Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mental Constipation

Ask any writer what their least favorite, most dreaded phrase is, and it's a fair bet most would say "writer's block." Anyone who has ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard knows how awful it is when you know that you need to write but you can't find the right words to use.

We are wordsmiths. Say that word aloud. Wordsmith. Feel it form in your mouth and think about what it means. We are in the business of using words to create worlds. Words are our tools. We wield them like weapons, we wrap ourselves in them like a grandmother's quilt. Probably, most of us prefer writing to speaking nearly 100% of the time. I've known plenty of writers who prefer to handle business via email but few who prefer to actually pick up the phone and have a conversation. Words, reading them and writing them, are as necessary to me as drinking water. Words have given me escape in times of turmoil and stress. They have given me comfort in times of fear. They have given me an outlet when I felt trapped inside my own head, and perspective when I felt like everything was spinning out of control.

Unfortunately, being a wordsmith isn't glamorous or sexy. It's hard work. The words don't always cooperate. Sometimes they run away and hide. Or they stand there, defiantly just out of my reach. Or they run all over each other and I can't seem to put them in any kind of order. Sometimes, instead of a writer or wordsmith, I feel more like a word wrangler. I imagine myself, dusty and hot, standing on the edge of the Rio Grande, trying to wrangle defiant words safely across the river so they can take shelter and grow fat on the other side.

I'm not sure that non-writers understand that writer's block happens at all stages of the writing process. If you ask someone to visualize it, I think the most common image of writer's block is that of the frustrated writer, staring at a completely blank screen or a fresh page in a typewriter, unsure of where to begin, unsure of what's about to happen. But it can happen twenty-five thousand words into a novel. It can happen when you've outlined, it can happen when you think you know the ending. Hell, it's happening to me right now, and I'm just rewriting the thing. I know all the major plot points, I know how it'll end, I'm almost halfway through the re-write and I know what needs to be done, I just don't know how to make it happen.

It's not so much writer's block as it is mental constipation. I know that stuff is in there, working and churning, it's just not ready to come out yet, even though I'm bloated and trying to force it. It's awful and somewhat terrifying. I worry I might explode. I worry that I'll never find relief. I worry that if I push through, what comes out will not be at all satisfying. That it will, in fact, just be a half digested pile of crap.

So I look for something else to write. Something that will maybe loosen up the works. I do writing prompts or I work on a different project. Or I come here and make metaphors about cowboys and shit because being a writer at least gives me the ability to make ridiculous metaphors to entertain myself.

If you're a reader, how do you envision writer's block? If you're a writer, how do you combat it?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Writing Prompt Monday: Home For Christmas

I'm going to try something new. Every Monday, I'm going to post a writing prompt and the resulting short story. This week's prompt came from Reedsy Prompts. The story is actually a mash-up of two prompts because fiction is slippery and even when you think you know what you're going to write about, the story has other plans.

The Prompts:
1. You find a stack of Missing Persons news clippings under your parents’ bed. All with your photo.
2. You decided to read a book about hypnosis. After reading the book, you realize your spouse/parents have been using hypnosis on you for years.

Home for Christmas

I waited for the garage door to clang shut before peeking through the living room curtains to watch my parents pull out of the driveway. It hadn’t been easy to convince them to let me stay home alone, even though I was twelve and was, like, the most boring kid I knew. They were just so protective of me.

The heater kicked on and a gust of wind rattled the windows. The blizzard hadn’t hit yet, but it was supposed to blow in by six o’clock. The clock in the living room read three thirty-seven. They said they’d be home by five, but the way my dad drove, I could easily cut half an hour off of that time. I had to hurry to make sure I covered all my tracks.

Christmas was a week away, and I was on a quest to find my gift. I don’t know what possessed me to lie to my parents so I could go snooping around, but now that they left me alone for the first time, I sure as heck didn’t want to spoil the opportunity. Who knew when I might get this chance again? Santa Claus is Coming to Town was playing on the home audio system my dad bought for himself last Christmas. A small pang of guilt hit my heart like an icicle, but I shrugged it off and made my way to the den.

The den seemed like a stupid place to hide a gift since I was in there all the time, but then again, my parents often said that the best place to hide something was in plain sight, so who knows. Maybe something would be hidden in there after all. The book I had just finished reading, The Barking Dentist: How to Hypnotize Anyone, was still on my favorite reading chair. My parents tried to make me return the book without reading it because they said it was nothing more than pseudo science.

“Woo,” my mother had said. “Pure, ridiculous woo. Just like auras and palm reading. You’re too smart to waste your time with such nonsense.” But I held my ground and they eventually gave up, though every time they saw me reading it, they made snarky comments.

I searched the top of the bookshelves, inside the family desk that was used mostly for paying bills and writing thank you cards, and in the antiques hutch. Nothing. No sign of a gift anywhere. Okay, so much for the “in plain sight” theory. Next stop: my parents’ room.

The song on the streamed radio station changed to I’ll Be Home for Christmas. I don’t know why, but that song always made me sad. I blinked back my tears and pushed my parent’s bedroom door open. The room was huge, and there had to be about a zillion places to hide presents. If I had been smart, I would have come here first instead of wasting time in the den. The clock on the night stand warned me that it was ten to four. I had to pick up the pace. My best bet would probably be to work from the back of the room to the front.

Their bathroom had a ginormous walk-in closet that they both shared. Seriously, that closet was bigger than my bedroom. Not only did that seem like a great place to hide a new laptop or karaoke machine, but it was in the very back of the room. If they came home while I was in there, I might not hear them in time to get out. Then they wouldn’t trust me to stay home alone again until I was thirty.

The built-in drawers reminded me of a dozen pale mouths refusing to open up and share their secrets. They were easy enough to open, though, and in the end they had no secrets to reveal. The shelves were as dull as the drawers. After ten minutes, I had to admit that the closet contained absolutely nothing of interest to me. My parents were so boring!

Back in the main part of the bedroom, I felt myself pulled toward the four poster bed. Like everything else in the house, the bed was huge. From nowhere, a memory of when I was about six hit me. My mother had strung rope between the posts and then hung sheets from the rope, which made a cozy fort out of the bed. I used to pretend I was in the Captain's cabin on a pirate ship. Every now and then Mom would knock on the wood footboard and ask if the Capt’n was ready for a snack. I’d shout “Aye!” and she’d pass crackers and juice to me. She was so different, so fun, then. Now all she did was volunteer to every committee under the sun. And she totally flipped her lid if I even took a single step out of the kitchen with a snack. Food in bed was like the biggest sin I could commit as far as she was concerned.

I got down on my knees and peeked under the bed. Two long, shallow storage containers rested like little coffins in the dark. I pulled them both out. My heart raced. This was it. One of the two containers had something for me. The green clasps on the first opened easily. I pulled the lid off and cast it to the side. Shorts, tank tops, bathing suits. Nothing but summer clothes. I straightened out the clothes, so it looked like I hadn’t been rifling through them, and slid the little coffin back into the mausoleum.

After the continued disappointments of the afternoon, I didn’t hold out much hope for the second box, but I had to check. My heart thundered in my ears as I removed the lid. More summer clothes. Darn. I carefully moved the clothes around, and my hand brushed against something papery. A manila folder. My throat went Sahara dry and I licked my lips. My hands trembled as I pulled the folder out of its hiding spot. This was no present. It was also none of my business. I should just put it back. I looked from mysterious file to the clock. If my dad drove as fast as he usually did, they’d be home within ten or fifteen minutes. I really should put everything back the way it was and settle myself into a book before the garage opened. But I couldn’t will myself to tuck the folder back into its resting place.

I opened the file and gasped when I saw my own face staring up at me from a newspaper clipping. I dropped the folder and dozens of articles and fliers, all with my face, fell to the floor. I picked up the nearest one and stared, stunned thoughtless. It took a moment for my brain to decipher the words on the paper, but when it finally did, something in my mind clicked and I understood.

MISSING CHILD
Name: Marcie Snow
Age: 9
Sex: Female
Last Seen: December 20, 2013

Oh my God. It was me. It was a younger me, with a different name, but it was me. There was no denying it. “Marcie Snow,” I whispered to my younger self. “Not Emily Whitmore.” Tears burned trails down my cheeks as I gathered the articles and fliers. I shoved them all back into the folder and carried them to the den.  I picked up my hypnosis book and hugged it and the folder, to my chest. No wonder they had pitched such a fit about me reading that book. They were afraid I’d find out the truth, but they couldn’t forbid me to read it because they never forbade me to read anything, even Stephen King. But why wouldn’t they just hypnotize my desire to learn hypnosis out of me? They were clearly skilled. They had me convinced I was theirs. They implanted all sorts of false memories, like the pirate ship bed. I didn't have an answer, but I did know I only had moments to decide what to do. Should I put everything back and try to act normal? Just carry on with my life like nothing was wrong? Should I confront them? Something else entirely? I wished for some sort of sign. And then I got one.

Sometimes, with streamed radio stations, different versions of the same song played within a few songs of each other. My dad hated it when that happened, but I liked being able to compare the styles. After Santa Baby ended, I’ll Be Home for Christmas came on again. Without thinking twice, I put on my snow boots, coat, and scarf. I took one of the missing person fliers and set it on the desk and walked out the front door. I didn’t bother to lock it. I gripped the folder in my gloved hands and walked as quickly as I could toward the next street. I had to get off of this street before they drove by.  It was dark, and the roads were all mostly deserted. It shouldn’t take me long to get to the library. From there, I could get help.
The wind almost tore the folder from my hands, but I managed to hold on to it.

“I’m coming home, Mom and Dad!” I hoped the wind would find their ears. “I’ll be home for Christmas!”


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

When I'm Feeling Stuck


This is my all time favorite quote about writing:

"You have a right to write it.Throw it out, rip it up, swallow it down.Build up a capacity to bear up--don't let fear ruin your writing life."
-Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

Perhaps I should turn it into a meme or something pretty, but I'm actually trying to write right now. I'm feeling stuck, so I looked up to this quote, which I printed in red and taped to my Wall of Notes and Inspiration.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Harvey's Best Day

We had to make the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to our sweet dog, Harvey, last weekend. It was the single most difficult decision I have ever made, but it was absolutely the right thing, even though it completely broke my heart. He had a degenerative neurological disease called Degenerative Meylopathy. It is incurable and ultimately fatal. He was a big guy, and his back legs were in the early to mid stages of paralysis. He fell down a lot and had a hard time holding a squat long enough to poop. He was in danger of falling and breaking a bone. If he didn't fall, eventually all four legs would have become totally paralyzed.
I wrote the following short story as a way to try and process my pain and grief. The last week of his life was spent getting yummy food and extra love and short trips to the front yard. We worked hard to make sure that the last day of his life was the absolute, very best day it could possibly be. We said goodbye to Harvey at home. In our arms, listening to our music. And I like to believe it was the happiest day of his life.
I should probably add a trigger warning for this story. Spoiler, the dog dies.

Harvey's Best Day
Mama and Daddy have been letting me sleep in their room lately. I have a big bed in the living room, but I only sleep there sometimes in the day. At night, I used to sleep in the hallway, so I could see Boy’s room and Mama and Daddy’s room. It’s a lot of work to protect everyone, but I think I do a pretty good job. But now they let me sleep all night long in their room. If I fall asleep when they’re watching TV, they even wake me up and tell me to go to their room to sleep. I like it a lot. They leave the door open so I can look down the hall and see Boy’s room. I can still keep the whole family safe, and I get to sleep in the big room. I only wish my legs would work the way they used to. I bet they would let me sleep in the big bed with them if I could still climb up. That would be the very best, but I’m happy on the soft rug at the foot of the big bed in the big room.
I’m not sure why my legs don’t work so well anymore. I still try and do all the things I used to do, but I fall down a lot. My back legs especially get tired and they slip out from under me when I try to run. But the very worst is when I lie down on the cool wood floor and then try to get up. No matter how I try, I can’t make my legs stand up when I’m on the slippery floor. Daddy and Mama went to the store one day and came home with lots of new rugs. They said they were just for me. Now there are rugs all over the house, and I don’t fall over when I walk from room to room as much anymore. That’s good, because even though my body doesn’t usually hurt, it sometimes hurts when I fall. Plus, the rugs are super duper soft, and they are good sleeping spots. Especially now that they smell like home instead of the strange rug store.
I can’t even believe my luck these days. I must be the luckiest dog in the whole world, ever. At dinner last night, Mama cooked up some steak. I like it when she makes steak because sometimes they give me a little piece or they let me lick the juice off the plate when dinner is over. But last night was the best night. Mama sat down with a plate full of steak that she chopped into little pieces. That’s not how Family eats steak. They cut it up with a knife for every bite. That seems silly to me, but I don’t understand human things. I tried to sit down between Mama and Daddy. My legs slipped a little bit, so I layed down instead. Then, oh boy oh boy oh boy, Mama put some steak on the fork and she fed it to me! She didn’t even start eating her steak yet, but she fed me right off the fork! I love fork eating, especially if there is juicy steak on the fork! Then Daddy fed me some steak, then it was my Boy’s turn. They all fed me steak right off the people plate with a fork. It was so delicious and it made me so happy! I smiled and smiled and made sure to use my soft mouth so I wouldn’t accidentally bite them.
It was still kind of darkish when Daddy and Mama got out of bed this morning. They have been crying a lot and I just try to let them know that I’m right here. I don’t know why they are so sad, but I try to make them happy. Daddy walked over to me and petted my head. I panted and smiled at him, even though it was still dark and I was still very sleepy.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” Daddy asked me. Of course I did, but it wasn’t all the way day yet, so maybe he was joking. Mama came over and hugged me.
“Where’s your leash, Harvey? Let’s go for a walk to the field.” I tried to stand up but it took me a little while. Standing up was hard. But I finally got up and followed Mama and Daddy to the kitchen where I could smell coffee. They said “leash.” That always means I get to go out the front door. I like the front door more than the back door because there is more of the world out the front door.
Boy woke up, and that was strange because he never wakes up so early. But he hugged me and that wasn’t strange, it was good. He asked me where my leash was and I wobbled to the front door. Daddy clipped the leash to my collar and we all walked out of the front door together. It was light now, but not hot. Just early light. When Mama or Daddy takes me out the front, they only let me go to the mailbox or, if I’m really lucky, up the yards for three or four houses. They make me stay in the grass, though, because I can’t pick up my back feet all the way and the sidewalk scrapes my paws, and then they bleed.
But on this day, Daddy took me across the street. My paws went scrape scrape scrape on the road, but I didn’t mind too much. He was taking me to the big field where they used to let me run without my leash. We got to the grass and the whole, big field was empty, so Mama took off my leash and, oh boy oh boy oh boy, I ran! Well, I tried to run. I fell, but the grass wasn’t as slippery as our wood floor, so I was able to get back up. Plus I was on the trail of a rabbit! I didn’t know where it went but I could smell it close by. I ran all the way up the field and only stopped to pee on some of the grass that the rabbit ran through. I almost fell over lots of times, but I was able to stay standing up.
Mama ran up to me after a little while of chasing the rabbit smell. It used to be that she couldn’t ever catch me when I ran, but now she caught up to me easy peasy. She wasn’t even breathing hard. She must have gotten really fast, because I was running so fast I was almost flying.
“Let’s go home, Harvey,” Mama said. I didn’t realize until she put my leash on that I was very tired. My legs didn’t want to walk at all anymore and I wanted to just rest in the big field. Maybe the rabbit would come and see me. But Mama handed the leash to Daddy and he said I was a good boy and it was time to go home for some ice. Ice is my favorite treat. It is crunchy and cold and I love it. So I walked home with Daddy, but I had to go slow because my back legs were all shaky and they kept getting tangled in the grass.
At home, I got to eat lots and lots of cold, crunchy ice. And then, the most best thing ever happened. Mama chopped up more steak and put it on a people plate. Boy took two eggs and scrambled them and put them on the plate, too. Then, oh boy oh boy oh boy! Boy sat down on the floor next to me and he fed me the eggs and the steak right off the fork! Steak for dinner and for breakfast! And sleeping in the big room, and going for a run and having ice! It was my most favorite best day ever!
“Hey, Harvey,” Daddy said. “Do you want to go for a ride? Come on! Let’s go for a ride! Get your leash!”
A ride? Really, really? I don’t get to go on rides anymore because of my legs. Getting into the back seat is really hard, even with a ramp, so mostly I stay home and guard the house when they go for a ride. But not today!
Mama and Daddy helped me up the ramp and I stood up in the backseat of the car. The car is very little and I don’t fit in it too well, but that’s okay. Mama sat in the back seat with me and reminded me to sit down so my legs wouldn’t get hurt. I wanted to listen to Mama, but there were so many birds and I wanted to bark at all of them! Daddy rolled down my window, and I stuck my head out. My tongue went flap flap flap and my ears went flop flop flop. It was the most funnest ride I ever went on. When we came home I got to even more ice!
Family cried a lot, but then they would hug me, and I made them feel better. Mama took out the toothbrush and brushed all of my teeth for me. I love toothbrush time. It tastes good. Then she got the fur brush and brushed me and brushed me and brushed me for a really long time. She sang The Harvey Song to me, and cried, but I just smiled at her and hoped she would keep brushing me.
Daddy said that a lady was here. I heard him open the front door and say hello. Boy yelled and started to cry, and that was kind of scary. Mama hugged me hard and cried some more, but then she stopped and went to talk to the lady. It took me a little bit, but I finally got up to see her.
The lady had a big brown bag that was full of strange smelling things. I didn’t like those smells, but I liked the lady. She scratched me behind my ears and told me I was a beautiful boy. She was very nice. Since she was nice, I didn’t have to protect Family from her, so I went to my favorite spot by the dining room table and laid down. There is a big window, but I didn’t want to look out of it, I wanted to watch Family and the lady. Mama and Daddy moved the table out of the way and everyone sat down with me. Mama looked out the window at the birds and squirrels, and I looked at her. The lady was talking a lot, and the whole family was crying some more. I wish I could talk to them and tell them that they don’t have to be sad because I’m right here. But I can’t do human talking, so I just put my head down and looked at Family and hoped they knew I was right there for them.
Then I felt a poke in the back of my body and that kind of hurt, but not for very long. After a little while the stinging feeling went away and I just wanted to lie down. The sun came in through the window and my back side was in the patch of sun. It was warm and it felt so good. I was getting very, very sleepy. Daddy picked up my head and petted me. Mama scratched my snout, just the way I always love. Boy was petting my back.
“Mountain Dog,” said Mama. “Do you remember going camping in the mountains with Daddy and Boy? Do you remember how you jumped right over the pile of logs? You were so fast!”
Yes, Mama. I remember that. I loved being Mountain Dog. I was the best mountain dog.
“And remember hiking to the waterfall? You would run ahead of us to make sure we were safe, and then you’d come back and get us. You never went too far away. You always came back.”
I had to, Mama. I couldn’t leave you in the mountains! I had to keep you safe from all the things in the mountains. It was a big job and I was very good at it.
“And do you remember playing in the river? We’d shout ‘Search and rescue!’ and throw the stick into the water. You would jump right in and bring it back. You would swim and swim until you couldn’t swim anymore. You loved being River Dog as much as being Mountain Dog.”
Those times were fun times. Can we go back to the mountains soon?
“Buddy boy,” Daddy’s voice was sad. I tried to look up at him, but my head was so heavy. “We’re all going to go to the mountains. Right now. We’re all going to go and you can be Mountain Dog again. There will be a river and you can be River Dog and Mountain Dog at the same time.” He put my head in his lap and I sniffed in his Daddy smell.
“Can you see the mountains, Harvey Doo? Can you see the trail and the trees? Can you hear the water? We’re going to go play in the water now, Harvey.”
I could see the mountains! We really were going to go run! And I could hear the river, too! We were going to swim in the river again! Oh boy oh boy oh boy!
From far far away, I heard the lady say that she was going to give me another shot but it wouldn’t hurt. I didn’t feel anything in my backside this time. I just felt the wind blowing down the mountains. I smelled the trees and the birds and the mountain lions. I smelled fish and the river. And I smelled my Family. They were with me in the mountains.
It was my very best day.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Interview With the Writer

Last weekend, I was approached by a couple of lovely young ladies from Plano West High School here in Texas. They need to write and illustrate a children's book for an AP English project, and they asked if they could interview me. I'm not certain how helpful I was, but I was touched that they reached out to me.

Good luck on your project, Maya and Tiasha!

Interview Questions:

1. What inspired you to write your book(s)? My son inspired me to write Average Simon. One day when he was about nine, he said that he didn’t want to be famous, he just wanted to be an ordinary, average kid. That planted the seed that eventually became my book.

2. What is your creative process when writing/illustrating for children? The process is messy. First, I think about it for far longer than I probably ought to. I reach into my mind and try to talk to the characters and ask them what they have to say. I’ll even write out interview questions and have them answer them. I have to be in an emotionally quiet place to do this, though, because characters can be slippery or shy. Then I’ll sit down and start writing. I may or may not create a rough outline of the book. I tend to let the story tell itself instead of trying to make the story fit an outline. Writers often classify themselves as either “plotters” or “pantsers.” The plotters will work off outlines and plot things through. The “pantsers” will just fly (or write) by the seat of their pants. I’m definitely a pantser.

3. Do you have any recommendations for anyone interested in the children's writing field? Write every day. It doesn’t all have to be children’s books. It doesn’t matter what the topic or genre, you can’t be a writer if you don’t write. Also, read. Read as much as you can in as many genres as you like. Definitely read books that fit within the genre you want to write, but read outside the genre, too. Read things you love. Read things you hate. Take note things that stir you or make you feel something. The one thing I’d advise you not to do, though, is to copy someone else’s voice. You are your own person with your own unique voice, so let it out.

4. How did you come up with an original idea? That varies. Sometimes, like with Average Simon, an idea is born from a conversation with someone. Sometimes the idea is a little seed planted by a dream or sometimes it’s a news story. Sometimes it just comes from the either. I basically walk around every day prepared for random thoughts and ideas to come into my head. My husband and son know this about me and we have ongoing jokes about the stories that are always playing, like movies, in my head.

5. How did you simplify your ideas or writing to make it easy to read and enticing for children? Well, I have to know my audience. Average Simon is an upper middle grade novel, so it’s great for kids who are about eleven. Once I know my audience, I let the characters take charge and tell the story. If I’m feeling stuck or unsure if something is too complicated, I’ll ask for input from someone in that age range. My son and his friends were a huge help to me with my book.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Angry Young Woman Grows Up

When I was in my early twenties, living alone in my very first apartment, I spent my days chasing a creative writing degree and working my ass off in a preschool. My nights nights were devoted to poetry slams, reading insane amounts of  Pablo Neruda, working the local poetry open-mic circuit, and writing. Poems, mostly, but also also a fair amount of short fiction.

One of my friends at the time, a much older poet who happened to look a lot like Pablo Neruda, said my work was good but that it was "angry young woman" poetry, so it was hard for him to identify with it. Looking back, I think he was just trying to say something nice about something he couldn't understand.

When I look through the overflowing and torn folder that holds the writing from that period of my life, I realize I was an angry young woman and that my target audience was not tender-hearted fifty-year-old males. I had a bone to pick with the world, and words were my weapon.

I've changed a lot since then. I grew up. I realized that poetry isn't my passion. I got married and had a kid. Sometimes I can hardly remember the girl I used to be. But I still have a couple of things in common with her. I'm still mad as hell, and words are still my favorite weapon.

There are times when I feel overwhelmed with the world. I can't believe that there is so much hostility, hatred and injustice out there. Sometimes I feel like I'm being crushed under the weight of bigotry, misogyny, and ignorance. It makes me angry that women don't have a voice in their own healthcare. It infuriates me that the color of someone's skin determines how they are treated by law enforcement and society as a whole. Rape culture is alive and well as women are told to restrict their actions to avoid becoming victims.  Gay marriage is still controversial.

Although today is Women's Equality Day, there is still a lot of work to be done before women (and people of color, and the LGBTQ community) are truly on equal footing.  I look forward to the time when there will no long be a need for such holidays as Women's Equality Day. One day, we can all see and treat each other as equals, and I won't stop being angry until that time comes.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Writer's Forgotten Dreams

When I was in junior high, I wrote my first novel. It was a story about a girl whose father was murdered and she was kidnapped by the murderers. Turns out her dad was a bad guy who did bad stuff and when crap went down, he ended up taking a swim wearing a pair of cement shoes. I wrote it long hand, on loose leaf paper during study hall and lunch. After I got a cheap typewriter, I spent months teaching myself how to use it. Eventually, after lots to tears and correction cassettes, I had an error-filled (but typed!) manuscript. Oh, it was beautiful, that stack of eighty-two typed pages. It proved that I had what it takes to write a book from beginning to end. It was proof that I could be a writer if I tried hard enough. It proved that my dream of being a writer wasn't stupid. There was only one thing left to do: get it published.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/420366.article
I went to my town's only public library and checked out a woefully out of date Writer's Market. Back at home, I flipped directly to the Publishers section and wrote down the addresses of a few publishers that would accept unsolicited work. At that point, I didn't understand what an agent was or why they were important. Mostly, I thought agents were something you had to pay for, like a lawyer or therapist, and that gave wealthy aspiring writers the upper hand. The whole thing seemed unfair to me and I wanted no part of it. Youth is full of misconceptions.

My school counselor was impressed that I had written and then typed a novel, and he gave me permission to use the faculty copier to make a single copy of it. The smell of paper, fresh and warm from a copy machine, still makes my heart hammer with excitement.

I deliberated a long time over which publisher to send the only copy of my baby to. I don't remember who I picked or why I picked them, but I can recall that dropping my book down the mailbox chute felt like abandoning my beloved dog. I was pretty sure I'd have to barf into the bushes before I got home. Good thing for every homeowner along my route, lunch stayed in my belly.

Weeks later, I got a personal reply from that publisher. I don't recall who sent it, but I do remember how kindly worded the rejection was. She said that, unfortunately, they no longer accepted unsolicited manuscripts (damned out of date Writer's Market!), but that she had taken it upon herself to read my novel. She said it was promising for someone so young and that I shouldn't give up. She said it could use some polishing and that maybe finding an agent would open more doors for me. She ended the letter by saying she felt confident that I would go far in my writing career if I kept at it.

I was crushed. All I could see was the rejection. The nice stuff, the encouraging stuff, didn't register. It didn't occur to me what an amazing person this woman was for taking the time to read all eighty-two pages of my poorly written, unsolicited manuscript and then to take the time to craft an encouraging rejection. My good fortune was completely lost on me.

Life continued. I went to high school, got a job, went to college, got married, and had a baby. Somehow, that memory of my first submission and rejection got buried. It wasn't until just recently, when I started the process of querying agents for Average Simon, that I remembered. It's sad that something so huge was shoved to a dusty corner of my mind and left to rot. But I'm grateful, too. I'm grateful querying brought the memory back. That recovered memory is as much of a gift as the long lost letter the publisher sent to me.

The years have taught me that writing, from the first draft to the querying stage, is full of hidden gifts. Forgotten emotions. Abandoned memories. And that, sometimes, it can take decades to remember that your dreams are worth chasing.