Ten years ago, I was just finishing up The Rise of Renegade X. (It was the summer after I graduated college–at 25, not 22 like you might be thinking–and the last Harry Potter book had just come out–I remember devouring it in between writing sessions.) I wrote book 1 in a 28-day whirlwind from concept to finish, and it was by far the best thing I’d ever written. (In fact, for a long time, I worried I’d never write anything as good as that, which thankfully wasn’t true.) A year and a half later, I added another 20k for an editor (which I wrote in a week), but otherwise, it was the same book it is now.
I didn’t write book 2 until six years and six books later, hence the jump in quality. That one took me three months to write, if you don’t count the five chapters I wrote before that but then couldn’t work on for, like, a year due to illness and having, like, no words in my brain. Despite getting temporarily better enough to work on the book, it didn’t last, and I went back to being blank and empty.
(If you’re wondering, I have an autoimmune disease–Hashimoto’s–and adrenal fatigue, which it turns out were caused by crazy severe food allergies. Mostly gluten. And grains. I know what you’re thinking, but gluten is seriously bad news and it sucked out my soul like a Dementor. It turns out autoimmune disease in general is caused by food allergies (mostly gluten, grains, and dairy), so if you have one, please Google the Autoimmune Protocol–it saved my life.)
Somehow I wrote book 3 while being blank and empty. Sometimes my brain would just go blank in the middle of a sentence, and I would have absolutely no idea what words to put next, and I’d have to walk away from it for a couple weeks until I could start thinking of words again. This forced start-and-stop method was really hard, and I don’t think I can express how frustrating it was. Once I finally started healing, I also realized how dampened my emotions were at the time. It’s not exactly that I couldn’t feel feelings… but I kind of couldn’t feel feelings. And yet somehow I wrote a book full of feelings. Just like how I wrote a book full of thoughts and words when my brain was very low on them. I honestly don’t know how I managed to write that book, though I know it was mostly done in little chunks over two years, so I guess that’s how, but still. The more I heal and the better I get, the more I look back and think, WTF? How in the hell did I manage to write any of that, let alone a whole book?
Book 4 took me a year and half, but I wrote most of it in the last six months. Coincidentally when I had some health breakthroughs and started feeling better. (Crazy, right?) It, too, was written in starts and stops and little chunks, though there were less starts and stops and the chunks were bigger, and my brain stopped crapping out in the middle of sentences. I still have trouble writing for long periods of time, and sometimes I hit my limit way earlier than I would like, but overall it’s getting easier. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write a book in a 28-day whirlwind again (though I wasn’t exactly healthy then, either, it just wasn’t as bad yet, so who knows?). I think these books have gotten too complicated for that, though I’d settle for a three-month writing binge, or maybe even a six-month writing binge, or maybe even a “just being able to write steadily in general” streak.
Anyway, I can’t believe I’ve been writing Renegade X books for ten years. In that time, only a year and a half has gone by for the characters. At this rate, even if I lived to be 100–and kept writing Renegade X books at the same pace the whole time–Damien would never be older than 27. How bizarre is that? Not that that’s how books work, and not that I’m saying that’s how it’s going to go. I’m just saying the time difference between my life and theirs is very different.
10 years ago, I was working at Burger King (a really, really crappy Burger King where the fries were cold and the pop was uncarbonated, or at least the flavors anybody cared about were–it shut down just after New Year’s that year) and thinking I was really close to finding an agent and getting published. LOL. (I was nowhere near it.) At some point that fall, I’d gotten a slightly personalized rejection letter from an agent whose name I can’t even remember now. Looking back, it was obviously a form letter, but it had my name on it and was on the agency letterhead. Slightly thicker paper, cream colored. Not the thin, run-of-the-mill printer paper rejections I’d been getting. It basically said I wasn’t ready yet, but that they’d like to see my work again after I’d written another book or three. I was querying my 4th book at the time, if I remember right.
5 years ago, I was working at the ribbon shop (I made award ribbons, mostly for cat shows) and was actually on the verge of getting a publishing contract for the first time. That was The Rise of Renegade X, and it was my 8th or 9th book, depending on how you count them. (The book I’d started before it I would later finish, so technically RRX was my 8th finished book, but if you lined them up in chronological order, it would be the 9th.) I’d finished it about a year and a half before that, had recently fired my first agent, and was getting interest from a publisher on my own. In the next few months, I’d have a new, way better agent, and two offers.
If you’d told me 10 years ago that it would be another 5 years before I got published, I would have been devastated. If you’d told me 5 years ago that at the end of 2013, I still wouldn’t have gotten another publishing contract, again, I would have been devastated. Probably even more devastated than the first one, because at least then something good was coming, I just had to wait for it. (Or work really hard for it. Whatever.) And if you added on the fact that I wasn’t just contractless, but self-publishing–and, okay, not just self-publishing, but republishing my only traditionally published book because it had gone out of print and I’d taken the rights back–I would have been more than devastated. Probably absolutely crushed.
I would have had no idea how happy I was going to be.
To be fair, self-publishing has changed a lot in the past 5 years. But, from where I sit now, it seems ridiculous to me how upset I would have been about the supposed “failures” to come. It’s funny how our expectations of how things “should” go can get in the way of seeing opportunities. 2013 has been my best year in publishing, period. Not that there weren’t exciting moments along my traditional publishing journey, and everything I learned along that journey made me a better writer and publisher. But it wasn’t the only way to be happy, and it certainly wasn’t the only way to be successful.
This year, I got to write what I wanted. Which means Renegade X fans (and me) finally got to have a sequel. This year, I didn’t second guess what editors might buy from me or base what I wrote on what I might be able to sell to them. I wrote for myself, and for my readers. I had more fun writing than I have in a long time (though at least part of that has to do with getting better thyroid meds and not feeling like I was dying all the time, but that’s a different story), I ran a successful kickstarter campaign, and I published two books, which, in the past three months that they’ve been out, have sold more copies than I ever did as a traditionally published author. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’ve sold more copies of The Rise of Renegade X in the past 3 months than my publisher did in the past 3 years.
So, yeah. I guess the point of this post is that we don’t always know what will make us happy. I always knew I wanted a career writing books. That hasn’t changed, and it’s just as satisfying as I’d thought it would be. But how I got here, to a point where I even feel comfortable saying I have a writing “career” as opposed to just “a book,” was completely unexpected.
Back from the pony convention! Not that I was really gone, since I live here, but whatever.
For those of you who don’t know, Everfree NW is the local My Little Pony convention. I used to watch the original My Little Pony back in the early 80s, though I find that one doesn’t really hold up that well now that I’m an adult. But the new version of the show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is AMAZING. It’s on Netflix. Go check it out if you’ve never seen it.
Anyway, this was my first time at Everfree and my first time being a vendor at a con. (I make crocheted pony plushies.) I only saw the dealer’s room, but that’s my favorite part of conventions, plus the con pretty much came to me. VIPs from the show came by and complimented my ponies. The people from Friendship is Witchcraft stopped by, too (they re-edit episodes of the show and dub over them and it’s HILARIOUS and my favorite fan-made thing). And Peter New, the voice of Big Macintosh, came by and let me take a pic of him with my Big Macintosh plushie.
There was also a Sweet Apple Acres booth on the other side of the vendor’s hall, and a lady dressed up like Granny Smith. Every so often she’d shout that it was Cider Season, and for a limited time they’d sell little bottles of Apple Family cider, just like on the show. It was good times. And from my booth I met lots of cool people and saw lots of amazing costumes.
I had some Renegade X bookmarks on my table and told a few people that I was a writer and gave them one. Which was maybe a mistake, because I kept getting that, “Oh God, not another terrible writer–please strike me down before they start talking about their book!” look from people, which I haven’t gotten since before I was published. It wasn’t all their fault, though, since I’m horrible at telling people about my successes. (I blame the kids in elementary school and junior high who would come up to me and, in a mean, accusing voice, say, “You get straight As, don’t you?” Which, for the record, I didn’t, but that wasn’t really the point.) I always forget to mention the important stuff, like that I’m actually published and that Disney Channel is working on the movie. Oh, yeah, and that it’s freaking hilarious.
Oh, well. I like to think if they do end up looking up my book and reading the sample that they will be pleasantly blown away. Because, I mean, making cute crocheted toys is cool and all, but it doesn’t take nearly as much time and effort to learn as making awesome books does.
What are your successes? What skillz do you have that other people underestimate?
Another highlight from the trip was seeing Mr. Pointy and Nighthawk, two of the stakes used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (I mean, you remember Mr. Pointy, don’t you?) I stared at these things for way too long! There was supposed to be a spellbook from Buffy on display, too, but it had been put away “for conservation.”
There were lots of other cool things, too, like Superman’s costume from Superman IV, Shaun of the Dead’s shirt, and this creepy Pon Farr perfume I saw in the gift shop:
You can see more pics over on my Pinterest board.
This weekend was also ALA Midwinter here in Seattle. Got to hang out with lots of people and scored a bunch of ARCs. Didn’t get any writing done (sad), but feel refreshed and excited about books in general.
This week in my Meaningful Gamification class, we’re studying behaviorism and how rewards are used to affect behavior. So basically people have studied how doling out rewards/in what ways they’re doled out affects learning. So if you have someone push a button to get a reward, but they only get a reward at one minute intervals, then they learn not to bother pushing the button until that one minute mark. But if you make the rewards come at random times, so that the person never knows when pushing the button will get them something, then they learn that behavior really well and it becomes an addictive “checking” habit.
When I was listening to that part of the lecture, my first thought was, “Wow, that sounds annoying. What a stupid thing to get hooked on.” And then of course I realized that it sounds EXACTLY like me checking my email. I think most of us can relate. And if you’ve ever gotten a really good email–whatever that might be to you–that gives you a really good spike in happy chemicals, then it becomes even harder to quit. Mostly, though, it doesn’t matter if I ever get the reward of an email or not–checking for it has become an addiction and just the hope of having a message keeps me going. If I leave for a few days and don’t check my email, then I break that habit a little and I don’t feel the need to check once I get home. I always feel at that point like I could just walk away from it. But then I get curious and want to check, just once, just to see… and it’s a slippery slope from there. (I read once in an entrepreneurial magazine that it’s recommended you check your email no more than four times a day, so it doesn’t become stressful. I think I’ll start by cutting back to four times an hour.)
And it’s not just me and the other email/Facebook/Twitter addicts out there, by my cat, too. One of my cats, Kitten, saw a particularly
interesting skittery bug in the corner of the bathroom once, maybe twice, and now he’s hooked. No matter how many times he doesn’t see a bug in the corner, he can’t stop checking for it. And every time he checks, even if he comes up empty, it seems to reinforce the behavior, making him just want to do it more. Every time he follows me into the bathroom (he’s also obsessed with following me around everywhere, so maybe he’s prone to addictive behavior–I don’t know), he goes right to that corner and checks it out. Sometimes he’s in there just staring into the corner, hoping and waiting. And I often think, “Wow, that is sad!” And then I wonder if it’s really any sadder than checking the internets over and over. I mean, I’m pretty sure all my precious emails are a little more important than the possibility of there being a bug in the corner. But as much as I don’t care about chasing bugs, I’m sure Kitten is equally unimpressed by chasing emails. If getting to see a bug gives him the same spike of happiness, then is it really any different?
As of now I just finished my last final for summer semester! Now I have two weeks off before it all starts up again…
Book wise, I have not forgotten about you all who are diligently waiting for The Trials of Renegade X. I’ve had to put it on hold for a bit while I work on finishing up my dark YA fantasy, Fire and Chasm, which needs to go back out on sub. And I’ve been working with the amazing Karen Kincy (author of Other, Bloodborn, and the upcoming Foxfire) on the Steampunk Book of Awesome. Two books at once is about all I can handle, but as soon as I finish up Fire and Chasm, I’ll be back to working on the Renegade X sequel.
Knitting wise, I am working on my first original pattern (I’ve only made crochet patterns), and am also dying to make this Louhi coat. It’s the long gray one that looks really archaic and cool. I’m finishing up a cape right now and this hoodie (as soon as I actually buy the rest of the yarn I need), but man do I want to cast on and start that Louhi coat! It turns out I like making capes and coats and cloaks and things. And hoods. I can’t own enough coats and it turns out I can’t make enough of them either.
Once upon a time, in 2004, in a faraway land called Bellingham, WA, where the sky, the earth, and the sea are all the same shade of gray, I got it into my head that I wanted a portable writing device. I had a desktop at the time and I wanted to be able to write anywhere, whether that meant when I was out of the apartment or just when I was sitting on the couch. I did a lot of research and discovered the NEC Mobile Pro. (Which, as you can see if you follow the link, is also gray.) It was super portable, had an actual keyboard (not full size, but it worked), and it turned on and off instantly, which meant no waiting for my computer to boot up in order to write down any brilliant plot ideas I had at one in the morning.
I got a refurbished one off of eBay. It had a spot where you could plug in your dial up internet (LOL), and the one I got came with a WiFi card so you could connect to the network, even if it was kind of slow. But I never ended up using the internet on it. It was a little tiny box with Pocket Word and a word count meter and almost nothing else. There were no distractions, and it changed my life.
Or at least my writing life, which was pretty much the same thing. Not only was it light and portable and I could sit wherever I wanted with it or write in the quiet room at the university library, but I became way more productive. And it’s not that I’d never experienced periods of high productivity with my writing, even with the internet, but it was so much easier to get into that mode without having the option of turning to distractions every time I got stuck.
In the summer of 2007, the same summer I finally graduated college and the same summer that the last Harry Potter book came out, I wrote The Rise of Renegade X, all on that little computer. Then, two years later after I’d sold the book and gotten paid for it, I bought a shiny new laptop. I love my shiny not-so-new-anymore laptop that literally sparkles in the sunlight (there are blue sparkles on the lid, but they only show up in direct sunlight), and at the time I’d badly needed a computer that actually functioned, since my desktop was, on its good days, barely still functioning.
So I got the laptop, and it did all the computery things I wanted it to do, like play games and play videos (with sound! and without blue screening at random times!) and check my email 1,000 times a day. And gradually I stopped using my MobilePro. My laptop didn’t have a spot for the sync cable, my MobilePro had no USB ports, and my laptop couldn’t read the card that the MobilePro could actually save to, at least not without hooking up a separate card reader, and the card itself was unreliable and would frequently forget everything that I’d saved on it.
Anyway, since then I’ve been writing exclusively on my laptop, which has about a million distractions on it, including the internet, which I can’t stay away from. And if it’s not the internet, then it’s Spider Solitaire. And lately I’ve been especially prone to these distractions and I have a lot of writing projects I’m not making enough progress on, if any. So I decided it was time to go back to an internet-less computer.
This netbook ended up being the perfect combo of everything I wanted. USB ports, card reader, runs actual Windows (instead of CE) so it can handle Open Office and doesn’t screw up formatting when I’m passing files between computers. It’s lightweight and gets almost 10 hours off one battery charge and it comes out of hibernating instantly, and the boot up time when I turn it on is super fast, too. And the keyboard, which you can see in this next picture, is just how I wanted it. Chicklet style with a hard base.
(As you can see in this pic, I am clearly working hard on The Trials of Renegade X.)
I uninstalled any unnecessary programs, deleted all the games, and left the whole thing not connected to the network. It has my writing programs and that’s pretty much it. It’s amazing how big a difference not having those distractions makes! Instead of being unfocused and looking for ways to procrastinate, I’m actually, you know, working.
Sometimes it pays to know what works best for you. If the internet is there, I will poke at it. I won’t be able to leave it alone, and I know this about myself. And it can make working on my laptop a source of stress. In contrast, the netbook feels like a quiet, stress-free workspace that is just me and my books and the tools to make them better.
So you know that Garbage song, I’m Only Happy When It Rains? Yeah, well, it took me forever to realize that song was about being emo. Not like I’m actually only happy when it rains, but when you grow up in the NW, especially in some sort of black hole rain shadow, a rainy day is so comforting. I got on this subject because yesterday it rained, and it was cold and chilly and wet and we had the windows open so all of that could blow in. A good rainy day, where you can hear the rain outside and smell it in the air, always makes me feel safe and like everything is right with the world. It’s the kind of thing that makes you say, in all seriousness, “Wow, it’s a beautiful day today,” when you get up in the morning and everything is wet and cold and nostalgic.
And it’s not like I like being wet and cold or anything. It’s funny how this kind of weather reminds me of walking to school back in junior high, and while I don’t remember particularly enjoying that part of my day–especially if it involved cold drops of water pouring over me–but the same weather now can make me think of those times and only pull out the good stuff, like the way the rain makes me feel so alive.
I have a vitamin D deficiency, and some days, despite taking supplements, I sit here longing for the sun like nobody’s business. I feel like some withering old plant dying in the corner. And sometimes I think maybe one of these days I’m going to have to relocate to a place with actual sunlight. And then a rainy day comes along and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t ever leave here.
So I was at the store earlier today and saw one of the horrendously non-canon toys Hasbro makes for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. They have a talking Princess Celestia who is not only the wrong color (she’s white, not pink, in the show), but when you press the button sticking out of her flank, she says the stupidest, most vapid things that are SO NOT LIKE HER in the show AT ALL. When I pushed the button, she said, “My wings are so pretty!” And I laughed out loud in the store because it was just so wrong. I pushed it again and her wings lit up with flashing lights and she said, “I will light the way.”
Princess Celestia is normally the wise Christopher Robin type character of the show who’s older and more level-headed than most of the other characters. The Gandalf, the Dumbledore. You get the idea. Imagine Dumbledore saying, “My wings are so pretty!” like he means it.
I mean, WTF? Where do they come up with these awful toys? It’s like they’re designed by people who have not only never seen the show, but were maybe shown a five second glimpse of what the character looked like, then, a month later, told to remake the character from memory. O__o
Would I have liked this toy as a kid? Maybe. I would have been happy to have a pony princess who was both a unicorn and a pegasus, and the light up wings would have earned it major points. But the fact that she’s not canon would not have sat well with me. The pink body, the completely wrong colored hair… That would have bothered the hell out of me!
Here’s a convenient video of all her sayings that I found on YouTube:
I have meant to post a million times these last couple weeks, but it kept getting away from me. Blog posts are always skittering away as soon as I turn on the light. Or, in a less creepy metaphor, they’re like Lucy and the football.
Anyway, I relaunched my Etsy shop this past week and applied for my business license! Applying for a license was actually pretty easy–I just filled out a form and paid a small fee–but it felt pretty cool to declare myself a business. Here’s a screenshot of my Etsy shop:
If you live in the NW, I got an artist’s table at GeekGirlCon, August 11th and 12th. Come stop by and say hello!
I also went to Comicon a few weeks ago, and it was amazing! I hung out with author pal Karen Kincy and got to meet Tara Strong, the voice of Twilight Sparkle (and Batgirl in Batman: the Animated Series, Timmy in Fairly Oddparents, Rikku in FFX, Bubbles in Powerpuff Girls, Harley in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, and she’s been in about a million other things, too). She was so nice and great to see in person! I gave her a stuffed Twilight Sparkle I made her and she was amazed and hugged it and let me take pics!
John DiMaggio, the voice of Bender on Futurama, was in the next booth over, leaving voicemails for fans from an angry Bender. I got to go to the Futurama panel as well as the Batman panel, and everyone was amazing. I’m definitely hoping to go again next year!