Author Business & Publishing, Fiction Blog, The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles

My Five Greatest Achievements as an Author (So Far!)

I have a habit of being too hard on myself, as well as focusing too much on what’s ahead and not properly celebrating what I’ve accomplished. It’s been nearly six months since The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) was released – but in independent publishing time, it feels like six years.

While my readership and sales figures are still small, I do have a few notable accomplishments that I want to share. Partly, I’m posting these to validate my work to myself (and you, potential readers). And partly, I want to show aspiring or fellow authors that, even early on in your career, there are still plenty of cool moments to be had.

The bookstore proof!

1. My book is being taught in a university classroom.

That’s right! On this very day (yes, I checked the syllabus), The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) is the subject of analysis in Dr. Charles French’s Contemporary Fiction class at Muhlenberg College. Dr. French and I have been ‘friends’ in the WordPress world, he read and enjoyed my book, and picked it up for this course – and his science fiction course this summer!

2. My grandma, who doesn’t often read fiction, read my book.

So did my mom (who rarely makes time for reading), my aunts and uncle, and several other friends and family members. The fact that many ‘non-readers’ in my life made time for my novel makes me incredibly proud. The fact that many of them have vowed, earnestly and enthusiastically, to read the second book makes me even prouder.

3. I received my first five-star review from a non-friend/family member.

And a few more since! As much as praise from friends and family means to me, it’s extremely validating to get a strong review from someone who A) has never met me, B) has no reason to like or support me, and C) had to have found my book through natural channels, my marketing efforts, or all on their own. Nothing says, “I can actually do this author thing” like kudos from a 100% unbiased source.

the cogsmith's daughter
Holding my book for the first time (after learning to format it myself) was another huge win!

4. My first “Super Fan” found me.

As authors, we dream about that reader who will devour our work, then seek us out on social media. Well, I had that happen. And, as a bonus, she also reviewed The Cogsmith’s Daughter, signed up for my email newsletter, and featured my book on her blog. An even bigger bonus? She’s an illustrator with a penchant for steampunk, and if our friendship grows, I see some commissioned art in my (and my readers’) future!

5. My book is available at the Yale University library. 

Okay, this one is all thanks to my husband – or as he likes to call himself, my ‘manager.’ All it took was one request from him, as a student, and The Cogsmith’s Daughter is now in a university library system with a global reach. For those of you who want to read my novel (but don’t want to shell out any cash – I get it, no judgment), feel free to do the same. I’ll still get royalties on the copy the library buys, and arguably more valuable, I’ll gain a wider network of readers. Fellow authors, I highly recommend you and your own readers do the same!

So you see? Even at an early stage – when your social media following is teeny-tiny, your book has only a handful of reviews, and your sales are no where close to supporting you (or even your cat) – being an author still rocks.

Celebrate every little win, and embrace every new experience. Millions of people never even finish a book, let alone publish one. You’ve done (or will do!) both, and you deserve every awesome thing that happens to you along the way. Enjoy it and don’t be afraid or ashamed to share your joy with others. The people who matter will be over-the-moon happy for you.

You have full, uninhibited permission to brag. What are your biggest accomplishments as an author? What goals are you working towards, and how can your readers help you reach them? What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

On Independence Day and the Gift of Writing

lakeOver the weekend, Daniel and I accompanied my parents to Stockton Lake to celebrate Independence Day. (For those of you following me during Camp NaNoWriMo 2015, Baby Groot came, too!) This was Daniel’s first Independence Day, and while he still hasn’t memorized The Star-Spangled Banner, he had a blast watching the fireworks over the lake and ogling at the almost-embarrassing amount of patriotism. Seriously, our campground had two patriotic parades (one for decorated golf carts and one for decorated house boats) and fellow campers blasted American-themed country music songs from said golf carts and house boats and trailers, too.

Beyond having to say “Because ‘Merica” to my immigrant husband a few dozen times, this weekend was a bit odd for me. First, as with all the moving-induced insecurity, I have no idea when and where I will be for Independence Day next year. However, I imagine I will not be able to make it back to the Midwest for our lake tradition. I hope I’m wrong. Second, my blanket excuse for all things moving and “real life” related has been “I’ll do it after 4th of July weekend.”

Guess what time it is?

Luckily, I think I’m ready to tackle the big to-do list. After a relaxing weekend, I’m feeling recharged and prepared to face the challenges in front of me. For me, the lake is one of the most inspiring places. Gorgeous nature, eclectic people, and sensory overload — what more could a writer want? During this trip, Daniel took pictures to document his experience, and I found myself trying to memorize every detail.

lake 2I’ve been doing that a lot lately — trying to memorize everything. Despite living in the same state my entire life and in the same house for nearly 15 years, I keep worrying that I’m going to forget things about my home. Will I remember the irises that sprout in the ditch? Will I remember the pattern of the chihuahua scratches on my door frame? Will I remember the sound of water bubbling through the creek at the end of the road? The inscription on the bridge?

I know that I won’t. Even with photographs and careful planning, five, ten, thirty years from now, I won’t remember all of these details. And that long from now, I will have new details to cherish and new memories to catalog. Life goes on, and the human mind files through everything, storing and tossing as appropriate.

That’s why writing is a blessing. Already, the essay I wrote about Stockton Lake is holding onto those memories for me, like a piggy bank just waiting to be cracked open when my neuron funds run short. It works for my mom, too, who gets to relive our favorite place right along with me every time she reads that essay. All I have to do is string words together on a page, and the things I want to remember and the feelings I have will come flooding back to me. It’s why readers love to read, why books, whether paper or electronic, will always be celebrated and shared.

We writers are more than just storytellers. We are historians. We are textual photographers. We are treasure seekers and keepers. We are the key-holders to the human memory, the collective human experience.

What will your words do for you, for your loved ones, for humanity today?

Fiction Blog, Writing Samples

Stockton Lake (A Creative Nonfiction Essay)

I wrote the following essay in spring 2012 in my university creative nonfiction workshop. Every year, my family and I go to Stockton Lake to celebrate Independence Day and watch the fireworks over the water. This year is especially important to me, as I am not sure when I will be able to participate in this tradition again — one of the bittersweet components of moving. I wrote this piece from a similar perspective — how I felt upon moving to college. I hope you enjoy it.


Stockton Lake

All of my childhood summers can be combined into one scene: a Friday night sunset over Stockton Lake. To me, sunsets always looked prettier from the bow of a Crownline speed boat. I would sit on my knees, crouched down so my dad could still see to drive, and grip the metal hand railings until my knuckles turned white. I would gaze at the shoreline, where tan rocks gave way to leafy, green trees. Over the trees hung the sun, looking to me like a giant orange, framed in pink and blue and yellow sky. Its light created a golden trail along the glassy water, from the rocky shore to the bow of the boat.

As the boat turned, I would let go with one hand and reach for the spray of water along its side, relishing in the cool mist soaking my hand. I always hoped there would be enough sunlight left to paint a rainbow streak across the spray, but there never was.  When I straightened and looked across our cove, I saw before me a sleeping playground. Darkness was coming, and as the sun dipped below the trees, they turned from green bodies to a solid black mass. But I knew that when I woke up on Saturday morning, the cove would be alive again.

I was right, every time. On Saturday mornings, after devouring a double chocolate chip Otis Spunkmeyer muffin and a taking quick detour to feed stale bread slices to the two-foot long carp at Mutton Creek Marina, I always found the cove alive. Jet-skis zoomed along at the entrance, jumping the wake of passing speed boats. Pontoon boats blasted Aerosmith and Motley Crue from an inlet on the left side of the cove. Where the cove forked in the back, anyone who knew anything about Stockton turned left for a place to splash and drink — or right for a place to fish and teach cousins how to ski.

My parents and I settled in one of these inlets, leaving the body of the cove for boats pulling inner-tubers or wake-boarders. Once my dad secured the anchor in the cove’s muddy bottom, we began our routine. My mom took over the front of the boat, stretching out along the white leather seats to tan; my dad hung off the ladder at the back of the boat, easing his way into the cool water. I jumped straight in, splashing him, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

My dad and I spent hours in the water. We played tag, chasing each other in circles around the boat and hiding by the propeller. We cleaned the boat with our feet, scrubbing with our toes until the dust and grime from the gravel roads were completely washed away. Sometimes Daddy pinched my calves with his toes and pretended that I had been bitten by a fish. I believed him, until I realized that the water was so clear that I could see his monkey feet reaching towards me under the green glow of the surface.

Eventually, my parents traded places, Dad soaking up the sun in the boat and Mom swimming in the water with me. If she just wanted to relax in the waves, Mom wore her lifejacket upside-down, like a diaper instead of a vest. But if she wanted to stretch out and swim, she grabbed a lime green, foam noodle from the boat’s storage compartment.

Instead of playing, my mom and I always talked while we swam, drifting further away from the boat as the conversations grew deeper. We counted the little, cerulean dragonflies that landed on our wet arms. We talked about the next competitive trail ride, and how my beloved mare refused to side-pass over logs. As I grew older, we began to discuss my transition to middle school and then high school and then college. The summer after my junior year of high school, I listed the majors I was considering: English, psychology, journalism. I named the colleges at which I might pursue these degrees: Pittsburg State, Emporia State, Baker University.

Eventually, every summer weekend came to an end. When I was little, these ends consisted of shaky muscles that desired stable land and sun-burnt skin that thirsted for Ocean Potion Aloe Vera Gel. I watched anxiously as Mutton Creek Marina grew closer, wanting nothing more than to scramble onto the dock and climb the hill back to our motor home. I was tired. I was burnt. And I was ready to go home.

Every time my dad steered our motor home across the Y Highway Bridge, which stretched over our section of Stockton Lake, and we took one last look at our playground, with its smooth, blue waters glittering in the sunlight, my mom began to cry. As a child, I never understood her sadness; I was always ready to move on to the next adventure. However, the summer before my freshman year of college, with nothing to look forward to but four more years of school, a stack of textbooks, and a cinderblock dorm room, I finally understood her grief.

For my mom, and now for me, Stockton Lake is not just a summer vacation spot. When we are nestled away in our cove at Stockton, protected by a wall of trees and a 25,000 acre mote, work and school and all of life’s stresses melt away under that big orange in the sky. Stockton Lake is our safe haven, where life means being serenaded by a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits cassette tape and rocked to sleep by a Crownline speed boat. But more than that, Stockton is the place where my mom spent her childhood, the place where we shared mine, and the one place where we will always regain the peacefulness of those years.

The last time I left Stockton Lake, I didn’t watch anxiously for Mutton Creek Marina. Instead, I looked over my shoulder and gazed at our cove, watching as the tree line grew smaller behind me. The sun was setting, turning the sky pink and creating that streak of shimmering gold up to the stern of our boat. As we took our final turn out of the cove, I leaned over the side of the boat and let the mist fly through my fingers. And on that last Sunday afternoon, I found there was just enough sunlight left to hit the silver spray and create a rainbow.