A Reason to Say No

I’ve started querying agents again.

I know, I know. I said I didn’t think I wanted to. I still don’t think I want to.

But I want to give The Body Gift the best possible chances. So here I go again, go again. (Yes, I’m totally feeling like OK Go on the treadmills.)

So, you all know how it goes. The queries go out. Vast silence ensues. People are reading. Be very, very quiet so they can concentrate.

But, every once-in-a-while I get the insta-reject. Or near instant – within a few hours. I know these are from the readers whose mission it is to say no. They scan the incoming queries and hit the “no” button as soon as they find a reason to. This is how the business works and I totally understand that.

Still, it reminds me of an NYC editor friend. She was a friend of a friend, who came to visit, so I spent some social time with her. She published mainly celebrity tell-alls and kitschy coffee-table books. Once of her favorite rhetorics was “Give me a reason to say no.” Getting a book through all the layers of approval at her mighty publishing house was such an Olympian feat that, if she could at any point find a reason to say no to a project, she would.

I sometimes imagine how it would be if we all approached dating this way. The human race would die out.

But that’s neither here nor there. This is the cutthroat business of Big 6 Publishing.

It got me thinking though, because Jane at Dear Author, a blog I really admire for its forthright honesty, posted the other day about how agents are the unseen gatekeepers to reading. She referring to a daunting story where two successful authors collaborating on a project were told by a major agent that he/she would represent the book if they changed a gay character to straight, or cut him altogether. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this because, thankfully, this sort of thing is just not acceptable to say anymore. At least in certain circles. That’s not to say that this sort of thing hasn’t been going on all along. Jane’s point, and I think it’s a really good one, is that most readers didn’t know it.

Why would an agent suggest such a thing? Right. It’s a reason to say no.

The agent is thinking ahead to the ladder of editors, the marketing folks, the distributors, the booksellers and imagining if anyone in that whole vast chain would say eek, we can’t sell a gay main character.

Not hard to imagine at all.

Maybe the dating analogy is relevant, after all. Agents like to say that they only represent projects that they fall in love with. To some extent I imagine that’s true. But I think it’s more to the point to say that they want projects they think other people will fall in love with. So it’s not so much if their date has a bad habit of slurping his soup or blowing his nose on the napkin, it’s more, will everyone fall in love with that strong jaw and those steely blue eyes.

The agent figures she’ll just keep him away from restaurants until the ring is on his finger.

Volunteer Slut

Another socked-in, stormy day for us. I know if we move down south, we’ll have lots more of this kind of weather, but for here it’s very unusual to have day after day of it. Yesterday afternoon it cleared off, so much so that I put the top down on the convertible and enjoyed the hot autumn sunshine.

I don’t mind the cozy, rainy days, either.

I’m wrestling with not volunteering lately. There’s something going on – a pretty big something – that I’ve been peripherally involved in. Right now the planning is floundering and there are no clear leaders. They desperately need help and I could do it.

I’m trying not to.

I’m a Volunteer Slut, but I’m trying to reform.

Please read that as being someone who can’t stop herself from volunteering, rather than as someone who volunteers to be a slut. Though the latter sounds kind of fun.

See, I was raised with the idea of service. My mom volunteered for political campaigns and charitable organizations. My stepfather was an election judge and started a foundation to encourage kids to graduate from high school. I was in, and was president of, service clubs in school and joined a sorority in college which, as opposed to common (mis)perception, is largely about service, to your sisters and to the larger world. It’s part of my belief system, that we should give of ourselves and our time to improve other people’s lives, both personally and professionally.

However, I tend to overdo.

Yes, I know. You shake your heads in shock. It’s true. I know it. This is why I’m trying to reform.

Once my two-year tenure ended as president of an enormous online chapter, I promised David I wouldn’t be on any boards of anything for at least a year. I’m 3/4 through 2011 and so far, I’m making it. I did not run for regional delegate for RWA. I did not agree to take a board position for my local chapter. I did chair a party and coordinate a contest, but I figure those don’t count.

And it has helped. I’m getting more writing done and am able to focus energy on marketing efforts for it. The day job isn’t killing me. (Sweet peas for the win!) I even get to read books.

I have to remind myself that just because I can help, doesn’t mean I have to. Or even should.

Then I see a plaintive email. I start thinking, how much time would it really take?

My own version of White Knight syndrome.

Help me stay strong!

Aphrodite on Sale

When I was a girl, my housing development had this very nice pool. I was young enough that I spent the majority of my time with my friends in the pool, splashing around, timing how long we could hold our breath, that kind of thing. Around about 6th grade, we noticed that girls just a year or two older than we, spent their time lolling in the sun, slathered in coconut oil, in barely there bikinis. AInd, oh, were they beautiful.

One of these girls was Tina Manfredi.

That’s not her real name. I changed it because this story is about how this girl’s life was so much about how other people perceived her, and I figure she doesn’t need more of that.

At any rate, Tina was gorgeous. She bloomed early and magnificently. She and her brother, Tony, were of blond, blue-eyed Italian heritage. With golden skin. They were like the human version of palominos. Everyone wanted them.

We heard stories about Tina all the time and never thought twice about repeating them. How she wrapped herself naked in Saran Wrap to get an all-over tan for her boyfriend. Who she’d been out with and what she’d done. We spoke about her with envy, fascination and not a little obsessiveness of our own. She moved through the hallways of the school in a cloud of glory. I often thought about what it would be like to be her.

Many years later, like maybe 15 years after high school, I went to a party with my parents. They still lived in the old neighborhood, we’d been out to dinner and we stopped by a house-warming. A daughter of their friends, who’d also gone to school with me, had bought a house in our old neighborhood and a whole bunch of people were there, most of whom I didn’t know.

I got to talking to this one guy who was kind of a computer nerd. Interesting guy and I don’t recall the exact form of his nerdiness, but he was kind of skinny and geeky. At any rate, in the course of tracing why we were both at this party, he mentions that he married Tina Manfredi.

And I was really surprised.

I mean, I hadn’t given her a thought all those years. I don’t think we ever had a conversation – I never rose to those ranks – but I supposed she’d gone on to do exotic things. Like sail off into the sky in a convertible. I didn’t think about it, my adolescent brain kicked in and I blurted out how Tina had been Miss Thing in school and somehow conveyed my shock at her choice of husband.

Instead of being offended, his eyes danced with unholy glee. He starts telling me how much he loves when people react this way. (See? It wasn’t just me.) He went to a school in another state and met Tina years after high school, when they were in their late 20s. He didn’t know until after they married, moved back to the neighborhood and ran into her old classmates, just who she’d been. And he clearly loved this. He was so far under the radar in high school, he confided, that he would never have been able to touch a girl like that.

As he waxed on, I felt worse and worse. Tina wasn’t at the party because they had a new baby, but they lived just a few houses down. I wondered how many of these conversations she’d sat through, where her cohorts recalled her legendary glory and her new husband chortled at having snagged Aphrodite on sale.

I found myself wishing she hadn’t moved back, that she’d gone on to be the new person, who married a guy presumably because he saw her for herself.

I even toyed with stopping by to visit her and her fussy baby. But she wouldn’t have known who I was. And I never ran into either one of them again.

I think about this story sometimes, though. If you’d asked me at twelve if I’d ever feel bad for Tina Manfredi, I would have laughed in your face.

Now I wish I’d tried to be her friend.

Turning Up the Heat


Our weather really shifted this last week. I think it did all over, the hot late summer temperatures abruptly giving way to chilly and damp.

All last week we had overcast, with rain coming and going. SO not like usual New Mexico weather. We’d wake in the morning to 50F temperatures and all day long it would barely reach 70F. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, because our house is passive solar and we warm well past that during the day. However, that requires the participation of the “solar” aspect, and we weren’t getting any.

It was getting darn chilly in the house.

I considered turning on the heat.

Decided no no no.

I have this friend in Boston who used to try to go every fall with not turning on the heat until Thanksgiving (last Thursday in November, for you non-US folks). She lived alone in an old apartment and Boston is an expensive city. It’s also a coastal and fairly northern city, so that’s getting pretty cold. I would tease her about it, how she’d have to spend the money she saved from not turning on the heat on cold medications instead. It was partly a game for her, too, I think – to see how long she could last. Now she lives with her husband and they’re expecting a baby soon. I should ask her where she stands on the heat thing now.

It’s a kind of stubbornness, I suppose. A refusal to capitulate to the changing season too soon. But also, I hate to be wimpy. After all, it was about 68F in the house. Some people set their air conditioning to that level. It’s not that cold, I kept telling myself. Why change the temperature of an entire house when I can put on a pair of socks and a thicker sweatshirt?

Still, yesterday the sun came out and it felt really good. I might have baked in it a bit.

And it’s supposed to be solidly in the upper 70s this week, so I dodged the bullet.

Maybe I can make it all the way to Thanksgiving…

The Happy Whacker

This is David happily using his new super-duper weed-whacker.

See, we had a weed-whacker that we brought with us from Wyoming, but it was meant for stuff like, well, grass. Soft stuff. Not desert stuff. Desert stuff is all impenetrable woody stems and thorny exteriors. The plants guard their precious water stores by making it exceedingly difficult for anything to munch them. Turns out this also goes for being chopped down.

Now, I am not the one who thought the chopping needed to happen. I think this is one of those male/female things. Just as he doesn’t notice his bank statements sitting on the counter for weeks on end, I don’t look out over our property and say “Curses! Look at those bushes. It offends my eye to see them!”

(Okay, he might not have used that exact phrasing, but he did say that it bugged him to see it. He said this in a way that invited me to agree that I could barely sit on the patio for the irritation of seeing all those bushes just growing out there.)

He pulled out the trump card, though, by pointing out predators could use the overgrowth for easy cover to stalk the kitties.

I agreed something needed to be done and he happily settled in to research the ideal chopper-downer tool. Boy, did he find some. Did you know you can easily spend $2K on a big bushwhacker? Finally he picked out a bushwhacking lawnmower that was “only” $329. I balked. He mentioned predators again. I whined about the expense for something we use once a year. He agreed to look at attachments for the weed-whacker.

I’m a cruel, cruel woman.

Finally we went to Home Depot and perused the weed-whacking options. We found the ideal solution in this kind of cool Ryobi Brush Cutter. (You may not care that much, but for those who like to ogle power tools, and you know who you are, there it is.) It’s nice because it has a manly big blade that cuts through woody interlopers like butter. And you can get other attachments for it, which pleases me, for the next time we discover there’s some power tool missing from our lives, leaving a big black hole of aching despair.

He spend the rest of the long weekend happily trimming down the ugly shrubs and dead cholla.

It does look much better now.

 

Dread, Procrastination and Bad Hair Days

You, my faithful blog-gobblers, know I’m all about the “write every day” thing.

I know. I’m militant. I stand by this.

But.

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the days when this doesn’t work out so well. Jami Gold wrote an interesting post today about giving yourself permission as a writer, on a number of levels. One of the things she touched on was the off-day and letting that go.

Everyone has off days.

You know what I mean. The Bad Hair Day. Those days that, for whatever reason, things just don’t flow right. If we weren’t committed to dealing with careers and families and things like keeping fed, we’d likely just crawl back into bed on those days and hide under the covers.

Few of us have that luxury though. We are committed to things that must get done every day, so we forge ahead, painful and unproductive as it may be.

That’s my point with the write every day thing.

For some reason, writing – maybe any creative endeavor, I don’t know – brings with it Dread and Procrastination. These evil twins perch on a writers shoulders and whisper of other things that need doing. Dread worries that the the plot line is muddied, that everyone will hate the book anyway, that maybe this is all a Terrible Mistake. Procrastination wonders what people are saying on Twitter, if any email has arrived and, oh, there are dishes in the sink! The twins have a common goal: to keep you from writing. I don’t know where they come from, but every writer seems to have some form of these nasty buggers.

The reason you sit down to write every day is to shake Dread and Procrastination from your shoulders.

Wherever they draw their power, it’s thwarted by habit. By ritual and sacred space. They fade away in the face of it until their little voices can’t be heard. That gives you the space to write. Whether that goes well is something else entirely.

Sorry.

But, I offer this. Those days when the words don’t flow and you stare at the screen? They totally count.

That’s writing, too.

If writing was only tippy-tapping words onto the page, then monkeys *could* do it. What we do is story-telling. We fit words to the story, yes, but that’s only one piece of an enormous subterranean process.

Hence the staring at the screen.

And the gazing off blindly into the distance.

The dreamthink.

So, I totally agree, Jami. Sit down to write every day, if only to shut up Dread and Procrastination, but I like your idea of Permission. What happens once you engage is all good.

No matter how your hair looks.

The Sweet Pea Cure

So, it looks like my blood pressure is creeping up again. Not coincidentally, the day job has been crazy awful busy.

Consulting is a funny business that way. It’s all feast or famine. Flood or drought. And, while it’s wonderful to have a bunch of work, and therefore money, coming in – this much is overwhelming. It tumbles you over and drowns you.

Yeah, I’ve been forgetting to breathe from my belly. I might also have slacked off on meditating. And, um, taking my selenium and hawthorne. I sit at the computer and work for hours straight without getting up.

The thing is, when life is peaceful and going along at a doable pace, my blood pressure is just fine. It’s when the stress cranks down that I get into trouble.

Isn’t that true of most everything? The true test of your relationship is not how well you partner with each other when everything is great, but what happens during the poorer/worse days. Sure you can write a novel over the course of years, with infinite time to screw around with it, but can you write one under deadline with editorial pressure? You can be pleasant and accommodating to other people when you’re happy and feeling generous, but what about when you’ve had a lousy day?

So, when David wanted to check my blood pressure the other day, I let him, even though I didn’t want to, because I knew it would be high. I can feel it when it’s high, in the flushing in my cheeks and pounding in my head. Can anyone else feel it?

David sent me out to take a walk and on my way back I cut some sweet peas and put them on my desk. Now when I smell them, I remind myself to relax, to breathe, to go take a walk.

This, too, shall pass.

Meet Bunny Rodriguez

Harry’s Roadhouse is one of our favorite local restaurants, just up the road from our house. It features prominently enough in my life that I already had a subject tag for it on the blog. Well, last Friday night, we went to Lobster Night at Harry’s.

They do this in the summertime on Friday nights. They fly in fresh-caught lobsters from Maine and cook them that night. Major treat for us landlubbers. You have to make reservations ahead of time because they want to be sure of the exact number of plane tickets needed for the lobsters. I’ve long been meaning to sign us up, but never quite got around to it.

Well the weekend before last, we went to Harry’s for breakfast and I saw the sign on the door saying that Labor Day weekend would be the last lobster night of the season. I said to David that we should do it and he said great. I told the host when he seated us that we wanted to sign up and he promised to send the signer-upper to us.

She visited us during breakfast, wrote down the reservation name (David’s last name) and my credit card number. She put us down for two lobsters and reminded us that we were reserving lobsters only and would have to wait for a table, as is always their practice. All is good.

When we got home, we saw neighbor Doug out walking his dog. We’ve barely seen Doug and Susie all summer – another thing we’ve meant to do – so I suggested that we invite them along to Lobster Night. I go chat with Doug, give him the scoop. Amazingly they’ve never been either, though they’ve lived here much longer, and he’s excited to go. I tell him to call, reserve their lobsters and maybe mention they’ll be joining us.

So, later that same day, Doug calls me and says Harry’s doesn’t have our reservation. He told them Dave, Jeffe, David’s last name – nothing. But he made their reservation. He says for me to call Kathleen and make a new reservation. I don’t want to do this, because I know they already have one for us. I figure Doug somehow failed to communicate the proper information, so I blow it off.

The next morning, Kathleen calls me. Smitty, she says, invited us to join him and Susie at Lobster Night, but she needs a reservation from us. Now, Doug’s last name is Smith and everyone calls him Smitty, even Susie. But he’s never asked us to call him Smitty, so we don’t. I tell Kathleen we already have a reservation and had invited them to join us, in fact. Oh ha ha ha, Smitty said something like that, but she can’t find my reservation anywhere and will we be joining Smitty or not?

I say we are and all is, once again, good.

We get there Friday night and it’s a gorgeous evening. David and I get there first and he puts our name in for a table. He comes back and says they asked if we were with Smitty. We have wine and sit outside to wait. Doug and Susie arrive. We have a lovely time.

The lobsters were absolutely amazing. As good as being in Maine.

As we leave, Kathleen asks us how everything was. She is the same lady who came to our breakfast table. I say amazing, wonderful and I hope I just don’t get charged for a second set of lobsters for the lost reservation. She laughs and says oh no, no, no – that one disappeared.

We get home, I pull my phone out of my purse and there are two voicemails, missed calls from a local number. Yeah, I knew what this would be. Both are from Kathleen, the first saying they hadn’t seen us and to be sure to come or we’d lose our lobsters. The second, about 45 minutes later, saying something similar and to please call.

I call, ask for Kathleen. She gets on the phone and I say, hi, I was just there eating lobster and on our way out we chatted about this lost second reservation that you left me two voicemails about.

Oh! she says. Oh! I started to wonder about that after you left. The thing is, I had your reservation attached to the name “Bunny Rodriguez.”

And no, David’s last name isn’t anything CLOSE to Rodriguez.

But it’s all good. She sold the lobsters to someone else and she apologized for the confusion.

All of these various names. Plus, I have a new secret identity now.

Bunny Rodriguez, at your service.

Happy Labor Day!

I love to have an all-white bed in the summertime. The layers of whites create a crisp cool feeling.

And look! Isabel matches.

It used to be, back in Wyoming, that I’d retire the white sheets after Labor Day, along with my white sundresses and white shoes. I know some people get annoyed with that “rule,” saying it’s arbitrary and silly. But I like the ritual of it. Observing the changing of the seasons.

In Wyoming, though, we could get a frost, or even a bit of snow this weekend. (I see our old hometown got down to 40 F last night.) Here, we still have a lot of warm weather still.

So, I’m enjoying the day off, finishing some outside painting and chores.

I’ll keep the white bed just a little longer.