Resilience (Book Talk)

blogspl3I usually get book talks down on paper pretty quickly—they’ve always been about one book—the one I’m signing that evening…And I go through the nitty gritty details of that book’s journey—from inception to publishing. I found this book talk, which I gave at the Syosset Public Library for the Local Author Showcase, a bit more challenging. For one thing, I had limited time—just five minutes, since there were 11 authors speaking. An economy of words was very important. And I was signing both books. So…I decided to focus on one aspect of the writing life…resilience. “More than just speaking about a book’s inspiration,” I said at the outset, “I hope this can actually inspire you…”

Here’s the rest…

“You don’t need to be an author for resilience to be integral to your success and happiness. (Of course, if you’re an author, it’s a requirement.) Here is the one nugget I’ve learned being a writer for more than half my life…Don’t give up. My creative writing teacher in college inscribed this message in my class journal: ‘To be a writer is a truly honorable thing. You will be ostracized and rejected, but when success comes—and it will—it will be sweet.’ I memorized those words decades ago and have kept them close to my heart. The journey from being a college student dreaming about getting my words out into the world to being a published author finally at just shy of 47 was long and arduous. I had dozens of bylines as a music and arts journalist, but I wanted my fiction out in the world, not just my profiles of other people living their creative dreams.

To be honest, there were more times than I can count that I nearly gave up. Believe it or not, though—some of the rejections kept me going. There was a page-long one from an agent who counts among her clients famous best-selling authors. She wrote: ‘…your work is fabulous, your energy is terrific, and this story will find many readers!’ So, I kept plugging away, sending my book both to those who requested it and to those with whom it would sit in the slush pile. Exactly 2 years later, almost to the day, my first book, A New Life, an ebook novella’ about new parents trying to reclaim their passion, was accepted for publication by The Wild Rose Press. I sent it to just one publisher, and it was accepted right away. Of course, I had written it 15 years earlier in an amazing workshop I took with two literary giants—Jill McCorkle and Elizabeth Cox. That acceptance infused me with renewed energy and determination—six months later Goddess of Suburbia, a story about a tired PTA mom embroiled in an Internet scandal whose life implodes when she’s suddenly hounded by the paparazzi, was accepted by Booktrope. Less than a year after that, my second novella, You & Me, a sweet second chance romance with dark undertones, was picked up, again by The Wild Rose Press—after I pitched it typing furiously on my iPhone while standing in a towel, dripping wet—a first for me.

But, even after I had 3 published books under my belt, there still came a moment when I felt like giving up—when Goddess of Suburbia’s publisher, Booktrope, closed its doors a month before the release date for my second book with them. The moment my first novel disappeared from Amazon felt like a gut punch. Waking up the next morning realizing my publisher, and my book, were both gone, was much like waking up the day after a bad break-up, realizing the empty pillow next to you will stay empty.

But, just like a bad breakup, no matter how hard it is, you have to pick yourself up and keep going. You need to keep the good times stored in a little compartment in your heart and kick the bad stuff to the curb. I’ll always remember the thrill of Goddess of Suburbia hitting best seller and other amazing moments with Booktrope (a fun blog tour, a fancy dinner in Manhattan with the head of Booktrope, upper management and other writers). But, I knew I needed to move on. My novellas still had a home, and I would make sure Goddess of Suburbia and Boys, Dogs and Chaos, a book of essays spanning twelve years of my parenting journey, had the same, even if I had to create it myself.

And that’s exactly what I did, starting my own imprint, Gold Coast Press when Booktrope closed. Boys, Dogs and Chaos was almost ready to be published, and my team from Booktrope stayed with me to help me get it into the hands of readers on my own. My proofreader, publisher and even the head of production all played a part in getting it into the world just months after its original release date. I’ve published two other books under the Gold Coast Press imprint—Goddess of Suburbia in ebook format and a very short story—Girls’ Night Out. In the future I’d like to publish other authors. It felt amazing to take control of my destiny—to say, ‘I won’t let this setback define me, and I will succeed on my own terms.’ No more waiting to hear back from agents and editors, no more languishing in the slush pile.

Writing is the thread that’s woven through the tapestry of my existence—from childhood through today. At the tender age of eight I decided I wanted to be a writer. My desire only grew over the years. I was traveling on a plane in college and had to close the book I was reading, Beaches, because it was making me cry, and I was embarrassed. Instead, I picked up my journal and wrote, “…I hope I can do that—make people cry on airplanes. I want to write things that make people feel. Things that make people have to swallow hard and close my book when they’re on mass transit.’

Not long after I found the journal with that entry, I met a reader who loved Goddess of Suburbia. We were chatting about the book, and I told her what I had written so many years before in that journal and how writing words that make people feel, and hopefully even cry on mass transit, is still my goal. She looked at me and said, “You’ve already done that.” That was one of the best things anyone has ever said to me about my writing. To know that my words make readers—or even just one reader feel—is a gift. It’s a more important measure of success than money (let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t become a writer for the money…). It makes me feel all the roadblocks I’ve hit, all the struggles, are worth it.

So, I’m saying to you…even if it seems like you’ll never get to where you want to be, even if it seems like the road ahead is so daunting—surely paved with rejection—don’t give up. You just need one yes, and then every no you’ve ever received won’t matter. And sometimes, that ‘yes’ just needs to be from you, from inside—you just need to believe in yourself and take the leap.”

This was a very different book talk for me, and it was a bit nerve wracking, because I found myself comparing my words to the other ten authors who mostly described their books. (Full disclosure—I added in the book descriptions here, I completely forgot them during my talk!) I didn’t know if I made a mistake veering off, but I knew that I couldn’t possibly talk about my books in any persuasive manner in two and a half minutes each, so I took a different tack. (As I mentioned, I added in a few embellishments for this—no time constraint in a blog post.) I second-guessed myself as I walked out of the theater. But, after my talk my normally reticent, almost 20 year old son came up to me, hugged me and told me I did a good job. And that’s enough for me…

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