Browsing Category Journaling/Writing

Booking the Book Deal: First You Have to Write It

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things.” Words of wisdom from award-winning horror genre author Stephen King

The first book I wrote was for my mother. I took my time researching and writing it and gave mother some of the first draft’s initial chapters to read. Several months later, we learned that she was terminally ill. I rushed to complete the book, but death won the race. Mother died 11 months before Legacy was published.

Not long ago, I reread the book and discovered what I perceived as some editorial shortcomings. The downside of being a perfectionist is that you want everything you produce to be flawless. There are times when I contemplate updating the book, but then I imagine mother reiterating what she used to say often throughout her life, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

I’ve been working on my second book for a while. But procrastination is my nemesis. I can create a blog post in a few hours, but writing a book is ten times more challenging, as anyone who has attempted it knows. As passionate as I am about writing, it is a time-consuming and tedious process, and I have to be in a creative frame of mind to tackle it.

I was a bookworm long before I learned Stephen Kings’ advice about reading to improve writing. However, unless you are fortunate, like some renowned authors, to have a secluded retreat where you go to ply your trade, your writing time could be hindered, as mine often is, by constant interruptions. And interruptions aside when it comes to writing books, time is not our friend.

For instance, I am currently reading The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X. It is a fantastic five-star worthy publication. It clears up factual disputes and provides the reader with significantly more details about Malcolm X than the autobiography. The author, Les Payne, worked on The Dead Are Arising for 28 years. Sadly, in 2018, he died of a heart attack before he could finish the final draft. His daughter Tamara Payne, her dad’s research assistant, completed the book with their editor Robert Weil’s help. It was published last year.

Speaking of time, who hasn’t read The Catcher in the Rye? J.D. Salinger took ten years to finish it.

Writing her book was also a decade-long journey for Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell.

Alex Haley co-authored The Autobiography of Malcolm X and later wrote the acclaimed, 704-page Roots. Factoring in research time and intercontinental travel, it took Haley twelve years to write that book. And boy! It paid off in numerous ways.

Aware of the truth that time waits for no man (or woman), it is inspiring to know that some people don’t hit their literary stride until they are senior citizens.

J. R. R Tolkien took 16 years to finish The Lord of the Rings. He was 63 years old when the book was published.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Frank McCourt, was 66 when he wrote his bestselling memoir Angela’s Ashes.

And the oldest debut novelist on record award goes to Lorna Page. She was 93 years old when her first novel A Dangerous Weakness, was published.

The time it takes to write a book depends on many things, the book’s length and genre, the period spent doing research, and the author’s day-to-day writing routine.

Occasionally, one of my friends will ask my advice on how to publish their book. Here is my two-minute rudimentary pitch.

There are two methods of getting your book in print: self-publishing or traditional publishing.

Self-publish, and you maintain ownership of your book and can keep much of the profits. However, self-publishing necessitates that you do a lot of leg work after writing your book. That means everything from producing a professional product (editing, cover, format, etc.) to marketing it. If you have money to spare, you can pay professionals to help with those things.

Traditional publishing is more costly than self-publishing. It involves hiring a literary agent. The agent will help you put together query letters, a book proposal, a contract, a  marketing plan, book tours. He or she will be your overall pitch person. Literary agents charge a commission (about 15%) on any money that you earn. For every amount they get you in advances or royalties, speaking engagements, or other perks, they will take their cut. They will handle the heavy lifting. You may get an advance, but you’ll give up rights to your book, and everybody makes money off of it.

When I self-published my book, I had to learn the ropes through trial and error. I am still learning, but this time I am a little bit wiser.

Unless you have name recognition (say Terry McMillian or Walter Mosley), self-publishing is the way to go. The investment in self-publishing could be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. How much you want to spend on your book is your call. For Legacy, I hired a fantastic copy editor before sending my book to a premier (POD) print-on-demand service for self-publishing authors. Comparing the royalties earned from self-publishing to traditional publishing could be like equating a child’s piggy bank filled with pennies to a five-gallon jug filled with quarters and greenbacks. But everything is relative.

With determination, perseverance, and a little bit of luck, any well-written book could mean the difference between a mediocre publication and a Pulitzer Prize-winner. There will be time for learning the ropes of getting your book published, but first, you have to write it.

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Looking Back at The Funeral

I wrote the entry below in my journal on May 11, 2014, the night before Mother’s Day, weeks before my ailing mother died, and days after her doctor called my siblings and me to his office to tell us what I had already presumed. (The fact that this is being published on Father’s Day is coincidental.)

Mother’s cancer had returned after three years in remission and a few months following her breast surgery. It was terminal. Her doctor said that chemo and other interventive efforts to prolong her life had been exhausted. The ire that led me to express angry feelings in my journal later that evening was not the result of the doctor’s disclosure. I became enraged after my sister told me over the phone that she and our mother were writing down service arrangements for mother’s funeral.

I knew that my exclusion from the planning was intentional because my sister and mother were members of the same religious organization and I purposely have no membership with any organized religion. The deliberate slight led me during that telephone conversation to decide that I would not attend my mother’s funeral. (Circumstances, which I’ll later explain, changed my mind. I did attend the funeral. My sister did not.)

My sister, brothers, and I each dealt with my mother’s pending death in our own way. I, as I often do, wrote through my pain, confiding and psychologically transferring my feelings to my private journal. Now, as the fifth anniversary of mother’s death approaches on June 18, I’ve decided to share, in my public journal, a condensed version of the entry I wrote on that Mother’s Day eve. For me revealing these thoughts and pent up emotions is cathartic. Others may see it differently, and that’s okay. And as much as I know I should resist saying this about that; I’m going to say it anyway – Whatever.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dear Diary,

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. What a time to be writing this.

I won’t be attending mother’s funeral. People will wonder why — let them. While the service is underway, I will be here, at home, feeling a lot of things, but guilt will not be one of those emotions. I’ll probably be reminiscing.

Like every good mother, mom instilled pearls of wisdom in her children as she and dad raised the four of us. She never stopped giving us advice, even when we were adults. I remember following frequent news reports about the Jim Jones tragedy in Guyana that dominated the airways, mother and I had many conversations about how easily people are lured into cults. “Stay away from them,” she cautioned.

I detest the fact that mother ultimately disregarded her own advice when she joined an organization that in my opinion, is nothing less. Her decision curtailed our family gatherings and resulted in our family becoming distant in the past few years. I imagine that once mother leaves us we will be more estranged.

So often I think about family gatherings that we enjoyed at mom and dad’s home on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas until her conversion changed that. I miss those get-togethers. What kind of religious organization restricts members’ from participating in what they call “worldly” activities, birthdays included? How crazy is that?

They like to take control. Mother let them take over her life, and I will always believe that she ultimately came to regret it, though she would never admit it. Dad tolerated them because of mother but he turned a deaf ear to her request that he join a study group and he refused otherwise to have anything to do with the organization. He and I sometimes discussed the irony of the situation. How unfortunate that when he died in August 2006, mother invited them to eulogize his funeral. I don’t think I will ever get over that. It’s part of the reason that I cried so hard at dad’s funeral. I’m still pissed-off about it because I felt that dad was disrespected. If he could have sat up in his casket, pushed the lid off and said, “Hold it one damn minute. I’m not going out like this. Not like this.” He would have.

Although he didn’t regularly attend church, he was a protestant, not one of — them. When arrangements were being made for dad’s funeral, I told mother that I wanted one hymn included in the program. Just one. My favorite, “Amazing Grace.” She told me that was considered to be a pagan song. Therefore it wasn’t allowed. Well, darn, dad and I were both pagans then, weren’t we?

Since mother has assigned my sister to oversee her funeral arrangements, I am certain that I will not be asked if I have any input. Just the same, I am going to keep insisting that the program include the congregation singing Amazing Grace. The same song that I wanted sang at my dad’s funeral. Nevertheless, this woman persists.

Dr. Wayne Dyer says that “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” I studied with the organization for a brief period even before my mother did. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I wanted no part of any group that manages its members with what I consider nothing less than mind control. I’d say that exposure gives me props for knowing something about which I speak. Against the protest by my then friend with whom I was studying, I refused to succumb to the brainwashing and, I quit the sessions.

My presence at mother’s funeral would serve no purpose. Feeling as I do now, resentment would most likely lead me to show my annoyance during the service for the group that I feel stole my mother from our family long ago.

They profess to be nonjudgmental, yet they judge others every day, especially people who they label as pagans because pagans are of different faiths and are “of the world.” They spew a lot of hogwash about how they cannot fraternize with people of the world. Oh? Where the hell do they think they are on Mars?

I don’t see where they exclude themselves from taking part in worldly things – except those things they don’t want to participate in like jury duty or the armed services. Then, they quickly become religious objectors — if you can call it that.  They cheer for their favorite sports teams. They buy worldly convinces like automobiles and computers. They’ve even put their literature on the Internet. Are those not worldly things? And just like numerous other “Christians” some of them fornicate, lie, and commit crimes; and then they try to justify the bastardly deeds of their corrupt members by saying, “Oh that person was not truly one of us.” How many times have I heard that used to justify a wayward sheep?

I mourn for the person that my mother used to be. I feel that she was taken away from me a long time ago even though she had not yet left this earth. I have my peace, knowing that she will no longer be under their control. I hope that she has her peace.

An organization that philosophizes to its members that they are God’s chosen while putting other religions down is, in my opinion, hypocritical. Granted — it is every person’s choice to be a member of whatever religious group they choose – or to be a member of none. But what peeves me is when one religious organization condemns others while claiming that theirs is the only “truth.”

Ultimately, I did attend my mother’s funeral. It was my sister who chose not to do so. The unplanned situation that resulted in mother’s funeral arrangements being left to me by my sister was the result of some tense, back-and-forth conversation between us over my insistence that Amazing Grace be sung during the service. The minister my mother had requested perform the service strongly objected to including that hymn or any hymn associated with pagan religion and informed me through my sister that he would refuse to administer the funeral if I persisted. I did. In turn, my sister also refused to have anything to do with making the arrangements or attending the service.

You see her faith advises members against taking part in what they consider services associated with a “false religion.” A funeral is considered a religious service because it may include such practices as the congregation joining in prayer with a “worldly” minister or priest who is not of their faith, and God-forbid the funeral be held in a church. Mother’s was held in a funeral home.

People who purport yourselves to be God’s children — check yourselves. 

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Fanning the Flame

My personal journal has 786 pages, 319,829 words, so far. I know that because the status bar in my Microsoft Word document tells me so. Experts will tell you that there are some differences in a diary and a journal, for this purpose I’ll use both words interchangeably.

Sometime around the late 1970s, I began journaling. Like many people who write diaries I used a pen and paper, and in the years that followed, I dutifully filled three, thick loose-leaf binders with almost daily entries. And then one day, I shredded every single page from each of those volumes.

Thinking about it now, I realize that it was not the first – nor last – regrettable thing I have done in my lifetime. But on that day, some years ago, when I destroyed my journals it was because I had a flashback to when I was around 12 or 13 years old.

In those early teen years, I had a little diary with a pink cover that I had purchased from Murphy’s five and dime store. The diary had a flimsy key lock that one could easily open with a hairpin. I kept the book hidden from my family – so I thought – between the mattress and box-spring on my twin-sized bed. Teenagers today are much savvier. They know that of all the places to hide something, beneath your mattress is the last place. That’s the first place your mother looks for your stash of anything.

Before I tell you, I’m sure that you’ve already figured out that my mother found my diary and even worse, she read it. There were no shocking revelations in there, just the age-appropriate thoughts, emotions, observations, and dreams of a young teenage girl growing up in the early sixties.

Back then, I was no different from many teenagers today who feel that they cannot talk to their parents. I found comfort in writing in my diary. It gave me someone to “talk” to and confide in. When one day mother’s teasing and censuring let me know that she had read my diary, I felt hurt and violated. I ran to my bedroom, grabbed the diary from beneath the mattress, and tore out every page that had anything written on it, and then I ripped those torn-out pages to slivers. When I finished, the floor around my small wastebasket looked like a confetti bomb had exploded. I picked up the paper that had missed the wastebasket, tore it some more, and then tossed it and the diary cover with its flimsy lock and remaining empty pages into the trash.

Fifteen years after I destroyed that first diary, I purged the journals that I had begun writing after I left home. Purge two was also unplanned and happened unexpectedly. I was distressed over something that occurred earlier in the day. After I recorded the incident in my journal, I spent some time sitting on my bed, reading some of the pages that I had written weeks, months, even years earlier. It wasn’t all bad, but the unpleasant things brought back pain and raw emotions as if it had happened yesterday. I realized that if I suddenly dropped dead, it was likely that my mother would eventually get my journals and once again read my private thoughts. She would not understand the anguish I had endured in the years following my broken marriage because I had never discussed it with her; nor would she comprehend my struggle to overcome the life-altering, ongoing effort to raise my children solely on meager salaries from low-income jobs. But because she had tried to persuade me to stay in a marriage that I felt was doomed, she would say, “Didn’t I tell you?” My journals would have been contemporary fodder for a teasing tongue.

Had she read those old, tear-stained journals they would not have revealed that the broken-spirited young girl expressing herself on those pages, the one determined not to be beaten down by the struggle and liabilities of single-motherhood would eventually mature into a strong-willed woman. But in time she would see and become proud of the finished product.

When I turned on my shredder and began destroying those journals, I thought there go years of memories. But my hesitancy didn’t last. It only took me to imagine my mother’s face as she had mocked my young teenaged self, for me to resume feeding pages into the shredder. Don’t misunderstand, I loved my mother, but she had her faults, as do I, and as do you. If I could reveal why I destroyed those journals without bringing mother into the equation, I would, but I can’t.

Unfortunately, I never imaged that one day I would be writing a blog and even a book or two and I sometimes regret my spontaneous decision to destroy those journals. Life wasn’t all bad. There were many pleasant days and events that I recorded in those pages, especially times spent doing fun things with my children, but as age would have it, many memories of my past are now mere shadows in my mind.

Aside from the fact that writing is therapeutic, the desire to write burns in me like an eternal flame. So of course, I eventually began journaling again. But now, instead of writing everything down, I use my computer. My journal is password protected. My dear mother, God rest her soul, is dead and my children are grown. Anyone who gains access to my journal now or after I’m gone won’t find it so accessible. And if they do happen to learn the password and read my private thoughts, they may decide that it wasn’t worth the effort to try and pry and perhaps judge.

I often write about my life on my blog, and some of my narratives come from my journal. Of course, I only reveal publicly what I want to share and I suppose that’s one reason I keep procrastinating while writing my second book. There is so much more that I want to disclose than was shared in the first book.

Book two will be a memoir picking up where book one ended. It won’t have the historical value of say, The Diary of Anne Frank, or the comedic impact of The Diary of Bridget Jones, but it could possibly read like the Diary of a Mad Black Woman. It will be introspective. It will be me.

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