“I want to read your book!”

I heard that magical line for the first time in Buenos Aires, and then in Cartagena, Medellin, Oakland and once again last night in Sebastopol in the living room salon organized by my childhood friend, Kristy. I’ve been reading The Bachelor Chapters to small groups in both public and private spaces and my take away after each event is consistent:

I am encouraged.

Vicki Marie reads at a salon-style event  Vicki Marie reading at a salon-style event in Sebastopol, California

My audiences have included local college students in Buenos Aires and Medellin; international ex-pats that have landed in Cartagena; high school teachers from the East Bay; and the mélange of disparate individuals who inhabit the California landscapes of wine country.

These future readers are both men and women; they range in age from twenty-something’s to sixty-something’s: many are strangers to me, while others are close friends. In the public readings, I’ve been thrilled by the response from the folks unknown to me—the people who cross the room to express their enthusiasm for the story from the unheard of author who comments unabashedly about the power of a woman’s pussy. “I want to read your book,” they tell me, before describing the specific passage or over-arching theme that snagged their attention and makes them want more.

The private readings are always followed by a group conversation, where the informal scene has been charged by the performance of a story spoken out loud. I have presented enough times now to start tracking responses: “universal,” “authentic,” “comic,” “sexy,” and “succinct,” have been repeated again and again. This encourages me about the future success of the title, and it also affirms my craft as a writer. With guidance from Stacey Donovan, my editor, I learned how to shape the ambition of the original manuscript into a ubiquitous story that would seize the reader’s attention by virtue of its familiar quest.

As a memoir, the book extracts scenes from my life; but what makes it worth reading is the discovery that this tale reweaves another narrative of our humanity. Infused with commentary about sex, love, adultery, men, women, race, gay identity, body image, and aging, at the end of the day, The Bachelor Chapters is both a coming of age story, and a coming to grips story. It’s about us, and I can’t wait for you to read it.                                   Vicki Marie at the Loring Cafe in Oakland Vicki Marie after her reading at the Loring Cafe in Oakland, California

Are you listening?

Mid-life Rocks. Today begins my next rotation around the sun. It’s August 27th and my birthday; my own personal new year, a time to look over my shoulder at the last three hundred and sixty-five days. What did I do? What did I learn? What trail did I blaze? I made a list—a very long list—because it’s been a year of non-stop adventure. After quitting my career eighteen months ago, I launched my next reason to greet the day each morning by becoming a Writer of Life and living the Lifestyle of a Writer. It’s not an overstatement to report there has been adventure in every blessed moment.

Like most, I’m not immune to the shock of middle age; those moments when the number that represents our lifespan no longer bears any relation to how we recognize ourselves. If you’re like me, you’ll use the trick of reality to calm the fear triggered by aging. Which is why I filtered my trail-blazing list of the past year into a specifically age defying list:

What did I do this past year for the very first time?

Vicki Marie's first Twisted Handspring at Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona

Vicki Marie’s first twisted handspring at Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona

This Is Fifty-Five:

1) Published my first article (thank you, David Lee of Medellin Living)

2) Finished my first manuscript, The Bachelor Chapters (thank you to every author I’ve ever read—you are my teachers)

3) Revised it—twice (thank you, Stacey Donovan, the editor that made me a better writer)

4) Lived in four countries (thank you Colombia, Spain, Antigua, and the miracle of a USA passport)

5) Convinced Colombia that I deserved their visa of domicile (thank you Alan Gongora, the attorney who drew the map)

6) Became a pole athlete, and nailed the infamous Twisted Handspring (thank you to my teachers; Cata Tobon, Bianca Huls, Laura Fly & Estela Diego)

7) Declared war on cancer and marked my first year of victory (thank you: simply thank you)

8) Talked to God—and he talked back (thank you, dear angels, for leading the way)

What struck me about the list was how interdependent my accomplishments have been. Nothing of significance happens without facilitation. I claim my motivation and my dreams—but my achievements are always the result of collaboration. And so today, on my birthday, I plan to celebrate my collaborators. I am nothing without you, and I am more than I ever knew I could be—because of you.

Are you listening? Mid-Life Rocks. So, let’s party.

I picked Barcelona

then bought my ticket and I arrive in ten days. My editor, Stacey Donovan, returns The Bachelor Chapters on July first, the same day I endure the time travel of a Cartagena-Bogota-Atlanta-Barcelona itinerary. Why Spain? Why not? I thought, as I looked at a map of the world, and realized I could be anywhere at anytime.

It only seemed practical that I close the book in the shadow of another sexy backdrop. Such is my life that practical is defined as selecting the next exotic spot where I will lay my head and unpack both my bags. I worked more than two decades in corporate manufacturing to fund this reality, and if you think this is as cool as I do then I have three simple words to get you on the same track: stash your cash.

Spain beckoned because she hosts the mother tongue of the language that I slowly—so slowly—have decided to make my own. I’m not a fan of the culture, but Barcelona prevailed, because everyone has told me it’s not “like” Spain. Whatever that means, I aim to find out from my fifth floor walk-up in Barrio Gràcia. The bohemian enclave is also home to the training ground where I will interrupt my writing regime each day with a short walk—and an intense workout—at the Pole Dance Factory. That pretty much sums up my current lifestyle; I’m a globe hopping, memoir-scribing, pole-dancing bachelor. I can’t imagine at this moment that my life could be any other way.

I know that The Bachelor Blog pole-tuck over bocagrande subscribers and Facebook friends think the book is done and are confused that I’m announcing yet a third round with the manuscript. But three rounds are the minimum, and it’s time for the final refinement. I will reflect on Stacey’s editorial notes, inflect the upcoming revision with deeper clarity, and then claim the treasure of a final document. In the process my education grows; I’ll learn again what a writer can miss, or overstate, in spite of the systematic scrutiny applied to that second draft.

The three-draft model was laid down for me elegantly yesterday, when I watched an online conversation between writers Neil Strauss and Tim Ferris. Strauss explained that the three stages of a manuscript aim to satisfy three audiences, and the first audience for the first draft is simply yourself. This is the colossal and uncensored mind-meld that becomes the sturdy architecture for all that follows: this is the making-something-from-nothing phase—and making it something enough to vie for an audience. There is a celebration when phase one wraps: and in my case, with a first book, I was certain The Bachelor Chapters was almost there. Hah! That innocence is behind me forever, but the memory will always be sweet. I sat my butt down for seven months, connected 72,000 words, and made a book. That felt just as potent as it sounds.

In the second writing, the audience sharpens and broadens: this draft is for the reader. The editor leads when this work begins. She has meticulously excavated the first manuscript, and her findings both shock and flatter. Two comments I remember clearly as I write this: “I have no doubt the author can find an audience and a publisher for this book…” and then, “Although much of the book reads quickly and easily… I don’t feel there is a reason to read from one chapter to the next.” Doble-hah! I was confused, but I bet on her experience, and decided to consider every opinion she provided.

Why would anyone want to read it? The answer, I learned, is in the storytelling. If a story is told well, even the content can be mundane, but still, the reader is satisfied. There is reconstruction to the original architecture here; some rooms are expanded, while others are abandoned. Efficiency rules—every word, paragraph, and chapter is in service to keeping the reader in the page. I adored this phase; it had become a puzzle, and my job was to locate the connecting pieces. I learned that trust and action collaborate in this stage, and that failure is not possible. The action is simply sitting down to write; the trust is self-perpetuating, because answers follow action. Until finally, another celebration—I wrote a book! The words sound the same, but the inflection couldn’t be more different; the book I’ve rewritten has been made for a reader.

It was serendipitous that I stumbled upon the Strauss-Ferris conversation on the cusp of my next revision. I know there will be changes ahead; I’m anticipating minor repairs, after rigorous scrutiny. But Strauss offered priceless insight when he pointed to the audience for the third manuscript; this final draft is for the haters.

Hello, real world! Of course, this is what follows—anticipating the criticism that is coming—and securing the document against cheap shots, as well as thoughtful ones. I prefer to avoid haters, but suddenly they have value; I will conjure those voices to fortify my own.

The Bachelor Chapters will invite particularly ruthless remarks, because at the end of the day, this is a story about female liberation: controversial in some circles, and nothing less than heretical in others. There will be name-calling, damn it. It will get personal. I’ve laid so much bare in this story—and trust me when I tell you there is no shortage of opportunity for a hater—hell, maybe even a fan—to be offended by what I’ve written. Living is offensive: burdened by difference, power, injustice and even innocent misunderstanding. And this is a story about living: told out loud, with intelligence, wit, and honest detail. Which is what makes The Bachelor Chapters not only an easy target and a story worth telling: but also a story worth reading.

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There are 88,642 words

in the revised edition of The Bachelor Chapters, and yesterday, I read every one. Out loud—and to myself. I know now that it takes nine hours to read 88,642 words. My mouth was dry and my spirits were high. The book sounds good.   

.Vicki Marie Reads The Revised Manuscript

I added 16,703 words to this edition—started in the mountains of Medellin on February 19th, and finished yesterday, on the coast in Cartagena. I also deleted distracting scenes, re-sequenced several chapters, conflated a few characters, and gave birth to a few more. I’m a writer. That’s what I do. My job is to lead you to turn the page: again, then again, because you can’t wait to discover what happens next. I know there are other places you could be. My work moves to art when I’ve designed a world where you have no desire but to stay.

On Tuesday, the manuscript is due. Stacey Donovan, the formidable editor I drafted to edit the first manuscript, will have a second shot. Her sharp commentary and forensic detail guided me to mine deeper, and overturn a few boulders, so I could find the story that takes more risks, reveals more depth, and shines with more heart. If Stacey Donovan needed fresh evidence of her value and expertise, the revised manuscript delivers.

Thank you, Stacey, for challenging The Bachelor Chapters to be the story it could be. And in the process, daring me, to become a better writer. Meet you on the backside.

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the eagle has landed

January 1, 2013. My flight left Houston five minutes before midnight, and eight hours later, I set foot in Medellín and 2013. Packed in my carry-on were the editor’s notes for draft one of The Bachelor Chapters. Stacey Donovan went at it in earnest, and passed back the manuscript three months early. I’m riveted by her comments, and impressed with the depth of her commentary. Held captive by international layovers, and digging into a freshly edited manuscript, is a new high-five plan to bring in a New Year. The world is a-twitter, but this old-school chick is calling for a Kodak Moment!

Cheers to Everyone! Time to Rock 2013!

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I take a detour through Palm Springs

December 2012. ….for medical treatment. I’ll stay for a month, than head back to South America, probably Medellín, in the Colombian Andes. The first draft of The Bachelor Chapters will stay with Stacey Donovan, my editor, until March 1st. I’m anxious to digest her edits, make revisions, and take the book to the next level. There’s work to be done, and I’m the  writer. I can’t wait to get back to my job.

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hurricane sandy slams the east coast of the usa

October 2012. …and I wrap the first draft of my first book. I email the manuscript to Stacey Donovan, my editor in New York, who has already lost power and won’t touch it for days. Meanwhile, in tropical Antigua, Jennifer and I visit the neighbors for a dinner party. I bring the book and present my first reading to an audience that doesn’t know me. I start at the beginning and spill the first three chapters into the warm island air. When I finish, they want more. I am a writer. I’m making it happen. This is my life.

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