I woke up this morning with an incredibly handsome man in my bed.
Okay, yes, I left my door ajar and my housemate’s cat, Hamlet, seized the opportunity for a snuggle. I looked from him to my bedspread and when I didn’t find cat vomit on it I knew that today really was going to be an absolutely awesome day!
“I’d NEVER puke on your bed, Marni. Not accidentally, at least….”
In fact, I’ve been having a really great week!
I spoke on a panel at the Lewis & Clark Gender Symposium!
The topic: Frenzied Fangirling: Gender, Literature, and the Young Adult Novel.
My Partners-in-crime: Lisa Burstein, Lauren Furnish, and Diana Weiner Rosengard.
The outcome: An afternoon of awesome!
Then I disappeared into my writing cave, emerging only for (drumroll, please)…adventure!
Basically, I spent a whole day with my friend chasing waterfalls.
This is the view from Crown Point, Oregon. Our first stop on the journey!
So. Freaking. Beautiful.
This is…I don’t even know. There were so many gorgeous waterfalls! It stole my breath away.
Speaking of theft…it turns out my great-grandfather was a total con man! My aunt is diving into our genealogy and has been regaling me with tales of his less-than-legal dealings. I guess he was kicked out of Mexico for pretending to be royalty.
I like to think this is where I get my love of the absurd.
BUT THE BIGGEST NEWS IS…
I have a new literary agent! I’m now working with Shannon Hassan at the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency and I couldn’t be more excited! She’s absolutely wonderful.
^—This is Shannon. You can read more about her by going here!
Speaking of Shannon, I just emailed her my new book! I don’t want to reveal too much about it, but I can tell you that this is the first time I’ve finished a project and immediately wanted to spend more time in that character’s head.
So I think that’s a very good sign!
And on that note, I’m going to herd the dust bunnies in my room.
So yesterday I received the following email from the Romance Writers of America:
Dear Marni Bates,
Due to the failure to obtain the minimum number of entries (5 percent of total contest entries) required by the contest entry deadline, the Young Adult Romance category of the 2014 RITA® Contest has been canceled.
I’m not going to lie, I’m really disappointed.
Awards are important. And I’ve spent the past hour staring at my screen trying to figure out how to discuss them without coming across as narcissistic. Here’s a sad truth: It requires bravery for a female author to say that she believes her work to be worthy of consideration. It’s a whole new level of scary. It’s the kind of statement that you instantly want to take back before somebody says, “You aren’t a real writer! Your stories are light fluffy things of absolutely no consequence!” because that would make you want to crawl up into a very tight ball in the back of your closet.
Which is why I still feel obligated to preface this post with something self-depreciating.
Not that I expected to be nominated…
Not that I had a shot at reaching the finals…
I’m mostly disappointed that so many of my peers won’t get the recognition they deserve…
And yes, I absolutely believe that gender plays a large role in this. If you want to read an amazing article on what it’s like to be a female YA author, I highly recommend this piece by Sarah Rees Brennan. It’s spot on.
Here’s a small excerpt from her article:
Common Responses To Female Authors Promoting Themselves I Have Seen, Over and Over Again.
“Why do you think you are so great? You are not so great.” (By promoting yourself/talking about yourself or your work, you indicate that you do think you, and/or your work, has some value, and there is so much pushback, conscious and unconscious, to that.)
“Don’t reblog fan graphics/talk about your characters/talk about your MALE characters (what do you think you are, some sort of harlot?)/be so smug about your books as if you think they might be any good. It makes it seem like you think you’re so great!”
“Do you expect PRAISE?” (I don’t! I never do. Most ladies I know don’t, being accustomed to expecting constant negativity. But it would be nice if people didn’t talk about praise as if it is some incredible, celestial prize that a women should never even dare to dream of getting, and the very idea of them getting it is to be scorned.)
“She’s writing romance and that’s girly and it sucks./She’s writing YA and that’s girly and it sucks./She’s writing literature and men write it better and she sucks./She’s writing about a girl and girls are annoying/shallow/not literature.”
So I repeat: Awards are important. Why? It’s a source of validation. And for a whole bunch of us, it means that we will feel valued instead of dismissed. Especiallyif you write books that end with a happily ever after.
Now I will always love the Romance Writers of America. I’ve met so many unbelievably talented people through that organization. My life is a hundred thousand times more awesome because of the friendships that have formed, too!
But they have made a huge mistake.
The Young Adult community within the RWA first began to feel alienated last year when the organization decided that all books in that category must “focus primarily on the romantic relationship between two adolescents.”
Here’s the problem: YA is all about coming of age. It’s about figuring out your own identity at a time in life where everyone has an opinion about your future. And yes, YA protagonists often navigate complicated romantic relationships, but the happily ever after is usually built on the character’s ability to know what they believe in. Young Adult fiction can also mean just about anything. Historical. Suspense. Horror. Sci-fi. Contemporary. Humor. Drama. There are YA books that include all of those elements…and have a romance too!
So here is the position that most YA writers found themselves in. Do I really want to spend fifty bucks when I’m pretty sure my book is going to be instantly disqualified? Do I want to feel guilty about focusing more on the growth of a primary character instead of an overarching romance?
And for a bunch of people the answer to that was a resounding, “Oh, hell no!” Some of my friends are going to leave the organization because they feel so frustrated/alienated by these policy changes.
Now that whole category has been eliminated.
I know you might be sick of hearing this, but…AWARDS ARE IMPORTANT!
This community is important! This is our refuge when the rest of the world tells us that we are girly and that we suck. So I hope the RWA will remove the problematic language and consider opening the category to late submissions.
So a whole bunch of my writer friends are dealing with online piracy right now.
Actually, that’s misleading. ALL of my author friends are dealing with it. All of the time.
And yes, I’m reporting stolen copies of my books too.
I could rant about how shitty it is to have your hard work stolen. And I could point out that authors do not rake in the kind of money you might imagine that we do. Seriously. If we are lucky enough to get an advance on royalties from our publisher (this is by no means a given!) that money is instantly earmarked for paying the bills. Many authors won’t see a single penny of royalty money even a year after the release date.
Which means that if you want an author to keep writing you should seriously consider, y’know…buying their books.
Just a thought.
But I’m going to try to let my Pirates & Plagiarists Playlist do the speaking for me.
*These songs include swearing. So if that offends you, I’d suggest skipping them!
1. *Sweet As Whole ~ Sara Bareilles
Let’s be real. That’s what we’re thinking.
2. *I Hate Everyone ~ Go Set Go
3. Don’t Ask Me ~ OK Go
Especially if you are directly confronting someone who has stolen your work. I tend to avoid doing that. I just…don’t even want to go near it.
4. My Rights Versus Yours ~ The New Pornographers.
Yep. I’m getting punny.
5. *Sh*t Song ~ Kate Nash
I listen to this on repeat when I’m really mad.
6. Mean ~ Taylor Swift
The title says it all.
7. Brave ~ Sara Bareilles
Let the words fall out…
8. Do My Thing ~ Estelle
9. Strip Me ~ Natasha Bedingfield
I love this song. I think it’s a great reminder that no pirate or plagiarist can ever steal our voice. They can only temporarily hijack our words.
10. Keep Your Head Up ~ Andy Grammer
At the end of the day, this is still the best job in the whole freaking world. So we’ve got that going for us!
Feel free to suggest other songs! I’m always interested in listening to new music!
I turned in my edits for the last book in my Smith High series!
I looked something like this when I sent it back to my editor, Alicia Condon.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m allowed to share about the final book. I’ve seen the cover and let’s just say I got all mushy in the Dulles airport. And then I impressed a whole bunch of travelers with my happy dance.
Hmm…maybe “impressed” isn’t the right word.
So here is what I can tell you!
1. It’s called Awkwardly Ever After.
2. It’s prom time at Smith High School. So, of course, Mackenzie and (name redacted) are shocked when (name redacted) insists on (REDACTED!)…
3. It answers a whole bunch of questions that you’ve had since Awkward.
And I can tell you that it was an absolute pleasure to write.
It’s also rather strange for me to…move on.
I mean, these characters have been with me for over four years. We’ve chatted on four different continents, travelled to seven countries, and visited countless cities together. They’ve seen me through the good, the bad, and the “meh” times.
We’ve pulled all-nighters together. Confided our secrets to each other. Exchanged tons of advice.
And yes, I know that Mackenzie, Logan, Jane, Scott, Chelsea, Houston, Nick, Holly, Corey, Tim, Melanie, Isobel, Sam, Dylan, Miles, Spencer, Ben, Liz, Amy, Lisa Anne, Chris, Alex, and let’s not forget Fake and Bake, aren’t strictly speaking real.
But they are very real to me.
So writing Awkwardly Ever After felt like I was hugging my friends goodbye.
In a good way.
It’s kind of hard to explain. I guess, it’s like heading to college. You know you’ll miss all your high school friends, but there are going to be tons of new adventures ahead! Really freaking awesome ones!
And I’m completely psyched for the next stage of my journey to begin!
Speaking of which…
I’m moving to Portland, Oregon!
I’ve booked my flight and everything! I will officially be sharing an adorable house with two amazing housemates on November 23rd!
So right now I’m packing up my apartment in Los Angeles and pretending to be an adult. Pro tip: It’s cheapest to ship boxes of books media rate through the post office. Turns out, there is a whole lot I have yet to learn about adulthood.
Luckily, I have friends in Portland who are willing to brave Ikea with me!
And teach me how to drive a car.
And take last minute road trips with me…
It’s going to be fun.
In the wake of all that change, you might think I’d want to avoid making, y’know, permanent life decisions.
But right after I clicked “Send” on Awkwardly Ever After, I went to a tattoo parlor with my friends…
Fun fact: I was terrified.
I’ve wanted a small tattoo on my foot for years. During my semester abroad in Australia, I penned it with a sharpie every time a lecture failed to capture my interest.
But I’m a total wimp when it comes to pain, so I never thought I’d ever actually do it!
I thought any tattoo expedition would quickly turn into this:
Everyone was incredibly patient with me. The tattoo artist said that it wouldn’t take long and that it wouldn’t hurt much.
I didn’t believe him.
The worst pain I’ve ever experienced was a bout of seasickness in Australia that lasted for hours. And I’d been deadly serious when I’d asked for somebody–ANYBODY–to shoot me with a tranquilizer gun.
So I was bracing myself for the possibility that I’d spend the rest of my life with a small black “A” on my foot, when the tattoo artist finally began.
I burst out laughing.
It barely hurt.
Seriously. I think I might have gritted my teeth once. That’s it. At times, it almost felt good. Although that might have something to do with all the adrenaline pumping through my system.
Oh my god. I can’t believe I did it! I DID IT!!!
Here’s a close up:
I looked at hundreds of different fonts before I decided to use my own handwriting. I think it adds a personal touch. And I absolutely love it!
On that note…it’s time to put my Awkward foot forward and become acquainted with my newest batch of fictional besties.
Being an author can be pretty lonely. We spend most of our time staring at our laptop screens, trying to listen to the little voices in our heads. And that’s on a good day. On a bad day, the voices aren’t there and we stare aimlessly at the wall before trying to eat the entire contents of our fridge.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Regardless, I think the solitary nature of the job is part of what makes our conferences so much fun.
Sure, we might occasionally wonder this…
And we definitely think this…
But that’s okay!
In fact, I think that’s a huge part of the fun! When I am surrounded by other writers I don’t worry quite as much about saying the right thing. I can debate the virtue of maiming versus killing teenagers without clarifying after every sentence that it’s for a novel. We trade embarrassing stories and bust a move to, well…Bust A Move by Young MC.
(You’re welcome, Tracy Deebs!)
Because when we all get together…well…
I have so many highlights from the Vegas Valley Book Festival. One of which was getting Vivi Barnes to say, “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.”
I loved wearing a sparkly dress to our prom!
Here I am with Veronica Wolff and Stacey Kade! (Pssst….you should totally buy their books!)
Stacey Jay is hugging the floofy part of my dress! Oh, and she is ridiculously good at dancing. Just in case you were wondering.
And that’s not all…
I had a blast speaking on the Choosing the Real Me panel with a whole bunch of crazy talented people. (Lisa Burstein, Ann Stampler, Varian Johnson, Nicole McInnes, Carrie Mesrobian, Daria Snadowsky, and the delightfully wicked Kasie West.)
I’m going to use the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” excuse here. Let’s just say that as we were leaving the stage, Carrie called me the Ron Weasley of the panel.
It went something like that.
Part of me is tempted to end the post here with a quick thank you to Crystal Perkins for putting all of this amazingness together. Because truthfully, I don’t know how to describe the overwhelming amount of heart I see in these authors. But I’m going to try.
When Katie McGarry spoke about foster kids aging out of the system, you could feel it. You could see both her frustration and her steely determination to write those stories. To stand on their behalf.
I want you guys to be able to see it for yourselves though. So you should check out Dear Teen Me and read the advice that these authors want to give their teenage selves.
I should warn you: I felt emotionally sucker-punched by what my friends have gone through. I am awed by their strength and their kindness. And by the passion that goes into their work.
I’m going to link Lisa Burstein’s post here with a trigger warning for rape.
You should read what she has to say. Because it’s amazing.
So here are the spectacular authors I met at the Las Vegas Book Festival.
You know how people say that it gets better after high school? I think everyone in this photo can personally vouch for that!
And now I should get back to writing…
P.S. I am obligated to remind you that NOTABLEis now out in stores and that you should totally buy it. And then you should give copies to all your friends. Maybe post some glowing reviews online…
I hated Chelsea Halloway when I was writing AWKWARD.
Hated. Her. Guts.
She was this perfect blue-eyed beauty who could get anything she wanted with a toss of her hair. The kind of girl who effortlessly flirts with boys instead of stuttering, “H-h-hey! So…that thing was pretty cool, right? No? Um…c-c-catch ya later!”
Basically, she was the anti-Marni.
And I wanted to dismiss her as the mean girl.
Except I couldn’t do that because Logan had dated her. And there was no way Logan would have been sucked in purely by a beautiful face. There had to be more to Chelsea than I initially wanted to see.
More than Mackenzie wanted to see, too.
That thought nagged at me the whole time I wrote INVISIBLE. For some reason, Mackenzie brought out the worst in Chelsea.
But that didn’t mean Jane couldn’t see a different side of her.
By the time I finished INVISIBLE there was no doubt in my mind: I had to tell Chelsea’s side of the story.
And yes, I stared outside at the snow in Oregon while I listened to Chelsea’s rants…
I also collaged like a crazy person.
Here’s the truth: I became a crazy person.
Nobody sane has hair like this. Nobody.
I doodled potential plot points…
I created a playlist for Chelsea…
And I ate this celebratory sushi three months later when I finished my first draft!
I swooned over the cover KTeen created for NOTABLE. In fact, I ran around L.A. snapping photos with the coverflats they sent me!
It’s just so pretty!
My neighbors weren’t thrilled about the way I beautified some signage.
But I couldn’t be stopped!
Chelsea insisted that she deserved a star of her own…
I even roped Laurie Halse Anderson into geeking out with me!
Fun fact: Laurie Halse Anderson is the coolest person in the world. She also gives fantastic advice. I would be perfectly happy letting her make all my life decisions. All of them.
If you had told me when I was writing AWKWARD that Chelsea would steal my heart…I’d have burst out laughing.
But that’s exactly what she did.
The two of us just…clicked. The anti-Marni somehow became my imaginary best friend.
And now she is officially sitting on bookstore shelves!
You would think that at some point the whole publishing part of this process would become normal. But the truth is that I’m living out my wildest dream. (Okay, the wildest dream that doesn’t include an English manor of some kind. What can I say? I really loved Pride & Prejudice.) Most of the time this job feels like something I hallucinated after pulling an all-nighter with my AP U.S. history textbook.
Frankly, I still can’t believe I got away with some of the things I did to Chelsea.
And since I am in Vegas, I had no trouble taking some ridiculous photos for you guys!
Chelsea wanted to check out The Venetian hotel with me. And then she complained bitterly that I had sent her to Cambodia instead of Venice…or Vegas.
But I ignored her complaining and decided to practice my spycraft instead…
Let’s just say that didn’t go quite the way I planned.
Those are real sharks!
Chelsea and I were informed we had the right to remain silent. But let’s just say that this happened…
And then this happened…
I’m kidding, of course!
Even when Chelsea suggests Questionable Life Decisions…this is the craziest I get!
Marni wasn’t here.
Okay, so maybe there was a little power-tripping.
But in all seriousness, I want to give a big thank you to everyone who made this book possible. And that absolutely includes all of my amazing readers!
Your tweets/emails/book trailers/Facebook messages/hugs/fanart/book purchases…they mean the world to me.
I’ve learned something important about myself: I suck at blogging when I travel.
Seriously. I’m the worst at it. Every now and then I think, “I should share these adventures with the world!” and then I come up with a reason to put it off.
Which means that now you get the highlight reel from my trip across America!
Where to begin….
I was too excited to sleep the night before the trip, so I felt like a zombie by the time the shuttle picked me up. And then I met a real zombie!
Okay, I met an actor who plays a zombie on The Walking Dead. That’s pretty much the same thing, right?
Vincent M. Ward now has a copy of NOTABLE. Chelsea probably doesn’t watch The Walking Dead, but Jane is totally geeking out over this.
Still, I couldn’t wait to trade L.A. in for New Orleans. After weeks of stressing over a new writing project, a change of scenery needed to happen.
There were crazy eyes, my friends. And those crazy eyes were attached to my face. It’s never a good thing when you look into the mirror and say, “Why hello! Don’t you look like a serial killer today!”
So the timing for this adventure couldn’t have been better.
Especially since I stayed in a mansion with two awesome writing buddies: Cecily White and Noelle Pierce.
Yep. A mansion.
Cecily contends that I’m exaggerating about her childhood home.
I think that if water comes from a swan, it’s officially a mansion.
Plus, they have a special scoop for ice cubes. I seriously doubt that even Ice Cube lives in such luxury. These are the kinds of details that I notice after two weeks of self-imposed solitary confinement.
Luckily, Cecily’s mom seemed to get a kick out of just how much I loved her home. (Especially my bedroom, which included a little step stool so I could reach the four poster bed. So cute!)
I’m not allowed to tell you about everything that happened in New Orleans. The three of us pretty much swore a blood oath. But I can tell you that we spent most of our time discussing characters and plots and writing deadlines.
Oh, and I went from this…
I have always wanted to play with the color of my hair. Always. But even though I have no trouble grabbing a pair of scissors and snipping away at 3am, I could never bring myself to alter the shade. So coloring it red was my way of shaking things up!
The next few days are now a blur of awesome.
I had a MacGyver moment that involved rigging up my computer charger at the coffee shop with the help of my shoe.
I went to an incredible restaurant called Muriel’s with the girls. There were all these creepy old photos and paintings on the walls and I couldn’t shake the feeling that at any minute they might decide to start haunting me.
Note the super creepy painting behind me…
Here are some other cool photos…that could use much better lighting.
Andrew Jackson: Vampire Hunter.
Creepy pictures. Such a creepy pictures!
We sang karaoke at a club on Bourbon St. called The Cat’s Meow. And yes, Noelle filmed our rendition of Call Me Maybe. Have I mentioned that Noelle is a wonderful, beautiful person who would never stoop to blackmailing me?
I’ve truly missed both of them ever since I left New Orleans.
Our last big group activity was a visit to Cecily’s old high school. The girls we spoke with were absolutely wonderful. They asked fantastic questions and lingered to chat with us after the official lecture part was over. So we definitely ended on a high note!
I’m so glad I visited my older sister! She shares an adorable apartment with her roommate and the two of them took me to a wonderful Yom Kippur service.
Just for the record: “wonderful” and “service” are not two words that I usually put together.
But the Rabbi discussed the Jewish holiday of repenting misdeeds in a way that was current, political, and non-partisan. I was impressed.
Still, I spent the majority of my time in D.C. acting like a tourist. I woke up early so that I could enjoy an entire day at The Newseum and I still nearly went back for more! The FBI exhibit was super cool…
Don’t shoot, G-Men!
And I loved this section of the Berlin Wall!
Not that Chelsea needs any encouragement to act up!
The next day I went to the International Spy Museum!
Even the bathroom signs were made of awesome!
I totally geeked out. And I did my very best to memorize as much information from the exhibits as possible. I’m sure some of it will come in handy!
That’s all I’m going to say for now…
In other news…I took Chelsea to see a whole bunch of national monuments.
I snuggled up to FDR.
I joked around with Lincoln.
I practiced my powerful pose of authority with MLK.
And I met an incredible ballerina who agreed to pose with Notable!
This photo always makes me smile!
Here are some more…
I totally got into my role of photographer.
But perhaps the best part of my trip to D.C. was actually my ride to the airport. That’s because I was able to catch up with a good friend from high school. Danielle and I laughed and joked all the way to Dulles International and I boarded my flight to Boston with a very happy heart.
But you will have to stay tuned to hear about those adventures!
So one of the questions I get asked most frequently is, how did you get published? A fun variation on that, which usually cuts to the heart of that matter is, how can I getpublished?!
Interestingly enough, when I go to writers conferences the question changes. Oh, don’t get me wrong; everyone (myself included) loves to hear about that first book deal! But people tend to be less interested in how I came to have a 4 book deal with KTeen and far more fascinated by my age.
Excuse me, but just how old are you?!
And upon hearing my answer (23), somebody within earshot tends to proclaim, “Holy crap! I could be your mother!”
Um, I think my parents would have broken that news to me by now.
Anyhow, after years of being on the receiving end of stares, praise, open-mouthed gawking, heartfelt congratulations, and lovingly-delivered insults, I’ve come up with some theories for my early success that might just answer everyone’s questions.
So this is how I skipped a decade in my career.
I would like to preface my theory by saying that it is heavily based on the stories I have heard from other authors about how they got their big breaks.
We all wanted to write in high school. Or at the very least, we thought we wanted to write. Maybe we just wanted to see our name on the cover of a book. Regardless, we were fascinated by the idea and we bought journals and imagined all the cool things that we might someday put in them.
And then the worst thing ever happened. The kiss of death for all aspiring writers. We were asked what we wanted to do professionally.
It was kindly asked, maybe by a teacher or a parent or family friend, but suddenly we were put on the spot and our answer wasn’t good enough. We couldn’t tell these people that we wanted to write books for a living! We definitely couldn’t tell them about the stacks of romance novels in our bedroom and how someday we’d love to try writing one of our own!
“Oh, really?” They might say. “And what’s your backup plan when that doesn’t work out?”
“That’s a tough industry. Are you sure you really want to do that?”
“Hahaha! So maybe you’ll teach writing someday? Have you ever considered being a teacher?”
“You might want to take a few business courses in college. Major in something useful.”
“Don’t you need to be in a real relationship before you can write a romance? Those trashy books aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.”
Maybe we heard something else entirely. That we weren’t considered good writers when compared against, oh, I dunno…Hemingway! Maybe someone pointed out that our grammar could use work and that until we had comma splices down to an art form we shouldn’t even consider taking on such a large project. Maybe we were told that to be a real artist we had to come from a tortured past–and that our lack of suicidal ideation disqualified us. Or that to make our writing better, we should make it sadder.
There were rules. Arbitrary ones about adverbs and adjectives and which ones belong in prose and which merely clutter up the works. We were told that we should write “said” instead of “clucked” or “whimpered” because it’s so much cleaner. We were instructed to “show” not “tell” so many times that we wanted to show somebody the door–and maybe give ’em a small shove to hurry up the process.
And at some point, it seemed as if a consensus was reached: we were not worthy of being writers.
We need to be practical. Realistic. Prepared for the harsh realities of life.
So we didn’t write, or if we did, it was a secretive act of defiance and shame. It’s worthless, we told ourselves. Something that shouldn’t be read because we don’t know what we’re doing and anyway it’s just for fun.
That’s what we told the people who bothered to ask.
This is the part where things became really murky for us. Maybe we travelled, or started bouncing between crummy jobs just to pay the bills, or went to college and stopped reading for fun because…
Maybe we got married and had kids and thought, Okay, so adulthood should kick in any second now! Maybe our only goal was to pay off all those student loans before we turned 90 years old.
All those warnings that we should major in something, “practical” might not have helped us find a job, but the pressure still cranked up. If we didn’t figure out something, the plan was to survive on Top Ramen forever. Sometimes we comforted ourselves by saying this:
Some of us tried to be logical–and postpone paying back student loans–by rushing into grad school.
And then something awful happened. Maybe we fell sick. Cancer. Breast cancer. Lung cancer. It’s a tumor, but it might be benign. It wasn’t us, but our mom. Our best friend’s dad got hit by a car and we didn’t know what to say that could possibly make anything better. Maybe our grandpa was barely conscious and we had to say goodbye. Maybe we couldn’t say goodbye.
Maybe we knew this was going to happen. Maybe we tried to stop that person from doing that thing, but it didn’t work and here we are buried neck-deep in the rubble between what could have been and what used to be.
Maybe it wasn’t any one thing, but the weight of our lives started conspiring with gravity to maintain a constant pressure. We found ourselves crying after work. Wiping away the tear tracks and reapplying makeup in bathroom stalls, because if the stress showed on our faces we could kiss that promotion goodbye.
That’s when we started reading again.
Books that made us feel better in high school. Books that made us weep because they ripped out our hearts, but it’s the good kind of pain that reminds us that we’re human. Books that made us smile because we can relate to the main characters and suddenly our daily lives become an inside joke. Books that made us laugh out loud and forget about our problems entirely.
That’s when we thought, I miss this. I want to do this. Why didn’t I do this? What was I so afraid of?
We became time thieves, stealing minutes from work to jot down dialogue in that same bathroom stall. We plotted a particularly difficult sequence in the middle of a meeting. Someone passed us on the street and we found ourselves thinking that our heroine would never wear those clothes.
We drank way too much caffeine.
We searched for people who shared this passion with us, because they might see something that we’d missed. They might suggest something which would make all the difference! And even if they didn’t, at least they wouldn’t dismiss all of our hard work with a shrug and an eye-roll.
We wrote, The End, at the bottom of the manuscript, and it was magic. But we couldn’t decide if it should be in italics or if it should be bold, so we tried every combination.
Our friends read it and some of them had excellent advice and some of them had no idea how to give a critique but were trying their best to be helpful. We pitched agents. We attended conferences. We sent out query letters.
We sank time and energy and money into this endeavor of ours, even though we knew that some of the most important people in our lives probably thought it was a waste.
Okay, so maybe sometimes our friends were right to be concerned.
We gritted our teeth and smiled as people asked if we’re going to be the next J.K Rowling. We crawled into bed and debated giving up entirely when we received form rejection letters.
I am sorry to inform you that…
Yeah, so were we. In fact, we were heartbroken. But we kept sending out query letters or maybe we put it aside and began writing a new book…or both!
And eventually we got the call that changed everything. An agent loved our work! The world was suddenly overflowing with flowers and happiness and sparkly bits of confetti! We danced for a solid week. We imagined giving up our day jobs. We decided to “follow” all of our agent’s clients on Twitter! Heck, we followed everyone connected with the agency!
Then came another wave of rejection. It hurt more than we probably expected, because somehow we thought our agent’s mind control powers would work on the Big Six and the acquiring editors would be all over us within a week.
We worried. We stressed. We sent neurotic emails to our agent and friends. We became on first-name speaking terms with our nearby baristas.
And then we got that other call. The Call.
So-and-so loved it! It’s a small advance, but the royalty rates are great! It’s an eBook only deal, but it will get your foot in the door! It’s going to auction–bidding war, here we coooome!
Maybe our call sounded a little different.
I think you should self-publish this, get a grassroots movement going, and then we’ll show (name redacted) what you have planned to write next!
The stories divulge even more wildly from here. Some debut novels become New York Times Bestsellers. Some go out of print. Some get rave reviews from Kirkus…only to be ripped apart on Goodreads.
Somebody once reviewed my debut YA novel by saying, Awkward is the devil’s way of poisoning young minds.
That same reviewer gave me 3-stars. Go figure!
So if you are wondering why I’ve avoided mentioning myself until now, it’s because my story fits into the one I laid out. The fear that I would never be good enough, that I would never be smart enough; the soul-crushing, gut-wrenching pain of rejection after rejection…those experiences have been present and accounted for in my road to publication.
But there were a few things I had going for me.
I had access to blogs.
More specifically, author blogs. And I read every scrap of advice Meg Cabot ever wrote for young writers. I memorized the most crucial parts and I followed her instructions. I’m paraphrasing, but these are essentially her rules:
1. Don’t tell anyone you want to be a writer–they will only try to talk you out of it.
2. Don’t take writing classes–they will probably kill your soul.
I paid attention to her books. More specifically, I noticed how quickly she wrote them. And I realized that I would have to be able to keep up a steady pace if I was ever going to support myself that way. So I began writing a novel as my high school senior project. (There is more to that story, but I’ll save it for another blog post.)
I was also incredibly lucky to have a supportive mother and a teacher that went above and beyond for me. Jane Claussen agreed to be the advisor on my independent novel writing project. She didn’t really do much advising. She read what I turned in, said that she couldn’t wait to read the next scene, and asked me to write her in as the villain.
I never did.
Actually, she did inspire me to write a character in Jane’s book, Invisible. And I was thrilled to see that the reviewers seemed to enjoy her fictitious doppelgänger as much as I liked spending time with the woman behind it.
Mrs. Claussen and my mom believed in me when it felt like nobody else did.
Another turning point happened during my interview with an alumna from Lewis & Clark College. I was really nervous. I had visited the campus and I thought it might be the perfect fit for me, which meant that I wanted her to pass on a glowing recommendation.
But she asked me what I thought I would regret the most about my time in high school…and I just blurted out the truth.
“I hate my math class.”
She nodded, but didn’t seem particularly impressed.
“No, I mean I really hate it. I’m completely behind and at this point I’m not entirely sure it’s humanly possible to catch up. The only reason I’m in that stupid class is because I know four years of math looks good on my college application.”
That’s when it dawned on me.
“Lewis & Clark doesn’t care about math, right?”
She stared at me in confusion. “Um…”
“I did really well on my AP tests, so three years of math probably won’t stop me from gaining admission, right?”
The alumna looked increasingly uncomfortable. “Well…”
I threw my hands up in the air. “It’s a waste of my time! I could be writing and instead I’m sitting in that classroom trying not to lose my freaking mind! I think I should stop going entirely. Yeah. I am definitely going to drop that class. Wow. That’s so cool. Thanks. So…to answer your question: no regrets!”
My interviewer looked panic-stricken.
I’m guessing none of her other high school interviewees decided to lighten their academic course load in the middle of their session with her.
I was also right: Lewis & Clark accepted me without four years of math.
I spent that extra time writing and grieving the loss of my grandpa. Part of the reason I had fallen so far behind was that in the wake of his death I couldn’t bring myself to care about calculus. I forced myself to keep up with my other school obligations, so I guess my mom was willing to be flexible when I said, “Please don’t make me go to that class today. Please don’t.”
Maybe she could tell that I was seconds away from falling apart completely.
I do have regrets from high school and one of the biggest is that I didn’t start writing sooner. That my grandpa never got to share this journey with me. I remember sobbing uncontrollably when I left a copy of my autobiography Marni on his grave only a few years later.
I don’t know if I attended the Willamette Writers Conference because of my mom, or Jane Claussen, or because I no longer believed in God and figured I should be making my own destiny.
For those of you wondering about the God thing; it’s pretty simple. My grandpa lived a long, full, happy life…and then he died. Which meant that if God existed, he was a total jerk.
A sterling example of Marni Logic.
I paid for that conference with my babysitting money. And because I was way too cheap thrifty to fly, I shared a ride (and a hotel room) with a woman who was certifiably insane. I honestly called my mom from a Burger King parking lot on the road to Portland and said, “I think I’m going to die.”
She thought I was joking.
She wished me good luck and I spent the rest of the ride making sure that Mrs. Insane-o had access to chocolate at all times so that she wouldn’t randomly decide to stop driving–on the highway!
But Mrs. Insane-o certainly motivated me to meet other people and try to find another ride home (I did! Which is probably why I’m still alive today!) and one of those people heard about a company looking for teen girls to write their autobiographies and passed on the info to me.
When I came back from the conference, I sat outside for a couple of hours by my neighbors koi pond and asked my grandpa what I should do. He seemed to be of the opinion that I should go for it.
So I did.
I was hired to write my autobiography my freshman year of college and by that point there was no turning back. Ready or not–and the answer was not–I was going to be published. My whole life story was going to exposed for anyone and everyone to read. That’s when I ran to the school library and checked out their copy of Ella Enchanted.
Fast forward a year and I was a sophomore in college. I was trying to do publicity for my autobiography and learning pretty quickly that it is hard to make anyone care about your book. I also wasn’t writing for myself anymore. I had decided to take a whole bunch of English courses and since I was in a creative non-fiction class, I didn’t have the drive to work on a novel. Or maybe I was just being lazy.
When I think about that year what I remember most fondly was the English course which didn’t exist. That’s right; I created a 400 level course just for myself. I awarded myself an A and received zero college credit, but it was totally worth it.
I called it, Major Figures in Literature: Nora Roberts.
I read almost everything she has ever written. I immersed myself in her worlds and I ignored a whole bunch of my college assignments in the process. I didn’t care. That’s not entirely true; I did care, but I didn’t want to stop.
Reading romance novels in college made me want to keep writing.
They made me realize that I didn’t feel like myself unless I was working on a project. Sure my characters drive me nuts, but they also make me exquisitely happy. And that’s the life I want for myself–and for all of you!
This job does not come easily. Not for me, not for anyone. You have to decide whether you can finish a novel, tear it apart in edits, send it out into the world for criticism, and then start the process all over again.
But if this is something you want more than anything else in the world, then I vote you skip the decade of denial. I vote you try to make that dream happen now.
If you want to hear about a few other pivotal moments in my writing career, check out my YouTube video on that subject
And if you are reading this thinking, crap, I wish I had pursued writing from the very beginning instead of trying to be rational! I’d like to remind you that those years weren’t lost. You spent them gaining life experiences and testing yourself in a million different ways. And you also inspire me to be bold in other areas of my life, to face other types of rejection and failure.
So thank you!
And because I know this incredibly long blog post should end on a really upbeat note, I just want to say that I have now met some of my favorite authors whose books got me through hard times.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips!
Jay Asher, Laurie Halse Anderson and Stephen Chbosky!
And you know what happened right after this photo was taken?
Okay, so after last year the bar was set pretty darn high for the Romance Writers of America conference in Atlanta. I was actually a little nervous that it wouldn’t be quite as magical as my first time.
BUT THIS YEAR WAS EVEN BETTER!
Where to begin?
Well, I was able to meet a few pretty cool people…
Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
Cherry Adair and I even joked around before the Literacy signing!
Speaking of the Literacy signing…I got to hang out a little with Shea Berkley before things started to get crazy!
What can I say? We’re pretty classy ladies.
I loved every second of the literacy signing, especially when some of my AMAZINGLY AWESOME fans showed up to my table! I can’t tell you ladies how much that meant to me. Seriously. It was so wonderful getting to meet you!
(Pictures unavailable. I was too busy geeking out)
And then…well, then I really lost my mind.
Because I got to meet Ally Carter!
I am a huge Ally Carter fan. Huge. I love everything about the Heist Society series, so meeting her in real life was…unspeakably awesome. And I mean that literally. I think all I managed to say was, “I love your books!”
I’m thrilled to confirm that she is every bit as awesome in real life as I imagined.
Here’s the funny part: all of this excitement happened before my 50 Shades of YA panel. That’s when the awesome kicked up to a whole new level!
Jennifer Estep, Erica O’Rourke, Nina Berry, Alicia Condon (our editor) and I had so much fun discussing the limitations imposed upon YA authors when discussing taboo subjects like sex, drugs, and rock and roll alcohol. They were absolutely brilliant and it was a pleasure and a privilege just to sit next to them.
But I must admit, I didn’t have high expectations for attendance at our panel. It was at 8:30 AM!
In my experience, authors don’t tend to do well with morning hours. We avoid them. At all costs.
So I sort of assumed that there would be a handful of bleary-eyed writers chugging down coffee while they half-heartedly listened. And trust me, I would have been thrilled with that.
It was a full room.
And afterwards, Katie McGarry and Kady Cross introduced themselves to me. Because they were excited to meet me! Which still strikes me as hilarious because…have you met them? They are made of AWESOME!
So I’m trying to play it cool and not just blurt out, “I think we should become best friends FOREVER!” when they glanced over my shoulder and whispered, “Did you know that Jay Asher was here?!”
Jay Asher, New York Times Bestselling author of Thirteen Reasons Why, attended the 50 Shades of YA panel.
*Insert geek out here*
It gets crazier. He saved a seat for me at his table so that we could chat before Kathy Maxwell brought the house down with her luncheon speech.
Just in case you were wondering, Jay Asher is a ridiculously nice person with a great sense of humor. Oh, and he can dance.
Time sort of moves funny at a writers conference. I tried to enjoy every second to the fullest, which means that I slept little and lost my voice by the time I left the conference. But some of the highlights include:
I had dinner with Tessa Dare, drinks with Julie James, Tracy Deebs, Emily McKay, (and some other lovely people whose names are evading me right now) and a slumber party with the fantastic Hannah Jayne.
And then I partied with most of these people after the RITA awards!
It was a great night. I mean, you might think authors are a pretty staid bunch…but that goes right out the window as soon as the music starts playing. And okay, so maybe there were a few line-dances. But that just made me feel like I was in What A Girl Wants (Remember that movie? Back in the good ol’ days when Amanda Bynes seemed like she had it all together) and this was just the big group dance number!
And I definitely had a few pinch me, I must be dreaming moments with my friends.
Unfortunately, three hours later I was suffering from either an allergic reaction or a bizarre case of food poisoning. I’m not kidding. The lovely Cecily White and a romance-writing stranger found me shaking and vomiting in the handicap stall in the hotel bathroom. This is so not the kind of information you really needed to know about my RWA experience, but I’m mentioning it because I think it shows the extreme kindness of the writing community. One thing I picked up on quickly was that every woman there was ready and willing to extend a helping hand.
Even if that meant spending their last night at the conference tracking down Sprite and saltine crackers for me.
I feel like the media often portrays women as back-stabbing, passive-aggressive monsters who will do anything to eliminate their competition. That could not be further from my experience at this conference. I’ve never felt more supported, both creatively and personally.
These woman accepted me for me. Even if that included quoting One Direction songs at random intervals, much to Tracy Deeb’s chagrin.
I need to thank my lovely roommates Andrea, PJ, and Lisa for making the conference such a great experience. And to all the authors it may seem like I’ve forgotten; trust me, I haven’t. I love you ladies!
The next morning I boarded my flight to Ashland, Oregon. It was only a quick trip, but I was able to see my family–and meet the most important man in my life!
Smiley Riley with Auntie Marni!
I can’t wait to make up stories with him!
And then I caught a flight back to LA for the Teen Author Reading Night where I met Eve Silver, Jessi Kirby, EJ Altbacker, Francesca Lia Block, and Cecil Castellucci!
It was a fantastic evening that deserves it’s own blog post. But I seriously need to get back to my writing. See, I have these characters making out on a couch and–
I am headed to the happiest place on earth! And for those of you thinking, Um, Marni? You live in LA. Can’t you go to Disneyland whenever you want?
That is NOT my happy place. I’m way too afraid of rollercoasters to go on most of the rides. My friends have given up on trying to talk me into them too. Mainly because I agree to do it with them…and then I begin panicking during the safety checks. Somewhere around the five hundredth, “Oh my god, I can’t do this! No, I seriously can’t do this!” an employee looks at me and asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
That’s when I yell, “HECK NO! I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS!”
And I unbuckle my harness and totally abandon the person next to me.
My happy place doesn’t involve metal rides of death. But I might try to summon the courage to go on a ride if that meant I could attend the Romance Writers of America conference. Because that conference, my friends, is the happiest place on earth.
Of course, I want to be fully prepared for the magic so I need to keep this post short. *Glances warily at half-packed suitcase*
But if you want to see me at the conference in Atlanta, (drumroll, please) you can find me HERE:
Wednesday, July 17
2013 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing
Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atrium Ballroom A–C (Atrium level)
*This event is open to the public and there is no entry fee.
But wait! THERE IS MORE!
I am also on a panel called 50 Shades of YA where a whole bunch of stellar YA authors will talk about SEXYTIMES!
Thursday, July 18
50 Shades of YA
Atlanta Marriott, Room: M301/M302
I am so freaking excited, you guys! Talking about YA SEXYTIMES with Jennifer Estep, Erica O’Rourke, Nina Berry, and my fabulous editor, Alicia Condon…that’s a big enough incentive to get me out of bed before 10 a.m.
And on that note, I really gotta go!
I will do my best to keep you updated on all the awesome! So stay tuned in!