A 2014 Roundup, or: Well, That was Quite a Year

Well, 2014. That was a year. Here’s a brief roundup.

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Reading from Shadowplay at Borderlands Books in San Francisco

January 2014: This month had a good start. Shadowplay (Micah Grey #2) was released. I was lucky enough to be able to fly back to San Francisco for this, where I did a few events: a book launch at Borderlands Books, a talk at my alma mater, California State University East Bay, a visit to one of my professor’s classes, and another visit at my old high school, Hayward High. I was also able to do some research trips around San Francisco for the book I’d just finished drafting. I found out Pantomime had been listed a Top Ten Title for the American Library Association Rainbow List. The end of January was less pleasant, for I found out there’d be no contract for Masquerade, Micah Grey #3. I was, frankly, beyond devastated.

Favourite book read in January:  either City of Dragons by Robin Hobb or In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.

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Waterstones Aberdeen Launch. Photo credit: Laura Benvie.

February 2014: Licked my wounds, battled depression and anxiety, and kept promoting Pantomime & Shadowplay. I went down to Newcastle for the North East Teen Book Awards, which ended up being very, very timely. I’d been tempted to take a writing hiatus (because I knew I could never quit completely), and here were teens saying my books were some of their favourites of all time, wanting to take photos and have my sign things, and just in general being so sweet and so enthusiastic about books and reading. I came back and threw myself into the new project I’d been editing. I’d finished the first draft at the end of November 2013, and after some great beta reader comments, I was working on turning it into a workable draft. I called it Bonkers Book on social media. I also announced the Vestigial Tales, or my plan to self-publish some short stories/novellas set in the same world as the Micah Grey series. I also had an Aberdeen launch at Waterstones for Shadowplay, and was really touched by how many people came out for it. I seemed pretty on top of things. Behind the scenes, I was still a mess, though I was getting myself together.

Favourite book read in February:  Unteachable by Leah Raeder.

Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.
Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.

March 2014: I’d been approached to write a short story for an anthology and in March I was able to announce it as Fablecroft Press did a funding drive for the Cranky Ladies of History, which blasted through its goals. I also got to participate in Robin Hobb’s worldwide scavenger hunt (post with pictures illustrating the clues), and am now friends with the girl who found my present, Louise, and we meet for coffee occasionally. I found out Pantomime had been nominated for the Bisexual Book Award—yay! I went to my friend Rhona McKinnon’s wedding and danced at my first-ever ceilidh.

Favourite book read in March: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill.

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Laya’s first piece of fan art for the Micah Grey series

April 2014: There were some good events for #LGBTApril I participated in. I went to my first convention of the year—Eastercon, in Glasgow. As the conventions are usually in England, it was nice to only have to travel 2 hours to get to one, for once! I was on my first panel. I had fun but it was also a difficult convention, as my mental health was still patchy.  There was more ceilidh dancing. I finished editing Bonkers Book and was working on the Vestigial Tales. Laya drew her first (of what proved to since be many) fan art pieces, and I also received some fan mail. I was so touched I wrote an emotional thank you to readers. I finished editing Bonkers Book & sent it to my agent and worked on the Vestigial Tales.

Favourite book read in April: This was a good reading month so I had three: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, and Cress by Marissa Meyer.

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May 2014: Pantomime was listed as a Scottish Book Trust Teen Book of the Month! I shared the first Vestigial Tale cover and blurb, for “The Snake Charm.” I went to my friend Elizabeth May’s wedding in Gretna Green and ran my first race, a 10k. By this point my mental health was a lot better. I’d been accepted into a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen.

Favourite book read in May: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb. THIS BOOK. THIS. BOOK. I love it so much.

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June 2014: Pantomime WON the Bisexual Book award! I posted my acceptance speech. I released “The Snake Charm,” and it had a great first month! I shared the cover and blurb for “The Fisherman’s Net.” My short story “They Swim Through Sunset Seas,” was accepted in the Solaris Rising 3 anthology. I was nominated for Best Newcomer for the British Fantasy Awards and wrote musings on being a baby writer at the beginning of my career. Strange Chemistry, the publisher of Pantomime & Shadowplay, announced that it was closing down very suddenly. I participated in a rowing competition for work dressed as Princess Leia. Behind the scenes, I’d received and implemented edits from my agent on Bonkers Book and it was getting ready to go out on wide submission.

Favourite book read in June: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

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July 2014 aka THE MONTH MY LIFE CHANGED:  Vestigial Tales: I posted a roundup of “The Snake Charm” and its first month sales, launched “The Fisherman’s Net,” shared “The Tarot Reader’s” blurb and cover, and went on the local radio. Tor/Macmillan offered pre-emptively on Bonkers Book aka False Hearts, changing my life. It was right before a big work audit and I was trying to concentrate on spreadsheets while internally screaming with glee. The press release went live on July 25th. I told work I wanted to stop working full-time. My friend Erica came out to visit from California.

Favourite book read in July: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier and Natural Causes by James Oswald.

Best selfie ever: Ewa, Kim, Mahvesh, Me, Anne, Jared. Photocred: Mahvesh Murad
Loncon3. Photo credit: Mahvesh Murad

August 2014 aka THE MONTH OF ALL THE CONS: Vestigial Tales: I posted my month 2 roundup of being a hybrid author, launched “The Tarot Reader,” and unveiled the cover and blurb for “The Card Sharp.” Erica and I took a day trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. I went to Nine Worlds in London and had a great time—definitely my favourite con of the year. I went to some other London events such as the Broken Monsters launch for Lauren Beukes and the Fantasy in the Court event at Goldsboro Books, where I got to meet some people from my new publisher, like my editor Julie Crisp, for the first time. Then it was time for another convention, Loncon3. I went back to Aberdeen, exhausted.

Favourite book read in August: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

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Reading from False Hearts at Fantasycon

 

September 2014: Vestigial Tales: another monthly roundup and launching the last of the Tales (for now), “The Card Sharp.” The cons weren’t over! I journeyed down to York for Fantasycon. My husband and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary/10 years of being together. I did some events for #WriteCity in Aberdeen, doing both public events and school visits throughout the city. I started my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen and began reducing my hours slightly at work. I was able to announce that False Hearts will be published in the US through Tor/Forge and in Italy through Fanucci Editore. Peter F. Hamilton blurbed the book (!), calling it: “A smart debut from someone who’s clearly got what it takes.” I went down to Winchester for Amy Alward’s beautiful wedding. I became a British citizen!

Favourite book read in September: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.

More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.
More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.

October 2014, or THE MONTH OF NO FREE TIME: I did my full-time masters. I did more school visits. I worked around 30 hours a week at the day job. I tried to write, but that didn’t really happen. Pantomime was listed as Gay YA’s October Book of the Month and they did lots of great promotion. I managed to post another Vestigial Tale monthly roundup. I really missed sleep and free time, but by the end of the month, my replacement had started and been trained and I dropped down to around 12 hours a week for work. I finished the first draft of Masquerade, finally.

Favourite book read in October: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (for uni).

Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.
Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.

November 2014: I did my full-time masters. I worked part-time. I stupidly decided I’d do NaNoWriMo because who needs free time, right, though I had to adjust my goals to include blogging and university work. My nephew, Theo, was born on November 5th. Shadowplay was Gay YA’s November Book of the Month and False Hearts sold in Germany to Heyne Verlag. Shadowplay was nominated for the ALA Rainbow List! I posted another hybrid author roundup. I took a weekend trip to Glasgow. I “won” NaNoWriMo by the skin of my teeth and swore I’ll never do it again, but it does mean I wrote a good chunk of Brainfreeze Book, my option book for Tor. Things happened behind the scenes regarding *stuff.*

Favourite book read in November:  Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, with an honourable mention to the Complete Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather.

The double rainbow in Arran.
The double rainbow in Arran.

December 2014: I finished up the first semester of my Masters degree. I went to London for my agent’s Christmas party. I went to the Isle of Arran on my first-ever writing retreat with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne, editing Masquerade for beta readers. I waited to hear about *stuff* and tried to be patient (and failed). I was called back into the day job almost full-time for a little bit. Stress. Stress. Stress. Aaaaand relax. Got ready for Christmas. Ate all the food. Now: reading, watching a lot of TV and slowly editing what I wrote of Brainfreeze Book and sorting through Masquerade beta comments.

Favourite book read in December: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

And that was my year. Let’s see what 2015 brings!

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November: In which I sort of won NaNoWriMo

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SORT OF.

 

At the halfway point of last month, I had pretty much thrown in the towel on reaching 50k.

But turns out cheating worked really well for me.

I had 4k of a draft before November started, which I input into day one’s total, but as I wrote pretty much exactly 4k between guest blogs and this blog in November, that evened out. Because I was able to include my university work, as a result I wrote about 6k for uni and my final projects are not that far off from done, which is good because they’re due this Friday and I’m in London from Tuesday to Thursday. As of today, the draft of my option book, codenamed Brainfreeze Book, is 39,091 words. I’m not sure of the percentage of the draft; I feel like I’m around 40% through the story. I’m sure at least 10k of what I wrote is going to be scrapped and rewritten. But it’s a lot of progress.

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The NaNoWriMo graph

So, maybe I didn’t “technically” win. Who the heck cares? It’s an arbitrary number anyway. Back in January I planned to keep track of my word counts all year in a spreadsheet because I am a nerd. I gave up on it in mid-July, pretty much right after Tor offered on False Hearts and Brainfreeze Book. But in the first 6.5 months of the year I wrote around 155,000 words. From mid-July to the end of October, I think I wrote at least another 45k of Masquerade & the Vestigial Tales. So in as of December 1st, I’ve written at least 250k, and I’m going to edit all of Masquerade this month and finish my final projects for the first half of my MLitt. That’ll be inching pretty close to 750 words a day on average, all year long, despite working full time for almost all of it and, for a brief time, working 32 hours a week AND studying full-time (note: not recommended). Despite some shitty things happening, and then some really awesome things happening (which can be just as distracting for getting words on the page). I kept on pushing through, kept on writing, no matter what life threw at me. I’m really proud of that.

And, as I’ve said before, writing is not a race. There’s been plenty of 300 word days I’ve had that have been far more useful than other 3000 word days. A book is more than its word count. Some of the most important work you can do is stare out of a window and think really hard, or read a book, or watch a film, or get out into the world and live in it and be inspired that way.

I hereby declare 2014 a writing win.

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NaNoWriMo: The Halfway Point

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There is no way I’m going to win NaNoWriMo without cheating.

I thought now that I was working less I’d magically have more free time, and I do, but there’s still so much for me to do. I made really good progress in week one, but week two has been a struggle. However, I do think I can still write 50k in a month, it just won’t all be on Brainfreeze Book.

So I’ve added a little folder called “Cheating” in Screivener and I’ll copy my uni work into it. “CHEATING!” you cry. Me: “Yeah, so what?” The uni work is a lot more important to finish this month, versus rushing through a draft for a book not due until next October, and said rushing might mean a lot more work in edits down the line. I’m reaching the bit in the book where the corporate espionage kicks in. I’ve interviewed my cousin, who is basically a white hat hacker and owner of Secure DNA, which was SUPER helpful, but I still need to do more research to figure out how this next section of the plot will pan out. If I just make shit up, it’s going to stink and I’m going to have to re-write it all anyway. That’s a waste of time.

SO. I’m aiming to write at least 30k in Brainfreeze Book, which I’m well on my way to completing, and I’m also pasting in my essays and such and still updating my NaNo word count, because I’d find it disappointing to see my word count so far below the “goal”.

Every year I try NaNoWriMo, but the emphasis on word count over everything else always ends up stressing me out, and my anxiety is in overrdrive all the time anyway. I’ve tried NaNo twice before. Both books had to be thrown out completely. One is trunked forever, and the other one has a premise I love but that iteration of the book was so bad. SO VERY BAD. My best friend Erica read it and was like “…yeah, you need to throw this out and start again.” And she was so right. It was possibly one of the worst things I’d ever written, and it’s because I kept madly tapping even though I knew it was wrong. The books I write slower (first draft between 3-6 months)? Those are the ones published.

So if you struggle with NaNoWriMo, you’re far from the only one! For some people it works brilliantly. I thought this year maybe I could properly win it, since I have a detailed outline. And I probably could win it, but the draft would suck and I’d possibly fail my courses. So that’s not the way for me to go. I’m not enjoying the race, so I’m taking a different track. I’ll still probably write 50k this month, they just won’t all be on the same thing. It’s not wrong. There’s no wrong way to write, as long as you’re writing and making progress.

-Laura Lam, a three-time NaNoWriMo failure

Shadowplay is Gay YA’s November Book of the Month & False Hearts German Deal

Whoohoo! November may be ridiculously insane, but good news so far:

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First, The Gay YA have decided to follow Pantomime as their October Book of the Month with Shadowplay as their November Book of the Month! This is super awesome. I definitely think all the amazing events in October helped Pantomime find some new readers, and now here’s hoping more follow along to the magician’s stage in Shadowplay.

There will be more discussion questions, and probably some other goodies! Yay Gay YA!

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Next up, my 2016 title, False Hearts, has sold in Germany to Heyne Verlag! I took German for two years in high school so I might be able to pick out a little bit here any there. Really excited! So far False Hearts will be out in the UK, US/Canada, Italy, Germany, and more to come. *throws confetti*

This is the first week I’ve been able to really cut down my hours at work–I’ll work around 12 hours this week. But I had an extra lecture at university this week, which made things a bit more hectic. Also, evidently I am allergic to free time, as I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, as I said in this post. We’re almost a week in and I’m on track, at least so far. I’ve also written about 1500 words extra between blogging and uni work, though they don’t count (pout). I’m hoping I can keep up the pace, as I’m enjoying it. It’s nice to focus so entirely on one project, and not find excuses to do something other than put actual new words to actual paper (or screen).  At the end of the month, though, I’ll have more university work to do, though, but even if I tail off, it’s a lot of headway in a book I’ve been thinking about since July.

And now, off to tackle today’s word count…

Writing in November

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I’ve tried NaNoWriMo a few times in the past, and I’ve always failed. 1667 words a day consistently for 30 days is a pace hard for me to keep up. Often I didn’t plan enough before starting, so that the iteration of the novel I did two years ago had to be completely thrown out (though I’m still not giving up on the premise). I didn’t think I’d ever really try it again.

But, cue to this year. I’d just started drafting a book anyway: the option on my 2 book deal, codenamed Brainfreeze Book. I’ve finished the first draft of Masquerade and it needs to sit for a month anyway. The 31st of October marked the end of me having to work 5 days a week at the day job–I’m now ad hoc, probably working around 12-15 hours a week. I have my Masters, but the hours worked for that are flexible, since it’s mostly reading and I’m only actually in lecture 4 hours a week. I might never have this much free time in November again, or be right at the start of drafting a project, with lots of planning and research collected over the last few months.

So, what the hell. I’m doing NaNoWriMo.

I cheated a bit by adding the few words I already had on the project to day 1’s total, as that way I can easily update the word count with the total project. Though it would be nice to win properly, at least once. But at the same time, I have a bunch of school projects due around December 5th, it’s the run up to Christmas, and I have a long weekend booked in Glasgow for my husband’s birthday.  I’ll aim to get to around 54k to make up for it, but even if say I only make it to 50k in total, that’s fine by me. Or really, as long as I made headway in this draft, I’m happy.

Best of luck to anyone else trying this insane thing!

November Writing Goals: The Verdict

eat-sleep-write-nanowrimo Last month, though I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, I did have some writing-related goals and shared them here.

How did I do?

1. Finish the draft of my WIP. CHECK! I wrote about 17,000 words and finished the first draft of Bonkers Book, which is currently 67,000 words. It’ll definitely be beefed up in edits, probably to around 80k. The ending is rather rough (ahahaa it makes no sense), but still, it’s done! It’s by far the fastest I’ve ever drafted and again by far the most fun I had while drafting. It’s so very, very different from my other work that it was freeing and refreshing to stretch out different writing muscles. Even if nothing happens with this book (though I hope that’s not the case), this book drove home how much I love writing. I’ve heard people mention a lifeline book before and didn’t know what that meant. Now I do.

2. Try not to freak out as Shadowplay reviews trickle in. FAIL. I wasn’t TOO freaked out, but I was definitely nervous. I’ve had enough come in now that I feel reasonably confident that not everyone will hate it and be horrifically disappointed, so that’s a relief. I’ve also made good progress on the blog tour and wrote about eight posts to be sent back to bloggers, so in that respect, CHECK.

3. Send off an application to the Scottish Book Trust to be on their author database for Live Literature. CHECK! Though I haven’t heard back and need to follow up. I’m also in the process of joining another group, so DOUBLE CHECK.

BONUS STUFF: Went to a convention in Brighton, I wrote a poem, planned another short story, put up some free fiction on the blog, and also wrote a few other entries. I finished up a few beta-reads. So, it’s not NaNoWriMo, but it’s a good month’s work around the day job just the same.

November Writing Goals

nanowrimoToday is All Souls Day, aka the first day of NaNoWriMo, where people endeavour to write 50,000 words in a month.

I’ve tried to do it a few times.

I always fail.

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this month, but I do have some writing goals:

1. Finish the first draft of my WIP (I hit 50,000 words on it yesterday, so now I have a NaNo-length thing! I drafted it in about 2-3 months, though). It does have a working title, but on social media I’ve been referring to it as Bonkers Book. I reckon I have about 20-25k left before the first draft is finished.

2. Try not to freak out as Shadowplay reviews begin to trickle in, and also start ramping up marketing for its release in January. I’ll be working with the publicity people at Strange Chemistry to organise a blog tour. Perhaps write a couple of guest posts in advance, so I’m not absolutely overwhelmed closer to launch.

3. Send off an application to the Scottish Book Trust to be on their author database for Live Literature, to hopefully book more school visits. Nearly done!

So it’s not NaNoWriMo, but it’ll still be a productive month. Overall, I think NaNoWriMo is a great project for people who want to dip into writing. For me, however, the pace is not sustainable (I like to edit as I go, think and figure out a plot snarl rather than racing through it and then having to re-write it), and the stress on word count over anything else ends up kicking my anxiety into gear. I wrote 30k for NaNo last year, and I had to throw it out and start again. Twice. So I know enough about my working style by now to know that NaNoWriMo is not for me.

The community and support is great fun, and I plan to tap into that to help motivate me to finish my draft. I’ll go to some of the Aberdeen meets and maybe do word wars with people online.

What are your November writing goals?