Thursday, October 15, 2015

On (Sort of) Leaving Social Media

A month ago, I walked away from social media. I wasn't planning on it beforehand. In fact, if you'd asked me a month prior if I could live without Facebook I might have said, "Never!!"

Basically, I kind of snapped. I started doing all the things I never do and never should do. Arguing about politics. Arguing about stupid stuff. Arguing with friends. Crying about internet dramas I was not involved in.

I think a lot of us have sensed that the internet just...isn't the fun place it used to be. Back in the 1990s it was actually ANONYMOUS. That's crazy. Now the internet often feels less anonymous than real life. Then I remember the Livejournal and blog days, when social media consisted of people writing long posts in their own words about their lives. I still miss that.

When Twitter and Facebook happened, we suddenly had the ability to connect with a much larger group of people, and faster. And we are now able to share things with a click. It's been great for spreading important information...and also makes it easy to spread misinformation, rage, and stupid stuff. Even the harmless stuff often seems like an unnecessary part of life. (Why did I spend three minutes watching a cat video while ignoring my actual cats??) For over a decade I have started my day by checking the internet. In recent years I've noticed that inevitably one of the following happens:
--I spend too much time clicking on dumb articles. Where did my morning go?
--I see something that deeply upsets or scares me. ("Scientists say butterflies will be extinct in 2 years if you don't sign this petition!")
--I see something that angers me that I want to argue with, but I usually don't, because arguing on the internet has never made my life better aaaaand I'm not sure I've ever changed anyone's mind either.

It also has made it really easy to communicate in groups. For a fairly shy, socially insecure person like me, this has made it easy to talk to others. It feels safe to make a post to a group in general and comment on other people's posts. But I started realizing over time that my individual, private communication with other human beings was down. Like, WAY DOWN. Like, 85% of my interaction with other humans, besides the human I live with, was in a semi-public text-based group context. When I did have something I wanted to talk privately with someone about, I became paralyzed about which friend to choose, because I was so used to just posting to a group and not reaching out to a single person. WHAT IF THEY DON'T REALLY WANNA BE MY FRIEND? It was easier not to try.

For creative types, there is also the failure-ish feeling of signing on and seeing everyone else's good news, day after day. Logically, we know that when our fellow writers have great news, they post about it 99% of the time, and when they have bad news, they post about it, like, 5% of the time. It isn't true that everyone else is more successful than you. But it is still emotionally difficult to be bombarded with it every day.

I've realized lately that I have been a lot more depressed in recent years. Sluggish. Disconnected from my magical worlds and close friendships. Always short on time for doing the things I love doing, like reading...but also sometimes unmotivated to even do the things I love. I have long sort of suspected that social media is a contributing factor, but I was afraid to leave. "What if I lose all my friends?"

I decided, abruptly, that if all my friends were on Facebook and Twitter, but Facebook and Twitter were making me feel sad, angry or discouraged every day, I would just have to figure out something else. So I just...left. I didn't look at social media AT ALL except private messages and every day, I didn't touch the computer until 6 pm.

That 6 pm rule, especially, improved my life immediately. I've had more energy to cook good food and keep the house clean(er...). In the last month I've finished two 500+ page books and several smaller ones, and I've had time to beta read for people too, while also getting more of "the day job" done. I've been more cheerful. And I've definitely been MUCH more creative. I've stopped scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. I glance at the top of the page and freely block anyone who stresses me out even if I like them. Mostly I just chat or email my friends. I was surprised that my social life didn't seem to suffer at all. In fact, I think I've gotten closer to some people because of it and I really hope that continues, but I think the lonely times may prove easier to weather because, most importantly, I've felt way more connected to that world beyond this one, where stories whisper in my ear. Since I've forbidden myself to write in the mornings either (no computer, not for any reason!) I've been spending a lot of my mornings sketching and I think even just that act unlocks many things in my mind.

I'm not telling you this to convince anyone to leave social media. It can be an amazing tool and I have so many good friends because of it. I'll certainly be making use of it again in the year to come, as I have some Secret Projects cooking I am bursting to talk about. But it can also be very, very addictive.  A balm to loneliness that doesn't really solve a damn thing. It can start to feel like the virtual life is the real one, especially if you work at home and don't live near any real life friends and family, as I do. If you're starting to get a deep down feeling that this place isn't healthy for your soul, I encourage you not to waste any more of your time. Put down the screen and go outside. The butterflies aren't dead yet, no matter what Facebook tells you.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Glittering Shadows blog tour ahoy!

Shane at Itching for Books was kind enough to set up a blog tour for Glittering Shadows for me. Although the book came out in June, I have much more time to talk about it now, AND, honestly? It's a very October-ish book if you ask me. It takes place across the fall and winter...and it's creepy.

I'll be linking to the giveaway and posts as they go up, but here is the sign-up if any of you who blog would like to participate: Glittering Shadows Sign-Up

Speaking of Halloween, I'm currently working on a middle grade about witches, and it involves a Halloween dance! So I'm feeling very Halloween-ish this year. It's rare when my writing actually matches the season so well. Sometimes I feel like I'm always writing about winter in the summer, and summer in the winter. Which maybe isn't so bad, as I tend to wish for the opposite when it's TOO hot or cold, but when it's October? I don't wish for anything else. I hope you're all having a lovely autumn too.

Friday, July 24, 2015

On not going to college

For some reason, I've gotten quite a few emails this year asking or commenting on the fact I didn't go to college. Usually either from teenagers facing this big decision asking me how I came to that decision myself, or from adults who are sorry they went to college just, uh, giving me the thumbs up I guess. Usually where there are emails, there are also non-emailers, just silently THINKING their questions, about a blog post?

First, not going to college was kind of easy for me. I was homeschooled, and my parents are pretty unconventional. No one pressured me to go. Actually, when I turned 18 I just felt lost and directionless and I wished someone would point me somewhere, so if my parents had insisted I go to college, I might have been relieved at the time. But, college is EXPENSIVE.

In 2000 when I graduated, this was not as much a topic of discussion as it is now, was still expensive. The college students I worked with were juggling full-time school and a full-time job and they could barely afford life. And they were always SO tired. "When would I have time to write, if I did that?" I thought.

My entire life has basically been formed around the idea of having time to write. Because without time to write, my emotional state goes down the tubes fast. Sometimes it feels selfish, but frankly, it's just...survival.

Most people incur student debt going to college. I was petrified of debts I didn't have a plan for paying off. That has always been a rule of life for me. You do NOT borrow money if you don't know exactly how you will pay it off. 18-year-olds are definitely not flush with plans for paying off debt. They say money is freedom, but not needing money is even BETTER freedom. Plus, I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, besides a writer, and I didn't need college for that.

I'm not anti-college, mind you. Some people totally want to go to college, can afford college, and thrive at college. If you are one of those people, this post is not for you. There was a point in time where I very much wanted to go. My friend was at the University of Toronto, and I visited her, and thought, "I want to live in Toronto and have a professor with a sexy British accent and also take a course on the history of children's literature." It looked pretty fun, let me tell you. That was basically the point in my life when I started looking into college. I got catalogs, I researched scholarships (which usually require information about one's high school career homeschooled kids don't have)...I decided I would become a librarian.

Then, almost as quickly, I decided I didn't want to be a librarian unless I'd tried to become a writer first, and I gave myself a 4-year deadline. Which set me on my current path. I sold my first book 3 years later and I've been a writer ever since. I never have much money, but I also have very little debt and no regrets. Do you know how many of my friends who went to college ended up getting well-paying jobs in their field? ALL OF THEM! (No, like, seriously...not even half.)

Some of you reading might be teens facing this decision yourself, and you might be thinking, "Well, that is all well and good, Jackie, but my parents ARE hammering on me to go to college and get a good job and make lots of money. I just want to be a writer. (Or whatever, but that's usually what you tell me, teens. I assume those of you who want to be like, a musician, are off emailing a musician instead.) What do I do?"

--Obviously I can't decide that for you. You might have various factors to weigh. Like, your parents are threatening to kick you out if you don't go; you have a scholarship that requires you to go now (that's a thing, right? I don't even know); whatever. But let me assure you, 18 is a great time to do something adventurous or crazy with your life...go backpacking, move to New York City with six roommates, write your first novel; it's even just a great time to get a weird dumb job and play video games for a year or dabble in your passion for cosplay or book blogging or crochet, as you let high school wash out of your system and have a chance to really think. You are super young and flexible, even though right now it probably feels really heavy and important. You can take 5 years to figure it out, and in the long run, no one will notice.

--There is no rule that you have to go to college at 18. It'll be there for you at any time.

--Any debt you incur in college will be on your head, if someone else isn't paying for it. Consider whether you know what you will do with the fascinating and impractical degree you probably went for, being an artsy soul, and your newfound debt load. Or the very practical degree for a job you possibly, in fact, don't want to do. Now, plenty of the artsy degrees can lead to a real job, often after adding an additional degree. Like the librarian job I was considering. And those can be good paths, and paths you might figure out while you are at college. But I do think it is worth considering taking a little time off to figure out a potential plan before plunging in.

--You need money for food, shelter, heat, transportation, and medical care. Beyond that, it is never as important as fulfilling your soul. Listen to your soul, and not anyone who tells you otherwise. This is true for all aspects of life.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Bits and Pieces

1. I did a signing last month at the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore and signed a few copies of Glittering Shadows, so if you are looking for signed copies and you're in the area, that is the place to go!

2. There is a blog/Twitter event going on this week celebrating "Quiet YA", defined in this case not as books that read quiet, but as books that people aren't talking about all over the place. When I first got into YA, I pretty much knew everything that was published, thanks to following some blogs and publishing sites. Now it's impossible. Sometimes it is obvious why a book becomes huge. Often, it's a really exceptional book. There are a lot of bestsellers on my shelf, that are there for a reason--they are just DAMN GOOD. But, just as often, it's actually kind of a lousy book that just happens to appeal to a large number of people and have a big marketing budget. There are a ton of YA novels published every year, but every year we mostly hear about a tiny handful of them.

The event kicks off with a giveaway at Bloggers Heart Books. A copy of "Between the Sea and Sky" with sketches of Esmerine and Alan is included. Why am I giving away "Between the Sea and Sky"? Because, despite that Magic Under Glass got better reviews and there are many many more copies of it out there, and Dark Metropolis is more recent, I get the MOST fan mail for Between the Sea and Sky. People who love that book really, really love it, and they email me begging for a sequel or telling me they've read it five times. And it makes me super happy because writing that book was sheer joy and delight for me.

I also have a post with some of my recommendations over at Watercolor Moods. Thanks for hosting me, Kaye!!

3. Since Glittering Shadows is out, you might be wondering...what's next? I just turned a new book into my agent. This book is set in the world I've been living in (in my head...wait, do I need to clarify that? should I be concerned that I needed to clarify that?) for 20 years straight. I've described the book as "if the Godfather was a shoujo manga" and one of my friends described it as "Fringe meets Final Fantasy".   My fingers are crossed for it. I have so many interesting things to tell you all about this story when the time comes. You can, at least, trust that I am trying to get new books in your hands in the future, books that have all of my heart!

4. I've been catching up on some reading for the first time in a while. Like...YEARS. I went to the library the other day, and today I finished "The Winner's Curse" and it did live up to all I've heard about it. I like my books a little cozier, ideally, but the writing was great and the tension was excellent. I need to go back to the library and get the sequel! But I also treated myself to an order of new books I'm excited for. I hope to find some new 5* reads!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ivy Bookshop Signing (note on book availability)

I just spoke with the Ivy Bookshop today about how many books to order, and they are currently planning to get in 10 copies each of Glittering Shadows, Dark Metropolis and Magic Under Glass. At this point I have 5 titles, and for a small bookstore it's a lot to order all of them. This is about how many I sell at an average signing, but I've never done a signing in Baltimore before and it's always hard to predict numbers!

Which is to say, if you are planning on attending this event and you have your heart set on obtaining a particular one of my books, I recommend you call or email the bookstore and reserve them in advance. They told me they can pre-order any of my titles with just a few days notice. (And if, for some reason, you end up not being able to make it, I will of course sign and sketch in them for you when I'm there!) 

Their phone number is 410-377-2966 and their email is

Someone just asked me if this event costs any money. Heck no! It's free and we have plenty of fun planned! We just hope you'll buy a book or two to support the bookstore's ability to bring authors in!

I look forward to seeing you!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

BEA Envy

It's near the end of May, which means one of the hottest book events of the year, Book Expo America, is underway. If you're at BEA, you are probably having a TOTAL BLAST (whenever you're not overwhelmed, hungry, sweaty or lost).

If you're an author or otherwise heavily invested in the book community, you're probably feeling a bit glum and, if you know what's good for you, avoiding Twitter.

Because chances are, right now someone you know just picked up an advance copy of your favorite author's new book that doesn't come out for seven months and now they are, like, having chocolate at Jacques Torres, and they're tweeting every detail and photo. It's horrible, don't look.

Every year loads of authors sign at BEA. I've been to BEA twice, myself, always on my own dime (well, kind of...remember that year I crashed four different people's hotel rooms? yeah, I'm still pretty proud of my shameless cheapskate skills on that one) and without being invited to do a signing or go to a publisher party or anything. This is quite normal, tons of authors have never signed at BEA, but I'll admit I always get a case of the "I just want"s.

"I just want to be invited to sign at BEA...once!"

This is, of course, complete nonsense. No one ever gets invited to sign at BEA and then says, "Wellp, I'm good." Unless they are so introverted they hate any kind of attention at all. But usually even introverts enjoy a moment in the sun. Attention is kind of like sugar; you probably got introduced to its addictive properties at a fairly young age and while you might get burned out on it, you'll find yourself wanting it again before long. Writing is, in fact, full of "I just want"s:

--I just want to sell a book
--I just want to sell a second book
--I just want to sell a trilogy
--I just want to sell this PARTICULAR favorite-of-mine book
--I just want to earn out my advance
--I just want to get a starred review
--I just want to be invited to sign at a conference
--I just want to be invited ANYWHERE
--I just want to hit a bestseller list
--I just want some awards recognition

I've achieved a couple of these, and yet when I catch myself thinking about external markers of success I feel just as despairing as I did when I hadn't sold a book at all! I'm sure this probably goes for other things in life as well, anything that is really important to you. I actually skipped BEA this year mainly because I've been so busy working on two projects that mean a lot to me. I don't want to take time away from them. I miss New York City and all my friends, but this year I'm trying to focus on two things: taking joy in my work, and getting it done.

I do, however, give myself full permission to eat fancier-than-usual chocolate this week!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Unschooling/Homeschooling Video Interview w/Me (Bilingual: Spanish/English)

I did a video chat recently with some lovely homeschooling/unschooling moms in Spain about my experiences with my unschooled/homeschooled background and navigating the world of adulthood post-untraditional education. The interview is in Spanish and English...which made it a little awkward for me, since sometimes I had trouble thinking in short bits to be translated...but I still enjoyed it very much and I hope it was helpful to them!

I am occasionally approached by people with questions about homeschooling, so I'll put it out there again, that if you have any questions feel free to ask and--time allowing--I am also happy to chat with any groups who associate themselves with free schooling without charge, as it is a subject close to my heart!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sketches for the day

From the Hidden Lands novels I am working on now. Sometimes these random moments pop into my head. This is Alfred, eldest son of a "potions Mafia" boss, and his right-hand man George, who is a faithful bodyguard but would nevertheless rather do almost anything else... 

A color sketch of Det Arianni, one of the pivotal figures in the series. He is one of the most notorious people in the Hidden Lands but so often I draw him chopping vegetables. That's probably what he's doing here... Playing with Copics! (And I do mean playing. I don't know WHAT I'm doing.)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

YA Author Event in Baltimore/Kinda Sorta Launch Party for Glittering Shadows!!

Hey ho!

Just a quick heads up that on June 23rd at 7 pm, I will be doing a YA Author signing event at the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, MD with fellow YA authors Leah Cypess, author of Death Sworn and Mistwood, and Martina Boone, author of Compulsion. I'm not having an official "launch" for Glittering Shadows, but it comes out just about a week before this event, so I'm going to be feeling launchy.

I don't really know what that means. A craving for attention and cupcakes? (Note: I will not have cupcakes. I'm not that organized.)

I hope to see some of you there! As always, come to a signing and get a sketch of a main character in your book.

(I know what you're thinking. Jackie, stop dressing up SOOOO glamorously for your promotional photos! How can mere mortals compete with your acne and flannel? Weirdly, acne and flannel is pretty much the description of every boy I had a teenage crush on.)

Let's look at that Glittering Shadows cover by itself! I love it SOOO much!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Automata at the Morris Museum in New Jersey!

It's been over five years since my girl-meets-clockwork-man love story Magic Under Glass was released, but the fascination for 19th century mechanical entertainment remains as strong within me as ever. I'm talking about automata and mechanical music devices, and it turns out the Morris Museum in New Jersey, just a few hours north of me, has an amazing collection.

So I recently went on a wee road trip. We arrived just in time for the daily demonstration at 2 pm. I got to hear, among other things, one of my favorites, the Violano-Virtuoso, an early electric device that starts up with an exciting stirring of machinery and plays a violin by way of a music roll in the lower cabinet. Then we got to see two automatons in action, slowly moving their limbs in a semblance of life--an eerie sight.

Even when they weren't moving, the automata were very photogenic. This was the largest one:

This ethereal ballerina reminded me of the UK Magic Under Glass cover. 

Speaking of, how about Girl and Creepy Monkey Under Glass?:

Many of the automata were under glass domes, and those scary monkeys were a popular theme as well! Apparently most automaton makers were French, and the monkeys were mocking the French aristocracy. Monkeys aside, many of the themes in Magic Under Glass were present in this exhibit, such as the 19th century fascination with Orientalism, leading to exotic figures reminiscent of Asia and the Middle East, that Nimira's "Trouser Girl" act was based on. I loved this belly dancer:

Finally, I will leave you with this (possibly taxidermied?) cat:

More photographs will be available at my author Facebook page. And if you're in the area, the Morris Museum is definitely worth a visit!