Writing Spot on Lockdown

My weekend writing spot (a members-only organization in Manhattan) has a lot of rules:

  • No talking in the room.
  • No slamming doors.
  • No hogging bathroom keys.
  • No swiping magazines.
  • No leaving desk unattended for more than an hour.
  • No leaving dirty dishes in the sink.
  • No leaving the coffeepot empty.
  • No leaving food in fridge for more than a week.
  • No bringing in guests, even if it’s your husband and you just want to give him a quick peek at the place where you write.
  • No “munching” at desks. (The candy bowl in the kitchen is such a tease.)
  • No shoes on the chairs.
  • No writing while barefoot. (Yes, an email to members was sent out about this. Apparently some writers are bothered by the sight of others’ bare feet.)

But the biggest rule of all, the one that gets everyone up in arms, has to do with phones. Obviously you’re not allowed to talk on the phone here. Who would? There’s a phone room where you can make calls if you need to. And there’s wireless internet access. It’s not like a real writers colony where you have to hike up a dirt road to the one room in the whole place that has internet access if you want to check your email. (MacDowell, and that one place is Colony Hall.)

No. Now, here at my weekend writing spot, if you are seen with a phone in hand—like, say, running out to the phone room to answer a call—there are serious consequences.

First strike: $50 fine.

Second strike: $100 fine.

Third strike: You’re kicked out on your ass.

I couldn’t figure out how they’d know if you had your phone out and happened to glance at it to see if someone called or texted you on the weekends when the staff isn’t here, but then I realized. There are spies. Everywhere. Writer informants ready to turn you in. Now whoever I pass in the hallway seems suspicious. This one woman—one of the old-school members, not friendly—I bet she’s an informant; actually she’s pretty mean. The girl at the desk behind me, she seems nice enough, but could she be one too? Is Famous Writer an informant? Is the frazzled guy who walks around like he just crawled out of bed doing that as a cover—is he in fact a spy? Or… are those light fixtures really cameras? Is someone watching me type this right now?

Oh no, I’m getting paranoid.

Fact is, I don’t tend to make any phone calls here, but I have—I admit it, I admit it!—texted silently from my desk. The phone itself is on silent—no ring, no vibrate—but I guess texting that is no louder than typing on a laptop is something I can’t get away with anymore. I promise I will never do it again.

All that said, if you want to reach me on the weekend, don’t call. Really, don’t. If I forget to turn my ringer off and it starts singing… I’m dead.

One Week Later

It’s been a week since I learned I’m actually going to publish a novel. (The delirium can be re-experienced here.) Yes, it’s now a week later, and though my editor asked for my information including social security number and the name I want the copyright to be under for the contract I am still floating around in a fuzzy cloud of unreality. I don’t know if I believe it yet. Tentatively my deadline for the manuscript will be in November, but I am waiting on the feedback on my outline so I haven’t continued writing yet.

It’s been a week.

This week I’ve felt inspired. I’ve felt like things are possible. I’ve felt good.

This week I’ve also felt nervous. I’ve felt scared. I’ve been very, very grateful to have this chance.

This week I flirted—again—with the idea of becoming a full-time freelance writer and tried to picture my life without my day job. It’s very easy to picture… until I get scared about finances and picture us living on the street in a cardboard box. Where would I plug in my laptop then? So I erase the picture and continue living this life. I’m not ready to write full-time—I’d have to line up a bunch more projects first. Besides, at work on Friday, I read a truly moving YA manuscript and remembered what I like about my job. A job where you get to read things like this is okay.

This week I got ahead of myself, and considered sending 100 pages of my YA novel out to agents. A writer I know said she thinks they’d be willing to look, since I have one deal and an option on the next tween book. But I’m not sure…

So, this week, I decided to wait till I finished it.

This week I reminded myself to calm down.

This week another writer and blogger, who I finally met in real life!, Jade Park generously sent me a cake for congratulations! Blueberry! (I don’t think she even realized how obsessed I am with blueberries—I LOVE THEM and gorge on them in blueberry season like nobody’s business.) Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jade Park. I can’t wait to be congratulating her on her good news, which I know with certainty is in her future. As I said, cake for all!

This week I have had many congratulations, so touching. This week, a message from a friend I have known since junior high made me get all teary. I don’t know how she’s believed in me for so long, or why. We used to share poems and read them aloud in graveyards. That’s funny to think about now.

This week I have also had strange reactions, such as a one-line message on Facebook from a former high school friend in response to my status update about enjoying a “book deal cake.” Her message:

re: <no subject>
Is it your book deal?

I wrote back excitedly with my news. And she didn’t respond.

??

This week someone asked me to read with her at KGB, but I said I was so, so honored that she asked, but I’m not ready. For some reason I was filled with anxiety over the idea of reading my fiction out loud in front of other people, though I’ve done it before and it went over okay.

This week I told myself I need to be more courageous.

This week I have also been racing to finish ghostwriting this other novel. If I work hard—if I stop goofing off and focus—I can finish the first draft this weekend. Maybe.

This week I learned that the editor was not happy I dropped out of writing the next one.

But this week I knew I had to do that. I had to. I have to work hard for what I want and not get so distracted.

I have been digging myself a hole for too long. Now, I’ve poked my head out. And, hello, the air up here isn’t as bad as I remembered. So I’ll climb out, maybe stick around for a bit, maybe stay.

5 Unusual Things

Annika tagged me to reveal 5 unusual things about myself and I am having a hard time thinking of any! I must be more normal than I realized. I may have revealed some possibly unusual secrets here, but I’ll try to think of some new ones.

1. I hate donuts. Now, I’m sure there are lots of people who don’t like donuts, so maybe this doesn’t sound so unusual, but I have an enormous sweet tooth and am especially partial to sugary icing. My problem with donuts is far more personal. They remind me of the long drive to my estranged (see #3) father’s house and a certain Dunkin’ Donuts off the New Jersey Turnpike, and thus I can’t eat, or even bear to smell them.

2. My vegetarian diet has less to do with sparing animals from things like KFC’s terrible chicken cruelty (though the horror, the horror!) and more to do with the fact that I am easily grossed out and think the texture of flesh—animal or fish or bird or even citrus fruit—is just gross.

3. I find fathers who stick around to raise their kids strange. When I see fathers treating their children with obvious affection, it is like witnessing an alien encounter and I keep expecting the father to grow tentacles and suck out their kids’ eyeballs or something. I have one friend who is clearly a loving and attentive father. I find him amazing. But I guess it’s supposed to be normal for fathers to be fathers to their children.

4. I am a law-abiding citizen to a fault. I can’t even shoplift from a huge conglomerate, even if all the lights were off. But, in movies and also in life, I tend to side with the criminals.

5. Related to Annika’s confession that she loves the domestic arts, there is one thing in that arena that I love, and one thing only: ironing. I love to iron! I don’t have an ironing board at home (no room), but when I am in a hotel room I have been known to set up the ironing board and iron everything in the suitcase, even pajamas and e’s jeans (to his protests). Ah, steam.

If you want to play and reveal 5 unusual things about yourself, please tell!

Writers Helping Writers, Assumed Rejections, and Cake!

Good things first: e got me a “Happy Book Deal” cake this weekend and even as I type this I want another slice. (No, really, where is it? I want another slice.) I asked him if I would get a cake for every book deal and he said yes. Isn’t he wonderful? I hope this isn’t the only book deal of my life because I really like cake.

Yesterday I dropped out of a work-for-hire project I’d agreed to write—another book in the series that is holding me captive right now. (Update: original due date was 3/17; extended due date was 3/24; thanks to the flu, I am still writing it.) I couldn’t have written both that book and the one I just got accepted without quitting my day job, so I had to choose one. The one that just got accepted is an original—the choice is clear.

In doing so, I also happened to learn that a project I’d pitched had been rejected a while ago but no one thought to tell me. This is how things tend to go for me—I even get a no without knowing I’ve got a no! No big—I’d assumed they weren’t interested and moved on already. Also, now that I think about it, I’m realizing that one of the characters from that unwanted pitch evolved, admittedly drastically, into the narrator of the book S&S wants to publish, so I wouldn’t want to go back to the old idea anyway. What’s the lesson in this? Through rejection comes acceptance… through perseverance comes rejection when you don’t care anyway? I dunno.

I also went out after work with the person who recommended me to S&S. I don’t know why she did that, but thanks to her I am publishing my first novel. Without a finished manuscript or an agent I can’t imagine that I would have been able to make this happen on my own. I tried to tell her how much it meant to me and I almost got all choked up. Better not try to explain it in words. She also gave me advice on future projects, on agents… You know, not once in graduate school did I get such generosity from writers I would technically be competing against. No one* has ever helped me before like this. Is it just that we’re afraid we won’t make it if someone else does?

As for the writer who helped me, I think I’ll “pay it forward”—someday I’ll help another writer get her/his break. If you ask me, every writer deserves cake.

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* Oh, wait, that’s a lie. A famous children’s book writer once generously tried to help me publish my litfic novel. The answer to that question resides in a publishing black hole and I will probably never learn the truth of it, but I can’t forget how she tried to help me, no matter how it turned out. Looks like I owe two future writers favors! 

Saying Yes to a Yes

I am so flattered and surprised by the outpouring of support from my announcement about my tween novel. How can I say thank you enough? Thank you!

I formally accepted my formal offer from S&S* on Friday, so this whole publishing-a-book fantasy is real. (I think. I’m still in shock about the whole thing.) I never imagined that my first published novel would be for young readers, but—not to sound hokey—this is where fate has led me, and this is the story I’m telling right now. The voice of the story is a 13-year-old girl, so it’s only fitting girls her age would read it. There will be other stories, I hope. I really do have a lot to say.

Saying yes to the yes was a beautiful moment for me. I am so used to getting this-close and then seeing a no.

Next time, though, I’m getting** an agent. In fact, it was recommended to me that I shouldn’t answer the formal offer right away and instead run out and tell an agent I have an offer on the table and to please come on board right now. I decided not to do that. I’ll be seeking an agent once I finish my YA*** manuscript. I will probably WISH I had an agent when my contract for this book comes, though. I have no idea how to read a contract.

So here I am—about to publish a book that I haven’t even finished writing yet. I didn’t know you could actually sell a book based on 30 pages and a plot summary, but it happened, it really happened. I will get deadlines from my editor soon. I can’t wait to keep writing it. I love this book! Here’s proof.

All I’ve wanted to be all my life is a writer. And it’s funny—now that it’s more official—I feel just the same about myself as I did before. I was a writer before this, and I’ll keep being one. You are a writer when you admit to yourself that you are one. Why has it taken me so long to face that?

————————————————————————-

* To the wonderful Courtney: You were right about the imprint. And they’ll be publishing mine in hardcover! Can you deal? (p.s. Courtney, thanks for your advice about that publishing board… so helpful!)

** I should say trying to get. I’ve never sought out an agent specifically for YA writing, but I will in the near future when my next manuscript is done. I’m dreading seeking an agent, but I’ve realized that, for me, so unsure of what I’m doing, it really is a necessity.

*** I still don’t know if the other novel I’ve been writing is YA, but the fact that S&S accepted my tween novel makes me think it should be YA, like this is the path I should be on, these are the voices I write the best. Maybe. I wonder… is it a sign?

What HAS Happened: I’m Publishing a Book!

Below I expunged all the things that haven’t come my way lately, and do you know why? Because things were brewing for reals and I am—no joke—about to tell you some good news that I was hinting at before:

I just got a formal offer on my first original tween novel from Simon & Schuster!

It’s not a WFH! It’s my own book, for the first time, AND I will be publishing it under my actual name!

I pitched the project and wrote three sample chapters for what I thought would be a paperback and turns out they’re publishing it in hardcover! Hardcover! Now I have to finish writing it…! They’re planning for it to tentatively come out in Fall 2009!

Yow!

I’m exhausted from all these exclamation points.

The formal offer came today around 4pm. I haven’t responded yet. I’m doing this without a literary agent so talk of advances and subsidiary rights and royalty rates are swimming in my head and I hope I handle this all okay.

And I know I’ve been secretive about this, but it’s only because I’m superstitious and couldn’t talk about it before it felt more “real.” I’ve actually been working on this since late summer. I got lucky and was recommended to pitch for a truly awesome editor and she has really made this happen. I love her! I love Simon & Schuster! I love books in general! I love 13-year-old girls! (Um, that’s how old my narrator is.)

I’m sure I’ll talk more about the book, including details, and how this whole process happened and works out without having an agent very soon. I’ll even tell you guys the title ;)

In the meantime I have to sit down and try to breathe. I feel faint.

Things That Have Not Happened

I did not get a residency to the writers colony in the old haunted mansion where I would have most likely been unable to sleep for fear of seeing/hearing/feeling the fingers on my face of ghosts, and, besides, I don’t have the vacation time at work to do something like that, and, not to mention, the last time I went away to a writers colony for a month my poor other half almost suffocated on the bedsheets because he missed me so much. And I, him.

I did not get a scholarship to a writers conference in Vermont—specifically because, this year, I did not apply for the conference or for the scholarship. This is the first year I’ve given up on trying for scholarships to go there. The closest I’ve ever got was to be waitlisted to be a waiter—who gets waitlisted to wait tables for the summer? Hello, I did. Such are my accomplishments.

I did not get my two new stories published in the places I sent them to. Not in my favorite magazines, not in my less favorite magazines, not in magazines I’ve never seen in person. I also have not yet built up the energy to send them out again.

I did not get into the one-day master class with the famous writer where I would have workshopped a very new story that I know needs work and I am kicking myself for not sending a sample that was more polished but then again why send something that is polished to workshop when I needed help with something else?

I did not get the fellowship to live in California and write fiction at the fancy university like a rock star. Well, a very poor rock star. Because the fellowship would barely have covered living expenses and I have no idea how e and I would have made it out there and found someplace to work and live and exist, but there’s no use worrying about it now because they didn’t pick me.

All these things have not happened to me recently.

For that matter, I have not yet won the lotto. Or grown a third leg.

In exchange, other things will happen. The universe gives and takes away, so I am thinking. It says no, then it says maybe, and then it says yes. I’ll let you know when I hear that yes.

The Absolute Best Thing That Could Happen When You Are Racing Toward a Deadline:

You get the flu!

No, really!

I’ve been sick since Wednesday night—basically immobile since Thursday night—and have so much work to do! There were times during the high points of my fever when I couldn’t even stress over the upcoming deadline, I just thought of it all in lazy colored shapes, easily confused, forgotten. I am more coherent now, but I have a massive cold. Such luck. You know, technically my deadline was tomorrow.

For Yojo*

Today is Yojo’s birthday. She hasn’t been feeling well, so I hope this finds her feeling better. I hope her voice returned. I hope she enjoys her day.

I think I first met Yojo my second year at college. I don’t remember exactly if it was that year or the one before, but I do remember the moment. Hardy Hall, filled with loud boys and smoke, much smoke. I was sitting on the floor, so shy then I barely spoke. She came in—this big coat, these intense brown eyes, head shaved as it was back then—and everyone called to her. She was older than me; she knew everyone. She was the coolest person I’d ever seen. Thus, I was unable to talk to her.

But Yojo saw me sitting there. She must have sensed how uncomfortable I was amid all the noise and loud boys. She knew E, my boyfriend, and she must have heard my name before this because she said, “You’re Nova.” She bent down and talked to me, she hugged me, she met my eyes. She made me feel welcome—a part of things, somebody. She was the first person of that group to really do so. Thank you, Yojo. I don’t know how it happened, but we became great friends after that. I’ve never stopped being in awe of her, though.

She used to sing “Water” by PJ Harvey and give me chills. She’d play pool like a demon. She tried to teach me, but even though I was awful she never complained; she always played out the game like it was worth playing. She made Thanksgiving dinner for the group that stayed on campus for the holidays, and I remember it as the best I’ve ever eaten. She wrote poems that ripped my heart out and made me cry—I still think of a certain one I’ve never been able to get out of my mind. We used to have a writing group; I miss it. She’d read my stories and my attempts at poems and always know the exact right thing to say. Right now she’s writing a novel and I can’t wait to (I hope, I hope) one day get to read it. She was there for me, for me and for E; I hope she knows I’m there for her.

Much love to you, Yoj. Happy Birthday!

* This post was originally privately posted elsewhere, but I’ve since moved it for all to see!

** And (she doesn’t know this yet) but her birthday brought me some very good luck. Impending exciting news came by phone today—details to come when I know more and can spill. It seems perfect that such good news came on my good friend’s birthday. Like she made it happen somehow… Did she?

Breathless

Oh so I’m living in a land without answers. I used to have a tent here, and visit every once in a while, but over the years things have gotten much more permanent. I’m digging in, pouring concrete. You try and you try and you try and you try and you try and you try and you try and you try and when you think you might just be getting close to something truly grand, so you try extra hard, the answer you hear is that there is actually no answer. Circumstances have changed. Decisions are on hold. Pull up a chair, it may be a while. And so I wait.

(Fingers crossed though.)

That’s all I’ll say about that.

The rest of all conscious thought rests on the fact that I am so far behind on my deadline—never have I been this down-to-the-wire. So as I race to the far-off finish line writing this work-for-hire novel (WFH), I’m reminded of my first foray into NaNoWriMo. This isn’t about word count right now—it’s about hitting all the plot points in the outline—but it’s the same kind of philosophy: get the words on paper, make them sound pretty later. So I’ve taken to doing some of the methods I did while making my attempt at NaNo. I don’t read back, I just move forward. When I reach a word I can’t think of I write X or WORD TK or SOMETHING. I highlight them in yellow, knowing I have to fill in the details later. Every page is peppered with yellow. This might turn out to be a disaster…

It’s starting to read like a Mad Libs story, and god knows I have experience with those:

When she put on her BRAND-NAME ARTICLE OF CLOTHING she looked more like CELEBRITY in SOMETHING RIDICULOUS than a NOUN.

Say what?

But today is a new day. (A new moon, too, hey.) A boy at a table nearby tries on his girl’s wig. Then he puts it away in his purse. I reach the end of one chapter and start another. Moving so fast, I can barely breathe.