Remember, Remember to Give Thanks in November

First off, how many here feel personally victimized by November?

Yup. It was a hard month. Not just for me, but for the many, many people who were affected post-election. Like so many others, I had a difficult time processing and writing because to me it felt like, in Hamilton terms, the world turned upside down. And not in a good way, but in the way that feels like all of what’s surrounding you has become so topsy-turvy that you hardly recognize the home you’ve been living in for your entire life.

At heart, I’m a happy, positive, and optimistic person—and November really challenged that side of me, the one that strives to always find the silver-linings that help me accept and process the hardest of times. But even though it was challenging, I’m happy to report that as we welcome in December, November never beat us. Though we were struck hard, we got back up with a fury. We continue to fight, even as we still heal.

I just wanted to write that all out first because it’s been weighing heavily on my mind for a while, and it would be a flat-out lie in my heart to gloss over November and say it was amazing. Some parts were (like family! Food! Thanksgiving! Becoming a godmother! Writing!), but there was a dark cloud hanging over it that could not be ignored. To push it aside would be to push aside your pain and the pain of so many others, when in reality, I confront pain because it pushes me to act. Grief over a hard loss pushed me to bring a story to life, just like an intense bout of hopelessness has now pushed me to keep working on the story that I wish can bring hope to others.

From all the artists and writers I follow, it’s been uplifting to see such amazing responses of encouragement, solidarity, and above all, creating important and powerful stories in this time of need. I’ve definitely been taking to heart the inspiration that’s risen from these times, and I’m hearing loud and clear the call for more diverse books and voices. It’s prompted me to tackle my revisions with a vengeance, and the work I’ve put down feels stronger than ever with an emotional heartbeat that just keeps pounding louder and louder.

Though lots of emotional head space in November was occupied by everything above, there were also so many positive highlights. I’m now an official fairy godmother to my BEAUTIFUL nephew, saw lots of my family, had tons of puppy therapy with Master Skywalker, aaaaaaand ate all the food during Thanksgiving.

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GODSON, I am your crazy fairy godmother

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THE TURKEYS HAVE THEIR REVENGE: In which a flock of turkeys aggressively invaded the front lawn on Thanksgiving morning

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Master Skywalker’s “please let me cuddle on the couch” pouty face

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Dat Thanksgiving spread

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Thank you snapchat for giving me the ability to make a fried turkey terrified

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Our other turkey baby ❤ (who we definitely did not eat)

Along with cool family and food shenanigans, more updates and good news were what kept my spirits up during November. First off, MY PITCH WARS MENTEE HAS AN AGENT!!!!!!!!!!!!

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-2-03-50-pmI am so, so, SOOOOO proud of Judy. It was an honor to co-mentor her in Pitch Wars with Axie, and nothing has made me happier than to see her rise like a star from our slush pile four months ago to becoming an agented writer this week. She rocked the agent round, and it’s been nothing but constant cheerleading and hip-hip-hooraying for all the awesomeness that Pitch Wars has brought. Oh Judy. If you’re reading this, sorry for gushing so hard BUT I CAN’T HELP MYSELF. You’re an amazing storyteller with such a great heart, and I can’t WAIT to see you take the publishing world by storm….and also to get my copy of HUNGRY GHOSTS in hardcover soon in the future ❤

Mentoring a writer has been one of the biggest highlights for me this year. To help other writers on their journey is so rewarding, but finding life-long friends makes the mentee-mentor experience even greater. With that said, because I just can’t get enough, I’m part of ANOTHER mentoring program called Author Mentor Match, spearheaded by the lovely Alexa Donne and Heather Kaczynski!

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It’s a new program that’s just launched this year, and the submission period opened recently enough that you can STILL submit if you have a polished MS ready and are interested in a mentor to help you brave the next steps of the publishing journey! Deadline to submit by is December 6th, and there are SO many fantastic authors and agented writers who are offering to mentor (whaddup Axie, Kat, Katy, and Mara) so you really can’t go wrong  😉 For insights on my mentoring style, check out my profile where I basically am just begging for friendship and fun!!

All in all, November was tough, but toward the end when Thanksgiving hit, you can’t help but also reflect on the things that bring you light and that you’re grateful for. I’m so thankful for all the opportunities this year has presented, for the friends who always keep me sane and inspired, for the new people who’ve come into my life and have helped me grow, for the family that’s always supported and believed in me, and last but not least, for writing—for the stamina to keep at it, the endurance to push through the frustrating times, and the passion to love every single second of it.

How I Got My Agent, How Failing Helped

GOOD NEWS: I have an agent!!!! The whole story is below!

WARNING: The WHOLE story is below. Seriously, this post is loooooong and maybe wanders a bit in the rambling-territory—but I truly believe that it’s just as important to celebrate the struggles as it is to celebrate the victories. I didn’t want to leave anything out.

EXTRA WARNING: Mulan gifs galore!


The first time I queried with my first finished novel, I failed. In more ways than one. And to be honest, the period when I tried just wasn’t a great time for me in general. I was a senior in my last semester of college, my grandmother was severely ill, and I was constantly heading home from class/on weekends to be with my family and make visits to the nursing home, and later on, the hospital. And on top of that, I was querying a novel that 1) didn’t have much of a market anymore, and 2) still needed A LOT of heavy-duty work, which I didn’t realize until the rejections started piling up.

Rejection after rejection after rejection.

Overall, it was a combination that down-spiraled into a lot tears and utter dejection. After spending so many years of my college life crafting this first book, nights of missing out on parties and so many social events just to write in the confines of my room, I couldn’t help but feel angry and confused. Bitter and frustrated. How could all that hard work not pay off or amount to anything but a shelved manuscript? Shouldn’t hard work always end with success? I did all the research, didn’t I? How can something that I’m so passionate and proud of be making matters even worse?

These questions, and more, flitted through my head constantly, and it didn’t make things any easier. The rejections piled higher, and my grandmother’s condition wasn’t improving. Even worse, those ugly feelings and questions swirling around festered until I was only focusing on the unfairness of it all. Because I had worked hard for something, I thought I deserved it. It really isn’t a horrible philosophy when you think about it—however, when you start expecting anything in this sort of industry, that’s where the trouble arises. Going in with high expectations and dreams of grandeur can only hurt you in a game that is mostly luck and chance after all the hard work. This was one of the many lessons I learned during this period, and while at most times I felt like I was breaking apart from all the things I couldn’t control, I’ve always believed that facing hard times was just as formative as the good times. Even more so. It had a power, if one was able to acknowledge it, to make someone stand a little straighter the next time they got back up and tried again.

No surprise, I didn’t get far with that novel. When landing an agent and seeking that validation became the only measure of success to me, that’s when I knew I’d truly failed as a writer. I was no longer writing for me anymore, which, all along, was the true poison to all of this. Writing and reading had always been my safe places. My pillars. And if one of them falls, then in many ways, I do, too.

So while I didn’t get an agent that first time around, I did get back up. And I was finally okay, because I knew I had another story in me, just begging to be written.

The initial ideas for Pirate Fantasy first came to me years back, but I was in no way ready for it. Any attempt fizzled so quickly because it was just too big of a story, and at that time, I wasn’t prepared to write it. Yet.

But years later, when family, school, and querying life wasn’t going so great, I finally opened a blank Word doc and decided it was time to escape. Not going to lie, I was semi-terrified to start a new story. Seeing a completely blank page in the beginning can be both exhilarating and frightening when you’re not sure how it’s going to end. But very quickly, I shook off that fear, resolving to not think about how this was all going to end. This time, I knew without a doubt that I was absolutely writing for myself.

It took me around four years to write my first complete novel. I finished writing the first draft of Pirate Fantasy in about two or three months. After years of letting the idea grow in my head, the world and characters just came to me in a flood—and for the first time in a while, I was having so much fun with it. I was obsessed. And it was only halfway through writing during that year’s NaNo that I realized querying my first novel was starting to hurt a lot less. In fact, I knew then I needed to stop querying because I just wasn’t as passionate about that project anymore as I was about Pirate Fantasy, which rapidly became the book of my heart.

My grandmother was the first to hear an excerpt of my first draft, right before she passed away. In her condition, she couldn’t really respond to what I’d read, but I remember seeing her cry and just wishing there was more time. In writing and in life, there are just so many things beyond your control. This loss, that whole last semester really, left me bruised and mourning inside, regardless of how I’d bounced back into writing. I wasn’t really sure how to heal from it all, especially as a super-fresh-out-of-college undergrad, in student loan debt and massively freaking out over what the next step would be.

My next step, as it turned out, would be taking a break. A writing break. I felt so strongly about this manuscript that I wanted to give it everything I had in terms of revisions and edits. It is really true what they say about how your first novel is viewed as your “practice” novel—all that I learned from writing Novel #1 enormously helped pave the way for Novel #2. Finishing one manuscript meant I could do it again and again, that I could get back up again and again. Looking back on it now, I’m so freaking happy I failed that first time. It changed me for the better as a person, and as a writer.

Of course, more failures were to come. My first draft wasn’t perfect by any means at all, and neither were the many drafts that came after. However, I was determined to always make each round of revision better than the last. I threw myself into a daily routine that strengthened my writing discipline. I started posting my profile on CP sites and forums, and by some miracle, ended up finding the greatest group of writing friends in the world. I went to conferences and bookish events where I met the loveliest, most inspiring authors who had nothing but support for aspiring writers.

In the end, I owe a lot to failure. It humbled me. It enabled me to grow out of my comfort zones. It helped me realize what I’d been missing all along. It motivated me to always try harder. Even Queen J.K. Rowling has spoken on the benefits of failure that no doubt resonates with every writer like it does with me:

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.

Finally, after countless rounds of revisions and read-throughs—enough to make me want to pull my eyes out—I was ready to fail once again. For months I’d given this life anchor of a manuscript everything I had, yet I still didn’t know if anyone would love it enough to take it on. All I knew as I went into querying my second novel was that I was armed for battle with a much healthier mindset, a fantastic support system, and the thickest skin that covered me like armor.

Sure enough, as soon as I reentered the querying trenches, rejections started piling up.

Rejection after rejection after rejection.

And then, requests.

Requests that ended in rejections.

Requests that ended in the kindest, most encouraging rejections ever.

And of course, there are always those queries that just go unanswered and you’re not entirely sure what to make of them.

While I had great armor with this new round of querying and second novel, I wasn’t entirely impenetrable. Rejections still hurt, but they definitely hurt a lot less this time. I already had a new shiny project in the works that kept me blissfully distracted, a writers conference to look forward to with many of my amazing CPs, and the support of truly incredible and generous people who rejuvenated my querying-beaten spirit whether they realized it or not.

But then, out of the blue, an agent emailed me. A great agent who’s always been at the top of my list, who had requested my first novel the year before but gave the kindest pass on it ever, who had shown interest in seeing Pirate Fantasy when I queried her that second time. That agent emailed me to say she was excited to start reading Pirate Fantasy.

The next week, she emailed me to say she was halfway through.

The following Monday, she’d updated me to say she had finished, and would love to schedule a call.

Naturally, I cried. And assumed the fetal-position. A lot. And then called my sister and sobbed. After having spent so many years of daydreaming and reading blog posts that chronicled milestone moments like this, none of it felt real. In fact, there were many times when I wondered if I’d somehow hallucinated everything that was going on because all of it was just that unbelievable to me.

We set up a call the next day, and I cringe from just remembering how many awkward pauses I’d taken to catch my breath/pinch myself. But I knew from the instant she started firing off comments about Pirate Fantasy, with such insightful praise and notes to make the work even stronger, that this was it. And as we talked some more about my other projects and tackled endless questions in between, we vibed better than I could’ve imagined. It seriously took everything in me not to seize her offer of representation right then and there—but after a torturous week of waiting and nudging, I finally followed my gut and accepted.

The next part still doesn’t seem real. At all. Accepting the offer, telling my friends and family, signing the contract and mailing it, announcing it on Twitter and weeping over how nice everyone in the Twitterverse is. Since then, I feel like I’ve spent my time between floating around my house like a shocked ghost and then floating around in general on cloud nine. I knew how to deal with failure, but not this. This was—and still is—a foreign concept to me. No longer hypothetical, but actually happening. And nothing in me will ever forget how valuable this opportunity is from every step it took to earn it. Even though I’d failed before, I would never trade those experiences for anything, or take any of this for granted. It’s honestly because of failure that I appreciate this moment, and all the lessons I learned to get here, so much more.

I’m now represented by the incredible Thao Le of Sandra Dijsktra Literary Agency, and I couldn’t be happier.

No Rest For The Wicked

Dramatic confession: I CAN’T sleep.

Actual truth: I haven’t been sleeping well for the past couple of weeks and it has been driving me BONKERS.

Clearly, it is Sleepless in Janella Land, but after some thinking, I’ve finally discovered why this is happening. I’ll go to bed at a semi-decent time (even settling down at a grandma-approved hour doesn’t do me any good), indulge in a bit of shameless Pinning or read for a bit, then it’s lights off and all is silent.

Except it’s not—because I hear MUSIC.

And no, no one is playing it. And no, my iPod isn’t going nuts. I just hear music, ALL THE TIME.

Mostly Phantom of the Opera.

And no, I’m not going crazy. (At least I don’t think so.)

For anyone who knows me, music is such an important part of my life, as well as my writing process. I listen to my music when I’m writing, when I’m driving, when I’m at the gym, when I’m just sitting down to think. Heck, sometimes I listen to music while I’m playing music on the piano. All in all, I’ve got to be listening to something. Music helps me coax out those ideas and bridge scenes together like nothing else. But with all of that constant music-listening and daydreaming each day, I think my head just becomes a little too full, and my ideas a bit too loud.

Weirdly enough, closing my eyes when I sleep is just as bad as opening them. When closed, I see my characters and my worlds kind of fireworking all together, with whatever song I listened to the most that day on a constant loop in the back of my mind. To the average person, this probably sounds enormously torturous, but I guess it’s normal for writers. Certainly becoming normal for me with all the ideas bursting in my mind, looking for a way out.

Now that I think about it, this sort of antsiness was exactly what happened to me before I started writing my pirate fantasy. I was super restless, always distracted with the the scenes flashing through my mind, and most times not paying attention in class because I just needed to jot down lines in the margins of my notes. So I guess with NaNo coming up, and with my new project plans tentatively solidified, I should’ve been expecting this. When my story ideas are so loud that I can barely sleep at night, I know that it’s just their way of begging to be written.

Okay, crazy Janella is done talking. But seriously people, please tell me this isn’t just me!!

Also, talk about how much this classic just speaks to my current dilemma.

Enter the Writing Cave (at your own risk)

No joke.

Writers who write know that the cave is not all sunshine and rainbows of endless creativity. I mean, I guess it can be in some way. Entering the writing cave can be like a fun, exciting creative pillow you get to fall on when you’re feeling crazy-inspired and productive. Or, it can be a soul-sucking black hole of hours gone and hours spent in pajamas and looking at a screen, typingtypingtyping, and wondering wtf you’re doing. Lucky me, I experience both, and it tends to veer toward the Dementor-like black hole side.

*also, on a Harry Potter note, moment of silence in memory of the Battle of Hogwarts*

I fall into writing caves A LOT. And when I do that, it will be as if I disappeared from the world. Seriously. I’ll pop my head out of the cave for food, of course. But when I’m trapped in that writing-frenzy where I just NEED to work on my story for my own sanity, you will just never hear from me again . . .

Just kidding. While I do hold my writing as my priority, it is healthy and good for the headspace to just step back and venture into the real world sometimes—which I have been doing these past weeks (*snaps for me*) in an effort to keep the writing cave from sucking my soul entirely.

I saw sun, breathed in fresh air, rediscovered civilization . . . okay, too dramatic. But I did go out a bunch of times and met up with old friends who I hadn’t seen in an obscene amount of time (three trillion guesses why), and it felt nice to leave the writer home. However, it was also nice to come back after a few hours away.

Sometimes falling into the writing cave is amazing for when you just need to pound out words and get the story-train chugging along. That’s my favorite writing cave. But sometimes there’s the risk of getting in too deep to a point where you start feeling out of the loop with the world, losing track of reading books, separation anxiety with your computer, or delay catching up on other interests for weeks on end because every free moment is devoted to your story. I’m totally guilty of that, so to be more proactive in trying to poke my head out of the writing cave every so often, here are some updates sans(-ish) writing.

Reading Things: Disclaimer: I am horrendously behind on my Goodreads challenge. What part of me thought that reading 90 books this year would be a good idea? It was super easy in the past, but now not so much. However, I refuse to admit defeat just yet! I recently read a cool graphic novel called Cairo by G. Willow Wilson, a wonderful NA titled Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover (GREAT recc, Akshaya!! We must discuss!), and I’m currently getting into a YA Fantasy Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch. Still, there are soooo many books on the TBR list, though. But to be fair, it is a mountain that cannot be conquered because it keeps growing. Hopefully I can get back into that obsessive reading frenzy as I do with writing to knock out some books on the list.

Television Things: I’ve been watching A LOT of Netflix and Dancing with the Stars, and I am totally not ashamed of it. I love dancing shows and movies, which is an obsession in itself that garners its own post. I’ll probably do another post on my television watches, just because I love lining them all up with funny little gifs. But for the sake of this post, the TV front is still pretty healthy.

Music Things: Further proof that I am obsessed with Dancing with the Stars. Here’s something that’s not on my writing playlist, but I have been listening to it on an unholy repeat because it just makes me so happy. And, of course, DWTS.

Riker and Allison are my faves, just saying. Plus they did a PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN Paso Doble, which made me love them even more. If they don’t win, my tantrum will be heard all across the universe.

Social Media/World Things: Today, William and Kate brought a baby girl into the world! This to me is just sooo crazy, only because when I was last in London I was there during the pivotal time when Prince George was born. And boy was it crazy. The pubs were all celebrating the birth, Buckingham Palace was swarming with crowds right after, and EVERYONE in general was just so excited about the baby that it was like all of London was anxiously pacing in the waiting room as one big family. It’s blows my mind that now they have a princess–I guess it’s infectious because I’m unreasonably excited for them too!

Along with having a ton of other work-related things to do this week, with these updates and all the venturing into the outside world I’ve been doing, it’s been a solid period of not letting the writing cave suck me back in too too much.

Nah man, I’m good