Writing

The Ugliest Sweater: Live

Not last weekend, the weekend before, I did something for the first time. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I decided I needed to challenge my fear of putting my work in front of others and really concentrate on getting it out there. I put three pieces into Cold Reads, and pitched and submitted my work to agents. I still haven’t successfully managed to react to someone saying ‘oh, I’d like to read [your story] without immediately telling them everything that is wrong with [my story], but hey. Baby steps.

Not baby steps: reading an excerpt from The Ugliest Sweater to a live audience at the NZSA December Book Buzz and Open Mic.

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Oh this will be easy, I thought. I got up in front of classes of students how many times when I was an English teacher? Not to mention doing presentations at seminars! I’m used to public speaking. This will be a piece of cake.

Yeah, nah. My voice wobbled, and I did that nervous thing when you repeat yourself a lot. Whoops.

Still–I did it! And people laughed at the funny bits, and wow, that was a rush. In retrospect, I’m really glad I chose The Ugliest Sweater to read, because the humour is pretty much immediate. I’m also glad that I chose the NZSA Book Buzz to read at because the audience was primarily other authors and they were definitely a sympathetic audience. I’m definitely going to do this again–and other authors, I encourage you too as well.

 

Cover Reveal: The Charity Shop Rejects Live in Concert

On this day next week, The Charity Shop Rejects Live in Concert will be released! I’m really looking forward to sharing it. We get to revisit Jake and Dan, as well as spending time with The Charity Shop Rejects, who, by performing in ugly sweaters, are men after my own heart.

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The cover doesn’t really convey what this story is about. It’s beautiful—I don’t think Ninestar’s cover artist Natasha Snow has made a cover that wasn’t—and does a good job of suggesting seasonal without being overtly about Christmas or one of the other holidays represented by the NineStar Holiday Story Collection. The problem is that when you have a collection of stories that are as different as the NSP Holiday Collection (seriously, we have stories revolving around Christmas tree ornaments to stories revolving around dragons), it’s really hard to come up with something that can really capture all of them.

So how to properly convey the train wreck that is The Charity Shop Rejects? It’s a tough one. A really, really, really tough one. I don’t know if there’s even—

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Okay, nevermind.

The Charity Shop Rejects Live in Concert.

Mikaal Sarhadi has been in trouble since the moment he met guitarist Declan Hyde. Declan treats music like religion, setting high standards for himself and his bandmates. Mikaal struggles to even step on stage. He will do anything to justify Declan’s belief in him—even if that means ignoring the powerful attraction between them.

After a chance meeting with Brandon, Declan’s estranged brother, reveals just how much Declan will sacrifice for his music, Mikaal wonders if he can even call himself a musician. Worse, drummer Hiro’s visa application has been denied. With time running out for The Charity Shop Rejects, Mikaal must conquer his stage fright or lose music—and Declan—entirely.

Preorder from NineStar Press or Amazon (coming to other vendors from December 18th).

Writing Update & ARC Team call.

Apparently I look like a writer. How do I know this? I showed up to a meeting of the Friends of Ngaio Marsh today, and someone said “[Gillian], you look like a writer–would you take notes?” Approximately two seconds later there was a motion passed to make me a committee member, followed immediately by a motion to promote me to secretary–and here I am—secretary!

Weird fact: I have taken the minutes at all but two meetings that I’ve attended. Apparently I exude good note-taking vibes. Which, I do, so…truth in advertising?

I could share the minutes of the meeting with you today, but I’m not sure that you really want to know all the details of the heritage house tour, so instead a writing update. I’ve mentioned that I’ve got three upcoming releases: The Charity Shop Rejects Live in Concert (For the Love of Christmas #3), Life After Humanity (Thorns and Fangs #3) and Dead Wrong (Thorns and Fangs #4). Gentlemen Don’t Murder is currently with an agent, awaiting feedback. And I’m on chapter ten of an expected fifteen chapters of Morgen Prince (Deep Magic #4). 

You may be thinking ‘That’s a lot of books.’ You’re not wrong.

I don’t know when I came up with the idea of releasing a book a month in 2018, but I did, and so that is the plan. I already regret it, but the point of goals is to challenge yourself and I am definitely feeling challenged. The big freelance project is the major cloud raining on my parade right now, but I’m going to try and avoid taking on any Freelance projects over December and instead try to enjoy the holiday season and my family, without making myself insanely busy.

This may be more of a challenge than releasing a book a month in 2018, but hey–dream big, right?

As I prepare to write more books, I’m going to need help making sure that the works I produce stay up to scratch. If you’re interested in donating your time as an Advance Review Copy (ARC) reader, please drop me an e-mail at gillian.stkevern at gmail dot com letting me know that you’re interested! I’d honestly really appreciate it. This would involve reader the book and leaving an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads, and other online bookstores. If you’d like to help, but can’t commit to reading right now, then taking the time to leave a review on any of my other works would work just as well. Thanks in advance!

October Done/November To-Do.

Sorry about the sudden, unannounced disappearance. I’ve been having some Internet issues. For the longest time, logging onto Facebook meant I got only the top post of my newsfeed loading, Skype was completely unusable, and it took over two hours to send a one line e-mail. My motivation to fight with the Internet to accomplish online things took a big hit with the combination of a big freelance job and the start of NaNoWriMo.

The good news is that as of last Thursday, my net has been amazing! The bad news is that    you’d think that having pretty much no internet would mean that I was incredibly productive, right? Alas. I ended up trying to do something online, getting frustrated, then surfing on my phone instead. So I read a lot of inane news articles, but since I couldn’t really write any lengthy comments on my phone, wasn’t really able to talk much with people. I ended up feeling really isolated and alone during the last weeks of October. Then NaNo started, and I was able to attend in person writing groups, and that has given me a renewed enthusiasm and energy for writing. I have a lot of catching up to do, so I’m going to get to work right away. I have a new release in December, one in January and one in March, so you’re going to see a lot of me from now on!

October Goals: 

  • Banging The Supernatural: revise draft. Done! The sad news is that I think I need to write books 2 and 3 in this series before I can properly edit this one, so this project is going to take a little longer.
  • Freelance project #1
  • Freelance project #2
  • Read 4 books on Craft/Marketing Well, I read the books on Marketing, but in November…and not for my own benefit, but for the freelance project. I’m going to give myself this one because it’s embarrassing to have forgotten it this completely.
  • Plot my Nano project Done!
  • Mindfulness Habit Whoops.
  • 9 Blog Posts Haha, nope!

On the personal life front, October had some big family events. The biggest being that I have started babysitting my niece more often, which is really great. So far November has also had a lot of family events, including a trip to Akaroa for a special event. Plus the garden of my housesit keeps sneaking up on me every time I turn my back.

November Goals:

Since the month is already underway, I’m going to give a progress report on these:

  • Morgen Prince Complete First Draft. (45,499/75,000 words)
  • Freelance Project 9/12 chapters
  • Get back into blogging
  • Return Edits of Dead Wrong (1200 em-dashes).

So far, November is busy but good. Morgen Prince had a few tricky moments, but has been an absolute blast so far. I shared the first chapters with my friend/alpha reader, and she reports herself to be dying of laughter. Hopefully she’s laughing at the story and not my typos!

Dead Wrong: First Draft Complete!

It’s been a while since my last update. There’s two reasons for that. First, I went back and edited a bunch of old blog entries dating back to 2014. It was actually quite nostalgic, reading entries as I worked on Thorns and Fangs, chronicling my struggle and enthusiasm.

I failed to realise however, that in editing the blog posts, I would cause them to crosspost  to Twitter and Facebook. Whoops! I inadvertently spammed my timeline. Sorry! After that debacle, I decided I should hold off posting for a while to avoid annoying anyone.

The other reason I haven’t been updating, is because I’ve been busy working on Dead Wrong—the fourth and final book in Thorns and Fangs. And approximately an hour ago, I typed the last words of my first draft, giving Nate and Ben a very, very, well-deserved HEA.

It feels good! I was surprised how easy it was to step back into New Camden and into the lives of these characters. Writing Nate, Ben, Aki, Gunn and Kenzies, I actually felt like I was hanging out with old friends. While I am really happy for Nate and Ben, getting to the point they are now, I feel somewhat bittersweet knowing that this is the end of our journey together.

I’m comforting myself by reminding myself that October is the start of a new chapter in this story. I’m revisiting Banging the Supernatural (And Other Poor Life Choices). I’ve been sitting on the completed first draft of this, Aki’s story, for years now. And I’m glad I waited. I now see that what was going to be a self-contained side-story has the potential to be a new series, with a second, possibly even a third story waiting. What can I say? Aki doesn’t make things easy, not even for himself.

This also means that I am on track for my insane goal of writing a story a month from July through December. I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m feeling positive. Three down, three more to go!

August Done/September To-Do

I am happy to say that I am feeling much, much better than I was my last goal-setting post. That cold lingered on but met its match in Rotorua. I don’t know when I noticed I wasn’t coughing as much, but I do know that ever since I got back to Christchurch I have been feeling more like my usual self than I have been in months.

There are a couple of possibilities.

1. I have an allergy to something in Christchurch.

2. Rotorua’s geothermal waters boiled my cold germs out of my system.

3. I’ve been back in New Zealand long enough that my body has adjusted to all the local germs and now I’m good.

Really hoping that it is not the first option! Of course it is early days yet, but it will be interesting to see how September develops. And on that note–goals!

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August Goals:

  • Freelance project #1  Done!
  • Get to work on Gentlemen Don’t Murder Not just done—the first draft is complete!
  • Return Life After Humanity edits. Done! 
  • Attend RWNZ Conference 2017 Done!
  • Get organised for Dead Wrong. Done!

Not on my list: keeping my blog up to date. I let this slide because I needed to concentrate on getting prepared for conference and then working on Gentlemen Don’t Murder. I don’t feel bad because the results speak for themselves. Also, I’ve made up for neglecting the blog since!

September Goals: 

  • Edit Gentlemen Don’t Murder.
  • Complete Dead Wrong.
  • Freelance Project #3
  • Regular blog updates
  • Submit work to agent
  • Work on craft

Pretty straightforward…except for that last one. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’m going to put that into action, but I know what it’s something I want to do. I own a ton of writing advice books, so I might search them for suggestions, or go-over the notes I took at RWNZ to try to come up with a to-do list or a checklist.

If anyone has suggestions, I would love to hear them! My weakest areas are creating dynamic scenes, hooking readers and investing characters with emotion—or more accurately bringing that emotion out in the writing because I know they’ve got emotions and they know they’ve got emotions, it’s just communicating that. Thanks in advance!

A Year of Fear: Writing Full Time

August last year was a big month for me. I left behind eleven years of teaching English in Japan and came back to New Zealand. I had limited savings, no job lined up, and was entirely dependant on public transport/the generosity of my family for getting myself places. I gave myself one year to write full time, and then I would look for a real job. The one year limit was my way of dealing with my fear of the unknown, and of failing. A year was a really long time, and it made me sound as if I had a plan. And if it didn’t work out, well, it was only an experiment. A year’s sabbatical.

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I have no idea what I’m doing. Whee!

A year later, I can say that returning to New Zealand was the right decision. Only when I was away from did I realise just how much the stressful situation at my base school was affecting at me. I’ve got my full driver’s licence and my own car. I’ve made a ton of new writing friends and attended two incredible RWNZ conferences. But the biggest most important change has been how I live with fear.

This is the journal entry I wrote when leaving Japan last year:

August 9th, 2016. 

On flight to Auckland, leaving Japan after eight years with [company], six years in [town]. I am writing this not so much to mark the occasion as I am because I need to document my emotions. It has been an interesting week and as I keep going between sadness at saying goodbyes/wrapping up a big part of my life, and excitement for what is ahead, I have noticed that I keep hitting terror, especially when I try to sleep. Last night on the train, I realised I was scared and shying away from the why. I made myself look at what I was afraid of—not knowing what is going to happen when I get back to New Zealand—and felt better, but waiting for the plane to board this evening and talking to Mum via Skype, I realise the fear had snuck back. I need to acknowledge the fear and document it because I suspect this is not the first time I will be making a life choice that scares me and being able to put things in perspective will help. 

Fear was on my mind then, and that’s really interesting because I kept running into fear a lot, those first months in New Zealand especially. My biggest problem was sleeping. I was lying awake, night after night, while my mind cycled through an endless series of worries. My health and energy levels tanked. My usual coping methods weren’t working, so I consulted a professional counsellor about ways I could reduce my stress.

Big surprise! A lot of his recommendations were things I was already doing–goal setting, keeping a journal, making a list of things that I could do to address the things that were worrying me. But he introduced me to progressive muscle relaxation. Turns out that despite no longer being at my school in Japan, just the thought of a certain colleague was enough to make my entire body tense and trigger an angry reaction. By purposefully relaxing my muscles before going to bed I was able to go to sleep—and stay asleep.

I took steps to regain my independence. I started house-sitting and, when I realised that I was afraid of learning to drive, took lessons with a professional driving instructor whose car had a dual brake system (another really, really good decision. I’m sure that gave me the confidence I needed so I could concentrate on the driving). Driving itself was really good for me. It did not come easily at all, and after the first few lessons I felt like I was no longer improving and became frustrated. I’m the sort of person who takes failure personally and quits when things don’t come easily-but I needed that licence. This is where my teaching career came in handy! Having encouraged students to persist learning a foreign language with often contradictory rules, I knew it’s not how easily you pick it up that measures learning. I knew that if I persisted I would get there. And I did. In November I got my restricted licence, in March my full.

But fear is insidious. It found new ground in legitimate worries. The biggest one was money. Learning to drive was expensive, as was paying for fuel and insurance and servicing on my car. The royalties I was earning for my stories were just enough to cover my phone bill, but they wouldn’t stretch to groceries and fuel. Things like replacing tyres and repairs came out of my very depleted savings. I had started working as a freelancer, but my income fluctuated wildly month to month. I wanted to build myself a safety net but my emergency money disappeared as quickly as I could save it. I started stressing over finances and spent a lot of time seeking out new clients. My editing/proof-reading/ghost-writing work took priority over my writing time and left me too tired to write on my own projects, while I struggled to set prices low enough to compete with other freelancers that would still allow me to get by.

It wasn’t until June when I looked back at the first six months of 2017 that I realised how much my financial stress was holding me back. I had plans to write eight stories in 2017. Half the year was gone and I’d written two stories. I made the decision that from now on freelancing would fit in around my writing, not the other way round. Using the journalling methods outlined in The Journal Writing Superpower Secret I’ve kept myself focused and reminded of why my writing needs to be a priority. I’ve also used mindfulness techniques to combat stress, and between the two methods it seems to be working. I wrote a novella in July and a novel in August, and am planning one story a month until the end of the year. I’ve also started applying for jobs. I’m hoping that removing finances from the list of things I need to worry about while make up for time lost with mental energy reserved for writing.

Then there were old worries in new shapes. In Japan, I was very conscious of needing to conduct myself well even outside of school hours, knowing I was viewed as a representative of my company/New Zealanders in a town where everyone knew who I was. I still care a lot about making people happy/not disappointing expectations people have of me. Once I was back home, I spent a lot of time worrying that my relatives looked down on me because I wasn’t earning a big salary, that I had disappointed them. I discovered how deep this fear when when I signed up for the Shave for a Cure fundraising challenge. I was terrified my family would disapprove. Instead, they blew me away with their generous support. I still miss my hair, but knowing that I don’t need to conform to have the support of my family means so, so much more.

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The final fear is tied up with writing. Last year at the RWNZ conference, Michael Hauge who led seminar’s on story structure and the hero’s journey challenged us to take our own journey by identifying the thing which we were most afraid of–and doing it. For me this was really easy. Just the thought of pitching to an agent or hearing my work read aloud and critiqued gave me an immediate fear reaction. Which was odd. I had a few stories published and they were getting positive and negative views, both of which I was handling. I couldn’t be afraid of critique, could I?

Actually, yes! I felt safe writing about my fail!vampires and Morgen train wrecks for an audience that felt more like friends…and  the idea of putting my work before a larger audience scared the heck out of me. I was afraid that once my work was put in front of people who didn’t know me from the DRitC events or Facebook or wherever, that they’d see me for what I was: a clueless wannabe author with literary pretensions and clumsy prose, no idea of what she was doing and over complicated plots. That if I wrote something more mainstream, I’d find out I wasn’t ready for leaving my safety zone. I’d fail–and this time I wouldn’t have the comforting excuse of a really niche genre to hide behind. So I decided in August last year that this year I was going to conference and I was going to pitch a story that would appeal to a bigger audience.

The murder mystery (first draft finished yesterday) is that story. And it’s really funny. Before conference, I really had to fight the story to write it. I was constantly second guessing myself as I wrote. I eventually abandoned it in January. But then we had a family event and for reasons I don’t want to go into, it became really important to have the murder mystery finished as quickly as possible. In the lead up to conference, I wrote 23000 words over eighteen days. After conference, I wrote 49,000 words in six days. What made the difference? I went to conference. I pitched the murder mystery to agents. I heard it read aloud and critiqued in front of a group of writers who I respect myself. And instead of devastating me, it made me wonder what on earth I’d been afraid of.

Disclaimer: I’m sure that there will be all the panic when Gentlemen Don’t Murder comes out. But something really interesting happened to me when I decided that in 2017 I was going to pitch.

I had a year of knowing I was going to introduce myself to agents and pitch a story to them. And somewhere in that year, I stopped introducing myself as ‘a writer, but you don’t want to read what I write.’ When I met people at conference this year, I said ‘Hi, I’m Gillian. I write gay paranormal romance.’ This wasn’t a conscious decision either. It just happened–but it would not have happened if I hadn’t already decided that I was no longer afraid of being a small writer in a big pond. All the fears that I faced were stepping stones to growth.

Was my growth because of the fear or despite the fear? I don’t know, but I do know that acknowledging and addressing my fears then coming up with a strategy is the biggest reason I’m not on a plane heading back to Japan right now. Managing my fear is the best thing I could have done for myself–and I hope you’re encouraged to look at your fear in a different way.

Books that helped me address my fear (links go directly to Amazon):

The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey by Joanna Penn.

The Journal Writing Superpower Secret: Get Productivity Superpowers, Kill Procrastination and Stop Self-Sabotage, and Then Take Over the World by Michael Forest

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Prosperous Creation: Make Art and Make Money at the Same Time (Growth Hacking For Storytellers 5) by Monica Leonelle