Yesterday it was announced in Publisher’s Marketplace that my debut young adult fantasy novel, OF FIRE AND STARS, sold to Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a two-book deal. Not even horse gifs can communicate my excitement about this, nor can they express enough gratitude to those who helped me along the way. My amazing agent, my devoted and ruthless critique partners, my incredible friends, and the teachers and mentors I had over the years are truly the ones who made this possible.
In OF FIRE AND STARS, a princess with a forbidden magical gift falls in love with the rogueish, horse-training sister of the prince she’s supposed to marry.
It is a challenging world for those of us who write books with LGBTQ protagonists, but not an impossible one. My first hope is that this deal means my book will fall into the hands of the teenagers who need it most. My second and equal hope is that it will encourage anyone whose voice gets pushed to the edges, marginalized, and routinely stomped on to keep writing. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in ourselves and our stories, but they matter—maybe to someone we haven’t even met who will read them one day.
In the next week or so I’ll be doing a fun giveaway of several books to celebrate the deal, so come on in and make yourselves comfortable!
Everyone has to start their journey from writing to publication somewhere.
I wrote a book. Then I wrote four more. Yet still I didn’t consider myself a real writer, and the manuscripts got dumped in a drawer. But for some reason, the third of the five manuscripts wouldn’t let me go. The story needed to be told.
So I revised like a person possessed. I found critique partners and beta readers. I attended the Lambda Literary Retreat for Emerging Writers and had the privilege of studying with Malinda Lo. I entered Pitch Wars and ended up with amazing mentor Elizabeth Briggs. And as a result of the feedback, support, and constructive criticism I received, my book evolved and changed into something better and stronger.
Finally, when I felt I could do no more to improve the manuscript, I sent out some queries, attempting to follow the conventional wisdom and guidelines.
I got rejected.
And then one day, just as I was thinking about trunking the manuscript and moving on to the next book, a different kind of email hit my inbox.
An agent said she loved the manuscript and wanted to talk to me.
We scheduled the call for the next day.
We talked about the manuscript and my writing career and got a feel for one another’s style.
And came to this conclusion.
But then there was another offer!
So I had to think things through. After some panic, due diligence, and deliberation, I realized that while both agents were great choices, there was only one I couldn’t live without. She’s brilliant, passionate, and most importantly, understands the very heart of my book.
To all you other writers writing, dreaming, querying, and feeling uncertain that things will ever pan out for you–don’t ever give up. Keep working to be the best writer you can be.
One day you’ll get there.
Disclaimer: none of these gifs are owned/were made by me. Thanks to the talented people of Tumblr!
The lovely writers behind DiversifYA interviewed me this week! I talked about my manuscript, my first kiss, and what it was like to grow up liking girls. Check out my interview and enter below to win a free AUTOGRAPHED paperback of one of the following books (your choice):
Enter to win here:
I am not fearless.
Even after training two horses from the ground up, some dark fantasy strikes me every time I swing into the saddle. I picture myself tangled in barbed wire, impaled on a jump standard, or lying in the sand with a broken neck. My memory is happy to call up the times I’ve been stepped on, thrown into jumps, smashed into walls, and bucked off onto cement. And my body reminds me of all those incidents with a collection of aches that only worsen with time.
Even as a kid I was risk-averse. I was the one afraid to canter, terrified to trail ride, too fearful to take the big jump, and would collapse in on myself when an instructor pushed too hard. But the drive for perfection kept me going, and I continued to learn, read, and ride, even with fear digging its claws into my back.
Suddenly it’s been twenty years.
Now for every one of those moments where fear ruled me exist a hundred that were the opposite: keeping my seat through a spook and realizing it was no big deal, being the first on the back of a horse I trained myself, swimming beside my horse at the lake, or galloping through an open field with my arms spread like wings.
But even now—I am afraid.
I eventually grew restless after the sale of my mare last fall and started taking jumping lessons. Halfway through my first lesson as the instructor put up the jumps, it was time to come clean.
“I’m nervous,” I said. It was my first jumping lesson in more than fifteen years. Every time I approached a fence the lizard part of my brain wanted to grab mane, shut my eyes, and cross myself until it was over—because that’s the only kind of courage I know. Hang on, get through it, and eventually the fear will retreat.
But the instructor didn’t respond the way I expected.
“You aren’t riding like you’re nervous,” she said.
Either my riding was better than I thought, or I’d become a master of lies told with my body.
By my third lesson, just last week, I found myself on a big, scopey Thoroughbred borrowed from the barn owner for the second time, trying not to piss myself every time I pointed him at a jump. He was forward and game, but soft in my hands and seat even when he rushed or got a little goofy with his head. Still, every tiny crossrail felt like a mess. My release wasn’t in a consistent place, and my nervousness and anticipation often drove me ahead of the motion. Even as I grew more confident my equitation still seemed sloppy. The voices in my head asked why I bothered to try.
I’ve done this with my writing too. Crippling self-doubt makes me work to be better, but it also once caused me to quit for years. And at the root of it is always fear—the fear of not being good enough, particularly when I’ve done my best. It’s disguised in a certain level of pragmatism. There will always be someone better than me, and less fearful than me, because that’s how the world works.
One of our last times over the tiny crossrail, one of the other riding students snapped a photo. She caught us right at the peak of the jump, in the moment where nervous anticipation had ended and my vicious cycle of self-criticism had yet to begin.
When I saw that photo, everything changed.
My head is up, my heels are down, and the horse has a proper release. We’re flying and it’s beautiful, even if it wasn’t perfect, even if I was scared. And because I was so afraid of making mistakes, of not doing everything right, I missed the magic of those few airborne seconds even though it’s right there in the picture.
Being brave isn’t closing my eyes, tossing away the reins, and hanging on for dear life and praying I make it. It’s certainly not quitting before I can fail or succeed. It’s trotting to the jump with my head up. Breathing. Finding stillness. Keeping my eyes open. Seeking improvement, not perfection. Knowing that the next jump will be better.
From now on I will be brave—and imperfect.
After a long car trip filled with poor food decisions, we arrived in New Orleans a little after 7pm Tuesday night. Despite getting stuck in awful traffic in Baton Rouge, the car trip wasn’t a total loss: myself and one of the other writers kept ourselves busy with word wars and each wrote a couple thousand words on new projects.
We got over to RT just in time for the New Adult slumber party. Our timing was so good that we walked right in as everyone began lining up, and we got a prime spot for early entrance. The New Adult party was loud and raucous, with everyone having lots of fun playing college games like flip cup, beer pong, and never have I ever. The hosts also had an impressive number of door prizes to raffle off throughout the party.
After some swiftly downed candy and wine at the New Adult party, we headed down to the bar to meet up with Karina Cooper, who writes paranormal romance and is just as lovely in person as she is on Twitter. She spoke up as another person willing to help host an informal #QueerRT14 gathering this week, and I’m thrilled to have her on board.
The YA party started a little after 10pm, and in retrospect, a glass of wine and a Pimm’s Cup might not have been the best pre-game choices for that particular event. During introductions, each of the author hosts shared one of their fears, and perhaps the most memorable one was “old men in speedos,” which went on to become a recurring theme of the night. Each table had the opportunity to write a ghost story by passing the paper around and each person adding a sentence. Those who have played that game with me before know how dangerous it is when I’m involved, and needless to say, our story came out thoroughly deranged. It made use of rainbow speedos, a gyrating guy brandishing a cat, and some anatomical references I shouldn’t repeat.
All in all, it was a fun start to the convention and a preview of what I’m sure will be a crazy week to come!
Guess what’s happening this week? The Romantic Times (RT) Booklovers Convention!
I’ll be in New Orleans this week checking out the convention, meeting some amazing writers, and expanding my knowledge about writing and publishing, all while attempting to resist the lure of beignets.
I will be paying particular attention to anything and everything LGBTQ-related, and tweeting about it under the hashtag #QueerRT14. I’m hoping to get a few more readers and writers involved, so if you’re a reader or writer with an interest in any color of the QUILTBAG rainbow, please jump into the conversation. See you in the Big Easy!
There were two reasons for my lack of posts in December.
- Wonderful things happened.
- Horrible things happened.
In late November I submitted to the Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction through the MSFV blog and was selected as a winner, which put me among sixty authors whose loglines and first pages were put up for bidding by agents in early December. Through that contest I received some great feedback and also a couple of agent bids. Shortly after that, I also won my way into Pitch Wars, which is a contest hosted by the fabulous Brenda Drake. For more details on what the contest is, check out the Pitch Wars page on her blog.
The Pitch Wars mentor who selected me is Elizabeth Briggs. Her comments on my manuscript are insightful and detailed, and I couldn’t be more delighted to be working with her. The agent round for Pitch Wars happens at the end of January, so by then I should have an even more polished manuscript ready to go. Through Pitch Wars I’ve met many new writing friends, and have enjoyed giving and receiving feedback and watching as other writers hone their work. The online writing community is filled with lovely, supportive people.
While 2013 was good to me as a writer, it was a year of great loss for my friends and family. A lot of people died, many of them young. December wrapped up with three deaths in the space of a week. A heaviness rests in my bones that I’m not sure when I will be able to shake. There is no upside to the tragic loss of people you love, or of recognizing how little you can do in the face of someone else’s grief. It is humbling. May 2014 be kind to us all.
On my list of favorite things, fantasy books rank right up there with dark chocolate ice cream smothered in hot fudge. Part of the reason I like fantasy books is because, as one of my critique partners pointed out, many of them take place in a Vaguely Medieval Land Where Everyone Rides Horses Always,* and I love horses. Unfortunately, a lot of fantasy writers aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about horses, which can result in cringe-worthy errors.
Not every writer has to be a horse expert (we can’t all be experts on everything, after all), but the reason getting horse facts right is important is because this is a real life example of what happens when people who know nothing about horses decide to go on an Epic Quest: (WARNING, GRAPHIC PHOTOS). The men responsible have since been charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty. Here are a few useful facts to help avoid common horse-related pitfalls in writing:
- Horses do not whinny and paw all the time to express themselves to humans. Movies are full of this rubbish, and it makes me want to hurl manure at the television. Horses whinny to communicate with one another, particularly when they are at a distance from the herd. They may nicker when you show up with treats, or if another horse is approaching. A horse with a fractious personality may paw if tied at the hitching rail for a long period of time, or bang on the stall door with a front hoof when impatient for his dinner. Beyond that, horses are extremely quiet for such large creatures.
- You can’t gallop your horse all day. The four basic gaits that the average horse has are walk, trot, canter, and gallop. One of the mistakes I see most often is horses galloping over rough terrain or for extended periods of time. It’s definitely possible for a horse to gallop for a few miles, but it’s very strenuous. The absolute limit is about ten miles, and that horse is going to be exhausted at the end even if it started out in peak condition. A brisk trot is a good, ground-covering pace for a long ride, even if it’s likely to make your characters’ butts sore.
- Horses can’t vomit. It is physically impossible. If a horse ingests something poisonous, they’re most likely to colic (get a stomachache). Part of the reason colic is such a serious problem is that horses can’t throw up to get rid of whatever toxin they ate. A colicky horse may lie down and refuse to get up, roll, or bite at its sides. Many horses are also fussy eaters. Unless they’re very hungry, they aren’t likely to eat something toxic that is offered to them (i.e., moldy hay or a poisonous plant).
- Horses eat a lot. You know that saying, “eat like a horse?” It’s true. A horse in regular exercise is probably going to need a minimum of about 10lbs of hay or grass per day. On an Epic Quest, where a horse is being ridden heavily, it would need more than that. Grass is more important than grain, so a handful of oats isn’t going to cut it when your heroes are winding through a treacherous mountain pass for days on end.
- Horses are claustrophobic by nature. Even an exceptionally trained horse is probably not going to want to go into the Scary Dragon Cave, even if it’s the only way to hide from the Impending Stormpocalypse.
- Tying horses by the reins is unsafe. If your characters are knowledgeable horse people, they should always tie horses by their halters. A horse that shies and tries to run away while tied by the reins could do devastating damage to its mouth and even slice through the tongue depending on the type of bit it wears. (A halter is what you put on the horse’s head to lead it, with a rope attached under the chin. A bridle is what you use to ride, and the reins are attached to a metal bit in the horse’s mouth).
- Stallions: just say no. Most colts should be gelded at a relatively young age. There are not that many horses that should be passing on their genes unless they are truly stunning examples of their breed and are also accomplished in the discipline for which they were bred. Stallions tend to be sensitive, hormonal creatures that are 95% focused on breeding the nearest breedable thing. They certainly can make good riding horses, and often compete at the top of their disciplines, but they require consistent, expert handling to get there. Your King or Your Hero should not go charging into battle on a stallion unless he or she is an exceptional horse person.
The moral of this story is that if horses play a significant role in your book, try to keep things at a broad, high level, and fact-check carefully. The best solution is to find a beta reader who is an experienced horse person and can let you know where you may have gone astray. If you’re more the do-it-yourself type, consider taking a few lessons at a reputable stable near you. That said, there’s only so much you can learn in a short period of time. I’ve been riding and training horses for over twenty years and there is no limit to what I still have to learn. That’s what makes horses so magical.
Have a horse question? Drop me a note and I’ll write about it for a future post!
*The lack of diversity among fantasy book settings is a problem in and of itself that deserves another post.
Hordes of writers near and far are stocking up on coffee and wine and are installing fresh padding on the walls of their writing caves for the month of November. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is officially upon us. It’s time for a month of writing intense enough to wear one’s fingers to bloody stumps and the ingestion of enough caffeine to create a violent eye twitch that will linger well into December.
The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days.
Every November seems so fresh and new to me that sometimes I forget my veteran status. This will be my ninth year as a participant. Now that I’ve been around the 50,000-word block a few times, I’d like to share some survival tips I’ve accumulated over the years.
- Don’t edit. I’m serious. Don’t even edit the last two sentences you wrote at the end of your previous writing session when you pick up to keep going. Just read them for context and move on. If you don’t let the words pour out of you like pure literary vomit, 50k will elude you like a greased sardine.
- When you stop writing for the day, stop in the middle of a scene. It will make it much easier to pick back up and gain momentum as opposed to trying to start a new chapter the next day.
- Whether you plot everything out in advance or write by the seat of your pants, have at least one thing you know you’re writing toward that happens near the end of the book. Knowing that Character A and Character B are going to have to pull a pterodactyl wishbone for dominance and the fate of the universe while standing in a pool of baby seal tears at the climax of your book will help keep you always writing toward that scene.
- If you ever get stuck, ask yourself what the worst thing is that could happen to your characters. Then do it to them. It’ll keep things moving and drive the plot forward. Never be afraid to make your characters suffer, particularly at the hands of 3,000 axe-wielding space weasels. Getting characters untangled from bad situations is one of the best ways to work your creative muscles and increase wordcount.
- Bank extra words before Thanksgiving if you reside in the USA. Even if you’re on track up until that point, Thanksgiving weekend can decimate your wordcount, especially if you are visiting family or friends. It’s particularly important this year since Thanksgiving falls right at the very end of the month with little time to recover afterward.
- Word war your way out of a wordcount hole (no, that’s not a euphemism). If your wordcount is so far in the latrine that it seems that all hope is lost, gather a few other NaNoWriMo pals or some strangers on the internet and do a word war. Short, intense sprints tend to work the best (between 15 and 30 minutes). You’ll be shocked by how fast your word count will build if you do 2-3 sprints per hour with relaxing breaks in between to giggle manaiacally at cat gifs while chugging your favored form of caffeine.
See you at the finish line!
PS: If you’re in need of some quick and dirty plotting tips, check out Deanna Roy’s post on the Nine Box method of structuring your novel. Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet is also an excellent tool to map out your story.
Malinda Lo has been doing a fantastic series for YA Pride this month. As part of that, I am featured today as a guest blogger! Head on over to Malinda’s blog to read about how her book Ash inspired me, and why it’s important to write what you crave as a reader.