The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: just another year in the writing life

I have no rowdy plans for New Year’s Eve. I'll be home when the ball drops, snuggled in the arms of my One Sure Thing, drinking homemade cranberry wine, texting my kids, turning in early, taking a moment to reflect on the year gone by: what’s worth keeping, what’s not worth another slice of my stomach lining, what I gained, what I lost, what I learned.

The Good
On the publishing front, The Secret Sisters came out in trade paper this spring with Target boosting the healthy sell-in by 7K copies. Woo hoo! In Feb, I finished working my memoir guru mojo for the fabulous Rue McClanahan. My First Five Husbands…and the Ones Who Got Away came out in April, and I was thrilled to see it climb the NYT list. Rue is hilarious, a passionate artist with an astonishingly generous spirit. She richly deserved this success.

I signed with a new literary agent – an extremely bright and pleasant young woman, who gives fantastic editorial notes and has a fresh, unjaded outlook on the industry. I’m optimistic and excited about a whole new chapter in my career. The decision to begin publishing a lighter, more broadly-appealing brand of fiction under a new name makes me feel like a virgin again, and it makes sense to separate my fiction and ghostwriting identities. It’s really two entirely different careers. (Am I a skitzoid dilettante or savvy multi-tasker? 2008 will tell.)

Writing-wise, I was in high gear the second half of the year, consumed with the same creative spirit that took me over when I was in chemo and totally delivered me to the difficult, joyful, fulfilling labor of making art. With both kids off on their own, I was free to work 14, 16, sometimes 18 hours a day and loved every (well, almost every) minute. I finished the edits on Rue’s book in January, then reworked a novel I wrote last year, finished and refinished another novel, and completed a third rough draft just before the Holidays. I’m incredibly jazzed about the new direction my fiction is taking, and I’m enormously grateful to have powerhouse critique partners who respect me enough to hold my wandering feet to the artistic fire.

This year, I rediscovered the voracious reader I used to be, read more and better books than I have since…Lord, I can’t even remember when I read this much. Came back to classics like A Tale of Two Cities, Beowulf, Leaves of Grass, and several Shakespeare plays. Revisited Poe, Hesse, and Bronte sisters – had to reconnect with my dear old friend Jane Eyre after reading Jasper Ford’s The Eyre Affair and took up Roland’s The Nibelungenlied after something about it came up in a crossword puzzle. (Another item for the good list: Gare Bear and I made a habit of daily morning coffee and NY Times crossword puzzle. We laugh, use Google to cheat, play footsie under the table at Starbucks. It’s quite lovely.)

I devoured the complete works of Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and made a dent in a Raymond Chandler collection, discovering a new passion for hard-boiled fiction. Read a few Josephine Tey books (soft-boiled fiction?) but cozies are a big meh for me. Commercial contemporaries included Evanovich, Chabon, King, and of course, my blog-busting sidekick Colleen Thompson. Memoirs and more memoirs – Didion, Hellman, Clinton, Obama. I skimmed several celeb books I had to keep up with for ghostwriting and hit a handful of mass pb mysteries/thrillers on airplanes. A delicious, luxurious, embarrassment of riches was this reading year.

The Bad
I changed literary agents for the second time in two years. This sucked on many levels, none of which I can talk about here because I have to be politic about it, but we all know the time and piece-work of researching and pursuing new representation is a huge pain in the ass and creates a dry spell in one's publishing path. Then there’s the fly-without-a-wire feeling of placing one’s fiscal and artistic well-being in the hands of a total stranger. I feel sorry for my new agent, who has to deal with the burn scars that make it hard for me to trust. I’m trying hard not to crucify her for the sins of her predecessor, but I’ve learned I can’t be complacent or a nice, quiet Pollyanna when it comes to my career. This is a tough business, which requires staunch advocacy, and the first one who has to believe in and battle for my work is me.

The good side of the bad is that I know I am in much better hands than I was at this time last year. And I’m newly grateful for the warm, productive relationship I have with my speaking agent, who has been my friend and champion for almost 14 years. (Note to self: send flowers to speaking agent.)

The Ugly
At 5:45 AM on March 23, I was on my way to Starbucks, my brain on fire with ideas when a truck made an illegal left, and my little box car was T-boned. I was carted off in an ambulance and didn’t regain my seriously productive stride until July. I worked hard to hide how knocked down I was, but I was in a lot of pain and horribly depressed, basically lying in bed weeping and gaining weight for about eight weeks. (Another note to self: DO NOT drive with arm on open window when idiots are in vicinity!) The asshole’s insurance company has been ridiculously slow and obstructive, so now Gary and I are being turned over to collection agencies for the medical bills, faced with the choice to pay up or get involved in a lawsuit (a time-eating, karma-sucking excursion I can barely stand to think about.)

The good side of the ugly is that I did my rehab with a strength trainer at LA Fitness instead of going the clinical route. His total body view toward recovery was exactly what I needed. After a month, I was back to work, and after two months, I was feeling better than I had in ages. I’m ending the year 25 lbs lighter, a whole lot happier, and thinking I really need to do a book about the benefits of personal training. I’ve decided that I am going to become a MILF in 2008 – Magnificent, Intelligent, Loving, and Fit. (Shame on you, if you thought MILF meant something else.)

So all things equal, it was a tough year. I learned some tough lessons. But looking around, I have ample reasons to be grateful, optimistic, and happy. I am stupid in love with a good man. I have two white-water-raft-ride kids and a few truly top-quality friends. I spend my days doing work that challenges me and brings me joy.

Screw the bad and the ugly. It’s all good.

Comments

May the best keep getting better and the bad stuff survive only in the form of fodder for future bestsellers!

Adios to 07. Let's have a great '08.
Here's my annual (brief) recap:

The Good:
1. Found out exactly how wonderful my husband and friends are. I already knew they were pretty great, but this year they've really put their money where their mouths are. God bless 'em, every one.
2. Released two new novels (including the book of my heart) to good reviews and seem to have picked up a lot of happy new readers. (Yea!) Sold another novel that's coming out in 2008.
3. Hooked up with a new agent I like a great deal.
4. Adopted Jewel the Love Bug shelter mutt.
5. Read wonderful books, enjoyed fabulous critique group, listened to good music, went to beautiful places, and learned fascinating new stuff.
6. Flew in a glider. Twice. Amazing experience.
7. Saw the Marfa lights.

The Bad:
1. Found out aforesaid Love Bug eats carpeting, shoes, and books when left alone. (Time, patience, and a sturdy crate have helped.)
2. Had to make the tough decision to change agents, though I personally liked the previous administration. Difficult.
3. Stressed out by shorter-than-usual deadlines, later-than-usual $, and nastier-than-usual writerly paranoia.

The Ugly:
1. Spent about six weeks thinking my head was going to explode. Eight zillion bucks worth of tests/prescriptions/medical professionals/hospitalizations later, the offending virus finally decided it was through with me. Mostly, anyway. I've never been that sick before and hope to never again have the privilege.
2. Found out you can't write when you can't see, can't think, and your head's exploding. Go figure.
3. Close family member diagnosed with a different scary illness.

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