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Posted in Writing, Film

How to Use Time Effectively to Improve Your Fiction

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Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

Review

Moonlight is a miracle of a movie, something so original and lovely and daring that I found myself overcome with emotion throughout most of its running time. I’ve become wired lately to expect the obvious in most movies that I see, to expect by-the-numbers plots and phony conflicts, and just hope that some good performances and stylish shots and occasional surprises will pull me through. Moonlight breaks through the monotony of the current cinema landscape. It is a film that I can’t believe exists. It is a film that I can’t believe was funded. It is a film as personal as anything I’ve seen on screen in years, clearly something close to writer-director Barry Jenkins’ heart, and something that was a labor of love for everyone involved to tell this emotionally complex coming-of-age story.

Moonlight has (rightly, I think) been compared to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and although it shares the similar construction of examining a character as he grows from a child to an adult, Moonlight is an entirely different experience that goes even deeper into the psyche of its protagonist. Chiron is the lead character who we see at three different ages — nine, sixteen, and mid-twenties. At nine, Chiron (Alex Hibbert) has to fend off bullies and tolerate an abusive mother Paula (Naomie Harris). He’s most comfortable when he spends time with his best friend Kevin (Jaden Piner) and a drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). At sixteen, Chiron (in the second segment played by Ashton Sanders) is still a pushover nerd, tall and awkward, still endlessly bullied. His mom is now a crack addict, and he can’t find a way to be his true self, until one night he and Kevin (now played by Jharrel Jerome) share a kiss at night on the beach. In his twenties, Chiron (played in this segment by Trevante Rhodes) takes a drive to see Kevin (now played by Andre Holland), who he hasn’t seen in years, and the two have a final confrontation that is altogether surprising and illuminating.

Where to begin with the ways I love this movie? First, let’s look at the structure and why it works so well. Unlike Boyhood, which jumps ahead a year every fifteen to twenty minutes (with no specific title card on screen to alert you), Moonlight focuses on three different time periods in Chiron’s life, each one given about forty minutes of screen-time. Although I’ll always love the way Boyhood uses time to tell its story, the different structure in Moonlight allows for even deeper insight into its protagonist, due to the extended periods of time we get to spend with Chiron and his often tumultuous surroundings. When we visit him for a third time in his twenties, there is an immediate sadness and yearning in the character that comes through without Chiron even having to say a single word, the heartfelt moments in that final, exquisitely executed sequence so incredibly powerful.

Second, the film wouldn’t work as well as it does without its pitch-perfect performances, and without the remarkable casting job by Yesi Ramirez. Moonlight didn’t just need great actors, which it has in all three segments; it needed actors who the audience can believe play the same person at different ages. Boyhood used the same actors for all twelve segments, whereas Moonlight uses different actors for its three segments, except for Chiron’s mother Paula, who Naomie Harris plays for the entire film in a raw, devastating performance. Chiron and his friend Kevin are played by three different actors, and all of them bring nuance and sensitivity and heartbreak to their performances, and also are physically believable as the same characters. Alex Hibbert is a remarkable find as the young Chiron, as he navigates a scary world, and Trevante Rhodes, as the twenties Chiron, may be strong and muscular, but he still conveys the subtle pain the character is still carrying well into adulthood.

Third is the stunning cinematography and use of sound and music in the film. For an independent movie made on a low budget in a few number of days, Moonlight has beautiful shots that will stick with me far more than most anything in any mainstream movie released in 2016. From the sweeping opening shot that spins and spins, to that perfect closing push-in shot that says so much with so little, this film has an assured and striking look. The cinematography by James Laxton always brings the viewer close to Chiron, the use of muted colors and unsteady camera movement giving the viewer a fraught but ultimately hopeful tone throughout. Similarly the sound design and Nicholas Britell’s haunting music enhances the emotion of the piece, especially toward the end. The use of Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger” in the diner scene may make for the most greatly romantic moment in any movie I see this year.

Fourth and finally, yes, let me praise the romantic element of this terrific film. Rarely before have I seen deep and true love depicted so realistically and unsentimentally on film, not since Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy. And not since Andrew Haigh’s Weekend has an LGBT relationship been depicted with the kind of care and depth it’s given in Moonlight. As a gay person I’m always on the look-out for rich, complex LGBT films and Moonlight is something so totally unique that I’ve never seen before and may well never see again, a film about a young African American trying to come to terms with his homosexuality, told over three different time periods. I spent much of 2014 writing a novel called The First Day, about two boys who meet in first grade and go from best friends to boyfriends over the course of twelve years. I wrote the book before I saw Boyhood and before I saw Moonlight, and I’d say my novel blends elements from both films in a way I never could have predicted. Positive, daring, and thoughtful LGBT stories are important, now in the current political climate as much as they’ve been in a long time, and I can’t think of a better film right now worth seeing than Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. This is a film I will cherish for many years to come.

Watching Like a Writer

Moonlight made me think about the use of time in my fiction. A four-hundred-page novel can be set in a single night, and a short story of five pages can be set over the course of someone’s lifetime. Time is something many may not think of in great detail when developing a new piece of fiction, but it absolutely should be one of your top initial concerns. As I mentioned before, my novel The First Day takes place over twelve years, each of its twelve chapters reserved for a specific moment in time. The novel was a thrill to write, and also quite difficult and complex. Moonlight wouldn’t be the movie it is without its startling use of time, and a good piece of fiction can become great if time is used in a similarly creative manner.

Exercise!

Think of a story that could use time to age the characters in a meaningful way. Who would be your protagonist, and how would he or she change over the years or decades?

Posted in Poetry

Opening Shot: A Poem

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Quiet on the set

Laughter transitions to tears

Silence breaks through the chatter

Cinema junkies brace for banality

Places, everyone

Deep breath from the director

Egos run rampant behind the camera

The actors duck down like animal prey

Roll sound

A ladder falls, three lights explode

A whispering wind soothes and calms

Against the backdrop of a fiery Hell

Roll camera

The actors blink and blot their lips

Dust in the frame, viewfinder villainy

Mise-en-scene equals cotton candy bullshit

Action

Cue the dolly’s descent

Dialogue like soap opera rewrites

Death never more serenely transcendent

And cut

Posted in Film, Writing

Successful Horror Fiction Doesn’t Have to Be Gruesome

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Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

Review

In the early 1960s, the horror film genre needed a kick in the ass. Despite many of the landmark gems made in the 1930s, like the great Universal Monster movies, there were very few influential horror films released in the 1940s and 1950s. There was the occasional diamond in the rough, like Cat People in 1942, Dead of Night in 1945, and 1955’s chilling Diabolique, but for the most part, horror cinema was not in great shape at the end of the ‘50s.

Cue the new wave of terror. 1960’s Psycho changed the way we looked at films forever, and Alfred Hitchcock’s follow-up The Birds is equally memorable. I recently watched 1961’s ghost story The Innocents for the first time and was absolutely enraptured from beginning to end, and Herk Harvey’s sole feature film, 1962’s Carnival of Souls, has also become a favorite of mine, a predecessor in many ways to Night of the Living Dead. The early ’60s was a fascinating time for horror, and one of the best of this period is the subtle and eerie The Haunting, released in 1963, based on the classic 1959 Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

This film is the classic example of providing fear in its viewers in what you don’t see far more than what you do. There is never a moment throughout this film’s running time where ghosts jump out from dark corners and shout, “Boo!” This is a horror film that relies on tension, suspense, and dread, never violence or gore. The opening scene tells us this, through ominous shots of a large archaic house and a creepy voice-over that tells us how the place has stood for ninety years and might well stand for another ninety. We get quick introductions to the four characters, all about to settle in at this house for a few sleepless nights, led by the paranoid Eleanor (Julie Harris) who believes she’s meant to be in the spooky estate.

I was struck by how effective this film still is in the fifty-three years since it was first released. Watching it late at night by myself, despite my having been an avid fan of horror movies for many years and knowing many of their secrets and tricks, The Haunting still managed to scare me on more than one occasion. Again, it’s not any “boo” scares in this one. It’s the ominous tone, the sound design, the looks on characters’ faces when they see or hear something unusual. The best scene features Eleanor in her bed, listening intently to a conversation taking place on the other side of the wall. She slowly realizes the people talking are not any of the other three in the house, but others… ghosts maybe? The camera stays fixed on her face while the viewer tries to make sense of what she’s hearing, and what we would do in that situation.

One element of this film that fascinates me is that it was directed by Robert Wise in between his two Best Picture-winning musicals, 1961’s West Side Story and 1965’s The Sound of Music. Those are two movies, however acclaimed and entertaining they may be, that do not set a single audience member up for what Wise managed to do stylistically in The Haunting. Those two films are big and bold and colorful. The Haunting is quiet and subdued and stark black-and-white. Those two films are full of song and dance, while The Haunting uses sound entirely different. Wes Craven talked all the time about being typecast as a horror director, and most directors of contemporary genre films would probably admit the same. How Wise fit this superb exercise in horror in between those two musical landmarks is baffling, and also fantastic.

The Haunting is a knock-out from beginning to end, and if you’ve never seen it before, it’s one of those great pleasures that will stick with you for many weeks after watching it. One reason for this is that the black-and-white film was dying as an art form by the mid-1960s, so The Haunting provides one of the last great hurrahs of B&W horror. It also shows a master director at the top of his form and features terrific actors led by the great Julie Harris in one of her signature performances. This film is horror at its best.

Watching Like a Writer

What I take away from The Haunting is the idea that I don’t need to pummel readers of my horror fiction with constant monsters wreaking havoc and bloody limbs flying through the air. Successful horror shouldn’t always go for the gross-out; it should more often go in subtle routes, infusing terror and dread in the reader through what’s not shown rather than what is.

Exercise!

Think of a way that you could scare a reader by only suggesting a monster rather than showing it.

Posted in Nonfiction

David Serna

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David leaned his head against my chest. I hoped he wouldn’t hear my heart beating out of control. I hoped he wouldn’t discover how both scared and enormously hopeful I was, despite my calm demeanor on the surface.

He whisked the pumpkin batter fast but not fast enough. I let my palm land on top of his.

“I got this,” I said. “Pour in the butterscotch.”

“Okay,” he said.

He was so adorably nervous. I was the older one in the scenario and was the one who kept creating new adventures and activities for this, our second date.

I wanted it to last forever.

We played miniature golf, enjoyed a picnic out by the lake, walked up and down the aisles of the nearby supermarket, and hovered close together in the world’s smallest kitchen, making one of my yummy originals: pumpkin butterscotch oatmeal cookies. With all that cinnamon and spice floating through the air, I could actually smell desire. I wanted to kiss this boy so much. He finished unloading the golden morsels, then helped me drop the cookie batter onto the baking sheets.

“Twelve minutes,” I said, when I pushed close the oven door. “Twelve minutes, and then we’ll check.”

“All right,” David said. “What do you want to do until then?”

What did I want to do? I think we both knew. We had been spending time together since 9 AM. He was so dreamily cute, so impossibly sweet.

“We could watch a movie,” I said. “Have you ever seen Poltergeist?” It was one week away from Halloween, after all.

“That would be great,” David said.

“Sweet. Let’s do it.”

But neither of us moved. We stood there in the hot, claustrophobic kitchen, staring at each other. He crossed his arms awkwardly and looked down. I took a step toward him and grabbed his gray vest.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“What do you think I’m doing?”

I pulled him up to me, leaned my head down, and kissed him softly on his lips. I planned to kiss him for only a second or two, but as soon as our lips touched, he was the one determined not to pull away. I brought my hands to his hips, and he wrapped his arms around my neck.

We pulled away, and, his eyes still closed, he revealed a smile I’ve never seen before or since: a smile that revealed that a boy I liked had found everything he’d been looking for, in one brief, perfect moment.

I took his hand, and he followed me over to the living room couch. I put on Poltergeist and turned the sound on the speakers all the way up.

I love that film. It’s tense, terrifying, a horror classic.

But we didn’t watch much of it. David and I… were busy.

Posted in Writing

Write Your Best Book with the Door Closed

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In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

John Gould said something that was interesting: write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right, it belongs to anyone who wants to read it.

Write the first draft with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open.

Seems simple, right? Well, I didn’t always follow this advice in the beginning, and my work clearly suffered.

A couple of my early novels I wrote with the door open always, essentially writing books I thought might sell or I thought specific agents or readers might be looking for.

The greatest example of this is my YA novel The Vampire Underground, which I wrote in 2011 not because of the huge success of the Twilight series, but to directly go against that success of Stephanie Meyers’ books. I felt bad about vampires. I wanted to make vampires scary again. So I thought of a story and within weeks started writing what I hoped to be a seven-book series. Was I super passionate about that first novel? It was a whole lot of fun, I won’t lie, but never did I feel super connected to that story-line, to those characters. I felt most days that I was writing something that might sell, not something I felt was especially moving or unique to me in particular.

I’ve written 18 novels since 2010, and I hate to admit that a few of them I wrote mainly because I thought they might sell, might be commercial enough to get some interest from literary agents. This is not to say I specifically wrote the first draft in a way that went against my instincts, went against the characters, just to follow some kind of formula that would please the largest number of readers. But I did have my business cap on every day, always thinking about the commercial aspect of the book in the back of my head rather than telling a personal story I’m particularly fascinated by, that means something to me more than just potential book sales.

Now, it’s also important to note that you don’t write and rewrite your book entirely with the door closed either.

I’ve never written a book without some thought put into genre expectations. You can’t write a novel in a vacuum without any regard to market. Well, I guess you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

I wrote one book back in 2014/2015 for my MA in English thesis that was in every way a passion project. The story of two young men slowly falling in love over twelve years was a lot of fun to write, and I still adore the project, but I’ve never had any success with it because it’s been my hardest book to pitch. It starts in first grade, and ends in twelfth grade. So… it’s not really a YA. It’s not really a middle grade. It’s not adult either because there’s no older character looking back on his childhood days. So what is the novel? Who would be the potential reader? These are questions I probably should have asked myself before I embarked on a nine-month journey writing and revising that book. The book won an award last year, and I still have hope it might find a home one day. But it’s not looking good.

It might be a case of re-examining that novel one of these days, definitely with the door open, to revise it in a way that makes it either clearly a YA novel, with flashbacks to the elementary and middle school years, or an adult novel where the adult version of the main character is looking back on his younger years. It’s hard, isn’t it? When you have a story you care so much about, and yet have no idea how to position it in a way that might gain interest from potential publishers and readers.

So basically, here’s the thing. First, you need to write the first draft with the door closed.

Write that first draft for you. Tell the story for you, and only you. Tell the story you want to tell. That no one else has taken on yet, that only you can give to the world. Don’t think about querying and markets and commercial prospects as you write that first draft. Definitely understand your genre, your characters, before you get started. Understand the conflict, what will keep your readers flipping through the pages.

And then tell yourself the story. Make it as compelling as possible. Make it compelling… to you.

Second, you need to write the second draft, the third draft, all the other drafts, with the door open.

As you revise, think about your genre, your market. Don’t change something just to appease someone else, but look at your chapters and your plot twists and think about what reader expectations might be. By all means, subvert those expectations! But you should absolutely have your business hat on as you continue to revise, because you don’t want to spend a year working hard only to realize your book is a mix of five genres, making for a confusing pitching process to any potential agent or editor.

At the end of the day, read a lot in your genre, give the first draft of your novel your all, and then spend time making your book the best it can be.

Follow this advice and I guarantee you’ll be ahead of the game.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

10 Query Tips to Help You Land a Literary Agent!

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I was lucky enough to sign with a literary agent last year (read about that story here), but it took me years to get to that moment. Here are 10 query tips I learned over the years that will help you land an agent!

1. A great query gets a full request. A great manuscript lands you an agent. A writer friend told me this once, and it makes sense: a great query can only get you so far, and ultimately the manuscript has to be as perfect as you can get it before you even start to write the first query. At the same time, no agent will ever read your novel if the query is written poorly and doesn’t properly reflect the book or the agent’s tastes.

2. Keep a master list of each agent, particularly those who have requested my work before. Pay close attention to the agents who represent books that I love, and that I love to write. These are two bits of advice I followed from the very beginning, and I currently have a master list of agents that goes all the way back to 2010. Of course, every six to twelve months I did a complete update, to make sure I wasn’t querying agents who have quit the business and who no longer represent young adult. I also always bolded the agents who are LGBT friendly, since many of my novels feature LGBT characters and themes.

3. Put YA Query in the subject line. Not YA Fiction Query. The first four books I queried I put YA Fiction Query in the subject line, and I’ll never forget the e-mail I received from an agent, a personalized rejection that included the following note: “How many non-fiction YA queries do you think we get? Just put YA Query.” The note was a little mean-spirited but absolutely essential, because now my subject lines make me look a little less stupid.

4. Personalize the query to the agent. It was difficult when I was sending fifty, seventy, a hundred queries, to personalize each one, but I did, because I felt like if I was going to spend a year working on a novel, I should spend a few weeks picking the right agents to send my work and then told them why. I always told the agent if he or she had requested one of my books before, I always put a little note at the beginning about why I felt he or she would want to look at my work, especially if there’s that LGBT connection. To not personalize a query at all sets you up for failure, and you want to have the best shot possible.

5. Keep plot summary to a minimum. This was a huge problem I dealt with in the beginning. I always felt the query needed to give a clear idea of not just the overall story but the main characters, and ultimately, as I’ve said before, the sole point of the query is to get the agent to request pages, so to overload him or her with too much story is a bad idea.

6. Give the agent a clear understanding of the audience for the book, and what other books on the market are similar to mine. Beyond giving the agent a brief glimpse of the story, the query also needs a paragraph that discusses who I think the audience for the book is and what other books I can compare to mine. For example, I wrote my first middle grade book in 2014 and had to do some research to find a couple of titles that were similar to mine. I had to do some homework, and ultimately reading some of these new titles gave me a richer understanding of the genre.

7. Keep the author bio as short and relevant as possible. In my author bio I could put down every literary magazine I’ve been published in, but the bio needs to be as brief and relevant as possible. All you need to put is two, no more than three, sentences about yourself.

8. Don’t query in December. Or on holidays. Or on Mondays and Fridays. Or in the week before or after major conferences. This one is really baffling, and it’s only something I paid attention to after many years of querying. You can query an agent anytime you want, of course, but it’s in your best interest to query at the slowest times a year when the agent isn’t being inundated with a thousand other queries and isn’t on some sort of vacation. Most agents close up shop after Thanksgiving, for example, and I’ve heard that they receive so many queries in January that they struggle to even read all of them. In all the research I’ve done, it appears that March, June, and October are the best times of years to query, and that’s what I ended up sticking to.

9. Don’t pester an agent with an update on my partial or full manuscript they’ve previously requested until at least three months have gone by. An agent requests your manuscript. You jump for joy and have a celebratory drink. Two weeks go by. Six weeks go by. All you want to do is e-mail them and ask, have you read it yet? But I learned over the years that I had to be patient, agents are very busy, and that if they have interest in my work, they would reach out to me. That being said, sometimes agents actually forget they have the manuscript (this happened to me at least three times), so reaching out to the agent after three months is worth doing.

10. Write the next book. This is the most important piece of advice I was told time and time again since I wrote my first novel, and one that I hear all the time at conferences, and one that I know in my heart is true — keep working on the next project, even when the latest manuscript is out on submission. As much as I desperately wanted my newest book, whatever it may have been, to be the one that got me an agent, I had to keep working on the next one, because the more books I produced, the better chance I had at not just getting published, but by becoming a better writer.

Follow at least some of these tips and you will be that much closer to signing with a literary agent!

Posted in Writing

How to Face Failure in Your Writing

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Failure. Sometimes I joke that it’s the story of my life.

It’s not really, of course. I have lots to be thankful for. And I’ve succeeded in all kinds of ways. Last month I became an MFA in Creative Writing, an 8-year dream finally fulfilled. And last year I signed with a literary agent, a life-long dream that suddenly and amazingly became a reality. I have a book on submission to editors. I just received word this week about a new short story publication. A lot is going well, and I don’t want to ever say it’s not.

But failure has also been a huge part of my life, particularly in my creative endeavors over the years, and there have been some dark moments to be sure. Moments where I questioned what I was doing, moments where I thought about just giving up and trying something else.

My first big failure was as a film director and writer in Los Angeles.

I spent about a decade making a go of it in L.A., first making movie after movie during my four years in film school, then spending years making more movies, writing feature-length screenplays, and working in jobs like reality television field assistant and feature film casting associate. For so many years I was pursuing the dream, and then one day, I looked around and said, I don’t think this dream is attainable. At one point I spent nearly a year unemployed, and, with about $4000 to my name, I returned home to Reno, NV, feeling in every way like a big, fat failure.

What hurt the most was that I really had made a major go of a career in film. I wrote and directed more than 20 short films, at least 5 of which I thought were pretty damn good. I put my work online, shared it widely. I worked my ass off at various jobs after film school. And yet things didn’t really work out.

But it was OK. Although that first year back in Reno was tough, my not knowing exactly what my life held in store for me, I had something that kept me going when I was in my saddest times.

Fiction writing.

I had written my first two novels right before I left L.A. and I realized I could be creative on the page, that I could actually live anywhere in the world and still tell the stories I always wanted to tell. So I kept writing new novels. By the end of that first year in Reno, I had written six books in all. I had tried self-publishing, putting all my titles up on Amazon as I queried my latest YA book, a vampire thriller.

Something spectacular happened in December 2011. I signed up for KDP Select, right at the programs’s beginning, and over one single weekend on Amazon my YA novel Happy Birthday to Me was downloaded more than 10,000 times, and about 500 people bought both sequels. In one weekend I made more than $1000 in my writing, when before that weekend I had made about $100 in total. By the end of that crazy month, when I made $2900 on Amazon, I thought yes, this is it, I’ve made it. I’m gonna write lots more books and self publish them and make enough money to be a full-time author.

But then, you guessed it, failure hit me again.

The first half of 2012 still went well, and I was making on average about $800 a month, but then the money kept going down. In December 2011 I made $2900 and in December 2012 I made about $50. And that was with three new titles I had self published in 2012.

I started to question self publishing. Maybe it wasn’t the route for me. Maybe what had happened had been a total fluke (which of course it was). But I had two more novels in the wings, one YA that I couldn’t find a literary agent to represent, and one New Adult I didn’t know what to do with, so as 2013 began I decided I was going to make one more go at self-publishing. I was going to do a Kickstarter for my YA and spend at least $2000 marketing the book, doing book blog tours, really giving my all to find readers for this latest book. My Kickstarter was a success (woo hoo!) and by the summer of 2013, I thought my writing career was back on track.

2013 was my most trying year as an author by far.

On the positive side, I was a writing machine that year that I’ve definitely never been since. I was deep into revisions on my new book to be self published, Over the Rainbow, a YA fantasy book I loved (and still do!). My Kickstarter went great for Over the Rainbow, and I had an amazing time at the SCBWI Conference at Los Angeles that July talking up my book and meeting so many amazing people. I was accepted to an MA in English program. I wrote the first two drafts of a still unpublished YA fantasy book called Magic Hour. And I also took on a self publishing experiment for a New Adult title that was a whole lot of fun… right up until I hit the PUBLISH button, that is.

On the negative side, I had been querying agents for three years and still hadn’t signed with anybody. (Click here for my story about how I finally signed with an agent after 7 years and 16 novels.) My self published books weren’t selling. A blog I had at the time was getting almost no traction. But there was hope. I was working hard, and I had a lot to be excited about.

Cut to the fall of 2013, a time when I have never before or since felt like so much of a colossal failure.

After 18 months of hard work writing and revising Over the Rainbow, I put it out in the world… and nothing happened. Only a few people bought the book. And mostly, nobody cared. Some reviews were nice, but others were abysmal, and by that September, Over the Rainbow was dead. A book I had believed in more than any other had turned out to be a massive failure, no matter how hard I worked on it, no matter how much I hoped it would be some kind of bestseller.

Around the same time, I put out a New Adult romance book I had quietly been working on since the end of 2012. I didn’t think the book was a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I thought it was a fun yarn, had everything readers of that genre were looking for. I self published it on Amazon a few weeks after Over the Rainbow… and, again, nothing. Well, not really nothing. It sold about 200 copies in its first two weeks, which was kind of exciting.

But what sent to my darkest place ever as a fiction writer at that time was the absolutely shocking reviews of the NA title. At least three people called it the worst book they’d ever read. I’d say 80% or more of the reviews were one-star, all long and in-depth that basically begged NA readers to avoid the book at all costs. A book I worked on for nearly a year and had come to like a hell of a lot was destroyed by readers and by November or so, that title was dead in the water, too.

I had just started graduate school, teaching two classes and taking three seminars, so I was plenty busy to not spend long hours beating myself up. But I was in a genuinely dark, depressed place around then.

I thought, maybe this is a sign that I should stop.

To read more of this post, click here.

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