The Last Four Years

I remember reading M.T. Anderson’s Shostakovich biography in which he talks about the famous Russian composer considering his “second birthday” to be the date on which his first symphony premiered. If that were what I was talking about, I’d write this on March 8, my first book’s birthday. But June 24, 2015 was the day that I found out I was expecting a paperback, due on March 8, 2016.

So happy anniversary post! This is actually a kind of uplifting post for me as I look back on how much fun and what struggles I’ve been through in the last 48 months.

The Moving Pen

Let’s start with the anniversary. Since June 24, 2015, I have come out with a debut novel. I have done book signings where the room was full. I have done a book signing where the only person who came other than my ride was someone who already had the book. I’ve signed at Barnes and Noble and Salt Lake Comic Con. I’ve made great friendships with fellow authors by doing things like competitive friendliness, where we would find new and exciting ways to talk to complete strangers. I had my very first review in a newspaper and it was so rude that my sister threatened to toilet paper the journalist’s house for me. I also developed a good friendship with a reviewer who still won’t stop talking about things like fairy tale metaphysics.

As you can see, this book contract not only gave me the title of “traditionally-published novelist,” but also gave me a community that ranges from fellow authors to repeat customers. In the process of this, I also rediscovered my love for tutoring. I knew from high school on that I’d never be comfortable as a teacher, but I am very good at connecting with smaller groups. This is why I accepted every invitation I got to talk about writing, whether it was being a guest instructor at BYU Writing Camps or giving a mini-class on world-building basics at a community book fair. In losing my fear of sounding like I knew nothing, I found my ability to talk intelligently about what I’ve learned along the way.

In a similar vein, I’ve done a lot more editing. This is also a corollary to my having a very restricted schedule for the last 22 months. I have edited everything from a friend’s memoir about adopting two children literally overnight to the first book of a paranormal series. I’ve even done several romances along the way. I have edited bilingual books and put my Spanish to use in pointing out where idioms didn’t translate well. I’m pretty sure I was asked to continue editing a series because I was the kind of editor who not only recognized an error in the Latin ritual, but made suggestions for correcting the incantation. I’ve enjoyed learning something new from each author’s manuscript and style.

Branching off from editing, you’ll find my name a lot on one website these days for a completely different reason. Jennifer Chapin Mustoe mentioned on a post of League of Utah Writers that she was looking for authors who might want to try their hand at reviewing the arts. As a writer who has many opinions on the arts, I volunteered and she sent me off to watch Die Fledermaus at Utah Opera. Weeks later, I began helping to edit fellow reviewers’ posts before publication. Five months after she sent me to the opera, she asked me to be a board member at Front Row Reviewers, her non-profit organization. I edit, publish, and review and help newcomers. I’m well known for my lightning-fast turnaround times and really complicated analyses of orchestral works. I admit that I sound like I’m writing an essay on a Mozart piano concerto and it’s because I’ve taken classes where I had to write essays on these things, so it’s a hard habit to break.

But before you think that all I’ve done is use a red pen on a Christmas romance and create instructional PowerPoints for a school visit, I now come to my career in shorter fiction.

I’ve been friends with Lauren Thompson for years, since we’re both Star Wars-obsessed writers. She announced a new anthology accepting submissions for The Dragon’s Rocketship. My first thought on seeing that name was “What moron puts a dragon on a spaceship?” Turns out, I am that kind of moron because my short story “Just One Chance” was published in their Iron Doves anthology and features a time-traveling android who saves a human colony by smuggling a dragon on board the spaceship that’s taking them to a new world. I have many stories to tell about that colony, the dragon, her Italian adopted sister, and the trials of being raised among humans when you’re something out of a fairy tale.

The project that gave me the most challenges was “Ethical Wills.” I had the idea to write about a girl inheriting the family nutcracker in her mother’s will and wrote the story in my yellow notebook that was shoved into the backpack that I lugged across Austria and Germany. When a writer friend asked me to contribute a fairy tale sequel to the Unspun anthology, I sent in the story of Lena, a Jewish college student who gets through the death of her mother with the help of the Nutcracker Prince. The response was “This was beautiful, BUT.” And then they told me that every other author had written an adventure and it would be really great if I changed my genre. I thought changing the ending of Swan and Shadow was a nightmare, but coming up with a way to turn a character piece about Shiva into a thrilling tale was terrifying. I spent 45 minutes that New Year’s Eve talking it over with one of my co-writers on the Botosphere fan fiction project and the result not only had the Mouse King, but possession, blood magic, and a council of war. (It also had the prince raiding the refrigerator at one point, which is one of my favorite mental images of all time.) I loved writing the finished product, especially since I had to run it by practicing Jews to make sure I wasn’t being inaccurate or disrespectful.

My association with LDS Beta Readers saw me publish flash fiction about things like the first astronauts to be lost in space and neighboring gardeners who bond over purple basil. They have a story of mine that isn’t out yet about Sleeping Beauty being revived by the true love’s kiss of modern medicine, but I’ve enjoyed challenging myself to get a story told in 1000 words.

Miles in my shoes

On June 24, I also discovered that I needed an author photo. My good friend Laren is a photographer and had a photo shoot done within days. She’s responsible for the image in the back of my books, but I realized looking at all of my pictures that I never wanted to look like that again. Yes, it was a moment of vanity and also a personal health choice.

To date, I’ve dropped three dress sizes and over 21% of my body weight. This is largely attributed to my decision to make running goals. I ran three 5Ks in 2018 and have a goal to run my first 10K in 2019. My personal record for a 5K dropped by 12 minutes last year and this year, I hope to drop it another 2 minutes.

I also made my vacations a little less stationary. In 2015, my first major trip after this health decision was a three-country trip in Europe. In 2017, I hiked 76 miles across Austria and Germany. When I recently went to San Francisco for a weekend, I used the bus once and walked everywhere else.

It also helps that one day, half a month after I got back from Austria, I felt the need to do missionary work again. I had spent 18 months in California when I was 21 (That’s how I learned such good Spanish), but couldn’t do full-time work, so I responded to a need for hosting missionaries at Salt Lake City’s Temple Square. In the first two months, I went through two pairs of shoes from all of the walking. I now buy only dress shoes that have athletic soles and they last longer.

But for me, I focus on what I call NSVs–non-scale victories. These are things like “I wore a dress that I outgrew in 2005” or “I can now run for the train across Temple Square without getting out of breath.” It’s finding it easier to go on long walks or climb several flights of stairs. It’s giving my winter coat to someone else because it was two sizes too big for me and donating lots of clothes to thrift stores. It’s just feeling good after a session on the treadmill and the day that my mom didn’t recognize me in a restaurant because I’d lost 45 pounds.

Get a Hobby!

I’ve been trying some new things just for fun and in connection with my writing. One is Old English, which has always fascinated me, but I discovered I should learn because of villains in one of my stories who speak it as their native tongue.

I’ve been opening myself to new creative styles, This can be evidenced by the fact that I am still a person with season tickets to the Utah Symphony, but rapped almost all of Hamilton on a road trip. I’m not exactly “a lot more street since we met” as Leonard would say in The Big Bang Theory, but I also got into “the world’s only honky-tonk a capella group,” Home Free. I came for their Christmas album and a good friend got me tickets to their recent concert in April. It’s as close as I’ll ever come to having “That Hillbilly Bone” as they call it.

What the World Needs Now

I still haven’t found a special someone. I’ve dated a couple, but one of my superpowers is recognizing red flags. (I also suspect that I accepted Jennifer’s offer of being a board member because it came on the same day that I saw a post from my crazy ex about him going on his honeymoon to the Bahamas and I was not in a good place. But while that mood changed, my answer to her request didn’t and I don’t regret that.)

For the purposes of eliminating hate and encouraging more acceptance, I started an authorized American spin-off of Britain’s “Worrying Signs.” The original is a group that documented and responded to the increase of crime motivated by hate or racism or xenophobia in their area of the world. Our version has hundreds of members who come together online to express concerns about legislation or inaction, who share what progress is being made and brainstorm ideas on how to make our country a more inclusive and tolerant society. It gives me a lift that when I have a concern, I can usually find people discussing it on that group and I can feel less alone there.

And, of course, what is love without extended family? I have new nieces and nephews, one of whom I haven’t met yet because my next planned visit is next Memorial Day. I at least got to say hello to a very groggy nephew named Robbie when I hung out with his family in Oakland over Memorial Day weekend this year.

What Comes Next?

The short answer is a lot more of the same. I’ve got dozens of story ideas running around in my head. I have various stories in the process of being written down. I have completed manuscripts that I need to start querying once I finish being a missionary on August 16. Most unusually, my next deadline is July 1, by which point I will be submitting original hymns to the committee in charge of compiling my church’s new hymnbook. I will also be the collaborator for a friend’s submissions, where she wrote the melody and lyrics, but I got hired to write the other parts after I improvised an alto line and started talking about a violin descant over a possible guitar accompaniment.

I am going to Europe again this November. It’s Katey’s turn to pick the vacation and she sold me on this trip by saying “You’d be on Crete on your birthday.” I will be spending my 40th in Dublin on Thanksgiving Day, 2020. I plan on going to Boston in September to see the people and city that I love so much. Because of my work as an arts reviewer, my next trip is actually to the Utah Shakespearean Festival to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Macbeth on the 4th of July.

I’m running the Temple to Temple 5K on July 24 and hope to make the Wonder Woman 10K my first-ever 10K race.

And, as ever, I hope that someday my prince will come. But I think he’ll be fictional and probably named for one of my high school crushes.

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