Day 74

Wow. Somehow, while I was busy with life and all the craziness that goes along with it -- the winter holidays, full-time day job, and the general anarchy of raising children, three months have slipped past me. Since the last post, I've held Advanced Reader Copies of my book, which was a really surreal moment for me. I've done that uncomfortable bit where I have to ask writers that I really admire to read my book and say nice things about it, and unbelievably, some have! I've seen the final book jacket and began to schedule speaking engagements and author events for around the time of the books release. And frankly, I'm still in shock.

But today, I felt compelled to write a blog post about something other than books. Unless you've been hiding your head under a rock for the last 8 days, you've heard about the horror and tragedy that occurred in Parkland, Florida on Valentine's Day. You've seen mug shots of the man who brought weapons of mass destruction into the school and murdered seventeen children in cold blood. (And yes, he IS a man, and Tamir Rice WAS a boy, even if the media can't keep that straight.) You've seen the family photographs and heard the heart-breaking biographies of the young, vibrant victims that were ripped away from the lives they were meant to live. You've seen their parents and their friends on television and social media begging for someone - ANYONE - in power to please, do something to insure that this doesn't happen to another school. 

And they've said everything that there is to say about that subject much more eloquently than I ever could, so I'm not going to scream about gun control (although I definitely think that toddlers could design a better system of 'control' than we currently have). And I'm not going to lecture about an assault rifle ban (even though the only possible reason to want a weapon that shoots more than a dozen rounds would be to kill a person, and I'm pretty sure that's a no-no in all major religions and cultures). And I'm not going to take the time to state the obvious - that this country failed those 17 kids in Florida, and all the victims of mass shootings that came before them. That we have sold off our democracy to lobbyists who don't rely on morals to guide them, only dollar signs. And I'm not even going to touch the nonsense that our president said about teachers carrying guns to protect their students (even though I can't imagine any of the teachers I know WANTING to carry a gun and certainly not SHOOTING a person, threat or not. Teachers, in case you've not noticed, tend to be empathetic people. They don't generally enjoy the idea of killing anyone.)

Nope. I want to talk about those kids, and all the kids watching them stand up for themselves and each other. I want to talk about the fact that my own children came home and told me about their new lockdown policy, that calls for the students to fight back, should a situation arrive at school. That's where we're at -- OUR CHILDREN ARE TAUGHT TO FIGHT FOR THEIR LIVES WITH STAPLERS AND WATER BOTTLES because adults have failed them. Government has failed them. America has failed them.

But those Parkland kids, and the kids that are walking out of schools all over the country, the kids coming home and having these conversations with their parents -- they already know that anything they want, they'll have to fight for themselves. Adults, especially those of us who are late Gen-Xers to Baby Boomer age, have spent the last decade whining about the entitled millennials and whatever we're going to call the next generation, the one that these teens belong to.

Countless think pieces have declared that technology and helicopter parenting and participation trophies have created generations of entitled snowflakes who believe that they deserve to have things handed to them. But if you look around, if you really listen, you'll see that these kids don't expect anything to be handed to them. They don't expect anyone to listen to them. Because, to be fair, nobody has been. And in truth, the generations before them have no concept of how easy their lives were, in comparison. 

Today's teens are so much more aware of the social and political consequences of the world around them than I was at their age. Or in my twenties. Or in my early thirties. Those smart-phones that their parents and grandparents are blaming for all the ills of the world stream information to these kids, all day, every day. They can't turn it off. They can't bury their head in the sand. My 9-year-old was discussing gerrymandering and the Supreme Court with my husband, last night. And he knew that gerrymandering had unfairly manipulated voting districts to swing heavily in favor of the party in control. He knew, and understood, that this wasn't fair and that it didn't fit into the framework of democracy that our Founding Fathers set up for us. 

He is nine.

For years, maybe decades -- hell, maybe since the stone age -- kids have been misunderstood by the generations that precede them. But this is different than those earlier generations. This is motivated by something very different from misunderstanding. The folks accusing the Parkland teens of being crisis actors don't misunderstand the desires of these kids. The people desperate to keep assault rifles available to the general public don't misunderstand the motivations of these teens. 

This isn't misunderstanding. This is fear. Because those folks know that their death hold on America is slipping, and that what is coming after will be unrecognizable from the America of today. Young people, PoC, women, and the LGBTQ community aren't going to sit quietly for the next 60 years, until it's "THEIR TURN." 

We are watching the human race evolve. Young people -- beginning with the millennials and stretching all the way down to my 9-year-old -- understand the world around them in a way that their predecessors don't. They see each other and even if they don't like one another, they empathize with each other. Because there isn't a single one of them that won't have to pay $100k for a Bachelor's degree. There isn't a single one of them that hasn't watched the world change in this post 9/11 landscape and hatred and racism flare up in our so-called "Melting Pot". There isn't one of them that hasn't been taught from the moment that they entered school that they might die within those halls. And there isn't a single one of them who hasn't seen the people in charge say that their right to live, to be safe at school, was less important than some asshole's right to own a weapon that shoots 6 rounds per second.

Read that sentence again. Go ahead, I'll wait.

And so, they are doing what species do when their existence is threatened. They are evolving. They are getting stronger, and smarter, and braver, in order to stand up for themselves and what they believe. They see what is happening to the world and they're not putting up with it. They will be voters. They will be loud.

The generations before them were isolationist while fascists and Nazis took over Europe. They watched while Wall Street bought our government and sold our country. They looked the other way while civil rights were quietly squashed, one bullet at a time.

These kids have lived through the dystopia and they've already learned that no one else will be the hero in their stories, so they've evolved in order to do it themselves. And I, for one, couldn't be prouder of them.

Day 160

And what a day it has been! 

First and foremost, I beg you to let me smother you with the gorgeous cover art for THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH, which was revealed with much fanfare this morning by the fantastic folks over at YA BOOKS CENTRAL! 

But they weren't just kind enough to show off the cover. They also put up a two chapter excerpt, so that everyone can get a feel for what their in for, once the war in Yigris comes to a bookstore near you. AND they are giving away THREE signed ARCs of the book (For those of you who're new to book slang, and ARC is an advanced reader copy, which means that the winners of these ARCs will get to read the whole book 4 or 5 months before the rest of the world! So if that's a thing that you're interested in, be sure to head over to YA BOOKS CENTRAL and enter the giveaway. And take a look around at their fantastic site... they do a great job with reviews, there's an active, passionate community of YA readers, and they give away books, so... basically their the best.

I want to take the cover apart, just a little, because I'm finally allowed to talk about it. It's been a huge, burning ember of joy in the back of my head for a few months, now, so being able to share it is basically Christmas and my birthday rolled into one.

There's a lot going on in this cover, but the thing that I love the most is that eerie glow radiating out from around the castle. That lightening of shades around the castle can be seen two different ways -- some people see hope radiating out into the darkness that surrounds it. But some people have said that it reminds them of a slow burning fire, the embers just illuminating the palace enough to feel menacing. And I really love that, because this isn't a black and white book with black and white characters. This is the story of people who live in the gray area between wrong and right, and while I hope you'll cheer for our protagonists, they aren't always "good" people. And the "villains--" I'm not sure I wouldn't do exactly what they do, were I in their shoes. All villains believe they are the heroes of their stories, and that is a central theme that I really tried to remember throughout the story. And the amazing design team at Page Street managed to put all of that into one image and I couldn't have done it better if I'd tried. 

But the cover wasn't the only big news, today:

As of about 9:30 a.m., you can pre-order THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH at all major outlets. You can find it here at Amazon, or here at Barnes & Noble, or here through Indie Bound, which will help connect you to a local independent bookstore in your area.

In the next few weeks, I'll do a post on the importance of pre-orders in the success (or failure) of a book's performance, but for now, I just wanted to get the links out there and Squee about it, because, well... it's been quite a day!

And if that wasn't enough, my fantastic editor, Lauren, has sent out my very own ARCs-- which means that within a matter of days, I will be holding a book-shaped object that I created from ink and sweat and tears and about 87 canisters of Pringles. And when I do, you can bet your sweet sugar plums that I'll be posting about it, once I can breathe again.

Until next time, please enjoy the gorgeous cover. And if you need me, I'll probably still be here, basking in it's awesomeness. 

The Queen Underneath

Day 166

Thanksgiving feels a little weird for me, this year. I mean, let's face it -- as a nation, 2017 hasn't been a stellar experience. We've seen tumult, tragedy, and unprecedented divisiveness. Every day, the gap between right and left grows wider and seemingly more impossible to cross. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't feel like there's much to be thankful for. 

But personally, 2017 has been a banner year for me, and that leaves me both insanely grateful and also conflicted. It is hard to feel justified in my own personal victories when so many people are afraid of losing their healthcare coverage, their taxes skyrocketing, or have lost someone to gun violence in the last 12 months. And so, I feel guilt. 

But I cannot deny that I am incredibly thankful for the year that I've had, that my family has had. I am thankful for my eldest daughter, who continues to expand her independence as she moves through her college education. I am thankful for my eldest son, who has grown so much as an individual, this past year, and who is turning into a kind, generous, and thoughtful young man with big dreams of his own. I am thankful for my younger daughter, whose artistic abilities expand almost exponentially on a daily basis, and in whom I see the fire of the creative drive. And I am so thankful for my youngest son, who has outgrown many things, including his clothes, many of his toys, and his first chapter books, and grown into stories that we devour together, into the early grasp of empathy and compassion that makes my heart sing. I am thankful every day for a husband who works tirelessly to provide for all of us, who has supported my dream of writing from day one, even when I thought it was laughable. I am thankful for his utter faith in me, his laughter in my life, and his shoulder when I need it. 

Even more personally, I am thankful for the strength I've found in myself as I become more comfortable in my new(ish) day job. I am thankful for the amazing opportunity to take my children to see HAMILTON this year. I am super thankful for the opportunity I had to travel to NYC, the very first solo trip of my life. I am grateful for the expanded writing community that I have found a place within, the new friends I've made, the new networks I've been invited into.

And I don't even have the words to express how thankful I am for the opportunity to achieve the dream of my heart. One hundred sixty six days from now, a book that I wrote, with my name on the spine, will be available in the bookstore when I walk into it. It doesn't really feel real, even now. Even when I have put in all the work, I've seen the cover, I've discussed the marketing plan. I don't know if it will really feel real until the moment I see it on the shelf, hold it in my hand. Or maybe, it will always feel just a little surreal. And I'm okay with that, because magic should feel a little unreal. 

I've had to learn, this year, that it is possible to feel both joy and despair. That I can be ecstatic about my personal life and also anxious and terrified for the nation, the world, at large. I've had to learn that it is okay to enjoy the successes I achieve, so long as I'm also aware of the struggles happening around me. I have learned that I can be more than one person, more than one thing. And I'm learning that I don't have to be defined by one thing. I'm learning to say "No" to the things I cannot or don't need to be doing, and saying yes to more board games, more phone conversations, and more quiet moments with those that I love.

I am thankful for every minute that we've lived over the last year, I am thankful for the new opportunities that have come my way, and I am so very thankful for every person that has held me up while I struggled to get where I am. I hope that every one of you has a peaceful, perfect holiday and that you're surrounded by people who hold you up, when you need it. Health, happiness, and harmony to all of you, today and every day.


Day 203

Today is World Mental Health Day, and if I were a better person, I'd probably post about my own mental health, about how I fought against the very idea of depression and anxiety for so long because I had been raised to feel that it was a weakness to acknowledge it. About how when I finally realized that something was really, truly wrong with me, I'd been secretly sleeping my entire days away for months. About how I went to my doctor and cried and told him that I had nothing to be sad about and yet I was just so sad and tired of everything. About how he gave me a pill and I slowly started to feel better. About how there are still good days and bad days, but rarely an I-need-to-hide-from-my life day, anymore. If I were a better person, I'd tell you to never give up, never feel like you are weak or that you have nothing to be sad about. If I were a better person, I'd tell you that depression and anxiety aren't really about sadness or worry, they're actually completely about chemicals in your brain. And lets face it, this world that we live in, this 2017 world, it's so full of garbage and toxicity that it's no wonder every person on the planet isn't chemically out of wack. There are better people to listen to about this. There are people who know more and have been through far more than I have, and I've read some truly devastating and uplifting stories on Twitter, today. I hope that if you are struggling, you'll reach out to someone - a doctor, a friend, a helpline, anyone. There is help and you are worth finding it.


But since I'm not a better person, I'm going to use Day 203's post to talk about the new trailer for The Lost Jedi. Hokey religions and ancient weapons are pretty much my bag, and I've had a fondness for Star Wars since I was little. I remember the first time that I really sat down and watched the whole original Trilogy, back to back. It was on TBS, probably 1989 or 1990. I was maybe 12 or 13, but I stayed up all night, racing to the bathroom when the commercials were on, just so I wouldn't miss a scene. I had watched all three of the movies separately, but I guess the whole picture hadn't really clicked for me. Not until that viewing. And when Vader announced that he was Luke's father, I cried. When Leia said "I love you," I cried. When Han was frozen in carbonite, I cried.  Watching Star Wars, that night, I was changed. I firmly believe that I first really learned about storytelling, that night. I saw the entire character arcs of the first trilogy and I realized how vast and beautifully developed the world is. The movies aren't perfect, but they are so much a part of our shared history, our shared mind-canon, that they feel real. 

And that's why I cried when I watched the new trailer. Han is gone, but there's still Luke, there's still Chewie. When Carrie Fisher's General Leia came on the screen, my heart hurt. She was a role model before girls had role models in the movies. She was smart and tough, witty and sexy. She was in control, and I worshiped her. Probably still do, a little. But I'm struck by the fact that these characters -- my old friends -- have aged. There is gray in their hair and wrinkles line their faces. They've lived a life that has damaged them, even perhaps broken them. And again, that makes them even more real. The fact that Leia and Han split up after the loss of their son, Ben, is so achingly true and honest, because what could be harder than that? The fact that Luke abandoned the world out of fear that he would lead another astray is so painful, so real, that my throat grew tight when I first saw him in the trailer. 

Their hearts have been broken. Their trust has been tested. Their love wasn't enough to make everything better and perfect. They have suffered, and some have died. More will suffer, perhaps more will die. They have lived, and so few Hollywood films really give us the grit and glory of aging. 

And though I know it's a movie, and I know that my life will go on -- that twelve-year-old part of me that stayed up all night finally understanding the scope of the original trilogy is getting scared. Will the good guys win? Will balance be brought to the force, and if so, is that a good thing? Will we watch Kylo Ren murder his mother, or his uncle, the way he killed Han? Will Chewbacca survive? Will the Millennium Falcon be destroyed? It feels like old friends are falling under the weight of too much despair.

It's all just so very 2017, and I need a new bit of hope. Maybe it's Rey, Poe and Finn, but I'm not counting Luke and Leia out, just yet. If they are struck down, they'll become more powerful than you can imagine.

Day 211

Today was a truly terrible day in the United States. A domestic terrorist gunned down innocent concert goers in Las Vegas, murdering at least 58 people and injuring over 500. Let's not mince words. This is just another dark mark on the record of a nation that continues to fight against gun control and be utterly in the pocket of the NRA. It is the worst mass shooting in US history, but after Columbine, after Aurora, after Sandy Hook, after The Pulse -- worst is just another line in the sand. They are all the worst -- and this nation should be ashamed. 

So because I am a writer, and because this is a blog about my writing rather than my political leanings, I want to discuss how events like this -- events in the real world -- can alter your writing.

The first thing that must be said about creating any art in this bleak, brutal world, is that sometimes, some days -- you simple cannot. Some days and some events push your mind too far, and there's no way you can find your way back into the world you're trying to create when the one you must live in is so painfully broken.

That's okay. That's reasonable and normal, and I've finally come to realize that it's alright. It's fine to take a break, to read a good book or watch a good movie or hide in your blanket fort. You cannot expect that the real world won't impact your work when you're building a universe from scratch.

But what happens when you are able to work? What happens if you are fueled by the pain and darkness of the real world and the words keep coming? Sometimes, that happens, too.

I had a great writing day, today. I finished revisions on a Middle Grade novel that I've been struggling to finish for a while. I blocked out the real world, stayed off social media, and dove head first into the world that I've created. It was a lot safer there, today. But I don't write in a bubble, and today, I watched tiny rebellions creep into my book. I knew, as I was writing, that I was being compelled and propelled by the day's events, and I embraced the words that came, because it was like a prayer. My fingers were whispering my deepest wishes for healing for this country and spelling them out in a world that looks absolutely nothing like our own.

For me, today, I rebelled through my work. Another day, I may not have the strength. That's okay. It's a long race and all you have to do to win is finish. Be good to yourself, be kind and do good for one another. Stay safe. The world is dark and more frightening that anything I've managed to imagine.

Day 219

In two hundred and nineteen days, my debut novel, THE QUEEN UNDERNEATH, will be released by Page Street. I've written that sentence and said those words countless times and yet... they don't quite feel real. There are moments that drive it home -- I got to see my cover a few days ago and it is so beautiful and so REAL -- and for a brief second, I could picture holding a book with my name on the spine in my hand. But it slips away, it drifts and turns to smoke. The reality isn't quite tangible enough for me to feel yet, but soon. Two hundred and nineteen days isn't that long. If I were pregnant with this book baby, I'd be nearing the end of the first trimester, and we know I can survive that long. Not patiently, but it can be done.

When I started this part of the journey (we'll talk about writing and querying agents and all that stuff another time), I didn't really know what to expect. I thought I'd do some revisions for my editor and then the book would disappear off my radar until one day I walked into a bookstore and saw it on the shelf. Or something like that...

But for anyone who is interested, I can tell you that this isn't remotely what goes on. I signed the contract with Page Street in February, 2017, but we'd been talking with them since the previous August and I had already done one round of revisions for them before we had a formal offer. The deal was announced in March and I received my first rounds of notes from my editor at the beginning of April. While I was working on those notes, my acquiring editor, Alyssa, left Page Street. I was sad to see her go, and more than a little paranoid about what would happen with TQU, but my amazing agent, Rena, talked me off the ledge and said, "This happens all the time. It'll be okay."

I finished my revisions and submitted them to Lauren, my new editor. I'm a big enough person (now) to admit that I was terrified. Lauren didn't have a relationship with me or my story, yet, and I was worried that she wouldn't love it or care about it.

Sidebar: This was totally rookie paranoia. Lauren has been super awesome. She dove head first into my seedy underworld, embraced my story and my characters, and has done everything she can to make my book a success. And Alyssa, sweetheart that she is, writes to check on me and the book frequently, despite having moved on from the project. While I wholeheartedly acknowledge every author's right to choose their publishing path, I always knew that I couldn't succeed at self-publishing, and this is why. I need these amazing cheerleaders who have taken my story -- a conglomerate of mishmash and nonsense -- and helped me sculpt a novel.

Anyway, I have now revised TQU for Page Street four times, plus worked through copy edits with my copy editor, Ruth. In fact, today (Day 219 prior to publication) I sent in another version. I think this is *close* to being the end result, but editors are not messing around. They know their stuff, and Lauren's not about to let me slide at this late date.

So, I do what they ask. I fiddle and reword, clarify and simplify. And every time I do, I see the artistry and collaborative energies that have gone into every book that has ever been published before. I begin to understand the art of the business, and I am in awe. I hope that I can manage to help every person that has helped birth my book baby, but if I don't, it's due to my own ignorance. 

I had no idea what it took to produce the stories that I have loved, my whole life, and now that I'm starting to understand it, I realize that my heroes weren't just the authors the put words to paper, but the editors, publishers, agents, and designers that fought to get it on the page.

Thanks for being on this journey with me.

Out with the old...

So, now that I'm a big time, fancy author (or you know, I play one on t.v.), I've decided that I needed an author's website. This is actually kind of important. No matter how much I thought writing was about sitting down and hammering out sentences... there's a lot more to this author stuff. So here's my new website, and my new, glamorous blog. (Let's hope I do a better job of blogging here than I did on the old one.)

Which brings me to the point of this tiny, not that interesting post. If you are desperate for some nonsense or 'wisdom' that I typed a while ago, it is still here, for now. I cannot guarantee how long it will be there. I don't have any plans to tend to that old site, any longer. But it's there for now.

As they say -- Out with the old, in with the new.