Sprucing up the house

There’s nothing like going to a friend’s house to make you realize how simple your home is.

Don’t get me wrong, I love our house. The living, sitting , kitchen, and dining rooms are open and spacious, perfect for hosting large groups of people. The bedrooms are larger than average. I love my master bedroom. The house was half furnished when we moved in and the rest of our furniture was given to us by friends who were moving at that time or by our parents. When we first decided to move out of our one-bedroom apartment and into a four bedroom house, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to furnish it. But we were so blessed, so blown away by everybody’s generosity. I’m still amazed at God’s provision. That’s not what I mean by simple.

We’ve been living in our house for a year and two months, and our walls are still pretty bare. The primary reason for this is because the house isn’t ours. It’s a rental and we want to respect our grandparents by refraining from putting a bunch of holes in the walls. But, if I’m honest, I think that’s just an excuse for not trying harder. We haven’t given the house any fresh coats of paint or sanded down the cabinets and given them a nice varnish or gotten new curtains or anything. I don’t feel as if we’ve truly made this house our space. Our only attempts at personalization have been a few wedding photos and the Geek Mantle of Geekiness (featured below.)

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(You can’t tell because of the awful quality of this photo, but the horizontal frame is displaying Harry Potter stamps.)

Maybe it’s because we’ve hit the one year mark. Maybe it’s because I recently visited the homes of two very creative ladies who have expertly decorated their homes, with themes and impressive DIY crafts. Or maybe it’s because I’m growing up a little and I want the house we live in to emulate that. Either way, I’m willing to give it a shot. I’ve been on Pinterest for affordable ideas and I’ve found some DIY projects I’d like to try. I know some ladies who are very handy with canvas and wooden signs, and I’m sure I can hire them to make some cool verse/calligraphy wall art. We live right next door to Lowes and Michael’s is just down the street. I have everything I need to get started.

My only problem is I don’t have a theme or a vision for the interior of my house. I know I want to make it more sophisticated, add some more color, and a personal touch in every room. I’d love to play with stripes and patterns, flowers and nick-knacks in the corners, cool accent pieces and conversation starters. But I don’t want it to be random. There has to be a method to the madness or it’ll look messy and unprofessional. (I feel like I’m about to go on a home improvement show on HGTV or something with this grocery list of things I want for my “new look.”) So all that’s really left to do is research, research, research. Find articles with pictures of spaces I might want to try and then build upon that. Talk to my crafty and creative friends and family members. Look into yard and estate sales in the area for diamonds in the rough. With the end of school in sight, it’s the perfect time to start something new. Naturally, I’ll document my journey with all it’s fails and lessons.

It’s going to be a lot of work but it’ll be fun to transform our house. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty!

On the subject of querying

I met an editor thanks to my grandmother.

She heard about a creative writing class being taught at a community center in Phoenix and thought it was something I’d be interested in. She paid the fee and told me to have a good time. This was the first writing class I’d ever taken. Up until then, all I’d learned about creative writing I’d picked up from my favorite authors. I was excited to learn more about the writing process and get a glimpse of the publishing world. More importantly, I wanted to meet the teacher. She was an editor. As shy and awkward as I was, I was suddenly determined to talk to this person and get her to look at my fledgling manuscript. She would be honest with me. She wouldn’t have any bias whatsoever. If I didn’t have any talent, she would tell me. And if she told me I should give up and choose another career path, I would do it. (Or so I kept telling myself.)

Most of the techniques and terms I heard about in this class were things I already knew; she just gave them names. But the most rewarding part of the class was that she gave us her contact information at the end, and told us to email her if we ever needed someone to edit our work. I thought this was perfect! I didn’t even have to give her the speech I’d been preparing. I let some time pass before I contacted her, partially because I didn’t want to sound desperate and partially because I wanted to read through my manuscript one more time. Once I was convinced it was as perfect as I could make it, I emailed her. I got a response about a week later. She was interested in my story. She wanted to take a look.

I worked with her for five to six months. She edited through my work, we met up at a nearby Barnes and Noble to talk about some of the things I could improve or take out of the manuscript, then I went home and worked on it. Then I emailed her again with the newest version and waited for her to have time to look at it. All the while, she was convinced I had talent and could get my story published. It was a dream come true. An adult, a professional, thought I could make it as an author! It was all the validation I needed. I saw her one more time with the third and final version of my manuscript, and she declared that there was nothing else she could teach me. Not really, but she said it was as polished and neat as it could possibly be. She gave me some tips on query letters and some good articles to read. Then she wished me the best of luck, telling me I could email her any time with questions or future projects.

And so my querying journey began. I had very high hopes despite the voice of reason at the back of my mind, murmuring that I should probably prepare myself for a few rejections. I spent several weeks doing research on the elements of a perfect query letter, reading query letters that succeeded in hooking an agent, and applying some of those elements in a letter of my own. I spent several more weeks doing research on agents, hunting for the select few who advocated for my genre and had published books similar to mine. I made lists, I wrote and rewrote my query letter until I thought it was perfect, edited through my manuscript one more time, and then I began emailing agents. I must have emailed at least fifty agents. Then came the horrible period of waiting. I lost track of the months and the many times I checked my email, holding my breath as the page loaded, wondering if that day would be the day when I would be discovered and my dreams would come true.

That day, unfortunately, never came. Instead, I received a plethora of polite rejections and assurances that just because one agent wasn’t interested didn’t mean no agent would ever be interested and that I should keep looking for that perfect fit. After almost a year of this, I had experienced a range of emotions from confusion to anger to determination to hopelessness to self-deprecation. I read more articles, did more research, worked on my query letter some more, and tried again with another fifty or so agents. I kept telling myself I had been stupid to hope I would hit gold on the first try, but maybe the second time would be different. No such luck. More polite, sickening, heart-breaking rejections. Then one kind agent added something else to their rejection letter: a website for beta readers. The only people who had read my manuscript at this time were me, the editor, and my sister.

Any shyness or insecurities were tossed out the window then. I couldn’t understand how a manuscript could be liked and approved by an editor, and then not get any bites in the agent pond. I needed to be bold. I needed to try something different. So I joined this writers’ forum and got a few beta readers for my manuscript. And then I found out the truth. My editor had been nice. Too nice. I still had a lot of work to do if I wanted my story to appeal to the age group I had in mind. I admit that I was officially done at this point. The amount of work I still had to do was overwhelming. I thought, “There isn’t enough time in the world to fix everything that’s wrong with this story!” I took a break from it. I dabbled in other stories and edited through older manuscripts, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I kept thinking, “Why does it matter? No one will ever read these stories anyway.”

It wasn’t a good time in the life of Becca. I was pretty much questioning my whole existence. Ignacio from Nacho Libre summed it up best. “Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?”

But there was something about this particular manuscript, this story about faeries and a minotaur tyrant who wanted to take over the world and a group of friends who were closer than sisters and were strong enough to bring down the big bad together. Something about the magic of this island, the battles, the lessons, the drama. There was so much this story could teach young adults, so much hope it could give even though it was set in a mythical world. I thought of J K Rowling and all the rejections she received before Harry Potter was published. And look how that turned out for her! It was a major success and is still touching the lives of people to this day. (I don’t think I want to be as famous as J K Rowling, but I still greatly admire her work.)

I gave up on querying, but I didn’t give up on my writing. Obsessing about getting published was sucking the joy out of creating new worlds, characters, and plots. I went back to the basics, the simple task of putting words on paper. I kept my beta readers, though. With them, I slowly began to improve my craft.

That was three years ago.

I’ve come a long way since then, and I’m not the only one who thinks so either. My beta readers and fellow members of writers’ forums seem to think so too. I’m still not done with the faerie manuscript. I’ve managed to finish three other stories, but I’m still figuring out the best way to tell this story (The Sentinel’s Test). I’ve gotten confident enough in my other manuscripts to try querying again. I still haven’t gotten anything other than polite rejections, but I’m surprisingly okay. The desire to be discovered is still there, just buried a little deeper. I have a slightly more realistic picture of the publishing process and what it’s going to take for me to hold my printed book in my hands. It’s going to be hard, but I know now that I can’t allow myself to get discouraged. Or if I do get discouraged, I can’t stay there for too long.

As Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Surrounding myself with other authors and aspiring authors has helped. (Thank you, Twitter!) It turns out, I’m not the only one who has gone through this. That is always good to know. Hopefully, someday I’ll be finishing my querying journey and adding to this post. Someday, I’ll get my happy ending. For now, I’m just going to keep writing.

Adulting

The baby shower was going to start in twenty minutes and I didn’t have anything to wrap my present with. I had some tape, a bow, a lot of colored tissue paper, and a plethora of “Merry Christmas” gift bags, and that was pretty much it. I’d just been to the grocery store that morning and had remembered to snatch a card, but somehow I’d forgotten to get a gift bag. Fortunately, my sister-in-law (who was driving us both to this event) graciously offered to stop by the 99 cent store on the corner. I hopped out of the car, ran in, snatched the biggest baby gift bag I could find, and zipped into the check out line. Once outside, I stood at the curb and waited for my sister-in-law to come around the parking lot. I hurried up to her car when she was near enough, tucking a stray curl behind my ear.

That’s when I caught my reflection in the passenger’s side window.

I don’t see myself as an adult. I may be twenty-two years old but, physically, I’ve looked exactly the same since I was fifteen. I’ve had my own car, my own apartment, my own bills, and my own job ever since I was nineteen. I’ll be celebrating two years of marriage this May. I live in a four bedroom, two bathroom rental house with a husband, a very old, very fat tabby cat, and a hyperactive miniature Australian shepherd who can’t produce tears. (We still don’t know why. She was very sick with an unknown illness for the first six months of her life and we’re thinking all the different medications we had to give her might have damaged her tear-ducts somehow, but we can’t prove that. We should really get her to a dog eye specialist but we don’t have that kind of money, so we have to resort to giving her eye drops three to four times a day. Yes, we love this dog.) I plan meals and manage finances while balancing 30 hours a week at the office and 9 credit hours per semester.

I have goals for the future which involve finishing school, becoming a published, well-known author, and helping my husband the police officer raise our four kids. It all sounds very adultly, right? And yet, I still see myself as that fifteen-year-old girl who thought Twilight was the greatest love story ever told and didn’t know anything about the real world.

So when I looked into that car window and saw a young lady, all dolled up and ready to attend a baby shower, I blinked in surprise. Because, for a second there, I actually looked like an adult.

My husband believes we never really grow up. We might physically change and become more responsible as life demands, but that little kid lives on inside of us. Sometimes its voice is loud and its influence is strong, while at other times we can suppress it more successfully. With all the “adulting” memes out there, I think he might be right. I find that I feel the youngest when I’m geeking out about Star Wars or when I’m daydreaming about The Magical World of Harry Potter theme park or when I’m listening to the kind of emo music I used to listen to as a teenager or when I visit my old haunts in Mexico. That little kid inside me sure loves to throw a fit when the alarm goes off at 7 a.m. But then there’s the voice of reason, the voice of the Adult, reminding me of all the things I have to get done and how much work will pile up if I listen to the Kid and simply pull the covers over my head.

If I take a good look at the choices I’ve made throughout my life, I can honestly say that I’ve listened to the Adult more often than I’ve listened to the Kid. My husband often has to tell me when it’s time to relax or take a break or set the schedule aside and just hang out. Indulge the Kid. So why don’t I feel like an Adult more often?

Good question…

I think it’s because of the conviction that I don’t know anything. All right, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been in college for three years and have worked for three different establishments, and have read more books than I can count. After all that, I should know something, but every day I encounter new things. Every day it seems I come across an article, a person, a conversation heard in passing, or an event that reminds me of just how much I still have to learn about life, love, politics, insurance, government, taxes, credit, education, literature, creative writing, finance, morality, the Bible, my family members and friends, even my husband. There are still topics I don’t understand. There’s still stuff in this world that I haven’t discovered yet. It leaves me feeling like a child who’s still figuring it all out.

Sometimes I have to wonder: will I ever feel like an adult? Will I ever feel like I’ve got this life thing figured out? A part of me would like to have the answers to everything. It might make life simpler. But another part of me hopes that I won’t ever reach that point. Because what is someone supposed to do after they’ve discovered everything there is to know? Maybe that’s why it’s so important the keep that little kid around. After all, without it’s sense of wonder, humility, and discovery, how are we supposed to grow?