It's that time of year again. Nanowrimo time! The time when I take stock of my writing goals for the year and determine how I best want to use the next 30 days of time to piece together at least 50k words of a draft.
THE PAST IS IN THE PAST
The last few years I have used this time for editing/finishing pre-existing drafts of the Metal Heart trilogy. This year I'm returning to form and committing to drafting a new book titled Rosita Ruins the Heist.
I wish I could say that I was giving this time over to Astrid vs. the Asteroid and completing the final two chapters of that book but I just...I can't do it. I've had a mental block for months and decided the best way to shake things up is to concentrate on my latest passion project: Rosita.
ROSITA RUINS THE HEIST
I've made Pinterest boards. I've made playlists. I've even done something entirely brand new for a pantser/plantser like myself and drafted a whole freaking OUTLINE. Not just any old outline either. I've got TWENTY freaking pages of character sheets and three-act structure plot breakdowns and chapter breakdowns, along with copious brainstorming notes I took when the story was sliding all over the place and going in numerous different directions.
The end result is that I have a main character who absolutely knows what she wants as well as side characters with interesting backstory. AND HEISTS. The entire book is devoted to heists. There are three main heists that drive the story. But also technology and romance and intrigue!
GOALS, GOALS, GOALS
My goal is 2,000 words a day, but I'm willing to settle on 1,600 (the bare freaking minimum). I have carved out space from 9-11pm every "school night," along with at least two full days devoted to writing on Nov. 14 and Nov. 28. The trickiest days will be Friday and Saturday, as both are usually reserved for socializing/family time.
But I'm not feeling too daunted yet, as I *might* have already started drafting one scene, which means I'll be starting out a little bit ahead of the curve. And some of the scenes are caught-in-4k clear in my brain, so it will be a simple means of transposing. I'm also tempted to write out of sequence since I already have a chapter outline/breakdown, in order to work through the inevitable road-blocks that will present themselves.
*fingers crossed* Here goes something!
I am pleased to announce that Iron Curtain, the fantastical sequel to Metal Heart and Tin Road, is now available on Amazon for purchase via paperback and ebook formats. For those who loved the first and second books and want to experience the epic conclusion to their saga, you don't have to wait any longer!
Iron Curtain is the third book in the Metal Heart series that follows the exploits of young women and men conscripted into "national service."
Eleni Garza and Rabbit Santiago reunite after their cross-country adventures to attempt to develop and distribute a cure for the nanovirus. However, in order to save Rabbit's life, Eleni must sacrifice their easy shot at the cure and merge him with the Alpha System, the artificial intelligence she secreted away from the KERN lab. Together, she and Alpha rescue Scarlett Buford from the Mexico City war zone and travel to New Orleans, Louisiana to save her brother Logan. But when those efforts are all thwarted, their final destination will take them beyond earth, to the last refuge for the cure: the Iron Curtain.
This is the third book in the series to be included in the Multnomah County Library ebook collection.
PLEASE NOTE: If you decide to purchase a copy, shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and for those local folks, I'm happy to sign and hand deliver. Just let me know your preference!
Purchase your copy today!
After the great Nanowrimo November writing bust of 2020, I am somewhat hesitant to lay out my writing goals and resolutions for the New Year. However, I am coming up close on completing at least one of my larger writing goals I'd set in place for 2020 (another editorial pass at Iron Curtain) and it seems like the best time of the year to hunker down and plot the course for the next year.
In terms of writing accomplishments, 2020 had a lot to offer. I submitted Tin Road and it was accepted into the 2020 Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection. I graduated with an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University, where I served as Managing Editor at Ooligan Press, helping to usher half a dozen books through the editorial gauntlet. I am now working as a full-time editor AND doing freelance editing gigs on the side.
Perhaps the biggest 2020 takeaway, was the print publication of both Metal Heart and Tin Road. Are they completely perfect? No, not really. Would they both benefit from some professional copyediting and proofing? Probably. But I kind of love them for all their imperfections and I'm pretty emotionally attached to these stories and not really willing to turn them over to anyone else at this point. I'm never going to make a million dollars on this simple little trilogy, but for the sake of my love of these characters, I'm excited to see these books through to conclusion and to have them available in print for posterity. ;) Especially for those out there who love my imaginary friends as much as I do.
So, what's next for 2021?
Resolution #1: Publish Iron Curtain (Spring 2021)
While I am loathe to say a final goodbye to my favorite idiots, the Universe is telling me that...it is time. I've been working on these books and these characters for a decade, and so it seems fitting that 2021 is when I finally write "The End" and part ways with them. I spent summer 2020 writing the ending to the trilogy, and now, after getting notes back from my beta readers, I'm doing an editorial pass where I write fun notes to myself like "This scene has entirely too much blocking. Fix it, it sucks." I even took out the entire first chapter because I usually always start the story just one chapter off from where it needs to be.
Once this round of editing is completed, it goes back into the willing hands of my beta readers (who I made cry last time around, I MADE THEM CRY) and then, after another copyediting and then proofing round, it will be submitted to the Library Writers Project collection for 2021. No matter what happens (whether it is accepted into the collection or not), the book will go into print publication by mid-to-late Spring 2021.
Resolution #2: Finish Astrid vs. the Asteroid (Winter 2021)
My burning secret and shame is that I still haven't finished my first lovely little stand-alone, Astrid vs. the Asteroid. It needs an ending and I guess maybe I'm bad at endings or I just avoid them because I know it means I am saying goodbye to the dear, dear characters I spent months and years creating. Whatever the case, they are most deserving of a good ending and I want to do good by them, so I will be giving Astrid the send-off she so richly deserves very, very soon.
Resolution #3: Draft Rosita Ruins the Heist (Summer 2021)
A memory stealing bank robber. This one has been kicking around in my brain for a few years and I've been itching to put her down on paper. I figure if I can log 1,000 words a day for three months, that should put me around 90k words which would be a very sweet spot indeed for this simple little caper.
Resolution #4: Draft Untitled Horror Novel (Fall 2021)
I have a handful of different horror novel ideas, and it's about time one of them floated to the surface and saw the light of day. My biggest beef with most haunted house stories is that they take place in these GIANT labyrinthine mansions with endless spooky corridors with doors that open to giant dusty rooms. They're almost always situated on huge sprawling estates with tunnels and trapdoors and haunted greenhouses or something. I say thee nay! Give me seedy, creepy little houses in a neighborhood littered with needles and condom wrappers and graffiti and poverty. I want a story set where the bus line ends and drug dealers hang out on the street corners and everything smells like weed.
OR I might end up drafting a book based on this dream I had the other night about a girl who quits her job on her birthday and adventures with a coworker (named Michael Anthony, a very specific dream detail), which just so happens to be the first night of the apocalypse. You know me and a good apocalypse story. ;)
Those are all the writing goals fit to print at the moment. As always, they are probably loftier than their practical and realistic application. I will be lucky if I get Iron Curtain published, finish Astrid, and draft Rosita.
And that's, of course, not counting any of the other goals I have for my editing gigs and we can't forget the writing workshops and critiques and social media marketing, blog posts, eventually putting out that newsletter I keep teasing/talking about, maybe some book club appearances, and maybe a digital reading of some kind plus thinking about converting some of the books to audio...
There is always a lot to do. But without the writing first... none of that other stuff matters as much.
I am pleased to announce that Tin Road, the exciting sequel to Metal Heart, is now available on Amazon for purchase via paperback and ebook. For those who loved the first book and want to continue following the journeys of our intrepid heroes, you don't have to wait!
Tin Road is the second book in the Metal Heart series that follows the exploits of young women and men conscripted into "national service."
This installment focuses on Scarlett Buford and Rabbit Santiago as they escape from the Fort Columbia base and travel to Mexico City, carrying with them a cure for the nanovirus. At the same time, a mysterious clone awakes on the East Coast and joins forces with a super artificial intelligence with the same goal of eliminating the nanovirus. But do all of their purposes truly align? Who will get to the cure first, and who will get lost along the way?
AND it's been newly revised and streamlined for print, which makes this the SECOND edition. I spent Fall 2019 and Summer 2020 reducing word count and otherwise cleaning up errors and fitting it better into the overall continuity of the trilogy. It's the second book in the series to be included in the Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection.
The third book in the series, Iron Curtain, is in production now and will be available in Spring 2021! You don't have to wait long. ;)
PLEASE NOTE: If you decide to purchase a copy, shoot me an email at: email@example.com and I will mail you a signed book plate to attach to your book (yagirl has a jobby-job now and signed special deliveries won't fit in the holiday schedule).
Purchase your copy today!
Hey Everyone! Another Ooligan Press book baby is entering the world!
Please join me at the Laurel Everywhere launch party on Nov. 10 at 6:30pm via Zoom. Along with the editorial team, I'll be interviewed by author Erin Moynihan about the behind-the-scenes book making process.
You can pre-order a copy of the book or register online for the event at: https://linktr.ee/ooliganpress
About the Book: Fifteen-year-old Laurel Summers couldn't tell you the last words she spoke to her mother and siblings if her life depended on it. But she will never forget the image of her mother's mangled green car on the freeway, shattering the boring world Laurel had been so desperate to escape. Now she can't stop seeing the ghosts of her family members, which haunt her with memories of how life used to be back when her biggest problem was the kiss she shared with her best friend Hanna.
After the accident, Laurel and her dad are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Her dad is struggling with his grief and depression, unable to cope with the loss of his family. He seeks a way out of his pain, leaving Laurel behind while he struggles to cope with his own mental illness. She is desperate to find a way to hold everything together again and help her father come to terms with the loss so he can come back to her.
Laurel tries to make sense of her pain with the help of her grandparents, her two best friends, and some random strangers. As she struggles to understand who she is without her family, she must come to terms with the items on her List of Things Not to Talk About, learn to trust her dad again, and on -- on top of it all -- keep her heart open to love in the wake of her immense loss, eventually learning that it's OK to not be OK.
Hope to see you there!
Last year I did a reverse Nanowrimo and cut 30k words out of a manuscript. It was a bit of a grueling process, but actually felt really, really good and resulted in a version of Tin Road that I was confident enough to submit to a local library collection. And it was accepted! It's now available in paperback form for purchase.
I haven't officially announced it yet (I'm going to do a promotional/fundraising push to raise some book and food funds for my Little Free Library closer to Thanksgiving) but for anyone who actually reads my blog and wants a copy, you can purchase now on Amazon. If you show me the receipts, I'll even send you a signed bookplate! I know, Amazon is the devil. But it's allowed me to fulfill one of my meager life goals, which is getting my books in print.
This year, for Nanowrimo 2020, I am torn. I finished the draft of the third novel: Iron Curtain. I got feedback from beta readers. I am in the process of applying some changes and angling to submit to the 2021 Multnomah County Library Writers Project. If that doesn't happen, I still plan to publish it in Spring 2021.
So, I could spend all of November 2020 cleaning up this manuscript.
Or, I could write something new. I have a story that's been burbling in my brain for a while now and it really, really, really wants to get out. I even went so far as to make it a playlist, so you know that's when things are getting really serious. If this brain book and I were dating, making a playlist is the mental equivalent of going Facebook official. I don't really know if that metaphor worked...
Anywho. If I decide to tackle Iron Curtain, the main things I'm looking at are cleaning up the last 12 chapters (out of 32) and overall beefing up the language. Basically, a back-section DE and a line edit. That seems doable in a month. Then I could pass it off to my beta readers for one last review before it goes the MCLWP in early 2021.
BUT if I decide to tackle the new project, that is starting over entirely from scratch. I have a rough outline, a rough character sketch, I know what she wants (and what she REALLY wants, and what she needs). I don't have all the specifics mapped out, but I have a general idea of where it's going. I have to admit, the idea has appeal and some merit. I've been embroiled in the Metal Heart world for months now, and taking even a week long pause to ACTUALLY read a book (bless you Undead Girl Gang for being the one) really helped me approach the manuscript with new eyes. Why, just yesterday I unearthed a fun little plot swivel that will make the ending much more interesting and dynamic.
I'm quite prepared to enact either plan. OR BOTH. I think both will probably be disastrous, but hear me out. No, really.
What if I took half the month to vomit out 25k words of a story that's been taking up a lot of my brain space lately?
And then what if I took the other half of the month to finish cleaning up Iron Curtain so it can FINALLY see print and the fates of my favorite idiots will FINALLY be secured properly?
These are the very questions that have kept me up the last few nights.
And I'm still not clear in what order those things would best fall together. Part of me says: Iron Curtain first. Then take a breather. LET IT BREATHE. Work on this new book and get it out your system. And then come back to Iron Curtain with EVEN FRESHER eyes.
I know. It's too much. Yagirl is always in danger of doing TOO MUCH.
The pragmatic, realist side of me says: You'd better just get this damn book FINISHED. Like, all the way finished. No more distractions. No other WIPs and fun side stories. Iron Curtain is the end of a writing era and it deserves my full attention until it is the best possible version it can be.
I think you can tell which side I am landing on. But when it comes down to November 1... I still have no idea what I'll ACTUALLY do. Here goes something...
I am pleased to announce that Metal Heart is now available on Amazon for purchase via paperback and ebook. It's been a long time coming and I can't wait to hold a copy in my hands and share it with the world in an exciting new format!
"Eleni Garza watched her parents die in a terrorist bombing that stopped her heart. Prothero, a shady corporation, saved her life by implanting her with experimental nanotechnology.
To repay that debt, Prothero enlists her in military service. During a routine combat simulation, strange powers emerge and Eleni discovers she may have a cure for a global virus. She may, in fact, be the cure to the virus.
Now she must escape a heavily fortified military base and deliver the cure to the same terrorist organization that killed her parents."
AND it's been newly revised and streamlined for print, which makes this the SECOND edition. I spent Summer and Fall 2019 reducing word count and otherwise cleaning up errors and fitting it better into the overall continuity of the trilogy.
I've offered to purchase author copies of Metal Heart, sign them, and hand deliver them around the Portland Metro area in September 2020. If you're interested, shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Otherwise, you can purchase your own copy now.
It started out on a whim. I'd driven past a couple of these colorful independent community libraries in my neighborhood, and always dreamed about establishing one in our little corner of Portland. It was just a dream, and I didn't put much stock on it because we live on a dead end gravel street.
But then someone developed the vacant lot next door into townhouses and the city created a bioswale sidewalk that is maintained exclusively by the city and is technically not residential property.
And the final clincher: I hit Level 40 on Pokemon Go and could officially nominate a Pokestop. Little Free Libraries that are NOT situated on residential property have been known to become Pokemon Go stops, so it seemed like killing two birds with one stone. Create a Little Free Library, possibly garner a Pokemon Go stop that I could spin without ever leaving my house. Could it be true? Was such a thing even possible? BUT with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, I knew it couldn't JUST be a home for neighbors to exchange books. It needed to be a waystation for food, hygiene products, COVID supplies, and other essential items.
All I really wanted for my 38th birthday was $380 to turn a weary and faded old closet into something cheerful and bright and chock full of resources for my neighborhood. I ended up scoring $500 (thank you friends and family) and we set about cutting shelves, refitting the door, sanding, painting, and affixing Pokemon stickers (of course). We also purchased a plaque and charter number that allowed us to register our Little Free Library on the global map. Now I'm officially a library steward. ;)
With the leftover funds we purchased culturally specific books from local Black authors Brian and Josie Parker (Believe in Wonder Publishing) and a wide array of diverse books from our local Gresham bookshop Books Around the Corner. Trace Kerr, an author friend, sent us a delightful book-filled care package all the way from Spokane, Washington. It boasted TWO copies of our book baby The Name We Take. And another author friend, Laura Stanfill, publisher of Forest Avenue Press, sent us a copy of
Our first Little Free Library Friday stocking session took place last Friday. And I go out daily to assess the food pantry aspect and restock important items like hand sanitizer, disposable masks, and feminine products. We cleaned my daughter's room over the weekend, and ended up with a couple gallon freezer baggies full of perfectly usable playdough, crayons, and markers as well as some preschool workbooks. Hopefully those will help tide folks over who are scrambling for school supplies in the absence of in-person instruction.
While I'd like to pretend there is a strong literary nuance to our library, my main focus is on supplying our community with books and resources to survive the next year. And honestly, the distinction between "good" and "bad" books wanders too far into a territory of classicism and intellectual elitism that I don't truck with. Somebody's "crap" book is another person's pleasure read. Literacy is literacy is literacy. We're all in this together, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. And maybe the best way to give back right now is to leave a book and lend a hand without being a judgmental a-hole.
One of the more important aspects of this project was having it greenlit by one of my MA cohort members, Desiree Wilson, who wrote her thesis on Little Free Libraries predominantly operating in wealthy neighborhoods and usually stocked with books for white folks (Spatial Politics and Literacy: An Analysis of Little Free Libraries and Neighborhood Distribution of Book-Sharing Depositories in Portland, Oregon and Detroit, Michigan). That concept really helped me develop what kind of books I wanted to stock on our shelves (diverse!), what readers I wanted to focus on (young adults and kids need books!) and how I wanted to steward (like a boss!).
If this idea intrigues you, I strongly encourage you to read Desiree's research paper before moving forward.
And to also consider, right now, what kind of needs your community has and how you can best serve it.
Since I'm graduating from Portland State University this weekend with an MA in Book Publishing during a time of social revolution, I wanted to share with everyone my final research paper (not a thesis, but close enough) that was based around understanding the role authenticity readers play in the editorial process and how to best incorporate them into Ooligan Press. The role of an authenticity reader (re: sensitivity reader, targeted beta reader) is often controversial for many reasons, but I want to underscore the reason that I believe their work is so crucial: they augment authenticity within manuscripts and reduce the perpetuation of harmful negative stereotypes that directly impact marginalized communities.
I do not believe that authenticity readers are THE solution to the inequality in book publishing, nor do I believe they are a band aid solution. I believe they are a tool that both authors and editors should incorporate into their processes as a crowd-sourcing method of fact checking, especially fictional content. If authors are writing outside of their own lived experiences, they need to do their research. They need to do A LOT of research. If editors are acquiring "diverse" books that are not Own Voices, they need to do their due diligence and ensure that these manuscripts are not actively harmful to depicted communities.
In both cases, writers and editors need to ask themselves if the writer is the best person to tell that story. Writers need to be critically examining whether they are occupying space in the industry that could otherwise be allocated to a BIPOC or a member of the LGBTQ+ community or someone with that lived experience. It is a moral question and it is one that we should absolutely be asking ourselves every time we sit down to write.
This doesn't mean you have to stop yourself from writing. But it does mean you need to be highly aware of the optics and the privilege of trying to get that work published. You can write whatever you want. But the publishing industry is a cultural medium and representation in the industry matters. It always has. Own Voices is another tool to clear out space for marginalized voices in the publishing community, a more powerful and effective tool than authenticity reading.
In my opinion - the controversy around this aspect of the editorial process is manufactured. Authenticity readers are not cultural gatekeepers because acquisitions editors and publishing houses and marketing departments already do that work. The perceived threat lies solely in the idea that marginalized communities might actually get A VOICE in the process and that it might be corrective to white, cis-hetero authors who dominate the market share of the industry.
The threat is a perceived one and it exposes another ugly layer to the truths that have been unveiled over the last few weeks as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained national and global prominence. White supremacy is systemic and authenticity readers and BIPOC editors and writers threaten the power of that system.
But the use of authenticity readers is not just about Black representation. It's about representation as a whole and the goal is to provide another system of fact-checking for accuracy in depiction, especially in the current framework where we have a dearth of editors of color actually employed in the industry, and a wealth of dominant paradigm writers seeking to incorporate greater diversity into their manuscripts.
Authenticity readers have been utilized at publishing houses and by authors for a decade or more, but their role is arguably growing more controversial. Why is that? Authenticity readers have influence over manuscripts, but they aren’t editors. So what is their ultimate role in the editorial process? Through interviews with authors and editors, as well as a survey of 72 publishing professionals, and an ethnographic case study at Ooligan Press, this research paper seeks to determine where in the editorial process sensitivity/authenticity readers should be involved and how authenticity readers influence the overall editorial process.
The result of the collected data is that manuscripts featuring communities that are not part of the authors lived experience should undergo authenticity reads in order to more accurately depict those cultures or communities. The reads should happen before or during the developmental edit. Both authors and editors should take part in employing authenticity readers, and it is suggested that multiple authenticity reads take place. Authenticity reading is not prescriptive, and individual authenticity readers are not wholly representative of their communities. Authenticity readers should not censor a manuscript, nor should they be used to shield it from criticism. Their role is purely to vet a manuscript for inaccurate or stereotypical portrayals.
The data compiled in this research was used as the basis for moving forward with formalizing the authenticity reading process for Ooligan Press and developing a database of PSU students and alumni to serve as volunteer readers for future acquisitions.
Very swiftly, everything changed. A global pandemic has emerged over the last few months and shaken the foundations of countries across the world. Everyone has felt the impact. Everyday life continues to change and evolve as time passes. What was the norm last month or a week ago or a day ago may be dramatically different today or tomorrow.
The big economic and societal changes are also shaking up the writing and book world. Libraries are shuttered, book release events are canceled or retooled, and major publishers and distributors are pushing out release dates in hopes of salvaging print book revenue. Small to medium bookstores are struggling and major retail chains like Barnes and Noble and Powell's have closed their doors to the public. Everyone is subsisting almost entirely online now.
Students. Entire workforces. Almost the whole damn country is struggling to maintain social constructs via the internet as we've been faced with building and public space closures, social distancing, sheltering in place, and all sorts of phrases that only recently in the last few months made their way into common usage.
These changes have absolutely impacted my personal writing plans, as I'm sure they've fractured yours. We are not alone if having to adjust our lives, our way of thinking, and our priorities.
But some of the beauty of this change is that much can be shifted from the in-person format to the digital realm without having to sacrifice the content. There is valid loss to the human connection inherent in conferences and workshops, but that's the sacrifice we have to make right now.
Yes, video chatting services are awkward and technology sucks and we sometimes talk over one another and everything is tough, but I've personally found a lot of comfort in both the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and the ebook publishing platform Smashwords stepping up to the plate.
In a time where so many are financially hurting, they are offering free digital writing workshops for their members and published authors. They have given me, and maybe you too, something to look forward to in a future that has dramatically reeled into uncertain territory. I had plans for my graduation and post-graduation life. I had plans to attend conferences in-person and create print and audiobooks.
Many things are now on indefinite hold. Except these awesome free workshops that are going to fill my April and provide me with much needed inspiration and information. Maybe like me, you all just need something to look forward to.
I also discovered recently that the opportunity for a manuscript evaluation through SCBWI is still available and that sparked some hope in my chest. Sure, maybe almost everything has been postponed or rescheduled or cancelled.
But I'm clinging to these little nuggets of workshop shaped hope where I can find them. Maybe you can too.
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.