Magic

I felt it when my block broke this week. Normally, I don’t realize I’ve made it through a bout of writer’s block until I’m well on the other side, elbow-deep in fresh words. This time, though, I can pinpoint the moment it happened.

My husband and I were eating dinner at what is fast becoming our favorite local bar. I sipped an excellent Old Fashioned and listened to him recount the mundane horrors of his work day. The bartender poured a frothy, butter-yellow drink into a cocktail coupe, a tea candle’s flickering light reflecting off the glass, and a tingle started behind my ears and sizzled into the bones of my right hand. Every cell in my body became alert, like a dog recognizing a certain car door slamming closed.

No burst of inspiration or lightbulb idea followed. Words did not flood my mind.

But a whisper of a promise hovered over me in the steam from the hand-cut French fries: I will write again. My story is ready for me, and I, for it.

I wrote 2,000 words the following day.

A Walk

Life is hard, and by that I mean busy, and I’ve been particularly homesick this week. The good news is: I’ve been writing a little! The bad news: it has nothing to do with anything except Forest Park. I already shared it on my personal blog, but I’ll share it here as well.

Wanna take a walk with me?

Today is one of those achingly beautiful days. The sky is painfully blue, a blue you could gladly drown in, and the sun bathes the multi-colored trees golden. Each breath is crisp with decaying leaves and the promise of frost.

Cars fly through the intersection. A golden-doodle pants at my side, distracted from the sight of the park across the street by a new person to smell. I bury my gloved hands deep in my coat pockets and tilt my face skyward. A light but insistent wind tugs at my earlobes and rubs the tip of my nose, but the sun’s warmth soothes away the sting.

It’s a day that reminds you you’re alive and demands you be happy about it.

The light changes, a shiny pickup and rusted old Honda blurring past anyway. Everyone waits a collective breath, then the dog leads the charge into the crosswalk. Two joggers pass, spurring the dog and its owner faster. I take my time. Forest Park waits patiently.

Inside the park, the sun dapples through slowly-dying leaves. I cross the bridges, first over the metrolink, then over the parkway, and descend to the Victorian footbridge. Wood planks echo underfoot. I take a moment to lean against the black metal railing. A chill seeps through the down of my jacket sleeves. The sun reflects off the water below, and on the far bank, a weeping willow flutters in the wind.

Two teenagers speed past on electric scooters, rumbling across the footbridge. Wisps of breathless conversation drift by as speed-walking moms push their strollers toward the ice rink. I turn right instead, gravel crunching beneath my boots. Here, without the burnt-hued trees shading the path, the sun sinks into my skin. Frigid air burns my nose with each inhalation. Every breath tastes of life.

By the time I reach the statue and pause for a vehicle headed down the road toward the Muny, my fingers are numb despite the gloves. Breath clouds in front of my face and my cheeks tingle. I turn and follow the path back along the creek, past a man calling for his black lab as his little boy cheers on the dog sloshing through the shallow current. Past a couple arguing on a bench near the pond with the fountain spraying rainbows between its jets. Back under tree-cover, a smile for the homeless man curling up on the bench surrounded by brambles and caught-leaves. Across the footbridge, pausing for a cyclist to cross my path. A grandmother helps a toddling child in a princess skirt climb the stairs to the pedestrian overpass. She trades a smile with me over her shoulder then cautions the little girl to “let the lady pass.”

A train blurs below as I cross the second bridge, its rails whistling protests against the cold metal. Somewhere, a fire crackles in a wood-burning fireplace, filling the air with the smoky-sweet scent of home.

It is a good day to be alive.

Reflections

I have hit the strangest writing block of my life. It’s been almost three months since I’ve written anything substantial, and normally I would be a little panicky and/or depressed by this (and both are there, lurking just out of sight, giving me flutters of anxiety and making me sob at random and inconvenient moments). I’m just not freaking out about it…yet.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas; there are dozens crashing into each other in my head. Old story concepts resurfacing (some sort of dystopian, Fast and Furious-type action novel, or that WWII story that will *someday* be finished), new ideas blossoming (YA rom-com in a Great British Bake-Off-esque setting, or something historical about Italian lace-makers or the Black Death or the Purple Gang), and of course, the more recent projects (a pirate duology, or more pressing: finishing the sequel to Blood and Water).

There’s the issue, though, the root of this particular block. Two agents have asked to read more of my manuscript, and that’s mind-blowingly amazing.

BUT.

I have received fourteen rejections. Fourteen, you say? That’s not so many. Your rejections can’t even legally drive. (that metaphor makes no sense and it’s that sort of lazy craft that’s likely why so many agents do not want to take on my project).

I know all the platitudes–I’ve written them out here before–so please don’t tell me it only takes one “yes” or point out I’ve received two of them (at least as far as reading more goes–and really all that means is I’m on the next level of waiting, the one where my hopes are not as carefully moderated). Two is somehow both a huge number and so scant–it only takes one “yes”, but it takes two “no”s to bring me back to nothing.

And then what? Well, I set aside Blood and Water and I work on another project and another until one gets picked up for representation. That’s all well and good, but what does it mean for me right now? Do I trust in the magic of the universe and focus on writing a sequel to a book that’s yet to be picked up, much less published, or do I hedge my bets and turn to a new project, something that might appeal to a few of those other agents who kindly asked me to keep them in mind for future submissions?

So that’s where I’m at, tossing half-hearted ideas around in my brain, scribbling a few notes for something that could develop into a plot point down the road, but not really *writing* much of anything.

And I promise I will update you lovely readers as soon as I hear back from either of “the two”!

High Hopes

Querying is hard. That’s kind of a no-brainer–crafting a business letter to basically say “I promise my story is good, please give me a chance!” is as bad as writing a cover letter for a job (I mean, essentially, it’s the same thing). For me, it’s been disheartening and nerve-wracking and left me wanting to pull my hair out. I wrote a freaking novel–please don’t make me condense the plot into a single-page synopsis!

Sending out queries is terrifying, too, because I don’t know if the base of my letter is any good. I’ve poured over blogs and revised, revised, revised, and I *think* I’ve got a decent hook and capture the stakes and introduce the conflict in three short paragraphs, but I won’t know if it’s enough until the requests start rolling in. And when they *don’t* roll in, I can’t be sure if it’s that my query letter isn’t strong, or my writing isn’t good, or my story isn’t appealing, or if it just doesn’t fit on that specific agent’s list at this point in time.

Guys, requests have NOT been rolling in.

Out of 23 agents queried thus far, I’ve received 10 rejections. That’s flirting dangerously close to 50%–and those other 13 aren’t guaranteed requests by any means. To make it harder, I received 5 of those rejections in the space of a few days.

And it’s fine–I understand that it only takes one “yes”, that Stephen King had hundreds of rejections nailed to his bedroom wall and Harry Potter was rejected over 30 times, that a pass doesn’t mean my writing is poor or my story not good enough…I know all that. It doesn’t make it suck any less, though, so I just want to wallow a bit.

But.

Last night, after two more “thanks but no thanks” emails, I was telling my husband I’m thinking of switching gears and returning to a WWII story I’ve been working on when it happened. An email notification was sitting on my phone’s home screen, and I recognized the name of another agent. My heart sank, even as I read the preview saying I provided a great writing sample. I expected to see the “but” as I clicked it open.

But nothing, baby! The agent requested 50 pages to keep reading.

This isn’t any more of a guarantee than any other step in the process, but it *is* the next step. And it feels amazing to know a professional read a snippet of my story and said “more, please!” Even if they end up passing, my confidence has been boosted enough to face down the next 10 rejections with minimal sulking.

B&W Playlists: The Couple

I’ve re-written this opening to avoid some minor spoilers surrounding Solvi and her love interest(s) in Blood and Water (and beyond). As the author, it was obvious from the start which character would capture her heart, but in my critique circles people have come to shipping them (or not) at varying paces, so I’ll refrain from confirmations and just provide you with the top songs I’ve listened to while writing the main couple’s love story (or lack thereof…dun dun dun…) across 2 books.

  1. You’re the One That I Want – Chadwick Stokes
  2. Hideaway (Acoustic) – Dan Owens
  3. The Few Things – JP Saxe
  4. Head Above Water – Avril Lavigne ft. We The Kings
  5. Whole Heart – Taylor Berrett
  6. A Grave Mistake – Ice Nine Kills (Live from Sirius XM version preferred, though the original fits the overall book/scene better)
  7. Better Than the Pain (Acoustic) – The Woodlands
  8. May I – Trading Yesterdays
  9. Tired – Alan Walker ft. Gavin James
  10. Little Do You Know – Alex & Sierra
  11. Please Don’t Leave Me Like This – Edward + Jane
  12. Resurrect Me – Skrizzly Adams
  13. Fade* – Lewis Capaldi (the F-bomb is dropped so painfully toward the end that it might be the most beautiful swear I’ve ever heard)
  14. Forever – Lewis Capaldi (okay, I’m borderline obsessed with him, and these songs have been on repeat for some book 2 scenes)
  15. Already Gone – Sleeping At Last
  16. All I Want – Gardiner Sisters
  17. Hear You Me – Alex Goot
  18. Hurricane – The Likes of Us

As always, you can find the entire playlist on YouTube.

Querying

Well, I did it! I sent out a query letter to a handful of agents! I’ve got to polish my synopsis and try to ease off tweaking my manuscript because it is time, baby!

Or maybe not–I’ve got another list of agents to query next week. I’m hedging my bets a little bit and leaving myself options if my query or first few pages don’t seem to hook anyone in this first round. There’s always room for improvement, so if I’m being completely honest, I’m not going to stop tweaking my query letter or my story until I start getting requests to read the full manuscript. I’m just really excited because that first step has been taken and, request or rejection, I’ve at least put my story out there.

Pantheon of Blood and Water

There are a lot of gods in my book Blood and Water. Most of them are based in some way on Norse mythology, but I’ve pulled inspiration from other religions and mythologies as well. I’ve compiled my pantheon here:

  • Vöderaka the Allfather, ruler of the gods and overseer of Fallne Hallen
  • Gull: aka the Divine Mother, protector of home, families, and small children
  • Hel (former): sister to the Allfather, goddess of life and death, darkness and light, and overseer of the afterlife. After a dispute with Gull, Hel was split into two entities:
    • Alfra: goddess of light, life, summer, sun
    • Audhild: goddess of darkness, death, winter, moon/stars. Overseer of Hel, the afterlife for traitors, rapists, vicious murderers, and cowards. (Revered above all other gods by the Night Raiders.)
  • Tore: god of mankind and war
  • Leika: goddess of prosperity, passion, love
  • Fiske: god of fish and the seas
  • Jorden: god of land, harvest, and game

There are a number of lessor gods not named in Blood and Water who oversee specifics, but almost any topic needing divine oversight can fall under one of the main gods listed here. Healers call upon Gull to speed recoveries from illnesses or wounds. Chiefs turn to Tore and Vöder to determine justice for committed wrongs. Leika is praised during weddings and blamed for divorces. Audhild represents evil for many–though any one of the gods can act in ways that would seem cruel or devious.

In Solvi’s world, children are dedicated to a specific god a week after they’re born. This dedication is often based on the particular blessing a parent hopes to bestow upon their child: long life, prosperity, good health, strength–or based on the child’s temperament: steady like solid ground, chaotic as a roiling sea, soothing as a summer sunrise.

For fun: Can you figure out which gods would bestow the blessings mentioned above? Which god do you think you’d be dedicated to?

B&W Playlist: Maiken

Due to our recent move halfway across the country, I’ve done a LOT of listening to music while packing/unpacking/relaxing by the pool to recharge after all that packing and unpacking. 😉

I already shared my main playlist for Blood and Water, but there are so many more songs that went into that novel (some I’m still discovering that fit so perfectly with a scene or mood), and even more that encapsulate particular characters. Why not share them??

I figured I’d start things off with my personal favorite (don’t tell the others): Maiken. Solvi’s older sister is brusque and fierce, with a surprisingly tender side she only shows when absolutely necessary (or when she’s alone with her man).

  1. Confidant* – Demi Lovato (because if there’s one pop song that screams “Maiken” for me, it’s this)
  2. Born For Greatness – Papa Roach (or maybe this one)
  3. Beggin for Thread – BANKS
  4. I Am Alive – Stevie McRorie
  5. Hunt You Down* – Kesha
  6. So Pissed – Bohnes
  7. Lion – Saint Mesa (I imagine this is what Maiken would listen to to get pumped up before battle)
  8. Bad Preachers – Saint Claire
  9. Don’t Kill My Vibe – Sigrid
  10. Walk Through the Fire – Klergy (obviously a song for her husband, Dag, but it could fit her relationship with Solvi, too)
  11. The Optimist – Adam French
  12. Religion – Colton Avery

*denotes songs with explicit content.

The entire playlist (with possibly a few extras) can be found here

Never-Ending Edits

I’m currently on draft number who-even-knows-anymore of my work in progress, Blood and Water. The cool thing is, every time I finish a draft, I feel really confident in it, like it’s the best I could ever accomplish. (To be fair, it really is my best work at that point in my life.) Then I get to see how much I’ve grown as a writer when I return to that draft a few weeks later and think “this is actually kind of garbage.” So I revise and rewrite and get a new draft I love so much.

The thing is, after submitting it to my writing groups for feedback, I’m still getting tons of suggestions for re-wording things, clarifying sentences and plot points, and rearranging paragraphs for better flow. A lot of this, I’m slowly recognizing, is due to personal preference and the writing styles of those lovely people offering the feedback, since they, too, are writers. It’s getting easier for me to disregard some suggestions, because they don’t fit my style. Also, I’m coming to terms with the fact that they’re *looking* for issues–a casual reader likely wouldn’t notice that “I struggle not to cry” fits better than “I refuse to cry,” or that I just used “I” to start the last three sentences of that section, a big repetitive no-no.

Still, some comments are really great. People are still catching plot holes and subtext that’s too subtle or foreshadowing that’s too obvious. I’m endlessly grateful to these friends who are taking the time out of their busy schedules to read my work and offer constructive feedback.

It doesn’t stop me from yelling LEAVE ME ALONE at the screen a few times once I’m several hours into the critique-review process. That’s when I take a break to post pics to Instagram or work on a blog post. 🙂

Writing Vacation

Last week was a crazy adventure. In the course of 9 days, I spent over 24 hours in a car, 3 hours on a plane, and traveled to 5 cities in 5 different states to see friends, family, and watch the St. Louis Blues bring home the Stanley Cup (#LGB!).

This came at a really opportune time, because I’ve reached my wits end with the current draft of my novel. I still believe it in, but I’m so, so tired of it. There are about two chapters waiting for complete overhauls that I have not been able to stir up the motivation to complete. I’m impatient for it to just be finished and out in the world, looking for an agent to represent it, but can’t bring myself to give those last couple chapters the attention they need to be done. I’m sure there’s some psychological phenomenon at work, a reluctance to polish the ending and admit “I’m finished”. Or maybe I just am bored with the story I’ve focused on for the past year. I’m ready to move on to one of the other sagas bouncing around my mind.

Whatever the reason, I needed a break. I’ve tried taking them before, binging TV epics with the Mr. or losing myself in a good (already published) book, but Solvi & co. always lurked in the back of my mind, mingling with a slight sense of guilt I couldn’t quite shake.

Last week, so much of my time was spent on the road or visiting with loved ones that all I could do was sleep in my free time. It was amazing and exhausting and best of all, it’s given me a truly fresh perspective as I return to my story. I’m looking forward to getting this draft polished!