Errata, kill fee, midlist, remainder, widow. These terms stood out to me in my reading this week of publishing terminology. Publishing is such an exciting topic to me, and nearly all of the words on the lists gave me a wee thrill, with these notable exceptions, and it was striking to me that I had not acknowledged that publishing, like any other thing, would have terms with negative connotations.
An errata, a loose sheet detailing errors found in a printed book, was not something that I realized had a title. I would like to know more about this but could not find the information I was looking for online. You understand as a writer and reader that inevitably there will be errors in even the most carefully edited and proofread books – these things slip by – but for my part, anyway, I didn’t realize there was an official means of dealing with them. Though I understand an errata to be composed after a book is imprint, I wish I knew who did the composing and what that looks like in practice. Is there a dedicated team of readers who go through the first printing and email in, “Hey, Georgia, I found an error here, here, and here,” and then all of those emails are composed into one final errata? Or is a fluid document?
Kill fee - a payment that may be made to an author or illustrator when a publisher cancels a project - I imagine would be a term that could cause any budding or established author to wince. On the one hand, I’m glad to see that there is such a thing. It’s good to know that should a project fall out there is something there to offer some consolation to an author. That said, the pain of having a project canceled must bring on all kinds of stress: fear of the lack of income, fear that your artistry is failing you, fear that you don’t have a place in the publishing world, fear of what your peers and family and friends will think.
Midlist, or books with a strong intellectual or artistic bent which have a chance of significant success but are not assumed to be likely bestsellers, was a term that I suppose would not have a negative connotation to everyone. To me, though, there was a sadness in the books seemingly most likely to be noted for their brilliance or superior artistry being labeled “midlist” instead of “top-of-the-list.” I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with wanting to write a bestseller – I don’t know many or maybe any writers who wouldn’t want to – but the highest aspiration, I would think, is to be among these so-called midlist books.
Ah, the remainder, or all the books that didn’t wouldn’t couldn’t sell. When I hear that word, I imagine a closet or a corner of a basement in an author’s house being occupied by boxes of books, black lines slashed through the bottoms, the dark ink a final nail in the coffin of all the hope that book initially held when the author learned it was to be published.
A widow is a high note among this list: a sad word and idea, to be sure, a lone word left on a page, unwanted, undesirable. At least, though, the writer won’t be hurt by thus one. Irritated by the presence of one in a book, sure, but not hurt, and as many times as a writer may be hurt between a first draft and a final publication, that is a good thing, I think, to have a mistake that is in no way on your head.
My idea of “accomplished” has evolved over the last few years. In 2019, when I started properly writing, my only desire was to see my work published two times, with no real care for what the publications I was getting published in were as long as they had a legitimate presence, and I was very successful in this, getting eight (if I’m remembering correctly) short pieces published by different literary magazines and websites within the year. But at the end of that calendar year, I realized that while I had succeeded in my original desire, what I was doing wasn’t quite right, and I was unsure how to proceed. Although I was getting published, I hadn’t been focused on the quality of the outlets I was being published in, and although I wasn’t ashamed of them, they weren’t the magazines and websites where I ultimately hoped my work would be featured. I became stuck in a rut of uncertainty. There were several months where I wrote nothing at all, and in the midst of those, the pandemic hit, and I became even more unsure what I was supposed to be doing.
Eventually, I decided that I needed to approach a career as a writer in two ways: I needed to build my audience and I needed to hone my craft. If I could achieve both of these, I felt I would be the writer I wanted to be.
The desire for the latter resulted in me applying to this program, and it has been such a joy. I had forgotten what it was like to be in school and feel yourself growing and learning and getting better. There have been so many moments in my courses when I’ve thought, “Ah! If only I’d known this before…” which is a rather wonderful feeling because you can see where you have room to improve and have the tools to know how to. If accomplishment is growing in skill and learning from one’s mistakes, becoming a better version of yourself, then I believe the program has helped me to become more accomplished in a more important way than mere publishing could.
The former – building an audience - seemed the easy part. Though I was unable to write in those months prior to starting classes in August of 2020, I was able to work on my social media pages and form connections with other writers and readers, and I started using those pages as an outlet for nerdy joy when everything around me in the real world seemed to be crumbling. They became a community of support and happiness for me, and I do feel accomplished with how far I have come with approximately 45k followers across my pages.
Although I have been published, am getting better as a writer, and have a healthy audience at my disposal, I am far from how I would define successful. While I feel accomplished, success will look and feel much different to me. To be successful, I will need to write something I truly give myself over to and, hopefully, will earn a tidy bit of money from. I haven’t found that project yet, whatever it will be, but when I have completed it and worked it into something that I can be proud of, then I will feel successful.
A year ago today, I did something which seemed necessary but also absurd and pretentious: I created a Facebook page proclaiming myself as a writer. Tara Wine-Queen no longer would just exist; Tara Wine-Queen would write.
I had just submitted my first piece to be considered for publication and needed a Facebook page for the sake of the submissions. I had set a writing goal for 2019 which seemed enormous at the time: I just wanted to get published in multiple publications - twice would suffice, and any legitimate publication would do. I simply needed validation outside of my social and academic circles, for people who did this professionally and who had no reason to be swayed by any relationship with or love for me to say, "Yes, this is good, I approve."
Not two but eight stories of mine were accepted for publication in 2019. I put out first "Prisons" on my own when it proved too long for traditional magazines and then published my first book, Tenderness and Troubling Times, a collection of stories
largely set in West Virginia and touching on so many themes and subjects dear to me.
And tonight, on the one year anniversary of my ridiculous-feeling leap into declaring myself a writer on social media, Tara Wine-Queen Writes has gotten its three-thousandth follower.
My gratitude and my joy overwhelm me. I could never thank you all enough for joining me and for saying, "Yes, this is good, I approve."
I hope that I can make us all proud.
Love and hugs,
It’s nearly New Year’s, which means that it is the time of year when we reflect and look back on the year’s successes and failures. 2019 has been bursting to the seams with things to celebrate and things to mourn in my life and the life of my family, but there is one thing that rises above them all, my favorite thing and the best thing that I’ve done:
I married my husband (again).
It was at a renaissance faire with two of our closest friends on a perfect day in an open-air chapel. He wore a kilt and a Robin Hood hat (fulfilling two fantasies of mine simultaneously) and I wore a red dress with flowers in my hair. The tiny chaplain read a Neil Gaiman poem and I cried when we recited the vows because of course I did.
We looked forward to the vow renewal ceremony for months and as soon as it was over, we were talking about how we couldn’t wait to do it again. (So if anyone sees any cool opportunities for vow renewals anywhere, let me know! Have love, will travel.)
When I look back on my year, this is the part that sticks out, because without my husband and the relationship that we share, it would have been impossible for me to have reached the goals that I have this year. I am a head-in-the-clouds sort. I think up a lot of things that wiser, more grounded beings would never consider, much less pursue.
But whenever I come up with some hair-brained idea or get my heart set on some ridiculous thing, Aaron unfailingly supports me. And not just in a “Sure, of course, go for it” way; instead, he tells me I am capable of anything and then gives me a strong dose of his down-to-earth logic that somehow not only convinces me that I’m not crazy for wanting to attempt it, but that I would be crazy not to with all of this evidence in my corner.
I love him so fiercely for that.
And it is equally unthinkable that I would have made it through the year's failures without him. And let me tell you, this year has had more than its fair share. I have questioned things about myself this year that I thought were long-settled, happily so, our family has had loss, and I’ve experienced depression for the first time in years, since post-partum hit me hard after I had my oldest.
But no matter what I’m feeling, or how much I vent, or how much I don’t feel like the best version of myself, Aaron knows how to reach me and say the things which will make that moment or that day or that week a little bit more bearable. He will let me crawl up on his lap and will tell me that my feelings are valid, that complaining to him is good because he wants to hear the things, that I am beautiful and good. And I know that he means it, that he wants nothing more in life than he wants to love me and our family as completely as humanly possible - and sometimes even more than that.
So without question, the highlight of my year was marrying my husband again, with a close second being every other day I got to spend as his wife. It’s the very best thing to be.
Happy New Year’s, friends.
Two months into my first pregnancy, I woke up in a puddle of blood. I went to the hospital, where I was told I was miscarrying. "Maybe it's better this way," my partner at the time said, the pregnancy having been unplanned. That what I was experiencing could be the "better" end of anything was horrifying to me. I did not miscarry, though; I was very lucky. I'd spend the pregnancy having near-weekly ultrasounds, under the constant care of the doctors and midwives who would see me through.
But the experience opened my eyes to a reality that is all too frequent for women yet rarely spoken of. No one had prepared me for the possibility that my child might not live, and yet I knew that babies sometimes didn't make it. It just seemed like something which happened in another time, or on TV, or in books. My grandmother had lost babies both in utero and out; I had attributed that to it having been another time, when maternal and fetal science had yet to reveal the myriad of ways we could protect ourselves and the children we bore. That these things could touch me here in the present stunned me. Miscarriage, stillbirths, SIDS - the idea of them haunted me, and when my daughter finally came into the world, I was so terrified something would happened to her that I couldn't sleep for days, in fear that my eyes closing would give her an opportunity to slip away forever as she hadn't managed to before.
It was from this place of fear and revelation that The Baby Losers Club and the stories it would bear was born. I wanted to give a voice to the women (and men) who had struggled to conceive and who had lived through the hardest of human experiences, losing a child.
And I wanted to give them hope, too: a reminder that even if life does not give us the things we desire, it does not make our lives less valuable or worthy of joy.
Tenderness and Troubling Times, a collection of stories including The Baby Losers Club series, is available on Amazon, Books-A-Million, and other retailers.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years thinking about West Virginia. It is the safest, most comforting place in the world to me, home to nearly all my favorite people. Her mountains offer a sweet embrace: fiery in fall, lush in spring and summer, spare but no less striking a beauty in winter.
Our people…thinking about the people who reside in these mountains is enough to bring me to tears. Because while I know no finer folks than those I’ve found here, the people of West Virginia have been traumatized, brutalized, taken advantage of time and time again.
If you’ve looked into commonalities in addicts, in studies which have tried to discover what might cause one person to be more susceptible to addiction than another, you’ll find one word over and over: trauma. Addicts are exponentially more likely to have experienced trauma than non-addicts. And trauma begets trauma; violence and addiction are cyclical, and there is maybe nowhere which displays it more clearly than the West Virginia classroom.
The children of West Virginia are desperate. They are continually traumatized. What we would’ve considered difficult circumstances to grow up in twenty years ago are now nearly the norm. If you look at the statistics of displaced children – children who no longer live with their parents, who must be with a grandparent or other family member or in the foster care system, what have you – we lead the nation. Many of those who do live with parents are living with addicts or in undesirable situations where trauma is frequent, but our foster care system is so overstressed and understaffed itself that we no longer have the means or capacity to serve all of those who are in need. We have such profound need here. Despite this, lawmakers voted recently to take measures to not only prohibit same-sex families from accepting foster children but also to exclude children who identify as LGBTQ – the most likely segment of the population to be suicidal – from being included in foster care programs.
People will passionately point at LGBTQ West Virginians, addicted West Virginians, West Virginians so poor that they need the help of our government to exist, and lay our problems at the feet of those populations, say that they are to blame for the state of things in our state.
Our state is in crisis, but by nurturing divisions we are stepping away from what is actually the best thing West Virginia has to offer: the relationships between her people. We are a state made up of communities filled with citizens and organizations who love to take care of other people. When help can be given, when a need is there, we step up to give it, to fulfill that need. It’s in our churches, 4-H clubs, private businesses, food pantries, community centers and clubs. It’s sharing the needs of a family whose house burned down on Facebook. It’s raising money for a little boy with cancer. When West Virginia teachers went on strike in 2018, we had our communities behind us; our state prides itself on its legacy of labor leaders and community support. We take care of each other here, at least when we are at our best. It is the finest thing about us.
And it is also the most significant thing we as individual West Virginians can do to break the cycles of trauma and addiction, because relationships are absolutely critical to healing from traumatic experiences and addiction. In recovery groups, in continuing education classes for teachers, in community-sponsored workshops across the state trying to help us build a better future in these hallowed hills, the importance of relationships – particularly to those who have suffered trauma - is preached until the preacher is blue in the face. There is no overstating the necessity of those relationships. There can be no recovery without human kindness and support.
So instead of focusing on what differences we may have and nursing extreme views which only work to divide us and dehumanize our fellow man, we should remember that all of us in West Virginia have been traumatized; no one here has escaped unscathed from the loss of industry, the opioid crisis, high poverty rates, limited job opportunities.
But we all feel sweet relief when we see that Wild and Wonderful sign come into our sights after time away. Our hearts all flutter when we hear those first few notes of “Country Roads” playing out across the radio or at the ballgame. Each of us has staked a claim here, buried pieces of our hearts in her hills and hollers, and we owe it to that sacred communion which lets us call West Virginia our Mountain Mama to seek to build and sustain relationships with our brothers and sisters in state instead of allowing fear and hatred to lead our paths.
West Virginia can heal from her hurt, she can move past the trauma to be healthy and happy and proud of herself once again, but it must be done from within, from the hearts and hands of her people doing that holy work of loving our neighbors and rejecting those who would try and exploit our differences for the advancement of their own desires.
We all are West Virginia. We owe her our best, and we can only do that by recovering together, building relationships and healing traumas one by one.
This past weekend, I hit an important milestone in my writing:
I surpassed fifteen thousand words in my book, an imaginary line I have loosely defined as a fifth of what it will ultimately be.
I have trouble with writing. It isn't the act so much as the time it takes; I have trouble finding it. Or perhaps more accurately, I feel guilty for using up the attention that it takes on something other than my family. Because there are moments available, sprinkled throughout the day, that can be used for listening or scrolling or watching or reading or talking, and I use those, but always with the unspoken asterisk of *I can be bothered during this activity. I can make dinner for my family while I listen to my favorite podcast. I can stop texting with my sister to take my son to the potty. I can watch a show with my husband while I pay bills.
But writing, that self-indulgent mistress, requires an otherworldly level of attention which my handful of children and full-time job and basic human responsibilities don't easily facilitate.
So achieving this mini-milestone is something I would like to celebrate, and I would ask that you celebrate it with me by doing me the kindness of rating my Facebook page and/or Goodreads page and/or Amazon page. The more positive feedback I can get, the better my chances of being able to successfully pitch this book to someone worthwhile when I hit the real milestone of finishing the thing. (With some luck, the first draft will be done around Christmas!)
I am infinitely grateful for this work I love and this life I love and you who have done so much to shape and support me.
Have a beautiful evening!