Coming soon! Raising Identical Twins: The Unique Challenges and Joys of the Early Years

I remember that moment.
It was ten years ago and I was in a hospital bed recovering, just hours after giving birth to twins via a double-whammy (a vaginal birth and a c-section).
The pediatrician had arrived to do a quick examination of both boys. He sat on the edge of my bed, reached into the crib they shared and tickled their toes.
“Congratulations on your identical boys,” he said. “They are perfect.”
Identical?
That was a word I was unprepared for.
When we learned I was carrying twins five months into my pregnancy, my doctor assured us they were fraternal. The placentas had implanted on polar opposite sides of the uterus. Identical twins who have their own placentas implant close together, he said. They couldn’t possibly be identical.
I was relieved.
Imagine all the ways parents could screw up identical twins!
Then along comes this hospital pediatrician, telling me our look-alike babies are identical. (Okay, so maybe we had our suspicions after we held them that first time.) Six weeks later, DNA tests proved him right.
That’s alright, I thought.
I’ll just Google some information on raising identical twins or buy a book.
But I found nothing anywhere.
Absolutely nothing.
So at my husband’s urging, I started a blog. I recorded the development of our twins from birth through their sixth birthday, supplementing the posts with research, fun facts and advice from my own experiences and the trials and errors of others.
I felt a bit like a journalist again. It was fun and it was, according to the comments and emails I received, appreciated. I ended the blog on their sixth birthday, figuring they had reached an age where they deserved a new level of privacy.
But the emails didn’t stop.
Several readers suggested I create a book, something they could give to relatives or to other new and expecting parents of identical twins. I toyed with the idea while working on my fiction. Finally, I put the fiction aside for a bit and dove in.
Raising Identical Twins: The Unique Challenges and Joys of the Early Years will be released in just a few weeks.
I hope you enjoy it!

  

Preparing for the inevitable: negative reviews

I’ve yet to publish a book, so I can’t say what a negative book review feels like.
I’ve had only one review on my published short stories and that got five stars, so I’m in la-la land over that.
But my journalism days … oh, my journalism days!
You’d think those experiences would have hardened me, but newspaper articles don’t really get reviewed.
They get reactions.
In the best cases, I received loads of phone calls, interest from the national media, thank-you notes and teary-eyed visitors offering hugs, cookies and flowers. Those reactions made me feel good about my career choice, like my stories made peoples lives just a little bit better even for only a day.
In the worst cases, I was lunged at by prisoners; yanked into a mob angry relatives (It wasn’t even my story! I was just returning the photo.); stalked by a man who was grateful  I had made public his illegal incarceration, but who was also mentally ill and untreated (He later proposed to the female deputy who told him to leave me alone!); stolen from; cursed at; and wished an early death for myself and my future children.
But even such negative reactions to news stories can be, in a sense, a good thing.
Bad people don’t like it when their wrongs or their weaknesses are revealed, especially to the general public.
They get mad.
That’s okay by me.
So even 11 years of journalism has not prepared me for the inevitable — for my first negative novel review, the day when someone takes my heart right out of my chest and stomps on it, ripping my work to shreds.
That must be what it feels like, right?
I think about this whenever I read a novel that, for whatever reason, rubs me wrong.
How would I react if my work were publicly bashed?
Could I stand it?
I found comfort recently in a post by author/blogger Beth Revis.
She has a good point.
I don’t like beef.
Why?
I just don’t like it, so I’ll never give a steak or a burger or a pot roast a good review.
Yuck!
That poor chef will just never win over a non-beef lover like me.
That’s what I need to remember.
I have to think beef.

Like your agent

An author-friend signed with a big agency.
His agent sold his novel within two months.
To an indie press.
Now, this particular independent publisher has an excellent reputation. His novel might have ended up there eventually. But he will never know, and his is the story I tell most often when writers ask me for advice in searching for an agent.
From what I understand, this agent submitted the manuscript to several large houses at once. And the author’s novel was rejected by all of them.
His agent immediately argued that the same scenario would play out if they continued to submit to larger imprints. Why waste time? The author had misgivings. But his agent persuaded him that the indie presses were the best option, even though the novel was well-received by the big publishing houses.
It just was not what those particular editors were searching for.
He finally agreed.
Then along came novel number two.
The agent submitted the manuscript to only one publisher: the same independent press that published the first book. The author was thrilled because he has developed a good relationship with the folks at the indie press.
All is well.
But is it?
Was his agent really looking out for his best interests as a career novelist?
Or did he quickly realize that selling this novel would be hard work, and did he “sell him out” for the sake of a quick commission?
My own agent has been submitting my novel for four months. He is moving slowly, submitting only to editors he knows and respects. He has kept me informed, telling who has passed and why; who still has the manuscript; and who he will submit to next.
At the very least, I am confident that wherever my manuscript eventually lands, he will have found the best fit. I know that because I trust my agent and because, well, I like the guy.
That’s important.
You have to like and trust your agent.
So often, writers start the query process with the biggest agencies, believing that bigger is better. But people are people no matter where you go. The big agencies have great agents and lousy agents. The small agencies, or the loners, might take a great personal interest in their clients, or they might take on too much and “sell out” a few for a quick buck.
My point is this:
Lots of books and Web sites explain the mechanics of finding an agent.
But there are two things many will not tell you.
First, educate yourself. Know how the submission process should work and then talk to your potential agent about how he/she does things. If something doesn’t feel right or if she/he is too vague, trust your instincts.
Move on.
Second, sign with someone you like.
Why would you put your career in the hands of someone who rubs you the wrong way?
Your agent is your connection to the publishing world, your representative with the people who might buy your book. Your choice in agent is reflective of you and your work. Your agent doesn’t have to become your best buddy, but don’t selective a representative whose personality hasn’t even impressed you.
Sure there’s more:
Choose an agent who represents your genre, find someone who is well-established the literary world, who has continually represents the same clients (If all the agent’s other clients ditch him/her after the first book and find someone else, that’s not a good sign.)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
There’s all that.
But there is so much to be said for intuition.
Go with your gut.

Big Purple Mommy

For the past few months, I struggled to breathe.
I was under water and I’d lost my focus.
I couldn’t find the surface and I was running out of air.
I was dying.
As a writer.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little dramatic.
But that’s how it felt.
Like the daily duties of life, the needs of everyone in my life, the needs of the household, mine own less glamorous needs (dental visits and doctor visits and a glass of red wine at the end of the night) were closing in around me.
Confusing me.
I had lost my focus.
I couldn’t find my laptop.
I couldn’t breathe.
I couldn’t figure out how or when to write.
I thought maybe I was getting too old, wearing down, losing my creativity, losing my mind.
Then I saw it.
Sitting right there on the bookshelf in the basement across from my desk.
Big Purple Mommy by Coleen Hubbard.
And I remembered the last time Coleen Hubbard saved me from drowning.
We were living in Arizona.
My older kids were 18 months old and almost three.
I had written a few chapters of my novel, but not much.
I just couldn’t seem to figure out how to write any more.
Somehow, I stumbled upon her book.
I read it and, a few days later, hired a sitter.
Two actually.
They were sisters (Thank you Andrea and Amanda!) and they insisted on coming together.
Two days a week for four hours a day, I sat in a study room in the local l library and wrote, finally completing the first draft within a few months.
I went back to teaching as an adjunct when I finished, something else I enjoyed, and I didn’t worry about my writing. I knew it needed a rest, I knew I need some distance from my novel and I knew my creativity would come back.
We moved, we settled into our home in Cincinnati and I picked up the novel again a few years ago and revised it.
It felt good.
And it was all because of Coleen Hubbard’s book.
Big Purple Mommy is all about balancing creativity and motherhood. She helped me realize, with lots of testimony from other creative moms, that I needed to, first, give myself a break when my kids were young, and second, make a huge effort to carve out time for creative work without guilt.
I did that and I was happy.
I began rereading the book again the other day.
And I found myself in its pages.
I’d lost my focus because the twins have stopped napping and because the twins are 2.5 years old. But time will pass, they will get older and they will be less demanding on a minute-by-minute basis. I will not lose my creativity during that time because stuff is always swirling in my head.
If anything, I might just mature as a writer because of it.
The twins will start going to a sitter three days a week for three hours each time next week.
I’ll need some of that time to do ordinary things I can’t do when they are around–clean, doctor appointments, run errands–but at least one of those days will be mine, all mine.
And I will write.
Thank you Coleen.
Thank you Big Purple Mommy.
For rescuing me again.

Waiting

The Waiting Place …
… for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

–Dr. Seuss: Oh, The Place You’ll Go!-

Including me.
And it’s killing me.
I thought the hardest part of this whole publishing thing would be finding an agent. So when I did, I figured I was relieved of the stress, that my agent would take that load off me and I would be free to pursue everything else.
But it doesn’t work that way.
I was naive.
I had no idea just how hard it is to wait.
Yes, I had to wait when I was sending out query letters to agents, but that was active waiting. I never knew when I checked my email whether I would find a rejection; or a request for a partial or full manuscript; or a request for my nonfiction proposal.
And, if I got a rejection, I didn’t let it get me down.
I just whipped off another query letter and prepared to wait again.
I’ll admit it; it was kind of fun.
It was even kind of exciting.
This is different.
Don’t get me wrong.
I appreciate being in this situation.
And I have a great agent who will do great things.
But, while he is submitting to publishers, I am simply doing everything I possibly can to distract myself. I’m trying not to get my hopes up every time the phones, trying not to check my email every ten minutes, trying not to imagine a whole bunch of editors saying, “Nah.”
I’m really trying.
I’ve written another chapter of my second novel. I’m working on a freelance piece. I’m tearing wallpaper off bathroom walls. I am concentrating on my four children and on making their summer a good one.
But it’s not enough because I still have time to think.
Think.
Think.
Think.
Sigh.

Why self-publishing is not for me

Originally published Nov. 16, 2008

Even before I started querying literary agents, the queries came pouring in from friends and family.
Why go through all that?
Why not self publish?
Well, here is my answer:
I still have faith in the gatekeepers.
Self-publishing has its place.
Some people want full control of their written work. They want to retain all rights; They want to retain all profits. Other folks don’t have the time or the patience for agents. They see the flaws in the system and they are discouraged. And who can blame them? Some agents will toss manuscripts in the garbage for reasons as simple as margins that are too big or too small.Then there are the people who write only for limited and personal audiences. They write for themselves, their families and their friends. Retaining agents make no sense for them. It’s not worth the time or the effort.
But this is my career, or the career I want.
I want to be writing novels and non-fiction books when I am 80 and I want people to be confident when they go to a bookstore and pick up one of my books that it has passed certain tests—the tests of the industry.
The industry is not perfect, but agents and publishers do the best they can in a world in which paper prices are rising and the competition from electronic media is ever-increasing.
I have read some awesome self-published books and I have been saddened by the knowledge that those books will never reach their sales potential. That saddens me, not because the author is missing out of fame or fortune, but because I know so many others would enjoy reading those books as much as I have.
But those books will never get the distribution and exposure of an industry-published book.
I have also read some self-published novels that left me embarrassed for the author and wishing for a refund. Not only were they poorly written and poorly plotted, but they were riddled with errors.
That’s where the gatekeepers come in.
Sure, some lousy books slip through the gate. But 90 percent of the novels and non-fiction books that make it to the presses through non-vanity publishers are pretty darned good.
And yes, I’ve encounter some agents who were egotistical jerks. I even hung up on one. But 90 percent of the agents that I’ve queried or spoken with have given good, solid and well-intended advice along with their rejections. Some have rejected me with form letters, but the letters were constructively written and professional.
So I will plod on.
I will continue taping my favorite rejection letters to the wall above my desk. I will continue honing my novel, my query letter and my non-fiction proposal based on the constructive criticism of those agents who have nothing to gain by spending time addressing me individually, but who do so out of a passion for the industry.
I will continue to have faith in the gatekeepers.