2017 in Review; 2018 Goals

Reflecting on 2017 and looking forward at 2018.

I have a problem with negativity. Not in my life, but in my mind. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. Fortunately,  these posts forcing me to acknowledge my accomplishments and give myself goals to be more mindful help me to exorcise a little bit of that pessimism. So thank you for being a reader and for any comment-love you’ve given. Know that I appreciate you.

So here is what my 2017 looked like and what I hope for 2018.

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2017 Achievements

  • I read 47 books of my goal of 30 (next post tallies my 2017 favorite reads), plus a TON of fanfic. Like, you have no idea. In retrospect, I might need a support group.
  • I submitted short stories 6 times and poetry 5 times, and I got 2 encouraging rejections back on one of my poems!
  • I finished my LGTBQ urban fantasy, The Space Between You and Me. 
  • Finished a 2nd draft of TSBY&M (I missed it, okay?!)
  • Between November 1st and December 31st I returned to my gothic WIP, Wrathmoor, that I had begun back in 2013 and stalled out on, and I wrote 8 chapters, totaling 52,780 new words written for the year (while listening to The Village soundtrack approximately 48 times).
  • I set up one bookshelf in my office, after a year and a half of living at my new place! And it’s pretty damn fine, just sayin’

  • I revamped and resurrected my Instagram to focus on one of my favorite things in the world: books!
  • Attended a Maggie Stiefvater signing that was just *kisses fingers*
  • I went on a writing retreat with my bestie
  • Alongside my husband, successfully grew two babies into mini-humans who talk, sing, throw tantrums, and celebrate the general chaos of life in high Dionysian fashion

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My goals for 2018:

  • Read 40 books. Follow me on Goodreads to see how I’m doing
  • Finish my office (maybe get on Annie Neugebauer’s The Decorative Writer, cause I’m a goal-oriented nerd like that)
  • Publish a poem, short story, or article. If I achieve this in 2018, I am allowing myself to buy a domain for my website, so simple domain name and no more ads! (Apologies for any assault upon your person those ads may have wrought)
  • Finish 3rd draft of The Space Between You and Me, polish a blurb and synopsis, and begin the submission process
  • Finish 1st draft of Wrathmoor
  • Brainstorm for what will be my 8th novel, The Rosen Tales; and Other Points of Contention, a contemporary/literary mystery with sparks of fantasy shot through. Comparable titles are Byatt’s Possession and The Madwoman Upstairs. Though this idea is probably entirely out of my depth, I am really looking forward to it.

Some less specific goals:

  • Write at least once a week.
  • Reflect often on the positive things in my life
  • Embrace, appreciate, and love my life, because it’s mine and no one else’s. This goes hand-in-hand with not comparing myself or my work or my life to others’.  Everyone’s got their own things, and yeah, it’s cool I can kill cacti (yeah, multiple) with almost no effort at all and play the opening of Malaguñea on guitar and nothing else. I’m gonna own it.
  • Take adventures. I often idly wish I could travel, but I’ve decided I am going to be a bit more spontaneous about this desire and just get out there and do stuff. Our little town has quite a few places for good close-to-home adventure. I’ll be sure to post pics or my super eloquent philosophications on them (Not).

So there are my goals for this big and wonderful year. I hope you are feeling refreshed by the new start as well. What are your resolutions, goals, or intentions for 2018? Inspire me in the comments.

Letting Joy In

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Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ashleybaccam/25-cute-pictures-of-cats-playing-with-yarn#.hegBRwd3K2

Yesterday, a writer friend of mine announced that she signed on with a respectable agent at one of the big publishing houses. I’ve been following her journey since at least 2012. This person is one of the sweetest, hardest working, talented people I have the honor of knowing, even if only a little . I have looked to her as a mentor since I decided to try and carve a  career for myself out of this “whole writing thing”. She was also a major influence in the realization that I write horror, a brave affirmation, given all the misconceptions surrounding the genre. But her dedication is inspiring, and her passion is contagious.

Here’s the kicker. As a fellow writer I should be jealous, right? Shouldn’t I be gnashing my teeth at the fact that I haven’t reached—nay, have not even come close to—that milestone every writer covets, that so many never reach? Believe me, I have felt that green before; I have heard that mean voice in the back of my head telling me I’ll never be that good, or that lucky, that I’ll never make it. But what I felt upon reading this news was not even close to any of that negative white noise.

At first, I was ecstatic about eventually getting to read all of this friend’s works—that’s the reader in me. And then came a wave of joy that almost made me cry. I almost cried for someone that I’ve only met once in real life and talk to rarely. I almost cried for her success, because I am so proud of and happy for her. Yes, this emotion was the writer in me. Maybe it’s just the kind of person she is, maybe this news just caught me on a good day. Either way, I opened myself up to feel the good feelings. And I’m so happy I did.

In my past experience with jealousy and the self doubt that accompanies comparing myself to another’s success, I felt bad afterward, physically drained. Like coming down off a false high fueled by Red Bull (no offense, Red Bull. You got me through many an all-nighter during my graduate years. Just kidding. I fell asleep right after drinking your 11 ouncer). I never imagined how my reaction to another’s success could affect my productivity. But letting this joy in inspired me. I’ve been pretty quiet on the blogging front for some time, trying to come up with a topic, but nothing would stick. As soon as I read this friend’s news and felt my happy feelings, I was mentally composing this blog in my head. And just now, I furiously pecked away at my phone, getting this down as I held one of my six-month-old twins on my knee as she digested her dinner and I consumed mine. Joy inspired me to write despite everything else going on. And not just a blog post, I can’t wait to get to my computer and work on the next chapter of my WIP rewrite.

Will I still have days where the grass seems greener on the other side? Days where I envy someone else’s financial freedom or time to write, or maybe someone else’s right-time-right-place luck. Sure. But whenever I can, I will choose to let the joy in because it feels good. So much better than the negative stuff.

Congratulations on your hard-earned success, my friend. I look forward to reading all of your incredible work.

To Pen a Name for Thyself (Pros and Cons of Pen Names)

Or to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

penname blog Some of you may have noticed I have decided to change my publishing name to my actual name from the initialed, androgynous version of it, A. B. Davis. This is sometimes an involved decision for writers. This post explains my reasoning for a pen name in the first place and my reasons for ultimately, making the switch back to my real name. My main reasons for going with a pen name: Anonymity

  • I’m not one of those writers who want to be known in every facet of my life as a writer, specifically because I have a day job (that I will probably be at for a very long time) in which I have to maintain an assertive and professional persona at all times. And I would never want that confused with my authorial persona, because if my real name were published, clients who learned I was the author of those books might make the mistake of likening me to my characters or thinking they could be my friend because they know about my work outside of work. Until I was able to make money off my writing, then I figured I should keep my two personas separate to save the one–just on the slim chance a client were to find one of my works and actually like it enough to read it. And then actually like me enough to try to overstep a boundary. It’s a long shot, I know. But we live in a realm of possibility here.

Just didn’t like it

  • I just didn’t like my real first name. But it is time to embrace the being that is me, and that I am named after a tree–or at least, the Old English, æsc, stems from the ash tree and lēah from meadow. Others are named after worse things. And besides, the proliferation of gum-popping, hair-flipping valley girl Ashleys does not define this one.

Gender Equality

  • I did not want to flag my gender, because I don’t like the associations of my genre (one of them anyway), paranormal/urban fantasy, as being pure romance with no story. I wanted (and still want) men to pick up my books and enjoy them as well. In short, I wanted to be universal. I realize that might have been asking too much. I was also concerned with my gender regarding publishing in general. Because of years of discrimination against women, our books and novels and poetry are inevitably published less and our byline count in literary magazines and academic journals tends to be much smaller.

Reasons I’ve decided to embrace my real name:

  • The most shallow: The penname was ugly. Even though A and B are right next to one another in the alphabet, I always worried people would think ‘Ab’. And I didn’t want to falsely advertise, as I do not have any of those.
  • The most functional reason: The anonymous, initialed penname felt sterile. I’m more human with my real name, less of a nameless, faceless, genderless amoeba. Right?
  • Other reasons: The anonymity is pretty likely to remain regardless of what I publish under. Even my family doesn’t stalk my authorial persona and publications, so I think I’m safe there.
  • My name isn’t THAT bad (See name etymology above).
  • Most important reason: In hiding my gender I felt as though I was contributing to the disparity between male versus female authors published and successful. And some genres truly need women to speak up as this blog points out. As a female writer, one may have to work harder to break through the residual, sometimes even unconscious discrimination against female authors, but they have to know you are a woman for your efforts toward that end to make a difference.

[note: I am never for discounting the work of one gender/ethnicity/age group/etc. in favor of boosting the other. That completely defeats the purpose of equality. But just for fun, here’s a lit journal I found in my research for this blog made by women composed of women writers. While some of it is a little too reminiscent of my graduate days discussing too much pretentious, intellectualist theory, I love the cover art, the poem, “Pulling It Off”, and the interview with Katherine Angel in the 4th, most recent issue]

Do you choose to work under a nom de plume? Why? What do YOU see as the pros or cons one way or the other?

The Querying Process: A Lesson in Humility

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This is a difficult post to write. Not because I’m embarrassed to share this experience, but because I really had to do some digging to understand what urged me to share this. The point I hope readers take away from this post is that as writers, we fall. We fall hard and often. I don’t want to say fail, because it’s only failure if you don’t get back up and fix the problem the made you fall in the first place. So I hope, by sharing my stumbles and flat-out face falls, readers find comfort in knowing this experience is hard for everyone. Writers in the writing stage, or the querying stage, or even the publishing stage all go through set-backs, self-doubt, and necessary readjustments. I suppose this post is also a mantra to myself that everyone experiences these emotions and fears, and the only way to overcome them is to work through them.

I recently submitted my first novel to a few agents for representation. However few my submissions, the response–or lack thereof–reiterates the fact that there are millions of fish in the sea and even more microscopic plankton trying to latch onto those fish for a ride. I now fully understand that I’m just another microscopic plankton. In order to even be considered by the fish,  I need to make sure I’ve got something worthwhile to offer them. Okay, that metaphor got weird. Apologies.

After reading the excellent article, “Is Your Book Good Enough for Publication: A Cold-Blooded Assessment“, recently posted on Writer Unboxed, I considered the replies to my query submissions, the first of which was my most coveted agent who just so happened to reject me about an hour after I clicked send. Now, it could have been my query letter, but I think it had more to do with my premise. Then again, there must be thousands of situational combinations that could have prevented these agents from asking for a full manuscript. To better guard myself in the future against any potential pitfalls during this process, I had to reexamine my work and pitch from the outside in. I had to consider each from an agent’s perspective to effectively refine them.

Though I wrote a book I would love to read, I didn’t really consider whether it is what publishers want right now (and therefore what an agent would want to take on). Did I think enough about marketability? Will it tidily fit into a niche somewhere? And the biggest question, will it be what people want to buy? I have taken this “Cold-Blooded Assessment” (and a number of other articles WU keeps putting out, like “Writer, Boxed“) as a sign that my decision to strip my novel down to its bones and tendons to better see the inner workings is the right one. My plan is play up the vital parts of my concept in a work, not only I enjoyed writing, but others will love reading, people will want to buy, publishers will want to print, and agents will want to pitch.

My critique partner and best friend has always been encouraging and assuring that my novel could be published. And I know, when we encourage one another, we both mean it as readers honestly gauging each other’s work against the quality of the other stuff we’ve read. On the flip side though, we’re not publishing experts or agents. So after six rejections and three resounding cricket choruses, I could submit to more agents, but I’m taking this as a learning experience and responding, rather than reacting, to it. I will take measures to ensure I feel comfortable with every aspect of it before putting it out there again (Is that even possible? Has anyone ever felt that way in the history of this craft?).

I saw this advice somewhere recently: If you have a gut feeling that some particular thing is wrong with your work, that element probably needs revisiting. Why should you expect an agent, a publishing house, or, most importantly, your readers to overlook that problematic element you noticed? Until heeding this advice, I never truly understood the meaning of throwing out 50 plus pages. I used to scoff at such a thought–why write a book if you end up trashing a quarter of it? But here I am now, starting anew and racking my brain for the perfect formula of internal action versus external action, weighing the genres I should most closely associate myself with (I’ll be tackling this in a future post), and just trying my damnedest to write a good book people cannot put down.

If you haven’t gotten this far in the publication process, know that there is some amount of satisfaction about getting your work out there though, despite how terrifying it is. Knowing that your pitch has been seen by people in the biz–rejected, granted, but seen nonetheless–is pretty amazing. You have to pat yourself on the back if you’ve gotten this far. Whatever you do, don’t stop just because you fall a few times. It’s only failure when you let it make you stop. You have to keep moving to get anywhere. 

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Have you refined your process, your novel, or your approach to getting published as you moseyed along Writer Road? What advice, rejections, or encouragement incited those changes?

9 Free Expert Sources Every Writer Should Explore

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I am obsessed with procedure and process and understanding others’ processes and methods.  As an aspiring writer, you should be on the up and up with expert advice and examples of successful methods. Fortunately for you, I actually enjoy researching the valuable and not so valuable information out there on the writing process, agent finding process, and publishing process. So, I have taken the time to compile all my finds here. Obviously it’s not everything, but I find these resources useful (to be determined yet as to whether they are successful). Hopefully this blog can be a start for those of you who hate doing the footwork of researching this stuff, or those of you who  just haven’t come across these golden nuggets. Without further ado, what follows are 9 resources you might find useful as an aspiring or established writer, not in any specific order:

1. So, the first one’s kind of obvious: Blogging. I have learned a lot from blogging (I think I am getting a little better about these damned parenthetical asides). It’s an entirely different kind of writing that really does click when you speak to a focused audience—which should, in turn, clarify your writing on your blog. Blog writing is also different than writing fiction, because it forces you to be concise and entertaining with less of the bells and whistles with which novice writers often clog up potentially good fiction writing (I am totally guilty of this). Blogging necessarily teaches you to to cut down on excessive purple prose. I, myself, like purple prose every now and then, but sometimes it is just downright superfluous.

2. Nathan Bransford: I have learned things from this gentleman’s fun, highly accessible blog that I do not think I would have been able to glean from anywhere else. He’s got years in the biz, so he knows what he’s talking about. But he also brings a fresh, modern perspective to this subject of breaking into the publishing world that you do not encounter with other “experts” giving this advice. Bransford’s blog covers everything from “How to Write a Query Letter” to “How the Publishing Process Works” and the hilarious, “The Publishing Process in GIFS”.

3. QueryShark.  I am a big fan of learning and I enjoy laughing. I get both of these needs utterly fulfilled on this website. I haven’t yet submitted to her because I haven’t read her entire archive, which she requires. But honestly, I don’t know if my big girl panties will ever be big enough to prepare me for her ruthless red pen. QueryShark is an invaluable resource for understanding what makes an excellent query letter and how agents respond to the ridiculous number of requests they get from would-be writers seeking representation.

Ah, Escher. So adept at conveying the cyclic nature of life. Like learning your craft, actually writing, then trying to find a way for others to experience it. And…repeat.
Ah, Escher. So adept at conveying the cyclic nature of life. Like learning your craft, actually writing, then trying to find a way for others to experience it. And…repeat.

4. How to Write a Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman. It’s short, sweet, to the point and chock full of great, easy to follow advice (if you’re willing to sit down for multiple hours or days to beat that query letter draft you already have into submission). He helps the reader to perceive the query letter like a business transaction. In a more methodical and slightly less entertaining approach than Query Shark, Lukeman lets you in on the thoughts an agent cycles through while reading your query letter, effectively laying out exactly what you need to do to ensure, at the very least, that yours is not overlooked. I got this book for free off the kindle store.

5. Journal databases. Somebody has already compiled for you hundreds—nay! Thousands!—of potential platforms for your work to shine! You just have to find the right list of journals, then the right kind of journal. Poets & Writers has a pretty awesome list. From what I’ve read, in this publishing climate and century, you have to expect to get some recognition on the humbler platforms before you make it in the big leagues.


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6. Literary agent databases. As with the literary journals, if you’re of the majority then you’re probably going to need a literary agent to get published (though it seems this majority is being swiftly superseded by successful self-published authors). And don’t let anyone fool you. It’s hard work finding one. Poets & Writers has a pretty cut and dry one.  Literary Agent: Undercover was a nice resource when I was compiling my list of agents to submit to. I used it to supplement my copy of The 2013 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino. Some of the information is outdated though. For instance, I sent a query to an agent who is now the digital director for her agency. Doh! But if you do your homework on the people you find there, the format is really nice and accessible, and it gives you a good, solid start.

7. AnnieNeugebaur.com. Her “Organized Writer” page boasts an impressive list of helpful plotting and submission tracking charts that the web-directress created herself. She posts the fruits of labors for free, but donating for all the hard work she obviously put into these doesn’t hurt! I have used the “Writer’s Bio Template”, the “Agent Query Prep-work Chart” and keep current versions of the short stories and poetry submissions charts. A great source for the resourceful aspiring writer!

8. On Writing by Stephen King

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This one isn’t free, per se, but it was for me. Picked it up off my university’s ‘take a book, leave a book’ shelf (I didn’t leave a book, shhh).  While you could probably find a copy of it for free in a thrift store, just shell out the four or five bucks to buy it used off Ebay or Amazon.

I’m not a big fan of memoirs. Once in a while you read one that just knocks your socks off but I was very pleasantly surprised by this (also, of King’s work, I’d only ever read to the end of The Gunslinger and The Drawing of Three, so I didn’t know what to expect from this. Pretention or some boring, drawn out dusty, old recollection about how he grew into the amazing writer that he is today. But it was none of these things). King gives us an engaging account of how his own writing life developed, his addictions as a writer (he says stimulants do not boost our writing with anything that wasn’t already there before—completely contradicting my post on Writer’s Lot, I might add), and in the ‘Toolbox’ section and ‘On Writing’ second half of the book, he seamlessly moves into an outlining of the tools every writer needs to acquire and hone. Bottom line, it’s a useful read well worth your time while being immensely enjoyable. Especially helpful, which I will certainly refer to many times in the future, is the comparison of his ‘closed door’ version of the beginning pages of his story 1408, and the ‘open door’, heavily marked version, which shows all of his changes and cuts. Most predominantly, his cuts. The lesson from this little exhibit of his has melded itself to my brain, like a barnacle on a ship’s hull.

9. And last, but not least, the sober-minded friend or relative (very important that they are not a writer) that can honestly, and comfortably tell you, ‘no, that’s insane’, when you pitch a whack idea. If this sober-minded third party is another writer, he or she will probably just start trying to figure out how you could work the bloody idea in.

Spock delivering his blue steel because Captain Kirk probably just suggested some outlandish shenanigans
Spock delivering his blue steel because Captain Kirk probably just suggested some outlandish shenanigans

But it is as good to have a (mostly) sober-minded friend who is also a writer. These kind of folks make invaluable critique partners. Writing groups, or even a regular date with one other person, help you focus, engender a bit of a competitive edge sometimes, get us talking ideas until the wee hours of the morning, and aid us in gaining a fresh perspective.

Bottom line, all of this is just the nit and grit that many don’t care to bother with. We want to just get back to our writing, our darling WIP, our current baby. But alas, this is necessary. Sometimes we can get bogged down in all this prep work and research, the fear that we might not be good enough heightening all the while. Or the realization that we don’t actually know what we’re doing steals the breath right out of our lungs, rendering our entire life’s goal/ambition/work null and void. That’s how it is for me anyway. But as the King says,

‘The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.’

Fun extra tidbits

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  • If you get Writer’s Digest magazine (and I hope you do), the themes of February’s edition were awesome! I was just thinking about the pros and cons self publishing versus traditional publishing and lo and behold, I open the magazine to find “What Writers Need to Know About the E-Book Market”, “Best of Both Worlds”, “10 Top Publishing Insiders (& Outsiders) to Follow Online.”  Also, I recently reviewed my query letter for my first novel and have concluded the story must be worked on before the query letter can be improved. So you can imagine my ‘it’s a sign!’ moment when I found some very helpful outlining articles and provocative questions for raising the stakes in one’s novel, like “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, “Mapping Out Your Hero’s Adventure”, and “Outlining and Story Mapping: 7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story.”
  • The musicology of the novel is fun and quite useful for a multitude of POVs. I like being able to see a visual diagram or my characters’ point of views in my fantasy. I need to keep track of how often they switch, and it helps me to feel the beats of the novel’s temporal progression. Especially with as many character point of view changes I’m utilizing in Blood of the Realm, I need to keep track of who we haven’t heard from in a while or who we’re getting a heaping helping of.

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Mmmhmmm. I love me a good villain.
Mmmhmmm. I love me a good villain.

I’ve been considering the idea of rewriting my first novel to introduce the villain sooner and involve him more to heighten the stakes. I’ve always wrote these exercises off with a ‘meh’. But once I actually did it, not only did I know my villain better—their motives, their dreams, their infatuations and nervous and/or psychotic ticks—I also knew a better direction to take my story in, having gleaned ideas for major plot points from this exercise. It was amazing and eye-opening. I suggest everyone do it. Even if all it amounts to is just a fun freewrite, it’s worth it, because you still probably benefit, even if you don’t consciously realize it.

Know of any fun prewriting exercises or imperative writers’ resources? Please share them in the comments.