Friday, January 16, 2009

Drops of Encouragement

There are many big questions in life and one of them is, how do you know you are on the right path? 

Sometimes it's easy. Doors fly open, you get the job on the first interview, you hit a home run on the first swing. Right place, right time. So sweet. You hear a lot about flow, what it means when the Universe and your desires line up. No striving, no straining, no uncertainty or doubt. Riding the current right into an ocean of fulfillment. With a white sand beach and drinks under the umbrella. 

But even a river has rocks and side pools that trap branches and leaves. A writing career is like that.  The first and biggest boulder is doubt about whether you are any good at all.  It's not as objective as getting the math formulas right. 

My writing life blossomed late. Writing was always a desire, and I did well on school papers, but I never really sat down to do it as a young adult. Too busy figuring out life and then I got busy with raising a family and building a career. I wrote in a journal now and then but instead of a perfect and descriptive stream of consciousness, my output was more working out thoughts and feelings. Not anything you want published. (did I burn those, by the way?)

My first major writing project was writing case study tutorials for a small business program. A little fiction to illustrate a key learning point, like how to prepare a cash flow or marketing plan. When it first came up, I thought as always, I can't do that! But I did. About 10 of them. Was paid, too--$500 each. Not bad for 1992. 

That started my business writing output. For three years, I was chief writer and editor for a quarterly small business newspaper. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of words: business advice, resources, interviews, industry news, study results, etc. I published newspaper articles, too, wrote business and strategic plans, proposals, reports, web text--you name it.

For me, business writing was a textbook example of flow. It came easily and I was paid. Plenty of good feedback and opportunities. Now I do freelance business journalism, mainly for the NH Business Review. Yes, even from Georgia. Great gig.

Then I decided to write fiction. For several years I toiled on mystery novels and a young adult book. My forte was historical novels. I had good feedback from readers but an unsupportive spouse (not Dan!). Boy, when you send stuff out to agents and publishers, do you come up hard against that first big rock: is my work any good? You tend to vacillate between, hey not bad and boy do I suck. Then I'd read another poorly written, badly edited novel and realize, I'm better than this and it got published. 

The next big rock: fitting your now self-deemed OK work with the right agent or publisher at the right time. Ha. I started doing this just as publishers dumped most of their mid-list, i.e. they decided to focus on blockbusters instead of a nice range of something for everyone. Kind of like how Hollywood is now putting out cartoon action figure movies, sequels or remakes. Check it out. At least 80% falls into those categories. 

Trying to get published is like throwing a ball blindfolded through a basket that keeps changing size and moving. And sometimes you don't know if you miss for months. Then that envelope comes. Da da DA! The rejection letter. You rip it open and carefully parse the generic and poorly photocopied text for any tidbit of valid feedback.  I've had some good ones, personal correspondence that says, basically, "well-written but not quite right for us at this time." Well-written! Yay! "Your writing is engaging." Engaging! Wow, even better. I like a good engaging novel. 

A drop of encouragement. And like blue food coloring in a bowl of water, that encouragement spreads, tinging everything with hope. 

I guess I will keep writing.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Georgia New Year's Day Feast

Goodbye to 2008, which was a very tough year for almost everyone.  Dan says, "Good riddance!"
With great optimism, we say hello to 2009!

A Southern tradition for prosperity and good luck is a feast of black eyed-peas, collards and corn bread. Naturally I decided to try it. We can use all the prosperity and good luck available.

My new friend, Rosann, a Georgia native, gave me some great tips. "Flavor those black-eyed peas. They're pretty bland." So, after soaking them all day, I put them in the crock pot with onion, garlic, a chili pepper, ham hocks and lots of salt and pepper. Boy, did they smell good this morning when we got up!

The collards came in great green leafy bunches from the grocery store, freshly harvested locally. Georgia's growing season extends into winter for cold weather crops. So different from the frozen snow covered fields of New England at this time of year! Rosann said to trim the tough white stem off the greens and cut them up. Using a Martha Stewart recipe, I simmered them in broth and red pepper flakes for an hour. 

Rosann, a self-proclaimed Corn Bread Queen, told me to bake the corn bread in an iron skillet in the oven. "It's the only way," she said, to get a delicious crispy crust. She told me you can add anything to corn bread: onion, cheese, chilis, even pork cracklings. I decided to stick with classic Jiffy mix today. It always comes out good.

Once the corn bread had browned in a 400 degree oven, we served up big bowls. The dish was really good, far better than it sounds. The slightly sweet corn bread complements the rich and tasty peas and greens. Crumbled in the juice is my favorite way to eat it.

Whatever you decide to do, eat and drink today, we wish you the best of fortune and good luck in 2009!