What would you risk in order to get the one thing you truly desire?

dsc 0028

Susan at Ross Lake. Looking for a metaphor.

Seriously, what would you risk?

When I was an emerging writer in my 20s, trying to sell my first book, I risked a lot. I had a great life–wonderful teaching career, adorable baby, cute dogs, a house in the ‘burbs, good family and friends. Why would I take on the stress and struggle and uncertainty of a career as a novelist? It was a massive risk on many levels.

In practical terms, I was subjecting my daughter and myself to financial risk, because writing is about as stable as betting on horses. I also gave up social time with friends. I had to forego my book-a-day reading habit, entire series on TV (okay, not a huge sacrifice there) and forget sleep. There was at least one night when I stayed up all night working on my novel. I looked out to see the sun coming up, so I combed my hair, put on my lipstick, took the baby to pre-school and staggered off to work that day. (You can do stuff like this when you’re in your 20s.)

There’s something more than financial solvency at risk when you decide to publish a novel. The emotional risk is huge in writing. Even in a made-up story, you’re showing people your hidden self. Will readers think I’m Faith, the struggling single mom in Starlight on Willow Lake? The cheated-on wife in Just Breathe? Will they get a glimpse of me in the brash, emotionally distant Tess, or the the so-shy-you-want-to-slap-her Isabel? Or am I Annie Rush, the passionate, ambitious wronged woman whose world comes crashing down on her?

I’m a fan and friend of acclaimed writing coach, Michael Hauge, who is fond of issuing this challenge to writers. Brace yourself. It might be the toughest statement you’ll ever make in your writing career:

FILL IN THIS STATEMENT FOR YOURSELF:

“I’ll do whatever it takes to be a

successful writer;

but don’t ask me to ___________________,

because that’s just not me.” 

Common responses to “…just don’t ask me to…” might be:

  • -quit my day job

    -walk away from a bad deal from a publisher

  • -tell my family to give me space
  • -follow somebody’s writing formula
  • -abandon somebody’s writing formula
  • -take a writing class
  • -reveal my innermost thoughts on paper
  • -write about deeply personal matters
  • -write about people who might recognize themselves in my book
  • -subject myself to criticism and rejection
  • -set a work schedule and stick to it
  • -learn to type
  • -YOUR OWN BLOCK OR DEMON GOES HERE: ____________

Your answer will reveal what you’re avoiding in order to protect yourself.

Some of you might be thinking, “Oh, it’s easy for you, an established author, to deal with these fears. You’ve already cleared the hurdles.” All right, you be the judge. Here are a few steps I had to take on my writer’s journey, and believe me, they were not easy. One year, I had to hock my beloved Juzek cello for money to live on. Another time, I failed to enter my book for the RITA Award because I used the entry fee for groceries. I had so many rejection letters from agents and publishers that I quit counting after 100, and actually papered the walls of a bathroom with the rejection slips. I endured skepticism, sleepless nights, people wondering why I was wasting my time writing stories instead of ________________. <–insert what your judgmental friends and associates would add here. You have to care more about your writing dream than you do about people’s opinions. Do you? Can you?

I dare you. Go!

 

 

My favorite birthday isn’t my own. It’s my daughter’s. That was the day she came into my arms, a red, rooting, stretching, bleating bundle of joy. Her birthday will always be MY best day. I thought I was ready for this: I had written a novel. I’d earned a master’s degree. I had a successful teaching career. But nothing–NOTHING–could compare to THIS:

0001 my first 30 seconds as a mom

I birthed that baby the way I did everything else–fast, cluelessly and over-achieving. I worked a full day at school, came home and detailed the car by hand, had a multi-course frozen entree (yes, frozen, I’m not SuperWoman) of sole meuniere, duchess potatoes, chocolate cake (why do I remember this?). This was the “nesting impulse” they warned my about in childbirth class, but I didn’t realize that until the undigested dinner erupted in every direction a few hours later (sorry about that visual). No anesthetics (yes, I was that stupid). 30 seconds of pushing. (Because, no anesthetics, remember?) and BOOM. A lovely round-headed daughter whose birth weight was the same as my own.

She rearranged my heart. She became my living doll…

eliz and mommy 6-1984

my playmate…

eliz and mom beach 1989

my best friend…

DSC00099

my pride and joy…

 

^^^ same picture, 2 decades apart ^^^

my confidante…

dad27s80th1

Park City family time

my co-writer…

TONED Susan Wiggs and Elizabeth Wiggs Maas.jpg 

 

Susan Wiggs and Elizabeth Wiggs Maas photo by Yvonne Wong

my world.

And today, she is still my biggest, best and brightest achievement.

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!

Coming this August, available for preorder now. Check out the cover for Family Tree right here.

#1 New York Times-bestselling author Susan Wiggs returns with the heartbreaking, heartwarming story of one woman’s struggle to make peace with her past and take control of her future—a story that celebrates family and love in their many forms.

After a shock event rips her life to pieces, Annie Rush retreats to her family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the place where she grew up, the people she knew before, the hometown boyfriend whose life has been filled with unexpected turns. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.

Clear-eyed and big-hearted, funny, sad, and wise, this is a novel to cherish and to remember.

I’m getting  a lot done on my work+fun trip to Australia. Here is one of the best photos I’ve taken. Just a casual phone snap as I was standing in line to visit the Old Melbourne Gaol. (Note to American readers–that word is pronounced “jail.” Swear.)

There is a whole story in this image. The bride, the insanely huge humvee limo, the driver, the groom…and don’t get me started on the wedding party that poured out after. Suddenly I wasn’t so interested in the gaol.

Melbourne bride

What’s she thinking?

That’s how it works when writing fiction. You think you’re after one thing–some historical details about the outlaw Ned Kelly, for example–but then the world offers you something else.

A story begins where it ends. And it ends where it begins. For me, the key is to follow the emotional pull. And obviously, this image is a lot more interesting to me than Ned Kelly. I’m excited to see where this writing journey takes me.

Where will your writing journey take you today?

 

 

My grandmother was a lifelong reader who had a quirky little habit of rating a book she’d just read. On the inside front or back flap, she would put a little star if she especially liked a book, followed by her initials–“MB”.

She was kind of stingy with the stars but I remember some of the books she loved–Came a Cavalier by Francis Parkinson Keyes, the “Rhanna” series of books by Christine McDonald Fraser, Captain from Castile by Samuel Shellabarger.

There was one special book that rated not just a star but an exclamation point, surely the highest praise from a very particular reader. I remember finding that book on her shelf when I was just a girl of perhaps twelve years old. I was intrigued by the interesting cover art, which resembled a French advertising poster, and even more intrigued by the title of the book: Dandelion Wine. There was another set of initials endorsing this novel–“CLB”–my mother. I figured a book beloved by both my grandmother and my mom couldn’t be half bad, and so I read it.

Dandelion Wine turned out to be the kind of book you fall into, starting with the first page. There’s something about the voice and timeless sense of place that draws the reader into that fictive dream, that alternate reality we find so absorbing and comforting.

I’d always been a voracious reader–that annoying toddler foisting The Pokey Little Puppy on any unsuspecting adult who would read it to me, the self-important first grader reciting Yertle the Turtle by heart, the geeky twelve-year-old obsessed with Anne of Green Gables and her torrid affair with Gilbert…but Dandelion Wine was even more powerful. As soon as I finished reading it, I turned right back to page one and read it all over again.

Afterward, I very stealthily found a pen and added my own initials to the back flap of the book, then returned it to my grandmother’s shelf of beloved favorites.
As the years went by, her eyes grew dim and her penmanship grew spidery and indistinct, but her love of books and reading never flagged. She lived to the ripe old age of 95, and when she passed away, she left behind a small but beloved collection of books. Things were crated up and shuffled around as things have a way of doing, and passed among various family members.

My own daughter, Elizabeth, turned out to be as avid a reader as her predecessors. Each year, I tried to find a special book to give her, one that would go on her keeper shelf–a signed edition of Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, The Golden Compass, Harriet the Spy, Treasure Island. One Christmas, not long after my grandmother died, I was sorting through belongings–okay, clutter–when I came across a box of books. And in the box I found the perfect gift for my daughter. My grandmother’s original copy of Dandelion Wine. It didn’t look like much by then. The cover art seemed lackluster, the pages had yellowed, but it was a special joy to show her the initials of my grandma, my mother and the twelve-year-old me, carefully inscribed in the back of the book. In time, she read the novel too, and added her own initials to the list.

More time passed, and Elizabeth went away to college, pursuing her own writing career with a well-received funny memoir about planning her wedding with yours truly. [www.howiplannedyourwedding.com] And again, books were boxed up and lsost in the shuffle, but Dandelion Wine resurfaced just a few years ago, looking tattered and worn, the way a well loved book should look. Even better, it had four generations of readers’ initials endorsing it.

On a whim, I scanned the cover and back flap, and sent the picture to Ray Bradbury with a letter telling him this story. As an author myself, I know what it means to hear from readers.

To my amazement, I received a note back from Mr. Bradbury, who was 85 at the time. He enclosed a poem he’d written and signed his name to.
It was one of those moments–unexpected, unasked for…and indelible.

Wishing you nothing but joy in the new year.

www.susanwiggs.com

“Help us, Dobie-wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.”

#Barkis #doberman #StarWars

Who’s going to the movies tonight? Who’s already seen it?

It’s by far the most frequently-asked question a writer gets. Dr. Seuss famously told people, “I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Über Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock fixed. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people, and I get my ideas from them.” 

So is it any wonder I went on a quest to Europe?

2015 SW in cassis

The Calanques near Cassis. Hike until you drop...or until inspiration strikes.

The Calanques near Cassis. Hike until you drop…or until inspiration strikes.

Once again, we relied on advice from locals. In Aix-en-Provence, we bought matching pinky rings (I know. I know!) and a cool necklace made with tagua nut beads. The jeweler urged us to go to Cassis. He was an incredibly sincere person and a fine artist, with his atelier right there in h is tiny shop. Since I’m a big believer in following one’s instincts–off we went.

There were some fine and inspiring surprises there. A torrential downpour, complete with lightning strikes and waves crashing against the phare.

An old-school hotel perfectly situated at the harbor, where you could stand at the balcony and watch the fishing fleet going out. A friendly shop keeper who offered us her parking space, because in the old town, parking is virtually impossible. And bouillabaisse, which is both art and religion here.

France’s newest national park–The Calanques (“creeks” but they’re not creeks; more like towering cliffs like the ones in South Africa or Sydney, Australia) is criss-crossed by hiking trails so long and twisty and tough that you just have to jump into the crystal blue water. And by the way, the water quality is officially rated, and the water here is rated “excellent.” Clean and clear.

And chilly. But whatever. And while there, I watched a very attractive older couple holding hands to wade into the water on one of the tiny, rockbound beaches.

“It’s cold,” the woman protested, sucking everything in.

“We’ve driven a thousand kilometers to get here,” said her husband. “We’ve got to do it.”

And a moment later, they were swimming and laughing like children instead of seventy-year-old pensioners.

And a moment after that. I had an idea.

See? Easy. You just have to travel to a remote part of the world you’ve never heard of, et voila! 

We went to Lourmarin and Cassis, both suggested by locals in Aix. This is when you open your mind and let the book start talking to you. It’s always a good idea to talk to locals. Fortunately, my very good French from way back is still pretty good French after a few verres de vin. Even if you don’t speak the language, there is always a way to talk. Just try not to be self-conscious about it.

We stayed at a mas (more on that later) near Laguiole, home of the world’s finest knives, and a nice lady at the farm told us to check out Belcastel. We spotted a sign pointing to it, drove the twisty road, et voila! Look where we ended up. You barely need an imagination to think of the stories breathing from the past here.

I love traveling with Jerry, even when he takes sneaky pictures of me. Enjoy this view of Belcastel, in the Aubrac region of France.

My adorable daughter suggested Aix as our home base. We found a splendid apartment in the old town and moved right in. So here’s Aix–a funky university town housed in an ancient and venerable city. Markets, music, food, energy…I had my hair done (lisse et raide) in a salon that called itself the “best fucking cut shop” (painted on the window, sorry) and bought a cool necklace made from a nut. Trust me, it’s cool. And I thought about my book. The characters from the past who are pointing the way for the characters in the now.

Here’s Aix at sunrise:

When you’re traveling, embrace your jet lag. When you wake up, grab your notebook and start writing.

what’s on my mind right now:

Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

I tend to spontaneously give stuff away to readers and libraries. Join the fun here. Really.

take a look at a book

Buy or borrow my books at WorldCat.org.

Search for an item in libraries near you:
Enter title, subject or author
WorldCat.org >>

Blog Stats

  • 774,882 hits

Pages

May 2016
S M T W T F S
« Apr    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 57,309 other followers