Writing Update

I had a plan to post a writing update every month. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. They don’t get … umm … laid? Something like that.

Back in May, I shared a little about Thread by Thread, my current WIP. I was almost done outlining and about to embark upon that most daunting of journeys–the first draft. That’s how I feel about it, at least. I much prefer revisions, but I digress.

I did indeed start drafting a week after that post. And it felt so good! For the first 10k! And then I hit a wall. Part of that was visiting Charleston for three weeks, and writing all of seven words. But that is part of the process for me. (Which I’m only now coming to understand.) The first 10k is all fun and games. It’s the beginning! The world is fresh and new! The sun is brighter! Babies are cuter! I braid flowers in my hair and laugh like a little girl.

But then I finish the beginning, all the characters have been introduced, and a cloud covers the sky. I. Hate. Everything. About. My. Book. Actually, this is only slightly accurate. I have never doubted this story. I think it’s the smartest thing I’ve created. It’s definitely the most ambitious project I’ve set before myself. What I did doubt–and still do, on occasion–is my ability to properly write it.

So that’s where I was when I returned home. I felt like the worst writer in the world. Every word had to be dug out of my skin using a spoon. (“Because it’s dull, you twit, it’ll hurt more.”) I sent message upon message to my CPs complaining about all of this. But I persevered. I wrote lots of bad sentences, but I finally reached 16k and suddenly, something clicked. I felt like a half-decent writer again. I thought, Hey I can do this!

And now I’m at 25k, a quarter of the way through my projected 100k draft.

Something unique about this project (compared to my other books): being that it’s epic fantasy, it has four POV characters. Yes, you read that right–FOUR. And I’m going to have a handful of one-offs as well. COF (the book I’m currently querying) has three, but it was much easier jumping between characters. Why? I asked myself. Finally I realized it: I didn’t outline COF, just a few key plot points. So when I drafted it, I inserted the other two POVs whenever I had an idea. So writing those scenes was easy, because I waited for inspiration to strike. And most of the time, I was in the protagonist’s head.

This book is much different. I change POVs just about every chapter. One character only has a few scenes, but the other three are nearly equal. That’s a lot of head-hopping. It took a while to discover their voices, and some days I still can’t find them. But that’s okay. As Terry Pratchett says, the first draft is about telling yourself the story. That’s what I’m doing. Revisions are for nailing voice, and characterization, and theme, and all of the aspects of craft we’re meant to juggle when we write a book. (What a bunch of masochists authors are.)

So, I’m at 25k and I’m feeling pretty good. Tomorrow might be different, but I won’t let that stop me.

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On Rejection and Thick Skin

Back in November, after eight years of writing, I finally began querying. Querying is the process by which a budding young writer enters into writer adulthood by hunting the mythical creature known as the literary agent. Here’s how it goes:

Writer: “Dear Agent Person,

I think you’re rad and that you’ll like my book. It’s about Ladyface who wants to open a rescue for socially awkward unicorns. But Poophead Evil Villain has vowed to stop her. If Ladyface fails, she’ll lose her amazing lady face and be forced to wander the earth a faceless non-lady. It will appeal to fans of Other Author who writes books about ladies with faces.

Sincerely,

Writer Person”

Literary Agent: “Hello Writer,

Thanks so much for the opportunity to consider your work! Unfortunately, this project isn’t right for me, but I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors and in finding representation!

Best,

Agent Person”

That is a professional and kind form letter. It’s quite lovely. It’s also one I actually received from an agent. This is how that kind and thoughtful rejection letter actually felt:

Writer: “Here, I made this for you. It’s a piece of my heart, and I’ve slaved over it for years. There is so much of me in this. Please love it. Please love my heart and give it a home and–”

Literary Agent: “NO. I HATE YOUR HEART. HEARTS ARE DUMB.”

It doesn’t matter how kind an agent is, rejection letters still hurt like hell. And I don’t blame the agents–they’re doing their job. I like agents, I think they’re great. I don’t unfollow them on Twitter if they reject me, or heap curses on their names, or hope they have ugly pets. But the process to get one is not my favorite.

I received my first rejection letter three days after sending it out. It was not from one of my top agents. I appreciated that and the fact that it came so quickly. But it still hurt. Big time. I was at the gym, so I turned on my pump up music and got super into my elliptical workout. Then, I figured out what I did wrong and improved my query letter.

I felt a lot of better, so I called my CP Christine. She told me she was impressed by my thick skin. I thought long and hard about Christine’s comment.

Here’s the thing: in the writing world, they always say you need to have thick skin to survive.

Here’s the other thing: I don’t have thick skin. I guess it depends how you define it. To me, thick skin is letting negativity and comments roll off your back. You may take note of them, or you may not, but you don’t let them affect you emotionally. You don’t let them hurt you. My husband has thick skin. He is the Unflappable Kurt. He hears criticism, he’ll decide whether he needs to follow it or not, and he’s done. Someone hurts his feelings… actually, no one hurts his feelings.  He has feelings, but the plebes can’t touch them. He’s a rock, I tell you.

I do not have thick skin. I have cried over critiques and criticism. More than once. I get riled when someone is rude to me. I don’t feel all the time, but when I do, I feel deeply. My emotions can be so strong, it scares me sometimes. I emote like I do everything else–one hundred freaking percent.

So, no, I definitely do not have thick skin.

Here’s what I do have: the ability to pick myself up. To learn from my mistakes. To put on my pump up jams, punish my legs on the elliptical, and resolve to keep going. Individually, those rejections don’t hurt, not anymore. Collectively, they’re rocking my world a bit. But I won’t quit.

And, I’m good with this. I don’t want to develop a true thick skin. It took me a long time to learn vulnerability, in life and in my writing. And guess what? My stories improved dramatically when I finally embraced it. I don’t know if I ever could have thick skin and still maintain that vulnerability, that ability to throw my heart on the page then offer it to a stranger in the hope that they’ll find beauty in it.

One day, when I’m a published author, I may change my tune. I may join them in enumerating the benefits of thick skin. And then I’ll look at this post and think how naive I was, all those years ago. But vulnerability is laying your heart out without knowing what will come of it. It’s saying, This is me. I won’t apologize for it. I may not be right, I may be messy, but I’m okay with you seeing that.

I choose vulnerability.

And I won’t ever give up.

New Headshots

It’s the little things in life, right? While in Charleston, we took family pictures. Of the Whole. Fam. Damily. It was a little crazy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We had the photographer for two hours, and everyone else was pretty much done, so I asked her to snap a few headshots. My hair is drastically different from my old pictures (only 1.5 years old) and I have new glasses, so clearly I needed new ones.

Maybe I didn’t. But I wanted some. And they were were already paid for, and I was there, and looking good, so why not?

I love how they turned out, although I worried I looked too “sweet” in them. I don’t write sweet things. I write kinda weird, kinda dark things. But my CP Christine assured me the pictures aren’t off-brand, and since she has impeccable taste, I trust her.

And this is super out-of-character for me to say this, but my goodness, looking at these makes me love my mermaid hair even more. I didn’t even know that was possible.

 

Now I’ve just gotta get a book with a book jacket for one of these. I’m working on it, I promise.

Home.

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I recently spent three weeks visiting my parents in my hometown of Charleston, SC. The first week I was home, I felt homesick for Denver. Everywhere I went, I faced layers of memories. This is the place of my past, I thought. This was the home of Kristina Cooper, not Kristina Atkins. I’ve grown so much since I last lived there, twelve years ago. I’ve been through so much, faced my demons, gotten to know myself better. I’ve been married, become a mom, earned degrees and written books. I’m not the same person who lived in Charleston.

And yet … it didn’t take long to sink back into the rhythm of the South. To remember how to sit still, embracing the humidity instead of fighting it. To take slow bike rides under Spanish moss. To watch my children enjoying the freedom of the beach. To listen to the cicadas sing and simply be. I can make new memories here, I thought. And I did. I watched my children dig in sand and chase seagulls. They played in pluff mud and caught lizards. I biked with my husband along the Battery, took a turn down Market Street, and bought pralines. I remembered the beauty of slow living.

We’re not moving back. Our lives are here in Denver, and I love it here. But Charleston will always be a part of me. Every place you live leaves an imprint on your soul, but nothing compares to the mark left by your hometown. I’m forever grateful to call Charleston my home.

A Long Overdue Update

Inspired by my friend Christine Tyler, I’ve decided to dust off the old blog. What will I post? Not really sure. How often will I post? Probably twice a month. But I’ve been researching marketing lately and the message is clear across the board–if you’ve got a blog, use it.

So, I’m going to use it.

This is a really good start, I can just tell.*

Rather than giving a long and boring update on my life, this post will center around my WIPs–their status, a general description, and how I feel about them. What writer doesn’t love talking about their stuff? Weird ones, probably.

Constellations of Fate – I dubbed this the Book of Eire when I started it back in 2014. It’s the fourth novel I’ve written and the first I’ve queried. That’s right–I’m down in the query trenches. They are unpleasant. But! It’s exciting to finally be here. Many writers query long before their fourth book, but I’m a perfectionist and wanted to wait until I not only had a book I wanted published, but I felt my writing was ready for publication. Is it actually? Only time will tell. CoF is Celtic mythology-inspired contemporary fantasy. It deals with mental illness, forgiveness, mother issues, and questions of fate. I love it with all my heart. I grew so much as a writer while writing and revising this book and owe so much to it. It will get published, whether now or in ten years, traditionally or indie.

Thread by Thread  I’m crazy excited about this one. Why? Because it’s second-world fantasy aka high fantasy aka epic fantasy (depending on your definition). Epic fantasy was my first love, but I was always too intimidated to write it. “I can’t invent an entire world!” I said to myself and anyone who would listen. And I may be right. But I hope I’m wrong. I’m still intimidated by the task I’ve set before me, but I know when I finish I’ll be so proud of myself. It’s a Trojan War retelling, currently planned to be a series of four books. I’m excited about the ways I’m subverting common themes and characters in the myth, as well as the other stuff I’m throwing in such as postpartum depression, PTSD, class dynamics, and winged horses. Because winged horses make everything better. The outline is almost done, so I hope to start drafting next week. All of my first drafts thus far have taken me one year to write, but I’ve done extensive pre-writing with this book. Also, it’s been four years since my last first draft and I’m a much better writer. So I’m hoping this one goes much quicker.

Constellations of Fate sequel – Originally CoF was going to be a trilogy. Then last fall, in my final revision, I changed the end which clipped the series down to two books. I’ve had the general plot of the sequel floating around in my mind since, but I finally sat down this weekend and beat it out.** And now I’m even more excited about it. But I’m still going to write Thread by Thread first because I’m chomping at the freaking bit to start that one.

So, there you have it–my current brain babies. And now I’ve blogged. Bill Murray’s in my head right now saying, “I’m blogging! I blog! I’m a blogger!” I think Dr. Leo Marvin would be proud.

*Where’s the sarcasm font when you need it?

**I’m an enthusiastic Save the Cat! convert these days.

#tykinschallenge A Very YA January Rules

jan challenge

TO ENTER:

  1. Follow @ctylerbooks and @krisatkinswrites.
  2. Use the A VERY YA JANUARY challenge list to inspire original bookstagram posts.
  3. Tag your posts with #tykinschallenge.

It’s that easy! Every A VERY YA JANUARY post tagged with #tykinschallenge counts as an entry!

PRIZES:

Two exclusive book boxes featuring signed copies of Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, a bookish candle, bookstagram props, button pins, and other bookish goodies.

One winner will be chosen via a RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR out of all qualifying entries. The other winner will be chosen via Christine and Kris’ TOTALLY ARBITRARY PERSONAL TASTE. If we disagree we might pick two ;)

We’ll give shout-outs at the end of each week.

RULES:

  1. Anyone can participate and be eligible for shout-outs and weekly collages, but book box winners must be 18+ and living within the USA.
  2. No private accounts. We need to be able to see your pictures!
  3. Every entry with #tykinschallengecounts. Multiple entries per day are acceptable, but we need to see how they apply to the challenge by at least some stretch of the imagination…
  4. Previous winners are not eligible to win, but are eligible for weekly shout-outs.
  5. Participants DO NOT need to create a post for every prompt. This is meant to be fun, so if one or two entries/posts is what you have time for, we’re happy to have you. ❤️

I volunteer as tribute!

What I Remember About Postpartum Depression

This post was easy to write–because I’ve been thinking about it for weeks–but scary to publish.

Big deep breath … here we go.

I recently read this blog post from a fellow mother with bipolar disorder recounting her experiences with postpartum depression. It’s courageous and beautiful and painful–and brought back many of my own experiences. It also inspired me to write this post.

I don’t remember much about my postpartum with Turbo. I was so, so sleep deprived for 6 months straight. I remember at one point telling a friend I’d been living on 2-3 hours of sleep that whole time. So the sleep deprivation has erased many of those memories. I’m sure I’ve conveniently forgotten some as well. Here’s what I do remember:

I remember crying every single day for 6 months straight. Often multiple times a day.

I remember wanting to run away. Thinking about how much I hated being a mother. Wishing it had never happened. Then crying out of guilt the next minute because of course I wanted to be a mother, how could I ever think that?

I remember pleading with my child to please, please sleep. And please, please take the bottle so I could get back on meds.

I remember meds helping … but not enough.

I remember throwing the bottle across the room when he kept refusing to take it.

I remember noticing I was bouncing him quite hard one afternoon, and realizing for the first time how someone could shake a baby.

I remember setting him in his crib, still crying, because I couldn’t take it anymore.

I remember countless nights of insomnia. I was so, so exhausted and yet as soon as I got in bed, I couldn’t sleep.

I remember lying awake at night, making plans to get up, drive to the grocery store, buy some alcohol, come home and get drunk so I could shut my freaking brain off and finally sleep.

I remember desperately talking myself out of that plan time and time and time again. (I don’t drink alcohol for religious reasons.)

I remember slamming my head against the dresser behind me one night when Turbo had his umpteenth cold and I was trying to clear his nose out in the middle of the night so he could just please sleep, and he was crying and fighting me and not sleeping and not sleeping and not sleeping.

I remember many nights of laying in bed and talking myself out of going to the kitchen to get a knife to cut myself. But I had to self-harm, I was going crazy, so I “settled” by hitting myself in the head as hard as I could.

I remember spending two weeks of Turbo’s sixth month of life in bed. In the morning, I’d get him, grab his bottles and diapers, eat enough to sustain me, and crawl back into bed. He was literally the only thing that kept me going.

I remember so many out of body experiences. (This is a form of psychosis.) Two while I was driving. One in particular was scary because it was rush hour traffic and the cars whizzing past me seemed so harmless and far away. I remember telling myself, “Just get off the road. You’ve got to get off the road. Your baby–your entire world–is in this car and he’s depending on you.”

I remember Thanksgiving when my brother came to visit and I had a breakdown of epic proportions and he and the Mister had to pick up the pieces and finish cooking dinner while I slept off the insanity.

I remember dreading the night.

I remember dreading the morning.

When Turbo dropped to two naps a day, things got much better and the postpartum depression cleared. When I got pregnant this time, I had a plan. After Nugget was born, it took two weeks for me to get up to a viable dosage of my multivitamin, and in that time I could see that my postpartum was on a path to be much worse this time. But then I started taking enough, and the world was a brighter place. I still cry from time to time, because being a mom is hard, and newborns are really, really hard, but it’s not the same. I’m still tired, but it’s not the same. No more desires to run away. No more thinking I hate being a mom. No more dreading each coming day. I’m not happy every moment, and my body has readjusted so bipolar depression is hanging around the fringes waiting to pounce. But I am sane. I am mostly balanced–and when I’m not, I can get back in balance fairly easily.

I love my children. I love being a mother. I’m not happy every moment, but there’s a bud of ever-present joy nestled in my heart.