New Interviews

Leading up to Violet Yorke’s six-month book birthday in September, I’ve got a plethora of stuff coming up.

Children’s author Laura Roettinger is doing a giveaway on Violet Yorke.

https://lauraroettigerbooks.com/2022/08/16/welcome-author-pj-mcilvaine-giveaway-alert/

Fellow Darkstoke author Kateri Stanley did an amazing author spotlight on lil old me.

https://www.kateristanley.com/blank-page-9

Kid lit author Mary Boone joined in with a six questions blog.

https://www.boonewrites.com/post/six-questions-with-pj-mcilvaine

Angela Wren, a Darkstroke author, highlighted me on her blog.

https://jamesetmoi.blogspot.com/2022/08/friend-and-author-pj-mcilvaine.html

Now, if you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll get lots of other news.

https://tinyletter.com/PJMcIlvaine

It’s totally free and you can unsub at any time. No hurt feelings. I promise.

PJ’s Big Adventure in the City

You get these emails all the time. You know the ones.

“Dear Beneficiary,”

Or “We are holding ten gazillion dollars for you as the next of kin of–“

Scams, scams, scams.

But on this particular afternoon in the middle of June, when I clicked on the email from the manager of a digital marketing for a company I’d never heard of and read that I had won the grand prize of a sweepstakes which, in all honestly, I had a vague recollection of entering–and most certainly would not have entered if I had known what the grand prize was. Just one of those things I clicked on in Twitter, of that I’m sure. Because I have no doubt that when I saw the advertisement for the movie Mr. Malcolm’s List, as a huge fan of Bridgerton, Sanditon, and Belgravia (or any period piece with mystery, romance, and intrique), I would’ve clicked or retweeted it without blinking.

My first reaction, and also that of my family, was that it was some kind of scam. It had to be. I mean, I don’t win things. I’ve won two-four bucks at Mega and Powerball, but that’s about as far as my lucky streak goes.

But I quickly did an internet search, and sure enough, there was a sweepstakes for the movie premiere of Mr. Malcom’s List. And from what I could see, there was only ONE grand prize–an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to attend the Mr. Malcolm’s List movie premiere on June 29th.

Okay. It now appeared that the contest was truly legit. But me winning it? And going to NYC for three days to stay at the Plaza Hotel.

Impossible! For many reasons.

First, I’m prone to anxiety/panic attacks. I don’t venture too far from the house. I’ve been this way for years. Therapy, medication, you name it, I’ve done it. I’m a thousand percent better from say, five years ago, but I know my limits. This trip would be pushing it.

Plus, I have a sensitive tummy. Eating out for me is an ordeal. I have to be careful, and there was no way that I couldn’t not consume food while in the city. I’m not that silly or stupid.

Who would watch the grandkids? They were just starting summer vacation. Their parents worked and relied on us. This gave me nightmares.

And our Luna, our Frenchie. Who would care for her? We couldn’t lock her up in her pen for hours on end.

Lastly, I was in a lousy mood due to family/writing/work crisis. The last thing on my mind was going on vacation.

Like I said–impossible. Never going to happen. Finis.

But life had other ideas.

Shortly after getting the first email, others came in quick succession confirming the initial email, offering congratulations, and asking for all the sweet info to get the wheels of my grand prize in motion. At this point, I still wasn’t entirely sure it was on the up and up and honestly, I was trying to think up ways to be disqualified to avoid upset and disappointment. Because, as I kept telling myself, surely a mistake had been made and I needed to get my kids off my back who were insistent that if this was real I was going, come Hell or high water.

I’m writer! A blogger! A screenwriter! A journalist! I told the sweeps people this in the interest of transparency. I mean, if they did a Google search on me, there was plenty there. But alas, they didn’t care, and my kids berated me.

Now I was really stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m fifty miles from Manhattan but it could have been five hundred. Fear, worry, and doubt gnawed at me.

So I did the next best thing: I promptly put it all out of my mind, figuring that the sweepstakes people would come to their senses sooner than later and realize that a terrible error had been made. It happens. I wouldn’t be too upset.

And that was how things were until I received, as part of the prize package, a gift card to SAKS Fifth Avenue.

Uhmmm..it suddenly dawned on me, belatedly, that no one was going to send me a gift card of this value as a scam. And no one had attempted to hack into my checking or savings accounts (yes, that idea had occurred to me).

I was forced to acknowledge that I’d won this sweepstakes. They were expecting me to show up. But with everything else going on, I wasn’t sure if mentally, emotionally, or physically that I could actually do it. I could visualize and think positive until the cows came, do my breathing exercises and OMMM. That’s easy.

But could everything fall into place in time for this trip of a lifetime that was now only days away? My hair? My make-up? And what the hell was I going to wear?

Well, despite the odds, it did.

As destiny would have it, our trip fell on my husband’s 70th birthday, and on July 15th, we be married forty-two years. I saw how excited my hubby and the kids were. How could I let them down?

And that, boys and girls, is how I landed at the Plaza Hotel in a deluxe suite with a King-sized bed with 25 carat gold bathroom fixtures, a Roman tub, had high tea at the Palm Court, rubbed shoulders with the famous and near-famous, and attended the packed premiere of Mr. Malcolm’s List at the DGA Theatre, and lived to tell the tale. And yes, I wore a mask, even in Central Park.

I’m delighted to say that the movie didn’t disappoint. it’s a lushly produced Regency-period rom-com of wit, manners, deception, intrique, and come-uppance. If you love Jane Austen, you will love Mr. Malcolm’s List. As my hubby put it, it’s a chick flick, but a good one.

Did I have some moments? Of course I did. The first night was difficult. I missed the kids and grandkids terribly, And Luna. But I pushed through it and amazed myself, if I’m being honest. And I even ate in a restaurant (yes, it was in our hotel, but I’ll take it).

And now that I’m back home chilling and wondering if that all really happened, I’m percolating new ideas based on my adventures, naturally. I’m a writer. That’s what I do.

Exciting Announcement!

I’m thrilled, delighted (fill in the adjective) to say that the wonderfully creative and talented David Deen has agreed to do a series of original character sketches for Violet Yorke. I’ve wanted to do this for the longest time because while I see Violet and all the other characters in my head, I’m not an artist. I can barely draw a straight line. So for inspiration, I’ve been using free stock photos from that era.

But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to see Violet on the page.

This is not my first time working with an artist, so I had a pretty good idea of what I didn’t want.

Cartoony.

Childish.

Clowny.

Unoriginal.

But finding the right illustrator proved daunting. Because like my determined poor little rich girl, if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right. Or not at all. And I was prepared to wait to find the right artist.

And then serendpity knocked on my door.

I am forever in debit to the amazing Kaz Windness http://www.windnessbooks.com/ for hooking me up with David. The moment I saw David’s kid lit black and white sketches, I had chills–no lie. I knew in my heart that I wanted David and when I explained what I wanted to do, my vision and aspirtations, he got it immediatley.

I can’t wait to see what David comes up with, but in the meantime, please check out his work at https://daviddeen.com/

I’m a best selling author!

This past weekend I reached this coveted status on AmazonUS for the Violet Yorke ebook, so my publisher added this sticker to the cover going forward. I’m literally over the moon that my poor little girl who can see ghosts has found an audience. It also hit #1-2-3 in various Amazon categories. We celebrated with Italian ices–I’m a cheap date and easy to please.

Violet Yorke News

Happy to say that Violet Yorke is now available in paperback as well as Amazon Kindle.

It’s been a wild ride. I’m learning a ton about marketing and promoting. I’m a natural born introvert, so putting myself and my work out there doesn’t come easy for me, but I’m game for new adventures. So far I’ve done podcasts, interviews, and even taped myself reading the first paragraph of the book.

I’ve become somewhat more adept at creating book posters and banners, but the real star of this show has been my middle daughter who made a fantastic book trailer.

Mark your calendar: the weekend of May 21-22, Violet Yorke will be available for free on Amazon Kindle as a special promotion. And from May 19-29, I’ll be doing an Instagram book tour hosted by Berit at https://berittalksbooks.com/

So please check out my debut middle-grade supernatural mystery on Amazon. And kindly leave a review!

https://www.amazon.com/Violet-Yorke-Gilded-Girl-historical-ebook/dp/B09SZPVH9Y

My Debut Middle Grade Novel or From Zero to Warp Speed

New Year’s Day 2022: I get an email from a publishe: we want a Zoom call with you. I say, okay.

February 23, 2022: the book the publisher wanted to discuss with me is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle.

The book my editor called a gem will be officially launched on April 4th, 2022. Three months after, per my contract, it will be available as a hard cover.

Persistence.

Patience.

Passion.

And finding like minded people who believe in you.

My overnight success story that only took years.

VIOLET YORKE, GILDED GIRL: GHOSTS IN THE CLOSET

Exclusive link to pre-order for less than a Starbucks coffee

https://t.co/ga8zrVYZXg

A New Year, New Dreams

Publishing is usually slow. I mean, things happen at a glacial pace. It was true before the pandemic, but it’s even more so now. You’re lucky if you hear back something either way. And often, crickets is the response.

I started a new project in the fall of 2021. Once the kiddies went back to school in September, a wild idea took over me. I called it THE THING because I was too afraid to say the title out loud.

But this post isn’t about that book.

In early 2021 I finished my second children’s novel. I loved this book, a middle-grade supernatural historical fantasy. And I adored my main character, a poor little rich girl who survives Titanic and crashes her own funeral in 1912 New York City.

My agent at the time did not share my enthusiasm for this book and we parted ways soon after. But I’m a Capricorn. I loved this book to bits.

In October 2021, I pitched my book in a Twitter pitch party and got a like from a good, reputable, indie publisher. I didn’t get too excited because this publisher had passed on an earlier novel of mine and I’ve learned to keep my expectations low. I sent off the requested pages and promptly forget all about as I was too busy with THE THING.

From Thanksgiving on, I kid you now, we are sick. I mean, the whole family. Probably the only one who was spared was Luna, our French Bulldog. Croup, bronchitis, sinus infection, tummy troubles, cold, respiratory virus, possible pneumonia–about the only things we didn’t have was Covid and gout. I’m sick off and on but hey, that’s life.

Then in early December, the publisher from the pitch party asked to read for the entire manuscript. Now to some of you, this piecemeal approach may seem counter intuitive–why not ask for the entire document up front–but this is publishing. Some want five pages, twenty, or fifty. You learn to roll with it and have all these files prepared. Again, I sent the material off, and being as sick as I was, I didn’t give it a second thought.

Until New Year’s Day 2022. I wake up to an e-mail from the publisher asking if we could have a Zoom meeting to discuss the book. Once I get over my shock, I tell myself that must mean good news, right? I mean, no one sets up a Zoom meeting to tell an author to their face that they’re passing unless they’re sadistic and cruel.

My sinus infection still lingering, we have our Zoom meeting. Like a dope, I can’t figure out how to use the camera on my new desktop computer, but I suppose I didn’t make a complete fool of myself. Because I’m over the moon to say that VIOLET YORKE, GILDED GIRL: GHOSTS IN THE CLOSET will be published by Darkstroke Books in 2022. A New Year’s resolution finally come true. I can think of no better way to start 2022 (other than not being sick).

I say it all the time, but for a writer, it’s true.

Never give up.

Never say die.

Persistence.

Patience.

Passion.

Keep a box of tissues handy.

And for my next Zoom meeting, I damn well knew how to use the camera.

Some Things Never Change

Write.

Revise.

Write.

Revise.

In between family, dog, pandemic, and all the other things that come with life.

I’m fully vaxxed against Covid and had a severe reaction each time. I would do it again in heartbeat.

Come September, for the first time in oh, ten years, there will be no kiddies to look after if school plans go well.

Plugging away as I always do, trying to stay positive while keeping expectations low. Because, you know.

Otherwise…still here.

Newsflash: Cover Reveal!! And a Raffle!

No, it’s not my book. One day, hopefully.

I see cover reveals all the time. So to actually participate in one for my new friend Leah is fun. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a book I didn’t know I needed! It focuses on a little known war in 17th century New England. Leah, to her credit, didn’t take offense at my shameful ignorance in lumping this with The Last of the Mohicans (I mean, come on, Daniel Day Lewis in skimpy loincloths). Anyway, Leah’s debut book comes out in January 2022 with great indie publisher Regal House. So please check out Leah’s awesome cover and enter her raffle.

Out Front the Following Sea cover-reveal banner


OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA:


A Novel of King William’s War in 17th-Century New England


BY LEAH ANGSTMAN




Publication Date: January 11, 2022


Regal House Publishing


Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook; 334 pages




Genre: Historical / Literary / Epic




Shortlisted for the Chaucer Book Award


OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a historical epic of one woman’s survival in a time when the wilderness is still wild, heresy is publicly punishable, and being independent is worse than scorned—it is a death sentence.

At the onset of King William’s War between French and English settlers in 1689 New England, Ruth Miner is accused of witchcraft for the murder of her parents and must flee the brutality of her town. She stows away on the ship of the only other person who knows her innocence: an audacious sailor — Owen — bound to her by years of attraction, friendship, and shared secrets. But when Owen’s French ancestry finds him at odds with a violent English commander, the turmoil becomes life-or-death for the sailor, the headstrong Ruth, and the cast of Quakers, Pequot Indians, soldiers, highwaymen, and townsfolk dragged into the fray. Now Ruth must choose between sending Owen to the gallows or keeping her own neck from the noose.

Steeped in historical events and culminating in a little-known war on pre-American soil, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a story of early feminism, misogyny, arbitrary rulings, persecution, and the treatment of outcasts, with parallels still mirrored and echoed in today’s society. The debut novel will appeal to readers of Paulette Jiles, Alexander Chee, Hilary Mantel, James Clavell, Bernard Cornwell, TaraShea Nesbit, Geraldine Brooks, Stephanie Dray, Patrick O’Brian, and E. L. Doctorow.

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER
REGAL HOUSE PRINT | AMAZON KINDLE

AVAILABLE FOR ARC REQUEST
TNBBC PUBLICITY

Out Front the Following Sea hi-res cover reveal

Praise

“With OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman reveals herself as a brave new voice in historical fiction. With staggering authenticity, Angstman gives us a story of America before it was America — an era rife with witch hunts and colonial intrigue and New World battles all but forgotten in our history books and popular culture. This is historical fiction that speaks to the present, recalling the bold spirits and cultural upheavals of a nation yet to be born.”
—Taylor Brown, author of PRIDE OF EDEN, GODS OF HOWL MOUNTAIN, and THE RIVER OF KINGS

“Steeped in lush prose, authentic period detail, and edge-of-your-seat action, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a rollicking good read. Leah Angstman keeps the story moving at a breathtaking pace, and she knows more 17th-century seafaring language and items of everyday use than you can shake a stick at. The result is a compelling work of romance, adventure, and historical illumination that pulls the reader straight in.”
—Rilla Askew, author of FIRE IN BEULAH, THE MERCY SEAT, and KIND OF KIN

“Lapidary in its research and lively in its voice, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA by Leah Angstman is a rollicking story, racing along with wind in its sails. Though her tale unfolds hundreds of years in America’s past, Ruth Miner is the kind of high-spirited heroine whose high adventures haul you in and hold you fast.”
—Kathleen Rooney, author of LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK and CHER AMI AND MAJOR WHITTLESEY

“Leah Angstman has written the historical novel that I didn’t know I needed to read. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is set in an oft-forgotten time in the brutal wilds of pre-America that is so vividly and authentically drawn, with characters that are so alive and relevant, and a narrative so masterfully paced and plotted, that Angstman has performed the miracle of layering the tumultuous past over our troubled present to gift us a sparkling new reality.”
—Kevin Catalano, author of WHERE THE SUN SHINES OUT and DELETED SCENES AND OTHER STORIES

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a fascinating book, the kind of historical novel that evokes its time and place so vividly that the effect is just shy of hallucinogenic. I enjoyed it immensely.”
—Scott Phillips, author of THE ICE HARVEST, THE WALKAWAY, COTTONWOOD, and HOP ALLEY

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a meticulously researched novel that mixes history, love story, and suspense. Watching Angstman’s willful protagonist, Ruth Miner, openly challenge the brutal world of 17th-century New England, with its limiting ideas about gender, race, and science, was a delight.”
—Aline Ohanesian, author of ORHAN’S INHERITANCE

“Leah Angstman is a gifted storyteller with a poet’s sense of both beauty and darkness, and her stunning historical novel, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, establishes her as one of the most exciting young novelists in the country. Angstman plunges the reader into a brilliantly realized historical milieu peopled by characters real enough to touch. And in Ruth Miner, we are introduced to one of the most compelling protagonists in contemporary literature, a penetratingly intelligent, headstrong woman who is trying to survive on her wits alone in a Colonial America that you won’t find in the history books. A compulsive, vivid read that will change the way you look at the origins of our country, Leah Angstman’s OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA announces the arrival of a preternatural talent.”
—Ashley Shelby, author of MURI and SOUTH POLE STATION

“Rich, lyrical, and atmospheric, with a poet’s hand and a historian’s attention to detail. In OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman creates an immersive world for readers to get lost in and a fascinating story to propel them through it. A thoroughly engaging and compelling tale.”
—Steph Post, author of HOLDING SMOKE, MIRACULUM, and WALK IN THE FIRE

“It’s a rare story that makes you thankful for having read and experienced it. It’s rarer still for a story to evoke so wholly, so powerfully, another place and time as to make you thankful for the gifts that exist around you, which you take for granted. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a book rich with misery, yet its characters are indefatigable; they yearn, despite their troubles, for victories personal and societal. Leah Angstman’s eye is keen, and her ability to transport you into America’s beginnings is powerful. With the raw ingredients of history, she creates a story both dashing and pensive, robust yet believable. From an unforgiving time, Angstman draws out a tale of all things inhuman, but one that reminds us of that which is best in all of us.”
—Eric Shonkwiler, author of ABOVE ALL MEN and 8TH STREET POWER AND LIGHT

About the Author

Leah Angstman author photo Leah Angstman is a historian and transplanted Michigander living in Boulder. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, her debut novel of King William’s War in 17th-century New England, is forthcoming from Regal House in January 2022. Her writing has been a finalist for the Saluda River Prize, Cowles Book Prize, Able Muse Book Award, Bevel Summers Fiction Prize, and Chaucer Book Award, and has appeared in Publishers Weekly, L.A. Review of Books, Nashville Review, Slice, and elsewhere. She serves as editor-in-chief for Alternating Current and The Coil magazine and copyeditor for Underscore News, which has included editing partnerships with ProPublica. She is an appointed vice chair of a Colorado historical commission and liaison to a Colorado historic preservation committee.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS | INSTAGRAM | MEDIUM | ELLO | MAILING LIST

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Letting Go

The last time I posted to my blog was last July 2020, when we were in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic. The world shifted in an instant and we were all still coming to terms with it. Some of us had an easier time of it than others.

I had just signed with a new agent in the latter half of 2019 with expectations of being out on submission fairly soon. Of course, life and the pandemic had other plans. I spent pretty much all of 2020 hunkered down just like many of you, going out infrequently, avoiding crowds, dutifully wearing my mask, shopping online, binging on Netflix, and following the Presidential election and all the drama that entailed.

I wrote.

And wrote.

And wrote.

Some days were good.

Some days were terrible.

And some days were meh.

While I’m a wife, Mom and Grandma, the truth is, I largely define myself by my writing. I’ve been at this a long time. All my life, really. I’ve never wanted to be anything else, which is tough. It’s always been someday.

Someday.

It’s been a bumpy road, with more ups and downs. Some successes. And some spectacular failures. Or maybe failure is too harsh. Maybe more like being at the right place at the wrong time.

But a New Year dawns and with it lots of hopes for new beginnings and dreams. That was my hope in 2020—until a strange virus took hold of our life.

February 2020 I was sick for a month. I mean, badly sick. Probably the worst since I almost died from a killer strep throat back in the 90’s. This time, I thought, could it be this weird new virus that was on the news? It didn’t seem possible. I hadn’t traveled anywhere, hadn’t come in contact with anyone who did. Everyone in my family got sick, and it was all different. For my young grandkids, it was a cold or tummy bug. My hubby, a bad head cold. The kids, a mild flu. Me, I had everything.

I strongly suspect it was Covid, but we’ll never know sure (an antibody test came up negative months later).

Through it all, I wrote. Even on days when I just wanted to hide under the covers.

Some days, I could barely muster the energy to write a sentence. But I did.

I worried that it was just crap. I was just treading along like an inchworm.

Summer came and went, but there was progress. I finished the book that my agent had signed me on.

YAY!

But still no cigar.

Booo.

More revising. And revising.

And waiting. A hell of a lot waiting.

I began another book. Actually, two.

Writing a book is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. You never know where you’re going to land. Or how. You might end up with two broken legs.


You just have to say a prayer, let go, and leave it up to the Universe.

2021.

A new year.

A new vaccine.

A new President.

And new hopes and dreams.

But sometimes you don’t end up in Kansas. You wind up at the end of a dark road in the middle of nowhere in a stalled car.

Letting go isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Hanging on for the sake of hanging on is.

When life hands you lemons, make lemon bars.

Pandemic Blues

Would you have imagined New Year’s Day 2020 that we’d have a worldwide pandemic?

Have to say that wasn’t on my Bingo card, along with a million other things.

I’m still here.

I’ve been neck deep in revisions, writing, etc., and all that goes into taking care of the family during stressful times.

It’s been a bumpy road.

I’m still here.

The Winding Road

Everyone’s path is different. Sometimes it’s easy; you query a few agents and get an offer right away. Other times, it’s a near miss or outright passes, or, sadly, total silence.

You wonder what’s wrong and fall into an abyss of despair and doubt. Why hasn’t everyone fallen in love with your pretty, shiny, new bauble that you labored on for months, even years?

The short answer, it’s a crapshoot.

The long answer, it’s a crapshoot.

God must love writers because She made so many of them.

Back in 2017, I was at a crossroads in my writing.

A little backstory here: for several years, I’d been the 24/7 caregiver of my Mom. For much of that time, her Alzheimer’s was manageable. She forgot things. Getting her to the doctor was an exercise in futility. She couldn’t see too well because of her cataracts (surgery was a fiasco). Unfortunately, her decline was shockingly quick, and she passed away in Hospice.

I’d begun and put aside several novels during that grueling period, trying to juggle Mom, my family, a full time job, and other assorted family dramas that ate up my time and energy. Being a novelist had always been a personal goal. As a teenager, and then as a young wife and Mom, I went to bookstores and envisioned MY book being on display there one day.

Someday, I told myself. Someday.

With Mom gone, I finally realized that someday was NOW, and a project that had been collecting dust on my hard drive came back to life.

So this is a roundabout way of announcing that I’m thrilled to be represented by the amazing Heather Cashman of Storm Literary. I can’t wait for you to meet Charlemagne, Violet, and all the other characters that have been taking up space in my head for so long (in a good way).

I think Mom would be pleased.

The Summer From Hell

It’s a warm late summer night on the cusp of the fall season, and I for one will not be sad to see summer go.

May-July was busy. Heck, every month was busy. But I put my nose to the grindstone and burned through a revise and resubmit on a project very dear to my soul. I had a self-imposed deadline and was determined to beat it. Now no one was pushing me to work so hard except me.

But once I got started, I went into that wonderful writing zone and when you’re in it, you just have to ride the wave like a surfer. And once it was done, I breathed a sigh of relief and put my faith in the Universe.

And it was a good thing I hit THE END on that project because the minute I did, the Universe decided to unleash a proverbial horse potato storm over my head.

Now the summer wasn’t all bad. There were a few (a few) bright spots.

LITTLE LENA AND THE BIG TABLE, my debut picture book, got great reviews on Amazon. I did a couple of author events and didn’t embarrass myself too much.

I had a couple of really good hair days.

I have no cavities.

Succession on HBO came back, the best show on TV. As much as the final season of GOT rankled, Succession exceeded my expectations. Each week the writing and acting is superb. Brian Cox is KILLING it as Logan Roy and should win every Emmy in the book.

And after that…uh…

There were some weeks I thought it couldn’t get any worse, and it did, like a bad horror movie.

But even with all the drama and mayhem and chaos, I wrote.

Exhausted, some days I thought, why bother? No one cares if I write. If I stopped writing tomorrow, would the world as we know it cease to exist?

Jeopardy bonus answer: probably not.

But I’d know. And it’s not me. Writing is in my DNA. Even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. I have too many ideas taking up precious real estate in my head.

So though some days were a tough slog, I wrote, even if it was just a sentence or to jot down an idea.

I know it’s a cliche, but if you want to write, I mean, really and truly want to write, you’ll find a way.

Even in a Summer of Hell.

The Journey

In two words: it sucks.

You want an agent.

You want to be published.

Here’s a secret for you: WE ALL DO.

This isn’t like sending wind mills to Mars.

No one wants to write just for the sake of writing. Oh, writers may say they do (ahem) but the cold, hard truth is, we’re not writing for posterity or just for the sake of storing stuff on our hard drive.

Get real.

When I’ve been rejected and passed over like a week old monkfish, I’ll rant and say I don’t care, as long as I like it, who gives a motherclucker.

But when I calm down, and I always do, I realize it’s just me blowing off steam.

My computer hard drive is slow enough. I don’t need to add more stuff to it that no one will ever read.

We all get anxious, frustrated, antsy, depressed, down in the mouth, about our writing, our progress, or our lack of it. And a writer who says they never have a moment of doubt, isn’t being honest.

I freely admit that I’m my own worst enemy. But I’ve been through the wringer and lived to tell the tale, so that’s something. I’m still standing, warts and all.

Which leads me to my next rant, uh, musings.

Lately on various writer blogs, a hot topic has been when to accept an agent’s or publishing offer. No, I don’t mean you, or you. Just general observations on my part. Unfortunately, some of these posts have the whiff of desperation, and it clings like cheap after shave. And since I’ve been stuck in that valley of low self-esteem, I can sympathize.

But I can’t emphasize enough: a bad agent is worse than no agent. And re publishing, money goes to the writer, it’s not the other way around.

This isn’t rocket science, but it bears repeating every millennium.

If a publisher asks you to pay for publication, RUN.

If a publisher says you need to pay an illustration fee, SKEDADDLE.

If a publisher looks sketchy, their online presence is minimal, they have no track record, their website looks like something a toddler threw together at nap time while their caregivers were busy on their cell phones, SCOOT.

And as for agents…please, I implore you, my fellow writers, don’t sell yourselves short.

Take this from the voice of experience. Don’t accept the first agent offer that comes along out of fear you’ll never get another or some misguided sense of well, this was a huge fluke so I should say yes before they find out I’m a big, fat fake.

And don’t accept onerous terms because you’re a lowly nobody and agent person is a big somebody.

We all have our demons. Mine is being thought “mediocre”, as I was told early on. Even now, as a mature writer, I still have to slap myself upside the head fighting against feeling like I’m a fraud and a failure.

And if you’re a baby writer, it’s just as crucial to take a step back and do your research.

This is your career. Your life. But it’s business, plain and simple. Don’t make it personal—well, it is, but you have to conduct yourself in a professional manner. But you’re not being a nerd or a nudge not to hop on the first streetcar that swings by.

Some writers seem afraid to ask questions, like it’s offensive. It’s just the opposite. Beware the agent, agency or publisher who doesn’t welcome questions and lots of them.

If you were advised that you needed brain surgery, wouldn’t you ask for a second opinion and find out as much as you could about the surgeons, hospital, your condition, etc.? Or would you pounce on the first car mechanic who came around the corner to perform the operation simply because they were handy with tools?

DUH!!

And listen, take it from me, if you get liked at pitch contests, as exciting as it is, you must do your due diligence to avoid disaster.

I’ve turned down publishing offers from pitch contests. It was a new outfit that made a big splash on social media and was liking everything under the Tuscan sun. I was suspicious, and when they offered me contracts on two picture books in a matter of days, it didn’t take me all of two minutes to decline and withdraw. My gut told me that this was fishy as all get out, for many reasons, and I wasn’t surprised to hear a few months later that it all blew up. Whew. I’d dodged a bullet on that one.

Same thing with agents. You think they hold all the cards, the power? In fact, it’s just the opposite. They need YOU. They need your stories, your vision, your voice, your passion. They need fresh meat, I mean, new clients.

I get that it’s scary and overwhelming and sometimes you make mistakes. And that’s okay. Because on this journey it’s going to happen. No one’s perfect, not even me. And you learn from those missteps, and sometimes you cry and take solace in a big bowl of vanilla ice cream.

You fasten your seatbelt and put on your big pants.

The saddest book is the one that is never written.

Don’t let your book be a sad book.

In The Zone

Writing can be a long, rough, exasperating, never-ending, demanding, heartbreaking slog. Anyone who claims that they were an “overnight” success, ahem, I’d take that with a grain of Himalayan pink salt.

Writing is lonely. The only people speaking to you are the voices in your head. And if you don’t listen to them, man, do they get cross.

Writing is physically demanding. If you wait for inspiration to strike, you may end up as old as Methuselah. I have written through flu, sinus attacks, kidney stones, the kids throwing up in pots beside me, and other untold miseries and tragedies…you name it, I’ve done it, survived and even thrived. I’m not saying I’ve done it well or that it’s easy. That’s a story for another day.

But when you’re in the zone…ahhh, it’s bliss, it’s orgasmic, it’s floating on air, it’s that wonderful, heady, intoxicating zone, and there is no better feeling in the entire world, besides, maybe, a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream or snuggling up to your loved one on a cold winter night or rocking out to John Fogerty. And I’m saying that’s a big freaking maybe.

But the zone, that elusive zone…I never know when I’m going to be in the zone. The muse is fickle and fleeting. But when the zone comes knocking, I damn well know it and I must heed the call. I take full advantage of it because who knows how long it’s going to last.

For I have learned the hard way that the zone has a mind of its own and I ignore it at my own peril. My hard drive is littered with half-completed books, barely begun scripts, and aborted first pages. I allowed myself to be distracted by other shiny new objects. Now I’m older and wiser. I let the zone do the driving. I’m merely the passenger.

So what does being in the zone mean, exactly?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but it’s when I’m seized with an idea to the point of obsession and exclusion of all other ideas. Oh, to the outside world, you seem completely ordinary. You do the routine, mundane chores like laundry and going to the market. Nothing to see here, move on.

But inside…that’s a different story entirely. I breathe it like a forbidden romance. I literally cannot think of anything else, no matter what I do or where I go. It’s branded into my brain. It courses through my veins like a rolling river. I close my eyes and voila, it’s all there, unfolding like a movie: the plot, the characters, the voices, the surroundings, complications, drama, everything and anything. I may not have the entire story fully fleshed out from beginning to end, but I have a general sense of how it goes. I find that writing it down in an outline is NOT helpful and even hinders me. I’ll usually write a paragraph or so, sometimes even just chapter headings as a guide post, but that’s it.

And also with the zone, and maybe this is the most crucial part, it waits patiently, well, maybe not so patiently, for me to write it all down before it disappears like cotton candy in a five-year old’s sticky hands.

When I’m fully enmeshed in the zone, it’s like being on auto-pilot. The words pour out of me, all coming from a higher power, and I dream up with things that later, even I wonder where the hell did THAT come from. The best way to describe it is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. I know I’m going to hit land eventually, and I hope that when I do, I’ll be okay, gulp.

Over time, I’ve learned to trust my zone. Now that isn’t to say that when I’m in it that there aren’t ebbs and flows. There are, plenty of them. It might steer me in the wrong direction and I have to make a course correction. Sometimes I’ll write something not knowing how it’s going to play out and then, boom, subconsciously the answer will come to me when I least expect it or when I’m doing something else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with a brilliant scene washing my hair or taking the dog out for a walk.

And when I do hit a low point, as all writers do, I just keep writing, even when it seems it’s hopeless, it’s treacle, it’s horrible, I don’t know what I’m doing (add your own reason). I know that eventually, the zone is going to come through if I just keep plugging away to finish the first draft. Once I finish that, the revising, the re-writing, all that is doable. The zone, the passion, carries me until I can type THE END which we all know, really isn’t.

Many people call it different things, for me it’s the zone. But whatever you call it, when it comes, grab it by the tail and don’t let go. And now, if you’ll excuse me, the zone, my BFF, is calling.

The Best Laid Plans…

As I sit here, coughing, hacking, and sneezing, with my nose a continual fountain of snot and mucus, I had started off January with such high hopes. I always do…until reality bites me in the butt.

2018 ended with a bang. In late November, my husband had major surgery. It was quite unexpected, and the surgeon was candid in what could go wrong. Maybe too candid, which only added to our fear, worry, and confusion. Thankfully, husband sailed through it, and is now pretty much back to normal.

What is not back to normal is my writing routine.

I’m the type who has always blustered through. I’ve written though anything: hurricane, stomach flu, sinus, moving, kids puking, and various other travails. I always prided myself on my strength and stamina. I wrote 365 days of the year, come hell or high water.

But I have to be honest….November was pretty much a washout…and having my sinus/cold flare up just as I picked up hubby from the hospital meant another week or so of feeling lousy. Yes, I was writing, but it was a real slog. I was far from from the “zone”, where I write on auto-pilot.

Then, December, well, that was pretty much a wash, what with the holidays and hubby still recovering, and kiddies being sick here and there. I don’t think there was one week where one of the older grandkids wasn’t home with something (or one of the grandbabies was running snot like lava).

But January, which also happens to be my birth month. I always start out with high hopes and good intentions. This was going to be the year!

Until the grandbabies came down with an awful cold/grippe…then my husband…and then me, and of course, I had it worst of all. No appetite, no sense of smell or taste, and no energy. In one week I went through six tissue boxes.

The last couple of January’s have been like that. Awful flu, stomach virus, sinus, cold, grippe…the germs find me and don’t let go. I don’t know if it’s because of the change of season or that as I get older I’m more susceptible to disease and infection, but man, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

And as sick and as miserable as I was, I still wrote. Sure, not as much as I’d like to ideally, but even when I wasn’t physically writing, mentally, I never stopped.

I got off queries.

I wrote down ideas.

I sent off requested material.

In my head, I continued to plot out the three novels I’m currently writing.

I gave notes.

And I still wrote, even if it didn’t seem like I was making progress.

So yeah, even though there were days I felt like going to bed and pulling the blanket over my head, I still trudged on.

Which leads me to my next train of thought…

Rejection.

It sucks.

I mean, REALLY SUCKS.

It’s one thing to get generic, form, bland passes. I tell myself, just one more no until I get a yes. I don’t dwell on them.

But when you get a pass that is just so lovely, so complimentary, so very close to a yes but is still a no, no matter how many times you read it, you’re gutted like a filet of fish. No matter how long you’ve been doing this, it still hurts like hell, and no amount of cookies and cream ice cream is going to make you feel better.

I know many writers who obsess over passes…who try to read in-between the lines, the subtext, what did they really mean, or not mean.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.

A pass is a pass, no matter how nicely it was worded.

And as much as it hurts, you must remain professional. I repeat, YOU MUST REMAIN PROFESSIONAL.

You can’t write the agent back and say boo-hoo, they’re missing out on the next great fill in the blank.

You can’t threaten.

You can’t cajole.

You have to grin and bear it, and move on. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t be the nitwit who is castigated on social media for being a jerk.

It’s a business. Opinions differ.

Many writers who went on to become great writers were all rejected at one point.

JK Rowling.

Stephen King.

John Cleese. (Fawlty Towers was rejected. Fawlty Towers!)

What I’m trying to say is that rejection is normal. You can’t expect everyone to “like” what you do or to “get” it.

As I am fond of saying, it only takes one yes.

I don’t need ten.

Just one. (As I reach for another box of tissues with watery eyes).

Taking Stock

Well, not that kind of stock, but it looks inviting,  doesn’t it?

We’re in the last collective gasp of 2018, and while the house is semi-quiet, and outside it’s cold and dreary, it seemed like an opportune time to put my feet up next to the lit tree while I’m semi-lit from a couple of sips of Grunch (don’t ask), and ruminate on what I did these past twelve months.

Positive: I kept to my diet pretty much, but then, I always watch what I eat…except when it comes to Nutella, croissants, brownies, cookies, coffee cake, ice cream, apple pie, ice cream sodas, and Blizzards. Do you notice a pattern here. 

Negative: I didn’t lose any weight, but then again, I didn’t expect to.  See positive. 

Positive: I resolved to make 2018 the year of novel writing. I was determined to finish my long aborning passion project come hell or high water. And I did, and now it’s out in the world trying to find a good home, and I hope one day that it will be available for all to read.

Negative: I’m still on the hunt for an agent.

Positive: I persevere. Hope is like Santa’s endless bag of presents. Just when you think you’ve reached the end of your rope, someone throws you a lifeline. 

Negative: I need more rope. Lots of it.

Positive: I signed contracts for two picture books to small presses. Completely unexpected, not on my radar, and a great confidence booster. 

Negative:  I’m still looking for a home for my passion project. Patience, grasshopper.

Positive: After fits and starts and delays, my personal website is up and running. I had a lot of help, you know who you are, and I can’t thank you enough.

Negative: I have not mastered Scrivener, and I doubt I ever will.

Positive: I started writing two brand new books, one a contemporary MG set in a seaside village with a unique tourist attraction, the other a magical YA fantasy re-imagining of  The Prince and the Pauper.

Negative: I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Ideas are like seeds, the more you sow, the more your back aches from all that bending down.

Positive: I’ve made many new, supportive, writing friends. They’ve picked me up when I’ve been on the mat, and I’ve celebrated their successes.

Negative: I haven’t won Powerball or Megamillions.

Positive: The Blue Wave is real and very much alive.

Negative: Trump is still President, but hopefully, not for much longer. 

Positive: I’m still in relatively good health, aside from my sinus, allergies, weak stomach, and bum knee. 

Negative: Hard lesson learned, don’t screw around when it comes your health. My husband was loathe to get a routine colonoscopy; finally, around Halloween, he got it done after a ton of nagging, and to our shock and surprise, the results turned out to be anything but routine. Flash forward a few scant, whirlwind weeks later, he had major surgery and thankfully is now on the mend, but it wasn’t  without a lot of upset, fear, and worry.  I’ve earned every gray hair this year, trust me.

As for 2019, my goals remain the same: write, write, write, get an agent, sell more books, keep my family happy and healthy, and ice cream. 

First Page Giveaway

BLUE LIGHT IN AISLE FOUR!!

To celebrate the grand opening of my website, I’ve decided to do a first page giveaway. That’s right, FREE! No stamps required. But there’s a catch. (Yes, there always is, and why should I be any different).

The first 25 lucky souls who spread the word about my website wins the golden ticket: I’ll critique your first page. Could be a query letter, synopsis, outline, screenplay, picture book, middle grade, young adult, adult, new adult, old adult, porn, Amazon wish list, last will and testament, you name it.

Leave a comment below, show me what you did in gory detail, I’ll approve, and when I do, voila! Once I give you the all clear, you can send the material to pjmacwriter @ gmail.com

So get your fingers clacking far and wide,  by carrier pigeon, tweet, or Facebook share,  let the world know that PJ McIlvaine is open for just about anything.

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