Failure and Success: On the Quantifiability of Life and Writing

Dec 9, 2014

Failure is a concept I've been thinking a lot about lately. What does it mean to fail? Is it just...not to succeed? If that's the case, what does it mean to succeed?

"Succeeding" at something has become a paramount virtue in society over I-don't-even-know-how many years. The ultimate goal of life is to lead a successful one-- and we have numerous ways to quantify it. It's usually in terms of size: "how many/how much/how big/how fast." We're really bad at this in publishing. How long did you query? How many did you send? How many offers of rep did you get? How much money did your book sell for? How many copies did you sell in X amount of time? How high on the best-seller lists is your book?

It's a general thing too, in big and small terms. How much money do you have? How big is your house? How many people will cry at your funeral because you touched their lives? How many "likes" did the picture of your kid get on Facebook?

And in asking how many/how much/how big/how fast, we always have an idea in our heads of what that number should be in order to have succeeded. These questions and our need for the number to hit that "succeed" threshold is why we go back to Facebook three times a day to check on our "like" stats. We want the validation that we're doing it right, whatever "it" is, and whatever "right" means.

Here's the thing about this when it comes to publishing. There are very few, and very biased, metrics for determining quantifiable success. And so, for the past several months, I've felt like I've been failing a lot because I have so few numbers telling me I've succeeded. And somehow, my self-worth became tied to my book's numbers.

I've obsessively checked Goodreads stats, Amazon rankings, and BookScan numbers-- but those are varying and inconclusive. I came to realize they gave me so few pieces of a puzzle that I was getting a skewed view of what the big picture was. I've desperately scoured for information on how to do things "right," from setting up school visits to arranging book signings to hosting the perfect launch party to selling more books. It's so hard to find details on those kinds of things-- believe me. So I stumble along, but no one is patting my head so I can count how many pats I get to determine if I'm doing it "right."

So much of the time, I feel like a failure simply because I don't know what I'm doing.

Honestly, I don't know what "right" means. I'm not sure how I define my own success-- or should I say, the success of my book. Sure, I have a detailed marketing plan where I specified goals and ways to reach them. But somehow, in my head, I have this vague idea of success that I can't quite define and therefore can never reach-- because it isn't quantifiable.

And if I haven't reached it yet, I've failed. There is no sliding scale; it is either-or. If it's not something that breaches that numeric threshold, it's not success-- and therefore it doesn't matter. I don't matter.

At first, I thought to fix this constant feeling of failure, I just needed to redefine my vision of "success." I succeeded simply by having a book published! I succeeded because people I love have supported me so much and shown me they love me! Every single book sold is its own success!

You know what? It didn't help. I decided that I didn't want to focus on success. I wanted to focus on something else instead, like how much fun I was having, or how much-- wait. How much. All I was looking for was a different measurement system to take the place of elusive "success."

I don't want to measure my life. I want to live it. I want to experience.

So I tried something new. I started a new book-- a strange, mythical kind of YA fantasy that's been tugging at me, but that I'm not entirely sure is marketable (aka quantifiable). And I started writing it by hand in a fancy notebook. I'm not counting how many words I write per hour or day. I'm not making sure I write at such-and-such a time for so-many minutes. It's slow, writing by hand, but it's funny how it's more active, somehow. I'm participating more fully in the process of creation, allowing my brain to spin and delve and play while I'm in the midst of actually forming the words, watching ink change the paper into a story.

And something has happened. I'm relaxing. I'm enjoying. I'm experiencing not just the story, but the act of writing it. I'm feeling not just the joy of writing, but the joy of being. I've been able to experience being me. Not judging or measuring who I am, but just existing and finding joy in myself.

Some things will always require measurement. I still need to make plans and goals for selling my books, and there will still be a lot of quantifiable and important data in connection with that. But I don't want my worth as a person to be determined by the numbers attached to my book. I am so much more than a collection of stats.

I hope I keep finding ways to remind myself of that.

Unhappening Blog Tour and Giveaway - Days 3 and 4

Nov 3, 2014

I totally missed the posts yesterday because it was Sunday, so I'll link them today! There was a quote card yesterday, so don't miss it for extra entries for the giveaway! Tomorrow is the last day of the tour and giveaway, so you better hurry for a chance to win signed books, gift cards, book-inspired jewelry, and other prizes.

Nov. 2

Such a Novel Idea - Quote Card

Addicted 2 Heroines - Guest Post on how to create meaningful names for your characters-- and why I named my character Genesis Lee!

The Innocent Smiley - Review

Buried Under Books - Review

Nov. 3

Bookish Outsider - Review

Reading is My Treasure - Review

BestChickLit - Q&A - Including a weird secret about me!

Curling Up With A Good Book - Guest Post - How The Giver Inspired The Unhappening of Genesis Lee.

Unhappening Blog Tour, Day 3-- Sneak Peak Quotes!

Nov 1, 2014

Here we go-- day 3 of the blog tour for The Unhappening of Genesis Lee! Today, we've got a few more sneak-peak quotes with secret words. Enter the secret (highlighted) words in the Rafflecopter, and get extra chances to win signed copies of the book, gift cards, jewelry, and more!

Crossroad Reviews - Review + Quote Card

Mom With A Kindle - Q&A + Quote Card -- Find out where I'd go if I had a time machine, my Death Row meal choice, and what I'm working on next!

A Dream Within A Dream - Review

A Thousand words A Million Books - Review

And here's a few more pictures of Unhappening in the wild!

The Unhappening of Genesis Lee Blog Tour and Giveaway-- Day 2!

Oct 31, 2014

Okay, folks, here are the stops for the blog tour today! No quote cards today, but you can still find the quote cards from yesterday by checking here. And there are more to come for more entries in the giveaway!

Behind the Pages - Q&A -- This one has a bookmark with a quote you can download and print off, created by the awesome host, Gina!

Ink of Blood - Review

Literary Meanderings - Promo Post

Teen Readers' Diary - Promo Post

El Extra├▒o Gato del Cuento - Promo Post

Here's a look at the gorgeous bookmark Gina at Behind the Pages created. Thanks, Gina!

And thanks to all who participated!

Blog Tour Scavenger Hunt (an easy one!) - Day 1

Oct 30, 2014

Hey all! It's the kick-off for the blog tour of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, hosted by The Fantastic Flying Book Club! You can win some awesome prizes-- a signed hardback of the book, a $10 bookstore giftcard, Link bracelets (where Gena stores her memories), and swag packs.

And, it's a sort of scavenger hunt! You can enter the giveaway without doing the scavenger hunt, but you can win extra points through this easy scavenger hunt. Here's how it works: I'll give you each day's tour schedule, and you hit up the blogs with a Quote Card. Each card has a secret word highlighted. Enter that secret word in the Rafflecopter, and bam, extra entries!

Alright, folks, here's the schedule for today, Oct. 30th:

A Reading Nurse + The Unofficial Addiction Book Fan Club - Interview where I spill about fascinating memory research and my favorite scene to write where I DESTROYED THINGS,

Addicted Readers -  Quote Card

Her Book Thoughts - Playlist

Library of a Book Witch - Quote Card

The Rafflecopter will be on each post, but just in case it's not, you can find it here. Go forth and enter, folks!

And just for kicks, here's a few pics of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee in the wild-- some people have already received their copies. I might have done a little shrieking dance when I saw these...

Pre-Order Giveaway Winners!

Oct 21, 2014

Thanks to ALL of you who pre-ordered THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE and entered the giveaway! It means so much to me, and I wish I could send all of you thank you gifts.

The winners of the giveaway are (last names removed for privacy purposes):

For the $10 gift card, Link bracelet, and swag pack:


For the Link bracelet and swag pack:


For the full swag pack:


I will be emailing the winners. Thank you all so much!

Pre-Order Giveaway for The Unhappening of Genesis Lee

Sep 26, 2014

Alright, friends, here's the deal. If you don't know, pre-ordering an author's book before it releases is just about the best thing you can do for them. Why? It gives the book a strong start out of the gate, since pre-order sales all count toward release day numbers. This pleases the publisher, and the bookstores. These are the people who support the author's career-- and may induce them to give the author MORE support.

So here's the rest of the deal. Because it means so much to me when you pre-order my book, I wanted to find a way to say THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES to everyone who does. I wish that meant I could give each person a gift, but I'm sort of not rich enough. So instead, if you pre-order, you can enter the Pre-Order Giveaway for a chance to win thank you gifts!

There are three prizes.

1. A full pack of GENESIS LEE swag, a $10 gift card to the online bookstore of your choice, and a magnetic bracelet/necklace that's exactly like Gena's Link bracelets where she stores her memories.

2. A full GENESIS LEE swag pack and Link bracelet

3. A full GENESIS LEE swag pack

Unhappening Link bracelet
Swag pack-- signed bookmark,
postcard, and 5 different buttons

It's easy to enter! Pre-order the hardcover or ebook of THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE anywhere online, take a screenshot proving you did, email it to shalleemcarthur [at] gmail [dot] com, and enter the giveaway on the Rafflecopter below. You can even earn extra entries by spreading the word!

If you've already pre-ordered, go ahead and enter now! Email me if you have any questions or problems.

IMPORTANT IF YOU ARE COMING TO THE UNHAPPENING LAUNCH PARTY NOV. 4: Please consider ordering your copy from The King's English bookstore and let them know you'll be at the party. Not only does this support a great independent, local bookstore, it also ensures you have your copy for me to sign that night! I'd hate it if your book shipped late from elsewhere and I couldn't sign it for you.

And that's it, my friends! Digital hugs for all!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Need some incentive to buy? Here's what authors and industry reviewers have to say about THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE. 

"...It’s the sensitive handling of emotional details and the trauma of too much connection that make this a story of interest. The reactions to memory losses are painful and poignant...For anyone fascinated with thoughts of omniscience and total social connection—and who isn’t?—McArthur’s debut suggests fascinating and chilling possibilities." -Kirkus Reviews

"Equal parts dark and delightful, McArthur's stunning debut takes an awesome SF premise and follows it deep into the maze of the human mind. I loved it so much I was jealous." –Dan Wells, author of the NYT bestselling PARTIALS Sequence

"A thrilling read from beginning to end, this stunning debut had me wishing I could record my memories to keep them safe! Just like Gena, I was desperate to discover the thief while at the same time hoping the story would never end." –Elana Johnson, author of the POSESSION trilogy

Salt Lake Comic Con ARC Giveaway!

Sep 3, 2014

I'm SO excited to be paneling at Salt Lake Comic Con tomorrow and Saturday! I've been stuffing my brain full of all things My Little Pony, writing for teens, worldbuilding, and SFF girls to prep-- how fun is that? I also get to help man the booth for Dungeon Crawlers Radio for a few hours on Saturday, which is just awesome.

And even better? Tomorrow marks two months until The Unhappening of Genesis Lee hits shelves! To celebrate, I'll be giving away ONE PRECIOUS ARC of the book at Comic Con!

Gonna be there? Want the book? All you have to do is track me down and be the first person to ask nicely! Here's my schedule for tomorrow, or look for me on the floor. I'll be the blonde with blue and purple highlights wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt!

5:00 pm: Go Teen Writers! Room 255C
6:00 pm: Women of Sci Fi and Fantasy: More than Just Strong, Room 255E

And if you're not the lucky winner, I'll still give you a signed bookmark and a button, so track me down anyway! Here's my Saturday schedule, too:

12:00 PM: Are You a Brony or a Pegasister? My Little Pony Fans Unite! Room 355D
1:30-4:00 PM: At the booth for Dungeon Crawlers Radio (booth R48)
5:00 PM: Building a Move-In Ready World, Room 255B

So, my friends, hope to see you there!

The Moments When Publishing Feels REAL

Aug 26, 2014

It's now just over two months until The Unhappening of Genesis Lee comes out, and exciting things are happening around these parts! If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, these might be a bit familiar.

First, the audio rights to the book sold to Audible! I'm thrilled that there will be an audio version of the book, since I have so many friends who love audio books. I can't wait (and I'll admit, I'm a little nervous!) to hear my book performed out loud. Oral storytelling has such a strong tradition for generations, and I was exposed to a lot of it while in Ghana, so this feels particularly special to me. ARCs arrived! I checked the mailbox like a nervous squirrel for days, and when the box with my publisher's name on it finally arrived, I shrieked, "It's here!" And then I juggled that box, the rest of the mail, my purse, my son's backpack, and my son himself back to the house (we'd just come from his preschool). I ripped the box open, and there they were! Books. With my name on the front, and my story between the covers. I laughed like a maniac.

And you know what the coolest part was? Not seeing the cover with my name on it, or reading the back copy, or the copyright page with my name on it, or even signing one copy on the title page with the words, "Ha ha! I'm signing my own book!" No, the best part was flipping it open to see the words I wrote IN A BOOK.

Suddenly, it was all real. It got even more real when I realized that people are now READING the words I wrote-- because there are also eARCs up on Edelweiss for short-term download!

And then I started getting my bookmarks and postcards and buttons in the mail and I sort of just spent the rest of the week in a giggle-induced state of frantic excitement. :)

So, my friends, it's real. After years and work and luck and a million other little and big details, I finally have a grasp on the fact that this story I wrote will be out there for others to read. It's pretty much the best feeling in the world! And to share the joy, if you're interested in a signed postcard, email me your address and I'll get one in the mail to you!

Why a First Draft SHOULD be Messy

Jul 8, 2014

There was once a time when ALL I wrote were first drafts. Lots and lots of delightful, horrible first drafts that I signed off as finished once I found the proper flourishing font for the words THE END. Obviously, I eventually learned that a first draft is only the first step. I also eventually learned to love revisions—that glorious time when I can take the words I said and turn them into the words I meant to say.

And most recently, I worked on a first draft that made me want to bang my head into the wall. I can quite honestly say it’s been the hardest first draft I’ve ever written, and it took me a while to figure out why. See, I’m a planner. I like structure. I like organization. It’s why I like revision so much. This first draft was even more of a disaster than my others—at least when it came to being organized in any way.

We hear all the time that first drafts are messy. They’re sandboxes, or piles of &$%* , or whatever metaphor conveys the image of…a mess. We try to believe it, but we don’t always love that that’s the way it is. But writing this first draft, I realized why first drafts are messy—and why they very, very much need to be that way.

A first draft is about getting out the heart of the story. And hearts are messy places.

I have a lot of emotion tied to this particular story. I suppose that’s true of any story, but with this one there are issues tied to my heart that I’ve been truly wrestling with. So of course I’ve been wrestling with the story. It’s tried to come out as about three or four completely different stories, and none of them were right. The act of writing out the story was me trying to communicate things I felt, but even I wasn’t sure how I felt about these things, so I wasn’t sure what story I was trying to tell.

You want to know what’s cool, though? I did find the story. It took months. It took stripping away a lot of the trappings. It took changing my perspective on the things I was feeling. It took writing a story that flailed all over the place for me to find the actual core of what I was trying to say, and to understand that core myself. And this disaster of a first draft turned into something heart-driven.

Which is exactly what a book should be. The method and the craft comes into a story during revisions, but the heart is often what comes out when we allow ourselves to put our messy selves onto the page with no restraint. So that disaster of a story you’re working on, or have worked on, or will work on?

It’s exactly what it should be. A raw, beautiful, honest mess.

A Day in the Life of a pre-Debut Author

Jun 18, 2014

So it's kinda funny, realizing your book comes out in less than 5 months. Sort of giddy-making, really. A tad bit terrifying, too. And it's also kinda funny, looking at your life and realizing how much has changed-- and how little has changed. So today, just for kicks, I thought I'd do a post about the day in the life of this pre-debut author.

6:00 am-- Wake up to alarm and write the Next Book. Maybe. If you didn't stay up too late catching up on season 7 of Doctor Who last night. No, you're definitely waking up, because the new book must be written. So you write. And you realize this book is awful. Why are you even writing this? People are going to hate it. YOU hate it.

7:30 am-- Kids are awake, demanding cereal and bananas, or preferably ice cream. You force them to eat the cereal. Baby Girl throws her bowl on the floor in a tantrum. You make her help you clean it up.

8:00 am-- Exercise! Tai chi is da bomb, folks. Sometimes. If you actually get around to it today. Maybe you'll just browse Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr, because you need to do marketing and that's kind of like marketing. Crap, you have so much to do to market this book, you are so behind!

8:30 am-- Kids fighting. Make the Kiddo give his sister back her Winnie the Pooh.

9:00 am-- Check your book's Goodreads stats. You know you shouldn't. It's just numbers, it shouldn't matter. But...what the holy bananas! Fifteen new "to-reads" since last night? How did that happen? Did you tweet something funny? You haven't blogged in like a month, so it's not that. Did somebody somewhere mention your book?

9:15 am-- Google your book title and look for anything new. It's easy to see the links you haven't clicked yet, because they're blue. There are no blue links.

9:30 am-- Holy crap, fifteen people decided to read your book and you have no idea why. What the heck is the point of marketing? You'll just lay back, relax, and let the readers flow in. Marketing plan is off the table.

10:00 am-- Kids demanding snacks-- again. Preferably ice cream. They get graham crackers. You pull out Candyland to play with them. Baby eats the color cards. Kiddo sends his Blue Guy on adventures that have nothing to do with the color cards.

12:00 pm-- Why do kids need to eat so often? Didn't you JUST feed them?

1:00 pm-- Naptime! Kiddo gets a video game, and you get writing time. Except you hate your new book. So you send marketing-related emails to arrange marketing-related things. Go you. And you really need to email your editor about The Thing that's been nagging you. You write the email, but you don't send it. You don't need to bug her about this. Do you need to bug her about this? You do, you don't, you do, you don't.

1:30 pm-- Save the email but don't send. You hate your new book. You can't write it. You should probably shower anyway.

2:00 pm-- Brilliant idea from the shower. You love this book! You knew it was awesome! People everywhere are going to DIE with how much they love it too!

You start writing your new book, and the baby wakes up from her nap. Curses. You check your email with
baby on your lap. Delete the email to editor. PATIENCE.

2:30 pm-- Re-draft the email to your editor, but address to your agent. Delete email. You really don't need to send anybody any emails, The Thing is not even a thing to worry about, so knock it off!

3:00 pm-- Check Goodreads stats. What the? No new "to-reads?" That's it. Marketing plan is back on.

4:00 pm-- Children should probably wear clothes today, not just pajamas. Take children and computer outside. Intersperse writing the brilliant shower idea with chasing children away from the road.

6:00 pm-- Dinner. WHY ALL THE EATING?

8:00 pm-- Bedtime for all non-adults. You should write. But hubby's watching Full Metal Alchemist, and you kinda dig it, and you sort of haven't seem him all day, so...

11:30 pm-- Bedtime for all non-children. Crap. You're never going to make it up by 6 am to write...Wait, did you ever send that email to your editor?

So, my friends, there you have it. A (tongue-in-cheek) day-in-the-life of a pre-debut author. Funny, how it's pretty similar to my pre-pre-debut days...What's been happening in your daily life lately?

Changing Fate Release Party!

May 8, 2014

I'm so happy for my friend Michelle, whose book Changing Fate releases today! She wrote this book after meeting a girl with cystic fibrosis, and she's donating half of all proceeds from the book to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Here's more about Michelle and her book, which you can get now in ebook or paperback!

All Kate wants is to live. Battling cystic fibrosis is hard enough, dying from it is even harder. When her mom moves them closer to the hospital in the middle of her senior year, Kate’s determined to isolate herself—saving everyone the trouble of befriending a dying girl. It’s a difficult task when cheerful optimist Giana insists on being Kate’s friend.

Kate’s resolve falters even more when curly-haired Kyler captivates her with his sweet melodies. As her emotional walls collapse, Kate realizes the people she’s been pushing away may be the ones giving her a reason to live. But it might be too late.

Check out the book trailer here!

Want to win a free copy? Visit each participating blog and find all 16 key phrases—2 in each fun fact about the author. Put them together and answer the question in the giveaway on Michelle’s blog for extra points! The giveaway is open to everyone no matter where you live!

Michelle Merrill (1 & 2)
Carol Riggs (3 & 4)
Shallee McArthur (5 & 6)
Kelley Hicken (7 & 8)
Annette Larsen (9 & 10)
Rachel Pudelek (11 & 12)
Melanie Stanford (13 & 14)
Chantele Sedgwick (15 & 16)

Michelle Merrill loves kissing her hubby, snuggling her kids, eating candy, reading books, and writing first drafts. She names her computers after favorite fictional characters and fictional characters after favorite names. To learn more about her, visit

Fun Facts about Michelle:
5.      I’ve been married for 10 years. I met my hubby country dancing. He was good, I was bad, he could lead, I could follow…it was a great mix. He’s tall with light hair, blue eyes, and a smoldering smile. No, you can’t have him. He’s mine forever!!!

6.      I’m number 7 of 10 kids. Youngest girl. Lightest hair. Sparkly teeth…wait. That’s someone else. Dang.

We Need Diverse Books So Our Diversity Can Teach us Unity

May 1, 2014

I think by now most of us writers on social media have at least heard about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. I've loved seeing it all over the place, and it's made me think a lot about diversity and books and what they mean.

I'm a middle-class white girl. Where I live in Utah, that DEFINITELY puts me in a non-diverse situation. And believe it or not, I crave diversity. I want to know how other people live in ways that are different from me. I want to understand. It's a lot of why I write. It's even more of why I read. It's a lot of why I ended up flying, alone, halfway around the world to Ghana in college.

I've never had a moment while reading fiction where I couldn't identify with a character, even when that character was a mute Moroccan boy, as in one of my favorite books The King of the Wind. BUT. I also never had moments where I thought I COULDN'T be that person in a book. As a white girl in a fiction world full of white girls, I'd seen myself there. Because of that, I came to understand that I could also see myself in different types of characters if I wanted to.

There are a lot of people, especially young ones, who never see themselves in a book, and so it never occurs to them that they CAN be like the people in the books they read, whether those people are the same or different. And that is where the lack of diversity becomes a problem. It's hard for books to expand our minds when they don't get into our minds in the first place.

When I wrote my book, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, I picked the name of the main character specifically because it flowed well in the title. I didn't have a clue who Genesis/Gena was at that point. But her last name-- one syllable, to offset the long first name-- led me to create her as girl who was one-quarter Chinese. As I wrote more of the book, various things also led me to give her a struggle with anxiety. Because of the backstory of Gena's world, I realized there would naturally be a variety of people there. So her best friend is Hispanic. Her dance teacher is French Algerian and Muslim. Her father's best friend is African American. Because of the backstory of the world, mental illness is an issue several characters face.

I wasn't trying to write a diverse book. In fact, I feel uncomfortable even calling it a "diverse book," because I don't necessarily feel like it is. The world I created called for certain things, so I put them in there. And you know what? Almost none of those diversities I created has a major bearing on the plot (though there are a few that do). Most of it is so subtle, you wouldn't even realize it. I don't even think I realized it while I wrote it, and honestly, I'd say it's still pretty heavily based in my own middle-class-white-girl type of world.

But in Gena's world, two cultures are fighting over, essentially, their diversity. They can't see things from the other side's point of view. And that's part of what fiction is all about. If books teach us to see ourselves in someone who's just like us, then they open us up to the possibility of seeing ourselves in someone who ISN'T just like us.

My friends, this is just one reason why we need diverse books. So everyone can see themselves, feel understood, and then be able to extend that understanding to someone else. So we can learn from someone who has a different life experience than us. So we can use our very diversity to become united.

Book Cover and ARC Giveaway for The Unhappening of Genesis Lee!

Apr 28, 2014

You guys...IT'S MY BOOK COVER!

I'm so excited to share what the designer at Sky Pony did with the cover for The Unhappening of Genesis Lee. It's so beautiful, I totally fell into the stare-at-my-cover-on-the-screen-all-day trap. I love it and I'm thrilled to share it with you all! Hafsah at IceyBooks was awesome and pulled together a great cover reveal for me, and I'm even giving away an ARC over there!

Go forth and enter, and admire, and (if you'd be so willing) share!

Altering Perceptions of Mental Illness-- It's a long road

Apr 22, 2014

It's no secret that many writers deal with mental illnesses of some kind. For some reason, the creative mind seems particularly prone to them. And despite the fact that many of us are trying to change our perception and others' perceptions about mental illnesses as actual illnesses, I think we still have a ways to go.

Author Robison Wells has been very open online about his several mental illnesses, and I am personally so grateful to him for that. Why? Because I deal with mental illness too. Rob's are much more severe than mine. So severe that he's in deep medical debt. And right now, his friends and fellow authors have banded together to help him. Before I go any farther, please go check out the IndieGoGo campaign to help raise this money-- not only can you get an anthology of fabulous work by well-known authors like Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells, but a host of other things as well. You'll be helping a fellow writer and human being through a financially-devastating illness.

Now, I'll get a little personal. I've dealt with episodic depression and anxiety for years-- in fact, there was a point in my life where I didn't even realize that's what it was. But looking back, I recognize it now. For me, it wasn't until after my second child that it got bad enough for me to recognize it in the moment. Four months after my baby was born, I sat in the car with my children, trying to cry as quietly as possible so they wouldn't hear, and no longer saw a point to life.

I wasn't quite suicidal, but it was a wake-up call. I called my doctor that afternoon, and was diagnosed with postpartum depression the next day. I was given a number for a psychiatrist and a prescription for anti-depressants. Driving home, I had a strange mix of relief that I could treat what was wrong with me, and shame. Shame for the pills in that little white bag on the seat next to me. I should have been able to fix this. Why couldn't I just control my emotions, change my attitude, and make it better? Why was I so weak that I needed a pill for my damn EMOTIONS?

You see, even as a sufferer of a mental illness, I didn't see it as an illness. I simply saw myself as weak.

Looking back now, I'm still not sure if my depression was true postpartum, the beginnings of my multiple sclerosis symptoms, or some mixture of both. I don't think it really matters. Whether it was hormones screwing with my brain, or my immune system eating away at the nerves directing my emotional currents, it was out of my control. My physical MS symptoms started within the next month and a half, and after I was diagnosed, we discovered that some of my MS symptoms were being exacerbated by the side-effects of my anti-depression meds. Cautiously, I weaned myself from them under my doctor's care, and watched as my MS symptoms abated completely.

Fred and George, my new zebra finches, are helpful as
my cheerful little therapy birds.
I've now been unmedicated for my depression and anxiety for a year, but the illness hasn't gone away. I have a suspicion that the nerves damaged in my initial MS attack are permanently scarred, because the things that can trigger my other MS symptoms to resurface temporarily-- heat, tiredness, stress, eating certain foods--trigger my mental symptoms as well. I'm managing with alternate therapies like therapy animals, real therapy, meditation, diet changes, etc., but there are days when the anxiety especially renders me incapable of doing things.

It's exhausting, mentally, physically, and financially, to look at the rest of my life and realize I'll likely struggle with this forever. That I'll have to be very careful with the medications I take for it. But I've finally gotten to the point where I realize it IS an illness. We tend to view illness in our world as something physical. Something obvious to others-- a cough, a rash, glassy eyes, hot forehead. Emotions and mental processes, however, are invisible. And we are taught they can be under our control if we just try hard enough. But when the brain is broken-- when chemicals malfunction, when nerve signals short-circuit--it's invisible, it's "in our head." It's hard to understand that just because it's in the brain doesn't mean we control it with our thoughts or willpower.

I've realized there's not much I can say to really remove the stigma of mental illness. Even I, who thought I truly viewed them as real illnesses, still felt shame over my own lack of control when those illnesses took me over. Even I still feel guilt on the worst days for being unable to do the things I want and need to do, for putting pressure on my family, for crying in public. It can be hard for an outsider to distinguish mental illness from other things like laziness, drugs, or just "being weird and crazy." And I think that's why it's so hard to change the stigma, to change the fact that we often view mental illness as craziness, laziness, or the patient's own fault.

My friends, I know some of you deal with these illnesses. If you don't, I guarantee you know someone who does. I know it can be strange and uncomfortable to see yourself or someone else going through it, and hard to change our thought processes. To all of you, I say, be kind. Be kind to the ones you know. It's hard, when you yourself don't understand what's going on in their head. You don't have to understand. Start by being kind. Give people the benefit of the doubt instead of a judging glance. Be kind to yourself-- which, if you're the one suffering, is the hardest thing of all. Do what you can to let go of guilt and self-judgment.

And, if you can, check out the anthology and support a fellow human being who needs it.

The Stories That Mean the Most to Us-- Cover Reveal for Michelle Merrill's Changing Fate

Apr 3, 2014

The stories we write always have meaning to us-- they always strike some kind of personal note that we hope readers feel, too. But sometimes, there's a particular story that is really powerful to us. The characters, or the theme, or the concept, or the whole story wrapped up together is more than just a meaningful story. It's a part of our soul. Those stories are the most terrifying to share, but often the ones we need to share the most.

So today, I'm so happy to share my friend Michelle's book. This is a story that means so much to her, and I'm so proud of her for having the courage to share it with all of you. Today is the cover release for her book CHANGING FATE. You can read more about what this book means to her over at her blog. Half of all proceeds from the book will be donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

All Kate wants is to live. Battling cystic fibrosis is hard enough, dying from it is even harder. When her mom moves them closer to the hospital in the middle of her senior year, Kate’s determined to isolate herself—saving everyone the trouble of befriending a dying girl. It’s a difficult task when cheerful optimist Giana insists on being Kate’s friend.
Kate’s resolve falters even more when curly-haired Kyler captivates her with his sweet melodies. As her emotional walls collapse, Kate realizes the people she’s been pushing away may be the ones giving her a reason to live. But it might be too late.

Michelle Merrill loves kissing her hubby, snuggling her kids, eating candy, reading books, and writing first drafts. She names her computers after favorite fictional characters and fictional characters after favorite names. To learn more about her, visit

Follow her on Twitter-

Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month: You Know Someone with MS. It's Me.

Mar 3, 2014

I've mentioned a few times on the blog that last year was a difficult one for me. Today's the day I talk about why. In April last year, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

I get usually two reactions when I tell people. Either a nod, an "Oh," and a blank look that tells me they aren't quite sure what the disease is; or a widening of the eyes and an "I'm so sorry!" exclamation that tells me they think I'll be in a wheelchair within five years. So with March being MS awareness month, I want to do my part to spread some awareness.

Multiple sclerosis is an auto-immune disorder. Basically, my immune system has become a zombie-- it eats my brain! Well, not exactly. Around every nerve is a protective coating, like the plastic around a wire, called myelin. My immune system sees myelin as a Bad Guy for some reason, and starts attacking it-- particularly the nerves in my brain and spinal cord. When this covering gets eaten away, the nerves can't conduct signals, and the nerves themselves can even get damaged.

For me, this showed up initially as a tingling in my fingertips, like they were constantly asleep. I noticed it last winter, and at first thought I had a pinched nerve. But then the tingling become a numbness and weakness that spread through my hand, making it difficult to do simple tasks I'd always taken for granted. It made its way up my arm, then down my side. And then it started on my right hand.

There were other things, too. What I had thought was late-onset postpartum depression I now believe was MS-related. I had extreme fatigue, so bad I woke up in the mornings and went back to sleep on the couch for most of the day. I started having mild problems with balance and weakness in my legs-- I could no longer do Zumba because I literally didn't have the strength. I even had odd things like being unable to recall words and having short-term memory lapses.

Blood tests came back clear. The doctor sent me to a neurologist to get an MRI to rule out the "scary" things-- brain tumor and MS. After having to insist on the MRI to a neurologist who passed off my symptoms as carpal tunnel, the diagnosis came through. I had lesions--spots--on my brain and spinal cord where the myelin had been chewed away.

Believe it or not, the first thing my husband and I did was drive from the doctor's office to our favorite sushi place for an "it's-not-a-brain-tumor" celebratory lunch. Because it could have been much worse.

But then there were more doctor visits, 3 days of IV meds, diet changes, more meds, new terminology, and over it all-- fear. Anger. My body had betrayed me. I wasn't supposed to get a disease that could disable me. I was supposed to never have to worry about being able to move and jump and run--and type my stories. For several months, I could barely do what I loved most and it completely terrified me.

I have what's called relapsing-remitting MS. I'll be fine for a while, and then my immune system will attack again. There's no way of knowing when, and no way of knowing how it will affect me. But it also means an attack will usually go away (though it can sometimes leaves permanent damage), either on its own or with treatment. It means that my type of MS is treatable, to an extent. Medications and other options that weren't available even ten years ago mean I don't have to face a downward spiral that ends only in permanent and complete disability.

MS is different for everyone. I currently feel healthier than I have in years. Most of my symptoms have completely disappeared, and I'm active and happy. Some have the disease worse than me, with harder symptoms and permanent disabilities. Some have it not as bad, with maybe only one relapse in their entire life. Some go from good to bad, or from worse to better. But all of us have hope because of continuing research.

This is my continuing story of MS, and each week in March, I'll be posting on a topic related to how it's changed my perspective. This isn't just about my particular struggle with this particular disease. It's about people all over the world who struggle with challenges. It's me wanting to open up about my story so others can better understand people who may be struggling around them-- and maybe understand their own struggles, too. I'm still trying to understand mine, so I hope this will even help me.

So, my friends, that's the plot twist that opened up in my life last year. It's been hard, and wonderful, and terrifying, and awe-inspiring. If you have questions, please ask, either here in the comments or through email! I'm eager and willing to talk about any and all of it to spread understanding. 

And if you can, please consider donating to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to help fund research and support programs that benefit everyone who has MS. The current treatments for MS are a huge blessing, but even those are still not 100% effective. Even better than a treatment would be a cure.

Becoming a Professional-- It's a Little Weird

Feb 25, 2014

I was lucky enough over the last two weeks to have two opportunities to teach some of the things I know about writing to a live audience. And let me tell you-- it's a little weird.

On the Queries panel with the lovely Peggy Eddleman
I actually LOVE teaching. I've taught preschool and I currently teach the adult Sunday school at my church. I also love to share what I know about writing to the world of the internets (whether or not that's a good thing depends on if I actually know what I'm talking about...). But for the first time, I sat on a panel at Life, the Universe, and Everything SFF symposium with other authors, introduced myself as an author, and taught/gave advice to a whole room full of eager writers. It was really cool, and really fun. And also weird.

Why is that, you may ask? Because all of a sudden, there was a table between me and other writers.

I'm still learning, too, after all. I went to some of the same panels and classes the other writers went to. But this year, some people saw me a little differently after seeing me on a panel. I was the professional, the Author-with-a-capital-A. Which I am, I suppose. I write professionally now, as in I get paid for it, as in I teach about it on the other side of the table.
I look so short next to Elana Johnson, Michael Jensen,
and David Powers King!

But in a lot of ways, I'm not any different than I was at last years' conference. I'm still writing books. I'm still learning about writing them. I'm still having confidence crises. I'm still making my husband roll
his eyes when I buy jewelry that reminds me of my book as a kind of talisman to wear while I write. So it felt a little weird to me to have people see me as the pro. I'm still just me. And I realized it's kind of the same with the authors I idolize-- they're still people, and they're still writers. Like me.

So, my friends, I guess what I'm saying is that not as much changes after getting a book deal as you might think. We're all the same on the inside-- we're all writers. I am curious, though-- which authors do you idolize, even if just a bit? Right now, I personally have a writer crush on Maggie Stiefvater. Go read The Scorpio Races, ya'll! It's brilliant. 

P.S. Did you know my first story I ever published was at age 16? And that, believe it or not, I'm still proud of that piece of crap? I wrote all about it here!

A Cover Reveal, A Kindle Giveaway, and The One and Only Time I was Tempted to Steal a Book

Feb 14, 2014

Today is Chantele Sedgwick's cover reveal of her YA contemporary fantasy, NOT YOUR AVERAGE HAPPY ENDING! I LOVE the covers for her books-- this one is a perfect complement to the first book!


Here it is!

"When Ash Summerland left the Academy of Magical Beings, he was sure he’d put his troubles behind him. But when his girlfriend, Kendall, is almost killed by an old enemy over something he knows little about, Ash is forced to confront the demons of his past if he wants to save his and Kendall’s future.
With his fairy magic fading and his djinn magic more powerful than ever, Ash isn’t sure he can stop the evil from closing in around him. Although Kendall is the only thing keeping him from going over the edge, if he can’t learn to balance out his magic and find a way to defeat his enemies once and for all, both his world, and the girl he loves will be lost forever." Coming March 3, 2014 from Crescent Moon Press.

In other news, today is the launch of the Fall Fourteeners, a fabulous group of YA authors debuting this fall, and we're holding a big, fat giveaway! We want to share our favorite ebooks--and a shiny new Kindle to read them on--with a lucky winner! So head on over and enter to win.

And finally, if you're interested in finding out about the one and only time I was tempted to steal a book (hint: it was worth over $3,000!), you can check out my first post at the Fearless Fifteeners! No, I'm not debuting in 2015, but the lovely Fifteeners made room for me in their ranks, and I'm happy to be part of another group of stellar authors!

Happy Love Day, friends, and see you next week!

Finding your voice after the publishing panic

Feb 6, 2014

So there's something I've heard before about getting published. It's that, once you get your first book deal (or second or third, I don't know how long it goes on, maybe forever for some people and maybe it never happens to others), there's a panic. There's a pressure. Suddenly, somebody wants something you wrote, and now they will want more-- and so you have to write more. And you have to write more better and faster. And you stare at the document full of a dozen story ideas you've had over the last few years, and you panic.

None of them are good enough. You are not good enough. You can't do this. People expect you to, there's a timeline, a deadline, and you have to deliver, and you don't know if you can. What if people hate your first book? Worse, what if people hate your second book, which means your first was just a fluke, which means you're a hack and you should just hide because you're writing that first draft of that second book right now and you already know it sucks and it's taking too long and you don't want anyone to read it, anyway.

It's kind of paralyzing. You spend a lot of time second-guessing yourself. You analyze everything you write to make sure it's done "the right way." You want to be original, but not too out there, and you don't know if you're doing that, or if you're doing anything right at all. Because the thing is, getting a book deal didn't suddenly make you a better writer than you were before. You've written a book before, but you've never written this book before, and it's hard as hell.

It all comes down to this: now that you have an audience, you stop listening to yourself.

But hopefully, you get to the point where you realize you've stopped listening. Maybe it takes you a week or a month or a year, but once you realize you've stopped listening, it's actually pretty easy to start again. You turn off Twitter with its helpful but overwhelming tweets on how to write EVERYTHING. You turn off Facebook with its wonderful friends who can't wait to read your book. You'll turn them back on again, because you love those things and those people. You appreciate them, and you need them. But not right now.

Right now, you need silence and you need a blank page. You need to look at that new story and find yourself inside it. That's the story you were missing-- the one that belongs to you, not to the people you think you have to impress in the future. This is what agents and editors mean when they tell you to write what you love, not to the trends. Let the story be what it will be, and let it be yours.

Shut the door. Forget the world. And write the book.

The Importance of Family in a Writer's Life

Jan 23, 2014

Something pretty thrilling happened over the weekend-- my book went up on Goodreads! It was one of those flailing-squealing-oh-my-gosh-look-I'm-an-author moments I'm still kind of shocked I get to experience. Then, I clicked a little link on the Goodreads page...and found my book up for pre-order on Amazon. I DIED.

So folks, if you feel so inclined, you can now add THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE to your to-read list! Or, you know, pre-order it. ;)

Well, after that blatant self-promotion, I can move on to the rest of the blog post. :)

Right now, I'm sitting in my brand new office with a toddler on my lap, drinking apple cider herbal tea and feeling ridiculously happy. See, it's been a good long while since I've had my own "space." Living in small apartments with two kids doesn't leave much room, so I've been a laptop nomad for years now. My computer rotates around the house all day, and so does my writing space. It was hard for me to focus and get in the writing groove.

So my wonderful family helped me out. We moved the two kids into one bedroom, which they're ridiculously excited about, and made the smallest bedroom my office. You guys, I HAVE SO MUCH SPACE. And it's specifically for me. And it's all full of decorations and pictures and things that inspire me. Already, it's helping me focus, and I'm so happy.

And it's all because of my family.

Sometimes, we focus so much on the writing part of our lives (online, at least) that we forget to mention the people that make it possible. So, here's my mention. My husband has believed in me from day one. Before day one, actually-- he's the one who encouraged me to get back into writing seriously. He's given me encouragement, time, space, and flowers of celebration. He's put up with writerly mood swings and taken days off work so I could go to writing conferences. Basically, he's my knight in shining armor.

My kids don't understand what I'm doing yet. But they have been so flexible and willing to let mommy have her writing time. They've driven me crazy, and also kept me from the edge of crazy. They've reminded me how important and how precious and how incredible real life is. They keep me grounded, humble, and laughing.

I know not everybody has the world's most supportive families. It can be hard to keep doing what you love when you don't have lots of support, and for that, I salute you people. But no matter what, try to take a moment today and be grateful for the people you love. Be grateful to them-- show them or tell them that. Because in the end, when books get the final rejection or go out of print or the reviews all come in at 2 stars, your family will still love you. And that is what matters most.

So, my friends, who is your support network? Have you told your family you love them lately? I'm off to tell mine right now.

This is why all writers are amazing-- whether pubbed, self-pubbed, or un-pubbed

Jan 14, 2014

There are a lot of ups and downs to being a writer. One minute, we're convinced we've written the next Harry Potter, and the next we want to bury the monstrosity we've created in the backyard. We have the thrill of completing a novel, and the struggle of revisions, and the excitement of submission, and the agony of rejection. We have the mind-blowing screaming moment of joy when we finish a book or get an offer of representation or a book deal or release our own book on Amazon, and then we have the crippling panic of writing the next book and being terrified we will never again be able to write something worth reading.

And sometimes we forget. We forget how far we've come. We forget how amazing we are.

My brother-in-law told me something over the holidays that I'll never forget. I'd announced my book deal to family, though I couldn't announce online yet because the contract wasn't final. Amidst all the congratulations and joy, my BIL said (and I paraphrase), "You know, this is so amazing. Nobody stood over you and told you to write every day, or made you keep going through all the rejections. This was all you, working hard and determined to reach your dream. And you did it."

Did you read that, people? Did you see yourself in it? I hope you did.

After he said that, I stood in the kitchen for a moment, dumbfounded and full of pride. Because he's right, and I'd forgotten it.

Did you know that as a teenager, I decided I would never write a novel? My plan was to stick to short stories, because a novel was hard. It was huge. It was impossible. And now, fifteen years later, I had forgotten that there was a time when I deemed something impossible and I had accomplished it. Several times, in fact. Because I worked hard and pushed through hard times and found joy in the good ones.

Four writers, all in different stages of our dreams, all amazing.
Congrats to Sara B. Larson on her book DEFY.
Every writer in the world is the same in a way. Whether pubbed, self-pubbed, or un-pubbed, we are astounding examples of tenacious hard workers, dreamers who are doing the impossible of actually trying to make their dreams come true.

We forget that. We focus on what we haven't yet accomplished-- we don't have an agent, or a book deal, or a number one slot on Amazon. We forget that there was a time when we didn't write. When it was too hard or we were too busy or we just hadn't ever thought about doing something so mind-boggling as attempting to communicate our souls through 300 pages of words.

Try not to forget that. Wherever you are in your pursuit of your dream, you did it yourself with no overlord but your own determination. And that makes you one of the rarest and most amazing people in the world.

So, my friends, what are your dreams? How far have you come? And if you don't mind, can you hop on over to congratulate a writer just like you whose book, THE GATHERING, comes out today? I'm so thrilled for Randy Lindsay!

It's 2014! AKA How to Manage the Busiest Year Ever

Jan 2, 2014

Farewell to 2013, a year that was a fascinating combination of screaming-jumping-dreams-coming-true and crushing-depression-worthy-unexpected-but-turning-out-okay kinds of things. I haven't talked much about the second part here on the blog (or anywhere, for that matter), but I may eventually. Suffice it to say, it was a year of growth and change.
Fireworks! Celebration! Happy 2014!

And now-- it's 2014! There's a whole year ahead that's a blank slate of possibilities, some of which will be good and some bad. For me, it means my book is coming out THIS YEAR. Which fills me with all sorts of squeeing and panic attacks. I'm so thrilled that my publisher wanted to release my book earlier than expected. It's that much sooner that I get to share my story with you all.

But it's also THAT MUCH CLOSER. Which means the typical publishing time schedule I'd expected isn't applying here. Already, we're talking about covers and flap copy on top of things like edits due soon. Already, I've joined the awesome group of Fearless Fifteeners (authors releasing books in 2015-- or late 2014 for me). Already, I'm putting together a marketing plan that loads up my 2014 with all kinds of shenanigans.

I'm facing edits for Unhappening, marketing for Unhappening, and writing a new book all RIGHT NOW. And let's just say my poor hubby had to deal with a frantic, panicky me for far too long last night. But I woke up this morning non-panicky. Know why?

Because these are all the things I wanted, and I get them. And because I have a plan. No New Year's Resolutions for me-- I've got a Plan instead. Here it is:

Splitting my brain apart to try to do everything at once is what induces those lovely frantic moments. So instead, I'm going to focus. At some moments, some things become the obvious priorities. On those hours, or days, or weeks, that's what gets my focus.

In addition, I'm going to focus on the THINGS I CAN CONTROL. Being run through the publishing submission ringer has shown me just how much is out of my control. And nothing I can do will change that, so I'm going to (try) not to worry about it.

This seems like the opposite of the above, but hear me out. In all of my "categories" of things to do (mom-ing, wife-ing, editing, writing, marketing, me-ing), I can do one small thing every day. Write one new sentence. Edit one page. Tweet one person. Play one round of Candyland with my kids. Give my husband one thorough kiss. Sweep the kitchen floor. Sometimes, one of these categories is going to take precedence, and I'll be doing that focus thing a lot more heavily, so this part of the plan is subject to frequent change. But I can still preface a marathon editing session with fifteen minutes of Zumba. I can take a break from scrubbing down a neglected house to write a blog post. There are lots of little spaces in the day, and I can make sure I fill them.

That focus thing? That one-thing-a-day thing? Yeah. Odds are, I'm going to mess those up a bit. So what? Things change, life throws curveballs, I have days where all I want to do is go on a Star Trek:TNG Netflix binge. Bring it on. It doesn't mean I've failed. It means that's life, and I need a break, and I don't have to feel guilty because of it. I give myself permission to let go of the plan occasionally with no guilt, so I can jump back into it with gusto.

So, my friends, what does your 2014 look like? What are your goals or plans or hopes or dreams? More writing or revising? Some querying? Some self-pubbing? Some books on submission? Some real-life things that really matter to you? Do tell!

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