How do we handle rejection? Find a new path.

This past week rejection hit me right between the eyes. While I was not altogether surprised by the rejection, I was still disappointed. To the point of tears. In that moment, it helped to be reminded that even the best of writers have been where I am now.

I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”Sylvia Plath

Fortunately, Sylvia Plath’s quote showed up when I needed it most. On the very day, in fact, that my new manuscript was rejected by the publisher who acquired Go Away Home. The reason I was not surprised is that my new manuscript is an issue-driven, contemporary story while Go Away Home is historical fiction. Yet rejection is rejection. And it stung.

Y in the road

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Plath’s quote reminded me that I had tried. I had done my best, writing the best story I could. During a good long walk, I came to see the opportunity, to realize that while this rejection diverts me from the comfortable path I’d been on, it opens another publishing path to explore.

My writing journey reflects the many faces of publishing. For a variety of reasons, I elected to indie publish my memoir Growing Up Country. That experience connected me with a host of talented, supportive indie authors who helped me learn the business. My marketing background offered the comfort zone from which I launched and promoted a book that continues to find readers 10 years later.

That effort was so successful that when it came time to publish my first novel, I didn’t even look for a publisher. The indie world had treated me well, and I launched with confidence, using everything I learned from the memoir.

Lake Union’s offer to acquire Go Away Home came out of the blue. I could not have been more surprised or delighted. The publisher’s editors built my writing skill, and their team opened marketing avenues I’d never have accessed on my own. The partnership remains a success even if it stops at one book.

Having experienced the power of a good publisher, I want that for my next work. So I embark upon a new path – Find an agent.

Finding an agent

Research is the place to start. I’ve begun to amass a list of agents who specialize in my genre and are open to new submissions. I’m researching the best query approaches. I’m preparing myself for the wait and see and inevitable acquisition of more rejection slips. I remain hopeful that one of these agents will love the story and want to work their magic with publishers.

No matter what happens, I know I’ll learn a lot. And that’s always good.

Authors, have you been this route? Do you have recommendations on agents or the process?
Readers, any advice on handling rejection?

What traditions make the holiday for you? – A Thanksgiving story

Thanksgiving is a time laden with tradition as family and friends gather to share food, fellowship, and fond memories. As I texted my nieces this year, sharing our plans for turkey and all the fixings, I couldn’t help but remember one particular Thanksgiving. I share this story written a decade ago and published in The Iowan magazine as my Thanksgiving gift to you.

A Holiday Story

I have always believed that Thanksgiving dinner is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult meal to make. Easiest because there is no wondering what will be on the menu. At least at our house, the meal is always exactly the same, from homemade pumpkin and mincemeat pies to cranberry sauce cooked up and cooled in an aluminum mold used only for that purpose to the dinner rolls my aunt bakes on Thanksgiving morning. A turkey with sage dressing is the centerpiece.

A new, young cook takes to the kitchen, continuing old traditions and creating new.

A new, young cook takes to the kitchen, continuing old traditions and creating new.

At the same time, the meal is difficult because of the high level of expectation attached to all holiday family gatherings. For me, sage dressing is the food I desire most. I can pass on potatoes and gravy, forgo cranberries, even skip the turkey. Fill my plate with the sage dressing that I wait all year to taste.

So it was with more than casual interest that I listened to the phone conversation my mom was having with her granddaughter in Pennsylvania about Thanksgiving dressing.

“Say, Clorinda,” Mom said. “Your mom says you do a great job making dressing. If you want to make it when you’re here for Thanksgiving, I’ll get everything around so it’s ready when you are.”

Mom cradled the telephone between her shoulder and ear as she reached for a pencil and paper. “Okay, I’m ready,” she said, pencil poised to write. I knew she anticipated a list beginning with dried bread and progressing through sage seasoning.

Watching from across the table, I could see the list as Mom wrote down the ingredients Clorinda detailed: Stove … Top … Stuffing. Mom hesitated as she took in the words and glanced up at me. I couldn’t stifle a laugh.

For nearly 60 years, my mother had put three square meals a day on the table, all made from scratch, mostly using produce grown in her own garden. The very idea of making a Thanksgiving dish so basic and so traditional as dressing out of a box nearly made her go into shock.

But she’s quick on her feet, my mother. “How many boxes do you think we need?” she asked Clorinda.

Though Mom takes justifiable pride in the meals she prepares, she has her priorities in order. If her granddaughter wants to help make the meal, and that help comes out of a box, she won’t bat an eye. But don’t underestimate what a mental shift that took.

From the time my sisters and I were 10 years old. Mom taught us not only to grow the food we’d eat but also to cook it. She guided us through the basics of growing and canning peas and beans, tomatoes and corn. From there we explored the complexities of meal planning and cooking. Mom made cooking easy, measuring out ingredients before we knew what we needed, cleaning up every drip and spill as we made it. We knew no failures in her kitchen.

When 15-year-old Clorinda arrived in Iowa that November, Mom swept her granddaughter off into the kitchen as her newest apprentice. Some lessons were a snap. To make eggs over easy without flipping them, for instance, Mom shared the trick of putting a lid on the frying pan, drizzling a few drops of water at the edge, and letting steam cook the egg top. Some lessons were more challenging. Gravy without lumps took two tries. These cooking experiences continued throughout the week up until Thanksgiving Day.

By 5 a.m. the kitchen was a hive of activity directed by Mom and guaranteed to deliver the traditional Thanksgiving meal we all knew and loved. As noon approached, I watched in amusement as Clorinda opened the Stove Top stuffing mix and under Mom’s watchful eye completed a cooking task in five minutes that done in the traditional way would have taken a good two hours.

When the turkey came out of the oven at precisely 11:30 a.m. and a parade of heaping dishes made it to the dining room table at exactly noon, among them was a large bowl of Stove Top Stuffing. We all ate it. And it was good. Grandma agreed.

Would stuffing from a box ever replace homemade sage dressing and become the new tradition at our holiday table? Probably not. But Mom keeps Stove Top stuffing mix on her pantry shelf, ready for the day her granddaughter comes for another holiday visit.

Much has changed since this story was written, but much stays the same. Our tables will be surrounded with love, and I wish the same for you.

Will the real Donald J. Trump please stand up? #WordsMatter

The election outcome has a lot of people wondering what Donald J. Trump as president will be like. The reason: President-elect Trump has taken widely different stances on the same topics, sometimes within hours. I find myself wishing for a return of the 1950s TV game show “To Tell the Truth.”

Which Trump will show up as president?

Which Trump will show up as president?

On “To Tell the Truth,” a panel of four celebrities sought to discern which of a group of contestants had an unusual occupation or had undergone an unusual experience. The two imposters could lie, but the central character was sworn to tell the truth. At the end of the questioning, the moderator said, “Will the real … please stand up?”

In our modern-day version, Trump plays all the characters – those lying and the one telling the truth. We in the public are left trying to guess what’s real.

Here are some examples:

A. Candidate Trump: He said to Hillary Clinton: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation. … Because you’d be in jail.” (Oct. 9, 2016 – Presidential debate)
or
B. President-Elect Trump: “I don’t want to hurt them … They’re good people.” (Nov. 13, 2016 – CBS 60 Minutes Interview)

In the same CBS 60 Minutes interview, this exchange:
A. President-Elect Trump: “We have great generals.”
Lesley Stahl: “You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.”
B. President-Elect Trump: “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. … They haven’t done the job.”

A. President-Elect Trump: On Twitter, “@realDonaldTrump – Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair.” (Nov. 10, 2016)
or
B. President-Elect Trump: “@realDonaldTrump – Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!” (Nov. 10, 2016 – nine hours after first tweet)

A. Candidate Trump: The one who brags about assaulting women, attacks Gold Star parents, calls Latino immigrants murderers and rapists, threatens every person who is a Muslim.

B. President-Elect Trump: “Don’t be afraid. We are going to bring our country back. But certainly, don’t be afraid.” (Read the entire 60 Minutes transcript here.)

So, if the moderator said, “Will the real Donald J. Trump please stand up,” which one would it be? The one who rallied followers and votes around the idea of putting Hillary Clinton in jail or the one who lets her off? The one who praises generals or the egotist who claims he knows better? The one who believes people exercising freedom of speech is unfair or the one who speaks for all Americans?

The proof will be in the actions

As a public relations counselor for 30 years, I reinforced to my clients that their words were important, but equally important was that the words were backed up by credible actions.

So far, Trump appears to say whatever he thinks the audience in front of him wants to hear. Because of that, President Trump has a challenge on his hands.

To bring the country together, he will have to prove to people of color, Muslims, and women that they have nothing to fear. Yet, to satisfy the people who elected him, he needs to fulfill his campaign promises: bring back steel jobs, put Clinton in jail, build the wall, deport millions of immigrants. 

Less than a week after the election, President-Elect Trump began backing off on the wall, on completely dismantling the Affordable Care Act, on mass deportation. Will his supporters stay with him now?

At the same time, Trump has named as one of his closest advisors alt-right Stephen Bannon who promotes anti-Semetic, racist, sexist views. Can Trump really convince people he supports all Americans?

For my part, I’ll be using one of President Ronald Reagan‘s favorite lines: “Trust, but verify.” Ironic that this is a Russian proverb, no?

Along with the rest of the country – and the world – I’ll be watching to see which President stands up.

Words matter. The actions behind the words do, too.

How much does the truth matter? Too little in politics.

Count me among those who were rocked by the vitriol of the presidential campaign and shocked by the outcome. I suggest one of the reasons for public dismay was an inability to believe what we heard. It appeared that putting truth behind the words mattered little to either candidate.

From the earliest days of the campaign, candidates displayed alarming disregard for the truth. This is a common complaint with every election, but the problem crescendoed this year. Each candidate accused the other of lying while simultaneously spouting falsehoods of their own.

Fact Checking the Truth in Claims

Donald J. TrumpAccording to independent fact checker Politifact, 70% of the claims made by Candidate Donald J. Trump were judged Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire false. Only 15% of claims he made were gauged True or Mostly True.

Claims made by Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, were gauged to be Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire false 26% of the time. Over half (51%) of the claims Clinton made were gauged True or Mostly True.

Hillary ClintonShould Clinton supporters feel smug because their candidate lied less than Trump? Because only a quarter of the things she said were false? No.

Would any of us accept our children lying to us a quarter of the time, let alone 70% of the time? Our spouse? A friend? A business associate?

Maybe I’m bent out of shape over nothing. Do I care that Trump lied when he said he drew bigger crowds than Beyonce and Jay Z? My inclination was to blow it off. Who cares who gets bigger crowds?

But, when Trump said at a campaign rally that President Obama “spent so much time screaming at a protester, and frankly it was a disgrace,” he flat out lied, fabricating a situation, ripping down the President, who had, in fact defended the protester. Meanwhile, Trump had himself shouted down protesters many times. That I care about.

One of the greatest strikes against Hillary Clinton was that the public believed her untrustworthy. Initially, I cut her slack about the emails. I believed what she said. Much unsubstantiated ado about nothing, I thought. When it finally became clear beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied about the emails, I was heart sick.

I should care about all lies. Because they all speak to character. Yet, I made excuses for Clinton just as others made excuses for Trump. We sank into a tar pit this year, apparently willing to accept candidates for whom lying and corruption are standard procedure.

The Impact of Lying

The results of lying are many. A damaged reputation for the speaker. Difficulty going forward, because what can you believe when someone lies about even the smallest things? A disillusioned, disheartened, apathetic, cynical public. Greater distrust in the political system as a whole.

If the candidates don’t care enough to build trust in their audiences by searching out, presenting, and sticking to the truth, how can they expect us to care about them? Yet, apparently, we did.

What can we do?

How do we climb out of the tar pit? I’m trying to figure it out. I know I need to care more at the outset. I need to vet candidates more closely. Speak up. Speak out. Because the weight of our current situation isn’t just on the candidates; it’s on all of us. We will get more of what we accept.

I want to believe what people say. I need to believe what people say. I’m desperate to believe my president. Words matter.

How did you process the ongoing, escalating falsehoods during this presidential election? How much does it bother you that candidates play so fast and loose with words and facts? What do you propose we do about it?