An exciting year ahead and five lessons from the year past

After a challenging (to say the least) 2015, I’m making changes to my writing life! Between writing and the publishing world, writers face and must learn many things––perseverance, patience, courage, and blind belief that your work doesn’t stink on a fundamental level. I guess you could say I’m taking charge, although that sounds as if I know what I’m doing––ha! I do not. I’m finding a new way forward. In January, I made some very hard decisions. Hard decisions, professionally, that are translating to better conditions, creatively.

Five things I learned over the past year:
1. The people in your life are more important than anything that happens professionally. Or anything else, really. So be nice to them.
2. It’s okay to mope around a while then things don’t go your way, so don’t be an ass to yourself––you’ll just extend the moping.
3. In order to get where you want to be, sometimes you have to take an unexpected path to get there.
4. Risks are unavoidable on any path you take. So get over yourself and take them.
5. Making loads of money writing books doesn’t make you any more or less of a writer than one who makes no money writing books. Writing books makes you a writer.

This year will be full of announcements. Yes, I’m afraid. No, I’m terrified! But if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be going anywhere. I’m going to keep moving forward. Thank you to all of you who have cheered me on this past year! I’m grateful to each and every one of you.

Thoughts on resilience

desertgrassI’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately. After this Ask Polly post and an interesting exchange on Twitter between an agent and an aspiring writer. The agent had put up a link to an article of hers about the low odds of signing with an agent (the number of queries vs. spots on the client list) and the writer replied with something about how publishing folk should be doing more nurturing and mentoring of writers so there’s not so much fear in writing. The agent replied simply, saying that anyone who is easily discouraged has no business being a writer, an artist. Basically, if I’m interpreting correctly, the difficulty of publishing thins out the weak.

And I thought about my path, which hasn’t been easy. It’s been much harder than it appeared it would be on the outset. I got an agent fairly easily, but the book-in-my-hand has proven elusive. Four manuscripts. One sale, but the publisher closed. A number of very close calls. A maddening cacophony of crickets from editors. Yet, I’m still writing, still working, still dreaming, and somewhere in there, factors resilience. I’m not sure where the line between resilience and stubborn stupidity lies. I’m not sure there is a line, or if it’s a some mushy gray space that shifts around depending on how insane the writer is.

Sometimes, I think the near misses and fatal errors that have marked my publishing career is the universe trying to tell me to give up. “You’re a talentless hack who will NEVER be published,” whisper the stars. “You’ll never be more than what you are. Your words will never touch anyone.” But then my imagination conjures a scene of me telling the tale of this long, difficult journey I took before being published. Of the many nights I went to bed contemplating my failure. Of the countless times I imagined quitting writing to do something else. Something easier. But no, I kept going, kept writing stories that pushed me, challenged me, made me doubt my ability to execute them properly. I kept going, and I published. I made it to that’s-my-book-on-a-shelf and succeeded at the hardest job I’ve had aside from parenting (which is harder). It’s a great story and one I will never be able to tell if I don’t keep at it. So I guess my resilience comes from a story I yearn to tell. One I cannot tell, until it becomes the truth.

Hard things and good days

foggybayThis poor blog has been neglected this year. But 2015 hasn’t been kind to this writer. Last year this time, I was celebrating. I had just sold my debut novel. I was staring in wonder and bliss at my deal announcement in Publisher’s Weekly. I was gearing up for my first phone chat with my editor. “My” editor. The sound of that is just lovely. I was ecstatic. Jubilant. All the words there are for happiness. The remembering is painful, because I sold to Egmont USA, and anyone who’s involved with publishing teen fiction knows they closed down early 2015. Contract void. No book, no debut. Sorry about all those dreams come true; have fun back at square one!
“You’ll see: This will all work out for the best.” Continue reading Hard things and good days

A post I would rather not write.

I don’t want to write this. I’ve put it off for over a month, though, and it’s been hanging over my head like a piano on a rope.

So. My publisher closed it’s doors. I could end the post right there, because that’s the end of it. No book. No book to hold and smell and dance around the house with. I am heartbroken. The road to this contract was a long one and to have it taken away is, well, heartbreaking. There’s no other way of putting it.

What’s next? Well, I’m on submission with a new book. The canceled one is being set aside for now, and that’s fine. I love the new book with its unusual hero, Reilly. I took a risk with him, but he turned out amazing and beautiful and wonderfully imperfect. It’s possibly the best thing I’ve written and I’ve never been so anxious about a manuscript being out there. This book is being considered by editors of the best YA books published in recent years and I’m sitting here in Maine with a space heater and safety pins holding on the zipper of my sweatshirt, typing this while my toddler naps in the next room. It all feels impossible. Like trying to break through a wall. I may scratch at the mortar for the rest of my days and never dislodge a single brick.

Normal? Sorry, wrong number.

Blake commentary

Yeah, so did I, Blake. So. Did. I.

But no, the psychosis simply shifts from: No one is ever going to buy my book. I should quit. Clearly, I’m not a good enough writer. I saw Taco Bell is hiring. I’m probably not good enough for them, either. To: Holy sh*t, my book sold. It’s going to be OUT. THERE. What if no one buys it? What if everybody hates it? Oh no, this means I have to do Twitter. And WORSE, Facebook. I don’t know any NYT bestsellers to get a blurb from. And I’ll have to blog in a timely manner. How do I do marketing? My publisher is going to think I’m not savvy enough for this. I’m NOT savvy enough

It goes on and on. And on. Then again, maybe it’s just me. I am good friends with Anxiety. We go way back. But, as days go by, and it sinks in that my book isn’t coming out for like a year-and-a-half, I’m a little less worried about those things. I DO worry, but I mean, this book’s release  is like a full-term pregnancy AND the months of nursing-through-the-night away, and those periods in my life felt like an eternity. I have time––time to stress and time to enjoy this next stretch in my publishing journey.

How the deal went down

I said I’d give a more detailed account about how my publishing deal came about. Honestly, I couldn’t do it right away. It was one of the most intense things that’s ever happened to me. It was scary. It was surreal. I had become pretty accustomed to coming thisclose, or not close at all. I understood rejections. I had solid coping mechanisms in place for them. I did not expect “yes” to be as stressful as a really bad “no.” So I needed some time to pass. For a shocking wave of oh-my-god-someone’s-going-to-PAY-me-so-if-my-book-flops-I’ll-be-failing-all-these-publishing-people anxiety to pass. I have since gotten a grip. Sort of. I’m still scared, but hopeful, too. I love my book. I am tickled fuchsia that the team at Egmont USA loves it, too.

Now, every publisher has different procedures. Some move faster. Some move slower. Two writers at the same publisher may have an entirely different experiences.  There’s a lot of factors involved that affects the pace of a publishing deal. This is how it went down for ME.

3/14/14: The Black Bird of the Gallows goes on submission to nine editors. Silence.
5/1/14: Add three more editors to the submission list.
5/15/14: I send a slightly ranting email to my agent, wondering why I haven’t received a rejection yet. I want a rejection, damnit!
5/19/14: Agent replies with soothing, reassuring words. Then mentions that it’s going to an editorial meeting at Egmont. I relax a little, try not to get excited. Editorial meetings are just step one.
5/22/14: Book passes muster at editorial meeting. It will be discussed next at the marketing meeting the following Tuesday. Now, I begin to get hopeful. I also make the error of thinking this “marketing meeting” is the acquisition meeting, so when Tuesday comes and goes, I’m convinced it got shot down. Agent reminds me that this is BEA week and they are likely focussed on that. I suddenly hate BEA. The. Suspense Is. Killing. Me.
Dr. Who stress photo: dr who please tumblr_m4rw5cRY0M1qbl202.gif“>
6/10/14: Message that marketing liked it and it will be presented at the pub (acquisition) meeting the following day, but not to worry, it “will go through swimmingly.” We are told the P&L will be done ASAP. Oh My GOD!!!!! My agent begins to alert the other publishing houses who have it that an offer is coming. I do obsessive and repetitive google searches on what a P&L is  (profit and loss statement––YOU look it up). I start to experience night sweats.
6/16/14: I again harass my agent for news (which she doesn’t have) because I cannot help myself.
6/18/14: Confirmation that an offer is coming. Hopefully by Friday, which is in two days. Plus, there is interest from another editor. Aaaah!
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6/20/14: Email from agent that she needs to talk to me but can’t reach me. Yes, technical troubles after I’ve worn my phone like an extra limb for the past month. Finally, THE CALL. The actual call. There is an offer. (Wow, writing this, reliving that moment, is making me tear up.) I actually leaped into my husband’s arms. If it hurt, he didn’t tell me.
6/26/14: Offer accepted, after some negotiating by my intrepid agent.
7/10/14: Deal announced in Publisher’s Weekly. I cry a little, seeing it there. I’ve gazed at countless weekly “Deals” page, longing for the day my announcement would be in there. And now it is. I feel like I could totally do this:
Legolas photo: Legolas LOTR-mumakil-reallyally.gif“>

For the rest of my life, I will remember getting that call. There are only a few times I recall being that happy. That unbelievably over the moon. I’d achieved a milestone I was beginning to think would never happen. BTW, the other editor ultimately stepped aside because my book has paranormal elements and her house is only seeking contemporary. Rereading my stress-fueled emails to my agent just now was painful. Gad, I sounded like a nut. But I learned about myself and will implement the next time I am on submission: I do not want to know what is happening every step of the way. I thought I did, but all that happened is I went bat-shit crazy for about a month. My family didn’t enjoy that. In the future, I will tell my agent to tell me nothing, unless we have an offer. Ignorance is not bliss, but in this case, it is sanity. So there it is. The highlights and the lowlights and everything in between. Live well, write on! And do some of this:
Dr. Who stress photo: Do the Dr. Dance tumblr_likhw0LDZO1qcldz4.gif“>

How to be an author.

The infectious Avery Flynn in action.
The infectious Avery Flynn in action.

This weekend I attended my Maine romance writers’ conference at the Senator Inn in Augusta. Honestly, I wasn’t ramped up to go. My book’s on submission, I’m torn between a few writing projects and was in a generally hibernative (Is that a word? Spell check says no.) state. However, I had to go because I was on the committee and possessed all the name tags. I got into the spirit of it, and I have to admit, our retreat rocked. With workshops from the brilliant Judith Arnold, the spontaneous Sandy Blair and the absolutely lovely Avery Flynn, I was ready to crawl out of my den and eat some berries.

I’m going to talk about Avery (pictured in action, above), because as I sat there crunching on peanut M&Ms and trying to hold my bladder I was thinking to myself, “I want to be like her when I’m an author.” Truly. And here’s why:

At the end of the conference, when all the awards and prizes were dispensed and everyone was filtering out, Avery very quietly called over Terri, the truly stellar hotel event coordinator. Avery pulled out a promo postcard, wrote down her email address and handed it to Terri with the words, “Thank you so much. Email me, and I’ll send you a free book.” I doubt anyone witnessed this––it wasn’t meant to be noticed––or Terry’s surprised gasp of gratitude. I doubt many of us noticed Terri at all––attendees aren’t supposed to notice the event coordinator. But Avery did and her gesture amazed me. We’re sort of conditioned to worry about rights and contracts and royalty percentages and selling––God, yes, the selling––that it’s easy to forget about giving.

So that wound up being my big takeaway from the retreat. It’s not just about how you write, it’s how you act as a writer. Especially when you think no one is looking.

Avery's smexy book.
Avery’s smexy book.

Choices, even the bad ones…

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)

The. Worst. Day. Ever.

Kali, "Wiggity-Wu" and "the girlie face" 9/11/01 ~ 1/5/13

When we went to bed that night, we didn’t know that would be the last night she would sleep at the foot of our bed.

I guess that’s just the thing: we never know. I live the best life I can. I try to be good to the people I love. And even to the people I don’t. But I’m not, always. With this dog, I have no regrets. She lived a good life as a beloved member of our family. She was a very good dog; so easy to love. Her sudden passing is a reminder to me–be gentle, be soft. Slow down. Forgive.

Ah, the lessons we learn from our dogs.
Even after they’ve left us.