Rather than type out everything that’s happened this week, I’ve written everything out for your reading pleasure. From the pages of my journal, here are the answers to how my finals went, if my English teacher flunked me, and if I ever mustered up the courage to give her one of my books. Enjoy!
When I walked into my Critical Thinking class at the beginning of this semester, I automatically assumed it would be an easy A. I’d sailed through English 1A the semester before, and thought that this advanced English class would be along the same route. After all, I’ve written eight books (and counting), and I work at a newspaper. Writing, to me, is like breathing. I figured that all of this gave me an edge on the other students, and I did my best to keep my ego in check and open myself up to learn something new.
The professor came in, and she was seriously like a dream. She was this outspoken Jewish woman who was incredibly well-versed in all the literature classics, and she brought us food so we wouldn’t starve during her class. Plus, she was a total passionate liberal, and she had numerous news sources to back up everything she stated.
Here was this book loving, newspaper reading, incredibly wise woman leading our class. I felt like I’d met my soulmate. My love for her and this class only increased when I realized I would NOT be earning an easy A. I was about to be educated, and I couldn’t have been more excited about it.
I was so naïve.
The difficulty of this course increased with each class. She raised her expectations of us to a bar we couldn’t reach. She often mused about the disservice our previous teachers had given us in not teaching us certain things, assigning certain books, pushing us to our hardest levels. Thinking back to some of the lame books and essays I’d had to read during last semester, I agreed. Yet, it didn’t change the way she kept pushing.
Things came to a head when she split us into groups so we could present a certain topic to the class. I’ve never loved public speaking. In fact, this one area holds me back in my book career. If I could figure out a way to write and sell books without ever having to speak to a crowd, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I would have traded writing a dozen essays instead of conducting a five-minute presentation in front of the class—and that’s not an exaggeration.
My group and I had spent weeks poring over the reading so that we understood our topic. I was a bundle of nerves for a whole week before that dreaded class. However, my nerves subsided (as they usually do) once it was our turn to present. When it became my turn to speak, I knew the material well enough that I didn’t even need to look at my notes. I thought we were crushing it.
And then I looked at my professor’s face.
I faltered in that moment, forgetting everything I’d studied over the past few weeks as I took in her furrowed brow, the thin line of her lips, the air of disappointment that surrounded her. Quickly, I averted my gaze and finished what we’d rehearsed. At the end of the longest five minutes of my life, I took my seat with the knowledge that we’d failed.
In fact, we had. The whole class had. Following our presentations, the professor raked us over the coals for every way we’d failed to follow directions. Our group ended up with a B on that presentation, but the way she verbally whipped us, I was sure we’d all received an F.
Little by little, this teacher deflated the ego I’d shown up to class with on that first day. The essays I wrote, revised, and re-wrote came back to me full of red marks for things I’d missed. Class discussions became more intense. And the workload and reading requirements increased substantially. I found myself counting down the days until this class could be over so that I could curl into a fetal position and lick my wounds for the three months of summer.
As that day came closer, however, I started to realize how much she’d taught me. Her style of teaching was akin to throwing us in the deep end and telling us to swim. However, it forced us to think for ourselves as we strived to reach that impossible bar. I’m still not sure I’ve reached it; however, it seems closer than it was before.
Tomorrow is my final class with this professor, and I have mixed feelings of relief and disappointment. I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a class that will push me this hard in my Major, or will teach me this much about writing and collecting information. Honestly, if she suggested I quit school in favor of learning everything she had to teach, I’d become her disciple in a heartbeat.
As I prepare for this last class, one decision is plaguing me. This professor has no idea I’m an author. Once I realized how much I still had to learn, I chose to keep my novels under wraps. I came there to learn, and I didn’t want her to think I thought I was too big for my britches. Plus, I was sure she’d mark up my book with red ink, pointing out every time I was too wordy, used passive voice, or committed some other literary faux pas.
Now that we’ve reached the end, I keep going back and forth on whether I should reveal that I’m an author and present her with one of my books. If I did, I’d give her Loving the Wind or The Road to Hope, the two books I’m most proud to have written. But every time I think of giving them to her, I can feel the apologies and explanations rising up: I still have a lot to learn…my next books will be better…I promise to work on my passive voice…don’t read them… I’m totally overthinking what should just be a gift. All I want to do is offer her the things I’m most proud of as a thank you for all she’s offered me.
I know I need to give her one (or more) of my books. I know I need to just get over my fear and do it. I let fear win far too often, and this is one chance to overcome that fear and move forward. However, jury is still out on whether those books ever leave my backpack during my final Critical Thinking class.
P.S. If I do give her a book, which one do you think I should give her?
This morning, I found myself in between the craziness of finals. I have no more homework left to do, I have enough time to study for my next final, and the essay I’m working on for English needs a day of rest. My morning was free and clear to spend on the other things I have been wanting to do. Naturally, I picked up my manuscript for Hope at the Crossroads, and resumed editing it. I haven’t been able to work on it for weeks, so this was a rare opportunity.
But guilt and distraction reared their ugly heads, and they started whispering in my ear. What about those short stories you promised to edit? You really should be taking the time out to study. You sit all day, why not go to the gym? I know, write a blog entry!
Okay, so I folded on that last one. However, I’m going to make this short. There are always going to be other things you *should* be doing, or *could* be doing. But you can’t do everything at the same time. Right now (after this blog entry), I am working on my manuscript. Just my manuscript. Tonight I will work on my short stories. Everything else will have its time, but it’s not right now. If I keep focusing on everything I *should* be doing, I’m doing a crappy job on the one thing in front of me.
Doing one thing at a time is faster than trying to do all the things at once.
I’m in the final weeks of my 2nd semester of college, and it’s kicking my butt. Any quality time I have to devote to something substantial is spent on studying and doing homework. The manuscripts I’d rather be editing are pushed to the side. The book ideas I want to write are put on hold. The books I want to read for fun are saved for later. All creative projects, besides my morning journaling, are not happening right now.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated. My creative soul is screaming to stretch and grow, to create something – anything! – just to release some of this pent up creative pressure. However, it just isn’t the time.
In my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I shared the secrets to making room for your creative endeavors, even with a busy life. However, I also talked about those times in your life when things are so busy, it’s near impossible to find room for creative time. This includes times when your kids are small, when you have a big project at work, when your focus is needed on something huge, and when you’re in the middle of midterms and preparing for finals. If trying to fit creative time into a mandatory busy time is going to make you go insane, it’s ok to put creativity on hold for a time.
But that’s the difference. It’s just temporary!
While I’d love to be more creative right now, my schoolwork is demanding my attention. Writing and editing will have to wait. I have only 2 1/2 more weeks left of this semester, and then I can dive headfirst into my creative life. Until then, I’ll have to be patient.
If you’re experiencing an overly busy time in your life, give yourself some grace. If this is becoming the norm, you may need to shift a few things so that you don’t completely lose your motivation to be creative. However, sometimes we need to focus all of our energy on things other than our creative projects just so we can clear them off our plates (and then have the room to create). We just have to ensure it’s only for a season, and not forever.
This week, the Argus Courier, my town’s local newspaper, featured me as their Petaluma Profile. This was a complete honor because A) it’s really hard for smalltime authors to get any kind of significant coverage in their local newspaper, B) it’s near impossible to get any kind of coverage if you actually work for the newspaper (I work at their sister paper, The Press Democrat), and C) I got to talk about my upcoming book series and my appearance at the Montgomery Village Copperfield’s Books next Tuesday.
I should let you know that while book talks are absolutely vital to an author’s career, I’m always a bundle of nerves before these events. It doesn’t help that I’m struggling with an unrelated essay I’m writing for my college English class, even though I know I need to prepare for this upcoming author event. Or maybe it’s better this way — it means I don’t have time to stress (fat chance on that).
What I am excited about is knowing that there will be so many familiar faces in the audience next Tuesday, along with people I know have read the book. These are the people who likely have the inside scoop on why this book I wrote means so much to me.
For those of you not in the know, The Road to Hope was the first book I ever wrote (though the 5th I published). Because this is what a lot of new authors do, I ended up writing many true things within the fictional stories of Jill and Maddie. However, I embrace this fact, and have used this series as a way to cope with some of the things I’ve grappled with in real life, unapologetically telling the truth with fiction. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to writing a memoir (no promises), and has been a true therapeutic release.
That said, the events in these stories are completely made up. It’s the feelings behind them that are real. For instance, when Jill loses her son in the second chapter (this is not a spoiler, it’s one of the main themes of The Road to Hope), it’s based on how I felt when I lost my infant son to stillbirth. When Maddie is kicked out of her parents’ home after she reveals she’s pregnant, it’s based on how I felt to become pregnant at a young age, experience poverty and figure out my place in the world (for the record, my parents are awesome and never kicked me out!).
I wrote the upcoming books, Hope at the Crossroads and Hope for the Broken Girl, with the same theme, as I follow Maddie’s story. The second book in the series has Maddie grappling with self-worth and a new romance. The third book has themes of domestic violence and poverty.
If you’re in the Santa Rosa area this coming Tuesday, I’d love to see you at the Montgomery Village Copperfield’s (even though I’ll likely be nervous!). Come and say hi. The event is 6-7 p.m. See all of the event details here.
Right now, I’m reading the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it! This is the 3rd Gaiman book I’ve read—Neverwhere and Ocean at the End of the Lane being the others—and our family’s bookshelves hold a few more titles for me to dig into once I’m done with this one (and it’s a long book, so it will be a while). I’ve also watched Coraline or Stardust as movies before I realized they were Gaiman stories.
One of the things I love about Neil Gaiman is that he keeps a journal at his blog, and he’s pretty candid in it. There, he dismisses the fact that he’s some big named author, and he talks directly to his audience, and his audience talks back. There are no walls between his audience and him, which is pretty admirable for someone of his status.
Back when he wrote American Gods, he journaled the publishing process as he went through it. What makes this the most interesting is that he still hadn’t reached global acclaim as an author. He’d had a few literary successes, but none of it compared to the success he was about to see with American Gods. These blog entries still exist on his blog, showing an inside look at what was going through his mind in those early days.
This is what I love about this blog, and what I try to do here—kind of. I’m no Neil Gaiman (I’d love to be half the writer he is), but I’d like to think that this blog will one day be a record of what it was like before I was a successful bestselling author, and then continue to be a gateway between me and readers. Admittedly, I find it hard to write here when I’m in the middle of a book project, which is why there is a lot of space between entries. Gaiman mentioned in his own blog that he didn’t start publicly journaling about American Gods until he was into the publishing process because most of his entries would go back and forth between “This is the best thing I’ve ever written” to “This is pure and utter crap.”
And ain’t that the truth?
I keep a personal journal so that I don’t have to subject any of you to my schizophrenic way of thinking about my books. Right now, I’m in the editing phase of book 2 of The Road to Hope series, and I’m really struggling with it. My journal is filled with the same kind of sentiments in my book that Gaiman mentions—thinking it’s both brilliant and terrible, sometimes in the same journal entries.
But that’s the reality of being an author. These books are both brilliant and terrible. As Gaiman said (quoting the poet and author Randall Jarrel), “a novel can best be defined as a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.” There are hopes and dreams we have for these books before and during the writing process, and often we just can’t realize all of those hopes and dreams in the final product.
So I’ll keep chugging along with editing book 2, and then I’ll move on to book 3. And along the way I’ll continue reading brilliant authors like Neil Gaiman so that I’ll be inspired to always strive to be a better writer.
P.S. Do you want a sneak peek at the covers of the next to books in The Road to Hope series? Click here.
Yesterday, I sent all of my newsletter subscribers my latest short story for FREE, the first chapter of my book, Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan, and the first look at my latest book series (which starts with The Road to Hope). If you’re on my mailing list, you got to see the covers of my next two novels before anyone else. Spoiler alert: they’re gorgeous!
Did you miss this email because you’re not on my list? Don’t worry. This free gift is also for people who are brand new to my mailing list, as it’s my way of saying thank you for trusting me with your email.
Here’s the synopsis of the story I want to send you:
Neverland’s Mother (a short story): Based on the characters and setting in the book, Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie, this tale shares the land of Neverland and the themes of Lost Boys, merfolk, pixies, and pirates. However, there’s a twist. Peter Pan is now a waifish girl named Petra Pan, Wendy Darling is now a lad named Wendell, and Captain Hook is now the sinister Captain Hess—a woman who leads a band of female pirates over the seas. In this story, Wendell struggles to remember his past. Little does he know, the truth might be better left forgotten.
What can you expect if you join my mailing list? You will be the first to know about any deals, giveaway, author events, and book news. Plus, I regularly send out freebies to my mailing list. What I don’t do is spam your inbox, as we all get too many emails! I try to only send out a newsletter when I have something important to share (which sometimes includes something to give away!).
So if you haven’t signed up for my mailing list, do it now – especially if you want to see the new gorgeous covers of my next two novels, and read a free short story!
This morning I came up with an idea for an anthology that I might want to head up, though at this point I’m just musing since I’ve ever done something like this before. I thought it would be cool to gather a bunch of essays that share what a day in the life of different people who live in Sonoma County looks like. For instance, a day in the life of a homeless person, a vineyard worker, a garbage man, an author, a fashion consultant, a secretary, a lawyer, an events coordinator, an artist, a social worker, a sex worker, a retired senior, a college student…and so on. My purpose behind this anthology would be to show the vast contrast of the people who live in Sonoma County, and to offer a realistic view of what each life looks like. This wouldn’t be to shame or exalt anyone. It would just be about reality.
There are several reasons why I want to do this project.
First, my personal life has gone through several periods of massive change. I went from growing up in a middle-income family with plenty to be grateful for, to living in poverty, to surviving domestic violence, to divorce, to being a low-income single mom, to moving up the corporate ladder, to remarriage and blending a family, to living a life filled with blessings. I know what it’s like on both ends of the spectrum. I’m hoping that by sharing the stories of people in all walks of life, we can also share perspective and promote understanding.
Second, every person has a reason for where they are today. A homeless person did not just wake up homeless. There were events that led to that way of living. Same with a lawyer or a bestselling author – success did not happen overnight, there were steps that were taken to reach their career goal. I want these essays to not only reflect what a day in the life looks for each person, but to also give an idea of why that person is living that life today.
Third, I want to offer an in-depth look at the everyday people who make up Sonoma County – not just the big names we often see in the newspaper, but the ones who you pass on the street every single day.
Fourth, I want these essays to be about different people told in different voices. I think it would make a lovely patchwork quilt of stories.
I don’t want to list a bunch of specifics (though I’m thinking about them), but a few details would be that these are biographical about a Sonoma County resident (not memoir or autobiographical, and definitely true), are 2,500 words or less, and are original works (previously unpublished). I would also offer no compensation (other than notoriety and a link back to your website), there would be a small submission fee (to cover printing and publishing costs), submission won’t be guaranteed, and 100% of the proceeds (after printing and publishing costs) would benefit a yet-to-be-determined Sonoma County nonprofit. In other words, this would make none of us money (though it could lead readers to your books or cause).
Promotion ideas would include republishing a few essays on my Press Democrat books blog at books.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. If this pulls together like I think it could, I might even be able to get some of these essays in print (though that’s not a guarantee).
As I said before, this is just an idea. I’m not sure how big this idea would be to pull off, and I’d definitely want a team of people on board should I decide to move forward. Right now, all I’m looking for is interested participants. If you’re in Sonoma County, would you want to take part in something like this? Would you want to read something like this? Would you want to be a part of the teams that helps put this together (mostly looking for editors).
I have other books news to share, which I’ll do in my next blog post. But right now, I’m just throwing this idea out there to see what you think. If I think there is enough interest, I’d love to move forward with this. If not, this idea might just quietly go away. Let me know what you think (or if you have insight on the amount of work it takes to put together an anthology).
I wake up every morning at 5:30 a.m. The coffee is set for 5:20 a.m., so by the time I drag myself out of bed I have a full pot ready to be inhaled.
I spend the first twenty minutes or so waking up. That means checking my Facebook, my Twitter, and any important emails that might have come in between 11 at night and now. Then I check my online bank account to make sure I still have money. Finally, I repeatedly check my book sales to see how many millions of people have bought my book, and am genuinely surprised to see that it’s still just the one person. I make a mental note to thank my mom.
At about 6 a.m., I decide it’s finally time to get down to business. I open the manuscript I’m working on and read a few paragraphs above where I left…
Last night in my Critical Thinking class, the professor prepared us for receiving back our essays we’d turned in a few weeks earlier. The assignment had been to write a one-page, double-spaced essay on one topic. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. It’s incredibly hard to get a point across in that small amount of space, especially when you have a habit of being wordy, like me. I originally wrote two pages worth before I edited it down to one. When I turned it in, I was confident it was as good as it was going to get, and it was worthy of an A.
Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
Before we even got the essays back, we were told to write down what we thought we earned on this assignment. Naturally, I wrote down that I would get an A. I was humble about it, figuring I’d get a 45 instead of a 50 on the assignment. After all, none of us are perfect, right? I’d received A’s on all of my essays in my previous English class, so I didn’t think getting an A would be hard in this class either. Besides, I write novels and I work at a newspaper. Writing is like breathing. Getting an A was a given.
Did I mention that I was wrong?
After estimating our grade, the class then received their essays back. There was no grade on it, but there were marks on what could be improved, what was unclear, and anything else that needed fixing. Here’s what my paper looked like:
(Yes, I blurred my essay. But I’m sure you can see how much it’s marked up) The gist of the comments were that I was way too broad in my topic (to the point that my topic wasn’t even clear), that I used a lot of extra words, and that I completely confused my professor. My citations page had a novel of an explanation as to why my essay didn’t work, how I really should have met with her first, and how I never supported my original thesis. Re-reading my “A”-worthy essay, I saw exactly what she meant, and realized I wasn’t as awesome as I thought I was.
Then we were asked to estimate our grade again. I knew I’d be lucky to get a C, but figured I probably had a D paper in front of me. When the grades were finally released, I was relieved to get a C.
And you know what? I’m embracing that C. I needed to get that “bad” grade. I needed to see that I still have so much to learn, and I’m excited to have a teacher who is not only honest in her grading, but who also takes the time to show me how to improve. You better believe that I’m holding on to this paper as a lesson—that there is always room for improvement, that I am still in learning mode, and that I need to seek help instead of thinking I can do it all on my own.
As a side note, I’m in editing mode on my yet-to-be-named sequel novels to The Road to Hope. I’m taking my time on them, though. Part of this is on purpose. I feel like I’m learning so much in my English class right now, and everything I’m learning can only benefit my writing. All those comments on my essay are the same things I need to edit on my rough drafts. So my education is benefiting all of you, too. 😉
Second side note (and I’ll be mentioning this often), I’m the featured author at Copperfield’s Books in Montgomery Village (Santa Rosa) on April 25. If you live in the Santa Rosa area, I’d love to meet you there. The event is 6-7 p.m., and I’ll be presenting The Road to Hope. I’ll also be talking about my writing and publishing process. If you’ve always wondered about writing a book and what it entails, come to this event with your questions. I encourage you to also read The Road to Hope, as I’d love to chat about the story with people who want a deeper look into the characters, storyline, etc. See my events page for more information.