Skates In, Skates Off

Some things have been happening in my little corner of the globe and I’m afraid they might make updating this blog a little harder for the next five weeks or so. Those things have to do with the Sea Story, a little peer pressure from my critique partners, and a competition called Pitch Wars. Basically, I’ve been lucky enough to be chosen as a mentee by the brilliant Stacey Lee and over the next five weeks we’ll be spit-shining my manuscript until it gleams.

(If you want to cheer on my caffeine-and-cookies fueled revision, we’re Team Orca and you can find us on Twitter under the hashtag #TeamOrca. Also on our team are Rebecca Thomas and Shanna Miles. Feel free to cheer them on, too.)

Helper elf #1
Helper Elf #1

Here’s the blurb for my story, so you know what I’m working on:

People are dying on Skana Island, swallowed up by the icy sea. For seventeen-year-old outsider Anna Delmore, this stirs memories of her own father’s drowning death on a research dive only a year ago. The islanders believe hanging whalebone over their doorways and stringing red beads in their hair will save them from death, but Anna doesn’t believe the islander’s stories. No, she believes the threat comes not from orcas or ancient magic but from the islanders themselves, and that their superstition blinds them from the human killer in their midst.

When another girl goes missing after secretly contacting Anna, Anna enlists the help of Jeremy Renwick, the faithful son of the local sheriff, in order to disprove the islander’s beliefs. But the closer she grows to Jeremy the more her conviction wavers. Time is running out and when the islanders mount a hunt to kill the orcas they believe responsible for the deaths, Anna is forced to choose: stop the killer from taking another life, or save the whales her father tried so hard to protect.

THE SEA WOLVES, complete at 80,000 words, is a YA literary thriller based on Pacific Northwest folklore surrounding killer whales.

Helper Elf #2
Helper Elf #2

Another tidbit to keep you going over the holidays: when not eating pie, wrapping presents, or working on the Sea Story, I’ve been planning a new book. I’m so, so excited about it. It’s a psychological thriller about a dying logging town in Oregon, a missing boy and a girl who is afraid to let go. It has about as much magic as The Sea Wolves, which is to say, maybe a lot, maybe none at all.

I’m thinking my genre is actually Contemporary Plus. I always think I’m writing a straight contemporary, but whether I actually am or not is up for debate.

See you on the other side, peeps! Take a slice of pie before you go.

All the pie.
I’ve been living on this stuff lately.
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Skates In, Skates Off

Meaningful

If you are a young writer, working away at your craft, the best advice I could give you is to surround yourself with wise and encouraging people. This actually applies to all creative types. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, but take it from me, the path is so much smoother, the load lighter, if you are doing it in the company of friends.

The single most important decision I made for my writing, other than deciding to finish that first book, was to seek out writing friends. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without them. In fact, it’s possible I may have given up a long time ago.

This past year has had some of the highest highs and lowest lows for me as a writer. At one point I was so close to despair, wondering if my writing would ever make an impact, whether it was worth all the effort, that I reached out to my writer friends for advice. My friend and critique partner Jaye Robin Brown said something that changed everything for me.

In fact, it had such an impact that it now hangs on my wall.

JRo will be used to being quoted soon enough -- her debut novel is coming out next year!
JRo will be used to being quoted soon enough — her debut novel is coming out next year!

These last few weeks, apart from finishing up revisions on the Sea Story, I’ve been working on a new story. I have a few traditions when I start a novel. One of them is to switch out the photos on my inspiration wall — out with the old story and in with the new. JRo’s quote has pride of place.

It takes a lot of courage to start a novel. The vision’s only half in place. Everything you write comes out not-quite-right. The road ahead is long and you don’t know if this book will make the distance. You don’t know if anyone will ever read it, and if they do, whether they will see the glint of gold you hope they will.

This is when I need JRo’s wise words the most. If I can write something that has meaning for me, even on a sentence level, then someone else will find it meaningful as well.

So many times this past year, Jaye’s words have been that little bit of encouragement keeping me going.

My new inspiration board.
My new inspiration wall.

JRo’s words are a reassurance, yes, but they are also a challenge. A challenge to dig a little deeper, write a little stronger, to measure the height and depth of your heart. Because it goes the other way. Someone else is reading your work, looking for meaning. It’s your job to give it to them.

You never know when something you write or say might change someone’s life.

So much love to my writer friends.
So much love to my writer friends.
Meaningful

My Year of Writing Fearlessly

Back in June I decided the Sea Story would be my last YA novel, unless something changed. I was tired of hearing I should be an adult writer, and I was starting to forget why I wanted to write about young adults in the first place.

Something did change. See, when I thought the Sea Story would be my last YA novel, I stopped second-guessing myself. I unfollowed every agent on Twitter, stopped reading agent blogs and ignored every market-related article that popped up. I wrote my heart out and 3-and-a-half months later I had a draft. It was the best writing experience of my life.

I’ve written another draft of the Sea Story since then, and now that I’m getting closer to the agent-related steps of the whole process, I’m starting to feel it again, that weariness. I’ve always had trouble balancing the creative and business aspects of this whole writing biz. While I’m querying I start to forget why I love writing in the first place and start deciding I want to give up on my genre, or quit altogether.

And you know, I really don’t want to go back to that place. Things were really dark for me for awhile there. I’ve never been so close to giving up. So, this is what I’m planning to do: I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, and I’m going to start a new novel. I have no intention of actually “winning” — I’m aiming for maybe 20k, 30 tops. I just need my head to be in a really good, grounded space as I head into critique-land and then revision-land.

Aaaand the new novel will be another YA — a contemporary YA this time. In that post back in June, I couldn’t remember why I ever wanted to write about teenagers. I was so stuck in my own head that I completely lost track of what YA was about. Writing what I thought was my last YA novel helped me to see what it is I so love about the genre.

Here’s why I write young adult fiction: because growing up is the happy ending.

I almost didn’t make it to adulthood. Many of my friends almost never made it to adulthood. Some didn’t make it at all. Being a teenager was hands down the hardest battle I’ve ever faced. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s true. Those people who say your high school years are the best of your life are lying. Buffy was right: high school is hell.

I’m so, so glad I grew up, but there is no story in the happy ending. We write to grapple with the things that scare us, that challenge us, the things that make us stronger. And there is nothing harder to me, nothing more challenging and vital, than those liminal years between childhood and adulthood.

My November story is about a lot of things, but at its heart it is my attempt to grapple with the year that almost killed me. Ten years on I think it’s finally time to write about the things that happened when I was 14.

The November story is about how the mistakes you make when you’re young can haunt you for the rest of your life.

About the hope that what comes next might be better, and the fear that it might not.

About being so young, but already feeling so very old.

It’s about being a teenager.

I’ve said a few times that the Sea Story is the most personal thing I’ve ever written, but I’m about to beat that. I’m going deeper. I’m going to write my heart out and I’m going to write a story worthy of my year of writing fearlessly.

P.S. For more on why YA is so vital, check out this post by Courtney Summers on why she writes about teenage girls. Because this is what it’s really like. And this is why we’re all so glad we grew up.

Year 11 formal. Almost there.
Year 11 formal. Almost there.
My Year of Writing Fearlessly