Becoming an Author

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

Honestly, I still can’t believe this is happening to me. It feels surreal and weird. Is my heart supposed to be this light? Do I need to see a doctor about this problem I have where I can’t stop smiling?

All jokes aside, the Story Of How I Became An Author is pretty unique so hold on to your hats, folks.

In early October 2017, I was feeling pretty low. I’d been a college graduate for over a year, I’d totaled a car, I was applying for jobs and getting nowhere, and most importantly I was Extremely Frustrated with myself.

I decided that something had to change. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew I had to do something.

My first step was to go to my father and ask for a blessing. I’m a Mormon, or a Latter-Day-Saint (LDS) if you’re a stickler for the formal title, and we believe that through the power of God’s priesthood, fathers are able to give their children blessings when they need them. I’ve asked my father for a great many blessings over the years. We always got one before the first day of school each year, but I took advantage more often because I am a sensitive little softy who needs fairly constant emotional and spiritual validation.

In my father’s blessing, he blessed me with a few things, but this in particular was relevant to the rest of the story: if I took steps to prepare to go to the temple, I would find employment.

I’m not going to talk about the temple, here. Not much, anyway. This isn’t the time or place for that kind of post.

Anyway— every year, twice a year, the LDS church does this neat thing called General Conference. It’s filmed at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, and consists of the leaders of the LDS church gathering and addressing everyone in the church. General Conference is translated into hundreds of different languages, so that people around the world have access to the wisdom and inspiration shared by the prophet, apostles, and other church leaders.

I decided that I should listen and think about what my dad said in his blessing, about going to the temple. With every talk given, I felt more and more certain that I needed to actively do what he suggested. Partly because I wanted to go to the temple and believed it would be A Good Thing, and partly because there was that nifty little bit about finding employment and I very much wanted to be employed.

I decided to do it. I decided I was going to get ready, and that I wanted to go to the temple by the end of the year.

And: not a WEEK after I made this decision, I was contacted by a guy named David, who works for a children’s publisher called Familius, based out of California. They had this book series, you see. The author of the first two novels, Annette, was David’s sister, and she was getting very busy with her family and didn’t have time to write the books anymore. David actually grew up in my local congregation— in fact, his dad was the bishop before my dad. David’s mom (my former bishop’s wife) had mentioned that I write, so he’d gotten in touch and would I be interested in this kind of thing?

It might be a bit of an understatement to say I was VERY INTERESTED.

I sent back an email indicating my INTEREST. David said, “Neat! Can you send me some writing samples?”

I sent one of these blog posts (the one about the name Elizabeth), and a three-page excerpt from the novel I’d been working on in my spare time.

David said, “Great! You’re hired.”

I screamed and cried and generally lost my marbles to my entire family.

Now you have to understand, this isn’t really how it works in the publishing world. Usually what happens is that unless you have an agent or an editor prior to submission, you write a draft and revise it a couple of times and send queries out to publishers, who will then reply, “nah, not interested” or “neat, send more pls”. It is a lot of sitting around and waiting for things to happen while working on your next project, basically.

So I am EXTREMELY LUCKY to have gotten this opportunity. Or, as I personally believe based on the coincidental timing of the father’s blessing and my decision to prepare to go to the temple, EXTREMELY BLESSED.

(I did end up going to the temple, but as I said— not the time or place. It’s very sacred and private. Also, it’s off-topic for this post.)

Not only was I employed, but I was employed in a field that was literally my dream job. The job I had wanted, craved, adored since I was six. The job for which I have spent fourteen years of my life attempting to hone my skills. I was handed an opportunity on a golden platter and told, “You’re welcome.”

The book I wrote (because yes, it is already written; that’s why if you know me IRL I’ve been doing things like a neat lil author’s page and stuff) is very cool. It’s a children’s book, targeted toward middle-grade readers. The premise is similar to the very popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, in that it is done in a diary-type format with illustrations. It differs from said DWK series in that it stars cute little monster-type people, and it discusses children’s mental health issues. There were two books in the series when I came in. The first was about ADHD, and the second was about screen addiction.

My book is about anxiety— a topic very near and dear to my heart, as you well know.

The previous author and I both worked with a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and psychologist, Dr. Raun Melmed. He’s fairly well-known in his community— like his picture comes up when you Google him and everything. Dr. Melmed was a pleasure to work with. He told me about the technique he wanted me to implement in helping my character deal with her anxiety. We even had a phone call. I hate phone calls, but it went okay and he was very helpful. This series is his brainchild and I am very grateful to be allowed the opportunity to work on it with him. He also wrote a guide for parents and teachers that goes in the back of the book— it’s designed to be used as a classroom tool, as well as a story. However, besides a few key details like the name, gender, and identity of the main character and the background given in the first two books, I was given more or less complete creative freedom over the story.

Dr. Melmed and I went over my first few drafts and he helped me with the mechanical edits and how I implemented his technique into the story. Then the story went to editing and we were assigned a lovely editor by the name of Caroline.

Honestly, Caroline was probably one of the best things about writing this book. I’d never had a real-life editor before. I have had good friends and family read my stuff and offer suggestions, but I’d never had an actual editor. Caroline was so easy to work with and so much fun, and she helped me to understand that I have a tendency to use weak verbs with adverb qualifiers— something I can apply to my writing in general right away!

The best part about working with Caroline is that I do feel like we are friends now. She was so sweet and she really encouraged me to use my odd sense of humor and my own brand of weirdness as I wrote.

The story has been in illustration since February or so. The illustrator’s name is Jeff Harvey, but I don’t actually know much about him. I was given PDF copies of the first two books so I can say firsthand that he is a fantastic artist. The books are adorable and I can’t wait for mine to turn out in the same style.

Publication is set for Spring 2019. I’ve not been given an exact date yet, but I will update both here and on my brand-spanking-new author Facebook page (found here!) when I know more.

Since Familius isn’t one of The Big Five publishing companies, I will be doing a lot of self-advertisement and branding. That’s just how publishing works. So, if that kind of thing annoys you, then, uh, I don’t really know what to tell you because my entire life is self-advertisement now?

So that is the story of how I became an author.

I don’t know if I can explain this feeling I’m experiencing, but since that’s how I will be shortly making a very small living, I think it’s worth a shot:

Despite every single hateful thought I have had about myself, despite the times when I have wished I was dead, despite the wretched heartache that has, on occasion, manifested as physical pain— despite all this and more, I have fulfilled a dream.

This is something I have wanted so badly, for so long. Realizing this dream has made all of the pain I’ve gone through to get here entirely, one hundred percent worth it.

And that— that is something that will never be warped by the darkness within me. When I am confused and sad and afraid, I can look back on this moment and smile and say, “It was worth it.” It is a golden, endless thread in my patchwork personality.

I’m not saying that I’m cured of mental illness. Nor am I saying I will never have bad days again. What I have now is perspective. I have something solid to hold onto, instead of just a hope that things will get better. Even on my worst days, I can say, “Screw you, mental illness. I wrote a book.”


If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter. If you would like to follow me on Facebook for professional purposes, you can find me at S.E. Abramson.

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Writing Progress: March

Hello, and welcome back to the blog.

It’s time for another Writing Progress post! I have to admit, I have not gotten a lot of writing done this month. I’ve been sick, and I’ve been working on applying for jobs and things. I’m not going to lie— it’s been a bit rough.

But I do want to write a proper blog post, and I do sort of have a topic in mind. Today I want to talk about how my mental health affects my writing, because it’s very clear to me that it does.

They say that all the great artists and writers and musicians had some kind of mental illness, or something that caused them to suffer. And I won’t lie— I think there’s truth in the idea, that suffering often produces art. Some of my best work has come from my most painful experiences, and I think that holds true for many other creators. I think that suffering allows us to experience empathy, and I think it empathy that enables us to create art and literature and music that people really connect with. I think when we feel something, as we create, we will cause other people to feel something, as they view our creations.

With that in mind: I can’t write when I’m really depressed or really anxious.

If I’m just a little sad, or just a little worried, then I’m fine. In fact, that usually helps, because I can channel that. I can focus that, in the way I’ve already described.

But if I’m having one of those days where it feels like every limb is weighed down by an ocean and my brain is swept over with fog and crumbs— then, no. I can’t write when I’m like that. All I do on those days is lie in bed and watch videos on my phone. Sometimes I read, or play video games. Sometimes I do those things when I’m healthy— but when I’m feeling better, I’d rather be writing.

I’m kind of working on this story about a girl, Caroline, who’s dealing with PTSD after a war. For once, I’d like the romance to take a backseat to Caro’s experience as a soldier, and as a person with both physical and mental illness. She was shot and got an honorable discharge; her best friend and sort-of boyfriend was killed. Caro’s dealing with survivor’s guilt, she’s using a cane and she’s got a sling on, and she’s also dealing with the Regency-style expectations for a woman of the upper-middle class, the expectations of Matrimony and Motherhood. These expectations are not inherently bad— in fact, she would quite like to get married and have kids; but the pressures that they sometimes produce are less than desirable. In order to experience Matrimony, Caro has to Attract Suitors, and in order to do that she has to Wear Skirts and Be Charming and Elegant and Ladylike. Again, these things are not necessarily bad. But Caro is a soldier, has been for a few years, and she prefers to Wear Pants and Be Blunt and Honest and Comfortable, and these are traits associated with masculinity. She has to deal with the expectations of her family, the expectations of her friends, and the expectations of society in general; these things go against what she actually wants.

It’s always more fun to write a female character who defies society’s expectations. And most women actually don’t conform to those expectations— when you get to know any given woman, on an individual level, you will probably learn that there is something she resents about society’s expectations. For some women, it’s this idea that they’re expected to become wives and mothers. That’s fine— they don’t have to. Some women want to be wives and mothers, but resent being told that they have to be. And some women resent the expectation of fitting a certain physical standard for beauty, and some women resent the expectation of modern sexual practices, and some women resent objectification, and so on and so forth, you get my point. Society tells women that they have to be mothers and wives, but also career women and beauties, educated but not too smart, alluring but modest, and most importantly, quiet. Different women will resent different parts of this hypothetical and impossibly perfect woman, to whom we are all expected to conform. I resent different things than my mother does, and she resents different things than her friends, and my friends resent different things than me. We’re all different.

But it’s even more fun to write a female character who uses society’s expectations to surprise people. A perfect example of this character is found in Marvel Comics, and more recently the MCU. I’m talking about the Black Widow, or Agent Natasha Romanoff of S.H.I.E.L.D. She’s a beautiful woman (and so is Scarlett Johanssen), she’s intelligent and talented and a deadly assassin and an expert spy. She uses her beauty and her body to do her job: by putting on a soft, squishy feminine front facade, she’s able to learn things and to manipulate people. She uses society’s expectations to get what she wants— and then usually she stabs them and leaves, because it’s comic books and movies and she’s an assassin.

I’m not writing my character, Caro, as an assassin. She knows how to kill people; she’s a soldier and a fire mage and she’s done what one must do in a time of war. She doesn’t use femininity to surprise people. In fact, I would go so far as to say she uses masculinity. Caro is, at her core, what society defines as feminine. She likes the color pink (which is traditionally associated with femininity okay), she’s kind of shy, she’s clever and mischievous but soft-spoken, she smiles a lot, she makes people feel comfortable. Not all of this is immediately apparent, because that’s Caro when she’s healthy— and Caro, with a cane and a sling and PTSD, is arguably unhealthy at the moment. But she’s a soldier, and she’s also tall and thin— army training gave her a more muscular form and she’s grown to prefer her army uniform to a dress. She presents a more masculine appearance to the world, which is the opposite of what a Regency-style society would expect— and that causes people to avoid her, which is what she wants. With the space and privacy she prefers, she has room to be feminine and feel safe about it. Presenting a feminine appearance invites suitors and suggests to the average man that Caro is “just a woman;” but Caro, like all women, is not “just a woman” and by manipulating the way people perceive her, she can gain some control over them.

This isn’t unique to Caro. A lot of women do this, in real life. Some of us like pink, but we pretend that we prefer blue, that we’re “just one of the guys.” Some of us like blue, but we pretend that we prefer pink so that other women will accept us. Some of us like purple and yellow and orange and we feel out of place.

And then you get guys who say things like “You’re not like other girls,” and I hate that because there is no ‘other girls’ to be like. We’re all different. I’m sensitive and intellectual and fat and I’m just as much of a woman as Scarlett Johanssen. And she is just as much of a woman as me. And every woman you know is different, but their way of being a woman is just as valid as mine or Scarlett Johanssen’s.

This went from mental health to gender roles and stereotypes, and I don’t mind that because gender plays a role in mental health. If we could just stop expecting certain things from each other, we would all be so much healthier. I try to live by the rule of “Never make assumptions.”

I try to do that when I write, especially. I mean, I’m writing heterosexual romance and there are of course going to be some things that are Traditionally Masculine and things that are Traditionally Feminine, but I try to— well, not blur the lines exactly, but to suggest that they are an imaginary construct of a patriarchal society. Because I’m a feminist it doesn’t matter if a boy likes pink or a girl likes blue, and it doesn’t matter if a woman wears a skirt or trousers. She’s still a woman.

I have plans and hopes and dreams for Caro. I want her to live and to love and to hope, which is something I want for every woman and every man, too. If I could write you all, it would be so much easier to let you have the good things you deserve. Since I can’t write, I shall instead offer you my best wishes, for life and love and hope.


If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.


 

Writing Progress: February 2017

Hello, and welcome back to the blog. My apologies for missing my Thursday post; I was having some Internet connectivity issues, but it’s all fixed and shouldn’t be happening again.

I started this blog with several things in mind. Firstly, a lot of places on LinkedIn are asking for a “digital writing portfolio” when looking at writer jobs. The easiest way to do this is a blog: it’s fairly simple, it’s effective, and it gives potential employers a look at 1) your style of writing and 2) your personality and interests. In that regard, this blog serves a purpose other than self-expression: it’s my business card, so to speak. A place where I can direct someone and they can see who I am, a little bit.

Secondly, I really wanted to do that “The Game of the Name” series. I would say I am low-key obsessed with names but that is a big fat lie. My obsession is anything but low-key. I’ve gotten to the point where I have a list of probably a hundred or so names in each traditional gender (and maybe ten unisex) and I’ve started making combinations of names, both for future Sarah-spawn and for characters. I’ve considered the double middle name route for Sarah-spawn; if I’m writing about characters who are royalty I can give them like, five or six middle names if I want. You know, like Cinderella the musical, where the prince has about fifteen middle names and they sing them all in the one song where the royal herald advisor dude is announcing the ball.

“Christopher Rupert, Windemere Ladimere, Carl Alexander, Francois Reginald, Lancelot Herman, Gregory James…. is giving a ball!” Okay, eleven middle names. You get my point. You can do that with royalty and it’s just sort of funny. But I have an obssession, and it’s a thing I like telling people about, that I’m pretty good at telling people about. So, that was another thing I wanted to start the blog for.

And thirdly, I wanted to talk about my personal writing. I can go on about my personal writing. I mentioned the story I’d lost in the Hard Drive FUBAR of 2016, the one about the single mother and veteran— it was tentatively named “Firebird,” but I probably would have changed that. (I am not sure that titles are my strong suit.) I gave you a very, very barebones description of what that story was about. I gave you some character names and some plot and some theme. It was minimal. But I had two hundred pages of story and I could have told you so much more.

So… this is the first post of another series on this blog, simply titled “Writing Progress.” And you know, this month is obviously February 2017 so this post is “Writing Progress: February 2o17.” This post will go up on the last posting day of each month— seeing how this next Thursday is the beginning of March, today is that day.

In this series, I’ll pick something I’m working on and talk about it a little bit. I’ve got a bigger project right now, that I’ve been working on for a while. I’ve had two people read it so far: my wonderful cousin Anne, who’s been a delightful beta-reader and editor; and my mother, who is also a huge romance nerd. They know which story I’m talking about; but I’m not quite willing to talk about that one yet because I’m in hardcore editing mode for that one. It could be fairly different by the time I’m done with it. It’s the first of several stories I have in mind which are fantasy Regency romance, a genre I like to think I’m kind of inventing. Once I’m done with hardcore editing mode I’m actually going to try submitting it to a few major publishers. Because I like to dream big and all that.

So I’m not going to talk about that one, even though I could, in fact, talk about it. Instead, I’m going to talk about a story I’m also working on right now, which is still in the rough-draft stage because I haven’t finished it. It doesn’t have a working title; all of the romances that don’t have a working title are named after the love interests; that way, it’s easy for me to find them. So this project is called “Rosamond and Peregrine,” if you were to look for it in my computer.

(Yes, Peregrine. You read that correctly. I know it’s a type of falcon and I know it’s a really swotty, high-English-society kind of name; but honestly I kind of love it. I’d never use it on actual Sarah-spawn; that would be kind of cruel. But for a character? Absolutely.)

Rosamond is a young lady, nineteen years of age. She lives with her mother, Lady Amelia, and two younger sisters, Felicity and Abigail. They also have a pug named Buttons, which is a fairly unimportant detail but I like to include it. About a year and a half before I begin the story, Rose’s father, Lord Marcus, and her brother, Elliott, died of the scarlet fever. Lady Amelia also had the scarlet fever and it nearly killed her too; but she survived. Unfortunately, the scarlet fever took a lot of her mind and she’s a little bit unhinged. (I have no idea if this is realistic or not. I am not a medical professional.) She hallucinates, and sometimes gets violent when Rose tries to medicate her. Lady Amelia also won’t eat very much and she’s slowly wasting away with grief and madness.

Very cheerful subject matter, I know. I’m a morbid person; what can I say?

Well, Rose’s family has no male heir and she’s having trouble getting hold of the money because her mother is the only person who is legally allowed to access it. Rose sort of runs the household at this point. She’s not really sure what to do, so she writes to their family lawyer, a Mr. Marlowe, to ask for advice. Marlowe advises her to marry and then, in an utterly vile breach of workplace ethics, proposes himself. Since Marlowe is the same age as Rose’s mother, Rose is like, “Ew, no.” (But you know, refined and stuff.)

Marlowe takes great offense to this and begins spreading rumors that Rose’s mother is mad. This isn’t technically a lie, but it’s not something that Rose wants going around because she feels like her family deserves some dignity after losing their father and brother. Marlowe also blackmails Rose— in their country, it’s illegal for citizens to harbor an insane person. Rose doesn’t want her mother to go to an asylum, so she’s trying to keep the insanity thing quiet. Marlowe threatens to expose them if Rose doesn’t marry him. All of this tension comes to a head one night during a party when Marlowe meets Rose alone to further threaten her, and Rose accidentally kills him with a poker from the fireplace. Yep.

Murder is obviously also illegal, so Rose has no choice but to make a run for it. She steals a friend’s sailboat and heads for a port town on another island in their country. Unfortunately, Rose gets caught in a storm and the sailboat is made unusable with the loss of the mast. She’s on the brink of starvation when she is rescued by Sophy, pirate captain of the Wicked Witch and a whole crew of pirates. I specifically note Doc Blackthorn, who is the calmest person in the world; and Thomas, Eleanor, and James Smith, siblings who work as the cook, a gunner, and cabin boy respectively. (They are loosely based on three of my siblings. One even has the same name.) Sophy’s first mate on the Wicked Witch is a gentleman named Peregrine, and it is he who the story is named after because obviously, Rose and Peregrine are going to be An Item. I did mention that I can’t not do romances, didn’t I?

I haven’t written much further, but I do know exactly what will happen, having plotted it out well beforehand. Peregrine has a Secret, and Rose eventually has to go and rescue her mother and sisters from the Clutches Of The Law. Sophy will be accidentally captured and it will be up to the entire crew of the Witch to save her and Rose’s family. There will be detailed fights with foreign pirates, entertaining but non-violent chases with the navy of their own country, and tales of pirate pranks, hijinks, and tomfoolery. There will also be angst because Peregrine is sort of prone to angst (he’s kind of a hopeless romantic and also a depressive, I WONDER where he gets it) and Rose is also a bit prone to angst because she accidentally killed a man and had to leave the only home she’s known. But all will end happily ever after because I also do not do Sad Endings.

I could take the time to tell you about different stories, but I wanted to talk about this one because it’s about things other than romance and pirates. I wanted to write about a woman who would do anything for her family— because my family means so much to me, and I’d do anything for them. I wanted to write about a man who comes to realize that women are often as imperfect as men, and learns not to take them for paragons of all virtues. I wanted to write about a girl who struggles with memories of a tragedy that isn’t her fault. I wanted to write about adventure, about wind in my hair and the smell of salt-spray. I wanted to write storms and sun. I wanted to write about love and about pirates, and about two people who have to learn to listen to one another before they can learn to love one another.

I want to write about these things because they are real. These pirates aren’t real, and magic isn’t real, and I can’t romanticize violence and bloodshed— nor do I want to. What I want to write about is people. I always want to write about people, about their struggles and triumphs, failures and victories. I claim to hate people— and as an introvert, I certainly do not prefer to spend time with a great many people at once. But I do love… well, people. I love that we are human and we live and grow and learn and teach and die, like everybody else. Like everything else.

I’ve been spending a lot of this month looking for jobs, so there hasn’t been much actual writing going on; but that’s okay. It won’t always be hours and hours of rapid-fire drafting. Sometimes the work goes slowly— and that’s okay.


If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.