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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Recent School Visits & Events

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for ages, but over the last few months I’ve done some school visits around Aberdeen.

The Aberdeen City Council / Central Library were awarded funding for visits as part of their event #WriteCity. I visited:

– Tilly Youth Centre for their LGBT youth group
– Northfield Library for an open to the public event
– Kincorth Academy
– Harlaw Academy
– St. Machar Academy (this one was part of the Scottish Book Trust Live Literature project rather than #WriteCity)
– California State University East Bay (this was a Skype visit for my mom’s class, who’s a lecturer there. She’s been teaching Pantomime in a composition class that focuses on the theme of gender and identity for the last two quarters.)

I spoke to all the groups about my writing, both the books themselves and my publishing journey. Some of them were more discussion groups, some with a heavy emphasis on Q&A, and for others I led writing workshops and had them do some exercises. As a warm up, I made them write a 6 word story, made famous by Hemingway (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”). Another exercise I did that worked quite well was bringing in three or so objects and asking them to write something about them. Some of the things I brought: a crystal ball, a key, a small elephant figurine, a paper pantomime stage (technically the card Kim Curran gave me for Pantomime’s publication!), a spanner. It would be really interesting to see what was most popular (crystal ball and key) and what wasn’t particularly (the spanner). And also, even though say 10 people would write about the crystal ball, all the stories would be different. The people attending the events were anywhere from around 14 at the youngest, up to retired people at the public event.

Sometimes the group would share their results, and sometimes they wouldn’t. I never force them to read aloud as I know that could be detrimental to their writing confidence. Sharing your work with others is hard at the best of times, especially when it’s a first draft you’ve been asked to craft on the spot.

I am so glad Aberdeen City Council Libraries approached me, and that I’ve been approved for a few visits via the Scottish Book Trust. I have one school visit lined up next year, but now that I’m not working as much, I have time for more. If you know any teachers or librarians in Scotland interested in bringing in an author for a school visit, take a look at the Live Literature database. And, if you’d like me to come, here’s my page. The Scottish Book Trust pays half of the school fees and the travel, which makes it a lot easier for budget-strapped schools to bring in speakers. I’m hoping the students and people I spoke to enjoyed the events, as I sure did.

The North East Teen Book Awards

NETEENBOOKAWARD

Gratuitous selfie
Gratuitous selfie

This past weekend I traveled down to Newcastle for the North East Teen Book Award ceremony. It was my first awards ceremony, and hopefully not my last. I had an amazing time, and got along so well with the other shortlisted authors (Kerry Drewery, Emma Pass, Matt Whyman, Alison Rattle, and Paula Rawsthorne). I got into Newcastle early and relaxed at my hotel for a few hours (read: I napped), before heading down to speak to 250 (!) students about my book. All six shortlisted authors were able to make the event. We were each introduced by students, spoke for ten minutes about our book, and then answered a few questions the students had asked.

I’d tried to plan in advance but couldn’t really come up with an angle, so I decided I’d wing it. I…don’t think I winged it very well. I got the points I wanted to make across, but there was a lot of trailing off and exclaiming “my, there are a lot of faces out there!” Note to self for the future: write at least a few notes to look at so you don’t forget what you wanted to say!

In the end, Emma Pass won for Acid, with a special commendation for Kerry Drewery for A Dream of Lights. Very well deserved and I’m so happy for them.

And though it is hokey to say it, it really was just an honour to be shortlisted. Of course I had a wee daydream or two about my name being called, but my book was picked out of the many releases of the last year. A lot of teens in the North East of England have now read my book when they might not have before. Afterwards, we signed books (and bookmarks, and posters, and balloons!), and I had several students say how much they enjoyed my books. A couple said my book was the favourite they read that year, or the favourite they had read. Ever. Pantomime is someone’s favourite book. That is an absolute win in my opinion.

I was giving a signed A4 poster that has all the shortlisted covers and a big laminated poster with things that students have said about my book. A few of my favorites:

“An extraordinary adventure, this book could not have been more unique. It touches many issues teenagers can easily relate to. I couldn’t put it down, tremendously interesting and extremely entertaining. A brilliant read and a real gem among YA fiction.” – Mehak

“A gripping pageturner with many previously unexplored themes. Refreshing and interesting, I was enthralled. One of the best book I have ever read.” – Anna

“My favorite book, hands down. There must be a sequel – it just can’t end like this!” – Nathan

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Emma Pass, Kerry Drewery, Matt Whyman, me, Paula Rawsthorne (invisible: Alison Rattle)

Afterwards we shortlisted authors (minus Alison Rattle, who had to venture home) went out to a meal with Eileen Armstrong, the librarian extraordinaire who coordinated the award which has 23 schools (!) participate, as well as Alec Williams, who MCed the event. It was the first time I’d had Persian food since the day after my wedding, and it was delicious. I tottered back to my hotel in the cold wind, feeling very happy.

The next morning, I had breakfast and then wandered around Newcastle in the cold, winter sunshine, listening to music, with no destination in mind. I wove my way through the streets, people watching, window shopping, and just exploring on my own. Afterwards, I met fellow Mushenite Andrew Reid, his wonderful wife, and their little baby!

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I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. There was a brief period where I was sorely tempted to take a writing hiatus (since I know I could never actually quit). So to have the experience of celebrating books and words, connecting with fellow authors and meeting readers, was so very welcome. I feel rejuvenated, remembering why I spend my evening and weekends writing instead of vegging out and watching TV. Because I love it. And I want more nights like the North East Teen Book Awards.

Thank you to Eileen, the other shortlisted authors, and all the schools and students for reading. It was a pleasure to meet all of you.

Would you like me to visit your school or library in Scotland?

schoolvisitA few months ago, I signed up for the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Database. My profile is here. Applications for school visits have the following deadlines:

End of January- for visits to be made between 1st April and 30th November
End of September- for visits to be made between 1st December and 31st March

Basically, if approved, then this programme will fund half of my speaking fee and travel costs. So it’s a very good deal for places who don’t have a big budget for speaking fees, which is understandable with so many budget cuts.

I’d really like to do more school or library visits this year, so if you’re a librarian/teacher from a school anywhere in Scotland, please consider booking me through that website. If you’re a student or you know someone who might be interested in booking visits, please send them the link to this post or to that profile. Or, of course, book any other many fine authors on the database.

If you’d like to know more about past visits:

Hayward High School, Hayward, California, USA – 7 September 2012 (blog post)
MA Creative Writing, Napier University, Edinburgh, Scotland – 22 February 2013 (blog post)
Dollar Academy, Dollar, Clackmannanshire, Scotland – 13 June 2013 (blog post)
Keith Grammar, Keith, Moray, Scotland – 19 June 2013 (blog post)
Gordonstoun School, Elgin, Moray, Scotland – 19 June 2013 (blog post)
California State University East Bay, Hayward, California, USA – 8 January 2014 (blog post)
Hayward High School, Hayward, California – 10 January 2014 (blog post)

I also have more information on my Visits & Events page.

Testimonials:

“Laura did a Skype author visit to our Florida library, and despite being thousands of miles away, engaged our teen group with her reading and sharing of her experiences. She even listened to their work and gave valuable feedback! One of our best author visits to date.”

– Alexandra Phillips, SJCPL Librarian

“Laura spoke to my AP Literature classes at Hayward High in the fall and did an amazing job engaging a roomful of students and answering their questions. I had many students eagerly anticipating Pantomime’s release after her reading. Months later, several students informed me that they were not disappointed! We look forward to Ms. Lam returning next fall and connecting with even more students at Hayward High School. “

– Ms. Campbell, Hayward High School

“Laura spoke to a group of our Form 1 pupils and did a great job of engaging all the pupils and answering their questions. The visit was very popular and we’ll be sure to have Laura back to speak at the school again soon.”

– Tara Hepburn, Dollar Academy Librarian

“A fantastically well-written novel dealing with a sensitive subject in a uniquely creative way. Both my daughter and I can’t wait for the next book. We just need to know…”

– A Dollar Academy parent

“Laura was a guest speaker for our postgraduate creative writing programme, talking about the experience of writing her wonderful first novel, Pantomime. She was engaging, passionate and thoughtful – just like her prose. Highly recommended!”

– David Bishop, lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University

Hayward High Visit and Heading Home

Giving a presentation at the Hayward High Library
Giving a presentation at the Hayward High Library

Yesterday I went to my old high school and had a school visit with about 120 students over the course of two periods. I kept comparing it to my last visit to Hayward High, which was in September 2012, before the book was out and my first ever school visit. I can tell that now I’ve grown a lot – I know what to expect, how to tailor my approach to different age groups, how to try and keep the audience engaged. Before my first visit in 2012 I was terrified. Now, I still get nervous before it starts, then once it gets going the nerves fade away and I’m pretty comfortable.

I showed them the presentation I’ve shown a couple of schools now (Gordonstoun and Keith Academy), which looks at my process of writing – through coming up with the initial idea, outlining, researching, drafting, sending to betas, editing, and eventual publication. It’s not very long, as I know it’s difficult to lecture at people for much longer than fifteen to twenty minutes, tops, before they get antsy. I forgot to do a reading in the first group, but during the second I read the first chapters of both Pantomime & Shadowplay, which are both very short. I then opened it up to the usual Q&A. This is my favourite part because the questions are always different from group to group. Teenagers seem to be more interested in me – moving to Scotland, how I met my husband, when I started writing, whereas at the CSUEB event they were more interested in the mechanics of writing (understandable, as a lot of them were creative writing students). There were a few teens there from the Hayward High creative writing group, and they came up after and asked me for tips on research.

It’s always so strange to be back at my high school. The memories of me being there are overlaid with the present. I was so different in high school – super quiet and shy, basically hiding in a classroom and reading every lunch time, or going on the computers at the library at lunch to chat with Craig before he went to sleep. I always end up ruminating about how much I’ve grown and yet how I’m still in many ways the same person. I do know that if little teenage me saw me present in the library like I did yesterday, I think she’d be very proud of what I’ve done and who I am, and that makes me feel very good.

Today is my last day in California. In about three hours, I’ll be heading back to the airport to begin the long trek home. Life will settle down again and I’ll be back in my usual routine of work and writing. Launch excitement will die down and that’s fine. It’s been such a great trip back, and I’ve spent a lot of time with my family and managed to see lots of friends. Between my various events I’ve signed around 110 copies of Pantomime and 90 copies of Shadowplay. I do miss California, much as I love Scotland. It is hard being an ex-pat, though. I can’t help but feel I’m missing so much by no longer being here.

I’ve gotten a fair few notes through my contact this week of people telling me how much they’ve enjoyed my work and asking about the third book in the Micah Grey series. Thanks so much for them – I do try to respond to every one, and I hope I’ll have more information for you soon.

Shadowplay Launch: CSUEB Edition

Yesterday I had another event at California State University East Bay (CSUEB) as part of the English Department’s Distinguished Writers’ Series. I graduated from there with a BA in English with a Creative Writing option in 2009. And it was so, so, so cool. I’m still buzzing from it today. I thought there’d maybe be around the same amount of people as the SF launch, or a few more – maybe 35, 40 tops. There were over 75 people and it was even standing room only at the back. Just before going up I was understandably freaked out. It was so many more faces to stand in front of, and because two classes met there, it wasn’t mostly people I knew like the previous event.

But it went really well, or so I hope. Because I’d gone through the steps at Borderlands, I expanded on that, also reading from the start of Pantomime, putting both books in context, explaining my path to publication, and reading from Shadowplay. I opened it to questions as usual, and since it was a lot of English majors there were some really good questions. There were a few familiar faces of students because on Monday I went to one of my former professor’s senior seminar class to talk about the professional side of being a writer (and urging them not to quit their day jobs right out of university, heh):

After the event, there was a reception at my mom’s house. My mom teaches at the university I went to, so I met a lot of her colleagues that I hadn’t had classes with when I went through the programme. Overall, I sold around 45 books yesterday. I felt so thankful to my alma mater and how supportive so many people were. It was such a great night.

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The room! More people arrived after this.
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Waiting to go up.
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Reading.
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Posing with my books.
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Shows how full the room was! This was right after it finished.
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At the signing table.
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Cheesy photo with one of my best friends, Shawn.
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Signing.

Kirkus.com and California Events Reminder

I hope everyone’s having a lovely holiday season!

A few days ago, Leila Roy of Bookshelves of Doom wrote a lovely feature about Pantomime & Shadowplay for Kirkus.com.

“[Pantomime] stars Micah Grey, an immediately likable and somewhat naive runaway who has some completely understandable trust issues. It’s a very personal story . . . at the same time, it’s also a HUGE story . . . Seriously, the worldbuilding is so excellent: rich and sprawling, but not overpowering . . . I very much enjoyed spending time in Ellada again, and I especially loved being behind the scenes of a magic show and a fake seance or two . . . So if you haven’t read Pantomime yet, DO. Go out and read it, and then read Shadowplay.” – Bookshelves of Doom at Kirkus.com

In other news, I’m back in California and it’s lovely so far to see friends and family again. It’s so bright and warm and sunny…why did I leave again?! Last night I had a reunion with a bunch of folk from my youth group as a teen. It’s so strange to see us all grown up now – some of them have children, and it’s interesting to see which fields and jobs people have fallen into. I’m also looking forward to my two California events:

January 4th at 3 pm – Shadowplay launch at Borderlands Books, Valencia St, San Francisco

January 8th at 6 pm – Reading at California State University East Bay, Carlos Bee Blvd, Hayward

Those both link to the Facebook events pages.

If you’re in the area, please do feel free to come by or invite others that you know who might be interested.