Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Standing by my Work

When I was a kid, my two favorite authors were Judy Blume and Lurlene McDaniel. In fact, it was these ladies who inspired me to want to write in the same genre.  Both wrote realistic young adult novels but were vastly different which is what I loved about them.

The first novel I remember reading from Judy Blume was Are You there God, it’s me Margaret? From then on, I read everything written by Judy Blume. I loved the way Blume was willing to tackle sensitive issues without sugar coating them. When I read her novel, Forever, I was thrilled with the fact that she was willing to portray teens having sex in a way that I thought was realistic yet tasteful.

Lurlene McDaniel novels never depicted teens having sex or even swearing. Instead, they focused on tough issues teens were facing, typically having to do with an illness or death.  One thing you could usually count on in a Lurlene McDaniel novel was that someone was probably going to die, often a teen character. Her novels took readers on a journey with the characters, showing teens how to cope with a crisis.

When I became a writer, I pursued my passion of writing realistic young adult novels like the heroes of my teen years. By the time I produced my first novel, I was told realism was out and fantasy was in. Though I wrote some fantasy novels, I never let go of my desire to write realistic novels. I wanted to give teens characters and stories that reflected their feelings and struggles, and I wasn’t going to shy away from the realism. Teenagers kiss and cry and curse and sometimes they have sex and do drugs. To omit those issues in a novel targeted toward teens meant omitting the ability to connect with them.  That’s not to say every novel I write contains graphic sex scenes with wild orgies or out of control parties where the booze and drugs overflow. Instead, I let the story be my guide. 

Such was the case with my first young adult novel, Like You Mean It. The story was actually written seven years before I uploaded it to the internet, and it was a bigger hit than I expected. Readers felt a strong connection to the characters of Darren and Danni and their struggles to find love in the face of adversity. Since the crux of the story centered on Darren losing his arm after spending his entire high school life as a popular jock, I felt it was important to show how he learned to overcome the resulting body image issues and insecurities. While Darren and Danni didn’t have sex, there was an intimate scene.

Most readers embraced and understood this scene. A few have not. Just the other day, the novel got a one star review on the grounds that it was a “nasty” book. With the anonymity afforded by the internet, I don’t know the age or gender of the reader or what they took exception to. The review was too vague and didn’t explain what made it nasty. For all I know, it could have been a generalization about my writing, but I have to assume it was the reader taking exception to my teen characters being intimate.

As a writer, I stand by what I did. I won’t apologize for it. All I can do is forge ahead and hope that there are more readers who are understanding and accepting of what I do. Those are the people I’m going to focus on because they’re the ones who can appreciate what I do and what I’m trying to achieve. Whether it's a one star review or a five star review or somewhere in between, I stand by my work. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thanks for the Reminder!

“I put a lot in to my writing so that you can get a lot out of it.”

Earlier this week, this quote by suspense author, Alan Chaput, appeared on my Twitter feed and it really spoke to me. Not just for its content but for how well timed this message was.

One of the most difficult things about being an author with little to no budget has always been editing my work. In every work I’ve ever produced I’ve always made every effort to make sure my editing is tight. I want readers to focus on the story and not its mechanics.

Still, no matter how hard I try, I always seem to manage to miss at least one thing, usually more. It could be anything from a missed word to incorrect punctuation. Once, I even used the word lightening when I meant lightning. Of course, my spell check didn’t catch that since lightening was spelled correctly. I’m also notorious for using the word titled when I wanted to say tilted. Again, this isn’t going to be caught by my spell check.

One of these days I might be able to afford an editor. Until then, I’m on my own and I have to do what I can to make sure there aren’t any mistakes.  With the decision to release all of my novels on my own, that becomes even more important. 

Being that I’ve made a conscious decision to self-publish, I’m doing my best to be diligent in my editing. I’ve added a new technique that I haven’t tried in the past and is proving to be quite effective. Of course, while I’m doing all this editing, readers are stuck waiting for the release of my novel, This Time, the first in a four book series that I actually wrote in response to multiple readers’ requests to see more of the characters from my young adult novel, Like You Mean It.

With as much time as I’ve spent, and am still spending, on editing This Time, I’ve been a little worried that readers are going to lose interest after waiting so long.  After seeing Alan Chaput’s quote, I realized I’m not the only author with this concern, but I also realized something more important. All the effort I’m putting in to producing the best product is because I want my readers to get the most out of the experience. I could hurry through and put something out there, but there’s a high probability it won’t be my best or what my readers truly deserve.

Like Chaput, I put a lot of effort in to my writing so that my readers are given what they deserve; the best.  So, thanks Alan Chaput. Thanks for making me feel better and reminding me of one of the fundamental principles of being a good writer. 

“I put a lot in to my writing so that you can get a lot out of it.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself, but I wish I had!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Letting Go for Good

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know this is the year I’ve changed my outlook on and approach to my writing career. I’m writing what I like to write for the people I know are reading it. I’m not going to try and suit an industry ideal.

Despite this new attitude, I sometimes find myself slipping back into my old ways. One of the things I’ve had a particularly difficult time letting go of is the urge to enter writing contests. When I initially entered contests, it was to provide myself with some writing credits that might catch the eye of a potential agent or editor since I was an unpublished author. Given that I’m one hundred percent dedicated to striking out on my own, it seems pointless to enter.

Pointless yet I still feel that compulsion to enter one contest, one I’ve entered every year; the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. It could be any number of things keeping me hooked: the cash advance, the publishing contract, the chance to reach a wider audience and find mainstream success or a combination of all of the above. Whatever the reason, or reasons, I keep holding on. And this year was no exception. I polished up one of my young adult novels and uploaded it the first day the contest opened.

While I waited to hear whether or not I would move on to the next round of the contest, I continued to work on my contemporary adult romance series. I was having so much fun working on this series that I didn’t spend every day leading up to the announcement of the advancing writers obsessing over whether or not I would move on. I didn’t visit the discussion boards to commiserate with fellow entrants. I didn’t even go back and reread my entry to see if I missed anything so I could give myself a verbal beating when I found I did. I just kept working on my new series and waited to see what would happen.

As it turns out, I didn’t move on to the next round. In the past, on hearing news like this, it’s been my M.O. to shed a few tears while questioning my talent. This time, I had a different reaction. Rather than being upset, I literally shrugged it off. I will say that it helped that the day I found out I hadn’t moved on was also the day a reader contacted me via email to tell me how anxious she was to read the first book of my upcoming series.

So, not only did I refuse to dwell on this loss, which I’m quite proud of, but I’m convinced this is a sign. It’s time to let go completely. If I don’t, how else can I say I’m totally committed to doing what I set out to do at the beginning of the year?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Lesson From a Cheerleader

Two months ago, my daughter broke two of her fingers.  For most people that’s a painful inconvenience. As a cheerleader, it was as devastating as it was painful.  To give you an understanding of this, I have to give you a little bit of cheerleading 101.

Cheerleading isn’t what it used to be.  Have you ever seen the movie Bring it On starring Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union? If you have then you should know competitive cheerleading is accurately depicted in that movie. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should because it’s cute! Today’s cheerleaders don’t just stand there and yell out some cheers while doing a few arm movements. They dance, they jump, they kick, they do stunts that require some of them to be balanced in the air by others and they do often complicated tumbling passes with names like round off back hand spring step out. And they do all of these things as a united team with one goal in mind; to win a National championship title.

When she first started competing three years ago, my daughter couldn’t even turn a cartwheel. Now, she’s one of those girls doing round off back handsprings. It was during a competition in January while doing a back handspring that she landed wrong and broke two fingers. This wasn’t just any competition either. It was the competition in which they were attempting to qualify for the right to compete at Nationals which would take place at the end of March in Anaheim California.

Despite this fall my daughter took, the team ended up qualifying. Whether or not she would be physically able to participate was questionable. Initially, the doctor was optimistic that, because of her age, she could make a full recovery in just three weeks. That wasn’t the case. It took nearly eight weeks and multiple physical therapy sessions for her to recover. While we waited for her to recover, she went to every practice and participated to the best of her ability and constantly hounded me and her coaches to let her tumble and do her stunts before the doctor felt she was ready. Of course we all said no, but she was determined to cheer again and even more determined to make it to Nationals.

She was cleared to compete just one week prior to the date Nationals was scheduled. With so little time to spare before the competition, she wasn’t able to return to do the four tumbling passes she’d been doing prior to the injury. Instead, she had one pass at the beginning of the routine, the first one actually, and it put her front and center. She would be setting the tone for the rest of the routine and I was as nervous about that as I was about watching her compete for the first time after an injury.

On March 28th, we loaded up the family and headed down to Anaheim to vie for the National title in the large varsity novice division. The squad was supposed to compete that night against ten other teams. Of the eleven teams competing, only the top four would move to the finals. I say they were supposed to compete, but Mother Nature had other plans. Just half an hour before the team was supposed to take the stage, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck, forcing the rescheduling of the rest of the competition to the next day.

On March 29th, we headed back to the Anaheim Convention Center after spending a few hours at Disneyland that we followed with a long nap. This time, nothing kept the girls from competing. At the conclusion of the competition, the qualifying teams were announced in no particular order. When it came time to announce the qualifiers in our division, all of us held our breaths. After three other teams were announced ahead of ours, things were looking marginally hopeful. Our name was the last called and athletes and parents alike brought down the house with our cheers of joy. The scores and placement of the teams wasn’t announced, but we were told that the following day we would compete in reverse order of our finish from the qualifying round. In other words, if we were in first place at the end of the first round, we’d compete last in the second round. After getting the score sheet, the coach didn’t want to tell us where we’d qualified. He would only say the scores were close.

Sunday, March 30th, we made one final trip to the Anaheim Convention Center for the last round of the last competition of the season. The first thing many of us parents did was run to the posted scheduled to see our performance order. On seeing we would compete last, I was elated, as were those parents around me. We were standing in first place. All we had to do was hold on.

When the girls took the floor for that final routine, I might have been as nervous as they were, but I watched my daughter with pride. For the second day in a row, she hit her opening tumbling pass and all of the stunts and jumps.

At the awards ceremony a few hours later, my nerves were even more frazzled as I waited to hear whether or not they’d hung on to win. As division after division was called, and we still weren’t among them, I became even more anxious. By the time our division was called to the floor, I’d bitten all of my fingernails to the nub and was jostling my legs up and down and probably driving those around me nuts. I felt confident we’d gotten at least second place. Of the four teams, I thought it came down to us and a team called Arlington. Placements were announced in reverse order and we weren’t fourth or third. The last two teams standing were us and Arlington. When the other team was announced in second place, and I knew we’d won, I could barely stay in my seat to wait for the official announcement. As that announcement was being made, I shot down the bleachers, screaming all the way, with my husband and older daughter in tow and doing the same.

My cheerleader was all smiles as the team hugged and cried and posed for pictures with their trophy and banner, gold medals strung around their necks. As I watched, I reflected on the last few months. After everything my child had gone through to get to that point, I wanted that title for her as much as she did. To see her dream come true, to see the lows she’d gone through to earn it suddenly pay off, made me happier than this writer can describe. It also made me realize there might be a lesson in there for me.

At one point in the season, we thought my daughter might be done. We didn’t think she would make it Nationals beyond the role of spectator. Despite what I thought, my daughter never thought she wouldn’t be there. In her mind, there was no question she’d get there and when she did, she would play to win. Even when the odds were stacked against her, she believed she could do it. She never stopped wanting and she never gave up and it paid off.

Who would have thought a fourteen year old cheerleader could teach me a lesson in how to persevere in your dreams?