Thursday, 10 November 2016

Dreaded pre-school

Reading: Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
Listening to: "Applause" by Lady Gaga
Outside: Autumn rainy spit



So it happened. 


My daughter dances with a Sycamore leaf, October 27, 2016


Checked the mail yesterday.

Got the dreaded letter.

The one from our local primary school that basically says, Yay we have a place for your little girl! There's gonna be space for her - a seat at a little table, a little hook to hang her jacket on, a lunch tray just waiting for her little hands! We can't wait to glaze her in finger paints and Play-Doh and crumbs, and stain her clothes beyond recognition! Her hair will be a glittery tangled mess, but she'll learn so much! Yay again!

And I mean, I can hear her life clink onto the tracks, and latch on to some phantom Teacher, and begin to roll forward straight on to Adulthood. This is the first stop.


Pre-school.


Picture from here.


And this should be a happy time for me, and yes, it is.

I'm looking forward to stocking a brand new pencil case full of glittery things, and putting her in shoes, and making her less of a savage. Gently nudging her into The World.

I'm looking forward to - what? The free time I miss so much? A chance to sit down and drink a cup of coffee all the way through? To use the bathroom without being handed eighteen stuffed animals because "They wanna go pee, too, Mommy." And "dabbing" them with toilet paper, one by one.

Maybe I'm looking forward to catching up to myself again, rather than breezily waving a cerebral hello in the brief snatches of time I have between making breakfast, re-stacking the Tupperware because the cabinet just threw them up, washing the dishes and bribing her to keep her socks on in our painfully cold kitchen. (And that's just the first hour of the day.)

But no. No. Instead I'm a terrified wild animal, incapable of loosening my grip on her hand. Any given day, I beg for five minutes, just five minutes, darling, but now that I have the possibility of two and a half days a week of child-free time, and perhaps as soon as January, I find I am stunned. Unprepared. Like I've been given this paper-light, fragile, marvelous gift that I don't know what to do with.

Is she ready? (Probably, yes.)

Am I ready? (Probably, no.)

But am I ever ready for anything? Pretty much no.

So, next year, she'll be bouncing down the path ahead of me, clad in uniform and backpack, ready for whatever may come. Socalizing. Learning. And I will be swallowing down my fear, loosening my grip, and then returning home to clutch her stuffed animals and coat them in my tears. Yes.

Wooooo-sah.


We so cool. October 29, 2016


Who of you, my loyal readers, has faced such a thing as this before? How did you get through it? Any tried and true coping mechanisms, anyone?


Happy Thursday, all!







Sunday, 4 September 2016

Ten-year goal

Reading: Talking about Detective Fiction by P. D. James
Listening to: "Elastic Heart" by Sia
Outside: Rain shellacs the Victorian rooftops


A couple days ago, on Friday, September 2nd, I awoke to my tenth year living in the UK.



I got up and dressed and dabbed on my best effort at makeup (which is to say, not a lot), and, desperate for a coffee just like every morning of my post-teen life, I went to work. That first sip of the cappuccino purchased from Costa Coffee at the train station was, just like every morning, reviving.

I say this because the day started just like any other.

It didn't start like, say, the morning of your birthday, when you know you'll be subjected to plastering a smile on your face through the "Happy Birthday" song at work or at home or both, and (if you're anything like me) you have that immense amount of dread. Nor did it start like Christmas morning when you're seven, or when you're seventeen or twenty-seven; there was no sore-hearted wanting, no breathless worry of what you did or didn't do (was I good or bad this year? Did I put the turkey in the oven early enough? Did I buy enough mulled wine? Is everything just so? Will anybody notice?).

Fact.


The morning, and in fact the day, was like these whole ten years: elastic.

I had all of the things I've had in the last 3,652 days: caffeine; laughter; friends; uncomplimentary office lighting; a train journey that, however sweltering, gives me the chance to read, which for me is like the finest water for thirst; a welcoming house to come home to; family.

I had all those things and more.

In the last few thousand days, I have experienced the full spectrum of emotions. I landed at Manchester International Airport as an exhausted 23-year-old, my entire life jammed into two bulging red suitcases. And I couldn't believe it, there he was - my best friend meeting me off the plane. I got to say hello again and give him a sweaty hug.

That first year was certainly the hardest. Songs I listened to then I can barely swallow now; they remind me so much of the homesickness I'd felt then and couldn't quite process. I dove into my studies instead, because when the going gets tough, the tough get going in whatever way possible. I got a job at the Co-Op, a little convenience store the size of a shoebox, and learned the brand names of cigarettes and potato chips (crisps) and candy (sweets), and how to count change (there's a ridiculous number of coins), and how to understand Yorkshire-speak (really, it was like starting my life over again). I felt like hey, at least I know how to walk but my newly-pedestrian feet got confused at crosswalks, always surprised the cars were going the other way). I graduated from the University of Leeds with my Master's Degree in hand, and got a job at the Doncaster Free Press, where I have worked ever since.

December 2007 issue of the Doncaster Free Press - and indeed, I am a "Taste of the States"

That person I was ten years ago, coming down the airport walkway with suitcases I could barely control, really didn't have a goal for her first year in the UK. Nothing except get to spend time with her best friend David and to get her master's. That was it. She expected to come home with her parents in July of the next year - she never thought she'd be brave enough to start a new life here, thousands of miles away from the cornfields and dirt roads of her youth.

Now, to be honest, maybe I did have expectations for the day that marked my tenth anniversary living in the UK. Maybe I did expect nothing less than confetti, balloons, a band, a giant cake with a stripper popping out of it, and Adele singing to me in my living room.

None of these things happened.

But something even better happened. I came home from work to cinnamon-candle-scented quiet (!) and my husband telling me to get ready, we're going out.

Me and my beloved, David, ten years ago. Impossibly young.

Now, let's talk about goals. Ten-year goals. You might sit down, tap a pencil against your chin and regard that blank sheet of paper, your list, with a sense of grim distrust.

I don't blame you. I'm the same.

But here's what I can say about my last ten years:

That girl stepping off the plane 10 years ago, she was lost, and, to be honest, pretty afraid. I said goodbye to her, unintentionally, piece by piece, over the years. Each day of those 3,652 have been a challenge, along with a sprinkling of boredom (guilty!), and big fear and big praise for what's possible in this world. The first time I rode the train by myself, and didn't get lost in Leeds, didn't get lost in Sheffield. The lonely nights when I wanted nothing more than to walk past rows of Indiana corn again, high above my head their silk tassels whispering unknowable things. Wanting the drone of cicadas. Needing to see lightning bugs stitching across the night sky. Getting through that ache. Hefting my things in boxes and bags into our first house, stepping through the uPVC doorway into our first mortgage. The afternoon I got my passport in the mail, endorsed with my Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK, the ever-coveted Permanent Residency Visa. Learning to use an electric lawnmower for the first time and miraculously not cutting off my toes. Memorizing the bricked-beauty of the terraced Victorian houses I walk past each day. The landmarks in my day-to-day - each wobbly cobble, each familiar face. The afternoon I walked across the stage to accept my Master's Degree, and the moment I signed my marriage certificate, smiling up at cameras, those tear-filled eyes at Cusworth Hall. The feeling when I started or finished writing a new book. That sense of fear, and awe and completion. My wedding pen, poised and ready, over my literary agency contract. The moment I gave that final hard push and lifted my daughter up out of the tub's water. My hands the first to touch her. When I looked into her eyes for the first time.


Our wedding day, October 19, 2012


Our Lena Jellybeana's first hour, November 19, 2013

Each of these days, for thousands of days, I did the impossible. And with each of those impossible things, I filled the curves and muscles and mind of who I am today.


A little Italian wine never goes amiss - bottoms up to 10 years!
My ten-year goal?

I think the most important goal achieved is that I'm no longer lost.


What about you? How have you changed in the last ten years, and what made it happen?


Happy Sunday, everybody!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Salute

Reading: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Listening to: "Salute" by Little Mix
Outside: a glorious, glorious summer day


"If you're with me, women, let me hear you say -"  - Little Mix

Like the sky's reflecting my mood, I'm here to tell all of you, my lovely and devoted readers, about one particular hot, shining example of fine literature in the hands of a laaaaady.

Two words. Sharp Objects.

The lady responsible for it is, of course, Gillian Flynn, most recently known for Gone Girl.

My poor, battered, pre-loved copy.

Only one other book in my history of reading - and we're talking thousands of books - has made me almost throw up, and that is Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted. But lemme tell ya, Flynn really packs a punch - I actually had to leave my desk on my lunch break and take a breather in the bathroom, the queasiness wasn't just a feeling, it was a state of being.

What I find most amazing about Sharp Objects is that it is her debut. A remarkable, awe-inspiring debut. This book - and here, I thump my poor, pre-loved, battered copy resolutely but with a kind of proud (almost parental) love - shows you what a person can do with words. The magic, the power, the raw ache of words. She wrangles them together deliciously. Wields them like knives.

It's pretty much the only thing I can think about.

So if you like your Chuck Palahniuks, your Stephen Kings, your Bret Easton Ellises and Peter Straubs and your James Dickeys and Jim Harrisons, let's not forget this woman who can make some deep dark marks on a page just as much as these big boys. If you want some scary, messed up stuff, pick up Sharp Objects. You won't be disappointed.

Do it. Do it now.

So today I salute you, Gillian Flynn, for your masterful vision and your unapologetic prose. I hope someday to meet you and shake your hand.


Salute Inspiration!

I look up at my Wall of Inspiration: at my faded magazine articles (Kathryn Stockett's looking at me right now, photographed in what looks like her bedroom, as she tells More magazine back in May 2011 about her 60 literary agent rejections - my, oh, my, I beat that by a country mile - before becoming who she is today, the woman who wrote The Help, one of the finest books and films it has been my pleasure to experience) and the women that keep an eye on me from photographs, poems and letters, each of them Blu-Tacked to my wall, each a constant reminder, each of them devoting (I say it like that, devoting, even if these women are no longer walking and talking, because such a thing is always present tense: these stories and feelings linger long after death, after all; words are immortal) their kind care and attention to art and love, love and art. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and daughters.

Ladies, never, never lose your weird. What makes you weird makes you wonderful, and be sure to show your wonderful to the world someday. Just 'cause you're a gal doesn't mean you can't do it.

And a big shout-out to all the guys out there who applaud the rise of ladies on their paths to strength.


Happy Sunday, everybody!



Wednesday, 29 June 2016

How I got my agent

Reading: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Listening to: Lil John "Snap Your Fingers"
Outside: Rain

It wasn't long ago I'd read stories like this. Blog posts, magazine articles, QueryTracker Success Story interviews. Weeks ago. I'd read each one breathlessly, leaning in close because here, here this kind of thing existed. This powerful, impossible, magical thing: writers getting literary agents. 

I'd read them with a mix of emotions. Always a lungful of hope and a gutful of - I'm going to admit it - hot, sick jealousy. Why was it happening to others and never to me? How many rejections would I have to endure?


That's how it felt. Getting to the center of the Tootsie Roll Pop would perhaps be easier. Image from here.

But I'm sitting here right now telling you that this has happened to me. An amazing agent fell in love with my novel and offered representation. Simple as that.




The short version: 

I sent a query on a Sunday evening, via one of those online forms where you're pretty sure your query chopped and spliced out of its normal layout on your painstakingly careful and polished query letter, so it feels like that's another strike against you gets swallowed up by some kind of monstrous hungry computer, only to discover that, while I slept (I'm in the UK, and the agency is five hours behind me in New York), the agent not only received the query but responded.

I woke up to a full manuscript request.

Oh, my!

So I did my Full Manuscript Request dance, which of course is different for everybody but I highly recommend you discover yours, and emailed the full to the agent. Then, with a cautious spring in my step, I left for work. 

After that, it all happened very fast.

By the afternoon I had an email from her saying she was halfway through and really enjoying it, and was anyone else reading it? (There was.)

By the next afternoon, on a Tuesday while I sat at work, I saw another email: She read it and thought it was fabulous, and I had such a great voice. Would I be free to chat over the phone?

Little did I know that that would end up being The Call.

The Call.

Imagine, me. Getting The Call. Like for real.

A mere 48 hours after sending the query.

This kind of thing doesn't happen to someone like me.


Ohhhh yes. All the feels.



And the long version: 

I have written 12 books since I was 21 years old. Most of these books are horrible and embarrassing. Perhaps four or five of them are actually decent. I queried several different books - oh yes, even a couple of the bad ones, but hey, ya gotta learn somehow - across the years since March 2010, when I believed getting an agent would be easy, that I'd send out a handsome scattering of queries and in a week or two I'd have a good handful of agents knocking on my door, contracts in hand. But no. No. That is not how it goes. Yes, I got a handful of partial requests, and I will never forget the time I got my first full manuscript request (what? A literary agent actually wants to read my stuff?), but they always came back as rejections. There's a whole lot of rejection out there. And that's okay. Because rejection teaches you things. 

Like how to to write a good book first. You have to learn how to edit. You have to fall down several times and then get back up again. You have to believe in yourself. Yes. This last thing is the most important.  


And here I've broken it down for those of you who really just want the numbers.

Number of queries sent: 85
Number of partial requests: 5
Number of full requests: 7
Offers of representation: 1


For all of you burgeoning writers out there, remember this: DON'T GIVE UP. Only about two months ago I was ready to throw in the towel. Two months ago I felt hopeless, after getting yet another rejection from what I thought might have been a sure thing (and almost half a year's worth of edits). I was devastated. For six years I had saved a bottle of champagne with a special note wrapped around its neck: OFF LIMITS - FOR IF WHEN VEE GETS AN AGENT. (Notice how I'd crossed out the IF.) Two months ago I was ready to open it up and pour it down the drain and throw the bottle in the recycling bin. There were tears. Lots of tears.

I'm sure glad I saved it, because I got to open it Monday, June 20th after signing the contract. And it was delicious.

No more waiting! Wooooot!

Here we go!

The sweet taste of success.

A sign my mom sent me for Christmas. It speaks the truth.

Now I am thrilled to be represented by the amazing, the one, the only Jen Marshall at Kuhn Projects / Zachary Shuster Harmsworth in New York City! With Jen by my side, the sky's the limit. I am over the moon to have found the literary agent of my dreams.

Now I've begun a fresh round of edits to make my novel the absolute best it can be.

So there you have it. Live, love, and be inspired.

If you'd like to read more, here's my QueryTracker Success Story Interview.

Look for me on the bookshelves someday! 

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Letter to Lena

Reading: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Listening to: Evening birdsong
Outside: Soaked rain clouds, deep blue

Dear Lena,

You’re two years and five months old now, and wailing snotty nose into your baby monitor, brandishing your angst at the world and my left ear. I type this with a lump in my throat, because I know you’re tired and you have a cold, and you’re wanting and waiting to close your eyes for the night. You’re fighting. 
            Last night, I held you through the night and into morning until almost four o’clock because I found you out of bed and howling your head off. “Sleep on couch with Mommy,” you insisted, over and over, bawling over the pile of sheets and blankets you’d ripped off your bed, exhaustion-wracked and defiant. Into a fresh, soft blanket I bundled you, curling up on the couch and covering your bare feet, patting your rump like I did when you were brand new, marvelling at the way you mold yourself around me: folding your legs neatly in the bare curve of mine, going quiet, your black eyes blinking up at me in the dark.
            I held you like I’d done so many nights before, back when I thought night feeds would never end; but end they did, and those drowsy wondrous hours faded away until the occasional illness, when what you need most is Mommy’s hug. I was given this rare opportunity. I held you for a long time.

***

You’ve settled now. Now I’ll say it. Darling, today, nothing went right for me.
            Rain hampered my yardwork and I didn’t get it all done. My one free day in the week, and it rains.
            Watching the sky for rain and gauging how long I had to do my outdoor stuff kept me from finishing my indoor stuff, except for three loads of laundry (precious clothes, precious time).
            To top it all off, our boiler broke. It’s been twenty-four hours without heat or hot water.
           
But then these other things happened.
            You spent time with Daddy making Play-Doh creatures and figuring out mazes on your Tablet.
            I managed to get a shower at our neighbour’s house – a little kindness goes a long, long way.
            You helped Daddy make dinner tonight, and we all ate together at the kitchen table, serving up steaming spaghetti Bolognese from the pan in the middle. A rare occasion for our three faces to all look at the same place at once. Delicious.
            You listened when I told you about the magic of the Natural History Museum in London, and how we’ll go visit there someday.   
            You gave me a hug tonight, without me asking.

***

           You are sleeping now, and in a moment I’ll be at your bedside, straightening the covers around you. It’s this little bit I can do now – now that you’re getting so grown up, making your own opinions and surprising me with your burgeoning sense of humor. It’s the tiny ways you need me now, but only when you’re asleep. Only when you don’t know.
            Darling, remember this: all we have is precious, precious time. Sometimes things don’t go right, so we have to remember the things that do. A warm blanket under your chin, a hand on your brow. A silent kiss. These things are right. 
            Sleep tight.


Picture from here.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Inspiration



Reading: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Listening to: "Can't You Trip Like I Do" by Filter & The Crystal Method
Outside: Ah! Springtime! Laundry dries on the line!


She's at it again: my toddler daughter continues to teach me more about life every day. Yesterday's lesson came at me like an out-of-control steam engine. One word. Tantrum.




Now, my little lamb, she is usually that - I mean, scarily so - a little lamb. But sometimes she can't get the train tracks clicked. Or sometimes the Mega Blox just don't stack right. Or sometimes, I don't know, I want to put her left shoe on her left foot, as opposed to her right foot, and well, things just slide out of control and careen right off the rails.

The same thing happens to us adults, although we've usually, in the fullness of time (hopefully, hopefully), learned to deal with it with a little more, shall I say, finesse

I'm talking about more than just waiting a long time to get the check at the end of your meal. More than just being stopped on your way to the bagel shop at lunchtime by a guy braying about a charity you already donate to, and if you don't, you would be more inclined to donate to it if you weren't being brayed at about it. More than just being cut off in the fast lane, or the rain dashing your hopes of sunning yourself in the back yard because you have Seasonal Affective Disorder and you are f*cking desperate for some Vitamin D.

Yes. More than that. I'm talking about when you don't get that job you were really, really hoping for. When you don't lose that five pounds you were expecting to lose. When you ask that girl (or that guy) out for a second date and he/she doesn't answer your text. When you're trying to learn a foreign language and the words are senseless, maddening scribbles across the page. When you're pretty sure your physical therapist is trying to kill you when she asks you to actually stand up and walk down the length of the shallow pool. When you spend so much of your time and your energy and your thoughts and, no, more than that - your dreams - on something and things just fall apart. It hurts.

To that, I have the answer, and it's the same thing I said to my daughter as I knelt in front of her on the living room floor, catching her eye for a few brief but important seconds (because a few seconds is all it takes): Just because something is hard doesn't mean you can't do it. If it's hard to do, that means it's important. 

Like I said, we're all past building blocks and little toy train sets, but we're not past the grinding hurt and anger and the blinding urge to lash out and scream and throw it across the room when things just don't work out. You've felt it. I've felt it. God, have I felt it.

They say to count to ten. They say take deep belly breaths. Those things are supposed to help. In the short term, yes, they do help. Here's something even better, and long-term: Inspiration.

You need it. 

What is it that keeps you going when you feel like giving up? Is it the praise you might get from your friends and family? The look on their faces when you actually make it? When you get the job of your dreams, or you slim down to the size 12 (or 18, or 8) you always knew was in you, or you speak Italian fluently to the waiters on your trip to Rome? Is it the promise of fulfillment of something once missing, another half of you that you finally find: someone who actually does answer your texts? Is it the visualization of your heart-pounding walk across a park, a walk that took weeks or months or years to relearn, after your motorcycle accident almost wiped you out?

Sometimes I get rejections from literary agents and in my lowest moments even I'm tempted to just throw it all away. And in my darkest times, I've thought, really, what's the point?  

Here's the point: because I'm a writer. I need (need) to fill people up with the stories that compel me to write. I want to give back to the world those same emotions that rushed through me when I read Magic Terror by Peter Straub, and 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King and Toni Morrison's Beloved (this is a maddeningly short list; it goes on). I keep going because when the writing - when the Doldrums of mere living - seems impossible to navigate, I have little pieces of myself, my friends and my family around me all the time. I have my Wall of Inspiration.

My Wall of Inspiration

This is only a small part of it - it actually takes up three walls - but you get the idea. We have photographs, poems, newspaper clippings and drawings, art projects from high school, little pithy quotes and cards and even a mini American flag from my mom. I sit and work on my craft amidst all these, reminded all the time that there are people out there who believe in me (especially in those moments when I forget to believe in myself). Words written in ink, typed and on display for me to read and remember. The annals of rejection may be vast, but my inspiration is wide and deep and impossible to measure. 

Sometimes it feels like there's no end in sight. Before you check your phone for another hopeful job offer, before you step on those bathroom scales again, walking past that someday bikini you got hanging on your closet door, or before you sink down into the chlorine of that physical therapist's torture pool again - take another long, hard look at yourself and remember who you are. Why you're living and breathing on this earth. Decide what's important. Keep your eyes on the prize. Then get to work. 

How about you?

What's your inspiration?



(Happy Sunday!)



Sunday, 24 January 2016

How I could afford to become a writer

Reading: Darkness Visible by William Styron
Listening to: "Centuries" by Fall Out Boy
Outside: Street lamp lights float in this gentle evening

Well hey, guys! Happy 2016!

Now that January is in full swing and the Yuletide's food comas have abated, I thought it would be nice to hop back in the saddle and bring to your attention: this.

I write this in response to Andrew Scott's recent post in Brainspotting, a vibrant and vital newsletter for all you writers out there. In his post, How I could afford to become a writer, Scott - author, editor, university professor and dad, gives us his own history on how he became a writer - a path that is certainly different for each and every one of us.

For so many of us, money is a dirty thing. It is a distasteful subject (always an awkward but necessary talking-point during a job interview, which: ugh), but nonetheless something that we need to survive. We will do what we can to make it, and then it takes almost nothing to spend it. We have to pay bills, after all. We need to eat. We need that glass of wine, or that slice of cheesecake, or the latest Fall Out Boy album - those scrumptious little creature comforts in life.



For some of us, we can write because we have money. We have it because we are given it through a parent's gift, or through a tragedy - either way, it lays level in our hands and we can put it to good use, making a writer's way we may not have had without it. Maybe it makes writing somehow easier (though it's never easy) or perhaps it makes it somehow, I don't know...guilt-free. Like closing the door on bill collectors and the Dementors of the world, the bosses and the bursar's office. You shove the check to cover that electricity bill under the door and they go quiet and leave you alone. Jaws snap and draw away. Then you can write. Whew, thank whatever gods may be.

For me, well, it was a completely different story.

For me, it was almost-poverty.

I was, on the outside, a skinny, straight-toothed university student. Tanned and trim, I lived for the library, for fiction and creative writing classes. I studied hard and read a lot.



The truth: By the time I graduated from Ball State University, I had taken to eating out of the trash in order to save money, because I was paying for two-thirds of my education in cash. In all of my undergraduate career I took out no loans. This was my choice. I worked three jobs at one time, one of them at night. I wrote awful short stories during the Night Audit hours at the Econolodge (it's gone now, turned into a used car lot, but back then it wasn't even three-star accommodation) in Anderson, Indiana.  I wrote spine-tingling (horrible) thrillers at three A.M. when everyone else was asleep. I also worked at H. H. Gregg's in Muncie and at Bracken Library on the Ball State campus. Other jobs included: lab assistant in Ball State computer labs, clerk at Frederick's of Hollywood lingerie store at the Castleton Square Mall, hotel housekeeper, assistant at a dental practice, lingerie retail assistant at J C Penney's at both Castleton and Muncie malls, hotel front desk supervisor, and student employee at T. I. S. Bookstore not far from the Ball State campus. All of this in the space of four years. Overlay them together, cut one or two out at a time, the way you create a delicate braid in a bride's hair, and that was my working history - an ornate, painstaking, beautiful design.

I learned how long I could stand on my feet (eighteen hours), and how few hours I could sleep during the day (four) and still be able to function the next day - or at the very least, still be able to string together the lace of words, making dark marks on paper that somehow freed me from the slavery I felt caged inside as I tried to earn a dollar here, a dollar there.

It wasn't until I was 21, one year before I would get my Bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, that I wrote my first novel - an embarrassing but exploratory and of course very important discovery of what it takes to write three hundred pages of fiction.  By that time, a day working only eight hours (after a day of class) was an easy day. I graduated with sore feet and a resplendent smile and hundreds of pages of prose stacked under my computer desk (second-hand - I'd picked it up off the side of the road when I saw it winking at me, sign taped to it FREE TO GOOD HOME, because then I couldn't even afford furniture. Up until then I had written at my ancient desktop computer sitting on the floor.)

Ah, the Spartan sparseness. A bit Abraham Lincoln? A bit Stephen King? Yes. And also yes. Lucky? Also, absolutely yes.

Without those back-breaking hours, those impossible days and even worse nights, I wouldn't have learned what I needed to learn, and that was this: I can write through pretty much anything. Anything. I wrote, and I did it because I had to. I just had to. I needed to create story and define character. I needed sharper dialogue. I needed something at stake.

For me, it was hunger. Hunger was writing, and writing was hunger.

I think sometimes, when I was focused on the computer screen, and I imagine how I must have looked in the lobby of the Econolodge in Anderson, Indiana, cordless hotel phone just waiting to ring and jolt me out of my 3 A.M. prose reverie. All of those people sleeping. Hotel guests, responsible moms and dads, and students all. And here I was, typing away, keeping awake. Story kept me tied there, even when every cell in my body cried for sleep. Story - believing it, creating it - got me through.

How do you afford to become a writer? For me, it was creating something from nothing. The alchemy of ideas. You just do it.

Now, almost eleven years after graduating, I have a Master's degree in English Literature from the University of Leeds in England. I live in sunny South Yorkshire, a couple hours' train ride from London. I have a husband, a daughter and a very sturdy footrest composed of manuscripts of books I have written, books that get a little bit sharper every time.

One thing is true, money or not - in your journey to writerhood, you certainly learn to live.

How about you? What is your story?

(And Happy Sunday!)