Books

The time I almost quit

We give a lot of glory to the big milestones in this business. Finishing a draft, getting an agent, going on sub, announcing a book deal. The smaller wins get love too– things like writing each day, starting a new book on craft, or meeting a reading goal are celebrated. But sometimes what we fail to talk about as a community are those moments when we come close to giving up. The gritty underbelly of all of the good things tends to get glazed over with a pretty dollop of success. When you do see somebody’s good news, you rarely think about what happened for that person to get to that point. You don’t see the near-misses or the almosts, the messy drafts that go nowhere or the tears. I share a lot of my own good news on social media– book deal announcements, photos of my neat and organized writing space, snippets from what I’m working on. But today, I felt compelled to talk about the side I don’t show as often. My own gritty underbelly, in the form of the day I almost quit writing entirely.

Shelved, but not forgotten.

It was spring of 2013. I was getting married in less than a month, so needless to say, my life was incredibly busy with wedding preparation. I had been querying a New Adult manuscript since December with some interest and several requests, but no offers. I was totally convinced that it was only a matter of finding the right agent for my project. And one day, I got an email regarding one of the full requests. They wanted to set up a time to talk to me about my book. On the phone. It was THE call, I was sure of it! Much flailing ensued. This was my moment, after six months of querying. Everything was coming together for me.

But the phone call wasn’t an offer. It was an R&R, which I pretended not to be disappointed about. I tried not to get my hopes up, and I diligently set about making the changes that the agency wanted to see. I pored over my manuscript, certain that I was making it so much better. I could practically envision the book deal announcement. When it was ready, I sent it back and kept my fingers crossed for good news.

But it wasn’t good news. There was an email passing on the project less than a week later, on a Friday night when I was binging on Shark Tank in my pajamas. I’d like to say I took the news well, but I remember crying in my apartment. I had an opportunity and I fell short. What if another opportunity never came? I wasn’t good enough. My manuscript wasn’t good enough. Every single doubt I had ever cast on myself bloomed around me, sucking me into a dark cloud. I didn’t even want to look at my computer, and suddenly the dream of being a published writer was ridiculous and unfathomable. I was glad only a few people in my life knew that it was my goal to become a published author, because it was less embarrassing to only fail in front of my immediate family. With that one rejection– one person’s opinion– I convinced myself that I should just give up entirely.

And I did give up. For one week, two weeks, three weeks, a month. I didn’t open a Word doc or create anything new. I focused on all of the other good things in my life. My wedding. My mini-moon. My friends and family. My dog. Summer weather and patio season and long walks and barbeques. I think I needed that break, needed to let myself be upset over something that really hurt. I needed to let myself feel the sting instead of glossing over it the way I usually did. I needed that time away from writing.

I told myself that life was easier without the rejection and judgment that comes with being a writer, or trying to be. And it was easier. But it wasn’t me. I was happy, but I wasn’t creatively fulfilled, and for me, the two are tied together in a knot that can’t really come undone.

Picking myself up and trying again was not easy to do. But I did it, slowly at first. I sent more queries, knowing that they might end the same way, with rejection. But I also knew if I didn’t send them, my book would never see the light of day. I became more active on Twitter, despite my shyness, and I started entering contests. I worked on a different New Adult manuscript and let myself believe that it was my best work yet. I truly believe that the art of creating that book might have saved me from quitting entirely. (This is part of the reason why I believe always working on the next thing is so important!)

That new manuscript? I didn’t query it very widely before a new idea lodged itself in my head and wouldn’t leave. That book was Firsts, and I wrote it over a furious and magical three-week period. Then I heard about a contest called Pitch Wars, and my life was forever changed.

Not finding an agent with that second book really didn’t sting at all. It was a totally different experience then the first time around. All of my expectations weren’t hinged on one manuscript. I was so excited about Firsts and getting into YA writing that I felt a sense of possibility, like anything could happen. And a couple months after Pitch wars ended, my dream of getting an agent did happen, and then I dared to think even bigger and let myself believe the book would sell. After it did, I dared to believe I could keep selling books. And I have.

The truth is, my dreams didn’t change from when I wrote that first book. But my expectations did. I went from feeling like I would fail if a book didn’t get me an agent or published to being okay with any given book not being the one. Because I can always write more. The words won’t dry up if I write too many. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The more I write, the more efficient I get, and the less I get attached to any one darling. My advice? Get comfortable with whatever you’re working on not being “the one.” Don’t consider any writing you do a waste of time, because it never is. And let yourself mourn the losses. Admit that it sucks to be rejected. When you’re done grieving, I promise you’ll come out on the other side stronger than ever.

My first two books are currently trunked, but they were some of the best use of my time. Maybe I’ll go back to them someday. Maybe not. But they’re the foundation upon which everything else was built, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

Some big news…

I’m so excited to announce the bookish news I have been dying to share with everyone! My next two YA books (both contemporary psychological thrillers) have sold to Erin Stein at Imprint (Macmillan), with a tentative release date of winter 2019 for the first book, which is called Last Girl Lied To. I’m really looking forward to working with Erin, who has brilliant ideas and such great insight, and I’m honored to join the Imprint family!

That’s the short version. The long version? Well, we’d have to go back to February 2014, just after Pitch Wars wrapped (I was a mentee for Firsts). An idea for a creepy YA thriller was taking shape in my head, and I wrote a first draft in just under a month, giving it the working title Heavy. But… it just wasn’t the story I envisioned in my head. I planned to revise it right away, but a lot of stuff happened at once. My husband and I bought our first house and moved in, and I received offers of representation for Firsts, ultimately signing with agent extraordinaire Kathleen Rushall. So my little draft was shoved to the side of my desk… or more like, buried among other Word documents. But out of sight was not out of mind, because it was still on my mind.

When I came back to revise the draft, I got frustrated. It wasn’t going to be easy, like how it felt with Firsts, where I intuitively knew what needed to be changed and could make a plan to address each issue. Each time I opened that Word document, I felt like I was in way over my head. Instead of just tackling it in pieces like I should have, I ignored it and cheated on it with other WIPs. But I always had this nagging sensation in my head that the thriller was the book I should be focusing on.

So finally, I did. And I didn’t just revise– I rewrote the whole book. Twice. Then I revised some more.

Portrait of an author being driven crazy.

The toughest part for me was actually plotting the book, not just flying by the seat of my pants like I usually do. Last Girl Lied To taught me a lesson: that every book follows a different process, and what worked with writing one book might not work at all with the next one. And there’s nothing wrong with that. At one point, I remember sitting on the floor of my office with different colored Post-Its stuck to my closet door and walls in an attempt to place scenes where they were supposed to go. I might have even told myself that I’d never write such a twisty book ever again. (Alas, that was a big fat lie!)

But then, after all the hand-wringing frustration that revision brought, something wonderful happened. I had… a book. A book I believed in, that I had poured my heart and soul into. I sent it off to my brilliant critique partner, Emily Martin, hoping she would like it. And she did. Then I sent it to Kathleen, and was a big ball of stress waiting for her response. I wanted so badly for her to love it. And she did. A happy dance ensued.

More revision happened with Kathleen, but I moved through that quickly and with a purpose. Knowing she stood behind the book really fueled me. Then, we went on submission. And waited. (If you’re a writer who has ever known the particular hell of being on sub, you know exactly what I’m talking about!) We waited some more. We received some great feedback and very kind passes, but hadn’t yet found the editor who would champion the book. In that time, Kathleen’s faith in the book (and in me) never wavered, and her support was constant. It’s my wish that every writer has an agent like that in their corner. Then, the book went to acquisitions at Imprint, and I got the call from Kathleen– we had an offer from Erin for a two-book deal!

In total, the book was on submission for over six months. (Don’t even ask me how often I checked my email during that time, because it’s a disturbingly high statistic per day. Oh, who am I kidding– per minute.) It took longer to sell than Firsts. At times, my writer insecurities got the best of me, and I was convinced it wouldn’t sell. Writers, if you’re in the same boat, do not give up hope on your work. It WILL find the right home, even if it doesn’t happen overnight.

Maybe the biggest lesson I learned from the process was not shying away from the writing when it got hard. Once in awhile, we’re lucky, and have books that write themselves. I got lucky like that with Firsts. But Last Girl Lied To was a different story, and has ultimately been the most rewarding writing experience of my life. The book is so important to me, and the fact that it took a lot of my blood, sweat, and tears (okay, maybe not any blood, but lots of frustrated tears), makes me that much more excited to know that it will soon be a book-shaped thing, on a shelf in bookstores. I wrote what scared me, what didn’t come easy. I forced myself to plow onwards, even when it would have been easier to give up and write something that didn’t give me so much grief. But I did not give myself permission to quit. And as a result, this book means more to me than anything else I’ve ever written. Writers often talk about the book of their heart. Well, so far, this one is mine.

Now, I am looking forward to the next steps. Edits and line edits and copyedits and cover reveals and ARCs (!!!). I truly cannot wait for this book to find its readers. If you like your YA twisty and dark, I hope you’ll enjoy Last Girl Lied To! A little bit about it? It’s about seventeen-year-old Fiona, whose best friend goes missing, after which Fiona is faced with the reality that the girl she knew better than anyone might have been a carefully constructed lie– and her disappearance might not be an accident at all. It’s set in a coastal town in California and is full of secrets and betrayal and regret and friendship and first love and damaged boys and broken hearts.

Thank you so much for all of your ongoing support. My readers mean the world to me, and I am so fortunate to share this journey with you all. It’s official: my second and third book babies are on the way! This is the part where I would normally crack open a bottle of champagne, but… sparkling juice it is, for now!

April, briefly

Photo credit to Shirley Konu of SVH Designs!

It feels like April was exactly that… brief. I know there are only 30 days in the month, but is it just me, or did those days fly by exponentially fast? We have been so lucky with the weather here (I even stored my winter coat away… touch wood), and it has been warm enough to go for walks in shorts and a tank top. It’s hard to believe that by this time next month, there’s a very strong possibility that I’ll be someone’s mother! (Unless he or she inherits my bad habit of always running late…) I’m getting so excited to meet this little one and find out who has been in there this whole time!

This month, I have been…

Working on: It has been all about the YA psychological thrillers this month. I’m using a corkboard and cue cards to track my progress (thanks, Save the Cat), and I feel like I have been more productive than usual as a result. My attention was very scattered and unfocused near the beginning of my pregnancy and I was having a hard time writing anything I liked, but things have changed in my third trimester and I’m motoring along at pretty much my pre-pregnancy speed. Maybe it’s because I know this is the last time I’ll be able to write without balancing writing and motherhood? I’m not sure, but either way, I’m taking advantage of it! (And I may be hitting you writing mommies up for advice about balance soon enough!)

Reading: I was lucky enough to read an early copy of Heather Ezell’s 2018 debut, Nothing Left to Burn, a book I have been excited about since seeing her book deal announcement in Publisher’s Weekly. Heather was a fellow Pitch Wars mentor last year, and not only is she an incredibly sweet person, but she is one hell of a writer. I absolutely adored her debut. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and so different than anything else out there. I’m so excited for it to find readers!

I also read another book I had been highly anticipating– Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage. I was a huge fan of Kim’s debut, After the Woods (we were fellow Sweet Sixteen debut authors!), so her second book had long been on my radar. It definitely didn’t disappoint. Her writing is so gorgeous and evocative, and the story itself was full of mystery and intrigue and heartbreak.

Watching: My husband and I binge-watched two great series based on books this month. The first, 13 Reasons Why, had me completely captivated. Jay Asher’s book was one of the first YA books I read, and was very influential to me as an aspiring author. I thought the series did a fantastic job of bringing the book to life, and the actors were nothing short of amazing. The episodes were haunting and at times very hard to watch, but I think it’s such an important book and has opened a lot of dialogue between teens and adults alike.

We also watched Big Little Lies, which is based on the book by Liane Moriarty. I haven’t read the book yet, although it has been on my TBR for quite awhile, but the series was excellent (and now I want to read the book even more than I did before). Great acting by a brilliant cast of female actresses (especially Nicole Kidman), and such a twisty, surprising plot. There are only seven episodes, and I think we finished them in just a matter of days.

I hope all of you have had a great month! I have some big news I’ll be sharing this coming week, so stay tuned!

March, briefly

My curious little helper!

Well, it’s official… March has come and gone. I’m grateful that I have quite a bit of new writing to show for it (not to mention, a bigger baby bump)! All in all, it was a busy, productive month, and exciting things are happening that I hope to be able to share with you all very soon!

This month, I have been…

Working on: I had a creepy new idea for a YA thriller, so I started writing it, and a week later, had almost 50 pages. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here! (I think the key to my progress was writing at coffee shops a couple times instead of just at home, where I tend to get distracted very easily.) In the latter part of the month, I went back to revising last year’s NaNo book (also a YA thriller), and I’m still trying to untangle it and figure out what it’s really about. I have a feeling that revising in this case will involve a lot of rewriting, but that’s okay… the framework of the story is somewhat there, and I’m figuring the intricacies out as I go. It just feels great to have words flowing again after being in somewhat of a rut earlier this year, and I hope this momentum continues until baby gets here!

Reading: I read a seriously fantastic book that I’m still thinking about– Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Very quickly, I became pretty much obsessed with it. The writing, the intricate storyline and structure, the incredibly realistic characters… I was left with a book hangover for several days after I turned the last page. It’s gorgeous and evocative and so, so compelling, and I recommend it to everyone looking for a read that will really suck them in.

I also finished Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, which is chilling and disturbing and twisty and compulsively readable. This was actually my first Karin Slaughter book, and I’ll definitely be looking into more of her thrillers going forward!

Watching: I owe a big thank you to the Lyon family of Empire for keeping me company when I had a horrific bout of the stomach flu early in the month. I was pretty much prone on the couch with crackers and Gatorade for a couple of days, and those Lyons kept me entertained! I’m on the third season now, and I seriously adore this show. If there’s a better screen couple than Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, I don’t know about it. My husband and I also watched the second season of Love on Netflix, which is such a quirky, funny show. (Gus is so adorably awkward!)

Now that April is just about here, I hope to finally be able to ditch my winter coat and boots for good! But in Canada, you never know…

January, briefly

Fur baby, book baby, and human baby!

The year has started off on a good note! Aside from gray skies for most of the month, things have been decidedly cheerful. I’m back into a routine with writing and revising (I had been admittedly derailed by December festivities), and recently shared some amazing news… my husband and I are expecting our first child at the end of May! We’re very excited about the new addition to our family (and my beloved dog, Abby, is hopefully just as excited to be a big sister)! Aside from needing a bit more sleep than usual, I have felt fantastic through my whole pregnancy. Hopefully that continues!

This month, I have been…

Working on: I’m revising a YA thriller (my most recent NaNo project) and have used a couple new strategies to maximize revision efficiency. As a pantser, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed at the thought of tackling my messy first draft and trying to fix what isn’t working. This time, I read the entire manuscript before making any changes, which made a huge difference. I was able to pick out inconsistencies, plot potholes and craters, and threads that are mysteriously dropped or picked up. I also printed the manuscript off so that I have something physical to review and mark up, instead of trying to scroll back and forth on my tablet screen. These changes have gone a long way toward making me a more efficient reviser, so now maybe the urge to draft won’t be so tempting all the time!

Reading: The first book I finished in 2017 was Room by Emma Donoghue, a renowned author from the same city as me. Told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, who has spent his entire life in captivity with his mother, it’s a harrowing, heartbreaking, and brilliant perspective into what happens when living in one room turns into living in the world overnight. After reading it, I watched the movie, which was so well-acted!

I was lucky enough to read a copy of A.V. Geiger’s debut novel, Follow Me Back, ahead of its May release date. It’s a YA thriller and it’s so twisty and suspenseful! I’m pretty open about my love of a plot that will keep me guessing, and this one was not just surprising, but completely shocking. (That ending!)

Next was Flower by Shea Olsen and Elizabeth Craft. I got to know Shea last year, and had been anticipating her debut YA contemporary romance novel for so long. It definitely didn’t disappoint! I finished it in one weekend and stayed up past my bedtime, and for a sleepy pregnant lady, that’s saying a lot.

I finished off the month with a book that left me completely floored- Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. This one had so many twists and turns I did not see coming. It’s dark, sharp, and haunting and at times hard to read, but it left me thinking for a long time afterward, which is a sure sign of a very compelling read.

Watching: I used to be in denial about it, but I can now say without shame that I’m totally hooked on cheesy reality shows, especially The Bachelor. They’re my guilty pleasure when I just need to turn my brain off and not think. I was excited to tune into this season, and it already looks like it’s full of drama, so I’m sure I won’t miss an episode!

2016: The Debut Year

I think I filled my quota of Firsts puns long ago, but… this really was a year of many firsts! So I keep saying it anyway, because the firsts kept coming as the months went on. My first book came out. I got to travel to other cities to promote it. I spoke on panels and attended conferences. I met my critique partner, fellow authors, one of my lovely publicists, and my amazing editor. I had a launch party. I signed more books than I can count. I cheered for my fellow debut authors and read as many of their books as I could. I got to see my book on shelves, was able to call myself a published author. Family and friends bought my book. I heard from so many readers who told me Firsts had an impact on them.

But now that the year is almost over, I’m realizing 2016 was also a year of lasts. It’s the last time I’ll ever get to call myself a debut author, which is bittersweet, because I have had such an unforgettable time being a Sweet Sixteen and Sixteen to Read, and part of the debut community. At the same time, I’m so excited to move forward into what 2017 has in store… I happen to know some very exciting and wonderful things are on the horizon!

I don’t know what word I would use to describe 2016, if I had to sum it up in one word. (I’m an author… there are too many perfect words!) Thrilling. Intense. Full. Busy. Fun. Looking back, the year feels both extra long and super short– like it wasn’t that long ago I was celebrating my book birthday with flowers and champagne, but at the same time, that I have come so far and learned so much since that day. I feel like I’m able to put things in perspective more now than I ever was in the past. I learned from my mistakes, figured out what was working, and was able to achieve balance. I had my moments of stress and anxiety, but took away important lessons from the tough times.

Most importantly of all, I realized what keeps me happy and sustained, after the debut hype started to fade. And that was writing”The End” on three new books.(I amend my earlier statement. “The End” are the most beautiful words in an author’s vocabulary!) That’s what I’m taking into 2017, more than anything else. The knowledge that working on the new thing, the next thing, anything, is what keeps me happy and inspired. Because my heart and soul is being a writer, and that means writing.

I’m so very excited to ring in the new year and so ready for everything that comes with it. Happy New Year, everyone!

December, briefly

Tree decorating fun!

Ah, December… the last month of the year, and possibly my favorite month of this year? (Which is saying a lot, because I have been pretty vocal about how much I hate any kind of snow that isn’t Jon Snow.) But this December has really been amazing for a few special reasons. Not to mention, Christmas is a magical time on its own. I love the traditions– picking out a tree and decorating it, reciting National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation word for word, making pancakes and bacon on Christmas morning– and as much as I don’t love my annual procrastination when it comes to buying gifts, I was able to relax and really enjoy the holidays this year.

This month, I have been…

Working on: For the first time in several months… not very much! After finishing the first draft of a new YA thriller last month for NaNo, I took a few weeks off to mentally recharge. It worked, because I’m itching to get back to new words!

Reading: I finished Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and it really was everything. Heartfelt, hilarious, and so insightful, with characters who felt real. I’m not surprised that this book has not only been optioned for film, but will be an actual movie next year! So excited to see Maddie and Olly on the big screen. I also read Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, a story about the twists and turns of female friendship (a theme I am forever excited about reading in YA). And I was lucky enough to read Riley Redgate’s sophomore novel, Noteworthy, in ARC form before its 2017 release date, and I completely fell in love with it! It’s both funny and serious, a study in gender and what that means, and explores sexuality and sexual orientation with so much nuance and sensitivity.

Watching: Aside from the traditional Christmas movies (National Lampoon! Scrooged! A Christmas Story! It’s a Wonderful Life!), my husband and I binge-watched the first season of Stranger Things and were completely captivated. Not the most Christmas-y show, but… we couldn’t stop watching! I’m a huge Winona Ryder fan, so I was very excited to see her on TV, and I really liked the entire concept… the dark, twisty nature, plus the Stephen King-esque vibe. Can’t wait for the next season!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and enjoy the last days of December before we ring in 2017!

November, briefly

Being a writing buddy is exhausting!

Usually, November ushers in snow and cold weather and I start to get a case of the winter blahs. We have been especially lucky this month to have mild temperatures (for the most part), and I’m in much better spirits than I normally am at this time of the year. This November has been very productive and fun, and I owe a lot of that to the fact that I’m back in a solid writing groove.

This month, I have been…

Working on: Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I finished a (very sloppy) first draft of a YA contemporary thriller I have been conjuring up in my head for several months. I used this first draft to get to the heart of the story and show myself what it’s really about. As usual, my characters had different plans than I did, but for me as an author, those revelations are half the fun. Now that I have words on pages and know my characters better, I can work at refining the mess and getting the story to look on paper how it does in my head. Which is always the hardest part…

Reading: I finished two excellent Sweet Sixteen debuts: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson, and The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander. The former is told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts, and I loved its creativity and how totally real the characters felt. The latter, about a girl haunted by the drowning death of her twin brother who begins to challenge her fears through freediving, is beautiful and haunting and evocative. I also read Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou, whose writing is in a league of its own. Her autobiographies are many things, but inspiring tops the list. I ended the month with Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, a book I had been eager to read, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the humor and heart, and how relationships were portrayed– family bonds, friendship, and romantic love.

Watching: After hearing so many great things about Westworld, I knew I had to start the season and give it a try. (My husband was surprised I suggested it since I’m not usually a huge fan of sci-fi.) We were both sucked in right away by the totally imaginative concept, plot twists galore, and fascinating, multi-dimensional characters. I’m glad I ventured outside of my TV comfort zone!

I love Christmas, so I’m looking forward to all that December brings… picking out a tree and decorating it, wrapping gifts, spending time with friends and family, and eating all the holiday food! Wishing you all the best in the last month of 2016!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Girls In The Moon

I was extremely lucky to read an advance copy of a seriously amazing late 2016 debut that releases next week. Girls In The Moon by Janet McNally gave me a serious book hangover, because its pages are rich and sumptuous and soaked in gorgeous language and depth.

Girls In The Moon is the story of Phoebe, the daughter of rock stars who were famous in the 90s with their band, Shelter. Phoebe lives with her mother, Meg, and hasn’t seen her father in over three years. In the heart of summer, she visits her older sister Luna in New York City, where Luna has recently dropped out of school to pursue her own musical career—a choice Meg isn’t too happy about. Phoebe wants to get the kind of answers from her family that nobody can provide, as Meg avoids talking about Shelter and Luna has seemingly convinced herself that she doesn’t need her father in her life. Phoebe’s story in the present is interlaced with flashbacks from Meg’s point of view in the early days when Shelter was being formed, and I loved the contrast—that as Phoebe surges forward in her quest for truth, Meg’s journey is going backwards, from marital breakup to the first seedlings of fame.

I cannot adequately describe how incredible the writing is in this book. Janet McNally is a poet as well as a writer, and this comes as no surprise—her use of words is thoughtful, visceral, lush, and utterly original. Her descriptions of things through Phoebe’s eyes are so unique and compelling that I wanted to highlight pretty much every line. Her sentences are infused with grace, hope, curiosity, sometimes sadness, always so much insight.

This is a book that deals with a lot of things. It’s about relationships—sisters, mother-daughter, father-daughter, friends, romantic love. It’s about regret and mistakes and choices. It’s about faith and taking chances and finding not only yourself, but different versions of yourself that you may not have yet stepped into. It’s the brassy collision of music and reality and fame and responsibility. And it’s completely captivating.

I’m so excited for everyone to discover Girls In The Moon. This is a book I’ll come back to when I need to feel inspired, because it has this magnetic energy. If there’s a formula to make words jump off a page, Janet McNally has fully mastered it.

Add Girls In The Moon to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder your copy!

Learn more about Janet McNally and her writing.

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