Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reflections: One Year Later

Today marks the one year anniversary of the publication of my debut novel, Trefury: Mendi's Curse the first book in the Trefury trilogy.

No big hoopla, no big internet splash planned. I'm a rather simple person at heart. I'm marking the occasion with the release of the book in trade paperback format. You can find out the details by clicking on the Trefury button at the top of the page or clicking on the sidebar cover to enter the giveaway.

It's hard to believe it's been a year. I remember how stressed I was, how much time was consumed in the production of the book. All the details that go into a publication ... just wow. And I'm by no means an expert on the subject. Donning editor-mode for so long nearly killed my love of writing anything new. To make the switch from demanding perfection of yourself to freely spilling word vomit in a rough draft is hard. It took me months to let go of the iron fist.

I want to thank again those who contributed time, expertise, and a sympathetic shoulder to my endeavor. Sometimes writing is a very solitary process and it's easy to feel alone, abandoned, or forgotten. You're constantly mixing reality with the fantasy scenario and world going on in your head. People ask what is preoccupying you and then have a ho-hum attitude when you enthusiastically or shyly admit you're writing a novel. Everyone's a critic. Some people love the story concept. Others just don't get it. The world continues to move on with their day-to-day lives whether you meet your deadline or not. So it's the wonderful few who support and encourage you that make all the difference.

I've been asking other people for years why they write what they write and what inspired them. Lately I've turned the interrogation on myself. Why? Why did I write this book? Why do I intend to finish the other books piling up on my desk? And why in the world did I decide to publish? There is a difference, you know, between writing a story and publishing one.

I literally dreamed up Trefury a little over twenty years ago. I was a teenager, already engrossed in writing novels, sometimes with friends. I wrote a very short, very summarized rough draft as soon as I woke up. The first official draft came soon after. I wanted to share this cool idea of an invisible girl and the living whip she worked with to protect a country and the young man destined to lead it, with my circle of friends and family. I remember sitting on my bed with my sisters at the other end listening as I read it out loud to them. I always end up reading out loud to someone. Seeing and hearing how excited they'd get with each development in the story made my day. Trefury was the first story that got enthusiastic approval from my cousin, who was my harshest critic and first teacher in the art of good storytelling. That felt wonderful. To have her care and even demand more of the story meant more than any review, rating, or high-acclaim I might receive now. I had reached my audience and touched them.

Trefury went into a 3-ring binder and took up space on a shelf while I pounded out several other novels in the years that followed. Then I took a ten year hiatus from writing. I jotted down a descriptive sketch or brief scene or two, but for the most part I was too involved with living life and learning from it. It wasn't until soon after my third child was born and I was cooped up at home, because he was under quarantine for six months since he was a preemie, that I pulled out some of my old novels to read. I wanted to see if they were as entertaining then as they had been when I was younger. I'd like to say I'd been a brilliant writer in my youth, but I'll be frank, some of those manuscripts were awful. The stories were pretty sound but the execution *shudder*.

I didn't have a circle of writing friends at the time. They'd all grown up and moved far away. Every once in awhile one of my sisters would ask me about her two favorite stories. I read through the critiques I'd been given for Trefury and decided that if I were to jump back into writing, I'd pursue doing it professionally, not as a hobby. This manuscript had received the highest praise. It was a good place to start.

Many drafts ensued. Many revisions. Many heartaches and sublime moments where the inspiration was so good I surprised myself. I developed an online community of writing friends. And I'll admit I'm terrified of most of them because of their talent, ability, and the way they can socially navigate the online world a million times better than I can. I had moments where I felt like a total fake, a fraud, like dross among so many stars. Always in the back of my mind I felt grateful for the kindness of these other people, all the while worrying they knew how inept I was and were too polite to say so. Well, some did come out and say so in critiques, but that's good. You want to know where you are inept so you can fix your writing.

I had a lot to learn, but I'm a pretty motivated person once I set my mind to something. I dived into the pool of learning with both feet. I read blogs, books, followed authorities, experimented with so many different techniques. Sometimes I think Trefury ended up being a patchwork of these things. I hesitated to let people read it. I was a small fish. I knew I could always make my writing better. I didn't want anyone to read it until I deemed it palatable. Eventually I did let others read. How my heart skipped a beat when the first two critiques came in after reading my first three chapters! While there were things to fix, my two beta readers were mostly impressed. I climbed to the sky then.

Of course that didn't last long. My opening chapters weren't as well received by the next couple of beta readers. I went back and made cuts and changes. The feedback was better. New people read. Everyone had suggestions. It got to the point where I didn't recognize chapter one anymore at all. It was no longer fun to read or work on it. I was a hack who apparently wrote in alien gibberish because no one understood what was going on. I put it aside and finished up the rest of the book. The next beta readers were as enthusiastic and excited as the first two. They loved the opening. They loved the rest. I was ready to pull my hair out.

Back and forth, back and forth. I didn't know who to believe and came to the conclusion that clearly this book wasn't a mass appeal book. Either you're going to love it or it's not going to be your thing. I had to come to terms with that. I revisited the beginning and put the love and fun back in. I had reached the point where I knew the story was what it was and that was enough. Like dealing with me in person, you're either going to want to love it or keep your distance.

I was Thssk. I was Cortnee. I split my personality and then let them develop in their own directions, becoming less like actual me. Anyone who communicates with me will find traces of both their vernaculars in my writing and speech. That was fun. They had to have very different and distinct voices. How I agonized over Ientadur! He's a necessary and huge part of the story, yet my first chapters with him were wooden and lackluster. I remember writing on a sticky note: Make myself care about Ien. And I did. I drew deeply from the people around me composing the other characters, especially Damon. Without realizing it at first, I copied many of my father's mannerisms into him. It became especially poignant as I neared publication and my dad died of cancer. He'd helped me often with research and making sure I wasn't too far fetched with the science-y things I included in the book.

I went for hardcover first, which is the opposite of what writers are advised. You have to understand, I wanted the best version of this book for my own bookshelf and for the bookshelves of my core, original audience. I knew it would mean very limited sales because of the cost. My marketing budget was ... well $0.00 and still is. I wanted to give free copies to those closest to me, I just couldn't afford to do more than a couple of giveaways. The paperback version's cost allows me to do a bit more this time around and when the ebook comes out, there will be a lot more giveaway options.

I got lucky with editing help. I also took a crash course, building upon what editing skills I already had. I had to do extra jobs to earn the money to pay my cover artist, although she gave me a fantastic first-timer deal.

Basically, publication represented a mountain with sheer vertical sides and very few handholds. But I climbed it and I have the scars to prove it. I proved to myself that I could finish a writing project completely. The view on top of that mountain has brought me enormous peace, even though I know my view is not as breathtaking as it is for others, yet I'm content.

I learned a lot about myself and what my priorities are. For so many years I was convinced I had to get an agent and a traditional publisher, especially to get vindication that I wasn't a fraud and a hack. I did the research, I went through the query trenches. And then I discovered I was miserable and not because of the inevitable rejections everyone gets. I wasn't connecting to any of the people I queried. The ones I thought would match up with best, I found that the other books they were putting out I didn't like at all and they certainly weren't like my story, or the agent's personality and goals clashed with mine. We didn't fit. I couldn't find an agent who did so I stopped querying. I didn't like the dating feel of the whole process. The trending, the favoritism for certain elements and styles, and all the suck-up courting going on from writers. The thought of actually signing with someone and dealing with publication negotiations made me physically ill. I realized I didn't want the traditional route, vindication or not. I dreaded the thought of possible book signings, public appearances, all that extra marketing, the short deadlines that would stifle my creativity and clash with the pressing schedule of my actual life ... I absolutely don't want it and I'm no longer envious of anyone who has chosen to go that route. If that's what my friends wanted and got, I was happy for them. But I don't feel one bit jealous.

So where am I now? I'm a writer who has learned to enjoy the ride again. If I never make it onto anyone's list, that's okay. If my stories resonate with you, they will. I don't seek for online reviews and ratings, I got my five stars long ago. I intend to keep on learning and improving my craft, to strive to put out high quality projects but not at the cost of my self-respect, my integrity, or my sanity. Writing should be a joy. Sharing what we write should also be. The world is large enough for many more stories and more types than the trends and bigwigs of the business allow. Perfection and what is deemed professional quality - the standards are always changing. Give me a story to read that I can connect with and I can forgive a number of things on the technical side.

Once upon a time ...

It's still magic.


  1. Oh the journey of writing. Lately I've been starting to wonder if I actually like the publishing side of writing. I guess I'm still too early say, but it's on my mind. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. You know, I've come to realize that in regards to the publishing decision, each writer has to choose the path that works best for them. I came to my decision after years of research. Others seem to know right away what they want and how to get it. :)