Pivoting and Staying Busy

If you know me at all, you’ll know I keep myself pretty busy. It keeps me from getting depressed. But I’ve taken on a crazy amount lately, so I didn’t finish reading a book this week and don’t have a review.

I’ve decided to branch out into picture books. I want to write and illustrate biographies of women in STEM fields, though I might do some fiction, too. But since I’m new to them, I have a long way to go. I’ve been reading lots but decided to join some online communities related to picture books to learn more rapidly. I did Storystorm, which is a month-long challenge to come up with an idea per day (technically just the first 30 days) in January. I also joined the 12x12 Challenge, where you try to write at least one picture book manuscript each month. This is focused on the writing part, not the illustrating.  But there’s another online school called Storyteller Academy that focuses on picture books, both writing and illustrating if you want. I signed up for that, too. For this there are actual courses and you take whichever ones you want. I signed up for several for this term: Drawing, Illustrating, Character Design, and Writing Picture Book Manuscripts. I also started taking a weekly class in watercolor painting (finally; I’ve been wanting to do this for a while). Add this to my BFA program, where I’m doing 18 credit hours this semester, the weekly data science class related to work that I’m taking, a really good playwriting class I’m taking, that I have to send ten pages of the in-progress Sadie Speaks rewrite to my book coach every week, that I’m also working on a romance and meeting my critique partner weekly, the two monthly critique group meetings, and the fact that I’ve got a full-time job, and it all adds up to me being crazy busy. But I love it. So.

Two of the classes I’m taking for the BFA are perspective and topics in color, and I’m loving both of them. The perspective class is great—I’ve always been decent at perspective, but I am learning more about measuring, which speaks to the math-minded person I am. And the topics in color class is also fascinating. We’re studying color mostly via acrylic painting, and there’s something very satisfying about mixing paint. I’m learning a lot, even though I still don’t think acrylics will be my medium of choice. As much fun as the process is, the end result doesn’t please me the way watercolor does (though I know you can water down acrylics and use them like watercolors, but I’m still thinking I’m leaning toward watercolor proper).

I’m going to share an abstract painting I did for my topics in color class. We had to take a photograph and make an abstract version of it. I used this photograph of a sunset in Oklahoma City on New Year’s Day 2020:

Oklahoma City sunset

And this is the painting, which I like even though it’s not exactly fine art:

Abstract OKC sunset

I’ll also share a drawing I did for my perspective class, which has lots of problems but is still kind of cool:

Perspective drawing of railroad station

I’d Love a Review

As I’ve mentioned, I’m on a quest for reviews for Finding Frances. I want to run a promotion on Book Bub, and the rumor is you need at least twenty reviews to have a chance. This past Tuesday, I ran a promotion on the book that resulted in at least some sales, so that’s cool (my rating on Amazon went from 1,702,055 on November 4 to 27,553 on November 10). Obviously that’s nowhere near great success, but it’s nice to not be in the millions for a few days. Maybe someone who bought it will review it… I can hope. I’m also still in the middle of a review tour where I’m supposed to get eleven more reviews. I did get my first review that was lower than four stars, so that was interesting. I’m not upset—it still counts toward my total reviews and I still have a fairly good average rating.

I did decide to do NaNoWriMo for sure this year, and I’m barreling ahead with it, way ahead on word count because I’m working off an existing draft that has some usable parts (i.e., I’m cheating). I’m rewriting one of my romances.

At the end of October, I revised the first five chapters of Ugly and wrote a new chapter that comes between chapters one and two. I’m hoping these changes will be enough to make the editors and agents like it (though I have the rest of the chapters yet to do—that will happen after I finish my NaNo draft).

I also got my feedback back from Lou on the revised Sadie Speaks (the first 20 pages, anyway). He was mostly positive but had some tips I can use. I have just one more submission for him, and one for my research class, and I’m totally done with the MFA. My thesis was accepted by the library for binding earlier this week, so I’m officially done with that.

Style

Not a lot has changed in the past few weeks. I got my thesis back from the second reader, so now I’m ready to finalize it and send it in. I finished my class about narrative distance and got some feedback from the teacher, so now I feel ready to tackle fixing Ugly. I’m pretty sure I’m going to try to do NaNoWriMo this year, after waffling about it for a while. I may not succeed—may, in fact, give up part way—but I’m going to start it and see how it goes. I’m going to be busy because I’m also taking two art classes. Being me, I decided to go for it, and I enrolled in a BFA program in Illustration. Crazy, I know. But I'll learn stuff.

I’ve still been working through a pen and ink techniques book, copying from the artist’s drawings. I’m getting better and learning some techniques, and developing my own style (slowly). I’ve included a few pictures below.

Drawing of trees on a hill

Drawing of small sailboat

Drawing of castle stairs

Writing and Education

I recently joined Sisters in Crime, a mystery/suspense/etc. writers’ group, just in time to attend there SinC Into Great Writing: Creating Authentic Characters webinar. I was excited about it because Lou Berney, the author I’m working with this semester for my suspense class in my MFA, was featured. But K. Tempest Bradford was also presenting about writing the other. I’ve heard of her but never seen her teach, which is a shame because she’s a great presenter. If you’re a writer wanting to learning about diverse representation and writing characters different from you, I highly recommend looking for her workshops. She’s very organized, clear, and deeply knowledgeable. She’s also a funny (not excessively so, but she kept it light despite the serious nature of the topic). She also talked about sensitivity readers. Apparently the going minimum is about $250/300, which isn’t bad to me. The next part of the webinar was a conversation about character with Walter Mosley and Lou Berney, which was also interesting. It really was just a conversation for the most part, with the moderator asking a few questions to get things going.

In MFA news, I sent my thesis to the second reader, which means there are no more changes to make. I also turned in the synopsis of rewritten Sadie Speaks to Lou last week and I’m looking forward to getting his feedback on it. If he doesn’t have recommendations for major changes, I’ll be able to submit two samples from the beginning of the book, which I’m hoping is two chapters each. Otherwise, I’ll have to revise the synopsis for the first submission. I just have one more submission to make in my research elective (though I do have half a book to read for it). So I’m really close to being done here.

Outside of that, I just started an online class called How Stories Get Told: Voice and Narrative Distance which I’m hoping is going to help me fix the narrative distance problem Ugly has. Because I think that’s the problem. We’re so buried in her head we can’t see the rest of the world.

I’m still internally debating doing NaNoWriMo this year. This is the month I need to do the planning if I want to make it work. I would be rewriting a romance of mine. I’m also trying to figure out if I’m going to cheat if I do decide to go for it. I already have some of the novel written (actually the whole thing, but only some of that is usable), so I could count the parts I pull in toward my word count. Normally, I’m a purist about it—I only start brand new projects and would never cheat. But it is 2020. So.

One issue is that I want to work on Ugly, too, so it will be hard to do both, which means I may not get to Ugly until December, when I told the agents I could get it to them by the end of the year. I’m also still actively working on the Now Would Be Good stories. I’m running it through my book coach 2500 words a week, with many weeks to go. On top of that, I’m taking another writing class on short stories that starts on October 13, so I’ll be trying to produce work for that. On top of that, I’m studying calculus to prepare for starting the statistics master’s again next fall. So really, if I were sensible, I would not do NaNo. But this is me, so who knows what I’ll decide.

An update on the expensive cat problem: my MacBook Air display died again, and this time they replaced it and two internal cables. So there really was something wrong with it that wasn’t from Maddox biting it. But I still installed a Maddox bite deterrent system:

Maddox Bite Deterrent System - cardboard taped to the corners of the screen

So far it’s working reasonably well. I’ve caught him biting the cardboard several times, but he hasn’t gotten past it yet.

Expensive Cat

There's really not much going on in my writing world. Still working away on the Sarah stories (Now Would Be Good). I worked up a new synopsis of Sadie Speaks to send to my mentor in a few weeks. I'm also really frustrated—I applied to a postgraduate semester in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts—I was hoping to work with a well-known YA author on Ugly—but they're taking a long time to get back to me. I think it's a rejection, which means I should get started revising Ugly again, but since I don't know, I'm stuck waiting. I'm kind of disappointed, though. I felt pretty confident in my application. But whatever.

I'm also trying to decide if I'm going to do NaNoWriMo this year. If I do, I'll be working on my second romance. It isn't totally planned out yet, which means I'll need to spend some of October prepping it. I haven't done NaNo since 2017, when I wrote Ugly.

I'm going to be running a sale (99 cents) on my book for a week in November and featuring it on Bargain Booksy again, on November 10th. I'm hoping to get a few more sales than I did when it was still $4.99.

Now for a little rant. This guy:

Maddox biting computer
Maddox trying to bite my work computer

Is in big trouble. I have a Macbook Air that I bought in July of 2019, and about four weeks ago the screen died. I fortunately have Apple Care, because they counted the chipped glass from Maddox's bites as accidental damage, so it didn't qualify for repair under the warranty (even though the tech at the Genius Bar agreed with me that it was unlikely to have actually caused the damage). That was $100. Within 3 hours of getting the repaired computer back, this monster bit the corner again, chipping it. Then, last Wednesday, the screen abruptly died. So, either his biting really is causing the damage, or I'm just really unlucky (no, I'm definitely unlucky, either way). I have an appointment at the Genius Bar Thursday. I'm hoping Apple Care will apply again and it will only be $100 again.

Sigh.

Bookshelves

It feels like there really is not much of interest going on right now. The thing I’m most excited about is the bookshelves in my bonus room that are finally ready for use. Here’s a picture of them before the top was finished (the railing is because there are stairs leading into the room):

Bookshelves with closet

And here is a picture of the top, finished except for a final sanding and painting:

Bookshelves with top compartment

I’ve started loading the shelves, but it’s a real struggle to decide what goes where, between the shelves downstairs, the shelves in the office, and the new shelves. It’s a nice problem to have, though.

In other news, I have finished my thesis except for formatting. I had a few minor edits from my advisor, and I’ve done them, but the thesis requires specific formatting and I’m working on that. I’ll get it to her in a few days, and then it will be officially done, except for printing and submission to the college library. I’m not exactly sure how that’s to be done remotely, but I’ll find out.

I ran Finding Frances through a promotion that went out to 75,000 people, and at least one person bought it. Maybe just one, but still. I’m still struggling to get enough reviews to try for a BookBub deal (supposedly having 20 gives you a much better chance, and I currently have 16).

August 2020 Update

I don’t have much to report about my writing. I did sell a couple copies of Finding Frances in June, and one in July. It’s pitiful that this is exciting, but there you go.

The final semester of my MFA has officially started. The main work is preparing my thesis, but I have that almost done. My mentor has the full creative thesis now and will be giving me feedback on it, and I have a few little tweaks to make to the critical part of it, and then I’ll submit that to her later this month. I’m also taking two classes in addition to the thesis. One is on suspense and thriller novels with Lou Berney (author of The Long and Faraway Gone, one of my favorite such novels). He’s got me reading a handful of novels for the first packet and then writing a short paper about what suspense is, and then for the second packet he’ll read a synopsis of my rewritten Sadie Speaks, and then pages from the novel for the two later packets. The other class I’m taking is on research for writing, with Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, who’s Oklahoma’s Poet Laureate. I’m researching Irish history now, because I’m thinking of writing stories set in Ireland in various points in history, since I spent so much time and effort delving into it in college. I don’t know if I’ll ever really write it, but if I want to, I’ll have all my research ready.

Other than working on that, I’ve been drawing more. Here’s an oil lamp I did in stippling (which I will probably never do again—tedious) and a mannequin I did using hatching.

drawing of oil lamp

drawing of artists mannequin

I’ve also started studying math again, because I’m planning to start the stats degree back up next fall, because I need that much time to study. It’s amazing how much you can forget when you don’t use it… I'm using Khan Academy as a starting point, which is pretty amazing. I'm guessing it's getting a lot of usage during the pandemic.

The only other thing going on is that I’m getting some work done in my bonus room, the room over the garage. It has a slanted ceiling but is otherwise a decent-sized room, and I’m getting bookshelves installed on the long, tall wall, along with a closet built at the end of the wall. The idea is to make it count as a bedroom. I’m not sure it will work, but I am sure I will have a lot more bookshelf space to store my many boxes of books. They’re starting the work tomorrow, and I’ll post pictures once it’s done. For your amusement, I’ll post a terrible but related poem I had to write for my residency (the assignment was to write a ghazal, which is an old Arabic poetry form—I didn’t do it quite right, but I got most of the elements right (writing about a desire with lots of repeating words and naming yourself near the end)).

They overflow from shelves and boxes. Books for me.
On tables and cabinets. History, math, linguistics for me.

Fiction, lots of fiction, of all different types.
Boxes of books, as far as the eye can see, for me.

They’ve come shipped from all over the world.
From Glasgow, Edinburgh, Pilsen, Milton Keynes, for me.

Even some from the Isle of Skye, in Gaelic.
The cats nestle amongst them, I read for me.

But they’re everywhere, too everywhere.
A place for them is what I need, for me.

A call to my contractor
And he’ll do some measuring for me.

A little bit of work in SketchUp
And they’ll be a virtual drawing for me.

A couple of weeks of sawing and hammering
So they can fit on the shelves neatly, for me.

Then you can call me keeper of books.
Shelves of books, as far as the eye can see, for me.

First Royalties

Not a lot to report at the moment. My MFA residency started Friday, so I’m busy with that.

I did make a post to Facebook post (my first ever) about Finding Frances a couple weeks ago, and a couple people bought it. But still, getting it in front of people is nearly impossible.

I got my first royalties check, which came as a pitifully small direct deposit. But it did come, and I’ve now made actual money from Finding Frances.

royalties payment direct deposit

The only other thing going on is I’ve decided to start drawing again, which means I’m practicing with books and an art teacher. A couple of the books I’m using are about drawing cats, so here are a couple of the ones I’ve copied from one of the books:

Kittens

In-Home Residency

The residency for my MFA is this July, and this time it’s remote. Which is kind of weird, but what isn’t weird right now? So, no nervously flying over mountains for me this summer.

This residency is for my fourth and final semester. I do have to go to one more residency to attend to officially graduate, but this is the last semester I have to do work. And I’m lucky because all I have to do this semester is finalize my thesis critical piece and creative piece, both of which are already in late-stage drafts. This will be nice because I’m considering applying for a PhD, so I will have time to work on preparing that application this coming semester and easily be ready for the spring deadline. (It’s quite involved to apply.)

This residency I am teaching a workshop where I’m covering all of kidlit. I had to create a video lecture (75 slides, 38 minutes of video, many hours of actual work), pick several readings, create discussion questions, and come up with an idea for a live discussion. It turned into way more work than a normal residency workshop would be. But I did everything and it should go well. Fingers crossed. I’m hoping nobody is overly bored by it. I know some people aren’t big fans of writing for kids. The readings I gave them were all super-short except I added the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book (as a middle grade example) and the first chapter of The Hunger Games (as the YA example). The discussion we’re going to have will cover a bit on all the readings (I’m going to see what people say in the discussion) and be mostly focused on what people remember reading as kids and/or what they remember of reading to their own kids.

Other than preparing for residency, I’ve been kind of taking it easy lately. I even started learning watercolor painting. I’ll probably post something about that next time, unless something suddenly changes and I have book news.

Shakespeare… Or Not

So I was supposed to write a review this week, but I didn’t finish the book I’m reading, so it will have to wait until next week. Instead, I’m going to share with you something interesting I ran across on Goodreads. Goodreads has this feature called Similar authors. If you go to my author page, you can find the link Similar authors under my books. I was curious what they would say.

Apparently I am most similar to William Shakespeare.

Under him are a bunch of authors, including several award-winning ones.

Somehow, I feel like their conclusion is a bit questionable. What it probably means, most likely, is that Shakespeare’s works are the most commonly read among all my readers—so I guess my readers are a bit more highbrow than I am.

Wend f'rth and seeth what thee findeth.

Wrapping Up the 3rd Semester

My third semester is wrapping up, with just a couple things remaining to be done. Then all I have left for the degree is the thesis—both the critical and creative parts. Both are in decent shape, though I have opened back up the first half of the creative portion because of  something I’m writing further along the timeline, which necessitates changes all through what’s already written. But I should have that done before the fourth semester starts.

Now I’ve decided to pursue something even more: a PhD in creative writing. There is only one (maybe two) in the world that I can apply to. The US does not have any that are specific to creative writing—you can do a significant creative portion of your thesis in some English PhD programs, but none of these are low-residency/distance. But Bath Spa University in England (near Bath) has one and importantly, they are open to young adult writing (there’s another in England that is low-residency but specifically not open to any writing for children). So I’m going to apply to that. Applications are not due until next May, so I’ve got plenty of time (though the application isn’t easy, either). The dissertation (actually called a thesis in the UK (weirdly, they call the Master’s-level equivalent a dissertation)) is part creative and part critical, like for the MFA. The creative part is book-length (about 80,000 words or 300-350 pages), and the critical is 20,000 words, so about 80 pages. One difference from the MFA is that the critical part has to contextualize the creative portion. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I’ll have to figure it out in the next year.

There’s not much news in the Finding Frances world. I’m still not seeing many purchases and I’m still having trouble getting reviews. At this point, I’m especially in need of reviews, more than purchases, honestly. I do have a list of book blogs that I am going to send review requests to. I’m also planning to try to get it reviewed in some Oklahoma newspapers (this was my dad’s idea, actually).

Finally, if you want to see a little interview with me, check out last Thursday’s post on The Wild Rose Press blog.

Notes from Lockdown

Story Genius book coverThis won’t be a very exciting post. Not a lot to report. Like everyone else, I’m stuck in lockdown, going stir crazy. I usually do most of my writing at Starbucks, so it’s been a challenge to learn to work at home. Especially when I’m working from home for my day job, too. I just sit in the same chair from 7 am to 8 or 9 pm, swapping out computers at about 3:30. One nice thing that is helping me not go crazy is that some of my writing friends and I meet on Zoom every day and chat and do writing sprints. It helps to talk to other people.

What I’m most busy with is my thesis (specifically the 15-20 page paper about a craft element in novels). I had to totally rewrite (well, reorganize) it this weekend. It’s due a week from Friday so I’ve only got one weekend after this one to finish it. It isn’t the final final version, since I can still work on it during next semester, but I don’t want to have too much to do on it.

I’m also working on planning out the final-to-be-written Sarah story, which will be the second-to-last in the collection. I’m using a method outlined in the book Story Genius (pictured here), but I signed up for the Story Genius Workshop, which is a self-paced online class that walks you through everything step-by-step. There are videos explaining everything, and then long worksheets to fill out. They also have the option to pay extra for a coach, someone who will give you feedback on every step. I applied for that and am waiting to hear how much it costs. We’ll see if I do it. One interesting thing about this process is that it is going to require me to change some things in the earlier story, especially the long first one.

I’ve also got Ugly out with a bunch of agents, though nobody’s biting. I keep getting form letter rejections. The gatekeepers hate me.

Postponement!

This post was supposed to be about my book launch party, a month and a half after actual release, which was supposed to be yesterday. I sent an eVite and had about 30 people planning to come. However, because COVID-19 is really bad in Seattle, I felt obligated (and selfish enough worrying about attendance) to postpone it indefinitely (because who the heck knows when this mess is going to be resolved). In that vein, here is a hilarious (and sort of depressing) cartoon I found, which I was going to share in my report about the party, but will instead share in the face of cancellation.

Maria Scrivan cartoon "book signing: a portion of proceeds go to the author"

Sad but true, really.

In a way, this might be a blessing because I am so overwhelmed by my thesis right now that getting most of a day back is helpful. I have until April 24th to finish the second draft of my extended annotation, a 15-20 page paper. The first draft is due March 27th. And I am scrambling (already). Here is a stack of all the books I’m looking at for this paper (another book and numerous articles I’ve read electronically not shown).

Stack of books for MFA thesis

Please feel sorry for me.

That is all for now.

Not Quite Ready for March

Not a lot has happened since the release of Finding Frances, but the official release party is coming up in less than three weeks, so I’m planning for that. It should be interesting and I have no idea how many people are going to show up. I’ve picked a couple of very short readings to do and need to practice them, but it shouldn’t be difficult. I also need to write my little history of the book story and my thank yous out so I don’t forget anyone. I’m supposed to be sending out the invites today, and I haven’t even written them yet. Something for this evening…

This is going to be a busy month in general. There’s the release party, and I have to write the first draft of my 15-20 page thesis paper. My biggest concern is that I’m not actually sure that my premise is true; if it isn’t, it will be a problem if I can’t figure out something else to write about quickly. I also am going to be teaching a one-hour class on the role of relationships in character development at the end of the month. There is a lot of preparation to do on that one.

Yesterday I spent most of the day updating Ugly with some cleanup edits (instead of working on my March activities like I should have) and resent it to an agent that had requested a full and then left that agency before getting back to me on it. I’m hoping she will like it. It would be so nice to finally get through that stupid barrier. Still, I need to start sending it out in earnest again. I’ll send some queries out some evening this week.

Lastly, regarding Finding Frances, according to Amazon, only about 8 copies have been purchased. So it would be great if you’re reading this if you might consider buying it, if you haven’t already. 🙂 And if you have read it, it would be so helpful to me if you'd leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

First Post-Release Post

I feel like I should write a post for today since Finding Frances finally came out this week, on Monday. But in some ways it’s been a little anti-climactic. Nothing has really changed from my perspective. I know people have bought it, but I have no way of knowing how many, and I don’t have any reviews yet, so it’s all invisible. I think I can get a rough estimate of the number of books sold on Amazon with a week delay or so, so maybe I’ll get my first clue next week.

Still, it is kind of cool to no longer be a ”pre-published” author. All that work finally paid off. And man, was it a lot of work… Now I’m planning for the release party on March 21st.

Outside of regularly remembering I’m a published author now, I’m focused on the MFA and Ugly. One of the things I’m doing is a professional writing minor, and through that I’m getting some feedback on my Ugly query and the first two chapters. My instructor told me that the two chapters were maybe a little slow and that they didn’t hint at what the book is really about, instead making it seem like the main character just has normal teen problems. So I wrote a new short scene to start the book off, to be put at the beginning of Chapter 1. I’m waiting on feedback on that, but if she likes it, I will start querying again. Right now I have no queries out and only four few partials/fulls (sent in November). But I just figured out that one of the agents who had requested a full changed agencies after requesting it but before responding to it. So now I have to do some followup work on that one. I emailed the original agency, but I’ll probably have to requery the original agent at her new agency. I also followed up with another full I sent in November. So hopefully I’ll hear something soon on both of those.

The other minor I’m doing on the MFA is pedagogy. So I’m going to be observing a class in March and then teaching a one-hour workshop on the use of relationships in character-building. Both are with a former instructor who’s really nice, so I hope it goes well. I’m still developing the workshop, though I have the exercises ready. Now I just have to score books to find good examples…

Busy, busy.