Writing Wins (!)

This was a rare whirlwind of wins for me this week, and I just wanted to celebrate!

Memoir: I started editing my book!

If you might recall, several weeks ago, I met with a few literary agents who expressed interest in my memoir. One of them wanted me to send the first 20 pages of my manuscript and a synopsis. Well, this week I busted out a 600-word synopsis (for which I am now seeking feedback) and started macro-editing the first 20 pages. I used the book The Artful Edit by Susan Bell to get me started, and it has been so helpful, mostly in getting me to ensure that every sentence I include in my book is there on purpose.

Publishing: I was published in The Billfold!

I am in my second class with the delightful Michele Filgate, who I took for Creative Nonfiction online at Sackett Street and now freelancing at Catapult. When I submitted an essay to my class about my quest for financial security is in conflict with my life as a writer, Michele suggested that I pitch it to The Billfold. I did, thinking I wouldn’t even get a response, but I did, and my essay ran this past Friday! It’s gotten 66 recommends (!!!) and so many positive comments, I am really overwhelmed by how well-received it’s been! I mean, I guess the way I feel about people reading my work is a blogpost or essay in itself, but it is just crazy – I am so touched at the number of people who have said I’ve touched them!

Conference: I was accepted to the VQR Writers’ Conference!

Since my friend Lauren told me about summer writing workshops, I wanted to get my feet as wet as I could. Praise the Lord, I was accepted to VONA, which I was toppled over by, and then I was accepted to VQR on top of that, so I’m just outdone. Of course I’m looking forward to the instruction and networking, I’m honored that I was chosen to take part in these programs. I know they both get a lot of applicants, so it means the world to me that they thought I was worthy to be among them.

Talk about a winning week! I feel super boosted as a writer, and it has come at the right time: I’m approaching the 1-year mark of having resigned from my job in NYC, so I’m glad I’ve had some successes to make me question myself and my decision ever so slightly less. 🙂

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Who the Hell Am I, Again?

I finished the first draft of my memoir just in time for my 5th wedding anniversary last week. To celebrate the latter occasion, my spouse and I headed out to Newport, RI, to get our Coastal New England on.

Rhode Island happens to be where my memoir opens. My father moved to Providence not long after I was born to go to Bible college and to work at Brown University. My mother moved me and my half-sister Kimi there in the summer of 1988, and my parents were married there. Since I was only about 3 years old at the time, I don’t remember *that* much about Rhode Island, just a few details about the house we lived in, and my parents’ wedding. We only lived there for about a year before moving back to Camden, NJ, then to North Carolina.

While we were in Newport, I called my aunt Rose (my father’s sister). She was delighted to hear that my marriage had lasted 5 years so far and was happy that I was on vacation near my father’s old stomping grounds. She said that the Young family was having reunion soon, but she wasn’t planning to go. I asked why.

She said, “I always feel a little weird going to Young events since we’re not really Youngs.”

Huh?

“Yeah, we’re not really Youngs. My mother was adopted. She was a Townsley and a Mathis. Her mother married a Young, so she became Young.”

Dear readers, I will be 32 years old in October, and I had no idea that my father’s last name wasn’t actually connected to a blood relative.

I felt two things: (1) I decided that I should probably go sit down with my Aunt Rose and write all this stuff down since Lord knows what else I don’t know, and (2) I realized that people would think it utter nonsense that I kept my last name after I got married when I’m not actually related to the family whose name I possess.

On point 1, I will definitely have to do that because it’s surely a bunch of interesting stories. On point 2, I didn’t keep my name because I felt some great affinity for my father’s family; I kept my name because I like my name and it’s who I am. The fact that my name isn’t really connected to anything but me is empowering. It makes me feel like I’m an island, creating my own family from scratch the way I want it to be, not tied down to meaningless traditions.

Aunt Rose continued that she’d spoken a while back with her brother/my uncle, who has requested that she not tell anyone where he lives or to give them his contact information.

“That’s too much,” Aunt Rose said. “Sometimes you have to let people be and love them just by praying for them.”

I agreed. I also realized that I’m not the only island. Apparently, I belong to a family of islands, a bunch of folks floating around out there on their own, creating their own destinies. We are an archipelago.

When I told my mom about it, she said, “I don’t know what anyone did to him to make him not want to be a part of the family.”

“Me, either,” I said, but I could definitely understand.

Sometimes, when you don’t feel understood, it hurts. And it’s best to keep your distance. Blood or a name is what keeps you in common, but that doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to keep the bonds, especially if they wear you down.

For now, I am happy to know that I’m a little floater, doing my own thing, out here on my own. Because I’m not actually alone. I belong to an unbreakable archipelago.

FIRST DRAFT DONE!!!

The first draft of my memoir is done!!!!

I wrote the last word on Friday, May 12, 2017 at 11:10am.

Final word count? 208,230 words. 595 pages.

So, I have quite a bit of editing in my immediate future.

While it feels amazing to have gotten the first draft out of the way, it’s a little surreal: I spent 10 months (well, nine, really since I lost about a month to the NYC to DC move and related planning/packing/unpacking) writing the story of my existence, from my earliest memory until just after my 30th birthday. I have a record of my whole life, basically, and that is just wild, if you think about it.

This is a bratty thing to say, but completing this first draft doesn’t feel like quite the accomplishment that it should be. Probably because I’ve written first drafts of books before, in middle school, high school, and college. None of those novels were anywhere near as long as this memoir draft, and I did not devote all of my time to them the way I did this book.

So I have to remind myself that this project has been special for a number of reasons: it commemorates my father’s life, the person that I became because of him, and people in my life who helped me become a better person in his absence. It is also the first book that I’m serious about, and will actually edit and query agents. (I went through the querying process with my college novel. I sent 10 letters, received 9 rejections, then gave up.)

My next step? To let this sucker breathe and to not think about it for a while.

I’m going to VONA Voices in June, so by then, I think I will be ready to tackle the Everest that editing this book will be. My plan is to whittle the 200k+ pages down to roughly 85k.

Yes, I plan to remove approximately 123,230 words—well more than half the book—that I spent almost a year getting down on paper. Writing is a tough business. Dems da breaks.

I’m not sure what’s next for me after my memoir. Editing will take several months and will be just as time-consuming as writing because editing is writing, but then I have to figure out what I’ll do afterwards. More writing? Go back to the corporate world? I have no idea. Let’s see what happens!

But for now, I rejoice and I edit.

Stop & Smell the Grapes

This past weekend, I went to San Francisco visit my friend LT, who is moving to Asia for a really cool job at a start-up. As a result, this blog post has nothing to do with writing, only wine.

We drove up to Sonoma and went did tastings at two wineries, Copain and Porter Creek. While I loved Porter Creek, the tasting at Copain was incredible, mostly because of the view:

But the chickens at Porter Creek were a hoot!

I bought entirely too many bottles of wine, but it was well worth it. It was sort of a pre-celebration: by the time you read my next blog post, I will have completed the first draft of my memoir. If that doesn’t call for wine, I don’t know what does!

Pitching to Agents: the Most Nerve-Wracking Exercise of My Writing Life

This past Saturday, I attended Books Alive!, the Washington Independent Review of Books writers conference held annually in the DC area. While there are panels and talks like every conference, the thing about this conference that attracts so many attendees, I think, is the chance to pitch your book to agents. I met with four of them: by far the most nerve-wracking exercise of my writing life.

I’ve been working on my book pitch for months, since before AWP in February, but I was still really nervous. What if I left something out? Or worse, what if I forgot my lines? Or even worst, what if they interrupted me with a question about my book that I didn’t know the answer to?

All of the agents would be sitting at desks in the room, and it would be very similar to speed dating, not unlike what I’d done with editors at the Barrelhouse conference the week prior. We got six minutes with the agents to deliver our pitch, ask any questions we might have, and to basically see if we hit it off or not.

As I entered the room for the first time, my heart nearly blasted out of my chest.

I sat in front of my first agent, a girl who seemed about my age, maybe even younger, actually. She introduced herself to me, then asked what I was writing. I said, “Should I just jump into my pitch?” My hands were shaking. She said, “Sure.” And I did. I delivered my pitch! I didn’t forget my lines! I didn’t choke!

“You did great!” She said.

“I feel so much better,” I said, audibly exhaling.

Then she said my story sounded interesting and she asked me to send her my first 20 pages and a synopsis! It’s a big deal for an agent to ask to read pages; they can decide later if they’re not interested, but their request for pages shows initial interest.

WOO-HOO!

My second meeting went well enough. The agent was nice, but she doesn’t really represent memoir unless the author is a celebrity or has a really extensive platform. Same for my third meeting.

But the fourth one requested pages, too! She was really conversational, and after I’d given my pitch three times, I was nowhere near as nervous, so I imagine that helped.

So, two out of four agents requested pages. 50% is not bad at all!

My next step is to edit the beginning of my book to make sure it’s a real hook/line/sinker. Progress! 😀