12 Books—Month 4

Friends! I am so glad I chose Jennifer M. Lane’s Stick Figures from Rockport as 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!

43232075

12 Books—Month 3

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, which means, 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.

32933242

12 Books—Month 2

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!)

Just Like Gravity

 

Did you miss Month 1 of my 12 Books series? Catch up here.

12 Books—Month 1

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.

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.

Patti Larsen is my beloved Prince Edward Island discovery and she’s a hidden gem. To learn more, check out Patti’s website. And follow Patti Larsen on Twitter!

Exit Stage Left

The BIG Announcement

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.

Banner for A Thousand Years to Wait

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.

And now we squeal. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkk!

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.

14115415_10154576324689916_451794092164579610_o
A few years ago, a good friend got me this set of greeting cards. There is no more perfect a gift than this.

Life by the Numbers

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!

image
My current WIP progress from start to today, 3/11/18.

Writers Level Up

Have you ever stopped to think about how your favorite author got to where they are, how they wrote and published so many books, how your most loved novels ended up on your bookshelf? Probably not. Most people don’t. At least, most people who aren’t writers don’t. But for those of us who write, contemplating the path to writing success is something we do on a regular basis.

I was a writer when I wrote my first story about magic roller skates in elementary school. I was a writer when I attempted my first magical realism romance at 20 and I was a writer when I completed my first full manuscript at 32. I’m a writer now with nearly four finished manuscripts under my belt.

But if you ask me to compare myself to Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or any other published and uber-successful author, my automatic response would be instant cackling laughter. Because the steps involved in getting from my little corner of the universe to theirs is as vast as the interior of any black hole.

I once thought the stages of being a writer were like a ladder, with the newborn writer on the bottom rung and super-success stories on the top. But having been involved in the writing community for several years, I’m much more likely to turn that ladder sideways and view it as a timeline instead. After all, we’re not working against gravity. We’re just working against time. (Except for you hard sci-fi writers…you might actually be working against gravity.)

The stages of writerhood tend to go as follows:

Writer's Timeline

Newborn Writer—Realizes affinity for writing, attempts stories, dabbles in ideas.

Fledgling Writer—Has at least one finished manuscript, probably raw and unrevised, but oh-so-beautiful.

Emergent Writer—Has begun to realize the importance of community and is eager (if terrified) to get feedback on finished or in-process works.

Working Writer—In a constant state of writing something new, editing something old, and getting feedback from a much loved tribe.

Querying Writer—A working writer who has moved into querying literary agents.

Agented Writer—A writer who has gotten agent representation, but is mired in revisions before going on submission to publishing houses.

Subbing Writer—Agented writer whose work is on submission to publishing houses, but has not yet been accepted.

Accepted Writer—Agented writer whose subbed work is accepted & who has been offered a deal with a publisher.

Counting Writer—Writer who counts the days until their publication date and hops from foot to foot, eager to relay news they can’t share until their publisher has given them the green light.

Published Author—Writer whose work has been published and theoretically read by people who don’t share their home or genetics.

Working Published Author—Published writer in a constant state of writing something new, editing something old, and getting feedback from agent and much loved tribe. Also, writer who fears they will never be able to write a second book.

Multi-Published Author—Writer who has published a handful of books, has stayed the course despite the high barriers to entry and has begun to feel as though they just might ‘do this.’ Still works a day job to pay the bills.

Professional Author—Writer who has published books that have earned enough in royalties to actually constitute a salary.

Uber-Successful Author—Writer whose books have become movies, whose characters have become household names, whose pages have been read again and again. Also, writers who may seclude themselves for protection from overwhelming fanbase.

What’s most amazing to me is the willingness of writers at every stage of the game to help those who are one or two steps behind them—Working Writers who draw out Emergent and Fledgling Writers and encourage them to join critique groups; Agented Writers who cheer on Querying Writers and who offer to help revise query letters; Published Authors who help ‘push’ a Counting Writer’s work because they know the book that’s about to come out is insane and they want their readers to know about it; Multi-Published Authors who run online writing contests that offer Querying Writers a chance to have their work seen by agents. So. Much. Love.

So much love on so many levels. And that’s what makes this community worth being a part of. In the past, I’ve compared writing to video games and this model is consistent with that idea. Expect to see me tweeting #WritersLevelUp to encourage writers of all levels to keep going. If you’re dedicated, willing to work, and passionate about what you do, there’s only one person who can keep you from leveling up, and that’s you. So get involved, get passionate, and encourage others to do the same.

(And if you’re a writer on one of the further rungs on the timeline, feel free to let me know if there’s something I’ve missed. I think I covered the basics, but as a Querying Writer, my ideas of what happens next may be skewed!)

Pitfalls and Mountain Climbing

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?!

pitfall
A different kind of Pitfall maybe, but the writing journey can feel about this treacherous.

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!

level up

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:

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 10.41.06 PM

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!

Who’s Who?

I follow an eclectic mix of people on Twitter, but by far my Twitter feed skews toward the literary. From querying writers to veteran authors to agents to editors, I tend to follow it all. And in my honest opinion, if you’re not following these folks, you’re missing out!

(I think I’ll need to make this a semi-regular segment in my blog, so if you haven’t made this list, don’t worry. I’ll have lots more to share in the future!)

In no particular order:

Michelle Hauck (@Michelle4Laughs)—For up to date information on amazing writing contests, Michelle is one to follow. She’s a smart and fun-to-follow author who writes SFF and gives back to the writing community in abundance! Also, don’t miss her blog!


Dr. Uwe Stender (@UweStenderPhD)—Not all literary agents are created equal. In my years of stalking…er…following literary agents on Twitter for the sole purpose of gaining industry knowledge, I have found that some agents are quick to provide a helping hand to those who are just starting on their journeys. I highly recommend following Uwe Stender. Why? Because his literary advice is real and good and his #askagent sessions are the best. (Bonus: His nutcase files can’t be beat!)


Lakshmi (@Lakshgiri)—Because her writing is lyrical and moving and her cooking photos make my mouth water, Lakshmi gets two thumbs up in my book. Her blog is filled with poignant stories about parenting and motherhood, and her open adoption story is unlike any I’ve known. She faces parenting challenges with grace and her raw, emotional writing resonates.


Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) & Sam Sykes (@SamSykesSwears)—These guys are a 2-for-1. Why? Because of interactions like this (read this aaalllllllll the way through):

They’ll provide your daily dose of crazy with a side of smiles. Follow them. (And maybe Sam will release another hostage.)


A.S.H (@MizWrlter)—Because I agree with everything she posts and she’s basically my spirit animal even if we’ve never met. Dogs and cats and posts about writing. Wait. Maybe she’s actually *me* in another dimension.


Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) – Because you need a dose of astrophysics & feminism. Bonus: She pipes up in occasional bouts with Chuck & Sam, making my day, week, and even month. And it’s really fun to watch her stop mansplaining in its tracks. Even J.K. Rowling agrees.


Who are your Twitter favorites? Give them a holler in the comments section so I can show them some love with a follow!

Slimming Down

Revision can be painful. Digging into the words you put so much effort into writing, not to mention deciding which of them need to go, can overwhelm a writer with fear. Which words do I cut? Filter words? Entire paragraphs? Scenes, even? What if cutting this particular scene is wrong? What if it changes the entire dynamic of the story?

But slimming a novel down is a healthy part of the writing process. Writing a first draft is basically loading a bunch of paint on the palette and throwing it on the canvas. You know what colors you want for this piece and you might even know the general design, but you can’t begin to imagine the more delicate intricacies until you begin refining the work. The same goes for writing. A first draft gets the basic idea of a story onto paper, but it’s hardly more than an outline, and an outline is not a masterpiece on its own.

When I write a novel, there are entire sections that need to be scrapped before I’m ready to query. Some of these sections are minor, but many (okay, most) impact the story in a major way. Like ripples in a pond, one thing affects another. So if I make one small change in chapter 2, it’s likely that I’m going to have to go through the entire manuscript to make major changes the rest of the way through.

Case in point. I changed a major character’s ethnicity a couple of months ago in a novel that was 85% drafted. I went from having a short-haired blond with green eyes to a Rihanna look-alike. That meant changing a lot of visual cues, quite a bit of dialogue that referred to body image, and rewriting entire sections of her family background.

But revision isn’t always about rewriting what’s already there. Sometimes it’s about taking out what we don’t need. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve written sections that weren’t needed. Sometimes these segments must be written in order for me to get familiar enough to move forward with my characters, but in the end, there’s always a lot of chopping going on! During the revision process, I erase entire chunks of dialogue and sometimes whole scenes. If a scene isn’t moving the story forward in some way, it needs to go. If it doesn’t show, in some way, shape, or form, the character’s wants and desires, cut it. If it doesn’t present a conflict for the character in some way, delete.

It’s a painful process filled with uncertainty and doubt, but it’s a necessary evil and the sooner you convince yourself that each cut is the right move, the closer you’ll be to having a refined, polished, queryable novel.

Because, seriously…no one wants to read a 186,000 word debut novel. Certainly not an agent.

You know what else is painful?

FullSizeRender-1
Time to dust you off, old friend.

I made the horrible mistake of stepping on the bathroom scale today. Between the stress of spousal health issues (a cancer diagnosis adds a little stress to say the very least), running to constant doctor appointments, and driving back and forth to various kids’ activities, we’ve done a lot of running around over the last couple of months. Suffice it to say that my eating habits haven’t been the best. And to talk about eating habits, I have to talk about anxiety issues.

When I first began having issues with anxiety at twenty-one, I lost weight quickly. My stomach was upset nearly all of the time, I could hardly eat, and anything I did eat went through me pretty quickly. I easily dropped to 99 pounds, a weight I hadn’t seen since maybe freshman year in high school. Meds helped fix the issue, but throughout the years I learned to live and to cope with my anxiety without them.

I wonder now if I’m coping a little *too* well. When I’m in a situation that makes me anxious, my stomach immediately feels as though it’s about to rebel. Add in a stubborn streak and my determination to overcome anxiety, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I now view eating as a challenge, and instead of just eating a normal amount (or eating, say, decent foods), I’ll eat more junk just to spite my anxiety. Go figure.

Needless to say, a few months of this results in pounds gained. Throw in the writer’s dilemma of working while sitting on your butt all day, and the problem is easily exacerbated.

So.

Starting today, I’m going to do something about it. Losing weight can’t be much different than revising chapters, right? A little work, a lot of pain, and in the end you’ve got a better version of what you started with. (Or at least a healthier version!)

Slimming down in more ways than one! Who’s with me?