Happy Leap Day!

Confession time: my favorite all time TV series is Frasier. Naturally I’m thinking of their Leap Day episode, where Frasier encourages everyone to take a leap and try something new, to disastrous results.

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I’m all for an excuse to try something new and spread one’s wings. Not so keen on the whole disastrous results part. But here’s the thing: we don’t know what will work until we try it. We don’t know what we’re capable of until we push ourselves that extra mile.

I could have given up on writing years ago. I could have never picked up my craft after years focusing on other avenues instead. But I did. And this time I began sharing my work with the world. This time I was ready to take the leap and fine tune my writing. This time I didn’t put my writing down again.

If you have a passion you’ve been neglecting, maybe it’s time to take a leap and put your faith in yourself. If you don’t, you’ll never know what might be.

Me? I’m still busy with my last leap. Instead of trying something new, I’m going to continue pushing forward. Whether you have something new or something old to focus on, I hope you will, too.

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The Story of My Hearing Loss: Part Five

I’ve been meaning to continue this story for a while now, but each time I open a document to type, I blanked. Mainly because the next few years aren’t very interesting.

After the accident, my hearing stabilized. I continued on my way as a child with a hearing loss alone in a hearing school. I had no support services, sans my mother’s advocacy. I was teased and picked on for my hearing loss, my hearing aids, my need for preferential treatment. I had my friends and yet I often felt left out and lost when I misheard or couldn’t hear.

I realize this is all very personal, another child with a hearing loss might not have the social struggles I had. I know my ears played a part, as did my personality, the other kids’ personalities, and the whole mess of complicated childhood issues.

In middle school I was finally connected with an advocate. Now, at that point I didn’t notice what I was missing. I studied with my friends, who happened to be in the top 10% of our class. I learned from them what I missed from the teachers. Therefore I felt less smart than them, when in reality I could handle my own.

With the assistance of the advocate a few things happened. One, I matched my schedule with that of my best friend (future valedictorian and Harvard Law graduate) so I could always get help from her notes. The school also provided me with an FM System.

Simply put, an FM System consists of a chunky hearing aid that has multiple controls, including hooking up to a microphone a teacher wore. Even though my peers knew I had a hearing loss, this was more cumbersome. The hearing aids weren’t comfortable and I had to get each teacher to place a microphone on them. Sometimes shirts brushed against the microphones creating an uncomfortable sound.

It also had its perks. During tests I heard all the hints the teacher whispered to my peers. If the teacher stepped outside, sometimes I heard what was being said. An FM System can be fun, but it required I be comfortable with the attention, and the teachers be willing to work with me and my device.

I’ve struggled with some pretty unusual situations as well: my school installed a motion sensor to save on electricity. Said motion sensor interacted with my hearing aids, giving me nothing but static. I had to go into the school after hours, with my mom and a stethoscope tool so she could hear through my aids, in order to prove I was telling the truth. Once Mom got on board they turned off the motion sensors for me.

Advocacy. It’s not something I was aware of as a child. But my ears require me to be my own advocate. They required my mother to be my advocate. At times, that’s also called social suicide. Because we all know: it’s not easy being different.

Part 4

How to Set Off the Smoke Alarms and Ruin Valentine’s Day

This year, I single handedly failed at Valentine’s Day. My husband often talks about fried ice cream and we don’t know of any place local that serves it. So when a recipe floated around on my Facebook page days before the holiday, I knew I had to try it!

I tackled it. I did all the steps right, but the last step was heating up oil to 350°. I don’t have a thermometer, but I got some ideas and waited for the oil to boil. And waited. And waited… You can see where this is going, I do now. I finally decided to test the oil when smoke began filling up our kitchen (it’s a small kitchen so this does happen from time to time). If I had to guess, I’d say the oil was probably close to 500° by the time I finally attempted to fry the ice cream.

Then the alarms went off. My husband ran around the house, disconnecting them since we knew it wasn’t fire related. I turned off the burner and turned on the fans. My six-year-old covered his ears, and one of my cats ran through the house sending me dirty looks. I finished the fried ice cream. Husband and I ate, as picky six-year-old wouldn’t touch it. The dessert tasted good, so score one for me.

But the house was filled with smoke. My eyes stung as though I’d just chopped a hundred onions. My kid was close to tears. We opened the windows even though it was the coldest day of the year. My husband asked me where I wanted to go until the smoke cleared out.

It was the coldest day of the year. I was in sweat pants. I hadn’t showered. My eyes were red from smoke. I didn’t want to go out! He wore me down and off we went for a impromptu shopping trip while our poor cats stayed in the smoke filled house with the cold air rushing in.

My house still smells like burnt oil, but my eyes no longer burn. I’ve never set off the alarms before with my cooking, not sure this is a good milestone to finally achieve. My son doesn’t want me to ever make fried ice cream again.

I will. I learned my lesson. It won’t happen again.

I hope.

Thoughts on Queries

Ahh, queries, the bane of every writer’s existence! Queries are hard, soul crushing, and grueling. They go through more drafts than the manuscript. But each query written helps.

My first queries took so many revisions I can’t even go into the document and easily find the right one. I needed those revisions to learn what worked and what didn’t, and get a better idea how to take my 70k+ novel and boil it down to less than 250 words.

By the time I wrote my query for the novel that landed my agent, I was getting better. My first draft hit a lot of the necessary notes. From there my main goal was to tweak things here and there to clarify points, make it less vague, and snag a reader.

The only tips I can share are ones that have been shared many times over: Stick to the facts, don’t be vague, hook your reader. A query should be akin to a jacket cover. I’ve heard it should represent approximately the first quarter of the novel. But each case is different. My query had some hints from the final third, because that’s where my stakes were. And my stake was and is a surprise twist, so to speak. This is where my query had the most changes: do I spoil or not? In the end, I spoiled, but not in my original queries that went out.

A few notes here: I had many eyes on this query, from those who had read the novel, to those that hadn’t, to mentors in a contest I was chosen for. But, with all those changes, my agent was from my original query. That query no longer matches my novel, as I had a major R&R. In the end, my original query clearly enticed my agent, but it was the revision that sealed my fate.

Take away note: sweat it and don’t sweat it. Writing is a very personal journey. Polish until you can’t polish anymore, then send it off into the world and cross your fingers.

As for personalization: I’ve read it both ways, the do and the don’t. Research is the first step, find out what each agent is looking for. Some will clearly request for facts and no chit chat, others want to know where you found them.

For me: I’ve done both. But with my last project I did very little personalization, just an introduction, my blurb, and small paragraph about me. Bottom line: be professional and have a query that catches the eye.

But how? I hear you saying, queries are so hard! They are, trust me they are. So let me end with a few tips:

  • Find a group of writers to exchange with. This is huge. Offer advice as advice is given. Twitter and contests are a great place to connect with others, and find groups to join. The more you comment on someone else’s query, the more you’ll learn ways to improve your own.
  • Boil down your plot to key points. No gimmicks, focus on facts. Then infuse voice if you can. The goal here is to tell a story with as much intrigue as possible. Look at the back jacket of comparable books for ideas, but don’t stop there. Book jackets often share less or are more gimmicky then a query. A good query tends to be somewhere in between a book jacket blurb and a synopsis.
  • End with your stakes on the table. Stakes are not, “Will they survive?” They need to be specific, what makes the stakes in your story different from every other story? In fact, that should be your entire goal in your query: what makes yours different from the other 500 queries in the agent’s inbox?
  • I’m going to repeat: showcase what makes your novel unique. How do you stand out from the pack? Is your novel diverse? Is there an uncommon twist? Pull some of those unique aspects out and put that on the page.
  • Repeat above steps as necessary. Not getting requests? Revise your query. Keep pressing forward. Each revision gets you one step closer.

Blogging Side Effect: Documented Changes

Interesting side effect of blogging: watching oneself change. Not so interesting side effect of blogging: everyone can dissect said changes!

I started this blog in February of 2013, three years ago. I’ve changed and grown as a writer since then. As a person. Three such changes stick out at me when I glance through past posts.

The first involves sex scenes. When I started blogging I had never written a sex scene before. Kissy scenes? Yes, please! But everything else was closed door. And three years ago I couldn’t wrap my head around writing sex scenes.

Now I’ve written…a lot of them. Seven novels with sex scenes in them. My former self would be staring at these words, mouth open, cheeks flushed. It wasn’t something I thought I’d do. But people change. I changed as a person, I changed as a writer. And I love those sex scenes. Not only are they fun, but they often involve personal, emotional growth for the characters. Love and attraction can go hand in hand and it’s fun to watch characters grow closer together as they, ahem, are closer together.

Three years ago I was growing tired of the leading male hero being tall, dark haired, totally ripped, and handsome. Real life involves variety and not everyone has those four traits. I married a blond and love redheads, why do they all have to have dark hair?

I struggled with this, and talked with others about this topic. One Internet friend wrote something that has stuck with me all these years: if I wanted to fantasize about a guy with love handles, I’d go for my husband.

Romance novels are about fantasy. And the tall, ripped, guy is that fantasy. I still feel some sense of normal can come into play in the right settings, but I’m embracing what I’m writing: a fantasy. And present me is okay with that concept. Sure, I often give my males a reason for their physique, like being a rock climber or a runner. Because if he sits around playing video games all day and has a six pack but doesn’t work out…well, that’s a bit much to swallow!

The last area is much more personal: the use of the term “differently-abled” vs “disabled.” I’m Hard of Hearing. I grew up with the label “hearing impaired.” I don’t like this label, never have, and have avoided using it in my novels. Why? The answer is simple: I don’t see myself as impaired. Never have. Never will.

The thing about hearing loss, it creates a linguistic minority. I am part of a community, of a culture. And we view ourselves as such. We don’t automatically view ourselves as disabled. I don’t view myself as disabled.

I read a blog where a disabled author mentioned the term “differently-abled” in a negative light. I asked about it. The answer I respected: I could use that term to describe myself, but for others it creates the stigma about the term “disabled” and needs to stop.

This gave me pause. Because my avoidance of the term “disabled” is due to the stigma. My ears are not hearing, therefore I am disabled, even if I view myself as part of a linguistic and cultural minority. It makes sense. Furthermore, I am not setting out to separate myself from anyone else with a disability. We share many frustrations and can be wonderful allies and partners.

I’m now referring to myself as disabled. It’s not easy, very much a work in process. But even as I change my terminology with respect for my peers, my former words, my former usage of “differently-abled” continues to exist on my blog. I could go back and delete those posts, or edit those words. I won’t. Not because the Internet will never let me truly erase those former words, but because I want to own my journey. Just like I started off calling myself hearing impaired before adopting Hard of Hearing. Because that journey is so important to me and is a huge part of my upcoming novel.

We can’t truly know where we are until we see where we came from. The downside of blogging means that it’s public for all to see. With any luck my journey will touch someone else, and help them to make their own journey, whatever that may be.

And I will do my best not to cringe at those old posts. They were once a part of me. They are part of my journey. They are me.