I think it’s really useful to look back on the past and use it as a template for the future.
All the stuff that you imagine will change your life and make it so much better, and that will give you the validation you imagine you need—it’s not what you think it is. You know this because you’ve already seen it in the past. You remember getting something you thought you wanted and realizing it either wasn’t quite what it was cracked up to be, or that you had changed and become someone who wanted something else, or something more.
This is normal.
But it shouldn’t make you depressed or feel that you should stop trying for important things.
On the other hand, it should make you look around at the life you currently have and realize that there are things already there that make it wonderful, just as it is.
A lot of life is in the everyday choices and pleasures.
Reading a perfect book.
Meeting someone who is really as awesome in real life as I’d imagined.
Struggling with my writing.
One reader who sends a little note saying how much she loves my book.
Going out with people who actually love me as I am now, and are not waiting until I ‘level up.”
Imagining a great future. There is a pleasure in imagination that I am not sure any reality lives up to. And I refuse to give up my pleasure in imagination just because of that.
1. Meeting people who are interesting.
2. Meeting people you like and who like you.
3. Meeting people who have similar passions.
4. Hanging out with people you have met before, at the bar, at the pool, or wherever you are.
5. Asking people to do you a favor, like writing a blurb or coming to a conference you are in charge of.
6. Asking for advice from friends who are further along in the business than you are.
7. Allowing friends to introduce you to their contacts, and doing the same for others when it is appropriate.
What it isn’t:
1. Pressuring people because they “owe you.”
2. Thinking that every person you meet must have an immediate, visible in to something that you want to do with your career.
3. Scoping out a room and seeing who the “important” people are, surrounded by others, and targeting them.
4. Interrupting conversations already in progress with people you feel like you “need” to talk to.
5. Buying drinks or bringing/sending gifts to people you want to impress. (This is so tacky, and borders on the creepy).
How it works for you:
1. Things happen. The stars align. I literally do not understand this, but it has happened to me twice now and resulted in book contracts. I didn’t push it. People came to me and asked me to write something, and I did, and it sold.
2. People remember you. They think of you when opportunities come up.
3. Don’t push it. The more you push, the more the possibilities will slide away.
How it doesn’t work for you:
1. Someone owes you a favor and you demand it right now.
2. You end up getting a blurb for your book that sounds good but is actually a hidden zinger or has no substance.
3. People realize that you give blurbs to anyone who asks, so they mean nothing and your name becomes associated with poor quality.
4. You become known as a jerk in the business.
I haven't posted a Boyfriend List on the site in a while, but since the gorgeous OMNI of the Ruby Oliver novels, THE BOYFRIEND QUARTET, is now on ebook, I figure I should do some more. They used to be the most popular element of this blog, and you can see them all by clicking here -- including lists from Paula Chase, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, John Green, Diana Peterfreund and more.
Here is the Omni jacket in case you don't believe me it's gorgeous.
OKAY. Now, a girl and then boyfriend list that is as thoughtful and sweet as the novel it's promoting.
Michael Barakiva is the author of the adorably Armenian and romantic ONE MAN GUY, a gay love story with lots of humor, skateboarding, delicious food and charm. Barakiva is a theater director and yet ANOTHER Vassar grad who has written young adult fiction (here's a list), and went to Julliard as well. He plays soccer with the New York Ramblers, has recently founded The Upstart Creatures, a theater ensemble dedicated to creating events that co-mingle art and food, and lives in Manhattan with his husband, Rafael.
Michael Barakiva's Girl/Boy Friend List
1) Cindy – Cindy and I met when we were 11, and spent most of the year awkwardly flirting with each other. Then I screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked her out to the Fifth Grade Dance. We lost touch until a few months ago, when she read about OMG online and got in touch with me via the magic of Facebook. I see now that Cindy is happily partnered to a woman with two beautiful children. Were Cindy and I drawn to each other because of our queerness? Who knows?
2) Debbie and I dated for like three weeks or something when I was in seventh grade, but drifted over the summer and pretended it had never happened when we returned to school the following autumn. She was one of the few other people who was in both band and choir, so we obviously had lots in common (she an alto and clarinetest, I was a baritone and bassoonist). We didn’t really last, but I remember thinking her brother Frank was hella cute.
3) Gail – This is really where it got serious. Gail and I had known each other since 1st grade at McKnight, before my family moved a few blocks and I got rezoned to Drew. Then we became friends again in high school, where all the schools fed back into each other.
Gail was in the Lutheran Choir, as was I (don’t ask how an Israeli/Armenian ended up in the Lutheran Choir). We started dating my freshman year of high school and I thought we were very happy, until her best friend Sarah Barnes told me that Gail wanted to break up with me but didn’t know how. I did it for her, on the back of a school bus, on the way down to Culpepper, VA on a band/choir exchange (band and choir are figuring much more prominently than I would’ve guessed in this list).
Ironically, I met an oboist on that exchange (the double reeds are always sat next to each other) whom I would briefly date when he and I re-met in NYC a decade later.
Gail, like Cindy, got in touch with me recently when she read about OMG. She works in the same building in Central Jerse as my sister and my mom. Gail sang like an angel, and I’m incapable of thinking about her without hearing her dulcimer sounds.
4) Kim – Kim and I met after my sophomore (her freshman) year of high school, at McCarter’s Summer Shakespeare Camp. We continued dating for years. I remember the first year or two happily, and the rest as…well…how shall I put it?
Kim remains one of the smartest, most talented and most beautiful women I’ve ever known. I always felt like we were soul mates, and after we finally finally finally broke up, I kept on waiting for the time we’d become friends again. As is incredibly clear from her rejection of my facebook request, she is clearly not eagerly anticipating that time. We still have a few friends in common from our Shakespeare days, and occasionally I can fb-stalk her via them to she what she’s up to, but I can’t help but feel a sliver of sadness because I think if I had already been out when I met Kim, she and I would be great friends today.
Or maybe not. Maybe Kim’s narrative is radically different than mine, and I’m just this annoying guy she met who detoured her romantically for a few years. Who knows?
5) It’s hard for me not to get sentimental when writing about Linsay, my last girlfriend. We met in college. She was a director, also. She was a Drama/English double major, also. She was a year ahead of me. We became good friends. She graduated. We started dating. The best parts of my senior year I remember spending in her railroad apartment on 6th between B and C. Linsay grew up outside of the city, knew it well, and introduced me to it, much the way Ethan does to Alek in OMG. My 21st bday fell in the six months we dated, and she took me to Lutèce.
We broke up. It wasn’t pretty.
We tried to be friends again. It didn’t work.
We didn’t talk. It wasn’t pretty.
Then we tried one more time.
This time, it really came together.
Linsay and I have seen each other through everything. Her daughter Julia, the most gorgeous creature on the earth, is my goddaughter. Last weekend, my husband and I went to Brooklyn to celebrate Linsay’s birthday in Prospect Park, where I realized I liked her friends almost as much as mine.
Linsay’s best friend from college, Joy Peskin, is the editor of OMG and the reason it happened. Linsay is one of the best board game players and cooks I know. Sometimes you wonder who in your life is going to be there forever. Sometime around ten years ago, I stopped wondering with Lins.
THEN I CAME OUT
6) Ricky was the first person I met when I started backpacking through Europe. It was the summer after my second year of grad school. I was supposed to start a theater company but the funding fell through last minute and I was depressed so I marched into Juilliard’s Financial Aid Office, insisted on taking some crazy loan with crazy interest rates that I’m still paying off, and used that money to flee to Europe.
Ricky was a smashingly handsome 6’4 Aussie who was kind and fun and the kind of person whom everybody loved. I met him in the hostel in London, he joined me in Paris the following weekend, I skipped Budapest to spend an extra few days with him in the middle of my trip, and then he sorta showed up in the States ten days after I’d left him because we decided we couldn’t be apart.
We dated for almost two years and broke up right before 9-11. He’s back in Oz now (Sydney, I believe) and if he’s still single, snatch him up, Ozzies. He’s a catch.
7) Raymond and I met at one of the more underground gay bars in the East Village. He was pale with blue eyes, a combination I should’ve learned to avoid by then because of how my knees quiver around it. He had a real job, and a real apartment, and lots of other real things that real adults have. He also had lots of real problems, which I didn’t realize often accompany real adulthood.
We lived together for 12 of the 18 months we dated. When it was good, it was good. And when it was bad, well… We’re not in touch much, having gone through that post-break up phase where we ignored each other, then that next phase where we went out and drank too much wine and one of us would cry and apologize for hurting the other so. Now we’re in that phase where I refuse to call him because he always made me initiate everything, and he doesn’t call me because he never called me, before during or after our relationship.
He wrote me the loveliest email the day that OMG came out. I wish him well.
8) I met Rafael shortly before I left NYC for a year on a gig. We wrote each other letters. Real letters, with postage and envelopes and everything. We fell in love in absentia, which I believe is really the easiest way for other people to do it with me. I came back. We started dating. And even though our relationship has not always been “a bed of roses,” and we are no longer “spring chickens,” (both examples of phrases he uses that made me fall in love with him), we got married on May 26th, 2013 and I have been happier than I thought I could with this warm, handsome and incredibly kind man.
I hear a lot of authors who made it big out of the gate talk about the lessons they learned. Mostly, these seem to be lessons about how to do exactly what they did because all they know is that what they did=a happy result.
I am not saying that authors who make it big that way didn’t work hard. Or that their lessons are wrong per se. I’m not saying that no one should listen to them. But I do think it is useful a lot of the time to listen to authors who have been in the game a long time, who have seen a lot of other authors write on perfect book and no others, slowly give up after being a midlister for a few years, hit big sales ten years after a debut, and a lot of other cases.
Here are what I hear from these authors:
1. Luck is a big part of making it big.
2. You don’t control hitting the right market with the right book at the right time.
3. You control doing your best every day and continuing to try new things.
4. You control reinventing yourself with every book.
5. You control networking with people who might make a difference.
6. There isn’t a formula for the “perfect” book. (And anyone trying to sell you that formula is, well, earning their money doing something other than writing the perfect book themselves, shall we say).
7.You control having a good agent. The more books you sell, the more you know what a good agent is.
8. You control having a good editor. Maybe not with your first book sale, but after that, when you have a good agent, you should bring up any concerns with your editor. Editors can be changed.
9. Book deals that aren’t to your advantage can be cancelled. This means that if you hate working on the book you’re contracted on, you can sometimes buy out—and this may in fact be the best thing for your career.
10. Never EVER let someone talk you into signing away your rights to your career. You might be surprised at what I’ve seen in contracts. This actually happens. Have some faith in yourself and in your future.
Never imagine that you have no control. But also don’t imagine that you can just look at one author’s path and see how to “make it big.” That only worked in that one time in the history of the world. It’s not going to work like that again. Which isn’t to say it’s all luck or random chance. It’s not.
This is such an exciting day. I love the thought of all you teachers all over the country writing together and putting your stories into the universe. It's a beautiful thing.
My role in Teachers Write is to provide a weekly writing prompt to all of you to help get you warmed up for the week. These prompts are meant to be fun, but also inspiring. I will try to help you think more deeply about your work: your intent, your stories, your characters. I hope you'll stop by each week to check in, try the prompts, and share how things are going!
To start you off, I want to ask you to think about finding the beauty in your work, no matter what your story is about. Why beauty? Every year, I choose a theme to try to live by, or live up to. It helps me stay grounded on hard days, and it helps remind me of the big picture when little things get me down. This year, my theme is "Finding Beauty". You can read more about what I mean by that here: http://jbknowles.livejournal.com/48
Even in the grittiest, saddest, hardest stories we read (or live), there is almost always a glimmer of hope somewhere. It's what makes us read on, or live on. And that's the point. In fiction, this glimmer, this promise, is the heart of your story.
Often when we start writing we give our characters a big conflict. Even in picture books, the theme is to try fail, try fail, try fail, succeed! What's the beauty there? The willingness to keep trying after each failure. The beauty is hope.
The beauty in our work is why we write in the first place. It's why the story called to us. It could be triumph, it could be love, it could be survival. Joy. Discovery. Truth. Understanding. Forgiveness.
Many of you are beginning your stories today, so you may not even know exactly what you'll be writing about, or where your character's journey will lead. But you can still think about the themes that are important to you, and how underneath that, lies something beautiful. It's where the heart is, or will be, pumping life into your story.
Today, I ask you to consider the work you plan on doing this summer for Teachers Write. First, think about the over-arching story. Then, think about why this story is important to you. What's calling you to write this particular one? What do you think the beauty of it will be?
I hope you'll share in the comments. But I also know that sometimes, these are the things we want to keep close to our hearts. (And if that's the case, I hope you'll just say hi.) But do keep it, either way. And revisit what you've written as you write your story, and especially when you get stuck, as an important reminder of why you are doing this, and why you must keep going.
Good luck everyone! And next week, we'll get to more specific exercises/prompts as you dig deep into your stories. I can't wait!!!!
I’ve been watching a lot of Justified. I was a little surprised to discover I like it.
But it’s not that shocking, considering I like Elmore Leonard’s ear for dialog and the ever-present evidence in his books that he follows his own writing advice. I liked discovering that producer Graham Yost gave the writers of the show WWED bracelets.
I’ve also been appreciating:
Timothy Olyphant‘s half Jimmy Stewart, half Jack Nicholson affect.
Herky-jerky Jeremy Davies, who manages to seem simultaneously like someone who’d be running the shooting range at a seedy carnival and a semi-functional toy you’d win there.
Walton Goggins (whose actual name would also work well for his character), buttoned-up and wild-eyed, with ever-precise diction.
I could go on naming actors; there are a lot of strong performances.
There are missed opportunities, too. I especially wanted more in Noble’s Holler; more characters (where were the women?), more scenes, more nuance.
But overall, good, compelling TV. Will watch again.