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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.

A Few Words About Genre Fiction


It's a funny thing, genre fiction. I always stayed away due to an assumption that it would be crappily written, and certainly beneath me and my English major tastes. Then one of my roommates in college gave me a John Grisham book, and I read it. Yes, I stooped that low. Here's the thing though...I loved it. I read several more JG books after that, and while nothing like the kind of depth and meaning that settles over me after reading a classic piece of literature, they were damn good reads. Hello, crow. Welcome.

Stephen King though is another matter entirely, because despite any (probably incorrect) assumptions I have about the writing itself, the bigger hurdle for me is that I do not enjoy anything in the realm of horror. I don't like feeling scared or disturbed or grossed out any more than I have to in this world, so the likes of Carrie and The Shining have never appealed to me in the slightest.

Even when given On Writing as a gift (a memoir-ish look at King's writer past as well as his writing processes and advice), I stalled for several months before reading it. Not being a fiction writer (and having never read a single word of any of his books), what could I possibly glean from his advice on writing? The answer is plenty, and I'll share a few gems once I've finished the book. In the meantime, go get yourself a copy of Grisham's The Partner.


Honesty: Still the Best Policy.


I got together recently with some friends, and the husband, who had just finished reading Schooled, asked me how I handled being so honest in the book. Particularly about my own thoughts and feelings. I guess some things I mention are pretty personal, but throughout the whole process of writing and prepping the book (and even in the time since it's been out), it's never really bothered me. I wanted an honest book, even if it revealed the oftentimes ridiculous, selfish, and self-pitying thoughts I had as an adolescent. This man said he wasn't sure he could do that, and several others have made similar comments to me, usually sounding something like, "Wow, it's sure gutsy to basically make your diary public."

The bigger concern to me when it comes to writing about real life is that you have to talk about other people. I mean, it's one thing to embarrass yourself, but quite another to potentially embarrass others. In writing Schooled, I wrestled with how honest to be at other peoples' expense. Not that anything about the book is vindictive, but I'm a nice person, and my desire to be honest has probably harmed a few relationships. It's something I've been reminded of as I'm re-reading manuscript #2. Because it means another list (although this one much shorter) of people in my life who are mentioned and may not appreciate everything I say. My defense (and this is my overall case for honesty in writing period) is that it's simply not realistic to have only ever had positive thoughts about and experiences with someone. In an effort to show a balanced and realistic depiction of life as I've experienced it, I'm not sure you can omit all of the less flattering details. Most of them, sure, but not all.

Yes, I will probably always worry about hurting people's feelings, and I will always feel gutted upon hearing that I actually have. But I will continue being as honest as I'm comfortable being, as I believe it is key when writing. I still think Betsy Lerner said it best...I quoted this passage a year ago in a post and I think it's worth repeating here:

"Let’s face it, if in your writing you lift the veil on your family, your community, or even just yourself, someone will take offense. . . . If you write what is most pressing, you are revealing thoughts, secrets, wishes, and fantasies that you (and we as readers) would never otherwise confess to. Most writers, like most children, need to tell. The problem is that much of what they need to tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who are determined to tell writer-children what they can and cannot say. Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story, you will be stymied in your effort to create. You think you can’t write, but the truth is you can’t tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch."


Should've Been a Cowboy


Tom's first book, The Secret Life of Cowboys, is one of my favorite memoirs, and I honestly don't know why it took me so long to read One Good Horse, but I loved it as well. Maybe not quite as much as Cowboys, but there is something about the way he writes that I resonate with. The simple sentence construction, Tom's calm nature as he moves through life, I really feel like I'm on the ranch myself as I read. More than that, reading these books makes me WANT to be on the ranch.

I also appreciate the honestly with which he writes. Cowboys is all about his dream of owning a ranch, how he gets there, and how he ultimately realizes it might not be for him after all. To spend so much of your life working for something, it takes a lot to tell the world "nevermind." And in Horse, he takes on the training of a colt, unabashedly second-guessing himself the whole way. It's not that his books are downers, it's that I feel what he feels while I read, and sometimes that honesty, even when painful, is refreshing. Honestly, I feel like I've just returned from Montana. And I already want to go back.


Did I write THAT?


It's an interesting process, editing. And one I enjoy immensely. When first out of college I had it in my head that I might want to actually be an editor. And not just because Betsy Lerner's book had changed my life. But then business happened. And now the only editing I do, prior to handing them over to a real editor of course, is that of my own manuscripts. I'm in the middle of my first post-writing read through, and can I just tell you what a strange thing it is, especially since much of the book was written quite a while ago. Some of the pages I can't even remember writing. Some of them are much more delightful than I originally thought, some are much less so. Lots of work to do, and while I am loving this first full read-through, I know from Schooled that by the time a manuscript is ready, you have read it so many times that you become a bit sick of it. But one step at a time. For now it's back to my red pen.



It's official. I have an iPhone. Not that you would know it since all I used it for this weekend was calling and texting, but you've got to start somewhere. Even if that place is Cluelessville. I did manage to figure out how to take a picture. And how to text this picture to someone else. And just this morning I tackled emailing the picture to myself for use in this post. How appropriate that this was the first picture I took with my can-now-take-pictures-anywhere capabilities. That's right, Cleveland. T & Co. arriving this summer. Maybe by then I'll have a handle on this iPhone.



On Opening Acts


Opening acts usually annoy me. Not only are they not the person I came to see, but they significantly lengthen the overall time of a concert. You want to show up early to get a good seat (or standing place), but then you are left standing there for an hour or two while you wait for the main act.

But I've noticed my attitude toward opening acts has changed, and I blame this almost entirely on the fact that I've got a book out there. I see these largely unknown artists as doing the only thing they can, as pounding the pavement, as working day jobs to support themselves until their craft can pay the bills, as persevering despite crowds that are small, crowds that talk over them, crowds that are (ahem) only interested in the headliner. In many ways, I see them as me. Because no one really knows about me. Or my book. I fight for every sale, do signings that don't always draw a crowd (or anyone), and continue writing even though hardly anyone is listening.

Yes, I have a new respect for opening acts, and the one I saw last weekend particularly struck me. The headliner was Tristan Prettyman, herself refreshingly non-mainstream, and as I've mentioned in previous posts (Lessons from Tristan Prettyman), I see Tristan every chance I get and feel fortunate that she's come to Cleveland three times in less than a year. Tristan was fabulous as usual, and I loved her opening act. A band called Satellite, I'd never heard of them. But there they were, the lead singer pouring so much of himself into each song that you would have thought he was playing in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden. Instead of a 100-person crowd on a small stage in the ghetto of Cleveland. But isn't that what makes a great artist? It certainly demands respect, and, if the quality of the product is good too, my thought is that it also deserves a sale. So I'll be buying an album this weekend. I'd buy Cedar + Gold too, but my oh my, I already have it.




It's done! I've officially finished the writing for my second book. Still lots to do before it's in the hands of readers, but it's a tremendously satisfying feeling to be done. Now my writing posts will turn to the many post-writing to-dos as I begin the long and laborious (but also very fun) process of turning the manuscript into a book. First step, major editing. But tonight, I'm celebrating.


We Are So Young


Yes, this picture proves that I didn't blow out my own candles on my 2nd birthday. And also that my sister had way better hair than I did.

'So Young' by the Corrs is my birthday anthem. It's the one I play really loud and dance around my house to each birthday morning when the feeling of being alive and healthy and incredibly blessed is combined with the excitement over the day's plans. I confess that each birthday reminds me how much older I am now (comparatively speaking), and that can get me down if I think too much about it, so that's why I love the 'So Young' song. It never ceases to snap me out of my aging-worry funk and remind me how young I still am. I'm not sure how long this trick will work, but I'm happy to report that yesterday morning found me once again dancing around the house. It was a gorgeous sunny day in Cleveland and the windows were open, so if any of my neighbors saw me, well, at least now they have an explanation.

To any of you out there feeling older than you want to feel, my advice is to think about how much you still have to offer. Think about how much more you know now. Remember the blessings in your life on a daily basis. Start learning something new, something you've always wanted to know more about. Buy yourself a treat, or better yet, buy someone else a treat. Write down a few memories. And do it all while listening to the Corrs. Because we are so young.


One Year Later

A friend sent me this link, and it got me thinking about what my advice would be. Of course, I'm a baby writer, but this weekend will mark 1 year since my book came out, and in that time I've learned quite a bit. In many ways I've been disenchanted by how hard it is to get people to buy books, how hard it is to market yourself and your book when you already have a full-time job, how hard it is to maintain a blog that almost no one reads (and how sheepish you sometimes feel for doing it).

But I don't regret any of it, and despite this past year turning out very differently than I ever would have guessed, it's also been surprisingly rewarding. The fans I do have are more doting and loyal than I deserve. They warm my heart and make everything worth it. The events and signings I've participated in have helped sink in the fact that I wrote a book. That people can buy. No matter how much of a nobody I am, I've accomplished something significant, and one year later, I'm still reveling in satisfaction and gratitude. And I still love writing. All set to finish up the writing of my next book on this anniversary weekend, I can't wait to do it all over again



The Smart Phone Dilemma


Well, I think it's almost time, folks. Almost time for me to get a Smart phone. I've resisted for many reasons, most notably that I don't want to become dependent on it or spend more of my life than I already do online. To be honest, I find it discouraging to look around the room at a party or around the table at a restaurant and see every single person staring at their phone. I'd rather talk and enjoy people's company now and look up videos and sports scores later. So I worry I'll become one of these people who uses their phone constantly simply because it's there.

To be clear, this is exactly what will happen to me once I take the plunge (I'm not sure there's a way around it), but what's got me almost to the point of getting one anyway is that despite turning into a Smart phone zombie, I can still see several benefits to having one. The ability to text pictures (without having to pay for them) is high on the list, as is the ability to email pictures and even upload them to, say, Twitter. Right now I don't have any Insta-gram type of capabilities, and while I know this seems like a lot of picture-ish reasons, I confess that the ability to capture and share moments as they come up is surprisingly important to me. Other things like no longer having to print boarding passes would be pretty neat, and even though I'm not sure I'll ever be the kind of person who has to look up a YouTube video at the precise moment someone tells me about it, the internet would probably come in handy sometimes when out and about.

So now it's just a matter of pulling the trigger. Well, that, and what phone to actually get. I'm overwhelmed at the very thought. Any suggestions?


Birthday Week

Remember when I said this? I still believe that writing is like picking teams, at least the way I do it, but I've been surprised as I've been writing up the last topics on my list for book #2 at just how much I've had to say about them. And I'm just as pleased with the way these final pieces are turning out than the stuff I wrote at the beginning (ie. the things I picked from the list first). As a writer, it's a satisfying feeling. One that I hope can get me through what should be the final week of writing for book #2. That's right, people. My goal is to finish writing by Sunday. A perfect birthday present.

In other officially kicks off Birthday Week!! I've got some great plans today including, well, let's see, coming to work....and, um, eating a brown-bag lunch at my desk. Here's to Birthday Week getting better. Clearly it's got nowhere to go but up.


Why Twitter Trumps Facebook


I don't have a smart phone. Expression of regret. This significantly limits my social media time to about five minutes a day, but even with only that, I now prefer to spend them on Twitter. Here's why.

Facebook (which I joined while in grad school) is primarily a keeping-tabs-on-people device. I loved how many people I was able to reconnect with, and I still appreciate the connectedness that Facebook provides. It's there that I post a few pictures after returning from a trip so my friends and relatives can see what I've been up to, and I likewise enjoy scanning my feed for the pics my friends have posted. Otherwise I would probably have no idea who of them are getting married, having new babies, or vacationing in the same places I am. (I recently saw on FB that my aunt and uncle in Oregon were going to be in DC the same time I was, so we met up.)

Twitter is likewise a connection vehicle, but it has the added benefit of actually being useful; of actually making you better and leaving you more informed on subjects you find interesting. Granted, I'm a new user who has admitted to only spending a few moments logged in each day, but I am constantly amazed at both how valuable and useful I find the content that the people I follow post. These people are agents, authors, publishers, readers. Most of their very livelihoods center around books and writing, and even down to the writerly humor, I eat it all up and then want more. I only hope that one day I can be as helpful to followers. I also hope one day to actually have followers. Maybe it takes more than five minutes a day. And maybe I need a smart phone.


Got Ink?


One of my favorite errands to run is buying new ink cartridges. I'm not sure why, but I love looking over the wall of choices and honing in on the one that's compatible with my printer. It's like having your own sleep number. Another thing I love about the ink run, and this is probably more central to my writer-self, is that it means I've done enough writing to have done enough printing to have used up all the ink I have in my house. It's a surprisingly satisfying feeling. One that causes me to look adoringly over at the growing stack of paper that is my second manuscript. It's always entertaining to read through and edit, because the times when I ran out of black ink are evidenced by a few pages printed in red or blue text. This will of course be remedied in the next draft. Now that I've restocked on ink. Black #61.




First let me say that as a small town girl, I'm still constantly in awe about how nice it is to live in a city. Not that Cleveland is the most desirable or glamorous city in which a person could live, but five years in, I'm incredibly content. If you don't count the snow we're getting this week. Sports teams, theater, fine dining, shopping. It's totally different than the world I grew up in. Of course, there are things about small town life that I miss (like not hearing about shootings in almost every morning headline), but I continue to love taking advantage of having access to so much. And one of my favorite things about city life is that there are venues for musicians to perform in. It makes checking the upcoming concert lists pretty exciting. And I know she isn't a big name anymore (was she really ever?), but attending a Jewel concert was definitely a highlight of my weekend. The lowlight, for those keeping track at home, was the downfall of Gonzaga.

Jewel has a fascinating story, an incredibly unique voice, and, as I discovered on Saturday night, a wonderful sense of humor. She was delightful. Much of what she said really resonated with me, particularly a story she told prior to singing the hit 'Hands.' In talking about how much she struggled in her earlier years, she mentioned a point where she really had to ask herself what her actions might mean for her life down the road. She said in that moment she thought about her hands, and how what your hands are doing now can in many ways determine where you end up and the kind of life you lead. Certainly stealing (what she had considered doing in that moment) was a much different path than writing songs, and that's the thought that ultimately turned her life around.

It's a thought that would do us all some good to consider. What are we doing with our time, our lives, our hands? And what opportunities will be open in the future (or not) due to choices we are making now? Not that I can honestly say that I am always productive with my time and smart with my decisions, but this certainly makes me examine both more closely. Definitely got more than I bargained for out of Saturday's concert, and I'm the better for it. Thanks for stopping by, Jewel. I hope "I'm in Cleveland Today" gets sung again soon.


To Sell is Human


I'm long since past the days of reading textbooks, so I confess that the thought of reading for anything other than pleasure causes panic and painful flashbacks. I kid, I kid. Anyone who's read Schooled knows I loved being a student and dreaded the beginning of real life, but now that I'm in it, I do groan when I see informative books on the shelves. Who reads these? I once saw a stat of how many books you could read in your life if you were an average reader (and most of us read far less frequently than the average reader), and the number was disturbingly low. And if I can only read a very select number of books in my life, I certainly don't want to read any that are not for fun, don't make me laugh, and do nothing to help me escape.

So whenever I find myself reading a business-themed book, it surprises me. Even more so when I really enjoy it. Which is exactly what I can say about this book. True that I work in sales already, so it's not like I really needed a lot of convincing about selling in today's world being very different than in eras past. Or the presence of sales-related activities even in non-sales jobs. Or the amount of time we spend trying to move others; to convince people to part with something they have in exchange for something we can give. I already see this and fully believe it. I am the proverbial choir.

Nothing earth-shattering then, but what I loved about this book were the practical examples shared to illustrate each principle, the clear explanation of the ways we can become better and more effective movers in this information age, and the recommended exercises (sometimes very simple) to help us become better attuned, buoyant, and clear. Very readable and incredibly relatable (much like Quiet), it's always satisfying to read a book that gets it right. If you work in sales, manage a team of salespeople, or just want to read a fascinating account of the shift away from the Fuller Brush Man style of selling that was once so prevalent, you should read this book.


Saving the Best for Last


I'm a lover of jewelry (my readers will soon find out just how much), and the first time I went to DC, seeing the Hope Diamond was the highlight of my trip. I mention this experience in my next book, that of working my way through the gemology exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. It starts with metals and mining, moves on up to various semi-precious stones (both faceted and cabochon), expands from there into a room of some of the most beautiful precious stone-riddled pieces you'll ever see (many owned and worn my famous royals), and culminates with a large case containing the Hope Diamond.

While in DC this past weekend, I was not about to miss out on a chance to see the Hope again, only this time I entered the exhibit backwards. I cut right to the chase. I started with the Hope Diamond. And not that it was any less sparkly this way, but I admit that everything I saw after that was kind of a let down. How could it not be? The royal jewels, the walls and walls of cut stones and rough, the nuggets of gold and platinum. After the Hope Diamond, who the hell cares? There is something to be said for saving the best for last.

It's not always possible to do this. One doesn't always know what the best even is, and consequently that it would be more satisfying to save it for last. And some "dessert first" people actually prefer that the best be first. Unless I have a limited amount of time and can only do/see/eat one thing (in which case I would have totally chosen the Hope Diamond), I prefer saving the best for last. And I've been thinking about this recently in light of multiple books by the same author. It's tough to consistently churn out amazing prose, and much tougher when an author's first book puts him at the top of the bestseller list. Because it's hard to keep up that kind of momentum, hard to meet the kind of expectations readers would then have. I recently looked up and bought other books by the authors of some of my favorites, and I haven't liked any of them as much as the author's first hit. I guess that's the price you pay when your prize piece gets put on paper first. Or when you start at the end of a Smithsonian exhibit. You've got nowhere to go but down.


Throwback: Yellow Wallpaper


It's a funny thing, Twitter. I'm one of the worst users ever, as I don't have a smart phone, am hardly ever logged in, tweet rarely, and feel sort of silly in this "you have no followers" stage which I really see no end to. But, I digress. Because the reason I brought up Twitter was to mention how amazing it is to be connected (even if only on a one side basis) to pretty much anyone you wish to be. Publishers, agents, celebrities, authors. Why just yesterday I came across a tweet by Joyce Carol Oates (Joyce Carol Oates, people!) and immediately added her to the list of people I follow. To sum up, I now follow Joyce Carol Oates. She says something, I see it. Talk about an impressive vehicle of connection.

But the reason I was struck by this particular tweet of Joyce's was her mentioning the short story "Yellow Wallpaper." Former English students of the world, do you remember this story? I sure do. In fact, there might be nothing that could have more instantly brought me back to my days as a university student. Short stories were my first love. Spending semester after semester reading Kate Chopin, Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner (remember "A Rose for Emily"?), and of course Charlotte Perkins Gilman made me want to do nothing with my life except write equally intriguing fiction.

Poetry blew me in another direction, and now I've jumped ship completely in the name of non-fiction, but I guess what I want to know is what happened to the short story? Is it still around, stronger than ever, and I simply haven't been paying attention? Are there still stunners like "The Lottery" being written? The last contemporary story I read and truly loved was published in an issue of The Georgia Review over ten years ago, so it's probably time I got back into it. I have JCO to thank for reminding me. Or maybe it's Twitter to whom I owe this gratitude. Either way, I'll mention it when I get around to logging back in. Maybe this weekend.


Picking Teams

I'm down to the last few thousand words for my next book, and that's an interesting place to be. Not that I'm going to stop writing once I hit a certain word count, but I do have a target I'd like to hit, or maybe it's more an estimation of where I think I'll be once I have this all written out. The problem with being at the tail end of the writing is perhaps the writing system I use in the first place. It's a very sophisticated process in which I compile a shorthand list of topics to write up, and then pick a topic from the list whenever I have time to write. (Did I mention sophisticated?) Of course, I end up picking my "favorite" topics first, or at least the ones I'm most excited about writing up. And much in the way teams are picked in school in an order of descending skill, in the end you are only picking people because they are there. Because you are obligated.

So it's not that these final topics are bad, it's just that I am not as anxious to tell them. They don't sparkle in my mind the way so many others did. They belong in the book, but I am not as attached to them. And in the back of my mind is still this word count target, and the last thing I want to do is stretch these un-gems to be longer than they otherwise would be. I know, I know, if this is the extent of my troubles at this point in my life, I'm not in a position to complain. About anything. Especially authory things that bore the majority of the civilized world. But it's what's on my mind right now as I scrape together these last few thousand words from the handful of topics left on my list. Just the kind of challenge I relish.



Do people out there really have headshots? That's a silly question, I know they do. I see them on websites and blogs and twitter. It seems most people in the book world have---whether professionally done or not---some sort of picture that's pretty much just their head. I haven't had a lot of times yet where I've needed one, but the times I've been asked for one (book signings, guest posts, etc), I have nothing to give.

So I had some done this weekend. I won't say that I at times during the shoot didn't feel silly for doing it. I won't say that I know I'll even use these much. I won't say I'm convinced I really needed them, but I figure they'll come in handy at some point. And if nothing else, they will give me something to put in the About the Author section of my next book. The picture I used in Schooled was not exactly current....although, to be fair, I was trying to be clever.

If they turn out halfway decent, maybe I'll share some here when I get them back. Or maybe you'll just have to buy my next book. Once it's done. Or check out my website. Once I actually have one. Or read future guest posts. Once I find time to write any. I'm sensing a pattern here.


The Upside of Sick

I've never been a very athletic person (my only attempt to be a member of an official team is chronicled in Schooled), but I'm a big proponent of exercise. On my own. Stuff that doesn't require skills of any kind. Being as sick as I've been lately, I took a bit of a hiatus from working out most of last month and have only this week begun to reincorporate it into my life, but not without a sigh of annoyance and a sense of dread. Working out is such a time sucker. Which you really don't think about (or maybe you do) until you stop doing it long enough to have filled that time with something else.

In my case, I've been filling my workout time with writing, and it's been so nice to be able to write on a daily basis. I'm down to my last 10K words for the manuscript I've been working on, but now that I'm healthy enough to exercise, who knows when those 10K words will actually get written. I could always join the throngs of people who simply don't exercise period, and I always seem to get confused comments from people when I work out anyway...comments like, "Why do YOU need to work out?," as if skinny people have nothing to gain from a gym. Not sure why it doesn't occur to these people that working out might by why I'm skinny in the first place, or that there are other motives for staying healthy besides weight (in my case, a family history of heart disease), but the point here is that getting back in the workout saddle is perhaps harder this time than it's ever been before. Because I got awfully attached to my writing time. I'm determined to bring it back. There's got to be something else I can cut out of my life. Cleaning, maybe. Or doing chores. I think I'm onto something.