Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tangerine Mimosas

The Christmas Eve candlelit service has turned out to be a moment of reflection and even raw emotion for me—which, if you knew me, is strange on about six levels. There’s usually so much activity leading up to the service that the service itself seems like a quiet pause, a long and slow exhalation before plunging back in again and actually “doing Christmas.”

Last year, it was during this service that I suddenly, forcefully became convinced that the book I had been revising for more than a year was going down to defeat. It was awful.

This year was different …

This past year has brought both good and bad. I was right about that book. It was rejected. Seven or eight months later, another one was rejected after another aggressive rewrite letter. So in all, the books I’ve spent three years working on were both shelved this year. And after several years of working with a very wonderful human being of an agent, I am agentless again.

Yet the year was much less than a total loss. My business rebounded strongly, so while I know many people who are struggling and many others who are worried, we cruised to the end of the year rapidly paying down debt, with money in savings, and we were able to provide a worry-free Christmas. I also started doing TV segments this year, which was a huge challenge for a guy who hates cameras, and I’ve been surprised by how much fun it is. I actually like doing TV, and I find myself looking forward to it. And, of course, my kids are healthy and happy, my marriage is strong, and my family is well.

After the service, after wrapping presents, my wife and I sat up and talked about the year that had just gone past. I realized that my attitude toward writing has changed a lot. This year has taught me that, truly, the journey itself can be rewarding, even in the worst moments. I went into this year putting so much pressure on myself to sell, and there were many nights I couldn’t sleep. When the books didn’t sell, I had to deal with the inevitable ugly questions: Should I quit? Am I just not very good after all? Why had I failed?

But one thing I’ve come to realize is that I didn’t fail. I just got very close to selling two books that ultimately didn’t sell. And I learned, too, that I am a writer through and through, that there’s no way I could stop writing because, well, I just like it an awful lot. So when my next project is done, I’ll query it and just move onto the next project. I’m freer than I was before, and even though I would have preferred to sell the books, I’m back to a place where I am writing simply for the pleasure of it. That’s not a bad thing.

And that brings me to the title of this post: tangerine mimosas. On Christmas morning, we woke up and opened presidents and then had tangerine mimosas. The tangerine juice was fresh-squeezed, naturally, and it was a wonderful way to wind down as we watched the kids enjoy their presents. Then after a bit, I went outside to harvest vegetables for dinner. Our meal this year included tomatoes, broccoli and herbs from our own garden. This trek outside has become familiar. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making nightly trips to my herb garden to collect fresh thyme, oregano, basil, cilantro, chives, basil, or rosemary.

I find something ridiculously extravagant about throwing handfuls of fresh herbs in all of our meals, about cooking with fresh, organic ingredients I grew myself. So it’s funny. In a year in which I experienced the worst professional rejection I’ve ever experienced, I am ending the year feeling rich (although we’re obviously not) and enriched, fortunate and humbled and privileged beyond all measure.

I don’t know what the next year will bring, but I have my hopes and goals. Books are included in there, but not at the top. This year, I think my greatest hope to is that I remain open to the extravagances of life that can’t be bought, but must be earned.


Natasha Fondren said...

Fresh-squeezed tangerine mimosas? I am seriously jealous. I just saw a real, live orange tree, with bright orange oranges hanging off it and everything, and was tickled pink. SO neat! You never see that in Ohio. I couldn't believe all that pretty orange in a tree. It was way cool.

I don't know what you like to read, but Barbara Kingsolver just did a memoir about living a self-sustaining lifestyle (mostly) and growing and cooking her own food. It was neat.

Books are at the top for me. They're the only way to sustain my current lifestyle, which I want to last forever.

Erica Orloff said...

My freelance strongly rebounded too. And I had a few tough writing moments, not the least of which I am committed (personally, not professionally) to writing this vast big book that I have no idea of whether it will sell. But I, too, am in a place where the writing is a happy place.

And I have four healthy kids. GREAT friends. A critique group that kicks ass. Life . . . is what it is. And what it is right now is pretty okay.

LurkerMonkey said...


When I bought my house in Florida, we had two very large honeybell orange trees in the backyard. It took a long time for the thrill to wear off of seeing the trees weighed down by all that fruit.

I'm not familiar with Kingsolver, but it sounds like something I'd like to check out.

LurkerMonkey said...


Yeah ... I would never had guessed all this year would bring if you asked me last January.

Mark Terry said...

My freelancing rebounded stronger than ever (knock wood) after a fall slowdown. The novel writing seems to be going okay (probably better than okay), but I'm trying new things and reminding myself that it's not entirely about getting published and making money, but there are stories I need to tell that are important to me for emotional and creative reasons that don't necessarily have anything to do with publishing and readers. A very tough thing to tell myself sometimes, but there it is. I have hopes for an astonishing 2010 for you, my friend. Best of everything.

LurkerMonkey said...

Isn't it weird that so many freelancers did well this year? I think we're more sensitive than many businesses, so our business was hurt earlier and recovered earlier. We're just a little bit ahead of the curve.

It sounded like your novel writing went pretty well this year :)

Natasha Fondren said...

I saw it in Borders yesterday. It's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

I think it'd be SO cool to have an orange tree! So, like, you just go out back and pick oranges? And make fresh-squeezed orange juice? How long do the trees have ripe fruit?

LurkerMonkey said...


It is cool ... but unfortunately, the state cut my trees down a few years back after a citrus canker scare in South Florida. Then we had a ban on citrus, and that was just lifted within the last year or so. I'm just now starting to think about planting more citrus ... this time, probably a clementine orange tree or lime tree. And yep, you just go out back, pick ripe fruit and that's it. Depending on the tree, you can be in ripe citrus for a few months. You do get spoiled.

Melanie Avila said...

This is so inspiring! I'm glad I'm finally making my way through all my friends' posts.

The one good thing about this past year is I had my first short story published. So far this year I've had two or three rejections but I'm optimistic.

LurkerMonkey said...


Congrats on the story! Nice to see you "back" ...