Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Galaxy Quest

I teach a workshop called “When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers” and it is based on a collection of stories – my own and other writers’ – of the things that can and do go wrong in the publishing world. There are so many elements involved in seeing a book move from idea, to manuscript, to submission, to revisions, to finished product. Because of all these complicated pieces, the opportunity for problems is as abundant as the steps are. Sometimes there are multiple challenges all with the same book. Sometimes these issues are just minor headaches, and sometimes they are enough to make you wonder why you ever thought being a writer was a good idea.

In my own little corner of the writing universe, I’ve had plenty of encounters with publishing speed bumps. I’ve had contracts cancelled due to one publisher buying out another. I’ve had a publisher accidentally send me a bill for what should have been my author’s copies. And I’ve had editors get ill, have family problems, and delay my revisions by months.  Most recently, I’ve had a book scheduled for release three times only to be delayed again because the original publisher is being bought out. It’s tough to go from preparing to celebrate the release of your book to being told, “We don’t really know when it will be released.”

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In a conversation with an acquaintance, I was explaining the most recent development with my book when he asked, “So why do you keep doing this?”

I didn’t even hesitate. “Because I can’t NOT write. I can’t stop.” And it’s the truth. I have stopped writing before for almost two years, and it nearly made me crazy. I tell people regularly that, even if I never made another dime from my stories, I would still keep writing and submitting. It’s my addiction. It’s what keeps me breathing and keeps my heart pounding. It is, very honestly, who I am. So in spite of all those speed bumps, I will never give up. I will never surrender.

There are only a few things I feel this much passion for. My family, obviously, is at the top of the list. Knowledge is another item on the list because I love learning. My pets, and really animals in general are also  high on my list. But writing is what fills my heart. It’s where everything comes together for me.  It’s why I search for detail in the mundane, why I listen for noises or voices that no one else pays attention to, and why even as I’m sitting in traffic, I’m creating a scene or writing descriptions in my head. It just is who I am.

When someone asks, “Why don’t you quit?” When I go through the occasional bout of self-doubt. When yet another speed bump surprises me and jolts me like I’ve been moving too fast, I might have a quick slip into that dark thought of giving up writing, but ultimately, my brain surges, my heart beats faster, and the passion takes over again. Never give up, never surrender.

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What’s the Definition of Insanity?

There’s a wise saying that reads: The definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over but expecting a different result!

I’ve also heard it said this way: If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

The message to me, my own interpretation, is that becoming stagnate is like digging a hole for yourself and then wondering why you can’t get out! I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating this recently for a variety of reasons. First, it’s getting to the end of the year and I tend to get a little reflective during this time as I look back on the past year and look forward to formulating my goals for the coming year. Second, the last year has been one that has forced changes on me. Some of these I have embraced and welcomed, while others I’ve gone into kicking and screaming and digging my heels into the dirt. Finally, I’ve made it a goal of mine to look for ways to improve as a writer, as a mentor, as a partner, as a friend, and as a person.  Change can’t happen when one is stagnant.

As I’ve looked back on the preceding 12 months, I’ve come to understand that the times I’ve struggled most are the times when I’ve resisted the obvious changes I needed to make. There have been so many good things that happened.  In many ways, this year has been one for the record books! My writing world has been filled with exciting events that continue to evolve even here in the final weeks. There was the sale of Death’s Kiss, the sale of a short story entitled Rita, the release of The Deepest Blue, and soon the release of Death’s Kiss. I participated in numerous signings, workshops, and conferences in 2013 – more than I ever have in years past. It seemed like almost every month I had something involving writing (other than my writing group) to participate in. Then came the opportunity to edit a book for one of my publishers, something I absolutely enjoyed and hope to do again! So many changes took place so quickly that sometimes I didn’t even realize they had happened. All of it required flexibility, organization, and the willingness to step outside my comfort zone – something most of us don’t like doing. But not all of the changes I faced were as easy to accommodate.

I had to let go of a lot this year: hopes that I held for myself and others for a number of issues. I know that sounds terribly cryptic, but the truth is, I can’t go into a lot of detail because it’s very personal, and it’s not just about me. Here is one example, though, that truly pushed my limits. I’ve had to let go of a friendship with someone whom I’d been close to for several years. I hate letting go of people I care about, whether through choice or through loss. I don’t give love easily, so when I commit, it’s with my entire heart and soul. Unfortunately, continuing to allow this person in my life was literally asking for continued pain and destruction. For reasons I will never understand, someone who claimed to love me and be my friend was working behind my back to undermine me and hurt me. I’m pretty much a nice person most of the time. I’m not a saint and I have my moments to be sure, but I don’t go out and deliberately try to hurt someone while simultaneously professing to be a friend to him or her. It required some drastic measures to accomplish, but I think I’ve successfully eliminated this individual from my life. It hurt  to do it, but it was a change that needed to be made.

And there are other changes as well. After holding firm to the idea of independence for so long, I’ve finally determined that I need to get an agent, and I am pursuing that even as I write this. After eight years in print, my first three books (the “Hey, Ranger” series) was taken out of print. I will always love those books and I hope one day to be able to do more with that series than the publisher was willing to do. After years of letting it languish, I update my website and I am proud to show it off now!

So what’s the point to all this? Anyone who is close to me will tell you that if you look up the definition of crazy, you’ll see my picture next to it. I move at a fast pace; I’m constantly busy; I’m writing more, editing more, helping other writers, and generally running around like a headless chicken. Things are in a constant state of change in my life: personally, writing-wise, and professionally as well. I don’t think I ever do anything the same way twice, and if that means I’m protected against crazy, well, I’m not sure I agree. But my definition of crazy is what’s keeping me happy, and as the new year approaches, I look forward to more of the same that won’t be the same!

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The Benefits (and Drawbacks) of Multiple Personalities

It’s a pretty well-known fact that writers are crazy. You have to have a certain level of mental imbalance in order to create people, bring them to life, and then tell stories about them. There are, in fact, books written on this subject (The Midnight Disease by Alice Flaherty being one of my favorites), but for my purposes, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve always written under my real name because, well, I just didn’t see any reason to do anything differently. Then I got talked into co-writing a very graphic crime/horror novel, and I began to worry that someone would see my name on KISS KISS BARK, then see it on BEAUTIFUL MONSTER, and mistakenly would assume they should be sold or shelved side-by side!

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Thus, it became clear that I needed to come up with a pen name – which I did and I’ve explained before, but just in case you missed it: My niece has always called me Aunt Mimi, and I had two Aunt Mimis growing up, so the name Mimi was a natural choice. Then I just added my middle initial and my maiden name and – voila! – pen name! And I love the fact that Mimi sounds so cute and innocent, and I use it for my horror writing! I’m twisted . . . what can I say.

It was fine for a while. I had two Facebook pages set up: the original one under my real name and one under my pen name. But then I started a new job, and time constraints led me to decide to limit my social networking time. I closed down the page for Mimi and focused on my original page instead.  Interestingly, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was spending the same amount of time on one page as I had been on two. I realized another thing: my other half wanted her own territory.

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Mimi wants her time, her space, her voice. So I’ve reopened Mimi’s Facebook page, and she has her own author page there as well. Mimi has her own email account, and now she also has her own Twitter account (@MimiAWilliams). And very soon, Mimi will have her own blog and her own website! Mimi is the channel for my darker side (come on, we all have one!), and she has been getting short-changed lately. Believe it or not, this makes so many things so much easier for me! There are very few people who think that we are actually two different people, so if I have friends who cross-over between the two personas, that’s just fine. This just makes it less of a challenge for me to keep my ideas straight, and it serves as an appropriate outlet for that darker element in me who also requires attention.

So you can friend me on Facebook at Kim Williams Justesen, the author page Kim Williams-Justesen, Mimi A. Williams (or MA Williams), and her author page Mimiloveshorror. You can tweet me at @kwjwrites, or@MimiAWilliams. My web site is http://www.kwjustesen.com, and as soon as Mimi’s page and her blog are up, I’ll send out word! OH – and we are both on Goodreads under our separate names.

There are things about the writing world that truly can make me crazy, but separating my two sides and giving them each a voice is making at least part of it a little less crazy than before!

Change of Seasons

The weather is beautiful – around 75 degrees with a slight breeze to keep things comfortable. Our family took an amazing vacation to San Francisco where we indulged in fabulous food, tourist attractions, and a whole lot of fun with each other. The first handful of raspberries have been harvested, and the nectarine tree is heavy with the hard, green fruit that will ripen into sweet, juicy treats.

My feet have the tell-tale tan of my golf sandals, (no, these are not my feet!)  sandal-tan and my skin is faintly browned (though I’m very careful with sunscreen to be sure). There are camping trips scheduled for July and August, a new patio to be built in my back yard, and so many long walks and longer drives to be taken.

Summer has truly arrived full force, and so I find myself struggling with an annual dilemma: outside vs. writing. I love summer, I love being outside, I love working in my garden, I love going for walks, I love driving with the top down on my Mustang,

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and I love heading off somewhere to watch the sunset. What I don’t like is sitting at the desk in my office. That, of course, means that it is difficult to write during the summer months, and as I have experienced before, I am struggling to make progress on my projects. I was feeling quite negative about this; in fact, I was pretty much beating myself up mentally and emotionally because I’ve fallen so far behind on my work-for-hire project and on the new young adult novel I’ve started.

I don’t like making excuses. The truth is that I’m making choices. I’m choosing other activities over writing, and I’m suffering the consequences of those decisions. So I’ve been seeking alternatives that might somehow allow me to enjoy my summer hours while still achieving my writing goals. One example of my compromise is this specific blog: I’m using my laptop while sitting in my back yard and enjoying the warmth and the birds teasing my kitties. Another switch I’m trying, for those times when my laptop is inconvenient or not an option, is going old school – handwriting in my notebook. It’s worked for me before, and the really important thing is that it takes away the technology excuse. Millions of books were written without benefit of electronic devices, and while I often get frustrated (because I can’t write by hand as fast as I type), I can still record thoughts, work forward on scenes, and continue to make progress even when my laptop isn’t available.

I also use a rewards system with myself to provide the proper motivation to get my writing done. If I know I really want to go to the farmer’s market on Sunday, then I have to have at least ten pages written by Saturday night. If I want to sit on the porch after work and enjoy the garden, then I need to have written for at least an hour the night before. I’m pretty good about holding myself accountable, but I’m even better at it when I let others know what my requirement of myself is. I tell my friends at work, but I also tell my husband and my kids. If they see me trying to get away with something without having finished my writing time, they are quite good at scolding, cajoling, and flat out harassing me to get done what I need to do.

I love summer, but it comes and goes (every year – go figure!), but writing is my passion. So I find ways to make it happen, instead of finding ways to make excuses. Okay – times up. I need to get an hour of writing done now so I can enjoy a long walk tomorrow night!

The Surprising Results of Going Public

People are funny critters. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll turn around and do something to show you that you really had no idea about them.

Back in July of 2012, I made a public statement about my mission and my purpose: Within 5 years, I’m going to make a living off my writing. Now, when I say this, let me be clear that I realize my books alone will not be enough necessarily. Then again, I could get really lucky, but that’s not entirely up to me. My plan includes things like: doing some work-for-hire that pays me to write, being very aggressive about marketing my books, teaching workshops and classes, and offering critique and mentoring services. All of this involves or is directly related to writing, and it was always part of the plan.

Recently, I put a post on Facebook about this public declaration, and I mentioned it again to certain family and friends. I brought it up for several reasons. First, in the past 8 months since I made my declaration, many good things have happened that have made me feel more secure than ever that this is not only a good call, but it’s the right one. I’ve had two books come out (one new, one rereleased), I’m finishing the final touches on a third book to come out this fall (The Deepest Blue), I’ve started doing work-for-hire that is sharpening my skills and helping me earn a little more money, and I’ve had some very positive feedback from another publisher on a fourth book. In February I taught a workshop that went very well, I’ve been invited to do several presentations in the coming months, and I’m being asked to start teaching writing classes again through LifeLong Learning at the University of Utah. The second reason I brought up my declaration was that I believe if you don’t restate your goals, it’s easy to forget you have them. It’s sort of the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy.

So yes, I went public on Facebook about my objective – and I was totally blown away at the responses I got and who gave them to me.

What caught me off guard the most were two writing friends – one of whom I truly consider a mentor – who pretty much said, “Are you crazy? You can’t make a living at this, obviously. We don’t, so how can you?” I’m sort of paraphrasing there, and to give proper credit, my mentor did come back later and say “If anyone can do it, I know you can.” But the initial response was sort of . . . well, shocking. One of the writers tolde me how many books over how many years he/she had written (I don’t want to give anything away), and how he/she had never been able to make a living off his/her writing by itself. One very sarcastic comment said “You’re much braver than I am.” My thought was, “Then why are you saying your a writer. Writers have to be brave just to do what we do in the first place.”

My initial reaction was – and still is to an extent – “Well, I will show you!” I am not only committed to doing this, but the more people tell me “You can’t” the more dedicated I am to proving them wrong! After a while, though, I began to understand their responses for what they were: their own fears on my behalf. In a way, I’m touched that they care enough about me to worry like that, but I am also just a tiny bit offended that I don’t get just a little more credit for having researched this and knowing what I’m getting into. It’s not like I just decided last July to become a writer. I’ve been doing this (for better or for worse) for 17 years. I’ve made many, many mistakes, and I’ve learned a great deal about this whole insane industry along the way.

It would be easy to think that I’ll never be able to succeed solely on my writing, but that was never what I committed to in the first place.I know that I will have to do more than rely on just my books. My mission is to have my “work” be writing-related. I will write, and I will still pray to the great gods of publishing to give me J.K. Rowling’s status. But I will also teach others, because I enjoy doing it and because I’m good at it. Mentoring has always been a huge aspect of my writing life, it’s just that now I will not do it for free because I’m tired of being taken advantage of. This is my career, my profession, and my LIVELIHOOD. What I do has a value, so I’m committing to be paid what I’m worth.

I have to say that I was equally surprised by the positive comments I received. Friends from around the world, some of whom I know only through Facebook, offered words of support and encouragement. They expressed their faith in me and told me I was doing the right thing by following my heart. Cousins and aunts and uncles all chimed in their support as well. One of the messages I received actually came by phone. The daughter of a friend of mine who had read Kiss Kiss Bark told me that because of me, she wants to be a writer when she grows up. Um – yeah. Tugged my heart strings. My family has long been supportive (for the most part, but that’s another blog for another time), and so my restatement of my objective was pretty much met with “Yeah, yeah. We know already,” but I guess that’s what I expected.

The point, I guess, is this: I make my goals public because I want the support. The surprise to me was that I needed to be challenged, too. Have someone say “You can’t,” only makes me yell, “Oh yeah? Watch me!” And as the good news continues to roll in, I will look forward to sharing it with everyone, whether or not they believe in me or support me. Like I said, aggressive marketing!

You Say You Want a Resolution . . . (with apologies to the Beatles)

new yearFor the past six years at this time, I have made public my writing resolutions. So here we go again – a new year and a relatively new round of resolutions. First, though, here are last year’s offerings and the results there of:

1) I will finish the YA novel currently entitled “Death Kiss” and start submitting it by this summer. Check this one off. I did finish and I did begin submitting. It is currently sitting on the desks of two different agensts, waiting for word on its fate.

2) I will start working on the collaborative projet with Jared (assuming he finishes his other one!) and have it completed by the end of the year. We never quite got to this, but we did sell Beautiful Monster and are awaiting the first royalty payments from it!

3) I will continue trying to get an agent. Of course, having sold all my books without an agent, I sometimes wonder if I really need this. Then I read about an overseas deal or movie rights negotiated by an agent and I realize that this is the right course for me. Still trying, still getting rejected. I haven’t found the right agent yet, but I haven’t tried them all so no point in stopping yet.

4) Continue learning and polishing my craft. I plan to attend a variety of workshops and conferences this year, learning more about the industry and about my chosen career. I atended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and I continue consulting with some of the most talented and generous writers I know. I’m also reading constantly and analyzing everything that I read.

Not bad for 2012. I pretty proud of what I accomplished, like selling two books (Beautiful Monster and The Deepest Blue) and seeing one reissued (Kiss Kiss Bark). I’m proud of the work I’ve done and continue to do. I am committed to growing as a writer, to supporting those in whom I believe, and to pursuing my dream with my whole heart. So, without futher ado, here is this year’s set of goals –

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

These are my objectives. Some require some stretching, some just require organization and time. I look forward to seeing the results of my work, and I would love to hear how many of you have resolutions as well!

A Discussion of Rape

Beautiful Monster, the novel I co-authored with my friend and writing partner Jared, has some very graphic moments in it. Sterling Bronson, one of the main characters, is a serial killer and serial rapist. There is no other way to describe him and what he does. He stalks women, seduces them, and then does them serious harm, even murdering them. It is not a subject that Jared and I took lightly, nor did we treat the subject disrespectfully – or at least we worked very hard not to. However . . .

Earlier this evening, a woman commented to me privately that having started the book, she would not be finishing it as we had so thoughtlessly treated the subject of sexual assault so light-heartedly. She said – and this is a direct quote – “You act as if rape is a sexual fantasy that all women want. You fit right in with that guy from Missouri who said that legitimate rape is different from other kinds of rape.”

A jaw dropping moment, to be certain.

I didn’t ask this woman to read the book. In fact, I didn’t even know she had picked up/downloaded a copy. In my opinion, she completely missed the point of what we tried to do in the book, and she absolutely missed the point of my character, Brenna Carlson. So, let me set some things straight for this woman, and for anyone else who thinks we mishandled the subject:

First – at the age of 22 I had the unfortunate experience of being sexually assaulted. That’s all I’m going to say about it as it pertains to me. What I will say is that this horrific experience informed my writing, but more than that, the writing opened an honest discussion between people important to my life and me. As Jared and I wrote, we worked diligently to ensure that we did not make Sterling into a romantic character. He is a sympathetic character, a believable human being. A severely fractured and damaged human being, there is no doubt, but realistic and true to the pathology of those who behave this way in the “real world.”  Jared conveyed this character in such a way that he is both sympathetic and detestable, and that is how many of these men are in our society. They are charming, but vain. They are caring, but manipulative. They exude love, but they have no idea what it means to love. In short, they are beautiful monsters – hollow shells like cicadas leave behind in the summer.

Second – for my part, I made certain that my character neither wanted nor enjoyed the experiences that Sterling put her through. There is no fantasy in real rape. It is vicious, it is ugly, and there is nothing sexual about it. To the perpetrator, it is about the violence, not the sex.While what happens to my character is not the same experience that I endured, the emotional truth is still there, and I believe this is where some readers are getting hung up.  I don’t know that the woman I spoke with even got far enough into the story to discover this aspect, but it is there – the terror, the degradation, and the evil that accompanies this crime. There were times that going back to this mind-set nearly caused me to stop writing. Digging into those dark memories to dredge up feelings I thought I’d long since dealt with was an exercise in “dancing with crazy” that I wasn’t sure I could survive. But I was blessed to have a co-author who is also one of my best friends, and his support was vital.

I was also blessed to have supportive family who – though they didn’t really know what was going on – encouraged me to remain true to myself and my sincere belief in this story.

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT – TURN BACK NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW CRUCIAL INFORMATION IN THE BOOK!

Okay – you’ve been warned.

In the end, Brenna survives her ordeal. She tries to get back to normal, but there is no normal anymore. From experience, I know that survivors have to find a new definition of normal, and they learn over time that normal has a way of shifting like sand in the desert; with one step, you put your foot down on firm ground, but with the next, you begin sliding downward without warning. But many women survive this – not unscarred, mind you – but they recover and begin to rebuild a new understanding of themselves and the world around them. Each one handles it differently, and I’ve come to believe there is no such thing as a right way to do this. There are definitely some wrong ways, but we won’t go into that here.

Beautiful Monster is not an easy book to read. It wasn’t an easy book to write for either Jared or me. But I am proud of this book for so many reasons, and I know that Jared is as well (sorry, J, don’t mean to speak for you). It is horrifying in places, suspenseful in others, and even humorous at times. It is a very narrow slice of life, but it is a reality for some unfortunate women, and I will say very honestly that with this book, I finally feel I have vindication and compensation for my pain.