Surprise—I went to BookCon!

I am seriously still just as surprised as the title of this post. Going to BookCon was such a impulsive last minute decision, but I am IMMENSELY glad that I hopped on a plane yet again to attend another bookish event with my CPs! However, to make peace with the impulsiveness of going on yet another trip, I told myself that it was time to Get. Down. To. Business. Mulan-style, of course. And soooo, before all the BookCon fun, here are some other things that have been happening!

WRITING UPDATES:

I FINISHED REWRITING MY NEW MIDDLE PORTION!! *confetti on confetti on confetti*

One of the biggest challenges I’m tackling in this first round of revisions is to basically give my Act 2 for Pirate Fantasy an extreme makeover. I knew it, my main character knew it, everyone knew it. Rather than try to work around the bits that weren’t flowing in attempts to salvage them, I decided to scrap my whole middle portion and start from the ground up. Yup. 30k of words I’d painfully hacked at for months until I had no clue what else to do with them—gone.

Instead of mourning the purge of all that progress, I felt so unbelievably good about it. For a time I thought I must’ve been in some crazy-writer-shock to have gleefully deleted chapter upon chapter, but I wasn’t. That’s how you know you’ve got dead weight in your hands—when you realize that you can live without it, that you don’t need it, and that you can do much better. I’m not going to say it was easy-peasy rebuilding those foundations all over again—but this time around, it definitely felt much more fun and just right-er, if that makes sense. After two weeks of brainstorming and rediscovering the beats of that act, and then a little over a month of drafting and revision tweaks in between, I finally have about 37k of brand new material that I’m deliriously excited to start fine-tuning. The words are nowhere near perfect, but they are written and ready to be molded into something great.

NEWS:

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Sooooo remember that panel I’ll be on at Leviosa Con this July? Turns out I’m now speaking at two, and the best surprise of all is that I’ll be accompanied on both by my all around awesome Pitch Wars co-mentor and friend Axie Oh! For anyone attending, we’ll both be on Diversity in YA Lit and Adults Reading YA trying not to be too weird  🙂

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In other news, the Boston Teen Author Festival announced their amazing line up earlier this month, and I’m literally bouncing with excitement at the thought of all the incredible authors attending! As it’s the five year anniversary of the festival, you know it’s going to be one heck of a party. We’re already gearing up for some fun social media happenings this summer that will include a #BTAFbookchallenge on Instagram and a fab five-answer questionnaire on Twitter under the #BTAFive hashtag. Our authors will be participating, so we hope everyone can follow along and join in, too!!

BOOKCON:

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So during my stay Chicago, I FINALLY hit my revision milestone (in the creative atmosphere of a brewery lol) just in time for BookCon! I stayed with my absolute favorites Maddy and Erin, and when we weren’t on work dates trying to squeeze some writing in, we indulged in allllll the bookish fun at BookCon with our other favorites Kat and Meg!

We had an early start, and quickly realized when we arrived at BookCon that “early” wasn’t early enough. Crowds of people were ALREADY lined up well across the whole building just to get into the show floor when we arrived. Luckily, we were able to snag spots in line for Naomi Novik’s signing line after so many author slots had already filled up from the overcrowded pandemonium. But even without those sacred wristbands to gain you a signing spot, there were SO many other opportunities to grab books and enjoy more author signings popping up at every publishing house booth all throughout the day.

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The line to get INSIDE (but at least there were pretty book banners along the way!)

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People! So many people!

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The sacred show floor

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Sacred show floor + Erin’s face

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Panel with Victoria Aveyard, Sarah J. Maas, and Laini Taylor—and one HILARIOUS moderator, Jeff Giles

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Got to meet yet another one of my fab agent sisters, Wendy Spinale!

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Grabbed some pretty sweet Everland swag as well. Seriously, how cool are these wings!??

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Got to chat with the lovely Susan Dennard . . . until paparazzi descended on us from all sides

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Scholastic booth had a super rad coloring wall with all the Harry Potter things

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Books on books on books

The rest of BookCon in general was just chaos . . . in a good way! It was a day filled with walking by booths with familiar/highly-anticipated titles displayed like movie poster billboards, bumping into so many cool authors and trying not to freak out in their faces, and getting to attend some really awesome panels. I know I’m totally not alone in this, but my FAVORITE panel by far was the WNDB Presents: Love & Loss in Children’s Literature panel which featured Jenny Han, Gene Luen Yang, Francisco X. Stork, Anna-Marie McLemore, Sherman Alexie, and Leigh Bardugo, and was moderated by Dhonielle Clayton! I was seriously just nodding my head the whole time and was so speechless by what each speaker had to say. Their stories and experiences of love and loss were so powerful and different from each other, but all equally added such enormous meaning to the discussion. All of the anecdotes shared were funny, heartbreaking, and truly informed the reader where each author was coming from in terms of reflecting the topics in their own stories and characters. Seriously, it was SUCH a fantastic panel, and I hope to attend more just like it!

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The awesome panel that was just way too awesome

Aside from waiting to get into panels, there was a lot of waiting in lines to get books. I’m so glad I wore something comfortable because we were on our feet pretty much the entire day—whether it was rushing to get somewhere, or standing to wait for something. By the end of BookCon, I felt super victorious from all the things we accomplished and all the people we met—but that moment of victory faded when we had to rush out of Chicago to make it to ANOTHER book event!

Yup, right after BookCon, Maddy, Erin, and I went straight to Anderson’s Book Shop for Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury signing! And just when you thought we hadn’t waited nearly enough that whole day, we were DEAD LAST in line for the signing. But when fun CP shenanigans ensue, time always passes faster, so Maddy, Erin, and I were not complaining. We were just dead tired. Sarah had also just come back from a full day at BookCon, so we all seemed to just bask in the same exhausted glory by the time we reached the signing table.

As this was the first time I met Sarah, I’m so glad I held it in together enough to coherently tell her how her journey to publication had basically kept me writing and motivated throughout college, and how I’ve progressed in my own writing journey since then. She was SO excited, lovely, and offered me the greatest insights on the agent revision stage and submission process she herself went through so that I could feel prepared. In all honesty, College Freshman Janella would seriously not believe me if I went back in time and told her to anticipate this kind of conversation with one of the authors whose writing journey constantly reminded her that dreams of writing and publication are never impossible if you have the passion and the drive.

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Aforementioned fun CP shenanigans

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Sarah’s signing! Credit: Side Camera Erin

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Of course, HAD to get a pic with her (last in line privileges, woot woot)

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My overall haul 😀

So altogether, a PACKED day of bookish fun. Even though I’m back home and have forced myself not to travel anywhere far again in the near future aside from Leviosa Con, there are a few faces I’m going to miss . . .

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ALL HAIL LADY ELIZABETH

JUST KIDDING, though I do miss Maddy’s cat begging for head scratches and attention. No, this is definitely what I’m going to miss the most . . .

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Okayyyy, maybe I WILL actually miss these things. The wine, and the blessed taproom that strangely became one of the best places to write in. But no, I guess of all things, I’m going to (and already do) miss hanging with these crazies:

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So now after all the fun, it’s BACK. TO. WORK. FOR REALS, THIS TIME. Hold me accountable, Internet friends. I’m diving into the revisions cave (a.k.a. the Point of No Return) where I hope to make sense of what I’ve written, and continue to gloriously chip away at the story that’s more or less consumed my life. Good luck to everyone else who’s braving writing and revising land along with me!  ❤

Updates, News, and All the Bookish Things: Part 2

Greetings from New Hampshire! This weekend I’m stuck house-sitting and dog-sitting for my sister (I know. Poor me, right?) and have converted the period into a mini writing retreat with me, myself, and I. And of course, with this dapper gentleman by my side:

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Master Skywalker, my faithful writing companion

Hopefully his incessant need for cuddles and playtime won’t be too distracting. There’s still a lot of revision work to be done, and I’m ready to get my hands dirty—with words, that is.

And now to conclude the epic two-part bookish post . . .

WRITING UPDATES (and REVELATIONS)

Over the past few weeks/days, writing has been a liiiiiittle bit of a struggle. Due to the craziness that has been April (Aprilpocalypse, as I’ve been starting to call it), my writing has suffered from how scattered my brain has just been feeling. Words were coming out more like a trickle than the usual fountain spray, and it was FRUSTRATING me to no end. But you know what, it’s important to remember that this is all part of the process. We have our highs, we have our lows, and we have our in-betweens. Everyone struggles, but those struggles are what make you stronger. I was grappling with understanding this a lot last week, thinking that maybe because the words weren’t flowing as well as they usually were, that something was broken either in my manuscript plans or my writing. Maybe I needed to take a break. But after forcing myself to sit at my desk and trying at it again and again (and AGAIN) each day, no matter how pitiful the word counts were, I finally broke through that stubborn wall. Words are flowing, ideas are going, and now I have over 20k of new material to work with, and counting! Huzzah!

Also, I don’t know how this completely went over my head, but my blog officially turned one two weeks ago!! Time has passed so quickly, and SO much has changed since then. But being able to look back on where I was in terms of my writing, life, and head space just reminds me why keeping a blog is so precious. It’s like a time-capsule of progress, a flight of stairs being built with each written post. I’m not sure where I’ll be months from now, but I’m excited to see where the journey takes me next! Here’s to another year of more milestones and progress to come!

NEWS:

Just in case you missed it, a query critique from me is up for grabs as a part of YA Runs A 5K (hosted by the fabulous Melody Simpson) this year! I was SO happy and honored to offer this, not only because the proceeds go to We Need Diverse Books (so every penny counts!), but also because YA Runs A 5K is just a fantastic event. The critiques I’ve gained for my donations in the past have been SUCH a help to me, so it truly feels unreal to be able to give back in this way as well!

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In other exciting news, I will be co-mentoring in this year’s Pitch Wars with my good pal, Axie Oh! Pitch Wars (run by the amazing Brenda Drake) is such a huge deal in the writing community, so words cannot express how honored we are to be a part of it this year! There’s not much we can specifically say just yet, aside from the fact that we’ll be on the hunt for amazing YA, and we’re SUPER excited to get the ball rolling  😀 And to further evidence our rabid excitement, we already have an epic team name. We shall now and forever be known as Team Rocket, eagerly awaiting our Meowth mentee to make our power duo into a magical trio.

BOOKISH EVENTS:

So almost immediately after the events I’d described in the last post, I hopped on a plane going to Las Vegas to attend the RT Bookslovers Convention with some of my favorite people in the world: Erin, Akshaya, Maddy, and Katy! After having a blast at RT last year with Maddy and Akshaya (yet another crazy rediscovery from my “ohmygod my blog is a freaking year old!” revelation), coming back with the two of them, and more friends, was seriously the best. We can’t always get together as often as we’d like (is “everyday” too clingy?), but when we do, it’s always a good time…filled with many Disney sing-alongs, Hogwarts House discussions, outrageous food-devouring, and more  🙂

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Of course the only group pic I could find of us is from the last night *huffs*

Even though we goofed off a lot (I’m positive Erin and I were trapped in a state of mindless laughter 90% of the time), we kept to the RT schedule and were at panels and events practically the whole time. Just like last year, the panels were very informative, yet always hilarious. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks Tamora Pierce is the best person to see on a panel because her comments are just HYSTERICAL. I also loved sitting in on the panels focusing on diversity, not just for the insightful discussion on the authors’ own experiences and what people hope to see in the future, but also for the book recommendations and advice on how we as writers and the industry can do better in making strides for more representation, and how to do so with authenticity and respect. Dhonielle Clayton, Sona Charaipotra, Cindy Pon, and Zoraida Cordova were definitely some of my favorite panelists throughout all of RT, and I honestly can’t wait to read all of their books!

By the end, not only did we get scary amounts of books (thank goodness our packing strategy was on point after learning from last year), but we also met all the lovely authors and new friends! That’s honestly the best part about conferences like these. A lot of times, interactions are made via social media, so to finally put faces and voices to names—and to tell authors, in person, just how genuinely excited you are about their upcoming books, and how their books impacted you/your writing—is pretty priceless. And to update authors we’d met the year before on our progress since then showed us even more how far we’ve come from being those newbies just wandering around RT like starry-eyed babies. But even with one RT already under our belts, the same old hijinks ensued. And laughing. And of course, emotions and crying.

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Room with our insaaaane view

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Me, Kat, and Axie! (aka Jessie, Ekans, and James) *Erin is a photobombing ninja

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Take me back to this first breakfast with mimosas, please

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The elevators had mirror ceilings and I got way too excited about it

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Goodie bag room filled with ARCs

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Met my super kind agent sister, Katherine Harbour, author of the Night and Nothing novels!

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The lovely duo, Dhonielle and Sona, signing their AMAZING book, Tiny Pretty Things. It’s soooo good.

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Still can’t get over the incredibly sweet writing duo, Christina Lauren, and how awesome their books are

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Emotions time: telling Renée Ahdieh that reading her book inspired me to keep writing my Pirate Fantasy, and we hugged it out

Even BIGGER emotions time . . .

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Seeing Leigh Bardugo AGAIN and telling her that the story I’d been working on (and had told her about at BTAF 2015) finally landed me an agent. Since Shadow and Bone was my comp and huge influence, I thanked her a thousand times over

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Excited Leigh ( + Excited Assistant)

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By some miracle Leigh actually remembered me, and I promptly started crying my eyes out at the personalization

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Brought home alllllll the books and more

As evidenced, it was yet another successful RT! I’m hoping to maybe attend again next year, as it’ll be in Hotlanta and so much closer to me. While I loved Las Vegas, I do not love the hours it takes to get there. Remind me again why I’m going back  in July . . .

Just kidding. I’m seriously PUMPED for Leviosa Con—because it means more CP time, more books, and more crazy hijinks—and long bookish posts—to come!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend! I’m still waddling around from the post-holiday high, my body probably made up of 80% Cadbury chocolate at this point and now suffering from it.

Chocolate comas aside, I just want to give another HUGE thank you to everyone for all the overwhelming support and congratulations to me on landing my agent! The responses to my ‘How I Got My Agent’ post were even more tear-inducing and overwhelming (my blog was actually shaking at one point from the tidal wave of new visitors—hello new peeps! *waves*). I was immensely happy to hear from so many people who could relate to it, and those who said it was just the sort of post they needed to read at that point in their writing journey. Overall, I’m just extremely grateful for the loveliness of the writing community, and everyone in it. ❤

Now that the celebrations and social media-isms have been said and done, we all know what the next step is.

GET. TO. WORK.

My family and a lot of people have been wondering how I’ve spent the past week celebrating, and nothing surprises them more than when I tell them how the inner-workings of my mind have come to resemble a hamster wheel in constant, furious motion. I like to call this hectic mental period my warm welcome back to the wonderful world of revisions.

Here’s a rundown on how it all started (accompanied by my constantly interfering and incoherent inner-thoughts):

-sign with Agent Wonderful

(*cue confetti canon*)

-to my utter shock and delight, receive edit letter faster than expected because she is super on top of things

-freak out because I actually have an edit letter

(*It was kind of like a myth to me up until that point)

-proceed to freak out even further because ohmygoodness I love my MS, but I haven’t looked at it in a while!

(*Let me clarify: to keep me from getting too down in the querying trenches, I started my new WIP, Phantom Fantasy, which I’m soooo excited about! No surprise, it took me a while to get out of Pirate Fantasy world in order to draft Phantom Fantasy. And because the universe likes to pick on me, it soon became the other way around)

-calmly leave the edit letter alone in my inbox until I can get my story worlds sorted and feel comfortably back in Pirate Fantasy Land

(*Battle Plan of Story Immersion: listen to the old epic playlists, watch Pirates of the Caribbean, attempt to catch up on Black Sails, go through old journals, upload MS to e-reader to reread without the temptation of editing every other sentence…)

-still semi-celebrating, still fully feeling the weight of the editorial elephant in my inbox

(*Stop looking at me like that, you unread email)

-because I just can’t celebrate any longer, start reading MS again with the fear that it’s awful

(*You know how sometimes you hate watching yourself on home videos because the sound of your own voice makes you cringe? It’s a little like that)

-sheepishly come to the realization that the experience is not as awful as I’d anticipated, and breathe a sigh of relief

(*Hooray! I’m not terrible!)

-FINALLY read edit letter right after not-so-bad read through so that I could let the ideas simmer and sleep on it

(*Literally. I finished it super late at night and actually had no choice but to go to sleep right after)

-print out letter the next morning for the purpose of reading through it again, this time with a highlighter and pen in hand to ruthlessly mark up the pages

(*highlighter and pen = revision weapons of choice)

-the notes start to sink in, which brings on a wave of panic over all of the things I’ll have to change and I’m not sure if I can do it

(*OH MY GOD EVERYTHING IS BROKEN)

-panic attack averted when I realize that I can definitely do this, and remain super floored by all the brilliant and spot-on comments that will make this MS strong as hell

(*Chill. You may have encountered a high mountain, but you can climb it)

-start going through MS document to see other minor comments in track changes, then proceed to blush at all of my embarrassing typos/awkward sentences

(*You had ONE job, writer of things that should at least be readable…)

-shake off mortification and go through the MS document comments once again, taking notes by hand on piles of loose leaf paper that have been separated into categories

(*Yes, this is me taking notes on notes. In order to get ideas to thoroughly sink in during revisions, I have to write them out an excessive amount of times)

-fan myself proudly with large stack of notes before reading through them all over again to process and start brainstorming solutions

(*IT’S GO TIME)

-slightly fail, only because I’m still halfway in Phantom Fantasy when I just want to situate myself in Pirate Fantasy

(*OK, IT’S NOT GO TIME)

-make character sheets as suggested and wonder if I should give Scrivener a try…

(*cue creepy horror music*)

-immediately regret everything because Scrivener is terrifying and pretty much a different language to me

(*OH GOD IT’S LIKE OPENING PANDORA’S BOX)

-by some miracle, I manage to get down the basics of Scrivener’s cork board feature

(*Huzzah! I’ve finally done something right!)

-continues the aggressive note-taking tango by writing up more notes on my notes on my agent’s notes in the not-so-scary Scrivener cork board

(*On virtual index cards this time!)

-FINALLY, finally, finally—out of the blue—I hear my characters talking back to me in my head and could just cry from happiness right now

(*Otherwise known as the period when nobody approaches me because I look like a crazy person)

-Characters talking back to me means I’m on the right track, so I dig back into my mountain of notes and add alllllll the new ideas

(*Thank the writing gods)

So it took a rocky start to get me back on the path, but I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes you need those moments of doubt to remember that they’ll never be as strong as your overarching enthusiasm and motivation to get back in that chair so you can write.

With that being said, HUGE changes are afoot within this round of revisions. Changes can be scary, but they are necessary. They can also be very exciting, which is where I’m at right now. Hopefully I can get a lot done before I head off to Las Vegas for this year’s RT with my lovely CPs Erin, Katy, Akshaya, and Maddy! But until then, cheers to all the changes that are happening—and may they always be for the better 😀

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.

Holiday Fun, Resolutions, and Fortune Cookie Fortunes

Happy holidays, happy New Year to all, and welcome 2016! There are so many celebrations at the latter end of the year, and I’m definitely still stuck in a holiday-coma from it all. For example, I can still feel Christmas in my stomach because there was just SO. MUCH. FOOD. As well as so little exercise . . .

However, aside from the food bliss, Christmas this year was spent in Chicago—where I, once again, got to visit my cheese-obsessed CP Maddy before spending the rest of my time at my cousins’ gorgeous house (which I affectionately call “Baby Hogwarts”).

My CP reunion was, as always, all kinds of wonderful. Maddy and I spent a lot of our time writing together (no surprise) whilst looking over some adorable pets, threw a hardcore book photo shoot (for the lovely BTAF bookstagram), cruised around town like fiends, and of course excelled in the renowned art of eating.

Afterward, when CP time was sadly over, I was thrown into full-on Christmas mode complete with frantic family happenings and preparations. What was probably my most emotional Christmas moment was when we were all watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (because Harry Potter weekend is code for “drop everything and watch for hours upon hours”). I was already sniffling like a fool because Fawkes the Phoenix had just healed Harry—when, all of a sudden, out comes my aunt with a gift she just happened to forget giving me earlier. It was the new illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Needless to say, I was downright SOBBING. I’m getting a little teary-eyed just typing this out, so I’ll cut this short before my tears splash all over my poor keyboard. But all in all, Christmas in Chicago looked a tad bit like this:

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Running on coffee to get those words out and running

 

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This deep dish pizza was INSANE

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Died and went to Nutella Latte heaven

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This festive house in my cousins’ neighborhood had zero chill

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On the other hand, I had zero chill around this delicious ube cake during Noche Buena

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Creepy/beautiful masquerade tree

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Wandered into the Disney store and found a disappointing amount of Rey. Seriously, WHERE IS REY?!?

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This puppy refused to let me work

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The guilty culprit

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I got to visit THE Anderson’s Bookshop!!!

After all of this madness, it was so surreal to come back home and jump right into the New Year. This time of the year always forces me to pause and reflect, which was more than welcome after the ugly chaos that was post-Christmas traveling. *shudders*

Whenever the year comes to an end, I love looking back and seeing how much I’ve changed over these many, many months. But for the first time, I think in forever, there is something so bittersweet to me about saying goodbye to 2015. I’ve pretty much stamped every post with how grateful I’ve been all throughout this year, mostly because I honestly feel I can’t say it enough. 2015 was the year I met a fantastic group of writing friends who have made this journey a hell of a lot less lonely. 2015 was the year I took the time for my writing, and most importantly, for me—to allow myself to emotionally recharge after a big loss, and to fill loss that with the sort of light I’ve only been able to find with books and writing. And lastly, 2015 was the year I went wayyyyy out of my comfort zone and discovered the huge rewards in doing so. I did a lot more traveling than my usual homebody-self was used to, attended writing conferences and bookish events that my introverted-self would normally shy away from, and really threw myself into my writing in a way I never thought I’d be able to.

And you know what? Every up and down of this year paid off in so many ways, which has only made me more excited for what 2016 has to offer. I feel like this was the year when I accomplished so many personal wins, and there’s nothing more satisfying than ending a year and welcoming a new one on that fantastic note.

So, without further ado, my resolutions from last year that are always relevant to my current ones:

  • Finish a book. Well, 2015, I did! I started this year with a mess of a first draft that was Pirate Fantasy—but after much trial and error, as well as truckloads of revising and read-throughs, I feel like I’ve given this story that I love so dearly the most thorough treatment I can. All I can do now is hope for the best from here on out and keep chugging along 😀 As for 2016, I’m hoping to pop out another novel to keep the momentum going!
  • Revise Pirate Fantasy, while working on something else. Okay, so this one was a tad bit ambitious. The naive writer in me thought that I could handle drafting multiple projects at once—which, for some writers, is very possible/impressive—but I realized earlier on this year that Pirate Fantasy was going to need 1000% of my focus for the most part. However, that didn’t stop my mind from popping out ideas like hotcakes because ohmygoodness, 2015 was the year I realized I had a wealth of story ideas inside me. Even though I didn’t pop out two novels this year (oh, if only!), I have been working on another project on the side—Phantom Fantasy—which I’ve been SOOO excited about! I can’t wait to work on it more during 2016, and to discover other story ideas swimming around in my head.
  • Read, read, read. Unfortunately, I did officially complete my Goodreads challenge. Out of 90 books, I only read about 69. Womp womp. However, when I thought about it again, I’ve read 50+ other manuscripts for my internship which means that not only did I complete my reading goal, I actually went over! Still, I’m setting my 2016 Goodreads challenge at 90 books again and I’m determined to get there!

And then lastly, but most importantly:

  • Progress as much as you can on the writing journey and never lose sight of why you’re on the path on the first place. This, of course, is the huge one—and at times, the most difficult one to keep remembering. When you’re knee-deep in revisions or fatigued in the writing cave, there will be times when it’s hard to persevere since it feels like all the odds are stacked against you. But every part of the writing process (and life, in general!) is packed with odds of all kinds to overcome. Although I can’t predict what will happen to me or my writing in the future, I’ll take control of what I can now and keep going regardless because my writing is first and foremost for me before anything else. As long as I can see my own progress, in whatever form or size it comes in, there is always reason to celebrate. And after 2015, I know to my core that I am satisfied with all the progress I’ve made as a writer and a person this year thanks to this philosophy that I’ll carry with me into 2016.

Okay. Done. No take-backs. Resolutions have officially been made, and I feel more than ready to tackle them in 2016! And to end on an even more hopeful note, I have a cheesy tradition of posting the top fortune cookie fortunes that I have randomly tacked on my cork board in reflection of the new year. Here we go:

“The current year will bring you much happiness.”

“You will conquer obstacles to achieve success.”

“Good news will come to you from far, far away.”

Hope this brings some luck and smiles to you all 😀 Happy New Year, everybody!

Colorado Loving, NaNoWriMo, and What I’m Thankful For

Belated Happy Thanksgiving to you all! Unfortunately, November became the month that I didn’t write a blog post. *sulks*

And somehow, it’s now already December. HOW. WHAT. WHYYY.

I guess since it’s a new month/THE END OF THE FREAKING YEAR, why not kick it off with the truckload of good energy courtesy of the magical, hectic month that was November? There were many things and many travels, so for organization’s sake, let’s break it down into three parts:

COLORADO:

Because my CPs and I clearly can’t stand to be away from each other for more than five minutes (it’s a problem), we all decided to meet up in gorgeous Colorado for a cabin-in-the-woods style writing retreat in honor of NaNoWriMo! And let me tell you, it may have been the best and worst decision of my life. Best, because I got to actually meet more of my lovely writing buds in person (Amanda, Erin, and Katy), see Maddy and Akshaya after a hardcore month of separation (again, we seriously have a problem), and enjoy the wonderful environment of Colorado with them all! And of course it was also the worst decision, because I NEVER WANTED TO LEAVE.

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Just the casual morning view . . . WTF

Not only was the scenery amazingly gorgeous, but the FOOD. Oh god, I think I more bemoan the fact that I will probably never eat as good as I did there, given that my friends are total food maestros.

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Maddy working some culinary magic, and a great big pitcher of caramel apple sangria

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Fancy grilled cheesing all day every day

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Friendsgiving *salivates*

And of course . . .

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THE BLESSED BAKED BRIE

For the most part, we had very well-balanced and expertly-crafted meals. After living off of mostly coffee and toast since that’s all I can ever seem to make, my body most definitely appreciated how I briefly lived in a cabin filled with fancy-pants chefs. But in the end, I always had the most love for this kind of end-of-the-day spread:

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The happiest of hours!

And we most definitely would not have made it through the day without copious amounts of this:

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CHEESE, GLORIOUS CHEESE

Okay, I’ll stop before this post turns into an impromptu ode to food. But I can’t help but feel so grateful for every meal since they were all such wonderful incentives to get through the day (is that sad?) and fantastic brain fuel for us writers. Although we were left to our own devices for most of the time, we stuck to certain daily rites to help get the productivity going.

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Daily goals board, complete with inspirational quote and decorative art

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Accomplishments board, which may or may not have slid into pure artistic chaos (i.e. Maddy’s celebratory drawing)

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Aw man, how I miss waking up to this usual morning view

And from then on, we would go off into our own writing nooks to get work done, with many a cheese break in between. Many.

But we weren’t just mindless writing machines for this entire trip (though we should’ve tried to be). We saw many animals and shooting stars, sang way too much Disney together, had multiple round-table discussions regarding Avatar and Hogwarts Houses, survived a lil storm called AJAX, went to a super awesome book signing, and a lot more. The evidence is all below.

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Impromptu baby hike in the snowy trails

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AJAX WAS HERE

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That night I slayed Maddy with all the jokes

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LILY AND JAMES SIGHTING ❤ #patronuslove

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Crazy horse with crazy eyes

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The absolute coolest way to plot a novel! Courtesy of the foxy Amanda and Maggie Stiefvater’s tarot cards

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I got to meet MARISSA MEYER. And promptly told her how her blog/journey to publication inspired me SO much in my own journey. I fangirled pretty hard.

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Of course, I couldn’t leave the bookstore without purchasing these beauties

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And then of course, we couldn’t leave the store without taking some pics aka proof that we actually hung out with each other

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I call this one “Random Assortment of Emojis”

Clearly, mayhem in the purest form ensued. It was the greatest way to start the first half of November, and I really wish I had the smarts to build a time machine to go back and do it all over again! Or, maybe just build a teleportation device to see my lovely writer buddies since we’re pretty much scattered all across the country. All in all, this trip taught me two very important things: 1) I have amazing friends. 2) I just have to keep writing.

NANOWRIMO:

As it’s already December (meep), NaNo has come to its end . . . but that doesn’t mean it’s over in the slightest! People who know me and my pantsing ways can conclude that I LOVE NaNo. It’s helped me finish my novels over the past few years, and this time of the season in general remained a wildly creative period for me. As mentioned before, I was crazy lucky to be able to start off NaNo with a bunch of fantastically creative people. With all those writerly energies just swirling about the cabin, it was impossible not to feel motivated to get work done each and every day.

But this year was a bit different for me. Because I wanted to take the time to get through more revision stuff for pirate fantasy, I was unable to start my shiny new NaNo WIP (which I’m now just affectionately calling phantom fantasy) until mid-November.

And guess what—I did not make it to 50k by the end. Even though I was pounding out alllllll the words everyday, Thanksgiving ultimately brought a sledgehammer to my steady NaNo flow. On the night of November 30th, I ended up with around 37k words. And for a brief moment, I was SUPER down on myself.

How could I have broken my successful NaNo streak? How could I have let the siren call of pies and turkey keep me from losing my wordcount momentum!?

And you know what, I just took a deep breath and a step back. I put a lid on that kind of thinking just as instantly as it started trickling through. I can’t let myself think about this in terms of winning and losing. NaNo is all about progress and pushing yourself. Sure there’s a deadline, but it’s more for motivation’s sake than anything. It’s not like just because November is over that I’m going to stop writing this new novel. Hell no! Nothing could stop me from writing this since I’m still very much in love and excited with the story! And in fact, when I think about it, I didn’t even start writing at the beginning of November—which technically means I haven’t fully completed a NaNo period, but also sheds light on how much I’ve accomplished in just half of a month.

So instead of bullying myself on the morning of December 1st, I gave myself a pat on the back. When it comes down to it, progress is always progress, and I’m so satisfied with how much I’ve made in the month of November regardless of the fact that I’ll probably have to rewrite A LOT of it. All that I’ve written so far has been rewarding enough, all the glorious 37k of it.

Even though I’ve won NaNo in the past, I know hands down that The Year I “Lost” ranks as my favorite—because instead of remembering those past times of achieving all the wordcount goals by toiling away at my computer alone in my room like a hermit cave dweller, I think more about my progress and spending a great chunk of November surrounded by my writing herd.

THANKSGIVING:

Okay, last one. And probably the shortest.

After the Colorado madness in the first half of November, we jumped straight into Thanksgiving afterward. This year, I went to Long Island to visit family, and I came out with many a food coma. It was absolutely wonderful.

But I felt even luckier this year since I technically celebrated Thanksgiving twice—one with family, and one with friends aka my first Friendsgiving! Both gave me the chance to reflect on the wonderful moments of this year, but I don’t think a day goes by where I’m not constantly thankful for all of it. 2015 has been one of the best, most memorable years of my life, by far. I let writing take the front seat, met my amazing group of writing friends who totally get me, and have been able to add a lot more exciting stops on my journey to publication than I ever thought possible. And this year, I feel a lot less alone in it.

It all sounds ridiculously sappy now that I’m typing it out, but it’s true. This is the year I found my herd, and I’m so thankful to be in this with them every step of the way now.

To end this on an even sappier note (because who doesn’t love more sap), I cracked open a fortune cookie shortly after my trip to Colorado. I’m one of those people who LOVES opening fortune cookies, but lately I’ve been getting ridiculous fortunes that have absolutely no relevance to life whatsoever. But when I opened this one, this little gem popped out:

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I know, I’m about the biggest sap master right now, but it just brought the hugest smile on my face to get this fortune in light of all the duds I’d gotten lately! So to my writing cabbages, if you’re reading this, I’m enormously thankful for you all. The proof is most definitely in the fortune cookie.

A Long Travel Montage of CP Shenanigans, Books, and the Boston Teen Author Festival

After over a week of fun, bookish, authorly, writerly, and CP-ly fun, it’s finally back to reality. BUT, for the sake of this recap, I’m still in the fun zone remembering all the good times that went down when my fabulous CPs Maddy and Akshaya came to visit me! Obviously, chaos ensued—in the best way possible.

Our hijinks included a lot of eating (naturally), wining & cheesing, working side by side, being distracted whilst working side by side, bookstores, and a much appreciated PotC rewatchathon.

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The most gorgeous breakfast that ever was eaten

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BROOMSTICKS IN BOOKSTORES, I REPEAT. BROOMSTICKS IN BOOKSTORES.

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our usual spread

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Gold star to whoever can guess this Oscar-worthy scene from PotC

And of course, many more misadventures happened in my humble little Shoveltown (yes, apparently this is what my town is known as;  yes, this was actually news to me; and yes, this is kind of creepy), but we also ventured into Boston for author-y events like the Boston Teen Author Festival which was SUCH a blast! Getting to partake in some volunteering tasks, meeting the authors, hearing them talk on panels, and getting all the books signed was ridiculously fun amidst the chaos. But with all the reader and writer enthusiasm just swirling all around, you seriously can’t help but enjoy the crazy atmosphere celebrating YA . . . as well as pretty much going bankrupt after buying all of the books. My bank account is still weeping from all of the abuse. Tip for everyone to remember: festivals and conferences WILL suck all of your money from you. It’s unavoidable.

Nevertheless, I am still super pumped for next year’s BTAF because with the fabulous list of authors who came, it can only get bigger and better from here. Here’s a look at this year’s event:

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All of the wonderful authors this year! Photo credit: Boston Teen Author Festival

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Meet the Author panel, in which rapid fire questions and hilarity ensued

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A closer pic! Credit: Boston Teen Author Festival

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The fearless Director/Ringleader of BTAF, Renee! aka fellow Emerson alum 😀

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“The Craft” panel, which touched upon topics like magic and the process of crafting other worlds

It was such a joy to sit in on the first panel which introduced the authors in attendance! All of them had a great dynamic with each other, wonderful personalities, and spot on comedic timing with the questions fired at them. When the authors were asked “Who would you ship your MC with?”  it was so interesting to see how many of them referred to other book characters from the authors present on the stage. Talk about potential crossover/fanfic kernels?

Another panel my CPs and I got to sit in on was “The Craft” panel, which included Sara Raasch, Melissa Grey, Kim Liggett, Kendal Kulper, A.C. Gaughen, Leigh Bardugo, and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Some of the really interesting discussion focused on the magical elements and systems within the stories, as well as the differences between “hard” and “soft” magic (the former being more rule-based, and the latter gearing toward the elemental side). It was definitely a fascinating panel to listen to for anyone writing or interested in fantasy or just stories with some complex, magical worldbuilding.

While shenanigans happened in between (ranging from a historical tour of Sharvard to observing some maybe/maybe not ritualistic behavior on the library lawn), the huge signing at the end had to be the most chaotic part because lines went on for DAYS. Leigh Bardugo’s, for example, lasted forever, but I refused to leave the premises without telling her how much I love her Grisha trilogy, how it’s influenced my writing, and then having her sign all of my copies while trying not to freak out.

And I did—and pretty much lost ALL of my chill when I went up to her and we started chatting about writing, how fantastic her books are, and my pirate fantasy. After hearing all of her words of encouragement, then realizing what she’d actually written in my copy, that’s definitely the moment when I lost all ability to function.

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*forever inserting cat head with heart-eyes emoji*

For me, one of the most rewarding parts of a signing is having the opportunity to tell the author either how excited I am to read their book, or (if I’ve already read it) how much their book has touched me/gotten me out or a writing or reading slump/influenced me/made me feel all the feels. Even though I wasn’t able to read all of the books on the BTAF roster this year (there were a TON), I’m glad I got to read many beforehand and had the chance to tell the authors how amazing they are in person.

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Probably the nicest pic of all three of us—oh yeah, and there’s Adam Silvera too, I guess . . .

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Just kidding! Adam is kind of cool, when he’s not forgetful/trying to bully me or steal my Six of Crows ARC

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Classic Shivy League fam pic with awesome punmaster, Sara Raasch

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All the lines, so little time

And so, after the chaotic battlefield of book signings and purchasing, here are my spoils of war:

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Left = ALREADY MINE pile: The Duff by Kody Keplinger, The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, and and ARC of The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh; Right = NEWLY MINE pile: This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger, The Wrath and the Dawn Hardcover by Renee Ahdieh, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and an ARC of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This is a mighty fine haul, and I’m so excited to dive into all of them! I was practically heaving when I received a Six of Crows ARC, even though it was only two days before its actual release—BUT STILL. Huge deal. Now that I’ve got that ARC and an actual hardcover (still drooling over those black-stained pages), it’s safe to say that I’m sufficiently Six of Crowed for the year. Also, missing from this pile is the eagerly-anticipated sequel Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch, which should be coming in the mail sometime soon, hopefully complete with illustrations, puns galore, and a pirate if she can manage to fit one into the package for me.

And so, after the day-long, fantastic circus that was BTAF, it was onto the next adventure for my CPs and me: WRITING RETREAT!

Akshaya, Maddy, and I ventured to Vermont for a few days where we frolicked in nature and lived out our dream of a cabin-in-the-woods style writing retreat. It was the first time I’ve ever been to Vermont (I know, the life-long New Englander in me is thoroughly shamed), but now I want to go back ASAP and FOREVER. Not only was the scenery breathtakingly gorgeous (with COWS!), but the atmosphere was just so perfect for getting into the writing zone mentality. After coming off the inspirational high from BTAF, it’s no surprise that we all were super set to just write, write, write, write, and carving out this time to work was so necessary. Surprisingly, when you put us in a house together, we actually do have the ability to be quite productive for long periods of time—and of course, add in those shorter periods in between filled with our usual distracting randomness. Let’s do it again, guys? Getaway forever, this time?

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werk it, great green pastures

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heavenly morning work station

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HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE?

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And then there were ALL THE COWS

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HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE? Part 2: A Magical Moment with a Unicorn Named Shamrock

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the sky that can’t stop, won’t stop

All in all, everything about our CP reunion was super magical, as always. Words were written/edited, books were bought, events were attended, (too much) food was eaten, and random fun was to be had.  While we drove home blasting all the Disney, failing at psychic iTunes, and making up travel montages, it was so surreal just thinking how fast the time went (and now how much I already miss my CPs). And even though the trip was over way too soon, I’m already gearing up for the next time we’re going to reunite because it shall be EPIC.

Now, back to being productive . . .