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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Special Ninja Print Run

Ninja Book Tower Of Awesome
Are you going to Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperience this next week? Well, if so, I have a special treat for you! I've ordered an exclusive, early print run of RELAX, I'M A NINJA, and I will be selling them at the event!

There are only 40 copies. This is the one chance to get the book early (unless I have extras which will be sold at LDStorymakers), so if you're excited for the ninjas please find me at the con. I'll be happy sell you a book. RELAX, I'M A NINJA will cost $15.28 with tax.*

I will also have copies of BLINDSIDED for purchase, which is very difficult to find as a hard copy in the US. I have 31 copies of that, and they will cost $13.62 with tax.

The best times to find me will be my signing: 

April 18th 2:00-3:00PM

*I can take credit cards, cash, and checks.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Too-Pratical Maybe-Blunt Advice To Writers

Writing is a tough business. And there's a lot of advice out there and inspirational stuff. Sometimes, I just want to give the advice that maybe isn't so romantic but has gotten me through the rough spots. So I'm doing that today. Take it for what you will—the advice of a slightly-jaded, midlist author.

In no particular order:

If You're Writing Something "Different," Brace Yourself For A Long Haul
Publishers say they are looking for unique, fresh, new, etc. And I think maybe in their minds they genuinely do want that…as long as they can also be sure it's marketable and will sell and isn't too big of a risk. You might be thinking, "Well, that's a bit of a Catch-22—unique and fresh is usually unpredictable and risky."

Well yes, there in lies the problem. Not to say nothing unique and fresh gets through, but you might not be selling that book in 2 days, you know? And the more you deviate from "commercial" the harder it will be to find a place for your book, even if you're a great writer.

Write What You Love, Sure, But Don't Expect That Will Equate To Sales
I am a big proponent of being passionate about what you're writing. I have to love my work because I spend so much time with it. Feeling that excitement over a project is irreplaceable. A treasure.

Just…try to tear that idea away from the one where you will make bank on those ideas you love. Maybe you will, but lots of people write what they love and they write it well and those books fall into the nether of obscurity. All the time. And, well, that's okay. It's okay if your amazing book isn't a bestseller. Join The Club Of 99.9% Of Authors Not On The Bestseller List. It's fine here. Not the end of the world by any measure.

Hard Work Doesn't Always Pay Off
This was one of the most difficult concepts for me to accept about being a writer. In non-creative occupations, it's a pretty simple thing—work your ass off, see results. In a creative pursuit, you could work yourself into the ground and never see results. Hell, you could be an amazing writer and never sell to the Big 5. Because you as a writer, writing what you love, are writing something "too different." This happens all the time.

This is why I have other hobbies where my work actually pays off in a logical manner. I exercise, and I get strong. I cook, and there's a good meal to eat. It keeps me sane, because writing is sometimes like exercising and cooking but without getting stronger or being able to eat.

Make Writer Friends—They Will Understand You
Being a writer is something not all people understand. We're weird people. We live in our heads a lot. People who don't do that can have a hard time empathizing with all the things a writer deals with. Having friends who are also writers saves me. They get me. It's fabulous.

Keep Your Day Job. Nay, Learn To Love Your Day Job.
OR have a spouse with a day job who loves you very much. Because writing, if you do make money at it, probably won't pay all your bills. And if you get there, it will take a long time (I'm in year 8 of pursuing publication, in year 3 of making some money, certainly nowhere near a viable amount). Even if you are lucky enough to get that "dream deal," there are no guarantees you will earn out or even sell again at that level. Always have a back up plan. Be frugal.

Sometimes You Have To Cut Your Losses
I've grown to kind of dislike the "Never Give Up" advice. Sometimes you gotta give up on something to move forward. Maybe not on writing as a whole, but on a story idea that is not strong enough to hold its own. Or on a novel that's been on sub two years. Or on that first novel you ever wrote that has seen 200 rejections. Moving on can open up a new world. I've done it a lot. Never regretted it. If you find yourself pining over something from the past, you can always go back, too.

Your Book Is Your Baby. To Your Publisher, It's A Product.
Publishers need to make money on the books they buy, plain and simple. Of course they have to like what they buy, but the bottom line is…there's a bottom line. No matter how much your editor loves you or your book, if you aren't selling, well, things will get sad. It will maybe make you feel worthless, which isn't true but it will be hard to feel otherwise. It's the reality of putting a price on your creativity.

Live Somewhere Cheap
We've heard this one plenty of times, and it's very sound advice. I'm pretty poor in Utah as a writer, but I'd be downright destitute as a writer in, say, California. So live somewhere that will let your meager dollars go further.

Luck Is A Thing
It really is. Of course there is also skill involved, but most professional writers are already very good at what they do. It's very difficult for anyone to tap into what will resonate with the market, to predict what people will buy in droves and what they will ignore. It's a total crap shoot. Everyone wants it not to be one, but accepting this is very important.

Keep Your Options Open
Publishing is an ever-changing beast. Trends go in and out like waves. Editors hop houses all over. Agents leave the business. More than ever, stuff in publishing is changing at a rapid pace. As a writer, it's important to be flexible, adaptable, and to keep an open mind. Look at all the avenues to publication as possible to you, depending on what a particular novel requires.

Learn All The Things You Possibly Can
Writers always strive to improve. I think it's an amazingly admirable quality we possess. There is never a "point of arrival." We are all perpetual students of the writing craft, and taking every opportunity to learn is never a waste of time. Never rest on your laurels, because all the writers around you are working to get better.

Take Your (And Others') Mental Health Seriously
Mental illness is a Big Deal in the writing community. Recent studies out of Sweden showed that writers have up to a 50% higher chance of suicide than non-writer people. That's…scary, guys. Depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, and more have been shown to be more common among creative types, and as far as I can see within my own writing circles this is true. I know a lot of writers who struggle with mental health—myself included.

So if you are planning to make this a career, learn about mental health issues. If not for yourself, for all the other writers you may meet who face these every day. Be sensitive and respectful to it, because chances are you will talk with multiple people daily who have these conditions.

Eyes On Your Own Paper. Reviews Included.
The worst thing about the internet is that you can see what all the other writers are doing and getting and where they are going and who loves them. Envy is a real thing. There was a recent study in Business Insider that named writing the #2 most competitive job. It creates a stressful, smile-in-public-but-growl-in-private type work environment. The more you can focus on your own stuff and block out the rest, the better.

Have Fun
I may be a jaded, practical type writer nowadays, but I still believe in the merits of having fun with your work. Because c'mon, writing for a job—if you can manage to make it a job—is pretty awesome. I started writing because I had FUN doing it. Sure, sometimes I really, really don't have fun, but if I can get out of my own self-doubt cycle I really do love what I write. Of course I do, otherwise I wouldn't spend all that time with it in the first place. Let go and let yourself have fun. Even when you're editing.

Be Proud Of What You Do At Every Stage
When reviews start coming out, when you see all the amazing stories others create, it can be very easy to get self-conscious and to maybe decide our stories aren't worthy of being out there. We can forget that we wrote a story we loved to the best of our ability—and that is a serious accomplishment. Since I'm writing my 17th novel, I often forget how big of a deal it is to do all this. I start to think what I do is commonplace.

But it isn't. There really aren't that many people in the world who can write a novel. And there aren't that many who end up editing and publishing that novel. Sometimes when you get into the writing community it feels like EVERYONE in the whole world writes, but they don't. So be proud of yourself. Hell, chances are there will be a lot of people trying to tear you down out there—don't spend your time tearing yourself apart on the inside, too.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Writers & Illustrators For Young Readers: Blog Tour

Since I am presenting at Writers & Illustrators For Young Readers this summer (WIFYR), the organizers asked me to participate in their blog tour. If you haven't been to the conference, it's quite the experience. Writers get to meet and be mentored by a published author, and throughout the week receive feedback on their manuscript. There are also afternoon classes on a variety of subjects. I hear it is one of the best investments many authors have made in Utah.

So without further ado, I hand the time over to Stephanie Moore, an assistant for the conference this year: 

Thanks so much Natalie for welcoming me on your blog today. A little bit about myself, I’m a writer of YA fiction, working hard to be published one day. This summer I have an opportunity to be an assistant at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) conference held in Sandy, Utah. I’m looking forward to learning from some great authors including the great Miss Natalie. 
This blog tour and WIFYR have the same goal: help writers be the best they can be. On today’s stop we’ll be talking about one of the key ingredients all novels need, the elusive voice. How many times have you read that an agent/editor loved a manuscript because of its voice?

At WIFYR last year the agents and editor were asked in a Q&A session how they would define voice and even they struggled to come up with an answer. Elusive, I say! One of the answers they gave, was they recognized good voice when it was able to evoke emotion in them.

I liked that answer because for the first time voice wasn’t so obscure anymore, it was about getting my readers to connect with the characters. It’s about making your character walk off the page, and have the readers care about my main characters.

Here are some ideas of questions to ask about your main character(s) because if you don’t know them then your readers won’t either:
What does he/she look like?
What are his/her pet peeves?
What motivates him/her?
What are his/her strengths and weaknesses?
What are his/her relationships like? Family? Romantic? Friendships?
The more you know about your character, the better you can write them, the better your voice will be. Voice is one topic you really can’t learn enough about and is so important to a manuscript. Want more help and even better information from authors that know, check out www.wifyr.com and sign up for a workshop, mini-workshop or afternoon sessions.

Thanks again Natalie for letting me drop by!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Transparent Ebook Deal

Excellent news! If you haven't had a chance to get your hands on TRANSPARENT, the ebook is on sale for the two weeks leading up to the release of HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW. Just $1.99! I highly recommend the book (as you would imagine)—especially if you like superpowers that kind of suck, sarcasm, and general weirdness. These are my specialties.

Feel free to let other people know about the deal. Use the image above. Whatevs. And if you love TRANSPARENT, don't forget that the sequel BLINDSIDED is also available for a very reasonable $6.54. Don't be deceived by the cover—there is about 2.5 times the mayhem of book one.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Look Back Every Once In A While

College graduation, 2006. Why yes, I have a baby—
this is how it's done at BYU, hehe.
Yesterday I went to my alma mater, Brigham Young University, to speak to a class that was about the publishing industry. I was asked by the lovely TA to present on Traditional versus Indie Publishing, since I've now had the chance to learn about both.

Now, even though I live pretty close to BYU, I honestly haven't been on campus in years. And certainly not since I've become a published author. As I parked in visitor parking (not the forever far away student parking like I'd done for so many years), stepped out of my car, and began the familiar walk to my old boss's office, that whole nostalgia thing came over me.

But more than that, this shocking sense of accomplishment. As I thought about the young 20-something I was when I went to that university, all the dreams she had…I realized that I was walking on campus today as the person I could only dream I'd become when I was a student.

I came extra early so I could visit with my old boss at Multicultural Student Services, Lynette Simmons, who gave me my first experiences as a writer, editor, and designer for Eagle's Eye, the Multicultural alumni magazine that has since disappeared. It was so great to talk with her, to be able to tell her all those things I learned while working for her were extremely useful (especially in going Indie).

I grabbed something to eat before the evening class, feeling strange in the food court with my very high heels, surrounded by students in much more comfortable footwear. There were so many times while I was in school that I sat in that same place, studying and eating before work. But it felt so weird to look over my notes before class, thinking that I'd be the one to teach that night.

It was so fun. The class was great, and my co-presenter, Courtney Alameda, was fabulous. The whole thing just went so well that even the snow and rain I had to walk through after didn't seem so bad (I was very glad I'd brought my umbrella just in case!).

As I sat in my car after, a little cold and barefoot since my shoes were soaked, I took a moment to be grateful. Sometimes I get so caught up in what I haven't gotten yet, in where I haven't been, that I forget I was once a student with a dream that felt impossible. Yesterday I got to hold up four books with my name on them, and I realized how much of a Big Deal that would have been to me when I was sitting in those seats.

Not gonna lie—it felt amazing. And you have to hold on to those moments in all this crazy we call the publishing industry.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Oh Yeah…I'm On Sub.

Me, not even a year ago (May 21, 2013), with my debut
novel at the bookstore, all signed and official.
(Yeah it's blurry but it's the only pic I have.)
Last week I was a big, grumpy ball of angst and general hate. By Friday I think I had snapped at every single friend or family member who'd talked to me.

Friday night was a particular mess, since I had to say goodbye to my parents and little sister, who moved all the way across country to Florida. They have always been within a 10-20 minute drive, and now…all my immediate family is either in New Zealand or Florida. And here I am in Utah, a little bit adrift.

But anyway, as I was crying and mad at the world, I kept thinking, "Man, what the crap is WRONG with me? Yeah, it's all hard, but at the same time I'm way more angry and upset than this merits."

And then the thought came to mind: "Oh yeah…I'm on sub."

Being on submission to editors is kind of like having a little monster on your back that gets heavier and heavier the longer it's there. Sometimes you hardly notice its presence, and other times it gets heavier and you remember what you're carrying and it all feels so crushing you just want to push it off and move on at normal speed.

That weight? It makes you cranky. It makes you sad. Sometimes you don't realize that little monster is the root of the problem, but it often is. Every time I've been on sub (and that's been many times now), I become a worse person. It's the depressing truth.

I feel like such a failure. Every pass is like that little monster getting heavier. Yes, even though I have three books coming out before I reach one year of being a published author, I feel like a total FAILURE. It's ridiculous. (But not uncommon, I believe.)

I know it's not rational, but all the "this was great but not right for me" and "your books aren't meeting expectation" and "I didn't connect with the mc" and "I felt like the plot relied too much on The Issues" (whatever that means)…it gets to you. You move past it for the most part, but there are days when they sneak up on you, all the little monsters in the forest following you around and waiting for you to look back and remember they're right behind you.

So as if sub isn't stressful enough, I have my family leaving me and another book releasing in three weeks and a rough draft I'm trying to FINISH in that three weeks. No wonder I'm such a wreck, right?

You have to cut yourself some slack during these times, remember that while you don't WANT sub to hurt—it just adds up. The weight gets heavier and heavier. So be kind to yourself. Try to remember how far you've come, even if it seems impossible to get where you want to be. I've been pulling out old pictures like this one above to remind me of my journey, both the good and bad parts.

And maybe more importantly, warn the people in your life that you will likely be cranky during this time. Tell them about the heavy monster on your back. Maybe they can't carry it for you, but they can support you along the way if they know it's there.