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June 14, 2004: The Long and Winding Road

June 11, 2004

Well, dear reader, this entry brings my journal to an end. I feel I should tug on my earlobe and sing "I'm so glad we had this time together," like Carol Burnett, or "Thanks for the memory," ala Bob Hope, but it would probably be more appropriate to hum a few bars of the Beatles', "The Long and Winding Road."

Rather than post the final entry in July, I promised LLB I'd do an author interview to coincide with the release of The Damsel in This Dress on the 27th (a month and a half from now - I know, because I'm counting each and every day until then). That leaves me with this final chance to wrap things up in terms of what getting published feels like, how it works, what I understand of it (and what I don't), and to say good-bye.

Over the last eighteen months - since I got The Call - I've learned quite a few things, and not only about writing. I'd like to share a few of them with you.

  • Eighteen months may sound like a long time, but in reality . . . it is.
  • To write successfully, you have to work at it every day, not just when the muse strikes you. However, having the muse strike you helps a lot.
  • No matter how splendiferous the title of your manuscript is, your editor will want to change it. You will hold your breath and keep your fingers crossed until you learn that it is not anything close to Lord Savage's Ravaged Bride's Secret Baby.
  • Humor can't be forced, no matter how hard you try.
  • In writing an emotional scene, if you don't cry when you write it, your readers won't cry when they read it.
  • Now that you're published, you can go back and pull out all those early manuscripts, dust them off, polish them up, and sell them. Not. They're crap. Face it, shove 'em back under the bed, and move on.
  • You didn't get published all by yourself. Along the road, people helped you in a thousand different ways. Thank them by helping others whenever you can. There's always room for one more fabulous story, one more successful author.
  • If you don't have a thick skin, grow one. You will meet detractors and face rejection all along the way - it never ends. Smile, be polite, have confidence, and move on.
  • When your husband reads a description of your hero and says, "Is this the kind of man you like? Tall, dark, broad shoulders, perfect body, sculpted lips, hung like a horse?", try not to shout, "Duh!" Gently remind him that your story is a fantasy, and men who fit that description in real life are generally faithless jerks. Remind him, too, of his unbridled, unconcealed, and unrepentant lust for Bernadette Peters, Charlene Tilton, and Halle Berry.
  • Even though you press Ctrl+S habitually and keep at least two back-ups on disk of your daily work, not to mention a paper copy, when inspiration strikes and your brain dumps page after page of the most brilliant prose you have ever composed, and you type and you type and get lost inside the heroine's head until tears run down your cheeks, and you laugh at your own wit and the romance could not get any hotter and you empty your mind onto the screen knowing this is the best scene you have ever written or will ever write until, at long last, you recover from your orgasmic diatribe and press Ctrl+S, Microsoft Word will choose that moment to freeze your computer, reject your desperate attempts to save, not allow you to copy the text into Wordpad, and offer you only one way out - suicide by your own hand, aka, reboot. How long it takes you thereafter to traverse the Seven Stages of Grief depends on how much ice cream is in the freezer.
  • Hating Microsoft with every fiber of your being, sobbing uncontrollably, raising your fists to the mute and mocking screen - alas, these things will do nothing to force MS to improve its products.

There's one more thing I should add to the list, and I'll share it with you after I relate this story. I knew a little girl once, years ago now. Nice kid. Kind of cute, but not beautiful. Kind of smart, but no rocket scientist. Working class family, a little on the poor side. Her parents drank. A lot. They were abusive. A lot. This little girl got smacked around a lot and eventually became a victim of both physical and sexual abuse. She never told anybody, because in those days, you didn't. Time passed. She did okay in school, but could have done better, but her parents' continuing spiral of alcohol and abuse had begun to take their toll on her. Whatever confidence she'd been born with, was gone.

She wanted to be in love, but was too shy and self-conscious to put herself out there. The guys she did date were a lot like her father. Big surprise. Eventually, she got married to a guy she adored who had so much baggage, the marriage failed under its weight. He left one day, just before her thirtieth birthday, saying he didn't want to be married anymore. He just wanted to go live in his car. She had no job, was estranged from her family, she didn't have a car, was living in a rented house with no money to pay the rent, and now the man she loved had taken off on whim.

Years passed. She got a job, but not a career. She dated occasionally, but not much. Money was tight. She had an argument with her father and finally told him off. He didn't get it. One day, she decided she needed a change of scenery, so she packed what little she owned into her car and drove to a new city. All she really had of any value at that point, was her beloved cat. And then, wouldn't you know it, the cat died.

Not for the first time, she thought about suicide. Why go on? No family, no money, no husband, no kids, no career, not getting any younger, friends far away . . . why bother? She was 34 and ready to call it quits.

But she didn't. From somewhere, deep down inside, she pulled something out. Maybe it was anger, maybe blind determination, maybe something that doesn't even have a name, but she decided she was about as far down as she was going to go. There were things in life she wanted to do, and dammit, she was going to do them. There was nowhere to go, now, but up.

She moved again, got a job as a temporary typist, took some classes to learn how to use a computer. She got a better job, met a man, got married, had a couple of kids - smart, funny, wonderful, beautiful kids. Yet, even with things on the upswing, she had her own baggage she'd brought with her. That lack of confidence thing, that unworthy-of-love thing that children of alcoholics deal with pretty much forever.

But there were still mountains to conquer. The one thing in life she had always wanted to do, but had never thought she could, was write and get published. So, she began to write. It was bad. She wrote some more, it was better. She studied and wrote and worked for it, and finally, it worked for her. Her first published book will hit the shelves in a month and a half.

The point of the story? Life's tough sometimes (and I'm not talking the kind of "tough" where you can't find the right designer jeans for your kindergartner). Some days, you just want to pull the covers over your head to hide your bruises, not only from the world, but from yourself. The world truly can be a lonely place, and your dreams may seem too far out of reach to ever get your fingers around. But whether you want to write or paint or fly or dance, if you give up, you'll never get there, and that's a fact.

So my final words to you, dear reader, whether you're an aspiring author or not, come from the mouth of an animated fish, and yet, are as true as they can be: Keep on swimming . . .

Thank you for letting me share my experiences with you. It's been both a privilege and an honor. I wish you success and happiness in all you do.

-- Marianne


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