Exploring worlds of my own creation

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2021

A reflection on 2020 would be perfectly normal this time of year, but let me be the one to say it: I’d really rather not. Writing-wise, 2020 wasn’t such a bad year. I found a fantastic beta partner, grew my writing ability greatly, read some amazing books (both fiction and on the craft), and completed the second novel of what has become a trilogy.

The rest was not so hot.

So let’s talk 2021. I plan to do one final round of queries in February. If nothing comes of them, it is time to turn my focus to self-publishing. A lot of what I have seen and read points down this path, and I’m both excited to explore it and confident I can at least make a decent try. A slow but steady start. Some parts (procuring a cover) scare me more than others, but as my youngest likes to say, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

I also intend 2021 to be my first two novel year. I am in the early stages of plotting out book three, and my goal is to have it drafted by May so I can put at least some focus into a new project that I will draft by (maybe as part of) NaNoWriMo 2021.

It isn’t the pace many successful self-published authors reach, but I’m also homeschooling a third grader, managing virtual school with my other two kids, and navigating a pandemic. I’ve also never completed a novel in less than a year, so this feels like…a good starting point.

My mindset is shifting. I can feel the change. I’m starting to think less in “I would like to” and more in “I am going to.” I know at one point I said 2020 would be the year, but…2020. So let’s just continue forward from where ever we are.

2021 will be better. If nothing else, I will make it that.

Goal Setting

I was recently reached out to by someone about being accountibility partners. While I have always loved the concept, and I know I NEED to be held accountible, it is…daunting. Scary. The very first thing is figuring out what goals I have that I want to be held to.

Having goals means making things real.

Making things real means having to do the hard work.

I also got very lost in the woods of what goals should look like. I’ve always believed they need to be measurable, and I got very stuck in the idea of that means word count for a writer – but that’s hardly true at all. There are so many tasks that are not word count related in writing.

Editing.

Revising.

Rewriting.

*gulp* …. Cutting.

Watching your word count go backwards is hard, isn’t it? You spend such a long time watching it climb and climb and climb, and then suddenly it’s dropping and it feels like a real loss. There is a reason that some writers call it murdering, because each one of those scenes that just don’t fit need to be cut out viciously and without remorse.

Easier said than done.

The other difficulty of setting goals is that I need to acknowledge and accept that I am a writer. This is what I do. This is what I need to continue to do if I am ever to see success. That is scary in itself, because it’s acknowledging that I am responsible for where I am today. Not circumstance, not situation, not luck: me.

The funny thing about setting goals, though, is that it’s motivating too. I set a goal, started to see myself meet it, and suddenly I wanted to set another. And another. And now I have this long list of goals and it’s become a different kind of problem.

Not enough hours in the day.

But I am taking myself seriously and moving myself forward. I am giving myself the agency I work so hard to give my characters. And you know what?

It feels good.

Coming Home

When he returned to the tree, he called up to her. “I have food!” he shouted. “Toss down the rope!” As he left, he had thrown the rope back up over the branch. Now, he bounced on the balls of his feet while he waited for her to send it falling to him. It did not come. Craning his neck, he cursed – she had fallen asleep.

He tucked the leaves into the pockets of her coat and laid the berries carefully at the base of the tree. Then, he ran at the tree and jumped. He did not make it high enough for the branch, but he was able to push off and grab it, barely, with the ends of his fingers. Letting himself drop, he touched a crystal in his wrist guards and did it again. This time, the added strength allowed him to hoist himself up.

Straddling the tree, he eased his way toward her. “Sira?” he asked, reaching out. He shook her gently, getting no response. He shook harder, spoke louder, but still she did not rouse.

This was not good. Her skin was still patchy and hot to the touch, sickness burning in her. He felt for her pulse and found it racing. He was no doctor, nor was he a healer, but he knew she needed some kind of attention. He thought of Darrowmere, but realized the mercenaries would still be stalking the woods. If he ran into them with an unconscious woman in tow, there would be no escape, and who knew what they would do to her.

Signaling for help was equally inadvisable.

There were the feywild paths…

He shook his head to clear the thought from his mind. That was crazy. They wanted nothing to do with humanity, only desiring to be alone. But…

Sira moaned in her sleep. What other choice did he have?

He looked at his dwindling supply of crystals. There was nothing else for falling, and strength would do little to help, though he activated it anyway. He untied the knot, gathering the rope up impatiently and throwing it over his shoulder, then pinched another crystal from its setting and crushed it between his fingers. He sprinkled this over his feet. Gathering Sira into his arms, he jumped.

The landing shook him, but not as badly as it ought to have. Magic to enhance jumping enhanced landings as well. Knocking his boots together, he shook off the remaining dust and started walking back the way they had come.

The bluebells grew not far from their resting place. He eyed the path, gripping Sira closer to him, and took his first, hesitant step onto the feywild. The path was like all the rest, at first. Tiny blue flowers grew along its edge, but there was nothing else special about it. He trudged along slowly, in part because he was carrying the dead weight (bad phrase, Ice…) of a woman and in part because he did not want to do this. Every part of him did not want to do this. He had fled this place – one like it – a decade ago…

Flowers started appearing with greater frequency. The underbrush became greener, the dirt underfoot becoming a squishy moss that gave, gently, with each of his footsteps. A breeze drifted past him, and he felt a compulsion to freeze in place that he pushed through with determination.

“I call for sanctuary and aid!” he said as he walked, raising his voice without shouting. Sira shifted in his arms. “I seek the hospitality of the fae for myself and my companion.”

A twitter of laughter sounded all around him. “Why,” came a voice that seemed to echo from all directions, “would we help you? You, who smell of smoke and iron and civilization. We do not offer our hospitality to humans.”

He swallowed his first response. The fae offered hospitality when it suited them, but arguing with them would not help his case right now. Ignoring the voice, he strode forward, pulling Sira closer toward him. In the distance, he saw what he knew were the thatched rooves of cottages, though they blended into the woods and would be difficult to spot if he hadn’t known what to look for.

A gust this time, and a man stood before him. James scanned him briefly as he stopped; he looked human, with dark brown hair and pale skin, vivid green eyes the color of the leaves, a head taller than James was. With a moment of study, he found the man’s tell: ears that tapered to a subtle point. Elfin fae, then. He sighed as the man leveled a rapier at his face.

“Our hospitality is not yours,” the elf intoned, looking at him with narrowed eyes. “Humanity is no friend of ours, not any longer.”

“I imagine you remember those days, friend,” James said softly. The elf snorted. “My hands are full, but if you will lift the goggles from my head, I believe you would find something interesting.” The elf tilted his head to one side, studying him with narrowed eyes. In her sleep, Sira moaned, a low and painfilled sound. “Please. My friend is ill.”

With a flick of his wrist, the elf snagged his goggles with his rapier and pulled them from James’ head. That James did not feel the parting of the magic was telling; still, his magic was shut off from him. Damned mercenaries and their damned poisons. When he made it home, he would have to speak with the Tripower about their contracted crews.

The elf’s eyebrows rose, and he sheathed his rapier. He bent and retrieved the goggles from the ground, studying them for a moment. “You are fae,” he announced. “My apologies for the affront.”

“Half-fae,” James corrected him, “but don’t worry about it. Please. My friend.”

“Is she also fae?” he asked.

“Not that I am aware of, but she is under my protection.” It was not quite true, but they were more likely to help Sira if they felt there was some obligation to do so.

“Come.” The elf spun on heel and walked deeper into the woods. James followed, glancing over his shoulder to look for other watchers. He was certain there were more, but none of them were willing to reveal themselves just yet.

Stepping between a pair of trees, he watched the air shimmer briefly as he stepped through the glamour. Where he once saw just a few thatched rooves, now a bustling town came into being. Cottages, some stacked two high, were scattered around a thinning of the trees. Glancing up, treehouses sat in the air built around thick trunks, rope bridges criss-crossing between many of them. Everywhere, there was color – flowers of all colors and all seasons growing together, dyed tapestries, and many colorful people. The crowd of fae was thick in the evening; a fire was lit in the middle of a wide circle, and many sat singing and laughing around it. Others were on their feet, dancing in singles and pairs. Some were sitting overhead, feet dangling down and waving freely in the air.

James hated that a part of him felt like he was coming home.

Waiting Game

The querying process is, I’m sure you know, a waiting game. This is fine – I have a full time job this year that takes up a great deal of my time, along with writing projects and children to keep me plenty busy.

But it isn’t all quiet.

While I have not gotten a full request yet, I have gotten a LOT of positive feedback in the last few months. Much of it has been actionable too, which means I have some work ahead of me. I am energized by the agents who have told me to keep going, they liked a lot of what they saw, and let me know what held them back from the “yes” I was hoping for. One even encouraged me to resubmit if I did revisions based on her feedback!

Somewhere along this path, it became not only real but possible in my mind. I started as a “why not?” and now am thinking in terms of “how will I?”

I will make 2020 my year.

Querying Agents

As of today, I have officially started the query process to find an agent for my debut novel. What is life?!

I haven’t submitted anything to anyone since I was 17 and thought I could do no wrong. I submitted a terrible novel with no beta reads and only my own editing directly to a few publishers accepting open submissions. Big surprise, I was rejected. After that, life got busy, I moved to a new country, started a family, and basically adulted all over the place.

I’m back to dreaming. I’m serious about writing. The game plan? My first round of queries has gone out. I will continue to send out waves of queries until I either am accepted by an agent or I have my second book ready (betas, edits, the whole shebang). At that point, I will wait for the final round of queries responses and then begin the process of self-publishing.

One thing that attending Penned Con taught me was the significance of having multiple books in the indie world. I am not able, at this juncture, to write a ton of books in a short span of time – so I am giving myself time to expand my catalog.

I will keep writing. Keep building my platform. Keep loving books. And I will see where this ride takes me!

Almost

My first novel is almost ready. It is written, edited, read, and edited more. I have written and rewritten, cut and added, and sweat over the whole thing. It is almost ready.

Almost is such a huge word.

I have been debating whether to publish via traditional publishers or to go the self-publishing route, and I still am honestly flummoxed by the whole thing. I know my own preconcetions about publishing factor in greatly. As little as six months ago, I would not read self-published books because of a few bad apples I had read few years ago.

Since then, I have learned how many good self-published books are out there. I have learned that traditional publishing still requires a great deal of working marketing and promoting all yourself…they don’t just do it for you. I thought I could just write and they would do the rest. Sure, maybe if I were Steven King.

I’m not.

Clearly.

So, what direction to go? A part of me leans traditional for the validation is provides. Get accepted by an agent and you know you are “good enough.” A part of me leans self-publishing because it won’t take a year or two, best case scenario. Both are huge amounts of work. Both appeal.

So…what to do?

Thus far, my answer has been to bury my head into writing the first draft of my next book and ignoring it entirely. I build my social media platforms, write, and dream.

I need to make a decision, though, if I a ever going to move forward. I wish it was an easy decision – but nothing importent in life is.

Introvert

Frozen.

The day before, I had so much optimism. Hope. I was going to go, find a tribe, and meet new people. Make new friends. I could close my eyes and envision that, by lunch, I would have found a few people that I could eat and talk and connect with.

Then I arrived.

The room was full of people. New people. Unknown people. A sea of faces that all meshed together into an image that made my heart pound. Every face was friendly and terrifying. I could imagine myself going over, saying hello and asking to sit, but I could not make my feet move.

Tears burned behind my eyes at the thought.

I was frozen.

I was burning.

I could never.

My breathing sped up, shallow and quick. In, out, in, out, inoutinoutinout. How do people do this? How do they meet new people? All of my friends came from places and groups – built in friends. I feel like some extrovert always adopted me, and I can’t rely on that.

Move. Just say hi. What’s the worst that could happen? I told myself over and over that I just had to take the step.

I was frozen.

The day slid by, and I slid out at the end. Alone. Unknown.

My heart a tattered shambles.

Author Education

A big step toward becoming an author is education. I am not a person who is ever going to say a college degree or formal education is necessary to he an author, but that doesn’t mean there are not things to learn.

How to publish.

How to market.

How to handle the stress and the ins and outs of the industry. I know how to write. I do not know marketing. I like to say I know just enough to be dangerous: I have a vague idea of what works and what doesn’t, but I have no idea how to do is successfully.

A local book convention offers a writers education day, and I looked at it for weeks. A part of me really wanted to do it. Another part of me felt like I was too early, too new. Bless my husband, he told me to do it, so I jumped in.

It’s time to learn. If this is the path I want to walk, at the very least I will learn where I can eventually get. I am ready to take my writing seriously.

This is the next step.

Wish me luck…

Readers in Real Life

“If you want to publish, then at some point we’re going to read it.”

Yep. Oh goodness, yep. I was at lunch with friends, and we were talking about my writing. More specifically, we were talking about why they had never read my writing.

It has been years since I have shared my writing with anyone beyond the anonymous Internet. I’ve shared some fanfiction on sites, to good feedback, but have not had an actual, physical person in my life read my writing in over a decade. Somewhere along the way, I got scared. Shy. Insecure.

But if I’m going to actually make my writing a book, paper and glue and physically hold it in my hands, someone is going to find it and read it. Someone I know. Someone who might love it, someone who might hate it. Sharing this world in my head with anonymous people is one thing, but sharing it with those I see in my day to day life feels…strange and unfamiliar.

Imagine holding conversations over lunch about my characters, my world, my story. It’s ludicrous. It’s incredible.

I looked myself in the mirror and realized that I want that. It is scary, putting this piece of my soul out there, but also exhilarating. I want to one day hand a book to someone and say, “I wrote this!”

This fall, I plan to start querying my first book out. It can be a long and tiring process, but it is step one, and a step I am getting more and more anxious to take. With a little luck and a lot of work, that moment where I hand my book to someone could happen next year.

I want it. Bad.

Beta

I know that the path I follow is one that hundreds – thousands – have walked before. It’s still a bit of a thrill, though, as I start out for myself. I have written forever, but revision is a whole new monster to me. It was daunting. Honestly, it was overwhelming and terrifying to me. I wrote and was happy to leave the works as they were.

Naive, wasn’t I?

Beta reading was, perhaps, the more terrifying part of revision to me. It probably is for most writers. The idea of taking this labor of love that you have spent weeks or months on (in my case, years) and putting it before other people can be daunting. A lot of people compare it to handing your baby over, but let’s be honest, I do that all the time. My babies go to school, they go to friends’ houses, they go to camps. They go with my blessing.

I haven’t let anyone read my writing in years.

Beta readers are so important to the process though. When you revise, you’re reading your work over and over again. Then, you’re reading it again. You know exactly what you mean, what you intend, and you can become blind to how it came out on paper.

Readers, good readers, will help you see past that.

I sent my novel out with complete terror, sure that they would come back and tell me how awful it was. Redundant. Cliche. Getting beta readers was the very best thing that could have happened to my confidence, because when the feedback came, none of my worst nightmares came true.

They liked it.

More importantly, they wanted to help me make it even better.

I’ve polished the first chapter of my (latest) completed novel so far with the feedback I got from my beta readers. They helped me see some of the things that had felt off without me knowing why. They helped me make parts stronger. They gave me some feedback that I dismissed, and I did so without any doubts.

Working with beta readers has made me feel more like an author than I ever have before. I am so grateful I took the leap, and so grateful to every one of them for their help on this journey. I have a lot more novel to polish, but I’m excited for it now – excited to hear back from my beta readers, and excited to tackle the challenge.

If you’re considering having other readers look at your work – do it. It’s terrifying, and exhilerating, and will only make you and your writing stronger.

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