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Monthly Archives: October 2011


Saturday was a good night. Warm and enthusiastic writers, agents and publishers crowded into a huge ballroom, eager to see who and what would happen at this year’s Royal Palm Literary Awards . The conversations all around me were vibrant, creative and filled with talk of books, writing and plots. My book came in first place, Memoir. The second and third place winners were accomplished, published authors with some meaty subject matter (One book was about a mother who’s son was in the war in Iraq, the other, a story told by a cancer survivor). I was very honored that my book, a tale where a donkey serves as a metaphor for grasping for a dream and failing, held up so well. Most startling was walking up to receive the award and hearing the announcer read my bio. With credentials including an  MFA, teaching experience, and a list of other awards I was lucky enough to win since the last time I received a Royal Palm Award, I realized that while I often feel I’ve not accomplished any of the things I had hoped for when I moved to GA, I really have made great strides despite the challenges I’ve endured. And THAT made me feel prouder than any chunk of etched glass that symbolized winning an award. Our lives are nothing but the accumulation of small steps, and walking up to that podium, I realized that even if I am not yet at my hoped for destination, I’ve walked miles in the right direction.  

Later, I had a wonderful meeting with a very established agent who not only asked for my book, but took the time to share insight as to why my queries have not been getting the responses I hoped. She said no one will touch a memoir that runs 110k words, even if it’s amazing. I have to pare the book down to 80K words to be saleable in this market. OK then….. so tonight I begin the arduous task of cutting material from the book to prepare it for a new agent and a fighting chance to earn a place in the publishing world. I embrace the task. Every change, painful as cutting can be, makes for a stronger book, and bidding good-bye the fluff is bound to make My Million Dollar Donkey a more intense and poignant read.

My date, David, had great class. He helped make the evening special, doing all he could to make me feel beautiful, accomplished, and talented (I suppose the Chardonnay helped me feel good too.) I appreciated his genuine support and efforts to make the celebration all it could be. 

After reading my last blog, my friend George texted me to wish me good luck. He said, “Pack light, Ginny. It’s time you start lugging only a carry on with you.” Made me laugh.
George has always been both practical and wise, and his words came to mind more than once that night as I sat in that crowded room among strangers. I felt grounded and at home because it occured to me that special friends are with me always, in spirit, in heart, and in the smiles they inspire; smiles that resognate long after the moment of first impact.    

Ginny, the writer, is back. It feels right and good to be blogging again, but I’m afraid not tonight. I must attend to my editing…..

Full Circle

    This weekend I am going to a writing seminar, the first I’ve attended in years. On Saturday night I will go to a banquet where the winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award will be announced. I am one of three finalists in the memoir category.

    I am not particularly excited or anxious about the results. I’m just going to see what happens. This particular contest fills me with memories and reflection and serves as a poignant reminder that life can be filled with important lessons, the kind of lessons that must be viewed through an honest lens.  

      I won the Royal Palm Literary Award ten years ago for the first full book I ever wrote, a historical romance called SISTERS OF FATE (the book was renamed more than once during a long, slow evolution.) I was thrilled beyond belief, except for the fact that my husband and I had a fight after the awards ceremony. He felt I didn’t thank him enough during my moment on stage and the focus of my winning this exciting award was quickly diverted from my writing and personal accomplishment, to his feelings that he was not appreciated enough or given enough credit for his part in my success. In retrospect, his needing to be given credit for anything and everything I did and his having to be the center of attention was a common theme in our marriage and not something I will get into here. But because of that memory, I know that when or if they call out my name tomorrow night, my delight will be dampened by the nagging resonance of my disappointment and hurt over a 20 year love affair that was completely out of balance. Memories and the baggage we can’t seem to put down are a bitch.  While some people can shrug and move on easily from a broken past, for others, the sorrows of a failed life linger like ghosts making the hair stand up on your arms for reasons you can’t quite explain. I fall into the latter category.  Sigh.

     Writing. What a journey it’s been.
     Winning this particular award way back when gave me something much more important than an ego rush. Dumbo was handed a feather and told that as long as he held it, he could fly. Damn if the elephant didn’t take to the air after that, convinced he could defy gravity just because someone gave him a symbol proclaiming his potential. Confidence is a wonderful thing.

     I had been dabbling in romance writing for some time.    I’ve wanted to write since I was a child, and in those tender years when I was expected to pick a career, I came darn close to going to school for journalism, but dance had such a grip on my heart and had a short shelf life, I moved to New York to pursue that dream instead. Still, I clung to the notion that when dance was done with me, I’d tackle the writing dream. I held that plan close to my heart for as long as I could remember and years of writing articles for magazines and journaling privately while I worked as a dancer kept writing a vibrant hope for me. 

     I opened a dance studio out of necessity to support myself way back when I first moved to Sarasota as a single mom, and some ten years later when it at long last became stable enough to afford me snippets of time and energy I could allocate towards something other than survival, I started writing fiction again. I wrote romance for reasons I won’t go into here, but to be honest, I was living vicariously on paper. My personal life was greatly devoid of physical intimacy, but I loved and adored my husband, so I found myself acting out, having the affair of the century with a complex, handsome man who lived in 1847 England. He was sexy and had ethics and absolutely loved his woman with conviction. He was everything I longed for, and the romance I plunged into on paper provided me with the passion and tenderness I needed and lacked in my real life.  Acting out on paper was a good thing, because it won me the Royal Palm Literary Award for Historical Fiction. In that way it is fair to say my husband WAS the reason that book won the award, because sheer loneliness and isolation in my marriage drove me to write the dang thing.

     Anyway, I won the award and, with it, a lovely burst of confidence, but selling a book is much harder than writing one, especially when you are unwilling to make compromises and write books that are format friendly for the genre publishing arena. I suppose I could have plowed on and eventually made enough adjustments to the book to get the dang thing published, but I chose to go another direction. If everyone was so convinced I had talent (I kept hearing this from teachers and agents and publishers who felt the book needed more work, but the “writing” was deeply promising) and if I was winning awards on sheer talent without so much as a lick of training, imagine what I could do if I seriously studied the craft! I didn’t want to be a published author. I wanted to be a GOOD published author. So, I applied for some very competitive MFA programs and low and behold, was accepted by Lesley University in Boston.

     I got my acceptance notification on the very day we received an offer from someone to buy our business. Fate was giving me a sign, I thought, so I readily and willingly let go of dance to embrace the second dream. I had worked hard for 20 years building a business at great personal cost, and now I had earned the right (and enough money) to retire and try my hand at something that meant the world to me. At least, that is how I viewed the choice to sell FLEX and walk away from my dance career at the time.

     The rest of the story is told in my memoir, My Million Dollar Donkey, which may or may not win the very same award that started it all. Life has a twisted sense of humor sometimes. I did all I could to get my ducks in a row to achieve this latent dream, but my chance was stripped away by someone with a different agenda.  It was a bit like Jack in the Beanstalk, selling the cash cow for a handful of beans. Only in our case, Mark didn’t plant the beans in rich soil so a towering beanstalk leading to another world would rise from his choices. His choices were not out of character for him and after a 20 year history of watching him make similar mistakes, I should never have expected things to unfold differently. What happened next makes for a sad and miserable personal life story, but a good book – one that just might be good enough to win me the Royal Palm Literary Award again. There is good in everything, I suppose.

     Anyway, this weekend I will sit there in a room with other aspiring writers and while I should be gaining inspiration, my mind will no doubt slip to the dream that almost was, the man I loved more than I ever should have, and everything I endured to lead me to my writing this memoir. 
     I worked like a dog to get through my MFA program,  harboring a wonderful anticipation that when I was through, I’d be ready and able to pursue a writing career full steam. But no sooner did I have the skill and the education to follow “the plan” than life took a turn and my entire world fell apart. Instead of love and happiness and the happy, creative life that was right within grasp, my life became a nightmare of financial stress, isolation and loneliness. Voila – I landed back where I began 20 years prior, a single mother needing to open a business to support herself out of necessity, (and this time with far fewer resources and time to accomplish the deed than when I began last time.) Sadder still is that this time, I am dragging that heavy bag too – a bag that I continually strive to let go, but seems chained to my wrist, a perpetual warning that love takes more away from your life than it gives – or at least that has been my experience. (And now we know why this girl can’t write romance anymore.)

       Maybe I’ll win the award this weekend. Maybe I won’t. It doesn’t really make a difference. What counts is that life often comes full circle, giving you opportunity to see behind you without your having to turn around or walk backwards to see where you’ve been. This award is symbolic in that way, a tangible reminder that dreams never die, they just get buried or sidetracked or chained up by someone else so that no matter how much you do to give them their darnest shot, they may never get the space to breathe.  

    I will meet with two agents on Sunday. They will probably ask to see the book, they always do, because it is impolite and awkward to sit fact to face with a hopeful writer and say no. I understand that nothing may come of the opportunity, but there is always the long shot chance. Because of my personality, I have no choice but to hang in there, throwing darts, because someday, eventually, I believe if I keep writing and winning awards and hoping and dreaming, someone will say “yes” and one of my books will at long last manifest on paper. When that happens, I have every confidence that, thanks to my grit, determination and natural gift for business, the story will sell well. That, in turn, will affect my teaching, my career; my attitude and most importantly, it will give purpose to all I’ve endured and explain why my life has unfolded in such challenging ways. That would be the best gift of all.

     It is not enough to be a good writer. What counts is that you have something of value to say. Having a voice that resonates with the world at large begins with a broadened perspective of the human experience. Life certainly gave me that.
     This weekend, I’ll be remembering every step I’ve had to take in this long painful journey to get where I am now . . .  right back where I began. Bags in tow.  


To Teach is to Learn

An interesting thing happened at my journaling class today. For all that I like to think of myself as a giving, committed teacher, sometimes my attitude does not match my good intentions. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I get lazy.

I was not in the mood to teach. The weather was glorious outside so I knew attendance would be low, and frankly, I was not much in the mood to work. I hadn’t prepared any specific exercises for the class, so I’d have to wing it. I hate that. It’s no fun to teach when you’re off your game. Two regulars came in and offered to take the meditation class if no one else showed up for journaling, so I sat in the front lobby watching the door, hoping no one else would arrive so I could cut out and head for the beach with my daughter . A few moments later, in walks this woman with a journal in hand. I muttered, “Shit” under my breath. Guess there was no getting out of teaching today.

I set up the tables and a few chairs and pulled out my journaling class notes. I made myself a cup of tea and all but dragged myself into the room. I sincerely love to teach writing, but on this particular afternoon, I felt as if I was giving up precious time with little hope of it being worth the effort considering the small turnout. I forced a smile and glanced at my notes thinking it didn’t really matter what I focused on today. Everyone there was a beginner and I just had to go through the motion of teaching journaling and get it over with.

The students gathered and exchanged some small talk about the journaling they had done since last we met and I gave them a simple exercise – to write a letter to a part of their body. I’ve done this in journaling classes before and some fun things can bubble to the surface. Once, a woman wrote a letter to the roll of fat around her mid-section, telling her belly that it was time they parted acquaintance for good because, with a friend like that who needed enemies. It was a silly, but fun essay, and one that made the entire class chuckle. Remembering that, I thought a body letter would be a nice place to start warming up this group’s writing on such a slow, lazy day.

For 15 minutes everyone scratched on their pads, deep in concentration. I wrote a little something about my feet thinking that with so few writers in the room, I might need to share something to keep the conversation lively. (I usually try to keep my writing classes focused on the student’s work alone so it doesn’t become the “Ginny’s show”.) When everyone’s writing wound down, I asked if anyone wanted to share what they had worked on so we could discuss connections and see if the writing led you anything resembling a personal discovery.

One woman had written about her thighs. She shared a cute and thoughtful essay about how, despite workouts and dieting, her thighs had an agenda of their own and they kept spreading, taking on the look of cottage cheese the older she got. But then her passage shifted and she started talking about how she felt badly about having imperfect thighs, and before you knew it, the piece had changed dramatically, turning into a poignant reflection on how society and the media made her constantly feel inadequate. I couldn’t have asked for a better example of how journaling can lead us to explore our inner world and personal issues as the power of privacy and space for self-honesty takes effect, so I was delighted.

I asked if anyone else wanted to share what they had written and that woman, the one who was responsible for my having to teach today, offered to read a bit of what she had put on paper. I leaned on my elbow and urged her to read, expecting something light or silly sine that seemed to be the tone of the day.

She had written about her hair. What no one in the room realized is that the lovely hair we assumed was hers was actually a wig. The woman has breast cancer and is in treatment and she has lost most of her real hair. So, she began sharing this conversation she had written between her and her hair, talking about how she misses her hair, but had come to accept it would soon all be gone. Meanwhile, clumps of it is apparently still hanging on and she wonders why, wonders if it is her hair clinging to her, or she is clinging to her hair. She wrote about how petty it seems to worry about hair when your life is at stake, and yet, the transition felt symbolic, as if not just her head was exposed now, but her identity, leaving her naked and vulnerable and open to more hurt than she feels she can bare.

Her words were honest and pure and everyone in the room was touched. Especially me. I thanked her for sharing. She had tears in her eyes when she said, “No, thank you for having this class. You have no idea how badly I need this. Some days I don’t know how I’ll cope, but I believe journaling will help. The minute I read in Natural Awakenings that you were offering this class, I knew it was exactly what I needed.”

I sat there feeling deep chagrin, thinking how close I came to canceling the class and how I wanted to urge the woman to take meditation instead. This shy woman would never have said anything, and I’d be at the beach, glad I didn’t waste my time teaching writing that afternoon when the weather was so lovely. Meanwhile, that woman would have gone home feeling as badly as she felt when she dared cross the threshold. She had come to me for help dealing with her inner quandary and I almost turned her away because I was not in the mood. I never imagined my choice to teach or not would really impact someone else. But it did.  

It struck me that we all go through life saying and doing things that leave small or large impressions on others, and we really have no clue of the wake we leave behind us. As such, our intentions are important, just as our commitment to do what we set out to do. Our work shouldn’t have parameters depending upon” how many we serve” or “how much we make” to validate our efforts.

I thought I needed to lighten the mood of the room, so I chose another exercise that is often fun for students. “If you bed would talk, what would it say about you? Write.”

Cute and creative work came out of everyone, commentary about wrestles nights, active bed springs, and bodies that keep growing a bit heavier or lumpy over the years.

But my new student had more to reveal. She wrote in the bed’s voice about how it (the bed) missed being the place where she formerly visited for steamy nights of romance and passion and easy nights watching TV with the family. Now the bed said she crawled into the covers to sob or lay sick and depressed, and that she spent way too much time there, exhausted, spent and hopeless. The bed was looking forward to the day when his mistress could get through an entire afternoon without visiting and dreamed that someday, it would again become a place where love and life was celebrated rather than sickness and sadness.

It was powerful stuff. The entire room fell silent. I sat there thinking how lucky I was to be a teacher today. I was witness to a student finding her voice and exercising it, and that discovery had nothing to do with the number of students in the room or my assignments being preplanned, or anything else that I normally associate with a “successful” class.    

Everyone has a story to tell. When you teach journaling, it is like mining those stories from deep in the gut and helping people learn how to unleash the essence of those stories on paper so our choices and experiences don’t fester and make painful grooves on the  heart and mind that debilitate us or keep us from feeling whole. Whether the process affects a roomful of people or only one individual doesn’t make a difference. What counts is sharing the tools of reflection and self-discovery with others. That is I put a journaling class on the schedule and chose to give up my Sunday afternoons.

Today, I was reminded of why I made that decision. My work is important, but only if I treat it as such and only when I come to the table committed and open to possibilities, without judgment or attitude or huge expectations of the results I’ll get for my efforts.  

A simple lesson taught.

A much more important lesson learned.              

Ready to return

I just looked up my last post. It was 423 days ago. Eeesh. I am certain I’ve lost my former audience (once up to 8 thousand hits) . But trust me, the time spent away was important – a time of healing  – the kind of thing that must be done in private. 
So, I’m ready to blog again and see where the words take me. Since I doubt anyone is really going to read this, I wont’ bother to write an involved catch up passage. I’m now single. I have a new business. I’m living in Florida and piecing together a new life with slow, deliberate determination. That sums things up.
It feels good to be back.
It feels even better to feel good enough to be back.