Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Book I *Could* Have Written But Didn't

Way back in 2008, I was an aspiring writer with quick fingers, recklessly typing out story after story after story. Six books, in fact, came out of me in 2008. From zombies to dragons to elves and even a girl who could talk to plants...yeah.

But, for all my recklessness, there was one book I decided not to write.

It was about a girl living on the Blackfoot Reservation. There was gonna be spirit animals and shamans and cliches galore. I was excited about it! As with all my other stories, I began to do some research into the region and culture and people and history. And the more I read, the more I got...a weird feeling. Basically, it said:

I don't know if I'm the right person to tell this story.

My feelings weren't that articulated at the time. I can boil that feeling down to this one sentence after a good eight years of thinking about why this particular story pushed back at me.

You see, I've kinda naturally included diversity in my writing since the beginning. I've been thinking about it before it was something people talked about every day online. I've been trying—and often times failing—to sell books with diverse MCs. My very first sub to editors, in fact, was a diverse MC...and I learned very quickly the realities of publishing in that respect.

So why this story? Why this Native American girl? What was it that made me step back?

Most importantly, I felt out of my depth. And I think this is key—the more I researched...the LESS confident I got. Usually as a writer, researching and learning and trying to embody that character becomes easier. This time? NOPE. It got harder, more confusing. I realized a lot of my ideas wouldn't work. And not in a "rework" sense but in a straight up "your ideas were wrong from the beginning sense."

But people like to say "challenge yourself." And "if you're afraid of a story it's the one you should tell." Which, I suppose, is true in some sense but can be taken way too far in another sense.

Finally, I decided I needed to get an answer from someone who knew much better than I. Because I happened to work at the Multicultural Office at my university (I'm a white-passing Maori, so I ended up being able to get this job that changed my life and perspective in so many ways), I happened to have a diverse group of friends and acquaintances though I live in an extremely white state.

So I emailed one of my Native friends. She is Navajo, grew up in that world. She isn't a writer or anything, but she is the girl I pictured as I was planning this story though she wasn't Blackfoot. I love and respect her, and so of course my white-passing self burdened her with speaking for all the Native Tribes and Nations.

But you know what? I'm glad I asked.

Because the email she sent back basically went like this, "I mean, I guess you're allowed to write whatever you want, but your story sounds cliche and I think Natives would be offended by it. Other people write dumb stuff about us all the time, and it's frustrating, and mostly I just wish that my own people could publish their own writing about their own culture and lives."

There was a little knee-jerk reaction in me that said "Aw, but I wanna write this because I love it. Pout pout pout. Wah wah wah. Freedom of speech and stuff."

But then there was a bigger reaction, one I'm eternally glad I listened to: "You know what? She's right. I have felt out of my depth on this from the beginning, and now she's telling me I AM. I should listen to her. I have more stories to tell—this one deserves to be told by someone who won't mess it up as much as I will."

And so I didn't write it. I have no regrets. In fact, I'm proud of myself.

That isn't to say I stopped writing diversely. I've written quite a variety of diverse characters in my small repertoire (many of which aren't published). That also isn't to say I haven't messed up a few things even in the stories I did choose to pursue and publish. I have! I've grown and learned by writing diversely, and yeah of course there are things I would have done differently. But the key in the stories I DID write: Research made me more confident, helped me resolve my own ignorance, and pushed me forward to make it better, unlike this story where it made me less confident I could do it justice.

There's been a lot of talk about who "should" be writing which stories. And there will always be that natural push back of "But I can write whatever I want it's fiction and not real!"

I'm not gonna say you're wrong if you think that, but I will ask you to pause a moment and think a bit deeper. Because I do wonder: Can we not do better than that?

The call for better representation isn't about hitting baseline decency. It's about raising the bar. It's about providing more beautiful voices from more beautiful human experiences. It's about asking the hard questions, and even more, doing the hard things that will give everyone a chance to not only see themselves in books, but to BE the one writing them.

This story of mine happened in 2008. Eight whole years ago. I wish I could say to my sweet, amazing Navajo friend that publishing hasn't continued to fail her people and other Native Americans but it has. I still hope for that to change—and I know now that my voice isn't the one to be heard but HERS and that is the beginning of it all.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Magic Of Writing With No Expectations

I've written under many circumstances. When I was aspiring to be published traditionally, I would write in hopes that I could fit a certain market and that shaped how I wrote books. When I finally sold I wrote in hopes that I could STAY in said market. When I realized I wouldn't ever really fit...I began rebelliously writing whatever the hell I wanted. Sometimes people would sell books like that, I was told. It hasn't happened to me yet. I'm still "outside" as much as ever.

And long ago, I used to write with truly zero expectations on me, imposed by myself or others. This, I think, is a magical thing. Truly magical. If you write you know what I'm talking about.

When I was a teen, I would go down to my quiet computer room in the basement. My dad had gifted me the old Apple MacIntosh. I had it ALL to myself! It didn't have much on it, but it did have a word processor and that's all I needed. Turning on my boom box, I would sit down there and melt into the worlds in my head. I would spend hours down there, dreaming up stories and feeling like everything I came up with was amazing. It was the best.

It didn't last.

A little criticism fueled my self-doubt and soon I stopped writing stories. The MacIntosh died. I lost everything I hadn't printed—which is a bit of a relief since there was A LOT of bad poetry on there.

I didn't feel that magic again for about five years. I finished high school and went to college, having tucked my dream of authorhood deep down where I hoped it wouldn't bother me. But, despite my fears and determination to have a rational career, it came back. And I started writing, and the magic was waiting there for me as I let myself explore and be imaginative.

For two years I played, not daring to attempt or think of publication. Mostly I was afraid of failure, but I think part of me also knew that things would change when I decided to try for traditional publication. Things wouldn't be quite the same.

I was right. It's hard to hold on to that magic once you make the decision to publish. Some writers are better at it than others. But slowly, it began to slip away from me. With each attempt to publish and then STAY published...that magic, that creativity, that all began to slip away.

I lost it a few times. Without that magic, I wanted to give up. Writing wasn't worth it without that joy. Every now and then, as I tired to make new stories I would feel that fleeting spec of magic still in me, but by then I was too afraid to let more in. Because magic can be painful, too. You can love things so much that the impending disappointment aches before it has even happened. And it does happen.

Perhaps I'm rambling, but I suppose I want to say: Hold on to the magic of writing.

It's not silly. It's not superfluous. It's essential.

Right now, I happen to be in an interesting new and yet familiar place—I have zero expectations on me as a writer. It's liberating and strange. It feels like both a failure and a mercy. Because I am finding magic again. And I am exploring worlds in my head that are just for me. I am writing what I want with no mind for what other people like. I'm letting this world and these characters surround me, instead of pushing them back in fear that I won't be able to share them. I'm opening up again—opening up to myself—after years of being scared of how all my books would fail.

The magic is here. In this place where I've ended up. And I missed it so very much.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Izanami's Choice: Interview With Adam Heine

I had the pleasure of reading this fantastic story, and I had the chance to pick Adam's brain about it. Here is the summary and links if you're interested in reading it. It's out tomorrow!
Samurai Vs. Robots. Progress. Murder. Choice. In 1901, the Meiji Restoration has abolished the old ways and ushered in a cybernetic revolution. Androids integrate into society at all levels, following their programming for the betterment of every citizen, as servants, bodyguards, and bureaucrats. Jinzou are the future. Japan is at the threshold of a new tomorrow! As a ronin steeped in the old ways, Itaru wants nothing more to do with the artificial creations posing as human. But when a jinzou is suspected of murder, he's pulled into a mystery that could tear the nation apart. Malfunction or free will? When is a machine more than just a machine?

So, what made you think "Hey! Androids plus 1900s era Japan! Let's do this"?
Because it's awesome! Why not? (I joke, but honestly most of my stories start with "How awesome would this be?!").

I think my biggest inspiration for blending those two particular things came from one of my favorite webcomics Penny Arcade. There's a series they do sometimes called Automata, in which they've created a noir Prohibition Era world where androids are restricted instead of alcohol. I took that idea and combined it with my love of Japanese history -- because seriously, I can't think of a single era in Japan's history that I wouldn't love to write a story in (as long as I could add robots or mutant powers or something, of course). Izanami's Choice is what came out of it.

Itaru is an interesting fella with serious grudges against droids, or jinzou—how did you build him as your main character?
I don't know how conscious this process was, but in hindsight it went like this. I had a nation in love with droids, so what better protagonist than someone who hates them?
Making him hate them wasn't that hard. The (actual historical) Meiji Restoration of the 19th century left a lot of disenfranchised samurai in its wake. Most samurai moved on, of course -- many of them taking on roles in the new government -- but what of those who didn't? If the last samurai rebellion had been put down by a droid army (instead of conscripted peasants with Western firearms), then some former samurai would naturally blame the influx of droids on their troubles. That's where Itaru came from.
Then, to make it personal, suppose his son was recently killed due to a droid malfunction. That event tears Itaru apart and makes it so he can't even look at a droid without remembering his loss.
Finally, because I'm a monster, I put Itaru in a situation where he had to work alongside a droid in order to get his life back. The story kind of wrote itself after that (not really, but you know).

How did you go about adapting an advanced technology like A.I. and Robotics into a historical setting?
Oo, that was the fun part! Well, fun for me. I'm pretty sure I'm about to bore 80% of your readers.

It emerged out of two ideas. The first came from the classic steampunk novel The Difference Engine: what if Charles Babbage had actually completed his difference engine (basically a mechanical calculator) in the early 19th century? I took that further. What if he had gone on to create more advanced computing machines as well, resulting in early computers 100 years before we actually got them?
The second idea was something I learned studying artificial intelligence in college: the idea of evolutionary programming. To oversimplify it, say there's a problem you're trying to solve -- something that's pretty hard for computers to pull off, like automatic facial recognition. Evolutionary programming would mean creating a bunch of different facial recognition algorithms and competing them against each other. The programs with the best results would then be tweaked and revised a hundred ways, and that second generation would compete against each other again. Repeat this a hundred times until you have a pretty dang good facial recognition program (in theory).
The hard part (well, one hard part) is how to evaluate when a program is "good." But imagine if there were a machine intelligence capable of evaluating -- and then revising -- its own programs and designs. Being a machine, it could then iterate over thousands of designs in the time it would take a human to iterate once.
And if that machine started iterating on itself... that's a robotic singularity -- an artificial intelligence growing exponentially while humans are out on their lunch break.

I found your theme of "Fear Being Dangerous" particularly poignant—I'd love to know more of what you wanted to explore, theme-wise, in this story.
It's funny, because I didn't intend for that theme to be poignant when I wrote it. It just came naturally out of the story. I had written the first draft months before the news was plastered with things like Syrian refugees or banning entire religions from the US.

Several weeks later, I was rereading Izanami's Choice for its first revision, shortly after Donald Trump proposed evicting all Muslims because they might be terrorists. There was one particular line near the end of the novella about "fear of danger being more dangerous than the threat itself" -- a line I had completely forgotten I had written -- and when I read it in light of current events, I thought, "Holy crap. I didn't mean to write a political story!"
But I guess that theme is always poignant to some extent. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it doesn't always make the wisest decisions. I like to think about why the bad guy does what he does. Real people don't think of themselves as the villain, and the most interesting antagonists to me are the ones who genuinely might be right. This world is pretty messed up... What if drastic measures are the only way to fix it?
That idea makes it into a lot of my stories, because there's a part of me that thinks maybe that is the only way to fix it. But then there's another, more insistent part of me that clings to hope and good. That internal struggle is pretty terrible for my sanity, but it makes for good fiction.

Finally, do we ever get more set in this world? The world-building was so fantastic I don't want to leave just yet! 
I certainly hope so! To be honest, it may depend on how well this story does. So hey! If you like the idea of sentient robots in industrial-era Japan then buy my book!
... I'll show myself out.

(Thanks for having me, Natalie!)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Back Off, I'm A Ninja: Release Day!

The final book in the I'm A Ninja series!
Yes, really. It's over.
I'm not writing another one. Ever.
It's officially official! Tosh and Amy's story is completely written, and now you can read it all. If you want. Not mandatory reading or anything.

It feels good to have finished. The writing was hard and took every last bit of resolve I had in me, but looking back at what I have done gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I know the series isn't super well read (I see the sale numbers you can't tell me it is). I know it'll never be some bestseller. But Tosh's story was an important one for me to see through for myself, and I'm happy there are some other people out there who have enjoyed it thus far. Thanks for your eyes on my words—truly it means a lot to me.

You can find BACK OFF here:
Barnes & Noble
Whipple House Publishing (signed copies)

And if you're looking for the Complete Series, I've made an ebook bundle that'll get you a good deal on ALL the books in one easy reading format:
Barnes & Noble

Here's to new adventures and new stories! Yes, despite all my melancholy, despite all the struggles, I'm still writing and I still have a smidgen of hope that I'll be able to share those stories with you someday. I just need to run into a heaping of luck.

But in the mean time, I have left you with NINE novels to read. I think that's not so bad. It was more than I ever could have dreamed as a young teen writer who thought just ONE novel would be epic.

I wish I could write Teen Natalie a note: "You did it. Wasn't easy, but you did it."

Friday, July 22, 2016

The End Of My Beginning

In the late fall of 2008, I wrote an opening paragraph for an agent's blog contest. It ended up winning, so I had to write the rest of the book that went with it.

That book was RELAX, I'M A NINJA. And it was my "big break."

By that I mean it was the first time I really got seen by the publishing industry in any way. At the time I thought it was massively huge, looking back it was only a tiny step into a world that has, in both good and bad ways, changed my life.

The ninjas never sold in the traditional publishing market. But that's a story I've told and, much to my shock, was read by the internet writing community. That rejection may be what made me known to many writers. "Oh, she's that writer who wrote about the real story of being on submission."

Things got a little better after that, since I finally got another "big break" in which HarperTeen bought two novels from me, TRANSPARENT and HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW. Of course I thought everything would be okay from there on out. I'd run the gauntlet of querying and submissions and finally I'd sold books in the traditional market. I even sold one foreign right for the UK territories. And I haven't sold in the US since then.

But you guys know that story, too, and I'm not here to re-hash all my struggles to keep being a writer. I'm here to reflect on all of this.

Because BACK OFF, I'M A NINJA is done. I've just finished all the nitty gritty that goes into indie publishing—prepping the book in layout, formatting for ebook, uploading to all the websites where people will hopefully buy a copy or two. I've finished the series. The weight of it has lifted off my shoulders and I'm left with both a sense of accomplishment and a blank slate for my future.

You see, I don't have the money to keep indie publishing. When people would ask me why I didn't just self-publish, I often said because I suck at marketing and couldn't do it myself. Turns out, I know myself well. I love the design and writing aspect of indie—I'm useless at hocking my own work. (Not that my traditional publishers helped much but they did help more than I could help myself. And the potential of being helped a ton is there.)

I also don't have a lot of luck selling to publishers. I've sold to the UK a couple times since my first deal, but other than a work-for-hire job I can't seem to interest my home book market. I'm not saying this in a complaining way—just in a practical way. I haven't fit the market. I know I need to. No hard feelings. But that means I don't have much hope for selling any further work.

So, in a poetic way, BACK OFF, I'M A NINJA could be my last published novel.

I got my first "big break" with Tosh, and now his story is ending this chapter of my career. It's all full circle and junk. I like that. Life is wonderful that way, giving you these neat stopping-places where you can reflect and rest and absorb what you've learned.

I'm not saying my writing career is over.

I'm not saying I'm quitting.

Nor am I saying I don't have more stories to tell.

But this is an end of sorts. I can feel it like I can feel the end of a novel as I write the last line. And, to my surprise, I need an ending right about now. I've been through my shaky beginning and hopeless middle. I've conquered my climax and felt the ease of my denouement. I've quietly published nine books (written about twice that many) in the time since RELAX won that contest. I NEED this ending so much I feel like crying with joy that it's over.

Because I also need a new beginning.

I don't know what's in store for me next. I don't know if I'll ever publish another book. Not that I won't be trying. Not that I won't be writing. But it feels like I'm starting all over again and I don't know what's in store. I know that if I don't sell, I won't have more books to share. I know that I'll be writing whether I want to or not, because that's just what I do. I don't know where the next years will take me, but I'm determined to enjoy them for once. That's what endings are for, right?

Maybe my next beginning will start soon. Maybe it will be years. But at least I've learned enough through all this madness to know what's really important in my life. I've also learned, finally, how to wait. And I've grown enough to recognize the quietest times in my life are the ones I treasure most.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Truth About The Author Caste System

I remember when I was a young babe of a writer, and I would hear wonderful authors I looked up to say things like "We are all writers with a story to tell. I'm no different from you. We all love what we do and our voices are unique and magical ponies and rainbows!"

That last part about the ponies and rainbows is made up.

But anyway, I'm not about to say that these authors were wrong. Yes, we are all writers with unique voices. Yes, we authors—aspiring or published—have a lot of similarities. We are all lovers of words and living in our own heads where infinite possibilities abound. I think feeling that kinship among writers is a great thing.

Just don't assume that kinship means all authors are treated the same way, though.

As an aspiring author I sort of knew that some authors were more popular than others because they were huge bestsellers and other authors were not. I vaguely noticed how some lines were longer at book signings than other lines. I knew realistically that some authors probably got more "perks" than other authors—I just didn't really want to believe it or face the reality of how that would impact me should I ever become published.

Make no mistake, my friends, The Author Caste System is a real thing.

Now, I'm not about to go on some rant about the injustice of this. What I want to do is give you the low down so you can be prepared and begin finding ways to cope with it. Some of the Author Caste System is built out of practicality—there are just So! Many! Authors! and not as many spots to be filled. When an event or store is looking to bring in an author, what they want is to sell books. Helping the author get exposure is nice, but conferences and stores aren't out for charity they're out for profits. Which brings us to Caste System #1 (Yes! There are many! Lucky us!):

The Monetary Success Caste System
We have basic capitalism to thank for this one. So don't go running around blaming anyone in particular for something that is just of paramount importance in publishing—money. Authors whose stories make buttloads of money, yes, are given more perks in the industry. Oddly enough, money feeds money. So publishers will favor the books already moving off shelves and throw more money at them, while giving almost no help to those that aren't moving even though their money would benefit slower moving titles.

This is why sometimes it feels like you can't stop seeing some books. Because publishers are paying to make sure they keep being seen. Not just in advertising, but in events. These are the authors who have their tours paid for by the publisher (most tours and events by the average author come out of their own pocket). These are the authors who get radio and TV gigs and big ads on Amazon and prime real estate in bookstores.

And who can really blame the publisher? Print is a tough business. They need to make money to stay viable. They've usually dropped a bunch of cash into these books up front so they have to make it back by throwing more money at it.

So if you're a debut and you're starting to notice this...I offer you my deepest sympathies. I know how difficult the realization of this Caste is. You'll start to see other debuts get this and that. You'll hear of other authors being given promo and wonder why you aren't getting anything from your publisher and they're leaving you to sink or float on your own. Well, this is why. And it sucks. And it's very hard not to tie your worth as a writer to where you fall on the Monetary Caste System. But you must try to separate the two or you'll kill your self worth.

The Publishing Type Caste System
I remember very vividly the first time I really saw the reality of this System. I was at a wedding and my husband and I were making small talk with one of his co-workers and his girlfriend. It came up that the co-worker's girlfriend was a librarian. My little debut self got SO excited! "Oh! I'm an author!" I declared proudly. "My first book is coming out in a couple months!"

The woman did not give me the equally excited look I expected. No, her look was more of trepidation and fear. I didn't understand. But I was pretty sure she wished she didn't have to make small talk with me. I already felt stupid for even mentioning it. After a marked pause, she finally forced herself to ask, "Oh? What's your book called?"

Already feeling like she wanted nothing more than to be rid of me, I felt stupid telling her about my book. So instead I pulled out a bookmark, happy I kept them on hand for moments like these. I handed it to her, and that's when things began to change. As she looked it over, her eyes lit up in surprise and relief, and then she exclaimed:

"You're with HarperTeen! Why didn't you say so?"

What I wanted to say: I didn't realize I had to say in order to be treated with respect.

But that's when I learned that people really do treat you differently based on how you published. It's not made up. You will feel it if you indie publish or work with small press. Your books will be good—you might even be selling better than many traditionally published authors—and yet some people will always look at your publisher first and your story second. And it sucks. And it hurts. And more than ever it's not even a decent way to mark the quality of a novel.

Having published through all sorts of different paths, I still don't know how to reconcile this Caste. While logically I have improved as a writer over time, my later works (which are Indie) aren't looked on as highly as my works with the ever-popular HarperTeen. So I don't have great advice, except for trying to remember that your work can be amazing even if it's not marketable.

The Award Caste System
I admit I know the least about this system, as I've never won an award. But make no mistake that winning literary awards and being on lists and all that does actually play a factor in how people treat you. Depending on the award, your presence may come with more pomp than you actually want. You might notice after winning something that people treat you differently. You'll probably get more invitations to events and you might be expected to be some fount of knowledge you don't feel qualified to embody. I'm guessing on a lot of this. But pressure—I see awards equalling pressure for those who get them (much like being a debut bestseller will kill you with pressure for the next book).

People keep track of this stuff, though. You better bet that Newberry Award winner is gonna get some special treatment over your average author. It's just the way the world turns. Those with awards are viewed as the ones who will be remembered through history, while those with the sales are "fleeting success." Very rarely do the two meet up in one author, creating the ultimate God Of Authoring.

The Conference And Event Caste System
This is where it gets fun. And by fun I mean totally non-sensical and frustrating. Depending on the event and how it values the above three Castes, you will find yourself in a weird hybrid of a Caste System at every event you attend. You could very realistically be the "top dog" of one conference and the "bottom feeder" of another. And, regardless of your skill, you will be treated accordingly. Here are some of the things you may not know happen "behind the scenes" of conferences:

1. Payment
It can be very easy to know if you're "important" at a conference—if you're getting paid you're probably up there. A lot of conferences DO NOT PAY the majority of their authors to attend. They give us the ever-cop-out "exposure" as our payment. They know we're too "lowly" to even demand payment and there are other authors who'd do it for free if we demanded it. But the Big Authors and the Special Guests get paid.

2. Covered Travel Expenses
Akin to getting paid, you can guess you're pretty fancy if an event is paying to fly you out and putting you up in a hotel. Local authors aren't getting that, even if they're staying at the hotel and not driving home each night.

3. The Keynote
This is the shiz of the con. If you're keynoting you're basically the Pulitzer Prize Winner of the conference. Everyone treats you like you're awesome even if you feel like and are, in fact, a totally normal person who is like all your author buddies around you.

4. The Green Room...Or The SPECIAL Green Room
Most events have a place for panelists and presenters to rest between their duties. But did you know some events have even SPECIALER places for the SPECIALER people? Yes, indeed. It's a wonderful way to separate the rabble "famous" people from the actual famous ones.

5. The Cool Dinners
Sometimes it will feel like there are "cliques" at an event, even if you're all authors there are "circles" of friends people tend to run in. It can be easy to be offended by these, but I think people just tend to make friends and then want to hang out with their friends. It can cause a newer author to feel very out of place, though. I felt that way, at least.

6. The "Infinite Potential Debuts"
This is an interesting one, but you'd be surprised to know that many debuts are actually treated much better than veterans with little success. Because debuts MIGHT be a bestseller and we don't know it, or an award-winner in the making. Debuts can often get into a con where a veteran gets kicked out because they aren't "cool" enough anymore and show little signs of ever being successful.

7. The Size Of The Room...
You know how much a con expects you to bring in crowds (or the topic you're talking about) by how big of a room they put you in. Some rooms are huge and for big authors only—it'd be a waste of seats to put a smaller author in there even if the topic is cool (many attendees attend for specific authors/agents).

8. How Many Books They Ordered and How Big Your Line Is
We've all been the author who had not a single person in their line at the signing. And it sucks. And you feel like you put in all this effort and gave all your work to the con (for free, in a lot of cases) for nothing. All the while that one author next to you is selling out of books and "stuck" signing for four hours straight.


So these are some of the realities of The Author Caste System. I'm not saying any of it is right or fair (nor am I saying it's UNfair)—I'm just telling you like it is. If you're just getting into being an Author, you might be hurt by this stuff more than necessary because you just didn't see it coming. You'll have thought you've finally "made it," and then you realize maybe you haven't at all. And you'll feel tiny and stupid and maybe like a "fake" author.

But you're not.

I'm not either, though I'm most often on the bottom side of the Caste System.

How we're treated as authors...that shouldn't be any greater an indication of our worth than the monetary crap. It can be very easy to get caught up in this stupid stuff, in how we're viewed and treated by not just outsiders but the industry itself.

Some events you will walk away feeling like the small fish, and others you will feel like you didn't deserve to be treated as such a big fish. Every time it will feel weird, and you'll go back to writing in your messy little office and move on.

At my last conference, I sold five books. Barely anyone came up to me to have things signed. But I didn't feel bad—why? Because one girl, one single fan, came to tell me how much she loved FISH OUT OF WATER and that it was her favorite book and it meant everything to her and I wrote about Alzheimer's "perfectly." I'm tearing up right now just thinking of it, because her words made the entire conference for me. Though I was very much a "small fish" at the con like always—she made me feel like the luckiest and biggest fish there. At that moment it didn't matter if the famous author had 200 fans saying that to them.

I had one. And that was all I ever wanted when I dreamed of being an author.

So don't let the Caste System get you down. Don't forget—there was a time when you were dying to be part of it in the first place.

Monday, April 25, 2016

BACK OFF, I'M A NINJA Cover Reveal!

Today is the day! I hope you are all as excited as I am to finally see the end of the I'm A Ninja series. It has been with me since 2008 and I'm more than ready to finally finish the series and have a trilogy to my name. It's been a long time coming, and a difficult process. I learned all the hardest lessons in publishing with Tosh and my ninjas, and it is personally rewarding to have gone forward with this series regardless of all the struggles. So let's get on with this cover reveal!!!










Wheeee! I found this image in 2013, and I knew immediately that it would be the perfect cover for the last book. Tosh goes through some seriously rough times, and though he's fighting it feels impossible to make it through. I felt like this guy, with the red hoodie and sense of despair, really captured the dire situation of the third book. 


Now, on to the copy. *WARNING* If you haven't read the first two books, this copy may contain some spoilers like information. Read at your own risk.

Tosh and Amy may have managed to keep the demon Akuma in the kami realm, but that hardly spells success. While the living realm is spared, Akuma consumes all kami in his path. Even worse—he’s targeting Tosh and Amy’s ancestors, consuming them and weakening the Inyo all in one shot. 

When Akuma’s Clan murders not just ancestors but their living relatives, Tosh and Amy can’t waste time mourning those they’ve lost. They must get stronger. They must defeat Akuma before he siphons all their power and more people die.

Just as they approach their peak strength, Akuma’s dark shaman deals a devastating blow. Weakened and captured by the enemy, Tosh and Amy have run out of options. Unless they can discover a new kind of strength, they must not only sever their connection with each other but lose their souls, and every else’s, to Akuma.

BACK OFF, I'M A NINJA will be out August 30, 2016, but you can win it NOW along with the whole series by entering this giveaway! The first two novels will be sent to you as soon as I have a winner, while BACK OFF will come when I get my first batch of copies. The giveaway is open to the US, Canada, and the British Commonwealth. So get entering!

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Embracing A Book's Process

I'm currently writing the last in my Ninja series—BACK OFF, I'M A NINJA. And as I'm slogging through this book I can't help thinking it not like writing any of my other books. I'm only half way through and I've been writing since last October 2015 (I'm usually done with a draft by now!). The plot is crawling out of me in odd and ends, and I keep having to go back to add pieces I didn't know or skip forward to what I do know (I usually have a more linear approach!). It's a rare occasion where I've not met my own (or my publisher's) deadlines (Because of health reasons, but still!).

Basically, I've written over 20 novels at this point...and I'm still being surprised by my own "process."

I think a lot of authors, especially new ones, have this idea in their head that they have The One True Process that will work for them and their writing for their entire careers. I'm here to tell you to throw that idea out the window.

While we all have some consistency in the way we write, I can tell you without a doubt that the process for writing every single novel I've written has been different. Some have flowed out of me in a flurry of inspiration. Some have been worse than pulling teeth. Some have been organized with a clear plot path, others have been by the seat of my pants with heavy revisions. Some have been linear in writing, others have been very non-linear.

I tend to fight the process of a particular novel for a while. Like, I should have learned by now but I have to get to the point in every novel where I realize I need to embrace the particular process of THIS book instead of trying to force it to come out how I want it to.

Because when you just accept a novel's process, everything goes easier. When you just say, "Hey, the last book came out plot point by plot point, yeah, but this one isn't and that's okay!" ...That's when you're really going to start making progress. We can get so hung up on if we're writing the "right way" or not, but really I'm finding there isn't even a single right way for me personally to write, let alone any other writer's style. When drafting, whatever works is what works. And embracing the ugliness of that first draft and how to spews out is as important as accepting the revisions to come.

And revisions always have their own process, too. Some are smooth and light. Others are major overhauls. I've experienced everything in between those and then some. Facing a new form of revision, or unexpected amounts of revision, can be difficult as well. Whenever I get a revision letter from a crit partner or editor, my brain first wants to fight those points because changing them will be hard. But when I embrace the feedback and find the path to fix the issues, edits always turn out great.

So if you're struggling in either drafting or editing right now, I encourage you to find a way to embrace the process of your current project. Don't compare it to another project or wish it wasn't they way it is—just do the work that needs to be done in the way that you must. It'll turn out just fine, and you'll be a lot less stressed.

Now, back to this beast of the final in the trilogy for me!

Monday, March 28, 2016

How To Keep Going

When I was 21, I decided to really go for my childhood dream of being an author. I'd written all my life, but not really thought I could achieve that whole "being publishing for real" thing. It seemed so big, so much grander than little ol' me. In a lot of ways I still feel like that, and I have wanted to quit more times than I care to count.

But somehow, I'm now 32 and I'm still writing novels. Some of those novels are even "for reals published" and junk.

For some reason this year I've been in awe of just how long I've managed to keep going. I mean, writing and publishing is HARD. Like, super hard. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically—this profession taxes you to the very brink of sanity. It'll suck you dry if you let it. Chew you up and spit you out and laugh as you slowly wither away on the cold hard ground. I wish I was being dramatic, but that is pretty accurate in some cases.

So, how do you keep going? WHY would you even want to keep going? I'm going to try and answer that today, should you, like me, ever consider running and not looking back from this crazy career called "being an author."

Focus On The Writing. I don't know how it works, but I know that it does. Whenever I'm getting down on myself and how much I suck as an author because I'm not "enough" of anything (famous enough, cool enough, on trend enough, eloquent enough, recognized enough, loved enough, blah blah blah), going back to the basics always makes an impact on me. If I can just manage to be with MY story and write MY way and love MY own stuff, all the other crap seems to work out alright. Ultimately, that's what authors do, right? They make stories. So make stories. However you want.

Develop Discipline. The thing about being an author is you answer to yourself in the end. Yeah, you might have deadlines at some point if you sell your work, but people miss those deadlines and they can be pushed back and books are canceled. Also, you will ALWAYS end up back at "this story isn't under contract, and I have to actually write it to sell it"—lemme tell you, there's no deadline on that. You need to develop some form of discipline. I'm not telling you to write everyday (I don't.). I'm not saying to get a sticker calendar or report to a friend or do word sprints. Those are all well and good. And they can help. But none of it will work without an innate form of discipline.

What does that mean? Well, it means The Will To Write comes from deeper inside. Discipline is writing even when the story gets hard and you know you're screwing it up. Discipline is writing when you know the book won't sell or has slim chances or is even just for you. Discipline is writing YOUR story even when you know it's not "on market." It's an innate desire to DO, regardless of just how damn difficult the doing becomes. Get that, and you'll keep going. Maybe even when you don't want to anymore, heh.

Eyes On Your Own Paper. Comparing sucks. We all do it. It's nearly impossible to avoid in any creative career path, but it can be deadly to your ability to write if you let it get out of control. Just imagine you're back in grade school taking a test—there's a difference between an accidental glance at a neighbor's paper and sitting there staring at it for answers, right? Except in the writing world you can't really cheat/steal, so you're just staring at someone's unique paper and wishing it was yours instead of enjoying how unique your own paper is.

This goes both for the stories you write AND the publishing path you end up on. We all have different ones. Our paths to publication are as unique as our words. I can tell you right now—in the 11 years I've been trying to sell I have never once heard two authors who have the same path to publication. Similar? Sure. But never 100% exactly the same. Just like we can have similar novels but the details make them vastly different.

So no more comparing. Enjoy your journey. Rejoice in the successes of others who are on their own paths.

Be Bold—Experiment. Maybe it won't get published, but writing can get dry and tired if you're too afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. The stories that have scared me the most have not only taught me the most, but they've actually been my most successful when it comes to the publishing side of things. They're the books I'm the most proud of. They're the stories that have helped me not only grow as a writer, but as a person. They've kept me going when I thought I was all but done.

Talk To People. Writing may take place in a vacuum, but that doesn't mean you have to be alone in the journey. I know I would've given up long ago if I hadn't had writing friends, crit partners, mentors, and even just authors I admire and follow on social media to lift me up when I'm down. Other writers get the struggle, and I've never met another writer who has told me to give up. Even though it can feel like we're all competing against each other at times—talk to writers and you'll find a huge support system of people who get it and who want you to keep going. Sometimes, they've been the only reason I still write.

Don't Be Afraid To Take A Break. I didn't write creatively from my Junior year in high school to my college graduation. Had I quit? Sometimes I thought I did, but I was still writing non-fiction and dreaming of writing my own stories again. It just wasn't the right time to do it. Full disclosure? I haven't completed a novel since February of 2015. Basically, I've been either not writing or just fooling around for a whole year. And you know what? That's okay. I've needed this time. I haven't stopped thinking about writing (as much as I sometimes wanted to), but stepping away has brought me new perspective and given me a chance to refill my "creative wells," as they say.

Get Rid Of Guilt. Guilt over not writing or writing too much. Guilt over having no success to show for your work, or guilt over having more success than you feel you deserve. Guilt over not having enough time to write AND interact with readers. Guilt over taking too long to write a novel or too short a time (according to some). Guilt over too many awards or not enough. Guilt. Just get rid of that crap. It's a waste of your emotional energy. Free yourself from it, allowing you to...

Love Your Work. Look, you're allowed to adore what you write, okay? Even if it sucks right now, or even if it continues to suck for forever. Even if it's difficult to revise and will take ages to get right. Even if it's not going to sell or it's too weird or whatever excuse your brain tries to invent to convince you not to love your book. Love it anyway.

Because there are going to be PLENTY of people out there ready and waiting to tell you that you suck—why be one of them? Why sabotage yourself from the beginning just because there will be haters (and there will be, no matter who you are)? Why make the writing process more painful than needed by convincing yourself that what you're doing isn't worthwhile?

It can be hard to fight those inner demons, but fight them anyway. You're writing your story because you think it's awesome. And you SHOULD think it's awesome! Of course you should. Why would anyone write a book they thought was stupid? It's too much work for that. So embrace the reality that you love what you're creating, and don't let crap get in the way of that.

I'm mostly saying all this for myself, because if I'm struggling to keep going I've usually fallen into one of these pitfalls of guilt or self-doubt or fear. But I've pushed through anyway. And you can, too! It's all in the discipline. In accepting you can do hard things and just because writing is hard sometimes doesn't make it bad. It's just part of the process.

So keep going. If I can, you definitely can.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Diversity As Trend? Please.

First, hi, long time no blog. I filter comments after a post is two weeks old or more—since I tend to get a lot of spam comments—but boy have I also missed a lot of sweet messages from people! If you're one of them, thanks for still reading this little blog though it's been much neglected.

Second, I've been thinking a lot about some of the things going on about diversity in books lately. There have been a recent string of articles by people of color asking white authors to please research and get in the shoes of a POC before writing, to be aware of issues, to really work hard to represent in a real way. These articles have been met with hostility in a lot of cases. And there have already been a lot of responses by the community as a whole. I don't know why I feel I need to contribute, but it won't let me go.

So here's my story with this. Take it for what it is.

I look white. I'm not all the way white. I have included a diverse cast in the majority of my work not because I'm on a mission or because I want to be on trend—it's part of my organic experience as a person and I wanted to see my world in my writing as I think we all do. As a person who passes as white, but comes from a history of people who've been marginalized, I have always been ultra-aware of the difference in how I'm treated because of how I look. And this is what I have seen:

My Books With POC As Main Characters Have Not Sold To Publishers. That is just straight up the reality. I have 8 published novels—the three with white main characters are published traditionally in the US (Transparent, House Of Ivy & Sorrow, My Little Brony). The I'M A NINJA series? FISH OUT OF WATER? Both we subbed for over a year and did not sell. Though I consider them quality work and on par or better than what publishers have bought from me.

While Subbing My POC Main Characters, I Noticed A Severe Uptick In "I Don't Identify With This MC" Comments. This is like code for "editor doesn't feel comfortable with the character being not white or not cis or not insert-whatever-here." That sounds mean, but with my white MCs rejections were "this plot didn't grab me" or "I liked the MC but I wasn't grabbed by the story." Always the story. Not the character. With my POC MCs...the rejections seem to be more often character-based for me and not story.

Also While Subbing POC Mains, I've Received Sometimes Flat Out Racist Rejections. And sometimes very "micro-agressiony" rejections. And sometimes half-hearted attempts to blame it on marketing. But the fact is, it happens. I'm not just imagining it, nor are POC authors nor are white-authors writing POC characters. I have real rejections from the industry that say these things, and I'm pretty sure the editors had no idea how hurtful those comments were, but they still happened.

I've Seen Dozens Of White-Washed Cover Comps. Just among my own writing circle. Some were changed before publication, many were not. And you know what? The most quiet, insidious ones are those where they just put no one on the cover rather than reveal that the MC is a POC. That happens a lot. Rather than "risk" a cover telling the market that this book is about not-white people, they'd rather have them find out after purchase or, in sci-fi/fantasy cases, just mentally white-wash them even when they read descriptions that contradict.

As A White-Passer, I Still Feel Huge Fear Over Getting It Wrong. I freak out about this all the time. All. The. Effing. Time. Even after all my research and knowing I'm not *just* white and trying very hard to live in the varying shoes of POC lives, I sometimes want to unpublish all my work and hide from those things I probably also did wrong in all my good intentions. That fear? It never goes away. I've been writing diversity before this was something we talked about online, twenty books worth, and no I don't feel like I'm an expert and I am positive I never will be. I'm also positive no one is.

As A White-Passer, I Still Get The Urge To Want Pats On The Back. This is where I become super aware of how white-privilege affects me. Because even knowing all I know, I still sometimes have those knee-jerk white reactions. Did a part of me squirm inside over these articles about white people doing it wrong? Yes! Yes, I squirm every time. I get a little frustrated and feel helpless because I want to change it and I can't really and I'm trying and UGH why does our world have to SUCK? I want to be patted on the back for trying, but I also know I don't deserve those pats. And that's okay.

I could go on, but this is long as it is. These are just some of my realities as a person whose been in publishing for, oh, six years now? And these are just MY experiences with the unfairness of the business when it comes to diversity. This isn't even all the accounts I've heard from others.

So when people talk of Diversity as some kind of trend, I get a little ragey. I'll admit it. Do you know what a trend is? It's something that helps a book sell. It's something popular. In all my experience in publishing, I've sadly never, ever seen someone have a leg up because they were a POC author or were writing a POC MC. In fact, it's quite the opposite—all I've seen is higher chances of disadvantage. I've personally felt like it was a strike against me, but I did it anyway because that was the story I needed to tell.

This stuff is hard to hear. I know. It's hard for me to say it. It's hard to have experienced it. But when we read these articles, I hope we can listen. Because no one is making these problems up. No one is over-exaggerating. If you see diversity as a trend, please think for a bit on how wildly cruel that is. Not only is it implying that POC are some kind of magical thing like a vampire or wizard or girl on fire or other passing interest, but it implies that somehow POC authors and books with POC are  successful at a time when it's still a serious struggle to get published and even sell those books.

Trend...sigh. It's more accurate to call it a liability in the eyes of most publishers whether they say it or not. That is the unpleasant truth we are trying to change.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Paying The Piper

Everyone's mind is on the New Year, on the new hopes and plans we love to make this time of year. I admit I love it, and I don't care if half the goals I make go unaccomplished. Having this time to review where I am, where I've been, and where I want to go it always exciting to me. A fresh start. A new thing to tackle.

But this New Year I have been in a state of deep reflection on 2015, even on the years before. The future is quite blank with plans for me for once. Maybe this is what happens as you age. Maybe it's just another way my life is forcing me to slow down.

You see, I spent much of 2015 sick. The first six months were not only plagued by one of my worst depression periods in a long time, but I also got shingles (super painful, don't recommend it). I spent the summer adjusting to new medications and worked very hard to be gentle with myself while I recovered. Just as my mental health was finally getting to a strong enough place that I could write again, I began getting strep throat. It doesn't sound so bad—we've all had it—but, let me tell you, having it every month for now four months is horrible. And it has completely killed any hope of productivity, and also my health in general. I'm so weak. So tired. So frustrated that I can't do anything without coming home spent and sick.

So this is my voice of warning here.

This year of sickness and struggle and almost no writing? It started long before 2015 was even a thought in my mind. Really it started in 2011, when I sold my first two novels to HarperTeen. That was so wonderful and exciting, but it also came with pressure. With stress. My goals shifted from just "selling a book." Now I wanted to succeed at being a writer, not just publish a book. I wanted my books to be well known, not just on a shelf. I hoped for lists and awards and tours like all debuts do.

None of that stuff really happened. But I kept trying to make it happen. I rolled up my sleeves and got out the elbow grease. More books. As many events as would take me. Paying for my own tour with a friend. Being on countless failed subs. Indie publishing in the meantime. Promoting. Tweeting. Whatever. I tried very hard to become important and to keep believing I was.

I failed on both accounts.

And this year has not just brought the acceptance of that (which I'm immensely grateful for), but the consequences for driving myself into the ground during my debut and the year after. I'm paying the piper, so to speak, for borrowing from my future health to survive the overloaded plate I gave myself for much of 2011-2014.

What do I have to show for my blitz of work? I have 8 novels, which I'm proud of. But that's about it. No mountain of money (or even a modest stack). No awards. No conferences asking me to come back. Effectively, I've been forgotten by the industry for the most part. This isn't all that bad—a lot less stressfull—but it's not where I expected to be or where all my lofty goals were supposed to take me.

It's funny, how you can accomplish all your goals…and yet not have any of the expected results.

Because I accomplished SO MUCH. Who publishes 8 novels within 2 years of their debut? Not many people. I'm proud of that, regardless of continued lack of "success" in a worldly measure. I've learned a lot and I love what I write, though at times I've been super depressed about how few people seem to share my affection for my writing.

But sometimes it's hard to feel proud when you're lying in bed with stress-induced shingles wishing the pain would go away. And it's hard to feel like you did the right thing when you're so depressed and anxious you can't even stand to read or write for months on end. And it's hard to feel like you'll ever do anything of note when you can't swallow or keep your head up long enough to write even when you want to. I've wondered a lot this last year why I've killed myself over publishing. Why I'm now paying for it with my own health. I don't have answers. I'm not sure I ever will.

Lots of writers have health problems. Often from stress. So I guess I'm just saying be careful out there. It's easy to be like "Oh, I can handle all this it'll be fine." And it's super easy to be all "I'll sleep later and I'll deal with that later and I'll put everything aside for this deadline and it'll be fine."

But you're gonna pay for it.

I'm sorry, but you will. In one way or another, that stress will compound and you will break. We aren't superhuman, despite writing about character who may defy all odds.

Maybe you don't even think you're running that hard. Maybe you think you're handling it all fine. But stress and publishing are sneaky like that. And all the writers around you are in the same boat. So it can feel like this is normal and everyone else is getting on just fine.

Then an author might disappear for awhile, and no one notices she or he is gone for a year or more. They don't know why, but you'd be shocked how often it is health or breakdown related. Then one day it'll be one of your own writer friends, or maybe even you. And it'll be jarring and scary and you might not even know what to do.

So this is what you do: You slow the hell down. You might even stop writing and it actually feels amazing not to write. You get your shit together, slowly but surely. And you vow never to kill yourself over this business again.

That's my goal for 2016, I suppose. Don't bend over backwards for publishing. It's just not worth snapping in two and putting yourself back together over and over again. I never would have thought so before I sold that first book—when I was happy to bend and contort myself to fit in any box they demanded I be in—but that's what I've learned this year.

No more sprinting life marathons for me. Peaceful strolls from here on out.