You may not know that I collect old photos, though it probably won't surprise you either. I resell most of what I come across, but I keep them if "they look like a character" or "look like they have a story to tell". I might not know who the character is yet, but I still know 'em when I see 'em.
However, I did sell these girls and I'm regretting it. These are some very stylin' preteens. Sometimes I sell things before I decide I like them and then I'm like, drat.
This is an adapted version of a long comment I made on a blog post by Robin LaFevers at Writer Unboxed. It was long enough that I thought, I should just make a blog post out of this.
So often I see writers hoping for an advance that will allow them to quit their job. But for most of us, big $ aren’t the reality. My goal has always been to make the life fit the writing. To depend on money as little as possible, even before I was published.
So I’ve pretty much structured my life the opposite of the usual American way.
I avoided debt like the plague. Didn’t go to college. Didn’t even have a credit card until I had to build credit to buy a house. I learned to cook as soon as I moved out, I buy all my clothes (and a lot of other things, too) at thrift stores or auctions, I rarely take a vacation that doesn’t involve crashing on someone’s couch (though I also rock at Priceline’s Name Your Own Price hotel rooms), and I make heavy use of libraries instead of buying many books. When I was lucky enough to get a good advance, I put 20% down on a house of my own in a cheap county. Now my next dream goals are to pay off the mortgage and put solar panels on the roof. And plant fruit trees!
This means, of course, that I don’t go out a lot. I do love to travel and yes, it is hard sometimes to see other writers going to tons of book fairs and festivals and tours and research trips to England and France and Japan and wherever. I rarely shop for fun. I don't live in a hip place.
What I can tell you is that I'm 32 years old and I've never worked more than 30 hours a week in my life at anything besides writing. I own a home. I can live comfortably on a household income of $30,000 a year. (My partner's dad did help us financially when we were younger, so I do note, although I personally have never gotten money from my family, it is hard to do this without some support from someone.)
It’s not a lifestyle everyone would want, certainly it favors the introverted unless you have equally cheap friends, and it works better if you don’t have kids (although I pretty much learned how to live on the cheap from my mom, and I’ve picked up tips from self-sufficient/cheap mom blogs, so…I know cheap parenthood is possible, but not as cheap as, you know, having less people around). But I do think structuring your life around living cheap instead of around making as much money as possible would be a wise outlook for more young people, especially those of a creative bent. You only can be sure of living once, so what’s most important? If you want the creative life, keep that in mind from your first job onward.
This is actually always slightly scary advice to give, because often, if I just start to TELL someone about how I executed my life plan (usually it begins with some stranger asking where I went to college) they start to seem uncomfortable. "Well...that's great for you, but..." I've seen this look in people's eyes like, "PLEASE DO NOT SPEAK TO MY CHILD. SHE WANTS TO BE A WRITER AND I WANT HER TO GET A DEGREE IN BUSINESS." It is the American way to try to make as much money as possible and spend it on FLASHY THINGS and this attitude--this dream, even--is hard to avoid entirely even if you grew up a homeschooled hippie child as I did. (If I can't avoid it, no one can...) But I think it's worth considering looking at things the opposite way--not "How can I make money?" but "How can I not need money?" (Or similarly, "How can I make time?")
I had such a blast at ALA Midwinter, and among other exciting things, I got to see a pile of Dark Metropolis ARCs at the Disney-Hyperion booth, and people picking them up! (I did manage to resist hovering near the stack until it was all gone. Tempting--but stalker-ish.)
Now it is time to give away an advanced reader copy and show the cover here at my blog for the first time! Those of you in the know will have already seen it a couple of weeks ago when it first started popping up. Confession: I was supposed to make this post a while ago but the email from my agent giving me the go-ahead never got to me. *shakes fist at stupid e-mail* So I'm just going to PRETEND this is new and exciting. Indulge me.
By the way, I could not be more in love with this cover and I think it's going to be really gorgeous on an actual finished copy.
Sixteen-year-old Thea Holder's mother is cursed with a spell that's driving her mad, and whenever they touch, Thea is chilled by the magic, too. With no one else to contribute, Thea must make a living for both of them in a sinister city, where danger lurks and greed rules.
Thea spends her nights waitressing at the decadent Telephone Club attending to the glitzy clientele. But when her best friend, Nan, vanishes, Thea is compelled to find her. She meets Freddy, a young, magnetic patron at the club, and he agrees to help her uncover the city's secrets-even while he hides secrets of his own. Together, they find a whole new side of the city. Unrest is brewing behind closed doors as whispers of a gruesome magic spread. And if they're not careful, the heartless masterminds behind the growing disappearances will be after them, too.
Dark Metropolis releases June 17th, 2014.
Also, to answer a few questions that have been going around:
YES, it is a fantasy. It's not dystopian per se, though...I wouldn't want to live there!
YES, it is inspired by the 1920s (Europe between the wars, to be specific, Weimar Berlin, to be even more specific...and the story is very loosely based on Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film Metropolis).
YES, it has a lesbian POV character & romance (as well as girl meets mysterious silver-haired boy).
YES, it is a zombie book.
If a dark, decadent atmosphere with flappers and nightclubs, and romance and revolution and zombies sounds good to you, you might just enjoy it. I hope you will! And, as usual, the ARC will have a few of my character sketches peppered throughout.
How do I enter?
I'm not fancy. I just want people to know the book exists. You get one entry for a comment and one entry for each place you share the contest AND/OR spread the word about the book: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, your blog...adding it to Goodreads is good for an entry too (if you've already added it, blogged about it, or whatever, you can count that as an entry, just one entry per platform, please)...other social media places...(I can't keep up.) Just leave a comment letting me know where you shared it so I know how many entries you've earned.
The contest closes at midnight EST on Wednesday, February 5th. It is US only, because I am really broke right now and I can only ship media mail. I'm very sorry, I know how passionate you guys are about books all around the world. I hope to do an international contest at some point.
Currently I'm getting excited for ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, where I'll be wandering around with friends absorbing the bookish atmosphere. If any of my other friends, or fans, or all of the above, will be attending and you'd like to meet up, please let me know!
I love year in review posts. They're interesting and honest. This was kind of a hard, lonely year for me and reading my friends' posts I'm realize how many of my friends also struggled through 2013. I didn't even really know. =(
One thing I try to live by is to be a protagonist in my own life. Protagonists, when given the choice between the safe but less-than-amazing path, and the risky path of their dreams, go with the latter. I tend to also do this--surprisingly enough, because in many ways I am a ridiculously sensible person. 2011 was the year Dark Metropolis was written and sold; 2012 was the year I bought my house. These were hard years in many years, but tinged with triumph!
2013 was kind of the year I sat with the ramifications of all of it. As the year opened, I was broke, thanks to various surprises that come along with moving into an old house. I hadn't had a book out in a year, and Dark Metropolis had been delayed a year. I spent the entire year either working myself half to death (some days it seriously felt like this, when I'd been spending the entire day in my computer chair)or being plastered with mental fatigue and doing nothing of worth (messing around on the internet doing...what exactly? I don't know...or watching bad TV). I worked two jobs in 2013. One of them, writing, was old hat, but very difficult. I was trying to write the Dark Metropolis sequel. I had a lot of trouble getting into the story. A lot of trouble figuring out what the story even WAS. The other job was new to me, selling antique/vintage stuff on Ebay. That job kept my financial situation from complete disaster and is actually fun too, BUT I had to figure it out quick and it occupied loads of time starting and structuring an entire business.
Basically that was the entire year. Being in debt because of the house, scrambling to make money in an immediate sense, and also trying to figure out how to write this book, with some Dark Metropolis editorial rounds thrown in as well.
I also felt deeply lonely. I can't say I've never felt that way before; in fact, it pops up pretty frequently since I was a wee thing. This was a new shade of it, was all...it hit me that I had moved to an area of the country where I don't know a soul except the mountains and the trees and the flowers and the birds, who sang their siren song to lure me here in the first place. I thought I would be able to travel pretty frequently to DC or Baltimore and go to writing events and see friends, but since this has been a year of watching every single dime, that hasn't happened and I don't know when it will happen. I've also had a hard time keeping up with internet correspondence because of working so hard sitting at the computer all day. When work is done, the last thing I want to do is hang out on Twitter or write emails.
The last third of the year has been better. I actually got to a place with Dark Metropolis 2 where I LOVED what I was writing. I'm starting to find a time balance with my Ebay business too. Money is still a worry but things are not as dire as they were.
As I write this, I wonder why I bother to make this post. On one hand, I have no great news to impart about this year, and on the other hand, I have no great wisdom. The things I struggled with this year are things I've struggled with in the past--worrying about a contracted WIP, worrying about money, struggling to maintain friendships in a world that feels increasingly detached. Struggling with bouts of depression through which I can still function, but don't feel quite like myself, although I know exactly what I need--a day to relax, to get outside in the sunshine by day and curl up with a good book by night. I just don't feel like I have the luxury of time.
But I am going to make it anyway, because I think it's important to be honest, at least once a year, about how things are going. Some years are amazing. Other years are (to borrow a term Rachel Hawkins used, and Jessica Spotswood noted in her inspiring post (here) Learning Years. This, frankly, wasn't particularly either. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. It felt like a year you would leave out if you were writing a fictional account of my life. Protagonist sells book, buys dream house, and then a couple years later, insert 2014 here, perhaps?
If there is one pattern I see, looking back, one thing I wish I could whisper in my ear all the time, it is to TRUST. I am more resilient and resourceful than I ever know at the time. When a book needs to be done, somehow not only is it done but I am actually HAPPY with it, no matter the throes of agony that occurred during the writing of it. (In a few years, believe me, I'll be struggling with another book and I will BARELY REMEMBER how difficult writing the Dark Metropolis sequel was. I will look back at old emails to friends and be like, "Wha? No...it wasn't that hard. It wasn't as hard as THIS book is.") When I needed money I was somehow able to pull an entire business out of seemingly nowhere. It seems the curse of the imaginative soul that I am so good at imagining the future. Sometimes I imagine wild success; just as often I imagine wild failure. A part of me wishes I could just stop imagining at all, but...then where would we be? Even on my struggliest days of the 2013 when I had a deadline bearing down on me and bills to pay and worries heaped on my head, I always have good food and Dade makes me laugh and the kitties make me smile. And somehow, it all works out.
I can tell when I've really pushed the envelope of my own boundaries as far as what I'm willing to do to a character. I will actually have a hard time facing up to it, for some weeks. I might find myself shying away from writing details. And what I do write is generally the character going through grief reactions: shame, anger, self-pity, etc.
Eventually I will realize I have worked it out, and then I have to go back in and add strength to the character. Nobody wants to read a bunch of crying, lashing out, pity and horror without at least a good dollop of fortitude. But sometimes I need time to find that fortitude myself.
It's a good illustration, to me, of how stories help us to learn how to cope with being human.