When Life Gives You Citrus

If I said I hadn’t gotten behind in life, I would be lying.

I’m one month away from finishing my generalist practicum-which means from here on out, it’s Chaos City. Client sessions that need terminated, logs to fill out, papers to write, and a book to finalize (I’m in the final stages of edits and I am SO thankful for that!).

As I’m wrapping up my practicum, I was asked to reflect a bit and I wanted to talk through that with you lovely folks.

Stress levels are a funny thing. I always thought of them as something you could just feel. Physical symptoms that let you know about your mental wellbeing. But as I’ve come to understand, stress doesn’t always look like one thing. Sometimes it’s getting to the end of your shift and realizing you’ve had your shoulders clenched for 8 hours. Sometimes it’s being fine all day and then as someone else comes in, you bolt out the door because you need some air. Sometimes it’s the knotted stomach too. But nihilism is a really comforting thing if you think about it. Everything ends eventually. As for coping strategies, well, I’ve outgrown a couple, reintroduced a few and discovered the difference between routine maintenance and self-care. I spend every weekend doing a face mask and meal prepping because it makes me better. That’s routine maintenance. I take breaks in my day and color or take pictures of beautiful things or work magic or do social activities or work out. That’s self-care. I tell my clients that they have to allow themselves to be human. Strong emotions aren’t bad emotions. They are deserving of being felt and acknowledged. If I need to cry, I do so. If I need to scream, I do that too. I keep a journal, I listen to what my body needs. And that is something I’ve never done before, but will continue to do. 

I took a partial shift at one night and in the span of 3 hours, I had to deal with 4 crises. I kept waiting for the moment I could catch my breath but it didn’t come. Each crisis was interrupted by another one. And I kept wondering if I was cut out for that. But at the end of the shift, I couldn’t help but smile because I’d knocked it out of the park. Had I made some mistakes? Absolutely. Did I do my job? Sure did. And that’s when I realized just how much I’d changed. I mean, last year I was just coming out of law school and I had no confidence in myself whatsoever. I thought I was going to ruin people’s lives and that I couldn’t possibly handle things by myself. And here I was, rocking a crisis cycle like an old pro.

I start my clinical year in just 2 months. And I know that’s when I start my specialization (and career goals). I go into it ready (which is SO nice).

Coming up for me this summer:
Finishing my generalist
Finishing Summer Classes
Moving
Family visits
Clinical Orientation
Clinical Year
Finishing my novel edits (and then its time to get hyped!)
Bringing y’all some sweet previews and spoilers for that novel

I’m still here. And great things are coming.

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My People! An Announcement!

Long time no speak!

It’s time for our monthly update, I think, and that means I need to bring some good news to the table!

Mark your calendars now, because a fresh new take from me is coming to an online retailer near you! I get to announce that my book, A Book About Life, will be published later this winter!

I’ve been away from the blogaverse because I’ve been deep in an editing phase, and that’s been delight (what with finals and internship and classes and work) but that means I’m doing everything I can to make my work as good as it can be.

So what even is A Book About Life?

Well, think about Pride and Prejudice. Think about survivor tales. Think about New Girl. Think about social work.

And there you have it! But in case you want more, here’s my blurb about what you can expect.

Alicia Whittemore graduated college with three things: a master’s in clinical social work, a quarter of a million dollars in student loans and the hope of saving the world. All her studying seemed to pay off when she landed a job at St. Vincent Memorial, but her troubles were only beginning. When a tempestuous board member and a heart-breaking patient emergency prove to be too much for Alicia, she must come to the realization that there’s so much more to life-and love-than settling for stability.

A Book About Life centers around a millennial trying to find her way though the world after college. She’s a hospital social worker who chooses routine over anything adventurous.

Millennial main character? Check (she’s in her upper 20s)

LGBTQ main character? Check (She’s ACE!)

Ride or die best friend? Check (they met doing a play)

Mr. Darcy character? Check (he means well, but yeesh)

Honest portrayals of mental health? Check (it gets heavy sometimes)

A Book About Life is a tale inspired by my love of Jane Austen, and my work as an MSW student. Each character is based on someone I know, someone I care about. Each situation is discussed with honesty and with respect, but with the depth that I kept completely real. This book contains empowerment after sexual assault, after domestic violence and after self-harm.

I took what I know-working with survivors of intimate partner violence-and I showed how those things play into the life of a very new, very conflicted working millennial. Based on truth, wrapped in emotion, it’s a book that shows the caffeine addicted, trauma informed career that I’ve inserted myself into.

A Book About Life, the New Adult Fiction book about, well, life, comes out this winter!

Back to the Grindstone

The last of my #PitMad queries came back this week. It wasn’t quite the yes I’d been hoping for. And in fact, wasn’t a yes at all. But to have multiple agencies request fulls was a beautiful thing. It means that people believe in my story, my ability. And in the end, it was a “fit” issue that led me to the beginning of the process once more.

But here’s what I gained: a successful query letter. A successful manuscript that people can believe in. Confidence.

I mean, I’ve been through this process a fair amount. I had a 90k manuscript that got rejected a LOT. And I put it away, to give myself a break. I started new projects, started new processes. Outlined. Drafted. Edited. You know, the writing stuff. And I ended up with this 60k piece of work that I enjoy reading, and that I actually LIKE editing. And that’s new. I believe in my work.

So as much as it hurts to have come so close (I’m talking that last gasp before a contract close) and leave empty-handed, I know that it’s a project that someone will take.

And in accordance with that, I sent out 2 dozen query letters this weekend. And I have another set that will go out in a month or so, pending any responses. It’s gone through an additional edit since this last round, and I feel even more confident about it.

I mean, how great is it to know-to just know-that you have something worth putting energy into, and participating in the process to do just that?!

Guess we’ll see where this leads!

Wish me luck!

And for those interested, #PitMad is a Twitter based manuscript pitch that happens 4 times a year. More information (including what hashtags to use, who/what/when) can be found at: https://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

Happy writing!

One More Rebellion

To understand where this post is coming from, it is important to know that I’ve been in a very pensive, reminiscing attitude lately. I’ve been working on a new book in which much of the young adult culture of the early 2000s plays a part. But also, I’m about to start the semester and that’s the point where I start thinking about how I got to where I am.

Part of the business of growing up is a little thing I’ll call “going corporate”. Masses of people leaving behind the neon hair, the black and red eyeliner, the studded belts and chucks for business suits, natural hair colors and 9-5s.

And I’m not having it.

So many people my age (and older) make comments like:

“I don’t know what I was thinking about that hair.”
“I can’t believe I wore that/dressed like that/went out like that.”
“I’m so glad I grew out of that.”
“I’m so glad that phase ended.”

And that’s fine… for them.

But I look back at the pictures, the memories, the status updates and I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. And the thing is, I can’t remember ever thinking I’d made a mistake. In my closet you’ll find business clothes-interview attire, internship outfits. But you’ll also find band tees, studded belts, two pairs of chucks, and skinny jeans (yep, even my size). My makeup is all deep and vampy.

So imagine my surprise when the suggestion came across my screen that instead of just 2019, we should be celebrating 20NineScene (Scene being the neon cousin of the emo culture that I reference above.). And I could not be more excited.

Because you see, we are the cycles we have lived through. Yes, I believe in moving past periods of time that are too negative for you, that are toxic. After all, what kind of (future) social worker would I be if I supported toxic environments? But why should I (and may others) feel that there is something to be ashamed of by exploring who we are?

So this 2019, instead of walking longingly past Hot Topic and pining for the days when I didn’t feel like a kid in their parent’s business suit, I’m going to allow myself one final rebellion. I want to slide into 2020 (and the return of the Roaring 20s) in the throes of the crimson and black smudged eyes, the black-like-my-soul outfits, the spiky hair, the splashes of neon breaking up the monotony. I never stopped listening to the music I did in high school, and in fact I prefer it to the stuff now (I’m exactly that old). Grunge music like Nirvana and Three Days Grace. Emo punk like All American Rejects. Emo pop like Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy. Dashboard Confessional. My personal favorite, Boys Like Girls. My Chemical Romance. And so many of the glorious others.

In high school, I had so many dreams about who I would be when I approached my current age. And I’m honestly nowhere close. I thought I’d be done with school, traveling, maybe even semi-famous. And if I’m honest with myself, I still hold out for that. It’s why I took a chance on a manuscript that I sent out before winter break to agents. I believe in that manuscript like people praying in church. It’s raw and honest and hopeful-everything I am at my core. I believe that someone will look at it and see the potential, will give me a chance to prove that it’s worth it. I believe in myself.

And none of that would be the case without the high schooler who felt the world a bit too much. Who needed validation more than air. Who wasn’t afraid to rock the red eyeliner, the spiked hair, the black wardrobe. I believe in her as much as she believed in the future. And that’s why I’m completely in support of 20ninescene. Because why on earth would I ever choose to lose who I am just to “go corporate”?

Writing Tips for the Busy

This Winter Break I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I really dove into my hobby and I made it work for me. I’ve got one fully polished manuscript, and I’m about 10% of the way through the first book of a trilogy (doesn’t that sound impressive!). But in just a hot minute, I’ll be back at classes, this time with a field placement and I’ve realized that I’m going to need to block my time more prudently. So.

  • Make the time

I’ve got a calendar all set up, which shows me what my major obligations are. I’ve got class days marked in one color, homework blocks in another and writing blocks in a third. This way, it’s the most important date with myself-and I’ll be able to keep on track. (Famous last words, I know.)

  • Change scenery

I’m not talking field trips here, I’m talking the thing you’re looking at. Sometimes the words just don’t plop on the page as quickly (or numerous) as you beg them to. Change fonts. Change programs. Switch handwriting (or languages!). That difference will let you pick out editing mistakes, and may just get you out of the slump.

  • Word Sprints

I learned this trick from NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Sometimes all you have is 15 minutes. And that’s plenty. Take your 15 (or 10, or 5) and jam as many sentences as you can into that time. Don’t go for edited masterpiece-just go for words on a page. Do this 4 times and you’ve got your hour of writing for the day.

  • Start with your favorites

This one I learned the hard/easy way. For me, starting at “Sentence One” and taking my idea start to finish is hard. Great for continuity, terrible for inspiration. I’d always have that “But I wanted to write THAT scene” syndrome. So with the polished manuscript, I jumped out of my habit and wrote what I call “Scenes Out Of Context”. (I even label them as “SOOC: Scene Name”). I have a list of scenes that I know need written, and I start working on whichever one seems the most awesome to me at that moment. About halfway through, I’ll decided none of them sound awesome and then I’ll start “Sentence One”. Which, by then, I’ve got a great idea of how I want the tone to be, I’ve got enough to do some foreshadowing and I’m not offended by linking the chapters together (which adds to my word count).

  • Use said, then add

This last piece of goody info is actually an editing piece. I discovered that the easiest way to come up with the basic manuscript is to low-ball it. Write through the skeleton of it, using only the most basic of dialogue tags: said. Don’t describe things unless absolutely necessary to the scene. Don’t describe the characters unless absolutely necessary to the scene. And give yourself the most basic of word counts. For a 62k book, I gave myself a 35k skeleton goal.

And then? As you edit, you’ve got a feel for the people. Apart from the obvious editing (grammar, punctuation, etc) you can now search your document for “said” and add in fleshed out dialogue tags (any number of which will give you an additional 1-10+ more words). Then add in the descriptions that you left out: buildings, aromas, the way the food tasted, what the characters were wearing, any mannerisms that weren’t obvious in the skeleton but you knew were there. (Leave notes as you add bones, so you can add in stuff later and not forget!). I added several plot-hole-fixers during that point, and an additional 15k words in just “meat” that I’d left out. That way I knew my structure was solid, and the rest added layers.

See anything I missed? Any tips you’d have added? Any of these not work for you? Let me know!

Ya’ll, I’m a writer.

I got some really epic news today: I’m getting a book published.

It’s not the traditional way, but I have 100% agency over it, and I’m 100% okay with that.

It’s a book I’ve been through the gauntlet with: I sent query letters out to 75 agents in the span of 9 months and got nothing back (besides a few well meaning rejections). It was my very first NaNoWriMo novel, and I’ve been rather attached to it. I put it aside for a time and have been editing it, working through all the things I messed up.

And when you take a leap of faith, sometimes you’re rewarded in some amazing ways.

So I’ll be on Channillo, a place where writers write and readers read. I have a more political thought essay collection there too, called Coffee and Criticisms, which you’re more than welcome to also check out!

So about this book!

The Queen of Souls

It’s called The Queen of Souls (which makes me giddy every time I look at the document). It’s YA lit, with some upper YA themes. And well, here’s the snapshot I have for it:

Katerina Alkaev has only ever known how to be one thing: an outcast. With no real memories of her past, no family and no prospects of a future, she’s stuck in a spiral of bad luck, non-committing foster homes and an extreme lack of self-worth which bring her to the little town of New Hollow. She struggles to find her place in the world, not sure she’d recognize her destiny if it slapped her across the face, which was nothing new to her. When a fight with her abusive boyfriend Michael leaves her broken and bruised, Katerina discovers a world that she might just belong to, provided she can stay alive long enough to find out. With the help of her best friend Isobel, Katerina begins to unravel the past, creating allies and enemies that all seem to stem from an ancestral act of love and sacrifice. As Katerina begins to accept her fate, she discovers an ages old prophesy that demands she side with the darkness or die. With love and life at stake, one thing is absolutely clear: if she wants to survive, she’ll have to transform.

This book is based loosely on the mythology of Psyche, the goddess of souls with a touch of modernity. Set in the fictional world of New Hollow, it features coffee shops (obviously), a small town on hard times, mystery, rebellion and love. Apart from that, well, I guess you’ll just have to read it and find out!

It will be published in parts, so it’s perfect for a little bit of light reading every now and again. I’m working on more books (both the traditional and self-pub way, so if a subscription service isn’t your style, stay tuned-there’s more good things to come!) and I’d say that’s a pretty swell ending to a pretty swell day.

Fear v Courage

There’s a lot to be said about courage and fear. Everything I’ve seen is usually in response to some vague stressor that makes us feel doubt, concern and general consternation. And I think that that’s worth mentioning. However, I want to do a good old fashioned mental health blog today. The kind that’s more or less just preaching to myself.

In Facebook, you can look at all the things you posted on that day throughout the years. And today pulled up a piece I’d done here that was designed as a letter to myself. I talked to myself about abusive relationships, about self-hatred, about perseverance. And all of those things are important. But they’re not the only things I need to tell my younger self.

Anyway-fear. I found myself at a place mentally where I knew I wasn’t poised for success. But I’d convinced myself that it was completely necessary for me to be there. I told myself the list of reasons I had to be there, and then told myself that list again. And the louder I yelled that list at myself, the more I hated why I was doing it. So I shushed that voice that told me I had to and I got out of it. The list of reasons isn’t gone, but I sure am.

Do I have a plan? Nope-I have like 12% of a plan.

But what I do have is my mental health. And as I told someone today, that feels very selfish. That person then told me that mental health is never selfish.

And they were right.

I was so caught up in the embarrassment that I was going to ignore the voice telling me I had to because I couldn’t be happy with it. And I looked down.

I’ve told you this story. About how a little girl said the four words that changed my life. I wish for this. And the truth of the matter is, I couldn’t bring myself to say those words. So I left. I made myself feel better, happier. I chose me over all the reasons telling me “them”.

So here’s the deal.

Courage isn’t the thing keeping you rooted to the bottom of the ocean, fighting the tides. Courage is the thing whispering quietly to uproot yourself and be free. Fear isn’t getting swept up in the breeze, not knowing where you’re going. Fear is never leaving the mundane because you’ve convinced yourself not to take chances.

And so I took a leap of faith. Which was rewarded by an opportunity. I am pleased to announce that I now have a series on Channillo! You can find out more at: Coffee and Criticisms