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Meeting Neil Gaiman

I met Neil Gaiman. And it was actually special and magical and amazing. I wish I had a picture of it but I was more focused on making an actual connection, which totally happened, by the way. Let me tell you the whole story:

Several weeks ago I turned in the last version of ACORAS (the sleeping beauty retelling) back to my agent. This recent revision was particularly hard for me. I completed initial revisions in 8 days (8 DAYS!) and then had a series of unfortunate events relating to critique partners, which delayed the Official Turning In by several weeks.

Then I had a new CP read the book, someone whose opinion I admire very much, and she pointed out a very serious flaw: the ending doesn’t… really… work.

To be fair, I wrote the original ending in a furious burst of 10k two years ago in an effort to finish the story and be done with it. And it was an okay ending. But it wasn’t really amazing, and it didn’t fully wrap up some of the themes in the book. So, okay, I need a new ending.

If those words don’t fill your heart with fear, consider them again. A brand new ending on a book I’d had for two years, when I hadn’t even given a single consideration to a different way of wrapping it up. All of the plot I’d worked on had been hurtling towards this set conclusion, right? And now I had to figure out a different way to maneuver these armies and villains and heroes…

Continue reading “Meeting Neil Gaiman”

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Celebrating 9 Years of Novel-Writing

Today is the 9-year anniversary of the first time I finished a novel. I wish I had something more profound to say today, but the truth is my life has kicked into High-Gear Overwhelmingness.

My day job company has been moving buildings, and as the coordinator for this effort my life has been consumed by the move. The month-long process should theoretically be over this weekend, but even once all the physical items are moved there’s still the myriad issues to deal with that come with a new building and figuring out new processes.

Boring stuff aside, I have gotten to do some really fun things lately, like going up to Nashville two weeks ago for an all-day writing session with my friend Kat Zhang. I wrote 5.5k on Nameless that day, and the momentum has been carrying me forward ever since.

Or going up again last week to see Toni Morrison, my favorite author and writing idol, give a speech to Vanderbilt University (trip made possible due to the generosity of Kat). Though I was running late for yet another work event, I managed to slip into her book signing and stand two feet away from her as she signed my book. Even if we didn’t technically get to meet (the woman has more handlers and security than I thought possible), I was there, I saw her speak, and at the end of her speech she blessed the audience, so I’ve been carrying that gem around with me.

Sleeping Beauty just got back from its last critique partner so along with the conclusion of my company’s move I feel like I’m getting back to my regular groove. I’ve been Corporate!Savannah these past few weeks, and I’m excited to feel like Writer!Savannah again.

The rewrite of Nameless is going swimmingly, and I’m stunned and thrilled to learn that even after all these years the characters still have some surprises for me. I think going back to the adult category was definitely the right choice. I’ve also decided to let go of nearly a decade of ‘canon’ and just let the characters tell me what they truly want and who they truly are. I realized that when you start to write a book, your first book, at 15, and you don’t really know much about writing and character development, and so maybe you shouldn’t hold on to those long-ago established ‘facts’ if they are blocking the true story’s development.

With all the rewrites of Nameless before, I sometimes felt… icky is the best word for it, I guess. Like this was just the same old crap I’d always done, and rewording it was like putting fresh lipstick on a pig. An amazing pig, mind you ;) But outdated. No heartbeat underneath. A zombie Nameless, if you will.

This draft has life.

Over the past 9 years I’ve written 7 individual novels, and completed countless revisions and rewrites. The funny part is, when I think of myself as a writer it feels I’ve been that way for eons, but I’ve only been a novelist for approximately 9.5 years. I look at other writers I admire, Toni Morrison included, and look at how many decades they’ve spent perfecting their craft. I know I have a long way to go, and I’m actually grateful.

In the YA community especially I feel like there’s always the sense of ‘now is the only time you have’. And aside from the existential truth of that, I try to remind myself that today, this year, is not the only chance I have to be the best I can be.

All those writers I admire, who make me bemoan my own writing… they have been writing so much longer. I am so grateful for the progress I’ve made, and so excited for the hopefully many, many years to come when I can improve myself and get to the point where I feel like I’m doing my best.

Or maybe that point never comes. But doing better, definitely. Writing at a level equal with those I admire? That’s my goal.

For however long you’ve made the noveling journey with me, thank you <3

 

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Post-Debut: A Reflection on the Nature of Writing After the First Book Comes Out

Recently I got the opportunity to live vicariously through my friend Kat at her first book signing!

I had a teensy part in the development of WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, and my friendship with Kat gave me a front-row view to the publishing and debut process. Watching her go through this journey and being present for a few significant moments in her writing career definitely revealed to me the reality behind book deals and debuts.

You see articles every now and then talking about it, but until I ‘experienced’ it for myself I never believed them: The debut is not life-changing. It is not a permanent fulfillment of your dreams. It is not a miraculous, ecstasy-filled moment where you attain nirvana and then magically graduate into an exclusive club of authors who always feel confident and talented.

The book deal, the debut, the signing… none of it makes your life or writing any easier.

I knew this stuff logically, but feeling and believing it was a different story. I counted down the days to WLOM’s debut (last Tuesday). I made a blog post, I saw the brief explosion of congratulations and announcements. Some pictures started showing up of Kat’s book in stores. But then it was over.

Amazon rankings don’t jump immediately (though they do increase steadily). When you think about it, everyone who was going to pre-order has already pre-ordered. Sales go up, of course, but it might be weeks, months, years before you truly know if your book ‘succeeded’ or not.

Meanwhile, during the countdown to release, I’ve interacted with Kat every day as she works on Book 2, returns to college, and studies. WLOM was going to debut in a week, OHMYGOOOOOOD, but Kat was also deep in the trenches of edits for Book 2.

Life. Went. On.

Deadlines had to be met. Class had to be attended. Groceries had to be bought. The debut didn’t lift one worry from Kat’s mind, or give her even a minute’s extra rest.

As for the signing, we arrived at the Barnes & Noble early. They had a table set up for her in the cafeteria, surrounded by people on their laptops with headphones in.

Kat had a beautiful cake made with a print-out of her book’s cover, but the B&N didn’t have plates for us, so I went to the Rite Aid across the streets and bought some. An Assistant Manager brought over a bag of plastic forks. We tested the pens to make sure they worked. Then we waited.

Biljana ‘Billy’ Likic (member of Pub Crawl who flew down from Canada to be at the signing) and I sat at a table adjacent to Kat’s; the ‘VIP’ table, as we called it, but let’s face it… we were all college-aged kids in jeans and jean-shorts and T-shirts, cutting our own cake and taking our own pictures.

2:00 hit and Kat’s readers started pouring in. Kat was alive with smiles and energy, and she looked so beautiful. For a magical hour and a half she greeted people, some of whom she knew, and some she didn’t. She wrote notes to them, they signed her guest book, then Billy and I ushered them into taking a piece of cake, gradually cutting up Kat’s beautiful cover.

  

At 3:30 the tide had ebbed, so we packed up, washed the frosting from our hands, thanked the Assistant Manager for the forks, and gave her the spare cake to give to the B&N employees in the break room. We went back to Kat’s dorm, exhausted from the event. It was just an hour and a half, but so tense! We were actually watching Kat at her first signing. She was actually making out books to people who were so excited to read what she’d written. My friend had made it.

Then she rested, Billy worked on homework, and I tinkered with the ACORAS revision. And that’s when it hit me.

What all those published writers said was true: The publicity, the events, even the touring when it happens – none of it changes your working life. You still have to sit down at the computer and get out the words.

Driving the 2 hours back this is all I thought of: Writing itself must truly be your passion, because you won’t get your fulfillment from the promotional events. They’re too fleeting. They’re too mired in the normalcy of our own lives. When we were at the signing, we weren’t glamorous or fabulous. We were just ourselves. Nervous no one would come. Thrilled they did. Stomachaches from too much sugar.

The experience has really changed my outlook on my career. Before I’ve wanted to be published so bad it hits me like a physical pain. It’s a combination of envy and desire, a need to prove myself, a need to join everyone who seems to be moving on without me. But once it comes – and it will come – it really won’t change anything, will it?

I will be in this house, in this room, at this desk, with this laptop. I will be scribbling in these same notebooks and dreaming these same dreams at night. All the lines of readers in the world won’t affect the characters in my head and my relationship with them. J. K. Rowling herself has to shut out the adoring fans and get some actual work done.

Writing is solitary work. It’s private. It’s a personal art.

I’m so grateful Kat’s graciousness allowed me to experience and understand this before it was my turn. I hope it gives me the zen to navigate my publishing journey while keeping my sanity and composure. I’ll try to keep in mind that The Big Day is just another day. A day with cake in it, to be sure, but still just another day that you have to get the words down.

Because that’s all there really is.