William Wordsworth

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On life-changing events.

Published March 20, 2017 by mandileighbean

I know it’s been a while since the last time I wrote, which is a phrase I use much too often to begin these posts. I promised myself I would make writing a priority and I haven’t. To paraphrase William Wordsworth, the world is too much with me. I let work and friends and television and social media and solitaire and invented melodramas take up much too much of my time, but that is all changing, slowly but surely. After all, they say you need to acknowledge and admit to having a problem before you can even begin to solve it.

It is a REAL tragedy writing hasn’t moved more into the forefront of my thoughts and ambitions and desires because that conference/workshop was truly life changing. It was a whirlwind of emotions, but I left feeling validated and prepared and motivated and determined. I mustn’t lose sight of that, or it will all be for nothing.

So today, I kicked my own ass running along the Barnegat Bay (good for body and soul) and am sitting down to properly update you all on that amazing, life-changing, soul-affirming trip to St. Augustine. The trip to Florida was relatively unremarkable; I left my parents house at about midnight (after only shutting my eyes for three hours before the 15-hour drive; I was too anxious, too excited, too eager) and essentially took I-95 all the way down. I passed A LOT of accidents, which I worried might be a bad omen, but I also drove by the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, and the Pentagon, which I don’t think I’ve ever done despite my many years traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard. Once I arrived in St. Augustine and made it to the hotel, all of my fears were assuaged. I made it, and I had never felt so blessed in my life. It was stunning – absolutely breathtaking – gorgeous! There were so many boats out on the water – the weather was pretty much perfect the entire time I was in St. Augustine – and I could see the boats in the bay from the balcony outside my hotel room. It was impossible (well, almost) to tell the residents from the tourists because everyone was walking along the water in the sunshine. Handsome men were running shirtless, couples were taking leisurely strolls with cool beverages in hand. Such clichéd phrases don’t even do it justice, but they’re all I seem able to muster. I was – and still am – SO grateful, SO thrilled for the opportunity. It was AMAZING and I was continuously in AWE.

How did I ever come back to Jersey?

People in St. Augustine seemed – to me, anyway – to have MONEY – like Gatsby money, and I didn’t bring a laptop to a flipping writers’ workshop/conference (because I didn’t have one; couldn’t afford one). I momentarily felt like an utter moron, but I was okay. And the first thing I purchased with my tax return money was a laptop so I feel like EVEN MORE of a writer now.

Anyway, the first night in St. Augustine was marked by an informal, get-to-know-everyone-dinner. It was … interesting, tp say the VERY least. I went down to the hotel lobby around 7pm and sat outside and waited. Naturally, the others had gathered inside so when I awkwardly meandered in after creeping about the greenery, I met everyone.

Greg is a retired firefighter from the Midwest. Joanna published two novels twenty years ago, and has a house in Palm Beach and a house in the Hamptons. Paula was in medical communications but now she lives in Houston and I think she’s writing full time. Add me to the crew and we were the writers all staying at the hotel.

I instinctively liked Michael Neff, the editor. I hoped I made a good impression and toyed the line between desperate and casual, if such a line even exists. During dinner, I sat between Joanna and Noreene, who just flew in from the Grand Cayman Islands; completely chic and fabulous. I sat across from Doug from Cincinnati; he was hard to read at first, but shortly became one of my favorite people from the whole experience (he used to be a stand-up comedian and the last few days in St. Augustine, he made me laugh so hard, I cried and on top of that, he really is a phenomenal writer, so whatever. Maybe I’m mostly jealous; favorite might be too positive a word. But I’m just kidding. Maybe). Greg was across from me as was Literary Agent Paula (who I’m only referring to as such to differentiate her from Paula from Houston; don’t worry, I didn’t call her that or anything).

I LOVED Literary Agent Paula and on the first night, she gave me GREAT advice. I’ve subscribed to Publisher’s Marketplace, have decided to really focus on finding an agent, am endeavoring to attend more “pitch” conferences, and have decided to break away from Martin Sisters Publishing (the separation ended up being mutual … more on that later). But from listening to everyone talk about the conferences they’d been to and the important people they knew, I felt overwhelmed and realized I was greener than I thought. I was the youngest person there by decades. I knew I had the talent and the passion, but quickly began to understand that I needed the wisdom.

Cris is an author from California and Lunka is an aspiring writer with a full-time job (so we had a somewhat instant connection) from Denver; so cool.

So the next day (February 25th) marked the first REAL day of the conference/workshop. I was SCARED; I worked on my pitch for the novel I was currently working on (the title was stupid, so I’ll just call it The Duke Story [even though that’s also stupid]) the night before but still felt mostly nauseous. We met at a beautiful house right on the beach, and it was like something out of a movie or, even better, out of a dream. We sat in a circle and everyone read their pitches. It was so cool and interesting to see how everyone’s pitch matched their personality. I was really impressed with a couple of the stories, and everyone had something awesome to share … except me. At least that’s what it felt like, because my mood went from nauseated to dead when both Literary Agent Paula and Michael told me The Duke Story wasn’t marketable and encouraged me to work on “Don’t Drink the Water” (but that title is different now, too).

I felt deflated and was too wrapped up in my own shit to enjoy lunch at The Reef, but I did get to know Cris. When we returned to the house to wrap up the day’s session, Literary Agent Paula advised me to ask Hallie Ephron (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) about the possibility of working on Her Beautiful Monster; Michael loved the title and wanted me to re-work it, but Literary Agent Paula was nervous because it had been published, has an ISBN number, and can easily be looked up … even though the publisher is so small it’s obscure. I felt lost and was happy to return to the hotel. Joanna drove Greg, Paula and me back to the hotel, but we stopped at Publix and the liquor store first. Paula and I needed some grocery items and we all needed booze after the first day. I happily joined them for the free happy hour at the hotel, and got to know Paula better. We sat on the porch swing outside of her room and talked a little bit about everything in our lives. Then I got to work on our assigned homework (identify five things that make our protagonist sympathetic, interesting, unique, etc. by showing, not telling). I used Charlotte from “Don’t Drink the Water” and did okay.

The second day (February 26th) was MUCH better for my ego, my soul, my passion. When I pitched “Don’t Drink the Water,” both Michael and Literary Agent Paula liked it. Then I went on to meet Robert Olen Butler and HE CHANGED MY LIFE. Throughout the course of our conversation, he validated my dream. He understood The Duke Story and my intention; he took the words right out of my mouth, the words I wished I had when I first pitched the story in front of everyone, and he told me he believed I could do it. I cried and hugged him. He is an amazing man and I will forever be indebted to him, no matter what comes of my so-called writing career.

After the conversation, I reworked my pitch and befriended Lunka. We had a spiritual connection as we were both really moved by our conversations with Robert and we exchanged numbers. I have a new writer friend 🙂 After the day’s schedule, Greg and I got dinner in downtown St. Augustine, and I drank and bonded with Joanna at the hotel’s happy hour. While we were there, we met HALLIE EPHRON. I tried to play it cool, but I was sweaty and I’m almost certain I mumbled and drooled instead of actually forming words. She couldn’t have been nicer. Michael brought her there to check her in and he stopped to say hello and encouraged me to do his online course after the workshop/conference. Spoiler alert: I definitely am.

The third day (February 27th) was INTENSE. The morning was actually low-key; we re-worked our pitches and shared our character traits of our protagonists. We all broke for lunch after, and I ate Chinese with Joanna, Paula and Greg. We shared a bottle of wine to calm ourselves because the second half of the day, we pitched our stories to Executive Editor Lyssa Keusch of HarperCollins Publishers (WHAT?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!), Brendan Deneen of Macmillan Entertainment (IS THIS REAL LIFE?!), and Hallie Ephron, the New York Times Best Selling Author (SERIOUSLY?!?!). It was a whirlwind and while I didn’t feel 100% about the experience, it was SO informational and beneficial.

To commemorate our last full day together in St. Augustine, we had dinner together and it was AMAZING, GREAT, WONDERFUL! Joanna and I became as thick as thieves, Doug made me laugh, and Noreene was as sweet as she was fabulous. Joanna and Greg and I drank together back at the hotel and Joanna convinced Lyssa to join us. SO EPIC. SO AWESOME.

All that was scheduled for our very last day (February 28th) were individual consults with Michael Neff. After each consult, the writer left amidst heartfelt goodbyes. My consult was GREAT; Michael was so helpful and encouraging. I left the conference/workshop with a definite purpose and direction and really, what more can a writer ask for? I am in the middle of research, of signing up for the novel development online course, and am beginning writing very soon.

So when I returned to Jersey all fired up, I emailed Martin Sisters Publishing to inquire about my second novel, MOODY BLUE. I had signed a contract and sent it back, but that was back in the final month of 2016 and had heard nothing back. As it turns out, they had no intention of publishing my novel (said they “…couldn’t give it the attention it deserves”) and offered to send it to an even smaller online publisher.

I told them not to bother, but thanked them for everything. I emailed Literary Agent Paula, Michael, and have begun to query agents once again.

Here we go.

Below are links to Joanna’s website and Doug’s website.
JoannaElm.com
DougSpakWrites.com

And I’m sharing some pictures below.

Prompts start again next week … I promise!

On trying not to be ungrateful and having perspective.

Published March 24, 2015 by mandileighbean

Ungrateful+brat+all+i+got+was+coal_5ef563_3156907

“He asked me, ‘How do you keep fighting?’
And the truth is I don’t know
I think it’s funny that he asked me
‘Cause I don’t feel like a fighter lately
I am too unhappy

You’d think I’d get perspective

Can I not accept that my own problems
Are so small?”

– Amanda Palmer, “Bigger on the Inside”

People probably think there’s someone living on my second floor because I’m far too lazy to climb the stairs and turn off the light.  But the truth is that I live alone.  I purchased a home independently and for a woman of 26, that’s not too shabby.  I know that I should be proud of myself and feel accomplished.

But the truth is that I live alone.

In the novel Frankenstein, the monster admits, “I am malicious because I am miserable.”  Conor Oberst expresses a similar sentiment in his song “Lovers Turn Into Monsters” when he writes, “Lovers turn into monsters at the loss of all affection, almost like it was the affection that kept them from being monsters.”

I am alone and miserable, and that makes me malicious, that makes me a monster.  Unfortunately, I’m not even a beautiful one.  I have the career, the house, the car, and my braces will be removed soon.  I’ve published one novel and written my second.  But what does that list of achievements really mean at the end of the day if no one else is impressed enough to single me out in a special and unique sort of way?  My friend half-heartedly joked that I most likely need therapy because I cannot see, or assess, my self-worth unless it is validated by someone else.  That’s weak, isn’t it?  Isn’t it cowardly?  Should I not be brave or confident enough to be alone, to be by myself, to be with myself?  Romantic poets, specifically Wordsworth, talk about “blissful solitude,” which, for me, is a personal oxymoron.  Solitude does not make me blissful, but is that because I’m my own worst enemy?

Last night, I ate dinner alone – as I do most nights – seated across from a vase filled with a dying, wilting bouquet.  I’ve been trying to convince myself the scene was romantically tragic, like I can wear my loneliness in an ironic, fashionable way, like a worn and frayed denim jacket that’s adorned with many pinks, each one displaying incredibly funny and witty social commentary.  Unfortunately, I’m falling short of that mark.  I’m more of a sniveling, unsympathetic victim than an alluring, inspiring heroine.

My mother asked, “If you died, who would be affected?”  To be fair, we were discussing financial planning and we all laughed because it was only poor phrasing and nothing more, devoid of malicious intent.  But man – what a question.

WRITING PROMPT #22: “A couple of goth high school students get busted shoplifting and are sentenced to do community service with Habitat for Humanity.”

To sixteen-year-old Morgan, everything looked like a nail, as she was one hell of a hammer, one that continuously shocked and surprised her mother who was baffled by the complete disappearance of the beautiful baby girl she had once held.  The pacifier and dresses with bows and lace gave way to jet black hair and jet black nails and thick, black eyeliner that made Morgan look more bruised and broken than anything else.  But Morgan’s mother supposed that was the look Morgan was going for, a tormented soul, as Morgan believed she was victimized and persecuted in only the way that a sixteen-year-old girl can.  No one understood Morgan and as a result, everyone was out to get her and no, no one else possibly knew what that was like because Morgan was different; she was special and unique and sensitive and intelligent.  For wanting to be accepted while simultaneously being an alternative to everyone else, while complaining about being ignored and not wanting special attention, Morgan could sure pat herself on the back.  Morgan blamed those contradictions, and the competitive, capitalistic society that put possessions before people, for her shoplifting spree with Alexis.

Morgan claimed that she and Alexis, her best friend, had tried to steal the designer handbags to be ironic.  Morgan asserted that the two girls were making a statement about the dangers of consumerism and the loss of identity, that she had only snatched the purse to transcend the lame chains of the reality that was created by everyone around her except her.  Impassioned though her speech was, it was all bullshit, and the juvenile court judge knew it.  Consequently, Morgan and Alexis were sentenced to do community service with Habitat for Humanity.  And now here she was, hammering nails into boards that created some sort of shell, or foundation, for a home.  Morgan assumed the charitable deed should fill her with some kind of positive feeling, but it didn’t.  It was a waste of time in Morgan’s opinion.  After all, there were murderers and rapists who needed their souls cleansed more than Morgan needed it.  The message, the point of it all, was utterly lost on her.

So she let her hammer fall to the ground.  Morgan released a heavy sigh.

A moment or two passed and then a handsome man shuffled over, bent to retrieve the hammer from the grass, and handed it back to Morgan.  “Here you go,” he said cheerfully.

Reluctantly, Morgan reclaimed the tool.  She said, “Thanks.”  Her tone was flat and even, nearly dead.

“Having fun?” the man asked, evidently entertained by the complete misery issuing from Morgan.

“That’s rhetorical, right?”

He smiled wider.  “Oh, come on; the weather’s amazing, we have air in our lungs, and we’re helping our fellow man.  Life is good, is it not?”

Morgan shrugged.  “You could argue that we’re perpetuating competitive, capitalistic dogma that decrees my house must be nicer than yours for me to feel complete.”

“Why argue at all?”  Morgan only blinked at the man.  So, he added, “Besides, we’re not just building a house.  We’re providing someone with a home.  Don’t cheapen it by claiming materialism.”

“I’m not cheapening anything,” Morgan argued.  “This family only thinks they need this house because -”

“What do you know about this family?” the man interrupted.

“What?”

“Tell me; what do you know about this family?”

Sheepishly, Morgan hesitated before she admitted that she knew nothing about the family, not their names, not their background, nothing.  Slowly, the man nodded.  “This family thinks they need this house because they do.  The father, the bread winner, died unexpectedly last year in a car accident, which left the ailing mother to care for five children.  I say ‘ailing’ to be polite, but she’s dying.  She’s dying of cancer.  The youngest is ten and the oldest is 24, so they need somewhere to live when the mother dies in about a month.  The oldest needs to house his siblings in an affordable shelter and then, somehow, he needs to figure out how to be an adult, how to be a father and a mother, and he needs to figure out how to be sacrificial without being bitter.  He needs to find a healthy balance between being there for them and being here for himself.”

Morgan gulped.  She was swallowing her shame.  She said, “You’re the oldest.”

The man smiled.  “I am.  And it’s a beautiful day.”  He clapped Morgan on the shoulder and continued on his way, walking back towards where he was helping to assemble the foundation of his future.

perspective

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