Saturday, December 04, 2004

"Everyone knows diaries are just full of crap,"

says Bridget Jones as she stands half naked in the snowy street when she finally catches up to Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones's Diary.

While Bridget searches for "...genuinely tiny knickers..." Mark Darcy, finally in her apartment and ready to seal the relationship deal, reads Bridget's diary while he waits and finds out that over the course of the past year she has hated, loathed, and despised him. He says, "Right," and leaves. Bridget, meanwhile, hears the door close, runs to the window and throws it open to the storm, and watches him walk away down the street, calling after him. Dressed only in t-shirt and genuinely tiny knickers, she searches for a reason and finds her diary open to some very hateful remarks about the man she has come to love, and runs after him, desperate to stop him and explain, even if she must deny the feelings behind everything she has written all year to get him back. It's either a relationship with Mark Darcy and happiness or standing by her words. There is no middle ground. After all, "[e]veryone knows diaries are just full of crap."

Aren't they?

When I was a teenager I kept a diary, writing down all my questions, fears, hopes, anxieties, and hurt, exorcising them onto the page where I could see them and sort thru them all. Then my mother, after finding out I was keeping a diary, searched for and found it and punished me for what I wrote. Most of the time I didn't remember what I wrote once I consigned the tears, anger, and pain to the pages and closed and locked the diary. It was my confessional, my place to think, to ponder, to figure things out in my mind. It became a way for my mother to invade my privacy and punish me and so I quit keeping a diary.

I didn't begin keeping a journal again until I was in my thirties as a way of sorting thru my emotions and thoughts, trying out dialogue, working thru characterizations, or just plain complaining about the problems and grief in my life. It was the only place where I felt safe to voice my thoughts and emotions.

When I left Ohio several years ago I entrusted the many, many journals I had kept to my youngest sister with orders that if anything should happen to me the journals were to be burned. Once again my mother, certain I had written horrible, nasty, and vile things about her, got hold of my journals and got a big surprise. There were some entries about my interactions with her, but they were fairly rare. She was shocked at some of the language, but overall she was stunned by what I wrote on hundreds of different subjects. She eventually told me she had read my journals and that she felt I should have them published. That was something I had considered in the back of my mind should I ever become a well known, or even cult, writing figure and why I wanted them burned. I did not want people to pry into my private thoughts and my personal tragedies and pain, but suddenly the idea had merit. After all, I have always been completely open about my life, the good and the bad parts, and having people read my journals was just another way of being completely open.

Two years ago a friend convinced me to get online with Dead Journal, so I did. Then she moved on to LJ and a year later I caved in and followed. I never really thought anyone other than her would actually read what I wrote, but I treated it (and treat it still) like my paper journal, a place to sort out emotions, thoughts, and writing. To me, diaries/journals are not "just crap." What I write is most times not even edited (as you can plainly read and as my youngest sister continues to gleefully point out when I misspell a word), but it is a true version of how and what I feel. Many people sanitize their journals or use it simply as a way to socialize and meet people, a way to fit into online/offline society, a place where they can mask who and what they are, or simply just for fun. What you read on the virtual pages of my journal is who and what I am. These are the day-to-day events of my life and a look into the way my mind, heart, and soul work. This is me.

I treat LJ and all my other online journals, of which there are three, the same way I treat my paper journals. The only thing I hide is what I write specifically to one person, only because they are intimate exchanges and it is one of the few ways we have to communicate. It's like writing love letters to each other and as such is not for public consumption.

What I write here and cross post to my other journals is a true representation of me, most of which are written in the heat of the moment. That is not to say that I do not think out some of my posts, but most of them are stream of consciousness, except, like this post, on occasion when I take the time to think about what I'm going to say and how to say it. I do not sanitize, edit (except for spelling and grammar), or otherwise expurgate my writing. What you read here is my voice, my thoughts, and my feelings, passions, fears, and life.

Welcome to my world.

So you want to be a writer...

Ah, the glamorous life of a writer: book signings, talk shows, movie deals, wining and dining, and seeing your book on bookstore shelves across the country. That's the life you envision, the dream you work to make true. But being a writer isn't all book signings and talk shows. There's another side to the glamorous life that writers won't talk about for fear of being labeled difficult. That's the real life of a writer. So, before you make the decision to follow this path, read the signs along the road, the ones placed in the shadows and covered with dirt and tattered shrouds.

Being a writer is more than just putting words on paper for editors and publishers and agents beating a path to your door. There is a business to writing that very few talk about and fewer still know before their books see shelf space. There are palms to be greased, butts to be kissed, and humiliation to endure before, during, and after the fact. To be sure, there are writers who hit the big time with little or no effort, but they are few and far between, almost urban legends.

You have your manuscript(s) ready and everything has been checked and double checked, edited to within an inch of it's literary life, and you know what you have is good. Or you have written sample chapters and put together a killer proposal and you want an agent to represent you because that's how the big writers do it. You approach an agent and they read your whole proposal (if it's short) or skim the first chapter or two (if they have the time) of your novel and they tell you it's not for them. You try another agent and then another and maybe they pass, too--if they take the time to respond at all. So you send your proposal/manuscript to a publisher, one you've researched thoroughly. You put in an extra stamped, self addressed envelope or manuscript box (called a SASE or SASB) and you put it in the mail and wait. The publisher contacts you and says yes, but more often than not they say no thanks in a form rejection, or a personal note if you're lucky or they're feeling generous, and send it back to you.

If the publisher says yes, they will probably ask for a few changes, to which you will gladly agree because you know you're just starting out and you'll do anything to see your work in print, they will tell you to contact someone else in their company to hammer out the details of the contract. Now, you have heard the horror stories of tiny or no advances and how writers unwittingly signed away their first born manuscript rights because they didn't know enough about contracts and hidden clauses and such, so you contact those agents who rejected you before with a bona fide publishing deal. Suddenly, one of them, the first one who turned you down, jumps on the bandwagon and says they'd be glad to help you out. You've already done most of the work but you want to protect yourself and your manuscript and you happily thank them for their help, forgetting that they didn't see enough merit in you or your work in the first place to work to place your work before. You can afford to be generous because they can help you down the road with your second or twentieth manuscript. You reason it's worth the 15%-20% you're about to shell out for them to look over the contract and protect your (their) interests; never mind they have done jack squat to this point and have also mentioned that if the advance isn't going to be sufficient they still won't represent you because it's not worth their time.

The deal is set and your advance is going to be about $5000 dollars, 15% of which is $750 for the agent who did nothing to get you to that point, but you're glad they've agreed to look out for your (their) interests and sign you. After all, you weren't expecting that much for your first advance and you're ecstatic. What's a few dollars off the top for the agent who is the Johnny-come-lately to the party when s/he will get you some really big advances down the road, advances you can barely imagine in your wildest dreams. It's a small price to pay, you tell yourself and you happily wait for the agency contract.

When the contract arrives you see that in addition to the 15%-20% commission the agent also wants an extra amount of money (sometimes spelled out and most times not) for copying, messenger service, and overnight mail, and packaging. You look at it and wonder why the commission doesn't cover the cost of those things, but you don't want to be labeled a difficult author and have the agent bail on you just when you have your first book deal. You're still looking down the road at all those book signings, 6- and 7-figure advances, talk shows, and books on the shelves so you sign the contract, reminding yourself that it's a small amount of money and you will finally be published. Of course, it's sort of like getting a bill for utilities or phone or your new car and having the company or dealership send you an extra bill for the paper on which it's printed, the stamps used to mail the bill, and the cost of ink and computer time for printing up the bill, but it's a small amount and so you pay. Evidently, 15%-20% of your royalties for the life of the book is not enough to cover those charges. You don't think about how there will be times when the agent does not copy, messenger, overnight, or otherwise do anything for you or your future work that you will still have to pay the fee for the cost of them doing business, right down to the staples, paper clips, and tape, but it's a small price to pay; you're going to be a published author. And don't forget that your new agent, the one who has your best interests at heart, is going to collect 15%-20% of every royalty check you ever get for the publication of this book for as long as it is in print even though all they did was look over a contract, something you could have paid a good lawyer to do for $100 or less, but you're still looking to the future. Oh, and don't forget that fee for the cost of doing business comes out of the first check every year.

Your book is finally published and you've earned out your advance (sold enough books to pay for the advance) and the royalty checks start coming in. The checks will be sent to your new agent who will take their commission and extra fees off the top and cut you a check for the remainder. You're a real author now and you have several books making the publishing rounds and you're finally a published author. Your dream has been realized, but there are still dangerous rapids to get around or through.

(to be continued...)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Giving and receiving.

Receiving is an art, especially for some people.

Have you ever noticed that the people who are the most generous and giving are usually the ones who never ask for help when they need it the most?

One of my best friends (who shall remain nameless here) and I had a discussion not long ago about giving and receiving. She needed help and I offered it--actually I forced it on her unawares--and she felt ashamed of needing help. "I'm the one who always gives the help," she told me. I told her that spurning help when you need it is like spitting in the giver's face and on their gift. "But I'm supposed to be the strong one, the one who helps," she said.

I know what she means. I feel the same way.

I have learned that it is a lot easier to give help than to receive it for some people, and I don't mean the people who are always waiting for a hand-out, who are always ready to tell you how much they want and how soon they want it, the parasites who infect society, but for those people who would rather grin and bear the problems than ask for help. They aren't comfortable owing someone else or asking for loans and it takes a major effort for them to even get the words out. If you offer help, they tell you they've got it and can manage on their own. This is a lesson that smacked me in the face yesterday.

Another friend, a wonderful and giving man, told me a story about a pilot who lost control of his F15E in a flat spin. His wing man told him to eject but the pilot said, "I got it. I got it." He fell like a meteor from 15,000 feet down toward the searing desert below. Regulations state that he was supposed to eject under 10,000 feet. His wing man radioed and begged him to eject. "I got it. I got it," he said. Evidently, the trainer sitting in the rear seat didn't believe him because he ejected at 72 feet above the ground. He didn't make it. The pilot rode the plane into the desert. He got it all right.

It's hard to admit you need help. It's so much easier to give your last dollar to a friend or someone in need than to say the words, "I need help," especially if you're not used to getting help when people close to you can see what you're going thru and ignore you. So you close your mouth, grit your teeth, and get thru the best way you know how, getting rid of prized possessions and making do with barely enough to get by just so you don't have to say those awful, bitter tasting words.

I've learned that not everyone is unwilling to help and that there are good people, decent and loving people, who would help you if you only say the words...and even when you don't say the words, but acknowledge that a problem exists.

So here is to all the wonderful people I know who reach out their hands, their hearts, and their wallets to help a friend in need. You know who you are. Blessings on you all and thank you for being there.

Sunday, November 28, 2004


I woke this morning to a white world: white trees, white ground, and white sky. Snow ghosts drifted between the trees, occasionally dropping from ghost heavy branches in a crystalline spray, swirling, dancing, flying, spinning like dervishes toward the windows and dissipating in a sparkling spray. The deck is mounded and peaked with white shimmering frosting as the sun peers thru the white and the winds push clouds out of the way so a robin's egg blue sky smiles between the gaps in mare's tail runners of billowing white. Peaks and mounds of frosting decorate the deck railing, mounded in enormous puffs on the planking, waiting to be tossed off the deck and onto the ground, disappearing in iridescent sprays to merge with the snow ghosts still flitting and drifting between the trees.

One thing is certain, I need to call the guy with the plow and begin the battle to remain mobile when I want to get out of here, although I feel safe and peaceful here in my snowy fortress, unwilling to disturb the ethereal quiet and venture down to town away from my winter fastness.

It has snowed for three days and I wish it had snowed harder yesterday, trapping my surprise visitor for a day or two to share the warmth and the silent beauty.

Stephen Bishop is serenading me with songs from the past, ballads that stir feelings I have pushed behind me, reminding me of so much I had forgotten and now clasp close. Jane Olivor has done her turn on the speakers with songs I love and songs I've not heard her sing before. Both are presents from my surprise guest yesterday. He also brought a handmade case for my ham radio equipment, a gift of exquisite workmanship and beauty that begs to be touched, caressed, and used. The wood feels like soft velvet and captures my eyes and fingers every time I look at it.

All the worries and confusion that bubbled within me just one day ago are gone like snow ghosts on the wind, borne away on the warm breath of joy and happiness, shared passions, and love.