The Dream

I finally got that “yes” I’ve been waiting to hear for almost five years. After sending countless query letters, doing research, writing and rewriting, working with beta readers, sprucing up my writer’s resume, developing a social media presence, creating a blog, and participating in Pitch Madness, a publisher has offered me a book contract for In the Dark.

Just like that.

It doesn’t feel real. Upon hearing the news, I felt elation, validation, pride, humility, and thankfulness. Now that all that has passed, however, I can’t help but feel a little strange. I’ve arrived. I’ve made it. It’s…over?

I’m not naive enough to think that the work is over. I’m sure I’ll have to go through several more editing, formatting, and cover design phases before the manuscript is actually published. Then after that, it’ll be onto the promoting stage. So why does this feel like the end of something? Well, I guess it is to some degree. It’s the end of this stage of my writing career.

How weird is that? I have a writing career now. Before, it was just a dream, a seemingly unattainable goal I had to keep trying to reach because I couldn’t imagine not trying. Now, it’s suddenly real.

I’ve mentioned several times in my blog posts how I’ve had moments in my life when I feel like an adult. When I take on new responsibilities, or when I’ve learned something new and good about myself, or when I’ve pushed my limits and come out victorious in the end, or when I’ve dared to go somewhere or do something that my younger self never would have. Then there are other times when I still feel like that clueless, sheltered, high school girl who doesn’t know anything.

This is one of those rare moments when I feel like both. Adults have careers. They accomplish big, life-changing goals and move on to the next item on their list. But are they ever afraid of what comes next? Are they ever uncertain? Do they ever feel a tiny bit of loss when endings come, even if those endings are good? Or is that just the child within me?

I can’t help but remember that scene in¬†Tangled. Rapunzel and Flynn are sitting in the boat, waiting for the paper lanterns to appear.

Rapunzel says, “I’ve been looking out a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what it might feel like to see those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?”

Flynn says, “It will be.”

“And what if it is? What do I do then?” Rapunzel counters.

And Flynn in his casual way says, “Well, that’s the good part, I guess. You get to go and find a new dream.”

I guess that’s really all I can do, huh?

More details to come. ūüôā

On the subject of fame

My dreams as an author evolved over time.

When I was young and barely discovering my talents, I was very private about my writings. I only ever shared them with my sister because I trusted her opinion and I knew she shared my interest in fantasy. I knew I wanted to get better, though. I soaked up every piece of young adult fiction that engaged me, wishing to learn from successful authors. Of course, being published doesn’t make an author great or successful, and this I discovered from the mediocre books I stumbled upon in my search for knowledge. My teachers were J.K. Rowling, Sarah Dessen, Christopher Paolini, Cassandra Clare, Suzanne Collins, Patrick Ness, Brandon Sanderson, Kelley Armstrong, Rick Riordan, Kristen Cashore, and Marissa Rice. These were the authors who made me laugh and cry, made me fall in love with their characters, made me want to live in the worlds they created, made me believe that good always triumphed over evil in the end, made me anticipate long journeys and challenges because I knew I would be a better person after enduring them.

Without these authors and their stories, my writing wouldn’t be what it is today. And I realized something; I wanted to inspire and teach others too. I wanted to make other young people or young writers feel and believe what all these authors made me feel and believe. I wanted to reach as many people as I could and be able to live off of my writing if possible. In order to do that, I had to have a certain level of popularity. That scared me (still scares me if I think about it too much, to be honest.)

I’ve never been popular, not even a little. I had a small group of friends in elementary school, but those relationships didn’t last past my¬†transfer to private school. My sister and her friends became my crowd throughout Jr. High. I couldn’t stand the drama, the gossip, and the incessant boy-talk of the other girls my age. I had acquaintances in high school, but nobody I would want to spend my weekends with. My older brother and sister let me tag along with them¬†to a young adults Bible group in the next town over. The people in that group were my true friends, people I looked forward to seeing and hanging out with. But with time they all began to get married or move away or get jobs with taxing schedules that kept them away from our weekly meetings. And then I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, having developed none of the social skills necessary to make friends with ease. It took me a few years to fall in with the crowd I hang out with today, and even that crowd is small.

So I shied away from writing for others, and went with the more “practical” career choice.¬†Still, the¬†need for improvement has never dwindled. I’ve continued to work on my stories through the years, to the point where I live and breathe their words. And now I’m back to pursuing that full-time-inspiring-author goal. I’m facing this giant word again: popularity. AKA fame.

Uuuugh.

To me, to be famous means people follow you on social media and comment on everything you say. It means people know your opinions on life and love and politics and the Holy Ghost. It means reporters want to buy off your friends to find out juicy facts about you. It means strangers¬†know where you’re going to spend Christmas, what stores you like to shop at, what you wore to that date with your husband last Friday, whether your kid is good in school or not. It means nothing is secret anymore, nothing is sacred. Maybe I’m exaggerating. I mean, there have been examples of famous people who managed to keep their personal lives personal. I never see Daniel Day-Lewis¬†or Brandon Sanderson or Relient K on the front cover of a gossip magazine, but I have to wonder how much work it takes to be anonymous in a world where information is as important¬†as air.

Just the thought of balancing being known with keeping certain things private is making me want to crawl under the covers and never come out. But I need people to read my work if I want to inspire them. I need people to buy my books if I want to be a full-time author and still help my husband provide for our family. I need to be known if people are going to support me. So I’ll be needing to call Daniel Day-Lewis sometime and ask him how he keeps the media away. I’ll be needing to find some coping mechanism if/when fans start knocking on my door. I’ll rehearse what I’m going to say before every interview so that my words won’t be used against me or my family. I’ll have to be willing to do whatever it takes if I’m to continue. And I must continue. I don’t think I would be able to live with myself if I gave up on my dream again.

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.