Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Luck, Superstition & The Waiting Game (Stephanie Kuehnert)

I've always been vaguely superstitious. Like with everything else in my life (and writing!), my idea of luck has fallen outside the traditional lines--I like black cats; I was born on Friday the 13th, so it's my lucky number--but I still believe in certain things. For example, I broke a few mirrors, some on accident, some on purpose in my late teens and I would often think to myself that explained why my life was crappy.

It did turn around roughly seven years later. Maybe that's luck. Maybe that's a coincidence and it happened because I got out of a bad relationship and life just ebbs and flows. Mine certainly has. I mean one of my good friends died like a week before my first book came out. One of the biggest highs was tempered with one of the biggest lows.

I've been pretty open in admitting that the past couple of years have been hard. My publisher turned down my third book. I've struggled with writer's block and then a full on writer's slump. I went through a year where all three of my cats were sick consistently. My bartending job has been slow--the whole thing about the booze industry being recession-resistant, a lie--so it's been an ongoing struggle to make ends meet. My basement flooded twice. I parted ways with my agent. Several relatives have been diagnosed with cancer. A former friend of mine had a schizophrenic break and stabbed his parents to death before getting caught a few blocks away from another's friend's house, who he had every intention of killing. Yeah, that actually happened. But you know, my friend didn't killed and the former friend, well, I can only hope he's getting the help he needs for his mental illness. My relatives' treatments for cancer have all been successful so far (knock on wood! Which I do. A lot.) I have a new agent who I adore. My husband is fixing our basement. Though the bar is still slow and I'm feeling pretty run ragged, I am doing some jobs I love, namely writing for Rookie Magazine, which is an honor and a privilege. My cats are healthy. I worked my way through the block with one book and am finally getting over the slump I was in and am beginning to fall in love with another one (a new YA. Man, I really hope I didn't jinx myself by saying that.) The third book changed entirely from its original direction (YA to Adult), my friends, blog readers and twitter followers know it as The Bartender Book, and currently my new agent is shopping it.

That last thing, while good, is completely terrifying. Between that and the roller coaster ride of the past two years, I'm relating to this song quite a lot:



"It took so long to get me back on my feet
It takes so long to find the words and the beat"


Yep, that's me. It took two years and a lot of angst, but I'm really loving what I do again, I'm excited about the story I'm telling, and I'm hopeful that the one I spent so long on will sell. (Knock on wood that it stays that way. Really hope I didn't jinx myself)

"But it feels like you just might explode inside
You've been pacing around and waiting
For some moment that might never arrive at all"

Yep, I don't think I could describe waiting to hear if your book is going to sell any better. It's completely and utterly outside of your control. You write the best book you can and then... well maybe it is luck, or at least whatever it is that makes two best friends or two lovers cross paths, someone has to love it as much as I do. Maybe it's in the stars, which is why I keep checking my horoscope obsessively. (Mercury is in retrograde til mid-April, blast!)

"And it feels like all you'd have to do is step outside
Stop pacing around and waiting for some moment
That might never arrive"

It's hell waiting for The Call (and I really hope it's a call this time. I got emails when I sold my first two books and it's just as thrilling somehow) but I know this is what I have to do. Like I said, I'm superstitious. During the Very Bad Luck period (ie. 2010), I once made my husband bring my lucky bracelet and necklace to the bar where I work because I'd forgotten to put them on and I was convinced that my shift was going to be dead without them. I have my ears pierced 13 times because it's my lucky number and I kind of obsessively wear all 13 earrings to work for the same reason. I have a bad shift and I blame it on the barrettes I'm wearing. I seriously sometimes thing, God, I never have a good shift when I'm wearing these OR I always have a good shift when I'm wearing these. But it's totally not the case. I'll have the right number of earrings in and still have a bad day. I'll accidentally forget the earrings and have a great one. Deep down, I know it. I think I just develop these superstitions because I work in two industries that I can't control. Who knows what makes my bar crowded one night and empty the next. There is no rhyme or reasons. And other than writing the best book I can, there is really nothing more I can do there either. While my lucky charms and superstitions sometimes make feel like I do have control (I like lighting candles. Not sure why. Have a thing about energy. Works occasionally.), I've noticed they can cause more harm than good, too. Like if a day that was supposed to be spectacular according to my horoscope is ho-hum or totally awful (I'm looking at you, March 8) then I get extra bummed out about it.

So I'm trying to liberate myself from some of the silly superstitions (like the earring thing) and while I'm not into faking happiness/positivity (if you are on a bad luck streak, I fully believe you should vent and hopefully you have great friends who will comfort you. I'm very lucky to have a few of those.), I am trying to remain focused on the good and stay centered. That's why I got this tattoo:


(It means 'breathe' in Latin.)
Maybe it will be lucky. Depending on how you count, it is either my 11th or 13th... No, no. I'm not doing that anymore.

And to liberate myself from one of my writing superstitions, I've decided that I'm going to tell you the Bartender Book's real title, which thus far only my CPs and agent have known because I was certain it would jinx it, but not telling hasn't done me any favors. Of course my real logic behind this superstition is that if it sells, marketing might change it, but what the hell, with that caveat, here it is:

Getting Back To Nowhere

That was probably pretty anti-climatic for you, but it was kind of a relief to me.

So cross your fingers and hope that Getting Back To Nowhere sells, okay?

"Speak soon, stay lucky..."

29 comments:

  1. Steph, you're absolutely right that the writing life can be filled with the highest highs, followed by (or even coinciding with) heart-crushing disappointments. And because writing is such a mental activity, it's also true that what happens in your personal life can have an impact on your writing. I'm REALLY glad you feel you're getting back on your feet. My fingers are crossed for GETTING BACK TO NOWHERE!

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    1. Thanks, Holly. There have definitely been some major ups and downs and I think the trick is learning to balance them. I'm starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of it without relying on too many superstitions and good luck charms.

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  2. Seriously? Ok. Maybe if I sign in I can add my two cents? Why else are comments allowed on this blog?

    This post just makes me sick. Aren't we supposed to be talking about luck? This writer is just talking about herself, trying to get attention for other people's tragedies, and then asks us to hope that her book sells. Well, I don't hope that it sells. There's enough junk out there, no need to add to it.

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    1. Clearly you really want a response from me so here you go. I'm sorry you don't like my blog post. Yes, we are talking about luck, so I wrote about my own personal luck and taking the good with the bad. I'm absolutely not trying to get attention for other people's tragedies, I'm talking about the ups and downs in my own life and how I've been coping with them. I'm sorry it was not interesting or helpful to you. The way you are lashing out at me hasn't been particularly helpful to me either, but you got to speak your mind and make me feel badly, so I hope you enjoyed it and we can be done with this now. Perhaps you're simply having a bad day yourself and my post somehow struck a nerve, if I'm sorry. I hope tomorrow is better for both of us.

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    2. You are a sad, angry person, Kells.

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    3. No, I didn't want a response from you. I wanted to be able to say what I wanted but my comments kept getting deleted. I don't care what you think of what I say, but I want to be able to say it. If all it takes to "make" you feel badly is some criticism or some "lashing out," well, you're in for an even rougher ride as a writer.

      I think this blog post is just an attempt to get attention, and what really bothers me about it is that you pull other people's tragedies into it to garner sympathy for yourself. You sit there and relish in the shock your readers must be feeling ("Yeah, that actually happened.") and it's just fucking disgusting.

      And yeah, Brian. I'm sad and angry. I'm sad that the memories of people who have died, who have nothing to do with this writer, are reconstructed in poor taste and poor prose on this blog so this writer can float up over our heads on a little cloud of melodrama. I'm sad and angry that more people don't see this for what it is: an advertisement for a shit work in progress hiding behind an undeserved pity party.

      Nut the fuck up.

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  3. I'm glad you shared this, Steph. There's a perception sometimes that once you sell a book, it's all golden from then on. Everything you write will sell. You won't have to juggle real life/day job/family etc. with your writing anymore. When the truth is, publish writers are just as much subject to bad runs of luck, including bad publishing luck, and having to climb uphill, just like everyone else in the world.

    When an author--who is something of a public figure, because her art is "out there" for people to comment on--shares a personal story about a hard time, and overcoming an exhausting streak of bad luck, and talks about how she finds hope in the middle of that, I find it inspiring.

    And kudos on giving up that particular superstition about the title. Because I share that one! (The superstition, not the title.)

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    1. Thanks, Rosemary. We definitely all go through runs of good and bad luck and I agree that talking about it can be really helpful. I like reading how people deal with that juggling as well. And glad I'm not the only one who has that superstition about the title. I still can't say it for my WIP, but since that book is out on sub now, it's in other people's hands so what the heck.

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    2. Oh, I can't even talk about my WIPs on the Internet, even in code. *shifty eyes*

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    3. "Everything you write will sell."

      Yeah. Even if it's crap. Great words to live by. Really inspiring.

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  4. Writing is such a personal experience, Steph, that it's impossible not to be influenced by what's happening in your life. I admire you for persevering with the Bartender Book even when you were frustrated and life was looking bleak. And I'm so glad things are looking up!

    Love the title, too!

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    1. Thanks, Jan! And glad you like the title. You always have such fabulous ones :)

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  6. Stephanie, I've had a lot of issues making a living, too, and gone through times when I felt my books might never sell again. For some reason things seem to have taken a good turn and I don't know why (but I refuse to question it). My mom is on Hospice right now, and I only say that because, as Rosemary said, people think life is golden once you publish. Well, it's better than not publishing, but our problems are still our problems, and often we are not doing as well as we may be perceived from outside. So thanks for this. It felt emotionally honest. And I do cross my fingers for your book. Here's to some good luck for you.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your road with me, Catherine. I'm glad things have taken a good turn and I am so sorry that your mom is on hospice. I do hope her health improves. Hugs and thanks for the luck,

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  8. Thanks for being so honest in this post. It helps me a lot to think about my own path, lucky and unlucky as it has been.
    Julie

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  9. Thank you for sharing your journey and it's ups and downs. When you're in a down time, it's hard to see that up times will come - but they will!

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    1. Thank you, April, and your posts about keeping track of the good in life actually really helped me get out of my slump so DOUBLE thanks for that!

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  10. I think it's always brave to be honest--first with yourself and then with others. Other people may be going through something similar and they might not feel so alone because you shared your real self with them. I really hope good things are coming your way soon. <3

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    1. Thanks, Kimberly. I know I share what I do because when people share what they've been through it really does help me.

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  11. Steph, this post made me sit up and take notice. I've had my own issues with writers block/writing slump/third book rejected. I've started so many projects over the last few years and nothing seems to take for long enough to see it through the messy ugly bits. I'm trying to renew my focus but it can be a challenge. I'll keep my fingers crossed (throw salt over my shoulder, all of that) for you and your book.

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    1. Alissa, I am going to keep my fingers crossed and wish on things for you, too. I know exactly what you mean about starting so many projects. It's taken me so much longer than usual to get them going and get through the messy bits. I hope your focus is renewed soon!

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  12. I'm with you on this one, too. Keeping the faith is rough some days. Many days, really. I wish I could say that moments of rejection only tighten my focus and resolve but sometimes the opposite occurs and I think, hey, I think I'll just watch Bravo. Followed by the moment that I find myself tearing up when Bethenny tells Jason that she just can't be the bad buy anymore and I say to the tv: "I know, sweetie. I know. It will be okay. Plus let's face it. Your Jim Beam deal lets you throw money at it. That helps, doesn't it? Shhhh.... There there." And then I force myself to write another draft. Maybe that's what luck is. Refusing to accept that there is another alternative.

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    1. Yes, I love that, Joy!!! Refusing to accept that there is another alternative. Also thanks for the laugh, I do the same thing, not necessarily with Bravo, but other shows. Ha!

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  13. Stephanie, I found this post to be so inspiring. I parted ways with my agent of 12 years a few months ago, and haven't gotten up the nerve to query a new one. I've published quite a few children's books, but still doubt my talent. And I let real life get in my way far too much.

    I'm so glad things are picking up for you. This business is a crazy see-saw. Sometimes it's fun. Sometimes you want to puke.

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    1. The see-saw metaphor is perfect! And I know exactly how you feel about the agent, Dotti. I wish you the best of luck in your search for a new one. Don't doubt your talent!

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  14. I love "Getting Back to Nowhere" as a title. Rooting for you!

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    1. It's perfect if you were nowhere to begin with!

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