The Screaming Fire Baby Monday, Jul 20 2015 

  Imagine someone shoves a baby made of molten lava at you. You are not allowed to drop the baby.

The baby is screaming.

It’s also on fire.

Now, try to go through your day holding this screaming fire baby. Imagine too, that you must hide the baby from everyone you come into contact with during the day. If you’re lucky, you can find something to distract yourself from the howling lava thing. But it’s always there.

It’s really effing hard to feel confident, energetic, or focused when you are taking care of that Screaming Fire Baby.

That’s about what it feels like for me when I am having an anxiety attack.

I’ve had a generalized anxiety disorder for most of my life. It started in late middle school, probably around the time I was getting bullied at school. My first full-fledged Screaming Fire Baby experience was in seventh grade.

For a long time, people said different things about it.

“Oh, she’s not good with change.”

“She’s homesick.”

“High-strung.”

“Too sensitive.”

“Drama queen.”

This is probably how I learned that it’s important to hide the SFB from the general public. Nobody wants to deal with my stupid problems anyway.

When I tell people, “I’m having a panic attack,” the response is usually to back away slowly. Because mental illness is catching, right? Or they say something along the lines of, “Everything is fine! Just breathe!” What I want to say is, “No, motherfucker, things are most definitely NOT FINE.” I get it. They can’t see the Screaming Fire Baby. They have never held a Screaming Fire Baby. They don’t know what to do. And they’re like, “Good luck with that thing. Come see me when you’re normal again.”

Several years ago, my GP convinced me to take an SSRI and it was life-changing. No more Screaming Fire Baby! Finally, I could have a life and be happy. YOU probably take your Happy for granted. You probably have a Normal Happy. I didn’t. Then I did. Now I don’t any more.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to go off my medications (for reasons I’ll save for a post later). And now the SFB is back. I’m thankfully past the part where I literally want to cry EVERY. SINGLE. SECOND. That I’m awake. But I’m on edge, I can’t sleep, and I’m always two steps from a crying mess.

I think it’s important to talk about these things, and lately I’ve appreciated things like projecurok.com and actor Wil Wheaton’s discussions of his own depression. So there you go. I hope you don’t have to deal with a Screaming Fire Baby. 

Readin & Writin Tuesday, Apr 28 2015 

Y’all, I read Lexicon by Max Barry and OMG was it good! I happened to see it suggested to me on Amazon and after some research, I had my book club read it. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it. You can read about it at the link above.

In my own writing world, I’ve been submitting my YA alternative history to agents. I’ve gotten some great feedback and I’m sure I’ll make a match soon. While that’s going on, I’m also working on a draft for a new story. It’s an urban fantasy that I like to think of as Buffy meets Dresden set in my hometown.

I’ve been back at my improv group, performing and practicing. In a month or so I’m actually going to improv camp. (Yes, they have improv camp.) Improv has really helped my writing and I continue to see the two work together in fun ways.

I haven’t been doing much graphic recording lately. I would quite like that to change, going forward.

Kentucky Writing Workshop Wednesday, Feb 11 2015 

Last week I joined about 50 of my writing peers for a Writer’s Digest Kentucky writing workshop: a one-day event on writing, publishing, and stuff like that.

I’ll level set here: I am not a published author and I don’t have an agent (yet!). I have officially written three novels. I have been through the query/rejection process. I have a master’s degree in literature with a focus on creative writing (my thesis was a collection of short stories). I do a lot of research, reading, listening, and asking about writing, publishing, agents, and marketing. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being someone with zero experience or knowledge as a writer and 10 being Steven King, I’d say I’m a solid 5. Maybe a 6. So that’s where I started.

Going into this, I had no idea what to expect, so I wanted to share more about my experience here. I hope you find this hepful if you (like me) frantically Googled every variation of “what do do in a pitch session with an agent” or “oh god how can I write a two-sentence elevator pitch for a really complicated 70,000-word YA alternate history fantasy steampunk novel?????”

I was able to do this day-long event because I took a vacation day from my Day Job and there was someone home to watch Thing 1 and Thing 2 and thanks to Pater Familias’ support. Which was awesome.

Logistics

Here’s how the day went, in terms of logistics. Then I’ll talk about the stuff I found helpful.

Actually, let’s start before that. I signed up for a query critique by the instructor before the event. It was returned with his comments before the workshop so that I could change it to show people AT the event.

Check in: Pretty typical. It was at a hotel so parking and such wasn’t a big deal. What WAS kind of a big deal (and they warned us about this in the pre-event emails) was that the kitchen was being remodeled and they had no refreshments besides water. There is a Starbucks close by, and lots of restaurants, but jeez… Mama needs her Diet Coke! So I brought my own.

We were also given the option to bring the first page of our manuscripts without any identifying information (more on that later). I handed over my copies of my first page, got a folder, and found a seat.

The sessions (the instructor called them speeches) covered the differences between traditional and self publishing, how to find an agent, a reading of the first pages people turned in, and marketing. The only break was lunch, but of course you could get up and use the loo or whatever when you felt like it. Because adults.

There seemed to be a varied mix of people there, in terms of genre, age, published status, and where folks were in “the journey” of writing books. There were noobs who didn’t know a query from a crack in the wall. There were people who’d sold directly to publishers. Self-published authors. And everything in between. The woman in front of me had written a “mem-wahhhh.” During the first page critiques, a woman behind me got frustrated with the number of entries that were some version of paranormal. Every time the moderator said, “This on is paranormal romance/thriller/fantasy,” she would huff. “Another paranormal?” Good lord, they’re ALL paranormal.” I really wondered what she was writing and why she was so down on this genre.

And the last element: agents pitches. You could pay for 10 minutes with the agent(s) of your choice from those attending. There were five agents and I bought slots to pitch two of them.

Pitchin Pitches

I won’t say I was terrified, because I can think on my feet pretty well. I was a little nervous. Little butterflies-in-the-tummy feeling. But one of them is a friend of my famous writer friend and he knew I was coming to talk to him, which kind of took off some of the pressure.

This is how it worked: They sent out the pitch schedule ahead of time so I knew I had 10 minutes with one agent in the morning, and 10 minutes in the afternoon with the other.

All we did was get up from the lecture and go sit down in a room with all the agents at different tables. My plan was (and I stuck to it pretty well):

  • Give them a copy of my one-pager (I’m going to cover this later in a different post, so check back) It had all the following: Logline, pitch, all my contact information, where my book fits in to the culture/landscape.
  • Tell them genre and point to it on my one-pager  YA alternative history fantasy
  • The pitch (also on the one-pager) One girl stands between Hitler and World War II. If she can master her own magic, she can stop his doomsday machine.
  • The logline It’s a gender-swapped steampunk Star-Wars. (and) Leia Skywalker versus demon Nazis.

Then we just talked about whatever the agents wanted to. One asked for a writing sample – thank goodness I’d brought extra copies of my first page and my query letter. One asked what else I was working on. They asked me what my background was (which is when I give the BA in English, MA in Lit, creative thesis spiel). Both of those agents asked for a query and the full manuscript.

Now, after the anonymous reading of the first pages, one of the five listening agents gave the moderator a list of five authors she’d like to see more of the work from. I was one of those. However, one of the agents I’d paid to see is her partner so when I met with the paid-for agent, I mentioned this. And when I sent the materials requested to the paid-for agent, I made sure to say, “X wanted to see this, too.”

And a fourth agent who recently met my author friend Gail  so when I introduced myself, she actually said, “You know Gail.” And ended up asking for a query and some chapters.

Most Helpful Things/Things I Wanted More Of

Given where I am in my Journey to Being a Published Author, I got the most out of pitching to the agents and the critiques of the first pages. I also got a lot from the discussion of marketing.

I imagine it’s hard to prepare a workshop like this that will appeal to all the different kinds of writers you’re likely to have in such an event. You can’t just talk to the lowest common denominator but you can’t only talk to people who have a lot more experience. I think the workshop did a pretty good job of balancing that, though.

I was hoping for a little more hobnobbing among participants. A couple of people seemed to be making a point to network and talk to other people, but it seemed like most of the group was pretty….standoffish? Aloof? I don’t know. I love talking shop with other writers and I tried to get to know people. Only six people came to the “after party.” And I’m the one who made that happen – I ran around like a goofball telling people “some of us are going to XYZ to have a drink and chat!” I don’t mean I’m taking it personally. I just feel that it’s really important to get to know other writers because it’s a lonely job/hobby (jobby?) to be a writer and it’s really nice to know that I can shoot off a tweet or an email to a writer buddy and get a great response.

I’m lukewarm on the query critique. It was expensive but…this was my first experience with it and it wasn’t unhelpful. I don’t have much to compare it to. I definitely saw the benefits of having a query critique. I’m not saying I’m a fantastic query writer. I will say that my query for this book has gotten me more requests for full manuscripts than it hasn’t. I think if you’re really new at queries, or you aren’t getting ANY bites on the one you have, or you don’t have a good critique partner, and if you can pay for the crit…go for it.

TLDR: Pay for agent pitch sessions. Hobnob with agents and writers. Be professional. Don’t be a genre-snob.

 

 

 

 

Public Hilarity Monday, Jan 26 2015 

Before I got pregnant with the Thompson Twins, I was a regular performer with Project Improv, a local improv comedy group. I was looking for something creative that didn’t take up too much time, like a play or musical. I googled “improv in Mytown” and they were the first to pop up. A few emails later, I started practicing with them once a week. Within a month or so, I was in the shows.

I performed a few times while pregnant, but then I was just too unwieldy and nauseated to enjoy it. I was in my first show post-bebes last summer. With Husband’s work/school schedule I haven’t made many practices and no shows since then. The last two weeks, however, I did manage to get to practice and it’s been awesome. I probably won’t be in the February shows, but it’s ok. I can wait until March when our schedules shift again.

Improv, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Confidence Much in the way I assume child beauty pageants help kids who don’t even have their own teeth yet to be more confident, improv has made me feel less anxious in social situations.

Currency I’m average looking, of average intelligence, and I don’t have much money. So I’ve learned to use humor and candor as my currency. I often say that the only reason I have friends, a husband, and a job is because I am funny.*

Yes, and… The core philosophy of improv is ‘yes, and.’ There are other rules in improv, but this one is the Prime Directive. It means you’re listening, you’re open to possibilities, and you are ready to contribute to the adventure. It is a really good way to live your life. Amazing things happen when you say yes, and build on it.**

It doesn’t matter. I am a very self-conscious person. And I’m learning that other people’s opinions and asshattery don’t matter to me very often.

 

*I’m not fishing for compliments. I just realize I am never going to physically look like…whatever. And I should just do the best with what I got.

**Until you are familiar with the use of ‘yes, and…’ I don’t suggest using it on dates or at work.

My First Workshop Friday, Jan 23 2015 

In a few weeks, there is a writing workshop here in my hometown. I’m all signed up and paid to go, get a query critique, and have a 10-minute visit with two different agents.

I’m feeling really nervous! This will be my first REAL SRS workshop. I’m not counting college/crit groups or grad school. I did A.C. Crispin’s workshop at DragonCon a few years ago, and it was so-so. I’m glad I went and did it, but I don’t think I’d go again. (There’s a post about that experience somewhere on here but I am entirely too lazy to look it up right now.) So that kind of doesn’t count, either.

I don’t know what to expect. I’ve asked my Real Writer Friend (TM) how I should approach this and what it would be like. I asked, “What do I do? Am I supposed to do a dramatic reading of my query letter? Is interpretive dance encouraged? And do homemade bourbon balls count as bribery?”

(I really hope I can do the dramatic reading. Possibly WHILE eating the bourbon balls, because duh liquid courage and it’s the state beverage here and if it isn’t it SHOULD BE.)

I’m trying to get myself into further editing mode before I hit this workshop. There are a couple of parts I really want to change. But I’m not motivated. For a couple of reasons.

1. I’m working on a totally new series and I’m loving it so stinking much that I don’t even want to bother with anything else. It’s like having a new baby and a teenager. I just want to hang out with the new baby, rearrange it’s blankets, tell it I love it. The teenager…eh…can take care of itself by now.

2. I’m afraid of putting a lot of effort into the manuscript then having it passed over completely forever. There. I said it. Scared to fail and scared to succeed, all right there.

So I started printing out the old ms. I like working analog sometimes. It forces me to stay focused rather than flitting around the pages getting distracted. I like marking the hell out of a stack of papers with colored inks and sticky notes.

And I keep resisting the following things for the WIP:

  • Entering Twitter pitch contests with my “Dresden Files meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer” query
  • Building my list of agents to query
  • Preparing a pitch for this second ms to take to the workshop with me
  • Asking for beta readers for the WIP

That said, it IS nice to have something else to focus on besides WHY ISN’T THIS BOOK GETTING AGENTED AND PUBLISHED NOWNOWNOW?????!!!

Writing and Reading Year in Review Monday, Dec 22 2014 

I wrote far less than I wanted to this year, but I’m giving myself a pass on that. I’ve been busy momming like a BOSS. That doesn’t mean I didn’t write at all. I finished my second manuscript, a YA alternative history fantasy, and it was chosen as an alternate in Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars.

I also started another totally different piece. It’s an urban fantasy set in a world where the veil between our world and the supernatural has dropped.  Beings from there (elves, gods, demons, etc.) and humans can come and go in each other’s worlds. I’m having a lot of fun writing it and for the first time I’m actually outlining before I write. (GASP WHAT???)

I read a few things this year but nothing that made my list of books I like to push on people, but I’m on Good Reads so you can look them up there if you like. Well, Burning Girls and Among Others were really good. They might be on the list mentioned above.

My plan for 2015 is to really buckle down and query for my alt history fantasy, finish/edit/beta test the second, and read a lot more. I’ve been lazy about reading, I confess.

 

Writing, and some news Friday, Nov 14 2014 

I entered Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars and was chosen as an alternate. You can see my pitch here. I got a couple of requests, as you can see by the comments. Even if I don’t end up with an agent at the end, this was fun and really good practice.

In other news, my good writerfriend Gail had this happen. If you’re in the market for a little MG fiction, check her out.

Alternating Current Thursday, Nov 6 2014 

excited-anna

I entered this contest with my YA manuscript and am an alternate. Out of almost 2,000 entries, I was chosen by the lovely and talented Virginia Boecker as her alternate. This week, we get a little spotlight of our own in the Alternates Showcase.

This has been a really fun experience, mostly because Virginia has been such a cheerleader. I’m not even her first draft pick but she’s super enthusiastic about my manuscript, which is awesome because…I’d been having a crisis of faith in it myself. (Shhh don’t tell the manuscript. I don’t want to hurt its feelings.)

If you’re a writer or a wanna-be writer or (even better) an AGENT, please go check out all the awesome entries. If this is the crop they chose, the original entries must have been incredibly difficult to pick from.

Books and movies Wednesday, Oct 15 2014 

There are VERY few instances when I will like the movie version better than the book. Sometimes, I might enjoy it in its own right, like the Harry Potter films. I like the books. I like the movies. But others? Not so much.

I won’t put any spoilers here, but I will simply say, I liked the first 2/3 of Gone Girl. The third part made me want to throw the book against the wall but I was reading on a Kindle and I can’t afford to replace it so I didn’t.

I liked the movie version. I really did. That’s all I am going to say. I think I have a GoodReads post about it so you can look it up there if you’re interested.

 

The Most Epic Slumber Party Ever Had Thursday, Sep 18 2014 

For a long time, I have used the slumber party as my standard of friendship, either offered or imagined. It likely stems from attending many slumber parties as a kid.

When I was growing up, it was typical for girls to have sleep-overs for their birthdays. There was usually pizza and cokes involved. By junior high, there was also an element of pranking – if you fell asleep first, you’d find your bra in the freezer. Once we poured water in this girl’s ear and she didn’t even wake up. I don’t know if she wondered how she got swimmers ear or not…

I went to a small private school and everybody was pretty much invited to everything. That’s how we rolled. You didn’t exclude even the weird kids or the shy ones or whoever – you either invited all the girls or you just had your one best friend. That was ok, too.

I saw my first R-rated movie at a slumber party. Her mom rented us two videos (this was back when people were just getting home VHS-tape players and you had to go to these special libraries full of movies that you would rent, watch, rewind, and return. It was crazy, y’all.): My Side of the Mountain and Chariots of Fire. If you haven’t seen these fine, fine pieces of cinema…well, you’re not missing much if you are an eleven-year-old girl in the mid-1980s. After her mom went to bed, we found a copy of Beverly Hills Cop in the back of the entertainment center and let’s just say that the strip club scene was enlightening.

I wasn’t a great slumber party participant, to be blunt. I have never enjoyed staying up late and I get cranky when I do but I never wanted a frozen brassiere so I fought sleep until someone else caved then I would crawl under the pool table with my sleeping bag and pass out. I was entirely too awkward to call boys and ask them who they liked.

But by high school, I had a lot of friends and we had some kick-ass slumber parties. I’ve been to and hosted my fair share of such events, plus I have read about them, being the bookworm that I am.

Over the last few years I have begun composing a guest list of the Most Epic Slumber Party Ever Had. Besides my friends (obvs) the list includes a bunch of celebrities who I just KNOW would come to this party and we would be besties, if the situation was different and I was also a celebrity as well.

I don’t remember who the first one on the list was, but I know who the first person who would NOT NOT NOT be invited. Old goopy herself. I actually like Gwenyth Paltrow movies, but in interviews and stories she strikes me as really snobby and I don’t think we would be best friends at all. Not even a little. I think I would just feel inferior all the time with her.

Others on the list:

Emily Blunt: I like her sense of humor and I think she’d be really good at Charades, which we would play at my slumber party.

Ann Curry: Man, we would prank call the HELL out of Matt Lauer. “Is your refrigerator running? It is? Well you ARE AN ASSHAT! HAAAA!”

The Jennifers:

Jennifer Lawrence: Because duh. Also, she’s from Louisville so she’s definitely cool. She’d probably do anything in Truth or Dare, too.

Jennifer Garner: She’d be the one everyone would talk to about their relationship problems and she would nod sympathetically and braid their hair.

The Emmas:

Emma Thompson: Again, awesome at Charades and maybe we could prank call Hugh Grant and make Emma talk like Queen Elizabeth.

Emma Watson: I won’t even ask her about Harry Potter.

The newest addition to the list is Mira Sorvino. I have always liked her movies (Mighty Aphrodite was awesome, despite the Woody Allen thing, and Romy & Michelle!!), but I heard an interview with her on the Nerdist. I think we would be friends. Even though she is vastly smarter than I am, she is a normal and very interesting person. And she likes Star Trek so, check mark right there.

I tweeted about adding Ms. Sorvino to this list and you know what? SHE FAVORITED MY TWEET. That is the second time a Famous Person has acknowledged my tweets. The first time was when Susan Orlean (whose work I also enjoy) liked then RETWEETED a tweet of mine. I’m @thwritingspider, by the way.

I don’t know if you know this but…I am kind of a big deal.

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