dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

hourglassIt may seem strange to want to evaluate my year in June, but as an ex-school teacher, I still think of years in terms of fall to summer. And I’m fast coming up on my one-year anniversary of quitting the profession.

I had big plans for this year. Recently, I felt discouraged because I didn’t achieve all my goals. Some of them, however, were outside  my control. I couldn’t make them happen. (Where’s Riley and his voice of command when I need him?) One goal felt like it should have been within my control, but I still didn’t make the progress I wanted. More on that later.

I realized, maybe it would be better to make a list of what I did get done – from July of 2014 through June of 2015.

  • 12 School Visits
  • 9 Skype Visits
  • 7 Library Events
  • 5 Book Festivals
  • 8 Book Store Events
  • 3 Presentations at School Librarian Conferences (NJ, MD, PA)
  • 1 Book Club Visit
  • 1 Manuscript completed
  • 2 Manuscripts revised
  • 1 First Draft approximately 3/4 of the way done

I also (unexpectedly) picked up a part-time faculty position at a local community college. I taught 2 classes so far, and I’ve signed on for 3 more classes this coming summer and fall.

I became a moderator of a Facebook group for writers, and started a local critique group.

I read countless books I wouldn’t have had time to read if I’d been still teaching, and I got into the habit of regular exercise.

That last one is connected to the goal I thought for sure I could control: losing weight. Exercising 3-4 times per week (a change from the big ZERO of the previous year) and moderating my diet, I thought the weight would just drop off.  And, right at the start, I did lose 5 pounds. And then I stayed there – without budging — for months.

In spite of the disappointing news from the scale, I know I’m stronger. I have more endurance. I can go longer, get my heart rate up higher, and not come home with cramped muscles and swollen knees and ankles. (Dare I tempt fate by saying this? I haven’t had a sinus infection all year. I think my immune system is stronger.) A recent doctor’s visit and blood work proved that my overall health is good.  It’s just that my age and my genetics are working against me. My doctor’s advice: “It’s good that you’ve increased your activity. But if you want to lose weight, you’ve got to step it up even more.”

AGI Book Fair 2Dang it. I wanted it to be easy. But then, I want all my writing goals to happen easily too. And we know how that goes. So, in my first year of being a full-time writer, things started off slowly (like my exercise). Next year, I’m going to step it up. But I also have to accept that some things will always be outside of my control, and I need to rejoice in all the accomplishments that I’m not directly working toward, but which happen anyway.

Like that hill I used to have to walk my bike up that I can now take without switching out of 5th gear. Or signing my book for students at the Scholastic Fair in my former school — something I didn’t expect to happen.

 Goals are great, as long as I don’t forget to appreciate the scenery along the way.

 

I hope 2015 has been good to all of you so far! I can certainly say that I’ve been enjoying it.

Back in August, I blogged about my struggles with my WIP, BRANEWORLD — how I almost gave up on it but instead decided to push forward. My husband had brought me a Daruma doll from Japan.  The eyes of the Daruma are blank white, with no pupil. The receiver of the doll is supposed to fill in one pupil on setting a goal – and the other pupil on meeting it. The Daruma, looking a little off-balance with just one pupil, is supposed to bring luck and remind its owner of the goal every day.

Daruma 2

My goal was to have a manuscript un-related to the Eighth Day series to send to my agent. I didn’t specify that it would be BRANEWORLD, but in fact, that is the one I sent to Sara a week ago! Then I filled in Daruma’s other eye.

Daruma doll complete

In addition to completing this goal, I received several packages from HarperCollins this month. The first were my author copies of the paperback version of The Eighth Day, complete with a sneak preview of Book 2 in the back. That was exciting!

TED paperback

Shortly afterward, I received my author copies for The Inquisitor’s Mark, which is due out on January 27.

TIM author copies

It’s my fourth book, but my first sequel, so it was a special moment to see the two books side by side on a book shelf.

TED and TIM on shelf

And finally, I received my editorial letter for Book 3 — and I suppose I can tell you the title of that one now — The Morrigan’s Curse, which is due out in early 2016. I am happily at work on revisions!!

What is new with you in the new year?

 

Gears of BrassIn honor of the release of Gears of Brass, a steampunk anthology published by Curiosity Quills, I am bringing you an interview with S.A. Larsen  (aka Sheri) on the craft of writing in the genre of steampunk …

  1. Sheri, how did you come to be involved in the Gears of Brass anthology?

I was approached by another author, who heard that Curiosity Quills was interested in putting together a group of young adult stories with a steampunk edge. This was an area I’d never worked in before, which gave me pause. But growth as a writer comes from leaping into what we’re less familiar with and learning. That’s what I did.

  1. For those readers who are uncertain about the term, how would you define steampunk?

Ooh, Susan Kaye Quinn explained it wonderfully in the forward she wrote for the book, but I’ll give it a try. I see the world of steampunk  as science fiction meets gadgets and gears powered by steam all weaved in mystery, intrigue, and romance. And lots of times lace, corsets, and some really cool boots. 😉 Steampunk is a form of world a story grows up in and how that world affects the characters and storylines—a unique battery with which to tell a tale.

  1. I know from your post on the cover reveal that you did a lot of research into steampunk before beginning your story. How does one go about researching a technology that doesn’t exist?

Great question! Initially, I searched for images dealing with already existing steampunk. These photos or drawings gave me visual insight into the world of steampunk and the Victorian age. From there, my imagination took over. I began comparing what I saw to today’s world of clothing, transportation, food, gadgets, social behaviors, architecture, and employment.

The idea of a spinning wheel producing more than mere yarn has always fascinated me. Call it a writer’s twitch that would never leave me alone. So when I saw all the time pieces within the steampunk images I found, I just had to somehow relate time to a spinning wheel. That led me to some cookie baking to entice detailed terms out of my husband about how car engines, stereo systems, and other electronics of today work. The rest I simply plucked from the far reaches of my brain.

  1. The closest I have come (so far) to writing steampunk is my Tesla-punk manuscript based on the science of Tesla’s inventions – the real ones, the ones he envisioned but never made, and the ones that conspiracy theorists think he did make but were covered up.  What kind of science is your short story based on, and did you have to coordinate with other authors – or is each story independent?

Each story is independent. It would be fun to coordinate them, though. Steampunk elements were our only criteria, though it was suggested that takes on fairytales or folktales would be great.

Honestly, the story is loosely based on the workings of time and most of that I stretched to meet my story goals. I actually incorporated elements from a young adult story idea I had a while back. It was a take on Rumpelstiltskin—thus, the spinning wheel. And then, as I began developing the story, my female lead became one whose way of life had been stolen from her, making survival a struggle—thus, my Cinderella elements. When I began writing TIME SPUN SOULS, I never intended to lean on any fairy tales. But the more I wrote, the more these fit.

5. Can you give us a logline for your story?

Trapped in the clutches of her step-mother’s quest to marry wealthy, a girl is thrust into the underground of forced labor, where yarn is not the only thing she spins.

Sheri LarsenBio:

S.A. Larsen is a wordsmith, book cover designer, and avid reader. Her quirky view of life urges her to create unique worlds for exploring the joys and angst of the young adult years, the awkward middle grade years, and the curious younger years of picture books. She is represented by Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary.

Her vineyard-set YA novel, MARKED BEAUTY, has received multiple offers of publication and currently remains on submission. She lives in the land of lobsters, snowy winters, and the occasional Eh’ya, with her husband of over twenty years, their four children, a playful pooch Gracie, and two kittens Chloe and Molly.

 

 

 

KLAC Baltimore Book Festival 2014

Me, Ellen Jensen Abbott, Alissa Grosso, Alison Ashley Formento, and Tim Young – Baltimore Book Festival 2014

… being a full time author?

I get this question a lot these days.  I think non-writers picture me clicky-clacking away at dozens of new books, sitting at a desk all day with coffee by my side. Fellow writers probably know better!  (One day last week I figured out I was writing at a rate of 155.4 words per hour. Yes, I stopped writing to do the math. Then I Tweeted about it. This may have been part of the problem.)

The hardest thing for me to get used to has been the unstructured days – especially coming from 25 years of teaching when my days were scheduled down to the minute and I had to plan my bathroom breaks. I’m getting better at managing my time now, setting two or three goals per day which may include new words in the WIP, blog posts and blog visits, creating marketing materials, exercise, or preparing for upcoming events. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to take a day off here and there.

Baltimore BF at night

Festival booths lit up at night — Baltimore Book Festival 2014

I’ve been able to take on new responsibilities too: moderating a FB group and setting up an online critique group through my local SCBWI chapter. I’ve been able to book myself for more events than I could possibly have handled if I was teaching. You can see by my schedule on the sidebar that I’ve got a lot going on this fall, and that list doesn’t even include private events like school visits.

Caged Graves tshirt

When the dead don’t stay where you put them …

I was able to attend all three days of the Baltimore Book Festival at the end of September, sharing a booth with KidLit Author Club members Tim Young, Alissa Grosso, Ellen Jensen Abbott, and Alison Ashley Formento. Those were three LONG, HOT days. (Never crossed my mind to pack shorts for the end of September …) But the venue was beautiful. A ton of people stopped to read the Caged Graves t-shirt or look at the photos on my poster board. I also learned that wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt was a great conversation starter. I plan to repeat that smart move at the Collingswood Festival this weekend!

Doctor Who tshirt for festival

My villain t-shirt from the Doctor Who Museum at Cardiff, Wales was a great conversation starter.

All in all, I’m learning how to be more productive with my unstructured days. I’m happy to be out of the stressful environment that was sapping my health, and my calendar is filling up with the kinds of author events I always watched enviously from the sidelines (ie: my FB and Twitter feed in spare moments at my teacher’s desk).

I’m happy.

 

Daruma 1

The Daruma Doll

Back in the last week of July, I was certain that my first post after August First Impressions was going to be an explanation of why I gave up on my WIP, BRANEWORLD.

I was about 35k into the story, and I was stuck. I hadn’t written any new words in a week, and I didn’t see any reason to keep struggling with it. Plus, I was feeling low and missing my husband, who was on a 2-week business trip to Japan. That’s the longest we’ve been separated since we met 22 years ago.

Bob was a big supporter of this story, so when he got home at the beginning of August, I broke the news to him. BRANEWORLD was dead. To talk it over, Bob escorted me to the place where we conduct our most serious discussions: the hot tub, with martinis.

I explained my three reasons for giving up:

1. The science in the story was flawed

2. The plot holes were insurmountable

3. The characters were lifeless and uninteresting

Bob suggested another reason:

4. I was psyching myself out about writing the first book un-related to the Eighth Day series since 2011 – and also the first since I quit my teaching job.

Picture it: Romantic moonlight and stars, warm water, vodka martinis (straight up with olives), reunited after a long 2 weeks – and we decided to spend the evening exploring string theory.

Talking it over with my husband I realized:

1. The science was more plausible than I thought it was. It has basis in real theory.

2. Explaining the plot holes to Bob helped me to think up solutions to them.

“But I’ve never had this much trouble bringing characters to life,” I said.

“Yes, you have,” Bob reminded me. “We’ve had this conversation before.”

He was right. When I went back and looked in my 2011 blog file, I discovered I’d even written about it in a post called D.O.A. (A good reason to blog: It’s like a diary.) I came close to abandoning that story too, but instead I re-cast some of the characters and started over. It’s now one of my favorite manuscripts.

He was also right about me psyching myself out. In 2012, I told everyone that the urban fantasy I was writing was WAY outside my comfort zone and I would probably never finish it. Three urban fantasies later, the Eighth Day world IS my comfort zone, and I’m scared to leave it.

So,  I did not give up on BRANEWORLD, and I’ve added 4k more words so far. I accept its flaws.

Leandra Wallace recently shared this quote with me:

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box

so that later I can build castles. ~Shannon Hale

And I also saw this on Cynthia’s blog, Read is the New Black:

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s just that you’re editing too early.”

~ Stephen Chbosky

One of the gifts Bob brought me from Japan is a Daruma Doll. According to Wikipedia: Daruma dolls are seen as a symbol of perseverance and good luck, making them a popular gift of encouragement.

The eyes of the Daruma are blank white, with no pupil. The receiver of the doll is supposed to fill in one pupil on setting a goal – and the other pupil on meeting it. The Daruma, looking a little off-balance with just one pupil, is supposed to bring me luck and remind me of my goal every day.

Thank you, Bob. I set my goal – completing a manuscript (revised,polished, and worthy of showing to my agent) that is not part of the Eighth Day series. It might be BRANEWORLD – and I hope it is – or it might be something else.

Until this is accomplished, Daruma will remind me.

Daruma 2

Meeting up with Katie Mills in Paris!
The summer is over for me. I’m back at work … sitting in a teacher inservice meeting this very second, learning about all the mandatory changes happening this year. Right now, someone is probably advising me to Take a Positive Mental Attitude Toward the Changes.

Let’s not think about that. Instead, I’m going to look back at this summer and admire how productive I was by assessing the goals I set back in June.
1. Complete revisions for THE EIGHTH DAY #1. Not only did I finish the revisions, the manuscript came back to me for copy-editing at the end of July, and I completed that too! The next time I see TED #1, it will have been through the Design stage, and I’ll get a glimpse of what it will look like as a real book! Squee!
2. Complete revisions for THE EIGHTH DAY #2. I finished that, too, and sent the manuscript off to my editor. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but after completing the revision process for Book 1, I know my editor is going to help me take the manuscript to the next level. I look forward to the challenge. (I’ll have to remember I said that when I’m reading the edit letter and breathing into a brown paper bag. If you read my post at WriteOnCon, you’ll get the joke.)

3. Visit my sister and her family in Kansas. We had a lovely trip! My nephew and niece are getting so big, and my daughters were thrilled to spend time with their cousins!
4. Contact book stores and libraries about making appearances to promote THE CAGED GRAVES. Yeah, I tried that, and got almost no response – and the responses I got were NO THANKS. However, I did have a positive response from a local newspaper, which published a lengthy article about my teaching and writing careers. I was contacted by another newspaper and a radio show, and I joined the KidLit Author’s Club, so the summer wasn’t a total loss, promotion-wise.
5. Plan and plot THE EIGHTH DAY #3. I tried to plot; I really did. But eventually I had to resort to my normal method of plunging into the first draft to figure out the story. At this point, I have about 15k words written, and every time I think, That’s it. I don’t know what happens next, I realize what has to happen next and keep writing.
6. Swim and bike and walk. I did this! Unfortunately, I didn’t lose any weight doing it, which seems to be a nasty trick my body is playing on me as I come ever closer to an unhappy birthday with a 0 in it. But weight loss aside, I know it’s healthier to be active. I’ve built my stamina on the bike, and over the 9 days of my European vacation, my husband estimates we walked 52 miles!
7. Visit Cardiff, London, and Paris. Yes, we did, and I’ve been writing about it ever since we got back! The one thing I haven’t mentioned yet is meeting Katie Mills in Paris. Katie and I have been beta readers for each other for a couple years now, and it was awesome that she could meet my family while we were abroad!
8. Make a quick pass of edits/revisions to a manuscript and brainstorm/research a new idea. I did complete the edits on the older manuscript, but I didn’t really work on that new idea. However, I did review the author proofs for my short story BLOODY MARY, which will be appearing in this year’s Month9Books charity anthology, VERY SUPERSTITIOUS. And, I can now reveal the cover for that book, which will release in October. Isn’t it pretty?
Overall, this has to be one of my most productive summers ever!
What did you get done this summer?