The audio for Ghost City is rolling in and it is GIVING ME LIFE. I’ve been able to listen to the first half of the book so far, and it is
The audio for Ghost City is rolling in and it is GIVING ME LIFE. I’ve been able to listen to the first half of the book so far, and it is just freaking beautiful. But even as the author of the source material, I can only take part of the credit. Sure, the words are decent enough. The story is interesting enough. (Okay, who am I kidding, I still think this is the best book I’ve ever written) But this NARRATOR. SHE IS THE GREATEST. The way she brings everything and everyone to life is like a dream come true for me! I loved writing this book, and I still love it with all my heart even though it’s left the nest and I’ve moved on to other projects. But experiencing Kiddo and Noah and Princess’s story in this new way almost makes it seem like an entirely new story, all because of the narrator’s stunning interpretation and translation.
I’m so proud to be a part of this collaboration, and so honored to be working with this amazingly talented actress and narrator. It makes my little heart sing. ;-;
I have been writing literally since I have been able to construct sentences on (construction) paper (with crayons). They were the plagiaristic early fan fiction of a child who had just watched The Last Unicorn and Labyrinth about a hundred million times, but still. I was telling stories.
I would say I began writing fiction in earnest, meaning not for teachers or to create my prefered endings to pre-existing stories, when I was about nine years old. I started my first novel then. I took an extracurricular creative writing class between the end of 4th grade and the beginning of 5th, and the short story that resulted quickly became epic in scope. When I was ten, I saw Star Wars for the first time, and suddenly everything I wrote had to be a science fiction fantasy space opera. Yeah. My first novel was over 165,000 words. (I kept that draft, and all the variations thereof, until The Great Hard Drive Disaster of 2009 where I fucking lost everything I’d ever written unless I had emailed it to someone else since I got my Gmail account.)
I knew the draft sucked, but it didn’t stop me from loving it. I thought, jeez, it’s awesome that I know it sucks. Because that means at some point I’m going to be able to tell when it’s really good, right? So I kept writing. I wrote the sequel. The prequel. Another prequel. In college, I joined a writing group and shared bits and pieces from this story, and it was good, the words were right, but the story…
I am a cocky mother f***er when it comes to my ability as a writer. Words are my home, my craft, my tools, my prayers, and I know how to make them shiny and beautiful or crude and jagged. But story is where I’ve always had my doubts. Am I good enough? Is this how it’s done? Is this something people will want to read? Does this even make any sense?
I took up other projects, finally, when the decade of pressure I’d placed on my epic made it impossible to live up to my dreams. I tried writing in different ways–quickly, before my inner editor could catch up (a little something I wrote for NaNoWriMo that would end up getting me my first full manuscript request from a rather high profile agent); by the seat of my pants as a whole new world unfolded for me and the main character (the original draft of The Hierophant); on display for all the world to see, live-writing a serial fiction fairy tale (The Poppet and the Lune‘s first incarnation); from a mind-mapped outline that helped me rein in my habitually lengthy wordcounts (Ghost City); and finally, a combination of all the methods that have served me best, so far (THE TOWER; SAVAGE CASTLE, though SC is not anywhere near being done, yet).
The point is this: I’ve been writing (very nearly literally) all my life, and I have been writing novels for over twenty years. I have been honing my craft for over two decades. I’ve written over ten different novels.
And I still have no idea how it’s done.
There’s a phenomenon in the arts, but especially in writing, where you pick up some long-abandoned project and read through it and find yourself thinking “my Nicolas Cage, this is beautiful! This is brilliant! …….who the f*** hacked my computer and wrote this? Because it sure as hell wasn’t me.” When you’re feeling less than stellar about your work, you literally cannot understand where those beautiful-brilliant words came from. Where does any of it come from? The story, the characters, the tone, the voice…is there actually a method to any kind of art? A set of instructions, maybe? Ingredients, even?
I’m not talking about talent, or about what makes writing and story good or bad. This is about process. You see authors asked all the time about their “process,” about where they get their ideas from, how they construct a novel from concept to closing sentences. Sure, some authors have things that they do on a pretty regular basis that work for them. But I, for one, have no such thing. I have a tool box that I can draw from, depending on the project, depending on my state of wild inspiration or complete conviction that I am the worst writer of all time (or, you know, somewhere in between).
I’m always trying new things, because the story might need it. What if something works better for me than the way I’ve been doing it? I used to hate outlining, and now I don’t think I could write another novel without it. But the right project might come along that demands being pantsed (written by the seat of my pants, that is). Sometimes it takes me years to write a novel, from conception to final draft. Sometimes it takes me weeks.
And then, I have to ask myself: why do I write at all?
Without romanticizing it with fancy concepts like “it’s my calling” or “purpose” or “what I was put on this planet to do,” this is why I write: because I love it. Because it fills me with glee and passion and profound faith (not necessarily faith in the usual suspects). Because the feeling of finding the right–perfect–beyond perfect–words to express the story and character and feeling of a single moment in a single scene is incomparably exhilarating. I am not being romantic when I say that the experience of a good day of writing, especially fiction, is, to me, incontrovertible proof of magic.
That’s why I write. I don’t write to get to the finish line. I don’t write to feel good after the fact. I cringe when I see people talking about suffering through words and saying the draft was like “pulling teeth.” I want to shake them and say “you’re doing it wrong!”
I’m not saying that writing a novel is a cake walk for me. It’s not. It’s difficult. And there are days where it fucking sucks. But ever since I realized that those days are more a symptom of where my mind is focusing than an inarguable part of the creative process, they’ve been fewer and farther between. And on the days where there’s a problem–a plot hole, a corner to be written out of, a character that just isn’t right–then that is a challenge to be taken head on, to be embraced, to be loved as fervently as the challenge of finding the right words to bring your ideas to life. The entire process of writing a novel from beginning to end–whatever that process might look like for that project–is something that can be fun, exhilarating, and life-giving.
tl;dr: Writing is hard. Storytelling is hard. There is no one way to do it. But if it does not fill you with passion, if it feels like you are losing more life than you are gaining, then something needs to change. Because writing, like everything else in life, is about the journey.
At least, that’s how it is for me, anyway.
Thanks for indulging my philosophical ramblings again, dear reader! If you’ve read this far, here’s a treat: I’m currently back working on revising THE TOWER, which means that some day soon I will have a release date–which also means that some day soon I will have a COVER REVEAL!!! OR TWO! BECAUSE THERE’S TWO COVERS! WHAT!
In the meantime, stay tuned for announcements regarding the Ghost City audiobook release, upcoming flash sales on some or maybe all of my novels, and your chance to win some free stuff!
It is done. Last night I turned in the first 75 pages of a brand new novel for the Djerassi workshop I was accepted into this past winter. They are some of the best 75 opening pages I’ve ever written, and I did it by ignoring all the “rules” of how to write a first draft.
Confession: I wrote it all in two weeks while working my full time job (and taking one insane less-than-48-hour roadtrip to Salem, MA for my 30th birthday!) and I felt totally unprofessional and like an absolute fraud while doing so.
Confession #2: If I had a choice, I would not go back and do it any differently.
You know why? Aside from these being some of the most sharply-focused, present-in-the-moment weeks of my recent adult life, I didn’t have a single moment to spare for over-thinking (except on the car ride home from Salem where I may have started to panic because I hadn’t written in two days, which we shall not speak about).
The thing is, SAVAGE CASTLE is a book that I am creating based on ~feeling.~ It’s a new thing I’m trying: listening to my gut, to what calls to me, to where the story jams and stumbles versus where it glides and flows. I literally feel these things in my hands and in my throat, and if I pay attention, if I just listen, if I just look for the words that feel the best, everything actually goes pretty smoothly.
(I have been told this isn’t exactly normal, that it might be a form of synesthesia, but since I eschew labels like that I’m just going to call it my gut feeling. I’m trying to live my life by it, these days. So far it’s working out pretty well.)
See, I trained myself to totally ignore my gut when I was younger. It caused a lot of trouble, that ol’ intuition and heart’s desire, but I became pretty darn good at stomping down the parts of me that wanted to take risks, dream big, or blaze trails. (I actually convinced myself I was already doing all of those things–that’s how tricky I am!) The problem is, of course, when you shut yourself down like that for so long, it has to come out somewhere, eventually. And it’s no secret on this blog that, for me, it all came out a few years ago in the form of a total nervous breakdown and eventual divorce (which was actually a byproduct of getting better and realizing I deserved much more than the life I was living). :D
So these last few years, I’ve been on a mission to retrain myself to hear that still, small voice (which is actually a big, loud voice by the time you reach breakdown mode–it just gets hard to hear over the sound of your ego screaming DANGER DANGER DANGER at every cool new idea you have), and writing a novel under an intense deadline is the best way to force yourself to drop all your hang-ups, issues, and concerns, and just write a damn fine piece of fiction.
My motto these past two weeks has been “I don’t have time for this shit!” regarding mowing the lawn, feeding myself, traffic anywhere, people being wrong on the internet, and, more literally, when the dog got into the litterbox and made a mess. But also, and more importantly, this motto was continuously applied to my insidious self-doubt, my tendency to get head-bobbingly sleepy when I’m stressed out, and my ability to make myself into a magical victim of the universe in three thoughts or less. I just did not have time for that shit before a deadline, but it was actually relatively easy enough to shake off so long as I always came back to this: I am a writer. There is nothing in heaven, hell, earth, or any other dimension that is ever going to change that. The only thing that can stop me, is me. So, terrible internal monologue: STFU. I can no longer hear you over the sound of me being awesome.
What I love about this experience more than anything, though, is that I learned something incredible: if I didn’t have time for that shit before deadline, then I can refuse to give my time to that shit now. I’ve given myself all the evidence I need to prove that shit was just an option all along.
Saying “no” is always an option, except when it comes to what your heart wants (unless you’re into planning your future midlife crisis). You can say “no” when insecurity and harmful comparison to other authors rear their ugly heads. You can say “thanks, but no thanks” when your ego is trying just too damn hard to protect you/itself and wants to you “play it safe.” You can say “go fuck yourself” when it tells you “don’t get excited about this one, you’ve never gotten a book deal before and you never will.”
And so, what was the result of me learning to say no to shitty thoughts? What was the result of rushing to write the first 75 pages of a novel in two weeks, between the hours of sleep, and work, and dentists, and vets, and turning thirty 500 miles away from home?
Why, some of the best, most organic storytelling I’ve ever done.
Anyway, the book is far from finished, but I’ve got a hell of a lot of momentum going in the right direction. I can’t wait to see where it takes me. :D
Happy May everyone!
I was really hoping I could have a release date and a cover reveal for you by now, but unfortunately my scheming and scheduling were interrupted by a mini-plague that had me too brain-foggy to finish revising THE TOWER. You see, the plan was to put THE TOWER aside come May 1st, all nice and neat and mostly finished, and start working on my next novel immediately. This is the novel I intend to bring to the YA Novel workshop with Nova Ren Suma at Djerassi this summer. It’s the novel I’ve been itching to write for weeks now. It’s the novel of which I need to have 75 pages completed and ready to submit to my fellow workshoppers come May 21st.
I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, for fear that my peers will realize I’m a big faker who is absolutely unprofessional to think she can crank out 75 pages in 21 days that would be good enough for a workshop like this. And they’d be right, I knew 21 days was a tight squeeze to begin with, but I work well under pressure. I like the pressure. It lights a fire under my butt and helps to silence the evil inner editor forever asking “but is that original enough?” “but is that going to change someone’s life?” “but is that PROBLEMATIC?”
So the tight squeeze is no problem. And, let’s remember, GHOST CITY was written in six weeks once I sat down and wrote past the second chapter, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. The plan for these pages was good: I didn’t need a whole novel in 21 days, I just needed 75 pages and some revision. Not a problem. Exciting, even!
But then the plague happened, and all I could do was sit in the sun and nap, like a giant stuffy-headed house cat, and when I wasn’t napping I sure as hell couldn’t focus long enough to revise or write a novel. I lost six days. Six precious days! And now I have 15 days to write 75 pages which according to standard agreements are 250 words each making it an approximate total of 18,750 words–about 1,250 words a day–that’s almost NaNoWriMo levels of madness! Plus, these have to be good words.
So, unfortunately, I can’t announce a release date for THE TOWER just yet–I refuse to do that until I have a finished manuscript ready to go to proofreaders, because I hate the idea of making a promise and not delivering. And along those same lines, without a release date I can’t comfortably do a cover reveal. Which saddens me to NO END because I am RIDICULOUSLY proud of these covers (ebook and print!).
But, one way to help me write 18,750 words in the next 15 days is to share my excitement over this new YA novel with all of you, so I’m going to do the unprofessional (or “unprofesh” as the cool kids say) thing and tell you the working title so I can start tweeting about it! :D
I can’t give too much detail on what it’s about, but it’s going to be what I do best: dark, unusual, a little bit magical, and (hopefully) totally unexpected.
BUT if you really want me to tease you, here are some words that help give you the flavor of what this novel is all about:
And that is all I am going to give you today.
So if you see me freaking out on Twitter between now and May 21st about something called #SavageCastle, now you (sort of) know what I’m referring to! :D
Have a great week!
After months of waiting with bated breath (okay, bated breath was really just the last few days before I got the email), I finally received word that I have been accepted into Nova Ren Suma’s YA novel-writing workshop at Djerassi! I’m incredibly honored and grateful for the opportunity to work not only with an author that has deeply inspired me as a writer and as a person, but also to be working with 9 other talented writers! I’m looking forward to some inspiring people and conversations, and learning whatever I can from each and every person present. My brain is ready for your wisdom! And I guess to share whatever wisdom I might have (lol).
I’ve said it a million times before, but one of the reasons why I continue to work towards having a traditional publishing experience is because I want to always be working towards becoming the best writer that I can possibly be. I hope that, with the right agent and editor, I can learn and grow as a writer and a storyteller. Lessons from the traditional publishing world are one of the few unexplored frontiers for me, as someone who’s been a self-proclaimed writer since before I could spell my own name. You see, (and you’ll have to pardon the unintentional humblebrag) all my life I’ve had the unsatisfying experience of being a “really good writer for my age” when I was younger or “extremely talented.” Which means that, in every creative writing class and every writing workshop, even up to an agent-fishing-type conference just a few years ago, I’ve always been a big fish in a small-to-medium pond, and the focus was always on teaching those smaller fish. That’s awesome when two agents are fighting over you at a conference–not so great when all the full manuscript requests over the years never seem to pan out.
I’m lucky. I know I’m a good writer. I believe in that wholeheartedly, even when I also know that what I’m writing is shit (I know I can fix it. Revision is glorious). Just having that in my core belief system puts me miles ahead of a lot of creative types. But I know I have plenty left to learn, that my writing can always be even better, that there will never come a day when I am done perfecting my voice, my craft, my process, my method.
I am not a religious person, but for me, everything in life rests on a spiritual foundation. Every choice I’ve made; every relationship I keep or dissolve; the food I eat, the products I buy; the way I see everything in the entire world–it all comes down to the things that I believe in, deeply, when nothing else can be known for certain. Choosing to self publish, despite the criticism I knew it would invite, was based on those core beliefs (and a handful of editors validating my work but telling me, essentially, “as good as it is, no publisher will take a chance on something so strange.”). I love the freedom of self publishing, the possibilities it presents, and, you know 70% royalties on ebook sales doesn’t hurt either.
But I didn’t do it for money. I did it because unpublished novels that I know are good feel like deaths in the family–far worse than an abandoned manuscript that wasn’t ever going to get better. And besides, just because a novel doesn’t necessarily have a broad appeal doesn’t mean it’s not a great novel with the potential to change someone’s life.
Admittedly, that sounds really defensive. I’m not here to defend my choice to self-publish my early work in this ever-changing landscape of publishing. But consider this: have you ever loved the shit out of something no one in your life had ever heard of, that never gained in popularity (or if it did it took a very long time)? Have you ever loved a person that no one else even notices, or wanted to get to know the super shy kid in class that everyone else ignores? Have you ever found an old book at a used book store, a novel or a book of poems, or found a piece of art and fallen completely in love with it and then found out there is ZERO information on that poor author/artist who probably died in obscurity?
Okay, well, maybe you have and maybe you haven’t. These probably aren’t universal experiences. Maybe there are just some people who live a kind of universal experience themselves, and there’s nothing obscure about them. Hipsters weep for them, and chances are good that they probably wouldn’t like the books I’ve self-published. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But let’s be honest–the mark of a great piece of art, including fiction, is that it speaks to us. And the more people a work of art speaks to, the greater it is, in history and theory. And, also, let’s be more honest: the more people it speaks to, the more appealing it is to anyone who stands to profit from representing it.
How to appeal to the masses (or a large enough mass to make your art lucrative, anyway) is probably the hardest thing for any artist to learn, if indeed it is something that you can learn. Some people have it–some people, who probably already enjoy things that appeal to larger groups of people, naturally tell stories that fit into that world and appeal to those masses. For other people, like myself, we tend towards things that may be excellent, but unmarketable. Remarkable, but strange. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, since my whole life people have repeatedly told me the things I say and do are “lol so weird” and my response has always been “Really? That’s weird? Not the spoon cult I started in eighth grade, or the comics I used to draw about my sociopathic alter ego?”
I don’t know if you can actually learn how to write stories that appeal to more people–and if you can, I don’t know that it would actually serve your writing. I’ve experienced myself, and heard countless tales from other authors, how writing for mass appeal can cause devastating depression and creative blocks. But I do believe that as we grow into our art, we connect more and more with that deep undercurrent of raw humanity that lies at the foundation of all creativity. I believe that if we follow our hearts and hone our craft and keep writing our words, no matter what, that the stories we write will naturally evolve into things that are bigger than our quirks and fascinations, our talent and our vision. A great story–and great art–is always much more than the sum of the artist’s parts.
Anyway. I’m finishing the second draft of The Tower and starting the outline for my next stand-alone YA novel, I’ve got an AMAZING narrator contracted for the Ghost City audiobook, and I’m really looking forward to the conference in June. So that’s where I’m at right now. :D
So, a year ago yesterday I released my latest book, Ghost City, a mind-bending post-apocalyptic ghost story about kids surviving after the end of the world. While I’m extremely proud of that stand-alone novel, the (belated) one year anniversary of its release feels like the perfect time to make an announcement about my NEXT book! I’m excited to say that 2015 is the year I return to the dark fantasy world of The Arcana Series with the sequel to The Hierophant!
Are you ready for the title?
The next book in The Arcana Series is…
(btw, this image you’re about to see is associated, but not the actual cover…)
I’d like you to do me a favor and forget anything you may have ever heard me say about this book/book 2 in The Arcana Series. Like its author, this story and how it will be told has undergone many (messy) transformations since the first draft was written. But I am pleased to say the time has come for Ana’s story to continue, and for people other than the infinite monkeys typing in my brain to be a part of it. :D
(The above image is from the Vertigo Tarot Deck from DC Comics, and is courtesy of tarot.ucoz.ua)
I have started and thrown out more blog posts and journal entries this year than I can even begin to remember. I’m compelled, periodically, to write about this intense feeling I’m living with, this intense faith, that has propelled me into writing two novels at the same time while working a full-time job. I feel like the energy that’s filling my brain with whispered inspiration should be extolled with glorious words, captured on the (digital) page, preserved for all to see.
But it just ain’t working like that. Every time I try to capture the details, they slip through my fingers as my brain sharpens its focus. The focus is somehow misdirected, away from the truth. I know I’ve had various drug related experiences that would call this ego-interference, or something along those lines. I mean, after all, why write a blog post about something if your ego wasn’t getting involved?
So here’s the truth, as near as I can describe it: I’m optimistic. But more than optimistic, I have this sense–this borderline knowing–that good things are just around the corner. I have words pouring through me again, a path lighting up before me, and the promise of some kind of freedom in the near-ish future. And the recognition of the freedom I do have, now.
Life is not perfect, and yet it is. No, I’m not making my living from my writing–yet. But I am writing, and loving it. No, I don’t live near the ocean in an adorable New England condo-yet. But I do live in a city that is going through a terrific renaissance, in a beautiful little house that keeps me warm and dry, with two excellent roommates and a menagerie of furry, loving pets. No, I’m not rich–but I’m solvent. No, I don’t have everything I want–but I have a life full of freedom, love, and the promise of adventure.
And for me, that’s what life is about: being free, loving others, and having one adventure after another. Even if that adventure is as small as trying a new way of cooking vegetables (have you tried sous vide yet? It is perfection.), or as big as putting 80,000 original words and countless hours of toil, love, and heartache out for public criticism and consumption. (That’s publishing a novel, in case you were wondering.)
It took me a long time to realize that what I wanted out of life was as simple as that, but I’m glad I did. I might even venture to say that I think, in the end, it’s that simple for most of us. We want to be free. We want to love and to be loved. And we want to feel alive.
When was the last time you asked yourself: what do I really want from life? Go ahead, ask. And listen. Sometimes the answer will surprise you.
(For Part I, click here)
All my life I’ve been enchanted by the mystical, mythical world. I love, even if I do not wholeheartedly believe in, the idea of fortune-telling and psychics and second-sight. (You may have gathered that from my tarot-based book series.) I’ve even joked with my friends that I collect psychic readings, from Lily Dale, to Salem, to any psychic fair that passes through town. I don’t rely on them for anything but entertainment, but they do satisfy some deep, eternal sense of wonder that I’ve both carried and contained for all of my adult life.
One of my favorite forms of divination outside of tarot is numerology. Like astrology, numerology uses things like your birthdate to determine where you’re at and where you’ve been and where you’re probably going. It’s based on an idea that humans and all things go through maturation cycles, and this rotating cycle of 9s permeates your days, weeks, months, and years. Last year was a 2 personal year for me–The High Priestess, as it relates to tarot cards–a year of inaction and solitude, of internal processing and development. I can’t argue with that description.
This year is a 3 personal year for me–The Empress. A year of abundance and expansion, of creativity and vitality, being physical and sensual, and social. I felt this year creeping in towards the end of 2014, when I started my new kick boxing class and my new writing regimen, and when all of a sudden I realized I was financially solvent for the first time since my ex moved out. And as 2014 drew to a close I began working on a project that had been escaping my grasp for almost two years. Even before 2015 rolled in, I’ve had this feeling–this knowing–that 2015 is going to be one hell of an amazing year.
2014 was long, dark, and agonizingly slow, but those slow dark moments forced me to take a hard look at the way I want to live my life versus they way I thought I *should* live my life. And in 2014, I effectively banned that word from my reasoning vocabulary. “Should,” I have decided, is the most dangerous and destructive word in the English language.
So what changed, really, from 2013 to 2015? Just this one thing: I realized, deeply and profoundly, that happiness is a choice that we have the power to make, every day. I realized that relying on circumstances and other people to dictate my emotions was the essence of powerlessness, of giving my power away. I learned that trying to be someone and create something that others wanted, that didn’t line up with what I wanted, could never bring lasting happiness. You can’t please everyone all of the time. You can’t even please a few people all of the time. And it’s not your job to please anyone but yourself, anyway.
And as selfish as that sounds, this has been a year where I’ve felt more compassion, more empathy, more patience, love, and understanding than ever before. Because if I choose not to let the actions and words of other people derail me from my choice of happiness, then I have no other choice but to love them just as they are, right where they are, regardless of how they’ve reacted to me. When you stop giving people the power to hurt and upset you, it suddenly becomes so much easier to accept them as they are.
But more importantly, with love comes forgiveness and healing–and with all of that, comes hope. And when you have hope? It’s so much easier to keep choosing happiness.
So if 2014 was, for me, the ash-phase of the Phoenix cycle…then 2015 is definitely the year I rise again. And this year I rise as something more than I was before, something powerful, in command of my own destiny: this year, I am the Empress.
So it’s a little late, but happy 2015, everyone!
PS: If you’d like to calculate your personal year for 2015, here’s how! Take you’re birth month and day, and add the numbers together until you get a single digit, like so:
(May, 17) 5+1+7=13 –> 1+3=4
Then do the same with the current year: (2015) 2+0+1+5=8
Then add the totals together until you get a single digit: 4+8=12 –> 1+2=3
I was driving to a friend’s cottage to spend the holiday and weekend with them for a mini writing retreat. My first Christmas after separating from my husband had been hard, even though it was anything but traditional–my family and I spent two weeks in England with my brother, his wife, and her family, and overall it was lovely. But while I was there I managed to hit an emotional rock bottom–or what I thought was rock bottom: after a situation with my family triggered every conceivable trigger I have, I spent the night sobbing, alone, in the dark, hoping to fall asleep because I was having my first panic attack in months. I was done. To be perfectly honest, I was ready to die. I couldn’t, because of Rusty (my dog) and my cats. But I wouldn’t have been upset if I fell asleep and never woke up.
And even though my general mood improved, that feeling didn’t go away. I was so tired of feeling like I literally sucked at living, and I was tired of the specifically exhausting pain of stopping myself from hating a person that I once thought was my soul mate. I was so fucking exhausted of telling people I couldn’t afford things, can’t afford things, won’t be able to afford things for a long time. When I came home, the empty house was a gut punch, the loving faces of my pets a tragic reminder of the little family I was losing, the mounting responsibilities in homeownership (that I never would have signed up for without a partner) a big fucking mountain of sand pouring down on me.
I was low. Even without the drama of panic attacks an sobbing, I was the lowest I’d ever been because I didn’t even feel human any more. I didn’t feel like a person. I didn’t feel like a woman. I didn’t feel like anything but a giant pile of things I didn’t want to do but had to.
And I didn’t even want to fix it because I was, more than anything, tired of trying and failing.
Maybe it was my fate to be that way. Maybe I was a sad person by nature, and I needed to stop fighting it. I realized I would have to decide, every day, for the rest of my life, whether it was still worth it to keep going or not. And my only criteria so far was how guilty I felt, and how many pets I had left.
So, like I said, I was driving, New Year’s Eve, down backwoods country roads with Rusty in the back seat. I was just leaving a 55mph zone, entering a 30mph, and I was slowing down accordingly. And I got pulled over, for speeding of course. And the cop was unnecessarily dickish.
And that totally did me in.
That was it. I sat in my car staring at my speeding ticket sobbing like a hot mess (I at least had the dignity to wait until after he gave me the ticket to cry), because I didn’t have money to feed myself, I didn’t have money to pay my mortgage, I didn’t have money for health insurance that I didn’t even want but had to get or else pay a fine that I also didn’t have money for. I didn’t have money for the lawyer everyone kept telling me I should get to handle the separation paperwork. I didn’t have enough money to take off work for 2 weeks or to pay my share of the expenses while I was abroad, but I had to go because it would have been worse to stay, the plane ticket had already been changed twice, everything had already been calculated with my presence included…
And that was rock bottom. Nothing tragic, nothing monumental, nothing unique. Just powerlessness. Emptiness. Everything hurt, and nothing could be done to solve anything, or fix anything, or make anything better. Nothing.
Over the handful of years leading up to that moment, I’d had an image in my head of this strong, free woman: a robust woman standing on a precipice with her arms spread open, welcoming the storm winds, hair streaming and eyes wide. Her expression was always neutral. She didn’t hate the storm. She didn’t love it, either.
She was the image that came into my head when I tried to picture being brave.
That New Year’s Eve, when I finally put my car in gear and drove forward, wondering whether or not I should even go to the cottage (I was only 20 minutes away at that point, and I’d already driven over an hour, in the snow), I became the evolution of that woman on the precipice. Only my arms weren’t spread wide, and my feet weren’t planted firmly on the ground. I was adrift. I was a kite cut free, buffeted and lifted and whipped through the sky with a sort of soft, or maybe slightly surprised, look on my face.
There was nothing to be done, so I stopped fighting.
And all at once, it didn’t hurt anymore. It didn’t hurt, because I wasn’t being strong anymore. I wasn’t being brave anymore. I was actually, genuinely, free.
I could give up control. Because I finally, finally, finally realized that I never really had any control at all, except over one very small but very important thing: how I choose to move forward now, in this very moment.
And I chose to keep going.
With that vision in my head of a girl adrift on a storm wind, unmoored and free, I began the slow and often frightening process of re-training myself to really, truly listen to my heart. And one of the first things it told me–what it had been trying to tell me for so long–was this:
The secret to flight has never been wings–the secret has always been to let go of the shit that weighs you down.
For me, the strangest part about making an audiobook was that 99.99999% of the work belonged to someone else this time. I’ve never done voice acting or narration before, and my background in sound design all happened in professional-ish studios at college or in very serious local bands garages. So I had a lot of questions for Elizabeth about her process! Read on to find out more about the narrator for The Poppet and the Lune, and how the audiobook was created!
What made you decide to take up voice acting/narration?
E.B: I’ve always loved doing imitations and quoting my favorite tv shows and movies–I think I get that from my mom. It was just a natural thing from the time I was little to say something or make a joke and then quote one of my favorite characters to go along with it, imitating their voice. When I got to college, I did imitations for my friends all the time: of characters, of people we’d met, of my friends themselves. It got to the point where pretty much everyone knew, “if you’re friends with Elizabeth, you’d better get used to her making weird noises/voices and saying strange things all the time.” And my true friends accepted it, and even liked it. (Or so they tell me, haha!)
I’d been interested in pursuing voice acting as a career for a long time, but I wasn’t sure how to get into it. Audiobook narration wasn’t a means I’d considered until one day when my sister had a migraine and asked me to read a book aloud to her, since she couldn’t read it herself. That was sort of what put the idea of audiobooks in my mind–I enjoyed reading the book aloud, and she enjoyed listening to it.
TPaL was your first audiobook project – how steep was the learning curve?
E.B.: It wasn’t too bad, fortunately! I already had some experience with audio and video editing programs, which was a big help. This was my first time using the specific editing program I use now–an open source program called Audacity–so that took a bit of getting used to. Mastering the audio to all of ACX’s required specifications was also a confusing learning process, but the Audacity forums were a lot of help. There are a number of other ACX narrators on there who were able to share their experiences and give tips to help first time editors get everything exactly right. There was a lot of trial and error, but I enjoyed it, and luckily it wasn’t too overwhelming!
What was your favorite scene to narrate? (No spoilers!)
E.B.: That’s a tough one–I really enjoyed the whole book because each new part, each new chapter introduced new emotions, new settings or new characters. I think one of my favorites was when the patchwork girl meets the Banshi, and then Aubrey, Scarlet, and Aurelia. It was so much fun to do all those different voices. Since they and the patchwork girl all talk to each other for quite a while, it was important to me to ensure that the listener could easily distinguish between all five characters. Their interactions were so endearing, and I love those girls and seeing how their storylines developed. I honestly adore the entire section that took place in Prince Baylis’ castle. Those chapters are my favorite parts of the book, both as a narrator and a reader.
What was the hardest scene to narrate?
E.B.: I’d have to say the scenes with Gabriel, because his voice was described as being so deep. I tried to talk as deeply as possible, but I had to do a LOT of takes because it was hard to keep my tone low enough. The scene where Gabriel is negotiating with the patchwork girl in his cave was particularly challenging. That whole section of the book is very emotional and raw and dramatic, so I did my best to convey that–not just through the characters’ voices, but through the narration as well.
Favorite character to voice?
E.B.: Definitely the Banshi. I struggled with her at first because I was having trouble settling on what she should sound like. I did a lot of different practice versions that just weren’t right. Finally, after I thought about it more carefully, I realized: a banshee doesn’t talk, she wails! I tried to focus on the description of her voice in the book, and make it sound like my voice was wavering up and down a few octaves, very breathy. It was so much fun and I was really proud of how it came out.
What does you recording set up look like (what kind of mic, audio software, etc.) and where is it located?
E.B.: I have a room over the garage that I converted into a sound studio. I did a lot of research on the best way to build a home studio without breaking the bank, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Voice actor James Arnold Taylor has a great series of videos on YouTube that demonstrate how you can use materials you have on hand and achieve professional results. Everyday items like egg crates, towels, pillows and blankets all make fantastic noise-dampening materials, which is hugely important if you want to produce an audioboook–ACX has very strict guidelines to ensure professional quality in every production, so it’s important to have a well-constructed studio that’s as sound-proof as possible.
For equipment, I use a CAD USB microphone, with a CAD pop filter. This microphone is great. It captures very crisp, high-quality sound, but it was much more affordable than many others on the market right now. And since it is USB, it has the convenience of plugging it directly into my computer. When I edit, I use Sennheiser HD 201 headphones. They are perfect because they pick up all the little pops and background noise I might otherwise miss. They are also very comfortable. The editing software, like I mentioned earlier, is an open-source program called Audacity. It is a wonderful little program, easy to use, and best of all, it’s free! It’s a popular choice among narrators at ACX, and I highly recommend it.
What book is your DREAM narration project?
E.B.: I would love to do some sort of children’s book or series. I love coming up with voices for magical creatures! I am a big fan of Emily Rodda’s “Fairy Realm” and “Deltora Quest” series, so any projects similar to those would be an enormous thrill.
Any other projects you’re working on now?
E.B.: I am currently narrating “Southern Greed” by Peggy Holloway, an adult mystery/thriller set in the South in the 1960s. It is a really gripping book, and a lot of fun to be working on!
If you’d like to know more about Elizabeth and her work, feel free to check her out on Twitter (@elizabethvoices) or her website, VoicesByElizabeth.com! Or better yet, check out her debut audiobook, The Poppet and the Lune, on Amazon, Audible, or iTunes!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Elizabeth!
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