And there’s this:
“Everything I love in a book! Gorgeous writing, unique mythology, and epic sacrifice. Do not miss this one!”
—Pintip Dunn, New York Times bestselling author
I recently passed a new author milestone––I turned in my first round edits of Black Bird of the Gallows to my editor. I thought I’d be relieved to hand over the revised version, but no. I chewed the hell out of my nails and scowled so much, my kid started cranking out paintings of flowers and smiling stick-figures, then taping them to my computer. (See exhibit A)
My edit letter (if anyone is curious) was one page, but included the words: we need to add 15K words, but don’t panic! Okay. Yes, I panicked. And then I got to work. My editor outlined the issues that needed to be addressed and in the end I wound up adding 16K words (ha!). The book is better, stronger. But the truth is, every time I read it, I find something to tweak, adjust, revise. It’s unsettling for sure, and oh-so easy to fall into the trap of tweaking, adjusting, revising forever, because it’s never perfect. Never as good as it could be. It’s a dark spiral that can ensnare a writer into not submitting, into holding on to the precioussss. (See exhibit B)
So it’s this: At certain point, we have to let go of the things we make. There will be good responses. There will be silence. There will be, Oh sweet heavens, I have never read such tripe in the whole of my life. I know this is all part of the process. I’ve never had difficulty letting go of a manuscript that wasn’t selling and moving on to another. However, letting go of a manuscript to be presented to the public will be a new experience for me and THIS sort of letting go IS nerve wracking. The day is approaching when there will be no more edits. No more chances to read it for the ninety-eighth time and catch that weird inconsistency that I missed in the previous ninety-seven reads. No more new eyeballs to say, “this part could be better…” Gulp. Scary? Hell yeah. But kind of exciting, too.
I’ve put off this post because, well, I was overwhelmed, I guess. When bad things happen, your mind gets sad and your body gets in on the act and makes the rest of you feel terrible and aching and sore in the heart. But when really great things happen, it seems like the body sometimes gets confused and throws all the brain chemicals at it like too many medicine for a mystery illness. I’ve had really great things happen lately, so I waited until I normal (for me) to post this.
Good thing #1: I signed a 2-book contract for The Black Bird of the Gallows and The Beekeeper to Entangled TEEN. I don’t have a release date yet, but it’ll be either Fall 2017 or Winter 2018 for the first book. Print and e-book will release simultaneously and I can’t wait to hold that baby in my hands! I will write more about this later on!
Good thing #2: I won the RWA Golden Heart© award for young adult last month. It was A Big Deal. First, it’s an honor to final. Seven finalists, all so very talented and wonderful, and after all the rejection I’ve steeled myself to, the idea of actually winning anything felt too remote to be a possible reality. I didn’t have a speech to deliver (yes, you have to give a little speech, and there were 2K people in this ballroom). My shoes were ditched under the table somewhere. The nominees were announced and then, they called my name. My book had won! I had to cram my (suddenly) sweaty feet into heels and go up there on a stage with a podium and a jumbotron and some seriously bright lights and say something coherent, all the while feeling like I was going to pass out. It was all very, very terrifying. I was told I did good.
All this made me think about how unpredictable life can be. I had spent so much time building callouses to the negative, so I wouldn’t be too hurt by the “no’s” that kept coming, I hadn’t dabbled in the hope of a positive outcome. True, I had zero nerves going into the awards ceremony, but I was also unprepared. I forgot to thank my parents, for example, who definitely deserve thanks, or acknowledge my sweet little daughter, who doesn’t deserve thanks, per se (I’d be writing much more if not for play dates and Candy Land and misplaced lollipops), but my love for her inspires my life, and therefore my writing. My big takeaway was this: Balance. Consider the positive. Don’t assume the negative. Be prepared for either. Something to think about when good things just might happen.
So. It’s been a while since I blogged. I’m aware of that. I smack my hand. A few interesting things have happened.
1. My poor, orphaned manuscript, The Black Bird of the Gallows, (the one that lost its contract when my publisher closed) now has over 1000 adds on Goodreads! And a couple dozen reviews, even though no one’s read it, including one delightful .gif animation that makes me smile despite the expletives. This is exciting because I’ve done nothing to promote it. It has no cover, no release date, no nuttin’. It got the adds based on the blurb, so I guess that’s one thing I can write well. Ha! But seriously, it’s the things like this that get you through the times when nothing is happening, which is often in publishing.
2. A different manuscript is a finalist in the 2016 Golden Heart® contest in the young adult category. It’s a big deal, in some circles, namely RWA circles, and I’m proud to be a finalist with The Beekeeper. It’s basically a dark, deranged re-imagining of the beauty and the beast tale, which I loved as a kid and still do as an adult.
So, these two things inspired me to polish up The Beekeeper and query it, as I’m without an agent at the moment. Querying is about as fun as sitting in rush hour traffic, but the right agent is so worth it when it comes to negotiating, submission and the occasional pep talk. Hoping the stars align for a little luck!
For a long time now, I’ve been itching to visit Seguin Island (pronounced Sae-gin), a rocky blip off the coast of Bath, Maine, about 3 miles out to sea. Last week, we finally went. A thirty-minute ferry ride from Fort Baldwin will take you to this tiny island. There’s really nothing to the place. It has a lighthouse on it. It’s a nice lighthouse. We didn’t visit it. We walked the trails, which is a quick thing to do, but when you stand on the southern end of this little island, the only thing you see is the Atlantic and the curve of the Earth. You feel like you’re on the edge of the world.
Seguin hasn’t changed since colonists arrived. And those folks didn’t do much to it for the brief time they were there, so when you walk the rocky shoreline, you walk someplace not messed up by people. An overlooked place. An isolated place. Writing is an isolating endeavor. The longer I live this writers life, the more I seek out the overlooked, lost things in this world. They make me feel things out of the everyday set. They make me just a little bit better at what I do when I sit down to write. I looked at the other people on our tiny ferry and couldn’t help but wonder what brought them there. I know what brought me.
Here’s how you do it. Scroll through your manuscript, WIP or fancy-schmancy book and stop at a random spot (random=no cherry picking the pretty) and wherever phrase or short sentence your cursor lands…That’s your title. Yes, out of context and fugly.
Do this seven more times. You can use your book or, if you’re not a writer, choose whatever one you’re reading. Then go out and tag some friends!
Here are my #8TerribleTitles from my YA paranormal horror, THE BLACK BIRD OF THE GALLOWS. They’re actually not as horrible as I thought they’d be.
1. What happened with Mr. Ortley
2. The milk thing makes it far, far worse
3. Arrive in eight minutes
4. I don’t want a hot neighbor
5. Getting chauffeured around
6. You haven’t seen weird
7. Stay away from the bees
8. Like it’s on fire
Now I’m tagging a few others to share in the fun of their #8TerribleTitles:
Some people can’t write with music on, but I find the right soundtrack can clear my head and put me deep in the scene I’m writing. It strengthens my point of view, blocks extraneous thoughts and minimizes the chance I’m going to get distracted by something dumb. There’s a link, I think, between music and words, and when that right song is playing, my fingers feel obliged to keep up. A valuable tool when writing is especially difficult; when self doubt crowds the mind with rubbish. If you think about it, our brains can only do so many things at once: We can’t write and listen to music, and lecture ourselves on what hack writers we are. For me, the rubbish is jettisoned and it’s just me and the music and my words.
This song is on loop right now, the only thing making Chapter 11 of my current work in progress happen:
I didn’t say anything when my nearly two-year-old daughter dipped her cheese pizza in strawberry-banana yogurt and ate it. I stopped myself, and the horrified expression cued up on my face. It really did look disgusting. The yogurt was supposed to be dessert, by the way. The kid must have thought it was okay, because she kept eating the stuff. In the end, her hands coated in yogurt and pizza sauce, and she seemed to think that was okay because she licked her fingers. I just tried not to look too much. You should be thankful I didn’t post a photo of it. This is much more palatable:
But who am I to judge? I treat sugar and salt like their own food groups and drink honey straight out of the bear. But that’s perfectly normal. I once knew an adult person who dipped french fries in ice cream. For realz. I witnessed this act of heresy with my own two eyes. Didn’t say anything, of course.
I’d like to think I’ll always know when to intervene (or not) with my daughter’s choices. I’d like to think I won’t butt in and try to “help” her in life when she needs to work shit out on her own. I probably won’t. I’m not that wise. And I’m way too interested in her. But today, I patted myself on the back for letting the kid eat her nasty lunch without so much as a curled lip. It’s a victory, and I’ll take it. Even the little ones count.
(This post also appeared in my tumblr)
This is what happened. My agent sent me the list of editors we’re subbing my book to. My sweaty fingers made smudgy marks on my computer monitor as I read each editor’s name. Over and Over. Amazing names. I’ve seen them in acknowledgment pages and on blogs and on panels. What I would give, to work with any one of them. What I would give to see this burning goal of holding my beautiful book in my hands.
I don’t like to blog about writing, because there are so very many blogs about writing that do it better than I ever could, but I’m stealing a term from commercial fiction for this post: the black moment. It’s when it appears that all is lost. It’s the moment of true despair for the hero or heroine. It also marks the turning of the tide. The change of fortune from bad to good. I’m not implying that my present moment is black. Far from it. In the past year, I’ve been a finalist in several prestigious contests, secured an amazing agent and written a new book that I’m proud of. I’m enjoying this journey. The highs have blown my mind. The lows have taught me that I’m made of sturdier stuff than I thought.
But I am ready for that turn of the tide. The shift that will turn me from aspiring writer to published author. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I hope this is my black moment. I’d be okay with that.