Author, Speaker, Advocate, and Entrepreneur

Author, Speaker, Advocate, and Entrepreneur
Valerie Anne Burns

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Journey to Being Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Series

 The Journey to Being a Published Author in "Chicken Soup for the Soul" Series

One of the more difficult things for a writer to do is hang in there, to persevere amongst all the rejection. The percentage of rejection vs acceptance is vast. To succeed, you must keep writing and submitting. I'm not one to have an excess of self-esteem so it takes a great deal of tenacity to carry on. Aside from friends that supported my writing, I met writer friends (one in particular) who had a way of simply not allowing me to give up. Pursuing any type of creative endeavor is not for the faint of heart.

Tenacity is something I know well. Being a forever survivor is in my DNA. I learned early as a toddler after losing my mother from breast cancer and hearing the word 'survivor' spoken by my father when I was three. I didn't know what it meant but I knew it was important... strong survival skills were also expected, just as being independent was encouraged and expected at a tender age.

I survived more than loss which not only included parents passing young but beloved friends leaving the planet far too early: cervical cancer and a long journey with breast cancer, #Metoo incidents, divorce from a troubling marriage of struggle with step kids; and working in a roller coaster ride environment known as Hollywood with a strong heart's desire to be a creative producer because I knew I'd be great at it. I loved movies, loved story, and became a story editor on screenplays. Hollywood is a tough place to find one's success no matter how good you may be. I was never able to quite get there even when I pulled out all the stops to prove myself.

Don't Let Anyone Steal Your Thunder

When a young and-not-so-great city college writing teacher recently (and naively) told me that I seemed consumed by my recent wins as a writer, that it could take years to come to a place of getting a book published, or any real success as an author and that I ought to not be pre-occupied with submission or getting published and that he knew many writers that don't answer emails for 4-months, which I could only take as him seeing that as being cool. This came as a response to my mentioning that I'd received an email about getting my bio updated because my scores were high for a finalist award in an International Writing Competition, which I ended up getting. I clearly responded by saying, "First of all, I'm not in a position to ignore emails of opportunity nor am I the type of person to be discourteous and ignore emails... that I don't have years to coast, and it's taken decades of experiences to bring me to this place right now." One of the many Literary agents (and only actual personal referral) I submitted a query letter to (who took months to get back to me) told me that unless I was published in a journal like the Paris Review, I didn't have much chance of ever getting my memoir published. I stepped back from everything for a month--the rejection comment so undid me. It was a wounding thing to say to any writer, especially an emerging one like myself. I took time to regroup, shared the incident with a couple writer friends far more seasoned than I clearly stating that the comment was not only untrue but unacceptable, which gave me the strength and energy to pick up the pieces and put myself out there again.

I started seriously writing later in life and the breast cancer diagnosis in 2013 threw me into writing during surgeries and long recoveries. It really took being awarded a scholarship to Prague Summer Writing Program and attending near-month long workshops by accomplished authors to take me to another level. I was the only one there without a formal degree in literature and writing. It was both flattering and intimidating. This experience gave me the confidence to turn my essays into a book and through a few more surgeries, a skilled book editor, and two years diligent work later, I had a final draft of Caution: Mermaid Crossing, Voyages of a Motherless Daughter, which deals with all areas of life from the perspective and rootless foundation as a motherless daughter.

I joined a writing group out of LA (Women Who Submit) and began to learn how I could submit stand-alone essays from my book with the ultimate goal of getting the book published. I've learned a great deal, including the best places for my essays (voice) to be submitted. It often takes several months to hear from the places you submit since the competition is fierce and they rely mostly on volunteer editors to read the work. I had submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul months back and out-of-the-blue I received an email stating that I was in the running. As you probably know, it's a series and the theme Tough Times Won't Last But Tough People Will was certainly one that my work would fit nicely. The word count was a max of 1200. As I scanned my essays, my eye ran across "Flying Nighties", which I hadn't submitted yet. It was the right word count and only required minimum editing. I threw caution to the wind and went ahead and submitted. 

I'm delighted to say that I'm now a published author in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times Won't Last But Tough People Will and it will be released in local bookstores and online November 2nd. Here is a link to the book website:  

When I realized that "Flying Nighties" was being published and in print, I felt a bit scared because it's a vulnerable, raw, and personal piece. The essay describes my first night home after being away for 22 days in the hospital and nursing home with 24/7 care (since I lived on my own) after a radical double mastectomy due to tumors in both breasts. I arrived home alone with my senior cat on my bed, and it was a hot Indian summer night. I couldn't get any strapless gown over my head because I was unable to raise my arms, so they flew to the bed on top of my kitty. I was hot, in pain, and terrified. I then discovered a breast cancer bag I didn't even remember coming home with. I rummaged and discovered a giant square hot pink (mini on me) night shirt with velcro fasteners in the front. It goes from there.

It's been a long journey and there are certainly times when I lose mojo and inspiration. Like many of us in this world (especially if you're single and without family) during a pandemic and our democracy challenged in this country, loneliness and isolation can take over. There is ebb and flow in life. Getting out in nature is the best remedy. My hummingbirds who visit nectar at my door are spirit angels. Power walking by the ocean moves my body and lifts my spirit. Perseverance does pay off and is the best tool for desired pursuits, growth, and success.... whatever success looks like for you.

Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie Anne

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

What the Hell is Happening?

What the Hell is Happening?

 (End of August blog with a strong build-up need to express!)

How does one take it all in? Oh how I yearn to be a Pollyanna by nature. But that day will never come because I've always been keenly aware of what goes on around me, especially when mother nature, mother nature's wildlife, and the human race is crying out. My emotions, sensitivity, and intuition gets the best of me. What do I do -- What do we do?

There are severe fires all over the world, including right here in CA with the devastating, Caldor fire, Dixie Fire, McFarland Fire, and multiple others that rage on. Even Siberia has a big fire. Imagine that. The world is heating up and mother nature is screaming for help! I'm screaming along with her from a place of deep concern and compassion. And as an environmentalist for as long as I can remember, I can't help but feel exasperation over the decades of scientific facts not listened to and how greed seems to always be the winner. It's not just severe fires, but severe hurricanes and blizzards. Climate deniers are blind to the reality going on all around them and continue with their lives as if nothing is amiss.

Speaking of science, there's the ongoing pandemic worldwide. With too many episodes as it is, how many seasons will the pandemic run? While I may be one who has practiced a natural and organic, healthy lifestyle for decades, cured myself of cervical cancer in my 20's holistically, and has never even had a flu shot, there comes a time when logic must be used by listening to the medical experts. As if 2020 wasn't taxing enough, the multiple variants are wreaking havoc and guess what, the uptick in the variant spread is from the unvaccinated. Dammit, it's messing things up for the rest of us. Scream.

This is not to be a Debbie Downer, but c'mon, how does one wrestle all of this along with the personal scrambling in life? My hopeful and planned trip to Italy has escaped my grasp primarily because I'm immune compromised and have been advised by my Immunologist not to travel. I am dismayed. I was asked to facilitate again (an honor) for for breast cancer survivor 🎀retreats in Rome and Tuscany. I was meant to depart September 1st. It was that bright glimmer of hope ahead of me that acts as the golden carrot in the midst of isolation and other challenges. Tears. Scream.

No matter how spiritual we are or how much we meditate and focus on peace and well-intentioned progressive ideas and policies put forth, we can't control the difficulty, wish or pray it away. And the smart, logical progressive policies that are ignored or excused because an agenda of greed and fear-based conservatism blocks them as if on continued auto pilot. Scream.

Afghanistan: A thousands year old culture of deep religious beliefs and extreme militant Islamism by force of Taliban rising up in the 90's is going to bend to our ways or a democracy? Trump  brought home 25,000 troops from Afghanistan and so proud of himself for doing so (he has no leg to stand on blaming Biden for bringing home troops and eruption) and Biden has wanted to end this war since Obama era with trillions of dollars spent and too many American lives lost. No matter when we would have pulled out, violent mayhem would commence. It's horrible and a disgrace. 

Don't get me started on the Governor recall in CA and the right-wing agenda behind it. It's such severe stupidity and a big waste of time and money when CA needs both to address fires. Voted no and mailed it in. The line-up of those running is an embarrassment. 

So, what do we do?

I'm an activist as much as I can be and get behind things (petitions/policies/progressive candidates) I believe in, and stand up for what I feel is right. But I also must find ways to find balance and hope. We all do!

We all need something to look forward to and for me, Italy was to be just that. Instead, the monies raised for sponsoring me as a facilitator will go toward the December 2021 retreat in the Dominican Republic. Whatever monies may be left, will go toward Italy next year where my soul resides. The gods willing.

Surviving a long haul with breast cancer, my writing was a saving grace. 90% of my book Caution: Mermaid Crossing, Voyages of a Motherless Daughter was written in between 9 surgeries and recoveries. When SMOV invited me to a breast cancer retreat in August 2018, it was titled as a Mermaid retreat in Mexico, which was ironic since 'mermaid' is in the title of my book. After meeting the director of the nonprofit and hitting it off immediately, she read many of my essays and became so supportive of my work. I created the workshop, Healing and Living Through Color out of my own background in fashion and design, as well as using my writing skill. 

Being an author and facilitator is my purpose in this new chapter in life! And the workshop idea came to me when I was in the middle of my ordeal and had moved for the 8th time (finally secure) and the place was painted in an industrial white semi-gloss that reminded me of the sterile medical world. I said out loud, "My God, I need color to create a sanctuary." I called my painters and chose pleasing and balanced beauty by color. I spent hours hunting for the perfect fabrics to tie everything in. I was inspired by the colors on my favorite hummingbird. Nature inspires me in a way like no other. My kitchen is painted in the most beautiful orange that is not only on the throat of my favorite hummingbird, but everywhere in the villages of Italy.

When I feel like screaming from all the worries, I go out in nature and ground myself in color. I walk by the sea and stare at the pacific blue and discover ways that bring me wonder. I watch my gorgeous hummingbirds fly toward the feeder at my screen door and take the nectar, and I nurture all the plants on my patio providing abundant blossoms up-close.

I trust you find ways to ground yourself in nature and discover ways to create color you love in your own home sanctuary and outdoor space if you have one. It's also wonderful to have color in your wardrobe that not only makes you feel great but is flattering. Color is a magnet to good. Nature is a magnet to good. Being kind to nature is crucial--I conserve power and water, as well as recycle and live simply with a minimum of collecting stuff to benefit mother earth.

I also trust we will find a way to heal, protect one another, do right by our fragile mother earth and precious wildlife struggling to survive. My relationship to hummingbirds taught me a deeper lesson to survival and resilience. I long for all of us to take a lesson from nature that is so amazingly divinely designed by an infinite Universe. 

Be well and safe. And, if you need to scream, scream your heart out. 
Breathe and repeat when necessary. I do and at times, it's with the crashing waves.

Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie Anne