Your Story Matters

Representation Matters

I'm in a conference room at my wife's workplace, Temple University, here to celebrate the investiture of the university's new president and go to the homecoming game.

Every so often, Wendy pops her head into the conference room to introduce me to one of her colleagues. She's proud, I think, of me, and excited that she has a wife to show off. :)

She's finally in a workplace where she doesn't need to hide who she is or who she loves.

That wasn't the case when we first met.

Back then, Wendy was working for a Christian college where it was technically okay for a community member to be gay but only if they didn't act on it.

WTF?

Wendy, on faculty for 20+ years, could have been FIRED for holding my hand in public.

Yep. In 2017, this was the case, and it remains the case today. And firing Wendy would have been completely legal.

I hope someday she'll let me help her write the story of how she ended up being subjected to...

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Don't Be Afraid to Dream Big

My friend Byron is a Southern gentleman with a wicked sense of humor and an equally wicked sense of style.

Like he would wear a made-to-order seersucker tuxedo to a black tie wedding.

And in that very dapper seersucker tuxedo, Byron asked me about my book.

Sidebar: If you're writing a book and you let people know about it, be prepared for questions.

ALL.

THE.

TIME.

What's happening with your book?

When's it coming out?

Where can I buy it?

But Byron isn't just a good friend; he's also a board member of a nonprofit independent press that focuses on Southern authors and stories. He knows a thing or two about publishing.

After I told him that I was "this close"—I was holding my thumb and forefinger a half inch apart—to being offered a publishing contract by a university press, he asked me how many copies I expected the press to print in their first run.

A question I frankly hadn't even thought about. A question I now know to research and ask about when I...

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Celebrate the Milestones in Your Memoir Journey

My heart nearly stopped when I read the subject line of the email:

Readers Reports: Graveyard of Safe Choices

The email from the university press I'd been waiting for all summer was finally here.

Catch up on the previous steps in my publication journey here.

I scanned the email:

Happy news.

Both readers recommend publication.

I put my head in my hands and started to cry. 

After 4+ years and I don't know how many drafts, it looks like my memoir has found a home.

It's not a done deal yet—there's still a couple of approvals left to go and one more semi-substantial revision to address the very helpful comments from the peer reviewers—but I think this thing is going to happen.

I'll shout it from the rooftops once I have a publication date—but I'm not going to wait to celebrate.

This is a big f**ing milestone!

Because there were days—many days—that I wanted to give up.

When I thought no one would care about my story.

When It felt too hard to revisit...

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What Memoir Writers Fear Most

Beck came to me last spring with a vague idea about the story he wanted to write.

Snippets of experiences from my childhood living as a girl and moments of parallel in adulthood, as I re-experience firsts as a man.

Okay.

I knew there was an important story there, and I also knew that "snippets" weren't going to do it justice.

"What are you most afraid of?" I asked. I figured the snippets approach was a way for Beck to protect himself, to guard his heart from further trauma and judgment.

Snippets! So light and breezy!

Because this is a writer who has been abandoned over and over by the people who are supposed to love him most.

"Oh, I'm afraid that people will think my book is a narcissistic journey into nothingness," Beck said.

I chuckled, not because this was funny but because I hear a variation of this fear all the time from writers.

Being afraid that people will think you're a narcissist if you write your story really means you're afraid that no one will...

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The #1 Key to Writing a Memoir That Works

I once heard an editor from one of the Big 5 publishers say: “I’m looking for books that are both completely unique and exactly the same.” And she laughed.

I laughed too.

But now I've come to believe that the intersection of “completely unique” and “exactly the same” IS the key to writing an effective memoir.

Two Ways Your Memoir Needs to Be Exactly the Same

#1: It Belongs in a Clear Category

Agents, editors, and publishers like to put books in categories, in boxes. That’s how they know whether they can sell them or not, whether there are readers for those books.

Here are some common categories for memoir:

Cancer journeys. Addiction. Abuse. Trauma. Grief (I read a lot of these). Travel memoirs. Food memoirs. Coming of age. Spiritual journeys. Coming out memoirs.

When there isn’t a clear category, it makes your book more difficult to sell.

#2: It Communicates a Universal Message

Your memoir can’t just be...

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Writer Years Are Like Dog Years

This weekend I head to HippoCamp, a fantastic conference for creative nonfiction writers in Lancaster PA, which happens to be where I now live.

So convenient!

I attended my first HippoCamp four years ago. Four years that have gone by in a flash and at the same time feel like a lifetime ago.

Is that what time feels like for dogs? I've often wondered, being a new-ish dog mom to Lucy, my 9 lb. chihuahua mix. But I digress ...

When I walked into the Lancaster Marriott for HippoCamp 2018, I was just on the other side of a couple of very difficult years navigating coming out as LGBTQ+ and a divorce resulting from that coming out decision. 

I had been furiously writing since coming out, trying to make sense of the life-changing experience I was going through. What was it really about? Why had I made the choices I'd made? Why would anyone care about my story?

I was definitely in "1st Draft Mode"—writing to understand what I was writing...

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Don’t Read the Comments

I’ve finally arrived as a writer because now I know why they say “Don’t read the comments.”

Insert sad face.

If you’ve read my latest newsletters or you follow me on social media, you know that I had an essay go viral on today.com.

Haven’t read it yet? Here it is!

What a high that was to have that piece published and to hear that it was one of the site's most viewed posts that week.

And then the comments by members of the general public rolled in…

There were 3 categories of comments.

Some were lovely:

“This is a beautiful story. I applaud her!”

“So brave!”

“Love the Slinky story!”

Some were in the vein of: “I’m not a lesbian and I drive a Subaru.” 

Are there really that many people incapable of understanding irony or taking a joke?

Or as one commenter wrote: “The number of y’all declaring your heterosexuality because of an inside joke in the LGBTQ community is both...

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What's My Story Really About Anyway?

My essay “The Subaru Should Have Been a Sign,” went viral on today.com.

I still can’t freaking believe it.

In case you haven’t read it yet, click on this link.

Barb from Subaru Customer Service reached out to say that her colleagues were in awe of the piece. “It really resonated with us,” Barb said. “Everybody at some point needs to take a big leap and follow their heart.”

My heart took a little leap at that moment, and I may have even gotten a bit choked up. Because isn’t that what we all want as writers? To know that our writing connected with a reader. That we touched someone’s heart. That they felt seen or known or less alone.

And the interesting thing for me—so far—has been that I’ve heard from at least as many straight readers as I have from readers in the queer community.

Because my piece wasn’t about being gay or coming to terms with my sexuality later in life. That was the...

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My 15 Minutes of Fame

Hi Suzette, the email began from an editor I had pitched two months earlier.

I am so sorry for the delay in responding to you! But I love your essay and I’d be happy to publish this on TODAY.com.

Have you already placed it elsewhere? Please let me know if it’s still available.

"Holy shit!" I screamed at my sister from the passenger seat of the car.

A few days later, "The Subaru Should Have Been a Sign," was published.

The editor emailed two days later to say that my essay had been one of their top performing pieces all week, with over 250,000 views. 

I won't deny it: the 15 minutes of fame have been a blast.

Subaru has reached out—as has a reality TV producer! Don't worry, I'm not planning to be the next Real Housewife, although the new face of Subaru might not be a bad gig.

But more important than the 15 minutes of fame is that I've taken my writing to a new level. I'm more confident. I'm less afraid of putting...

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How to Write An Effective Query Letter

Have you ever been brought to your knees by 300-400 words?

Truth be told, I have. 

Ahh ... the dreaded query letter. A three-paragraph email sent to an agent or editor with a single purpose: to entice them to read your book proposal or manuscript.

The first time I queried agents for Graveyard of Safe Choices, my memoir about reclaiming myself at midlife, was in the winter of 2021. I had set a deadline for myself to have queries sent before I turned 60.

I met my deadline. Hooray!

But my queries were met with form rejections or silence. A sign that the query was NOT working—no one, apparently, wanted to read more.

I went back to revise the query—and ultimately the manuscript.

You see, an unsuccessful query isn't always just about the query: often it reveals problems with the manuscript.

When your query is fuzzy and vague, it can indicate that you really don't know what your book is about.

And...

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