JANUARY 9, 2018: FAILING UP
In 2016 my sister surprised me by sending me a good luck necklace. I had just come out of Pitch Wars (an incredible writing program I now volunteer as a mentor for) and was querying the third manuscript I had ever written. My hopes were high that I’d finally find my agent match. I wore that necklace often. Any time I took it off (which was only to shower or go swimming), I’d repeat a little mantra before I put it back on. This became an important ritual for me.
Not long after I first received the necklace, the full requests started rolling in and I eventually signed with the insightful and delightful Jess Dallow of Brower Literary & Management.
From then on, I referred to the necklace as my Felix Felicis necklace.
I’m a hard worker but I also have some very lofty goals and need all the luck I can get.
As I continue to charge towards these lofty goals, I’ve been thinking a lot about the feeling of failure. I read some lovely Tweets today, written by a dear friend of mine, about how failing is a fundamental part of being creative. One of the podcasts I regularly listen to talks about how it isn’t necessarily compelling to hear about the person who achieved success without any trouble, but you always want to talk to the person who is figuring out how to navigate their way through a difficult situation. And, of course, there is the message of the new Spider-Man movie.
…If you haven’t seen Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse yet, please do so. I’ll wait...
~cue instrumental version of the theme song from the original Spider-Man cartoon~
You back? Wasn’t it the best movie you’ve seen in a long time? I know! I laughed! I cried! I’m obsessed. ANYWAY, one of the messages of the movie is anyone can wear the mask. But being Spider-Man means you keep getting back up, regardless of how many times you’ve been knocked down. (My apologies if the wording of that last sentence caused you to get the earworm of a Chumbawumba song in your head. My further apologies if the sentence didn’t do it but invoking the name of the band did.)
MLC (my handsome husband) often asks me, “Don’t you want to work this hard at something that has a guarantee of success?” He sees me have little breakdowns and cannot fathom choosing a vocation this risky. The truth is, I can’t NOT do it. Even while attempting to wade through the endless quicksand of rejections and the near-constant waiting/refreshing of email, being creative fulfills me in a way nothing else can.
This writing career of mine has given me a high quantity of lows, but the quality of those highs is unbeatable.
So, as I fasten the clasp of my Felix Felicis necklace and look towards a new year, I’m thinking of the latest epistolary manuscript I’ve written and how proud I am of it. I’m thinking about the excitement of preparing it for the eyes of editors and publishers. I’m also thinking of the work I’m continuing to do with Alloy Entertainment, a company I admire with a team of people who are hilarious and brilliant and so, so supportive. Collaborating with them has definitely been one of those high quality highs.
Yes, I’ve done some failing. I’ve also learned a lot. And I’m continuing to work hard and wear my lucky necklace in the hopes this will be the year I finally get those lofty goals within my grasp and refuse to let go.
SEPTEMBER 25, 2018: I’M NOT AN OLD DOG, YOU CAD
I’m a little late posting my School Year’s Resolutions this year. As mentioned in my previous School Year’s Resolutions posts, instead of making goals I like to choose a word to live by. Last year my word was Go and go I did! I had some exciting career developments which led to a whirlwind trip to NYC. I did more hiking with my family (before the air quality plummeted due to the BC fires) and we spontaneously drove from Scottsdale to Las Vegas for a night. There was much Going to be had this past year, professionally and personally.
Last night as I was trying to get to sleep and not succumb to the rabid anxiety that’s been plaguing me this month, I brainstormed a new word to live by. I decided to go with Intention. When I was an actor, it was required by Cliché Law that I often asked myself, “What’s my motivation?” Every move, every line needed to be executed with intent.
This year I’m going to write with intent. I’m going to parent with intent. I’m going to exercise and read and snuggle my husband and kids and sometimes just breathe with intent.
But it isn’t just the new school year that has me feeling reflective. I celebrated my birthday a couple of weeks ago. MLC celebrates his in a week (I like to warm up our new age before he arrives so it’s nice and cozy, waiting for him).
For some reason turning thirty-eight reminded me of this retreat I went on when I worked as an administrative assistant/spy for the provincial government years ago. I don’t remember why, but there was some exercise where we had to write down some life goals. A few bucket list items, if you will. Here are the three I remember writing:
Become fluent in French: I did end up taking some French courses through the university around that time but, despite getting straight A’s, I don’t see myself ever making it past the “able to talk about the weather/order at a restaurant with proficiency” stage.
Live Abroad: I still carry this romantic notion of MLC and I packing up the kids and living in England or Thailand or some other land for a year or two. This one probably isn’t going to happen either. Because life and work and school, etc.
Write a Novel: Hooray for me! I’ve completed five novels since then and written partials of a handful of others.
Reflecting on these goals got me thinking about all the things I haven’t accomplished yet. Sure, there are the big ones; I’m still working towards getting one of those novels I’ve written/started writing published. But there are also smaller, more surmountable tasks I need to master as well. Ones that, at my seasoned thirty-eight years, still allude me. I’m not an idiot, I just can’t seem to get a handle on these things. Here they are:
Finally remember whether the word is “stigmatism” or “astigmatism.” I have one of these. It’s in my right eye. I think I know which one is right and then the word comes up in conversation and I don’t know whether I’m supposed to say, “a stigmatism” or “an astigmatism.” Dammit. I really thought spellcheck was going to help me out here, but it isn’t underlining anything in this paragraph. THANKS FOR NOTHING, SPELLCHECK.
Spell the word “occasion” correctly on the first try. Hey! I did it that time! If I do it a few more times, I’m removing this one from the list.
Figure out the difference between a honeydew and a cantaloupe. Yes, I know one is orange and one is green. And I’ve had people give me little tricks to remember (maybe a rhyme that says something about bees?). But my brain refuses to retain this information. You know what I can remember? Every lyric to every song from two Rick Astley albums. Why has that information stuck around? The honeydew/cantaloupe thing feels more relevant to my life than Rick Astley does these days.
Maybe by this time next year I’ll be typing a blog update in French from my flat in Brussels. And then I’ll cut up fresh melons for my husband and children as I talk about how my eye problems still bother me on occasion.
AUGUST 14, 2018: OUR 2018 #PITCHWARS WISH LIST!
Hello, potential future mentees! We’ve been waiting for you. Pull up a chair (or a bean bag or one of those chaise longues people like to faint on) and let’s get to know each other, shall we?
Who We Are
SONIA: I was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2013, and I’m forever grateful for the experience. I learned so much about pacing, plotting, dialogue, balancing showing and telling, and inserting emotion into prose. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to pay that forward, having been a mentor since 2015. Last year I co-mentored with Annette, who was one of my 2016 mentees and one of my favorite people on the planet, and it was so much fun we decided to do it again this year. My debut, HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME, is coming out in Fall 2019 with Page Street, and I’m rep’d by Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency. I’ve published short stories in a variety of journals, and when I’m not writing, I like playing board games with my family, trying new breweries, or doing anything outdoors in the fall.
ANNETTE: In 2016, Sonia selected me to be one of her Pitch Wars mentees. In 2017, Sonia and I got Pitch Wars-married and co-mentored the most wonderful writer whom we still love and talk to every day. This is our second year co-mentoring and I couldn’t be happier. I’m Canadian-American, which means I am regularly editing all those extra u’s out of my words. I’ve published articles with websites such as HelloGiggles and am currently working with the fabulous Alloy Entertainment. I write contemporary YA and Women’s Fiction. I’m repped by Jess Dallow of Brower Literary Management. In addition to writing, I have a background in acting and working weird jobs.
What We Do
If selected as our mentee, you’ll get an initial edit letter from us. This may include sweeping changes or small tweaks (or both). We’re here to talk through any questions you may have as you revise. Once you’re finished with this draft, we’ll do at least one more read-through with you to do line-edits (and gush about your story). We’d also like to have a video chat with you as we prepare your pitch and partial for the Agent Showcase.
In addition to our overlapping craft and editing strengths, we come with our own Super Mentor Powers.
SONIA: Setting and humor are my favorite things. I love the kind of setting that feels like another character, where the entire atmosphere can be used to convey the mood of the story, and I especially enjoy settings that work against the main character in humorous ways.
ANNETTE: I specialize in voice and dialogue.My background in acting has given me a leg up here. I’ve also cracked that pacing nut and can help you turn your manuscript into a page-turner.
Why You Want to Submit to Us
Since we’ve both been mentees before, we know what it feels like and what to expect. We will work hard to help you whip your manuscript into shape while still respecting the vision you have for your story. We promise to support and nourish your manuscript as well as you as a writer (and a human). We understand there will be moments during the process of revising your manuscript when you will want to laugh and cry and cry while laughing and laugh while crying, etc. Revising a manuscript can be painful. We’re here for that. We’ll keep our wits about us if you lose yours. We will mentor you in a way that is collaborative and encouraging, and you will leave our loving arms a better writer. Except don’t go too far, because we want to support you well after Pitch Wars is over.
What We Want in a Mentee
We’re looking for a mentee who can take criticism well and is ready to work. Having a sense of humor definitely helps. Most of all, we’re looking for a mentee with a manuscript that’s almost there but needs just a little bit of love.
What We Want in Our Inbox
We’re looking for YA Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller, Historical Fiction from 1900’s and up, and some Paranormal (witches and ghosts only).
Give us your strong female friendships, your feminists, and your HEA (or HFN) intersectional queer stories. We want to see complicated families and the families you choose. We love sex positivity and big issues that are worked through with hilarity and heart. And if your MC has ever been described as
‘unlikeable’ there is a solid chance we’re going to love them.
If you can give us goosebumps with spooky settings and unreliable narrators, we want those too. We’ll fall for anything that can keep us guessing until the end. We especially love mysteries that subvert familiar tropes and classic settings with a modern voice.
We’d love a ghost story. Actual ghost is cool, but ambiguous ghost is cooler. Make us question whether or not the haunting is real or all in your MCs mind (think an updated YA version of THE TURN OF THE SCREW).
A mystery with a gothic atmosphere would be awesome! Same for suspense, that slow building sense of danger with a thick atmosphere is the best.
For thriller, anything with a fast pace that keeps our hearts racing would be excellent.
We like to feel all the feelings. We love wit, we love to laugh until our sides hurt, and we love the strange and the quirky. We want to care about your characters so much we have a book hangover from reading your words.
Top 5 Tropes
Enemies to Lovers
Friends to Lovers
Close Proximity/Bottle Episodes
Fish Out of Water
Top 5 Settings
Spooky old houses
Top 5 Character Types
Anyone who makes us laugh
Smartest person in the room
Someone who’s keeping a secret
Top 5 Book Comps
THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo
FOOLISH HEARTS by Emma Mills
THE SUMMER OF JORDI PEREZ by Amy Spalding
LITTLE MONSTERS by Kara Thomas
UNDEAD GIRL GANG by Lily Anderson
Top 5 Movie Comps
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
Top 5 Miscellaneous
Old trunks with secrets
Non-traditional structures (epistolary, non-chronological, verse)
Characters with cool jobs & hobbies (podcasts, all-girl bands, role-playing games, fire-eating, etc)
What We’re Not the Best Mentors For
Fantasy (we would be open for a contemporary fantasy involving witches, though we’d want it grounded in the real world)
Vampires, werewolves, zombies, angels, demons, mermaids, or shifters
Anything related to medical stuff or diseases
What Will Happen If We Request Your Submission
We will be requesting a synopsis if the query and pages catch our eyes, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be full of voice or contain every detail. We just want to see if your plot architecture holds up.
JUNE 20, 2018: THE DEVIL DOESN’T ALWAYS WEAR PRADA
I just started reading When Life Gives You Lululemons, which is a sort of sequel to The Devil Wears Prada, as it features the character Emily Blunt played in the movie…and hey I just realized Emily Blunt’s character was also named Emily!
…No, you’re right. That isn’t an interesting factoid at all so much as a humdrum coincidence.
I’ve also started watching the Netflix romcom Set It Up, which has a similar smart-but-underappreciated-assistant-works-for-tyrant-of-a-boss vibe.
The overlap of content I’m currently taking in has carried me down memory lane to my days working as an administrative assistant in various offices. While I don’t have any nightmare scenarios of Miranda Priestly proportions, there are a few bewildering instances that stand out. Allow me to share my top three:
Bewildering Instance #3: Happy Birthday, Boss’s Wife!
I had a boss who approached my desk, handed me his credit card and said, “You’re going to need to buy my wife a birthday present during your lunch break and then wrap it.”
She got a watch that year. I hope she liked it.
This shopping trip was definitely a better task than that time a man walked in, handed me a stack of hundreds of business cards, and told me to put them in a binder alphabetically. He wasn’t even my boss, just another employee. What an ass.
Bewildering Instance #2: Validate Me!
The end of the work day was nearing when my boss exited his office, put his head on my desk and whined, “Am I a bad father?”
I’d worked for him for a month at that point. I had no idea whether or not he was a bad father. What I did know was there was only one right answer to that question. I soothed his ego as best I could without rolling my eyes.
Bewildering Instance #1: The Bad Sister
My sister had decided to leave her post as receptionist of an office. She talked her boss into hiring me as her replacement.
One day, early into the job, my boss called me into his office. He actually bellowed my name from his desk, so it was clear he wanted to see me immediately. I was worried about leaving the phones unattended, but I figured it must be important. When I entered his office, I saw a handsome young guy in there. “Annette! This is my son!” my boss gushed.
He was definitely trying to set us up.
When I relayed this story to my sister she responded with, “That’s weird. He warned me to stay away from his son because he said his son’s a real playboy and I’m much too nice for him.”
That’s when I learned I’m actually the Bad Sister.
In conclusion, treat the assistants in this world with respect. At best, they’re mocking you behind your back. At worst, they’re compiling information with which to blackmail you/write a future NYT bestseller.
(in Miranda Priestly voice) “That’s all.”
JANUARY 30, 2018: RESTLESS SOUL SYNDROME or IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE GOOD
In the last five years, I’ve written five manuscripts…as well as lots of other things. If I’m not actively working on something, I get Restless Soul Syndrome. It’s a lot like Restless Leg Syndrome, but instead of legs, the creepy-crawly-pins-and-needles feeling is deep down in my gut.
I’ve suffered from this affliction most of my life. As a child, I combatted it by writing short stories and using my watercolours as I watched Bob Ross on PBS. As a teenager, I fought it with poetry and stream of consciousness essays. As a young adult, I round kicked it through theatre.
Even now, I try not to take more than a week off writing at a time. During those uncreative periods, I can be found wailing, “I AM UNTETHERED!” to the sky/my very tall spouse.
It’s not good for me. It’s not good for the darlings who live with me.
After reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa, I’ve come to realize something: I don’t have to have uncreative periods at all. And I don’t always have to be creating something “good.”
Desperate to create something but don’t have any ideas?
Elizabeth Gilbert encourages readers to court Inspiration like a lover; light a few candles, wear something flattering. Tell Inspiration you are ready. (I’m telling you this works. I wrote a manuscript I love in between chapters of Big Magic because Inspiration wouldn’t leave my side.)
Feeling the urge to be artistic but don’t think you have any talent?
Who cares?! Sara Benincasa would tell you to go to the art supply store, buy a bunch of on sale stuff, and make something terrible. It’s very freeing. I do this with my kids semi-regularly.
When I was sixteen or seventeen, I handed in one of my stream of consciousness essays as a high school English writing assignment because it was already written, sort of fit within the requirements of the assignment, and I did not apply myself as a student back then. The next day I was late for school and I had English first period. This was probably the only time I was late for school in my entire high school career (I’m pathologically punctual). In my absence, my English teacher, who resembled Ned Flanders, read my essay out loud to the class. I showed up after he’d already finished.
Gauging the expressions on the faces of my fellow students when I walked in, the collective opinion of my stream of consciousness essay was, “WELL, THAT WAS WEIRD.” Ned Flanders, however, thought it was wonderful. I did not think Ned was wonderful for reading my writing out loud to the class without my permission.
After that, the cat was out of the bag. Pre-Ned-reading-my-essay-out-loud, I was “secretly weird.” Ned’s betrayal had robbed me of the “secretly” part of my brand.
I have since forgiven Ned, for I now wave my freak flag proudly. Doing so makes me feel more like Me and helps satiate that Restless Soul Syndrome.
Let’s create some art today, friends. Who cares if it’s any good.