To Be or Not To Be

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.

Chapter Three: The Edge of the Abyss, Revisited

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…

2015: My Non-Plan

The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Fake Buddha Quote

Resolutions seem like a bad idea to me, as do plans, because they map a linear direction and so often in my life the best paths have twisted me along in a decidedly non-linear fashion.

However – and I really want to say this without sounding too “authentic” because even the notion of that word and its current meaning make me want to throw up a little in my mouth – I have found that verbalizing my intentions helps me make them happen. The biggest case in point? My book. An honest-to-God, printed and bound, a-publisher-will-pay-to-print-this, I-have-a-contract, book. It doesn’t have a title yet, but I’ve written it, edited it per my editor’s specs, and I suspect by the end of this year, I’ll have a hard copy in my hands (as should all of you, of course!). That book happened because I said, “I want to get my master’s degree in Florida Studies and write a book about Florida and get a book deal” and even though it wasn’t a plan or a resolution, saying it (to other people) helped reinforce my drive, and every step I took pushed me down the path that led to me sobbing with agony over revisions my editor wanted working with a bricks-and-mortar publishing house and getting a contract for my travel narrative about Florida.

If it worked once, it can work again, right? After all, it has worked better than anything else ever has, including the carefully-laid plans of my twenties. So, in that spirit, here’s a list of things that I will do. Not necessarily in the coming year, but – you know what? Yes, in the coming year. Why leave myself an out? So, because if y’all know what I’m doing, it will motivate me (because I’m apparently lazy on the inside but also big on doing what I say I will do), here’s my “This Will Happen” list for 2015:

Finish, edit, and self-publish one of my three mostly-completed novels

Every year I participate in National Novel Writing Month, which means every November I attempt to write a 50,000-word novel. So far, I have written three novels you could call “90% done” (exclusive of the editing, of course.) Inspired by my friend, fellow Florida Studies classmate, and published author Jon Kile, I have decided to self-publish those three books. I don’t know until I dive into editing the first novel how much time I’ll spend editing it, so I hesitate to say “I can self-publish three books this year!” but I can say I will publish one of them. (How well it sells is all on you, people!)

Publish my grandmother’s recipes

Grandma Rae loved to cook and people loved to eat her food. I had the good fortune to learn from her while her mind was still sharp (she and my grandfather came to live with us when I was 17, so I had plenty of practice by her side). Because my dad was the only one of her children who lived near her (everyone else lived in New York), and also because no one else seemed to care at the time (most of my cousins are younger than I am, which meant I was the only one cooking for anyone on the reg at the time), I took possession of her recipes after Alzheimers made life in a nursing home a necessity. My cousins never had that time with her, and when my cousin Sue asked me last year if she could have copies of grandma’s recipes, I said yes. When I started combing through them, though, I realized I had so much more of grandma than ingredients and directions. I have great stories about her and her cooking, about the dreaded Grandma Mary’s Cake (a/k/a “the cursed cake” that stopped working after my grandmother died), about her recipe for chicken (as dictated to my dad, who interpreted what I can only assume were instructions to rinse the chicken as “bathe chick”), about the way her home smelled at Christmas – these are all things a recipe cannot convey. I inherited her passion for cooking, and to her cadre of recipes I have added my own. I will publish bound copies for my cousins, and I figure it can’t hurt to make the cookbook available as an ebook as well. I already have a Facebook page and a blog I co-author with fellow Italian foodie and friend Tiffany Anderson-Taylor (although she’s way better at posting, which I will improve as work through these recipes).

Publish my Florida  travel narrative

I realize this one’s almost a gimme because I’ve done the heavy lifting and secured a publishing contract, but it ain’t over yet – I feel confident I have more revisions coming down the pike. Because this matters so much to me, I count it, because I do intend to do whatever I can to make sure I have this book on bookshelves by this time next year. Oh, yeah, we still need a title, so feel free to leave one in the comments.

Write more for money

I love writing for the Gabber, and I intend to keep doing so. That said, I’ve used the paper as a crutch, held it up as a reason I don’t do much other writing. When I think about it, I must admit: I have no desire to cover the lawsuits on St. Pete Beach when I’m 60 (and trust me, there’s a fair-to-midland chance St. Pete Beach will still be appealing these same lawsuits when I’m 60). The best way to not have that happen is to shore up my other writing and start, as they say in the business world, developing other revenue streams. If that happens because of my self-published books (see how this helps? I already think of them as real things), or because of my published book (which is not really feasible; I don’t know how many of you realize this, but since I haven’t written Fifty Shades of Gray I have a more common publishing deal, which means my publisher doesn’t plan to publish enough copies of my book for me to earn royalties that would allow me to quit my day job) then great. If not, I still have options. I’m getting good at this writing thing, after all…

This is not me saying I want to leave the paper; this is me saying I would like very much to concentrate on the news stories, my column, and my Detours & Diversions, then pick and choose the rest, rather than take a picture – for the 12th year running – of people standing in line to vote on election day.

Get a second book contract

Yup, there’s a lot of emphasis in 2015 on writing. I already have an idea for a second book, and a third, so as soon as the first book is to bed, I will start on a proposal for number two.

Turn my Nikon into an ATM

I already take a LOT of photos (seriously, an average day for me at a street festival is 1,000 photos) and make a small – very small – amount of money taking pictures for people who want their events remembered but not in the “expensive wedding package photographer” type of way. I also teach photography in several locations, but odds are, you didn’t know that because how would you? Which brings me to…

Fix my damn web site

This site is awful; my blog is the only useful thing on it. So I’m going to fix it. Somehow. Because writers, apparently, need web sites, especially if they’re about to have a book or two to sell. You know who else needs a web site? People trying to sell their services as a photographer, or people who think it might be important for their photography students (or prospective students) to access a calendar to see where they’re teaching next.

There are other more personal things I want to accomplish, but I intend to keep them more private. Plus, you don’t care if I manage to knit my cousin’s as-of-yet-unborn baby a baby blanket in time for his birth (the odds are against me on this one), or if I can reasonably increase my protein intake and strengthen my lower back (the odds there improve a bit.)

Want to help me? Right now, other than buying me lots of coffee, there’s not much you can do, except like my public Facebook page and insist everyone you know do the same thing. And don’t forget to like Aphrodite’s Hearth while you’re at it. You can follow me on Twitter and pay attention to what I do on Flickr, and interact with me on all those things and remind me you’re waiting for me to make all these wonderful things happen. Oh, and when I post here that I (finally) have a book you can buy, buy it. If I’m really pushing the wire, think of it as a way to get all your 2016 Christmas shopping done in one fell swoop.

Happy New Year!