Monday, 25 January 2016

2016 > 2015

This is going to be a long post, so I hope you'll bear with me.

A lot has changed over the last two years. My boyfriend and I packed up our life in British Columbia and moved back to Ottawa, right into my dad's basement. I worked a variety of soul-crushing part-time jobs and wrote as much as I could in the slim margins of time I could find. I shelved my first manuscript and wrote my second. We moved again, this time into our own place right in the heart of Ottawa, where we are steps away from fresh donuts. I shared my words for the first time, and feedback convinced me to keep going even when I felt like I was the only one who cared about what I had to say. Querying was always on the horizon in a distant, hazy sort of way. I imagined myself polishing my manuscript until it was utterly free of flaws. I never felt ready.

The biggest publishing rule I've broken is this: I've had my sights set on one agent from the start. I knew it was foolish to place all of my hopes in one person, especially in such a subjective industry, but I couldn't help it. Over the last few years, this agent and I talked a few times (I almost caused a car accident when she followed me on twitter), but I never let myself believe that it meant anything more.

So back in mid-December, right at the cusp of the holiday shopping rush, I was working at my retail job. I took a quick (sanity) break and went upstairs to my locker to check my phone. The first thing I saw was one message: "So hey, this is random, but when are you going to have a book?"

I may have screamed. I stashed my phone back into my locker and walked away, not trusting myself to respond coherently in that moment. My dream agent wanted to know when I'd have a book ready for her. At the end of my shift I immediately texted my publishing friends, demanding to know what it meant and what I should say and OH MY GOD I'M NOT READY TO QUERY YET!!!

Yes, BY SEA OR SWORD was written. And yes, I loved it more than anything. But... was it ready to be sent to my dream agent? I quickly fired off an email to my CPs and begged them to read as quickly as they could. I decided that if the feedback was positive, I would send it. I wrote a calm reply to the agent, telling her that the MS was with critique partners and that I hoped to query soon. It was a lie since I was definitely shrieking as I wrote it. She said she was excited to read it and gave me her direct email to send it to when the time came.

Days (feverishly) passed and I got feedback from my wonderful critique partner Morgan. The email was so full of love for BSOS that it gave me exactly what I needed to make a decision. I then broke another rule of publishing and wrote my query in one day, with the help of a few saintlike CPs (thank you Morgan, Victoria and Alwyn!!!). When the cobbled-together query was complete I was sitting alone in my apartment, unable to press 'send.' I texted my two biggest cheerleaders: my boyfriend and my sister. They both text-screamed back that it was time to bite the bullet. It was December 16th. I didn't expect to hear anything before the holidays. On that same day I got a full request! So I sent it off and got a reply saying an answer could take 60 days. I had expected this, and I wished her a wonderful holiday and set about distracting myself.

I received a request for a synopsis on January 12th. I shrieked some more and cobbled one together using Susan Dennard's worksheet (bless her). Two days passed and she emailed back, telling me she loved the MS, asked what else I've been working on, and requested that we set up a time to chat on the phone. I've read enough "How I Got My Agent" blog posts to know a phone call was a good sign, but I still didn't believe that's where I was heading. I sent back an email filled with details about my ideas, the other project I'm working on, and my shelved sci-fi. She replied wanting to know more about the sci-fi and my current WIP. I sent back a novella-length email with snippets of my WIP. We set up a time to chat on the phone the next day, and I went to work an evening shift, which passed in a blur.

I woke up the next morning and cleaned my whole apartment. My boyfriend watched me pace until he decided he didn't want to be anywhere near me when the call went down, so he suited up to go shovel our driveway. My phone started ringing. I picked it up and got a dial tone. I spent about seven seconds convinced she had changed her mind mid-call. But then she called back and we had the most amazing phone conversation of my life and I danced around my kitchen the entire time (hopefully she couldn't tell) (she probably could).

I have signed with Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary, and I couldn't be happier if I tried.

Suzie really loves BSOS and seems undaunted by my enthusiasm (bless her). I know that BY SEA OR SWORD is in the best possible hands, and I can't wait to see what happens next. I'm beyond thrilled to be a part of Team New Leaf, and I feel SO LUCKY to be able to work with everyone at the agency!

Special shout out to everyone who has read BSOS or been excited about pirates with me over the last few years. You're all the best.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

What I'm Doing When I'm Not Writing - Part 2

-SWIMMING: Prepping for an upcoming cottage weekend in Muskoka! My boyfriend's cousin has a beautiful cottage up in what they call "Canada's Hamptons" and we've never been in Ontario when they've invited family up. But we are this year! I plan on not leaving the water unless it's to drink.
-REVISING: Final stretch of editing BSOS! Soon the entire draft will be in the hands of my editors (aka my boyfriend and CPs). 

Here are the things that have distracted me from writing over the last couple of weeks.

-Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
I didn't LOVE this book as much as I LOVED Cruel Beauty, but it's still a fascinating twist on lesser known fairy tales. Rosamund is a talented writer.
-Vicious by Victoria Schwab
The hype behind Vicious is real! I'm still not technically done reading, but only because work and editing have been distracting me.
-The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
This book destroyed me. That's not hyperbole. I started it at 12:30 in the morning and read straight through to 4:30 am. Gripping, steamy, beautifully written, I couldn't put it down.
-Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Devoured this (my billionth reread) one night and it made my heart sing. This book is my happy place.

-Uprooted by Naomi Novik
There is so much hype surrounding this book but I am confident it is well deserved.
-The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker
I just started this and I'm loving it so far. Elizabeth is one plucky lady.
-The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I've had an ARC of this on my shelf since my bookseller days and only recently saw that it is well loved online, which piqued my interest.

-Revenge Killing: Race and the death penalty in a Louisiana parish
-The Really Big One

This show will feature prominently in my next billion updates as it never ends, in a good way.
-The White Queen
WOW. I ate this historical drama up. I can't believe it slipped past me when it aired in 2013, as I am borderline obsessed with the Wars of the Roses. 
If you, like me a few days ago, think that Sense8 isn't a show for you, YOU ARE WRONG. Never before have I found myself vacillating between tears-rolling-down-my-face empathy, to smiling-like-an-idiot joy, to laughing-from-the-depths-of-my-soul wonder. GO WATCH IT BECAUSE I NEED A SECOND SEASON.

Aside from a few obvious faults, I really liked this spy satire. Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson were a dream.
-Good Will Hunting
My 17 year old brother had never seen this gem and he cried at least three times while watching it.
This was my second viewing and my love for it did not diminish. IT'S ON NETFLIX TOO!!!! It's surpassed Pride and Prejudice as my go-to feel good period piece, for sure. And Draco is in it.

-The Road to Perdition Soundtrack by Thomas Newman

-Control by Kevin Garrett

-Scars by James Bay

-Landslide by Robyn Sherwell

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

What I'm Doing When I'm Not Writing

-REVISING. By Sea or Sword draft number two is coming close to completion! And then it's off to my CPs. I've sent the first twelve or so chapters to some awesome people and getting feedback has been AMAZING. I don't know what I'd do without fresh eyes and insight. Getting over my fear of sharing my words was the best thing I ever did.
-CANOEING. My boyfriend and I recently went on a four day canoe trip through Algonquin Park with our best friends. We completed a 40 km loop (with hellish portages) and saw a moose! And almost got stuck in a marsh full of beaver dams! 

What follows is a collection of the things that have distracted me from writing over the last few weeks. The list is by no means exhaustive, despite what you may think.

-All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book is nothing short of brilliant. If I were to highlight favourite passages, the pages would be entirely yellow. I don't just recommend, I IMPLORE you to read it.
-A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
It took me a little while to get into this, but once I did it was like a drug. Team Tamlin forever.
-An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
This book was a perfectly paced gem with stellar worldbuilding and compelling characters. I'm dying for book two!

-The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker 
British history was the focus of my degree, so I'm really excited to read this twist on the Tudor period. THE TWIST IS MAGIC.
-The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
This book has an insane amount of hype from people I trust (like Victoria) so I know I'm going to love it.
-The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
This book has been described as haunting, intense, provocative, and a masterpiece. It's going to be a hard read, but I'm looking forward to it.

-The Faith of Fury Road from The Ontological Geek
-Kalief Browder, 1993-2015
-That Weirdo Announcer-Voice Accent: Where It Came From and Why It Went Away
-Just. Keep. Writing. by Victoria Schwab

-Game of Thrones
What was once my favourite show EVER has morphed into something unrecognizable. The treatment of female characters is egregiously bad, they ruined Dorne, don't even get me started about Stannis. UGH.
Veep is my happy place. Every single character is flawless and hilarious. I'm pretty sure Dan is my soulmate. 
"I didn't realize that basically all of my jokes come from Chandler." -my boyfriend.

-Mad Max: Fury Road
Since the whole world has seen and loved this film, I don't need to bore you with how deeply in love with it I am.
-The Duff
I don't know why I didn't expect much from this movie, but it was whip smart and hilarious.
-The Age of Adaline
I didn't hate this movie! It had the added bonus of Michiel Huisman in the role of Adaline's love interest, so that helped a lot. Also Ellis's parent's house is my dream home.

-Midnight by Tor Miller

-When We're Fire by Lo-Fang

-2 Heads by Coleman Hell

-River by Ibeyi

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

By Sea Or Sword Playlist - Part One

Seeing what people choose to write to, music or otherwise, is one of my favourite things, so I thought I'd share my mishmash of a playlist. Some people can only write to instrumentals, but I can write to the dulcet tones of my boyfriend snoring, and my playlist reflects an odd assortment of things that have inspired me.

And, while it's hard to imagine where I would be without the Lord of the Rings soundtrack (I think Howard Shore has done more for my writing than coffee has, and that's saying a lot), I have sung of my love for the LOTR soundtrack from every available rooftop, so I thought I'd share the OTHER songs that help me weave magic (hopefully). But in all honesty, many a chapter has been written while "Beyond the Forest" from The Desolation of Smaug soundtrack played over and over again in the background. 

For hours. 

By Sea or Sword is an epic fantasy that includes pirates, sea serpents, a ban on magic, individuals who flout the ban, thieves, deception and disguise and two main characters who have more in common than they'd like to believe.

1. Great Big Sea - The River Driver

Pretty self-explanatory. Great Big Sea is, well, great for maritime inspired songs that resemble sea shanties, which are a must for my pirate fantasy. If you're Canadian and you don't love GBS, you might get deported.

2. Jake Bugg - Simple As This

I'm in love with Jake Bugg's voice, it's as simple as that (see what I did there?) No but seriously, it's pretty easy for me to imagine the first line as "I've been in search of storms" instead of "stones," to make it ever more relevant to my story.

3. Steeleye Span - King Henry

Weirdly it was my sixteen year old brother who got me into Steeleye Span, and english folk band formed in 1969, and I am thankful for it. 

4. Vandaveer - A Mighty Leviathan Of Old

Aside from the fact that my book does in fact deal with a mighty leviathan of old, I just love this band and song.

5. Woodkid - Iron (Quintet Version)

Woodkid could very well write the soundtrack to the movie adaptation of my as of yet unreleased (and possibly never released) book. He speaks to me on a deep level. "Deep in the ocean, dead and cast away..." could it get more relevant?

6. The Lake Poets - With Me

I may have a thing for British boys who sing. 

7. Prologue - Beauty and the Beast Soundtrack 

Long ago I bought a Disney soundtrack that had the instrumental version of this song, and I have since played it incessantly. 

8. Passacaglia - Bear McCreary

Battlestar Galactica is one of the greatest shows EVER and if you haven't seen it, I actually envy you because you get to watch it from the beginning without knowing what's coming and I'll never be able to do that again, unless I come down with amnesia in which case please make sure I watch Battlestar. Bear McCreary is nothing short of a genius in my opinion.

9. Stan Rogers - Northwest Passage

Stan Rogers was taken from us far too soon. Thankfully, we have songs like this to remind us of his brilliance. This song is super relevant to my plot, but even if it wasn't it would be on this list.

10. Laurel - Next Time

This is a beautiful song, and I don't normally go in for beautiful songs sung by ethereally beautiful female voices (I know, there's something wrong with me). But there's also an undercurrent of darkness (that maybe only I can hear?) but regardless, I play this one A LOT.

I didn't intend for this to be a multiple-part post, but once I started I got a little excited/carried away. Here are the first ten songs from my playlist, I will post the rest at a later date.

Do you like to create playlists for writing? What do you listen to when you write? I'm always on the lookout for more songs to put on repeat endlessly, so please let me know!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Facing Realities and Casting My Baby Aside

As many of you know, last year I finished my very first novel, Children of the Light. Having never revised anything of that magnitude before, I was daunted by the task ahead of me. I scoured writing blogs, hoping to find the definitive answer to my burning question: how do I make this book the most appealing book an agent has ever seen? Unfortunately, the one definitive blog post that answers that question does not exist. I know, right? Shouldn't someone out there be all-knowing? The reality is that the publishing industry is a fickle beast. You polish and shine your baby up until you almost can't stand to look at it, you tell yourself that it will stand out like the Arkenstone in a sea of dull jewels, that it will be pulled from the slushy depths to be snapped up by all. It is, after all, brilliant and perfect and you really did bleed your life into it.

But nobody knows that. And another reality is that the publishing industry is inherently cynical, in my experience. Not the people who work in it, most of them seem to be lovely, knowledgeable and passionate individuals. But the industry itself, the monolithic entity that churns out thousands of books a year and rejects many thousands more? Yeah that is where the cynicism lies. You're told it's a one in a million chance your book will find itself an agent. Then it's another slim chance that you will get a book deal. Then ANOTHER infinitesimally slim chance that your book will exceed sales expectations, become a NYT bestseller and make you as successful as J.K. Rowling (okay that's never going to happen, at least not all three).

So I started to feel very small. I started to feel a little foolish. How did I ever think my tiny, insignificant book would ever make a splash in the vast publishing ocean? I read posts on trends, and dead trends, and I realized that I had written my masterpiece a few years too late, or perhaps several years too early. Posts about what agents are tired of seeing in their slush piles started to mock me. "But MY book is different!" "It's not like all those other post-apocalyptic copies of The Hunger Games" "My book is really more science fiction anyway!" 

But in my defensive internal monologue I found a sliver of truth. My book might be brilliant, or it might not be. I might have a potentially halfway decent seller on my hands, or maybe not. But in the cynical publishing world, I knew that putting my best foot forward is of the utmost importance. In a world ruled by luck, chance and a hefty dose of talent, I knew that you have to stand out. You don't want a query that attempts to apologize for your genre, a query that is defensive about your different dystopian. 

You want a query that celebrates your book in every way. A query that is intriguing, different, compelling. One that doesn't turn agents off before they've even given your pages a chance. So I put away my baby, promising it that I will unearth it when the climate is more favourable. I was almost embarrassed when I told my boyfriend, friends and family. I didn't want them to think I didn't have faith in myself, lest they lose their faith in me. But I started something new. Something that excites me unlike anything else I've ever written.

There's nothing wrong with being honest with yourself. There's nothing wrong with massively lowering your expectations. In fact, that was something I really needed to do as a writer. There's a pretty good chance that the book I'm working on right now will never see the light of day, despite my devotion to it. I may have to query five, ten, twenty different projects before I find myself a kick ass agent. Or maybe, I'll be one of the lucky ones and find a home for my second or third book.

The thing is, these are things I do not know, things I cannot predict or control. What can I predict? Well, maybe I'm naive, but I do truly believe that if you do what you love long enough, you will find success with it. And what can I control? My own expectations and work ethic. So I will continue with this book and it will become the first book I query. And if I don't succeed I will write another, and another, and another until the glorious day that my dreams come true.

Monday, 30 December 2013

2013, a Year in Review

Without getting into too many macabre details, let me just say that 2013 wasn't my best year. By a long shot.

I missed my family and friends too much (especially during my 3rd Christmas in a row spent without them), was deeply unsatisfied with my work situation (so, SO tired of the restaurant grind), was forced to drop out of university due to some bureaucratic nonsense, and some other, difficult, behind-the-scenes stuff kept me down a lot of the time.

But I'm so over being the kind of person who complains about stuff not being perfect. 2013 may have knocked me down a bunch, and it may have made me feel hopeless at times, but it did not beat me. In fact, despite all of the bad, there was still a lot of good, and I need to remember to celebrate the good more than I dwell on the bad.

In 2013 I finished writing my very first novel, which is something that I wasn't sure I would ever do. I love it like I would my own child, but I put it aside due to the fact that it's vaguely dystopian and I don't want to scare agents away right off the bat. Which leads me to my next bit of good,

In 2013 I started writing my second novel. The instant I started typing words into Scrivener, it was kismet. While I love my first novel dearly, this one just felt right from the get go. It's more me, and I can't wait to see where I take it in 2014.

In 2013 I made so many new writing friends, all of whom are a massive source of inspiration to me. The writing community on twitter is so welcoming and fun, and I'm so glad to have found a place in it. Special shout out to twitter for introducing me to Victoria Aveyard, soon to be a household name and my American twin. I am so thankful that she sees past my insanity and allows me to read her brilliant words, and in turn reads my not-as-brilliant words and offers the best advice. She's seriously the coolest.

In 2013 I became an aunt for the very first time. My boyfriend's sister had the most beautiful baby girl of all time early this year, and watching her grow into the most adorable creature of all time has been an incredible experience. I've only met her in person briefly, but I like to think she recognizes us when we Skype with her. I can't wait to watch her grow and learn her first word and begin to walk. I especially can't wait to buy her millions of books and read Harry Potter to her, obviously.

In 2013 I worked at a very fun job that allowed me to see the beauty of British Columbia first hand. I live in one of the most stunning places on earth, where the mountains meet crystal clear turquoise lakes dotted with billions of smooth stones, and finally getting out there and experiencing said beauty was so refreshing. I can't wait to go back to that job this summer. 

In 2013 my boyfriend and I made big decisions about the rest of our lives. While it's not really my place to discuss my boyfriend's life, let's just say we're leaving the town that's been dragging us down and moving on to greener pastures. It'll mean that I'm moving to my 3rd province in 3ish years, but I'm thrilled to be heading somewhere new. It's like staring at a blank document, itching to fill it with words. I know that some of the words will be the wrong ones, and I'll eventually cut them and replace them with better ones, but the promise of a new beginning is so rejuvenating.

So 2013 may not have been all that I hoped and dreamed of, but it taught me a lot about myself and the world around me. It forced me to reevaluate my goals and the things that I deem important to me. I made some hard decisions that I may come to regret one day, but they were decisions that felt right at the time, and that's what matters in the end.

Looking forward to 2014, I see nothing but new frontiers. I will finish this second novel and when I'm done I will query it. I have never queried before and the thought of pressing 'send' on those hope-filled emails is equal parts thrilling and terrifying. When that's done I will start writing new words, and may come to love them even more than the ones I've already got. I will move to a new province and start a new life with my boyfriend and cat. I will make going home for Christmas 2014 a necessity. I will travel to San Francisco to visit friends. I will cuddle my niece. I will read books that make me cry, books that make me laugh, and books that make me want to be better. I will bake and cross-stitch and sew and clean and collect mugs and decorate and laugh and drink tea and hike and press flowers and take pictures and paint and nap. And sing. Poorly.

I will not succumb to fear and doubt. Okay, I probably will, but I will get better at pulling myself out of that trap. I will be kind. I will give back. I will cuddle. I will not be ruled by negativity. 

2014 will be the best year ever, simply because I won't let it be anything else.

New frontiers on the horizon and such.
Thank you for reading, I appreciate everyone who has ever visited this page and read my ramblings. You are all awesome. I hope you all have the best 2014 you possibly can.

Monday, 3 June 2013

What The Red Wedding Taught Me


Last night, George R.R. Martin (and show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) tore out the hearts and souls of millions of Game of Thrones fans all over the world with the pivotal scene titled The Red Wedding. Of course, if you've read the books already, your heart and soul were trampled on for this very same reason sometime in the last thirteen years. But the sting is as fresh as ever. The North remembers. 

Beloved characters are dead. Not just dead, but slaughtered. It's not fair! We all cry. They didn't deserve this! Of course they didn't. I'll never get over this! I won't either, trust me. I will never watch Game of Thrones ever again! Well, that's a bit uncalled for... F*ck George R.R. Martin! I'm cancelling my HBO subscription! Okay REALLY? 

Twitter is a vast ocean of emotions today. Viewers are outraged. They feel cheated and used. Robb Stark will never get the vengeance he so desperately sought after his father was murdered. The reaction has been visceral and dramatic. I sincerely believe those who say they are done with the show because they can't take anymore death and misery for the Starks.

I also think they're completely ridiculous.

Newsflash to the world: People die. It's a sad fact, I know, but it's a universal truth. May I remind you of Arya Stark's response when asked if her brother Robb could be killed? 

Characters are not infallible and people make mistakes. Mistakes often lead to consequences, at least they do in the real world. When I find myself unable to enjoy a book, a lot of the time my distaste is due to the fact that characters seemingly aren't based in reality. There are no believable or measurable consequences for their actions or misdeeds. 

When you reneg on a pact with Walder Frey to marry one of his daughters in exchange for the use of his utterly vital bridge in your battle plans, his pride will be hurt and (at least in Westeros) a man is nothing without his pride. He will very likely join up with the family that wants you dead and hatch a plan to have you killed. And you will fall into his trap easily, because you put honour above all else, much like your dead father. Everyone around you will warn you against this, like they warned you when you chose to marry for love and not duty, but you will ignore them because you are human and humans make grievous errors every day.

Angry readers and show-watchers are right though, George R.R. Martin does owe us something, but it's not a rosy future in which all the Starks are reunited under a cloudless, rainbow-filled sky in Winterfell, embracing over the severed heads of all Lannisters, however much we may desire it. He owes us characters written with depth and honesty. Characters who are complex and difficult to place in a box. Characters who suffer and characters who rejoice. George is writing an epic saga that reads like our history books (albeit a bit more rooted in fantasy than our world). History is bloody and our world was built by those who ultimately conquered over and spilled the blood of their enemies. He could be writing from the perspective of the Lannisters and all of our beloved characters would truly be the antagonists. 

So what has the Red Wedding taught me? A number of things, like "George R.R. Martin is not anyone's b*tch," and that "kill your darlings" is probably the most important piece of writing advice out there. But it has also taught me that my writing will be hollow if my characters don't make mistakes. That death happens every day and it is almost never just. That my characters are my heroes, but they are also someone else's villains. In life, everyone will at times be a victim and at other times a perpetrator. 

But most of all, the Red Wedding has taught me that my readers (if I ever have any) will very likely take arms up against me one day, and I look forward to it.

Here's a relevant quote from our favourite heart-crusher, GRRM himself:

"No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse."