Is the Hunt for Publication Already Over?

Over that past month I’ve been submitting The Other Side of Fear like crazy, and I think I might be done. I’ve sent either a query, sample chapters, or the full manuscript (or some combination of all three) out to 17 literary agents and 2 publishing houses. I’ve heard back from two agents so far. Both rejected the book, though one of them did forgo the traditional form letter to send me a nice, brief personal note about how much she admires the project but doesn’t feel she’s a good fit for it. Fair enough.

That doesn’t answer the question implied in the first sentence of this blog. Namely, why am considering quitting the hunt? I’ll get to that.

If you’re like me 11 years ago, you stumbled on that word “query” above. It’s short for “query letter,” and it’s the most basic document an author sends out when submitting. It’s a pitch, both of your book and, a little bit, yourself. It’s maybe the most difficult three or four paragraphs an author will ever write because it has to do so much in such a small amount of space. Agents and publishers receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of query letters every year, and there’s lots of ways to do them incorrectly. You both want to follow the expected format and convey the right information, and also stand out from the pack. It’s not easy. It really is a horrible piece of writing I loathe and hope to never write again.

When I first started this process, it was helpful to me to see what other authors had written as their query letters. In the spirt of that, here’s what I’ve been sending out (though I will modify it here and there, depending on who I’m sending it to):

 

Dear Mr. Agentman,

After my father is shot twelve times in an armed robbery and survives, I begin a journey of self-discovery and questioning of my faith that brings an unwanted, angry tension to our relationship. Eight years later, Dad is brutally gunned down again—this time with fatal results—and my world goes spinning.

There’s only one word to describe your dad getting shot a dozen times: cool. I was twelve. The cost of terrible violence was more than just unknown to me—it was negligible. I never doubted Dad would live. He could put footballs into orbit, just like Superman. Only good things came from the shooting: my sixth grade popularity profile went way up and, bonus, my family got on national television. William Shatner said Dad’s name! That was the peak. The comedown was finding out Dad was human after all—fallible. He saw the world simply. Matters of faith were matters of fact to him. It frustrated us both that I so desperately sought a deeper, seemingly elusive understanding of things. Then, when I was nineteen, Dad was killed in another shooting and I started an investigation into who he really was and what he was all about. I’ve never been as distraught or learned so much in such a short period of time as I did during the week that followed.

My book, THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR: A COMING-OF-AGE STORY BETWEEN TWO SHOOTINGS, is an uplifting personal memoir about forgiveness, the challenges of faith, and how losing a parent can, in fact, be a very good thing.

If you are interested, I’d love to send you the completed 88,000 word manuscript. I’m a former Art Director, the writer and illustrator of the YA novel “Paper Bag Mask”, the creator of the comic “The SuperFogeys”, and the award-winning filmmaker behind the short film “The Shift”, now streaming at VidAngel.com. I live with my wife and three daughters in California. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Brock Heasley

 

It’s not terrible, is it? It doesn’t seem like much now, but man did a lot of work and revision go into it. And every time I hit “send” on an email and put it out into the digital ether? A heart-stopping moment. Every time. (That’s also about when I would second guess literally every single word in the email, but let’s not get into those neurotic weeds.)

I would be very happy to never send that letter again, and the thing is…I kind of think I’m never going to. Because, yesterday, I got another email back from one of the people I’d submitted to. It was a brief email. I knew immediately it was another rejection. The brief ones always are, and I’ve gotten so many I’m just numb to them. I feel no anticipation whatsoever, no thought at all that the letter back with be anything other than a rejection, so what’s to get worked up about?

Like I said, it was a short letter.

But (and you’re ahead of me here by this point), it wasn’t a rejection at all. It was an offer of publication. One of the two publishing houses I’d submitted to got back to me and they “love” the book and would like to publish it. It was that simple. A short email, giving me one of the greatest bits of news I’d heard in quite some time.

I spent a year getting to this point the last time I shopped this book, all those years ago. This time, it only took a month. I didn’t see that coming.

Now, there is a big difference between this time and last time. Normally, publishing houses are not places authors have access to. You need an agent to even approach the larger publishers, but for smaller and more niche publishers you just need a great, marketable story. The two houses I submitted to were chosen carefully. Both of them cater to the exact audience I think would really come out and support this book, and both of them have a long history of success.

The one who wants to publish the book? The very first submission I made this year.

I’m purposefully not telling you the name of the publisher. You might know it, you might not, but I’ll only feel comfortable sharing it once the dotted line is signed. There’s still a lot to figure out. There is the matter of what the contract looks like, of course, but also all those agents and the other publishing house I haven’t heard back from. It is customary to give notice of an offer to give everyone a chance to put the submission on the top of the pile and determine whether they’d like to pursue it or not. After a short period, I’ll close the window and make a decision.

In the meantime, I’m excited to talk to the interested publisher and find out more about what they see for The Other Side of Fear and what our agreement looks like. That’s the next step for them. The next step for everyone else is just to wait and see what happens.

But, barring some massive issue I don’t see coming, The Other Side of Fear will be published. How about that?

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

The Hunt for Publication

It takes a certain kind of guts to dive into waters full of teeth-baring sharks with a taste for blood. To dive back in for a second time after you’ve already been chewed up and spit out? Well, that’s just  masochism. You probably don’t have me figured for a masochist, but I do love to prove people wrong.

I’ve written about this before, but to recap: I full-on signed with a pretty terrific literary agent to represent Raised by a Dead Man, got the book in front of the very best editors at the very best publishing houses, and got so, so rejected.

Okay, I exaggerate. A little. I got some really lovely notes from some of those editors, a few of them even speaking with some passion for the story and the way I’d written it, noting things like the balance between humor and seriousness, the honest take on faith, and the self-deprecating voice. To have the book understood and appreciated at that level was its own reward, for sure. The negatives leveled against it had mostly to do with trying to figure out how to place the book within the marketplace, and the quality of writing being not quite what it should be.*

*This was all eight years ago. Having now given the book a full rewrite as a better and more experienced writer, I have to say I kind of get the criticisms about the writing. It wasn’t quite there.

So, to try again–to really start over at square one since my literary agent has long since moved on–is a daunting, punishing task. And I’m honestly just sidestepping the emotion of it all this time around. I have, as they say, become acquainted with grief.  Rejection and I are old friends by now. He stops by now and again, I let him in, he sits on my couch and downs a cold root beer, and then I see him on his way and promise my wife I’ll never let him in again. But, of course, I do.

Thankfully, I have my wife’s encouragement this time. She’s never stopped believing in this book, even when I did. If angels are real (and they totally are), they should take lessons from her. She’s a college professor; I bet it would be a pretty good class.

So, the hunt for publication has begun once again. The way it works is, you send out what are called “query” letters to potential agents, along with sample chapters and whatever else their guidelines ask for. The letter is designed to interest them in you and your book and make you both sound like the hottest thing since sliced bread was a hot new thing. (Egyptian times? I dunno.) It’s a piece of advertising, really, written by the author, i.e. a person who isn’t used to writing that sort of self-aggrandizing thing. Thankfully, I’ve gotten more comfortable with that part of the job in the intervening years.

I’m a little older, a little wiser this time around. For all the rejection I’ve received over my creative life, I’ve also experienced the incredible highs of acceptance. Some that are well known, some I can’t talk about yet. I pretty much roll with it either way and keep my expectations in check at this point. It’s healthier that way. I know that not trying is the only actual failure, and trying only to have failed is a step in the right direction (though maybe not towards the destination you thought you were heading).

As of this writing, The Other Side of Fear has been submitted to 7 new literary agents and has already received its first rejection! That deserves an exclamation point, believe me. Rejection is inevitable, and the first one means things are moving again. I’m excited.

I’ve also submitted the book to two smaller publishers. That’s a change from what I did eight years ago. Back then, I shot for the moon and only the moon. I still would like to hit the moon, but I don’t see failure in reaching the lower atmosphere anymore. I think TOSOF (as I needfully acronym it whenever I can) could find a good home at a smaller publisher. Or, at least, I want to be open that.

That’s what this is really about to me: being open to what the book needs to do and be. Because, years ago, I thought I knew. I thought I knew for sure. And I was wrong. But there’s one thing I’m still sure about: this books needs to exist and it needs to be out there.

I got an email on Sunday from Jean-David, a man in France I do not know who stumbled upon my comics a few weeks ago and then from there found the book chapters on this blog. He read them quickly, and then wrote me. Here’s part of what he said (quoted with permission):

I had read like the first three parts and was finding them beautifully written, with an earnest power of conviction and a show of faith that felt sincere yet non-ostentatious… I wanted to read this book to the end… [The rest of the book] lived up to the beginning. Again, it’s beautifully written, brave and bold but not overbearing, honest and true; it knows what to tell and how to tell it.

Jean-David then went on to tell me about a personal experience he’d had with losing some close friends, how reading the book helped him process some of the difficult thoughts and feelings he’s been dealing with ever since, and that the widow left behind by one of his friends happens to be able to read English. He asked my permission to share the book with her. Which I, of course, granted.

And that is why I’m trying again. Because I think there’s not only room in the world for a book like this, but there’s an actual need for it. I didn’t make up this story, it was given to me. And I feel a sense of responsibility about that. Jean-David is not alone in reinforcing that responsibility. There have been other, more private messages. People who have connected profoundly with my dad (and, I guess, me) and his story of simple faith, forgiveness, and steadfastness in times of trial.

One of the reasons this book failed to find publication the first time around is because it straddles the line between being a book for the faith crowd and being a book that can also appeal to the Barnes & Noble crowd. You’d think that would be a plus, but it turned out it wasn’t. The list of books put out by a publishing house is largely determined by what the marketing team thinks can sell, not by what an editor or publisher with vision wants to put out. Raised by a Dead Man occupied some nether space between audiences, so they didn’t know what do with it. With the rewrite and renaming to The Other Side of Fear*, I have admittedly tried to offer a bit of a corrective. Is it enough? I don’t know. I suppose I will find out.

*When I first wrote the book, I actually called it Bullets and M&M’s. Then, since no one liked that title, I changed it to Raised by a Dead Man. No one liked that title either, but by then they felt too sorry for me to say so. (Jerks.) For a little while, I called it A Suspicious Peace, but that was a title you literally have to couple with a yawn to get through, so it died a quick death. The book is now called The Other Side of Fear and consensus, finally, seems to be on my side. In total, that’s a 15 year journey. Maybe it was all for finally settling on the proper title so it can be properly appealing. Pretty long away around if you ask me.

Maybe you’d like to find out with me. I think I’d like to make this a more open process than I did the last time around. I want to write about the highs and lows of the road to publication for what I’m hoping will be my third book.* Some things I will not be able to share (like the specific responses of agents and editors) out of a sense of propriety on my part, but where I can or have permission (like with Jean-David), I will.

*My first other books are a YA novel called Paper Bag Mask and SuperFogeys Vol. 1: Inaction Heroes, a graphic novel. The stories of how those came about you can find elsewhere.

It’s a heckuva process. It took me a full year to secure a literary agent for Raised By a Dead Man. Will The Other Side of Fear take as long? Gosh, I hope not, but I’ve also made peace with the idea it may not find an agent at all. I figure that’s a much healthier place to be in, right? Let’s see how this goes, together.

Photo by Laura College on Unsplash

Update on the New Job (Plus, “The Shooting”)

Things have a been a little crazy lately.

Now that I’m all in at Tremendum, I’m seeing what it is to fully dedicate myself to those things I enjoy and I’m best at. And I love it.

Last week, we headed down to Hollywood for a small screening of The Gallows and to work on sound design. I was more in tagalong mode as I learn more about the process, but I was able to offer some input here and there. I’ve never been to a test screening and I found the entire process completely fascinating, especially the conversation afterwards with the focus group and the studio heads. There’s far, far more that goes into the creation of every single second of a movie than you could even guess at.

After the test screening. From L-R: 'Gallows' Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.
After the test screening. From L-R: ‘Gallows’ Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.

Most of my work at the moment for Tremendum is in developing and writing a post-Gallows project. More on that when I can share it, but I hit a real milestone this week by finishing a first draft. I didn’t expect to get it done as quickly as I have, but I guess I’ve got the fire in me right now.

In an odd way, moving so completely forward and quickly on a new project has caused me to reflect on old projects, particularly one I put away years ago.

Raised by a Dead Man: A Coming of Age Story Between Two Shootings is the first memoir I wrote and the one that allowed me to form a relationship with my literary agent, Bonnie Solow. For a variety of reasons, few having to do with the quality of the story or even the way I wrote it, it didn’t sell. But it’s still a book and a story I feel passionate about. I’ve already posted the prologue on this site, but, just for kicks, this week I’m going to serialize the first few chapters of RBDM.

I welcome your feedback. If response is good, maybe I’ll post more than a few chapters. In any case, I hope you enjoy it.

Here we go. The following is a true story:

* * *

Chapter One

Shooting

No one makes a living retailing junk food. Not one good enough to support a wife and four sons, anyway. The guns were what fed us. The bullets and the barrels sold right alongside the soda bottles and the Slim Jims put food on the table and gave us a home. Us, and Dad’s employees—both of whom had gone home early that night from the dirty little shop on the outskirts of Fresno. Bill’s Bait and Tackle closed at 5:00pm. Dad was alone for everything that happened afterwards.

A small business owner never clocks out. Not really. Once home, Dad could look forward to adding receipts and counting money long into the night. Might take even longer if his sons bristled once again at helping him or, even better, tempted him into a rubber band war. Closing time wasn’t particularly restful, but it didn’t require him to be a husband or a handy man or a father or a disciplinarian. All he had to do between the flipping of the “CLOSED” sign and the pulling of the car into his driveway—which probably needed to be cleared of bikes and toys—was to perform the routine.

Close out the register. Lock the freezer. Put away the inventory. Shut off the lights and secure the store with deadbolt and lock on the way out.

It took Dad a good fifteen minutes to pack up the dozens guns by himself. They were housed in two display cases doubling as the store’s front counters; Now and Laters and trucker hats making a pit stop on top of the .45’s and Thirty Ought Sixes on their way out the door. Dangling yellow tags attached to the guns on tiny, white strings shouted the sale price from behind the clean, always clear glass.

Dad removed the guns quickly, one by one, and placed them with great care into two long, black, clam shell cases for storage during the night. This was the puzzle to which only he had the picture. Without markers or leftover impressions on the foam pad lining the inside, he still knew the precise placement of each handgun and rifle inside their carriages. Once packed, he would transport the guns into the iron safe in the storage room just behind the freezers.

It was something Dad did night after night with little incident—with the exception of that night. On that night, he never made it to the safe.

Neither did the guns.

The two men kicked in the front door with a shout.

“YOU’RE DEAD, SUCKER!”

Their semi-automatics lit up only fifteen feet away from the fat man behind the counter, ejecting bullet after bullet directly at him. The first bullet rocketed towards Dad’s chest, but missed. The next went straight into his stomach, forcing him to double over from the impact. Not from the pain. That hadn’t registered yet.

Dad made a grab for his own gun stuck between the waistband of his pants and his hip. He got the weapon up and out, but didn’t have enough time to do anything productive with it as more bullets tore with great speed through his muscle and flesh, his body jerking with the impact of each one as it burst into him. His gun fell to the floor as he did, with a thud behind the open, sliding wooden doors of the display cases still filled with all the firearms he hadn’t had a chance to pack up yet.

The glass on the front of the cases exploded into twinkling, falling stars as the two men fired into them. Quickly, one of them collected the store’s most valuable merchandise into a bag while the other shooter fired even more bullets, this time at point-blank range, up and down my father’s body as he lay on the floor. Satisfied the store’s owner could not survive such a barrage, the men worked together to gather up the rest of their spoils as quickly as possible. When they were done, the only thing left on the carpeted shelves lining the now-broken cases was broken glass.

Dad, his pants and shirt already soaked red, had just enough of his wits remaining to grab his gun up off the floor to fight back. On his back and without much mobility, his mind ignored the swell of intense pain in his lower body while his hand searched, doing its best to find his metal piece before the shooters saw what he was doing. Frantic and fading, he grabbed one of the display guns that had fallen out of the cases instead. The yellow tag dangled.

click.

Display guns are never loaded.

The shooters gave Dad’s body one last sweep of bullets. His body jerked up and down on the hard, uncaring floor of the store. More blood exited from fresh wounds to make room for their hot new guests. Some bullets exited just as quickly as they entered. Others dug into Dad’s flesh and took residence.

Finally, the shooting stopped. Dad went still.

The two men, with bags full of black treasures, turned around and left in a hurry, slamming the door behind them.

* * *

Next: “The Call”

Days 64 – 139: Here’s Everything That Happened While I Was Out

I have no idea why we're making these faces, but this is me and Erin.
I have no idea why we’re making these faces, but this is me and Erin.

I think it’s time to come back.

How much does an unfinished story suck? I know I hate it. I didn’t intend to leave everyone hanging for so long, but as the responsibilities started piling up–most especially as I finished Worlds Apart in an effort to get it off to my agent–it got easier and easier to not blog. Sure, I jotted down blog notes every couple days and saved them as drafts, but you don’t want to read notes. Notes are boring. Notes are incomplete. Notes lack flavor. Pizazz.

Those notes were supposed to be used to resume the story of our double unemployment from where I left off, and then I was just going to continue it forward with blog after blog after blog.

I’m not going to do that.

What I am going to do instead is fill you in on everything that’s happened since I stopped updating in one go, right here. But first, let’s talk about why I stopped updating in the first place.

The truth is, the constant pressure of chronicling our double unemployment journey every day was not an issue in the beginning when everything was new and different, but as time wore on it all got to be repetitive and I had to drag the blogs out of me kicking and screaming. And biting. Some blogs bit hard because they were wild and not house trained and peed on me.

The point is, unemployment is not exciting. (Who knew?) It’s deadly boring and sad. It’s just sad. I can’t even make a joke about it without making people feel uncomfortable and sorry for us. And if I can’t joke, am I really even alive? Do I even feel? Do I breathe? Do I exist?

Well, let me tell you, according the employers of the world, no, I do not exist.

ba-dum bum.

See? Not funny.

Let’s do this. Let’s break out the bullet points (because everyone loves bullet points, right?) and run down everything that’s happened since October 31st, 2014 (holy crud) in one go. Ready? Read:

• I went on two different dates with two different women in one day. In the afternon, I ate seafood with my daughter Cami, and in the evening I went to dinner and a movie (St. Vincent with Bill Murray–great movie!) with Erin.

I admit it, I'll watch Bill Murray in just about anything. But this was really good.
I admit it, I’ll watch Bill Murray in just about anything. But this was really good.

• Erin got bold and contacted an acquaintance who is also a Pharmaceutical Rep about how to break into his industry. He is now mentoring her because the blessings are kind of nonstop like that.

• While watching the Marvel 75th Anniversary television special on ABC, I noticed a piece of art created by my SuperFogeys cohort Marc Lapierre was featured prominently and by mistake. I contacted the comics media and the story soon went viral, resulting in Marc actually getting compensated for his work! It was awesome. You can read the whole story here.

• Cami started SCREECHING whenever she feels joy. The screeching makes me feel anger, so, one day, I yelled at her. I am a horrible person.

• I FINALLY heard back about the job in San Francisco. They decided to halt the hiring process. That was a tough day.

• Erin explored selling life insurance. Decided definitively that it was not for her because you actually have to pay money to start. There’s some legal rigamarole that explains why that is, but I’ll skip to the conclusion: it’s stupid.

• Saw Big Hero 6 with the family. Cami made it through 60 seconds before melting down. She and I spent the rest of the movie in the lobby. Movie theaters used to be one of her favorite places so this was tragic on a level I can’t even explain.

I enjoyed this movie, but it fell a bit flat in the end. All the characters seemed very undercooked and the world underpopulated. And who didn't guess the identity of the villain? He was the only character left after you took away the obvious suspect.
I enjoyed this movie, but it fell a bit flat in the end. All the characters seemed very undercooked and the world underpopulated. And who didn’t guess the identity of the villain? He was the only character left after you took away the obvious suspect.

• I got a real solid lead on a job with a local school district. I applied, they decided a month later that I, as someone who does not have classroom experience, am not qualified for a job that does not require me to teach in a classroom. (Can you hear the heavy sigh?)

• Cami got whooping cough despite having been vaccinated against it. Then she got pneumonia. Her body is getting weaker and her doctor advised us to keep her away from kids who have not been vaccinated whenever possible. This is almost entirely impossible. I’m so glad people love polio so much.

• After reaching a peak place where the stress of unemployment was wearing on us to the point that Erin and I were arguing and angry at each other every day, we fell off that cliff and arrived a sort of serene, peaceful place together. Stress gets to us like it does everyone else, but if I could identify one of the true strengths of our marriage it’s that we always, always, always pull together when it counts. Also, it helps when I finally clean the fan blades and bring her flowers.

• Wrote a blog entitled “Perfect Attendance Awards are an Abomination” and never published it.

• Suffered from insomnia. A lot.

• Finished Worlds Apart and gave it to Erin to read. She had many notes, which is fair since she’s a main character. Made many revisions.

• Batman, one of our two dogs, snuck into Cami’s room during her whooping cough fits and insisted on sleeping next to her for several nights until she was through the worst of it.

Batman, standing vigil over a very sick Cami.
Batman, standing vigil over a very sick Cami.

• Erin got a call to come interview with another local company and it went EXTREMELY well. Almost two months later and they still haven’t hired for the position, but we still hold out hope.

• I spent Thanksgiving sick out of my mind, away from family, and watching special features on a Hobbit Blu-ray all day long. (I’m entering the preceding sentence in a “Saddest Story Ever” contest.)

Thank you for being my friend, Hobbit.
Thank you for being my friend, Hobbit.

• (No, I’m not.)

• The group I’m in charge of at church put on a very successful Turkey Bowl activity at which I played football for the first time in 15 years. I was… not very good.

• Erin and I attended a combo Hmong/Protestant wedding. Besides how lovely the couple and the ceremony were, the MC, who also acted as translator for the evening, was the best. Actual quote: “Now we will have the speech from the Best Man. It is called the Best Man Speech.”

• Erin got sick. A lot.

• Broke a handle on my car.

• Left the garage door open one night by accident. Thieves stole our GPS, a scooter, and all of the personal items I packed up on my last day at the job (including hundreds of dollars worth of comics).

• Wrote a blog entitled “Dear Future Employer” to address the people who say this blog is a bad idea. Posted it for 60 seconds before getting a sick feeling in my stomach and pulling it down. Not sure why. The one person who managed to read it was very complimentary.

• I was drafted to create a slideshow video of photos and home movies from families at church for the Ward Christmas Party. I did, I think, a pretty decent job on it.

• The additional time spent at home means I have grown immeasurably closer to our youngest, Violet. That may be worth all the unemployment trouble by itself. For example, one morning we just took her to the zoo. Because we could.

Erin and Violet at the zoo.
Erin and Violet at the zoo.

• Erin and Elora presented together at EPU, a local group that helps families with young children with special needs. Elora, 12, who talked about her experiences as Cami’s sister, is the youngest person to ever present for EPU (she presented when she was 10).

• Erin and I both had occasional, what-the-crud-has-happened-to-our-lives freakouts.

Tremendum Pictures, a locally based film and video production company with a movie, The Gallows, coming out this summer from New Line Cinema, asked to meet with me. They are looking to grow and want me to come on board.  They’re small right now, but… yes, please. Not a job, per se, but lots of potential. Going full steam ahead with them for as long as I can. Doesn’t solve all our problems, but it’s promising.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 3.23.10 PM

• Erin and I went up to the Portland/Vancouver area to visit my brothers, McKay and Tyler, and their wives, McKenna and Karen. It was wonderful to get away from the stress and worry and complication of our normal lives for a little while.

• McKay and McKenna asked me to read them chapters of Worlds Apart out loud. I happily obliged. The instant gratification of their laughter and guffaws was exhilarating. I get why stage actors do it.

• I spent an afternoon at Powell’s Books in Portland just writing on my laptop. I now have my very own Hipster badge.

• While were were in Vancouver/Portland, every single one of our leads for paying jobs dried up. Four months in, we went back to square one.

• Our oldest, Elora, got her braces off. Suddenly, she’s ten years older.

Freaky, normal teeth.
Freaky, normal teeth.

• Just before Christmas, we were blessed by kind people and their giving hearts.

• Missed the Family Christmas Eve Party because some of the kids attending were not vaccinated. I was bummed, but having Cami has always required sacrifices. We make them gladly.

• Found out a close friend also lost his job. Great, now we’re contagious.

• Erin’s parents took us all to Disneyland, an annual tradition ever since a trip we took years ago during which Cami came alive in a whole new way. The past couple of years have been rough for Cami as she’s developed an aversion to large crowds and dark places, but we stumbled on a solution when we gave her a toy to fidget with and she found her happy place. I had a much more difficult time enjoying myself. Couldn’t help walking around the park and feeling like an outsider as I considered the employed state of everyone around me.

• Post Christmas, peace reigned. A disturbing amount of peace. Peace, despite still-present moments of freaking out, became our overriding state of being.

• Sent Worlds Apart out to beta readers, along with a link to an online survey to facilitate their feedback. This was the right move. Most of the 10 readers read it within 24 hours of starting it. It’s a heartwarming, romantic comedy page-turner with lots of tension and suspense, which is awesome.

• Took Cami to see Annie in the movie theater, risking another meltdown. This time, I took the fidget toy we bought in Disneyland and that did the trick. Cami friggin’ loved the music.

This is such a strange movie. I don't know if I would call it good, but the remakes of the songs are fantastic.
This is such a strange movie. I don’t know if I would call it good, but the remakes of the songs are fantastic.

• Rang in the New Year up in Bass Lake with friends and board games, just like last year. We would happily continue this tradition for years to come. This year has to be better than last, right?

Erin with her go-to New Year's drink--Martinelli's apple cider. Accept no substitutes.
Erin with her go-to New Year’s drink–Martinelli’s apple cider. Accept no substitutes.

• Met with a client with Tremendum for the first time to formulate ideas for a marketing video. I’m going to have a blast with these guys. If I can turn this into my job then everything that’s happened will suddenly make a whole lot of sense to me.

• Cami’s body might be betraying her. A bone density scan shows that her bones are soft and, fearing that her body’s small size might mean bad things internally, we went up to San Francisco to meet with her neurologist. She allayed our fears for the most part (the size of her organs compared to her frame–the biggest potential problem–is really only an issue if she isn’t mobile), but we still need to meet with endocrinologists to determine what’s really going on. This is our constant roller coaster with Cami. There’s no real diagnosis for her issues and we have no real idea of how long we can expect her to be with us. So we enjoy what we can, which this time included walking through Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 with her and watching the sea lions.

Erin and Cami at the top of the two-story carousel. Not that you can tell.
Erin and Cami at the top of the two-story carousel. Not that you can tell.

• Sent Worlds Apart to my agent. She burned through it quickly, just like the beta readers, and loved it. Now we’ve gotta find the right publisher. It’s an unusual book that doesn’t end in the way I think most readers will expect. Is that a good thing? Bad thing? We’ll see.

• Erin figured out that, above all, this is a trial of patience. I can’t disagree with that.

Annnnnnd you’re all caught up. This info dump brought to you by: my guilt. Now that I’ve done away with all those blogs I didn’t write, I’m free to do things a bit differently.

No more “Day This” and “Day That.” That’s done. The unemployment continues, but I think from this point forward I’ll be a much better blogger if I just write about what’s happening, not when it’s happening. Topics and events, not days. It will free me up quite a bit and hopefully prove more interesting for all of you. How does that sound?

Thanks for sticking with me this long. Always nice to know people are out there who care. Let’s see how this all ends together.

Day 42 – What Happens When You’re Unemployed and Working Too Hard

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Thursday – October 9, 2014

These are not the tools of my trade.
These are not the tools of my trade.

I’m excited to report I put in a full morning of writing the penultimate chapter of my next book. This is one of the most difficult chapters because it has so much to wrap up and so much to comment on at the same time. Good stories are a circle, thematically, but I find with a book length memoir project I don’t really know how I’m going to circle back until I’m actually writing the end. Themes emerge for me. Planning them is pretty pointless because I don’t know my story well enough until I’ve told it. After a long three years, I can hardly believe I’m at the point of ending this first draft and truly discovering just what the crud I’ve done.

Because of all of that, the writing process was utterly torturous this morning until the last half hour. Sometimes, the words just do not flow and the big ideas and themes do not emerge. Not without great difficulty, anyway. There’s some tricky material at the end of this book that I can barely wrap my head around, but that’s been true throughout the writing process. I’ll figure it out.

* * *

We met with Elora’s math teacher in the middle of the afternoon to discuss her grade, because that’s the sort of thing we have time for now. It was a good meeting. I noticed the teacher had some materials in her classroom that I had illustrated. Always cool to see my stuff “out in the wild,” but also, of course, it’s a reminder of what I don’t have anymore.

Elora’s teacher did not ask “Why are you both here?” I know it’s an odd thing to have both parents show up, especially in the middle 0f the work day. The teacher may not have even thought it, but every time I’m out and about I can’t help but wonder if people question why I’m not at work, earning a living, and making some contribution to society beyond creating more midday traffic. It feels like I’ve got a big, sloppy t-shirt covered with Cheetos crumbs that says, “I don’t have a job.” I don’t, of course. They’re Baked Cheetos. Healthy dieting is important.

* * *

Erin and I had to come to terms again today. We have to do these check-ins now and again because, while we’re both enduring the same trial, we each handle it very differently. And sometimes, by failing to recognize that difference, I handle it badly.

In her view, I’m just not pulling my weight around the house. I spend a lot of time working on this blog and writing my book and I’m saying things like “in a minute” a lot. Meanwhile, she isn’t able to work on the things that are important to her and take advantage of those opportunities that have come her way to make a little extra cash. I feel bad about the imbalance. I agree there are some changes I need to make about how I use my time when the kids are around and the house needs attention, but I’m also working hard on things that I think are important. I feel torn because it seems like I’m never able to get ahead on anything because I have so much to do (some of which, admittedly, I bring on myself). So the idea of backing off to allow her time to work on her stuff? Yeah, that freaks me out a little. It’s a selfish freakout, but there it is.

The most damning accusation–and the one for which I did not get super defensive–was that I’m operating my life as though being a writer is my profession, like I’m some sort of neglectful, stay-at-home dad who writes for a living I hope to make one day. She’s probably not wrong about the writing part of it, but I don’t know how long this unemployment thing is going to last and I want to take advantage of every second of it. I’m disciplined. My balance is out of whack, but I’m disciplined.

The idea that I’m neglectful though? Yeah, that hurts. I don’t want to do that.

We didn’t really reach a solution, but I’m determined to pay more attention to how I’m using my time and trying to take some initiative with the house. Erin made a good point about not wanting to be my boss, but by continually waiting for her to tell me when to get off the computer and what to do, I’ve made her into the worse kind of boss: a nagging one. I don’t want that.

Day 32 – Why It’s Important to Write Like No One Cares

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Monday – September 29, 2014

Wait... am I writing the blog you're reading right now?? But how--how is that even POSSIBLE??????
Wait… am I writing the blog you’re reading right now??

Today is the one month anniversary of my unemployment, and none of you got me a gift. I’m hurt, but I’ll try not to take it personally.

One month into this and I don’t have a job. Today, anyway, I’m surprisingly okay with that. I still have great faith the right thing will come along. A day like today helps me keep that faith.

I woke up late to discover Erin had already taken the kids to school. That was a gift. I average about 4-5 hours of sleep each night and I do okay with that, but when I get to sleep in it’s like a life-altering experience. I was well-rested for our morning walk and then I was able to settle in for a long morning of writing while Erin and Violet went to a meeting. Also a gift.

Heard back from the company up North about my interview. Apparently, I didn’t botch it bad enough that they ran away screaming. I will be doing a second interview, though not for another two weeks. Their hiring process is a little involved, but that’s good. We’ll both know if I’m the right fit or not by the end of it and if there’s one thing I don’t want it’s getting into a situation that isn’t right for me. That will just make everyone miserable, including my eventual employer. Money is important, but personal happiness and fulfillment is far more crucial and those things don’t cost a thing.

* * *

Okay, that was the update. The rest of this blog is going to be a bit of a rant about writing. Feel free to get off the train now and I’ll see you again at the station tomorrow.

* * *

Got chewed out on Facebook (goodnaturedly) for not posting a blog today. Occasionally, for a variety of reasons, there are blogs I write in this unemployment series that I choose not to make public. Some people are not okay with this, and that is fantastic.

If I’m going to ever be any kind of writer or author (obviously a goal), I need people to want to see what I’m coming up with. That may seem obvious, but I’m often amazed at how many blogs I read where it feels like the writer is just talking to themselves. What I mean is, if you want to be a writer–and I’m going to define writer as someone who writes things they want others to read–then you’ve got to, in some way, write to an audience. Even when writing deeply personal things, which is what I tend to do, you have to make your written word appealing in some way, i.e. of benefit to the reader. Either to entertain or to inform or both.

Basically, you have to write as though no one cares. And then make sure they do.

I’m not going to pretend I’m always successful at this. But I do try, and that’s the point. If you’re not trying to write for the benefit of others and are writing simply so you can get something off your chest or in the hopes that people will find you accidentally brilliant* and stroke your ego, then you’re doing it wrong. Why are you even hitting ‘Publish’ on your posts? You’re putting your thoughts to the wind, and the wind doesn’t care. The wind will treat your writing badly (as it perhaps deserves), tossing it to the gutters.

*And let’s face it, every amateur at anything hopes they can be accidentally brilliant. They hope that they’re an untapped talent that will be amazing at whatever it is they’ve chosen to do straight off, without putting in any of the time and learning necessary. Basically, we all want to know kung fu.

The issue of writing what is relevant to the reader is one I wrestle with constantly as a memoir writer. An interesting story is only half the challenge. The second half is how to present that story in such a way that it reaches people where they are. It has to be meaningful to them in some way, even if it’s deeply personal to me. This goes to theme and zeitgeist and a bunch of other things that I don’t want to get into in a blog that’s supposed to be about unemployment, but suffice it to say that there’s a real challenge to try to write something (memoir) in such a way that people will pay for what they can get a million times over on the internet for free (personal blogs).

My hope is that what I can do in a book length project is far more accomplished and thematically complex and interesting and entertaining and satisfying than what I can do in a blog. This blog traffics in the disposable, as do all blogs with posts ever getting archived and pushed down the list. A book should be a cherished thing, I think, and greater than the sum of its never separated parts. That can only happen when you’re thinking outside of yourself even as you may obsess over yourself (in memoir) or the story (memoir and everything else–don’t get so deep into your story you forget to bother with whether anyone else can understand it).

To bring it all back around again: instead of a blog, today I posted a short excerpt from my new book, Worlds Apart. I’ve been working on this book for a few years now and I’m so close to the end I can smell the ink on the pages. Posting this excerpt isn’t the case of a writer sharing what he intends to do (never share too early), this is something I’ve mostly already done and I want to share a piece of it with you. I think it’s a pretty good piece.

Did I do it? Do you read that and think, “Yeah, that’s interesting to me” or “I can identify. I want to see how it turns out?” If so, then I’ve done my job with you in the teaser. If not, then maybe it wasn’t your thing or I’m still finding my way towards the thing that will make my story special to anyone who isn’t me. Time will tell.

Thanks for indulging me.