Being a writer is a weird thing. Some days, weeks, months, you seem to have it all together and everything is flowing. Words, marketing, tweets, posts. Other times, you open the laptop and stare at it until your head starts to bob because you’re falling asleep.
When things are going great, whoopee! Those are the moments when you’re tempted to quit your day job and write the Great American Novel. You’re motivated and encouraged, and all around a happier person.
But the other times, when you’re kind of feeling depressed and in the dumps, the words don’t seem to make sentences. Your internet history is a dance between Netflix and Amazon Prime, instead of the usual weird novel research inquiries (What is the study of butterflies? How much money do famous YouTubers make? Answers: lepidopterology, and a lot.)
I’ve been wallowing in the world of bingeworthy shows for a couple of months now. Series, movies, comedy specials–you name it, I’ve probably watched it. (Note: How can I go about getting a job at Netflix? I mean, may as well, right? I’m on their site enough. Currently binge-ing Gilmore Girls and Outlander.)
The stuff I’ve watched is great. But when I’m not writing, it affects my entire sense of self. Dramatic? Maybe. Ask any writer and I’m sure they’ll agree.
Then it dawned on me that I have my space here. My safe little corner of the interwebs, where I don’t have to write long novels and figure out plots and commas and sentences. I can just vent (and use words like “just”), and write as horribly as I am capable. You’ll all love me still, right?
But I’ll admit, Blogtropolis, that blog posts aren’t as easy as 1-2-3 either. I literally have 42 draft blogs that I’ve never posted. Why? Because… I have no idea. I draft them and then convince myself they are boring and don’t post them.
And now look–I’ve written 323 words and haven’t even gotten to the point of this post (loyal WOAW readers know that’s sometimes a problem with me–staying focused).
FOCUSING in three … two …
My point: I’m here to cure my writer’s block. So, hi! Thank you for letting me use you. I may hang around here for a while and reacquaint myself with the WordPress and blogging world. Hope that’s okay.
Onto today’s topic: I’d like to tell you a little about MAPLE SUMMER WALLACE. I don’t pimp my books here on WOAW, and in that regard, I’ll tell you a secret: DON’T BUY THIS BOOK… it’s going to be free in ebook form in a couple of weeks and you can pick it up then. [However, if you are interested, you can check out my author website jessicacalla.com to sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you an email when the freebie sale starts.]
Seriously, I just needed something to write about.
I’m proud of each and every book I’ve written– published and unpublished, short or long. But MAPLE SUMMER WALLACE, and her three-year, crooked way of getting out into the world is special to me.
Writing Maple (No spoilers!)
The idea for MSW spurned from a thought about what someone would do if they found out they only had six months to live. Simple concept, right? The idea nagged at me until it was time to seriously consider that there was a story there.
I knew the story would be about a woman, and that it would be a younger woman because as a writer I lean toward that age group (I am branching out to older characters recently). I also figured that she’d have to have money to be able to do anything. A lot (all?) of my books have some connection to NYC, so she’d be from there.
So I had a wealthy city girl, with six months to live. What was she dying from? Didn’t matter. In fact, I never specify in the book. It’s sort of a made up blood disease (yay, fiction!). What she would do with those six months was what really mattered.
I named her Maple after a girl I worked with in college at a five-and-dime store. There’s no way in hell the real Maple would ever remember me, but I remember that she was a local resident in high school, had red hair, and this fun name. She stuck with me. What can I say?
My Maple would be a college senior and a hot blonde. I wanted her to be alone with no support system (they say to torture your characters, so yeah, she has a tragic past). I also kind of wanted her to be an unlikeable bitch. As a writer, I was interested in a character arc of “bad” to “good.” “Unlikeable” to “likeable.” In fact, if you’ve read Maple and think she’s mean in this version, you should have seen my Chapter One about ten drafts ago.
Next, I needed a plot to facilitate Maple’s inner change. My first idea was to have Maple take this epic adventure across the country, driving from coast-to-coast and learning from different people. My problem with that was the time in the car. With six months to live and a crapload of money, why wouldn’t she simply fly? Maybe she was afraid of flying? I tried to work with it, but it wasn’t working at all.
I went back to the basics. Coincidentally, I’d signed up for Steve Alcorn’s Novel Writing Workshop, which I’d bought with a Groupon. Signing up for that felt beneath me (I was a published author after all, la-dee-dah), but I have to say, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my writing life. I took notes on each workshop lesson in a grey Moleskine notebook, and to this day, that notebook is my writing bible. When I’m lost with a story, I go back to my notes and those basics and find my way.
After reviewing my notes for Maple, I did a big facepalm. I couldn’t have a story with a protagonist only. I needed her to be with people, for dialogue, for action. But Maple was a loner. What to do, what to do?
At first, I thought I’d have Maple driving off campus and seeing her one college acquaintance in a bad state. Maybe Maple would pick her up and find out she’d done something criminal, and they’d have a Thelma and Louise-type adventure. But I also wanted the characters to have a rich history.
That’s where the idea for Ronni came about. Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the book, but basically, Ronni and Maple have this adventure, picking up a hot detective along the way (in my mind, Michael is Joe Manganiello, don’t @ me), and there’s a family history, an adventure, and a bit of spirituality, I hope.
Anyhoo… I wrote the book. My mom, who was happy to get her hands on my first non-romance attempt, read it and gave me some suggestions. She wanted Maple to be a stronger, deeper, richer character. She helped me with the villains. She made notes in the margins. I loved the experience of working on the draft with her.
On March 17, 2016, I wrote a tweet about Maple’s story for #PitMad, a Twitter pitch party for agents to see authors’ pitches and hopefully want to represent their books. My tweet said:
22 yo Maple has 6 mo left to live, a dead body (& guilty housekeeper) in her penthouse, & a hot investigator on her trail. Ugh!
A wonderful agent asked me to send sample pages based on the tweet. Guess what I sent? A half-drafted email riddled with typos and no attachments! By accident of course. Lesson learned: Don’t put the email address in the “To” field until you are ready to send the damn email. Luckily, because she’s awesome, she understood and wasn’t a jerkwad about the mishap (and I apologized profusely).
The agent loved Maple, and ultimately, I signed with her. She helped me tremendously with revising the book, suggested I soften Maple just a touch, and then she subbed the manuscript to some big houses.
The rejections came rolling in…
I really liked the way this story swept you up and took off running right from page one – the pacing is great. That being said, I confess that I found Maple’s voice a bit off-putting – a little TOO spoiled, and difficult to relate to. For this reason, I must unfortunately pass on pursuing this project…
Thank you so much for sending this to me. This plot is right up my alley, but unfortunately I didn’t connect with the characters the way I’d hoped to.
I have decided to pass on MAPLE SUMMER WALLACE. In spite of its merits, I just wasn’t won over by the narrative; I’m sorry.
Thank you for sending over MAPLE SUMMER WALLACE for my review and for your patience with my response. I enjoyed how action-packed this manuscript was from the get-go– there was never a dull moment where we were waiting for the next thing to happen, which goes a long way toward keeping a reader engaged. The quick progression of events kept the novel feeling perfectly paced as well, which I really liked. However, I found the lighter, more airy tone of the novel a bit incongruous when paired with the subject matter–in many instances, it seemed like the characters didn’t take their situation seriously, as though they were a bit detached from what was going on around them, so it was difficult for me as a reader to invest in the story when it felt like the characters themselves weren’t! As such, this is going to be a pass.
The writing is fine here, but I worry that it’s a little hard to connect with the story. Right off the bat we’ve got Maple with only six months to live, [*spoiler removed… *]. Whew! It almost reads as if the book has been opened up to the middle, without some kind of character development or story history. I worry that there isn’t enough of a larger hook to position on – it’s hard to tell if it’s women’s fiction, thriller, etc.
[Tangent: Why am I sharing these with you when they may make you NOT want to read the book? I’ll tell you why. Because since Maple has been published (see below), I’ve received wonderful reviews for the story. I’m proud that the story has touched people the way it has, and I’m so glad that I didn’t let these rejections get to me. If you are a writer, and you believe in your book, I hope that you take your rejections with a grain of salt. Every reader is different–some will like your book and some won’t. Editors can enjoy your book but reject it for any number of reasons. It doesn’t mean that the book is bad or that you have no talent. Thank you for attending my TED talk… now back to our regularly-scheduled post.]
Continuing… My agent was ready to do a second round of submissions to different publishers, but then life happened and she switched agencies. She invited Maple and me along, but I decided not to go for various reasons, none that had to do with her or her representation.
This was the end of 2016.
Maple lived in my laptop while I worked on other things. In Spring of 2017, the third book of my New Adult series, SHE WANTS IT ALL, released with the small press I’d contracted with to publish the series, and I was busy drafting the fourth and final book of the series.
My mom got sick. I spent a great deal of the summer of 2017 with her. She died in September.
When I was back to writing, I remembered my mom’s help with Maple, and I was angry with myself that I hadn’t published Maple before she died. During the end of 2017, I hired my beloved friend and editor, Erin, to help work on prepping Maple for a summer of 2018 release.
Then, in early 2018, the small press publisher of my New Adult series closed. For reasons, I shelved Maple, and worked on self-publishing the New Adult series, teaching myself about indie publishing, and staying busy with that.
In 2018, besides self-pubbing the NA series, I wrote two short stories that were published in small press anthologies, and then a holiday novella. I also started working on a new NA series, the Mill Street series.
Going into 2019, I thought I could take on the self-publishing world, and remembered that Maple had been edited, and was basically ready to publish. It certainly wasn’t doing anything in my drafts folder and I had no plans to query it to agents again. With a couple of tweaks and a cover, I decided to publish the book myself in April of this year, because why not? The first two books of the Mill Street series followed in June and July.
Reading that exhausts me. I have no idea how I did any of it. Since then, though, I’m not sure what to do about publishing. Honestly, I can’t say self-publishing is the right path for me. I’m just not that good at selling books, a fact which I freely admit. But lately, I can’t seem to write anything either. I started a cozy mystery. I started a stand-alone romance. But I sort of feel like I’ve lost steam.
I don’t know why. Maybe I’ve done all I came to do in the Jessica Calla publishing world. Maybe getting Maple out as a tribute to my mom was the end of it all for me. Maybe it’s time for a change of pace. I’m excited for the few mentoring projects on my agenda for September. I’ve been told that I’m a good critique/reader/mentor for authors. Maybe the skills I’ve gained and knowledge I’ve acquired should be used for that–helping others.
All I know for sure is that, despite the industry rejections, I’m happy that readers seem to love Maple. And I’m so glad that it’s out in the world, and not living in my laptop!
If you’re still awake, I appreciate your efforts to get through this post. Thanks for reading, and for always welcoming me back to the WordPress world!