Dreaming like a 5-year-old

Perhaps I haven’t grown up yet.  I’m dreaming along with my five-year-old daughter about what I want to become.  Today, she wants to become a paleontologist.  She is going to, she says, discover and name a new dinosaur species.  Big ambitions.  I love that.  Me?  I want to become a successful author.  This dream is equally big, and it will not be realized without a lot of hard work and, I’m sure, heartache.

But I’ve learned that life can’t become stale with age and achievement.  Being 42 doesn’t mean my road to the grave has already been paved.  There is still much to learn, to explore, to do.

So I’m going off-roading.  It’s a bumpy ride, full of uncovered paths that may lead to success and may not.  It doesn’t much matter.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My dirty little secret (and how it drives me)

                          I have no choice but to be successful in publishing.                        
                         Source: awesomepeoplereading.tumblr.com via Christine on Pinterest

 

The financial crisis of 2008 broke my family.  In my memoir I present my unfiltered emotions and experiences because I want it to be true and raw, just as it was when the events unfolded.  I hope it will begin a conversation about the unspoken hardships millions of Americans have experienced over the last 3 years, and I hope it will inspire Americans who continue to struggle (like me) to continue to fight to restore their lives.

I know you can imagine pieces of my tale.  You’ve probably experienced pieces of it, too.

But what if I can’t find an agent or a publisher and I am unable to share my story?  Publishers generally accept 1% of the manuscripts they receive.  I must admit, when I reflect on this statistic, I start to have heart palpitations.

Is it enough that the writing process was cathartic?  Is it enough that it prompted self-realization?  In a word, no.  My writing goal is, and always has been, simple if not base: to make a lot of money.  Why isn’t the creative process of writing enough for me?  I have a dirty little secret (actually it’s a big, disgraceful, disappointing, and embarrassing secret): my husband and I made poverty level income in 2011.

This book has. to. sell.

So I’ve begun to think of my work not just as a piece of art, but a commodity.  Right now I’m trying to look at my manuscript from the consumer’s point of view.  Would a person walking into the store or shopping online come across my book and feel compelled to buy it?  Would a person still be interested in it two years from now, a likely publication date?  Altering my thinking is an important step at this point in my writing process, because my endeavor to meet my financial goals depend on it.

Last week I went to the bookstore and perused the shelves in order to understand the market for my book; I also studied the bestseller lists.  This research brought me to a question that has long lingered in my mind.  What makes a book a bestseller?  Why, for example, is the Fifty Shades trilogy currently enjoying its 31st week on the bestseller list?  Fifty Shades delivers erotica, and everyone loves to read about sex, but what else is at play here?  The experts say a book enjoys success for a complex mix of reasons.  These reasons include the subject, the author, the publisher, the agent, the writing, the marketing and promotion plan, the timeliness of the ideas, the writer’s online and offline presence, the book format, the economy, and a good dose of luck.  What is my mix of success factors?  I’m afraid my book doesn’t feature any handcuffs or sex toys, but it does feature a creaky bed.

Imagining my book on the store shelf

                Source: theenchantedcove.tumblr.com via Valentina on Pinterest

Last week I didn’t touch my book.  I didn’t pick it up.  I didn’t read it.  I didn’t change a sentence.

It was weird.

I worked on my manuscript every day, non-stop, for 9 months.  Now I’m letting it sit.  “Let it marinate for a while,” one of my friends suggested last week.  It was a reasonable suggestion, so I did.

Of course, I am the one that is marinating.  The longer the book sits, and the more I think about the feedback I’ve received thus far, the more questions I develop:  Is the book too political?  Is it too biting?  Is it mean?  Do I come across as an annoying whiner?  Am I going to piss people off?  Is the writing good?  Is the ending sufficient?  Do I resolve the different themes effectively?  Will I reach the millions of people who’ve suffered from this recession?  Can the book start a national conversation about the effects of the financial crisis?  

As difficult as it is, I am sitting still, simply collecting these questions.  I am not consulting my book just yet, because I believe I need some distance from it.  When the time is just right, I’ll dig that book out and begin to work again, answering each question.

So what am I doing now?  I’m beginning my research on how to find an agent.  Last week I had great fun at Barnes & Noble, perusing the aisles of the bookstore, imagining where my book might be shelved.  I thought of this exercise as marketing research, an idea I got from reading Michael Larsen’s book, How to Write a Book Proposal.  I wanted to see which books might be complementary, which competitors, how I could position my book as new and different.  Could it be shelved in Business?  Biography?  Social Sciences? Current Affairs?  Accounting and Economics?  Cultural Studies?  Religion?  I spent hours at the store, just imagining, positioning my finished book in my mind.  I left with a far better understanding of the market for my book.  I also see the competition more clearly, and how I can differentiate my work.

I’ve started to turn from focusing solely on the craft of writing, to the art of selling a finished product.  Yes.  This is scary because it is new.  But it’s making me positively giddy.

Why I adore road trips

This photo was taken by my mom.  You’ll learn lots more about her soon.

People have romantic notions about writing.  We imagine a poet sitting on the rolling hills as he writes about the black-eyed susans swaying in the gently blowing wind.  We imagine the romance author sitting on a large boulder in Maine as she chronicles the angst of her character, whose lover was lost at sea.

I love the romanticism of it all, and I am certainly inspired by dramatic events and the beauty of nature around me.

But the places I choose to write, and where I do my best work, are positively mundane.

I wrote the bulk of my latest book in the car.  Yes.  The car.  Here’s why:

  1. My husband is a certified control freak and he will not let me drive.
  2. The car is one of the few places on this earth that my young children, 5 and 7, do not monopolize my time, because our current laws (thank you state of Ohio) require they are buckled, strapped, harnessed and unable to move much beyond their arms and legs.  This means, of course, it is nearly impossible for them to get into trouble, hit each other, or steal one another’s toys.  
  3. Because of the childrens’ restricted movement, there isn’t much to occupy them on a road trip.  Therefore, without parental guilt and anxiety, I load the car up with DVDs galore.  (The road trip is the one time when I let the player run incessantly, and we all relish in the devilish nature of it).
  4. My writing is only interrupted by the not so occasional request for a snack or a break to read a children’s classic I love, like Charlotte’s Web.

Here are some other spots I chose to write my book:

  1. The tennis courts
  2. Skating rinks
  3. The swimming pool
  4. The car dealership (My car is positively ancient and is always need of a service.  Yes.  It is always expensive).
  5. The playground
  6. Soccer practice
Where do you write?  Do you have a special spot that inspires the muses?  I’d love to hear your stories.  Use the Comment Box below.

Hollywood’s take on the financial crisis

In the weeks and months that followed my husband’s job loss, we sold our house, downsized, rented, and constantly adjusted our lifestyles.  We made changes frequently, because the economy sputtered along lifelessly, forcing us to continually re-evaluate our housing, the state we lived in, healthcare, schooling, entertainment, even the stores we frequented.

Life was tumultuous, and because I knew few who were experiencing life as I was, I was constantly searching for information.  I needed some way to understand my experiences, to frame them.  I felt if I had that, I wouldn’t feel so alone and helpless, and I might have a better chance of digging my family out of the very deep economic hole we inhabited.

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were great sources of information, as were Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail and Lewis’s The Big Short.  But now I thought I’d look for different sources: I decided to see how Hollywood was interpreting these events.

So for fun, on Friday nights, I dragged my husband to the basement to watch a few movies.  The first one was Matt Damon’s documentary on the crisis, Inside Job:

Then, A big fan of the book, I could not miss HBO’s Too Big to Fail:

And finally, after waiting along with over 400 people for the opportunity to see Margin Call, we finally picked it up from the local library and watched it immediately.  This movie was a fictional account and was my least favorite of the three.

Do you know of any great sources of information regarding the financial crisis, either books or movies?  If so, I’d love to know what they are.  After all, a financial crisis junky is always looking for more to read and watch!

Reading up on the subprime mortgage crisis

        Source: Uploaded by user via Jeff on Pinterest

After reading Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail, I was hungry for more.  There was still much to understand and many more perspectives to take into account.

I’d been reading The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times religiously for the last couple of years, but each article focused on one or two aspects of the recession.  I was lacking an overall framework that I could fit these pieces of information into.  It was like having a hamper full of clean, wet clothes without a clothesline to hang my socks, underwear and pants on.  Without the line, I couldn’t see what the different pieces were, and they’d never dry and be ready for wearing if I couldn’t hang them up.

So I decided to tackle Michael Lewis’ book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.   The Big Short deepened my understanding of the subprime mortgage crisis, and it helped me piece together what happened to me, my family, and the rest of the American people.   This allowed me to reflect on my experience and ultimately put it to words.

The Chesapeake house

My collection of photos from Chesapeake is sparse, because occupying a flimsy dwelling situated on the train tracks was not something I wished to commemorate.  The move to this townhouse was cloaked in shame and disappointment about what life had become.  (There was little celebration, and everyone knows that copious photos always accompany happy times).

However, not all of our days were dark, and I did find a few photos of interest.

Here I’m outside the front door of the townhouse.  I’m blowing up balloons to celebrate Bronwyn and Drew’s 3rd and 5th birthdays.  (They were born one day apart, so we celebrate their special days together.  It’s a great money saver!)

Below is another shot of the townhouses in the complex.  My brother David is enjoying a moment as a kid, launching balloons over the roofs of the houses.  The houses situated behind him were across the street from ours.

The owner of the house affectionately termed the front yard “tar beach;” it was a blacktop driveway.  For most of our physical activity we visited the reservations or the neighboring school grounds, but every now and then I’d take out the octopus sprinkler during the summer months.  The kids loved to play in that water!  
If you’ve moved recently, you’ll be able to appreciate the next photos.  I took them the night before our big move to Cleveland.  Finally, everything was packed.  Now we just had to get the hell out of the Garden State!