Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Power of Amazon

by Laura Peters, Co-Author of Pilgrim Girl: Diary and Recipes of her First Year in the New World
Available at, and Star Publish

Getting a book published and getting it promoted are two wildly different procedures. Where finding a publisher is a lesson in rejection and a process out of the author’s control, getting that book promoted is a whole class in the author taking the initiative and making it happen. Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s book, The Frugal Book Promoter, contains some of the best advice for the author about to set foot into Self-Promotion 101.

Recently, I focused on Chapter 32: “Amazon Offers Perks: Use Them to Your Advantage” to boost sales of the book I co-authored with Jule Selbo, Pilgrim Girl: Diary and Recipes of her First Year in the New World. Having worked for Francis Coppola’s American Zoetrope for ten years, I know that an important part of promoting anything, from films to books, is creating visibility. Using Frugal’s advice, I created a profile, wrote Listmania lists, linked to other books, and managed to change our Subject Heading connections within Amazon.

Amazon gives excellent directions to walk you through each task. Before you get started though, prepare a small blurb of your interests and write a brief autobiography. I used the one I created for Pilgrim Girl’s website. You will want to have a photo of small file size ready to upload as well. Next, choose a book you like and write a review for it. Your name goes into the Amazon system and you’ll be offered to create an account if you don’t have one already. The prompt offering you to create a profile may come up or you’ll see it. At this point, create your profile. Click here to read mine.

Now, in your word processing program create your first Listmania list. Remember to put your book in the list. The idea here is to create links within Amazon from the books you’ve recommended to your book. For the list, you’ll need to collect the name of the book, the author and particularly the ISBN number, which Amazon will use to connect all the books together. You’ll be offered to write one line about the book.

Please see my lists on Listmania by scrolling to the bottom of my profile to”More to Explore” and click “Listmania.”

Right now, I have two lists posted: Bring an Appetite to Your Reading, and Pilgrim and Thanksgiving Books for Children

Open the first list. Read and enjoy it, then at the top, where you see “Was this helpful to you?” click yes. Now go to the second list and let Amazon know that it was helpful to you too.

Thank you. You just “voted” for my lists and told Amazon that it was helpful which causes Amazon to link the list to the other books on the list raising my book’s visibility.

Last, send directions like the one above to the people on your personal mailing list (You do have a personal mailing list, don’t you? See Chapter 7 of Frugal to learn more) and ask them to enjoy your lists and express to Amazon how helpful your lists are.

Now, watch your Listmania lists appear alongside the books from which you want to draw new readers who will buy your book.

There is a section of your book’s Amazon webpage entitled “Look for similar items by subject.” The idea of this section is to have subjects shared by other books. So if you have a subject such as “Historical United States-Colonial” your book will be accessed when someone wants all books with that subject.

Changing the Subjects section of your Amazon website is a matter of choosing subjects that align with the Library of Congress subject lists. For instance, our book is both a children’s story set in 1620’s Massachusetts and a cookbook. I also wanted people looking for children’s books about Pilgrims and Thanksgiving to be able to find our book, but our subject headings of Juvenile Fiction and even Juvenile Historical Fiction were too restrictive. We needed more subjects! I reviewed the subjects on the Amazon pages for a number of other children’s books about Pilgrims and Thanksgiving to see what was being used and seemed the most likely to draw a reader to our book.

I then emailed at requesting my suggested new Subject Headings. Within a week, Amazon had changed Pilgrim Girl’s subjects, aligning them with other books in our category.

Promoting a book takes time, but using The Frugal Book Promoter and Amazon you can use your time efficiently and save enough of it to write another book.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Wrestling Alligators

Dallas Nicole Woodburn

My computer screensaver is a photograph of a six-year-old girl perched at the kitchen table in front of an old-fashioned manual typewriter. She is sitting up on her knees in order to be tall enough to reach the keys. The little girl stares intently at the blank piece of paper in front of her, deep in concentration – oblivious to the camera, oblivious to her father as he snaps her picture, oblivious to everything save for the story unfolding inside her mind.

I am that little girl, now grown into a young woman of eighteen. The picture on my screensaver always makes me smile because I think it captures the essence of who I really am: a dreamer, a creator, a storyteller trying to share with others the magic I’ve discovered in my own imagination. To say it plainly, I am a writer. For as long as I can remember, writing has been my passion – my great passion.

I published my first book, There’s a Huge Pimple on My Nose (a Collection of Short Stories and Poems), in fifth grade. Pimple is proof that with a lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance – and, yes, a lot of support, too – a small idea can snowball into something bigger than you ever dreamed.

My snowball began as a snowflake when I received a fifty-dollar school grant to write and self-publish a children’s book. My first printing, done at a Kinkos copy shop, was modest: twenty-five staple-bound forty-page books. Actually, they were more like thick pamphlets, but no matter – to me, they were books, my books, the most beautiful books I had ever laid eyes upon. J.K. Rowling wasn’t more proud of her first Harry Potter hardcover edition.

My fellow students and teachers, bless them, acted as if Pimple was at the top of the New York Times Best-Seller List. The first twenty-five copies promptly sold – “Dallas, will you autograph it for when you become famous?” – in a couple of days. Can you imagine what a turbo-boost this was to a fifth-grader’s self-esteem? To anyone’s self-esteem, for that matter? I was pursuing my dream, but I wasn’t pursuing it alone – my family and friends and teachers were right there with me.

So. I went back to Kinkos, ordered twenty-five more books – and soon sold all those as well. After three more trips to Kinkos, where the workers now knew me by name, I searched out a publishing business and ordered 700 glossy-covered, glue-bound, professional-looking Pimples.

My little forty-page dream evolved from a snowball into a blizzard, with reviews in the national magazines CosmoGIRL! and Girls’ Life; booksignings at the Cal Lutheran Author’s Faire and the Jack London Writer’s Camp in San Jose; a “Dallas Woodburn Day” at the Santa Barbara Book Fair; and being featured as a “real author” alongside famous real authors such as Michael Crichton and Wendelin Van Draanen in the nationally-released book So, You Wanna Be a Writer?

The Los Angeles Times even raved, “If you simply want to enjoy some remarkable writing, it would be hard to find a book more satisfying than Dallas Woodburn’s.” I still have to pinch myself, but Pimple eventually sold more than 800 copies – to me, it seemed like 800,000!
More recently, I have begun writing articles for numerous national magazines including Writer’s Digest, Justine, and Writing, and books including Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV.

I also write a regular “Teen Talk” column for Family Circle magazine about teen/parent relationships – from a teenager’s unique perspective. And this summer, I released my second book, a collection of short stories titled 3 a.m., which is already garnering rave reviews. (“Woodburn is a very gifted writer whose work celebrates the beauty and humor of everyday life.” – Laurie Stolarz, author of the best-selling Blue is for Nightmares series.)

I have received letters from readers across the nation, and even Canada, saying they can relate to my stories. Hearing that I’ve connected with a reader is, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding aspects of being a writer. But at the same time, I know there are countless individuals who are not affected by my writing in the least – because they truly cannot read my words.

Illiteracy is a very serious problem in our society today. A recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education found that half – HALF! – the adult population (an estimated ninety-million Americans) does not possess the most basic level of reading ability. This in turn leads to a higher likelihood of poverty, crime, and unemployment.

Helping battle illiteracy is one of my lifelong goals. It is why I also used a portion of Pimple’s profits to found “Write On!” – a non-profit organization to encourage kids to read and write through essay contests, read-a-thons, and an inspirational website ( I am using a portion of the profits from 3 a.m. to set up a Write On Scholarship Fund to help send a deserving student to a writing camp each summer.

In addition, a couple years after Pimple debuted, I started an annual Holiday Book Drive with the motto “Toys get broken, but books last a lifetime.” In the past four years I have collected and distributed 6,390 new books to underprivileged kids who might not otherwise have received anything for Christmas. My book drive brings me the most pride of any of my endeavors. It not only gives books to disadvantaged children – just as importantly, it shows them people care. From a one-person effort it has evolved into an entire community of volunteers, with collection boxes at local bookstores, post offices, and schools. I have learned that together, we can help give sad tales a happier storyline.

After all, I know firsthand about sad tales turning happy. Born three months prematurely, I weighed a mere two pounds, six ounces, and back in 1987 the chances that I would survive were extremely small as well. A team of surgeons flew to my small hometown of Santa Maria and delivered me by an emergency Cesarean section, then took me to the state-of-the-art Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Fresno, where I stayed for eight touch-and-go weeks.

On my desk I have a framed photograph of my sickly newborn self, a tiny skin-and-bones infant inside a high-tech Plexiglas incubator and hooked up to an array of medical monitors and wires, tubes and needles. To others, the photograph may come into focus as heart-wrenching and tragic, but what I see is a portrait of inner strength and survival. Indeed, the sickly infant in the faded photo has become my personal cheerleader, silently urging me on through every new challenge – physical, academic, spiritual – I undertake. I know the preemie-who-was-me will continue to inspire the grown-up-me in my journey to become The Female John Steinbeck and make a lasting impression with my heartfelt written words. Too, the preemie-in-the-photo keeps the grown-up-me grounded during the highs of success, and gives me perspective during the low times by simply reminding me how blessed I am to be alive and healthy.

One of the surgeons who delivered me told my dad that May 29th night: “Your daughter is a real fighter.” I guess the doctor was right. Actually, I know he was. I was a fighter. I am still. Indeed, whenever I am faced with a challenge, I think about those words – “Your daughter is a fighter” – and I draw strength.

I often need this strength when I sit down to write.
Because in truth, while writing thrills me, it also terrifies me. Sometimes I think wrestling alligators must be less daunting. Some of my friends think I’m crazy. Sometimes I think I’m crazy, too. Running on the cross-country team is one thing – “You mean you actually like to run?! Doesn’t that get boring?” – but at least out on the running trails I’m surrounded by my teammates who are just as looney as I am. Wrestling alligators is quite a different matter. Why do I choose to spend hours each day or night with my fingers tapping across – or worse, sitting motionless on – the keyboard, staring at a computer screen?

Why, indeed? I still don’t really have an answer. I guess because writing is a lot like running – and not just because it’s an activity most normal people regard with eyebrows raised. Running is hard, but – as I learned when I was forced to sit out my high school sophomore and junior cross-country seasons because of leg injuries that eventually required surgery – not running is harder. The same goes with writing. Writing is hard – tortuous, tedious, boring, scary. But, for me at least, not writing is harder.

So. I am a coward. I take the easier route. I keep writing. And writing. And writing some more. Why? I guess because the thrills are worth it. I may not always enjoy the sometimes-tedious, sometimes-dull, sometimes-terrifying process of writing – but I love the sweet satisfaction of having written.

French philosopher Denis Diderot once wrote, “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” I feel blessed to have already discovered my great passion; to know that I want to study Creative Writing at the University of Southern California and further pursue my craft. My great passion for writing has inspired me to push beyond self-doubt and take the risk of sharing my words with others.

I shared Pimple’s success with you earlier – what I didn’t tell you about was my “failures.” I could wallpaper my bedroom with all the rejection slips I’ve received from editors. But I am a preemie; I am “a fighter”; I keep writing. And all the while, my great passion for wrestling alligators burns brighter with each sunrise.

About the Author:

Dallas Woodburn’s recently released collection of short stories, 3 a.m., is available at and Her writing credits include the magazines Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, and Justine, and the books So, You Wanna Be a Writer? and Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV. Dallas is a Creative Writing major at the University of Southern California. Visit her website at

© Dalllas Woodburn 2005

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Ben and Jerry Night

Dawn Rachel Carrington

Crying again and no, it has nothing to do with my boyfriend’s forgetfulness. I mean, it’s entirely feasible he would forget my birthday. After all, it only comes around once a year.

No, I’m crying for a different reason. Rejection-that horrid word that’s the bane of every writer’s existence. Yes, I’d been rejected. And yes, I’ve heard the patronizing attempts to reassure me the manuscript had been rejected not me personally. Big deal. I still held the letter in my hand.

"Thank you for your submission. However, we do not feel your project works for us. We wish you the best of luck in placing it elsewhere."

How could my three-hundred page historical romance novel not work for this publisher? With trembling hands, I checked the printout of the company’s guidelines. Historical. Check. Romance. Check. Novel. Check. I had all the components!

Sniffling, I crawled from my bed and shuffled to my computer. The screen blinked at me, the tumbling stars I once thought cute as a screensaver now mocking me.

It was my first rejection. And yes, I was taking it personally. How could I not? Did that publisher not know what I went through to get to this point in my life? I’d finished a novel-the next Gone with the Wind. I was going to be famous. Just not with this company.

I returned to the pint of melting ice cream.

That was almost eleven years and thirty pounds ago. I went through a lot of ice cream and other fattening foods before I finally absorbed the notion that I really wasn’t getting personally rejected. And then it finally came. I got THE CALL.

“We’d like to buy your story.”

Great. Perfect. But couldn’t my fifteen minutes of fame have come when I could still fit into that snazzy little pantsuit I bought half-price at Dillard’s three years ago

Dawn Rachel Carrington is a multi-published author of fantasy and paranormal romance, the editor of Vintage Romance Publishing and a freelance editor. She resides on the East Coast near the ocean which provides the perfect backdrop for working at home.


Monday, June 13, 2005

Finding Freedom in the Common

by Eveline Maedel

The other day I was browsing through a back issue of Personal Journaling magazine and came across an article about using a "commonplace book," or a book to record "unremarkable activities." The article discussed using a common book to keep a listing of the events of the day.

At last, I thought, something I can relate to! See, journaling for me has always been a sporadic process. Intimidated by the thought that any journaling has to be profound, I avoid writing in mine for weeks on end because I just don't have anything profound to say. I further complicate this process by reading journals of great writers and finding my entries pitiful in comparison. And so the page remains blank because the inner critic has already squashed the creative process.

On the other hand, keeping a list of the day’s happenings seemed to be painless. I decided to give it a try.

I'm one week into the practice of using the common book. It's a remarkably freeing process. The common book doesn't require long, dramatic entries - just simple, short bullet point lists will do. I can fill it out in ten minutes or less. I keep the notebook in my purse and often jot something down during the day. Some days the entries are pretty mundane - "got groceries," "chicken for supper," "finished newsletter." Once in a while something a little more inspiring slips through - "drove TJ to Red Rock and saw an awesome rainbow over the mountain. Skies soon clouded over again and went back to a misty rain. Weather site on the web calls it 'distant precipitation'. "

This listing of daily events frees me up to be more creative in my other journal. This journal is more like a scrapbook. Larger and with big blank pages that I can draw on, paste on, and scribble on. Sometimes I'll paste emails and letters into it, or notes from friends. I save movie and concert ticket stubs and paste those in - adding a little note about the performance. If I want to write a long diatribe, I have lots of room. I can cut out words and pictures from magazines and make a collage.

Because I've cleared out the clutter of my day and poured it into the common book, I can play in my scrapbook journal as often or as little as I want. I know I'll mine the common book later - to remember things that have happened, to write more about something I've recorded, to dig out nuggets for a poem.

No longer do my days seem to disappear in a blur. The minutiae of my everyday life is duly jotted down in my little common book.

© Eveline Maedel, 2005

Eveline Maedel is a part-time writer living in Northern Ontario. Married for 20 years and the mother of two boys she finds that writing helps her reflect on her spiritual journey. Besides editing her church’s newsletter, she has been published at Sisters in the Lord, Utmost Christian Writers, Sowing Seeds of Faith, Looking Up, Divine Eloquence, Christian Women Today, and Heart’s at Home. Her first book, Heart’s Desire, can be purchased by contacting her at or visiting her website at (All proceeds go to St. Mary’s church in Nipigon, Ontario). You can also visit her blog, EbenezerScribe at

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Muse

by Paula Lovgren

I was complaining to my husband the other day about missing my muse. He looked at me oddly and said “Muse? What the heck is that?” To which I looked at him oddly and realized, huh, not everyone has a muse. Weird. Because having a muse to me is as natural as having legs or arms or a head. It’s just there. But he’s an accounting/business type of guy and apparently there’s no need of a balance sheet muse or an international sales muse. Which I think is lucky really, or unfortunate, depending on the kind of day I’m having and the status of my relationship with my muse.

It’s my lot in life to be a creative person. And creative people seem to have muses, even when they try to pretend they don’t. Because believe me, I’ve tried hiding from mine. I’ve tried running away. I’ve tried simply ignoring it. I’ve been downright brutal and abused it, hoping eventually it would just GO AWAY! I don’t have time to write, I’m not good enough, I don’t need to write, it’s silly, it’s a waste of time, it’s too scary. But somehow, it was always there, tapping me on the shoulder, buzzing in my ear, nagging, not allowing me to let my dream, my talents, my happiness die.

So fine. Fine! I turn to face it and my muse is a skittish deer. Literally. A doe. A deer. A skittish female deer.

No, no, no! This is all wrong. This isn’t what I want. I want a hot, Latin, salsa dancing muse with washboard abs and a sexy accent. A male muse. Now that’s something I can work with. If I had the right muse, well, then I could write. I wouldn’t have done all that hiding and running. So I try to conjure him up. I close my eyes and envision him, smiling and sexy, swiveling his hips with those glistening abs and whispering great lines, paragraphs, whole novels to me in that incredible accent. Ah, yes, that I can work with. I open my eyes and there’s my muse, blinking her doe eyes at me, waiting patiently for me to get a clue.

I sigh and imagine some guy in Connecticut trying to work with his hot salsa dancing muse who taunts him with his perfect body and impossible dance moves wondering why in the world his muse can’t just be a skittish deer. A female deer. And I realize we all just have to work with what we have. We can rage against it and use it as still another reason to not do what we want to do, need to do but are too scared to do. We must let go.

So finally, after all the years of running and hiding from her, abusing her and insulting her by trying to make her something else, I turn to her and say (and not so kindly, I might add), “Fine, fine! What do you want?”

But my muse is a funny thing. While she doesn’t like to be ignored or abused neither does she like too much pressure. She doesn’t like to be confronted face to face. She will not be bullied into submission. She doesn’t like to be talked about like something I own or brought out into public for show and tell. In short, she’s high-maintenance. She likes to be approached gently, quietly with outstretched hand she can sniff for signs of deceit. If I move slowly, focus on her, respect her needs she gives me everything I need. Words flow like a torrent, metaphors drop from the sky, every answer is within reach. But, if I jump ahead, try to get to the end without really working, focus on my selfish material desires she scampers off into the dark leaving me alone with a jumble of words I can’t make fit no matter what I do.

Some days, she’s a royal pain in my butt. Other days she’s my greatest ally. It all depends on how I approach her. As much as I would like to blame all my writing failings on her, I can’t. It’s me. Do I show up? Do I let go? Do I listen? If the answer is yes, work flows. If the answer is no, well, that isn’t so pretty and I pay the price in frustration and feelings of worthlessness and failure. Who wants to feel like that? If I want to be happy, I just follow her lead. She hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

After I explained all this to my husband, he cocked his head to one side, blinked a couple of times and said, “So the muse is a deer, huh?” Oh sweet, sweet, literal boy. I love him so. I can only imagine what he’d think if I had gotten the hot salsa dancing muse!

© Paula Lovgren, 2005, all rights reserved

Paula Lovgren lives in Minnesota with her husband and two children. She is a former blackjack dealer, retail manager and marketing minion who is now realizing her genuine life as a mother, a writer, an avid gardener and a rabid basketball fan.
Visit her on the web at

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Power of Journaling for Writers

Queen Erica Miner shares . . .
Anne Frank ... Virginia Woolf …Anaïs Nin ... Sylvia Plath …
Henry David Thoreau ... James M. Barrie … Franz Kafka … Samuel Pepys

Some of these authors are best known for their journals; others have used journaling as both a source of inspiration and a stepping-stone to self-enlightenment. But they, among many others, have one important element in common: they have all engaged in that wonderful, creative activity we call journaling.

We all follow journeys of self-discovery at some points in our lives, but as writers we take these journeys on a daily basis. Journaling is a powerful way for us to chronicle these fantastic voyages. And as I like to point out in my journaling workshops and lectures, it’s no coincidence that the words ‘journey’ and ‘journaling’ come from the same root.

Not only do we gain personal insights and discover new layers of our psyches through journaling; it can also help us get our creative juices flowing and often help us through bouts of writers’ block. I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts and wisdom about journaling that have served me well, both as a writer and as a voyager through life.

Just to give you a little background about myself, I was born in Detroit and started journaling at the tender age of thirteen, when I was just starting high school. Already I found my journal to be my best friend, allowing me to confide my deepest secrets, fears and emotions at that hormone- infused time of life. My recall of that era is so vivid that I am able to recapture my experiences in the novel series I have been working on about a young girl growing up in the volatile 60s and 70s – even though those journals have long been lost.

Years later, when I was going through a devastating divorce, journaling saved my life – literally. Suddenly I found myself with two children to raise and support on my own, and on my worst days I was ready to jump out of my ninth floor apartment window – until I started journaling and poured my heart and soul into my writing instead. And I’m not the only one who has had that kind of profound experience from journaling: Oprah herself credits journaling for saving her life. How powerful is that?

Yes, a journal can see you through difficult times. It can also be a veritable treasure chest of creative ideas and personal history that you can use again and again in your writing. I fervently believe we all have a book inside of us, if not more than one. How many of us have family histories just crying to be told, for example? Your journal could become a novel, or a movie – witness ‘Angela’s Ashes’ or ‘In America.’ The possibilities are endless. A number of writers I have met recently are penning novels that stem from stories they have lived: one woman is writing a novel about living through the ‘blitz’ in London as a young girl; another, a man who survived the battlefields of World War II, is turning his story into a screenplay. Even our own personal family histories handed down by elderly family members can make for compelling writing.

What about travel journals? My own novel, Travels With My Lovers, started as a journal that I had written over a number of years. A number of my other travel experiences have ended up as articles in magazines. People love to read evocative descriptions of far-off places written from the point of view of an expressive observer. In fact, the entire June issue of Vision Magazine, to which I have contributed an article, is devoted to the ‘Traveler’s Path.’

There are so many other ways we can use journaling to enhance our lives. Journals have been kept to help women heal from traumatic illnesses: actress Lynn Redgrave published a book of her healing journey from cancer recently. I met a woman who keeps what she calls a ‘dinner table’ journal, chronicling her favorite culinary and entertaining experiences and the conversations that went along with them. Parents who are motivated enough to take the time to journal the miraculous changes that their babies go through from day to day are rewarded with a joyful record of their children’s early journeys through life.

And the beauty of all this is that you can journal in any way you like, in any form and under any circumstances. The only limitations are those of the human imagination.

So to get you started – or re-started, as the case may be – here are some of my suggestions for making your journaling journey pleasurable and rewarding.

Believe it or not, the type of equipment you use can be a major factor. It’s of utmost importance to choose the type of journal that will inspire you to crack it open and sully the pages with your thoughts and feelings. It can be a bound book of blank pages with a beautiful cover; an artist’s sketch book to which you can add your own inventive touches; a pocket-sized notebook for travel; or a journal with quotes from writers on artists on each page to help inspire you. There’s no limit to the types of journals you can find in stores and on the web.

It’s also important to use the type of writing implement that’s comfortable for you. If you have a favorite pen that feels nice in your hand or even makes your writing look more legible (trust me, even for hopelessly illegible penmanship like mine, there are pens that can do this!) then use that. Of course, if you prefer using your computer to journal, that will work well, too. I am often asked during my talks whether I prefer journaling in longhand or on my computer. I confess that I like to think of journaling as a cozy, intimate activity; and for that, only longhand will do.

Find your perfect time of day or night, when you can quiet your mind and let your thoughts flow. Sit by the fire or light a candle – both are conducive to deep concentration – and let your muse take over.

After you’re set up with that, here are just a few of the many ‘hints’ and techniques I’ve got up my sleeve to get those creative juices flowing:

· Create your own imaginary world and describe it in vivid detail
· Write about someone you met only once but still remember strongly
· Describe your favorite ‘secret hideaway’
And my own personal favorite:
· Recount your very first childhood memory

These are but a few of the wealth of possibilities for journaling that I like to impart to my readers. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to send me an email through my website, And for those of you for whom journaling is truly a passion and who would like to learn more, you may subscribe to my monthly newsletter in which I pass along a new set of journaling hints in each issue:

The key is just to take pen in hand, or create a private journaling file on your computer, and see where your personal journey will take you. Once you settle into your own ‘ritual’ you will discover what you have been missing!
Author of Travels With My Lovers
Fiction Prize Winner,
Direct from the Author Book AwardsTop-rated Lecturer,
Celebrity Cruise Lines

© 2005, Erica Miner

Saturday, April 30, 2005

What I Need

April 25, 2005

Today Twenty-Twenty publishing announces the winner of its $2000 blogging contest….the entrant had to write, in less than 500 words, why $2000 would mean the world to her. I wrote instead about my long-languishing novel: “Winning the contest won’t mean the world to me. Sorry. But it will mean a world to the world…it will mean that Late Night Nate lives. You will bestow legitimacy on Nate and Euclid. Oh, no,’ I will say to the little time demons creeping up my steps, gobbling out my name. I’m being paid. I must write about Euclid.’ Without the payola, I’m afraid the Houlkas will remain shrouded in the mists of my gray matter. Rena’s great fear will come true. Nobody will remember her. If I win, you will meet Nate, and probably be as fetched with him as everyone else.”

Mind you, I have $2000 stashed in a bank account with my name on it. I can use it any way I want. I have more than $2000. I could use that much and go back for more, a time or two. If $2000 was what it took to write Late Night Nate, or anything else, I could pay myself. So what’s stopping me?

I had to think about that for a while. Space, I always say. In Parting the Curtains, Maya Angelou said she left her house every morning to write in a hotel room. She said: It costs so much to write a decent sentence. It’s a very serious matter… And so I noticed at home…that when I would set myself up in a room—I always have art, and I have a serious collection—I would look up, and I’d think, “where did I get that? Now, did I buy it outright? Oh, yeah. No. I paid for that for over two years. Oh, yeah. I wonder, where is that artist? Is that hanging straight?” And there goes my concentration.

Concentration. Where does mine go? If I move, at least two, and as many as five, animals dog my steps. And they need something. To eat, or go pee, or they want me to throw them a toy. The phone rings, or I think of a call I have to make. E-mail. The clothes need washing, and by 10:30, I’d better have figured out what I am cooking for lunch. There are the flower beds, and those two rooms I never quite get to, and the closets. Don’t look in the closets.

Now, at the end of a day in the hotel room, Angelou said, I may have done two pages that are acceptable. But I have been trying. But at the end of a day if I am at home, if I have done two pages, it’s nothing. So I thought, it costs everything, so I better treat it seriously.

I don’t need $2000. What I need is space, and lack of accouterments, of clutter. I need concentration. I decide I need an office…a little room away from the house. Away from the life I have to give up if I am going to write at all. I began to daydream about the $2000 and my little room, austere, no phone line, even, with lots of windows, a second-story bower. Above a river. Above the green line of the trees. In such a room, I could weave magic, create worlds.

Sunday morning, I talked to a friend. I told her about my need of my little room. This is my friend who just finished a grueling two years of nursing school. She was not impressed. She has as many pets as I do, a husband (who feeds himself, by the way), a home and all that goes with it. After I revealed my secret, she was at first silent; then she said, “I wonder if you don’t have attention deficient disorder.”

Of course she was right. I must be ADD, me, the luckiest of women, with no outside job, no inside kids, if I can’t write, the problem is me, not the world. Why, I thought, why have I wanted to be a writer, and at 55, am still wanting and not being? Flawed, I am. Ruined. Or maybe it was lunch. That 10:30 a.m. deadline looming over my head, interrupting the smooth flow of my most capable thoughts. Perhaps I should give up lunch. We could make sandwiches and I could cook later in the afternoon. We would have an early supper, and I would have long, lovely hours to write in.

I broached the subject to my husband before we gathered up the dogs for the pre-bed romp. He sat in his chair, staring out the window. He works forty hours a week at a job whose only benefit is it pays him enough money to put some away for retirement. Hearing me whimper about time probably made him remember F. Scott Fitzgerald’s reflections on men who own yachts: “It’s hard to feel sorry for a boy on a boat.” After a bit, he said, “’bout time for bed?”

“We were having a conversation,” I said. “I did my part. It wasn’t a monologue. It’s your turn now.”

“I can’t help you figure out how to write,” my husband said. “I can’t do the man thing and tell you how to fix it.”

It’s not really about lunch. I wouldn’t cook in the afternoons, anyway, after he’s home. We would end up eating cheesy sandwiches until one of us fell dead from a heart attack. I can write, say from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. The dogs can last that long. Any lunch that needs to happen has plenty of time after 10:00, after three hours of serious writing. If I have a visit to make that must occur in the morning, I can reschedule the three hours in the afternoon or at night. I don’t have to answer the phone. I can disconnect the internet, really, I can. And though it hasn’t happened in almost fifty years, not for a book, except for that family cookbook, and I did leave home for three hours in the morning until it was finally organized and I could work around the interruptions at home, it can happen, it will happen this lifetime.

It’s not space, or lack of clutter that I need. I don’t need that little room above the trees, though I already miss it; not even concentration (I don’t think I’m really ADD, not seriously, and I don’t think I can do the speed which ameliorates it). I need permission. My parents are dead, my children off in far states making, kind of, a life for themselves that doesn’t need my daily intervention, my husband isn’t going divorce me over missing a meal or the dirty kitchen floor, or we’d already be cold soup by now. So the permission I need is my own.

And it happened today, along with a boost from the Universe which kindly killed the service for thousands of internet customers. I wrote…not for three hours, but four, and was in the middle of making lunch when my internet company called to see if I was back on line. I wasn’t. I listened to Davis as he ran me through my paces, trying to restore my service. I knew I had turned off the burners under the mystery spaghetti and the mushrooms, and that my husband would come in a bit after twelve and have to wait until lunch was good and ready. He would still have plenty of time to eat before going back to work.

Which is what happened. And I discovered I don't really need permission. I just need to do it. Do what I want to have happen. Or as my spiritual guide book says, “application rather than theory, experience rather than theology.” If tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow I continue to be experiential, no magic remedy is needed, or prayers, either. Today, while my internet service is still down, before I learn Twenty Twenty publishing really isn’t going to send me $2000, I am the winner. And every day I get up and do it again, I get first prize.

© Donna Warner, 2005, all rights reserved

Donna Warner, or Camellia, Queen of the Late Bloomers on the Queen Power Forum, and official Wordsmith for QueenPower, wants to know. How would your life change if you had $2000 to apply to your dream life?…No, it’s not a contest, and you won’t win anything if you tell her about it, but if you tell QueenPower about it, you might create a road map with shortcuts to your best life.