About the author:That One Left Shoe, and her debut novel, recently released by Pen-L Publishing, The Hunting, contemporary women's fiction.
She spent twenty-five years in advertising as an account manager, creative director, and copywriter before deciding to devote more of her time to writing.
She is currently working on her second novel, participating in writing conferences, and serving on the leadership team of the Maryland Writers' Association.
Kerry was a single mother for many years to four great kids, all grown and successfully carving out their own unique paths. Her debut novel, The Hunting, is available on Amazon.com and her website. She and her husband live in the Baltimore metro area.
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Guest Post by Kerry Peresta
A Writer Must – Above All Else – Develop Rhinoceros Hide
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, Writer's Digest
"If you're gonna try to write, the first thing you gotta do is develop rhinoceros hide," Warren (Rip) Ripley, author of the successful Storme Wyatt mystery series, told me ten years ago, dark eyes full of mischief. "Rhinoceros hide," he repeated.
This little nugget of wisdom lodged deep in the back of my mind, root strands snaking around my brain until it presented in my frontal lobe about the same time as my first novel released. Now, I cling to his words like a kid with a kite on a windy day.
My first publishing experience was a fluke: the associate editor of a local newspaper asked me to write a humor column after one of my letters to the editor got a flurry of response. Thrilled, I immediately asked about salary. My glee unpeeled itself from the ceiling and thumped to the floor when the editor said, "Well, no salary, but you get publishing credit, and that's worth quite a lot." Seriously? My first getting-published lesson: no creds, no moolah. Reluctantly, I agreed to write an 800-word column FREE once a week in order to establish a public writing profile.
The responses to my humor articles ranged from raging to rhapsodic. I learned later that simply to get response was a major triumph, but as a writer-virgin, I was unprepared for the negative stuff.
My first hater comment caused a few emotional tailspins until I remembered my friend Rip's admonition. I grasped the edges of an imaginary rhinoceros-hide-cape and plopped it on with virgin-writer zeal.
This seemed to help. Until the same hater commented again and again. In print. Publicly. The rhinoceros-hide-cape slipped from my shoulders. I researched a few brethren humor columnists (not that I was in their league, but hope springs eternal) and stumbled over Dave Barry's legendary columns. I was shocked to find that his hater comments not only bounced off him, he recycled them into new material.
I located my protective cape and slid it back on. With fresh eyes, I revisited the comments and laughed myself silly. Of course! Wasn't mocking your enemies a Biblical truth of sorts? The subtly-admonishing, follow-up column was delivered with fear and trembling plus several gallons of sarcasm.
I bit my fingernails waiting forty-eight hours until the article published. Had I made the wrong decision? Would all my comments be hater-comments from now on? I quickly thumbed through the paper on publication day, reading it over a few times, sweat beading my forehead. Then I logged onto the paper's website, where comments had already sprouted. To my surprise, my readers pummeled my detractors, encouraging them to lighten up. My confidence soared. The haters were undeterred, and ramped up the mud-slinging. The newspaper was delighted with all the attention.
Lesson learned: Developing a tough hide not only insulates from detractors, it frees a writer to write from deep places of honesty instead of trying to please everyone, which absolutely kills creativity.
Two years down the road I completed a novel. It was exhausting and glorious at the same time. The query turndowns body-slammed me to the floor. Picking myself up was harder. I joined a critique group. Got involved with the Maryland Writers' Association. Locked in on friends that encouraged me. This helped me get up, stay up, and keep going. I renounced the dratted second-guessing and fear of rejection that plagues most writers and dragged my tattered rhinoceros-hide cape back into place.
Lo and behold, I was picked up by a small publisher and received a couple of stunning reviews on advance copies of my novel, The Hunting. My beta readers loved it as well. I was delighted! In a manic moment born of euphoric hysteria, I signed up for four weeks of fiction writing classes culminating in a group critique of a short story assignment. By this time, I figured my hide was tough as nails, so why not hone my skills?
I pulled out one of the sections I'd lopped off my novel during rewrite and shaped it into a short story. In final critique responses, I received three wild applauses, four ho-hums, and one total washout. The total washout response was from my instructor.
I self-consciously caressed my rhinoceros-hide-cape, lifted my chin, and thanked the group for their remarks. A positive takeaway: the three wild applause responses had been from the target demographic for my novel, women 35-65. I ran home, made adjustments based on the critique, and put it on my website, bouncing back with a vengeance. The adjustments made it better, and I didn't collapse in self-defeat. A huge win!
I've learned I cannot – and don't have to – please everybody.
And neither do you.
Merry Christmas, and a have a crazy, wonderful, inspired, New Year!
About The Hunting:
When Isabelle (Izzy) discovered online dating, it immediately became her favorite stress reliever and best friend. Often, she'd steal into the night after her kids were asleep to meet someone new. One fateful evening, the hunt for the perfect guy took a sinister turn when the mystery man she met turned out to be her worst nightmare! Reluctantly pulled into a web of lies, Izzy is forced to confront her demons.
Snarky, suspense-filled, and real, The Hunting is an exquisite entwining of the crippling emotional fallout of divorce with the quest for a healthy, fulfilling relationship. This inspirational story rivets!
Excerpt from The HuntingI sit in my car a minute, adjusting to the darkness of the garage. My eyes land on the kids' car tucked in already, and I know they are inside the house, either asleep or going that direction, because I'd talked to them on the way home. I shake off the feeling that something is wrong, get out of the car, start up the stairs to the kitchen, reconsider and click on the overhead light in the garage to sniff around.
Brightness illuminates the area. Rakes, loppers, an air pump, and various gadgetry cling to a pegboard nailed to one wall; an aging lawnmower sits in a far corner with its best friend, the gas trimmer. Metal shelving climbs the back wall, loaded with fairly common family paraphernalia. My eyes scan the cement floor and the kids' car, searching for signs of inappropriate activity. I smell old grass, a little oil that has leaked from one of the cars, gas, paint thinner.
My heels striking the cement garage floor in the middle of the night remind me of old Law and Order episodes, where Eames and Goren discover a body in the garage, draped halfway out of a car, drenched in blood. I should stop watching those shows. Then I see it. Not tonight, my mind screams. Tonight? After this horribly long day? My stomach clenches in fear.
A tightly folded, small, white square mocks me from the windshield of my kids' car. What time is it, anyway, I mutter to myself as I cautiously approach the car, lift the windshield wiper, and hold the small square gingerly between thumb and forefinger. I grab my phone from my purse with my free hand and click the screen on. Almost midnight.
Self-pity, despair, and several other emotions I have no energy to identify zip through me at warp speed. I turn off the garage light and climb the three stairs into the kitchen, firmly locking the door behind me. The note sails through the air and lands on the kitchen table.
I scroll quickly through my contacts to find Detective Faraday. His phone rings several times, a groggy voice answers. “Yeah?” Cough. “What?”
"Detective Faraday?” I whisper.
“You got him. What’s up?” I picture him wiping his eyes and focusing on a clock by his bed. Maybe a lovely wife by his side, sleeping. I feel awful for interrupting him at home.
“I got another note,” my voice is hushed, and has begun to warble. I am whispering because I don’t want to alarm the kids, but the stress has rushed to every extremity and overtaken my vocal cords. I cannot stop shaking. Detective Faraday is instantly alert.
“Okay. This is Izzy, right?”
I shake my head, realize someone on the other end of a phone call cannot see a head shake, and murmur “Yes.”
“All right, I'm going to call and get a patrol car out there immediately. What does the note say? By the way, we have analyzed fingerprints on the note, and it is definitely the man you indicated, so he is not using an alias. That’s good news, because it means he’s not trying to hide, and it’s probably not pre-meditated. Probably just a reaction to a personal crisis. Which, unfortunately, you seem to be triggering.”
“So what should I do?” I whisper.
“Read me the note, Izzy,” he says, calmly.
“It was on my kids' car.” I feel tears forming. One trails slowly down my cheek. I slap it away.
“Oh, man,” Detective Faraday whooshes out a long sigh. “You weren’t home, then? But your kids were?”
“Yeah, and I'm pretty sure the garage was locked. They know they are supposed to shut the garage door when they get home, no matter what.”
“Izzy, is there a window in your garage?” I think a minute. Yes! There is one in the small storage room at the back of the garage, one we never use.
“Well, yes, there is one in a storage room, but – ”
“Is it locked?” he barks. I start to cry.
“I don’t know! Why is this happening?”
“Go check, Izzy, right now. Keep me on the phone while you do it. Take a flashlight or a bat or something with you. I'll wait.”
The implication hits me that he wants me to find a weapon before I check the window. Seriously? I quietly enter my sons' room and pluck up the bat that is leaning against their bookshelf. They stir, but do not wake.
“Okay,” I whisper. “Got a bat. Heading for the garage.”
“I'm with you, Izzy. Be careful.”
His voice is reassuring and I am thinking how grateful I am for our police force. Funny. I am grateful now, but just let me get a speeding ticket. I enter the garage, and tiptoe toward the closed storage room door, my heart beating violently. I hold the bat in my right hand and turn the knob slowly with my left. The darkened room emerges bit by bit as the door creaks open. Light from the garage spills into the room, illuminating old cans of paint, a broken lamp, basketballs, a football, boxes. I push the door open further, and see the window, which is located high on the wall, shards of cobwebs hanging from the edges.
I lift the bat in pre-strike position as I push the door all the way open. I hear Detective Faraday’s breathing on the phone.
“What’s happening, Izzy?” he says, causing me to nearly jump out of my skin.
I locate the string that turns on the lone light bulb in the room, and pull. The forty-watt bulb creates an eerie glow. To my utter and profound relief, the room appears empty.
“I am in the storage room. It’s empty.”
I lean the bat against one of the boxes and look around.
“How often are you in that room, Izzy?”
“Rarely. It’s for stuff we don’t have room for. Kind of forget sometimes, that it’s here.”
“Okay,” he says, “go to the window and check the lock.”
My nose wrinkles in disgust. “Okay,” I say and move aside two squashed storage boxes. Looking around, I locate something to stand on, and reach up to check the latch. Push up on the window, which holds. Try again, and it reluctantly slides open. “It’s not locked,” I say, miserably.
“Lock it,” Detective Faraday says. “Don’t worry, Izzy, we'll get him."
Buy the book at Amazon.com