I am back from my amazing adventures on the Emerald Isle! I had such a great time!
Ireland is as beautiful as everyone says, and so green and wild. The castles, villages, rivers, forests, and of course, the rocky cliffs by the sea, are stunning and inspiring. The best part of it all was that I got to see everything with a truly phenomenal group of writers from all over the U.S. and all walks of life. I’ve made some friends for life and I’m excited for the many reunions and celebrations we will have!
Before I jump into pictures, I wanted to share my thoughts on having a new blog schedule. I’d really like to start posting more regularly, if I possibly can. Blogging is not as popular now as it was when I started out in 2008. I’ve noticed a steady decline in comments and in friends posting on their own blogs, BUT the number of views on my entries has remained steady. People are still reading what I have to write, so I want to make sure I get on a more predictable schedule!
Since twice weekly is a bit much when I want to focus on my actual writing, I think I will post every Friday, starting in October when my Ireland posts are all done. I’ll alternate between a personal/writing post and a fun post related to one of my projects. Let me know if you have thoughts or suggestions on this. I would love to hear them!
Without further ado, here are some photos from my very first day in Ireland!
I flew the red-eye on Friday night, and since I can’t sleep on planes (it’s a fatal flaw — I am a picky sleeper. There, I said it) I was exhausted when I arrived in Dublin early Saturday morning. Our tour guide suggested that instead of staying in the city, I should take the Go Bus across the country to Galway (pronounced GALL-way) on the western coast, since that’s where I’d be meeting up with everyone else. I’m so glad I listened to her!
I stayed at the Corrib House Bed and Breakfast, which I highly, HIGHLY recommend. Just look at my photos! The place is gorgeous, the staff is so nice and welcoming, and the food… well, let’s just say I’ve been too afraid to weigh myself after my trip.
See the buttermilk pancakes with cream and raspberry compote? I washed those down with a big pot of chocolate chai while I read Pitch Wars entries, and I really think I ought to try to reenact that meal when I’m picking my mentee this weekend. Brain-clarifying food — or so I tell myself.
In that last breakfast picture, I am sitting with my awesome and hilarious new friend Corinne. She stayed in the same B&B on Saturday night, and we spent all of Sunday morning chatting and laughing and rambling all over Galway.
This isn’t the last you’ve seen or heard of Galway — more pictures are coming of our Tuesday night pub crawl. And I stayed there again on the way home!
Come back next week for my post on Day Two, in which we meet up with the tour group and visit a haunted 14th century abbey. Apparently a gruesome murder occurred somewhere inside, and I didn’t realize it was the exact window I stood in until I got my photo taken and someone told me. Everyone thinks there’s a ghostly monk standing behind me in it, so I want to hear what you think!
Attention all PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS readers: Chapters 14, 15, and 16 have been posted to Wattpad. This will be the final update for a couple of weeks, as I’m going to be out of the country and won’t have access to my manuscript to post new pages. I hope it’ll give you time to catch up on reading or even re-read, if you like 🙂 Come back on Saturday, August 29th, for the next new chapters.
I have submitted PPP for consideration in Wattpad’s Featured Stories. Fingers crossed that the editorial team accepts it! If you guys could help by continuing to read and vote via your Wattpad accounts, that would be awesome. The story is still getting a lot of buzz and I appreciate all of your support so, so much!
By the time you read this, I am likely en route to Dublin. I am so crazy excited for this writers’ retreat, especially since the workshop leaders have already read the early pages of FOTL, my young adult epic fantasy. They offered some excellent comments and insight, and I’ll be having one-on-one sessions with them to discuss the manuscript so far (as will all of the other writers attending). So I’m pretty stoked to get some advice on this very rough draft before my CPs and my agent see the early pages! Hoping to share a very polished, sleek version with them sometime in September.
So, these are my goals for the retreat:
Oh yeah, and that’s another thing. I’m not bringing my laptop, so it’ll be my Mead notebooks and my trusty Pilot G2 pens! And my wimpy, wimpy hand, which always cramps up after a page now. BUT, I think that’s ideal for this sort of trip because writing by hand is so slow and allows me to think more. So I’ll get to turn the ideas over in my head a lot more thoroughly than if I’d been typing.
So, I’m out of commission for the next two weeks! I will answer all of your texts, calls, emails, and smoke signals upon my return. I *should* be available through email, but the only tablet I have is my Barnes and Noble Nook and that’s not really made to be a web-surfing device (the window keeps flickering when I try to type and it makes me CRAY CRAY). But if it’s urgent, I shall see it and try my best to respond!
See you when I return 🙂 🙂
Here’s your weekly notification that new chapters of PPP are up! The next update will be a day early, on Friday 8/14, and will be the last update for a couple of weeks because VACATION. But I am hoping that will give you time to re-read or catch up 🙂
I’m so encouraged by the support PPP has received so far! It hasn’t been on Wattpad a full month yet, but has already gotten over 400 reads and 100 votes – and that’s not counting unregistered views. So thanks to all of you who have been reading, especially if you’ve shared your thoughts with me via comments, Facebook, and Twitter!
Now on to Pitch Wars, which I’m sure has been bombarding your Twitter feed the way it has mine! I plan to participate in the MG mentors’ live chat on Tuesday, August 11, at 8pm, with Whiskey, Wine, and Writing. Check out the #WWWriting hashtag on Twitter for the link to the live feed, and feel free to ask any questions you may have about what we’re looking to mentor for this year’s contest.
I will let you know if anything changes and if I’m unable to participate for whatever reason. (Most likely my utter incompetence at technology, because webcam + microphone + Internet connection + Google Hangouts sounds quite challenging.) If that’s the case, I will be on that hashtag and ready to answer your questions via Twitter! But, I do hope to be able to jump on smoothly and chat with the other awesome mentors!
As most of you know, I recently moved. Now that the hard part of packing and unpacking is over, the much more fun redecorating and settling-in part has begun! Here’s a quick look at this brand-new bookcase I put together for my office area:
It’s just a simple, plain white bookcase that I decorated with adhesive decals from a craft store. I put the decals on before I added the shelves, and I’m so happy with how it turned out! The good thing is that I can remove the flowers at any time, if I want to change up the look. I’m thinking about trying some wallpaper next so you can see more of it even with books stacked on the shelves.
Here’s what the bookcase looks like with some books and knickknacks on it:
And here’s a peek at one of the shelves. I added this beautiful artwork of Stella Kim, the main character from my novel ELEGY, which was made for me by my amazingly talented CP, Marisa Hopkins!
I’m loving how it all turned out! I have another smaller wooden bookcase with glass doors, which I’ve had since I was a kid. I’m thinking about using this new one as a display case for ARCs, friends’ books, and — fingers-toes-eyes crossed, MY books, some wonderful dream day in the future — and rotating the rest according to my mood. Anything I don’t want displayed here at the moment, I can put into my other bookcase.
And here’s a look at my office space:
I have since added a calendar to the wall, and also this phenomenal tarot card art by my writing idol Maggie Stiefvater. I nearly passed out when she messaged me to let me know I’d won her contest, and then she started following me on Twitter. *screams at a high-pitched volume only dogs can hear* I heard her speak once at the Boston Book Festival, but I’ve never had a chance to talk to her personally. Rest assured that when I do, I will fangirl harder than the fangirliest fangirl who ever lived.
Hope you enjoyed this quick tour of my bookshelf and little office area!
I’ll probably blog once more when I update PPP next Friday, but just in case you know, I am planning to post all of my Ireland pictures on my Facebook account. I feel bad about not using that account enough, so I figured since I don’t have an Instagram, Facebook would be a good place to share those photos (though I will most likely share a sampling here on my blog as well).
So if you want to see pictures of my trip, go ahead and “Like” my Facebook page HERE.
Hope you all have a great weekend!
I’m pumped to be a Pitch Wars mentor this year! WAHOO!
I will be accepting middle-grade submissions only. I love to read and write MG, and I consider books in this category to be every bit as important and compelling as those for older kids. So I am excited and hopeful that you will send your wonderful MG manuscripts to me!
I’ve been in many contests myself and I know how scary and intense it can be. But I promise that if you’re willing to work hard, you’ll emerge on the other side an even stronger writer.
I’m here to help you do that. Yes, YOU!
I’m Julie, but my pals call me Jules and so can you!
The book I signed with is a YA ghost story called ELEGY, which was mentored by N.K. Traver and Stephanie Garber in the 2013 Pitch Wars. It’s been a true labor of love (emphasis on “labor,” double emphasis on “love”) and I hope I can share it with the world someday!
I’m a New England girl who went to college to be a doctor and came out ready to follow my true passion: writing. I’m a proud Vietnamese-American and am on the lookout for books featuring diverse characters and cultures!
I love running, cooking, eating, and wearing pajamas around the house at all hours of the day. My favorite authors are J.K. Rowling, Anita Shreve, Maggie Stiefvater, and Jane Austen. I am a rabid fan of The Lord of the Rings (Bilbo Baggins is my high fantasy counterpart) and I can quote any line from the movies on command.
I also love Harry Potter (proud Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff hybrid here) and make it a point to reread the entire series every other year.
Here’s a look at what I’m interested in mentoring:
– MG Action/Adventure. Got a book with heart-pounding action, dangerous conflict, or high stakes in the vein of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series or Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy? How about a throwback — a swashbuckling, high seas adventure similar to my childhood favorite, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle? What about a story with seamless world-building and a plot that’ll keep me on the edge of my seat? If it’s exciting, I WANT IT.
– Creepy/spooky/Gothic MG. Give me your ghosts, your ghouls, your huddled goblins yearning to freak me out! I love anything atmospheric, where the setting could be a character in and of itself. I like locked rooms, creaky old mansions and boarding schools, and windswept moors. Two recent creepy MGs I enjoyed were Holly Black’s DOLL BONES and Neil Gaiman’s CORALINE.
– Mysterious/suspenseful MG. I grew up reading the Nancy Drew books, and I am a big fan of Agatha Christie. I love the BBC series Poirot starring David Suchet! Also, Clue is one of my favorite board games and movies. Cozy mysteries, whodunnits, suspense/adventure with a noir-ish feel — I am in, in, in, no matter what kind you have! Whether your book stars a spunky young sleuth or a whole cast of budding detectives, if it’s a mystery, I totally want it.
– MG with ethnic/racial diversity. I’d like to see a cast that includes POCs in important, dynamic, vibrant roles. They do not have to be your main character, and if they are, the story does not have to focus on their diversity. But wider representation of different cultural/ethnic backgrounds is a bonus!
– Characters who are passionate about something. I want to see characters with strength and conviction, whether they are the protagonist or antagonist. I want to see them trying to achieve something or make something happen. If you have stubborn, determined kids with goals in your book, I WANT IT.
– Books that make me FEEL THE FEELS. I’m an emotional person. I like to laugh and cry when reading, because that’s when I know I deeply care about the story and its characters. If your MG manuscript can do one or the other (or both), I’m in, baby!
– Books that feature strong relationships. I love reading about characters who have strong emotional bonds with others. It could be anyone: a friend, a grandparent, a teacher, or even a pet! (Bonus if there’s a dog in your book, because I am a HUGE dog lover. I had a golden retriever growing up!) I like relationships that shape and change a character’s life. So if this sounds like your book… *grabby hands*
What’s that you say? Your manuscript doesn’t fit any of these criteria?
Don’t fret. Sometimes I don’t know I’ll like something until I read it, and I’m very open-minded and ready to try new things.
However, I may not be the best fit for: dystopian/apocalyptic, science fiction, religious/spiritual, or non-ghostly paranormal (like vampires, werewolves, angels, demons). So if you write in one of these genres, look around at the other mentors first. I bet you’ll find someone who is looking for these!
Here’s where I get to shamelessly brag about myself!
You should pick me to be your mentor because:
– I write a mean, MEAN pitch. I first hooked my awesome agent via #Pitmad, and at one point while querying ELEGY, I had an 80% full request rate. So I know how to write a bad-ass short pitch and query letter. Pick me and I will do everything I can to help you get your pitch into the kind of shape people cannot say no to. We will make them ask for more!
I have a big social media presence. I’ve been in the writing community since 2008 and my blog hit over 210,000 all-time views earlier this year. I have a significant following across all important social media sites. Being a writer is not just about the writing, but also knowing how to present yourself online. I will help you with this. I will throw my weight behind you to promote you during Pitch Wars. Count on it!
I am extremely stubborn and I don’t give up easily. I stick with things and I see them through. This is how I got my agent after YEARS of struggle. If you pick me, I will fight for you! I will see you through to the best of my ability and hope we will be friends even after Pitch Wars is over!
I want to help you get an agent – if not now, then at some point in the future. Remember: the important thing is not how many contest requests you get. I only got one request in the 2013 Pitch Wars while my teammates raked in a dozen, but I still snagged an agent a year later. My priority is helping you shine up that book for when your time comes, whether that’s now or in the future.
I have critiqued DOZENS of manuscripts over the years. I’ve been a CP and a beta reader for many people since 2008, and I am tough but fair. I’ve been told by friends that my critique often matches point-for-point with what their agent/editor told them. I will not hesitate to squeal over parts of your book that I loved, but I will be entirely (and kindly) honest if something is not working.
I am unerringly positive. I like to be a cheerleader for my friends, and my friend you shall be. I will push you to work hard, but I will also encourage you and give you a boost when you need it. Writing can be a brutal journey, and I know my Pitch Wars mentors still hold my hand at times. This is what I want to do for you.
– Someone who works extremely hard and doesn’t give up easily?
– Someone who is kind, upbeat, and most importantly, positive?
– Someone who knows you have room to improve and are willing to do so?
– Someone who is open to feedback and takes constructive criticism in a graceful, mature way?
– Someone who understands that I am volunteering my time and that I’ll do my best, but I may get busy, and that doesn’t mean I don’t like you anymore? (VERY IMPORTANT.)
– Someone who reads this post carefully and sends me what I ask for?
Yes? Then I’d be honored to have you on #TeamHobbit! 🙂 Looking forward to seeing your submission!
P.S. Quick note to let you know that when the submission window opens, I’ll be on vacation in Ireland. (OH YEAH!!!) I should be able to read your queries and pages on my e-reader, Wi-Fi gods willing. If I’m slow to request pages or respond to tweets/questions, do not worry! I will get to them all upon my return the following week! *Irish-jigs off into sunset*
Today, I wanted to do a quick post about researching agents. There are many great resources already out there, so I’ll focus on what I did when I was querying.
You may have seen a recent Twitter uproar over some questionable querying advice. It all started when somebody professing to be a expert claimed that you should jump on the first agent offer you receive. This person suggested that if you dare ask for time to think or to consider others, the agent will get mad and withdraw his/her interest.
There was a huge call to arms, and experienced queriers hopped into #MSWL and #PitMad — where the individual had been offering these gems — to reassure newer folks that yes, in fact, you should ask for time. It is not only a professional courtesy to other agents who have been reading your book, but it is beneficial to you.
I understand that if you’ve been treading the Querying Waters for a long time, an offer (ANY offer) can seem like the life raft you’ve waited for. But when you make the decision to sign with somebody, you are effectively placing yourself, your work, and your entire writing career in their hands. Are those capable hands? Does this person know what they’re doing? Should you trust your career to somebody without knowing as much as you can about them? (Especially if they give sketchy advice like that person above?)
Agents and editors research writers, so it makes sense that you, the writer, should research them, too. It’s a partnership for everyone involved, and you should find out what you can before you sign a legal contract.
When I put that on Twitter shortly after the uproar, I was surprised to get tweets and DMs from folks who had never heard of these resources or had never used them. I assumed it was a matter of course for every writer, because they were the resources my CPs and I all used when querying.
So here’s a quick rundown that I hope will help you if you are querying or weighing offers!
When I did agent research, I did it with three questions in mind:
And here are the resources I used to try to answer those questions:
– Google. This was my first stop. I typed in the agent’s name and quickly scanned what came up. Good signs of them being legit include: an official, well-designed agency website; maybe a nice personal website or blog; a listing on QueryTracker; and a bunch of interviews. But not having all of these things doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not legit; they might just be a newer agent.
– Official agency website. You can find out a lot of things here, including how long the agent’s been agenting, what their background is, what clients/books they represent, etc. Also a perk — if you are interested in a newer, less experienced agent, you can find out who they work with. I knew I only wanted a brand-new agent if he or she came from a reputable agency, with experienced senior agents who had taken them under their wing.
– Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL). This terrific resource started on Twitter (check out the hashtag!) and is now consolidated into one handy website. This helped me a ton when I was querying ELEGY, because I got to see who was looking for something just like it. It’s a good way to double-check the agent’s interests and make sure you’re not querying something that they no longer want.
– QueryTracker. Do yourself a favor and open a free account here, because I relied heavily on this website when querying. Type in an agent’s name, and you’ll be able to see info on their agency and submission guidelines. (But always double-check on the official website, of course.) Best of all, you’ll see a Comments thread where writers often post the type of interaction they had with this agent and how long it took to hear a response.
– Absolute Write. This is an amazing forum with threads for pretty much every agent and/or agency. People post a lot of dirt here, which is awesome. Personally, I want to know if someone had a bad experience with a particular agent. Maybe they were rude, or maybe they were unresponsive, or maybe they didn’t take good care of their clients and the client ended the relationship. I want to know these things up front. And people on the forum don’t mess around — they’ll tell you exactly like it is, which is what you want!
– Writer Beware. This is an excellent place to go to double-check whether an agent, agency, or publisher is legit. Even if you know they are legit, it doesn’t hurt and only takes a few minutes to check this website.
– Publishers Marketplace. If you have the funds (it’s about $20/month, I believe), this can be another great aid when you receive an offer. You can also share the account with another writer buddy. Not all deals are listed here, but it’s a good way to see if an agent has made any, what kind of books they’ve sold, and to which houses. *Edited for clarification: You can open an account for just one month, or two, and cancel it whenever you want. I’ve opened and canceled my account a couple times, whenever I needed/didn’t need it anymore!
– Writer buddies. If you’re unsure about someone, ask friends! (Privately, of course.) They may have had personal contact with the agent you’re interested in, or they may have heard useful things through the grapevine. I got a lot of info this way that wouldn’t have been available on those websites. My Pitch Wars mentors were invaluable here, because they’d already been there and blazed the trail for me!
I hope that helps those of you who were curious about the websites I mentioned.
And speaking of Pitch Wars, the mentor blog hop begins Monday, August 3, so keep an eye out for my post!
Fellow queriers, if you have any agent research tips or resources to add, please feel free to do so in the comments!
This is the FINAL weekend I will spend in my beautiful apartment in the city. *blows nose* The truck is coming bright and early Monday to ship me off to greener pastures — literally! I’m excited to be living near rolling mountains and sweeping farmlands again. I was lucky to grow up in a place very similar to the Shire, and I really believe it’s why hobbits are my spirit characters/creatures.
For those of you who have read or are reading PPP, the kingdom of Indigo (where Noelle grows up) was heavily inspired by my hometown!
And here is your weekly notification that the next three chapters are up and ready to be read. Check them out at the link below. I hope you’re having as much fun reading the story as I had writing it!
Earlier this week, I guest posted on Michelle Hauck’s blog about The Call and how we all have different writer timelines. I hope it helps encourage you to focus on how much you enjoy writing, and to realize that if it takes longer for you to hit certain milestones — like finishing/revising a book, or getting an agent, or scoring a book deal — that it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve them. Just because it’s taking longer doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen. Take it from me, one of the latest bloomers of all late bloomers when it comes to anything with writing…
As soon as I get settled in, I’m doing a blog post on querying resources and researching agents. Hope you’ll keep an eye out for it!
Have a great weekend!
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already know that I’m posting PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS for free on Wattpad this summer! I am THRILLED to share this story at last!
I wrote it back in 2010, as my first real foray into the world of kidlit. The story was originally YA with a 16-year-old protagonist, but after an agent R+R, I switched it to upper MG and knocked two years off my main character’s age. It was really the best change possible for the book!
Because the print market is so tough for this type of story, I decided Wattpad would be a great way to find an audience for it. I picked Wattpad because most of the readers are teens and tweens, and I’m excited and nervous to hear what they (and you!) think. So, now that Tamar has given me the green light, I’m pleased to announce that PPP is available for you to read!
I’m truly excited for this. Not only is it a good distraction and a way to keep busy, but it is a fun little present to say THANK YOU to all of my blog friends and readers who have never seen any of my work.
Special thanks go to: DL Hammons, Sierra Godfrey Fong, Marisa Hopkins, Jordan McMakin, Ivy Zang, Nancy Bruckman, and Tiana Smith, for their feedback on various drafts. ♥
Here are the cover and synopsis:
Noelle Simpkins is sick of working for her parents.
Sure, her dad runs a booming pumpkin business and her mom’s the greatest shoemaker in the land. But pumps and pumpkins get OLD after a while, and at 14, she’s ready to see more of the world.
When she hears about a fairy godmother internship in the city, she jumps on it. The goal? Make sure royal clients get happily-ever-afters — all while battling goblins, curing curses, and figuring out how to use a magic wand. Not to mention shutting down a rival godmother and avoiding Kit, a distractingly cute pie seller who keeps turning up.
But as exciting as the new gig is, Noelle begins to realize… she kind of misses making shoes and growing pumpkins.
Has she gotten closer to her own happily-ever-after, or farther away?
And when the (glass) shoe’s on the other foot, can she stay true to her own heart?
The first five chapters are now LIVE! And I plan to post 1-2 new ones every Friday, so keep checking back.
You don’t need a Wattpad account to read the story, but I’d love it if you opened one (since reads don’t count if you’re unregistered). The more reads and comments I get from registered members, the more buzz the story will have! But no pressure. If you want to help out by simply sharing the link, that is also awesome of you and I appreciate it!
Here are the links:
Follow me here: AUTHOR PAGE
Read the story here: PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS
I hope-hope-hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think!
This year has been so, so crazy and unexpected. It’s been a whirlwind of things happening that I thought would never happen, inching me ever closer to the dream I’ve had since I was a kid. I have no idea what’s coming next (if anything). But what I do know is I want to focus on my writing 100% for a little while. Maybe it’ll be six months. Maybe it’ll be a year, tops. Maybe it’ll be three weeks, after which I go stir-crazy and run off in pursuit of gainful employment. But something is telling me, “Now is the time.” Because if it isn’t… when will it be? There’s a good chance I may never get this opportunity again. So I’m about to take a leap of faith. I’m about to push off from shore and embark without the faintest clue of what the seas will be like. It is risky, and it is scary, but it is also exhilarating, the idea that soon writing can and will take up as much of my time as I choose.
I’ve been working nonstop for eight years, ever since I finished college. I was lucky to have a job waiting for me, and since walking in my graduation ceremony, I’ve worked 9-5 day in and day out. I am so grateful for all of my experiences: researching the effects of mercury poisoning on the nervous system, writing news stories on cutting-edge technology and scientific discoveries, and working with some of the most brilliant doctors and medical students in the country. I am so grateful to have been able to support myself, to pay for everything I need and still have enough for this huge, gorgeous apartment full of books and sunshine.
All that time, I squeezed in writing whenever I could. I scribbled on lunch breaks, pounded out words late into the evenings, and had full-on writeathons on the weekends. I wrote five full-length novels that way. I told myself that was what every writer had to do: pay the bills during the day, and pursue this near-impossible dream at night. And then I moved to the city for work and had even less time to write. I’d wake up at 6am, spend two hours commuting, work until 7, spend two hours commuting, and arrive home too drained to even turn on my laptop.
A few months ago, when my mom came to visit, she was shocked to see how tired I looked. I had been staying up late that week to work on my revisions, nights being my only time to focus on them. And you all know how obsessed I get when I’m revising. I love picking over every word, tweaking scenes to make them shine, and rereading the same paragraph a dozen times only to end up deleting it because it makes the chapter drag.
So, after my mom listened to me explain this with shining eyes over dark circles, she asked: “Why don’t you just write full-time for a while? Move back. Get out of the city. See what happens… you can always find another job.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing at first. Leave the city, where I’d been a certified “young urban professional” for five years? Pursue something I’d ever only been told was a hobby, full-time? But that’s the beauty of years passing, you see. Somewhere along the way, my mom had figured out that this was not a passing craze with me – this was a long-term, hopeless, torrid, passionate insanity. So in her loving, stubborn, well-meaning way, she told me that she believed in me enough to stand behind me and push me closer to my dream.
Yeah. I have a pretty awesome mom!
She also encouraged me to go on this writers’ retreat to Ireland. Yes! I’m going to the Emerald Isle this summer for a whole week! It’s my big birthday trip, my celebration of a new decade and a new beginning. I’m going with eleven other writers and I cannot wait to explore castles, wander through historic villages, and get some major writing inspiration. I haven’t been to Europe since I was 20, so it seems so fitting to go back for this milestone! I’ve also been wanting to do a giveaway, so I may have some awesome Irish goodies to share when I return!
Anyway, I absolutely plan on having to balance writing with a full-time job again in the very near future. I may even get a part-time job during this “sabbatical,” if the isolation drives me too crazy. I’m a hopeful person, but I’m also realistic, and I know most writers can never afford to just write. However, I am super thankful I’ll at least get a little taste of that life… if only for a small window of time.
Hope you all have a great weekend, and Happy Father’s Day to all those dads and dad figures out there!
Um, so, my last writing music post was in June… of 2014!!
It has been a while, and it’s not because I haven’t been listening to anything. It’s just that my radar was focused on ELEGY all that time, and I kept listening to the same playlist. Lots of Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell to inspire my virtuosos. I even listened to recordings from my orchestra days, with a (very shaky) solo from yours truly back when I was principal second violin. Talk about “write what you know.” I’m glad I could turn my stage fright into something productive by giving it to one of my characters!
Now that I’m working on FOTL, I thought I’d share more of its music. I have an old-school iPod Nano that I collect songs on, and I listen to the playlist on my morning and evening commutes and think about my story. Sometimes it triggers ideas, which I type into my phone. I can’t read or write a lot while traveling because it gives me motion sickness, so I find that listening to music is the best way to stay somewhat productive.
Anyway, there’s a action-packed scene in the book that would go perfectly with this song! It’s by Jay Chou, for the soundtrack of the movie “Fearless,” which I have never seen. But I really like this and it’s actually on my running playlist, so I think about the scene every time I work out!
Two of my characters fall in love in the story, and when “All I Need” by Within Temptation came up on Shuffle the other day, it reminded me so much of my plans for their romance that I had to add it to the playlist. I think the lyrics are just beautiful: Make my heart a better place, give me something I can believe. Those are big themes in the story because it’s such a dark life, and this love is part of their hope for a better world.
I can’t call myself a Game of Thrones fan because I’ve only read half of Book One, and I’ve only made it through Season 3 of the show. But, I can safely say that I am a huge fan of Ramin Djawadi’s soundtrack for the show. I think it’s epic and lovely, definitely not on the scale of Howard Shore’s LOTR and Hobbit scores (because it would be hard to top those), but still very inspiring for a fantasy.
I don’t know how it works with other writers – it seems like pretty much everyone writes to soundtracks! – but when I listen to music, I don’t only see scenes playing out in my head, but also lines of text I could use to write them. Sometimes they’re descriptions, and sometimes they’re bits of dialogue. This happened when Djawadi’s “Mhysa” came up on my Pandora. Something about the children’s voices in the beginning turning into a grander, soaring theme makes me think of my main character’s escape in the beginning:
Having made it through Season 3 of the show, I know exactly what the Lannister anthem leads to and signifies… but I still like it, and I think it’s beautiful and perfect for FOTL. I don’t know what that says about me…
I’m madly working on my chapter outline right now in preparation for a July 1st deadline of 15 pages for this retreat I’m going on (more details later!!!), and also because I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo next month. Hoping to churn out at least 10K words in the midst of moving craziness!
I might break tradition this time around and have several very carefully chosen CPs/betas do an early read of FOTL. I usually don’t allow other eyes on my work until I’ve finished the rough draft, but I would like to know if I’m heading in the right direction based on the scale of this story. It’s just a lot bigger and more complex than any of my other books so far.
Hope you all enjoy the music! I promise it won’t take another year for me to post more!
Social media can be pretty intimidating.
As writers, we’re encouraged to have an online presence to help promote our books and connect with readers. This is even more important for those of us who write MG, YA, or NA, because where does our target audience hang out? Online.
But there are so many websites to join. How do you know where to start? And how do you keep it up without getting overwhelmed?
I’m no expert, but I’ve been online for a long time. I might even be considered part of that first wave of intense social media users. After all, I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed college freshman when Facebook was created (and only college kids could use it!), and by that time, I was well-versed on LiveJournal and MySpace.
So here’s a look at the sites I use now, and how and why I use them:
Personal Blog: www.juliedao.com
My blog is, hands down, my favorite social media outlet. It was how I got started, after all! I wanted a place to document my writing journey, share my work, and make friends with like-minded people. It was never anything more than that. I think that is the irony of social media: the harder someone tries to “build a platform,” the less successful they’ll be at it.
I never try to be anything other than what I am, and above all, I enjoy blogging. I think those two things helped me a lot in terms of attracting – and keeping – readers. Also, I take the time to respond to every comment I receive, even if it’s weeks later because I’m busy. I think it’s important to let people know you hear them and care about what they think, and that makes them want to come back.
The problem with blogging is, it does take time and effort. But if you care about your blog, and you try to make it a fun place to be, it’s probably one of the most important tools you can have as a writer. I’ve been following some now-famous authors since their blogs first began, and it’s really cool and encouraging to remember that they were once baby writers like me. If I ever make it, I’d like my blog to do the same for others!
Also, the very first agent I ever interacted with, way back in 2009, asked me to query her after she read my blog. We didn’t end up together (although that would have been romantic, right!? Like marrying your first love), but you never know what might happen if you work hard on your website.
I love Twitter. It’s so easy to connect with others, and it’s helped me grow close to many of my writer friends. I like to think of it as a place where I can let my hair down. I mean, this blog is pretty informal as things go, but I like to keep it focused on writing. On Twitter, I can geek out over Lord of the Rings, send my CP a crazy animal GIF, or share little snapshots of life that have nothing to do with publishing. It’s just a fun place to be!
That said, it’s easy to let your guard down and forget to be professional. I’ve seen people talking in-depth about querying, like how they keep getting rejected (don’t do it!), or talking in-depth about being on submissions (really don’t do it). Or they complain about not getting picked for a contest (really, REALLY don’t do it). There are literally eyes everywhere, and as we’ve all heard, publishing is a small world, as is the writing community.
But I think Twitter is great for interacting and staying up-to-date with what’s going on in publishing. I hear about many friends’ contest wins, agents, and book deals there, and it’s easy to congratulate and celebrate with them!
I also love Twitter for a personal reason: it’s how I got my agent! I did the #PitMad pitch contest in March 2014, and that’s how we first connected.
Facebook: Julie Dao
I don’t use Facebook as much as I probably should. I have an author page where I put blog updates, news, and photos, but I haven’t been posting frequently. I think this is because Facebook is a little extraneous if you already have a blog and Twitter. But it’s another good way to share news! Many of my family and friends have “liked” my page, which means I can announce stuff to them that they might not catch on other sites.
With Facebook, you also get to know your writer friends better, if they trust you with their personal page. I for one like to keep my author page and my personal page completely separate, because my writing has always felt separate from my other life. Now that worlds are colliding, I don’t know what will happen! But for the time being, I’ll have two different pages.
However, I feel like I’m going to be using Facebook more now. There are a couple of writer groups I’ve recently been invited to, and they post interesting tidbits about the industry. I’m just lurking and absorbing for now, but one day it may just be my turn to post about my fancy book and my lovely editor and all the copies I have to sign for my readers… *gazes dreamily off into space*
I consider Pinterest to be my writing tool, and not a tool for social media. I use it to collect inspiring images for my stories and keep them in one place. For ELEGY, pinning pictures of Versailles and the Paris Opera House helped me visualize the music school and transport myself to France. For FOTL, I divided the main board up into three smaller boards: The Kingdoms, The People, and The Story, and I’m going through each of them for ideas and inspiration as I plot the book.
Pinterest is just a helpful way to picture my characters in my head and see them all together, get my mind in the setting, and collect little story tidbits that I might want to include later on!
Other popular social media sites:
Today, I’m participating in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop headed by my friend Alex J. Cavanaugh. Members post on the first Wednesday of each month, and it’s a great way to share writing-related thoughts, worries, and insecurities! (Because there are so, SO many.)
This post will be about my biggest “secret”: my writing.
Writing’s been a part of my life since I was eight years old (I’m 29 now). Over the years, I found ways to keep it close: giving away stories as gifts, penning the script for middle school plays, doing contests and poetry jams, and writing for The Hornet’s Buzz, my high school newspaper. When I wasn’t writing, I was reading everything I could get my hands on: Grimm’s fairy tales and Andrew Lang’s fairy books, series like Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley, or The Boxcar Children, and all of the classics, especially Jane Austen.
It wasn’t a secret, exactly, but it was never something I advertised. Outside of close friends, family, and teachers, no one knew about my pipe dream.
Everything changed in 2009. This blog you’re reading right now? That was the year I began updating it regularly. By then, Googling others had become the norm, and as my little corner of the web got more and more reads (210,000 views to date!!!), people I knew IRL started finding me: neighbors, coworkers, old classmates, former teachers. It was cool, but also – if I’m honest – pretty awkward. I never talked about my writing, and suddenly I was being approached with, “So, what are your books about?”
I think that’s when things got real for me. Like, I was writing stuff. And people were reading it. (And giving me their unsolicited, sometimes mean opinions.)
Was this what this whole publishing thing was about?! Was this what I had signed up for?
(Funny side story: I was hanging out at Starbucks over the weekend with my friend, Nancy, who is a royalties specialist and one of my staunchest supporters. We were talking about how intense publishing can be, and I asked, “Why am I doing this again?” Without missing a beat, she said, “Because you have a death wish.”)
I needed time to process the fact that I had readers. Like, real readers who weren’t my mom and who wouldn’t hesitate to be bluntly, unflinchingly honest.
Since then, and especially since getting an agent, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the idea. I’ve grown used to talking about writing, whether it’s in person with my CP, Melody Marshall, or at writerly events like book signings or the NESCBWI conference. And I even met my agent in person. It can’t get any more real than that!
So, my “secret” is out.
I still feel insecure about so many people in my life knowing it. I feel insecure about them reading my blog and learning more about me than I’ll ever know about them. But I feel pretty great, too. And as I get more used to having readers, I’ll be preparing for that one glorious day when they hold my actual book in their hands!
Will the insecurity end? Nope, and it probably never will. But there’s a chance someone out there will love my words, and that’s what keeps me going.
Do people you know IRL know about your writing? How do you handle that? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
So… this weekend was groundbreaking. Life-changing. Momentous.
Why, you ask?
Because for the first time in over two years, I closed the purple spiral notebook containing my ELEGY notes and started writing on the first page of a new one. It may not seem big to you, but it is to me! After all of that time revising… do I even remember how to plan anymore? Can I draft a whole new story? That remains to be seen.
But, at last, FOTL is taking center stage and I couldn’t be happier. A fresh universe to explore! New characters to love (and torture)! Uncharted territory waiting to be traveled after taking a backseat for years and years!
I actually came up with the idea when I was about 13. My parents had bought a brand-new desktop computer for the den, which distracted my brothers and allowed me free rein over the old one downstairs. I spent hours typing stories on that thing. But sometimes, I played a game or two, and my favorite was this beautiful version of Solitaire we’d downloaded from somewhere.
The game had a dark, melancholy mood that suited me perfectly. The background was always eerie: a forest under a night sky, an empty castle dungeon, or a hall with a single shadowed throne. The music was classical and lovely, ranging from Beethoven to Debussy. Each gold-lined card featured the most exquisite art: proud, bearded kings and handsome, smirking knights.
But it was the queens who captured my attention. They were gorgeous but grim, young but somehow world-weary. The game was just simple Solitaire, but as I played it, an idea took root in my mind. I turned off the game, opened a new Word document, and titled it DECK OF CARDS. But the most I ever wrote was a story outline and a few chapters. The series seemed too big, too difficult, too unwieldy.
Fast forward seven years, to me as a perpetually tired college sophomore. I hadn’t written a word in years, having dedicated my life to being pre-pre-med and then pre-med. Looking at my first semester schedule was like staring into the fiery abyss of Hell: organic chemistry lecture, organic chemistry lab, physics lecture, physics lab, physics recitation, two biology classes to satisfy my major, and research on the side. All of them at the highest level offered by the university. (Yeah, don’t worry, it’s not just you. I don’t know what I was thinking either.)
Look, I consider myself to be okay in the smarts department. I’m not a computer whiz like my brother who’s heading the IT department at the State House, or a brilliant engineer like my other brother who’s interning at NASA this summer. But I’m not dumb. However, I certainly felt dumb having to study twice as hard just to get the same grades as all my friends.
I sat between the same two people in every single class. One was famous (infamous?) for never studying until the morning of an exam, and the other was… well, quite frankly, high 85% of the time. Yet they aced every single test. I, on the other hand, was lucky to get an 80 (without the curve, because most times one of the two would crush everyone else’s chances by getting a perfect score).
So, one night in my dorm room, while nourishing my withered body with Ramen and instant mac-and-cheese, I slammed my 500-pound textbook shut and said, “Screw this. I’m going to go back to what I’m good at. Something I can do easily.”
For some reason, DECK OF CARDS popped into my head. And that night, instead of studying IUPAC nomenclature and acid-base theory, I opened a Word document and wrote a chapter for the first time in years. It was more like a prologue, detailing what was to come in the pages ahead, but it was some of my best writing to date at that point. I stopped writing again for some time after that, but always kept that prologue on a flash drive and transferred it from laptop to laptop.
Well, that document has survived to tell its tale today. Somehow, it stayed with me all those long years and eventually morphed into the epic fantasy I affectionately call FOTL. Yesterday, I sent it off as a one-page overview for my agent’s approval, and I couldn’t feel more content or complete. The story and I have come full circle, and I’m hoping and praying for the honor of sharing it with you all one day!
What about you? What are some wacky, unexpected things that have inspired your stories?