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Blizzard = Pajamas

February 8, 2010

Ah… here I am… snowed in.  Our street has still not been fully plowed and we can’t leave our driveway unless my husband digs out a twelve foot long trench from the bottom of our driveway to the single plow-width pathway in the road on the other side of the street. Something I’m trying to discourage him to do.

We’ve had a four-hour brown-out, which was scary because the house temp dropped significantly in that time frame, lots of hot coco, and now one seven-year-old with a stomach bug.  The virus has quarantined his sister from socializing as well (much to her dismay).  I figured her friend’s parents wouldn’t appreciate a little virus carrier in their home, so she’ll be allowed to visit when he brother’s symptoms have disappeared for 24 hours.

So why pajamas?  Well, we’re snowed in.  I can’t shower easily with a picc line in my arm, no one is coming over, pajamas are comfy – and oh, did I mention? I’m not going anywhere with all the damn snow, so who cares?

The picc line has been interesting to say the least.  The hospital had an emergency when I was there so I had to wait three hours in a backless gown huddled on a gurney waiting my turn.  Thankfully, I had Laurell K Hamilton’s new release, Flirt, there to keep me company. The book was okay, but I wish I’d waited for the paperback version.  That will be the last time I pre-order from Amazon without reading the description details first.  Less than 200 pages for a hardcover? Can you say greedy? It should have gone straight to paperback and if I was dishonest, I’d return it and say I never read it.  But I won’t, because I’m not.

Last week I started working on The Hunt again.  It feels great to be reading over the early chapters and plotting my next moves.  I’ve been editing my own work, plus Supriya’s and Greg’s, in addition to posting on Wicked Writers, WDC, in the beta reading group, and working an IV drip in my arm (oh, and managing my snowed in household, should I mention that?)

What have I been neglecting?  Mailing books out to reviews and supporters, figuring out various paypal issues, emailing people back who’ve requested info, sending out new queries… that last one never seems to end.  I was worried about the picc line and stressed about my health, both of which have made it hard to juggle everything.

I’ll be glad when the kids are back in school (maybe by Wednesday – can you give me a   halleluiah!) and the meds are over (March!!). I want to be back to normal and focused on the second book.  Not to mention find a buyer for the first one.

Toward that goal, I’ve entered the Amazon Novel Breakthrough Award contest.  Do I think Vampire Vacation will win out of 5,000 entries? No, not really.  Do I think it could get noticed in the contest?  Yes, that is my sincere hope. I’ll keep you all posted on that – I may need some Amazon reviews of my excerpt if I make it to the next phase.  Here’s to hoping!

Recently, V V was reviewed again by a book blogger named Heather, on her site The 24/7 Mom.  She approached me when she saw my forum post on a book-blogger social network called Ning looking for reviewers. I’m grateful she took the time to read V V and share her thoughts – thanks Heather!  In addition to a V V giveaway offered on her site, there is another eight book giveaway offered on Wicked this month too in honor of Valentine’s Day. Please check them both out!

Wishing you all a warm week, I’m off to attempt a shower with my saran-wrapped arm!
C.J.

Have Faith in Your Work

January 30, 2010

It’s been a long week for me. I’m sure most of us feel that way by the time Friday rolls around, eh? Unfortunately, shortly after the doctor cut my new antibiotics the Lyme’s symptoms came roaring back (which is what happens when it’s not been a long enough time on antibiotics).

By Wednesday I was trying to nap in the afternoon and ready to cry at the drop of a hat. I became increasingly forgetful and had friends that spoke out about noticing it because of their worry for me. My thoughts were scattered and I couldn’t concentrate. So next week I go to the hospital for a picc line (finally learned how to spell that right) to be inserted in my arm and I’ll start a strong IV antibiotic.

Work this week consisted of editing other people’s work because I couldn’t focus on my own. Supriya is gearing up to enter a bunch of contests and I lit a serious fire under her ass this week to get things to me – and damned if she didn’t do it. An essay, a synposis, and a perfect first chapter. Followed by us still hashing out small details on her second and third ones too (for another contest that requires more chapters). I’ve got a good feeling about her work and hopefully with some more badgering I can convince her she should feel good about it too.

I never realized how important that one small detail was for writers – to simply believe in your own work. Having my art work displayed in public from the age of nine prepared me in ways my fellow writers are still learning. My art work was subjective to the eye of the beholder. Some people would love it and some people would hate it – but because I was so young most of them kept their dislike to themselves.

I gained a confidence in my work at a very early age. After entering public contests from the age of eleven on (and never winning) I learned to live with it. I could recognize the beauty in my competitors work and be happy for them. Back then they didn’t hand out trophies like they do now for every damn little thing a kid does. I’m lucky if I ever received a ribbon in any of them. I think the first time I got a blue ribbon for one of my pieces I was nineteen.

Interestingly enough, I was paid for my work before I ever won anything. I had a few pieces that people offered to buy (which I think I wound up giving it to them instead) and my girlfriend started a sign painting business when we were sixteen which she brought me in on with her. Before that I had done detailed murals on school walls and in friends bedrooms for free. It was fun and took up time (something teenagers have plenty of!), and earn me some money.

Experiencing all those things made me realize that yes, I had talent — but more importantly that it didn’t matter if I was the ‘best” at something. There are still plenty of places in this world a person can go without being number one in something. Even now when I create something I can spot every damn fault in it. I can see every spot that I wish I could somehow fix or re-do to make it perfect.

Art is not about perfectionism and for someone like me with OCPD (basically a perfectionist) it was the best lesson I could learn early on in life. My friends don’t see the errors in my art – they are usually unfailingly kind in the words they share with me and yes, I’ll admit it, most times I think they are just being kind because they are my friends. I create because I want to. Now, for the past dozen years, that artistic outlet comes out in the home-improvement projects I’ve done. If you saw any of the four houses I’ve lived in over the past twelve years, you’d understand.

How does this relate to my writing? In my mind they are one and the same. My work will not appeal to everyone. I get that. I recently had an agent I was pinning my hopes on for months give me a detailed rejection letter stating what she didn’t like in my work. I am grateful for her time, but I don’t agree with a lot of what she criticized. Now I’m in a pickle – listen to her advice or the hundreds of beta readers that don’t agree?

I’ve decided to incorporate one or two of her suggestions and ignore the rest. I need to have faith in my work and realize that if she and her assistants didn’t see all that I was weaving in that perhaps it was too subtle, but not that the book needs a complete re-write. I’ve decided to have faith in what dozens – no hundreds – of people are telling me. That the book is intriguing, suspenseful, sexy, and they rushed to get through it. Perhaps the agent and her assistants read it too fast and missed the small details, perhaps they honestly felt that offering advice to make my book more of a formula was a good thing.

I’m starting to get some book blog reviewers reaching out to me that they’ve finished the book and enjoyed it. I’m still waiting to read their reviews, but I’m comfortable with the work overall. Is it perfect? No. Could it stand to be tweaked a bit? Yes. Am I willing to make those changes from an actual publisher’s editor? You bet your sweet patootie am I!

In closing, I’d like to share with you a short message I had waiting for me in my inbox today. It’s from a close friend of mine that I used to role-play with back in college (so, yes, I’ve known her for twenty years). She sat down to read the hard copy version of my manuscript this week and has been unwavering in her support of me from the very beginning. In turn, she has also been inspired to try her own hand at writing children’s books, her secret dream for years.

“At some point today you stopped being my friend who wrote a book and became an author I can’t put down… YAY 🙂 I’m loving your book sister… loving it. Love love love. 😉 Did I mention that I love it?”

Her simple but eloquent first line brought such a joy to my heart that I don’t think I can even put it in to words if I try.  I’ve often felt that for the old friends that are supporting me I have been a “friend who wrote a book” and even if it isn’t their cup of tea that they love me so much they’d support whatever I did.  Today she made me feel like an author.  What a gift she gave me!

Maybe it’s the weepiness of the Lyme’s, maybe I’m a sentimental fool, whatever it is I don’t care. I think I’m going to print that one line out and pin it to my wall.  Yes, it matters that much to me.
Have faith in yourself and in your work.  You are worthy and one day soon others will see it too.
Have a great weekend everyone,
C.J.

No skiing – apparently vodka and antibiotics don’t mix

January 25, 2010

I’ve been on a mission to lose weight and get healthy this year.  The first goal has been given a jump start by me cutting down severely on my love of gluten free beer and a mixed drink of cranberry, seltzer with a shot of vodka (does that have a bar name? I’m pretty dumb on that stuff.)

The second goal I started with lining up more doctor visits.  Those are never fun – but finding out the problem is the Lyme’s and not MS is worth it. The new medication did the trick.  The neuropathy in my hands and feet went away in a week of taking the new treatment.

Alas, cutting back on drinking to consume less calories left me un-prepared on our ski weekend away when I had four or five drinks the first night.  Alcohol tolerance doesn’t diminish in matter of weeks – it wasn’t like I got drunk as a skunk when consuming them over a seven hour period of time.

But I was certainly sick as a dog the next day – all damn day.  I missed skiing and everyone had a blast.  I was finally able to keep water down by Saturday night by 6:15.
We watched Paranormal Activity.  Sleeping on and off all day long while recovering from the side effect of the antibiotics ensured I didn’t sleep much that night, so it’s nice I had a horror movie as my last images before going to bed and attempting to sleep.

The next day was tubing!  I got up and felt much better but still shaky and weak.  My son didn’t want to go tubing and I was not up to par so I stayed at the tubing lodge with him while everyone else went. But a lot of the kids were only up for one time going down so I had human contact and got to talk to everyone and take pictures – MUCH better than Saturday.

Overall, I was glad we went.  My kids got to try a new sport, and enjoyed it.  My husband got to get back to a sport he loves.  We went with two other families and it was our first group getaway with children involved – and we all had a good time (you know, except for the puking).

I came home convinced it was the alcohol and not the drugs and maybe I’d just had some bad luck.  I took the meds again last before bed (I didn’t brave them the rest of the weekend) and was sick first thing this morning (I haven’t had any alcohol in two days, and don’t think I will be having anymore for a quite a while).  Good thing is now we know it’s the drugs!

Doctor said don’t take anymore and now we play the waiting game. The pict line is the option to go, but it apparently has some risk of complications he’s not thrilled with.  His answer is to “wait and see” if the symptoms come back and then do the pict line. So, here I am, back to waiting…

Great time to get back to writing and forget all this garbage.  Tomorrow Supriya comes over to brainstorm on her book and since I’ll be back to normal by then I plan on getting back on track myself.  Today I did the tedious job of going through 1400 emails I’ve been neglecting to organize and delete.  Good news is I found a request I flagged from an agent for a partial to be sent via snail mail from last month.

I’ll get that out this week and hope for the best. I’ve had another small press ask for my full MS and the agent assistant I’ve been emailing told me my story is going for a second read with the head honcho (yay!). I also got a request from a NY editor for 100 pages based on my second place win in the RWI contest announced on Friday.  So looks like I’ll be waiting on lots of stuff.

In all things in life, isn’t it the waiting that just kills you?
C.J.

My Father, My Hero

January 19, 2010

Now don’t get me wrong.  My husband is my hero too – just a different type.  My Dad, though?  His words of wisdom are what has prompted me to go public again with my blog.

I explained everything that has happened the week before the end of the contest to my folks at different times.  To my Mom, when I called her before the Dorchester results came out – to my Dad, after a playoff game – Dallas vs the Chargers (who handed the Cowboys their asses.)  It was good timing on my part.

The first thing he said is to forget about it all.  Don’t hide and wonder why.  Accept the fact that I am now a public figure and all that entails.  That it was not important to be “right” when the timing of a bad review was posted publicly, but to embrace the fact that since I’m out there, and so is my book, that I can’t ever respond even if I think something smells fishy.

He never questioned my ethics – he knows my ethics – but he did point out that others will not see things as clearly when they only see parts of the pieces and that I since I can’t change it I need to rise above and forget it all.  He even brought up the bad publicity quote I already used.  Having anybody talk about me is exactly what I want – and then he told me why.

Back in the late 90’s my father started his own company with a partner.  They had a great product and were branching out with a revolutionary concept that used existing technology in an untried way.  Sound familiar? 😉 Their first big client was Fox News. His company was still a very small fish, but the biggest in the pond started bad-mouthing them and saying their product was crap. It got them more clients.  People heard of them and word spread.

He opened up to me in a way he had never before.  I heard about all the ups and downs of his company and the path that eventually led to him no longer owning it and how it is now the most profitable section of a much larger company. I’ll spare you the details, but it was a great story and I’m glad he shared it with me.

Lastly, he advised me to not wear my heart on my sleeve in my blog. I’m not sure I can do that because all of this is so very personal to me – I’m not just selling my book, I’m selling me. That’s something I’ve done for years and something I’ve always done with total honesty. But I will try.

I never sold a mortgage to anyone that they couldn’t afford, never rented a unit to someone who couldn’t afford it (or had tenants that defaulted and trashed the place) and I never sold a house to someone and had them hate me afterwards.  I’m good at building relationships and to do that well I’ve always presented myself as me – to do otherwise would have been too much work.

But I will scale down how much of me I put out there.  My friends, who have been in  collective awe at how far I’ve come in such a short time, are encouraging me to write down all my steps – my successes and my failures as well.  They’re convinced that it could help other aspiring writers trying to make it and that I could eventually sell my story.  I’m not so sure I agree, and after a few glasses of wine, I’m more convinced they are letting the wine talk and just saying nice things to me. Time will tell.

What I would like to do is thank that ill-timed reviewer on January 8th.  I’ve preached everywhere about accepting bad reviews graciously because that is what I’ve been doing every time someone shit cans my story for the past 9 months.  Her review came at a bad time and I had a knee jerk reaction to it – I took it as a personal attack because of the timing and have been lambasted over the Internet because of my reaction. It doesn’t matter if I’m right or not – what matters is my eyes have been opened up.

The flurry of discussion topics and comments like “she’s not the human being I thought she was” made me feel horrible – but that’s life.  This is a business and I’m in it to win it.  So come read my blog, check out my every move, talk about me online and question my motives without knowing the whole story – go ahead.  All of it means nothing in the long run. Readers are all that matter in this race and I’ve got ’em – in droves.

I’ve written a book that some people will hate and a lot more people will love.  It will succeed in this business because of one thing and one thing only – ME. And in the end it may be my unorthodox methods that help the next aspiring writer make it, not taking a back seat as so many more experienced writers do.

You just never know, now do you?

I’m back, baby!
C.J.

Excited and Sad

January 15, 2010

Hey guys –

Pete and I talked about it last night and I decided to take my blog off of public access.  The reviewer I accused of poor timing with her review of V V on Goodreads has made it her mission this week to share emails I sent to her, conversations I had with my fellow contestant via email, any other post I ever posted about V V on Goodreads, solicitations for reviewers if they like vampire books to contact me, trash what my opinion of what her coincidentally timed reveiw looked like, and basically call in to question whether or not I have a grasp of ethical behavior.

Since I can’t answer any of this hoopla without sounding defensive I’ve decided I will restrict my blog to feed to my friends here on Facebook.  You guys are really the ones I wrote it for anyway.  I had hoped I could share some of myself and my journey with you so that you might get to know me as a person and I would become real – rather than just a name on a book.

I’ve been under a huge amount of scrutiny this week – and while I know I can take it in the long run, the short game is incredibly difficult and highly personal. To know that people read what you have to share because they are excited for you and want to be a part of your journey is completely different then knowing people are watching you and happy to twist your words around to make you look bad.

Why is this woman and her blogging buddies doing this? I can’t really answer that – in the big picture of books and book writing I’m basically a nobody.  To think my actions – ones I’ve done right and ones I’ve done that skirted a line should be held up by strangers whom are happy to think the worst and tell everyone they know honestly never occurred to me.

So while today I find out if I made first or gladly and proudly take home second I feel sad.  What should have been the most exciting time of my career so far has left me feeling flat and empty with the pettiness of others.

Thanks so much for being real people – for watching from the sidelines, for supporting me with votes and comments where you could, for advising me to back out and rise above the hoopla, for not jumping into the fray to have these sharks aimed at you and for helping me see that in the really big scheme of things a handful of angry bloggers will not make or break me – it’s readers like you who will.

Here’s to hoping today that I do well and win and if by chance I don’t – here’s to moving on and continuing on this path to getting V V published.  It may be a rocky and sometimes scary path, but I am so grateful I’m not traveling it alone.

Thank you,
C.J.

Yoga with Olga and Creative Writing with Third Graders

January 13, 2010

I’m feeling pretty good today.  Not bad when considering the new meds make me a little sick to my stomach.  Fingers are still numb, but it hasn’t been that long yet.  Came really close to bowing out of some moves in yoga because the nausea was bad, but I ignored it and carried on.

And I’m glad I did.  Olga is a terrific woman.  She has this really expanded and welcoming view on all religions (must be her doctorate in theology).  She incorporates so much into the yoga – little bits of wisdom, life lessons and small verses of poetry and verse.

While we were waiting for classmates to arrive she chatted to us about the recent earthquake and her worries for her parents in the Dominican and news about a friend’s husband who didn’t get a suitable liver transplant in time (the one they found to match turned out to not be viable and then he deteriorated quickly and was not a good candidate for survival when the next one came available) and was taken off life support.  She didn’t tell us these things to make us down but to invite us to think of others plights instead of our own and to send some good thoughts out to our fellow man who need it too.

It certainly was an eye opener.  No matter how bad life is – or how bad you think it is – it could always be worse. My heart goes out to the people suffering through the aftermath of the horrendous earthquake, I can’t even imagine what it’s like – the devastation in the pictures is mind-numbing to say the least.

So I came home, refreshed from class, happy I went and thoughtful as well. I went into my daughter’s class to do the last segment on their current creative writing projects. I wasn’t feeling up to a class of 8 and 9 year olds, but I went.

This last session was to proof-read and edit their rough drafts and get ready to write their final drafts.  Their stories were hysterical!  The writing prompt was “What if a piece of candy sang famous love songs in a Thanksgiving Parade?”

We had singing peppermints, bubble gum pieces and chocolate bars. They wrote about werewolves, candy eating horses, families running screaming and others gleefully watching the show.  It was more fun than I expected – and more fun than the previous sessions had been.

The idea for me to do this came from a writing web-diva I met in FF&P named Liz, who did the same thing in her daughter’s class last year. I wasn’t sure I should try to do it.  I wasn’t sure what I could teach them – after all there is a reason I don’t teach children for a living, I’m sure I couldn’t hack it!

We covered basic stuff really – types of stories, punctuation, dialogue, parts of a story (intro, middle and ending) and then they picked a fun writing prompt from a tri-sectioned writing aid for teaching creative writing.  They talked about their ideas for the prompt, collaborated with each other in groups, did outlines and then wrote the rough draft.

I feel slightly drained now after the adrenaline of being in front of a class of kids has worn off.  I don’t know how teachers do it day in and day out  – and I stand by what I often say  – they don’t get paid nearly enough for how important and difficult their jobs are.

I’ll be going back in tomorrow because a few kids didn’t get time with me or the teacher to edit their rough drafts and help them understand where paragraphs go.  It will be in between doctor visits – am I crazy for shoving a trip to school in? Nah, it will help me keep my mind off of what the doctors have to say, keep me from thinking about the contest announcement on Friday and make my daughter proud.

Oh – and as a gerbil update – my son has not mentioned the gerbil again.  I’m waiting… I’m sure he will soon and then I’ll have to steer him to the realization that no, Midnight is not coming back.

Welcome, News and a White Lie

January 12, 2010

Things took an interesting turn at the doctors yesterday.  He too was unsure if my neuropathy is related to early MS or the Lyme’s.  There are risks of blood clots and other things associated with a pict line so he’s taking an experimental approach.  He said guinea pig, but in light of yesterday’s gerbil death I did not find that reassuring.

I’ll be on a new oral antibiotic for two weeks and if the numbness goes away then it can be concluded it is related to Lyme’s and then I need to get the pict line installed (following the theory that an IV treatment is more aggressive and effective than an oral one).  But if the signs don’t go away then I may be experiencing a stress related relapse of a new mild case of MS.

Come on Lyme’s! 😉  I know in the big picture MS is not that bad.  Lots of people have mild cases and it never progresses past that. It’s not Cancer and it won’t kill me.  It’s just one more autoimmune disease that I can live with, but will make life a bit more challenging at times on a personal level.

The Gerbil saga has some history to it.  Before I address that I’ve had a whole bunch of new readers lately so I’d like to say Welcome!  Pull up a chair and travel along with an inexperienced writer as she attempts to get a publishing contract. Will she succeed?  Will she fail?  Come along and see!  There’s a nifty counter on my site that keeps track of all sorts of fascinating data and since last Friday I went from 19 hits whenever I posted to now well over 60 each day!

Here’s to hoping you enjoy what you read – maybe if you’re a writer or a friend of one you can find something useful to share with them about what worked for me and what hasn’t so far. And if you’re researching me for a contest please stop by my personal website at http://www.cjellisson.com or the new blog I’m part of with some talented writers at http://wickedwriters.com.  I’m excited with the new steps I’ve taken in the past few months and it feels like things are really coming together for me.

Now – on to the gerbil.  Old readers of my blog know about the tragic first day of school here at my house.  So many of you reached out on Facebook laughing and crying with me that day I won’t be forgetting it any time soon. In light of that incident and that this is the second gerbil killed in our house my husband and I opted for a white lie.

I told my children when they got home from school that one of the connector tubes on Midnight’s cage came off (true, it was on the floor) and that when I came down in the morning the library doors were open (another truth). I told them the gerbil was missing and possibly loose in the house. This may have been true the night before for a time, but obviously, that is where I lied.

My nine year old daughter then goes to the fridge to get a carrot and proceeds to wander through the house calling Midnight’s name. I stopped her, explaining that unlike the cat and dogs the small gerbils don’t answer when called.  My son looks around the room and his eyes well up as he states “Why is it my gerbils keep getting killed and not my sister’s?”

This is where I could have jumped in and told the unvarnished truth – that I found the stiff little body on my antique rug, that the fur was matted with dried saliva (which the first corpse in September never had) but otherwise unmarked, and the dogs won’t met my eyes and keep lowering their bodies to the floor whenever they see me. But I didn’t.  I had four hours and fifteen minutes of sleep and was not at my best.

I hugged him and explained that the cat was wiley, that he did open the door, but that the door was open wide enough for the dogs to get in too.  I explained that they are predators and they are only following instinct.  I capped my nice little story up with the reiteration that Midnight has been an escape artist for months, that perhaps he was living in the walls but that if he wasn’t this was a clear sign that we could NOT ever get another gerbil.

In the end he was accepting and what more can I ask?  The little cage is on the floor with the door wide open in case Midnight gets hungry and finds his way back. Is this over? We’ll talk some more when he gets home today and see. Sometimes the truth needs to be doled out to the person hearing it at a pace they can accept, not necessarily at what may be  convenient to the person doling it out.

Off to get my new meds, do some girl scout cookie booth organizing for my service unit and put together some care packages for my nephews in Iraq and Afghanistan – I’ve been busy and neglecting my post office duties lately but I will catch up this week I promise!

Wishing all of you with gerbils a better week then the gerbils in our house have had!
C.J.