Friday, October 10, 2014

Writing to Work, Working to Write

Way back in the wee dawn of my first book--written during the time I should have been working on my Bio for Liberal Arts Majors thesis paper (no worries, I got an A! I'm a good bullshitter...) I wrote this fantastically awful romance novel.

So bad.

Like imagine the cheesiest romance with lots of blushing and stammering and contortionist sex and let it drag on for a good hundred thousand, hundred fifty thousand words, and you're halfway to understanding how awful this book was. It was kind of that cathartic, frenzied, "I'm doing it! I'm WRITING A BOOK!" kind of experience. Also I was 19, so I'm not about to be super hard on myself about what a wreck that book was because I was sitting at a computer, sober, creating really awful (reeeaaallly awful) ART, and that was more than I could say about the majority of my hopped-up, slacker classmates.

When I was done, I felt like, "Holy crap, this better sell for a million dollars, because I'm not sure I'll EVER BE ABLE TO WRITE ANOTHER BOOK AGAIN." It was hard. I was 19. I had no clue.

I HATE spoilers, but I gotta spoil this tale for you. Hold on to your seat, okay? Here we go:


I know! I was just as shocked as you are! All smug hindsight-based mockery aside, it is a truly crazy thing that I actually did manage to get an editor at a reputable publishing house to ask for the manuscript based on a very earnest, starry-eyed query letter (and possibly the fact that I milked my relatively young age in the letter).

This was back in the day, so I had to shake my coin jar out to buy ink cartridges and steal paper from the college computer lab so I could print the equivalent of a phone book's weight in pure, sappy, melodramatic garbage. I sent it in and just waited for the gold to rain into my open palms.

Bet you can guess what happened next ;)!

So I felt like, "Alright, I'm not cut out for this. I quit. I WILL quit. But maybe just one more try. Just one."

I wrote seven short contemporary adult romances. Some got traction with editors based on pitch, some got encouraging rejection letters, none made it any further.

I skipped tracks, did some retail, dabbled in education, read TWILIGHT, drank so much of that crazy KoolAid, wrote the world's most boring vampire book. But some editor was going to appreciate a YA clocking in at one hundred thousand words, heavy on the philosophical musings of a guy based on Edward's curmudgeon old fart uncle in a young hot body...I was sure of it!

Take a guess about how many editors were racing to scoop that sweet story up? (Hint: If your guess was "zero" you are very good at this game!)

This sounds sad, right? At this point in the tale, I've been working my ass off for a straight DECADE writing the books I sell...


That's the thing. I was such an industrious kid, raised with old school immigrant work ethic, holding a job since I was fourteen, and I had this very stoic, earning-based idea about the books I was writing. It was a job!

Which is a weird way to try to start a career writing novels.

And a stupid one.

It took howling, desperate homesickness and a near personal breakdown for my brain and heart to start screaming out the opening paragraphs of Brenna Blixen's story, which would eventually become DOUBLE CLUTCH.

Brenna was the first voice that wasn't coming from the mouth of some flat puppet on paper I was in control of. She was a living, breathing, confused, in-love high school girl who told me her story in between sobs and laughs and breathless confessions. I couldn't scramble fast enough to get the words down. My fingers ached trying to type as quickly as her words poured out. Something in me snapped, changed, and my writing did to, in a blink, in an instant. I was writing what I loved, and THAT MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

Fast forward to now, more than a dozen gorgeous books later. I just handed in a manuscript I'm so damn happy about. The book came to me slowly, based on experiences I witnessed and people I met firsthand. It breathed into me with the same life Brenna's story had, but just a little softer, a little slower. By now I know how to pace myself and let the story grow the way it needed to. I was writing to get the story down, not for word count. And I never thought about showing it to anyone until I was done and read it and reread it and honestly felt confident to share it because I loved it first.

I think I'm lucky that I've moved, book by book, into the art of writing. I will never regret the way I started. The early books were exercises in mechanics, mimicry, perseverance...and they built a solid, stable writing foundation for me to stand on when I was ready for story, art, passion.

As for the college senior who wrote her first book and thought she'd never have it in her to write just one more, I wonder what she'd say if she knew the book I just finished, the one I worked so hard on and love so damn much, was technically completed two years earlier.

95,000 words, polished, edited, beta read...and somehow not right at all. I worked so hard, but that was when I was starting to get the glimmer of what it meant to be a writer who listened to her characters versus one who had the adorable idea she could just force them to do what looked good on paper. The entire book--characters, events, setting--I scrapped it all. This was POST Brenna, when I really thought I knew what the hell I was doing.

And it's not a badly written's just not real, and if it's not real, it doesn't feel worth any effort at this point. And the work-horse part of me can appreciate where I am, because I always knew if it really mattered it would be hard, but I understand now that it's got to be work you love. And I'm glad I found my way.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I'm a Writer and a Book Nerd and My Book Releases Scare Me. Actually Being a Writer Scares Me. Here's Why...

When I was in second grade Mrs. Guidice let us choose a special treat on our birthdays: she could read an extra chapter of whatever book she was currently reading aloud to us a chapter a day, or she could allow us to play Heads Up Seven Up.

Heads Up Seven Up is a game where seven students are chosen to go to the front of the room while the other students put their heads down and hold their thumbs up. The kids at the front then tiptoe around the classroom, choosing one student whose thumb to push down. When all seven are back at the front, everyone raises his/her head and those lucky thumbs downed students try to guess who pressed their thumbs down. Guess correctly and you got to switch spots; guess, I truly don't remember.
AH! Was that why Mrs. G was so into that game?

On the chilly early October day that marked my birthday, Mrs. Guidice asked what I'd like to do. I immediately chose to have her read an extra chapter from the book version of Willow (yes, Willow, the high fantasy film directed by Ron Howard...and the book had gorgeous illustrations directly from the movie!! How freaking random of Mrs. G!).

Try to resist this...if you can, we are obviously not meant to be friends.

I earned the ire of the entire class.

I couldn't have given a shit less.

You see, Heads Up Seven Up was a game that was nerve-wracking and disappointing. It was mainly a game of giggles for the more popular kids in the class, and it was won by those who had observation skills and social acumen. Considering I was a quiet, bespectacled nerd early on, I had zero desire to play a game that was clearly designed to cater to a certain segment of the class I wasn't part of.

Plus, it was Willow! It was magic and romance, gorgeous scenery that looked nothing like the slightly run-down little city where I went to school at the time, and heroes who were changing the world with their brains and their strength. Even at seven my world was a little too small. I wanted to see more, do more, experience more and books were the key.

Book are the key.
Right on, Mr. King. Right on.

I write. And I love it. Every keystroke, every sleepless night plotting or detailing, every gorgeous story I release, peppered with typos I'm too excited to catch, wordy because I'm a wordy son of a bitch and that's how I write, too long, not sweet enough, not easy enough, not serious enough, too real, too much--I write the way I read; to bring alive some imperfect thing not quite mine that lives inside me, and then to share it.

To share it.

There's the snag.

I guess in my heart I'm still the nerd who wants the teacher to read instead of playing a game. I'm the kid who's sitting out pep rallies to kick my feet up in the cafeteria and dive into the next chapter of my English novel. I'm the teenager who checks the caller id and ignores her boyfriend's call because I'm listening to my CDs and reading the best freaking book ever, and I just don't feel like going out tonight.

My highschool boyfriend was alright, but Valley of the Horses was so damn HOT! Sorry, but Jondalar was all my teenage hormones could handle on a Friday night...
I read instead of playing Angry Birds. I read the whole book to any kid I'm reading to without skipping any parts even if it's the millionth time (even if it's The Pokey Little many puppies, so much dessert, is the mother a dog or a human?!) because I respect the words, all the words. And I read whatthehellever: poetry, the classics, non-fiction, genre fiction, the forgotten, the beloved, the meh, the stuff that makes me shake and wish I could please--fucking please--read it again for the first time.

I mean, she's cooking dessert. So...just the negligent owner of a whole litter of bad wandering puppies? Or a female dog with mad kitchen skills? Mystery.

I read a ton and when something really, really makes my heart pound, makes me sweaty and so full of whatever the hell makes you feel kind of like puking and crying and maybe like you're in a dream you can't wake up from, I tell my best friend. Maybe. When I'm ready. And then she reads it and we talk about it in low, reverent voices, unable to put our fingers what the hell that book did to us.

How the hell can words do that? And how the hell can I do that with my words? 

May I one day be lucky enough to figure out how to do that with my words.

C'mon fucking Angela's Ashes. Why do you have to be so gorgeous and so sad and so wonderful and so raw?

But writing and reading in this day and age is shifting. That's not exactly a complaint...more an unseen twist in a story I thought I knew the ending to. I'm not some curmudgeon shaking her fist at the kids these days...I'm not.

I don't think.

Grumpy Cat
Not me. Can't be. I love smiling. Smiling is my favorite ;)!

But I'm also not quite able to join the frolic of euphoric book fandom. Not that I haven't tried. Of course I have. And I will keep trying, in my own way, as much as I can. I have an agent, I've worked with publishers--whether or not they say so overtly, they want you to tweet and share your book news and use EXCLAMATION POINTS (and who the hell am I to ever turn my nose up at an exclamation point!?!)...but it feels...

This looks fun. It really does. But it makes me feel so tiiiired. Because I'm old. And introverted.

As a writer, releasing a book is like being in second grade on my b-day.

And I want to just sit back and have a story shared in the quiet, sun-speckled room, my chin in my hand, my eyes glazed over so I see past the blackboard, past the podium where my teacher reads and into somewhere far away. Somewhere that makes the hair stand up on my arms if I'm lucky.

Hello, heaven.

But it's not like that. It's loud. It's social and exciting and has this party feel, which is awesome. Who would be crazy enough to complain about people loving books so much they shout it from the social networking rooftops?

The thing is--damnit--I'm still the nerd.

I getcha, Charlie. I do.

So to me the day I release is like the biggest, craziest game of Heads Up Seven Up.

Or a pep rally.

Or maybe the game, then the rally.

And, remember, I'm still the nerd. Chances are, even on my birthday, my thumb will hardly be in the game and the pep rally will be all about a bunch of sports I'm not playing. I don't begrudge the players all that excitement.

I just don't quite get it. I'm an introvert at heart, and books were always the one kind of pure fun and craziness that was so quiet and private before, so it was the one realm that made perfect sense for an experience lover who'd rather sit in bed on Friday night than go to an insane party. Now that books are so much more social, I feel a little lost.

I've been curled up for months reading and writing, and it makes my introverted heart soar. It's nerd paradise. But I'm releasing a book again, and of course I'm going to talk about it and be genuinely happy when other people reach out and share and shout and are genuinely wonderful, because it's fucking nice.


But even at my own parties I've always been the wallflower, and I'm still trying to figure out how to mingle without being shallow. I'm not sure I'll ever figure it out, and I think that's alright.

12 Fresh and Fun Party Decor Tips From Brad Goreski's Book Release Party
So this guy wrote a book and this is how he celebrated it. But he's a man who knows all about fashion and sociability and networking and parties...I, on the other hand, when asked by my mother what the theme for my kid's b-day was, answered, "Um. Happy birthday?"

Because, outside the noise and fun and chatter, what books are really about--truly--are those moments when you connect to this new world, to this cast of characters, to this emotive network that makes you feel tremendous and small and malleable and forever in time, and that moment has to be private.

It has to be, immediately, you and those words only.

Sure, you can blog and tweet and share after, but you can only live that moment one-on-one, you and the book.

A group of people reading : Stock Photo
Now there's my kind of party!

So there you go. I've come to the end of my own puzzle and realized that I'm still right where I need to be. Things have changed, but they haven't. Book-lovers are all lost in that internal place we can all acknowledge but never mention while we're there, but we can still be there together. Just be with and in and of the story.

And I guess, really, that's the only place anyone who loves books ever wants to be at after all.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


RIPTIDES is live!

The fifth book in the Lengths series, RIPTIDES is live! (Fifth book?? has it really only been just over a year since Lengths came out? Wowza!) 

I know we say this after each of the books in the series, but Riptides may be my favorite installment of the crew from Silver Strand. Steph and I hope you'll check it out, and if you do, consider leaving a review on your favorite site! 

You can find RIPTIDES on Amazon USAmazon UK and Barnes & Noble
Right now, kobo is a big question mark,but iTunes will be live soon! :)

I know I've said it 1,000 times, but seriously, one of the best parts of this author-gig is meeting so many rad people that I probably wouldn't have connected with otherwise.(Readers, other authors, PR reps, agents...the list of awesome goes on!) 

One of my fav contemporary romance authors, and all-around adorable human being is CORA CARMACK, and when Steph & I realized we're sharing a release date for the newest book in the Lengths SeriesRIPTIDES, and Cora's latest book, FINDING IT , we thought it'd be fun to meet up and celebrate! 

But since we can't actually do that, the next best thing was to interview each other. 

So! Here's the lovely Cora Carmack!
(Okay, so this is really the lovely Steph Campbell AND Cora, but after this it's all her!)
You recently relocated from Texas to New York. 
I read that one of your first nights there, your new building caught fire. 
What’d you grab on your way down the fire escape?

CORA: Baha. Yes, that was my grand welcome to New York. I didn’t hear the alarm at first. It didn’t go off in my apartment, and my TV was too loud for me to hear the general building alarm. I started smelling smoke, but didn’t think anything of it. Eventually, I noticed that there were people outside on the sidewalk and put two and two together. I laid my hand against the door (thanks Elementary field trips for teaching me that), and it wasn’t hot. But when I opened the door, the smoke was thick enough that I couldn’t see anything. I closed the door again, threw on my shoes, shoved my phone in my pocket and my computer in my purse. Then I snatched up my cat (who was luckily asleep or she no doubt would have ran off just to spite me), and exited into the smoke. It was pretty terrifying, but luckily there was nothing more than smoke damage.

You wrote an Angry Girl-- Max in Faking It. We have our own version in LENGTHS--Whit.***SPOILER ALERT*** Both are trying to lose their past’s after the grief of the loss of their sibling proves too much to handle. They both move away from their families, get tattoo’s and find their own version of a good guy that loves them fiercely. Do you think Max and Whit could ever be friends, or is that just too much boldness for one room?

CORA: I think they could TOTALLY be friends. In fact, I think they’d be a force to be reckoned with. I think Max would actually love the challenge. Once they gave each other a hard time, I think they’d end up fast friends. And all the men in their lives would be in for a wild ride. :)

If you could set up any of your own characters with a character 
from another author's book, which characters would they be?

CORA: Ooo… that’s a good question. SECRET TIME. I have a major thing for Draco Malfoy. What can I say? I like a bad boy in need of redemption. So, he can just have whichever of my characters he wants (and me… he can totally have me).

*nerd alert* :)

Which of your characters do you think you are the most like?

CORA: I’m a mix between Max and Bliss. My sense of humor and my perspective are closest to Max. But Bliss’s awkwardness and her over-active mind are totally me. 

One word to describe yourself?

CORA: Antithetical.

I’m a walking contradiction most days.

If you could go back in time and give teenage Cora one piece of advice, 
what would it be?

CORA: Honestly, I wouldn't change a thing because it all led me to where I am. So, I think I would just tell myself to keep going. All the hard work will pay off. 

Thanks for stopping by, Cora! And congrats on another stellar release! 

If you haven't scooped up her companion series beginning with LOSING IT, you really must! And be sure to grab FINDING IT tomorrow, October 15!

You can find Cora on her blogTwitterFacebook and Goodreads! 

Cora Carmack is a twenty-something writer who likes to write about twenty-something characters. She's done a multitude of things in her life-- boring jobs (like working retail), Fun jobs (like working in a theatre), stressful jobs (like teaching), and dream jobs (like writing). She enjoys placing her characters in the most awkward situations possible, and then trying to help them get a boyfriend out of it. Awkward people need love, too. Her first book, LOSING IT, is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller.