Tag Archives: a.j. walkley

Following Up with Paleo Cookbook Author Ali Rakowski

Earlier this year, I was thrilled to help my childhood friend-turned health coach and chef, Ali Rakowski, make a lifelong dream come true. Her first cookbook, Bowls of Love: Paleo Soups for the Seasons, has just been released after a successful Kickstarter campaign and many months of writing and editing. I reconnected with Ali to discuss the entire process.

A.J.: How was your experience with Kickstarter?

Ali: The experience was a wonderful rollercoaster ride and an incredible learning experience. I was deeply nourished by the outpouring of love and support (financial and otherwise) that were by-products of my campaign. Raising money through crowdfunding reinforced some key business principles for me. I have been lucky enough to coach other entrepreneurs as they begin their crowdfunding projects, and I continually push the importance of planning, preparation and perseverance. Planning a timeline for your project in advance, preparing for each of the key moments, and persevering through a very vulnerable time are truly the keys to success.

Health coach, chef and cookbook author Ali Rakowski.

A.J.: Were you surprised by the end result of your Kickstarter campaign?

Ali: To say I was shocked would be an understatement. Thanks to an incredible group of enthusiastic backers, I was able to meet my goal within the first five days of the campaign. I then tried to continue the momentum as much as possible and finished the month at just over 150% of my goal. I was pleasantly surprised how strong the community of supporters was, and how friends, family, colleagues and total strangers banded together to help support my dream.

A.J.: Tell me a little bit about the cookbook-writing process. What was the hardest part? The easiest? The most fun?

Ali: The cookbook-writing process was a nine-month journey with a lot of twists and turns along the way. It all started with a PowerPoint pitch deck (I am a retired consultant, after all) that I presented over Skype to my original publisher. I spent the next two to three months brainstorming recipe ideas, the structure of the book, and really building out a solid outline. The middle of the process was the most physically taxing as I had to write and cook all 49 recipes. I did seven photo shoots with my incredible photographer Erica Gannett, and I worked like a madwoman to prepare for each. My refrigerator looked like an aisle of Costco with containers piled to the top of every shelf. I then worked with Erica to style each of the shots, doing a lot of tasting, and then pawned off soup on everyone I know.

Though the months spent cooking in my tiny kitchen were challenging, I think writing the individual stories and signing off on the broader content was the hardest. As a writer you always feel like there is another sentence to add, a word to change, or a point that may be missing. Trusting my gut and believing in my work wasn’t always the easiest. The most fun part of the process hands-down (other than tasting each recipe!) was updating friends, family and other supporters on my progress. This book became a communal project and I cherished the fact that it made me feel closer to every person mentioned in it.

A.J.: How did it feel to hold your cookbook in your hands for the first time?

Ali: My future mother-in-law, Laura, told me that holding my book would be the closest feeling to holding my future child, and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Other than being a collection of recipes, the book truly is a collection of stories dedicated to some of the most special people in my life, living and not. It represents a physical manifestation of me going after my dreams, believing in my voice and trusting life. I don’t think it will ever get old holding the book in my hands, and I hope to hold onto that initial feeling and take it with me for all of the new challenges and projects to come in my life.

A.J.: How has the response to your cookbook been thus far?

Ali: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I was beyond thrilled to have many leaders in the Paleo community and personal role models of mine endorse the book, including Melissa Hartwig (co-founder of Whole9 and Whole30, and author of It Starts With Food), George Bryant (The Civilized Caveman and author of The Paleo Kitchen), Nell Stephenson (author of Paleoista and The Paleo Diet Cookbook), Melissa Joulwan (author of Well Fed and Well Fed 2), and Franz Fruhmann (executive chef at my favorite restaurant, North Star, in Pound Ridge, NY). There was a lot of suspense building up for the release of my book as the publishing process had a few hiccups, and my supporters never lost faith and held on throughout the journey. I was lucky enough to show my book to nutritionist Joy Bauer when I appeared on The Today Show last week and the response was fantastic.

Rakowski selects the best organic fruits and vegetables at a farmers market.

A.J.: What was it like being on national TV discussing one of your Paleo-inspired recipes?

Ali: It was an absolute thrill! My two long-time television dreams were to appear on The Today Show and The Ellen Degeneres Show. When I got the call from one of The Today Show producers, I was completely floored. I spent the first minute trying to convince myself it was not a prank, and then the excitement began to sink in. I am a huge fan of Joy Bauer’s segments, along with all of the other greatness The Today Show offers. I eagerly sat in the green room for two hours, waiting my turn for hair and makeup, and then finally went upstairs for the segment. The whole experience was surreal and very different than I expected as an average viewer. The studios were very small, everything happened incredibly quickly, and I am almost certain it was just a dream. Natalie and Willie were so friendly and approachable, and my mom even got a quick hello in to Al Roker at one point!

A.J.: That’s absolutely incredible — both for you and your friends and family who got to watch you on television! What a great way to jumpstart your own cookbook release. What do you hope readers and cooks will take from Bowls of Love?

Ali: I hope readers of Bowls of Love:

  1. Cook and enjoy the 49 deliciously healthy recipes.
  2. Learn and appreciate the simplicity of cooking real, clean food in the comfort of their homes.
  3. Use cooking and eating healthy food as a way to honor themselves, invest in the health of others and share love.

A.J.: What would you tell someone on the fence about creating their own cookbook?

Ali: That advice is simple: if your dream is to write a cookbook, write a cookbook. Push yourself to a place of vulnerability and follow your dreams. It will not necessarily be an easy road, but nothing worth accomplishing ever is. At the very least, you will end up with a beautiful collection of your recipes to share with future generations of your family. You will be amazed how many other ideas, opportunities, and experiences present themselves when you tap into your authentic self and follow your deepest dreams.

A.J.: Can we expect another cookbook from you in the future? 

Ali: I would love that! I learned at least 100 important life lessons throughout this process, and I would be sure to apply them to any future projects. I would love to focus my next cookbook on broader menu choices, with everything from healthy breakfasts to side dishes and desserts! The first step is moving into my new house, renovating the kitchen, and getting the space I need to begin experimenting. Stay tuned at intersectioncoaching.com!

For more information or to purchase a copy of Bowls of Love, head over to Intersection Coaching today.

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Filed under Advice, Writing


If you’ve been following me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve been privy to my #ThirtyThings throughout the month of September. For those who haven’t, here are 30 facts you may or may not know about me:

1. I used this photo of my myself to create the very first cover mock-up for the 1st edition of Queer Greer.

2. I have been a Hanson addict since Middle of Nowhere came out in the late 90s. Meeting them with my cousin after one of their NYC concerts about 5 years ago was a highlight of my life!

3. This is the very first book I ever wrote as a fourth grader! Jordie and the Manatees – illustrations by yours truly as well!

4. I have two cats, Prince Oberyn Martell the Red Viper of Dorne and Puck, both literarily named!

5. Ever since I was a child I’ve loved Full House! It’s my goal in life to see all the cast in person. Thus far I’ve seen John Stamos play drums with the Beach Boys; Dave Coulier perform standup twice; Bob Saget perform standup once; Jodie Sweetin at UCB in LA; and Lori Loughlin multiple times at a favorite eatery in Beverly Hills. Now where are those Olsen twins?

6. This is my one tattoo thus far, located on the inside of my left wrist. For me it stands for peace within and is symbolic of the trials I’ve endured, both self-inflicted and not, throughout the years.

7. Meeting author Ian McEwan as an undergrad was an experience I’ll never forget. He had on these laced up brown leather boots with so much personality, I told him there had to be a story in them. He replied, “And you’re just the person to write it.” One of these days…

8. I was a United Nations correspondent for a year, reporting on stories out of the least developed countries. I saw some incredible world leaders speak while I was there, including the Clintons and Gore, and President Obama.

9. That time I went to a college dance in drag. I’m in the hat.

10. I’m officially official as an agented author — my headshot and bio went up on the Inklings Literary Agency site this week!

11. This was my senior thesis in college. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is considered one of the first lesbian texts, but I sought to prove its really a trans* text and Orlando by Virginia Woolf (published the same year) is really a lesbian text instead of trans*.

12. That time I met one of my writing role models, Jodi Picoult! This woman is incredible — I’ve emailed her several times with writing questions and she usually responds within an hour!

13. I’m training to tone up because my wedding is in less than two months! I’ve also discovered that exercise is the best anti-anxiety medication there is.

14. I helped spear-head the Fight to Give Life campaign with my college GSA; we mobilized students across the country to protest the antiquated FDA ban on blood donation from men who have sex with men (and women who have sex with men who have sex with men) by taking petitions to their local blood banks on 04/05/06. We got enough attention that members of the FDA invited us along with blood bank reps to a meeting to discuss the policy a month later.

15. I’m back on the East Coast right now where I was born and raised. I’m a New Englander at heart and I really miss the seasons!

16. I played ice hockey as a kid! I played defense and became one of the team captains for my high school varsity team my senior year.

17. Did you know I have a collection of poetry and short stories up on @Goodreads right now?

18. I’ve been to several protests in my life in NY and DC, all against war. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing.

19. My senior year of college I participated in the Birthright program, going to Israel for 10 days. The experience was incredible and I hope to make it back again some day.

20. As a middle schooler, I became obsessed with The X-Files. I was a total shipper, wanting Mulder and Scully to end up together. Love this show!

21. I’ve donated my hair to Locks of Love three times. I hope to do it again some day soon.

22. In July of 2011, I went to a maximum security prison in Texas to visit a woman I’ve been writing to since 2009. Her case is currently being investigated by The Innocence Project of Texas and I’ve written a book based on her life.

23. A year ago today I was at the first bisexual roundtable at the White House — the best Celebrate Bisexuality Day ever!

24. That time Dan Savage quoted me in his book! All publicity is good publicity, right?

25. Just one week after graduating from college I was headed to Malawi with the U.S. Peace Corps. My experience was mixed, as many who’ve read my book Vuto know.

26. Potentially polarizing, but I have been a Yankees fan my whole life, no matter where I’ve lived at any given time. I grew up with Derek Jeter and I can’t believe I won’t ever see him play again!

27. I love to travel! I want to see as much of the world as possible in my lifetime. Places I’ve been thus far include Amsterdam, Aruba, Austria, Bahamas, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Mexico, Poland, Switzerland, and Turks and Caicos.

28. I love to get crafty! One craft I’ve been doing for nearly 15 years is making collages on poster board, as well as collages on small wooden boxes with decoupage. I often have themes, especially when I make the boxes as gifts for friends, picking up on their personality and hobbies.

29. That time I got to interview both Zac and Taylor Hanson for a United Nations piece on their charity work in Africa — and it was on the Hanson website!

30. My very first book signing and talk was for my book, Choice, at the Trumbull Public Library in Connecticut. Around the same time I saw my book sold in Barnes & Noble — I was starting to feel like I could really do this; I could be a professional author. Now, I’m really on my way.

Thanks for sticking around to learn #ThirtyThings about me this month!

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Filed under General Updates


This is a post I’ve been waiting to write for over half a year — no, scratch that, five years! Ever since I finished my very first novel in 2009.

I am officially a repped author!

Many of you know I’ve been neck-deep in the agent querying process since this past December. Here’s the breakdown of my querying statistics to date:

  • Timeline: December 5, 2013 — July 21, 2014
  • Queries Sent: 89
  • Rejections: 41
  • No Response: 47
  • Partial Requests: 2
  • Full Requests: 4
  • Offers of Representation: 1

I’ve evolved in many ways since I started writing books and querying agents, and I thought this was the perfect time to look back at my learnings regarding querying over the last half decade or so.


While I’m quite proud of Queer Greer, the first full-length novel I’ve ever written, I am not proud of my decisions with it once I thought it was finished; this is true for my second book, Choice, as well. I barely tried looking for representation for either, likely knowing in the back of my mind I was nowhere near ready for such. In fact, looking through my emails from October 2009, I queried a mere two agents I found through AgentQuery.com only after I had already gone the self-publishing route with both.

What the heck was I thinking?!


Those queries read more like pathetic first drafts of cover letters for a summer job in high school than what I intended them to be. Not surprisingly, I never got a response from either agent I queried (if you can even call it that…).


By mid-2012, Queer Greer had been picked up by an independent publisher, given a full, professional edit and a cover enhancement, simply through a connection made via Twitter.

I was working on the third draft of my Malawian-based novel, Vuto, and trying to decide what to do with it after I finished.

I had a great feeling about this third book and I wanted it to have a chance to succeed. So, I returned to AgentQuery.com once more. This time around, I sent out over 40 queries, even submitting to the embarrassment that often comes with having a query up on Janet Reid’s Query Shark. But when you’re trying to get serious about writing, you treasure all the constructive criticism you can get.

Even with help from the Shark, I made some major mistakes at this juncture as well. Some of the comments agents were making about Vuto in their replies to my query included:

  • “I do admire the quality of the writing and the execution and I’m sorry it wasn’t a fit for me.”
  • “Your writing is strong, but unfortunately I’m afraid I’m not the right agent for this project.”
  • “This is fascinating and has potential but the structure renders the reading experience a choppy one. Have you considered other approaches?”

What I should have gotten from these comments was that I was headed in the right direction and that I should not give up yet. With the last comment and question, I had an agent on the hook — if I was willing to make some structural revisions. Instead of seeing the hope and possibility in these responses, all I saw were rejections and an agent who didn’t like what I’d written in the way I’d written it.

When I got my first full request, it was from one of the best agencies in New York and I was on cloud nine for the few weeks it took them to read it.

Then, this:

  • “I regret to inform you that we will not pursue representation. While your work certainly has merit, it simply isn’t right for our list. Please don’t be discouraged…I urge you to seek another opinion if you have not already done so.”

Reading that now, I must resist the urge to slap myself across the face. A prestigious agency was telling me I was on the right path, that my writing “has merit” and to keep querying. What did I choose to do instead? Crowdfund on Kickstarter to raise enough money to go the indie route once more.

While there are definitely a lot of positives to independent publishing and I do not regret the books I’ve personally taken this route, it’s one indie pubbed novel in a million (maybe more) that takes off to commercial success; it’s a rough road requiring a substantial investment from the author upfront, and there are no guarantees that you’ll be making that money back.


For my fourth novel, I aimed to learn from everything I had and hadn’t done previously. I sent out just under 90 queries to agents I’d found through the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, WritersDigest.com and by looking into the agents representing authors with similar styles to my own. I worked and worked on my query letter until it was where I thought it needed to be to attract attention.

Two months of query emailing later, amid what seemed like daily rejections, I received my first request for a partial; a week later I got two requests for fulls from two other agencies. By four months in, there were four agents considering various lengths of my novel, helping me wave off 37 rejections and 39 unanswered queries like I’d never sent them out in the first place.

One agent asked me if I’d consider removing the point-of-view of one of my characters entirely, restructuring the entire work to be told from just one protagonist. At that point, I looked back over those old rejections for my previous books and realized that I was standing at a precipice — turn around, refusing to change a thing, and move further away from my goal; or take the jump, hoping for an as-yet-to-be-seen bridge to appear beneath my feet. This latter choice involved cutting my book in half and rewriting about 40,000 words or so — no easy jump to take, no matter which way you looked at it.

But, I did it.

I did the work.

I made the jump.

I still had four agents interested and I sent them out the new version, painstakingly rewritten in two months time. It was May at that point and I would have two more months to wait for their responses:

Agent #1: “It’s clear that you’ve made significant revisions to this manuscript since I last saw it, but unfortunately I’m still going to have to pass on going further with this project. My biggest concern is that with the removal of [the second protagonist’s] perspective from the novel it was less clear to me what the central conflict is — what’s making the reader have to continue to turn the pages?”

It was a bit frustrating reading this feedback considering that she was essentially saying I needed to re-insert all of the copy she’d originally recommended I cut. Considering this, it was clear we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the project and likely wouldn’t have made a good team moving forward. Fortunately, she did end her email letting me know she thought I was a “talented writer and there’s a lot to love about the premise here.”

Agent #2: “There was much I enjoyed about [your manuscript], but in the end I found myself questioning whether the multiple POV did justice to the story.”

Right there I realized she hadn’t paid attention to the most recent version of my book that I’d sent her, since there were no longer multiple POVs. This once again told me this agent would not have been the best fit either.

Agent #3: “Hey! Would you have time for a phone call at some point tomorrow?”

When this note came through, my breath left my lungs. I knew what that meant. Of course I had time to talk and, once we got on the phone, I realized Agent #3 saw my manuscript the same way I did, with the same vision and same level of passion for the project as a whole. When she offered representation, I had to let the last agent considering my project know. Here’s what she had to say:

Agent #4: “That is the best news I’ve heard all week!!”

Agent #4 ultimately declined an offer, why? Because she doesn’t even represent the genre I write in. She put in hours to read multiple versions of my book and give extensive, essential notes when she doesn’t even work in the same wheelhouse. Instead of being upset, I was so flattered, especially when she insisted that she knew my book would sell and that she “can’t wait to read it” once it does.

The next day, I let Agent #3 know that I would be absolutely thrilled to sign with her and the rest, as they say, is history. I am now officially represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary Agency and I couldn’t be more excited!

And now the work really begins. Back to editing!

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Filed under Books, Writing

Fundraiser for Malawian Women and Children – Donate and Win!

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I think about my time in Malawi a lot. I don’t think anyone can have such an experience without it affecting them throughout the rest of their lives – which is one of the reasons I wrote my book Vuto, inspired by my experiences in the country known as the Warm Heart of Africa.

My intention with the novel has always been two-fold:

  1. To open readers up to a culture and a people they may have never known about before.
  2. To give back to the Malawian people.

It’s time to kick that second purpose into gear!

Current Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) are doing some fabulous work in-country right now, especially with initiatives aimed at youth and women. Two projects that particularly excite me are Go Girls! and Hope Kit:

Go Girls! Community Mobilization

According to PCV Tyler Walton, “HIV rates in Malawi are upwards of 10% of the population and the risk for contracting the virus is even higher among adolescent girls. These risks come from gender roles, gender-based violence, high dropout rates from school, economic inequalities, physiology of disease contraction, and many other factors. Go Girls! uses local youth groups to lead community mobilization meetings and facilitate community discussions on how to best address the issues in a locally appropriate manner. Our current project is targeting six villages and we hope to expand if our pilot project is successful.  With this pilot we have the opportunity to reduce vulnerability for over 500 adolescent girls, increase rates of those completing school and reduce overall HIV rates in the local community. Every 20 cents can change the life of one girl.”

Hope Kit Training

Hope Kit is an interactive training program that targets youth with HIV prevention messaging,” Walton explains. “We are hoping to do a training of trainers with two leaders from 10 different youth groups. These new trainers then go back to their communities and do out reaches with their youth groups, spreading valuable information about making healthy choices and avoiding contracting HIV. Peace Corps has already provided 10 Hope Kits for this training and we just need a small amount for additional supplies. This will be the second implementation of this project. In the first, eight other youth groups and two schools participated and in their community interventions they reached over 1,500 people! With 60,000 people in our catchment area, we know we can do more!”

I’m partnering with Tyler to make a difference. Today through July 4th, every dollar donated will earn the donor one entry to win a prize pack that contains an autographed copy of Vuto, a bookmark, tote bag, postcard and poster.

Not only that, but I will match every dollar donated as well.

Interested in participating? Send a donation to walkleyaj@gmail.com through PayPal today.

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Filed under Africa, AIDS, Social Justice, Vuto, Women, Writing

Cutting Half a Book Made Me a Writer

Thinking back to the writing of my first three novels, I must admit that the amount of words I cut in the editing and redrafting process were in the thousands, most likely, no more than that. The majority of the finished product in each case includes nearly all of the words I originally typed in my first drafts. Sure, there was a bit of cutting and massaging on further drafts, not to mention a lot of adding as well. But, to be honest, I held onto my words like a security blanket — I feared the backspace key like none other. How could I delete my hard work? Surely, each of those words were there for a reason from the start.

As my hunt for a literary agent continues, however, the lesson of when to cut has never been more clear to me than now.

The novel I am pitching was first written from two POVs, one being a woman behind bars for a murder she may or may not have actually committed; the other, a writer who puts her career on the line to prove her innocence. Over the past couple of months, several agents have offered constructive criticism that comes down to a single opinion: the half of the book from the writer’s perspective is not interesting and only serves to take the reader away from the story of the true protagonist, the imprisoned woman.

After hearing this feedback from multiple agencies that I respect, I had a choice to make: keep going with my original pitch and manuscript, and hope that some agent would think it was worthy for representation and publication, or take this advice to heart.

One agent specifically made me choose the latter. After a couple of emails in which she offered several pages of feedback on the manuscript as a whole, as well as explaining why she thought sticking with the primary protagonist would make the novel stronger, I knew there was no question in this.

And so, I started deleting. Almost 40,000 words of my novel. Cutting it in half.

I had thought this would be the most painful act of my writing career to-date, knowing how many hours, days, months it took to get all of that onto the page, perfecting those chapters. Instead, I felt a wave of relief as soon as they were gone.

Not only did I know instantly that it was the right move to make, but in the deletion of my words, I have never felt more like a writer. That may sound strange to some, but it’s the truth. To delete is to open up your work to even better words, words that weren’t just written to get your initial thoughts down, unperfected; but to get at the heart of the writing, the purpose you set out to accomplish from the beginning.

First drafts are first drafts for a reason. I’d venture to guess that many — if not most — novels published by the major publishing houses today have barely a glimmer of their first drafts in them. Writers must be willing to use that backspace key if they want to come away from their desks with the best versions of their stories to share with the world. No longer do I fear it — I embrace it, knowing that the next 40,000 words I write are going to be that much better for it.


  • Queries Sent: 88
  • Rejections: 35
  • No Response: 17
  • Partial Requests: 2
  • Full Requests: 3



Filed under Advice, Writing

The Importance of a Synopsis

At the moment, I am standing neck-deep in the query process, waiting anxiously to hear back from agents who are currently reviewing my full manuscript. It’s nerve-wracking to say the least.

There are many valuable lessons I’m learning along the way, though, including the benefits of rejection, as well as the importance of a well-written synopsis.

While the query letter is a must for any writer looking for representation, not every agent requests a synopsis of your novel. When I first set off on my journey to find an agent, my first round of queries were sent to those who required just a query, or a query and a sample of my manuscript — both of those I had already. At the end of my list of potential reps are those that also require a synopsis for consideration — that was one thing I didn’t have.

This week I set out to write just that, figuring that I might need it should the top of my list end in ultimate rejection. What I’ve come to learn in my research for how to write a synopsis is that I should have written this much earlier; in fact, maybe it should have been the very first thing I wrote before diving headfirst into the prose itself.

I was most struck when I came across a post on PublishingCrawl.com titled, of all things, “How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis.”

Just what I needed.

In this piece, author Susan Dennard offers a wonderful template that you can use to form your own book’s synopsis; it looks a little something like this:

  1. Opening image
  2. Protagonist intro
  3. Inciting incident
  4. Plot point 1
  5. Conflicts & character encounters
  6. Midpoint
  7. Winning seems imminent, but…
  8. Black moment
  9. Climax
  10. Resolution
  11. Final image

Dennard goes into more detail, so I highly recommend checking out the post.

I used her template for my manuscript and, as I was going through it, I will admit that I was finding some holes in my own novel — holes that one agent helpfully pointed out to me in the notes I got back in her ultimate decline of representation.

I could have kicked myself! But, instead, I’m learning from it. I now have this simple, straightforward tool to help me better form my novels moving forward. Considering that I’m still pretty early on in my querying, I’m grateful to have found it now instead of after I’ve exhausted my agent wish list.

Now, I have some editing to do…

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Filed under Advice, Writing

His Choice

Last year I entered a short story in the NARAL Pro-Choice America Choice Out Loud contest. While I didn’t win, I thought I would share this short piece with you today:

His Choice

By A.J. Walkley

Nobody ever asks me.

“Did you want it? Did you want what she wanted?”

Nobody ever asks. No. They fawn over her, though. Plenty.

“Are you okay? Are you feeling better? Do you need anything?”

They ask and they ask while inside they’re either thinking, I could never do what she did.

Or, There was no other decision to make.

Meanwhile, she seems not to notice I’m there. Standing in the background. By her side – yet not too close. Too close is a reminder. I remind her.

She reminds me, too, but I’m still there.

Why wouldn’t I have a say in the matter? Why is that? Why shouldn’t I? The two of us were involved in making it happen.

The two of us should have made that choice.

Would I have chosen differently? Maybe.

Probably not.


But she didn’t ask.

She didn’t have to ask – but I wish she had.

Even just to see if I wanted to come with her. To hold her hand. To reassure her. To drive her home. To sit with her while her body healed.

To make sure she knew, her choice was my choice – and that choice couldn’t be wrong.

Instead, she is surrounded by women who say they know, they understand, they get it.

Some say they’ve been where she is now.

They say this while they look sideways at me, their meaning implied –

He could never understand.

But, I do.

I would have been a teenage parent, too.

When I found out, after the fact, two thoughts went through my head.

  1. Why didn’t she tell me?
  2. Her body, her choice.

And then, fleetingly, just for a second, I thought: We dodged a bullet.

Instead, here I stand, willing her to look my way, past her friends, her mother, her aunt. When she does, I say all I can with my eyes.

I love you. I’m here for you. Whatever you need from me, you’ve got it.

There is no anger in me, just guilt. And a sadness I cannot put into words.

I should have shared this burden. She didn’t have to go through this alone.

She glances quickly away, her lip trembling, before she tells everyone to leave the room.

Except me.

We are alone for the first time since before…

I stay still until she reaches her hand out and I feel pulled towards her, accepting this lifeline. I sit down and she rests her head on my shoulder. Our hands entwine and I pull her even closer.

I love you. I’m here for you. Whatever you need from me, you’ve got it.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, her voice raw.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” I assure her.

She cries and I follow suit.

And I stay.

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Filed under Abortion, Choice, Social Justice, Writing

Why I Love Query Rejections

After five years of outlining, writing, editing, editing, writing and more editing, my next novel is to the point I wanted it to be before I began the hunt for an agent. I’ve gone the self-publishing route (Choice), and published my second and third novels with an independent publisher (Queer Greer and Vuto). I am at a point in my career, however, where I know that if I want to get into the major publishing houses, I need a literary agent to do so.

So, this month I have sent out a bevy of query letters to literary agents I have researched and sought for the genres they represent that match with my writing, as well as their client lists, targeting the agents of writers I personally admire. I have also invested in the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, which is a more valuable resource than I ever knew.

Within the last several weeks, I have gotten many rejections from those I’ve queried — and I must say, I relish those emails.

The rejections are a learning opportunity. A rejection tells me that this particular agent is not the right fit for my work; he or she will not be the best advocate and is not the partner I need in this next chapter of my writing career.

Fiction is a very subjective beast — one person may not like your work while the next may fall in love with it at first page. I try not to take the rejections personally whatsoever. They let me know that I have yet to find the best agent for me and help push me through to the next query.

Writers out there, relish those rejections. There will be many on the path to representation, but it means you’re on your way to finding the best agent for you and your writing.

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Filed under Advice, Writing

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: An Interview

As a member of the greater LGBTQI+ community, I am constantly on the look out for creative projects that help spread the word and inform the public about issues affecting us. As a writer, I am particularly drawn to the written word, so when I heard about a book trying to gain traction on IndieGoGo that tackled transgender* issues, titled Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, I was instantly interested to learn more. I spoke with editor Laura Erickson-Schroth to get a deeper look into the project and what it’s hoping to achieve:

A.J.: Tell me a little bit about the book. What can readers expect once it’s published?

Laura: Trans Bodies, Trans Selves was inspired by Our Bodies, Ourselves. In the late 1960s, a group of women living in Boston got together to teach and learn from each other about their health, and saw that they were their best source of information, not the male doctors taking care of them. They wrote about really radical things like abortion, lesbian identity and rape. Today we’re following in their footsteps by writing a book by and for transgender people and having trans experiences speak for themselves. We’re hoping that the book will be a resource for people just beginning to explore their gender identities and those farther along their paths, as well as friends, family and service providers.

A.J.: Who are the writers who’ve contributed to the book?

Laura: Hundreds of people have written portions of the book. There are over 50 chapter authors who are all transgender or gender nonconforming people with expertise in a particular area. For example, the legal and immigration sections have authors who are trans lawyers and trans immigrants. Within each chapter are short pieces written by trans people, their friends and family members. There are also photographs of many of the short piece authors, as well as art produced by trans people.

Zil Goldstein, one of the authors of the Social Transition and Employment chapters of "Trans Bodies, Trans Selves," and also a board member for the organization, talking at a trans* forum held in NYC. Photo by Katia Ruiz.

Zil Goldstein, one of the authors of the Social Transition and Employment chapters of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” and also a board member for the organization, talking at a trans* forum held in NYC. Photo by Katia Ruiz.

A.J.: Why did you decide to go the crowd funding route for Trans Bodies, Trans Selves?

Laura: We have two goals with crowd funding. From the beginning, Trans Bodies has been a volunteer project. However, at the late stages it became apparent that there were things we needed, such as an experienced editor, that we just didn’t have the expertise to do in-house. Once these expenses are paid, we will continue to raise money for our second and more important goal, which is to get the book out to as many people as possible, regardless of ability to pay. We’d like our fundraising efforts to help us donate copies of the book to community organizations and to sell reduced price copies of the book to individuals at conferences and other events.

A.J.: What will the funding you receive through IndieGoGo go to exactly?

Laura: First, to cover expenses incurred during the four-year production leading up to publication, including our web designer, two illustrators and a professional editor, all of whom offered their services at reduced rates, and were necessary to logistically get the book done and in print.

Second, and more importantly, to support a national outreach project to improve the lives of trans and gender nonconforming people. This project will expand on the publication of the book by enabling us to offer the book at reduced or no cost to individuals unable to pay, to schools, libraries, community centers and other support services. Also, the project will focus on the education of providers, community and online forums for the exchange of information and for support, to be a visible presence at national conferences, and to produce ongoing editions of the book as issues evolve.

A.J.: I can see why this is an important project, but how would you explain the need for such a publication to someone who doesn’t understand?

Laura: One of the most important things about this book is that it is written by and for trans people. But that is what makes it so valuable to non-trans people too — it is a view into trans life that is not edited for another audience. Friends and relatives can learn about identity categories and coming out, parents can read about kids, health professionals can find up-to-date preventive and transitional care information and partners can find tips on relationships, all written by the experts — trans people themselves.

For more information about Trans Bodies, Trans Selves visit their website HERE or their IndieGoGo campaign HERE.

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Filed under Books, Gender, LGBT, Writing

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year again when writers the world over decide whether or not they want to take the November challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Known as National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo – I took the challenge for the first time in 2008 when I wrote the first draft of what would become my novel Choice. I found the experience to be exhilarating and the set word count to be a great motivator.

The 50,000-word goal breaks down to about 1,666 words to write each day, which I found doable in the morning, over my lunch break and in the evenings. I had such a great time during that first challenge that I have taken it three more times since in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

My 2011 draft become Vuto, the novel published this past July that was inspired by my time in Malawi, Africa, as a health volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps.

While I completed the challenge for the drafts I wrote in 2009 and 2012, I was not happy with the way my novels turned out those years. In 2012, the premise of The Pileup came to me after I was nearly hit by a driver who was texting on their cellphone. But when all was said and done, I didn’t like the histories I gave to most of the characters in my novel and I have put it on the proverbial shelf — perhaps I’ll circle back to it one day.

As for 2009, I am planning on taking the basis for that novel and reworking it in NaNoWriMo 2013 to create a more fleshed out, robust novel that will approach the 100,000-word mark instead of the 50k. I think this will challenge me more as a writer with several books already on the market and, since the NaNoWriMo challenge is whatever you want it to be, this is the way I want to go into it this year.

Feel free to friend me through the NaNoWriMo website – my user name is WriterGrl313.

Here’s to another great month of writing!

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Filed under Choice, NaNoWriMo, Vuto, Writing