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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 –

It’s Only Words Release Day

Today, I published my first collection of poetry/prose.

Whoa.

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You can find more information about it here, and if you’d like to buy it, first of all: you’re awesome, and second of all: you can do that riiiight here.

Why did I decide to self-publish a collection of my poetry and prose?

Oh gosh, why not, right? I had stacks upon stacks of words from the past two years, so the hard part was done. It was just selecting which ones to include, compiling them, formatting, finding a cover design, and bam.

(I say “just” – it was time-consuming and challenging and I second-guessed myself for doing this about 8,000 times. But I pushed through the doubts, and I’m so glad I did.)

It was something I thought about doing so many times, and I kept putting off the decision. I kept saying, “I’ll do it later.” To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be tied up in the poetry biz. “Poet” sits uncomfortably on me. I’m a writer, and proud to be one, but a poet? Eh… I wasn’t sure I wanted that attribution. And putting them out there like this, beyond my Instagram platform, felt like stepping into that label irrevocably.

But why limit the things I do? That’s what it came down to. I’m not going to reach the end of my life and think to myself, “Yikes, wish I hadn’t published that poetry book.” But it’s always so likely that the opposite will happen. I always regret the things I didn’t do far more than the ones I did.

We should all do the things which scare us, right?

Well, this was a twofer.

– Sharing such personal words
– Self-publishing

Both scary.

Both opening a window for others to shout their opinions and criticisms through.

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Public perception is a thing. Nobody likes to be seen as “weak.” There are some heavy themes in these poems. Some true heartbreak. Part of me wanted to cover those pieces and pretend I was fine, just fine, that I took it like a champ, gathered up those cardiac fragments and shoved them back into my chest and just carried right along with my business.

But ultimately, I decided… to hell with that. It’s a part of life so many of us go through. Why should I pretend that it was all sunshine and roses for me? So that someone else heartbroken comes along, reads my words, and feels like they shouldn’t be feeling heartbreak the way that they are?

No, I didn’t shy away from the way any of it felt. Falling in love, and the aftermath of love.

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It’s a memory book for me. A scrapbook. I can flip to any page and be transported to how I felt when I wrote those words, where I was, what was going on. It’s the very definition of bittersweet, but I’m so glad I have this record.

Because you know how sometimes a doctor has to break a bone to set it the right way?

My heart got re-set the right way.

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And you get to see how it got there over the course of 200 poems.

“Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.”

– Carl Sandburg –

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.

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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

From There to Here

All That We See or Seem comes out tomorrow.

That is a series of words I never thought I’d get to write, for so many reasons.

I’ve posted before about my path to publishing. This isn’t going to be that. This is going to be simple, straight-up, gratitude.

I am really, really grateful.

I have two big dreams in life. A myriad of smaller ones, but just the two big ones. One of them is to have one of my books published.

One of my books is getting published tomorrow.

The first, the OG book, the one that started it all.

Dude, that means I’m 50% of the way through my life’s dreams! If I play my cards right, I can get the other knocked out of the park in another year or two, and then – coasting.

(I’m a little bit kidding.)

No, this is Step 1 of the book dream. It’s a big step, but it’s only the first one. There’s a whole path I want to walk down. A road that disappears into the reeds here and there, but I know it’s driveable. Or walkable. Or crawlable. One way or another, I want to go down that road.

But for the longest time, I was just kind of standing, peering down it. Wondering. Worrying. That first step was a difficult one for me. I’ve written two books since ATWSOS, and they were tricky in their own ways (I don’t think writing books will ever be an easy thing,) but they would not have happened if I had not pushed myself to finish that first book. If I hadn’t shown myself that it was possible. If I hadn’t stepped off the super safe, readily visible cross-street and onto the one that’s calling my name and pulling at my bones and keeping me up at night.

I am really freaking proud of this book. I am. But I know that it is not it for me. It is not the dream, the pinnacle, the culmination. It’s just the key that unlocked the door I’ve been too scared to go through for so many years.

<record scratch>

I HAD A WHOLE ROAD METAPHOR GOING THERE. IT WAS SOLID. IT WAS GOLD. WHY DID I CHANGE IT TO A DOOR?

WELL, HERE WE ARE.

BACKSPACE IS FOR COWARDS.

<record resumes>

Anyways, I’m grateful. For new roads, for unlocked doors. For the opportunities I have. For the love of words embedded way deep in me that drives me to want this as badly as I do.

So a preemptive happy birthday to my book baby. My firstborn. To Reeve and Bran and Arden and the thousands of secondary characters (only slight exaggeration) who sprang forth from my brain but feel so real to me.

I am full to the brim with hope for everything that will come next, but I will always be glad that this specific book was the first step, the key.

The <insert metaphor for new beginning here>.

 

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
– Barbara Kingsolver

On Dreams (Within Dreams)

If I know anything about writing books, it’s this: I know nothing about writing books.

I can do it. It’s something I can do. But each time I get to the end, I don’t know how it happened. It’s like I black out for a couple months, and when I wake up, there’s a story in a Google Doc where no story had been before.

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It’s a pleasant surprise!

But oh, wait, here’s what I should have led with: I finished the first draft of A Dream Within a Dream!

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As a brief refresher, this is the sequel to the book I have coming out THIS MAY (whoa.), All That We See or Seem. It picks up very soon after the action of Book 1, in terms of the book timeline, but in terms of the me timeline, I wrote it a year and a half after I finished writing the first book.

So… that’s a hefty break. I was really worried upon starting it that I would have trouble getting back into the head of my heroine Reeve, especially since in between writing these books, I wrote The Weight of the Fire, which is VERY DIFFERENT from these books, in terms of what head space was required of me to write it. That was more like this kind of head space:

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Reeve is a fiery girl, but she’s not trying to burn the world to the ground. So I was worried.

But then, this past November, I started writing it.

And, whoa, hi Reeve, way to have been lurking in the back of my head this whole time.

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Such a creep.

But really, it came right back to me. Her voice, the way she has of looking at the world. And finding her meant finding everyone else and their voices.

BRIEF TANGENT: By everyone else, I mean EVERYONE ELSE. This book has so many supporting characters, and I love them all, but good lord, Kristina, fewer supporting characters next time, please. The third act of the book involves pretty much all of them, and I actually had to sit down and write where everyone was during each scene, even if they weren’t in that scene, because there are so many of them and I kept losing characters. Literally, losing them.

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Anyway, where was I.

I found Reeve.

And in finding her, I immediately fell back in love with this world and these characters and the story. It was a true pleasure to write this book. I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to, to be honest. I hoped I would. But I wasn’t going to write this one unless the first book got signed. And that is by no means a guarantee in this industry. So that is, by far, one of the best parts of getting my publishing contract for ATWSOS: it meant I got to finish my story.

This is certainly the fastest draft I’ve ever written. As it turns out, working on a deadline is a very motivating thing. Here’s how it shook out in terms of word count by month:

  • November: 12,324 words
  • December: NO WORDS (I was working on the content edit for ATWSOS, and then the holidays took over.)
  • January: 18,886 words
  • February: 42,414 words

Phew, February.

Here’s a handy chart of word count by day. Because while I’m a writer, I’m also an accountant, and I love charts.

Writing Tracker - ADWAD

As you can see, I’m not a daily writer. I don’t think I have that in me, working full-time as I do. But I write as often as I can, four to five times a week, and I write about a thousand words an hour, when I’m in the groove.

The productivity of this month is due entirely to my writing partner Jenna. ENTIRELY. I met Jenna at the Madcap Retreat nearly two years ago now, and she has become one of my favorite people in the world.

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She lives across the country from me, so we don’t get to see each other nearly often enough, except technology bridges that gap for us. We’ve been doing weekly Skype chats for the past couple years to keep in touch and talk all things writing, but over these past couple months, with both of us working on deadlines, we decided to step it up a notch.

Cue: co-writing.

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I’ve said before that writing is a very solitary thing, and it is. I am the only one who can write my story. People can help me with plot holes and to bounce around ideas and figure out the word I’m looking for, but they can’t write the book for me. But it’s really, really nice to have someone to write along with. So each Sunday, Jenna and I have been checking our calendars for the week ahead and blocking off evenings and weekends to Skype with one another and write.

Which confuses a lot of people. Yes, sometimes we literally just sit in silence on Skype, the only sound the clicking of our fingers on our keyboards, with a little Skype window in the corner where we can see each other. And other times, we bounce ideas off of each other, or just complain together about HOW HARD WRITING IS, or I turn my computer around and make her watch something cool that just happened on the Olympics.

ANOTHER TANGENT: This book is sponsored by the Olympics. It has been on in the background, muted usually, since it started a couple weeks ago, and it’s been delightful. Something that I can glance up at every now and then, but won’t pull me out of my story. And THE THINGS THOSE ATHLETES CAN DO! I’ll be sitting there complaining that I can’t word an action scene just right, and then a skier does eighteen backflips in a row in the air and lands backward on their feet, and I quickly shut up and write my scene.

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(COME ON.)

(WHAT IS THAT.)

Ok, self, focus.

So, having set times throughout the week to sit down with Jenna and write our stories was HUGE. It took away those times I come home from work with plans to write and then get lazy or distracted and it just doesn’t happen.

Not to mention our weekend sessions. For example, this past Saturday, when I finished the draft, we wrote from 4pm – 11pm my time, with only a few intermittent breaks. Sunday, we wrote from noon til almost 6. They’re beastly sessions, but they’re SO PRODUCTIVE. And it’s so nice to be working alongside someone else.

So, to summarize (whoa this got long), I finished writing a book for the third time in my life, and this feeling is still not yet old. I’m really proud of it. It’s a story of hope and love and loss and sacrifice. It’s the story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world. (I really have to stop saying that.) (If you don’t get the reference, here.) No, it’s just the story of a girl, a girl full to the brim with hopes and dreams, and some of those dreams are within her reach, but some are not, and some of those dreams are nightmares, but some are not.

I have the next week and a half to tidy it up a bit and do some edits before I turn it in, but for now… I’m happy to have given my characters the send-off I wanted for them. And I’m a little bit sad to say goodbye to them.

It’s such a strange thing. You create these characters out of thin air, and then you upheave the lives you’ve created for them, and then, when the story has been told, you leave them. To presumably live out the rest of their lives (those that have a rest of their lives, oops), without me looking over their shoulders and transcribing their conversations and adventures.

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I’m going to miss that crew.

But I can’t wait for everyone else to get to meet them. You will get to know them in just THREE MONTHS, and then, I believe next year, you will get to find out how it all shakes out.

I CANNOT WAIT.

AND ALSO I’M REALLY NERVOUS.

I hope you like them as much as I do.

Maybe not as much. They are, after all, my babies. I will probably always love them most.

But I hope you like them.

“The characters that I create are parts of myself and I send them on little missions to find out what I don’t know yet.”

– Gail Godwin

2017: A Year in Review

What is there to say about 2017…

It made me better.

It yanked my insides out and rearranged them, stretched them, reexamined them, dragged them through the mud for good measure –

And it made me better.

Honestly, I will never look back upon this year fondly. It was difficult in a way I had not encountered before, in a way that I hope not to encounter again.

But in the midst of it all, there were the words.

The words saved me.

This year, I discovered that pain can be pulled from the body and molded into letters and syllables and sentences and in so doing become a more manageable thing. Not every feeling and emotion is articulable, but I tried my best to make them so. I pushed and pulled at words and meanings until I could mold them into what I needed them to be. Until they said what I needed them to say.

Even the things we don’t ever want to experience are a rite of passage. It all serves a purpose. Lately, for me, that purpose has been becoming a better writer. I have a deeper, broader well from which to pull both because I have loved and because I have lost.

The Weight of the Fire was born from the ashes. As I said in my blog post about the process of writing it, it would not be what it is without this year having been what it was. And what it is, is something I am very proud of and excited about.

So, 2017 was the year I wrote my second book.

2017 was also the year I signed my publishing deal for All That We See or Seem and its work-in-progress of a sequel A Dream Within a Dream. I am immensely proud of the former, and so excited for what the latter will become.

I attended a writing seminar hosted by Maggie Stiefvater and Courtney Stevens in San Francisco.

I cultivated a small but encouraging and supportive following on my writing Instagram account.

I had three pieces published on Thought Catalog.

I took steps forward in pursuing my dreams, and I could not be more optimistic about what 2018 will bring. It will be the year that people will be able to buy a book with my name on it, with my words within it. It will be the year I finish writing the sequel to that book and start getting that one ready for publication, as well. It will be the year I revise The Weight of the Fire. And… I’m thinking it will be the year I write another book or two, as well.

Because in the words of the great Neil Gaiman… “Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down.”

This year, writing was my salvation. And so, on to the next word.

On Revisions

The patient is still cut open on the table, so I should not be taking the time to write this, but here I am.

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You guys, revisions. Are a thing. A whole thing. At first I poked and prodded and tiptoed through my manuscript, not wanting to make any big incisions for fear of breaking the whole thing irreparably.

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And then I remembered that nothing is irreparable. I mean, I literally have saved versions of the completed manuscript in multiple places. It’s not like this is a handwritten copy that I am taking scissors to. Microsoft Word even has a handy “undo” button!

I realized all of this, and then I still was too scared to make any real cuts.

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Because this thing? It’s my baby. On the operating table. It’s two years of my life, of my sweat and blood and words, and I have to open it up and rearrange its organs and hope that when I finally close it back up, it will still be alive.

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But it’s open now. I made the cut. It’s sliced and diced and I am literally standing with its innards dripping from my fingers and kidneys and a liver and, most importantly, the heart sitting out on the table beside me. (Okay, not literally. Not at all literally.) I am doing some repair work on these pieces outside of the body, and then I’m hoping when I put them in, the kidneys will… do whatever kidneys do, and the liver will… process alcohol or whatever, and the heart! The heart needs to beat. That is the most important part. This story can live without its kidneys but it can’t live without its heart.

(I am riding this metaphor to the bitter end.)

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My deadline is fast approaching. It’s a busy time of year at my day job, in the world of numbers, so I am splitting my time between the numbers and the words with little time for anything else in between.

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But I have my eye on the prize. And the prize is making this baby of mine the best baby it can be before I send it out into the world. Wait, I need to improve the baby metaphor. Is it growing up over the course of its operation? Is the operation making it mature enough to go out into the world without me? Or am I just sending an infant away?

If I explore this too deeply, this post will never end and I will never get back to work on that heart sitting on my operating table. So… let’s just pretend all of my metaphors came together flawlessly, okay?

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“That’s the magic of revisions – every cut is necessary, and every cut hurts, but something new always grows.”

– Kelly Barnhill