10 Things About My Writing

Thank you to my lovely and hilarious CO-G Erin who tagged me to do this post, which was honestly wayyyy harder than I thought it would be because 10 THINGS ARE A LOT OF THINGS. Okay. Here goes.

1. I’m a pantser. I’ve honestly tried not to be—meaning, I’ve attempted plotting, character graphs, outlining, story bibles, and whatnot, but they all fizzle out. Which SUCKS because that sort of organization would be enormously helpful for the hot mess that is my brain. But for some reason, the minute any sort of formal organization enters the scene, my brain riots with cries of “THOU SHALT NOT ORGANIZETH” and sabotages my attempts. But to be fair, I’ve embraced pantsing. I just love that freedom and unpredictability with writing, since it can produce some of the best scenes, characters, and turning points of a story. I’m still trying to assume a more organized method (aka slightly less messy), but at heart, I am a panster.

2. I’m a loose mental plotter to a point. I think this is the only reason I can pants as successfully as I’ve been able to (is it successful? The jury’s still out on that one….). Being a mental plotter for me means without having to write it all down, I already somewhat have a loose string of events I know HAVE to happen to jumpstart the story. The overall plot isn’t completely figured out, but it’s enough to keep me excited to keep writing and discover what comes next. With all the characters and plot points jumping around in my head, it definitely makes my mind an even more crowded place, that’s for sure. And scary.

Mental plotting yayyy *sobs* source

3. Music is my guide. Music plays a HUGE part in my life—not only because of my musical background, but also because some of my first memories are of hearing my dad singing, as well as Lea Salonga cassette tapes on repeat (hello throwback). As such, I’ve always tied music to memories and emotions—and when I tie emotions and memories to writing, music naturally falls into the equation. I listen to ALL sorts of music and build my story playlists like no other. Not only is music helpful for tone/mood research or getting re-inspired when in a writing slump, but it’s a great way of giving your story some structure without having to outline a single thing  🙂 Except most times when I’m listening to my playlists as I’m writing, I look like I’m possessed as I’m typing. Lots of swaying, head bobbing, and more movement than is required for actual sitting.

And this is why I rarely write in public

4. Inspiration-wise, I am a mean fuser. I like to fuse ideas with each other and see what comes of it. Thus, the “This meets That” high-concept pitch has been my friend with lots of projects. I do this with movies, books, TV, and musicals, and sometimes it’s not even the literal “This Story meets That Story.” Sometimes it can be as simple as a flash moment of inspiration, colliding with another, that gives me a snapshot of what a story could be. There’s just something I really love about taking two extremes and letting them settle into each other, seeing the vibe/mood of what I love while carving out my own story from within. Obviously it’s not copy-cut-paste of the two ideas (because hello, plagiarism), but for the most part, I see my fusions as a tribute to two things I really love. And also my excuse to indulge in them as much as possible for “writing research.”

This Unicorn meets That Unicorn = all the yay (source)

5. I’m also an eager idea gatherer. Unfortunately, aforementioned fusion does not happen instantly (boo). Sometimes I get an idea I realllllly like, but it’s just not ready to be a story yet. I’ve gathered the “This” but not the “That,” and so patiently I wait until that last piece of the puzzle falls into place. Sometimes it’ll take years to find the “That,” but in between that time, I’m gathering ideas for the story and letting it take up residence in my head. But when the times comes when the “This” finally meets its “That” in my head, it is the BIGGEST aha! moment in the world. For Phantom Fantasy, it was reading a book and then finally listening to the right piece of music years later.

gimme all those ideas source

6. Lastly, I’m a steadfast incubator. This leads into why I can pants and mental-plot—I capture these ideas with this method I’ve laid out above, and do the tedious, tiresome task of . . . letting them sit. For a while. Like when a baker instinctively knows when the cake is ready without keeping time, I know it’s time to write. Especially if the story is quite literally DRIVING ME CRAZY. I incubate these ideas until they’re begging to come alive, haunting me every day to a point where it’s painful not to be writing it all down. Now that I say this, it all sounds super punishing and weird BUT it’s how I remain super excited about my stories and characters even during the really low writing times. I’ve waited this long to write the story, so you bet your bottom dollar I’m going to finish and love every moment.

Welcome to the world, dino-story, YOU ARE READY TO BE WRITTEN source

7. I hear voices in my head. Yes, I hear the voices of my characters, lines that spark scenes and interactions, and swells of music in my head—which can get overwhelming, but hey, it’s a sign that I’m feeling extremely inspired by my story (enough to hear it pretty much wherever I go). This stems a lot from tons of day dreaming when I step away from the computer (because really, do writers EVER stop thinking about their stories?) and can drive me crazy most times, but I like that feeling of a story following me around. I’m not done with it, and it’s not done with me, so it will keep stalking me until I go back to writing.

8. I paint my nails the color I feel best captures the story! People who know me know that I like to keep my nails fresh….mostly because before, my nails looked like crap from so much nail-biting. To break that high anxiety-driven habit, I decided to do my own nails as a brand of therapy (taking control of even the smallest things really helps!), and tie it in with my writing by assigning colors to my stories! Nothing is better than looking down at my keyboard and seeing an awesome pop of color on not-too-shabby nails beasting those words out. For Pirate Fantasy, dark purple/night-esque shades are my go-to colors, and my CO-G Erin sent me the BEST nail polish ever (Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish—quite possibly the fanciest nail polish to grace my fingers) which I’m now currently wearing and loving!

ALL the Sailor Scouts know the power of having strong nail game

ALL the Sailor Scouts know the power of having a strong nail game   source

9. I’m an emotional writer. Another reason I don’t like writing in public is that I cry when I write (no surprise since I cry over almost anything). I get really into the emotions of my story and my characters, and there’s something about crying while writing that adds a rawness to the character’s voice. It’s feeling words rather than trying to phrase them the right way. It’s in those powerful moments when I feel like I’m truly connecting with the heartbeat of the story, and makes me fall in love with the book all over again (even when I’m knee-deep in Revision Draft #29384782).

giphy

It me, all day every day   source

10. There are random things I love which I always must include in my stories. This ranges from loads of fire metaphors (I love fire), nods to the color red (my fave color), foxes (fave animal!), birds (so beautiful! And they remind me of my parents!), music (see #3), masks (PHANTOM! TUXEDO MASK! ZORRO! ETC!), and dancing (dancing shows are hands down the best). There are definitely so many other random things to add to this list, but for now, these are the ones I’m not entirely embarrassed to admit  🙂

tumblr_m9qma5hxca1rdqp23o1_500

 

Wow, that was a lot of things. For anyone else who wants to join in on this, do it and have fun reflecting on all the quirks that make you the writer you are!!!

Advertisements

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:

CiLYvjuUgAEe7Fj

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  🙂

0feb2ad1-db05-4798-b1ee-4fd44b893f2f

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:

IMG_5607

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.

IMG_5593

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

IMG_5598

People! So many people!

IMG_5618

The sacred show floor

IMG_5620

Sacred show floor + Erin’s face

IMG_5638

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

FullSizeRender 43

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

IMG_5626

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

IMG_5675

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

IMG_5601

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

FullSizeRender 44

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!

IMG_5609

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.

IMG_5644

Aforementioned fun CP shenanigans

IMG_5674

Sarah’s signing! Credit: Side Camera Erin

IMG_5649

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

IMG_5682

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 . . .

IMG_5665

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 . . .

IMG_5581

IMG_5577

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:

IMG_5677

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:

IMG_5201

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!

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 10.27.41 AM

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  🙂

IMG_5353

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.

IMG_5354 2

Room with our insaaaane view

IMG_5366

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

IMG_5283

Take me back to this first breakfast with mimosas, please

IMG_5313

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

IMG_5286

Goodie bag room filled with ARCs

IMG_5336

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

IMG_5331

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

IMG_5307

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

IMG_5362

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 . . .

IMG_5323

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

IMG_5320

Excited Leigh ( + Excited Assistant)

FullSizeRender 42

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

IMG_5372

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!

Updates, News, and All the Bookish Things: Part 1

Hello blog, I’ve missed you. In fact, I’ve missed having some solid time to sit down and settle with my computer after running around like a chicken with its head chopped off. And I do mean that both mentally and physically. The last couple of weeks have been filled with bookish event after event which have taken a severe toll on my solitary writing cave status—but alas, it’s all for the best. I mean, I guess I do need interactions with friends and contact with the outside world some times, right?

Just kidding. It’s felt like absolute chaos, but only the very, very best kind. Without further ado, here comes some old news, new news, and as always, bookish news!

WRITING UPDATES:

Revisions have been . . . going! While I wish I could say that I’m speeding through my revision to-do list like some literary Tasmanian Devil, I’m not. And that’s seriously okay. With what I’m currently working on in this first round, I know that trying to rush through everything would only make more messes, and I already have more than enough on my plate with this manuscript as it is! And with the amount of changes I’m making, I sure as hell want to do them right. So far, I have already drafted over 10k of new scenes—most of which will need heavy editing, but hey, it’s a grand start. And what’s even better, this new direction finally feels right  😀 What really held me up in the beginning was not knowing where to go with the fresh material I needed to add in. But after taking the time to let all the notes absorb and to let myself feel inspired again, I have found the way! We’re not quite near the end yet, but it’s definitely in sight from where I’m standing!

NEWS:

Also, THIS IS HAPPENING.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 12.13.20 AM

You have NO idea how flabbergasted I was when the super wonderful Alexa Donne so kindly offered this fantastic opportunity to speak with an amazing line up of people, including my awesome agent! SERIOUSLY. My hands were literally shaking when I accepted. In fact, they’re still shaking at the thought of speaking on a panel period. But nerves aside, I’m so freaking excited to be doing this, and also to be attending Leviosa Con with my CPs Maddy, Erin, Akshaya, and Amanda! If there’s anyone else who will be attending Leviosa, let me know because I love making friends at cons! And if you’re interested in sitting in on the panel, they just released the official schedule a couple of days ago and all the info for it is here  🙂

BOOKISH EVENTS:

Oh boy, I am SO not allowed to buy anything for the next five years from the sheer amount of books I’ve bought this entire month. Not even food . . . okay, no, that’s crazy talk. But for those who understand the pitfalls of compulsive book-buying, you get the point. This April has just been one huge bookish spree for me—so huge, that I’m dividing this post into two parts! And so huge, that my bank account is currently weeping. Womp, womp.

But let’s focus on the positives! At least my personal library is a bit richer with more books on the shelves, right?  😉

First off, in early April, I went to an event at Brookline Booksmith for Jodi Meadows’s The Mirror King, which also included Erin Bowman on the panel. Both ladies were hilarious together, and offered some amazing insight into their books and writing processes (all of which can be seen in full detail in this blog post by my writing buddy Ellie!). I seriously love hearing authors talk about their books and all the things behind what’s actually written on the page. It makes me even more intrigued and excited to read, and you know there was no way I left that event without purchasing Jodi Meadows’s The Orphan Queen to start off with!

IMG_5242

IMG_5245

Much swag, very signing

FullSizeRender 40

Look how RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME her calligraphy skills are! #penmanshipgoals

The next day, there was a Richelle Mead event somewhere near my town, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it because 1) I was semi-burnt out from the book event the night before, and 2) it was POURING cats and dogs that night. How anyone could’ve been traveling that night and lived to tell the tale astounds me! Thankfully I was able to see Richelle the week after at RT (Part 2 bits!), where we commiserated over how weird New England weather is.

Then, the day after rainpocalypse, the sun came out and I set out to go to Marie Rutkoski’s event in the Harvard Book Store for The Winner’s Kiss, which also featured her in conversation with Kristin Cashore!!! Even though Introverted Janella really just wanted to stay at home and write in the cave, I knew I just HAD to go to this event. Not only to get The Winner’s Kiss and see the fabulous author behind it, but also to get my beloved copy of Fire signed by THE Kristin Cashore. Even though I’ve read all of the books within the Graceling realm, Fire has ALWAYS stayed with me for the longest time. It’s one of my favorite fantasies ever, and I honestly can’t flail enough over it (cc: Erin, my fellow Fire fangirl). Because Kristin rarely does events, it was seriously so insane being able to meet her, gush over Fire (which she really appreciated since so many people have told her that they prefer the other Graceling books way more, believe it or not! Blasphemy, right?!), and get my books signed. The night was made even better after hearing these ladies speak as authors and friends with their ridiculously adorable rapport.

IMG_5274

FullSizeRender 41

AHHHHHH

IMG_5276

AHHHHHHHHHH TIMES A MILLION

So this was just Part 1 of my bookish adventures in April! Next up, even MORE sinful book-buying in Las Vegas where I reunited with my CPs for RT!!!!

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.

tumblr_mhcwxk8zd81rsiv7xo1_500_zpsa427db51

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.

tumblr_lz00tsxfux1qi2sd2

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?

tumblr_n744mfrziq1rlx538o1_500

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.

tumblr_n744mfrziq1rlx538o3_500

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.

tumblr_n5rwhs3pzz1qfigugo5_500

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!

tumblr_mpiofxr7or1szo77do1_r1_500

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.

tumblr_lnh250di9m1qkbodlo1_500

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.

IMG_4288

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.

IMG_4362

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

IMG_4293

Fancy grilled cheesing all day every day

IMG_4307

Friendsgiving *salivates*

And of course . . .

IMG_4375

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:

IMG_4299

The happiest of hours!

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

IMG_4305

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.

IMG_4365

Daily goals board, complete with inspirational quote and decorative art

IMG_4367

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

IMG_4366

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.

IMG_4306

Impromptu baby hike in the snowy trails

IMG_4369

AJAX WAS HERE

IMG_4363

That night I slayed Maddy with all the jokes

IMG_4357

LILY AND JAMES SIGHTING ❤ #patronuslove

IMG_4312

Crazy horse with crazy eyes

FullSizeRender 25

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

FullSizeRender 26

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.

IMG_4405

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

IMG_4390

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

IMG_4400

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:

IMG_4408

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.