Stepping Into My Debut Year

2016

                                                January 1st | Aliso Beach, CA

In the past year of publishing “rookie-dom,” I’ve grown accustomed to walking blindly into new situations. And last year, from my first edit letter, to my last round of revisions—there were a lot of them.

Now my debut year is finally here, and once again, I’ll be stepping into moments that take me several strides from my comfort zone. But that’s usually where the good stuff happens–when we reach past our usual, everyday boundaries, and stretch toward something new. Something different. Maybe even something we can’t see clearly.

steps

I believe strongly in painting a clear picture of my dreams and aspirations. I’ve filled cork boards with pictures and words torn from magazines, and have lists of goals etched in journals. They’ve served as touchstones over the years, keeping me on course, driving me past weariness and discouragement.

Reminding me to reach.

I’m currently at work on Book Two in the FLASHFALL series. It’s daunting at times. Writing a second book comes with all kinds of challenges, new sets of concerns and doubts. Expanding worlds, giving fresh arcs to old characters. I’m not even sure how to end it because a third book is just a glimmer of possibility.

But more than that, there’s the fear of simply writing. I wrote FLASHFALL differently. It was more than two years ago—I was a different writer, a different person in many ways. What if I don’t have “it” in me in the same way?

I will have to reach for something new.

pencils

                            A gift from my editor. Fortunately, she gave me options.

In the publishing world, there’s much rejection, disappointment, and disillusionment. I’ve felt them ALL, many times. But there’s also so much possibility if you don’t allow those things to have the final say.

I thought carefully about a word I’d choose as sort of a theme for 2016, one that captured my goals for this next season, these steps into debut territory. I stood on the beach on New Year’s Day, still not certain, not even when I picked up a bit of sea stone and bent toward the sand.

I suppose I shouldn’t  surprised. This one’s been calling to me for a long time.

reach

Reach . . . past failure. Learn from it. Use it to move forward.

Reach . . . for the absolute stars. How else will you get there?

Reach . . . despite other people’s doubts. Despite your own doubts.

Reach . . . inside yourself. Find the depths you didn’t know you had.

Reach . . . past fear, or you’ll never grab hold of your dreams.

As I stand on the cusp of this brand new year, I’m filled with gratitude. There’s uncertainty mixed in, but I remind myself there is freedom in embracing the unknown. Every page of this next book is a challenge, a charge into new territory, but I’m going to dive in. There will be crap writing days–times when I reach for words that won’t come, or plot lines that allude my grasp. On those days I’ll look at my little beach stone on my desk. It will remind me of what I wrote in the sand during a time when all I saw was possibility.

Maybe this will inspire your own journey. Maybe you need this word, this reminder, as much as I do. Or maybe you have your own.

Whatever you do this new year, I hope you find the courage to do it bravely.

A Dreamer Becomes an Author

RejectionLetters 2015-09-02 at 5.44.57 PM

                                                Me and my rejection letters

Two days to deadline–I should be editing instead of blogging, but I wanted to share this.

Many of you know that my publishing journey has been filled with ups and downs, many rejections, and times I nearly quit believing in myself and the possibility of a dream I held in my heart for so many years.

This video makes me cry (in the good way) because Jacob captured so much of that in these images. *

I still recall the sting of rejection, and the way every failed opportunity bruised my heart a little–but MORE than that, I remember the people who cheered me past it–who believed in me even when I only felt doubt.

I’ve held on to my rejection letters (literally hundreds of them) for years. Even on days of discouragement, I imagined myself one day holding up that stack and saying, “This happened, BUT . . .”

Rejection doesn’t have to define us. The desire to create art or tell stories doesn’t end with the evaluation of other people. We do it because we love it. That’s really what got me to this point. I decided I was going to keep writing, whether I ever published or not.

It’s funny, but that’s when I wrote FLASHFALL. I had an agent interested in another manuscript, but I felt compelled to work on this new book. It was personal for me, and it poured out in cathartic ways–the story of a girl who got knocked down again and again, but didn’t give up because she believed there was a way past a terrifying, impassable wall.

“This happened, BUT . . .”

If that’s you–a dreamer coming up against barriers–try to see them instead as steps along the way, motivation to push creative boundaries and work harder. If you can carve out time to do what you love–what feeds your soul–than you are already winning. You’ve succeeded. And yes–we want an audience, people who will experience and feel moved by what we’ve created. So find that friend, or critique partner or writing group.

Give voice to the things your heart is saying.

*thank you to my amazing husband and the team at Luminary, for your creative talents, and for helping me share my publishing story in ways more powerful than words.

 

 

Revision Fatigue and Battling the Doubt Monster

I’m going to be honest. I’m sick of reading my book.

That probably doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for FLASHFALL, but that’s just where I’m at this stage of the editing process, now that I’ve read it eighteen million-billion times.

People suggest taking a break, and coming back to your manuscript with ‘fresh eyes.’ I had a four-month break while waiting for my second round revision notes. Two weeks into editing, and my brain’s pretty much ‘what even are these words?’

LegoComputergiphy

Revision Fatigue has set in. So I break the edits down onto sticky notes, put them on my board beside my laptop, and tackle them a scene at a time. Between that, I take Emmy for walks and drink copious amounts of coffee. I wear my Gryffindor socks (because magic) and my t-shirt that says, I Can and I Will (because cozy encouragement t-shirts help, too.)

HPSocksIMG_4148

Still. As much as I whittle away my edits into a mountain of sticky-notes, another voice rises up, louder than my writer’s voice.

This is crap. This plot has too many holes. That doesn’t make sense. That’s cliché.

The voice of the Doubt Monster.

If you’ve ever written a book, or undertaken a creative endeavor, you’ve probably encountered your own.

So what can we do to battle the doubt? Here are a few things that help me:

  1. Get outside your own head. Sometimes, we are too close to the story to see when a character’s motivations are unclear or a plot development doesn’t make sense. Beta readers and critique partners are essential. Open yourself up to other people’s feedback. If you’re re-working a scene, and feel like it’s not working—run it by a couple (trusted) people. They can help re-assure you or re-direct you. By the time you’ve revised your manuscript that many times, it can be hard to see it objectively.
  2. Trust the process. It’s normal to weary of reading your book. That doesn’t mean it’s bad—it just means you’ve grown numb to all the discoveries that make books interesting. Also, by the time we get to multiple rounds of edits, we’re viewing our writing through hyper-critical lenses, focusing on the ‘problems’. Reading from that place is never fun.
  3. Commiserate with other writers. The authors in my debut group (The Sweet Sixteens) have gone through similar feelings, and just reading about their experiences makes me feel better. I love connecting with other writers on Twitter, too, and being able to share the challenges of writing and editing. So many times, they have great insights and perspectives to share. It’s reassuring, therapeutic, and usually enough to squash the doubt monster.
  4. Trick your brain. There have been studies that show how our brains ‘see’ printed and computer text differently. If your words are starting to blur together, print out your manuscript and work from the hard copy for bit. This helps me enormously—especially when I’m working through any big revisions. The other thing that helps me is a change of scenery. Try writing outside, or go to a coffee shop. Sometimes we just need to shake up our routine to get our focus back.
  5. Trust yourself. This is vital, because the best writing happens when we write from a place of confidence. Something inspired you to begin this journey—and the heart of that story is still there. Don’t get so caught up in the ‘problems’ you are fixing, that you lose sight of what the story’s about.
  6. Take a moment. Take a day. On a fresh page, write something entirely new. Or, approach a scene you’re revising from a new angle. Throw off all constraints and allow yourself to exercise and re-charge the artist part of your writer self. This is what I do when I stall out in my writing, (staring at blank walls, anyone?) or if my writing becomes stale and the characters or dialogue flat. It seems counter-productive to ‘getting the revisions done’—especially when you’re on deadline, but these moments have actually led to some of my strongest scenes in FLASHFALL.
  7. Don’t be afraid to break it. Embrace the act of revision as an opportunity to re-envision a scene, character, or plot point. Sometimes we hold on so tightly to what we’ve written, that we don’t allow for the possibility of what something can be. For more about this, check out my post on Publishing Hub.

Believe that you are capable of writing and re-writing your book to its fullest potential. It’s normal for the Doubt Monster to visit from time to time. Just don’t let it stay.

Keep writing. Keep revising. You’ve got this!

If you have any suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments! (Or tweet them at me: ) How do you overcome doubt? What helps you avoid ‘zombie brain’ when you’re revising? Please share!

For more, here’s a peek at my revision process:

Author to Author + ARC Review: SHALLOW GRAVES by Kali Wallace

One of the best things about being a debut author has been getting to know some of the other amazing young adult authors publishing their books in 2016. I had the privilege of reading the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Kali Wallace’s SHALLOW GRAVES, and she agreed to answer a few questions about her publishing experience.

ShallowGraves_cover reveal

Summary:

Breezy remembers leaving the party, the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to the face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain the necklace of bruises around her neck. She also can’t explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch.

Returning home seems impossible. Her parents and sisters have clearly grieved and struggled to move on, and Breezy can’t begin to answer their inevitable questions. Her heartbeat comes and goes, she doesn’t need to eat or drink, she can see the inky memories of murderers, and she can somehow pull on this dark guilt to kill them. Haunted by the happy memories from her life and disgusted by the half-dead creature she’s become, Breezy embarks on a reckless quest to find answers and a dangerous healing magic…but the cure is as dark and terrible as the disease.

Set in a gorgeous, terrifying world, Shallow Graves is a stunning novel about the heartbreaking trauma of a girl’s life cut short and her struggle to reconcile her humanity with the creature she’s become.

Find SHALLOW GRAVES on Goodreads

Pre-order now or find it on shelves Jan. 26, 2016

My Review:

I could not put this book down! It was entertaining from the first page to the last. The premise is so intriguing. From the first sentence, I was hooked by the story questions—and they emerged into more and more interesting questions as the story unfolded. I was immediately drawn in by the fantastic writing. Kali Wallace is an artful storyteller, and the queen of metaphors! But that is just icing on the cake of this enthralling tale.

Wallace builds a whole world of re-imagined creatures, with their own characteristics and mythos—all woven together with the over-arching mystery of the main character, Breezy. She is a well-drawn, witty and sympathetic character that I liked immediately—and loved by the end. The author writes such fantastic dialogue! I looked forward to the exchanges Breezy shared with a most interesting cast of characters.

I recommend this book—especially to fans of shows like Supernatural, Grimm, and anyone who enjoys suspense, mystery, and a bit of horror.

My review on Goodreads

Author to Author

(I throw a few questions at an author, and they throw one back at me.)

Jenny asked Kali:

 

What has been your favorite part of the publishing process (so far)?

I have two answers, one about writing and one about people.

The answer about writing is: edits and revisions! Is that a strange answer? Writers complain about edits and revisions all the time, because they are, indeed, a terrifying amount of work. But there is also something wonderful about having my story be picked apart and pieced back together into something stronger and better with the guidance of fantastic editors.

I love that even after I’ve pushed a story as far as I know how to push it, my agent and my editor can come along and say, “Oh, my sweet summer child, we are not done yet,” and open up ways to make it even better. It’s a fantastic feeling to look at the book in ARC form and compare it to the appallingly terrible first draft I finished way back when and see how much it has evolved and improved over time.

My second answer is a lot more squishy with feelings, because it’s all about the people I’ve met as I’ve been going through this process. Other writers are my favorite people in the world, and being a debut author means I get to connect with tons of them to commiserate and laugh and encourage, and I love it. It’s so much fun it ought to be illegal.

 

What advice do you have for writers?

Stop worrying about what you think other people want to read. Seriously. Just stop. STOP. Don’t do it. If you are trying to please an audience by reverse-engineering what’s popular or beloved in other books, readers are going to be able to tell, and they will not be impressed.

I see so many writers say things like, “I have this idea, but I don’t think anybody wants it,” or “I would write this, but that’s not what readers want,” or, worst of all, “I bet I could get published, if I wrote something like those other things,” and I just want to shake every single one of them. Write what you want to write instead. If you don’t, it shows and it’s never pretty. Readers are not idiots; they can tell when you’re trying to be something you’re not.

But they can also tell when you are being sincere, when a story really matters to you. So write the story that’s under your skin and in your guts and haunting the corners of your house and whispering in the back of your mind. If you don’t have that story yet, write until you find it. You will eventually.

 

Describe your book in five words:

Being undead is so overrated.

 

What inspired you to write your book?

This book is what happens when somebody who watched too much Supernatural back in the day, back when it was new and more importantly when it still had a kickin’ soundtrack, starts to think, “But what if all those monsters getting hunted don’t want to be monsters? What if they’re just people living in the best way they know how? What if they’ve got friends and family waiting for them to come home, always worrying that some crazy-ass humans with more weaponry than good sense are going to hunt them down?”

And of course once I started to think like that, I started feeling really bad for all those monsters who just wanted to be left alone in their monstrous lives, and the whole thing just kind of… grew from there, gathering up a whole bunch of other ideas about life and grief and trauma and being a teenage girl in the world. But it started with the monsters. Story ideas are like mushrooms. You don’t even know they’re waiting there in the dark for the right conditions, then suddenly your entire life is covered with suspicious squishy colonies that appeared overnight.

 

What was the biggest challenge you faced getting published?

Like many authors (most authors?), the first book I sold was definitely not the first book I tried to sell. My first novel was on submission for something like 10 months, with something like 30 editors saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” or, “Wow, no, this is way too gross,” or not saying anything at all. It is very discouraging! There’s no sense in pretending that it’s not discouraging. Even if the editors are saying encouraging things and asking to see more, it still sucks.

But, well, there’s also no sense in doing anything with all that time but working harder, so when my agent and I realized this first book probably wasn’t going to get any traction, we started working on getting the second one into shape, and I was also working on writing a whole new manuscript.

I think it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of thinking, “They have to want THIS STORY or else nothing matters,” but loving your story and wanted to see it published is one thing, and being so precious about it you hang all of your hopes on it is another. It wasn’t easy, to get over that initial disappointment, but I think it became easier once I realized the only thing I could really do, because it was the only thing that was 100% within my control, was to keep writing more. And more and more and more.

 

Kali asked Jenny:

Without spoilers—what is your favorite scene in your book? Why?

One of my favorite scenes in FLASHFALL is actually a kissing scene, LOL! But I don’t love this scene simply for the romance—it’s a moment following an attack in a prison camp, when Dram sort of “talks” Orion down from an emotional cliff. Their world is utterly shaken, but they help remind each other what is constant.

It’s a scene with kissing, but it’s really about finding the light in dark times, and holding on to what is true—even when the rest of your world implodes.

The line at the end is my favorite. It would be spoiler-y for me to describe it, so I’ll just say that Orion realizes how strong she is. I think this is true in life—the tough things we go through can shatter us or strengthen us. Sometimes a bit of both.

Find FLASHFALL on Goodreads

 

Navigating the Revision Cave

Sometimes, when I’m deep in the Revision Cave, I run into walls that make me lose perspective. I focus so hard on the challenges presented by an edit, that I lose sight of what revision truly is: opportunity. The push that makes us look harder at something, until we scratch away the surface and reveal a character for who they really are. The nudge that compels us to make the hard cuts so other scenes shine brighter, and the pacing of the whole book improves.

Second round revisions and line edits for FLASHFALL

Second round revisions and line edits for FLASHFALL

When I was in third grade, an author spoke to us fledgling writers at a Young Authors Conference. He said, “writing is re-writing.” I honestly had no idea what he meant at the time. Fast forward many years, and many books later, and I believed that I had gained a good understanding of that old adage.

Young Authors' Conference, 8th grade

Young Authors’ Conference, 8th grade

But if editing my debut novel has taught me anything, it’s that I had NO IDEA how deeply I’d need to explore the depths of my creative abilities to revise again and again and again.

Sometimes, your editor (or agent or critique partner) may like your writing, but they push you to develop something ‘more.’ That is when you either bang your head against the wall, or you persevere, dig deep . . . and occasionally discover moments, or scenes, or elements that you didn’t know you had in you. The more that can take your story from good to great.

A little over a year until FLASHFALL releases, and it’s really coming together during these final rounds of edits. It’s a book I will be proud to see on the shelf. But it’s not the same book my agent sold last fall. It’s been shaped and stretched into a story more richly layered, visceral, and compelling than I realized it could be from the ‘early days’. The bones were there, but now parts of it feel three-dimensional and ‘alive’ in ways it didn’t before. That is the beauty of revision.

Writing is re-writing. And re-discovering. And re-imagining.

Embrace the act of revision as an opportunity to re-envision a scene, character, or plot point. Then, once you’ve re-envisioned, have the courage to write something new. Sometimes we hold on so tightly to what we’ve written, that we don’t allow for the possibility of what something can be.

For more about this, including some of the best creative advice I ever received, check out my post on Publishing Hub, Don’t Be Afraid To Break It.

And, if you’re curious about my process, here’s a peek . . .