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:  https://bit.ly/3a3EgOp  

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 www.sendmeonvacation.org 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


 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Sorry, No Longer Accepting Breadcrumbs

 Sorry, No Longer Accepting Breadcrumbs


It took such a long time to realize that I deserve a lot more in life than breadcrumbs... an embarrassingly long time. It was in therapy not so long ago when I said, "I'm so tired of receiving breadcrumbs."

Although there were feelings of knowing I deserved better whether in family, career, love relationships, and friendships, the acceptance of breadcrumbs was natural and certainly coming from a subconscious place because why would anyone want this to be a factor in their lives? And why does it take so long to put two and two together? I think that depends on when it began. 

A child doesn't know better. Any child that loses their mother as a toddler (as I did) and has a father who doesn't have the tools to be a present parent freely giving unconditional love and support to his daughter but is capable of showing love through breadcrumbs that is all this child knows. And when a seedling of a child idolizes her dad, the only parent she has, basking in breadcrumbs of love is a ray of sunshine to her. The rest of the time she (I) was in a perpetual tap dance for those breadcrumbs of love, approval, and to be seen. The subconscious is a powerful thing.

The real trick is the decades long unraveling of that subconscious in order to get to a place of knowing that one soul (just a speck in the Universe) deserves the whole slice of bread... of life. More than half my life is behind me and the many twists, turns, and roadblocks preventing me from fully living because I was in full survival mode whether it was a cancer battle, keeping  a roof over my head, and in a constant state of spinning plates, doesn't always grant the time to reflect and dig deep to break apart the breadcrumbs I've been gratefully accepting throughout my life.

It wasn't until I was deep into writing my book Caution: Mermaid Crossing, Voyages of a Motherless Daughter that certain incidents came to light. And much to my editor's credit who pushed me to dig deeper to expose all the truth, which was the the smart thing to do. It was exhausting but it led me to linking my essays and expose myself is vulnerable and even humiliating ways.

As one example: When my dad and stepmother bought a condo on Key Biscayne (where we lived on a temporary basis and would be moving there permanently), I was 15 and just started high school in the only neighborhood I knew and where my birth mother lived so briefly before she died. My first view of the 2-bedroom condo was in its raw form with concrete floors. My second view was when we moved in and where I moved into the guest room. I say guest room because my stepmother decorated it not as a room I could put my teenage stamp on, but the guest room she saw it to be--without me in it. I still had 2 1/2 years of high school and at the age when teenagers want to express themselves. It came with a sofa bed that I had to pull out every night to sleep on--to sleep on a thin mattress with springs in my back. There was nothing of me permitted in that room. When I got up, I had to push the damn thing back in to create a sofa again. Everything was just so. Everything pointed to the desire to get me out of the house. I was never my stepmother's cup of tea even though I was only five when she came into our lives. That guest room with the ugly big black urn holding bright yellow sunflowers told me every day that I was not a part of a home. But it was not a conscious awareness until decades later.

My dad should've put his foot down for his daughter but he didn't and I suspect he had long ago wanted to be free of parent responsibilities. At the time I thought nothing of it because I didn't know better so I accepted the breadcrumbs. My dad died young too at the age of 57. I never had a chance to discuss any of these things with him. I wish I had.

As I unravel my part in accepting breadcrumbs, I will no longer scoop them up with gratitude. I am grateful that the significance of being expected to be independent and a survivor beginning as a toddler has provided enormous strength and perseverance--it's probably kept me alive. But as I've recovered from long journeys of challenge, I'm open and ready to receive a softer life where I live the life I desire and deserve--where I receive whole slices of love and acceptance. 

I love wholly and deeply and put my heart in all that I do. As flawed a human as I am, I know that I am someone to be trusted as a friend and lover/partner. And while there's probably been some twisted part of my subconscious that didn't believe I deserved success even though I've persevered and been tenacious my whole life whether it was getting into Hollywood jobs by smarts and the seat of my pants, or creating a business out of thin air, and putting my all into every reinvention, I am now in a place of well-deserved self-acknowledgement, success, and accomplishment. 

Although I've loved stories since I was a teenager and been a story editor supporting other writers, I came to a place of letting go of my intimidation around writing (writing well) and have become an author/blogger/workshop leader as my new chapter and new beginning post-cancer and post-breadcrumb acceptance. It's never too late.

May you always receive the big slices of bread and bunches of real sunflowers in your life.


Keep on swimming through life,

Valerie Anne









Friday, May 21, 2021

Your Bed

 


For this month's blog, I'm sharing a published essay in HerStry Literary Journal from my book, Caution: Mermaid Crossing, Voyages of a Motherless Daughter titled, Your Bed.


This essay, which is more than 2/3 of the way into my book is a very raw, personal, and vulnerable piece now published for the world to see. Thank you for reading. Easy click to link below taking you to HerStry. 

Note: As with all literary journals, there are ads. Please scroll through them and you can easily close out of poetry panel pop-up. HerStry is a wonderful journal supporting women writers and their personal stories. I'm honored to be a part of it.

https://herstryblg.com/true/2021/5/20/your-bed?fbclid=IwAR0hIQh0Sax5AKXPrgr5vIkRcbN4c2MrZJ_08rPuMfeDFjeQ_hdx4g0Xonk


Keep on swimming through life,

Valerie Anne



Monday, March 8, 2021

Reminiscing About Italy Has Been a Favorite Way of Distraction During Covid

 

Reminiscing About Italy Has Been a Favorite Way of Distraction During Covid

Lerici in Liguria, Italy--October, 2019
(Poem about returning to Italy below blog)

In this last year, most of us have been especially isolated and unsociable. We've had to rely on masks, being content at home, and zoom for communication in just about every way. If you are like me, you are completely on your own without a partner or family in an already isolated time. The days stretch long but the weeks fly by and it's difficult to know what day it is when morning comes. 

Isn't it remarkable that this has been our natural state for a year? We've survived and many have thrived discovering new creative paths. I've continued taking class through City College (Italian/Creative Writing) to keep my brain active, as well as having a way of being held accountable with daily homework and writing assignments. If not for nature, exercise, class, writing, and a handful of friends I'm in touch with, I think I'd be certifiable by now. 

Admittedly, there are cycles of depression when the endlessness is overwhelming. I'd been isolated for years going through a complicated breast cancer journey and my 9th and final surgery January 2020 took the last bit of warrior out of me and recovery in isolation was several weeks. I've been left with occasional PTSD, procrastination of the slightest thing that would prove to be taxing or hurtful, and, at times, being extra sensitive. Then Coronavirus hit and we all became isolated at home. I've heard from quite a few people how extra tired they've been through all of this. I would include myself in this category. There were (are) days I find myself realizing it's only 6:30 when I'm ready for bed. I've gotten in bed not much past that viewing several animal videos to not only take a break from the distressing news of the pandemic, but a worse distressing news horror: Trump! At least we now have leadership and empathy where Covid-19 is concerned and a stable person at the helm in the White House.

One of the other ways I distract myself is to reminisce about my month long travel to Italy in the fall of 2019. Not only am I forever grateful for being sponsored to take the trip and share my workshop, "Living and Healing Through Color' and sharing a particularly image and color driven essay from my book at a retreat for breast cancer survivors in Tuscany, but to be back in Italy after a few decades and travel on my own for more than 3-weeks was pure heaven.

In my spring semester Creative Writing class, we have 4 genres we study and write for. The first one was poetry. While I'm intimidated by all the great poets who've blessed us with such incredible beauty, I enjoyed creating my own poems. The following poem is one I wrote in honor of my trip to Italia. The challenge was to pack in many sentiments in a poem of just three stanzas:


Returning to Italy

  

Tucked in the Tuscan hills my heart cheers,

The spiritual bells were ringing and singing,

Appeasing restless bones and a soul in fear.

 

The Italian flavors nourished many hungers.

From stone balustrades, emerald hills lingering

In proud ancient villages and lively squares.

 

Sipping espresso in café bars, my feet

On ancient cobble stone streets, 

Gazing out on the teal-blue sea.

Pietrasanta Tuscany-Italia


I trust you are well, thriving, engaged in life, and discovering wonderful creative pursuits.

Keep on swimming through life,

Valerie Anne

Tellaro Fishing Village-Italia


 






Thursday, February 4, 2021

Amber Glow

 

Amber Glow

For this month's blog, I'm posting an original poem (plus a bonus poem) from my City College Creative Writing Class. Amber Glow is inspired by current times and Pandemic isolation... a routine state of mind and emotions in the early morning hours:



Amber Glow

In the orange radiance of early morning,

Heavy headed from dreams and distress,

I sit with green-black tea in hands, sighing.

 

Through my picture window of longing,

Staring, staring in palpable loneliness.

Massive trees are lit with the low sun moving,

 

Upward to a too blue sky as the sun is rising,

While hummingbirds dart for sweet sustenance,

And a faithful mockingbird is fervently singing.

 

I beseech nature to deliver days of raining,

Restore faith lost in a chaotic time of sadness--

To bring peace to a mind continually racing.

 

An intricately orchestrated soft morning,

Where the divinity of nature dances,

Unaware of human thoughts darkening.

 

On the last sip of tea in a day unfolding,

I dream of reprieve and renewed joyfulness,

Another heavy slumber to squelch aching--

To wake once again to amber dawn glowing.


Bonus Poem


Sehvet

Searing,

our eyes fixed

my straps fall to the floor

hands know me from lifetimes before

erupt.


Valerie Anne


Keep on swimming through life,

Valerie Anne Burns