Horses and hay and a house of cards

Maggie beats Charlie to the barn
The house of cards on which I stand is wobbling.  Will I fall?  I am hiding here in this beautiful place, trying to write. Will I finish the edits to my two books before the life of my dreams falls apart?

The most recent card to fall was the rain last night. I allowed myself to be convinced it would only rain a little bit, not enough to hurt the hay if we cut it.  The best time to bale the hay had passed. Maybe the storms would completely skip over us, like they have before. Against my better judgement, I said yes– okay, cut it.

Charlie is heading for the barn before it rains.

Charlie is heading for the barn before it rains.

If you were in the Midwest last night, or are in the East today, or if you watched the news, you know what happened.  IT POURED!

So now, 70% of my hay crop–what I use to feed my horses throughout the winter–is ruined.  It’s soaked, beige-gray in color. Useless.  And if the wet hay lying in the field doesn’t get baled soon, it will ruin any hopes for hay crops in the future.  The wet muck will smother the plants beneath if it doesn’t get removed–possibly kill them.

Today the sun is shining, but will the hay dry enough to be baled? On Saturday it’s supposed to rain again, maybe for another two days.  I believe the weatherman this time.  Granted, he’s been wrong 80% of the time in the past, no maybe 90%, when weather he claimed was a sure thing failed to materialize. So today is the only chance we have to get the hay up.

After eighteen years of growing our own hay, this is the worse outcome ever!  Horse hay is not supposed to get wet once it is cut.  Rain turns it into cow hay or, of even less value, compost.  I’m worried I won’t have anything to feed my horses through the winter.

Where is everybody?

Where is everybody?

Having no hay would be the first card falling for me–the house of cards on which I stand.  The bad economy has been devastating for us these last five years, like for so many others.  I’ve been barely holding on.

Now I feel like I’m slipping.  I’m even having dreams where I am so overwhelmed, I decide I actually want to move. But it was only a dream. Wasn’t it? Will one rain storm put my way of life in jeopardy? The first of many cards to fall?  I hope not.

If circumstances became so bad that I had to move, it would mean giving up on a life-long dream.  Living on this land has been a dream come true for me.  I’m not ready to let it go.

If I had to, it would mean moving all that I have accumulated in these past eighteen years of living in one place. The disruption would be so great, it would put the screeches on a promising writing career.  I’m editing two books, one of which has already won multiple awards at writers’ conferences.  I have feedback for a rewrite.  Now all I need is the time and focus to finish it.

I have a window of opportunity here–with editors and agents.  I don’t want to screw it up.  I fear that I might.  Okay, I said it. That is my biggest fear right now.  Not that I wouldn’t survive, but that I wouldn’t succeed.

So, I’ve lost one card of the foundation on which I stand. That’s it. I can’t take any more right now. No more problems. Please. I just need some time, some uninterrupted time, so that I can finish the editing process.

I’ll keep you posted to let you know if the Universe is listening.

Is anyone listening?

Is anyone listening?

Sometimes I wonder if anyone out there in the internet world is listening to me.  So, if you are there, please leave a comment. It would cheer me on greatly.  A Follow-me by E-mail would be nice, too.  Thanks for listening, whoever you are. When times are hard, it helps just to be heard.

Attending Writers’ Conferences

The ultimate metamorphosis

The ultimate metamorphosis

Attending a Writers’ Conference is fun, educational, and overwhelming. Writing is difficult enough, managing characters, places, descriptions and dialogue, words and ideas all onto pages, then editing, editing editing.  If you’re still in the first draft process, editing or ready for an agent, a conference can help.

Whether you have questions about the process or the business, if you need some enthusiasm to push you to the next level or you’re  in need of  some fellow writers, people who understand the challenges, refusals and rewards of writing to hang out with, then it’s time for you to attend a Writers’ Conference.

They seem to be in every city these days, put on by Writing Programs  associated with Universities (UW Madison, Wisconsin or Ball State in Muncie, Indiana), Literary Magazines (The Sun Magazine) or by enthusiastic members of local writing groups who are just crazy enough to take on such a difficult project and are successful despite the many challenges (Evanston Writer’s Workshop near Chicago).

Conferences offer opportunities to learn from people who have accomplished what we hope to one day.  When I’m at a conference it seems I can never get enough.  Sometimes all the walking and stairs can be too much for my aging muscles. All the new information and faces can be enough to collapse my brain synapses.  Still, I do three conferences a year and would love to do more.

The presentations at the Writers’ Institute (April 11-14, 2013) in Madison were so wonderful, I often wanted to be in two places at once for most of the three days.  How do you choose between Taking Your Writing to the Next Level and Writing for YA?  I ran around like a crazy person, squeezing in as much as I could into every minute, refusing to take a break for fear that I would miss some essential key to unlocking my publishing dream, drinking coffee and snacking on sugary pastries that were free and easily accessible (sweets I usually avoid), taking notes and asking questions, then running down the hall to the next group session or agent presentation, sneaking out (they all expect this) to make one of my six-minute pitch sessions to an agent or an editor.

After three days at the conference, I came home and collapsed for at least that long while all the input simmered, settled and gelled into a form I could put into action. At that point, my work is only beginning. I have promises of pages to fulfill, books to read, edits to make, and blogs to create.

I’ll never forget Judith Engracia saying on the first day of the Writers’ Institute in Madison that she had NO Pet Peeves.  I saw a doubter’s eyebrow crunch on the faces of  the other agents on the panel and heard a muffled gasp from the writers in the room, followed by a silent “Wheee” and a “Yahoo!”  I know, I know. Give her time.  But maybe she is one of those extraordinary individuals who can forgive us our human and writerly foibles. From the six minutes I had with her, I thought she was FABULOUS!

Then, there was Julie Matysik, the amazing editor from Skyhorse Publishing, who talked about all the challenges of working with a first time author.  Tanya Chernov shared amazing details of her journey to write a memoir about her dying father. Her Agent, Gordon Warnock talked about how he first found Tanya, and after 150 queries to publishers, found Julie Matysik and put the two of them together (that detail even surprised Julie!).  After talking about an arduous editing process and problems with a retailer refusing to accept the cover art they’d worked so hard to perfect, Julie Matysik declared in no uncertain terms, that she still loves memoir and is looking forward to finding the next manuscript that moves her to tears like Tanya’s did (that’s not a quote, but the gist of her enthusiastic response).

Right there and then, I crossed my fingers and toes, kissed my four-leaf clover, and made a wish on a falling star that I would be her next project.  From my lips to…you know what I’m saying.  (Sorry for using so many cliches.)

I don’t want to forget to mention the wonderful presentations by agents.  It began with an intense Agents Panel where sometimes they agreed and sometimes they totally disagreed (but always with a pleasant tone).

I was lucky to get into a session (most were packed, with even standing room filled up) by Bree OgdenResearching and Querying Agents.  Bree said it was okay for writers to stalk agents in order to find the right one (agency website, agent’s blog and twitter) and to have the ammunition to convince them we’re the author they’ve been looking for.  But don’t do anything ugly or scary, she cautioned.

For me that means every time I want to query, I need to read blogs, follow on twitter, check out all the helpful how-to articles on the Agency’s website, and read a book or two that Agent has represented or stated it’s what she’s looking for right now.  (Overwhelmed yet?  You ain’t a kidding! But that’s the Biz. Do you still want to be published? Sure you do!)

Also, a note to agents and writers alike. You know how no one wants attachments anymore.  “Put the first twenty pages after the one page query in the body of the email–and be sure it’s double-spaced, to make it easy on our eyes.  We get hundreds a day and we will read the ones that are easier to read and formatted as we have laid out on our website.” (Again, not a direct quote.)

Well, if you own a Mac Computer, you probably know that MAIL application won’t let you double-space, unless you go into the document and do a double return after each line.  If you cut and past a double-spaced document into MAIL, it will reduce it to single-spaced.  I’ve talked to several of the Apple Programmers and they didn’t even notice it.  I’ve requested that they fix it, but who knows how long that will take.  I’m just sayin’, all you agents out there, please take note.  We’re not doing it because we’re lazy or want to make you mad. It’s just that it’s near impossible to accomplish.

April Eberhardt’s presentation with self-pub author, Mary Driver-Thiel regarding her self-published novel THE WORLD UNDONE was packed full of details regarding the new trend in self-publishing by authors.  They talked about HOW TO DO IT RIGHT.  Talk about overwhelm!  It’s hard enough completing a full-length manuscript and then editing it numerous times to have it ready to send out.  Authors need to keep up with all the changes in the industry, research agents, editors (Big Six vs. Midsize vs. Small Publishers) and then weight it against the pros and cons of Self-Publishing.  You’ve got to be kidding me.

Once home, I  needed to make essential changes to my YA manuscript before sending it off, based on what I learned about my story from hearing others talk about theirs.  What to do.  What not to do.  This year, it was adding a pearl I’d forgotten and showing a diamond a bit more often so it can shine throughout, weaving a thread to tie it all together.

Next, I needed to check all the agents’ and editors’ websites to make sure the query and pages I was sending them was formatted correctly. I proofread the query four times to be sure I hadn’t misspelled their name or committed some other grieves “pet peeve.”

The biggest thing that I learned at the Madison Conference (Learned again, I should say, but on a whole new level) is that this is a difficult business.  It takes tons of work, years of time, with no guarantee you’ll ever get published and if you do, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever make a dime.  No matter which way you chose to publish, you’ll still have to do most of your own promotion and maybe even hire a publicist. That could mean big bucks. If you self-pub, you need to pay for editing, line editing, cover art, interior layout, and maybe some help getting it all formatted for the various E-pub distributors as well as the printer.

To be a published author today, you’ve got to love it!  The writing, the community, the business, the marketing, the readers.  And I do.  All of it.  Really.  Even after all that.  I think I love it even more.

So thanks Laurie Scheer for a great conference.  I’m looking forward to next year’s.

imageThe first edition of the Midwest Prairie Review published by UW Madison Continuing Studies Writing Department is gorgeous!  And I’m not just saying that because three of my photographs were selected to be published within its pages.  I’m hoping next year to have an essay or short story included.  Fingers crossed.

Becca, Kathleen and Mary celebrating at the Writers' Institute with me behind the camera.

Becca, Kathleen and Mary celebrating at the Institute with me behind the camera.

Did I mention? The conference Judges gave me a FIRST PAGE Award.  First Prize for Non-Fiction for my memoir DANCE WHILE THE FIRE BURNS.

It’s the best feeling, short of getting an agent, an editor, and launch day, that is.  Stay posted.  Maybe I’ll get there yet.

Catherine and friends swapping stories at the Writers' Institute.

Catherine and friends swapping stories at the Writers’ Institute.

About the overwhelm, what I do to manage it is: I do one thing at a time.  I focus until it’s done and then I figure out what’s next.  One baby step at a time.  It’s a journey.

image

2012 First Winter Storm

Note to Reader:  As I was just about to post this, we lost power.  For about a day and a half.  We couldn’t get the generator working, because the starter had an electrical short.  So it was a very cold night.  Anyway, shortly after that was Christmas and then New Year’s Eve and then I had my eye surgeries for cataracts–the first on January 2nd, the second three weeks later.  I have a post about that coming, but I thought I’d put this up first, even though it is already February 1st.  2013.  Who would have thought 2012 would pass so quickly.  Anyway, here’s the post from December 20th of last year.

It’s Thursday evening on the 20th of December.  The wind is blowing like a banshee out there.  Max my hundred pound German Shepherd is trying to climb into my lap, but settles with curling around my feet like a cat.  When the doorbell rings he turns into Cujo, my fierce protecter with bared teeth leaping at the door, but he’s afraid of the wind.

Tomorrow is the end of the Mayan Calendar.  I don’t believe it will be the end of the world, although the increase of assault weapons with the threat of a ban and the NRA made lead to the end of us all.  The thought of the tragedy in New Town makes me want to curl up in a ball in someone’s lap.

Greg always cheers me up.  We have a tree up but decided not to bother with outside lights this year.  We have so few visitors; I put them up to bring me cheer when the weather is cold and dark.  But this year, I decided the tree would have to do.

I completed 50,000 words in November for NaNoWriMo, my Young Adult Novel LITTLE GLASS HORSE more than half way finished.  With that much intense writing, there’s lots to catch up with.  It was my first effort at NaNo and I had a great supportive group who all completed their goal.  Yeah!!!

Greg really cheered me up at Christmas by helping me make Christmas cookies for family and friends.  He did all the decorations!  I always knew he was an artist!  I ate a few too many of the leftover cookies, but I’m still glad we made them because we got great reviews from all of you.  It’s nice to be appreciated.  It really is the little things in life that get you through.