The One Where I Get A Book Deal

One night, October 2013, I wrote four words. It was a very simple line, but I sat back and stared at it for a while:

“Two o’clock was missing.”

“Huh,” I said.

I wrote a lot more words after those ones. Soon, I had an exceptionally rough draft of a book. This process wasn’t new to me; I had written a dozen books before this one, ever since writing my first (very long, very bad) novel at 15.

But this was different.

 

 

First, it was YA, and I was used to writing adult. Second, it was historical fantasy, not high fantasy. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I was writing about boys and clocks and depression and how it’s possible to regain lost hope—and it weaved a spell over me.

I’ve been through a lot of highs and lows with this book. I loved it. I hated it. I dreamed about it. I shoved it into a corner. I revised and revised and revised and revised.

I wrote two more books, turning it into a trilogy.

“What the hell am I doing?” I asked myself. “Why am I making this harder?”

 

Tom Hiddleston Shocked animated GIF

 

It had branded itself on me. These books, these characters, refused to let me go. I went to conferences and took notes and entered contests and rewrote my query a million times. I did everything humanly possible to understand—really, truly understand—how this game works, how this story works, how we fit into things.

Then, a miracle: an agent loved my book enough to offer representation. Since signing with the wonder that is Laura Crockett, I have traveled a million miles in just a few months. (Kind of literally, since I had a huge trip to India right in the middle of all this).

It was so crazy. Revisions, and submission, and hoping and despairing and bouncing between high and low, high and low. Caught between manic flights of euphoria and black days of wondering what the point was.

I’m going to annoy all of you and just say it: It really only does take one “yes.”

 

Doctor Who Yes animated GIF

 

Now I can finally, finally, finally say that my YA trilogy, TIMEKEEPER, is going to be published by Sky Pony Press. The first book comes out fall of 2016. Here’s the official announcement:

Timekeeper announcement

I’ve learned recently how scary and exhilarating it is to trust someone else with your story, but if that someone loves your characters and world as much as you do, like my editor Alison Weiss does, then you are gold. I’m thrilled to be in this situation, to learn more, to see where everything goes from here.

I’ve written thousands, if not millions, of words.

But I never imagined that the doorway to my dream would appear with just four.

 

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Ten Things About My Writing

Inspired by my agent sister Clarissa Harwood, who posted ten random things about her writing process, I thought it would be fun to do the same. Writers can get so deep inside their own heads that we sometimes forget others have quirky, weird habits too. Without further ado, here are mine!

 

  1. I use Post-It notes. A lot of Post-It notes. I have to organize my notebooks a certain way, so if I think of an idea, need to remember a detail, or write a question that’ll need to be answered later, I slap on a sticky note.
  1. When I’m REALLY in the groove, I will not stop for anything until I finish the scene/chapter. No bathroom breaks, food, tea, etc.

  1. The music I listen to changes depending on what project I’m working on. For instance, TIMEKEEPER is a lot of Lindsey Stirling, Ellie Goulding, and the Hunger Games soundtracks. My adult fantasy series makes me turn to Keane, Imagine Dragons, and Florence and the Machine.
  1. I have a thing about green eyes. A lot of my protagonists have green eyes, but I’m getting better about that.
  1. When I’m not in the mood to write in the actual MS, I write drabbles. Lots and lots and lots of them. AU drabbles, before-story and after-story drabbles, “between scenes” drabbles, sexy drabbles, sad drabbles, “what if” drabbles, etc.

  1. Reading the opposite genre of the one I’m currently writing tends to inspire me more than reading in the same genre.
  1. When I have a “eureka!” moment I get so excited I go “OH, OH, OH” and pace around and grin maniacally. I am so glad these happen when no one else is around.
  1. My cat knows when I’m in the middle of an important scene, because she will start crawling all over me.

  1. One of my favorite (if not my favorite) writing techniques is foreshadowing. I like to write a book/series all the way through and go back to the beginning to add levels of foreshadowing. The sort of details a reader won’t actually notice until they reread it and go “OHHHH!”
  1. I like doing personality-type things for my characters. Like figuring out which Hogwarts house they would be in.

 

So, there are my ten random writing facts. What are yours?

The Importance of Worldbuilding in Contemporary Novels

If you’re an avid reader and writer of fantasy books (like yours truly), you know how important worldbuilding is. Worldbuilding is the backbone of any good fantasy story; without a unique world, you have very little to run with.

Just look at Tolkien. He wrote hundreds of pages of worldbuilding, and as a result, readers know exactly how his world functions. People made video games based on his world. They made role playing games set in his world. They made movies about his world. People get into fights all the time about small nuances in his world!

But what I think some people forget (and I’m not excluded from that generality) is the fact that all stories need worldbuilding. Whether you’re writing a fantasy or literary novel, it needs to be there, in some capacity. The only difference will be how much you need, depending on genre.

Recently I decided to embark on a journey that I never thought I’d take: writing a contemporary YA book.

I read a lot of contemporary, and what I’ve found is that you can’t just rely on quirky, fun, or meaningful characters; you also need a world to put them in. I imagine several people think, “Well, it’s the real world. That’s the world.” Trust me, I thought the same thing, once. It’s why I write so much fantasy.

BUT.

Even if it is set in our world, we need to be specific. Which country? Which state? Which town? Where do they like to eat? Are there any monuments? Are there any weird laws? What’s the society like? Are there dog parks, or are people petitioning for one? Is there a creepy guy with a rifle who sits out on his porch at night? Are there any unique festivals or customs?

The best stories, no matter the genre, draw you not only into the characters’ minds—they draw you into their world.

Example: In SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, we see unique details through Simon’s eyes, such as the sheet cakes his friend brings in whenever someone has a birthday (and the fact that no one can get a piece unless they’re wearing a party hat). We also see the preparation for homecoming and how their location in the south influences Simon’s class to choose “country music” as their theme.

These might feel like small things, but when you put them together in a book, they develop a world for your characters to explore. And through those characters, the reader can enjoy the world too.

 

Book Soundtracks – Writing with Music

A lot of writers I know have particular songs they associate with their projects. Famous authors such as Rainbow Rowell keep playlists for books they write and then share them with their fans. I think this is a really cool idea: sharing your book music with others. It helps both the writer and the reader envision the story better.

So, what sort of music should you be looking for? That’s entirely up to you. For me, when I hear a certain song and the lyrics and/or tone fit perfectly with a character, or theme, or even just one particular scene, my brain floods with images of my story. It even pumps me up for writing and editing later on.

If anyone is interested, I compiled my Timekeeper soundtrack here: https://play.spotify.com/user/tssim53/playlist/2kQ7JKXm7OIg0U03QqkHD9

What sort of music best fits your book?

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

I’ve been nominated to do a Very Inspiring Blogger Award post by the awesome Emily Skrutskie, former literary team member and the Captain America to my Iron Man, whose debut novel THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US will be out in 2016! For the post, I’m supposed to list seven things about myself and then nominate others to take part. So let’s go!

1. I’m mixed-race, but don’t look it. My mother is Indian and immigrated to America when she was young, and met my American father in San Francisco. I’m the confusing result. TA-DA.

2. Actually, related to #1, I don’t look like either of my parents–I look the most like my late aunt on my father’s side. At a family reunion a few years ago, everyone told me how much I look exactly like her. Which is awesome, because I bonded with her a lot when I was little.

3. Before writing, singing was my first love. I dreamed of being a professional singer or going on Broadway all the time, but I am very bad at auditioning due to stage fright, which meant I never got good roles in high school. Strangely, I never got stage fright when I was actually performing. Just during auditions. But in college I had a lot of solos, got a scholarship for being accepted into a special choir, and even sang opera.

4. Between 2012 and 2013, I wrote 1,000,000 words. I’m not sure how that happened.

5. I got a tattoo on my back senior year of college with my writing symbol. It was the same day the seniors were going to the movies. I sat through Jane Eyre perched on the edge of my seat so that I didn’t disturb the new tattoo. Very uncomfortable. I also plan to get more tattoos of different book projects if I get them published (and not before going to the movies).

6. I have a sweet tooth with cravings that border on worrisome. Seriously, all I want right now is a big chocolate cake.

7. I always loved fantasy growing up, but it was reading The Lord of the Rings when I was twelve that changed my life forever. The books moved me in a way that was scary and euphoric and sad all at once. After I finished the trilogy I was in a depressed funk for about a month afterwards, and I refused to read anything for a long time. But then I started writing more. And more. And more. (See #4)

Now to nominate some awesome people! And they are:

Olivia Berrier – Bestie, critique partner, Hollins alum.

K Kazul Wolf – Online pal, fantasy writer, Pitch Wars alum.

Tabitha Martin – Twitter friend, Sims aficionado, literary agency alum.

How I Got My Literary Agent (A Tale of Heartbreak and Stubbornness)

I just have to lead into this by saying: I NOW HAVE A LITERARY AGENT! And wow, that feels great to say. The path that led to this was not easy. It is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but I am so glad I pushed myself to get to this point.

I’ve known that this is what I wanted ever since I wrote my first book at 15. The book that got me this agent is my 10th. Some of these books are unfit to see the light of day, and I only tried querying a couple of times before I got too intimidated and just focused on writing new things instead. This eventually led me to my latest project, a YA trilogy. And I knew this would be the one.

I wrote the first book late 2013, taking a grand total of two weeks. Yeah. The first draft wasn’t great. I didn’t touch it again until 2014, when I went to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February. THAT was an eye-opener. I was one of the youngest writers there (“You’re how old?!” was something I heard a lot) and I certainly felt like it. YA is a new category for me writing-wise, so I spent all my time at the conference learning, taking notes, talking to writers experienced in the category. I was once again intimidated, but energized.

I slunk back into the writing cave and took a grindstone to the book. I felt curiously confident and not-confident at the same time. After a while, I decided to finally send out the dreaded queries.

“It’ll be fine,” I thought. “I’ve gotten rejections before.”

It was not fine.

When I first started writing at 14/15, I had an ego. The first short story I ever submitted got accepted, people praised me all the time in high school, etc. Over the years, however, this ego steadily deflated, until I started to quake behind my manuscripts. As the agent rejections kept rolling in, the more and more my book, my shield, kept shredding in my hands.

I changed my query multiple times. I kept tinkering with the book. I didn’t know what else to do. But then I heard about this awesome thing called Pitch Wars. I entered and was chosen by an amazing mentor, Liz Briggs, who helped me patch the book up. It was that book that I sent to my now-agent, who had initially read the partial and told me, “This isn’t enough. I need more.”

Then followed one of the most stressful months of my life.

stress

I felt like everything around me was being sucked into a vacuum. I suffered panic attacks and days where I didn’t want to do anything but stay in bed. I even wondered what would happen if I just deleted the book completely. It was extreme thinking, but I was in an extreme place, and while I got used to agent rejection, every single one of them still hurt like a dagger between my ribs.

One night, I noticed an agent who had my book had followed me on Twitter.

“That can’t be right,” I said. I tried not to get my hopes up. But in the weeks that followed I noticed a steady interest in my social media presence, and I couldn’t help but get my hopes up.

It got to the point where I actually had a dream about this agent accepting me (on the condition I brought a pot roast to the office. I don’t know, it was a dream, okay?) Little did I know that same day, my literal and figurative dream was about to come true, sans pot roast.

I had always fantasized about getting “The Call,” but when it actually happened, I just couldn’t process it. I was at my day job, stepped away from my phone to get lunch, and came back to the voicemail I had been pining for. I couldn’t eat. I just sat there staring at food that was getting cold.

I mean, I eventually called her back and everything, but those few minutes were totally surreal. I thought, “This can’t be happening to me, the book is horrible, I’m horrible, did she even read it?!”

Yeah, it was happening. To me.

No pot roast required.

You bet your ass I celebrated.

I contacted all the other agents to get their verdict, waited some more, and finally made my decision—which I’d known all along from the gut feeling I had since that first phone call. I am happy to say that I am now represented by Laura Crockett and Uwe Stender at TriadaUS Literary Agency, who have shown me nothing but excitement and kindness so far in this crazy turn of events.

While it’s not the last step in the journey, it’s still a big one, and I’m thrilled to have advocates at my side to help me the rest of the way.

Somewhere in the mess of time, 15-year-old me is throwing 25-year-old me a smirk and saying, “See? I told you.”

 

Stats:

Querying time: 11 months

Total queries sent: 44

# of partials requested: 7

# of fulls requested: 12

Offers: 2

THE END

On Saturday evening I finally typed out the last sentence of my latest book, the third and final installation of my YA Timekeeper trilogy. This sentence—actually, the last two sentences—have been haunting me for months. To be finally able to write them was a cocktail of relief, happiness, and grief.

Relief because this book was hard. Emotionally, physically, mentally, it drained me of everything I had. Which is what I suppose a third book of a trilogy is supposed to do, but man, I haven’t written a book this difficult in some time. It was well worth it, though. The fighting only made the winning sweeter.

Happiness because the trilogy is COMPLETE. *cue “At Last” in the background* I never thought I would write YA books, but embarking on this strange, lovely story was a huge development in my life, and now I want to write more YA. Because it’s fun. And meaningful.

Grief because it’s over. I’m tired and happy to be done for now, but in a few weeks I’m going to be sad that I’ll never get to write another book with these characters, in this world, in this way. And also because of the nature of the ending, how my characters evolved, and what’s become of them. I’m tearing up just writing this because they came to mean so much to me.

So for a while, before I start my next project, I’m just going to remember this one and be glad I finished. And maybe drink a few glasses of wine.

 

Courtesy of Gwen C. Katz

Courtesy of Gwen C. Katz