically, we put the show on in our barn.

But that’s where the fun ended. Promoting the book, spreading the word, was, to put it mildly, a NIGHTMARE. I spent months out of my life trying to obtain email addresses of newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, etc., and then sending each one an individualized email telling them about the book and attaching the good reviews for my published novels. I’d say that 90% of the time I got no reply. I repeat: no reply. A “We are not interested in you at all,” would have been very welcome at that point. You learn who your friends aren’t very quickly. Some people were no help. However, I did go on Twitter and through Twitter was able to get a few reviews. So that worked out for me. Also Goodreads. I actually sent emails to all the people who’d reviewed Slab Rat, Funnymen, and Pocket Kings and let them know I had a new book out, otherwise they would have no idea. All of this —getting the email addresses, Tweeting, sending out queries, sending the book out via FedEx or email, messages to people on Goodreads— it was an all-day thing and went on for months. I don’t think I would self-publish again. Yet I am midway through a new book and thinking: “Okay, nobody will want to publish this, I will not self-publish ever again…is this just going under the bed with all the rest of them?”

Of your four published novels, do you have a favorite, or is there something special about each?

Hmm. Which is my favorite? As I only have one child I can’t say “that’s like asking me to pick my favorite kid.” Without question, Funnymen is the funniest book I’ve ever written (or that anyone else has either) so I do have a soft spot for that one, plus no faux oral biography had ever been written before (that I’m aware of). I like the plot of Slab Rat, my first novel, and have a soft spot for that one, too, because after years and years of trying to get published, I finally did get published. Pocket Kings I like because it’s the most autobiographical of my books and because it’s a very angry novel, yet also is strangely full of hope. (The narrator never goes give up, even after he gives up.) And I like West of Babylon because it’s about music that I love and was a very sweet book, something I’d never written before.

In addition to Pocket Kings and West of Babylon, Ted Heller is also the author of Slab Rat and Funnymen.  Find him on Amazon and Goodreads

TELE-FICTION – Watch Me

“Hey! Jenn!”  The sofa I’m dozing where I’m dozing with my dog, Quinn, is rocked violently.  “Time to get up!”

I wipe my eyes and look up to see a stunning woman wearing a glorious white coat leaning over me. Her penny-brown skin is makeup free, her jet black hair swept back in a bun.  Clearly she’s come here in a rush. Quinn cocks her head and observes the woman with curiosity before laying her head back on the couch and returning to sleep.

“Get up, why?”

“Why?”  She looks at me incredulously.  “Jenn, you called me.”

“I did?”

“Yes, and I came here.  At 2 am.  Because that’s what I do.  I fix things.  So what about you needs fixing?”

She frowns and brushes a few strands of Quinn’s white hair from the couch before sitting.

“Ummm…” I try and remember why I called.  I must have done it in my sleep.  What had I been dreaming about?  Then it comes back.  The nightmare.  The flashbacks.  The recurring one I’ve had every night for the past 20 years.  The face I could never forget.  I retell the story.  “You can’t do anything about him…can you?”

“Watch me.” She stands, taking out her phone and stepping out onto the balcony.  She makes a whispered phone call, then strides confidently back into my living room.  “Get some sleep.  I’ll let myself out.”

“But…”  The door shuts, and she’s gone.

In the morning, the leading story on all the news channels is his arrest.  I watch as two officers escort him to a waiting police car, his head bowed in shame as reporters scream questions he can’t ignore any longer.  I smile to myself, call in sick to work,  lay back down and fall into a peaceful sleep.  Quinn nuzzles into my neck.

It’s handled.

Odd Girl Out

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The A&B Building was made entirely from driftwood.  Scarlett loved summer camp. The unusual architecture, the art classes, the great outdoors.  Scarlett opened the door and saw Maggie, her fellow camp counselor for the summer.  I didn’t think she’d come back. 

She glanced down at the scar on Maggie’s lower arm.  It was hardly noticeable any longer.  And she and the other girls were just playing a harmless joke.  It wasn’t their fault that Maggie was a loser.  It was an unspoken camp tradition.  The odd girl out always got hazed.

Charity, Regan, Laina, and Ashlee descended the stairs and stood behind Maggie.  Scarlett smiled and waved.  No one waved back. Laina locked the front door and turned out the lights.  Scarlett tried to escape upstairs but she felt a pair of hands dragging her back.  She’d scream but she knew it was useless.  They were the only ones here.

She’d never been the odd girl out.

In response to Mondays’ Finish the Story Challenge!

Read Odd Girl Out pt. 2

The Other Side

So, I have to start by saying, I loooooooove my therapist.  Love, love, love her.  She’s so calming and zen, with a soothing voice and gentle manner.  I can’t imagine her ever raising her voice to anyone.  The office where I go for therapy is double-sided.  All of the therapists are off one side of the lobby, then there’s another mysterious door on the opposite side I never went through until yesterday.

My therapist and I decided the combo of meds I’ve been taking for anxiety might need to be tweaked a bit, so I made an appointment.  On the other side.

If the therapy side is zen and peaceful with calming aromatherapy and tall vases dripping with purple orchids, the psychiatry side is more clinical.  Almost prison-like.  Hard chairs that remind me of a high school cafeteria, papers scattered everywhere.  Walls painted puke green and yellow. An indifferent receptionist at the front desk.

After a long wait, I am finally called back to see the assistant.  A kind woman I’ve noticed in the lobby before who has a sweet smile and a hello for everyone she meets.  She tells me she needs to take my blood pressure and I comply, rolling up my sleeve.

“Pretty eyes.  You look like Beloved!”

“Beloved?”

“The girl who played Beloved in that movie that Oprah made…”

“Ohhhhhh…Thandie Newton…errr…thanks…” She’s gorgeous but I look nothing like her.  Nice compliment, though.

“Yes, I like her.  She does a lot for the animals…”

“I love animals too…”

“Me too, I want to save the bears…”

She points toward a picture of grizzly bears framed on her office wall.

“Oh.”

“Yes, I love all animals, but get between me and them bears and you’ll have a problem.”

You might have a problem if you’re outside playing with wild bears, I think, but I say nothing, just smile.  As the blood pressure cuff tightens on my arm, she rounds her desk and picks up my file.

“What insurance is this?  I’ve never heard of this!”  I explain to her that they’ve already verified everything at the front desk, but she makes a loud, lengthy phone call going over my file to the receptionist again, the blood pressure cuff loosening and re-tightening over and over.  Finally she removes it when I don’t think I have sensation left in my upper arm.  She takes the rest of my vitals quickly, then I’m sent back to the lobby to wait some more.  At last, I’m summoned to see the wizard, I mean the doctor.

She brusquely introduces herself and has a seat behind her imposing desk. I notice the painting on her side wall is crooked and hope she isn’t seeing any OCD patients later today.

“So, what’s wrong with you?”

She didn’t really ask that, but that’s how it feels.  It’s very strange to have to explain anxiety symptoms or the symptoms of any mental illness.  It’s almost as though people expect you to perform.  Most mental illness-sufferers lead normal productive lives, with our symptoms happening in the background, or flaring up sporadically.  I give a brief rundown of my complaints, and she click-clacks away on her computer keyboard.  I swear this woman must type 2,000 words a minute.  She clacks away in silence for at least 15 minutes, no exaggeration.  I entertain myself by pretending to be Dorothy Gale, abandoned by Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion, left to face the wizard all alone.

“Why did you and your therapist decide you needed a medication management?”

I give another rundown of my symptoms, without variation.

“Bring me the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West and I will give you the pills you seek!”  Again she didn’t say that, only in my imagination.  But I’m beginning to think that might come out of her mouth as her face contorts in annoyance.  She continues to clack away silently for another 10 minutes.  I look around futilely for a clock, remembering my cell phone is dead.  This is going on so long there is no way I can slip behind my desk at work unnoticed.  Finally, she gives me her recommendations for adjusting my prescriptions, I make a decision, sign the needed paperwork and leave the office in haste.  I re-enter my counselor’s lobby and inhale deeply.   No place like home.  Or my therapist’s office.

The doctor wants to see me again in a month.  I think maybe I’ll ask my therapist for another referral.

The Bride Was Gone

A series of vignettes – a continuation of The Runaway Bride.

GARDEN

The Wedding Planner
The BRIDE was gone.  She’d spent a YEAR planning this tacky monstrosity with the mother of the bride.  Taking phone calls from that horrid woman at all hours.  Once she called her back to back every hour from midnight to 5 am to discuss centerpiece options.  CENTERPIECES!!  It was the MOB’s affair.  The bride herself was virtually mute.  She’d felt sorry for the poor girl.  Until today.

The BRIDE was gone.  There were 1,000 butterflies waiting to be released at the moment of I do.  There were fireworks waiting to be set off as the bride and groom departed the reception.  There was a once-famous singer that had flown in to serenade the bride and groom for their first dance.  She’d spent the last two days running all over town to fulfill her ridiculous demands, including a tropical fruit plate, a pink microphone, and a hotel room stocked with a special brand of tea sold at only one store in the city.  All to sing ONE song.

The BRIDE was gone.  She stumbled to the fully stocked open bar, where the bartender was polishing glasses.

“Tequila, please.”

He poured her a shot.  She downed it, then she immediately ordered another.  And another.  He called her a cab, where she laid down in the backseat, anticipating slipping between her cool sheets and falling into a deep sleep.

The BRIDE was gone.  And now so was she.

The Guest
The BRIDE was gone.  Clare, the mother of the bride, who just also happened to be the CEO of the company for which Nancy worked, had just stood up in front of all 500+ guests and announced that there would be no wedding.  The bride and her groom had decided to elope.  Guests were invited to stay and enjoy the live music, the open bar and the five-star menu.  After a brief cocktail party, the guests re-entered an Alice in Wonderland themed fantasy world in a magical garden, complete with six-foot tall bushes with white and red roses, waiters dressed as playing cards, and guest tables labeled with signs with sayings like, “Curioser and Curiouser” and other quotes from the book.  And of course, the Queen of Hearts, aka Clare, dressed all in red and holding court with guests as she  circulated.

The BRIDE was gone, and Nancy wasn’t sure what to do.  She’d come to the wedding alone.  There was no friend she disliked enough to introduce to Clare.  But weddings meant romance.  And now there was no bride and groom to steal the show.   The sun was setting.  The atmosphere was relaxed.  The band started to play as a singer she vaguely recognized from the 90’s began to sing “The Way You Look Tonight.”  A guy approached her.  The one from finance who was so gorgeous she could hardly stand to look up at him when she passed him in the hall.  His eyes twinkled.

“Want to dance?”

She nodded.  He held her close, and she inhaled his cinnamony cologne.

The BRIDE was gone, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t start her own love story.

The MOB
The BRIDE was gone.  Her ungrateful daughter had fled the wedding she had lovingly planned for a year. She’d sent a text.  A TEXT!  Sorry, mom.  Chad and I really just wanted to do this our way. We’re eloping.  Please don’t be angry.

The BRIDE was gone, and for the first time in her life, Clare was at a loss. She looked futilely for the wedding planner.  The bartender told her she’d left 15 minutes ago.  The nerve! She called her, but her phone was off.  The nerve!  Clare ducked into the powder room and took in her reflection.  She was wearing a figure-hugging full-length apple red designer gown with a V-neckline.  A necklace sparkling with diamonds laid against her chest.

The BRIDE was gone, and Clare was beginning to have an epiphany.  She’d never had her special day.  She had Kim at 20, after a shotgun courthouse wedding the month before.  The marriage ended in a divorce a year later.  She’d spent the next 25 years building her empire.  She was the most powerful female CEO in the country.  Her relationship with Kim had suffered because of the late nights, the long business trips.  This wedding was her gift to her, she’d done it all for her, only realizing now she’d just never bothered to ask her what she wanted.

The BRIDE was gone, but it was okay.  She responded to her daughter’s text.  I love you, baby girl.  All I’ve ever wanted was for you to be happy.  I hope you have a lovely wedding.   She could almost see the shock and relief on Kim’s face from miles away.  She felt peace for the first time in years.  Her phone beeped.  I love you too, mom.  She smiled, put her phone in her clutch and left the powder room to face her guests.

Coffee Date

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If we were having coffee right now – I’d tell you that I’m not doing so great.  I lost a family friend in a horrific way.  I’m trying to go through the motions of being happy, being a good wife, a congenial co-worker, a mommy to my fur baby, writing flash fiction and playing games on my tablet for distraction.  But I’m not okay.  I’m not one to go on and on about my troubles, so this feels unnatural to me.  But if we were all best friends sitting around a table at a coffeeshop, if you asked me how I felt, the words would come pouring out.

If we were having coffee right now – I’d tell you that I feel alone and broken.  As much as I desperately want to be a mother the thought terrifies me right now.  I would hate to have a child left alone in the world without his or her mother.  I know my family would help.  But there’s no match for a maternal instinct.  Every time I look at my friend’s baby girl in the future, I’ll wonder – is this the life she envisioned for her?  Are we doing it right?  I’m torturing myself and I don’t know how to stop it.

If we were having coffee right now – I’d tell you I was so close to being truly happy, not dumb happy, but I’ve regressed.  Antidepressants and anxiety meds are the only way I’m functioning right now.

If we were having coffee right now – I’d tell you I could use a friend.  Someone to go for a long walk with me to enjoy the lovely early autumn weather and talk about nothing so I could re-boot my brain.  To pour me a glass of wine and watch a goofy movie with me.  I haven’t cried yet – I’m not much of a crier, but if/when the tears do come, they won’t tell me to stop, they’ll just hug me until it’s over.

If we were having coffee right now – I’d just thank you for listening.

Dear Kim

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Dear Kim,

I must admit to a fixation or sort of fascination with you the the rest of your famous family.  I say I’ll never watch another episode, but later find myself in parked in front of my computer monitor, eyes glazed and red, watching show after show.  Why can’t I break my addiction?  Why do I need to know where you went on your last vacations (Montana! St. Barths!), the details of your new apps and fashion lines, your hair and make up secrets?  I’m in my thirties for goodness sakes!  Aren’t I too old for this?  Thankfully, I think I’ve finally figured out the answer, after much self-reflection.

When I was a girl, I had a massive collection of Barbies.  They were all glamorous, and led glittering exciting lives in worlds that I created on the floor of my bedroom.  Fights over relationships (I only had one Ken), massive parties, beach vacations, movie premieres, multiple daily wardrobe changes, lavish weddings.  When I was a teen, the Barbies were put away and I moved on to dramatic teen movies and shows, Clueless, Beverly Hills 90210, Malibu Shores.  The lives of these fictional “teens” were nothing like mine.  They went to high schools that served sushi in the cafeteria, where the kids went surfing on their lunch break and had thousands of dollars to spend on designer clothing each week, where their only problem was what kind of car their parents were going to buy them for graduation or showing up to the school dance in the same ensemble as their nemesis. These shows became a haven for me.  Anything that would transport me from my depressing, anything-but-glamorous adolescent life where I faced problems like sexual harassment, racism, and peer pressure, struggling to fit into an environment where I never thought just being me was enough.  I retreated into myself as a way of self-preservation.

Those days are behind me and life is better now.  I’d much rather lead than follow.  I have a happy marriage, great friends, repaired relationships with my family.  But I still think there is a bit of arrested development at play.  I still love teen shows, Pretty Little Liars is my fave.  I read YA novels.  And I can’t kick my Kardashian addiction.  Teens love me because I can debate plot points of all of their favorite books, movies and shows for hours.  The ones their parents can’t bear to sit through.  Maybe I’m trying to relive the adolescence that was stolen from me.  Or maybe they just make me happy.  So I’ve decided to embrace my addiction.  As long as the Kardashians are on television (which I think will be a very long time) I will watch.

Plus, I’m dying to know what’s going to happen with Kourtney and Scott, if Lamar really ambushed Khloe at spin class and what you’re going to name your new baby boy!  Like I said, I’m addicted.

Your loyal fan,

Jenn

The Far Pavilions

The Far Pavilions is one of my mom’s favorite books. I have been looking for a complete copy for her for years.

My favorite places to “travel” have been Victorian London (time traveling is nice too!), Nigeria, Botswana, Australia, New York City, Paris, I could go on and on. I recommend the book Purple Hibiscus. A great read and I learned so much about Nigeria, a place I knew little about before.

My comment yesterday on Arts, Crafts, Food and Things.

Let me begin by saying that this morning has been a difficult one.  A friend of our family, one who was like another daughter to my parents, passed away due to complications in childbirth.  She never got to hold her lovely baby daughter, who was born Sunday.  We are all heartbroken.

When I heard my mother’s voice on the phone last night when she gave me the news, even though it was the middle of the night, I knew I had to see her.  I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I didn’t.  She gave me a long hug when I came through the door.  I knew she needed to see her daughter’s face.  I can’t time travel and change things, but I can make things easier for her, even if it’s just for a few moments.

And that’s what books do.  They immerse us in new places and time periods, give us a brief respite from our pain.  So I’m going to send my mom on a vacation. India, via The Far Pavilions, a sweeping epic story.  A favorite of hers that she used to check out of the library month after month when I was a kid.  I finally found it after years of searching.  I thought it was out of print forever.  It should be here soon.

I hope you enjoy your vacation, Mom.  I love you.

Failure IS An Option

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

-Thomas Edison

I am a writer.  I do something else roughly between the hours and 9 am and 6 pm to pay the bills, but I am a writer.  And to be a writer, unless you have great connections, a famous last name, or juicy Hollywood secrets to spill, means getting used to failure.  A lot of it.

I wrote my first book, an intertwined collection of short stories, and self-published it with Amazon, totally excited that I’d achieved a lifelong dream.  But I had no idea how to market it.  I tried blogging, social media, paid advertising, raising and lowering the price, but nothing seemed to work.  I thought finishing the book was the hard part, but this was the worst.  I did research after the fact to figure out what I did wrong.  I didn’t build a readership BEFORE publishing.  I didn’t tweet.  I didn’t hire a professional graphic artist or proofreader.  I was clueless.

So, I have a second chance.  I’ll try and do things right, maybe even succeed.  I’ll spend days submitting my book(s) to literary agents, and if no one bites, I will self-publish.  I will blog on the regular.  I will design a beautiful cover.  I will tweet.  I will get more followers.  And, after doing all that, if I still only make $6 in sales, I’ll buy another coffee and pastry with my earnings, sit in the corner of the coffee shop with my laptop and start all over again.  9,998 chances to go.