I used to be such —
Ah, ‘used to be’. Famous words that begin many tales.
I used to be a model. I used to be a salesman. I used to be very flexible. I used to drink more coffee, stay up late and party, and go to work early.
Words of memory, ‘used to be’ invokes a sense of gentle passing on what was, a point to pivot onto the current moment. In my case…
I used to be such a desirable customer. Oh, the offers that came in the mail. First were the weekly avalanches of credit card and banking offers, magazines, and book and music clubs. They all wanted me. Every day, I considered and rejected suitors. No, you’re not for me, American Express. No thank you, Delta. I’ll pass today, Discover. Come back another day, Book of the Month.
Ed McMahon and American Family Publishing dropped in sometimes, delighting me with the news that I MAY HAVE ALREADY WON. I didn’t win, but I appreciated their optimism. Sometimes, Publishing Clearing House also came by to tell me that I’m a potential winner. Both wanted me to buy magazines. I did, once, because I was a newly appointed young adult, with an income, and I liked car magazines. They billed me later.
Dating services targeted me for a while. I guess they thought I was lonely. Then came ways to save via coupons on buying new checks, eating out at restaurants, getting my car repaired or painted, my carpet cleaned, and my windows washed.
As we passed into the last half of the past decade, suitors come less frequently. Maybe they were giving up. Their pitches changed. Cruise lines and vacation resorts showered me with beautiful people having wonderful times in beautiful, exotic locations. Politicians solicited my support and donations. I started hearing from hearing-aid companies for a while. A few companies wondered if I had enough health and life insurance. Others wanted me to plan for how my loved ones and I were going to be buried. Concerned investing firms approached, offering to buy me a meal while worrying whether I had enough money saved for retirement. I appreciated their efforts, but gently tore their offers in half and deposited them in the recycle bin.
A few realtors approached, asking if I wanted to sell my house, telling me that I could really make some money because they already had buyers lined up. The Great Cable Wars brought more offers for a few years in my late fifties as satellite dish companies sprang forward, trying to gain market share. Sometimes I received three offers in one day from them, three, I tell you, in one day. Yep, I was a wanted man.
Alas, I’m no longer a young adult. The mail suitors have disappeared. Oh, some have changed with the times and approach me via email, notably AARP and Viagra, competing against Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, the DNC, all who beseech me daily to give, give, give, along with urgent requests to sign petitions. Then,of course, they’ve called, too, but with caller ID, they soon learned that I don’t answer the phone.
Now, they’ve all stopped trying, it seems. All that remains is Spectrum. Having taken over Charter, they’re trying hard to win me. They’re doing it the old fashioned way, too, first with people coming door to door (charming young men) asking me how much I pay for my phone service and what Internet service provider I use, assuring me that I’ll do much better with them.
Then came the mail pieces, one every day, (except Monday, a holiday), but a piece came Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Tears of memory sprang to my eyes as I realized, Spectrum wants me. It’d been so long. I almost hated tearing up their offers, and held off for a few minutes, thinking about their kindness, reaching out to me for my money, just like the old days.
“Thank you, Spectrum,” I whispered, and then tossed the offers away.
It feels good to be wanted.
I dreamed I was with another writer. He never came into focus for me so I can’t provide a description.
We were in a small, long room with cinder block walls that were painted light green. He and a few others were seated at a long folding table that’d been set up. They were sitting on metal folding chairs. I was across from them. The writer been published after long years of effort. His first published book was a bestseller, so now, suddenly, they wanted more of his work to publish.
Several people were present, helping him, but I remained a spectator. He had cardboard boxes of stuff. First, he pulled out novels that he’d written that were printed out on computer fan-fold paper using a dot-matrix printer. After making three stacks of those, he added another stack of printed standard paper. Then he drew out stacks of black five and a quarter floppy discs and made a neat collection of those. Last, he drew out colorful three and a half inch floppies and made another tall deck. This was his work, which made me laugh. I wanted to say, hey, I have all those at home, too.
A blonde woman who’d been sitting by and helping said, “Okay, now we need to get these out to people. How’re we going to do that?” Some conversation that I couldn’t follow came up.
Then, bizarrely, we were walking. Leaving an airport gate, we headed out of one terminal and into another, going for a down escalator. A woman in a dark blue sweater was ahead of us. Glancing over her shoulder quickly twice, I realized that she was interested in the blonde woman that I accompanied. Then I knew that the blonde woman was famous (but I didn’t know why) and that the woman in the sweater was a fan.
I said to the sweater woman, “It’s okay, you can approach.”
She pretended not to hear me (that was my impression). I said something to the blonde woman. Smiling, she replied, “I’ll take care of it.” Increasing her stride a bit, she caught up with the other person, and said, “Hi,” in a wonderfully friendly voice. “I saw you look at me and thought that I’d like to meet you.”
That’s when the dream ended.
Quick updates on the writing and submitting fronts.
- I’d originally hoped to complete It Begins by January 15th. I’d begun it on November first. Writing had progressed to the point that I really thought I had a chance to finish it by the end of 2019. Now, though, I think it’s more realistic to believe that I’ll finish it by the end of January. Fingers crossed.
- More dismaying, I had a target of three hundred pages for the first draft. I’m on page 292, and I can see that it’ll be more than three hundred pages. I’m hopeful that I’ll finish it with less than three hundred fifty pages. I can then edit it down.
- I responded to the agents who requested more material on the last novel, April Showers 1921. After I finished editing it in October, I’d submitted it to agents. I’ve had some response but, knowing how long it is before one says yes or no, I decided to submit to more agents. I kicked it out to ten more. I have good feelings about several of the agents, but I tend to be an optimist.
Those are the main things. For background, the completion target of January 15th was simply a spur of the moment decision, a whim to provide focus, grab my attention, and stimulate my discipline. It seems to be working.
The page count was a more practical matter. I tend to write long books (or books that turn into a series of books). April Showers 1921 is six hundred pages and one hundred eighty thousand words. Incomplete States, the series that I completed at the end of 2018, is five novels and four hundred twenty-eight thousand words. I felt like I needed to write something smaller.
It was another excellent day of writing like crazy. Let me give credit to the muses; I couldn’t do it without them.
About the only detail that marred it was that I had to work at a counter in the coffee shop, sitting on a stool. I don’t like sitting on stools. Nothing personal against stools, but I can’t get comfortable on them. Due to that, I ended up standing for most of the writing session. Now my dogs are barking (an expression that I’ve always enjoyed).
Time to call it a day. One, there are other things to do. Two, the coffee cup is empty. Three, I’m very hungry.
I was frothing with surprise and delight for a while today.
The morning’s email brought interest from three agents. They wanted to see more material from April Showers 1921, a surprise. I thought that all interest from the first round of submissions had died (accomplished in October, 2019). I was regrouping for another round of submissions.
I also thought how odd it was that these agent things happen in clumps. But then, I submit in clumps, and the agents describe similar processes and response times. It shouldn’t be a surprise when they respond in clumps.
What WAS a surprise was an agent expressing interest in Four on Kyrios, the first novel of the Incomplete States series (five books). I submitted to her in February, 2019, ten months ago.
(A pause to consider that I’d finished writing a five novel series last year (Incomplete States, 430,000 words), and then wrote a novel earlier this year (April Showers 1921, 180,000 words), and now I’m finishing a third book (To Begin, 73,000 words so far). And yes, that does please me. Plodding along at about five pages a day does start adding up. Especially when I remember that Incomplete States and all of its support documents (side stories, character, planet, and cultural histories, etc) added up to one million words.)
Although it’s exciting to receive the emails from the agents, after reflecting, I thought, well, I’ll do my writing session today, and then try to respond to these agents tonight. I wasn’t being contrary or sabotaging myself, but in thinking through where I was and who I am, I enjoy the writing process, I’m enjoying writing the current novel, and I have momentum. (The muses are being friendly and I don’t want to alienate them.) So, although my goal is to find publication for those previously written novels, writing the current novel entices me more.
It’s a curious sensation. Yeah, I seek publication beyond the self-publishing of the four novels that I’ve already done. The agent interest is validation, in one sense; someone is interested! In another sense, I shrug; I’ve always written for myself, creating mysteries and logic problems for me to solve, building and expanding worlds in my mind, and discovering characters who emerge as people to me.
I’m also a tinge jaded, reconciling myself, yeah, you’ve been shown interest by agents and editors before, and it’s come to naught. (Really, are you so cynical, Michael?)
Yes, I am. More than cynicism, in the course of writing novels and following a quest to be a better thinker, story-teller, and writer, I’ve fallen out of concern about what others think about my writing. I can argue that some of that is self-preservation (and perhaps a tincture of imposter syndrome). See, if I don’t get excited, then I’ll be less dejected if the agents decline my project. That’s the theory.
It’s also short-sighted; being in a bubble of my own thinking, reading, writing, and criticism means that I don’t receive feedback that could help me grow.
So, being cynical, jaded, short-sighted, and dubious, writing, with all of its challenges and frustrations, is more immediately rewarding and satisfying. Solving these self-made issues generates a sweet dopamine infusion. Perhaps that’s the lesson — and warning — that I should really find in my response today: I’m a writing addict, looking for a quick fix.
Today’s news does want me to treat myself to a scone or muffin. Comfort food, I believe, to help cope; the potential for advancing also carries the angst and burden of failure. Have something to eat, right? It’s a humorous pattern.
Yet, again…there was that time when I came across a woman reading my novel at a Starbucks here in my town, a cool experience. I’ve received feedback from readers about how my they’ve enjoyed something I’ve written, which was a powerful jolt to the ego. Multiple those intangible rewards by the potential that being published on a larger scale could bring.
Also in passing, though, I do enjoy reading my own work. It’s fun to read what I’ve written, and it often surprises me. I understand what that says about my process and being in the tube. What was originally conceived and written (in my methodology) frequently evolves under editing, revising, refinement, and polishing. I write to know what I think, and I rewrite to clarify it and deal with loopholes in my thinking (and plotting and problem solving).
As a final piece, of course; this is me, today. Me, tomorrow, or yesterday — or even later today — might respond differently. Moods (and the hopes and expectations related to them) are dynamic. Hence, I needed to write all of this out just to think about it, a prelude, perhaps, to discovering how I feel.
Well, it’s all thinking fodder. Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.
Got to feed that addiction, you know?