July 5, 2011

Guest Post: Carolyn J. Rose

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:01 am

An Uncertain Refuge

I’m so happy to have Carolyn Rose back again–Carolyn is practically a mainstay of the blog! Her Made It Moment appeared here and her last guest post here. And today she is sharing her thoughts on how math might really help us in this writer’s life–hint: it’s not just the ole balancing-our-checkbooks saw we heard as students–and concluding with a decision she made that is so in-the-news right now, the Wall Street Journal recently weighed in.  Please read on–and leave a comment if you’ve been considering the same momentous leap, or possibly have made it already.

Carolyn J. Rose

Why the rules of math don’t apply to the past – and how that will change my future as a writer.

Okay, so I wasn’t much good at math back in high school. Math didn’t allow for much of what I call the BS or fudge factor—an answer was either right or wrong.

I’ve always been fond of the gray areas, of arguable choices, the morally ambiguous questions, those fascinating either/or situations.

And let’s face it, math has changed since my cheeks last hit a classroom seat. And so have the tools. Adding machines and slide rules are gone, replaced by calculators so complicated that you need an owner’s manual to find the “on” button.

A few days ago, while trying to help a student, I ran aground on the reef of parentheses and the order of operations. Because I neglected to perform the multiplication function before addition and subtraction, we arrived at the wrong answer. By performing operations in the order they appeared, I got an answer of 14. With parentheses setting aside the multiplication function, I got 18. Only four points off, but the answer was as wrong as if I’d been off by 1000.

Pondering that later, I wondered how different my life would be if I could set aside portions of it inside parentheses and divide or multiply by other portions. Where and who would I be today if I had been able to minimize or maximize specific episodes or incidents?

For example, I might take a particularly embarrassing episode and divide by a letter of recommendation or an award. I might multiple disappointments by glorious vacation days.

How would that affect my writing?

Let’s say that I could take the trauma of the day the elastic broke on my underpants in second grade and divide that by the exhilaration of bobby-pinning a silk scarf to me head in third grade when I was chosen to play the coveted role of Maid Marian in a spontaneous playground production of Robin Hood’s adventures. Would that leave me with less empathy? Would that, in turn, affect my ability to create complex characters?

If I took the experience of watching my father die and divided that by a sunset at the ocean or gentle snowfall in the mountains, I might reduce the pain of losing him. Would that make me less sympathetic to others’ grief and loss?

Conversely, if I multiplied the experience by other losses, I could intensify the agony until my nerves were raw and my mind was a swirling vortex of torment. Would that give my novels a more bleak and hopeless tone?

If I took my first teenage crush and multiply that emotion by the thrill of getting a news crew to a breaking story before the competition, would I be able to write a love story that would resonate with all readers?

If I took my one frightening rock-climbing experience and multiplied it by that terrifying white-water canoe trip and then by the day I hit 130 in my grandfather’s Buick on a straightaway in Texas, I might produce the excitement level necessary to craft a nail-biting thriller.

Now, say it was possible to take the short stories I published and multiply that small success by my PNWA prize. Would I then be more devastated by rejections, or would I have so much confidence in my writing that the slings and arrows of rejection rolled off my psyche like water off a duck’s back?

Going a step further, if I could take the skills I developed as a writer and multiply those by my work ethic and determination, would I have a  bestseller by now?

But the rules of math don’t apply that way, so none of that is possible.

Yes, some experiences outweigh others, but each experience remains unique and alone, the memory of it painful or thrilling, satisfying or unfulfilling, delightful or tinged with guilt.

Experiences accumulate, memories pile up. Time, like drifting snow over a long winter, obscures some memories, softens the shape of others, and leaves a few bare. And time, like a relentless wind, scours those memories, dulling and smoothing the jagged edges of loss and disappointment, polishing small successes until they gleam like silver, and honing needle-sharp points onto betrayal, remorse, and regret.

I can change nothing in the frozen landscape of my past; I can only learn from the landmarks and make different choices in the future.

This spring I re-examined my goals and found # 1 was the same as ever—to have the thrill of sharing my stories with readers, ideally with many readers.

With that in mind, and with the realization that time seems to be passing at an ever-faster rate, I made the choice to break the cycle of hope-submission-rejection-despair-wound licking-ego healing-hope again. I self-published a suspense novel, An Uncertain Refuge, and put it up for sale at a bargain price.

Was that the right decision? I don’t know. This isn’t black-or-white math, this is the gray area of real life. All I can say is, “It was a different decision.”

Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, and spent 25 years as a television news writer and producer in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She has published many mysteries and lives in Vancouver, WA, with her husband, radio personality Mike Phillips, and a motley collection of pets. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.


  1. I love this Made It Moment. Rose is a very talented writer – what she has done with words here leaves me breathless. I am definitely going to check out her book.

    Comment by Alison DeLuca — July 5, 2011 @ 9:26 am

  2. Wow! I really love this piece. Nicely put together. It really makes a person think.

    Comment by Gary Hoover — July 5, 2011 @ 9:28 am

  3. What a lovely, timely post! I would not change the math of my life, even if it would have come out less painfully. It has all come out well, and I am fine with that.

    Comment by Connie — July 5, 2011 @ 9:30 am

  4. Thank you for such kind comments – they almost made me wonder if Jenny posted a blog submitted by someone else. I guess that’s what happens when a writer gets too used to negatives.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — July 5, 2011 @ 9:37 am

  5. Wow, what a great post! Carolyn just demands your attention with her writing.

    Comment by Kelly Hashway — July 5, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  6. This was surely one of the most beautifully written and intelligent blogs I’ve read in quite a while. Clearly, this sample of your thoughts and writing skills leave me anxious to get a copy and read your book. I think if you add up the accumulated talent, drive, honesty and sheer love of writing expressed here you can only get=AMAZING!

    Comment by Karyne — July 5, 2011 @ 10:37 am

  7. Just found you through Book Blogs. I’m looking forward to following you! My blog is http://www.bookwormfamily.com/ if you want to check it out.

    Comment by Michelle — July 5, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  8. Hi Carolyn, great writing style. I do multiplication in my mind. Maybe that’s my problem.


    Comment by Arthur Levine — July 5, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  9. Arthur, if you can do multiplication, your mind is in far better shape than mine. I max out at keeping score for Scrabble.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — July 5, 2011 @ 11:13 am

  10. Lovely words, Carolyn!

    Comment by Savvy — July 5, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

  11. Hi, and thank you for a wonderful essay. It was beautifully written, and enlightening. I went back and read all the previous guest posts you did here with Jenny to better understand.
    I agree with you on the math. Much of the population might look longingly at a $26.95 bestseller hardcover, but then goes home and buys a .99 e-book of someone else’s work, due to the economy. I believe you made the right choice; this is only my humble opinion. We can’t all be James Patterson, or on the other hand, Amanda Hocking, (in sales), but at least we can give ourselves the chance.
    By the way, I am now going to get Hemlock Lake and/or An Uncertain Refuge later this week. I like this type of suspense reading, and after I do read one of them, I will review them on my blog sometime in the future. Good luck, Rae

    Comment by Rae — July 5, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  12. Carolyn,

    What a wonderful Made It Moment. I have added your book to my wish list. Good luck to you.


    Thank you for bringing this wonderful author to our attention.


    Comment by sandy wolters — July 5, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

  13. Okay, you all are making me blush so much it feels like I’m running a fever.
    Seriously, thanks for all the compliments. I’m sure Jenny will see that this doesn’t go to my head.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — July 5, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

  14. It’s a wonderful post, Carolyn.
    I came to the same decision as you in May. I’m very relieved to see another person with my total lack of math skills taking the plunge. Good luck. Hopefully, this all adds up for us.

    Comment by ted krever — July 5, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  15. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take all your plot ideas, characters and original turns of phrase, plug them into a formula and end up with a best-selling novel at the end of the road. But writing, as it has always been is a matter of simple addition and subtraction. Add ideas, subtract the chaff and repeat ad infinitum. My significant other has once again hit it out of the ballpark with her guest blog. I’d tell her in person but she’s busy writing.

    Comment by Mike Nettleton — July 5, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  16. Let it go to your head, Carolyn! It’s a terrific piece, and you’re a great writer. I am so happy you all are here and now know about Carolyn’s work. I promise that anyone who likes a deep, substantive suspense story will immediately get Carolyn’s unique talent. Thanks for being here, everyone, and for the new follows. I look forward to discovering your blogs as well.

    Comment by jenny — July 5, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

  17. Take another look in the mirror, Carolyn. After reading this blog, I think you are VERY GOOD at math!

    Comment by nancy — July 5, 2011 @ 6:05 pm

  18. Carolyn: ROI = (gain from investment-cost of investment)/cost of investment.

    (I always get a positive return on investment from purchasing and reading one of your books.)

    Comment by David E Cournoyer — July 5, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

  19. Very thoughtful and well-written Carolyn. I like your math! Seriously, I really enjoyed this post, and I need to read your newest book. Thanks for posting this blog on Facebook. I think the new ways of publishing and communicating are going to help more people become writers, and that’s a good thing. Thanks!

    Comment by Sheree G. Fitzpatrick — July 5, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

  20. Wow Carolyn!
    Fun and pointed. I loved the whole thing but definitely the final paragraph. Hallelujah.

    Comment by Ellen — July 5, 2011 @ 11:23 pm

  21. “I can change nothing in the frozen landscape of my past; I can only learn from the landmarks and make different choices in the future.” These are powerful words Carolyn. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your book!

    Comment by Darlene Foster — July 6, 2011 @ 12:59 am

  22. Carolyn

    As a published writer who has also gone the ebook route, I say you’ll find it the best decision you ever made. Even with a price set at $3.99, I’m selling far more books than I ever did when I was legacy published. Good luck to you. Put a few more books up and watch your earnings soar!

    Comment by Geraldine Evans — July 6, 2011 @ 4:52 am

  23. What a great blog post! We are indeed in the midst of changing times and it’s hard to know what’s the “right” route to take, but I have to say, this seems to be a common thread now in so many writer’s chats.

    When I self-pubbed THE RICHEST SEASON back in ’06 (and eventually landed that deal I’d always dreamed of), things were soooo different. Back then, I wanted validation, and some money of course. I’m slowly realizing (ok, I was good at math, but slower at other things!) that I no longer need that validation. My readers give me that. As I move forward, the debate in my head, as in so many other traditionally published authors’, wages on: which way to go???

    The answer is starting to get louder.

    Comment by Maryann McFadden — July 6, 2011 @ 8:14 am

  24. Thanks for sharing your stories, Maryann and Geraldine. Every little bit of encouragement is wonderful.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — July 6, 2011 @ 8:38 am

  25. Loved your comments, and your math is impeccable. Would that we could always see that. I just purchased your new book; I have a feeling that this is the way of the future, and very good for writers I like and care about. I’m looking forward to reading it, and good luck!

    Comment by Lil Gluckstern — July 6, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

  26. Fabulous post, Carolyn! Such a thought provoking piece, I think it will haunt me for a while. I definitely want to read your work, now! Good luck and good fortune!

    Comment by Coco Ihle — July 6, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  27. What a great way to look at life Carolyn! Beautiful, thought-provoking, and a downright good common sense way to approach our highs and lows in life. You go girl!!

    Comment by mountainmama — July 6, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

  28. Powerfully written. Well done! Like so many other writers out there, I’ve been mired by indecision. Should I continue trying to hook a traditional publisher or jump into this brave new world of e-publishing? I’m thinking your essay was just the shove I needed to get me off the fence I’ve been straddling the past couple of years. Thanks, Carolyn!

    Comment by Karen Gilb — July 8, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

  29. Your “writers math” is more moving and useful than all the quadratic equations and Pythagorean theorems I learned in HS! Well done, Carolyn! Susan :)

    Comment by Susan Skipwith — July 11, 2011 @ 10:31 am

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