Friends! I am so glad I chose Jennifer M. Lane’s Stick Figures from Rockportas my monthly Twitter-friends read. It was delightful! I’m pretty particular when it comes to women’s fiction, so I always hold my breath a little for the first fifty pages or so.
I like women’s fiction, but as a strong empath, it hurts to read about raw pain too often. And hello, what is women’s fiction, if not a whole lot of raw pain? Good women’s fiction, in my opinion, offers more than just a painful scenario, more than loss and hurt, more than fractured relationships and terminal illness. It offers the opportunity to grow. It offers insight into our own lives. Good women’s fiction allows the reader to peer into the pain of another female, peeling the layers page by page, and emerge with a deeper understanding of oneself.
And that’s what Lane was able to do in Stick Figures from Rockport. She did what many women’s fiction writers can’t—took me on a journey with a grieving character who was able to solve a mystery by piecing together a troubled past that once seemed perfect. It’s about love…and loss. And how learning a new truth doesn’t make your own truth any less real.
If you like women’s fiction, pick this one up! Lane is a talented writer whose writing flows gracefully and whose prose is poetic without being overly “purple.” Stick Figures from Rockport was a treat, and I can guarantee that I will pick up more of Lane’s work in the future.
Bonus—Lane lives fairly close to me geographically speaking, which means her main character (who lives in a Pennsylvania farmhouse) drives roads I know well and visits towns where I’ve worked in the past. How cool is that? Eastern Pennsylvania girls unite!
How is it already March? Guess what? That means another of my 12 Books segments! For this month, I chose The Changing Tide by K.A. Dowling. I’ve been following Kelly on Twitter for quite some time. She’s a ton of fun, has a bazillion hilarious stories about her toddler, and is relatable on just about every level. She’s real in a way a lot of people aren’t when it comes to Twitter.
Dowling is a phenomenal writer and a master at painting with words. One peek into her life and it’s clear to see perhaps why she’s so damn good at describing the world. She’s spent her life acknowledging it in a way most of us can’t even imagine. Because Dowling is deaf. Is this why her words feel so poetic to me? I don’t know. I’ll never know. Hearing or deaf, she’s clearly an amazing writer either way.
I chose The Changing Tide because I’ve been following K.A. Dowling long enough on Twitter to become ever-so-slightly familiar with a couple of the book’s characters. Here and there, I’ve gotten to take a peek at a few pages from a sequel to this book. I loved Dowling’s style so much that I had to delve in. What I found was both intriguing and frustrating. The Changing Tide reads like book 1 of a trilogy.
Um, Storms? It is.
Oh, right. So maybe I should get into a little more detail. I expected to be as immediately invested in the story as I was from the few pages I’d gotten to read long ago, but what I found was that this particular book was slow to move forward with the action. I wasn’t quite sure where the plot was going or when the adventure would begin, whichmeans, of course, that now I have read books 2 and 3. It’s a good thing I’m a sucker for trilogies!
The one piece of Dowling’s writing that really hits me more than anything is her ability not only to create so many different characters, but to dive deep within them since she changes character point-of-view multiple times throughout the book. Each chapter is dedicated to following a specific character. The ease with which she shifts gears and slides into each character’s head, even though they differ extensively in thoughts and mannerisms, is positively awe-inspiring.
So if you get a chance, check out The Changing Tide. Then gear up for The Forbidden City and The Winding Maze, books 2 and 3 respectively, because you won’t be able to stop with just book 1.
It took me a little while to decide which book to pick for my February read since there were so many wonderful choices from my Twitter writing buddies.
This month, I decided to go with Sorchia DuBois’s Just Like Gravity. I’ll preface my review by saying I’m not a huge reader of the romance genre. While I love a good romance subplot, outside of my teenage years, I’ve never been able to read a story exclusively for the romance. That said, I cannot resist a reincarnation tale. You see, DuBois is a paranormal romance writer…and now you’ve got my attention.
Just Like Gravity was a fun tale with a ‘crabbit’ main character who can handle her whisky as well as she can handle her Scottish highlander, but what really grabbed me were the past life incarnations of the two main characters and I almost wish I could have spent more time in those stories. What can I say? I’m a sucker for history, particularly when it’s a haunted, tragic tale! In Just Like Gravity, there’s fortune-tellers, treasure, danger, murder, and romance. What’s not to love?
If you’re a reader of romance who can appreciate a good dose of historical and contemporary fiction, this is the perfect blend!
(I love DuBois for other reasons, too! She’s a fantastic editor who was a pleasure to work with, so if you’re looking for editing services, look no further. She can do it all! Check out her website. Also, follow her on Twitter!)
Last month, I announced on Twitter that I planned to purchase and review one book a month from my Twitter author friends. I asked my dear followers for recommendations, but it seems very few of my Twitter friends actually wanted to scream from the mountaintops about their own work.
I get it.
For 2019, my goal is to read 1 book by my Twitter author friends each month. (While I would love to support you ALL, my budget won’t allow more than 1 a month.) Reply with suggestions, please! Each month, I’ll highlight the book & author I’ve chosen! ❤️📚 #amwriting#amreading
Marketing is HARD. As authors, we write hundreds of thousands of words again and again. (And again—omg—it never stops.) But when it comes to explaining to others why they should read our words over someone else’s, indulge in our story instead of the next author’s…well, amazingly enough, we tend to be quite suddenly (and ironically) at a loss for words.
No matter. I’ve made my list regardless.
And in month one, I am NOT disappointed. This month, I read Patti Larsen’s Exit Stage Left. I was delighted from page one. Larsen has an unbelievable penchant for creating a main character who is both vulnerable and confident at once—a rare talent. A dynamic character like Riley James is one of my favorite surprises to discover within the pages of any book. I connected with her from the start and stayed along for the ride. If the rest of Larsen’s work is like this one, I may have just found a new favorite author!
Larsen’s writing is strong and grounds the reader in the moment. In fact, I was so in the moment that I may have stayed up a bit too late two nights in a row because I had to finish the book. To be fair, I’m a bit of a marathon reader. I don’t dawdle when it comes to stories I’m loving. The more intense, the faster the read.
And Exit Stage Left was a super-fast read.
Guys. Get this one. Read this one. Then go review it.
A few months ago, I posted about two very exciting things. The first, I elaborated in my post—I got to see my name in print in the byline of an article on the front page. The second? Well, I kept the second a secret. But it’s been long enough and I’m ready to share. Without further ado, I give you…
…my release date.
My debut Young Adult Fantasy titled A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT is scheduled for publication in April. That’s right. On April 30th, 2019, you’ll be able to purchase a copy of my book.
Stay tuned for additional teasers, including reviews, excerpts, and cover art in the coming months!
Summary for A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT
Prophecies are meant to unfold on their own—they can’t be forced into fruition. Or can they? When a war-torn kingdom is on the cusp of falling to a usurping general, a young healer who doesn’t believe in magic is called upon to help a prophecy transpire. She must embrace the magic…or lose the ones she loves.
I read. I read a lot. Even when the weather (finally) changes and a warm breeze replaces the arctic winds of winter, I’m no less likely to be found lounging on a couch, a book in hand. The only difference is that I probably have the windows open.
I like to read a little bit of everything, but of all the genres and all the age categories, I find Young Adult Fantasy to be my favorite. Why? (TL:DR? Scroll to the bottom of the page.)
Oh, let me count the ways.
YA Fantasy worlds & world-building: I am an enormous geek when it comes to the natural world around us. Biology is magic and the sheer diversity of it is staggering. Someone I follow on Twitter recently tweeted about David Attenborough and it reminded me of how much he once inspired my love of the natural world. (As did many of my college professors, but they don’t narrate specials on Animal Planet or National Geographic, so…) For me, YA Fantasy has taken my love of nature one step further. A good YA Fantasy draws you into a new and unfamiliar alien landscape, yet makes it seem as familiar as our own Earth.
World-building in any genre is important, but in YA Fantasy, it’s a crucial element in order to create a new land that’s both foreign and familiar at the same time. It’s a skill good fantasy authors master early. I don’t just want to read about the birds singing in the trees. I want to know which birds in which trees. Paint their feathers for me and make the fronds of the trees filter the alien sunlight onto a dirt floor that’s littered with forest debris. Where do the birds nest? What’s their song like? Do the birds eat nuts and berries or do they steal the eggs of others’ young right from their nests? Are there myths surrounding the birds? What kind of stories have people told about them? I want to breathe it all in as though I’m really there, and that’s one of the reasons YA Fantasy is my favorite. The lush world-building just can’t be beat and there is literally no limit to the number of fantastical settings and creatures that can be created.
YA Fantasy protagonists: When I was a teen, I was quiet, soft-spoken in crowds, and always pictured myself as a real-life sidekick, certainly not a kickass dragon-riding protagonist who could master the forces of magic and shape the future of an alien world. As a teen, reading YA Fantasy allowed me to escape into a world where not only was I a main character (or following along in the life of one), but I was a confident one, even when faced with danger. It was exhilarating. It’s a way to open teen minds without feeling the pressure of the very real dangers of today’s world.
Plus, let’s not forget how much fun being a teenager really is. In real life? Pimples, exams, puberty, peer pressure, driver’s license test, college choices (“What do you want to do? What do you want to be? Decide now. Now, now!”)… The list goes on and on, but YA Fantasy pushes all that aside and focuses on giving teens choices that maybe aren’t so mundane. Instead of asking teens to face the world as it stands around them, YA Fantasy asks teens to face a new world where they can safely explore life and death choices and empathize with characters who face decisions that are much more terrifying than their own real-life ones!
YA Fantasy protagonists are a mix of grit and insecurity (much like real-life teens) and what makes them worth following is how they grow as characters. Character arcs in YA Fantasy are beyond fun to watch! Good luck trying to get a 25-year-old protagonist to make the kind of progress you can make with a 16-year-old in half the time.
YA Fantasy Influence: Perhaps the best reason of all to read YA Fantasy? To see how it has shaped teenagers in today’s world. The kids from Parkland, FL took everyone by storm when they refused to let a culture of gun violence remain the norm. But why were they so quick to speak out? What made their experience different from so many other incidents that had come before? These kids were raised on a steady diet of book and movie series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. They’ve seen teens who look and act just like them as protagonists in their own lives. They’ve seen characters make a difference, defeat ‘evil,’ and come out better on the other side. YA Fantasy is so much more than teens saving their worlds. It gives today’s real world teens a voice and the hope that they, too, might change their world for good. I can’t think of a more noble reason to jump into the next YA Fantasy…
YA Fantasy is a genre everyone should read and it’s not just for tweens and teens to enjoy. Ready to delve in? Need a place to start? Try these:
My sink is full of dirty dishes, my dishwasher full of clean. The laundry needs to be moved to the dryer and the carpets could certainly use a vacuum. But I am a writer waiting on betas. Which means I must refresh my email exactly 12,483 times a day to see if anyone has left me feedback.
Yes, I know I have a problem. And yes, going on submission is far worse. I understand.
But none of this stops me from wandering the house listlessly, contemplating my own existence.
If you’ve been following me for a while, odds are good that you know the health crisis we’ve been through over the last year as my husband faced a scary pancreatic cancer diagnosis last spring. The kind of diagnosis you’re not supposed to get at 43.
It was awful. It was traumatic. And until this week, I’d kind of sort of managed to tuck it away in the deep recesses of my mind. Because let’s face it—you can’t think about this kind of thing every day or you’ll actually drive yourself out of your head with worry, the kind of worry that comes with anxious, nervous energy that keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning every night with no one but your miserable self to keep you company.
And then this week someone I know on Twitter (I can’t even call her a ‘friend’—we’ve never had a single personal conversation!), a Pitchwars mentor & writer whose debut book just came out this month, a woman who is living her dream—the same dream I have—just got word that her husband had been hit by a car and was in the ICU at the hospital. I don’t know the details. I know only what she has shared on Twitter.
But her story has hit me so hard this week. So hard. Because it seems like even when things are really good, they can still be really bad. Clarissa recently tweeted about how wonderful the doctors and nurses are, about how they’re making sure that she’s taking care of herself, too. And it brought the memories flooding back.
The day I couldn’t eat because I woke up with such severe anxiety three days after my husband’s surgery that my stomach had cramped into one big knot. The nurse on shift that day didn’t say anything right away, but by 3 p.m., she gave me a knowing expression with worried eyes that I swear could see right into my soul and she asked me, “Have you eaten anything today?” I hadn’t. I couldn’t. So when I finally managed to eat a banana at 7 p.m., I made sure to let her know. Nurses are amazing. They are incredible human beings who give so much more than I ever knew was humanly possible to give to perfect strangers.
And in one tweet, Clarissa sent me right back to those horrible moments after the big surgery, the ones I pushed aside for the last nine months. My heart goes out to Clarissa and her family. I know what she’s going through. I know the fear and the worry and the feeling that nothing will ever be the same—that your entire future is nothing more than one big question mark.
I hope that you’ll join me in supporting Clarissa Goenawan and her husband in the weeks and months of trials they’ll have ahead of them. The medical bills can add up so quickly that it takes your breath away when you stop to think about it. We spent over $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses last year. Without insurance, it would have been well over $300,000. Life can turn on a dime and moments like these are sharp reminders to hold our loved ones tight and appreciate all we have been given.
Our #PitchWars mentor Clarissa Goenawan has cancelled all her promo to be with her husband who was in a car crash and is fighting for his life.
Please consider promoting her book or donating if you can.
Authors for Clarissa and Choo https://t.co/pmsxzhTe28
What is it about humans that makes us so quick to compare every aspect of our lives to others? We obsess over the numbers—sometimes becoming unwitting slaves to what those numbers represent. From the size of our paychecks to the size of our televisions (and other things…), we’re experts at using numbers in virtually every aspect of our lives. We measure the hours, the minutes, the seconds of our day. All day. Every day. We quantify our lives based on the money we make, how many chores we’ve completed, how many miles we can run, the number of sit-ups we can do, and—as a writer—the quantity of the words we’ve written each and every day.
So, let’s take a little look at my average numbers. Writing numbers, that is. I’m not going to tell you how many carpets I may (or may not have) vacuumed, how many loads of laundry I did (or didn’t do) last month, and I’m certainly not going to tell you how many miles I can(’t) run—mostly because I don’t want to.
Plus, let’s face it. No one really cares.
In the past, my writing was mostly done in the spare minutes after I’d gotten home from work, when the evening had come to an end, and the kids were finally in bed. Writing was something I did for fun and, sure, I hoped it would lead somewhere someday, but it wasn’t really a task I took seriously.
I managed to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo in 2013 when I added 50,000 words in one month to a novel I already had a 50,000 word head-start on and that was exhilarating, but that’s the most I’ve ever written in a single month and even now, when I’m writing on a much more full-time basis, I don’t write 50,000 words in a month. If my memory serves me well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything else that month that wasn’t related to writing, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, or putting children to bed. My husband stepped up and did it all that month. If I want to stay married, though, that’s probably not a good longterm strategy for writing.
My writing habits have definitely changed since I began to take writing seriously. Whereas I used to rejoice in putting any number of words on the paper on any given day, I’ve got a schedule that I (generally) stick to pretty religiously these days and it usually results in 5,000 words or more added every week. The key for me is sitting down and making the words happen no matter what. Some days, the words flow like fine wine and other days, I’m lucky if I manage to make the pages sound like they were written by my second-grader… But that’s what it takes to get a first draft done. Fine-tuning can come later.
And some days? Some days life just gets in the way. Case-in-point—I planned to spend a large portion of this weekend writing. Instead, the husband ended up with a migraine in the early hours of Saturday morning, which meant I needed to take him, kids in tow, to Urgent Care for a shot of the good stuff that magically makes migraines disappear—all before breakfast. Then, kids and I got to wait for an hour and a half (because Urgent Care was a madhouse), tired, hungry, and cranky. Half of the day was gone by the time we got home and, to be honest, I was so fatigued just from the running around (introvert much?) that I didn’t have it in me to write. I think I managed maybe 250 words that evening, but really? I didn’t even care about words at that point. So, it’s okay to throw in the towel some days, and admit that it’s just…Not. Going. To. Happen.
The key is making sure that’s not a regular occurrence in your life, and that can be tricky. The novel I’m currently working on is one I started in November of last year. Originally, I wanted to be finished with the first draft by the end of February, but sick kids, sick husband, and life in general got in the way a lot those first few months and it kept me from making the kind of progress I had hoped to make.
I picked up the pace by January, and I am on track to be finished with the first draft of this story by the end of the month. This makes me a happy writer for sure. My numbers show an average of 15,000 – 20,000 words over the last two months because I’ve been living by my own rules and getting the words written, even if some days it’s like pulling teeth to do so.
Most of the time, I don’t encourage assigning a value to the things we do. After all, it’s not what we do, but why we do it that really matters. And you don’t matter less as a writer if you write 500 words a week. (Just the same, you aren’t valued more if you’re a writer who gets 10,000 words written in a week…even if I do gaze longingly at your ability to get so many words down in such a limited time.)
Do what you do because you love to do it and it makes you happy. If the numbers make you happy, keep track of them and rejoice when you hit your milestones! (I do!) But if they don’t, turn off the wordcount feature in your file and plug away without looking. There’s no need to be a slave to living life by the numbers—now or ever!
As a writer, I find there are infinite pitfalls of self-doubt and whole periods of time where all I do is question whether or not my writing skills are worthy. Are they good enough for the books I so badly want to author? Do my words inspire others to jump into the lives of my characters and love the story so much that they want nothing more than to drown out the world around them as they race with reckless abandon to the last chapter? Is my prose moving without being ‘purple?’ And for the love of all that is holy, do I have any talent at all?!
It’s frustrating when you’ve been refining your craft for years and still have nothing tangible to show for it. I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for three, and am currently drafting my fourth manuscript. I’ve gotten paid to ghostwrite blogs I’ll never get credit for. I’ve entered several online writing mentoring competitions like PitchWars and Sun vs. Snow and I’ve yet to be selected as a mentee. I’ve pitched in Twitter pitch contests like PitMad and SonOfAPitch. I’ve pitched in person to agents at the Write Angles Conference and at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And in the midst of it all, I have made dozens of amazing writer friends* who have been there to support and cheer me on at every step of the game. (As I do for them as well! Writers make really good cheerleaders!)
And yet all of this ‘failure’ on the professional end of things takes a toll on a writer’s ego. (Yes, I know it’s not real failure. It’s *experience.*) One might say it’s all about leveling up. Lots of XP for me!
The fact remains that I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. So it means the world to me when people around me are supportive of my decision to pursue my passion, even when the going gets rough. Support is everything. I made the decision a few weeks ago to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year. The location alone makes it a pricey conference, but the WDC is one of the bigger conferences with tons of relevant industry info and it offers a great opportunity to participate in PitchSlam—a sort of speed dating for writers hoping to find agents who will represent them and agents looking for writers to represent.
About a week ago, I lamented to my husband about the price of the workshop, feeling guilty about spending so much on myself. (Because until I’m actually making some sort of professional progress, it still feels like a frivolous expense—the same as a pedicure might…only about ten times the cost.) He reassured me that he wanted me to go and that he was going to make sure we could afford it, even if he had to do some eBaying to make it work out.
Fast-forward a day or so and I had a repeat of the same conversation with my mother, only she didn’t offer to eBay anything off for me. No, she waited a couple of days, conferred with my father, then texted me this:
How do you argue with that?
If you don’t come from an Italian-American household, let me fill you in.
You don’t. You can’t argue. It’s like trying to bulldoze a mountain.
And so I’ll take them up on their offer not because I really have a choice, but because I know it’s not about the money. It’s about having a family who supports my dream unconditionally. It’s about the support they want to provide to me in the way that they can. I’m lucky. Luckier than most.
So, I’ll go to the Writer’s Digest Conference this summer and maybe I’ll reach the summit of this mountain.
Or at least base camp.
Yeah, I could be content with base camp.
* Seriously, NEVER underestimate the power of amazing writer friends! Xoxoxo!