Stop and Look

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I have started a million blog posts this month and swiftly deleted them all for being manic nonsense that would no doubt terrify anyone who stumbled upon them. That’s what happens when the vision you had for your life–a vision that you were slowly bringing to life–suddenly crumbles, leaving you with absolutely no idea what comes next. (I’m being dramatic–sort of).

And I have to know what comes next. I have to know so that I can meditate on it and obsess over it and live it out in my own head until the day the future actually arrives. It was working so far, this whole living in the future thing. Or so I thought. Now, the things that are causing me stress and anxiety and fear are forcing me to do something else too. Actually live in the moment for once.

Living. In the now. With my students. With my dog. With my boyfriend. With my books. I’m writing in short bursts, as if writing is just this quirky hobby that I do on my lunch break. As if I’m starting over. And for the past month this thought has absolutely terrified me. Starting over? I can’t start over. Not creatively. Not financially. But suddenly I have no choice. And I can choose to be scared or I can choose, for the first time, to give up some control–okay, complete control–and stare into the unknown with excitement and an open mind.

Choosing excitement, choosing to have an open mind does not erase my anxiety but it does make it feel less life threatening. It does make it easier for me to acknowledge that it’s there and then go about my day. It doesn’t stop me in my tracks quite as often. But when it does I try not to get lost in it. Instead, I try to breathe, to look around, and see all of the beautiful things in my life. Relics of all the hard work and long days. Relics I can actually enjoy now that I’m finally being forced to stop and look.

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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-7

I hold my breath and then I venture inside. A latex bubble floats in the center of the bowl. I lean against the wall, watching it twist. My survival rule about always doing the scary thing was not created with condom-clogged toilets in mind. Maybe it’s a metaphor. Maybe it’s a sign. I stare closer but then I start gagging the same way Josie was. And I realize that it isn’t the universe trying to test me or send me a message. It’s a condom in a fucking toilet and this is my life now.

Suddenly, I’m sliding down the wall. I land on the floor with a thud, my back pressed to the hard surface as I try to keep everything inside me from collapsing too. My lungs are the first to go, the smell of the stagnant toilet water making them clench. The dam in my tear ducts and the back of my throat goes next. The rush forces my lips apart and I cover my mouth, not letting myself make a sound. I barely sniff, shaking as I try to cry as silently as possible.

Because it hurts to feel it all over again—losing the restaurant, losing my father, losing the only purpose I had for anything.

And because this is where David said I’d end up. And then I challenged him to a duel. A duel I’m in very serious danger of losing if I can’t stop the storm inside me.

But maybe I don’t want to stop it.

Maybe this time I want to be swept up, torn apart.

Maybe that’s what I need.

Don’t listen. It’s lying.

I close my eyes, imagining the sounds of the restaurant, the smell of my food coming out on steaming plates, the tastes resting on people’s lips. On my own.

That’s the truth. That’s who I am.

Not this. This pathetic puddle.

You are fearless. You are strong.

You are fearless. You are strong.

I steal my breath back, chanting the words over and over in my head. Until it’s not such a fight to remember, to believe it’s true.

It is true. I am fearless. I am strong.

I am fearless. I am strong.

I rise to my feet, catching my reflection in the bathroom mirror as I scrape the tears from my cheeks. Then I stand over the toilet, staring down into the bowl. At a fucking condom.

I take a deep breath, reaching for the plunger.

Because this is my life. And. I. Can. Do. This.

 

Pen&Xander.v9

Available here!

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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-6

Beneath the light whistle of the wind, crickets chirping, I say, “You’re a good friend.”

She ignores the comment, sitting on the lid of an old paint can. “It’s your turn.”

I sit down next to her. “I’m ready.”

She narrows her eyes. “Okay, for all the marbles this one’s a two-parter. One truth and one dare.” She stares at the street, cheeks burning.

When she faces me again mine are too.

“Truth,” she breathes. “Do you want to kiss me?”

I don’t look away or even blink. “Yes.”

She doesn’t look away either. “Dare.” She swallows, leans in. “Do it.”

My hands move first, trusting that the only way to make them stop shaking is to press them to her skin. My thumbs graze her cheeks, fingers in her hair. It’s soft and she’s warm and for a long time I just look at her, closing the space centimeters at a time while I take in the lashes that are stuck together by mascara, the birthmark buried under her left eyebrow, the small dimple on her chin. I stare, sorting every piece into things that feel good and things that hurt like hell, into things I never want to forget and things I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I never have to.

But before I have a chance to savor those first few breaths slipping between her lips, they’re pressed against mine, falling and climbing their way back up. I taste her lipstick, her tongue, and it makes me dizzy. Her hands are on my knees, pinning me there, and then they’re on my waist, on my shoulders, both of us gripping each other like we’re clinging to the edge of a cliff. Afraid of falling off. Or hoping that if we do, we’ll fall together.

Suddenly, Pen stops moving.

She stops breathing, my wild heartbeat the only sound.

I open my eyes and she’s not staring back. She’s staring at the street. At the car parked in front of Angel’s house, cigarette smoke slithering up from the open window, flesh and ink viper flexed against Jago’s forearm as he hangs it over the side of the door.

I’m on my feet and so is Pen. She shudders, angry, and unafraid. But I’m terrified. And not just of Jago seeing me here but of Jago seeing her. I don’t know how long he’s been watching us but I can tell by the way his mouth twitches that he knows who she is. To Ignacio Prado. To me.

The engine purrs as the car pulls forward. Just in time for Angel to step outside. For Jago to say hello to him too.

“Get inside, Pen.”

She straightens, shoulders heaving.

“Pen…”

“No.” Her stare sharpens. She charges down the steps. “He’s not gonna fucking do this.”

Angel wrenches her back. “Are you out of your mind?”

My heart races.

“Stay away from us!” Pen shouts, trying to tear herself from Angel’s grasp. “Stay away from the restaurant. Fucking stay away!”

She seethes but the faster her breaths, the more transparent she becomes. Beneath the anger, beneath the shock, her eyes glisten with something like fear. And it’s all my fault.

Jago hangs his head back, a whistle cutting between his smile. He leans on the gas, letting the engine growl, and then he speeds off.

Pen glares until he rounds the corner and then she finally lets Chloe pull her inside. I stay put, afraid of facing Angel. I know Jago’s been following me and because I wasn’t being careful I led him right to Angel Prado’s house. To Pen. Her rage wasn’t directed at me but what she doesn’t know is that it should have been.

“I’m sorry, Angel. I didn’t mean for—”

“It’s not you,” Angel stops me. “It’s…” he shakes his head, “it’s not you.”

Pen&Xander.v9

Available here!

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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-4

“I’m fine.” She hides her face, stepping to the window.

I follow, her staring into the night, me staring at her. “You know…you don’t have to be.”

She glances at me, confused. “Just because you’re the only person at the restaurant who’s ever seen me cry doesn’t mean you know me.”

I look back over my shoulder, Lucas and Struggles causing some kind of ruckus in the hallway. “Maybe they don’t either.”

She presses the heels of her hands to her eyes again, quiet for a long time. Then she says, “He could have just fired me.” She shakes her head. “He didn’t have to erase me.”

It isn’t just the faint tremble in her voice—I’m not sure what it is exactly. Maybe the room, bigger now with just the two of us in it. Or maybe I’m just really seeing her for the first time, the parts of her she doesn’t wear to the restaurant. But I feel like whatever threads have been holding her together are ready to snap. She feels it too, which is why she’s trying so hard to not let me see, to not let anyone see.

She looks up, tears drying on command. “I shouldn’t be talking to you like this.”

The creak of the door pulls my gaze.

“Did you find those box cutters?” Chloe asks. “They’re all waiting downstairs.”

I grab the box cutters off the floor and then I find Pen’s reflection in the glass one more time.

I want to tell her that I understand. What it’s like to feel invisible; to feel like all you’re good for is forgetting. Even though I’ll always remember her like this. Bare. Beautiful. But I don’t say a word. She seeks my eyes within the glass and I’m silent. And then, even though leaving is the last thing I want to do, I turn and go.

 

Pen&Xander.v9

Available here!

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2018 Goals

2018

2017 Goals

  1. Buy a Home
  2. Finish Pen & Xander
  3. Start THE BOOK (aka Maite & Phoenix, which was temporarily shelved because of *this*)
  4. Hire a website designer
  5. Create paperbacks for my backlist

Goals Accomplished: 2/5

The most life-changing year for me professionally so far has been 2015. That was the year I stopped being invisible and people started buying my books. 2018 is going to be just as life-changing. Why? Because I said so…and because I have been very meticulously putting things in place so that I am more than ready for the opportunities that will inevitably come my way (again, inevitably, because I said so).

This year I am going to find an agent. I am going to get a traditional publishing deal. I am going to step even further outside of my comfort zone. I am going to take the necessary steps to eventually become a full time author. And these are the new items on my to-do list that will help me get there:

1. Finish TWO novels
This goal is a BIG one. It usually takes me about eight months to write one novel from start to finish. This year I’ll be starting and completing two. I’ve already begun writing the first in a new series and hope to finish the first draft of that project by April. Meanwhile, I’ll also be drafting another contemporary novel in the Nacho’s Tacos universe. It will focus on one of the restaurant employees and a new character who shares his love of music. It’ll be paired with a novel soundtrack and *hopefully* be ready for release by August/September.

2. Query a dystopia/fantasy series
This year taught me a very important lesson about creative work–this industry is volatile and nothing is guaranteed. I’ve realized that I shouldn’t put all of my eggs in one basket and that becoming a hybrid author might be able to offer me some more stability. In other words, it’s time to branch out and more importantly, it’s time to reach a wider audience. The novel I’m working on now deserves a wider audience, which means I’m going to query for the first time in seven years. Wish me luck!
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3. Get an agent
I’ve been a lone wolf for a long time but I’m ready to take my career to the next level and reach more readers. Once I finish and polish my WIP I’ll be focusing my search on agents that represent POC authors and that champion diverse books. One of the reasons I was drawn to self-publishing all those years ago was because I wanted to write about characters who looked like me and shared my experiences–something I’d craved but rarely been able to find in books growing up. Now, traditional publishing has become much more inclusive and I finally feel comfortable enough to try to enter that space again. But the only way I’d be willing to give up some of the freedom I’ve enjoyed as an indie author would be to find the perfect partner–someone who believes in my stories and my characters as much as I do. Someone who understands the importance of positive and diverse representations of POC in all types of media. I hope to begin querying this summer and find my perfect match by the end of the year.

4. Hire a website designer
This was on my to-do list last year but then disaster struck and spending $2,000+ on a new website design didn’t seem that essential anymore. I’m hopeful that Pen & Xander will find an audience soon, which will drive sales to the contemporary novel I plan to publish in the fall. Then I might be able to direct some of that extra income to a fancy schmancy website design that better brands me and my books. It’ll also serve as a safety net when Amazon (which currently accounts for 90% of my total sales) inevitably makes another change to its system and/or guidelines that ends up harming authors.

5. Take professional author photos
This was another one of those non-essentials I had to cut from my to-do list last year. However, due to the fact that my only author photo looks almost nothing like me now–I haven’t had blonde hair in years–I think it’s time for an update. Hopefully, it’s something I can swing this fall when I’m updating my website too.

6. Sell a thousand copies of Pen & Xander
The first reviews are coming in and the feedback from readers has been really good so far. But I can’t expect this book to reach thousands of people based on word of mouth alone. That was a giant stroke of luck when it happened for TGIB series but this time I’m writing in a different genre, which means I might just have to find an entirely different audience. It isn’t going to be easy but one thing that will make the success of this book a lot more feasible is setting specific goals. That way as I experiment more with marketing I actually have a means of measuring that success. If you’ve already gotten your copy, thank you for helping me come one step closer to my goal! Need yours? Get it here.

7. Commit to a bi-monthly newsletter
Updating and maintaining my newsletter is just one of those methods I’ll be experimenting with to see if it increases sales. My first newsletter for 2018 will go out at the end of January and then I’ll be sending bi-monthly updates. They’ll include a blog post round-up, updates on my WIP, excerpts, and exclusive giveaways/freebies. Click on one of the free goodies below and get it emailed to you upon signup!

Newsletter-Song BonusNewsletter-Bonus CookbookBackmatter Newsletter Sign-up8. Create audiobooks for my paranormal romance series
This is another one of those goals that requires money. But I think it’s worth the investment and hope to begin the pre-production process this summer.

9. Connect with and learn from other authors
Because I have declared that 2018 will be the year I enter the mysterious world of traditional publishing, I’m already brainstorming ways to commemorate the experience and connect with other writers in the process. One of the key differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing is the level of transparency between and among the people involved in each industry. Indie authors are notoriously generous, community-oriented, and constantly giving away valuable information free of charge. The OGs learned as they went and then created blogs where they shared what they’d learned with the rest of us. Traditional publishing is much more opaque and therefore intimidating. As a hybrid author I want to be as open as I’ve been about my self-publishing journey and share the growing pains along the way.

10. Pay off grad school loans
Last year I bought my first home, which completely drained my savings. Once I finish building up my 3-month emergency fund all extra income will be put towards paying off these loans, which I vowed long ago would not haunt me for the rest of my life!
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11. Invest in my retirement
Once the student loans have been obliterated it’ll be time to look toward the future again and start maxing out my retirement accounts. If you’re following my blog because you’re hoping to make writing your full-time gig someday, please understand that as a traditional or self-published author you are technically self-employed. This means that it’s your responsibility to make sure all your ducks are in a row as far as retirement is concerned. Personally, I love reading and learning about finances. They’re such a huge part of being self-employed and a business owner, which is what you are as an author. I plan to blog on those topics more over the coming year.

And there you have it–my master plan! If you don’t have one yourself, you’re truly missing out on the forward momentum that a clear vision can bring to your life. So figure out what you want, identify actionable steps to make it happen, and then write it down. More specifically, somewhere you can see so that you can pause on those promises at least once a day, reminding yourself what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for.

You. Always, remember you’re doing it for you.

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