(H)armony and (I)nspiration

(Spencer’s Own “Livin’ In The Moment” official video.)

Nearly every time I tell someone I’m an author, they ask we where I get my ideas for my books. Where does your inspiration come from? they ask again and again and again.

The thing is, I don’t usually know. Sure, I can usually point to something specific for parts of each book – 99 Days of Laney MacGuire came from me working through my own sexual assault; Someone Else’s Summer came pretty much entirely from my love of lists and road trips; The Stars At Night was an idea that hatched when I remembered how much I adore Drill Team. But in general? I find inspiration everywhere, from other books and movies and music, from nature and weather, from Monster and Geek Husband. Inspiration is everywhere. It’s not a finite resource; it’s there for the taking. We just have to open our eyes and our ears and our hearts and grab on.

Sometimes, I struggle for inspiration. That’s just a reality. But, when I do, I can always turn to Spencer’s Own. I first met these guys more years ago than I care to admit.

(Okay…it’ll be 19 years in July. Almost two decades, y’all! I’m not sure how that even happened!)

I was on my yearly vacation to Seeley Lake, Montana, with my family. A friend and I saw a poster for a free concert at the end of the lake. It was a Thursday night. We were thirteen, couldn’t drive, and anyone who could drive was definitely not in a state to do so. Even a little bit. So we did what any thirteen-year-olds would do in the situation (the situation being: we were bored and thought it’d be kinda fun to check out this concert for a group we’d never heard of, playing in a tiny town): we waited for everyone else to be sufficiently occupied, and then we took a canoe and rowed our butts across the lake.

My buddy had just discovered the joys of hardcore, underground punk. I was a listener of primarily classic rock. And this group we canoed to see? They were a cappella. He was, um, less than entertained. Me? I was totally enthralled. We caught the second half of the show, then paddled back across the lake, wondering for the first time if we should’ve told someone where we were going.

For my friend, it was one night. But for me, that one night was the start of almost two decades of memories. More road trips than I can count. Some of the best friends I’ve ever had. And so, so much more.

I went from being a random girl at a random concert, to a diehard fan, and eventually to a friend of these incredible guys. When I say they are an inspiration to me, I’m not just talking about their music. I’m talking about them as people. I’ve seen them succeed, and I’ve seen them fail. But most importantly, I’ve seen the improvement and the work they’ve put behind the improvement. I’ve seen them tackle obstacles head-on, with smiles on their faces. I’ve seen them stretch and grow and become the act they were meant to be.

So when I get stuck and am feeling uninspired, I go back. I remember the early days, listen to the old music, laugh a little. Then I put on the new tracks and listen to the difference. I remember the work they put in because they love what they do. And then I remember that I love what I do and I get back to work.

And somehow, invariably, a bit of inspiration has made its way through their music and into my heart. Every. Time.

(E)xcitement (F)angirl (G)uilty pleasure

Oy. Monster came home from school last week with a bit of a sniffle. I hadn’t been sleeping well for a week at this point, so I knew my immune system wasn’t doing great. So I wasn’t surprised at all when I got sick. I was surprised though when Monster only ever had the sniffles, and a couple coughs, and was totally better two days later…and then both Geek Husband and I were totally wiped out for days. It definitely hit us harder.

Anyway. I’m back up and running at about 75% now, and that’s good enough for me! So how about I cheat on catching up to the A-Z Challenge by putting three letters all in one post? Good.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I loathe the phrase guilty pleasure. Why should anyone feel guilty about something that brings them joy? Seriously, embrace the things you love, people! Get geeky about it. Fangirl a little bit. Or a lot bit. Why are we ashamed or embarrassed or whatever about the things we enjoy? I mean, isn’t that just silly?

(I mean…I guess if the thing you really like is illegal or, um, super immoral, then sure, go ahead and be guilty about it. Or, yanno, just don’t do it.)

So, for the sake of full disclosure: I love Dawson’s Creek. Like, full on fan-girl love it. I’ve probably seen the entire series start to finish fifteen times. At least. And partial watches? Too many to count. It’s the perfect show to put in the background to write. Because, hello? I write contemporary young adult fiction. And Dawson’s Creek pretty much owns contemporary young adult fiction.

Also. Team Pacey. Always.

Pacey and Joey

(“I remember everything.”)

How about you? What is something you get fangirl excited about?

(D)rill Team

The Stars At Night takes place in small town Texas, in the world of competitive Drill Team.

(Think Bring It On but with Drill Team instead of Cheerleading. And a few other key differences I’m keeping secret so far. 🙂 )

I was on the drill team in high school. That’s right – I was a full blown high-kicking, baton-twirling, splits-doing drill girl. I wore the sparkly outfits and the awesome boots and the short short skirts. I was part of a fantastic team, and some of the girls are still some of my favorite people [redacted] years later.

(Mom, I know you’re reading this, but maybe not till after Tax Season ends? Either way, when you do read: Why do I not have any drill pictures? Where did they all go?!)

A year ago, as part of the big 50th anniversary celebration for my high school, we did a throwback routine. Basically what that means is they had a bunch of old ladies former Wranglers (that’s our drill team name, natch) come perform a routine at a basketball halftime show. One woman was from the first graduating class. She was pretty much the coolest. Being back in the gym, twirling my baton again (yes, I still had my baton from high school – what, you don’t?), brought back so many fond memories, and before long, the seed for The Stars At Night was born.

I’m loving this book so much, y’all – and I’ve not actually written yet. I’m still (finally) finalizing my outline. But it doesn’t matter, because I love El and Sadie and their team and their lives and their summer and their story.

And I’m loving the research I get to do (and holy commas I’ve learned how much different drill team is in Texas vs Montana):


And one from Utah because DANG. (Just ignore the “Kyle Kyle Kyle you were wrong” kid, mmmkay?)

 

(B)reak Free

A while back, my fantastic critique partner Ashley had her debut novel published. It’s a gorgeous story, and her writing is beautiful.

Unfortunately, the small press she published through ended up being…well, I don’t have many appropriate words for it, so let’s just say it was a bad bad bad experience. Ashley had to go through quite a fight, but after many months of battling, she got the rights to her book back.

And she’s republished it under her own terms!

I’m so happy Ashley was able to break free from the crappy publisher she was working with – so many authors in that situation just get stuck there and pretty much have to let go of the dreams they had for their book baby. She’s lucky.

And we’re lucky that we get to read her words. (I’m extra lucky because I get to read them early! 🙂 ) So go check out Under the Trees. It won’t disappoint.

About Under the Trees:

Under the Trees

Beautiful cover by Divine at Yonderworldly

Desperate to prevent an abusive arranged marriage, Princess Araya flees to a neighboring kingdom, only to land at the mercy of the impulsive Crown Prince Thoredmund, who provides refuge in a secluded forest and teachers her survival skills. Her surprise at the unexpected hold the prince has on her heart mirrors his shock at falling for the one girl he can’t have.

As the young couple’s feelings for each other grow, the fragile alliance between the two kingdoms threatens to break apart. With a vengeful duke and an enraged king fast on their trail, Thor and Araya must decide how much they’re willing to risk for love.

Even if staying together means starting a war.

Under the Trees is available on Kindle – and you can read for free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber! A paperback is in the works and will be available soon.

Blogging A-Z: A is for…AGENT

April is the A-Z Blogging Challenge, and we all know I love a good challenge (I’m also doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, because CHALLENGE). So. I’ll be blogging all through April, except Sundays, with each post going along with the order of the Alphabet. A TON of bloggers are playing along (I’m #1,774 to sign up!). It should be a fun month!

Today is April 1st, so today…A IS FOR AGENT

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you saw yesterday when I announced that I signed with Liza Fleissig at Liza Royce Agency. And I’m thrilled! But as thrilled as I am, I have been hesitant to tell the story of how it came to be. Because it is SO NOT TYPICAL, and I don’t want aspiring authors looking for advice coming across this story and thinking it’s how it’ll happen for them, or that it’s a normal thing, or whatever.

But, I’ve had a lot of people ask, and I’ve had some great friends convince me that I should share the story anyway, so here it goes.

I wrote Someone Else’s Summer for NaNoWriMo 2014. It was a mad rush of words, and all told (because I’m a nerd and track stuff like this so I know) I spent 44 hours on the first draft. Obviously, it took edits after that fast draft, but all in all, it was the cleanest first draft I’d ever written. The edits were fairly minimal. (Not trying to downplay…there was definitely WORK involved. But after the edits I had on 99 Days of Laney McGuire this really didn’t seem like much.)

typing

So I edited. And then I…did nothing. I figured I’d get around to querying some day, even wrote a couple query letters to try to nail down my pitch. I thought about enrolling in Swoon Reads, just for the fun of it. I thought about self-publishing, not because I didn’t think the book could go the traditional route, but because I have fun self-pubbing. But, ultimately, I just let the book sit for a long while. I was still madly in love with it, but I was also super busy with other stuff, so it was easy to leave it alone.

I knew Pitch Madness was coming up sometime in the near future, but didn’t think much of it. I like watching the game and seeing the writers get their requests and sitting on the sidelines of the excitement, but I’ve never seriously considered entering in past years. But when the submissions window happened this time, I thought, Why not? and decided to throw my hat into the ring. I ran over to Brenda’s site, took about five minutes to craft my 35-word pitch, and put my first 250 words in. Then I pushed it to the back of my mind because I knew the chances of getting in were such a long shot that I didn’t worry about it.

(There’s something to be said here about not giving time to second guess myself. That little baby pitch I threw together in five minutes was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself!)

Draft day came and…I didn’t realize it was draft day. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw someone talking on Twitter that I realized teams had been picked. And I made it!

(Someone Else’s Summer was the 11th round addition – the draft was done, then Brenda gave the go ahead for each blog to pick ONE MORE and I was that one more. It’s super subjective, y’all.)

Anyway. You know how Pitch Madness went. (hint: awesome) So now (FINALLY) the rest of the story that you don’t know:

Since Liza won, she got a 48-hour lead on reading my book. I was crazy busy that weekend, so I sent it to her LATE Saturday night. Like LATE. I had an email when I woke up Sunday morning saying thanks for sending, that she’d get back to me.

Monday came. I got another email. “I’ve started reading and I have a question. Can you talk?” Well OF COURSE I CAN. So she called me. We talked about our kids and general life and stuff, and then she brought up Someone Else’s Summer. Told me that she’d opened my manuscript to make sure it was properly formatted so she could send it off to one of her readers, but she got sucked in. She was on page 70 before she even realized what was going on, and was on 180 when she called.

And she loved it!

excited

I was elated, y’all! I wanted to jump and scream and laugh and cry and tell her YES PLEASE BE MY AGENT RIGHT NOW! But we are freaking professionals, you guys. So instead, she told me she was sending it to her readers because she very much values their opinion, and they could say, “Look, Liza, I know you like this, but it’ll never sell.” It was still an option that she wouldn’t officially offer representation. And I had a bunch of other requests from Pitch Madness I still needed to send out. So we hung up with mutual excitement but nothing decided.

Then I woke up the next morning.

Liza’s name was in my inbox, and just seeing it made me do a little happy dance. (But only in my head. I was still in bed, and I was not ready to dance yet!) She said:

Love Love Love

I laughed and cried and just OMG. It would be an honor to rep this incredible book…I didn’t hear back yet but don’t care. I will. And I know they will love it too!

(I trimmed that a little bit, but a VERY little bit. That was pretty much everything.)

And I died.

Not really. Really, I let the other agents know I had an offer and that they had two weeks to weigh in. Four of them came back right away asking for the full, so I sent it then buckled in for the ride.

Those two weeks almost killed me. I was so impatient, and poor Liza thought I was impatient because I was really wanting to get an offer from a different agent, but that wasn’t it at all…I just wanted to have a solid answer!

I did my research like a good girl. I talked to some of Liza’s other clients and some people in the know in the industry. I chatted on the phone with Liza again. (And you guys, I’ve found the only person on the planet who talks faster than I do!) I talked with Ashley, my fantastic critique partner, and I talked with Geek Husband. And halfway through the second week, both Ashley and Geek Husband told me, “I think you already made up your mind, that you picked Liza on day one and have just been waiting because it’s what you’re supposed to do.”

(Really, it should have been super obvious when the second agent to get back to me – someone I really admire and have thought for years that I would like to work with – and she passed because my book was too similar to another in her line. And instead of being disappointed I was relieved. How’s that for your gut telling you what you want?)

They were totally right. So I send a big excited YES to Liza and told all the other agents thanks for their time. And then SQUEEEEE! We had a little virtual party. 😀

hug

I’m impressed if you stuck around this long, really. This is all so very bizarre to me. Because I’ve been around long enough* to know how this story is supposed to go: you write for years and query and query and query and get a stack of rejections to show for your work. But it’s okay because it only takes one agent to say yes, and eventually you find that one agent and it’s beautiful. That’s the story. Not: you’ve never queried a project in your life, you enter a contest on a whim, and the first agent to ever see your book offers representation two days later. That’s not the story. It’s so far from typical that I’m still trying to catch up to it.

But I’m thrilled. Liza is so fantastic and SO enthusiastic about my book. She’s already doing great things for me and Someone Else’s Summer and the ink on our contract has barely had time to dry. I can’t imagine finding someone else as enthusiastic about this book as she is. Sometimes I think she likes it better than even I do. For real.

So that’s it, my very atypical story. I don’t know how much help it’ll be to anyone, but that’s okay. People asked, and now you know. 🙂

*I may only have a couple posts and a brand-new site, but that’s due to an unfortunate hacking incident and me being too busy/lazy to restore all my previous posts, but I’ve been active in this online writing world since 2009.