Wolf Pit Launch!

Wolf Pit, the second book in the Purple Door District series, has officially been out for two months now. I didn’t write about the launch in December because I wanted to wait for the second Iowa City launch to happen first. I’ll say this, it was so much easier preparing for it this year than the first, if only because I had two wonderful establishments, M & M Bookstore and Sanctuary Pub, who took care of things!

The downside? I wasn’t even sure if my books would make it back from the printer on time, but fortunately, I was able to show up  with my novels in hand.

The book launched on December 14th, 2019, almost one year to the day of The Purple Door District. I held the event at M & M Bookstore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I can’t sing enough praises about the store. Ursla Lanphear and Terri Leblanc always make me feel at home. They set me up at the front of the story, so I was basically the first thing people saw when they walked in!

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I adore my new table display. The banner looks great, and I love the purple and black colors that flow through the pictures, the covers, and the table itself. I couldn’t believe how well the purple table cloth (*coughshowercurtaincough*) actually went with everything else. Though still surrounded by cool colors, the table somehow feels brighter now (and no, that’s not just because of all the added lights, haha).

The first launch, I had a cake to share with everyone, but I went a little further this time. I actually got the cover printed on the cake, and it went over really well with everyone! The whole white section was devoured before the end of the day, which left the cover part for me to enjoy over the next few days.

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I mean, look at that detail! Yummy!

I had a nice turn out of both devoted and new readers. Some people just happened to stop by for books and met me. And when there weren’t people around, Terri was happy to introduce me to a bunch of new books, which I almost walked out with. You can’t leave that place without a book. I’m so glad we were able to support each other with book sales. And, if you’re still looking for a copy of The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit, you can get autographed copies off of their shelves!

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Between awful Iowa weather that basically shut down the city in January, and myself being burnt out, I waited until later in February to host the second launch, this time at Sanctuary Pub in Iowa City. Sanctuary is a special place as The Writers’ Rooms hosts The Parchment Lounge (the best Room), our all-genre Room, there every Monday. We also do readings on 5th Mondays. JD and Molly were both great about letting me reserve the red room (a private section of the pub) for my launch.

Best of all? My dad got to share the special day with me.

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This was the first time family was able to make it to the book launch. While last year was incredible, I couldn’t deny some sorrow that I couldn’t share it with my loved ones (and no that’s not meant to send guilty vibes towards them). It just made this launch that much more special. My dad was there to help me set up, hear me read…and try to untangle a bundle of necklaces. Whoops. He’s been such a great supporter of the books since the beginning and has even talked to customers about it and helped introduce me to more readers. I’m really lucky.

The turn out was fantastic. Many of my fellow writing friends, and those from The Writers’ Rooms, showed up to support me. I had a family friend visit, and my fellow sister-in-crime came, which just made my night. The reading went well, even if I stumbled over the word “seashells” more than I care to admit. No matter how many times I read this book, I always manage to trip myself up. This is why I need someone else to do my audiobook!

At the end of the reading, I gave away a few gifts, including a journal, a Wolf Pit tumbler, Tess’s necklace, and a sand jar. All-in-all, it was a fantastic night, and I’m beyond thankful for the support everyone offered. I couldn’t have done this without them!

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I think one of the coolest things was having JD shout, “Say, Wolf Pit!” when he took a picture of us. To hear someone say the name of my book like that was awesome. Somehow it made it more real.

I love doing these launches. For one thing, they help me set a deadline of when to get the book printed, so I’m not hemming and hawing over it. Second, it gives me the chance to celebrate with people I care about. Third, it allows me to feel pride in myself for accomplishing something like this. And fourth, it’s nice to actually know I’m going to sell some books. Authors go back and forth on whether they should host a book launch, but I say, why not? If you have an establishment ready and willing to host you, and you have people who will be happy to show up, then why not celebrate?

Writing a book is no easy feat. It takes months (sometimes years) of researching, plotting, writing, and dedication to come out with even a draft. Some authors have asked if there was a point in celebrating when they finished another book (shouldn’t the first one be the biggest celebration?). Of course it’s something worth getting excited for! Writers deal with enough struggle and rejection, they should take every opportunity they can to rejoice over what they accomplish. Don’t belittle yourself because you think it’s “just another book.” Be proud!

Once again, thank you to everyone who attended the launch and who continue to support me on this journey. What’s next to come? Well, book 3 will go into full production hopefully in April. I’m finishing up outlining and some structuring before I really get started. And, I’ll be working on Fates and Furies, the parent series, with my co-author AE Kellar. If there’s any launch I’m looking forward to the most, it’s the one with her when we can celebrate our main series finally being out to the literary community.

Big things are coming!

My Top 10 Favorite Writing Facebook Groups/Pages

As writers, we constantly hear how we need to have an online presence. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Goodreads, Tumblr, etc., the more people we can connect with, the better our book sales. But exploring pages and finding a writing community can be difficult when you don’t know where to start, or you’re introverted like I am. So I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite writing Facebook Groups/Pages that have helped me find a community, get published, create a marketing plan for myself, and much, much more.

1. Write.Publish.Sell: Created by Alexa Bigwarfe, Write.Publish.Sell is an excellent place to go if you’re trying to figure out how to publish your manuscript from the ground up. She describes it as, “a place for writers who need help and support with writing, publishing, and marketing your book.” Bigwarfe provides tons of tutorials, posts, and other resources on her website, where one of my own blog posts appears. Her group also posts daily encouragements or prompts Monday-Friday: Monday Blogs, Tell Us Tuesday, Wednesday Promo, Ambassador Tips Thursday, Friday Social. It’s a fantastic way to connect with other authors, learn about them, promote your books or blog, and get help with your writing. She has paid services through her website, too, if you need more than what her free help can offer.

Bigwarfe’s knowledge and connection with authors has also helped her create the Women In Publishing Summit which runs from March 2-8, 2020 this year. The first online writing and publishing conference dedicated to women, the Women in Publishing Summit is a FREE 5-day online conference, featuring over 40 authors, publishers, editors, graphic artists, marketers, book sellers, mindset coaches, & more!  You can register through the event here. I’m one of the speakers this years, and you’ll get to learn all about how to find writing contests. Seriously, it’s a great resource.

2. Socially Aware Fiction Writers: Created by Yukimi Wintel, this group is “for people who love writing imaginative fiction and want to make sure they are being representative without being offensive.” While the page is geared more towards fantasy and sci-fi, writers of other/multiple genres are welcome to participate if they have questions. I’ve discussed many times how it’s important to have a sensitivity reader if you write about characters outside your lane. This is one place to turn to, and you don’t have to be afraid to ask questions. Just be willing to be open minded about the responses. I love this page because they actually helped me better develop my character Shen Yanlei in Wolf Pit. Now, keep in mind, this is just one form of research you can do when writing about diverse characters. Be kind, respectful, and understand that when you ask a question, you may be surprised by the answers. 

3. The Mixtus Media Meet-Up / Mixtus Media: This has been one of my go-to sites since I first started promoting my Purple Door District series. Created by Jenn Hanson-dePaula and Marcus dePaula, Mixtus Media focuses on helping “authors navigate book marketing with a simple personalized process that works.” They post blogs on Instagram and Facebook that I have found invaluable during my marketing process. I actually originally found them on Instagram. They cover tons of marketing topics such as, “How to Market Your Book if You’re an Introvert,” “One Month of Instagram Posts for Authors,” “How Authors Can Consistently Sell Books- Even after the Release,” “70 Conversation Starters to Boost Social Media Engagement,” and more. Their site is what inspired my blog entry “Engaging Your Readers.” All their material is free, but as with Bigwarfe, they do provide paid services as well. 

4. Fiction-Atlas Author Builders and Promotions: Do you want to build your newsletter audience and meet new readers? This is the place to go. Created by C.L. Cannon, this group “is specifically for promotions and builders offered by” Cannon “and Fiction-Atlas Press.” These builders include Newsletters, Bookbub, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook likes, etc. She’s constantly running these events to help authors grow their reader base. In the past year of working on just a few of these builders, I’ve gained 2,000 people on my newsletter! And the best part is that they’re reasonably priced, coming in anywhere between $10 and $20 depending on how much information you want to promote yourself. Cannon also runs Fiction-Atlas Press LLC and has published several incredible anthologies. I was in her “Unknown Realm” book last year. She has two more anthologies open this year which you can find under Submissions.  She’s currently accepting pieces. 

5. The Otherworld Home Community: Created by Tamara Rokicki, The Otherworld “is a growing platform in the literary community. Serving as the main hub and home center, it hosts portals that facilitate members into reading and writing worlds.” I’ve been part of this group since near the beginning, and I’ve met many fantastic authors. The Otherworld has released three anthologies and hosts a Book of the Month group where readers can talk about the book together and win prizes. Rokicki has also put on several amazing launch parties that have helped authors promote their books while also showcasing the upcoming anthology. I was recently selected as a resident author, and I can tell you we have some fun plans for the future. 

6. Indie Author Book Expo: Need a way to set up signing events? Then you should definitely check out IABE! Created by Jenn Thompson, IABE is a “nonprofit devoted to uniting readers, writers, and authors to build better books.” The daughter group IABE Must Have Books! allows you to promote your novels. Thompson works tirelessly to create signing events for local authors around the Midwest. She started in Des Moines and is booking events in Mason City, Peoria, Chicago, Omaha, and hopefully even more to come! She’s a friend to authors and brings writers together through her site. She’s also published anthologies and is trying to get a printing press to help make publication easier for writers. 

7. Rising Tide Publications: I’d be remiss not to mention this group created by Brian K Morris who has become a mentor to me. He encourages authors to lift one another so we all rise together, an ideology that I can get behind. His mission is to “provide positive entertainment in books and comics and to provide assistance to other creatives with low/no-cost solutions whenever possible, and encouragement always.” He runs two live shows every week where you can promote your books and get to meet other authors.  If you have a fundraiser or book event happening, he’s one of the first to promote it. He’s never afraid to offer advice and a kind ear. 

8. The Writers’ Rooms: Of course I need to mention the Writers’ Rooms. The Writers’ Rooms is a non-profit corporation that focuses on providing a free, safe environment to all writers. Essentially, we’re writers helping writers. In Iowa, we provide two-hour sessions that include a literary lesson and an hour of writing throughout the month.  You can find multiple groups through The Writers’ Rooms Facebook page based on different genres like Fantasy/Sci-fi, Poetry, Horror/Mystery, All-Genre, Romance, and also LGBT-based groups. We have a big author signing event happening later this year (applications are now open) and we produce anthologies for Iowa writers. As the Director of the organization, I try to provide helpful information to our group members and other authors through the main page. And what you can’t find there, you can usually find contests, events, and more in our individual groups. 

9. The Iowa Writers’ House:  Founded by Andrea Wilson, The Iowa Writers’ House is another incredible organization with the mission to “provide writers with the support and necessary tools to bring their literary dreams to fruition. From lectures and inspiration, to first putting pen to the page, to seminars on tips and how-to’s for the publishing world and everything in between, the Iowa Writers’ House exists as a writing launchpad for all who seek it.” IWH has consistently put on fascinating workshops hosted by published authors and professionals. Writers from all around the US have come to learn the tools of writing and build a literary community. You can check out workshops here. More recently, they have hosted a residency for Bicultural & Immigrant Writers in Iowa, publishing and distributing their voices through anthologies titled We the Interwoven. If you ever have questions, you can always ask me since I’ve been a volunteer practically since the beginning. 

10. Fantasy Writers Support Group:  Founded by Beth F Brownell, the Fantasy Writers Support Group is exactly that, a group “designed to assist authors in writing.” It’s a great way to find support for fantasy writers. You can ask questions, they provide tips, promotions, display book covers, allow you to discuss the world you’re building, etc. They have specific rules about when to post things, so make sure you check out their about page. If you’re a fantasy writer, this is one you’ll want to follow. 

I hope that these groups and pages help you find more ways to show off your writing, learn literary tips, and meet fellow writers and readers. I’m considering creating a group myself to help other writers. What things do you look for in writing groups/pages? 

10 Tips for Writers

I interview authors every month to learn more about them and their craft. One of the questions I always ask is, “What are common traps for aspiring writers?” The answers have been very enlightening, and I’d recommend checking them out here. But it got me thinking, what tips do I have for fellow authors? Here are a few important ones that came to mind.

1. Writing is Incredible 

Writing is amazing. You create your own worlds, characters, plotlines, twists, magic, god systems, creatures, etc. And then you get to see printed on a page. When people ask me why I love to write, it’s all of this of course, but it goes deeper. There’s a moment when I’m writing when the world falls away and it’s just me and my book. I feel a sense of peace I never usually feel and a warmth in my heart that makes me sure that this is what I’m suppose to do. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I don’t know a better feeling. Being a writer is just a part of who I am, and I can’t wait to share more stories with people. The best part, though, is when your book has an impact on a person’s life. Whether it encourages them to start writing, or it helps them feel a little less alone, it’s an incredible feat to accomplish.

2. Writing Also Sucks 

Yep, you heard me. As wonderful as writing is, it comes with a set of drawbacks: writer’s block, self-doubt, hatred of your writing, fear you’ll never be published, fear that everyone hates your book, etc. Writing is quite the mind game. One day you love your writing, and the next you think it’s the worst piece of crap in the world. That’s what editors are there for. Writer’s blocks can be overwhelming, especially when you have a looming deadline. That’s why it’s good to have backup plans for when you hit a block. Do you have writing topics you can work on to pull you out of the slump? Prompts? What gets your creative juices flowing? As for hatred of your writing, I can promise you that we all go through it, and it’s just something you have to learn to work through. But it’s easier to do that with a support group.

3. Support Groups are Important

During some of my darkest moments, when I’ve hated my writing the most, my literary support group has helped pull me out of my funk. They’re there to support and encourage you, provide advice, and share in both the joys and hardships of writing. You can find many online through facebook, twitter, and instagram, or through National Novel Writing Month. I’ve met some of my best writing friends there! And of course, if you’re in the Iowa area, you can always reach out to The Writers’ Rooms.

4, Take Care of Yourself

With all the mental games that occur with writing, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. I’ve written several blogs about this, but as a reminder, if you don’t get the proper sleep, food, and rest, you’ll struggle with your writing. Take care of your body and mind so you can be healthy while writing. Also, be kind to yourself. Even if you think your writing is awful, try not to beat yourself down. Think of what you would say to another writer. If you wouldn’t say their work sucks, or is awful, or they’re the worst writer in the world, you shouldn’t say it to yourself either. When you get into this headspace, turn to your support group.

5. Set Goals 

Create goals for yourself so you can stay productive. Set a word count you want to meet, or an amount of time you want to write. Aim for a chapter a month, or a book a year, whatever works best for you! Start the goal out small so you don’t overwhelm yourself, then go up from there. You might be surprised how fast you can go from writing 250 words a day to 2,500 if you pace yourself.

6. Save Your Work

Obvious, I know, but you won’t believe the number of writers I’ve met who have lost novels because they didn’t backup their work. My preference is saving everything to Dropbox and then doing an additional back up on an external harddrive or flash drive periodically. Heck, when I spilled tea on my computer, I even saved some of my most important files to my e-mail, just in case. Protect your work!

7. Do Your Research 

Whether it’s fantasy, sci-fi, romance, non-fiction, etc, do your research. Readers are notorious for picking out inaccuracies, so if you write about a particular location, you better know a lot about it. Likewise, when you develop a character, you have to stay consistent to it. He shouldn’t have a scar in chapter 1 and no scar in chapter 8. And while Wikipedia is a nice place to get general information, compare it against other sources. Do research on stereotypes too if your book is diverse. The best way to do this is to find a sensitivity reader who can point out any racist undertones.

8. Find a Good Editor 

Editors are vital to producing a well-received book, especially when it comes to Indie publishing. You can’t just write the book, edit it yourself a few times, then send it out to publish. You need another pair of eyes on it. No matter who much we read through our books, we always miss something. Editors can help us fix those big mistakes. And make sure you pay the editor what they’re worth. You wouldn’t want to write something for free; they don’t want to edit it for free either.

9. Don’t Compare Your Chapter 1 to Their Chapter 12

This is one of my favorite phrases. Writers have the bad habit of comparing themselves to other writers, often by the amount of books the other author has published. We’re all at different places in our writing journey. I might be just starting out my writing career with chapter 1, while a fellow author is already at chapter 12 and putting out books yearly. All you can do is work to your own pace and do what’s best for your style. Use these people as inspiration if you’d like, but don’t use their successes to beat yourself up. It’s not productive.

10. You’re Not Alone

I try to remind people of this constantly. No matter the hardships you’re going through with your writing, there’s someone out there who has gone, or is going, through the same thing. That’s the best time to reach out to see if you can find advice from people to break through your problems. Writing is a solitary art and may feel lonely at times, but that’s why it’s important to reach out to fellow writers. Authors on twitter and facebook have both helped me through difficult times with my novel. I might have quit if I hadn’t realized that others understood my problem and had ideas how to get out of it.

What about you? What top tips do you have for writers?

The Year I Almost Lost

TW: Mention of suicide/suicidal thoughts

It’s difficult to explain depression and anxiety to people who don’t struggle with it. A person might seem perfectly fine on the outside, but inwardly, they could be fighting a constant battle that leaves them teetering on the edge of life and death. The mind, just like the rest of the body, can get very sick and make it seem like there’s no end to the pain. No light at the end of the tunnel. 

My readers know I’m not typically shy when it comes to discussing depression and anxiety. Suicidal thoughts is a harder topic to go over, though. I don’t want to scare people who are close to me who think I might go off the deep end. And for those who look up to me and think I’m strong, I don’t want them to feel, “Well, if she can’t handle it, then how can I?” The mind is such a beautiful, wonderful thing, but that doesn’t stop the darkness from creeping in. And what I want to talk about isn’t so much why I almost ended my life, but rather, why I celebrate that I didn’t. 

On February 2nd, 2019, after drowning under waves and waves of depression, something snapped. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was like all the dark thoughts I’d been having suddenly coalesced into this monster that told me to end my life. I came very close, but at the last second, I stopped myself. I met with a friend for tea, and when I explained what had happened, she encouraged me to go into the mental institution to make sure I didn’t hurt myself. I fought her on it, claiming I was fine (even though I wasn’t), but eventually I relented and went with her to the hospital. 

And it was the best decision I could have made. 

For the first time in a long while, I felt like I was safe from myself and from the world. I could breathe a little better, and my thoughts didn’t drag me across burning coals as much as they had. I also learned I had a UTI and developed cellulitis, which didn’t help with the whole situation. But the former might have explained a little more why I wasn’t able to fight the suicidal thoughts. Between health/physical problems, Seasonal Depression, lack of sleep, anxiety, and general feelings of unworthiness and loneliness, I could barely fight it. 

The past two weeks, I’ve felt the depression creep into my mind as I reflected on the fact that the one-year anniversary was coming up. But then I thought, why should I greet it with sorrow? Why not celebrate what this past year has given me? True, there were a lot of uphill fights and bad things that happened, mostly health related, but what about all the good? 

For one thing, I’ve been able to spend time with my family. I’ve watched my baby cousins (who call me auntie) blossom and grow into lovely young girls. I visited family I hadn’t seen in months and cherished the time we spent together. It made me even more grateful to have them in my life. 

I’ve watched the lives of my friends change for the better. Marriages, children, new loves, getting into grad school, going on an overseas adventure, getting published, getting promoted, new pets, new journeys…I’ve loved sharing their stories, and I’m thankful I’m around to see them happen. 

In the past year, I’ve been published more than I’ve ever been before. I put out a new book, appeared in several anthologies (some paid), became an ambassador for a writing site, taught at my alma mater, met fans of my series, and became a resident author for another site. I’ve had the opportunity to work with aspiring writers and watch them find their voice in their books. And I’ve traveled for the first time to sell my books and meet other creative people. My world is growing, even when it sometimes feels so small. 

I’ve watched the organizations I’m leading (The Writers’ Rooms), or part of (Iowa Writers’ House), continue to blossom as we bring more people into the literary fold. I’ve had to let some things go and welcome new opportunities into my life, but at least I’m still here to make those decisions. I’ve helped publish anthologies and put on a huge author signing event to support other authors, and it feels really good to have accomplished all that. 

And in the past year, I’ve started to learn the importance of self-care. Working with my sleep specialist (and now my therapist), has helped me go from about 2-4 hours of sleep each night to closer to 7 hours. I’m using therapy lights during the winter when the months are usually rough for me to help stave off the depression. I’m trying to get back to the gym and eat better for both mental and physical health. I’m talking with support groups and forcing myself to shut down at a certain time each night so I get downtime and I don’t work on my computer until 2 or 3 am on a work night. So for those who have seen my work progress slow a little, it’s to help me take care of myself. 

There have also been fun experiences the past year that I never would have had, some small, some bigger. Things like getting to see Star Wars IX and Cats with my Dad and Frozen 2 (along with annoying the crap out of friends while playing the music over and over again). Reliving my childhood years by going to an arcade with my friend. Going clothes shopping or to the movies with people I care about. Snuggling with my birds everyday and being glad I’m still here to do that (even if I get feathers in my nose or get bombed by the occasional morning poop). Finally playing Mario Maker, basically the one thing I enjoy without trying to turn it over into a profit. Oh, and I’m a huge nerd when it comes to Merge Dragons and PokemonGo. Belting out the lyrics to Hamilton in the car even if I ruin most of them (plus finding out that Hamilton is going to become a movie!). 

Politically, I’ve gone to protests and marches. I’ve raised my voice against injustice and stood by my friends as we’ve fought to make this world a better place. And I did that again last night by caucusing. In a world divided, I saw people come together and support their candidates as well as each other. 

And, of course, I’ve had the opportunity to share my stories with all of you through my blog. 

This past weekend, I celebrated life by getting a much-needed massage, purchasing a new couch (finally), spending time with my friends either gushing over musicals or watching Maleficent and baking brownies. And I slept. 

365 days. 525,600 minutes. Imagine just how many experiences you can have in that time, and I almost let that go. 

I’m glad I didn’t.

I still battle the depression and anxiety, but I’ve gained tools to help work through the feelings. And, there’s a saying that I found that really holds true: Whenever you think you can’t make it through the day, just remember, your success rate is 100%. 

Be kind to yourselves, my friends. Cherish each day. Enjoy the little things, and know that you matter.