It’s been 8 months since I blogged about how I got my agent. In fact, there hasn’t been a blog post since then, but there’s a reason for that. You see, less than 3 months after that post, I got an offer.
Yes. An offer.
Like an offer on my book.
To get published.
In fact, I still don’t know how to process it, but I’m going to tell you how it all went down because like everything in publishing, there is no easy road.
Picture it. December 23rd. The day before Christmas Eve and i’m in midst of running around, frantically getting all things ready for the following day.
I was pulling into the garage at my house when my phone rang. Kimberly Brower, my agent’s name, popped up. I glanced at it and realized it must have been a mistake. There was no reason for her to me calling me. Everyone was checked out for the holidays and Kimberly and I had touched base the week before. My book had gone on submission (for those of you not familiar, that means my book was ready to find a publishing home. Kimberly began sending it out to some editors she thought would be a good fit for my book baby. That began the week before Thanksgiving, about a month prior.)
I get inside and DING. She left a message. I checked it before I even put the bag of groceries I was holding in my free hand down.
“Hi Melissa! It’s Kimberly. I don’t know if you got the chance to see the email I just sent, but I was wondering if you had time for a quick call today? If you do, give me a call.”
There was only one logical explanation for her calling–there was an offer. However, anyone who knows me well enough, and some of you probably have figured out, I am not always logical. In fact, I have a tendency to jump to worse case scenario first. So, the only explanation for her calling was for her to break up me. I mean, that was the ONLY POSSIBLE reason, right?
Checked my email. Same message.
“You around? Time for a quick chat?”
Mr. Mel walked in room. “Why are you just standing there holding a bag and looking confused.”
Me: “Kimberly called. She wants to talk. Now. “
He starts getting excited. I tell him to stop. I tell him she’s going to break up with me. I’m just a bit too “ME” for her. She’s realized she’s made a huge mistake and obviously wants to go into the holidays with a clear conscience.
“Um,” he said. “I don’t think that’s it.”
I shoved the bag at him. “You don’t know anything! I’m going into the bedroom to call her and don’t bother me until I come out and can process this awful news.”
Yes. My husband is a saint. I’m a little Miss Piggy, without all the hitting. He’s a little bit Kermit.
I went into my bedroom, closed the door and grabbed whatever religious artifacts I could find. I took some deep breaths and called Kimberly.
“Hi,” I said. “It’s Melissa. You, um, wanted to talk?”
Her: “Hi! So glad you called back!”
Well, she didn’t have to be so excited about leaving me. Geez.
Her: “I have some news.”
Me: “Okay.” ::starts rubbing rosary beads and sprinkling myself in Holy Water.::
Her: “We have an offer, Melissa!”
Her: “We have an offer!”
I vaguely remember her telling me that an editor had read my manuscript and had loved it so much she couldn’t wait to offer. Not only that, but she loved the ideas I had for two books after this manuscript, that she was offering on all 3 books. She wanted a series.
She talked. I listened.
I needed to make sure I was hearing this all correctly.
Me: “Wait. Is this for real?”
Her: “Yes! Yay!!”
What followed was a series of “Oh my GOD”and “Are you serious?” In retrospect, I’m fairly certain Kimberly had reached her Melissa Hysterical Response limit and was like…
We ended the call after she told she would let the other editors that still had the manuscript know there was an offer. We’d talk more after the holidays.
Dazed, I left the bedroom, and found Mr. Mel standing in the hallway.
Him: “What is it?”
Me: “I think…well, I know…someone wants my book. She loved it and she wants it. I have an offer.”
Keep in mind I still was trying to process this because it was so unbelievable. The timing, that it was really happening, and well, everything was so unreal.
Mr. Mel grabbed and starts hugging and twirling me around. He puts me down and he’s crying. My husband, who’d I only see cry on our wedding day and the day our son was born, was crying.
With all my sensitivity training in place, I stepped back and shouted, “Oh my God! Why are you crying? Please STOP. STOP.”
Him: “Honey! You did it! It’s happening! Your dream is coming true.”
(If you’ve never watched the Kristen Bell interview on Ellen on the day she met a sloth, please do. In fact, I linked it below. Basically it was me during this entire offer episode. If you have seen it, you know what my reaction was now becoming…)
It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.
In the weeks that followed, there was not one, but two other offers from different publishers. I didn’t know how I was going to decide. I really didn’t. I weighed pros and cons, asked writer friends for advice, talked with the offering editors and considered everything to the point of exhaustion.
I always came back to the same one. It felt right.
I had a call scheduled with Kimberly while I visiting my best friend in California. We talked as I ate In-n-Out burger (Look! I only get my most favorite cheeseburger once a year…MAYBE. I wasn’t missing out on it book deal or not!) and told her my decision.
What followed was additional talks, emails and contract stuff. This was all in January.
Now. I know what you’re thinking: Um. Melissa. It’s June. Why are we just now hearing this?
I’ll tell you why.
Publishing is a business where things flow by way of different wavelengths. Sometimes things are fast. Sometimes not so much. Sometimes people get an agent after sending out 2 queries on their first manuscript. I got my agent after my third manuscript. It can take some a year or more to get a publishing offer, or not at all. It happens all the time. Mine got an offer after a month. It has NOTHING to do with how “good” a manuscript is–it’s all about timing.
That said. Some things took some time to get all settled, but I was okay with that. I’d caught the dream I had been chasing for so long. Was it hard to wait to tell THE WORLD? Um. YES. But, again, I was okay with it.
On June 1st, Publisher’s Marketplace posted my announcement.
I’m so, so grateful for my agent, Kimberly Brower. She puts up with my endless questions, concerns and all my newbie-ness with the patience of, well, something super, super patient.
I’m thrilled to be working with Megha and Lexi at Forever Yours. They are both so enthusiastic and I can’t help but want to push myself even harder creatively because of it.
SO TWISTED, the first book in the Bad Behavior series, will be released November 1, 2016.
I really don’t believe in accidents. I believe that everything happens in its own time, and right when it should be. It may not be when we want it to happen, but things will fall where it was suppose to. This morning, one of those Facebook ‘Remember When’ photos popped up from 2 years ago today.
It was a long, long climb. There were times I didn’t think I could go any further, but I did. I’m glad I did.
I’m starting to enjoy the view.
P.S. Here’s Kristen Bell’s Sloth Meltdown. Yup. ALL ME.
DID I JUST WRITE THAT?
And I realize I haven’t posted anything here in over a year, but I’ll explain about that later. For now, let’s dance.
I’m going to break it down for you. Writing is hard. Writing a book is even harder. Querying a book that is adorned with your blood, sweat and tears? The hardest part yet. However, in the wise words of Jimmy Dugan, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
Mine isn’t a cinderella story. I didn’t write a manuscript in a few weeks, send it off to a couple of agents and have an offer the following week. We all see stories like that and although we’re genuinely happy for the success of our fellow writers, we secretly want to poke their eyeballs with a spork to hopefully dislodge the horseshoe they obviously swallowed.
Mine has been a journey. Retrospect? I’m glad it has been . It has taken me right here, and it is exactly where I want to be.
I’ll give you the condensed version. (HAHAHAHAHA. Yeah. Right.)
This wasn’t my first manuscript. It also wasn’t my first ride on the Query Rollercoaster. It is my fourth manuscript and the third project I queried. Like I said, retrospect is a hell of a thing. The first 2 projects, while I love dearly, were a bit self-indulgent and a lesson in listening to my writer’s brain. With both, neither felt *right* at times, even though I loved them so. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was there.
So, I took a step back and after a chat with a good friend, I decided to revisit something I wrote over five years ago. (Full disclosure: It was fanfiction. I’m not embarrassed to even admit it because the fandom I wrote for has produced some of the finest writers I know today. I’m so lucky to have been surrounded by so many amazing women, some of which I call dear friends to this day. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this post today if it wasn’t for fandom and the people in it. I owe everything to it. So, when someone says ‘fandom’ to you, know it’s so much more than just a bunch of nerds who like a book/show/movie. So much more.)
For the next few months, I tore that product apart. I had a new outlook for how to make it better, stronger because truth be told, five years was a long time (and many words) ago. I’d grown as a writer so much that it was satisfying work to recreate. Once done, I started querying it. A few months I’d had many requests and was asked to do a Revise and Resubmit for an agent. I did, but in the end, she still wasn’t feeling it and passed.
Back to querying and after another couple months, I had an offer for another Revise and Resubmit. I was really unsure if I wanted to go through it again, but in the end, I decided to do it. I felt confidence sending it back because I knew I’d addressed her areas of concern. A few weeks later, I got an email with a super painful rejection. I’d done everything she asked, but what I didn’t do was the things she hadn’t asked for. Here is where I round back around to that retrospect thing–It was in that moment I realized that this project, my entire future career was in my hands, and not in an agents. We think it’s the other way around, but this is untrue. I didn’t ask the right questions because I was afraid of coming across as confrontational or stupid. What was stupid was me not asking for clarity. At the time, I didn’t think of it like this. All I could think was…my spirit was broken.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or how much further I wanted to go with this project so, I did the only thing I knew I could do. I threw myself into a new project and it was a wonderful distraction from trying to decide how to proceed. One evening, I got an email from agent asking if I was still looking for representation–she’d had my full manuscript for 3 months and was only just able to get it it. I told her I was, and didn’t think much of it.
A week later, I got a response from the agent mentioned. She liked it. She liked it a lot…but…yeah. She wanted to see some changes. I’d already told myself I wasn’t going to do any more R&R’s because I didn’t feel like I had it in me. Plus, I was cranking on the new project so hard and it was almost completely drafted. However, she asked if we could talk on the phone, and I agreed because it was a lovely offer. The next day, we talked for over a half hour, and she was very clear on what she wanted done. It was going to require a lot of work, but her enthusiasm and receptiveness of my thoughts left me conflicted. I said I wouldn’t do another R&R, but…I was feeling it. I compromised with myself. I told her I’d be willing to do the revisions, but I wanted to concentrate on finishing the project I was working on. She was fine with that, and life went on for a few weeks.
Then the Midwest Writers Workshop happened. I’ve blogged in the past about this AMAZING conference, and this year, my third year there, was no different. I was able to talk to fellow writers, and professionals about where I was. I couldn’t shake the revision thoughts. Her comments were so refreshing, and well thought out, I started itching to get back in to it. However, do I leave the current project and go against my self-imposed “rules?”
The overall consensus?
So I did.
After a few days home, I contacted the agent and told her I was moving forward with the revisions. When I was unsure of something, I’d email her, asking for clarity, or making suggestions of my own. She always responded promptly, and with the same enthusiasm she’d always shown. It made me push harder, and dig deeper. Those revisions were the hardest work I’ve ever done. Even having known this manuscript for so long, and so many revisions, I was making it BRAND NEW…and I was loving it. I had pre-readers give their input, and I was feeling better and better about it. But along with all the positive feelings, my anxiety was through the roof. What if this was another rejection? What if my best wasn’t good enough. I finally swallowed all my fears, and sent off the revisions. She got back to me immediately asked me to give her a week and she’d let me know then.
At 11:00 p.m. on a Friday, exactly a week later, she got back to me as promised.
‘Hi Melissa. So I know I said I’d get back to you today with an answer, but I’d like to hold off on delivering my notes til Monday if that is okay with you. I’d like to take the weekend to fully think through.’
I responded telling her, of course, that was fine and looked forward to Monday.
A few minutes…
‘Just so you don’t think I’m wasting your time, if you agree with some of my notes/suggestions, then I’d like to take this project on. I didn’t want you to think I was going to have you wait til Monday just for me to say no.’
As promised, Monday morning I got her notes and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. It was minor changes, and suggestions. She wanted me to think about it, and let her know my thoughts. I was so impressed with her, and felt such a joint vision between the two of us, I didn’t need to think about it long. We set up a time to talk the next day.
We talked for an hour. It was easy, and exciting. Now, while I would always encourage writers to think over offers, etc, I had spent so much time in conversation with her in the course of 2 months. That, combined with the revisions, and I wasn’t going into any decision blindly. I just knew she was the one. The manuscript was still out with four other agents, and I did something I never thought I’d do. I withdrew the manuscript from consideration from all of them. While I always imagined it would be in my best interest to hear all offers, and have a range of consideration, there was no point for me. I didn’t want to waste the other agent’s time when I was positive the outcome would be the same.
I signed with my agent, Kimberly Brower of the Rebecca Friedman Agency the next day. She is amazing and I couldn’t be more tickled that she sees something in me that she’s willing to take a chance on.
All that time chasing dreams, and I feel like I’m one step closer. All that time, and all the self-doubt brought me to where I am.
A couple months ago, I was talking to my writer friend/critique partner, Mark Benson, about how we should do a joint blog post about being a good critique partner. After I nagged him relentlessly, and the moon was in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligned with Mars, we put this together.
Mark: The reporters I worked with when I was a news editor would be terrified to learn that I’m anyone’s critique partner.
Me: I need your story in 5 minutes.
Reporter: But deadline is 25 minutes away.
Me: But it always takes me 20 minutes to rewrite yours, so haul ass.
That terrible (but also sort of awesome) behavior is oddly appropriate when starting a conversation about being a critique partner for someone’s novel. Byline be damned, that reporter’s story was not their own. It was running in a newspaper, which was in turn putting its credibility in … wait for it … my hands. It was a collective. It was the reporter’s story, my story, the photojournalist’s story, the graphic artist’s story. I not only had every right, but I was paid to defend defend defend that paper’s credibility, and while a particular method or attitude is up for debate, the end was justifying the means.
But that’s not the circumstance when dealing with a novel writer’s story. You’re an honored guest in their world.
Mel: While Mark here is a “recovering” journalist, as he says, I am a recovering…well…I don’t know. A recovering day-dreamer? A recovering bikini waxer? (It’s true. I’m sure there is a novel worth of stories in that occupation alone.) While Mark was off being wicked smart, I was just starting to get my feet wet in the writing world. I started writing again, after taking years off, and found myself submerged in a fandom, writing fanfiction. I know. I know. Fanfiction is that dirty word. But for me, it taught me how to be a better writer. A better reader. And after awhile, a decent critique partner. Storytelling is a deeply personal calling, and most writers are terrified to share their work. Someone rejecting what they have put their heart and soul into is like a punch to the face, having the wind knocked out of you. It’s scary, scary stuff. When you have to trust a stranger to read, and help you make it the best it can be, well, that’s enough to send anyone over the edge. I might have taken a swan dive off that edge a time or two myself. So, basically, what I’m saying is, we writers are a neurotic, insecure bunch and the better we understand this, the better critique partner we can be.
Mark found me on Twitter, probably about a year ago. After bullying me into reading some of his work, I realized I had an enormous problem with him. He was a brilliant writer.
Mark: Brilliant yes, but that other word no. (Insecure, remember?)
What Mel does so well is what I actively try to avoid, because I know it won’t be my strength as a CP. She sees the story as a whole and I’ll find a string of comments in the margins, like “I see where you’re going with this,” or “Okay, this is making me believe X, Y, or Z is going to eventually happen.” She does this well and it provides a real insight into what I most crave: a sense of what the reader is thinking. I write stories that are mysterious, so I get really paranoid about where I’m leading my reader’s mind. When I critique, I intentionally narrow my focus and put on my old copy editor hat, which means that even though I’m sitting at a computer I must have a red pen in my hand.
I focus on sentences. Readability. Clarity. Phrasing. The need for a powerful moment to be captured by an equally powerful sentence structure. This is a huge moment, but the phrasing drags it down. I make in-line remarks and avoid summing anything up … because I’m power hungry, and I’ll end up with “and then maybe you can …” or “and maybe a scene where …” and inevitably the dreaded “what if you wrote it like this: XYZ.” All I want to do is help her tell her story better, clearer, sharper, stronger, faster, less-filling, gluten-free. I’m a copy editor. I can edit faster than I can read. I can edit faster than I can write. That’s my strength, and if you’re brave enough to share your writing with someone, you deserve their best.
Mel: Mark has a hard time calling himself a writer. ::whispers:: He is. I know how good he can be, so, when I see that something isn’t his best, I’m going to push him. I’m going to tell him (and I do) “This is good, but I know it can be great.” I’m able to see his potential while he sits, rocking in the corner, listening to Mumford, and thinking he can’t do ANY more. But I know he can.
I also understand his process, how he works. I’m a firm believer that every writer has their own way of writing. One draft, three drafts, twelve drafts…five revisions, six revisions….leave it for a few weeks, leave it for a month…do the Hokey-Pokey and turn it upside down. Whatever. Everyone has their own way. I know that he’s an editor at his core, so, his first draft, is like my third. He’s very methodical with his writing, while I’m more organic. Understanding, and embracing each others way helps to help each other.
Now, it’s not all sunshine and back-patting. If he’s been too self-deprecating, I’ll tell him to pull up his big boy pants, and get down to work. Everyone is allowed time to mourn that awful query rejection, or when McDonald’s gives you a regular Coke instead of Diet. I mean, that kind of stuff ruins my day. But it’s helpful to have someone around to remind you that, yes…you may wallow in the awfulness that is your life, but then it’s time to get some work done. Like, now, for example. Mark, can you step away from the Xbox and edit these last couple paragraphs for me?
Mark: First off, I’m only playing because I’m researching my next project, which is about a middle-aged laundromat manager who can’t last more than 10 seconds in Call of Duty multiplayer without being humiliated by faceless middle-schoolers who should be doing their ducking homework!
And second, Marcus Mumford’s stubble is my spirit animal. Tread carefully.
When was the last time you dialed a customer service number to tell them how great they’re doing? Yeah, thought so. It’s easy, especially as someone who emphasizes line edits, to only mark up one’s manuscript with things they need to fix. Want to be a critique partner? Then be better than that. If you read a good sentence, if they find a brilliant metaphor or adjective, or gut you with the perfect exchange of dialogue … TELL THEM. Don’t get hung up on finding fault just to validate your own ego.
And Mel’s comments on individual process are correct, and I recommend asking right from the start what they anticipate their process to be for a particular project. The way you approach their chapters, their revisions, their progress can’t be done in a vacuum. You can’t cheer them across the finish line if you don’t know where it is.
Mel: You’re so serious, Mark. I’m all, “PICK UP YOU BIG BOY PANTS” and gifs. You’re all insightful wisdom. Fancy pants.
Mark: It’s speaks volumes that the “serious” one in this mashup repeatedly writes “SALAMI BALLOON” in your margins to get a rise out of you. Speaking of “salami balloons,” genre is a good topic to get into. Don’t go nuts trying to find a CP that writes the same genre as you. Personally, I think it’s better to work with someone who doesn’t write in your genre. It provides fresh perspective. And there is nothing a first draft needs more than a fresh perspective. For example, Mel can really dig into the struggles of MG and YA lead characters, and her stories sometimes involve heart-warming conversations between the kids and their parents. My characters, on the other hand, can’t have such conversations … because their parents were likely slaughtered in front of them.
Mel: It’s true. He writes about dead people, and the family left behind. It’s brutal…and kind of beautiful (but don’t tell him that. He’ll get all schmoopy. You can follow Mark on Twitter: @WaysideWriter.)
The other day, a friend from a writing workshop I attend told me that whenever she’s writing a romance scene she asks herself: Would this make Mel swoon?
Oh how I was flattered.
I told a critique partner last week that one of his scenes made me swoon. He didn’t know what that meant. I was horrified and I may have yelled. I did my best to explain it, but in the end, it boiled down to this: You know it’s swoon when you feel the butterflies. The flutters.
While we joked in workshop if a piece would get a WTMMS (Would this make Mel swoon) stamp of approval, it was all in good fun. I mean, frankly, who am I to judge swoon? What make one swoon, may not even get the smallest of flutters from another.
“If you weren’t driving, I’d kiss you senseless,” I tell him.
He swerves to the side of the road and stops the car abruptly.
“Not driving any more.” —On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
—-Unravel Me. by: Tahereh Mafi
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.”
—Persuasion by: Jane Austen
“I know you don’t want this, Katsa. But I can’t help myself. The moment you came barreling into my life I was lost. I’m afraid to tell you what I wish for, for fear you’ll… oh, I don’t know, throw me into the fire. Or more likely, refuse me. Or worst of all, despise me,” he said, his voice breaking and his eyes dropping from her face. His face dropping into his hands. “I love you,” he said. “You’re more dear to my heart than I ever knew anyone could be. And I’ve made you cry; and there I’ll stop.”
—Graceling by: Kristin Cashore
“Your soul sings to mine. My soul is yours, and it always will be, in any world. No matter what happens. I need you to remember that I love you.”
—Daughter of Smoke & Bone by: Laini Taylor
“Oh, God,” he whispers, reaching his hand behind my neck and bringing my lips to his. “Let’s let the whole fucking world explode this time.”
~~~The Sky is Everywhere by: Jandy Nelson
“I would have been an atheist but for you proving to me that both heaven and hell were real, even if they existed only when I was with you.”
—The Prince by: Tiffany Reisz
—Perks of Being a Wallflower by: Stephen Chbosky
“when the day shall come that we do part, if my last words are not I love you, ye’ll ken it was because i didna have time.”
—Outlander by: Diana Gabaldo
There were a few books that had multiple swoon-worthy lines. I have to say…I agree!
“If you stay, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I’ll do that, too. I was talking to Liz and she said maybe coming back to your old life would be too painful, that maybe it’d be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I’d do it. I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”
“Please Mia,” he implores. “Don’t make me write a song.”
“You don’t share me. You own me.”
“I look at her there in the shadows of the shut-down city, her hair falling onto her face, and I can see her trying to figure out if I’ve lost it. And I have to fight the urge to take her by the shoulders and slam her against a shuttered building until we feel the vibrations ringing through both of us. Because I suddenly want to hear her bones rattle. I want to feel the softness of her flesh give, to hear her gasp as my hip bone jams into her. I want to yank her head back until her neck is exposed. I want to rip my hands through her hair until her breath is labored. I want to make her cry and then lick up the tears. And then I want to take my mouth to hers, to devour her alive, to transmit all the things she can’t understand.”
—If I Stay/Where She Went by: Gayle Foreman
“I’ve got my girl and my guitar, and for me that’s enough.”
“I laid it all out for him: Eliza believes in me, she moves me, and she’s moved BY me. She makes me happy, she makes me sad, she makes me try harder, she makes me laugh, and she makes me feel like I can fly. Isn’t that the goddamn definition of Love?”
But trying to describe how I felt watching her dance around and sing would be like trying to build a skyscraper with my bare hands. It made me want to marry her. Made me want to buy her a magic airplane and fly her away to a place where nothing bad could ever happen. Made me want to pour rubber cement all over my chest and then lay down on top of her so that we’d be stuck together, and so it would hurt like hell if we ever tried to tear ourselves apart.”
“I hate the word CAN’T. I wish it had never been dreamed up, spoken, or defined. I wish the concept of CAN’T could be eradicated not only from language, but more importantly from the psyche of a girl who is filled with some much CAN it seeps out of her pores and scents the air”
How to Kill a Rock Star by: Tiffanie DeBartolo
“Gone for a while
Hoping, always, to return
If you will let me”
“You. Yes. You”
—The Jessica Darling Series by: Megan McCafferty
“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”
“Nothing before you counts,” he said. “And I can’t even imagine an after.”
She shook her head. “Don’t.”
“Don’t talk about after.”
“I just meant that… I want to be the last person who ever kisses you, too…. That sounds bad, like a death threat or something. What I’m trying to say is, you’re it. This is it for me.”
—Eleanor and Park by: Rainbow Rowell
“Say my name again,” he whispers.
I close my eyes and lean forward. “Étienne.”
He takes my hands into his.Those perfect hands, that fit mine just so. “Anna?”
Our foreheads touch. “Yes?”
“Will you please tell me you love me? I’m dying here.”
His eyes lock on mine. “Anna, I promise that I will never leave you.”
My heart pounds in response. And Étienne knows it, because he takes my hand and holds it against his chest, to show me how hard his heart is pounding, too.”
“I love you as certain dark things are loved, secretly, between the shadow and the soul.”
—Anna and the French Kiss by: Stephanie Perkins
(Yes. That last GIF is a shout-out to my fandom friends. “Hello, Spark.”)
And there you have it, guys and dolls. Thank you for sending me so much swoon.
It’s not you. It’s me.
I hate that we had to end this way, but I have fond, loving memories of you.
We aren’t the first ones to grow through this.
I have several friends who admit to it as well, but I have a hunch there are many others who stay quiet on the subject.
I usually find it delightful to reread a favorite book. It’s like catching up with a long, lost friend. It’s fun to find new things to love, and to revisit all the things you adored about it to begin with.
But there are some books I never, ever want to read again. It’s not because I didn’t like them. No I LOVED them. It’s because they broke my ever-loving-heart.
Welcome to the ‘Books Mel loves, but will never, ever read again’ club.
Come with me and I’ll show you what I mean.
First is CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein.
No doubt you’ve heard the buzz surrounding this book over the last year. In my opinion, it was best YA book of 2012. An exquisite story of two best friends, Queenie and Verity, during WWII. One is pilot. One is a spy. (That’s all I’m giving you, folks.) This book is tragic, beautiful and so many other emotions I can’t even describe. The glimpse into this historic time was fascinating, especially from the point of view of women. Why won’t I ever read it again? The ending destroyed me. I didn’t see it coming. I literally screamed. It was mega intense. For real.
Next is HOW TO KILL A ROCKSTAR by Tiffanie DeBartolo.
I wrote a rather lengthy review a few posts back. I think you know why I’ll never read it again even though I loved it. I’m not kidding people. This book severely messed me up for DAYS afterward. It hit on a nerve, a super-duper sensitive one, and I just lost it. There were times I didn’t think I could finish it. It was, for me, the most painful book I’ve ever read because of parallels between it, and a similar relationship I had once. Tiffianie just nailed the emotions so hard core that the words cut right through me. Loved you, ROCKSTAR, but I’m not coming to visit you again.
Next is WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS by Wilson Rawls
I mean, seriously? RIGHT?
Never since 5th grade. Never ever.
(I don’t feel the need to go into more because if you didn’t read this in elementary school, or even high school, you need to get on that instead of reading my blog. No snark intended, but I feel like if you haven’t read this monumental book then you’re missing part of your childhood. Get on that.)
Lastly, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.
Teens Hazel and August meet at a support group for children living with cancer. A romance blossoms. AND THAT IS ALL I AM CAPABLE OF TALKING ABOUT, OKAY?
I know most of the general population has read this book over the last year and many knew how it would end. But I’d like to say that I read it the DAY it came out. That small group of the population did not know how this book would go, or how it would end. So…yeah. I will say this: My husband was working from home that day, and came into the bedroom to find me reading, and SOBBING. We’re talking about snot-sobbing, can’t-breathe, crying. This is unlike me. I’m not a crier. I certainly can’t recall a time where a book evoked that kind of reaction in me. To say that my husband was a tad concerned over my emotional state is an understatement. I’m not going to lie. My husband left the room and came back with a Valium because his wife was unresponsive while reading a book. Yup. That happened.
I loved them all.
We are never, ever, ever getting back together.
Do you have books that you can never read again?
Did I get your attention? FAKE OUT.
There was tons of good, nothing bad and just a smidgen of self-inflicted ugly.
There is so much good that came out of my time at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana I don’t know how to separate it all. I know I’m running the risk of sounding clichéd by writing this, but I believe this past weekend is going to be one in which I look back and realize something changed. Something shifted.
I know. I know. We writers are a dramatic bunch. (Okay, I’M the dramatic one, but I’m willing to bet there are others like me.)
Be that as it may, I’m sticking to my guns on this one. There are just some times in your life that you feel a very spiritual (and take that however you want) deviation from what you thought your intent was into a realm that makes you feel that you found the place where you belong. I came home feeling so blessed. There was a peace in my heart, and a confidence in my mind that I haven’t felt in a long time.
To my fellow writers you will get this. To my other friends, here’s the thing: Writing is HARD.
No, you don’t know. It’s really, really hard.
I met Judy Blume a few months ago (ohmyGod I just realized I never blogged about that! I must!) and when I told her about my journey she said, “It’s hard. It’s so, so hard. Writing isn’t FUN. Writing is what you do when your mind won’t let you do anything else.” I love her.
You don’t just sit down one day, type away, and have a book when you’re done. No. You sit down many days, even months, to hammer out a first draft. There are revisions. There are many, many revisions. Then just when you think you’ve got it, something hits you as you’re about to fall asleep, and you stay up all night to adjust that one scene. Yes, that happened to me last night.
So, we’re all on the same page, right? Writing is super hard.
Here is another thing: Writing is super, duper isolating.
Yes, I know that’s a shock.
I’m not going to lie. There have been times I’ve been so deep into writing that I don’t talk to anyone except my husband or kid for days. The path I’ve chosen, or rather has chosen me, brings me to a place where I’m alone a lot. When I’m needing quiet, and peace, during a difficult time pulling a project together, my dear husband will take off for a weekend with my son so I can have that time.
And another thing: When you’re trying to get a career in writing off the ground, you will face the most debilitating forms of rejection and self-doubt you could ever imagine. Some people will say, “You need to have tough skin.” I say you need iron skin. I know that sounds really uncomfortable, but so is querying sometimes.
You never get used to rejection. Yes, it learns to sting less, but you never get used to it. For me, when I get a particularly painful one, I allow myself to feel it, grieve, and then wrap it in imaginary box to send off to the Land of Painful Rejections to die.
There is no other choice. You need to accept it and move on.
Last thing: If you’re lucky, lotto-winning-lucky, you’ll find some people, who will become your friends to take this journey with. THIS is what holds you together. The days when you feel like you can’t do it anymore, and there is a friend there that not only tells you you can, but makes you.
Everyone is going at this at their own pace. Some will get an agent and published first. Some with still be working on that first project. It doesn’t matter, because no matter where you are, someone else has been there, is there, or will be there, and GETS IT.
What does all this have to do with MWW? I’m SO GLAD YOU ASKED!
I’ve been to a few other conferences before, and have always walked away feeling like I’ve learned something. MWW was no different, except there was all this added loveliness sprinkled in.
I don’t really recall how I heard about this conference, but I’m pretty sure @fizzygrrl had something to do with it. At first, I was unsure if I wanted to go, despite my husband and friends urging me to. I was at a very strange point in my journey. Okay. That’s not entirely true. I was considering heavily where the hell I was on my journey. Did I want to pack up my polka-dot suitcase and bust a move home? Or did I want to keep walking the road I was on even though I was SO tired?
I was used to being tired. That was what caffeine was for.
I signed up for MWW.
It was the best thing I’d done in a long time.
Guys and dolls, I can’t tell you how amazing this conference was. I was surrounded by people all on the same road as me and suddenly, the road wasn’t so lonely anymore. There were so many talented, brilliant people right there with me. For 3 days there was a stellar faculty at MWW to guide us, and other writers there to walk beside us. I said on Twitter when I got home that I’d never in my life seen a more collective effort by a group of professionals trying to help other professional succeed. In no other job or profession would you sit down with your competition and help them find the best they had, encouraging them to push themselves further. We didn’t want to one-up each other. We wanted to see each other nail it.
We helped each other with pitches while calming nerves, and excitedly awaited their return after their appointments. We eagerly took notes during workshops and never stopped wanting more even when we felt we couldn’t take in anymore. We laughed in the face of our fears. Together.
For me, personally, I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone that I thought I’d fall down, unable to recover. Being an introvert, the barrage of stimulation was intense.
But I was there to get a job done and I did. I didn’t pass out from nerves when I walked into a room without knowing a single soul aside from some acquaintances from Twitter. I didn’t require defibrillators before, during or after my agent pitch session, which went amazing. (I walked away with a request!) I didn’t need CPR at any point having to approach new people, and ultimately made new friends within a dynamic group of writers. Even when I dropped a chair on an agents foot and she was clearly in pain, I didn’t die on the spot from mortification.
(She was gracious enough to not make me feel bad nor serve me with any bodily harm lawsuit. Well, at least not yet.)
Although tired from a long weekend, I’m buzzing with creative energy. MWW did that for me, and for that, I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.
I’m often asked why I decided to write about such a sensitive topic, like schizophrenia, in my first book. I realize that mental illness is an often difficult subject to present, but that is precisely why I wrote it.
This has been a difficult week for a few people I care deeply about. You see, when a loved one has a mental illness of any kind, it quite simply shatters your world. Completely. Difficult decisions have to be made by a usually defiant person who can turn from the loving person you know into a vile stranger. That is what this disease does. It’s steals your loved ones. It doesn’t matter if it’s depression, bipolar or any other form of mental illness. The result is often the same. Someone you love is drowning and sometimes they can’t be saved. Can you imagine? Watching your husband or wife, son or daughter, best friend or co-worker slipping away, before your very eyes, and they are too far away to reach. They slip right from your fingers.
In one case this past week, a dear friend lost her brother to the disease in the most unimaginable way possible. She, and her family, had to watch and wait for this horrific ending that they knew was inevitable. Now, they are left to pick up the pieces while grieving for all they’ve lost. This family, along with friends, tried for YEARS to get him help, but unfortunately, the system is set up to protect a patients rights and not set up to hear the pleas from the people who know them best. In many cases, someone who is very ill don’t recognize they are ill and won’t seek treatment on their own. When their family intervenes, they are often met with denial and anger, which only furthers the distance between them. Professionals can’t reach them, or force treatment. Police can only step in if they are a threat to themselves or someone else and even at that, the resources are very limited on how to help. There is no law against someone who is acting erratically or talking out of character. Best case scenario is that they are involuntarily admitted for treatment, but the system is so over-saturated with cases (and by law) they are only required to stay between 7-10 days. That is not enough time for medications to work. It’s not enough time for them to realize the severity of their illness and to comprehend the ramifications of what will happen if they are not medicated. I am beyond heartbroken for my friend and her family who have to deal with this young mans death knowing that help was out there, but no way to get him there. The system completely, and utterly, failed them. No other disease is treated with such disregard, and negligence.
In my own life I’ve seen mental illness take over a family and turn loved one against loved one. In my novel, I wanted to show the effects of mental illness on the entire family because it does just that–Effects the whole family. Marriages crumble, relationships falter, and there is such hopelessness at watching your loved one slip far, far away. In my novel, the stories of a young woman in the throes of insanity, are all true stories. They are frightening and they are real, told to me by a family member. I could go on and on, but the fact remains that mental illness is probably the most unrecognized, most misunderstood disease there is. I wrote this story so maybe, in some small way, the bridge to understanding could be built. Mental illness is still considered taboo, but with all who are suffering it needs to be brought out in the open.
I’ve personally dealt with clinical depression for the last 15 years. Being told to ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’ were often thrown at me, but just like a heart condition or diabetes (or any other number of illnesses) I had no control over it. We all have times when we are sad, or have a few blue days. This is different. It’s like seeing the world in color, and it slowly fading to grey. There is nothing you can do to stop it. There were times I sunk so deep into the illness that I literally thought I was going to die. Honestly? There were times I wanted to. The most horrific episode occurred when I was pregnant with my son. I had insomnia for days. I’d lay awake and wait for sleep to come, but it would never would. I could barely leave my house because of exhaustion and was sick to my stomach all the time. My employer was understanding, but grew impatient when I’d say I’d be in the next day and I just…couldn’t…even when I knew my clients and boss would be disappointed once again. I was so frightened. Here I was, pregnant with the baby I had waited so long for, and I wanted it all to be over. It was debilitating and if it wasn’t for the help of a few good doctors, and my husband, I don’t know what would have happened. It’s too scary to revisit those thoughts to imagine that ‘what ifs.’
So why did I choose to write a book about a girl who is so petrified about inheriting a mental illness that she lives her life as a lie? Because people just don’t get it. I want people to understand. I want people to treat others with mental illness with as much care and concern as they would if it was any disease. I want family and friends to be able to get treatment for those suffering without all the red tape and barricades. I want people to not have to feel embarrassed because there is an illness in their brain, and not any other part of their body. I want people to be compassionate to those with this ugly illness, and not be scared because they are ‘different.’
I want people to GET IT.
THAT is why I wrote it.
I thought I had put my review on here, but it looks like I didn’t.
First things first–Remember in my last post I said that Eleanor and Park made me cry more than any other book I’d ever read? I clearly didn’t know how RUINED I would be reading How to Kill a Rockstar by Tiffanie Dibartolo. See, while Eleanor and Park had me revisit childhood, it was How to Kill a Rockstar that made me revisit a different time in my life. There were times during this book that I wasn’t sure I could continue because such a flood of emotions came back to me and for that, I’ll probably never be able to read it again. I won’t reread not because it wasn’t good (no, it was amazing) but because the author did such a complete job capturing the emotions of obsessive love.
Sometimes when you read something, you have to separate yourself from what YOU would do, and slip yourself into the character’s mind and understand THEM. That is what I did with How to Kill a Rockstar.
I’m not going to recap the story. You can get that anywhere in the hundred’s of reviews you can find on this book. What I am going to do is explain why this book shocked my soul, crushed my heart and was worthy of a 5 star rating.
I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, that a mark of a good book is in the reaction of the reader. If they evoke emotions, leave a mark, and have the reader talking about the book long after reading, they’ve done a job well done
Here’s the thing…these people are fucked up. (Sorry for the language, but in this case, it’s appropriate.) These are broken souls, searching for the proverbial peace of mind, and heart. The only road to peace is through music. It’s the air they breathe, the words they speak and steps in their walk. If they don’t have it, they die. Plain and simple. Music became foster families and love-sick lovers for Paul and Eliza, and when they came together, it was an explosion so fierce it practically blinded them. They made poor choices, sometimes naive in motivation, but the all encompassing love they had for each other was always the driving force. Did I want to punch Eliza in the mouth for some of the things she did? Yes. Absolutely. However, I find it difficult to be angry with her for her choices when I believe she did the best she could with what she had–which, let’s be honest, isn’t much. On the readers end you can say, ‘How could she?’ but in Eliza’s mind? How could she not? I know I’ve made mistakes, not just mistakes but choices so poor in relationships that I look back and wonder? Was that me? How could I have done that?
Eliza’s issues are so deeply rooted that she needs a lifetime of therapy, but in her mind, Paul cured all that was buried inside her. Paul, the boy looking for love in every available groupie’s pants, found it in his best friends sister. It’s sounds cliched, but I got it. All of it. Do you know why? Because I’ve been there. I think many of us have. And for the record, that shit never leaves you. It’s a scar on your heart. It’s a hole in your soul that never closes. The pain in this book was so palpable that at times I thought i’d vomit. It may seem overreactive, but it brought me right back. It never leaves you. Ever. The connection is instant and intense. It’s tragic in circumstance and destructive at best. It’s the best high you’ve ever felt. It’s weightless, and frightening, like jumping off the highest mountain knowing your love will catch you at the bottom. You climb. You jump. Over and over again. One day, you’re tentative with your jump and he’s not there to catch you. Then…you break.
After over a decade, I saw my Paul while out for my anniversary with my husband. I don’t know if he saw me, but it didn’t matter. In fact, I hope he didn’t. I excused myself from dinner and went to the ladies room where I promptly threw up my dinner. It was as if he had just walked out my door yesterday. With one look I returned to the place I had tried so hard to forget and then…heard his voice crystal clear in my mind. I cleaned myself up and returned to my husband. When he asked if I was okay I told him truth. “Yes. I’m okay.” I was. I am. I didn’t stay with my Paul and I’m so glad I didn’t. My life is fuller of all the best things because of the choice I made. However, I don’t blame Eliza for choosing differently.
You’re going to hate me for this, but I can’t resist. Eliza is Bella. Paul is Edward. Loring is Jacob. Now, before anyone pelts me with dog poop for saying this, let me explain. The love triangle in Twilight wasn’t a foreign concept. It isn’t here either. The girl. The boy who makes her heart beat. The boy who cares for her heart when it breaks. Loring isn’t a bad person. He’s just a guy who fell in love with a girl at the wrong time. Between the choice of being second choice or being no choice he choose second choice. He knew it all along. He knew he was never the one and really? How could he be? My heart broke from him in some ways more than anyone else. Eliza used him, in so many different ways, and Loring took it because there was no other way. I’m glad he found seemed to have found his happiness.
The prose in this book? EXCRUCIATINGLY beautiful. It’s so painful that I doubt I’ll ever reread it. Up until now I’ve said The Fault in our Stars was the most emotional book I’ve ever read. This book takes the top spot now. Unlike books about death, where sadness is expected, and the conclusion is final and common, this book conjured up a depth of emotions so colorful in grief the words blurred at times.
And for record, Paul Hudson had me swooning so hard I almost thought I had vertigo. That boy.
I have to talk about Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.
About a year ago I was in a workshop, with other writers, critiquing and discussing our latest projects. Someone brought up the subject of ‘The Book I Wish I Wrote.’ The eight of us went around and around talking about which book we had read that had effected us so much that we wished we had written it. My answer? ‘I’ve read a lot of fabulous, brilliant books, but I don’t think I’ve read THE ONE I would label ‘The Book I Wish I Wrote.’
Eleanor and Park is the book I wish I had wrote.
No review will do it justice. It was utter perfection.
A trip down 80’s memory lane with a couple of sixteen year olds navigating their way through first love. It’s complicated, confusing, dreamy, and everything else that young love is. Rainbow nailed the emotions so completely, I actually felt myself being brought back to my own feelings of first love. Told in alternate points of view, we get a clear view into both Eleanor and Parks thoughts and lives.
It’s not just a sappy love story. Nope. I hear people compare it to Anna and The French Kiss and it’s nothing like it.
It’s a story about bullying, and standing with your head high even though you’re getting beat down everyday. It’s about abuse, mental and physical, and not knowing where to turn. It’s about looking ‘different’ and not fitting into the typical mold deemed by the social hierarchy of high school (or the world for that matter.)
I cried more during this book than I ever had with any other. Ever. Yes, there were swoons and sweetness, but it was the feelings that so many of us had of ‘not fitting in’ that hit me hard. I don’t think anyone can say that they’ve never been made fun of, but this is different. Going to school, knowing you will be tormented and embarrassed, is one of the worst feelings in the world. (I spent a whole grade in junior high being ostracized. I could tell you what I was wearing the day a group of girls tore weight loss tips out of magazines and stuck them all over my locker. I was wearing acid wash jeans and a peach/black/checkered button down flannel. I have more stories than I care to remember.) My point is….that shit never, ever leaves you. Reading this book, those emotions came flooding back.
But know what?
I survived. Eleanor and Park did too.
The message is more powerful than I can convey. Their love was so palpable that I could practically feel their heartbeats on the page. The 80’s nostalgia (OMG THE MUSIC! AND COMICS! AND ALL OF IT) was the sprinkles on top.
Utter perfection. Thank you Rainbow Rowell. I’m a better writer for reading this. Eleanor and Park are going to stay with me for a long, long time.
My lovely, amazing friend Emma Trevayne tagged me in her blog post today. Here it is: http://emmatrevayne.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/the-next-big-thing-project/. Basically authors answer 10 questions and then tag other authors to share their ‘Next Big Thing.’ Not only have I known Emma for many years, but I’ve been with her on her journey to publication. Her first book, CODA, is coming up in May ( I may have read it in the early days and I’m not lying when I say it was in my top 5 favorite books of last year), along with the sequel and an additional middle grade novel in the future. I’m so tickled proud of this girl and am continually grateful for her as she helps me along my own journey. (As you can see by my previous enteries the querying process (and writing itself!) is a rollercoaster of emotions. Emma will often get ‘OMG WHAT? HOW? PLEASE HELP ME!!!’ messages and every single time she gently guides me back to non-hystericalness. I know that isn’t a word, but sometimes a non-word is the best way to convey the severity of a situation. That was a joke. Okay. Moving on.)
So, Emma mentioned that I’m currently writing a MG novel. This is true. However, I’m still in the drafting stages and a full post on it feels a bit premature. I will tell you this though—A set a twins. One is autistic and the other is not. That is not the only way they are different. A path of confusion, lies and redemption leads these two to an unfamiliar place. Vague enough for you? Good.
I posted something similar a few months about the manuscript I’m currently querying, but this is refreshed. Now onto it………
What is the working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I wanted to write a book from the point of view of a family member dealing with their loved one with a mental illness. I felt that if I could approach the story in a way that was honest, but had a twinge of humor, it would be relatable to readers. Also, I think many teenage girls can identify with wanting to have the perfect life—Teenagers have an immense amount of pressure put on them, not just with school, but with peers and all those raging hormones. If you add in a family illness, it’s sometimes more than they can handle.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Emma is very similar to Victoria Justice. She has a girl-next-door look, but her features are very striking. With the long, brown hair and killer smile, she’s fairly spot on for who I’d imagine Emma to look like.
Gavin. Oh my sweet, sweet Gavin. Well, this was easy. In fact, I had a picture of how I envisioned Gavin on my desktop so I could…um…reference when I needed to. Aaron Johnson is my Gavin.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Emma Davis is a high school senior who is desperate to keep a family history of mental illness at bay, but she discovers love will drive her a different kind of crazy.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m currently querying agents. There is interest and I’m hoping to have good news soon. I don’t have anything against self-publishing, but it’s not the path I want to take.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
First draft took about 4 months. The next 18 months were revisions, workshops, revisions, revisions, critiques, workshops, revisions, edits, edits, critiques and edits. (Rough estimate, of course 😉 )
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Like Emma said, this question is hard! It has elements that are similar to the Ruby Oliver series by E.Lockhart in terms of a snarky MC dealing with mental illness. While mine focuses on schizophrenia, and much more serious mental illness, I think the approach can be considered comparable. However, there are some very real moments showing the severity of the disease in prose similar to that of a Laurie Halse Andersen book, but again, I think Ms.Andersen’s work is brilliant and I’m a little weirded out saying anything of mine is like anything of hers. (<—- insert self-deprecating writer talk.)
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think mental illness is still viewed as a very taboo subject, and having several people in my life living with various forms of it, I wanted to write a book showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of the disease. Also, there aren’t many books about mental illness from a loved ones point of view.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s a heavy subject matter, but at the core, it’s a love story. Oh! And there are cupcakes! And The Beatles! And Disney Movies! And…and…LOTS OF OTHER REALLY GOOD THINGS!