In 2015, I wrote a young adult novel called Bright Eyes during National Novel Writing Month. In 2016, I wrote its sequel, When Light Falls.
After months (and in the case of Bright Eyes, almost two years) of stressing about whether they were good, stressing about whether I should consider showing them to anyone, and stressing when I finally did, I’m happy to share that I’ve decided to self-publish both books!
I need to say right away that none of this would be possible without the wonderful Casey Baumberger, who I profiled in December as she prepared to self-published her own NaNoWriMo novel, Breaking the Pocket. Getting to speak to her about her process and her motivations for self-publishing was what made me consider following her lead, and I’m so, so incredibly grateful for her cooperation (and her support, as she’s one of a handful of people who’s read a Bright Eyes draft!).
At this point, I’m not sure what the publishing schedule will look like. I’d love to get Bright Eyes out by the end of 2017, but that will depend on a few things I can’t put on a timeline just yet, including editing time (shoutout to Macy Griffin for offering to be my first copy editor). After Bright Eyes goes out, I envision When Light Falls following it in a few months, if not sooner.
Now that I’ve finished rambling – but, really, thank you to everyone I’ve mentioned, as well as the dozen or so people in my acknowledgments section so far – I’d like to show you the synopses I wrote for both books during their respective NaNoWriMos (I’ve very vaguely tweaked the When Light Falls synopsis to avoid minor spoilers, FYI):
Emily has just graduated from high school and is moving across the country to start college in the fall. But before she can leave her hometown behind, she has to spend her summer contending with Alexa, her longtime best friend who is suddenly maturing way faster than she is, her parents who own a business together and can’t stop bickering, a boy that she’d never thought about like that until recently, and Kelsey, her mysterious soon-to-be roommate who refuses to divulge much about herself in their e-mails to one another. When Emily makes a chance excursion to Kelsey’s hometown a month before they are due to move into the dorms, Emily finds out why Kelsey has been keeping her personal life to herself – and Emily isn’t so sure she can deal with what she learns.
When Light Falls:
The beginning of college has come and gone, and Emily is settling into life with her new roommate, Kelsey. While she thought they could be the best of friends – or at least, pretty good ones – Emily is finding that sometimes in college, the people you go in knowing aren’t always the ones you’re closest with. Can Emily make new friends so far from home, or will her college choice lead her to lose more than she thought she’d gain?
Meanwhile, Kelsey is having a rough time at college, but she’d never admit that to anyone. Even though she has more time to herself now that she doesn’t have to co-parent her three younger siblings, she’s learning that free time can lead to making some questionable decisions if you’re living life by your standards for the first time. As Kelsey sinks deeper into a dangerous life she never imagined herself living, she grows more jealous that her roommate seems to have it all together and wonders if going to college, even to get the education she needs for her dream job, was the best idea.
Thanks again for everyone who’s supported me so far, and I can’t wait to share these with you!
Casey Baumberger writes this intriguing question in the corner of a classroom chalkboard at Iowa State University, straining to make the words visible upon layers of chalk dust that have collected over the years.
Underneath it she writes: “Breaking the Pocket: available December 31.”
Writing a book is often one of those idealistic dreams that few ever really expect to accomplish. It takes too much time, or they don’t have the drive, or the ideas, or the writing ability. The excuses given to no one in particular for never reaching that goal are abundant – unless you’ve actually done it.
For Baumberger, the dream of writing a book is becoming a reality in a big way as her début novel, Breaking the Pocket, hits stores on New Year’s Eve. Many take the path she did to complete her first novel, but few take their first manuscripts all the way to publication within just one year.
And anyway, how many people can say they published their first book by 21 years old?
• • •
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is an annual event that challenges writers to write 50,000 words – a novel-length work – from 12:00 a.m. on November 1 to 11:59 p.m. on November 30.
While the inaugural 1999 event took place in the month of July, creator Chris Baty moved the 2000 writing fest to November “to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather.”
This depiction is probably more descriptive of Iowa’s harsh late autumn temperatures than the temperate climate of Northern California’s Bay Area, where the original NaNoWriMo writers were based, but the sentiment is the same: it’s crappy outside, so as long as you’re staying inside, why not do something life-changingly productive?
To that end, nearly 400 novels crafted during NaNoWriMo have been traditionally published, including Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Both have spent time on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Not bad for a month spent on their computers.
As the internet grows, allowing for more creativity and self-sufficiency than ever before, even more novels coming out of this month end up being self-published by their authors. More still never see the light of day, serving only as proof of one’s success – or, in some cases, multiple successes. The personal triumph that come with writing multiple novel-length works cannot be overstated.
In 2015, more than 400,000 people participated in NaNoWriMo, of which around 10 percent reached 50,000 words – or “won.”
Despite it being her first try, Baumberger ended up becoming part of that 10 percent.
• • •
One day, Baumberger, an Iowa State English major, was searching for writing prompts on Pinterest when she discovered a post referencing something she didn’t recognize.
“I saw a pin that said, ‘15 Tips for Actually Finishing your NaNoWriMo Novel,’” Baumberger explains. “And I had no idea what that was, so I read the article and thought it was a great idea.”
Some writers are “pantsers,” the unofficial term for writers who begin NaNoWriMo with nothing but a spark of an idea that they hope they can extend to 50,000 words. Others, like Baumberger, are “planners” – the more second-nature term for writers who do extensive planning in the preceding weeks.
“I took all of October to outline my novel and get to know my characters, which made the writing process much easier,” she says.
In spite of never having completed a novel-length work before – though most who participate in NaNoWriMo haven’t – Baumberger saw this new experience as an opportunity to stimulate herself to reach that goal.
While one of the informal, honor-system “rules” of NaNoWriMo is not to start early, nothing prevents writers from preparing ahead of the start date, as long as they don’t do any actual writing. Several participants come up with their ideas well before November, lying in wait for that motivation to come all at once as soon as the proper stroke of midnight gives them the green light to begin furiously writing.
For Baumberger, an unassuming day at the cusp of a completely different life change ended up sparking the idea that would turn this New Year’s Eve into a celebration of more than just the end of the year.
• • •
More than 205 million unique people tune into NFL games each year, not counting those who watch more than one game throughout the season. Unsurprisingly, there are no statistics for those who come up with a full-length novel idea while watching one of these games – but at least one person has.
In 2013, Baumberger was a freshman at Drake University in Des Moines. A Green Bay Packers fan, she and some friends were watching a game one Sunday when a clip came on about Sarah Thomas, who in 2013 became one of 21 finalists for a permanent NFL officiating position. She got the job in 2015.
“From what they were saying on TV and from what my friends were saying, it was pretty clear that her presence was controversial,” Baumberger recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘How controversial would a female player be? That would be fun.’”
Two years later, Femme Fatale Football was born. The story follows Chelsea Tucker, a lifelong football player who takes her talents all the way to becoming a popular collegiate athlete. When college ends and she thinks her career is over, she gets a chance to make the jump to the pros.
As it turned out, Femme Fatale Football ended up being a decent working title and nothing more. November wore on, and Baumberger realized the deeper she got into her novel, the less appropriate the title was.
“As the manuscript developed and Chelsea grew, it just didn’t fit,” she says. “I know Chelsea would hate having her story called ‘femme fatale football.’ ‘I’m just a football player, dammit,’ is what her response would have been to seeing that title.”
Although Baumberger began with extensive outlining, she relished the idea that her characters were able to shape her story in the same way that she originally shaped her characters. She also found that the actual writing process told her more about Chelsea than her pre-November planning ever could have.
“I changed [the title] to something she would appreciate,” Baumberger adds contentedly.
“Breaking the pocket” is a term not normally used in football – players can “break the line” or “collapse the pocket,” but the phrase that combines the two is uncommon. It’s a fitting metaphor for the first female professional football player’s impact on the game.
“She’s not your typical football player, but she’s still a football player,” Baumberger says. “The title isn’t a typical football term, but it’s still a football term.
“And it is her story, after all.”
• • •
When most people think of the process of publishing a novel, one common factor tends to run through their minds whether they are conscious of it or not: the presence of a publisher.
Typically, a publisher seeks out new talent that fits their company’s brand, negotiates contracts with authors, oversees editing and design duties, and arranges who will sell the book, where it will be sold, and how much the author will be paid for each unit sold.
But Baumberger decided early on that she didn’t want to go through what can sometimes be a years-long process: she was going to self-publish instead.
“It’s a fairly simple process, but it’s not an easy one,” she explains. “Since I don’t have a publisher, I have to do everything myself: finding a reliable editor, marketing myself, creating covers, finding an ISBN number, pricing my book, learning how to correctly format everything.”
However, as someone whose entire scholarly repertoire revolves around writing and editing – her English major is supplemented by minors in Teaching English as a Second Language and Technical Communication, and she also serves as president of Iowa State’s literary magazine, Sketch – Baumberger initially wanted to dive into the editing process on her own.
She began formally editing on January 1, 2016, one month after finishing the manuscript, with an original goal of publishing by her birthday, June 10.
“Two weeks into the process, I realized that was not a realistic goal,” she admits.
So she did a little revision within her revision, enlisting the help of her retired copy editor uncle and a fellow writer friend to aid in her editing process. Baumberger refers to a phenomenon she dubs “author blindness,” not being able to see plot holes and grammar errors in her own work due to the fact that she is so close to her story.
“I had to find an editor who not only knew what they were doing, but would also want to work on an author’s first novel,” she explains. “These two people have been lifesavers in this whole process.”
Baumberger also learned along the way that seeking outside editing help set her apart from some self-published authors, where she claims it is “blatantly clear” who edited their own work. “You can self-publish,” she advises, “but you can’t self-edit.”
As the completed manuscript came together, she turned to the long process of self-publishing. Overall, it certainly involved a learning curve, but according to Baumberger it ended up being a completely feasible goal, even within her time frame.
“You just need to have the right motivation,” she adds. “And I’d say that seeing your name in print is a pretty good motivating factor.”
• • •
Her release date for her début novel just weeks away, Baumberger maintains that she doesn’t have any glamorous plans to celebrate.
“Nearly all my family and friends are out of town for [winter] break,” she says. “It might just end up being me with a glass of wine at my house, eagerly watching the Amazon page for my first sale.”
The lack of fanfare doesn’t mean her journey was somehow less legitimate, though. Baumberger’s newfound confidence extends beyond her writing, even beyond the stress of publishing.
“I learned that I don’t have to be afraid to be pushy,” Baumberger tells me. “If your editor slacks off, doesn’t do what they say, go ahead and find a new editor. If your cover photographer isn’t giving you the photographs you want, let them know.”
So as December 31 rapidly approaches, it’s more than a new year for Baumberger; it’s a new outlook on life, including her work. She’s learned to stop second-guessing herself and maintain ownership of her writing, realizing that what she once perceived as rudeness was actually the assertiveness she needed to succeed.
But for this soon-to-be newly-minted published novelist, her view extends to others as well.
“I firmly believe that anyone can become published author,” Baumberger says. “You just have to want it badly enough to put in the effort and time to accomplish it.”
• • •
Breaking the Pocket is available December 31, 2016 through Amazon and Amazon Europe and at bookstores, libraries, academic institutions, and the CreateSpace eStore.
(Possible emetophobia trigger – in text only – below.)
About an hour before I left Manhattan on Monday morning, bound for the antiquated-as-all-get-out LaGuardia airport, I read an article in the New York Times detailing the plight of the “sick passenger” (and those unlucky enough to share a train with them). Just as life imitates art, art imitates life: as I was preparing to get off the E, completing my final train ride of this trip, I heard the unmistakable sound of retching from the other side of the car. Before allowing myself to dwell upon it, I sped out of the just-stopped car as quickly as I could manage with a medium-sized rolling suitcase in tow.
Aside from that anecdote I wish I didn’t feel the need to tell, some good things happened on my weekend jaunt to New York, too. A lot of good things.
On Saturday, I passed the 50,000-word goal for this year’s National Novel Writing Month. While I have yet to actually complete my story, I believe this ties my 2009 speed record – 21 days – for reaching 50,000. Unfortunately, this means I am less motivated to complete it now, since I’ve been running on fumes for the past 10,000 words trying to reach the goal. But that’s what the month is all about: quantity, not quality. I have the rest of my life to aspire to the quality of work I expect of myself in any other circumstance.
To celebrate my achievement, I visited an overall Cute And Fun bagel shop in the general Gramercy Park/Stuy Town area (neighborhoods are AWFULLY CONFUSING when you’re not a local and the place in question is situated on the border between two of them – but I digress). I have to say, while I mentioned on Facebook that it was surprisingly my first NYC bagel experience that didn’t involve a Dunkin Donuts, the bagel I had was almost indistinguishable from the ones I inhaled regularly at Ultimate Bagel when I lived in Spokane. Which isn’t bad, necessarily – it just made me miss Spokane a little bit.
Bandleader and composer Darcy James Argue’s (Brooklyn Babylon, 2011 Next Wave) 18-piece big band Secret Society melds minds with filmmaker Peter Nigrini, writer/director Isaac Butler, and designer Maruti Evans to investigate America’s fascination with conspiracy theories. On projection surfaces teeming with found footage, live video, and historical texts, the narratives behind the Red Scare, the Illuminati, Edward Snowden, and alien sightings are meticulously examined and interrogated. Musical motifs from Argue’s exuberant score mimic the byzantine “everything is connected” inner workings of mass collusion to plumb the grassy knoll and give paranoia itself the probe.
You know how people say things are roller coaster rides of emotions? This was that, except more true than any time anyone has ever said it before. (Aside from this indescribability, I really just liked the music. Who knew professional musicians were that good at their instruments? I need to get out more.)
Later that night, I learned that there is a laundromat called Spin City at the corner where the protagonists of RENT live as we wandered around Alphabet City trying to find a suitable place to eat. We ended up at a diner with a health department “B” grade, chanced it, and didn’t die.
Sunday, I had the double pleasure of paying $16 to see a 2-D movie (Mockingjay Part 2, and I at least didn’t feel ripped off once I watched it) and having dinner with my NYC relatives (and Lee) at my aunt and uncle’s apartment. (The above photos were taken from their balcony.) I learned only that day that my grandparents didn’t know I was coming, so it was a really great time surprising them – especially my grandma’s reaction when she saw the person I came with was not the husband she had just watched me marry in July.
And then on Monday, I was an earwitness to a Sick Passenger, saw some ultra-casual (read: ultra-blatant, but thankfully nonviolent) racism on the part of the TSA, ate two Auntie Anne’s pretzels in two different states, and landed in Iowa, where I suddenly remembered that it gets cold and snows in places that are not New York, where it was a balmy 50 degrees all weekend.
Landing in Chicago.
Probably the Mississippi River, based on when I took the photo. But perhaps it isn’t.
Peak Iowa sunset.
I know I haven’t written here in several months, and I promise I have many solid (or at least “plausible”) reasons for that – being back in school, for one – but it seems like leaving Iowa every once in a while tends to help spike my creativity. If I had unlimited funds for travel…you know, I’ll just try my best to write more anyway.
Finals are approaching rapidly. So, of course, this means I have both exams and ridiculous time-consuming projects to complete by early December. What online programs grant students in fewer (albeit long) assignments and ease of discussion, they demolish your life in finals activities. Suddenly, I’m having to block out time to read books, write even longer papers, and maintain what is left of my dignity.
That said, when I’m not citing everything I say to my real-life friends, the last item on the above checklist rings true. I’ve just finished Day 20 of this 30-day yoga challenge, and while it only allows about 20 minutes a day of complete solace, it’s really been beneficial to my sanity (that is, escaping the monotony of lectures conducted by old white men).
But as Finals From Hell approach, so does National Novel Writing Month! In 2009, 2010, and 2011, I successfully “won” NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words of a novel-like piece in 30 days. (Last year doesn’t count. If you know me well, you know why.) This year, in an attempt to keep my fingers nimble for the mountain of essays I will be writing for school, I will also be tackling NaNoWriMo in a somewhat unorthodox manner. And guess what? This is good news for my faithful readers!
Every day in November, I will be writing the suggested 1,667 words per day for NaNoWriMo in blog form! Whatever comes to my mind that day, whether it be a memory, a person, or how much I hate my life being sucked away by school, I will write about it. To give you an idea of how much writing that is, I’m at about 280 words in this post so far. It’ll give me a chance to reflect on the things that really matter (subjectively, at least…unfortunately, I’d like my master’s degree to matter, too) and will hopefully allow me to keep this blog active, something I haven’t been too good at lately.
So look forward to that! If you don’t see me here before then, know that I am alive and will be back on November 1. Cheers!