A Reflection on My Reaction to My First Negative Review

Note: As you read this post, you may notice I’m vague about the content of the review. You could probably go on Goodreads and figure out what I’m referring to, but I don’t want this to be seen as a response or rebuttal to the review. My goal is to capture my thought process as a new author seeing a negative review of their first novel.

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At some point over the past day, Link’s face was an accurate reflection of how I felt.

Up until this week, all the reviews that I’d seen for Power Surge have been positive, which of course, made me skeptical. Inevitably, someone was going to burst my bubble.

It finally happened. Someone who didn’t finish the book left a review without a rating.

I disregarded advice I’ve heard across the internet and read the review. I’m glad I read it, even if I was surprised by my reaction.

At first, my brain processed it like feedback from a CP or beta reader. I had to squash my instinct to explain why I wrote something the way I did, and then I had to squash my urge to reply thanking the reviewer.

I thought about what I could’ve changed in a scene the reviewer alluded to. I came to the conclusion that in general, I need to be more careful about how my main character and my narrative voice react to characters who say problematic things or hold problematic opinions.

After a day, I realized that in my mind, the review had shifted from what it actually was something completely different. I had latched onto to a specific phrase the reviewer mentioned and made the whole thing about that scene.

Early in the morning when I just wanted to go back to sleep, I took it personally, as if the characters flaws were my own.

I realized one assumption the reviewer made was literally wrong.

I thought that it was the only review people are going to pay attention to. No one else would buy my book. No agent or publisher will represent future works of mine.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief is good at keeping me from writing things I shouldn’t. Sometimes.

I thought the reviewer was wrong. I thought the reviewer was calling me out on an important issue. I wanted to thank them. I wanted to argue. I wanted respond, to know more, but I didn’t because writers need to leave readers and reviewers alone.

Instead of  filing the feedback aside for future work and moving on, as you can see, I obsessed over it.

But something good did come out of it.

It reminded me that just says they don’t like a character or can’t connect with a character in a published work, I’m shouldn’t think much of it, especially when I know other readers have connected to that character. That type of thing is subjective and varies from person to person.

If a character makes someone uncomfortable? That’s okay. I’ve read books with characters that made me uncomfortable too, but that didn’t mean that book was bad.

Different people react differently to different characters. A good chunk of this bad review was based off of things I think of as subjective, and some assumptions the person made because they stopped reading too soon.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief does not approve of something I wrote.

However, when I see a reviewer mention something harmful, like misogyny,  it is worth reflecting on. The reviewer mentioned a phrase a character used in a scene, and I think I could’ve done a better job showing the main character and the narrative voice’s disapproval of that attitude.

Now, that might not have fixed it for the reviewer, who might have perceived an overall tone that I’m somewhat oblivious to, but to me, that change would’ve helped.

If a reviewer calls an author out on problematic or harmful ideas, then the author needs to listen. They need to take that into account and reflect. Maybe the reviewer is onto something. Maybe they are misconstruing it or their reading is being influenced by some outside factor. Either way, it’s something for me to keep in the back of my head when I’m revising the sequel and other works, especially since I do tend to include characters who hold problematic opinions or say harmful things in some of my works.

Sometimes those characters change.

Sometimes I kill them.

Sometimes they don’t actually mean the things they say, but feel they are expected to act that way fit a certain mold…or they are just trying to piss someone off.

In future science fiction and secondary world fantasy, I’m open to leaving those characters out and writing about societies that have out grown a lot of the problems that plague Earth today. On the other hand, when I write books like Power Surge, urban fantasy with a contemporary setting, the nasty side of present-day humanity rears it’s ugly head.

Sometimes problematic ideas creep in unintentionally, stemming from things I may not realize I internalized. Other times, I think I am deliberate exposing the dirt and raking up the muck, yelling “Look! This is a problem! Do you see why?”

I need to careful that the narrative voice isn’t endorsing their harmful words and to remember that silence equals endorsement. I need to acknowledge that some readers don’t want to see certain harmful concepts represented on the page in any way, shape or form, and that if those readers pick up a book like Power Surge, they might have a problem with.

Books that ignore problematic concepts and try to show us a better way to live and think and act are incredibly important. Books that get messy and roll around in humanity’s, books that acknowledge harm ideas and punch them in the face are also important.

Reading a critical review of my book ended up being a thought provoking excercise that was worth the stress it created.

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Sometimes, I just need to keep swimming against the current, whether it is made of rejection, reviews, or anxiety.

If you are interested in reading Power Surge, for yourself, here are some buy links.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2TodlCV

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/power-surge-sara-codair/1129616729

NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/

Writing Questions: The Good, The Bad, and The Awkward.

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The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

January 2:

What are your favorite and least favorite questions people ask you about your writing?

 

The Good:

I love answering questions about writing and publishing.

How did you decide to write a book? What did you have to do to get published? What type of things do you do when you revise? What are your favorite editing strategies? What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

The above questions are among my favorite conversation topics. I love talking about the hows and whys of writing and publishing.

As a writing teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and researching how to help people (including myself) improve their writing. I’ve found one way to do this is to develop a good writing process, and as a result, I spend a lot of time observing, analyzing and tweaking my writing process. I love hearing how other people write as much as I love sharing what I do, what works about it, and what bugs I am still trying to work out.

Publishing is another topic I’ve spent countless hours researching. I still have a lot to learn, but I have a good base of industry knowledge that is growing every day and love answering questions about it.

Whether I’m talking about process or publishing, I find that I learn though explaining. Answering questions helps come to new  realizations and see things I didn’t know I knew. It prompts me to fill in gaps in my knowledge, to look at things from different perspectives, and to synthesize in new ways.

The Bad:

How is your book doing? How many copies have you sold?

If you have a writer friend or relative you care about, just do not ask them these questions. It might be okay if the book is on the NYT or USA Today Best Seller List. In any other situation, it probably sucks.

First off all, the writer probably doesn’t really know how their books are doing, especially if they are not self-published. Amazon tells the “publisher” how many copies were sold, so if a writer isn’t self published, they have to wait for monthly, or in some cases, quarterly statements to see how many copies sold in a set period of time.

It’s frustrating enough not knowing how many copies I have sold. It’s worse when I constantly have people asking me about it.

Friends and family have been asking me about Power Surge’s sales since a few days after it came out in the begining of October. I can make some guesses based off of the Amazon sales rank. For example, if I looked on Amazon and saw Power Surge ranked around 100,000, I could assume I sold one book today on Amazon. However, I have no clue if someone buys a book from iBooks, from Barnes and Noble, from my local indie book store, or directly from the publisher’s website, until I get my royalty statements.

The Awkward:

In the face to face world, I get pretty awkward pretty fast when people ask my what my book is about.

Online, if asked the same question, I can refer people to the blurb or take my time adapting a pre-made pitch for the question.

But ask me face to face? You get mubmled fragments about teenagers, Maine, and Demon Hunters, and my most awkward of all: “paranormal things.”

I’m pretty sure I’d sell more books if I got better at talking it up to the people at the dog park.

However, the most awkward questions of all are things like:

Are any of the characters based off of youself? What parts? Is anything in the book based off of something that really happened? The main character self-harms. Is that something you do?

Now, a more general question, like “what inspired you to write this?” is perfectly fine. However, when people start trying to use the book as a way to learn private things about my personal life, it gets very very awkward.

I know by calling the book “own voices” I am acknowledging that some the things that marginalize the narrator are also things I’ve experienced, but that doesn’t mean I want people walking up to me at a party and grilling me about which parts, especially if they are family. The last thing I want is people to think is that they can some how psychoanalyze me through my fiction.

Wrap-Up

If you want to talk to me about writing, I’m always happy to answer questions about writing itself, about the process and different ways to publish. I’m working on getting better at pitching Power Surge face to face. However, I prefer not to have to answer questions about sales I can’t really answer, and don’t want people using my fiction as an excuse to pry into my personal life.

2018 Publication Round-up

2018 is just about over, and while it may not have been my most fruitful year for producing new work, it was a fantastic year for publishing. My first novel was published. My short fiction and poetry appeared in nineteen publications

Of all of these, my favorite is my novel, Power Surge. For short stories, I’m most proud of “Ink and Ash” in The Society of Misfit Stories.

For flash fiction, it’s a tie between “You Won’t Believe How This Creature Changed Their Lives!” in Vulture Bones and “Roots” in The Cascadia Subduction Zone.

“Butter is Not a Dress” in Hashtag Queer Anthology Series is the best poem I have ever written!

If you’re looking for pieces to nominate for awards, check those out! Below is a roundup all of my 2018 publications, including cover art when applicable, links, and a short blurb for each story.

January 22:

“It Sucks to Be a Succubus” in Unnerving Magazine.

A succubus tries to have a fun night out without killing anyone.

February 6:

“Snow Fox” in Once Upon a Rainbow Volume Two

 Jealous Queen E’s attempts on Snow Fox’s life are trending.

March 5:

“The Blind Girl and the Troll” in Asymmetry.

A troll hungry troll decides to aid a refugee instead of eating her, and it alters the state of his existence. 

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March 21:

“Thunder Cars” in (Dis)Ability Short Story Anthology

Food shopping with anxiety is like weathering a storm.

April 3:

“Liberty Underground” in Teach. Write.

There is more to this seemingly haunted house than meets the eye.

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“You Won’t Believe How This Creature Changed Their Lives!” in Vulture Bones

Two siblings find a magical creature. 

May 31:

Dragon’s Bane” in Menagerie de Mythique Anthology.

Not your average dragon hunter

June 20:

“Gala Down” in Drabbledark

Politics and food don’t mix well.

June 22:

“Butter is Not a Dress” in Hashtag Queer Anthology Series

A poem about gender identity and clothing.

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“Roots” in The Cascadia Subduction Zone

Home isn’t always the house you live in.

July 31:

“The Debutante” in Fantasia Divinity Magazine

A steampunk match-making AI. 

August 30:

“Djinn and Tonic” and “Surviving Seaglass” in Chronos

Two speculative drabbles that explore how supernatural being perceive time.

September 19:

“The Omen” in UnSung (Better Futures Press)

*There is no link to this one because shortly after publication, the publisher appeared to have folded.

September 20:

“A Kitten for the Kelpiecorn” in Four Star Stories.*

A kelpiecorn adopts a kitten.

*The issue it appeared in is no longer available and has yet to appear on the sites archives page.

October 1

Power Surge (The Evanstar Chronicles)

Being hunted by demons isn’t the worst part; it’s the lies.

October 14:

“A Curious Case in the Deep” in Broadswords and Blasters.

Two brave ocean explorers make an unexpected discovery.

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 9.17.20 PM.pngNovember 6:

“Piggish Persistence” in Empyreome Magazine

One magician tries to subvert the pharma-guild’s control on the medical. potions industry

November 1:

“Denial and Acceptance” in Trump Fiction: ECR Special Edition

Aliens invade in the final days of the Trump administration.

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 9.21.06 PM.pngNovember 12, 2018:

“Ink and Ash” in The Society of Misfit Stories

When the government outlaws the use of wands in magic, two siblings find themselves on opposite sides of the law.

November 30, 2018:

“Behind the Scenes” in Unrealpolitik

Werewolves play an important role in the National Park Service’s future.

 

IWSG: Five Objects in my Writing Space

December 5 question – What are five objects we’d find in your writing space?

My writing space changes with the season. April through September, I wrote on my screened-in-porch, or, on really nice days, the picnic table by the lake.

 

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Tavi thinks he is a cat

When heat becomes necessary, I move to the kitchen table. No matter which space I’m using, my laptop is always there because it’s what I write on. For the sake of this list, I’ll focus on things unique to the space.

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The Meowditor-In-Cheif is hard at work

Winter Space (aka a mess)IMG_1789

  1. Teapot.
  2. Blanket.
  3. Salt Shaker
  4. Dog Bowl
  5. Cat’s Brush

Summer Space (aka heaven)DSC_0771.JPG

  1. Beach Towel
  2. Pitcher
  3. Notebook
  4. Sunscreen
  5. Chuck-it toys

No matter where I am writing, Goose the Cat aka The Meowditor-In-Cheif, is near-by. He likes to the delete words. Nothing is allowed to be fluffier than him.

 

IWSG Day: Creativity Evolved

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Today’s question is:
How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?
I’ve been labeled “creative” and “imaginative” my whole life, but what that means to me has changed over time.
Most of the time, I took it as a compliment. However, there have been a few times I wondered if people called me imaginative because my ideas were just so weird.
However, writing and publishing fiction has showed me that a lot of my ideas aren’t as unique as I used to think. I’ve gotten plenty of rejection from editors saying my short stories were too familiar, too cliche, or two similar to overdone tropes.
On the other hand, I’ve gotten rejections along the lines of “it was a very imaginative piece, but it wasn’t right for us.”
It’s not just my definition of creative that has changed over time. The ways I express my creativity have evolved as well.
Making up stories has been a part of my life as along as I can remember, but writing them down used to be an inconsistent practice. In the times I wasn’t writing, my creativity showed in other ways.
The last two years I was in college, I was photographer at a mall portrait studio.
When I was in graduate school, I made just as much money making and selling beach glass jewelry as I made working part-time as a photographer.
Now that writing fiction is my main creative outlet, how I view creativity in terms of writing has changed. I used to think that drafting was the creative part, but I’ve since learned that revising, and even editing, is a rather creative process.
Want to see the results of my creative writing and editing? Buy a copy of Power Surge and read it.

Novella Review: The Lost Sisters

The Lost SistersThe Lost Sisters by Holly Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up because I love Holly Black’s faerie stories, I was sick, too tired of looking at a screen to write more, but not willing to get lost in a novel that would take me away from my words for too long.

I liked how it was written to the sister, how the “stories” were interspersed with the narrative, and enjoyed being back in the realm of the fair folk.

However, it almost felt like a summary of Cruel Prince from Taryn’s point of view as opposed to the love/horror story apology I wanted it to be.

Every time Taryn spoke of jealousy, I felt a little of it. Not for a lover, but for the ability to be able to have enough of a fan base to write and sell a companion novella like this, one wholly dependent on readers knowing what happened in book 1 and already knowing and loving the world.

Now that I’ve admitted my jealousy to the internet, I’ll put it aside and go to sleep.

Tomorrow, I’ll get up and I go to work at my paying job and I’ll write on my breaks and at night when I should be sleeping. I’ll focus on the little step I won and keep writing for another.

View all my reviews

The Evolution of a Character (or a career)

I’ve lived my entire life with characters and stories in my head. Some were as original as anything can be while others were fan-fictions that never escaped my maze of a mind long enough to be put on paper.

After watching  Xena: Warrior Princess, I’d run around the house with music blasting. The living room would fade as I retreated into my head where I reimagined the episode with myself, or a character based off of myself, involved in some major way. If no one interrupted me, I’d plot out the next episode and the next. Each would steer further from the plot, featuring more of me and my made up characters and less Xena and Gabrielle.

TV shows and movies never failed to rev up my imagination, but they were not my only source of stories. Songs, fears, news, and my contorted perception of reality  were compost to my imagination’s produce.

For all the stories I dreamed while running and dancing, I wrote sporadically, scribbling ideas in journals and penning poems for school assignments. As much as I loved making stories, the creative part of my brain rarely worked unless my body was moving.

So the characters stayed inside me. To an extent, they grew with me.

They evolved.

Terrifying magical adventures involving waterfalls, brain-altering head injuries, supernatural relatives, and a fair amount of time travel shaped them into distinct people that had less and less in common with me as time went on.

Mel Aesthetic
An aesthetic I made for Mel (Amelia)

They reproduced like cells.

 

As the adventures piled up an they grew more and more complex, sometimes, they split into two or three different characters.

Yes, some of them had things in common with me, but none of them were me. I no longer had a version of myself that popped into tv shows and fan fiction. I had a cast of distinct , developed characters trying to claw their way out of my head.

Ari. Amelia. Elle. Erin. Lucy. Michael. Sam.

There are more, but some of their names have faded from memory even if their personalities haven’t.

I started writing. I had to. My brain would’ve exploded. Reality would’ve shattered. Something bad would’ve happened.

At first, writing came in short bursts. Stories would fill a notebook on rainy summer days or cold winter nights. Senior year of high school, I wrote and illustrated the first twenty or so pages of a centaur portal fantasy. Freshmen year of college, I wrote the first act of a screen play. I started a novel. I wrote a short story. Started another novel.

Each time I wrote, the characters that grew up with me appeared in the story along side new faces. My burst of writing grew longer each time they happened.

When I was 26, on a cold October night when I couldn’t sleep, I started the longest writing spurt I’d ever had, meaning it hasn’t ended. In one for or another, I have written every day since then.

Monochromatic #ThursdayAesthetic
Power Surge aesthetic 

Characters and pieces of stories coalesced into novels.

The characters continued to grow through the whole process.

Now, I’m proud to say that the world gets to meet two characters that have lived in my head under one name or another for most of my life.

Erin and Mel (Amelia) debuted in notebook pages. They solidified in a screenplay. Bloomed in a mess of a half of a book I started in college. They slept for decades, through short stories and a paranormal suspense.

They slept but the they never left. Their identities evolved with mine.

Erin’s mental health deteriorated with mine. When I discovered the words and concepts that I could use to finally explain how I felt about my gender, Erin used those words too

I could tell you what Mel or Erin had for breakfast on any given day. I could tell you about their first kisses, their greatest fears, most embarrassing moments, successes and failures. The last mountain they skied. The last trail they hiked

People always ask me how I keep it all in my head, if I had spreadsheets and pages of notes.

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Cover Art by Natasha Snow

When it comes to the Evanstars? I didn’t need those things. I  internalized world and most of it’s inhabitants long before I started writing. I have drafts and short stories and micro stories and poems.

I have dreams.

These characters own a piece of me.

They are pieces of me.

Their stories will always live in my soul, but if I have readers willing to read, then I will write and write in this universe as long as I can.

 

I just hope that when readers meet them on October 1st, they love them as much as I do.

Add Power Surge on Goodreads

Pre-order the e-book from NineStar Press

Publishing Paths: Roads go ever ever on (I hope).

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I’ve missed a few months, but today, I realized it was  Insecure Writer’s Support Group Blog Hop Day before the day was over. The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

September’s Question is:

What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

When I got serious about my writing, the publishing path I always imagined for myself was a traditional one. Get an agent. Get a deal with a big publishing house. Eventually, make money off of my writing.

I’d been writing on and off for along time, starting projects and never finishing them, until one November, my anxiety got so bad that I could hardly breath at night when I went to bed, let alone sleep, so I got up and I wrote. I wrote about the things that scared me, that kept me up at night and triggered my anxiety. After a 200,000+ word draft and more words of backstory and world building, I swore I was never going to let anyone read that book, opened a file for an untitled book  I started back in 2007, and decided I was going to finish it.

Not only did I finish it, but over the next year or two, I revised it about ten times. Meanwhile, I wrote and published flash fiction and short stories. By the time I was consistently getting paid for my short fiction and had truely lost count of just how many revisions a book that had morphed from “The Erin book” to “Inattention,” I decided I was ready to start querying agents.

I researched queries and agents, I bought a copy of  Writer’s Market’s 2016 guide to Literary Agents, wrote a query, had my critique parter and critique group read and sent it off. By my second batch of queries, I changed the title to Power Surge. If you read any of my posts or tweets about my publishing journey, then you probably know I made all the newbie mistakes. My query was too long. It had too much backstory. It made the characters sound passive.

My attempts to personalize queries were horrible mostly because I didn’t have a person read every single personalization, and I have a problem with proof reading. I can print something out, read it out loud, read it backwards or out order, I can apply every known proof reading strategy and miss some ridiculous typo, especially if I haven’t taken my ADHD meds. When I queried Power Surge to agents, I wasn’t on them at all and hadn’t yet discovered how much they could help me edit.

I still miss typos, especially on last minute blog posts like this one. I got some requests and over 100 rejections. I was probably up around 120 when I’d had enough of querying agents. Some people would’ve shelved the book at this point, but Power Surge was my baby. In the time I had been querying it, I’d finished a 3rd novel and turned my 200,000 monstrosity of a first book into a decent draft of a 87,000 word supernatural thriller.

More importantly, I believed in Power Surge and needed to find a home for it. I some ways, it was the book I always needed and never had. It embodied elements of my favorite writers, but had the mental illness rep that was missing from my favorite books, and had a main character I poured a little too much of myself into.

PowerSurge-f500I revised one more time, trimming the book and brining Erin’s non-binary gender identity out of the shadows just a little, and queried small publishers. Within a few months, I had two offers and signed with NineStar Press. They’re traditional in the sense that they don’t charge writers anything, have a talented in-house cover artist, and do very thorough editing. However, there is no advance, and while they do some online marketing, its up to me to book events and get into brick and mortar stores.

It’s not the traditional “Big 5” debut I dreamed about, but its a start. I have a fantastic cover and an editor that really gets the book.

Editing  Power Surge reminded me just how much I love the characters and world it is in, so now I’m back to drafting the sequel even if it does mean putting a revision of my YA space opera on the back burner for a little bit. The Evanstars are calling me, and I feel like if  I don’t head that call, my writing will suffer all around.

In the long run, I still want an agent and a chance to get a deal with a big publishing house. Some people tell me this will be harder now that I’ve published under my legal name with a small publisher. Others have told me this isn’t a problem. Either way, I’m going to keep writing, revising and editing. I’m going to keep putting my work out there.

For now, i’m content with as long as I don’t have to pay to have my book published, get great covers and professional edits, but I will never stop trying to break into the big leagues of publishing.

For now, you can help me out by adding  Power Surge to your “to-read” list on Goodreads. Or Pre-order it from NineStar Press.

Power Surge (Evanstar Chronicles)

How an editor made my day.

This year, I had high hopes for #DVpit. I’d just finished polishing a new manuscript. My query was in good shape. I’d struggled with my pitches, but thought I finally had them down. I scheduled them, went to work, and tried to not to sneak peeks at twitter between each student I tutored.

My try was feeble and I checked the internet every chance I got. What did I find?

No agent <3’s from #DVpit.

Short story rejections, including one I had been a little too optimistic about.

It wasn’t even lunch time, and I was miserable.

At some point in in the midst of it all, I opened up a 100-word-story I’d  been working on for a while. I made a few changes based on some feedback and sent it off to an anthology — one that was going to consist entirely of dark drabbles.

Within an hour, I got a response. I read, “I have enjoyed your work to date,” and froze.

Did an editor just recognize my name? I did a little “happy dance” at my desk, which really is just me smiling and bouncing in my seat. My fellow tutor was with a student, so she didn’t notice.

I relished in that thought for a few seconds before reading on to find that not only had I previously published in the same venue as this editor, but he had read my work in another magazine.

I paused again, afraid that despite actually knowing my name, he was still going to reject my story.

Thankfully, he didn’t. He suggested some edits, which I promptly made. The story was accepted, and will be included in Drabbledark along with some of my favorite short story authors.

#DVpit may have been a bust, but knowing that someone who I’ve never met in person new me by my stories was an amazing feeling. Even if it had turned into a rejection, I wouldn’t have cared. As a newish writer, being recognized is a huge victory.

As a writer, take every little victory you get, no matter how small. When you are being battered down by rejections, let that victory be the tiny candle that light up your darkness. As a reader, engage with writers, especially the ones who are just starting out. Tell them when you like their stories. Let them know that you know they exist.

A single sentence can make or break someone’s day.

 

NaNoWriMo: For Real This Time

Two years ago, on a windy October night, I decided it was time I started writing again, for real. No more sporadic drafts started in notebooks never to be finished. No more late night rants that never evolved to essays or blog posts. No more procrastination. I was going to get back to writing. Period.

Beaten by anosmia, anxiety, and the hum of a thousand stories trying to chew their way out of my skull, I left the warmth of my bed and trekked down to my cold kitchen. Wrapped up in a blanket, I opened my laptop and started writing. It was a story about a female contractor and a haunted house.

I got two pages in and stopped.

The humidity had left with summer. My skin was dry and itchy; a sure sign that “winter is coming.” As I sat in my chair, scratching my legs and hating my story, I decided the home improvement theme wasn’t close enough to me, even as the creek of unsecured, temporary subfloor beneath my chair indicated I was in the midst of a major renovation.

Instead, I wrote about the itchiness, about the approaching winter, and how difficult anxiety makes it to get out of bed. I wrote about my fear of what could happen when a woman is alone in the dark with a man who means her harm, and my fear about how hard it must be to overcome that kind of trauma.

I thought it was going to be a short story. I may have been delusional.

By the time 3 a.m. rolled around, I had a character: Elle, a psychic cop who was raped and tortured by a serial killer she was trying to hunt. I had a plot. Three years later, she was home, working as a journalist and unofficial consultant in her small hometown, which she fled before becoming a cop in the city. Her childhood friend, Cam, a deputy in the county sheriff department, was in love with her. Children were going missing, and the monster that had tortured Elle had broken out of prison.

Believing I had the makings of a paranormal thriller, I threw my self into writing during every free moment I had. As November rolled around, I looked at the NaNoWriMo website and thought about signing up. I had papers to grade and a novel to write. I never signed up, but I told my self I was going to finish it in November anyways.

The end of the month came and went, but my novel had no end in sight. It wasn’t until January that I finished my monster of a first draft. It was a 200,000 word, genre-bending mess: a literary fiction rape survivor narrative, a poorly plotted paranormal thriller, graphic horror, and grammatical sloppiness.

It was terrible. I loved it. It was the first time since I was 19-years-old(I was 27 at the time) that I had written a complete story from beginning to end.

I tucked that novel into a digital draw and dug an old file off of my Google Drive called “Last Days.” It was a YA urban fantasy that I had stopped writing after a certain author very successfully published a very different demon hunter story, which also happened to feature a red-headed female protagonist.

This time, I vowed that I would not let The Mortal Instruments stop me from finishing my own demon-hunter novel (plenty of other people have written novels with demon hunters since Cassie Clare). Additionally, I knew that I was capable of finishing a novel; I had already done it.

I dove into “Last Days,” kept the parts that seemed salvageable, and cut the places where the plot rambled into infinity. I found a point to start from and wrote through until I found an end around 130,000 words.

Satisfied that I finished it, I went back and cut what I was calling the “Elle story” down to about 90,000. It was a little better than the first draft, but I still hated it in spite of the positive feedback I got from the one friend that I allowed to read the first two chapters.

I spent the next year revising and editing “Last Days.” By draft 5, it had become “Inattention,” and by draft 7, it had its current title, “Out of Focus.” I handed it off to a series of beta-readers and focused on my short fiction.

By the time I got all the feedback I needed to revise, I had become addicted to the instant gratification of flash. Submittable and the Submission Grinder became my best friends. I built up a long list of publication credits, made Twitter “friends” with some amazing writers, and slowly but surely revised and edited the novel.

This week, I sent out my first volley of queries out for Out of Focus. I’ve been calling the current version Draft 9, but really, some chapters have been revised at least 20 twenty times. I’m not sure there is a whole sentence that looks exactly as it did in the first draft I began back in 2006.

I did revisit the terrible “Elle Novel” and wrote the short story I had meant to 200,000 behemoth to originally be. It got a few rejections, and is currently languishing in a literary magazine’s  final round of judging decision making.

I’m done with Out of Focus until an agent or publisher tells me to revise or makes suggestions for edits, and while Out of Focus fights its way through the slush, I am embarking on a new adventure.

Five days into NaNoWriMo 2016, I am 14,435 words into a novel tentatively titled “Like Birds Under the City Sky.” This piece started as a short story I wrote over the summer. After three lit mag editors, a workshop, and a critique group told me the 5,000 word story needed to be a novel, I committed to tacking it in a month.

I know my first draft will suck. I’ll know I’ll revise it over and over again before I let any one read, and then I’ll revise it again.

However, something is different this time. I know what I’m doing. I know how to build tension, develop characters, use description wisely and use words efficiently. I know how the story is going to be structured (more or less), and I know how it is going to end.

I’ve improved my process. I’m a better writer. Hopefully, that means I will make a better novel.

What I do know for sure is that I have not gone a day without writing since I started on that cold October night, and this month, I’m doing NaNoWriMo for real. This month, I’m going to win.