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.

It’s all in the cards, Moulin Rouge-style

Positive changes are afoot! Physically, I’m finally back at that point where I can run on the treadmill without dying. I’ve changed up my usual nail polish color (once purple-ish black, now a killer red). And I’ve been chugging along with my new WIP, Phantom Fantasy, and having so much fun. Honestly, there’s no better feeling than having all of the words just spill onto the page and suddenly getting stuck in the middle—

Oh wait, that’s not positive. In fact, that’s very not positive.

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But OF COURSE, when I encounter this stage, the eternal optimist in me automatically goes into survival mode and refuses to let the not-positives stand in the way.

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Hitting roadblocks in the middle of drafting is TOTALLY normal for writers. I mean, we all lose steam eventually. Everything does, and it is our job to recognize when we need a resting period. Think about it, when you’re driving and you see the signs that your car needs gas (i.e. the needle of death drops closer to the empty side, the dreaded gas warning light comes on, etc.), is that the green light for you to keep driving for miles on end, hoping for the best? HELL NO. Nobody wants to be driving on empty. Not you, not your precious automobile, not anybody.

Writing can be a lot like that. A LOT. Your creative tank is only so full for a certain amount of time before you need to stop and refuel—at least for me, this is true. For the people who are just endlessly creative and productive every single day of their lives without complaint, you are just straight up superhuman. Are you even real?

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I am definitely NOT superhuman like that. I started out drafting this shiny new WIP super strong; however, once the middle blues hit, they hit HARD. It’s inevitable, unavoidable, and all just a part of the process of cranking out a novel. Once you’ve made peace with that, the only thing you can do from there is to recover and rebound—give yourself the time you need to figure out your next game plan, and then jump back in.

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For some reason, I find that this problematic portion of the writing process brings out my creative “fight or flight” response where my quickest thinking comes in. Frustrating as feeling stuck is, not only does it force me to look back on what I have of the story, but it sort of commands my brain to figure out what the story needs. This time around with Phantom Fantasy, I realized that I needed to know more about the world .

Soooo, how do I discover what parts of the story world I need in order to keep moving forward? Plain and simple: I make a deck of cards, and design fun games to go along with it.

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Yeahhhh, when I type this out now, my method just seems so brutally unhelpful and maybe a complete waste of time. How will making some froofy cards possibly help me understand the intricacies of the world? The plot? The characters?

In a lot of weird ways, it’s somehow helping me understand the story WAY better than if I’d just sat down with a notebook and skimmed online article after article after article. Not that article-digging ISN’T fun (it definitely is), but creating these extra materials that exist in my world actually helped ground me in the story even more. It’s opening my brain to other possibilities, making me think about my story differently, and overall is giving me a physical tie to the world I’m writing about.

I was pretty stuck at one part during the week. But over the weekend, I sat myself down to fold sheets of paper, drew on them, and cut them out. It brought me back to first grade arts and craft time, and you bet I was enjoying every second of it. Someday I might post pics of them here when they’re not looking so rough and flimsy. To be honest, they’re really not the most sophisticated or well-crafted cards by any means, but they’re pretty dang awesome to me. Even more awesome, I forced my sister last night to help me do a trial-run of two games I’d invented to go along with the cards—and by some miracle, THEY ACTUALLY WORKED. Of course I need to fine-tune the rules a bit so that the games don’t last a thousand years, but the basics I have now are not a total disaster! Huzzah!

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The time I spent making these cards was so valuable because it also motivated me to hand-write backstories of the world and a certain wicked character of mine. I also finally watched a documentary DVR’d for story research that I hadn’t been able to get around to until now. Even though most of my work wasn’t drafting, this experience helped me understand that it’s okay. There are other ways you can add to your story that’s more than just typing out words on a document, and I honestly believe using the inevitable ohgodimcreativelystuck time to explore these routes is such an effective way to breathe more life into the story. It felt just as important to my writing process for this book, so in many ways, I’m immensely happy that I got stuck in my writing.

Yup, the eternal optimist in me prevails once more.

Now, back to work. Onward.

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BTAF Event: Ladies Living Dangerously

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by the Boston Teen Author Festival—a day of YA in Boston organized each year by some fantastic, fellow Emerson College alumnae! I am crazy excited to be attending this year’s BTAF on September 26 with my fabulous critique partners, but I was even luckier to get the chance to duck into the pre-BTAF event in the Cambridge Public Library called “Ladies Living Dangerously” as well!

Image credit: Boston Teen Author Festival

THE BOOKS

FullSizeRender 5When I first heard about the event, I was massively psyched to attend because it was also Erin Bowman‘s launch event for Vengeance Road.  This book has received such amazing buzz and word-of-mouth for a while, and has also added some freshness to the ever-growing YA table as a killer YA Historical Western. I’m of the camp really hoping this genre takes off. After binge-watching all of Strange Empire on Netflix over the course of a few days, my craving for female-led Westerns is something FIERCE. Also, can we talk about how seriously gorgeous that cover is?

Long story short: the novel follows a girl setting out to avenge her father’s murder in a gritty Wild West adventure filled with strangers, dangers, and a bloody quest for gold. Yeehaw.

FullSizeRender 2Laurie Faria Stolarz was also a featured author promoting her latest book in her Dark House series. I remember reading her Blue is For Nightmares series a while ago, which was among the first YA books that initially introduced me to the genre—so it’s an understatement to say that meeting her and hearing her read an excerpt from her new book was all sorts of exciting. Her new series is YA Horror, and I knew I just had to pick up the first book Welcome to the Dark House after hearing her read from it. My heart was, no joke, POUNDING because of how eerie it all sounded. Obviously, I was sold.

Long story short: the novel follows a girl with a tragic past who conquers her fears by entering a filmmaker’s horror contest based on the entrants’ worst nightmares. Unfortunately, winning means having to relive them. Yikes.

FullSizeRender 3The last author featured at this event was Eva Darrows who promoted her crazy-cool looking book The Awesome. Of the authors, she was the only one I hadn’t heard of before—but oh my goodness, she was seriously one of my favorite people to listen to at the event. It really is dangerous attending author panels because once you hear them talk and adore their personality, then it just makes you want to buy their books even more. This author is so hysterical in person and just a very fierce speaker overall. When she started talking about her book and the ideas behind it, I couldn’t help but pick it up as well.

Long story short: if you like Supernatural, the novel follows a mother-daughter duo of supernatural hunters who face a slight problem—the avid hunting daughter can’t actually get her hunting license without losing her virginity first. Awk.

THE PANEL

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The panel was a great discussion which, to no one’s surprise and everyone’s delight, surrounded the theme of the event: Ladies Living Dangerously. As such, all of the authors talked loads about how their protagonists lived dangerously, the inspirations behind the stories, and which female characters they truly admire and view as well-constructed heroines with agency and strength. Naturally, there was a lot of Harry Potter and Firefly fangirling as well, which is always appreciated.

However, some of the more intriguing points of the discussion was the conversation surrounding YA being dominated by female authors, the origins of the “strong female protagonist,” as well as the question to the authors concerning if they ever felt pressured to include romance in their stories. All pretty much said yes (those who didn’t usually already included it), what with YA tending to be associated with romance and readers gravitating toward it. Romance sells in a big way, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing to have in stories by any means! Although there is a lot of push for romance, the undeniable pros of including it allows for more conflict in the story, ups the stakes in many ways, and can most times texture the story really well if done with purpose. Also, just think of all the ships. Who doesn’t love a good ship?

I will go down with this ship

RANDOM TIDBITS

Erin Bowman didn’t go into writing Vengeance Road with certain themes in mind. She emphasized the importance of moral ambiguity in her characters—especially her MC, who says and does really bad things on her path of revenge. It doesn’t make her a bad person, it just makes her a person. Anti-heroism at its best, am I right?

Laurie Faria Stolarz revealed that the story kernel for her Dark House series came from a dream she had about how horror film bigwig Wes Craven (may he rest in peace) created a contest for his fans to reveal their fears.

Eva Darrows talked about how the inspiration for her story didn’t come from Supernatural, but one of the maybe-precursors to Supernatural—which is a game I believe that holds a lot of the rules and urban legends as featured in the show.

THE SIGNING

All of the authors were so wonderful during their panel that it was no shock at all how lovely they were in person. Usually when I have authors sign my book, I ask if they could include a quick writerly nugget of wisdom (because writers need ALL the wisdom they can get their hands on), and they did not disappoint.

Unfortunately I did not get a pic of Eva Darrows signing my book like the other authors (I must’ve forgotten in between all the laughing), but she did say that she liked my name! 😀

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“Write long, write hard.” ~ Eva Darrows

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“Good luck with your writing! Perseverance is key!” ~ Laurie Faria Stolarz

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“Dissect your favorite books, movies, TV shows—what do you like? What do you hate? Apply that to your work. And don’t give up!” ~ Erin Bowman

This was such a great event to attend, which makes me even more pumped for the actual Boston Teen Author Festival happening in just over two weeks! Clearly, I have a lot of reading ahead of me—which is not a bad problem to have at all 😉