Images & Words
Issue #11: The Unicorn
I did something completely out of character this past Saturday night and I accidentally stayed up until 1:30am watching two documentaries.
It took me 3 days to recover, mostly because I am bedeviled by an internal body clock that zaps me awake at 4:30am no matter how little sleep I’ve had. But regardless of the drag-ass factor, I thoroughly enjoyed my binge.
The first thing I watched was Val.
My hub had been wanting to see it, but I’ve never been a huge Val Kilmer fan. I’m not sure why.
Of course he did a remarkable job as Jim Morrison, there is no doubt about it. And I loved him as Doc Holliday. Otherwise…meh. I’ve always felt like I was watching an actor act. Overact. Maybe too good at acting? I’m not sure I can place my finger on it - I just didn’t connect with the guy’s energy.
But this little movie, Val, touched my heart for many reasons. The production was compelling and poignant - and it spoke to me as a human, a parent, and as a survivor.
I know VK has a reputation as being a “difficult” actor - but going through an experience like cancer puts you in touch with a deeper part of yourself. It changes you at a cellular level. It’s an experience that is hard to describe. Maybe someday I’ll try. I just know that I see the world differently after having gone through it.
And maybe he sees things differently, too. Maybe he’s changed. But even if not - I liked the film and loved it’s styling. It was a refreshing and thoughtful little tidbit to enjoy before bed.
Or so I thought. My wild Saturday night continued. By the time we finished Val, it was 11:15pm and before I could protest, hub queued up Hired Gun.
It’s a documentary about musicians who are hired to fill a spot, or to be in a touring band, or to be the recording studio guy - whatever. Came out about five years ago
Well, shoot. This film had me hooked from the git-go. I was sucked right in.
I’ve met a few of the featured musicians - Jason Newsted, Rudy Sarzo (who I met as a teenager, and who now has my book!) and Dave Ellefson - who actually gave me some GREAT feedback about my book when I asked for his help.
Awesome music, throbbing jams, great stories, a lot of heart. I love watching people who are masters at their craft, who have a work ethic, who have a style. Some of them made it as legit rock stars, but most of the musicians I personally know aren’t. They’re hired guns.
I’ve always loved these guys - the non-rockstars that hustled. Most of my musician friends work steadily - as producers, studio musicians, touring guys, or as solo acts. Some do it all. Some make a good living at it.
I loved the story line in the movie with Jason Hook (who was a producer on the film) and how he developed a career as a musician by basically just being hireable, being flexible, and getting on the road with acts that weren’t necessarily “his thing” - which was metal. He learned and he worked.
He was basically auditioning for his future opportunities while showing up to do the job he’d been hired for - skillfully, professionally, and enthusiastically. When he was tapped to step into a role with Alice Cooper, Jason didn’t need to audition - Alice had already seen his work and knew his reputation. Smart bosses are always looking for talent.
Now, eventually Jason left his role as a hired gun with Alice Cooper to join Five Finger Death Punch as a full creative member - and they did really well for a metal band.
The takeaway is that Jason Hook kept working until he found his thing. And as it often happens - one opportunity led to another.
I’m not sure what my “thing” is yet, as a writer. I’m open to the possibility that I might have many “things”. Books are fun and I’m working on two of them. But - what else?
I have no hard strategy. I have ideas. Hunches. But no big master plan. I’m feeling my way along the path.
Write. Share, Connect. Rinse. Repeat.
That’s my strategy. To stay open and flexible and always learning. I’m writing what I think needs to be written. Many things may need to be written.
Right now I’m studying screenwriting. I’m finding and reading old movie scripts and TV pilots so I can understand the form, format, structure, and lingo. I’m curious. It intrigues me, the thought of writing words for a visual medium.
Being a writer is like being in a never-ending self-directed college class. I’m the professor AND the student.
I show up every single day with my ass in the chair, working on my projects, coaching, freelance editing, researching, and writing. Everything I do, watch, read, observe - is fuel for my writing and creativity.
It’s the best of both worlds, and I don’t take any time off. I don’t need to - I’m having FUN.
I’ll find my groove, my thing. And I’ll keep working. I want to take some chances and stretch. I want to level up into the next zone. I want more.
I love the concept of self-publishing, but lately, I have this itch, this urge - to play in the Big Show.
I’m entertaining the thought of maybe trying to find a literary agent for Library Confidential.
When it’s time. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. But I’m thinking about it now.
Look, I absolutely loved self-publishing my first two books. I love the idea of building a self-publishing career as a writer. I’m a DIY’er at heart.
I love the idea of creating and controlling my own intellectual property and being the Master of My Domain. For my second book, I went ahead and did all the editing, formatting, and the cover art myself. IT WAS FUN AND I LEARNED SO MUCH.
I’ll admit, finding an agent seems like an arduous process to me. Not fun.
Even a bit degrading, maybe. Querying for an agent was a whole project in itself. The time it took me to research the agents, who they had published, and what projects or connections might align - I had a spreadsheet to keep track of everything.
Each agent has different submission requirements, which is a task as well - a chapter here - 10k words there - first five chapters for this guy - plus the time to write different personalized letters to each so I didn’t sound like an ass. I queried about ten different literary agents for Metalhead Librarian, two in Los Angeles and eight in New York.
I felt like a desperate Aqua-Net groupie waiting beside the tour bus for her hair-band fantasy rocker to invite her on board to “party”. The process had a whole “Pick me! Pick me!” vibe.
I’ll admit that I pooped out early in the agent-finding process. I wasn’t invited on the bus.
I desperately wanted to find a middle-aged metalhead agent - someone who would understand me and the book and all the references - but that unicorn did not exist at the time.
It took me weeks and weeks of work, and months of waiting, and eventually I heard back from one agent with a polite form-letter rejection. Otherwise - nothing. Crickets. Maybe I really did sound like an ass.
I mean, I don’t take it personally. There are SO MANY factors in publishing decisions - factors that are WAY out of my control. Nothing personal about it - it’s all business.
And, it’s all a learning process.
But querying was fraught. Maybe even more so than writing the book itself. It made me feel foolish, actually, waiting on the approval of these agents (in my mind, rock stars), and trying to “sell” myself in this way didn’t feel comfortable at all.
I also didn’t want to wait through a long production and publishing cycle - I wanted to get the book done, and out into the world.
After my health crisis - it felt QUITE urgent to get the book out into the world.
Self-pubbing was the way to go for me then and for that project.
Four years after that unsavory agent-fishing expedition, I’m rethinking my original assumptions.
Maybe I can get this book traditionally published. Which means finding an agent. Which means I’ll need to query again. This time I know what to expect.
I’ll just do my best work and put it out there, and try to get comfortable with that process.
Maybe I can find my unicorn.
I did an interview a few weeks ago for a podcast and the interviewer asked me how I found the confidence to really start writing my memoir. How did I find my writer's voice?
It’s weird when people say it - or ask me about my “voice'' - because I didn’t really know I had one. I just write like I talk, mostly. And then I edit like hell.
But, when I analyzed what helped me “get over” myself and really start writing more authentically and comfortably, it wasn't complicated.
It was Instagram. It’s really that simple.
I think in pictures. IG was right up my alley.
I started the IG account in early 2012. It was fun to find my real-life friends and family there, and for the first two years it was mostly kids and work, life, funny moments - a kind of visual diary, more intimate than the dumpster-fire known as Facebook.
In 2014 I started attracting followers on IG, which creeped me out at first, but I went ahead and trusted what was happening. I started posting about writing and music and books, and now basically, I have a whole body of work - my life story for the past ten years, visually represented, on Instagram.
And I’ve made some friends.
I found my “writer’s voice” because I got more comfortable sharing with people through captioning my images with my words. It was a place where I could practice and be comfortable on a small platform. As pithy as it may sound for a stupid little phone app - it worked.
The advice for “aspiring” authors these days is to grow your platform so that agents will take you seriously. I understand it to a certain degree. I do want to connect with people and I do want an audience, but I want it to be real and genuine.
Twitter confounds me - so I don’t do much with it except read and lurk. What I see on “Writer Twitter” are other writers groveling for followers, begging for likes, hoping that the next stupid #writerslift will grow their numbers so it will look like they have a huge audience.
I know they are all looking for their unicorn, too. But all the effort and fakery in the name of growing false metrics so that an agent will make an offer - that makes me feel gross. Not congruent with who I am.
If you want to know who I really am, go spend a few minutes and scroll way back on my Instagram. My writing journey, kids, illness, marriage, pets, job, books, music, food - all the good things in my life are there. There could be an entire memoir devoted to the length and color of my hair and how it has evolved, for instance.
I don’t care how many “followers” I have. I don’t do “follow for follow” or buy into the whole “influencer” culture. It’s just me being me and connecting with my 683 followers in an authentic, caring and humorous way.
I’m not sure what, if anything, I should do with my Instagram. It’s brought new friends, new connections, and a few clients.
Mostly I see it as creative breadcrumbs for future projects. A reminder of those special moments. A memory keeper for my kids to look back on. A simple way to bring a bit of beauty and truth and joy into the world, and a way to make art out of this precious life that I’ve been gifted (and re-gifted.)
It’s helping me expand into the zone I’m intended for.
I know that the more I write and learn and share - however I do it - here, there, everywhere - the more I’ll be ready for that unicorn agent when the time comes.
I know that mythical beast exists out there, somewhere. Maybe I’ll find them.
Or maybe they’ll find me? Alice Cooper kept his eyes open for talent and found Jason Hook. Jason was ready when the opportunity showed up, and then he leveled up.
I want to be ready. For whatever happens.
I mean, if I have to go fishing again to find an agent, I’ll do it. I’ll do it happily. But it sure would be awesome if the fish jumped out of the water and landed in my boat.
Maybe I want to be the rock star on the tour bus - instead of an eager groupie hoping to get picked.
Whatever the correct mixed-metaphor is - I’m going to keep working. Nothing good in my life has ever happened without hard work and some wishful thinking.
Maybe my dream agent is trying to find me, too.
Maybe I am the unicorn.