Wednesday, January 08, 2020

My 2019 Alphabet

So here we are, eight days into 2020. I've gone to that website where they give you a picture of your nine most-liked pictures on Instagram from the past year (above) and it looks about like you'd expect.

I've been sick for every single day of 2020 so far. There's a blizzard. #WWIII is trending on Twitter and the hashtag is mostly people making flippant jokes about war (yikes). But I'm in a coffee shop, sitting by the window with an Americano, blowing my nose and watching the snowstorm. I'm the only one here. I'm warm. Still sick as a dog.* Listening to the Many Beautiful Things soundtrack and trying to work on novel three, which is giving me so much grief. So I figured I'd open up my trusty ol' Blogger in another window and, when my brain stalls in the book, I'll pop over here and write a sentence or two and then zip back over there. It'll work or it won't, but at least I'll feel and appear more productive. I'll look like I'm writing a novel, and maybe that will be enough to trick my brain into, you know, writing a novel.

What better time, then, to do my annual introspective study of the year behind me, wherein I use the alphabet to make note of 26 memorable things or lessons or events from that time period?

Alright, here we go:

A -A few of my favorite songs that didn't necessary come out this year but which I listened to a lot this year: Agnes by Glass Animals, Mansion Door by Shakey Graves, Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers, Catch Me by Marissa Burwell, So Down by Mother Mother, Chesapeake by Better Oblivion Community Center and Harmony Hall by Vampire Weekend
B - Book clubs! I visited Sam Macaig's book club, the Newcomers Book Club, the Sherwood Branch Book Club, and the Northern Lights Book Club (online). I was super nervous for all of them, but ended up having so much fun. 
C - Cracked my tailbone when I fell down some stairs. That was at the beginning of December and it still HURTS SO BAD. 
D - Didn't leave Saskatchewan, not even once, that I can recall. No wait—
E - Elise, my little sister, lives in Brandon, MB now, and we visited her this summer. So never mind! We did leave Saskatchewan for a weekend.
F - Finished writing and editing Sorry I Missed You, got a pub date lined up—it was such a faster process the second time around.
G - Got started writing a third book—and, before I'd finished that one, a fourth, because I am dumb.
H - Hospital visits: Just one—Scarlett broke her arm when she fell off a jungle gym.
I - Interviews. I did quite a few interviews coming off of the release of V&V, and the reason you probably don't know about them is that I'm scared of you. Public speaking isn't my strong suit, and some of the interviews were LIVE, which meant that I wasn't even able to be edited into coherence. But in the off chance that you happened to be in Mississippi in June and you tuned into the right radio station at the right time and thought to yourself, "Is that Suzy? Because that sounds just like Suzy, and she sounds like she's going to vomit," I'm here to tell you that, yes, it was and, yes, probably. This was one of my biggest fears going into the whole publishing thing and I don't know that I'd say I've conquered my fear of interviews, but I would say that I'm improving and that it's been very good for me to be forced to do something I'm terrified of.
J - Joined the Saskatchewan Writers' Guild. 
K - Kindergarten! Sully went to school and it has been amazing for him. He loves it, and I'm so, so, so thankful.
L - Live music: Marissa Burwell, Kathleen Edwards, Close Talker, Shakey Graves, Nick Faye, Steven Page, the RSO (wow, that is a much shorter list than usual...)
M - Met a lot of really great new people—most of them were, surprise surprise, book people. Book bloggers, book distributors and promoters (shout out, Thomas Allen friends!), publicists, editors, etc etc. 
N - No.
O - Oh, I finally got a haircut that I really liked. Several years ago, I got a terrible haircut that had sharp, pronounced layers (I unaffectionately referred to it as my "staircut" and no hairdresser has been able to sort it out properly—UNTIL TWENTY NINETEEN. Finally.
P - Paper Umbrella hosted my book launch party and so many wonderful friends came and made treats for it and made me feel special and happy and loved. I haven't blogged about it because last summer was so intense, but I should, still. 
Q - Quit being a Tourism Ambassador for Tourism Regina. Not because I hated it or anything like that, but because I just don't have the time anymore. Sad. But! Before I quit, they sent me to Swamp Fest, Folk Fest, the Forward Currents Festival, and Winterruption.
R - Read 19 or 20 books this year. Many of them were written by friends, which was fun.
S - Scarlett turned three and Sully turned five.
T - Ten years married to Barclay! 
U - Underwent two routine dental cleanings. 
V - Valencia and Valentine was published in June.
W - Watched Barclay own his first full season as a business owner. I watched him work hard all day every day (and most nights) and was so proud of him, of his integrity and determination. We didn't have a lot of free time, but I think I'll always treasure this summer together anyway—late nights side by side on our laptops, working really hard at our respective dreams.
X - XXXII (I turned 32)
Y - Yes! I was really successful at growing strawberries this summer—comparatively speaking. Like, compared to myself last year and the year before that, I mean. 
Z - Zipped out to the grocery store a lot because I'm terrible at just, like, doing a list and buying all the things on it once a week. I'm in there twice a day sometimes. It's whatever. I'll get better at it.

The End.

*Why do we say that? "Sick as a dog?" It's not like all dogs are sick all the time. Do dogs get extra sick when they get sick? More sick than people? I'm going to google this, hang on a sec...
Okay, I googled it and apparently it's just that dogs were viewed as undesirable animals in the 17th century and so there were a lot of idioms that used dogs as kind of an indicator of how bad something really was—"tired as a dog" "dog's breakfast" etc. 

Friday, November 01, 2019

A Family Newsletter

The sky is the color of a used eraser and the roads are sludgy and Sullivan has mysterious red spots all over the palms of his hands so I kept him home from school today. It's nap time; Scarlett's sleeping and Sully's curled up in my bed watching Paw Patrol. I'm in the living room at my desk with a cup of coffee and massive blanket and leftover Halloween candy. I've lit a candle for maximum Hygge. People swear by lighting a candle.
I've now lit a second candle because the first one wasn't doing anything for me.
I'm giving the candles a moment to kick in.
Okay, well, I'm feeling no effect from the candles, but the blanket is nice.
It's been a long time since I've blogged about something other than publishing (I guess the last time would've been in June when that guy tried to break into our house in the middle of the night), and I enjoy stream-of-consciousness writing, like in the good old days of blogging, so here's that. In fact, maybe I'll reach even further back in time and do, like, an old-school family newsletter-type blog post. The kind your family got in the mail in the 90s from your mom's friend whose kids are around the same age as you—who she says you were besties with when you were two and she's shocked you can't remember them because you loved each other so much it was adorable—but, really, you were two.
Here goes:

Life is quiet lately. Barclay's first full landscaping season (which went swimmingly, I thought) is finally starting to wind down; he's got a few projects to finish up and then we're into snow clearing days—which means that we get to see him more, but also that I get a bit of time to leave the house and work during the day, which I'm excited for. I like being a stay-at-home mom, but I also really like working and letting Barclay be at home with the kids. Plus, the winter schedule means I get my evenings off (*trumpets*). In the summer, because I don't really get to work during the day, I generally work from 7 pm until...whenever I can afford to go to sleep. In the winter, I get to watch Netflix and read books in the evenings and hang out with people. It feels amazing. Balance, you guys. Totally underrated. I'm working on book three, but it's not under contract so I have a bit of room to breathe and not run myself into the ground over it (again).
Sullivan's in kindergarten now. That's weird. He loves it, which is great. Generally, he's really nervous about new people and new situations, so I was fully prepared for the kindergarten experience to be...hard. To put it lightly. But on his first day, Sully just hugged me goodbye and disappeared into the school with all these kids and teachers he'd never even seen before. I could tell he was nervous but he just did it. I, obviously, burst into tears and another mom came over and said stuff to me like, "It's hard, isn't it? When they don't need you anymore?" and "He'll be okay; this school is so great." And I was crying so hard I couldn't talk so I just fanned my face like I'd just won a beauty pageant and nodded like I was sad that he didn't need me anymore or like I was worried about him. But the truth was, I was so proud of him, and that was it. He's still into drumming and pretending to be an adult man for hours at a time.
Scarlett and I are spending a lot of one-on-one time together, and that's good too. I mean, she's pretty cranky about not being allowed to go to kindergarten and even more cranky about not having Sully around, but I can tell she also likes having the house (and me) to herself. She's talking so much now and her most frequently used phrase is, "Oh! I love that!" or, when she's eating, "This is a happy meal!" (Even if it's not actually a Happy Meal.)
That's...basically it. I know my newsletter skills hardly rival that of a legit 90s mom, but maybe that's okay? It's really not a fair fight anyway, since you can't use your fancy Stampin' Up scissors on the edges of a blog page.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Goodbye, Proofreads!

Well, that's that: I've sent off my final proofreads for Sorry I Missed You. This is the part where my editor politely pries my fingers off my manuscript and gives it to lots of other people and I try my best to distract myself from all of the untapped possibilities still in there. You know when you read a book and you think, "I wish the author would've explored that concept more" or "I needed more closure on this one storyline" or "I loved the whole book except this part..."?

Welcome to my entire life.

If they would've let me, I would've edited Valencia and Valentine for fifty more years. Same with Sorry I Missed You. I think you kind of need to be a chronic over-thinker in order to write a novel, but dang. It makes it almost impossible to let go of the thing. Especially since you write a book over the course of many months (or years, in my case) and you change as a person as you're writing. You meet new people and experience new things and life happens to you and around you, to your friends and on the news. And every time you return to these fictitious people, you can't help but want to teach them what you're learning, or introduce them to people you've met, or put them through something you're going through just so you can write it out. You gain empathy and perspective, and you want to put that in there, too.

I suppose it's good that I have people who pull this stuff out of my hands at some point—people I trust, who care a lot (my editor, for example, just emailed me about a missing comma; I love her) and who won't put it out there before it's ready.

So anyway. Those are off. ARCs are in production and the book wheels are in motion. I'm starting to work on marketing and publicity stuff. They tell me I need to make a street team (do you want to be on my street team? Apply within). The book comes out in a little over seven months.

Now, my most immediate job is housework.

You know how authors' houses in movies are just indoor junkyards? That's so accurate. If my kids are sleeping, I am working. My office is in the living room. I'm not sure when anyone expects me to do, like, housewifing. So I step over the piles of stuff, I move the piles of stuff, I sit on and amongst the piles of stuff. The piles of stuff grow and multiply and become cognizant and develop charming personalities and we give them names and they become part of the family. It's quite something.

So now that I have a little break from deadlines and contracts, I am going to take care of that. Goodbye, piles of stuff! Goodbye, Gretched and Larrin and Marvit! (My three favorite piles of stuff.)

Goodbye, blogworld! (Until next time.)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

A COVER REVEAL! And So Many Other Words

At last, I get to share the cover for my second book. But first! Preamble!


This book is nothing—at all—like Valencia and Valentine. I just feel like I need to say that. People have asked if it's a sequel, or if it has similar themes, characters, anything—nope. But I did write both books, so it will bear a certain family resemblance, I'm sure. Personally, I think this one's funnier. Lighter. Fewer people die in it.

I got the idea for this one when I was out for a walk with Sullivan a few years ago. I'd recently finished writing Valencia and Valentine but I was not finished writing, period, if you know what I mean. I still wanted to sit at my desk and make stuff up, but I had no story. I had no characters, no hooks, no settings. So I put Sullivan in a wagon and I literally went out to find a story to write.

Sullivan loved that wagon; I could've walked for days with him happily reclining in there, watching the houses roll past—which was good, because I walked for probably two hours before I found this story. It was on a street full of old houses and mature trees that stretched their branches over the road like they were holding hands with each other, completely blocking the sky. I stopped in front of this massive white house with a creaky porch and three mailboxes. And I thought, this house looks like it's haunted, and also, I wonder if the people who live here get along with each other.

And then I thought about how fun it might be to write about a haunted house, and about tenants who are very different from each other and have nothing in common except this one thing: they all live in a haunted house. And then I thought about a friend of mine who'd recently suddenly stopped talking to me for no reason, and about a conversation I'd had with a different friend about that experience, about being "ghosted." And I thought that maybe the people who lived in the house could have that in common too—because it's kind of a universal experience, being ghosted, isn't it? And I thought I'd call it Ghosting Stories because of the ghosts in the house and the ghosts in the people's pasts (the title was the only part that didn't stick). And then I went home and started writing it.

I sold it to Lake Union at the same time as I sold V&V, its name has been changed to Sorry I Missed You, and it's coming out on June 2, 2020.

Okay. The cover.

The cover process is easily one of my favorite parts of having a book published. Maybe the main reason I love it so much is that, unlike every single other thing about publishing a book, it's not hard—I just wake up to an email one day that's like, "Here are some possible designs. Which ones do you like and why?"

I've never had a hard time having and giving opinions.

I weigh in and my lovely editor, Alicia, adds her thoughts and my wonderful agent, Victoria, agrees with us (we all seem to be on the same page about basically everything and WHAT A BLESSING THAT IS) and then the marketing team gives their opinion (their opinion, obviously, holds the most weight). We pick a design and go back and forth with the designer, who swiftly chisels and whittles and doodles away at it until it's something that a whole bunch of people can agree on, which is like a magic trick.

The aforementioned magician is Liz Casal. I wish I could show you all of the designs, because even the "rough sketches" she sent were incredible. As it is, I'm only going to show you this one:

Isn't it great? I'm going to paste the promo text below so you don't have to squint to read the back:

A poignant and heartwarming novel about friendship, ghosting, and searching for answers to life’s mysteries.
When Mackenzie, Sunna, and Maude move into a converted rental house, they are strangers with only one thing in common—important people in their lives have “ghosted” them. Mackenzie’s sister, Sunna’s best friend, and Maude’s fiancĂ©—all gone with no explanation.
So when a mangled, near-indecipherable letter arrives in their shared mailbox—hinting at long-awaited answers—each tenant assumes it’s for her. The mismatched trio decides to stake out the coffee shop named in the letter—the only clue they have—and in the process, a bizarre kinship forms. But the more they learn about each other, the more questions (and suspicions) they begin to have. All the while, creepy sounds and strange happenings around the property suggest that the ghosts from their pasts might not be all that’s haunting them…
Will any of the housemates find the closure they are looking for? Or are some doors meant to remain closed?
Quirky, humorous, and utterly original, Sorry I Missed You is the perfect read for anyone who has ever felt haunted by their past (or by anything else).

So that's what's coming down the chute next.
You can preorder it here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Feelings (and the Lack Thereof)

I sent in my copyedits for book two a couple of weeks ago, and then I shut my laptop and cleaned the bathroom.

Copyedits aren't my favorite part of the whole publishing process. You're not really supposed to change stuff at that stage (that's what the developmental edits are for), but I'm picky and I overthink things, so I end up changing quite a bit and feeling bad for the proofreader and wishing I had many more rounds of edits to go. To shuffle punctuation and change people's clothing and think of different ways to describe their facial expressions. Rewrite whole chapters. Rewrite the book. Etcetera. Do you know how hard it is to commit? To say, yes, you can print it and let it be like this forever. I don't want to change a thing...?

So, upon finally hitting send, I thought I might feel relieved or excited or something. But I didn't feel anything. I couldn't figure out why. It was like when you go to the dentist and they freeze your gums and you go out afterward and you don't realize you're drooling down your shirt because they also kind of froze your lips and chin.

You're so numb you don't even know you're numb.

Writing and publishing my first book was like being in a new relationship. It was full of neon feelings—sitting down to write every day was exhilarating (I was writing a book!), an email asking me to fill out US tax forms was thrilling (I was gonna get paid!), the cover concepts came in (a cover!). Every decision, every email, every meeting felt magical. And every time I sent off a round of edits, I celebrated like I'd climbed a new mountain. I loved all of it, even the hard stuff, because it was all going to culminate in that big day, the day every little girl dreams of and plans for her whole life, that ultimate party—Publication Day.

May 1, 2019 couldn't come soon enough.

And then May 1, 2019 came, and it was...a humbling experience.

(I've always kind of hated when people use that word on social media—it's usually in the context of receiving an award or a lot of recognition for something they did, or a new job or position or promotion. "I'm so humbled to announce..." As if they feel they shouldn't say "proud" so they replace it with...its exact opposite. But when I say now that this has been a humbling experience, I mean it the way I think it should be meant.)

The ironic thing is that my journey to being published began with a good humbling. It was humility boot camp. Publishing is intrinsically deflating. It's hard to get into, it's exclusive. You send off query letters and you're rejected, often, with silence, or with robotic-sounding form letters (which is worse? No one can say!). You move on to being rejected in personal-sounding emails, having your hopes raised by the odd interested agent who wants to read your book (but then doesn't want to sign you). And after you finally accept an offer of representation, you go onto the next Horrible Thing: Submissions, where once again you're rejected over and over, this time by editors and, if you're lucky, whole acquisitions teams! Your book is discussed in meetings, passed around offices, deliberated upon, and you receive emails explaining why your work won't be published by that house.

By the time I finally arrived at my publisher, I was, I thought, firmly 'in my place.' I knew I wasn't the best or the brightest, that I had so much to learn and so much growing to do, that I was very lucky to have gotten this far at all. I was ready for the negative reviews, ready for the awkward IRL conversations, ready for my book to make it onto zero lists and to be read by exactly three people. Ready for anything. I had already had my hopes and dreams crushed many times over and I was now resilient and lowly, with alligator skin and a meek, heavily-armored heart.

I guess I still had further to fall. You should never assume you've been all the way humbled.

Where was I? Oh yeah: May 1, 2019.

The big day came and my book went out into the world. Reviews began to trickle in within 12 hours. People began to send emails and tag me in social media posts. And, it turned out, I wasn't as ready as I thought. Maybe I'd forgotten some of the lessons I'd learned in the prior years? Or maybe I just wasn't ready for Goodreads culture, where the Golden Rule is: if you get your feelings hurt, it's your own fault for reading what we've said about you. I know I wasn't ready for people to make personal judgments about my character or my mental health based on a fictitious person who is, you know, not me. I wasn't ready to be called names. I'd never been in the public eye before, had never received unfiltered feedback about myself in front of other people.

I also didn't come equipped with the ability to not read my reviews. There are at least twenty people reading this who think that's stupid, that everyone has the ability to not read their reviews, and at least ten who actually believe it's wrong for authors to read their reviews—they would say, "If you can't hack it, you shouldn't have become an author." (But how do you know you can't hack it until you've experienced it? Please don't overestimate my self-awareness. It's almost non-existent. Besides, if you were in a coffee shop and you realized the people at the next table were full-on discussing you...wouldn't you be curious about what they were saying? No? Well your self-confidence and self-control are astounding and I applaud you and I wish I was more like you but I'm just not.)

On one of my worst days, I read ten reviews right in a row from people who not only didn't like V&V, but who were downright angry about having read it, as though I'd done something wrong or spiteful or mean in having written it. They used words like 'aggravated' and 'mad' and 'disappointed' and 'furious' and, once, 'waaaaahhhhhh.' They wanted their time back and I actually felt bad that I couldn't give it to them.

I'm trying to think of a way to say this that won't make me sound whiny or unprofessional, but I can't think of that way, so I'm going to say it this way: it killllllled me. It was torture tailor-made for me, and I hated every second of it. It sucked every drop of magic out of the perfect daydream that was becoming an author. I was supposed to be promoting my book and I found that I couldn't because I didn't want more people reading it and saying horrible things about it. I started to feel anxious about writing anything—an instagram caption, an email, a blog post. Let alone, you know, another book.

But also, I was under contract for another book, and that book was due in July. At the time, this felt like the worst thing. I didn't want to write another book, and I didn't want to publish another book, and I began to understand why authors in movies are depicted as grumpy and frumpy and reclusive. I felt stupid and I couldn't think of anything for my characters to do other than sit at tables and frown at each other.

It felt like the worst thing, but maybe it was actually good? I mean, I channeled all of my big stormy feelings into that book and finished it. Maybe it was something akin to getting back on the horse right after you fall off it.

(I don't ride horses but I fell off a bike twelve years ago and have not been on a bike since so that should give you a picture of how self-motivated I am to adhere to this philosophy. I needed that contract.)

People use the phrase 'thick skin' when talking about negative feedback in the publishing realm. Like, "Yes, this sucks, but soon you will have thick skin and this will just roll off your back." I took that to heart, and spent most of this summer waiting for my skin to thicken. When I sent off those copyedits the other day and suddenly didn't feel anything, I thought, maybe this is it? Maybe this state of numbness—no excitement, no anxiety—is thick skin. Maybe I'm a real writer now and I can just do this like it's work and it won't bother me that "BookClubGal53" in some unknown corner of the USA thinks my "prose" is "ham-fisted" or whatever.

I popped over to my Amazon page that night and read some reviews to test the theory out. The good reviews didn't make me smile, but the bad reviews didn't make me sad. So that was it, then. Too bad, I thought passively, my heart is now a frozen, drool-covered chin. The magic is gone. 

But the thing about those needles they give you at the dentist is that they wear off. Nobody's chin stays frozen forever, thank goodness, and you wouldn't want it to. A blocked-off nerve ending keeps you from feeling pain for a few hours, but it doesn't keep you from getting hurt. It's not a long-term solution; it doesn't make you invincible, and it actually inhibits you in a lot of ways. And I bet 'thick skin,' if it even exists, is similar. It's armor you put on, maybe subconsciously, to keep yourself from feeling the root-canal-like sensations that come when someone says something really, really bad about something you've lovingly worked on for four years.

In the past couple of weeks, I've been thinking about this a lot. This new numbness makes for easy review-reading, but it also makes it impossible to write, to enjoy music, to smile at people. The sad feelings made writing cathartic but they pulled a wet blanket over the fun parts of publishing a book—the book clubs, the parties, the promotional stuff, the interviews. I just want to be excited about all this again. I want to figure out a way to read a negative review and hear it and not dismiss it (some of the negative reviews have actually been very enlightening) but also not read it like it's a review of me. And I want to read the positive reviews and trust them and let them make me happy. Because honestly, I think they'd be my favorite part of sending a book out into the world if I wasn't so distracted by the negative ones.

My conclusion? Oh, I have all kinds of conclusions here:

1. Numbness is okay. Self-protection is fine, for a time, and local anesthetics are essential (see also: epidurals). But

2. feelings are good and if I had to choose between thick skin and the vibrant, firework feelings of my pre-published life, I'd choose the FEEEEELINGS. Maybe being a thin-skinned person is actually an advantage for a writer? Like, yes, it sucks when you're getting feedback, but it really helps when you're trying to create a multi-dimensional character with their own emotions and stuff.


4. humility is not a thing that you can achieve once and for all because pride is a living, breathing monster that basically wants to take over your whole entire being. You think it's harmless, but being humbled after going on a pride trip, even if you didn't notice you were on one, is like falling from a skyscraper. Except

5. humiliation is not actually fatal. It's healthy. But you should never presume to have reached the basement because the basement has basements.

You know when you're on your way home from the dentist, and your mouth is frozen, and you wiggle your jaw around to try and get the numbness to wear off faster? I'm not sure if there's a way to do that with your brain, but this was my attempt at it, writing all this out. Fingers crossed it works.