Heckled By ParrotsBlue Sky WritingRebecca K. O'Connor

Adios 2011, You Weren’t as Bad as I thought…

Yesterday when I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself for not having gotten much done in 2011, I started making a list. What all HAD I accomplished? What had I left behind that I loved best? And the list surprised me.

My book on Lories and Lorikeets was published in February. And I had articles in Bird Talk, BirdsUSA and WildBird.

In January the Inlandia Literary Journal published Homecoming a short story about a loft of pigeons in Banning, California and the places that make us.

I had two essays published at The Rumpus one that dealt with my love/hate relationship with home (and David Grohl) and the other about my grandmother. What We Lost When We Lost Barbara Jean made it on the best of list that week on Longreads.com.

I experimented with self-publishing and put together a collection of pieces to accompany the eBook release of Lift. My collection Rise came out in July. Lift continued on its journey and two chapters were included in New California Writing 2011. And I blushed when Zyzzyva thought the chapters were moving. Then I started work on the audiobook, running a successful Kickstarter, finding a recording studio and narrating the book myself. (Now for final edits)

Jessie Sholl, Tom Chandler and ACX interviewed me on their blogs while I mostly neglected my own. Although, I finished a parrot training manuscript and have a couple of other projects in the works.

Also, I made quite a few online friends into in real life friends. And I met Neil Gaiman and found myself remembering why I started writing in the first place.

Maybe most importantly, this summer I flew a Cooper’s hawk and found a new lens for my inspiration.

This is all my personal work. I don’t talk as much about my work as a conservation fundraiser for Ducks Unlimited, although I should. I spend more time working on that than anything else and it is work I am very proud of being a part of.  We managed to save a tremendous amount of NAWCA funding that was on the chopping block. In California we saw the breaching of a levvy in salt flats that had not seen tidal flow for over 100 years. I helped fund work in the Klamath Basin, the San Francisco Bay and the Central Valley of California amongst many other places in the West.

Recently someone asked me if I was truly dedicated to this work, if my plans were really just to wait it out until I was making enough money to live well as an author. I laughed. I buy lottery tickets too, but no one asks if my real plan is to win the lottery. “Aren’t you just working so that you can write?,” he asked. “Are you just working so that you can support your family,” I asked.

Then he asked how I get it all done. The short answer? I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I often wonder how people raise families and work at the same time. He should have asked me why I didn’t get more done. Then I told him that I sit in front of my computer most nights. I almost never watch television. I jot ideas down in between jumping from the shower and getting dressed for work. I write when I go out to eat. I write on airplanes. I daydream about storylines when I’m on the treadmill. I use my vacation time to do readings or to finish writing a project. I haven’t had a real vacation in 8 years. In my free time- I write.

That is how you become an author, but having a job you love helps. It helps a lot. So I am thankful for my free time, but also for a job that allows me to make a difference for something I care deeply about, conservation. So looking back, when everyone said, “Get er done!” I think I did. Happy New Year!

I can’t wait to see what the list for 2012 looks like… I can’t wait to hear what you get accomplished too!!

Bonfire of the Rejections

After duking it out through a bout of pneumonia and finishing a parrot training manuscript, my falconry has fallen to the wayside. Now that I have my free time back, I’m ready to get back in the field, get back to some less technical writing and look back on this year. It’s about time to celebrate the successes, but first I need to burn some baggage.

For twenty years now I have burned all of my rejection slips once a year. Most of my writer friends are horrified by this. Our rejection slips are badges of honor! We are supposed to plaster our office walls with them.

Someday, when we are famous, we are supposed to frighten off wannabe writers with the wave of the despair we road in on. We are supposed to make sweeping soul crushing statements like, “Come back and talk to me when you have 500 rejections. At least one more than I have…” Then we can pour a drink, dim the lights and shoo away our protégé with a curt, “I want to be alone” so we can fill the bathtub with rejection slips and bathe in them. Or something like that. I don’t know. I never really got the “hold on to your pain” philosophy of writing.

The thing is, rejection hurts and hurtful memories are meant to fade. I know this from writing memoir and dredging up those moments of my life that would like to stay buried. It HURTS. Revisiting them is only cathartic if you can find meaning in them and let them go. Otherwise you are just worrying a wound, a dog with a hotspot she can’t stop licking. Otherwise you are just a stripper with Daddy issues, er, I mean, a writer with a grudge, you know what I mean. Nobody became a writer with more depth because they were rejected. They became a better writer because they believed they could be a better writer and they KEPT WRITING.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in getting angry. Life is not fair and it deserves the occasional screaming, ranting tantrum. It’s just that I believe in getting angry and then letting go. So every year on what has eventually become a Solstice bonfire, I go through my rejections one by one and burn them. I find this is even better with a friend. It usually goes something like this:

Rebecca: “I really thought that Dark Cow Lowing with love this piece because it has more cowbell than any other piece I’ve read in that literary magazine. Screw you, Dark Cow Lowing.” Whoosh. Flaming rejection.

Friend: You know… that piece you wrote about that epiphany you had… what was it, “Low and Behold”? That would be perfect for DCL.

R: You think so? Awesome. Thank you! I’ll send it in January!

F: This rejection is from Whispering Christopher Box you know that little online zine that what’s his name from our MFA started? I thought he would want it… I don’t know. I mean, look at this. It doesn’t even have my name on it.

R: I TOTALLY understand. You thought you were helping him out by giving him a piece you hadn’t placed and then when you got rejected not only were you hurt, but you were embarrassed that you thought it was a ringer. That happened to me with what’s her name’s Alula Wind. That journal lasted like one issue. Did you SEE the pieces she chose. Ugh. Here’s that rejection. Let’s burn these together.

F: Hey, is it alright if I burn this “thank you for your interest, we will keep you on file for other adjunct professor positions” letter?

R: Hell ya! Burn, baby, burn!

You get the picture. There is always laughter and sometimes there are tears. It isn’t always easy to let go of rejection. That first rejection for the LIFT manuscript from a big time editor at a big six publisher — the one my erstwhile agent was certain was a cinch said,

“Only falconers will find this of interest.”

Burning that once wasn’t enough for me. The last couple of years I have written that out by hand and burned it again for good measure. This year… I don’t think I need to. I do though, have a few “would you be mine, would you be mine, won’t you be my agent” responses to burn.

I don’t need reminders to bring up the pain. It’s hard enough to let the really cruel twists in life go. Really, most of these rejections aren’t even personal. I don’t need to prove to myself or anyone else that the world has rejected me or that I have done my work. In fact, if someday I’m an “overnight” success. I’ll just be grateful. The road I slogged to get there won’t be nearly as important as the person I will be because of the journey.

I do keep a spreadsheet with my submissions. I note the response and if there was anything personal and encouraging in it. I check back during the year to see if I have sent out as many submissions as I did the year before. I measure my goals by my effort, not my rejections. And if someday how many times I was rejected and how many years I shopped a single piece is important, someone can pull up the spreadsheet and crunch the numbers. Because that’s all they are. Numbers. And me, I’m a flesh and blood writer with a soul. And so are you.

You are Coordially Invited:
Annual Bonfire of the Rejections
Winter Solstice
December 22, 2011
8PM Pacific Coast Time

Receptacle of burning of your choosing. Bring your own pain and flames.

Monday Morning Falconry Fix


YouTube -  

Oh the good old days! When a falconer could hang out with his best Native American pal, hawking the California hills with his harpy eagle. (Until his ex-wife shows up, that is…)

The harpy of the title is Elizabeth Ashley, the greedy, demanding ex-wife of architect Hugh O’Brian. As a means of escaping his former spouse’s tirades, O’Brian quietly trains his pet eagle to be a hunter. A confrontation between eagle and “ex” is inevitable, but masterfully handled. Tom Nardini, playing a loyal Native-American friend of O’Brian’s, is the principal instigator of the film’s screeching denouement. Made for television, Harpy was first shown March 12, 1971. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Monday Morning Falconry Fix

Anakin Back in True Form

On Falconry and Fantasy

Lift Audiobook Cover

This week I head into the studio to record the audiobook version of Lift that some of you were so wonderful to support. I’m nervous and excited and oddly contemplative about this next step. It certainly isn’t that I expect the book to be incredibly successful in audio, it is more that I am realizing what this book has done to shape my life in the writing and after the publication. For a while I was so crushed by its small readership that I completely missed the force of good it had become in my life.

Jim Butcher (writer of the wonderful Harry Dresden series) wrote a fabulous post on his Live Journal about how writers kill their own dreams. And the subtext is that we somehow completely miss that we are living the dream. My God. How could I have missed that I leveled up? When people ask me, “Really, you have a book published?”  I usually fess up to having published 12 books, but then shrug and quickly add there is no money in it and it’s really no big deal. No big deal. IT’S A BIG FUCKING DEAL. Having a parrot guide that is considered a staple for parrot owners is a big deal. Having a romance novel that finalled for a best first book Holt Medallion is a big deal. Having a memoir that received a starred review in Publishers Weekly is a big fucking deal. I have leveled up over and over in the last twenty years. I’m living the dream and I forget and forget, but something happened this weekend that made that irrefutable.

Twenty years ago I was an undergrad in Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside. I had given up on my Avian Sciences degree because I believe that birds are myth and magic and all the science was killing that for me. I wanted to be a falconer and I didn’t need to take chemistry for that. I didn’t want to be a veterinarian. I wanted to be an author.  I spent the little money I had on falconry books, novels and comic books. It was the early 90s and the story-telling in comics was inspired. I loved the poetry of The Crow, the noir of Frank Miller and no one could tell me that Neil Gaiman’s  Sandman was not literature. I don’t remember, but I am told I held court between classes and gave a treatise so convincing on A Game of You that a friend of mine has given a copy of the graphic novel to every girl he has ever fallen in love with. I learned from Neil Gaiman to embrace that element of myth and magic that can flavor any piece of good writing and I wanted to be an author like him. Neil Gaiman surely would understand how I felt about birds. And fortunately, at UCR no one argued with me about my love of genre as well as literary writing. In fact the first story and poems I had published were in the university’s journal Mosaic -in an issue that included a piece by Ray Bradbury.

Birds & Words

I wasn’t idle about pursuing my dream of being like Neil Gaiman. I somehow wrangled an internship at Image Comics. These were the years when Image had really taken off, a new world order for comic books. I sent a letter offering to do anything necessary – dress like a comic character, bring donuts, wash Rob Liefield’s Dodge Viper. Suprisingly, they offered me an internship doing fan relations that turned into a part time position, but the real pay was in all the free comics and the people I met.  (Having a badge that said I was with Image at the San Diego Comic Con wasn’t bad either. Even if it didn’t get me a date with David Mack.). I read and I wrote and I didn’t break into comics, but I didn’t stop writing.

I also didn’t give up on the birds. I got my falconry license. I flew my first red-tailed hawk. I moved to Florida, trained and presented shows at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Toledo Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary in Australia and I kept writing. One day Susan Straight, my professor and mentor when I was an undergrad, handed me a stack of papers. I had just returned to UCR to do my Masters in creative writing. The papers were a story I had written in Florida ten years before and had sent to her hoping for notes. She had never gotten to it, but there was a note on it now. “This is a wonderful story. I can’t wait to read what you will write now.” What I wrote was Lift.

Now Lift is going to be an audiobook and this is a circular story too. You see, there wouldn’t be an audiobook if it wasn’t for Neil Gaiman. He is a force to be reckoned with on Twitter and generous with good information, life’s quirky moments and to fans. I learned about Kickstarter from him.  I discovered ACX because he mentioned it and is curating a collection of audiobooks through their program. I put the two together and funded the production of an audiobook that is not only dear to me, but will have distribution. This is the sort of mentorship that can only happen in the Internet age, but it is as warm and wonderful as the one I have cherished with Susan for all those same years. When you hear Neil speak, you are certain he is genuine in his affection for his fans. He has had generous mentors too. It’s not just this though, you see, every now and then Neil replies to one of my Tweets. We’ve tweeted a bit about my audiobook project. And a few days ago we tweeted about how I was attending his show with Amanda Palmer in San Francisco,  he invite me to meet him backstage afterward.  That’s how I ended up in front of him holding a copy of Lift.

“You found your way back,” he said and I opened my arms to offer a hug that he accepted and returned, a good hug, the kind you get from a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. All I could think was, I did. I did find my way back.  And when Neil introduced me as an author to Amanda Palmer, holding up his copy of Lift I nearly burst into tears.  Then he asked me, “If I read this, will I learn all about falconry?”

I had bagged-and-boarded issues of “Death: The High Cost of Living” in my purse to sign. I had my phone on and ready for photos, but finally talking to him in person I found that the hug was all I really wanted. So I didn’t ask for a signature or a photo. I didn’t say, “Your writing means so much to me.” I didn’t say much of anything at all. I just basked and smiled, thanked him. I thought to myself,  No really. This is a big fucking deal.

I haven’t become a best-selling author, but I believe Jim Butcher is right. Only you can kill your dream. I burn a stack of rejections every year, reading them one last time and explaining to the fire why they hurt me and then letting them go. I nurture the dream, but I’m going to stop diminishing the big part of it I already have. I’m going to stop doing that RIGHT NOW. And I hope you will all understand and forgive me for not acting like I was living it all along.

And now, back to work. You see, I have a parrot training book due December 1st, an audiobook to record starting next week and I have a biography/memoir/novella to write about my grandmother and whether or not my grandfather murdered her. The prologue is published over at The Rumpus if you are curious. And if you are wondering how things are going with Irony, the Cooper’s hawk I guess you’ll just have to wait a bit. I’ll get to that eventually too. I plan to do the work and I hope you’ll stick around to find out what another 20 years might bring.

And if it just so happens that you are writer who is getting started, don’t kill your dream. Fight for it. Trust me. You won’t know just how much until you’ve done it, but it is so SO worth the fight.

Monday Morning Falconry Fix

Fate of Blodeuwedd by Paolo Marconi

Okay, not falconry exactly, but this composite photo seemed perfect for Halloween. (click and go give the photog some love!)
Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

Monday Morning Falconry Fix

Gyr falcon by Brian Scott

If you enjoy this photo as much as I do, be sure to click on it and go give the photog some love on Flickr!

Monday Morning Falconry Fix


YouTube -  

Monday Morning Falconry Fix

Ether Drift by Stephan Geyer Courtesy of CC Licencing

If you enjoy this photo as much as I do, be sure to click on it and go give the photog some love on Flickr.

Monday Morning Falconry Fix

 

2011 models ready for the falconry season….