Imposter syndrome (A Long Hiatus)

#SFWAPRO

I know it’s been a long, long while since I’ve posted anything, aside from posts promoting other authors and the occasional short story anyway. As I mention in my Post “Your Baby is Ugly…Again” my contract with Harper expired, they didn’t offer another, and I started on a new project.

I’d like to say that project is what occupied my time, but it wasn’t.

I’d be willing to bet all of you are aware of Imposter Syndrome, even if you don’t know it by that name. In short, it’s the feeling that an achievement isn’t earned, and as such, you feel like an imposter just waiting to be found out. Now, imposter syndrome isn’t limited to the creative fields, in fact, I’d be surprised if many of you haven’t suffered from it at some point or another in your life. Maybe when you became a new parent, landed a new job or promotion, or just faced some sort of challenge. The more significant the achievement, the more likely it seems imposter syndrome will rear its ugly head, and for any reason it can find.

Perhaps that’s why so many authors, nearly all of those I know, struggle with it. It’s not easy to get there, and oddly, everyone else who achieved it has clearly earned it. Just not you. The most insidious part of imposter syndrome is that successes don’t count, only failure, even just failure to succeed. Very early in my writing career, I met a multi bestselling author (New York Times, USA Today, etc) who has been writing for almost 30 years. He is, by every metric, a success. I told him I was terrified my first book would be my last. He told me he feels the same way after finishing every book. He worries people will finally see he has no talent and his writing career will be over. As you can imagine, that was both reassuring and depressing. It’s good to know you’re not alone in how you feel, not so much to find out those feeling won’t go away.

Here’s another excellent example of how those at any level can suffer from imposter syndrome.

As I’ve said before, when Harper passed over the next book in the American Faerie Tale series, I was exceedingly disappoint, though not entirely surprised. My imposter syndrome had been expecting it, and he relished that rejection like a fine meal. Hoping to keep him at bay, I threw myself into a new project. Everyone I’d told about it said I needed to write it because they wanted to read it right now. So I worked, and wrote, and when it was done I was very happy with it. Honestly, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Which is how it should be, you should always be improving in your craft.

My agent started sending it out, and the initial response was amazing. Nearly everyone it went to wanted to read it. I felt certain it was only a matter of time before I was offered a contract and then I’d be a writer once again, and this time it would be for real.

Why do I say it like that? Well, my path to publication was unconventional. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I had no agent when Harper offered me a deal for my first book, normally a requirement. Instead, I was one of 4500+ people who participated in a, very rare, open submission window open to unagented authors. In the end, I was one of a dozen or so picked for publication. The Stolen even launched Harper’s new imprint, Harper Voyager Impulse, and for a time, the cover was on the header of Harper Voyager’s website (yes, I have a screenshot saved). But none of that mattered to imposter syndrome; I’d only won a contest, I hadn’t earned my way in, so I wasn’t a “real” author. I thought selling this new project would, finally and definitively, prove I was a real author.

Yes, I’m fully aware how ridiculous that sounds. But like phobias, depression, or other dark states of mind, reality has very little, if anything, to do with it.

You can probably guess what happened next.

The rejections started rolling in, one after the other. Almost without exception they were effusive in their praise. They loved the story and the characters, and felt the writing was really strong…BUT.

But.

That dreaded word, so small, but powerful enough to wipe out all the words, however good, that came before it. Sure, Intellectually I knew, and my agent continually reminded me, that such praise was a good thing. It meant the book was good! They just didn’t know how to sell it, or they’d just signed a book like it, or other entirely valid reasons. Intellectually I knew, logically I knew. But that didn’t matter. The imposter syndrome kept whispering that this just proved I’d been right all along. I wasn’t a real author, I’d just gotten lucky. To be fair, luck plays no small in life, especially when it comes to achieving dreams, but in the end it only gets you so far. My luck, it seemed, had run out.

That’s when imposter syndrome’s friend showed up: depression. I’ve made no secret of my struggles, especially in my youth, with depression. This wasn’t a chronic or persistent depression though, this was acute. We all get depressed sometimes, and if we’re lucky, it’s circumstantial rather than biological. It’s no less valid, but usually easier to overcome. This particular depression didn’t prevent me from getting out of bed, it just made sitting down to write anything seem pointless. So I didn’t write, not much anyway. I worked on short stories, and when I did write it felt good, but actually getting my butt in the chair took effort. As such, this blog and posts for it fell further down my priority list.

What was the point? No one was going to read them anyway, right?

So what changed? Well, the especially observant among you might’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned the title, or much of anything, about this new project so resoundingly rejected. The reason is, there’s some new interest in it. Obviously I can’t say who, but that influx of hope gave me the strength to push imposter syndrome, and his friend, to one side. Nothing may come of this interest, but I decided to put this new found hope to good use and write a blog post.

I chose this topic partly because writing about it, and as such naming it, takes away some of its power. Don’t look at me that way, I’m a fantasy writer, okay? But I also chose it because I know others struggle with it too, and, well, it’s always nice to know you aren’t alone. I’m lucky in having good friends and a group of writer friends in much the same boat as me to offer support. But, for me at least, it’s too easy to dismiss their kindness and encouragement; they’re your friends after all, it’s what they’re supposed to do. Again, recognize this has nothing to do with reality. Your friends, and family, aren’t obligated to blow sunshine up your backside. Sure, sometimes they do it anyway, but even then it’s because they love you, believe in you, and want to help.

That being said, when a stranger offers encourage or support, it can stick better because they have no reason to do it.

So, dear readers, as a stranger, I tell you this: Imposter syndrome, for all his power, is a fucking liar. He is utterly and entirely full of shit. So tell that bastard to fuck right off whenever he shows up and starts whispering. Yeah, I know. It’s soooo much easier said than done. But how about this, I promise to do it if you do? Deal? Make no mistake, we’ll both give in sometimes, and that’s okay. Feel bad. Let the little shit have his moment, then remember that you‘re made of pure, high grade, artisanal, fair trade awesome. You can do the thing! More than that, you earned that achievement, that job, that relationship, that thing! You heard me, you earned it! So don your steel-toe boots, kick imposter syndrome in the balls as hard as you can (repeatedly), tell him to fuck right off, and that Bishop sends his regards.

A New Author Retrospective

I know, I know. Just stay with me on this.
I’m a big fan of Mumford and Sons. I first heard them in an Irish pub somewhere—on the stereo, not live—and was immediately drawn in by their sound and lyrics. I recently picked up their third album, Wilder Minds, and I’ve really been enjoying it. Obviously I like some songs more than others; “Ditmas” is currently my favorite . If you’re not familiar with the band, they have a very cool sound: mostly acoustic, with a banjo and rarely anything more than a kick drum for percussion. That all changed in this new album, and based on some of the reviews I saw, some people weren’t happy about the change. The album definitely sounds more “rock” than the folksy style they had before, but I think you can still hear the soul of the band there. Apparently plenty of people disagree with me. At first, their unhappiness made me think of the stories about when Bob Dylan went electric. This got me thinking, though. As a fan, I completely understand wanting to hear more of the music you love from an artist. But expecting the same thing in perpetuity isn’t really fair or realistic. As people, we grow, we change, we mature, and our view of the world changes to reflect that. Since artists are ultimately expressing themselves, it’s only natural their art will change and grow with them. You might not be growing the same way, or in the same direction, or at the same speed. That means you might drift away from the artist, and that’s just part of the deal. It’s certainly happened to me. At the least, though, you always have the earlier works.

This also got me thinking about my own art (my books), since I’ve got a healthy ego and everything ultimately comes back to me. If you think you detected a bit of sarcasm in that last line, you’re right, there is just a touch of it. As some of you know, I’m working on the fourth book in the American Faerie Tale series. No, you don’t get to know the name or what it’s about. Not yet. If it goes out on schedule, I’ll have been a writer for just about two years. Now, I’m not noting that to brag. Okay, I’m not noting that JUST to brag. I’m now a little more than a year into this professional writer thing, which gives me some perspective. I also recently got another bad review—one which mentioned a criticism another review had noted—and these things together got me looking back. To summarize the criticism, it revolved around the lack of female characters in The Stolen, or the lack of agency with those it did have. And the truth is, that’s a fair criticism.

The Stolen was my first book. I finished the first draft for it about five years ago, give or take. Then I spent a few years editing to get it to where I was happy with it, and then it went to Harper Voyager for their open submission window. Up to that point, I’d pretty much been writing in a vacuum. I didn’t have beta readers. I wasn’t part of a writing group. I wasn’t into social media. My involvement in the world of books, and geekery in general, was me reading books (or rather listening, as I’ve been focused on audiobooks for a while now). It wasn’t until I started venturing out into the world, so to speak, that I saw the tropes and stereotypes that I’d taken as the norm. Kameron Hurley does an excellent job discussing these stereotypes here. More importantly, I saw why giving into these isn’t just bad (in many, many ways), but also limited me as a writer. This is where, for lack of a better term, I checked my privilege. I want my books to be filled with powerful characters (of all genders) that have agency and that readers will love. I looked back and, like many authors, saw all the things I could’ve done to improve my first book. By this time I’d heard from Harper and was preparing for the release of The Stolen. I should note that I’m very proud of The Stolen and its characters, I truly am. I believe it’s the best story I could’ve written at the time, but I also think it’s just a good story. I love the characters in it, with all their faults and flaws. But could I write a better story now? Better characters? Absolutely! And I think I have. But then, I’ve been writing much more intently since The Stolen was finished. So, since I can’t go back and change my first book—and frankly, I wouldn’t even if I could—I did the only thing I could do: I looked forward, took those lessons, and applied them to my next book. Isn’t that the goal of every artist, or really, every person: to grow, to learn, and to improve ourselves? I think I succeeded with The Forgotten and continued that progression with Three Promises. I’ve never made any secret of the fact I struggled with Caitlin in the first book. Looking back, I think I tried too hard. I was so focused on writing a (cringe warning) strong female character, that I lost sight of just making the best character I could. She doesn’t have much screen time in The Forgotten, but I think she’s improved in that story and even more so in Three Promises, as have all the characters. When I wrote Wraith, the protagonist in The Forgotten, she came to life for me, and all the hard lessons I learned from writing The Stolen paid off.

Lest you think I’m trying to dissuade you from picking up The Stolen, if you haven’t already, I’m not. As I said, I think it’s a good book and a good start to the series, with good characters. There are things in it I know some people won’t like that I’m entirely happy with. But anyone who really thinks they can write something everyone will love is deluding themselves. Even Harry Potter got one star reviews. That being said, I also recognize it’s my first book, and I’m a stronger writer now. I see the places I can improve and strive to do just that in the next book. I’m sure at some point I’ll look back on The Forgotten and Three Promises the same way. What’s more, that’s kind of the point of a first book in the series. And here’s why I wouldn’t change The Stolen even if I could. It isn’t just me that’s growing and changing, it’s the characters themselves. Caitlin isn’t the same in Three Promises as she was in The Stolen. None of the characters are from one book to the next, and neither am I.

All this brings me back to where I started this post. In the years since my first book, I’ve grown, as writer, as a person, and as an artist. Consequently, my books (and the characters in them) have changed to reflect the changes in me. So if you find yourself reading a book that you really don’t like, perhaps passionately, take note if it’s the author’s first book or the first in a series. As a writer, I ask you to give the next book a shot. We’re all of us ever changing, ever growing. You never know where the author might be when you pick up that next book. It might just turn out to be exactly what you were hoping to find, or never thought you would. If, however, you so passionately disliked the book that you refuse to ever touch another by the author, that’s your option and I respect that. If The Stolen was that book for you, or any of the subsequent books in the series, I humbly thank you for your time (and money) and wish you well on your journey to find a book you love. There are tons of them out there, and I’ll be noting some of them below.

I can’t speak for every writer, obviously, but when I sit down to write a story, I want it to be the best it can be. I want it to be the book you can’t wait to tell everyone you know about. For some people, I’ve done that (woo hoo!), for others, well, not so much. But I’ll keep trying. Some people will think I’ve succeeded, some will see it as an abysmal failure. And they’ll both be right.

As promised, here’s a list of some great books you can check out (in no particular order). These writers, like myself, are new and growing with each new word they type. You might not like them all, but then again, you might.

Darkhaven by AFE Smith
A Fairy-Tale Ending by Jack Heckel
Desert Rising & The Obsidian Temple by Kelley Grant
Grey by Christi J. Whitney
The Ark by Laura Liddell Nolan
Ignite the Shadows by Ingrid Seymour
Belt Three by John Ayliff
Unexpected Rain by Jason LaPier
Hero Born by Andy Livingstone
Stealing into Winter by Graeme K. Talboys
The Machinery by Gerrard Cowan
Supervision by Alison Stine
Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf by Terry Newman
The Day Before by Liana Brooks
The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson
Dark Alchemy & Mercury Retrograde by Laura Bickle
Superheroes Anonymous & Supervillains Anonymous by Lexie Dunne
The Iron Ring & Iron and Blood by Auston Habershaw
The God Hunter & Devil in the Wires by Tim Lees
Stonehill Downs by Sarah Remy
Among Wolves by Nancy K. Wallace
Graynelore by Stephen Moore
Thorn Jack & The Briar Queen by Katherine Harbour
Veiled Empire by Nathan Garrison

Adventures in Being a New Author: Part 2

In my last post, Adventures in Being a New Author: Part 1, I talked about hearing from fans and politely begged you to spread the word when you like a book. Seriously, do it.

Okay, moving on. In this post, I want to talk about something else exceedingly cool about being a published author. Namely, getting to meet other authors. Sure, lots of people have met authors at a convention, or a literary event, etc. But it really is something different when you’re meeting them as a professional peer. Never mind the fact that actually being a professional peer is mind blowing in and of itself. For example *clear throat* Holy &#%, I’m published by the same publisher as George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Tolkien! So is it different meeting an author as a fellow author rather than as a fan. In short, yes, yes it is. That’s not to say that authors don’t sincerely enjoy meeting fans, I haven’t met one who doesn’t. But when you give that secret handshake—wait, did I say that? Why would I say that. There isn’t a secret author handshake. What? There isn’t, stop asking. I don’t care what you saw, I said there isn’t. Move on already!

Where was I? Oh, right. Meeting an author as an author is different. Call it professional courtesy, or just a sense of camaraderie. Sometimes it’s a matter of sitting on a panel with them, and then doing a signing afterwards. Except for the most popular authors, it’s rarely a long and constant line for the hour you’re sitting there. So you talk, and get to know people. Other times it’s crossing paths with another author at a event and just sharing a few minutes. And yes, there is a bit of being part of a club that isn’t easy to get into. I said there’s no secret handshake!

I’ve gotten to meet a number of great authors, and I have yet to meet one who isn’t down to earth, and nice as can be. I’m sure there are exceptions to that, but I haven’t met them yet. Obviously, not everyone is a published author, or can make it to an event to meet their favorite author, or find someone new. So, I’ve reached out to some of the authors I’ve met (and by that I mean in person) and see if they’d be willing to do an interview here. I haven’t heard back yet from all of the message I’ve put out, but I have had some. You might recognize some of the authors, and some might be new to you. Either way, I hope you enjoy meeting them as much as I did, and that you check out their book(s).

My first interview will be with an author I first met at the New York Comic Con, then again at C2E2. She’s also with Harper Voyager, and was selected via the open submission. Tune in sometime during the next week or so to check out my interview with Lexie Dunne.

Adventures in Being a New Author: Part 1

I’ve posted several things here about my journey to publication and my experiences after. I thought in my continuing efforts to share this rather remarkable journey, I thought I’d do a series about the things which are cool, and still a bit surreal. Attending conventions as a speaker is pretty high up there, but I’ve already posted about attending New York Comic Con last year and C2E2 a few weeks ago. I’ve also posted about doing signings/readings/meet & greets. A common factor those share is meeting fans. For the most part, the people I meet aren’t fans yet. They’re typically just people who attended the panel I was on, or stopped by the bookstore while I was there, either for an event or just stopping in. In short, they’re people who haven’t read the book yet, and I get the chance to interest them in reading it. Meeting these people is great, and I love the fact that more than a few have been genuinely interested in reading my books after meeting me.
Just recently though, I’ve started getting legitimate fan mail. As in emails or posts to Facebook from people I don’t know who just wanted to tell me they really enjoyed my book(s). This is rather surreal, but also exceedingly awesome! I don’t know as every author feels this way, and I’m sure the more popular authors can’t keep up with the inflow of messages, but as for me, it’s nice to get the positive feedback from readers. Please, feel free to drop me a line. I know from the other writers I’ve met and talked to, we all struggle sometimes, worried how our latest book will do, so if you’ve read something and you like it, there are a few things you can do.

  1. Send the author a note. Though as I said above, best seller author probably won’t be able to reply back, as much as they’d like to.
  2. Post a review. I know it seems straightforward, but posting a review on one of the various sites (Goodreads, Amazon,Barnes & Noble, etc) is helpful not just to tell others you enjoyed the book, but also to us authors. Despite what advice might be given, we read our reviews…all of them.
  3. Tell a friend. Let someone you know about this book you really liked. Better yet, if you really liked the book, pick up a copy and give it to them.

Writers write because it’s what we love to do, and in many cases, something we did before we were getting paid for, and would likely be doing even if we weren’t. That being said, the most common dream of a writer is to be able to earn enough from writing to make a living. Trust me when I tell you, having a “day job” and being a writer leads to some very exhausting days. Make no mistake though, it’s a labor of love, and hearing that someone really enjoyed something we wrote makes it all worth while.

So on behalf of writers everywhere (yes, it’s pretty damn presumptious, but what the hell). Thanks, please keep reading, and please, pretty please, with sugar and a cherry on top, review and spread the word.

Merry Christmas

Today’s post is short and sweet. If you know me, my song choice for Christmas day is no surprise. Fairy Tale of New York by The Pogues has been voted one of the best Christmas songs of all time. It’s sad, but still filled with it’s own kind of hope and love. I’m of the belief that without Kirsty MacColl’s contrast to Shane MacGowan’s this song wouldn’t be nearly as magical. Even when things are dark, there is light and hope in the most unlikely places. There is gold in the darkness if you look for it.

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

Happy December 23rd

Today you get a two-fer! First a reminder I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble in Santee CA from 12pm to 2pm. You can get a copy of The Stolen signed, or I’ll sign someone else’s book if that’s your thing. I’ll have some neat stuff to give away, and if you get there early, I’ll even have cookies! Come and say hi.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled Advent Blog. Today I’m going traditional. I’m not overtly religious, but there some carols I think are truly beautiful. Carol of the Bells is one of those songs. This version even comes with a rather spectacular light show!

O Holy Night is another song that I find almost haunting, especially when sung by a children’s choir.