Narcissism 101: How I Got My Pen Name

Once upon a time, I stumbled into the world of Twilight Fanfiction. And I was soooo impressed with the medium. I mean, fanfic has always existed, we just didn’t call it that. If you were around in the early 80s, you’ll know about all the Star Trek books that were published with Gene Rodenberry’s permission.

Um, Shakespeare started it. For realz.

There are a ton of great fandom-inspired stories out there, many of which have now been pulled from fanfic sites and published as original fiction. Which has nothing to do with my pen name. As usual, I’m blathering as I wander down a side street, no longer thinking about where I’m supposed to be going.

Hey, this is a first draft, eh? LOL I am unlikely to redraft it, jsyk.

Oh, look! Squirrel!

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Isn’t it the cutest thing?

Okay, okay! I’ll focus.

Well. After about a year of reading Twilight FF, I decided to try my hand at it and that required a user account and a pen name. Because NO WAY did I want to use my real name and have the kids from my school showing up at my door. I was right to worry about that. More later.

My name really is Jess. It’s my preferred name. But I had no idea what to call myself at first and I was looking around the room pensively when my gaze fell upon my dog, Molly.

Molly was named for one of my favourite fictional moms, Molly Weasley from the Potter books.

July 2012 005

My kids say I’m like Molly Weasley to a scary degree. I’m a total Momma Bear. Don’t mess with my cubs. But also, as Fred and George said of her temper, “Don’t let her get on a roll! Once she gets started, she won’t stop for hours!”

I have to admit that’s true. It’s hard to provoke me but once I spout off, I don’t quit.

So, I picked the pen name jmolly. I am named after my dog, who is the Best Dog Ever. And I happily posted FF under that moniker for several years, grateful that the Grade 8’s at my school were oblivious to the fact they were discussing my latest lemon out in the hallway where I could hear them. Man, was that squicky. I overheard them whispering about my FF so many times and I wanted to march up and tell them they weren’t old enough to read it, but I knew I’d out myself.

Yeah. When my eldest hit high school, one of the English teachers was running a jmolly fan club. My son was not impressed. See what I mean about the need for pen names?!?

I will remain safely in my bunker, thank you.

bunker

Uh, it’s not really mine. I found it on Tumblr. I want it, though. I may build one in my back yard. Pretty, no?

Okay. So eventually I started writing original fiction and I started trying to figure out my pen name. A few people suggested I keep Jess Molly.

When you want a pen name, you google it and see who pops up. That way, you don’t find yourself taking a name somebody else in the public eye uses. I googled Jess Molly. I got six hookers, one porn star and a lawyer. Scratch that. I couldn’t possibly share a name with a lawyer.

I seriously wanted Jess Watson. Watson is a family name that goes back a few generations. Well, do you remember the teenager who sailed around the world a few years back? Jess Watson. Sigh.

Through much fussing, I landed on a person who I’ve always rather admired. I watched too many musicals growing up, I suppose, but oddly enough, they got me interested in history. Molly Brown. The Unsinkable. I could relate to that.

Unsinkable Molly Brown

And as for the real lady, what an interesting person!

Unsinkable MB

I decided I wanted to name myself after the Unsinkable. But I was worried I could be sued for it. I actually consulted a lawyer before taking the name. Obviously, it’s okay to be a Molly Brown. Just not to claim to be THE Molly Brown. Isn’t she pretty?

Funnily enough, I didn’t develop an interest in the Edwardian Era until I started writing a WWI novel this year. And now, I’m totally obsessed with the time period! Weird, eh?

So now you know. Pleased to meet ya. I’m Jess Molly Brown.

 

 

 

 

Embracing Rejection

To get a novel published, you have to develop a thick skin, something I started to do five years ago when I began posting fan fiction for public consumption. As great as most readers are, there are those who like to flame writers. You have to learn not to let it get you down. In short, you have to be professional in face of personal attacks.

Melodramatic pug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The worst flame I ever got was for my most popular fan fiction, “I Hunger for Your Touch.” The reviewer said, “You’re a mediocre writer. You ought to just quit and go back to your day job. Don’t subject us to any more of this crap.” Wow, did it hurt. As you can see, I still remember it and it happened 3 years ago. But then I remembered the 1500 reviews that were positive, and I didn’t quit.

I’ve been told by an acquisitions editor that the average manuscript is rejected seven times before it’s accepted. So I haven’t begun to reach my quota, and the positive feedback I’ve had on my original fiction leads me to hope that I won’t have to go through it seven times.

As many of you know, in February of 2012 I was approached by a publisher and asked to write a novel. I submitted my manuscript to them on July 11, 2012. On October 12 of that year, the senior acquisitions editor asked for changes and advised me to get a select group of friends to give feedback before resubmitting. She led me to believe my book would be accepted if I polished it up.

In November, the company restructured. The people who wanted “Moms on Missions” were gone. Nevertheless, I was asked to resubmit and did so in January of 2013.

My first rejection came July 31, 2013 and I was devastated.

Gif-Cat-shaking-the-headI honestly loved that company. The new acquisitions editor told me that they had great difficulty with their decision as they thought the characters and writing technique were excellent. The reasons they gave for the rejection seemed inadequate. First, they didn’t think readers would accept that a group of contemporary Canadian moms would band together to sneakily match make their kids (They never met my neighbours, obviously.).  Second, they didn’t think a bunch of traditional moms, aged 48 to 60, would use Facebook (I beg to differ. Statistics  prove it.).

So, I went back to the original, senior acquisitions person who told me to make changes and she very kindly told me that I had talent, my story could be great and I had to persist. She gave me more tips and I began another rewrite.

Now, if a writer wants to pay a professional editor to edit a book of 120, 000 words, the writer is looking at a bill of $2400 US per edit on average. Considering that many authors don’t get ‘in the black’ until their third novel, that’s a scary prospect. The alternative is to rely on beta editors who will do the job for free.

I’ve been very blessed with extremely talented Betas. The downside is, the process becomes much slower because they’re doing it in their free time. So yes, I probably could have had my book fit for publication a year ago, had I been able to fork out a couple of grand. But I wasn’t, and I’m very grateful to have friends who can edit for me. God bless them!

In late January of this year, I submitted a query to another publisher and received a request to see the novel eight days later. Phenomenal! So, off it went and I tried not to bite my nails. On February 19th, I received my second rejection. Now here’s the funny thing: I wasn’t devastated. I did, however, smack myself in the forehead because the acquisitions person was absolutely right to reject it.

THELUKEE on WeHeartIt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah, you heard me. She told me that I was exceptionally talented but I’d made a rookie mistake. I set my readers up to expect a comedy romance and delivered a dramatic ending. It’s called a “bait and switch.” And I did it. I absolutely did. *smacks self upside the head*

For this revelation, I was soooo grateful. You see, the last thing I’d want to do is write a book that would disappoint my readers. I wrote back to the editor and thanked her.

I went to Hubbs with some trepidation. He wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but he gave me what is likely the most valuable supportive message I’ve ever had: You are in a career where rejection is a regular occurrence. Don’t fuss about it, keep working on it until you get accepted. Go on, get back at it!

tumblr_m064sbYFSD1r1bbmlo1_500 cute owl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I started another rewrite the day I received the rejection notice, hoping to make the book more cohesive by removing a lot of the angst.

I see a lot of upset about rejection (including bad reviews) expressed by professional authors and hobby writers alike. It may seem obvious, but to succeed in this business, one must learn to embrace rejection and be thrilled if a publisher cares enough about one’s work to send feedback. While personal attacks are never acceptable, a negative comment is a chance to strengthen the novel.

In March, I approached three new people who kindly consented to read and evaluate “MoM.” So that’s where my baby is now. With editors. I haven’t received a lot of feedback yet, but I’m willing to be patient.

I’m not giving up.

thereisalwayshope_zpse3fb84ff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure where I’m taking “MoM” next, but traditional publishing still attracts me more than self-publishing. But I have friends who are published, and the dearest of them said to me, “We will find a good home for MoM. It’s a great story and we just have to find the right fit for you.”

Are they great or are they great?

So one day, you’ll get an “I’m getting published” message from me and I will look like this:

 

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And then my minions will look like this:

 

minion joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do hope you’ll stick with me for that day.

Thanks so much for reading my blog and being so supportive. I heart you bigtime and I love hearing from you.

xoox Jess


 

 

 

Ka-BOOM!!!!!

Neuremberg house clipMy kids blew up my house. It’s the only explanation for its current state of… post nuclear devastation.

Kidding. Sort of.

Did you ever go through a time where you carefully crafted plans, made promises and held yourself to high standards and then suddenly, the whole structure gave way? I bet you have, and on more than one occasion. After all, we really can’t control anything but our own attitudes when life doesn’t go as we expect.

I believe God gives us trials so that we learn to rely on Him and not on ourselves. And oh boy, I’ve been reminding myself of that a lot. And you know what? I can keep up with a lot of responsibilities when the structure provided by a domestic routine holds. But throw a few caltrops in the road, and the whole household machine wobbles toward the ditch.

The Roman Society: Caltrops

The Roman Society: Caltrops

November has been one of those months where there has been one caltrop in front of another. And these unwelcome experiences do pass. Seriously. Nothing bad lasts forever, providing we don’t dwell on it.

 

 

 

 

This month at our house, we’ve had:

  1. A small bathroom repair turn into a major renovation. That means the six of us have only had one functional bathroom for a month and our Christmas budget is shot;
  2. An injury to a child caused by a brand new, defective appliance;
  3. A seriously awful reaction to a prescription drug;
  4. This blog fell victim to a spammer.
  5. A broken dishwasher, oven, bread machine, TV and washing machine;
  6. We’ve been waiting for months for contractors to put in a basement egress window and now we have this snow;
  7. A scare with Techwiz’s heart; and
  8. The flu.

Know what? We’ve made it through so far, even though there have been tempers and tears at times. My Christmas shopping is almost complete and I have everything on the kids’ wish lists. And during all this? I did NaNoWriMo. See that little button over there on the right of my pages? I wrote 50, 211 words of my new manuscript in 30 days. While I’m wondering how the heck I managed it, you might be wondering why I tried.

 

2013-Winner-Vertical-Banner NaNo

Way back around the middle of October, before life got overwhelming, I considered whether I wanted to sign up for NaNo. Last year, all my friends did and while they got a nifty certificate and 50K+ of a new OF to show for it, I chose to NOT join and work on my manuscript. And while they got their ‘wins’, I ended up writing 33K anyway. So, I thought, why not? Why not see if I can keep up the pace of a professional writer, while looking after a household during what is normally our busiest time of year?

So, I signed up, and everything went swimmingly at first. I was always ahead of schedule and according to the statistics analyzer, likely to finish on November 20th. And then, Real Life happened. And I got through NaNo, but barely finished today. So what have I learned that might benefit you when your life gets overwhelming? A few things.

People have always asked me, “What advice would you give an aspiring writer?” and I’ve only been able to quote others. Well, now I know exactly what to tell them. And it’s obvious to state, and really difficult to do: Exercise self-discipline.

That’s not only true of a writing career. It’s essential to any sort of success in life.

Being an author, while being part of a family or any other network, requires one to achieve some sort of balance. Now, I’m not saying that my life is in good balance, because it isn’t. But I’m not dying of anxiety, depression or frustration and nobody’s died due to my negligence. And the reason it’s all not thoroughly shot is, instead of trying to devour a whole elephant-sized mess of challenges at once, I take one bite of the elephant. And eventually, the challenges get down to manageable sizes.

It’s easy as an author (or anyone who works from home) to procrastinate. Some people even resort to putting applications on their Internet-accessible devices that block them from going online. I just stick to structure as much as possible. This is pretty much how a weekday is supposed to go (not that it always does):

  • 7AM: Morning ablutions. Stick on a load of laundry.
  • 7:10AM: Wake Painterjoy. Let the dogs out.
  • 7:25AM: Wake Techwiz. Get my coffee.
  • 7:30AM: Read my short devotional and pray.
  • 7:50AM: See my high schoolers out the door and wake my public schoolers.
  • 8:00AM-9:00AM: Do dishes and tidy up.
  • 8:50AM: All kids had better be off to school!
  • 9:00AM: Breakfast and read a book.
  • 9:30AM: Make any essential phone call(s). If there are none, possibly call a friend.
  • 10:00-11:30AM: Answer emails. Change the wash loads.
  • 11:30AM-1:00PM: Spend time with the kids while they eat lunch.
  • 1:00PM-3PM: Write.
  • 2:30PM: Check for any urgent emails.
  • 3:00PM-4:00PM: Hear about the kids’ days.
  • 4:00-5:00PM: House chores and tidy up.
  • 5:00-6:00PM: Dinner and hear about Hubbs’ day at work.
  • 6:00-8:00PM: Variable: Errands/Walk dogs/House chores/Socialize with Hubbs/Help with reno jobs/Spend time with kids (homework help, 1:1 time, deal with anything urgent).
  • 8:00PM: Kick out all visiting friends of kids. Hubbs to bed.
  • 8:00-9:30PM: Write. Prep blog posts, write reviews. Face and Twitter time.
  • 9:00PM: Tell kids to prep for bed (snacks, grooming, etc).
  • 9:30PM: Younger kids to bed.
  • 11:00PM: Older kids to bed.
  • 11:00PM-?: Write and/or read.
  • 1:00AM: Iron-clad bedtime.

Somewhere in there, I’m supposed to maintain a relationship with my husband and occasionally socialize with friends. And I had occasion to count how many times I took the kids to doctors’ appointments this year. This Friday, I took a kid to appointment #98. We have 4 more scheduled before December 31st. As I can’t drive with vertigo, getting places can be a pain.

I learn everything the hard way and life tends to be a juggling act. So, what can I tell you about being productive?

  1. Know thyself and know thy limits. Sometimes, you MUST say ‘no’ to others, but occasionally the thing you need to say ‘no’ to is something selfish;
  2. Take care of your physical, spiritual and emotional health;
  3. Schedule your time, including time for your family;
  4. Break with routine sometimes to have some spontaneous fun;
  5. Do what you love;
  6. Treat people the way you wish to be treated;
  7. Be passionate;
  8. Persevere when you fail;
  9. Be a friend;
  10. Forgive yourself and others;
  11. Apologize;
  12. When something’s gotta give, go with the flow.

 

So, I conquered NaNo. Will I do it again? Maybe. I made really good progress on Mommapocalypse. What’s next? I’m prepping for Christmas and querying Moms on Missions. And I need to get some fan fiction chapters out to my fans, because they’re amazingly patient and I love them. There will be OF writing because I have to keep momentum. I’m hoping to circle with my friends who write because we’ve all been hiding under rocks. Then, there’s the blog.

 

Will I reach all my goals by New Years? Probably not. Will I reach them eventually? I have faith that I will. And my biggest tool will be self-discipline. What are your challenges?

As I mentioned, I fell victim to a spammer who managed to serve my blog over 10, 000 comments this month. If you left me a legitimate comment and it’s not up, I’ve likely erased it accidentally. If you love me, please leave me a comment and let me know you’re reading, and to guarantee that I know you’re not a spambot (because the devils are tricky and hard to tell from real readers), please start your comment off with my name.

 

Hey, I’m sleep deprived and I’ve had no social life for a month. Let me know you’re there?

Happy End of November!

 

Blog Tour: Interview with Amber L. Johnson

Amber Blog tour1

 

Remaining Tour Stops:

Sunday October 27
Fandom Fanatic – AUTHOR GUEST POST – Writing  from a male point of view
The Blonde Mark – REVIEW

Monday October 28 – Release Day
Sydney Logan – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
FicWishes – EXCERPT
Fandom Fanatic – EXCERPT
First Page to the Last – EXCERPT

o~o~0~o~o

An Interview with Amber L. Johnson

 

amberljohnson

 

WebsiteBlogTwitterFacebookGoodreads

 

I first encountered Amber online, when she was writing fan fiction under the pen name of 107yearoldvirgin, and she had a huge following -for good reason. She writes highly-relatable characters, knows how to plot and is blessed with a charming sense of humour. I used to love to escape into her stories, so I’m very pleased to share this interview with you today.

 

Jess: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was little, but I didn’t actually get serious about it until a few years ago.

 

Jess: You were a prolific fan fiction author when your son was just a baby. In fact, I remember a funny author’s note in which you said that you’d hidden out in your bathroom to get a chapter done. I don’t think I did anything terribly creative when my kids were small. Seriously, how did you manage to accomplish so much?

 

Back when I had just started it was because I’d been going through some crappy stuff and wanted an outlet. It was cheaper than therapy. When my son was first born, he had colic. He’d cry for upwards of 20 hours a day and was consistently sick from being in daycare. Once he hit ten months he started walking and his colic started going away so he was actually sleeping at night. Because I was used to not sleeping I used the extra hours while he was in bed to write. I’d crank out 2,000 words an hour most times, so I’d write for two or three hours and – bam – a new chapter would go up.

The day I locked myself in the bathroom was a snow day and there were five people in the house – all wanting something. Food or attention (this was before we had my son evaluated and weren’t aware of the extent of his needs). I just needed a break and to be able to sit in the quiet for ten minutes by myself. So I faked a stomach ache and sat on the bathtub to finish a chapter and upload it. Not my proudest moment, but one that makes me chuckle nonetheless!

Jess: Tell me about it! This is how I feel most days:

Motherhood

 

Jess: I definitely remember those colicky kid moments. And we moms need to take our Mom Time and our laughs wherever we can get them! What is the most valuable lesson that writing fan fiction taught you?

Patience. My editor, Kathie, used to tell me to slow down and stop updating so fast. She said that people would become overwhelmed by the amount I was writing – that I didn’t give them time to appreciate a chapter. Or a story. And it was one of the best lessons I ever learned. Being prolific is one thing but over saturating your readers will make a lot of them simply give up on trying to keep up.

 

WhereWeFellFINALCOVER small

Summary:

Oliver Bishop is having a seriously bad day. With one diagnosis, his life suddenly has an expiration date. Confused about the numbness he has to the idea of it, he unwittingly puts himself directly in the sights of a girl that just may give him a reason to fight – and to live.

Available October 28th on Amazon Kindle.

 

 

Jess: What was it about this particular story that made you decide to write it as your first published piece of fiction?

Honestly it was because I felt like it had an important message. I’ve always said that I wanted my first piece to be something I was proud of. Something that really sets the tone as to who I am as a writer. And I think this hits all of my requirements.

 

Jess: What was your biggest challenge in moving from fan fiction to original fiction?

Fan fiction is still propelled by original ideas, but we have to be honest with ourselves that it’s a lot easier than coming up with our own worlds and characters that people don’t know. If I write a character name in a fan fiction, I don’t even have to describe them. Your mind already knows what they look like. It already knows their back story, even if we give them a new one. Starting from scratch is tough. And it’s even tougher when you think that your old readers won’t be able to see the new characters that you’ve created because they’re so used to reading fan fiction.

 

Jess: Lots of things must have happened as you developed and published this novella. What came as the biggest surprise to you?

The biggest surprise to me was the outpouring of positive support I received from bloggers and other authors that were willing to take a look at something I’d worked so hard on. I’m my own worst enemy and I was feeling like maybe I didn’t stand a chance – but the feedback I’ve received from everyone has made me think that maybe I’m not as hopeless as I once thought.

 

Jess: You’re definitely not hopeless, bb. Trust me. Tell us something about your newest release that isn’t in the blurb.

Hannah’s obsession with health through being a vegetarian was inspired by my husband. After I got sick, he watched a bunch of documentaries and we started changing our lifestyle to be more vegetarian and organic. This was my way of honouring him and poking a little fun at the same time.

 

Jess: Very cool. What’s your preferred climate for writing? Do you like to write in a certain place, with music? Is there a specific time of day that you write?

I can write pretty much anywhere if I’m in a comfortable chair and have music playing. I prefer to be alone so that I can concentrate.

 

Jess: What comes to you first, the plot or characters?

It always starts with one scene. A conversation will take place between the characters and I lock it into place to write around. The plot usually changes as I write because my characters act of their own volition, no matter how much I try to rein them in.

 

Jess: Can I possibly talk you into writing a comedy?

I write comedy! It’s just usually comedy about really tragic things.

 

Jess: LOLOL! Touché. Who has most influenced your own writing?

It sounds weird, but John Hughes has been my biggest inspiration. Probably for my entire life. I actually have to go back through my three new in-progress works to remove mention of him because I talk about him ALL THE TIME.

 

Jess: I’d better bone up on John Hughes. 😉 In your opinion, what makes a good book?

I love books that suck me in. I need the characters to be believable and to react in real ways to things that are happening. And I want, more than anything, for a book to make me feel.

 

Jess: I think you’ve always been very talented at doing exactly that. Best of luck with your new novella. I can’t wait to see more from you.

 

Amber L. Johnson’s novella, Where We Fell, will be available on Amazon Kindle on October 28th.


 

 

 

An Interview with Abria Mattina

Wake - AbriaMattinaEighteen isn’t too young to run your life into the ground, but it’s not too old to fix it, either. The desire for change drives Willa Kirk from St. John’s, Newfoundland back to her hometown of Smiths Falls, Ontario, away from her mistakes and the place where her sister died. She’s looking for a place to settle and rebuild, but Jem Harper just wants to get out of town, back to the life he knew before cancer. By letting the tragedies in their lives define them, they are both dying a little more every day. Welcome to the wake.

http://www.amazon.com/Wake-ebook/dp/B005OMWXZE

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wake-abria-mattina/1106355960?ean=9780986957918

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/wake-9

 

Pigeons feather front cover smallIn this companion novella to Wake, Frank invites the Kirk family home to Smiths Falls for Thanksgiving weekend. Holidays are always a trial for the family that lost their daughter and sister, but Frank is hopeful that this Thanksgiving will be the exception. He has some happy news to share. If only he wasn’t so reluctant to talk about it.

http://www.amazon.com/Love-Among-Pigeons-Wake-ebook/dp/B00EPSJBAI

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-among-pigeons-abria-mattina/1116798951?ean=9780986957956

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/love-among-pigeons

 

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Today, I’m chatting with Abria Mattina, who is a published author, editor, respected blogger, book reviewer and book designer. She loves to mentor writers and I’ve learned a lot from her.

Jess: When did you decide to be a writer? How did you get your start?

Abria:

I don’t think it’s something I consciously decided. Born gay, born straight, born an artist… you get it. Smart money was on me ending up in some creative field, and I tried them all as a kid – visual art, dance, gymnastics, piano. I knew I liked to write as a kid, but I didn’t have my first don’t-eat-don’t-sleep-just-write episode until I was fifteen. I have had many more joyous episodes since, and I’m lucky enough to have a partner who understands them.

For a long time I resisted the thought of writing as a career, though. I thought the only way to make any money at it was to be a journalist, and I hated the thought of writing assignments. I felt that if I was going to write, I was going to do it for myself and write what I wanted.

 

Jess: What’s the one thing you’d tell an aspiring author?

Abria:

Being an author is very different from being a writer. Nobody tells you that, but it’s true. When you’re a writer you write for pleasure, and there’s no pressure because any success or failure is still hypothetical. Once you’re an author, all that changes. You have to perform for your audience. You have to be engaged, consistent, and you have to keep churning out material. Whatever you publish next will be compared to what you published last. There’s a whole new world of pressure waiting and the end of your journey as “just a writer.”

I like to blog about my mistakes in publishing, especially when it comes to marketing, because that’s information that I wish I had known beforehand. Maybe someone else will benefit from knowledge of my mistakes.

 

Jess: You’re very accomplished. How do you balance the many facets of your life and career?

Abria:

Honestly, I don’t. The thing about juggling so many things is that you can only hold so many balls at a time. Something always has to be up in the air while other things are firmly in your grasp. Learning to let go, to accept that I don’t always have to be on top of everything, is how I manage. When my writing life is going well, I find I don’t blog as much. When I experience writing slumps, I tend to blog more or try out new hobbies. It’s okay to fluctuate because it keeps the mind active and engaged.

 

Jess: We’re both Canadian. What do you consider the challenges of being an artist in Canada?

Abria:

Although my books are set in Canada, I can never see myself writing “Canadian Fiction” for two reasons: the market is much smaller and Canadian fiction has a reputation for being grim. There’s an emerging publisher in Toronto whose mandate is to publish “non-depressing Canadian fiction.” It’s a little sad that they had to say that openly in their mission statement. The vibrant, wonderful things about Canada never seem to make it into supposedly “great” works of Canadian fiction.

As for the practicalities of being a Canadian author, there are hoops to jump through, from ITIN acquisition to working with foreign agencies to making sure your work is protected and your pay deposited. I have an ITIN, and I would recommend that any Canadian author get one before working with an American publisher or retailer (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.). It makes payouts so much easier.

 

Jess: Do you self-edit, or do you have pre-readers? Your published works are pristine. If you tell me nobody looks at your drafts, I’m going to scream.

Abria:

I have beta readers and I hired a professional copy editor for Love Among Pigeons. Never underestimate the value of the ARC, too. I had a few early reviewers email me before the book launched to share any last typos they spotted.

 

Jess: How much time do you spend on research?

Abria:

This is difficult to quantify because research is always an ongoing process. I don’t spend six months doing nothing but research and then write. Most often, I research a subject that interests me until I feel that I know enough to write about it competently. After that, I keep going back to my sources in order to get the details and nuances right. I particularly like journal-style blogs for this reason, so I can read the perspective of someone who has firsthand knowledge of my topic. If I can talk to someone directly, even better.

The tricky bit about research is resisting the urge to insert little factoids into the text simply because you know them. Sometimes I see this in the books I read, and it kills me every time. There is a limit to what the reader needs to know to enjoy the story, and it’s the author’s job to keep a handle on that.

 

Jess: I adore ‘Wake’. It’s one of my go-to reads. What inspired you to write it?

Abria:

The first scene that came to me was the scene where Jem and Willa are taking a walk through her neighbourhood, just chatting like normal teenagers – talking about death and serious illness. Once I started, it was one of those stories that just kept coming. I went with it and enjoyed the ride, because there are few occasions in a writer’s career when a story comes so easily.

pigeons-mate-for-life-300x190Jess: ‘Love Among Pigeons’, the companion novella, distills complex elements into a strong, meaningful story. I tend to write epic-length tales. How different was it, going from writing a novel to writing a novella? What were your biggest challenges in each?

Abria:

If I’d tried to write them back-to-back, it would have been much harder. After producing that mammoth, Wake, I worked really hard to cut down the length of my projects. The longest draft of anything else I’ve done since was 70k words. Length wasn’t a problem with Love Among Pigeons, especially after I decided to frame it in the setting of Thanksgiving weekend. Because it centers around a holiday, it has a natural three-day trajectory.

About six months after I published Wake, I started playing around with the idea of a prequel because people had requested it. I couldn’t make anything work, and at the time I chalked it up to my state of mind (my mother was undergoing chemo and radiation), so I shelved the project for a while. A few of those scenes ended up in Love Among Pigeons, and it was nice not to have to reinvent the wheel. I’d been thinking about the story far longer than I’d been writing it. I didn’t feel like a challenge to write. The hardest part was finding the time to write.

As for Wake, the biggest challenge was editing a work of that scope. It still makes me shudder.

Keith Quintanilla, Deviantart

Keith Quintanilla, Deviantart

Jess: Your books deal with some tough, controversial subjects with compassion and tact. You don’t shy away from difficult moral questions. How have your experiences shaped you?

Abria:

I think being fundamentally obnoxious helps. The thing about taking on difficult, controversial subjects is that you’re always going to offend somebody. There were so many things about Wake that offended people – that Willa didn’t handle Jem with kid gloves, the way Tessa died, the way Frank deals with problems, and so on. It happened. I could have gotten my panties in a twist about it, but on the contrary, I was glad. Books that challenge us, piss us off, and make us think, are books that we remember. They’re books that we pass on to friends just so we have someone to talk to about our opinions.

I didn’t feel like I compromised on anything with Wake, even when I knew I was handling a scene or situation in a way that wasn’t conventional or even politically correct. That’s why I could stand by it.

I’ve always been a pretty opinionated person, especially about issues with lots of gray area, but what drew me to writing about disability and illness in particular is my adolescent experience with severe scoliosis. I wore a spinal brace for 23 hours per day, every day, from the age of twelve until the age of eighteen. You can imagine how cool I looked, walking around school in that. The experience toughened me mentally and physically. There were stares, questions, and plenty of pain. By the end I had convinced myself that none of it bothered me, but when offered a chance to wear the adult Spinecor brace, I burst into tears at the thought of putting on a brace ever again. I had a lot of negativity and self-consciousness stored up, just waiting to be channeled into Wake.

 

Jess: One of the things I love most about these books is their clean, direct style. Who has influenced you?

Abria:

I don’t know if I can pin it down to a definite source, because I read so much and always have. I suppose it boils down to the way I perceive tone and topic. I prefer florid language in the historical fiction I read, and spare language in contemporary fiction. I think sci-fi should be very detailed, but fantasy novels don’t have to be. I wrote in a style that reflects my tastes within the genre.

 

Jess: Your characters’ banter is so engaging. Willa, in particular, has a snarky sense of humour that cuts through bull and causes other characters to re-evaluate their behaviour. Where did you get the inspiration for her character?

Abria:

Willa is the person I would have been at seventeen if I’d had the guts to say what I was thinking every minute of every day. Willa feels that she has very little to lose, so she doesn’t care about offending people or being ostracised. She’s brash, but also clever and insightful, and that’s how she gets away with voicing unpleasant truths – sometimes.

Jem’s behaviour is a little closer to my actual teenage experience. He’s always putting his foot in his mouth and then wasting time by agonizing over it.

 

Jess: You’re a synaesthete. I know someone who sees music in shapes and colours. What kind of synesthesia do you have and how do you think it influences your work?

Abria:

I read in color, perceive sounds as colors, shapes, and tactile stimuli, and I perceive inanimate objects as having genders or personalities. Often tastes have colors, but that one isn’t universal for me. I don’t know that it really influences my work that much, but it definitely gives me a better-than-average memory.

 

Jess: How do stories germinate for you?

Abria:

They either start with a color or a character. With Wake that color was turquoise and it had a sound similar to the bridge of I Believe in Father Christmas by Greg Lake. With one of my other projects, it was the color of the protagonist’s name. I rarely outline because I like having the freedom to let the characters surprise me. I find the story doesn’t grow organically when I outline, because I’m too focused on fulfilling a checklist of plot points.

 

Jess: If there’s one thing readers could take away from your books, what would it be?

Abria:

I think the value of my books lies in the way people use them to explain difficult situations or emotions to others. Over the past two years I’ve received emails from cancer patients and survivors who recognized themselves in the characters. Some of them couldn’t even finish the book because it cut too close to the bone for them. What these emails generally have in common is that the people writing them have used Wake to guide their friends and family into conversations about their feelings or experiences. The characters become stand-ins for their real-life problems, and it becomes easier to talk about it.

 

Jess: What’s the one thing you wish an interviewer would ask?

Abria: I guess, What’s the weirdest comment on your work that you’ve ever heard?

The answer would be: “I expected them to just stop arguing and start making out.” The person who said this was talking about the argument in the middle of Wake. That scene is loaded with tension, and in a typical romance book it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the protagonists let the passion of the argument turn into sexual passion. But I absolutely hate that. It’s such a cop-out, every time. If you’re going to start a fight between characters, finish the fight! It’s more believable, more satisfying for the reader, and better for you as a writer.

 

Jess: What do you think you might be doing 10 years from now?

Abria:

Pursuing world domination from a bunker in Greenland.

But seriously, being able to write full time someday would be sweet.

 

NOTE TO READERS: Wake is one of my favourite novels. I’m guest-blogging today at http://www.firstpagetothelast.com/ . Please visit to read my review.

You may visit Abria on her websites, http://www.abriamattina.com , http://www.shallwrite.com/ , and follow her on Twitter @AbriaMattina. Thanks for spending time with us today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narcissism 101: My Writing Evolution

Writer poster

Talking about how I came to be a writer feels awfully self-centered. But, what the heck?

When I was a rug rat, I got sick and my mother got super-anxious because the doctor didn’t take it seriously. Not even when I attempted to die. Ends up, I was diabetic and my blood sugar was over 800 (Old scale. I think that’s like having an A1C of 80 today. Normal is 5). My mother was told I wouldn’t live. I did. Then, she was told I wouldn’t walk again. I did. At the age of four, she put me in ballet. I danced until I was 16, when weak ankles prevented me from going en pointe.

Doctors don’t know everything.

My point? I think when I temporarily lost the ability to walk, my imagination took over. Like in Polyanna.

Boredom is a foreign concept. I think the only time I’ve ever been bored is when trapped in my Grade 9 (a.k.a. Freshman Year of high school) math class, with a teacher who said “Um… err,” every other word. It’s the only time I’ve ever considered doing violence. Seriously, abusing the English language like that? Grounds for mayhem. We spent four months learning how to do basic fractions. Sigh.

Why be bored if you can construct worlds in your head? Use your imagination, already!

9-19-2008_010 - Copy croppedI’ve always had an affinity for words. When I was two, I told my doctor that after someone took a bath, there was condensation on the toilet, which vibrated when flushed.

(Did I mention I was weird eccentric? Might as well put that out there right now.)

By the time I was three, I was reading and writing. Somewhere, my mother has a recording of me reading The Fwee Littoh Peegs. I think she played it for every friend I ever had. Most of them did not run away screaming. Yeah, I had good friends.

When I was five, I had a (very) short story published in an educational tome. I’m still fond of that story. That was likely the first time I said, “I want to be a writer.” I have a binder of stories I wrote as a child. Who knows? Someday, I might update and publish them. Not exactly my normal area of concentration. *coughs –spicy romance- coughs* But hey, Judy Blume gets away with writing two disparate genres. Of course, she’s Judy Blume. She’s on Twitter, by the way. I tweeted with her once… *fangirl moment*

At eight, I read at an adult level. I was annoying like that.

As a hobby, in Grade 7 and 8, I wrote three reference book manuscripts about animals, birds and fish, complete with drawings. I showed them to my school librarian. I think he was gobsmacked that a kid my age would spend scads of spare time compiling reference material. Alien. He wanted me to publish, but I hadn’t credited my sources, so I couldn’t do anything with the manuscripts. Now, we have the Internet and kids don’t need books like that anyhow.

In Grade 9, I met my first mentor, a genius who had abandoned teaching in a prestigious university in favour of shaping young minds. His name was Merv Sharpe and I don’t think I’d be a writer today were it not for him. He’d scrawl pages and pages of English notes on five blackboards and when class was over, not a few kids were groaning and clutching cramped hands.

The majority of my friends were quirky. They’d have been the fringe kids today, probably. Most of the guys had mullets (except my pal Brian J., who was an army cadet). Most of the girls were a bit punk, with earrings in unusual places and dyed, spiky hair. I had a ducktail like David Bowie. I put this highlight-stuff on it that washed out. It was like gold paint and it came in a mascara-like tube. My guy friends were hooked on Metallica and Skinny Puppy, and the girls were into Billy Idol and Eurythmics. As for me, I was absorbing Bowie 24-7, with a dash of Sting and Peter Gabriel thrown in for kicks.

The kids a year older than me let me hang out with them in Art. The ones my age jammed in the music room during lunch hour. Great times.

Yeah, I’m nostalgic about the Eighties. Sue me. The clothes and hair were epic. I still wear my Esprit jean jacket, which cost me a whopping $50 back in 1986. Quality lasts.

I can still sing you any Bowie song up to 1989. Try me.

He’s still got it. Just sayin’. I really want to see his multimedia art exhibition, but it probably won’t happen for me.

I got Mr. Sharpe again in Grade 13 (a.k.a. Senior Year #2). I’d get my work done and my pal Brian J. and I would start exchanging notes and sketches. Mr. Sharpe noticed, and in the hope that he could prevent us from plotting world domination, he started passing us sheets of foolscap with one word (or phrase) at the top, written in red. B.J. and I would spend the rest of the class responding to the teacher’s note. We’d swap papers and read them, then, hand them in. I still remember some of those pages:

Why?

Would you rather be a legend or a myth?

Hero vs. heroine.

Astrology and astronomy.

Merv Sharpe taught me how to express opinions and emotion on paper. If I could see him today, I’d hug him. I missed seeing him at my 20th high school reunion. Boo.

In my teens, I dabbled in poetry. Somehow, I got a couple of poems published in a compilation. My family spent more buying half a dozen copies than I ever made off it, with good reason. I’d prefer that it never see the light of day.

University? I didn’t think a Lit degree would snare me a job, so I majored in music, specializing in Music Education. I’m a Dramatic Soprano. Betcha don’t know what that is! Technically, I can conduct a band or choir (You wouldn’t want me to). Plus, I tried out a bunch of instruments. Although I played a lot of flute, I cherish a secret hope to play the oboe professionally, but I don’t have the time to indulge every dream. I also loved bassoon, but I suck at clarinet. I minored in French, English Lit, and Psychology. My intent was to go to Teacher’s College, but my grandmother had Parkinson’s and I didn’t want to leave home. My mother worked and Grammie would have had to go into a nursing home. Not an option.

Then, I met Hubbs. I was his boss in the Opera Workshop program, where I was in charge of props and dressings. I took one look and thought, “I could marry him.” That was 22 years ago.

Later, I was a stage manager. We finished up school, then found out music degrees weren’t very handy. He decided to trade being an opera singer for accounting, and I took a six month course in Secretarial Sciences. That’s where I got my typing up to 90wpm. Need a job? If you’ve got a computer, take advantage of a free Learn to Type program and practice, practice, practice. Here’s one for you: http://www.typingweb.com/ All it costs you is time, and you can get all kinds of work out of it.

Motherhood. The only things I wrote for 12 years were letters to my children. And grocery lists.  Suddenly, Microsoft rocked our world. You might have known me in the Potterverse as Sculdermully. I may have written an online essay or three. I daydreamed Harry Potter and X-Files. I’m not sure I got a fair night’s sleep in ten years, but I read like a fiend.  Effectively, I was making up fanfic in my head, but never wrote anything down. And that’s because I don’t think you can improve upon JK Rowling. Chris Carter’s a fanfic writer’s dream, though.

People told me to read Twilight for months. I did, and was underwhelmed. But I took my kids to see it, and Boom! Robert Pattinson entered Stage Left. The whole Twiverse burst into colour and not long after, I discovered the world of fan fiction. I read everything I could find for about a year. Free stories!!! Then, I decided to take the risk of writing one of my own.

Amazingly, there was an audience for it.

Fan fiction is a wonderful way to train as a writer. Basically, you’re writing an old-fashioned serial novel and readers are glad to give you feedback on each chapter. If you’re fortunate, experienced editors are willing to train you, free of charge. As another plus, you meet other writers and you might even meet some professionals.

Why write someone else’s canon? Well, because we love the stories and characters and we have ideas of where we’d like to take them. Places the original author didn’t.

I read and review. A lot. About three years ago, I started paying the community back by editing for other new writers. Eighteen months ago, I was approached by a publisher to write an original novel. I wrote the manuscript, but they decided (after much debate) that a group of Italian-Canadian moms (age 45 to 60) wouldn’t use Facebook to match make their kids.

Um, that’s my age group. All my friends use Facebook. And I hate to tell you, but matchmaking’s not dead, even in Canada. Scary boo.

So, I’m going to start querying other publishers in about a week, once my kids’ birthdays have passed. I have to rewrite my synopsis and a new query letter before that.

This is an exciting life. I love mentoring, pre-reading and editing. It’s taken me nearly five years, but so would any education. And you can learn from any writer, even one who’s penning her first short story. You just have to be open to input. We all have lessons to learn.

I’m starting a new challenge in November: NaNoWriMo. The challenge is to write 50K in one month. I’ve never done NaNo before and it seems like a good way to chunk away at my next manuscript. I’m actually writing my original series out of order because the characters in Book Three just won’t stop yelling at me. I have 22K words of it, and I want to be at 75K by the end of November. Of course, real life happens and if I don’t get there, I know it will still happen.

crazy lemur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, who’s with me? Care to pick up your virtual pen for NaNo? Sign in, then look me up. I’m going to need your encouragement.