How I Got My Agent

What can I say about querying…

I loved it and hated it in equal measure.

Each query I sent out felt like a chance at finding my dream agent to carry me forward into the next steps of my writing career, and I loved that feeling.

But also, each query carried with it the potential for rejection. I… was less fond of that feeling.

I have been in the query trenches almost constantly for three years, pretty much one year per project queried. I know that many have been at it longer than me, but those three years sure felt long.

They weren’t without their successes, though. Querying All That We See or Seem resulted in its publishing deal with Uncommon Universes Press, and it’s been so wonderfully gratifying to see that story (and its sequel!) out in the world. It wasn’t specifically querying that got me noticed by them, though – it was #PitMad, a pitch contest held on Twitter a couple times a year.

And, funnily enough, it was another contest I stumbled across on Twitter – this one #RevPit – that got me my agent.

HEARTFIRE is based on a short story I wrote a few years ago that I had a hard time shaking. When I was looking for a new novel project after writing A Dream Within a Dream, my mind pulled me back to the world of flammable hearts I’d so briefly gotten to visit. It’s by far the fastest I’ve ever drafted a book. Blank page to fully fleshed out draft in less than three months. I just loved it so much, and I wanted to keep reading it and hanging out with the characters, so every spare moment I had went into that draft.

After it went through my revisions, plus the revisions that came from beta reader feedback, I started sending it out into the world. It got a good response, with 11 full manuscript requests and 2 partials coming fairly quickly, but it seemed to be falling just short of where it needed to be.

Cue: #RevPit. That contest could not have come at a better time, and I was so honored to be selected by Holly Ingraham. We spent six weeks revising the manuscript until it shone, focusing largely on world and character arcs, and then, the showcase went live. It included the query and the first five pages of the manuscript, and in the comments section, agents could make requests. I got a few requests coming in that day, which was awesome.

One of those requests came from Kaitlyn Johnson at Corvisiero Literary Agency.

From there, things moved fairly quickly. She read the first 50 pages, upgraded it to a full request a couple days later, and then, less than two weeks later, set up a video chat.

I could tell right away that Kaitlyn’s vision for HEARTFIRE matched my own. She had so much enthusiasm and belief in the world and the characters, and the few minor tweaks she proposed totally made sense to the story. Still, I had five full manuscripts outstanding, so we did the standard two weeks to give those agents a chance to read. Not all of them had the time, which I completely understood, but every single one of them was kind, congratulatory, and supportive.

And, ultimately, when the two weeks were up, I was more than happy to sign the contract to be represented by Kaitlyn. I couldn’t be more excited to see where HEARTFIRE goes from here and what comes next.

A Dream Within a Dream Release Day

Welcome to the world, A Dream Within a Dream!

I love you just as much as your older sibling, if not more because you’re so much younger and cuter and you have so much more war in you.

No, I couldn’t choose a favorite. They represent such different things to me, this pair. All That We See or Seem was a multi-year battle. It was writing and rewriting and revising and trying to figure out how one goes about writing a whole book. I learned while I wrote it, and I credit that book with so much.

A Dream Within a Dream was two months of Skyping with my writing partner in hours-long writing sprints, the Winter Olympics muted in the background, reconnecting with my girl Reeve. Getting to do what I’d always hoped to do but wasn’t sure I’d ever have the opportunity to — finishing her story. Seeing what came after that terribly mean cliffhanger ending I put her and Bran and all of my readers through.

One of the best feelings in this world is being proud of what you’ve created. I am proud of what I’ve created. I know that I can stand behind it as it makes its way out into the world without flinching or saying “I know, I could have done that better.”

Because, no, I could not have done this better. Maybe years from now, yes, when I grow and evolve as an author, but I wrote the book I wanted to write, the best that I could, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it. I hope you love it. I hope there are lines you highlight and reread. I hope it means something to you in some way.

I’ve always said that my favorite chapter in ATWSOS is Chapter 32.

My favorite chapter in ADWAD? 17.

It starts with my favorite line from the Poe poem from which the title comes, which I pulled so much inspiration from. The line that I got tattooed on my left arm the day ATWSOS came out.

“I stand amid the roar.”

That line gives me chills every time, in the poem and on my arm and in my story.

I have so many of other lines that I adore and that mean something, several of which are spoilers though, so I’ll just leave you with this one:

“And I wonder, then, if we should all be starved for the wonders of the world every now and then, so we can look at them through fresh eyes and know well enough to weep for how beautiful it all really is.”

Thank you for coming with me on this journey. It has meant the world.

 

2018 in the Rearview Mirror

What can I say about this year… it has been a YEAR. An absolute 365 day year.

If you remember my post from last year, 2017 was a true upheaval. In contrast, 2018 has been the pieces that were thrown into the air in 2017 falling into their proper places.

As you probably know by now if you’re here, my debut novel, All That We See or Seem, was published! People got to know Reeve, Bran, and Arden (the optimist, the realist, and the cynic), and it has filled me with so much joy.

I released my first poetry collection, It’s Only Words. 200 poems pried out of my brain/heartspace and unleashed unto the world. It was terrifying at first, but now it has been nothing but gratifying.

I wrote A Dream Within a Dream, the sequel to ATWSOS, and got it all revised and polished and pretty. It’s been so bittersweet to say goodbye to that crew, but I can say with 100% assurance that I gave them the ending I wanted.

I also wrote and revised Heartfire, which is the exploration of love and heartbreak I direly needed and wanted to write. I still reread that story from time to time, I adore it that much.

I wrote half of Then I Defy You, Stars, which is shaping up to be my most humor-filled novel, while also a deep dive into choice vs fate. I’m really excited for what that story will become.

I started revising my adult contemporary novel, The Ways We Fall, which will be released early next year through Radish Fiction. I cannot WAIT for everyone to get to meet Tristan and Sara, my original fictional friends.

I really amped up my poetry life, writing hundreds and hundreds of poems throughout the year and way surpassing my goal of reaching 500 followers – it sits somewhere around 900 right now! Very grateful for all of the support on that end.

I contributed 12 pieces to Thought Catalog, which allowed me to basically explore the same non-fiction themes of my poetry, but more deeply and in prose form.

I attended YallWest in Santa Monica, the Children’s Writing Workshop in Big Sur, and events for Tahereh Mafi, Sabaa Tahir, and Sarah J. Maas, furthering my knowledge of the craft and excitement for all things books/writing.

I read 20 books, which… isn’t great. It’s exactly half of what I was aiming for this year, but as you can tell from above, I was a little busy. I will definitely try to amp this up for 2019, though.

It was…. a Very Writing Year. I have never felt more creatively fulfilled and optimistic about the path I’m on. And grateful that I found this path.

What are my goals for 2019?

– Usher my second-born, A Dream Within a Dream, out into the world.
– Finish drafting and revise Then I Defy You, Stars.
– Finish revising The Ways We Fall.
– Write at least one fresh new book.
– Release my second poetry collection.
– Continue playing with and writing poetry.
– Enjoy the now. One eye can stay on the horizon, but the other one better be right here. (This will make it hard for people to meet my eyes, but it’ll be fine.) Soak. it. in. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

– T.S. Eliot –

On Realizing You Can’t Please Everyone

I want every single person to love every single word I write. It’s just what I want. Why is that too much to ask for?

Haha, self. Haha.

I have read NYT Bestsellers that I did not enjoy.

I have read universally panned books that I loved.

There is a reason there are so many genres – there are a lot of different tastes. And tastes even evolve. I used to devour YA Fantasy. Over the past year, I’ve been all about YA Contemporary. When I was in college, I was all about Historical Romance. And I freely filter in and out of Adult fiction.

But you throw Horror at me? That’s a hell no.

Nonfiction? Rarely for me.

And that’s just genres. That’s not even publishing trends. Vampires, dystopian, magic. Those all fall within Fantasy, so even if you typically love Fantasy novels, maybe you don’t like vampires. Maybe you typically love Contemporary novels, but you have a hard time relating to male protagonists. There is so much that comes down to personal taste.

I do not love every word ever written, and so, the logical side of me is aware that not every person will love everything I write. It’s madness to even hope for it.

But there is something so unaccountably personal about writing that it is difficult to accept when someone does not like it. It’s a short skip and a jump from that to them not liking me, or at least that’s how it feels.

So much of writing and publishing is an exercise in letting go. I can control the words I put on the page. I can control what I ultimately want to do with those words – shred them or share them? Beyond that… I have to let go. If I worry too much about pleasing everyone, I lose track of the story I’m trying to tell. I become uncertain about my characters, trying to mold them into someone else, trying to manufacture decisions that they would not make.

And I am miserable.

When I started writing Book 5, I tried to write what I thought I should write instead of what I wanted to write, and it resulted in the aforementioned misery. I couldn’t relate to the characters. It was bumpy and unpleasant and writing became a chore. It wasn’t until I stepped back and realized what I was doing that I was able to rework the plot into something I believe in, something I’m excited to explore.

I am unabashedly proud of the four books I have written. Two of them, you will read. (One you may have read already!) The other two, who knows. But I can honestly say that all four of them are the stories I wanted to tell. I can bear other people’s opinions of them because I stand behind them so fully.

“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready.'”

– David Mitchell

Another New Beginning

Here we go here we go here we go!

I am going to use exclamation points in an attempt to fire myself up!

Not that I’m not fired up. I am really, really excited to dive into a fresh new story and play with words for the next three months. But hell if I’m not nervous again. This is my fifth go-around in the novel-writing biz, and it’s still daunting. I’ve written the first page, just exploratorily, figuring out where I want to begin, but then I closed the document and basically acted out this gif.

Maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it felt that dramatic. BEGINNINGS ARE SCARY. ENDINGS ARE SCARY. EVERYTHING IS SCARY.

Which brings me to the topic of this next book. (Look at that segue.)

Then I Defy You, Stars is going to be another young adult contemporary fantasy novel. Similar playground to the Heartfire one, with a real world environment that differs in one big way, a way that forces the characters to explore on a different level what we in non-fantasy world also explore. I’m not ready to reveal that way quite yet, but I will tell you that the main exploration will be into the future. The unknown. How we can embrace it instead of fearing it.

It’s something I personally have been exploring for the past year, and I’m so pumped to play around with it fictionally.

This is the most pre-planning I’ve ever done for a book. I am a very impatient person, and I like to just get the ball rolling. But for this one, I have about nine secondary characters who all needed some serious development. I really spent some time with each one, figuring out who they were, what they wanted, outside of just how they impact the main character’s journey.

I’ve also been nailing down the world. The fantastical element. I learned that while writing Heartfire, that it was all well and good that hearts went up in flames when they got broken, but I hit a couple roadblocks along the way in terms of how that impacted the world. So for TIDYS, I’m looking at the societal impact of the fantasy element from all sorts of angles.

My goal is to finish the first draft of this book by November 30th, when I will be attending a three day writing workshop in Big Sur. That gives me just shy of three months, and considering I wrote Heartfire in a little less than two months, I know I can do it. It’s just going to require an ambitious word count schedule of about 7k words a week.

That will also give me a chance to take my pre-revision break during the holidays and truly get in the snowman-building, carol-singing, cocoa-drinking spirit of the season. Basically, it’s The Plan. It’s not just an arbitrary deadline I’ve set for myself. I am hellbent. Bent by hell. (Nobody ever turns that phrase that way, huh.)

But I guess that means… it’s time to really get this show on the road.

On Heartfire

This is the book I wanted to write at this precise moment of my life. Unequivocally.

As scale goes, it’s much smaller than my prior three books. For one thing, it’s almost entirely rooted in reality. There’s just one teeny tiny detail that veers it into the fantasy realm (that whole hearts-going-up-in-flames element, no big.) And it’s contemporary, so no historical research required of me. There’s also no villain. No evil to be vanquished.

I feel like with each book I write, I’m getting closer and closer to figuring out exactly what I want to write. What kind of stories I want to tell. With the short story I wrote as source material, it didn’t take me long at all to figure out what the novel version would be. I didn’t want the story to be “how to stop heartfire.” That’s certainly a direction I could see taking someday. But first, I wanted to explore something smaller scale: why would people still fall in love in a world where heartbreak could literally kill you?

Combine that with the fact that I’ve fallen in love with contemporary YA novels over the past year. I wanted to write something that would pull the reader into a love story, a first love story, with characters you can root for.

Juliana couldn’t be much more different from Reeve. Head-in-the-clouds Reeve wants to fall in love more than she wants just about anything else. Feet-on-the-ground Juliana wants nothing more than to live. To not have her life cut short by something as stupid as falling in love and dying of heartfire.

I wrote this first draft more quickly than I’ve written any other draft. I started it on May 10th and finished on July 3rd. Because I love stats, here are my word count stats:

May – 10,735
June – 43,484
July – 17,956
Total word count: 72,175

It’s pretty much all I did for a little bit there. I ate, slept, and breathed that story. There are a few reasons why I wrote so voraciously. There was the fact that my Europe trip was looming, and I wanted to get it done before I left. There was the fact that I was about to turn 31, and I’m a weirdo about birthdays. I wanted to add this to my list of accomplishments for the year. And then, there was just the fact that I really, really liked writing this story. I wanted to keep finding out what happened next.

This is also the closest I’ve ever followed an outline. I stuck pretty darn well to that thing instead of going entirely rogue, as I’ve been known to do. So that certainly helped keep me on track to writing this draft so quickly.

I wanted to set it aside for the 2 weeks I was on vacation so that I could attack revisions with fresh eyes. So, I read 2 books. I relaxed. I soaked in the free time. But… ok, fine, I missed my characters. I wanted to hang out with them more. So I opened the manuscript, and one thing led to another, and I was knee-deep in revisions before I even intended to start.

I go home from vacation tomorrow at an ungodly hour, but I go home with a half-revised manuscript, which I did not expect. I’m really, really happy with it so far and excited to wrap it up.

And then, it goes off to my dear beta readers! I’ve warned them all that this is unlike anything I’ve given them before, and they all seem game. I’ll wait for them to read it and give me their comments, I’ll do a final round of revisions based on their input, and then… it’ll be a wrap on Heartfire.

This book-writing thing… I’m forever grateful to have it. To love it the way I do. To write something, to finish something, and then to find another story to tell and love. It’s a wonderful thing.

“I’m up to my ears in unwritten words.”

– J.D. Salinger –

Now What?

Everyone says it feels strange, and I get that. It does.

There’s a book in the world with my name on the cover. People have it in their hands. People are reading it. It’s no longer my sheltered baby that I lean over protectively, my arms circling it, shielding it. As it is in other people’s hands, it is no longer in mine.

So that’s weird.

But everyone said it would feel anticlimactic, in a way. All of this build-up, all of this work, all of this excitement. And then release day comes and goes, and you wake up the next morning, and it’s just… over.

But it’s been two weeks now since ATWSOS came out, and I’m still just soaking it in. There’s nothing anticlimactic here. Friends are still texting me angrily as they finish the book. Coworkers are still stopping me in the hall to talk about it. Reviews are still unfurling in the worlds of Goodreads and Amazon. I’m just… enjoying it. The fruits of my labor, so to speak. The culmination of a whole lotta work.

Cropped

Yes, life is continuing on as it always has. It hasn’t changed monumentally just because I published a book. I’m going in to work every morning, I’m crunching numbers, I’m going home every day to walk my dogs and hang out with my nephews and sister and friends and read and watch tv and – here’s the big one – writing.

Maybe that’s why there’s nothing anticlimactic about this. It’s part of it, at least. I’m ankle-deep in my next project, and I. am. loving it. I’m so proud of ATWSOS, but I’m so hungry for more. To stretch myself farther, deeper, higher. I am so not content to sit back on this one book series and check off the life dream of “publish a book” and coast onward.

I’ve started scheduling out writing evenings again, as I did while I was writing ADWAD in February. I’ve rediscovered my absolute OBSESSION with word count. (I track it. I set goals for it. I hit CTRL + Shift + C in my Google Doc often enough that if any three keys on my keyboard were to give out before the others, it’d be those.) It feels like stretching after months of inactivity.

Well, relative inactivity. Writing a novel is a different kind of stretching than the short-form prose and poetry I still work on every day. And between you and me, I may be working on a little bit of a project in that realm alongside everything else.

BUT THAT’S TOP SECRET.

No, writing a novel is a different beast altogether. It makes my brain do different things than poetry. It makes my brain craft plot and dialogue and character arcs and worlds alongside just playing with words. I LOVE what it makes my brain do. I come out of writing sessions the best kind of mentally exhausted.

And anyway, where was I going with this? I was going somewhere with this.

To summarize, I’m still head over heels in love with the fact that ATWSOS is a book. There’s no letdown here.

And I’m still head over heels with writing books. Can’t stop, won’t stop, never gonna stop.

 

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.
– William Faulkner