Tag Archive for: publishing

I’m not generally much of a retrospective kind-of person, and I’ve been watching other folks do their year-end and end-of-decade roundups (favorite books, favorite movies, what to look forward to in the next decade) with a bit of wry humor. It’s just another day, right? Another human-centric, artificially constructed milestone that offers us a chance to set new goals or assess progress or feel like we get a fresh start (that’s a loaded phrase for me, which you’ll understand after you read my memoir that is DUE OUT ON FEBRUARY 4 OF THIS COMING YEAR).

But I digress.

It turns out that 2019 was actually a pretty seminal year for me in many ways and it feels like it might be important to at least write about it for posterity. Or to solidify it in my head, to find a way to make sense of it and get a different perspective instead of having it just roil around in there like some swirling mass. So, in no particular order, as they surface from the messy tumult in my head and gut, here’s what my year was like:

* I got two publishing deals in 2019, neither of which I really expected to get. I submitted one of my bodies of work to an academic publisher on a whim because I had been trying to market my social-emotional education curriculum on my own and I was getting no traction. The publisher emailed me right back (which, if you’re a writer, you know is solid gold – so many agents and publishers and editors simply don’t respond to writers’ emails at all), and said that they felt it wasn’t right for them, but they knew a different publisher that might like it and I should send it there. Two amazing occurrences! A quick response and a referral to someone else instead! A unicorn! And because unicorns are magical, the second publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and the book One Teenager at a Time, was published in August after an avalanche of emails tightening it up and getting permissions and copyedits and excitement.

*The first book led to me learning a ton about PR, the disappointment of radio hosts ghosting you, and discovering how much I really enjoy being interviewed about my work and talking about teenagers and their special powers. I challenged myself to do a story slam for the Seattle Times Education Lab and while it was absolutely terrifying at first, I met an amazing group of folks in my local community who love kids as much as I do, who are as committed to making their educational experience better as I am, and who are working hard every single day to see that it happens. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

*The second publishing deal came about when I sent my memoir manuscript out one last time to a small press in New Jersey, CavanKerry Press, and promptly forgot I’d done it.  A few months after I sent it in, it snowed a lot in Seattle. A lot. The first morning, I woke up to that magical quiet that happens when there are eight inches of snow on the ground – no cars, no bird sounds, no city buses roaring down the street in front of the house. And then I heard a scraping noise, a repetitive, plastic-on-sidewalk scraping. My neighbor was shoveling my sidewalk and clearing the snow off of my car in case I needed to get out that day. By the next day, there were nearly 15 inches of snow and it was clear none of us was going anywhere on wheels. Seattle + snow = shutdown. The steep street I live on featured snowboarders racing down four solid blocks of perfect slope for days. On the third day, I borrowed the neighbor’s snow shovel and took my turn clearing the sidewalks and while I was out there, my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. It wasn’t worth it to take off my gloves and stop what I was doing to see who was calling, and only later did I realize whomever called had left a long voice mail. It was Joan Cusack Handler, the senior editor at CavanKerry, letting me know that she wanted to publish my book. I still have that voice mail saved on my phone. The letter they sent me to formalize the offer hangs on my refrigerator. I cried. I called her back immediately, thanked her profusely, ran up to my daughter’s bedroom and told her, danced in the living room, cried some more, and called my closest friends. After nine months of work with their team, the book comes out February 4. You can preorder it here.

*I also got to watch my daughters continue to shine. My oldest finished her first year of college, came home for the summer, and went back to start her second year of school with an eagerness and optimism that made my heart split wide open. She did that thing that some parents talk about where her perspective changed a bit and she chose to sit in the kitchen with me and chat while I cooked, emptied the dishwasher upon waking up before I had a chance to do it, offered to pick up groceries if I needed something. She fell in love with a philosophy class and ran for an executive position in a club at school and made friends I’ve never met. My youngest started nannying twin infants, juggled that while taking high school and college classes, and booked live gigs all around Seattle to showcase her musical acumen. She converted the guest room to a recording booth and put out an album’s worth of original music on Spotify and iTunes. She lobbied me for a pet snake, but we settled on a Russian tortoise.

*There were so many intangible things that happened this year, too. I learned that sometimes grief comes back to bite you when you think you’ve already dealt with it. I learned that I can say something in my head over and over again and it doesn’t necessarily change the belief I harbor in my body. I spent many, many lonely nights pondering how someone my age creates community and close friendships anew. I wrote less than I’ve written in 15 years – at least new content – and agonized over when I would get that flow back. I learned to do with less – cutting the cable, driving less, buying fewer things, killing 2/3 of the lawn to put in native ground cover and create a space to grow veggies and berries, actively participating in my neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Project. I remembered that every time I embark on a new self-improvement regime (exercise more, eat less meat, organize my writing life), it opens this checklist of things in my head that overwhelms me (stop drinking alcohol, no sugar at all, cardio 3x/week, don’t use plastic anything, make your own condiments, isn’t apple cider vinegar supposed to be good instead of shampoo? put solar panels on the house…) and makes me feel horrible about myself.

*I did stop drinking this year, though. I’d stopped for periods before – either when I was pregnant with  my girls or for fast-like fads – but this time that magical thing happened where I made the decision to stop (you can read about why here) and after a few weeks, I ‘knew’ I was done forever. Previously, I would see a tv commercial where someone was drinking a glass of golden chardonnay with a hint of condensation on the outside of the glass and I could taste the buttery sweetness in my mouth. Or I would open the refrigerator to start making dinner and my mind would go to the cupboard where the wine glasses are kept and I would begin the mental calculation of what kind of wine would be best with what I was making. But this time, it was different. Something shifted in my neurons that diverted the path from seeing alcohol or things I had associated with it and leading me to the physical desire for it. Yesterday, I walked past a woman who was sitting in the bar at Nordstrom (which is a really weird thing to write, that there is a bar inside Nordstrom, but that’s the crux of my essay in a nutshell), and she was talking on her phone and holding an enormous glass of white wine and I felt nothing. Thought nothing beyond, “hmm, that’s a generous pour!” I wish I knew how to make that shift happen, what is actually going on in my brain and how to trigger that particular phenomenon where I literally shut off one old, well-worn pathway that is no longer serving me in favor of a new way of being. It happened once before when I was able to forgive my abuser and shed all of the physical sensations that came with despising him and wishing him ill. It is an amazing feeling, incredibly powerful, and if I knew how to re-create it reliably, I could do so much more forgiving.

*2019 was a massive year for me. It was truly a roller coaster with enormous ups and downs. There were some dark, scary moments that bled in to weeks and simultaneously co-existed with joyous, optimistic times. It may be the year where I lived more outside my comfort zone than any other year, spending a great deal of time resting in equanimity, relying on the Universe to hold me as I forged ahead without knowing what the hell was coming. The list of things I did for the first time in 2019 is as long as I’ve ever seen it, and while some of those things flopped, many of them didn’t, and that is proof that continuing to put myself out there whether I know what I’m doing or not can be a pretty exhilarating way to live. Exhausting, but exhilarating, which is why I’m taking the rest of the day off to nest and rest.

Happy New Year, all. I hope that your 2020 offers opportunities to stretch yourself, reminders that you are held and supported, and lots of laughter. We’re going to need it to get through some of what’s coming.

What a week! I am putting the first touches on the website for my new project (that I’ve been hinting about here for a while, now), and it is a lot of work, but it’s really fun. You can visit the site here and give  me any feedback you have on what you see/what I might change or add.  The endeavor is called The SELF (Social-Emotional Learning Foundations) Project. The goal is to bring social-emotional education to tweens and teens at schools, after-school programs, and other places where they gather.  The curriculum is divided into six areas:

  • mindfulness
  • living with joy
  • dealing with stress, anxiety, and fear
  • developing self-worth
  • compassion
  • big questions of life
I’m offering one-off events as well as entire workshops based in these areas and hoping to do a few summer camps this year.  I will also facilitate groups for parents and others raising tweens and teens to talk about mindful parenting through this tumultuous time, again either as ongoing meetings or as one-off speaking/facilitating events.  Eventually, I hope to develop the curriculum so that it can be licensed to other people who want to teach it in their own communities.  Each focus area has discussion prompts, worksheets, activities, and guided visualizations/meditations in order to offer different ways of looking at the same ideas.  It is based in research I’ve done over the past eight years as I raise my own girls and strive to help them develop as whole human beings, and most of the meditations and worksheets are things I created to help my girls through challenging times. If you know of schools or other organizations (YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, etc.) who might be interested, please pass on the link to the website so they can check it out.   I am happy to travel in the Pacific Northwest to speak and teach.  
Also, in case you missed it, I had a piece published this week that I have worked on for a while and I’d love it if you headed over to read it – especially if you know tweens or teens that have questions about sex and sexuality.  You can find it here.

The distractions of summer are more welcome than ever. While I publicly lament the loss of productivity thanks to shuttling girls to and from camps and friends’ houses, I am secretly glad of the lack of time to sit and write. The truth is, I am stuck, and the questions themselves are a painful thicket of barbs and dry stems through which I am loathe to travel just yet.

A few months ago, I had renewed interest in my manuscript from a publicist/agent. We spent several glorious hours on the phone discussing the nature of the project and its importance to me as well as, we agreed, the importance to everyone interested in women’s rights and reproductive issues.  She promised to review the most current draft and we scheduled a series of phone interviews between the two of us to solidify the content for the introduction to the book.  She has contacts at several publishing houses as well as a knowledge of self-publishing and I felt my excitement rise, envisioning a book in my hand as soon as winter. Finally.

The interviews were postponed. Changed at the last minute. Eventually, cancelled altogether. She cited serious health issues and I agreed to give her space to work them out and wait for her return.  But without her interest in the project, her enthusiasm and gentle guidance, I am floundering.  I have retreated to that place I have been in so many times before: me and the work.  I no longer have any rational perspective. At this point, I have been working on this book in some form or another for nine years, interviewing, writing, researching, re-writing, editing, submitting.  I know the subject is relevant, but I no longer have any sense of direction or understanding where I am in the scope of the Universe. I am sitting in the middle of a kayak in the ocean with no land in sight and no clue which way to go. I have an oar, but I am probably just setting out in ever-widening circles without some frame of reference.

Several times over the past month I have set out to re-write the introduction myself, send copies of the manuscript to fellow writers for their ‘blurb’ and attempt to re-submit to publishers. I have convinced myself that, if this agent was interested, others will find the redeeming qualities in it, too. It is just a matter of finding the right fit.  But the notion is truly exhausting. I have been down this road before and what I was looking for was a partner who knew the path to walk beside me.  Instead, she pulled me down the road with her in her enthusiasm and then left me, saying she would be back soon.  I would like to muster up the energy to continue on without her but, honestly, without another person who is as excited about this body of work as me, it’s tough.

So much has changed since I started writing that book.  I am still as passionate, if not more, about women being able to tell their stories without shame. I still believe that we need to have open, honest discussions about the ways in which women and girls are subjected to an entirely different standard than men and boys are and how that affects us all.  What has changed is my writing, my confidence in telling my own stories, and my willingness to subject myself to the social media publicity machine.  I created a website for the book and started a Facebook page, but I am woefully unable to keep up the schedule of harnessing interesting news items and resources to populate them with. I am simply not interested in continually updating, reTweeting, and refreshing pages with information. I want to go back to the days where a writer wrote diligently and purposefully, threw his or her work out into the world, and then went back to write some more.  The idea that I could publish this book and then be sucked in to promoting it over and over again, going on a speaking circuit or showing up at virtual locations where the topic is salient, Tweeting and writing pithy Facebook blurbs that are related, and become branded the writer who writes about reproductive rights gives me hives.  I love this subject. I am invested in it. But I love to write about other things, too. I love to write.

So while I sit and puzzle this all out – wondering whether or not I have the wherewithal to push yet again to complete another draft of this manuscript and go through the motions of marketing it – there are days where I find myself sitting quietly at the computer wishing that Eve and Lola would come beg me to go for a walk or a picnic with them.  I am dreading the start of school because it will force me to sit down and write, or decide to finally let this project sit where it is forever.  I can’t imagine doing either of those things, frankly, but I’m not sure where the middle road is.

I love the drive to Portland.  Maybe it is because it is a trip I made hundreds of times when Bubba and I were dating and he lived in Seattle and then a hundred more when we both lived in Seattle and were planning our wedding in Oregon.  I recognize the crazy names of some of the towns, the roadside diners and the landscape.  I let my car sink into the ruts I probably had some part in creating and smile as Mt. St. Helens comes into view, its top shorn off from the eruption I still recall vividly from my youth.

I don’t often get to make the drive by myself so yesterday I reveled in listening to NPR as long as I could before the static caused me to squint as though it would help me discern Warren Olney’s voice a little better.  After stopping to pee, I switched over to my iPod and set it to shuffle. Chick music.  Brandi Carlile, Marie Digby, Ingrid Michaelson.

I was committed to this trip, regardless of the fact that every nerve ending in my body lit up like a strand of Christmas lights when I thought about it. That said, it wasn’t until I reached Battle Ground that it hit me why the book launch for Get Out of My Crotch had to be in Portland.

Portland is the city where I went to my first-ever pro-choice rally.  My friend S, the woman responsible for introducing me to the concept of “feminism” and “women’s rights,” came up on a gloriously sunny Saturday, picked me up at my dorm, and drove me to the city to mingle with hundreds and hundreds of other women rallying in support of reproductive rights.  I was stunned by the feeling of power and solidarity in that square. I had never experienced anything like it.  And then, the Indigo Girls showed up. Seems they were playing a concert in town that night and decided to stop by and lend their support.  They stood up on stage and sang their newest hit single, “Hammer and a Nail.”  It was the beginning of an era for me.  The notion that I could be considered an activist. That I could stand up publicly, loudly, for something I believed in.

It seemed to make sense. Especially since S had decided to attend the book launch and would be my “face in the crowd.” Her support of me over the years has been bedrock.

As I exited the freeway and headed toward the hotel I had chosen online for its proximity to Powell’s Books, I just barely missed the light.  My bladder was bursting and I hit the steering wheel with the palm of my hand in frustration just as my iPod shuffled to the next song.  (I’m guessing Carrie is a step or two ahead of everyone else and she probably knows that the song that came on was “Hammer and a Nail.”  Yup. No lie. You can’t make this shit up.)

The reading was tremendous.  I wasn’t officially on the program since I committed so late, but everyone was so welcoming and eager to find a way to fit me in. Especially when we noticed that the local Planned Parenthood buttons they were handing out in honor of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade read “I am not in your shoes.”  The title of my essay in the book? “A Mile in Their Shoes.” They found a spot for me.

I read first.

I spent a few frantic moments marking sections to read before heading onstage and I was surprised to note that I wasn’t really nervous.  Well, except for the 80-something lady who came in and refused to purchase a copy of the book because she didn’t want to support Planned Parenthood.

“They kill babies,” she announced to the editor and me as we stood there stunned.  The young woman who brought her refused eye contact and did her best to look bored as she shrugged, “She’s pro-life.”

This odd couple then made their way over to the far side of the room and the elderly woman stated her intention to “just sit and listen.”

Before I began reading, I stole a quick look in their direction to see if she had her arm cocked back to chuck something at my head.  A few times throughout my reading I did whatever the mental equivalent of wincing is as I wondered when she would start to heckle me.  I sincerely hoped she had fallen asleep in the dark back room of the bar.  She didn’t. And she didn’t make a peep the entire evening.  I still wonder why she came.

The other writers were terrific.  The range of topics and stories presented by the five of us who read last night was vast. There was Camille Hayes who talked about policy and the Violence Against Women Act that was NOT reauthorized by the Republican controlled House of Representatives this year. There was Lydia Yuknavitch who stood up and bared her soul and left us all breathless. Kevin Sampsell wrote about the rape of a friend, and Sarah Mirk recounted her undercover efforts in a local Crisis Pregnancy Center.  I signed a few books (! – thrill of a lifetime), felt lifted up above the stars when a few people commented positively about my reading (and, thus, my writing), and fairly floated back to the hotel where I am certain I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

For those of you who don’t know about Michelle O’Neil, let me introduce you. She is a beautiful soul, mother of two children, wife to a darling man, and brilliant writer. She is many more things than that, but I’ll let you find her blog if you so desire. The purpose of this particular post is to draw your attention to her new book. She has written a deeply touching, funny memoir that anyone who enjoys memoir ought to read. Just in case you’re looking for a book to wind down the dog days of summer, I suggest you head right to Amazon via the link above and buy this book.

The other link I found today, completely by accident, will be of great interest to those of you who love photography. Especially if you take gorgeous pictures and aren’t much of a Crafty McScrapbooker (like me – I’m hopeless at it). If this sounds like you, or if you just have a few minutes on your hands, please go check out Blurb. They will help you put together a book (yes, actually bound) of your photos or artwork, add some text, and ship as many copies to you as you want for less than $3 each. You can sell them, give them away, line the chicken coop with them – whatever you want. What a cool gift that would be for a wedding party or a sweet sixteen or a 50th anniversary….Wait! Hmmm, I’ve got one of those coming up. Gotta go!

Or maybe it’s just frustration. I’m not certain. What I do know is that researching and writing my book has so far been a damn sight easier than trying to get it published. I had suspicions that the marketing bit wasn’t going to be fun, but I am in need of some mojo to get it going again.

I’ve had some small successes meeting agents who were interested in the basic notion of my book – two of whom even asked for the entire manuscript. One came back a few weeks later with an email basically stating that “they can’t represent me at this time, regretfully.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, so I responded asking for more feedback, either on the manuscript itself or how to make myself more marketable as the author. That was six weeks ago and I’ve had no response.
The other agent has yet to send me anything at all, despite a follow-up email from me just checking in after six weeks of no response.
I had one book publisher to whom I sent my unsolicited manuscript tell me that they would love to talk to me about my book, but as they are a small press, they don’t have the bandwidth and are fully booked with projects through the end of 2011. The editor was kind enough to point me in the direction of another press that might be interested so three weeks ago I sent off another package, this time via the postal service.
I’ve spent time researching agents and publishing houses, really working on posting to the blog regularly, and picking the brains of people I know in the publishing industry (which are, admittedly, few and far between). Every person who asks for a description of the book gets an earful from me and I have had such great responses (“Wow! I’d buy that book! What a great idea!) that it is frustrating to feel like I’m speaking a different language than the folks who have the power to put it out there.
I’ve talked to some people about self-publishing versus traditional publishing, but I’m not sure I have the marketing skills to really do it justice. As one person put it, “Your book is what we call a ‘long-tail’ book – it will be relevant for generations to come and will probably sell books for decades. Most publishers want to make their money in the first 90 days which is why they want celebrities or controversial politicians as their clients.”
I know that this takes perseverance and dedication and I’m willing to do the work because I have such passion for my book, but I feel like I’m stuck right now. It is hard to know where to turn and really frustrating to listen to authors being interviewed on NPR when that’s where I want to be!

This week, the book I have spent five years researching and writing got a little closer to being published. For any readers who are new to my blog, this project is very close to my heart for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it spent over a decade percolating in my brain before I decided to set it loose.

The book is a series of fifteen stories that detail a woman’s journey through the most difficult decision she may ever make – whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. My interviews were focused on the process of making the decision more than the actual choice they made. I was interested in how each individual approaches the process of deliberation; do you ask yourself moral, practical, religious questions? Whom do you share the information with? How did issues of age and marital status factor in for you? The women were incredibly different in so many ways – age, background, socioeconomic status, marital/relationship status, whether or not the pregnancy was planned – but bonded together in their isolation. Regardless of their differences, each of these women was faced with trying to make a decision in a finite amount of time that they could live with for the rest of their lives. Each of these women was ultimately the sole decision-maker.

I had to force myself to stop interviewing after three years. I was so touched by the response that I got when I put the word out that I was looking for women to talk to. I was even more touched by the trust each of these women placed in me when she agreed to tell me her story. I was fascinated and appalled, saddened and proud to listen to their stories and I honestly could have gone on forever, but for the compulsion inside me that reminded me these stories needed to be heard by others as well. I chose the fifteen most compelling stories. Stories of planned and unplanned pregnancies, adoptions, abortions, fertility treatments and genetic anomalies. Stories of women who are sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts and co-workers of some of us. Women who could be any of us. I hope that the stories educate and inspire and touch some center of compassion inside each of us that transcends politics or religion or laws and allows us to simply read the stories and acknowledge the difficulty each of these women faced and perhaps enlarge our capacity for understanding other individuals around us.

I offered my manuscript to five agents at a writer’s conference last week. One of them wasn’t terribly excited, but the others all seemed intrigued. Each of them asked me some variation of the question, “Who is your audience?” and, I must admit, the question sincerely baffled me. Knowing that the vast majority of book readers in America are women, and that women love to share their stories with each other, whether they involve difficult subjects or simply how our children misbehave when we get on the phone, I can’t imagine a woman who wouldn’t be interested in this book. So I began talking to other people at the conference. Perhaps the sample was skewed because these were other writers, but I got a tremendous reception from everyone I talked to, men and women alike. Because of the apolitical nature of the book and perhaps because of the popularity of memoir-type books, an idea for a book of stories such as this was very well-received.

When I got home, I was determined to find statistics to back up my intuition. I learned, via a quick internet search, that there are roughly 60 million women of “childbearing age” (14-40) in the US and, at any given time, fully six million of them are pregnant. One point two million of those pregnancies end in abortion each year, and half a million babies are born to teenagers each year. Adoption statistics are difficult to come by because many of them are privately handled, as are fertility treatment statistics, but I would think it’s safe to say that there are millions of people in this country every year whose lives are touched by the issue of pregnancy in general and who either have to make tough decisions about it or know someone who has.

I am hoping that the agents to whom I submitted my manuscript will come to this conclusion as well. For now, I’ll wait for them to read it and see what happens.