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The People Who’ve Gotten Me Here

I spent today the way I spent most of November through January: editing a dissertation. I needed to add a non-breaking space between two characters, and as I pressed shift+ctrl+space, I thought about an old coworker, Mike, who taught me that particular trick in Word.

Mike reminded me of my original trainer at the engineering firm that first hired 21-year-old me. The man who trained me to replace him taught me about track changes, about comments, about turning on formatting and section breaks and aspects of Word I didn’t know I didn’t know about.

Every time I delete an unnecessary “that”—whether from my writing or others’—I think about a college professor who has a vendetta against that word. Her comments on what I thought were well-written essays stick with me when I edit, too. Comments about how I had the habit of assuming a conclusion was obvious rather than stating it. Comments I now pass on to my clients. She taught me that any italics in a quote need to have “emphasis added” or “emphasis in original” in the note.

I am the editor I am because of the people who once edited me.

My writing is full of people who came before me, too. The seventh-grade Language Arts teacher who excused me from the 5-page limit for a story. Numerous friends with whom I’d cowritten: a long series of mostly unwritten stories about two puppies in fifth grade. A story written to densely pack inside jokes in seventh grade. Songs—some earnest, some, in our opinion, hilarious—written over years with groups of friends.

I think about keeptheotherone, the first Fanfiction user to leave me a review on the first story I’d posted to the public as an adult, and the myriad of friends I made in the Harry Potter fanfic world while teaching myself how to write. Their encouragement kept me writing and their talent gave—and still gives—me something to aspire to.

Whenever I think about how to end my chapters, I ask myself how Samantha Joyce, an excellent author I’m privileged to call my friend, would end it. When I think about sentences, it’s John Green I hope to emulate, while Susan Dennard’s handle of wants, needs, and desires has informed my once-rambling, pointless stories. K.M. Weiland’s words sit with me whenever I’m developing a theme, or trying to outline my next story.

Everything I write is me. I cannot help but spill into the story with every keystroke. Everything I write is also you, because you helped me get there.

IWSG: Writing is a Long Game


The ISWG is a blog hop where writers can share their fears and insecurities about the writing life. To learn more, check out their website here.

On November 30, 2012, I was sitting at my desk at work when I remembered a story I’d tried to write in high school. It was a blend of Fanfiction and original fiction, loosely based in the world of Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue, about a blind violinist and a deaf painter who became friends and learned about the world through each other. For much of 2012, I’d been busy in the world of Harry Potter Fanfiction, perfecting my craft and preparing myself because I knew I wanted to write a novel, but I wasn’t sure what about yet.

That idea I’d had as a sophomore or so in high school evolved over the next few months until it was set in its own world, with characters I was happy to be writing and a plot I was enamored with. So I wrote it. By August of 2013, I found QueryTracker because I thought I was nearly ready to start querying it. Instead, I found two critique partners and another grueling round of edits. I queried it in 2014 without much success, but by then I didn’t care. I–the writer who never has ideas for what to write about–had another idea.

I wanted to write it in November 2013, but I was first-trimester pregnant and therefore far too sick to sit at a computer often enough to get the words out. So in November 2014, as my unsuccessful attempts at querying my first book were coming to an end, I participated in NaNoWriMo with a near-future AU about a boy who knew when he was going to die and his quest for meaning.

I started querying it in mid-2015, one more critique partner added to my group, hopeful words from them that it was better than my first and it was only a matter of time. By the time my rejections (this time to partials and fulls instead of queries!) started rolling in, I had decided to write the book of my heart.

Read: the book that I would be absolutely terrified to try writing.

I was pregnant again in November 2015, but only weeks from my due date, so I wasn’t sick and felt like I could manage NaNoWriMo again. I didn’t win, but I got the first half of a contemporary book written. I finished the draft at the end of May 2016. After letting it breathe for a month, I started editing in July. I haven’t finished that very first round of edits yet.

So as I write this (on November 30, 2016), I’ve been actively working at getting published for four years. I’ve written three books and queried two of them. I would have been so unhappy if I’d been told four years ago that instead of an agent and a publishing contract and a book tour in place for my second novel in the dystopian series, I would be on book number three, genre number three, with two lovely children instead of an agent and/or book deal, I would have been so unhappy. Four years looking forward feels like forever.

But four years looking back feels like a blink.

My goal for 2016 was to have my newest novel–a contemporary with a Hispanic main character and too many parallels to the life I’ve lived (both of which I’m scared to write about)–ready to query, to send out my first before December 31, 2016. But I’m not even ready to send it to my critique partners (although I have acquired a fourth!). I want to do this book justice. I want it to be good enough. So I look back on my hard-copy edits to my first two books, and notice how little I changed the hard stuff, the ways I glossed over addressing the plot/pacing/character issues as I edited. And I look at the absolute mess I’ve made of my current edit. I have ten entirely new scenes. I spent a week reworking one section, and two weeks reworking another–figuring out the issues I had, and getting a scene down to its bones and rebuilding it from there.

My first draft of this novel was, probably, objectively better than my other two first drafts. But I’m tearing it apart more, rearranging it like a jigsaw, digging in and really looking at everything that makes a book a book.

Will it work yet? I have no idea. But I don’t have another idea of what to write after this one (except maybe a companion novel that I won’t write unless this one succeeds), so I feel like I have to revise until it’s ready, query it, and if it doesn’t do well, accept (with happiness, because it’s in many ways my dream job) that I’m doing well as an editor and leave it at that.

So there’s my insecurity for the week: Writing is a long game–way longer than I (in my ignorant arrogance) had imagined. And after this play, which could admittedly take six more months with CP schedules and any revision notes they have and whatnot, I’m at a loss for what to do next. But this book–this book is one I’m proud of.

RIP Christina Grimmie (and a song from my Blackberry Jam playlist)

I’ve been following Christina Grimmie on YouTube for years–long before she was on The Voice. I bought her first full-length CD, which was basically just Christina and her piano.

This weekend broke me. The news of her death was the first thing I heard on Friday morning, and I still feel like I’m recovering. I will do okay, then I’ll remember that I’ll never get to meet her, or hear her live, that she won’t be writing any more songs.

Blackberry Jam is about a songwriter, and this song could have been written by my main character. So here is Deception, by Christina Grimmie. <3

IWSG: The Waiting Game

The ISWG is a blog hop where writers can share their fears and insecurities about the writing life. To learn more, check out their website here.

I have a feeling June will be a hard month for me. I finished my first draft of my WIP, I am done querying Small Things but am waiting to hear from a few agents, and I don’t think I’m ready to tackle revisions to my first book, Damaged.

Why, then, will June be difficult?

Because the last thing I want to spend June doing is not writing. I have a ton of faith that Blackberry Jam will be my best book yet, and I cannot wait to dive in to revisions and start making it into a good book. However, what it needs right now is time to simmer, and what I need right now is time to forget about it. But I have no idea if I’ll have that patience. So far I’ve gone from writing the first word to querying the book in no more than about a year per book. It’s probably been too immature, especially in the first book I queried. I don’t want to screw this one up and send it out into the world before it’s ready.

However, I don’t trust myself to do it. Even though I’m a perfectionist, I also suffer from “I could have been a child prodigy” syndrome, where every step I take away from having someone say, “She’s done this and she’s only X years old!”  (i.e., basically every unproductive day that passes) is a step that terrifies me. I’m already well into territory of adulthood, where no one gives a damn how old I am. But I still have to keep myself from rushing through a project so I have a chance of being a published author before I turn 30 (in just over two years, if you were curious). It’s a silly thing to be insecure about, I know–being average–but… it is what it is, I guess. I think I would much rather be 31 or 32 (or–gasp!–even older) as a debut author with an excellent book than a 29-year-old debut author with a mediocre one.

IWSG: Endings

The ISWG is a blog hop where writers can share their fears and insecurities about the writing life. To learn more, check out their website here.

(The following comic explains why this is posted a day late)

                           Apparently it’s May.

I’ve reached the amazing part of drafting a story called… the ending. Only here’s the thing. This is my third novel and it’s only the first time I’ve really attempted to write the ending in the first draft. Why’s that? you say. Well, because I suck at them. And I know I suck at them. During my last story, the “ending” that I came up with as I dashed toward the end of NaNo happened about 30k too soon, involved a helicopter chase and the antagonist physically chasing the protagonist down, and a battle in a courtroom between the two. In the final draft, the protagonist isn’t present for the courtroom battle, which is no longer about him, and his final showdown is with his true antagonist instead of the strawman at the courtroom.

Not that it’s obvious from those descriptions, so let me just spell it outright: the first ending didn’t fit the story at all and the second ending did.

The same thing happened with my first book, where the ending I originally wrote was so awful that I don’t even remember what it was. (Paused writing to look it up. And then facepalmed pretty hard. That ending sucked too.)

So, as I’m going in to the third act on my third book, I’m scared. I guess you could say I’m insecure about it. 😉 Last week I got stuck trying to write the ending I had prepared and I thankfully realized that it wasn’t going to work on a character arc level. So I updated the outline and I’m ready to write it. Technically. On paper. Which explains why Scrivener has been open for three days but I haven’t written any actual words since before I figured out where I was going wrong.

One of these days I’ll get the courage to write this ending. And hopefully it won’t suck nearly as much as the first drafts of my first two novels. But if it does… I guess that’s what revision’s for.

IWSG: Am I Putting Too Much of Myself into My WIP?

The ISWG is a blog hop where writers can share their fears and insecurities about the writing life. To learn more, check out their website here.

When I was 19, I went out to dinner with my very best friend in the world, the boy, now a man, I had pictured myself marrying since I was five years old. At the table we were sitting at was an ad: “Tell us your epic love story and win a cruise!” We laughed about it, because we weren’t dating, but we had kissed.

“We would have one heck of a story,” my friend told me.

And, well, I think he was right. So I’m writing it. Sort of.

My WIP, which I’m now nearly 60k words into, is a conglomerate of both experiences that happened to me and complete and utter fiction. My MC is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico. She has issues with her family and friends that I’ve never faced. But in so many ways… she’s me. And writing this rough draft has forced me to confront so many things about the person I was in high school, things that make me uncomfortable.

I have a feeling Blanca will get categorized as an “unlikeable protagonist,” and that hurts, when so much of her is me. I’m struggling to answer questions like, “what would lead someone to be ‘the other woman’ in a relationship?” and how ideals can be shattered. Part of my main research for this book is reading through my old journals. (For full disclosure and a bit of my dignity back: I wasn’t ever “the other woman,” but I was willing to flirt with taken boys I liked, hoping they would “realize their mistake” and date me instead. I also once kissed someone I didn’t know had a girlfriend. Blanca does the same.)

The justifications I wrote down for my flirtation, the way I would manipulate people into getting what I wanted, my absolute reliance on romantic/sensual touch (my love language)… it’s all going in this book. I was reading my 11th grade journal last night, and I had to stop and do yoga because it unsettled me so much to remember the kind of person I was. The kinds of things I was proud of. The kinds of things I would pray for.

I’m scared to death to publish this book one day, even if it is the best I’ve written. Too many people will see themselves in my characters. I wonder if the three exes that make up the antagonistic love interest will read it and know they inspired him–and not necessarily in a good way. I wonder if my old friends will read it and see me in Blanca.

More than anything, I worry about the things people will say about Blanca. Easily, her actions could be called unjustifiable, and she could be considered unlikeable. I’m okay with this, on an intellectual level. But I know from experience how badly it hurts when I get reviews and someone shames a character I wrote based on my own experiences.

I guess I could lie and say she’s nothing like me, but too many people would know better. More importantly, would know better. Anything people say about her, they’ll say about me. And that scares me.

But I’m writing it anyway, and I guess that’s really all I can do.

Welcome to the World

Nathaniel Everett was born on Friday, December 4th. 7 lbs 2 oz. Healthy and perfect. 🙂




Holiday Traditions

While I’ve been married for more than four years and it’s my second year with a child, this is the first year I really feel like I have my own family. Our daughter was barely six months old for Christmas last year, and it took until Lexi was about 9 or 10 months old before I started feeling like a family of three rather than just a couple who had a kid, if that makes sense. Not to mention the fact that we’ll be a family of four any day now. Especially now that Lexi can communicate and establish relationships with us (and definitely express opinions), I think it’s important for us to establish our own traditions while holding on to the ones we still have with our families.

Growing up, Christmas Eve was about dressing up, going to the 4:00 service at our church, then spending time with my dad’s family. Whoever was hosting our gathering would make oyster stew (I believe it’s a tradition passed down from when my dad and his brothers were kids) and Papa Murphy’s pizza (because no one but my dad and his brothers actually likes the stew). We’ve gone from getting everyone small gifts, to drawing names for who to buy for, to (for the first time this year) a white elephant exchange of games and movies. We’ve also gone from three brothers and their seven daughters to include five spouses/long-term partners and six next-gen children. 🙂

I love how this tradition has evolved with the years. I’m just also hoping we have time for our new nuclear family to create traditions. I already bought the kids new PJs to open on Christmas Eve and I think my husband and I will get some, too. But I don’t know when we’ll get time to open them or complete any other traditions, since from about 3:30 until well after Lexi’s bedtime we will already have plans.

Flickr Creative Commons by Rob Taylor

Flickr Creative Commons by Rob Taylor

Any suggestions for daytime Christmas Eve traditions? I’d like to stay away from ones associated with Santa Claus, but I’m pro-anything else, especially baking. 🙂

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 4

I can’t believe it’s already November 30th. While I might get some writing done later today, NaNoWriMo 2015 is effectively over. I can’t believe how quickly this month has gone. Now it’s almost December, and almost guaranteed that our baby boy will be a December birth. Here is The Good, The Bad, and The Excerpt for the last nine days of NaNo.

The Good

I decided a few weeks ago that just hitting 30k would make me very happy for the month, considering everything that was going on, and this morning I hit that mark! As of right now, I have 30,419 words. And like I said, I might write more later today, haven’t decided yet. I’m right about where I wanted 30k to hit in the story, too. Even though I don’t know how the whole thing will play out (I planned scenes for the first half of the book only), I’m still several scenes from the midpoint, which means for once I actually wrote fleshed-out scenes and subplots the first time, instead of saving them for revision.

The characters are coming together and getting more real in my mind, the antagonist is (by necessity) more likeable now, which was something I needed to deal with, and depending on the day/hour/minute/whatever, I don’t hate what I’ve written.

Considering the fact that I only started working on my ideas for this book in August, and my last NaNo novel I planned for a year before writing, I am so happy that I managed that 30k while extremely pregnant and watching my toddler.

The Bad

Consistently writing was just not my forte this year. After week 2, I could pretty much only write one or two days a week. Part of it was hitting a wall with the story and not being sure if I liked it, and part of it was Braxton Hicks, and part of it was having to watch my daughter, and part of it was needing to work, and part of it was the holidays and special events, but basically I did let “real life” cut into my writing time more than I wished I had. In those nine days, I didn’t even manage 5,000 words. But I got very nearly 5,000, and they are all slowly building the plot forward. I do kind of miss the days of writing spec fic, when it was easier to see the plot progressing, but contemporary has been fun.

The Excerpt

I obviously didn’t have a lot of passages to choose from this week, and didn’t want to choose something I had just written this morning, so here is a scene between Blanca and her love interest’s mother. This was a relationship I really wanted to develop and this scene was one of the first opportunities I took to do it. I’m relatively pleased with the direction the relationship is taking, as Mrs. de Vries means a lot to Blanca, and vice versa.


“So how was it in L.A.? It must have been completely different than here, where one secret can ruin somebody. Do you think it changed you?”

She ran a hand through her mousy hair, and wrinkles seemed to appear on her face as she did so. As much as I was comfortable immediately sharing things with her again, she didn’t seem to be the same person. My question was practically unnecessary. “Of course it changed me. You can’t spend time in a place so different than Piney Grove without changing. You can’t spend time, period, without changing. You should know that by now, Blanca. Even staying the same is sort of a change when everyone around you changes.”

“Did you like L.A.?”

“I loathed it. But it was also something I can’t imagine doing without. I needed out of Piney Grove. My family needed out of Piney Grove if we were going to make it—” She cut herself off and looked at me, then bit her lip like she was a teenager, too. “Never mind. There are some things you don’t need to know.”

I placed a hand on her arm and tried to reconcile the weird feelings between us. When she moved away, I was a child who looked to her for guidance. Was it possible that five years could make us closer to equals? “If I can tell you anything, you can tell me anything,” I said, meaning it.

She shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. Not when you’re still a teenager. Not with the way you feel about Lucas. It’s impossible for me to burden you with our family problems. It would be wrong.”

“Regardless of what I feel about Lucas,” I said, “And I’m not sure what I feel about him right now, it doesn’t matter. He’s making it pretty clear how he feels about me.”

“He’ll come around,” she said, sounding more certain than I believed she should. “It may take him some time to get used to Piney Grove again, but he’ll realize soon enough how much he missed you. I think he’s still trying to cling to his life in L.A. more than he should and forgets that he has roots here.” She smiled at me, the distress that had shown up when she’d begun to speak of her own time in L.A. slowly disappearing. “He forgets that you are one of those roots, Blanca. He needs you to help anchor him down. Please don’t stop trying.”

“I won’t,” I said. I knew I never would, anyway. We had rounded the last corner before my house and I began to slow on instinct. I’d have to go inside to my family and she would go on to Lucas without me. “Thanks for the encouragement.”

“You’re welcome. I’m serious, you know. Text Lucas. Spend some time with him this week and remind him that small towns aren’t all bad.”

It contradicted with the beginning of our conversation and her advice about Emma, but I didn’t mind. It was what I wanted to do anyway. “I usually hang out with Emma, Calvin, Daniel, and Elena at the diner on the weekends. I can text him and see if he wants to come tonight.”

She smiled. “I think that would be a good idea. And text him before church next Sunday, too,” she added. “I have to say we got out of the habit of going in L.A. and returning sure would be good for him.

“Thanks, Mrs. De Vries,” I said, one hand on the gate leading toward my front door.

“Please,” she said, her tone all sorts of serious, “Call me Aya.”

“Thanks, Aya,” I corrected, her first name sounding strange in my mouth. “I appreciate it.”

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 3

Unsurprisingly, this week did not go particularly well. I hit so many notoriously difficult things to overcome: nearing 30,000 words, week 3 in general, and an extremely busy personal life. So at the moment I just have to be grateful that (a) I wrote at all, and (b) the baby has yet to make his appearance.

Here in all its horror is The Good, The Bad, and The Excerpt for this past week.

The Good

Despite my crazy week, I managed to write just over 5,000 words and crossed the 25,000-word mark! The bits and pieces of the story I want to tell are getting onto the page, even if I know they’re nowhere near ready yet. On a weird note, I’m also pleased that I’m barely to the first pinch point (just into the second act) of the story. I usually write such sparse first drafts that I’m clawing around for a midpoint, at least, by the time I hit 25,000 words. Last year I’d even written myself into what I thought would be the climax of the story! Being so early on means hopefully I’ll have less structural revision, since I know I’ll have more voice-y and sentence-y revision.

The Bad

I only wrote on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was working like crazy trying to get through all my billable work before the baby comes and spend time with my daughter. I had a friend come to stay with me to help with my baby shower, so she was here Friday night through this morning. The baby shower and planning for it pretty much took up my weekend.

While I like where the plot is going, I’m more unhappy with the words themselves than I usually am with a first draft, and feel like I’m still finding my way into the voice of the story. I wish I knew Blanca better…

The Excerpt

This week the excerpt is something new I tried with the story. When I was first envisioning it, I wanted to dive into some magical realism and creepy settings and such, but this passage, 25,000 words in, was the first time I really tried to do it. Once again it’s repetitious and not exactly right, but I’m interested enough in the mood-setting to keep it… for now. 🙂


Five years had aged her more than it should an adult, especially one who wasn’t yet forty. Her hair, which had once always been impeccable, dyed a rich chocolate brown and kept conditioned daily, was limp and fried from over-processing. Her eyes were surrounded by wrinkles and her lips, too, but not the kind that were friendly, the kind people called laugh lines so they didn’t sound rude. Instead she just seemed old. Worn down, like life had taken a toll on her. I needed to say something better than just “L.A. didn’t treat you well, did it?” even though it was the first thing that came to my mind. Instead I just stood there, staring, until she began to look confused.

“Sorry,” I said, deciding on a half-truth. “I just haven’t seen you in so long I can’t believe you’re back.”

“Neither can I sometimes,” she said, and even her voice seemed to have aged. If I didn’t know better, I would guess she had taken up smoking in her absence. It was ragged and worn down, like her vocal cords were torn, angry with her. “And I imagine you’re here to see Lucas, not me. Come inside, Blanca. I’ve missed you.”

At least the hug she enveloped me in felt the same as it used to. I always liked her hugs better than Mami’s because they made me feel completely loved and like I wasn’t being judged about anything. I didn’t know if it was true—maybe she was just an excellent liar.

“Lucas is in the bonus room with some video game or another. Is he expecting you?”

I shook my head. “Do you think that will be a problem?”

“If it is, let me know and I’ll take it up with him personally. He’s always better behaved with you around.” I smiled. Maybe there were lots of reasons I liked Mrs. De Vries, and not just her hugs.

The house itself didn’t seem like something the family I knew would buy. I hadn’t been kidding when I told Lucas I pictured him in something sleek and modern, an apartment on the whatever-high floor with views of a city and a sleek, masculine exterior. Sure, I didn’t associate those things with his mother, but she had always been a tidy woman, capable of turning even the homiest of places into something livable and happy. This place was not happy.

Cracked floorboards made up the living space, with holes so big I could imagine tripping over one. They were hardly sanded and had turned white with age or too much dust. The kitchen, just to the left of the entryway, had modern appliances, but they all appeared to be sagging and out of commission, like this house was somehow living in a future far beyond us, projecting what would become of it when we were long-forgotten. The counter tops had an easy curve to them, like they had been through an earthquake or, more appropriately, a landslide. They weren’t cracked at all, just looked as though they had been turned to liquid and re-frozen in a new configuration that would make actually cooking impossible.

Single light bulbs hung from chains in each room, giving it an eerie, haunted feeling despite the fact that the light bulbs were the energy-efficient swirly kind meant to last forever. There were no pictures on the wall. Despite being the end of June, a fire was roaring in the fireplace, but it didn’t make the house any hotter. Ancient single-pane windows on cranks to open them remained shut, but it was still chillier inside than out. Everything about the house was impossible.

Every step I took seemed to cause a reaction in the wallpaper as it peeled down in sad and dying strips, each yellowing as they moved. Before I reached the staircase at the back of the house, I felt like my very presence was tearing it apart and we’d be collapsed inside its rubble in minutes.