My new YA romance manuscript

For those of you who are following me on Facebook, you know I’ve mentioned a young adult romance “project” that I’ve been working on. Now, that it’s finished I can say it: it’s a sequel for I Dare You to Love Me!

Yep, that’s right. All of you Brian and Iris fans who were kind enough to leave reviews and were begging for a sequel; it’s finally here! Well, almost. I finished the first draft, edited through it, had a beta reader look at it, and then went through another round of edits. It’s as polished as I can make it. I emailed my publisher about it. Now, all I can do is wait for instructions. Crazy, right? I still can’t quite believe it. In October, I Dare You to Love Me will have been published for a year and now it might have a sequel before the end of 2018!

It’s kind of funny because I never planned on writing a sequel for this particular book. I mean, I fantasized about doing it a few times, just because I love these characters and I had such a great time writing their story. But, because of that rule I have about writing sequels, I held off on actually writing one until I was sure I had an amazing plot that would be just as good if not better than the first. It took almost ten months, but I’m confident I’ve accomplished that.

Here’s the blurb:

It’s been three years since Brian Royland was dared to take Iris Newman to the prom. They’ve managed to keep a strong long-distance relationship even while balancing college classes and jobs.

Around the same time of Brian’s impromptu marriage proposal, William Lexington comes back into Iris’ life with an opportunity to go on tour with a well-known rock band. There’s only one condition; he has to be reinstated as Angst’s bass guitarist. Despite her reservations, Iris can’t deny that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So she puts her engagement on hold to fulfill her dream, with Brian’s blessing.

While the band’s on the road, discovering things about each other that they never wanted to know, the drama in Brian’s life escalates. Not only is he dealing with a competitive coworker, a biased boss, and a roommate who just can’t seem to take no for an answer, but then his long-lost mother decides she wants to fight for custody of Leah after all. Brian and Iris’ phone conversations get shorter the more time passes and the distance only grows wider. Things quickly spin out of control, to the point where both Brian and Iris start to wonder if their love is strong enough to withstand the new miles and obstacles that separate them.

I Dare You to Stay With Me is technically a new adult fiction novel because the main characters are twenty-one, but it still has a young adult feel. It’s fun while also tackling some hard subjects and shedding light on some pressures a lot of teenagers deal with. College students will definitely be able to relate, since Brian’s chapters focus on the stresses of going to school while also having a job. All in all, I think you guys are really going to enjoy this second installment to what I’m very tentatively calling The Dare Duo. It’s too soon to tell if there’s going to be a third book or not. I would love to, obviously, but I don’t know if I can whip up an even better plot than this one in the next year or so.

For right now, I think I’m just going to sit back and enjoy getting this second book published.

Stay tuned! More news to come.

Bachelor’s or no

I’ve started my summer reading class, the last requirement before I can get my Academic Certificate in Creative Writing from Phoenix College. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s been a long time coming.

I started going to college after I’d been living on my own for a few months, and a whole year after I’d started working my first full time job. Getting the necessary hours to pay bills while balancing nine credits a semester was difficult, but doable. Getting my associates took longer than I care to admit. Like any other college student, I changed my mind about my major a few times while getting my associates. First I wanted to be a translator, become proficient in as many languages as I could. It turned out becoming a linguist was going to take several years. So I narrowed my focus to one of the languages I was curious about; American Sign Language. Phoenix College was the only college in the area that offered an extensive ASL program so, after completing four courses at Glendale Community College, I transferred over to PC.

It wasn’t until I’d already transferred that I realized what a challenge this ASL program was going to be. They offered the required classes in the morning and at night. Once I chose a schedule, I couldn’t change it mid semester. It was either all morning or all night classes. I couldn’t take the morning courses because I worked from 8AM to 5PM, and I couldn’t take the night courses because it would mean sacrificing the few precious hours I could spend with my husband. (He has to be up at 5AM every morning and goes to sleep early as a result. So he would’ve been going to work before I woke up and I would be coming back from my night classes long after he fell asleep.) Finding a new job with mid-afternoon to early evening hours that paid me what my current job was paying proved to be impossible. Any online jobs I found needed experience that I didn’t have. So I had a choice to make: get certified as a Sign Language Interpreter or see my husband on a daily basis.

But then it wasn’t really a choice.

With the ASL program off my options list, I finally allowed myself to consider my dream. See, my dad always encouraged me to chase my dreams but to also consider other, more practical career paths that would help me support myself and eventually my family. In attempting to heed his advice, I’d chosen career paths that I’d been interested in but that were also practical and in high demand where I lived. But I felt that God orchestrated this path for me, the one where life kept “intervening” and changing my plans. Because, with no practical career to follow, I finally started considering a degree in creative writing.

And Phoenix College just so happened to have a Creative Writing Program.

It’s only a certificate but with it I can transfer to a university and eventually earn a Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing or just a BA in Creative Writing. It was while I was taking these courses that I saw the most growth in my writing. It was during this Creative Writing Program that I got my publishing deals. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I’d never felt more sure about my career path, more confident in my schooling choices. For the first time in a long time, I believed I could make it as an author.

I still believe I can make a living off of my writing, but it’s going to take time. During that time, I’d like to keep learning and growing. I’d like to have options if/when I “retire” from authoring. Furthering my education could potentially get me a job at a literary agency or publishing company. Hearing my dad’s voice at the back of my mind, I realize getting a bachelor’s would be the practical thing to. I did some research and, so long as the writing classes from PC transfer to the university I have in mind, I would only need eleven classes in order to get my Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing. Even with the payment program they offer, I could only afford to take two classes a semester. But if I take a class in one of the summer semesters, it would only take me two years and one summer to complete my degree.

If I’m totally honest with myself, the only thing stopping me is my own specific interests. Looking at the restricted electives list for this degree, it’s obvious I’m going to have to read and dissect Shakespeare.  I’m also going to have to “analyze” other “classic literary works” from the 1800s. (Raise your hand if Shakespeare confuses you, frustrates you, and sometimes puts you to sleep. Raise your hand if the only classic literature books you’ve been able to enjoy are Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Raise your hand if you feel physically sick when you hear the words literary analysis. You can’t see me, but I’m raising both hands right now. And hopping up and down because I don’t have an third hand to raise.)

I like modern fiction. You know, books that were written in my life time. Now, I’m a good student. I can put in the effort and skate by with a B if I absolutely have to. And the reading class I took last summer proved that there are teachers in this world that can assign an interesting book from the 1800s. But I don’t want to grow to hate reading or writing. That’s my biggest fear.

The other thing that’s holding me back is the fact that 12 credit hours are required to be taken on campus. Which is thirty minutes away. I’m sure I could space out those credit hours so that I don’t have to spend too much time driving per semester, but I’d still be sacrificing time in the evenings with my husband. So that’s something to consider…

Fortunately, I have until the end of January to make up my mind. The university I’m looking at begins accepting portfolios from Creative Writing students in February. If they decide I’m worthy to enter into their bachelor’s program, then I’ll move forward. If not, then I guess my decision has been made for me. And, of course, I have to consult my husband. We were both pretty psyched about not having to pay for school anymore. (This summer class I’m taking now has already been paid for.) We’re still saving up to replace his truck; having a school payment for the next two years will definitely slow that process down. Also, kids might come in the next two years and I don’t want to be in school while I’m raising kids. My mom did that. I could see how hard it was for her to balance it all. I don’t want to have to make the choice between homework and spending time with my babies.

I’m praying God will show me the way, make it absolutely clear whether this is the right thing for me to do or not. He’s done it in the past. For now, I’ll keep waiting and thinking and doing research.

End of the semester reflections

To quote Albus Dumbledore, “Another year…gone.” Only in this case it’s a semester. I took my usual three classes and managed to swing “A”s in all. (Thank God.)

Intermediate Fiction was by far the most challenging because the teacher had us writing a new short story every month. It tested my creativity, forced me to think outside the box. But I’m thankful for this because it yielded some surprisingly good results, with “Entering the Deep” and “To Kill a Vampire” especially. My teacher also had us students giving each other detailed feedback on our stories. There was a form with questions we had to fill out, which made us stop to think about what we just read. I’m not the greatest when it comes to critiquing. I read books for enjoyment, not with the intent to break them down or analyze them. And short stories have never been my cup of tea, mostly because they lack that character development and fluff of a full blown novel (which I love so much). So giving good feedback was also a challenge for me. But, once again, I’m thankful for this. It helped me develop good critiquing skills.

Planning and Structuring the Novel was great. As the title might suggest, we students were given the opportunity to submit excerpts from our current works in progress to receive constructive criticism from classmates and our instructor. This kind of feedback wasn’t as specific as the feedback I received for my short stories, but I was made aware of some important plot issues with “The Andromeda’s Ghost.” (This is a science-fiction novel I’ve been working on. I’ve posted an excerpt or two on the blog in the past.) This novel is my first attempt at science-fiction so it was great to hear that I was doing a good job so far. My instructor’s thoughts especially were helpful. There’s just something about working alongside an impartial adult, who has studied writing and literature, and genuinely likes your work…I’m going to miss discussing my story with that man.

My Portfolio class was filled with more feedback. I basically submitted all of the short stories I was thinking about putting in my portfolio and the teacher, the Director of the Creative Writing Program, gave me his thoughts. In order to get my Certificate of Completion for the Creative Writing Program at Phoenix College, I have to submit a portfolio with 12-15 pages of original work from two different genres, a letter of intent stating my writing goals, and a letter of recommendation from a teacher. I was asked to provide three copies of this, so I can only assume that the director of the program and two mystery people will be reading my work and making the final decision.

Naturally, I agonized over which stories to submit. The three stories I wrote this semester are my favorites out of my little stack of shorts, but they’re all at least 12 pages long, maybe more. I’d only be able to include one. I’ve written a few poems but I didn’t feel confident turning in any of those. (Although, now that I think about it, I could’ve totally turned in my prose poem about public speaking! Dang it! Oh, well…) In the end, I went with a horror story I wrote last semester and the mermaid story I wrote more recently. Combined, they fell within the page limit so it worked out. For better or worse, I’ve mailed it in. Now all I can do is wait.

I’m not technically done with the program yet. I have one more reading class I have to take, but it’s not available until the summer of 2018. I emailed the director of the program, thinking I’d have to wait to turn in my portfolio. He said I didn’t have to wait. He seemed to think I had a shot at that certificate, which was encouraging to hear.

So my schooling is pretty much over. I’ll be going back for that one class in the summer, but then I’ll be done! [insert girlish shriek of excitement here]

I still don’t know if I want to get a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. A part of me thinks I won’t need it. Another part of me is terrified that I’ll totally flop as an author and I’ll need a backup plan. I do okay in school but it’s not something I want to do for the next four to eight years of my life. I want to be focusing on kids and my writing during that time. But life is…well…to quote Forrest Gump, “Life [is] like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.” I could do really good as an author, really bad, or just mediocre. I want to be prepared for all of those outcomes. I want to have a plan. That’s who I am; a planner. So what will I do if, by this time next year, I can’t make a living off my writing? Do I keep at it? Do I get my Bachelor’s and try to get a job at a publishing company? Do I pick another major?

The thing is, I can’t think of anything else I’d want to study. Sure, for a while I thought it would be cool to be an interpreter. I enjoyed learning American Sign Language and all about the deaf community. But when my job conflicted with the scheduling of the interpreter’s program at Phoenix College, I wasn’t devastated that I had to give it up. I would be devastated if I had to give up writing. But I love reading and writing. I feel like getting my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing will make me start to hate these things I love so much…

Uuuuuggggghhhhhh.

It takes effort to trust that everything is going to be fine so long as I do my best. It’s hard for me to be okay with the fact that I don’t have all the answers. It helps that I have a great, merciful God who doesn’t mind repeating that He has everything under control. It also helps that it’s Christmas time and I have family to distract me. Tonight, my husband and I will be flying to Wisconsin to spend the holiday with his mother and brothers. I’m so looking forward to seeing them and having my first white Christmas. Another semester is over. It’s time to celebrate. That’s what I need to be focusing on right now. After the holidays, I’ll be working on book promotion and finishing that science-fiction novel. What comes after that can be decided later.

If I don’t post anything else before the new year, let me just say Merry Christmas to you all. See you in 2018!

The end of the semester

Final grades have been officially entered. I received A’s in all my classes (Intro to Poetry, Intro to Horror, and Literature and Film).

Intro to Poetry and Into to Horror were challenging, as I knew they would be. Neither come naturally to me but I discovered that I could create both, after much study and practice. I personally think my horror pieces are better than my poems, but I’m still proud of the fact that I can write them now. I feel more rounded as a writer, and I’m really thankful for my teachers. They helped make these classes interesting for me, despite the challenges. They encouraged me, told me where I could improve, gave me good advice, and provided books I could continue learning from even after the classes were over.

Literature and Film was just fun. I got to watch movies and read stories that are considered classics but I’d never willingly read or watch on my own (Jaws, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King and it’s adaptation The Shawshank Redemption, The Body by Stephen King and it’s adaption Stand By Me.) I feel more cultured as a movie geek having watched these. For the final project, we were allowed to choose a book and movie adaption to analyze. I chose The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien and it’s partial adaptation The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It was the easiest, most enjoyable final project I’ve ever had to do.

Despite all the fun and the growth I’ve experienced this semester, I’m relieved to be done. With the completion of Literature and Film, I gained the last few credits I needed in order to be done with my Associates in Arts. After four years and five months of balancing school and work, I can finally say I have a degree. I’ll be getting my diploma in the mail in ten business days. It might not seem like much when compared to other kids my age who stayed home, had the freedom to just go to school, and are now finishing up their bachelor’s degrees. But it’s a big deal to me. I’m done with something I set out to do a long time ago. That feels good.

These last few classes I’m taking in the summer and in the fall are for an Academic Certificate in Creative Writing (an associates in Creative Writing.) After that, the sky’s the limit. I could transfer to a university and get a bachelors and/or masters in Creative Writing if I wanted to. I think I’m going to take a break. I haven’t taken a real break since I started college. A part of me is a little nervous. If, for example, a great job within a publishing company is brought to my attention and I’m disqualified because of my lack of education, will I have the strength to go back to school? Will I have the willpower? Or am I shooting myself in the foot by not pursuing higher education now, while I’ve got the momentum? I’m trying not to worry about it, though. Too often I feel as if I choose to do what I think I have to do. In the area of school, I believe it’s time to do what I want to do. Besides, my husband and I are already saddled with his school debt. I don’t think we could handle paying off any more school loans with the jobs we currently have. In the future, who knows?

I’m looking forward to devoting more time to my writing and expanding my contacts in the publishing world. I’m really looking forward to not having to worry about homework!

Here’s to the future and all it’s possibilities!

On the subject of poetry

After acing my Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Writing Fiction, I decided to take some more challenging classes. This semester, I’m taking Intro to Writing Poetry and Into to Horror.

I dislike poetry. I can’t say that I hate it because that’s just too strong of a word and I haven’t read nearly enough poetry to be able to say that I hate it. But I do strongly dislike it. I was forced to read and analyze a few poems in my high school English classes and all of them were strange, confusing, and frustrating. My dear older brother gave me a book of poems by a woman whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. She was one of his favorite poets and he knew that I liked to read so he wanted to share this book with me. I was touched by his thoughtfulness and determined to read that book for him. It wasn’t easy; whatever era this woman lived in, the people used odd vocabulary to express themselves and I didn’t feel too confident that I understood what she was trying to tell me. But still, I read. It was a short book. Once I’d reached the halfway mark, I must have decided I’d given it a fair chance and didn’t have to continue because it remains on my shelf to this day with the bookmark sitting right in the middle.

Still, I can remember my mother reading me the short rhymes of Alan Alexander Milne. He’s known for creating Winnie the Pooh but he wrote a few poems about those characters and several other make believe friends. These my mother shared with me and my siblings. I remember she’d use funny voices and read the rhymes in an almost lyrical way, to the point where the poems would get stuck in my head like songs. The Simpsons did a rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” once, which was shared in my AP English class. That’s the only reason why I like that poem and remember Mr. Poe with fondness. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” was used in an episode of Boy Meets World that stuck with me for a while so I have a soft spot for him too. I’ve always known that there was such a thing as good poetry. I’d just come to the conclusion that they were few and far between.

Because of this belief and aversion, I’m not good at writing poems. In taking this class, I hoped to challenge myself and expose myself to better poetry. The instructor for this class is the same one I had for Intro to Creative Writing so I was confident he’d be able to present this dreaded subject with new energy and interest. The “textbook” for the class is about 160 pages long and looks like an average novel. The author is a poet by the name of Ted Kooser. Three pages in and I already liked the guy. He addressed all the reasons why I strongly disliked poetry and made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my opinions. He drew conclusions and gave tips that could be applied to any form of writing, not just poetry. He included some of his own poems as examples and I really enjoyed them.

My whole perspective on poetry has changed and I’m only on the third chapter! I’m super encouraged and can’t wait to learn more.

I don’t like scary movies. I’ve never understood the appeal of gore or the “thrill” of being scared out of my skin. I have a very active imagination. When I was younger, it would creep into my dreams and sometimes give me nightmares so I tended to avoid anything that was even remotely scary. (I love Lord of the Rings, but I couldn’t watch the scene in The Two Towers where Gollum is sneaking up on the sleeping hobbits until I was about thirteen years old.) Even now that I’m older, I’ve only watched two “scary movies” and they were more suspenseful than scary. I read once that, to write a really good horror story, the writer has to be a little demented. I tried reading a Stephen King novel once and it was really gritty. It was one of the few books I’ve picked up that I didn’t finish. I decided that line about horror authors being a little demented might be true.

Unfortunately (and fortunately) there’s nothing demented about me.

My sister and I tried writing a horror story together just to try something new. Our strengths lie in epic and paranormal fantasy and romance but we thought, hey, with our combined efforts, we can crank out a horror story. We created an outline and some characters, and wrote the first chapter…And that’s as far as our scary story went. Our attempts at bone-chilling horror were laughable. I haven’t tried writing anything scary since.

But in the spirit of bettering myself, I’m starting that horror writing class next month. The instructor for this class taught the Intro to Fiction class that I loved so I’m hoping for a similar experience. More on that later.

2016 Reflections

I know it’s a little late for a New Years letter, but that doesn’t mean I can’t blog about my 2016. I’m calling last year the Year of Change.

My husband and I moved out of our one room apartment in April. My grandparents own several houses that they rent out to growing families and college aged students. They offered one of those houses to us for a very generous rental price and we snatched it up. We had been blessed with our apartment; it was in a safe, clean, quiet environment, with great management and neighbors. But we had a dog that was in desperate need of a backyard and we were tired of not being able to host visiting family members. The school semester wasn’t over yet but we had very little time before our lease was up so it had to be done quickly. The two of us, with the help of a friend, moved everything out in an afternoon. It was a stressful and emotional time for me. I had things organized just the way I wanted at the apartment and it took time to re-organize everything into our new living space. Also it was the end of another chapter and I always get nostalgic about endings. I stood in the middle of our empty apartment after having scrubbed it clean from top to bottom, smiling a little and blinking back tears as I remembered the good times that were had there.

We love our new-to-us house and so does the dog. We were able to host our friends for Pumpkin Carving and Scary Movie night in October, my family for Thanksgiving, and my husband’s family for Christmas thanks to the extra rooms and larger living room space. It’s been a blast. I for one finally feel like an adult. We’re so thankful.

Following the theme of change, both my husband and I switched career paths this year.

My husband had this dream of going to medical school on the island of Saint Kitts (in the Caribbean), finishing his degree in their sister school in Maine, and then doing his residency here in Phoenix. It sounded like a wild adventure when we were dating and, even though I had my concerns about leaving our families and friends and everything we’d ever known, I was willing to go with him. I was willing to be brave and travel to places I’d never been before so long as we were together. But we’ve both wanted to have a family since we were very young. My husband was confident that we could do medical school and raise a family at the same time. Somehow. I wasn’t so sure. Still, we talked about it and prayed about it, until my husband came to me one day and said that he had decided to give up on medical school.

“If we’re serious about starting a family in the next few years, I’m going to need a different career path,” he said, to which I heartily agreed. It was hard for him to think of another career at first. My husband is a man of many talents but he’d had his heart set on medical school for such a long time that he didn’t know what else he wanted to do or even where to start looking. He literally received a sign shortly after making this decision. He was at work, helping his coworkers hang a bill board sign about police agencies hiring in the city. (Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe. Captain Hook: I think you mean an epiphany. Smee: No… lightning has just struck my brain. Captain Hook: Well, that must hurt.) It was so obvious. My husband is strong, smart, quick on his feet, and just. Of course, he should be a police officer! So began the application process. It’s been a fury of studying, taking tests, filling out paper work, and going on ride alongs but it has been a blast for him. The current challenge is the upcoming physical exam. My husband’s current occupation is physically taxing and makes it hard to train but so long as he keeps trying, I’m confident he’ll succeed.

Growing up, my father always told me, “It’s okay to dream but keep your feet on the ground. Circumstances might not allow you to be a writer and stay-at-home-mother as you’d like to be. Think of a subject or area of study you could major in that could help your husband provide for your family should you need extra income.” So that’s what I did. I chose language. I’m already bilingual thanks to my Hispanic father and his family. I’d heard somewhere that being bilingual made it easier to learn other languages, so I thought I’d be a translator. Despite my desire to start with French, circumstances led me to American Sign Language. I ended up really enjoying it. I took four classes and was about to start the Interpreter’s program when complications arose between my work schedule and the class scheduling. An advertisement about a creative writing program on the school’s website caught my eye.

I’ve read many articles about writing query letters, self and traditional publishing, and book marketing. I’ve sent over 100 query letters over the past two-three years and received nothing but polite rejections. Still, the beta readers who read my work insisted I had talent. My writing, which had always been a hobby and an unrealistic dream, was fast becoming frustrating. Did I have what it took to be a successful author or not? With my current career path being blocked at every corner, it was time to find out. I started with Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Writing Fiction, both of which I loved and aced. I received good criticism from my classmates and some much needed validation from my teachers (adults who had studied this area and could spot the difference between good writing and mediocre writing). I still don’t know if I have what it takes to be successful in the writing world, but I know I’ve got something good going on here.

I’ve read that agents receive millions of queries daily. To stick out from the crowd, you need what anyone else needs for a resume: education, experience, and proof of talent. Once I complete this creative writing program, I’ll have an Academic Certificate in Creative Writing (basically an associates). With it, I can transfer to a university and begin a bachelors in English if I wanted. It’s more education than I had two-three years ago when I started querying. The easiest way to gain some publishing experience is to be published. I’ve submitted some of my short stories into literary magazine contests. No bites yet but I can’t give up. Proof of talent in the writing world is having a following. Agents help with some book marketing but I’ve read time and time again that 90% of an author’s book marketing is done by the author. Having a following/readership reassures the agent that a writer is willing to do most if not all of the heavy lifting. Through blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram I hope to develop my following.

All the while I work on my manuscripts in the hopes that one day I’ll be ready to submit query letters again, this time with confidence. In my endeavors, I’ve learned a lot about writing, publishing, and book marketing. It’s become more and more apparent to me that the fulfillment of this crazy dream is going to take a lot of work, especially for an introvert who was determined not to have a social media presence not so long ago. But this feels right. Whether anything comes out of this or not, I’m going to see it through.

While all of this was happening, my husband was learning how to have long distance relationships with his family. One brother moved to Los Angeles to study film and work. Another brother moved to Hawaii to work in the student ministries department at a church in Maui. The third brother still lives in Phoenix but being a full time student keeps him very busy. My mother-in-law, who suddenly found herself with an empty house, decided it was time for an adventure and took a job in Wisconsin. For my husband, who has always been able to drive ten minutes to see his mother and brothers, this has been a huge adjustment. I went through similar stages of grief and homesickness when I moved out of my parents’ house in southern California to study and work in Phoenix. It’s been hard to go through this with him but it’s made his relationships with his family stronger. Because they’re so far away, his brothers make more of an effort to call and text. They’re learning and growing, and sharing their experiences with their older brother. That part has been fun.

2016, the Year of Change indeed.

It’s hard to think 2017 could possibly top it. But yet again it’s only January.