The End Of NaNoWriMo

I regret to inform you … I failed.  Bombed hard.  I finished this wonderful month with a whopping 8,000 words.  Sad and pretty pathetic.

I had good intentions, of that I can assure you.  But the month was like … pure insanity.  Between out-of-town guests and holiday shopping, I got really, really sidetracked.  I couldn’t focus on writing like I could with my first novel and somewhere along the way I made the decision that if this was going to be a true follow-up … then it needed my undivided attention, something I couldn’t give it since I was so tethered to finishing THE MILESTONE TAPES strongly and still staying totally involved in “real life”.  The book will be fleshed out … soon … but not in November.

I’d like to also take this moment to thank the authors who jumped head long into my month-long Blog Party.  I can honestly say, it was it was amazing experience for me.  I had just the best time hosting you all and giving the platform in the pursuit of inspirational tales from the trenches.  Thank you!

How did you all do?  Put me to shame … share your successes!

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Then There’s The Matter Of a Broken Heart

Life is full of rejection.  Big ones and little ones a like.  The type that stay, linger forever in the back of your mind.  The sort that are fleeting, in and out so quickly it hardly resonates.  I never thought a book could break my heart.  But, like with everything about this trek through the publishing web, I should really stop being surprised when it goes to a whole new level.

One of my readers, Deshipley, gave me sound advice a few days ago.  She said, when the rejection comes–based on your book, after a professional has read it–it hurts.  She was right, totally correct…it does hurt.  It’s pounds of hurt and disappointment and self doubt and fear and so many other emotions I can’t pinpoint them.

I’ve taken a lot of no’s with this story.  I’m so tired of that word.  I can sit here and say it’s a matter of taste, I can reason that it’s not my fault or the book’s fault per say.  I can say all of that and sometimes I can even believe it, but other times, I’m sorry, but I simply can’t buy it.  Today…I’m having a pity party for one.

I submitted my book to a small publishing house.  Don’t ask me why, I don’t really know.  The sample contract was extremely limiting–no print books, little control over my edited manuscript, 50% profit after the royalties of eBook sales–which we know is already a lowly sum to begin with. The gains were little, all things considered and weighed evenly. But still, I queried.  And with that single try, I managed to get a full read.

The publishing house I went after was tiny, a start up only a few months old.  Maybe I did it simply because there is an innate desire in me to have the backing of a real publisher, no matter the size of their muscle. Maybe that desire is something I cannot quash, no matter how promising Indieland is, and maybe that’s what it’s always been about.   You always want most what you can’t have.

The editor got back to me so quickly initially, and she had such nice things to say out of the gate after reading the first 30 pages.  I actually had the gull to be hopeful despite logically knowing better.  I apologize for not posting about this full read on the blog–but I wasn’t sure what to say…

This morning I received the following rejection:

Dear Ashley,

Thank you for your submission to <name removed>.  Unfortunately, this story does not meet our publication needs at this time. The beginning of the story felt a little awkward, and as I moved further into the manuscript, the story didn’t really catch and keep my interest.  
That’s a really sad way to start the day.  It broke my heart just a little bit, just like Deshiply promised it would.  All with all rejections, rebound is inevitable, I’m certain, but still…it stings.
I think the hurt mostly pours from the very personal message in the body of the e-mail. And this is why…
I tried, of that I’m positive, to write a book that was gripping.  But, it never to be your stock women’s fiction novel– not in the way commercial fiction grips you, not in your expectations of speed.  It’s unconventional, I know that, but to tell the Chamberland’s story, there was simply no other way.  It had to have the pace of real life, it was why I didn’t write “chapters” but rather “months”.  I designed the book to feel that way…a slow build to a moment of utter grief, and the length and effort it takes to heal from that–it all happens by inches, across measures of time and life, not chapters.  It was never supposed to be a fast burn.  I wanted the readers to meet Jenna, to love her and understand her so completely that come what may, they’d have a richer, more profound, understanding of who she was.
If that doesn’t resonate from the pages of the story…then I’m simply lost. I thank God that I have an editor on board who will help me refine what I’ve written.  But, I understand today that I’m at a huge crossroads with everything….and I’m not really sure what happens next…

Lowering The Bar

This, I am not a fan of.

As I’ve said…I’m an accidental Nanny–and it’s perhaps the most rewarding job in the world.  I simply, in a word, adore the boys I look after.  I care about them and who they will become as they grow older, I push them to be better, learn more, and be the best versions of themselves possible.  I champion their successes and try to teach them to learn from their failures.  It’s not an easy job, but it’s an amazing job.

The other day I was discussing the importance of time management and follow through when it comes to the dreaded H-word…homework.  I’ll be the first to admit, after seven long hours of learning, it’s easy to understand why they aren’t chomping at the bit to pull out a sheet of complex math and work on it.  I get it.  Sincerely, I do.  I was a kid once as well.  Homework sucks.  But, it’s part of schooling.  It’s a teachers way of figuring out what a student is learning independent of the classroom.  It’s serious business.

As I was laying out the several sheets of work for the middle boy, he turned to me as he was prioritizing his work, holding up a piece of math homework he said “This isn’t important, it’s just for effort”…I asked him what he meant by that, and he broke into a monologue about how homework–at the elementary level–isn’t for a grade.  He’s in fifth.

I had an entirely speechless moment.

Not for a grade?  For effort?  And if they don’t want to do it–then they just don’t excel at effort?  What is the message in that?  And why are the teachers even telling them these thing?

I called a friend of mine shortly thereafter, a teacher in the same district.  I asked her, horrorstruck, if that was true, and she admitted, it was.  She explained that most teachers don’t even bother with homework anymore, because really…what’s the point?  It doesn’t count anymore.  Homework, apparently, has been a thorn in the grading-side of school.  Many kids didn’t do it, ergo sucking their overall grades down into the C-D-F pit.  The high brow school district (once rated the best place for public schooling in Illinois and the best place in the country to raise your children) was losing funding, dipping below the prime spot it held for so, so very long.  This was solution.  C’s…aren’t acceptable.  Teacher’s allow do-overs on tests, in class work and the like to give second, third, fourth chances…and heck, if a student still can’t pull it together–they’ll fudge the scores a bit.  No more being held back, if they don’t learn it now–they’ll catch up later.  My friend, whom shall remain nameless, said that most of her students (fourth graders) are reading at a first grade level.

I had to bite my tongue with her…but not with you all… 🙂

This is nothing more than lowering the bar.  This is preparing an entire generation to learn nothing about failure, and that only stands to hurt, because in the real world, there is this thing called accountability.

I’m sickend by this.  Honestly, I am.  That’s the only word for it.

When I was a student, I worked so hard for my grades–good, bad or indifferent–they were mine and I owned them.  Looking back now at school, it’s more of an abstract thing rather than being so literal.  It taught me to show up and be counted.  I was educated in deadlines, project planning, time management, social skills, what it takes to succeed at something, and what it means to fail–and how that failure felt.  If kids aren’t learning those things now what does that mean for later in life?  Even if it starts in sixth grade–the precedent is already set, habits of studying are solid as stone.  School is about more than reading, writing and arithmetic–it’s about life–and sadly, all of that is being given up in the pursuit of gold stars and stickers.

I felt the first blush of worry about the future.  I look at the three boys I watch and feel a greater responsibility to them than every before.  I need to outrun the new methodology of school and explain that everything matters, that if they take the effort guidelines verbatim, they’ll only hurt themselves.  I know their potential–they are smart, smart kids…they should be growing with that, not shying away from it because “it doesn’t matter.”

As an author, failure was something I encountered.  However, it didn’t define me, I didn’t allow it to slow me down or hold me back or scare me.  Maybe that ethic comes to me because failure was something I’d worked with and past all my life.  It wasn’t a new concept by any means, it was simply part of life.  If kids don’t learn that–my real fear–is that failure, that first time when it really matters, will define them.  Scare them into a place where they stop trying–and what will the world suffer because of that?  Less authors, less doctors, less professors, less change-the-world mentality.  They won’t be equipped with the skills to put it aside and carry on and be better for it.  Even in sports, most teams believe everyone should make the roster, everyone gets a trophy.

I’m not saying grades are everything.  No way.  But the ability to earn a grade…that IS important.  It’s about work ethic, drive, motivation–which both successes and failures teach you in tandem.

I hate the lower the bar mentality simply so that one appear to be doing better than they really are.  My advice: Raise the bar, and be better for it.

(vent, over :))