Want a job – there are three basic things you must do!

GetajobSince graduation season just finished and young people are on the prowl for jobs I thought it might be a good time for this column. When I’m not speaking, I help people with disabilities with employment. There are things basic things I see people that are barriers to employment. So these are the things you need to have and do if you are serious about finding a job.

1. Have a cell phone that you actually answer and return phone calls on in a timely manner. Jobs are going quickly, if you don’t answer your phone or call back soon, someone else is going to get the job.

2. Have an e-mail that isn’t something like “partyguy2013” that you check on at least a daily basis and that you reply to e-mails on. And when you receive an e-mail regarding an employment opportunity read it thoroughly and follow the instructions.

I get it you’re a millennial, you text. But hiring managers are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers we’re in our forties and we communicate primarily by e-mail. So because we are hiring you, you have to communicate how we communicate, which at this point is primarily e-mail.

3. Show up – It seems so simple, but lately a lot of people have made appointments with me and then they just don’t show up. So first of all they’ve missed the opportunity to participate in my employment event, but second I’m done with them. They have failed the most basic test, they can’t keep an appointment. How can I possibly recommend or put them in front of an employer as a candidate if they can’t even show up? I can’t.

My intern told me that people are just flakey these days and that it’s not just people with disabilities and I get that. But if you want my help, you have to at least be able to show up for the appointment that I have on my calendar with your name on it.

It may seem like I’m joking. I’m not. These are very simple things and yet I deal with people everyday who can’t, won’t or don’t do them. And they wonder why they can’t get a job.

If you aren’t doing these basic things then the next question you need to ask yourself is “Do I really want a job?”

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A Letter to Dr. Laura about her comments on homosexualilty

With the recent comments running around on twit about Jason Collins and being confronted by a Ms. Parsons who twitted “What dHatersoes the Bible say about homosexuality?” I decided it was time to re-post this letter to Dr. Laura written sometime around 2000 after she incorrectly cited Leviticus 18:22, and said that homosexuality cannot be condoned under any circumstance. An inquiry into other Biblical admonitions raised some key questions. As I said I am against all hate-mongering on general principle no matter who it is against, gays, blacks, cripples, height-challenged, Muslims, Jews . . . 

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge   with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual   lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination.  End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female,   provided they are from neighboring nations.  A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.  Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.  In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual “uncleanliness” – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell?  I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9.  The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them.  Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath.  Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality.  I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there degrees of  abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight.  I have to admit that I wear reading glasses.  Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two   different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend).  He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them?  Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14) I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is   eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education, University of Virginia.

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Homosexuality has long been an aspect of sports

Homosexuality and Sports

There was bound to be at least one gay man in NBA basketball and who knows how many more in professional sports. In women’s sports there has always been homosexuality and the more masculine the sport the more lesbians. When I played college basketball at a Division III school, looking back on it I had at least three teammates who were gay. It didn’t bother me then and it doesn’t bother me now. When I played Rugby at the University of Oregon, I was one of four girls who was straight. But it didn’t really matter, it wasn’t about the color of your skin, your gender, or sexual orientation it was about playing the game.

I think it was Chris Rock who said, you never want to be the first black anything, and as Jason said, his coming out was preemptive, “I shouldn’t have to live under the threat of being outed. The announcement should be mine to make not TMZ’s.” He’s right. I was in a meeting in Sudan working with a humanitarian aid organization when the Country Director announced that our new colleague from America was gay. They were worried about Sudan being a safe place for him. But really that choice belongs to him and him alone. I hate it when people put limitations on my abilities because of my disability or make decisions about what they think I can or can’t do. I empathized.

The announcement was most unfortunate because his boss was Afghan/ Canadian and had never really interacted with a gay person before.

“Will he be looking at me,” Ali asked.

I rolled my eyes and explained that just because he was gay didn’t mean he was attracted to all men. “No, hell, I’m straight and I don’t even look at you.” We laughed. I explained to him that his new employee’s sexual orientation wouldn’t even be an issue. “He’s just like you and me except he dates men.”

Eventually Ali and our outed employee became friends and there were no more discussions about homosexuality.

As a female wheelchair basketball athlete I’ve played on several men’s teams and it wasn’t like I was checking out my teammates or members of the other teams as potential dates. More often than not I was more inclined to kill them than kiss them; particularly after being subjected to comments like “You’re pretty good for a girl.” Or after fouling a member of the men’s team from Mobile, Alabama he turned to the ref and said, “Awww that’s all right ref, she smells awfully nice.”

When I traveled to Bosnia as one of two women on an elite team to teach veteran’s of the war wheelchair basketball the men’s teams we played against we’re sure they would beat us, because we had women on our team. When they didn’t it became a matter of pride and instead of playing the local teams as we were scheduled to do their national team traveled around and played us. They wonImage one game.

For Jason’s sake I hope his being gay doesn’t devolve into an issue for the NBA. I hope the fans are respectful. And if it appears to be moving in that direction perhaps they can take a page from women’s sports (which would be another first) and focus on the game and abilities rather than extraneous stuff that has nothing to do with the sport. 

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Constructive Critcism – How not to respond

Shoveling Shit

Me at 15 shoveling shit out of the goat pen.

When I’m not public speaking I work for a non-profit whose mission is to help people with disabilities (PWDs) become contributing members of society. I organize employment events that connect job seekers with disabilities with receptive employers. Why is this necessary because PWDs have twice the unemployment rate as the able-bodied population. If you don’t have a disability that’s you.

One of the events I run is competitive. There are only twenty spots and a woman who did not make the cut the first time around submitted her resume for another try. The resume she submitted did not contain the previous edits I had made and it still had typos and errors. Her initial e-mail asking to be reconsidered accused me of telling her she should look for rote work. And then I responded to several other e-mails about resume feedback the address of the office (which she could have looked up online) and a couple of other things. After all this she decided she didn’t want to participate.

I told her I thought this was a good choice and provided what I thought was constructive critcism, about what I felt was unprofessionalism, lack of effort and the vibe or impression that I was getting was that she wasn’t that interested in being employed.

Her response: “Okay so you think I am unprofessional…funny that you should say that since I was thinking the same about you! But as I have lost all respect for you…I will tell you that you are not good at your job and are a very unpleasant person.” Later in the e-mail she accused me of being an emotional vampire. Does this mean that I get to look young forever?

My response thank you for feedback and some additional feedback on her behavior which I felt was confirmation of my assessment and I invited her to a self-empowerment workshop.

Her response: “Hi Tiana…thank you for your most recent email….I had not planned on reading any more of your emails but felt compelled to do so. In the spirit of good will and interest of giving you positive and constructive feedback-which you attempted to do for me:

I have talked this over with several individuals, including my caseworkers at other organizations that are assisting me in my job search and I have come to this conclusion:

I am concerned that you may have a Personality Disorder that causes you to be supportive and verbally abusive in almost the same breath. Or as I said unkindly “an emotional vampire’ that was uncalled for and non productive and I apologize profusely. I am sorry Tiana.” The e-mail went on for about five paragraphs that made excuses for her behavior, blamed her disability etc.

I thought of several sarcastic responses such as:

“Thank you I’ll let my psychiatrist know about your diagnosis.”

“Thank you would you like my mother’s e-mail address so you can rant at her for raising a child with a personality disorder?”

“I didn’t know you were a psychiatrist, if I had you probably would have been easier to place.”

“I once had a boss tell me that the negative things we see in other people are usually a reflection of what we don’t like about ourselves. Would you like the name of my psychiatrist?”

Instead I didn’t respond. This is how I try to deal with “constructive” critcism. I’m not always successful.

First I evaluate it. Who is it coming from? Do I respect them? Is their opinion important to me? Is it true? Now self-evaluation is difficult, but in my case I have been to several psychiatrists and never been diagnosed with a personality disorder.

If it’s not true – I let it go.

If it is true I have a decision to make: Is this something about myself that I want to change?

If I want to change it I start working on it. If I don’t want to change it I let it go.

There is no sense in me trying to continue a conversation with this person, she isn’t in a position to hear anything I have to say. She is in a blame mode, something that is very common with people in general, including PWDs. It’s more easy and less painful to blame me than to accept responsibility for her actions. Do I have any fault in this, probably. I have expectations of my fellow PWDs, high expectations.

The biggest red flag for me in this entire conversation was her discussions with numerous other individuals and the only question I have about that is “Were they individuals with disabilties?” Often times able-bodied people let things go because they feel that an individual with a disability has been through so much or had a difficult life. That’s not helpful. PWDs like everyone else need and deserve to hear the truth, particularly when it comes to employment.

Letting things go because someone has a disability or enabling or justifying bad behavior is a disservice to everyone.

Everyone has had to deal with difficult situations, no one gets through life unscathed. My life isn’t any worse than yours because I have a disability, just like your life isn’t any better than mine because you don’t.

No one likes constructive critcism, no likes self-evaluation, but there is only one way to respond. Thank you. And move on. From time to time we all have to shovel shit.

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Armstrong – Athletes, Drugs, Alcohol = Sad Story

I’m not angFor the love of the gamery with Lance probably because I could care less about cycling and maybe if the sport is so rife with cheating it shouldn’t be a sport. To be honest, although I played basketball and reached the highest level of wheelchair basketball, the Paralypmics, I don’t watch, follow or even care about any sport.

But maybe we, as Americans should be questioning the role we play in these stories. Americans worship the God of sports. We pay athletes millions and millions of dollars, they are all over T.V. the internet, they get huge endorsement deals, we treat them like Gods and then we’re surprised and angry when they cheat. We give them HUGE incentives to win at all costs. This is a product of our society.

What Lance Armstrong did was wrong, but at least he is finally telling the truth and he deserves some credit for that. Now that we have put him through the ringer maybe we should turn our intense gaze on ourselves and ask: What role did we play in this? Why do athletes feel that everything is justified when it comes to winning? Where does that come from?

“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Is a quote that is often attributed to Vince Lombardi in 1959, It was actually said by UCLA Football Coach Red Sanders in 1950.

That’s bullshit, winning isn’t everything. And as member of the 1992 USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team who lost the gold medal, you never win the silver, you only lose the gold. My coach, not the USA Coach, but my University of Illinois Coach said to me: “Winning and losing result from many factors, some are internal and controllable, some are external and uncontrollable. Therefore, winning must not always incite adulation and losing is not always cause for criticism and self-berating. The most noble feature of competition is not the outcome, but the effort, which precedes it. Where effort exists there is not failure, merely, momentary setbacks.”

If we continue idolizing sports and the athletes who excel at them, the Armstrong debacle may only be the start.

Isn’t it time to focus on what is really important, education, the economy, our children’s future.

Sports were originally extra-curricular, maybe it’s time to go back there, to the roots when sports occupied an appropriate place in our society. I played because I LOVED the game. Sure I would have loved to have been sponsored by corporations, adored by fans, made enough money to not have to worry about health insurance and been more than a has been, but would I have done anything to achieve that? No. And maybe it’s easy for me to say that, after all I play wheelchair basketball, so it really wasn’t in the cards.

But maybe, just maybe, I’m the one who has the most sane approach. No, that would my mother who always said that sports are extra-curricular and who left my silver medal hanging over the unfinished bathroom valance for five years.

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15 Kilos

So, I’m no longer in the guesthouse in Kadugli. I was extracted, the UN wasn’t officially calling it an evacuation. The fighting started at 5:15 p.m. on June 7 and quit around 9:50 p.m. most likely because the power went out around 7:00 p.m. and it was pitch black so they couldn’t see what to shoot at. It was heavy small arms fire. There were two burst of fighting in the night one at 2:30 a.m. and one at 4:30 a.m. and then it started up again at about 6:00 a.m. heavy small arms fire, much closer than the night before and mortars. At 8:57 a.m. I received a text from the security focal point for the International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) that negotiations were being made for the removal of international personnel, but that it would not happen until after 12:00 p.m. Please have your quick run bag ready to go. (This is really just an excuse for why I didn’t keep my promise about writing twice a week, I really was planning to and I even had a post on query letters, but in the excitement of limping out of Kadugli I failed to post it.)

What is a quick run bag? It is a bag that can weight no more than 15 kgs about 32 pounds which contains at least one change clothes, some food, some water and whatever you don’t want to leave behind within the 15kg limit. Mine had clothes, my medication, some toiletries, some jewelry and a bunch of speeches I was planning on working on when I was done with the latest edits on my memoir.

So what does 15 kgs have to do with writing? Detail is important in writing, but you have to be careful that it doesn’t weigh your writing down. I find this particularly difficult when I’m trying to write about my life, memoir. It’s my life, isn’t every detail important? Yes, to me, but not to a reader. Sometimes I get bogged down in the detail, detail that doesn’t move the story along. So you need to think about the essentials, if you could only have 15 kgs (that’s figuratively, if you wrote a book and it weighed 15 kgs there most likely wouldn’t be a chance that you had left anything out), what are the essentials to your story. For example in my quick run bag I brought a lot of underwear, I left all the old ratty ones behind, but one of my roommates at the UN compound, there were five of us, brought an iron. Prior to having to pack a quick run bag there was a lot of joking between myself and my colleagues about what to bring, they were teasing me about the sacred frog pillow, I regret to inform you, it did not make it out. Why? Because I knew there would be pillows in Khartoum. I did bring a lot of tampons, a commodity you can’t find in Khartoum.

So in the first draft of my memoir in the part of Bosnia I included a brief romance with this guy Jeff, who dumped me for a big-boobed Bosnian girl. One agent pointed out to me that it didn’t add anything to the story, and she was right, it was more revenge writing, so I dumped Jeff.

As you go through the writing process and hopefully have people reading your drafts, they will most likely have a better feel for extraneous detail or even chapters. Now it’s difficult to leave some things out. For example when I was packing my quick run bag I thought it was too heavy so I took out a pair of ratty old jeans, my favorite holey jeans that had been patched to death and my Keen sandals. Now that I’m in Khartoum and the guesthouse has looted and there is no possibility for recovery I wish I would have packed them, but soon enough I won’t even remember I had them.
When people/readers suggest you leave things out you most likely will feel a bit looted also, but it’s important to be able to take constructive criticism well after all they are only trying to help you. For me if I get something I’ve written back without any edits or suggestions it makes me nervous—like the person didn’t even read it.

Remember 15 kgs is all you get, so choose wisely. When I initially thought I was flying out on Tuesday, that was before the fighting started, I had booked extra kilos on the flight. I was still leaving a lot of stuff behind, but I packed an entire duffle bag of stuff I that I wanted to take. Unfortunately someone else has benefitted from my packing, it was all ready to be walked off with by the looters. Boy are they going to be surprised at the 200 tampons they find. It also had in it Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publisher’s Agents . . . so I’m hoping I get picked up by an agent soon as I won’t be able to get a new copy of that book for awhile.

In addition to being extracted from Kadugli and losing probably $1,000 worth of “stuff” and the sacred frog pillow I was rejected by two more agents this week for a total of 38 rejections. Oh well, hopefully next week will be better.

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The confusing world of query letters

As I write this I’m confined to the guesthouse in which I live in Southern Kordofan, Sudan. I can only go from the guesthouse to the office and back. In case you aren’t award Sudan is preparing to become two countries, North and South with most of the oil in the South, Southern Kordofan has large populations that identify with North and large populations that identify with the South, it was one of the areas that saw some of the fiercest fighting during the civil war. For more information on the situation here you can read: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/world/africa/06juba.html?ref=sudan.

 So query letters one of the most important things you will ever write and they differ depending on whether or not you are pitching fiction or non-fiction. The reason I’m writing this is because it is difficult to find examples on the web and I wanted to provide the information that I did find all in one place, (this is my excuse as to why it is so long) it’s difficult to remember on which website you saw what and then links change, content gets replaced and then you waste a ton of time that you would spend writing looking for that one article that will help you write the perfect query letter. How annoying.  

 My first pitch was to five agents at the Willamette Writer’s Conference, a verbal pitch is a little bit different, if you live in Oregon or even if you don’t I highly recommend the Willamette Writer’s Conference you can find more information at www.willamettewriters.com. I hope this link works it didn’t work for me in Sudan, but a lot of websites are inaccessible in Sudan due to the sanctions. Also right before the Willamette Writer’s Conference I went to Cynthia Snow’s Pitch Conference. I pitched my story in front of about forty people and it was great practice and I got great feedback. All five of the agents I pitched to at the conference asked for my book proposal.

Here was another mistake I made, I was ready to pitch my book, but I hadn’t written a book proposal. If I had it do to over again I would have had my book proposal, perfected and copies of it, ready to hand it over. As it was I sent the book proposal out almost six months later, before you start pitching have all the documentation you need prepared, book proposal and synopsis. Now as you are reading agent guidelines some of them will ask for different things so you can’t prepare for everything, but if you are writing a memoir you will need a book proposal and a synopsis. After Cynthia’s pitch conference these were the notes that I used to make my pitch:

 My name is TianaTozer. I was a member of the USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team for 6 years. I helped my team bring home the silver from Barcelona and the Bronze from Atlanta.

 I was always an athlete, but I didn’t realize my full potential until I became a wheelchair athlete.

 On May 14, 1988 an intoxicated driver broadsided the car I was riding in and I was thrown out and run over. It took me three weeks to realize how badly I was injured. It took me almost two years to realize that by virtue of my disability I was a second-class citizen.

“I’m Still Waiting for the Elevator” is a story of loss, desperation, acceptance and laughter.

          It starts at the darkest moment after my crash in June 1988

          Takes the reader to the unfamiliar area of war and Bosnia and wheelchair athletics

  • Traveled to Bosnia to teach veterans of the war wheelchair basketball.

          Provides an intimate look into hospitals, rehabilitation and the journey of recovering from a life-changing event. 

          It took 34 reconstructive surgeries and four years to learn to walk again.

My story also underscores the fact that, people with disabilities are still one of the most disenfranchised minorities in society, although some of that is self-inflicted. It’s an introduction to a world most people don’t even know exists.

After completing my book proposal I purchased Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents, great resource, but we aren’t talking now about where to find agents, we are talking about query letters. Once I decided to query agents by e-mail or letter I revised my verbal query into a letter:

I was always an athlete, but I didn’t realize my full potential until I became a wheelchair athlete.  As a member of the USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team for six years, I helped my team bring home the silver from Barcelona and the bronze from Atlanta.

On May 14, 1988 an intoxicated driver broadsided the car I was riding in and I was thrown out and run over. “I’m Still Waiting for the Elevator” is an 80,000 word memoir describing the events after the crash; the loss, redemption and laughter that happen when fate tosses a person upside down. The story begins at the darkest moment when I first grapple with the extent of my injuries while in an ICU ward and then transports the reader to the unfamiliar territory of war, Bosnia and wheelchair athletics. It highlights an idyllic childhood shattered by a single event that forever shaped my view of the world.  

Disability memoir most often focuses on celebration or triumph of the human spirit, “Elevator” diverges from this genre in that it is a straight-forward account of a life-changing event and a woman’s struggle to find her place in a world that seems to devalue the less than perfect.  The memoir provides an intimate look into hospitals, rehabilitation, including learning to walk again and the journey of rebuilding a life. It also takes the reader into the little known world of people with disabilities unlocking the gallows humor, political incorrectness and the language of people who affectionately call each other gimps. Through stories of wheelchair athletic competitions in unlikely places, readers come to understand that having a disability is not a fate worse than death.  

“Elevator” was written to open a dialogue between the able-bodied world and people with disabilities; to shed light on the myths and misconceptions that surround this minority and create understanding to further integration of people with disabilities into society.  It answers the unaskable questions.  

I was first published nationally in 2006 on Starbucks cup #83.  My short story “Satan’s Performance Review” was published in the October 2007 issue of The Wittenburg Door.  I’m also the author of numerous brilliant, but as of yet undiscovered essays; however my annual Christmas letter has a decent following.  As a humanitarian aid worker in Iraq, in 2008, my efforts on behalf of people with disabilities garnered much media attention resulting in 1.8 million dollars worth of free publicity for the organization which employs me.   

I have completed a 78-page book proposal, which includes competing and complementary titles, market evaluation, promotional opportunities and sample chapters.  My book proposal is available for review.  I look forward to hearing from you.  

It is important to address the word length and your platform, why are you the one who should write this book and what do you have going on that will help sales. My biggest mistake in this query was not telling them that I’m a public speaker, I’ve spoken to hundreds of audiences, but with this query they will never learn that unless they request my book proposal. I did get some requests, but it was slow going and it was this lack of response that led me to change my query letter completely. Pay attention now, this was a HUGE mistake.

I was getting some responses from the above query letter, but not enough to suit me so I went on line and did some research about query letters. I found an example from Ms. Snark that she just loved:  

I can see the future. Great, right?

Not really.

Five minutes. That’s what I get. Five minutes of the future.

Five minutes of fog so thick I can barely see, and, most often, vomit-inducing nausea to greet me when I come back to the present.

It’s okay though. It’s taken half my life for me to get a grip on this thing I call the Vision, but I’ve gotten used to it. Got a buddy to clean up after me. Got a girl. Well, she’s a hooker, so I suppose I bought a girl. Even scraped out a decent little life finding the occasional winning slot machine.

At least, it was okay. Until I started seeing the murders.

FIVE MINUTES is complete at just under 56,000 words. I’d be happy to provide a partial or complete manuscript for further review.

Thanks in advance for your consideration,

 So I redid my query to read like this:  

One careless decision, one life altered.

The crushing weight of a 3,000-pound vehicle, one month in ICU, 35 reconstructive surgeries, the loss of childhood dreams.

One mediocre basketball player, one Paralympic athlete, two Paralympic medals, a humanitarian mission to Bosnia. 

The question is why me?  The question is why not me?  It’s the fight to belong, the pain of being different, the struggle to stand out.

Everything you assumed about people with disabilities is about to be challenged.  Hollywood never gets it right.

Here have a seat.  No sit here.  Yes, I know it’s my chair, my wheelchair.  I want you to sit there.  I want you to walk . . . err roll a mile in my wheels.  I know what you think my life is like, I see it your eyes, the pity, the relief that it’s me and not you.  It’s really not like that at all.

Who am I?  I’m the author of Starbucks cup #83.  The survivor of a violent crime.  A public speaker.  The author of a short story “Satan’s Performance Review” published in the October 2007 issue of The Wittenburg Door.  The subject of a documentary film.  University of Oregon’s 2010 Outstanding Young Alumni.  I’m a humanitarian aid worker stationed in Sudan, Africa.  An advocate whose efforts on behalf of people with disabilities in Iraq garnered 1.8 million dollars worth of free publicity for the organization that employs me.  I’m not a hero or courageous by virtue of my disability, I’m very much a normal person.  We have more in common than you think.

What do I want?  I want you to see me, not my wheelchair or my scars, but me.  Don’t be afraid.  I’m not contagious.

“I’m Still Waiting for the Elevator” is a memoir complete at 125,121 words.  I’d be happy to provide a book proposal for further review.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Not one single request for the book proposal why? Because although this style is fine for fiction, it’s not how a memoir query should look. I think I sent this one out for four months before I finally asked for help. Here’s where you benefit from more advice that I paid for. I paid to have someone look at my query, and she suggested I rewrite it more like my first query, the result:  

I understand that you are interested in representing non-fiction books about personal growth by authors who are not terminally insecure. That would be me. In addition, I’m also a person who doesn’t mince words which some people appreciate and some people find offensive.

I was always an athlete, but I didn’t realize my full potential until I became a wheelchair athlete. As a member of the USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team for six years, I helped my team bring home the silver from Barcelona and the bronze from Atlanta.

On May 14, 1988 an intoxicated driver broadsided the car in which I was a passenger. I was thrown out and run over. I’m Still Waiting for the Elevator is a 99,000 word memoir describing the events after the crash; the loss, redemption and laughter that happen when fate tosses a person upside down—more than once. The story begins at the darkest moment when I first grapple with the extent of my injuries while in an ICU ward. Then the story transports the reader to my unorthodox but idyllic childhood shattered by a single event that forever shaped my view of the world.

Disability memoir most often focuses on celebration or triumph of the human spirit. it’s enough to make you want to puke. Elevator diverges from this genre in that it is a straightforward account of a life-changing event and a woman’s struggle to find her place in a world that seems to devalue the less than perfect. It is about rebuilding dreams and coming to terms. It takes the reader into the little known world of people with disabilities unlocking the gallows humor, political incorrectness and the language of people who affectionately call each other gimp. Through stories of everyday life events experienced from a wheelchair and wheelchair athletic competitions readers come to understand that having a disability is not a fate worse than death.

Elevator was written to open a dialogue between the able-bodied world and people with disabilities; to challenge societal assumptions about the value of people with disabilities and create understanding to further integration of people with disabilities into society. It answers the unaskable questions.

I was first published nationally in 2006 on Starbucks cup #83. My short story “Satan’s Performance Review” was published in the October 2007 issue of The Wittenburg Door. The subject of a documentary “The Tiana Tozer Story,” my story was also made available to all Oregon schools in a short video. A member of Fisher’s Speakers Bureau since 1998, I have spoken to hundreds of groups nationwide including the Society of Human Resource Professionals, and most recently to attendees of the Securian sales conference and the Special Olympics Oregon State Games. As a humanitarian aid worker in Iraq, in 2008, my efforts on behalf of people with disabilities garnered media attention resulting in 1.8 million dollars worth of free publicity.

I have completed a 76-page book proposal, which includes competing and complementary titles, market evaluation, promotional opportunities and sample chapters. My book proposal is available for review. I look forward to hearing from you.

I have received three requests for my book proposal. What’s different, I’ve started personalizing my letters; this indicates to the agent I’ve done some research so the first paragraph of this letter is always different. I clearly state my platform, I’m a member of a speaker’s agency and I’ve been published. I based this query letter off of the only example of a non-fiction query letter I was able to find on the web that an agent gave as an example of an excellent query letter:  

I am a psychiatrist, published author, and expert for the national media seeking representation for my memoir titled, Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own. Because you are interested in unique voices, I thought we might be a good match.

When Tim first announced he wanted to “chuck it all” and travel around the country in a converted bus for a year, I gave this profound and potentially life-altering notion all the thoughtful consideration it deserved. “Why can’t you be like a normal husband with a midlife crisis and have an affair or buy a Corvette?” I asked, adding, “I will never, ever, EVER live on a bus.”

What do you get when you cram married shrinks—one in a midlife crisis, the other his materialistic, wise-cracking wife—two cats who hate each other and a Standard Poodle who loves licking them all, into a bus for a year? Queen of the Road is a memoir of my dysfunctional, multi-species family’s travels to and travails in the 49 continental states. (Tim insisted on seeing them all, despite my assurances that there were a few we could skip.)

As a psychiatrist, award-winning author (I Know You Really Love Me, Macmillan/Dell) and frequent media expert on psychiatric topics, (including Larry King, GMA, 48 Hours, The New York Times and People Magazine), my life has centered on introspection, analysis and storytelling. Yet, I count among my greatest accomplishments that last year, our bus was featured as the centerfold of Bus Conversions Magazine, thus fulfilling my life-long ambition of becoming a Miss September.

The story of our year-long adventure is already garnering interest in the media and has been mentioned in AMA News (circulation 250,000, and this journal of the American Medical Association has already agreed to review the book with an author interview when it comes out), Woman’s Day, Quick and Simple, Match.com and Best Life Magazine. An upcoming Parade Magazine article on the growing phenomenon of mid-life career breaks (who knew I was a trend setter?) will include a photo of Tim and me, along with our story. My blog of our trip has also been mentioned in Andy Serwer’s Street Life ecolumn (Fortune Magazine).

I hope you are interested in seeing the proposal and if so, would be most happy to send it to you via e-mail or snail mail.

Now of course, this woman has an excellent platform and her story has already generated a ton of media interest, but don’t be discouraged, just keep plugging along. After all I’m seven years into my project. But don’t be afraid to revise your query and don’t be afraid to pay for help.

After thirty-six queries between August 2007 and June 2009 I received twenty-one rejections NO! Two requests for my book proposal or sample chapters, which ended in one rejection later and thirteen agents must have broken wrists because they didn’t bother to respond at all. One agent after reading my book proposal asked for my manuscript, but that’s a different story.

Don’t give up! In trying to get published tenacity is your best attribute along with a great sense of humor.

 In 2010, after revising my manuscript I started querying again between November 2010 and March 2010 I sent out another fifty-six queries with the following results, thirteen actual nos, two that said if I don’t hear back within three weeks it’s a no, so two more rejections, five requests for books proposals of which I heard back from two, which were no, that leaves thirty-three agents who are having computer problems or are suffering from broken wrists. I’ll talk about agents later.  

That’s ninety-one queries and a heck of a lot of rejections. But getting rejected by an agent isn’t the worst thing that’s happened to me after all I do play wheelchair basketball. And the most successful people are also the ones who have experienced the most failure. Don’t let the process get you down.

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