Tag: author

Cookies and Creativity and the Quarantine Slump

Cookies and Creativity and the Quarantine Slump

Okay, at this point of quarantine, you’re in one of two camps: #1: You are a person who’s settled into this “new normal,” and are content and calm. You’ve weeded the flower beds, laid down fresh mulch, and are considering a fresh coat of paint 

The Transition from Full-Time Mom to Working Writer (Mom): Settling In

The Transition from Full-Time Mom to Working Writer (Mom): Settling In

I’ve been staring at my laptop screen for the past five minutes, trying to think of something to say. It happens a lot. The blank stares. The empty right brain. I’m outside on the back deck right now, squinting through the sunshine at the computer 

My Second Book Manuscript Didn’t Sell, But Fear is Still Dumb

My Second Book Manuscript Didn’t Sell, But Fear is Still Dumb

I’m at a coffee shop (okay, it’s a Panera, because #suburbs) with my husband right now, writing. We have a couple hours until Cian needs to be picked up from preschool, and I often get more work done on these time-crunch work dates than I do any other time. Today, though, is a bit different. I feel free, and a little sad, and sort of refreshed (that last part just could be because I’m showered and out in public and have a second cup of coffee in my bloodstream, but I’ll take it). See, here’s the thing:

My second book–the one I called A Version of Lucky, which was about a female friendship gone bad, layered against a fledgling, then flourishing, food truck business, and set against the backdrop of downtown Baltimore–isn’t selling. Which means that no publisher to whom it’s been pitched has offered to buy it.

The news isn’t unexpected, nor am I all that dismayed, really. Well, let’s back up–in all honesty, I spent a lot of yesterday moping around, occasionally having a random weep, but that’s how I deal with a setback: I cry for 24 hours, and then it’s back to business, though usually a little pissier and a lot more focused than I was before. I will say that I went down to our basement to work out in our little home gym after I got the news and was such a she-Hulk of angry sad-power that I fully expected to have bodybuilder shoulders today.

I checked. I still have my normal tiny non-muscly Leah shoulders. I should probably reeavaulate my expectations.

Here’s the thing–publishing is hard. Like, hard hard hard. (Even harder than shoulder exercises.) There are so many factors at stake that are or aren’t out of a writer’s control. In my case:

  1. The middle of my story was a little muddling (is that a word? Should it be?) and my main character needed some development. These are issues that, while totally fixable, needed to have been revised before the book was submitted to potential publishers (or at the very least, caught after the initial feedback and revised before continuing the process). It simply wasn’t ready.
  2. In the very recent past, I’ve taken too long to write. Actually, as David tells me: once I actually write, I can pop out a book in less time it took me to birth my first child (32 hours, with the help of a doctor eventually cutting me open because I told you publishing is COMPLICATED). It’s just that, in these past few years, getting to the point where I actually threw myself into a story took, well, forever. This was largely due to absolute sleep deprivation (looking at you, dear Cian and Quinn) and trying to manage life with three tiny children while David traveled and worked long hours, yes. But to keep on the path that my first book deal laid out for me, I should’ve had a new book ready to sell as soon as All the Difference came out, and I should’ve had a third book ready to go once my agent submitted Book #2. I’m not making this up: just look at authors like Mary Kubica or Kerry Lonsdale or Jodi Picoult, who seem to come out with a new book just as you’ve finished their last ones. See, if your opportunity is a bus waiting to take you to the next stop, you can’t just sit there and stare at it while it idles at the curb. So, now that my life is shifting into a less child-consumed, more sleep-filled season, I’m kind of running after the bus I really want to take just as it’s pulling out of the station. It’s time to write, consistently now, all the while trusting that my legs are strong enough to help me catch up.
  3. The publishing market isn’t as open to women’s fiction as it was three years ago. If I am correct (and I’m rarely not), it’s thrillers and memoirs and self-help and dark stories that are getting the contracts now. A Version of Lucky was the same genre and style as All the Difference (though with way fewer music references and lots less navel-gazing protagonist introspection), so it makes sense that my kind of book is not what readers might want right now. It’s a little tough to work so hard and long on something that is suddenly not in vogue, but it’s like any creative work, I guess–there are fads and trends, and sometimes you’re just on the bus that’s taking the long way around.

There are a couple other factors at play here, too, ones that I can’t really get into now, but it’s all beside the point. See, I’m in the throes of my little midlife crisis (KIDDING no not really), and my most recent motivational read tells me that it’s time I don’t care so much about stuff that I can’t control–but what I can control is quite a lot. So here we go.

Above all, I can’t–or shouldn’t, because feet don’t like to be shot–fully blame my bump in the publishing road on other factors or the publishing market or even the fact that I’m raising three children full-time, really. It gets a girl nowhere.

Here’s what I know for sure:

  1. I spent five years worrying my brains out that I was being a bad mom by focusing so much time on the writing instead of the children–this is bullshit. There’s no way any parent in her right mind should spend the entire day doing cartwheels around her children, literal or otherwise (I can’t do a cartwheel, actually. I always thought I was too tall and my center of gravity was wonky when in fact I just hated throwing myself upside down too much to practice. True story, and not at all indicative of my stubborn streak, I swear).
  2. My kids LOVE the fact that their mom is “an author.” I cringe when they say this–but I’ve only published one book so far, I think, because I seriously might have goal issues–but it’s a total lightbulb. You guys: we don’t have to do anything extra for our kids to think we’re amazing. We are, as their parents, their de facto example of what good parents should be: they think we’re perfect simply because we are their absolute worlds. No cartwheels necessary.
  3. I’ve spent a lot of the past few years (oh, hell, my life, whatever) being scared: scared of failure, scared of success, scared of anything that shoves me out of my tiny little comfort zone (if you follow my Instagram, we’ve been talking about this in my Stories). It’s kind of like how I used to love roller coasters–the faster, the higher, the crazier, the better–but as soon as my children were born I couldn’t ride one without being convinced that the safety strap was going to unlatch and I was seconds from getting thrown splat against a treetop (when Saoirse asks me to ride a coaster with her the energy from my anxiety could probably power the machine on its own). Writing falls under that fear, which is totally dumb. There’s no other way to say it: being afraid of trying just means you think too highly of yourself to begin with. That sounds way too harsh (“That was way harsh, Tai“), but think about it: if you’re truly humble and non-vain, you’ll just do the work because it’s the work itself that counts. Worrying about what people think about it? About you? There aren’t enough eye-rolling emojis in the world for that kind of narcissism. Especially when you are, ahem, at an age when you can joke about starting a midlife crisis and have it actually be true. There’s not so much time left that we can afford to waste it on worrying about what might happen if we try. We need to just do.

I’m working on a new fiction project now, with another one in the works right behind it. They’re a different breed (I think, so far) than the other two books, and I’m learning what works, what doesn’t, and where I need to grow. I’m steering myself away from the topics centered around the cliched 30-something single lady with a career plus emotions plus first world problems and looking a little more…outward, I guess. Writing is fun now in ways it wasn’t before–I’ve nothing to lose, you guys. And that’s not because of a lost book sale or a bump in the road. This lack of fear is simply because I’m through with wasting so much time worrying about wasting so much time.

Here’s the deal: I’m still jogging after that bus, but this time around? I love the run. I don’t care if the people on the sidewalk are staring at me, or laughing, or–horror of horrors–not even remotely interested in me at all. It’s just: the work itself is neat. I like blogging. I like fiction writing. If you like it and want to read it, well of COURSE it makes it all worth it–especially those of you who’ve recently joined along with me in this non-crisis midlife crisis I’m swimming through–but I’m shifting into an idea of creating with a trust that the words will land before the eyes that they should. And that, as always, includes you.

Work first, and opportunities follow. If you freeze out of sheer fear, what happens? Well, nothing. Which is what some of us–and up to now, that included me–are comfortable with.

Think about this with me, will you? What could you do, right now, that you’ve always wanted to do, if only you stopped being afraid? What little thing would make you so happy, if only you stopped putting so much weight on it?

No fear.

No blaming.

Just cartwheels.

 

 

Just Five Questions with Kimmery Martin

Raised in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, Kimmery Martin is a literary reviewer, author interviewer, traveler, and obsessive information junkie. She and her husband now reside in Charlotte, North Carolina with a herd of energetic children and the world’s most obstinate dog. Kimmery exercises grudgingly, cooks inventively, reads voraciously, 

On Writing: Procrastination

On Writing: Procrastination

There is a fat bluebird outside my office window. The shepherd’s hook on which he perches shakes under his weight. He’s eyeing the feeder that hangs below, recently filled to brimming with seeds. My writing space is in the front of our house. It’s a 

Just Five Questions with Kathleen Barber

Let’s meet Kathleen Barber, author of the psychological thriller Are You Sleeping: she was raised in Galesburg, Illinois. She graduated from the University of Illinois and Northwestern University School of Law, and previously practiced bankruptcy law at large firms in Chicago and New York. When she’s not writing, Kathleen enjoys traveling the world with her husband.

A bit about her debut novel, Are You Sleeping:

Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.

The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.

Doesn’t that sound good? But wait! There’s more!

Are You Sleeping is being developed as a series for Apple. Created and written by Nichelle Tramble Spellman, the series will be produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and Chernin Entertainment/Endeavor Content. Octavia Spencer is set to star, and Sarah Koenig, the creator and producer behind true crime podcast “Serial,” will consult on the series.

I am honored to have Kathleen Barber here today for Just Five Questions. She’s a fellow member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and though we met briefly at a recent retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I’m delighted to get to know her better here. If you haven’t yet read Are You Sleeping, I wholeheartedly recommend doing so soon. It’s a page-turning thriller, and I have a feeling that once the Apple television series is released, it’s going to be something everyone‘s talking about.  

Now, on to Just Five Questions:

When faced with setbacks or rejection with your writing, what was something that made you push through?

No matter how many rejections I’ve accumulated (and it’s been a lot), I’ve never had a problem continuing to write. Writing is so inherent to who I am that I can’t not write, and so, while rejections have dented my self-confidence at times, they’ve never stopped me from writing.

Continuing to submit work to agents and for publication, on the other hand, was a bit more difficult. Ultimately, I kept doing it because I felt like I had nothing to lose. Sending email queries cost me nothing but time, and the potential for reward was so great. After the first dozen rejections or so, I realized that no agent was going to send me a personalized note telling me I was the worst writer she had ever seen or otherwise mock me, and that realization helped melt any remaining reluctance I had to continue querying.

I did spend a couple of years querying a coming-of-age story before I wrote Are You Sleeping, and I eventually pulled that one from queries once I was ready to query AYS. I still really like that first story, and I still work on it sometimes, but now I write it just for myself. 

What methods do you use to balance the quiet life a writer needs to work with the necessary business of being a person with friends, family, and social responsibilities?

I’m extremely lucky in that I’m able to write full-time right now, so I treat writing as though it’s a more traditional job: writing during the customary workday, logging the time I spend writing and doing other writing-related tasks like book promotion, and limiting the amount of non-writing things I do during “work hours.” It’s an ideal set-up and I feel really fortunate to have it—when I was working full-time as a lawyer, the balancing act was much different and much more complicated. 

Back then, the only way I was able to get any writing done was by carving out a weekend day to spend on writing and ignoring everything else. I once read this profile of Wendy Williams, and it included a mention of how she takes (or did, at the time this article was written) Sundays for herself. She spends so much of the rest of the week working and being “on,” but on Sundays, she doesn’t leave the house and instead spends the day in her private room doing only what she wants. I’m paraphrasing here because it’s been years since I read this, but the general idea stuck with me and was the model for how I would fit in my writing when I was working full-time: On (many) Sundays, I didn’t leave the apartment, and I just worked on my writing. 

I think a lot of busy creative people reading this will appreciate the permission to take that time for themselves. Speaking of time, what is your morning routine? 

I don’t keep a set routine—I let how I’m feeling that morning dictate how my day begins. Some mornings I wake up with an idea in my head and ready to jump directly into work, and some mornings I need a bit more time to get going. The one constant, however, is that I always start with breakfast! I have never understood people who don’t eat breakfast; I always wake up starving. I usually have an English muffin with peanut butter, an apple, and some coffee, and that keeps me fueled for a morning of writing.

What’s your favorite form of exercise? (And on the flip side, what’s your favorite way to be lazy?)

I’m a fan of the elliptical machine—I’m usually in desperate need of cardio in the late afternoon, but I hate running so the elliptical is a good compromise. I also really like yoga, which makes me feel strong both physically and mentally. (Random fact: I studied yoga in India and am certified as a teacher at the 200-hour level, but I don’t currently teach.)

My favorite way to be lazy is definitely to lay on the couch (or the floor if I’m feeling really lazy) and watch old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve watched some of my favorite episodes so many times that I can practically recite all the lines from memory; hence, re-watching them requires extremely minimal mental effort. (And sometimes after a long day of writing, that’s about all I’m feeling up to!)

Do you have any go-to methods for eating well? (And on the flip side: what are your food vices?)

When I’m really deep in writing a story, I tend to get annoyed at having to pause to eat and am tempted to just nibble on animal crackers all day. I try to combat that with smoothies—I like to make a smoothie with almond milk, spinach, banana, and frozen berries, and that’s convenient because I can just sip on it while I work. Depending on how hungry I am and what else I’ve eaten that day, I might add some peanut butter for protein.

The aforementioned animal crackers are definitely a food vice—I buy them in those big tubs from Trader Joe’s, and it’s so easy to nibble on them all day. Also, those chocolate-covered acai-blueberry things are a huge downfall of mine. When I buy them, I hide the bag so my husband doesn’t see how fast I go through them—it’s embarrassing! 

Thank you to Kathleen Barber for bringing such honesty and writing encouragement to leahferguson.net (not to mention that gorgeous cover of the Are You Sleeping paperback). If Trader Joe’s suddenly wonders why its sales of chocolate acai-blueberries have gone up, at least we’ll know why! Are You Sleeping can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Indiebound (and as always, if you can take a moment to leave a review on a book you’ve read and enjoyed, it is very much appreciated!). Learn more about Kathleen at her website, or through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Because the Best Writers are the Ones Who Stopped Thinking

Because the Best Writers are the Ones Who Stopped Thinking

The writing has been tough for me this winter. I’d been on a roll, but then suggestions from my agent stopped me in my tracks (her suggestions were spot-on. It’s just that when anybody else expresses an opinion about a project early in I tend 

Just Five Questions with Barbara Claypole White

Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White creates hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Originally from England, she writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina, where she lives with her beloved OCD family. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour,