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suzy vitello

Books, Guest Posts, storytelling, Women, writing

Keeping the Faith through NaNoWriMo and Beyond

November 4, 2015

By Suzy Vitello

This is the month that many writers take the plunge and re-prioritize their lives to take part in National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, in other words. Probably if you’re reading this article, you’re on a break from the marathon. Or you’re simply not doing it. It’s a huge commitment, this pledge to write 50k words in a month.

Huge.

Five years ago, I embarked on a failed NaNoWriMo adventure – and I say failed, because I didn’t come up with the whole 50, but, November, 2010 was the year I crystallized my obsession with the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and the effort eventually produced two books. The first one was published by Diversion Books in September of last year.

The level of joy when your book find its way to the hands of readers is only matched by validation  you get when a New York publisher says, “Yes. We will invest in you. We believe in this book.”

But it was short-lived.

Over last winter, I continued the story (the book was always meant to be a series), and wrote the second Empress Chronicles book. I had it professionally edited, rewrote it, and sent it along to my agent in late spring. We both felt pretty confident that Diversion would put the sequel out, too.

But they passed.

Though claiming The Keepsake was “a delight from start to finish,” they felt they needed to focus on books with more robust sales numbers.

This is a polite way of saying: your first book tanked, and we’re moving on.

The level of self-doubt when your book gets rejected is only matched by frustration when a New York publisher says, “Show me the value.”

Because, value is subjective. Value is an abstraction. Value, my friends, should be tied to something intrinsic, but at the end of the day, value is tied to numbers. And consumers. And a system as random as a Las Vegas slot machine.

The hardest thing, for an artist, is to maintain belief in creation in the face of rejection.  It’s not just about tenacity. It’s not just about revision. It’s more than that.

It’s finding that audacious place inside you and pulling her out. Talking to her with tough love. Asking her the hard question: “What is standing in the way of success?” And then, “What do you really want?”

When I answered those questions, here’s what I came up with:

My tendency to value myself only if fancier people value me.

And:

Connection. All I have to give is my love of language, story and the dream that plays out on the page. 

And here’s where the miracle comes in. When you live inside a decision to find connection, you do.

I decided to put The Keepsake out myself, and I found an extremely talented and passionate street team to help me. Continue Reading…

Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: I Am Afraid I Will Lose Everything.

January 3, 2015

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Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by my dear friend Suzy Vitello, whose latest book, The Empress Chronicles,  just came out! Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in Vancouver in a couple weeks! My first workshop there! 

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Dear Life,

My mom died when I was 6 and my dad raised us. He did a great- okay, he did the best job, he could. I realize this has colored so much of my life- this loss.

I am a mother now of my own and I cannot imagine my kids being raised without me. But this letter really isn’t about that. (Or, maybe it is?)

My husband and I have recently split up.

I am struggling with the separation but ultimately know it is for the best. We haven’t been happy in a long time. My career on the other hand, is going swimmingly. I have just published my second book and started my own business a few years ago, which has really taken off!

The reason I am writing to you is I have recently had a few people who I have let into my private inner circle “copy” me. I let very few people in as it is. I am extremely private.

I do realize I sound like a child when I say that people copy me.

People say, “You should feel flattered.” But I don’t. I worked so hard to create the things I have created. I feel sort of betrayed by these friends. I know that no one can be me (at least this is what people tell me) but I feel angry and sad that people do this.

I know that this happens in life, and that the more successful we become it will KEEP happening.

Why do I feel threatened? How do I get over caring? Does it matter? I feel consumed. Dealing with a separation and raising my kids and now feeling like I have to fiercely protect what is mine.

Do I just not let people in? Do I become more guarded?  (I have 2 books out in the world, so please keep this anonymous.)

I know that people imitate but I didn’t expect it to be friends.

I am worried that because I lost my mom I feel that things will always be taken away from me. I want to let this anger and fear go but I feel betrayed and frustrated and alone.

Signed,
Afraid

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Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, Truth

Inventing the Truth.

September 15, 2014

By Suzy Vitello

I’m a wanderer. I was born that way, or so I thought. But lately, I wonder if “wandering” is simply a compensatory strategy for dealing with chaos. My young parents were barely old enough to vote when they married and immediately combined DNA to form me. On paper, it was sort of a fairy tale situation. They married in August, and honeymooned in Salzburg on their way to Vienna, where my father was enrolled in med school. Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Guest Posts

Late Bloomer.

June 16, 2014

LATE BLOOMER by Suzy Vitello.*

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So, today is my birthday. I’m 53. Yup. Fifty-fucking-three.

If I lived 100 years ago, I’d probably have false teeth by now.

And other hideous afflictions.

Thing is, in the possibility sector of my brain, I’m no different than I was as a teenager, sitting on my bed, staring at my red-and-white striped wallpaper, dreaming up various lives for myself.

When I was 22, living in Syracuse, New York, on year number five of school (I had this tendency to open up the class catalog and pick-a-major, any-major: English, Hindi, Anthropology, Communications, Dietetics. In that order. Just paid off my undergrad debt a few years ago), there was this long claw-foot bath soak where I dreamt up a life in which I’d change my name to Rose and live in Paris. Yup, pretty cliché.

But then the winter came, and Syracuse has this condition called “squalls” that last until May, and my second senior year there were lots and lots of squalls. So, one day, I picked up an issue of Cosmo. At the time, the magazine ran these features called “What it’s Like to Live and Work in ___.” February, 1984 the focus was on Phoenix. I read the piece in a café trying to wait out the squall, and in the twenty minutes it took for the sideways, pelting snow to abate, I’d decided that come graduation, I was moving to the desert. That’s right! A place I’d never even considered before, but hey! I was graduating with a degree in therapeutic nutrition, and there were lots of old people in Phoenix who might need a person to counsel them on low cholesterol diets. Certainly, I’d find a good job there, right?

I moved to Phoenix with my first husband and a mutt named Mandy in July of ‘84. July! In an un-airconditioned Dodge Colt. And, sure enough, I found employment. Of the minimum wage variety. A series of shitty jobs – the worst of which was as a cocktail waitress in a retirement community. The only “counseling” I did was to slap the liver-spotted hands of octogenarians who were pinching my ass.

When I look back on the three Phoenix years, I see them as this sort of interstitial purgatory. Despite having written since I was eight, during those young adult years in the desert, I cracked not one book or journal. I channeled my creative energy into banal stuff like stenciling borders on the walls of my house (remember that craze?), and making jewelry out of fimo clay (yet another craze).

But here’s my point:

I’ve been stop-start writing since third grade. As a kid, I first learned the word prosaic, a term my mother ascribed to my first work of lyricism. I offer said poem herewith:

Spring

Spring is when the flowers bloom.

With snow gone, there’s lots of room.

Birds chirping while building their nests.

When mother-bird takes her turn, father-bird rests.

The tip-tap of rainfalls,

the sound of mate calls,

is spring.

While my mother critiqued the piece, finding nothing poetic in it at all save for the onomatopoeic tip-tap, my third grade teacher, a square-shaped, red-headed battle axe of a woman named Mrs. Angle, held the effort up in front of the class, and read it out loud as though it were coated in honey. I enjoyed an entire week of popularity. Mrs. Angle, having scolded me for daydreaming on my report card, redeemed me by pronouncing me a Writer!

My mother, however, wanted me to try again. And, bless her heart, she was right. But I never did return to that poem, instead, I moved to prose, and never looked back until, in Freshman English at Syracuse, I was asked to write a paper on Eliot’s Prufrock. That may have been my first real immersive experience with a body of work, and was cause for another teacher-fawning moment—which, I must admit, I lived for.

But with all of that praise comes the fear of failure. When someone loves something you did, you’re bound to disappoint them next time. So I took up with science and home economics (to this day, I’m the shittiest cook I know, and forget about the other domestic arts) and became a nutritionist. All the while, stories stewed inside me. Through much of my twenties, I scribbled things on scraps of paper, which I often destroyed, thinking that I might die in an accident, and they’d be found. And read!

At twenty-eight, as a young widow with two babies and a small pile of cash, I moved to Portland and jumped into the deep end. Teachers or no, I learned how to write for an audience that included myself. I began to submit my stories to journals and to get them published. I won some awards. I went back to school for an MFA and won more awards. But I just couldn’t crack the “book” thing, and I had to admit to myself that part of the problem was, I was still wanting to turn that Spring poem into something my mother would like.

A few years ago The New Yorker ran a piece by Malcolm Gladwell, Late Bloomers. The article tossed around a lot of preconceptions about genius and talent and precocity. One of the most interesting points was based upon research done by an economist from the University of Chicago named David Galenson, who undertook the challenge to disprove assumptions about creativity and age, particularly the idea that poets and artists peak young. What he discovered was that prodigies don’t tend to engage in open-ended exploration, and that they are typically concept-driven; they have an idea, and then go for it, rather than painstakingly researching the way many non-prodigies do. In the article, Galenson is quoted as saying, about late bloomers, “Their approach is experimental. Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental.”

In other words, late bloomers are nerdy, and tend to follow a depth of inquiry ad nauseam. Ergo, they might have a manuscript or two in Rubbermaid tubs in their basements.

I took solace in that article. And a couple of years ago, I decided it was time to write something all the way. Something that brought me back to the dream. The idea of possibility and wonder. A snippet of 50+ years of quirky humanity in the form of a character and setting that reflected a piece of myself I was willing to share. And I had to absolutely get over the idea that validation only comes when everyone loves your art. But before I could overcome that, I had to admit that I’d been holding back because of it.

My debut book came out in January, and another one is being published in a couple of months.

For me, all the meandering has been part of my process. I’m a percolator, who drips many false starts into the carafe. Undrinkable sludge. So many versions of various lives. So many manuscripts on floppy discs in landfills. But the kernel of truth lives inside of failure. Oh, I know, that’s quite a platitude. I feel icky even writing it, though I firmly, firmly believe it.

I’m fifty-three. I think I have twenty more novels in me. At least.

And my grandmother is about to celebrate her 102nd birthday, so there’s that.

 

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About Suzy Vitello: As a founding member of what the Oregonian has dubbed Portland’s “hottest writing group” (members include Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake and Cheryl Strayed), Suzy’s name has graced the acknowledgement pages of many a book. THE MOMENT BEFORE is her debut novel. Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Kirk, and son, Carson, and teaches workshop and classes periodically. Find out more on suzyvitello.com.

 Poster by SimpleReminders.com Pre-order their book (which I am in!!): www.SimpleReminders.info


Poster by SimpleReminders.com
Pre-order their book (which I am in!!): www.SimpleReminders.info

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and author Emily Rapp will be leading a writing retreat to Vermont in October. Visit  jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

*Jen met Suzy when she flew (broken foot and all) to Portland to take a writing workshop with Suzy and Lidia Yuknavitch. Jen is totally obsessed and madly in love with with Suzy and recommends all writers to take a class with her. New Yorkers! Suzy has a workshop in Warwick NY on September 5/6. You might also find Jen there. You should go. Just sayin’.

 

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