From that day in the fifth grade when my English teacher assigned our class project – to write a book – I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’d always been an avid reader, but until that day, it hadn’t occurred to me that the stories in my head could become a story that one day others would read.
I kept at it through high school, college, and law school. The child of immigrant parents and an immigrant myself, education was important, but so was a career that would pay the bills. My parents, especially my mom, didn’t think writing would do it and I am eternally grateful that I was an obedient child since my day job has provided me with many wonderful opportunities.
But so did the world of writing. New friends and new places to visit. Of course, that was balanced out by something I didn’t expect: the writing blizzard. The flurries of ideas that might not ever become anything more. The avalanche of rejection letters that gave way to an even greater avalanche of edits, marketing demands, business obligations, and more.
A lot of new writers I meet think that getting published is the hard part. I gently try to prepare them for the greater blizzard of work that comes after publication.
But if writing is your passion, you put your head down and weather the blizzard because something bright and wonderful emerges from the storm: a new story.
The last two Thoughtful Thursdays I’ve been talking about Liberty, but as I mentioned during the blog on Big Brother and Big Government, Liberty is tough without having Life first.
On bigger levels, I hope that our leaders understand what they need to do to keep America safe.
On individual levels, there’s a lot we can do to safeguard ourselves, but today I want to talk about a writer’s life.
It’s not an easy life at times. If you’re not good with handling criticism or rejection, it’s probably not a good career choice.
If you’re in it for the big bucks, it’s probably also not a good choice.
If you’re in it because you have lots of stories in your head that you want to share with others — then a writer’s life is perfect for you!
So how is it that I decided to become a writer? If you’ve checked out my bio, you may know that in the fifth grade my teacher assigned a project – for us to write a book to be placed in a class lending library. The thought intrigued me so that I went home and started writing. When it came time to turn in the book, it was 120 typed pages (My poor mom worked at night for days to get it done!).
I knew then I writed a book, but for far longer than that, I’d had stories in my head.
I remember going to sleep at night and making up stories of princes, intrigue and sword fights (I always was on the dark side). The next night I would continue the story in my head, always moving it along.
After fifth grade, I started putting more and more ideas on paper and that continued throughout high school, college and even law school. So during all that time I was a writer.
Which brings me to the next thing – you don’t have to be published to be a writer. Writers write whether for just themselves or to share it with others. Thanks to the Internet, there are lots of ways to share your stories and satisfy the need to write.
So what made me decided to get published? For starters, and I am dating myself, there really wasn’t much in the way of the Internet back then for everyday people. The only way to share your stories was to go the traditional route of reaching out to a commercial publisher and having them buy your book.
With that in mind, I set out to get published and it took some time. At least six or seven years, but eventually it happened. I never gave up when I got rejection after rejection. I never lost sight of the dream that I had.
I also didn’t quit my day job. Which I guess brings me back to some tips I’d like to share with both pre-published and published writers!
1. Don’t quit your day job. Being a paid writer is an iffy proposition and economic worries will only be a drain on your creativity.
2. Don’t let rejection pull you down. You will not sell every novel you write. No one does (Well, except Nora Roberts although I’m sure she didn’t at first). Think of it as a ball game where .300 is a decent batting average. That’s one out of every 3 and ball players still get picked to play!
3. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. You may participate in critique groups or get “good” rejection letters from editors and agents. Be open to changes that are suggested, but learn how to separate bad suggestions from the good. You’ll have to trust your gut about that.
4. Don’t be a diva. Be willing to make changes and listen to what others say, especially editors and agents.
5. Join a support group. There is a reason why AA and Weight Watchers work. You need to be surrounded by people who understand what you are going through and can share their experience with you. They will also hopefully provide information on what’s happening in the industry and help you make contacts. (It is now time for a shameless plug for my local writing group – the Liberty States Fiction Writers – who is holding a marvelous conference on March 13th!)
6. Stay active. Writing is a both a solitary and sedentary life. With respect to the sedentary, try to move around during stints of writing and get some exercise!
7. Don’t lose sight of your dream! It’s not an easy road, but if you turn back, you will never reach your destination.
Hope you enjoyed today’s thoughts on a writer’s life!
I’m really lucky to have with me today my friend and fellow author Mary Kennedy. Mary is a national best-selling author, and a clinical psychologist in private practice on the east coast. She has sold forty novels, all to major New York publishers, and has made the Waldenbooks, BookScan and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists. Her early novels included middle grade fiction and young adult fiction for Scholastic and Penguin.
Mary is currently writing an adult mystery series, The Talk Radio Mysteries, which is set in a fictional town in south Florida. The first title, DEAD AIR, will be released in January, 2010, and the second, REEL MURDER, in June, 2010. The Talk Radio Mysteries was pitched and sold as “Frasier Meets Murder She Wrote.” The heroine is Maggie Walsh, a psychologist who closes up her Manhattan practice and heads to sunny Florida to take a job as a radio talk show host. And, yes, she solves a murder in every book!
Please join me in welcoming Mary and I hope you enjoy this very inspirational blog about resiliency!
When the Going Gets Tough
“When the going gets tough, the tough keep going.” This is the Cliff Notes version of a concept known as “resiliency,” the ability to bounce back fast from adversity. As a practicing psychologist, I try to build resiliency in my clients, helping them to withstand the stresses and disappointments of daily life. All of us possess resiliency, but how much? A lot depends on genetics, learned behavior patterns, personality traits and life experience. I’ve seen patients make a remarkable recovery from traumatic events; the death of a spouse, chronic illness of a child, even financial ruin. And I’ve seen other patients in tears over a bad haircut or a thoughtless remark by a relative.
Why is resiliency so important for writers? Because rejection is part of the game. Like all artists, writers put themselves on the line every time they send out a manuscript, leaving themselves open to judgment from editors and agents. So much of our identity is wrapped up in “being a writer,” that rejections are brutal, and go to the heart of who we are.
How can you build resiliency? I’d recommend four simple steps. Let’s take the example of an editor rejecting your manuscript.
First, take a cold hard look at the situation and determine if your first impression is accurate. Artists tend to “catastrophize,” meaning they put the worst possible spin on a situation. Does the editor really dislike the manuscript as a whole, or can you tweak it a little and resubmit it? Re-read her comments when you’re feeling calm and reflective. Panic can lead to cloudy thinking.
Second, ask a close friend for feedback. It’s always good to at least consider a situation through another set of eyes. Since your friend is less emotionally invested in the outcome, she may have a totally different–and more realistic–impression than you do.
Third, try to reframe the situation. Yes, the editor may not like this particular manuscript, for whatever reason. It may have nothing to do with your talent, or the quality of your work. It may be she’s just bought a book with the same theme or that the market is flooded with similar books. Let’s try reframing the situation in a more positive light. She’s not interested in acquiring this particular manuscript at this time. But is it realistic to say she never wants to see anything else from you? Ever? This is known as “depressive” thinking, or looking at something in a negative light. Reframe the situation and you realize that you can submit other projects to her, down the road.
Finally, immediately take action to seek a solution. Ruminating and drowning in negative thoughts will not help. Taking action will. List three things you can do–today–to get back on track. You can polish up another proposal, start something new or spend two hours in a bookstore, checking out the new releases. All these are positive steps you can take. Action leads to power, and a sense of control, which makes for a happier outlook. You will find that you are more resilient than you thought!
For more information on Mary, please visit www.marykennedy.net
DEAD AIR (Penguin, January 5, 2010)
The first of the Talk Radio Mysteries.
“Frasier meets Murder She Wrote” in this entertaining new series by a real-life psychologist.”
As the immigration crisis reaches the boiling point, once-peaceful Latino protests explode into rioting. Cities across the nation are in flames. Anglo vigilantes bent on revenge launch drive-by shootings in the barrios, wantonly killing young and old. Exploiting the turmoil, a congressional demagogue succeeds in passing legislation that transforms the nation’s teeming inner-city barrios into walled-off Quarantine Zones. In this chaotic landscape, Manolo Suarez is struggling to provide for his family. Under the spell of a beautiful Latina radical, the former U.S. Army Ranger eventually finds himself questioning his loyalty to his wife—and his country.
Please welcome Raul Ramos y Sanchez, the author of AMERICA LIBRE. Raul has been gracious enough to vist with us and answer some questions. Please also check out the excerpt from AMERICA LIBRE as well as the video trailer.
A chat with Raul:
My sources tell me AMERICA LIBRE started out with a different name. Tell us about that and the timeline of getting your first novel published.
You’re like James Lipton with these inside sources! Yes, AMERICA LIBRE began life as MANO A MANO. Thankfully my agent talked me out of that title. Like most authors, my path to publication was not easy – or quick. I finished the manuscript in the summer of 2004. AMERICA LIBRE was released by Grand Central Publishing July 29, 2009. That five year span is an indication of how difficult it can be just to find a publisher—and a lot of work remains. Getting published has been a very gratifying experience. Still, I see it as only the first leg of a longer race. I have a lot of work remaining to make sure AMERICA LIBRE is a marketplace success.
How many rejections did you receive?
Wheh! I lost count. What I remember most about my first attempts to find an agent or a publisher was that it seemed the stack of rejection letters was approaching the thickness of my manuscript. Amazingly, after months of mailing query letters without any luck, I went to a writers conference and got offers of representation from three agents in a single weekend. Even after finding an agent, though, a lot of hurdles remained.
What kept you writing?
I’ve always felt the height of a barrier is an indication of the reward on the other side. I knew going in, getting published would not be easy. Nothing worth attaining ever is. But I had an example that helped sustain my perseverance. My mother arrived in the Bronx from Cuba in 1957 with a few words of English, a seven-year-old son, and enough cash to get us through a couple of months. Few people would have bet on her chances of one day starting her own business, much less raising three children who would go to college and become successful entrepreneurs. My mother never gave up. She worked relentlessly to give her children a better life despite many setbacks and disappointments. Her example showed me that the willingness to overcome adversity is what divides those who reach their dreams from those who will always wonder what might have been.
Have you ever thought about doing a film about AMERICA LIBRE and if so, what did you do about it?
One the first reviews of my manuscript came from a professor who told me he could “see” the story even as he read it. Maybe it’s my background as a visual artist, but from the very beginning readers have commented that AMERICA LIBRE seems an ideal story for a film. I never did this consciously, but looking back, the novel has a lot of cinematic qualities: strong characters, romance, lots of action. We’ve already had an option offer from a small indy studio in Los Angeles, which my agent advised against, and a nibble from a major studio. (I should mention these experiences inspired me to post a poll on my author’s site asking visitors to vote on the star they’d like to see in the major roles. For anyone who’d like to vote, go to www.RaulRamos.com and scroll down a bit in the lower left side of the page.) In any case, I would love to see AMERICA LIBRE as a film. I’m hopeful the right deal will come along.
In conclusion, I’d like to thank you, Caridad, for inviting me as a guest on your blog. Hanging out with a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author is a rare privilege. I value your very generous support and wish you continued success with your wonderful work.
Thank you so much Raul for visiting. In chatting with you, I’ve learned what a positive role model you are for people everywhere. I’ve always believed that with hard work and determination you can overcome adversity and you are a true example of that belief in action. I wish you all the best with your writing career!
The origins of any political revolution parallel the beginnings of life on our planet. The amino acids and proteins lie inert in a volatile primordial brew until a random lightning strike suddenly brings them to life.
José Antonio Marcha, 1978
Translated by J. M. Herrera
The trouble had started two weeks earlier. Enraged at the fatal police shooting of a young Latina bystander during a drug bust, a late-night mob descended on a Texas Department of Public Safety complex and torched the empty buildings. By morning, a local newscast of the barrio’s law-and-order meltdown mushroomed into a major story, drawing the national media to San Antonio. Since then, the presence of network cameras had incited the south side’s bored and jobless teenagers into nightly rioting.
Seizing the national spotlight, the governor of Texas vowed looters would be shot on sight. Octavio Perez, a radical community leader, angrily announced that force would be met with force. He called on Mexican-Americans to arm themselves and resist if necessary.
Disdaining Perez’s warning, Edward Cole, a twenty-six-year-old National Guard Lieutenant, chose a provocative location for his downtown command post: the Alamo.
“This won’t be the first time this place has been surrounded by a shitload of angry Mexicans,” Cole told his platoon of weekend warriors outside the shutdown tourist site. A high school gym teacher for most of the year, Lieutenant Cole had been called up to lead a Texas National Guard detachment. Their orders were to keep San Antonio’s south side rioting from spreading downtown.
Now Cole was fielding yet another call over the radio.
“Lieutenant, we got some beaners tearing the hell out of a liquor store two blocks south of my position,” the sentry reported.
“I’d say fifty to a hundred.”
“Sit tight, Corporal. The cavalry is coming to the rescue,” Cole said, trying his best to sound cool and confident. From a two-day training session on crowd control, he’d learned that a rapid show of strength was essential in dispersing a mob. But the colonel who had briefed Cole for the mission had been very clear about the governor’s statement.
“Your men are authorized to fire their weapons only in self-defense,” the colonel had ordered. “And even then, it had damn well better be as a last resort, Lieutenant. The governor wants to deter violence, not provoke it.”
Lieutenant Cole had never seen combat. But he was sure he could deal with a small crowd of unruly Mexicans. After all, he had eight men armed with M-16A automatic rifles under his command. Cole put on his helmet, smoothed out his crisply ironed ascot, and ordered his men into the three reconditioned Humvees at his disposal.
“Let’s move out,” he said over the lead Humvee’s radio. With the convoy underway, Cole turned to his driver. “Step on it, Baker. We don’t want to let this thing get out of hand.” As the driver accelerated, the young lieutenant envisioned his dramatic entrance . . .
Bullhorn in hand, he’d emerge from the vehicle surrounded by a squad of armed troopers, the awed crowd quickly scattering as he ordered them to disperse . . .
Drifting back from his daydream, Cole noticed they were closing fast on the crowd outside the liquor store. Too fast.
“Stop, Baker! Stop!” Cole yelled.
The startled driver slammed on the brakes, triggering a chain collision with the vehicles trailing close behind. Shaken but unhurt, Cole looked through the window at the laughing faces outside. Instead of arriving like the 7th Cavalry, they’d wound up looking like the Keystone Kops.
Then a liquor bottle struck Cole’s Humvee. Like the opening drop of a summer downpour, it was soon followed by the deafening sound of glass bottles shattering against metal.
“Let’s open up on these bastards, Lieutenant! They’re gonna kill us!” the driver shouted.
Cole shook his head, realizing his plan had been a mistake. “Negative, Baker! We’re pulling out.”
But before the lieutenant could grab the radio transmitter to relay his order, the driver’s window shattered.
“I’m hit! I’m hit! Oh, my God. I’m hit!” the driver shrieked, clutching his head. A cascade of blood flowed down Baker’s nose and cheeks. He’d only suffered a gash on the forehead from the broken glass, but all the same, it was as shocking as a mortal wound. Never one to stomach the sight of blood, Baker passed out, slumping into his seat.
Cole couldn’t allow himself to panic; with no window and no driver he was far too vulnerable. Mind racing, he stared outside and soon noticed a group of shadowy figures crouching along the roof of the liquor store. Were they carrying weapons?
“Listen up, people. I think we might have snipers on the roof! I repeat, snipers on the roof!” Cole yelled into the radio. “Let’s lock and load! Have your weapons ready to return fire!”
On the verge of panic, the part-time soldiers fumbled nervously with their rifles as the drunken mob closed on the convoy, pounding against the vehicles.
The window on Cole’s side caved in with a terrifying crash. The rattled young lieutenant was certain he now faced a life or death decision—and he was determined to save his men. With the radio still in hand, Lieutenant Edward Cole gave an order he would forever regret.
“We’re under attack. Open fire!”
When it was over, twenty-three people lay dead on the black pavement beneath the neon sign of the Rio Grande Carryout.
Take a moment to watch the exciting trailer for AMERICA LIBRE. Also, everyone who leaves a comment by midnight EST on Friday will be eligible to win a copy of Raul’s novel.