Please 2017, or Hope Springs Eternal

After a year which wore out its welcome sometime in August, I’m really hoping for a better 2017.

Sure, a few great things happened in 2016 – I took two terrific vacations with the family (Jamaica and San Diego, CA), my near two-year battle with dizziness came to an end, and the Cubs won a World Series but on the whole, hope seemed hard to find.

I grieved for the loss of human beings who inspired me – David Bowie and his art of reinvention, Umberto Eco whose pinball scene in Foucault’s Pendulum is sexy perfection, and for Carrie Fisher, who lived life with such fearlessness, wit, intelligence and honesty that for this child of the 70s at least, she was a role model of both what not to do (the drugs) and how to live. When Mohammad Ali died, I grieved once more for my grandfather who died from Parkinson’s disease 35 years ago. And I grieved for my grandmother-in-law who passed away in the spring.

I grieved for the loss of civility, and for my hometown, the City of Chicago, which seems incapable of stemming the tide of violence.

In 2016, I suffered many professional shortcomings. I expected to end the year with an agent, or at least a contract. I put forth a solid effort, but simply put, I failed. It’s not a good feeling, even though I understand that larger industry consolidations make it harder for a well-reviewed mid-lister like myself to break through that magical ceiling that divides the best-sellers from the rest of us. It’s easy to get down and think about quitting, but then something magic happens.

January first, 2017 is a new day. My calendar is not entirely blank, but it may as well be a clean slate. Today, I will do some serious exfoliation and scrub off 2016. As of this writing, no-one has died in 2017, so there is no need to grieve. No-one has teased my children or been unkind to them. No-one has told me no. Look out 2017, here I come.

 

 

Career Day

My daughter’s school included me as a Career Day presenter and what a wonderful opportunity it was.  A romance writer may not seem the most logical choice to talk to third, fourth, and fifth graders, but I spoke to three standing-room-only crowds of children curious about books.  What a rush.

The school requested we bring tools of trade, wear our uniform and discuss what skills we learned in school that help in our profession.  I wore shoes today, so I wasn’t in uniform, but I brought my trusty lap-top and a fine selection of books.

I asked the children what they thought I did.  In all three presentations, they guessed I researched and wrote.  Then I told them how much I edit.  I held up pages bleeding red ink.   I saw lots of wide eyes.   Hopefully, they will remember to edit their own work.  I mentioned querying, the act of hearing no many times before hearing yes.

We discussed the skills a writer needs.  In every group, several students said writers have to be creative.  I disagree to a certain extent.  I think it is more important to have a curious mind.  The writer’s creativity comes through in different ways to answer the questions of why, what if and why not.

I was surprised to learn that by fifth grade the students are learning about the author’s voice, but diagraming sentences is not part of the curriculum.  They knew about plot and conflict, but not traditional grammar.   I strongly suspect the future will hold many jobs for editors willing to whip young writers into shape.

The number of students who liked to write in their spare time encouraged me.  Some were on their fourth or fifth book already. Others worried about writer’s block.  A few wondered if I had free books to pass out to the class.

All in all, I enjoyed answering the variety of questions they posed.  For all of the gloom and doom that future generations won’t want to read, the enthusiastic children brought me hope.  I already have ideas how I can improve my presentation if I’m invited back again and I hope I will.  I am grateful for the opportunity to meet so many creative and curious minds.   To the kids I say, keep up the good work, be persistent and I can’t wait to put your books on my reading list.