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!

Join Me on Indie Author Day!

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Join me for Indie Author Day on October 8th at the Alhambra Civic Library!

Over 300 libraries from all across North America will host their own local author events with the support of the Indie Author Day team. I, along with my a dozen other indie authors — including my dad, Dennis Sanchez — will be at the Alhambra library from 1-4 pm.

At 2:30 pm I will be part of the “Writing for Young People”, so be sure to be around for that. Authors will have books to sell and sign. Please come say hi!

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:

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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.

5 Things I Learned From My First Book Signing

just sitting here selling myself... err, my books

just sitting here selling myself … err, my books

Yesterday, I had the privilege of partaking in a Local Author Signing Day in South Pasadena. My fellow authors included Koji Steven Sakai and Dennis Sanchez (who is my dad, and also my writing inspiration). For my very first event, it went swimmingly. I sold a fair amount of books, got to hang out with some great people, and also received some valuable publishing advice.

But of course, there is always more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Every moment is a learning experience, is it not? Here are five things I learned from my first book signing, and I hope you can take something out of it too.

5. Selling yourself is as hard as it sounds

I had this plan to ride my bike to the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market and pass out fliers for the signing. I thought it would be easy, considering the city is populated by educated and eclectic residents, so of course they would want to support local authors. I thought it even might be fun because I would get to talk to people about my book. But when I pulled those fliers out of my bag … I froze. I am a social person for the most part, but not amongst hundreds of people I don’t know. My initial spiel included my introduction, who I was representing, and a run-down of the event. Most people sat politely while I interrupted their afternoon for that whopping 30 second lecture, but after the fifth group, I nearly gave up right there. Not only did I feel like an ass for jumping in the middle of their conversations, but I felt that I was wasting my time. After anxiously texting my husband that I was failing miserably, he suggested I shorten my spiel to “Support local authors!” and basically shove the fliers in unsuspecting hands. That was even less do-able. I am not one to take immediate rejection easily, and less people are willing to take anything from a peddler shoving things in their faces. Needless to say, I went home early.

As it turns out, I’m not as good at this self-promotion thing as I thought. I still have people telling me “I didn’t know you wrote a book!” because I’m just not that good at talking about myself. I am a writer and an artist, but I’m now also a salesman. It is a frightful combination. I’m still trying to figure that part out. Continue reading

The First Draft of Anything is Shit…

All Hail the Wendigo (aka Chuck Wendig)

All Hail the Wendigo (aka Chuck Wendig)

1st Draft: Weee! Writing is so awesome and fun and look at all the cool ideas I have! This is great! I’m gonna be rich and famous and everybody is gonna read my book and LOVE it because it’s just awesome!!

2nd Draft: This story is even better now that I’ve cleaned up the rough spots. And oh look how complete it is with its fancy chapter fonts and clean margins and pretty formatting. Yes, pretty pretty manuscript. *pets computer monitor*

3rd Draft: Well that one part in the beginning there is kinda odd. It feels a little off to maybe but maybe no one will notice if I just nudge and smudge a little here and there. I mean, the rest is really great, who cares about this one part, right? Well, and maybe that other part in the middle…and the one at the end…

Continue reading

No Barbies in This Girl’s Drawer

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I didn’t burn Barbies, but I can’t say I was nice to them.

I never expected I’d become an author of Young Adult novels. Perhaps it was my stubborn insistence that the subjects and themes I’d been preparing to put into a literary context were too complex and bold for a younger audience.

And then I read The Hunger Games. And the wheels started turning.

Three major YA series in the last decade have come from female authors and feature young female protagonists (Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer, and Veronica Roth). I wasn’t quite so taken to the Twilight Series, mostly because I was never really into vampires, and a story which mostly focuses on relationships isn’t quite my cuppa tea. Then Hunger Games and Divergent came barreling into the scene and I was all “Hellz yeh, these bitchez be awesome!”

Still, I felt there was something missing. Continue reading