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FictionPress and Jealousy

25 Feb

FictionPress and Jealousy

by Savannah J. Foley

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Hey all! Real quick — we decided to start posting our pictures by our articles, and will be adding them to our prior posts throughout the week. We’re also doing a little bit of site renovation, so bear with us while we’re under construction! The site will be fully functioning–but we just wanted to give everyone a heads-up in case some things look a little wonky.

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When the Let The Words Flow team first got together and started to get to know one another, one thing we were all startled by were our feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, sometimes even caused by each other!

Once upon a time we were all new writers, and especially new to FictionPress. We all posted our first stories, not really knowing how the process worked, both terrified and excited for our first reviews.

Some of us eventually grew a following. Some of us did not. All of us felt the sting of jealousy at one point or another.

Take me, for example. I published most of my Woman’s World series (since retitled to Antebellum) on Fictionpress. I have over 1,000 reviews on the first book, 900 on the second, and 300 on the third. Every time I posted anything I was sure to have my inbox flooded with comments. I had a small fan club. My stories were often chosen to be in Fictionpress contests. One of my friends mentioned Woman’s World to a friend of hers at school and it turns out the other girl had heard of it!

To a FictionPress writer who gets maybe 2 or fewer reviews with each update, I seemed wildly successful. But it wasn’t enough for me. You see, I had big competition, like my now-friend and fellow LTWF contributor, Sarah J. Maas. Her book, Queen of Glass, had over 6,000 reviews! She had an even bigger fanclub, and every time she and I went up against each other in those contests, she trounced me.

I didn’t hate her, because I was secure in my own sense of superiority, lol. ‘She doesn’t deserve all those reviews, or all those fans,’ I thought. ‘My story is better than some stupid Cinderella-remake’ (I have since been enlightened as to how awesome retellings can be). My reviewers would tell me about Queen of Glass. I even read a few chapters. Which made it so weird when Sarah emailed me out of the blue, just to say hi, and we began emailing back and forth, and eventually she asked me to be a founding member of LTWF.

This was a girl I had been jealous of because she was far more successful than me on FictionPress! I had never dreamed we could be anything close to friends, or that we were even so oddly similar (both relatively the same age, same hair color, same first two initials, and got our agents in consecutive months).

Which brings me back to this article’s beginning: There we all were, recently introduced to each other, and suddenly it was all coming out. I swear our conversation looked something like this:

“I used to be jealous of you!”

“Well I used to be jealous of you!”

“I used to be jealous of all of you!”

We marveled at how silly we had been, and how things can change so radically. We realized we had learned an important lesson that needed to be shared with FictionPress writers:

Someone will always have more reviews than you, more subscribers, more fans, etc. When you get published, someone will always get a better review, sell more copies, or get more highly rated.

Always.

But you know what? You’re not competing with them. You’re really not. You’re competing with yourself. Consider runners in Track. Sometimes it’s not about being the fastest runner, it’s about running the fastest race you’ve ever run before. It’s about your personal best. If someone is faster than you, but you beat your personal best and they didn’t, then who REALLY won in that case?

If you focus on the success of others, all you’re doing is taking away from your own success. Hating someone and being jealous of them won’t do anything to make your own writing better, or increase your number of fans.

And yes, I admit it’s not always as easy as that. I’m guilty of being a very jealous person, and not even just of my friends at LTWF. I’m jealous of J. K. Rowling (If I could only be as successful as her!). I’m jealous of Stephen King (If only I could write as many books as him!). I’m jealous of Chuck Palahniuk (If only I were as original as he is!). I’m jealous of Toni Morrisson (oh, if only I could write like her!).

I’m also jealous of writers I don’t like, like Stephenie Meyer and Christopher Paolini. I’m jealous of their success, particularly when I think it’s so undeserved.

But none of that jealousy is going to help me do any better. EXCEPT if I use my jealousy for a  positive purpose. I think Toni Morrisson is the most gifted writer I’ve ever heard of. My jealousy of her writing style inspires me to improve my own. I’m so jealous of Chuck Palahniuk for his mind-blowing story lines, and that inspires me to work hard on my own stories to create my own brand of originality and mind-blowingness.

I’m jealous of J. K. Rowling. Well, okay then, I better write something that can appeal to everyone if I want that much success. I’m jealous of Stephen King, so I better focus, focus, focus and write constantly if I want to have as many books out as him.

(Please keep in mind that you shouldn’t copy others, but instead strengthen your own style)

You can use your jealousy for a constructive purpose, or you can use it to hurt yourself. Please, don’t hurt yourself. 😉

Remember, if you want to have any measure of success, you must take the attributes that you admire in others and use them to inspire you to improve your own writing. Don’t let jealousy consume you, instead let it fuel your desire to be the best writer you can be. If your jealousy is targeted at someone really good, let them be an inspiration, not a source of hatred and self-doubt.

I think that we at LTWF still struggle with jealousy and self-doubt, especially when we’re at all stages of the publishing process, from just finished first novel to already published. But, when one of us has good news, we’re there to cheer, and when one of us has bad news, we’re there to sympathize and encourage.

I believe that we will all make it. And I believe that you will, too, if you don’t give up, and if you focus on your own writing, and not how much better someone else’s is.

Best of luck,

Savannah J. Foley

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

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Query Week: ANTEBELLUM by Savannah J. Foley

10 Feb

QUERY: ANTEBELLUM (WOMAN’S WORLD)

By Savannah J. Foley

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Hey guys, Savannah here. Today is the second post for Query Week, in which we share our query letters and discuss them.

The query letter you are about to read is the one that got me signed with the Bradford Literary Agency in December 2008. I received over a hundred rejections before Laura Bradford signed me, and looking back I can easily tell you what I did wrong (it started with naming my book ‘Woman’s World’, lol). But let’s read the original query first:

I read on AgentQuery.com that you represent Young Adult fiction, and are particularly interested in edgy romance. I believe you will be interested in my 60,000 word gender-issue YA novel Woman’s World, book one of a completed trilogy.

In a female-dominated society where men are kept as domestic slaves, one young woman must overcome cultural barriers as she grows closer to her new, abused slave -a romance that uncovers the secret history behind women’s rise to power in our world and leads to an exciting, apocalyptic revolution to restore gender equality.

When the famous and reclusive writer known only as the Poetess selects for her first slave a young man whose muteness makes him worthless in society’s eyes despite his great beauty, their journey towards trust and compassion in her isolated home sparks a powerful and forbidden romance. Torn with feelings deviating from strict religious and social dogma, and possibly dying from a cancerous illness that makes her shamefully barren, the Poetess struggles to come to terms with the love she feels for the slave she names Shaedyn, and her new, heretic belief that men deserve to be equal with women. Whispers of an underground equalist movement, and their tentative plan to use the Poetess as a political tool to sway the hearts of the nation, excite and terrify the Poetess until a near-deadly failing of health forces her to leave Shaedyn behind and travel to the East Hall, a technological metropolis and secret heart of the revolution itself.

At age 19, Woman’s World is one of five novels I have written. Originally posted online at Fictionpress.com, garnishing 61,000 hits, near 1,000 favorable reviews, and hundreds of registered fans, Woman’s World takes the female-dominant society stereotype to an intelligent and realistic place with a romance and characters proven to capture the heart of any reader. My other writing credits include a personal narrative in the November 2006 edition of literary magazine TeenInk, and an award from the Journalistic Education Association for Feature Writing. I would be happy to send you a complete copy of the manuscript for your review. I appreciate your time, and look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Savannah J. Foley

First of all, when I created this query letter I didn’t have any writer friends at all. I didn’t know anyone who was going through what I was, and I had only one resource: agentquery.com.

I don’t remember how I found it, but I remember thinking that it was the only website related to agent queries that looked respectable. Its search feature was mostly useful (it crapped out every now and then), but best of all it had a FAQ section. That FAQ section taught me all of my initial knowledge about agents and what they want. In fact, that was pretty much my only guide in writing this query letter.

My first mistake did not begin with a query letter, however. It began with a novel that wasn’t ready to be queried on. Yes, I had a lot of fans on Fictionpress, and yes a lot of people claimed to adore my story, but I knew there were huge flaws in it, but at that point I didn’t care. I figure if it could make Fictiopress fall in love with it, then surely an agent would follow.

Yeah, right.

My book sucked. From the title to the low word count to the embarrassing repetition of issues and occasional corniness. I had bad names and irrelevant sections that had been included so long simply because they had always been there. My book was a messy room; yes, I knew where everything was, but it was not appealing at all.

The description of plot itself isn’t bad, but it ends at an awkward point. I almost want to ask my past self, ‘yeah, so? What happened then? The book ends with them separated? What happens after that?’ I should have pitched the series more, I believe, and briefly (oh so briefly!) outlined the rest of the series. It would only have taken a sentence.

Let’s pop down to the ending paragraphs. I have since learned not to mention Fictionpress in query letters, but I thought at the time that it would serve as preliminary proof that I could write pretty well. If I had to go back, I would take out Fictionpress, and also my age. It’s not relevant, and might have actually discouraged some agents from requesting partials. I would also take out that I had written 5 other novels. At the time I thought it would demonstrate that I was serious about being a writer, given my age, but have since learned that it actually leads the agent to ask what I’ve been doing with them this whole time. It’s better to just focus on the novel you’re pitching at the moment.

My award from the JEA isn’t really relevant, but I would keep it in if I did it again. It was for Feature Writing, and that’s basically fiction anyway. 😉

Thankfully, Laura Bradford somehow looked past all my mistakes and picked up on the spark that had enthralled so many others. She was simply amazing in helping/teaching me to edit my book, and it’s 10 times better than I could have made it on my own, unguided.

My biggest advice to those of you writing or about to write query letters out there is to have several crit partners be brutally honest with you about your book, and then be brutally honest about your query letter. Research, research, research successful query letters so you know what to do and what not to do (I recommend Query Shark). There are so many resources out there these days that you really have no excuse to have a bad query letter. Even just go to Twitter and search for the tag #queries. You might even run across some by LTWF contributor and future agent Mandy Hubbard 🙂

So, what do you think of my original query letter? If you were an agent, would you have requested to read that book?

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

Vlog: Failing Better

1 Feb

This week Savannah J. Foley discusses failure and rejection as a writer, and what to do about it:

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And for those who can’t watch the vlog at this moment, or just plain don’t like to watch vlogs, here’s a quick and dirty transcript of what I say:

Failing Better:

Failure is the constant companion of writers, whether it’s failure from agents, editors, publishers, reviewers, your friends, or the muse itself.

Rejection has a negative connotation, but today I’m going to challenge you to think about rejection in a new light. Rejection is like the game Battleship. You throw out your shots, and maybe you won’t hit anything. But that’s good. That shows you where your target isn’t.

It’s the same with submissions. Whether you’re submitting to a literary magazine, an agent, or a publisher, all a rejection means it that your target isn’t here. Now, the choices are narrowed and there’s one less possibility of where your success is residing.

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”
-Barbara Kingsolver

Also, just because you get a rejection doesn’t mean that the writing itself is bad. Perhaps it wasn’t to the editors taste, or perhaps your writing was good, but it wasn’t the right fit for the place you submitted it to.

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to get published in a literary magazine because I had heard that you should build up your writing credits for when you start to query agents so that you’ll be taken more seriously. So, I had this short story that I thought was pretty awesome, so I sent it to the Paris Review. And I got a form rejection.

It wasn’t that my story was bad. My story was -and is- kind of kickass, but it wasn’t right for the Paris Review. It was a dark, coming-of-age horror story and I think the editors at the Paris Review decided it wasn’t a tone or topic that fit with their magazine.

Almost the same thing happened to me again last week. For those of you who didn’t know, my first novel, Antebellum, which was published at Fictionpress under the name of Woman’s World, has been out on submissions with editors for a few months now. And last Friday my agent emailed me to tell me that we had gotten a rejection letter. And the only reason she wrote to tell me this is that it was an awesome rejection letter.

The editor who read my book adored it and the characters, and said she couldn’t wait to come to work in the morning and read it, but she felt that perhaps the issues dealt with in that book were a bit mature for it’s targeted audience of Young Adults, and while she loved the book, ultimately it wasn’t right for her YA publishing house.

Now, my question to you is… did I fail? Yes, I failed. I got a rejection. But that rejection is the closest I’ve come to being published ever in my life! So, you might say that while I’m failing, I’m failing better than I ever have before.

And that’s the way to deal with rejection and failure. I was thrilled to receive that rejection letter. It made my weekend. It told me I was doing something right, even if I wasn’t going to be published right at that moment. And you know what? I was thrilled to even receive the form rejection letter from the Paris Review. It told me that I was doing something right. I was already writing, already submitting, and that rejection letter told me that I had come farther along in the publishing process than I ever had before at that time.

To all you young writers out there, keep your rejection letters. Cherish them! They show that you’re already doing something amazing! You are a young, talented writer who’s clued in and already beginning the process of getting published! Some people don’t start that process until after they’re thirty, and lots more start even later!

As Stephen King wrote in his autobiography/instruction book On Writing, when he began the submissions process he nailed a giant nail into his bedroom wall, and every time he got a rejection letter he pushed it through the nail so pretty soon he had this huge stack of rejection letters coming out of the side of his wall. And they inspired him. They showed him how much he’d already done, and gave him the inspiration to keep going until he finally got an acceptance letter.

And while I may not advocate hammering a hole into your wall, I do advocate using your rejections as inspiration. They show you how far you’ve come, and how far you have left to go. Remember, rejection is like the game battleship. It shows you where your success isn’t, and creates sort of an outline over where your success is and will be.

So, my challenge to you is to not think of failure as this one big, end all pit of despair. Failure isn’t always bad. Failure is like a ladder. You get a form rejection, form rejection, do a re-edit, form rejection, then a form rejection with a comment. Then a page of comments. Then an acceptance. It’s a process.

In conclusion, you can’t take rejection personally. Publishing is a business. It’s not like you asked the Publishing Industry out on a date and they looked you up and down and said no way. They’re trying to find the best fit for their publication. Remember, it may not be that your writing is bad, it could be that the editor was in a bad mood that day, or has bad taste, or just wasn’t feeling it, or they were full up on stories that month. There are a million reasons why your story could be rejection that are unrelelated to anything you’ve done.

Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bad writer, or you made a bad story. It simply means you got a rejection. And that’s it.

Rejection happens to the best of us. Not nearly enough to the worst of us (I could name some names), but definitely to the best of us. Consider the following  (List came from InkyGirl.com):

  • John Kennedy Toole was told that his novel “isn’t really about anything.” He won a Pulitzer
  • John Le Carre was told that “he hasn’t got any future.”
  • Yasmine Galenorn was rejected 600 times before her first sale!
  • James Patterson was rejected 26 times.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin was told that her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, was ‘unreadable.’
  • William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, was rejected 20 times.
  • James Patterson was rejected 26 times.
  • Let’s not forget J. K. Rowling, who wrote Harry Potter and was rejected over 100 times before HP sold.
  • And finally, Ray Bradbury and C. S. Lewis were rejected 800 times before his first sale!

So you know what? Until you’ve been rejected 800 times, I don’t want to hear about it! After that 800th rejection we can talk, but until then you are on the hook to keep trying!

“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the worst failure.” -George E. Woodberry.

If you’re a young writer who’s already submitting, then you’re already a winner in my book. Maybe it’ll take you a couple of years more to get published. Maybe your book needs a couple more revisions, or maybe there’s not an agent out there who’s a good fit for you, or maybe there’s not a publisher revolutionary enough to take your work.

But, success will happen, IF you’re dedicated to being a writer. I don’t know how many times I can keep saying this: It will happen! It will happen!

Failing is okay. We all fail. But today I challenge you to fail better than you ever have before.

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

The Importance of Setting

9 Dec

by Savannah J. Foley

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Think of your favorite book. Think of the characters; what do you love about them? What do you see them doing?

More importantly, where are they?

Today I’d like to talk about the importance of Setting, and how it impacts both your writing life and your future readers.

Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about Harry Potter. I assume most of you out there are fans. What do you think has led to the prominence of Harry Potter fan fiction on Fanfiction.net? Is it the characters? Is it the widespread popularity? I propose to you that what makes Harry Potter so popular is its setting.

If you’ve read one of the Harry Potter books, then you know what Hogwarts looks like. In your mind you know exactly where the Gryffindor common room is, what the doors to the dining hall look like, which direction Dumbledore’s office is facing, etc. You might not be able to draw a functional map of it, and your ideas of where everything is might not match J.K. Rowling’s ideas at all, but the point is that you have a very vivid mental picture of Harry Potter’s primary setting, and in your imaginings during History class or a work meeting you could follow all the characters up and down stairs, across courtyards, through fields, etc., making up new stories and events for them.

The Setting is the playground of the book. If you have a clear idea of your setting, and fully understand the different elements in it, then you could take your book in any direction you wanted. You might go off in several direction before you actually decide on one, all because it’s so easy to think up new scenarios for your characters.

In the Antebellum series, I have very clear, very vivid ideas about the homes and cities of my characters. It’s not hard at all to go there in my mind and hang out with my characters, watching them go about their daily lives. I could lead them into any situation I wanted, and I know exactly where they would stand and what objects would be around them. It’s like a computer game, but for your mind.

I feel very confidently that you can move about the rooms of your favorite books with the same amount of ease. I am also sure that you, like me, run into serious problems when you can’t envision exactly where your characters are.

The realization of the importance of setting came to me very recently as I was working on what I hope will become my newest novel. It involves time travel, and primarily five settings: two houses, an apartment, and two towns. My problem is that I have no idea what any of these places look like. It’s not a matter of research, it’s a matter of orienting myself to their world. What direction do these houses face? When you come through the front door, are you greeted with a staircase, a kitchen, or a reception area? What floor is the apartment on? Is it near a library, a supermarket, or the ghetto, or all three?

Until I figure out the world through my characters’ eyes, I cannot connect with them. I feel lost when I write them; it’s the same feeling as when you take your already-well-known characters and move them into a new setting. You’ll notice it with books sometimes; for just a scene the author will move their characters into a setting completely different than those we visit in the rest of the novel. If the author doesn’t have a clear idea of what that setting looks like, it comes across in their writing, and one of my senses goes dark. I can’t see what the characters are doing anymore. I can hear them, yes, and feel what they’re touching, but my sight is gone until they return to areas I’m more familiar with.

Even though I signed up for NaNoWriMo last month, as soon as I realized my setting predicament I stopped working on the story. I refuse to go back to my novel until I know exactly how to move about the rooms and worlds of my characters. Otherwise I’ll just be stuck in the same spot, flailing around in the dark, offering description and movement but no insight. I can’t make my plot develop if I don’t know what direction my characters are heading next.

Realizing the importance of setting explained for me why some earlier attempts at novels never went anywhere; I had one room, or one piece of scenery, cast out into the void like an island.

How do you pick a setting? Some stories you work on might not come with their settings magically imprinted into your head. Sometimes you might have to work at it, and in that case, I find it helpful to have something to base your setting off of. I recommend the following sources for finding settings:

1. Flickr (or other photo-storage sites). Flickr has this awesome feature when you search for photographs; you can specify your results by ‘most recent,’ ‘most relevant,’ or my favorite, ‘most interesting.’ I’ve found some gorgeous photos of scenes I wanted by doing a ‘most interesting’ search on Flickr.

How it worked for me: I got some really inspiring images for Go Look There involving butterflies that really captured the mood I was going for.

2. Icon Communities. You have to be on livejournal for this one. Livejournal has some awesome communities where people create and share icons. My favorite is gaffe; it shows beautiful, artistic, high-fashion icons, a lot of which remind me of my characters or specific scenes and give me something to start with in order to imagine a new world. Gaffe is often the spark that lights my setting fire (yeah, I totally went there). Icons and conceptual art are also good if you’re writing a story that doesn’t take place in modern times, or even on Earth.

How it worked for me: I based the North Hall building in Antebellum off of an icon I saw once. Icons were also very instrumental in designing some of my characters, like Laina, Charoleen, and Mercoush (I saw a conceptual picture of a black man meditating with a chain around his head and knew what Mercoush had to look like), and also helped pick the outfit style in the North Hall.

3. City Websites. Want to set your story in a city or part of the world you’ve never visited? Visit that city’s website to get a feel for their building style, any landmarks you should be aware of, etc.

How it worked for me: I researched various towns in upstate New York for help with my comedy novel Of Coffee and People.

4. Relevant movies/television. It sounds silly, but you can learn a lot about cities you’ve never been to by watching movies or television shows that were actually filmed there. This really only works for the big cities, though, unless you know of a movie whose small-town setting matches the feel you want for your book.

How it worked for me: I based a beach house and surrounding town in my potential new novel off of ones in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and various episodes of Sex and the City, and several spy/action movies set in Africa or the Middle East for the introduction to A Clear and Beautiful Lie. Minority Report also helped give me a basis for the technology level in ACABL.

Personally, I think settings are half the fun of writing; the stage upon which your characters get to act. Your setting can be anything you want it to be, in a way that real towns never can.

So good luck, happy writing, and may all your settings be complete.

-Savannah J. Foley

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency trying to sell Antebellum. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com

On Inspiration and Trusting Your Instinct (or, Writing as a Mental Disorder)

11 Nov

By Savannah J. Foley

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If you’re a writer, and I mean a Writer, then you are probably somewhat insane. Consider the following quotes for context:

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. ~Sharon O’Brien

 

First, find out what your character wants. Then, just follow him. ~Ray Bradbury.

Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum. ~Graycie Harmon

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

When I first began writing Antebellum (formerly known as Woman’s World), all I had was a premise: What would the world be like if women had been the dominant gender throughout the ages, not men? I wondered if there would be peace or war, slavery or freedom, what the government would look like, who would raise the children, would children even be important, and what would men’s roles be? I wanted to examine this world, our world, in a different light. Ultimately I decided men would be kept as slaves: menial workers and companions, both holding the nation and families together as caretakers and the working class, leaving women to pursue knowledge, science, and art.

I began with a female character about to take her first slave. I didn’t know her name, or his name, or anything about their society at all. But as the sentences began to pile on top of each other, it became clear that my characters knew everything I didn’t. I followed them as a tourist, stalking them through my keyboard, learning about their customs and responsibilities, their emotions and struggles. They wanted things, and would fight for what they wanted. I was enthralled.

I also thought I was a little crazy. In school I was taught that the writing process had definite steps; first there was a brainstorming session, then a rough draft, then three re-edits until you had a final copy. In elementary school, this was the way writing was done, and there was no room for negotiation. In fourth grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and loved the creativity of just going at it on paper, but hated this drafting/editing process and knew I would never be able to take being a writer if I had to do that nonsense all the time.

So, when I began writing Antebellum at the age of 14, I didn’t know anything about real writers or real writing, but I had found this magic world inside myself, this trance-like interaction between my imagination and my more logical self, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Other aspiring writers I met in school didn’t have this (they also lacked my natural instinct for grammar and plots not based on their favorite anime), and so I felt very alone, a little frustrated, and misunderstood. My teachers hadn’t any inkling what I was talking about, either.

Then, in 9th grade I picked up a book from my English teacher’s personal library: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. It was a quick, strange read, but at the end I found total gold: an interview with the author. That three-page or so interview completely changed my writing life. Bradbury revealed that he had the same, strange, magical process of writing. He likened his writing process to following his characters around with a notepad, writing down what they do.

I had found my people. There were others like me. I wasn’t strange or half-crazy, no, I was just a REAL writer! I was thrilled. I began calling myself a writer from that day on. It was who and what I was, and what I would always be, published or not.

Writing after that became far more enjoyable. I learned to listen to my subconscious pulling and give my creative side free range to make up anything it wanted to. Our brains are so smart once we stop analyzing what and how we’re actually thinking. My subconscious had whole plots worked out I wasn’t even aware of. These plans would emerge unexpectedly and surprise me.

For example (those who read the Antebellum series when it was available on Fictionpress will remember this), one day I was sitting at my desk, typing along on my second book, Apostasy, when suddenly one of my characters blurted out to another that she was pregnant.

I stopped, took my hands off the keyboard, and looked at the screen more closely. Had I really written that? That wasn’t in my conscious plan. I had no intention of making this character pregnant. Her pregnancy had nothing to do with the plot I was developing; in fact, it threatened to ruin what long-term plans I did have.

However, while my conscious self didn’t have a plan, my subconscious self certainly did. Later on in the third book this unexpected pregnancy twist surfaced again and revealed its surprising plan, throwing in a most-excellent plot-twist towards the end that intrigued and delighted readers.

It was a leap of faith to accept that unexpected turn of events, and I’m glad I did. That experience taught me a lot about the subconscious writing process and about the power of our minds. It was also useful for helping me trust myself in a similar situation years later, as I was working on my fifth book, Go Look There.

I had just graduated from high school, and my family unexpectedly moved to north Alabama. For a graduation present, my father bought me a laptop (which I type this article on now, two years later). We were stuck in corporate housing for what ended up being two months, and I had nothing to do except play on my laptop (without even the internet; too cruel!) and write. I had brought some of my current writing projects with me on CD, as my desktop was moved along with the rest of our stuff, and began toying with some short stories I had written. There was one in particular I was working on which featured a girl with a mental retardation that made her smell attractive to butterflies. At her 8th grade graduation outside, butterflies came and swarmed her, and the crowd’s reaction to both this girl and this miraculous event served as a pointed social critique.

This all sounded nice in theory, and the story had hints of what I ultimately wanted the reader to feel (magic, spookiness, etc.), but it was missing something. It didn’t have what I call ‘saturation,’ where every sentence is rich with meaning and/or description, and as soon as you read the first few lines of the story you feel as if you are living it.

I tried several variations of the story, but it still felt flat and unoriginal, so I decided (going with that subconscious instinct), to change the perspective from third person to first person. For the eyes and ears of the story I chose the school janitor, who had a special relationship with the children and the school that parents attending could not have. His name was Ephram Carson. A novel was born.

(You can read this chapter on my website here)

Ephram is the most strongly-defined character I’ve ever written (you can see his character analysis on my website, too), and he had stories to tell, only the first of which was this strange, haunting butterfly episode. In fact, it was this experience, along with another tragedy involving a child and butterflies, that created a stigma in the town that functioned as a sort of curse. Ephram wrote letters to the school psychiatrist, Angelica, recounting the strange, spooky, and often sad stories of the children of the town. I got to incorporate more of my short stories into the novel and add new ones, and the project turned itself into my favorite novel so far, Go Look There (never before shared on Fictionpress, unfortunately).

If I hadn’t have trusted my instincts and changed the perspective of the story, even though it meant a complete rewrite and working with an unfamiliar character (at first), I would never have arrived at the novel my subconscious had in store for me.

Now, whenever I can I try to enlighten other young writers to the subconscious effect, and reassure them they aren’t crazy; they’re just legitimate!

In writing, your mind is your most useful tool. Forget your computer, forget your keyboard, forget your typewriter or your notepad and pens. If you had nothing else in the world, not even your voice or hands, you could still make up stories. Your work doesn’t come from your tools, but your brain. Remember that.

Now get out there and make some magic.

PS: I’m guest-blogging tomorrow at the blog of Jess Granger, whose first book, Beyond the Rain, came out in August of this year (click the link for sexy/beautiful cover!)

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Woman’s World (now known as Antebellum) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency trying to sell Antebellum. Her website is http://www.savannahjfoley.com.

Hey guys (so good to be back!)

29 Oct

Hey everyone,

My username on Fictionpress was svonnah-la-fay, but my real name is Savannah J. Foley. I began writing Woman’s World, now known as Antebellum, at the age of 14 and finished it one year later. The other two in the series, Apostasy and Insurrection came along shortly after, and were my only novels ever to be posted to completion on Fictionpress.

I wrote Antebellum when I was living in Washington State, but in my junior year of high school my family moved to a suburb outside of Chicago in Illinois. I kept to myself, read two books from the school library a day, and focused on my writing. In November 2006 I was published in TeenInk for an article about my experience living in a Stepford-like suburbia for the first time in my life. This was a rather critical article, and when it came out my parents were so proud, but really couldn’t tell anyone about it because I kind of insulted everyone in my neighborhood. Personally, I had to go around school and collect every single edition of that month’s TeenInk so no one could read it and link the story back to me. I’ve learned my lesson though; never publish something you don’t want your neighbors to read.

A year after that my family moved to Huntsville, AL, where I am living now. I wrote my fifth novel, Go Look There, which is my favorite so far, during that first summer, but I haven’t had a real novel cooking since then (though I’ve had several of those frustrating good beginnings that peter off into nothings).

In April of 2008 I was working as a cashier at a truly beautiful garden nursery named The Enchanted Forest when a young man named Chris walked in looking for a quick summer job. Readers, I swear he was shining. We’ve been more or less together since that day, which is neat because I can honestly say that I met my fiancé in an Enchanted Forest.

A few days after we met we pretty much decided we would be married eventually, and in light of this decided we needed to upgrade our jobs. I got a position as an Administrative Assistant for a company in the Healthcare industry, where I continue to work now. I love my job; I both get to fetch coffee and, because of my writing skills, write policy and press releases and other awesome stuff like that.

Growing into adulthood and taking responsibility for my future and the future of another person led me to finally get over my fears and procrastination and actually start the process of getting an agent. Agent Query was immensely helpful at this stage, and I recommend it to anyone who is starting the agent-hunting process.

I began submitting Antebellum, and signed with the Bradford Literary Agency in December 2008. All this year my agent, Laura Bradford, and I have been trading Antebellum back and forth getting it ready to go out on submissions, and it’s finally out! It would just make my life to get it sold before the end of the year, but publication is mostly a waiting game. Laura has helped to make Antebellum so much better than I could alone, and I’m truly proud to call it my first novel. Mostly I look forward to being able to share with the fans that the story they’ve followed for so long is FINALLY going to be published.

Earlier this year I was asked by my company’s leadership counselor to help him write, edit, and publish his self-help book that he’s been wanting to write for 15 years. After I took on that project, I realized the need for this type of service must be wide-spread throughout the Huntsville community (we are a city of engineers… brilliant, but no writing skills to speak of), so just after turning 20 I founded my own freelance writing company, SJF Writing. It’s not a huge money-maker, but it’s exciting to take on different projects and get paid for what I love to do!

I recently bought my first house, and moving out and living on my own is fulfilling the dream I had ever since I was in fourth grade: to live alone and be a writer. Of course, Chris is in the picture now, but he only makes things better. My writing life has been kind of on hold all the rest of this year as I balanced work, online school, my own company, and edits for Antebellum. Now I’ve decided to take a semester off school, Antebellum’s future is out of my hands, and I’m ready to start a relationship with a new story.

I look forward to documenting this new life with you, and I’m so excited to be a part of this blog project. The other contributors are amazing, and I’m so glad to be able to interact with the Fictionpress community once more without having to post stories (getting an agent kind of puts a damper on what you can and can’t post anymore if you want to sell it eventually).

I missed you guys a lot, and it’s great to be back. Come back and check out an article I wrote titled “On Inspiration and Trusting Your Instinct, Or, Writing as a Mental Disorder”, scheduled to be posted on November 9th!

-Savannah J. Foley

Currently Reading: The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City