Friday, February 28, 2014

The Secret to Defeating the Guilt Monster

Hi, lovelies!

Today I'm going to talk to you about this epidemic I've been noticing in the publishing world ever since I started writing seriously a few years ago: Guilt, with a capital G.

I don't know how many tweets I've witnessed, or how many I've written myself, that include some version of "OMG I'M NOT WRITING I'M SUCH A SLACKER." I wrote one yesterday, for cripe's sake. (Note: old habits die hard.) Never mind that I've been teaching, raising two babies, taking care of my family, and finishing a graduate degree. No, all I could focus on was that I hadn't written a single word in a week and that I was a failure and a schmuck and that my writing career was going to shrivel up like an unwatered house plant.

But then I re-read this wonderful, brilliant advice my agent posted on her blog last month about the difference between procrastination and incubation, and it made me realize that I had no reason to be guilty at all. And you definitely shouldn't either.

Think about it: how many of us are constantly incubating our thoughts? Incubation is a tricky beast; it can look a lot like it's uglier sister, Procrastination, but they're not at all alike. How many of you daydream about your characters? Write down little snippets of dialogue in your phone? Smother your desk or car or refrigerator with stickies? I know you all do it. That's what writers do.

So all that time you're not writing down "a single word," you're actually writing down tons of words. In fact, you're probably writing down the most important words of all: the ones that touch you, inspire you. The ones that make you antsy to find time to sit down at that computer. One day. After the baby sleeps through the night or your finish that report for work or you get over that chronic head cold. That way, when you finally do have the time, you'll know exactly what you want to write.

In a way, incubation is actually pretty productive. 

Here's another thing to think about so that we can banish the guilt monster for good: the best stories are written by people who are actually living. So all that running around you're doing? You're out in the world, living (even though I always feel like errands are going to be the death of me). You're out there, interacting with people, listening to real-life dialogue, brainstorming ideas on life and love and world peace or whatever the hell you talk about with your friends. Even if you're changing poopy diapers instead of traveling the world, you're still downloading new beliefs and thoughts and ideas everyday and that is no small feat, my friend. Those little life nuances are what makes good stories great.

So instead of beating yourself up about what you haven't accomplished, pat yourself on the back for what you have been doing. You're snuggling babies and smelling the lavender soap in their hair. You're laughing your face off as you find one of your bras hidden under your son's bed (this actually happened to me yesterday, PS. He loves dressing up and wearing our clothes. And apparently hoards them?). You're having a drink a little too strong at your friend's house, you're reading a book that makes your heart break. These are the things that matter. And in between all of that, you're incubating, collecting your little snippets of inspiration so you can use them when you're ready.

That sounds pretty damn productive to me.

Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is coming from Flux in Fall 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
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And visit her website @:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Third vs. First: Perspective and Intimacy

Probably one of the most divisive questions you can ask writers is whether they prefer to write in third or first. It's like choosing a starter pokemon.

art by: jonathanjo (deviantart)
In the pokeball on the right is third person. On the left is first person. Choose.

At the start of a new manuscript, this is always rough. What's going to tell the story best? Does a lot happen outside the knowledge of the main character? Do I need to be in her thoughts to make sure my readers feel a connection with her, or will they be cool if I'm just kinda floating behind her head all the time, or flitting to other narrators?

With first person, it's easier to be more intimate with your narrator. I mean, how can you not? You're literally riding around with them in their head. With third, you have more distance. Even in third limited, your narrator can take a deep breath and observe things more detachedly. Both intimacy and distance are double-edged swords, though. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your starter pokemon perspective is helps you avoid overwhelming your reader with personal details or pushing them away with an inhuman protagonist.

For an easy example, Twilight absolutely wouldn't work the same as a third person book. Think about it. A lot of the big conflicts, a lot of the juiciness of that series (whether you like it or not) comes from being right there in Bella's head as she meets Edward and angsts over their doomed romance. Try it in third person. What do you have? Moody teenager goes to school, sits in her room, at night there are weird noises, she gets dumped and then sits around some more, make-outs, etc.

Could it be pulled off? Sure. But it would be a very different Twilight. It wouldn't have the same immediacy or let readers slip into Bella's head as easily, which is a major attraction to the original. It might actually be a fun exercise, trying to rewrite it as literary fiction in third person.

Same goes for third. Say your narrator's mourning the loss of someone close to him when you open your story. You absolutely cannot expect your reader to try to connect with the depth of his sadness on page one; it's just not realistic. (This is why a lot of first-chapter deaths or funerals fail to connect with readers-- we need more of an emotional connection to a character before we can feel as sad as they do when someone they love dies.)

This is where distance comes in handy. I can open on a guy who is absolutely heartbroken and not let you know it if I'm in third. Maybe my protag is cagey and doesn't like talking about his feelings in his interiority, maybe instead he's going to show you that something is majorly wrong in his life by the way that he sneaks through his house, steals his dad's car keys, and goes out on walks late at night in winter in only a t-shirt.

Can you do this in first? Sure. It's just going to be trickier, because you start out with that close degree of intimacy, and pulling away is something that your reader will notice. Of course, you can also just choose to have your narrator not pursue thinking distressing things when they came up until we as readers are ready to deal with that with her (one of my CPs did this, and it turned out awesome).

Intimacy is great because it connects us right away with your character. "Forks was literally my personal hell on earth." Say what you will about Bella Swan, but right here, boom, connection. Who among us have not felt like the place we were living in sucked?

The downside to intimacy is that it makes it too easy to TMI. It's really easy to re-interpret events that just happened in your narrator-character's thoughts, and that's exhausting to read. This took me ages to figure out on my first first-person manuscript. I would literally be like "why am I so exhausted reading this wow gosh I must be working hard" without even realizing that it took me half a century to move from one chunk of action to the next.

To help fix it, add some distance. Consider letting your reader work out more in their head. Keep in mind that you don't need to give us every single thought that runs through your protagonist's head--often, we can work out what their feelings are from how they react to things. Your reader is smart. Cut the interiority down to the bare basics. Look at what makes ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD's Cas such a compelling narrator-- he keeps us enough in the action that we're not suffocated, and his sparse, tell-it-like-it-is moments just reel us in.

Distance is great because we have room to observe without getting caught up in anyone's head. There's more mystery. We know some of what the character is thinking, but at no point are they an open book. There's always more for us to find out about them.

The downside to distance is that sense of removal. Why should I bother caring about your character if I can't forge a connection with them right away? This happens a lot in fantasy books, though it's by no means limited to that genre-- a lot of times, third person books open on setting up a scene or something not at all related to the main character. Here, your handicap is that you're constantly farther away from your audience-- from the first paragraph, the onus is on you to bridge the gap throughout the book.

To help fix it, add some intimacy. These things work in balance, much like starter pokemon. Have your protagonist get into all sorts of scrapes, throw in some lines of interiority as needed, and be leery of purple prose or over-describing things for the sake of description. Kami in UNSPOKEN is a great third person narrator-- even though we're not in her head all the time, it's okay because she's hilarious, doesn't linger, and constantly is getting into trouble. You don't feel like you're held at a distance, you feel like you're watching your best friend crash majestically through all her problems.

And that's all I've got! Your turn: what POV is your favorite to write in and why?

(P.S. Get pumped for Heather's cover reveal tomorrow!)

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 
Friday, February 21, 2014

Random Things That Inspire Me to Write

Sometimes you see something that most people wouldn't think twice about, but to you, that object could mean a thousand words. I thought it would be fun to share a few things that inspire me. I see these things in real-life or in photographs, and they instantly spark something inside me that wants to create. Whether it's a story or a poem, I love the emotion that comes from these things, and I hope they do the same for you.

Cobblestone Streets





Graveyard Statues

So what random things inspire you? Share them in the comments section! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Secret Lifers Recommend

At the moment, I'm in the midst of writing, as always, and with it being my day to post, I'm at a loss. Writing-wise I can't think of anything to discuss. So I thought I'd talk about the real reason we all do this: BOOKS!

There are those books. You know the ones. Maybe you picked it up from the 50 cent rack at the thrift store or found it abandoned on a park bench, but you decided to read it and that was one of the best decisions of your life. It touched you, it made you laugh, it made you cry, whatever it did, it now has a place of honor on your bookshelf. You recommend it to everyone and surprisingly no one has heard of it! Oh the pain, the absolute injustice of it all! Everyone should read this book, damn it! 

Those are the books I want to talk about today. 

Leah's pick:

In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, earth's last survivors have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil, that will decide the fate of humanity: Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artifact in the destroyed Manhattan streets; Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station; and Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with Swan's gifts. But the ancient force behind earth's devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army, beginning with Swan herself.

I have no words for how much I love this book. And even though it has a ton of ratings and reviews on Goodreads, everytime I recommend it to someone, they've never heard of it. It clocks in at 960 pages, but do not let that scare you. I relished every word. The characters are just... *sigh* The world McCammon creates is just... *sigh* I can't even... Just go read it!

Andrea's pick:

Paradise quickly gets gruesome in this thrilling page-turner with a plot that’s ripped from the headlines and a twist that defies the imagination.

It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives.

But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone ever imagined...

Andrea gives a one word review of this one, "Whoa." That's pretty high praise, in my opinion.

Stef's pick:

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Stef has recommended this one to me many times and I've been building myself up to read it. She says, "I think it's an important book for anyone who's ever had to deal with loss in some form or another."

Farrah's pick:

protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That's when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That's when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?

Alex's pick:

The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms... is a girl with yellow eyes.

Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope...

Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.

Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.

Alex says, "Korean culture + fantasy = awesome!" 

Heather's pick:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

And there you have it. All book descriptions from Goodreads. 

Now we want to hear your recommendations!!! Leave them in the comments or head over to Twitter and use the hashtag #irecommend to tell us your favorites!
Monday, February 17, 2014

Things You Can do With ARCS

Hi Secret Lifers!

Some of you who follow me on twitter might already know that a couple of weeks ago, I got a fun package in the mail from my editor--one full of advance review copies of FALLS THE SHADOW! Arcs are bound books that are made from copyedited pages; they still have some errors, but for the most part, it's an actual, honest-to-goodness book at this point. Like it smells like a book. It feels like a book. It sits on a bookshelf like a book.

And it's just...whoa.

Guys, I can't even.

I didn't get to hold on to my arcs for too long (alas), because the few that I got had already been promised elsewhere--to ARC tours and blog giveaways (some of which haven't happened yet, but soon!), and then I signed the last of them and gave it to my mom (whom the book is partially dedicated to)-- BUT, I at least got to have some fun with them before I shipped them off to meet the world :) So, behold, fun things you can do with ARCs (which are actual, physical, books! Ah!)

1. You can build a tower! 

The two standing up aren't actually my books; I don't have the finished hardcovers yet, only the jackets (which are gorgeous and embossed!) that will go on them. Here said jackets are being modeled by the books WITHER and SERAPHINA :)

2. You can put it on a bookshelf! Because it's a book now! Ah!

Oh, who is my book hanging out with on my alphabetized shelf? 

3. You can use it as a hat! 

A sexy, sexy hat.

4. You can dress it up!

Speaking of sexy, my book looks good with a mustache, doesn't it?

 5. You can let your dog read it!

(except you'll still have to turn the pages because, you know, thumbs)

6. You can shove it in random people's faces! 


Not pictured: me sleeping with my arcs and spending a creepy amount of time stroking them and the jacket mock-ups (they're embossed, guys!)

*Please note before you ask:  I'm not really involved in the process of who gets arcs from my publisher. Sorry! It *is* up on Edelweiss now, so you're welcome to request a digital arc there, and I'll cross my fingers for you to be approved for one :)

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Terrible Metaphor on Rejection

I’m back!

Special thanks to Sarah and Stephanie for filling in with such fantastic posts while I was moving/getting my life in order. After taking January to settle in, I’m ready to be back on the blogging bandwagon.

Because this is my first post of the new year, I’m going to start off by tackling a subject that’s still a bit tough for me to talk about in hopes that I can start 2014 with a clean slate and open mind. But before I get into it, I’m going to tell you a story.

When I was in middle school, my friend talked me into joining the softball team. I was a little hesitant to do this at first because I was more comfortable running track and dancing at my dance studio. But all my friends were going to be on the team and not wanting to be left out, I convinced myself that it would be fun.

I wasn’t ever the best dancer and never came in first or even second in track, but I was NOT good at softball. During one of my first practices, I ended up getting hit in the face with the softball (and contrary to popular belief, those damn balls are NOT soft). From then on out I was terrified of batting. For some reason, I could not get over that fear. I hated when it was my turn to bat. I would basically just swing without any thought to it just so I could not have to run bases. My coach hated me because I wasn’t even trying, and the feeling wasn’t far from mutual. I hated the game because I was always afraid of getting hurt again.

I was coming home from one of our games when I told my mom I was quitting. I hated feeling like I sucked and I hated the anxiety I felt every time I had to bat. Most of all, I hated the damn game itself.

Let me bring this metaphor back in full circle: this is how I’ve felt for the last 6 months with writing. Being rejected not once, but multiple times sometimes feels like getting hit in the face with a softball. It f--king hurts. It makes you afraid. It makes you hesitant to get back in the game. It gives you a lot of anxiety and worst of all, it made me want to quit.

My mom wouldn’t let me quit softball, but my friends/teammates did catch on to my misery. They helped me out during practice and never discouraged me. What I distinctly remember is that during our games, they started cheering for me every time I had to bat. That turned into us cheering for each other each time someone was up, no matter how horrifically they sucked. After our games, we’d all go out for lunch. We would never pick apart the negatives of the game, but focus on all the fun we had in the moment. And at the end of our season, I was actually glad I hadn’t quit.

I was reminded of all this when my dad brought it up around the holidays. It made me think of what I was going through currently with writing. Yeah, I was hurt and afraid and had a LOT of anxiety every time I thought about going back on submission. (I also hate the word anxiety, because it makes me feel like a weak person and I hate portraying myself that way, but I realize now that that’s exactly what it was.) My downfall was that I was focusing more on the number’s game of the writing world rather than the fun of the craft itself. I missed writing for enjoyment. For myself.

Here’s my point, and hopefully I can try and listen to my own advice: yes, writing is a number’s game, but that’s not what you should be focused on. The rejections and disappointment and hurt don’t matter in the long run and those feelings will eventually fade. Everyone goes through this (well, except for the few luckies who’ve never had a single rejection, but I suspect that’s rare). It’s about how many times you pick up that bat to swing. It’s about all the friends, family, agents, editors, and other publishing personnel cheering for you. It’s about all the people who matter telling you not to quit not matter how horribly you think you suck. It’s about the people who care enough to want to help you be better.

They’re all cheering for you. You just have to shut off the negative voices in your head long enough to listen. 

Farrah Penn enjoys staying up way too late and making up for it in large quantities of coffee. On top of her love for reading books with memorable characters, she also enjoys internet memes, yoga, and her adorably bratty dog. When she’s not rushing to complete marketing projects at work, she’s writing and daydreaming about traveling the world. Farrah writes YA and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.  

You can also find her on Twitter @:

Drop her an email @:
And visit her blog at:
Monday, February 10, 2014

Gutting the Sagging Middle

I was up late last night and wondering why this manuscript has taken the longest to write and revise-- because it's frustrating, right? It's like hellooo, I can totally write this book, watch me. 

It takes time to write a story, and sometimes it just takes a lot of time to learn how to write the story you're writing. Most of my problem with this can be summed up as the Sagging Middle. Which yes, sounds mad gross and makes my manuscript seem like a forty-something-year-old man, but it's true. 

The Sagging Middle is when starts strong out of the gate-- you open on the day that it's different, you're roaring for the first four chapters, and then you're like yeah and here we're gonna steer off into some happy green pasture while I Subtly Prepare these other important conflicts. And sure, it picks back up by the end, but what's the guarantee that a reader's going to get to the end if they snooze out in chapter eight?

Granted, not every single book ever has to be the most action! packed! piece of literature out there ever, but the stakes have got to keep getting higher on some level, preferably multiple levels, or it won't be compelling enough to continue. 

Most times my CPs will catch scenes that seem to be lacking something, but when you're anxiously tapping your keyboard waiting for their brilliance to be made manifest, here's a few things that have worked for me that might also help you out. 

Look at it in a new format. 
Change the font, read it out loud, print it out. Do something to the manuscript that forces you to engage with it in a manner that's not your usual. If you're as hilariously bad at reading out loud as I am (I wish I were kidding--I read aloud with music on in the background so humans within earshot don't make fun of me), then concentrating on not stumbling over all the words is going to be your first priority and you forget about how you wrote the words to sound and focus on how they sound now. Then it's easier to see where the dissonance between sounds picks up or the language feels blockier, or you'll realize that yes, you are totally having this poor character push her sunglasses on top of her head and two lines later try to look over them. *contorts* 

Two birds, one stone? More like one flock, one scene.
You don't have a lot of scenes or a lot of words to make everything happen that's got to happen-- and much like words in your query letter (oh no), each scene is most effective when it's moving multiple conflicts forward. Is it possible for you to mash scenes together? Can your hilarious coffee-on-pants scene be mashed up with the so-and-so-likes-protag hint scene and protag-meditates-on-life scene? Basically, look for ways that a single scene can heighten conflict in multiple areas-- most immediate is how the scene advances the main character's conflict, but how are things changing for the minor characters, or the environment? It's layering in conflicts, and ultimately it will make your story more full even though it's a pain in the butt revising to make it happen. 

Say it the best way, once.
Sometimes in my dialogue I notice that I do all this build-up to an Epic Line and then two replies later I say the same thing but More Epically later. Consider cutting the stuff that's not doing it for you and making the thing you lead up to be the most epic thing. There are some situations (as with any writing advice, lol) that you'll want to flagrantly disregard this for style purposes, but do it sparingly--as a reader, how boring is it to read the same thing over and over again? 

Read through from the perspective of a minor character. 
Pretend you're a different character than your protagonist for one read-through and go through your draft, keeping their conflicts in mind. Sometimes when I read subs, I come across minor characters that feel more like vehicles for conflict than human beings. Are your minor characters saying things that you would expect a real human to say (or humanoid creature, depending on your setting)? Are they too understanding (because maybe you need your protag to get off easy this scene)? Ask the tough questions. Sure, maybe your protagonist will still sashay away from a conflict scott-free, but at least the reader will know that that was a hard-won victory.

So what about you guys? I also like finding new music for a scene and getting inspired that way, but I wasn't sure how to tie that in to any specific strategy. What are your favorite tricks for keeping your stories moving in the middle?

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 
Friday, February 7, 2014

How to Tackle Your Edit Letter Without Self-Destructing

When I got my first big edit letter, I about collapsed into a sobbing mess. There was just so much I had to do that I was completely convinced I wouldn't be able to do it. So much for having faith in myself right? Anyway. Believe it or not, the first letter came before I even signed my contract for GATEWAY. I've mentioned this before, but there were a lot of revisions that needed to be done. I read that letter over and over again and had to let it all sink in for a few days. I had absolutely no idea where to start.

About a week later, I came up with a way to make the edits less terrifying (if that's even possible). I created a map key. You know those little "keys" you learn about in elementary school that mark designated spots on maps? Like this: 

Yep. Except mine went a little something like this: 

A triangle = easy
A square = medium
A star = holy sh**balls (Not kidding. That's what I put for the BIG changes. haha)

I put these symbols next to each bullet point, essentially giving it a sort of rating, and started with the easiest. So as I went throughout the manuscript, I would then put a line through that bullet point and move on. Let me tell you, it feels amazing watching that list dwindle line by line. It gives you a visual of what you've completed, which helped me feel a bit more accomplished. 

Having some kind of order to the madness made the edits less complicated and I didn't fall apart while doing them. I think little things like this are great tools to keep yourself focused. As writers, we have to find an easier way to accomplish our goals somehow, because there are just so many things about what we do that are hard enough as it is. And this was one of those things that made all the difference. So next time you have big revisions to tackle, I highly recommend trying this method. You'll be amazed how well it works. Cheers!

Heather Marie is a YA writer who loves all things creepy. She enjoys writing horror/supernatural stories that make you question that feeling of someone watching over your shoulder. Heather spends most of her days reading and writing and plotting her next idea. When she's not in her writing cave, she enjoys watching creepy TV shows with her husband and picking apart plot holes in movies.

Her YA debut, THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME, releases August 25th, 2014 from Curiosity Quills.
You can find her on Twitter @: And visit her website @:
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Quick Secret About "Rules"

We've all heard them. The dos and don'ts about writing. Don't start chapter one with the weather. Vampires are lame now and no one wants them. Don't make your main character unlikable. Blah, blah, blah...

You know what I think? Screw the "rules."

Example #1: Louisiana summers are unforgiving. You know what that is? That's the first sentence of my debut novel, The Summer I Became a Nerd. Weather, I started with weather. Also, I like vampires. I wouldn't mind reading about more of them or seeing more movies about them. In fact, here's example #2:

Only Lovers Left Alive starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton comes out this year and is "A story centered on two vampires who have been in love for centuries."
I'm sorry, but that movie looks freaking awesome and I will be paying good money to see it.

People are constantly telling us what not to do. And they will always do so. But the only rule, in my opinion, is follow your gut. Do what you think is right. In the end, you're the only one that will be held responsible for your work. Don't you want that work to be completely you?

In case you didn't catch my meaning yet, here it is in gif form:

And when everything is said and done, you'll be able to say:

Monday, February 3, 2014

On Waiting (and getting hit by trucks)

Hello Secret Lifers :)

This post is coming a little late today, but in a way that seems appropriate, given what it's about (so let's just pretend I did it on purpose then, to drive home my point. Okay? Okay.) I spent most of this morning/early afternoon in the doctor's office, waiting. And while I was there, I was trying to come up with an idea for a blog post, as I hadn't given it much thought yet, since I've spent most of the past week in a sickly haze. So I'm sitting there in the cold little exam room, absently breaking a tongue depressor into several dozen splinters, and waiting for ten...twenty...thirty...however many minutes it ended up being, and I thought: waiting.

There's a topic that most writers know all about.

First things first: I'm not complaining about having to wait. I know how doctor's offices work. I know things get backed up, and I know emergencies happen, and I know that I should be glad the doctor is taking his time about seeing me, because even though I might feel differently, it means that I am not, in fact, dying. So, yay for that!

That doesn't change the fact that waiting sucks. Especially when you're sitting around feeling like you got hit with a truck (but again-- I wasn't actually hit by a truck, so yes, also sitting around counting my blessings).

And for anyone who's been writing for much time at all, you probably see where I'm going with this. Since I embarked on this crazy writing-toward-publication journey oh, five years ago or whatever it's been now, my patience has increased exponentially (also I just spelled that word right on the first try in spite of the cough medicine that's making me slightly delirious and I think I deserve a cookie for that, please and thanks). Notice I said "since I embarked" as in, not just since I started trying to get an agent or since I got one and landed a book deal and embarked on everything I talked about in my last post. Even before that, it feels like, you're always, always waiting. You take part in a contest on a blog, wait on pins and needles to see if your entry gets in, and then spend an embarrassing amount of time refreshing the page with your entry, waiting for comments to see what people think, even if you're afraid to know. You finish chapters, send them of to readers, and wait.

You check your email constantly, and with every second that passes, you're a little more *certain* that obviously they hate it and they just can't find the heart to tell me that and that's why it's taking them so long to get back to me so what was I thinking even sending it to them in the first place because oh god it was so obviously not ready and I've really screwed up this time and oh god I'm going to die alone are you happy now, stupid self?

Okay, maybe your inner voice isn't as insane as mine (I hope not, for your sake), but most writers I know go through some variation of this. We're already all crazy to begin with, and waiting makes us crazier. Fun, eh? And that best part is, it never ends! When you're done waiting for feedback, and you get it all polished up, then you get to wait on queries, and submissions, and reviews, and...really, it just keeps going. So what do you do?

Well, I'm probably not the best role-model for this sort of thing, since despite my best efforts, some days my anxiety-wracked self still ends up in my safe space in the closet eating nutella straight from the jar, BUT, I try. And this is how I deal:

1. By working on something else--something new. I'm always working, at least in my mind. If I'm not actively writing, I'm at least *planning* to write something. Notebooks are being filled with possible scenes and characters for the next book. Because there's always going to be a next book. And really, it's this "next" part that makes the anxiety of waiting so much easier to deal with for me: because if I have something new in the works, I can let my attachment slowly move away from the book that's with my betas or agents or on sub or whatever, and I can invest hope in this new project, instead of anxiety on the old one that's out of my control at the moment. And if things don't pan out with the old book, then I can sleep a little easier knowing that I've already moved on to the next one, anyway

2. By exploring new hobbies--particularly creative ones. Recently I've picked up painting again, and to be honest I'm pretty terrible at it, but you know what? It doesn't matter. Not even to perfectionist me. I let myself be bad at it--and that's really important, for me, when I'm waiting to hear back from people reading my writing, since the stakes surrounding the latter feel much higher. I'm not worried about selling my artwork, or even about ever letting people see it; it's just a way to burn up anxious creative energy without having to worry about whether it's "good enough" or not.

3. By going on a walk, or a run, or just getting out of the house in general.  Honestly, part of the reason I don't like winter is because this gets harder (or just a lot less appealing) during this time of year. Who wants to run or play tennis when it's 9 degrees outside? Not me. I spend a lot of time going on random drives in the winter, because it's a way to get out and into the sunshine but still be warm and snug in my car.

4. By not paying attention to what everyone else is doing, or how quickly things are happening for them. In the age of twitter and tumblr and facebook and WE ALL MUST BE CONNECTED AND AWARE OF EVERYTHING THAT'S HAPPENING TO EVERYONE EVER, this one is hard, ya'll. And yes, I know, I wrote a blog post a couple weeks ago that had my own timeline in, so sorry for being another enabler. I just wrote it because I know people want to know those things, and *sometimes*, in some cases, it can provide you with peace of mind if you're timeline matches up. In this case, I'm talking more about ignoring the occasional instances where, despite all we hear about publishing being a slow, slow business, Author X manages to land a book deal, a hundred foreign rights sales, a movie deal, a theme park deal, etc... all in like...a month. Obviously this is a *bit* of an exaggeration, but you get the point. And I've seen other blogs, and countless industry professionals who'll claim "this doesn't happen, publishing is slow for everyone, blah blah blah". But, um, no. Sure, everyone waits at *some* point, but I personally know people who have had mind-blowingly awesome things happen for them really, really quickly. And I'm happy for them! I really, really am.

But let's be real. It's possible to be incredibly happy for these people even as a little part of you dies inside because you start to feel like "if I was a little better, or if I'd just done x,y, or z like they did, then things would have gone as fast and awesome for me..."  I think that sometimes, even though I know that No no no. You can't get caught up in this line of thinking, even though I know it's reeeally hard not to compare yourself to others in this business.  But just know that even if amazing things are happening for everyone around you, all the time and all at once, while you're still just chilling in the cold little exam room and waiting for things to get awesome (or at least to stop feeling like you got hit by a truck), then it's an okay place to be. I'd say we've ALL been there, at some point--even those Author Xs.

Things will happen when they happen, and they'll take the time they take, and you are awesome and strong and patient, and in the meantime, while you're waiting, I got you this cute picture to look at:

You're welcome ;)

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

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