Taking a hit – a writer’s toolkit for rejection

Laura Tobias’  Mars, Venus, and the Rejection  at the PenWarriors.com blog is a humorous reflection on the impact rejections make on a writer.

Of course writers aren’t alone – everyone experiences rejection at one time or another. Those of us who put our personal creations out to the world – whether they be stories, songs, dances, or paintings – are inevitably going to be judged on those creations. That judgment may be harsh, approving, or indifferent. I’ve sold 29 novels to major publishers, and one book on writing. I’ve also received my share of rejections. Some rejections haven’t had much of an impact while others have been devastating. A couple of times I’ve had works that I thought were my best rejected, and those rejections hit harder than others.

Usually I’ve been able to learn something from the rejections, sometimes a valuable lesson in craft or marketing. One rejection that came marked the beginning of a period when I had a lot of trouble believing in myself as a writer. I realize now that the rejection probably hit harder because it came shortly after my mother’s death, although I didn’t make the connection at the time.

Every human being gets rejected and it’s difficult for us to avoid taking the “no” as a denial of personal worth. The thing about rejection is that it’s often out of our control. No story will please every reader, and we can’t control the realities of publisher’s balance sheets, marketing research, and editorial opinions. All we can do is tell the best story we can, in the best way we can, and get it out there for people to read.

I’ve gathered a collection of tools to deal with my own crises of confidence. Here are the things that work best for me:

  • Sharing: My first instinct is to keep the rejection and my reaction inside, but I’ve learned how important it is to share it with trusted people. My husband is a great help because he believes in me when my own confidence falters. I know my PenWarrior.com friends will offer support and realistic advice, and they’ll usually share some of their own experiences, which helps me remember I’m not alone.
  • I treasure these books:
    • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. This little book of essays is a treasure filled with humor and wisdom!
    • The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression by Eric Maisel. Amazing wisdom and excellent advice based on the experience of many other creative people, and Maisel who is a great creativity coach. Maisel has a number of other books that give practical, inspiring advice to empower yourself and your creativity.
    •  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. One of the most valuable things I learned in this book is to focus on my circle of influence, not my circle of concern. Basically, this means to put my energies where I have power, not on the things that are out of my power. I can’t control what a publisher does, but I can make sure I write the best book I know how, work on my skills, and get my stories out there where people can read them.
  • Remind myself that many excellent authors have had amazing, great stories rejected, then later famously published
    • Stephen King nailed all the rejections he got for Carrie (his famous first novel) to a spike in his bedroom. One of those letters read: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”
    • J. K. Rawlings’ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (laterSorceror’s) Stone was rejected by 12 publishers before the daughter of Bloomsbury’s CEO begged her father to publish it.
    • Read about these and other rejections of famous, successful authors
Now, if I can just remember all this the next time I get a rejection!

Vanessa

Lawrence Block: lies, spiders, and more lies (book reviews)

Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction WritersTelling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Telling Lies for Fun and Profit in the early 1980s, a couple of years after I’d decided to put aside my attempts to write a publishable fiction novel for a while.

I knew I wasn’t done with writing and that I would give it another try sometime, but it wasn’t until I picked up Block’s book of essays about writing that I decided it was time to write again. In friendly conversational style, Block gave me glimpses into a writer’s world that seemed accessible and answered many of my questions before I’d even asked them. Can you name real places in a novel? What about using a pseudonym? With practical musings on a host of subjects, Block’s ramble through the territory of writing gave me an inside view that told me it was time to pick up my dream of being a novelist and dust it off. The result was my first published novel, Pacific Disturbance.

Thanks, Lawrence Block, for giving writers a hand!

 

Spider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction WritersSpider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great book for writers and anyone thinking about being a writer! This book continues the collection of gems from Lawrence Block’s 10 years as a columnist for Writer’s Digest.

Block’s style is friendly and casual, often irreverent – and filled with gems for the creator. Definitely a keeper for the writer’s bookshelf, and a great read for anyone who is curious about writers and how they do (or don’t do) it. I read this book years ago, and often return to it.

Check out the last two books in the “Lies” series: “The Liar’s Companion” and “The Liar’s Bible”
View all my reviews

Yippee! … If You Loved Me

Yesterday I received the almost-ready-to-publish-as-an-ebook file of If You Loved Me, a novel of mine originally published by Zebra Bouquet (Kensington Books).  I love this story and I’m so pumped to know it will soon be available once again!

Originally I wrote it for Mills and Boon Harlequin, but my editor there wanted me to

  1. make the heroine younger (she was in her late thirties), and
  2. change the father of her son to someone else
The whole story was based on the premise that Emma’s son had gone kayaking in the wilderness with a friend, and was now missing. Changing Emma’s age would have made her either a child-mother, or a negligent one for letting her pre-adolescent son head into the wilderness without an adult. In addition, it was unlikely she would have achieved prominence as an orthopaedic surgeon at the ripe old age of twenty-something.
My editor was reasonable about Emma’s age because of the negligent mother issue, but wouldn’t budge on the identity of her son’s father. I decided not to change the identity of the father of Emma’s son, because that would change a crucial decision Emma had made in the past – and my plot would make no sense at all. So I withdrew the novel and went on to write several other books for Harlequin.
A few years later I learned that one of the Kensington editors was looking for 70,000 word stories for their new Bouquet imprint. I decided to submit  If You Loved Me. I would need to add an extra 10-15,000 words, but that would be a pleasure as I’d been challenged to fit it into M&B’s 55-60,000 word limit when I first wrote the novel. I sent off an email query and received a phone call from Kensington within a few days.  If You Loved Me became the first of four novels I wrote for Kensington, and I enjoyed the scope the extra length gave me.
I laughed when my new Kensington editor told me that one of the things she loved about the book was the boy’s parentage – the exact thing that had caused me to withdraw the book from M&B. Go figure!
Last year I applied to get the rights back to my four Kensington novels, and when I received the reversion documents I was thrilled because I could have all four novels available as eBooks for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks before the end of 2011.
So here I am with the “e” equivalent of galleys, ready to start the final edit. Unlike the world of print books, I have the opportunity to make any changes I like before the book goes out to the world – and I get to work with my own cover artist on a design! Kensington does great cover art and I liked the covers of my four Bouquets, but being in on the creation with a cover designer like Angela is a real joy.
So while my husband and I continue east on our road trip across the North American continent, I’ll be enjoying a final read through If You Loved Me before it goes to e-press on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks!

Giving thanks for breakdowns…

Ah, breakdowns …

The word breakdown instantly flashes associations of misfortune and unpleasantness to my mind – images ranging from boring (not to mention worried) hours spent hanging around the inhospitable quarters of a mechanic’s repair shop in a strange city, to the bizarre experiences of a woman incarcerated in a mental institution for finally losing it!

I have a cluster of muddled repair-shop memories from my childhood as a construction worker’s child, frequently moving from place to place in cars that seemed less than mechanically sound. Fortunately, my knowledge of mental institutions is secondhand – from reading, watching movies, a few psychology and counselling courses, and my writer’s imagination.

But repairs – well, things do break, and in my experience they often break at inconvenient moments. But this week I’m experiencing a different kind of mechanical breakdown experience.

Twelve days ago my husband Brian and I set off on a road trip we’d been planning for some time in our motorhome. We planned the trip in much the way I might plan a novel – a first  draft of the places we wanted to visit with no fixed schedule – ordered for mileage efficiency with the help of Microsoft’s Streets and Trips software. Two days ago we were about an hour from the small northern Ontario town of Sioux Lookout when I asked Brian, “What’s that growling noise?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” he replied.

Luckily Brian tore apart cars and put them back together as a young man, so he’s that very handy type of hero who has mechanical abilities.  We stopped on an abandoned side road and he determined that our water pump was failing. Since we were in the middle of the bush but thirty minutes drive from his sister’s home, we drove on, my writer’s imagination crafting a Please-no! scene of the water pump self-destructing in the next few minutes, our having to find a spot with cell phone coverage to call for a tow truck and get hauled back to Dryden or Kenora or somewhere expen$ively distant for thousands of $$$ in repairs.

The motorhome gave some alarming clunks under the hood, but fortunately things held together until we pulled up outside my in-laws home. Then the water pump dumped its liquid contents onto the driveway.

Wow! If I was writing this in a book, the bad thing would have happened. After all, in fiction, what good is a warning sign if the baddie doesn’t come along and clobber the heroine or hero? Be mean to your characters is the first rule of plotting, and in this case being mean would certainly have had the vehicle dying in the middle of nowhere. When I tossed the heroine of So Much for Dreams into a mechanically doubtful car, I went so far as to have her break down on a Mexican mountaintop without giving her a word of Spanish to talk her way out of the situation.

The author of Vanessa and Brian’s fate was much kinder. We’ve got the luxury good-news version of the story.

  • We get to spend a few extra days with relatives we’ve seen far too little of in the last couple of decades. Time together is precious when life moves family members to distant parts of a vast landscape.
  • Brian has the pleasure of working on a mechanical male-bonding project with his brother-in-law and nephew
  • We had a great tour of Sioux Lookout last night, including a behind-the-scenes tour of a busy regional airline. Calliope, my muse, is spinning story ideas. There’s something exciting about small planes, isolated wild landscapes, and good people that makes for great stories. Life plays dramatically in the everyday lives of the North – whether it be British Columbia, northern Ontario, or Alaska.
  • I got some quiet hours with computer, WiFi, and Internet to get some necessary updates done on my website and catch up on my social media.
  • My son Cam and I had a virtual work session and
    • tweaked the free online character name database on my Web site, and then
    • I got to brainstorm my promotional blurb for The Broken Gate with him, and finally came up with a version that felt right
  • During our visit here in Sioux Lookout we’ve enjoyed quiet meals with good company, a family birthday party for my great-niece (and she is great!), and a feel-good community Sunday lunch.
  • We learned how Sioux Lookout got its name

So here it is Monday, I’ve got the leisure to put an update on my blog. The new water pump is arriving tomorrow morning. I’m guessing vehicle parts that took two days to disassemble will take at least one to put back together, so we’ve got another day or two to enjoy the benefits of breakdowns. Brian’s got coveralls on and his head and shoulders buried under the hood with a variety of tools at hand – and although it’s work, I know he’s getting that satisfaction that comes of mastering challenges. I’m mastering my own problems while my sister- and brother-in-law are at work, clearing the way mentally to get back to TTT (my current fiction project, which has undergone a change of title so the initials TTT no longer fit.)

What a fortunate breakdown! It’s given us time to take a deep breath and take time with family and this beautiful place. When we leave, we’ll take precious memories with us.

Vanessa

 

 

A Hero by Any Other Name

(Also posted at PenWarriors.com)

If fictional characters had to pay real dollars for therapy, a few of mine would be bankrupt and suffering from multiple identity disorder.

Even I’m confused about the identity of the hero of my seventh published book. Andrew, Takeover Man‘s hero, stormed into town to reorganize his aging father’s life and ran into Maggie, a female harbormaster with an attitude. Maggie knew who she was from the instant she flashed onto my computer screen, but Andrew wasn’t so lucky. If I’d been writing this book in the days when authors slaved over typewriters and had to retype the manuscript with each draft, Andrew would have managed to hang onto his name—too much work to change it. But when I read through my final draft, I decided that the name Andrew just didn’t evoke the image of a takeover man. So my last act as his creator was a search-and-replace, wiping Andrew out of existence and substituting Michael.

Looking back now, I’m not sure Michael sounds any more take-charge than Andrew. It seemed important to me at the time and, who knows, maybe I was right … or wrong.

One way or another I’ve spent a lot of time naming my characters.

Like many writers I’ve collected a host of baby name books over the years. After years of trying to find the perfect name book, in the late 1990s my husband and I developed a computer names database, and a few years later, my son Cameron enhanced and expanded it into MuseNames. I keep adding new names as I find them and the MuseNames database has now grown to 60,000 names. I know it’s crazy to think I need 60,000 names, but I love exploring the names and their meanings as I create my characters. With all those names at my disposal, I could write forever and never repeat a hero or heroine’s name.

Well, not exactly.

When my twenty-third book was accepted for publication, the editor suggested I change the name of Strangers by Day’s hero from Allan to something more masculine. Perhaps Max, he suggested.

I’ve always been fond of short, simple masculine names. If I couldn’t have Allan, there was no reason Faith couldn’t fall in love with a man named Max—it was exactly the sort of name I might give one of my heroes. I did another search-and-replace and Allan became Max.

Oops! Max was the hero of my very first book, Pacific Disturbance.

Oh, well. The two men will probably never meet. Max #1 (Pacific Disturbance) is a West Coast software developer; Max #2 (Strangers by Day) is a cattle rancher in the interior of British Columbia. I should be safe, unless they both turn up in Vegas on the same weekend and their wives get to comparing heroes.

As for that MuseNames database, check it out! Over the weekend, my son Cameron and I finished putting the database and its search tool up on my website. Feel free to browse those 60,000 names with their origins and meanings here at http://vanessagrant.com/character-names-for-writers/.

Happy writing

Vanessa

Check out my eBoook On Johnny’s Terms – the author’s cut – another name change story.

The Broken Gate – a short story

I’ve just released The Broken Gate, a new short story.

The Broken Gate

Jennifer Sandborn fled personal tragedy to serve as a humanitarian aid worker, promising her husband she would return in a few months. Two years later she returns in the middle of the night. Everything feels familiar, but nothing is the same.

“Tomorrow morning she would wake up under the duvet in the chilly house, safe from wars and death and tragedy. She would stretch out her hand with her eyes closed and when her fingers touched John’s warm flesh, she would nestle into him with her lips against his throat.

Although she couldn’t see the house where her husband waited, memory guided her steps, filling her blackness with light.

Her hand reached for the gate but found only the edge of the fence. She fumbled and found the uneven slant of the gate, propped open, still broken …” More about The Broken Gate

Kindle Editions –  Amazon USA and Amazon UK
Smashwords – all formats

Also available from iBooks, B&N, Kobo and other distributors

On Johnny’s Terms – the author’s cut

Cynthia knew it was outrageous to ask Jonathan’s help when they hadn’t spoken a civil word in the fourteen years since she was sixteen. But she’d flown across the country to find him, trying to find the right words all through the four-hour flight.

She hadn’t called to say she was coming, so he wouldn’t be expecting her. He certainly wouldn’t smile when he saw her.

“I came to ask you for money.”

Author’s Note:
Sometimes the universe gives me a gift when a title that evokes my novel’s theme and atmosphere pops into my mind early in the creation process. The title for “On Johnny’s Terms” appeared while I wrote the second scene of Cynthia and Jonathan’s love story. Perfect, I decided, and I played with nuances of Johnny’s terms as I refused to give Cynthia exactly what she asked for, but … well, in the end, both Johnny and I wanted much more for her than she dreamed was possible.

Unfortunately the title and the nickname “Johnny” were not a hit with my publisher – not romantic enough. So I replaced “Johnny” with “Jonathan” and came up with a title the publisher and I could agree on. So “The Moon Lady’s Lover” was released.

Fast forward to the year 2011, a world where authors can make their own decisions on titles and cover art. A few weeks ago my cover artist and I discussed cover ideas for the new eBook release of “The Moon Lady’s Lover”. I sent Angela the artwork summary I had prepared for the original print publisher. I didn’t mention the title issue because I’d forgotten about the original title until I opened the artwork summary to send it.

When I saw the cover Angela created, I was surprised and excited to see the title “On Johnny’s Terms”. Thank you, Angela, the cover scene is exactly what I wanted and the title is perfect.

… to my readers, I hope you enjoy reading the story of Johnny and Cynthia as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Vanessa Grant
May, 2011

Originally published in hardcover by Mills and Boon Limited under the title The Moon Lady’s Lover.

Now available as an eBook through the following retailers:

On Johnny’s Terms – Kindle Ebook from Amazon

On Johnny’s Terms – from Smashwords (Multi Formats including Kindle, Sony, ePub, PDF, Palm PDB)

Apple’s iBookstore (type the author or title name in the search box)

The Broken Gate and the Muse Calliope

Last week I spent eight days at a wilderness star party in a comfortable motorhome on top of Mt. Kobau. Star parties are designed for people like my husband who love to stay up late viewing and photographing stars, and then sleep all morning, followed by an afternoon talking with other enthusiasts about stars, nebulae, telescopes, and astral photography.

For me, Mt. Kobau is a magical Writer’s retreat (no phone, no Internet, beautiful wilderness environment). I was counting on the mountain to help me finish the first draft of my short story I’d promised to write for the upcoming Pen Warriors anthology.

The last time I wrote a short story was during the dark ages of the twentieth century. So I trekked up the mountain with a thousand words of beginning, a fuzzy idea of what the ending might look like, and no clue what to put in the middle. Back at the last Red Door, I’d impulsively named this story The Broken Gate, so at least I had a title.

I also had a hefty case of writer’s anxiety. I hadn’t touched my beginning in months and felt hyper-aware of my inexperience with the short story form. I felt like a bicycle marathon rider handed a unicycle at the starting gate.

I needed the mountain to answer some basic questions, like: What belonged in the middle of my beginning-ending sandwich? What was the significance of a broken gate in the story? All I had was those 1000 words, my laptop computer, and a determination that eight days on a mountain would produce something.

My mountaintop retreat turned out to be filled with internal psychological drama—the sort that’s boring to anyone but the poor writer experiencing the drama.

My 8 days on Mt. Kobau

Day 1

Unwound from hectic trip preparation, walked dogs. Subconscious presumably wrestled with The Broken Gate.

Day 2

Reread and edited beginning of The Broken Gate to get back into the story.
Day 3

Walked dogs, slept late, read other author’s novel. Hoped subconscious was more productive.

Day 4

Woke up determined to write. Opened computer, wrote a few words, and then deleted them. Behaved like one of those stereotypical movie authors who type a sentence, then tear it out of the typewriter and throw it away.

Realized that what I’d already written was hopeless garbage and I faced the depressing fact that I had no story and no hope of coming up with one. My creativity was gonzo.

Decided I needed to go back to bed—an easy decision since everyone else was sleeping off a night viewing the stars. I shut down my computer, took off my slacks, and climbed under the covers.

Two minutes later a new idea flashed onto my mental whiteboard. My Muse, bless her heart, had rescued The Broken Gate and made the gate (a story element I grabbed out of nowhere) absolutely meaningful.

I threw back the covers, got out of bed, and started making notes.

Decided it was time I gave my muse a name (Calliope). She’s earned it!

Days 5-8

Wrote the scenes I’d sketched out after Calliope visited me. Found the writing challenging and emotional. Realized that just because short stories are short, it doesn’t mean they are easy or quick to write.

Halfway through the final day I wrote The End on the first draft of The Broken Gate.

Lessons (re)learned:

When I’m writing a story or a novel, I’m never sure I can finish it until I write The End on the first draft. I should stop expecting anything different and just write the darned story.

Essential parts of my storytelling process take place outside my conscious mind. I’m dead in the water weeds. My resolution for next time—don’t forget that this is a partnership between my writer’s conscious mind, and that unconscious storyteller portion of me that I’ve decided to call Calliope. (as nominal creator, I reserve the right to change Calliope’s name if it’s not working for me.)

Don’t miss the upcoming Pen Warriors anthology of short stories:

5 Long Shadows – an Anthology of Short Stories

  • The Stone Heart by Bonnie Edwards
  • The Broken Gate by Vanessa Grant (and Calliope)
  • The Wrong Move by E.C. Sheedy
  • The Trouble with Apples by Laura Tobias
  • The Last Fortune by Gail Whitiker

Also posted on PenWarriors.com

So Much for Dreams

So Much for Dreams

The Senorita and the Drifter …

What happens when a drifter running from his past rescues a woman who can’t speak Spanish from a cluster of admiring Mexican men? The last thing Joe wants is to fall for a woman who craves commitments and can’t refuse a cry for help, but he can’t leave Dinah and her ancient car on a remote mountain road …

Dinah dashed off to Mexico without knowing if her car could survive the journey, or thinking about her lack of Spanish. Maybe it wasn’t surprising that she herself needing rescuing, but finding a young girl desperate for help in a strange country was difficult enough without Joe. Having hit bottom herself and pulled back up, she had no patience for drifters and Joe was the last thing she wanted … and everything she needed.

Kindle Editions – Amazon USA and Amazon UK
Smashwords Edition – all formats

Also available from iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and other distributors

Other books by Vanessa Grant

About writing On Johnny’s Terms

Sometimes the universe gives me a gift when a title that evokes my novel’s theme and atmosphere pops into my mind early in the creation process. The title for “On Johnny’s Terms” appeared while I wrote the second scene of Cynthia and Jonathan’s love story. Perfect, I decided, and I played with nuances of Johnny’s terms as I refused to give Cynthia exactly what she asked for, but … well, in the end, both Johnny and I wanted much more for her than she dreamed was possible.

Unfortunately the title and the nickname “Johnny” were not a hit with my publisher – not romantic enough. So I replaced “Johnny” with “Jonathan” and came up with a title the publisher and I could agree on. So “The Moon Lady’s Lover” was released.

Fast forward to the year 2011, a world where authors can make their own decisions on titles and cover art. A few weeks ago my cover artist and I discussed cover ideas for the new eBook release of “The Moon Lady’s Lover”. I sent Angela the artwork summary I had prepared for the original print publisher. I didn’t mention the title issue because I’d forgotten about the original title until I opened the artwork summary to send it.

When I saw the cover Angela created, I was surprised and excited to see the title “On Johnny’s Terms”. Thank you, Angela, the cover scene is exactly what I wanted and the title is perfect.

… to my readers, I hope you enjoy reading the story of Johnny and Cynthia as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Vanessa Grant
May, 2011

Synopsis of On Johnny’s Terms

Cynthia knew it was outrageous to ask Jonathan’s help when they hadn’t spoken a civil word in the fourteen years since she was sixteen. But she’d flown across the country to find him, trying to find the right words all through the four-hour flight.

She hadn’t called to say she was coming, so he wouldn’t be expecting her. He certainly wouldn’t smile when he saw her.

“I came to ask you for money.”

Now available as an eBook in multiple formats.