Don’t Discount Yourself

Dear self,

I’ve noticed a habit you have, and I want to talk to you about it. It’s not a good habit, or I’d be congratulating you for being awesome. It’s a bad habit, but not one I want to slap your wrist for, because, knowing you, you would just apologize.

And you already apologize too much. (Don’t apologize.)

This habit is similar, because it makes me so sad for you—and it’s such a hard habit to correct, because it comes from a place of genuine modesty and even kindness. It’s a habit many women share, a habit we’ve all developed because we don’t want to overstep ourselves or seem bitchy or whatever it is we’re all trying to avoid.

Have you figured out what it is yet?

It involves a few words and phrases that seem innocent enough. Only. Not really. Just. Well. Words we use to prevaricate, words we writers systematically eliminate from our books because it means we’re not sure what we want to say. But. Sort of. Kind of. Enough. Yet.

Still confused?

It’s the habit of discounting yourself, of evading compliments, of not taking ownership of your accomplishments, however small you may think they are. You think you’re being modest—and most of the time you really do feel that your accomplishment is not worthy of praise. But you’re selling yourself short. You’re telling whoever wants to compliment you (and the rest of the world with them) that you do not deserve praise, that you have not created or accomplished something worth noting. You are saying to the world, “No, I am NOT worthy of your praise or even your notice.”

I’ll stop now, because you’re giving me that look that says, “Well, I’m just being honest, and I’m really not that—”

Well (I can say well, too!), JUST STOP IT. Just stop and listen to yourself.

“I’ve only been dancing for about a year.”

“I’m not published yet.”

“Well, it’s not really that hard to make.”

“I haven’t done enough reading to make me an expert, but…”

“It’s sort of goofy-looking.”

“It’s just the pattern; I only knit it.”

You see what I’m getting at here, or shall I go on?

You’re not the only one to do this. Many of your friends do the same thing. It’s something we’re trained to do, I think, though I’m not sure when the indoctrination starts. As kids, we’re taught to say “please” and “thank you” and all the rest. But when are we taught to deny compliments all together? Was “thank you” not sufficient for expressing gratitude, and we decided we debase ourselves in acknowledgement of praise?

Trouble is, when you bow out of a compliment, you’re essentially saying that the giver has no taste. Think about it:

Person A: “Wow, you made that?! It’s gorgeous!”

You: “Well, you can see that some of the wires are loose, and I was really just following a pattern.” (Subtext: “You’re clearly blind, and anyway, this is something so commonplace, a monkey could make it.”)

Person A: “Whatever, think it’s nice.” (Subtext: “And here I thought it was pretty. See if I try to compliment you again!” Or, worse, “And here I thought it was pretty. I must have horrible taste! Now I question my entire belief system…”)

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but no one wins in this situation.

I can see you feel bad now, so let me give you a little advice. You won’t want to hear this, I know, but try to listen and accept what I’m saying without trying to dismiss it or wave it away with the rest of the nice things I tell you. So listen up:

You are talented. You are skilled. You are worthy of praise and deserving of notice. You work hard and earn the things that come to you. You are amazing, and you can say, “THANK YOU!”

Now you’re rolling your eyes and telling me that’s not advice. So here’s your mission:

Accept praise. Express gratitude for compliments. Stop trying to deny your own worthiness, skill, and creativity. Take responsibility for the good that you do, as well as the bad. The next time someone says something nice about you, smile, and say your thanks. You can do it—you’re a talented and gracious woman.

So, there, self. I hope you listen to me and take my advice. This is one of those instances where you’ll want apologize for something that’s not that bad and pretend none of this ever happened, but I know it’ll light a little fire somewhere inside you. Maybe the next time someone compliments you, you’ll think of this moment and offer thanks.

Maybe you’re saying thank you right now. Telling me I’m wise and you should listen to me more often.

And you know what I say to that? THANK YOU.

Sincerely,

Your self

No NaNo

So, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year.

I know. I’m shocked, too.

This is a departure for me. Usually, I have a book I want to finish in November. some ongoing project I need the nuclear power of a thousand other writers behind to wrap up.

Last year, I told myself I’d power through the second book of the Mitzy Morgan series, but, since I was querying the first book, I decided I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I wrote a new book, one I still feel is something good or great, something that remains in the hopeful queue.

Right now, I have a loose outline, character notes, and agent-approval on a new book. In fact, I’ve had these things. So why no NaNo?

1. I can’t take the pressure. Submitting books is hard, y’all. It’s a lot of waiting and wondering. The thought of adding a deadline for a new book is intimidating and makes me want to pee myself a little. And no one likes pee.

2. I’m a wee bit competitive. If I start a book at the same time as my friends do, I’ll end up feeling inadequate and ashamed when I’m slower than they are.

YOU TAKE THAT HIGH FIVE… in the face.

3. I think this book could be really good, and I want to take my time. I’m a believer in outlines. Mitzy #2 was tough for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons was a loosey-goosey outline. I’m not gonna do that again. I have faith in this one, and I’m gonna outline the crap out of it. Oasis just flew off the page, and that was in part because of my preparation. No more pantsing for Kristins.

OMG SLOW DOWN! My writing buddies are, like, super-fast.

4. I’m lazy. Right now I’m working on clergy-training classwork, SDF materials, and pre-novel prep. There’s only so much I can (or will) do. These things take time, as my mentor tells me, and, because I’m lazy, I’m pretty willing to give myself that time. Time = good. Pressure = bad. At least right now.

Yep. I love my couch. *snuggles couch*

5. Because I could’ve been a cheerleader. I totally tried to be a cheerleader in eighth grade. You didn’t have to try out or anything, but it seems I missed the deadline. Still, I’m a peppy type, and I think I can help my friends who are writing (or, you know, playing football). I can shake my booty and wave pompoms. And that’s what I’m going to do.

No, really… I’m happy you’re writing more words than me.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo 2013? Why or why not? How are you doing with that decision?

 

Friends and Heroes

I have been gently mocked—and more harshly mocked by some—for my abiding love of George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. But for better or worse, our heroes are our heroes, and we cannot shake their influence or absolve our love for them.

I picked up A Game of Thrones in (approximately) 1999. I’m guessing, here, because I really don’t recall. I was with my parents at a Barnes and Noble in Waco, Texas, visiting my older brother at Baylor University. I think it must have been 1999 because it was an early visit to Waco and because A Storm of Swords came out in 2000 and my copy is a first edition. (And now signed!)

Actually, I picked up A Clash of Kings first, because of its attractive cover. The golden cover, the woman in red, the description of the book itself pulled me in. I mean, look at it. It’s pretty.

But because I’m an OCD soul, I had to go for the first book first. I picked up A Game of Thrones, despite its less attractive cover (I own the infamous Harlequin Jon Snow version, which is, these days, hard to find: see image above), and took it home with me.

I’m not going to lie to you, readers. It was boring. I fell asleep on our couch reading it. But after a few false starts, I was intrigued. And when (SPOILER ALERT – have you been living under a rock??) Ned Stark died, I was hooked. HOOKED. Here was a writer who could create a nuanced, sympathetic, enjoyable character, and kill him off without compunction. Here was a writer I needed to know.

So I read the gorgeous A Clash of Kings, and received my copy of A Storm of Swords for Christmas the next year. I read it, enjoyed it, was shocked by it, then patiently settled in to read the next installment. How little I knew.

Fast forward eight years to a small apartment in Hayward, California. I decided the story bouncing around in my head during my commute from Hayward to Berkeley for my reporting job deserved some more attention. I said to my (now) husband that I wanted to focus on fiction, and I did just that. I began my first (trunk) novel, a huge epic about a pair of thieves who get embroiled in a political conspiracy to return magic and science to their stagnated nation. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning rereading Martin’s books, learning about point of view and narration from his chapters.

Fast forward another three years to 2011. I met the wonderful Emmie Mears through WordPress and a shared experience of familial tragedy. We discovered a mutual love of Buffy and all things fantastic, and suddenly we were fast friends who had never met in person.

Now, in 2013, I had the great privilege of flying out to Maryland and meeting Emmie in real life.

e and k

Bosom friends meet at last.

Aww.

In case you haven’t noticed ’round these parts, Emmie has been a huge part of my life in the last two years. We’ve commiserated, celebrated, even long-distance watched movies together. Though it started as an Anne of Green Gables joke, she IS a bosom friend, and one I’m so very grateful to have in my life. My sanity would have suffered much more in the last 18-months without her supportive, bosom-friendy presence.

So what does my abiding love for Emmie have to do with my abiding love for GRRM?

Well, come Capclave and our time together, we encountered guest of honor, George R. R. Martin himself. Emmie sat beside me in the front row while he did his first reading and I blushed every time he looked toward us.

Then, at nearly one a.m. after a Scotch-tasting party, when I gushingly said I wanted to tell him that I used to stay up late rereading A Game of Thrones to learn about perspective and how much that helped me, Emmie said four simple words:

“You should tell him.”

So I did. I fanned out so hard. I told him how he was a huge influence on me, how his writing gave me the courage and the inspiration to try writing a ridiculously huge novel with multiple point of view characters. And then, because there was an awkward pause, I said it must have helped, since I now have an agent.

And because he’s awesome and kind enough to hang out with his fans, George R. R. Martin asked about my agent. And our writing. And our process. And told us about his own childhood.

We got to take a photo with him, too.

Photo does not include mental squeeing.

Photo does not include mental squeeing. Also, yes, I am this short.

Lifetime achievement: unlocked.

Since this photo, people have teased me. Said I should have it framed and hung in my bedroom. Above my desk. Treasure it forever.

And you know what? I’m totally going to do it. These two writers have influenced me more than I can say. I would be honored to hang them above my workspace.

Friends and heroes. What’s the difference?

Tale of the Naughty Phone

Sometimes, as I’m typing on my phone, when I hit ‘space,’ it types the word, “naked” of its own free will.

I’m not making this up.

I have no idea why it does it. No idea how it got started doing it. But it’s always the word NAKED, and it seems to happen randomly. It started today when I was doing some Facebook messaging, and it continued for a good portion of the morning. It’s quite awkward when it happens.

For example, a message I wrote this morning (from bed, no less) would have, unedited, said, “I naked don’t naked want naked to naked overexcite naked you, naked but naked my naked new naked cookbook has naked an naked entire naked chapter naked devoted naked to naked chili naked.”

So much for not overexciting the recipient of that one.

I’m beginning to think it’s haunted by the spirit of Jeffrey from Coupling.

 

Why else would it be constantly saying, “NNNAKED”?

I mean, seriously! I don’t know that I’ve ever even typed NAKED on my phone of my own free will. I won’t say that’s impossible, but I certainly don’t recall voluntarily discussing nudity on Facebook or Twitter.

…yeah, okay, so I probably have said NAKED in both of those places at a variety of times.

But why did NAKED get saved to my phone as the random space-word?

I’m always afraid I’ll MISS one of the nakeds when it happens, so I’ll end up sending a text to someone that says, “I’m going naked to the store. Do you need anything?”

With my luck, I’ll probably send a semi-professional text to my agent or someone that says, “I finally sent you that naked email!”

At this point, the word NAKED is losing all meaning. Perhaps that’s why my phone does it, to brainwash me into some sort of naked-saying weirdo with an immunity to unsolicited, semi-naughty interjections. Then, just when I’ve resigned myself to a lifetime of naked texts and public posts, it’ll switch to something worse, like CROTCH or LUBRICANT.

And now I’ve spread the disease. You’ll be seeing and hearing NAKED everywhere you turn, now. Like Jeff, you’ll write it on a piece of paper and rub your face in it—you’ll say it aloud, drawing it out, “NNNNNAAAAAAKED,” probably in a semi-public place when you think you’re alone but actually a mother and small child is standing behind you.

And you will think of me.

You’re welcome.

Thank you, naughty phone, for this curse.

Why Write: YA with Steph Sessa

Today Steph Sessa is here to talk about YA and why teen stories have such a profound effect on people of all ages. Enjoy!

Hello, Steph, and welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Hi! Thanks for having me! I’m a Philadelphia-based writer with obsessions in linguistics, music and ultimate frisbee. When not writing, I work part-time as a linguistic researcher and go to grad school for education. I write primarily YA, particularly speculative fiction, though recently I’ve been dabbling in NA contemporary.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

I think I’m one of the few people who loved high school. Like absolutely loved it. Yes, at times it was tough. But the experiences I had there are some I’ll never forget. It’s the time when everything matters and there’s so many emotions and you feel everything. All the emotions are amplified and part of the reason to read is to feel, so YA was just the obvious choice for me.

You also describe some of your work as speculative fiction — what exactly does that mean?

Speculative fiction is just a broad term for the fantastical genres, so fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, horror, scifi, dystopian etc.

What types of stories does young adult make possible? How about speculative fiction?

So many! YA is the time for self-discovery and new relationships (whether it’s boyfriends or just new friendships). It’s about finding out who you are and how to navigate relationships with other people. Speculative fiction allows the reader to get lost in a different world and to take a break from reality for a second. Readers can discover new worlds and situations that they can’t get in their every day lives. It’s an escape.

Aside from the obvious, what audience do you think YA attracts? Why do you think so many adults love to read YA fiction?

With YA it’s all about the feeling. As I said above, emotions are amplified so everything is terrible or amazing. Insecurities come out in the characters and all readers can relate, because everyone is insecure about something. I think adults like YA because it reminds us of a time in our lives when everything mattered, but we weren’t bogged down with car payments or rent or other boring things like that. It’s about relationships, which really are the most important things in life, and I think young adults and regular adults like to see that.

How does the audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

Everything has to be intensified. Since teenagers tend to have shorter attention spans (as do I!) things have to get going right from the beginning. Tension in the first page, first paragraph, first line. Hooking the reader early on is incredibly important because they might not give the book a chance otherwise. So the plot has start early on or the characters have to be interesting enough for the readers to want to spend 250+ pages with them. The characters have to change from the beginning to the end more prominently, because YA is about growth.

How does YA affect the stakes for your characters and your audience? And speculative fiction?

The problems aren’t going to be the same things I face on a day to day basis. For YA, they’re going to be problems that sixteen-year-olds usually have, so a fight with a friend, boyfriend, parent. They’re inter-personal problems. But including speculative fiction means including scenarios that you might not see everyday because of the setting. So maybe there are different species living in that world that’s hostile, or there’s a dystopian government that affects every aspect of life. So it’s the relationship problems plus a big picture problem.

How do you think your genre affects your audience?

My audience is going to be the people who read to feel and read to get lost in a world. Speculative fiction tends to have a lot of world building which can be a lot to take in sometimes. But it also has the chance to enhance the story significantly. It’s growth and emotions of the main character, with a fantastical plot.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

I read almost exclusively YA, and usually it’s either fantasy or light scifi. I do like contemporary YA as well.

Where can readers track you down?

https://twitter.com/stephsessa
http://stephsessa.blogspot.com/

Thanks for stopping by, Steph!

Why Write: Erotic Romance with Jennah Scott

J.ScottReaders, today we have writer Jennah Scott here to talk about erotic romance! Jennah’s a cross-genre writer, and today she has some great things to say about why people love romance, some of the differences between erotica and erotic romance, and why we all love a good steamy scene in the books we read. Enjoy!

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I’m still pretty new when it comes to the publishing community. I’ve been seriously writing for about three years now. I self-published my first book, Making His Mark, in January and just sold Scrap Metal to Liquid Silver Books. Scrap Metal is a contemporary romance that I wrote with my critique partner and very good friend, Alexi Raymond.

What made you decide to write erotic romance?
It was a challenge. When I originally decided I wanted to pursue a career in writing I started writing YA. All of my characters were older, more along the lines of New Adult, but at the time New Adult still wasn’t accepted. Then I decided to push myself and see if I could write romance. The romance challenge turned into writing erotic romance. I wanted to know if I could bring in the physical act of sex and layer in the emotion that comes along with physical attraction. There is so much vulnerability in opening yourself up to someone like that. I wanted to show that, let my readers experience the joy and complications sex can add to a story. A romance will always have tension, but being able to experience that tension play out to pleasure adds to the development of both the characters and relationship—in my opinion.

What types of stories does erotic romance make possible? Does the addition of the classification “erotica” influence the romances you write?
I think any story idea with the right characters could be erotic romance. Certain genres, like YA, don’t allow for erotic romance, which is fine with me. Personally, I don’t want to read about teenagers getting down and dirty. That should be a time they are exploring, so I’m good keeping it behind doors. Other than that, let the creativity flow. The thing about erotic romance is that the sex enhances the story. It’s not THE story. When it’s THE story then it’s erotica. Big difference. Erotic romance has a plot, character development, and a happily ever after. Writing erotic romance, for me, allows me to write without any restrictions.

What audience do you think erotic romance attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
Good question! I’m usually surprised by the people that tell me they like erotic romance. In general though, I think the audience is women in their late twenties and up. The great thing about it is that you can love any genre and find an author that writes erotic romance in that genre. So it’s not limited to contemporary. The audience doesn’t alter my writing. If I’ve got a story I want to write, I write it. More than once I’ve decided to write a story because I couldn’t find one that I wanted to read. For instance, I just finished a story whose main characters are both in the video game development industry. There aren’t a whole lot of nerdy type males in books, so I wrote one.

How does erotic romance affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
It increases the stakes. When you bring that layer into the mix it’s harder to leave and when the characters face problems the heartbreak is greater. Taking that step from a simple relationship to a more physical relationship can be a big deal. Depending on your character and their desires, there is a lot of trust building up. When that’s broken, it hurts. If I’ve written the story well enough, then my audience feels the pain and heartache.

Why do you think people love to read erotic romance?
Because you can let go of all your inhibitions. The characters do. Even if they have worries about what friends, family, etc. thinks they find a way to move past that. I think erotic romance gives readers a chance to let go of the stigma about sex and just enjoy.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
Contemporary romance is my favorite. But I’ll read almost anything. My favorite authors span across multiple genres from paranormal to historical, YA, New Adult, and everything in between. I love contemporary because I can easily relate to the locations, characters, etc. But there is something to be said about a good paranormal or fantasy that takes you into a whole new world you don’t want to leave.

Where can readers track you down?

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jennah_scott

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorjennahscott

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/jennahscott/

Website: http://www.jennahscott.com

Thanks for stopping by, Jennah!

Frazzled Friday

Ghost town blog. Photo by Sebastien Dooris

You may have noticed the echoing silence ’round these parts the past couple weeks. I’m not trying to excuse myself, but I thought you might enjoy knowing where the heck I’ve been.

1. Last week, I was revising my latest book, Oasis, so I could get it sent off to my awesome agent. Revisions are labor intensive and nerve-wracking, and, with my other commitments, akin to having a second full time job. Agent-sending also requires a synopsis and some other front-matter for the manuscript itself, so that’s still more work being done.

2. Next week is Lughnasadh, a neo-pagan High Day, and I’ve been preparing liturgy and devotionals for the Solitary Druid Fellowship, of which I’m now the organizer. This is another project and a half, and one that’s very important to me… and quite literally on a deadline.

3. Speaking of druidry, I’m also working through the pre-clergy training program for ADF—I’d really like to get my preliminary coursework done by the end of the year, and every class requires some significant research and essay-writing… and still more revisions! In addition to that, I’m coordinator of a subgroup of ADF and mentor to another student, so I have a few other ongoing responsibilities there, as well.

4. I’ve been acting as Game Master for the completely magical and fabulous Magetech troupe, and we’ve been putting our game sessions up LIVE on the Searching for Superwomen YouTube channel. (Link to our first play session, where you can see me giggling madly and acting sadistic.) Gaming is a hell of a lot of fun, but GM-ing is quite a bit of work.

5. Over on Spellbound Scribes, we’ve increased posting frequency, so that means more work and more fun there, as well. Have you seen our story in the round? You can see my piece of it here.

And all of those things are in addition to yoga, belly dance class, an upcoming festival, attempting to see my various friends at least once a month, reading fiction, cooking, cleaning, spending time with my husband, and trying to conquer the ever-increasing pile of laundry in the bedroom closet.

We’re all busy, I know. But sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the blogging. Hang in there, readers. I’ll be back.