Before and After the Book Deal

Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book by Courtney Maum is one of those books you don’t necessarily read from start to finish. It’s a book that has been on my bedside table for a while now. I pick it up and read a few pages, mark meaningful paragraphs with a yellow highlighter and sticky notes, and then put the book down again until the next time.

Ms. Maum has crafted a well-written and, at-times, humorous book. It is an incredibly valuable resource for writers who are looking to “finish, publish, promote and survive” their first book. Which I am.

Yet, even if you’re not a writer, if you create in a different medium, there are useful tidbits for all artists and creators. Here are just a few:

“Narrative voice is your literary aura, your essence, the thing that allows writers the world over to write about the same topics in thrillingly different ways. Even though it’s yours, your voice can take a long, long time to find.”

“Get excited by your rejections. They are road maps toward the kind of work that you were born to write.”  (It’s a good reminder. Although they are a part of the writing process, some rejections sting more than others.)

In addition to writer-specific advice, I love these reminders about the power of expressing gratitude:

“Set some money aside for thank-you tokens for your editorial team and agents at pub time. (A heartfelt, handwritten card is thoughtful, but some authors also send on gifts, flowers, alcohol [when appropriate], or something handmade.)”

“At some point after the book contract is finalized, if you live close enough to your publishing house to make this happy event possible, you will meet the people who are going to publish your first book.
“Within twenty-four hours, send a group email to everyone you met expressing how great it was to meet them, how lucky you are to be working with them, and why [enter name of publisher] is simply the best house for your book. Then send a handwritten note to your editor, reiterating the same.” 

Dear readers-who-are-also-writers, have you read this book? Do you have paragraphs or pages you have marked with your own sticky notes? 

Walk the Talk

I recently started reading Claire Cook’s novel Walk the Talk, the fourth book in her Wildwater Walking Club series. (I have read and enjoyed them all.)

Page 20 stopped me, though. Because page 20 made me realize I had become a bit of a hypocrite. 

Let me explain.

From the novel:

The dictionary, or at least Wiktionary, definition of walk the talk is to perform actions consistent with one’s claims. Walking the talk is all about doing what you said you would do, not just making empty promises to someone, especially to yourself.
“Walk the talk is a kind of condensed version of if you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. Which is kind of a modern version of old sayings like practice what you preach or actions speak louder than words.
However you decided to phrase it, for most of us, walking the talk was way easier said than done.”

Reading is always one of my top answers when I’m asked about my hobbies and ways I like to spend my time. 

Reading Walk the Talk made me realize I talk, and write, a lot about books and reading. Yet lately I have not devoted a lot of time to reading. It’s so easy to push reading off my daily to-do list, to make room for chores like “shred old papers,” “pick up prescriptions at CVS,” or “return library books.” 

They say a big first step in solving a problem is acknowledging there is a problem. This week’s blog post serves as my acknowledgment. I want to read more. Specifically, I want to read more during the day and not just save my reading for the last few minutes before I fall asleep at night. 

Now I just need to walk the talk.

How about you, dear readers? Do you make a lot of time each day to read? Or is there another goal you have in mind when thinking about “walking the talk”? Let me know in the comments.

Everything Happens For a Reason

Back in April 2022, I wrote a blog post about Kate Bowler’s book No Cure For Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear). If you missed it, you can click here to read it. 

I recently finished reading Ms. Bowler’s other book Everything Happens For a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved)

(Just so you know – this book was published in 2018, before No Cure For Being Human.) 

I am in awe of Ms. Bowler — the way she blends truth and humor, tenderness and rawness. 

Let me share just some of the passages that earned sticky notes in my copy:

“I have had two perfect moments in my life. The first was running down the aisle with Toban on our wedding day, and we burst through the church doors and stood, breathless, alone as husband and wife, gazing at each other like complete idiots. And the other was when they put Zach in my arms for the first time and we looked at each other like it was a conspiracy of mutual adoration. These are my Impossible Thoughts. These are my Can’t-Live-Withouts. I cannot picture a world where I am not theirs. Where I am simply gone.”

“When we arrived at the hospital, a day into hard labor that wouldn’t progress, the doctor looked me up and down and suggested that we return home again.
“ ‘You don’t have the look of someone in labor,’ she said matter-of-factly.
“  ‘Yeah, well, you’re going to want to check me. I am, unfortunately, amazing at being miserable.’”

“Infertility and disability should have taught me how to surrender, taught me how little I can control the conditions of my own happiness. Instead, that helplessness has only thickened my resolve to salvage what I can from the wreckage.”

“If I never nap. If I never complain. If I stifle my sharp intake of breath when I feel the pain. If I hide the reality, then maybe I’m not sick. So I continue to work full days. I get up at 6:30 am every day — no matter what — so I won’t miss a moment with my son. When I stop taking the medication that minimizes the numb feeling in my hands and feet, because I want to feel every shred of what is happening to me, my friends practically stage an intervention. When will I realize that surrender is not weakness?”

“But most everyone I meet is dying to make me certain. They want me to know, without a doubt, that there is a hidden logic to this seeming chaos. Even when I was still in the hospital, a neighbor came to the door and told my husband that everything happens for a reason.
“ ‘I’d love to hear it,’ he replied.
“ ‘Pardon?’ she said, startled.
“ ‘The reason my wife is dying,’ he said in that sweet and sour way he has, effectively ending the conversation as the neighbor stammered something and handed him a casserole.”

“There is no life in general. Each day has been a collection of trivial details — little intimacies and jokes and screw-ups and realizations. My problems can’t be solved by those formulas — those clichés — when my life was never generic to begin with. God may be universal, but I am not.”

What do I want to give them? I have taken the notebook back out and scribbled a couple of words.
That one is for Zach. I have always wanted to raise a boy who loves the underdog, who stops for snails, who wants to know why the man outside the car window says he will work for food. I want to raise a tough softy. He will know the pain of the world but all will be better for it. He will be brave in the face of heartbreak.”

And Appendix I, titled “Absolutely Never Say This to People Experiencing Terrible Times: A Short List,” is quite wonderful all on its own. Here are a few gems:

“ ‘Well, at least…’
“Whoa. Hold up there. Were you about to make a comparison? At least it’s not … what? Stage V cancer? Don’t minimize.”

“ ‘God needed an angel.’
“This one takes the cake because (a) it makes God look sadistic and needy and (b) angels are, according to Christian tradition, created from scratch. Not dead people looking for a cameo in Ghost. You see how confusing it is when we just pretend that the deceased return to help you find your car keys or make pottery?”

An Anniversary

Room 7, shortly before I turned in my keys. March 1, 2013

Yesterday, February 28th, was Rare Disease Day.

Today, March 1st, is the start of Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month. It is also an anniversary for me. Ten years ago, March 1st, 2013, was my last day of teaching.

It’s a day with a lot of emotions for me, and the way I try to make sense of my emotions is by writing about them. 

Many of you, my dear readers, may not know that I am writing a memoir-in-essays about my experiences living with an invisible disability. One of my first essays is titled, “The Big Reveal,” and recounts the morning when my husband and I met with my rheumatologist. 

The appointment was set for early morning so I could make it to my fourth grade classroom before the school bell. I took this as a good sign. No doctor would deliver heartbreaking news and then expect me to go teach a roomful of nine and ten-year olds. Whatever he had to tell me couldn’t be that bad.
“That’s what I kept telling myself because that’s what I needed to believe.”

When my rheumatologist finally put a name to my symptoms — Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) — my husband and I felt it was the first time we could truly exhale. 

My rheumatologist said something else that morning, something that didn’t quite register at the time. 

It’s rare. No one will know what you’re talking about if you say you have UCTD. So, if you want to walk around and call it ‘The Kennar,’ you can.
“I chuckled. ‘I’ve always dared to be different, so I guess this fits.’
“But since then, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want a rare condition most people have never heard of. If I’m destined to live with a chronic medical condition, then I’d prefer it to be familiar; a disease doctors understand and know how to treat. Maybe even a disease with its own awareness month or magnetic ribbon I can attach to my car. I didn’t know it at the time, but different, at least when it comes to the world of medicine, isn’t always better.”

You might not see it on any calendar, but Strong Woman Day? 

That’s every day.