The Elusive Nature of Inspiration

“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question I often get when I’m discussing the nature of my latest story, usually with a person who does not write. Any writer knows that writers don’t know where their ideas come from. In his writing book/memoir “On Writing,” Stephen King said, “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

It’s true. We have no idea. However, we often remember our line of thinking when we’ve come up with some of our ideas. So where have some of mine come from? How different are their origins? Do some story elements come from different places? Let’s talk.

I’ve had stories arise from concepts I wanted to explore. The Order of the Key was about me trying to create a strong female hero from a geek who has been raised loving superhero media. Lucy Dies in the End was really solely about that concept–I literally just thought about the title and how cool it would be if Lucy herself was the one to say it. I’ve always been drawn to Greek mythology and Aphrodite in particular, which led to Never Say Never. My interest in past lives played into my ideas for the mystery behind Living in the Past.

I’ve had stories arise from dreams. Often when I have these, they play out before me like movies. Legally Insane was about a dream I had about a hidden relationship in a workplace. The present day tale in Living in the Past comes from a very vivid dream I had about a woman strongly connecting with a man and coming home with him, only to stumble into a mystery involving his son.

I’ve had stories arise from mundane reality. Like the lead character in The Order of the Key and Legally Insane, I am a geek. Legally Insane is largely about work in a law firm, which happens to be my day job. The concept of Lucy as Lady Justice in Lucy Dies in the End came from staring at Lady Justice during various court case searches at my job. My parents’ divorce heavily inspires some of the debates on long term relationships in Never Say Never. Dating experiences of my friends helped inspire other portions. And the characters work in an ice cream shop. My first job was at a Carvel. Choosing to Stand Still was a sort of wish fulfillment, regarding a pair of best friends I knew that I thought belonged together–if you’ve read that one, writing it made me realized they were right never to pursue that route.

17760096_1325475264199099_8399109544035762431_nI’ve had stories arise from conversations. The backbone of Legally Insane involves the main character visualizing a character from her favorite television series prodding her to be strong in the face of a major life change. This came from a joke that was made when chatting with fandom friends about Jack O’Neill, a wise-cracking character from Stargate SG-1. My friend said, “I wish I could take him around in my pocket to smack some sense into me.” From there, the idea was born.

I’ve had stories arise from fears. Without spoilers, the fear of losing a child played into The Keys & Guardians series plan heavily. Things You Can Create arose from the fear of the kinds of torture I could carelessly visit upon my characters. It is, unsurprisingly, my first short story.

I’ve had stories that arise from past trauma. One Percent is an exploration of my descent into anxiety prior to spinal surgery. One Headlight was born of the death of a friend, one who died in a car accident on the way to college. Tunneling dealt with my experiences with dealing with alcoholics. The Peace of Completion and Release dealt with some wish fulfillment regarding the aftermath of my sexual assault. Blue Ice dealt with the issue of domestic violence, handled by a third party, looking in.

What does this tell you? Stories come from so many different places. Some of the things on this list were planned. Some were things that spilled out of me once I began to write. But all of it were things I drew upon to create stories that meant a lot to me.

What does this mean for you? It means inspiration can come from anything. It can be a mix of many things. So collect writing prompts. Collect interesting factoids. File away tidbits about the people you meet. But most of all, experience. Live your life with a keen, attentive eye and look at all you see around you. Every bit of your life experience, even the bad things can be weaved into the fabric of a story.

So how do you find the elusive creature known as inspiration? The answer is simple. Live.

2017! The Year of the Manzanos!

As the holidays approach and I sit down to write my last blog post of 2016, I’m reminded of just how erratic my year has been. Politics were the pits, tons of celebrity favorites died, and a general malaise settled over the world. Things were not looking so shiny. We took some personal hits this year as well. My Uncle Bobby died after a long and grueling battle with cancer. My son was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety disorder, which has really kicked up recently and has us struggling to find the answers. My husband and I had our own respective health issues, one that landed me in the hospital having a small, but not fun, surgical procedure. I ended my publishing contract with no book to show for it.

But there was light toward the end, at least with my career. There was Pitch to Publication, two short story publications, and an Editor’s Choice Award. And there was the prospect of next year on the horizon. Next year, when I start to query The Order of the Key again, in hopes of finding an agent who will love it. And next year when I embark on two new projects that aren’t exactly about my writing, but have some interplay with that career.

Allow me to introduce you to my two new projects. Or should I say OUR two new projects.

geektastic-bannerGeektastic: My son, Logan, wanted to be a YouTube sensation. My husband, Ismael, missed doing reviews. My sister-in-law, Megan, wanted to start a BookTube review channel, but didn’t know where to begin. I wanted a way to show off how damn random we all are, and wanted to have a place to openly be meta about geeky things.

This is what lead to Geektastic. We put our minds together, and decided to create a YouTube channel/blog where we could openly discuss all of the wonderful things that make being a geek so kickass…and so that we could offer an alternative to adults. Fun, kid-filled YouTube channel with gaming, toys and memorabilia, that speaks about some more sophisticated television, books and movies, but in a way that’s totally family friendly.

We’re still working on our first video, but it will be available in January. In the meantime, you can view our website and go follow us on our social media links, because we want you along on our adventure. Check it out at www.geektastic-manzanos.com.

inkwell34434The Inkwell Council: After leaving my work at Fantasy Works Publishing behind me, I was told by one of the writers there that they would miss my editing work. I am also constantly asked by my close circle of writer friends to read their stories, to help polish them up. I came to realize, I could help new writers. Maybe not with entire manuscripts, but I could read their first three chapters, and offer suggestions. It wasn’t about money. It was about giving back to a writing community that gave to me.

A discussion with Ismael revealed he missed writer’s workshops. Last to join was Megan, who was trying to make a living doing freelance edits, but didn’t have enough exposure and wasn’t sure how to build a client list. Moving forward together, we created The Inkwell Council, a manuscript editing service with specific rules. Basically, if you have no writer’s critique group, and you want someone to polish up the first three chapters of your Fantasy manuscript (we could only do one genre we could all agree on) we’ll be there for you. For rules and specifics of our program, please visit us at http://www.theinkwellcouncil.com/. Submissions officially open in January. Please also follow us on social media, which is linked on the website.

Add these two amazing projects to querying The Order of the Key, writing a new short story, and brainstorming on three other novels, and there is a busy year ahead. And the best part of it, is I will get to work with a big chunk of my family, whom I adore.

So, what’s new with your year? Anything exciting to look forward to? New projects? Let me know in the comments.

Either way, here’s to you and yours in the new year. May 2017 be a bright, shining light, leading as far away from 2016 as possible. 😉 Happy Holidays!

Those That Shout Loudest, Need A Lozenge

In my earliest memory, I’m standing in a walker or some other childhood accoutrement, and I am screaming. I remember little else about this. The lights seem bright, and I am unsure of whether or not I am in the living room or dining room of my childhood home. I get the feeling that work is being done around me, the kind of heavy lifting that always led to tension between my parents. Maybe a new rug was being put in, or new furniture. I can’t remember. But what I do know is that I’m not getting a lot of attention and that bothers me. So I scream. I scream a lot. And I keep doing it, because it turns out I enjoy hearing the sound of my own voice.

Apparently, this was a thing I did. There are pictures of me sitting on the stairs on the way out the door with my mother, screaming while I played with her keys. There are pictures of me all over the house screaming. It was like I believed I was born to be heard.

Maybe I was.

We all have that. I watch my son and his friends do the same thing. When we’re kids, we look at people, and we think they should want to hear what we have to say. After all, the world is so interesting, and we’re making discoveries about it, and we don’t know if you know that really cool thing yet, so we’re going to tell you all about it. Then, you’ll love it too, you’ll share that love, and we’ll have common ground.

Children don’t ask for permission to speak. They demand it, because it never occurred to them that they should shy away from the world that’s unfolding before their eyes.

At some point, we lose that. We start to wonder what people will think about what we have to say. We start to shy away from trusting ourselves, from wanting to send our own voice out into the world, from believing that we should be heard. We should be heard.

But the public doesn’t always feel that way. If you wish to be heard, if you believe what you have to say is important, you’re going to have to ignore a lot of nay-sayers, a lot of people who would like you to get back into your box, a lot of people who believe you should shut up.

You should never shut up.

People behave as though your voice should be kept quiet. Like we should only take the time to use it to entertain our small circle, like we should never pipe up, never shout louder, never draw too much attention to ourselves.

Draw attention to yourself. If people don’t find you interesting, they don’t need to listen. The message wasn’t for them. But so many people may need that message, may need you to be the one to deliver it.

Someone once told me that those who shout loudest, often lose their voice. My response? Tell them to pop a lozenge and move forward.

Don’t let yourself be silenced by fear. Don’t let your dream be squelched because someone doesn’t think you’re cut out for it. Don’t change who you are to fit into a bubble some gatekeeper said was yours.

Be you. Unabashedly. Scream like baby Justine. Be heard. Because you deserve it.

 

2015 Year in Review, Dancing into 2016

Hi all!

So I know I’ve been kind of absent this month, and mostly that was just me being the usual speed-of-light blur that I’m known for. Post NaNoWriMo, I had a ton of work to make up for in daily life, so I ran through that and have just now come down from the big spin. But, now that Christmas is done (Happy Holidays!), my 33rd birthday is here (Happy Birthday to me!) and 2016 is on the horizon (Happy New Year!), I always like to take a minute and look at how much things have changed in a year.

Highlights of 2015

  • IMG_2318I signed a contract for my series! So, things may be a bit delayed from my original August release, but that’s because I switched publishing companies in the middle of the process. It was a difficult but necessary decision to make, and while it set things back a little, The Order of the Key is still going strong and will be on bookshelves and hopefully chilling in your e-reader in 2016. So, stick with me. 2016 is going to be a banner year! I am also over halfway through writing Book 2, so things for the Keys and Guardians series are going well and moving right along.
  • Speaking of which, if we’re going with firsts, this is the first time I’ve ever edited a manuscript for a publisher, and it has been insane. Bang your head into the wall, pull your hair out of your head, angst-ridden crazy, but we’re about halfway through the muck, and the product has been incredible. I’m in love with what we’ve done so far, and damn…my editor is right when she’s right, you know?
  • lastcover1My husband, Ismael, signed his book series! Fans of the blog know just how invested I am in my husband’s work (we work as a team, are each other’s first editors, and brainstorm out most of our work together). Obviously, he is more excited than I am, but I am still over the moon! Soulless, Book 1 of the Soul Broker series, is in final edits and due out early in 2016. Life just got very different for both of us, as I’m sure you know.

 

  • Logan is kicking butt at First Grade and has decided he wants to be a writer too. We’re not expecting anything, but he’s pretty angry he can’t publish a book now, because Mommy and Daddy are, so why not? One day, kid. Or maybe not. You decide.
  • Once we both got picked up for series with Fantasy Works Publishing, I also took a job with them, and I’ve been having a grand time with my newfound duties. I’ve been working in acquisitions, as a content editor, and I’m about to strike out in a new branch – I will be running the soon-to-open audiobook branch of the company. So keep an eye open for that. You can get an idea of all of the wonderful things FWP has to offer at http://www.fantasyworkspublishing.com
  • Lastcover I mentioned my content editing above, and I’d like to introduce you to the book I’ve been editing. If you like horror and dark fantasy, you will love following the twists and turns of Gage Greenwood’s first novel, In the Eyes, In the Shadows. We’ve been having a great time working on his novel, he is extremely talented, and a breeze to work with. I know you all will fall in love with his book just like I did, so follow him for news on its release. You’ll be seeing it in 2016 as well.

What’s New in 2016

  • Aside from all the release dates and pending projects? Well, I’m still writing Book 2 of the Keys and Guardians series, The Lost Key, and I’m also going to try to shop out my last remaining short story, One Headlight. It’s been a busy year, and I let that one fall by the wayside. Either way, with book signings and marketing on the horizon, I have a good feeling that 2016 will have a crazier and much longer list of highlights than this year.

Alright guys, that’s what’s up with me! How is everything with you? Post below so I can get a look at what everyone has been up to and what is to come!

Thankful

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I know I’m a bit late, but I hope all of my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

I figured I’d write a little something about the things I’m thankful for this year. It’s been such a strange year. Sad in some places, but incredibly happy in others.

We lost my Grandmother this year, in April. But I’m thankful because I spent 32 years of my life with her in it. She was an incredibly strong woman, and she was very funny, and she is the matriarch of the Minners (my maiden name) family. She had three sons, two daughters, and a collection of zany grandchildren, great grandchildren, and in-laws from all over that map that she was very, very proud of.

I am thankful for the way our family bands together in times of sadness and I am thankful for a re-established relationship with some of my cousins, who I’d spoken to on Facebook, but I hadn’t spoken to in real life in years. I’m thankful for the way two cousins who live across the country from each other can discover all kinds of similarities and form a unique and close bond. I am thankful for positive family connections of all kinds.

I am thankful for new traditions and extra time spent with my parents and my in-laws. I’ve loved getting to know each of you better and better.

I am thankful for blood siblings, siblings through marriage, adopted siblings, all of whom are my best friends. I couldn’t get by without them. Melissa, Jon, Megan, Dorothy, Kristy, Julian, Joy, Allegra, Fruhmann, Frank, Jennine, Anthony, and Marissa.

I am thankful for nieces and nephews, both real and adopted – Genaro, Kaitlyn, and Angelica – every accomplishment is a joy to watch, even when it must sometimes be from afar.

I am thankful for the ability to move away from toxicity in my life, and for the opportunity to find myself and pull myself free from many of the doubts and fears holding me back in life.

I am thankful for the career success that Ismael, Megan, and I have all enjoyed in 2015.

I am thankful for the Fantasy Works Publishing team, who are working so hard to give birth to my first novel, Ismael’s first novel, and a host of others. I am so grateful to be a part of this team and to count them as my friends. I am thankful for the FWP writers as well. I can’t wait to help them all share their stories with the world.

To my day job and all of my bosses and friends there, who make my day-to-day bearable.

I’m thankful for an amazing set of really great friends. I have been very lucky.

I am thankful for good food, a roof over my head, for good jobs, for a good life.

And, most of all, obviously, I am thankful for my guys, Ismael and Logan, who deal with my general insanity on a regular basis and love me despite it. They keep me in check and remind me regularly why I do all of this, and what kind of person I want to be. Seriously, the best husband and child I could ever ask for – perfect for me in every way.

And I am thankful daily for all of you. Everyone who reads my blog, all of the writing contacts I have made, and for the great online friends I have made in this way. Thank you all for being incredible.

I hope you had a wonderful day, and I hope you have a great holiday season.

Love to you all,
Justine

 

2014 Year In Review

Happy New Year!  I hope you can look back at last year with happiness in your heart, and look forward to a year filled with new and interesting possibilities.

2014 has been a bit crazy for me, personally. I’ve faced some trials, some family illnesses, some coping with awful life things from my past. I’ve also made new friends, solidified old relationships, and adopted to the new rigors of having a school-aged child. It can be a lot, but every year is a gem in its own way. We have been blessed. Our family continues to float on.

As this year kicks into gear, it is easy to look back and think of all of the things you didn’t get to do, or the things you have yet to do – which is why it is so important for us to take a second to examine what has been accomplished in this bygone year. So, that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to look at what I’ve accomplished in 2014 and discuss where I’d like to go in 2015.

Writing Steps in 2014

  • Last year, I was celebrating the publication of one of my first short story. This year, I am celebrating the publication of three new stories! My writing life has absolutely been blessed this year. Forward momentum for the win! Tunneling, which also happened to be my first piece of flash fiction, One Percent, which I mentioned in my 2013 year in review as a story that I struggled with rewriting, and Choosing to Stand Still, which was the first short story I brought before the writing critique group I was just joining at the end of last year, all found permanent homes and made me a proud mama.
  • I went to my first writing convention, the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014, and did my first ever pitch session. Chronicled in a two part blog post in August, I got to pursue this particular first in time with my son’s 5th birthday weekend, which left me in an insane tizzy. Though two out of three of my pitch requests ended in rejection, and one is still pending, I still count this as a victory on two fronts. I had never gone out into the world to discuss one of my books before. I very rarely went out into the world and declared myself a writer. That weekend, I got to do that, and not only that, but I got to prove to myself that, while it may tire me out, I can be a mother, and a writer, and have a day job, without everything falling apart. This was the first test.
  • Not only did I start pitching The Order of the Key in person, but I also started to send out query letters to agents, enter twitter contests, and just generally get my first full length novel out into the world. This was a huge step, as a writer can sit in edit, rinse, repeat hell forever if allowed.
  • While I have read my work publicly in the past, I read my work for the first time, professionally, this year. It was a great time, only slightly nerve wracking and helped quite a bit by the presence of several incredible people at my side while I geared up. I will say, that one of the ways I have been very lucky, and there are many, is that I have an intensely supportive and loving group of people that would follow my writing and me anywhere and the feeling is mutual. These are the moments when you see that in living color – whether it’s the people who watch my son for me while I go and participate in writing related activities, the people who listen to me practice read, the people who ask me about my work, or the people who come out and attend readings – I have an awesome group of people surrounding me.
  • This year I wrote my first guest blog post, about writing superstitions. I enjoyed putting it together. I also enjoyed the opportunity to get to know a bit about fellow YA Fantasy writer Scarlett Van Dijk’s work.
  • I completed another round of NaNoWriMo! Which means I’m over halfway through my rewrite of Legally Insane. It is almost complete and I am excited about it. It’s an oddly sweet little story about a girl who hallucinates, and I can’t wait to finish it and get it to you guys so you can read it.
  • I wrote a fanfic, my first in a long time, on a totally different topic than usual. It was, as most fanfic is to me, an experiment in writing a different kind of voice than I’m used to. I enjoyed it.
  • I  wrote yet another short story prequel to my Keys and Guardians series, titled “Love is Sacrifice”. I’m not sure if I can do anything with it as a stand alone (I have the first, “Fuel and Fire”, out for submissions as mentioned below) but I am getting the feeling there will definitely be some kind of anthology one day.

Plans for 2015

  • I’ve got two short stories out in the world waiting to be published by somebody. I am hoping they find placement out there somewhere. They also happen to be my two favorite short stories, which makes their prolonged lack of publication particularly sad.  I’m hoping 2015 will find them a home.
  • The Order of the Key is still out in limbo with a couple of agents and publishers. I am hoping that by the end of 2015 I will know the fate of the Keys and Guardians series. Hopefully, much sooner than that.
  • I definitely want to finish Legally Insane and complete the edit on the book by the end of 2015.
  • If The Order of the Key is picked up for publication, my NaNoWriMo book for next year will be Book 2, The Lost Key. If it is not, and I’m still figuring it out or still in the process of editing Book 1, I will be going forward with The Broken Hearts Club, my ironically (and possibly temporarily) titled story about the continued tale of Tunneling. I still have a couple of characters to really figure out from that story, so we’ll see.
  • I’m taking on a reading challenge for 2015 to get me to read more and different books (in case you noticed that list from last week was a little…Kelley Armstrong heavy…). I will be tracking that, to some extent, here.
  • Just more. Of everything. I’d love to look into more networking opportunities. I’d love to take more classes. I’d love to try some more new experiences that I can maybe use in my writing. I’d love to travel a bit. I’d love to do another reading. I’d love to do more guest blog posts. I’d love to have people do guest posts on my blog. I’d love to grow as a writer. And I can’t wait to start doing it.

2014 was an amazing year. I published one story when 2014 began. By the end of 2014, I’ve published four. I don’t want to lose this momentum. So here’s to another wonderful year of getting out there and being a writer.

And here’s to another wonderful year of you pursuing your dreams!  What have you accomplished in 2014? What do you have planned for 2015? Post it in the comments below.

 

Work/Life Balance: The Craziest Weekend Ever, Part II

Behold! The long awaited (not really) sequel to the blog post detailing the insane adventure of going to The Writer’s Digest Conference while simultaneously attempting to manage my son’s fifth birthday weekend. If you missed the first part, check it out here. It might explain some of my complete breakdown.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

5:30 AM: I woke up about eighty times in the middle of the night, so I am not really feeling up to this, but I know that I must. So, I pull myself out of bed before Ismael, my husband, gets the chance to tug me out by my foot. (He has done this before.) He has woken me up armed with coffee again, and breakfast which I can’t eat because my stomach feels gross again this morning. I have chosen to skip the first seminar I signed up for because it didn’t look like it would really apply to me. Still, this is the latest I can wake up.

6 AM: I rush to get ready. Again, because I am dragging myself around like a stubborn dog on a leash, I am running late. Also, the sky has seen fit to open up and drop all of its contents on the ground and umbrellas and puddles are not going to make things any easier. As I struggle to get myself together, continually fumbling objects, I whine to Ismael that I wish I could just stay home and play video games with him and Logan.

7:30 AM: The boys drop me at the train station. The rain is steady. I should be worried about the torrential downpour and my cute flats, but I’m not. I run upstairs and immediately discover that the train is only running uptown, not downtown. I will have to take it up to the last stop and then come back down. That will add about 20 minutes to my commute, but it’s not the end of the world. If anything, it will give me more time to memorize my pitch.

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Deer in headlights, thy name is Justine

7:45 AM: The train arrives. I walk on and my shoe promptly slips out from under me. I fall onto my ass on a rain soaked subway floor. Don’t ever believe what they tell you about New Yorkers being mean. The entire train car rushes to help me up. It is early Saturday morning and the entire train car consists of seven people, but they all come to help me. But I’m okay. A little more shaken than I was five minutes ago, but there is a special level of adrenaline raging through me at this moment and I feel nothing. Nothing, that is, but the intense nervousness that comes with knowing your career may very well be furthered in the next few hours…if you do it right.

8 AM: The Order of the Key is a young adult urban fantasy about a girl named Jacklyn Madison who…DAMN IT! THAT’S NOT WHAT I WROTE! MEMORIZE, WOMAN! Then get ad-libby!

8:30 AM: Take 375. I hope these agents have a sense of humor.

8:45 AM: Vanderbilt and 45th Street has a slippery street from Hell. I nearly fall again because I am me.

Courtesy of Wikipedia, because when in this mess did I have time to take a picture?
Courtesy of Wikipedia, because when in this mess did I have time to take a picture?

9 AM: I have arrived! Success!

Seminar 1: “You Have Three Pages to Win Me Over: Essential Advice for Your Opening Pages” – This seminar is led by Jacquelyn Mitchard, Well-Known Author and Editor in Chief of Merit Press. The fact that I manage to take any notes on this presentation at all is a testament to Ms. Mitchard’s engaging public speaking. My brain is completely on the fact that the minute this is done, I’m pitching my novel. Still, I  enjoy Mitchard’s discussion. She spends time reminding us that agents want to love your book. They are not looking to reject anything. She explains that it’s important to have a powerful first three pages, filled with promise for an interesting premise and engaging characters. When writing your first three pages, it is best that the reader is able to see that this set up can go in many interesting directions.

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That’s me in the blue towards the back, waiting to pitch to an agent! Courtesy of WritersDigestConference.com

10 AM: Pitch Slam – The line curves around three times. There are probably around 200 people waiting to speak to 50 agents and publishing company representatives for 3 minutes at a time. The writer/agent equivalent of speed dating. This is, hands down, the most nervous I have ever been. I have had spinal surgery. I have had casual hangout time with certifiably insane people, I have given birth to a baby, and this is the most nervous I have ever been. To me, this is the equivalent of taking Logan around and saying, “This is my baby. Judge him, please, and let that judgment seal his fate.”

Chuck Sambuchino, who ran the Pitch Perfect session the day before, checks badges at the door to make sure we are in the correct session (there are three). I don’t know if I look like I’m going to barf, or if my bright blue shirt stands out, or if I look friendly, or what, but Chuck wishes me good luck. Maybe he said that to everyone and I’m just not paying attention, but it immediately eases some of the panic.

I go inside and wait on the line in front of my # 1 agent choice (P.S. I’m not naming names here, because professionalism). While I wait on the line behind three other people, I am near hyperventilating. And then, there is only one person in front of me. And then there are none, and I walk over to Agent #1 with a smile. I start talking, and I know I sound nervous, but she smiles and nods enthusiastically as I speak, and suddenly, I’m feeling better about this whole thing. Agent #1 says she would love to see more of my work and asks me to send her some sample pages and a synopsis. And she gives me her coveted card.

I have a card in my pocket! The rest is just cake, right? So I get on the line for Agent #2 with a whole different attitude. Except, that line is long. I wait. I wait some more. And then Chuck runs up to me. “Genre?”

“Young Adult, Urban Fantasy,” I answer.

He points me in the direction of an agent who was on my list of folks to see. “No line. Go, NOW.”

I don’t have time to get nervous. I go. I pitch. She gives me her card. Life is good.

I walk back to the line I had been in. It is shorter. I wait. I pitch. She gives me her card. Life is still good.

I go to the next line. No, wait, I’m standing in the wrong line. I’m on line for the wrong agent! The signage was a little confusing and I have lost time. I rush to a different agent and I’m told I will be the last one to pitch for her and this is my last pitch of the day. I pitch. She likes the idea, but doesn’t think she’s the best fit to represent me. Life is still good. I have walked out of here with three cards more than I had, three agents ready to see my work.

Now if I don’t get published, it’s not the fault of my pitch…it is the fault of my writing. Um…did the pressure just ratchet up a little?

11:10 PM, Seminar 2: “Creating Suspense: 13 Techniques for Making Your Readers Sweat” – Yet another seminar that had a compelling leader in Jane K. Cleland, mystery author. This was a lucky thing, because she pulled me away from texting my circle to let them know how the pitch slam went, instead drawing me into her seminar. The two main points I walked away with from this one? 1) Use surprises in small doses. Don’t have big explosions…have the clock ticking as the bomb inches towards an explosion. It is better to know something bad is coming then to watch something bad happen. 2) “Look”, “feel”, and “hear”, and other variations of those words are telling, not showing, words. Seek them out in your manuscript and destroy what you can.

12:10 – Lunch! Again, I am starving, so I run to Cosi. As soon as I get settled, a fellow attendee rounds all of the writers in

Cosi across from the Roosevelt, courtesy of Google Maps.

the restaurant up and we share our pitch stories. I strike up a conversation with a non-fiction writer who is pitching a health book that sounds interesting. She asks what my book is about. I clam up. I get to interdimensionals, cease to make sense and grumble “I can’t explain it!” with no absence of frustration. She laughs. “Seems like you did fine in there.” She’s right, of course, so I share my theory that the adrenaline rush has fried my brain. But the truth is more likely that I don’t feel like she will understand my book. There is a big difference between non-fiction and stories about interdimensional monsters. I still feel crazy about writing weird stuff, but when I was in that room, talking to the agents, I felt like I was with my people. After one internal cringe when mentioning the interdimensionals, I recovered, because, if these people published fantasy before, they’d seen just as crazy as me, and I was alright.

1:30 PM, Seminar 3: “All Kidding Aside: How I Became a Published Author and What You Can Learn from My Experience” – This panel, moderated by Writer’s Digest super-publisher, Phil Sexton, contains authors Joe Nelms, Sean Ellis, Jeffrey Somers, Kristopher Jansma, Julia Fierro, and Kelly Braffet. I don’t take notes from this panel as much as I fall in love with every single writer on it. All are clever and funny and all are sharing their stories of how they found their way into becoming a published author. Some stories are a little disheartening, others inspiring, all showcase great personalities. I spend most of the time adding books to my “To Be Read” list.

2:40 PM, Seminar 4: “Goodreads: The Platform That Can Make Your Career” – Once again led by Michael J. Sullivan, this seminar is where things begin to go downhill for me. As I sit, listening to him have trouble working the slide show, and allow his wife to take over because she knows what she is speaking about more than he does, I wonder how someone I enjoyed listening to so much the day before turned into this guy. I’m bored. Due to lack of sleep and my, now waning, adrenaline burst, I begin to fade. In the end, I leave early because I now realize I don’t have the books I bought on my lunch break with me, and I must have left them at the last panel, because I have clearly begun to mentally check out. I manage to retrieve the books.

3:40 PM, Seminar 5: Panel: “Independent Bookstores – Your Secret Weapon” – This panel contained Emily Pullen, Store Manager/Bookseller of WORD Bookstore, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Co-Owner and Event Coordinator at Greenlight Bookstore, Lena Valencia, Frontlist Buyer, The POWERHOUSE Arena, Michele Filgate, Indie Bookseller and Event Coordinator at Community Bookstore, Douglas Singleton, Buyer and Literary Journal Curator at McNally Jackson Books, Margot Sage-EL, Owner of Watchung Booksellers, and Dan Cullen, Senior Strategy Officer of American Booksellers Association. While discussion of indie booksellers was interesting, there was a lot of talk involving the idea that you must be a local to get your book in an indie bookstore. That prompted a search for indie bookstores in the Bronx. There are none. I quickly realize that, with three other seminars going on at the same time, I’m attending the wrong one for me. I begin to flag. A headache begins to thrum, my back begins to remember that I have fallen today, and I begin to text Ismael to see if he would mind a quick drive into the city to come and get me. The central keynote speech is after this, followed by a cocktail party I have already come to understand I could not possibly survive without wanting to throw up on someone’s pretty, pretty shoes.

4:40 – Central Keynote Speech – “The Rules of Writing and When To Break Them with Harlan Coben” – After calling Ismael and discussing the way the rest of the day would go, I head into the keynote speech and there is not a single seat available. I stand in the back of the room, bad back and all, and wait for the phone call from Ismael saying he was outside. Except, when it comes, I don’t want to leave right away. Harlan Coben is in the middle of a hilarious speech about the truth of the business, demanding that, if we have a better path in life, we should take it, because people who torture themselves as writers do so because they have no other choice. I laugh more during that hour than I did in the entire conference, and I’ve laughed a lot over these last two days. Coben probably earned more new readers with that speech than he could have done on a publicity blitz. His audience ate up everything he said and loved it. A very clever, very funny guy.

5:30 Exit: Alas, all good things must come to an end. I get into the car with Ismael and Logan.

Logan, being a superhero at his superhero theme party. And yes, that's a Super Grover t-shirt.
Logan, being a superhero at his superhero theme party. And yes, that’s a Super Grover t-shirt.

There would be a series of seminars the following day, but there would also be a birthday party for my son at an indoor playground with all of his closest friends, and that was where I intended to be. Upon returning home on Sunday, I would be zonked enough to fall asleep on the couch while Logan plays with his birthday presents.

For now, however, I have the cards of three agents in my pocket. As soon as I get into the car, Ismael scoffs. “And you wanted to stay home and play video games.” We laugh. He is a writer. He gets it. We are both riding high.

And the best part? I get to teach a nice lesson to my son.

“How was your day, Mommy?” Logan asked.

“Do you know how Mommy always says her big dream is to see one of her books in the store so anyone can buy it?”

Logan nods.

“Well, it’s going to take a lot more work, and maybe more stuff like this. But I think I at least got one tiny step closer.”

“Yay, Mommy! High five!”

And that made the entire weekend worth it.