Friday, March 30, 2012
You see, last Wednesday, not much more than a week ago, I lost my mom. She was 90, but such a strong, healthy 90, I guess I thought she would live forever. Or at least another five or six years.
And now I’m supposed to talk about luck.
But, oddly enough, I have some to talk about.
You see, in the ten days or so that my mom was on Hospice care (that is, here at home, under my care, but with the help of Hospice, which was considerable) all kinds of luck was breaking out in my life.
If you’ve read some of my more recent posts, you’ll know that my career has been a great source of worry. The book sales just weren’t there. I was beginning to question whether I could continue to make my living as a writer. It didn’t look like things were about to change. My adult books have been going well in the UK, but US publishers weren’t taking a chance on them. So my agent, and her agency, helped bring out the first two of them—Second Hand Heart and When I Found You—as Indie titles.
And there they sat.
I guess it’s easy to tell one’s self that no one knows they’re there yet. But you can’t help but wince when your books are selling in the tens on any given month.
Then luck kicked in.
We got a chance to put one of the ebook editions on a 5-day free promotion.
I chose When I Found You. Because I like it a lot.
By the end of the day it was in the top 10 in Kindle Free. In the morning it was #1. Then it sank down to #2 and #3, inevitably. Then, inexplicably, it bounced back to #1.
I have no idea. No one has any idea, actually. Luck is as good an explanation as any. Something somehow conspired behind the scenes to get it noticed, and the more it was noticed the more it was noticed.
More people downloaded When I Found You during that free trial than read Pay It Forward in hardcover.
But that’s free. I make no money on that. What about when we went back to charging $2.99 again? Well, it made it up to #12 in paid. That’s essentially better than any of my books have ever done. And I still have no idea why. I still have to chalk it up to luck.
You’re probably wondering how weird it was to try to enjoy all this luck at the same time my mom was dying. Pretty weird. It was quite the emotional roller coaster. But it helped that she enjoyed it just as much. Every time she woke up, and I took her in her medication, she’d ask, “What are the numbers now?” She was nothing if not my biggest fan. She liked knowing I’d be okay after she was gone. That I’d have less to worry about.
So, no doubt, luck cuts both ways. It’s certainly possible to have the best of luck and the worst of it, all at the same time. Still, I was lucky to have my mom for so many years. And I think we were lucky that she lived just long enough to watch luck turn in my favor again. I know that was something she wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Sure, you could say that I'm lucky to be published at all. But if I told you that I sold my 10th manuscript in my 15th year of trying, do I sound so lucky now?
And things went downhill from there. After I sold my first book, my editor didn't want the second book I sent her. She didn't want lots of the proposals I wrote her for substitutes, either. We did finally agree on what my second book would be. After I wrote it and before it came out, she left for another publishing house. This is called being "orphaned." The reason it is so awful is that an editor buys your work because she makes a personal connection with it. Once she leaves, maybe another editor at the house makes a personal connection with your work too. And maybe she doesn't.
In the seven years I've been published, I've been orphaned six times.
But here's where I'm lucky: not one bit of this came as a surprise to me, and when these problems came up, I knew how to deal with them. I am a member of Romance Writers of America and my local chapter in Birmingham, Southern Magic. I was a member before I was published. I have rarely missed a meeting. And in all those years and countless talks by other, more experienced authors, I have heard that sometimes you write a whole book for an editor and she turns it down. You have to try again. You might write a proposal she turns down. You have to try again. You might get orphaned--you know what? probably not before your second book comes out, and probably not six times in seven years, but you might--and you have to try to work with an editor who wasn't the one who loved your book in the first place.
Because I wasn't entirely surprised at these turns of events and I knew I could deal with them as my writer friends have dealt with them, I worked through them to what I think is a pretty good place today. Without Romance Writers of America, maybe I wouldn't be published today. Maybe I would be, but I know I would have melted into a puddle of tears when my editor left if I hadn't known what a common occurrence this is. And that's why I'm lucky.
Occasionally I hear of a YA author who doesn't seem to be a member of any national writing group. They just figure things out on their own. But most folks seem to be members of both Romance Writers of America and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, though they're only really active in one or the other. I don't go to a lot of SCBWI meetings, but I heard Jay Asher speak at the national convention one year and wax poetic about what SCBWI had meant to him through his rocky road to publication. It sounded about like what RWA has meant to me.
Are you a member of one or the other or both or something else entirely? And do you agree with me that joining a writers' group and forcing yourself to go to meetings is the best way for an introvert to get lucky?
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
This month, our theme is luck. My colleagues have been talking about authors’ luck (and, sometimes the lack of it), and I want to change things up a bit by talking about characters’ luck.
Interestingly, as big a role as luck plays in an author’s journey—and in life—it plays very little in the lives of characters. Stories are where we examine patterns and meaning, where we explore cause and effect. Generally, we don’t want characters to solve their problems by winning the lottery, or to have their downfalls through random accident. We want them to rise and fall by their own efforts—by what they learn, or fail to learn.
Luck and chance can play a role in a story, but it’s what the character does about that good or bad luck that counts. Katniss Everdeen goes to the Hunger Games by volunteering to replace her sister, thus taking control of the bad luck that has befallen her family, to the limited extent that she can. The fact that she makes this choice arouses our sympathy and admiration even more than if her name had been the one originally drawn. Bad luck sends Peeta Mellark to the Hunger Games, and that sets a certain story line in motion, but it’s how he conducts himself at those games that makes him who he is.
Bad luck strikes Dane Rafferty in the form of Guillain-Barre syndrome in Monica M. Roe’s Thaw, but the story revolves not around passive suffering, but about the choices Dane makes: whether to cooperate in his therapy, and how to treat the people around him. “Alice” in Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl is almost powerless, a literal hostage, but at the center of the story is the one decision she can make and act upon. Ollie in Shaun David Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter has the misfortune to receive a warning that he has just one more day to live: the point of the story is what he chooses to do with it.
Luck teases us, knocks us around, favors and deserts us for reasons we can’t comprehend. But through stories, we take some measure of power, exploring what we can do with luck, and why our choices matter.
Monday, March 26, 2012
It's not something I like about myself, but it's definitely in my head. I try to fight it, to believe that the only luck we have is the luck we make for ourselves. But nah, I don't buy it. Even when I wrote that sentence in the back of my mind a little voice was saying "But there's luck too. We can do as much as we can, work as hard as possible, but luck still factors in."
My name is Janet and I believe in luck.
The other day when I was driving my son to school a black cat ran right across the road in front of us. Across our path. I didn't scream or even say anything about it. (I'm trying not to pass along SOME of my weirdness to my son.) But it bothered me. I went home to work on the laptop, pretending the cat crossing didn't matter, but I waited for something bad to happen. And there's always bad things that are easier to attribute to bad luck. Right? I consciously won at not letting it ruin my day, but the first bad thing that happened, I thought of that cat.
But because I believe in bad luck...that also means I believe in good luck. So I'm hopeful, and I think that's something that has served me well as an author. I spent a lot of time searching in clover patches when I was a kid. I never found a four leaf clover. Not once. But I still haven't given up. Show me a clover patch and I'll still scan it, believing I have a chance of finding that elusive one. I guess along with luck, persistence is a really great quality to cultivate.
I'm a believer that luck has definitely played into my publishing journey. Right book. Right place. Right time. Right query letter to the right agent. My first book sold in a way that luck definitely factored into. I had amicably ended an agent agreement with an agent who had signed me for a book about witches (that never sold btw). I had another book written, a boy book about a hockey player that I'd shown the agent, but she hadn't shopped. So our agent/client relationship was over but she went for lunch with an editor of a new YA imprint and told the agent she was looking for a boy book. The agent thought of my book, contacted me to see if I wanted to show it to the editor and, well, you can guess the rest of it. She offered to rep me again for it, and of course I said yes and that was my first sale- Waiting To Score, which I wrote under a pseudonym.
Things didn't work out with that publisher or that agent, perhaps there was some bad luck to offset the good, but I was fortunate enough to go on to sign with a wonderful new agent and a wonderful new publisher, Sourcebooks. I got to sell a first book as a new author, Janet Gurtler with a new imprint and a fresh start. I like to think there was some great synergy in the new path and lady luck was definitely playing some fabulous games in the background of my new journey. I'm not saying I didn't have to work hard on craft and play an active role in working towards the book sales, BUT I do like to think that luck has lent me a helping hand from time to time.
I do believe we choose our own paths in life, but sometimes it seems like the roads on those paths can be made rougher or smoother by outside forces. Let's hope the force is good. The luck is good.
In the meantime, I don't carry a rabbit's foot, but I have other things that I believe make me luckier. ;) Superstitious. That's me. No twelve step program needed.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Unfortunately ... (the party was in Florida, and he was in NY)
Fortunately ... (his friend lent him an airplane)
Unfortunately ... (the motor exploded)
Fortunately ... (there was a parachute on the airplane)
Unfortunately ... (there was a hole in the parachute)
... I wrote a second novel called Sink or Swim
Unfortunately ... (there was a pitchfork in the haystack)
… I never finished it.
Fortunately ... (he missed the pitchfork)
… I wrote a third novel AND had an amazing critique group
Unfortunately ... (Ned missed the haystack)
… my third novel was also rejected many times.
Fortunately ... (he landed in water)
… an agent gave me detailed feedback on it.
Unfortunately ... (there were sharks in the water)
… it took me a long time to revise.
Fortunately ... (he could swim)
… I loved the book even more when I finished.
Unfortunately, there were tigers on the land
…the agent didn’t love it as much as I did.
Fortunately ... (he could run)
... I attended a novel writing workshop with a friend
Unfortunately ... (he ran into a deep dark cave)
… the workshop had nothing to do with publishing
Fortunately ... (he could dig)
… my instructor recommended me to his agent anyway.
Unfortunately (he dug himself into a fancy ballroom)
… his agent only represented novels for adults
Fortunately ... (there was a surprise party going on)
… she recommended me to another agent
And fortunately ... (the party was for him)
… the 2nd agent loved My Invented Life & sold it to Holt
Because, fortunately ... (it was his birthday)
… it was my birthday (not really).
The end ☺
Monday, March 19, 2012
Luck is such an interesting concept. On one hand it seems like it’s totally out of our control. Roll the dice, one day you’re the lucky one, the other day you’re not. Don’t go looking for luck, it’ll find you—eventually. On the other hand, I feel like if you have persistence and perseverance, luck will ultimately come your way.
Let’s take my first book contract for example. I did not write a book on a whim. I’ve always wanted to be an author and wrote throughout my childhood and early adulthood. I became serious about wanting to sell a book about ten years ago, but it still took me about six years to actually sell a book. I had many close calls but perhaps during those times luck was not on my side.
I slugged through all the rejections and never gave up. Finally I sold Shrinking Violet in early 2008. I had put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears and this was my time. Sure there was some luck involved, my editor really connected with my book because she was shy growing up like my main character. But hopefully if she was not the one to make an offer on the book, someone else would have eventually.
And then of course selling the movie rights to Shrinking Violet I felt super lucky! And to have the movie actually made, ten times luckier! So although I don’t have the answer on luck, I do like to think with the right amount of effort, luck will come my way. Of course for some things it takes longer than others, but if the end result is good, I’m willing to wait!
Sunday, March 18, 2012
All these great posts about luck got me thinking about luck in its various disguises. Such as--
What didn't happen. There's a country song about this: "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers"--the thing you were dying for with all your heart that, had it happened, would have completely messed up your life. (Here I might mention certain guys I dated.) (On second thought, I might not.)
The bad thing that wasn't worse. My friend from India said this is when you thank the gods for watching over you, because you're still here to thank them. The day the Mercedes rammed into my car, crunching my door in, requiring weeks of car repair--my daughter and I walked away unscathed. Thank you.
Planned happenstance. My friend Andreas taught me this term for how I go through life. Not so much drawing up a detailed game plan, as working hard and being ready for the opportunities that drift your way. It's much more rewarding to say than "dumb luck." I like this term. I wrote it in big letter on a sheet of paper and put it over my desk.
The stubborn piece of writing. I tackle a scene again and again and each time it resists coming together. How could this (insert curse word of choice) be lucky? But once I realize it's me being stubborn instead of the page, I see my approach was all wrong. If the piece had flowed along smoothly from the start, I might have kept carrying the page--and the book--in the wrong direction. It wasn't an obstacle; it was a story-angel watching out for the story's heart. Which brings me to:
Those damned silver linings. They're so hard to see at first. This winter my mother had seizures that landed her in the hospital. Bad luck? Major silver lining--her medication changed for the first time in decades, and now she feels livelier than she has in years. She'd known something was off, but had no idea what it was. She's grateful for that scary patch. We all are. Sometimes the silver lining is realizing how precious life is, so you go tell the people you love that you love them.
Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't need scary patches to remember to do that? Go tell someone you love that you love them right now. Maybe something wonderful will come your way. Whether or not you want to call it luck is up to you.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
I love to contemplate concepts like luck and fate. As widely understood, luck is random, a chance throw of the dice, if you will. Fate, on the other hand, is something predetermined or unavoidable, one’s lot in life. To my way of thinking, the two aren’t quite so distinct.
In the fall of 1976, my family had what would, by any definition, be considered a string of bad luck. We lived in the Detroit area, and my dad worked for General Motors. The late 70s were a rough time for the auto industry, and my dad had just come off of a layoff. Never flush to begin with, family finances were tight.
My older sister, sixteen at the time, started a grease fire (accidentally, of course). While putting out the fire, my dad suffered third-degree burns up and down his legs and arms. The result was another leave from work, extensive damage to our kitchen, as well as a flurry of medical bills. Not good. We were a one-income household (of two adults and three kids). Not to mention that my dad was severely injured.
General Motors had a policy at the time that a sick leave of more than a month required a full physical examination. As a result of this work-up which included X-rays, a large shadow was discovered surrounding my father’s heart. Within hours of reading those scans, my father was wheeled into surgery for an aortic aneurysm. In layman’s terms, it’s a blockage of the major artery carrying blood from the heart to the vital organs. An aorta is normally the size of a finger; his had swelled to the size of a grapefruit. We were told that without finding an anomaly on the X-ray, he had maybe a week before it ruptured. And the rupture would have most definitely killed him.
How’s that for a three-sixty swing on perspective?
What we’d considered bad luck became, within minutes, fortunate and opportune. And most people who heard of the coincidence used words like “blessing in disguise” and “providence.”
I am a big believer in fate. Those who have read my novel STORK know it plays a large role (is practically a secondary character, for that matter). I’m not so sure that anything in our lives are random. Perhaps it’s my psyche’s way of accepting those things I can’t change, but I like to think things happen for a reason.
The years following my father’s surgery weren’t easy, and, sadly, he only lived another two and a half years. Nonetheless, I know, despite more health issues, he felt fortunate to have had more time with his family.
Luck, like so many things, can shift and reshape before our eyes. Is it random? Or a close cousin of destiny? I don’t pretend to have any answers. I know my sister once took the blame for our fire; she later claimed credit.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way.
Friday, March 16, 2012
I guess I believe in the wheel of fortune. I don’t mean the game show, because I am really tired of that show and I can’t believe it’s still on the air. I was a tiny child when it first came on and my grandmother would eat crackers and cheese and she’d shout out answers and call all the contestants idiots. My poor grandma has been dead for over a decade. The show goes on…
Wait. I’m talking about the medieval “Lady Fortuna.” The philosophical notion that we’re all on a spinning wheel and sometimes we’re lucky and sometimes we’re unlucky and we go around and around and have little control and so all we can do is shrug and say, “I can’t control that. So it goes… So it goes…”
Oh yes. I have had good years and I have had bad years.
Woo! In 2007, I got a book contract and my radio show was picked up by public radio and money flowed in and I thought: My ship is here, baby! I bought some nice furniture.
What?! In 2008, my radio show was done and the economy went south and my editor was laid off and my hot water heater exploded and ruined a bunch of my tenants’ junk and I ran up credit card debt just to stay alive. I thought: We’re all gonna die!
We did not all die.
Bad luck didn't come from bad behavior. Really, I am not in control of my water heater or my publisher or the economy. Crap happens. Instead of freaking out, I needed to shrug. Get to work. Keep plugging away. Instead, I began to eat at Taco Bell almost daily, because I was trying to fill the hole in my heart.
And then, for no apparent reason, things got better! And then worse! And then better!
Here’s what I’ve noticed, though: as long as I keep working hard, good stuff happens more often than not. Here’s also what I’ve noticed: If I eat at Taco Bell too much, I don’t fit in my pants and I don’t want to leave the house, because my pants don’t fit and I find that embarrassing. I can control trouble caused by Taco Bell.
Yes, luck comes to those who work hard. I have a higher percentage of lucky days if I work hard. But I always try to keep in mind, especially when I’m high on the smell of my own sweet success: the wheel of fortune is spinning and bad stuff is going to happen and that’s as big a part of life as anything. I also have to remember this: don’t worry about the various trouble you can’t control. Face the trouble. Nod at it. Get back to work.
Also, don’t go to Taco Bell.
-- Geoff Herbach
Thursday, March 15, 2012
What is luck? Is it really finding that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Gold is pretty cool. You can buy a lot of stuff with it. Maybe you can be freed up from a lot of worries if you have it. You can provide for your family. Yep, it's pretty cool.
It's funny, though, because there are tons of stories of people who won the lottery and ended up depressed, alone, miserable.... So maybe the pot of gold isn't exactly the point. Maybe the point is actually the rainbow that gets you there.
Funny thing about rainbows -- they boast every color, not just gold, and funnier still, they usually show up after rain.
I looked up quotes about luck on the Internet. Some of them said that everything is luck. Others suggested that luck is only hard work in disguise. I liked this one:
"All of us have bad luck and good luck. The man who persists through the bad luck - who keeps right on going - is the man who is there when the good luck comes - and is ready to receive it." (~ Robert Collier.) This is why we should never give up.
I'd add a caveat, though -- it can be pretty hard to know which is the good luck and which is the bad. Sometimes what we believe to be good luck turns out not to be and sometimes what feels like bad luck leads us somewhere wonderful. Or as the Dalai Lama said, "Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck."
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
So, luck. Here’s a weird story. I went to a writer’s conference in Squaw Valley to see if I could interest any of the agents there in my novel about white Indians. At the airport in Reno, waiting for the bus out to Squaw, a stranger came up to me and handed me a cream soda. He said I was thirsty, he said I was there for a reason, and that I would see the purpose soon. I saw from his clothes and face that he was an American Indian (like in the book I’d just finished), and, parched, I cracked the soda open. We drank and we talked. I didn’t tell him about my book (I always felt bad about what Europeans did to Native Americans), but he seemed to know. I don’t usually believe in this stuff, but I had a profound feeling something would happen. I’d been writing for years, dozens of stories, three novels, and lots of close encounters at a number of writer’s conferences, but still, I had no agent, and no book published yet.
At the conference (my second at Squaw, a conference I highly recommend), there was an earthquake during the editors panel, but everyone calmly watched their glasses tinkle together, then went on. A bird flew into the room, flapped around until we shooed it out, and we went on. One of those editors read my first 15 pgs, and said I should get an agent. She gave me Jill Grinberg’s name – agent to Scott Westerfeld and Garth Nix (!), and I contacted her. She fell in love with my novel, and she and I have been together ever since. That was in 2001.
That first book, Redemption, went on to win the American Book Award. My second novel, Deadly, just won the National Jewish Book Award. I feel very strongly that awards are luck. To me, luck is not something you have much control over. You can be prepared, you can jump on opportunities, but you can’t buy or obtain luck as a commodity. It just happens. That defines awards. Yes, my publisher submitted my book, giving me the opportunity. But I couldn’t really tell you why I won an award over the hundreds of great titles that come out every year. It’s as mysterious as an American Indian walking out of your own novel and up to you in an airport and handing you a cream soda just when you’re about to die of thirst.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
"It took so long to get me back on my feet
It takes so long to find the words and the beat"
You've been pacing around and waiting
For some moment that might never arrive at all"
Stop pacing around and waiting for some moment
That might never arrive"
Monday, March 12, 2012
Saturday, March 10, 2012
“Luck” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. There’s the “Hail Mary” basket that sinks at the buzzer, the flight that takes off minutes before the storm hits, the stray kitten that shows up on the doorstep of people who decide to take him in. But it’s also a concept that can be looked at several ways. For example, a woman with no family history of cancer is diagnosed with it, seemingly struck at random. You’d hardly call that lucky. But the doctor says, “You’re lucky because when we treat it at this early stage, it’s 99% curable.”
In this situation is she lucky, unlucky, or does luck even come into play?
When I was trying to get published for the first time, I kept writing and revising, attending conferences and paying for critiques, taking classes and studying, hoping to catch the attention of an editor who couldn’t resist my writing. There were some glimmers of success when an editor or agent I’d met or queried asked to see more, but that lucky break didn’t come. So I kept doing what I was doing, and in 2005 I met Rosemary Stimola at a writing conference. At the time our meeting didn't feel lucky. She wasn't interested in the manuscript I'd submitted for a critique although she seemed curious about the first page of a story I was just beginning to write. But in 2007, after I’d finished the manuscript that eventually became Fairest of Them All, I sent her a query reminding her of our meeting. Two months later I signed with her.
Since then many writers have commented—with great envy—how lucky I was to get such an amazing agent. I agree. I was lucky that my first page caught her attention, that the idea of a beauty queen with alopecia intrigued her, that she liked my writing style. Those were factors I had no way of controlling.
But I give myself credit, too. Despite numerous rejections, I’d kept studying and writing for more than a decade. As soon as advance information about that writing conference arrived I selected Rosemary as the person I wanted to critique my manuscript and fine-tuned those first 10 pages—and the dreaded synopsis—so I wouldn’t have to scramble preparing them at the last minute. The day after the writing conference information arrived in the mail, I sent in my registration, check, and manuscript for critiquing. Critique slots with Ms. Stimola were limited, and the only way to be certain of snagging one was to be first in line. And after she'd expressed interest in my blind first page during the group critiques, I discussed the project during our time together. Those few minutes were enough to help her remember me two years later.
Was I lucky to get one of the best agents in the business? Absolutely. But without all that preparation, it would never have happened.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Lots of things happen like that when writing. I'll be stuck and then I'll hear something or see something that un-sticks me for no reason at all and I'm off and running. I love happy circumstances, like listening to the B-52s Quiche Lorraine, a song from so long ago that I love, and then seeing Quiche Lorraine on a menu at a restaurant the next day. What are the chances? I mean, really, I listen to a song for the first time in years and there it is the next day on a menu - what restaurant has quiche on its menu nowadays?
This morning I heard a song that I've heard a few times before and just loved. So I decided to find it. The video blew me away. Yes, it's cool, but it also has so much to do with the book I'm currently finishing writing, down to the concept of art filling in the shapes of people. This morning I was all set to write a scene at an art musuem around a particular painting that is a mosaic of sorts, just like this video. What are the chances? So I've already had my luck (or perfectly coinciding circumsance) today. It's Gotye's version of Somebody That I Used to Know, featuring Kimbra.
Luck is a state of mind. Let me explain.
There are times when it's pretty darn obvious that "luck has had something to do with it," whatever it might be. Lets imagine a typical story of luck saving the day. It might hypothetically go something like this...
The traffic on the highway is crazy and because of that, I get to the airport late. I'm having the worst luck ever--I've missed my flight. Life stinks--until I find out later--that my plane just crash landed. I wasn't on it. In the blink of an eye, I've just jumped from having bad luck to having good luck.
But luck isn't usually that easy to figure out. More often than not, the scenario goes something like this.
I miss my deadline for a conference critique and lose my slot. I'm very angry with myself for wasting a wonderful opportunity. I imagine that I've just lost my big break-out moment with the "perfect" agent/editor. This is bad luck. But despite being a grumpy, moody, meanie (I did say that I'm an optimist at heart) I make a friend and we decide to critique each others work--trying to take lemons and make lemonade. We head for the lobby, where unfortunately, we run into more bad luck--all the comfy couches are taken. We spend three hours on a lousy, uncomfortable bench, but we discover a couple things in the process. First, we really like each other. Second, the bench we're sitting on is really a golf bag holder. You can't help but laugh at that. Meaning...I'm not a grumpy, moody, meanie any more, but it's actually not until a little later that it all becomes obvious. We become best friends and critique partners and we're there to help each other weather the ups and downs of both a writing life and a regular life.
I am so grateful that I missed that critique. Luck is where you chose to find it, so never disregard what might be sitting in the golf bag holder. Chances are--it's Moore than you could have ever imagined.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Rather than talk about me and when I have and haven’t felt like a lucky person, I’ve decided to approach this post from a different angle: Things I used to do when I was a kid that I felt would bring luck. Hopefully some of you gentle readers will remember your own weird luck rituals and we’ll have a little chat about this when you comment. Yup. That’s what I hope.
We’ll call it: Stuff Little Joy Did (And sometimes still does) That She Thought Would Bring Her Luck
1. I used to have a green rabbit’s foot key chain. Not so lucky for the rabbit, huh? The chain part was stuck into the rabbit’s foot at the top where I guess the foot used to be connected to the rabbit. I was too weirded out to actually put my house key on it, so I kept it in my underwear drawer. (What is it with underwear drawers, anyway? Why do we hide stuff there? )
2. Wishing on a star. I still do this sometimes when I see the first star in the sky at night. Have you ever done this? “Star light. Star bright. I wish I may. I wish I might find a star to wish tonight.” And then you wish.
3. Searching for a four-leaf clover. I have never found one. But in Lincoln Park in Chicago where I grew up, there was a lot of clover. I looked a bunch. Sometimes I pretended that a three-leaf clover had four leaves. Yeah. I was that geeky.
4. Knocking on wood. Yeah, I still do this. Lots of stories about where it came from, some folkloric, others religious. But if you ask me how the books are going, I may indeed answer, “Good, thanks. Knock on wood.” I know this isn’t totally rational. But it pops out of my mouth.
5. Letting a ladybug land on my finger and then blowing it away and making a wish. There was a rhyme, too – although I don’t know what it had to do with luck: “Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire, your children will burn.” (See #1 above. Not so lucky sounding for the ladybug) Are there ladybugs in Houston? I haven’t seen one since I lived in Chicago.
6. Wishing on: birthday candles and wishbones. Doesn’t everybody do this? I loved wishing on that wishbone at Thanksgiving, my brother and I grabbing that creepy slimy thing and trying to snap it. Once again, not so lucky for the turkey, eh?
There’s more, but that should get you guys thinking.
Monday, March 5, 2012
In many cases, I think you can.
Four mornings a week I run five miles. Now that it's light out again I keep my eyes peeled for the glint of coins. I love to find change. Coins (and even bills) say "In God We Trust," and it's a reminder that I shouldn't worry and fret so much. (I am an excellent fretter.) Sometimes weeks can go by without finding a single coin.
Last year, I found $2.44.5. (This total includes a half penny.) So far this year I have found $.34.
Back in early 2009, when I was very worried about money (I had quit my day job a year earlier), I found a penny as I walked to the post office. Then another penny. Then, on an unpaved road, glinting in some pine needles that were the same rust red color, I found 20 pennies. It was such a strange sight. I have no idea why they were there. Maybe someone got tired of them cluttering up their parking change stash and just dumped them?
For me, those coins felt very lucky. Felt like a message that everything would work out. (And it has.)
I think there are some tricks to luck:
- Keep your eyes open. For example, I tried all the standard ways to get an agent. But when I saw an agent's name mentioned in an article in the New York Times, I thought "Why not?" and sent her a query. We've been together ever since.
- Cover a lot of ground. Your first book didn't interest any agents? Break it down and rewrite it. Or start a new one. Keep trying, keeping pushing, keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Every night, before I go to sleep, I try to think of three things I'm grateful for that happened that day. I won't lie to you. Sometimes it's a stretch.
This month, I feel very lucky to have two books out: the paperback of Girl, Stolen and the hardcover of The Night She Disappeared.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
I suppose, if anyone was ever going to say they were unlucky, it could have been me, during that search for my first yes—after all, I spent seven and a half years seeking my first publishing deal. Seven and a half years. In that time, my friends from college finished up PhDs, started teaching, doing research, became professionals. I often felt like all I had was a deep gash in the drywall where I’d spent months upon months banging my head against it. And rejection slips. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of them—more than a thousand in all.
Still, I remained optimistic. (After seven and a half years, it was either be optimistic, or go all Sylvia Plath!) I was sure my luck was going to change.
Enter the holiday season of ’08. That’s when my YA, A BLUE SO DARK, was under submission at Flux. I spoke to Brian (Farrey, acquisitions editor at Flux) for the first time just before Thanksgiving, and though I tried to play it cool, I spent Christmas on pins and needles, tied up in knots, hoping that finally the acceptance I’d been working toward for so long would appear.
Appear it did, just a few days after the new year. And literally two hours—I swear it’s true—two hours after I accepted the offer from Flux, the phone rang. On the other end of the line was an agent who was raving about a middle grade book I’d sent earlier that fall. With an offer of representation.
I accepted (Deborah Warren later sold my debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, to Dial, and is still my agent). After that initial phone call, though, in the winter of ’09, I just stood in my kitchen, dazed, wondering how it could have happened. Seven and a half years I’d been seeking a book deal, seeking representation. And in the course of two hours in one day, I had both.
The thing is, though, I can’t attribute that incredible day to holiday magic or to elusive good luck. That day is the result of hard work. Period. That day happened because I really did read every single one of those thousand-plus rejection letters (more than eighty of them were rejections for A BLUE SO DARK). Painful as it sometimes was, I didn’t just toss those rejections in the trash, insist I was right, and continue to submit the same book over and over. I digested the critique and I dove back in, revising before submitting again.
For the most part, I really think that’s what luck is made of: the ability to recognize your own shortcomings, the willingness to listen to advice, and the sweat of some insanely hard work.