Fall 2018 Update

I’m back from my accidental hiatus! Where was I?

Well, that’s a good question. There was a cold that wouldn’t leave, a trip to two different states to visit family, and plenty of writing.

I’ve actually written three blog posts since my last update but never hit publish on any of them.  They didn’t feel worth posting, honestly. But it’s Sunday night, and I want to talk to you even if I really can’t find the right words to say what’s up. So here’s what’s going down in my world (for now):

Liminal Boy Update

Yeah, I know. It seems as if every blog somehow ends up being about how I’m still working on it. And, no surprise here, I’m still working on it. Every day, I sit down for a few hours (or ten on my days off) and work on it. There has been some exciting progress. The first two hundred pages were polished and sent to my CP, Jenn Gott. I’m excited and nervous to see her reaction.

There’s been plenty of hiccups with this story (and by hiccups I mean existential crises and backtracking). Act two and three are most likely going to take me even longer to polish. Why?

Well, for starters I’ve given up some of my time to take on more work to you know, pay the bills.  Then my carpal tunnel has started to creep up on me, which is severely cutting my writing time down. And, of course, my main pal is sidetracking me. My BFF and constant companion, Doubt.

LB’s draft has taken triple the amount of anticipated time to write, and the last two-thirds of the book is…. complicated doesn’t even begin to describe it. Confusing, detailed, tangled… Intricate is the word I use most often. Still, I fear I’m doing something wrong by taking so long even though part of the reason I’m taking so long is that I’m trying to make this story as perfect as possible. Self-imposed deadlines are coming and going, being replaced by new due dates. I keep counting the time down to my next one and worry I won’t make it. But the truth is I feel as if I’m on the right track this time, and worrying about lost time won’t give me any more time. The story will be done when it’s done. This story deserves its best shot, and I’m not about to throw out a story I’m not 100% proud of. Bare with me, friends.

Tuesday

Go vote, go vote, go vote. If not for yourself or for your future, do it for me, please.

It’s important. You don’t need me to repeat why. You know. So just do it.

Sabrina

Ok, I’ll admit. I’m boring. I don’t watch tv or go see movies even though I’m ALWAYS saying how I need to watch tv or go see movies. But on Halloween, I sat down and watched the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It was good but I feel a little bitter about it: I am now so old they are remaking the shows from my childhood. Also, Salem didn’t talk, and COME ON, it wouldn’t have ruined the show to keep the talking cat.

Nanowrimo

As I mentioned on my Instagram, I am not doing Nano this year. Focusing on Liminal Boy is difficult enough without trying to convert editing hours into word counts for the tracker. It sort of hurts, to be missing it again. I appreciate the comradery that springs up every November. Nano has been a great way to dash out a rough draft, and I have one I’ve been desperate to get to (one that is separate from The Opposition) but it will have to wait a little longer. That said, I know if I were to calculate all the hours of revision, I’d win again. But that’s not really the point of Nano for me. It was always about that new story and, having spent nearly two years with Lanny in my head, he’s not exactly new to me.

Good luck to everyone participating this year. If you get stalled let me know, and I’ll dish out some cheerleading and pep talks!

Coffee!

This month I’ve tried maple coffee, breve, and of course, got the first peppermint mocha of the season. (Believe it or not but I’m not a flavored coffee kind of person. However, Starbucks coffee has some sort of magical gift for clearing up any migraines or exhaustion I might be suffering from. It must be all that sugar.) But I’m trying to cut down on the amount of coffee I drink (Don’t tell Jo) and switch to teas. Matcha is my current favorite drink as is the Twinnings White Hibiscus (I wish it wasn’t so hard to find). I keep wanting to go to coffee houses to work, but I’m honestly TERRIBLE at doing so. I have to make sure my laptop is charged (because I can never get by an outlet), bring my headphones so I don’t get distracted by other people (but then worry if they can hear Leonard Cohen blasting out of my headphones), and GOD FORBID someone sits next to me (because they might read what’s on my screen) and the inevitable: I have to pee but there’s no way in hell I’m leaving my stuff unattended. There’s a ton of coffee shops near me, but I need one that’s geared towards writers. Give me individual comfy chairs and wide tables. Give me a little cubicle around my chair that locks my stuff in so no one can touch it. Let the barista bring the drinks to me. And sell gluten-free dairy-free snacks. Yeah, I’ll just stay at home, where my main problem is getting the courage to push my cat off my chair.

Until next time.

Psst. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter

The Healthy Author: Part One

Happy Autumn Equinox!

I mean, it was 110 degrees today but let’s pretend it’s PSL season here. I welcomed fall to the desert by spending the day with a pie pumpkin. (It put up a fight.) I cut it, roasted it, peeled it, mashed it, and turned it into a gluten-free, refined sugar-free, dairy-free, organic chocolate-chip pumpkin bar. I’ve been doing an intense food overhaul to better manage my health. So far, it’s actually working. (Knock on wood.) The headaches, joint pain, and chronic fatigue are easing up. Of course, life has been CHAOS these past few weeks, but I’ve started to just roll with it and take things one moment at a time.

Today, as I was fighting with this pumpkin, I started bemoaning the amount of time I was putting into just making a damn dessert bar. It would be so much easier to use canned pumpkin or just skip the baking process altogether… but then I stopped myself from that negative thinking because (as I’ve mentioned before) I like baking. And time-consumption is part of the process. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t bother going through the hassle of creating it.

Which got me thinking.

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, a book about the creative process. There were a few things I disagreed with, but the main thing that I LOVED is Gilbert’s perspective on writing. Namely, that it should be a positive and uplifting thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suffered through someone moaning about writing. I mean REALLY complaining. They complained about it ruining their life, the struggle, the burden… you know, all the tormented artist cliches.

Sure, I’ll gripe about writing. I’ll complain about confusing myself with a plotline or when my characters quit speaking to me. But if it truly caused me a ton of bitterness, I wouldn’t write. Just like  I wouldn’t bother with that pumpkin I fought to turn into a dessert bar. Life is too short to dedicate yourself to something you hate doing.

Lately, I’ve started blocking/muting people who appear in my feeds who post things like “Oh, god I’d rather be napping or doing literally anything other than writing.”  I’ll sit there, looking at their never-ending stream of complaints and think, “Then go do the thing you’d rather do? Are you contractually obligated to write at this very moment?”

I write because I LOVE to write. I write because it makes me happy. If I have bad days, I don’t force myself to do it. If I have longer bad spells, I put on my adult-face and power through it until I get back into the groove.

For instance, after I put the pumpkin bar in the oven this afternoon, I sat down at my desk to write then realized… I wasn’t in the right mind frame. Did I lament my burden and force myself to smash out a scene? Nope. Did I still want to visit my story’s world? Yup. What did I do? Research.  I spent a good few hours fact-checking some things in the draft.

All of these complaints reminded me of someone I knew who, when asked why they became a writer said, “Because I thought it would make me look so cool. I wanted to be one of those writers sitting in a cafe by a river, smoking a cigarette, and musing about life.”

Uh. Ok? I guess so. Personally, I became a writer because I like stories.

How to Not Write So You Can Write

Being a healthy writer doesn’t begin and end with a positive mindset. You need a support system. You need the ability to write. You need the courage to write.

You also need to know how to not write.

You need to have hobbies and a social life and things that do not have any ties to the written worlds you create.

I wonder how many of those people I muted would benefit from learning how to take a break so they could fall in love with writing again. So they could cut out that harmful tormented artist persona and actually enjoy their calling.

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 8.52.21 PM
Amanda Palmer lyrics above my desk, always there to remind me.

 

Look, I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I’m sure I’m made this mistake but I’m learning to avoid it. How?

Here’s my go-to “Get Your Head Out of Your Ass” tricks:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Brush a cat.
  • Bake something.
  • Read a book.
  • Vine compilations.
  • Clean.
  • Knit.
  • Rearrange a bookshelf. A closet. A drawer.
  • Find something to make writing easier: be it a new set of post-it notes, or compression gloves, listen to another writer talk about writing or their story, or try a new herbal tea. (Completely unrelated, Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend is amazing.)

I tried gardening but… wow, that did not go well. Sorry, plants. I hope you’re in a better place.

It’s a short list. One that I’m looking to improve and expand. So, authors, tell me— How do you stay healthy? What do you do to keep from getting too inside your own head? I’ll post the best responses in a follow-up blog.

Until next time.

 

Ask the​ Author: Should I Study Writing at University or be Self-Taught?

_johnsonconsultants.com

This blog has been a long time coming. It’s a topic close to me, and I’m sure to many many other writers since the dawn of literature. It’s a question that probably all authors have asked themselves and have been asked by new voices seeking to understand the craft:

Should I study writing in an educational setting or should I learn through self-taught methods?

Is there a wrong answer to this question? Of course, there is. There’s two, actually.

The first wrong answer is, “Of course, you should go to school to study writing.” The second is, “Of course, you should study on your own.”

The right answer? “You have to weigh both options and decide that for yourself.”

Hint: Never ever listen to any advice that declares “THIS IS THE ONLY WAY.” This is art you are asking about, not how to build a rocket. There’s a little more room for going off the rulebook.

Let’s start at the beginning.

So, you want to be a published author. Do you need a degree for that?

NO ONE in publishing is going to care if you have an MFA or BA in Creative Writing. No one will care about your degrees or certificates or how many months you spent outside the Globe discussing satire with Shakespeare’s ghost. (Well, maybe those guys from Buzzfeed Unsolved would.)

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 3.59.17 PM.png

If you send your novel to publishers or an article to magazines, no one digging through the slush pile is going to stop and take notice of your work because they see the byline about your degree. What would capture their attention? The quality of your work itself.

Studying in a Traditional Educational Setting

When I say traditional education setting, I mean a university, college, or course where you listen to a teacher, turn in work for a grade, and are expected to critique other students work. 

Spoiler: I went this route. It says so right in the bio on my published novels. (Why? I really don’t have a lot to say about my boring life and the line made for a nice uneven sentence number in the bio. I don’t think any readers really care about where you studied.)

I didn’t go to college originally to become a CW major. But I transferred to a university that offered it as a degree, I was accepted into their program, and I learned… what?

Well, I learned about a lot of books, books written by male writers, the history of literature, the classification of literature, and other stuff that was more about the way the world views literature than the actual writing of it. 

But in those few actual writing classes?

I learned a lot about myself as a writer.

See, I had been writing for about ten years before I was ever accepted into college. I had amassed a lot of work but I never let anyone read it. I was embarrassed. I also didn’t HAVE anyone outside of my parents to give my stories to for a critique. (And we all know mom isn’t going to tell you to work on character development.) 

For the first time in my life, I was getting feedback. Real feedback from teachers and teachers’ assistants and other students.  Now, I don’t know about other programs but you couldn’t be outright mean in my classes nor could you be all fluff. You had to give and receive constructive criticism. 

I learned how a lot of different perspectives liked or disliked my work.

I learned how I didn’t care how some of those perspectives felt about my work (looking at you, guy who said my character’s existential crisis could be solved by picking up litter).

More than anything during my time at the university, I learned I was confident about my writing. This might not help you, reader, in making your decision because this probably won’t be the case for everyone who goes to study at a university, but my confidence grew not just out of the grades I got back on my stories but also out of my time with other students.

My fondest memories are of the times other students would come up to me before or after class (Note: I was invisible in every other class except for the writing ones) and ask me how to do something for their story, why I did something in mine, how did I come up with this, etc. 

Word got around and people I never met asked me to take a look at their applications to be accepted into the program. In a couple of years, I went from afraid to show another people my stories to “Here, read this story I wrote and pay attention to the foreshadowing then I’ll show you how to incorporate that into your own.”

I didn’t presume I was the best writer in these classes. I could point to several others, people I was certain would have their amazing unique stories published. Then, in one of my final classes before graduation, one of those people followed me out of the building and said, “You know you’re the best writer in every class I’ve been in?” A few other people filed out and called out in agreement. That moment, right before graduation, stuck in my head. I told him how much that meant to me because I thought he was the best in the classes. “Nah. Plus, you’re actually going to do something after we’re done.”

I’m not writing all this to blow my own horn. I’m telling you this because my greatest learning experience came from interacting with other writers, in seeing how my work was received. In gaining confidence. Can you get all this from going to somewhere that doesn’t require tuition? Meet-up groups? Peer groups? Online groups? Hell, yes, you can. And without taking out a student loan as well.

Was it all sunshine and growth at these classes? Hell, no.

I don’t regret going to university for a CW degree but I didn’t learn anything about publishing, or how to get published, or how to make a living as a writer. I didn’t learn about copyrights. I learned about the timeline of the Romantic period and the “rules of writing.” Rules that (big surprise) kind of ruined writing for me for several years.

No teacher would accept any sort of genre fiction in these classes. I cranked out “serious literature” for years to appease them. The one time I wrote a “funny” story, classmates loved it. The next day, in a meeting in her office, the teacher sighed and said, “You should stick to serious stories.” A few months later I met a favorite children’s author at a book-signing. When I repeated this story he looked up at me with a grin and said, “Genre authors are the only authors who earn money these days.”

What did this mean?

Serious = Respect?

Genre = Money?

What about what I wanted to write? What about passion? I whined. Where was the muse of my teenage years? Did she leave when I went to a structured learning environment? Did I kill her? Smother her with textbooks?

Then Nanowrimo snuck up. “Dare to suck” was their tagline. I’d been meaning to try it for years and with nothing to lose, I did. I wrote a ridiculous book and discovered my muse was just hanging out in the corners, waiting for me to get my shit together.

My final take away from those years in school…

Traditional Setting Pros: Exposure to opinions, people, methods. Confidence. 

Traditional Setting Cons: Cost. May lose sight of your purpose along the way.

 Studying on Your Own

Maybe I was a pretty decent writer upon arriving at university because I had been learning the craft on my own. Like I said, I’d been writing for years before college. During that time, I was studying without realizing it. I read good books and bad books. Serious and genre. Fiction and Non. Biographies. I listened to authors talk about their work. I asked them questions. I picked apart favorite stories to determine why I loved them so I could replicate those emotions in my own stories. I picked apart my own stories.

Was I any less of a writer before the degree? Is anyone who studies on their own less of a writer? 

Hell, no.

Those who study on their own have no stakes (no student loans to validate, no grades to earn). They study for the love of the craft. They have this desire to get better, to make good art.*  Their pursuit on their own terms is as (if not more) honorable in its own right.

Maybe you aren’t exposed to the same things as you would be in a traditional setting, but with the aid of modern technology, you can discover so much, talk to so many people, that you stand a fair fight to do so. 

Are there those who would disagree with me? Hell, yes. But I suggest you don’t listen to them. See, I have my own damn degree, but I have a terrible memory. I can’t recall the correct terms to use when discussing literature. Any critique lesson with me eventually includes me saying something like, “I think you should change that word…. Is that an adjective? Adverb? Proposition? Shit. Hang on let me Google what I’m trying to say here. Also that thing? That metaphor-simile-thing was great.” And those snobs would definitely have something to say about that. Terms are terms. If you know the meaning and how to enact the change, the rest is redundant.

What Turns You into a Good Writer?

Degree or not, there is one vein that runs through every successful author I’ve ever met. You can’t learn this in either setting. The secret?

Don’t give up.

Did they get rejected from the CW program they applied to? Studied on their own.

Book rejected by a publisher? Tried another publisher. Self-published. Wrote another book.

Published a book that wasn’t well received? Wrote another one.

In the end

My muse fled… then I dug her out of hiding.

A few months ago I looked at the application for an MFA from a college in NY. Do I miss the learning environment? Yes. Am I afraid I won’t be taken seriously there? Yes. So what am I doing?

Thinking. And reading. And writing.

In the end, self-taught or traditionally taught, you will never stop studying the craft. Years after you graduate, years after you’ve published a dozen books, you should still be picking up books about the craft. You should still stop in the middle of a new release and study the beauty of that one line that made you pause and take it apart to understand what makes it work.

 

This has been another irregularly schedule blog from Stefani. Comments? Questions? Send me a message or leave a thought below.

My next few blogs will be about self-publishing, so if you have any questions about that send them to me!

*Yes, Neil Gaiman reference. The same line I put on my cap when I graduated with my degree. 

The Making o​​f: Midnight

Life, revisions, and going refined sugar-free has brought me down. So, this post is going to be fun. My inspiration? A recent blog from Jenn Gott (Author of The Private Life of Jane Maxwell and The Beacon Campaigns) caught my attention. All of Jenn’s fun facts about the making of Private Life were not only interesting to me as a fan of her book,  but also as an author. As I’ve mentioned before, I wrote The Opposition as a stand-alone novel. A lot of things changed from that original draft to the finished book lurking on your Kindle.

So, here’s a few behind-the-scenes/fun facts about the creation of Midnight:

Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 1.53.28 PM
Four different versions of Midnight (out of about eight total)

Midnight was released on June 13th, 2017. The same day Jo wakes up in the morgue.

Jo’s original name was Terri. She was an only child. Then she was given an older brother to further her plot. Her original motive was revenge on Morgan, but writing a revenge plot just wasn’t working for me.

Jo’s character was divided into two after Jamie came into play. And no, the other half of her isn’t Jamie, but another character. *whistles innocently*

Her brother became her twin brother after I read about the link between MS and twins (the same fact Jo mentions to Morgan in their first encounter.) The early draft was HILARIOUS because I made the switch part-way through– meaning she references her twin as being four years older than her several times.

Jo and Jamie were named so because I had a highly illogical scene where Jo pretends to be Jamie to get a copy of her death certificate and I needed unisex names for both of them.

Jo’s name was decided upon after I realized her entire motive was stealing Jamie away from Morgan. (Jolene, Jolene, Joleeenee, Jooolllleeennneee…)

I HATED the name Langdon and lamented how I couldn’t find a better fit for him. After I gave out the first round to my inner circle someone sent me a text that merely said, “Aw, you never changed his name?” But by that point, I really really loved the name. *shrugs*

Stan was originally called Stanley, an ode to his love of comics. (Stanley = Stan Lee. I amuse myself.) Not entirely sure why I shortened it.

Darcy was originally called Jane because I didn’t have any character development planned for her in the first draft and thought of her as a Plain Jane. All I knew was that her parents were famous literature professors, one of whom was a Jane Austen expert… (Guess you can see what happened there.)

Why Montreal? Originally it was set in New York, but that’s where allllll superhero stories happen. Then one of my favorite lines popped into my head. A jest from E4’s Misfits, “Superheroes? That sort of thing only happens in America.” Thus, Canada. Montreal was chosen for its proximity to NY and because I wanted an area that had a lot of people but didn’t have *as* high a cost-of-living.

Jo assigns nicknames and not just to Ben. Among these: Marge instead of Margret, peanut instead of Langdon, and yes, Jamie instead of James (Though that one is less obvious. He’s given up and introduces himself as Jamie to everyone now). There are more examples of this in Liminal Boy. This all stemmed from the second draft of The Opposition, which was the first time the story was told entirely from Jo’s POV. Since she didn’t have access to the others’ names, she assigned them code names like they assigned her the title Midnight. Parts of that survived the final draft.

Jo’s role in helping Jamie become famous was cut in Midnight but will be explained in more detail in Liminal Boy. 

There are two large running themes in The Opposition. Perspective is one. For example, Jo is EXTREMELY unobservant. There are a lot of clues she either didn’t notice or became too distracted to really take in. Some of these hints will come back in Liminal Boy. Some of these are ABOUT Liminal Boy.

Mirrored people are the other huge theme. Jo and Jamie or Morgan and the doppelgängers are one type of mirrors. Another would be the way Jo presented herself versus the way others perceived Midnight. 

Aside from Jo’s unobservant nature, Lupe is often not mentioned on purpose. She is the invisible girl, after all. Poor Lupe goes unnoticed beyond just when she is using her verve. 

The REV is based on the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which is a high powered generator used in big things. Not in humans. Not implant-size.

Speaking of implants, I’m slightly terrified of them which why I used them as the source of the verve. 

Speaking of verve, I became really fond of the word after I got into a disagreement with a professor in the middle of a class over an author’s motive for using that specific word in a short story. (I still stand that it was a reference to the 90’s band, The Verve.) (Sadly, I can’t remember that story’s title.)

Part of Jo’s verve stemmed from my desire to have the ability to 1. not need glasses and 2. eat all the food I am allergic to.

The verve side-effects are mostly for plot reasons but also because I get the hiccups more than anyone I know and I wanted someone else to suffer. (Sorry, Jamie.)

The layout of Summers’ Reads and the East Rivers Center is slightly based on a favorite indie bookstore of mine and the shopping complex it’s in. I marvel at the neighborhood behind it and often wonder what it would be like to live so close to a bookstore. The restaurants and coffee shop in the fictional center are much closer and of better quality, however. 

I had a neighbor once who owned a very large, very fluffy Chow Chow. She was a big sweet goof. Misty is the lesser-behaved version of that dog.

I automatically trust people who have a lot of pets. When I wanted to establish the Summers as trustworthy my first thought was to give their household a lot of dogs. 

Ben and Dan were characters from a short story that lived in my head, as where the Hardings’ parents (in an unrelated story). I really want to bring in those backstories at some point.

All of the chapter titles in Midnight were originally puns, but I changed nearly all of them out of fear of copyright issues. My personal favorite? “Bitch Better Have My Brother.”

“The Dark Horse” was the last title I decided on. It’s a nod to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long blog as well as Langdon’s character development throughout Midnight. (And ok, that one Katy Perry song I like.)

I really hated editing Chapter 18. “Breaking and Entering” was a logistical nightmare. It was also the second scene I wrote entirely for Midnight and not for the stand-alone. 

The first scene I wrote for Midnight was the fight at the diner. Those two scenes told me everything I needed to know about Jo and what kind of tone her story would have. 

Speaking of scenes from hell: Langdon and Jo’s meeting was written no less than a dozen different ways. These include:

  • A liminal fight in an abandoned warehouse in front of Jamie and the other experiments.
  • Jo running into him while stalking the mansion.
  • A version of the scene where he catches her at the end of Chapter 18.
  • A confrontation near a stop sign.
  • A confrontation at the facility Morgan took Kiko to for “treatment.”
  • A fight at one of Morgan’s abandoned facilities.
  • A confrontation at the facility Jo burned down in Chapter One.
  • A fight at a gas station that somehow snowballed into the pair getting coffee at a breakfast diner.
  • Langdon just casually rolling up to the Summers’ house… and, yeah, a fight.

I snark on my own characters. Jo’s line “I like (Langdon) even though he never listens to a thing I say” is 100% a line I inserted while fed up with him during the editing stage. For an explanation, see the above fun fact.

My favorite literary device is foreshadowing. “By the time it was all over, I couldn’t count how many different versions of him there were” was a subtle jab at the clones. Meanwhile, “Holding a sibling hostage with the looming threat of death creates a lot of stress” was a more obvious hint that Jo was still part of the experiment.

Whew. Enough for you? Would you like some facts about The Moonlight Herders? Or another one of these in the future for Liminal Boy?

A Challenge of Circumstance

_johnsonconsultants.com.png

This blog title sounds like a long-lost Jane Austen novel, doesn’t it? Austen might understand what I’m talking about, so I guess it’s fitting. So. Long ago Virginia Woolf famously stated that women writers need “money and a room of one’s own” if they want to stand a fair chance at making it as a writer in a male-dominated field. Alice Walker later expanded on Woolf’s take by noting how women of color need more than just money and a space to reach a fair playing ground. These arguments flicker through my mind often because I find myself lacking in both the money and space departments. Is it weird that I dream about a writing shed? A little room to write and solely to write undisturbed?

Then, this week actor Geoffrey Owens was in the news, shamed for working at Trader Joe’s in between gigs. I wondered, when did the conversation stop? When were artists suddenly expected by society to exist solely as artists without any need for a livelihood?

I’m guilty of hiding my jobs from each other, separating the “writer” from the “human being who need money to survive.” I spent ages hiding the fact I was a writer working a “normal” job. But not anymore. I noticed the more honest about my circumstances the more “hey, me too!” I’ve been met with in response.

Recently, Victoria Aveyard tweeted about circumstances which allowed her to write her first novel (living with her parents as she wrote).  She ended the thread by stating that she knew she had it better than others. Still, she shared the information because she wanted others to know about the foundation she had in the hopes that it would help demystify the process.

Like a Jane Austen heroine, I’m all about wallowing in my circumstances. But in the past few years, as I’ve started to seriously approach my career as a writer, I’ve noticed that circumstances come in three main elements. (If this blog seems a little all over the place, that’s because the circumstances that lend to an artist’s success is all over the place.)

Circumstance #1: Money = Time. Time = Money.

We all know that. 

Just a few weeks ago I sent a critique partner an email that included the lament “when do we get to make a living solely from the work we want to do?”

For me, circumstances have always revolved mainly around the money/ time continuum. I long for the days of patrons and dream of finding some nice benefactor who’s life goal is to help a girl out in exchange for a dedication at the start of a novel.

It’s a struggle, finding time to write versus using the time to earn a paycheck.

Every day I play the math game. If I work X hours for a paycheck then I only have X hours to write. BUT if I earn X amount, spend X of X on bills, I can save X every month to go towards a new computer. Because I need a computer. Need. A computer that doesn’t crash when I have more than two tabs open or freezes in the middle of writing a scene is a necessity for writing, publishing, and marketing. 

But then life happens and my cat needs surgery or something happens and I’m back to where I started.

The sad thing is I’m actually really good with money. But my chronic illness didn’t make steady employment a common thing for several years. Before this current job, if I sent a text to my boss during a flare up it went like this:

Me:  I’m sorry for the short notice but I’m really sick and can’t get out of bed.

Boss: Lol. Mondays, am I right? See you in an hour.

(This same boss also expected me to work the day immediately following an invasive procedure.) 

I’d look at the women I’d work with, married to wealthy men. They didn’t even need the job! It was just a pass-time for them. A pass-time… whereas I was struggling to find time just to do my other and more important job. It would be so much easier if I had a wealthy partner or family or where-the-hell-is-that-kindly-old-benefactor….

Circumstance #2: Supportive Inner Circle

An author I followed for about a year on social media appeared to have it all, and though we rarely spoke about IRL stuff, I wrongly assumed her success came from the fact she was a stay-at-home mom with a husband who worked to pay the bills. But suddenly one day she posted about a near nervous breakdown. With her book’s publication less than a month away. She revealed so much about her personal life that had never been depicted in any of her posts. She talked about her failing marriage, her mental health, and her special-needs child.

Well, whatever time she gained by not having to work, she lost under those circumstances. But what struck me most about her situation was that all her support came from online.

Much like Aveyard, I’m lucky to have a very supportive inner circle. My mothers nag me if I finish a project but haven’t let them read it. My father and sisters convince people at their jobs to buy my books. A friend stood up at a crowded comic-convention panel and told the entire room where to find a diverse superhero story. 

I’m not met with support every time outside my circle. After I signed The Moonlight Herders, word made it around that I was a writer.

“Do you write real books or… you know…?”

“You were a creative writing major? Isn’t that one of those for-fun degrees?”

(I could write an entire blog post solely about the ridiculous reactions you get when you tell people you’re a writer. But that’s for another time.)

Each time someone has something negative or flippant to say, it makes me appreciate my inner circle even more. It’s the people who support my job as a writer that I keep closest.

Circumstance #3: Status Quo

Speaking of support. Some things still haven’t changed since Woolf’s time. You have to be abled, white, straight, cis-male to enter on a level field. If you know me, you know I don’t meet all of those.

How much time does my illness take away? I don’t just lose time from being too ill to write, too tired to put a scene together. Time disappears as I spend hours cooking healthy, safe meals instead of ordering takeout or making myself go to bed instead of staying up to write because I know I can’t re-bound from lack of sleep like a normal person.

For all my jokes about a patron, I’ve never gotten far with my Patreon account because, honestly, adding another thing to regularly post on top of the work I do at my office job on top of the schedule I keep to write books would probably ruin me. There’s not enough time in the day for another job, and I don’t want to not be able to put things out for paying subscribers.

Aside from the challenge that your own health can wage on the battle to make it, the challenge of promoting a book or author that doesn’t meet the expectations of status quo is another contender. The odd thing is, you never know where to expect the pushback from. 

I knew someone who worked very closely with YA authors. He promised to help me get to a conference and some other places to make connections. Then I gave him a copy of Midnight, and I never heard from him again.

Is it because it was self-published? I’d ask others. Maybe he just didn’t like it? And then it hit me, one day, while I was doing some mindless task. For all his talk of diversity and acceptance, I had never once seen him talk about an LGBTQIA+ book.

Oh.

I shrugged it off. By this point, I’m used to tackling everything on my own. Midnight was self-published because it’s a special story, one I didn’t want to be muddled by those who didn’t get it. It did well on its own terms without any help from others.

But I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is to be zero for four, and I can’t understand why others who may be one for four don’t help other diverse voices be heard.

From finances, to support, to the ease of which society will accept and accommodate you, the circumstances which compose the success in publishing are unfortunately the factors many writers spent time fighting when they’d rather be working on, you know, their work.

What to do about it all?

Time is money, and I’m hoarding it as much as I can. I’ve tried to save time for writing in other ways. I’ve pretty much cut my personal social media usage down to zero (most days). Instead of wasting an hour each day on chatting, I’ve asked people to email me. I’ve found this to be really helpful, honestly. Email allows for a better connection, unlike the sentence fragments that flash by in a chat. 

(Though, as my email buddies may have noticed I’ve fallen behind in responses. Sorry!)

Help is another task to do. I get hope by giving hope. I pay attention to what’s going on and make sure that I’m not doing anything that could hurt someone else on the non-status-quo spectrum.

During this past couple of years, talking to writers published and not, I’ve noticed that for all the world they are never the stereotype of meek shy little people cowering away. They are fighters, putting up a fight so their stories can be born. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to fighting with the words on the page, that we’re more than well prepared to fight when we’re not in front of a keyboard.

But, still, it would be nice if other people made it a little easier for us.

Ask the Writer: When is a Story Done?

People always have something to say when they find out you’re a writer. Sometimes it’s not always polite. Many times it’s dismissive.  But my favorite people are the ones that ask how. 

I spend a lot of time talking to other writers about craft so it’s easy to forget that other people have zero clues about the process of making stories. One question I got a few months ago stuck with me because I’d never been asked it before.

When do you know a story is finished?

I think my response was some attempt to be witty, something along the lines of “When I feel as though I’m going to throw up if I have to look at it one more time.”

Which is kind of true, but it’s little more complicated than that.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 7.57.36 PM.png
Liminal Boy’s current state

Stephen King wrote in On Writing that a story should take no longer than a season. I really hope he meant each draft should take no longer than a season, but if so, even that I’ve failed at. (Maybe if I was able to devote all my hours in a day to writing I could make that work.) But aside from imposed timeframes, there’s a clear way I know when my story is done. 

Stories are a combination of your relationship with a lover and the child you had with them. Bare with me, I promise I’ll explain.

See, this thing, this story, it came from you. It’s your baby. You’re fiercely protective of it, cradling it. Gestating it. Congratulations, it’s a word document.

But where did this baby come from? Why it came from this super-awesome lover who fell from the heavens. This idea is all you can think about. You idealize it. Excuse its imperfections. You’re in an all-consuming relationship with this lover, an idea, and you’re raising that cute little word document as a testimony to your love of the idea.

But here’s the thing—

It’s not a healthy relationship. It’s more like Romeo and Juliet; the two of you are just teenagers with blinders on and out of control hormones. If you read tarot, imagine the Lovers card, not the Two of Cups.

You reveal in this fiery be-all end-all passion….. until something happens. It happens slowly yet all at once.

One day you notice the draft is familiar. You’ve run through each scene a dozen times. That dramatic plot twist that caught your eye and made you swoon? It’s too cliche. Scrapped it for something subtle.

Distant grows between you and your idea. Those flaws you ignored are now incredibly embarrassing and oh my god, I hope no one saw that sentence.

“Babe, it’s not that I want to change you but… You need to work on yourself. “

And then the draft is different. But better. Romeo quit wearing those stupid tights and now has a suit on. But you can’t deny it. The magic is gone. Your lover isn’t attractive anymore. 

Without that magic, the relationship goes stagnant, and that beautiful baby you two created, little Word Document, isn’t so little. You watched it grow from a toddler, stumbling around with no plot and too much dialogue, to a teenager, an awkward gangly draft that you secretly kept hoping no one would make fun of to now. Your baby has a driver’s license. They don’t need you to tell them not to run with scissors and to always wash their hands. You watch Word Document interact with life outside your head. See how others respond to it, and how it fits into the world. 

And with one eye on those responses, something else catches your attention.

A very attractive idea. Even more attractive than the last. 

I know a lot of writers struggle with sticking to one story at a time. For me, I always remain faithful to one idea at a time. I’m not sure how to explain the process behind that, but my brain is very firm about sticking to one idea and finishing that relationship before moving on. And when another idea is too good to resist I lock it away somewhere (usually in a battered array of lined paper and post-it notes) and save it for later.

Right now, Liminal Boy and I are in the just starting to lose the magic stage. I won’t lie, it actually hurts when drafts reach this stage. Your world shifts. But luckily for me, another idea— the third Opposition book— is slinking around in my peripheral, looking very attractive… I will totally never need to change those overly dramatic scenes… No way.

That’s how I know a story is finished.

Blog: Take It Easy for a Little While…

Note: I had a New Year’s resolution to make this blog a regular thing. As you can see that didn’t really happen. But with my 30th approaching and the sudden influx of lifestyle blogs I’ve started reading, the urge to make good on that goal had reemerged.

Here’s a cheat sheet for those not interested in all of my stuff. If the title includes the word “Update” then it pertains to book information. The self-publishing series will include “self-publishing” somewhere in the title. Everything else is a free-for-all about my life. 

And here’s the first one:

Ever since Arctic Monkey’s Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino came out I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. It’s constantly on repeat. (Except for when I work on Liminal Boy. Lan’s soundtrack is already set in stone.)  The album birthed a brand new short story in my head. I keep pulling pieces of inspiration from other places and hiding them away until I have time get to it. 

One of the strangest things about being a writer is how every single thing feeds into a story. I can tell you a hundred different details and facts lodged in my brain, as well as real-life moments, that lead to the creation of The Opposition. 

The thing no one warned me about making my favorite thing in the world my job is that I suddenly need a new hobby.

I love writing.

I can write 24/7.  

But, as I’ve realized, that’s not really healthy.  The past year, I’ve barely taken a break from writing. Either I’m writing for a paycheck, writing Liminal Boy, writing one of my other stories when Lan wouldn’t talk to me, or writing a tutorial (re: unnecessarily long explanation) for a friend.

The weight of words started to get to me a few months ago so I racked my brain for a hobby. Something, ANYTHING, to take my mind off words for even a few hours each day.  Something preferably that didn’t involve staring at a screen. I needed to find something to do that could stand separate from words and literature and books and stories.

And Knitting and Knitting and Knitting…

My teenage-self resurfaced. I’ve gone back to the two main pastimes of my youth: crocheting and cooking. To say I was a weird kid is an understatement. (Yes, I’m still a weird adult).

My mother taught me how to crochet when I was young. I think I begged her to teach me because I read too much Jane Austen. She didn’t know how to knit, and I’d already taught myself how to cross-stitch. Crochet seemed like the obvious next step.

Now, as much as I wanted to find a hobby that would give my hands and impending carpal tunnel a break, crochet kept popping up as my go-to stress reliever. So, I bought one ball of yarn, dug my old hooks out from the back of a closet and tried to recall the only stitch I ever learned.

Those following my Instagram stories have seen snippets of my crochet adventures. Thanks to Youtube tutorials, I’ve managed to teach myself three more. I’ve crocheted my way through this ball of yarn a dozen times. I made a single stitched scarf for my skeleton (Instagram users will also be familiar with my skeleton friend) and unraveled it. Made a doubled stitched square of… something… while I watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix then unraveled that. Made a half double stitched rectangle and, you guessed it, unraveled it.

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 8.40.09 PM.png
A Fashionable Dude

The great thing about crochet is, no matter how badly you mess up, when you start over you’ve still got the same material you’ve started with. There’s no cutting or removing. Each time I unravel the thing I made, the ball of yarn is there, looking exactly the same as it had when I began. 

It’s so nice to make something without worrying about losing something irreversible along the way. 

Every time I write, I never hit the delete button. One of my biggest fears is deleting a line only to realize months later “oh my god that line was perfect and I can never recreate it.” 

Every single sentence is saved in a messy chunk at the end of the scene I call the ‘later’ space. I never know if I’m going to need it in the future, and that eats at me. There have been many many times when I’ve stopped in a dead halt and spent hours searching through a document, trying to find that one little line I moved to the later space. Half of the time, when I finally find it, I realize it wasn’t as good as I thought it was and could have easily written something better. The other half, I yell at Past Stefani forever putting such a beautiful line in the later space. 

What an idiot, that girl.

Maybe that’s why I find some peace each time I go to crochet the same ball of yarn over and over. It reverts back to its original state each time with no loss to worry about. 

Now that I’ve finally found a hobby that has nothing to do with words, I feel like I might have discovered what normal, non-writer people feel like and wonder if that feeling will ever grow. 

Then again, I also saved a pattern for a crochet hat. One that matches the description I give a new character in Liminal Boy.

Because, of course, I would.

A Spoonful of Non-Refined Sugar

If you’ve read the Moonlight Herders, you’re probably a little miffed at me. The number one feedback I’ve gotten about that book is how much it made people hungry. I really enjoyed writing those little scenes focusing on Hattie’s skills as a baker. All of her creations were things I either made or failed at making.

Confession: I really wanted to be a baker when I was younger. Writing was always my main passion, but I was a soberingly realistic youth. For a time, I assumed I could make a living much more easily as a baker than I could as a writer.

The only problem…. I’m actually a terrible baker.

(There may be a day that lives in infamy in my house. A day known as “Stefani set a skillet on fire and we had to leave the windows open for six hours until the smoke cleared.” The skillet didn’t survive.)

Most of the time, the things I made are edible. There have only been a few occasions I’ve had to completely throw the end result out. Ninety-nine percent of the time, however, my stuff looks like something a small child made. There’s more icing on the plate than on the cake. Something may turn out slightly charred. 

The last cake I tried to make was a total failure. The marshmallow filling expanded like a hot air balloon. One minute it was in the middle of two layers of gluten-free chocolate cake. The next it was on the floor, on my shoes, the cat…

Maybe this happens because I’m overly enthusiastic about cooking. Go big or go home. I don’t want to make a little side dish. I don’t want to make scrambled eggs. If I’m going to cook something, it’s going to be a twenty-five-pound turkey wrapped in smoked bacon. Or a dozen cupcakes with homemade buttercream frosting.

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 8.40.34 PM.png
Liminal Boy revision has begun. Lan would approve of all this food talk.

The past few years, I blamed all my failures on food allergies. When I started baking as a teen, I wasn’t aware of all my food triggers. I made the best homemade bread. The BEST. Ask anyone. It was in high demand. Then when I started using gluten-free soy-free stuff and substituting refined sugar with natural sugars, everything started to fall apart.

It was only recently I decided that failing at new recipes was better than eating the same stuff over and over. 

Of course, disasters still happen. Stay tuned to my Instagram Stories where I’m sure to post my failure of a fancy birthday cake in a couple of weeks. 

In my attempts to find non-writing hobbies, all I’ve managed to do is find ways to bring words into play. Maybe that’s why I enjoy writing so much. It’s an excuse to try new things so I can, later on, use the experience in my stories. Not that I’ve ever dabbled in human cloning, of course. Just cupcakes.

August News: Update on Liminal Boy and Other Stuff

I really should write more blog posts, my friends. I really enjoy reading others, but when it comes to writing my own I blank. Does anyone really want to hear how my food allergy elimination diet is gong? I haven’t had cheese in ages, and I am very sad about this. Is there anyone other than me who is interested in pictures of my cat? (Actually, considering that one picture of Butter has over 1k notes on Tumblr that might be a yes.)

I’ll get to the news and have a TLDR at the end for anyone who is too busy.

What I’m Working On:

The Moonlight Herders is finally out! I wrote that story in 2014. It was picked up by Ellysian Press in 2016. I’m so happy that Hattie and her herders are making their way into readers’ homes. If you’ve already picked up a copy, please leave a review on Amazon. (Or wherever you like to leave reviews.) Now that the pre-publication work is done, I’ve been able to put more focus on the second Opposition book…

Liminal Boy. I started writing Langdon’s story in February 2017. I’ve thrown out about 3-4-5-6? drafts. This week, I finally finished my current and most successful draft.

This draft isn’t going to need a drastic overhaul like all the previous ones. I quite like this one. It holds true to the vision in my head much more than all the others. Now all I’ve got to do is rearrange it, fill it out, cut it, and wrap it in some masking tape so it doesn’t fall apart. Langdon’s story is a puzzle whose pieces fit together no matter what angle you put them together. I’ve just got to decide which is the right picture I want it to show.

As for now:

Word Count: 122k

First word: Midnight

Last word: angel

Feels Like the Song: 505 by Arctic Monkeys

(For reference, Midnight is around 85k and feels like Uma Thurman by Fall Out Boy.)

Have I ever mentioned how I link songs to book? I majored in Creative Writing. A teacher once said she compares plot arcs to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to help students understand how tension should build in a story. I never shook the concept and took it even further. Now I find a song that matches each of my story’s pacing. Beat-wise, not lyrically. Lyrically, I have playlists for some individual characters filled with no less than 40 songs each. However, the lyrics “may death find you alive” and “middle of adventure, such a perfect place to start” is very Jo and Langdon, respectively.

I’ve already got some beta readers lined up. And I’m DEFINITELY looking for sensitivity readers, so if you think you might have some spare time in a few months to read LB please send me a message and tell me a little about yourself. I might re-create the Facebook group on my page if there is enough interest. If you don’t know if you’re the “right” sensitivity reader– if you saw something in Midnight you feel like you have authority on, you’re the one I need. Additionally, if you follow me on social media you might have picked up on hints I’ve not very carefully dropped, I need someone who can help me accurately write someone who has a service dog.

Sometimes revisions move quickly. Sometimes they don’t. I can’t promise when LB will come out, but I will certainly keep you updated on the progress.

One of the biggest problems that delayed LB (other than life/work stuff) is that his story is very difficult. Emotionally. Mentally. Literally?

While Midnight was the “kick-off” with minor foreshadowing and only a few hidden clues, Langdon’s story is packed with both of those, is non-linear to a degree, and requires full knowledge of specific concrete details of the final two Opposition books. There have been several times I’ve had to stop and write chapters from the POV of the other two characters so I could write his story.

(Who are they? I’ll reveal the POV of the third book after LB is published, but I’d really like to hear who you think the other two main characters are. I’ll give you a clue. You’ve met both of them in Midnight, but you only know about one of them.) (And CPs I already told– no cheating!)

Life Stuff:

I am turning 30 in less a couple of weeks.

30.

30.

I have no idea how I got this old. I always thought people who were 30 were adults, but I still feel like I’m 17. Or maybe that’s because I’ve spent the last 18 months in the mind of a 17-year-old boy.

Anyway. While I might not think I’m really 30, the highlight of my week is grocery planning and I’ve contemplated picking up crocheting again (I need some sort of stress relieving hobby that doesn’t involve words. Any suggestions?) so I must be.

My life is nothing like I imagined it would be when I was young but I’m so grateful for that. I never aimed high as a child when planning my future, so my image of me at 30 was pretty boring. Now I can say I have two published books, a college degree, and a lot of interesting (real life) stories to tell.

I like aiming high now. I haven’t figured out what my next goal is other than publishing the rest of the Opposition and the dozens of other stories in my head. A small voice keeps telling me to go eat something with dairy in it, but I won’t listen to it.

TLDR: All of my time is going toward finishing LB. No other on-going projects but plenty are gestating in my head. And I’m old.

Cover Reveal: The Moonlight Herders

Moonlight Herders - Ebook Only

Coming soon from Ellysian Press:

Everyone in town knows Hattie Lynch is crazy. The sidelong looks, pulling kids away from her, and barking at her prove that. Even Hattie doubts her own sanity. But she will learn the monsters are real.

The threat to her town is real. And the threat to her and her cousin Amanda, alone in their creaky old house next to the cemetery – yeah, that is real, too.

When Amanda falls for the charming Jonah, the girls find out that some monsters can be good. In fact, some monsters are downright necessary when an evil force raises the dead right next door.

Jonah belongs to a werewolf pack and they will do what those before them did – send the roaming dead back to their graves permanently. If they can discover and stop whoever is behind the awakenings.