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“On the New York Times Bestseller List!, I Want to Be _________”

Sitting here gazing out from my vantage point on the cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere, I find it hard to believe I once had a literary agent. In fact, I once had a few literary agents wanting me to sign with them. Crazy? Yes. But it’s proof that persistence pays off.

At the time I was working as a grunt in the publishing industry. It’s amazing the inspiration you find living on barely enough money to pay your rent AND buy spaghetti noodles for dinner. Plus, typing out the payment requests for authors and illustrators every day reminded me that other people were, every minute of every day, fulfilling their dreams of becoming published.

Somehow, I was inspired by my living situation at the time and became 100% committed to writing a humorous book about my experiences in New York. I worked on that manuscript day and night, which is easy to do when you have no kids, and can’t afford a social life beyond the obligatory pint of beer after work. My manuscript came together quickly because I wrote it with passion. Things are easy to do when you enjoy them. One day it was finally finished. I then dutifully studied how to write the perfect pitch letter, and found suitable agents to query. Suddenly, agents wanted to read my manuscript. I couldn’t believe my luck when one day I received two letters from agents wanting to represent my work! Here, I, low man on the publishing assistant totem pole, was now having to decide between two literary agents.

One agent had his own literary agency, and the other agent was really an agent’s assistant at an international entertainment agency. I went with the agent who owned his own agency, and in good faith signed on. Unfortunately, the plans he had for my book coincidentally “inspired” the publication he showed my idea to. Two months later my book idea was a featured story on their magazine cover. I learned the hard way about copyrighting – and how you can’t copyright “inspiration.” Sigh. Life goes on. I was never able to reach my agent by phone again, but a few weeks after the magazine with my story idea came out he left me a scratchy and vague voice mail saying he was in Los Angeles. Whatever that was supposed to mean.

Fast forward to recent times. My fears of making more mistakes with my writing and the publishing industry – and knowing my belief in the good of people doesn’t always work well in the business world – stayed with me for years. I had writer’s constipation. I had many ideas, and started many books, but then with no end in sight I would let them fizzle out. All because of a fear that I’d make another naive mistake and get taken advantage of. Then along came Joyce Carol Oates.

My writing career was revived earlier this year, thanks to some words of wisdom from Joyce Carol Oates. I don’t remember the specific words, because I read them on a blog and didn’t memorize them. But her words stayed with me and haunted me and sank into my brain until I was convinced she was right. This was my green light to go forward with writing again.  She said something along the lines that if she had to give advice to new writers she would tell them to start with blogging. It is a way to find your audience, to fine tune your writing and get quick feedback on your work. So, I started this blog. And she was right. She was RIGHT. SHE WAS RIGHT!

In all my life’s ups and downs I have been so inspired by the bloggers here on WordPress. There is endless creativity out there, and an audience for everyone’s voice. I usually never know what to write about, but somehow the words show up. They always say to “Write what you know!” But that is hard to narrow down, and really not helpful. The freedom to write here on my blog without judgement, expectation or limits is what helps me color outside the lines.

I often get confused on what “humor” writing really is. Why are there two categories of humor that agents represent: Humor: Non-Fiction and Humor: Fiction? What is the difference? If I write about my experiences but embellish, or change the names to protect the innocent is it now fiction? These are the little details that lead to procrastination and a cobwebbed keyboard. I was so frustrated by this question that one time I asked a literary agent in an online discussion forum what the difference between these two categories was. I received a snarky and condescending answer in return. And I still didn’t know the difference between the two. Sigh, again.

I’ve recently been hit with a lightning bolt of an idea. One of those “Of course!” moments of what would be a fun and interesting writing project to take on. And taking a chance on writing is always a good gamble….it’s free! Which is good in this economy. Starting today I’ve created an outline of something that perhaps I might finish. And send off to some agents. And hopefully get published. And if I’m published, I damn well better get on the New York Time’s Bestseller List. No pressure, if you know what I mean.

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For 9/11

 

 

I lived in New York City from 1994 to 1999. It is a city unlike any other because everything is larger than life. The buildings there are so tall that most streets remain in shadow much of the day because the sun simply can’t reach them. Looking up and down the avenues you see nothing but a thin strip of blue sky between two rows of dark skyscrapers lined up on both sides of the street, one after another, until they disappear into the horizon. The company I worked for was located in a small to medium-sized building by New York standards. My department was on the nineteenth floor of a twenty-one story building – just a third of the size of some other New York buildings.

 

I’d always put off seeing the sights when I lived in New York, always thinking I’d get to it some other day. I was only inside the World Trade Center buildings twice. The first time I was a teenager and went up as a tourist to see the view from the top. The window was floor to ceiling and had a railing to hold onto. I remember standing there at the railing, marveling at the view and feeling the building actually swaying – as it was designed to do. The second time I was there to hand-deliver something from my company to the mail room in the sub basement of one of the towers. On both occasions I was overwhelmed at the size of the one hundred and ten story structures. Where most buildings in New York City are enormous, the World Trade Center buildings were colossal. If you were in front of them you would practically need to lie on your back and look up from the ground to see how high they went up into the sky.

 

Like most everyone else, I will never forget where I was on the morning of September 11, 2001. I remember it was a sunny day and I was driving to  class at college. That morning I was scheduled to demonstrate a sterile dressing change on a plastic mannequin at the School of Nursing. I remember being in the middle of my demonstration when someone into the room and said an airplane just hit the World Trade Center. Immediately I tried scanning my brain for a plausible explanation as to how someone could have misguided an airplane into one of the two buildings that could be seen for miles and miles and miles outside of the city. A few minutes later we heard that another plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The teacher and I ran to the computer to get on the internet and find out what was happening. We never got online. Everyone else in the world was doing the very same thing at that time and the system had crashed.

 

I drove to my sister’s house  right away to watch what was happening on TV. I remember getting there just before one of the buildings collapsed. Around the same time I heard about the plane crashes at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. I numbly sat there with my sister and her newborn twin daughters, all of us staring at the TV. The only thing I could think of was the phrase “What the hell is happening? What the hell is happening? What the hell is happening?…” For days afterward I stayed glued to the TV watching history unfold. Along with the rest of the nation, I read the never-ending news tickers at the bottom of the screen – hoping at any moment they would finally tell the world just what the hell was happening.

 

It is impossible to process all the horrific images of 9/11, but a few will never leave my mind. I’ll never forget seeing people running up the street to escape a mile high gray wall of smoke and ash that was trying to envelop them. Or watching day turn into night within seconds as people recorded video looking out the windows of storefronts they’d taken cover in to hide from the choking smoke and ash. TV cameras kept panning motionless scenes of destruction – mangled with twisted metal, debris and crushed fire trucks. Everything was chillingly silent except for the warped and echoing alarm systems that dutifully continued to warn of an apocalypse that had already happened.

 

Time does not heal all wounds. Even eleven years later, just seeing a picture of that day can bring back very raw emotions. I can’t even imagine what it was like to be in New York City on that day and having experienced firsthand that unimaginable pain, loss, devastation, grief and terror. Although I no longer lived there, many of my friends were there on September 11, 2001. It seemed everybody knew someone who knew someone there. It affected the world. We all became New Yorkers on that day.

 

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