Breaking Up with Friends

Have you ever broken up with a friend? I have, though it was never dramatic.  I went through a phase (namely, my entire childhood) when I didn’t ever want anyone to know I was sad or that they’d made me so. Unsurprisingly then, friendships that ended died slow deaths due to lack of oxygen. There are things I wish I’d done, words I wish I’d said.

My-Other-Ex-final-3-266x400Enter My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friendsa volume of essays from the editors of The HerStories Project, now on my To Be Read list. In the anthology, 35 women tell of their own friendship breakups. (Women have a wonderful way of banding together, don’t they?)

One contributor is writer Hallie Sawyer. She’s got a big heart and writes fearlessly. I look forward to reading her essay. For now, she shares some answers to a few of my questions:

1. What made you decide to submit an essay for this book?

I had learned about submissions for the first book, The HerStories Project, but I didn’t have an overwhelming story at the time. I was bummed to miss out on that opportunity but told [editor] Jessica Smock to let me know if there was ever another book in the works. I was partially joking but sure enough, I heard from Jessica a few months later! When I learned about the theme of this new book, I knew I had the perfect story to share.

2. Without getting too detailed for those reading the book, how did it happen to you? Did you do the breaking up or were you broken up with?

It happened rather abruptly when she moved to a new city but when I examined it more closely, our friendship deteriorated over the course of a year. I think we were both to blame but in the essay, I could only explain my side of the story and tried to assume more of the blame because of my über crappy friendship skills at the time.

3. Did you change names for the story? Does this person know you wrote about her? 

I emailed her the essay once I had submitted it but I didn’t hear back from her for quite some time. I began to worry that she hated it but when I let her know about the upcoming publication, she opened up about how she felt about it. She loved the piece but didn’t love reading about herself and she requested I change her name. As writers, we put ourselves out there all the time but that’s not how most people operate and I totally get that.

4. Do you feel vulnerable having it out there?

Not really. I actually felt more vulnerable with my friend than anything else. I worried that I hadn’t remembered it right or that I hadn’t honored the friendship like I wanted.

5. Have you been wanting to write about this? Did it help to write about it or do you still feel like you need closure?

Yes and no. Yes, because the pain of that experience has been there for a long time and too much a part of me to ignore. I’ve always dealt with my emotions through writing but this was an area of my life that I had shoved away for some time. I was ashamed, simple as that. It does feel good to have it out there but I didn’t want closure on the topic as much as I wanted to honor our friendship, scars and all.

6. Many people often let friendships passively die; it’s somewhat of a taboo topic—to proactively end a friendship. What’s your take?

I’m not sure there is a right way to end a friendship. For me, if the connection no longer feels genuine, I usually pull back. No one has ever confronted me with, “Why don’t you call me anymore?” but really, it would be a fair question. The passive approach seems like the less painful one but ironically, when I think about it, it hurts more.

7. How is losing a friend like losing a boyfriend? How is it different?

I think it’s just like losing a boyfriend if you are the one rejected. You have all these unanswered questions and left wondering what you’ve done wrong or what the other person doesn’t like about you.

But boyfriends can come and go. Friends are for life. When you go through a friendship breakup, it can be such a deep hurt that you feel like part of you is missing.

8. What’s your advice for someone going through a friendship breakup?

Whatever the reason for the breakup, learn something from it. Let the experience change you for the better, not bitter. No matter whose fault it is, the important thing is that you find a way to forgive them…and yourself. Also, you are not alone in your feelings. This book is a testament to that.

9. Has your daughter suffered through a friendship breakup?

There was some typical seventh grade drama and she saw an ugly side of friendship. I was so proud of her because she did differently than I did at her age. She confronted one of the girls and it instantly deflated the situation. This girl had been a teammate for a number of years and my daughter let her know if she continued to act a certain way, their friendship was over. The girl denied everything and tried to point the finger at others and it changed things instantly. My daughter decided she didn’t have time for the drama and their friendship dissolved into more of an acquaintance.

10. What did you learn after the breakup —do you see friendships differently now? Do you look for certain signs or red lights when choosing friends?

It’s crazy to realize that our breakup was almost 20 years ago! I think the most important thing I’ve learned about friendships is that life is short. I’ve learned to spend my precious time with those who lift me up and bring out the best in me. Hopefully, I do the same for them.

Publication: What’s Most Important

It’s getting close to publication day and I realize this is the first and last time I’ll ever have the “first book” experience. I’m trying to savor it, to step back and see this for what it is: an amazing moment and the accomplishment of something that’s been in my bones for a long, long time.

This lead-up to publication hasn’t all been easy, though. I got a bit frazzled for awhile there, and I wrote the following post that’s over at She Writes today: One Month from Publication and I’ve Figured Out What’s Important. I hope you’ll check it out to see what I’ve learned these last few weeks. I think it applies to any big goal, writer or not. And if that doesn’t tempt you, there’s the promise of gravy. You’ll see.

Thanks!

HerStories, Our Stories: the Importance of Friendship

When Jessica Smock emailed me a few months ago, asking to use one of my blog essays in an anthology she was editing, I said of course. I was happy the piece would get wider attention–it was not only a fun piece but an important one, I think.

I received my advance copy of The HerStories Project about a week ago. I don’t usually read anthologies and so as I read this one, I considered it in piecemeal–“That one is funny….this one made me sad…” Etc.

Over the course of the book, a funny thing happened. Continually reminded of various friendships past and present, old memories, and remember-whens, I realized the point of this book is not to represent 50-some different friendships of 50-some different writers. The point of the book is to honor friendship in such a way that the book becomes our own story. The essays are a reflection of us collectively and individually—reader as well as writer. Of course.

IMG_1337And so this week, I’ve been thinking of Michelle, my first friend. I moved next door to her when I was two and she was three. I walked up to her in her backyard sandbox, according to my mom, and asked if I could play. She said, “No,” and I said, “Yes,” and sat down. We became sisters that day, and I cannot think of my childhood without thinking of her. She is my childhood.

Eric, Jess, KateI’ve also been thinking of Katie and Eric. We were born into the same family but that doesn’t mean we had to become friends. But we did, and we are. There are few people it is possible to drive across the country with without going insane, and my sister is one of them. There are few people you can count on for help fully and without caveats, and my brother is one of those.

Kel and DanielleI’ve been thinking about college friends, especially Kelly and Danielle. They are sisters to me for a different reason–they have seen me at my worst and my best. Soul-baring conversations and embarrassing moments, crazy alcohol-fueled hilarity…I’ve broken many boundaries with these two and several others I shared the college experience with, one of my favorite periods of life so far because we were free and happy and lucky.

232323232-fp8-4-nu=32;--65;-47--WSNRCG=3239747752;;;nu0mrjMany of the essays in the anthology are about the loneliness of new motherhood. It’s the kind of loneliness that echoes. I cannot imagine surviving that time if I hadn’t been going through it right alongside Heather, Ginny, Melanie (yes, the Melanie), and others in the mom group run by the hospital. We had babies born within weeks of each other. They were the ONLY people in the world who knew, acutely, how I felt. Having that outlet is probably the one thing that kept me from suffering depression.

There are many, many others–around the periphery or smack in the middle for a time, these people have filled my life. There were seasons of friendships, some lasted, some glimmered brightly for a time but passed. Some were lost but, thankfully, found again. All are important for their role in filling my life with happiness and substance.

The HerStories Project goes on sale today. Here’s to friendship:

herstories-v4-2

Meet: My Path Toward Publication

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Seeking out the tried and true is the wrong direction for crazy times.  –Seth Godin

And it’s crazy in publishing these days.

The industry is in the middle of an upheaval and anyone who claims to know exactly how it will end up is lying. But one thing is for sure: writers have more choices than ever. And that’s nothing but good. A lot of worthy books never get read, let alone published. If more of them now have a chance (along with more bad ones, sure) let’s all do a jig.

I think I was lucky I knew nothing about the publishing industry when I finished the first draft of my first novel two years ago. I came at it with green, unbiased eyes. I knew there were things called agents and editors and publishers, but I had no idea how it all worked, so I set out to learn.

This was 2011, just as the industry was really starting to turn on its head. Options were opening up that had never existed. What used to be unheard of or stigmatized was now becoming more common and accepted.

Once I discovered there was more than one path to choose from, I had to figure out what was most important to me. I started reading other writers’ essays about why they chose to go the traditional route (try to get an agent, who then hopefully finds a publisher). I read some version of the following from several writers: “My dream is to see my book on the shelf in a bookstore.” (It was and still is the case, as far as I know, that large chains, like B&N, and most indie bookstores do not carry self-published books.)

Was that my dream, to see my book on the shelf of a bookstore? Sort of. But it didn’t feel quite right. It wasn’t THE dream.

I also read, “I don’t want to/don’t have the time to learn the industry myself [like self-publishers have to], so I’m going traditional.” That didn’t dissuade me, either. I was almost itching to learn and do it all. Plus, I kept reading that much of the marketing falls on the author no matter where she’s published, and that’s a big part of getting your book in front of readers.

So I started reading essays in support of self-publishing, and my heart/gut/intuition/Jedi-master signals went off like crazy. (To read more about why I chose, at the time, to self-publish, click HERE.)

Here’s what I learned after all my research:

I believe the author has the right to complete control over his or her book.

Complete control. That includes the story, the cover design, and when to share the book with the rest of the world.

Used to be, an author couldn’t have complete control and be taken seriously as a writer. Now we can.

This does not mean a writer doesn’t need, and shouldn’t solicit, help. It means the writer calls the shots. The author is the CEO of The Book. Not the publisher or their marketing department—the author.

Last fall, I hired an editor (the former acquisitions editor of a traditional publishing house). It isn’t cheap, and that’s one reason why some people can’t choose to self-publish. I’m lucky that my family could afford it.

I steeped myself in information about cover designers, book bloggers, marketing tips, proofreaders, book formatting, SEO, Amazon categories… I spent every free minute (and some stolen ones) on my computer. And I enjoyed it.

Don't know what this means, but it's how my brain felt. (On a side note, I love the use of "On the other hand," as if we have any idea what's on the first hand.)

Don’t know what this means, but it’s how my brain felt at times. (On a side note, I love the use of “On the other hand,” as if we have any idea what’s on the first hand.)

At some point, I started to get carpal tunnel (I’m sure of it). I realized I hadn’t had a conversation with my husband in something like ten days. We hadn’t watched a movie together at night for weeks. I hadn’t relished in my little children for too long. I dreamed about ISBN numbers. Self-publishing was taking over my life.

One day I had the thought that if my children were just in school already, I’d have more time to learn the industry and prepare to publish. That thought made me realize I had only a year or two left until my children were in school full time.

And that’s when I pulled my head out of my arse and set my priorities straight.

Months earlier, I’d read about a new publishing model in the form of She Writes Press. At the time, my heart was set on purely self-publishing. When I realized I might want to remember my children’s early years, I decided to submit my manuscript to them. A hybrid press, they combines the best, I think, of traditional (vetting of authors and distribution) and self (control, rights, and profit).

They accepted The Rooms Are Filled and I signed the contract last week. SWP can also be thought of as “assisted self-publishing.” I pay for services I would have paid for as a self-publisher, anyway (like proofreading and cover design). But I get help—they’re basically managing my publication but I’m in control. And now my book is open to book bloggers and bookstores who don’t deal with self-published titles.

I want to give my first book the best chance I can without sacrificing my principles, and SWP—the first model of its kind, far as I can tell—is giving me a chance to do that.

Self-publishing is not for the meek (or the bold with young children). Nor is traditional publishing. Hell, neither is writing a book in the first place.

It’s crazy in publishing these days—and exciting. Right now, both traditional and self-publishing are in the game, and some mix of the best of both will survive and form a new industry. How lucky are we writers and readers that we get not only to be in the midst of it, but help create it?

The Best Books and Movies

What do you think of when you hear the term, “artsy”? If I were to say to you, “You have to go see XXX film, it is SO artsy” would you see it? Or, “You have to read XXX, it is SO literary.” Would you be interested or would you forever remember NOT to listen to what I say?

I think good films and books have underlying themes. Hidden messages. Depth. Sometimes, these books and films are called artsy, because artsy book and film makers like themes. They like layers. They, usually, would prefer not to lay it all bare for you like laundry on a clothesline. And if they do, they sneak some underwear under a shirt, or a tie behind the skirt. Perhaps even Aunt Dora’s old band uniform. Hidden. artsy fartsyUnexpected. Interesting.

I also think that sometimes “artsy” book and film makers take themselves altogether too seriously, as if they possess such a level of knowledge that we do not have, they feel it is their duty to teach us. Instead of treating their readers and watchers as similarly intelligent people, they preach. They forget that, above all–above ALL–their readers and watchers would like to be entertained–not just song-and-dance, but moved to tears, pulsed with laughter. Inspired to talk about that piece to everyone they know.

The very best films and books, I believe, exist in the middle ground. They are enlightening and surprising, intelligent and layered, but they are fun to read and watch. They are “story” as story should be. This middle ground is the entirety of my goal as a writer; it’s where I want to live–to find and rest in that middle ground. It’s what I hoped to do with my first book–what I believe I did–and what I hope to continue to get better at.

It won’t surprise you, if you’ve read this blog before, that I loved the movie, Lincoln. But I also recognize that I was predisposed to love it as long as the story and acting were good–which they were–because I love the subject. However, Lincoln was not my favorite movie of the year. Nor was Argo (overrated, in my opinion, much as I love Ben Affleck and his ability to surprise us–very artsy of him–by leaping from pretty-boy to directing some of my favorite movies; Gone Baby Gone is AWEsome).

BeastsMy favorite movie of last year, by far, was Beasts of the Southern Wild. It is lyrical. Surprising. Moving. Interesting. Layered. Unexpected. Intelligent. Visually stunning. Can’t say enough about it. It lands right in the center of art and entertainment.

As for books, it’s hard to name a favorite, so here are a few that I think walk in that wonderful middle ground: The Snow Child, The Language of Flowers, If Jack’s in Love, Train Dreams. If you haven’t heard of some, check them out.

Like–God, just about everything–art and movies and writing resist definition, as much as we try to box them up in pretty little packages. That’s why word of mouth is so important. So…if I were to tell you, “Go see Beasts of the Southern Wild and read The Snow Child or If Jack’s in Love, they’re right in the middle of artsy AND entertaining,” would you?

Starting in March, I’ll be contributing once a month to PDXX Collective, a collective of women writers “on the rise.” They wrote a nice intro of me HERE. I’ll keep you updated. Hope to see you there.