Things I Tell Myself So I Can Keep Writing

I’m not going to lie. Writing is hard. For a long time last year, I thought I’d given it up forever. I knew, deep down, that I probably hadn’t, but sometimes you have to quit for a little while so you can keep going in the long run.

I’m drafting a new book now. It’s not easy. I just started, so every day, I have to give myself a little pep talk to get started. If you’re like me, it’s difficult every single time. It doesn’t exactly get easier: people say we never learn to write books—we learn to write this book. Every time we begin, we really are starting at the beginning. It would be so much easier not to try than to start all over again every single time.

But we writers are masochists, and sometimes not trying isn’t an option. Instead, we torture ourselves with our own perceived inadequacy, the book’s general suckiness, the difficulty that is this art. We don’t write, but we spend our time agonizing over the not writing, and the end result is a miserable writer with no words on the page.

Luckily, we can conquer those feelings. I’ve learned few things that help me get going. I’ve been known to write these on Post-Its and put them on my bulletin board. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

  1. It’s just a first (or second or third) draft. If it sucks, you can rewrite it later. But you have to write something now if you’re ever going to rewrite it and make it better.
  2. No one will write this book but you. You, right now, sitting there at your computer. The you who will write it ten months from now isn’t the you who is compelled to tell this story as it is in your head right now. If you want it to exist, you have to do it. Now.
  3. When you’re putting words on a page, there’s only so much that can go wrong. Typo? Big deal. Comma splice? Who cares. Saggy midpoint? Fuck it. Yes, it’s your dream, but the truth is, you’re moving pixels on a screen. If it’s bad, you can fix it.
  4. You WILL fix it… later.

Now go get to work.

Nine Fun Facts about SHAKEN

ShakenCoverSince SHAKEN came out yesterday (and a HUGE thank you to those of you who pre-ordered and ordered yesterday — you guys made my day!), I thought I’d share a few fun facts about its inception and creation. Wheeee!

  1. The San Francisco where Mitzy lives is pretty significantly different than the San Francisco in this world. I won’t go into too much detail about this here, since I wrote about it on Spellbound Scribes last week, but Mitzy’s San Francisco includes some fictional locations and some cemeteries that are no longer in use. Because magic is a part of the physical landscape of Mitzy’s world, I needed to restructure San Francisco to reflect how that might have shaped history.
  2. I worked as a reporter in Berkeley, covering Oakland and a little bit of San Francisco, too, and the Bay Area is one of my favorite places in the world. My very first job out of graduate school was working as a reporter, first as an intern and than as a police-beat reporter, in Berkeley. That job was difficult and fun and exciting and terrifying, and I think it shaped the trajectory of my entire career. I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, but working as a reporter in Berkeley and elsewhere made me a significantly better writer than I could have been without that time of strict word limits, careful research, and tight deadlines. It also instilled in me a love of that area and its residents that I’ll never get over.
  3. When I first thought of SHAKEN, it wasn’t an urban fantasy: it was a straight-up detective novel. And it didn’t involve a serial killer. Actually, it had almost no resemblance to the book that you can now read. I thought I’d try writing mysteries to get the hang of plot and structure, but I kept getting stuck on the lack of magic and fantasy elements. I didn’t want to be a mystery writer. I wanted to write fantasy. I’ve always wanted to write fantasy, and I don’t think I’ll ever not write fantasy.Somewhere along the way of writing SHAKEN, I got the idea of a world where everyone has magic. Urban fantasy was peaking right around then, and, well, put those elements together and you get the odd little book that is SHAKEN. I’ve since gone on to write a cozy mystery (no magic! really!) and thoroughly enjoyed it, but fantasy will always be where I live.
  4. I set out wanting to write about a female addict. This was a part of my vision for the character of Mitzy from the beginning, pre-magic, pre-urban fantasy. I knew she would be from a privileged background and be forced to deal with letting go of the advantages given to her by birth. The addict-detective trope is actually pretty familiar to anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes, but that character is usually a man, not a woman. Women are addicts, too, and have to face the consequences of the choices they make while under the influence. Mitzy is my exploration of these issues.
  5. I have a Pinterest board where you can see a bit of my vision of the novel. I used it to collect faces and items and locations, and sometimes I like to peek at it and remember back when I was a baby writer and hunting for the perfect pictures of Eva Green and Nestor Carbonell. I never found my Li, sadly, but I’ll bet she’s out there somewhere.
  6. There’s also a Spotify playlist of music I listen to while writing in Mitzy’s world. This list has evolved since I wrote SHAKEN and includes some of the tracks I listened to (on a loop!) while writing DIRTY, book two of the series.
  7. I finished SHAKEN as a NaNoWriMo project. I distinctly remember starting the book in the summer–this was in (gulp) 2011?–and then it languished for a couple of months around the midpoint. I decided to buckle down in November and get it wrapped up. I’m pretty sure it took me a month or so into December, but “cheating” at NaNo and writing 50,000 words on a project I’d already started gave me a HUGE boost. You absolutely can’t beat NaNoWriMo for giving yourself an exciting, encouraging environment in which to write, and I try to at least dip my toe in every year. I suspect I’ll be NaNo-ing again this year with my current work in progress.
  8. SHAKEN isn’t my first novel. Or even, technically, my second. But it is the first book I wrote to completion and recognized as worth editing for readers. The first book I really completed is a 250,000 word monstrosity that takes place in a pseuo-steampunk fantasy world. It’s about a pair of thieves who get mixed up in a political conspiracy. Someday I’d like to rewrite it, but I have too many new projects I want to pursue.
  9. You can get SHAKEN now from Amazon!

Kristin’s Big Announcement

There’s a big announcement and a dancing Ewok at the end of this post, but first I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while.

Most of the books I’ve written have been, somehow or another, about hope.

The stories I’ve told have been about learning to believe in ourselves and our power to shape the world around us—sometimes literally. My characters find themselves or land themselves in dark places, and then claw themselves back up, because that’s what stories do: stories take us apart, with a character as our stand-in, and then they put us back together, brick by brick, until we can stand up again, even if what’s inside of us has changed a little.

Fiction shows us what we are and what we can be.

tatooine

When I set out to write SHAKEN, the very first book I queried, the book that got me my first offers of representation, I wanted to write a dark-but-funny urban fantasy about a wealthy addict, a woman named Mitzy Maddox, who has to learn that privilege and luck only get us so far. In the end, our hard work and our friends and our passions are what drive us toward our goals, and Mitzy has to discover, through fire and tears, that expecting things to happen and making them happen are two very different ways of living.

Maybe that’s not quite what I set out to write, but that’s what ended up on the page. Over the last two months, I’ve been rereading SHAKEN for the first time in more than a year, and it’s spoken to me in ways I never expected.

Most of us, over the course of our lives, will reach a point at least once when we no longer believe in ourselves. When our dreams seem like they’ll never come true and hope is fled and the Dark Side has won forever. And it doesn’t always take the extermination of a lawful good monastic cult to cause our personal universes to crumble into chaos. Sometimes the Dark Side wins because of the small, insidious voices inside of us that say, “You’re not good enough. You don’t deserve this.”

saw dark side

Mitzy faces that. I’ve faced it, too.

Luckily for both of us, we have people in our lives who pick us back up and tell us that we are good enough and we do deserve good things. Sometimes getting through the day requires a conscious choice, every second, to believe those people. When we can’t believe in ourselves, we can trust people we respect to do the believing for us.

Traditional publishing (with an agent and an editor at a big house) is good that way. Ideally, your agent is the person who believes in you every step of the way—and most successful agent/author relationships work that way. I don’t have an agent right now, but that’s a result of circumstance and not because of an unsuccessful relationship. I’ve been flying on my own for awhile now, and it’s been damned scary, like flying an X-Wing down a trench with my eyes closed. (Somehow, this post about Serious Business became an extended Star Wars metaphor, but I’m pretty okay with that.)

luke-leia-star-warsLuckily, I have people in my life who have held my hand and kept me going, and, when things got really bad, bundled me up in a warm blanket, gave me a cup of tea, and told me that they had never stopped believing in me, not even for a second.

Every single day of my life, I am grateful to those people.

But ultimately, it’s belief in ourselves that gets us from Point A to Point B on the road called life. Sitting on the sidelines of our own lives, waiting for things to happen—well, that’s the road to madness. I am the only one who can actually change my life. Han and Leia can tell Luke he rocks all day long, but Luke’s the only one who can master his anger and fight Darth Vader and… Yeah, okay, the Star Wars metaphor fell apart a little.

The point is, sometimes we have to take a chance… on ourselves.

And that’s what I’m doing. dancing

On October 13, SHAKEN will be available to the world. Yep, I’m joining the wonderful world of indie authors! In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to see the cover, find out where you can read a snippet or two of the book, and even get a chance to receive an eARC! Wooo! But for now, if you want, you can hop on over to Amazon and pre-order the ebook.

So what’s it all about?

Inspector Mitzy Maddox is one of the lucky few: she can see other people’s magic, use her trust fund to buy any shoes she wants, and drink her way through a fifth of vodka in the time it takes a fairy to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

But when a serial killer surfaces in the Bay Area who drowns wealthy women in the bathtub and drains them of their magic, Mitzy discovers she can’t use any of her gifts to track the murderer. With a tight-ass half-fairy for a partner and the less-than-legal help of a sizzling reporter, Mitzy sets out to find the murderer—and to discover how he’s stealing his victims’ magic.

Now Mitzy must learn to stay afloat without her magic and her flask long enough to catch the killer—or she’ll be the next to drown.

Available October 13, 2015: preorder now!

 

 

The Other Side of Writing

I wrote this blog post a few months ago. It wasn’t easy to write, and it’s not easy for me to read now. But I think it’s an important topic, and one we don’t like to talk about simply because it’s not easy to discuss. There’s a chance, though, that my words may speak to someone else, that I may help someone who is struggling. And if there is a chance, and if my words reach someone who needs to hear them, it’s worth a few minutes of vulnerability. For those having a hard time, remember this: you’re not alone.

I want to talk some truth here today, dear readers.

I haven’t been around much lately, have I? I started a new job, I’ve been through a lot of changes in both my personal and professional life, and I’ve been trying to find my feet again. But that’s not all.

I’ve honestly been wondering whether or not this whole writing life thing is meant to be for me.

This is not the pretty side of the writing life. This won’t be a happy, reach for the stars kind of post. I want to talk honestly about just how difficult this business can be, and I don’t want to sugarcoat issues that real people struggle with every day: depression, anxiety, fear, stress, heartbreak.

Writing is hard. The act of writing itself is difficult, and the process of getting published can be nightmarish. No writer enters this field without considering these things. We all know that every writer will deal with rejection, that you have to develop a thick skin before you even try to submit. And we all know that persistence is often the key to getting published. “A writer writes!” they say. That’s how you can tell a real writer: she writes. She keeps going. She does the damn work, even when the work is damning her right back.

But what happens when the stress gets so intense that the act of putting one’s butt in the chair and hands on the keys causes physical symptoms of anxiety? What about when the depression is so intense that looking at one’s email is a crushing burden? How about when the sadness cuts so deep that the thought of bleeding onto the page makes a writer feel like she just might shrivel up and die from the loss?

Does it mean, if she doesn’t have the psychological energy to continue, that she’s not a real writer? If she needs to take a break from the persistence, from the constant effort that is the only thing that will get her published, does that mean she doesn’t deserve to one day see a reader enjoy her work? Have we even thought about what we’re telling writers who are suffering from depression?

We offer pep talks and butt-kickings, but we don’t always think about the circumstances of the person listening to our words. When we say, “You have to keep going,” we might just be saying to some suffering artist, “Taking a break means you’re failing.”

Depression is not an excuse. Depression is a real disorder, a whale of a disease that can swallow a writer whole. Acting tough is not a cure. Brazening it out is not always an option. Sometimes our suffering is so real that we cannot fake it until we make it—sometimes there is no “making it” beyond getting out of bed in the morning and continuing to function as a human being. And when that struggle goes unacknowledged, and the other struggle, the struggle to stay tough in a business that rewards tenacity, is emphasized by the people around you, it’s not easy to win the Battle of Getting Out of Bed.

As a whole, the writing support network I’ve built for myself is amazing. I have talented, compassionate friends who get up every morning and work harder than anyone else I know, all in pursuit of a dream that just doesn’t always come true, at least not when we need it the most. For some it will never come true.

I might be one of those.

I might not be.

Either way, I’m struggling.

All around me, writers keep writing. They produce thousands of words every day—amazing words—and I stand by, helpless and completely unable to write. I’m petrified by fear and anxiety, and when I see others continuing to fight while I cradle my bleeding heart in my ragged hands, I feel like maybe, just maybe, I don’t deserve to ride into battle at their sides.

I am not alone. Hundreds, thousands, millions of others suffer just like I do, though I’ll probably never know their stories.

Few people talk about this side of writing. We glory in the knowledge that J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and a hundred other best-selling, award-winning authors could have papered their office walls with rejections before they even got a second glance—but when we do that, we fail to acknowledge the painful truths that our bravado often hides. Commiserating over shared rejection does not equal true acknowledgement of the emotional struggles artists face.

That’s especially true because no writer’s path or process is the same as any other writer’s. My process is not your process. And my path to publishing may very well involve taking a break, giving my heart and my mind a breather. Just because J.K. and Stephen and all the others kept running even when their soles were ragged, that does not mean I must follow in their bloody footsteps.

Even though it feels like saying, “I am not okay, I need some time to nurse my wounds!” is really saying, “I am weak, and I cannot make it,” I am not admitting failure. I am not admitting weakness. I am acknowledging an actual struggle, one I cannot hope to win without taking care of myself.

But it doesn’t feel that way.

Maybe tomorrow, when I win the Battle of the Bed again, and I drag myself home, exhausted, at the end of another day, I’ll feel like writing. Maybe I won’t. In the mean time, though, I will give myself permission to take another step down my very own path.

And if your path looks a little like mine right now, and it leads off the battlefield and into a safe, quiet space in your mind, know that it’s okay. Or maybe it’s not okay, but that’s okay, too. We can sit here, together, and let our wounds start to heal.

A Bosom Release and Giveaway

It’s here! IT’S HERE! IT’S HEEEEEERE!

weekend-update

What, you ask? Why, only the release day of my bosom friend Emmie Mears’s debut novel, THE MASKED SONGBIRD!

Pretty exciting, right? My little bosom writer friend has grown up into a superhero, book-releasing author friend, and I couldn’t be more proud. For those of you who don’t know, Emmie and I “met” through our blogs almost three (or was it four?!) years ago. We quickly bonded over shared love of awesomeness like Buffy and gaming, and, you know, that crazy thing we do called writing. Before we knew it, we were talking almost every single day via G-chat or text and “introducing” each other to our families (read: felines) on Skype.

Since then, I had the great pleasure of flying out to stay with her for Capclave, where we met George R. R. Martin and got to have in-person shenanigans for the first (but definitely not the last) time. Our friendship has blossomed, and Emmie is one of the more important people in my life these days. (That title comes with a special t-shirt, you know…. okay, I lie. It doesn’t. But it should!)

To celebrate her release day, I thought we could have a little digital release party right here on my blog, where the adventure began. I’ll be giving away THREE copies of the book, and, believe it or not, it gets even cooler than that.

You see, Emmie’s book is part of an urban fantasy box set from Harlequin, and if you win the giveaway, you’ll receive THREE OTHER BOOKS as part of the deal. Pretty awesome, right? Check it out:

Reap & Redeem by Lisa Medley: A reaper who has given up on salvation, Kylen lives for nothing more than destroying demons. But when he accidently saves a dying woman, he rediscovers his mission—and his heart. Now all he has to do is fight off an invasion from Hell….

The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears: As a mild-mannered accountant, Gwen Maule’s biggest worries were her crap job and her loser boyfriend. After sipping a fizzy drink that gives her superpowers, though, she has to figure out if she has what it takes to save Scotland’s capital from a crazed villain.

Protective Ink by Misty Simon: Lissa MacLaughlin’s inking skills go beyond beautiful drawing. Her tattoos give the wearer the ability to tap into their own special powers. But when a mysterious enemy appears, Lissa’s longtime friend and one-time crush Jackson Freeling will need some protective ink of his own.

Mine Tomorrow by Jackie Braun: Devin Abernathy has turned her love of the past into a thriving business. Of course she never imagined that one of her vintage finds could actually transport her back to 1945—and into the arms of the man of her dreams. Is the past where she’s meant to be?

Are you excited yet?! You totally should be! So what do you need to do to win?

1. Comment on this post, and tell me which book you’re excited to read and why! Or what superpower you’d like to have. Or what INK you’d like to get! Or where you’d go back in time. Or how you’d last in a demonic invasion! Really, tell me anything about your interest in one of these four books.

2. Make sure you post before midnight EST, when I’ll close commenting, do the drawing, and update this post with the winners.

3. There is no step 3! Just do step 1 in accordance with step 2, and if you win one of the three copies, I’ll contact you for your email address so I can have Amazon send you the books.

Finally, let’s all join in and congratulate Emmie, Lisa, Misty, and Jackie on the release of a fantastic collection. I know I can’t wait to dig in! Congrats, all!

How Far Does Author Loyalty Carry Us?

Warning: this post will contain spoilers for no fewer than two book series and three TV series, and will make reference to sexual violence in fiction.

20140331_130550

Last week, George R. R. Martin released a new excerpt from The Winds of Winter, simultaneously breaking the internet and all of our minds. The excerpt called, simply, “Mercy,” contains sentences like: “Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered,” and “It would be just like Mercy to sleep through her own rape.”

The language of rape continues through the chapter: Mercy, the main character, has to hurry or she’ll miss her own rape, and there are repeated allusions to sexual acts with the character who seems to be her boss.

There are two twists. One (and this may be the biggest) is that Mercy is in fact Arya, our child-heroine. An intrepid (okay, frustrated) reader  who is upset by the first paragraphs will scan to the end and see this fact, compounding the upset: not only is this character an unwilling prostitute, but she’s also one of the few non-sexualized female characters in the series. When I saw this, I was devastated, and almost didn’t read the whole chapter.

Of course, you could argue that the other twist is more important: Mercy is an actress, and the rape she’s referring to is on-stage.

When I realized this, and realized that Martin knew that he was deliberately using inflammatory language, teasing us with a fictional act he’s constantly criticized for, I felt hurt. Relieved, but hurt.

He was trolling us, you see. Upsetting us deliberately, and then he took it away. He’s aware of the criticisms about his books, the accusations of constant rape and sexual violence, and he used our sensitivity against us to achieve a shocking reveal.

WTF?

I was almost more upset by that use of a real problem with his work than I was by the apparent sexualization of Arya. I’ve been reading Martin’s books since I was 14, since before I even really fully understood just how violent against women the books are and just how twisted this world’s view of sex is. I’ve struggled with my love for the books, feeling like I shouldn’t be able to read them, like I shouldn’t love them, because I now recognize just how troubling Martin’s treatment of women (and sex generally — this isn’t just about women) is.

The same thing happened in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, when main character Claire is raped (in a fair amount of realistic detail). I’d come to terms with the rape of Brianna, Claire’s daughter, but when it happened to Claire I was stunned. And hurt. And I felt almost as brutalized as our protagonist.

Why did this have to happen? In what way did Claire’s rape further her character development? We’ve been in Claire’s head for something like 20 years. I read Outlander when I was in SIXTH GRADE. What if I had read these later books then, and seen the two female main characters dealing with this problem? Would it have normalized sexual violence for me?

I realize that neither of these series are really intended for 12- and 14-year-olds, but adults become immune to the things they see in fiction as well. And it’s worse in some ways, because we have the capability of drawing our own lines and seeing where society has failed to draw lines for us. When we continue to read these books, to purchase them and enjoy them in spite of the sexual violence, are we becoming part of the problem?

When I watch a TV show, I will turn it off if there is any sort of sexual violence in the first few episodes. The new season of American Horror Story? Gone. Never finished. The Americans? Dead to me. But Buffy? Or Battlestar Galactica? I kept watching, because the sexual violence didn’t happen until I was already in love with the characters and invested in their stories, which in some ways makes it so much worse.

So how far does our loyalty take us? Should I give up on books I’ve been reading for most of my life? Should I wave away fictional characters I love, because their creators crossed a line? I really don’t know.

I do know that someday, when I’m published, I don’t want to put my readers in this position. I don’t want to create a dilemma for a woman who grew up on my books or normalize rape for a preteen girl. I may have undeserved loyalty for certain authors and series, but I also have loyalty to myself, my someday-readers, my characters, and, above all, my principles.

So I ask you: How far is too far? How do you react when sexual violence bubbles up in your favorite series? What’s the right answer here?

A Writerly Proposal: Collectives

This opinion piece from The New York Times, called, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader,” has sparked a small Twitter revolution this evening (one of many, I’m sure), and got my husband and I chatting once again about publishing.

Writers and readers like Colin Robinson, author of that post and—dare I say it—elitist reader, likely detached from “average” readers like myself, the voracious consumers of genre and commercial fiction, argues that the digital ADD of contemporary readers has led to the death of the midlist and the popularization of writing and reading generally, the so-called “displacement of literary culture’s traditional elite.” He says that current publishing models are leading to the death of the midlist author and a general decline in quality, both of written works and engagement of readers with books and each other.

That’s quite a mouthful.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of the “article,” and I’m quite sick of seeing opinion pieces bemoaning the sad state of readership and fiction.

Yes, yes, anyone can self publish on Amazon, and yes, yes, cheap prices may be cheapening content. Yawn. I’m sick of the bitching and ready to start seeing some positive action to make things better.

I’ve gotten myself away from the point I wanted to make—you see, this is the drivel written by easily distracted, untrained female writers like myself!

*grin*

Anyway, husband and I were talking, and my recent infatuation with the marvelous and magical anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells made me think that I’d love to see collectives of writers in similar genres and with similar styles producing serialized novels and/or collections of short stories in digital format.

Writers like, say, the Spellbound Scribes, could work together and release a monthly e-zine of fiction that readers could subscribe to for a low fee, and we split the revenue among contributors. Readers get to read writers they love and meet new authors, follow novel-length stories month by month, and read shorts from writers who aren’t contributing a long work at the moment. If an author I knew I loved joined in on such a project, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat.

Voilà. A new model, right there, one that benefits readers and indie writers. Yes, it’s a commitment. Yes, we would have to police our own quality, and yes, we would need to recruit an artist or two to contribute. But that’s why it’s a collective: authors work together to write, market, and publish their own work.

Easier said than done, but I’m nothing if not a dreamer.