When Other People Get Good News

The other day, I rejoiced for several hours at someone else’s good news. It was fantastic and well deserved. A friend who has labored long and hard got his brass ring: a publishing deal. His humor, wit, and intelligence have finally been recognized by gatekeepers who know what can sell. I had some flashbacks to our shared misery over the last five years while we both strived after agents, publishing contracts, and our work to be known. Recently he told me he wasn’t sure he could survive another slew of rejections. Now with an advance in hand and a two-book deal, he can finally say he’s arrived.

As the joy has faded, I’ve felt twinges of wistfulness for the road I hopped off and what it might have offered me if in 2012 I’d said, “I’ll stay the course.” I wonder what it would be like to work with distributors that could get my book easily to brick-and-mortar stores. I’d love to give a publisher’s name to ensure a book signing. I’d love to have a marketing team set up interviews, conferences, and events.

I chose a different route. I decided after 14 months with an agent to blast myself into the self-pub universe. I’ve had nothing but fun and autonomy doing this, with a lot of blessings from good friends, family, and strangers who took the chance to invest in my work. I assemble a support team for all projects and make all the decisions. I’ve got a great website, good reviews, and a monthly newsletter. I have a beautiful book trailer. I’m blessed with the remainder of my “advance”—a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation—that allows me to plan to self-publish my next book.

My sales remain small and occasional because I rarely promote. With a fulltime job and a family, I only have time to write my next book. I have a 10-year plan, one that involves writing several more books, playing with prices to give my readers good deals, and hiringa publicist in order to increase my reach. All in good time, I keep telling myself when vaulting ambition threatens to flagellate me and when others’ good news makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong road.

Over a decade ago, I went to a dear friend’s baby shower that happened the same week as another dear friend’s wedding. In a weak moment, I confessed to one of them, I feel you all have moved on. It felt very childish to admit at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, a lot of change hits all at once, where you think everyone else is grown up while your own future stays blank and unscripted. There are moments where you not only can’t predict the future, you sometimes think there might not be one to get excited about. My friends’ news didn’t leave me wanting something different for them, just for me to join them in the same headlines.

The self-pub lifestyle is a lot like being single: in order to survive it, you gotta build your own tribe. Just as I left these celebrations and got back on and made plans with friends, today I have to hire editors, graphic designers, filmmakers, book formatters, and web designers so I can publish a book. In the same way I couldn’t magically expect a social life to appear, I can’t expect a book to be born on its own. I can’t feel sorry for myself if sales don’t happen; I need to regroup, strategize, and keep working.

I never would have predicted that three years after the wedding and the baby shower, I’d be married at 37 in a boots-and-jeans wedding12wedding with a pig-pickin’ to follow. I couldn’t imagine that my beloved friends would suffer sorrows I’ve never had to bear. During that week of celebration, I could have told you they had a better deal than me, with a case of grass-is-greener kind of sadness. I can tell you now, I was foolish to focus on what I didn’t have and believe others had their happiness set.

My friend’s good news meets me wiser today than I was in 2002, when I believed there was a timing and momentum in life that I must follow or else I was somehow less than. My friend’s great news assures me there is justice and reward for some who keep trying at the traditional route, and that good stuff does indeed make it into print.  My friend’s amazing news gives me hope that legacy publishing might be a route for me to someday try again, that perhaps could get me the agent who is that awesome advocate, brilliant negotiator, and savvy adviser. This event in someone else’s life reminds me to stay my current course with persistence and integrity, check my gut when necessary, and never say never to self-pub or traditional success.

I trust in the rightness of what is right now. The joy I have for my friend mirrors the joy I feel when I open the file to my manuscript in process. Isn’t this fun, my whole body says. For in this moment, I get to write.




That’s a First-World Problem for Ya

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

— Matthew 20:16

Image found here

Tonight I couldn’t get more than $40 cash back from the super-healthy organic co-op store. Then I went to an ATM and my card wouldn’t read. As I exited the building where the ATM was, several children rushed through the door and the parents behind them let it happen. After everyone charged through, adults included, I stepped forward, thinking the guy in front of me who’d held the door would keep doing so. No. He let it shut just as I walked through with both hands carrying groceries, and so it slammed on me.

Then I sat in my car to await the end of a teen-ager’s piano lesson–the reason I needed the $60 in cash, because the teacher won’t take checks. I’m hacking and snorting the whole time because the older I get, the more gluten and lactose intolerant I get. Every meal presents a question mark of how my body might not like this or that for dinner. And like I have the time to craft a healthy, organic diet that ferrets out all the mystery allergens or keeps every meal pure.

I won’t even explore the fact that lately, I no longer have time to write.

I did lift out of my irritable fog to delight in this–community wireless. Thanks, Town of Carrboro. Without it and my laptop, I would have a way to tap these rants to life.

And I am not stuck in a hospital bed right now. A forced sitting in a carseat isn’t that terrible. In fact, a blog emerges from it.

And most importantly: everyone I know and love is safe at home, none of us facing chemical weapons, rocket launchers, or genocide in our neighborhoods.

As Friar Laurence once told Romeo: “There art thou happy.” That was in a scene where Romeo was whining, big time.

First-world Folks, take a note: just because we’ve chosen to lead lives that are jam-packed and so technologically rife with instant gratification doesn’t mean we have it bad. And writers who have the most time to write and reflect are probably in one of two situations–a sane location with enough food and safety–or prison.

Tonight I’m going to take this moment to stop whining and remember what matters most: I’ve got a lot of reasons to be thankful, and if my first-world life has become too much for me, I most likely have means to change it. Starting with my attitude.

Shakespeare’s words that thrilled my soul at 14 remind me that there are words to be written in every spare moment and only one crack at this life. If I also take a moment to remember who’s last in this life’s race, am I really going to moan about faulty machines and going second or third through a door?

As a Holocaust survivor told my stepson recently while interning on a documentary shoot: You make a decision to choose life everyday. You’ve got this chance; stay positive; make the most of it.

What pack of blessings lights upon my back? The first thing this first-world gal must do is ask that. The last thing she should do is live an entitled life of demands on the world around her where she wonders why she isn’t first in everydamnthing.

I’m going to mull on that and read the good Friar’s words to the self-pitying Romeo just one more time.

What, rouse thee, man! thy Juliet is alive,
For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead;
There art thou happy: Tybalt would kill thee,
But thou slew’st Tybalt; there are thou happy too:
The law that threaten’d death becomes thy friend
And turns it to exile; there art thou happy:
A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;
Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,
Thou pout’st upon thy fortune and thy love…

Act III, scene iii