NaNo Day 11: Make a Wish

Life caught up yesterday.

My mom called me about doctors appointments and legal things. I just couldn’t get a short story to work for creative writing, even after staying up until one working on it. (I gave up, got ready for bed, then sat at my desk for another two hours writing another short story that honestly wasn’t any better.) I ran out of time to do the reading for a quiz I have today.

So I’m now 2.5K behind where I want to be on NaNoWriMo. And I don’t have time to write today. And I’ve got another 3K planned for tomorrow. (In my defense, I’m not actually 2.5K behind. I’m right on target for where I want my word count to be today, but that’s because I’ve been writing more on some days than planned, rather than keeping to my schedule. And I’d rather save those spare words for later, when I have term papers and final projects to do.)

But it’s okay. I’ll get back on track. I can do it.

I’m not super superstitious; I love black cats and I am yet to run screaming from a broken mirror. But I definitely do have a thing for wishing.

On dandelion wisps and Point Zero in Paris and birthday candles.

And, of course, the easiest to find: 11:11.

It’s not that I believe that wishing on things actually makes them more likely to come true, but I do believe it makes them more definite goals. If you take the time to stop and blow dandelion seeds into the sky over something, I feel like it proves you really want it. A wish is a promise to yourself that you will do whatever it takes to make those words whispered in your mind, for only you and the universe to hear, come true.

So, today is November 11th. 11:11.

Whether you’re behind or ahead or right on target for NaNoWriMo, make a wish. Promise yourself anew that you can do this. Because you can.

We’ve got this thing.

Goal for today: 0 + yesterday’s 2,000 + Sunday’s 500 = 2,500.

Overall goal: 19,000.

Current word count: 19,046.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Open with a Bang

Sorry today’s post is coming so late! (And, you know, after midnight. So technically Thursday.)

Things are really hectic right now. On the upside: The Night Before Our Stars is tomorrow! (Or today? I never know what to say this time of night.)

Anyway, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post about how to write openings that keep readers reading.

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I’ll admit, I am not the best person to talk to you about how to open a novel. I am notoriously bad at finding the right place to start, or introducing characters in unique and interesting ways, or any of the number of other things that make for good opening pages.

However, I do seem to be halfway decent at one thing: keeping people reading.

Your opening scene has a lot of work to do. It should introduce your lead cast (or set up for meeting them), give an idea for both the type of story and where it’ll take place, and give readers a feel for the tone and overall conflict that they’re stepping into. On top of this, it has to do all this in such a way that gets them to read on to the next scene, and this (in my personal opinion) is the most important part.

1. Don’t let your characters play nice.

While generally you’ll want to open your story in the sort of “before” period (aka: before things go crazy), it’s also important to remember that readers don’t want to watch things go right. That’s boring. You haven’t earned a reader sitting through things going right yet (that’s your reward for putting your characters through hell–nothing should go right until the end of the novel).

So: just because everything hasn’t exploded yet, doesn’t mean something can’t be wrong. The easiest way of doing this is to build tension between your characters. (This is also a great way to develop personalities early on. If something’s eating at your protagonist, and it’s causing tension between her and those around her, it shows the reader a lot about who they are. The opening chapter of Divergent by Veronica Roth does a good job of this one.)

2. Let the conflict boil.

This sounds simple, but something I’ve seen a lot in manuscripts I’ve critiqued is writers introducing problems in the first chapter (great!) then resolving them before chapter two (not so great).

Prepare yourself: this is about to turn into a prolonged and convoluted metaphor on boiling water.

So, let’s say you put water (characters) in a pot (your story). Then  you turn the burner on. The heat from the burner represents the problems your characters must face. The more problems your characters face, the closer they–like the water–get to boiling. And boiling is good.

Boiling is conflict. Boiling is enthralling. Boiling = the reader not being able to stop reading.

So, why would you get your water all hot and boiling–then turn the burner off? If you do that, you can’t cook your delicious pasta (yeah, I don’t know; I lost myself like half a metaphor ago).

Basically: If your chapter ends with the immediate conflict resolved and no other conflict already in action to replace it, the reader will lose interest.

Fiction is conflict. Something must always be wrong. If you don’t have any conflict left, then you’re at the end of the story.

Examples of openings that let their conflict boil: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

3. Give your characters purpose.

This goes hand-in-hand with utilizing conflict in your opening. (Notice a theme yet?) The next worse thing after not having residual conflict at the end of your opening is not having a purposeful protagonist.

Don’t let your characters sit by on the sidelines. If your protagonist doesn’t play a key role in your opening scene, either you’re not writing the right scene or you’re not writing the right protagonist.

Get your characters up and doing something. We don’t want passive observers. Movement and decision-making are the lifeblood of a successful opening.

(Unless, of course, you’re writing about someone who starts out a passive observer and must throughout the story learn to be something more. In which case your best bet is to draw attention to the downsides of passivity in your opening, rather than having your character right away making decisions and doing things.)

A couple of my favorite novels that open with purposeful characters are Across the Universe by Beth Revis and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

4. End with juicy information.

A super easy way to get the reader to continue past the first scene or chapter is to have the protagonist reveal some sort of surprising, unexpected information at the end of it. Maybe he’s been hiding in the shadows all day and boom: turns out he’s a vampire. Or she’s been going on and on about how delicious the toast her dad used to make was and actually, by the way, someone murdered him and they never found out who. (Or you could also instead find out she’s a toaster. Who knows. It’s going on 2:00 AM and my brain shut off like four hours ago.)

I remember I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter doing this well.

5. End on a cliffhanger.

Ending with a cliffhanger is different from ending with an info drop, because it requires throwing something out there that your protagonist isn’t expecting. Maybe her plane veers towards the ground or the police are on his doorstep with handcuffs and no hints as to why he’s under arrest.

A cliffhanger puts the reader and the protagonist on the same level. They’re both experiencing the shock of what’s happening. It opens opportunity for the reader to sympathize with the protag, and if the reader connects with your protag, s/he’s much more likely to flip to the next page.

Great cliffhanger endings to openings: Of course The Hunger Games. And, to continue with the Ally Carter examples, Heist Society has a pretty solid cliffhanger at the end of Chapter One.

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Do you have tips for writing openings that keep the reader reading? Let me know in the comments!

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~Julia

NaNo Day 30: If You Can’t Find a Door, Find an Ax

Well, look at that. Saturday, November 30th, 2013. The last day of November.

The last day of NaNoWriMo and writing a blog post every day.

I spent yesterday Christmas shopping, working on a study abroad application, hanging out with family, and slogging my way through homework (I’m halfway done with my genetics term paper!). Today it’ll be more of the same, then I’m back to school for holiday shenanigans and finals.

It’s crazy how fast this semester went, especially this month. I swear it was just the first day of November and I was spazzing about how I was going to be able to get everything done this month (although, let’s be honest, I’m still spazzing a little, because FINALS).

Somewhere on the internet this week (I can’t remember where, unfortunately) someone posted a phrase along the lines of “If you can’t find a door, find an ax.” Pushing through the rough patches with both NaNo and school this month have definitely been an exercise in that principle. Sometimes the only way out is through, and the only way through is by finding your own way, rather than following the preassigned mold.

Thanks for sticking with me throughout November. Both remembering and making time to post every day got tricky sometimes, but reading your comments made it a lot easier. This was a fun adventure, and it’s going to feel really weird when I wake up tomorrow and realize I don’t have to worry about posting every day anymore. Kind of nice, kind of sad, and all around just very weird.

I love you. You rock. Thank you.

Let’s do it again sometime?

day 30

 

Final NaNo word count: 51,128.

Final blog post tally: 30.

Final level of happy-I-did-this: immeasurable.

 

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“The End Where I Begin, Chapter Two”)

School is just absolutely nuts this month, because of finals coming up and everything. I only had time to write a little over 1k yesterday because I had to spend so much time on homework and figuring out my schedule for the next few semesters (I’m thinking of adding a minor, which means restructuring when I take other classes to make room for the new ones). I was up until almost 2:00 AM doing that, then so far today all I’ve done is work on more Spanish homework. And I’m still not done with it.

Hopefully I’ll get a couple hours to write today. And hopefully my weekend doesn’t turn out nearly as busy as it looks like it’s going to be, because I am falling seriously behind on my schedule for NaNo.

In the meantime: The winning option for this week’s Wordy Wednesday is an excerpt from the novel I’m writing this month. Reminder that this is really rough and hasn’t seen any real editing yet.

Read Chapter One here.

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Chapter Two

The Recruitment Assembly doesn’t take place until after lunch, but the bathroom is already flooded with girls unbuttoning their uniforms and helping each other zip themselves into nice dresses by the time I excuse myself from the table. I try to slip past them to a stall, but the moment Stephanie Jones meets my eye in the mirror, they all stop. The rustle of fabric and happy chatter cuts off like someone has pressed pause in a movie scene. I ignore them and hurry into a stall. I lock the door.

“I heard it’s her fault the Ram got so hostile.”

“Didn’t they used to be friends?”

“Who cares. Nobody even knew who either of them were before Amelia got involved, and thank God for that, because the Ram is loca.”

I lean my forehead against the door and let the cool metal leach the heat from my skin. My body feels like it’s turned into one of those vintage Easy Bake Ovens at the Cultural Museum in downtown. The curator let Ramsey and me try to make cupcakes in one once, on a fieldtrip when we were ten. They came out mush.

The memory does not help.

My stomach flips, and it’s nice to know I have a toilet within reach should the three bites of salad I managed to swallow in the cafeteria reappear. I don’t know what’s making me more nervous—not knowing whether or not Ramsey will actually follow through with the threat, or the fact that the entire school seems invested in if she does.

The girls in the bathroom go unnaturally quiet again. Footsteps clack against tile, approaching the stalls.

What if Ramsey’s come for me early?

I step back from the door and my calves slap against the toilet. I can’t move. Someone knocks. My heart slams against my ribcage.

“Alexa, are you in there?”

I exhale and close my eyes. “Goodness, Amelia, you nearly gave me a heart attack.”

I should not have to be this on edge in my own school.

“Oh, come on, even the Ram isn’t heartless enough to attack someone while they’re peeing.” I can practically see her roll her eyes from the other side of the stall door. “Eric wants to know if he should continue to keep an eye on your—and I quote, ‘nasty lunch of evil’—or feed it to the trash can.” The door creaks as she leans against it on the other side.

“What time is it?”

“Thirteen oh five. We should probably get ready for the Recruitment Assembly in ten, so up to you on if you want to eat any more between now and then.”

“I’m not sure I could keep much more down right now.”

“I’m sorry.” Her words are nonchalant but sincere. “I understand that. I’d be pretty nauseous if I were you. Let’s not forget how Brad Jennings puked his guts out that time she hit him in the stomach with a tennis racket.” Amelia forces a laugh, like just the sound could lighten the mood, although it doesn’t. The rest of the bathroom is still quiet, listening in. “Honestly, I’d like a little bit of a bully scare of my own, right now. I could stand to lose a couple pounds.”

I nudge the door with my shoulder. It shifts just enough to let her know I think she’s an idiot.

“You know the Ram’s going to go after you one of these days, too. And you will not be nearly as accepting of the situation when that happens.”

“Honey, I created the Ram.” Amelia’s vowels are rounder than mine, more polished. Not nearly as European as her accent was when her family first came to North America for her mother’s job, but enough that she sounds like she knows exactly what she is talking about, even though right now, I know she’s just trying to keep my mind off what will happen once I leave this stall. “She’s just a bully—a big coward. She’d never dare threaten me.”

“You positive about that?”

“Shush.” Amelia nudges the door back at me.

“I’m just saying, you seem to think rather highly of your—”

“She’s not going to hurt you at the Recruitment Assembly.” My best friend’s vowels go even rounder, like she’s losing some control of the way she speaks. Her words are quiet, and harder than usual. “I promise. Nobody will touch you.”

I unlock the door. She stumbles as it swings inward under her pressure.

Amelia is only two inches taller than me, but half a world more confident. The fact that, as I absorb her words, her lips tug down at the corners and she looks away, smooths her blouse, scares me.

“Do you know something I don’t?” I tilt my head and raise an eyebrow. “It’s just the Ram. Sure she has a penchant for turning everyday objects into weapons, but it’s not like she’s going to kill me.”

“You never know with her.” She straightens and her ponytail swings back and forth like a pendulum.

The bathroom is so quiet the voices of other students passing in the hallway are audible. I turn an exasperated gaze on the other girls all standing there, watching us, and they blush, look away, but don’t apologize. They return to applying lipstick and bobby pins.

To Amelia I say, “I’m just worried the Ram might give me a black eye for Homecoming. But you sound worried about more than covering a bruise for pictures. What’s bothering you?”

“Just the same.” Amelia shrugs. “Of course. Now, should we let Eric dump your salad before it becomes sentient, or what?”

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66

day 20

Off to go attempt not to drown under my mountains of homework!

~Julia

PS. ONE. DAY. TO. CATCHING FIRE. AHHHHHH!

Labor of Love

Today while doing/procrastinating from my homework, I’ve been listening a lot to “Labor of Love” from the STAR TREK (2009) movie score. This is because I woke up with it playing in my head–that exact song and scene on loop every time I closed my eyes–even though I haven’t watched STAR TREK in probably half a year.

It’s a sad but beautiful song, so I decided I might as well listen to it for real. But I finally just now, after an entire day of having it on in the background, realized why it resonates so much with me: It’s a song about surrendering something very important to you for something even more important.

I don’t really want to go into the details today, although maybe I will in a couple months once everything is definite and past and a layer of dust has settled over it all so it’s not quite as raw. But I did want you to know that I’m going through something noveling-related right now that feels a lot like this song. And while it’s hard, extremely hard, I know that the decisions I’m making today will be better for me in the long run. Even though they hurt right now, these are choices I can recover from, while the others lead to something that I would never forgive myself for.

Sometimes the easiest and hardest things can be the same for different reasons.

I haven’t been posting on social media as much lately, or talking to people as much in general, because I’ve been letting this Thing crowd out everything else in my life. I’ve been so focused on it, it’s become difficult to see the world through any other lens. And I’m sorry for doing that. I’m missing out on life–books and beautiful weather and friends–by doing that.

No more. For all I’ve thought about letting go, surrendering, it’s time I actually just did it.

Here is me saying goodbye to one smaller dream in order to allow myself to keep chasing a bigger one. Here is me committing a Labor of Love (gosh, that’s such a bad pun in the context of the movie).

Here is me saying that I love and believe in myself enough to let it go.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy from here on out, but maybe it’ll at least be easier. And that’s something I really, really want right now. That’s something I’m willing to work for.

I’m sorry if you can’t follow much of this–I know I’m being cryptic. But thank you, again and again and again, for all the support. I wouldn’t be able to do any of the wonderful things I get to do without you. And while I’ve hit a bit of a roadblock recently, that’s not to say that this is an end of any sort, except maybe the end of a chapter–a single, really lovely adventure–on my way to bigger and better noveling-related things.

There’s a difference between giving up and letting go. Today I’m doing the latter, with “Labor of Love” as my soundtrack–something sad but beautiful. Very, very beautiful.

 

 

~Julia

Story Time: Jump

Before you read this post, please note: A reader brought it to my attention that she thinks it sounds like I’m not willing to take critique, here. That is not my intention.

I love critique. I will always listen to critique, because I know I’m not perfect and I need help to make my writing better. That’s not what this post is supposed to be about. It’s also not supposed to be about me saying that there is anything wrong with my critique partners–between their opinions or the ways they critique–because there is nothing wrong with them. I love them. I love it when they’re sassy or thoughtful or sweet or any combination of the three. Me writing this post has nothing to do with a problem with them and everything to do with a problem with me.

I got so scared of making a mistake, recently, that I could no longer tell whether a decision was right or not.

This post is supposed to be about me learning that my voice matters just as much as everyone else’s–that my novels should ultimately reflect the style and ideals that I want them to–and that I, as a writer and individual, need to learn to trust my own instincts, sometimes.

That does not mean I will not take critique. That does not mean I’m not willing to rewrite scenes and revise plot lines and work with someone else to make my writing stronger. It just means that I’m learning to bring myself into the equation, as well. If I disagree with a suggestion, I’m going to bring it to the other person’s attention, and work with them to come up with something that we both agree on, rather than blindly following what they tell me to.

Critique is good, dear reader. But it’s all about how you interpret it. And that is the point of this post.

I really don’t know how much of all of this I should be saying. And by “all of this” I mean “talking about the revisions I’ve spent the past month doing on CADENCE.”

I wasn’t planning on talking about the revisions at all, actually, but Wednesday felt like a perfect time to mention them. And, here I am again, two days later, writing another blog post.

Because while I wasn’t planning on talking about them, right now I feel like I need to.

I finished my own changes to CADENCE on Saturday. They involved lots of rewriting, cutting and condensing and adding scenes, and attempting to deal with my apparent obsession with dialogue tags (I have no idea WHY there were so many dialogue tags in CADENCE up until this point, but I cut about a thousand words worth of them during line edits last week). Then I sent the manuscript off to four critique partners, all of whom I would trust with my life, and therefore I trust with a red pen.

The first critique landed in my inbox just a few hours after pressing send: CP Numero Uno loved the novel, loved the changes I had made (she and CP #2 had both read an earlier draft, back right before I began querying) and had very minimal suggestions for improving it.

The next day, CP #2 sent me her critique of the first few chapters, with the same sorts of suggestions: “Oh, there’s a typo here, an awkwardly worded sentence there. Maybe add something to further flesh-out what you’re saying in this paragraph?”

–All in all, those are the kinds of critiques I live for, because they mean I must be doing something right. They give me confidence in my decisions as a writer, and make me feel like my “maybe, someday I’ll be good enough to be published” pipe dream isn’t all that much of a pipe dream after all. I happily implemented my CPs’ suggestions and tucked the manuscript away for when the critiques from my other two CPs–the ones who hadn’t read CADENCE before–began appearing in my inbox.

The next couple days passed in a whirl of WriteOnCon and relaxing with books that have already been published (because, believe me: you get tired of reading ones you need to edit, after a while). Then Thursday came, and with it the next wave of critiques.

And Critique Partners Numberos Tres & Cuatro were not nearly as glowing as the first two.

Now, don’t get me wrong: neither CP #3 or 4 were mean or rude or ANYTHING of the sort in their critiques. These girls are awesome, and they really have just been giving me the tough love treatment I ask my critique partners to hit me with. However, their tough love also involved comments on rewriting scenes, restructuring whole chapters, and other major overhauls that made me want to simultaneously vomit my heart out and throw my laptop against hard surfaces. Like concrete, from the top of a very tall building.

I trust my critique partners with all my being. I know they just want what’s best for my novel. There’s a reason I chose these particular four people, out of the more-than-a-dozen who volunteered to read CADENCE without my even asking*, to be my CPs.

But as I sat alone in my room freaking out last night about which comments to take seriously, and which ones to disregard as we-write-different-styles opinion, and which ones to take into consideration but ultimately not act upon right now, it occurred to me that I’ve been spending so much time trusting my critique partners’ judgement–trying to make the novel what they want it to be–that I’ve stopped trusting my own.

As much as I love my CPs and want to make them happy, what’s ultimately important, with CADENCE, is making myself happy. It needs to be the story I want to tell, the way I want to tell it. And if I don’t agree with one of their suggestions, I should trust my own judgement enough to make a decision on how to handle it.

It’s hard to swallow, but it’s true. This is not something to rely on other people to figure out. If they don’t like something that I’m doing stylistically, or they don’t like my plot or narrator’s voice, oh well. It’s not for them to decide. It’s my responsibility.

I don’t know if it gets easier, when you’re older, to look at these sorts of things and go, “Okay. I value your opinion. But since this is my novel, ultimately I need to value mine more.” Maybe it’s just because I’m nineteen years old and everyone always talks about putting others first. But it’s difficult to look at something and truly believe that my opinion matters more than–or even just as much as–someone else’s.

And I’m working on that. When it comes to me, when it comes to my own personal work, my opinion needs to matter, above my friends’ and family’s and colleagues’. I have the final say in what happens with my writing for a reason. While most of the time it’s good to put others before me, this is one situation where it’s important to put myself first, because CADENCE is my novel. I need to take ownership of it. I’m the only one who can.

So yes, it’s important to listen to and respect my lovely, wonderful, brilliant critique partners (you have no idea how much I love you guys). But it’s also important to look at some of their suggestions–like rewriting my opening paragraph because it didn’t grab CP #4 enough, despite the fact that none of the other CPs had problems with it–and say, “You know what? This opening paragraph has been working just fine for me so far. It’s gotten me requests from literary agents. I like my opening paragraph and I worked really hard on it. At least for now, I’m not going to change it.”

Someday down the line, I may rewrite that opening paragraph anyway. But for now, these opinions on CADENCE are just that: Opinions. Not law I need to follow. And they’re coming from only a couple of readers (most of whose advice has been oh-so-helpfully contradicting one another’s), out of what will hopefully someday be many (knock on wood).

It’s time to stop listening to what everyone else wants CADENCE to be, and focus on making it my own instead.

Everyone in the publishing industry is always talking about how you need a thick skin in order to take rejection and critique and reviews. But I think there’s also something to be said about knowing when to look someone in the eye and say, “No.” There’s something to be said for standing up for yourself, against your own doubts and fears; in trusting your own judgement.

I will never be able to please everyone with my writing, but at the least I should be able to please myself.

Of course I’m going to listen to my CPs about some things–like maybe how a sentence reads awkward or a paragraph needs a little more fleshing out or a sequence is confusing. But otherwise, it’s time to start listening to my own judgement. It’s time to start believing in and backing my own decisions. Because at the end of the day, this novel isn’t theirs. It’s mine.

One of my major fears, last night, in deciding what to do about these not-so-glowing critiques, was trying to figure out how I would feel over CADENCE being rejected, based on whether I took the suggestions or not. If I took them and agents rejected me, would I feel like I’d sold out? What would those what-ifs be? “What if I hadn’t listened to my CPs? Would the agents have still rejected me if the novel was more my own?” But what if I didn’t take the suggestions, and they rejected me then? “What if I had listened? What if the agent had preferred the plot to go in that other direction instead?”

I will never know how this whole thing would have turned out if I’d decided to rewrite parts–and possibly most–of CADENCE, based on the conflicting, confusing reactions of my critique partners. But it’s not something I should worry about.

I would much rather have an agent reject me for something I’ve consciously done on my own terms than accept me for something that no longer feels like it’s mine.

This story isn’t over yet. I don’t know how it’ll turn out, where it’ll end. Maybe it’ll be a happily ever after, and maybe it’ll be yet another dead end on the path to publication. But either way, it’s time to start trusting myself again.

I don’t know which is worse, jumping blindly or jumping with your eyes wide open. And I’m not exactly sure which I’m about to do.

But I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of not trusting my own judgement and trying to please everyone else, even at the detriment of my own happiness.

So I’m going to jump. And I’m not looking back.

 

~Julia

*If any of you are reading this, by the way, I want to give you a massive hug, because you’re great and I love you and I’m so thankful for having you in my life. (But no, you’re not getting a copy until it gets published. And that “until” should be read as a very big “unless.”)

Wordy Wednesday (“The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 1”)

I’ve been getting lots of questions on the writing/publishing process the past half a year or so, due to my work on Cadence, so I figured I’d do a condensed overview of what trying to publish a novel is like in a series of Wordy Wednesday posts, for anyone who’s curious, specifically addressing the questions I most frequently get asked. This week I’m going to focus on the process of getting your novel ready to query, and then what querying exactly even is.

I give you–The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 1: From Idea to Agent

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Brainstorming/Writing

This is me writing. You can’t see the laptop, but just know it’s there.

The first step in publishing a book is, of course, writing one. Sometimes a writer will get an idea flash and start writing Chapter One or a particular scene right away, giving up all semblance of having a life for two weeks, and then they’ll be finished writing practically before they started. More commonly, writers will spend weeks or months brainstorming for a novel before they ever write word one. Some people are “plotters,” which means that they make complex outlines that detail various events, character arcs, etc before they begin a novel, so that they can comfortably know where they’re going before they begin to write. Other people are “pantsers,” which means that they write by the seat of their pants, or more specifically: don’t outline. Instead, they let the plot and characters take them where they take them. They might have a vague idea of where the story’s going, but they never know any specifics.

I’m personally, most definitely more on the pantser side, but I also can’t go into a story completely blind, like some writers do. While I rarely outline on paper, I usually have the basic structure of the story, and a lot of the major scenes, already worked out in my mind–and I normally spend a few months, if not closer to a year, working all of that out. Then, once I get closer to writing the end of the novel, I make notes detailing what needs to go into each of the remaining scenes and chapters, just to make sure that I don’t leave a bunch of subplots unresolved (because I’m like Dory the fish as far as remembering stuff goes), and I follow that rough outline pretty closely (although it’s always subject to change). I usually have a few different endings swimming around in my mind, and I won’t know how the novel’s actually going to end until I’m writing that final scene.

Unlike the super-writers who finish novels in two weeks flat (several of which I’m friends with–hi, guys!), I’m more likely to spend half a year working through a first draft. The shortest time it’s taken me to write a novel was four months; the longest was fourteen. Cadence took about seven. I didn’t know what direction I was going to make that plot go (I set it up with five or so different possible antagonists) until I was already halfway through the climax. I think writing this way is a lot more fun than having a structured plot to follow, although it does make it a bit trickier when revising, because then sometimes things that I’ve written with the idea of Billy Bob Joe being a bad guy don’t make sense when he turns out good in the end.

Revising

Snapshot_20130602This is my Revising Face.

After finishing a first draft, the rules of the game state that you’re supposed to put it away for a while (at least a month, if not longer), try to stop thinking about it to the best of your abilities, and then pull it out again after that month-or-longer to start revising.

Everyone revises differently, but I tend to do a quick read-through myself, fixing any and all problems that jump out at me (plot, specific sentence structure stuff, whatever is bugging me), then sit back and do another one more slowly, making sure that the writing flows and the plot truly is justified. Then I hand it off to my critique partners, or “CPs,” (other writers who you exchange writing with) and “beta readers” (people who critique your writing without expecting to really get anything in return) in order to, you know, critique. Some people only have a couple of CPs and betas, others have upwards of fifteen or twenty. I have about three who I use regularly, along with another five or so who I exchange writing with more sporadically.

In general, one of my novels will go through a solid five drafts before I ever move past the revision stage, between finding stuff to fix on my own and going through my CP/beta edits. Unfortunately, though, with Cadence I didn’t get the opportunity to do that. I finished writing it in January, set it aside for a month, and then the beginning of March I had to begin hardcore revising it in order to get it ready in time for the Writer’s Digest Conference. I only had the time to exchange it with two of my critiquers, and I had only read the thing myself once before the conference. By now, it’s seen a little more love, but it was a really scary thing going in to talk with literary agents when I had barely read the novel myself.

Querying

This Is a Query LetterIf anyone writes this novel, I will pay you $10.00 cold hard cash.

In order to traditionally publish a novel with a major publisher, you need a literary agent. Contrary to what most people think, a literary agent is not the same as an editor and a literary agent does not work for a publishing house at all. A literary agent, instead, is a not-so-neutral third party who loves your story as much as you do and tries to champion it to editors at the publishing houses in order to sell it, thus getting you a publishing deal. It is next to impossible to land a contract with a major publisher without a good lit agent’s help, and even if you do land a contract without one, chances are you would have gotten a better deal with one. Agents know all the ins and outs of the publishing world; they know how to get you the best deal possible, and get this–they don’t get paid unless you do. Typically, a lit agent will take 15-20% of whatever you make off your book domestically, and a little bit more internationally. And they’re worth every cent.

However, landing a literary agent is almost as difficult as getting published itself. A typical literary agent gets thousands of query letters every year, requesting their services, and of all those letters, they only offer to represent one or two new writers. Luckily, there are a lot of great agents out there, so getting an agent isn’t nearly as impossible as that figure seems–but it’s still really, really hard. Some people spend years pitching one novel after another to agents without an offer of representation in sight, garnering hundreds of rejections. Others–the rare cases–get an agent in their first patch of query letters, off their first novel. Most commonly, a writer will write, revise, and query multiple novels before finally getting The Call. (“The Call” is a phone call from a literary agent, offering representation. It’s a momentous occasion that I hear generally involves lots of holding-back-tears and trying-not-to-pass-out and general-excitement-in-the-form-of-happy-dancing.)

In order to get an agent, there are a few different paths you can take, but the most common one is to query the agent. In order to do that, you have to write and send a query letter, which is almost as bad as revising your novel (I say “almost as bad” because it gets slightly easier with each novel you query, as you figure out the format; revising novels, however, NEVER gets easier). There are a few different formats you can use to write a query letter, but no matter what, the definition of the query remains the same:

A query letter is a business letter written to a literary agent (or other publishing entity) requesting their services, comprised of a “hook,” which is something that catches the agent’s attention (a brief quote from the work, etc); a brief description of the work–a “pitch,” which details what the work is about, the work’s title, its word count, and its genre, etc; and a brief biography of the writer’s history within the publishing industry, such as past publishing credits and education.

So yeah, that might have turned into a bit of a complicated run-on sentence, but if you’re interested in what exactly A Good Query Letter Makes, you can follow the following links:

AgentQuery Guide to Query Letter Writing

Writer’s Digest Dos and Don’ts for Writing a Query Letter

Examples of Successful Query Letters at GalleyCat

Generally along with sending a query letter, an agent will request that you send sample pages–the first five or so pages of your novel–so they can get a feel for your writing style. If they like what they read, they’ll request for you to send either a “partial” or a “full” manuscript. A partial request usually is for something like fifty pages. A full manuscript request is, of course, for your full manuscript, and getting a full manuscript request is probably the most nerve wracking thing in an aspiring author’s life.

You wanna know why? Once an agent has your full manuscript, that means they’re seriously considering representing you. And they can take anywhere from a day to a year to get back to you about whether (or not) they’d like to.

Getting a full manuscript request is really exciting. I screamed and started racing up and down the hallways of the hotel I was staying in the first time I got one (I’m sure I was popular with the other guests). Getting an offer of representation off an FM is still really rare, though. More likely, the agent will email you back after a couple of months saying that they loved your main character’s snarky voice, or your innovative concept, or your great world-building–but it wasn’t quite right for them.

Snapshot_20130605What can ya do?

As hard as it is to get rejected off full manuscript requests, these are the best kind of rejections. They remind you that even though you still don’t have that shiny agent contract in your hands, you’re at least doing something right, for an agent to have even wanted to have read your FM in the first place. The other kind of rejection–the more common one–is the form letter. This is a letter that’s generally only a couple of lines long that is not at all personalized to you that generally looks something like this:

Dear Author,

Thank you for thinking of me to represent your work of fiction, but I feel that I did not connect enough with the material at this time to further consider representing it. However, I wish you all the luck in placing your work with an agent who feels differently.

Sincerely,

Coolio Agent Person

Or sometimes the agent just never replies at all, which is a “no response means no” sort of deal.

Like I said before, agents get literally thousands of query letters a year. They don’t have time to respond to each one individually. So although getting form letters can be disappointing, it’s important to remember that each rejection is just one query letter closer to an agent who will say yes–because, after all, all you need is one “yes” in that sea of rejections in order to get published. And: Every. Writer. Gets. Rejections. Even the super rich and famous ones. Even JK Rowling.

**********

… And now that I have completely flooded you with information, I think that’s where I’m going to stop for today. Want to learn more about publishing? Vote for the “writing process” option in this week’s poll. Have any specific questions you want answered? Feel free to ask me–in the comments, through an email, on Facebook, or in person. Whatever floats your boat, I’m always open to talking about writing.

After all, it’s my job and I love it. 🙂

42

~Julia

This Is a Book: Chapter Twenty Four

Oh gosh, sorry this chapter’s so late, as usual. We finally get back on schedule, and then I throw us off again. But this chapter’s way longer than the usual Mary parts, so hey! That makes up for the delay at least a little bit, right? Right. (I hope.)

Watch out for two of our winners from the character creation contest, making appearances in this chapter!

Don’t know what This Is a Book is? Follow this link.

Need to catch up on previous chapters? Follow this link.

**********

Chapter Twenty Four: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

“Telling our story, love?” Sebastian asks. We whirl to face the direction his voice comes from. He rests against the bottom of a rusted iron ladder that he’s lowered through the hole in the ceiling of ice, one foot propped against the bottom rung and his arms folded across his skinny chest. His pure white eyes stare in Rose’s direction, whether drawn by her voice or thoughts, I don’t know.

I imagine sawing Sebastian in half like a magician would his assistant, only minus the magic part. The little bit of light that seeps from the hole glints off his eyes, proving they’ve moved to face me. So he’s listening to thoughts, not what we’re saying out loud.

“Or both, of course,” he says, tapping his chin like he’s thinking through the matter. “You don’t truly think I am so low of a creature I can’t listen both with my ears and my mind at the same time, do you?”

“No, not at all,” I say as, in great detail, I imagine vomiting down his shirt. Thevampire stiffens. He first rests back against the ladder, then leans towards me.

“Do you have a problem with me, Mary Hart?”

“Oh, what would ever make you believe that?” I ask. “No, I’m totally grateful to the zombie dude who imprisoned me in his copycat Narnia castle just for associating with his ex-fiancé, you creep.” Someone snorts, but I don’t recognize the sound, so it’s not Rose or Pixie Stick. “Who just did that?” I squint through the darkness at the other cells. I’d thought they were empty until now. Nobody responds.

Sebastian clears his throat, and I whip back to face him.

“Are you insinuating that you do not find my dungeons unique enough to satisfy your fancy?” he asks with a weary pout.

Of course!” I snap. “Haven’t you seen the first Chronicles of Narnia movie? This is a total rip-off of the White Witch’s dungeons. I’m just waiting for the talking faun to appear.”

“What is a talking faun?” asks Pixie Stick from beside me, his squeaky little voice shaking only a smidgen out of fear. I’m surprised he’s acting so brave around the Dark Lord of Copycat Castles.

“It’s like this weird Roman half-man, half-animal thi—you know what, how about we just watch the movie when we get back to London, eh? It’s really cute. Lots of annoying magical creatures like you. You’ll feel right at home,” I tell him.

“Is Elvis in it?” he asks, clasping his little hands before him in earnest. “I love Elvis. Elvis is my idol. I want to be Elvis someday.”

“That’s it. My half a second of camaraderie with you is over.” I shove him into the corner of the cell and turn back to Sebastian. I raise one eyebrow. “So, Copycat Castle Dude. Can we get back to the story? As our little Rosie here can assure you, I have met goldfish with longer attention spans than mine. Chop, chop. Let’s get on with this thing.”

“After you just insulted my home decorating, you wish for me to allow this tale to continue?” His face screws up in an expression of melodramatic offendedness, but his tone is bland and uninterested.

“Uh, yeah,” I say. “How else are we supposed to pass the time in your little shop of horrors down here.” I direct a very pointed gaze in the direction of the anonymous snort from earlier, but there’s not a peep from the other cells. “Ugh, fine, whoever you are. Just let me sit here and babble on and on about my life, and don’t even bother doing the polite thing by introducing yourself!”

There’s another snort, this time followed by a cough.

“I can hear you, you know!”

“Mary, let it go,” Rose snaps. She’s sulking against the outer wall of her cell, as far from Sebastian as she can get. It’s difficult to see her through the gloom.

“Fine,” I say, sitting down right where I am and crossing my arms. “Then talk.”

“The second wave of the disease didn’t manifest until Sebastian and I were close enough to touch one another. While I stood beside my father’s decimated corpse, Sebastian approached me with a fever-light in his eyes.

“‘What are you doing here?’ I remember asking him.

“He responded, ‘Searching—’” Rose begins to say the next line, but Sebastian cuts her off with one piercing stare.

“‘Searching for my bride, of course,’” he says in a listless drone. “‘Why did you run, my dear, fragile flower?’”

It’s like the two of them are hypnotized, going through the paces of the story.

“Then,” says Sebastian, lifting his hand, “I reached out to place my hand on your shoulder, Rose—”

“—I opened my mouth to respond, but I saw him reaching for me, and I flinched back—” She presses herself as firmly against the wall as she can. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I become aware of the fact that Rose, who has always been able to float through any obstacle that should come in her path, cannot push herself through that dungeon wall to escape.

“—and the moment I was close enough to touch her,” Sebastian says, his hand falling back to his side, “the virus took.”

“So it takes being close enough to another human to touch them for the disease to affect you?” I say. They should applaud me for having such good analyzing skills, but neither Rose nor Sebastian seems to be aware of my presence anymore. “Guys,” I say. I slap my hands against the bars of my ice cell, but the ghosties don’t break out of the trance. “Guys!”

“Oh dear,” says the pixie. “I do believe they are lost in the memory.”

“Lost in the memory,” I say. “What. In. Elvis’s. Horrifying. Name. Is. That. Supposed. To. Mean.”

“Nothing too terrible,” he assures me. “Just that they will be stuck reliving the night they turned into ugly zombie-ghosts until a Powerful One intervenes.”

“A powerful one. What the heck is a freaking ‘Powerful One,’ Candy Man?”

“Candy Man?” He stares up at me with his huge brown eyes.

“You’re a pixie. Like the Pixy Stix candy.” I throw my arms up in exasperation. “Gosh, can you just get on to answering my question, you weirdo? We’ve gotta wake Rose up so we can get out of here! And defeat Sebastian! And stop the alien invasion! And get back to London so I can return to my daily pastime of kicking Randy’s butt until the U.S. government lets me go home!”

“A Powerful One is a creature like Sebastian,” the pixie tells me without any hint of having been insulted by his candy nickname. Twerpy little freak.

I glare. Between gritted teeth, I say, “So you want me to somehow go find another vampire-zombie-thing and just hope he’ll choose to help us instead of treating me like a giant bottle of grape juice? Huh?”

“No, no, of course not!” Pixie Stick claps his hands together.

What then?!”

“Simply locate the King! He is a Powerful One as well, and he is trapped somewhere in this castle!”

“You are far too excited about this,” I say. “You do realize I am trapped in this cell with you right now, right? What, are you just going to magically beam me—” Before I can finish my sentence, I’m standing on the other side of the bars, the pixie giggling uncontrollably behind me, still in the cell. I spin. “You could have let me out at any given point in time? You’ve been choosing to make me stay in there with you?”

“You never asked to leave before.” He shrugs.

A snort comes from my right, this time followed by an entire series of hacking coughs.

“Who’s there?!” I shout. “Are you the King?”

The voice is deep yet feminine, with a distinctive rasp that sounds almost like the buzz of a wasp. “I wish. If I were, I could get myself out of here.”

“Who are you, then?” I ask. “Medusa?”

“I wish. Then I could turn people to stone when they get annoying, which would give me far less indigestion.” The monster coughs again.

“Tell me your name, or I’m leaving you here to rot when I heroically manage to free all of us in a second,” I say as I slowly approach the cell.

The light in the dungeons has faded even more as night approaches, but I can still just barely make out the hulking shape of the creature.

“What are you, a giant guinea pig?” I hide the laughter in my sleeve.

“No,” she says, and the rodent-shaped monster pulls herself upward so that she stands on her hind feet. She towards over me, with flaming red fur-hair-stuff and the tail of a dolphin. “I am Kra, the almighty! The destroyer of worlds!”

“Yeah?” I cross my arms and stare up at her beady-eyed face. “And what world have you destroyed?”

“Atlantis.”

I take a step back. “The resort?”

“No, you buffoon. The original Atlantis. The real one. The lost city one.”

I swallow hard. “Well, I guess that qualifies you as a full-out, real deal destroyer of worlds. Congrats.” I take another few steps away. “Well, it was… uh… niiice to meet you, but I’ve got a world to save, now, so…”

And I turn and sprint in the opposite direction.

“I will eat you alive when I get out of here, you baboon! Alive, I tell you, alive! I will skin you! I will bake you! I will marinate you in banana pudding!”

I reach the ladder, shove Sebastian’s creepy vampiric body out of the way, and climb for the light. Behind me, Pixie Stick cheers, while Kra continues to call me monkey-names and threaten different ways of cooking my body.

On the floor above the dungeons, the ice ends, giving way instead to black marble columns and winding halls.

“Oh,” I say, “now this is going to be fun.”

An hour later, and I’ve just ducked into an alcove for the hundred and tenth time to avoid detection by one of Sebastian’s ghost cronies. I’ve checked the first three levels of the castle for the King, with no such luck, and I’m really beginning to wish this place came equipped with an elevator and a King-tracking GPS system.

I mean, really, is that so much to ask for?

Evidently so.

The ghost’s heavy presence—like a glass of whole milk to the face—fades away, and I slip out from the alcove. I creep towards the stairs.

“Okay, Mary,” I whisper to myself. “You can do this. You can locate the King and save Rose, no problem. This is not a big deal. You do way more intense things like this all the time. I can’t think of any of them off the top of my head, but you do. You’re fine. You can do this, you can do this, you can—”

A ghost soldier comes floating down from the top of the spiral staircase, and there’s nowhere for me to hide.

Maybe if you stay really still he won’t notice you, I think to myself. Like that T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

“Hey!” the ghost shouts. “What are you doing out of the dungeons?!”

Yeah. No such luck.

I’m preparing to make a run for it when another voice pipes up, Leave the human child alone, you fiend!

I look around for the source of my rescuer, but find none. Then a mouse darts out of a thick crack at the base of the marble wall, and the ghost screams. He floats through the nearest wall as quickly as his transparent white behind will take him and I fall back on my butt, sliding down a few steps before I can catch myself.

“What the Bieber, there’s a mouse in this house?” I yelp.

Yes, says the voice, and you would do well to learn how to hold your tongue.

“Oh my gosh. You’re a talking mouse.” Then it hits me. “Wait, I’m not hearing you out loud. WHY ARE YOU IN MY HEAD?” I throw my hands over my ears and stare at the hairy little beast in horror.

I’m a telepath, child, the mouse tells me in her lilting little voice. She scratches her ear with a hind leg and watches me with her beady black eyes.

“That’s creepy, dude.”

Would you like my help in locating the King of Norland, or not?

“Wait,” I ask, “how do you know that’s who I’m looking for?”

As I said, I’m a telepath.

I shrug. “Makes sense. Do you know where he is?”

Yes. Her whiskers twitch like her face is folding into a smile. Now follow me!

And off up the stairs the mouse leaps.

“Hey, hold up!” I call after her. “What’s your name?”

Without stopping her scramble towards the top of the staircase, the mouse responds, Mr. Squeaks.

Mr.? But you sound like a girl!”

I am a girl. But unfortunately my parents were planning on a boy when they chose my name.

“What crappy parents,” I mutter.

Don’t let them hear you say that, or my father might set your hair on fire, Mr. Squeaks warns.

“Your father’s a pyromaniac mouse?!”

The mouse chortles in my mind. No, of course not, silly! My family, besides being a breed of telepathic mouse, also has control over things like fire and explosions. Her tone darkens. So don’t get on my bad side.

We finally reach the top of the staircase, and I throw myself sideways out, flattening against a wall in case one of the ghosts is near. We’re alone in the hallway, though.

Come, human child! Mr. Squeaks urges. This way!

“I’m not a child, you know,” I tell her as I race to keep up, twisting through passageways and ducking through rooms. “I’m an adult—a young one, but an adult nonetheless. I’d be in college if it weren’t for all this magic and alien crap.”

Quick, in here!

The mouse ducks behind a statue of Sebastian dressed in robes like a Greek god just as one of his soldiers rounds the next corner. I slide in behind her and watch as he examines the hallway to make sure it’s empty—missing us in our super secret, super cool hideout (obviously)—and then returns to the next hall.

He is one of the King’s guards, Mr. Squeaks says in a quivering voice.

“How many of them are there?” I ask.

Thirteen. Sebastian is ever so careful with the King.

“You think if I tell them their vampire-ruler-man is stuck in a coma-like state, they’ll let me just bust the King right on out of there and take him to rescue the people in the dungeon?”

By “people,” do you mean “everyone but Kra”?

“Duh,” I say. “Who in their right minds would release that creep? No one.”

They probably still will not come to your aid where it concerns the King, however. More than Sebastian values his well-being, he values destroying the well-being of his prisoners.

“Fabulous,” I say, but dust off my hands and get to my feet anyway. “Well, let’s get to it. Any idea how to get rid of a few ghosts?”

Oh, I’ve got some ideas.

            Before I can react, Mr. Squeaks sprints off towards the corner, and dips around it. I follow as quickly as possible, sliding to a stop with my back right against the wall. Just as I peek around the corner, Mr. Squeaks shouts, May the loathing of my family be upon your heads! An explosion likes a firework rocks the next hall, and the ghosts scatter, screaming.

            Come quickly, child! Mr. Squeaks instructs. I dodge the fleeing ghosts and make a beeline for the door Mr. Squeaks is running towards. One of the ghosts has dropped a set of heavy iron keys on the floor, and I stoop to pick them up, quickly trying out the keys in the lock. It’s the second to last one that fits, and the door swings open. Beyond is darkness.

            “Hello?” I call through the doorway, impatient. “Mr. King, sir? Are ya in there?”

            “Oh yay! You have come to save me, have you not? You are the obnoxious human girl, Mary Hart, are you not?” comes a squeaky little voice from the darkness. “Hurray! You have saved me, finally. Yippee!”

            And out of the dark room beyond comes flitting a pixie much like Pixie Stick, only this one has slick black hair on its head, styled to look just like Elvis’s.

            “The King,” I say, my shoulders falling. “He lives.”

            Well of course the King of Norland lives, dearie, says Mr. Squeaks like she thinks my statement is crazy.

            “Not the King I was referring to.” I sigh and make myself grab for the pixie’s hand, tugging him in the direction we just came from. “Well, now that we’ve got you, let’s go. We need to make a pit stop in the dungeon to save some friends and an enemy, I’m afraid, but then we’ll surely be getting you out of here to head back to Norland.”

            “Save some friends?” chirps the King. “Like who?”

            “One of your pixie comrades and Rose, the zombie-ghostie-thing I got paired up with in this whole mission of saving you.”

            “And now I must save her?” He giggles. “How all very complex!”

            “Glad to see you’re the glass half-full type,” I say. “Now come on.”

With Mr. Squeaks scouting ahead of us and clearing out the evil ghosts all the way back down to the dungeons, it takes only a quarter of the time to make it back. I stick the mouse on top of my head while I climb down the ladder, after making her promise not to defecate on me, and the King floats down.

Immediately, the light in the room grows, despite the night above us.

“Oh dear,” says the King upon spotting Sebastian and Rose. “I see what you meant.”

“My King!” Pixie Stick cheers from his cell. “My King, the Ugly has found you!”

“Yes, my dear subject,” the King says, flittering over to the other pixie, “the Ugly has indeed.”

“Hey, not to break up this happy reunion, but—” I indicate to the two people still in a trance and say, “—we kind of need to get out of here before Edward Cullen’s minions realize Mr. Squeaks isn’t a Norse god and we are most definitely trying to escape.”

“Do not fret, dearest Mary Hart. I simply need a sword, and…” He lifts his hands above his head and wiggles his fingers, and a little tiny butter knife-like thing appears in them. “Now, who shall I wake up first?”

“What is that, a toothpick? What are you going to do with that?”

“Anything this sword touches will be released from its prison. I simply must touch the blade to your ghost friend’s skin and the memory will leave her.”

“Fabulous. Get to it.” I point to Rose. “Her first. And if you really must, then Sebastian second.”

“Unfortunately, as King, I am bound by a code of honor—”

“Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. This is why I’m an assassin. We have no honor. Wake up Rose so we can get out of this place before I get hypothermia.” I shiver, staring at all the ice.

The King pops himself into Rose’s cell, and flies over to her. With a little Fairy Godmother-flair, he taps her on the shoulder with the blunt end of his sword, and Rose immediately jumps to alertness.

“Who, what, where—?”

“No time to explain,” I say. “King dude—wake up Sebastian so we can get our butts out of here.” There’s a rumbling coming from the floor above us, like dozens and dozens of angry voices gathering together in a roar.

The King zaps over to where I left Sebastian on the floor beside the ladder, and taps the vampire on the shoulder. He jerks to awareness, swiping out with his hands and his white eyes rolling back into his skull.

“What happened?” he thunders.

“We saved you, that’s what,” I spit.

“You’re out of your cell,” he says in disbelief. “How did you get out of your cell?”

The sound of his voice has caught the attention of the ghost soldiers above, and now I can make out several of them peering down at us from the hole.

“Don’t just float there!” Sebastian shouts. “Get them!”

In an instant, the dungeons become a flood of ghosts, as one after another floats down through the hall with a weapon at the ready.

“We need a distraction!” yells Rose from where she is still trapped in her cell.

“Ya think?!” I dodge the swipe of a ghost’s knife, and then a light bulb goes off inside my brain. “Wait, I’ve got it!” I make eye contact with the King, and he smiles knowingly. He tosses his micro-sword to me just in time for me to catch it and slice through the ice bars of the cell nearest me, releasing the creature within.

I shout, “Release the Kraaaa-ken!”

**********

Make sure to check Mel’s blog for Chapter Twenty Five, coming soon!

 

~Julia

I Am a Coward

Let’s be honest: I BS my way through this blog a lot.

Not that BSing things is bad, per say, because that’s also how I got through high school and most of my freshman year of college (with the exception of Spanish class), and that obviously worked out all right–but I feel like it’s probably pretty obvious when I’ve only spent five minutes on a post, or a half hour on a Wordy Wednesday piece, versus when I actually care about what I’m saying.

And here’s the dumb truth of it all: I am lazy. I am an extremely lazy human being, except when it comes to the very few things that I actually care quite a bit about, primarily being my novel writing and using an obscene number of adjectives and other noun modifiers (because seriously, I don’t know what’s with me and modifiers).

But here’s another truth that has finally been coming into focus for me lately: My laziness is just an excuse.

If you don’t know, I use laziness as an excuse for everything. Why I don’t party, why I don’t get a job, why I only took twelve credit hours this past semester. If it can be attributed to laziness, I will attribute it to laziness, no matter the actual reasoning behind my decisions.

And how stupid is that? It’s like I’m so scared of actually backing my decisions, because people might judge me for them, that I just blame it all on how lazy I am instead. And you know what? I was not actually a lazy person until recently. But because I kept blaming things on being lazy, it just slowly seeped in; my deciding to watch Youtube videos instead of working one day, or choosing to hide behind my fear of rejection instead of sending out a query letter, or spending five minutes on a blog post instead of the couple of hours it would take to put in my best effort.

What started out as me just avoiding giving the details behind my choices has turned into me deciding not to make any choices at all. Instead, I just sit here and grouch about the black hole I have forced my life into being.

Recently, all separately of one another, my friends and family started complaining about how I’ve been complaining too much lately. I usually don’t think of myself as being easily fazed, but the past couple of months it’s felt like absolutely every little thing has been a cannon ball crashing through my life, and I’ve turned to ranting to anyone who will listen to me about my “problems”–how I haven’t been asked out in almost a year, how no matter what I do I will never be as good at theatre or singing as I want to be, how other people are naturally gifted with beauty or humor or sweetness while I just sort of wallow in my pile of ordinariness on the sidelines.

Apparently, at the age of nineteen, I have turned into a bitter and jaded moron.

It kills me when people tell me to put a sock in it, that I’m being annoying, that I don’t know how good I have it–not because I’m mad at them, but because I’m mad at myself, for letting it get to the point where someone feels the need to remind me that life doesn’t revolve around Planet Julia.

You know what? Life is hard. Writing is hard, querying is hard, growing up and letting go is hard. All these things that I have been complaining about are true. But what’s also true is that if they weren’t hard, they wouldn’t be worth doing. And as difficult as it is sometimes to look at how much I’m struggling and then see how much easier other people have had it, I’m learning that it’s important to remember that every story is different; just because one of my favorite recent authors, Kat Zhang, got a great agent and a book deal off her second novel, which she began writing her senior year of high school, doesn’t mean that she had it easier than I have, or that I’ve failed just because I have now finished my freshman year of college and I’m querying my fifth novel, still unagented and sans book deal.

All my life I’ve gone about complaining about how I’m not smart enough, not pretty enough, not funny enough, not sweet enough, not talented enough–but you know what? I am sick of complaining.

And I am sick of blaming the decisions I should be proud of on laziness. Like just because someone else might think that I’m an idiot for taking only twelve credit hours in order to make time for writing and putting extra effort into Spanish class doesn’t mean that I should feel that way about it also.

So what if I’m not the prettiest, funniest, or most talented person in the room. So what if my opinion isn’t the popular one, or others don’t agree with how I spend my time. It’s my life, and I am sick. and. tired. of acting like it’s a burden instead of the incredible gift that it is.

I am a coward. I’ve been hiding behind the bad stuff for too long, and I want to embrace what I do have, finally, instead of focusing on the things that I don’t.

So, this is me attempting to be a better person. No more BSing the blog, or focusing on how I don’t have as many views, or followers, or comments as someone else. No more lying around on my bed with the lights off in the middle of the afternoon, just because I’m too scared of failure to go out and take action.

I don’t have to be the best to be good enough. And I am good enough–at something. We all are. What else would we be doing here. You know?

My best is good enough. No more BS. I’m going to carpe that diem and not let go until I achieve what I have been working towards, now, for years.

One of my novels will be published someday. Maybe it’s Cadence, maybe it’s not. And while I certainly hope that it’s Cadence, if it’s not… well… there are always more novels where that one came from.

It’s time for me to stop being “lazy,” and be brave instead.

So, all my readers: Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love talking to you and getting to know you and knowing that, somewhere out there, there is somebody who I don’t directly know in my life who is willing to put in the time to read my blog. And thank you to all the people who I do directly know in my life who also read this, because your never-ending support means SO much to me, as well. So much.

The new chapter of This Is a Book will be up soon. Thanks for sitting through my rant. I am so grateful to have you in my life, whether this is your first time visiting my blog or your hundredth.

 

 

~Julia

PS. Today is my brother’s 22nd birthday. Can I get a whoot whoot? 😀

Facebook Page, and Other Such Things

Hey there! So I’m currently at home for spring break, busily revising novels and watching too many movies and plays (I’m literally seeing one or the other every single day over break–this is like Julia Heaven), and I’ve got some exciting news to share with you. So without further ado, here we go:

  • Mel just posted Chapter Seven of This Is a Book on her blog. Check it out here.
  • Requiem–the last novel in the Delirium Trilogy by Lauren Oliver–is coming out this week!!! AND I AM SO EXCITED. Ever since I got to read Requiem as an ARC a few months back, I’ve been dying to gush about the book to you, but I knew I couldn’t say anything until the book was actually released. AND IN A COUPLE OF DAYS I WILL FINALLY BE ABLE TO. So be watching out to a review or something sometime in the next couple of weeks!
  • I made a Facebook page! I’m going to be using it to put out smaller updates than what I’d talk about on here, but still very fun stuff, so I’d love for you to like it. 🙂 Thanks!

Well, that’s it for now I guess (I’m sure there’s something else I’m supposed to be telling you that I’m just forgetting), but I’ll talk to you soon! Have a great week!

~Julia