Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reality Check and new tattoo pics

I've been back from Seattle for almost a week and a half and I meant to get back to the blogosphere last week, but it just didn't happen. Well, not on my own blog at least. I posted some goofy pictures and told some of my silly inside joke type Seattle stories over on the MTV Books blog, so you can see those here. But I meant to post more serious stories and photos from the trip here and I will... eventually.

As I mentioned in that blog entry, I really needed to get away and just be goofy, forget about being writer Stephanie or bartender Stephanie or responsible adult Stephanie. And I did and it was good. But then I came back to reality. Currently, I am not a big fan of reality. In my reality, I am stuck in a bit of a holding pattern and it really isn't much fun.

I don't want to get all whiny (and I really hope this doesn't come across that way), but this is my blog and sometimes I need to use it to vent... I may regret it, but here goes.

On Friday I had a No Good, Very Bad, Horrible Day. It seems silly to explain it, but basically I woke up and my internet was down. This actually seemed like a good thing at the time. I figured it would lead to getting a lot of writing done and I needed to get a lot of writing done. I'm trying to get another partial to my agent by the end of the month. So I figured I'd just respond to a couple things via my phone quick and then I'd get to work, just checking the BlackBerry when it blinked to see if it was the News I'm Hoping For. I did this and was texting back and forth with a friend making plans. Then an odd thing happened, the screen of my phone went white and gave some kind of illegible error message. So I pulled the battery, expecting it to start up again just fine, but it went straight to the error message. Oh, I'll just check the internet.... wait the internet doesn't work either. My phone doesn't work, my internet doesn't work, I am cut off from the world and I am hoping to get news. This is no good. Oh and I'm also waiting to hear from the vet about my cats' neverending diarrhea problems. Definitely not okay.

So off I go to the AT&T store with the phone that is only three months old. They look at my phone and say I can either send it in to be repaired or drive to a specific AT&T store to get it repaired. The store is an hour away in traffic. And best reached via highway. I haven't driven on the highway in four years due to a traumatizing accident involving my car and a semi-truck and actually, an on-ramp very near to where AT&T is trying to send me. This is ridiculous. It leads to a major anxiety attack. I beg for a loner phone to no avail. Frustrated, I demand to be let out of my contract, stating that I will walk across the street and get a phone from Verizon instead. They are not fazed.

Long story short, I end up spending nearly 4 hours of my day in the car and what happens at this special AT&T store? They take one look at my phone, say it's a software problem that they cannot fix and they give me a new phone. A new phone which of course it has taken hours to reprogram like my old phone and I still haven't figured out how to fix a few settings.

Okay, that whole story definitely sounds like whining and it kind of is, but the point of it is that it caused a complete and total meltdown. The type of meltdown I haven't had in years (well, with the exception of while writing Ballads of Suburbia because getting to the place I had to go with that book put me under incredibly emotional strain) and that really shouldn't happen over a phone. But really, it wasn't about the phone. It was about a day that I really needed to spend writing and I didn't get to write at all. And there have been too many of those lately.

Writing functions as my anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication and when I don't get to do enough of it, I become very very cranky. However this is a double-edged sword. My writing "career" is also currently causing much of my depression and anxiety.

This is where we get to the stuff I feel hesitant talking about. I feel like I published two books, this means I'm lucky (and I am), so I should shut up and be grateful. There is not a lot said about how hard it is to stay published after you've been published or about feeling successful. Though at the beginning of last month, many of my fellow authors at Teen Fiction Cafe talked about it and that made me feel much less alone.

Right now there are two questions I dread more than anything in the world: "How are your books doing?" and "When is your next one coming out?"

They are completely innocent questions, but the answers are not simple. And people have really bizarre notions about how the publishing industry works. For example, after my whole AT&T ordeal on Friday, husband and I decided to go out for dinner and drinks... which were followed by more drinks at the bar where I worked. And one semi-regular customer who I find mildly annoying but tolerate because it's my job (and this is the thing that sucks about drinking where you work, you still have to be nice to people you normally wouldn't be because no matter which side of the bar you are one they are your customers) started giving me career advice... which I guess he felt like he could do because he's a financial advisor, but um, given the economy I'm not so sure financial advisors should be allowed to give advice. His experience with the publishing industry was this. He had a client who wrote a book which supposedly sold for 2 million dollars and then she enlisted him to help her interview agents. This is one of the least likely situations ever for a writer. It happens. But he also wouldn't tell me her name or her book so....

Anyway, he wanted to know why after having books out in the world for two years, I wasn't in a better position. "Well, my agent is shopping my next book now, so fingers crossed," I said in the falsely cheery tone I currently use when answering my most dreaded questions.

"Why isn't it sold yet?" he demanded.

Uh, I dunno.

"What's wrong with your agent?"

Uh, nothing, I don't think. I really like her....

"Do you have her on a retainer?"


"The only good agents are the ones who work on retainer."

Ummm no. Generally paying up front for representation in my world is a scam, agents work on commission.

"When I was interviewing those agents, the only one who was impressive worked on retainer."

What I wanted to say was: sooooo I guess that's why I've never heard of your client and her two million dollar book. She spent all 2 million trying to shop another book.

Of course, in reality, I just weakly tried to defend myself, my agent, and the industry as I understood it until I couldn't handle it anymore and then I sort of ditched my husband with the guy (don't worry, I rescued him in a few minutes, claiming that another guy needed to talk to him about baseball tickets).

The story is kind of funny, but kind of not. Because while the majority of people may not have as fucked up views about the publishing industry as this guy, most people still have a very inaccurate view of the publishing industry.

I officially sold my first book three years ago on April 17. I was bright-eyed and excited and thought for sure it would be a big hit because I would promote the hell out of it. I did and... yeah not so much. MTV Books is not nearly as powerful as the television network it's named for (and they are related in name only as I have to explain all the time). Without big muscle publishing power behind you, it's hard to be a big hit. At least that's what I've gathered over the past three years.

This is not something I understood before being published. It is not something many people understand. When I tell people I am a writer, they are usually surprised. Because they haven't heard of me, they think this means I'm talking about self-publishing. You are either self-published or you are JK Rowling/Stephenie Meyer/Stephen King/James Patterson. Everyone seems to forget that there are a whole bunch of us in between. A whole bunch of us who haven't been lucky enough to get mentioned by Oprah or get any sort of ad campaign or anything, but we're here.

And don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be here. Very glad. Every time I get an email or message or acknowledgment of any kind that someone read one of my books and liked it, I am over the moon.

But there are countless ways for me to depress myself too. I don't know how well my books have sold. I have my agent's perspective on things, I have numbers, but I don't have a concrete idea of how I'm doing because I don't understand what it all means in the scheme of things. I wish it was as simple as being graded A, B, C, D, F and I wish there was a simple way to bring up my grade. But there isn't and I try my damndest not to stress about things I have no control over.

*whispers* but sometimes i can't help it. sometimes i can't help but noticing that i never ever ever see Ballads in bookstores. IWBYJR is there sometimes, but usually in adult when i wish it would be in YA. and Ballads the book that nervous-breakdown-emotional-overload consumed me seems like it will disappear. it feels like i tried to scream and no one heard me. i have nightmares like that, screaming but no voice comes out. or i have nightmares that i'm on a bus headed down a steep hill. i have to pull a certain handle at a certain time or we'll all die and i wonder why i am i in charge of this thing having never driven a bus *finishes stream of conscious whispering*

So that is the long answer to the first most dreaded question "how are your books doing?" The short answer is a shrug.

That brings us to the second most dreaded question of when is your next book? My books came out so quickly because it took my agent over a year to sell my first book so I started writing the second one. And the whole time I was writing it, I was thinking, should I even bother? I don't think anyone is ever going to be interested in my stories. But then someone was!

I wrote the first book under no pressure, just to write it. I wrote the second one under some pressure. I was doing revisions after the first one had already come out and of course I had all thsoe bad reviews in my head and was fighting to make it better (which I think I did.) Now I feel hyper aware of audience and industry and everything while I'm writing and it slows me down because I have to empty my head of that.

That is why it took me a while to nail down the concept of my next book (well one of them. I am also working on two at once which slows things a bit too), but when I did, I have never ever been more proud of an idea, never ever been more excited to write something. My agent sent it out to several editors approximately two weeks ago. She tells me they are enthusiastic about it. Thus far no offers though. And I don't know realistically how long it is supposed to take. I hear these stories where a book sells overnight and oh god how I wished that could be me, I thought maybe it could be this time, maybe this idea would be good enough, maybe it would be the one. But so far it's not me. Right now, all I can hope is that it doesn't take another year again because I'm not sure I'm cut out for that.

Sometimes I really doubt I *am* cut out for this. It's freaky, not knowing if I'll ever sell another book again, thinking that right now I am just a bartender because as I recently read in the book Cocktail: "You are what you get paid for." This is what the character said in response to being asked if he was a writer. Then he added, "I am a bartender." So yeah, I am a bartender.

And more and more I am resenting the time that I have to spend at the billpaying job and how it takes away from my writing. And I resent how household chores and emails and social networking and blogging and all the things I do to promote my books take away from writing. Also as much as I loved my trip to Seattle, I came back angry. I want to be in Seattle, in the city of my heart, not in Chicago, which is more and more (especially after being stuck in so much traffic because of all the horrid awful flat SPRAWL) becoming the city of my nightmares. So I'm resenting where I live. I'm even resenting my cats because they've been perpetually sick for months and no one can figure out why. But most of all, I resent all the time I spend worrying and waiting anxiously to find out if this book, this big idea, the thing I've probably wanted to write since I was ten years old, if it will sell. My dreams in someone else's hands.

That's the reality of being a writer. Your dreams are in someone else's hands.

And the only way I can cope is with more writing. It's not even good writing. It's fast and furious scrawl (well, typing, but you get the picture). I'm throwing words on the page quick and dirty to keep myself occupied. I know where the story is going, but I can't make it pretty yet. I'm too distracted by anxiety, but either I will reach the end of the section I want to write or I will get good news and either of those things will give me the energy to go back and polish it. It's another partial. Hopefully I can sell on partial. That might mean working less at the bar and writing more which would be awesome. But yeah, we'll see. This is the grown-up version of my bartender book because the YA version did not sell. The editor I wanted for it could not buy it, but she was interested in seeing adult fiction by me and I honestly felt this story would be better off if the characters were a bit older. She was intrigued by my new direction and this has given me enough hope to work on it. Again, we'll see.

So this is what I've been doing. Trying not to think about the questions I seem to get asked on a daily basis (How are your books doing? When is your next one?) and instead throwing myself into doing the thing I love because I need to know that I still love it. I need to know that it is still my drug, my cure-all, even if it has weird side effects sometimes.

And I haven't blogged in awhile partially because I'm more interested in writing than blogging right now and blogging will have to take a backseat sometimes as well it should, but also because I needed to vent these things and felt I couldn't. Felt it wasn't kosher. Felt it would come off as whiny. But I had to do it. So I stayed up past my already quite late bedtime and did so.

This is the reality of writing. You have very little control and you spend a lot of time waiting. And if you ask my husband he will laugh and tell you how much I hate both of those things. But I love writing more so I'm doing it.

Hopefully the book that is being shopped will sell soon and I can stop worrying over that. It would be my dream come true if I could sell well enough to write full-time, or best of all, to write full-time *and* move to Seattle. But I'll take what I can get.

So I haven't been blogging because I'm writing. Fast and furious attempting to meet a self-imposed deadline.

But I will be posting an interview tomorrow and Women Who Rock Wednesday will be back soon and there will be a proper blog with Seattle pictures ummm eventually. For now I will leave you with photos of my new tattoo since it is almost completely healed. (This is probably the part most of you skipped to get to; no worries, I understand)

My two friends Jenny (left) and Eryn (right) went to Seattle with me (middle) and we decided to get cherry blossom tattoos in honor of our love for the city and for each other. That is why I got two blossoms, one for Jenny and one for Eryn and they are branching out over my heart because that is where they are even though they live many miles away. Cherry blossoms also symbolize Seattle to me because the first time I went, I was awestruck by all the cherry trees in full bloom. Seattle is in my heart as well.

But I also am struck by the fragility of cherry blossoms, and the fact that they are a spring flower and come in after a hard winter on these sometimes grizzled looking trees. I don't really have the words for exactly why that spoke to me, but I've long wanted something to symbolize and remind me of the way I came out of a lot of darkness to make my dreams of writing come true and find true love with my husband.

Here's the tattoo up close. I hate how my skin looks, but you get a decent view of the detail the artist used. He used a super small needle to get the detail on the leaves. I really love it. Need to get more tattoos done by him.

Ultimately I want to expand this tattoo into a full tree that spans my left arm up to where the current branch crosses my chest. It will be a gnarled and blackened tree with scarred roots, but the most beautiful blossoms at the top. And, if I can get the design to work how I want, there will be girl, breaking free of her demons and reaching for those branches, pulling herself upward toward her dreams.

I may or may not incorporate the phrase "The pen is mightier than the pain" which are words that just came into my head while I was dreaming up the design, but that is what the tattoo will symbolize to me.

I have those words on a sticky note near my computer as a reminder. Even if now my writing career is the source of much worry and self-doubt, I will write my way through it. That is what I do.

And now off to bed, so I can get up and do exactly that.


Robby said...

You will sell another book. I will buy it and love it.
You will be successful. I am sure of it.
I love the new tatoo. I love you, too. I hope you feel better.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks Robby! You are very sweet and this was a great way to start my day :)

Punk Rock Girl said...

Your line reminded me of one from an old Everclear song: "You are possessed with a power bigger than the pain." It can be hard to believe sometimes. I'm tired of waiting too. I'm waiting for my Dropkick Murphys CD that I won to arrive because I think the radio dude I won it from forgot to send it. (UPS was just here but it was my husband's stupid Amazon order.) I'm tired of waiting for my Social D tix to come in the mail so I can wait another four months to use them. I'm tired of waiting another three weeks for jury duty to find out if I'm getting a long trial that will result in having to give up the part-time job I love and become hardcore unemployed. Oh, it's a real mixed bag out there right now, so I know how you feel. Just keep trying and keep hoping and keep writing. And I don't know why broken appliances and electronics are always the thing that pushes the meltdown over the edge, but that's usually what happens to me too.

Annika said...

I am rooting for you. And I love your new tattoo.

Paradox said...

I picked up your first book before I had ever heard of you. I just liked the look of the cover and the story. It was only when Eryn posted on VR that her friend had just published her first book did I put two and two together! Anyway, all that to say that I loved your first book and loved your second book, and will love all the rest yet to come. You are a very talented writer (as well as just being an awesome human being too!).
I have bought and gifted your novels to all of my friends - and will continue to do so.

xoxoxox Jade

heilige. said...

awww. that's really sweet about the two blossoms, i didn't know they had meaning. thanks for being an awesome friend!!

Unknown said...

Your book will sell, I know it! I'll get the librarian to get in the library, she'll listen to me since I took her suggestion for a book.

I'm struggling with trying to write my book/manuscript/first draft/whatever. Total writer's block for some odd reason. I can get the later parts, but the beginning/middle is really stressing me out. Not even good, meaningful lyrics can inspire me.

Your new tattoo is amazing. The detail is gorgeous.

I'll for sure buy your book. It will be wonderful, I know it. Good luck!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Punk Rock Girl, that is a brilliant Everclear line. And I am glad I am not the only one terribly sick of waiting who has meltdowns over broken electric things. Thanks so much for your words, they made me smile :)

Thanks Annika!

Jade, I didn't know that you read the book before you knew me through Eryn and all. That is cool to know and thanks so much for giving my books as gifts. I cannot wait to see you when I'm in NYC next month!

Jenny, I stole the two blossoms thing from Eryn, she mentioned that she was doing two blossoms for the two of us and that is why I decided on two as well. Love you!

Ashley, thanks so much for recommending my books to your library. Thanks for your words of encouragement and my advice to you would be just write the parts that are coming to you to get going, even if it is not at the beginning. I'm totally non-linear writing wise when I'm stuck, I just go to the moment that is taking my attention to get unstuck.

John K said...

Look at it this way. John Green is probably the most successful ya author at the moment. He has three books out. Your two are just as good as his. Who knows after the Runnaways movie comes out, that could send a bunch of popularity towards the way of your first book. (That made no sense, or it was like walking in a circle.) Catcher in the rye was written in 51 but didn't get popular until 62(Then he ran away.) Just keep writing and we'll keep reading and as long as there's that`connection, you are a successful writer. Thats not bullshit either (Speaking of, that douchy guy who said he sold a 2 mil book is probably lying just to be an asshole) You also have a niche audience me thinks. Mostly, just write. and write and write and write. Keep at it and eventually SOMEONE will pull their head out of their ass and you'll be recognized for your greatness somewhere. Kurt Vonnegut was panned on his first few books, and he's the greatest dead American`author (Alternately, Dorothy Parker.) Yeah, it's only my opinion, but i'm not exactly special, so there's probably a bunch of people like me. keep at it, don't let the publishing process get you down (I heard a Salinger quote that said he thought publishing was a damn distraction. You just reminded me of that.) and just`write and write and write and write and write and write. etc. etc.
-John "If you every use the word incidentally again. I will call you Franny." Knowles

Punk Rock Girl said...

Another Everclear song started playing on the radio while I was writing that! (Heroin Girl, which is very Ballads of Suburbia!)

melon said...

Stephanie, of course you will publish another book, and of course it will be amazing. There are people out there who just wander around book stores and pick things up, partially because they look interesting, and partially because they know that the people who wrote them are just that. People. The people need their books to sell, so we buy them. Especially people who only have one or two books published by small presses. Everyone I know has seen me wander bookstores for hours searching out the small authors, because their books have more heart. Their books have more of them in them. Not to say, of course, that big authors from big presses don't put themselves into their books, but there is a point at which is just seems like they are writing not because it is what they love, but just because they have that fancy big company ruthlessly promoting them. James Patterson, for example. I am sick of seeing ads for those books. Why aren't there ads for books like yours, or Lessons in Taxidermy by Bee Lavender, or The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay... you know, the list goes on and on.
The point is to keep writing because you love it, keep being amazing because you are, and one day you will be in Seattle, just like one day I will be in Chicago.
By the way, totally understand the part about being sick of the city you're in. We're in the same boat there, and it seems to be that I will be here suffering along side my Stephen until he graduates in two years. Hopefully I will find time to write, because it is what I want to do, I just have trouble finding time anymore.
I hope your cats get better, and I hope your book gets shopped soon so we can all read it.

Liviania said...

The tattoo looks wonderful.

I hope you do write another book and get it published. BALLADS and IWBYJR are terrific. Your voice is competing with thousands of others, but it matters to those who hear it.

John K said...

Let me reiterate, don't give up. The word needs people like you tell tell our stories. You are in a brand new genre of writing, so of course it would take a while for people to notice that you are a complete fucking genius. Fuck anyone else who thinks otherwise. On an interesting note, my guy friends liked Joey Ramone and Ballads than my girlfriends (Not to say they didn't like it.) Alot of them thought Emily sounded like the perfect girl (Me and Paul) Give it time and remember that you kick`ass. I can't wait until your next book come out. I'm almost done with my resurgent Salinger kick and I need something to read(Margaret Salinger's memior is excellent. If your into JD at all, this would be an excellent read.) What I could have said without all the random bs: You are an unnoticed literary god, You don't have to take shit from anyone.

swimwear said...

Cool tattoos! Does it hurt that bad?

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Belated thanks John, Melony and Liviania. Your comments really do mean a lot to me as does your support of my writing :) Thank you so so so much.

And Swimwear, yeah I mean it hurts, but um maybe I'm weird, I almost like the tattooing pain...