Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On word repetition, stuff that makes your ass go funny, and tattoos

My focus needs focusing.

You know why? Because I'm drinking a diet Coke that has been sitting on my desk for three days. I can't stop checking Twitter to see if anyone's mentioned me for #WW (Writer Wednesday) because I am just that needy, and because I used the word "focus" or some variant of it thirty-four times in my manuscript. Freaking THIRTY-FOUR times. (Granted, there are 119,000 words, so it's a frequency of only 0.000285%, but still. Thirty-four? Annoying as hell.) It's a sign. I need some focus.

My best friend is from South Africa. She says funny things, with her funny accent that for the life of me I cannot replicate, and she paints beautiful paintings. One of the more notable things she says: "Ohhh, that just made my ass go funny." She might say it if I tell her I just saw a cat get run over by a car (which I did), or if I tell her about smashing my finger in the door (done that), or if I tell her about these photos I saw online of this guy's leg after he had most of the flesh of his calf removed due to a terrible bout of flesh-eating Strep. You get what she's saying -- and your ass really does go funny when those images, those thoughts of "omigod" enter your brain. Right? (Maybe you're tougher than we are. My best friend is sorta squeamish, and it is rather like a party trick to say things that will make her blurt out, "Oooh, you just made my ahss go funneh." That's what her accent sounds like.)

There is definitely something making my ass go funny today: my manuscript is due at the formatter bright and early tomorrow morning. Omigod, you mean all this talk about turning this into a book is really going to happen? You mean, I'm going to be like the folks who have literally taken me under their wings in the last two weeks and pushed my Twitter followers into the triple digits, like Heather Hildenbrand and Megg Jensen and Angelina Kace and Tiffany King and Angela Carlie and Ashley Bray and Kara Helen, writers who have crossed over and are now called authors? Did you know there's a difference? Writers write. Authors publish. I'm freaking out a little, hence the lack of focus, and every time I think about the MS coming back to me in its finished form--yup, you guessed it. My ahss goes funneh.

So...yeah...after I wrote the post the other day about being afraid of stuff, I started to obsess (I do that) about another big milestone happening this year. I'm sorta turning...40. When I was in my twenties, I went through a divorce. I moved in with my parents, my then-3-month-old daughter in tow, until I could get my bearings, go back to school, get a job, all that. The woman across the street (super weirdo lady) had a bumper sticker on her crappy car that read "39 Forever." And guess what? She died. At 39. So she really was going to be 39 forever. I'm careful not to say stuff about not wanting to turn 40, because then I might jinx it and maybe I really won't make it to 40.

For my 37th birthday, I got a tattoo--William Shakespeare's autograph on my right forearm.
It's bad-ass. You can say it. The neighbor said I was having a midlife crisis and wanted to know if my husband was offended that I had another man's name inked forever into my flesh. Considering he paid for it and held my other hand while the needle scraped its way into my tender cells, I'm guessing he wasn't offended.

For my 39th birthday, I got another tattoo. This time, it's Joan of Arc's signature:
(Her name in French = Jehanne.) I'm fully protected now. I have creativity flowing through my writing arm, and courage streaming through my punching arm. (Okay, that's a lie. I punch right-handed. And I'm a weenie, so it's usually me getting punched. If there's a fight. Which there hasn't been since I was, like, 12, when Scott T. turned my sister's wheelchair off mid-ramp and she tipped backwards and struck her head on the asphalt. I punched him then. But I'm prepared nevertheless...oh! There was that one time when my step-sister chased me through the house with a rolling pin because I wouldn't stop making fun of her boobies, but let's leave that one alone. In case she's reading. Shout out to Sandi and her boobies!)

Maybe the tattoos are part of some lame midlife crisis. Maybe the desire to publish my book fits in there, too. I'm not getting any younger. And waiting for NYC to validate my existence is not helping the cause. I have to remind myself that this last year in the query trenches has not necessarily been a waste. I started querying a year ago Easter. Easter Sunday, in fact. The first one went out to Daniel Lazar at Writer's House. He answered me back in two hours and asked for the full. He read it, passed on it, told me to rewrite a few things, and then he'd reconsider. So I did just that, but I rushed it. I should've waited a month and brought in more beta readers/critique partners, but I didn't. I was panicking. I gave the MS another go-through, changed a ton of stuff, and then resubmitted. And he shook his head no again. Devastating. I think that one cost me two days hiding under the covers.

Things went on like this for the whole year. Suzie Townsend asked for a full (and I love her, so that was big). Then she said no. It sat at Random House Canada for three months, and I had high hopes because some important decision makers were reading it, one of whom told me that they liked it so far and were going to take it to the editorial committee. Then the rejection came in on December 12, and it stopped my life. Catastrophic is the best way to describe what it did to me. The kids tiptoed around me. Husband made pancakes. My youngest (6) wrote me a note that said I was the "best writer in the whole wide wrold," typo included.

A few other agents have asked for fulls, and partials, but most haven't bothered responding with even a thanks-but-no-thanks, the last of whom was just in February, an agent from Toronto. I was getting better at hearing no--not great at it, but better--when I started to consider the unthinkable: publishing it myself.

I don't know if you guys do this -- tell me if you do so I don't feel like the last kicker to be chosen for the dodgeball team, as per usual -- but writing anything can be very difficult if you slip into the mindset of No one's ever going to read this, so what's the point? My artist friends tell me that you write/paint/sculpt because you have to, because not doing it will eat you alive. Okay, so fine, yeah, writing keeps my Prozac dose lower, but moving forward with a project that is dead in the water? It sucks. NOW I feel energized, like there is something to write for, that I have to finish Book Two (and Three?) because someone might want it. Maybe. The point is, there now exists "hope" where before there was only "no."

I've stopped shopping for that perfect pen to use at book signings, stopped worrying about dyeing those new gray-ish hairs so people won't snicker at me being almost 40, and that energy has been redirected into where it should've been all along: in the words. Oh, and on Twitter.

I won't go on ad nauseum, but the thought of having the work out there is definitely making my ass go funny. And yet, I'm confident that the new contacts, dare I call them friends, I've made in this incredible community of writers and authors will make the transition easier, even if the book tanks.

And that, my friends, is enough to pull any sorry suck outta bed every morning. Now I'm going to go finish this flat diet Coke so I can hack at the word "focus" and send my baby for its day at the formatter. Tweep me: @JennSommersby.


  1. Haha Jenn! You have yet to write a blog post that I haven't laughed at. I am not sure if tattoos are so much a mid-life crisis as they are that you've just waited long enough to get them. I have wanted one for a long time and probably won't actually get it for a couple more years.

    I think it's great that you've had so many requests for fulls and partials. That takes guts. I never wrote seriously before now because I was too damn scared of the whole rejection, querying thing. I think your MS will do well if you've had so many requests.

    How soon are you planning on releasing Sleight?

    Oh and thanks for the mention! *hugs*

    Angeline Kace

  2. Okay, now I have PBR (post-blogpost-regret). I realized, as I was walking to the school to get my lovely boys who I almost forgot to pick up because I was Tweeting...admitting all this stuff out loud is going to do two things: First, I look like a douche for saying that I've had requests for fulls and partials. Way to brag, Jenn. Way to set yourself up for failure, Jenn. Second, I look like a goober because those fulls and partials resulted in zero deals. That might mean that the book sucks ass. So...yeah...maybe I should think before I blog.

    Nahhhhh. It's more fun to roast myself and allow everyone to whisper behind their hands with their skewers in the flame, marshmallows and hot dogs aplenty, about what a douchey goober I am. Stay with what's comfortable, right? My therapist says I use humor to deal with my issues. I think she might be onto something.


    Sleight = releasing first of April. Thanks for asking, baby cakes.

  3. Jenn- I didn't see that as bragging at all. Books don;t get picked up for all sorts of reasons; marketing can't easily label the book into 1 genre, ect, ect. That doesn't mean that you book sucks. I would be more worried if I had sent the queries and never got the offers for more.

    Haha! I use humor to deal with my issues as well.

  4. I love your tattoos and wish I wasn't so utterly terrified of needles - I'd love to have some of that creativity and strength.

    Finishing a project when there seems to be no enthusiasm is hard, I agree. I didn't start sending out or even considering self-pubbing the first book in a trilogy until I was half-way through the second because I knew rejection/discouragement might derail my project completely. That... validation, maybe(?)... and the hope, definitely, help focus the creativity.

    That moment of "Oh God, this is in print/digital format and out there and people are going to read it, where's my paper bag, I think I'm going to be sick...." is normal, at least in my opinion (whatever that's worth).

    And very few understand that better than other writers.

    I didn't see it as bragging, either - just part of the story of how you made the decision to self-pub. In fact, I'm in awe of you for querying it so many times - the query letter and synposis scare me almost more than needles.

  5. Jenn- you are my new daily cup of java. As always, love reading words straight from your brain, (don't start censoring - or thinking before typing -now!) which is why I can't wait for the book!!! So excited. So is it an April 1st launch then? For April Fools Day because that would be kinda funny to me. Let us know. And you know what, when you see those first sales show up on the Kindle report, THAT will make your ass go funny, in all sorts of new and exciting ways!!

  6. Awww, thanks, Miss Heather. Yous so sweet. Thing is--and this is where I might've screwed up--the book isn't funny. I DO have a funny "grown-up" manuscript I'm working on (and I use the word "working" loosely), and I think that will be fun once it's done. But this one...about a 17-year-old girl in a circus who learns she is heir to a 3000-year-old book. My daughter says it has its funny moments, and Gemma, the main charac, is a smart-ass (like me). So we'll goes to the formatter TODAY (GAH!), so I will let you know for sure when it's out in the Big Bad World.

    Thank you, as always, Heather, Angeline, and Kara, for being so amazingly supportive. I wish I'd met you guys years ago. Maybe I'd have more hair left in my scalp if I had.


  7. Holy Friggin Heck!! Where have you been all my life? :)

    You're hilarious! Seriously. You made my ass go funny.

    Very, very good stuff here in this post--stuff I needed to hear. The hearing "no" is killing me. I should have a thicker skin, but heck, it's tough to do. (I'm sensitive--actually, I'm getting better. I'm trying).

    Right now, my MS is being shopped around by an agent. I'm close. But not close enough. Three no's so far from the publishing houses. One editor even said she didn't like my voice. My voice. Ummm...that's like saying you hate my face. Unless I do major plastic surgery, I'm pretty much going to have this face. (Oh, that's gonna be my next blog post. I love when ideas come like that).

    Getting that reject stung like a bugger. My WIP is one chapter away from being a first draft. I know the ending. I can't write the sucker. All I can think about is how my stupid voice is all over that piece of work as well. Dang it. Dang my stupid face :)

    I'm really leaning into the idea of self publishing. I love your definition about publishing changes your status from writer to author. I like the sound of that.

    Let me know when your book is ready. Seriously. I want to know.

  8. What does that even MEAN -- "I don't like your voice?" That's just silly. I think that editor probably doesn't know what she's talking about. That's it. She's a dummy head meanie pants. *sticks tongue out*

    Don't damn your beautiful, wonderful, fantastic face (or voice). Don't listen to the naysayers. Have we taught you nothing?

    I never thought I'd self-publish. NEVER. Thought it meant I was a walking blob of rejection. What I'm LEARNING is that people who write great stories are tired of waiting for outside sources to validate them. Think of all the bands and singers and indie filmmakers, and now writers, who are making their mark. NOW is the time.

    Go. Look into it. Who's awesome? Huh? I can't hear you. YES, YOU are awesome. So am I. Or at least I might be in a few weeks...

    I'll keep you on top of what's happening with *Sleight.* Would love to have you on board as a reader. Yay, me! Thanks for stopping by and posting.

  9. Jennnn!!!! Thank you for the mention! People like you have made me love Twitter too!

    And I love your tattoos. There's something about a signature that's incredibly intimate. More intimate than a quote from Shakespeare or Joan. Awesome idea. I'm the only one in my family without a tattoo because I'm a big pansy and can't look at a needle without convulsing. :(

    And in terms of blogging about your rejections/requests for fulls/partials. Stop worrying. I need to hear things like that. I'm almost done with my first draft, and when I spend another year editing this thing, and I finally get to the query stage, I'm going to be thinking about your experience and so many others I've read about. Us authors need to know we're not the only ones in this thing, and anyone who views that as being "douchey" is a big...well, douche themselves!!