Literary Agent Rejection Letter

Literary Agent Rejection Letter

I got my first literary agent rejection letter on Sunday, and I feel so alive. I’m not sure that’s a normal response for writers to have. I think I’m supposed to feel bitter resentment. But things have been pretty dull here for a while, which severely exacerbates bored depression.

I’ve counted ceiling tiles a few too many times already.

The agent’s email was kind, explaining how Who You Gonna Believe didn’t fit into her current list of working titles. But I still wonder how straightforward the rejections are. 

Like does she genuinely think the manuscript sounds intriguing, or is she just saying that because I have brain cancer and she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings?

I run into the hurt feelings thing a lot, as you might imagine. It doesn’t make me mad. It just makes me wonder. I appreciate that people are trying to be nice, but I also appreciate bluntness because it protects my energy reserves.

I’m probably one of few who would rather hear, “this is not marketable in any universe” than “it’s not for me.” Provided it’s true, of course.

Which is why I was trying to get feedback before querying in the first place. I thought it would save me the agony of deciphering. I was protecting myself.

By the way, I rejected all of those proposals I mentioned previously because I didn’t have the energy to interpret responses. (That’s not a reason listed in Reedsy’s drop-down menu, in case you were wondering.)

That’s the story of my first rejection letter, dull as it is. Maybe one day I will wish I could remember it, but for now it feels very forgettable. It was as impactful as a cookie-cutter reply from HR after submitting the first resume and cover letter of a job search.

The self-doubt comes later.

Don’t Protect Yourself

Don’t Protect Yourself

It’s pretty basic, but it felt like an epiphany Saturday night: Don’t protect yourself.

Those were the words spoken by Megan, a yoga instructor on YouTube. She meant for us all to relax our muscles and lean into the ball for a little myofascial release, which I couldn’t do—at least not yet—because it required lying supine on the floor.

(I might be able to get there, but I am too weak to get myself up and too unimaginative to figure out what Dan’s help could even look like in that situation.)

But for me there was a psychological element to the yoga lady’s instruction too. Closely related to my anxiety. Stop anticipating pain. Stop bracing for a fall every time you stand up. Stop sleeping in the fetal position. Stop overexplaining.

STOP PROTECTING YOURSELF.

Or, framed more positively: Notice what’s acceptable. Let the room pretend to spin. Trust the mattress to hold you. Ask for what you need without apology.

LIVE.

I learned this philosophy before, this “don’t protect yourself.” I will learn it again.

I’m not being too hard on myself or even admonishing myself a little. I’m recognizimg that I learned knew ways of dealing with adversities, mostly to survive some yucky stuff. They only served me for a little while but became habits anyway. Now they are things I need to undo.

Addressing Zentangle Criticism

I’ve come across a fair amount of Zentangle criticism since I started tangling, and I’d like to address some of it.

Bold Zentangle featuring drama tangles on s Zentangle string created by HQ for CZT training

Sometimes people who’d like to give it a try are discouraged from exploration when they see others’ misgivings. I’m compelled to offer my perspective and a few rebuttals in the event anyone cares what I think.

Some people genuinely don’t like Zentangle, and that’s absolutely fair. If everyone liked the same things, what would even be the point? I’ve not met every CZT on the planet, but the ones I do know are perfectly fine not force-feeding people patterns and making everyone draw.

Different strokes (pun intended) and all.

Zentangle Patterns are just things I doodled in high school.

Yes, that is almost entirely the point. If Zentangle Patterns were overly complicated people might give up, the practice wouldn’t be enjoyable, and CZTs would throw up their hands in exasperation and be like, “Screw this. I’m out.”

Those who want a Lamborghini don’t tend to find them at Ford dealerships. People who want an advanced art class will probably have to look elsewhere.

Zentangle is accessible for kids, adults, and seniors. Heck maybe your cat can do it too. Enjoy Zentangle. Or don’t. It’s your decision, and we all want you to find something you enjoy (if for no reason than you might be distracted and leave us alone.)

Zentangle Pattern Molygon from CZT training day 3

I don’t like that CZT.

When I first started making YouTube videos, I criticized Trump and got blowback from a Trumper in the comments. A few people also leave cranky-pants feedback because I don’t make content tailored specifically to their preferences, without knowing at all how hard it is for me to make a video while simultaneously drawing and brain tumoring.

Seriously. Internet strangers have had problems with me since 1995, and I don’t anticipate that changing. Ever.

But however personable I am (or am not) and whatever my politics, I want everyone to know loathing me is not a sound reason to refuse to explore something as enjoyable as Zentangling.

Passing on Zentangle because a specific CZT turns you off is like not eating because you don’t like broccoli. In Zentangle, as in life, find your people.

Supplies cost too much.

I’m no stranger to the unaffordable, but I try to think about it like this: small businesses need to turn a profit to pay themselves and employees. If that means I can’t afford it, I can’t. It’s not a personal insult when something is out of my price range or feels like an unjustifiable splurge.

I mean, I think people who spend $50 to get their nails done when they could be buying a Project Pack are missing out on a bargain. That’s just me, though. You do you.

Zentangle Pattern Tripoli on White Zentangle Tile

The Zentangle Method feels religious.

Confession time. I don’t always take time out to do the gratitude thing when I Zentangle. If it makes you squirm, skip the part of the video that feels like woo to you. Zone out if you’re in a class at the library. Or decide that Zentangle isn’t your thing. As long as you’re not stealing someone else’s moment of Zen, we all just want you to be happy.

Bottom line is if you want to try it, I hope you will. Despite any criticism. Decide for yourself if you like it or you don’t.

9 Easy Zentangle Patterns

Free Brain Images for Brain Tumor Awareness Month

Free Brain Images for Brain Tumor Awareness Month

Seeing how I already donated some brain tumor cells to researchers back in 2017, there probably isn’t much more I can contribute to Brain Tumor Awareness Month this year than giving you permission to use these copyright free brain images on your website, blog, or social media profiles.

Change them up however you like. You can give attribution if you want, but it’s not necessary. You can also use them anytime—not just in May.

Common Brain Tumor Symptoms

It’s important you know how to recognize the symptoms in yourself and recognize them in others. Symptoms vary by tumor location, but these are the most common:

  • Headaches that are persistent or severe
  • Abnormal gait or awkward coordination that make it difficult to walk
  • Muscle weakness
  • Imbalance
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pins and needles or numbness
  • Inability to speak or understand language
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Dfficulty speaking or slurred speech
  • Personality or mood changes
  • Seizures

About My Brain Tumor

i was diagnosed with a diffuse astrocytoma on my brain stem in 2017 and have done radiation once, and chemotherapy a few times—both temozolomide and gleostine.

Treatment reduced the size of my tumor, but it’s in a spot that neurosurgeons consider inoperable, and I still live with it. It’s classified as grade II, and is relatively slow-growing. I was initially treated at Barnes-Jewish hospital in St. Louis, and have since received care from fantastic doctors at Carle in Champaign-Urbana, IL and Cancer Care Specialists of Illinois in O’Fallon, IL.

if you use any of these free brain images this May for Brain Tumor Awareness Month and want me to know, leave me a comment and drop a link so I can follow you.

I’m sorry. What?

I’m sorry. What?

Welp, that didn’t go how I thought it would. I heard back from 4 of the 5 publishing pros on Reedsy that I contacted yesterday, and the quotes I received ranged from $60 to $500.

What?

They all got the same project summary from me, requesting a query letter review, but only one of them didn’t change the project scope in their proposal, and I’m frustrated.

One of them started proofreading my writing sample in their reply. While I appreciate the extra labor and the helpful intent, that’s a completely separate process.

Thanks, but no.

One of them told me, “I normally charge $325, but for you $225” and I felt like I was buying art off a poorly-lit boat from some character named Redd (or purchasing a used car from some dude with a combover wearing a leisure suit if you don’t play Animal Crossing).

And I’m sorry. What is happening right now?

And another was like, “I’ll write the query myself, and you can use it or not.” (That was the one that cost $500 because it required reading my entire manuscript.)

What? No.

No no no no no.

Suddenly there are four new carts in front of one poor, befuddled horse.

I’ll think about what to do, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. I was hoping to pay for help simplifying the query process, and now it’s exponentially more complicated to me. Do. Not. Want.

Should I query agents without feedback on my pitch first? Do I not know how to do this, or do I lack confidence? Both? Publishing could be rewarding, but it’s sounding pretty costly to me in terms of energy expenditures.

Even if I managed to find a self-publishing company I trusted (y’all know I have battle scars there), I don’t really want to manage the process.

Sometimes it’s easier not to have goals.

Literary Delusion

Literary Delusion

I don’t know what’s come over me, except perhaps some super literary delusion. But won’t you feel silly when I’m famous and you have to pay to read something that was once free.

I asked the writing community on Bluesky if anyone could help me turn WYGB into a PDF. Someone kindly mentioned Reedsy.com, and now not only do I have a better way of making edits and converting my memoir to ebook, it was so simple I had energy left over to ask for quotes and get some feedback on pitching to an agent.

Although I’m always on the lookout for people blowing smoke up my ass, some of the query letter review respondents seemed to genuinely like my sample and my pitch.

So if I can afford the coaching, have the energy, and it feels like a good idea, I might be seeking a path to publish traditionally. Those are a lot of really big ifs, though. Especially for a woman who spends so much time in bed.

I don’t know. I’m just considering the possibilities, pretending I live in a universe where 45,000 chemo-addled words are publishable. I’d like my suffering to make some money eventually. I mean, is this America or what?

So, here’s your warning. Read Who You Gonna Believe now in case I’m told I need to take it down, because cows and free milk. Or something.

A Funny Thing Happened

A Funny Thing Happened

Not that long ago, I said I was letting Who You Gonna Believe go. I was tired of treating myself to the trauma. But then a funny thing happened.

My website was doing some serious numbers.* And that got me thinking maybe I should try to do something with this memoir I spent so much time on. Maybe I should try to make something of it. For the traffic gods.

I updated the digital cover, started promoting links and using excerpts to garner interest, and the next thing I know I was reading and proofreading the damn thing. Without angst, without feeling like I was waterboarding myself with toilet water.

I even thought to myself a couple of times that maybe I can write. I was barrelling through chapters like they were well-composed. Or at least well-enough composed. Maybe letting the work stagnate was a bad idea.

Then last night, I had a dream where instead of my ex-husband refusing to leave, he just walked away when I told him to piss off. That never happens!

I was laughing at parts of the story and remembering how much joy and laughter entered my life when Dan showed up.

I think I’m healed?

I’d still like to actually reach people with it. Have someone edit it. Format it for ebook. Turn it into an audiobook. But I’m not really in a position healthwise where I can accomplish any of that, let alone all of it. So I’ll just let those dreams simmer.

Anyhoo, I’m going to continue proofing today and think about how I can get more people to read it. I really do think there’s a there there, if I can just clarify the vision a little.

* Another funny thing happened. Turns out my search numbers were inflated by 4/20, and after everyone was good and high, things settled down some.

When Things Don’t Go Well: Cancer Edition

When Things Don’t Go Well: Cancer Edition

Tried recording a little bit of voiceover for a brain tumor friend’s Rock Opera charity thingy, and sometimes these things don’t go well. At least not lying down. I will try again later when I’m sitting up. Otherwise the recording is just going to need a lot of editing.

Monday evening didn’t go well either. There was Taco Bell and a giant stomach bloat, and then a forced shower I wasn’t planning on. 

I think it’s because the cleaners were late? See, we usually order food when they’re done, but they didn’t leave until 4:30, and I usually order by 2:00. That’s a little late for lunch, but it’s usually fine.

However.

When I don’t eat for a long time, and then eat a lot quickly because I am super hungry? 

BOOM.

Just keeping it real. I know how everyone thinks having brain cancer is so glamorous. 

While I whined about the unbudgeted energy I had to use up showering, I lamented that I broke my own 24-hour rule.

The rule is: you can’t make a mess here for 24 hours after the cleaners come. That way I get to enjoy a tidy home once every two weeks. It’s a rule that has historically applied to the pets, but it has since expanded to be the reason we don’t cook here every other Monday.

Well, we have to DoorDash way more frequently than that, but you know what I mean.

One thing I need to do now that I have additional insurance is postpone my rheumatology appointment this week. I’m thinking sometime in June now. But I don’t know, we’ll just see what’s available after coverage starts and what I think I can reasonably expect of myself. June is supposed to be routine MRI month too. And that’s also a whole-ass thing.

The inner dialogue I have regarding the rheumatologist sitch isn’t going well right now either. There’s a whole lot of me saying to myself: just cancel it. It’s going to be a huge waste of time.

That’s the fun of chronic illness. Wanting to be better, but getting nothing but extremely expensive and increasingly exhausting non-answers.

So, yeah. That’s what a blog post looks like when things don’t go well. A lot.

How to Write a Memoir in 10 Steps

How to Write a Memoir in 10 Steps

To be perfectly clear, I know this isn’t the most orthodox way to teach someone how to write a memoir in 10 Steps, but I submit that if you’re hung up on the literal how-to’s of writing a memoir, you aren’t really ready.

I don’t feel like diagramming sentences today.

That, and rudimentary how-to articles are largely about giving you the confidence to do a thing anyway. You can absolutely do this thing, but you should prepare first. Because if the surprising stuff turns out not to be a surprise, you’re basically unstoppable.

How to Write a Memoir

1. Get Thick Skin

2. Relive Your Trauma

3. Give People Fake Names

4. Find Enablers

5. Hold a Grudge Loudly

6. Be Discouraged

7. Read Other Memoirs

8. Feel Small

9. Write for Spite

10. Dig Up Your Past

The 10 Steps

1. Get Thick Skin

Forget what others have said about you (well don’t literally forget, you might need the fodder) and be prepared to look at your past self objectively. Lassoing that objectivity is even harder than it sounds, but it’s possible.

There are some faults you’re going to want to absolve yourself of in your writing—for me, naivety and cluelessness topped the list—don’t do it. You have to be willing to let readers see the warts. If your story is going to be relatable—if you’re serious about memoir writing—you must be authentic.

Absolution may still come to you, but not by glossing over the bits you don’t like. Be ready to criticize yourself. A lot.

2. Relive Your Trauma

I wasn’t prepared for the buried trauma that writing a memoir would resurface. I thought I was, but I was kidding myself. I literally had to take breaks and ultimately end my memoir to stop the constant onslaught of PTSD triggers.

3. Give People Fake Names

This is probably obvious, but there’s a certain kind of person you’ll need to write about who still Googles herself 15 years later. To avoid the headaches, just change her name.

Because even your best attempts at keeping ties severed may be thwarted.

My ex-husband actually joined my Patreon even though I did my best to rename people and switch up identifying characteristics. That’s a real thing that happened.

There are legal considerations too, but I am not a lawyer. If you have qualms, hire an attorney, please.

4. Find Enablers

Aside from needing money to pay bills after having brain surgery, there were a couple of motivating factors that kept me writing:

A former employer (who I name-drop in the preface of Who You Gonna Believe) and a couple of online friends behaved in such a way that I believed I could write. 

All of them read my blog at some point and encouraged me to write a memoir. I channeled them when I doubted I could succeed.

5. Hold a Grudge Loudly

There’s a great quote that I have seen floating around the internet attributed to Anne Lamott. (I see it a lot without attribution too, so who knows?) It goes something like: You own everything that’s ever happened to you. If people wanted you to write nicely about them, they should have behaved better.

You might feel like it’s in your best interest to withhold certain facts, but you don’t owe anyone your silence. You hear me?

6. Be Discouraged

Some people will say that memoir writers just want revenge. I, for example, fit the divorcee and undiagnosed cliches, since so much of the story is about my lousy ex-husband and my subsequent long slog to a medical diagnosis.

The naysayers discouraged me, not gonna lie. But then a funny thing happened: I realized they weren’t my readers and weren’t ever going to be my audience. Caring about their opinions was like asking the guy who sells gym memberships if my dress made me look fat.

7. Read Other Memoirs

You might just learn stuff you didn’t know would help you write. My favorite reads while I wrote Who You Gonna Believe were by John Lewis, Jenny Lawson, Leah Remini, and Mary Karr.

By the way, I highly recommend The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr.

Shop Recommended Memoirs

8. Feel Small

The odd thing about memoir writing is that it makes you self-aware. You see that other people have profoundly different stories to tell and feel like maybe your life isn’t that big of a deal. I say that’s a good thing.

Not only did a sense of smallness help me see my trauma as a mouse and not a monster, it helped me relate to my audience in a new way and craft a better story for them.

9. Write for Spite

So maybe spite isn’t what fuels you, but it was a big motivating factor for me—knowing that the awful people who denied so much of my truth couldn’t stop me now. That was empowering.

Yeah, I can be petty. I wrote to spite them, but also to spite the person they imagined me to be. The person I knew I wasn’t.

10. Dig Up Your Past

As a practical matter, memoir writing can be hard because our memories are faulty. I found I could settle the timeline of events if I dug through old blog posts. 

You might also find helpful details by talking to friends and family, reading a journal you kept, or poring over pictures. 

Social media timelines and archived chats are also useful if you have them available.

So that’s it. How to write a memoir in 10 steps. Easy, right?

if you’re looking for memoir publishing services, try a company like Modern Memoirs.

Health Insurance, Trump Memes, and Car Doctors

Health Insurance, Trump Memes, and Car Doctors

This week wasn’t terrible. I got Dan’s insurance sorted out, I read some fantastic stuff about Trump being forced to look at the memes created about him, and the Corolla is being fixed after the maintenance light came on.

It would be an understatement to say I wasn’t looking forward to sorting out Dan’s health insurance since he lost Medicaid last month, but yesterday’s phone call went so well—despite it taking an exhausting 90 minutes.

I was doing something wrong when I tried to sign up on the website by myself and a subsidy wasn’t being applied, so long story short? Dan’s ACA premiums went from a hypothetical $700/month to an actual $25/month.

I’m so relieved.

While I was talking to the agent, he got me something better than plain ol’ Medicare too. Without me having to pay any additional monthly premium. It’s weird being young-ish and on Medicare because of disability and not age. Everything is marketed to people 65+.

But 44 year olds with brain cancer exist. Ask me how I know.

So, folks, I have dental insurance for the first time in almost 7 years. If I wasn’t dehydrated today, I’d cry actual tears.

The local agent also understood YouTube monetization and knew what Zentangle was, so I didn’t have to spend extra energy trying to explain my non-SSDI income like I usually do.

So yeah, it was 90 draining minutes, but it was worth it. Then Mom got us Blizzards, and we all know that ice cream heals.

***

Trump. OMG. Have you seen the potential juror who was recently granted citizenship? She was dismissed because she admitted she couldn’t be impartial, but added that she thought Trump would be orange but he was actually more yellow.

I just. My sides hurt from laughing, y’all.

Setting aside the press feeling entitled to out and endanger jurors, the process of voir dire has been a hoot to watch because Trump has to look at memes posted by potential jurors.

Oh, oh! And I read that one guy (who wasn’t selected for obvious reasons) posted an AI fake of Trump saying “I’m dumb as fuck.” 

Donald Trump meme. He has his eyes closed. Text, in Godfather font, says: the Nodfather

I’m petty, and I’m here for it all, including the jokes mocking Trump—the man who made it his personal mission to brand Biden as “Sleepy Joe”—for falling asleep in court.

And if a split second of self-awareness is the only consequence he ever sees for all the laws he’s broken in plain sight, I’d kick myself for not making the most of it.

***

As for the car. We’re taking it to the shop my dad trusted and my mom still goes to. It needs some Toyota-recommended maintenance, but also new brakes. And other things I’m too tired to list. And you probably don’t care about anyway.

Happy weekend.

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