Tag Archives: writer

For All You Late Bloomers

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a lot of things. A singer. A dancer. Primarily, Wonder Woman or one of Charlie’s Angels. But never, ever a writer. My mother gave me the idea of going into advertising when I was young because I had memorized all the various commercial jingles from television. (I know—I was highly qualified.) My father encouraged me to go into “business” or “finance” because that’s where the money was.

Money sounded good, so I attempted to follow my father’s advice. My first major in college was accounting. That didn’t last long. Since this was the ’80s and “greed was good,” I then decided to try my hand at finance. I liked that even less than accounting. Finally I landed in marketing, and the seed that my mother planted bloomed into a career in advertising. However, here’s the thing: my advertising career was nothing like what I saw on “Bewitched” or “Melrose Place.” It wasn’t as exciting or creative as I had hoped. No one could wiggle their nose to make things magically work out. (That usually required being at work for 24 hours straight.) And no one had sex on the desks (at least, no one that I knew had sex on the desks). But, at least it was a job.

The first few years were spent doing back office grunt work. However, I did manage to work my way up into doing front office grunt work. And while I did pretty well and (sometimes) enjoyed my work (depending largely on the level of insanity of my coworkers and clients), it’s not like I had found “my calling.” Mostly, I found a paycheck, which is what most of us find in our work and that was just fine with me.

Then I had a baby and I decided to take a break from advertising since the hours weren’t really conducive to having a family. (One of my bosses had a “daytime” nanny AND a “nighttime” nanny.) I didn’t see how I could keep up my current schedule (leaving my house by 7:15 AM and usually getting home sometime around or after 7:30 PM) and ever see my kid. So I settled, very happily I might add, into being an at home mom.

A few years into my new career as a mother, when my kids went to school, I found myself with more time on my hands and a desire to do . . . well, something. I wasn’t sure what. And then I started writing. First for just my friends and family. But then, because social media now gave me a platform to write for others, I started to put my work out there. And, I realized, I liked it. And, I was pretty good at it.

And so, I became a writer.

Last week I turned 45 years old, and the best gift I gave to myself was not being afraid of trying something new because I was “too old” or because I might not succeed. And, now, after a few years of hard work, I’m happy to present, Divine Bloodlines available in paperback on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Divine-Bloodlines-Christina-Surretsky/dp/1502879379/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1418672990&sr=8-2&keywords=Divine+Bloodlines

(The Kindle Edition will be coming soon!)

If you read the book I truly hope you enjoy it. But, whether you read it or not, my real hope is that, if you are a late bloomer like me, you won’t give up on finding what you want to be when you grow up. Even if you’re grown up.

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Proofreading Hell

I know. I was MIA there for a while. It’s because I was in proofreading hell.

 

Proofreading your own work is like being a doctor operating on yourself. It’s a bad idea. Still, if you were a doctor stuck on a desert island and a shark attacked you, and you had to operate on yourself, you would. Hell, you would probably operate even if you weren’t a doctor. Just like if you were a writer, stuck on a desert island with your manuscript and a limited budget, you’d get out your scalpel and start cutting.

 

That was my situation. Sure, I paid for my book to be edited. Once. And proofread. Once. But that’s like only having money for half a facelift. Or one boob enlarged. It’s really only part of the process. And if you can’t pay for the rest of it to be done, you might as well do it yourself. (Which is why I have yet to have any plastic surgery.)

 

When you edit your own work, you run several risks. One is simply not seeing your work objectively. Not being able to make necessary changes because you are too in love with a particular character or plot line or piece of dialogue that doesn’t serve the broader picture. In my own opinion, I think I was a pretty brutal editor of my own work—refining and tweaking and cutting, in addition to what my professional editor did, to get the story as tight as possible.

 

However, as far as proofreading goes, that’s a different ballgame. I’m the first one to admit, I’m a terrible proofreader, especially of my own work. I’m pretty certain that if you go back and look at any blog I’ve ever written, you will find at least one typo in each. At least. Which is why I had my manuscript professionally proofread. But, here’s the deal: once is not enough. It’s just not. When one person reads through over three hundred pages they will catch mistakes. If she is a professional she will catch many mistakes. But very few people will catch ALL the mistakes on just one go round. Which is where my descent into hell comes in.

 

Let me start off by saying, I was not an English major. And while I’ve always been pretty good at figuring out where to stick a comma or when to use I versus me, grammar and punctuation have never been such a focus that I could tell you about dangling participles or predicate nominatives. As a result, well, let’s just say the process became very labor intensive.

 

For example, did you know that you’re supposed to use “curly” quotation marks and not “straight” quotation marks in a manuscript? Probably not because I’m guessing most of you never needed to notice the difference between the two. Or the difference between an em dash—and an en dash–. Subtle, right? But technically, they are not interchangeable and you need to know when to use one versus the other. What about ellipses… or is it … or is it . . . ? Depends on what reference manual you use. How about writing numbers? I know, you think that one is easy, right? Everything up until ten is written out and everything after that is spelled. Wrong. Again, depends on your style manual. How about when to use I was versus I were? Oh, yeah, that one depends on “the mood” of the verb. Seriously. And so now you know why I’ve been MIA all this time. And why the next photo I post will have a whole lot more gray hair showing.

 

Along the way, besides figuring out all of these stylistic consistencies and finding the errant word missing or slight misspelling, I noticed something else. It’s just, I noticed that I just used the word just, just too much. To the point where I started to think that maybe I should leave the word in there and suggest people make a drinking game out of it. (Hey, college students of legal drinking age, every time you read the word “just” in “Divine Bloodlines,” just take a drink!)

 

And so I read it and read it again and again, combing through each page, each phrase, each word, to try to find all the errors. The sad part is, I probably will still have a few things in there. Hopefully, they will be the subjective things, like, where to use or not use a comma. But, there might still be one or two others. In which case, my new plan is to tell everyone that I purposely put those typos there! Sort of like the Easter Eggs in those superhero movies that only the most attentive watchers will find. So, yes, go ahead and look for my typos, because I meant for them to be there. I, just, like, really did.

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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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