Monday, December 8, 2014

All Day Q&A

It had been a LONG time since I've opened up a day for Q&A, so I thought I'd do it today and see how it goes. I'll be taking ALL questions asked today—all topics, writing, personal, etc.—on any social media. I'm on Twitter, FB, Tumblr, and here on the blog.

If you want a very in depth answer, I recommend asking here on the blog or on Tumblr. Those are the easiest place for me to ramble on excessively.

I am literally sitting here waiting for you to ask (minus when I go grocery shopping later), so answers should come pretty quick.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

I was doing NaNo this last month, which left this blog very sparse for the few people still reading it. But today I wanted to kind of write about what me, someone you could call a "seasoned" author perhaps, learned from this experience.

This was my first official NaNo, actually, though I have written at "NaNo-esque" pace before in my lifetime (not recently though, not for years). I decided to do it because I've been in a very tough place mentally for me as writer. A scary place. Because I've found myself just…not caring about writing. Not sad over rejection. Not mad that I can't "break out." Just…numb. Truly numb. Not the I'm-telling-myself-to-be-numb thing, but actually, seriously, I'm-gonna-try-NaNo-just-to-see-if-I-can-FEEL numb.

I don't know what to make of this, honestly. I don't like it, but I can't seem to stop feeling that way. So I went into NaNo hoping it would give me some kind of revelation about my writing or place as an author or something. I'm not sure I found the answers I was looking for, but this is what I learned:

1. You have to believe in yourself and your story.
I struggled all month with this. Yes, this book was the 19th one I'd started, and I was still in that place of doubt. I might still be, but I had enough belief to get through the month by telling myself to just have fun and don't think about if this book will become real or not. As I saw other people work through it, I admired their tenacity and adored seeing first-time novelists find they could do it, find that belief. That is such a magical time. I find myself often getting nostalgic over my younger days as a writer. I hoped to recapture that, and I think I did at times. Other times I definitely did not.

2. I can still write on deadline.
I was surprised at how "well-trained" I have become as a writer. I hadn't written anything in a few months when I came into NaNo, nothing in earnest since the summer. I was so burnt out—I still am, I think—that I was worried that I'd just get behind and give up. But 1,667 words a day…I don't want to sound like a jerk, but for an author like me that is right in the pocket for a day of drafting. The hardest part was writing on the weekends, since I usually don't do that. Those were always my worst days, having to force a mediocre amount of words out and then make up the rest during the weekdays when I was used to writing.

It was oddly comforting to find that, even though I am really struggling with my lack of emotion, that I can still WRITE if I need/want to. My current feelings—or lack thereof—doesn't have to get in the way.

3. I still thrive without outlines.
It's funny how some things just don't change much in your process, and discovery drafting has always been productive for me. I didn't even write down notes on this project hardly, and I had stuff to write everyday. It's a mess, for sure, but nothing slows me down like an outline. Alas, I will always have to accept heavy editing of all my work.

4. You have to write for yourself.
I struggled all month with trying to forget about publishing. I really just wanted to write without any intention of publication, and that is so freaking hard to do once you've published. When I was able to do that, I found the words easy to get down. When I started to love the book some…then I'd want to publish it…then I'd think no one would want it…and then I got sad. It was very annoying. Trying to write for myself again after so long was a real challenge, and I don't think I completely mastered it again. But I really want to, because that was when I was the happiest during this project.

5. NaNo won't fix your problems. Probably.
I came to NaNo with a lot of hopes for some big, impossible things. I was hoping for some huge revelation that would make writing meaningful for me again. There were glimmers of that, but for the most part…NaNo was NaNo, and I am still me. Plus 50k words. I still don't know how to fix myself, how to get past the numbness. I still don't know if I'll continue publishing for the rest of my life. All I know is I'm an uncontracted writer who has no clue what's on the horizon. I've been through another full year of publishers passing on my manuscripts. And I'm still just really tired. NaNo was a good experience, a chance for me to grasp the writer I used to be. But I still lose her all the time, and I still don't know if I want to keep trying to find her. I just don't know a lot of things. I'm trying to be okay with that.

6. Treasure being in the zone.
Overall, I really do recommend NaNo for anyone who wants to give it a go. It's fun to have that sense of community as you write, and it's magical to see all these new writers fall in love with what they are creating. It must be really fun to be that author falling in love with your work, too. I remember those days. I crave them constantly. If you're in that state, treasure it. I know you probably want so much more—I did…and still do, honestly—but those moments where you are in the zone are the best part of this all. They are the moment jaded authors like me chase, hope to recreate, wish we could have way more often than we do. I envy you those moments. So hold on to them and savor them, even when you're looking forward to other exciting moments down the road.

Monday, November 3, 2014

FISH OUT OF WATER American Cover Reveal! Call For Reviewers!

I wasn't sure if I was going to do an American release of FISH OUT OF WATER. Indie is a lot of work, you know? And not just work but money. I wasn't sure I had either the time or funds to put it out in the US on my own…or, in honesty, the desire after doing four novels in one year. I've just been tired. I figured people wouldn't really care if they couldn't buy it here in the US.

But then I started in on edits with my editor. And I remembered how much I loved the book. And I realized I did, in fact, want to share this book with as many people as I could. Even if that was only my friends and family here.

So, with no bites from US publishers or even hints of bites, I finally started the process of designing FISH OUT OF WATER for the US market.

It was freaking hard.

YA Contemporary covers can go in so many directions, so I just wasn't sure at first how to choose a path. Ultimately, I went with things I personally love in covers—font-centric, graphic, simple. I wanted it to be adorable and quirky, since I felt like that is much my writing style.

While this might LOOK simple, man, it was not simple to create! I think I about killed my designer with nitpicking and stressing as we worked and worked to find the right feel, the color scheme, the way the fish should look, etc. It was crazy and even now that it's done I'm so nervous to show it! But I also lurve it so hard and feel like it is exactly what I wanted. So without further ado: FISH OUT OF WATER! (US version)

Isn't it awesome??? And look at the blurb! Thanks to Kasie "Dimples" West for that little gem. And guess what? I am releasing it IN HARDCOVER (because I want to hold and snuggle my very first hardcover). And the flap copy:

Mika Arlington's summer will be perfect, she's made sure of it. Interning with her parents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Check. Sand sculpting at the beach with her best friend. Check. Eating delicious food until she can't walk straight. Check. But the arrival of her estranged grandmother and too cool Dylan are about to wash away her ideal plans. 
Mika’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s and demands care from the family she once shunned. Dylan, the brooding new employee at the pet shop where Mika works, may be hot but everything that comes out of his mouth is the exact opposite. She can’t stand either of them, and yet she’s expected to be their babysitter. Talk about worst summer ever. Until she learns that sometimes the best things can come completely unplanned.
I hope you love this all as much as I do. And I have to ask an awkward question now. So, do you want to maybe read this book for review? (I feel like I'm asking you out on a date.) Because I'm looking for up to 50 advanced eARC reviewers—please fill out this form in you're interested.

And now, back to NaNo for me! Happy November, all!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Witchy Sale!

This is basically like the perfect Halloween read, and you can grab it for the price of a fast food burrito! Woot! Right now it's available on Amazon, but I'm sure B&N will match it soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why The Hell Am I Running?

When I finished all my crazy deadlines and tours and conferences and junk, the first thing I did was make new goals. I'm gonna go running so I can be less fat! I'm going to have a clean house for once! I'm going to learn new things! Because that's what you're supposed to do, right?

Heaven forbid we ever stop running ourselves into the ground for one second.

A couple weeks ago I was at the gym, walking around the track in preparation to do my run. It felt like I was about to torture myself. I had been adding a lap every time I went and was near two miles running—I just didn't want to run that day. Okay, I never want to run. Even when I was doing it consistently I hated it.

So why was I doing it? Because that's what I've been told I should do. If I want to be thin and healthy I need to sweat and count calories and somehow all of this is supposed to make me happy. Except it wasn't, and I wasn't losing weight either because I have been so dang high strung all year that my body is still not sure how to cope with the copious amounts of stress I put it through. And you know what? Running was stressful, too. Running made me think I needed to be more than I was, and guilty because I didn't actually WANT to be more.

That's when I decided not to run that day. Or after that, unless I wanted to.

I still go to the gym, but I walk the track while jamming out to Kpop. And I enjoy it. And I smile. And I kinda wish they offered Kpop dance classes because I'd so take that. Feeling happy and relaxed while moving for an hour? That is what I need. I realized I don't need to buy into the thin=happy crap they constantly feed us. I move because it reduces my anxiety—that's what I need in my life. Not something that's more stressful.

I don't know why we (women especially) seem to think we have to run ourselves into the ground to be proven Of Worth, but I have felt that many times in my life. I have to be an amazing parent who doesn't ruin her children's lives with her imperfection (impossible), I have to be a bestselling author because there is not other kind of author (not true), I have to have a pristine house (yeah right), and of course I must be a model while doing all this (I totally am that).

Where did all these expectations come from? Who is imposing them on me? Society? Myself? I have no idea. All I know is I'm tired of them. I didn't think I was buying into them, but in a way I was. I was certainly buying into the idea that if I wasn't 150% productive at all times I was a lazy piece of crap and it was all my fault I wasn't successful. I was running much faster than I was able, and it got me a load of stress and burn out.

I'm learning how to slow down again—which is surprisingly hard. My body is forcing me to, since my mental health is not good and I can literally only handle so much in a day before I start to shut down. But I've been doing crazy things like being 0% productive in a day…even a week. Doing not much more than consuming lots of TV and video games. I get all guilty-feeling still about this at times, but I'm getting over it. I'm reminding myself I have no deadlines, no contracts—I'm not actually slacking at all. I'm on vacation.

I'm allowed to walk instead of run.

I'm allowed to sit and do nothing if I want.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


One of my oldest writing friends has a really awesome book coming out today. Maybe you've heard of it? SNOW LIKE ASHES!

If you love fantasy and are interested in a world I call "Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Disney," then you should pick up SNOW LIKE ASHES and read it. Sara is a fabulous writer, and it has been such a pleasure to know her and read her work for the last five years. This day is long overdue, and I can't wait to celebrate with her. Because she will be here on tour! And I will be signing with her (along with J.R. Johansson, Michelle Argyle, and Bree Despain)!

If you want to celebrate with us as well, please check out the following events in Salt Lake City and Denver. Sara will also be traveling much of country, so check out the graphic and see if she's coming to a city near you!

Monday, October 13, 2014

When You Just Don't Know What's Next

NOTE: I have emailed the winner of my exclusive newsletter contest—thanks to all who entered to win a copy of Relax or Trust me! And if you want access more exclusive contests, please sign up for my newsletter here.

Okay, business out of the way, on to the post!

I went to an indie publishing conference this weekend called IndieRecon Live! I decided a few months back to go, though I was a little on the fence as to if I could handle it mentally with how burned out I've been.

Well, I'm super glad I went.

Not only did I learn a lot about my weaknesses in indie publishing (marketing, oh, marketing, how badly I fail at you), but it was surprisingly comforting and exciting to be around other authors who indie publish and other writers who are choosing this as their path. Sometimes at traditional-oriented writing conferences, it's felt like indie publishing is shoved into the corner and people don't take it seriously. But here? Oh, it was serious and it was awesome. It helped me, as a hybrid author, connect with the indie side of my career in a new way and feel even better about it.

I got to listen to people who do this and have seen amazing success with it. While I still don't know if I can attain that kind of success, I do feel like I have tools now that I can maybe implement and see improvement. I also just feel happy I made the choice to share my work, and know it's okay to try stuff and fail at it and try something else.

But through all of this, I found I'm still a little broken, too. In one class, the presenter asked, "What is your dream right now?" I thought and thought, and I was concerned to find that I did not have an answer.

I've had an answer to that question since I was a little girl. There was always something I wanted and something I was reaching for. So as I sat in that class with a complete blank—and even now I still have no answer—I wondered what this all meant for me.

What happens when a dreamer stops having a dream?

Well, it's a little sad. And a lot confusing. And very much worrying. I don't really know what to make of it. All I can think to do is wait, and hope something comes in the quiet moments I'm trying to give myself. When it does, I also hope I have the courage to try when trying is just so dang hard.

For now, I guess I'll focus on the few things I do know—that FISH OUT OF WATER is coming out in February and I need to finish the I'm A Ninja series. Maybe the rest will just work itself out and I'll have some kind of answer by the time those two books are published? I hope so. Otherwise I really don't know what I'll do with myself.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Spacey Squared

Ever since I decided I was on a break, it's like my brain completely shut down. It packed its bags, put up the "On Vacation Do Not Disturb" sign, and has drifted off into a blissful state of refusing to work properly.

I have forgotten to answer emails from important people. I keep forgetting I have to fix something on a certain book and must review the PDF. The books I'm supposed to read for blurb completely slip my mind. Today I realized it was NOT the 13th but the 6th. Last week I forgot to pick up my kids from early out day. It's really quite hilarious just how much my brain is throwing out.

I'm not sure what this is. Maybe it's stemming from my extreme desire to not work right now. Like, I think of working and there is only gnashing of teeth and wailing. So maybe my mind is blocking stuff out so I can keep pretending I have zero to do, when in reality I still have a couple things on the plate but a lot less than before.

Hopefully it'll wane quickly, because I do need to find some kind of balance. I've so loved being a not writer, but I know at some point it'll be time to get back to work. Not just the writing part but all the business parts of it as well. Might need my brain for all that stuff.

This is a lesson for me, though, as embarrassing as some of my forgetfulness flubs have been (like today when I thought my friend's book was coming out tomorrow but it's next week). Or maybe it's a re-learned concept.

I can't do this to myself, this insane pushing I've done this year. I wanted to say I gave this author thing my 100% effort—I think so I could be sure it wasn't my fault if my books failed. Authors get a lot of the blame, you know, even though the vast majority of what makes a book successful is entirely out of an author's hands. Publishers make it feel like your fault. Reviews do, too. You keep hearing that if you, as an author, could just SELL MORE BOOKS—then you wouldn't be rejected, you'd get more books deals, you'd get more marketing, whatever. (This might actually be true, but I have not yet achieved the quota that qualifies me as "selling more books.")

While you try to tell yourself it's not true, I think we all internalize that a little. We think it's our fault for not selling more books. Even after I came to realize that it's a publisher's responsibility to use the rights they purchased to the best they can—and not at all on me—I still felt like it was maybe my fault. So I tried very hard with the means I had. I attended the conference I could and traveled on my tiny budget. I published many books and tried to get them out there to build a backlist. I held giveaways and did the social media thing. All the doing, because maybe just maybe it was my fault and that would all change it.

…but it didn't, not really. I still sell at the same steady, slow pace. I have lovely readers who are kind but I'm still an author people don't know well. None of my effort has earned me favor with, well, anyone in publishing. It's still just hard. I'm bummed that' it's been three years since I sold in the US and sometimes wish I had the money to move to the UK where they kinda like me a little more.

But sad story aside, all that trying at least taught me once again that I can try myself into the ground and it won't make it so I'm in control of how my books are received. That is still true past querying, alas. I'm super good at trying—I think a lot of writers are—and I see other authors who are even better at trying, and sometimes it frustrates me that all the trying doesn't get the equivalent results. I'm really glad that I still tried though, oddly enough, because now I can let go again and be okay with my lack of control. I know it's not my fault. It's been out of my hands all along no matter how much it feels like people tell me differently. Really all I can do now, as every writer should know, is write another story and another. That's the only thing we can control, and it's probably why we like the writing part so much.

So I will continue to be my spacey-on-vacation-brain self for now. Without writing but still thinking of stories and dreaming and remembering how to hope. When I come back, I hope my brain will come too! We'll have lots of worlds to explore together.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Power Of Saying Yes To Yourself

You will hear everywhere that you have to be tough to be a writer, and I've talked many times about how that's not quite true. I am not a tough person. I still cry at rejections and I can't handle reading negative reviews. Not because I'm a wuss, but because I'm a human being with feelings and junk.

But I have found that there's something you have to stay strong on—you have to keep saying YES to yourself.

It's really easy to stop doing that when the whole industry seems to be saying no all the time. Before you know it, your mind starts rejecting ideas before you can even make them into stories and then books.

I've seen this happen to me over the years. I get an idea, I start to kinda like it, and then instead of holding on to that excitement/love/passion I begin to ask questions like:

Well, is it marketable?
Is it hooky? Is it like other things out there?
Is it on trend or not trendy enough? Should I make it more on trend?

Usually I will then start rejecting myself. No, it's not marketable enough. It probably won't sell because it's not "high concept." People say they want "new and different" but really they just want "the same thing but with a tiny twist," so this idea is too weird.

The story, in my head, is bound to fail before I even start developing the plot sometimes! It's so sad, but I don't think it's uncommon. It's a side effect of being told NO so much—we just forget that we can still say YES regardless of all the rejection we've faced up to that point.

It's like that relationship advice: Don't bring your past relationship's problems to your current relationship.

Books work a lot like that. It's super easy to take past baggage into the next project, but really there should be a reset button. Every book is a fresh start. Every story has unknown potential. You can't base a project's possible success or failure on your past works, and yet we seem to do this constantly. You can't keep saying no to yourself and expect to get a positive result. You have to say YES. You have to believe in yourself even though it feels impossible or even down right silly at times.

I'm mostly saying all this to remind myself, because for a long while I've been telling myself my books won't sell because of this or that. I've been telling myself I probably won't ever sell a novel again in the US just because it hasn't happened for three years. I think perhaps as a defense mechanism so I won't be disappointed and so I don't try to control something I can't.

But there's a fine line between being realistic and being a downer in publishing. I think I've been more on the downer side than I thought. And maybe believing in myself won't change how things go for me, but I think it will change my attitude about my career and publishing if I stop being so negative and let myself believe in the things I used to hope for.

I'm trying to say YES to my imagination and creativity more. I think it's helping me be less afraid, to be stronger in a way, to be happier. I'll deal with the rejections when they come, but I've decided my mind needs to be a place where "YES, you can do/write/dream that" is the default reply.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Week Without Social Media

As you know, I've decided to severely limit my access to social media for the remainder of the year. It seems like a silly, small thing, but it's a big deal to me. I spend a lot of time on it. It's something I kinda do as part of my writing career—it's how I interact with a lot of the online writing community. So cutting it out of my life for the most part has been…interesting.

The first day, I was a bit horrified to note how often I felt the impulse to CHECK. I checked so much before. I checked in the morning, all morning, in the afternoon, evening, middle of the night if I couldn't sleep. Okay, basically I was CHECKING all day long.

Did anyone reply to my tweet/FB status/Instagram picture/Tumblr post?

Did any of my friends announce something important I need to reply to or talk about?

Did anything of note happen in the writing community?

I have three spare seconds so I'm a little bored and maybe I should check JUST BECAUSE.

Check. Check. Check.

What I've learned so far is that checking actually takes up a lot of time and brain power. A half hour in the morning, ten minutes here and there, a few minutes while a commercial is playing during my Kdrama. I have been surprised to find how much time I've actually been on social media—I didn't think it was as much as it was.

But more than that, I was shocked to discover how much brain space it was taking up. The best I can do is equate it to waiting for something to bake. You know something's in the oven, and it cannot burn because you want to eat it, so you keep it in your mind while you go and do something. But you can't do something TOO engrossing because you cannot forget that the oven is on, so you do something to pass the time while also thinking about the freaking oven and don't forget the oven CHECK ON THE OVEN.

So I was distracted all the time. Checking the oven to see if my tweets had turned into…something, I guess. Meaningful social interaction? Validation that I'm not just shouting to the void? I have no idea, at least not yet. Maybe I'll figure out in time what I was checking for.

Without the ability to check—because I've had the websites blocked from my network so I can't even cheat easily—my life has been…quiet. And nice, actually. All the outside voices in publishing have vanished, and all that's left is my close writing friends, agent, editors, and the few people who feel like emailing me. It's really hard to compare myself when I'm missing all the deals, reveals, tour announcements, etc. I just feel a lot better about myself as a writer in general. I didn't think it would happen so quickly, but I'm glad for it.

The most surprising (which shouldn't be surprising but I'm pretty slow) is how my brain now has room to THINK. And in thinking comes STORIES. And REVISIONS. And PLOT FIXES. I didn't realize how much social media was muting my ability to work, purely because I was a bit distracted waiting for the oven and not able to focus my full thoughts on my own work. I wasn't abiding the ever-useful advice of "Keep your eyes on your own paper."

I still often want to check. I kinda want to check right now because this will be the first blog post I write without linking it to social media outlets in a long time, and I am scared no one will see it and pat me on the head for writing something. I suppose that is my next hurdle—remembering how to write and be okay with no one seeing it.

I think I'll get there.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Being Not A Writer

I used to want to be a writer more than anything else in the whole wide world. In many ways, I think this is still true. But lately I've been finding myself not daydreaming of imaginary worlds and publishing success—instead my mind is filled with quite the opposite.

I want to be in my real world.

I want to play video games for a whole day straight with my husband and not feel guilty about looming deadlines. I want to hang out with my kids at the park without my mind spinning on a plot arc. I want to go several days without sharing a single thing on social media because my life is mine and I want to keep it to myself. And I want to not read about everyone else's lives online. And I want to draw and paint. I want to run and move and remember that I am more than the words I put on a page.

This is an odd feeling for me. For the majority of my life I've vastly preferred the world in my own head to that of reality. I've had this goal to make a living by sharing those worlds with others. Now that I've shared a lot of words with others, I find myself wanting to greedily hoard all my words and keep them to myself.

Now, please don't start freaking out on me. I'm not depressed or feeling like I'm a horrible writer or something. That's not where any of this is coming from. Oddly enough, I am in a very good place with my writing mentality. I feel capable and experienced. I know I have developed this skill and grown. I love what I create.

I'm just…tired. Burnt out. I mean, it's to be expected after publishing five novels in a 15 month period. That is insane. I do not recommend it. Hindsight, people.

I was so eager to be this thing called an author, and like most debuts was frantic to do all the things all the time for all the people. I knew I would do this to myself, but at the same time I wanted to give it my all. I had to TRY. I am proud of how much I tried. I wouldn't take it back.

But it is time for a break. A BIG break.

Like, until the end of the year.

I'm writing this because part of that break comes in pulling back from social media, and I don't want people to get confused when I'm not interacting with them on certain platforms. I will actually be blocking Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook from being used on my network. I've already removed the apps from my phone.

I will, oddly enough, be keeping my blog and Instagram. When I was thinking about my social media usage and where I feel the best, I discovered I still enjoyed blogging, and Instagram pictures always make me smile and I get no stress from that site. So if you want to interact with me online, check in here, on Instagram, or email me. I will still be around, just not in a big way.

Why am I doing this? Mostly because I need to cleanse my palate, so to speak. I've finished a big run of work, and before I move to the next things I need to be not a writer for a bit. I'm really looking forward to it, and I'm sure I'll be dying to get back to writing by the New Year. I am desperate to feel that passion again. I hope my creative well is overflowing after I take this time to deliberately fill it up. I will keep you all posted on my little non-writing journey this fall/winter, here on my blog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Year Of Trying (Or An Introvert's Feeble Attempts At Marketing)

After my debut year, I have to admit I was a bit down on the, er, seemingly downward trajectory of my writing career. My publisher wasn't interested in anything else I was proposing to them. My book just wasn't selling well enough to convince them to want more from me. I have a novel that's been on sub almost a year in the US without any signs of a sale (Can I be done with year long failed subs? Because seriously, been there, done that.). Luckily my UK publisher still liked me enough to buy two more books from me, because that's been a bright spot in an otherwise "meh" debut scenario. Add in my adventures in indie publishing and it's all turned out pretty okay.

Despite difficulties and feeling like an overall failure, I decided to keep trying. In January of this year, that's what I resolved to do, I guess. Not officially with a New Year's resolution, but I determined I needed to at least TRY. I wanted to give up so badly. It felt like everything I tried just didn't help anyone see my books or care about them. So why keep screaming to the void, you know?

I was clearly bad at marketing so I wanted to throw in the towel. Marketing is uncomfortable for me—it always has been because I don't like standing in spotlights let alone shining one on myself. That was a big part of why I tried so hard to get published traditionally: I hoped they would market for me. And they have done some, but not nearly what I imagined in my newbie head. So much of it is still on me.

I am still pretty miserable at marketing (I might always be), but I have tried new things this year and some old things, and because I'm a hybrid author I can see more easily what makes a difference in my sales and what doesn't. I'm glad for this because it helps me know where to put my effort, and as the anxious person I am I can better plan what I can handle.

First, I've found doing conferences is pretty beneficial for me. While they take a toll on my mental health and I have to be careful to avoid things that trigger my panic attacks, I always see a bump in sales when I do a conference. Not like I am suddenly selling like gangbusters, but it does HELP. Especially in finding new readers. Signing events also help, though not quite in the same way because most signings are attended by people who already know you. But it's a good chance to meet readers and see their excitement and connect with them.

Another note on events: I've been surprised at the impact of non-writing-specific events. While I may not have as many book sales as at a writing conference, I see a lot of new faces and some of those faces stick around and become readers. It's also been fun because I get to share my other interests, like anime/esports/video games/art, at these other events. It's refreshing.

I've also seen how promotional sales can be a huge help in breathing life into a book. When TRANSPARENT went on sale for $1.99 this last April, it saw a higher rank on Kindle than it did when the book debuted. Not like I became a bestseller, but the book has had a new pair of legs and sold a little better than it would have if that sale hadn't happened—it was all but dead before that.

What has surprised me is the impact giveaways seem to have. While sales seem to TANK a bit during a giveaway (I think because people may hold off buying should they happen to win), there is a bump in "visibility." I usually gain more followers and have more people talking about the giveaway online. So it's a matter of possibly sacrificing some sales in exchange for expanding visibility.

Sadly, I'm seeing less and less impact from my blog and longer posts like these. I've jumped on Instagram and Tumblr this year for the first time and seen some new life on those sites in comparison to the blog scene and even Twitter. I've been surprised to see my covers and other images about me and my books on Pinterest, even. It seems like many writers and readers I know are experiencing social media fatigue, and it feels like promotion online is reflecting that. It's almost like white noise, and I don't see a ton of impact from my daily social media pursuits. At least not like it used to be several years back in the height of blogging.

I'm not really saying you need to do any of this as a writer, but I guess I'm just telling you what I've found because I've been kind of surprised that my TRYING has actually yielded some RESULTS. It's been nice to discover that, to see those bumps in sales through my indie books and knowing that likely applies to my traditionally published books as well. It's so easy as an author to feel like all the effort you put in does nothing, but that's not true. Maybe your marketing attempts won't do as much as you hope, but this year I've learned that your marketing will do more than if you had done nothing at all. That's an important lesson for me, and maybe it'll be one for you, too.

So if you are tired of trying, if you think it makes no difference, I'm here to tell you that it DOES make a difference. So keep going. Even if it's hard sometimes.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Art Vs. Craft

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of "art" and the concept of "craft" lately. While I was watching MasterChef (yes, of course I watch that), there was an episode where one of the judges talked about how cooking isn't an ART—it is a CRAFT and there are rules and training and a right way and a wrong way. This really hit home to me. I thought this likely also applied to writing in some ways. So I hunted down some definitions.

ART: noun: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings

: works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings

CRAFT: noun: an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands

: a job or activity that requires special skill

verb: to make or produce (something) with care or skill

I find these definitions really fascinating. They are somewhat similar, but the small differences say a lot to me. ART is something of the imagination, meant to be beautiful and thoughtful and emotional. CRAFT is something skillfully made with your hands, to make something with care and skill. So where does WRITING fall? Is it an art? A craft?

Probably something in the middle. Or perhaps what writing is changes based on what you intend that writing for. I think as a hobbyist, a writer has the liberty to focus more on ART, but when you are seeking commercial publishing a writer need to focus on CRAFT just as much. The drafting process I would say is a more creative, imaginative process that I would liken to making ART. The editing process is a skillful, intense activity that certainly feels more like a CRAFT.

I'm starting to think that realizing this duality of writing is key to improvement. Because I've seen some writers focus entirely on their ART, and they stay in this world where they put the creative process first and don't think they need the CRAFT part because feelings and passion will carry them through. And I've seen some writers obsess over CRAFT and strangle their ART to the point that their worlds have no life because they think if the words are perfect then the story is.

In reality, CRAFT augments ART. It facilitates its understanding, provides a filter that helps people see the imagination and creativity and passion in the creator. And ART illuminates CRAFT, providing the spark that takes a good "product" and makes it something bigger.

ART and CRAFT are both essential in creative professions, and striking that balance between the two is, I believe, when the magic happens.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Trust Me, I'm A Ninja Cover Reveal!

My newsletter subscribers got to see this early, but now I'm sharing it with the world. Behold! The awesome cover of TRUST ME, I'M A NINJA (Book #2 in the I'm A Ninja series)!

Isn't is the coolest? Michelle, my designer, really outdid herself here. I am so IN LOVE with this cover, and I didn't think I could love one more than the first! I can't believe this book is going to be a book so SOON. Less than a month, guys! I've spent all of this year working on it, and I hope you love the story inside as much as this cover!

Now it's on to book #3 in the series for me. I am so excited to finally see Tosh's story to the end. For a long time I thought this trilogy would never be written, and to know I'm two-thirds through it now is crazy. And if you think this cover is awesome, just wait until book #3! I already have the cover image bought and paid for, and it is *perfect.* I'm so excited.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


I'm really excited to announce that I am starting a newsletter! It won't be anything that's a huge deal, and I won't be sending it often, but it'll be a guaranteed way for you, my readers, to have the latest news about my books, sales, and events. Sometimes you just miss things online—I know I do.

So if you're interested, please sign up! I'm really excited to be sharing covers for TRUST ME, I'M A NINJA and FISH OUT OF WATER there first, along with teasers and sales. You'll be the first to know when my indie titles release, which is kinda cool.

Sign up for my newsletter!

* indicates required

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why I Can't Read Anymore

I've been pretty open about my whole mental breakdown surrounding publishing. It's crazy to think it's been four years since then, and even crazier to realize that I'm still digging myself out of that hole in a lot of aspects. But I've come a long way, and I'm definitely in a really good mental space right now, all things considered. There's just this one thing that I'm still struggling with:

I can't read books without feeling like a terrible author, without thinking every book is better than mine, without having significant anxiety attacks about how insufficient I am. It doesn't matter the book. This is true for my friends' novels, for bestsellers, for indies, for debuts across genres and age groups.

It's really annoying.

I actually remember the exact moment this became an issue for me. It was the summer of 2011, and I was at a writer's retreat with a bunch of friends. We'd done this retreat two years prior, and in 2009 we had these story times where we'd read from our WIPs for fun. It was my favorite part in 2009…in 2011, something changed.

I don't know what it was. I mean, in 2011 I had sold my first two novels. I was going to be a published author like I had dreamed about for so long. I was recovering from the intense panic attacks of fall 2010 pretty well. Or so I thought.

But as we began story time, as I listened to my closest friends read their awesome stories…I grew horribly self-conscious. To the point that I really didn't want to read my WIP at all. Awful thoughts blossomed in my head: "Your stories aren't that good. Their stories are all better than yours. Why are you even getting published? You suck in comparison to your friends and now everyone will be able to read your book and know that. Your friends must pity you and aren't telling you how much lower and suckier you are. You're really pathetic."

My head is not a nice place to be sometimes. Lots of the time, I guess. Thank you, social anxiety.

I bought into these negative thoughts at the time, though I didn't realize it then. I let them sink in deep—I know this because three years later I STILL feel like that whenever I pick up a book to read. First, I started avoiding the books everyone said were amazing, because I knew I would be crippled in my writing for weeks if I read them (which I couldn't afford when I was on deadline). Then it spread to books by my favorite authors. While I knew I'd love them, I also knew they'd make me feel completely lacking. So I stopped reading those. After that I started to avoid almost everything—debuts, books people criticized, indies, out of genre—I would just get so worked up and full of anxiety it wasn't worth it.

It got so bad I had to stop critting for many of my friends, because I would read their work and cry and panic because it was just so good and I would never measure up. Then I began to worry that they would HATE ME for not critting for them when they always helped me so much. So now I'm in this horrible cycle of having anxiety over books to the point I can't read, but then also having anxiety about people finding out I'm an author who can't read and also worrying my friends will hate me… *sigh*

This whole not-reading-because-it-hurts thing has been like my dirty little secret. I suppose I'm writing about it today because usually the first step to healing is acknowledging a problem. So here I am. Acknowledging.

I feel like this is one of my last hurdles in my long road to getting better. My heart is racing just typing this, just thinking about trying to fix it. But I miss books. I miss being able to enjoy reading—or at least not feeling like I suck when I read other authors' books. I miss the worlds of my favorite authors, where I used to find comfort but have now avoided because of my own insecurities.

I don't really know how to fix this weird problem of mine. But more and more I am getting the feeling there's only one way: To READ. To read until I don't feel like that anymore. To face the books I know I will love but will also make me feel like I shouldn't be writing.

It's ridiculous how scared I am.

But I'm going to try. I'm starting this weekend with a HUGE book from an author I practically idolize. I'm afraid I will never write again after because I'll be a puddle of "why do I suck so much?" But I'm going to do it anyway. Because I can't keep going like this, avoiding my fears.

Wish me luck.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Some Ninja Sekrits

Actual ninja sekrit: It's said they often wore a
deep blue because black was too dark and
stood out in shadow. There is conjecture that
they also had a white inner liner for their gi, in
case it snowed.
I keep telling people in person when they ask, so I figure I may as well TELL THE WHOLE INTERNET and get it over with.

RELAX, I'M A NINJA is actually the first in a trilogy.

Tosh's story was always meant to be a series from the second I started writing it, and since I'm in charge of these books in their entirety I decided why not? I'm writing the series I wanted to write. Regardless of how well they sell. Regardless of a vast or small readership. These books are MINE. For me. This is my one corner of control in an uncontrollable business.

So yeah, SEQUELS. They are happening. In fact, they are happening very soon.

The second book is in edits with my awesome editor Diane Dalton. I spent the winter and spring writing it amidst all those other books coming out. It has a cover designed by the awesome MDA Books. A cover I think tops the first (sorry I'm totally not showing you cuz I'm mean).

So when is it coming out? Well, I'm not gonna tell you an exact date. I like surprises. I'm sure YOU like surprises. It'll be like getting a birthday present on a random day. A…ninja present, you could say. And what better present is there?

Friday, June 20, 2014

"No One Will Care If You Stop Writing"

This week I got the chance to teach at Writers & Illustrators For Young Readers, and while I was there I was able to catch a pretty awesome talk given by guest agent, John M. Cusick. He said gobs of smart things, but the one that stuck with me was this:

"Truth is, no one will care if you stop writing."

He went on to explain that you, the author, will always care more than anyone else if you're writing or not writing. That's just how it is, and that's okay.

This might sound a little depressing to some people. And you know what? I've been struggling with this fear lately—that no one cares about whether or not I keep writing, that no one really cares about the stuff I have written, that my words will just fade into black as time marches on. I think I've been so afraid of it because, well, it's likely true. If I stop writing, a few people might be sad for a second, and then they will find new authors to love and life will go on.

I don't have to keep doing this. I really don't.

So why do I?

When it's hard and I make little profit and I feel silly or whatever…why do I keep writing when I don't have to and no one really cares?

As John was up there talking about this, saying these things that were so very true, an undeniable sense of freedom suddenly came over me. I'd been so afraid of these thoughts, and it was so comforting to hear someone else say them and give them context.

In that moment I realized that, while writing isn't always pretty, I must still love it. That is the only real reason I have to keep doing this thing. Because I care. I care A LOT about my own writing. I FREAKING CARE.

I've been spending a lot of time trying not to care, guys. Because writers are supposed to be tough and take criticism and treat this career like a job and gosh-stop-caring-about-those-rejections. But when I know "no one else cares as much as I care," I realize I am fine just the way I am—doing all the caring about my own work. If I don't love what I do, then there's no point, right?

So today I'm loving my work. And I'm okay with being the only one who care if I keep writing. It's liberating in a way—it takes me back to a time when I wasn't on social media and I didn't know a single writer and I'd never been to a book signing or conference and didn't even know what an agent was. Back then it was just me and the page. I thought after 8 years that had changed, but this week I figured out that the rest was all an illusion.

It's still me and the page. It always will be.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Epic Summer Giveaway! All My Books + Swag!

You know you want these.
Ah, the summer. No school, all my kids home, having to run a church girls camp program, plus deadlines on FISH OUT OF WATER and some other projects looming…I sure know how to do peaceful summer, right?

Okay, not really. But I hope you guys are going to have a great summer full of relaxing pool/beach side and reading all the book you couldn't otherwise get to. Like, say, MY books, maybe.

It's been a LONG time since I've done a giveaway, so I figure I go big. See all those books of mine? Well, you could win signed copies of ALL OF THEM (plus swag like bookmarks and charms). It's a simple rafflecopter entry, so what are you waiting for? Enter! Possibly win!

If you had a yearbook, I'd totally sign it "Have a great summer!" Because how could you not after winning a prize like this? a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


I'm very, very excited to finally announce that I have sold another book! I'm sure you are all like, "Wait, didn't we just do this? Didn't you publish three books this year or something to that insanity?" Yes, yes I did. Sorry about that—I know it's difficult to keep track of what I'm doing. Hell, I can't even keep track of it all!

But here's the bit from Publisher's Marketplace:

Natalie Whipple's FISH OUT OF WATER, in which a girl's perfect summer is ruined by the appearance of her estranged grandmother with Alzheimer's, to Sara O’Connor at Hot Key Books, by Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown (British Commonwealth). 

*happy dance*

Now, that's not a ton of info about the book, so I will take the liberty to elaborate here. FISH is a YA contemporary novel, which is a serious love of mine genre-wise. I have always dreamed of publishing in the contemporary genre, constantly felt not good enough to do so, and yet hoped maybe I would get a chance one day. And here it is! Happening and stuff!

FISH is also maybe a little more *mature* than my paranormal novels. I only say this because I know I have some younger readers and those with sensitive moral standards (yes, I'm talking to the Mormons). While I could never get seriously graphic, I do want to say there is *gasp* sex in this novel. I feel it is in good taste and necessary to the story. Otherwise I wouldn't write it. This is the official disclaimer. Consider yourselves informed.

Also, you may have noticed in the PM announcement that the rights have been sold for the British Commonwealth. Yes, this DOES mean it has NOT sold in America. Yet. I am eternally hopeful that it will find a home in the US, but as of right now this book won't be available in my home country.

With those pieces of info out of the way, here is a longer description of FISH OUT OF WATER:

Mika Arlington was supposed to spend the summer after her junior year shadowing her marine biologist parents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but when her estranged grandmother randomly shows up on the doorstep one day, those plans are derailed. Because Grandma Betty isn't here to play nice—she is cranky, intolerant of Mika's mixed-race-couple parents, and oh yeah she has Alzheimer's and is out of money.  
While Mika's family would rather not deal with Grandma Betty, they don't have much choice. And despite Mika's protests, she is roped into caring for a person that seems impossible to have compassion for. And if that wasn't hard enough, Mika must train the new guy at her pet shop job who wants to be anywhere else, and help a friend through her own family crisis. Something's gotta a give, but whichever ball Mika drops means losing someone she loves. 
Not exactly a recipe for Best Summer Ever—or is it?

I'm not gonna lie, I really love this book. It comes from many personal places, as much of my work does. I've talked about how HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW is deeply inspired by my Grandma Dorothy. Well, the truth is, FISH OUT OF WATER is strongly inspired by my other grandmother.

While she didn't have Alzheimer's, my father's mother was a person I loved, but also struggled to understand. She was the kind of person who was all honey to your face, but angry and resentful the second you left. She "didn't approve" of a lot of things, like my father converting to Mormonism and my uncle marrying outside his race. She even went so far as to make these things clear on her death bed. And that has stuck with me—that some of her last words to my father and uncle were not "I love you" or "I'm proud of you," but instead "I never, ever liked what you chose in your life."

I suppose FISH is my way of working this out for myself, in exploring the idea of family, of how you can love someone and still pretty much know they're not a great person. It's about accepting others' flaws—accepting your own.

It's also about good curry, sand sculpture, cute boys who make golf look cool, and goldfish. LOTS of goldfish.

So if you're down for a book like that, FISH OUT OF WATER is for you. And you don't even have to wait very long! It'll be released FEBRUARY 5th, 2015. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How Do You Make Ideas Into A Book?

Every author knows the most-asked question at an event is: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Some people really hate this question. Others joke about it. Some just plain don't have an answer that is really helpful (it's a very hard question to answer). I'm a newbie who doesn't have the money to tour myself much, so I suppose I haven't heard it enough to be tired of it. I still find the question—and its frequency of being asked—really fascinating.

There was a time in my writing life that I believed if I just had the right idea, I could be published. I actually thought that my writing didn't even have to be very good—if I just had that idea that would make everyone fall in love with me regardless of how I put words together.

I have a feeling this way of thinking was not just my own, but many other aspiring writers as well. And our culture in general seems to put a lot of emphasis and wonder on the concept of getting "brilliant ideas," be they inventions, songs, movies, paintings, or books. That strange moment when a human being becomes almost godlike and creates something that touches others or makes their lives easier…it's as if we all wish to have that little piece of magic in our lives.

So I don't begrudge any person who asks me that question, who wants so badly to have their own piece of the wonder that is creativity. It's one of the most fulfilling things in my life.

I wish I could tell you where your Well Of Ideas resides, but today I want to answer the question I think might be even BETTER than the one that's always asked:

How Do You Make Ideas Into A Book?

I think that's what many people are really wanting to ask, but they might not yet have the thought to ask it. Because we get ideas all the time—all people do. Storytellers just train themselves to USE those ideas in a specific way. I'm really hoping I can translate it for you today. I may be wrong, because I can only speak from my experience, but this is my attempt to explain how my brain takes an idea and turns it into a story.

1. Training Your Brain To FIND Ideas
As I said before, I really believe all people have lots of ideas. But maybe not all people know how to use them or even realize they are having them. I remember when I was a teen writer—this idea generating did seem like a tough thing! I didn't know which ideas were good and which were bad (okay I still struggle with that sometimes). I didn't know what to DO when I had an idea I liked, where I was supposed to start.

Two things to train your brain: Study and Imitate

Looking back, I loved stories from an early age. It didn't matter the form for me. I took in story from animation (both American and Japanese), books, comics, movies. This is an essential part of being a storyteller—studying the greats. If you want to write, you've heard it many times before, you need to read.

And then comes imitation. All the stories I first tried to write were loosely based on other stories I loved. One was Sailor Moon-esque. Another had The Giver written all over it. Another was very femme fatale, probably a spawn of my fondness of action movies. Basically, I was imitating what I loved.

Which is a GOOD thing. Writers tend to freak out over imitation, but I truly believe it is a very important part of the creative process. In other creative pursuits, it's super super normal for imitation to take place. A piano player doesn't start out writing their own music—they learn the basics and play the songs of masters first. An artist doesn't start out executing perfect work—they copy styles and learn art history and then they begin to innovate.

Writing is the same. Don't be afraid to imitate (just don't try to publish something you know is an imitation). In imitating something you know is good, you learn. You see new things. You may even get new ideas of your very own.

My bet is you will start to get a lot of ideas, because storytellers definitely love to tell their own stories more than they like to tell others. We're selfish like that. I have always gotten more excited over my own work than that of others. (Which is also why I encourage aspiring writers not to be too afraid of their ideas being stolen—fact is, most writers won't think your ideas are better than their own.)

2. Practicing Curiosity To See MORE In An Idea
I think many people outside of storytelling, or those just dipping their toes in, envision ideas floating down to a writer from the nether fully formed. In reality, it's a lot more like this awesome tumblr graphic I saw a couple weeks ago:

Via BethanyHagen on Tumblr.
I have thought about this image since I saw it, because it is SO TRUE. Getting ideas is much more like getting a series of puzzle pieces and then being tasked with figuring out how they fit together. Sometimes it can take a long time for them all to fit, too. Or you'll get a key piece for a story, but not another for several years—and then suddenly it all clicks just when you thought that story piece was a lost cause.

You gotta turn into a relentless interrogator when it comes to getting a story out of your ideas. Those elementary school questions? Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Yes, those are super useful! I totally go back to that in a way. But then you start to learn even better questions to ask.

If you get an idea for a character: What do they want more than anything and why can't they get it? What are they most afraid of? What would break them in two? What would make them happy? (And then you ruin their life—because stories are ultimately studies in conflict.)

If you get an idea for a world: How is this place different from our world? Who lives there? What do they believe? Fight for? Run from? What would ruin this world? What would make it better?

If you get an idea for a scene: Why is it happening? What happened before? What happens after? Who will lose the most in this scene? Who will gain the most? Why does it matter to the story?

The more questions you can ask, the more story you'll start to get. That's where, for me, it gets really exciting. I love trying to solve the puzzle, even though sometimes it can be frustrating it's always interesting and rewarding. This is what keeps me coming back to writing, because there are endless puzzle pieces and they never go together the same way twice.

3. Executing Your Ideas The Way You Envision
Every writer can tell you this is actually the hardest part of writing. You can see these amazing stories in your head, and often your words on the page fall short of them (or almost all the time, alas). Writing is the art of using words to paint a picture, and it takes practice.

So study your craft, be it through reading or taking classes or surfing the net for the best advice you can find. Study, study, study. Never stop trying to execute better. Because the more you focus on how you execute your ideas, the more you will learn that is the true challenge. The ideas are wonderful and magical, but they can't shine without you putting in the work to be a good writer.

The more you learn to execute, the more you will understand how to manipulate your ideas. At that point, ideas will feel endless and you'll never really have to worry about how to get them again. Because you'll discover they were with you all along.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

All Day Q&A!

It's been a long while since I've done a Q&A, but today is the day! You have a question? I HAVE AN ANSWER. I will answer wherever you ask a question—in comments on my blog, on my Facebook page, on Twitter, or even Tumblr.

All questions are welcome, about whatever you want. Life advice, writings, my books, my life, whatever. You may ask MULTIPLE questions. Follow-up questions. Random, slightly awkward questions. Today is YOUR day. I am at your service.

I will answer as soon as I see the question, but it will be today for sure, if not immediately.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Finding The Happy Things & Waxing Nostalgic

I like to keep things real on the blog, but this weekend, as a friend struggled with the difficulties and reality of publishing, I wondered a bit if I sometimes focus too much on the rough road of being an author. Am I turning into a downer? Am I getting overly jaded? Perhaps I've gone from realistic to plain old curmudgeon.

That makes me a little sad.

I want to try and rectify this. Not to say that I can stop being realistic and honest, because that's where I feel comfortable, but I want to find a better balance for myself. I want to point out more good, despite the difficulties. I want to find the happy things.

So today I want to talk about the fact that it's been a YEAR since TRANSPARENT debuted! That's crazy. It's feels both so much longer and shorter than that. Time is a weird thing when you get into publishing. Years become these really short things, when they used to feel like lifetimes.

Signing my very first book contract, in 2011. (Dang, I was skinny
back then! My love of cupcakes has betrayed me.)
I remember the day I got my contract for TRANSPARENT like I remember most other big, good days in my life—I recall more of the feelings than the details. It didn't feel entirely real, signing a few papers that claimed I'd be a published author in 2013 (two years later). After a long time in the query and submission trenches, it's just hard to grasp that you've finally reached that one goal.

You feel a bit afloat, both giddy and terrified because now what? Well, lots of waiting. Of course. But also all the cool things you dreamed of—getting that first edit letter, seeing cover comps, receiving ARCs in the mail, your first advance check, your first trade review. Those parts? They are all as awesome as it seems.

I was always struck, in those two years I waited for TRANSPARENT to be a book, how unreal it all still felt. I kept wanting it to feel real, but now I think the surreal aspect was amazing. It was the dream. I was living a dream. There were all these gritty reality bits, too, but those unreal moments were like pristine vistas along a difficult hike. They were meant to be savored, and I tried to do just that. I think I've learned in these last few years to savor the good bits as much as possible—they carry you through the other stuff.

Debut of TRANSPARENT, May 21, 2013. (Me and my crazy
awesome sisters at my launch party.)
The day TRANSPARENT came out…I remember feeling like I might throw up at any minute. It's part of having anxiety, I suppose, and also because dreams and reality were all crashing together and now I had to actually BE the thing I wanted to be (an author) instead of pretending at it. Here I'd been waiting so long to be this thing, and suddenly it felt like I could never actually be ready for it.

I wasn't.

Debuting is a lot like being a first time mom—you just can't know all the things you need to know. So much of the knowing comes in doing. But at the same time it was wonderful and awesome and I feel like, even four books and a year later, that I'm still growing into my new role. I'm still learning to claim it. But there's one thing I do know:

I'm proud of myself.

Because I'm not the kind of person who likes to toot my own horn, that is hard for me to say in public. But it remains true and I feel like it's just as important to say I AM PROUD OF WHAT I'VE DONE as it is to say that I'm not perfect and that I struggle with stuff. Writers are constantly pushing to improve, but it does make me sad to see writer friends become almost ashamed of their past achievements, as if they weren't good enough. It's my goal to not do that—to be proud of my work even if I also want to improve.

So today, a year after my nerve wracking debut, I'm going to be proud. I did what I set out to do. Maybe it didn't all go according to plan and I'm not some massive bestseller, but I have four books out in the world. When I first signed my contract, I thought I'd only have two out after a year. Having twice as many is pretty awesome.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

In Defense Of "Younger" YA

We've all seen/heard phrases along the lines of "I liked that book, but it read younger YA than I wanted." Or perhaps "It wasn't really my thing—it read so young." Or maybe even the slightly harsher-toned "That book was way too juvenile, ugh."

As you can probably guess, these phrases rub me the wrong way. Mostly because, yeah, I DO write what might be termed as "younger" YA. I know many other authors who do, and they are great authors with tons of talent and a passion for their books and the audience they write them for.

Right now in YA, more so than in the past (at least over the 7 years I've been in the loop), there is an especially big emphasis on "older" YA. The genre used to be opposite, in fact. I remember when I first started querying, I had friends getting turned down because their novels read too OLD. The characters were too OLD. Everyone acted too OLD. The genre was looking for "younger" YA that had a mass appeal. Now "old" is in and "young" seems to be the kiss of death. Funny how things turn around like that.

But I'm gonna stand up here and say—please, please have respect for "younger" YA.

It's cool if it's not your thing. We all have our things, and respecting other things while having your things is nice. And of course it's totally fine to point out that a book might be for a younger audience—but using that as a point of criticism isn't helpful. All audiences, no matter the age/genre/style/etc., deserve respect.

I can't speak for all the authors who write "younger" YA, but I can tell you why I write it and why I think it's important. And of course I'm gonna tell you because it's my blog and that's what I do: I spout my own nonsense here. So let's get on with it.

When I sit down to write, when I picture the person I'm writing for, I imagine a kid who is in 7th or 8th grade. This kid? They want to be more grown up than they are sometimes, and at other moments they wish they were still a kid who doesn't have to grow up. Junior high is a rough time, you know? Hanging on to childhood with one hand and grasping for adulthood with the other.

It's a time when a lot of kids stop reading.

Why? Because middle grade books are becoming "baby" books (also why I believe upper MG is essential but sadly often discounted), and yet some YA is still just "too old" for a 13 or 14-year-old kid. I'm not saying that as a parent, but as a person who has worked with a lot of 12 to 14-year-old kids. Yes, some are ready to grow up and are  mature beyond their years. There are others who still love a good fart joke and are uncomfortable with the fact that they are now experiencing sexual attraction. Those junior high school kids are as various in their maturity as they are in their interests, how they handle tough situations, and what they want from a story.

As I write a story, I picture the girl or boy who doesn't quite love reading. Like, it's OKAY, but they wouldn't do it if their teacher didn't make them. Because, to be honest, I was that kid. I'm not the writer who grew up in love with reading—I grew up never quite being able to find a book I liked enough to read the whole way through. So in a way, I suppose I'm writing for the junior high school version of me, who could have used a "younger" YA story that had some kissing but didn't get into that whole gross sex thing in detail. I could have used a book that was cool and not "baby" but still young enough for me to handle.

Those kids deserve stories as much as the super-enlightened 16-year-old and the already-cynical 18-year-old. The thing I love most about YA is that it has given stories to an age group that didn't have so many before. I just hope we don't forget that there IS a big difference between a 13-year-old and a 19-year-old. YA fills a wide range of needs, and all of them should be respected.

So the next time you read a "younger" YA book, maybe instead of saying it read "too young" you could say "this book is perfect for a junior high school audience" or "this book would be great for a reluctant reader" or "this book meets the needs of a younger teen." Because that's not a BAD thing. It's actually a GOOD thing.

Obviously, I'm very proud to write for the audience I write for. I love them. I care about them. And I get probably a bit too defensive when people treat them like they are lesser just because they're on the younger side of the YA spectrum. So I'll try and control my mama bear tendencies, but I just felt like we all needed a good reminder about this audience. Because in the end, those young YA readers are kids we hope will KEEP reading, we hope they will love books so much they'll still pick them up when they are older teens, when they're in college, and for the rest of their lives.

At least that's my dream, as an author who writes for the reluctant 14-year-old reader, to keep a kid reading, to create lifelong readers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Relax…The Ninjas Are Here!

I am very happy to announce that RELAX, I'M A NINJA is officially available for purchase! It's been such a great learning experience, doing all the things for this book on my own. I'm really proud of the result, and I hope this book can find the people who will love it.

Some quick links for purchase, if you feel so inclined:

Amazon (If you purchase a hard copy, your Kindle copy will only cost 99 cents!)
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Kobo (Should be coming soon!)

NOTE: If you are a librarian or bookseller, RELAX, I'M A NINJA should also be available for order through the Ingram catalog. If you really want to order the novel and don't find it there, please let me know so that I can get in contact with Lightning Source personnel.


With this book's release, I thought I'd just take a moment to talk about where RELAX, I'M A NINJA came from. I'll break it into parts:

Growing up in the Bay Area. When I got the idea to write about a Clan of ninjas, I knew I wanted to set the book in a city. San Francisco, with its fog and history and varying architecture felt like that natural fit. Probably because I grew up across the bay in Fremont. I remember going into the city to see museums or the Golden Gate Park. We would take field trips there in school. San Francisco has always been the city I love most.

Being a nerd. I've always been the weird one. I was bullied when I was younger, and often felt like I didn't belong anywhere. At the same time, I had this belief that if people could just see the real me—just look past the outside stereotype—that they'd like me. I think I took a lot of that sentiment into RELAX, I'M A NINJA, and I made a world where the "people aren't what they seem" was taken to the extreme. I also made a world where nerds are also badass ninjas. Wish fulfillment? Maybe a little bit, but I think everyone has a right to imagine themselves as something great.

Anime. The first anime I ever saw was My Neighbor Totoro when I was maybe nine or ten years old. My mom happened upon the VHS tape long before Disney took to the Studio Ghilbli hype. She bought Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, probably in a desperate attempt to distract her three young children for a few hours while she got some work done. I was in love from the second I watched. When Cartoon Network started showing a few anime, like Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z, I ate those up, too. It was hard to get a hold of anime back in the 90s, but I found my way to things like Evangelion, Utena, Fushigi Yuugi, Escaflowne, Tenchi Muyo, etc. This love has had a huge impact on my writing, and I would say RELAX, I'M A NINJA is the most influenced by anime.

Video Games. I grew up playing Nintendo with my younger brother, games like Street Fighter, Ninja Turtles, and Mario Kart were staples of my childhood. But it wasn't until I found RPGs that my enjoyment morphed into love. The likes of Chrono Trigger, Secret Of Mana, Earthbound (one of my all time favorites and totally hilarious/random) were like reading books for me. Final Fantasy VII was a mind-blowing experience, and I've played every single one save the latest. I played the more obscure Saga Frontier through every character story, adored the entire concept of interweaving narratives. Basically, if you like RPGs, you'll probably see that inspiration in RELAX as well. (Especially in a certain scene, if you've played FF VII you will be able to envision it better than people who haven't played. Just so you know.)

I guess I'm saying this book really displays a collage of things I love, of things that made me who I am today. I suppose all books are like that—like funhouse mirrors that show a writer in many different ways.

So if you like any of these things above, there's a decent chance you might like RELAX, I'M A NINJA, too. It's been a long time coming, since I wrote this book like five years ago, but I'm so glad I can share this story with everyone now.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

To The Debut Authors

My debut, and therefore a book that will
always mean the world to me.
I've been thinking a lot about debuting lately, probably because we're getting close to a whole year since my first novel came out (May 21st! Crazy!). It's hard to believe it's only year, while it's also hard to believe it hasn't been longer.

So I want to talk to you about this thing called debut. I don't know if I should call this advice or not. Maybe more of a word hug?

Because, look, debuting is hard. You can plan and imagine and do all the things you're told to do, but it's still something you can't quite understand until you go through it. Which is frustrating and exciting and All The Things. It's truly a life event. It changes so much but also not a lot. There's so many things to navigate after that you never expected to deal with. And no one can really tell you how YOUR journey will go.

But I can tell you it's a journey. Debuting isn't arriving, it's getting to the next trail. It's realizing the trek actually never ends. It's deciding what to do when you're tired and things seem like they'll never get there. Wherever "there" is.

When the reality of numbers and expectations and meeting them or not comes, it might feel like you put in a crap ton of work and it didn't pay off the way you thought it would. You might hit some low points—and you maybe thought the low points were hit before you got that book deal! You might feel like you're screaming into the void and no one is listening. You might feel like…you failed.

Why yes, I am telling you this because I have felt ALL of those things myself. I know many other published authors who have. It seems counterintuitive, to have reached that big goal of Becoming A Published Author and still feel like that, but it happens.

Here are my words for when those feelings sneak up on you: KEEP GOING.

If you can't sell another novel for a long time after that first deal, keep trying.

If it feels like your marketing efforts are useless, keep trying to be seen.

If you hit the bestseller list and feel like you'll never top your first novel, try anyway.

If your publisher lets you go, find another publisher or try your own thing.

If you don't get great showings at your signings, don't stop having them.

If reviews hurt and paralyze you, turn it off and keep writing.

Keep writing. KEEP WRITING. I think one of the most surprising things to me since debuting is how easy it feels to just…give up. So often I don't want to keep trying because it feels like a futile effort when there is so much talent out there and I question my own merit. So often it feels like, if you don't have a marketing monolith backing you, that no one will ever see your words.

But the thing is, if you give up trying, then yeah that will be true. I know this is the advice we've all heard from the beginning—I suppose I've been surprised by how relevant it still is.

Yes, it's hard to sit at that signing table and sign two books, when the author next to you has a line an hour long. It's hard to be the noob with one book when the panelists next to you have been publishing for decades. It's hard to act like you're a Big Deal when you feel anything but. As tiny as you feel, as futile as your effort may seem, it does add up.

Book by book. Event by event. Review by review. Blog posts. Tweets. Whatever.

It. Adds. Up.

Most days, I feel like I'm one person with a toothbrush trying to scrub every floor in the world. I will never make a difference. The impact I can make is so small. And yet if you scrub everyday…eventually you clean a few floors. Then a few more.

That's a pretty lame metaphor. Maybe another try? Think about drafting a novel. It's a HUGE undertaking, but it happens one word at a time, one page, one chapter until you have a book in front of you.

I may not be a big shot. I am only a year into this whole published author thing. But looking back at it all, I have made some progress. I've signed and presented and shared and written my ass off. I'm about to publish my 4th novel. In a year.

Because I decided to keep going. Even when it felt like no one wanted me to. I can't promise you bestsellerdom or quitting your day job, my dear debut authors, but I can promise that if you keep going things will add up. Step by step, word by word, you'll find your way down the endless publishing road.

So keep going.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

We Need Diverse Books Campaign

More than ever, people come from mixed backgrounds—
you can't assume that what you see is what you get.
Today kicks off a really cool campaign called #WeNeedDiverseBooks. It's pretty self-explanatory, and it's also pretty obvious that I would be on board with this. Not only am I a white-passing Maori, but I have long been passionate about including diversity in my own books.

I've talked in detail before about what it was like to grow up not looking as much like the rest of my family, not really looking Polynesian save in my body figure and not skin or hair color. Also, how much I actually wished I had black hair and dark skin as a child, which is odd but very true because I wanted to look like my family and ancestors. (You can read about that here and here.)

The bottom line is, we need more books that reflect our diverse world and all the people that live in it. For a long time I thought this was an obvious fact and one that everyone agreed with and was striving for. But unfortunately I've learned, through trying to publish diverse novels, that's not exactly the case. A campaign like this is needed. Desperately.

Race is a weird thing in the US. Even the rest of the world often seems bewildered by how fixated on it we remain. I'm not sure of all the reasons, but the more I learn from my international family the more I tend to agree.

Me and my littlest sister—my only sibling still here in America
and not in New Zealand.
For example, in the US we tend to focus on how people appear and how much "percent" they are of a certain race. Like, you hear people giving their ancestry like a pie chart: "I'm 25% Polish, 16% Maori, 2% Choctaw, 10% German-maybe-Austrian, 8% Scottish…" It's so silly and yet that probably sounds familiar to every American.

But did you know it doesn't work like that in some countries? I was so surprised when my brother went down to New Zealand for med school, and the way they determined Maori scholarships was not on percentage (many Native American tribes have a cut off like 1/8th to 1/16th and the like), but based on LINEAGE. If you had genealogical proof that you are descended from a Maori tribe (we're Nga Puhi), then you qualified to apply for a "Maori scholarship."

That might seem like a subtle thing, but to someone like me, a white-passer, that one concept—basing race on lineage—was a huge and heart-warming concept. I so very rarely feel included in my culture, but the moment I heard that, I DID. I felt entirely included because I could have walked in there and given my lineage no problem, and it wouldn't have mattered what I looked like.

The awesome ladies of my family, before my sister (in the pink)
left the US to go live with her husband in New Zealand.
Everyone should feel like that—like they are included and that they belong. That's what #weneeddiversebooks is all about.

So join the campaign!

No matter who you are, YOU are welcome.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

House Of Ivy & Sorrow—A Book Of My Heart

Today House Of Ivy & Sorrow has been released into the world! And believe me when I say I'm excited about that, but in all honesty it also scares me very much. Because this book, while it may look like a story about witches on the surface, is really deeply personal.

At its heart, this book is really about Sisterhood to me, about the bonds that tie women together within and outside of family. Mother, grandma, sister, aunt, friend…these are the foundation of the witching culture I created, since there are no men who can use magic.

I pulled heavily from my own life, especially for Josephine's direct bloodline family. Her mother died when she was seven, which is about the time my grandmother died when I was little. It was my first experience with death, and so much of my lingering grief was put into this book. In fact, I kind of brought my grandmother back to life here, indulging in an alternate world where perhaps my mom died and my grandmother lived.

My grandma Dorothy, who was my inspiration
for Nana Dorothea Hemlock in
House Of Ivy & Sorrow.
My grandmother…she was just an amazing person. I was only eight when she passed, but even I could tell there was just something about her that was magic. As I say in the book about Jo's mom, my grandma "wasn't sunshine—she was the sun. Everything couldn't help but orbit around her, but nobody minded because she warmed them all up."

It's funny how your life just seeps into a book even when you're not trying. I hadn't even noticed until I finished the first draft that I named Nana practically the same name as my own grandmother, that I had created a woman who I imagine acts much like the woman I adored so much. I hadn't realized I built an old, ivy-covered home because of the comfort I felt in my grandma's old house.

I also didn't realize that I had put my dearest friends in the book for Jo to love. Friends were something I struggled to have and to keep in my earlier years, and it still surprises me every day that I have so many amazing friends in my life now who love and accept me and are incredibly supportive. So much so that I consider them family, and I would drop everything to help them in whatever they needed.

So yes, there is magic and cute boys and darkness in House Of Ivy & Sorrow, but what I hope people take away from this story is the solidarity and strength of all the amazing women in Jo's life, herself included. Because while there's some kissing here and there, the true "romance" of this book is the love and support Jo finds among the women surrounding her. And that is a message I think more girls need to hear in this world where women are constantly pitted against each other.

If you want to purchase House Of Ivy & Sorrow, here are some links to make it easy for you to do that:

Barnes & Noble
Book Depository