After 230 hours of writing and editing Saving Atlantis, the second book in The Puzzle Quests series is finished and has gone to production.
These hours didn’t include the multiple meetings with my illustrator, Danielle LeBlanc, 30 beta readers (most were ages 8-12, plus some adults), Karen Knowles, my developmental editor, my fabulous proofreaders, Meradith from Troy Book Makers, and encouraging gatherings with family and friends, especially my husband.
Some may call what I do self-publishing, but it takes more than me to publish a book. Yes, I write the words, but it’s like an architect who creates the design and needs the builders to bring it to life. I independently publish my books through my company–Highland Mountain Publishing.
Now graphic designer, Meradith Kill, at Troy Book Makers will take the beautiful water color illustration from Danielle (more to come in another blog on her process) and create the cover and interior layout.
Then I will review a proof of the actual book to check for any mistakes and make sure I’m happy with the results. From there it gets printed and bound. The whole process from when the manuscript goes to the printer and the copies are into my hands can take 6-10 weeks.
Writing a book is filled with thrills, adventure, wonder, unexpected joys, doubts, tears, laughter, and finally relief. It takes a village to write a book, and I am fortunate to have a beautiful office this summer to write.
If you think I can relax and watch my flowers grow, think again! Now is book promotion time: contacting bookstores for signings, developing a marketing plan, setting up pre-sales, and arranging school writing workshops in the fall. Even this I don’t do alone. Nate DeSalvatore is my summer intern. He is going to college to be a graphic designer. Look for his new website design and updates soon on how you can get my latest book!
BookExpo 2018 was a whirlwind of meeting authors and potential publishers, filling bags with complimentary books, seminars, and being inspired. I enjoyed meeting some of the big authors like Kwame Alexander, who is incredibly personable.
But the magic and inspiration for me was in meeting the writers who are putting themselves and their stories out there to give back and share hope. The first person I met was WL Hoffman. A science fiction and fantasy writer, he published through a small press and has sold thousands of copies. He was one of the few authors who sold their books at BookExpo. It’s hard to compete with the major publishing companies who hand out thousands of books during this five-day conference, but he has a mission.
That’s why it’s so important to connect with people. As impressed as I was by his personality and display, I was blown away by the publication of his daughter’s first book. Hannah wrote The Portal to Pyranis when she was 11, and she’s doing very well with it.
There’s a hatching dragon and friends traveling through a portal to adventure! No wonder I would love it. Hannah’s characters, Talia and Billy, could easily join the quest for Shimmer’s Eggs! Not only is Hannah a young and talented writer, but she and her father donate partial proceeds from their book sales to Special Strides, which is a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with special needs. Using words and our experiences to help others holds a dear place in my heart, so feel free to check out their books and support a great organization and family.
I continued to search out the gems and the enthusiastic smaller presses who feel compelled to get their stories out. I literally ran into one of them! Jamiyl Samuels was heading into his booth, and we collided. He handed me his card, told me his family’s story, and I was hooked! He and his wife, Tracy-Ann dreamed up and wrote the story of their son, Amani, who is on the spectrum for autism. He is very smart, but doesn’t like to talk. However, at night he is Awesome Amani, the superhero, who helps others in need.
Raising awareness and fostering growth is a large part of why Jamiyl and Tracy-Ann wrote this book, which is the first in a series. I recommend checking it out and Jamiyl’s other books.
The last very impressive young author I met was Sophia Elaine Hanson, who I guarantee will be well-known. She already is a best-selling author on Amazon.com where she published The Vinyl Trilogy through CreateSpace. Now she is searching for an agent for her next series, and I believe she will find one. She’s only 21, but she is a powerhouse of talent and full of ideas, especially storylines that I love!
As for connections to publish my journaling workshop, I absolutely loved Sounds True Publishers. They publish a ton of books on yoga, but also provide a space for authors to share their stories that help others.
My wish is that something can come from this, but I have a lot of work to do. Going to conferences keeps you updated on what is happening in your industry, and hopefully gets you excited about your own work. That definitely happened for me. Journaling is a hot topic right now, and I want to share my stories on how it helped me. I have a long road ahead, but I’m in the right vehicle!
One last bit from BookExpo. Every year they have a buzz about up and coming middle grade, young adult, and adult books that are being shown at the expo. Ones that are chosen to be buzzed about will be published between August 2018 and January 2019. I went to the Middle grade buzz and listened to the editors pitch the winning books.
What I learned is that diversity and social issues are important to editors. But even more so, it’s never to late to share your story and be published. The author of Everlasting Nora is a cancer researcher and decided to write this story later in life. Monstrous Devices’ author also started a little bit later than we usually think of debut authors, but it doesn’t matter! If you have a fantastic or special story to tell, write it, and get it out to readers. Whether you do it yourself through independent publishing or through traditional publishers is up to you.
If you want to make your dream a reality, then you have to do the work. Write the best book you can, go to conferences, network, and connect. And never ever give up!
The third draft of book two of The Puzzle Quests is almost complete. Rewriting a book is basically like rearranging those puzzles where you have to shift one word in order to make a sentence fit. Or slide a paragraph in order to make the whole picture make sense.
This is where I am right now. I have pages printed out and marked up. I have a word document with the actual draft, another with deleted passages (because you never want to permanently delete anything!), another with passages that will go into Mark’s Book Three, and a final one that contains passages based on Peter’s Book Four.
Peter has been a pest with Book Two. Of course he wants to be in the picture, because he has a lot to say about what Rose does. Rose has her moments of jumping into situations, which is why they probably get along so well. It’s more fun when you have someone to get in trouble with!
For example, Rose doesn’t think about what could happen when she swims off after a monstrous octopus, because he happens to have one of the missing Aegean Sea coins stuck in one of his suckers. Rose knows this coin is one of the five needed to save Atlantis. When the octopus hides between two rocks, Rose doesn’t take no for an answer. We have to applaud Rose for her determination, but sometimes she has to learn to walk away or wait for help.
When the octopus attacks and Rose is caught in its arms, pulling her further and further into the ocean depths, it takes her sea dragon, Sparkle, and the mermaid, Natalia, to save her. She manages to get the coin, but at what expense? Her friends, her life?
For me, writing a magical world is probably the best occupation in the world. I am inpatient like Rose and jump in with both feet. But that’s how I learn what works and doesn’t work. It’s a game of creating, shifting, and puzzling dilemmas. Ones that I hope you will enjoy.
Look for The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis in the Fall of 2018!
For the last four months, I have been writing book two of The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis (working title). It’s been a steady flow of writing scene after scene, not really knowing if the chronology of each one works. It’s the process of spitting out the images, words, and scenarios from Rose’s point of view.
It’s very difficult to do this, because we want to edit, review, and get confirmation that we are on the right path. This especially happens with new writers. It can be hard to trust your gut if you aren’t used to listening to it or you haven’t established your voice.
I have learned to trust my gut and go with the flow letting the characters and the situations evolve. The chapters may not make the final cut, but it’s a step in the right direction. It at least shows you what works or doesn’t work. Here are some tips I use to go with the flow:
If I’m stuck on a spot in my book, I might switch modes and journal. Why am I writing this book? What is Rose’s journey? How is she interacting with everyone? What do I want her to learn, how will she grow? I recently did this and it clarified my direction and opened the valve to write a few chapters. I haven’t read through my first draft, but if I have a strong feeling while writing, I know I’m on to something that will probably stay in the final draft.
Be prepared to let go. Once you have that first draft and even as you are writing, don’t second guess, delete, and redo. Keep writing until you think yes, there is a book here. Let it sit, then when you reread it, be prepared to let large or small parts of it go. Always save what you delete. It might lead to something else. It might go into the next book of a series. Someone else who reads it might think it works. Best way to figure if it stays–ask if it moves your story forward. Does it excite your readers? Do you get the same ‘yeah this is amazing’ feeling when you read it again? It’s like a second date where you either know you want a third or have to claim illness and get out of there quick.
Read and listen to books similar to your own. It can help with getting an idea of what works with each age group and understand how to deal with certain writing issues. For example, I have been listening to Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins. I had already written Shimmer’s Eggs before reading this series. The idea of a quest is the same, which a standard theme in an adventure plot. Collins had a prophecy, mine was a riddle. In book two, I was having a hard time accepting that a certain person would betray a main character in the book. Did I want to include this in a middle grade book? In Collins’ series there are major upsets and betrayals. This theme obviously can work in a book for ages 8-12. The world is fraught with betrayal and disappointment. My book will touch on that, but how will I instill hope?
Write what makes you smile, laugh, cry, and whoop in victory, not what you think will sell. Sometimes I worry that Saving Atlantis won’t be as good as Shimmer’s Eggs. It’s a common worry among writers. I can easily get caught up in what people think. Then I remember that I write to soften the harshness of reality, build friendships, instill values, and empower children and young adults to make a difference in their world. To give hope. That’s not ego. That has to come from the heart. As long as I do that, my words will ring true.
Be kind to yourself. Pat yourself on the back when you have a good writing session. Begin again when you don’t. Step away from your story when you’ve have a bad day. Do whatever brings you joy and come back to your writing with the words that lift you up. “I am a writer. I practice my art. My words have meaning.”
Write, write, write, write, etc. Every single day. If you want this to be an important part of your life, your career, you have to practice daily. No other way around it. Don’t expect it to be a bed of roses. Sometimes we hit a thorn and we bleed, but when the roses bloom, the scent is sweet and magical.
I received this postcard in the mail last fall about about a 7-month intensive for artists. It would focus on how to define myself as an artist and promote my art as a business. My latest book The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs was at the printer and expected any day. I had made a commitment to my journaling workshops and the goal to publish a book on journaling within the next two years. This was a sign I was on the right track.
I filled the detailed application and sent it in just in time. I didn’t have any expectations, but I knew I had started a ball rolling that was only going to get bigger.
It was with great joy and gratitude that I was accepted into this program that is sponsored by The Arts Center of the Capital Region. Every Tuesday for seven months, I would meet with 11 other artists from all different disciplines and various instructors who want us to be the best artists we can be.
I am now halfway through the program and I thought, “I need to share this amazing experience and people with the world.”
This course has opened my eyes to the many layers of art. As the only traditional writer, Danielle is a blooming writer and illustrator, I wasn’t sure where I fit in. There’s this whole visual world that has opened up to me. I used photos from families and Elizabeth Fox Photography in my book What Makes Them Amazing, but thinking of how they can be used in my journaling book or displayed in an art gallery in order to share my message is thrilling.
There are so many options open to me. Learning to draw. Taking photography classes. These are different tools I can utilize to share my message.
Of course when I get ideas, I’m like a cyclone wanting to take everything with me at once. This intensive has helped me embrace and hone my vision into achievable dreams. My purpose is to spread hope, create a sense of community, and share tools for healing for anyone who has suffered.
One workshop focused on building a vision board. What did we want to grow in the next year, the next five years? It was a daunting task, but we had to start somewhere. I loved the unique paths everyone is taking from painting, photography, sculpting, woodworking, weaving, illustration, and writing. I have learned how much I need to learn!
It’s a work in progress, but I have my vision and it keeps growing as I continue in this class. I know I can use different forms of expression to share my message. The use of photography, illustration, and writing are my trifecta for creation, and I can’t wait to share it and the incredible talent of my classmates with everyone.
My fourth and fifth grade workshop students worked on getting to know their characters. Figuring out what they love more than anything else and the reason is a huge part of their motivation. Establishing their fear and throwing them into a dangerous situation where that fear is right in their face helps them decide what kind of person their character is. What are their strengths, weaknesses? Brave, strong, scared, helpless?
They are ready to begin their stories if they know the answers to these questions.
My middle grade writers had fun decorating their Grasping Gratitude gift boxes. This special box holds what they are grateful for.
It’s an endless gift that we can always go back to when life gets too hard.
When we grasp gratitude, we hold the goodness in life that makes it worth living. We heal from the pain and loss that we feel. We appreciate what we have.
This was their favorite part of the workshop. I hope they continue to grasp the positive.
Creating. It all starts with a seed–whether it’s a garden, an idea, artwork, or a family. This idea came to me as I began my next book and flourished as I was harvesting all the vegetables in my garden.
I thought about what it takes to create anything in life. I always plant my garden during Memorial Day weekend. Over the years, I have figured out what works or doesn’t yield much. We have had to move our tomatoes to a different area so that they get more sun. It has been a learning process. I plant what I know we will enjoy eating. I plant, because I want to eat local and healthy. I also plant, because I love nurturing the tiny seeds and feel joy when they start to sprout. I am hopeful when, despite storms or cold nights, they fight through and eventually grow taller than me. If I give the plants what they need and allow them to flourish, then they prosper.
Wow, doesn’t that sound a lot like raising children?
It’s also how I approach my writing. Everything I create or want to bring forth in this world grows my purpose to provide hope and make the world a better place. These are some steps I take to create or write:
Intention/Purpose: What is my intention for writing this book? Why do I want to write it? What do I want my readers to get from it? I write to soften the harshness of reality and provide hope no matter how dire the circumstances.
Creating from a Positive mindset: Whatever I do, whether it’s cooking a meal, growing my garden, or writing a book, I come from a positive frame of mind. When I’m cooking my sauce, I don’t think about the guy who cut me off on the way home, or the argument I had with someone. I think about my wonderful family who will enjoy my meal. I sprinkle love and happiness into the meal. When I write, I want to spread hope and joy to those reading my books. If I write from a negative or bitter point of view, then I’m releasing that out into the world. Yes, maybe the topics aren’t easy, but my intention is hope and so that is where I create from.
Don’t Overthink: I am excited that my first middle grade novel, The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs will be out in October of this year. Don’t worry! Details are coming! I have jumped right into the second book, because I want to keep the characters’ voices flowing. I worried about where to start the book, but continued from where the first book ended. I didn’t think about what I was writing. I wrote from my character’s feelings. The first five pages sounded grimmer than I wanted, but I knew I was just in the seed planting stage. I had to prepare the soil and see what grew from there. I don’t get bogged down by the need for perfection. I am in the midst of creating and know that I will rewrite those first lines and chapter about 20 times.
Be Nurturing: Being kind to myself and my words when I write goes back to keeping that positive energy flowing. By nurturing my words, I let them grow on their own. I may guide them by writing out a description that may work. Upon editing, it may not sound write anymore, so I prune and snip and add back in until I see the fruit of my nurturing come forth. I come from a place of love and belief in my writing.
Hard Work: Nothing worth creating is easy. It takes dedication, time, and consistency to grow, to build, to flourish. If I left my garden for a week without water or weeding or even picking the vegetables, my garden would suffer. I have to consistently work at it to give it the space and effort it deserves. The same goes with writing. If I write once a week or even once every few days, my writing will dry up and my characters will wilt.
Team Effort: Whoever said that writing is an individual effort, never worked with a team or a group of characters. When I’m in my head, I’m never alone. When I’m in my garden, I am surrounded by life. I have a gang of people just pushing to get me to tell me their story. But the team effort doesn’t stop here. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a Super Cool Writer’s Group! By putting my work out there to fellow supportive writers, my creating has grown in leaps and bounds. I get feedback, but am also held accountable to produce. It’s like a farmer’s co-op. Everyone needs to bring their share of the vegetables. So we make sure we create regularly.
Creating is a part of being human. When we come from a place of love, altruism, and philanthropy, we make the world a better place. When we create from the heart, then we bring forth positive change and benefit from our harvest, no matter what it is.