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A Picture of Grief

This is the first time that I’ve written anything publicly since my mother passed away suddenly on March 8th, excluding her obituary and her eulogy. To be honest, it felt like the creativity completely went out of me, and that my relationship with writing left me along with my mother. I cried. I went to therapy. I talked to loved ones and friends about it. But it didn’t feel like I was completely letting it out. Yes, I was grieving, but I was angry too. Angry at what, I don’t really know. At the world for going to hell when all I wanted to do was mourn my mom. Angry that I never got to have that last phone call with her. Angry that it happened at all, and I couldn’t somehow save her.

That anger built up and exploded at one of my own books. Between crying and screaming like a wounded animal, unleashing a sound I have never made before, I ripped apart my most recent book, Wolf Pit. Literally, I tore it into pieces and threw it against the wall and yelled at it, like somehow that would make the grief better.

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And it helped. For a time.

For a brief moment, I could breathe a little easier, and I shocked myself back into reality and kind of realized that my grief made me lash out at my own writing. Wolf Pit was the last book my mom read. And she died before we could even talk about it.

You have to understand, ever since I was a child, my mom was there for me whenever I talked about my writing. She’d stay up late to read over school papers to make sure I hadn’t screwed up my thesis statement, or used the wrong words. She’d listen patiently as I spewed out story ideas and drew diagrams for her of wolf spirits, gods, magic systems, new worlds, etc. She might not have always understood, but she listened. And it was far from where I had started.

I never really liked to read when I was a child. Instead, I wanted her or my dad to read to me. She was strict about it, though. When I started memorizing books from listening to her and reciting them back to her to act like I was reading, she caught me, and she’d make me pick a harder book. But that eventually instilled in me a love for the written word. Books took me away to new worlds, and I was introduced to a hobby that helped me escape anxiety and depression (not that I recognized it at that time).

My favorite book was Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One, by Kate Duke. This book had everything. Adventure. A child and an adult weaving a story together. My first heroine (in mouse form). The heroine saving a prince. Romance. I loved it, and I read it over and over both with her and by myself.

When I started writing my own books, she encouraged me to read them to her, including fanfiction. I remember printing off pages of my Redwall fanfiction that I could read to her late at night while we were visiting my grandparents in Wisconsin. We’d stay up so long, her on the bed, me, curled up on a comfortable cot. I loved it.

There was this one time when I gave her the final chapters of a trilogy I’d written. After she was finished, she didn’t say a word to me. She just went to bed. I thought she hated it, but she told me the next day that the ending (and what I did to a character) made her so sad she just had to go to bed. I felt bad…for a second, but then that devilish author in me did a happy dance that I could illicit such an emotion from her.

Throughout my writing journey, she was always there, either listening to my plots, or reading the books once they were completed. Even when our relationship struggled, we could still share our love of stories and writing together. She was the first person to get me interested in one of my favorite authors, Mercedes Lackey. And when I was helping my dad clean up the house after she died, guess what books I found in a bag next to the tv…ones by Mercedes Lackey. The same ones that had inspired me to read the series.

I know she’s still with me in spirit, but I also know that I’ll never hear her voice again. Never really be able to share my ideas and discuss books with her ever again, and it hurts. It might be small in comparison to everything else right now, but my mother helped fuel my love of reading and writing. So when she died, a little of my writing spirit died with her.

I’ll go back to it eventually, I know that. Mom wouldn’t want me to quit, especially not after how I ended Wolf Pit. And my love and memories of her can live on in my craft, using what she taught me. I just wish to God I could talk to her about what she thought, listen to her advice, and hear her encouragement one last time.

Keep your loved ones close, give them hugs, and remember to tell them you love them.

me and mom

I miss you, Mom.

 

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. 

Should You Create Characters After Yourself?

I’m sure you’ve heard the joke: be careful not to tick off a writer, she might turn you into a character and kill you. It’s pretty common for authors to create characters based on people they’ve run into in their daily lives. Maybe they borrow aspects from them (an interest, a talent, a job) and insert them into new characters in their books. But what about turning yourself into a character? Is it a good idea, or are you running the risk of making the book too personal?

Memoirs and biographies aside, writers generally try to create new characters for their books rather than inserting themselves or their own life stories into the pages. However, this trope can be pretty common in the fanfiction world. People fall in love with a movie or book and dream about wanting to live in a world with them, so suddenly author Jenna becomes Harriet in the book with possibly the same appearance, likes, and loves as the actual author, with some embellishments (maybe the character is prettier, more popular, etc). It comes as no surprise when she becomes best friends with the main characters. This is how Mary Sues and Gary Stu sometime come into existence.

Now, that’s not to say that a person’s life makes them a Mary Sue/Gary Stu, but it’s a common factor when someone puts themselves in a fanfic work. Long story short, “Mary Sue is a term used to describe a fictional character, usually female, who is seen as too perfect and almost boring for lack of flaws, originally written as an idealized version of an author in fanfiction” – Dictionary.com. Gary Stu is the male equivalent. These types of characters appear in non-fanfiction work as well (there have been arguments about whether Luke Skwalker or Rey are Mary/Gary). So if you decide to write yourself into your story, be careful to avoid these kinds of tropes. There are a ton of quizzes that you can take to find out if a character qualifies as a Mary Sue or Gary Stu.

Other ways people write themselves into stories is to make themselves a person that they want to be. Perhaps the author struggles with anxiety so he creates a powerful character who isn’t afraid of anything. Someone may feel like she’s not beautiful so she designs her character the mirror opposite. It’s a writer’s way of seeing themselves in a different or “better” light. While this isn’t inherently bad, it can still lead down the path of a cliche character.

When it comes to my own writing, none of my characters are exactly like me, but some of my personal traits do end up in some of my lovelies. That’s not to say that I’m trying to make myself into a character, it’s just both more meaningful and a little easier to write about someone who has had my experiences. For example, Tess from PDD and Wolf Pit, struggles with anxiety (maybe not to the level I do) and we take the same medication. She also loves musicals, especially Sweeney Todd (shout out to my dad who introduced it to me). Am I Tess? No. But I took some personal parts of myself and added them to the character. In the third PDD book (don’t worry, no spoilers), I’m developing a character named Evelyn who is obese 1. because we don’t have enough of those characters represented in books and 2. because it’s nice to see myself represented. Shen Yanlei, a new character in Wolf Pit, has a father who works at the Diamond Headache Clinic of Chicago. I chose that because I’ve been there for my own chronic migraines. Again, I take elements of myself and add them in, but I don’t make the characters completely like me. I think it’s fun to include those little easter eggs to see if people who know me catch it.

The danger of making a character after yourself is 1. you run the risk of making them too 1 dimensional like with Mary/Gary, and 2. if someone critiques your character, it  becomes a lot more personal. How many of us clutch our books to ourselves like our precious children when people tell us something’s wrong with them? It happens to everyone. Now imagine if you made someone after yourself entirely and a reader said the character was boring, unbelievable, or dumb. It’s hard enough not to take that personally as the author, but to have it said about you in your own book? Ouch.

So what do you do? What if you really want to put yourself in a book, is it really all that bad? As with every writing element, how you do it determines a good or bad outcome. Maybe only include some elements of yourself and make the rest unique. Use your own personal experiences that can add flavor to the story rather than taking it over. Write it for yourself personally with not intentions of publishing it (goodness knows I have plenty of tales that will never see the light of day). Practice with it and see if close friends or family can point out whether this character is like you or not. If you turn yourself into a character and that person is unique, has a purpose, and fleshed out, then maybe it isn’t a problem.

What about you? Do you write characters that resemble you? Do you think it’s a good or bad thing to do?

Should Books Have Trigger Warnings?

Last year, I attended ICON, Iowa’s longest running sci-fi/fantasy convention. During a panel in which I shared information about myself as an author and my books, the audience and I started talking about trigger warnings and parental advisory notices on music and movies. This led us to wonder, should books also have warnings as well? Yes, we divide the books between children’s, YA, NA, Adult, Erotica, etc., but is that enough? One YA book may be tame, but another might deal with suicide, rape, or abuse. Is it reasonable to warn readers about the contents of the books?

To start off, let’s just talk a bit about trigger warnings and parental advisory labels in general. Trigger warnings are basically statements at the beginning of a piece of writing, video, music, games, warning the reader/viewer that the piece may contain distressing material (ie. grief, suicide, child abuse, manipulation, spouse abuse, domestic abuse, rape, etc.). Viewing/reading this material can “trigger” someone and create a psychological reaction in the person and perhaps cause them to relieve traumatic experiences. To learn more about triggers and how they originated, check out “A Short History of Trigger Warnings”  by Nick Haslam, Professor of Psychology, University Melbourne.

Parental Advisory Warnings are a little different in that they just warn parents if material, often music and games, is appropriate for children. You can read more about Parental Advisory Warnings here. These can also appear in tv shows or on covers of musical albums, especially if there’s explicit language.

Shows and movies have ratings that list the type of content that may be contained in the film. I’ve seen some shows start to show trigger warnings at the beginning to prepare people for sexual assault. The one thing that all of these generally have in common though is that they are forms of media that are often used in public. So it’s not just protecting the user, it’s sending out a warning to people around the user (ie. kids who may hear music blaring from a cars).

My question is, should books have trigger warnings as well? I’ve met people who can’t read certain chapters of books because they bring up memories of traumatic experiences or it’s just something that makes them extremely uncomfortable. Should they be warned that a book contains potentially harmful themes? And how detailed do you get? Early lists for trigger warnings typically included subjects related to sexual assault and rape, but now lists are starting to include bugs, vomit, spiders, etc, things that can actually cause someone to have a visceral reaction.

I know some have argued that trigger warnings are becoming ridiculous. It’s as if we can’t produce anything without a warning going with it. And if you create a warning for one thing, it’s going to lead to warnings for everything. There’s a stigma that goes with this too that trigger warnings are “coddling” people.

Personally, I think the warnings are very helpful. Even if they don’t pertain to me, the fact that writing “This story contains elements of X, Y, and Z” can help other people is important. So what if there’s a label on an album or an extra screen before a movie warning of these things? Is that really so bad? Books could include a page at the beginning that talks about content elements so people can decide if they want to read it or not. If someone doesn’t care about trigger warnings, skip over it.

The folks I talked with at ICON agreed that having a warning page for a book was a good idea, especially for people dealing with traumatic memories or PTSD. If you go onto writing sites like Wattpad, they include a “mature” button for a story, and have also encouraged people to list out triggers in the topics category.  If I’m about to read a story that includes a suicide, I personally would prefer a warning. Sometimes I can handle reading that. Sometimes it triggers my depression, anxiety, and my own suicidal thoughts. So if online sites can do that, why not published books?

I think it’s an interesting thing to discuss. I’ve considered putting it in for Wolf Pit because there are some talks of assault and abuse, not to mention violence (they’re in a fighting pit after all). But if you include warnings, how far do you go? Is there such a thing as going too far?

What are your thoughts?

 

My Writing Process: Help! My Outline Exploded!

I love learning about people’s writing styles. I’m used to the typical question, are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? Basically, do you plot your story,  write by the seat of your pants, or do a little of both?

I personally identify as a plantser. It doesn’t matter how detailed my outline is, my characters like to derail the story and drag me screaming down another path…usually through brambles, rocks, and sharp pointy things.

They’re jerks.

But there’s so much more behind my process than what I generally talk about. Some plantsers edit at the end of their writing. Some edit while they write. Some skip around chapters, while others write linearly. So I’m going to talk a bit about what I personally do to write, and edit, my manuscripts.

Writing: The ‘What the Hell Am I Doing’ Journey

The Outline: 

It starts with an outline. I sit down and create a rough draft idea of what I want the story to be from beginning to end. I create character lists and add in tiny descriptions if I have them locked in my mind. Sometimes I leave the skeleton of the outline alone and start writing. More often than not, though, I blow the bullet points up into paragraph summaries of each chapter. It helps me flesh out the idea, see where characters are going to go, make sure I don’t have plot holes, etc. Though, I also have the “I have no idea what happens here” bullet points because, let’s face it, sometimes you just don’t know what happens in the middle.

Once that’s complete, I start writing. I’m the type of person who has to write linearly (I hate jumping to different chapters). I’m afraid I’ll miss something or mess up the plot. I usually stick to the outline closely in the beginning. I jot down character descriptions or important little notes and go about my merry little life, feeling productive and like I know exactly what I’m doing.

Enter The Character. 

For the sake of the rest of the blog, we’ll just call her Djinn…because sometimes when you’re hoping for a plot, you have to be careful what you wish for.

The Pantsing: 

So the story is going along swimmingly and then something like this happens.

Djinn: Hey…how ya doing? I see you’ve got a little novel there. That’s nice. That’s nice…Got a second?

Me: What? I’m trying to write

Djinn: Yeahhh, about that. You know your bad guy? Yeah, he’s secretly a good guy.

Me: Wait, what?

Djinn: And the protagonist? She’s in love with her best friend’s brother.

Me: Hang on now.

Djinn: And you know that character who’s a toss away and you don’t even have a name for? Yeah, that’s me. And I need my own story line. You see, I’m actually the main character’s best friend, and I help fuel this section of the story and-

Me: What? NO!

Djinn: Come on! Give me a story line! I’m begging you. If you don’t, I’m just going to keep popping up every other scene and ask ‘Is it my turn yet? Is it my turn yet? Is it my turn yet? Is it my turn yet?’

Me: Stop it

Djinn: Is it my turn yet?

Me: Oh my god, FINE! I’ll write you in. Can you go away now?

Djinn: Of course…of course.

Me: ….

Djinn: (insert character name) dies at the end of the book. BYE!

Me: AHHHH!!!

Kinda like that. Only, repeat it about seven different times during the book. I’m not kidding. I had a 23 chapter outline with each chapter designed and the characters solidified. Three years later, I ended up with a trilogy. Part of that is thanks to Djinn. You jerk.

At this point, I’m scrambling to redo my notes, add in the extra outlines, getting dragged somewhere else and watching my characters poof and reappear with different histories. It’s no wonder I can’t keep eye color or hair color straight. Things change halfway through! And that’s just the writing process.

Editing: Why do I do this to myself? 

Editing comes next, and you would think that’s pretty straight forward. Later on it is, but in the beginning, I find parts of the story that need tweaking, scenes that need rewriting…and additional characters who need more on-page time.

Djinn, for example.

I read through the entire book to check for continuity/plot errors first. There’s no sense in polishing the text if I’m going to have to change scenes anyway or cut chapters (though I understand other authors feel differently).

After fixing the plot, then comes the check for details: did I spell names correctly, are character appearances the same throughout the book, have I overused words (part 1), did I use the right words?

Once all of that is cleared up, and I realize I wrote “sequins” instead of “synchronize” (yay NaNoisms), I start destroying words (part 2). My editor, or co-creator, point out words I overuse (pariah, information, and was being three of them). I put them into search, and I try to destroy them as much as possible. It helps with the “show don’t tell” aspect as well, especially when I focus on using a word other than “was.” It may mean restructuring sentences or whole paragraphs, but if it makes the text sound better in the end, I’m fine with that.

After that, I do a few more readings of the book, but I use a different medium each time. Stage 1: 12 pt Font, Times Roman Numeral, Single Spaced. Stage 2: 12 pt Font, Times Roman Numeral, Double Spaced. Stage 3: Blow up screen to 150% to go over each paragraph carefully. Stage 4: Read the chapters out of order so I edit the language more than the plot. Etc. Some books take more rounds than others. I use different mediums, though, because it helps me catch things since it’s like I’m looking at the book for the first time.

I have an editor also fixing my book and sensitivity readers or beta readers reviewing it at the same time.

The final edit is reading through the book one last time and only checking for egregious errors.

Books are never really done. I can open The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit now and still change things. Heck, 10 years from now I’ll want to change them. But at some point, you have to let your baby go, take wing, and fly into the hands of other readers.

That was a bit longer than I anticipated, but that’s essentially my process. No writing process is perfect, and no one can tell you how you should write. You have to make it personal to yourself and adjust it as you find things that work better.

What about you? What’s your style?

2020 Goals

How is it January 7th already? 2019 felt like it was never going to end, and then, bam, we’re seven days into the new year. Like many people, I like creating goals for myself at the beginning of each year. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t, but at least it puts me on a path to, hopefully, complete a few things. Last year one of my main goals was to publish Wolf Pit, and I managed to do that, albeit at the last second.

This year, I want to talk about both writing and personal health goals for myself. I’m hoping by posting them here, it’ll help keep me accountable. Not only that, you’ll have a little preview of what to expect from me this year!

Writing Goals: 

  • PDD Book 3: I plan to write and edit Purple Door District book 3. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to publish it in 2020 due to circumstances that happened in 2019. Let’s just say I didn’t give the book as much love and care as I would have liked, and I want to make sure I do book 3 justice. I don’t want to rush it.
  • Dragon Steal: I put my YA LGBT dragon book on hold to finish up Wolf Pit. Well, after much consideration, I’m planning to heavily edit Dragon Steal, rewrite the pitches, and submit the book both to agents and to #pitmad on Twitter. I’m really excited to work on the book again because I love and miss the characters. It’ll be a nice break from the world of The Purple Door District as well. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the series. However, I struggled with a lot of depression while writing and editing it, so I think it’s good I’m taking a slight break.
  • Anthologies: I intend to write more short stories and poetry to submit to local anthologies. I already have plans to create pieces (hopefully) for Fiction-Atlas Press LLC. Ideally, I want to submit to anthologies that provide royalties or pay to help with publication costs, but just having my story in print is awesome too!
  • Writing Grants: I’m going to apply for some writing grants to help fund my writing career while I’m still getting on my feet. As I’ve talked about in a few posts, self-publishing is not cheap, and it takes until book 2 or 3 to start seeing a little income. I’m still not quite at that point, so if I get grants that can help me produce these books, I’ll be ecstatic.
  • Fates and Furies: Alongside The Purple Door District, I’d like to get back into working on the Fates and Furies series with my co-author AE Kellar. Oh my gosh, we have so many stories to tell you!
  • Blog: Yes, my dears, I plan to resume blogging once a week. If you have particular topics you want me to discuss, please let me know. Part of the reason I stopped near the end of last year was because I ran out of ideas! That and Wolf Pit was trying to eat my soul.
  • Author Interviews: Author Interviews will start up again this Friday. I’ll post them on social media and host them on my site two times a month. I think that’ll give me a little more breathing room. If you’re a published author looking for a place to be interviewed, fill out the form here.
  • Patreon/Wattpad: Yes, I do still intend to post to Patreon once a month, likely starting in February. I need a break to get more writing prepared. Likewise, I want to post to Wattpad as well. If you haven’t read The Purple Door District, you can find it on there under my account. The first chapter of Wolf Pit will be up shortly as well.

Health Goals: 

  • Sleep: I’ve talked about struggling with sleep before and how it’s affected my health and creativity. I’m working with a sleep specialist who is helping me get more rest at night. Basically I was only getting about 2-4 hrs of solid sleep every night this time last year. I’m almost to 6 1/2 hrs now, which has made a world of difference. I want to get up to 7 1/2 hours.
  • Gym: I plan to start working out again. I know it improves my mood, my sleep, and my health. Unfortunately, due to injuries and bad experiences at the gym, I’m struggling to walk back through those doors. I’m trying exposure therapy, meaning, I’m taking it one step at a time. Today I went into the gym for the first time in months. I almost had a panic attack, but I managed to make it there. Little by little, I’ll work out and add time to my routines. I have to do this for myself.
  • Mental Health: I continue to use my therapy lights, see my therapists, and go to support groups both for my depression/anxiety, and weight. I broke mentally in February 2019, and I do not want that to happen again. So I’m working to be kinder to myself and more understanding. It may lead to me stepping back from things so I can take care of myself, but I’ll do what’s necessary. I’d like to be here for a long time.

So, I might be biting off more than I can chew, but when it comes down to it, I need to make my mental health my priority, even if it puts things on the back burner.

What about you? What goals do you have for 2020?

Dealing With Deadlines

You may have noticed that I took a break from writing posts in November. No, it wasn’t because of NaNoWriMo, unfortunately. It was due to me needing to focus entirely on editing and finishing up Wolf Pit. I’m happy to say, the files were approved by Ingramspark, and I clicked print today.

NaNo resulted in about 400 words, which is the first time in many years that I’ve lost. I was up against several tight deadlines, and while the book will indeed come out on the 14th, I won’t have the printed copies in hand. Not exactly the results I had hoped for, but at least the book will launch, and it’s given me some time to really understand the importance of setting up reasonable deadlines.

When I wrote The Purple Door District, I completed the first draft in November 2017, over a year before it would come out. I decided around March 2018 that I wanted to publish the book, so I worked to get an editor and started my marketing campaign.  I spent months editing, promoting, finding artists, creating swag, lining up readings and places for the launch. It was nonstop, however, I evened out my deadlines enough that I was able to edit the book in a reasonable amount of time, create a proof copy, and get the paperbacks with weeks to spare. In the end, the launch went great, the book ended up being around 73,000 words, and the pieces came together.

Wolf Pit was much different. I wrote 50,000 words of the book in November 2018, expecting it to come out around December 2019. But then roadblocks got in the way and my health plummeted. Writer’s block forced me to put the pen down, and I ended up in the hospital twice in early 2019 both for cellulitis and mental health issues. When I finally came out of it, it still took me longer than I had hoped to finish the book. I was still shaky with the deadline, but I thought December would still work, so I pushed to get it done. What I didn’t account for was the fact that the book was over 100,000 words, my team and I would run into life and health issues, and printing times would change. In the end, I will still have a book out on December 14th, but I wish I had had more time.

So what does that mean for book 3? Well, first off, since I was completely devoted to Wolf Pit in November, book 3 did not get written. So after I take about a month off, I’ll start writing it. A printing date will not be decided until long after I’ve started the edits so I can produce the best book for my readers.

I know now that if I had the chance to go back and do things differently, I would have written all three books before I even published the first one so I didn’t run into these issues. That’s the ideology I followed for my medieval fantasy (even if that’s still sitting on the back burner), and it made the books stronger because elements that popped up in book 3, I had to add in book 1. That’s not to say I don’t have an outline for PDD 3, but I think this would have helped with the deadlines and the stress that came with the mishaps over the past year.

So what can you do to set up, and stick to, deadlines for your book or creative piece?

  • Cushion Time: Set up an initial deadline with plenty of cushion. If you run into trouble, you’ll still have extra time to get the work completed.
  • Be Considerate of Everyone’s Schedules: Don’t overexert yourself or the people helping you. Make sure you’re giving everyone a reasonable amount of time to get the work done so no one has to rush, especially when polishing the final piece.
  • Change the Final Dates: Be willing to adjust final dates. As an indie author, it’s a lot easier to change the publication date than in traditional publishing. If you don’t think the book will be done on time, or it’s not as polished as it could be, push the deadline. Yes, it may frustrate some people that it’s not coming out when promised, but I think most people would be happy to wait for a cleaner story.
  • Personal Time: Create down time for yourself. Seriously, pushing yourself to work on the project every single day is not good for your health. You need to allow yourself time to rest so you can come at it refreshed.
  • Ask For Help: Whether it’s with marketing, revising, or formatting, don’t be afraid to reach out to your community and ask for aid. I never would have been able to get Bianca’s necklaces done for book 1 had Amanda Bouma not helped me. And my eyes were so tired after  reading Wolf Pit, I was happy to rely on AE Kellar to give the book formatting a final review.
  • Calendar: Keep a planner or calendar handy to help you visually plot the days when you want things to get done. Mark any days that may give you trouble, or days you know you’ll have extra time to work to make up for any setbacks.
  • Make Lists: Set up lists of things you need to get done to help you reach deadlines. Make sure to include even the little things, because it’s really satisfying to mark off tons of tasks.

You can find other tips here:

What do you do to help you stay in line with your deadlines?