One Year Later

Hello there, friends!

This past Thursday was an important day for me: exactly one year ago on that day, I donned a spiffy brown blazer, gray sweater vest, bow tie, and khakis to deliver a book report to my English Literature class. I had something else to tell them about, too. In fact, that was the first public announcement I had ever made about my plans on turning Haywood Micaye into a published book.

It was a great day for me. I got my first contribution to my Kickstarter (which ended up being an Indiegogo campaign), received a lot of encouragement from my peers and teachers, and overall felt proud that I had committed to finally putting my dreams in motion.

I wrote a blog post about the event last year-unfortunately, somewhere along the lines of me changing the blog, the original post got deleted. I almost let the day pass without any real occurrence. However, I was feeling reflective today, so I dug up the draft and decided to post it in celebration of the memory and to reflect on everything that’s happened since.

Enjoy.

November 10th, 2015

Hello there, friends!

What a day.

Neil Gaiman himself :D

Neil Gaiman himself 😀

Today, for me, is fantastic for many reasons: First of all, today is Neil Gaiman’s birthday, making him fifty five and making me happy because he is my writing idol. Also related to Neil Gaiman, The Sandman Overture: Omnibus Edition is being officially released today. Another great release is that of American Ultra on iTunes for purchase, which is a great movie and I highly recommend it if you want to watch something that funny, thrilling, and crazy all at once.

I figured it would be excellent for me to add something to this great day that has things I like going on, so this morning I did a book report for The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. It’s a great read that I seriously recommend everyone to pick up the next time they’re looking for a book. There is something major from that book report, however, that I wanted to pass along in an attempt to raise some more awareness on the subject. It has to do with something very important to me: my life as a writer.

Despite being only sixteen, it might be hard to imagine someone my age already referring to herself by her future career, but this has been a part of me for a while now.

I frequently state that my passion for writing and my dream to become a writer was founded in the fifth grade, but in all reality the construction of stories had been an aspect of me for all of the childhood I can remember. When my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Ullah let us write “books” that we all got to read aloud to our peers and parents at a party during the year, I composed a piece about a frog and her adventures eating flies, fighting off burglars, and her annoyance with the nonstop talking of loan processors. In February of my fourth grade year, when my parents sat me down and told me my grandpa was dead and if I wanted to do anything for the funeral I was more than welcome to, the act of writing a poem was what I chose without any thought whatsoever.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

But it wasn’t just pencil-to-paper stories that I did. My love of building tales also took the form of playing Legos with my brother, Alec, as we collaborated with one another to make stories that lasted several hours, or as seen in the case of one we called Lego Big Tear in the Sky Magical Apocalypse Jaws Animals in a Bottle, sagas we dwelled on for four days straight. (It was as intense as it sounds.)

Even with all these paths directing me towards a field of creativity, when my fifth grade teacher first told me I should be a writer, I thought she was joking with me. I was going to become a dolphin trainer and marine biologist. Sure I liked writing things in class and then reading them because everyone thought my stories were funny, but the thought of doing it for the rest of my life seemed, in all honesty, very stupid.

Obviously, since I haven’t had an A in Science since seventh grade and I have been labeled as a writer by anyone in my life that matters to me, I have followed that life plan to a T.

I accepted this title, adored it, and have acted on it. I have written short stories, plays, poems, attempted three novels, in the process of making the second draft of my fourth, worked in collaboration with people in story based role play, made essays, journal entries, the beginning of a screenplay, quotable drabbles, notes on my writing, and opinion based rambles. Not including my escapades prior to my fifth grade year, by the time I graduate high school I will have in my physical possession eight years’ worth of writing. At the prompting of a statement from a Gail Carson Levine book, I have kept everything I have written. I have seven compositions notebooks of varying fullness, two half-filled leather notebooks, several spiral notebooks, an overwhelming stack of loose pages I have sorted into a bulging file folder, and a plethora of saved documents on my laptop. All this, while maintaining schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and my various other responsibilities, in eight years.

I have never been published. Ever. I have been actively engaged in the act of writing, made that a part of who I am as a person, told everyone who would listen that that was what I wanted to be for what will soon be eight years of my life.

Then I met this prick named Haywood James Micaye.

Last year, during the first semester of my sophomore year, fourth hour white days would find me in Mr. Baker’s room for Creative Writing. It was my personal heaven on earth: a class dedicated to making stories. One of our earlier assignments, and one we returned to frequently that semester, was to use a questionnaire to design a character that we would eventually use in the short story we wrote as our final project.

October 14, 2014, according to my notes, is when I first “met” Haywood Micaye.

Making up his history as I went along was almost like actually sitting down and meeting him in real life: He was twenty-nine, American, and had, as he liked to say in his careful manner of speaking, “a rather involved position in the field of espionage”. Haywood is, to avoid sugarcoating, the biggest, most egotistical, self-absorbed asshole I had ever met. He formed his beliefs based on the notion that human emotion led to weakness in the human race and that by “disengaging” it by building walls and stifling it that humanity would become stronger. Haywood maintains a strong god complex, although he hasn’t ever really admitted it. He’s verbally abusive to anyone who so much as breathes too close to him, obsessed with the idea that he must be perfect in order to prove his belief, and to top it all off he’s haunted by a childhood that destroyed who he could have been and brought him to this point.

Long story short, I wrote Haywood’s story for the final project, a spy thriller of sorts that followed his journey attempting to take down a terrorist group known as the Leviticus while getting absorbed in the psychological tricks played on him. It was a blast to write and ended up being 9,868 words, nineteen pages, single spaced, on size eleven font, and that was my attempt to try to keep it short.

Even after I turned the paper in and got my grade back, Haywood in his fastidious and arrogant way kept pestering me. I had to write the whole story or he would probably never shut up. So I fleshed it out some more, changed the order of the scenes, and essentially wrote an entirely new story, only expecting it to break 15k at most.

Seven months later, it was two o’clock in the afternoon at Starbucks where I had been since seven thirty that morning, and as Adam texted me and told me he was on his way to pick me up I had just typed THE END on a 38,500 word, two hundred paged document titled Haywood Micaye.

And he still wouldn’t shut up.

It occurred to me as I sat there with my grande Carmel Macchiato that if I wanted any peace of mind, I would have to do something I didn’t think I would be doing for another few years: I had to publish this thing. Which is fine and dandy unto itself, except that since most of you don’t know anything about traditional publishing that can be a tricky thing to do. Nowadays, major publishing houses like Scholastic or HarperCollins receive so many submissions from people that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts: in plain English, I couldn’t write a letter and shove my behemoth into a manila folder and send it to them myself. I needed a literary agent, who would essentially pitch the book to the publisher and see if they could strike a hit. Which led to problem number two: literary agents solicit novels, and to reach novel definition, you are supposed to hit a minimum of 60k-70k, depending on what website you trusted. I was painfully short of this number, and if I were to try to go back through and fluff it up with extra words like a college paper it would create all kind of havoc. You don’t simply drop in 20,000 words into a story for the sheer, unadulterated joy of it. 1,000 words were they don’t belong can make your entire story seem slow and drag: multiply that by twenty and there would be no literary agent alive let alone a publisher stupid enough to accept my book.

Besides that, I knew that when I edited it that there were going to be words removed, scenes tightened, and though I was going to go back and add an extra scene towards the beginning, it wouldn’t be enough to break 40k. Which led me to the world of self-publication, a venue I had hoped to avoid due to the fact that by using it anyone could get anything published, so there was on average an overwhelming amount of sub-par work that made it hard to find the gems in the wreckage.

I took time away from the story for a bit, then jumped back in and scribbled editing notes all over it in two sittings at the beginning of October, and all the while I’ve been thinking of my conundrum. If I did self-publish, and it was looking like that was the route this was going to go, it meant I would have to pay for a lot of things in order to make sure my book didn’t die in sub-par obscurity. I preferred going the physical copy route as well, partially because I always had a love for physical books over virtual ones, and then also so I could get it in to book stores should fortune smile upon my little work. As a junior in high school who recently quit her job in order to have more time for school, there wasn’t any real way for me to get what I needed.

And then there came this book with a naked woman on the cover written by a musician I liked that talked a lot about asking people for help when you need it.

Amanda Palmer relied heavily on a tool called crowdfunding, in which a person posed a creative idea to the public and those who were interested or who simply wanted to help would step forward and “back” the project by supplying money. This process founded websites like Kickstarter and have been used to bring tons of endeavors to life, things that would probably have not made it far in traditional realms of creation.

And so, it is with careful thought, complete trust, and my attempt in the art of asking that I announce that I am going to embrace a life of asking and look to my own net to ask you all to help me.

On my birthday, January 6th of 2016, I am going to open a Kickstarter page to fund Haywood’s self-publication. At most, my research is showing that to achieve that it will cost only $5,000. This fund would include $1,000 for extra costs, and any money left over from what is fundraised would be used to help with the reward tiers, which are the gifts that accompany the various levels of donation. I have not exactly figured out what will be on what tier, but I will be narrowing that down soon.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid. I have been thinking about it for weeks now, and I have been alone in my terror because I wanted this to be a surprise. The last time I kept something this important to myself was back in fifth grade when no one knew about my then foster siblings. Scary is an understatement; I take have the tendency to take intense criticism pretty hard, and needless to say I feared the worst when I was planning this. And, to make matters worse, I was alone in my panic.

But then I tried to practice what Amanda Palmer taught me and I looked beyond the fear. I realized that I was not alone, that I had absolutely no reason to be afraid of any of your rejection. And the fact that I feel that way is such a relief. I can trust that there will always be people around to catch me when I do a trust fall. I know people who spend their entire lives without that kind of faith in humanity, and the fact that I have found it so young is a blessing.

The first contribution!

The first contribution!

I find it super fantastic, among all of this fantastic stuff that is presently occurring, that I only mentioned it this morning and I have had people coming up to me saying they will be willing to bring me money.  One of the other students in the class I did the book report in came up to me and literally put a ten dollar bill in my hand and told me to use it for the book. It wasn’t a magical exchange, not by any means: I didn’t go up there expecting so many people to so readily tell me they would back me, let alone receive something tangible in regards to it so early on. I protested for a bit, telling her it was perfectly fine to wait, but she insisted and now I have ten dollars towards my goal.

I feel like if there had ever been any doubt in my mind as to whether or not I would ever feel like a true writer- all my fears of public rejection, of not being good enough to even think of publishing- they shut themselves up for a moment when she came up to me. It was the first time anyone had given me any kind of compensation for my work beyond a good grade on it, but it was more than that. It was like Amanda said in her book about people actually seeing you. I felt seen. I felt grateful, too, because I got to see first-hand that this wouldn’t become a hopeless shout into the void. There truly were people around who would help. Amanda was telling the truth, and I wasn’t afraid anymore.

Thanks for giving that feeling to me, you guys. You are all so very wonderful and I’m really looking forward to embarking on this journey together.

Let’s make something great happen here, now.

-x-

That was then. Now, the campaign is over, an editor has been found, and the day that I finally release this book is fast approaching.

A lot of the feelings, though they were lost for a while, haven’t ever left me completely: the joy, the fear, the gratitude. Blame it on the holiday at the end of the month, but I’m thankful for everything that has come to me as far as this whole book is concerned. I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities come my way since the announcement- the anthology, for example, which was very successful at both signings and will greet audiences again for another event to take place in April (more on that soon). I’m excited for all the wonderful opportunities to come.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: writing isn’t an easy thing to do. It takes work. It takes time. Anyone who tries to say otherwise is either doing it wrong or not doing it at all. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately myself as I try to find time to commit to my craft amid the craziness of my young life. I feel like saying I’m too busy isn’t really a good excuse as to why I haven’t made more progress on all the projects I have going on at once, but sometimes it’s the only thing I can say. I’m trying the best I can to do better, as challenging as such a prospect is. I just have to remind myself a lot more than usual that the stress is just another thing to work through and that if I can make it through all this, then I can also be the kind of writer I want to be after high school.

I did not choose this path for my life because I thought it would be easy. At the end of the day, as Amanda Palmer reflects on in her book, it’s about getting impactful art to the people who need it. Everything else is just an added perk, and I’m okay with that.

Life, like writing, is about taking things one blow at a time and doing everything possible to roll with the punches.

There’s not a whole awful lot to be said beyond what was already said except for this: there is greatness on the horizon. And I’m excited to see what that entails.

Until next time,

Ashlynne

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