CT Fiction Fest

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I flew back east this weekend for a very short trip to attend a writing conference to which I’d previously signed up on a whim. The conference, at the time I signed up long before we knew we’d be moving, would have been a cheap, simple day trip from NY to CT. But since my family and I relocated to Iowa a week ago, suddenly I was faced with having to buy a round trip ticket, rent a car, stay in a hotel (in addition to the one I’m currently living in with my family). It went from a $100 investment to more than we could afford quite quickly. I almost canceled. But I’m so glad I didn’t.
Something was telling me to do it. I can’t explain it, but for some reason I decided to put my body, mind and bank account through the unnecessary torture of planning a last-minute solo weekend trip right in the middle of our crazy move. So just 5 days after driving from New York to Iowa with my husband and our toddler and while still living out of suitcases and duffel bags, I packed another small duffel and traveled solo to Connecticut for the conference not knowing what to expect.
To save money (and to sneak in a few hours with family), I flew into Philadelphia, borrowed my dad’s car (ah, to be 16 again) and drove the 4 hours through NJ, NY and CT to the conference which was being held in North Haven, CT in (of all places) another Holiday Inn (maybe that was a sign!). To save more, I opted to stay at a cheap (and somewhat sleazy) motel 4 miles away, (after checking for bed bugs) slept a total of 4 hours, woke up and consumed enough coffee to caffeinate a volcano and then attended the all day conference.
It was wonderful.
Not only did I get the AMAZING opportunity to pitch 2 of my novels face-to-face with agents and editors (By the way, every single one requested to read my manuscripts!!!!! 3 agents and 1 editor!! I couldn’t believe it myself until it happened to me. Seriously, I’m walking on sunshine – – Whoa-Oh!), but I also met and became friends with dozens of other writers and aspiring novelists. Like me, they know they have found their calling in life and are doing whatever it takes to make their dreams come true. There were also many highly successful published authors in attendance, all willing to chat about their struggles and successes, offer words of wisdom and advice and help in any way possible. At several points during the day, I cried from all the inspiration. It may have also been partially due to the sleep deprivation, but still. I cried real tears of joy and I’m (obviously) not afraid to admit it.
There were breakout sessions and workshops held throughout the day covering too may topics to list here. I learned so much about so many aspects of the publishing industry and the road I’ve chosen to take. The information and wisdom shared was worth far more than the price of admission! I’d highly recommend the conference to anyone.
Above all else, I was reminded time and time again that I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing and that nothing and no one can stop me from achieving this dream. The only person who can stop me is me. And, well, I’m sure as hell not going to get in my way!!! It’s far too important. Of course, we all doubt ourselves. I was going through a period of self-doubt leading into this weekend. I was feeling down and allowing myself to go to that place we should never ever go. You know the place, right? The sad, dark, depressing, spider-ridden, whoa is me place? The one that makes us forget our accomplishments, successes and talents. The one that makes us think our butt looks too big in these jeans and that our hair is too big for this decade?? The one that makes us set aside how far we’ve come and forget all the good stuff. We’ve all been there. That place sucks but somehow we keep going there. Can we all agree to boycott that place from here on out?
One of the speakers at the conference said, “If you came all this way to attend this conference, then you are a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” Although she was speaking to everyone and speaking quite literally about each person’s individual travels, I felt her words profoundly and received them more figuratively.
If I came all this way… Wow, I truly have come a long way. Not only had I flown from Iowa and driven from Philly, but I’ve written and rewritten 2 novels endless times over the course of almost 4 years. I have 2 complete manuscripts to show for it, which I’m constantly revising so, in fact, they are never truly complete. But with all the drafts and revisions, if I have 2 novels I have 500. Plus, I have 3 more which I’m working on now. I’ve fully immersed myself in being a writer and becoming a novelist. I’ve grown so much in this passion and as a person. This is not my hobby. This is my life. It is who I am and who I will always be.
If I came all this way… It can be fun and fulfilling to take a moment and briefly look back and acknowledge how far we’ve come. But don’t look back too long. We must stay focused and continue looking and moving forward. Reaching for a dream is a journey. It’s a journey of self discovery, commitment, hard work, perseverance. It’s the struggle to overcome our own fears and self-worth issues, as well as the fears and doubts which others impose on us.
Someone at the conference said, “If you simply write a page a day you will have a novel in a year.” So true. But I say, why stop at one page? If you write 4 pages per day, you’ll have a novel in a season. Then you can spend the other 3 seasons revising and tweaking it and end up in a better place come Christmas.
The writing is the easy part. It’s believing in myself, even when it seems that all hope is lost, that is so much harder. It’s hanging in there – NO MATTER WHAT. It’s saying “Fuck You” to the naysayers because you know what? They talk shit and creep into your head and make you doubt the one thing you were certain about, when in fact they have absolutely no power over you or your ability to accomplish your dreams. They should spend more time concentrating on their own dreams than in trying to sabotage yours. But that’s their problem. Not yours and not mine. So fuck ’em if they want to waste their energy and time trying to rain on your parade instead of marching and twirling a baton in their own.
When I finally made it back home (my home is wherever Jason and Lyla are), I got off the plane and walked faster than I’d ever walked before toward the area of the airport where I knew my family would be standing, waiting for me. My husband Jason had the biggest happy-to-see-me smile on his face and our daughter Lyla ran to me, yelling, “mommy! mommy!” I couldn’t wait to see them, hold, hug and kiss them and tell them all about the conference. It would all have been nothing without them. As I got into the car, my husband told me how proud he was of me without having to say a single word. He said all he needed to say and all I needed to hear by placing one silly little item on the car seat so I’d see it the moment I opened the door. Not flowers. Not a Hallmark card. Nope. It was a black beer can koozie he had made while I was away. In simple white writing, it read “My Wife Is a Novelist.”
I have learned so much about myself throughout this journey. But perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned (so far) is that I can do whatever I put my mind, body and soul to. I already knew that (my mom and dad told me so time and time again growing up). But, suddenly, I know that it’s true. It sometimes takes a while to truly absorb some of the best advice we are given and the truths we are told.
If I came all this way… I wonder, how far I will go?
How far have you come? I bet you have a dream too. What is it and how far are you willing to go to make it come true?
Whatever it says on your beer can koozie, let’s support each other’s dreams. Let’s not let anyone or anything stand in our way. Let’s believe together that we can accomplish anything and everything we set out to do. I believe it’s true. Do you?

All Worked Up

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Why do we insist on getting ourselves all worked up over nothing?

We’re running late! Oh no, we’d better hurry up. And, then we get there and have to wait because everyone else is late. Now, we’re early. How did that happen? Being early is suddenly worse than being late. OK, so let’s freak out over that now, or over all the things we must be missing out on because this happened. Let’s freak out for the sake of freaking out. If nothing else, it will give us something to do, while we wait.

In the summertime, about once a week, I lose a flip-flop and I freak out until I find it. Why? It’s only a flip-flop.

Why are the little things such a big deal? Is it because the bigger, more important, life altering things are typically beyond our control?

Why do we sometimes convince ourselves that others dislike us? Or, that they are mad at us? Is it human nature to desire being thought about, even when those thoughts are negative? Sure, we’d prefer positive, but we’ll take what we can get. Or, is it simply our nature to second guess ourselves to the point that we second guess our loved ones too? We’re good enough, smart enough and gosh darn it people like us… right?? Why is that not enough?

Life is a pressure cooker, so why do we feel the need to self-inflict even more pressure? As if the pressures of adulthood, survival of the fittest and the universe combined weren’t already enough!

Last week, I found myself querying a literary agent, who I’d queried three years ago after completing the first draft of my first novel. She rejected me back then. I can’t say that I blame her. Back then, I swallowed the rejection and moved on. It was my first try at writing a novel and she was my first query. My first try at a cartwheel was just as poorly executed. The difference? I gave up on cartwheels long ago. Writing is my dream. I will not give up. Therefore, I will only get better.

Imagine yourself drunk-dialing an X – – or better yet, an X who dumped you! Yuck, I know! Unless you’re a serious masochist, why would you even consider doing that?? With that same rationale, I wouldn’t normally re-pitch an agent who previously rejected me. But, FaceBook influenced me to try again. Damn you, FaceBook!! The agent, it turns out, is a friend of a friend. Yep, FaceBook Kevin Bacon’d me. It taunted and teased me to actually “friend” her, but how lame would that be? “Um, excuse me. You’re my friend’s friend, so, uh, do you want to be my friend too?” I may be lame, but I’m not that lame…

Instead, I went another route, grew a pair and emailed her directly, pitching my second novel this time (while unfortunately reminding her of my first). Admittedly, I threw in our mutual friend’s name for good measure. Yes, I name dropped. It’s so unlike me to do that. And, even more unlike me? I did it without first telling the mutual friend. I know!!! Then, for the next three days, I freaked out over that. I imagined them sipping wine together, laughing at me and quipping, “Val who?”

After a few days, I decided to email my friend, confess and hope for the best. He wrote me back immediately with the sweetest note. Turns out, he wasn’t upset. He didn’t mind one bit. He even wished me the best and meant it. I felt great knowing I had his support. Why did I get myself so worked up??

The next day I lost a writing contest. Here we go again! Although this wasn’t my first loss/rejection, by a long shot, along this crazy and intense journey toward publishing, I got very upset. Somehow, it hit me harder than usual. Maybe I’d convinced myself that I would win. If you know me, that shouldn’t surprise you. I’m always convinced I’ll win. Why did losing this time make me feel like such a loser? It was, after all, just a contest. 10,000 people entered, not everyone can win.

When I chose to quit my day job and write novels, deep down I knew it would be hard. I knew it would involve endless rejection and that I’d need a tough skin. I knew all of that, and yet I’m only human. It’s hard not to take things personally; I’m a person.

It’s OK to get all worked up. I believe it serves a purpose. It reminds us that we are alive with passion. I’ve always been and always will be a passionate person. When I hope and dream, I hope and dream big! Yes, that’s right. I’ve got high-apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes and dreams, and passion for days (weeks, months, years). But, I’ve never had more passion, drive and commitment than I have right now.

I am a writer. I plan to do this forever. I might not succeed right away, but failing is not an option.

Now, where’s that effin’ flip-flop?? I know it’s around here somewhere.