I haven’t done a proper writing update much at all this year, as I’m sure both my loyal readers have noticed. To put a fine point on it, the reason is this: 2019 fucking sucked as a writing year for me. And early, that started to feel like failure. Probably back in, say, February, because February is a manipulative gaslighting monster of a month so bad it looms over January and stomps March for good measure and the three months combine into one giant super-month called Suckuary.
Uh. Where was I?
Right! Failure. 2019 was so much failure. And it all started at the end of 2018, really, when Coach died.
I bet you’re thinking, Yay, now he’s talking about the death of doggos, right? Sorry. Only, maybe I’m not because I don’t think we do a very good job at talking about what throws a writer out of their game, and losing Coach didn’t so much throw me out of the game so much as it canceled the season, fired the players, and burned down the stadium. I didn’t write word one in October, November, or December, apart from the occasional blog post I’d already committed to, and some support stuff for the release of Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks.
Creatively speaking, I went completely offline, zero signal, no bars, 0% battery. I was a mess.
Enter Max. My husband and I told ourselves we needed to take things very slow if we were even going to think about getting another dog at some point in the future, and that lasted about two months. It was supposed to last longer, and honestly would have, except it turned out the person who was fostering Max suffered a massive life loss and violent tragedy, and so instead of going slow we jumped in and took Max off her hands at a time where she desperately needed less things to worry about.
Now, I hope it’s clear I’m not saying Max was a replacement. Coach was a magical puppy bear full of gravitas and deep wisdom. He was an adult. He had his food-guarding issue, but was so perfectly suited to us he couldn’t have been better had he come down from the damn sky in a basket with our names on it, carried by a pair of singing angels both of whom looked like Chris Evans.
Max, on the other hand, arrived more like an extinction-level asteroid breaking through the roof mid-way through a busy week while it was raining. He hadn’t been snipped yet (again, the plan had originally been to just meet him, see if we clicked, and then, post-snip, try him out overnight, meet up with him for obedience classes, etcetera, etcetera). He blew into our lives, peed on stuff, destroyed things, and refused to sleep unless we were right beside him. I wasn’t allowed to leave the room without him. He had massive separation anxiety, was terrified of everyone, reacted to every dog we met like it was a new shiny thing he needed NOW, and was basically the opposite of Coach in pretty much every single way beyond being a Husky in our care. Even his heterochromic eyes were reversed to Coach’s.
Coach was stately. Max has antigravitas.
Which isn’t to say Max didn’t help. He really did. He restored a routine. I could grieve Coach and still be actively trying to train Max and slowly—oh, God, I cannot stress how slow this was—Max started to learn how to be a better dog.
And I wrote nothing.
I tried. I often chat with my editor, Jerry, and in our phone conversations, he is a major source of wisdom and so incredibly insightful I cannot even begin to tell you. By the end of January, he’d gotten me to the point where I was able to say the thing I was afraid to admit: I had nothing in me, and forcing it wasn’t working. At all. Triad Magic was completely out of reach. Every time I tried to work on it, I ended up cutting everything I wrote and putting it into the cut-offs file and feeling worse than when I began.
(Sidenote: I don’t delete things permanently since the writing rage-quit incident of 2014 of which we will not speak again).
I tried flash fictions on Fridays, and sometimes that worked. It felt like forward motion, at least. Exit Plans was out in the world, so I still had something to talk about, but at the same time, there were some problems with distribution (that got fixed and it turned out to be the best reason ever in the long run—a distributor had snapped up all the copies!—but at the time, I was really losing my shit that people’s pre-orders were getting canceled).
Anthology calls caught my attention. I opened files, wrote a bit. The deadlines passed. I saved the files and stopped opening them. I set my sights elsewhere, and sent out some reprints to calls I thought they’d work well with that were okay with reprints, including podcast places who wanted stories to turn into audio. Everything got rejected. We went on vacation, I tried to write. Failed. We came home, I tried to write. Failed. I walked the dog, opened my computer, tried to write. Failed.
Well, you get the idea. Months of this, and I got nowhere. Triad Magic lost word count instead of gaining any. I hadn’t pitched it, even though I kept telling myself I needed to, to make a deadline exist, or I’d never get back in the groove. Jerry kept reminding me I was allowed to be out of the groove. I agreed, then beat myself up over it anyway. I’d get the schedule e-mails from my publisher denoting which publication slots were currently open and watch as 2019 filled up with rising anxiety, and then, one day, 2019 publication dates sailed by.
I took Max for a really long walk. Since I first published “Heart,” in Fool for Love, I’d had at least a short story published every year since. In 2018, I’d pulled a hat-trick: Saving the Date in February, Of Echoes Born in June, and Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks in December. Three titles in one year of novella length or more!
And nothing in the pipeline. Honestly? I’d never felt more like a failure as a writer than I did when that scheduling deadline sailed by.
When I got home with Max, I thought about lying down and having a good long nap. Max objected strenuously and jumped on me like I needed chest compressions to live, and threw in some bites to my ears for good measure. Max does not believe in wallowing. He believes in treats and pulling and sleeping like a pretzel around corners. So I got up.
And then the Auroras happened.
The Prix Aurora Awards happened because at some point—probably after a talk with Jerry because Jerry is, as I mentioned, both wise and as good at kick-in-the-ass speeches as he is be-gentle-with-yourself speeches—I threw up my hands and said “What the hell.” I’d gotten another reprint rejection (if you care to keep count, I think by this point I’d hit a double-digit rejection on one spec-fic story I was sure would be great as a podcast but I apparently am very, very wrong).
My co-author for Saving the Date, Angela S. Stone, told me she’d put Exit Plans as a nomination on the ballot for the Auroras. I said thank you, was really chuffed and flattered, and my usual self would have just gone on with my day. Instead, I found myself wondering.
I’ve never entered any of my titles into literary awards that weren’t specifically queer. It’s a form of self-rejection, absolutely, but it’s mostly done out of a sense of self-preservation. I can handle rejections from queer presses and queer awards easily. But when it happens outside of the queer circles, there’s this unknown “what-if?” that hangs over my head and who needs that? Also, let’s be honest: I write queer contemporary spec-fic and romance. Ain’t no one on the GG’s looking for teleporting queer teens or gay bookstore owners who can see auras. Kari Maaren performed a whole song about it at Can*Con and everything.
But the Aurora award has a category for YA, and it’s a specifically spec-fic award, and…
Well, like I said, I started thinking about it. I joined the organization, signed up, read as much Canadian spec-fic as I could find (especially queer stuff, because hey, I’m still me), and nominated the crap out of titles I loved, submitting all the stories I loved for consideration.
And I made it to the ballot! At Can*Con this month, I even got the little pin and everything.
I totally didn’t win, but losing sure didn’t feel so bad. Especially not when I saw how many marginalized voices did win. A disabled ownvoice anthology won. One category only had women finalists (which Charles de Lint delighted in pointing out as he announced the winner). There were so many queer people present as well, among the winners and finalists. It wasn’t entirely white, either, which, I mean, looking at you, Ritas. It was a solid night surrounded by great people and Can*Con itself won an Aurora (Derek Künksen and Marie Bilodeau were hysterical, as always, in their acceptance speeches).
At one point, I had this silly realization it was totally on-brand for me to be a finalist and not win. I’ve done that with the Lammy, the Foreword Book of the Year Award, and now, the Prix Aurora Award. Look at me, losing all these awesome awards!
Something that had been finally, achingly turning around clicked at Can*Con. Between the panels and discussions and seeing my fellow writing friends (especially Stephen Graham King and Christian Baines at our Bold Strokes Books table), I was having these amazing conversations with so many authors about what was—and wasn’t—failure and losing, and how we all felt like we were faking it pretty much all the damn time.
If there’s anything having writing buddies can do for a writer, it’s having back-up. Over the summer of The Year of Endless Failure, 2019, I was lucky enough to double down on said back-up.
First, Linda Poitevin. Linda and I met through Can*Con one of the first years I went, I think, and we were two of the romancey people in a sci-fi world, on a panel together, and I’d read Gwynneth Ever After and loved it, and I wanted to chat with her about it. She’s gracious with her wisdom (especially the hard earned stuff) and we had a great talk, and connected thereafter, and this year we started hanging out in a coffee shop sometimes for an hour or two to write.
Did I mention I wasn’t writing anything successfully enough yet? Because that.
Except, after talking through a few things with Linda (and Jerry), it finally got through my thick skull that I was making a rookie mistake: I was forcing a story, instead of writing a story I wanted to write. I wasn’t on a deadline, for crying out loud. I had nothing pitched, nothing in the pipeline.
“Why don’t you write what you’d like to write?” she said.
(For my part, I probably sat there with my London Fog and a cookie and drooled a bit in her direction, and maybe managed a ‘Buh?’)
And there on my laptop was Faux Ho Ho.
I’d been writing Faux Ho Ho for the 2018 holiday season. It was another queer holiday romance, this time playing with the fake relationship trope, and a fun side-project novella I could release in November or December. Then, y’know, Coach. The holiday spirit pretty much fled, and it languished.
I dusted it off, read what I’d written, and I didn’t hate it. So I eyed the deadline for holiday submissions, picked up my London Fog, and got back to work. And for the first time since 2019 had crawled into my life and squatted there like a door-to-door zealot who wouldn’t leave, words happened. Words I liked. I wasn’t under contract for them, no one but me would know if I missed the deadline, and it wasn’t flowing effortlessly, but it was happening.
We’ve gone to that coffee shop off and on ever since, and every time I’ve walked out of there with more than I entered with.
The second back-up I got was of the nerd type. I got invited to a Dungeons and Dragons summer campaign. Brandon Crilly invited me, and mentioned it would be a group with Evan May, Marie Bilodeau and, oh, yeah, Kevin Hearne.
(The visual for my reaction to this was probably more of that wide-mouthed ‘Buh?’, in case you’re wondering.)
Now, when you gather five authors and give them polyhedrons and a license to be as strange as they’d like, shit gets weird, man. I’m not saying there’s this whole thing now where people question me about dominating octopuses with tridents, but there is indeed exactly that, alongside some dubious discussions of rope skills, Russian bugbears, and really long sea shanties about dwarves.
It was magic.
And before sessions, sometimes we’d gather early and get some writing done. More of Faux Ho Ho happened at those sessions, despite the feeling like I was a complete fake and working on something no one had even asked for. The story itself got shaped by some of those sessions, since Silas, one of the main characters in Faux Ho Ho, is a giant nerd.
Riding home with Marie, or sipping tea before the game with Brandon, or walking to the Auroras with Evan, or just hanging out with Kevin in his spectacular freaking gaming room (seriously, that room) was beyond restorative, and really underlined the differences in what we all considered successes or failures, especially around output.
(Fair warning, though: Kevin’s dogs can cast Stinking Cloud once per short rest.)
At some point, I think every one of them said something that made me realize at one point or another, we were all freaking about faking it.
Romance can give a pretty skewed view of writerly output because romance writers are freaking incredible. Multiple books a year is by no means uncommon in Romance, it’s nearly the norm. And since I keep one foot in romance, and one in science fiction, I think I realized most of the whole “failure/faking it” vibe I was feeling was inspired more from the former than the latter. Not maliciously, mind you. Just comparisons I drew all by myself, despite talking a good game coming to terms with my own limits of writing output.
The D&D group reminded me to alter my stance a bit. Lean the other way. There are super prolific science fiction writers, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel as imperative.
Between Linda and the D&D crew, by the end of the summer, I realized I wasn’t so much faking it as I was moving forward as best I could.
And then I blew the holiday romance deadline for the publisher who’d accepted Handmade Holidays, and Faux Ho Ho officially had no possible home.
I was going to finish Faux Ho Ho if it killed me, and I was starting to think it was likely. 2019 was a monster. 2019 wanted me to suffer. 2019 was the grapefruit juice you thought was orange juice.
I often walk with my neighbour, Bev, who is a brilliant painter (and you should go look at her art now), and while our dogs drag us around the neighbourhood, we talk art, creativity, and everything that’s wrong with the world that we could fix as benevolent dictators. As introverts with terrible direction sense, we have adventures (read: get lost in the woods with the dogs because we’re talking and lose track of who was leading) and it’s often the only human interaction we have in a given day that isn’t spousal in nature, because, again, introverts.
I mentioned the deadline, and how it had taken the wind out of my sails, and she offered a Patented Bev Look.
(Patented Bev Looks are great, because they forewarn you you’ve ignored something super-obvious, and give you a moment to prepare to have that super-obvious thing brought to your attention with uniquely compassionate bluntness.)
“I thought you wanted to try self-publishing something.”
Huh. If only I knew someone who was good at that. Like, say, almost everyone I knew in the publishing world, including my coffee buddy Linda.
So I went home, thought it through, and took a leap of faith. I had Inkspiral Design make me a cover. It wasn’t the same as a deadline, but a cover, I thought, would motivate me across the finish line. Also, I needed to let my publisher know I had finished something because they had right of first refusal. See, my “little” novella had broken way, way past the word count I’d intended (insert a chorus of every editor I’ve ever worked with gasping an entirely fake ‘You went over the word count? No! Not you!’).
I wrote one of the most due-diligence, “Don’t worry, I know you don’t want this,” self-rejecting e-mails I’ve ever written in my life, was 100% “I have a plan, you don’t have to feel bad about it, I know I’ve missed all the deadlines and it’s my fault and I’m the worst” and my publisher was like, Uh, this sounds good, and we’d like it. Also, are you okay, dude?
There’s a lesson in there somewhere. I’m sure Bev will point it out to me.
What followed was a flurry of contracts, a scramble with scheduling, and a new due date (which has passed and Faux Ho Ho is officially in the hands of my editor now) and one of the craziest up-and-down weeks of my writing life in what was already The Worst Year of Our Failure and Self-Esteem, 2019.
Oh, and right after that? I earned out.
One of the things about traditional publishing that’s super, super great is how delayed the system is. (It’s not great.) I used to work in a bookstore, as I’ve mentioned many times before, so I understand the “why” of it, which helps a lot. (It does not help even a little.) Let me break it down:
Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks debuted in December. December is the last month of a fiscal quarter, or Q. (Sometimes it’s referred to as the third quarter, sometimes the fourth. This already makes no sense, I know, but for some of the finance world the year begins in April, and for others it begins in January, and look, accountants are basically demons, okay?)
In this case, Q1 is January through March, Q2 is April through June, Q3 is July through September, and Q4 is October through December. So, my debut YA is released in December, or Q4, which is exciting, and I found out how well it did in a few days, right?
Oh, sweet summer child.
So. Bookstores sell books for a quarter, and then they gather that information up and send it to the publisher, who then takes a quarter to gather all the numbers, and then they hand it to the accountant demons for their rituals or whatever, bookstores start to be able to return books that didn’t sell, that math is added in, and anyway, the long story short is another quarter goes by and then you find out.
This means I found out the quarterly sales for Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks‘s debut in April of The Year of the Worst Writing of Our Life, 2019. And since Exit Plans debuted in December, that wasn’t really a tonne of information. How well did it do in January, February, and March?
That I found out in July. And it had done pretty darn well. It had been the best of any of my releases, actually, which really did add a nice moment to this otherwise craptastic year.
Now, if you’re someone like Bev, you may have spotted the thing I totally forgot, because this was the year of Failure, Faking it, Self-Rejection, etcetera, etcetera. Feel free to put on your Patented Bev Look.
The distribution problem. Which, again, I want to be clear was like the best problem if one was going to have to have a problem, and 2019 demanded it, I’m sure. The bastard. One distributor had snapped up all the print run of Exit Plans thanks to some early reviews that were really quite positive. Lots of orders got canceled, or back-ordered, or delayed. That was still happening in January, February, and March. Things only got moving after that, when my publisher found out about the problem and got another printing nudged forward.
Oh, also there was a paper shortage, which really screwed things up, and did I mention 2019 is THE WORST EVER?
So, fast-forward to now, when I get the numbers for April, May, and June (I know, I know, it’s so weird, right?) and… boom.
I earned out.
Now, if you don’t know what earning out is, I understand. Writing is a strange business that doesn’t work much like anything else (see above, re: six months delay) and the scale of things is wildly different between the various publishing routes. I’m traditionally published with a small, queer press. When I pitch an idea and the contract is signed, there’s an advance. I’m given half of it when I hand in the manuscript, all completed and magical (and ready to be shredded and polished by my editors into something much, much better), and the other half when the book releases.
At that point, I’m in the hole, so to speak. The advance is there to take the sting out of writing to a deadline, and to help compensate for the fact that writing doesn’t make money while you’re doing it, only after you’ve done it. It’s also a leap of faith from a publisher saying “Hey, you deserve this and we believe in you.” And often, it’s the only paycheque an author will see in a book’s life. It’s absolutely not unheard of for that to be it. So, it’s the only money you can count on.
After that, every time a copy of a book sells, a slice of the sale (the royalties) goes to the author, but first it pays down that advance. Those six-month delayed quarterly statements list how far you’ve come toward getting yourself out of that hole. When you write another book, the advance for that new book adds to the hole, but now you’ve got multiple books helping to fill it back in. That’s often referred to the “long tail” effect. My debut novel, Light, had a really nice bump in sales a year after it was released because it was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, which really helped it on its way, but since Light came out, I’ve written two more urban fantasy novels, a collection of short fiction, and then my YA, Exit Plans. That meant the hole got deeper four more times.
Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks filled in the entire hole by October. (Which was actually somewhere in April, May, or June, because… never mind. You get it.)
In other words…
(wait for it)
…this was the best writing year of my life.
Isn’t publishing fun?
Other “Fun” Things About 2019
2019 isn’t done yet (God, that feels ominous to type), but after all that failure and losing and faking it and self-rejection and—ha, ha—actually everything is great you giant tosser, there’s a thing on the horizon. I mentioned I sent in the draft for Faux Ho Ho, and that means Faux Ho Ho will be coming to you in December after all, from my publisher, Bold Strokes Books. Given my amazing ability to self-destruct and self-reject this year, I don’t have links yet, since I totally threw a holiday romance novella into the gears of the smooth machine that is Bold Strokes Books (sorry everyone!), but as soon as I’ve got definitive links I’ll totally do that thing where I link them for your viewing pleasure.
What I do have what would be the back matter if it was a physical book, but since it’s an e-novella, I think it’s just called a description. I can’t wait to show you the cover, too, but I don’t have to wait to show you the description.
Faux Ho Ho
Silas Waite doesn’t want his big-C Conservative Alberta family to know he’s barely making rent, even with his tech job. They’d see it as yet another sign that he’s not living up to the Waite family potential and muscle in on his life with their money, which would come with strings. When Silas unexpectedly needs a new roommate, he ends up with the gregarious (and gorgeous) personal trainer Constantino “Dino” Papadimitriou, via a friend-of-a-friend referral.
Silas’s parents try to brow-beat him into visiting for Thanksgiving, where they’ll put him on display as an example of how their party is “tolerant,” for Silas’s brother’s political campaign, but Dino pretends to be his boyfriend to get him out of it, citing a prior commitment to Dino’s family. The ruse works—until they receive a joint invitation to Silas’s sister’s wedding, which she’s planned on very short notice for Christmas Day.
Silas loves his sister, Dino wouldn’t mind a chalet Christmas, and together, they could turn something Silas would otherwise have to withstand into something fun. But after nine months of being roommates, then friends, and now “boyfriends,” Silas finds being with Dino way too easy, and being the quiet son his parents barely tolerate too hard. Something has to give, but luckily, it’s the season for giving—and maybe what Silas has to give is worth the biggest risk of all.
There you have it. Nerdy Silas will be getting his shot next month. On the way, he’ll also get some opportunities to cosplay, survive some D&D, catch a jock-strap, come second place in a spouse-off contest, and launch his own gaming app. It’s a big year for him, but this is a romance novella, so he’s gonna find happiness.
Oh, and for the record? I’m aware of the irony of writing a novella about someone faking it and finding happiness during this particular year. Save your Patented Bev Look for the next guy.