I’ve been gone a while.
But I’ve got news! For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter (shame on you! I’m @thwritingspider!) or are friends with me on Facebook (do not randomly friend me – if I don’t know you I won’t friend you), then you don’t know this news yet.
My first novel is set to be out next April (that’s 2017).
Cue the confetti cannon!
It’s an urban fantasy about a woman who is convicted of killing her entire family in a fire. She’s released by the FBI in exchange for becoming an agent to solve supernatural crimes.
Now I will start the process of prepping the manuscript for publication and building my platform. Which is marketing speak for…getting my name out there.
This blog will stay live.
I will keep you updated on where to find me online when that is set up.
I hope you will come with me on this new writing path! I’m very excited and so…yes. Ok. That’s it. Big news.
I told a live version of this story at the Moth Storyslam in Louisville, Kentucky.
I summoned Mormons. God help me, I didn’t mean to, but I did. All I wanted was a Book of Mormon, and apparently the Mormons don’t believe in FedEx, so it came via Missionary Express.
See, a couple of months ago, I was listening to a podcast interview of a man who is a former Mormon and writes science fiction. He uttered the two sentences that sent me down this holy rabbit hole.
“The Book of Mormon is Bible fan fic. It’s Joseph Smith’s work of science fiction and fantasy.”
As a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I had to know more.
I should explain that I am a recovering Catholic. My experience with Mormons had been pretty limited. I went to a dance with a friend in high school at her Mormon church, and all I remember is that if the couples danced too close? The girl had to then dance with a broom. As a good Catholic girl (at the time), I knew enough to leave room for the Holy Spirit. But I did get threatened with the broom.
Now, I will also cop to the fact that I had a lot of misconceptions about Mormons and their kooky cult religion. And yes, I’ve engaged in plenty of Mormon-mocking. The polygamy! Ha! The underwear! Ha!
But I needed to know more. So I invited the Elders who delivered my Book of Mormon to come over.
The first night they came, I peppered them with two hours of questions.
So, the Book of Mormon came from a guy with his face in a hat full of rocks?
How did the Nephites get to North America?
Special boat and a faith-powered compass.
And, why are there a limited number of seats in Heaven?
Uh, that’s actually Jehovah’s witnesses, not Mormons.
Does God really live on his own special planet?
Classified. You’re not a Mormon so you can’t know that.
They’ve come to chat a couple of times now. My friends tease me about adopting some Mormons. I joke about Mormon Book Club.
Here’s what I see in these guys: they’re kids. They are 20 year old kids who’ve left home for two years. And they’re someone’s children. I have sons and you know that changes how you see other people.
I am not here to defend the religion. But out of these talks, I have realized something about myself.
I am envious. I have always been envious of people who see their path in life so clearly. Who not only see it, but act on it.
These kids are door-to-door salesmen for a product that makes outrageous claims. Possibly the least outrageous is eternal salvation.
And it makes outrageous demands on its followers. A two year job away from friends and family to sell your strange religion in foreign lands. All while you’re at it, no caffeine.
The only two-year commitment I’ve ever made is that perm I got in the eighth grade.
These kids bear the wrath of an angry public. They’ve been spit on, screamed at. Guns pulled on them.
I will never become a Mormon, but I will probably continue to be amazed by their steadfast commitment and surety in their chosen path.
I’m not buying what you’re selling, kid, but I like your moxie.
I’m actually reading two things right now. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke, and The Kraken, by China Mieville. The latter I am enjoying immensely. Typical insane Mieville and reminds me why I love reading his books so much. The former is very interesting and I wanted to read it based on having watched the Syfy miniseries based on the book.
What I’m writing is far more exciting, at least to me.
I’ve decided to put my 2nd book in a drawer for a while. It got a lot of good responses from agents, but I don’t think it’s what they’re looking for right now.
I’ve started a series. And omg, you all….. I really love writing it. I don’t care if it gets published.*
It’s an urban fantasy about a woman who’s a Witch in a world where there are no more boundaries between what we know as Earthly life and the spirit world. So your nanny might be an Angel and your taxi driver might be a Vampire.
I have five books outlined as of the weekend and I want to finish outlining before I start writing the second book. Someone warned me not to fall into the trap many series writers fall into where you don’t have an end in mind and just keep writing your way through it, hoping the end will show up for you.
I can’t tell you how fun it is to invent this world. I love thinking about how, if there are no boundaries, what will that mean for politics? Religion? Daily life?
Coincidentally, Childhood’s End is kind of the same thread, although it’s aliens, not supernatural beings. So it’s cool to read how another person envisioned such an event.
I’m building my list of agents to query, and I’ve sent a couple out.
*Total hyperbole. I want it published for reals.
Here’s the query letter for this book, in case you were wondering:
Twenty years ago, the veil between worlds dropped and now Humans co-mingle with everything from Pixies to Vampires. Now you can book a trip to Hell as easily as you can go to Las Vegas and your waitress might be a Demon. For better or for worse, Supernormals are part of Earth life.
Five years ago, Tessa Reddick was wrongly convicted of killing her entire family with fire – 37 Witches from one of the most powerful covens in history. She’s been at Lakeland Psych hospital, still grieving and mad as hell at whoever put her there.
Today, a handsome FBI agent springs Tessa from the joint – but there’s a price. A series of murders is picking off Others and the feds need the help of the last known Reddick Witch.
Determined to learn who had it in for her family, help solve the crimes, and maybe get closer to her mysterious (and seriously hot) Dark Elf partner, Tessa is more than willing to play Nancy Drew.
But Tessa has few friends left and something is coming for her, too – maybe the one who framed her and killed her coven, or perhaps a new foe with a taste for Witch’s blood.
Dirty Work is an urban fantasy complete at 80,000 words: think Dresden Files meets X-Files with bourbon. It can stand on its own and has series potential.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
It’s October so what better time is there to talk about ghostwriting?
THERE IS NO BETTER TIME DON’T EVEN FIGHT ME ON THIS.
As a freelance writer, I have done some ghostwriting. It was mostly a pretty boring kind – articles for home care trade journals. That was a regular little job for a while, then the company went sort of in a different direction (the direction where they don’t want to pay freelancers for good work) and we parted ways. It was never my bread and butter, but I was happy to have the work that did come in, despite not getting my name on it.
I have also either bid for ghostwriting gigs or was approached to do them. In this case, the situation is the same every. single. time.
I get an email that says, “I have a story. I can’t write. You write it for me.”
Maybe we talk on the phone. Maybe we just email a little bit.
I send the person a proposal, which is really only to show the potential client the price tag before we get too far down the path and I’ve put in way more time and effort than it’s worth. I’m not preparing any contracts at this point, I’m not making outlines of chapters, nothing like that. There’s more information on the proposal…a general description of the project and my deliverables, a general timeline, contact information, and an expiration date. But really, this is to say, “I don’t think you know how this works so let’s save some time and get right to the money talk.”
And every time, it’s the sticker shock that kills the project.
People who want ghostwritten stories typically think that a) they have an amazing story that EVERYBODY will want to read NOW (they might but that’s very hard to predict), and that because of this fact b) they will make a million dollars and it will be a best seller (it might but that’s very hard to predict) because Nancy Whatsherface just published a story like mine and she is in the New York Times, and c) then they can just pay you with the money they’ll rake in from the sales of their book. And based on those beliefs, these people think that it’s OUTRAGEOUS that ghostwriters want a) a bunch of money, and b) a bunch of money UP FRONT. (THE NERVE.) Now, people aren’t always rude about this conversation. They are genuinely shocked – SHOCKED – that I don’t want to take a couple hundred hours out of my life for the next 6-8 months (in addition to having a full-time regular job because people don’t want to pay writers anything ever) to write about a stranger who found Jesus after being hit by a car driven by a drunk rabbi. Or whatever.
Without giving away all my trade secrets, I’ll tell you that a really crappy ghostwriter (think, a non-native speaker based in a country that is not the U.S.A.) will run you maybe $5,000. The average in the U.S. for ghostwriters is about $22,000. High-end celebrity ghostwriters (or ‘as told to’) can get up into the millions. I’m somewhere in the ‘reasonable for a ghostwriter of my experience level.’
I ask to get paid what I am worth as a writer. That’s all. People continue to be surprised that freelance writers (or graphic designers, or any manner of freelance artist) charge money. It seems like unless I say, “Oh it’s totally free!” then I’m charging too much.
What is it about writing that makes people say, “I am a terrible writer, I could never do that” in one breath, and “You charge too much to write” in the next?
One of the crummy things is, many of the stories I’ve talked to people about are really interesting. They are compelling and complex and they are stories that should be out in the world, being shared. This is especially true of a potential client I just spoke with. She has a really interesting story, it’s something I’d love to work on. But I sent her the proposal and I haven’t heard from her. It’s a shame, because truth is stranger than fiction and she could have a really great product on her hands.
A couple of weeks ago, I happened to see this on my Twitter feed. It’s a response by Kathryn Locke to the news that the book For Such A Time by Kate Breslin had been nominated for several awards by the Romance Writers of America. I think Locke’s response was really great, especially after I learned more about the book in question.
Quick synopsis of the book, which purports to be a retelling of the Biblical story of Esther: A Jewish* woman is saved from a firing squad by a Nazi camp commander (presumably because she’s blonde and blue-eyed). Pressed into service by SS Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, to maintain her cover as von Schmidt’s secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz. Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths, Stella appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric’s indulgence gives her hope even as she risks discovery with every attempt to help the prisoners. When her bravery brings her to the point of ultimate sacrifice, she faces an excruciating choice. She ultimately converts to Christianity (because God’s love will forgive everybody). (Even though Esther doesn’t change religions.)
Pause for record scratch.
Quick synopsis of the outrage: Breslin gutted the horror of the Holocaust and replaced the innards with her own Christian agenda.
I read the Amazon excerpt of the book and it’s pretty awful. For several reasons. The imbalance of power is so glaring, so obvious, that every single scene with Stella and the guards or the commander comes across like she’s a heartbeat away from getting gang-banged by a bunch of Nazis. And it’s difficult to understand how such a person would fall in love with her captor in a genuine way (Helloooo Stockholm Syndrome). It’s just unfathomable to me, given the way the characters are written. I absolutely understand the outrage in the wake of the book being nominated for those awards. (I’m not sure if there was any kind of backlash back when the book was published…? I think there should have been.) Also, I’m not clear on what the awards are awarding her for. From a purely academic standpoint the writing is…meh at best. And the plot goes beyond ludicrous into downright offensive.
The author seems genuinely shocked that anybody is upset. Her website even celebrates her “accomplishments” around the book. I haven’t seen anything where she accepts that her wholesale appropriation of the Holocaust and forgiveness of a genocide is at best clueless and at worst a mind-boggling cultural blindness. (People who lived through that time are still alive, for Pete’s sake.) She’s apologized, yes. And she maintains that her book was “born of compassion for the Jews.” Which still doesn’t sound like she understands the weight of what this book has done and what it means to a wider audience.
Something else that you should maybe know: I’m currently seeking representation for All the Devils, my manuscript that also takes liberties with Nazi Germany. Quick synopsis of my book: It’s a gender-swapped steampunk Star Wars set during World War II. It’s also an alternate history, as the U.S. did not win the Revolutionary War and remained a sovereign British nation. (Got all that?) There’s magic and Nazis and a different version of Hitler and horrors galore.**
When I read about the upset over Breslin’s book, I messaged my writer friend Gail, who is one of the only people who have actually read my whole book. I said, “This makes me nervous to send out my manuscript.” I thought, well, no one I’ve shown it to – agents, other readers, etc. – have said anything that would make me think I’m doing something wrong or insensitive. But then again, it sounds like nobody told Breslin she was on the wrong track until she got nominated for these awards. I admit, I haven’t sent out any queries about my book since I read about this and I wonder if I should send any more out at all. Gail said that the talk around Breslin and her book made her reluctant to send out her own books (but Gail isn’t writing anything at all inflammatory – I don’t think she needs to worry).
Around the time that this was going on, I also listened to two podcasts that relate. Interviews from Amanda Palmer and Jon Ronson – both on the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy. Without going into too much detail, both talk about what happens when you make statements or share ideas online that other people don’t like or disagree with or whatever. Ronson wrote a book about people like Justine Sacco whose lives have – for all intents and purposes – been ruined after making what amounted to stupid careless comments online. Palmer herself has been vilified for her own comments and ideas.
So what does all this background and rambling have to do with…anything?
I’ve been thinking about all of these things. I’ve been thinking about the culture of the outraged pile-on that the internet perpetuates. I think about how I’m guilty of outraged piling-on and how EASY it is to do that. A couple of typed words and a click or two and BAM I’ve added my voice to hundreds or thousands, maybe without really thinking about the whole situation. Without remembering that those are people.
Ronson makes a point that those people’s lives were ruined over one single moment of stupidity or ignorance. And that all of us have moments of stupidity and ignorance but we don’t get fired or threatened over it. Mostly they are just that – moments. They aren’t necessarily consistent with the greater arc of our lives or philosophies. Is social media the difference? Public shaming used to be a thing of the past, but it seems we have established a new pillory. A new way to put someone in the stocks to take their knocks from an angry horde. Is it more humane this way?
(I don’t want to make it sound like Breslin should be left alone or that she didn’t do something terrible. And a whole book that’s been written, revised, submitted, accepted for publication, published, then praised is vastly different from a 140-character tweet someone tosses off thinking they’re funny.)
I think what all this has led me to really think about is how I react to stories like Lindsay Stone’s. What she did was tasteless but I’m not sure she should’ve been fired for it. I’m also thinking more carefully about the things I put on social media. As an aspiring writer, I also think about my own work and how it might be perceived or received. And I wonder about another point Ronson made – will the defenders of people like Sacco or Stone be scared into silence because they fear backlash as well?
I don’t have any deep answers or enlightening things to say here, it’s really just me thinking through these issues. It feels like a responsibility as a citizen of the social media universe to at least consider these issues. Maybe you’ve had similar questions yourself.
*The back cover copy actually calls the character a “Jewess.” (>.<)
** Know an agent who would like this? It needs a home.
If you’re going to make stuff like books, paintings, dances, or sculptures, you have to experience stuff. You have to feed the Muse, so to speak. I believe that I don’t get writer’s block because I’m constantly looking for things to inspire me or my work. I thought it would be interesting to talk about what I do on a regular basis to keep the pitcher full.
1. Reading This one’s kind of a gimme, since I write. If you’re going to write, you have to read. I read in the genres I write in so I can see what’s been done already. Reading things that are done well are aspirational and reading things done poorly gives me hope (I’m like, “Hey, I can do this. And I can do it better!”) I’m in a book club that reads mostly literary fiction and mainstream nonfiction. For my own reading, I rotate between YA fantasy, adult urban fantasy or science fiction, and nonfiction about either creativity or, in recent times, parenting.
2. Podcasts I have a commute of at least a half hour in the morning and upwards of 45 minutes to an hour in the afternoon, so I listen to podcasts. I learn SO much and I am so entertained by these people. There’s a core group and I’m always checking out others. Here’s the core membership (all available on iTunes):
SNAP Judgement: Stories! I like to listen to how they put the stories together.
I Should Be Writing: EXCELLENT resources for aspiring writers. I can’t recommend this one enough.
Writing Excuses: See above.
This American Life: NPR junkies unite!
Freakonomics: I didn’t think this would have much for me, but I consistently go back to it so something good is happening, I think.
Radio Lab: Weirder than This American Life and more science-y, too.
Nerdist: Host Chris Hardwick interviews comedians, actors, writers, creators – and I get a lot of encouragement about continuing to just MAKE STUFF, even if I feel like nobody’s listening.
Improv Resource Center with Kevin Mullaney: See my next item.
The Moth: True stories told live – I’ve done local story slams myself and I love this one.
3. Improv I started performing with a local improv group about five years ago. I took a year off after the boys were born, and I’m back again. I’ve mentioned how helpful improv had been before here on the blog. In fact, my co-improv-cast-member and semi-famous published author Patrick Wensink teaches a whole class on this. I have found it easier to just write some words and work with them, rather than fret over every letter. Improv has taught me to just say “Yes, and…” see what happens.
4. Research I LOVE Wikipedia. LOVE. IT. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and discovered dozens of things to improve a story, or ideas about a new story, or weird stuff that just happens to fit into the story I’m writing. Some writers say they just put a place holder in the text as they write, so that they don’t get distracted by research. Like they’ll say “LOOK UP THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS” then wait until they’re done writing to do research. I say, let the distractions come because sometimes it leads you to the best place.
5. History channel My DVR is full of stuff I recorded about a manuscript I have been working on. But it doesn’t have to be something that you think you’ll use. Just record stuff you think sounds interesting.
More about my anxiety bullshit.
This is how it was before I understood that I have an anxiety disorder. Before I understood that my brain is very bad at producing chemicals that help me feel ok. That medication was really a key in feeling ok – better living through chemistry, indeed.
I can’t believe I felt this way for so long before I got help. And I sometimes mourn the person I could’ve been, the things I would’ve done if I’d gotten help sooner.
Because right now, I feel angry and sad that I can’t pursue the life I want because of this anxiety. I get it now, why people talk about what illnesses have “stolen” from them, because I feel that way about my anxiety disorder. I’ve lost all my confidence. I can’t see myself doing the things I want to do: Get a book published. Travel with my family. Just…feel okay. I can’t really think past the next ten minutes and how am I going to get through them?
I can’t enjoy my life right now. And that sucks.
I can’t enjoy my sons. I can take care of them, to be sure. But I cannot fully engage in enjoying watching them. I’m being eaten alive by worry for them, and for myself as a parent. Because my mind is saying, YOU’RE GOING TO FUCK THEM UP SO JUST FORGET ABOUT IT. THEY’RE GOING TO GROW UP AND HATE YOU.
I can’t enjoy my husband. He’s a full-fledged RN now, we have a nice house, we have a nice life. But my mind is saying, WHY WOULD ANYBODY WANT TO BE WITH YOU, YOU ARE A FAT, WEEPY, ANXIOUS MESS??
My creative work is suffering because I’m being eaten from the inside by doubt – Because my mind is saying, WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO WRITE A BOOK? NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR STUPID WORDS. Or, NOBODY EVEN CARES WHAT GRAPHIC RECORDING IS SO JUST PACK IT IN. Or, IMPROV COMEDY? MORE LIKE, IMPROV LAME. YOU’RE NOT FUNNY. SIT DOWN.
I can’t enjoy my friends, because my mind is saying, YOU TALK TOO MUCH ABOUT STUPID CRAP, YOU’RE NOT FUNNY OR CHARMING, AND YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE MONEY TO MAKE UP FOR THE NOT CHARMING PART. ALSO, SEE PREVIOUS NOTE ABOUT NOBODY WANTS TO BE AROUND A WEEPY, ANXIOUS MESS.
What might be the worst part is knowing that it’s not even real. It’s like a bunch of fun house mirrors, distorting reality so much that it seems impossibly true. I know it’s an illusion but that doesn’t make it one single bit better, except maybe helping fuel my patience. Because I also know that this won’t be forever. This is just a blip on the radar screen of my life, and when I”m through it, I’ll be back on the path to feeling better.
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.”
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.
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.