Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Writing & Publication Journey



Photo: Morgan Sessions

In the Beginning...

Long, long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I was a young mother with children who adored reading: picture books, board books, treasured classics on high shelves that kids with sticky hands ought not chew on. Nestled in my lap or leaning against my side on the sofa, in waiting rooms, and on beanbags at the library, these kids and I would read. A lot. They loved beautifully illustrated stories, but they also liked me to tell them tales on lengthy car trips that had all of us goofy with laughter as the ridiculous turns "Elvis & JoJo" took as I tried concentrating on the road and keeping the threads of the characters' adventures straight.

Like many writers, I claim to have always "written" and while this is true, the more honest answer is that I wrote abstractly and sporadically since I was a child. My favorite and most memorable grammar school activity was when our class wrote and made a real book: the binding was cardboard and the cover: wallpaper. We stitched it all together like pros with thick string. It was magic.

My AP English teacher in high school accused me of being too analytic, but looking back, I appreciate how she pushed me toward unleashing my creativity. College was a hodgepodge of misguided living, but I distinctly recall a creative writing class wherein I stared at a blank page and thought to myself, I can do this then proceeded to fill it. It was somewhere in the soup of those years when I forced my way through the challenge of transferring thoughts to the keyboard, instead of pen and paper. It felt strange, almost unnatural, but now I thank my fleet fingers for getting the words down much more quickly than I can write. Plus, my penmanship is rubbish.

And then...

It was around the frenzied time of toddlerdom, that I bought a trusty "good spiral" and started jotting down fragments of story ideas, mostly delightful picture book type silliness. Then when I was emerging from those diapered, gonzo, cheddar goldfish and cheerios everywhere years, I deluded myself into thinking I'd be a screenwriter. I learned the form and wrote a couple rom-coms. I can't speak to their quality because I haven't looked at them in over five years and I imagine it will stay that way.

Enter Twilight. No, not an opaline sunset, vanishing behind majestic hills, the vampire-werewolf story. One of my besties kinda insisted I read it. Actually, it may have been New Moon, but it was like, read this or we're not friends anymore. Kidding. But I took the book recommendation on good authority and started at the beginning.

I didn't make it through the first chapter before I was at my desktop, sketching a story that involved a girl who accidentally invoked mythic characters to life. It was about falling in love and overcoming the sometimes small perceptions we have of ourselves. It started with a lot of telling, was all over the place with dialog breaks, and generally didn't stand a chance. But I put on my rose-colored sunglasses, my whirl-a-gig hat, and queried it.

Photo: Blair Fraser

Crickets. If crickets were playing the song, no.

The ms was called The Spark and I was in love. With writing. Not the book. It's tucked away, shelved, only the cat knows where it is. But my father enjoyed it and that's something. He also bought me a word processing program and that was a big help.

Nevertheless, I had the bug. I read whatever I could get my hands on by Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott, along with the rest of the Twilight series. Sorry not sorry.

It was around this time that I'd taken up surfing, which on the northern Atlantic, supports a short season. Actually, unless you're a right whale, it's a really short season. To satisfy my longing for salt, I wrote a book called To the Sea. Then a little heart breaker called Sugar. The seed of the story came about during a health crisis that ultimately forced me to ask the question what if… What if I became an active participant in my mental and physical health. Then that morphed into more inquiry like, what would happen if we obsessed about the things we love about ourselves instead of our perceived failings, shortcomings, and the rejoinder, my butt looks too big in these pants. Things really got cooking as I poured words onto the page, creating a patchwork of chapters and scenes. I gave a voice to Sugar's relationship with food and the difficulties, as well as the triumphs that she faces. 

It was around this time I started blogging regularly, with a group of friends, mostly about women's health and parenting. In addition to a related resource guide—a journal of sorts for women's health. Eventually... leading me to create this blog.

And I kept querying The Spark, To the Sea, and Sugar. Remember the girl with the rose-colored sunglasses, thinking I was going to burst into the publishing world singing a Broadway show tune about my arrival? I've done it! I'm here, guys! Read my beautiful words! When in reality it was more like the Impossible Dream from Man from la Mancha. 

Wah, wah.

But I didn't let the chorus of nos coming from agents and publishers stop me. Nuh uh!

I kept writing.

I delved into fantasy with a couple romances about a boy falling in love with a mermaid, a pre-dystopian world where I girl is drafted into a camp where legions of children are taught combat, and back to contemporary with a novel about a young girl breaking the cycle of addiction. Actually, I may have this all out of order, there were so many words I've lost track of which came first and next.

Photo: Jeremy Ricketts
Around this time I became aware of a little fiction category called new adult. It was bold, salty, smexy! And that surfing story I wrote so long ago, kinda fit neatly into the contemporary romance slot. Along with writing, I started to create a social media presence and participated in forums, contests, and peer critique sessions, mostly hearing that I wasn't quite there, yet.

Summon Shiva & the ever-helpful Parvati and/or the sword of Gryffindor. (Made strong by taking in that which is otherwise soul crushing and transforming it into an opportunity for growth.) 

There were a couple times* when I walked into the brick wall of "Sorry, this doesn't fit our list," and "Thank you for your submission, but it's a pass," and "Best wishes in your writing career, but this doesn't work for us" ad nauseam, causing my eyes got a little misty. Along with the refrain from my peers, SHOW DON'T TELL! None of it made me bitter or want to quit or throw my computer and every stupid thing I'd ever written out the window. Okay, maybe once. *I've logged hundreds (if we're rounding, we'd go to 1,000) queries over the years. There were requests, hope, but they all ended up being no. The brick wall I refer to was when I took the nos personally.

But there was a lesson in all of this, aside from simply writing more and better. It was patience.

Patience.

Patience.

Patience.

Do you get the idea?

No?

Patience.

Patience.

Patience.

Going Indie...

But I wasn't particularly patient. Maybe a little on the third Wednesday of the month and on Sundays, also when I was at the beach. Instead, I decided to delve into the world of indie publishing with my new adult novel To the Sea. Whoopie! That was me, jumping off the side of a cliff into the roiling water below, sans life raft. Good thing I know how to surf. 

After researching layout, format, publishing options, and promotion, in February 2014 To the Sea went live for Kindle and in paperback. It flopped. But I'd published a book that I believed in, that I could read, along with some supportive friends and members of my family. And…some amazing folks I met on Twitter who were doing the same thing. It gave me momentum. 

I dove in deep writing over the course of the year putting out a novella follow up to To the Sea called Surfaced. I'd been seeing that one of the keys to indie success was volume, but I wasn't willing to sacrifice quality either. I wanted my stories to stay true to my voice and intentions so I conceived the theme: Follow your Bliss and created two more full-length novels and two complementary novellas, releasing them over the course of the year. I also wrote a novelette, Through the Jungle, that acts as both a prequel to the series and a sequel involving all the Follow your Bliss characters providing a richer reading experience of the series. And true to my indie roots, it's forever FREE! You can find out how to follow your bliss, here.


In the midst of that, I'd continued to sporadically query agents who popped up on my radar and I also wrote: a middle grade book and a young adult fantasy reimagining of the goddess Kali. I also entered a few contests, promoted the Follow your Bliss series, and maintained my presence on social media….and then I received an email. 

THE EMAIL that changed everything...

The editorial leader of Skyscape Publishing inquired as to whether I'd be interested in pursuing traditional publishing with my novel Sugar.

Yes, yes I would because that story in particular was written from a brave place in my heart and if given the opportunity to share it wide and far, then yes please, sign me up!

Thereafter I embarked upon a wonderful journey with the team at Skyscape, instantly feeling like a member of the publishing family from the way my editor clearly understood my vision and worked with me to give Sugar wings. 

The editing process taught me that while writing is a solo endeavor, everything afterward is a partnership, a collaborative process; one I'm thankful I've been incredibly supported in. My editors offered insights, helped me excavate the gems, and polish them to shining.

There was a lot of sending the manuscript back and forth, tinkering with the words and getting them what my editor called, "Deirdre perfect." 

Then we started with the cover design process and golly gee what fun! Three initial concepts were drafted and each one was beautiful, but the stunner, the one you see here stopped me. There was another close contender, but the sugar dissolving into the water, the ripples, the sparkles, that cover spoke tension, change, poignancy. 


There were more edits (not changes to the manuscript at that point, but little grammar corrections here and there.) I think I read Sugar a total of twelve times and with each one, I cried a bit. That's the kind of book it is.

After this, we moved into the marketing and promo phase. Yeehaw! It started to feel more real, especially when I received the batch of advance reader copies, created bookmarks, and brainstormed swag. I was also asked to reflect on Sugar, why I wrote it, and what the story means to me, which brought me back to why I write to begin with. 

On writing...

I could write an entire essay on why I write, but the simplest answer is to connect.

I write to connect the dots between my heart and my mind.

I write to connect with worlds real and imagined.

I write to connect with readers, people.

I write to connect innocence and vulnerability, courage and doubt, friendship and independence.

I write to connect to wonder, the power of an awe-inspiring "first time" experience.

I write to connect to possibility.

I write to connect to freedom.

I write to connect to words, stories, to shared human experience.


Then this happened...

Then Sugar launched as a Kindle First book, rocking the #1 spot for books> teens > romance > contemporary list on Amazon.

Whoa.

I did not see that coming. Seriously. 

I'm so grateful. And now I'm crying. I'm thankful because for all the reasons listed why I connect through writing, the best feeling is knowing that readers connect with the story I wrote. It's a reminder that us humans, we're all linked by invisible thread, we can relate and commune and I think that's spectacularly special.

And...

In the meantime, I've written three more young adult novels. 

Writers write, yo. That's what we do. 

I'm pleased to share that Pearl, formerly known as Girl on the Edge, one of the manuscripts I mentioned writing above is slated for release in March 2016 from Skyscape.

That was mostly the tale of my writing and publishing journey. Thank you for joining me. And now what? Now, I write.







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