I am making progress! I’ve gotten a few more short stories published and an agent requested my full manuscript! I believe in my book because it shines a light on the challenges parents of children with disabilities face. The next step in my process is seeking a literary agent to represent my book & which involves marketing. What I’ve learned so far is I must market myself, and gain a following before I can even land an agent to represent my book. I’m on Twitter at Catshields1. I’ve got the author’s website up now. I am learning how to do Instagram posts.
I’m studying what else I need to do. All ideas are welcome!
I recently submitted a short story I wrote. I’m rather new at this, so I sent it out to twenty-four magazines, believing my little story would be published in a widely circulated magazine. For two or three months, I waited hoping for that magical moment when I read “Congratulations,” but the only thing I received was twenty-four rejection letters. In my mind the story about a young woman and her challenging mother was a universal one, one that other readers would relate to and connect with. Disappointed, I wanted to prove to myself I could write, so I revised the story, changed it to fit magazines that called for stories about toxic relationships, and reimagined it with music as a theme. I rewrote different parts of it, made it longer and changed the title. I resubmitted to every free submission on Submittable and since I had already submitted to well-known magazines, I began to submit to the lesser-known ones. I sent my story anywhere I hadn’t sent it before. My list of submissions grew from twenty-four to sixty. I searched the internet for every open submission. Yesterday, after five months of rejections, I received an acceptance letter. This sounds like wonderful news, but I didn’t react as I expected I would.
Yes, I should have been ecstatic, knowing some random editors liked my story so much, they wanted to publish it but I felt deflated, like a balloon that’s lost all of its air. The effort I’d put into writing this story was a monumental task. I worked so hard for this moment, the moment when I opened my email and instead of reading the dreaded opening line of “Thank you for submitting…,” I read, “Congratulations.” If this was what I was waiting for why was I disappointed?
Here’s the reason; it wasn’t an acceptance from the New Yorker, any of the well-known literary journals, or even one of the magazines that paid for stories. No, those opportunities disappeared in the two rounds of rejections. I could practically hear the frosty tone Marnie uses whenever I mention the names of journals I’ve been published in. “Oh I’ve never heard of that one,” she says. The pinched expression on her face always reminds me of my lowly position in the publishing world.
I spent the next two hours untangling my emotions although I didn’t understand the reasons for my angst. I felt distraught that after all that effort, only one magazine liked my story! To make matters worse, I had to withdraw my story from the other fourteen places I submitted and some of those places were well-known. But the rules are the rules. Simultaneous submissions are allowed but the writer must withdraw the piece if it is accepted elsewhere.
I called my best friend, the one who helped me come up with this fantastic little title, the one who urged me to edit and revise this story to make it work, to make my characters more likable, to change the focus of the story so it connected to the reader. As we talked about my reaction to the news I had longed to hear, she helped me see it wasn’t about being published in a magazine. It was about how most of us are never being satisfied with what we get. The universal experience we all should practice is learning how to be grateful. I’m learning.
So whenever I need a break from the angst of submitting and torturing myself with rejections, my husband and I go bike riding. Today we drove down to the Everglades, to the abandoned Aerojet site. (Lots of history about that place if you want to look it up!) I snapped this photo of a graffiti-covered wall with the artist’s message.
Over a month ago, I flew home from a visit with my daughter, with tentative plans to meet her and her family in South Dakota this summer. We’d visit Mount Rushmore! I was imagining what it would be like when everything changed a few days after I got home.
A month has now passed since we started the self-isolation due to the pandemic. Although Chip says he likes staying home, and he likes being alone, I struggle with not seeing my friends, or going to my writing class, or seeing my grandchildren. For the first few weeks of Stay the F home, I experienced fear, anger, and depression. Any suggestions from well-meaning friends to write about our world pandemic crisis caused further annoyance and gave me a sense of helplessness. So I wrote other stuff instead.
I’m grateful that right before everything shut down, I celebrated my daughter’s fortieth birthday. It was also my granddaughter’s birthday. Year after year, ever since my oldest child moved up north, I haven’t missed a birthday celebration. I’m afraid that might change.
When I flew home at the beginning of March, Jessica wanted to see me. I’d been gone for a week, and she insisted I come get her. I brought her home for the weekend. That was before the world changed.
Each day, the cases of coronavirus grew more widespread. Schools closed, then the parks, then small businesses. Toilet paper was one of the first things to fly off the shelves. Chip and I ran to the grocery store and stocked up on everything we could think of, expecting we would shelter in place for a few weeks. We had to make a decision about whether to return Jessica to the group home or keep her with us. This created more issues that could’ve impacted her services. I couldn’t lose all I had worked to achieve.
Questions abounded. What would happen if either Chip or I got sick and had to be hospitalized for coronavirus? When I flew home on the plane, I sat near someone with a bad cough. No one wore a mask at that point, so I didn’t wear one, but what if that man infected me? What if I were infected but didn’t have symptoms? What would we do with Jessica if one of us had to go to the hospital? She WOULD be better off in the group home, but how long would she have to stay there?
Sarah yelled at me. “Mom, take her back, I don’t know what you were thinking.”
I thought of the weekend when Chip had his stroke when I frantically drove him to the hospital because he wouldn’t allow me to call 911. Jessica sat in the back seat, bewildered. Luckily, I called Sarah on the way to the hospital. She met us at the emergency room and retrieved Jessica as I flew through the entrance with Chip moaning in the wheelchair. I debated what to do with Jessica and pictured that scene over and over again. I pictured one of us rushing to the hospital, sick with this deadly virus. What if we infected Jessica? Who would take care of her?
I called the director of the group home. She told me no one would be allowed to come and visit. Jessica would have to stay there for the remainder of the outbreak. I reluctantly agreed. It was almost as hard as moving her there in the first place. How would she survive? How would she manage if she had to stay there for months?
Today marks one month since we’ve seen anyone up close. We’ve video chatted with friends and family. I asked the group home to install WhatsApp on Jessica’s phone and occasionally, she is able to successfully video chat. With the proverbial sigh of relief, I can relax, knowing Jessica is doing just fine. It gives me a sense of peace to know when I die, she will be okay.
My ninety-seven-year-old mother’s nursing home stopped allowing visitors and families. I saw my mom right before I flew up to Philadelphia, but she wasn’t exactly coherent. A week later, I received a call she had pneumonia. It looked bad. I told my brother he couldn’t fly down if we had a funeral. He was astounded by my suggestion, but I told him, it wouldn’t be safe. Then my mom recovered. If anyone can beat the odds, it’s her. We often laugh about how tough Mom is, how her maiden name, Brick, represents just how hard she is. She’ll probably outlive the pandemic.
But each one of these things has weighed heavily. I needed a distraction. I started drinking wine. Every night. Cooked. Ate cookies. Drank more wine. Every night. Ate more cookies. Every night. I turned my attention to writing. Not writing about coronavirus or the editor who dumped me. No, I focused my attention on my memoir. I contacted new editors. I studied my manuscript, found plot holes, wrote more revisions, joined more writing groups on Facebook, took a free class in revising my novel in a month. Thank you, Martha Alderson!
Today I finished the second round of revisions on my thirtieth chapter. Three chapters left. I already have a few beta readers lined up.
Over the years, I’ve had to deal with enough challenges to fill a lifetime, but I am not going to be a victim, I won’t allow fear or doubt to stop me. This coronavirus has given me a chance to listen to my inner muse. I will do PitMad and research agents. I’ve already started to explore what’s next. Some good has come from this experience.
So I had this problem, right? A bewildering experience, in my opinion, and now it’s over, rather barely over, I can talk about it. Or at least provide some details. It has to do with my female anatomy, which I won’t go into detail about. Suffice it to say, I had my bladder sewn back into place and a complete hysterectomy. Two weeks ago today. The diagnosis reminded me of the shock of Jessica’s diagnosis. Unexpected. Unplanned. And unwilling to accept the reality.
Luckily, it wasn’t cancer. Or at least the doctor hasn’t told me they found cancer and it’s already been two weeks since the surgery. Rationally, there’d be no reason for the extreme emotional reaction. BUT I wrote a great story and it is going to be published !! June issue of https://arielchart.blogspot.com
UPDATE: The story was nominated for the 2019 Pushcart Prize!
Caution, this post is meant to be therapeutic for me. Yesterday and today are one of those days lots of us have, where you feel like whatever you do isn’t right. And since I am blogging about writing, I feel like nothing I’ve written is any good and I should just ‘give it up.
Again, I caution those of you who don’t like to read whiny posts, because I am about to launch into some major whining. I’m going to let loose, really let loose. So you might want to stop reading right here. Fair warning. Stop now!
Personally, I hate people who whine. I really do. Yet I have to dump this feeling off on some corner and leave it. This here’s my corner. Seems like a safe place to do it. I have to whine. I have to tell what it’s like when your editor can’t understand why you haven’t figured out how to stop using a passive voice, haven’t remembered what he said about the forbidden crutch words he told me a million times not to use (and I use anyway)… On top of that, last week, my local writing group trashed my writing and I seem to be going in circles as I attempt to make myself understood. Even Chip acts like the things I say don’t make much sense. I feel HOPELESS!
So I titled this post “Give it Up” like the 1980’s song of the same title. Lately, I’ve taken to listening to it when I need jazzing up. I heard it when I went to spin class while the instructor played her mix of music. I was ready to quit pedaling, ready to quit while mumbling, ‘this is stupid to work so hard at exercising,’ when the song came on. It was a hit in 1982, KC and the Sunshine Band made a video (check it out on youtube) – you’ll see the 80’s shoulder pads, the mini skirts, the pouffy hair, KC’s exposed chest, and his mullet and unbuttoned shirt…. but when that song came on, I felt like dancing to the beat and what do you know, I was pedaling away on that bike and kept going! Now I play the song whenever I need to get excited about something. But today my take on Give it Up is the complete opposite of the repeated lyrics “everybody wants you.” Instead, I lament that nobody wants me, nobody wants to read what I have to say and I should give it up because I don’t have what everybody wants!
Except! It’s a little protest from another part of my mind, saying wait a minute here, .. a little tiny voice inside that whispers “That magazine is publishing your story in April so someone thought your writing was okay. ” I guess I shouldn’t give up entirely. At least not yet. Maybe I’ll even read again to the writing group. I can’t believe I fall so far when I get upset about honest criticism. If I’m going to write, I better be able to take it.
This gets me started on another topic. I see myself like the mouse in “If you give a mouse a cookie….” a wonderful children’s book about how one thing leads to another. Maybe the next post will be about how this negative, hopeless feeling, this downward spiral was triggered by my 96-year-old mother! How in the world, given her struggle with dementia or Alzheimer’s – how is she still able to berate me? Another story entirely and it does have its funny elements.
In late October, or early November, after I came back from the Florida Writers Conference, I decided to use Submittable to send out a couple of my chapters as short stories. A couple of the entries were free, a few of them cost under $5. Altogether, I sent out twelve entries. People in my writing class said I probably would have every one of them rejected, so I shouldn’t get all excited. They said it was too early to do this, not ready, the work needed heavy-duty editing and blah-blah-blah.
Well, when I get excited about an idea, I usually jump on it before my enthusiasm deflates. Naively, I went ahead and jumped on the “I’m going to get published” bandwagon, even though I knew nothing about what I was doing! I received nine rejection notices before I realized my fellow writers were probably right. I decided to listen to their words of wisdom and allowed them to caution me. I needed to focus on learning to sharpen my skills. So I quit wasting time and stopped sending submissions that wouldn’t have a chance of being accepted. The next three submissions are “in progress” which means pretty soon I will be hearing from them with a great big “No thank you.” That’s why today was such a shock. I opened my email and saw the words, “Congratulations!” in the first line. Levitate, a magazine in Chicago emailed me to say they want to publish my story.
I don’t want to minimize the fact that they look like a small literary magazine, but they are in fact, very small. The fact is, they will be publishing what was a very rough draft of my first chapter as a non-fiction short story. The story is basically the first chapter of my book when Jessica moves into the group home and the flashback of the day we went to the Mailman Center and heard that archaic phrase “profoundly retarded.” So many emotions went into creating this chapter, and maybe, just maybe these editors saw something in my language that surpassed my tendency to use passive voice!
Then I read another article about the R-word (see below) and I am thrilled this has become such a hot topic. I see why I might actually have a chance with my memoir.
I am struggling. Oops, I used the “ING” word! And I’ve only written three words. Dave, the wonderful editor who has patiently tried to teach me how to write, is surprised by how many times I use words that end in “ING”. I thought the editor was (oops I used another word I’m supposed to avoid overusing -“DON’T USE WAS!”) Well, I used to think an editor was supposed to correct the mistakes a writer makes. This is not what I’ve experienced. Dave actually wants me to develop into a better writer. Up my game, so to speak. Get stronger, so that when we (finally) approach the challenge of editing my memoir, I will be prepared.
Dave first approached me when I posted on Facebook about the multiple rejections I’d received from submissions. He asked for samples of my writing. He commented he understood why I received the rejections. ‘Wordy sentences. Extreme passive voice.’
Those of you who are not writers may wonder what’s a passive voice?
Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives an action. In contrast, active voice produces a sentence in which the subject performs an action. Passive voice often produces unclear, wordy sentences, whereas active voice produces generally clearer, more concise sentences.
Concise. So I am trying over and over again. Poor Dave. He probably feels like I felt when I taught Kindergarten and I’d have a kid who couldn’t differentiate between the letters S and the letter D or a kid who couldn’t sound out a word or remember any of the high-frequency sight words like ‘and’ or ‘see’. Easy stuff right? I get it. The poor kid sitting across from me probably wondered why I had that look on my face.
My struggle to show Dave (oh SHOW is another one of my problems!) I’ve applied his lessons, used his instructions and have mastered the ability to write without TELLING – well my struggle is ongoing. Since I am struggling, I thought it would be interesting to do an ongoing journal/blog about it. Why not? At least it’s practice.
I don’t know whether or not I am making progress. I’d like to think so. What I am learning (ok I see how many times I’ve written the ING words but I need to finish this post, so for now, please bear with me and ignore all of it) – what I have learned is writing is a challenge. I worry Dave might give up on me, after all, if I am his student, shouldn’t I have caught on more quickly? Yet, I don’t think he will abandon me. He seems committed to helping me reach that ultimate goal of editing the entire memoir. Dave is truly a mensch, (a Yiddish word for a person of integrity and honor.) He gave me an assignment, to write a short story, which at first, I stubbornly resisted….now after months, I understand the goal is to allow me to experience and “get” what I am doing right and wrong. The support I’ve received is invaluable. One day, I hope to make him proud of the writer he helped shape.
Hey everyone. Perhaps some of you wondered why I haven’t posted anything in nearly a month. I haven’t forgotten – life just got in the way. Oh and I joined a couple of online writing groups and next thing you know, there were more interruptions than I knew what to do with, and didn’t have time to remember I wanted to blog about them. So, I thought about this today, how I let so many distractions pull me in all sorts of different directions. Pause, breathe, wait. In my mind, I heard the words: “Pause, then rewind.” That sounded like a great line and motivated me to write about what I’ve been up to.
First off, I want to share how I found SCRIBOPHILE. It is an online writers group I joined after I heard about it in a writers workshop. I was enrolled in this free online course through the University of Iowa (https://iowa.novoed.com and P.S. – its free to everyone!)
The next thing I knew, I was finding more and more groups, and I became very involved. Or as Chip likes to say – obsessed. Anyway, once I joined Scribophile, I found one of the memoir writing groups. Each week I had to post one of my 3,000-word chapters. My fellow groupmates critiqued my writing and in turn, I had to critique what theirs. This was pretty time consuming but the feedback I received was most helpful. Next, I joined a couple of writers groups on Facebook. Then something incredible happened. An editor decided he was interested in my story, perhaps something about what I said intrigued him. To make a long story short, he has offered to mentor me, as long as I accepted his terms and conditions!
You might be wondering what were these terms and conditions? He insisted I write a short story in a completely different genre and gave me an assignment – write a fantasy story, and get it published! I probably rolled my eyes, thinking what did that have to do with my memoir. It didn’t make any sense. But now, I am glad I agreed.
Thank you Dave! I don’t think he enjoys being thanked, but I had to give a shout out. As an editor, he points out what agents and other editors see. The red pen comes out and when I look at the mark-ups I am not sure I even know if I can write! Nevertheless, he is helping me. And we haven’t yet begun working on the memoir! I am still working on the short story!
About a month ago, when Dave contacted, he told me he read my posts about the constant rejections. We were getting to know each other when he asked me to send my 1st chapter. After Dave read it, edited and critiqued it, he said he understood why I was receiving so many rejections. “you are not using an active voice….you have too many ing words, your writing is filled with adverbs, pronouns, …actually his list went on and on! I wanted to throw up my hands and give up, but I didn’t. The fantasy story is nearly finished. He says it will be published. I tend to believe him.
One last bit of news. Good news! In my local writing group, there was a sweet couple who said they belonged to the South Florida Writers group. One day, as we were leaving, the man, Thom, handed me a newsletter. Thom pointed at one of the ads and said,”try sending your work to this magazine. They publish everything.” So I thought, why not? I didn’t believe anything would come of it and when I didn’t hear anything, I was certain that was true. But I thought I ought to check their lastest issue. This is what I found:
Thom wasn’t kidding. The magazine published my story.
If you read the article, it might sound really familiar. That’s because I submitted the story about my mother, which I had written about in this blog.
UPDATE! Sadly, my partnership with Dave ended about a year after it began and I no longer work with him. At times I wish I could call him up and talk about my latest successes but he did something that alarmed me and made me stop talking to him. I’ll never know if his tongue lashing was truly deserved, but I could not subject myself to someone who resorted to browbeating and put downs. It was fun while it lasted.Continue Reading
I got another rejection letter today, this one from Woodbine House, a publisher devoted to stories about special needs. Back in August, after learning they were accepting submissions, I sent a book proposal and several chapters. I expected to hear from them any day. What I didn’t expect was the editor actually wrote a letter explaining why she couldn’t use my story! This was a good sign. Most rejection letters never come with an explanation, but this editor took the time to write! At the top of the page, under the company letterhead, was the form letter:
Thank you for your submission. I regret that it does not suit our needs at the present…..blah, blah, blah -basically, ‘thanks but no thanks’, and then this hand written note:
“Your writing is very parent friendly, engaging and insightful but I’m afraid we would not be able to reach the market with your memoir. More and more, we are finding that it’s nearly imposssible to succeed financially with any sort of memoir, perhaps because so much autobiographical writing is available for free on the internet. We have an especially difficult time marketing books that deal in any way with the adult years, for whatever reason…..You might try self-publishing and then if you succeed in attracting readers, you could approach a larger, traditional publisher with a proven record of sales.”
I guess I could have been upset, but it made me happy that this editor wrote to me with advice. At least I had some feedback about my writing. I think I will give myself two years to query agents and then maybe I will consider self-publishing on Amazon.0
Catherine (Cathy) Shields writes about parenting, disabilities, and self-discovery. She is a retired educator with an M.S. Ed in Exceptional Education. Her experience includes networking and dealing with children and families of persons with disabilities. Cathy and her husband reside in Miami, Florida, where they raised three grown daughters. They kayak, ride bikes, hike in the Everglades, and visit the two grandchildren who live nearby.