Monday, February 12, 2018

Sara Says Nice Things About THE VENGEANCE CODE

Guysssssss. I am so lucky to have great friends who have cheered me on through all the struggles, and one of them happens to be Sara Raasch, author of the bestselling series SNOW LIKE ASHES. (She also has another series out this year with pirates!!! Check out THESE REBEL WAVES, coming August 7.)

Sara was kind enough to offer a blurb for THE VENGEANCE CODE, and here it is in its full glory:

McKenzie balances epic esports and fast-paced arena matches with the all-too-familiar brutality of class segregation and violent prejudice. Anyone who’s ever wanted to escape reality will find THE VENGEANCE CODE perilously alluring.  

—Sara Raasch, NYTimes Bestselling Author of the Snow Like Ashes Trilogy

I have all the warm fuzzies. The poor woman had to read the non-line-edited version, so she really is a trooper and I appreciate her seeing the ultimate vision of the novel. Sorry you had to read those extra 7k words my editor cut!

I'm still wading my way through edits on this beast (which is taking much longer than projected due to some delays), but I believe I can stick on my projected release of April 3rd. Fingers crossed!

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Transition From Hobbyist To Aspiring To Professional

This is my fifth year as a published author. Five years! I've been a bit reflecty on all the years I've spent in the pursuit of my stories and sharing them with the world. All the little and big mistakes I've made. All the little and big achievements I worked for. It's never been an easy road for me—it's not easy for anyone, really—but it has been ultimately educational and rewarding. 

And today I wanted to perhaps give some perspective for the others coming up behind me on this lovely little road. 

The very first book signing I attended. Hearing Bree's story
gave me hope for myself.
"A hobbyist writes for fun. An aspiring author writes for serious."
There will be a point along your road where you will want to take things to the next level with your writing. It's part of the process when you're seeking the concept of "authorhood." And in that desire, you will start to do all the things you think proper authors should do. 

Like writing more. And writing more "serious stuff." You may envision that Great American Novel cliche and you being read in English Lit classes for centuries, torturing the next generation with your superior allegories and junk. 

You will start to look at stories not as fun—but instead with a mind to judge them. To learn from them so you can get better, BE better than them. And then you will inevitably reach the phase of:

"I can write better than that. All of these books are flawed and dumb."
It doesn't matter how great the book is. IN FACT, the more the book is praised, the higher the chances you're going to read it and be all, "Psh, I can do better." And for some reason you're going to go out there and TELL people how dumb these books are, as if you are so much more superior than the books and genres you aspire to be part of. 

I still don't know why this is the case. But I did it. I've seen a bunch of other newly aspiring authors do the same thing. So I've concluded it's part of the process, it's a strange way that they convince themselves to keep going and not lose confidence. I wish we didn't have to tear down others to get there, but it's where a lot of us start, in the I can do better than so-and-so camp.

But what the new aspiring doesn't really realize is:

"Oh, shoot, those people I'm dumping on are my future 'co-workers.'"
And the internet is public. And people DO see your crap. And if they don't see it, they will hear about it at conferences and tours and signings. So you have a decision to make and some growing to do. Some writers continue to publicly review and trash on books, others realize that maybe they should keep those opinions to themselves and be more supportive of their co-workers. Because there's a little secret truth in that...people will remember if you didn't like their stuff or you insulted them personally. And you may not get invited to things because of it. Not a pleasant reality, but it's the truth. 

Eventually, you grow out of the "all these books are crap" and into a new phase of: 

These ladies got me through everything.
"Hmm, so writing and publishing a book is harder than I thought."
At some point in your aspiring career, you will drop the ego you didn't know you had and start accepting that you don't actually know what you're doing. You will think about all those sharp jabs you took at other books and authors and realize the next generation of writers behind you will have their guns aimed right at your words, waiting to rip them apart no matter how hard you have worked to improve. 

The closer you get to that Publishable Book, the closer you get to the Dream Agent and the Book Deal and the Debut Author Status, the less confidence you'll have that you deserve anything. You realize this has nothing to do with "deserving" or "being better than so-and-so." It has everything to do with the READER. And the MARKET. But at the same time, envy and comparison will take over...

"They got the agent. My friend just got a book deal. When is it MY TURN?"
By the time you've gotten close to crossing over from aspiring to debut, you've probably met a lovely group of writer friends who've been cheering you on while you've also been supporting them. And as you all begin to cross the bridge, it can be difficult to be "left behind." It makes you want to push harder. It makes you feel so close but so far away. You don't want to be jealous, but you are. They have what you want—it's natural. But it also doesn't have to be ugly and it often isn't. Writer friends are happy for each other, and they hurt for each other's struggles as well because we have all been in that dark places. 

Signing my first book contract, back when I had time
to be thin;)
Then one day it's happening to you. It feels unreal, and you don't forget it. It was summertime when my first agent called to offer representation. The day my second agent called about an offer for a book deal, I was driving to the dentist on a nice spring April day. It will feel amazing, a culmination of hard work and luck and not giving up. 

"But so-and-so sold for more and got hardcovers and series and and and..."
After the elation comes utter dread. And reality. For me, I quickly realized my book I dreamed of being a "lead title" or a "bestseller" would never be so successful. I wasn't even getting the pretty hardcover I envisioned, but instead would be a paperback debut. Part of being a debut is facing the harsh reality that the publishing industry has a ranking system. All you wanted was to be that published author, and suddenly it doesn't seem like enough. And you feel guilty about that, wanting more when you've already gotten so much. 

The lead up to the debut is filled with so many emotions, so many firsts. I leaned heavily on other debuts as we all navigated the rocky path. Everything felt so important. There's a pressure to market and social media and you fully believe you can have a massive impact on how well your books sells. But post debut, a new reality sets in:

Debut day! Seeing that book on a shelf was
unreal at the time. Still is.
"I don't actually have any control over sales. Or anything really, except the writing."
Debut hits. The books starts selling...either well or not well. If well, relief sets in but also a new sort of pressure to continue delivering. Because you know how easily is can all vanish. If you don't sell well, it hurts and new barriers to more sales can crop up. 

Fear of being forgotten sets in. You see how your advertising doesn't really give a lot of return in actual sales. Even if you end up "lucky" with good sales and more book deals, you will watch friends struggle and that will hurt you, too. You start to become jaded as you become part of the brutal machine that is publishing, which will soldier on with or without you.

The first five years of being published...haven't been easy. As an aspiring author I pictured this part of the journey as "smooth sailing," but it is anything but that. The fight never ends, and that is the reality newly published authors have to face. 

"Where did everyone go?"
The support of a debut...changes, to put it nicely. The friends and family that came out for your first book may not be there for your second. And by the time you're on the third or fourth? Well, it'll wane even more. The hope is fans will be there, but that "cheering section" goes quiet once you finally hit the status of "published author." Your writer friends get busy with their own demanding schedules. You non-writer friends are like, "What? Another book? You're still doing that? I thought you had like nine of those already why have more?"

Some people stick with you through everything,
and these two babies are still cheering each other on.
It's gets a bit lonely. And, at least for me, I felt like no one was still listening. No one cared anymore, and it was hard to keep going. In a lot of ways, it's like going back to the very beginning when it is just you and the words. You have to rediscover the love of writing in a way, and realize that was why you got into this whole mess to begin with. 

"I don't know anything but I will keep going because I enjoy this."
At some point, you'll realize all the advice you thought you were wise enough to give is...not worth much. Writing is so personal that everything tidbit working for you may not work for the next author. And you're not wrong. And they're not wrong. The envy and the judging fall to the background as you finally embrace the idea that there are many ways to write and there are readers all over who can embrace lots of different styles. They matter more than anything else.

"Do you."
It will never be easy, but as some point the craziness will die down a bit, you will find a place that works for you. It probably won't be what you expected when you dreamed of it long ago, but it'll be good nonetheless. And then you'll be the old vet watching all the youngins, trying to have patience with them as they navigate the journey. You'll give them advice. They won't listen. And the cycle will continue on. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

How I Fell In Love With Esports

NA LCS Spring Split 2014
It was Season 3 Worlds for League Of Legends. That was wayyyyy back 2013, just after my debut novel came out. I was aware of the MOBA genre of games, but I didn't actually play them because...

Guys, I'm the queen of sore losers.

I could see myself being a giant ball of rage, and that just wasn't good for my health or the safety of my family. But my husband played and it looked cool. When Worlds came around that Fall, the hubs turned it on for kicks. I was like, "What is THIS?"

Then I proceeded to watch it every second I could. I watched more than my husband, and he just laughed because he didn't expect me to be so on board so quickly. Which is silly, because I've always liked gaming...but this did have a "sport" element and I never liked those. Being able to watch an entertaining, informative, professional stream without suffering the losses myself? It. Was. Perfect. That was the year of SKT's first Worlds win, and watching their domination and skill cemented my love for this new thing in my life.

And then I watched the next Spring split. Even found my way to the L.A. Studio to watch it live. And then the Summer. And Season 4 Worlds. I've been watching ever since—following the leagues all over the world, getting into off-season player moves, watching how the production has evolved, studying the narratives they build around players and teams.

What I fell in love with first? That the games had commentators who helped me, a relative noob, follow along. It was a bonus that I didn't have to listen to the endless swear words you have to endure if you watch a single player's stream on Twitch. It brought a sense of credibility. Of accessibility. And those casters drew me in until I could understand the game on my own.

Then I fell in love with teams and players. A story builds as these teams battle on the rift, and the author in me grew to love learning about how each player got to where they were. I love the ones struggling to make their names as much as those who are on the top. I've grown to appreciate the rivalry narrative in a way I never have before.

I also fell for the production. I was a techie in high school, and all the work that goes into producing a quality show...I notice those things. And LoL put a lot of attention into that side, which made the tournaments look even more legit and credible, because they were presented with good design.

Naturally, this new passion found its way into my writing, and THE VENGEANCE CODE is a result of that. In fact, I watched a lot of pro-gaming while writing the novel. If you're familiar with LoL, you'll probably see a lot of similarities between the MOBA in TVC (which I call Heroes Of Gaia, of HoG [yes, bad abbreviation was totally intentional]), though I chose to simplify a lot of concepts in hopes of making it clearer for people new to Esports.

Spring Splits have just started up in League Of Legends, so if you're every curious to know more about what inspired THE VENGEANCE CODE, check out You better believe I'm watching while I draft this sequel! (Watching the new Overwatch League as well, if you're into that.)

Monday, January 8, 2018

COVER REVEAL: The Vengeance Code

Cover Copy: 

She’s a nobody in the bunker, struggling to survive.

He’s the heir to a fortune, determined to follow in his mother’s fatal footsteps.

Only she knows her father was murdered, his code stolen.

His father’s virtual reality program kills people.

Linix can’t possibly trust the heir of the man who destroyed her family. And Cache can’t accept a position in an industry that kills its customers. But when the only thing more dangerous than the games is not playing them, they’ll have to figure out how to win. Together.

Hi! I figure I just give you the cover first, and if you wanna read more you can. Isn't it AMAZING? My cover artist is the best, and I feel like she only gets better for every book we do together. So a massive thank you to Michelle Argyle (Melissa Williams Design) for rocking THE VENGEANCE CODE cover. 

You guys perhaps have a few questions, the first one being: Natalie, why are you using a pen name?

I'm glad you asked, friends. For me personally, taking this pen name is a fresh start. My own name on books has been amazing, but there's a lot well. Secondly, I didn't feel my name fit in the genre I plan to now focus on: Science Fiction. I don't want to say it was too girly, but well, it was. This one isn't necessarily male, but also not so female either. And it also looked really odd to me when we put "Natalie Whipple" on the cover. It didn't fit. Nat McKenzie is like the cool version of me, and the last name is my grandmother's maiden and chosen with purpose. You will see this name on all my impending sci-fi (Yes, there is so much more to come.).

Another question you may be asking: Where did this book come from and why haven't we heard much of it?

Well, after facing a lot of rejection in publishing (this book included, having failed in submissions), I began to hold any project I loved very close to my chest. I didn't want to be hurt, and I feared sharing even the smallest pieces of my work because it felt like no one cared...and that was what hurt the most. 

But! THE VENGEANCE CODE was originally a NaNoWriMo project. I wrote the first draft in Nov 2014, which I can hardly believe. It was titled "Punk Gamer Book." And for awhile I called it after its setting, "Bunker 8." It's bred from my love of pro League of Legends, conspiracy theories of secret government bunkers, corporate Kdramas, and a fascination with flawed and evolving technology. So really a whole kitchen sink. Like usual.

The first seeds of the book grew from my curiosity in developing virtual reality tech. So many stories start in a place where VR has been perfected and works flawlessly. I wanted to take a different approach and place it in a broken state, where the program caused something I call "Virtual Phantom Pain" to its users...and this pain, turns out, eventually kills people. But instead of fixing it, the powers that be decide to use that to control the population in their Bunker. The creator refuses to go along, is murdered, and no one is the wiser.

It's a story of trying to right wrongs against impossible odds, of being trapped in a scenario everyone hates but doesn't think can be fixed, and finding the determination to face it all head on. Plus video games and stuff. 

Finally, and most importantly: Where and when can I get my hands on THE VENGEANCE CODE? Cuz I need it now.

THE VENGEANCE CODE will be available for purchase in March! Online at most book retailers in both Ebook and Paperback! I am hoping for a mid-March release date, but I'm still in edits so we shall see. Not too long a wait! You guys will be just fine.