When The Little Voice Speaks . . .

Listen.

Ignore the one that yells.

One of my favorite scriptures is when Elijah ran to the wilderness to escape from Jezebel’s death threat after God had destroyed 500 of Baal’s prophets.

His own faith had taken a strong hit, and he wanted to die, for he felt as though he had failed the Israelites, and because people sought to kill him anyway.

And [the Lord] said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

Almost a year ago now, an agent I spoke to at the ACFW conference wanted me to send the first three chapters of my novels (three of them). After a few months, I heard nothing back. Six months later, still nothing.

Many have suggested that if you don’t hear back within a certain amount of time (unless their submission guidelines say different), it’s appropriate to email said client to verify they received your submission.

After six months I thought, “Perhaps I should send the agent an email.”

But that little voice I learned to trust a long time ago told me not to. So I didn’t. Every few weeks or so, I once again asked myself if I should. Again, the voice said no.

I figured it was God’s way of telling me to forget about it.

I received this email a few hours ago:

Andra,

As we are coming up on conference season, I wanted to thank you so much for allowing me the time to read, research and consider your proposal. Unfortunately, at this time I’m going to pass on offering representation. The concept is strong and I like your writing, but I feel I am not the best agent to take this product forward into the marketplace.

I wish you all the luck on your journey to be published!

When I saw who the email came from, I admit my heart thudded a few times. For five seconds I gleefully entertained the idea that said agent agreed to represent my books.

As you can see, not this time. I still liked the email, though, especially the first half of the last sentence. I responded thusly:

Thank you so much for the response and comments. It’s always nice to hear positive (and negative for that matter) feedback on my writing, so I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

All the best to you and yours.

So was that “still small voice” God’s way of telling me to wait? I think so. Sure it resulted in news I didn’t necessarily want, but at the same time, it’s teaching me patience, and to trust that God’s timing isn’t the same as mine. The fact the agent liked both my concept and my writing gives me a boost of confidence I sorely need. Perhaps that was the point.

I’m Not Tellin’, and You Can’t Make Me

I’ve decided that I’m not going to share when I’ve submitted my short stories to a publication, or when I’ve submitted query letters to literary agents.

For the simple fact, every time I do, it ends up rejected. See, that’s the real problem. It’s not because I haven’t found the right editor or agent, or that my writing is total crap. Nope. It’s that I’m telling you. In short, by sharing with you everything about my so-called publication journey story (read ocassional nightmare), I’m actually jinxing myself. Seems logical, don’t you think? Scientific, even.

From now on, mum’s the word.

Just remember that in the last few days, I may or may not have submitted a query letter and sample pages to an agent or two, and I may or may not have sent a short story or two to a magazine. Or two.

That’s not to say I won’t share the aftermath of each rejection or acceptance. Of course I will. I’m just hoping with this new strategy, I’ll see more acceptances, and as such, prove my theory.

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath, either.

I Had Hoped . . .

To go through the rest of my life with all of my parts.

Alas, this was not to be.

About nine months ago, I experienced pain on the top of my stomach. It only happened at night, and lasted about four-to-five hours. After some research, I discovered that I had classic symptoms for gall stones.

Knowing this, I wasn’t too concerned. It only happened once every six weeks or so. Even so, I did tire of it. Literally, because those nights I got very little sleep. I finally decided to go to the doctor.

Turns out I was right. I had at least one gall stone, one as large as a marble. The next step was to remove said gall bladder via laparoscopic surgery.

This morning, that’s exactly what happened. So now, I am sans gall bladder. The surgery went well. From the time I entered the clinic to when they sent me home was 3-1/2 hours. The worst part for me was processing the anesthesia. My body don’t like it, not one bit. I ended up getting sick on the way home, but that might have also been a combination of the drugs and the fact I only ate a few crackers before they gave me a painkiller in pill form.

I immediately went to bed and slept for about four hours.

The only pain so far is the carbon dioxide in my system. To anyone who’s never had a laparoscopy to remove something from the body, they fill the body with carbon dioxide to better see the organs. They remove as much as they can, but never all of it. It causes pain in the shoulders and neck that no painkiller can touch. It’s something a person simply has to endure. It’s not too bad, and I have been burping a lot. I tell you, my burps have never felt so good.

The surgeon recommended I take a week off from work, three days at least depending on how I feel. I plan to do a lot of writing and reading, but we’ll see. I tend to go a little stir-crazy stuck in the same place for more than two days.

In fact, after I gave birth to Tom, I was supposed to stay in the hospital for three days. After twenty four hours, I begged every nurse and doctor I saw to let me go home early. After another day, they finally decided to let me go. I think they tired of me asking. Squeaky wheel and all that.

My new hope is that no more parts need to be removed from my person. Enduring the removal of one is enough, thank you very much.

The Boring Life And Other Miscellaneous Thoughts

I’ve read multiple articles about how the best way to alleviate writer’s block and keep readers coming back for more is to journal every day. It doesn’t even matter what I write about, just write something, and post at least once a week.

All fine and dandy as far as ideas go, but most of what happens in my life is boring: Oh, look. It didn’t rain again today. And I went to work. I sat at my desk for most of it, except when nature called. Then I went home, and enjoyed snuggling with my son (he’s still young enough that he likes to sit in my lap. I don’t turn him down, because those days are numbered). After that, I struggled with deciding whether or not to go to bed at 10pm or 11pm. I know, such a big decision there. How did I manage? It was difficult, I tell ya.

I can always appreciate (and feel twinges of jealousy), when other writers can make the mundane seem interesting and even humorous, whereas me, it’s a rarity, and I have to work at it when I do give it a try.

One of our nieces is arriving tomorrow to stay with us for about three weeks. I’m looking forward to it, but at the same time, do I really want to subject her to three weeks of my ultra-boring life? The poor girl. Thankfully I’m still going to work while she’s here, and my husband and son are far more entertaining than I am. That’ll save her brain from turning into mush. I hope. If not, I’ll blame it on hubby and son. Think that’ll fly?

Originally I set the dates for her arrival so she’d be here during the 4th of July, since our town goes all-out with fireworks. We’ve never been to the city’s fireworks show, because our neighbors do such a good job. With a severe drought this year, however, all fireworks have been banned. The last time that happened was in 2006. That was still kind of a neat year, because we heard and saw zero fireworks. Everyone abided by the ban, which in some places wouldn’t happen; they’d take the chance that they wouldn’t get caught. I expect the same silence this year, too.

I’ve narrowed my list of potential literary agents to fourteen. I wrote all their statistics (such as if they take simultaneous submissions, what to send along with a query letter, when to expect a response [if any], who they represent, and what types of books they’ve sold recently). The next step is to place them in order of which to solicit first. After that, structure my query and other items to submit to that particular agent. I’m hoping to start sending letters out the first week of July.

Assuming I don’t find some way to procrastinate some more . . . Such as writing silly blog entries like this one.

*Sigh* Rejected Again

I just received this little email:

Andra,

Thank you for offering your story to Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

We’re sorry to tell you that we will not be using it; you are free to submit it elsewhere.

That makes Rejection Number Two for my story “Ashella’s Heart.”

At this point, I don’t know if I have the energy to find another magazine to submit it to. Sure, I have access to significant lists of magazines that accept stories like mine, but the problem comes with the necessity of reading a copy or two of each one to find out if it’s really a good fit, or not. That takes a lot of time. Sure, I could submit it to every science fiction/fantasy magazine out there without reading any of it, but that seems too . . . impersonal, I guess. Not quite the word I’m looking for, but I’m not motivated enough to find it.

So, yeah, I’m feeling a little maudlin about the whole thing.

Part of it is due to spending the last three days looking for agents for my sci-fi novel. I found over a dozen that look promising, and that’s a good thing. Better to have too many choices than not enough. All I need to do is structure and personalize my query letter and synopsis according to each one’s submission requirements – starting with the agents that I like best and work my way down from there.

The good news is, I at least I didn’t have to wait until my birthday to find out the magazine thought my story sucked (kidding a bit there. My story didn’t necessarily suck. Most likely they’re looking for something different).

I just wish I could better predict what magazine/publisher/agent will fit with what I write. It’s so damned unpredictable in that the only way to discover it is to send it out there to be rejected. I’d like to think I have a thick enough skin, but on days like today – apparently – it’s not thick enough.

Research = Yuck (Sometimes)

For some, research is the definition of tedium. I am one of them, which is why I like to write science fiction and fantasy. While rules of physics, biology and human nature must be followed – to a point – at least I don’t have to know what the weather was like on January 3rd 1872 in Portland Oregon, and whether or not the moon was full that day. I also don’t have to know where the local grocery store is, because when I’m building my world, I can put that grocery store wherever I darn well please, thank you very much.

My junior year of high school, everyone had to take an asset test to see where their academic strengths and weaknesses were, so the students and guidance counselors could determine more easily where they should take their next educational steps, if any. My worst score (if I remember right) was history at 83. No surprise there. I didn’t care for history in school. I couldn’t appreciate it as much as I do now, because being so young, I didn’t see how history greatly affects our present and future.

My best score at 99 was research. Looking up where to find things, regardless of subject was easy for me. So you can imagine how much I like the Internet . . .

Even my chosen profession of land surveying requires a slew of research, whether it be finding property owners, easements, or plats. Every new job we get requires all that research. I’m good at it (and relearning almost every day how important thorough research is).

You’d think that because I’m good at research, and at least as far as my job is concerned, I’d enjoy it. And I do. Sometimes finding the one document I need is like finding buried treasure. Finding a property corner in the middle of a forest set over a hundred years ago is even more so. When it comes to writing, however, I prefer to not have to research at all. That’s because I’d rather spend that time writing.

Another not-surprise is that I’m a pantser writer. I’ve tried the outlining, character detailing, etc., and I simply don’t have the patience for it. I appreciate the writers who take that route, because they don’t have to worry about going back and fixing stupid mistakes such as describing the character one way in one scene, and change them completely in another. I think the time they spend researching, building and characterizing saves them a lot of editing in the end.

I think they also excel at finding the right agent and publisher for their works. They know the importance of thorough research (especially those who write historical fiction), so searching for someone to accept their work has to come easier than an impatient pantser like myself.

But it must be done, so I have to put on my research hat and look for agents. I found a few so far that look promising. I won’t know until I research a little bit more (such as whether or not they have social media such as a blog or Twitter), and in the end eliminate them as a possibility, or swallow my fear and pride and submit my proposal.

Conversations with Mini-Me

For the longest time I didn’t like me. I am silly and weird, and too often too smart for my own good. Growing up people teased me, sometimes mercilessly. I soon believed that being silly and weird were wrong, and in order to be loved and accepted, I needed to be different. I needed to be “normal.”

Whatever that is.

Only after I reached my 20s did I realize how much energy it took to be something I wasn’t. It left me mentally and spiritually exhausted. Not only that, but people didn’t accept me as much as I hoped they would.

Where did I go wrong? How can I be loved and accepted, and be the person God meant me to be?

So I went on a little journey, and I began to talk to the little girl inside me. The one untouched by pain, the one who believed in herself and everything around her. A little girl filled with an immeasurable hope and certainty that nothing could ever go wrong.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that’s the person God wanted me to be – in all her glorious silliness and weirdness. In all her hopefulness and innocence. Unscarred by time.

Now in the last half of my 40s, I’ve not only decided to embrace my weirdness and silliness, but the joy that comes from not acting like an adult all the time. It’s okay to be childlike. To run around giggling. To make funny faces at people.

After all, if children know anything, they know how to embrace joy, and to express it with no regard over how it may look to others around them. They look at the world around them, not with boredom or cynicism, but with wonder and awe.

That’s what my mini-me reminds me to do when I’m feeling not so good about myself, and the pressure of too many expectations I simply can’t meet overwhelms me. It’s okay to be sillly. It’s okay to be weird. After all, if everyone was “normal,” how boring life would be.

Converse with and embrace your own inner child, in all his or her glorious silliness and weirdness. Those conversations may also help lead you to the person God meant you to be.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5 NIV)

Watch Out for Creepy North Dakotans

In a writing group on Facebook, we discussed diversity within fiction, and as usual, some comments took a tangent. One person wrote (in part): “I think part of the problem is that some authors live in isolated race bubbles. I don’t live there. My world is diverse . . . I spent a summer in North Dakota one year and found it kinda creepy. Where were all the non-Norwegians? I didn’t see any non-whites for weeks. Creepy.”

I responded thusly: “As a North Dakotan, I agree the racial makeup is largely German/Norwegian. And for someone who grew up around more diversity, I can see how it would seem strange at first. Creepy, though? It almost sounds as though it’s intentional, as though anyone else isn’t welcome, when it’s far from true. In fact, it’s changing, however slowly. We have a growing Mexican, Nigerian, Liberian and Indian population. My church alone is testament of that. We have members of all the above listed members, and even host an all-Spanish speaking church two nights a week. Truth is, few people can handle our winters, and that’s what keeps them away. Germans and Norwegians originally settled here, and stayed.”

After some thought, I realized my comment was a bit too “knee-jerk.” After the beating North Dakotans took during the DAPL protests both in the national media and especially social media, I am over-sensitive when people say unflattering things about them. I take it personally.

But his comment spoke to a typical reaction, not of North Dakotans, per se, but how different cultures can make us uncomfortable at times. Someone, like the commenter above, who grew up around a more ethnically diverse area, suddenly surrounded by only German/Norwegians, could very well be a bit “creeped out.”

When I first moved up to North Dakota, we attended Community Days in a small town. It’s basically a big block party where the entire town participates during the American Independence Day holiday. Growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado, I, too, was surrounded by and grew up with people of other ethnic backgrounds.

During that Community Days event, I looked around, laughed and told my husband, “This here is a Rainbow Coalition nightmare.”

Was I creeped out? No, because I knew even then that cultures vary often by state as well as region. In the end, we’re all — not only Americans — but human. Regardless of color or background, we all want many of the same things, to be treated with consideration, empathy and respect. We have to let go of our discomfort in new surroundings, and really look at and attempt to find common ground with those who appear so different.

That opens the door to new understandings and possibly new friendships. If not, and those people look at us with closed-mindedness or treat us with outright hostility, we then, as Jesus said, “shake the dust off our feet and move on.”

All I ever ask of myself and others is to give people a chance, regardless of their ethnicity, culture or location. Perhaps then we’ll discover that people – North Dakotans and otherwise – aren’t so creepy after all.

The Self-Torture Continues . . .

Attempt number two in seeing my short story published.

This time I will have to wait three whole months before I hear anything back.

Interestingly, that’ll be around my birthday. Will I end up with a surprise birthday present, or perhaps a reason to quit celebrating my birthday should I receive bad news?

I wish I could say more about this, but, really, what else is there?

Should I apologize for writing such a short entry, or congratulate myself for succeeding in not wasting your precious time?

Either way, I hope you have a fabulous weekend.

Word of advice, though. Go outside! Play! Turn off the TV and all other electronic devices! Avoid politics at all costs!

Your brain will thank you for keeping it sane.

You Are Not My Friend . . .

Jealousy. I wish you’d stop visiting unannounced. You saunter in, without even a knock on the door. You make yourself comfortable by sitting next to me on my couch, far too close. I can smell your rancid breath as you whisper your nasty thoughts into my ears.

The worst part is, I can’t place all the blame on you. I don’t kick you out the moment you walk through the door. I don’t move away when you sit next to me. I don’t cover your mouth, or cover my ears when you speak.

I listen, as much as I tell myself that I shouldn’t.

And your timing is always impeccable.

You only show up when I read about other people’s successes while I continue to flounder. No. It’s worse than that. I only dream of success, and don’t work enough to make it happen. Those people who succeed faster than me? They probably worked harder, and smarter than me. Therefore, do I really have the cause to complain? To moan and wallow in my frustration?

Or it could be God said, “It’s time” to them, when he’s asking me to wait a little longer. Do the reasons really matter? They shouldn’t, because God’s timing has never failed me, not once.

So I have decided, at least for this moment, to give jealousy the boot out the door. It’s not welcome in my home. I must instead use that energy to actually work toward my goals. How’s that for a novel idea?

As long as I continue to do that, success will come. Sure I may fail a few times along the way, but that comes with living life. We all fail more than we succeed. The singular difference between a failure and a success is the successful person never gives up no matter how many times he or she has failed to reach their goal.

I’m not so special that I deserve to never fail. Some will wait even longer than me.

And that’s life.

Allowing jealousy to whisper in my ear won’t change anything, except make me miserable and waste even more time.