Saturday, December 14, 2013

A 12-Year Unfolding Part II - The Wait is Over

In the fall of 2011, I loaded up the cat and some meager belongings and drove west again—this time, making Oregon my new home.

The first few months were rocky, to say the least, hunting for jobs and trying to get on my feet. There was little time and no money to move forward with Just Wait or even my new novel-in-progress.

In between temp jobs and permanent jobs (working way too many hours) and moving to different dwellings, I continued to polish the manuscript and update my main character so that she exhibited the behavior and sensibilities of a 30 year-old in 2013 instead of 1999.

I called up my niece (who paints the most incredible portraits) and asked her if she had time—in her busy schedule of being an ICU nurse and a mom—to paint the image I had in mind for my book cover. She not only had time, but she insisted on doing it for free.


In late summer, 2013, I finally landed my ideal writing/editing job. With a steady income again, I was able to formulate an earnest publishing plan for Just Wait.

That was when providence took over and doors began to fly open.

First, I discovered the Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA). I went to their monthly meeting and it felt like I’d hit the jackpot in a casino. Here were all these creative, experienced, helpful and marketing-savvy writers who were also making a go of independent publishing. They offered a wealth of advice about presses, the success of eBooks, what sort of cover gets you the most readers and how to best market yourself. Being a member of this association meant getting lots of help doing book events, author readings and trade shows—as a recognized group. They even developed a seal you could be awarded for your book—based on a rubric of criteria and a panel of third party reviewers—to let readers know that your book is bookstore-quality. I had found my people. Now I would no longer have to go it alone in the most difficult phase of the writing industry – the business phase.

NIWA also alerted me to the fact that Amazon’s CreateSpace was a publishing source that was free if you did your own book interior and cover. No expensive setup fees like the other publisher I’d used. Free was exactly what I needed at that point, still getting back on my feet from a summer of unemployment.


On the marketing side of things, the big inspiration that came to me for my official book launch was a YouTube video that would hopefully get passed around to friends of friends of friends, and also by people who visited my author page on Facebook. In the video, I would feature people talking about something they are still waiting for in life. And what better song to use in the video than “Waiting” by the Irish group The Devlins (first heard on RP). So I sent an email to their website and the next day I got a reply back from Colin Devlin himself giving me sync permission. He wrote, “I’m assuming this is self-published, right? I wish you all the best with your project!”

Oh my Got!!!

With the city of Portland as my setting (a city very much in the limelight due to several TV shows filmed there), I interviewed random people, friends and acquaintances of all ages for a wide variety of responses. I made a big sign saying: “Want to be in a PDX YouTube video about waiting?” and planted myself by a fountain at the Saturday Market by the river. Thus far, I’d only been able to interview people over 35, when my target audience was supposed to be younger, unmarried people who were still looking for their niche in life. As I sat there watching people pass by, I silently said to the universe, “Universe, send me a group of young men in their early 20s, who are globally-minded and cultural like my nephew Paul and his friends. Maybe they’ll even have skateboards.” Within the next 15 minutes, three young men in their early 20s (two with skateboards, one with bongos) happened by and wanted to know more about the video. One of them even looked like my nephew’s friend! Two of them did an interview.


After a long and enjoyable afternoon talking to people, I packed up my stuff and headed for Pioneer Square. I was getting hungry and a little chilled (I had a sore throat and cold coming on, but decided to venture out anyway), so I decided to give it about 20 minutes before heading for home. I told the universe, “Universe, I still need young women in this video. My main character is a 29-year-old woman—so I really need someone like her in this video more than anyone else.” Three young women had been meandering around taking pictures with their youngish looking mother. I lost track of them just before deciding to call it a day. Then as I stood gathering my things, the group of girls and their mom came up to me out of nowhere. “What’s this all about?” the mom asked with a smile. When I told them, two of the girls decided to interview—at their mother’s urging!


So the video came together beautifully. I even got one of my nieces, who was nine months pregnant at the time, to send a photo of herself (when she is normally an introverted, anti-spotlight kind of girl) so that I could show someone waiting for a baby to come.


Around this time, my niece had finally completed her painting and sent me an image of the finished product. Immediately, there were ob-stackles (ever since seeing O Brother Where Art Thou, I can’t pronounce the word any other way). The painting was square and needed to fill a 6 x 9 cover. Also, the best-resolution original was shot at an angle that was presenting problems. Fortunately for me, I have lots of Photoshop-savvy friends and acquaintances. One of them, a mega-talented photographer, knew how to fix the problem and graciously offered to help. He not only corrected the angle, but he created a reflection at the bottom that extended the art to fit specs.


Then the long and tedious final leg of the journey was upon me. The final proofing. I was still finding klunky parts. I was still finding extra spaces and indents. There were still ways to make certain scenes flow better. And to top it all off, my sister in Hawaii—who offered her “second pair of eyes” for final proofing and beta reading—brought up something that was going to be very time consuming. Commas. These days, writers are taking liberties. They are no longer adhering to the very precise and old-school methods of comma usage for various phrases. They are leaving several out, probably much to the horror of grammar Nazis. She told me my precise usage was creating a very stilted, disruptive flow in my manuscript.


So I spent the week before and during Thanksgiving going through the manuscript with an even finer-toothed comb, making sure my comma removals worked and sounded okay. Hell, if Cormack McCarthy can write dialogue with no quotation marks, then surely I could get away with removing a few commas.

Finally, there was one more ob-stackle to clear. I had planned on using one of CreateSpace’s back cover templates, but none looked very professional. In fact, they were CRAP. Once again, I desperately needed the services of a designer. Another online friend came to my rescue in the 11th hour!


And then…..

After twelve years, myriads of edits, countless bleary-eyed late nights of proofing to make the Christmas deadline and a dream team of people who brought it all together in the final month (including a niece who expertly put my website back together again)……it was FINALLY go-time.

That’s what I get for titling a book Just Wait. 

And now without further adieu......happy reading!

Available in paperback and eBook:

Cover art by Carolyn Lander, front cover design by Terry Alford and Scott Larsen

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Twelve Year Unfolding – Part I

 When I first saw Alanis Morisette’s music video of “Hands Clean” (2002) I loved its premise of chronicling a hit song from its inception. What inspired it, the writing of it, its studio recording, and its distribution into the world. I thought it would be fun to do the same thing with Just Wait, the novel I’m about to release, because readers are forever asking, “Where did you get the idea for that book?” This particular one has certainly been on a long journey—twelve years, to be exact—that has gotten even more amazing and serendipitous in its final phase.

From the age of nineteen until I was almost 33, I worked as a federal employee in a government facility at an Air Force base. Having started the job at such a young age, I did a lot of my growing up there. My coworkers, who ranged from being four to thirty-four years older than me, taught me professionalism and teamwork. They were a dedicated and hardworking bunch but they also had a playful side. Their quirks and a collective sense of humor left a huge impression on me.

There were inside jokes, office traditions, “office spouses” and people who became lunch buddies. There were also rivalries and the typical agitators who weren’t always the easiest people to be around. Throughout my time in this job, I would often overhear conversations—both in my own branch and in other offices—that were amusing, to say the least. As the years went by, the things I heard and observed inspired little ideas in my head for scenes and scenarios between fictitious characters. If they weren’t actual snippets of funny dialogue that I’d heard, then they were embellishments of them that had been through the spin cycle of my writer's imagination. Sometimes “real life” isn’t all that interesting and you have to make it more outrageous.

When I finally finished college and left my federal job to be a school teacher, I had to pack up all the personal items in my office desk. There in my top drawer was a sizable pile of little pieces of scrap paper and Post-its containing the many accumulated story ideas. I put them in a baggie and took them home, thinking that one day I would turn them into a novel. There was some good stuff in there, but I had to let it simmer for awhile and figure out how to weave it all together into a solid story with a likable main character. A character that had a juicy conflict to resolve.

About that time, I was working on my first “serious” novel. (I say that, because the very first one I wrote in my senior year of high school was a romance novel set in England, inspired by all my New Wave rock star crushes of the era) The novel was a very long and epic story based on the adventurous life of my northern Italian grandparents. As a writer, I had always felt moved to tell their story. It seemed most Italian sagas were mafia-related, and I wanted the world to know there was more to Italian immigrants than Vito Corleone.

Once my novel about my grandparents was complete, I shopped it around to various agents with no nibbles. One agent told me, “Family sagas go in and out of style, so keep trying. If people don’t want it one year, someone else might the next.” And so I put Journey of the Alpine Eagle on the shelf, and got out the baggie of notes.

At that point in my life, I’d finally been through some stuff: feeling stagnated in a meaningless job that wasn’t utilizing all of my skills, switching careers, and suffering my first major breakup. I was over 30 and had hit the snooze button on my biological clock one too many times. Being one of the last in my social circle to marry, I experienced days of literal panic where I wondered if motherhood—a dream I’d looked forward to since I was a child—was in the cards for me after all. I had looked for answers in 12-Step meetings, therapy, yoga class and user-friendly books on Zen Buddhism. At that point, I had some real-life fodder to use for a main character’s struggle with timetables in life. And so Mira Winfield was born.

Mira worked in an office much like mine. Only since mine had been a Top Secret facility and I couldn’t write about what went on there, I instead made it an interior design company. A high school classmate of mine who worked in that field gave me a tour of her workplace and helped with my field research so it would be as authentic as possible.

Mira’s coworkers were varied and quirky. Some were amalgamations of real-life people while others were born of my imagination. They joked and laughed together. They shared personal theories on life, love, and beliefs. Before I knew it, the first draft of Just Wait was complete.

Santa Barbara was my home when I completed the second and third drafts of the book. Then it was once again time to query agents. After a month or so of sending out letters and sample chapters, I finally got a reply from a well-known agent known as the “Pit Bull.” Like the breed of dog who is known for clamping down and not letting go, her reputation was to not "let go" of your book until you were published. The Pit Bull was requesting the entire manuscript because it “sounded like an interesting premise” for a novel! I screamed. I jumped up and did the happy dance. I was sure this was my big breakthrough into the publishing world. I went to Bill’s Printing on State Street and spent $40 to print out my manuscript on good paper. I boxed it up, sent it to her, and waited. Three months later, a letter came back. She felt I was a talented writer and the book was a great idea, but not great enough for her to feel confident enough about selling it. I felt confident, however, and decided that I would just self-publish it to prove to her or any agent that I could sell books.

Right around the time all this went down, the hit TV show The Office came out. An office full of comical and quirky characters. DAMN IT, I thought. My book is going to look like some knock-off of this show! Still feeling the sting of rejection, I decided to take a break from Just Wait. Ideas for a new book were coming fast and furious, and I wanted to switch gears in the worst way. I promised myself I would not abandon Just Wait completely, but return to it at a later time.

Saffire_21 practically wrote itself in one year. I felt it had a lot of potential with social networking being such a big thing. After completing it, self-publishing it and promoting the crap out of it through viral marketing and book events in multiple cities, I had finally pioneered the life of an indie writer and proven that I could sell books. Now I’d have some cred to provide agents and publishing companies.

For the next two years I found myself in a very “stuck” place as a writer. I’d begun a new novel that I was really into at first until family tragedy, obligations and a chronic injury sent me into writer’s block. I knew I had to jump start my writing career somehow if I wanted it to continue, and I knew it wasn’t going to happen with the novel-in-progress that had lost its steam. That was my cue to get Just Wait back out of the closet. A sister and a friend had been my alpha-readers and loved the book. Contrary to what the Pit Bull thought, I knew it had potential to be a success.

There was only one problem.

Ten years had passed since I wrote Just Wait. My 30-year-old main character was outdated. A 30-year-old of today was a member of Gen Y. She listened to different music in high school. She used cell phones and texted. She liked Ryan Gosling, not Matthew McConaughey. I was faced with a choice: I could either make it a retro 90s story or set it in current times. I voted for current times to reach a wider audience. So I spent a few months changing things and polishing the manuscript even more. Then I emailed one of the most capable masters of grammar and English that I knew and said, “Ali, I’m ready to publish this damn book!”

“Well okay, then!” came her reply. She was willing to edit the manuscript for me.

And so began the long, tedious journey of the publishing phase. Little did I know at the time what irony was to befall me, and how long I was going to have to just wait for Just Wait.

To be continued….

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Are We THERE Yet?

Remember when you were little, driving in the back of your family's car on a long road trip? Nearing that hot, cramped, stuffy, restless point where you just wanted to frickin' GET there, already....and each additional mile that you were not at your destination grew more and more painful? Of course you couldn't help but whine, more than once, those words every parent dreads:


These feelings of longing to get to one's destination are not exclusive to children, though, are they? As adults in the driver's seat, any long and tedious journey begs for a destination...a place where we can be comfortable again, stretch our legs, shake off the road weariness, and settle in.

This example of reaching a destination on a road trip can also apply to reaching destinations in life. 

The "long road trip" could be an extensive project at work that's been dragging on forever, taking up all of your time. Or a relationship that has gone on for months, and still not arrived at that point where you know it's going to result in a permanent union. The road trip could be a goal or dream that you've been working toward all your life, that's taking forever to get off the ground. Or saving up for the down payment on a house you've been wanting to buy. In my case, right here and now, the destination is being settled in my new city with a lucrative job that enables me to put down roots.

And sometimes....just when we're almost there, and the road sign says it's only seven more miles, and we feel that mounting relief that we can finally get OUT of the car....we see this.


Once again, we are not almost there. More miles, more time, and more waiting in an uncomfortable place have been unexpectedly added to the journey. We don't know how in the world we'll endure this setback.

Well, here are a couple of things to consider. The detour is there for a reason. Obviously, something is wrong with the road you would have normally taken, and so you must find another way around--but you are still moving toward your destination. Yes, it's going to take longer, but as long as you keep'll eventually get there.

My most recent "detour" has been leaving a job that was not a good match for me. It was a job that had finally allowed me to start working toward being settled in my new city so that I could find a decent place to live, put down roots, and continue full-power toward the continuation of publishing my novels. All during the first few months of life in my new city, as I looked for permanent work, I kept wriggling around in the back seat and calling out, "Are we THERE yet??" Then I landed the job, and felt like I was finally there! I gave that job my all, but it just wasn't a good fit for me and I had to take the big, risky step of letting it go--even when nothing else was lined up in its place. My journey wasn't done after all. Now, I find myself on a detour around this little road block, in search of the new path that will help me continue toward my destination.

I don't know about you, but sometimes...I really hate to be told to "just be patient." Especially when you've been being patient for months and years on end. Sometimes that trite statement just doesn't cut it.

Here is a handy and more constructive "survival kit," if you will, on surviving another hour in that car.

1) Try to enjoy the journey. Look out the window at the view, play distracting road games where you must spot things outside the vehicle, and try not to miss anything good.

2) Don't give in to restlessness, fear, or the sensation of being "stuck." Open the window, take a blast of fresh air to the face, breathe deeply, and know that you're always moving toward your goal even though it doesn't feel like it. If you're the only one in the car, let out a good earth-shattering primal scream.

3) Sing. Yes, you heard me. Sing! Remember, this is just a when I say sing, translate that however you want into something that makes you feel elation right in the moment, and passes the time in a positive way.

4) Ask someone to pass the snacks and drinks. It's important to stay well-nourished and take care of yourself.

5) Talk to other people in the car. Keep reminding one another how great it will feel to get to the resort, walk on the beach, swim in the refreshing hotel pool, and all the other rewards of finally arriving. If there's no one to talk to, have these feel-good conversations with yourself, in your head.

6) Finally, and most that you WILL get there. It might take longer than you thought, you might have to squirm a bit longer, the road may not look familiar, but there will always be signs pointing you in the right direction. So keep watching carefully for those signs.....and trust.

I know a lot of this might sound very cliche, but maybe it's because this survival kit really works.

So wish me luck as I make my way carefully around this detour and search hopefully for my new and lucrative "put down roots" job. And whatever detours you might be in the midst of, I wish you all the best in reaching YOUR destination too.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Let Go

Let go
So that you can keep both hands open to receive

Let go
So that the current can take you where you're meant to be

Let go
Even when your hands grow cold from releasing something warm and comforting

Let go
So that lessons may be learned quickly

Let go
Because the pain of resistance goes on indefinitely
While the pain of separation gradually begins to heal

Thank you for this Gift.
Thank you.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Aphrodite's Manifesto

Aphrodite’s Manifesto 

Amore * amour * amor * die Liebe * αγάπη * kärlek * liefde  * szeretet *    *

Let there be love

All you mortals of the earth!

I am not concerned with details
I am not limiting you to romantic love
But any feeling that that warms your heart
And sends a rush of energy
Flying toward a living being, an object, a notion, or a place
A feeling that, in and of itself, makes you profoundly happy
With no need for reciprocity of that feeling and that gift

Let there be love

All you mortals of the earth!

Love is a vibration that, when projected outward, can draw back unto you
Goodness and love multiplied
Love is a feeling that, in its purest form, will fill you completely
And leave no gaps for want or lack or confusion or the need to possess

Let there be love

All you mortals of the earth!

And just for the record,
Remember that Cupid is my son, and I his mother
He is immortal, but he does not hold dominion over love
He is an implement of connecting romantic love from source to recipient
He is the mascot of a day in February set aside for lovers
But that is only one aspect of a greater force and consciousness
Love is not just about naked, winged gods with deadly arrows

Let there be love

All you mortals of the earth!

Love shines like the colors of the spectrum
It wears many faces, sings out in a chorus of thundering melodies and harmonies
It is tasted in a banquet of many flavors and morsels, and wafts over you in a bouquet of fragrances
Love brought us forth into life, and it follows us into eternity
Therefore, love belongs to everyone
Love… to be celebrated

So let there be love

All you mortals of the earth!

Breathe it in, swallow it whole, feel it moving through you and around you
Feel it connecting you to the greater whole
Let it draw you to your higher self and greater purpose
Love is the greatest gift you will ever be given in your time here
And the only form in which you will exist, ever after

Let there be love

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Year of Lasts

(an alternate to New Year’s Resolutions)

Happy New Year, everyone. The end of the Mayan calendar did not hail the end of time, contrary to popular belief.

The holidays came and went, and we once again found ourselves on that day. The very first day of the new year. Sitting there like a brand new notebook or journal, with pages and pages of blank, crisp, white freshness waiting to be filled with events, thoughts, feelings, experiences, and eventual memories. A chunk of our life history, another episode in the chronicles of our lives.

Some of us are aged and nearing the ends of our lives, and some are just reaching those golden years (my God where did the time go?). Some of us are cruising through middle age, finally comfortable in our own skin and learning not to worry so much about things that used to be a big, dramatic deal in the past. Others are still finding their way to what they truly want in life, and discovering their authentic selves in their 20s and 30s. And then there are those in the middle of teen angst, thinking their lives are so unbearable and unfair--not knowing how frickin’ good they have it still being supported by parents and not having to earn their own living. The rest of us are still children, with our whole lives ahead of us, simply looking forward to the next recess, playdate, or sleepover.

As this new year dawned, I didn’t find myself thinking about resolutions or promises or new starts, like people typically do. I found myself thinking a very profound thought. What if this were a year of “lasts?”

You see, I had a dear, dear friend who was alive and well this past summer. In August she was diagnosed with brain cancer. By the first week of November, she was gone. She had no idea, last New Year’s Eve, that it was going to be a year of lasts for her. I also knew another great person—one of the proprietors of a wonderful Irish pub in my hometown, where I had my first book event, thanks to him—who also passed on suddenly, right after Thanksgiving. He probably had no idea it was to be a year of lasts either.

And I wonder….if we knew that our lives would end in 2013, and that we would be experiencing our last winter, our last Valentine’s Day, our last springtime, our last vacations, our last birthday, and several last events of things we are accustomed to doing each year (annual picnics, parties, marathons, bike rides, sporting events, family reunions), and if we were lucky—our last holiday season. If the year would go a lot differently than it would have, had we not known. I’m guessing the answer is a resounding HELL YES.

Maybe this sounds a little like the cliché “live each day as if it were your last.” That always sounds good in theory…until you’re in the real-world throes of a nasty conflict with a spouse, or not having enough  money to pay all your bills, or your business not doing well for weeks in a row, or your job grinding you down, or being unemployed and dirt-poor for months on end, or going through a painful breakup/divorce, or kids getting on your last nerve….then living each each day as if it were your last tends to fall by the wayside while you’re dealing with life's challenges.

But what if it was a year of lasts?

Sure, we’d all love to take that trip to wherever, buy that fancy car, hike the Appalachian Trail, or meet the Dalai Lama. But if time and money weren’t available for bucket list things….then what?

Would we stop procrastinating going to near and affordable places we’ve wanted to visit? Or get together with those friends we keep saying we’ll get together with but never do? Would we go sign up for those salsa or tango lessons once and for all? Would we spend a few extra minutes writing that letter to our elderly mother who’s 2000 miles away and 90 years old? Would we spend more time letting people know what they mean to us, and listening to what they have to say about their lives and how they’re doing? Would we spend more time standing and staring at sunrises, sunsets, cloud patterns, or a bug slowly making its way across a flower petal? Or relishing the feel of wind on our faces…or the smell of a wet, rain-drenched forest in springtime? Would certain things or people that we used to deem a pain in the ass or a thorn in our side not matter so much anymore? Would our ability to let shit go suddenly kick in, as our priorities realigned and we became very much aware of the things that mean the absolute MOST to us? Would we suddenly lose interest in our “stuff” and start feeling the need to get out more and interact with people and nature, rather than screens and gadgets and apps and components? Would we stop drearily bemoaning Mondays, counting down the workdays, and living for weekends? Would each dawn mean more than it ever did, in a year of lasts?

I’m thinking the very way we look at the world would change drastically, knowing we were seeing everything for the last time. I’m thinking our level of gratitude for everything would skyrocket, and our appreciation for the littlest things would surprise us. Maybe even bring tears to our eyes.

And if we were already doing all these things to begin with….we’d probably do them with triple intensity.

Definitely food for thought in the first shining days of a new year…as we pick up the pen and begin to compose the next chapter of our lives.

Just remember one thing. You and ONLY you, are the author.