Wade’s Writing Women

Wade RouseWade’s Writing Women
by Wade Rouse

 

I have two women to blame for my lot in life: Erma Bombeck and my mother.

Both conspired, it seems, to make me not only a writer but a damn humorist. (And if you think art and books are subjective, try humor.)

As a kid, I used to write about everything going on around me in my tiny Ozarks town: Whether I was forced to go cowtippin’ with the country boys or watch my mom the nurse make dinner in her bloody scrubs, it seemed to be only the only way I could make sense of the world.

For a while when I was young, I called my mom “Digit,” because she became infamous in our little town for being the go-to gal whenever a local cut off a toe with a lawnmower, or whacked off a finger with a chainsaw.

My mother would answer our giant red, rotary phone, the kind presidents use in comedy skits when they are about to launch a nuclear bomb, and calmly say, “Do you have your big toe? Well, can you locate it? Good!”

And then she would rush out of the house, often barefoot, in a nightgown, with a little Igloo cooler filled with ice. She would retrieve the detached digit, and personally rush the injured idiot to the ER of the neighboring hospital where she worked.

She, of course, eventually found my journal entries about her, and ended up – one morning when I was inhaling a bowl of Quisp for breakfast – shoving the daily paper in front of my nose.

“You need to read Erma,” she sighed.

I immediately adored her.

From that point on, I was devoted to Erma Bombeck’s column, “At Wit’s End,” in our small-town newspaper, and even clipped a few of my favorites to adorn my corkboard wall.

Though I was very young, maybe 11 or 12 at the time, Erma connected deeply with me.

She was a humorist and human who made the mundane memorable.

She wrote about family and food, laundry and life.

She wrote about everyday stuff with which I could relate.

For instance, “The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” was funny, yes, like its title, but it was also deeper: Along with daily suburban family issues, Erma tackled diet and self-image in this book.

And for a chubby little gay boy in the middle of nowhere who had a fondness for ascots and dreams of being a writer, I found a role model in a middle-aged mother who seemed to be dealing with just as many self-esteem issues as I was.

Actually, make that two middle-aged mothers.

From that day my mom led me to Erma, I wrote and journaled more earnestly about my life, yet I always tried to do it with humor, just like she did. I found laughter softened the pain, made life seem so much more bearable, even through incredible tragedy.

And that would be a fortuitous lesson. The summer my older brother graduated from high school, he was killed. That was followed in subsequent years by the deaths of my mom’s father and sister.

When my mother seemed no longer able to laugh, to dream, I made it my sole goal to bring her back to life. I read to her from Erma. I read to her from my journals. I held her hand. We became more than mother-son, we became friends.

I vividly remember the New Year’s Day in 2005 when I stood in front of my city mailbox clutching a fistful of query letters after I’d spent two years completing my first memoir, AMERICA’S BOY. It was cold, and I was shivering, but not because of the temperature. I was nearly 40. I hated my job. And my mom was tired, after having lost a son too early, of her only remaining child being unhappy, unfulfilled, not living his dream.

“Here’s to rejection!” I said, waving my query letters.

“Here’s to dreams coming true!” my mom had said.

She forced my hand into the mailbox, made me drop the letters, and then promptly slammed the slot on my fingers.

“Thanks, Digit!” I told my mom. “I’m glad you’re here, so you can save my fingers, or I’d just be all nubs and unable to type the letters H, J, M, N, U or Y, forever knocking words like ‘hominy’ and ‘yum,’ from my vocabulary.”

“This is meant to be,” she said, laughing. “And, I’m retired now anyway. Really, how many times are you ever going to write, ‘I love hominy. Yum!’”

Two weeks later, I had three formal offers of representation from literary agents, and a few months later – when I went to visit my agent for the very first time in New York – I was overwhelmed by what greeted me when I entered her office: Knee-high stacks of manuscripts and packages swallowed the lobby.

“This is what you were picked from,” I was told. “The slush pile.”

But, oddly, that didn’t overwhelm me; it emboldened me. It made me realize that if I – an odd Midwestern boy with zero connections in the publishing and literary world – could get his foot in the door, then anyone with talent, drive, thick skin, and a gut-wrenching desire simply to write, could do the same.

“People are going to read about you now, mom,” I told my mom after I returned from New York. “And some of it’s not pretty.”

“Good!” she told me. “Life isn’t pretty, sweetie. It’s life. That’s why you better have a damn good sense of humor.”

My mother passed away this June, but only after seeing my current memoir, AT LEAST IN THE CITY SOMEONE WOULD HEAR ME SCREAM, featured on NBC’s Today Show as a Summer Must-Read Selection.

“To dreams!” she had said from her hospital bed. “And laughter.”

Though my mom and Erma are both now gone from my life much too soon, they remain with me: They continue to make me laugh, think, dream, and appreciate the fragility and foibles of people and life.

Because those are things that are most beautiful: The imperfections in each of us.

And that’s what I still try and remember every day, focus on in each and every memoir: I write about everyday life from a unique perspective – with a whopping dose of humor and cynicism – touching upon those themes that touch us all, be it unconditional love, loss, family, sex, relationships, jobs, self-esteem, neuroses, dreams. I believe that the very best books force us to hold a mirror up to our collective faces and take a good long hard look at what’s reflected back.

And that image always looks so much better if we somehow manage to smile, even through all those damn tears.

***

Wade Rouse is the author of three, critically-acclaimed memoirs, including America’s Boy, Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler, and his latest, At Least in the City Somone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life, about two neurotic urbanites that quit their jobs, and leave the city, cable and consumerism behind in order to move to the Michigan woods and recreate a modern-day Walden. At Least in the City Somone Would Hear Me Scream has already been named a Summer Must-Read by the Today Show, Detroit Free-Press, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Out Magazine, Chicago Magazine, St. Louis Magazine, Frontiers Magazine and bestselling memoirist Jen Lancaster’s “Jennsylvania” blog.  For more information about this author, visit Wade Rouse’s official author website at waderouse.com or read Wade Rouse’s blog.

Thank You, Licoln Crisler

I just wanted to publicly thank Lincoln Crisler, author of the horror collection, Despairs & Delights, for guestblogging this week.  (Tip:  It looks like you can upgrade to 2-day shipping for free right now on his book at amazon.com.)

Crisler gave us a little bit of insight into the writing world.  If you missed any of his posts, here they are:

Behind the Scenes with Lincoln Crisler Pt. III: Struttin’ Your Stuff

Here’s the third and final part of my look at the inner workings of crafting, selling and promoting fiction. Thanks for sticking with me for the entire series and special thanks to Edie for having me aboard! If you like what you’ve seen here, drop in over at http://lincolncrisler.com for a steady flow of information, fun and venting from a tempermental artist!

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Where do you go from here? A publisher has taken on your work, which we’ll assume for the sake of argument (since the bulk of my experience is with short fiction) is a short story appearing in a magazine or anthology. Now you need to entice fans to read your work.

Most publishers can be counted on to do at least something to get the word out; how much effort they’ll expend usually depends on the publisher’s budget. At the end of the day, publishing’s an investment. An editor’s taken on your work because they feel it’s good enough to make them (and you) a bit of money. The amount of cash they’ll spend on promoting the book depends on how much they have on hand AND how much return they think they’ll get on their investment. Unless you sign a deal with a major publisher, be prepared to shoulder most of the burden. Life ain’t fair, and roses have thorns.

As a writer, the very least you need is a website. Preferably something easily recognizable, like your name. Free websites are a dime a dozen but are usually cluttered with ads and they don’t look as professional. Space on a webserver and your own personal domain name don’t cost that much, though; I pay $35/year to my webhost, http://tinyhosts.com. If you’re not into web design, there are lots of templates available on the internet. Me being a computer geek, I’ve toyed with my website almost constantly since it’s inception in 2006. I’ve finally settled on what I feel is the best option; a blog with columns on either side of the page with information on my books, favorite links, RSS feeds from interesting blogs and other neat stuff. Bottom line is you need a central collection point for news and updates on your work and links to publications featuring your stories. Making it fun and interesting will keep readers attention.

Having a blog is one of my favorite promotions. Aside from the website (though I do encourage integrating your blog with your website) it’s a place where you can sound off on all sorts of topics; I’ve reviewed comic books and novels, preached my politics, posted awesome recipes from my kitchen, given social commentary and vented about rough days all in addition to updates on my projects and books featuring my work. With proper use of tags and categories, readers searching for all sorts of topics can stumble across your blog, enjoy your unique perspective and take a closer look at your fiction. As a sidebar, I can now recommend, from experience, guest-blogging on someone else’s blog as an excellent promotion. Of course this is fun, too, but hopefully someone’ll read these things and click over to my site; just like I hope someone on my site clicks over to here and then Edie’ll get a new fan, too.

Another great promotion strategy is to set up book signings. Sometimes a publisher will set up signings, sometimes they won’t, but either way you can set up signings on your own. When I set up my first signing at a local Barnes & Noble, I spoke with the manager, we set a date, they ordered copies of my book and I appeared at the appointed time and signed them. It went rather well, I met a lot of new fans and hopefully they’ll all introduce at least one person to the awesome new writer they met at the bookstore.

MySpace is a great resource for creators, even if it does look like Teenybopperworld at first glance. There are a LOT of writers, musicians, artists, comedians, filmmakers, etc. on MySpace all yours for the meeting. I’ve gotten market leads, contacted fellow writers and editors and even discovered the publisher of my collection, Despairs & Delights, on MySpace. I can honestly say my career would be different without it. Heck, if you’re really web-challenged, you can make a great MySpace profile, complete with blog and information on your work, with relatively little effort.

A friend of mine, the absolutely wonderful Fran Friel, loves to run contests as a promotion. Comment on her blog at the right time and your name goes into a hat for a chance at winning all sorts of wonderful stuff, from a signed copy of one of her books to (I believe, don’t quote me) an original manuscript. I haven’t tried this yet, but I will soon. It’s definitely an attention-grabber. Who doesn’t like free stuff?

Finally, there are message boards. I’m only familiar with the horror ones, so I won’t get into specifics, but you can do a Google Search for “(insert genre” message boards” and find a million of ’em. You’ll find potential fans, other writers, reviewers, publishers and potential business partners talking about a range of topics from daily life to upcoming projects. On some you can even exchange critiques with other writers. The only one I’ll recommend to any creator regardless of genre is http://www.zoetrope.com. It’s sponsored by Francis Ford Coppola. I’m a member of several offices on the site and my career wouldn’t even exist without some of the people I’ve met there.

So that’s about it. If you’re a writer, I hope I’ve been able to impart some knowledge to you and if you’re a reader, I hope I’ve given you an enjoyable look behind the scenes (without ruining anything for you, of course). Thanks for reading!

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Lincoln Crisler hails from upstate New York. It’s cold there. That’s why he learned to read at an early age. So he could enjoy books. Inside. Where it’s warm. And not cold. Check out his website to see if all that book-learnin’ paid off and send fan- (or hate-) mail to lincoln@lincolncrisler.com

 

Behind the Scenes with Lincoln Crisler Pt. II: Pushin’ it Outta the Nest

Here’s part two of my look behind the scenes. I look forward to hearing what you think. This particular essay is loaded with links to essays from my blog because, well, I write about stuff like this all the time on my website. So it’s like getting five essays for the price of one! Enjoy!

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So by hook or by crook you have a finished story. Now what? If you’ve decided to show it off to the world, your work has just begun.

Placing a story is a lot of work, but luckily there’s a lot of resources at your fingertips. My two favorite places to find markets for my work are ralan.com and duotrope.com. Editors place the guidelines for their publications (usually magazines or anthologies, but sometimes for novel-length work as well) and writers can search the database by payment, length of work, genre and other categories.

A quick word about payment: money isn’t everything, but a writer shouldn’t give any of it away in exchange for being published. Money, if any is involved, should flow from the publisher to the writer. I cover this and other such matters in this article. I discuss the subject of writing for pay and how it’s affected my career here.

What’s the secret to getting picked up by a publisher? There’s nothing magickal about it; just about every story I’ve finished writing has been published eventually, simply through trial and error. I finish a story, set it aside for a week or two to make the material fresh in my mind again, revise and post it for review by my critique group. I’ll make revisions based on their suggestions and then start sending that bad boy out. Even if an editor rejects my story, life goes on and I send it elsewhere. I’m confident that when I send out a story, it’s worth printing; it’s just a matter of finding an editor the piece strikes a chord with.

If I have any sort of secret weapon at all, it’s that I’m an editor as well as a writer. You could say I’m an enemy sympathizer, sort of speak. But I find that being a writer also helps me be a better editor as well. In my work as editor of The Lightning Journal and the Our Shadows Speak anthologies I’ve identified several peeves guaranteed to grind an editor’s gears. My favorites can be found here.

Other than that, I recommend an objective mind when revising, attention to detail and adherence to market-specific guidelines. And write a good cover letter; my standard letter is something like this:

Dear Editor X,

Attached is my piece, Osama bin Laden vs. Satan, for possible inclusion in Frightening Flash.

I’m a two-time combat veteran, a contributing writer at the Horror Library and the editor of the Our Shadows Speak anthologies. Since 2006 my work has appeared in a variety of print and online venues. More information on myself and my work, should you desire it, can be found at http://lincolncrisler.com

Thank you for your time.

Regards,

Lincoln Crisler

Gets ’em every time.

So let’s say you’ve written a story, followed Uncle Lincoln’s suggestions perfectly and after many weeks of sleepless nights, received an acceptance from a publisher. Your work is appearing in an anthology with worldwide distribution. You’re on the map!

Now what?

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Lincoln Crisler has a fantastic wife and three children– an infant, a toddler and a teenager– so you just know his fiction’s the product of a mind long since decayed into madness. Check out his website, http://lincolncrisler.com for updates on his work and excerpts from his books, Despairs & Delights and Our Shadows Speak Volume One!

Behind the Scenes with Lincoln Crisler Pt. I: Crafting the Tale

Hi, I’m Lincoln Crisler, your guest blogger for today and the following two days. Since this blog is geared towards readers, I thought a short series showing some of the behind-the-scenes work of writing, publishing and promoting might be a treat. So, without further ado…

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Let’s get started. There’s a blank page or a blank screen and quite possibly a blank mind. What are you going to write about? After all, If you don’t write something new to follow up your last publication, people will forget about you. Swim or die, right? Like a shark.

Think, think. All those advice articles say to write no matter what. Even if it’s garbage. Just write. You can always edit and delete later. Just write. Something will come / the magic will happen / the force will be with you just write and it will come.

But it doesn’t. And you’re still stuck in front of the blank screen, the blank page. With a throbbing headache. So you go watch Galactica: The Next Generation SG1 or play Grand Theft Auto MCMXVIII or Hey honey, still need me to hang those drapes? Some days are like that. But life goes on.

Other days are a bit different. You’ll get an idea and run with it. What if the Egyptian pyramids were built by zombie labor? You already have the mummy stories to set a backdrop of undead magic. Before you know it, you’re waist-deep in research, or perhaps you already know enough about the material to dive right in and polish the details later.

Or you’ll be reading stuff online and come across something that just slaps you upside the head. Some whacko in Georgia has married a robot (I won’t go into details, but if you’re interested seach for Zoltan). She dumped him once during the course of their ‘relationship’ and he wiped her memory and started over. I’ve just written a robot story, so I’m not too keen on another one so soon, but applying that mind-wipe/relationship scenario to human interaction? Yeah I can dig it.

Perhaps you go through a life-changing turn of events, do something awesome or, in my case, fight a godawful legal battle and the best way to handle the emotions you’re feeling is to write a story. It happens quite often, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Change names to protect the guilty, fictionalize a bit to make the story more entertaining and in the end either publish it for the masses or keep it to yourself, but yes, writing can be darn good therapy.

Heck, you might even have a story you’ve lived through or been told that’s just perfect as-is. And half the work’s done for you! All you have to do is write it up, shine it up real nice, give credit where credit is due and send that puppy out into the world. I’ve read a few real nice examples of that type of story.

In the end whether it’s by research or emotion or just living, you get the story you want. The pages are filling up, your fingers are clicking away and your body’s finding it hard to keep up with your mind. Before you know it, either by way of a marathon session or several short trips to the well, you get what you came for. A finished work. Your story.

Now what?

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Guest blogger Lincoln Crisler plays live-action GI Joe; in addition to various stateside assignments he’s served overseas in South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. After a long day of playing Army, he runs to the nearest phone booth and becomes a mild-mannered author and editor. His debut collection, Despairs & Delights, is available from Arctic Wolf Publishing and Our Shadows Speak Vol. 1, his 2006 anthology, is being re-released by Steel Moon Publishing. He’s currently reading for two new anthologies and pursuing a variety of outlets for his fiction.

Kelley Armstrong — Thanks and Index

A big thank you to Kelley Armstrong for guestblogging.  I like to include a list of each guest writer’s posts so that people can have one page to link to as a handy reference, so see the following list.  Kelley is interested in what you have to say, too, so if you haven’t commented on any of her posts yet, take a few moments to answer some of the interesting questions she has asked.  Do so before November 29th, and you’ll be eligible to win a prize.  

You can also pick up one of this prolific bestselling author’s many books on amazon.com.