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Don’t You Know Who I Am? (The Story of Anderson Cooper, Amanda Hocking, and Me)

Andy Warhol said, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Turns out he was almost right. About me, at least. I am kind of famous. Not world famous. More like poor-rating cable TV talk show famous. And it wasn’t quite 15 minutes. More like three. But, hey, at least he was in the general ballpark.

My story starts about three years ago when I got a Kindle for Christmas. I discovered an author named Amanda Hocking who wrote YA Paranormal Romance novels. I bought one book, read it, and then bought six more! I really liked her stuff. In the course of buying her books, I came to find out that she was a self-published author who was actually having some measure of success with online publishing after having been rejected thousands (!) of times from traditional publishing companies. Her story was inspiring. I kept tabs on her career and her increasing success, and decided I needed to take my own writing much more seriously.

Fast forward about a year. As a Facebook follower of Amanda’s, I saw that she A.) now had a traditional publisher and B.) was going to be on Anderson Cooper’s (then) daytime talk show. And that the show was looking for fans from the tri-state area to be in the audience. Despite the fact that I never, EVER do stuff like this, for some reason this time I went to the link and filled out a request for tickets. As part of the ticket request, the form asked “how were you influenced by Amanda?” So I wrote a little blurb about how I was inspired by her self-publishing success.

A few weeks later I got a call from the show asking if I’d like to be in the audience. YES. But then I kept getting phone calls asking me more questions – what was my story? How exactly had Amanda influenced me? What was I doing now? After having a couple of conversations, sending in an e-mail AND a picture (because, apparently, they have to weed out the hideously ugly people unless they are doing a show on hideously ugly people), I was asked not only to be in the audience but to be a “special surprise ‘super fan’ guest” for Amanda Hocking.

Being the publicity whore that I am, of course I said yes.

So I travelled into Manhattan, was escorted up into the studio where Anderson (he and I are on a first name basis now) recorded his show, and was given the whole Hollywood diva treatment. I waited in the “green room” (it really is green). I had my hair and makeup done (pounds of makeup, actually, especially under eye concealer). And I did the requisite producer run-through. This is the part where the producer tries to prepare you for the questions, gets a sense of your answers, and then tries to get you to say what he wants.

Tye, the producer: What does trying to get published feel like?
Me: Like an insurmountable hurdle.
Tye, the producer: How about if you say, “It’s like climbing a mountain!”
Me: Uh.
Tye, the producer: Like climbing a mountain! Try it. Like climbing a mountain!
Me: Um, no.

In addition to whittling down my ten-minute monologue into a few coherent sound bites, there was some stage direction, such as: “Listen, Amanda is great. But she’s VERY mid-western, you know? Kind of laid back and low key, so you need to bring ALL the energy to this. ALL THE ENERGY! Be yourself, but be PASSIONATE! Be ENTHUSIASTIC! Be ENERGETIC! But be yourself.”

I’m sure by now, if you’ve read any of my stuff, you can tell I’m the diametric opposite of bubbly and effervescent. I’m droll. I’m sarcastic. I have just enough energy that you know I’m alive. But, I am also, as previously stated, a publicity whore, and therefore agreed to be as energetic and passionate and enthusiastic as Tye wanted.

And there was this piece of additional direction: “When you get up onstage HUG Amanda. Even if she doesn’t get up, YOU PULL HER UP! Make sure you HUG her! You HAVE TO hug her!”

I’m going to guess that you guys can already tell I’m a not hugger. Especially of strangers. But…publicity whore. I even practiced by hugging Tye. (Seriously, we practiced the hugs.)

When I wasn’t being prepped, I got to listen to the other guest of the show being prepared by his producer. His story? He was a virgin who donated his sperm via the Internet. Funny thing, he also “documented” his process of being “donorsexual” (his term, not mine) which means he filmed himself making his donations and put it online. And, yes, people purchased from his online catalogue of baby makers. But then there was a whole “cease manufacture” order from the FDA or face a $100k fine…now that I think about it his story was really much more interesting than mine. It’s a wonder I remembered anything Tye told me.

Soon it was go time. Sperm donor guy went first, so I stayed backstage until it was time for me to “get planted” (perhaps not the best choice of words, given the sperm donor story line, but I digress) in the audience. Then they brought Amanda out. After a little chitchat and Q&A between Anderson and Amanda, this SURPRISE, SUPER FAN, ASPIRING WRITER was brought up. Poor Amanda Hocking. This was the last thing she was expecting, and the look on her face made me believe that in the past she probably had to deal with some overzealous fan (i.e. stalker) and was hoping that I would not follow her back to her hotel. (I didn’t. She ditched me on the way out of the building.)

As directed, I went up, shook Anderson’s hand, and then I did it. I HUGGED Amanda Hocking. I HUGGED her good and I HUGGED her hard. (She may have actually gasped a little.) This poor woman (who, again, I’m guessing has a stalker) had no idea who I was, and would have gladly shaken my hand, yet she was forced into being molested on camera by me, a total stranger. But, Amanda Hocking, being the professional that she is, was very nice and totally cool, in spite of not expecting my hug, my effusive, bubbly thanks, or me.

Here’s where things get really interesting. In the true spirit of daytime TV talk shows, turns out they had a surprise for me, too. Amanda’s editor offered to read my manuscript! I know, I know. It’s like a fairy tale, right? One problem. I only had about half of a first draft of a first manuscript written. No writer wants ANYONE to read that. Especially not a professional editor. But, being the publicity whore that I am, I accepted their gift graciously and then I internally vowed to get my ass in gear.

Don’t believe me? See it all for yourself:

This confluence of events that could only be described as serendipitous was exactly the kick in the pants that I needed to help me finish my manuscript. Which took about another year, and by that time it was a whole different book than the first one I started writing. (I know, this whole story is full of twists and turns, isn’t it?) But, the point is, I finished it! And I sent it in to Amanda’s editor, who despite the long time frame, still remembered me and still read it! And…she’s decided not to publish it. Okay, so it’s not the fairy tale ending you (or, let’s face it, I) were hoping for, however she did give me some great feedback and here I am today. Following in the footsteps of my mentor…Amanda Hocking…who truly has no idea how much of an inspiration she has been to this crazy “super fan.” Thank you Amanda Hocking! If ever see you again, I promise I won’t hug you. Unless you want me to.

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What Writing Looks Like

My husband and I have a running joke that I don’t listen to anything he says. To some extent, it’s true. But it’s not because I don’t listen. At least, not on purpose. I don’t blatantly ignore him in favor of watching television or some other guilty pleasure. The problem is, I’m working. However, it’s very hard for him to tell when I’m working because it doesn’t necessarily look like work.

Since I’ve started writing, I’ve felt that the gig is a lot like motherhood. Great work, but very hard to get paid for. Plus, your physical actions don’t necessarily translate into other people’s vision of what work should look like. For example, if a mom takes her kid to the park, it’s viewed as one of the perks of motherhood. Yeah! You get to be outside on a beautiful day. What no one is watching is how fast that mother has to be to follow her kid around the park to keep him from falling off the slide, or putting wood chips in his mouth, or stealing another kid’s toy. It’s just another day at the office for mom.

Writing is similar for me. However, the work aspect is even more invisible to the people around me, because a lot of it goes on in my head. I’ve usually written at least part of whatever I’m going to put on paper in my head before I even sit down to the computer. That’s why when my husband comes in to talk to me while I’m folding laundry or doing the dishes, it’s not that I’m not listening. It’s just that I’m busy working. Outlining stories, or revising dialogue, or writing complete blogs. While I’m standing there folding his underwear.

Don’t get the wrong idea. My husband is and has been incredibly supportive of my desire to start writing. But, it’s been an adjustment for him. He’s had the good fortune of working from a home office much of the time for the past few years. Early on, when we realized this was going to be the pattern, we set some ground rules. Or, really one rule: that I leave him alone. Which, I totally respect because he is working. When the kids were little, and my husband wanted to take a break, he’d come out of his office to say hello, stretch his legs…the usual water cooler stuff. He was used to having them, and me, basically at his disposal. Then I started writing.

Now when he comes upstairs to shoot the breeze during those water cooler moments, and he finds me making the bed or cleaning up after the kids, what he can’t see is that I’m doing the internal work of a writer. Thinking. It’s not that I’m not listening, it’s just that I just have trouble hearing him with the very loud voice that is talking over him in my head, trying not to forget the new idea I just got or the first few lines of the blog I wanted to write.

The same often happens when he sees me at the computer.

Him: “Hey, what’s up?”

Me: (Largely ignoring him while I type.) “Nothing.”

Him: (I don’t know what he’s saying, but it sounds a lot like the grown ups in a Charlie Brown animated special.)

I used to let the exchange going on for a while, hoping he’d get the hint by my irritated glances, impatient sighs and basic refusal to make eye contact. But, he’s nothing if not persistent. (It’s how we ended up married.) So I’ve finally had to simply tell him, “Can you leave me alone? I’m working.”

The first time I said it, I think he was kind of surprised at the role reversal taking place, but since then, he’s gotten used to walking in on me staring off into space or clacking away on the keyboard, and while he doesn’t always remember to leave me alone, he’s now less surprised by my blatant rudeness.

One time, we were driving in the car, and I was silent, but gesturing with my hand.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“You were moving your hand. You looked like you were going to say something.”

“Oh, that! No, I was just thinking about cover art for the book. I’m thinking about using an image of a hand and I was moving my hand around to see what position would work best.”

My husband gets a kick out of telling people that story because “you know you’re married to an Italian woman when she uses her hand to talk even when she’s not talking out loud.”

True, I wasn’t talking. And I probably wasn’t listening. But I was working.

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I Should Write A Book

If you are a reader of books, chances are at some point you’ve said to yourself, “I should write a book.” It may have been after a particularly good book that inspired you. Or, more likely, after some piece of crap, at which point you put it down and thought, I can do better than that. Well then we have something in common, because I’m one of those people who said to themselves, I should write a book. And now I have. And this site will be the cathouse for my promotional whoring of said book, during which time I’ll be writing about the process that got me here, because, well, let’s face it, that’s all I’ve got. So if you are here looking for healthy recipes or DIY projects or life hacks, keep reading. Not because you’ll find any of those things, but because I seriously can’t afford to lose you as a reader. (Baby, please don’t go.) Because the fact is, at this very moment, on this site, I’m basically writing to myself. Which is pretty much what you do when you write (or at least, what I do when I write). I write about ideas that formulate in my head, conversations that I think should take place or characters that speak to me. Which makes me sound like I’m clinically insane. And that might not be so far off.

I did not know I wanted to be writer when I grew up. In fact, I did not entertain the idea of writing anything except business documents, birthday cards and the occasional email until somewhere around five years ago when I turned forty. Around that time, both my kids were in school full time and as stay at home mom, I found myself with a little bit of free time on my hands. Not knowing what to do with it, I bothered everyone I knew. I wrote random emails to various friends that were all basically creative nonfiction essays. (At the time I did not even know what creative nonfiction was, so kudos to me for that unknowing leap into the literary world.) I wrote a whole email series based on my time as a substitute preschool teacher and how questionable it was that a jaded, cynical person such as myself should be put in charge of other people’s small children. Sample:

Me, to a kid, who overlooked one of the blocks he was suppose to put away: “Adam, can you find the block that’s gone rogue?” vs. the teacher who translated for him, “Adam, can you find the block that you missed? It’s on the chair.”

Really, this is why American kids are stupid. We’re spoon feeding them. (Literally…I had to help one of the kids eat her lunch by spoon feeding her…she had yogurt.) I see no reason to talk down to them simply because they are 2-year-olds. Although, perhaps bringing the collective work of David Sedaris for story-time was a bit of a stretch.

My friend, Tara Spinelli, and I also worked on a mock advertisement that we hoped to have published in a humor or satire magazine. It was for product we called “Bushwigs. Hair for down there.” Some sample copy?

If you’re like most women, you’ve spent endless hours styling, cutting, coloring, and obsessing about your hair. You’ve probably changed the drapes countless times, but what about the rug? Same as it ever was?

When summer comes, waxing and shaving can get the job done, but doesn’t your cooch deserve more? Shouldn’t your cha-cha have more cha-cha-cha? Your hoo-hoo more hoots? Your twat more wattage?

ANNOUNCING BUSHWIGS, in styles to suit every woman.

I pitched a TV reality show to my family. Charlie Sheen was recently fired from “Two and a Half Men.” I thought it would be great if we could create a reality show around him and his then goddesses living with and caring for my elderly parents. The show would be called, “Charles in Charge,” affectionately reminiscent of that 1980s sitcom with Scott Baio. It got shot down by my own family before I could ever make it to Charlie’s people. (Sorry Charlie.)

I read. A lot. And I thought, I should write a book. But I never took it seriously since I never knew where to begin.

Then my very good friend, Tara (again), sent me an email from Daily Candy with an offer for a discounted writing class through Gotham Writers Workshop, with a note that said, “You need to do this.” That was, as Oprah says, my light bulb moment. Yes. Of course I should take a writing class if I want to write but don’t know how to get started. Why didn’t I think of that? It was a ridiculously simple concept that never occurred to me. And so I did.

Right around the same time, I also started blogging, also thanks to a prompt from my very good friend Tara. (If I ever make any money at this writing thing, this blog will be all the evidence Tara needs to sue me for half of all my income.) Check out my good friends at http://www.jerseymomsblog.com and http://montclair.mommies247.com for some of my “mommy blogs.” And then I started writing that book.

So, this site is going to be about that journey. Maybe you want to be writer when you grow up, and you don’t know where to start. If you do, don’t ask me, I’m still trying to figure it out. But if there ever was a story about anything, it would be about writing a book, and so that’s what I’ll be doing. In between posting recipes and DIY projects.

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