The Modern Author Life

Things Writers like JK Rowling and Anne Rice and Stephen King didn’t have to worry about when launching their careers:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Immediate Human Contact

Things authors need to worry about when launching their careers now:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Immediate Human Contact

And, oh, GIVEAWAYS.

After the giveaway drama of yesterday I wrote my friend and told her I would never do it again. I didn’t like the pressure. I felt powerless and unsafe and nauseous and my fingernail polish was all chipped off from panic. And if it’s like that on a small scale, how will it be when people actually care later on?

She suggested that giveaway’s were essential to our chosen career path. That they are expected of authors, especially Young Adult authors, and never say never. She encouraged me not to worry.

And there’s the rub: I worry a lot.

Writers as a species are over-thinkers. We humans created to write stories tend to have over-active, vivid, and often, dark imaginations. We are good at thinking up elaborate scenarios for failure and malady. We are designed to do this so we can get our characters into circumstances that require heroism. You need us to be this way so you get stories that make you feel things.

Take a person like that and throw them into any situation where the outcome is unknown and they will start to devise schemes for failure or triumph. We’re not always dark, sometimes those imaginations that create detailed worlds and intricate plots also dream up wild success stories. We can sort of be like the mirror of Erised. Like, look at me with the House Cup and being a glorious Head Girl and my mom is crying tears of joy…

I’m veering off topic.

The changing landscape of the publishing world means we as authors have to become more comfortable with a whole heap of things outside our control. We have to roll with punches and we have to guard our words and we may need to drink at night or take up a spin class to deal with that anxiety of ALL THE UNKNOWN and HOW WE CAN FAIL and IT’S ALL SO PUBLIC NOW.

We also need to be honest. We need to let people in on our not okay all the time-ness. We need to be allowed to say we don’t know what we’re doing and we are making it up as we go along and we do yes please need a well-timed gif of a kitten in a coffee cup tweeted at us.

As difficult as

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Actual human contact

Can be

It can be so very wonderful,too. Super rewarding. But not if it feels unsafe. Not if we think we HAVE to. Not if we aren’t authentic.

Giveaways will happen. But not because I think it’s my responsibility as an author. I can be an author without that. I am very clever. I could find my way around it.

But my responsibility to future fans (Hey, you guys are so fancy and bad ass and I love you. ❤ Future Me) is to make the internet as it relates to my books and my chosen path of Young Adult Book Pusher accessible and fun and shiny. That is something of value, and I like adding value to lives.

I agree with my friend: Giveaways are useful. Readers and writers alike enjoy them, but they are scary and stressful for me.

So is publishing my stories. It’s scares me, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to me to do the things JK and Anne and Stephen didn’t have to if it means I’m doing the best for my fans and my book.

I will always worry. I will never be cool. My brain will inevitably veer into dangerous territory any time I face a situation outside my control. I think it’s better to deal with all that, and also do something I love, than to be sitting alone in my office writing into a vacuum and never trying anything that scares me.

Fear means you’re alive. Fear means you’re doing something right.

 

 

 

 

 

The Road to Completing a Short Film

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I thought a lot about which platform I should share this information on. But this story feels relevant to anyone with a dream, so bear with me for a moment. Those who follow me because I am a soon-to-be-published Young Adult author (Hi! And thank you!), might not know that two and a half years ago I gathered a rag-tag group of aspiring filmmakers together to fund and shoot a short film I’d written years before.

Ideas are funny creatures. The metaphor that they begin as seeds and must be cultivated, watered and nurtured, harvested at the right time, while a little flowery for my taste is also somehow perfectly suitable. Ideas take time, and more often than not, it is the abandoning of the idea before the maturity of the idea that results in failure. Failure, here, means letting the idea die. Not success in the chosen market. Not money or glory. Sometimes, you fail there too, later after you’ve planted and nurtured. But I find failure comes from abandonment first, the failure that you can control anyway. And you can only kick yourself for what you give up on, not what is given up on by others.

I gathered the team to shoot this film, Cassie’s Cause. It was bumpy, a ride we all look back on now and remember with anxiety and fondness, laughter and annoyance. We lost people along the way, and we hit walls we didn’t foresee. We were forced to stop for huge gaps of time, staring at the unfinished idea, at the not abandoned but not matured thing, and wonder if it would ever become.

Today, we submitted the “little idea that could” to Austin Film Festival. The finished movie, all grown up.

Jonathan Dickson– my co-director and lifelong friend– and I hit the submit button. We watched the screen blink, confirmation brightening, and we looked at eachother with mile wide smiles. He raised his hand.

“It is finished.”

I hit his palm in a high five.

It is finished. Three words that mean so much. They represent an end, but also a beginning. To us, no matter what happens with the submission, we completed the task. The idea has taken root, been given sunlight, grown enough to exist on its own.

And finally a blurb, for anyone interested, about our little movie:

Cassie Duncan, a scrappy animal activist grieving the loss of her older brother, Gregory, wishes she could get him back. He returns, changed. Now she is the proud owner of a gnarly faced Zombie-boy, and together they embark on a trippy adventure.

 

That Time I Signed With A Literary Agent

DA

I’m going to tell you a story about a girl.

Two years ago, she had a dream she was moving to London. She woke up from the dream the next morning in Texas. She had coffee. She told her husband the dream. She always forced him to listen to her dreams in case he could make any sense of them. Yes, she was one of those people. In the dream she had been nervous to go, she had been aware it was a big deal, and a part of something even bigger. Her husband played her the Third Eye Blind song “London” to irritate her. They daydreamed for a while about a reality in which they could move to London— what that would feel like, how that would ever happen.

The girl also decided to research London literary agents because she was a writer in search of a champion, and partner, for her books.

Two years ago that girl reached out to one of them.

I am telling you that story so you understand the rest. Two years ago, I — the girl — came downstairs again and told my husband the literary agent I’d queried wanted to read my book.

Today, that agent announced she’d signed me.

What happened in between?

I grew as a writer, to start. I worked hard. I learned more about craft and story. I wrote another book. I revised and revised, and then when I was done revising, I waited. I studied screenwriting and learned skills I needed to become a better writer still. I was angry, and then I was nothing for a long time, but still I believed it was worth it to keep trying.

I stayed in touch with the literary agent from London because I liked her, maybe even a little because she was from the UK and I love the UK, and also because she’d seen promise in me early on and it had helped me through the struggle.

I revised the book again.

And Clare Wallace, the literary agent from London, gave my book another look. And when she offered me representation, I knew even if I wasn’t moving to London (just yet), my book hopefully was.

I am telling you this because many of you are in the trenches. Many feel hopeless, are hearing no, are wondering when, if, that yes will ever come. If my own journey taught me anything it is this: yes comes unexpectedly, it comes in waves and it comes in whispers, and it comes when you keep going no matter what.

This is a long game. We play it as long as we have the courage to keep getting back up after we’ve been knocked down. So keep your courage, don’t be afraid to try the unusual thing on your path, or to listen to the wish your heart made when you were fast asleep. It might be the very thing you need to break out.

This is the New Year Cry

dumbledore

Most years I write a farewell, a tipping of my hat to the year gone by, acknowledging all the brilliant, painful and perplexing things I experienced, speaking to the dreams that thrived, or died, and then finally turning my eyes outward.

This year, I struggled.

In 2015 I saw and did things I never expected to see or do. I struggled with questions I thought I’d already firmly answered. I was thirty. I was without my grandma for the first time ever. I was sojourning in the land of creative confusion, with a long layover in emotional malaise-ville. I watched terror rip through the world with no idea how it would ever quell, but only escalate, only accelerate. I watched my son find his way through kindergarten, to first grade, and me without a clue how he got that big, that fast.

I gave in on things and I refused to budge on others. I cried. I panicked. I did YouTube. I went to Comic-Con and was the recipient of the magical power of fandom. I became an aunt, again. I was paid my first real money for writing. I decided to say no, and yes, and go to hell, and I love you when it was true and not just when it was appropriate. I fought. I conceded. I won.

2015 can’t simply be summed up, and so much of it is still too hard for me to put into words and then give to the world. It can’t be reflected because it is alive in me, and even though the year is ending, so very much of what it started continues to beat on like my own heartbeat in my chest, my own blood pounding through my veins. A new year is nothing but a chance to say goodbye to a number, a version living, and hello to another, made new by experience. We begin again all the time. We stop and start. We throw fits and offer ultimatums, and always, hopefully, are living like it’s our last chance to try.

A New Year is nothing but a chance to do something different. To be changed for the better, the worse, to get a start on that forgotten dream, or to move on to the one you’d been putting off for tomorrow. A New Year is a moment in time that will pass without impact if you let it.

We resolve to make this one better, more peaceful, less ugly, but then we forget. We get busy. We get selfish and anxious and we lose our way when it’s no longer new, but just life, again, like always. And then we get soggy-eyed, we get grumpy, and that resolution is buried beneath the dirty laundry and broken promises.

I will not lie to you and promise you a better tomorrow. No one can do that, not really, so there is not point me trying. Tomorrow might not be better. Tonight might still be hit by terror and violence, by goodness and hope, by mediocrity and pettiness. But I will encourage you to believe in the present.

This moment where you have hope, hold onto it.

The kiss from your son, the cuddle from your daughter.

The gleam in your husband’s eyes when he thinks your hair looks pretty the way it falls like that over your shoulder, your neck, into your eyes which crinkle more right now than yesterday.

The laughter of friends talking stories and making plans, plans they can’t guarantee, but need to make all the same.

The dog on your lap. The book in your hand, in your fingertips, in your spirit.

This is all we are given, this brief moment in time. This is all that we need, to be here for each other, for the world. For today.

Faith-ish

woods

I have these amazing women in my life. Women that are bold and brash. Women that are gentle and maternal. Women with voices that can always break through the noise in my head.

I have a woman in my life that sends me Buzzfeed articles. She gets that I will always care about anything Harry Potter and not-so-secretly wish Hogwarts was a place I could live in outside my imagination.

I have a woman in my life that believes I am going to be a famous writer. She believes it sometimes when I do not. She believes in magic but not in a silly way. She is a unicorn.

I have a woman in my life that knows what it’s like to feel trapped by your own dreams. We chase those dreams, and also wonder what our lives would look like living easier dreams. She lets me bitch about. She joins in.

I have a woman in my life that has a new baby. We are in different stages of the same adventure. When I think of her as brave, I remind myself I am too, because we both decided to love a little person more than we love ourselves.

Tonight I was talking with a woman that came into my life through serendipity and became a conduit for miracles. I was telling her how I was scared and tired. How I was just looking for a moment to stop, to breathe because lately it felt like my lungs were full of water.

She told me to remember that we aren’t given more than we can handle, but sometimes the universe has more faith in us than we do.

Everything really comes down to that. Faith. Do you have faith to move mountains? Do you believe you are not alone in your fight?

Sometimes, despite all the women I have, and the husband I know I can lean on, despite my bravery and my stubbornness, despite knowing I’m not really alone at all, I find myself adrift. I worry. I sit on my computer and scroll through Facebook, looking for distraction. I wish I could bypass this traffic jam I’ve been stuck in for longer than I like to admit. I wish I could  just be different. Be settled. Feel easy.

I wonder if I missed something, somewhere on the life road map I keep flipping around hoping to make sense of. Because if I am in the thick of it — if I’m really doing life right — wouldn’t I stop feeling lost?

I’m going to venture out on a precarious limb here and guess that the answer is NO. Moments of clarity come only when you have already decided to believe. This is a problem people without a notion of Faith encounter. Faith is believing without seeing. It’s bang-a-rang. It’s closing your damn eyes and just stepping.

Faith can burn out. It can grow dim and hard to see. Fear can start to look like it, playing your emotions with logic and reason. Anger can mask your need for it. Longing can pull you away from it.

Here’s some honesty, guys: I’m terrified.

I am scared most of the time of everything I’m doing, but I can’t stop. The point of no return is a distant memory. I’m deep in the woods without a flashlight. I can’t get out without moving. I can’t move without faith.

And we know what this means. Raise your empty glass, prepare your handful of imaginary pudding. It’s bang-a-rang time.

Finding Why: in Life and in Fiction

There is nothing wrong with being an ambitious woman. No matter what sexism and misogyny tells you. No matter what other women might say to your face or behind your back. Your place is wherever you feel right — it may not be in the home, the kitchen, the office, the schools.

But I have to admit, even though I know this is true — I live and breathe this mindset – lately, I’m struggling to find the why of my ambition. And I need to explore that, because as a writer, knowing why is where you start. In story, WHY is better known as MOTIVE or GOAL. It is the driving force behind the protagonists struggle forward. It is what keeps the main character fighting when all the odds are stacked against them, when everything seems lost, when finally they have their big chance.

It’s no surprise to me that I am also struggling to find the why for my main character at the moment. That sounds about right, since life imitates art, art imitates life, and both myself and this shiny new character need to get to the true motive for our actions.

Earlier this year I started a YouTube channel(Books, Booze and Bitches, for anyone interested). At first it was very loose, free — just a thing my sister and I were doing to chronicle our adventure to Comic-Con. It was a release and escape from the pressing matter of what the hell am I doing in my life and career. And it was FUN. It was MINE. Anyone could watch and like or dislike, but they weren’t in control of it. And for someone trying to make it in both publishing and film, two highly-competitive, highly-controlled fields, having my own thing was like growing wings.

But then I got ambitious. I wanted it to grow wings, too. It was fine, I said, to want more from this thing than just an outlet. I could do well on YouTube. It could explode. But then it stopped being quite so fun. I started getting pissed if everyone didn’t watch, and then I started getting sick of it a little.

Ambition has tried to rob me of the fun of creative pursuit. YouTube is not the first near victim. Earlier this year I wrote about my anger toward the publishing industry, how it was killing my desire to write, ruining my stories, and giving me wrinkles. I wrote about how I was going to take a step back so I could rediscover the reason I loved writing books.

Hint: it’s not about a book deal. That is insignificant to the love of writing. The magic is in creation. If you ever think you do a thing for money or acclaim, that thing will end up souring before you can ever savor it.

Last night, after I posted my video to YouTube and Facebook, I didn’t feel happy to have it out in the world. I felt irritated. I felt like I was screaming in a room full of people and somehow no one could hear me. Because even though it always gets views, I can’t figure out how to WIN. I want to conquer the Internet. I want to crack the code to success.

But WHY? What am I hoping to achieve from YouTube? Or writing, really? What am I doing it for? I sat on my couch last night and I couldn’t even answer that question. What, existentially, the hell do I want?

On the surface, of course I want publication, or my screenplay made into a film, I want to entertain people through YouTube, and somewhere not too far below the surface, I want validation and acceptance of my creativity.

What do I have to prove? As competitive as I am (do not play me in a board game, I will crush you), I don’t care about being the best. I like to win, but my definition of winning has nothing to do with other people. I care about being the best version of me. I don’t compare myself to others often. I compare myself to the woman I think I should be by now. I look at how successful I believe myself capable, and I shoot for more. I’m not happy if I’m not winning against me.

But I will never begrudge another person’s success. I will never be jealous. I will always support someone I believe in. I’m a Gryffindor, Loyalty and Chivalry are kind of our thing.

When you’re writing a story, you always start on the surface. Getting to know a character is like getting to know another human being. You ask them questions, and they give you true but shallow answers. The reason your character MUST survive the Hunger Games cannot be just because she doesn’t want to die. That is primal, and truthful, but it is not deep. Now, winning so she can give her sister a better life, that sells. That is something we as feeling people empathize with.

You don’t reach your goal because of external wants. You reach your goal because inside you have something worth fighting for.

So…what is my WHY?

I am compelled to be more than I was yesterday. I am fighting for success, but I am also striving for excellence. I need to show my son he can WIN if he never gives up. I need to prove to my nieces that bravery is just as important as beauty. I need to prove to the little girl that had the dream to become something when she grew up that she is something already.

In the story of your life, you must be the hero. You must define for yourself what your goal is, and you must make a promise to fight through all the obstacles until you get there.

Find WHY and your character, yourself, can win it all.

For Moms & Kids Everywhere

School starts tomorrow. In some places it has already begun. In others, summer will last another week. No matter your location, if you are a mom with school-age children you face a new beginning:

Your child is going back. Or going for the first time.

Maybe you feel like this

crying

Or possibly you’re more this

excited

You could be both, but one thing is certain, you are feeling something. And that something is okay to feel. You should be anxious, a little bit stressed, not quite sure how it’s gonna pan out, and also secretly lusting over the brief moment in the morning after you’ve dropped the kid off but before the day actually has to begin for real. Savor the precious solitude of the car ride to wherever (if you don’t have a toddler in the back throwing Cheerios at your head) (if that’s the case, remember you chose to have that baby, and she is a precious cherub sent from God) because uninterrupted thinking time is vital.

To mother’s of Kindergartners, don’t panic. Kids are scarily intuitive. You might think you’re holding your shit together but in reality you look like this to your five year old

crazy

I’m gonna be real with you, most kids will lose it, or at the very least cry, on the first day of Kindergarten. That new classroom and those new kids and all that new shit on the walls they can’t quite read is just TOO MUCH. It’s hard to process, and they don’t want to disappoint you, or to look like a wuss, so they need you to be brave for them. Remember that earlier gif of TSwift? Yeah, get that out of your system before tomorrow morning. Be a Disney Princess smiling through the emotional damage you’re about to incur.

cinderella

It’s for the kids.

My son starts first grade tomorrow. I am not old enough to have a first grader. Some days, I’m not even old enough to have a houseplant. But, somehow, in the years since I had my sweet baby boy to now, he has grown tall and lean, started playing video games and decided he wants to marry the Pink Power Ranger. He’s able to read. He won’t just sink if he falls into the deep end of the swimming pool. He’s lost five teeth.

Part of me wants to pretend he hasn’t grown up at all because the reality that soon he won’t be able to sit in my lap or let me kiss him on the lips is almost too much to accept.

You could too. But we shouldn’t.

As parents, it’s essential that we give our babies the chance to be big. We have to let them face fears and conquer obstacles because the world is littered with traps and terrors they must learn now to overcome. Yes, we may want to tenderly kiss their foreheads and coo in their ears like when they were babes, but that’s not really what they need from us now.

They need us to listen. To play the game with them. To answer their questions and acknowledge their anxiety. They need us to agree that it’s scary — kindergarten, first grade, LIFE — because holy shit it really is, but it can also be great if you work hard and stay strong.

They need to learn from us that backing down from the challenge isn’t the answer. And when they struggle — because they will struggle, guys, they will hate it and they will cry about it, and around Christmas they will be DYING for a break — they need to know you care that all they want to do is veg out on the couch and watch Holiday movies while eating cookies.

And they need you sitting beside them. Just existing with them in the moment, showing them it’s okay to slow down, to say no, to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

In the end, it’s not really about school, or tests, it’s not how well they behave or what the other kids think of them. It’s about knowing they can (you can, too). We all can. Knowing you can is a powerful concept. An idea worth believing. A chance worth taking.

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