Loving your story through rejection

 

Hi all. So I’ve been querying for quite some time, and safe to say, it is not going well. I had one spark of optimism during PitMad when my dream agent liked my pitch… yeah, that didn’t go anywhere.

But I’m not going to lie, querying has been this long roller coaster of dread, doubt and despair. Yay, alliteration.

As the rejections keep piling up, it gets harder and harder to stay motivated to keep chasing this dream, or to even think that I’m even worth achieving the dream. Cue tears. So I’m trying desperately to keep writing, keep pushing forward, and most importantly, keep loving my stories.

Because here’s the thing: If you don’t love your stories, who else will? GUARDED (the book I’m querying) means the world to me. Writing that story made me feel like my PTSD had a purpose, like there was a reason I went through that trauma. The MC Kjersten took on my MH struggles and was able to learn how to cope with them to create meaningful relationships with people, something I can only dream of one day being able to accomplish.

Somewhere along the lines, I’d forgotten these things because the rejections convinced me that the story was worthless, which in a roundabout way, meant that my trauma was meaningless, which of course lead down a deep, dark rabbit hole of awful. Woo!

Luckily, I have a brilliant friend who entertains my rants regarding what the industry deems “sellable.” Because that’s legitimately what publishing comes down to. You could do everything right. You could go to the conferences, take the webinars, take part in critique groups, enlist beta readers, and revise, revise, revise. But at the end of it, if whomever you’re querying doesn’t believe your story is sellable, it’s a rejection. Plain and effin simple.

That’s not a reflection on your writing or your story. And as difficult as it is to accept that – because believe me, I know that struggle – you can’t let those rejections tarnish your love for that story or how important that story is to you.

Wishing you the best,
B

Sometimes You Can’t Push Past The Crap, and That’s Okay.

So originally, I was going to write a helpful post of how to budget your energy to achieve your goals. Because let’s face it, living with mental illness is a draining, exhausting endeavor. And I’m sure I’ll get back to that post at some point in the future, but as I was rounding out the second paragraph, the Superbowl started.

Everything was fine. The Schuyler Sisters rocked America the Beautiful. Atlanta was kicking Brady’s ass. Twitter was a semi-happy place for the first time since the election. And Lady Gaga gave a phenomenal Half-time performance that had me crying because BORN THIS WAY!

Then everything wasn’t fine. Patriots came back. Richard Spencer (the Nazi who got punched) was rejoicing the white-ness of the Patriots. And reality hit like a double decker bus speeding out of hell.

Safe to say, that budget-your-energy post kinda disappeared into the abyss of my irritation. I’ve taken on quite a lot (for me) this past month and that paired with new awful Cheeto-related disasters happening on a fairly daily basis, my ability to rebound from depressive states has pretty much disappeared. I’m trying. I swear! Hence the blog post.

But Holy Crud is it difficult. I love my country. I served in the Army for several years and spent one of those years in Iraq. That deployment was what got me into this little mental health pickle I’m now in. And funny story, my PTSD has very little to do with the incoming rockets our base took on a regular basis. My PTSD is the result of being used as a scapegoat for men’s incompetence. My PTSD was caused by my own effin countrymen.

So seeing the current state of America and how millions of lives are being destroyed by ignorance and incompetence and greed, it all gets a tad overwhelming to deal with. Because what was the point of my military service if people can’t love freely, if people can’t worship freely, if women can’t walk down the street without getting sexually harassed, if black men can’t walk down the street without getting arrested (for no good reason other than their skin tone), if refugees can’t find solace within our borders, or if First Nation Americans are being brutalized for protecting THEIR land from Oil-Industry greed. And let us not forget our allies who helped American troops overseas and at home, who had our backs in war zones.

I love my country. But I keep falling back on the same fear I had in Iraq: what if the people who I could supposedly count on could benefit from hurting me? This is always on my mind, and I can’t remove that filter from my eyes as I look at my family who all voted for the Cheeto and who refuse to follow what his actions are doing to this country and our allies.

But like Iraq, I have things to do. So here’s me, seeing the shit storm, pulling up a poncho, and hunkering down to achieve my goals. Because, in the words of Maureen Johnson, Trump doesn’t get to steal my joy.

So it’s been a while…

 

Hey everyone. First off, I just wanna thank ya’ll for sticking with me this year. I know I kinda fell off for a while, and by while I mean several months. Second, this isn’t going to be so much of a writing post as it’s more of an explanation and apology for my disappearance this year. I wish that I had good news to share, that my absence was related to some awesome thing, but in truth, my mental health just took a huge dump at the beginning of the year and it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to pick myself even slightly off the ground in order to “feel” like myself.

For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you know I’ve struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms since my deployment to Iraq as a Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Army in 2011. The symptoms would come and go and shift and change, but for the most part, they were bearable.

Then 2016 happened and multiple things hit me in succession. My dog got poisoned by mothballs (she’s fine, no worries), a couple important relationships in my life rapidly and completely deteriorated, multiple PSTD triggers were hit, then I needed to find a new living situation (because of one of said relationship failings). So I moved back to Iowa at the end of January and attempted to pick up the pieces. Started weekly therapy sessions at the VA, started taking medication, and attempted to find a new job.

The longer trying to get a job took, the harder it was to sustain what little self-respect I had, which didn’t exactly help on the depression and anxiety end of things. Neither did the lack of compassion from certain people who just didn’t understand PTSD or didn’t want to understand it.

And of course, the worse my self-esteem became, the harder it was to face the things I loved or what I thought “defined” me. Writing was one of those things. Being a writer was everything I wanted since I was an itty-bit and because everything else that was important to me had failed, it seemed easier to put writing and everything attached to it inside a safe little lockbox in the back of my mind.

So I avoided it. All of it. The Manuscripts. Friends. Family. Twitter. The Blog. Critique Partners. TBR Books. Everything.

Next thing I knew, it was May and I didn’t recognize myself.

Now we’re at the tail end of August and I’ve lost most of 2016 to crappy mental health. Oy vey. The goals I’d set at the beginning of the year are near impossible to achieve. But I’m trying. It’s a daily struggle, but I finally have enough of a grasp on things that I can [somewhat] see a pale little light at the end of this very long, dark, narrow tunnel.

I’m happy to say that I am back to writing, more or less. Wrote a chapter last week that needs a crap ton of editing before it’s even remotely readable. But hey, one word at a time, right? And I’m reading again! Which is huge. Getting back to blogging three times a week is going to take some time, and I have no idea what these new posts are going to look like because I have a lot of catching up to do with the industry, not to mention my own work. But I have to [re]start somewhere, right?

Thanks again for sticking with me! It means more than I could even begin to say!

– Bree

Beautiful People Link-up: Resolutions & Goals

During Oct-Nov-Dec last year, I participated in the link-up Beautiful Books, created by by Sky of Further Up, Further In and Cait of Paper Fury. The rest of the year, they host the meme Beautiful People, which consists of ten questions about writing and works-in-progress.

This month, the meme is focusing on resolutions and goals.

1. What were your writing achievements last year?
I had the first book, GUARDED, in my series beta-read, then rewrote the manuscript based on the feedback. I also won NaNoWriMo2015 with 65k toward book 3.

2. Tell us about your top priority writing project for this year?
My top priority this year is querying GUARDED. Right now that means adding new chapters from a second POV, revising said chapters, revising the whole MS for continuity, then doing a couple rounds of polishing. I’m not intimidated at all…

3. List 5 areas you’d like to work the hardest to improve this year.
No. 1 – Improve my copyediting skills. I’m currently taking a course through Writers Digest, so I’m on my way with that one.

No. 2 – Expand on skills developed in 2015. I spent a lot of last year learning how to write a fuller narrative. It still feels a little foreign at times, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to set those skills more firmly this year.

No. 3 – Improve world-building capabilities. I feel like I’m always battling the info dump or not providing enough details in my settings. Here’s to hoping I find the right balance.

No. 4 – Keep my mind open to new, creative possibilities. This might seem weird, but sometimes I get so focused on where I think the story should go that my mind closes off to all the awesome things my characters/world are capable of. [And now it’s time to sound like a nutter.] They’ve spoken to me a lot this past year, revealing things I didn’t even know existed inside my own fictional universe. I know there are plenty more secrets to discover, so I hope I’m open enough to listen.

No. 5 – Stop letting my PTSD get in the way. Though I’ve made some progress, I still have a ways to go. I have this stupid thing that happens whenever a trigger gets hit: I give up. Well, to me it feels like I give up. In reality, it’s more that I’ve fallen into a deep, dark well, and I have to claw my way up the slimy, slippery stone walls to get back to working order. Depending on which trigger is hit or the condition of my support system, it can take hours or days or even weeks.

4. Are you participating in any writing challenges?
I try to participate in the monthly twitter writing challenge where you’re to write at least 500 words a day. To learn more about the challenge or to participate yourself, visit writingchallenge.org.

And of course I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo2016! I’m a big advocate for the vomit draft, so NaNo is right up my alley. I’ll be drafting book 4 of my YA Fantasy series this year.

5. What’s your critique partner/beta reader situation like and do you have plans to expand this year?
Right now, I have a couple brilliant writers who read my stuff when it becomes available. I’m not sure what the future brings in terms of my living/work situation. If I had my way, I would spend my days working on my books, reading/critiquing other manuscripts, or studying the industry. Hopefully one day I’ll get to that point. Then again… adulting…

6. Do you have plans to read any writer-related books this year? Or are there specific books you want to read for research.
I have a few books that I return to on a regular basis: The Kickass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglist, and Save The Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder.

7. Pick one character you want to get to know better, and how are you going to achieve this?
Piper Saunders. She’s the protagonist for book 2 in my YA Fantasy series. Her story is the first I ever wrote from beginning to end, but due to the nature of it being written when I was fifteen and still learning how to write a novel, it lacks in a lot of areas. I’ve completed the outline for the new version, which is completely different than the original, so I’m excited to see how the story and Piper evolve.

As for how I’m going to achieve this: I’m just going to take off the reigns and see what happens.

8. Do you plan to edit or query, and what’s your plan of attack?
Yes. All the above. The query for GUARDED is already set and vetted, so now I just need to finish the revisions on the MS and kick it out into the world. I suspect there will be a lot of crossed fingers and refreshing of the emails.

9. Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  What are the books that you want to see more of, and what “holes” do you think need filling in the literary world?
Umm, this is a difficult question because there’s a lot of cross-pollination of genres out there through small press publishers or self-publishing. If you want an awesome steampunk historical thriller, pick up Odd Men Out by Matt Betts. Paranormal alternate history? Steel Victory by JL Gribble. I’m sure there are small slivers open in the literary world, but what it really come down to for me as a writer is simply writing the book I want to read. The characters and worlds I create I need to love enough to spend years with. It has more to do with me as the creator than what I feel is “missing” in the industry.

10. What do you hope to have achieved by the end of 2016?
I’m really hoping to have signed with a literary agent by year’s end… *prays it doesn’t take years to find one who loves my work like I do*

 

BOOK REVIEW: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes is Tahir’s debut novel in YA Fantasy. Since its publication in April 2015, it’s received so much praise that it became a NYT Bestseller and was optioned for film. And because of its success, Tahir fans have demanded a second installment. Lucky for us, her publisher agreed.

Seriously though, this was a fantastic debut that truly lived up to the hype. Throughout the read, I felt the story nod toward other bestselling YA novels like The Hunger Games and Shadow and Bone, but the heart of Tahir’s story and characters was completely unique to her.

But onto the review…

NON-SPOILERY REVIEW:

An Ember in the Ashes follows the winding stories of two characters: Laia, a slave bent on saving her brother, and Elias, a solider who desperately wants freedom from the empire. There’s friendship, love, betrayal, action, intrigue, and of course we can’t forget brutality. I’m pretty sure this book has something for everyone to enjoy. Probably why it was optioned for film.

Tahir manages to sculpt this expansive, complex world with a rich history that is routed in both blood and mythology. Because she wrote in a dual first-person POV, we get every angle of the story: the slaves, the scholars (conquered people), the Empire, and the Empire’s underlings. We even get a taste of a much bigger conflict, which due to spoilers, I’m not going to put here.

The one thing that I absolutely loved about this book was the fact that every character had a backstory, motivation, and character arc. You see the painstaking, attention-to-detail, efforts of the author from page to page that has you invested in every character from top to bottom. And even though it is a fairly large cast, every single character is important. Tahir does a fantastic job at tying in each character thread that truly makes for a phenomenal read.

My only complaint was that sometimes the writing wasn’t consistent. There were moments that were absolutely breathtaking in gorgeous imagery. Then there were moments where the emotional impact was softened because the writing wasn’t pushed hard enough. Whether it was a ‘tell’ or a ‘cliché’, there were times where I wished Tahir had just pushed a little further to really make my heart break.

Granted, this is a VERY SMALL complaint in the grand scheme of my enjoyment of this novel. If it weren’t for the fact that everything else was so beautiful and impressive, I may not have worried too much about it. But you know how it goes, once you prove you’re capable of something, people expect that same level of excellence ALL THE TIME.

Overall, I loved this book and am anxiously awaiting the sequel. I’m excited to see where this series, and its author, go from here.

NOW STOP HERE TO AVOID SPOILERS!

STAHP!

DON’T DO IT!

SPOILERY FANGIRLING:

Can we just take a second to admire the incredible world Tahir built in An Ember in the Ashes? Seriously, from the rich history of the Martials and the Scholars to the culture(s) and mythology, the world building was top notch and probably some of the best I’ve seen in a debut fantasy. The cultural struggles and strains go far beneath surface-level, and I think that’s what makes this book so special and so incredibly impressive.

I’m not sure which bit of world building was my favorite, so I’m going to cheat and say that it was the way Tahir unpackaged the world. Each page brought something knew and complicated to world. We start out with just a simple conflict: Scholars vs. Martials. Then we get Resistance and its different tensions. And Tahir pushes the world further still with the Augurs, their long game, and the Nightbringer and his history.

With the world building alone, there was no way this could be a stand alone, and I’m so glad I didn’t read this book prior to the news that the publisher had picked up the sequel. I would have cried. A lot. That ending, the mystery of what the Nightbringer has planned, the romance(s), the still-unknown long game of the Augurs. I NEED MORE! MORE!!!!

Moving on, THE CHARACTERS! I know I said this in the above section, but I really am impressed by the fact that Tahir gave every character a backstory and motivation, not just with Elias and Laia but all the secondary characters as well. We even see a little humanity in Marcus after he killed his twin. And despite the absolute CRAZY the Commandant’s got going on, we even get a glimpse into her motivations. But in the words of Sherlock Holmes, I suspect there’s a larger game afoot, specifically with her tattoo and her connection to the Nightbringer.

I did sympathize more with Elias than I did with Laia, especially in the beginning. The first third of the book was a lot of character development and story set-up, which I had a little trouble trudging through. But the moment the trials started and Laia started working at the Commandant’s house, the pace TOOK OFF! The moment the Augurs got involved, I couldn’t put the book down.

Moving onto the writing because I mentioned it above. Overall, I found the prose beautiful and lyrical. Tahir manages to capture the very essence of humanity and lay the souls of her characters bare for the reader. But there were a couple moments where I wanted more from the writing. Specifically, the scene where Helene (who I LOVE because she reminds me of Liraz from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy) vows her loyalty to Marcus. This is a huge, heartbreaking moment for Elias, and I just needed more. I wanted to cry, to feel the heartbreak and the abandonment, but I didn’t. The moment came and went so quickly.

The only reason I’m even able to say the above is because Tahir brought us torturous scenes that were beautiful in their brutality. The scene where the Commandant carves that ‘K’ into Laia, for example, was incredibly intense and painful.

I’m so excited for the sequel, A Torch Against The Night, to come out (slated for August 2016). This debut was sure to be the start of a phenomenal and impressive career for Sabaa Tahir.

What about you? What were your thoughts? Leave a comment below so we can discuss!