Category Archives: My Thoughts on Writing

My Path to Publication

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I was recently told that I’ve never actually shared a lot of my history as a writer. Which is funny and now seems obvious. With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to share my path to publication.

The INITIUM series, the series getting published, is actually the second series I’ve written (well, third, if you count daily micro-stories following the same character for a year and a half I stared when I was 12). I finished the first book in this first series, a story about an orphan dragon, the summer I was 14. I ripped apart and put back together that manuscript so many times… and talk about using every bad-writing trope in existence. Black and white villains, endless passages explaining everything, narrative that went on forever, preaching about this issue or that issue.

Anyway. The INITIUM series started as a concept in my head a little after I finished that first book in the dragon series.

It took me until I was 19 to actually get that first book in the INITIUM series down, and it was so much better because of it. This is mostly because I was in college and had no time, but it allowed me to really process the lessons I learned from writing the dragon story and try out what I’d learned. For example, the explaining everything overmuch problem I had with the dragon story? Yeah, no. I drag out questions for DAYS in the INITIUM series. I thought about and re-wrote the beginning of Fairian’s first story so many times, the original concepts are the same only in name and vague direction.

I started querying for agents with my dragon series around 18. I really only got form rejections or silence as a response, a frustration I’m sure you’ve all experienced. As I was finishing up INITIUM, and learning a lot more about what was marketable, I realized that it was probably a fruitless adventure to try to launch my author career with my dragon story. It had too many common tropes and similarities. While it may be publishable eventually, it wasn’t something I could start with.

Again, though, I learned a lot from starting querying with my dragon story, from how to write a query letter to researching agents. It set me up in a much better place to start querying for Fairian’s story.

The queries began. The form rejections and silences followed. A few agents did answer, rejecting it based off of those personal things you can’t predict — not connecting with the world, not sure the plot fit into the other authors she represented, etc. Disheartening for sure, but all the comments I did receive complimented me on my voice, my style, and my characters. That helped a lot.

I went to the Willamette Writer’s Conference in 2015, where I learned a TON, and got to pitch my story directly to agents and editors. With help, I managed to hone my pitch into something reasonably good. I also switched my pitch last minute to a woman who seemed to be looking for something a lot closer to what I was writing — though, it turned out she was an editor to a small publisher based in Portland, not an agent.

Despite being nervous as hell, my pitch went well. Way better than I expected. I could tell she was tired listening to all the authors pelting her with information all day (I was in the afternoon, and with 15 minutes a pitch, switched out like clockwork, for 8 hours — you do the math), but I was respectful and she seemed to perk up at the story. She said my novel sounded interesting, and like it would fit into their repertoire. Excited, I sent off three chapters the following week (after getting it reviewed a few more times by the friends I’d just met at the conference).

Commence… waiting. Meanwhile, I make my eyes bleed doing research on the publisher, small publishers in general, the dangers to look out for, how an author becomes successful with small publishing, etc. There were a few things that bugged me — this particular publisher’s website was non-professional, and held a few of the ‘warning’ signs that articles like this talk about (fantastic article, you should read it).

Three months later with no word, I gently nudged and asked about my submission. She profusely apologized and said they’d been having a few technical issues, that she didn’t think she got my email, and to submit through their new submitting service. Starting a feel a little weird about it, I did it anyway.

Meanwhile, I started entering Twitter contests, like #PitMad and #P2P. Similar response as querying before. Mostly form rejections, a few compliments here and there. I opened my horizons to small publishers, since I was getting more comfortable with the idea. Got a few strange rejections from that process.

In one of these contests, another editor at the same publishing house as before asked for a submission. I mentioned it was already in their queue, and gave the title and details when she asked.

Then, via another Twitter contest, I heard from Carrie from Glass House Press. She was really interested in my pitch, and wanted pages. Within 24 hours, she wanted the whole manuscript, along with all my social media information, and my plans for marketing.

This publisher checked out a lot better than the other one. Much more professional website and online presence, no big problems in Writers Beware, and I got a good feeling from the emails with the editor.

Commence… more waiting.

I’m pretty sure I started the third INITIUM book during this time, entered more contests, met awesome writer friends all striving for the same goal. I wrote blog posts, tried to ignore the excitement/dread feeling in my gut, stared at my manuscript and agonized over it’s faults.

I kind of forgot I’d submitted to that first publisher — it had been around 6 months at that point, and I was pretty sure I was going to reject an offer if they gave it anyway. I received a note through their submission website to go ahead and submit the full manuscript. They mentioned in the notes that it would take at least a year to get back to me. I didn’t go forward with that — between my funny feelings and the YEAR response for a small publisher, it just didn’t sound like a good fit for me.

It was shortly after that I entered a mentoring contest, where I met a ton of really neat people. I had a ton of fun interacting, guessing which tweets were about my own, finding a new friends. Then, shockingly — I was chosen as one of the mentees.

An hour later, Glass House Press sent an email saying they’d like to offer me a contract.

Nothing, for years, and then two great surprises at once. I talked it over with the editor, explaining that I’d been selected for the mentorship and I’d hate to miss out (not just because of the agents at the end, but because of the networking, lessons, general fun) and she said she had no problem with waiting for me. So, I accepted the mentorship, had a blast, didn’t get really any bites from the agents who signed on to look at the finished project of the contests, and then contacted the publisher back.

She reviewed the manuscript again in it’s changed form — taking a few months — and then offered me a contract.

I was very nervous about this part. I didn’t have an agent to back me up, there are many horror stories on the internet about the whole thing, etc. I reviewed it carefully — reading up on every publishing clause in existence, religiously reading any articles from experts in the field — read it over with my father who works with contracts (of another kind) all the time, with one of his business friends who works with sports-publishing contracts. Not the same, obviously, but I had a few intelligent minds look it over who weren’t in omg-a-publisher-wants-me euphoria. I requested a few clarification sentences, changed a few words, and…

Violà. I signed a contract with Glass House Press.

You’d expect what followed would be furious conversation, edits, and a game plan moving forward. It was a bit anti-climatic, to be honest. With developmental edits, she wanted to start working with a thorough outline. So after I sent that to her, while she worked through it, I collaborated with the social media manager, building a game plan, focusing certain aspects (my Instagram is not longer just about goats!), and building a few up from scratch (actually starting a FaceBook author page…).

After a while, developmental edits began… which is a whole new subject. I’ve started chronicling the whole behind-the-scenes-in-being-published thing, which starts with this blog post here. (Feel free to check it out if you’re interested!)

And that, writer-friends, is the first leg in my publishing journey.

I’m pretty excited about the next steps. I really feel like I can move forward now as an author, carving out a path for myself with books and everything else. Despite being noticed, being published traditioning, the hungry, notice-me feeling isn’t gone. Neither is the fear of failure or not being good or not knowing enough. There are so many other steps going forward, so many other mileposts. But I like that there’s always the next goal post. I like that ‘getting published’ isn’t the end, or some gate that once you walk through it’s all smooth going. It’s a challenge, an on-going opportunity.

It’s all an adventure, and I’m exhilarated to make it happen.

 

P.S. Oh yeah, that first small publisher that was interested in my manuscript? I’ve since learned they’re legit, and not trying to scam anyone. But I still don’t think it’d be a good fit for me. The benefit of a small publisher is that you get more attention and more say on your book, at the cost of the power and prestige of a big publisher. For me personally I didn’t like how they treated authors, their public image, and I got the feeling I wouldn’t get the attention that’s kinda the point of a small publisher.


What Does YOUR story mean?

 

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I’ve always struggled — in most of my professional writing career, after the blissful stage where I only wrote for myself — with making my writing and stories mean something. Maybe it was the crap influences in my childhood who told me that ‘just writing fantasy’ was fine and all that, but eventually I needed to write things that actually meant something. It can’t just be that though, because I’ve always felt a drive to write more than just a story.

Maybe all of this is just all my insecurity and doubt coming home to roost.

It’s the plight of most writers to feel this way. I read somewhere that, at the very least, writer’s write to entertain. But most of us write to try to inform, educate, inspire, engage. So I’m hope to God pretty sure that I’m really not alone in all of my what-do-I-mean angst.

I can’t help but think of this in the light of current world events. Well, USA events, but it’s affecting the whole world, so yeah.

Meaning: I want my books to make people think when they’re out there. I want to inspire and engage and teach. Yes, I’ll always write stories, because I’m one of those ‘if I don’t write it out it just plagues me forever’ writers. But I want to go above and beyond that. I want it all to mean something.

I get a little hung up on how exactly to go about doing that. The first example that jumps to mind is the Orson Scott Card route, of exploring deeply philosophical questions about humanity and morality through science fiction. He does a lot of telling-not-showing, and it seems like he had these deeply moral issues in the back of his head as he wrote the story. Whereas I get characters yelling at me and write them so they’ll be quiet.

So I guess what I’m really struggling with is a way to take my innate character-yelling and transform it. The story comes out, sure, but it’s still just a story. What is the step between characters and plot coming together and then… making it more?

It’s probably the opposite of that. That the meaning to be explored should be taken first — and then add the characters and plot. But how do I do that? Seriously – I want someone to give me a flow chart on how to do this, because I feel like I missed something along the way.

I want to write about environmental issues and the reality of how this relates to economics — so I’ve built solarpunk into my world. But is it really teaching someone anything, or exploring how a world like this works? … I’m afraid it’s not enough.

I have strong belonging, friendship, and what it means to be human themes especially in my current series, but I’m not sure it’s so obvious. I get lost in the plot and the interactions of the characters, and sometimes I think that takes away from the fact that I wrote these two people with the idea that they’re lonely and different… and in each other they find not only a place to belong, but start affecting the world around them for the better.

I don’t feel that it’s enough.

(Maybe I’m just not smart enough — or smart in ‘that’ way? I want to interview Card and figure out his method… and when he feels like he’s really got it.)

I think all of this can be put in the category of learning to take a first draft and make it a second draft — something that, with growing horror, I’m realizing that maybe I haven’t ever done before. I’m going through developmental edits with a professional editor for the first time and getting a crash course in things I didn’t even know were a thing (upcoming blog post on that later! It’s a little nerve-wracking and kinda feels like the floor has been taken out from under my feet).

Of course, who really knows — because an artist’s plight is never feeling like something is ever ‘done.’ It can always be better. There can always be more. Despite knowing this, I still feel that I’m missing some sort of intrinsic lesson on how to get from my A to my B. For all I know I’ll get an epiphany tomorrow and suddenly realize how it works, or I’ll read an article that connects it all — or the most likely outcome, my editor will prod me into understanding what to do.

But for now, I’m definitely feeling a little worthless and like I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’d love to move this discussion out to you, dear readers.

Do you worry that your story doesn’t ‘mean’ enough, especially in light of current events? How do you give meaning to your story? Do you start with the world, the characters, the lesson you’re imparting? If you’re a character writer like me, how do you keep yourself from getting carried away in their interactions? How to you keep yourself from being off subject/too preachy?

 


Organizing Documents as a Writer

 

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My wonderful partner got me a new computer as a birthday/Christmas present. With my old computer giving me spouts of paranoia that I’d lose all my work (never mind I have three backups for all my writing), alongside moments of freezing, and the ten minutes it takes to start up — it’s a relief to write on something that works as fast as my brain does in the heat of a writing moment.

Yet being the insane sentimental person that I am, it’s been sad to move from writing on my old computer to the new one. My older laptop has been with me since 2011; it’s been my steady companion through college, after-college job hunting and internships, and hundreds of hours of writing. I haven’t moved all of my writing yet (though most of my pictures and programs were moved over immediately to give my old computer a break!), instead easing into my fancy new one.

The writing I have moved are my current projects: my NaNoWriMo project from 2016 and my current WIP, the third in my INITIUM series. And as I moved them over, I grew kind of excited, because it became an opportunity to completely rework the way I organize my files.

My old computer was organized by type of writing (novel, short story, essay, etc), and then series or theme, and then individual documents. I’ve got the terrible habit of creating a new document for every scene, thought, or spark of inspiration that hits me — which means that one book is actually dozens of documents, one series working out to be a hundred files. Most everything I write down is digital, anything not attached to a working series thrown into random documents that are then thrown into the ever-growing ‘Writing Ideas’ folder, which I proceed to forget about for the next year.

All of this, of course, is buried in the recesses of the ‘My Writing’ folder, which houses everything in tarnation.

With my new computer providing a fresh start, I reworked all of this, for ease and clarity. My new organization style is by current or back-burner projects, and then type, and then individual series or documents. This is working a hell of a lot better for my brain — I’m not clicking through dozens (okay, hundreds) of folders and documents to get to the project I’m actually working on.

I’m sure it’ll get messy as I move the rest of my writing over — but right now I’m basking in how pretty and organized everything is right now.

But it made me curious about you, my fellow writing friends.

How do you organize your files? Are you a digital or paper writer? Is everything in one folder, or do you attempt to create some organization out of the mess?

 

And for all of you waiting for the Published: Behind the Scenes blog series to begin, never fear! I’m writing the first one even as you read, and it will be up in a week or two. 

 


The Benefit of Two Projects At Once

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Somewhere in the haze of NaNoWriMo and my own butt-kicking, I’ve managed to add 6 chapters to a WIP I haven’t worked on all year. Maybe it’s me procrastinating finishing my 2016 NaNoWriMo project, maybe it’s because it’s finally clicking — but whatever it is, I am totally okay with it.

I did write a post a while ago about how having several projects to work on at once was really beneficial — particularly if they’re in different stages of completion. I think I may be experiencing that. Because while my NaNo project is a few chapters from completion, the third INITIUM book (loosely titled Occultum) is only about a third done.

A few days ago I got a little stuck on OCCULTUM, and simply switched back to my NaNo project. I didn’t write a whole lot on it — only about half a page, and some minor editing — but after that, I felt ready to return to OCCULTUM. And I did.

It’s rather awesome.

I think I need to keep doing this.

(So basically I’m telling myself that as OCCULTUM passes the halfway mark and heads towards ‘done’ I need to start up another project. Why am I not surprised my brain thinks this is a good idea? Actually, I know exactly what project it would be, too…)

Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon? 


The Concept of Flood Without Water

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Earlier this year I conceived a fun idea: an antediluvian post-apocalyptic sci-fi. (That first word, in case you needed to know, means pre-bibical-flood). The idea started forming when I started reading up on things called Ooparts.

What are Ooparts? Out Of Place Artifacts. It means, there’s something that’s been found in an archaeological dig or written down thousands of years ago that does not fit in our concept of history. Gliders found in ancient Egypt and Maya that, when precisely blown up in size, fly by themselves with little to no propelling power. Giant batteries in ancient Iraq. Pyramids that generate power. Depictions of using electricity and mind-control. And much more.

Sure, some of it can be conspiracy theory. Some people take all of these things and say that aliens visited us thousands of years ago. But why does it have to be aliens? Why can’t humanity have been as smart as to create computers and airplanes and batteries thousands of years ago — and then something happened?

And since I write fiction, I don’t have to care if it’s all absolutely true or not. I can run with it… and turn it into something awesome. *cue evil grin*

Further along on the formation of this idea, there is a lot of evidence that suggests a giant catastrophe (as in, a giant flood) swept the entire globe a few millennia ago. A catastrophe big enough to turn the earth slight on it’s axis. A catastrophe big enough to leave giant pockets of vegetation and decaying bodies that are hard to explain in any other way.

This is besides the fact that every culture on the planet has a flood myth.

Now, I’m not a religious person. I don’t want to prove or disprove the idea of a biblical flood sent down by a God of this culture or the next because we were all bad people. But the concept of something like this is awe-some — and I ran with it.

I utilized the favorite tool of the writer: the “What Ifs.”

What if humanity progressed to a technological level we weren’t supposed to go? What if we broke an unspoken rule, a rule we’d forgotten was made, a promise we’d forgot to keep?

Who would be there to put us back in line?

 

Then it all started coming together. All of the fun Oopart technology and Bibical history and environmentalist themes takes place around this story:

Sofija left home to learn about defense against warfare. Her peace-loving family and village is continually plagued by the Kurgans, the warring civilization to the East. But when she left home, they came…

Stuck on the Green Isles, trapped in a fort seiged by demons every night as it desperately tries to save it’s technology, Sofija just wants to go home. Her family is all probably dead anyway — but she has to see for herself.

 

 

Everything changes when she inadvertently kills one of the Princes of the demons, gaining the loyalty of one of their most precious steeds. He’s a black, flesh-eating horse born from the molten core of the planet — and now he’s irrevocably hers. And in doing so, Sofija may have just been handed the only possible chance at understanding why the demons are here, and what they really want.

With the flood still in mind (and I’m definitely not throwing out the idea an actual flood will occur), I titled it “Flood Without Water.” I wrote the beginning of this story for a novella contest I never actually ended up entering, but it’s been in the back of my mind for a while now.

Then, the other day, my publisher asked me about writing a short story for their blog that used five favorite words picked by their head editor. The words given to me were: assemblage, labyrinthine, brood, nemesis, and inure. I had to look that last word up, but almost as soon as I had the words, Sofija and her devil-horse started talking.

So I ran with it.

And I came up with this.

Let me know what you think. I’m pretty excited about this one.

(Also, for fun, I created a Pinterest board where I’ve started collecting concept art for the whole series. Check it out if you’ve got time!)


I cannot get into my MC’s head and it’s driving me insane

So basically, NaNoWriMo ended and I was feeling all refreshed and ready to go back to battle it out with my WIP. Then I sat down to start writing.

*crickets*

So either I waited too long or didn’t wait long enough. I’m really struggling to put words onto the page. The loudest complaint from my inner critic is how whiny my MC feels… and my constant, nail-biting worry that she’s too passive. It’s paralyzing.

Then, on the mechanics side, I’m having weird trouble getting back into first person. After spending all that time grumbling about how hard third person is.

*facepalm*

So I’m procrastinating actually writing anything by writing this blog post. Because how is anything I write going to be fun and interesting if I feel bored and distanced from what I’m writing?

(Plus, I’m way behind in writing blog posts. Yikes.)

It doesn’t help that at this moment my car is sitting on the side of the road, unable to move due to the nice ice slick that built up on the hill leading to my house. It’s about a half mile walk to my house, so I’m fine. But my car is special to me. And I can just see it getting smashed by a driver that loses control of the car.

And it’s totally not my fault I got stuck, because I was doing just fine until the car in front of me stopped, and then I had to stop. Once I’d stopped there was no getting going again.

Sigh.

I’m way off topic.

Anyway.

Another weird block to being able to write is the anxious waiting for edits of the first book from my editor. (That’s still so weird to say). I can tell there’s going to be some changes, and I feel like if I don’t know what those changes are yet, I shouldn’t be writing on the later books. If I don’t have a firm set first book, the vision for the others are nebulous. Or there’s the fact I might have to end up re-writing it all if something ends up being changed.

Or, perhaps, is this just another excuse not to write. At the bottom of it all I need to be writing, no matter what my stinkin’ brain says. Good habits and being a real writer and all that jazz.

So. It’s a snow day today in the weird-weathered NW today, and it’s nearly impossible to get anywhere. It’s the perfect day to write — no commitments, nice crackling fire, snow gleaming through the windows — and I am going to make it happen.

I may just need to start writing crap until the good stuff starts flowing; that’s certainly a pattern NaNoWriMo has proven to be fairly useful.

Anybody else struggling to jive with their characters on this wintery day?


Swiss Cheese Manuscript

Well my NaNoWriMo manuscript looks like swiss cheese right now with all of the holes in it. No, not plot holes – literal holes in the… plot.

(Okay, ‘plot holes’ is misleading. I’m talking about holes in the linear A-Z structure of getting from beginning to end. Holes in the… what else would you call it? GAH)

Whatever, the point is, the manuscript isn’t finished. There’s a decent chunk in the middle and the ending stretch is riddled with them — and I haven’t actually written the ending either.

Pfff – did you think it would be done, at only 50k words? No way, that’s like, half done in my world.

*cough* Anyway…

I started with 6610 words and ended up writing 62k. Sooo… the book is almost 79k words right now. I’ll probably add 10k more. (I’m repeating myself from my last blog post — moving on)

really don’t want to work on this manuscript anymore. What is wrong with me? I’m right at the finish line — the exciting part, it’s all coming together — and instead I’m daydreaming about other stuff. And, my main character for my INITIUM series is throwing images of naked men into my consciousness she’s so annoyed I’ve been ignoring her.

(Don’t ask… because I don’t even really know what she’s talking about yet)

Which is actually pretty awesome, because I’d been feeling a little drained from writing that series. This has been a great break. I think I scared my characters into talking to me again.

Now, I have one last thing I need to finish, a fun short story project that needs to be done mid-December… then it’ll be back to torturing Fairian and Daimyn. I’ve been mulling over this book three problem, and I’ve got some devious ideas…

But back to the point of this blog post. My November project needs some work before it’s even a real draft yet. I think I know what’s bugging me — I’m not used to writing in third person, and my main character isn’t compelling enough — but I’m going to let it sit for a little while. I need to do some research and devise a better game plan. This manuscript is definitely a lot more craft and less… intuitiveness. It’s good practice for me, but not something I’m quite used to.

NaNoWriMo is great for getting the words out — but they’re not always the best of words.

I hope you all had a great create NaNoWriMo 2016. And if you didn’t get to 50k — whatever. You still wrote, you got a little farther in your novel. That’s an accomplishment. We’re all proud of you.