Courage for Dreamers: (In which I get a Tattoo)

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It’s interesting, the things that give us courage. Sometimes it only takes a few words to remind us of what’s true, and we are suddenly braver than our fears.

Many things inspire me. I surround myself with images and quotes that serve as touchstones, helping me find my way on a path that can be lonely and doubt-filled at times. Going after your dreams can be terrifying. With every door that closes, you must decide whether or not to try again. You weigh the risks and ask yourself to count the cost of hurt and discouragement. How much is a dream—a difficult, unlikely dream—truly worth?

I could never have made it this far without the family and friends who’ve supported me and encouraged me to believe—to keep reaching. They helped me be brave when my doubts and fears seemed bigger than the possibilities. My book deals—and all that’s happened this past year, still seem surreal. I wanted to mark this time in a special way.

So I got a tattoo.

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C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, and this is from his book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Edmund, Lucy and Caspian sail into Darkness, and everyone is afraid. They can’t find their way, and their fears begin to materialize around them. A seagull circles the mast, and Lucy hears Aslan say, “Courage, dear heart.” They follow the gull back into the light. I have always loved this quote. These words hang near my computer and I’ve looked at them after reading countless rejection letters. I have felt like Lucy many times.

So now I wear them. On my writing hand—to remind me to write bravely. And also as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I hope to inspire other artists and dreamers.

Sometimes, all we need is the right voice—at just the right time.

Take risks, dream big. Never give up.

Courage, dear heart.

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In which I went to NYC, met my editor, and EEEEEEE!!!

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Just after visiting Macmillan Publishing, Flatiron Building, NYC

 

Click here to watch the video

As I write this post, I’m in a boutique New York City hotel near 5th Avenue, perched on the twenty-first floor. Literally, I’m perched, like a heavily-layered pigeon at the edge of this historic building. It’s freezing out, but I have an adorable balcony with an (almost) view of Rockefeller Plaza, so I’m letting my toes go numb while I soak up this surreal moment.

 

There is something about a dream materializing that makes you feel anything’s possible, like there’s a sun glowing inside your body, and that a unicorn could prance down 57th street at any moment. None did, but I kept an eye out for them, just in case. I also kept an eye out for all French bakeries, but that’s another story. One that will probably evolve into mild regret, sweat pants, and extra gym hours.

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It was my birthday, so I may have eaten both cupcakes. And see, there’s that balcony I mentioned…

If you like pictures, come say ‘hi’ on Instagram. I promise, not everything is food. There’s also my dog.

 

Anyway . . . publishing. The dreams-come-true and unicorn possibilities and now-the-hard-work-really-begins part.

 

My first night in NYC, I met my editor, Kate Farrell, (the senior editor at Henry Holt). She’s a lot of fun, and it was so cool connecting with the person who feels so deeply connected to my book. And also there was a photo booth. With a really bright flash.

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Hanging out with my editor, Kate Farrell

Kate’s said that some BIG edits are coming my way. (That’s the hard-work-really-begins part I mentioned.) But it will only make FLASHFALL better, and more exciting, and memorable and sparkly. If you’re going to put in the blood, sweat, and tears writing, you might as well make it awesome, right? (Remind me of this later.)

 

No really, remind me—please.

 

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This is from my shirt that I got just before my trip. Whatever is in your heart to do . . . go after it, work hard, believe it’s possible.

 

I dreamed about meeting my editor in New York long, looong, before it seemed possible. For more about my journey to get an agent here, and getting a book deal here. I hope my publishing story inspires you–especially if you’re in that place where the voice of doubt is telling you to quit. I felt that way so many times. More about that here.

 

Maybe your dream isn’t meeting your publisher in New York City. Maybe it is. Either way, I hope there are unicorns in your future. Or at least the feeling that they are possible.

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Reaching Past Rejection: How Dreaming Big Led to a Book Deal

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I wrote this in the sand the day before I met my agent in person, at this past summer’s SCBWI LA conference. I was in a bit of a creative/emotional funk, wrapping up months of revisions and getting ready to send my manuscript out into the great big world of publishing. I had one of the best agents in the business, (and her amazing editorial skills), but I had no guarantee that the doors I hoped would open, wouldn’t in fact—close.

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I stood barefoot in the surf and stared toward the horizon, making wishes on the waves. I picked up two sea stones, held them tight and thought of every dream I had for myself as a writer, and threw one of those rocks back to sea. I let the waves carry away the hopes and dreams I’d made, and kept the other stone, as a reminder to myself that those dreams were still out there—waiting for the right time and place to land.

As my feet sank into the sand, I gave myself a pep talk: if things didn’t go as I hoped, I’d allow myself a good cry, then get right back on that metaphorical horse. This wasn’t my first Rejection Rodeo. I had persevered through years of rejected queries and manuscripts to get to this point. The fact that I hadn’t given up was something to celebrate.

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One of the promises I made myself as I watched the August sun sink into the ocean, was that—whether I landed a book deal or not—I’d keep writing.

What I couldn’t know then, was that I’d make it through the ups and downs of the submission process with more than one editor who wanted the stories I had to tell. I couldn’t know then, as I drew those letters in the sand, what Sarah’s voice would sound like when she called and said, “how does it feel to know you’re going to be a published author?” Or how I would cry happy tears when she told me they wanted not just one, but two books.

As I threw my rock out to sea, I didn’t know that some of my dreams would find their landing just eight weeks from that day.

That sea-tossed stone now sits on my desk, a reminder of when I let go of what I couldn’t control, and celebrated what I had accomplished so far.

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If you are holding your own sort of sea stone, remember the dreams you painted inside your heart. Keep pushing. Keep running. Keep learning and growing and doing everything else but give up. And if you’ve been too afraid to go after what you love—maybe this is your moment. Whisper your dreams to the waves and be true to the courageous voice inside you that says “reach.”

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Out of the Query Trenches

I’d been in the Query Trenches a loooong time. For the past few years, I’d pretty much lived there. I had my own mailbox and a clown with a little dancing dog that came by every so often to cheer me up. (Okay—the dog is real, but my husband would not appreciate the clown metaphor.)

Anyone who’s ever written a manuscript and sent their baby out into the daunting world of slush piles and literary agents knows the particular kind of hell this journey is for most writers.

It’s said that Mark Twain wallpapered his attic in rejection letters before he published Tom Sawyer. I used to print and save my rejection letters and post them on the wall until I realized that a room decorated with rejection was really depressing.

So I treated myself to cupcakes (or wine) whenever a pass came in, and for the really tough ones—rejections on full requests—I bought shoes. And a puppy.

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But today, I’m relinquishing my spot in the query trenches to another hopeful writer. Not because I quit, but because I didn’t quit.

And finally, finally . . . I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!

*pops cork*    *twirls *

I am so deliriously excited to announce that THE AMAZING SARAH DAVIES of The Greenhouse Literary Agency has offered to represent me!!!

Yep. I just looked down, and my feet are still floating off the ground. And yes, her name requires SHOUTY CAPS–she is that kind of agent.

It is such a gift to have a champion for this story, and I know my manuscript is in the very best hands.

I’ll soon be pitching my tent over in the Submission Trenches. I’m sure the clown and his little dancing dog will visit from time to time. Hopefully, before too long, my story will find a home with a publisher.

Whatever happens, I’m taking with me the most important lesson I learned in the Query Trenches–one I want to encourage you with, fellow dreamers . . .

Never-never-never-give-up

 

 

How I quit, started over, and finally received offers of representation.

I remember the moment when I got my first full request for my historical fantasy, THE DESCENDED.

I went into the ugly cry, clutching my laptop to my chest like a beloved friend. “The agent loves it,” I exclaimed through my tears. “She thinks it has potential.” *continued incoherent mumbling*

“I knew it!” my husband shouted. Then there may have been some awkward dancing with the laptop clasped between us.

Because, finally, finally I’d MADE it. Two years of writing and revising my manuscript and months of rejections had led precipitously to this moment when an agent—a fabulous agent whom I liked and admired—opened the hallowed DOOR OF PUBLISHING OPPORTUNITY.

Only . . .not.

I had a lot to learn about the query process then. *shakes head at naive, younger self*

Fast forward months of maniacal email inbox stalking to the kind, but vague rejection. No dancing this time. Straight up despair.

That was it. I sucked. My dream was just the delusion of a crazy person. A talentless crazy person. So I did what any sensitive, creative type would do in my shoes.

I quit.

There I was, crying on a treadmill at the gym with my husband running beside me. (I was at a sedate, depressed walk) I attuned my heart and mind to the things I could do with my life that didn’t involve, you know, words and imagination.

“Don’t quit,” my husband said. “Use what you learned and write the next one.”

Very Obi Wan Kenobi of him. I scoffed and snot-cried. Then did something that seriously surprised me and my battered ego. I went home and started my first YA, THE DREAMSPEAKER’S DIARY. A story about a girl who’s terrified to speak her dreams aloud and then learns that it’s those very dreams that empower her. (Basically, a long note to myself.) I was not going to fear my dreams—even if they sometimes led to heartache and rejection.

Because, at the end of the day, my passion is to write. I crave an audience like every artist, but something in my soul needs to create these worlds and characters—even if I’m the only one who experiences them.

I was a lot smarter this time making the query rounds. Slog it out in the query trenches long enough and you learn a few things. Mainly–have critique partners comb through your manuscript before you send it out into the world.

DREAMSPEAKER’S did well. I won contests, I got requests. LOTS of requests.

THIS WAS IT. I was poised on the brink of REPRESENTATION. Even the rejections coming in were personalized and detailed, so complimentary that I printed some of them and tacked them to my inspiration board. Then . . .

EVERY. DOOR. CLOSED.

No weeping treadmill pity party this time. No Yoda-like pep talk from my husband.

I was not giving up. Period. So I sent another draft to my CPs and Betas. Took all their critiques on the chin like a champ (some of them were tough) My revised manuscript morphed like a snake shedding its skin. I attended conferences. I read EVERYTHING in my genre (and outside of it). THEN, finally, I sent my polished little baby out into another batch of queries.

But, like I said, I was smarter now. So, instead of focusing on the queries and rejections, I started another speculative YA, SUBPARS.

And this story, I LOVED. The main character is a knock-me-down-but-I’m-getting-back-up kind of protagonist that inspired me and challenged me through the PITS OF QUERY HELL.

I couldn’t wait to query the agents who liked my writing with DREAMSPEAKER”S. In a fit of bravado, I even queried a couple agents I thought were unreachable–the ones I’d admired from afar and Twitter/Blog stalked for years. So with a shaking finger on the send button, and a please, please, please mantra in my head, I sent them SUBPARS.

I heard back right away from THREE AGENTS OF AWESOMENESS. Requests!! And the next few days went something like this:

“Ohmygosh, I’m so HAPPY!!”

Then,

“I’ll never make it. This SUCKS. I am in rejection HADES!!!”

I was told great things about my writing, but that the paranormal and speculative markets were FLOODED. And DEAD.

*Cue violin* I slid right into a post-rejection funk.

I may have drank my celebratory champagne spitefully. I may have bought myself a few pairs of shoes to cheer myself up. I zombied out on Twitter, read other writers’ success stories. All I needed was balloons and black crepe paper to make my pity party complete.

It just wasn’t going to happen for me. I was a writer—an author, even. But I just wouldn’t be a published one.

I told myself I was okay with this. And ate excessive amounts of chocolate.

I hoped against all hope for good news in my inbox.

Meanwhile, I completed an R&R (revise and re-submit) with an agent who was interested in DREAMSPEAKER’S. I focused hard on that project. (And re-wrote the novel from start to finish)

I waited. And refreshed my email constantly. And said please, please, please a thousand times in my heart.

And then.

I got an offer of representation from the agent who had my R&R. I sent emails to all the agents who had my queries for both manuscripts.

More agents responded.

The UNREACHABLES reached out. They LOVED SUBPARS. They loved my writing.

With my feet floating above the ground, I tried to make sense of the words I was reading in my emails–because all at once, multiple agents were offering me representation.

I drank champagne again. My boys toasted my joy with sparkling cider. We danced around to the song “Happy.” I wore my red rejection shoes just because.

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So, here it is, the moral of the story: Dream big. Quit if you need to. But then start over. Dream bigger. Grow. Learn. And above all—HOPE.

This isn’t the end for me. Just a new chapter on a journey that may or may not ultimately lead to my book sitting on a shelf in Barnes and Noble (please, please, please)

I’ve got more rejection to face. Probably more closed doors. Definitely new books to write. But hope is the one essential ingredient in it all.

Well, and puppies. Puppies really do make everything better. And shoes. And friends who “get it.” So there you go, fellow dreamers and writers. I get it. Hang in there. Keep on going after it—your own happy dance might be right around the corner.