Sometimes doing exactly what you want to do is hard. I write fanciful novels about a magical detective. I love them. They’re silly and meaningful and ridiculous and fun. Also, sometimes, they’re hard. Writing a book, it turns out, is a lot of writing. When the pressure of deadlines and the slog of getting sh* done starts to make what I love feel like a JOB (gasp)… I’ve found that I have three options:
Fortify and do your damn job.
Abandon your dreams and drink heavily.
F* it. Have fun.
A colleague of mine arranged for the author Jacquelyn Mitchard to visit our students last year. Mitchard spoke about her debut The Deep End of The Ocean being selected as Oprah’s first ever Book Club book. She talked about her process and was generally a very intelligent and engaging guest. My favorite moment was her reply to the classic, “What do you do when you get writer’s block?” question…
On Monday night I entered my first chapter and newly spiffed up query letter into Pitch Wars. If you don’t know what it is, the simple answer is a competition where new authors vie for their chance at being mentored by an author/editor for two months and then have their work showcased before a group of (excellent!) agents.
The truth is though, Pitch Wars is a lot more than just a competition. It started with a mad scramble to get my query letter just right. That meant about five edits, a whole new one, and then a Frankenstein-like merging of my two letters to get a new, kick-ass query. Next I made sure my manuscript was as polished as possible. I’d already been through four long edits, but I knew it needed a final look. I did as much as I possibly could in the time I had, and got my chapter 1 ready to send. I made the non-obligatory #PimpMyBio Mentee profile and sent my stuff off into the big scary world. My eyes were red, my hands were shaking, I was hungry and sleep-deprived, but I got it all in on time damn it.
I thought that would be that. I’d have to wait for the results, and just wait and eat pizza in the mean time. BUT IT WASN’T. I made a mentee support chat group on google and we’ve all been venting, talking about writing, bacon and already have inside jokes (hi Elliot). It’s been super fun getting to know all these writers from around the world. I love listening to their stories and their hopes for their writing career and if anyone is having doubts about themselves, we kick them right in the ass and tell those doubts to get out.
The #PitchWars feed on Twitter has also been a great place to meet writing friends. If you write you’ll understand me when I say sometimes non-writing friends/family don’t really get it. Like, “why are you crying while you stare at Microsoft word? Why are you hugging your laptop? Why are you staring at the wall laughing?” Writers do strange things, and it feels good to talk to someone else who says, “I totally laugh at my own jokes and cry when I finally get that scene right too.” I wrote a book about witches in the 80s. That’s magic and Rubik’s cubes. Banshees and Bon Jovi. Not everybody gets me. Writers do.
I’ve also gotten to chat with a few of the participating mentors and learn a lot from the tips they’ve posted on Twitter. Even if I don’t get picked for the next round, I’ve learned so much to bring with me to query later on, and that to me makes it worth it. Some of the mentors have been mentees in prior Pitch Wars, and it’s great to read their perspective on it from the other side, and also telling that they would come back to participate. To have the opportunity to chat with people who have been where I am now and make friends with them really makes me excited.
Don’t get me wrong. There are hard parts to Pitch Wars too. The waiting is not easy. In fact, it’s been anxiety inducing.
I’ve had to peel myself away from Twitter and from refreshing my Gmail app and remind myself of everything else around me. It’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement of everything and forget that if things don’t pan out in this competition, it doesn’t mean curtains for your writing career. Like any creative endeavor there’s a chance people won’t connect with what you’ve made, or that it’s just not ready for the world. There were 1,591 entries in this year’s competition. 1,591! But if us writers think the odds in the Pitch Wars Mentor Inboxes are discouraging, we probably don’t have a good grasp on just how much of a shit-show it is in agent inboxes. Spoiler alert: there’s even more competition. So to me, if nothing else, Pitch Wars is good practice. It’s a good way to get a handle on waiting which, never really ends when you’re a writer, and a good way to learn to have balance in my life even when I’m freaking out inside.
Pitch Wars has brought a bunch of people who didn’t know one another together, and while it’s not exactly Saturday detention, it is the kind of situation that can surprise you, if you let it. So to everyone who took the plunge, give yourself a pat on the back and have a block of cheese. You were brave with your writing, and that’s the hardest part. If you’re a Pitch Wars Mentee hopeful, please follow me on Twitter so we can be friends! Good luck to all!
So, I didn’t get in *weeps* but in all seriousness I do not regret it for one second. It was hard not seeing my name on that list – I shoved an entire ice cream sandwich in my mouth. It was the saddest most delicious treat I’d ever had. Because while I was making the ugly crying face, I was also elated for my friends who made it in. I was happy that I had the guts to put myself out there and in a giant way too, because everyone knew I was doing it.
It’s not easy to do that, to put on a brave face even though inside you’re wondering, am I actually good enough? I don’t have the answer to that. But I do know that I’ve already gained a group of writing friends who get me. I’ve gained a CP, beta readers and friends. Real friends who understand the horrible, wonderful life of a writer. I’ve met people willing to take their time to read my work, to give me feedback, to help me reach my goal. And I know I believe in my story. It might not be where it needs to be…yet, but you better believe I’m already working towards getting it there. I’ve also gotten incredible feedback and encouragement from the pw mentors and am excited to keep supporting them, their mentees, and the new (for me) writing community I’ve found online.
Pitch wars is an awesome competition, but the best part about it besides the community, is that it’s just one of many opportunities. This was not my path to take, for whatever reason, and now it’s time to find out what’s next for me and The Riddle of The Timekeeper. I suspect good things are in my future, but first comes a little hard work.
UPDATE # 2:
In May of 2016, I signed with Michelle Richter & Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary. I owe a big part of that awesome accomplishment to the friends I made during Pitch Wars and the help and guidance they gave me.
Riddle of The Timekeeper follows the story of Emerald Kipp, a young, pink haired witch living in 1980’s New York City. The book features a diverse cast, a running soundtrack of new wave, pop, rock and rap from the era, and incorporates little known real life New York City residents into the narrative such as the so-called “Witch Of East Broadway” Henrietta Snowden and John Votta, the real life Timekeeper. Although set in a magical alternative NYC, the book also deals with issues of teen identity, mental health and delinquency.
When her family and friends vanish, Emerald Kipp is thrown head first into the witching world she was never allowed to be a part of. Her only clue into their disappearance comes from a small black box with a message from the past: Find the The Timekeeper, solve the riddle.
The teenage witch must now rely on Dr. Toad, a rotund witch doctor who already almost killed her once, her finicky cat Cashmere who she’s just learned could talk, and an underground network of witches throughout New York City who made a vow years before to help her on her journey.
As if the treacherous riddle wasn’t enough, along the way Emerald learns the people she’s trusted her whole life aren’t who they seem to be, and what’s worse, a fearsome enemy is hunting for a witch who can control time. Unfortunately, Emerald has just discovered that she can do just that.
Emerald’s never been good at anything except getting into trouble, but now it’s up to her to solve the riddle and uncover a mystery that goes farther back than she’d ever imagined. And she might just find, that she’s a lot more than the troubled loser she thought she was.
I am pretty sure I’ve featured this song before but I don’t care because it’s a good song and you’re gonna listen to it and like it.
I will admit, I struggled with the love aspect of my book at first, I knew I wanted Emerald to have a love interest and although I have her end game all planned out, there’s gonna be some duds along the way.
Still, I had a difficult time figuring out how to deal with the romantic aspects which is weird because I’m a GIANT MUSH. I think the main problem was, like everything with Emerald because I love her too much, I was holding back. I didn’t want to be cheesy, I didn’t want to overdo it, I didn’t want to give in to this trope or that, but at one point a character developed that I just could not ignore (and whom I adore) and just like that her love story within her adventure began to flourish. I can’t promise you it won’t rip your heart out, because I mean it’s not fun if it doesn’t, but I hope you also have fun and fall in love along the way like I did (you know, before your heart gets ripped out).
Anyway, lest I get too spoiler-y with my own content, here is the song that plays when ONE of Emerald’s possible love interests first appears, *slips on neon dancing shoes, sprays Aqua Net, grabs a wine cooler and turns on her disco ball* hope you enjoy!
Hello! Happy to be posting my first ever 3 Gifs & an Author interview where authors answer my questions with gifs or memes! Today I have author of YA fantasy book THE LAST PAGES Lara Whatley on Rad/dom. Get to know her and her book below, enjoy 🙂
1. Describe your book, The Last Pages, in three gifs.
2. What are the top three things that distract you from writing.
3. Three favorite things about being an author.
4. Describe your favorite character.
Leon has to be my fav, he is quite the character…
5. Top three snack foods while you write.
If your book were made into a movie, the top three actors you’d choose to star in the movie.
I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by DiversityYA on my book Emerald Kipp & The Riddle of The Timekeeper. Read the interview below and please let me know what you think! Also, please note I will NO LONGER be releasing EKROTK at New York Comic Con. I am going to begin seeking agent representation for this manuscript SOON, so for now it is under wraps 🙂 My pubslush is still on for The Skinwalker’s Apprentice though, so follow the link in the article to donate! Hope you enjoy the interview 🙂
1) Can you tell us a little more about Emerald Kipp & The Riddle of The Timekeeper? What inspired you to write it?
Riddle of The Timekeeper is about a teen witch living in New York City during the nineteen eighties. She’s rebellious, pierced and pink haired and early on we find out she’s kind of lost and confused about what her future will bring. She’s one of only two witches living in New York, the other being her aunt Nora. On her last day of High School, which was a struggle to achieve in itself because of her penchant for trouble, her aunt vanishes before her eyes. Emerald then receives a message from the past, “Find The Timekeeper, Solve The Riddle,” and she is introduced to a NYC she’s never known; equal parts magical and dangerous.
I really wanted to write a story about New York that not only incorporated magic, but also history. There are many characters pulled from the headlines so to speak, like Goody Garlick who was accused of witchcraft on Long Island a good thirty five years before the Salem witch trials and even The Timekeeper himself who was inspired by New York University’s beloved John Votta. He was nicknamed The Timekeeper because he stood on a corner of Washington Square Park yelling the time to passing students. I took inspiration from these real life people and weaved them into my alternate, magical New York City.
2) Many of your characters struggle with mental health issues. Was that a conscious choice, or did that just happen? Why is diversity in fiction important to you?
One thing I wanted to explore was the real world ramifications that being a witch would entail. For Emerald, the only other person who she can identify with fully is her aunt Nora. Aside from that, her mother passed at a young age and her father abandoned the family shortly after. Many times we find these tragic characters who have been through so much, yet mentally they don’t seem affected in the same way any of us would be, despite the inferences that they are very much human in addition to be extraordinary.
Emerald is the manifestation of what I believe would happen to someone who was dealing with the death of a parent, with abandonment and with being so completely different they felt they had no where to turn.
Diversity in fiction is important to me because as an author of color I know first hand that having a character you can relate to in a book as a kid can be a great thing. I have always been a reader, I was obsessed with books as a child, but rarely did I find a character that looked like me, that came from any of the same kinds of neighborhoods I lived in. The books that I could identify with (Like The House On Mango Street) I read close to a million times. They were important to me because I could see myself in the pages, and it made me feel like I was understood in some way.
It’s my hope that readers feel they can identify with my characters, and that it helps them realize they’re not less than because of how they look or what they’re struggling with.
3) How did you prepare for writing about mental health issues? How did you conduct your research?
I was recently feature on the Pubslush blog for my book The Skinwalker’s Apprentice, read the excerpt below and follow the links to learn more about my Pubslush Campaign for NY Comic Con!
The Skinwalker’s Apprentice
By: Claribel Ortega
It had been a long day, and Emerald was finally back in her room.As she took her army jacket off, one of her safety pins caught on her t-shirt and she yanked it, ripping a hole through the white fabric. She put her finger through the hole of the shirt and sighed, shaking her head. Serves me right, she thought. She slid one sneaker off with her right foot and kicked it in the air, then did the same with the other, not bothering to check where it landed. They’d put themselves away, she thought.
Since her room was the only place she could use magic, she used it freely, enchanting every last thing from her socks to her wallpaper. Her walls were covered with posters of her favorite bands, and they all came to life as she entered the room. One drummer in a black and white poster twirled his drumsticks in an infinite loop, while the guitarist shredded his guitar midair, legs splayed out to his sides. The little wallpaper that was showing from underneath her posters, swayed as if the flowers were in a breezy meadow instead of an apartment in downtown Manhattan. Her mint-colored robe laid lazily on her bed, its fluffy sleeves turning the pages of her precious Vive Le Rock magazine as if it could actually read, or see for that matter. Emerald shook her head and smiled, just as her slippers plodded out from underneath her bed, stopping at her feet.
“Not yet,” she dismissed the slippers, and they shuffled back into the darkness underneath her wrought iron bed. Records lined the shelf to the right of her bed, and a record player sat on the sill of the bay window that looked out into her backyard.
She looked at her record collection and twisted her mouth in thought. Before she could make up her mind what to play, a record flew off the shelf, slipping out of its sleeve and floating over to her stereo set. The needle settled on the vinyl disk and ‘Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops’, began to play.
She peeled her jeans off and left them on the floor, walking to her bathroom. One giant advantage of living in the boarding house: a private bath. She stepped into the white tiled room and ran the tub with hot water. As the room steamed up, she looked at herself in the mirror. Emerald wasn’t ugly, but she wasn’t pretty either. She was just strange looking, different, but not in a bad way, she thought. That never bothered her, Emerald liked being unique. She just didn’t like the problems that came with it. She felt misunderstood, like nobody knew who she really was. When she looked at herself in the mirror, besides blue hair and emerald green eyes, for which she was named, she saw someone who stood up for herself. She saw someone who wasn’t afraid to speak up, who defended people who didn’t know how to defend themselves. She knew she was a loyal friend and that she had a selfless heart. Well, she did most of the time, she cringed, remembering how she’d reacted to Seneka’s news that afternoon.
But somehow she had become a nuisance, a rebel, and the girl who always had too much to say and didn’t know when to quit and shut up. None of the great things she thought about herself mattered as much as the awful things everyone else thought about her. Those things seemed to weigh heavily in her heart, and to take up all the space in her brain…
Read the rest of my Writer’s Corner spotlight on the Pubslush Blog Here
My first book, The Skinwalker’s Apprentice, was self published and the next book in the series was picked up at a twitter #pitmad event. I wasn’t expecting to get signed (I only had a partial MS for crying out loud) but a small press signed me almost immediately. That was a few months back, and now I find myself contract-less. What happened? Things didn’t work out. It sucks, but it happens. In my rush to get a contract, I didn’t stop myself for that oh so crucial moment of asking ” Is this the right choice?”
Turns out it wasn’t, not for me, so now I find myself sort of back to square one. While I don’t have a contract, I have gotten much closer to finishing my book (two weeks from editing phase woohoo) and I’ve met a lot of amazing readers who’ve gotten their hands on the prequel and loved it. Does anyone know who I am ? Not really but Big Ang follows me on Twitter. Has J.K. Rowling called me for a lunch date. No freaking way. Do I have publishers knocking down my door? Negative.
None of that really matters though, because it was doubtful I would get any of those things with the path I was on ANYWAY, so why not follow my gut?
I made a tough choice for the good of my (crosses fingers) longevity as an author as opposed to something that felt more like instant gratification. It was hard & yes I feel slightly embarrassed for some reason even though it was my choice.
Despite feeling slightly defeated at first, I now feel a lot happier with where I’m at, and know I made the right decision. I feel I am doing the right thing for my career as a writer, as I embark on something I’ve only ever done twice during #pitmad…querying agents. It wasn’t nearly as scary then because those agents REQUESTED my MS. Now I am just going to find someone (or a few someones lets be honest) who I think would be the perfect match for me, and send them a “please love me” email. I am nervous, and know from my author friends that rejection is as imminent as it is un-pretty.
In the wise words of Coldplay, “If you never try, then you’ll never know,” or something akin to that, so I’m going to join the throngs of crying authors and query my little heart out.
So, for any authors who are at a similar crossroads, I want to tell you you’re not alone (cue cheesy music). Sometimes it’s hard to swallow your pride and take that step backwards. Sometimes that step backwards is the only way to get on the right path. So, here’s to finishing Emerald Kipp & The Riddle of The Timekeeper, to writing an awesome query letter, and to getting my dream agent. (cue slow claps)
As if it’s a big surprise, I love eighties music. It was one of many reasons I decided to set my books from The Empire Witch Series, in that era. As I write, I compile a playlist of songs which are mentioned in the books or inspired my writing. You can listen to The Skinwalker’s Apprentice (currently a FREE Ebook on Amazon!) playlist on spotify here.
I am currently putting together the playlist for Emerald Kipp & The Riddle of The Timekeeper (book one) and the below song has always been one of my favs which made the cut! Listen and enjoy the smooth sounds of ‘Til Tuesday in today’s Song of The Day!