Writer’s Block Need Not Be A ‘Vice’: A Brief Story About the Struggle to Create

Vice Front Cover 5.5x8.5Vice is finally published! Part two of my YA Sci-Fi series has made its way into the world, three years after the release of the first book, Tick. I did not plan a pre-release. I have not sought many ARC reviews. The birth of Vice was a challenge to say the least, and I wanted to share what I have learned about the process of writing this book, what I hope to gain from the experience, and some advice and wisdom to other struggling authors.

Let’s go back to the beginning. I wrote the first draft of Tick in three and a half weeks, a serious feat for any writer. The story poured out of me from beginning to end. I knew little about where the story was going beyond a handful of major plot points, and I didn’t have an ending. I got up every morning and hammered out 5-8 thousand words a day, seeing maybe only the next one or two chapters in my head. It was during the process of writing Tick that I discovered the ending, that I realized the purpose behind the story, that I was revealing a part of myself that needed to be healed in not only the process of writing Tick, but sharing it. I spent an additional seven months rewriting and editing Tick, but it was an almost magical experience writing experience.

If writing Tick was a light capturing lighting in a bottle, writing Vice was more akin to pulling teeth. The story of Tick is thematically personal: teenage Jo Bristol struggles with her desire to express herself artistically while battling some nasty demons in her mind, a theme that it is more common among artists that one might realize. Tick is the story of my past, and to continue the series, I knew Vice needed to be more present. I surprised myself with the parallels as Jo struggled to feed her creative muse and continue to prove herself as more than a one-hit-wonder all while suppressing the fear she would return to her former, chaotic self. I was, in effect, suffering through the same struggle. It was my fear that Vice would not match the magic of Tick, that maybe I didn’t really have what it takes to be a career novelist, that perhaps all I really had was that one halfway decent story to tell.

Insecurity and fear does all kinds of damage to a creative force. As I struggled to convince myself Vice could be a book to be proud of, I simultaneously struggled to align Jo’s story toward an ending I couldn’t yet see. I couldn’t see it, because I was currently living it.

As a writer, I am definitely a “pantser”—meaning I typically find my stories as I write them. For Vice, I tried to plot it out, as a series requires more forethought and planning for foreshadowing and a streamlined overall story arc. But as I began writing what I plotted for Vice, it never quite felt right. The story felt too forced, too separate from Jo’s true motivation and personality. So I replotted. Tried writing the new story. Still, it didn’t feel right. Scrapped it all again. I have deleted more words from the dozens of drafts than are in the final print of Vice… at 120k words. It wasn’t that I wasn’t writing the book, I was simply writing the wrong book.

I’d written Tick in less than a month, how could the follow-up be so much more difficult to get down onto the page? I knew the themes, I knew where I intended to land the story at the end, so why was the beginning so damn difficult? Turns out, I had a different kind of writer’s block not often talked about, but caused by that all too familiar emotion: fear. Most people talk about “writer’s block” as the frustrating phase where words don’t make it onto the page. There’s a lot of staring out windows, Twitter rummaging, perhaps the house ends up cleaner than it has in months. These phases happen to all writers (hell, I’m in the middle of one right now!), but that wasn’t the kind of writer’s block I suffered with Vice. I was writing. And deleting. And writing some more. And scrapping the whole manuscript to start over. Because the words were coming from my head, not my heart.

The saying goes that if you aren’t crying while writing the scene, no one will cry while reading the scene. The same can be said for any emotion: excitement, frustration, worry… While writing all those drafts of Vice from my plot notes, I wasn’t “in the story.” I could visualize what was happening, but there was no true feeling. It took me awhile to realize I hadn’t let myself back in Jo Bristol’s soul after completing Tick. It was as though the next phase of her journey was stalled because I hadn’t allowed myself to reconnect with her as a character. What did Jo really want? What were her motivations? Sure, I could plot myself from Point A to Point B in my story arc, but why? What exactly was I even trying to say in Vice?

After Tick was released, a lot of people asked when the next installment would be released (yay me for writing in a cliffhanger! Eesh). I told them a year. That seemed perfectly reasonable. Initially, that was my goal. But the deadline passed, life shifted and left less time to focus on the story. Then another year passed. And another. By the start of 2018 I almost surrendered to the notion that the book would never be where I wanted it to be and I should just release it as is. But i couldn’t do that. Tick was a magical writing experience for me, and people connected with my characters and the story, and I couldn’t let them down with a crappy follow-up. I couldn’t seem like a one-hit-wonder, like I wasn’t up to the task of completing a full series.

As the fear and insecurities built up, and the hole got deeper and deeper, I found myself writing other things, especially screenplays. There was that spark of madness again, the thrill of new stories that poured out of me uncensored, eager to be put on the page. Yet, day after day, I was reminded that I had a book to finish. I had a choice: either I could wait for the story of Vice to come to me, or I could buckle myself into my desk chair and figure out what the hell was untruthful about the story in the first place.

I will admit, I’m not as educated in writing as a lot of writers, but I learned early on that I had a knack for wordplay and the rare ability to evoke emotion with a well-crafted phrase. Writing and storytelling has always come easy to me, whether it be in the form of a screenplay, an op-ed for my high school newspaper or a blog post, or even a song (I do honestly believe that studying good lyricists can help build the ability to turn a phrase). I’ve known some people who spent all kinds of money to achieve their MFA from [insert well-known university here], and then expect that because they have the tools to write an amazing novel, it should be that simple to crank one out. But storytelling is so much more involved that that. Sure, you can have a theme in mind. Maybe a good hook. A character. A setting. Yet the process of combining all of those elements into a story that people will actually give a crap about requires something else entirely. It requires that the writer actually have something to say.

That was where I struggled with writing Vice. I didn’t know what I was trying to say. I already had the bones of the story (character, setting, locations, etc), but what was the point of it all? I had put my main character through the ringer and helped her find her way out, so why was this story still going? And, more importantly, why should my readers care to continue on this journey with Josephine Bristol?

While struggling to tell an honest story in Vice, it finally occurred to me that if Jo Bristol’s journey was still evolving, then so was mine. At the end of Tick, Jo paints a mural that is meant to symbolize her growth as a person and her internal discovery that she uses to fight the darkness that lives within her to feed her muse, and therefore bring light to the world around her. It is exactly how I feel about the story of Tick. I poured myself into that book in a way I had never done before, and those who read it found it inspiring and enlightening. Having Tick out in the world is something that continues to bring me joy and pride.

And yet… I needed to prove that I could do it again. I was unsure if I could recreate that kind truth in a story. And I realized… that was Jo’s fear as well. She had painted this mural, claimed she was healed and wiser than before for having gone through everything, and yet when people came asking for more she was unsure if she could deliver twice. Was she healed? Could she still create meaningful art if her life is roses and rainbows? What would that do to her identity as a person? And how much longer before she cracks and reverts back to her former self? Does the magic happen somewhere between those two extremes?

Finally, I had my ah-ha moment. That was the story Jo wanted me to tell. Not just the journey, but the questions. Problem was, I was right in the middle of asking myself those very questions. I didn’t have an answer for her. So instead of rolling full-steam ahead into my story, Jo Bristol and I danced in a do-si-do, caught in our never ending catch-22. It took three years to realize that no matter what, I would be in this predicament every time I would sit down to write another book, so I might as well buck up and just get ‘er done.

The funny/frustrating/enlightening truth about being a writer is that it is unfairly difficult. Putting into words a realistic story with characters and plot and setting with some words strung one after another seems impossible until it happens. We’ve all read books by authors who were clearly phoning it in, or were trying to mimic some other famous author, or they were simply trying to prove they learned how to write decent syntax in their MFA program. Some of the simplest stories are the ones that stay with us because they were created with the intent to evoke emotion. How many children’s books can you list that still warm your heart? What’s the one novel you turn to when you’re in the mood for a good cry? What about that suspense-fueled thriller that you pull out to quell boredom? The best storytellers have a story to tell, one they need to tell.

In the process of writing The Tick Series, I have learned that I have a responsibility as a storyteller not just to keep the fans happy, or to make money (although that’s always a goal, let’s be real). It’s not my intent as a storyteller to prove how “talented” I am, or how prolific I can be when I really put my mind to it. It is my responsibility to those who read my work to take them on a journey that is honest, introspective, and thought-provoking. Readers are smart. They know when the wool is being pulled over their eyes. Yes, the business of writing and selling books has the goal of entertainment on one end and financial gain and notoriety on the other, but if that is the sole motivation of the author, then what’s the point? I have things to say. I have a lot to say. It might not always bleed onto the page as easily as I would like, but I’m bleeding nonetheless. Vice pulled from me a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and three years in the making, I can finally call it complete. But the journey isn’t over. I still have another book to write because Jo’s journey isn’t over either. I have a feeling the process of writing Mark—part three—will be even more painful. I’m just happy to have so many people on my side as cheerleaders, encouraging me on. These people cheer because they read Tick and it meant something to them, which is why the fear of not getting it right the second and third time around is so strong. But if Josephine Bristol can pull through and do it, so can I.

Thanks for reading! And I hope you get a chance to check out Vice, available now in paperback and ebook on Amazon!

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Book Trailers Don’t Have To Be Boring

This first half of 2017 has been quite a success in my little world. I made author friends and co-founded Made in L.A. Writers, an indie author co-op based in Los Angeles. The Made in L.A. group got to participate in the LA Times Festival of Books. My long-developing TV pilot script Wilde Girl was selected as a finalist for the Barnstorm Fest. I have one book and two feature scripts in the editing phase. I spent four months working in production and learning just about everything there is about getting a television show on the air. Needless to say, it’s been a busy year.

I have learned over the course of these last several years, that times like these, when things are going well for me, it is crucial to give a piece of that pie back to others deserving of it. Which is precisely why I used my newly refurbished video editing skills to help promote the works of two of my Made in L.A. partners, Cody Sisco and Dario Ciriello. Remember, book trailers don’t have to be boring. It’s another chance to tell your story!

Two new reviews for Tick

Reviews are still coming in for “Tick”, which is fantastic motivation as I slog through edits of part two in the series, “Vice”. It is so easy to get deterred during the editing process, and then positive reviews remind me that there was a reason why I started writing Jo Bristol’s story in the first place, so hurry the hell up and finish, dumbass!

Ah. Had to get that out. I feel better now, thanks.

Anyway, here are some snippets of those reviews, in case you haven’t read “Tick” yet and are looking for a reason to:

5star-flat-webindiereader.png

Indie Reader Review

Rose is a good writer of dialogue, and is deft at slowly doling out information to locate the reader within Jo’s world. The story is exciting, fast-paced, and full of surprises… TICK is a terrific book, which more than stands its ground in a crowded field of dystopian fiction featuring awesome, if “wrett” female heroes.

Side note: Props to the reviewer for using my slang!

Readers’ Favorite

…Author Allison Rose kept the essence of thrill and action all the way till the end. This is one of those novels that will keep your heart beating and make you live the life of the character. I was completely invested in the story from the first chapter. Jo is the type of character that you root for right to the very end. She was awesome and very reflective.

Thanks for those reviews!

On the subject of book two of The Tick Series, I can’t say for certain when it will be released. It’s a complicated story with a lot of elements involved, which makes editing tricky. I don’t, however, want to rush the process for the sake of a release date, but I assure you, it is coming. Patience, grasshoppers.

I Made My eBook Free for 5 Days… And Here’s What Happened

Last March, I published my first novel, Tick, the first in a YA Science Fiction series. To be more specific, I self-published. I knew full well the challenges of being a self-pubber (I’d done my research), and while I was certain I could get an agent to bite, I was determined to have full control over my work and that it was good enough to sell on its own, dammit.

IMG_1284A year later, I had serious doubts about my decision to not take the traditional route. Sure, I had some awesome reviews on Goodreads, and the people who read it continuously ask when #2 is coming out (it’s coming, but slowly… more on that in another post). But, I wasn’t selling many books. In fact, it has been a struggle to get any return on my investments. Several bloggers reviewed Tick, and some even asked me to do guest posts, but it didn’t sell any books. I participated in a couple Facebook Author Bashes, but I didn’t sell any books. People in my personal life shared the info with their friends; still didn’t sell any books.

A few people encouraged me to keep writing, saying that many new authors don’t hit their stride until their series is complete; although I am still a ways from that. Keep on truckin’, they said. Truth is, the problem began with me. As hard as I initially to tried to have a strong social media game, I still couldn’t get myself to keep up with it as much as I should have. When it was going great, I had things to talk about. When confidence waned, I didn’t want to even mention it. It’s hard to respond enthusiastically to fan inquiries when that damn elephant just won’t leave the room. After awhile, I stopped talking about my book so much. I stopped asking people to write reviews, or even read it. Was I giving up? Not completely, but the train had lost some serious steam.

Then, with a last-minute decision, I decided to sign up for a Book of the Day promotion hosted by the lovely people at OnlineBookClub.org. It’s mostly a place for book nerds to chat literary, but it’s also a great resource for authors. Last June, I got a fantastic review from them, yet again, it didn’t sell any books. So I decided to try out The Book of the Day thing, but there was a catch. Since it was a special event, I either had to recede my price to $2.99 or make it free for the day. I had a decision to make; either I could try the price reduction and see if it would finally get people to bite, or make it entirely free. Continue reading

The Science of Sci-Fi, Tick Style: Pt. 2

In Part One of The Science of Sci-Fi – Tick Style, I discussed the use of optogenetics as a possible cure for mental illnesses in the future. It is exciting science, to say the least, especially with the implications of it being a non-invasive way of giving so many people piece of mind. However — as a the skeptic that I am — I can’t help but wonder about the abuse that could come out of such a technology. Where does the desire to “fix” one’s self stop? Who is to determine what exactly is a defect worthy of fixing? And if all the mental abnormalities are removed, what does that do for the creative muse?

It begs the moral question: Is the creative muse a neural defect and should it be fixed?

THE BRAIN, THE MIND & THE MUSE

arrow

the road to mental recovery

My research of optogenetics not only aided me in the extensive rewrites of Tick, but also made the threat of brain alterations feel that much more real, and therefore real for my main character, Jo. Over the course of my scientific research, I had a bit of a mind-bending experience.

Let me get a little personal on you for a moment. In my formative years, I was plagued by a severe depression. No matter how brutal it was at times, I continually battled against the idea that whatever depression I was suffering was not the result of a chemical imbalance in my brain as the psychiatrist insisted. It was environmental, I argued. I was always an overly perceptive kid. People called me an “old soul” when I was 10. I knew my compulsion to create art and express myself was not just a product of an excessively emotional teenager. Still, I couldn’t function in the “real world” so they put me on anti-depressants. My mind was not my own on those drugs, those thoughts were that of someone who could care less about literally anything at all. I made no art. I wrote no music. I was a shell of my former self. After a couple of years, I stopped taking those drugs and took the time to simply grow up a little. A decade later, I am living life depression-free, but the experience has forever changed my perception of my own mind. Continue reading

The Science of Sci-Fi, Tick Style: Pt. 1

Simon says,

“They’re called botheads!”

I have been thinking for some time about writing a post about the scientific research that went into Tick, but found that the information (and the many connections to my book series) was an intimidating amount, too much to add into one block. So, I have decided to break them down into more readable chunks so that I can share with you the science behind the science fiction in my debut YA series, Tick.  This post commences Part One.

Let’s go back a bit. I honestly can’t say exactly where the inspiration came from for my YA sci-fi series, which is, in short, about Josephine Bristol, a teenage girl desperate to become an artist in a drone-surveyed Los Angeles where neuroscientists permanently “fix” people with brain disorders, a task perhaps not so daunting were she not plagued by a violent mental and emotional dysfunction. I have mentioned in quite a few interviews that my main character’s “tick” — as she calls it — bears resemblance to issues of my own adolescence, although not in the “art imitates life” sort of way that has caused readers to question my husband’s safety (people are worried!). Jo’s tick is rather a dramatized representation of my years suffering from a deep and dark depression and the journey I have taken to finally write a book about it. In my series, the use of these brain-adjusting doctors is a futuristic evolution of psychiatry, and I am in awe of how many readers have noted the possibility that sometime in the near future, neural brain adjustments can become something not only used for medical purposes, but for personal advance as well.

I didn’t just make this concept up. Scientists are in the process of targeting specific neurons in the brain to inhibit or assist the movement of signals between synapses, thus altering certain cognitive functions. The purpose for this research is hoped to be applied in treating brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression, but it takes no stretch of the imagination to see how easily this technology could be used to “fix” people of minor inflictions, like their compulsion to drop $20 at a fancy coffee shop every day. The science is called optogenetics, and I’ll get to the specifics of it later in this post, but first I want to get into how I even learned about optogenetics in the first place. Continue reading

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

tick at Vroman's Bookstore

We all dream of being on a bookstore shelf

Good news, everyone! You can now purchase Tick at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, at either their Pasadena location near Old Town or at their Hasting’s Ranch location. If you don’t see it on the shelf, ask one of their lovely booksellers to stock more. It’s only available for a limited time, so get your copy today!

This is very exciting news for me, as I have dreamed of seeing my name stocked on a bookstore shelf. Vroman’s is a very well-known place in the Los Angeles area, and hundreds of people go through those doors every day … I am fortunate they offer this opportunity to local authors.

In other Tick-related news, I have several events coming up:

First, I have been asked to write a guest blog post where I will be answering questions about myself and my book, to be posted on March 30th. Stop by and leave a question in the comments section!

Second, on March 29th, I’ll be a guest on the Good Nerd Bad Nerd podcast, for which I will do my best to not embarrass all you nerdy people (I may not be that nerdy, but I’ll try to pretend). The podcast will most likely be posted the next Monday (March 30), but I’ll keep you posted on that.

Lastly, Charlie’s Coffee House in South Pasadena has offered to host a local author signing day on April 22 at 4pm. I will be joined by a few other local authors, so stay tuned for more details on that.

That’s all for now, lovelies!

Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now

a fan's interpretation of the characters ... Felix is hot

a fan’s interpretation of the characters … Felix is hot!

The Reading Nook NZ is hosting an international Giveaway on their blog. Entry requirements are to sign up and leave a blog comment including a question for me. On March 30th I will be writing a guest post on the blog, and answering all the questions!

The giveaway is active through March 30th, after which three winners will be picked. One prize of a signed paperback, and two ebooks. Enter now and leave a question about me or my book, Tick. Read their review of the book itself.

While you’re at it, you can enter my Goodreads Giveaway, which ends on March 31st.

Who Thought Writing Would Be The Easy Part?

They do exist!

They do exist!

My debut novel has been a year in the making, which I suppose isn’t too bad considering some writers have spent a decade writing one novel. If someone had warned me of the hours I’d spend preparing my book for self-publication that did not include writing, I’d have …

Who am I kidding, I’d do exactly what I’ve done, a hundred times over. I’ll be honest, I’ve always been a fan of tactile things (vinyl, Polaroid photos, and, of course, books), and there is something especially satisfying about holding a real, solid representation of the book you’ve spent so much time and effort writing. And on top of that, there’s even more to admire if that very book was designed and organized by you. That font, that position of design element, that color scheme … It all becomes more amazing when you are part of the process from start to finish. Continue reading