Garth Stein: Hope Wears Chuck Taylors

I recently read the book The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Initially I had no interest in reading the book. It’s about a dog’s life, his family and in particular, the racing career of the father. I’m not into car racing at all. I figured I wouldn’t like it. But the book kept popping up: in conversations, in front of my face at the bookstore, on Goodreads. So I figured if the universe was hitting me over the head with it I may as well give it a read. I loved it. I read it in two days. It made me happy and sad and thankful. I then went and bought his newest book, A Sudden Light, and read that in a few days.

The Art of Racing in the Rain Garth Stein

I saw that Garth was doing a speaking event near me and decided to attend. I didn’t know what to expect from the talk and tried to keep my expectations low.

Let me tell you that when Garth showed up in Chuck Taylors I texted my friend asking if it would be weird to beg him to be my best friend. The guy has nerdy-cool on lockdown. I only have nerdy horse-girl on lockdown.

And then his talk got me all choked up and now he has a fan for life.

A Sudden Light Garth Stein

He told the story of writing Racing and how excited he was to send it to his agent (he had already published two books) and even more so, how exited he was to get a call back and hear how the agent liked the story. He got a call, but it wasn’t what he expected. The agent was not a fan of the story. The agent actually said no publisher would like the book. And that nobody would buy the book. No one would read a story narrated by a dog. So Garth and the agent parted ways.

Now Garth had to send the book to anonymous agents trying to get them to represent him. They all said he had a great talent for writing, but they didn’t like the story. Said they couldn’t sell it because it was narrated by a dog.

Eventually he found himself sitting around a table of fellow authors. He shared his frustration over not being able to find an agent. One particular author perked up and told Garth to contact his agent. That author was Layne Maheu who wrote Song of the Crow. Layne figured if his agent could sell his book narrated by a crow, that perhaps he could assist with Garth’s book.

Four million copies later, sell he did. Four million copies. That’s a little more than the entire population of the state of Oregon.

Those words spoke directly to my worried, doubtful mind. Because while my heart loves my book, my mind worries about what this is all for, worries what I will do if no agent represents my book, worries the story is not as good as I think it is. Of course I have plan B, and a plan C, and even a plan Z. But the treadmill of rejection requires hope. And that is what this generous author’s talk gave me. The entire publishing process is not easy for anyone. Even a man who went on to sell 4 million copies of his book. I stifled my weepy, thankful tears.

Now you might find this hard to believe, but I am actually an introvert. Waiting in line for the book signing I had to talk myself into telling him that I am currently in the query trenches and was thankful for his kind words on querying. I got up in front of him, thanked him for his story and told him where I was at in my own journey.

Query Rejection Tracking
Rejections are more fun when tracked in pink

He asked me if my story was good. I said of course it’s good. I think it’s great. And he replied, that’s good, that’s what you should say. I told him how many queries I’d sent out, how many rejections I’d received (25 queries sent out, 12 13 rejections back so far) and that I planned to just keep going until I hit about 100. He chuckled. It was a knowing chuckle. He wrote a name on a book mark and put it in my book. He said it was the name of an agent in California who he liked and told me to look him up. I said I would. As I was thanking him and backing away, he said, “tell him you met me at this event and I told you to contact him.”

That? Right there? That’s called a referral. It is meaningful in the publishing industry because it gets you a notch above the anonymous (and enormous) slush pile of email query letters. I’m not going to lie to you. When I got to my car I let a couple of those stifled tears go. For many reasons. For hope. For kindness. For finding one more breadcrumb on this long and confusing journey.

Now, the not so great news is that I looked up the agent and I just, and I mean JUST, queried another agent at the same agency last week. There are rules against simultaneously querying agents within the same agency. And sometimes if you get a rejection from one agent, that’s considered a rejection from the agency as a whole. So that’s not ideal. But I’ll wait to hear from the first agent, and if I get a rejection, I’ll still reach out to the recommended agent and let him know I previously queried one of his colleagues.

Bedside Bookstand
Some might call this a problem. I call it a passion. Some of these I’ve already read, some I have read partway through, and others are waiting to be read.

Garth said during his talk that there is writing, and then there is the business of writing. The business of writing is about making connections. So who knows what connection might be made by reaching out to that other agent. And even more so, I love the concept of making connections. Because the business of writing is not just about making business connections, it’s about making an emotional connection with readers.

If you have the chance to hear Garth Stein speak, I highly recommend you go. It’s not just for writers. It’s for anyone who would like to hear some good, funny, touching stories. And really, isn’t that what any of us want?

Have you been to an author talk you found inspiring? Who was the author and why was it meaningful to you?

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PS: Alternative title for this post was suggested by my husband as GS, I Love You. I thought my stalker status might be too high with that one.

PPS: Photo credit to my good friend Melissa Coloma (@melsue81) for the main image because you know I don’t actually own a pair of Chucks.

For The Dreamers

This week marks one year since I was asked to carry the American flag during the national anthem for our local rodeo. My gut had twisted in on itself at the thought. I was both terrified and exhilarated. I was sick with the question of if I could actually do it. I don’t know how big the flag is at your local rodeo, but the flag at our rodeo is HUGE. It is a being unto itself. The wooden pole that carries it flexes with the wind resistance and yet is stiff and unyielding against your leg while you’re trying to cue your horse.

But I didn’t know any of that yet. All I knew is that I had been asked to do something that I only ever dreamed of, and I had to say yes. Even though I knew I wanted to say yes, I still had doubts. I asked my friends and family what they thought about being invited to do something you’ve only dreamt of, but fearing the risk, that risk being public humiliation if you fail. Not one person told me to give up the opportunity. Every single person said that I had to do it, whatever it was. I hadn’t admitted to them what the thing was that I both wanted and feared.

Fourth of July Rodeo American Flag Queen
I’m pretty sure at this point I was thinking how tired my arm was and figuring out how much of the song was left. Ha ha. Photo courtesy of Chris T. Sloan.

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I made up my mind to do it and practiced and everything fell into place. I’ve written about it before. I had to work for it. I had to work to condition my shoulder to handle the resistance of the flag. I had to condition my mind to think that I could succeed rather than worrying about failing. But I did do the work. And I did find a horse to ride and we carried that gorgeous red white and blue flag around that arena that I’d been going to since I was a 4h-er running in the calf scramble.

I had some hiccups, my horse got a ball of dirt in her hoof and was off in our trot, then we had a little trip and picked up the wrong lead. I curse the damn flag pole for that, as I couldn’t get my right spur into her side enough. I curse myself for not wearing a longer spur on my right boot. And I didn’t always have that flag perfectly upright.

For a while, I really picked on those things. I felt bad that I hadn’t done a better job. And then I realized, there is not one person in those stands who could judge me. I got on a horse and rode around in front of 3000 people and old glory didn’t touch the ground and my family got to watch me live out my dream. It wasn’t perfect, as things never are when you’ve never done them before. But I did it.

Keep Calm or Freak Out
Whatever you’re working on, make sure to surround yourself with people who are cheering you on. One of my best friends got me this hilarious card and made me a “Wonder Woman” oil mix before my rodeo ride.

How timely then that the reminder of me preparing to carry that flag should come up now, in the midst of winding down on editing my book and making preparations to send query letters to agents. Will I make some mistakes? Without a doubt. Is my book perfect? I’d love to think so, but the reality is, probably not. But are either of those things going to stop me? They never have before, so I figure, why start now?

I wrote a book. I wrote out over 83 thousand words in a cohesive manner that a few people of found enjoyable (the few who have read it). That in and of itself is an accomplishment. I want to see it get to a wide audience, to get wide distribution, but whatever the outcome, I think I can be happy with what I’ve done. I don’t believe there’s anyone who could say I’ve half-assed it, that I didn’t give it my all, didn’t try my best. And this, after all, the only thing we can do, is to try our best.

If You Assume Success Neville Goddard Quote for Dreamers

Whatever big-ass, scary, intimidating dream your dreaming, keep dreaming it. Do the work. Believe in the dream. Please don’t let your own doubts or fear get in the way of something wonderful. Without dreamers, you wouldn’t even be reading these words on your smartphone, on this blog, on the weird and invisible thing called the internet.

Dreamers never stop trying. And neither should you.

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The Art of The Journey: Why I’m Writing A Novel (Plus a Sample From Chapter 1)


When I was 22 I left Oregon in my little red Honda Civic and drove 21 hours to Wickenburg, Arizona to work on a guest ranch. I was a little lost in school, a lot lost in life. I won’t romanticize the ranch, it was hard work. The owners had high expectations and the manager was not a very nice person. But the desert was exactly what I needed. And I met the most amazing man there, who I now get to call my husband. I didn’t know when I met him that I would fall in love with him. He actually had a girlfriend at a different ranch when we met. But we became fast friends because of our mutual love of movies, sarcasm and complaining about work. Eventually the girlfriend became an ex-girlfriend and we started dating.

Even before I left the ranch, I knew I wanted to write about it. I knew what I wanted to write about. I never wanted to write about myself. I wanted to write about this amazing independent woman who worked on the ranch. She became the inspiration for the main character of my novel. After my work at the ranch ended, I started writing the story. In two years I wrote 36 pages. And then I put the story down and didn’t pick it up for years. I thought I was going to PA school. And then I wasn’t. But I was still intensely focused on my career in healthcare.

In 2015 I marveled at how 10 years had passed since I met my husband. Since that ranch changed the trajectory of my life. And I decided that I wanted to finish that story I started so long ago. And so began this journey you are accompanying me on now. If it weren’t for the book, this blog wouldn’t even exist. This blog is a product of my dream of finishing my story and the prodding of a good friend to chronicle my thoughts. I would be nothing without the strong women who have been a part of my life throughout my time on earth. I am built by them. Starting first with my mother. Then my sister. And out from there, like concentric rings of inspiration, each woman adding more.

My story is about an independent woman who must continue to grow. The main character is Sam Hart, a female wrangler at the Broken Hart guest ranch. She is looking forward to a satisfying winter season of leading dudes on trail rides. But with Eli Wright as the detestable general manager, the likelihood of a peaceful season is slipping away. And Sam feels her job, and even her future with the ranch, are threatened.

Vulture Peak, Wickenburg Arizona

This story is a work in process. I am still actively editing it. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter. I wanted to share a taste of the story. To give a feel of what I’m working on.

And if you’re wondering what the hell made me want to write a novel, my only answer is that I had to. I don’t know why. I can’t question the process too much because the doubts become too large. I just have to do this. There is a saying by Thomas Carlyle. “Go as far as you can see. When you get there, you’ll see further.” So that is what I’m doing. I can’t see much beyond the telling of this story. But I am guided by a pull in my heart stronger than my fear that this is all for nothing.

Without further ado, here is the sample.

 

“Eli Wright came onto the ranch with nothing but an old shitty Ford truck and a mouth full of rotten teeth. He had nothing, he came from nothing, and then he showed up here and wants everything.”

“Samantha, honey. He can’t be that bad.”

“Mama,” Sam spoke through gritted teeth, “He knows nothing. But he acts like he knows everything. I just cannot believe Ron and Pearl promoted him to manager after having him as the head wrangler for just one season.”

“Sam, I’m sorry, but you knew this was going to happen. You knew it when you left at the end of last season. You haven’t even gotten started with this season. Maybe you should think about giving him a chance. You’re the one who told me Ron was very successful in day trading, he must see something in Eli that you don’t.”

“Well now I wish I hadn’t told you that, because I don’t like you turning it around on me.”

“I’m not trying to turn it around on you. But what choice do you have?”

“I could leave.”

“And go where? Another ranch? And then if there’s a no good, rotten-mouth, jerk there you going to leave that ranch too?”

“Well actually Ron and Pearl fixed his teeth for him over the summer. So now he has a full set of shiny veneers.”

“How do you know that? And anyway, quit distracting me. You got to buck up cowgirl. You can’t just pick up and leave when you get bored or the going gets—“

“Shit, ma. Sorry. Gotta go. He’s coming right now.” Sam cut her mom off.

“You called me from the ranch? What the heck, Sam? That is not smart.”

“Okay, mom, love you too. Great talking to you. Thanks for all the advice.” Sam set the phone on the receiver, her mom’s admonishments still floating up to her.

Eli walked in to the staff dining room, “Hey, been looking for you all over the place. I thought you were cleaning and oiling saddles?”

“I was. I finished up and came in to give my ma a call.”

“Okay, well we got shit to do. You all caught up on the gossip going on back home?”

“We weren’t—it wasn’t gossip. Never mind. Why were you looking for me?”

“The newest ops girl needs to be towed out of the river bed.”

“What the hell was she doing going through the dry river crossing?”

“Don’t know. You can ask her when we go pull her out. Figured you could help me.”

“Okay.”

“And we need to take your truck.”

“Why wouldn’t we take the ranch truck?”

“I ran it out of gas. Well it has a little bit left in it, but not enough to go pull her out of the sand.”

“You what? How did you?” She now knew why he needed her help to tow the girl’s car out of the sand.

“Don’t worry about it. Just meet me at the truck. I’ll grab the towing chain out of it.”

Sam got in her new Dodge, she purchased it over the summer and the new car smell hadn’t left the upholstery yet. She pulled the truck around to Eli’s trailer, where the gas-less ranch truck sat. Eli’s rusted-out teal truck sat next to the ranch truck. She recalled how her heart had sunk when she pulled onto the ranch a few days earlier and saw the truck angled in front of the ranch office. She had hoped perhaps he wouldn’t return.

BANG! Eli slammed the chains in the bed of the Dodge and came around to Sam’s open driver’s side window.

“Jeez, Eli. You wanna watch my paint job? You really tossed that in there.”

“Ah c’mon Sam. You should have a bed liner anyway. Nobody keeps their trucks with a slick bed anymore anyway.”

“Yeah, bed liners cost money. So unless you’re giving out free liners, I’d like to keep it looking new for longer than a couple months.”

“Fine, fine. You gonna get out and let me drive or what?”

“Excuse me? Why would I let you drive my truck?”

Eli looked at her, mouth agape, threw his hands up and walked over to the passenger side and got in the truck. “What the hell’s up with you today?”

“Do I really need to explain to you why I would like to drive my own truck?”

“Whatever, Sam. Let’s get on our way. I’m looking forward to seeing what fresh meat we’re getting in.”

Sam ignored the comment. “So how did you even know she was stuck?”

“She walked to Holleran’s ranch and he called over here, because obviously her cell phone didn’t work. He called the office phone. Said the employee line was busy.”

“Oh so I guess you weren’t really looking all over for me then. You knew I was in the staff dining room on the phone.”

“Well I just got lucky. The staff dining room is where I started.”

Sam drove the truck off the ranch and south toward the fork in the gravel road. The fork to the north led to the Broken Hart Ranch. The fork to the East lead across the dry river bed and to the Holleran’s ranch and a few other private properties.

As they approached, they could see the girl’s red, two-door coup crouched in the piled up sand on the left side of the worn ruts. Sand filled the gaps in the wheel rim and came up to the bottom of the car. Eli opened his door before Sam had even cut the engine.

“Well hi there, Tess. Hear ya got a little problem.”

The young woman blushed. “Yeah, seems the desert got one up on me already.” Her long blonde hair sat on top of her head in a loose bun, her skin glinted with prickles of perspiration

Sam walked up to the leggy girl and offered her hand, “Hi Tess, I’m Samantha, but everyone calls me Sam.” They shook hands and Sam couldn’t decide if she was meeting a pretty, gritty girl or a wannabe cowgirl. The girl’s nails were artfully manicured with acrylic French tips, and her buttery leather boots bore no wear lines. Between the sports car, the manicure and the brand new boots, Sam decided she was looking at a wannabe cowgirl.

“Nice to meet you.” Tess gave Sam a wide smile, filled with straight white teeth that reminded Sam of a bleached-white orange peel. Tess seemed to sense Sam’s judgment. She chuckled and gestured at the car, “I swear they told me that thing could handle off-roading. But I guess the 2 feet of loose sand proved a little too much for it.”

 

Well, what do you think? Would you keep reading? Would it make you click “Buy Now” in your amazon account? Is there a strong woman in your life who has inspired you years after you first met her?

Wickenburg Arizona Guest Ranch Cowgirl
The ceramic horse was a joke, I was taking it around town taking photos with it, and then sent the horse and the photos back home to a friend. I still have those Ariat boots. Sadly, the hat was destroyed by our beloved Connor dog.

Legal Stuff: This is all copyrighted work, so please, no copying, reprinting or using of these words without my express permission.

What A Difference A Year Makes

What a difference a year makes. Do you ever take a moment to think about what you’ve done in the last twelve months? How far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown, what you’ve accomplished? I don’t mean necessarily on New Year’s Day, I mean some other demarcation in the year, a date that’s meaningful to you. There are a couple big days for me right now that I use as measurements for progress. One date is April 11, 2016. That is the day that my sweet German Shepherd succumbed, quite traumatically, to a brain tumor in our home. Another is September 26th, 2015, the date I started this blog. My very first blog.

The blog anniversary turned out to be quite a milestone for me. When I started, I didn’t know what this would look like, if anyone would even want to read my musings and opinions and funny (ridiculous?) stories. But you did. And it has been amazing. Every comment about how I made someone laugh, encouraged them, made them feel supported along their own path, has been the drive to keep me going. They have been the breadcrumbs I needed to keep me moving down a path. A path I enjoy being on but can’t see where exactly it is going.

In the year since I started in earnest to finish my book, I hit a few special peaks. I finished the manuscript for my book in January. I also secured a monthly online column with Northwest Horse Source. God willing, I should also have a horse related article coming out in a national publication in the next few months. When it happens, I promise to share, but right now I’m afraid to jinx it and so don’t want to say what magazine or what the article is about. I also found an affordable editor to help me take my novel to the next level.

Looking back at these things keeps me putting one foot in front of the other. I still sometimes shake my head at myself, at the idea of writing a book. It takes guts to have a BIG dream. You have got to ignore the people who might be so insecure themselves that they question why you should dream and do such a thing. And even more important, you MUST ignore that little troll inside your own head that makes you question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and even if you can do it. No matter what it is. I have to work at having guts even a year after starting this blog. Even after finishing my manuscript and finding an editor. I think ignoring the troll will be a lifetime activity.

oregon-legend
In case you can’t read the inscription, it says” The Oregon Trail branched in Idaho, at Fort Hall. The route south to California was marked by a heap of gold quartz, the one north by a sign lettered, “To Oregon.” Those who could read came here.

One of the things that helps to keep me going are the breadcrumbs I seem to get, pointing me further down the path. Before the blog, before the finished manuscript, there were awkward conversations of admitting my dream to close friends. One close friend told me of a weekend writing workshop in my area. From that workshop I ended up going to a writing conference in Redmond, Oregon for Women Writing the West, last fall. That workshop set me up with enough energy and direction to get the manuscript down on paper.

I sent in my manuscript to an editor this spring. After receiving my marked-up manuscript back from the editor this summer, I sank into a pit of self-loathing and despair. (Ten points if you know what movie the pit of despair is from). A trip to Portland at the beginning of October, and a generous friend waiting around while I disappeared into Powell’s bookstore, reminded me why I had started. So I picked up the marked up copy of my story and started making the changes. Self-pity be damned.

powells-bookstore-portland-oregon

Many people seem to be keeping tabs on the process of me writing a book. I was chatting with a physician who I work with and updating him where I am with the book and my plan for the next 6 months. He looked and me and said “Did I ever tell you my sister owns a literary agency in New York City?”

Me in a louder-than-professional voice, “Uh, no you did not! I think that’s something I would remember!”

He pulled up her website and showed me her amazing brick-and-mortar business front just four blocks from Times Square. I leaned over his desk and asked “How could you not have told me this before?” Still in a not especially professional voice. He laughed and said he thought he had. And then he emailed her while I was standing there and asked her about the status of her literary agents.

Now his sister’s agency is more interested in scripts than novels, and also has agents representing performers. However, the news of this connection was a very large, caffeine-infused breadcrumb. Fortunately, or unfortunately, many things in this world still work according to what connections you have and who you know. My physician friend’s sister may not do anything with my manuscript when it’s finished. But she might be able to connect me with someone who would. Such a connection could help me bypass the email query letters to anonymous agents, thereby also skipping the possibility of my manuscript ending up in a mile-high slush pile to languish for months.

follow-your-arrow

I’m telling you all of this for a couple reasons. For one, I thought you might be interested to know how my little (big!) project is progressing. But more broadly, I hope you can take this as something to think about in your own life. That you can see that those breadcrumbs that keep turning up are encouraging you to follow your own path. (Do you have a story that this makes you think: “Yes! That’s exactly what happened  to me!” Tell me about it. I love hearing others’ stories) I don’t know what my destination is, but when I see these little positive arrows pointing me forward, I believe they are messages not to quit.

And as for the dog-iversary, I can’t believe it’s been six months since his passing. I no longer wake up looking for his dark figure lying next to the bed. I am hopeful that wherever his spirit is, he can help guide the next puppy into our home and hearts. Preferably one who doesn’t snack on small dogs and pieces of my house. That’s not too much to ask, right?

german-shepherd-dog-long-coat
Rest In Peace good buddy.

Book Update: Why I’m Not Loving My Editor

Many of you may know that I am attempting to write a book. My blog says the book is written, which is true. I did write a full 97,000 words. However, saying it’s written infers that in some way it’s finished, which is far from the truth. Before submitting the story to agents (to hopefully get it sold to a large publisher) I found an editor to go through the story and help me get it cleaned up, thereby increasing my chances of getting it picked up by a large publisher. And if no large publisher picks it up after several (more than 30) tries, I’ll move on to working with an independent publisher.

Anyway, the editor has had the manuscript for a couple months and we are just now getting down to the work of going through her concerns over the phone. Now I miraculously managed to find someone who actually really cares about the story, and wants to see it in its best form possible. But the horrible flip side to that is that she isn’t just sending me back grammatical and structural issues. She is going through the holes in the story, the inconsistencies, the flatness of my villain. And it is not fun. It may even be more fun to go to the dentist than to talk through the issues in my manuscript with her.

She is a perfectly lovely woman who is very intelligent and respectful in her feedback. But basically she doesn’t feel my manuscript is in a shape to be saleable to anyone. Mind you, I was hoping to start querying agents by the end of June. It’s June 13th. That’s not happening. When I speak to her I have to breathe deeply and remind myself I’m paying her to tell me these things about my manuscript and not to take her words personally and hang up on her.

Horses Pulling Car Out of Sand Fort Worth Stockyards Texas
I feel a little like the car in this scenario, a little bogged down. This photo was in the original stock trader’s building at the Forth Worth, Texas stockyards. Apparently I have a thing with buried cars (see 10 Years Ago A Tow if you don’t know to what I’m referring).

We had our second conversation tonight and she was discussing the narrative perspective of the story and I was whining about how working through these issues was going to be painful. Her response? “It’s not going to be painful, it’s going to be awful.” She fully gets how distressing it is to hear that your project, that was 10 years in the making, that took several hundred hours to craft, is still in rickety shape. It’s like I just built a Pinterest pallet table with only three legs. I spent all my energy putting it together, and now she wants me to go back and add a leg and make it look less like a pallet and more like some Restoration Hardware piece of art. But I’m exhausted!

She doesn’t care. And neither do any of the readers out there who would pick up the three-legged pallet version of the book. They want the Restoration Hardware version. I have some hard work ahead of me. But I certainly didn’t put all those hours into the thing just to shrug and say, “Eh, it’s good enough.”

And for all of my lovely people who might say, “Well what does she know? You don’t have to listen to her! Your manuscript is flawless!” It’s true, I don’t have to take any of her suggestions. But the problem is that I know the issues she’s pointing out are valid. I missed a step, I forgot to give the reader some information, my villain IS rather flat. So I can’t just let it remain with these problems that I know are actual problems. They have to be fixed. It wouldn’t be fair to the story to just leave little piles of unfinished work and holes around the story.

So my new goal is to have the thing in better shape by September. I don’t know if it will be ready to query agents by then or not, but at least I have a goal for when to have the issues fixed.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself, I know that I can’t complain because I’m writing a book and it’s hard (imagine whiny annoying voice). No one cares. Of course it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. And apparently a lot of people DO write books that maybe they didn’t take the time to craft to perfection and that’s why Simon & Schuster didn’t immediately fall all over themselves trying to sign the author as fast as possible. But hopefully I can polish my work to a point that Simon & Schuster pauses for a moment and takes a second look. (Or falls all over themselves, that’s fine too, just trying to be cautiously hopeful here).

So that’s where the book is at, if you’re wondering. I’m in some weird universe where I’m paying someone to tell me what’s wrong with me. I mean the book. I guess that’s what trainers are to horseback riding, I just have a smaller ego when it comes to horseback riding, so it’s not as painful when they tell me I’m not doing so hot. I already know. I’ll keep plugging along. Just wanted to give an update, and maybe to garner a teensy-weensy bit of sympathy, I mean, it’s not great to hear about all the problems with the book. But I’ve got to go through it to get to the other side and have the book be better than good.

Not Winning Doesn’t Always Mean Losing

I told you a little bit ago about a writing competition I entered, I was nervous because I didn’t want to feel like I failed if I didn’t win. Winners would receive cash prizes and publication of their stories, and more important to me, the endorsement that their writing is good and worthy of award. Winners were to be notified by mail on or before Monday February 29th. I did not win. I didn’t even win 10th place. No feedback, no, “almost but not quite,” just a black void of nothingness where I sent my story.

I already went through the mourning of not winning. I knew on Friday that it wasn’t to be. My husband and good friend both said, “There’s two more days! You can’t be so sure yet.” But I knew. I hoped I was wrong, but I knew I had to come to terms with the loss. I shed a few tears. Really and truly, I only shed a few. And not because I failed, not because I took this as a sign that I am a horrible writer and should immediately cease any further attempts at writing, but just because I desperately wanted to win. I wanted the endorsement from total strangers, literary elite, that my writing is good and that I am going places. The blog’s been a little slow, my inspiration has been flagging, and that would have been a huge boost.

But I did not pull out a congratulatory letter from my mail box today.

What I did receive in the mail today was a $200 donation from someone who believes in what I am doing so much that she gave me $200 dollars toward getting my manuscript professionally edited. This person, who shall remain anonymous, had previously mentioned giving me money but I said nothing at the time. I was a little uncomfortable with the idea. Why should someone else give me money for something that I myself hadn’t been willing to shell out money for? I am absolutely in awe of the timing. I didn’t win the writing competition, but I certainly didn’t lose today.

If life is anything summed up in one word, it’s perseverance. Those who win, do so because they never quit. If I won today, I wouldn’t have learned the right lesson anyway. You can’t learn to be resilient and persistent if the journey is smooth sailing the whole way through.

A tearful thank you to my donor, for the absolute greatest timing.

Bears at Brooks Falls Katmai National Park Alaska
I will try to be more like the bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska, patiently waiting for the fish. They don’t go hungry, I got to watch them repeatedly catch fish while working in Alaska in 2007. Catching fish and writing stories takes time, patience, and perseverance.

Why Ask Why? Just Follow The Path

I was telling someone about my story the other day and they asked me what in the world possessed me to write a book. Possession is absolutely the right word. Life is about prioritizing interests, and I have many, so it gets a little stressful trying to carve out time for my friends, family, horseback riding, house chores, dog walking, writing and oh, my husband! Yet, the writing is almost at the level of an impulsion. I sit down and write at night the way other people sit down and watch TV.

I have been writing for much of my life. I kept a journal before I even made it to my angsty pre-teen middle school years. I repeatedly started a story about a mysterious house in the woods and I actually completed a few stories in high school. I also wrote articles for the high school newspaper.

Before the invention of blogs, I would send blast emails to all of my contacts about my adventures, my time working in Arizona and Alaska, and the three weeks I spent in Ethiopia. Plus there was that awkward couple years where I used MySpace as a blog.

So my propensity for writing isn’t a new thing, but the organized and focused approach as of late is a new level of devotion. Some of you might ask why. It’s a fair question, and I ask myself that same thing sometimes. But no one asks me why I ride and show my horse. It’s obvious: because I like to. But writing seems to need some kind of purpose beyond liking to share it in a public manner. I’ve said in my About Me section that I started the blog to grow a readership when the time comes to publish my book. But the blog has also become its own beast. Not a beast of burden, but a lovely creature connecting me to people I never would have met otherwise. People who have told me my words encouraged them, made them laugh, made them think or resonated with them in some way. Those comments are food for my soul, and an unexpected by-product of me just following my passion.

These Boots Are Made For Walking Bag
…And these hands were made for writing. Another passion: shopping. This bag was irresistible, it’s by Backroads Textiles

I write a monthly on-line column for a regional horse publication (Northwest Horse Source) and I wrote to my editor (I like saying “my editor,” makes me feel fancy and official) asking for advice in the editing process. I have recently been struggling to edit my manuscript, not feeling particularly inspired to pore over it looking for mistakes and problem areas.

She, Catherine Madera my editor, responded, “Just don’t give up. Writing, now more than ever, is a tough business. But if you can’t help yourself, and you don’t give up, you’ll find your niche.” Okay, okay, she’s not really my editor, but the editor who edits my pieces for NW Horse Source.

Her response to me was both one of the most inspiring and most depressing things anyone has told me about my writing yet. I find it depressing because I know she’s right. I know the writing industry and the publishing industry, are undergoing ripples of changes and fighting to stay relevant in an age when people largely receive information passively and electronically (TV news on in the background, Facebook feeds, Twitter trending tweets). But I also found it inspiring because she perfectly captured my possession. She said “If you can’t help yourself…”

I can’t. I can’t help myself. I mean, I managed to write 76,000 words in less than a year while working a full time job and not really even knowing what I was doing. And I believe those 76,000 words are strung together in sentences and paragraphs and chapters that carve out a lovely, gripping, and powerful story of the strength we all have within us. And I will get the dang thing edited, and I will submit it to agents, because I can’t help myself. I don’t know where this path leads, maybe nowhere, but telling this story that has lived within my bones for the last 10 years will be success enough, even if I self-publish it and never make a dime.

So that’s going to be my new response when people ask why I write: because I just can’t help myself, I’m possessed. I know there are others like me. What can’t you help yourself over? What drives you forward every day? I hope there’s something you’re passionate about, life’s too short not to have something that feeds you and makes you get out of bed every day.

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You Never Win The Lottery You Don’t Play

Why does putting yourself out there feel so awkward and downright scary? I entered a short story competition, and during the submission, and even after I hit the “Submit” button, I felt like puking. What would happen if I never heard from the organizers again? Except for them to say “thanks for your $25 entry fee and have a nice life.” Nothing, nothing would happen. I would go on living, breathing and dreaming. And if I never told anyone that I entered, no one would even know that I… FAILED. Ah, here we go, that’s where that gross feeling in my stomach is coming from. Because what if I’m not as great as I think I am, what if my story is not as good as I think it is? Or what if the story is really good but I just entered the same competition as some Hemingway-esque genius that wrote the next Hills Like White Elephants?

Well then, obviously that savant is winning the competition and I’ll stick to the pulp fiction I’m good at. But why do I doubt and twist and torture myself anyway? I did something. I wrote something. I edited it, and I submitted it humbly, hoping that it provides some entertainment. Why should I feel shame if a room full of New York coffee-slugging, black-sweater wearing, literature aficionados don’t like my work? I apologize in advance to New Yorkers, but this is how I imagine your publishing elite. Maybe I just didn’t write for the right audience. Sure, there is a chance what I wrote is a big pile of steaming crap, but given you keep coming back here to read what I wrote, I’m guessing that’s not it.

I’m analytical by nature; my bachelor’s degree is in human physiology. So when I think of the anxiety I get from inching out further and further on the ledge, I think of the useless adrenaline my brain is telling my body to pump into my veins. Why the hell my brain thinks we should be getting ready to fight or flee, just by trying something new, is beyond me.

A few months ago I reached out to a regional horse publication, Northwest Horse Source, to see if there was any possibility of doing an article or guest post. After the editor reviewed the sample blog posts I submitted, I was invited to post a monthly column for 2016. I saw the January column posted for the first time today, in all its official looking glory, a bio section on me and everything. I’m not doing groundbreaking work here, but I’m doing something. If I never would have asked if I could write something for them, I never would have been invited to do a monthly column. If I never submitted my short story into the competition, I would never even have a chance at winning. I still may not win, but you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.

So here I go, taking little baby steps toward a larger goal, publishing my book (which by the way it turns out is a huge pain in the ass to edit), getting doses of adrenaline dumped in my body by my instinctual brain. But I’m going to keep doing it. It’s terrifying and electrifying. Life is short; I’m not going to let a little adrenaline keep me from pushing the envelope.

Oh and go buy a lottery ticket, I hear it’s getting big.

Good Luck in the lottery

Happy New Year, Happy Trails

Did you know that sometimes I stare at my blank computer screen with nothing to say for minutes on end? I’ll take a break from doing nothing to check and see if something gripping happened over on Facebook. Nothing did. So I’ll go back to my blank page, wondering what the hell I should write about. But then a really terrible thing happens, I start to wonder why I should write anything at all. I wrote my story. I made 75K words, it’s now time to clean it up, edit it and edit it again. But instead of feeling motivated to work on it, a very stupid part of my brain wishes my blabber mouth hadn’t said anything about the story, hadn’t started this ridiculous blog and started this even more ludicrous journey of trying to a publish a book.

Sometimes I tell people I feel that this process is ridiculous. But my wonderful friends remind me that millions of other people have written and published books, some of which might be worse than mine, so why is it ridiculous for me to try to do the same thing? I can’t argue with their logic.

I have a similar internal argument with myself over showing my horse. Every spring I try to show in at least one Arabian breed show. But about the time I’ve told people I’m working toward that goal, when rubber hits road and it’s time to get to work, I wonder why the hell I would want to do such an absurd thing. Growth is HARD. Getting better at controlling your body in tune with your horse’s body is hard. Writing a book, as it turns out, is also hard. Who knew? But no one wants to hear about how hard writing a book is. What a privileged and hilarious thing to complain about! So I don’t. Okay, I try not to. I’m guessing I do whine from time to time.

The only reason I start talking down to myself about attempting such feats is because I get scared that I might not accomplish what I set out to do. I linger a little too long inside my head pondering the scary what-if’s rather than actually sitting my ass down and doing the work. Whether that work is in a saddle on my horse or in a chair in front of my computer.

I seriously hope I’m not the only crazy person who engages in these kinds of over-analytical-progress-killing-thinkathons. Anyone? Please don’t let me be the only crazy out here on the edge. Please?

At any rate, even though I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions, I will again be showing in the Arabian breed show in our area in April and I want to have my story edited to the hilt and ready for agent queries by June of 2016. These are my goals. You can call them New Year’s resolutions if you want to. I generally think of them as fear-inducing personal growth opportunities. God, do you think I have undiagnosed anxiety? I sure talk about worry and fear a lot (see Why I Promised to Worry Less, Why Does My Saddle Say Die, or Why Horse Trainers Are Horrible People Who I Can’t Live Without). Apparently I also start a lot of my posts with “why.” Thank goodness you find me entertaining.

So I’ll be working toward these two goals and I’ll try not to whine about either one of them, because I would be blessed to be able to pursue, either. But I’m so blessed I can work toward both. And I hope you work toward whatever goals you have, New Year’s resolutions or otherwise.

Whatever your coming year looks like, I hope whatever you want for yourself, you are blessed with.

Happy New Year and happy trails.

Happy New Year & Happy Trails Barbed Wire at sunset

God Bless Your Literate Mind & Supportive Heart

I just hit 75,019 words.

I have much work left to do, but I have achieved more than I ever really considered possible. I started this story 9 years ago. I played with it in college and then let it languish at a paltry 36 pages for seven long years. I was inspired to finish it during the 10 year anniversary of that winter spent on an Arizona guest ranch. I worked at the story over the spring and felt my story was done at 56 thousand words. I then got it up to 62 thousand words and thought I could be finished. At the writing conference in October, I found out that in order to be marketable to large publishing houses, I would need to have at least 75,000 words. I set out to hit that mark. In 9 weeks I wrote 13 thousand words. But I didn’t just write words. I developed my characters, I deepened my love for this story, I grew my confidence, I told more people, I asked for more support, I asked people to spread the word.

I have no idea where this road leads, but I absolutely LOVE being on it. I love sharing what’s inside with you all. My ultimate goal is to see these words published. I’ll try to go big. I’ll submit queries to agents. And if that doesn’t work out, I will approach smaller, independent publishers. If that doesn’t work, then I will self-publish.

Even though I have hit my goal of word count, I am nowhere near finished. I still have some loose ends to tie up in the story. I need to edit it. Then my wonderful husband will edit the story. Then I will push it out to my beta readers to read and edit my baby. When all of the suggestions have been filtered through, when all of the changes, updates, grammar issues and errors have been corrected, when I’ve read and re-read the story so many times I am absolutely sick of the damn thing and am ready to throw it away, THEN I will begin the query process.

I’ve already gained so much from this experience. Rome wasn’t built in a day; my readers certainly aren’t going to discover me in three months. I am not a patient person, but I am learning how to accept the process as it unfolds and in its own time. I have learned that the number of views on my blog is no bearing on the quality of my writing. I have accepted that as long as I know I produced something from my heart, I can do no more. But I’ll never stop looking at the statistics, and they aren’t too shabby for a budding blog.

If you’re reading this, thank you. God bless your literate mind and supportive heart.

Much love,

Theresa

Wyoming Wind River Range at 11000 feet
I added this photo to this post because this is me holding our dude ranch horses at 11,000 feet on top of Grassy Knoll in the Wind River Range in Wyoming. I was cold, and a little nervous at the height, but I was so happy to be there. Writing a book feels a little ridiculous, like being blown around a grassy knoll at 11K feet.