Stuck

This past week I tried my first advertising on Facebook and Instagram. I made an ad for “Now Would Be Good,” the first story in Always the New Girl as posted on Kindle Vella. I can’t say it’s working at all. People are clicking on it, but not a single episode from the series has been read this week. I have no idea how to get the message out. This writing thing is so hard. But I do think I’m going to go ahead and make an ad for Finding Frances. I suspect that one reason I’m not getting reads on “Now Would Be Good” is because people aren’t familiar with Kindle Vella.

I’m still waiting on the Ugly edits from the freelance editor, who’s having some (pretty awful) personal issues and can’t seem to finish the last step in getting it back to me. I’m just in limbo without it, though. I don’t want to start anything new. I want to wrap that up and start sending it out to agents again.

If it still fails to get me an agent, I don’t really know what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll just self-publish, even though I already know nobody would buy it. I just don’t seem to have the marketing chops to make it happen. But after that, I’m not sure if I’d start working on Sadie Speaks again. As much as I love YA, it doesn’t seem to feel the same about me. I do think I’m going to work on some of my romance projects and get those out there (self-published) to see if I can do any better in that genre (which is much more self-publishing-friendly). So most likely I will continue my break from YA for a bit.

On the other hand, if I do manage to land an agent, I will probably refocus and get back to Sadie Speaks. Or I might dive into the sequel to Ugly, for which I have the premise and main characters already worked out.

Anyway, time will tell.

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.

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.

Release Date

Finding Frances Book CoverSo, I finally got my release date for Finding Frances (!). It is:

Monday, February 3, 2020

I’d hoped it would come out before the end of this year so I could enter it in a contest through PNWA, but this is fine (I’ll have to wait until 2021 to enter it).

Other than that, there’s not much news. I’ve got my MFA residency coming up in January, and I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be my third semester.

I’m working on finishing up the Now Would Be Good collection about my character Sarah, which I’ve now decided is going to be a novel in parts rather than a short story collection. Each part will just have its own arc, in addition to the whole book having one.

My critique partner is almost through Sadie Speaks, so I may pick that one back up and revise it.

I’m still shopping Ugly around, without much luck. I’m a little irritated about that one—I’m not getting as many bites as I think I should. They all say they want something different (which this story is) but it seems like they really just want the same thing as always. Frustrating.

A Release Date Is Coming

I made the last edits I’ll make on Finding Frances and my editor sent it off for formatting. Once I get that back, I’ll approve it and then I think I’ll finally get a release date.

One of my critique partners did a full read of Ugly and gave me a few recommendations. I’ve implemented two of the three I plan to deal with before submitting to the agents and editors who requested it at PNWA and ECWC. Just need to do the last one…

Another critique partner is working her way through Sadie Speaks a few chapters at a time. That book needs quite a bit of revising, but she’s giving me some good guidelines for doing it.

I’m still working on the “Now Would Be Good” story collection that I’m going to submit for my MFA thesis. My critique group is going through the last story I’ve written. I need to plan out the next (last) story, or maybe the last two if necessary—I can’t decide.

That’s pretty much what’s going on right now.

Shiny New Idea

I’m supposed to be working on my new YA book Ugly (plus the other one that’s under a pen name), but ask me if I’m doing either of these things.

Nope, I’m not. I mentioned being stuck a few weeks ago, and I sort of still am. But I replotted the pen name book and just need to get back to Ugly, but instead I’m working on some short stories. It’s the Shiny New Idea.

As I’ve mentioned, I wrote one called “Now Would Be Good” that’s about a girl in her junior year of high school. But now I want to do a whole series about her and I spent most of last Sunday at Starbucks with a friend plotting five other stories out. One’s about her in ninth grade and the others follow her from junior year through right before she goes to college. I’m pretty excited about these stories because I really like the premise of each of them. And they will naturally tie together.

I’m going to self-publish the collection. No one will buy it, but once I have a book published traditionally, there will already be another book for people who liked that one to buy. That’s the plan, anyway.

Speaking of traditional publishing, I haven’t had any more movement on Finding Frances. I do have several people at work reading it, which is a little weird. Hopefully they don’t hate it. Since they wanted to read it electronically, I designed a cover to go with it:

 

Finding Frances cover

So many people have read this book. I look at the acknowledgments section of other novels, and authors thank their one critique group and a handful of beta readers (if that many). I’ll never be able to thank everyone who’s helped along the way.

Sadie Speaks is still idle at the moment, too. I just don’t know what to do with that one. It’s difficult.

A couple weeks ago, I submitted “Now Would Be Good” to Cicada magazine. I recently found out that they’re going electronic only. I still prefer paper, but I don’t know any other markets for YA short fiction. So now that story’s out for a contest and a magazine. We’ll see what happens.

Stuck

I’ve been trying to write lately with very little success. I went to a writing workshop with Mary Buckham last Saturday, which was great, but I haven’t done any real writing. I’m not sure what the problem is, but I have distracted myself with other work, namely painting my kitchen cabinets. They do look good, though I did have a tiny bit of trouble rehanging them with the new hinges I got. I have to make a few adjustments with my recently-purchased Dremel and a sanding block. I forgot to take before pictures, but I found an old one from when I moved in.

Kitchen Cabinets Before
Before

Kitchen Cabinets After
After

Much better, eh?

Anyway, it’s not helping me get any writing done. I’m (theoretically) working on two books right now: my third YA, entitled Ugly, and one other I’m writing under a pen name. I’m stuck on both. My writing group met yesterday morning and gave me feedback on Chapter 4 of Ugly, so that’s progress, but I should actually be going through my complete draft for my second pass because I’ve replotted some things and need to add a lot of details. The other book has also been significantly replotted and there is quite a bit to do on it (even more replotting, too).

I have sent Finding Frances out to a few more agents, but I haven’t heard anything back except a No or two. Sometimes it’s hard to know if I should take the hint or keep trying. But I guess I’ll keep submitting because otherwise I would probably get depressed. It’s strange that the constant refrain of “No” doesn’t depress me, but I suppose I have the illusion of eventual success.

I haven’t even looked at Sadie Speaks in months. I’m still not sure what to do with that one. It’s like my group said yesterday as we wallowed in self-pity—writing is hard.

Writing Update

It’s been a little while since I bored you with an update about what’s going on with my writing.

I’m working away on the third book, whose working title is Ugly. This is the 80,000-word novel I wrote in 28 days in November for NaNoWriMo. I’m taking it through my writing group chapter by chapter and met with them yesterday to go over Chapter 3. I like it and feel like it’s going to end up being a pretty solid book, though it’s going to take a lot of work. The first draft is pretty rough, though there is definitely some good stuff in there.

Sadie Speaks is still currently being neglected as I don’t know what to do with it. It needs major work, but it feels like I need somebody else to tell me what to do with it. A couple of freelance editors have seen it, but they didn’t quite share my editorial vision so I didn’t really agree with their suggestions. So I’m going to have to figure it out on my own.

Finding Frances is still getting nowhere with agents and editors. It’s currently with one of each, but I pinged them both Monday because they’ve had it for 3 months. The editor got back to me to say she had received it and would only contact me if she was interested in more. The agent never responded. So I’m not exactly holding my breath on either of those. I’m pretty worn out with querying it and am not sure I’m going to summon the energy to try again.

In related news, I decided to do an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). I got accepted to both of the ones I applied to, but I decided to go with Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA and its concentration in Young Adult Fiction. I’m pretty excited about this. It starts in July. It’s a low-residency model, which means twice a year I have to go there for an intensive 10-day residency, where there are craft talks, I’ll meet with my faculty mentor for the semester, and I can mingle with other students. Then for the rest of the semester, I’ll send packets of writing in to my mentor, who will send back feedback. I also have to read a lot of books, as some of the writing is critical annotations of genre books or responses to craft books. I have to attend a residency before each of my four semesters and then go to the one immediately after my last semester to wrap things up.

Finally, in unrelated news, I started a new job at work. I’m no longer a software developer and am now a data scientist (my actual job title is Analytics Analyst, which is hilarious, and not deeply meaningful). I will leave you with a picture of my favorite parking space at work:

Parking space blocked by post

Upcoming Conference

Starting this Thursday, I’m going to be at a writers* conference, run by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. It’s 3.5 intense days of talking to writers, learning about writing, and learning about the business of writing. I’ve been the last two years, as well, and this time I’m staying at the hotel, which is expensive but saves me the hassle of the hour on the road every day, a drive which is especially frustrating because said day runs early morning to 9:00 or 10:00 at night.

I managed to get two pitch sessions. At PNWA, the sessions are kind of a mad house, quite different from ones I’ve done at other conferences. Here, you are in a room with 150 other people for an hour. Agents and editors sit behind a line of tables at the back of the room. And you line up in front of the one you want to pitch next, get four minutes with them when it’s your turn, and move on to the next line. Depending on the popularity of the people you want to pitch, you usually get two to four pitches done. It all sounds a little intimidating, but I actually have found it’s not. Most of the agents are nice, even if they say no. Still, it’s helpful to have a pitch semi-memorized so you don’t have to read off something. I’m meeting with a friend this evening to practice.

However, I have a dilemma. I can’t decide what to pitch. I feel like I should wait on feedback from the other people on Finding Frances before querying/pitching anyone else. Maybe I’ll get more feedback. I ended up sending the revised manuscript to the agent who said she’d take a second look. (Though the more time passes, the more I’m thinking I should have figured out more things to change…). I was originally planning to pitch Sadie Speaks, however, I just sent that to a freelance developmental editor and she came back with recommendations that I change almost everything. Now, I’m not going to, but many of her points do require some serious reworking. The other option is to pitch a romance I’m writing under my pen name, but I’m only halfway done with the third draft on that one, and that won’t be the final draft, for sure. One thing that is also different about this pitching is that they don’t have a rule that you have to have the manuscript ready to send—you can wait weeks or months to send it. So I could do either.

So, quandary. I guess I’ll prepare two pitches and practice them with my friend tonight and fly by the seat of my pants on Friday, pitch day.

 

* Okay, I admit I never know if that should be “writers’”, “writers”, or even “writer’s.” It drives me crazy, the not knowing.

Progress

I’ve made a little more progress in making my house look like a real house. I finished painting last weekend and then manually extracted each stupid carpet-pad staple from the subfloor. I got about 75% of the drywall compound off the floor by mopping it earlier in the week, making a bucket full of drywall mud in the process. I primed the floor in two coats so now it’s solid white (well, it’s two different whites because I had to use the two different primers, but still). At least it’s not subfloor-colored with various colors of paint and plaster all over it. I mean, it looks ridiculous, but if you use your imagination, you can sort of see a great room in there. (I don’t mean a “great” “room”, but a “great room”.)

Painted floor

Friday I got my Ikea furniture delivered—in 12 boxes. Sigh. I spent most of yesterday alternating between painting the floor and putting the furniture together.

Dining Room Chairs

Before
Before

After - completed chairs
After

Yay! Marvin only left his paw prints on some of them.

Dining Room Table

Before
Before

After - table in boxes
After

Spiffy Red Sofa

Before
Before

After - sofa boxes
After

Okay, so I wasn’t 100% successful. You try it. It will be so nice when it’s really all together. I have a couple of rugs to put down once the floor is more properly dry, and then I’m hoping the electrician will finally come and finish all that work up (I still have no heaters and have an ancient chandelier), and then I really will get the rest of the furniture put together. I can’t wait.

Old chandelier
Old Chandelier

Lights in box
New Chandelier and Hall Lights

Really, it can happen. I’m convinced.

Oh, and on top of that, my last class finished a couple weeks ago so I’ve finally been able to get back to my writing, like I should. I’m working on getting Sadie Speaks ready to query at the PNWA conference in mid-July, so that’s a lot of work, but it will be good to start getting that one out there.