Courage, Writers. Courage.
Back when I used to be in sales, I lived by the belief that if I focused my energy on activity rather than numbers, the numbers would come, that connecting with prospective clients, setting up meetings, writing as many proposals as possible, and making calls was more productive than obsessing about whether we were going to meet our goals.
The funny thing is, I recognize it now as a kind of mindfulness, a way to focus on the actions of the present moment rather than get caught up in the potential outcomes. Talk about foreshadowing for LIFE!
When it comes to writing, I’ve never thought much about “success”. It’s always been about the act itself. On those rare occasions when I get distracted by how well (or not) my books are performing, whether we’re ever going to get that TV deal for THIS WICKED GAME, and if my dream book will be picked up by my current publisher, I try to put my focus back on the activity and have a little faith that doing the work will take me where I want to go — or at least where I’m SUPPOSED to go. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but this week I’m putting all my energy into finishing one project so that I can start revisions on PROMISES I MADE and then complete revisions to my adult book. After that? Well, there are concepts to develop and more books to write, of course!
I do believe there’s a time and place for dreaming, but at some point, we have to put our heads down and get the work done. In other words, dreaming is good — but taking action to make your dreams a reality is better. Wishing you all a joyful and productive week!
Lies I Told Cover!
Here it is!!! The cover for LIES I TOLD, which releases in April 2015.
I absolutely love it. It has all of the mystery and feeling I wanted in the cover, and it sets the mood perfectly for Grace Fontaine, her many secrets, and Playa Hermosa, the seaside town where all of Grace’s marker come due.
This book marks a new chapter in my writing career; it’s the first YA book I’ve published that has no elements of the supernatural or paranormal. Those of you who read the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy know that I’m fascinated with the psychological underpinnings of identity, relationships, and the things we believe about ourselves and others. This book (and it’s sequel PROMISES I MADE) is no exception, and I hope you’ll be as fascinated as I am with Grace and the other residents of Playa Hermosa. I’ll be giving away a couple of my precious ARCS very, very soon, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s the summary for LIES I TOLD.
What if, after spending a lifetime deceiving everyone around you, you discovered the biggest lies were the ones you’ve told yourself?
Grace Fontaine has everything: beauty, money, confidence, and the perfect family.
But it’s all a lie.
Grace has been adopted into a family of thieves who con affluent people out of money, jewelry, art, and anything else of value. Grace has never had any difficulty pulling off a job, but when things start to go wrong on the Fontaines’ biggest heist yet, Grace finds herself breaking more and more of the rules designed to keep her from getting caught…including the most important one of all: never fall for your mark.
Perfect for fans of Ally Carter, Cecily von Ziegesar, and Gail Carriger, this thrilling, high-stakes novel deftly explores the roles of identity and loyalty while offering a window into the world of the rich and fabulous.
Write Like a Motherfucker
Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter probably know that I’ve been reading Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of letters and advice from the Dear Sugar column on Rumpus.com. I came to hear about the book after reading WILD by Cheryl Strayed. It was one of my very favorite books in 2012, and when I went hunting for more of Cheryl’s work, I came across this little gem. Apparently, Cheryl was the anonymous advisor called Dear Sugar, and her heartfelt, shockingly honest and authentic responses to letters about everything from love to infidelity to cross-dressing to forgiveness have struck a chord with readers everywhere.
I didn’t buy the book until recently. I just didn’t really see myself as the advice-column-reading type, and especially not in book form, where I feared all the advice would blur together as a homogenous, trite instruction manual for life that would only work for people who were secretly robots without real feelings.
But the buzz continued to grow around the book (and a Kickstarter campaign to create an animated short), and I finally gave in and bought it. And you know what? Everyone is right. It’s lovely and beautiful and raw and real and frightening in its honesty.
One of my favorite letters came from a writer who couldn’t write. The person in question was so hung up on the writer she wanted to be — a writer who spoke to the deeply personal issues of women — that she wasn’t writing. Like, at all. And Sugar’s advice was pretty simple;
“So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”
Unbeknownst to me (am I the only one who still writes “unbeknownst”?), the “Write like a motherfucker” refrain is a bit of a rallying cry for ink slingers everywhere (I have no idea if it originated here or somewhere else — perhaps a reader can enlighten me). There’s even a coffee mug (which I intend to purchase for myself asap).
Anyway, It struck a chord, but at first, I wasn’t sure why. And it got me thinking; what does it mean to write like a motherfucker?
The phrase conjured something vicseral in me. A feeling that nothing but the words mattered. That you put your head down and you don’t think too much about it and you don’t talk too much about it either. You just write. You get the words down and then you just keep going.
Why does this seem like an epiphany? Isn’t that what we writers do? The answer (at least for me, it seems) is a lot less clear.
I used to write like a motherfucker. I didn’t have an agent or an editor. My then-husband wouldn’t even read my stuff. I wrote from 9pm to 3am every night and then got up at 6am to get my kids to school. I thought about my book in the shower, when I was trying to sleep, when I was driving. I didn’t know anything about genre, about trend, about brand. I needed an escape. Writing was my heroin. I shot up every chance I got and fell into my chair in front of the computer in a glassy-eyed stupor with nothing but tea, coffee and Dove dark chocolate to sustain me. And I didn’t care. I was happy. Because I was writing like a motherfucker.
Things have been different since I sold the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy in 2007. Not only for me, but for the industry as a whole. Once seen as a fringe element to the children’s section, YA has come into its own as a publishing juggernaut, capable of selling millions of books and raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office on film adaptations. Adult writers are proudly trying their hand at YA, and everyone from your grandmother to your co-workers are reading it.
But frankly, that all makes to harder to write like a motherfucker.
Advice abounds; write the book you want to read (great, except that doesn’t mean it will sell), don’t write to the market (great, except if editors really aren’t looking at fantasy, they really aren’t looking at fantasy, and while you may be the one in a million who gets through, it’s a gamble), don’t worry about genre (great, except every writer I know has a book that didn’t sell, not because the book wasn’t good, but because publishers didn’t know how to market it). It all sounds good. Hell, it all is good. But if you’re like me and you’re earning your living writing, if you’re like me and you are a single mother and the sole breadwinner for your family, you don’t have the luxury to take all of that advice. Sometimes you just have to SELL A BOOK. That’s the reality in an industry that still clings to its roots as a gentleman’s business, where only the wealthy or happily destitute could afford to write as a vocation. No one wants to say it, but for many of us, it’s a cold, hard fact that our choices about what to write next are informed by the fact that we need to sell another book, and not every book will sell, even after you’ve been published (unless you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling or Neil Gaiman or James Patterson).
All of which is hard to reconcile with the inspiring advice to write like a motherfucker. Even while I was trying to figure out what, precisely, the phrase means, I was energized.
“Write like a motherfucker?”
“Yes! That sounds awesome! I want to write like a motherfucker! Writing like a motherfucker is what’s been missing in my life!”
I can almost hear the Rocky theme playing in the background now. Or maybe Lose Yourself by Eminem.
But how to blend the practical parts of writing as a profession, as a long term career, with the single-minded focus necessary to write like a motherfucker? Is it possible to do both? To make choices based on your short- and long-term career goals and still write with the kind of passion and immersion and dedication and discipline that is writing like a motherfucker?
Yes. After a lot of thought, that’s my conclusion. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
To me, writing like a motherfucker means to be wholly focused and determined to write. Not just to write RIGHT NOW, but to keep writing. To write a hundred books, poems, essays, articles. Whatever it takes. To keep the act of writing and thinking about writing and loving writing and being determined TO WRITE as a focus, above fear and self-doubt and all of the other voices in our heads that keep us from writing like a motherfucker. Those voices don’t serve us in our quest. They only limit us, paralyze us.
Of course, decisions have to be made. Priorities have to be set. But most of the writers I know aren’t short on ideas — just the time to execute them, and sometimes, the knowledge that it’s the RIGHT idea at the right time. There will be front end brain work. This is when you aren’t writing like a motherfucker. You’re thinking like a human being, weighing your options, deciding whether to write the book of your heart NOW (you almost always should, if you’re lucky enough to have one at the moment) or put it off in favor of something your agent tells you had a better chance of selling. And for the record, a great agent is almost always right about these things (mine has been anyway).
But once you’ve let the wheels turn, once the dust has settled and you’ve decided, “THIS is what I’m going to write next!”, THEN it’s time to write like a motherfucker. Then there is no room for second guessing. No room for comparing your WIP to another book you love and/or hope to emulate. No room to agonize over every word, every comma.
Then it’s time to WRITE. Get the words down without censoring yourself. Trust yourself enough to believe that the words that flow from the truest part of yourself will resonate with readers. That they come from a place of such honesty and such authenticity that THEY ARE THE WORDS THAT ARE MEANT TO TAKE UP PRECIOUS SPACE ON THE PAPER. Stop thinking so hard about it. You can do that in revisions. Instead, let the story manifest without thought to the future, to who will be reading it, to whether your grandmother will be offended that you used “fuck” twenty-four times or your teenagers will be embarrassed that you wrote a smoking’ sex scene.
THAT is writing like a motherfucker. I need to do it more often. How about you?
This Wicked Game Blog Tour
I’ve been a big advocate of bloggers since I first sold Prophecy of the Sisters in 2007. The book blogging community supported the series (and me) through several cover changes (and a non-existent rebranding campaign for the final covers), and I know the series wouldn’t have been as successful without them. I’ve gotten to know quite a few of them over the years and have enjoyed talking shop — and life — on Twitter, Facebook and at conferences and festivals.
Which is why I’m really excited to work closely with a handful of carefully chosen bloggers to celebrate the release of This Wicked Game on November 14th. There will be interviews and guest posts and secrets revealed, plus each blogger will give away a This Wicked Game prize pack donated by moi (and as with all of my prize packs, it’s the bomb). So do me a favor and show them so love, now and on their designated tour date. There might be something in it for you!
Except for a few possible late additions, here’s the schedule;
November 6th – Another Novel Read
November 11th – Beauty and the Bookshelf
November 18th – Falling for YA
November 20th – Escaping ONe Book at a Time
November 22nd – Word To Dreams
November 25th – Lost in Ever After
November 27th – Booksellers Without Borders
Less than three weeks until the release! I’m ridiculously excited to share this book with you guys. I had so much fun working with all the elements — voodoo, New Orleans, secrets, revenge… What’s not to love?! I hope you will join me in spreading the word. As always, your support means the world to me.
What Worked This Time
Last week I finished my thirteenth complete novel. The breakdown — for anyone who’s wondering — is five published books (counting THIS WICKED GAME which comes out next month), two complete under-contract books (one will come out in 2014 and one in 2015) and six unpublished books. Four of the unpublished ones were written before I sold Prophecy of the Sisters and two of them were written since then.
Yes, it is still possible for published writers to NOT sell a project. It was a rude awakening.
Anyway, I had to take a minute to pat myself on the back. I’m not good at celebrating my accomplishments. I guess you could say I’m a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of girl. No time for champagne, I have another book to write. But I have begun to recognize the fallacy in that way of thinking. Publishing a book is a book deal. So is writing one. And we aren’t guaranteed an endless number of either.
So I’ve made a promise to celebrate more, and to give myself a little credit. But that’s another blog post.
Anyway, I sold this particular book on proposal in July (detailed synopsis and about sixty-five pages). The deadline for the first draft was October 1st, but because I was in the middle of another project, I didn’t actually start working on it again until August 15th. I spent about two weeks planning and re-reading and then started writing again in earnest September 1st. I realized when I was done that I’d written 50,000 words in a month (my sample was about 25,000 words, bringing the total word count of the book near 75,000 words).
And really, that’s no big deal for me. But what IS a big deal is that it felt… leisurely. I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel stressed out or worried about the deadline. I didn’t have to pull any all-nighters. I still had time for Friday night movies on the sofa with the kids and Saturdays spent with my daughter who attends college a half hour away.
More importantly, I am PROUD of those words. I think this draft is the strongest I’ve ever written, and while some of the credit must go to my new editor, whose notes on my sample pages informed the rest of the book in every good way, I realized I’d done a few things differently this time.
Those of you who have been following me for a long time know that I’m big on finding things that work, on being diligent about a writing schedule and actively managing my time. All things that have been vital to being prolific while single-mothering four children and bearing every cent of the financial responsibility for doing so.
But I’m also learning that those rules are fluid. What works at one point in my life might not work at another. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and ask if there might be a better way. In this case, there was. And since I know writers are always looking for tips, I thought I’d share what worked for me this time.
1. Schedule is still king.
I’ve always had a writing schedule. Before I sold Prophecy I wrote every night from 11pm to 3am because it was the only time the house was quiet and my children (young at the time) didn’t need me. I still had to get up at 6am to get them to school, but I learned to go back to bed and sleep because I wrote best in those late night hours. Some of those days are a blur now, but it worked at the time.
After I sold Prophecy, I became a word count dictator. I forced myself to write a certain number of words in scheduled segments of time (usually 9am to 11am, 3pm to 5pm, and 7pm to 9pm six days a week).
But that system had begun to wear on me. I was paying more attention to the counter at the bottom of the page than to the quality of my writing. I was more prolific than ever, but I wasn’t enjoying it like I used to and I couldn’t help wondering if the words I was writing were good ones.
This time, I tried something different. I stuck to my scheduled writing blocks by forcing myself up to my office and — this is important — activating Freedom (a program that locks you out of the internet for set periods of time) on my computer. But other than the fact that I had to be in my office with Freedom on (because otherwise I’d be social networking and online shopping), there were no rules. Strangely enough, I still managed to write an average of 2,000 words a day. And they were GOOD words. Sometimes I’d lay in my bed (my bedroom is adjacent to my office and both rooms are cut off from the rest of the house) and rest my eyes. Sometimes I’d actually nap. Sometimes I’d clean my bathroom. But I was trapped in my office with no internet for four to six hours a day with my book open on my computer. I’m a writer. Inevitably, I would write.
2. I took time to think.
I know. This seems like a no brainer. But usually, I’d be in such a hurry to get the words down that I’d push myself through even the scenes I wasn’t sure about. Sometimes I’d think, “I can fix it later.” But I’m not sure I always did fix them later. By the time I finished a book, everything seemed to fit the way it was, and it was a lot harder to go back and pull it apart without the help of my editor.
With this book I spent a lot of time staring out the window, eating Newman’s Own Sour Cherry licorice and pondering the next scene, looking at my white board of notes while everything stewed in my brain. And it’s funny, because a lot of the time I’d be staring out the window or laying in my bed in the dark, the last scene I’d written rolling around my head like a handful of pebbles, and something would come to me. Something I hadn’t thought about before. Something small and nuanced that contributed to plot or character development or added another layer of complexity to the story.
3. A sequence of events is helpful
I’ve never been a big outline person. I like to give a story some breathing room to see where it goes, and because of my personality, if I have an outline, I write to it. Usually I start a book with a synopsis and then just feel my way through the rest. I was on a panel once with author Libba Bray in which we discussed our writing processes, and we both agreed that it was kind of like planning a road trip knowing only the beginning, ending, and a few major stops for gas in the middle.
I still didn’t want to outline, but this time, I felt like I needed a little bit… more. The book I was writing had a lot of complexity. A lot of psychology and also a lot of tiny plot elements that would come into play later in the book and in the sequel. So I wrote a quick and dirty list of events; big things that needed to happen for all the plot points and character development to play out. And it helped a lot, so much so that I’m already creating one for my next book. Sometimes I would have to come up with three or four chapters in between big events, but having the sequence in front of me helped me ask the question, “How would this story naturally unfold to get me from point A to point B? How about from point S to point T?” It also helped me avoid unnecessary detail, because the goal became to get from one big event to the next as cleanly and quickly as possible, since those events were what drove the plot forward.
4. Using my white board
Most of the time, my white board is used to remind myself of character traits and physical characteristics in my main characters and as a repository for funny notes from Caroline, my fourteen-year-old. But I really used it this time, writing down notes from my editor, reminders about the tone and feel and atmosphere I was working toward, minor plot elements I was afraid I might drop and themes I wanted to explore. In the past, I’d done that kind of thing on my computer, but it was such a pain to flip back and forth from my draft to the “inspirational” documents that I wouldn’t always do it. A lot of the time, I’d just forget they were there.
Some of you use Scrivener, and maybe it’s kind of the same thing, but seeing everything up close and personal on the white board really kept me on track. Whenever I got stuck, I’d lean back in my chair and look at that board, and it would pull me back to my original vision for the project.
5. What we do isn’t like what other people do.
This is a transformative admission for me. I’ve already told you I’m a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person. My former boss called me a “driver”, someone who drove growth and change through constant effort and vision. I always thought that was a compliment, and while it might have been in the world of technology consulting, it has not always been an asset in the creative field of writing.
I mean, work ethic… I’ve got that nailed. I am never in any danger of being lazy. I think it was Phillip Pullman who was quoted as saying (I’m paraphrasing) that plumbers don’t get to skip work when they’re not “feeling it” and writers shouldn’t, either. That belief has seen me through my career as a writer. It allowed me to write five books in two-and-a-half years before I was published. It’s allowed me to sell eight books in the last five years. It’s allowed me to write an average of three full novels a year.
But it has also done me a disservice. Because I will work and work and work long past the point when I desperately need a break. I will not allow myself excuses or sick days. And as I’ve said in the past, I feel so damn lucky every day to do something I love for a living that I feel OBLIGATED to work my hardest.
But we are not plumbers. We are not accountants. What we do is different. It requires different processes and allowances to be done well. It requires time and mental space and energy that isn’t always required of people in other occupations. It’s been difficult for me to accept that sometimes I need to take a walk. Sometimes I need to take a nap. Sometimes I need a day (or a few days) away from the story. I have always told myself that other people work eight hours a day, and I have pushed myself to do the same.
But I think I’m finally ready to let myself off the hook. With this last book (I’ll be able to tell you the title as soon as the announcement it made), I probably wrote an average of three hours a day. I sometimes spent additional time blogging or social networking or answering work-related emails, but I probably only wrote about three hours a day. It felt positively luxurious. And sometimes it left me positively guilt ridden. Why should I be so lucky to work at something I love passionately, something I can’t live without, and to only do it for three hours a day when other people are getting up at five am, commuting many miles, sitting at cubicles for eight hours in jobs they despise?
But the truth is, I wrote better. I was happier and more relaxed. I finished the project ahead of deadline and am prouder of this draft than any I’ve ever completed.
And so maybe it’s true; what we do is a mysterious kind of alchemy. A strange mixture of discipline and freedom. Of process and flexibility. It isn’t a mathematical formula, a set of boxes to be checked off at the end of each day, a timecard to punch.
It feels a little embarrassing to admit it, but the proof is in the pudding as they say. And I’m pretty happy with this batch.
History of an Email
Like most people, I get a lot of emails every day.
Like… a lot, a lot.
Some of them are spam and some of them are sale notifications and some of them are requests for interviews and advice. Some of them are from my agent or editors.
And the truth is, I’m not as good about answering them as I used to be. When I first sold the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy in 2007, I had a big gap between projects. Prophecy (book one) had some revisions, but the second book in the trilogy wasn’t due for a whole year, and I was prohibited from selling another YA project for the duration of my contract with Little Brown, which meant until 2011. I was still a single parent. Still busy. But I wasn’t up against multiple deadlines, lined up like planes on a tarmac, gunning for their turn.
Times have changed. I’ve worked on seven contracted projects in the past year alone (not all of which have been announced) plus juggled multiple editing projects for my freelance editing business while running a household with four kids alone. It’s required an almost-militant devotion to schedule. And since I do receive emails from many of you — some of which take me a very, very long time to answer — I wanted to explain.
First thing every morning (I get up at 6am on school days) I open up my computer and stare forlornly at my Inbox. I start by deleting obvious Spam, sales I can’t afford to shop, and other miscellany that just isn’t important to me at the moment. Then I look at what’s left. If there are quick and easy questions to answer, I tackle them right away just to feel like I’m making some prgress.
But then I’m left with the other stuff. Offers to attend conferences (which require me to look at a calendar and plot out the next 6-12 months in my head), requests for interviews, favors from writerly friends (most of which require more emails sent to editors or agent, or at the very least, lengthy replies on my part), questions from my editors, updates from my agent.
To be honest, I just can’t get to them all. And I know what you’re probably thinking; it only takes a minute to send an email. I know you’re probably thinking it because that’s what I used to think when someone took a long time to get back to me. But here’s the thing, my writing schedule — the only thing holding my life together right now — is non-negotiable. It has to be. So when I go up to my office promptly at 9am, 3:30pm, or 7pm (the start of my usual writing blocks), I know that I have a finite time to work, usually an hour or two. And if I open one email, the temptation is to keep clearing my Inbox. I’ve already eaten into my writing time anyway, right? Or maybe the reply is more lengthy than I anticipated, and all of a sudden, my one hour writing block is down to half an hour. I’ve lost between 500-1,000 words in that half hour. It might not seem like a lot, but if I lose 1,000 words every day for a month, I lose 30,000 words, which tacks an additional 2-4 weeks onto any project.
And that’s just something I can’t afford at this point in time. Especially when none of this accounts for the “soft” tasks of writing — website upkeep, research, reading, etc.
So I’ve developed a hard and fast rule; I do what I can while I’m having my morning tea. But when it’s time to write, it’s time to write. Not tweet. Not post on Facebook. Not even answer emails. It’s hard. It’s meant forgoing the level of social networking that was once routine. It’s meant blogging less. It’s meant an Inbox that constantly hovers around 30 emails (when I’m as on top of it as I can be). It’s sometimes even meant losing touch with people I care about for longer periods than I would like. It is tempting to “take five” minutes and clear my Inbox a bit. But I’ve learned the hard way that it adds up. Which is why I activate Freedom right when I get to my office and get down to business.
All of which makes this one long-ass apology. If I owe you an email, I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t care or that I’m ignoring you. I’m doing my best.
And writing always has to come first.
Zen and the Art of Book Marketing
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the first couple of years after I sold Prophecy of the Sisters (in 2007). I had an old blog on blogger, and excited about my news, I was fairly good about posting regularly, something that’s always made easier when the good publishing news is plentiful, as many of you know.
Then came Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Pinterest and Google Plus. For awhile, I was all up in your internet. I was was on Twitter throughout every day. Ditto Facebook. And while it took me awhile to get on Pinterest and I was never super great at marketing my books there (I was too busy with recipes and fashion and quotes), it was part of my social networking repertoire. I’ve so far resisted Tumblr, though I wonder on an almost daily basis how long it will be before I succumb to the temptation of MORE FOLLOWERS! NEW READERS! UNTAPPED MARKET! I did epic giveaways, attended online chats, retweeted everyone else’s stuff, and basically just did all I could to be visible at all times. I answered EVERY single tweet directed my way, every email. I doled out writing advice to anyone who wanted it and blurbed books as often as possible, trying to pay forward my good fortune.
Because it wasn’t all about selling books. I just felt so LUCKY, so damn fortunate to be writing for a living, so GRATEFUL for the faith placed in me by my publisher. I wanted to do my part. At the very beginning of the self-promotional blitz that is now par for the course, I didn’t want to sit back and count on the publisher do the marketing work.
In 2009, shortly after Prophecy of the Sisters came out, my editor said (about my marketing pace), “You will not be able to keep this up forever.” And I said, “I know, but I’ll keep doing it as along as I can, or at least until Prophecy has a solid readership and I can take a step back.”
But then something terrible happened. Prophecy never quite gained the footing everyone expected. Despite critical acclaim, multiple starred reviews, sales in over thirty foreign countries, it fell short of the extremely high expectations my publisher had for it. Whether marketing choices, three cover changes, and/or lack of promised rebranding on said covers had anything to do with the numbers is something we’ll never know. Because the truth is, the stuff of big hits is still something of a mysterious alchemy. Some books just don’t hit the way we expect them to. And while Prophecy sold extremely well for any book in the marketplace at that time, the fact that it didn’t meet the enormously high expectations set for it is still a smudge on my publishing record.
And it left me feeling so disheartened. I had truly done EVERYTHING I could. Beyond writing the best books I could (the Prophecy trilogy really is the story of my heart, at least thus far), I marketed like a madwoman, gave all kinds of shit away, tweeted my heart out, connected with anyone and everyone on as personal a level as possible. I signed stock all over the country, was away from my children for two tours covering twenty cities. All while being a single mother to four teenagers. But it didn’t matter. None of it seemed to matter.
I started to wonder if all the naysayers were right. All the people who said whatever we did as authors to supplement the publisher’s marketing efforts would never be enough to effect a measurable difference in sales. Talking to some of my fellow writers at a conference, a couple of them said they’d done the figurative math and determined that we could maybe sell another hundred books through an active social networking presence. It was a quandary that left us all feeling a little bit helpless.
So I withdrew. I rarely tweeted and only posted on Facebook because it had begun to feel more personal (my kids and family and friends are there). Last year, I gradually stopped doing giveaways, and this year, my blogging has been hit and miss at best. More than just doubt about how much of a difference it all made, I was busy. Busy trying to keep my writing career afloat, trying to work my way into other areas like TV and film, trying my hand at digital publishing with a small press, strategizing about possible next directions. Because one way or another, I was (and am) going to write for a living. On top of that, I made personal choices that led me away from being online all the time, practicing Buddhism (and with it mindfulness), meditating, doing yoga daily, and generally trying to keep it simple, because I noticed that was when I was happiest. Marketing just kind of fell by the wayside.
But all my hard work and focus this past two years is starting to feel like it might pay off. I have several interesting projects in the works and a couple of already-contracted ones (that I can’t talk about yet). They are all leading me in a slightly different direction than the road I’ve traveled in publishing so far. And I’m really excited about that.
So here I am six years after selling Prophecy, trying to figure out how much I want to do online. How much I can enjoy (because I do enjoy some of it and I love connecting with readers) and how much of it will make any kind of difference in the financial success of my work. I still don’t have it figured out, but I do know I need a little of both. A little solitude and a little connectivity. A little silence and a little collective noise. A little c’est la vie, a little help from outside and a whole lot of Zen. How that mix will shake up in the end remains to be seen.
But the short answer (too late for that! ha!) is that I’m back. For now, I’ll continue to blog when I have a great vegetarian/vegan recipe, when I have something to say that maybe a thousand other people haven’t already said, and yes, when I have news to share or need your help spreading the the word (And I will when THIS WICKED GAME comes out later this year!). And I WILL be doing giveaways again, because that is something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ll still be on Facebook (my online “home”) and will be ramping up my Twitter a bit, though I will never be as active there as I once was, because the truth is; I can’t take the mental noise.
And here’s the thing; I’m a writer, not a blogger or marketer. I am still being paid to write books (thank you, Universe). So that must be my primary objective. And I think I’ve finally learned that for me to write great books I need a few things. Mental silence. Time to ruminate. Walks in nature. Time to read great books. I will have to learn to put those things above everything else, because it’s the only way I can honor the faith my readers have in me and the burden I place on myself to do the very best work I can.
I hope you’ll be patient with me when I disappear to work. Comment here when the spirit moves you. Let me know what you’d like to see. Because I don’t have all the answers. As with great stories, some of the time I have to sit back and let everything take on a life of it’s own. That’s where all the magic is anyway.
This book has been an obsession since I started it last year. Unfortunately, I’ve had to set it aside several times for pressing deadlines, leaving it as about 35,000 words, which is where it still stands. One of my goals this year is to finish it.
This is the first chapter, which doesn’t really hint at the fantasy element in the rest of the book. But this is me we’re talking about, so trust me; it’s there. You can get another hint about the book from the picture.
Hope you enjoy it!
I tried not to look suspicious as I sat across the street from the school, waiting for the kids to stream out the back door.
I shouldn’t have been worried. I’d been careful to dress like the moms I saw in the grocery store, the ones wearing faded jeans and stretched out t-shirts, their hair usually in a ponytail or cut short for minimal styling.
I’d forgone my usual skinny jeans and black t-shirt, digging a cardigan out of my bottom drawer to wear in place of my leather jacket. I hadn’t worn the sweater since Abby’s last birthday, and I’d lifted it to my nose when I pulled it from the drawer, inhaling deeply. It was stupid. It wouldn’t smell like her, and I wouldn’t know if it did. Like so many things about Abby, I could only imagine what she smelled like.
I’d finally put the sweater on, getting a whiff of wool and old wood as I tugged it up over my shoulders. I’d pulled my long brown hair into a ponytail and slipped on some tennis shoes before getting in the car and driving across town to Verrazano Elementary School. I knew it was Abby’s school both because I’d used the Moser’s address to look it up on the district map and because Grace Moser had mentioned it in her yearly letter, something that made me squirm a little in the car, guilt worming its way through my veins.
Grace wouldn’t like the idea of me sitting across from the school, watching Abby. It’s not that she would be angry. She’d just wonder why, if I was starved for a glimpse of my daughter, I didn’t take her and Dan up on their offer to have me over. And that was something I’d never be able to explain. I couldn’t even think about it long enough to explain it to myself.
A breeze, the perfect mix of late summer warmth chased by the slightest chill, drifted through the open car window as a bell cut through the air. I sat up straighter, eyes trained on the school. Ten seconds later the side doors opened with a clang, and a stream of small bodies emerged, some bounding down the steps, others showing more caution.
Abby was one of the first ones out. She hit the blacktop behind the school with so much speed the momentum seemed to carry her forward, her blond hair streaming out behind her like a handful of yellow ribbons. My hands rose from my lap, reaching for the window, as if I could catch her from where I sat in the car.
But she didn’t fall. She just kept running, her pale legs bare under a green dress.
My breath caught in my throat. She was bigger than she’d been last year, just like she’d been bigger last year than the year before that. For a minute, I saw it; the years and years ahead when I would only bear silent witness to Abby’s growth. Years when the loss of her would etch itself deeper into my bones until they were worn as smooth as a river stone.
I shut the thought down before it could cripple me.
I lifted the picture in my hand, comparing it to the little girl running back and forth across the playground, playing tag with some of the other kids.
Abby’s hair was longer now. Ditto her legs. Her face was slightly less round, and every now and then, I thought I caught a glimpse of the girl she would be in a few years. I tried to project myself forward five, six, seven Septembers into the future, to see her sitting with other girls at recess, their heads bowed as they shared secrets and talked about classmates.
Then again, that was just the way I imagined it would be. The way I hoped it would be for Abby. The truth was, I didn’t have a clue. My own childhood had been about as far from normal as you could get. But normal was what I was hoping for for Abby. What it had been all about.
I watched her run, her laugh falling through the air like glitter. I wondered if her happiness was a product of her environment or if it was some kind of throwback gene, some long-lost chromosome that allowed her to play and smile and be carefree without worrying and wondering and being afraid. She definitely didn’t get it from me.
I took one last look, committing every detail to memory even though I knew Grace would send me a picture taken on this very day. She always sent me a birthday picture.
Still, this was the last time I’d see Abby in person until next year. I would need to call up the image of her countless times to make the journey from now to then, and I drank her in until my heart was so full of her it felt like it would explode.
“Happy birthday, Abby,” I said softly.
I put the picture back in my purse and started the car.
* * *
It had been an open adoption. Not because that’s how I wanted it, but because Daniel and Grace Moser didn’t believe in keeping secrets. And I had my heart set on Daniel and Grace Moser.
I’d looked through hundreds of profiles before I’d chosen them. Daniel was a Senior Vice President for a computer consulting company. Grace was an artist who liked to cook and wanted to stay home with their adopted child. They made a good living, but not enough to make them a member of the financially elite. I liked that. I wanted Abby to have a happy, stable home. I wanted her to have a normal life. Extremes went both ways, and while I didn’t want her to worry about where her next meal was coming from, I didn’t want her to become some stuck-up little bitch who thought she was better than everyone else, either.
The Mosers were perfect. Sweet and sincere, Grace had the kind of inherent warmth that made me wish she was my mother. Daniel was a big, solid man with intelligent eyes. I liked the way he put his hand on Grace’s back when they’d entered the room at the adoption agency, the way he seemed to watch over her even when we were just talking. They talked about how they liked classical music but listened to Otis Redding when they cooked dinner, and I had a flash of my child, dancing around a homey kitchen to Sitting on the Dock of the Bay or doing homework with Brahms playing the background.
Choosing them had felt right, inevitable. They’d supported me through my pregnancy without being obnoxious, giving me small gifts to make me more comfortable and covering all of my medical expenses. But they never intruded. Never asked questions about what I was eating or whether I was taking the prenatal vitamins or getting enough rest.
Maybe they just knew they didn’t need to worry. For once, it had been easy to be good to myself because everything I did for myself was really for Abby.
After Abby was born and they’d taken her home, Grace and Dan had offered to have me over. It was a standing invitation, they’d said when I declined. As Abby got older, they even offered to tell her I was a family friend, if it would make me more comfortable.
But I just couldn’t. I felt like if I saw her up close, the scream that had been building inside me since the night I’d let her go might finally wrench itself free, and I’d never be able to stop. I’d consigned my memories of her birth to the shadowy place in my heart, the place where I swept all the things I couldn’t bear to think about. I allowed myself one day a year — this day — to see her. To think about her. I was already shuffling through life. Already trying to find a way forward, a way to navigate the world and the people around me the way everyone else seemed to do so easily, so effortlessly.
It was all I could do. I’d already learned that spending too much time in the past would undo me completely.
This week I’m giving you the first chapter of THIS WICKED GAME, in honor of the gorgeous cover, revealed just yesterday.
I’m super excited about this book, which features a moody setting (New Orleans), creepy subject matter (voodoo!), and an awesome, multicultural cast. It’ll be out this November form Penguin/Dial.
Stay tuned for more details!
Claire was at the front of the store, uploading a new batch of photographs while a pot of wax melted behind her, when the woman entered through the unmarked door.
Claire pulled her eyes away from the pictures flashing across the computer screen. It wasn’t unusual for customers to use the private entrance. Other than the staircase leading to the house, the door was the only way in, and there were plenty of people in New Orleans who had a key.
But Claire had never seen the woman before, and that was unusual, especially since she had been working in the store since before she was tall enough to see over the counter without a step stool.
Still, rules were rules. The fact that the woman had a key meant she was authorized to make purchases, no questions asked.
Claire turned down the temperature on the wax and closed her laptop as the woman approached the counter. She was startlingly beautiful, her milky skin contrasting with the red lipstick that shaped her full mouth. Her clothes were expertly tailored, the white button down nipped in at the waist, the hem of her navy trousers just grazing the floor as she walked.
Claire wiped her hands on a towel as the woman stopped at the counter. “Hello. What can I do for you?”
“Good afternoon.” The woman’s voice was low and gravelly. Claire figured her for a heavy smoker. Either that or a time-traveling 1940s film star. “I have some things I’d like to purchase.”
“Sure.” Claire pulled out the yellow notepad they used for orders.
The woman opened her slim black handbag, pulling from it a folded piece paper. She pushed it across the counter with her neatly manicured hands.
Claire opened it, glancing at the long list of items. It was a big order, and Claire immediately started transferring the woman’s list to the notepad.
“This is your family’s establishment?” The woman asked the question with the certainty of someone who already knew the answer.
“Uh-huh.” Claire had to resist the urge to add “unfortunately” at the end of the sentence.
Frankincense, black cat oil, anise seed, aloeswood powder…
“It’s quite a store. It seems you have everything.”
“Just about,” Claire said. A strand of her long blond hair fell forward. She tucked it behind one ear and continued transcribing the woman’s list to the notepad.
“And how long does it usually take to fill an order?” the woman asked.
“It depends on what you need. Let’s see…” Claire scanned the list. Everything on the front page was in stock. She turned the paper over to the back. “We should be able to do this while you…”
The words stopped coming out of Claire’s mouth as she came to the last item on the list.
Two (2) vials Black Panthera Pardus Plasma.
She felt her face flush as she searched her memory, wanting to be sure.
“Is there a problem?” the woman asked.
Claire didn’t know if it was paranoia or something else, but she thought there was something new in the woman’s voice. An undercurrent of acceptance, as if she’d known the Kincaid’s wouldn’t have the plasma all along.
Claire shook her head, resisting the urge to call out for her mother. Pilar Kincaid had little patience for Claire’s “lack of commitment” to the family business. Calling her would only highlight Claire’s inability to handle the store on her own. Besides, her knowledge of the craft wasn’t exactly encyclopedic. Maybe she was wrong.
“Um… not a problem. But one of these items might take us a while to get in. I think it’s a special order.”
“And which item would that be?” the woman asked, her voice frosty.
“The black panther plasma. We don’t keep it in stock.”
No one keeps it, Claire thought. As far as the Guild was concerned, there were some things you just didn’t mess around with, even if you were an experienced practitioner.
The woman tapped her manicured nails on the wood counter. “How long do you expect it will take to get it?”
“I’m not sure.” Claire didn’t have time to really think about it. “Maybe a week?”
The woman didn’t hesitate. “Fine. I’ll take the rest of the items now.”
Claire nodded, turning to fill the order. Everything else on the list was in stock, and Claire busied herself filling vials with the powder and herbs and wrapping roots in brown paper. She could feel the woman’s eyes on her back while she worked. It made the tiny hairs at the back of her neck stand on end and caused a prickling sensation behind her eyes. She felt vulnerable, exposed.
Once the order was filled, she turned around, half expecting the woman to have transformed into some kind of monster.
But she was just the same, her gaze unflinching, her eyes so dark they were almost black.
“Here you go,” Claire said, pushing the package toward the woman and turning to the calculator. She consulted the notepad, her fingers flying over the keys. “That’ll be $357. 42, without the panther plasma.”
She had a hard time even saying it. Questions were drumming through her mind. She needed to get upstairs to her mother. She would know what to do.
The woman nodded slowly, pulling a wallet from her handbag and removing four hundred dollar bills.
Claire took the money and made change from the lockbox they kept under the counter. “Would you like us to call you when we find out about the special order?”
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll see you one week from today.” She took her change and picked up the package, her unsettling gaze resting on Claire. “Goodbye, Claire.”
She turned and left through the private entrance. Claire watched the door shut behind her, listening for the click of the automatic lock. For a minute, she was rooted to the floor, wondering if she’d imagined the whole thing. Then she looked down at the list of items.
Two (2) vials Black Panthera Pardus Plasma.
She took the stairs two at a time.
* * *
The Kincaid’s living quarters were separated from the store by one floor and a two level staircase. Just a few months ago, the door between the two spaces hadn’t even had a lock, but after a rash of break-ins, the Guild families who had stores on-site had taken measures to protect their private quarters from the customers who had access to the supply houses.
The world was changing, Claire’s mother had said as the locksmith installed a heavy deadbolt on the door that separated the store from the two floors above it. Once a secret society of old-school voodoo suppliers and their clients, the Guild of High Priests and Priestesses had become too large to allow for intimate knowledge of each and every member. Now, it was up to the regional leaders to vet and approve new members based on lineage and practice.
Claire reached the top of the stairs and fumbled through her keys for the one that fit the new lock. When she found it, silver and strangely shiny compared to the old ones that went to the house and store, she unlocked the door and spilled out into the main hall of the house. She locked the door behind her and moved down the first floor hall.
“Mom? Where are you?”
She checked the drawing room first. The floor to ceiling windows were open to the terrace, the sheer draperies moving slightly in the barely-there July breeze. But her mother wasn’t there.
There was only one other place her mother would be if she wasn’t in the drawing room going over the accounts for the store or writing notecards to Guild members who lived outside the city, and that was upstairs. Claire headed for the main staircase.
When she reached the second-floor landing, she continued down the hall past her bedroom, her parent’s room, two guest rooms, and an extra bathroom.
She stopped at a closed door at the end of the hall and listened.
She heard the gentle murmur of her mother’s voice a second later, smelled the incense she burned when practicing the craft.
Claire hesitated. It wasn’t that she was afraid to interrupt her mother. She just didn’t like the ritual room. She never had.
She’d been about four-years-old when she’d first come upon her mother in the room. She had been wearing a white floor-length garment that Claire would later learn was standard ritual garb. The simple cotton tunic made her mother look taller and younger than she did in her everyday clothes. Her hair was long and loose around her shoulders as she kneeled in front of the alter, covered with burning white candles, wax figures, and dried herbs.
Her mother hadn’t looked like herself at all. Not to Claire.
She had waved Claire forward without speaking, silently inviting her to join in the ritual.
Claire had been afraid. The strange words that came from her mother’s mouth frightened her, however softly they were spoken, and the flickering candles cast unfamiliar shadows.
Claire had shaken her head and retreated. She’d avoided the room ever since.
But she couldn’t avoid it now, and she wrapped softly on the door, turning the knob without waiting for an answer and pushing the door open quietly, so as not to disturb her mother.
She was there, in the same position Claire had found her all those years ago, kneeling in front of the tea table that served as an alter. This time she was in her regular clothes. The alter was alight with purple candles that meant her mother was either working a spirituality rite or trying to channel her power more effectively. Two sticks of incense burned on either side of a bible, their smoke rising into the air in abstract swirls.
Her mother didn’t look up or in any way acknowledge Claire’s presence. Claire waited for a few seconds before she finally gave up and started talking.
“You know I won’t speak to you until you come in properly, Claire.” Her mother didn’t look away from the alter. Her hair, still long and black as a raven’s wing, tumbled down over one of her shoulders. “Besides, aren’t you supposed to be working the counter?”
Claire stepped into the room, but just barely. “I am working the counter, but-”
Now her mother looked over at her. “Then what are you doing up here, for heaven’s sake? You know you’re not supposed to leave the store unattended.”
Claire crossed the room, her throat closing against the heavy scent of sandalwood. She held out the piece of paper with the list of ingredients the woman had ordered.
Turning toward her with a sigh, her mother took it, her gray eyes traveling the front page.
“These are all basic ingredients, Claire.” She turned it over. “Surely you know how to…” Her voice trailed off. She shook her head, her face two shades paler than it had been when Claire entered the room. “Where did you get this?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Claire said. “A woman just came in. She gave me this order to fill.”
Her mother rose to her feet, pacing to the fireplace. “Which client was it?”
“That’s the thing,” Claire said. “I’ve never seen her before.”
Her mother turned to face her. “Then how did she get in?”
“She had a key,” Claire said simply.
“Are you sure the door was latching? That it was locked when she came in?”
Claire sighed. She didn’t blame her mother for doubting her. She wasn’t exactly attentive on the job. But still.
“Yes, Miss Julie was the last person to place an order, and the door locked behind her, just like always.”
“Did this woman give you a name?”
No, Claire almost said, but she knew mine.
She didn’t say it. The woman had probably been told about the Kincaid’s by whoever referred her to the store.
Claire shook her head. “And I didn’t ask. You’ve always told me not to. That if they have a key, I honor the policy, fill the orders, and that’s it.”
Her mother consulted the list again before looking up to meet Claire’s eyes. “But this is… this is impossible. We’ll have to call a meeting.”
She was still standing there, a look of shock on her face, when the phone rang from the hall.
“I’ll get it.” Claire left the room and picked up the phone that sat on a table in the hall. “Kincaid residence. How may I help you?”
“Hello, Claire.” She immediately recognized the voice on the other end of the line. “May I speak to your mother or father, please? It’s urgent.”
“One moment.” Claire covered the mouthpiece and went back to the ritual room, holding out the phone to her mother. “It’s Aunt Estelle,” she said quietly. “She says it’s urgent.”
Estelle Toussaint wasn’t a blood relative to the Kincaid’s, but all the women in the Guild were Claire’s “aunts” just as her mother was “Aunt Pilar” to the other Guild members’ children.
Pilar smoothed her skirt, as though Estelle could see her through the phone. “Hello, Estelle.” Her mother paused, turning her back on Claire. “Well, I… When?” Another long pause. “Today?”
She didn’t say anything else for a couple of minutes. Claire was beginning to wonder if her mother was still on the phone when she murmured a few quiet words. Then she turned around, avoiding Claire’s eyes as she finished the call.
“Yes, I understand. We’ll see you then.” She hung up the phone, staring at it like it was something she’d never seen before.
“Mom?” Claire finally said. “What’s going on?”
Her mother looked up like she’d just realized Claire was still there. “We weren’t the only ones who received an order for black panther plasma today.”
“What do you mean?” Claire asked.
But Pilar was already rushing from the room. “An emergency meeting has been called. Be ready to leave at six.”
I’m super psyched to FINALLY show you guys the cover of THIS WICKED GAME, my November 2013 book from Penguin/Dial.
I love this book so much. It’s dark, moody, and set in New Orleans amid a backdrop of voodoo and old voodoo families.
Here’s a brief summary I whipped up for you this morning;
Claire Kincaid’s family has been in business for over fifty years.
The voodoo business.
Part of the International Guild of High Priests and Priestesses, a secret society that have practiced voodoo for generations, the Kincaid’s run an underground supply house for authentic voodoo supplies. Claire plays along, filling orders for powders, oils and other bizarre ingredients in the family store, but she has a secret.
She doesn’t believe.
Struggling to reconcile her modern sensibilities with a completely unscientific craft based on suspicion, Claire can’t wait to escape New Orleans – and voodoo – when she goes to college, a desire that creates almost constant conflict in her secret affair with Xander Toussaint, son of the Guild’s powerful founding family.
But when a mysterious customer places an order for a deadly ingredient, Claire begins to realize that there’s more to voodoo – and the families that make up the Guild – than meets the eye.
Including her own.
As she bands together with the other firstborns of the Guild, she comes face to face with a deadly enemy – and the disbelief that may very well kill her.
Super excited to share it with you guys!
This week’s Sunday Experiment was… interesting. I was expecting a day reveling in my free time, enjoying every last second cut off from email, social networking and writing.
And I DID have a lovely day. I even took pictures to prove it!
But there was a side effect. I sometimes felt edgy, nervous and distracted by my inability to check email. I don’t think I noticed it as much last week, because I was busy a good part of the day helping Rebekah move back into her dorm (and I hadn’t initiated the email embargo). This week, I’d arranged to be home, and there were definitely times when I was jonesing to check email, Facebook, or to write.
A hazard of loving what you do!
Still, I forced myself to stay off my computer (didn’t open it once!), taking the fact that it was difficult for me to do so as proof that I really NEED to learn to do it.
I feel that way in meditation a lot, too, especially when I go to meditation practice and we have longer, 20-30 minute sits. It’s like I’m trying to claw my way out of my own mind. At times like that, I tell myself, “You can’t run from yourself,” and force myself to be still. It’s not always easy – or to be honest, even pleasant – but I think we SHOULD be able to be still in our own minds. The fact that it is difficult makes me realize how desperately I need to cultivate that ability, because if we can’t retreat into our own minds now and then, how screwed are we?
And just taking this one day a week has made me realize how terribly out of balance I’ve been. That has to change if I want to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit – and I DO.
This week’s lessons learned;
1) Not logging into email helped a lot, even though there were times I was dying to check it. I set an away message late Sunday night letting people know I’d get back to them Monday, and that prevented me from worrying that everyone would think I was a flake for not replying right away. Also, because a lot of people knew I was doing the Sunday Experiment, I was pleasantly surprised by how many people went out of their way to honor it, telling me in advance that they would send me interview questions on Monday (thank you, Nazarea!) and that they would talk to me about specific things then. So I think telling people Sunday is your “day off” helps them recognize the boundary, too.
2) I’ve been working a lot – but not working smart because I’ve been more burned out than I realized. After last week’s Sunday off, I felt really ready to tackle that week’s tasks, and I hit the ground running on Monday. Knowing I had a day off coming, I planned to tackle certain things during the week so I’d be somewhat clear on Sunday (because let’s face it, we’re never *really* in the clear). One of the things I did to work smarter was to start using Freedom again when I wrote during the week. And let me tell you, I am always SHOCKED by what a difference it makes. My head just feels clearer, my mind more focused knowing I can’t log into the internet. I ended up getting way more done last week than usual. That made me feel proud and relieved and more like I DESERVED a day off.
3) Even fun things can be not fun when you have too much on your plate. If you remember, last week, I vowed to plan a couple of nice things for myself to do on Sunday. I ended up with the following list; have a leisurely morning, watch The New World with the kids while we ate lunch, make homemade pizza, take a couch nap, and play Scrabble with Caroline. I managed to do it all — and I enjoyed it! — but there were times when I felt rushed to cram it all in. When Caroline asked if we could make Scrabble a Sunday tradition, I forced myself to tell her we would have to see. Scary how easy it is to slip into overscheduling even a day off! Next week, I’ll think of one or two things I want to do and play the rest by ear.
But it was SO NICE to have all that time away from writing and from the computer, even if I sometimes did feel like an addict looking for a fix. I spent the morning drinking coffee and reading magazines, made homemade apple pancakes with Greek yogurt (will post the recipe for you guys this week), did yoga, watched The New World in the middle of the afternoon (an afternoon movie felt like the epitome of luxury), took a nap, made pizza, watched a documentary with the kids, and played Scrabble with Caroline. Then I meditated and read before bed.
One upside to jonesing for work is that I woke up today READY to get shit done. I’ve already knocked a bunch of stuff off my to-do list. That forced down time made me appreciate the time I have to work.
Plus, I want to get as much done as possible before next week’s Sunday Experiment.
What about you? Did you take the day off? If so, what how did you spend your day? if not, what are the challenges facing you in finding downtime?
The Art of Mixing it up
Since announcing the release of my new adult novella series, I’ve gotten a ton of email. Questions range from why I decided to branch out from YA to why I chose a small e-press to whether or not I’m worried the diversification will hurt my brand.
All good questions.
And while there are lot of answers I could give, they all boil down the same thing; I’m a writer. Not a writer of YA novels or a writer of short stories or a writer of adult novels.
But somewhere along the way, the art of creativity had gotten lost in the business of publishing. Most of the writers I know are artists. And like all artists, they long to stretch their creative ability, to try new things, to see if they CAN. It’s the reason we see Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life and Burn after reading. The reason fine artists doodle. The reason Neil Gaiman writes a book like Coraline along with one like American Gods along with an episode of Doctor Who.
The problem is, until very recently, that kind of creative exploration was reserved for people who had the artistic clout to pull it off (see above), people who could afford not to care what it did to their “real” career, or people who explored their various talents in secret, either under pseudonyms or in the privacy of their home offices.
When I thought about trying something new, it wasn’t fear of not being able to do it that stopped me. It was worries about my brand, what my publisher would think, whether my agent would be supportive, whether advocates of traditional publishing would despise me for what they might see as a betrayal.
And those are just not the things that inspire creative growth.
But times are changing. And while there is much debate over the demise of traditional publishing and the merit (or lack thereof) of e-publishing, we’ll save that discussion for another time.
The fact is, there are more opportunities than ever to explore and stretch our creativity as writers, as artists. And while there are still those who want us to believe that doing so will “dilute our brand”, the truth is, all evidence is to the contrary. There is a long list of authors who are writing across genres, and unlike in the past, they aren’t all mega-bestsellers.
I’ve been wanting to try my hand at the adult market for awhile. I love writing for young people, and the YA genre will always have a special place in my heart. But I’ve written twelve YA novels (including the ones that haven’t been published or have yet to be published), and I have been itching to try something different. To challenge myself to something completely foreign and terrifying and exhilarating.
Last year, I started two adult novels. I still hope to have them published traditionally (I think they’re a better fit for that kind of distribution), but in the meantime, another opportunity reared its head when I mentioned my idea for an adult novella series to Georgia McBride of Swoon Romance (an imprint of Month Nine Books). Georgia encouraged me to give them a try and then offered to publish them under the Swoon Imprint.
I was hesitant to mention it to my agent. There has been so much animosity between traditional publishing and e-publishing that I half-expected to be considered a traitor just for saying it out loud. But after some discussion, I was pleasantly surprised to receive his blessing. And you know what?
It’s been FUN. Foreign and terrifying and exhilarating. But FUN.
I have no idea how it will impact my YA brand, if at all. It shouldn’t. I write for young people. Now I write for adults, too. Every now and then, I even write a letter or a note excusing my child from school or an email. They all come in handy from time to time, although I imagine if I sent one of my adult novellas into school in place of a note excusing my child, the teacher would be, er, surprised.
But each of those things have a place. I’m choosing to believe my professional writing is the same, and I hope my YA readers will continue to enjoy my YA novels (I have more coming!), my adult readers will look forward to the next installment in the Shadowguard series, and maybe, just maybe, some of you will enjoy the other surprises I’m hiding up my sleeve. Because the more I try, the more I stretch, the more I feel myself getting BETTER. Like all of this writing across genres is only serving to make me a better writer in EVERY genre.
Don’t I owe that to myself? To ALL of my readers?
I’m not gonna lie; I’m a little bit scared, but mostly I’m just grateful that in this day and I age, I have the opportunity to be true to myself and my idea of who I am as a writer.
Because when you get right down to it, that’s the only part that matters.
And don’t forget; you can enter to win free books and a $50 or $25 gift card just for helping me celebrate! Also, please note my lovely new ADULT BOOKS tab at the top of this website. There you will find covers and summaries of the first two Shadowguard novellas.
I meant to post this yesterday for Thursday Night Write.
This week’s editing corner focuses on something my agent likes to call “stage direction.” I thought he’d coined the term just for me (after working with him for over five years, this remains a challenge), but since I’ve been freelance editing, I’ve realized I’m not the only one who does it.
In short, stage direction is over-explaining the movements of your characters. Literary blocking, you might say.
I think the reason it’s been a challenge for me is because I see everything I’m writing as if its a movie. In fact, I’ve said before that I often feel that I’m channeling a story more than creating it, as if the story already exists out there and I’m just writing what I see in my mind.
As a writer, it’s a gift to see things this way. It enables one to create a rich atmosphere and and an immersive visual experience for the reader.
But it can also be distracting, forcing the reader to stop reading as they try to visualize every move of a character’s hand, every lift of the eyebrows, every smirk. Just as bad, it can mire your pacing, eliminating the momentum that is critical to a swiftly-moving story that pulls the reader through it in one smooth motion.
Dialog scenes, in particular, are a huge danger zone. You want to keep things moving as they would in real life, where we don’t stop to think about (or notice someone else) touching our hair, biting our lip, or putting a hand in our pocket.
Here’s a small example from an older manuscript of mine. At the time I wrote it, I was already aware of my stage direction problem. Even so, there are things I’d cut if I went back to edit it now.
“Here ya go.” Sarah pushed the steaming cup of tea toward me with a sympathetic smile. “Don’t work too hard.”
I thanked her, dropping a dollar in the tip jar. I was at the end of the counter when she called after me. “Tell your mom I hope she feels better.”
I came to a sudden stop. “What do you mean?”
She looked surprised. “She stayed home sick today. Didn’t you know?”
I shook my head. “I left early this morning.”
I stood there for a minute, fighting the alarm that slithered through my veins. I must have looked worried, because Sarah came down to the end of the counter.
“Hey,” she said, shaking me out of my thoughts. “I’m sure it’s nothing. I think I heard Helga mention a cold.”
“Yeah, but… she’s never sick.” It was true. In all the years my mom had owned the Depot, she had never missed a day of work. Not one. It didn’t matter if Helga, the store manager and my mom’s best friend, was on duty and my mom was so sick she could barely get out of bed. She was always here.
Sarah laughed a little. “Everyone gets sick sometime.”
I sighed, trying to feel relieved. “You’re right. Thanks, Sarah.”
If I were to go back and edit it now, this is what I’d do;
“Here ya go.” Sarah pushed the steaming cup of tea toward me. “Don’t work too hard.”
I thanked her, dropping a dollar in the tip jar. I was at the end of the counter when she called after me. “Tell your mom I hope she feels better.”
I came to a sudden stop. “What do you mean?”
“She stayed home sick today. Didn’t you know?”
“I left early this morning.”
I stood there for a minute, fighting the alarm that slithered through my veins. I must have looked worried, because Sarah came down to the end of the counter.
“Hey, I’m sure it’s nothing. I think I heard Helga mention a cold.”
“But… she’s never sick.” It was true. In all the years my mom had owned the Depot, she had never missed a day of work. Not one.
“Everyone gets sick sometime,” Sarah said.
“You’re right,” I sighed. “Thanks, Sarah.”
Truth? Even now, I’m cringing removing some of the stage direction. People won’t be able to see it the way I do! They won’t be as immersed in the scene!
IT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
But let’s be honest; the second version is cleaner. It moves faster. The dialog isn’t bogged down in a bunch of minutia that doesn’t add to the story. It’s an extremely small change, from an editing standpoint. But it makes a HUGE difference when applied to an entire manuscript.
So when editing your own work, remember; you’re not blocking a play. It’s not your job to lay out every movement. That’s the job of the reader – to take what you write and see it their way.
And if you ever need a reminder, here’s something funny to help you remember (hint; there is an overabundance of stage direction in this song about a guy who’s girlfriend is breaking up with him).
I’m entirely booked for full manuscript edits for October (a rare month in between writing projects), but I do have some slots left for three-chapter plus query letter critiques. Even a small-scale critique like this one can mean a big improvement if the suggestions are applied to an entire manuscript. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details!
Editing Corner; Overwriting
Last year, when a friend of mine approached me about helping to offload her over-abundance of freelance editing projects, I wasn’t sure if I could help. I’d always thought of myself as a writer, not an editor.
But the idea of editing was intriguing, a chance to use skills that might help me become a better writer while helping other writers reach their goals of securing an agent or selling a book.
Editing turned out to be a gift. It kept my writing mind sharp between my own projects and allowed me to connect with a whole new group of aspiring-to-be-published writers. I found that I LOVED helping them, and that I learned something new with every edit.
Those first few projects turned into many more, and I eventually set up a simple informational website to which I could refer the very few clients I took on. I worked by referral only and only when I had time between my own writing projects.
I jumped at the opportunity to co-edit the Two and Twenty Dark Tales anthology with Georgia McBride and was floored by the talent represented by the pieces, but adding the anthology to my editor credentials outed me!
So now you know; I DO freelance editing on the side.
With that in mind, I thought I’d use Thursday Night Write now and then to address editing issue. Because even though I strongly recommend you always get an outside editor (no one can see their own work objectively – and that includes me), there are things you can do, tics you can become aware of, that will make those early drafts cleaner.
One of the things I was most guilty of in the early days was overwriting. I love language. I love beautiful words and evocative turns of phrase. But like many writers, I can be my own worst enemy.
That’s because, as the old saying goes, less is usually more. And this is definitely true when it come to overly descriptive phrases, flowery language, and over-explanation. But I don’t think I really saw it without the help of my agent or editor until I started editing professionally.
Then, I REALLY noticed it.
Ironically, going overboard is actually distracting. It makes the reader pause to visualize and imagine what the writer is describing, and if there’s one thing you don’t want, it’s to give readers a reason to pause while reading your book.
A good rule of thumb is not to stack very descriptive phrases. If you have a paragraph full of intricately worded, complex sentences, you probably have too many. Try to mix it up a little. Use descriptive phrases, metaphors, etc., when it really counts, and intersperse them with simpler phrases and sentences.
Remember; the idea isn’t to impress everyone with how beautifully you can write.
It’s to pull the reader through the story. To make them not want to put the book down. To make them put off going to the bathroom or making dinner or going to bed.
And sometimes, if things are too complicated, it’s just too much work to slog through the adjectives and similes and metaphors and adverbs, to say nothing of the fact that those things are inauthentic if overused, because let’s face it; people don’t talk — or even think — that way a majority of the time.
So yes, we’re back to “kill your little darlings.” Especially the pretty ones.
And if you’re looking for freelance editing in preparation for querying agents, subbing your book to editors, or self-pubbing, you can view my editing website here. I have a rare one-month opening right now and am running a special on a full manuscript edit. Use the contact form on this website for details!
Don’t worry; this is totally a PG-rated (okay, maybe PG-13) post. But last week, when Rebekah and I decided to watch a documentary titled Cracking the Mayan Code, I got to thinking about inspiration, and since it’s Thursday, I thought it would be a good topic for Thursday Night Write.
You’re probably asking; what does a dominatrix have to do with Mayan hieroglyphs?
Stay with me. I’m getting there.
So, we’re watching this documentary, and honestly, I just needed something to space out to. My brain was on overload from a series of hardcore (wow, I’m really taking it to the mat with this dominatrix thing, right?!) deadlines that started in January and won’t let up until fall. We don’t watch TV unless we can stream a show from Netflix, and even then, we typically watch one show from beginning to end in 45-minute increments and only ine episode a night Mon-Thurs. But that night, I was just fried.
My typical thought process on inspiration goes like this; make your own. Sure, sometimes I get inspired by stuff. But it’s random and fickle and totally unreliable when you need a stream of ideas steady enough to make a living in a business that trades depends on them.
Basically, I wasn’t expecting inspiration when I sat down to watch Cracking the Mayan Code. But as I sat there, half letting my mind wander and half watching, I remembered how much I love ancient cultures. I thought about the Ancient Near East class I’d taken when I was a teenager, and how awesome it would be to set a YA book in that time and place. I thought about all the epigraphers and cryptographers who’d worked to decipher the Mayan alphabet and how fascinating history is and how we never know where the next big discovery will come from or what it will lead to. I thought about the awe-inspiring Mayan construction and the lush jungles surrounding the temples and the people that historians agree were war-like, violent, and aggressive.
And even though I didn’t come away with an IDEA, I was inspired.
It reminded me that sometimes, being a hardass, even with yourself, can be a bad thing. How many times have I wracked my brain to come up with an idea or a solution to a writing problem, only to find the answer while I sat on the bleachers watching Andrew and Caroline run track? Or driving to the grocery store? Or watching a (totally unrelated) movie?
At the same time, I HAVE finished books and found inspiration and worked through roadblocks in my writing by pushing myself — forcing myself — through them. By working every day. By treating this job like the very real job that it is, logging hours and hours at my desk, fingers hovering over the keyboard.
Then again, “sheer force of will” is a saying my mother uses often when talking about me.
There’s no easy answer. Sometimes we need to push, and sometimes we need to take a step back. Sometimes we need to hold our feet to the fire, and sometimes we need to drop them into a cool river and say, “Ahhhhh.”
I guess the trick is knowing when to rely on the dominatrix — and when to light the candles and cue the music.
See what I did there? Inspiration, dominatrix, Mayan glyphs, even my mother! I got it all in!
What about you? How do you find inspiration — not just for writing, but for everything?!
It’s been awhile since we’ve done Open Mic, and since I know a lot of you have started writing again now that the holidays are over, I thought this would be a good time to open up the floor.
So share your original poem, song, short story, script, or novel excerpt of no more than 300 words for comment. And don’t forget; if you post a piece of your own, you have to comment at least one other piece. Writers of all ages and levels of experience are welcome. Don’t be shy!
One more thing; If you haven’t been getting status updates from me on Facebook, there’s a reason! I’ve officially switched my Facebook account from a Profile to a Page. There aren’t a lot of differences, but there is one; If you don’t have your account set to see updates from Pages in your Feed, you’ll no longer see mine. This includes links to special features on the blog, contests and giveaways, and my random updates about movies, life, and take-out.
To see if you’re receiving updates from my Page and/or to change the Settings;
- From your home page, hover your mouse to the left of the left side News Feed menu.
- Select Edit.
- A list of people, apps, Pages, and groups you’ve hidden or unsubscribed from will appear in a pop-up box. Click the X next to each one you’d like to remove from this list. Removing someone or something from your list of hidden stories means those stories can appear in your News Feed again.
- Click Save.
Easy! And I hope you’ll all continue to follow my updates on the Facebook Page because that really is where I post EVERYTHING, including all of the upcoming giveaways and contests for A TEMPTATION OF ANGELS.
And if you’re not already following my on Facebook, you can do so here.
Hope you are all well!
What I Did and What I Want to Do
I meant to write a goal-related post last week, but to be honest, I had such a tough November/December I just withdrew over the holidays and tried to regroup. I’m still getting my feet under me from the very tough year that was 2011.
All the more reason to look ahead and set some writing goals (and I’m not just talking about me here).
Last year I wrote 2 1/2 novels, edited two books front to back, wrote a 20,000-word novella, and continued to promote my little heart out by sending out tons of swag and spending the majority of my promotional time and money focusing on connecting directly to readers. I also plotted two more books and started work on some exciting TV/film stuff that I hope will open more doors for me in that arena this year and in the future.
In addition, (and I know this isn’t writing, but it certainly impacts my writing), I single-parented four teenagers, maintained our old converted barn by myself, and shopped colleges for Rebekah.
Because I’m so goal-oriented (and I always have aggressive goals), my schedule was packed tight and dependent on everything moving at a certain pace. About midway through the year, I hit a roadblock where I just could not get any of my writing projects to move forward. Publishing is notoriously slow (I’ve heard it described as “glacial”), and this proved to be my downfall in 2011. Things didn’t start moving again until December, which proved to be too late for me to meet some of my goals (like finishing that 1/2 a book, selling it, selling one of my others, and getting my novellas out into the world).
I’d like to claim that I learned to say “c’est la vie”, but when it comes to goals, I’m not that much of a defeatist (or maybe that’s just one thing I can’t be Zen about). I think the biggest thing I learned is something I suspected all along – it’s never a bad idea to diversify with projects in multiple genres, mediums, etc. That way, if one thing (or ten things) are stalled, you have something else (hopefully) moving forward.
The downside is that you have to work through all those roadblocks on multiple projects to even get to a point where you actually HAVE a diverse set of in-process projects. I’m hoping I did the hard part of that in 2011 and that all my hard work will come to fruition in 2012.
With that in mind, here are some of my writing goals for 2012;
1. Finish and sell the adult book I’m working on now.
2. Finish the adult book I started last year (and had to abandon at 35,000 words because of aforementioned scheduling issues with other books) and prepare it for sale.
3. Complete the two short stories I’ve committed to for anthologies.
4. Line up my 2014 YA book to meet my Book-A-Year-For-The-Foreseeable-Future goal. I have a book I’m super excited about and am really excited to get it out there. Hoping that will be my 2014 book.
5. See at least one of the TV/film projects I’m working on move forward, even a little, and work on more in that arena, including a script Kenneth and I are plotting now.
6. Get my three Prophecy novellas out into the world. I know I promised them to you awhile ago, but an opportunity arose that I wanted to see through. Will have more on that — one way or another — soon.
Whew! Kind of scary, but… I got this!
How about you? What are some of your writing goals for the New Year? Share in comments!
I thought it would be fun to try a progressive story for Thursday Night Write.
So here’s the deal; I’ll post the first sentence. You guys jump in with one of your own to follow whichever sentence was posted last in the comments. Try to have your post ready to copy and paste so we don’t get too many cross-posts.
When it’s all done, I’ll post the results! Fun, right?!
It wasn’t the shadows that worried him but the light flickering at the edge of the trees.
Now someone hurry and post the first follow-up sentence!