What’s Going On?

Did you sing it in your head, too?

So I didn’t wake up this morning and go outside; I took some deep breaths, but didn’t get real high… but I thought I’d just take some time to say what’s going on in these parts!

Between COVID-19 and the the hard work that’s been going on for Black Lives Matter, there’s a lot that’s going on in the world. Our state has mostly opened up; life is starting to look simultaneously the same but very different. I’ve been spending more time educating myself on racism, listening to and reading Black voices, and looking at what I can and should be doing in myself and in my community to promote equality and squash racism.

I’ve been teaching two classes on top of my full-time day job; one of them is creative writing, and I’ve taken a very different approach to how it had previously been taught. It’s been really eye-opening and my students have impressed me with how eager they are to push outside of their comfort zone and learn to trust themselves and the process. I’m teaching it again come summer term, so I’m working on updating the class to be taught in 10 weeks, rather than 12.

Sneakthief is now with my beta team! I’m hoping just one more pass before I send it to my editor at SKOLION. I should be diving into edits on Turncoat, but that’s stalled a bit–which is fine! I’m kind of picking away at another Dragon Age fic that I started a while back, and my GreedFall fic needs updating and finishing; I’m about 2/3 through that one.

I commissioned a render of Nicholas!

Nicholas Alcyon – 3d render by Verfallen-02

And with that, I’ve learned about artbreeder.com, where you can merge images to create portraits! By combining many features, you can create portraits… and I have created my whole cast. Oops. I’m thinking of starting to post the images and short character bios in the Ungifted section of the site!

I’m enrolled in Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course, and am hoping to up my promotion game and improve my platform starting this summer. I mean, I know it’s summer as of today, but yeah. I want to finish up my work with my classes, organize myself a bit better, and then figure out my aims and what’s realistic for me.

I know newsletters are a good way to do things; if I were to do a newsletter, what might people like to see? I’m thinking just once a month, and providing content that my audience might enjoy. Drop a comment to let me know what sounds good!

Finally, I got a simple Kindle e-reader; Smol Human gets the Fire, and now I have a device just for reading–it’s great since I get easily distracted. I finished Yolandie Horak’s A Study of Ash and Smoke, and was blown away by how GOOD it is. You can read my Goodreads review here.

So that’s what’s going on in my corner of the world… what’s been occupying your time?

Coming to Life

As an author, I constantly have images going through my mind: what my characters look like, how my world looks, how my characters look in that world… you get the idea. Mental images are cobbled together from the many references I’ve stored up in my mind over the years. For settings, that’s not really an issue. But for characters, it’s another story (no pun intended)

Sneakthief started with a character: the Sneakthief. I had a vague idea of him: his role, his talents, etc. It literally came from playing a sneaky archer thief in Skyrim (I know I know… but is there any other way to play?) and a guard said, “Hands to yourself, sneakthief.” And it all began to spiral from there.

Once I had the general idea of the character, more started falling into place: his background, his place in the world, his relationships, his desires, his fears, his looks.

Theodore Tolliver has lived in my head for over two years now, and I’ve always been able to generally describe him. I’ve had to, since I’m writing his stories! But I’m not an artist, and lack the abilities to craft a visual representation of the character.

Enter Verfallen. Also known as Schattenriss on Archive of Our Own, Verfallen is a talented author, as well as super talented with Photoshop and most recently, Daz 3D. He opened up a Ko-fi this week and has commissions open, so how could I pass up the opportunity to bring Theodore Tolliver, my Sneakthief, to life?

Theo, as he appears in Sneakthief. A little roguish, a little younger, longer hair, just doing the best he can.

And then:

Theo in Turncoat. He’s seen some shit by this point, chopped a lot of his hair off (though not all… but I saw a model of him with no hair and he looked pretty good, so we’ll see what happens!) He’s had enough of being controlled, and he’s about to start fighting back.

I can’t really explain what it’s like to see my character come to life like this. He’s not just a description anymore. And when I write him, I’ll have an even clearer picture of what he looks like in mind.

If you’re looking to get a render of your character(s), I really can’t say enough about working with Verfallen. He’s put a lot of time into getting models and renders of his own character, Kai, down perfectly, so he understands what it’s like to want to see your beloved character come to life.

And now back to editing!

Give It Time

For writers with manuscripts out to agents, editors, or other high-stakes readers, waiting for feedback–whether it represents a publisher’s acceptance… is not only hard, it is also a twenty-four hour job requiring your undivided attention. When you are waiting, you must concentrate all your energy on not calling the feedback provider to “touch base.”

Joni B. Cole, Toxic Feedback

I’ve done a lot of waiting over the last several months. In a few of my other blog posts I’d alluded to Sneakthief ‘sneaking around’, and now that it’s resolved, I can talk about it a bit more in detail. But this post isn’t really about that, so much as it’s about what I’ve learned through the process.

Back in May, a sci-fi/fantasy publisher held an open call for submissions. They asked for the first three chapters, a synopsis, and an introductory letter. Since I had Sneakthief pretty much done, I decided to submit. One, I had nothing to lose, and two, I just needed to do something with it, if nothing else, to say I did. The publishers said they’d have gone through the submissions by the end of July.

Having that time frame was fine, because I didn’t have any expectations, and I had a bunch of other things to do. Turncoat wasn’t behaving, we were in the process of getting Smol Human’s diagnosis, work was crazy, and a couple months just wasn’t a big deal. But when August first rolled around and I got an email requesting a full manuscript, that’s when the waiting game kicked in.

I’ve never been good at waiting. My parents tell me a story about when I was very young, and they said we’d be going somewhere “this weekend” or something like that. Apparently I was a terror asking if it was the weekend yet. I don’t like surprises; I have a hard time with the anticipation, and like to know what to expect. I helped my parents plan my own 30th birthday bash ten years ago, to the surprise of the party planner at the venue. When we found out a Smol Human would be joining us, I needed to know the sex, needed to get everything in order in his room, had to have the name picked out. I think a lot of this stems from my anxiety; I have a need to control things because then I know what to expect and can deal with it. When I don’t have a plan and a few contingencies, I’m uncomfortable. One thing I love about my job now is that, even though there are surprises here and there, we have a LOT of SOPs, templates, processes, etc. We have a great CRM program and Outlook, so I have my tasks and everything laid out. While there are still adventures, it’s predictable to an extent and I like that.

While my autumn was pretty full and I was working with a lot of different things that kept me occupied, it was always in the back of my mind: what’s going on with the book? Do they like it? Are they laughing at it? Shit, I should have fixed this plot point (side note, the more I got into the Turncoat rewrite, the more I started to think of things that needed to be reworked in Sneakthief and that made me anxious too). Dammit, I missed that typo! All sorts of little things nagged at me. I didn’t realize just what a constant nagging feeling it was. Or I did, maybe I just didn’t realize how much it was impacting me.

My initial reaction, when they’d asked for the full, was to wait on the edge of my seat, heart skipping and blood pressure spiking whenever I saw a tweet from the publisher or an email come through. It did take time for me to realize that was an unsustainable way to exist, so I had to learn to wait.

Publishing is a business, and it’s a business that takes time. Editors have their regular list and clients to work with, and Sneakthief is about 100,000 words. They have lives and families outside of publishing. Sneakthief may have consumed me, but I cannot expect it to consume others because that’s unrealistic and unfair. So I had to figure out what to do in order to manage the waiting game.

Turncoat’s rewrite helped quite a bit; I tried doing some work for NaNoWriMo, and that helped a little because I was still writing. I played through GreedFall, and wrote fanfic for that, which helped a lot–I got great feedback on it when I posted it, and it felt good to have story feel like it was flowing, when Turncoat was being so obstinate. The holidays were looming, so that definitely helped! I did a lot of sewing and bingeing Netflix and Prime Video (Good Omens, She Ra, and Dragon Prince are favorites), which helped let me creative mind wander. And on December 18th, I got the email that they’d like to take Sneakthief to the next step: an acquisitions meeting in early 2020.

If I was anxious before, it was in high gear now. This time I had a timeframe, which helped: end of January. Which of course has meant that the first month of the year was anxiety-inducing and kind of messy. I had NEVER expected my book to get to a point like this, and if I’d been panicked about emails before, now was exponentially worse. I’d managed to finish a Turncoat draft I was happy with by December 31st, so I tried diving into Scapegoat. Still working on that one. I played games: Skyrim is always familiar and good for mindless play, wandering around, etc. I did another no-kill Dishonored run, which was fun.

With something this big on the line, it’s hard: I’d be lying if I said a huge part of me was hoping for the best: an acquisition and contract. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of the worst: nothing, and they hated the book. I started sniffing a LOT of lavender.

What did end up happening is somewhere in the middle: the final answer was a no, but not because they didn’t like my story or my writing! It was a timing issue, which I know is a reality of publishing. It’s a business and they have lists and clients and a lot of moving pieces, and the ultimate decision isn’t a personal judgment of me or my writing. Some other good came out of it, so overall, I call the journey a win.

So I’m not getting Sneakthief published yet–so why a win? Because I learned about how to wait: how to occupy my time and my mind, how to focus on the present and not worry about an unknown future, and to not pause my work because I’m waiting. If I’d waited to move forward with any of my work in those few months, I wouldn’t have what I do now. So much other good came of it: community, and the opportunity to work with people I respect. I couldn’t put my life on hold, going day to day without doing anything else. I’m rereading Joni Cole’s Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive for the creative writing class I’m rebuilding, and that quote about not using all your energy really hit me.

Things take time, and waiting is hard. We’re in an instant culture where we get search results in fractions of seconds, and Instant Pots can cook a roast in minutes instead of hours (I love my Instant Pot, don’t @ me). Continuing to create, to push forward even when what’s forward is unknown is hard, but so worth it. And when all else fails, sniffing some lavender doesn’t hurt.

Needless to say, a huge burden feels lifted. I wonder how I would have managed finishing the course rebuild, and then teaching it, while having to revise a 100k word manuscript on a deadline. I wonder how I could have managed a lot of other things, and think that just maybe the timing was off for more than just this particular publisher. I don’t feel anxious (well, about that) anymore. I can breathe. I can focus on the next adventure, which has already started, and feel really good about it.

And I do feel good. I just had to give it time.

New Year, Who Dis?

New Year? That happened quickly!

I could start off by making a corny joke about having 2020 vision. I could list my goals and resolutions. I could apologize profusely for not having updated since… November-ish? Definitely since last year. I could wish I had some champagne right now. Or I could just write.

I think my supervisor put it best when she said, during my annual evaluation, that I’d had a tough year. It didn’t impact my work at all–contrary to that, my performance at work is great. I love my job and the work I do and the people I work with. But that doesn’t mean that 2019 was actually kind of tough in a lot of ways. I guess this is where that corny 2020 pun comes in?

The last couple of years have been a whirlwind. Or several different whirlwinds; one picks me up, sets me down reeling, and another comes along as I’m trying to recalibrate. In early 2018, Sneakthief took over my life, and quickly became an idea for a series. The story woke me up at night. I dreamed of my characters. I wrote whenever I could. I finished a draft and started the next draft of the next book. 2019 started off with major revisions to Sneakthief while its sequel, Turncoat, percolated. But 2019 also kicked off with a pretty horrible strep strain that went through our house; husband and I were both horribly sick. I remember vividly because I left work early after getting the diagnosis at urgent care, and realized, when I got home, that my note cards had fallen out of my bag and were likely in the parking lot, and husband went out to find them for me. The short story is, he did, and he saved the Sneakthief revision.

But it just sort of kept going from there. We were finally able to get our Smol Human’s autism formally diagnosed, and then started the journey to get him services. It wasn’t that I had to fight for it–I just had trouble knowing where to start and how to go about things. But once we did, it was helpful. Of course it’s not quite that simple, because then other things kept coming up, but Smol Human is getting his services and therapies and he is thriving. He also had adenoids out, which is a huge help as well!

Between that, I’ve been working; teaching online on the side; rebuilding a creative writing class; and yes, writing. Sneakthief is sneaking about and a large part of my anxiety has been a result of that, but I know what I can and can’t control so I’m trying not to worry. I also completely overhauled and rewrote Turncoat, and it’s a much more cohesive novel. I think realizing what was wrong with it, structurally, and committing to basically rewriting it, was really helpful and I really feel good about the draft. I finished it at 11:11pm on 12/31/19. My goal was to finish the draft by the end of the year. I did it with 39 minutes to spare (and the final clocked in at 111,111 words!)

I’m still revising it, but feel pretty content. And I’ve started work on draft one of Scapegoat, the third book! I’m happy with where it’s going and feeling good. Something about getting through Turncoat and resolving it in a way that feels structurally sound makes editing it feel more realistic.

Do I have goals for 2020? Sure! But I’m also trying to be realistic about my bandwidth and responsibilities. I have books I want to read, but I haven’t set a number. I think writing-wise my biggest would be to really polish up Turncoat, and finish the first working draft of Scapegoat. I think overall, continue to drink lots of coffee and maintain my sanity and not stretch myself too thin. Lately I’ve felt like 4-way stretch Lycra pulled between two too-far-apart seams (seams–oh yeah, I’ve been sewing more, too). I have to figure out what is work, what feels like work and should be fun, and what is fun and feels like fun.

And I want to blog more. I have a lot of things I’d like to write about, but they’re piling into a backlog where I feel like I have to start chipping away at it, so just writing this has been cathartic and helpful. It’s a blog post. It’s not a review of a game or a movie or a book; it’s not an analysis of writing and characters and such. But it’s a post, it’s on a blog, and that’ll do just fine for now.

2020: Yes, I have vision and goals, but I need to just be fine for now.