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New Beginnings

So many exciting things are happening, or about to happen–I want to tell you about them all at once! However, this will probably make more sense with a narrative:

In November I was diagnosed with depression.

(Don’t worry, it gets better).

You may remember I mentioned feeling a few scary days of it in this post. Well, I’m sorry to say that the symptoms continued shortly thereafter, undulating in varying degrees through my life over the next few months.

I started seeing a counselor and confessed that I felt guilty to be grappling with this thing: guilty not to have it, but to have so little of it. I had the kind of depression that enabled me to get up in the morning, and be productive at work, and even write. I maintained my relationships, and showering, and I didn’t cry. So it felt weird to claim ownership over the term because while it did take a toll on my mental outlook, I was able to stay productive and reasonably healthy. It’s just that my heart was heavy and lacking in hope while I did it.

Nights were worse, because I wasn’t distracted with work. When it was bad I felt like something curled up in my chest and died. I got impulsive–I wanted to do almost anything to  ease this bad, sick feeling inside. I indulged in a lot of binge-eating and wine drinking. When my symptoms were light, it was a sort of vague, restless discontent. A sense of doom. A feeling of hopelessness. A veil of pessimism.

Definitely something separate from my mood–a physical feeling on top of my mood. At my counselor’s recommendation I got my vitamin levels checked, my iron levels, and my thyroid. All test results were normal, and there was very little to talk about in therapy, aside from some family drama that cycles in and out.

I was hoping that after finals ended in early December the cloud of depression would lift, but instead it got worse, indicating it wasn’t exactly stress-related. I was kind of hoping it was, because that would make sense, and be somewhat fixable–I work full time, go to school full time, write, take care of the house, cook to eat healthy, and try to exercise (though I’m not very good at that lately). I also have relationships to maintain, with my family, and Chris, and our dogs (yes, dogs plural! more on that later).

Wouldn’t it make sense if this was caused by stress? Wouldn’t it be better if it was caused by stress, because I could cut back on the number of classes and make other modifications to get back to normal?

But it wasn’t. As my therapist explained, this was just something my brain was doing right then. Which was disappointing and weird, because I’ve always been so naturally upbeat and positive. I felt like it was my fault, even though I was told it’s not.

She recommended I go on anti-depressants, and wrote me a recommendation to take to my family doctor. I’ve never been on anti-depressants before. That was a big step, to me, one I wasn’t sure I was ready to make, even though I longed for freedom from this alien negativity jockeying my brain. Chris recommended I see a psychiatrist, a doctor of brains, so I got an appointment, but it isn’t until early February. I resolved to hang on until then.

And the dark clouds kept rolling over. So there I was: carrying around an extra weight I felt guilty for having, and guilty that while having it, it wasn’t heavier. Depression — a journey of purpose and satisfaction! /sarcasm

During this time, my mantra, my prayer, became Light up my life, modified from a lyric in a Lana del Rey song. I sang and repeated it to myself, looking for something to get excited and passionate about.

Then, Chris and I adopted another dog.

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This isn’t a story about how a dog saved me from depression, because she didn’t. But Grace was a little more light shed on my life, and I’m grateful she gave me something to look forward to and be excited about. A distraction for those brutal, dark evenings.

I’m superstitious about pets–I want to look at a potential new pet and know it’s the one for me. I got that feeling when I saw Bella on Craigslist, and Mia the cat picked me as soon as I went out to go see her behind the break room at work. Chris had wanted another dog for a while, but I just didn’t get that feeling. Besides, I love my Bella-dog like crazy, and didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable or left out. Bella is so perfect, she’s basically a big cat, and new dogs might not fit in with our little lifestyle.  However, one night we were browsing pet finder and came across a picture of Grace.

Shit, I thought. I think that’s my dog.

We put in an application for her and out of many were the only family approved. Grace had what we were looking for–a medium-sized dog to be a playmate for Bella, white like I like, and a Pyrenees-lab mix like Chris wanted. He frequently bemoans that as a Samoyed Bella isn’t very family-minded, and she’s not a good cuddler. Grace is both.

Their first meeting went really well:

It just reaffirmed that she was the perfect dog for us… she and Bella became instant best friends and play all the time. What a joy for Bella, too, to have that in her life :-)

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But again, while that was a very lovely thing (and I’ve been spamming Instagram with pics of her and my other pets), it didn’t really fix my main depression problem. Then, a week ago today, a most amazing thing happened:

It went away.

I know, it sounds weird. Everyone I tell is like… yeah that’s not how depression works. You’re not supposed to feel it come and go. But guys, I’m telling you, I could feel it happen. I was up way too late, around 2am, and I finally made myself turn off my lamp and go to bed. As I lay there, brain too active, trying to find the rhythm to fall asleep, I felt the depression go. It fizzled away like steam into the air.

Yeah. Super weird.

I kept this development close to the chest for a few days, but it hasn’t come back. I feel normal again. I feel like myself again. And, it turns out, this period of depression was a blessing in disguise. Which leads me to the other super exciting thing I’m dying to talk about:

I recently had a Manifest 2017 session with Andrea Scher, and it totally changed my life. Andrea led me through an examination of 2016 and a goal/dream setting for 2017. It was so weird to look back at 2016–the depression gave me short-sighted vision, and I’d forgotten everything I accomplished:

  • Wrote Shotgun Girl after 2 years of dreaming about it
  • Made excellent progress on Nameless, especially in terms of story. I made so many brave choices this year with that book, including cutting 30k and letting one of the main characters take a totally unexpected and intimidating turn!
  • Traveled a ton! I went to NYC with my sister, Las Vegas with Chris, Georgia with Susan Dennard, St. Louis with Kat Zhang, and New Orleans with my sister again! Plus a couple trips up to Nashville for concerts, one of which I did all by myself!
  • Maintained relationships with the people most important to me. I developed my relationship with my littlest sister. Chris and I remained happy and in love. That was the wonderful thing about therapy, and my depression, and any issues I have really: my relationship with Chris is never the problem. He and I are always good.
  • Fully healed from a major psychic wound with the help of Susan
  • Implemented a ton of projects and changes at my day job. Was featured in a trade magazine as one of the ’30 Under 30′ in the nation.
  • Asked the writing club at my University if they would be interested in me coming to give a talk (despite the voice in the back of my head criticizing me, “Why would they want to hear from you? You’re not published”), and it went amazing!
  • Worked full time and took 10 classes over the year, and managed to do all the stuff above.

Wow! 2016 wasn’t so bad after all, right? Andrea surprised me when she called me a “creative powerhouse.” Until I step back and look at it all, I don’t realize how much I really work on and produce. It never feels like enough.

But the true takeaway was Andrea’s method for teasing out my hidden dreams and aspirations, and beginning to manifest them into reality by writing them down–and getting specific. Andrea was so great at this. From the tangled word vomit I threw at her, she was able to pull out my core desires and passions like simple, beautiful jewels. She even gently and wisely pointed out a few things to me that I’d been struggling with, but convinced myself to tolerate.

The greatest moment was when she had me write down the characteristics of two people I hugely admire. From there we identified my core goals/values for the upcoming year:

  • To be brave (and bravely make the hard decisions that are best for me)
  • To be uniquely myself (to make the art I want to, not to please others)
  • To be clear and discerning with writing and my career

And as for the issues I was struggling with, she asked me this: What would the people you most admire do in this situation?

You guys, my shoulders just fell. Because I know. I’ve known all along. They would do what’s best for them, and exit the situation. It’s funny how it takes another person to get you to see that. Andrea also made this mind-blowing suggestion that I should be grateful to my depression for knocking down some of my emotional defenses and bringing these issues to light.

Thank you, depression. You really did let something amazing come through.

So I’m making changes. An immediate one you might have noticed is I’ve re-branded my website. I’ve known for years I needed to do this, but I put it off because I adore the special banner picture I commissioned from Corona Zschüsschen. I paid for it, I love it, and it represents me and my work, so how could I get rid of it? But the dark colors, and being bound to such a large header image, were weighing on me. It was a chore to come here and update my website. I always felt icky doing it. As a compromise I will make a print of that banner and keep it in my office so I can smile fondly at it instead.

Another change is that I’ve decided to only take 2 classes this semester, instead of 4. This means I won’t graduate this December like I’d planned. But if I push it off, then I get to use these next 4 months to fit things in my life I really want to do. Why should I have to put my passions and interests on hold for 4 months, to constantly find myself thinking, ‘I’ll do that thing after next semester?’ Why should I risk the side effects that come from all that stress, possibly including returning to depression? Is pushing the graduation deadline really so terrible if it means avoiding all that?

Nope. Not so terrible at all.

This brings me to the third and biggest change: I have ended my professional relationship with my literary agent.

I am so grateful for the support Laura Bradford gave me over the years, and how she continued to stand by me across eight years and three projects with no sales (plus another couple manuscripts that never went on submissions, including Shotgun Girl and the rewrite of Nameless). Her endorsement of me as a writer gave me so much in my life, not the least of which is the experience with LTWF and my lasting friendships and readers from those years. Laura gives amazing editorial feedback that helped me grow significantly as a writer. If your tastes and hers align, I highly recommend her.

I signed with Laura when I was nineteen, and positioning myself as a women’s fiction writer. That is not the writer or person I turned out to be. While this was an incredibly hard decision to make, I feel it’s the right one for me, and I’m very excited to move forward.

The past few days have been unreal. I haven’t felt this good in so long. I feel like I completed a long, hard chapter in my life, and the new chapter is brimming with opportunities.

I am also really excited to entering the querying trenches as a writer informed about the industry and my creative self, so different than how I did it the first time. For years I gave advice to other writers on various blog platforms. We’ll see if I can’t put my money where my mouth is :-)

Talk to you soon,

<3, Savannah

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6 Moments in the Life of a Young Writer

True Stories.

-1-

I walked three blocks to the bus stop in the chill Washington air, wavering all over the sidewalk because I was finishing up a book from my high school’s library. When my bus arrived -number 105- I climbed into the humid interior and plopped down on a green seat, pulling Animorph books out of my backpack.

“Gimme Gimme Gimme!”

Diana, a Croatian exchange student, eagerly took the books from my hands and returned the ones she’d read last night.

I turned around to my friend Christine, who had printed off an epic fan fiction she’d been telling me about.

“I left it on the printer last night and my dad almost found it,” she said, handing over the unbound pages.

I laughed in horror. “Omg that would have been awful!”

“I know! I’d be grounded for weeks! Again!”

-2-

My best friend and her guy friend wriggled on the bed in front of me.

“See, if you do it like this, the non-dominant arms get in the way.”

“I see what you mean. Do it with you on top.”

They rotated.

“Is that comfortable?”

“Well, she’s making my belt dig into my skin. There’s a very narrow margin where this can be comfortable… too low and she’s on the goods, too high and she’s on the bladder.”

I studied them critically. “Can you try it against the wall? I had my characters do that once.”

They got up, and assumed the position by the nearest wall. They froze, as if for a photo-op. “Like this?”

“Yeah… is that doable for long periods of time?”

He started to lose his grip, and they crashed to the floor.

“I guess not,” I said dryly, and we all burst out laughing.

-3-

I put the cap on the black Sharpie and picked up the blue one. He sighed, and snuggled further into the pillow. I thought for a moment, then wrote a line from one of my poems on the skin of his back.

“Hold still,” I said, and held up my laptop to take a picture of my artwork.

“How does it look?” he asked, voice muffled.

I re-read every line I had drawn on him, my words smiling up at me, dark in contrast to his pale skin. I smiled. “You’re the most beautiful man in the world.”

-4-

I sat in the boardroom by myself, nervous that the phone from my desk would ring, or someone would knock on the door, or my cell phone would buzz. I didn’t want to be disturbed, but felt guilty for being unavailable, even for an hour.

I sat in the chair at the head of the conference table, then moved to the side, trying to pick the one spot in the room where I was most comfortable. I checked the time on my laptop. Two minutes. My work email had been closed down, and my manuscript was pulled up. The document included the agent’s name in it.

The phone rang.

-5-

I stared at my journal on the front porch. I hadn’t used it in two years, and didn’t really feel like using it now, but my counselor thought it would be therapeutic.

It was 5:30 but he wouldn’t be coming home to me anymore. I’d promised a rewrite to my agent, but I hadn’t worked on it in months. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep without crying. I stared at the paper with nothing to say. I set the journal down and put my head in my hands.

-6-

I drove home, singing along with the CD, happy because he would be there when I arrived, and my world had been put back together. My mind began wandering, and suddenly new characters popped into my head for the first time in three years.

“Yes!” I yelled, shaking my steering wheel. “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

-END-

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Raspberry Lemonade with a Twist

EDIT: ANTEBELLUM is now known as NAMELESS

I’ve decided that 2010 is a lemon year. As in, ‘when life gives you lemons…’ There has been a ton of sour fruit dropped into my path over the past 6 months, and we’re only half done! The good news is that I’m adept at making lemonade at this point. By December I should be addinng little tropical umbrellas and fruit-infused ice cubes.

So, here’s an update on all my lemon –> lemonade exploits:

~

Lemon: My beloved fiance had left me. I was alone, stagnant, and depressed.

Lemonade: Perfect time for a vacation!

I went to Santa Barbara for my friend sjmaas‘s wedding! It was gorgeous, and I got to meet bee245 and meaganspooner! We roomed together, we walked on the beach together, we bought ice cream together, we danced together, we wrote together (okay, I think Meg was the only one who wrote on the trip, lol).

Going to see my fellow LTWF-contributors and friends was a lovely vacation from what was going on back home. I heard there’s a reunion possibly in the works for next year, and I’m so there.

You can see pictures from this trip here on my Facebook.

~

Lemon (This sounds like Lemonade but as you’ll see, it was really a lemon): I met a guy.

Let’s call him Awesome Guy. He first messaged me while I was in SB, then we continued to talk when I returned to Huntsville. One weekend he came up to see me. We had a great time, we went to Little River Canyon in Fort Payne and jumped off rocks, we explored caves, we went bowling, went house-hunting (as he was moving to Huntsville), he cooked dinner for my family, etc.

Click here for a picture of a waterfall!

Click here for a picture of the caves (Cathedral Caverns)!

But, as it turns out, he was not so Awesome (see, I told you the lemon would reveal itself). In fact, he was a pathological liar with a very sordid past (yes, just like a soap opera). Needless to say, Awesome Guy is no more.

Lemonade: Awesome Guy did do me one favor… he began the process of remodeling my kithcen.

For those of you who’ve never seen one of my vlogs, my house was built in the late 50’s, and the kitchen was covered in some perfectly horrendous pine-knot wood paneling (My kitchen could be featured in this book).

You can see the progress in this photo album on my Facebook.

I can’t tell you how happy these changes have made me. My soul is lighter by being in the kitchen. :-) If you keep up with my twitter or FB, you’ll see that I’m in the final stages of painting the previously-wooden cabinets. Almost done!

~

Lemon: My agent suggested a complete rewrite of the Antebellum series, complete with a title change and condensing the trilogy down into one YA book, at no more than 120k words.

I teared up at first. I felt like I was being told I had never written anything marketable, and had come all this way only to have to start over at square one. But this wasn’t a lemon. This was about to be delicious lemonade.

Lemonade: I realized that my agent was completely right. The tone of the three books shifts so much, and the focus moves from an emotional struggle to an action/societal struggle, and altogether we might love the story but selling it was going to be really tough. Whereas, if I did a complete condensing and rewrite, I could fix all the big problems and make the action super tight.

I was given another chance to make my manuscript the best it could be. Since signing with an agent I’ve grown so much and learned more about marketability and the publishing world, and I feel so lucky that I can apply all this knowledge to my first novel. Not a lot of writers get that chance.

After I realized what a gift this was, I wrote back to my agent embracing the idea and got to work on the outline.

Oh boy could I talk about outlines. Suffice to say, it’s really hard and is taking longer than I thought it would, but I’m half-way done. The overall plot is the same, but now we have villians, stronger conflict, and in general a better story. I can visualize every scene and I can’t wait to get started.

~

So, everyone. What have you all been up to? What are your lemon to lemonade stories recently?

-Savannah

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Agent Talk –> Revisions!

EDIT: ANTEBELLUM is now known as NAMELESS

I know, I know, I should have been updating as I went, but I spent all weekend immersed in my own fantasy world, and I’m just rising up out of it now:

On Friday I had a 45-minute update talk with my agent! Antebellum is still out with 3 publishers, and it’s going out to a 4th soon for YA. After that the strategy is to switch to Adult publishers. Very exciting there.

I’m shelving Go Look There for now. We decided that I needed to be published a few times before we can approach such a complicated an unique project. Plus, it needs to be longer and more developed, and I already have a feeling that’s going to take me several years of kicking around in the back of my head before I know the right direction to go.

And, the third big thing…. APOSTASY EDITS!!!

Apostasy is the book after Antebellum; the second in the trilogy/quartet (there’s an idea for a prequel but I haven’t written it yet). Apostasy was actually my readers’ favorite when it was posted on FictionPress. It takes the characters of Antebellum and gives them an action and intrigue-based plot, along with temptations and a surprise ending. :D It also takes place almost entirely in the East Hall, which is far more beautiful and technologically advanced than the North Hall, where Antebellum took place, so that’s major fun there. Finally, we get to use phones and computers!

But, Apostasy was a huge baby, at 128,000 words. Now, that’s not as bad as some writers I know (a friend of mine recently confessed she had an unedited novel at 300,000 words!!!), but still way too long. Antebellum barely breaks 85,000, so I need Apostasy to be closer in size.

The other thing is… I put off editing Apostasy for a year. Which is very disappointing, I know. Believe me, I felt guilty. But it was just such a mess towards the middle that I simply couldn’t confront it. Until, of course, I had to. My agent said that I needed to get it in very presentable shape in case someone wanted to see it.

Actually, last summer I was really getting into it, and I had created beautiful chapters in one character’s perspective, but then I suffered a hard drive crash! After I got a new hard drive, I could barely look at the story again, knowing that I had lost bits that were so beautiful. But, I worked through it and got all of those perspectives edited. Wonderful. Great. Now on to the other perspective, the one I didn’t like so much…

Yeah, so I didn’t start working on that one until a month or so ago. And the day I finally picked it up was the day that Chris told me he didn’t want to get married. So down it got put again, until a few weeks ago when I did a final read-through, making minor edits but mostly just giving up and re-familiarizing myself with the story.

So that’s where I was when I had a talk with my agent on Friday. I had re-read through and fixed some logistical errors, but it was still a no-go. And, guilt-induced, I promised I would get it to her as quickly as possible.

Cue frantic editing. But at least the guilt gave me the motivation to get a move on this time! I am proud to say that I have come down 12,000 words already and I still have a huge chunk left to get through, so it’s sure to come down more!

I also isolated about 150 pages that I absolutely hated, pulled them into a separate document, and have been going through and giving them a complete re-write, which includes condensing the plot and removing 2 very superfluous sex scenes :-) (to the disappointment of several of my Twitter followers).

So, that’s where I’m at. Falling deep into the Apostasy world every night and beautifying my characters/plot. With frequent breaks to check on Twitter and respond to Let The Words Flow Emails.

So tell me: Do you hate editing or love it?

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Querying Memories

Recently my fellow Let the Words Flow blogger, J.E. Wyatt asked us to share our experiences querying, and I thought perhaps you guys might be interested as well:

I honestly didn’t get too emotional. I sent out 150 queries at once. Rejections came pouring in immediately, and that made me happy; I was actually doing it, I was actually getting responses! The next few weeks were exciting. I got some partials, more rejections… I was just happy that I had finally done it.

I had told people that I was ‘working’ on getting published for years. I didn’t actually know what that entailed, but I knew it involved writing books, first, and though I had no idea what came next I knew I’d figure it out one day. Someone mentioned literary agents. I started to research them, and decided they were definitely something to have.

I met Chris, my best friend and ‘true love’ I guess is the word. We upgraded our jobs, anticipating the future we would have together. I figured, now that I’m being an adult and all, I better take responsibility for my own future and actually get this writing thing done.

Months later, in December, my agent found me. She requested a partial, then a full manuscript, then the next three books. We had a phone conversation, which I took in the conference room at my office. She offered representation.

I was happy, but I didn’t cry or scream or jump up and down. Actually, I did jump up in down, but in private, and only because I thought I should. I tested it out, you could say. Yeah, not me.

I called Chris, then my parents. They were excited, but they’re worried about everything, and tried to lecture me on literary agent contracts (which they know nothing about, lol, but in my parents minds the world is out to get them). The extended family was proud, but they didn’t really know the significance of my achievement.

Getting a literary agent wasn’t one of the happiest moments of my life, perhaps because I understood it was the first big step in a long journey. But, I had proven to myself that I could do it. Finally, there was something more to qualify me as a real writer other than my word for it.

Six months later I began my freelance writing company. Having a literary agent lent me credibility, and got me my first job, then my second, and my third, etc. I’ve really appreciated it in that sense.

In other senses… next month will be my one year anniversary with my agent. We’re finally out on submissions (or subs, as Sarah affectionately likes to call them). It was my fault because I took so long to edit. I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but as time goes on my hope becomes more dim. Someone will love my book, probably, but there’s always that feeling of ‘what if?’ What if they don’t? What if no one thinks it’s a good fit for them?

I always use Fictionpress to back me up in my doubts here. I think, ‘surely all those fans couldn’t be wrong. Those editors are waaaay off if they think my book won’t sell.’

The big thing to remember in querying is that getting an agent is, like I said, only the first step. I didn’t get all fangirly about it because I’m a logical person, and overanalyze my emotions a lot, but I hope you non-agented writers out there go absolutely crazy when you get your agent. And then come and tell us all about it :-)