2015: The Year of Writing FOR FUN

Jan 16, 2015 Main blog 22 comments

Why do I write stories?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself a LOT lately. And here are the answers that always come up:

  1. I write because I love it.
  2. I write because it makes me happy.
  3. I write because I want to make readers happy.
These three things are so simple. So simple. But as simple as they are, it’s just as simple to lose sight of them. 
I guess I’ve just been tired and worn out and a little bit sad lately.
Which is not the way I want to start a bright new year.
Which is not the way I want to feel when I think about writing.
SO! This is to say that I have an exciting announcement – a new venture that I would like to try.
I’ve talked about it before, but for those of you who missed it: I first started writing seriously after posting a novel online. I used one of the many free fiction sites out there and posted chapter by chapter under a penname. No one in the world knew it was me, not friends, not family, and it was the most liberating experience ever. Over time, I amassed a significant readership and won several awards, including best novel of the year on that site, entirely thanks to the kindness and support of strangers. 
I connected with people who knew me only through my words. They left reviews, and I responded, and we opened a dialogue about the story, the characters, the setting. They told me what they liked and what they didn’t like, and I listened and learned and started growing into the writer I am today.
That’s what I want to remember. That’s what I want to go back to: that rush of having people READ MY WORDS, not with the intent to maybe sell or pitch or market. No, they wanted to read my words because they enjoyed them, because they connected with something in the story. They wanted to read my words for fun! One person even confessed that they had printed my novel out and read part of it on the toilet that morning, and I was psyched and pumped and hysterically laughing.
There is so much joy to be had in writing, and I don’t want to forget that. Not this year.
So this is an announcement that I’m going back to my roots. This year, I will be posting a novel on Wattpad for anyone and everyone who wants to read. I talk about writing on this blog constantly, but only a handful of you have ever actually read anything I’ve written. So this will be my exciting new venture, my reminder to myself that I should value writing for fun, for myself, and for connecting with readers above all else.
The novel is going to be a brand-new one. It’s called SEAWALL, it’s a YA historical fantasy, and it’s set on the Irish coast. There will be magic, romance, a battle between good and evil, heartache, lightning-tossed seas, and betrayal (I suddenly feel like the grandpa from The Princess Bride), and I am so excited to share it with you. I’m going to be writing it and posting it chapter by chapter, so the story will unfold for me at the same time that it does for you.
SEAWALL was never something I would contemplate one day putting through the publishing wringer, anyway, so I thought this would be a good way to kill two birds: 1) share my work with readers once again, and 2) explore this with a fun, fresh, no-limits, no-pressure story that I would be writing for pure fun and escapism.
I hope you’ll stick around and let me know your honest thoughts! I’m still in the planning stage, but once I decide to put something up, I’ll let you know here! Oh, and if you are on Wattpad, you can find me HERE.
Hope you’re all having a great start to your new year so far. ♥


Jan 11, 2015 Main blog 22 comments

I’ve been feeling the travel bug lately, and reading JUST ONE DAY and JUST ONE YEAR by Gayle Forman didn’t help! The first is about a girl breaking out of her shell on a trip overseas, spending one magical day in Paris with a stranger who just might be her soulmate, and the second is about that stranger finding himself as he searches the world for her, from Mexico to Amsterdam to India.

Being a structured, practical person, the idea of getting rid of maps and schedules and packing lists in favor of wandering really appeals to me. But would I ever actually do it? I hope so! There’s something about traveling, about stepping out of my comfort zone, that makes me feel like a different person. Like a brave, adventurous one. Like someone who can take the watch off her wrist and just live in the moment.

One of my new books is a historical fantasy set on the Irish coast, which is why Ireland is so high on my list. I’d love to see those castle ruins and cliffs for myself before I write about them!

When I was in college, my parents took my brothers and me to London and Paris for two weeks. They were gorgeous, wonderful cities, full of new sights and sounds. (All pictures that follow were taken by me.)

We saw the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace, and even got to go inside on a tour! Walking through those gilded rooms felt like stepping into history. We strolled all around the city, got delightfully lost on the Tube, and rode one of those obnoxious tourist buses past Westminster Abbey.

We went inside the Tower of London and saw jewels and armor. We visited Madame Tussaud’s wax museum and even got to view a collection of Princess Diana’s gowns inside Kensington Palace.

After a week of sightseeing in London, it was off to Paris via the Eurostar train! It was on that train that I had what I thought was the best croissant of my life, and then we actually arrived in the city and I had the real best croissant of my life: chocolate of course, and flaky and perfect. I sat at that outdoor cafe with a cup of coffee, wearing a powder-blue beret that my dad bought me in Galeries Lafayette, and felt so worldly and well-traveled…light-years away from the silly small-town girl that I really was!

Of course, everyone knew we were Americans before any of us even opened our mouths. It could have been the baseball caps my brothers insisted on wearing. Or our stark-white socks and sneakers. Maybe it was the enormous camera dangling from my dad’s neck. Or the beret I was wearing, as I didn’t see a single French girl with one on.

My friend Stephanie, who had studied abroad in France for a time, tipped me off that admission to the Louvre was always free on the first Sunday of the month. (Not sure if that is still true!) I remember we spent no more than three or four hours inside, and that was barely enough to cover one-tenth of that massive place. I could have spent an entire week there and still not have seen everything!

But in the short time we were there, I still got to see amazing works of art with my own eyeballs. The Mona Lisa was tiny and we couldn’t get closer than ten feet to it because of the enormous crowd. This is where having six-foot-tall brothers comes in handy, so they can take a picture for you!

That night, we saw the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkling against the sky. I saw firsthand why so many romances are set in Paris!

The next day, my mom was feeling a little sick, so our parents stayed at the hotel. My brothers and I were given free rein of the city!

We bought pastries and ice cream, watched people painting AMAZING things on the sidewalk, and signed our names on this huge petition for world peace in the Champ de Mars. Then we returned to the Eiffel Tower and took the elevator as high as it would go. I will remember that view for as long as I live!

The next day, when my mom was feeling a little better, we took a train out of Paris to the Palace of Versailles. The palace inspired the Chateau Champlain in ELEGY! It was a thousand times more beautiful and glorious than I had ever imagined it would be.

I can’t believe people actually used to live inside. We saw tables and chairs that had been used by the royal family, and Marie Antoinette’s sky-blue furnishings and even the door to her private salon. And then there were the incredible gardens:

As thrilling as this trip was, and however lucky I felt to be able to see and walk through such fantastic places, I think my next journey – wherever that may be – will be a lot slower-paced. Less touristy stuff. More hanging out at local spots and taking time to savor the experience, rather than seeing as much of everything as possible.

I’m also much more of a country person…something about rolling hills and vineyards appeals much more to me than the hustle and bustle of the city (ironic, isn’t it, since I now live in a major city!). So I think that my next traveling destination will be somewhere rural and quiet and windswept. Somewhere I can take a tour and have time to wander and stare out to sea for hours, absorbing a whole new story to tell in my own words.

Let’s hope that this year – the year I find a new beginning as a writer, the year I put away old stories and goals and start afresh – will also be the beginning of many travels!

Where in the world would you go tomorrow, if you could?

2015 Goals!

Dec 29, 2014 Main blog 25 comments

Well, it’s that time of year again! Time to look back and reflect on everything that has happened, and time to look forward to a whole new beginning.

2014 has been pretty calm for me in terms of life stuff – not a bad thing! But in terms of writing stuff? Talk about a whirlwind. When I really think about it, this past year has been my biggest writing year to date. It was the year of the contest, the year I threw caution to the winds and flung my book baby into the universe.

I got the idea for ELEGY in mid-2012, and then I spent all of 2013 writing and revising it. In late 2013, I jumped headfirst into Pitch Wars, then into Cupid’s Literary Connection, PitMad, and the Writer’s Voice, and with each contest, as my query and pages were posted for all to see, I grew bolder. I felt stronger. Things were happening that had never happened with my previous book. Something had changed. And when I really think about it, I think that the something is me.

I went to my first writer’s conference in May 2014, the NESCBWI meeting, where I met my Pitch Wars teammate and now close friend/CP. I spoke to agents I had only ever communicated with via email, got advice on the ending of ELEGY from a lovely editor, and absorbed as much as I could from everyone who gave their time to help us. It was an exhilarating experience.

In August, I plunged into the most intense revisions I’ve ever done. Weeks ago, I resurfaced with a book of which I’m truly proud. More often than not, I don’t doubt that writing is what I should be
doing and what I want to be doing with my life, but 2014 cemented that

So I’d say the bar has been set pretty high for 2015!

My resolution? Go full speed ahead on FOTL, my epic fantasy. I think this was the same resolution I had last year, and I couldn’t accomplish it because I was so wrapped up in ELEGY and all its happenings. But this year, I really aim to draft Book 1.

And here are some other goals for the New Year:

– ♥ – Forgive myself for taking breaks. When I go out to dinner, when I read a book, when I walk aimlessly around the city, I’m going to tell my workaholic self not to feel guilty. I don’t have a lot of free time, it’s true, but not all of it has to be spent writing. I want to get out there and live a little. I’m hoping to travel to Ireland sometime this upcoming year, and maybe take a few smaller trips too. Clearing my head and enjoying time with people I love will only strengthen and enrich my stories, not detract from them.

– ♥ – Give myself more credit. I’m still learning that being humble does not mean I have to be unkind to myself. I hate that I always have an explanation when I get a compliment, or when something good happens. Did well in a contest? Just luck. Got good feedback? They’re just being kind. Lots of traffic on my blog? It’s because I’ve been around for a while. I never acknowledge how hard I’ve worked to write a very strong query and pages, or how tirelessly I try to make my blog fun and informative and enjoyable to read. People are responding to the effort I make, and they stick around for a reason.

– ♥ – Dive deeper into a story from the get-go. I don’t regret the crazy revisions I had to do for ELEGY. But I know now how to better prepare so that future drafts might not have to go through the same intense process. For FOTL, I’m doing very detailed character and relationship sketches before I start writing, which I didn’t do with my other books. I think it’ll help show me all of the layers and develop them better, and the end product will be a lot closer to “finished” than it would be otherwise.

– ♥ – Be more confident about my work. Sharing stories online – whether it’s on a blog or Pinterest or a contest – naturally poses the risk of poachers. But I am the only person who can tell my story the way I envision it, with my style. There is no other writer on this planet who can. Someone once said: Ideas are cheap; execution is everything. I will try to remember that all of my books are uniquely me. Plus, there’s more where they came from in this brain of mine!

– ♥ – Remember how lucky I am. I’m no stranger to that unique despair that only writing can cause. The despair of writing something not quite up to par (in your estimation or someone else’s). The despair of trying again and again, and being unable to reach the goal (yet). The despair of wondering what’s wrong with you because you don’t have what someone else has (a.k.a. the dreaded comparison demon!). But I have so much love and friendship in my life…so many people who care about me and want to see me succeed. I have the drive and the ability to accomplish my dream, which is a privilege that not everyone has. The next time I find myself standing on the brink of depression, I will remember this and let it bring me back again.

Guys, I thank you for this every year and this time around is no different. Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for your encouraging comments and tweets and emails. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have such a wonderful community of writer friends, and I hope one day I’ll get to meet at least some of you in person! Wishing you all a very bright, very happy new year.

Deja Vu Blogfest: Me Write Pretty One Day [Re-Post]

Dec 19, 2014 Main blog 20 comments

Today I am participating in the Deja Vu Blogfest hosted by my long-time friend and CP, DL Hammons! I’ve chosen to re-post an entry that I originally published back in February of this year. It’s a look back at all of the books I’ve written so far and what each of them has taught me.

Thanks for reading! I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else has re-posted!

When you’re a writer looking for advice on how to improve, it doesn’t matter where you go: an established author’s blog, a conference, a book signing, a writers’ group… One of the first pieces of advice will always be: “Just write.” The more you write, the more you learn and the better you will be.

You know that saying about not seeing the forest for the trees? Well, I think I’ve been so focused on big trees – like writing the perfect query letter, finding the perfect agent, and just, you know, my LIFELONG DREAM of seeing my name on a real, live book – that I’ve lost sight of the forest. After all, the whole point of this crazy attempt of mine is to become a better writer. I want to write something one day that resonates with somebody. I want them to wake up and think about my story. I want them to read a sentence I’ve written and say, “Dang. This girl can write.”

So I got to thinking. I’ve been writing books nonstop for the past six years, but have I become a better writer? Have I learned anything?

SECRET NOVEL: I’ve been writing forever, but this book was my first written as an adult. I was 22, trying to pretend I was happy and actually wanted to be a doctor. I worked in a medical research lab, but this was my real experiment: writing secretly at night, posting chapter by chapter online under a pseudonym, knowing that the reception would make or break my decision to pursue publication.

It is thanks to this novel that I wrote other novels. I learned about pacing, because writing a story in serial format – and having people want to read more – is not only just about hooking the reader, but keeping them hooked. The need to pace the story evenly became the need to outline my chapters, so I would know exactly what was happening and when. And now I can’t imagine writing without an outline!

RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS: This book taught me about characterization. A lot of writers pull inspiration from people they know in real life, but the skillful ones do it in such a way that no one can tell who they’re supposed to be. When I gave chapters of RFM to some of my family members, EVERYONE knew who they were supposed to be. And some of the descriptions were less than flattering. It was terrible! I learned to borrow defining characteristics, but to mold the characters into unique people in their own right.

PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS: I knew the basics about young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG). I had read widely in both categories. But I never really understood them until I started writing this book, which began YA and became MG. The difference between them might seem really obvious to you, but when I started writing, I had to learn the hard way that YA vs. MG is not just about age. It’s about the characters’ viewpoints, their goals, their dreams, and what drives and motivates them.

Noelle’s wide-eyed exploration of the future – and the very tentative romance – made the book much too young to be true YA, and I’m ashamed to admit it took several CPs, agents, and an editor to make me realize that it should have been upper MG all along. But upper MG it eventually became!

ELEGY: This was my first attempt at a ghost story, and it was a crash course in the art of suspense. I winged it, wrote a truly terrible rough draft, and had to struggle through various rewrites before it became anything resembling something exciting enough to keep reading. I had never written anything with high stakes or the supernatural – witches, maybe; fairy godmothers, yes; but never ghosts or curses – and so it was a tough lesson in juggling smooth plotting, world-building, and tension all at once, all the while making sure my characters were behaving the way they should.

I also learned – really learned – that it is impossible to make everyone happy. You can write nice characters and people will say they’re too Mary/Gary Sue, and you can write not-so-nice characters and people will say they’re too unlikable. You can kill someone at the end, and people will say you need a happy ending, and you can let them live, and people will ask “Why?” I learned how to absorb and apply feedback, but to also stay true to the vision that I have for the book.

THREADS: My NaNoWriMo 2013 project was based on Theseus and the Minotaur, and I did a crap ton of research before I started writing. I thought that if I tried to learn everything about everything, and to incorporate it in my book, that it would be a better book. I wrote about the texture of linen, and the taste of the wine (always watered down in ancient Greece; it was considered barbaric to drink it straight), and the architecture of the buildings, but got so bogged down with trying to include everything that the story suffered a lot. (It definitely helped the word count go faster, though!)

The manuscript has been gathering dust on my desktop ever since, because I’m too scared to look at it, but I learned a lot about doing thorough research and then choosing what to include, rather than dumping it everywhere.

FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS: This is my 2014 book. I’ve got several chapters written, so I probably haven’t learned anything yet, but I have a feeling that all of those previous experiences will help make this novel a lot better than it might otherwise have been. It’s an epic fantasy, and I want it to span multiple books, so even pacing will be a must; as always, I am pulling inspiration for characters from real life, so learning what to include and what not to include will be needed; and all of the research I have done will need to be distilled and sprinkled into the framework of the story, bit by bit.

Have I become a better writer? I’d like to think so. There’s so much left to learn, but I’d like to think that I’ve learned something from all of my stories and that I’ll be bringing the experience with me to every book I write from here on out.

What has writing your books taught you? Are there any specific lessons you’ve learned from each one?

Riding the Revision Rollercoaster

Dec 05, 2014 Main blog 17 comments

Oh, revisions: the only way a book can get better. Always satisfying at the end, but often maddening throughout. I’ve talked about my drafting process before, which is my absolute favorite part of writing. But I haven’t talked in depth about how I revise. Since I just wrapped up six grueling months of reworking ELEGY – the latest draft of which is now with betas! – I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at all of the twists and turns and ups and downs that led me to the book I have now.

Revision Rollercoaster Step 1: Prep. Empty stomach optional.

I prepped by gathering every single piece of constructive feedback I’d ever received for ELEGY. I collected tidbits from every email and every Word document with comments or tracked changes. I never waste a critique from anyone. What I do with the suggestions later is at my own discretion, but I consider absolutely everything. I don’t want to start revising without a complete picture of what every single person whose eyes have crossed this manuscript is thinking.

In a clean Word doc, I organized the feedback by type, like characterization, plot/pacing, and world-building, and also divided them into CP notes and agent notes. Then, with a big yellow highlighter, I marked up anything that appeared more than once. Those were the major things to address. For ELEGY specifically, the biggest items were Stella’s likability factor (being a prickly diva in the early drafts) and the ending of the book. The whole process helped me get a clear idea of what I would have to work on in the coming months.

Revision Rollercoaster Step 2: Pick a spot to sit and plant yourself down (firmly).

I think with revisions, where you start depends on whether you’re a plotter or a pantser. I’m a plotter, so it felt natural for me to start with a story outline. I never draft without an outline in hand, but for revisions I made a completely new one. I took a week off to refresh my brain before rereading the manuscript from top to bottom and scribbling down each chapter’s major events.

So after I did that, I now had two vital tools:

  1. A list of suggestions to address, with highlighted ones sticking out as most important.
  2. The skeleton of my entire story, so I could visualize – sometimes to the exact scene – where the changes needed to happen.

Revision Rollercoaster Step 3: Buckle your seat belt and hold on tight!

I took out my trusty neon Post-It notes and pasted them everywhere on the new outline. Here are some of the things I wrote on them:

Other Post-Its were so long, they looked like mini-novels! Those were the new chapters I wanted to write in, with everything I had to accomplish in that space. I think about 65% of the book I have now is made up of brand new scenes and chapters I wrote in to accommodate the changing plot and character motivations.

Revision Rollercoaster Step 4: Enjoy the downhills…while they last.

I began applying the changes, and some of the new words flowed like buttah! It was exhilarating, hands-in-the-air, screaming-with-fear-and-joy awesome.

There were scenes I could visualize so easily in my head, most notably the one in that first bullet point. I didn’t know Stella would be the one to discover Brunner sneaking around in the bell tower. I didn’t know how or when it would happen. For all of my planning and plotting, this book always has surprises in store for me, and that scene just spilled out and accomplished everything I wanted it to.

Revision Rollercoaster Step 5: Know that every uphill will eventually lead to a downhill. Key word: eventually.

There were so many long, torturous uphill stretches. I climbed and climbed and climbed, and sometimes lost sight of what the heck I was trying to do in the first place. (See this blog post.) I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of my poor CPs and writer friends who had to endure my long-winded, freaked-out emails and texts. I am pretty sure I exhausted Google Image’s supply of angsty/sobbing/heavily-drinking GIFs during this timeframe.

But I knew that eventually, there would be a downhill again. And there was!

Revision Rollercoaster Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 copious times. Abandon empty stomach metaphor and eat ALL THE THINGS.

It doesn’t even matter if this rollercoaster might make ALL THE THINGS come right back up. Get some caffeine (or in my case, chocolate and carbs, since I don’t drink coffee/tea/soda).

Revision Rollercoaster Step 7: The home stretch.

There is a scene in LITTLE WOMEN where Jo finishes writing the book of her heart, the one Professor Bhaer inspired in her. She ties it up with a ribbon and then she just sits there silently for a moment, looking at it. I think there’s a line that says something like: “That quiet moment showed how earnestly she had worked on her little book.”

That’s what I did. I sat there dumbly, staring at my manuscript. I had done it. I had done it under a rigorous deadline (well, rigorous for me) and a LOT of stress and pressure, with a ticking clock in my ear. But I had done it. I survived the biggest, most intense revisions I’ve ever had to do.

I can’t fully convey to you in words how gratifying it is to see that beta feedback pouring in. I can’t express how happy and whole I feel when someone who saw the earliest drafts now tells me: “This is the one. This is your book, as it was meant to be.”

I can’t tell you what it means when someone offers to blurb my book when it becomes a book, not if…when someone says that they were late to work because they just had to finish reading…when someone tells me they planned to save the book for Thanksgiving break, and ended up devouring the whole thing the same day I sent it.

Guys, this is the whole reason I write.

Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen when I start resubmitting. But what I do know is I’ve done everything I can to make this the best book I could possibly write. It’s been one crazy ride, and I know there are many more rollercoasters ahead – for ELEGY or for other books – but whatever happens, I’m ready. Throw it at me!

Giving Thanks!

Nov 20, 2014 Main blog 24 comments

So, the other day, I realized that this is going to be my blog’s sixth Thanksgiving! Crazy how the time flies!

Every year so far, I’ve written a post about the things for which I’m thankful. Now that I’m feeling back to my old self after that slump, I want to temper some of the negativity with a list of (maybe surprising) things that make me grateful. I’m one of those people who fixates on how far I have left to go, instead of appreciating how far I’ve already come. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but it’s good to reflect! So, without further ado:

Thankful Thing #1: I am thankful for rejections.

I have never had great self-esteem. But writing has always been my thing. Unfortunately, I was spoiled in school, where teachers petted me and I coasted through my lit/writing classes without breaking a sweat. This, combined with the reception I got when I posted an early novel online in 2008, led me to be over-confident. It didn’t help when I wrote another novel, blissfully submitted the rough draft (!!!) to a major contest, and saw it go through to the quarterfinals.

But my big head got a big reality check when I started querying. I was greener than green, and it showed. 2008 me was shocked and discouraged by the early rejections; 2014 me is thinking, I was nuts to expect anything else. I had a lot to learn, and I learned it (and am still learning). I got knocked down again and again, but I’ve gotten back up every time so far.

Without those rejections, I would be a weaker writer with a weaker book. I wasn’t ready then, and each “no, thank you” was a sign telling me so. There have been so many other signs since then, particularly this year. Good ones, exciting ones, and even I can see how much my work has grown and matured. I am older, I am humbler, and I am more ready with every book I write.

The only tricky part will be remembering that the next time I take a detour into the doldrums…

Thankful Thing #2: I am thankful that I have limited time to write.

I work full-time and I have a long commute. This means being away from the house at least 12 hours every single day. I always used to envy writer friends who didn’t have to work. They were so lucky to have all that time and that luxury, I thought. But the grass is always greener, and I’m learning that having the time to write doesn’t necessarily equate to using the time to write.

Having to work means that the few precious hours I steal on the weekends are even more valuable to me. I have no choice but to make the time, so the time means more. And I am so grateful to have a job at all, not to mention one that I like and that helps me live comfortably.

Thankful Thing #3: I am thankful that I found a family who will support my writing.

And that is you guys! My real-life friends who know that I write, my blog friends, my CPs, my mentors, my wonderful funny Tweeps, and all of you who come to read and comment.

I won’t linger long on this, since this post is meant to be positive, but many of you know my family has never been supportive when it comes to writing. I think many of us have been or are in that boat, though, which is why we’ve found this amazing community where we get the push we need that we might not be able to find elsewhere.

You are all a huge, huge part of why I keep going. Your believing in me makes me try harder to believe in myself, and I probably wouldn’t still be here blogging if it weren’t for you guys.

I hope you all have a wonderful, happy holiday (if you’re in the U.S., that is!), and that you have much to be thankful for this year.

♥ ♥ ♥

A Solitary Business

Nov 11, 2014 Main blog 25 comments

A week and a half ago, I hit one of the biggest writing slumps I’d had yet to experience.

Have you ever read THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster? In it, the main character finds a mysterious tollbooth leading to The Lands Beyond. When he drives his toy car through, he ends up getting lost in the Doldrums, a gray, colorless place where laughing and thinking have been outlawed. The inhabitants tell him he can do: “Anything as long as it’s nothing, and everything as long as it isn’t anything.”

I spent an entire week there. I moped and yawned and slouched. I cried tears of stress and frustration. I nearly bought real estate in the Doldrums – that’s how bad it was.

Every time I turned on the laptop and tried to revise, my brain shut down. I did all of those cute little tricks to get you writing again (“Just write one sentence!” or “Work on a different scene!” or “Do a character sketch!”), but none of them worked. I fell into despair, as melodramatic as that sounds. I told myself I was wasting time, and I had messed up everything, and readers were waiting for this draft – geez! why couldn’t I write faster?! – and other useful, encouraging things like that.

Well, I’m happy to report that I made it out eventually, and revised four chapters and wrote seven thousand new words this weekend!

So what helped me?

1) Writing about writing. The old-fashioned way: by hand, with a pen, in a leather journal.

For twenty years, every time I’ve felt upset or needed to think through something, I have written in a diary. I still believe that the physical act of putting pen to paper is the best therapy in the world. It’s slower than typing, but that’s why it helps: you have to think things through even more thoroughly while your hand is catching up.

I let loose for a few pages, and it felt like I was bleeding out anxiety and irritation instead of ink. I highly, highly recommend journaling if you ever hit a writing slump or hurdle or pothole of ANY kind. I wish I had done this sooner, but I would love to start a journal to go with every manuscript that I write. It would be fun to have a volume where I document each book’s process and record my thoughts as I write and later revise. I guess I kind of do that with my blog, but it would be nice to have a personal space for all of those thoughts and worries, too.

2) Recognizing that writing is a solitary business, just like everyone says.

We are writers, but we are people first. And people tend to need other people. So I turned to my friends and CPs, hoping they would make everything go away, hoping they would fill in the seismic cracks that had begun to form in my confidence. But here’s a dirty little secret about writing: as supportive as the community is, as wonderful as your buddies are, the only person who can get you out of the Doldrums is YOU.

There are places you go as a writer where no one can follow you, not even your closest friends. Everyone is at a different stage in the process. Everyone has their own situation to focus on. It’s hard to realize you’re all alone on the landing and your buddies are on other steps of the same staircase: some are very far behind you and stressing about just sending their work out; some are moving on to new books and putting together another agent list; and others are worrying about their editor’s suggestions or why their agent hasn’t gotten back to them yet.

It’s easy, when you seek reassurance, to feel unfulfilled because no one really understands what you’re going through right now. Don’t get me wrong: the sweet emails, supportive texts, and virtual pats on the back are wonderful and inspiring and can often give us the push we need. But at the end of the day, you have to climb out of the slump yourself. No one can do it for you.

That’s what I’m learning. And if you’re a glass-half-full person like me, it won’t be so much “I’m alone” as “I can depend on myself and I can do this!”

How have you escaped the Doldrums? Any tricks or tips to share when you’re in a slump?

The One Lovely Blog Award

Oct 28, 2014 Main blog 28 comments

My sweet friend June, who blogs over at Miss Bluestocking, gave me the One Lovely Blog Award last week! Personally, I think her blog is the lovely one! If you’re into lyrical writing, Austen, and period dramas in general, be sure to follow her. Here are the rules for accepting this award:

  1. Share 7 Lovely Facts about myself
  2. Link to 15 blogs (or as many as possible) that I enjoy reading
  3. Nominate the authors of those 15 blogs to participate and do the same, linking back to the original Lovely blog. (That would be this page.)

Here are some random facts that my revision-fried brain came up with:

1) I was a Girl Scout for two years. Not sure why this came to mind first, but maybe I have cookies on the brain after eating so healthy lately! My parents made me join because my fourth-grade teacher was concerned about my lack of social life and strong preference for reading over playing with the other kids. I remember it was really boring, because all we did was get together to sing and make crafts, but my best friend Talia (who some of you may remember from this adventure) made it a bit more bearable. I did like the play we put on for our parents, which was based on the story of Kirsten, the American Girl who traveled over from Sweden (I played the thrilling role of Mama). And, of course, I liked the cookies, especially the Thin Mints and those sandwich-looking ones with the strawberry filling. Mmm! Selling them was always a breeze, too; I just handed my parents the flier to pass around to their engineer friends at work. Boom.

2) I have only ever owned silver cars. Not because I only want silver ones, but that’s just the way it’s always worked out! Maybe I’ll branch out in a few years and buy a red one next.

3) My favorite food of all time is soup. It is my ultimate comfort food. I could eat soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I make a different one every week, and the crockpot is always in commission during the fall and winter. This month, it’s been corn and potato chowder, beef barley, and this Vietnamese chicken rice soup that I love. I’m hoping to get my mom to teach me how to make pho sometime. The way she does it is pretty involved, with soup bones and anise stars and seasonings cooking on and off over the span of two days, but it’s sooo worth it. And the house always smells amazing!

4) Here’s a Halloween-y one: in college, I spent one spooky night in a haunted dorm. There’s an enormous, gray stone dormitory on our campus that looks like a castle, and legend has it that it’s haunted by a stressed-out med student who hung himself in the attic years and years ago. One of my friends lived in this building and I stayed with her one night after a late class, not wanting to walk all the way back to my dorm. We sat up studying for our organic chem midterm the next day, and a lot of weird things happened that my friend said were pretty routine: the door slammed shut by itself even though all the windows were closed, the lights flickered several times even though it was a nice night, there were footsteps repeatedly coming down the stairwell but no one ever appeared, etc. The phone rang, but no one was on the other end (which also happened when we were watching “The Ring” with her floormates another night!). Maybe there was a ghost, trying to convince us not to be pre-med. Well done, sir.

5) I was born on one of the hottest days on record in New York. It was 95 degrees in September! You’d think that would mean I love heat and summer weather, but I hate it. I’m much more of a chilly weather person and I think anything above 80 is unbearable. It’s so much nicer to bundle up in layers and scarves and blankets.

6) I own more books than I own anything else. There’s a gorgeous built-in bookshelf that takes up one wall of my apartment, with scalloped woodwork and plenty of shelf space. I use it to store all of my favorite books and series, including all 56 original yellow hardcover Nancy Drews, a collector’s boxed set of Harry Potter paperbacks, and three different editions of The Lord of the Rings. There’s a special space for ARCs, which a publishing friend kindly supplies, and a space for books written by people I know. I’m also a knickknack hoarder, so you’ll find paperweights, old music boxes, glittery feathered masks I bought in New Orleans, a framed picture or two, and the two Chinese jade elephant figurines I’ve had since I was a kid.

7) I dream extremely vivid, detailed dreams. I used to write them all down in a journal, but even without recording them, I can often remember minute details and tell you about them the next day. Common themes are: elevators, shopping malls, running away from someone or something, and being late. I also often dream about acquiring something – whether it’s finding a lost object or buying new clothes – and wake up thinking that I’m still holding whatever it is. Maybe this is why I love THE DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater so much! #greywaren

Now to pass this award on to others. I’m going to give it to seven of my oldest and dearest blog buddies:

Hope you’re all having a good week so far! I should be blogging more frequently when revisions are over, as I need to take a writing break before jumping into the next book. I still haven’t decided what to draft next, but I’m leaning toward FOTL. Hopefully I’ll have a new excerpt or two to share with you before the end of the year, since I know you’re all sick of hearing about ELEGY! ♥

Meet My Character: The Writerly Meme Blog Tour!

Oct 17, 2014 Main blog 14 comments

I’ve been tagged for the Writerly Meme Blog Tour by the fabulous Emily Kate Muyskens, who blogs at Literary Emily Kate. She’s an incredibly talented writer/singer/model/all-around creative person and it was such a pleasure to meet her in person at the SCBWI conference back in May!

Today, I’m sharing a bit more about Stella, the main character of my YA paranormal suspense novel, ELEGY. She’s been one of my favorite protagonists to write, and even when this latest round of revisions is done, I’ll still be thinking about her and her story. To see how I envision Stella, check out my Pinterest board for ELEGY here.

Original artwork of Stella by my fabulous CP, Marisa Hopkins!

What is the name of your character? Is he/she a fictional person or a historic person?

Her full name is Stella Kim, she is seventeen years old, and she is a completely made-up character.

When and where is the story set?

ELEGY is a ghost story told in intertwining narrative, with journal entries and letters throughout. Stella’s story takes place in the present, at a Loire River Valley chateau that has been converted into a performing arts school.

The other story takes place in the late 1890s and has many settings, ranging from the Loire Valley and Paris to the Italian countryside.

What should we know about him/her?

Stella was raised in New York City by her mother, Deborah, who is a famous Korean violinist. She has been groomed for the stage since birth and dreams of performing in the world’s greatest concert halls.

She seems confident, but she suffers from an intense fear of failure. There’s a lot of pressure from her mom and fierce competition from the other students. She was a big fish in a small pond, and now she’s fighting for the spotlight with people who are all used to being the best.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

One of Stella’s biggest challenges arises when an old violin ends up in the hands of her best friend, Aria Stewart. It slowly turns Aria from a shrinking violet with debilitating stage fright to a musician who quickly out-performs everyone at school. Stella struggles with jealousy, shame, and the suspicion that the violin may be doing more harm than good.

What is the personal goal of the main character?

Stella’s goal changes over the course of the book, and to say how might spoil the plot! So I’ll stick to a safe answer: she wants to be a star and to finally earn her mom’s respect.

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

ELEGY is the title I’ve had since I started writing it. It’s named after the piece that inspired it, which you can listen to here: Elegie, by Jules Massenet.

I won’t be posting any excerpts at this time, but if you look around on my blog and on others, you can find the query and various pages from the contests I entered this year.

When we can expect the book to be published?

Here’s something I’ve learned in my six years of pursuing traditional publication: always hope, never expect.

So… I hope it will be published one day!

Thanks so much for tagging me, Emily! I would like to pass this on to my CPs, Tiana Smith and Margo Berendsen, who are writing lovely, marvelous books. But please feel free to participate if you like, and let me know when you’ve done so. I’d love to learn more about your characters!

Still On the Revision Boat…

Oct 08, 2014 Main blog 23 comments

…but the shoreline is in view!

I have been revising ELEGY since late June, and I can finally see the home stretch.

“Revising” is such a nice, mild word, isn’t it? It brings to mind a neat red pen, an eraser, and a mug of chamomile tea, when in actuality (in my case, at least), it’s been tears and tearing hair and texts of despair to my CPs.

I am literally rewriting half the book, to inject more tension into the present day storyline and tie the two plots more closely together. I am making my main character kinder and more sympathetic. And I am changing the entire ending, in which one person who died will live and one person who lived will die. (And one person who was already dead will stay dead.)

This is the hardest book I have ever written. I’m inclined to think that’s a good thing, because one of my big goals for this year was to step out of my comfort zone. I am always slightly uncomfortable when writing ELEGY. It has its own agenda. It takes unexpected twists and turns to mock me and my detailed plans. Where my other books have been docile, clear-cut, this one is a chameleon, changing hues, moody, unpredictable.

I’ve worked on it for so long, and I’m so close to it now, that I can’t tell whether I’m revising the life right out of it, scrubbing out that magic quality that turned heads in the first place. But I’m cautiously optimistic, and I’ll leave it up to my beta readers to decide when I send them the completed draft.

It’s more and more clear to me, every day of this crazy journey, that writing takes work. HARD work. I never imagined it would be this hard. The self-assured me who aced literature classes without batting an eye, the me who won school contests and awards with rough drafts, would be horrified to learn how incredibly difficult book-writing is. It’s not for the weak or the faint of heart. It’s not enough to just be a good writer; you have to want this more than anything.

I can see that some of the friends and family who know what I’m attempting think I’m insane.

Recently, one of them said to me, with obvious pity in her eyes: “I see you struggling and I think to myself, I would have quit a long time ago if I were you.”

But that’s the difference between non-writers and writers: they don’t want this as badly as we do. They see a long, tough road ahead, full of people saying “no” and rejection emails clogging the inbox, and think hey, wouldn’t it be easier to just stop trying?

Quitting, man. It saves so much time.

But I’m not a quitter. I’ve proven it to myself over and over again, and my reward is the doors that are beginning to open. I am so close and I can’t – won’t – give up now.

Another thing that’s driving me to finish: NaNoWriMo, which starts in three weeks! I am itching to draft something new after all of this rewriting. I still can’t decide whether I’m going with the new MG action/adventure story or with my epic fantasy, at long last, but I have some time to figure it out!

How are you doing? If you’re revising, is your book fighting you as much as mine is fighting me?

Middle Grade Switcheroo

Sep 10, 2014 Main blog 15 comments

I’ve been missing PPP a lot lately. I miss my characters: my spunky Noelle, my motherly Maud, my sarcastic animal sidekicks Muffet and Alfonso. I miss that world of kingdoms inside caves and glittering castle balls and mines full of diamond glass and baby dragons. Most of all, I miss the fun, and the adventure, and exploring what it means to live your own life, by your own choices.

Every so often, the dark themes of ELEGY – as much as I completely adore this story – get me wanting to go back to my light-hearted middle grade. I was proud of how well it did when I sent it out for critique and started querying (though not widely), but it ended up on the shelf because 1) it needed revisions I wasn’t ready to do at the time, and 2) ELEGY was demanding that I write it immediately. (Such a pushy book!)

PPP still has my heart, though, and I fully believe in it and hope that it will get published one day, even if it’s not my debut. There’s so much of me in it, you see. I started writing it when I was still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. And I figured it out right alongside Noelle. She helped me, and the book helped me, and they made me laugh at a time when I didn’t laugh often. I’m thinking of one scene where she rides into a village in a pumpkin carriage of her own terrible design (after the real carriage breaks down roadside – hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?) and she’s covered in pulp and seeds, yet manages to smile and wave at the hysterically laughing townspeople.

The manuscript is printed out and sitting in a binder in a corner of the computer room, and I keep wanting to reread it. Maybe I’ll finally get a chance next month!

I’m conflicted, though, because I’m also dying to write my YA epic fantasy.

And then there’s another story, a brand-new story, that’s been vying for my attention if I wanted to go the MG route next. It’s part mystery, part action/adventure, and centers on a tight-knit group of twelve-year-olds.

I think this must mean ELEGY revisions are going well if I’m looking forward to finishing them, and already thinking about what to write next!!

What about you? Do you alternate books with different moods? If you write a dark book, do you long to write a light, funny one next, and vice versa?

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Blogging

Aug 28, 2014 Main blog 18 comments

Blogging is one of my favorite things about the writing community. If this were a neighborhood, our blogs would be our houses – a place to be comfortable, be ourselves, and welcome friends over. But when I first started back in 2008, it seemed so incredibly scary and daunting. The idea of 1) putting myself out there and 2) putting my writing out there, something that I rarely tell people about, was terrifying. So what convinced me to do it?

Well, back then, I didn’t know anything about building a platform. I just wanted to make friends… to connect to people who were as serious about getting published as I was and to feel less alone on this crazy pipe dream of mine. And I wanted to find out if my writing was up to par. I told myself that if it didn’t work out, I could just delete everything and pretend I had never blogged at all.

Fast forward six whole years, and here I still am. I’ve made dear friends, I’ve found critique partners, and I’ve gotten so many of my questions about the industry answered. All through blogging. The very first agent I ever queried was someone who found me through my blog, and liked what she saw, and asked to see my work.

So blogs are incredibly powerful tools when you’re starting out as a writer… as long as you’re willing to take the time to nurture it, and to keep it up, and to use it properly.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. Don’t use comment verification. That is, if you care about comments – and you should care, because you want people to interact with you and respond to what you write! Back in the day, I had this option turned on because there was a phase where I kept getting spam comments about male enhancement products. Lovely! Well, comment verification stopped those comments… and a lot of other comments, too, ones I actually wanted to read. Turns out it’s kind of annoying when you have to type “RX1241PO” five times (because that’s what that stupid blurry picture says! It totally does!) and it still tells you it’s wrong, and accuses you of being a robot. And Blogger has a spam filter now, so that helps screen stuff out.
  2. Don’t auto-play music. (So guilty of this!!) You don’t want to turn people away before they even have a chance to read, because they hate Usher/Johnny Cash/Mozart/whatever is blasting through the speakers whenever they click on your page.
  3. Inject some “you” into your blog. Make your blog a unique place. Make the stories and information something that people can’t just find somewhere else. When I’m reading blogs, I connect best with the ones that are personalized. It’s so much more fun and engaging to read about someone’s day than a cut-and-dry how-to post on synopses or something.
  4. Make the posts easy to read. My preference is dark, big font on a light background. I can’t stay on blogs/websites that have the reverse for longer than a minute or two, because I start going cross-eyed.
  5. Be real, but be positive. I’m preaching to the choir when I say that trying to get published can be a rocky road. Everyone has ups and downs. But no one wants to read a blog where the writer just moans and complains all the time.
  6. Don’t promote other authors too much. Guest posts and interviews are fine once in a while, but this is YOUR blog and people come to read about YOU.
  7. If you’re published, don’t promote yourself too much. By the way, I’m so glad Twitter finally came up with this “Mute” business. If someone is too tweet-happy about their new book (only $2.99 on Amazon! Buy now! Hurry!), now you can just “Mute” them instead of unfollowing, which I used to do.
  8. Use good grammar and spelling. You’re a writer. Prove it.
  9. Use paragraph breaks. Pretty please! Huge columns of text are not fun to read.
  10. Just be a nice person. Make time to respond to comments, and to return comments. It’s just common courtesy. People are taking time to read our blogs and respond, so it’s the least we can do!

Blogging buddies, what other things have you learned in your experience? And, just for fun, how long have you had your blog?

Julie C. Dao