The shape of it

I started something new yesterday. Two somethings, actually, because I couldn’t decide between them. One is YA, the other is MG. One is fantasy, the other is magical contemporary. One I’ve been thinking about for three years, the other I brainstormed in a fit of excitement with a friend a week ago. Neither of them have a very solid plot. Both of them have characters I’d die for.

New things are exciting. I love that rush of joy that comes with watching a new world take careful shape under your hands. I live for those moments when you see the first threads of what will be powerful scenes and memorable lines. I thrive on that first 10k, when the options are limitless and the story is this lovely shapeless, unformed thing of possibility and probable perfection.

New things are horrifying. I hate that rush of terror that comes with the first wrong turn, a spray of words leaving your fingers that makes the world clunky, the plot unstable, the characters annoying. I fear those moments when you see the first signs of struggle, when your brain suddenly remembers that novels are quite long and omg what is anyone on the page even doing, who are these people and what were you thinking trying to forge a universe out of coffee grounds and ink stains? I fight with that first 10k, when it might turn out you don’t have an idea after all but a bunch of words splattered on a page that are going absolutely nowhere.

My process is a hot mess. I think this is mostly due to my ADHD, because I can’t see the whole picture when it’s not concrete and my brain is desperately trying to look beyond details to the Golden threads of plot and character growth but also what if I spent six pages describing the smell of a winter morning?

I am learning to plot and to outline. Learning what works for me and what doesn’t, what gives me structure without losing excitement, what allows me to feel these unwritten, unwieldy worlds have legs to stand on but also haven’t walked away from me. I LOVE revision, when these crazy sprawling documents start to become something with meaning. I don’t love drafting, even with vague outlines and suggestions of plot. Creating something from nothing will always, for me, be difficult in a way no other experience or challenge can manage.

But that first 10k. Electrifying and terrible, potential and chaos.

That’s the stuff writing is all about.


The Dip



What brought me back here again after all this time?

1) A slow-growing sense that my writing benefited from when I used to blog regularly, and had a space to reflect on life, and on the ways writing and being a human merge, and where they depart. I want that reflective space back again, and I want to feel like I’m inviting other people into the journey. I read an old post of mine- I guess it’s really probably only a few back because HAHA TIME and it hit me how much I’ve grown up as a writer, and as a human, and how powerful it is to see that growth on the reflective page.

2) I got diagnosed with ADHD, and I’m learning to accept that I’ll never never be one of those tidy people with a regular posting schedule and predictable content. Alas. But I’ve accepted it, which gives me permission to post again even if it is EIGHT MONTHS LATER yet again and even if WordPress is so rude about it.

Incidentally autocorrect wanted to turn tidy people into tofu people and idk maybe that’s not wrong?

3) I want to talk about dips. Not the chip kind, tho that would be a far tastier subject, but the creative kind.

At my old job, I used to show kids this video about The Dip. There are two little monsters working on art projects, and one of them realizes she’s awful. Then she sees her friend’s project is awful too, but the next time she looks it’s better. Then better again.

When she tries to find out what the deal is, she learns about the dip- that time when everything is going wrong, you’re super aware of a project’s heinous flaws, and it feels like you could work on it until a colony is built on Mars and it would still be terrible. That’s the time for perseverance. For reflection, and thoughtful change and growth.

The Dip is not my jam. I don’t know that it’s anyone’s favorite place, but I tend to internalize that dip until it feels more like a yawning void in the pit of my stomach. I feel the enormous weight of being so far from my goal- the words are ugly, the plot is a rabbit hole, the characters spend all their time bickering and doing nothing useful (is this a real life example? I DON’T KNOW DID I CUT 20K OF BANTER FROM MY REVISION MAYBE). I don’t just own the Dip, I set up housekeeping and prepare to live out my days in it.

But it’s a dip. Not a valley. Not a hole. Most certainly not a permanent residence.

A dip is an opportunity. Sure, you’re a thousand miles off your mark, but imagine all the ways of rerouting yourself. What unexpected delight will you discover as you plot your way out? What pivotal moment of growth will you craft as you carry your character through to better things?

Sometimes a dip isn’t a book. Sometimes it’s much bigger. You’ve sent out so many queries that the ding of your email instantly makes you need chocolate, and nobody wants your work. You’ve completed rounds of revisions, and agents are still sending you “close but not quite.” You’ve burned everything down and built it back up again, and it’s still not ready for sub. You’ve been on sub for weeks, months, light-years, and it’s a wasteland of rejections and no-replies.

It may be a Dip of Unusual Size, but it’s only a dip. It’s going to trick you into thinking it’s forever, that you’re actually in a tunnel headed straight for the hot lava center of the earth. But it’s only a dip. And with some reflection, change, and perseverance, you’re going to find yourself climbing the other side of it into the place you were meaning to get to all along.

Being Brave

I’m going to do a very brave thing today.

It probably seems tiny and that’s because it is, relatively. It might even seem ridiculous, and I’m willing to say it is, in its own way. It’s also one of the bravest things I’ll have done for some time, and things being ridiculous and also brave don’t have to contradict each other.

I am going to a yoga class.

Here are some facts about me: in high school I was the kid casually strolling to the back of the line for everything, encouraging my competitive classmates to go ahead and budge me and walking myself into dodgeballs laying on the ground – “OH NO I GUESS I’M OUT.” For several years I was very sick and lived under the constant threat of my body putting itself into convulsions at any moment. Historically, my relationship with my body has been fraught with rough patches and I’ve always believed myself to be just not “coordinated/athletic/strong/skilled/good.”

I’ve challenged that belief many times the last couple years. I started running, before remembering I loathe it. I walked instead, then did Pilates, then joined a gym. Now I regularly lift weights and do cardio, and have done a few different challenges. On Saturday I did my first barbell workout. I still can’t walk.

Today I go to yoga. Because the only way to find out who you are and what you’re capable of is to try. You can live out of old beliefs, accepting old labels and encasing yourself in an outdated identity that may never have been true in the first place. I don’t judge you if you do, that’s what I lived out of for many years and still do in other areas. But while acquiring that identity might not have been your choice, living on with it, unchallenged, day after day, is.

Maybe your old identity is about your writing, your art, your organization skills, your ability to make friends or fall in love, your ability to lead, or something else. Maybe you’re comfortable with it, maybe not. Just remember, you don’t have to own labels you’ve been given if you didn’t choose them or they don’t fit you anymore. And while challenging them is scary- what if I fail? What if I *am* the thing I don’t want to be? What if I can’t change? – repeated challenges allow you to create your own identity and own only labels that are useful, meaningful, and valuable to you.

You can do this.

Saying No A Lot

Last night I got home at 9:15 and after talking to my parents for twenty minutes I had less than an hour before I wanted to be in bed.

I also had eleven things left to check off on my habit tracker.

The odds, as they say, were not in my favor.

I had to do a quick triage, deciding which habits I think are pretty well-formed and which could be skipped for a night, which ones my mind and body didn’t need as much as others, and which could be done at alternative times. Essentially I was removing everything but the essentials- not bad things, just things that weren’t good ENOUGH to make the cut in that moment.

This is how we revise a book. We’re not necessarily removing BAD things (hopefully you did that the first round or two because if you’re like me you’re probably on round eleventeen). We’re removing good, even GREAT things, that just don’t belong. Seeking the essential and giving up the rest.

Sometimes the simplest and most peaceful (not easiest. Just simplest.) path to a lean, rich, page-turning draft is to say no to good so you can say yes only to the best.

Something New

I started a bullet journal for 2019, and so far it’s both one of the hardest and coolest things I’ve tried. I’ve never considered myself artistic- whatsoever, zero percent, definitely not- but I do like lettering and making words look pretty. I know, everyone is extremely shocked right now.

My bullet journal is definitely not the prettiest one you’ll ever see. My lack of skill shows, and so does my lack of confidence. Most things in my journal are ideas from someone else, not originals. A lot of my letters are wobbly and weirdly formed, most of my spreads are decided crooked.

I’m fascinated by mistakes in life and mistakes as a writer. With books, when I realize I’m off track or plotted wrong or wrote five thousand words in the wrong direction, I’m quick to be hard on myself. Sometimes I consider scrapping the project, or writing altogether. I often feel like I should quit, that I’ll never be able to write a good book when all my words look like *this*, or that I was fooling myself to think I could write a book in the first place.

I never feel that about my bullet journal. I don’t like mistakes and imperfections, but I assume they’re part of the process and bound to happen because that’s part of new and different. What I hope to do, as 2019 begins, is help myself transfer this acceptance of imperfection to writing. We will always make mistakes, in every area of life. We can hate them and even ourselves, or we can accept their presence and maintain the lightness of mind to repair them.

Hello 2019!

After an impressive 1.75 year hiatus, I think I’m back to blogging! Do people even blog anymore? Probably not. I don’t know. I still like to read them?

Either way it works out, because I’ve always liked vintage things.

I have no idea what I’ll write about. Probably how writing books seems to somehow be getting HARDER with every project instead of easier, but then magic sweeps through and keeps you hooked on the practice. Maybe I’ll tell you about how I’m scared I’ll never be able to write a sentence that feels in my chest like the white-gold sun on a frozen winter morning in a warm house. Maybe we’ll discuss how gummi bears are clearly the best snack while writing, or how bullet journaling is my new obsession and I now own the entire pen section at Target. So many exciting possibilities.

I hope some of you guys are still out there to hang out with me and talk words, snacks, obsessions, light. Let me know if you want me to post about anything in particular and while you’re at it, tell me in the comments below what your writing or reading goal for 2019 is.

Here’s to a new year of adventure and grace!

How I Got My Agent


Seriously, cannot.

I’ve been walking like in a dream world for the last week, not even able to process this is real but I’m told it is so I guess I’ll try to tell you how I got here.

I recommend getting snacks. This is a long story.

In the spring of 2014, I was living in Madison, Wisconsin finishing grad school and I was utterly miserable. I lived in a terrible place, I had an internship I felt lost in, had a job I didn’t enjoy, and was sick with a mysterious neurological illness that left me weak and unable to rely on my body in any way, shape, or form.

I had been writing seriously for about 1.5 years by then, with an eye toward maybe someday possibly trying to get a book published, and I’d written six full length novels in that time- 2 MG, 3 YA, and 1 adult. There might have been a few others in here too, at the time I whipped out drafts and then spun right on to the next one so it’s impossible to say. All but two of them were terrible. The MG I’d entered in a contest and won a place in it, and even took through an R & R with a wonderfully kind agent who ultimately ended up rejecting it. For incomprehensible reasons, I never queried that book much- maybe 10 queries total, five then and one here and there whenever I got discouraged about other projects.

Hey, I said this was my story about getting an agent, not about making good life choices.

But I digress.

Pen and Muse, a writing website, ran a showcase that year on their blog and I decided to enter it. I wrote a short story called Strings and Shadows about a girl who played the violin and a boy who might have been a ghost. You can actually still find it there if you look hard enough.

That story blossomed into a book.

It shouldn’t have worked, because I am notorious for dropping projects in the face of major life transitions, and over the course of writing that book I graduated with my master’s degree, quit my job, moved back in with my parents, went to Florida, got a new job, attended the Midwest Writers Conference, and bought a house. I couldn’t stop writing or talking about the story though, and by the time it was done it was a full fledged book, almost 90k long, and it was a retelling of Phantom of the Opera set in a modern day Southern youth orchestra.

It was not good.

But it had good bones.

In Fall 2014 I entered Pitch Wars and was chosen by the lovely Brianna Shrum as an alternate. She helped me polish up the query and first chapter, and Margarita Montimore, my PW mentee teammate, helped me write some amazing pitches I used in multitude of contests to come.

I had a few bites in PW, but ultimately they came back as rejections. I had a finished book though, so I dove deep into the querying trenches. Again – this is all about what I did, not what I should have done. Don’t try this at home.
Along the way, I wrote a book about a girl who ran a radio station and a boy taking a cross country road trip to meet his dying grandfather.

Y’all, I tried to piece together that stretch of time from late 2014- mid 2015 and I can’t even. All I can say for sure is I sent somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 queries and had an even mix of rejections, partials, and full requests. Every single one eventually was rejected, but I was fortunate enough to receive some fairly specific feedback along the way and decided to tear the whole book apart and start over.

I mean, why revise when you can just write a new book?

On my birthday in summer 2015, I received a request for a partial from an agent I was wild over. She loved musicals and even played the violin so I knew immediately I wanted to query her, plus from her Twitter and interviews she seemed really fun and like someone I’d be comfortable with.

An aside- as a cantankerous medium-anxious introvert, finding someone I think I’ll be comfortable with is a MASSIVE cause for celebration.

The trouble with this birthday request was that I had just ripped my book all to shreds and was doing my best to paste them all back together. Having stalked, um, done my research, I knew this agent had specifically mentioned not always enjoying when people said they had a new version of a book as that was often an indication of not being prepared when they queried in the first place. Side note: I probably wasn’t ready. This will inevitably happen to you, because unfortunately, querying is the kind of thing you only get good at as you go, so you won’t know how bad you are until you do it for awhile. Anyways I sent the amazing agent a nervous email saying since I had so much feedback from so many agents, all indicating the same thing, I was revising, but I’d be happy to send it to her when it was done.

Waiting was agony.

She sent me an email just a couple days later saying she’d be happy to wait and see what I came up with. Two weeks after that I sent her an email with my revisions and settled in.

Y’ALL. I had no idea what the next year would bring.

I sent that email in August and continued querying, with the same kind of success- partials and fulls in fairly steady rates with my rejections, but never an offer. There was always, always a but: liked but not loved, enjoyed but didn’t connect, liked prose but not character, couldn’t get into it, didn’t love enough. I went through really rough periods of wanting to give up completely- on that book, on writing in general, on everything everywhere.

I read all the blogs I could find – call stories, posts about the Almost But Not Quite stage, quotes about the gap between knowing how you want your writing to be and how it is when you’re first starting out. Some days I successfully managed all my feelings, and some days I ate a LOT of cookies.

Earlier that spring I’d written an alternate history about a girl who led a revolution, so to take my mind off my troubles I polished it up and tried to enter PW 2015. I didn’t get in.

I spent the fall racking up all the rejections, both on my Phantom book and on another pair of projects I queried haphazardly, desperate to feel all the work was worth it. I literally. cannot. Tell you. how many rejections I got. It is a number well over 100 but after that they all blur together.

I told you this was not a story about making good choices. Don’t do this, kids.

For NaNo 2015, for a change of pace, I wrote 50k of a beautiful, complicated adult fantasy full of politics and intrigue and beautiful dresses. I took all of December off and decided to start new in 2016.

2016 was not a good writing year.

I started fresh with an amazing idea I loved, about a magical garden and an angry boy and a Spanish-speaking girl with a terrible addiction to knives. The first draft fizzled out slowly, painfully, at 40ishk. I shook myself off, racked up a bunch more rejections on various projects, and tackled the knife book again. The second draft failed miserably at 30k. Remember, in the past I’d written 3-7 books per year. Granted I never revised a word and they were all terrible, but I was a finisher. And now I couldn’t finish anything.

I took a break. I wrote a short story for spring showcase again. I wrote a short story for an anthology, about a pizza shop in space. I did anything and everything to try to feels single shred of hope but mostly I was in despair.

By then I was running out of agents to query with PHANTOM. I had promised myself I’d shelve it, but it kept sneaking back out, a query here, a query there. I kept dragging it back out for every pitch contest. Everyone I’d been friends with in the beginning had agents now. Some had book deals. Some were mentors in contests I couldn’t even get into. I was certain I was done. I was wasting my time and when the infinitely patient and long suffering Rena Olsen told me I wasn’t, that the work would pay off and the ability was there, I politely informed her that she was insane and I was done.


But PHANTOM was still there, lurking. I joked that this book about ghosts and obsession was my ghost, haunting me all the time.


I was fresh off of a second R & R getting rejected and just as I was starting to revise, a third R & R didn’t pan out. I was absolutely positively certainly convinced I was the worst writer in the entire universe. WHO LOSES THREE OPPORTUNITIES LIKE THAT?? I was so close, always so close, but never quite there. I finished the revision and felt like it might be stronger but was so disillusioned and sick of the book and sad of spirit I couldn’t even tell anymore if it was good at all.

I set it aside for what I swore would be the last time. It was time to accept this book, that I had poured two years of my life into, wasn’t my book.

I tried knife book again, full of despair and certain I would fail.

I also traveled a bajillion miles down to Tennessee to stay in a cabin clinging to the side of a mountain surrounded by perfect strangers – I went to the 2016 Madcap Aspiring Writers retreat.

It changed my life.

It was the most terrifying, horrifying, what have I done experience ever. I’ve mentioned I’m an anxious and cantankerous introvert, and I was at the lowest point of my entire writing career. When I arrived, I thought I was going to pass out of sheer terror and What Am I Even Doing Here I Can’t Write I Need To Lay Down And Eat Cookies. It’s a real condition I promise.

However, there was one thing that made walking through that door easier. The day before I left for Tennessee I got an email.

Remember that agent? The one I’d sent my partial to 13 months before, the one who was so utterly perfect?

She wanted to know if I’d do an R & R.

I took a few days to answer, distracted by sheer terror and by huge questions. Did I really want to dig into PHANTOM again? This book was RUINING MY LIFE. I COULDN’T WRITE ANYWAYS! Not to mention it had been so long that I’d already been through two more drafts in those 13 months.

Madcap was absolutely amazing. It made writing feel real, and the community that grew up in that cabin happened so fast and so well that even I was at ease and felt like I belonged. Most importantly, every writer there talked about failure. They told real, humble stories of their struggles and their failures and all the sweat and tears and hurt it took for them to achieve their dreams.

I emailed the agent and said yes. I went out on a limb and shared with her all my hopes and dreams for the book, everything I wanted it to be and knew it wasn’t yet. I was terrified I was being presumptuous or needy or way too bold. I almost fainted when I hit send.

But a few days later she told me she was excited and she’d get me a letter, and a week or two after that I had my R & R letter from her.

By that point I was up to my neck in knife book and desperate to finish *something* in the hell of 2016. I read her letter almost every day, meshing it with changes I’d already made, digging deep into things I needed to make better and big questions I needed to ask, letting the back of my brain work away on that project as I labored through and finally at long last finished the third draft of the knife book. The agent’s letter for PHANTOM was perfect, hitting on things I knew I needed to fix and approaching issues in brand new ways that somehow, impossibly, got me excited about this ghostly albatross of a book again.

Then I went to work.

October 2016 came and I’d made all the changes I could think of. The pacing, always a huge problem for me, was much tighter, the relationships were more real, and the main character was her fullest self. Instead of making her easier to relate to, more likeable, or less intense as so many past rejections has suggested, I made her 1000% herself. I felt good, or at least as good as I knew how to feel then, but I hadn’t quite solved all the issues in the letter and I was stalled out.

Oh, and by the way, I also threw an MS in the ring for PW 2016. I didn’t get in.

Y’all. 2016 was not a good year. Can we all just agree on that?

Then I got an email.

This amazing agent who I so loved ASKED ME HOW THE REVISION WAS GOING. She liked me and my book ENOUGH TO CHECK IN. After all the leaping and flailing, I set about the heart-in-throat task of telling her I had a new and much more powerful draft, but was struggling with a few aspects.

I thought for sure she wouldn’t want to help me anymore. I couldn’t expect her to, just the R & R alone was such a great opportunity. I was in despair, certain I’d let a fourth R & R slip through my hands and hating myself for all my faults, as a writer and as a human, real and imagined.

Then I got an email.


I sent a number of joyous and awed texts to friends, ate a bunch of cookies, then with my heart in my throat (all my vital organs kind of rearranged themselves around that time) I sent her my draft.

And then there was silence.

For NaNo 2016 I channeled all my angst and failure into 50k of an adult thriller about a woman who returns to her small town after years away only to find she must work to cover up a crime she committed a decade ago.

I took December off, as is now my routine, and when 2017 arrived I started with the audacious goal of writing every single day. I had an idea, a flash of a scene involving a valley of bones coming alive, and a woman driving a cart of bones through a wild, fierce land, and a book that took place in war but wasn’t necessarily about war. For the first time ever I outlined the book before writing it, and then I set to work. After a horrible year of failures and anger and grief and every word being agony, this new book slipped into the world like actual magic. It was everything I wanted it to be, a true book of my heart, and while it has definite issues and needs work, I finished it in less than two months.

At last, writing and I weren’t enemies anymore. I was at peace with having shelved PHANTOM, and yet, not quite ready to query again. I knew the agent might have forgotten about me, after all, it had been four months and wouldn’t she have responded right away if she’d actually liked it? Wasn’t it stupid to put all my eggs in one basket? I knew I should query and try things, but I just wanted to work with her so much. And besides, I couldn’t be any less agented than I was…

While I tried to decide what to do, I threw my hat into the Pitch Madness ring with a different ms. I started a chapterbook about a girl named Peach who has ADHD and lives in a trailer park and tries to figure out life, an updated Junie B Jones basically.

Then on March 2 I got an email.

It was from the dream agent saying she’d read about half of Phantom so far and she loved it. SHE. LOVED. IT. She was still reading but wanted me to know she was pleased with the revisions and she’d talk to me soon.

Cue all the panicking and flailing and excitement and befuddlement.

I finished the first chapterbook and started a sequel. I played with some words about a girl who controls the weather with her moods and the hapless boy who loves her. I checked my email 187 times per day. I reread all her interviews I could find, checked her Twitter for any sign.

In many ways I was waiting for the let down. The almost but not quite. The thanks but no thanks.

After all, this agent had never read the end before and WHAT IF SHE HATED IT SO MUCH I JUST NEVER HEARD FROM HER AGAIN?

Then came St. Patrick’s Day.

I see about 100 kids per week at my day job, and Friday was an epically difficult day in an epically difficult week. I was exhausted and stressed and dizzy with trying to keep track of deadlines and meetings and behavior approaches and curriculum writing.

As I was wearily packing up to finally go home, my phone – ever at odds with the thick cement walls – registered a 2 hour old voicemail from a number I didn’t recognize.

Immediately my hands started shaking. I don’t answer numbers I don’t recognize even when I do have service, but why would this one leave me a voicemail? I opened my computer back up and googled the number.

The area code was the agent’s area code.

I immediately grabbed all my stuff and galloped out to my car- last one in the lot on a late Friday afternoon.

My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking so hard I dropped the phone twice. I decided to take it slow.

I went on the agent’s Twitter and saw a tweet about a sub making her buy a new violin case.

My book is very very violiny. But still. It could have been anyone’s.

Then I opened my email.

There was a message from her saying she’d left me a voicemail and would like to talk as soon as I was available.

By this point I legitimately thought I was going to have a heart attack. My pulse was about to explode out of my wrists and the SHAKING like FULL BODY TREMBLES. My head was clinging to a last shred of logic but my body was full on emotion.

Finally I listened to her voicemail. She was looking forward to talking to me at my earliest convenience.


My brain was spinning. I told myself it could still be a rejection because we’d worked together quite a bit and maybe she wanted to explain “in person” why she couldn’t take it on.

It could be anther R & R. More fixing, more polishing and tightening, maybe adding the things I hadn’t figured out how to add from the letter.

I knew if I didn’t call her right then I was just going to never ever ever find the courage and also that I might actually truly have a heart attack.

So I hit call.

And waited, holding one hand up with the other because of the shaking.

And then when she picked up, it wasn’t to reject, and it wasn’t to talk about the work it still needs, though it does need more work.

It was to offer representation.

1.5 years after my original query, I am absolutely dizzyingly overjoyed to say I am now represented by Moe Ferrara of BookEnds Literary. And she signed me for a ghostly albatross of a book I thought nobody but me would ever love.

It all still feels like a dream, like it’s happening to someone else. I can’t BELIEVE that I’ve been given the incredible privilege and honor of achieving the huge first step in reaching my dream of holding my own book in my hands someday. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to way more people than I can ever name. Moe gets my book, and she makes me feel comfortable, and I can’t WAIT to see what we’re going to accomplish together.

If you’re out there and you feel like a failure, like it’s just a series of hurts and mistakes and like this weird, wonderful dream you have is something you have no right to, no hope of achieving, I hope this story- all it’s craziness, all its unexpectedness, all its anxieties and sadness and thrills and twists, gives you hope. Every road has a bend in it. You have NO IDEA what might be just around the very next one.