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.


Dragon Slayed! NaNoWriMo completed!

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI have never understood why National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for short, is in November. I don’t know about everyone else, but November almost always ends up being one of the busiest months of the year. My best friend, Joy’s, birthday is that month. My little sister, Megan’s, birthday is at the beginning of December, and we usually end up either prepping or actually doing something for her birthday at the end of November. There is Thanksgiving and the lead up preparations for that. There is Christmas shopping and preparations for my birthday. Basically, a lot of preparing for things and doing things. This year, in particular, was bad.

Which is, of course, why I committed myself to write 50,000 words in a month. Because WHAT BETTER MONTH, REALLY?

This month, I chose to work on Legally Insane, a romantic comedy idea I have been spinning around for a long time now. About 18 months ago, I wrote it. It was 150,000 words long. The romance genre generally tops out between 80-90,000 word, so it was pretty much too long for ANY kind of book. Almost too long for epic fantasy. So, I spent nearly a year culling and trimming. Then I spent six months thinking. What could go? What should go? What wasn’t really necessary for the theme? What was only in there because my heart couldn’t bear to let it go?

I talked to Ismael, hubby and beta reader extraordinaire. His main critique was that, while he would follow the characters anywhere, the will-they/won’t-they got a little too thick at times, and at points, it could be unbelievable that the leads hadn’t just decided they would. It made the whole thing feel bloated. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why you need another set of eyes to see your work. I dove into the original, dug in deeply, and came out with a new outline.

My new outline had several changes. Gone were dead weight characters that dragged down the plot. I deleted the D and E storyline I didn’t even realize I’d been trying to tell. I cut six months off of the story timeline, which meant things had to happen faster and with greater weight and that I didn’t need much “and then time passed” filler. I combined scenes, moved scenes around. I even shifted the theme slightly.

I had a brand new story to tell. So, NaNoWriMo it was.

I’ve done this before and wrote about it. The first time out, writing was the struggle. How could I possibly crank out 1,670 words every day? It seemed like so much.

This time, despite a few “crap, with that character gone this scene makes ZERO sense” moments, writing the book was easy. Having time to write the book was another thing entirely. When I had a cup beneath, I could open the tap and let it flow. But cups were few and far between. At least within the confines of my normal sleep pattern.

So, I wrote late into the night and then woke up at 5:30 AM to do it all over again. I. Am. TIRED. Sooooooo tired.

NaNoWriMo-2014-Winner-Certificate copyBut here I am. On November 1st, I knew what my first three chapters would contain. That was it. I was terrified when I started to write because I had only partially thought through my outline (I built the infrastructure on those good days where I found a lot of time.) I loved my characters and I knew them. That was all I had right away. On December 1st, I am writing Chapter 14 of a ridiculous romantic comedy that has actually made me giggle a few times in public. That’s 50,000 original words (not counting bits of dialog I pulled from the original). I still have a third of the story to go, but I’m at the part of every book which I have termed “Shit Meets Fan” (poetic, I know). This is the part where things pick up to a frenetic pace and all of the plot strings tie together in a knot as we build to the climax. And, for me, this is the part where things start to feel like building a Lego set, like the directions are there for me and all I need to do is construct. The best is yet to come.

So, that’s what I have been doing for the last month. What have you been up to? Post in the comments below.

And if you’d like to read about the beautiful uncertainty that comes with your first NaNo, check out my good friend Louis Santiago at his blog, The House of Error. He kept an online journal of all thirty days that captured the frantic pace of the challenge in posts that are both clever and poignant.

See you on the 15th, when I recap the books I whirred through in 2014.

Internet with Friends! And Other Relevant Links…

Welcome to the summer of Pieces of the Puzzle!  This is a little update on what I’ve been up to and what I’ve been reading all summer long.

– I joined the July edition of CampNanoWriMo and managed to write twice my projected word count!  If you are looking to sign up for the next National Novel Writing Month, check it out, here.

– I have spoken my Urban Fantasy, Order of the Key, and my Romantic Comedy, Legally Insane, on this blog before.  The first drafts of both of these novels are now complete.  It’s time to start throwing myself into edits and start outlining my next novels!

– It’s been awhile, but I’ve written a review!  Check out my review of Man of Steel here.

– If you’re interested in following my life in picture format, follow me on Instagram. My username is @justine_manzano.

– My little sister, another writer, has started a blog.  Check it out here!

– Zoraida Cordova is a talented Young Adult writer who writes about merpeople.  She also just happens to be my friend and was once my college classmate in two writing classes.  I just finished the second book in her Vicious Deep trilogy, The Savage Blue, and it left me scrambling for more!  Check out my review for the first book of the series here.  And, seriously, READ THIS SERIES.  If you like fantasy and adventure, you’ll like this.

– Working on edits to your stories like I am?  Check out these great tips to get rid of repetitive statements.

– Here’s another great article about editing.  Check out novelist Patricia Gussin’s list of things to look for in each reread of your novel.

– One of my favorite fandom influences, Joss Whedon, discussed his top ten writing tips here.  They are mostly geared towards screenplay writing, but there is much information to be gleaned from the article.

– Getting together your fiction query letter?  I will be, very soon.  So here is a link to one that works, with a very nice analysis of why.

Okay, that’s all for this month.  Check out my next post in two weeks, where I discuss the debate of writing vs. income.  Take care all!

April Activities

I have had a very crazy month, and now that we have reached the end of it, I would love to catch you up on some of the things I have either been participating in, doing, reading or learning in the month of April.  While my March around the Web post last month was more random wanderings than anything else, this month’s is much more about what I, personally, have been up to.  Enjoy!

  • As of today’s word count, I have completed Camp NaNoWriMo, with 55,997 words, which is just insane.  This month was different than my first adventure with NaNo as there was also the battle of the illnesses going on at my house, family and friends in the hospital (all of whom are doing well and recovering, by the way) and life just getting in the way at every turn.  But I did it!  I won NaNoWriMo!  Again!   I’m contemplating whether or not I will participate in the next camp in July.  I’m not sure if I can handle doing it again so soon especially with my wedding anniversary falling in that month and my son Logan’s birthday on August 1st.  We will see.
  • Also contributing to this month’s “How the hell am I going to WriMo?” question has been the fact that I have a cool new side gig!  I’m working as a reader for Sucker Literary as they go through entries for the 3rd issue of their Young Adult Literary Magazine and I have been having a great time doing it.  If you want to learn more about Sucker Literary, you can either visit their page on WordPress (linked above), like their Facebook pagefollow their Tumblr blog, follow @SuckerLitMag on twitter, or, you know, do them all!
  • By the way, if you have a twitter and want to check out my account, which includes  quotes from my works in progress, writing information, fangirl things and everyday life stuff, you can follow my twitter account @justine_manzano.
  • As an unabashed feminist, this article brought up a bit of an odd feeling within me.  Can somebody learn to write in another gender by following these rules?  What do you think?  I feel like the idea that “Women tend to sympathize and share experiences rather than give advice,” seems like a ridiculous generalization to me, and statements like those abound in this Writer’s Digest article.
  • In this vein, check out my mini-rant entitled “On Daycare and Gender Roles” that can be found on the blog where I post the non-writing related stuff that I participate in (such as fandom things or political and social observations) on Tumblr.
  • Do you know how to write a synopsis of your novel for submission to agents and publishers?  This article at Writer Unboxed has some great tips that got me excited to start working on mine.
  • Ever read through a literary magazine and start to snore?  J. Robert Lennon thinks he knows why.

And finally,

  • Every day, the flow of a story dies due to word repetition.  Writer’s Digest tells you how you can help, here.

I hope you enjoyed my mixture of news and cool things from around the web.  I’ll be back in two weeks to discuss why it’s not so bad to be a little jealous of the success of others.  Until then, keep writing, keep reading and keep being!

Crossing The Finish Line

2012-Trad-Nano-Winner-Certificate1.2I am tired.  But I am victorious.  And then some.

After a month of writing as much as I could for as long as I could, November is over and I have crossed the finish line with a final word count of 57,982 words.

I have walked away from NaNoWriMo with a few amazing things.

  • I have written two complete, and probably horrible, short stories that need tremendous editing.
  • LK has been renamed OK (or rather, The Lost Key has been renamed The Order of the Key) and has been sliced down into three books – because writing as much of it as I did (it was my main focus throughout this month) meant that I was forced to face the fact that this storyline was much bigger than the space I had allotted myself.
  • I have added 5 new chapters to OK and a chapter and a half each to LI and DG, which is a tremendous amount of progress.
Just a couple of points I wanted to discuss regarding NaNoWriMo:
  • While what you produce in this process is unedited and likely unpublishable (clearly, not a word) at this point, this raw form of your story is a great way to work through problems in your tale and iron out funky plot wrinkles.  At one point, I wrote a chapter to add in between two chapters I had written because I realized I needed a little more action at that portion of the story.  By the time I was done with what I was writing for OK, I realized I had missed an explanation earlier on, and jotted it down on my list of things to go back and fix.
  • 50,000 was not as many words as I would have thought.  And 1,670 a day was even less.  By the end, I was blowing through that in a day.  Like a muscle, your writer’s brain can be built through exercise.
  • A person can’t write like this all the time, but I have made a commitment to myself.  I found this process so inspiring and motivating, that I decided my own self-imposed NaNoWriMo was the way to go.  So, December I give myself a break.  And then January, I’m trying this again. For myself.  Just because.  If I could write this much in one month, I can finish my work faster – I just have to force myself to put the pedal to the metal!
Check out my totals below:

Story Key:

Short Stories: OH, C2SS
Novel Length Urban Fantasy: OK
Novel Length Romantic Comedy: LI
Novel Length Space Opera: DG

11/26: 1227 words of OK – This was the day I won NaNo!!!  I wasn’t feeling very well and had a late day out, but I managed to cross the finish line!

11/27: 1084 words of DG, 528 words of LI, 1006 words of OK – 2618
11/28: 1093 words of OK, 1570 words of LI – 2663

11/29: 420 words of LI, 1729 words of OK = 2419

Lastly, before this blog returns to its regularly scheduled insanity, I would like to thank my readers for the support, encouragement, and conversation you gave me throughout this process.  This was fun, but a little jarring at times, and I wouldn’t have made it through had I not had such a great online community.
Thank you, and I will be back next week with a look at Perception vs. Reality in the world of writing.

NaNoWriMo Week 3

Hi all!  I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

My observations and accomplishments during this week’s NaNo:

1) The solid proof that my writer brain works faster than I type can be found in the massive number of missed words I have noticed throughout this process.  It is possible that, had I actually wrote all of the words I meant to instead of realizing it upon a quick reread and plugging them back in, I may have already made my final quota by now!

2) I completed my first draft of the C2SS short story.  It’s going to take a round of edits, for sure, but I haven’t finished a short story in years, so this is big news!

3) Writing action scenes and sex scenes are probably the hardest thing for me to do.  Give me a good dialog scene any day of the week.  Sex scenes are particularly bad because my head becomes a constant cycle of “One day, my family will read this.  My coworkers are going to look at me weird.”  And that is no good for producing anything that is supposed to be sexy in any way.

4) My GOD, this short story will never end!  I just keep writing.  Short was supposed to mean short!!

5) Oh wait…there’s the end.  I just wish it wasn’t complete rubbish.  Time for rewrites!  Or rather…December is time for rewrites!

6) No, new novel idea!  Where did you come from?  And why are you so weird?  I have no time to actually WRITE YOU!

7) Is it just me, or am I getting better at writing one thing at a time?  Or at least one thing a day…

8) That last day’s word count was a total accident.  I finished writing the short story and then sat down to write a scene of LK.  But then, realizing I would have to write the next part on the train the next morning, I realized I needed to finish the scene.  It was an argument, so I needed to keep the flow of conversation going until I’d ended the scene.  2411 words later…what? It was a really interesting article.

8) I have finished this week at 49,044 words.  I have a whole other week left.  You think I’ll make it to 50,000?  I think I will. 🙂

Check out my story key and word counts below.

Story Key:

Short Stories: OH, C2SS
Novel Length Urban Fantasy: LK
Novel Length Romantic Comedy: LI
Novel Length Space Opera: DG

Word Counts:

11/19: 797 words of LK, 1787 words of OH = 2584
11/20: 756 words of LK, 2178 words of C2SS = 2934
11/21: 670 words of LI, 1308 LK = 1978
11/22: 1777 words of DG
11/23: 1795 words of OH
11/24: 1981 words of LK
11/25: 1313 words of OH, 2411 words of LK = 3724

NaNoWriMo Week 2

A few snippets from things that I have learned about myself during this weeks NaNoWriMo:

1) You know those moments when you’re writing and a character just sort of takes over the show, and suddenly the story is going in a totally different direction than you originally thought it would be and you are totally inspired and just writing like mad to catch up to this sudden change?  Yeah, that creates a lot of words….

2) I think I’m completely incapable of writing a short story.  I’ve written a couple in the past.  I like them, but not as much as I like my full length works.  And working on my new short stories this week has produced something I hadn’t previously expected (aside from the above moment of character revelation).  It has produced two much longer stories than intended.  Either I’m going to have to take a serious editor’s pen to these stories when they are done (and no, I promise, I will not edit until after NaNoWriMo), or I’m writing novellas.  Maybe it’s time to do some research into the market for novellas…

3) I have never loved math or science and though I love science fiction, I’ve never really understood all of the actual or theoretical science behind it.  Not really.   So what on earth made me think it would be an intelligent decision to make one of my novels a space opera in which the two main characters are biochemists and it is told from their point of view?  I don’t know, but I will either come out of this experience knowing a lot more about biochemistry, or I will come out of this looking like a complete idiot.

4) When you hit a particularly difficult portion of a scene, and you’re having trouble writing your way through it, what do you normally do?  I tend to put it aside for awhile until the inspiration strikes again.  Which means that I have stopped writing it.  What NaNo has made me do is keep writing.  Keep making strides and putting words to the page. They may be terrible.  It may just be enough to get you through that moment and over the hump into a moment that you actually feel real inspiration towards.  But, as famous Romance Novelist Nora Roberts said, “You can’t edit a blank page.”  So you keep on trudging through, you keep on writing utter crap until it becomes inspired again.  And you can always go back and edit it later.  After NaNo, of course.

And now for the great word counts of the week:

Once again, the key is as follows:

Short Stories: OH, C2SS
Novel Length Urban Fantasy: LK
Novel Length Romantic Comedy: LI
Novel Length Space Opera: DG
11/13: 828 words of LK, 973 words of C2SS – 1801
11/14: 324 words of LK, 867 words of OH, 980 words of C2SS – 2,171
11/15: 1620 words of LK, 143 words of DG – 1763
11/16: 568 words of LK, 761 words of DG, 379 words of LI = 1708
11/17: Nada.  I had an incredibly cooked family dinner to attend.
11/18: More than made that up today: 3,793 words
At this moment, the total is: 32,271 words.  I’m doing this you guys.  I’m doing this!!!