Mon. July 23, 2018: Dealing with Failure #UpbeatAuthors

Image courtesy of Cleverpics via

Monday, July 23, 2018
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Mars Retrograde

As usual, this will focus on how failure affects us as authors, in our work and life. Some aspects can be applied to other parts of life, but the focus is on our art.

The first way to deal with it is to define it.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “failure” as:

Definition of failure

1a omission of occurrence or performance; specifically failing to perform a duty or expected action 

  • failure to pay the rent on time
(1) a state of inability to perform a normal function 

  • kidney failure

 — compare heart failure 

(2) an abrupt cessation of normal functioning 

  • a power failure
c a fracturing or giving way under stress 

  • structural failure
2a lack of success
b a failing in business bankruptcy 

  • He was trying to rescue the company from failure.
3a a falling short deficiency 

  • a crop failure
4one that has failed 

  • He felt like a failure when he wasn’t accepted into law school.


But do you?

I sometimes feel I fail if I let someone else down. If it’s because I was thoughtless or disorganized, then it’s on me and I damn well better find a way to make it right. But sometimes it’s because the other person put an unfair expectation on me and I wasn’t strong enough to say no right off.

Sometimes I feel that I failed if I don’t get an acceptance from a market or a publisher or a grant to which I applied. Yes, I failed to get that particular slot. Most of the time, though, another opportunity comes up that I wouldn’t have been able to accept if I had landed the previous one. Also, because I’ve worked on the publisher side of the table, I know that acceptance is more than just a well-written book: it’s about fitting the tone of a particular publisher, and fitting into the needs of a particular list. Most traditional publishers and some of the smaller publishers have to balance their list so it appeals to a spectrum of readers. If they have too many of one kind of book and none of another in any particular season, they will lose readers that season, and might never regain them. It’s about where your piece fits into the bigger picture, not just your piece.

Many organizations that give out grants expect you to apply (and fail to get an acceptance) over a period of years before they take the application seriously. This always angered me, even when I worked for such non-profits. But many organizations want to see that an artist can sustain work over a period of years before giving that individual money. They don’t want someone who will use a day job or another excuse not to work, or to accept the grant and not meet the requirements of the work that needs to be produced.

None of that knowledge takes the sting out of those refusals, or alleviates the sense of failure.

How do you deal with it?

Acknowledge that you feel angry, sad, whatever. Don’t get on social media and rant and rave against the publisher, agent, or organization. It’s fine to admit disappointment, but don’t attack. Save the venting to do in person, privately, with people you trust. Because there IS a need to vent; there’s just no need to do so publicly. Your feelings are your feelings; they are valid. How you choose to handle them has consequences.

If there’s any feedback, step away for a few days, and then re-visit it with a more objective sensibility. What can you learn from this? How can you apply it positively moving forward?

There are certain publishers and/or organizations that are not a right fit. Just “getting published” isn’t enough. It has to be a place where you have a positive working relationship and both the writer’s and the publisher’s needs and goals are met. Sometimes what starts out as a promising relationship deteriorates. It’s not that one side is “better” or “right” — it’s simply that the needs of both parties aren’t being met, and it’s time to part ways (hopefully amicably), so you can both move on to a better situation. That’s true in any job situation.

I think it’s often harder for artists to deal with failure because what we do is so personal, so much a part of ourselves. It’s difficult not to feel that it’s a rejection of us as human beings.

If something we wrote doesn’t sell well or sell at all, we feel we failed. After a period of time, we can look back. Could it have been structured better? Used stronger language? Have you learned something in the interim that makes it work now? If it’s a sales number, what can you learn from that book’s campaign that you can apply to future promotions? We are pushed to think in terms of immediate large sales numbers, instead of a steadily growing readership. There are plenty of books I’ve read with huge opening sales numbers — and I’ve never read anything by that author again either because I didn’t like the book or because the author never managed to get anything else done, feeling the pressure.

But there are a lot of competing needs and agendas out there, and we’re not all compatible.

When it comes to finding the right agent or publisher, I often compare it to dating — it’s unlikely you’ll find your soul mate the first time out. You need to meet a lot of people and date around. Finding the soul mate for your work is similar.

There’s no need to dramatize or villainize if something doesn’t work out (although, in the first flush of hurt and disappointment, we will). Happy yippy platitudes too soon to the hurt are counterproductive. But then, take a step back, look at the positives, and apply what you learn moving forward.

As a teacher, that’s the most infuriating aspect. When a student REFUSES to apply a correction moving forward. We all start somewhere. We all have things we need to learn. When something is explained (such as the difference between a possessive and a plural) — learn it. APPLY IT MOVING FORWARD. Don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again and expect someone else to fix it.

The only true failure is REFUSING to learn from something that didn’t work and refusing to apply it moving forward.

Most other situations are disappointments or setbacks that can be overcome.


–Create objectivity



And then go on to create something wonderful!

Published in: on July 23, 2018 at 4:50 am  Comments Off on Mon. July 23, 2018: Dealing with Failure #UpbeatAuthors  
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

View of Adelphi Hotel, Saratoga Springs, NY

Thursday, November 5, 2009
Waning Moon
Neptune DIRECT
Uranus Retrograde
Cloudy and cold

I’ve got a detailed piece up on the SDR blog about how I use anthology calls as inspiration, breaking down the process. You might find it interesting. I wrote it as I worked on the stories mentioned over the course of the last few weeks — and forgot to schedule it to post while I was away yesterday. Ooops.

So, the Yankees won a World Series on their first year in the stadium. Good for them, fans are happy, I don’t follow baseball, so I can enjoy as a disinterested observer.

Not happy at all with the local election results. The town is moving back towards the petty small-mindedness that caused me to leave in the first place, years ago. Some elections were pretty galvanized, but around here — when you live in a town of somewhere between 15-20,000 and less than 4000 people vote, it’s a problem. So now I have to look at my overall life plan and switch a few things around, and then, as of tomorrow, put my head down and get back to some serious work.

I take away a few things about overall election results. First of all, these were local elections, and people dealt with the issues that affect their overall, every day lives Second, when you look at how many incumbents got a boot up the ass, people made it clear, “You had a chance. You didn’t listen. Buh-bye.” Which is the way it should be. It’s usually pretty hard to remove incumbents, and this time, it wasn’t. Whether I personally agree or disagree with an election result (unless it’s the one that affects my daily life), I do think it’s good that people are removing those they feel do not represent them. That’s why we have a voting process in place. I also have zero respect for people who can’t be bothered to vote. It takes five minutes.

I really don’t feel only two parties can represent the variety of viewpoints we have across the country. We truly need five or six legitimate parties, as they do in Britain and in other countries, so people aren’t forced to accept package deals and can really put individuals in place with more focused positions. You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t. But voters shouldn’t be limited by having to pick from one or two individuals who have to bundle policy positions to try to fit a wide range.

On to other things. Yesterday, we were out of the house by 6 AM. The drive up to Saratoga was nice — great, crisp autumn weather. We hit Mrs. London’s a little after 9 for a snack. We went to the bookstore and picked up a few things, walked around a bit, and I dealt with some business. We drove past the college — Skidmore is a beautiful campus, and I use it and the town of Saratoga as the inspiration for the location in the Casherick Drualtys stories (SHALLID, et al). We stopped to pick up a few things at the store, and then headed west out of town to a small town called Galway, which isn’t too far away.

An artist friend of mine had an exhibit up in the Town Hall there, where she photographed people in town and asked them who they were — not just surface, but who they really ARE. Fascinating piece. She originally had artwork in MOONTRIBE TALES — The International Women’s Day Project that I co-created and co-produced several years ago, and we’ve kept in touch. I’m so thrilled that I was able to see her exhibit. Because she’s such a warm individual, people open up to her easily, and she’s got such a great eye and knows how to capture, in a photograph, more than just what’s on the surface.

Got back on the road heading South, turned East at Albany, and took I-90 into MA, and then up to Lenox. We had lunch at The Haven, which was great, as always, walked around a bit, I got some business done, picked up a great bottle of Burgundy, got invited to a party on Saturday (I am so tempted to drive back up for it), and headed back.

I was in bed ridiculously early.

I’ve got to get out the assignment for Confidential Job #1 and finish up a short story, but other than that, I’m giving myself the day off to reassess and reconfigure a few things.

Then, it’s back to work tomorrow with a vengeance.

And I mean “vengeance.”


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008
Waxing moon
Cloudy and cold

I’m exhausted, both physically and mentally. It was a busy, bittersweet roller coaster of a couple of days, and I feel like I could sleep for about a week.

The trip up on Wednesday was as smooth as could be – no traffic until we hit the Maine border. Couldn’t believe it. In fact, we got to Maine so early we couldn’t stop and eat lunch at our chosen spot in York because it was too early!

We ran some errands, did a bit of grocery shopping, grabbed a snack, and arrived at my great-uncles’s (my grandmother’s brother, don’t know the correct term, so I call him my great-uncle) early. We had a good visit, with them and with some other family.

I’d packed the dinner I cooked, heated it up, we set the table nicely, and planned a festive dinner. Unfortunately, my great-uncle wasn’t feeling well. We were pretty worried about him.

Yoga the next morning – I brought my mat, and, throughout the few days, I was grateful I’d done so. I kept going back to the mat time and time again to stay centered and focused.

My great-uncle was too ill to eat breakfast, so we tucked him in on the sofa so he could rest.

I got some writing done – a bit of work done on the first Mick Feeney story, and about a thousand words on something else, that, if it works, will be something people enjoy. I’d plotted it out in my head in the car, made some notes, and got going. I’m going to set it in a fictional town in Maine, stretching geography to stuff it in around York.

My great-uncle was too ill to attend the dinner, and we were worried about leaving him home alone, but he insisted we go on.

As usual, the dinner was wonderful. Sixty-three people attended this year. A big hall is rented, with long tables decorated and set up. Down one side of the room, the food tables are set up, buffet-style. Along the other side of the room, this year, there were two tables of desserts. And I’m talking the long trestle-tables, not some dainty end table! The kitchen is enormous (I often joke that’s the size kitchen I want), with a huge stove and plenty of counter space to prepare big meals. My job is always to mash the potatoes. Which means standing on a step stool and wielding a four foot long potato masher because the pots are so big!

Almost everyone pitches in to do something, and everyone brings food, so it’s a case of what needs to be prepared at the hall (the potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, gravy, etc.) and what comes in ready and needs to be set out (the turkey, the creamed onions, etc.). We catch up as we do it. I really need to sit down and make up a map (family tree) because I can never figure out who’s related to whom and how, and, especially with the kids, they change so much from year to year that some of them seem like complete strangers every year. Also, I’m kind of shy and sometimes being around so many people is overwhelming, so staying busy in the kitchen is a good way for me to get talking to people and also contribute something to the overall dinner.

We had a real Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon moment (if you don’t know what that means – look it up). One of the family members, now going to college at NYU (my alma mater), was in class with someone from the Broadway show on which I work occasionally. Too funny! The guy in the show was part of the original Broadway company, and had left before I arrived, but I know OF him, and it’s one of those random events that shows just how small the world really is.

The food was great, the company was great, everyone’s considerate enough to keep the drama out of it and get along. Clean-up was quick, because there are so many people to help, and you just sort of catch up on a year’s worth of life.

What surprised and touched both my mother and I was that they are all adamant we keep joining them for Thanksgiving (we’ve gone up every year since 1972, when my father died). The family up there is my grandmother’s extended family, and she included us after my father died, so it wouldn’t just be my mother and I on Thanksgiving. I missed three years in the mid-1980’s when I lived on the West Coast, and two years in the early 2000’s, when I had shows, but, other than that, we’ve got every year since the 1970s. And we did wonder if this would be our last Thanksgiving together. But, over and over again, various members came and asked us to promise to keep coming up. I’d really like to.

I’m sure they wonder why I never bring up a boyfriend, but Maine is really my sanctuary, and I’d have to be pretty convinced that anyone I brought up there was going to stick around for awhile. Also, with the men currently in my life, they were all working this year, plus, from the outside, I’m sure the relationships seem far more complex than they actually are. Too much explaining involved.

Part of the loss of my grandmother equates to feeling like my safety net is gone.

My great-uncle was a little better when we got home, but still couldn’t eat or drink anything, which concerned us. He was livelier than he’d been earlier, though, and we sat up and all had a good visit, swapping travel stories and trying to figure out how some people were related to each other. I’m telling you, I need a map!

We picked out the artwork created by my grandmother for the next day’s memorial breakfast, and I cleaned it so we could set it up in the restaurant. Went to bed pretty early, because I was tired; had hoped to get both more reading and writing done, but was just too worn out. We also figured out which of her friends still needed to be notified of the death, and we’ll help with some of that this weekend.

Up early the next morning. My great-uncle still didn’t feel well, but wanted to come to the breakfast in memory of his sister, so another relative drove him over closer to the start time, while my mom and I packed the car with our stuff and the artwork and headed over early to help set up. A cousin of my grandmother’s also came with more artwork. It turns out that many people attending didn’t even know my grandmother was an artist.

She was very talented. She could paint, draw, work in pastel, pencil, pen and ink, charcoal, etching, silkscreen, and even do some metal art. She was a wonderful portraitist She was of the age where, as a woman, family and duty were always put before pursuing dreams, and that was always a bone of contention between us, because I’ve refused to get married and take care of a man rather than create a life in the arts. I’ve been lucky to have some great men in my life; I’ve also had some not-so-great men in my life; none of them have been worth giving up the writing. Writing is breathing to me, and I’ve been ruthless in not letting anyone keep me from the page. I also take care of an elderly mother, have taken care of several friends during terminal illness, and, when my grandmother was so sick in the last years, driven back and forth as often as possible to do whatever I could do help (although it never felt like enough, especially in these last years when she needed constant care). I haven’t met someone that I felt was an equal partner on this journey on a daily basis, and I’m not willing to settle for less. I’m willing to compromise, but not capitulate. I see far too much capitulation in far too many relationships around me, and, for the most part, it’s still the woman who’s expected to give everything up to “support” the man, instead of each supporting the other. It created huge tensions between us at times, but I made the right decision for me. I believe she could have been a working artist – she was a working art teacher for years – but there was always the excuse of needing to “do” for someone else. That was her choice, and I hope it was the right one for her, although one can’t help but wonder about her untapped potential.

In any case, the breakfast was lovely. It was good to see people again and chat a bit without waving a four-foot potato masher! People got up and shared stories, and letters from others who couldn’t be there were read. So it was a happy, joyful gathering, the kind that would have made her happy. She made everything fun, like baking and gardening and canning. She taught me how to ride a bicycle. She tried to teach me how to swim, but I still can’t swim – that’s my fault, not hers. She was interested in everything.

Driving away from Maine this time, the reality that she’s no longer with us really started to hit home.

The first half of the drive was in vile weather, pouring rain. The second half of the drive was in vile traffic, especially around the malls.

We called to check on my great-uncle when we got home, and he’s feeling much better. He’s still going to the doctor this week, but at least he didn’t have to be rushed to the ER.

So: at three Wal-Marts in the area, people were seriously injured. At one Wal-Mart, an employee was trampled to death. As most of you know, I loathe Wal-Mart, and I’ll drive 150 miles out of my way rather than shop at one, because their policies disgust me so much. The disgusting type of customer they attract, the type that would trample an employee to death, is a prime example of why I loathe the store and have such a low opinion of those who shop there. I don’t care how low their prices are – where you shop, where you spend your hard-earned cash, indicates what your morals and values are – whether it’s there or anywhere else. The type of shopper Wal-Mart attracts is the type of person who tramples an employee to death and shoves rescue workers out of the way when they try to resuscitate him. In my opinion, the cops need to take the time to dissect the surveillance video, identify these bastards (run it on television if need be, someone will recognize these people), and put them away because they are a danger to society. They are murderers, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I bet the majority of these murderers go to church every Sunday, too, and consider themselves “good Christians.” Religious hypocrisy at work, yet again.

A weak economy is not a viable excuse to murder a store employee by trampling him to death. This cannot be shrugged off.

Yet it will be, because that’s how the Bush administration’s policies have filtered down over the past eight years and all we’ve seen from the top down is that it’s okay behave with greed and avarice, no matter who gets hurt. The Bush administration led by example, encouraging people to be their worst selves.

Cats weren’t too destructive while we were gone, although a few things were knocked over, and they were happy we were back, behaving like Velcro kitties.

I got a shock when I opened the extremely late check from one of my editors – it’s unsigned. Which means I can’t deposit it. To say I am livid is an understatement. I don’t believe for one second that it was a mistake. It was a complete “fuck you” from this place. I sent a polite (barely) but terse email to her. I do not want to have to wait another two weeks for this check. I want it replaced on Monday and sent overnight. It won’t be, but hey, this will be the last time I work for them anyway. A bridge worth burning, in my opinion, especially since, financially, I am now totally screwed for the coming week. What a different experience from the last anthology on which I worked with them, where they paid promptly and pleasantly. If they’re in financial difficulty, they need to be upfront with us. Screwing us in this way is simply not acceptable.

I have to have a discussion with another editor on Monday. I’m supposed to receive royalty statements and royalties by the 20th of every month. The last royalty statement I received was in September and I’ve yet to see a penny of royalties. I know the book is selling, and I want the monies due.

I’m tired of these people jerking around writers. This is why all writers and all writing should be unionized – so payments must be made on time or else there are strong consequences.

Nothing like coming back from a few difficult emotional days to complete and utter unprofessional bullshit, right?

Busy day today. I haven’t worked on the mystery; too much on my mind. I need to get a lot done in order to hit the ground running this week and figure out a way to make up instantly the shortfall from the unsigned check.

Mark your calendar – I’m on the radio show hosted by the League of Extraordinary Paranormal Women on December 11 at 8 PM EST. It’s on blogtalk radio, so I’ll post the link, and if you can’t listen to it live, you can listen to it some other time.

Back to dealing with life.


Devon’s Bookstore:

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Hex Breaker
by Devon Ellington. A Jain Lazarus Adventure. Hex Breaker Jain Lazarus joins the crew of a cursed film, hoping to put to rest what was stirred up before more people die and the film is lost. Tough, practical Detective Wyatt East becomes her unlikely ally and lover on an adventure fighting zombies, ceremonial magicians, the town wife-beater, the messenger of the gods, and their own pasts.
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Visit the site for the Jain Lazarus adventures.

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If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you could survive National Novel Writing Month, this is the handbook for you! Ideas on preparations, setting goals, overcoming blocks, pushing yourself, tips for each day of the process, and ideas for going beyond, this handbook by veteran Nano-er Devon Ellington will help you survive. Best of all, it’s free! Download it here.
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5 in 10: Create 5 Short Stories in Ten Weeks
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Full Circle: An Ars Concordia Anthology
. Edited by Colin Galbraith. This is a collection of short stories, poems, and other pieces by a writers’ group of which I am a member. My story is “Pauvre Bob”, set at Arlington Race Track in Illinois. You can download it free here:

Published in: on November 29, 2008 at 8:09 am  Comments (4)  
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