I found this out today, when a friend from middle school posted his obituary. The first thing I thought of? War songs. And then I thought, man, I wish I had sought him out and told him how much he’d set my life on this particular course.
You see, without Mr. Byers, I wouldn’t have a book. At least, I wouldn’t have written the book I wrote. I wouldn’t be interested in history. And I sure as shit wouldn’t give a rat’s red ass about the WPA, which kind of figured prominently in the book.
In eighth grade I didn’t know who I was yet. I didn’t know what I cared about, aside from Duran Duran and cute boys. I loved to write, but mostly poems that, honestly, weren’t exactly Pablo Neruda. And then I ended up in Mr. Byers’ history class, which was decidedly so much more than names and dates.
“Late is wrong,” he said the first day “and wrong will be punished.” Not a grand statement, of course, but if you’ve ever met a 12 year old, you know the importance of simple things. Even as he said it, though, he smiled. And you couldn’t be in his class and not smile, too.
We quickly moved from that to other things. History — a subject often relegated to phys ed teachers — often gets left behind the more practical (some would say) subjects of language arts and math. Mr. Byers would not allow this to happen; he forced us to care. With every new epoch of history, he had songs and posters. We’d walk into his class one day, and it would be covered, say, in election memorabilia from Herbert Hoover’s presidency, or war posters. When he taught us the Great Depression, he played us this song — of course, it wasn’t the Annie version. That’s how he drove home the horrors of the Depression, with this song. And then he moved us into FDR and why his New Deal was so balls-out awesome. He took an alphabet soup of agencies — FERA, WPA, CCC —and led us through them, explaining how these agencies pieced a battered economy back together and forever changed the landscape of America.
Years later, I rediscovered the WPA when I found the Guide to the Southernmost State, I remembered those long-ago classes. And while the narrative in Backroads doesn’t explicitly talk much of the WPA, the original book was a WPA project and my writing was informed by what I learned long ago in Mr. Byers’ class.
Only as an adult did I realize not everyone loved the WPA; not everyone loved President Roosevelt and his New Deal. This came as a shock to me; how could someone not love the man who saved America by using Americans? Clearly, these people had never taken Mr. Byers’ history class. I wonder, too, if I’d had a teacher less enthusiastic about the WPA, what my attitude upon discovering the writing the WPA would have been. Would I have pursued it? I want to think I would have, but honestly, when I realized the book was part of the WPA, my mind raced back to that classroom, those lessons, that man. Without his teaching, I do not know that I would have written the same book, if my writing style would have been informed the way it was.
I never told him. I never told him that, but not for him, there would be no book, not the book I wrote. Oh, yes, there certainly would have been a Backroads of Paradise, but it wouldn’t have been the same. No connection to the Great Depression so great that when I took an oral history of a woman who lived through it — just this afternoon — I asked her how she felt about FDR, and she told me she thought he was great and went on to talk about how awful Hoover was. At that instant, I remembered Mr. Byers and his “We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover” song. I didn’t know he had died this afternoon, but all these years later, he was the reason I asked, he’s the reason I felt a spurt of excitement when she elaborated on why Hoover sucked and she liked FDR.
A few months after Mr. Byers covered the Great Depression, a few friends of mine and I organized the Lip Sync show at JFK. And then we got to the intermission, and nothing was planned. Dave Byers to the rescue: He stood in front of the crowd and, as was his custom, did what he knew: He led them in a political song, one that came slightly after my hero, FDR, led our great country into WWII. And every voice in that gymnasium — even the ones who hadn’t taken his class yet — every voice lifted to join him in a rousing chorus of song. Everyone loved this man and the way he taught history.
And so, tonight, with the world a little less rounded, a little less aware of itself and its history, I hear it again. Bear with me, as I play it again, in his honor, and I say, one last time…
When Craig Pittman told me my publisher had asked him to read my book, Backroads of Paradise, I vacillated between thrilled and nervous (this is actually a common state for me). Thrilled because, Craig Pittman, whoo-hoo! — and nervous because, well, Craig Pittman. In Florida circles, he’s kind of a big deal.
He liked it, and said so.
Then I had the chance to review his book, Oh, Florida! Turns out we both like each other’s writing.
Here’s my review on Goodreads, which, of course, links to the full story at Creative Loafing Tampa.
I reviewed this for Creative Loafing, and I also know Craig, so know that. However, I was prepared to shred this book if I didn’t like it. I did. A lot. Rather than paste in my whole article about why, here’s the link to what I’ve already said. Big deal to me is how Pittman doesn’t treat Florida as though we have only idiots.
Part of me wants to play this cool and be all, “Yeah, it’s cool, you can pre-order my book” and the rest of me — the real me — has an almost-insurmountable compulsion to run around the house screaming “My book! MY BOOK!”
So severely conflicted on this am I that it took me 19 full days to write this post, which has to be some sort of record for something, even if it’s a record for how batshit crazy things get inside my head.
Forget all that. The post has arrived, as has the book. It feels as though I’ve lived a lifetime since I first had the idea, which I suppose happens to many writers, unless, of course, you happen to be James Patterson, because that man is a machine. And if you are James Patterson, hi. Buy my book, OK?
Technically, the book has not arrived: You can pre-order it now on Amazon (or from the University Press of Florida) and they’ll ship it to you on October 4, the actual release date. Also, if you want it as an ebook, you have to wait — I mean, not much longer, but apparently the something about metadata or other things I don’t understand and don’t you dare pretend you do, either. The takeaway? You will have the chance to buy the ebook and no, I don’t know when but soon.
When UPF offered me a book contract, my editor told me in no uncertain terms to never promise people a publication date (well, until the Press itself released one) so I would make jokes when people asked me. My favorite one?
“Well, I’m not certain but I’m hoping sometime before we elect a new president.”
I made it with a whole month to spare.
I am not lucky, so don’t you dare say I am.
I had this thought last month while driving home from an almost-all-expenses-paid trip to the Florida Keys. TV5, from Quebec, had me down to talk about the nature of Florida tourist attractions. They paid for my room and my expenses there and back. I paid for my food, except a local historical society director bought my dinner.
For those of you playing the home game, this two-day trip is, in essence, my dream. So while driving home along the Tamiami trail, drunk on saltwater and high on sunshine, I had the passing thought, “I am a lucky son of a bitch.”
My next thought followed immediately, and it was supremely angered by the first thought: No, I’m not.
To be clear: I don’t have bad luck. I’m not unlucky, not by any means. But me being down in the Keys, or having a book deal, or being able to write for a living, has nothing whatsoever to do with luck.
Let’s be clear: I love my life. Every damn day I wake up, delirious with pleasure that I don’t sell insurance or work for a government agency (any more). But I didn’t stumble upon it; I gave up a lot. And I worked hard.
Which was not always the easiest choice. For those of you who think freelancers sit on their ass all day, cherry-picking the best assignments… um, no. It would be a much easier life if I went back to a nine-to-five job.
I’m not built that way. And that’s OK. I love my life, but not because it’s easy.
I’ve earned a master’s degree, and despite what some people say (“Oh, you have a master’s degree in Florida? What was your thesis, eating key lime pie?”) I worked hard to get it. I spent a lot of money and went without going out after work (because I had to read five hundred pages a week, on average), didn’t go on “regular” vacations because every trip was a field trip (yes, I loved them. That doesn’t make them less work), and had to find something new to say about Florida for my thesis (no, it couldn’t be on Florida Man).
As for the book? After having one publisher ignore me completely – and I mean completely, I didn’t even get the courtesy of a form rejection letter – I prepared a proposal package that was more research and writing than most people do to get a bachelor’s degree. And after THAT, after I had a contract, I had to rewrite, then edit, then deal with advance reviews and decide which parts of those were worthwhile and which weren’t, and edit again. And meanwhile – let’s not forget – I still had to work, because only about three people have ever made a living being an author with a conventional publishing company. One is Stephen King, one is the chick who wrote those fake bondage “shades of whatever” books, and one is a guy in Tacoma pretending to be James Patterson. That’s it. So on top of the idea I may never get more than a couple thousand dollars from this book which, by the way, has been my dream since I was nine, I still had to freelance, which means I still had to find work that would pay me.
And I did. But not because I have been lucky. I have worked when other people played, I have written about things that made me want to set fire to my eyeballs (incest, rape, murder, you know, your garden variety injustice), I have gone without the trips to wherever most people my age without children get to go.
To be clear, I don’t regret a moment of it, only that it took me so long to give up a conventional life to pursue this one. I am happier than I ever imagined. I do what I love, and it’s OK that I will never be wealthy or have a company-supplied pension. I am living my dream.
I write about Florida, and sometimes people pay me to come talk to them about Florida. I write about Florida, and, more and more, people pay me to write about Florida. This year, I’m also working on a series of fiction books about – here’s a shock – Florida. El Cap has offered this year to me as a gift to me, and I accepted.
This is my life, and I am blessed beyond measure. Blessed, happy, deserving, dedicated, determined… use almost any word you wish.
Any word but lucky, that is. Luck isn’t a factor. It never has been.
“Asking a writer about his work is like asking a cancer patient the status of his disease.”
– Jay McInerney
I’m kind of a snob. Not about clothes, or about money, but about weird things, like intelligence or whether you use bottled tomato gravy (that’s usually labeled “sauce”). And, until the past year or so, self-publishing.
When I worked at Barnes & Noble – which was not actually all that long ago – we didn’t carry self-published books. Period. Why? Because they were something called POD, which stood for “print on demand”, which meant we couldn’t return unsold copies. If a customer came in and wanted a self-published book, we’d only order as many copies as they would purchase in advance.
Back then, if you had read – or tried to read – a self-published book, you quickly realized many – MANY – of the self-published books suffered from arrogance. Arrogance that the writer didn’t need beta readers, or an editor, or (I swear) to re-read what they wrote before shipping it off. Self-published books, it seemed, were just crap: A shortcut for shitty writers to get “published”.
That was 2007. Today, the game has changed. My feelings about the self publishing industry have changed, in part because I wrote a travel narrative and have a publishing contract with (what I would have called) a “real” publisher a few years ago. Sound weird? Stay with me.
As excited as I am (which is over the moon excited), the realities of it are not quite what you might think. Publishing a book through conventional methods takes time. A LOT of time. As in, I submitted my manuscript proposal in July of 2013 and we’re still a good year away from something people can hold in their hands (or read on the iPads).
I don’t fault the process. I’m thrilled to have the editor I do, I’m fortunate to have others in my industry (Florida) read the book and offer pre-publication insight, and I am wholly and completely overwhelmed with gratitude that in a day when publishing houses grow more and more restrictive in who and what they published, one of them has chosen my words as something worth their investment.
Because make no mistake about it: I (or, rather, my book) is a commodity to my publisher. They’re gambling (much like the stock market or blackjack), and the gamble is that if they invest money in editing, publishing, and marketing my words, they’ll get back more money than they put in to the effort. Because I worked as a freelance writer for many years, I’m OK with this and I’m happy to make whatever concessions they ask to make sure they get a good return on their investment (because that means I get more money, too).
Nevertheless, I am about halfway through the rough drafts of three serial romance mystery books that I intend to self-publish. Why? Several reason. One, the book at my publisher is pretty unique, whereas romance/mystery is not exactly a barren playing field. I’m a realist; I have a better chance of getting that book in front of more eyeballs on Amazon than I do shopping it to agents and publishers and then – if I’m lucky enough to get a contract – competing for shelf space in bookstores. A Florida travel narrative will absolutely benefit from a conventional publishing house that specializes in Florida; romance novels about a mythical Florida town where murders sometimes happen? I believe they’re likely to do just as well – if not better – on Amazon.
It helps, too, that the rules of self-publishing have changed. Writers who want to make a career off their self-published (let’s call today’s process indie publishing to separate it from the horrors of 10 years ago) work use beta readers, hire editors, pay for cover designs, and generally treat their work like as much of an investment as conventional publishing houses do. That’s not to say the crap doesn’t still get published; it does, but thanks to Amazon’s review system, things like that get revealed as such in short order, and the good stuff stands a chance of getting noticed.
My friend and colleague Jon Kile is proof; he wrote and indie-published The Grandfather Clock, and he’s working on the sequel this summer. Next month book is fodder for a new book club that focuses only on Florida writers. It’s called “Critical Drinking” and it’s sponsored by Wordier Than Thou, a literary group that’s not nearly as “Literature with a capital ‘L'” as it sounds.
I’ll let Jon tell you more about that in his blog post. If you live in Pinellas or the Tampa Bay Area, please consider joining us for the book club. Until then, read this “amusing in way that makes me sad because it’s true” blog post about things you should never, ever ask writers.
With the Great Florida Road Trip out of my hands and in those of my publisher (for now, at least), I’m able to focus on my fiction writing. My goal is really not that ambitious: 1500 words per day.
Because I do NaNoWriMo, I didn’t expect this to be a struggle. It has been, embarrassingly so, and there have been some dark days where I cruised the MediaBistro job listings and wondered if $20-per-piece articles would be that soul-sucking (Spoiler alert: They are.) Fortunately, I finally realized part of my problem was that I was lazy. Writing, even fun fiction writing, is hard. You can’t sit around playing Candy Crush all day, waiting for inspiration to strike, because it won’t.
I’m not talking about writer’s block, because I straight up do not believe in it (Note from the voices in my head: Way to tempt the Universe, Salustri.) A friend of mine, who managed to publish his first book while raising two toddlers and working full time, has this to say about writer’s block, and I tend to agree with him. I think it’s more feeling as though everything I tried to do with the book didn’t work, so I just gave up on every idea.
Setting a word count goal helped, as did an outline (although, in writing terms, I’m a bit too much of a pantser to outline in detail). When I do NaNoWriMo every year, I have a 1,667 words-per-day goal; today (and every day though the end of June), my goal is slightly less. Knowing I must write a certain amount has helped. Bonus? Scrivener breaks this down for me and if I go over one day, it adjusts my goal for the rest of the time frame I’ve specified.
This is starting to sound like writing advice, which is not what I intended at all, because I’m not really qualified to do that and there’s no shortage of web sites brimming with good (and bad) writing advice. This is just about how I’m training my muse.
See, my muse – like most – is fickle, but she’s starting to learn she needs to show up regularly, even if she’s a little bitch about it. I don’t care if you’re not a morning person, Muse. I can’t go back to writing about garden clubs. I just can’t. So you will show up when I need you and give me every damn thing I want you to give.
This calls to mind a great quote about inspiration.
Happy Friday, y’all. Now, back to Scrivener for me – only 1,418 words to go today!
When I was a sophomore in high school, I had this English teacher, Mrs. Parker. She did not particularly care for me and I hated her with the fire of a thousand suns, because she sneered at my writing. When you’re a 14-year-old girl who has only ever wanted to be a writer and your English teacher essentially makes fun of you for writing poetry and consistently gives you C’s, it stays with you and no, I no longer hate her but if she and my ex-husband were both on fire and I had but one bucket of water, it’d be a hard decision.
One of the things she did that makes her fire-worthy? The grading criteria for our weekly composition papers. If, in our composition, we used any instance of passive voice (be, being, been, is, am, are, was, were, has been, have been, had been), she gave us an “F” on that paper.
This scarred me for life, or so editors and colleagues tell me. I, along with fellow Parker survivors, still unconsciously edit out every instance of passive voice in my writing. I have since accepted that in rare instances, a writer may use passive voice, but I am in no way OK with it. I realize I could probably benefit from some sort of therapy.
Which is why I find it so amusing that when I received the final edits back for my book’s introduction, my editor included rewording the second paragraph to read:
“There was a time when not only could you find such a book, but the presence of such a guide was considered so crucial to the nation’s economy that our government sponsored such guides.”
The editor for the University Press of Florida – the same people who published Carl Hiaasen’s column compilations – inserted passive voice into my book. Delicious.
I can’t remember Mrs. Parker’s first name so I don’t know if she’s still alive, but if she is, I would love to send her a copy of my book, with the second paragraph highlighted.
Some days you go for the little victories.
Oh, and also, the editing process of my book is done and we are moving onto the next process: External review. I don’t know what that means, but it sound both scary and wonderful.
So, you know, kind of a big victory day, too. The editing process sucks. It took me longer to make the edits than it took me to write the book.
But either way… I’m going to have a book. It’s starting to feel real.
Suck it, Mrs. Parker. I am a writer.
If you attended the SunLit Festival’s Lit Crawl: A Pub Crawl With Literature, you may have heard poetry readings or an Ernest Hemingway re-enactor. Or you may have heard Jon Kile, Shelly Wilson and myself read Three Authors. Three Chapters. Many Bad Decisions.
We are not literature, but people laughed. Admittedly, they laughed harder at Bodega than they did at Green Bench, but perhaps that’s because I should know better than to mock craft beer at a craft beer house. I don’t. My feelings on craft beer are well-documented. In the piece below, largely.
So here’s how it worked: Jon wrote the first scene, and I had the freedom to do what I wanted in the next. So I did. And then I passed them both to Shelly, who had to tie it all up into a neat bow and bring her own writing style to the ending.
I am proud of what we did. It’s not Literature, not with a capital L. Anyone who knows me knows I am not that person. But we made people laugh, and – this is new – we made ourselves laugh. Writing this and reading this was fun, y’all. I mean, the kind of fun writers don’t always get to have.
I also may have scarred a young child who ran through Green Bench as I talked about breasts. He ran out again and returned with his mother. Ma’am, if you’re reading this, I’d like to apologize. In my defense, I never expected a preschooler to be in the bar. Outside, yes, because Green Bench is cool like that, but not inside.
So here is Part Two, which may or may not make much sense without reading Jon’s intro (feel free to go read that and then come back) and Shelly’s conclusion. Also, this takes place in Key West, because we all seem to find a way to tie the Sunshine State into our work and also because that’s where Jon wanted to tell the story:
No one ever tells you about the mosquitoes on Key West, probably because the drunk college kids and middle-age cruise passengers are actually so much worse, but the mosquitoes are a close third in terms of “reasons not to live here.”
I chewed on the inside of my cheek as the bartender apparently did his level best to drive home the idea of “Island Time” while getting my drink. I shook my hair, letting it fall over my face. Maybe that way he wouldn’t recognize me.
Look, I’m not that girl – the one who hops from relationship to relationship, always needing a man on my arm. Or, actually, a woman. I grimace and glance quickly at Ingeborg and then back down at the bar. I’d come to realize that as much as I supported equality, I really wasn’t cut out for lesbianism, or even bisexuality. This had been a crushing blow to my sense of enlightenment: The cold reality is, I can’t stand women. Women are too messy. All the talk about feelings and sweet baby jesus, lesbians were the worst, with their endless processing.
I thought leaving Irish Kevin’s and heading to the Orchid – one of the quieter, classier bars on the Isle of Bones – would keep Ingeborg calm. I figured a tiny, craft cocktail bar would be the perfect place to give Ingeborg the talk that started with “It’s not you, it’s me” and ended with the totally meaningless “We can still be friends.”
I never expected he would follow me. He clearly had his own problems. His girlfriend had just soaked him with craft beer. Certainly he had greater concerns than trying to place my face. That memory sent the acid racing up my esophagus faster than Richard Petty around the racetrack.
But I digress; I need to tell this in order of the many, many bad decisions that led to the best bar fight Key West had seen in 100 years, or so they would tell me later. In my defense, I really did try and avoid that fight. You’ll see.
As I said, I don’t need to be in a relationship, but I do like sex. A lot. And so when I was going on four months of abstinence – an unprecedented blight, in my opinion – I started to make less than stellar decisions when choosing a partner. It’s like wearing beer goggles all the time. So about ten years ago, I babysat this kid, Lucy. I was fresh out of grad school and had ideas that I would sit in sidewalk cafes and write. It was a grand plan, and it worked – until the letters from Sallie Mae started arriving. I needed cash and had never learned to bartend, so I worked odd jobs. This kid was one: The mom was a flight attendant, because apparently that’s still a thing, and her dad had a security detail for my dad. I watched Lucy when he had to work a late shift, because she was a teenager on the edge of disaster and couldn’t be trusted home alone. When her dad came home, she’d be in bed and not out drinking with her older brother’s friends, and I’d go home and write. It wasn’t ideal, but I was writing and making money, so it I felt like I was at least pointing my life in the right direction. A good decision, right?
Well, until the morning I ended up in bed with Lucy’s dad. There’s no way to make that sound better than it was, because what it was was pretty damn shitty. We started talking. He’d had a little scotch. So had I. Scotch coupled with my currently-celibate condition led to us making out. We were in the bedroom when we both realized what was happening, and we stopped.
See that wouldn’t have been such a bad decision… if I hadn’t slept with Lucy’s older brother the next morning. Which I totally did. I was tired, and the couch was lumpy and I thought, hey, her brother’s away at school, I’ll just use his bed, even if it meant sleeping under his creepy Dan Marino poster. But then the bastard came home and apparently didn’t realize I was in his bed, so he climbed in and he looked like his dad, and his dad was really hot, and it had been a long four months. He was naked, he was hot, and he was right there.
It may have been the celibacy talking, but it was the hottest sex I ever had, before or since. But then the dad – yeah, the same guy – came home and caught us. Needless to say, I got the hell out of Dodge, learned to bartend, and never looked back.
Except, of course, this guy I’d been having hot dreams about for the past decade was standing, soaked in craft beer – which, to be fair, is the highest and best use of craft beer – staring at me like he knew me from somewhere. Which he did. And I was there with my girlfriend, in the middle of the The Talk, the one where I wanted to break up with her and she wanted to talk about it because did I mention MY GOD LESBIANS LOVE TO TALK ABOUT IT, and I had a twisting feeling in my gut. We’d come into the bar before the dueling pianos started and I’d tried, in vain, to end it. When it became apparent Ingeborg was not going to just let me end things, I moved the party to the Orchid Bar. Certainly, I reasoned desperately with myself, certainly she won’t cause a scene here. I am not good at endings, largely because I’m a wimp. That tingling in my throat and tight misery in my stomach wasn’t a warning, I told myself. It was just nerves. It would be a crappy hour or two, but by the end of the night this would all be a horrible, distant memory.
Turns out I was half right.
If I want to blame myself – and all evidence suggests I should – I could trace it back to this idea that I was something like a three or a four on the Kinsey Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, even though I’d never looked at a woman and thought much other than “I wish I had her hair” or “I wonder if those are real?” (As I had no breasts of my own to speak of, it was more than an occasional question.) I thought being bisexual was a hip and trendy, yet rebellious and outcast-y, thing to do, and so when I met Ingeborg and she seemed into me, I thought, hey, I can do this.
Turns out I’m even worse at same-sex relationships than I am heterosexual ones. I am a firm zero on that Kinsey scale. Poor Ingeborg. Poor nordic, blonde, perfect Ingeborg. If I were going to be with a woman, I caught myself thinking as I avoided the unrelenting gaze of the guy dressed in Key West IPA, it would be her. I winced as I realized I was: I was with Ingeborg.
I started to worry there was really no way out of this relationship. I wanted to end it, and Ingeborg – tall, blonde, and temperamental Ingeborg – wasn’t having it. I kept trying to tell her it was over, at first gently, actually using the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech, but Ingeborg, having grown up in Oslo, didn’t recognize what I assumed was the universal brush-off line. She kept saying it was OK that it was me, because we could fix me, and putting her arm around me and trying to kiss me, and that’s when I noticed Lucy’s older brother had found his craft-beer-drenched way into the Orchid Bar and, apparently oblivious to the fact that a, I was with a woman and b, in the middle trying to break up with that woman, kept trying to catch my eye. I kept avoiding his gaze. I was suddenly very tired and where the hell was our bartender with my drink?
“Look, Ingeborg,” I tried again. “I think, you know, maybe I might not be attracted to women.”
“Don’t be silly,” she snapped at me, her patience finally wearing thin. “We had sex last night.”
“Well, yes,” I admitted. “But didn’t you ever notice that… well, you know, that I don’t really… you know, that I don’t really respond as, um, easily as you do?”
“Oh, that,” she laughed. “You are older. Older women take longer to get excited.” Ingeborg said this matter-of-factly, as if I were 70 and not 34. I tried not to be offended. The bartender put a glass of Bombay Sapphire in my hand as I organized my thoughts.
“I didn’t order this,” I said. “I wanted a beer. Non-craft. Cheap. Domestic. Nothing brewed with the tears of a virgin or the blood of a unicorn or any of that crap. Do you not have cheap, domestic beer?”
My patience for people was about at its end.
“The drink is from me,” a male voice said over my shoulder. I tensed; Lucy’s brother – Jesus, did I really not know his name? – had a similar drink in hand. Also, he looked even more like his dad, and even though he was marinated in craft beer, I was picturing him as I had last seen him, in all his tan, naked glory. Ingeborg, who just a moment ago seemed clueless as to my imminent heterosexuality, must have finally sensed something, because she put her arm around my waist and pulled me closer.
In retrospect, my next actions were not my wisest. I remember trying to ignore them both, staring at my oysters and, apparently, a lifetime of despair. Then Ingeborg giggled and grabbed at my almost non-existent breast, which is something she’d never done before, and a mosquito landed on my arm, and all of a sudden I had had enough: Enough of the crappy writing and even worse craft beer, of my long-ago Adventures in Babysitting that refused to go sit in the damn corner, of being even worse at being a lesbian than I was at being a writer, and most of all, the fucking mosquitoes.
I looked up at Adventures in Babysitting, back at Ingeborg, then down at the damn mosquito. Then, in a waste of some of the finest gin I couldn’t afford, I downed the Sapphire in one gulp. I slapped at the mosquito, pulled away from Ingeborg, grabbed Adventures in Babysitting, and kissed him. He kissed me back. It was the highlight of my evening.
That last thing I remember was hearing a sharp intake of breath. I broke off the kiss and saw Ingeborg had gone white. Well, she was a Viking, so she was kind of always white. She was just whiter than usual.
That’s when I felt the punch. Adventures in Babysitting’s craft beer hurling girlfriend was definitely not happy. Also, she hit like a girl.
Ingeborg, however, did not. Thankfully, she wasn’t aiming for me. Babysitting got the worst of it.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
– J.R.R. Tolkein
This column makes me sad, because it is my last. 12 years ago, the Gabber offered me a job and a place in the community. Over the years I have delighted you, angered you, and most of all, I hope, I have made you think.
And today my time with the Gabber ends.
I didn’t come to the paper as a print journalist. My training was broadcast journalism; my previous vocation, public relations. But print media – specifically, writing for you, through the Gabber, became my passion. I love you people, even when you make me crazy with your kid-napped goats and your duck thefts and your infinite number of other things that feel as if this whole town has been plucked from the pages of a Carl Hiaasen novel. You’ve watched me grow, you’ve stayed right alongside me, and, most significantly, you’ve given me a home.
And now it’s time for me to go. This is my final week at the Gabber, and even though I know it is the right decision, my heart feels as though it’s breaking.
This decision has come later than it should have, although I don’t think I would ever have felt ready for it. I feel the support of everyone at the paper in this decision. We discussed my parting, and I harbor no ill will.
My life has changed, my circumstances have changed, and my path has changed. I have one book on the way and am preparing for another. I speak about my travels through Florida regularly, and I now teach photography classes. These other things are interfering with my ability to do my job well; I have meetings I cannot attend, I have places I cannot be, and you, our readers, deserve someone who is 100% with the paper, not someone who always appears to have one foot out the door.
And so I move over to make room for the next Cathy Salustri, the next person at the Gabber who can take us in yet another direction. I don’t know who that person will be. The paper needs new blood. Now that I re-read that, I realize it is, after today, no longer my place to refer to the Gabber as “us” –they are no longer my family, except, perhaps, in my heart.
You, my friends, are still my family, although I think you will find me far less useful to you than you may have in the past. That’s OK; I am happy being me, just me, with no press credentials after my name. My home and, most importantly, my heart remains in Gulfport.
I have not made this decision easily. My heart is breaking, but for some time now the paper has been my security blanket, the home in which I nestled into and wrapped around myself. It was wonderful, warm and cozy, but it also kept me from, as Bilbo says, from stepping out onto the road. I held the Gabber up as an excuse, a reason I couldn’t be more or do more. It’s time for me to prove to myself I can. I’ve given myself a year to do just that, and, well, if I can’t churn something out in a year and make a go of it, I hope Pia’s or PJ’s or O’Maddy’s can find a spot for me behind the bar (I do, incidentally, make the best margarita I’ve ever tasted) next January. I don’t know what will happen, but I do know this: If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there, not in my cozy hobbit hole.
I will be forever grateful to Ken and Deb Reichart for being so good to me in the past, but my time at the Gabber is done. It is time for me to open the door, blink in the sunlight, and take that first step.
“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”
– Bilbo Baggins
And so, my faithful friends, until we meet again.
Hello, abyss, old friend. It’s me again, at your edge. I’m ready to jump in again.
I probably should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. I have a tendency to get too inside the mirror. Which is funny, in the way people say funny when something isn’t funny at all: I was so introspective I didn’t see what was happening in my own life, and it was clearly going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.
I’m a big believer – huge, actually – in “we do what we want” so I can’t change philosophies midstream now and say I didn’t want this. I am certain I could have avoided this, of course, but I just didn’t want to avoid it enough. Apparently.
And so, for the first time in almost 12 years, as the Gabber staff plugs away at a deadline for Thursday’s paper, I am not a part of it. Oh, I’ve submitted a final Hard Candy, which you can all read tomorrow, and they have a few nondescript things of mine to run over the next month (not the sort of thing one includes in their portfolio, but the sort of thing that keeps the machine part of the newspaper going) , but for all intents and purposes, I no longer write for the Gabber.
The wherefores and whys really, really don’t matter. It became clear to me my time there was at a stopping point. I would never have been able to separate on my own; I needed a push. I didn’t see it coming, I really and truly didn’t, but when I started talking to El Cap about “what next” this past weekend I of course went through the whole postmortem, I realized yes, this has been coming for a while and of course I didn’t see it because I couldn’t.
It doesn’t matter. I will be forever grateful for how the Gabber changed my life. Over the years, too, the Reichart family was exceptionally good to me. I am the writer I am, in part, because they allowed me to be that writer.
Endings, however, often suck. (Yes, that’s the best word right there, unless I want to describe it as “eating a suck burrito” which is a phrase I’m
stealing borrowing from these guys.)
This is one of those times.
I’ve spent the past days surrounded by friends who have buoyed my spirits and told me only good things. I needed that and am lucky to have those sorts of friends, the ones who support you without question and encourage you and tell you, yes, buttercup, you’re going to be OK.
At El Cap’s encouragement, I will take the rest of this year and finish three books I’ve started and mostly finished. He suggested the parting was perhaps a gift and the thing that was breaking my heart so hard was also the thing that would propel me to a new chapter of my life. He told me to freelance, yes, because, well, bills, but please focus on publishing something larger (I’m paraphrasing) than a city council report (Although, as much as I bitch about those meetings, I enjoy government reporting. It’s an illness.) He wants to see me write what I love, not what I need to write, to see me find something to stretch against the walls of my talents in new ways.
And I want that, too, actually. The idea of taking a year (OK, 11 months and 17 days, give or take) to work within my own little fictional world, pitch my second print book to a conventional press, and maybe even start trying to get feature work with magazines? That sounds incredibly, awfully, amazingly appealing. Most people don’t get that chance, and, without El Cap’s support, I wouldn’t either.
The last time I left a job, I did not have a plan except “write” – and I learned wishes work best with a touch of specificity mixed in to them. Last time wasn’t bad, not by a long shot. I found more than I ever imagined by simply following the direction “write.” This time, I have that specificity, but not too much, I hope, that I’ll miss something good. And, the same as last time, the grand plan includes sucking breath in and pushing it out again, and, if all else fails, I’ll just keep swimming.
To be continued…