Only So Many Hours

Lately, Billy Joel’s “Vienna” has been the song that gets me through. It all feels a little too true. Specifically the line “You got so much to do any only so many hours in the day.” Because there really is more to do than hours each day, and still, I try to accomplish what I can. This is probably why the latest round of edits on DREAM CATCHERS is taking much longer than anticipated. But it’s also that I want to do right by these characters and story before heading back into the query trenches.

With the updated query letter and recent epiphanies, it feels like representation is on the horizon. After five years working on this novel, it feels like the perfect time to fix what’s broken, kill some darlings, and send a better version of this story than I previously knew existed within my mind.

To go about this round of edits, it took too many hours, endless patience, and a bit of preparation. And in doing so, I realized I could not do any of this without updating the Series Bible for the Dreamer Duology. There were still too many questions that needed answers, too many character motivations that needed to be fulfilled. Such is the life of a writer, even one stuck in the same world for too many years.

So how did I manage?

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With limited hours most days, I knew I would need to have tangible evidence of what required fixing. So began my read through in the printed proof version of the manuscript that I had bound by Createspace. There’s something about seeing words outside of a computer screen that suddenly brings about all the glaring errors that were previously missed. I took an orange highlighter to lines and sections I loved, yellow to ones that needed more work. And once I’d finished the entire book, had some new ideas, talked them through with my fabulous critique partner, I made a spreadsheet.

Maybe for some writers out there this seems a bit like overkill since the line edits were already in the manuscript. But since so many things had come up, I needed a better way to organize, to see trends in the edits, and to come up with solutions before actually diving back into the manuscript. The spreadsheet created on Google Sheets breaks the edits down by: Part, Chapter, Story Element, What to Change, How To, and Progress. As I move along through these edits, it’s nice to see how much I’ve completed.

Now you might recall me mentioning preparation and the term “Series Bible” earlier in this post. Before I started the act of editing, I set my spreadsheet aside, and started updating my research and notes in Scrivener. Being the same Type-A person I’ve always been, I could not imagine using anything other than Scrivener for my writing. While I use it for my poetry as well, it is absolutely necessary in the drafting and editing of a novel, especially since DREAM CATCHERS and future projects are not standalone works, but part of a larger series as a whole. The Dreamer Duology might only be two books, but there is too much I need to remember in crafting these worlds.

While the previous Series Bible was broken down by Characters, Places, and aptly named: Other, I have gotten even more specific in my updates. And while many might see this as an act of procrastination or even redundant, I knew I needed to have all the answers so as not to stumble my way through this new draft in the way I did when I first conceptualized the story in the MFA. Too much has changed between then and now. And I wouldn’t have the time to be aimless.

So how did I create this Series Bible?

For those unfamiliar with Scrivener, I think the endless possibilities and options for customization are what brings its true value to writers, especially because no one process is the same. I began with a right click to add a “New Folder.” If I were in the manuscript adding a new chapter, I would use the “New Text” option, but folders were much more useful here. I labeled the folder “Series Bible.” I clicked into the folder and added seven more: Characters, World, Outlines, Dreams, Playlist, Query, Editing. I color-coded them, and got to work adding my necessary notes.

1.) Characters

This section is broken out into BOOK ONE & BOOK TWO, but each of those folders contains: Character Motivations, Present Characters, and Past Characters. And then for each character, both past and present I have a folder with their name. Inside those folders (which can be customized with either text or a photo on the index card, though I’ve chosen a character photo) there are: Profile, Motivations, and Inspiration. The first two of those were created with the “New Text” option, but I made Inspiration as a folder to add photos for things relevant to my characters, much like the Pinterest board I’ve already created for this series.

2.) World

This section is separated into: Places, Technology, Traditions, Timelines, Glossary, etc. Since this section does contain many secrets and spoilers, I won’t break down what is held inside each of these folders, but do know, they also have sections for notes and Inspiration to keep the world as clear as possible for when I go back into the manuscript.

3.) Outlines

Also broken out into BOOK ONE & BOOK TWO, I’ve split this into a sections with a Beat Sheet and Full Outline, both of which are new additions to my writing process. I normally work off of my index cards in the Scrivener “Binder” to guide my plotting, but thought it would be interesting to do more detailed work with the finished book to use as comparison once the edits are completed.

4.) Dreams

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In a novel with the title DREAM CATCHERS, I’m sure this sections comes as no surprise. While Camryn’s dreams are woven throughout the narrative, it is much easier to look at their structure and pacing by having them all grouped together outside of the manuscript, which is why this folder was a necessary addition.

5.) Playlist

While this might be a new folder within the Series Bible, I have already created a playlist for each of my books and continue to keep them updated whenever I hear a song too perfect to forget. The difference between this and my Apple Music playlist, is that I’ve organized these by how they fall in the plot of the story and notated how they connect. In doing so, if I get stuck editing a scene, I can go and listen to that song once or twice or on an endless loop as I’ve done with Hozier’s “Talk.” This section, too, is broken out into BOOK ONE & BOOK TWO, and organizing the songs there gave me a few new ideas for the second book in this duology.

6.) Query

When I first started writing DREAM CATCHERS in Scrivener, there was no need for a query section. The goal back then was just to finish this book. But as the time approached to query, I knew I needed to stay organized. For any writer about to embark on the querying journey, I highly suggest researching agents first and foremost, and then find the best way to organize what you learn. Again, I’m sure many people would see this as overkill since I have used Query Tracker in the past and have a spreadsheet in place to track querying as well. But unlike both of those options, I’ve broken down each round of querying into a separate folder with my stats labeled on the index card (R&R, PR, FR, ER, CNR - all acronyms that will mean nothing to the non-querying writer). And within those Round 1-5 folders, I have another section for each agent as well as the query and synopsis sent at that time. For the agents, I have the date sent and the date of their response. Inside the folders, I have research and the communication sent back from the agents. Again, this might seem extreme, but I have found it a comfort in this often unsettling time within the query trenches.

6.) Editing

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Since I’m only editing BOOK ONE at this point, that is the only folder I am using within this section. However, I have uploaded my spreadsheet and have a separate section for any notes that have come up while editing.

So that is how I’ve created my Series Bible. I think the best part about having all of my research at my fingertips is that I am making use of every extra hour I have to work on completing these edits. Scrivener allows for everything to be kept in one place without having to open multiple word documents. Everything is always where I need it to be.

With everything organized and edits well under way, I am hoping to dive back into the query trenches by the end of this month. Until then, I’ll find the time to finish the work, even if it takes listening to “Vienna” on repeat to remember that there are really only so many hours in the day.

I’m going to make the most of mine, and I hope you’ll make the most of yours, too.

All best,Kayla King.png

Out of the Spiral

Writing has and always will be my haven. Even on the difficult days. Maybe, most especially on those days, I escape into words. I spoke about this notion of retreat with a friend and fellow writer from the MFA. In emailing back and forth with her, I wrote: Success is relative. Perseverance is everything. And in articulating that sentiment in real words, I was able to find strength in my struggle and healing in my hard work.

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So what do I mean when I say words are my retreat?

For this to make better sense, I suppose I must admit just how difficult the month of February has always been for me. I don’t think I realized this until diving into my journal archives and discovering a pattern of exhaustion and struggle; all within the month of February. This year was much the same, with the added flare up of anxiety that was all at once consuming and vicious. I always tend to retreat into myself and become insular when my anxious thoughts take over. And usually, writing is the only thing to pull me out of the perpetual spiral of spinning thoughts and racing pulse.

But this year, I couldn’t write the words I needed to find my way out of the spiral, and this, too, was terrifying and contributed further to the sense that I was not only struggling, but failing. It was a sting far worse than any rejection I’ve ever received because it was was self-actualized. The more I felt I was failing: at work and in my writing and in communicating with the people I appreciate most, the more I felt weak and waning and weathered.

Fast forward to a much needed trip to New York City to visit with one of the best friends. I didn’t take my computer. The journal I had abandoned at the end of January continued to collect dust on my desk. I brought two books, one which I had so loved in the past, and in that memory, felt safe. I arrived to an empty apartment in Astoria and slept for three hours. I walked through a neighborhood I’d yet to explore, finding food, and quiet. I let my mind go without thinking and list-making and bullying for the act of just existing. I ate and showered and read some more and prepared to see Alice By Heart, a reimagining of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I spoke of some of my anxiety with the best friend and texted with the other. Throughout the weekend, I found my way back to my favorite places that still feel a little like home. I finished that book, connecting with it even more the second time around, and I bought more books. All the while, I knew the real work would begin once I was back home.

I would find my way out of the spiral. I would put myself back together. I would be kinder to myself. I would be better.

These were all promises I made with myself from a beach in Astoria beside the best friend as we drank Shamrock shakes and watched night take over. And when I returned home, I got to work. I ordered a new planner from Archer & Olive. I found an unfinished journal that was nothing like the ones I’d used since the MFA. I read a graphic novel, and then another. I started taking melatonin on nights where I knew sleep would be evasive. I apologized to myself, and started practicing self-kindness.

So how did I make these promises into realistic goals I could accomplish?

1.) New Planner

I've kept a steady journal since my undergrad in 2012, though they have evolved since then. I was strictly using a black hardbound square grid Moleskine journal. It became a rather superstitious thing for me. And up until February, I used to set up my monthly calendar, monthly goals, and weekly to do lists within the journal along with whatever I had been writing.

Unfortunately, however, I found myself getting days or weeks behind, which is right around the time my anxiety started to intensify. I think it was initially triggered at work, which held its own set of challenges, and trickled down through my writing life. But I purchased the Archer & Olive Daily Agenda, which comes blank. I have since fallen in love with it. I do my monthly set ups at the beginning of each month (mainly because I use a new pen color so I don't set it up any earlier than that) and I fill in my baseline weekly spreads at that point, too. I write my to do tasks on a week to week basis from there, using a new quote, stickers, and correlating washi tape just to add some creative flair to planning my week.

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I think the biggest reason my process NEEDED to change was that I had stopped enjoying/utilizing the old way of planning in my journal. I realized I wasn't using it for journaling and writing as much as I had in the past, which was problematic. I was beating myself up day after day for not keeping up with it, and eventually hit my breaking point.

Since switching to this new planner, I’ve worked on a facet of my anxiety that truly was the most concerning. I was making lists. And not the usual to do list. I was making lists of things I needed to make lists for and nothing was being accomplished, but rather listed the next day and the day after that and I felt myself slipping away from progress. This is not to say that a planner cured my anxiety. But by recognizing a symptom of this spiral and working to get it under control, I was able to be more mindful and realistic about my weekly and monthly goals.

2.) Bedtime Habits

As someone who used to be a night owl, my bedtime habits have been a struggle to balance with my full-time job. Upon returning well-rested from my trip to NYC, I knew I needed to make some changes to my nighttime routine, including taking melatonin on nights when sleep seemed too far away. And this has helped. I’ve also been better about being on my computer or phone before bed, exchanging technology for reading, and it has helped immensely.

3.) Self-Kindness

This might be the biggest factor that has helped throughout the month of March, making me feel ready to conquer the rest of 2019. I am only one person. There are only so many hours in the day. I can only accomplish so much, and that is not everything. This is something I’ve focused on throughout the past month. I get through as much writing and editing and research after work until I can’t anymore. Instead of bullying myself into working past the point of exhaustion or feeling guilty for the work I haven’t done, I instead tell myself there might be more work, but there is also another day tomorrow. That’s not to say I’m giving up or procrastinating, but rather, giving myself days to recover and recharge and refill the creative well before getting back into the edits or prepping for the query trenches. It’s all about balance, and this is something I still struggle to find. But I’m trying. And for that, I am so proud.

So what does this have to do with the idea of success and perseverance?

In many ways, this year has been kind to me. I’ve had several pieces published and accepted. But I also have 61 rejections for just three months into the new year, which is where the idea that Success is relative. Perseverance is everything seems more true than anything else. Poems that have been rejected too many times in the past are finding homes, and I am still seeking representation for DREAM CATCHERS. I am back to editing the manuscript to prepare for the query trenches, and exciting things are happening soon. Though I can’t discuss them just yet, know that good news is coming! To keep up with future blog posts, the secret announcement, and what’s being published next, check in with my NEWS!

Now that I’ve found my way out of the spiral for the time being, there is still the sense that I will be trapped in that bad place again. It’s a fear, but one I’m managing. And this is not usually something I discuss, because as I’ve said, I become insular and retreat into myself and my writing. But with celebrating my successes and posting my publications, I felt there needed to be some transparency.

Too often I find myself sharing only the publication news, and maybe that does my readers a disservice. I personally don't dwell too much on rejections, and so don't often talk about them. Not because they're taboo, but I just assume everyone gets tired of listening to writers talk about rejection. But I want you, dear reader, to know that success, however you define it, comes from hard work and struggle and perseverance.

The life of the writer is just as messy as any other. But I’m trying, and I think that’s all we can do. I hope you’ll try, too!

Slaying the Weeds of Doubt: a guest post

Contributed by Holley Long

I wrote my first book my junior year of college; before that, I’d put pen to paper for a handful of short stories, numerous poems, and one novella that read more like my diary than anything I’d want to pursue publication for. But this was different. It was a novel sparked from a creative writing class workshop piece, which itself sparked from memories of my childhood - as well as a desperate need to get the assignment done on time. Though that story I sent in for critique was the result of an all nighter and lots of caffeine induced recallings, I would look at it months later and see potential for a larger work.

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The workshop piece told the story of Byron and his friend Joe, through short vignettes (I liked writing vignettes or flash fiction back then because I thought it was easier, and I was lazy). I wrote Byron as this character who teetered on the edge of popularity, an easygoing kid who could be friends with the soccer playing, dodgeball champions of the playground, if not for his friendship with social outcast Joe. Joe came from a broken home and a broken spirit, which made him prone to lash out and view the well-to-dos of his small town with suspicion, which was the same view most of the town cast on him. Byron would find himself torn with whether to stick with Joe or embrace a clique he seemed meant to fall into, and the decisions he’d make would shape not only his future, but Joe’s as well.

It was a mess of a story, but it got a point across, and I got some helpful feedback for it. During the summer months before my junior year started, when I was trying to figure out my next great idea, I revisited the notes from the critique. Reading through them, and the story again, I saw a bigger story, one where I could follow Byron and Joe through middle school, and high school. Maybe even take them to college, if I wanted to go full Boyhood with the project. With the notes and story in hand, I crafted an outline and wrote a rough draft for a novel. Several months later, I turned the rough draft into a nearly 80K word first draft. From there, I reworked some issues, tweaked wording, sent it to some people - my mom and my roommate - to read, all the time thinking, without a hint of doubt, that this was the one.

I went through about five drafts before I submitted my first queries. When a few rejections started filtering in, I didn’t take it to heart. Rejection was a part of the path to publication, all the writing blogs said so. But when every email I sent to an agent or small publisher was returned with a “thanks, but no thanks” - some just moments after I’d hit send - I started to feel those first seeds of doubt plant in my brain. I didn’t want to look at my novel - my beautiful, beloved book child - with anything but the adoration I’d bestowed on it the minute I started working on it, but as months passed and even my friends didn’t want to read at least the first chapter, doubt began to sprout.

Looking back, I think I could have done a lot to combat that pest. I could have made the novel the focus of my creative senior thesis with an advisor there to take look. I could have sent it to a professional editor and gotten a hard strip down to find out what was wrong. I could have gotten help. But I gave up. Doubt became a field of weeds, and tangled in them were all the problems my book had: it spanned too great a timeline, it didn’t fit into one specific genre, it wasn’t “artsy” enough to be literary fiction. Now I know problems like those are fixable with time and hard work, and advice from those more experienced, but at the time I could only see it as bad writing, and me, by extension, a bad writer.

I moved on. With my next projects, I tried to stick to a genre. Mystery, YA, apocalyptic. Stuff known, stuff popular. But when you don’t kill the weeds of doubt, they eventually become an infestation that takes over the garden of your mind. It never failed, halfway through a first draft, sometimes even in the planning stages, I would recoil from the work, worried I was wasting my time, scared that, like last time, I’d get to the end and reap no rewards. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is normal for ALL writers, and we have to push through it, but I was unable to. I lacked the confidence to finish, because, if my first book had failed, what made me think I had anything worth reading?

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Then the real one hit me. I’m out of college now, with a full time job that’s as rewarding as it is mentally taxing. I’d stopped writing so much fiction, and I knew I needed to get back into it. Not just because I wanted to be a published novelist, but because I needed that outlet again. I started thinking about what it was that made me start writing, and I remembered how I’d feel after reading a book in junior high and high school. It was freeing to let myself wander in made up, magical or supernatural worlds for hours on end. That was what I wanted; I wanted a reader to become lost in my words, forgetting her adolescent troubles if only for a minute.

I revisited a YA, supernatural idea which really was just an image: a mysterious figure in the woods. But from that image I grew an outline, and from that now a first draft. And though while writing it I did feel those pesky jabs of doubt, I found I could ignore them because I didn’t care. I didn’t expect anything from the book, because while I wanted readers to be freed by it, I found myself feeling liberated just writing it. I’m excited to look back at it, again and again, and continue the story even if I’m the only one who ever lays eyes on it. This book, this garden, is mine, and I will joyfully slay the weeds that try to take it. Because while I would love for others to come in and read and for the book to give them life, it’s enough that it sustains me.

And that lets me tend it as I see fit.

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About Holley Long

Holley Long is an American writer and professional storyteller. Currently she works in the southeast as a digital reporter, and when she isn't covering breaking news she's writing stories that make her heart sing or detailing her trials and tribulations as an aspiring author on her website awriterslifeforme.com.

Thanks for sharing, Holley!

All best,Kayla King.png

Guarantee That You Meet Your Goals in 2019: A Guest Post

CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FOIL

We’re about halfway through January and you’ve probably set big goals for yourself. How are things going so far? In general, only 64% of resolution-makers keep their promise after the first month.

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So, if you’ve made resolutions this year to improve your writing career, how can you guarantee you’ll meet your goals? Here are 5 tips to help:

1.) Set Smaller Goals


Is your goal to have your short story or book published this year? That’s great! But don’t give up with the first rejection you get. Set smaller goals that will help you build up to that big goal. Instead of committing to finishing your book this year, commit to finishing your next chapter by the end of the month. Or for finding a workshop or writing group to join in your area. That brings me into my next point...

2.) Find Friends To Keep You Accountable


Having fellow writers to hold you accountable to your goals is a huge help. Having a critique group to submit work to every week, every month, or however often they meet, will make you write more and read more! If you have trouble finding a writing group to join, consider hiring a writing coach (like me!). We can check in with you every week to make sure you’re staying on top of your goals and offer resources to help you achieve your writing dreams.

3.) Don’t Give Up


This sounds obvious, but the biggest part of keeping to your resolutions, is just not giving up. Watch out for excuses you may be making to avoid writing or submitting your story. There’s always a reason not to do something, but you need to remember the great reasons to do your work. Consider making a visual reminder of what is driving you with an inspiring quote from your favorite author or a vision board to encourage you to keep working.

4.) Create A Routine

It takes roughly 66 days to create a new habit, but once you do it, you’ll be set! Commit to writing every morning before you go to work, or during your lunch break. Start sending your short stories to editors every Monday. Once you get in your new routine, taking the steps you need to achieve your goals will become second nature!

5.) Don’t Forget To Celebrate!

It’s hard sitting down to write everyday or sending your work out to complete strangers, so make sure you create rewards for yourself along the way. After 15 rejections for editors or agents, treat yourself to a trip to the bookstore or to the movies. If you manage to finish that chapter you aimed to complete this month, take yourself out for a nice dinner. While it’s great to complete your resolutions, it doesn’t hurt to have a little something to look forward to as well.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you write every day or once a week or once a month. As long as you’re committed to making writing your career, you’ll find the drive to finish your projects and achieve your dreams. Just don’t forget to remember to have fun, too. Good luck!

ABOUT SARAH FOIL

Sarah Foil is a writer, editor, and media manager based out of North Carolina. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Mountainview MFA program and focuses on YA Fantasy. While her current passion project is her YA Fantasy trilogy, which is currently seeking representation, she spends much of time running and managing Sarahfoil.com, a resource for writers and readers of all kinds. She loves encouraging writers to continue to improve through her editing services and sharing her personal writing journey through blog posts and on Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions about her services, please reach out via sarahfoil.com/contact 

Thanks for sharing, Sarah!

All best,Kayla King.png

A Dream No One Can See

It’s become a tradition each year to choose a word that will carry me through 365 days. There has been CREATE, BELIEVE, BETTER, and last year, there was PERSEVERANCE. And persevere I did. Through 164 literary magazine submissions, 133 rejections (query trenches included) and 16 pieces accepted, including my debut collection of poetry, These Are the Women We Write About, I’d like to think my own perseverance got me where I needed to be!

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But now it’s a new year, which means a new word. Getting here, I once again was a bit paralyzed with fear that I might choose the wrong word. I suppose it’s become another of those superstitious writerly things that I cling to as the days move along. It wasn’t until Christmas preparations took over that I found my word, one which stuck in my bones and felt too perfect to pass up. I ordered three necklaces and a bracelet from The Giving Keys, because I truly love how they strive to help homeless people in L.A., all the while, reminding us of the power of words, and the magic of passing them on to someone else. If you haven’t heard of this company or their mission, I suggest checking them out as they create beautiful products with special meanings.

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Yet, I digress. Upon purchasing these items, I was eligible for a complimentary “classic” key necklace, which would come with a surprise word and color and design. When it arrived, it brought a certain sense of knowing that I didn’t know I needed. My key said DREAM, and I’m not sure it could’ve been more perfect. And now, I have my word.

Dream.

Writing a novel about a world in which dreaming always means death, I have come to understand just how powerful dreams can be. I often dream too big and have said on more than one occasion that my ambition and penchant for dreaming bigger and better will be the death of me. But as a writer, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

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As I edit DREAM CATCHERS once more before diving back into the query trenches next month, I cling to the dream of seeing this book published someday. And it’s difficult, I must admit, to be back in this story. I joked that I can’t wait for this book to be on someone else’s shelf someday just so I won’t have to read it anymore. Because it hurts to read sometimes. I’ve exposed too much of myself between those pages, and perhaps this is what will help future readers fall in love with my writing and this story. But for now, it terrifies me to find myself back in that time and place again.

Such is the life of the writer, I suppose. If the words don’t hurt, if what is being written doesn’t scare the writer a little, I’m not sure the story is worth telling. So I’ll tinker with this story once more before sending it out to the next 10 agents on my list. And when I say this will be the year I make this dream no one else can see into a reality, I feel the truth of the words ring through my bones in the way that some of my most authentic writing does.

I’ll keep focusing on this dream. Instead of simply listing my goals for 2019, I’ve separated these things into goals and aspirations; the things I can personally attain versus the things I so dream of coming true. I am taking better care of myself, how I judge my failures and accomplishments, because I have succeeded, even in small ways, and that is worth remembering. And for that I am so proud of myself. Already I’ve had 2 poems accepted for publication, and January hasn’t yet ended.

But as I continue to risk everything: sanity, time, sleep, future stories, etc. for this dream of publishing DREAM CATCHERS, I know it is worth everything in between. And with this knowledge, I will continue to dream too big all the year through, and I hope you will too! To stay up to date with this journey beyond this blog, check out #dreamlikekaylaking on Instagram and Twitter!

All best,Kayla King.png

To Voyage Through Time

Another year has passed, and more books have been read, allowing me to voyage through time. Looking back over my Goodreads list, I am reminded of the best books I read throughout 2018. Unlike 2017, I exceeded my reading goal. While I strived for 75, I completed the challenge at 114 books!

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Some stories made me laugh, others broke my heart completely, but what follows are my favorite books of 2018:

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1.) The Song of achilles by madeline miller

The battered copy of this book sat on my shelf for years. I must admit, the idea of reading this terrified me, because it was the best friend’s favorite. There was too much pressure. But I asked him so many months ago when I should finally read it, and he said, save it for the sun. So I took this worn copy on vacation. With the sound of the ocean and the too-warm breeze, I experienced the utter beauty and heartbreak that is this book. And somewhere along those many pages, this book became my favorite, too. I shared it with my other best friend, and now the three of us have collectively been ruined by this stunning story. I even received my own used copy, and I can’t wait to reread.

“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”

 

2.) The Rules of Magic by alice hoffman

Since childhood, Practical Magic has been one of my favorite movies. So when I discovered Alice Hoffman had released a prequel to that beloved story set in 1960’s New York City, I knew it would be good. I had no idea it would be such an all-consuming read. It was both devastating and hopeful, filled with magic that was all-at-once practical and haunting. This is another book I can’t wait to revisit.

“When you truly love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together. That is not a curse, it’s what life is, my girl. We all come to ruin, we turn to dust, but whom we love is the thing that lasts.”

 

3.) the wicked deep by shea ernshaw

The promise of a novel filled with the essence of both Practical Magic and Hocus Pocus is fulfilled by reading Shea Ernshaw's debut. Within these pages is a story filled with regret, revenge, lies, and most of all, love. And every bit of this summertime story is just as wicked and deep as the title assures. To read more about my thoughts, check out my review, “So Easily Conjured.

“Perhaps we all have some oddity, some strangeness we keep hidden along our edges, things we see that we can't explain, things we wish for, things we run from.”

 

4.) circe by madeline miller

After finishing Miller’s debut, The Song of Achilles, I was excited to read her sophomore novel. Being obsessed with Greek mythology, I couldn’t wait to start reading this. With the combination of heartbreak, fierce femininity, and witchcraft, I was in love. Now I’m left looking forward to whatever Madeline Miller writes next.

"Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.” 

 

5.) the immortalists by chloe benjamin

As someone who enjoys the mysteries of tarot and prophecy, this novel, which begins with the Gold children discovering the day they will die was a perfect read. What follows are five decades filled with family, ambition, dysfunction, and belief. The unbelievably flawed characters within this narrative fear and follow their fate, and the result is both stunning and devastating.

“The power of words. They weaseled under door crevices and through keyholes. They hooked into invididuals and wormed through generations.” 

 

6.) my ariel by Sina Queyras

My unending love of Sylvia Plath led me to this collection of poetry. Sina Queyras explores the pull many feel to Plath’s last collection Ariel, taking inspiration from the groundbreaking text while still making it her own. After following the Plath Poetry Project myself, I recognized some of the most beautiful and horrific themes from Plath’s work, making this one of the most memorable collections I read all year.

“How can I escape the force of her narrative, how she pulls everyone and everything into her design?”

 

7.) my year of rest and relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Upon the recommendation of a coworker, I went into this book expecting some kind of Jane Austen story, but I suppose I was judging too heavily on the cover. What followed was one of the most unlikeable narrators I’ve read in some time, but whom I continued to enjoy page after page for that very reason. Following the year of this unnamed character as she tries to escape the resentment of her past with sleep, much of this story reminded me of The Bell Jar. As such, this book was one of the most surprising and satisfying reads all year.

“But I think I was also holding on to the loss, to the emptiness of the house itself, as though to affirm that it was better to be alone than to be stuck with people who were supposed to love you, yet couldn’t.” 

 

8.) What if it’s us by becky albertalli & adam silvera

Going into this book, I thought about how much I enjoyed Love, Simon and how devastated I was with They Both Die At the End (the title says it all, and yes, it almost made this list). While this book did make me cry, it wasn’t in the same way as the latter. As someone who loved Dear Evan Hansen, who has a fierce appreciation of musical theater, and of course, Hamilton, I absolutely devoured this book. At times adorable, heartwarming, and so honest, this was one book I can’t wait to return to when life gets rough and I need some happiness brought back into my world.

“I just think you’re meant to meet some people. I think the universe nudges them into your path.” 

 

9.) wink poppy midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Since its debut, I’ve wanted to read this gorgeous book. Upon reading, however, I had no idea how dark and twisted this story would be. But I loved every moment within Wink, Poppy, and Midnight’s connected lives.

“People aren't just one thing. They never, ever are.”

 

10.) dark sparkler by amber tamblyn

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from this collection of poetry written about actresses lost before their time. But it wasn’t the haunting beauty of this book. Throughout reading, I found myself stopping to look up these tragic stories, or recalling the times I’d heard of these women before. Overall, the experience was somewhat obsessive, so I haven’t read again since, but it is a collection I continue to think about almost a year later.

“I’m told Galileo wept at how big his hands looked, how small they felt, while pointing at the stars.”

 

11.) belzhar by meg wolitzer

Another book brought into my life based on my love of Sylvia Plath, became one I so loved. This was a story I talked about at work and at home and one that truly surprised me, which as a writer, is often a difficult feat. The narrative tackles ideas of lost love, isolation, memories, and writing. With obvious connections to The Bell Jar, I found myself enthralled as these characters tried to bring themselves back to life.

“Books light the fire—whether it’s a book that’s already written, or an empty journal that needs to be filled in.”

 

12.) the night circus by erin morgenstern

Technically this book was a reread, but this time, I enjoyed the story as an audiobook. This second read reminded me why I so loved this story the first time around, and truly came to life through the audio rendering. I found myself getting lost in the circus, and wishing it were real long after the story was through.

“We lead strange lives, chasing our dreams around from place to place.”

 

13.) the bees by laline paull

As a writer obsessed with honeybees, this story told from the POV of a bee was an absolute delight. This story handled the beauty and horror of what happens in hives, culminating in a terrifying tale of Flora 717.

“You have wings and courage and a brain. Do not annoy me by asking permission."

 

14.) malagash by Joey Comeau

This strange little book found its way to me during one of my many visits to The Strand in New York City. It was one, which sat on my shelf for too long until I took it on this year’s vacation. It would’ve been difficult for even the best of books to follow The Song of Achilles, yet this story still captivated me. Told from a daughter about to lose her father, Sunday attempts to create a computer virus that will preserve her dad forever. It was a beauty and a barrage of heartbreak.

“And if words mean something to you, if an idea moves you, aren't you changed, just a little?”

 

15.) tiny beautiful things: advice on love and life from dear sugar by cheryl strayed

Narrated by Cheryl Strayed, this collection of advice columns, both dazzled and destroyed me as I listened to the audiobook. So many of the anecdotes and advice were profound examinations of humanity and how we try our best to survive. I can’t wait to own a copy of this for myself to go back and discover the beautiful writing that stuck me so completely the first time. 

“Don't surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn't true anymore.” 

 

16.) grief is the thing with feathers by max porter

I purchased this book for the best friend long before reading Ted Hughes’ Crow. However, it wasn’t until after my love of Sylvia Plath led me to the aforementioned title that I found my way back to this book. It was an oddity, to say the least. But one which examined the profundity of loss and grief in the most vulnerable way. This definitely is a strange read, as Crow helps two young boys and their father work through their grief for the mother and wife they’ve lost. I think I enjoyed this a smidgen more than the best friend for having knowledge of Hughes’ work. But this stunning story is one that can be enjoyed by anyone who’s felt the echo of losing someone they love.

“Ghosts do not haunt, they regress. Just as when you need to go to sleep you think of trees or lawns, you are taking instant symbolic refuge in a ready-made iconography of early safety and satisfaction. That exact place is where ghosts go.” 

 

17.) i am not your final girl by claire c. holland

Another book purchased for the best friend, this collection reminded me of everything I loved about Amber Tamblyn’s collection. These poems follow different fictional female characters from horror films. It is a timely collection, which tackles violence, femininity, and the act of surviving.

“There is nothing else in this world like realizing you’re going to live and not being sure you can.”

18.) these are the women we write about by kayla king

This might be cheating, but if I am being truthful, this book is both my favorite read and proudest accomplishment of the year. Inspired by the women within Greek myths, my micro collection of poetry examines femininity, both past and present. I hope if you are reading this post that you might take the time to discover the women we write about, but never really know.

“I’m still too brilliant to become anything else. But I’m not sorry for what I’ve written.”

As I dive into some new books this year, I can’t wait to be transported to different worlds and to voyage through time, book after book! 

Want to know more about the books I read in 2018? Be my friend on Goodreads

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A Little Spark

I don’t have many words to spare this morning as I work toward today’s word count goal. Last night, however, I reached 25,164 words; the halfway point of NaNoWriMo 2018! To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to take part this year because I couldn’t fathom going back to that place from last year. But I’m doing it. Throughout writing, it feels somewhat like madness. Some days, it’s a little spark. Other days, it’s a blaze. Yet, it’s kept me going in these beginning days of NaNoWriMo!

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The last time I wrote here, I was just weeks away from the publication of my first collection, These Are the Women We Write About. Amidst waiting for that book, I was outlining a short story, which today, is published in Mistletoe & Magic: A YA Holiday Anthology.

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My short story, “in the Valley of Stars,” features three women from and a hint of magic from current work-in-progress. The anthology is now available for purchase from Amazon as an ebook for $.99 for one last day. And all too soon, print copies will be available, too, just in time for the holidays! There is also a giveaway running to include the authors’ books (my collection included), which can be entered HERE!

Now all these months later, that short story helped bring me back to my NaNoWriMo project as it grows like every story: word by word by word. There’s a very good chance I’ll “win” NaNo this year by making it to 50,000 words. But there’s also a chance I might finish the novel I dreamed up 9 years ago. I like the odds.

And yet, to say the writing is easy would be nonsensical. To say anything other than writing is work would be a lie. I love the work. And some days I stare out at the blank sea of a wordless page with blurry eyes knowing I should get to bed lest suffer the next day at my day job.

This time, however, the work of this story is urgent, even when the page appears wordless. I want to finish this not so first draft. I need to write this book. Whatever it takes: tired mornings, notes on my lunch break, talking out plot points with myself in the dark of night. I’ll make it happen. It’s what I do. And while I drifted from that place in September and October, I’ve written myself back to better. So here’s to better writing. Here’s to progress. And here’s to finishing my next book by the end of the month!

All That Remains

Amidst drafting my current work-in-progress, I have found myself reevaluating my writing process. With DREAM CATCHERS still out in the query trenches, I have found this current project to be just as magical as it's always been. After nine years working on the Falling series, it feels like I finally know what BOOK ONE needs to be. And through this learning process, I've reminded myself how I've grown as a writer and how writing this book can be different than the last four years spent on the Dreamer Duology. 

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What I've discovered since being back in this fantastical world, is that writers can change many things: the process of plotting and writing, revision and editing. But as my best friend reminds, "you can't change your emotional truth." While she may have said this in reference to another moment and memory in time, I've continued to repeat the words through my mind like a mantra. Much can change. But when hurts and heartbreaks and heeded warnings are all that remains, it is best to remember them.

It is with this knowledge that I proceed into the drafting of the WIP, taking my burdens with me. It is the best gift and the greatest curse of writing that we may spill ourselves into fiction. Such remains a reality in this WIP. There is darkness and there are shadows within these new pages. But there is also goodness and light and hope; everything I know to temper the harsh reality of feeling too deeply about the world and its inhabitants.

As I continue to craft the beginning of this book, I won't try to change my emotional truths because to do so would deny the validity of feeling. But I will keep writing. I'll keep building a world of my own creation. I will plot and plan because that is the kind of writer I am. Unlike the early experience of writing DREAM CATCHERS,  I won't shy away or detach from writing the difficult scenes within this book, because those are the ones which ring and resonant with truth.

If anything, I have learned what works for me in the here and now instead of focusing on what I can't change about my lyrical style and voice. These are the things which I've never had to force, because they've always been there. I'm not sure it's worth dwelling on those things when there is so much power to be had in creating myself anew. So this time, I will write the chapters in a linear way. I will share them with my critique partner as I go. I will check in with the story from time to time to make sure character motivations are clear, that voices remain distinct, that what I am writing feels true to the story I'm trying to tell. But such are the fickle foes of writing.

Much as I would like to imagine writing to be magic, it is work. Alas, it is work that I so love. Maybe that emotional truth is the greatest of all because it reminds I will make this story into something real. And even as the world tries to break my spirit, as people depart and new ones emerge along this writing journey, I will cling to the dream of the Falling series and all it has done to make me into the writer I am today. 

Should you find yourself in the middle of burning bridges broken beyond repair, or breaking bad habits, writing or otherwise,  I hope you'll remember that even if you can't change your emotional truth, you can acknowledge the fear, the hurt, the joy, etc. and use it to grow. Become better. Remain true. 

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How They Remember

It's official. My debut micro-collection of poetry, These Are the Women We Write About, has been added to Goodreads. Though the days toward publication near, this book still feels too much my own. But I know soon, my words will belong to the world. Such words remain a culmination of my obsession with the women of mythology; the women we write about.

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On their new website, The Poetry Annals has quoted a line from one of my poems: "It's all in how they remember." And I know this, more than anything else, speaks for the bigger ideas held within this project. Each of us lives with recollection, and much of my poetry has been ripped from stories told and remembered. 

But, I must admit these poems and the women within them are not exactly like the old stories. Many began while I followed the Plath Poetry Project and others continued from the voice I found following along with Sylvia's writing for a year. And from such inspiration, women such as Medusa and Artemis and Eurydice and Hecate and sirens singing; all of their stories have been reimagined within the pages of my micro-collection. They are women with a voice; they are women with a story. 

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The Poetry Annals has written a beautiful description to accompany the book, and they serve as an intimate understanding of all I've tried to create in these poems. 

"Kayla King’s These Are the Women We Write About is both dreamlike and mythic. Drawing on the intricate stories of Greco-Roman mythology, her words trace the edges of the celestial and interrogate the boundaries between the known and unknown.

King writes with fluid and graceful language, crafting images both fragile and poignant. Her examination, through poetry, of the female narrative in myth is striking and beautiful in equal measure." -The Poetry Annals

While there are still 16 days until the publication of These Are the Women We Write About, this waiting time feels minute compared to the years I've spent writing these poems and telling stories long ago remembered. And after readers finish this micro-collection, perhaps they, too, will remember the women we write about. 

Beyond the Shore

While it's been quite some time since I've posted here, that's not to say I haven't had enough to write about. On the contrary, I've faced rejections, but have also had two poems accepted for publication in Sobotka Literary Magazine. My short story, "The Illusionist," is out now in Firewords Magazine Issue 10- Curiosity. I've read some great books and written new poems and short stories. I've created a schedule to complete my WIP by the end of the year. I've received a partial manuscript request for my book. I've drank too many cups of coffee to count now. Life has been busy. 

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But just last week, I found myself walking into the waves beyond the shore. While on vacation, I didn't write much. I did, however, finally read the best friend's favorite book, which is now one of my favorites. I wrote lines for a new poem. I woke with the world. I finished my acknowledgements page for the upcoming publication of my debut collection of poetry, These Are the Women We Write About. Just in time since it will be available August 28th from The Poetry Annals. And while time ticked away around me, I sat still, and relaxed. 

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While I'm enjoying my new full-time job immensely, I'll admit, I have felt overwhelmed in trying to meet my writing goals. Yet, I have not abandoned them. I'm still in pursuit of publication for my novel. And along the way, I can't believe my first ever book of poetry will be published, too. It's all very surreal, in that life is far from perfect, but there is still goodness and light. 

Maybe that is all I can hope from walking the narrow path. I knew when I began this journey into the writer's life that it wouldn't be easy, and it hasn't been. But there is something rather thrilling about treading through the deepest darkness of rejection into the luminous glow of accomplishment. 

Though I'm at 96 rejections for the year with only a few more needed to reach my goal,  I'll keep submitting. I'll keep writing. And alas, I'll be back to writing here weekly.  I'm not sure what the rest of the year will bring, because truthfully, I'm not even sure what to expect from the next week. But you, dear reader, can expect my words, for they are the one constant in my life.

Stay tuned for more about These Are the Women We Write About as I get closer to publication day. And If you get the chance to wander out beyond the shore, I hope you'll pursue the adventure.

Take Your Time

After almost four years spent working on DREAM CATCHERS and two years since graduating with my MFA, the idea of "taking my time" might seem ridiculous. And I'll admit, there were times on this writing journey when those words seemed impossible because I'd already put in so much time. But alas, I think there must be some truth to the notion that goodness comes to those who wait. 

One part of this journey is at an end after years of searching and applying and bettering myself and my skills, because I've been offered my first "grown-up" job, and I'm thrilled! I can't wait to begin the next chapter of my career as a Reputation Management Specialist!

As I wait to begin my first full-time job, I'm left with a sense of knowing that DREAM CATCHERS is as done as it's going to be until I find representation. Though, this second part of my journey as a writer won't be complete until I see my novel published and displayed on bookstore shelves. Understanding this makes it easier to fathom finding balance between work and writing. And I can't wait to see my discipline, perseverance, and creativity kick in once I begin this next chapter of my professional life.

While I haven't found a literary agent yet, this particular goal for representation seemed so close. On May 14th, I began round three of querying. I started with four agents, just to get a feel for how the edits of my query letter were working. I hit send at 6:50 PM and by 10:31 PM, I had a response from an agent requesting the full manuscript! And I so hoped that this would be IT.

I imagined writing a post about "the call" and being "agented," but alas, two days later, that agent passed on the manuscript. Though he did say the writing was wonderful, he just didn't "fall in love," and for that reason, had to pass. But the rejection didn't sting as much as I thought. In fact, it was almost like it didn't happen. And I know there will be someone out there who loves this book and my writing just as much as I do. All in good time, I suppose.

After the rejection, I queried five more agents, and now I'm in that waiting place again. For the most part, my edits are done. And yes, there are outlines to be crafted for BOOK TWO, and there are character sketches to be written within the world of DREAM CATCHERS. Yet, I can't wait to dive back into my NaNoWriMo project from 2017. I have set myself the goal of finishing BOOK ONE in the Falling series by the end of the year. Though I have no way of knowing what it will be like balancing my new job with my writing, I've always believed in the power of setting goals, and more specifically, the power of perseverance. 

As I think back to the time it took to get me to this place professionally, I am reminded of the fellowship rejections, the unanswered applications, the reworking of one resume to another, and I know that working on myself in the process really was the greatest project of all.

And as I mull over this notion of taking my time, I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from The Last Five Years, which instructs: 

"Take a breath. Take a step. Take a chance. Take your time." 

Maybe in the end, all it takes is time to grow into the people we need to be to accomplish the goals and dreams we want most. Until then, here's to deep breaths and small steps, taking chances, and taking the time needed to find the goodness in life!

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Where the Story Begins

There is a moment I remember from childhood, sitting beside my mother as we took turns reading page after page of different stories. She was the first storyteller I knew, because in those early days of my reading life, she was the one who shared them with me.

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As a child, it's difficult to distinguish the difference between the person telling the stories and the person who actually wrote them. When I realized there were other people who wrote those stories, that knowledge didn't diminish the connection I had to reading and my mother. They were too entwined to separate one from the other. And somewhere along the way, I realized I wanted to write my own stories. So, in a way, I suppose that is the where the story of my writing life begins. 

The thing about being a writer, is that it takes a tremendous amount of support when the difficult days appear, which they undoubtedly do in the creation of something from nothing. And the thing about writing women, as in real female characters, is knowing what makes them wonderful. My mother has always supported me as I've continued to chase this dream of publication. And she is one of those wonderful women I aspire to be and to write. 

Now I know someday soon, people will read about my main character's mother and maybe they will believe I've captured my own on the page. I've already told my mom that she is everything good about Camryn's parents, because she is and always has been the goodness in my life. And while mothers often have complicated roles in stories, especially of the YA variety, I wanted to ensure I captured the complicated reality of parenthood within my book. 

One of my favorite lines I've written reminds: 

"Parents were sometimes the strangest of creatures; not really people, but more like shells meant to fit their children inside the lives they used to have: to make them better, to love them more."

This is one of those moments when character observations reveal my own truths. Because mothers are strange. I've seen the way my mother has worked to make me better, to love me more. She is not a character in a story, but the living embodiment of strength and kindness, love and light. And while today is a day we celebrate all mothers, for myself as a writer, I try to celebrate my mother in my writing, in pursuing my dream of publication, and in continuing to tell stories.

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"Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them." 

So here is to my mother, the strongest woman I know. I aspire to be her, and am grateful every day that she raised me to be the kind of woman willing to keep going even amidst the most difficult days. After everything, my story will always begin and end with her. 

The Hardest Parts To Write

I had planned on writing this post a week ago after sending my finished edits to my critique partner. At 11:52 PM on Tuesday the 24th, I made it to the last line in DREAM CATCHERS. Victory swelled through my mind. But alas, somewhere between that moment and today, life got in the way. 

Looking back on some of those final sentences, I'm trying to find the truth in the above quote: "Sometimes there is power in letting go." For my characters, I know this must be true. And when I sent the latest draft of the book, I felt that surge of power in letting it go. But alas, amidst the devastation from the weekend, I am struggling to find the truth for myself. At 11:20 PM on Sunday the 29th, our beloved dog, Sully, took his final breath. 

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So while I'd planned to pen a post on Sunday detailing what it was like completing this last round of edits, my thoughts were consumed with the well-being of my first fur friend. I'd worked that morning and returned to find my sister crying. The rest of the day was filled with this same kind of sorrow. Disbelief. I sent a message saying we didn't think Sully would make it through the night, and even though the words existed, they didn't feel real. Sully had already been through so much, but he was always there. 

Always. 

We took turns laying beside Sully, emotion swelling in waves. My sister said something about loss, and I typed a note in my phone: "it's the moment you realize there is a lifetime of people to lose." We waited. We prayed. We stayed with him the whole day. We stayed with him after. It didn't feel real. 

Now I've written about real and unreal within DREAM CATCHERS, but this was the first moment I'd felt myself stuck between both. I closed up a box of cereal and half-expected Sully to lift his head like he always did at the sound of food. But he didn't move.

Even now, it's the quiet within the house that returns the sorrow in waves. I breathe through it, because I hate crying. But Monday, that's all we did. My whole family stayed home from work, and we took our beloved fur baby to the Pet Heaven Funeral Home for cremation. There was silence. There was quiet. There were no words. And even as I try to write this into a post, I'm not sure about the words, because they don't seem like enough. 

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Sully filled an emptiness in our lives for fourteen years, though there is never enough time with people you love. And Sully loved us like only the purest of hearts can. He had the happiest of personalities, and he's left a void in our lives. I know there are different moments that we struggle with most: the memory of Sully's last walk, just a week before his passing, the strangeness of dinner without his begging. But the morning is the worst knowing he won't be waiting in the living room to greet us. 

And there will be other things. He was always there to keep me company while I sat on the back patio reading, or writing. I think he might've known more plot details in future books than any other human in my life. He was the best of companions and a fierce friend who we will miss. 

While drafting this post the following week, I thought I might talk about endings. Bonnie Goldberg reminds: 

"Endings are the hardest parts to write. This is because they are false. Nothing truly ends; it transforms." 

Within her words I remember ending DREAM CATCHERS, because for too long, it was the hardest thing to write. And in that story, I've written about endings and goodbyes, and I think those words might be most true now as I think about saying goodbye to my first dog. Like I said, it is a hollow feeling. Death leaves an emptiness, and goodbyes leave nothing but echoes; unreal. Attempting to find the words to say a proper goodbye to a dog who meant so much is one of the hardest parts to write, but I'm trying. 

While I know this post details very little about completing my edits, I think it is important to note that sometimes life gets in the way of writing. And sometimes it drives us to find better words. To process. Revise. Mourn. To go on grieving.

I'm not sure I'll ever understand. And I know we'll never be able to fill the void of Sully's passing, but as we relive memories from the past, I'm reminded about the power of storytelling. I know we won't forget.

Surrender to Uncertainty

Once again, I've forced myself to surrender to the perpetual uncertainty of writing. Upon thinking about what I would post this week, I had hoped to document the success of finishing edits for DREAM CATCHERS. But alas, I still have six chapters to go, and cannot yet claim that victory.

But victorious was indeed how I felt as I penned the outline of this post in my journal. I've written many times about the life of a writer. About rejection. Querying. Hope. Belief. Perseverance. And alas, the act of continuing on despite the difficulties has finally paved the way for a small dream to be born into reality. 

So what does this mean? 

Before you get too excited, this post will not produce any agent news, nor book deals documented below. Like I said, I still have six more chapters in this edit before I begin querying again. But after three years and six rejections from Firewords Magazine, I have finally been accepted for publication! 

Maybe most writers would give up submitting after one rejection. But I have loved the aesthetic and quality of the work published in Firewords since 2015, and made it my dream to be published in this UK print magazine. Now all these years later, I have accepted their offer of publication, and am eagerly awaiting June for Issue 10 to make its debut. 

One of the more unique elements of Firewords Magazine is the artwork they have commissioned for each piece, and I can't wait to see what will accompany my short story, "Illusionist." Along with the print edition of the issue, Firewords offers a digital copy, but best of all: a special package to include an audio version of the magazine (you can listen to me reading this short story), plus special interviews with the contributors, and more! 

I couldn't be happier! This is a story, which I began back in September 2016. However, this started as a flash fiction seedling. That first story, "Illusion," was published in June 2016 by One For One Thousand. While this follow-up story went through dozens of titles, I landed on "Illusionist." It seemed fitting given how much of that former story inspired the latter. And in writing through this, I worked to discover what would happen after these two characters were gone. From each other. From my mind. And I wrote:

"But we’re not meant to keep people.” She wasn't sure he understood what she'd meant; an illusory impression would be all they'd leave behind someday." 

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This seems a bit ironic considering this short story follows the brief love between Aris and Prue: two characters I keep returning to because I can't let them go. While this story is from Prue's point of view this time, it still feels like a way to keep them.

Though I completed the short story for an anthology submission back in 2017, it was later rejected. I set it aside with the intention to return when I was ready. It wasn't until this year when I took the 4,500 word story down to 1,515 that I felt right about submitting again. I sent this in for Issue 10 of Firewords Magazine with the loose theme of CURIOSITY, and I waited. 

When I checked my phone and saw the email alert, I expected rejection. But instead I read these words: "We are pleased to announce our intention to publish your piece, 'Illusionist', in Firewords." I couldn't contain my excitement, feeling the news escaping my mouth too quickly.

Because I'd done it. I accomplished something which seemed slightly impossible. Almost unreachable. 

Now this seems like a sign for better things on the horizon. And with the edits for DREAM CATCHERS almost complete, I have a knowing feeling deep in my bones that representation and publication are not far behind for the book of my dreams. 

Sometimes being a dreamer is difficult, but then there are days like today when it all seems better. As a writer, I choose to be curious, but that also means I choose the vulnerability that comes with such wondering. And as quoted above, these choices often "require us to surrender to uncertainty." But I suppose from the moment I decided to tackle my dream of becoming a published author, in writing a book of my heart, I chose a life of uncertainty. I never know when I'll be rejected next, but that also means I never know when the possibility of being published will appear either. Through it all, I'm willing to surrender to such realities to make every dream as real as this one!

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Nothing Lost

This past week has taken me back to the process of editing. All was going well. I finished part one of DREAM CATCHERS on Tuesday, moving into part two with hopes of completing the third and final part of the novel by Wednesday. Darlings were cut away to make this story even better before sending it back out into the query trenches. When the epiphanies struck Wednesday morning, I knew there would be much more work involved, but a better version of this story I so loved would emerge from the ashes. Like a phoenix. Like a flame. 

To those not accustomed to the process of writing and editing, this may seem extreme. And yes, chapters will be cut, others reshuffled, but I assure nothing of this story, nor my dream, will be lost. Often I think of myself formed in the lines of the following quote:

"SHE'S A DREAMER. A DOER. A THINKER. SHE SEES POSSIBILITY EVERYWHERE. " 

And I remember all the many people in my life who've made me into this dreamer now as I attempt to find publication for a book about dreams. I think back to the time in fourth grade when I almost quit chorus. It seems like a silly memory now, and amidst rejections and years spent writing my novel, this might seem like nonsensical nostalgia. What I extract from such a trip down memory lane is not the fact that I almost quit, but rather, the notion that one person had  complete belief in me, enough to convince me to continue. Mr. Elwyn Roll was my elementary school music teacher, the director of every musical I performed in from 3rd-12th grade, and later, my choral director in high school. Long after that moment, Mr. Roll convinced me time and again to never give up. To continue on. 

Last night, I embarked back on a journey to my high school with many more alum to celebrate the retirement of someone who has brightened the minds and hearts and voices of our community for almost forty years. We gathered with candles to join current students in singing "Light the Candles," a song which encompasses all of my childhood, and the hope to make real change beyond school days.

It was somewhat strange going back. There were faces I haven't seen in years, but the auditorium smelled just the same. And I realized how many things have changed since I graduated eight years ago, and how much remains the same. I knew all the words to the song, and the voices filled the room and reminded me how those walls had kept me safe in some of my toughest times. But what's more, the notion that one person could imbue so much love into the world by making us all believe we could create real change beyond that stage and the hallways and practice rooms.

There's a moment I recall now from my senior year where I sat writing a first person narrative about Oliver Twist because I had been cast in the lead role of "Oliver" (pictured above). It was in this moment that I thought, maybe, I could be a writer. And eight years later, I still have that piece of paper I was given to capture my character on the page.  I was taught from a young age to rise after falling. To be better. Dream bigger. And after all this time, I haven't given up the dream of this book. The edits are still underway. The novel is becoming better. I am better. 

While last night I traveled from real world nostalgia back into the fictional world I've created, I realized that growing up does not mean that nothing will be lost, because things change. But there is some comfort in knowing that the people we love best, the ones who inspire and light sparks within us to make us believe anything is possible, they never change. They are still there to make us remember to continue on. Keep editing. Send another query. Share your voice with the world. 

All best,Kayla King.png

So Easily Conjured

The promise of a novel filled with the essence of both Practical Magic and Hocus Pocus is fulfilled by reading Shea Ernshaw's debut, The Wicked Deep. Within these pages is a story filled with regret, revenge, lies, and most of all, love. And every bit of this summertime story is just as wicked and deep as the title assures. 

From the beginning, the haunting lyricism with which Ernshaw conjures her story is enough to draw readers in, and what's more, drown them entirely in beautiful language. The style blends a contemporary narrative with historical elements given through the titled chapters spread throughout the entirety of the novel. Though the narration of these titled chapters does not follow the linear action of the novel, they are just as captivating as the world seen through Penny Talbot's eyes. Penny believes deep in her bones that the three Swan sisters who were drowned in the harbor of Sparrow, Oregon 200 years ago, do indeed return each summer to drown as many teenage boys as they can. It becomes most clear that "magic was not always so linear. It was born from odium. From love. From revenge." And what begins as a story of revenge soon becomes one filled with love. 

Throughout the story, tensions remain high, stakes fraught with the impending deaths of innocent boys. There is a ticking clock to keep readers swept up in the urgency of the story; the Swan season wanes toward the summer solstice, which marks the day the sisters were drowned after being accused of witchcraft so many centuries ago. Like the descendants of Salem, Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan were not witches. Yet, they're resurrected every summer, taking over the bodies of young girls in town before slipping from the skins back to the ocean below. It's a rather dire set of circumstances in a town that knows entirely too much of their tragic fates, best explained within the narrative:

"Murder. That's precisely what it is. Calling it a curse does not unmake the truth of what happens here each year...It's as predictable as the tide and the moon. It ebbs and flows. Death comes and goes." 

Held within those few lines is the essence of the story, that constant sway between life and death, killer and victim. And the villains of the story, those Swan sisters with the ability to lure boys to their deaths, are proven to be just as flawed and complicated as any good antagonist should be. What was most unexpected, however, was how their villainy washed away as their tragic fates were shared, making it hard not to accept their revenge.  Best explained by Penny, "Guilt slithers through me, a thousand regrets, and I wish for things I can't have: a way to undo all the deaths, to save the people who've been lost." 

The other characters within this novel are no less authentic. Everyone from Penny's grief-stricken mother to Bo, the new boy in town who hides something just as dark as the town; they all seem to hope for something better. As readers, we learn that "the truth slips between the edges of the lies." These people, like Penny, are broken. She misses her father. Her mother has been driven into darkness most maddening by the disappearance of her husband three years before, and Bo found his way to Sparrow filled with his own heartbreaks. At their core, they are all searching the shores for something. Like Bo explains:

"They're always reasons to stay. You just need to find one reason to leave." 

Shea Ernshaw's strengths within this debut do not merely lie at the bottom of an ocean filled with exquisite language, intricate history, and poignant characters, but rather imbue power into the story with elements of magical realism. The notions of curses and revenge, of momentary resurrection and ghosts might be hard to comprehend amidst the contemporary small town setting. But this is the farthest thing from a summer beach read because of the elements of magical realism woven throughout the narrative in a manner that seems so easily conjured. These details act as a juxtaposition to the haunting reality of death. From the forgetful cakes Penny's best friend's mother bakes, "intended to make you forget the worst thing that's ever happened to you--to wipe away bad memories," to the way Penny and her mother are able to divine the future by reading tea leaves; there is a hint of magic in everything. This acts as a way for the reader to better comprehend the strange events of Sparrow, Oregon, and thus, too, the characters to accept that something wicked most certainly comes from the sea.

Sparrow is a mysterious place, while Penny's home at Lumiere island acts as a protection against everything happening around her. The lighthouse is able to shine light onto the murky truths beneath the waves, and as such, the island becomes its own kind of character within the novel. Just as Penny and Bo gravitate toward the orchards and cottages, the reader, too, will feel bound to the island and the veil of safety it offers against the brutality of the risen sisters.

Reading the line, "Some places are bound in by magic. Ensnared by it," this feels like truth carefully crafted to encompass the marks we leave, even after we're gone. So too, does this truth: "Ghosts remain. But sometimes, the past is the only thing keeping a place alive...But it persists, because it must. Penance is a long, unforgiving thing. It endures, for without it, the past is forgotten." Throughout this book, there were many more lines and paragraphs, which took my breath as I drowned within them, ensnared by Ernshaw's skill to take the reader deep into her characters' lives. Lines resonate long after being read. None so much as:

"Perhaps we all have some oddity, some strangeness we keep hidden along our edges, things we see that we can't explain, things we wish for, things we run from." 

In the end, Shea Ernshaw's debut, The Wicked Deep, will leave readers under its eerie spell. Though this book is a standalone with a satisfying conclusion, it is clear that "endings are never so simple." And navigating this haunting tale to the last page will leave readers looking forward to whatever Ernshaw conjures next! 

All best,Kayla King.png

From the Person Who Wrote It

I recently had a conversation about the difference between author and narrator. As a writer of fiction and poetry, I know the readers of my work might confuse the narrators from my writing with me as the author. And this thought became most clear in writing the title poem of my collection: 

"And so it’s done; this endless, spirographic lie where they think you the narrator, instead of the ghost of a poet. Haunted by the writing. Emptied by this poem. An echo. Yes, an echo."

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So yes, this notion is one that has been on the brain lately, especially as I dive back into edits for DREAM CATCHERS. My goal for the end of the week is to make it through the first five chapters, and I'm right on track. And through this process, I'm reminded that while I'm not my main character, I've found myself while writing her story. There are times when a certain line or scene resonates, and it feels like home. 

This may sound strange. How can writing feel like home? At least for myself, home has always felt like understanding. And when I feel understood on the page, I imagine a reader might feel the same way. Somehow this makes it easier to fathom the fact that I might be confused with fictional people, even if they feel real. Because yes, they are flawed and messy and kind and honest; everything I know myself to be now. 

As I make my way back through DREAM CATCHERS, there are certain scenes that stop me in my tracks because they feel too real. And while I am not my main character, nor the other characters on the page, I understand their belief. I believe this book will be published, and I'm just as much of a dreamer as my favorite characters. Maybe they get that from me, or maybe I get that from them; I'm not so sure I could argue against either possibility. But they do make me believe this dream of writing is possible. 

I won't spend too much more time trying to prove the difference between narrator and author. And to be honest, there's a line in one of my favorite Plath poems, "Electra on Azalea Path," which makes me think she must be the narrator, that Sylvia herself must have had some vision of the future and relayed such divinity on the page for all to read: 

"I am the ghost of an infamous suicide."

But I know thinking this is Sylvia is not entirely fair. Yet, people are more than one thing, and by default, that must mean characters are more than their authors. They must be inspired by life and past loves, best friends and maybe that stranger seen every day at the red light.

Maybe we're all a little bit of the people we love best. 

I suppose this idea comes from the very real fear of confronting vulnerability and judgement once this book finds its way into the hands of readers. But such is life, and I'm used to such feelings. So for now, I will make my way back to the page to find myself, both the person who writes and the person now written therein. 

All best,Kayla King.png

Exploring the Exceptional

This week, I've once again started editing DREAM CATCHERS. I printed the in-text notes from my wonderful critique partner, formulated a revision plan, met with a beta reader, and organized everything into a new binder to make this arduous process that much easier. After almost four years, I keep thinking this book might be "finished," but now is not that time. And that's okay. 

If the years spent in the MFA with this novel taught me anything, it's that it takes time to develop the best of stories. And this one still needs a little more time to be the best it can possibly be before I begin my third round of querying. Though I have a few things now that I didn't have eight months ago when I entered into the query trenches. 

When I started querying, there was a sense of fear for the unknown, but now that I've been through the query letters, crafting the synopsis, researching agents, hitting send, and waiting, always the waiting, I know this process is manageable. And along the way, I received a Twitter pitch request, a partial manuscript request, and even a full manuscript request from a potential agent. I've submitted to 25 agents and so far all have passed, but I know there will be someone who will love this story. 

This knowing is even more clear after receiving all of the feedback from my amazing critique partner and my first beta reader. My CP has gone above and beyond in not only supporting me, but my vision for this book. So many of her suggestions have found their way into my revision plan. She also made me two more beautiful graphics to showcase my story and my words! 

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Both images now adorn the front and back cover of my editing binder as reminders that someday my world might exist in other readers' minds. It's a wonderful feeling to have after living with this world on my own. The first beta reader to finish reading the book in full has been someone who's traveled along my writing journey for eight years now. My National Honor Society advisor from high school is someone who continues to support my writing. She helped me figure out how to best pursue my passion for writing, she read my poetry sample before I submitted my application to the writing program at Buffalo State College, she read more poetry, my first book, my first poetry collection, and now, DREAM CATCHERS. 

On Monday, I met with her, and we immediately launched into the main plot and subplots of my book. We discussed dreams and scenes and characters. She gave me more feedback, which I've incorporated into my revision plan. But the most amazing and peculiar moments from this meeting happened when she stopped to read her favorite scenes from my book. This was the first time I'd ever heard someone read the words I'd written. And in her reading, I understood those paragraphs must've resonated with her enough to prompt such a thing, and it helped remind me why this book will be important to the world someday. She reminded me why this book is important. 

After the hard work was done we talked about life and literature, my writing, this blog, and this website. And she showed me a note I'd written on a guest check slip from the restaurant with my website address. And she told me it remained on her fridge with a magnet that reminded her of me because of the quote: 

"She was perfectly comfortable being exceptional." 

This was enough to make me realize the person I've become; the person she's watched grow from a bookish high school student to the writer I am today. Knowing she thinks me to be exceptional helped me remember what I've done in writing this book, in setting myself up for rejection after rejection, in not quitting, but continuing to persevere: I suppose I am exceptional. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about finding my way back to believing again. Through meeting with this mentor and friend, through the friendship and support of my critique partner, and remembering my kingdom of those who've never stopped believing in me, I once again believe. That doesn't make the query trenches any less difficult, nor these edits any less extensive than I already knew they would need to be. This certainly doesn't make me any more exceptional than the dreamer I've always known I needed to be, but rather, reminds me I have everything I need to make this dream a reality. 

Writing Using Tarot Cards As Inspiration: A Guest Post

Contributed by Pepi Valderrama

Sometimes we have a great idea and writing becomes difficult. Tarot cards can help us create characters, build unbelievable worlds, and breathtaking fight scenes. The Tarot offers excellent archetypes to us in the Major Arcana. It also gives us actions and clues to create worlds and deepen those character in the Minor Arcana.

Tarot has a total of 78 cards depicting characters and actions. The Major Arcana is especially useful to build characters since in it we can find figures like the Fool, the Emperor, Death, and the Empress among others. The Minor Arcana also have Kings and Queens, but these are dependent on their type. Cups explain emotions and creativity. Pentacles illustrate wealth and objects. Swords explain thoughts and communication. And, Wands explain desire.

To create a random character we just need to put the Majors and Minors apart. We shuffle the Majors first and take one card. That will be the basis of our character. Let's say that we got the fearful Death. Then, we shuffle the Minors and take three cards to explain her personality. Let's imagine we get the Ace of Cups, the Three of Wands, and the Page of Swords.

Death is a complicated card. While many fear it because of its name, the reality is that it points to changes. Someone who gets a Death card might be someone who swings quickly, and she can also fear change. Let's think about a person who is shy, and who fears change. This person will do whatever to hide and shy away from problems because the later are changes. And this person hates to change anything in her life!

The Ace of Cups, however, tells us about the possibilities she has in her relationships. If she is willing to open her heart to change, she'll be successful. Let's think about our Death as a girl who is dying for a guy she loves to notice her. The possibilities are there, and her heart is burning with making it happen. The only struggle she has is with herself. To make it happen, she needs a change.

The three of wands talk about confidence and realizing goals. So, we can say that our Death is committed to getting the boy she likes, and she is starting to gain confidence that she will. However, the Page of Swords talks about a person who is aloof. So, we can make her aloof and realize about her actions way after they have happened. If she wants to change, she needs to commit to paying more attention.

We don't need to use the real meanings of the cards. We can also opt to take a look at the artwork depicted in them. Let's say that we need to create the male character in our romance. We could just shuffle the deck, and pick up cards until the first card with a male in it appears. We can imagine the person's personality from the depiction in the card.

Sometimes I find it hard to come up with ideas regarding locations and buildings in my stories. When I'm stuck, I shuffle my Tarot deck and often take around five cards. From the different artwork in them, I start building up the world. Then, I also take into account the meaning of the cards. In that fashion, I can create a world with several layers, and I can even have help in details that are obscure to me at that moment.

However, the best help that Tarot offers is the building of characters. Because the deck has two parts, one with archetypes, and the other with situations, it's easy to use for gathering ideas and inspiration. There're countless versions of the Tarot in stores. When buying a deck, consider the artwork carefully. These cards won't inspire you if you don't like what you see. That's why I shy away from traditional decks. Instead, I have a few decks with different types of artwork, and none of them are classic. Decks that have books with explanations are the best since you can get extra insights.

Be open to creating characters with more than one archetype card to make them multilayered. Be free to mix many cards or more than usual to create worlds. And never be afraid of the "negative" cards. They are perfect guides to develop despicable villains.

 

About Pepi Valderrama 

Pepi Valderrama is a writer and Social Media wizard. Her experience living in Japan during more than eight years allowed her to have a different perspective on life. She is writing her first fantasy novel after enjoying writing geek anthropology. You can find her enjoying a cup of coffee around Brighton, and writing about pop culture, comics, and books on her blog dePepi.com

Thanks for sharing, Pepi!

To Rebuild and Rewrite

Yesterday morning, I had a completely different post planned for today, one which would've solely celebrated the news of two of my poems being accepted for publication. But with the sweet, so too, comes the sour. And after an email and a long day, I found myself stuck in a car for an hour feeling bitter and inadequate with a mind that was so loud and a car ride that was too quiet. It was in that moment, I suppose, that this post began to rewrite itself. I guess even in life, I can't escape rewrites. 

Maybe I am hoping to understand by writing about the collision of revival and collapse within the space of twenty-four hours. One moment I was enthused about a favorite poem being included in a print magazine this summer, retaining optimism about the completion of my poetry collection, and feeling thrilled at the prospect that so much was falling into place. But hope can be painful, and you'd think a writer who understands the reality of rejection would understand this much. But I suppose, after all this time, I continue to hold on to a stubborn sense of possibility instead of being the pragmatic person who wouldn't be hurt so easily by disappointment. 

But, I digress. 

I don't want this to be a post filled with the negativity of yesterday's mindset, but rather the clarity that has given me understanding today. I understand life isn't fair, and I want to be the girl who believes, even when others cannot do the same. So maybe this post will help me find my way back to believing. Maybe tomorrow's answers will assure life isn't a total bitch and that I can be the person I found on top of a mountain four years ago. Maybe I'll figure it out. Maybe not. 

On Monday, I printed out the acceptance email from Ink In Thirds Magazine, a print journal who will be publishing my poem, "You Weren't a Museum; You Were a Box of Matches" in a July/August Issue. I also printed the email from Dear Damsels, a fantastic female-driven online magazine who will be publishing my other poem, 

"Unearthing Letters I Wrote You Three Years Ago, or Yesterday; 12:18 AM" later this month. And in placing those uplifting words in my journal, I left a small reminder of success. And yet I haven't written about the failure of yesterday or the way my dog looked at me as the vet prattled on about statistics and scheduling surgery and the blah blah blah that left my throat tight and sore from trying to hold back so much. 

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Like I said, yesterday was a shit day. I'm trying to pick up the pieces. I'm trying to rebuild myself back to that believer. Despite the failures. Despite the doubts. I want to feel the faith and hope again, even knowing it might come back to sting later. I don't want to be crushed by the weight of the world. I don't want to lose my words. I don't want my mind to be so loud when the world is capable of being still and quiet and sure of its own survival. 

But alas, this is the way to continue onward. To struggle. To succumb to the sadness, the grief, the belief that hearts were meant to break to beat stronger. Here's to finding the momentum, the strength, the moment of rebuilding, rewriting, redirecting myself on whatever path I need to find my way back. 

All best,Kayla King.png