Turning Points: Choosing Yes by Jessica Corra

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is upcoming debut author Jessica Corra revealing hers…


Guest post by Jessica Corra

When Nova asked me to take part in this blog series, I enthusiastically replied sure. I love her blog; I love her; and was honored to be asked. I knew what I’d write about right away: 2009. I’d figure out the details later.

Then I sat down to write and nothing happened. I knew 2009 was a big year for me, but nothing stood out. The thing is, my whole life has been nothing but turning points. I use a less polite term, though, and call them WTF moments. I’ve been hit with them regularly, so often that I can’t tell you a defining moment in my career. I have a lot of them.

It may seem disingenuous to say that: that nothing truly defining has happened or that I am devaluing the things that have. Not so. Simply, it is only in hindsight that we see the weight a moment has. Every day we make infinite choices, most small—bagel or cupcake for breakfast? That one turns out 50/50—but some big. And every day, things that don’t seem like choices turn out to be.

Everything that happens to us can break us if we let it. But what, really, does that look like? We could quit. We could shrivel or avoid. But in the end, we typically keep going. One foot in front of the other. We cope, is what we do, even if for a time we quit or shrivel or avoid. We still keep going, sometimes in a new direction, sometimes straight ahead.

Because the only other alternative isn’t something most people really contemplate. So even the act of coping, of choosing to be, has the potential to be a turning point. We talk all the time in writing about stakes and arc. In our daily lives, we don’t. But they exist. The ultimate stake is usually life. In daily life we don’t barter with that.

I did. In 2009.

2009 was a very hard year for me. By October, I was working a full-time office job I hated—I am allergic to office jobs. I was married and sinking under the weight of it. I hadn’t finished a novel yet that year. (I had written five manuscripts between November 2005 and November 2008.) I was already struggling with depression, and my inability to write was compounding my personal life issues. I was broken.

I woke up one Friday with a choice clear in my head: I could stop. I could dress for my job downtown and then step in front of the train, or I could keep going. I could go to the hospital. I don’t remember making that decision, only knocking on my neighbor’s door and asking for the ride.

That moment doesn’t seem like a turning point, does it? Keeping going isn’t changing direction, really, but when your options are to end the line or not, it’s a very big decision. I spent a week on the psych ward, and you can read more about that on my blog here and here.

While I was there, I decided that for my own health I would stop trying to work in an office. I was going to be a writer, full-time, and make a real go of it. Ironically, I lost my office job while I was hospitalized, so it’s a good thing that had been the plan anyway.

By the new year, I had completed a draft of a women’s fiction novel, something I had always wanted to write but never did. I’m primarily speculative fiction, and usually YA at that. But getting out of the hospital released me in more ways than one: I wrote SAoG quickly without censoring anything, without worrying about if it was good or bad or readable. I wrote to prove myself to myself. I wasn’t broken. I wasn’t crazy. I was capable.

I’d made the choice to live, so I was going to damn well do that. And that meant writing.

I set SAoG aside with minimal revision because I knew I didn’t want to pursue women’s fiction. I wrote a new book and revised it, and while querying that one, I started After You. I got an agent in November 2010, just over a year after my hospitalization, and in November 2011, I got my first advance check for its sale to Penguin.

I no longer work in an office. I’m no longer married. But I will always write. Because sometimes choosing yes is its own defining moment.


Jessica Corra believes in magic, chocolate cake, love, vodka, and books. Her YA magical realism, After You, comes out in Spring 2013 from Penguin. She currently lives in Philadelphia, where she holds sundry odd jobs and does a lot of baking.

Find her at her website, where she talks a lot about identity and authenticity, or on Twitter, where she is much goofier.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

Turning Points: Guest Post by Leah Cypess (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is author Leah Cypess revealing hers…


Guest post by Leah Cypess

You know how they say, “Don’t quit your day job”? Well, that was my turning point. Quitting my day job.

For most of my life, writing was something I fit in between the “real” things I was doing. It was also something I never told anyone about. Writing always seemed like a secret part of me, an impractical daydream—not something to be ashamed of, exactly, but something that would lead to people asking me questions that I didn’t know how to answer. My family and friends knew, but many of them didn’t really know how important it was to me. Even after I sold a few short stories, I let everyone think that writing was a minor hobby.

For most of my life, this worked out. I’m not someone who can sit down and pound out words for eight hours a day, so writing on my commute or between classes (or, um, during classes) worked well for me. There were times when it was frustrating not to have as much writing time as I wanted, but the truth was that when inspiration called, I dropped everything else and made the time. My first published story was written during a class in high school—the teacher probably thought I was assiduously taking notes. The first manuscript I submitted for publication was finished at two a.m. on the night before a chemistry final in college. (I didn’t do very well in that class.)

Also, I knew enough about writing to know that it wasn’t the kind of career that typically provides a regular, steady income. My parents, who both grew up poor, were very firm on the importance of a regular, steady income. So in college, I majored in biology and minored in journalism, and then—when I realized that I couldn’t do lab work and didn’t want to be a journalist—I went to law school.

Law school was somewhat more intense than college, but I still found time for writing. My first story to place in the Writers of the Future Contest was written during a class called “Foundation of the Regulatory State.” And the first few chapters of Mistwood were written on the subway.

Then I went to work at a large law firm… and it stopped working out. When you become an associate at a large NYC firm, your time is pretty much theirs. The only time I had to write was on my morning commute to work; pretty much every minute from the time that I got to the office until I went to bed at night was taken up by work or necessary life things. I had a box next to computer filled with random scenes of Mistwood I had written on the train, waiting to be typed into the computer and formed into a comprehensible manuscript. That box sat there, getting fuller and fuller, for two years.

I decided quickly that once I had built up enough savings, I was going to quit. But as I continued working, that goal began to seem more and more distant. I was spending almost every waking hour concentrating on my legal career and surrounded by people who were doing the same. Quitting law entirely started to look to me the way it would look to most of the people I knew: like a flakey and weird move. Like I had failed.

I started to look for more reasonable reasons to quit. I took the GREs and applied to graduate programs in history. I looked for ways to do legal work on a freelance basis. I started seriously dating a guy who lived in Boston (okay, that wasn’t entirely just to find an excuse). But what finally gave me the impetus was the growing realization that I was going to marry this guy who lived in Boston, and that pretty soon afterward we would probably have kids. I wanted to have kids, but I also knew that once I did, it would be approximately 18 years before I could do anything full-time again. This was my window of opportunity, and it was closing.

So I did it. I quit.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), the reactions of my fellow lawyers were more positive than I had anticipated. One or two clearly thought I had actually been secretly fired, but most of them seemed to sincerely admire me for following my dream. I had saved assiduously while I was working, so I had enough savings to keep me going for a little while.

In terms of my writing, this turning point did not create any dramatic results. About four months after I quit, I sold a short story to Strange Horizons. And then… nothing. For years. Well, not nothing—I got revision requests, I got invitations to submit more work, I even got to meet with an editor who was interested in one of my manuscripts—but no book deal, no award-winning story, nothing that I could point to and say, “Look what I’ve accomplished! I am not a failed lawyer, I am a published author!”

I gave birth to my daughter about a year and a half after getting married, so my period of full-time writing passed without any milestone that could make me say it was worth it.

But during that time I joined a critique group; polished a manuscript; made connections with editors who liked that manuscript; finished and polished a different, adult manuscript; submitted Manuscript #2 to agents; and got summarily rejected by all the agents. So when I went back to being a part-time writer, I was in a good position for the next steps: figuring out that Manuscript #2 was actually a young adult manuscript and sending it to all those editors who had really liked Manuscript #1.

And so at last, more than four years after my “turning point,” I got an offer for a novel and could call myself “published.”

That might seem like the moment when my decision to quit proved worth it. And it’s true that my dream—the gold at the end of the rainbow—was always to publish a real book, and I hope I never stop being happy that I achieved it. But the truth is that even if I still wasn’t published, quitting would have been worth it. When my first book was published, I became an author. Four years before that, however, I decided to publicly declare myself a writer. In many ways, that first turning point was the more important of the two.


Leah Cypess used to be a practicing attorney in New York and is now a full-time writer in Boston. She much prefers her current situation. She is the author of Mistwood and Nightspell, young adult fantasies published by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), as well as of numerous short stories.

Visit her online at www.leahcypess.com.


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED!

Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed and personalized* copy of Leah Cypess’s novel Nightspell! The winner is…

Vivien

Congrats, Vivien! Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

Turning Points: Feed Me by Arlaina Tibensky (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is author Arlaina Tibensky revealing hers…


Guest post by Arlaina Tibensky

There’s this book called Feed by a guy called M.T. Anderson. A friend of mine from Columbia’s MFA program, who was really into like, Brecht and British existentialists, casually handed me this book one day. Like he was passing the spinach, tossing me a paper towel, holding the elevator door open. “I think you might like it,” is all he said.

OK. To be fair, I was having a kind of breakdown. I just had a baby. I was a hysterical nut job basically sweating hormones and weeping and covered in milk and pee 24/7. I hadn’t read a book in practically a year.

I had taken the maxim “write what you know” to dizzying new heights and embarked on a novel about a woman (exactly like an aunt in my family) who has a breakdown, moves back home with her Czechoslovakian immigrant mother and opens an “alternative health clinic” (aka hydro-colonic studio) in the basement. Meanwhile she gets ovarian cancer and dies. There is also a Goth teenaged boy, a motorcycle driving Slav, a penultimate scene in the giant heart at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. It didn’t all suck, but every agent that read it loved it and couldn’t sell it or loathed it (one called it: DISGUSTING AND VILE) and wouldn’t even try to sell it and then I had this baby and dear reader ALL WAS LOST.

And then Feed landed in my lap and my brain was struck by lightning. I read it in 3 hours. It was the best thing I had read in years. It grabbed me by the guts and shook. It was so smart and real and risk-taking it could not be ignored. And I thought that maybe I should try a little YA. That was the beginning of the turning point, like the peak of the incline before the rollercoaster car plummets to the bottom in breathtaking magnificence.

But I still had a baby who was still, er, an infant. And I was trying to just figure out my life and I wanted to write, but I had no big ideas, no Great Topic to Explore Through Fiction. Write what you know, right?—so I put this on a sticky note on my laptop:

Fifteen

Chicken Pox

Typewriter

Virgin

Divorce

Plath

And went to feed the baby. And forgot all about it.

Six months later I’ve hired a part-time baby sitter. I’m taking a pottery class at night. On the way to the studio I listen to the now defunct “Meet the Writers” podcast from Barnes & Noble and who was on the VERY FIRST podcast I listened to?

Who?

Who?

Who?

LIBBA BRAY.

Before that very moment I had never even HEARD of her.

And she was so smart and funny and kind and her laugh was warm and snarky and she seemed like a more accomplished version of myself and I thought for the second time, but this time with feeling—hmmm maybe I should try YA.

And that week, while the baby was out having a ball and growing up just fine without me for an afternoon, I opened up my laptop, read the sticky note, changed the font to Courier and started typing as if I was 15 and itchy. I was on fire. Writing for 4 hours straight I could actually feel my skin buzzing with joy and heat. This was it. Finally!

AND THEN THINGS FALL APART!

To be fair it’s not all wine and roses over here. I had a beautiful second baby, which quadrupled my anxiety and responsibilities. I’m still very hard on myself and my work and am always trying to impress my card-carrying MFA colleagues with my witty and literary prose. I owe Columbia University a LOT of money. Diapers ain’t free. But having figured out what I love to write and finding an audience that appreciates what I’m doing makes me feel a little more like the writer I have always considered myself to be.

I’m still waiting for that moment when I feel like I’ve “made it” or at least a great feeling of satisfaction that I am doing my best work. But I never feel that way. I have taped this quote about being an artist from Martha Graham to my laptop:

“No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

And then I take a deep breath, fix myself a nice cup of coffee, and get back to work.

They say you have your whole life to write your first novel and six months to write your second. It’s taking me a bit longer… But when I am actually writing, fingers on keyboard hours on end WRITING, I feel like after all these years I am at long last doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m so glad I FINALLY figured it out!


Arlaina Tibensky is the world’s oldest teenager. She lives in NYC where she curates the Pen Parentis Literary Salon at the Libertine Library. Her debut YA novel AND THEN THINGS FALL APART is about how Sylvia Plath and an old typewriter usher a reluctant virgin through the worst summer of her freaking life. She was a One Story Magazine Debutante on April 20, 2012. Visit her at arlainatibensky.blogspot.com and @ArlainaT.


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED…

Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed* copy of Arlaina Tibensky’s debut YA novel And Then Things Fall Apart—plus fun swag like bookmarks, buttons, and a Sylvia Plath mask! The winner is…

Britta Kirk

Congrats, Britta! Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

On Dreams and Hearts: In Which Someone Says Something So Much Better Than I Ever Could

I’d planned to blog today, and that blog was meant to be about my first writing love—literary fiction for adults, which I aspired to write since college—and how dreams shift and balloon and curl back in on themselves, and how dreams expand and take on new faces, and how your dreams change as you grow and change.

But then I began thinking about the book I did write, the book that led me away from my original dream into a new dream. This was Imaginary Girls. Last night, in the aftermath of a mini identity crisis, E and I were talking, in the way we do, about my future as an author. He’s just as invested as I am in this, and he knows all of what I want to do, can do, could do, might do, and wish to do. We talked about how Imaginary Girls turned out—the book I wrote. It doesn’t matter who the audience was meant to be, before or after or during. Would I have written a single word differently? And the answer is no: That book is exactly how I want it to be, how I meant it to be. I was true to my characters. I was true to my intention. True to my love for my sister. True to myself.

Truth.

Imaginary Girls is the book of my heart.

Which brings me to today, in which I came upon Beth Revis’s beautiful post: “The Book of My Heart.” She says so much and more:

If you’re a writer who is unpublished, then I hope and pray you will eventually write the book of your heart. It’s a wonderful thing, and the closest I’ve come to touching magic. But I also want you to know something very, very important: the book of your heart is not the apex of your writing. It is not necessarily the best thing you’ve written, and it’s not necessarily your only shot at getting published.

I encourage you to read her post, if you’ve written the book of your heart years ago, or if you’re writing the book of your heart today. Even if you haven’t found the book of your heart yet and you wonder where it might be.

And if you’ve written the book of your heart already and have seen in published, I encourage you to read the comment on that post from Jo Knowles.

I have no more words today.

Turning Points: Guest Post by Pip Harry

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Australian YA author Pip Harry revealing hers…


Guest post by Pip Harry

I wrote my first book at 23. Bursting with youthful confidence, I scribbled an outline for a middle-grade story on a backpacking adventure around Europe. I came home, took off my hiking boots, blasted out 30,000 words, polished it up, and sent it off to a couple of agents.

Within a few months I had signed with a local literary agent and was getting ready to send the manuscript out on submission. It all happened fairly seamlessly and I might have even been foolish enough to think, Hey, this authoring thing is pretty straightforward. What’s the big deal?

But I didn’t quite get the happy ending I’d expected. In a nutshell—nobody wanted to publish the book. A dozen or so polite, opaque rejections later (and two poorly written, rushed, and clichéd novels after that) I was unceremoniously dumped by my agent. Washed up at age 25.

Having taken my first beating, I did what writers should never do—quit. I threw a little “it’s too hard” tantrum and extinguished the dream of being a published author.

For the next five years I focused on journalism. At least by writing about celebrities for weekly gossip mags I could get my byline out there. But even as I climbed the ladder as an editor, I couldn’t shake the gnawing feeling of a lost love. A true passion that I had turned my back on.

My confidence was badly bruised from all those knockbacks and at the mere mention of creative writing I closed up like a frightened sea creature. “I’m done with that,” I told people who were brave enough to inquire if I still wrote novels.

Secretly, I yearned to write fiction. And without it, I felt incomplete. I just couldn’t find my way back.

It took turning 30 to jolt me back into action. I was THIRTY. No longer a twentysomething. It was time to stop sulking over a failed book. I had other stories to write. Other characters to meet.

This was my first turning point.

I bit the bullet and enrolled in a creative writing course at University. A serious one. One that required me to turn up every week and read my work aloud (terrifying). And also to read other writers’ work (illuminating).

It was transformative. I skipped to class, wrote madly, felt my brain fizz with new ideas, smiled, and felt whole again. At the end of my studies I submitted a short story to the university anthology—it was accepted and published in a real book. Reading an excerpt of the story at a bookstore I have never felt so deliriously happy. This was what I wanted to do.

Since graduating, it’s the friendships I made in the classroom that have kept me going as a writer. Many of us swapped emails and have met up in pubs, cafes, and Japanese restaurants. We’ve shared our scraps of writing, our insecurities, and struggles.

It’s because of them (and knowing I wasn’t alone in wanting to write creatively) that I built up enough confidence to start another novel. YA this time—a darkish tale of an angry Goth girl whose parent’s had sent her away to boarding school. Slowly, tentatively, it took shape. I ran parts of it by my writing buddies. They offered suggestions, encouragement. I kept going.

Finally, a few years later, I had a draft of I’ll Tell You Mine. I was holding it pretty close to my chest but when a journalism friend mentioned she knew a senior fiction editor at HarperCollins, I decided now was not the time to be shy and retiring.

I asked for the HC editor’s email, made nervous contact, and she agreed to read my manuscript. Maybe this is it! I thought. My second chance. Then a few weeks went by. Then a few months. I didn’t have the guts to inquire if she’d finished it, or liked it. The silence was crushing.

When I caught up with my friend at a swish media function, I mentioned (faux casually) if she’d heard from her HC editor mate—had she read my work?

The look on her face said it all. It was a horrifying mix of pity and embarrassment. Sitting at a table of journalists over a seafood lunch, she muttered something about it “needing work.” I fled the restaurant and burst into tears standing on a pier on Sydney Harbour. Snot, tears. The works.

As horrible and humiliating as that moment was, it was my second turning point.

I realised one bad review wasn’t enough to shake me this time. I was going to recover. A fancy editor didn’t like my writing? Yes, it hurt, but she was just one person, in a world of readers. And besides, she wasn’t the teenage girl I was writing the book for.

So, I wiped my eyes, put on sunglasses, returned to lunch, and decided to get a second opinion. In fact, I got two. Crucially, both were experienced in the Young Adult market. One was a retired children’s book publisher, the other a rights manager for Allen & Unwin who loved YA.

They both read quickly and respectfully and gave me amazing, positive feedback and constructive criticism. They told me not to give up, even in a tough market.

And I didn’t. I took their suggestions on board, got together a list of agents, queried, and received a lovely phone call one sunny Monday morning. Sophie Hamley of the Cameron Creswell Agency was on the line. She loved the manuscript and wanted to meet me. This time, it felt like the stars had finally aligned.

Sophie and I sat down to coffee (totally clicking  on what the book was about and who it was for) and a few months later I was accepting an offer from UQP, a respected publisher of quality YA novels.

So, twelve years after I finished my first novel I was signing the dotted line on a book deal.

What’s happened since has been a gilded fantasy of copy edits, covers, and breathy press releases—but I will never forget those years chipping away at an idea, mostly alone, hoping that one day it would be a book. And that book would rest in the hands of a teenage girl.

Whether or not I’ll Tell You Mine is a commercial success—it was worth it.


Pip Harry is a freelance Sydney-based journalist who has worked on Australian magazines for many years, including chasing celebrities as Entertainment Editor for NW and Deputy Editor for TV Week before turning herself into a yoga-loving frequent flyer as Health & Travel Editor for Woman’s Day. She’s the co-founder of relationships website realitychick.com.au and has had short stories published in the UTS Writer’s Anthology and Wet Ink. Pip lives in Sydney with her partner and their gorgeous daughter, Sophie. When not at a keyboard, she can be found searching for the perfect flat white and competing in ocean swimming. Her debut YA novel, I’ll Tell You Mine, was published in Australia on April 2 and is about finding friendship and love in the most unlikely of places, a boarding school.

More information can be found at her publisher’s website here or here


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

International Giveaway: Win a *Signed* Copy of FADE OUT (aka DANI NOIR)

DANI NOIR was published by S&S/Aladdin in 2009.

In just two weeks, something I didn’t expect to happen—the paperback release of my first published* novel, Dani Noiris actually going happen, for real. On June 5 Dani Noir will be released in paperback as… Fade Out!

Yes, Dani Noir has gone through a reinvention… a new title, a new cover, new updates to the story, and now a new audience… because the new edition of the book is being released for the YA shelves!

I’m so very grateful** the book has this second chance at life!

And I’m about to give away two signed copies of the beautiful paperback… so keep reading!

Here’s what the publisher Simon Pulse says about the story:

Life echoes art in this sassy, heartwrenching coming-of-age story from the author of Imaginary Girls.

It’s summer and Dani Callanzano has been abandoned by everyone she knows. Her dad moved out, her mom is all preoccupied being broken-hearted, and her closest friend just moved away. Basically it’s the end of the world.

At least she has the Little Art, her favorite local arthouse movie theater. Dani loves all the old black-and-white noir thrillers with their damsels in distress and their low camera angles. It also doesn’t hurt that Jackson, the guy who works the projection reel, is super cute and nice and funny. And completely off-limits, of course—he’s Dani’s friend’s boyfriend, and they are totally, utterly perfect together.

But one day, Dani stumbles across a shocking secret about Jackson—a secret too terrible for her to keep. She finds herself caught in the middle of a love triangle with enough drama to rival the noir-est film noir she’s ever seen.

Fade Out will be in stores on June 5! And in the meantime, to celebrate, I’m giving away two signed & personalized copies to two winners—and this giveaway is international! (This giveaway closes Tuesday, May 29, at 8pm EST.)

How can you enter, you ask? Well, there’s something you should know about this book: The narrator Dani is harboring a bit of an obsession with a famous actress, a true femme fatale in her eyes and the kind of woman she aspires to be: Rita Hayworth, star of noir classics like Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai.

So to enter the giveaway, tell me your favorite movie star—and tell me why!

You can enter by commenting on this post—or if you’re ashamed to reveal your movie-star obsession so publicly, you can still enter by filling out this more private entry form. (Makes you wonder who’s going to use the entry form, right?)


* Dani Noir isn’t the first novel I wrote—and it’s not the first novel I published—but it is the first novel I published under my own name!

** Fade Out is all thanks to my Simon Pulse editor, Anica Mrose Rissi, who is truly awesome for believing in Dani Noir enough to give it this chance to find new readers (not to mention the stunning, cinematic new cover). Thank you, Anica!


Leave a comment for a chance to win… Who’s your favorite movie star and why?

Turning Points: Guest Post by Jenny Torres Sanchez (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is debut author Jenny Torres Sanchez revealing hers…

Guest post by Jenny Torres Sanchez

For some reason I thought the only way I would ever become a legitimate writer was by getting an MFA in creative writing. I guess it’s because I didn’t want to get grouped with the many people out there who say they are writers but never write, or write once a year. Just so you know, that’s exactly what I was. But that’s not what I wanted to be. So really, I was looking for a way out of that—something that would force me to become more disciplined and better. I whipped together a portfolio and applied.

I was promptly rejected.

It’s not that I thought I would definitely get into the program, but . . . I kind of thought I would get into the program. Okay, so I understand why now, but at the time all I could think was, But what about the time I won first place in the fourth-grade creative writing contest? Didn’t that mean something? And what about my first-place win in an eleventh-grade essay contest? Shouldn’t that have somehow secured my admittance to any writing program of my choice? Yeah, I know.

Anyway, I read and reread the letter that assured me my writing had “promise” but I would not be admitted into the program at this time. I stuffed the letter somewhere I wouldn’t see it, licked my wounds, and waited for the next application deadline, at which point I applied again. And with a portfolio that was only slightly different than the first one I’d submitted.

I was rejected again.

I was advised to take an upper-level undergrad creative writing class, so I did. And aced it. And applied again.

And was rejected . . . again.

I stared at that word—promise—again. How in the world was I supposed to tap into this elusive promise if they wouldn’t show me?

I reapplied once or twice more, but quite honestly, I actually lost count. That’s when I said (numerous expletives) to the (numerous expletives) program, followed by some unkind gestures and gave up. I stopped writing. Eventually my family and friends stopped asking, “Hey, didn’t you apply to that MFA program?” and stopped giving me the pitiful oh look accompanied with the “Well . . .”

I let myself wallow in self-pity. Langston Hughes’s poem “Dream Deferred” ran through my mind repeatedly. His lines of a dying dream, of the danger of an unfulfilled dream, left me unsettled, but I convinced myself that I did all I could. I figured some dreams are meant to be deferred and die.

It was then that my normally mild-mannered 18-month-old son started having incredible meltdowns. He wouldn’t play with other kids and would scream if we tried to hug or touch him. It was then that he started having severe night terrors and would only be able to soothe himself by tucking himself under mounds of clothes and pillows and blankets, shrieking if I came near him. It was then he started banging his head on his crib, on the floor, on the walls . . .

And we started going to doctors and specialists. He had to have sleep studies, allergy testing, neurological tests, etc. Nobody wanted to diagnose him as autistic because he didn’t quite fit all the criteria, but his behavior was very autistic-like. Finally, he was diagnosed as having Sensory Processing Disorder, speech and language delays, and various food allergies.

I stopped teaching so I could take him to his occupational and speech therapies. Our home, our lives, became one huge therapy session. And despite the stress, or most likely because of it, I found myself returning to writing.

Because the thing is, dreams like this don’t really die. And as much as I wanted to give it up, I couldn’t. What I did learn from all those rejections was that I had to do something different and it started by finally accepting the truth. I hadn’t really tried. And in some sense, I have to say, I don’t think I knew any better at the time. I didn’t know that to become better, to tap into that promise, you had to write and write and write. All the time. And constantly go back and change and rework and revise. I’d basically been submitting a bunch of horrible first drafts.

So, I started taking some online writing courses. I read and reread Stephen King’s On Writing. I read other books on writing. I started reading fiction as a writer, studying what writers do, how stories unfold. I thought, I’ll figure this out. I’ll teach myself. I’ll learn all I can. And write as much as possible.

At three years old, my son started school. Not kindergarten, but a pre-K program for children with special needs that he attended five days a week for two and a half hours a day. I worried about his meltdowns, if they would understand him the way I did. He was three and still couldn’t talk. But I had to leave him there for his own good. Two and a half hours seemed so long. For two and a half hours I had to do something that took my mind off of him, that wouldn’t let me sit in the parking lot just waiting for the time to pass.

After a couple of parking-lot sessions, I decided to make that time my writing time. Every day, I’d drop off my son and then head to the coffee shop down the street and just write.

I missed teaching my high schoolers, and after some false starts, a story started to form about a teen named Charlie who’d been dealt an unfair hand in life. Each day it became more and more, and I actually thought about applying to that program again. But it somehow didn’t seem as important anymore. And it no longer felt like it was the only way to become a writer. Besides I’d learned some stuff, I could tell. Yes, some of what I was writing was bad, but I could see it was bad now. And some was good. I could see that, too. So I kept writing. And I thought, This could be something. And it was: my first novel.

Looking back, I guess there were many turning points for me. If I hadn’t been rejected, rejected, and rejected some more, or gone through those hard times with my son (who is doing really well now), or had those two and a half hours each day, I know things would not have worked out the way they did. I know this story never would have been written.


Before writing her debut novel, The Downside of Being Charlie, Jenny Torres Sanchez studied English at the University of Central Florida and taught high school for several years in the Orange County school system. Her students were some of the coolest, funniest, strangest, and most eclectic people she’s ever met. She’s grateful to have taught every single one of them and credits them for inspiring her to write YA. Jenny also writes short stories—many of which rooted in her Hispanic culture. She currently writes full-time and lives in Florida with her husband and children. Visit her website at jennytorressanchez.com.


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED…

Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed and personalized* finished copy of Jenny Torres Sanchez’s debut YA novel The Downside of Being Charlie! The winner is…

Gea Bridged

 

Congrats, Gea! Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize!


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

Turning Points: Guest Post by Stephanie Burgis (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is author Stephanie Burgis revealing hers…


Guest post by Stephanie Burgis

When I first sat down to write this entry, I froze up. Too many choices were tumbling around my head. Which turning point do I talk about?

Here’s my first major turning point: the moment in 2001 when I made the absolutely illogical choice to attend Clarion West, a writing workshop I knew I most definitely could not afford. Against the advice of many smart people, I put $2,000 on my credit card and flew into the unknown for six weeks, acting as if I were a real writer whose work deserved the investment—as if my writing could ever be worth a $2,000 expense!

As if. I was physically shaking as I stepped onto that plane from Pittsburgh to Seattle. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I was so terrified that night at our first group dinner, I actually felt like I was floating above my own body as other workshop members asked me respectfully about my writing.

I smiled and I came up with answers somehow, but inside I was thinking: Can’t they tell I’m just an impostor?

Yes, I had known since I was seven years old that I wanted to be a writer—but that was just a crazy fantasy, a pipe dream! Yes, I’d won my acceptance to the competitive workshop—but that was a fluke. It had to be! Couldn’t they tell just by looking at me that I didn’t belong with Real Writers like them?

They couldn’t…and by the end of those six weeks, neither could I. By the end of the workshop, I was calling myself a writer out loud for the first time in my adult life. Those six weeks changed everything for me—not just my writing (which improved so much there), but my whole life, as well.

Less than a year later, I was flying into the unknown again, getting onto another plane—and this time, it wasn’t just for a six-week trip. This time, I was moving to England to live with the amazing man I’d met at Clarion West, one of my favorite writers in the world, and the single reader whose opinion matters most to me.

Even beyond that, I was part of an active critique group I’d joined because of Clarion West. I was writing and submitting stories to professional magazines, coping with rejections and sending those rejected stories right out again. Everything about the way I treated my own writing had gone through a massive shift—I was finally turning my crazy dream into a practical plan, and that made all the difference.

Without having attended Clarion West…well, I would still be a writer. I’ve been a writer ever since I was seven years old. But I wouldn’t be where I am right now, not physically, emotionally, or professionally.

But that’s not the only major turning point for me and my writing. Four years later, I had to choose between finishing my PhD in music history or making another, even scarier commitment to my writing.

I was halfway through my PhD thesis when my funding ran out and I had to take a full-time day job. I knew by then that I didn’t want to be a professor, but after spending three years in a PhD program, it seemed crazy not to finish the PhD, just to put a cap on all that work. Moreover, I come from a family of academics: three of my close relatives have PhDs, and a fourth is in a PhD program now. Education, and degrees, mean a lot in my family.

“No problem!” I told everybody I knew—especially myself.

I just planned to do it all: work the day job during the day, write my fiction at lunchtime, and write my PhD thesis at night. I could finish the thesis within a year, and have that PhD diploma to make me officially a success. Easy-peasy!

Well. Guess how long that plan worked out?

I think it was on the second night of my new schedule that I started crying helplessly when I sat down at my computer, completely overwhelmed. That was when I realized that I’d made a fatal error in my planning: I’d forgotten to schedule any time with my husband, or, in fact, any time to decompress at all.

That was not a livable schedule for me. So, something had to go.

The obvious answer? Fiction writing. After all, although I’d finally published a couple of stories by then, my career certainly hadn’t taken off in any way. No one in the literary world would miss me if I just stopped writing for a year. I could always pick it up again after a year, once the PhD thesis was finished…

…Except that I couldn’t. I genuinely could not do it.

Ever since I was seven years old, I’ve known I wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world. Writing is like eating to me; it’s like breathing.

No one in the literary world would have missed me that year…but I would have missed myself.

Because without writing, I am not myself. It comes right down to that.

Giving up the PhD was hard. It was hard to admit that I was not going to be the super achiever I had planned to be. It was hard to admit to my wonderful supervisor and advisor that their hopes for me were not going to pan out. It was hard to admit to everyone I really wanted to impress that I was not, in fact, as impressive as I had hoped.

But I have never, ever regretted making that choice—any more than I’ve regretted the fact that, a year later, I chose to finally change literary streams, switching from the darker, adult fantasy novels that had won me my first agent to write the book of my heart instead: a lighthearted, funny MG fantasy adventure set in Regency England, which has since been published as Kat, Incorrigible. I’d been writing darker, adult books because I thought that was what a Serious, Important Writer would do—and surely I had to be impressive in some way, right? Right?

Wrong. It turned out that I wasn’t Serious or Important after all…but what I really wanted to write was so much fun, I couldn’t bring myself to care anymore about what other people thought. And that was the real reward, in itself.

In the end, all of my most important turning points have come down to those moments when I had to step forward and make the choice to believe in my own (quirky! implausible! embarrassing!) dreams…

…Which really means believing in myself, the person behind all the social masks, the person I really am: not Serious, not Important, not capital-I Impressive. Quirky. Human. Me.

I don’t know a scarier step to take—but I don’t know a better one, either.


Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now she lives in Wales, surrounded by mountains and castles. The first book in her MG Regency fantasy trilogy, KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, was chosen by VOYA as a Top Shelf pick for Middle School Readers. Her second book, RENEGADE MAGIC, was published on April 3, 2012. You can read the first three chapters of both books on her website: www.stephanieburgis.com


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED!

Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed and personalized* hardcover of Stephanie Burgis’s new middle-grade novel Renegade Magic! The winner is…

Shila Ah

Congrats, Shila! Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

The Isolating Writer

When I have a ton of work to do—like, for example, right now with freelance copyediting deadlines, teaching responsibilities for my writing class (which I think is going really well! I love my students), and novel revisions and a nice, solid book deadline I have noted in beautiful panic red in my calendar, among other things, because there are always other things—I do tend to regress and do this thing that helps me focus and get calm and breathe: I isolate.

Here I am writing in bed in my writing sweater, which I love wearing during isolation. Photo by Laura Amador, taken at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

It’s comforting to be in a cocoon of my own making, where my mind can find some quiet, and where my panic can slither away and leave me alone so I can get shit done. It’s comforting to avoid all social interactions and let my roots grow out because who cares what I look like. It’s comforting to sit on the floor of my dark apartment eating a tub of blueberries and thinking about the climax of my novel until the “aha!” moment comes. But this kind of behavior doesn’t help me keep friends. Truly, I don’t know if anyone understands when I do this. Sometimes it’s all I can do, you know?

The good thing about isolating in the face of deadlines is I feel like my mind gets sharper, which is a necessary thing for solving plot issues in a novel, and also for getting through freelance jobs. I’m just a usual introvert who needs some Alone Time, as we call it in my house, to recharge. And sometimes this Alone Time spreads out over weeks.

I hope no one takes it personally.

How do I explain this to people so they understand? Fellow introverts, let me know what helps you and how you keep your friends and families intact during and after times you need that comforting, and necessary, bout of isolation to keep your head on straight.


p.s. Change of subject. Do you want to win a signed paperback of Imaginary Girls? The paperback comes out next month and you’ll have chances to win a signed one here on this blog, but in the meantime here’s the first giveaway as a part of Laura Pauling’s Spies, Murder and Mystery Marathon (oh, how I wanted to add a serial comma!). I wrote about mysterious girls from books who catch my imagination… Comment and tell me the “mysterious girl” characters you love, and you could win a beautiful paperback of my book.

Enter the giveaway right here.

The new cover look is gorgeous. This picture doesn’t even show how glossy and delicious this paperback is in person. Wanna see?

(Pre-order links can be found on my website!)

Now back to isolating…

Turning Points: And Now for Something Completely Different by Bethany Griffin (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Bethany Griffin revealing hers…


Guest post by Bethany Griffin

I once sent my former agent an email with that subject…And Now For Something Completely Different. It didn’t turn out very well. But, since we are discussing turning points, it seemed a good place to start! My first agent signed me for a book called Handcuffs, and she loved that book very much.

It was a book about this horrific place called high school, and this blog post is about the meandering path—as I’m not sure there was one clearly defined turning point—that took me from writing a book set in high school to writing a post-apocalyptic slightly steampunk (or at least speculative historical) retelling of a classic Poe story.

I still love my first book in the whole slightly-cringing doting-parent sort of way. It was like trying out a hairstyle that, while flattering, didn’t really work out. And while I’ve moved on, and grown as an author, there were parts of that book that were so honest, and so me, that they still make me uncomfortable. Like this passage:

That’s how shyness works. You want to talk but you can’t. People look at you with scorn. Being an ice princess is infinitely better, even if some people think you’re a total bitch. A snob. Reserved. Those are choices a person makes, to be reserved, to be quiet, or to be a snob. Shy isn’t a choice.

I will never be able to read that passage and deny that this book is a reflection of middle/high school me, perhaps more so than fiction should be (though the plot is purely 100% fiction). But what was I doing writing a realistic contemporary novel, anyway?

As a kid, I read any and everything, but my first love was fantasy. LOTR, The Prydain Chronicles, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, so many awesome books. In middle school I veered off into reading historical novels for several years, and then something weird and wonderful happened: My mom started giving me all these gothic…romances? By authors like Victoria Holt. I won’t argue that these were great literature, and I think my mom gave them to me because I was reading above grade level and those books never had any sex in them, but they also had all these dark haunted manor houses and moors, and secret passages, and mysterious deaths. In middle school I also read Poe for the first time, and his work obviously had an impact on me, but my love has always been the novel, which may be why I took it upon myself to take the essence of Poe and try to make it into a novel, who knows?

In early high school I read everything ever written by VC Andrews, twice, and everything by Stephen King, and then I restarted with fantasy, science fiction, and every other weird bit of speculative fiction that I could get my hands on.

What this history of my childhood reading habits is meant to show is that if there is a particular type of book that I am well-suited to writing, that type of book is NOT realistic contemporary.

So that crazy weird dark mix of genres that I mentioned in the first paragraph? My post-apocalyptic steampunk reimagining of the world created in Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death? Add in speculative history, and maybe a dash of dystopia (since there is an evil dictator) and maybe that’s what I was meant to write. Or at least what I believe I am best suited to writing. And I guess figuring that out is the turning point that this post is meandering toward.

At the time when I composed the email to my former agent, gave it a lovely Monty Python–inspired title, and hit send, I hadn’t quite figured out what I wanted to write.

But I simply wasn’t that excited about doing another realistic book, so I sent her this other manuscript that I’d written during this dreamy state that I’d drifted through during my first pregnancy. It was a weird little fairy tale that I still sort of love. But, I mean, you can’t really spring a surprise like that on a person who is expecting a book about high school and expect anything good to come from it. My former agent said the voice was fantastic, but the rest was vague (it was) and that if I wanted to write fantasy I’d need to start from scratch and define all the rules of my world before I even started writing.

So, I never mentioned that manuscript again. Not to anyone. Not until right this minute. I didn’t respond to that email, I didn’t ask questions. I mentally shelved it forever.

And I went on to write a realistic contemporary manuscript that was probably as good as my first book, but wasn’t really where my heart was, and it didn’t sell.

At that point I didn’t really feel like a writer at all. Certainly not a successful one. And I had an idea for my next story that was huge and awe-inspiring and daunting, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. But that’s the sort of thing that speaks to me (huge and daunting, very dark and quite disturbing), so I jumped in.

My former agent had left the business, and I was agentless, making it a good time for reinventing myself, though the process, for me, was never that deliberate. I was still me, just a me who had become daring enough to create the sorts of settings and characters and stories that I was more qualified, and possibly uniquely qualified, to write.

I’m sure my current agent, Michael Bourret, will be reading this, since he’s also Nova’s agent, and if I wanted to be all sentimental (I don’t) I could say that signing with him was also a turning point, because he really got what I was trying to write, and I really needed someone to get it. These words from an early email, describing my writing—It’s dark, and sexy, and just the slightest bit wrong, but all in such a delicious way—expressed exactly what I was trying to do!

And I needed that validation.

So, I set out to write something different and unique, and what I came up with was Masque of the Red Death. The voice, the world, the setting, the characters, they were all exactly what I was meant to write. The sort of story that came naturally and felt right, and happily, I think it’s the sort of thing some people will enjoy very much. At least I hope so, because I’m going to leave realistic novels to the authors who have so much more to say in that genre. I’ll stick to weird dark gothic stories, with horror, adventure, and secret passageways. And scary crocodiles.

And just maybe, the occasional love triangle.


Bethany Griffin spends her days coaxing teenagers to read, and her evenings writing books that someone else can coax teenagers to read. She spends too much time reading and on the internet, and not enough time doing anything else, but rationalizes that everything else is overrated, anyway. Masque of the Red Death was just released on April 24, by GreenWillow Books.

Visit her online at www.bethanygriffin.com.


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED!

Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed and personalized* hardcover of Bethany Griffin’s new YA novel Masque of the Red Death:

Celeste

Congrats, Celeste! I will email you for your mailing address. Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.