Hello? Universe Calling

It’s a good thing I don’t believe in omens.

All week long, I have come face-to-face with events that could easily be interpreted as bad omens.  Events that really seemed like the universe was trying to say, “Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?  Really, really sure?  C’mon, now, just think about it.”

It started on Sunday, which was the deadline for this year’s Launching a Star contest.  I’ve entered two years in a row; I bombed the first year, but placed third in my category the next year.  So, I asked myself, why not enter one more time?  Third time’s the charm, right?  I went against the very good advice I got from some very smart people, and I drafted the first chapter of a second novel even though my first is far, far behind schedule.

Sunday morning, I woke up bright and early, fired up the old computer, and sent in my entry.

Well, that was the plan.  Unfortunately, my computer had other plans.   My computer has decided that it will no longer allow me to attach anything to an email.  Big documents, small documents, PDF files, pictures, nothing.  Nothing whatsoever.  Not in Yahoo, not in Gmail, not in Windows Live.  Not from the computer memory, not from a flash drive, not in a box or with a fox, Sam I am.

I should explain here that my computer skills are all but nonexistent.  I have never taken a computer class in my life.  Everything I know, I have either taught myself or learned from my husband.

I should also explain that my husband is one of the smartest people I have ever met.  He likes to fool people with the flannel shirts and “aw, shucks” attitude, but he is an almost frighteningly intelligent individual. He is also, unfortunately, one of the most impatient teachers ever.  Every one of our computer “lessons” ends with him angry, me crying, and both of us resigned to no sex for a while.

So, going to the Big Guy at this point was probably not the best choice I have ever made.  I asked to borrow his laptop for ten minutes so I could plug in my flash drive and send in my contest entry.

He spent a big chunk of the rest of the day trying to fix my computer.

I did not ask him to do that.  Remember, I just asked if I could use his laptop.

While he fussed and messed around with my computer, I quietly asked my son if I could use his Netbook, which was assigned to him by his school.  “But Mom,” he said, “I had to promise not to let anyone else use it.  You wouldn’t want me to break the rules, would you?”

Now he worries about rules?  After fifteen years of being rather laissez-faire on the concept of rules, now the boy gives a damn?

By this point, the Big Guy was ready to really amp up his efforts.  He chewed me out for having so many emails in my account, for not having updated virus protection, for not knowing a password for the Windows Live mail program that has never worked, for having a virus in my computer. . . I’m not sure, but I think I remember him blaming me for his bad gas, too.  I’ll take the blame on that one, though.  I made cabbage for supper that night.

Maybe, I thought, the universe is telling me not to enter the Launching a Star contest this year.  I should finish my manuscript for Her House Divided before starting another novel.  But then the Big Guy finally let me use his laptop at the last possible moment, and my entry was soon on its merry way.

And then I got the email a few days later from the contest director that my category didn’t receive enough entries.  Would I like to withdraw, she wondered, or would I like to have my entry moved to a different category?

I moved it from Series Contemporary to Single Title against my better judgment.

In the meantime, I am also taking part in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest with Her House Divided.  This week has been the online conference for the event, and I have spent hours listening to podcasts and participating in live Twitter chats about everything from revising to networking.  It has been fascinating and oh-so-inspiring.  A little intimidating too, but that’s a subject for another day.

I decided to enter the First Page Challenge on Wednesday. This involved submitting the first 250 words of my novel by 6:00 p.m.  In an email attachment.

No problem.  I loaded my first page onto my trusty flash drive, hopped into our gas-guzzling Expedition, and burned through a ridiculous amount of gas to drive the paltry seven miles to our local library to use one of their computers.  I was the model of efficiency as I typed up my cover letter, easily attached my document, and hit send.

Only to get the message that I was sending it to an invalid address.

Oh, Universe?  Are you trying to tell me something?

I learned that if you cry at one of the computers at Bloomingdale Public Library, you get two helpful librarians looking over your shoulder.

They were very sweet and knowledgeable, and they agreed that the situation was indeed very odd.  I sent a Tweet to the contest organizers that I was having trouble with their email address, and the librarians gave me an extra thirty minutes of computer time to sit and wait for an answer.

As I contemplated giving up writing entirely and trying to find a way to make a living by stringing beads, a very kind library patron approached me.  “I’m pretty good with computers,” she told me.  “Would it be all right with you if I tried to help?”

Tap, tap, click and vroom and my submission for the First Page Challenge was sent.  Gone.  Done.

Here’s where it gets odd.

Her House Divided centers around two young people who meet and fall in love because of the efforts of a sweet but manipulative old lady.  I started writing it shortly after my accident, as part of my healing process.  But in the two long years that have gone by since then, I have changed and grown in ways I couldn’t have predicted.  I am not the same person I was when I started the project, and I have struggled lately over whether I should keep pushing on with it, or if the time has come to abandon it and move on.

The old lady’s name is Bea, named after one of my all-time favorite clients.  The real-life Bea was a tough-as-nails, brittle old bird who knew about my dreams of being a writer.  She scolded me at every visit and demanded to know when I was going to give up doing hair so I could sit down and write my book.  She believed in me more than I believed in me.

Fast-forward a few years to the Computer Goddess who rescued me at the library on Wednesday.  When she had finished, I asked her for her name.

Bea.

Okay, Universe, I get it. It’s not the right time to start a second novel. I should have listened to you; I shouldn’t have wasted my time sending something new to Launching a Star this year when so many obstacles kept presenting themselves.   I’m going to finish Her House Divided.

It’s a good thing I believe in omens.

Go, Me!

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In yesterday’s mail, I got my certificate for placing in the Launching a Star contest.  I can’t wait to frame it and stick it on a wall!

It’s funny.  I’ve known since November that I was a finalist; I found out in December that I took third place, and in January I learned that an agent is interested in reading my full manuscript.  So there’s no new information here.

But seeing it in writing, holding that certificate is different.  It makes it real, in all of its 8 X 10 validation.

It’s been a big, emotional week for me in my personal life, but I feel like it’s also been a week of writing triumphs, not just because of my pretty certificate.  This week marked a turning point for me with my blog because of three accomplishments that seem pretty big to me.

  1.  I took a risk.  I wrote on a topic that could be pretty offensive to some people, but I felt proud enough of what I wrote to take the chance.  Up until now, I’ve tried so hard to be safe and non-confrontational, but this week I stepped out of my comfort zone.
  2. I think I think I’m a step closer to finding my “voice”.    I know that my writing can be stilted and overly formal sometimes, and my posts are occasionally maudlin and whiny.  I often struggle and edit and re-write for hours – but this week, two of my posts really just flowed naturally and didn’t require any struggling.  And they both got more views and “likes” than anything I’ve ever written so far, so they can’t be all bad.
  3. I’ve started to relax a bit and realize that every word I write doesn’t have to be a Pearl of Wisdom.  Writing is becoming fun again.

Punching The Clock

Well, it happened.

I got the email. The big one. The one I’ve been waiting for, hoping for, dreaming of. Okay, well, in my dreams it’s a phone call or an actual letter as opposed to an email, but I’ll take it.

It’s an open invitation from a real literary agent for all finalists to submit a full manuscript.

“All finalists”. That includes me. I’m a contest finalist. I took third place in my category in this year’s Launching A Star contest, and I have a chance to submit my manuscript to an agent. It’s not an acceptance or a contract, but it’s a foot in the door.

Holy crap.

I’ve written here about waiting for the results of this contest, and about my procrastination when it comes to actually finishing my book. But I didn’t think it would happen this quickly.

I understand that this invitation is not an offer to represent me, or a bid to publish my work.  I realize that the agent is likely to reject my novel; I googled her, and she has a reputation for being both fair and tough.  I am realistic enough to know that this is nothing more than a chance to get my manuscript on her desk.

A manuscript that isn’t done yet.

The first thing I did after reading the email (after text-messaging The Big Guy  and saying “OhMyGod” several times) was send off a quick message to the amazing, fabulous, knowledgeable Ms. Nancy Gideon. I asked her what I should do about the offer, since my novel isn’t ready for submission yet.

Her answer, in a nutshell: congrats, don’t panic, take your time, have fun. Of course, she said it better than that, but that’s what I took away from it.

Now comes the fun part . . . Because writing is fun.  That’s why I do it, and I don;t want to lose sight of that.

One of my favorite writers is Douglas Adams, who was one of the world’s greatest procrastinators. He famously said: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” This was a man who had an astonishing imagination and unfathomable talent, but who couldn’t finish anything without basically being imprisoned by friends when too many deadlines had whooshed by. It is saddening to think about all of the things he could have written before his untimely death at age 49.

I would be grateful to have even one ounce of his talent, but I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to die with computers full of ideas and partially finished books. I want to finish something, damn it! I want to realize my potential, whatever it is. I just hope that my potential is to be more than a middle-aged mom tapping out essays about writing without ever actually writing anything.

And so I start working on Monday. Writing is my job. While my kids are at school and I am alone all day, I am going to write. If I want to play on the computer, I’m going to have to do it in the evenings, like all of the other working people in the world. No more cruising Listia, farewell to the gossip on Facebook. I’ve got a full-time job now.

It takes work to make dreams come true, and I am now officially on the clock.

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

I am a nervous wreck today.

It’s pretty stupid to be so worked up, really.  My life is not going to change; when I go to sleep tonight, I will be the same person I was when I woke up this morning.

The list of winners of the Launching A Star contest is supposed to be announced today.

I really have no idea why I’m all cranked up like this.  I know I’m too early in my career, too inexperienced, too unpolished to win the top prize.  I am not going to get a star named for me in the National Star Registry, and I’m okay with that.  That honor belongs to someone more advanced than I am.

That’s not being negative.  That’s just being realistic.

I entered this contest with no delusions about winning in my category, either.  I just wanted to be a finalist, because the judges for the final round  are editors and agents who can critique my work and tell me where I need to improve.  Imagine having my work in the hands of a real editor and a real agent!  Launching A Star finalists have been known to get full manuscript requests and go on to actually sign publishing contracts, all as a result of making it to the final round.

And I finaled.

Cool.

Then it dawned on me that there are only three finalists in my category.

Third Place is great.  Third Place is more than I expected or even hoped for.   I  can put it on my writing resume:  “Third place finisher in the 2012 Launching A Star Contest” instead of “Finalist in the 2012 Launching A Star Contest.”  It is a validation of me as a writer.  It’s my big “So there!” to certain people in my life who refer to my writing as my little stories and ask me when I’m going to get a real job.

Hot damn, third place.

So why am I on pins and needles?  What am I hoping for?  Whether from humility or insecurity, I really don’t think I took First or Second.  It would just be too much to ask, too soon.   And I’m very much okay with that.  When the winners list comes out today, I am going to sing from the rooftops with joy over that third place finish.

But . . . now there is this tiny spark of utterly unrealistic hope:  what if I won?

I’ll admit, I googled  the other two finalists in my category.  One of them  seems to be very active in writing groups and forums; her name pops up in several places, along with some really intelligent questions and comments she has made.  My money is on her winning our category.

The other is an enigma.  She shares her name with a 1940’s pinup girl, but there is no information about her as a writer.  We’re probably pretty evenly matched for second place, although her title is way cooler than mine.

With all of the categories combined, there are thirty-seven finalists.  I wonder how the other thirty-six are feeling right now.  Am I the only one behaving like a four year-old on Christmas Eve?  Perhaps they are just going through their day without a thought toward the announcement, only to utter a casual “oh, was that today?” when they read their email tonight.

Whatever the mood, whatever the hopes – good luck to all of the writers who made it this far, and congratulations to every single one of you for making the final round.  Here’s wishing we could all get together tonight for a celebratory round of virtual drinks.

I am honored to be one of you.

Daily Prompt: At My Worst

What is your worst quality?

Well, that’s a loaded question for this overweight, middle-aged woman who has spent a lifetime battling self-esteem issues. Do I really have to narrow it down to just one?

I could talk about my inability to trust or my poor impulse control; I could really dig deep into my tendency to bend the truth when I don’t want to face reality in bad situations.

But the truth is, my worst quality would have to be my utter lack of follow-through.

It has plagued me through my career over the years, whether it meant neglecting to mail out thank-you cards to new clients or procrastinating about filing client records. I would set aside projects and then forget about them when something more interesting came along. I wasn’t incompetent in any of my jobs, but I never reached the potential I could have hit if only I had ever followed through on some of the great ideas and plans I came up with.

It’s been a problem in my personal life as well. I have wonderful ideas for redecorating my home, great plans for the vegetable garden I want to plant, baskets of clean laundry that never make it to a dresser drawer. I have Rubbermaid totes full of half-finished cross-stitch pictures and intricate quilt tops that will never be finished.

I start diets and exercise plans every few months, but the food scale and low-fat cookbooks are as dusty as the treadmill and Gazelle.

My lack of follow-through has had the biggest impact on my dream of writing. I was four years old when I realized that this is what I want to do, what I want to be; that has never changed. While I may lack confidence in many areas, I have no doubts about my writing talent. I have the potential to be really good. I believe that I write well enough to publish my novel and be successful.

But I haven’t written the damn thing.

Life has presented me with an opportunity to sit down and write full-time. When I broke my neck and lost my career, I got the gift of time to do that one thing I have always dreamed of: write a book. No need to shut off the computer and go to work, no boss to argue with when I needed a moment to scribble down an idea. But it’s so much easier to let the computer distract me with Facebook and Listia and Fanfiction.Net rather than follow through and actually write.

My book is half-written and completely planned. It’s also good enough to earn me a spot as a finalist in this year’s Launching a Star contest. One of the first-round judges wrote on the critique that she was “sad when I came to the end of this entry”. But instead of celebrating this huge accomplishment, I am in a state of flat-out panic at the realization that this may lead to a full manuscript request.

Holy crap, what am I going to do if an editor wants to see the rest of it? I might have to actually finish what I started.