The Bitter, Dry Pill of Failure

Failure. It’s a bitter, dry pill to swallow. It can wedge itself in the back of your throat. It can make you gag. You may even throw up. Failure is never pleasant and it’s not what we strive for. No one sets out to fail. Failure never fails to show up despite our best efforts to avoid it.

My first published novel, Virgin of Greenbrier, was released in 2006. It wasn’t the genre I’d ever imagined myself being published in, erotica-romance, but I was still over the moon at this taste of success. More books along the same line followed. Happy as I was, I wasn’t really happy with putting out these types of books. Bound To Be Bitten, my personal response to the whole nonsense of lovey-dovey, sparkling vampires, was published in 2010. As with the novels before it, it was erotica and it would be the last novel of that genre I would write. I had struggled horribly trying to make it what the publisher wanted. I wanted to write thrillers, horror, and murder-mysteries so I turned my pen to doing just that.

Blood of the Scarecrow  was the result. The joy I’d always found in writing had returned. It was published in 2013 by a new and small indie publishing house. By 2014 they decided to close their doors and returned all rights to me. So much for any success with that. Chalk another one to failure. I was devastated and heart broken. Had I just wasted ten years of my life going through all these steps? What was the point? I was back to zero! Why was I even bothering to work on a second murder-mystery? Beyond my Beta Readers and some close family and friends, who would ever read it? Why did I care?

What did all these other writers have that I lacked? I’d read some of their stuff and thought a lot of it sucked. I’m no Stephen King or Anne Rice and I don’t live under the delusion that I’ll ever be as good as them, but damn it, I’m not horrible either, am I? Am I?

My friends and family say no, but let’s be honest here, they are partial. They want me to succeed. They want me to feel good about that which they all know is my passion. They don’t want to hurt my feelings, see me sad, or be part of the reason I give it all up. They don’t want to pulverize my dreams so they say they like what I’ve done, even if they don’t. With their help, maybe I’ve brainwashed myself into thinking what I write is halfway decent. I try and tell myself that all I need is the Right Person to read something and give me a good review, someone who has no emotional stake in my happiness or misery, A Person Who Matters. Here I am ten years and eight novels into this writing gig and I still don’t see myself as a success.

I gave up submitting queries to traditional publishers and agents. The rejections became unbearable. The idea of vanity publishing made me cringe. It was something I swore up and down I’d never do. Only the lowest of the low and most pathetic would ever do that. What sort of sad-sack failure would stoop to something so abominable? Not me! No, never me!

Yes, me. Failure after failure got the better of me. Well, failure and those same friends and family and co-workers who continually asked, “When’s the next book coming out?” After doing my research, I decided on CreateSpace through Amazon. Had I made the right decision? They offered their self-publishing for free which was exactly what I could afford. I turned to friends with editing experience for help and happen to have a fiancé who’s a kick-ass graphic designer and website creator.

Thank God we work together so well. Over a period of about six months we were able to create the final manuscript of That’s What Shadows Are Made Of and unleashed it on the world in December 2015. We were also able to re-release the first book under the new title of  Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon. I’m proud of all that. Both have really awesome cover art and we got a website up to help with getting what was unknown, known. Well, semi-known-ish. It’s still an uphill battle. After ten years I finally have my first book talk and signing this spring, may have another this summer, and will be making a real live bookstore appearance in the fall with yet another new title release. Even with all that, I still don’t where this is going.

However, instead of letting all those failures, doubts, and rejection weigh me down and shove me into a gutter of hopeless despair, I’m trying to build on the little successes I’ve had. They seem minuscule at times. I still question if they are worth it when I don’t see the sales I’d hope for. I still get frustrated. I still doubt. I still cry. At the same time, I can look back over those ten years with a sense of accomplishment. I may never make the big time, but at the very least I can leave behind me something in my life to be proud of.

We all have dreams. We all have passions. The majority of people in the world will never have those dreams realized. They will die never feeling they’ve done their best to fulfill that passion. Some won’t even try or will simply give up when the going gets a little too rough. The pot hole will turn into a river they can’t cross and they’ll turn around and go back. They will forever wonder, what if? What if, instead of turning around, I’d found another way across that river? What if I hadn’t been so hasty and impatient with the situation? What if I’d just waited for the water to go back down? Maybe the path would have been opened up again.

We may know where we want to go, but we really don’t know how we’re going to get there, none of us. We can take the GPS and print out MapQuest directions. We can plan for alternate routes and we can make reservations, but for the most part we’re all just bumbling our way along hoping for the best, swerving to miss the pot holes, taking detours, and getting annoyed and pissed off when obstacles get in our way. That’s part of the journey. Sometimes the journey sucks but even then, as long as we’re moving forward, that’s a positive sign. We have to hold on to that little bit. Sometimes a truck full of live turkeys crashes a hundred of miles away and all you can do is keep in your lane and inch along with the rest of traffic. True story.

Failure. It’s a bitter, dry pill to swallow. You can let it choke you or you can crush it up, swallow it down, and move on. Take the alternate route. Find a new way to reach that dream destination even if it means doing what you said you’d never do, (self-publishing in my case) because even if you find yourself up shit creek without a paddle, you’re still moving and those muddy waters are taking you somewhere. Who knows, it may even be to a shortcut you never imagined existed!

Good Luck & Keep Your Dreams Alive!

Hope In A Bowl Of Chicken Alfredo

We had company last night, my boyfriend’s Uncle Lloyd and his uncle’s wife, Betty. It was a very casual affair with a simple, homemade meal. Up for discussion were mainly travel adventures and life in the gated senior community they now call home in South Carolina. They were both dismayed that neither of them were able to make the senior citizen’s baseball team. Their attempts to do so were quite comical though.

Of course, considering the crowd, the topic of writing came up. Jim mentioned he’d just finished reading one of my books. I’m very modest about my writing efforts because I guess I just don’t feel my ‘successes’ are worth mentioning. They don’t live up to my expectations of where I’d hoped to be at this point in my life. I’m published, but pfft, I don’t even bring in $200 a year on what I have out there.

The banter turned to things like, “Some people who write never get ANYTHING published,” and “Sometimes luck plays just as big a role as talent.” Betty commented that sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the RIGHT reader, the person who loves your work and knows who’s who and what’s what in the business. I haven’t found that person. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will. When Jim and I last saw his cousin nearly a year ago, he said he wasn’t the best writer in the writing classes he took. To paraphrase part of the conversation, “There were a lot of people in those classes who were far better writers than I am. I, however, was the most persistent [in getting published].”

Persistence, as the saying goes, paid off for Jim’s cousin. I am doing my best to be persistent. I try to have queries out there at all times, always hoping that eventually one will come back with something other than the generic, “We’re sorry, but this isn’t what we’re looking for right now,” rejection form letter. If Queries are the Job Applications of the writing world then I am not finding any gainful employment here. If you’ve ever been desperately looking for a job and either never hear back or go to one interview after another only to be told, “Sorry, you’re not quite what we’re looking for,” you know the feeling well. It sucks, doesn’t it?

You can’t give up though, can you? No, not if you really care about getting a job. You’re driven to keep on filling out the forms, submitting the letters, and tweaking this or that to adjust the resume to fit the job you are applying for. What does it take to land that job? The right person to see it and realize, “Hey, this person’s got some potential. Let’s give him a shot and see.” That’s really all I’m asking for, a chance beyond the erotica.

To add insult to injury, over the past few years I’ve read a number of novels by quite famous female writers and I just shake my head wondering. They were alright, but as modest as I am, I write just as well, if not better, than they do. The plot to one was over the top predictable. Another told me the story instead of showing me. That was even more annoying. A third contained some of the most two-dimensional characters I’ve ever encountered. Yet, there they are, out there, known, loved, embraced, accepted and appreciated for their skills.

A few weeks back I finished writing my ninth novel. I have at least three more in me patiently waiting for their stories to be told. Where will these go? I’m not sure I want to know. If I knew they’d never be shared with anyone but a handful of family and friends, would I make the effort to write them? If I knew they’d bring me millions, would I put more effort into getting them done? Will that elusive Right Reader that Betty mentioned EVER enter my life? Is it any wonder so many writers are slightly insane? How do I up the odds of making it? What about my queries is not getting through to the right person?

The doubts creep in and tear me apart all too often. All the encouraging words sometimes don’t do much to lift the spirits of the jobless man standing in the soup line. He needs the job. He wants the job. He KNOWS he can do that job. His wife, family and friends are encouraging and supportive. They tell him to keep trying. In his mind, he remains an unrecognized and unwanted failure.

That’s the place I am standing now, bowl in hand. I’ve not given up. I’ll persist a while longer. I’ll write. I’ll edit, rewrite and submit again and again. I’ll try and look at Lloyd and Betty’s visit as another nudge in the right direction – that little glimmer of hope offered to me over a honking big serving bowl of Chicken Alfredo with broccoli and sweet red peppers on a hot and humid Tuesday night in July.