Monday, April 29, 2013

The Boy Every Girl Wanted

I knew three things about Anthony. 1) He played football. 2) He was rich. And 3) this made him one of the most popular guys in my 7th grade class. So when my science teacher paired us as lab partners the second day of school, I knew what I was in for—the nerd girl will be doing all the work, and the jock will get his easy A.

But I was wrong.

Anthony sat next to me, his smile kinder than I'd ever expected. "Your name's Natalie?"

"Yup," I said with a nod.

"Cool. You moved here last year, right?"

"Mm hm." I was surprised he remembered this and unsure of what to think about how genuine he seemed. As a dork and loner for all of elementary school, I'd learned not to trust smiles. They were usually followed by cruel jokes and swift abandonment.

"Well, it's nice to meet you."

It was nice. Anthony turned out to be a fabulous lab partner. He always did his homework and did it well. He did his part in class and got as high scores as me on tests. He was smart, he was kind to me, and he never acted like he was that cool guy everyone saw him as. He talked to me—about his 8th grader girlfriend and his older brother and how his parents wanted him to go to the Catholic high school in the area. And he asked me about myself—about my art and playing flute, about my religion and friends and family.

Much to my surprise, Anthony and I became friends. At least for that one hour in science, when our very different worlds were left at the door and we were allowed to just be ourselves.

One time in class, I remember him watching me practice calligraphy. My mom had bought me real ink calligraphy pens to practice with, and I'd spend many a class hour writing the names of my friends or my favorite quotes. Anthony leaned in a little and said, "Hey, I have a favor to ask you."

"What?" I continued writing, not looking up.

"Will you write something pretty like that for me and my girlfriend? I want to give it to her."


He gave me a clean white piece of paper, and I wrote his name, a heart, and his girlfriend's name as best I could. While I carefully rounded the letters, it struck me that his girlfriend was lucky to have such a thoughtful, kind boy like Anthony. I hoped she treated him well. The tiniest pang of jealously weaseled its way into my heart, but I knew better than to expect that kind of affection from a boy. Let alone a popular, cute, taken boy. So it was gone as easily as it had come.

When the semester was over and a new one came, our teacher had an announcement to make. "You may change lab partners if you'd like. You can pick anyone you want."

My heart sunk. I didn't want to switch, but Anthony had other friends in class and surely he was tired of being my partner. How could I ask him to stay with me? I couldn't—I was too shy to ask anyone to be my partner, let alone him.

"Hey," Anthony said, and I braced myself for the inevitable.

"Yeah?" I looked at him, wishing I had the guts to say what I wanted.

"Do you wanna just stay partners?"

Several seconds passed before I could answer, because I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Anthony wanted to be my partner for the rest of the year? Enough that he'd ask me? Then my face broke into a huge smile. "Yes. That'd be great."

He smiled back, which was when I realized he looked pretty nervous before. "Awesome."

Anthony didn't know it, but he was the one boy in my life that kept my faith in good guys alive. At this time, a group of boys in band bullied me incessantly for having a crush on one of their friends. They would whisper his name at me when I passed in the halls. They would call me ugly and stupid and make me feel like gum on someone's shoe. There were other boys who would snap my bra straps and make extremely inappropriate comments about my way-too-big-for-a-7th-grader boobs. By all rights and measures, I could have thought all boys were scum. But there was Anthony, and he reminded me that amazing guys existed.

The school year ended. I spent summer with friends, and one evening I was at a playground with my best friend. As girls do, we were discussing boys.

"No boys like me," I said.

She pursed her lips. "I don't know about that. There's one who sure seemed sad you weren't at the end of the year dance."

This blew my mind to the point that I was incapable of believing her. "What?"

"He came up to me and asked where you were, and I said you didn't come because you're Mormon and not old enough for dances. He seemed really sad, so I asked him if he wanted to dance with you or something." She laughed. "He turned bright red."

"Who?" I asked

"He told me not to tell you. I promised."

"You're just making it up." She had to be. There was no way a guy wanted to dance with me enough to ask my friend where I was. To this day, I still can't quite believe she was telling the truth.

She sighed. "Maybe if you guess, then I won't break my promise."

"No one would do that, so I have no guesses."

"What about a hint? His initials are A.S." I was still stumped. I couldn't think of anyone with those initials that I knew. My friend gave me a look like I was the stupidest girl alive. She rolled her eyes. "Ugh, fine. Anthony?"

My eyes bugged out. "No way."

She shrugged. "He did break up with his girlfriend."

I couldn't believe it. I'm still skeptical. I never did find out the truth.

When 8th grade rolled around, I ended up having science first period. And guess who was standing outside the class the first day? Anthony. Except his once-dark hair was now bleached bright white. It surprised me so much that when he waved at me all I could do was laugh. Yup, I laughed at the boy who was arguably the new King Of School.

"What did you do to your hair?" I asked, trying to restrain my giggles.

His smile fell, and in that moment I realized I might have done irreparable damage to his ego. "Me and my brother thought it would be don't like it?"

I winced, and this wave of awkwardness washed over me as I remembered what my friend said that summer. Was he looking for my approval? Why? Should I be honest or spare his feelings? "It's...different."

And that sums up pretty much all of my 8th grade dealings with Anthony. Different. More distant. The easiness of being lab partners was mostly gone, though here and there it would surface again in algebra, another class we had together. Anthony sat in front of me, and he would ask me questions and smile and this time I started to really crush on him.

But he was still the popular boy and I was still the nerdy girl. In movies and books these two characters find a way to be together against all odds. In real life, Anthony sat next to his best friend in algebra, a boy who was popular and not-so-nice. And one day while Anthony and I were talking in class and everything was lovely, that friend leaned over to whisper something in Anthony's ear. The boy every girl wanted—the boy I wanted—went white with fear and shook his head, saying, "No."

I'm not exactly sure what was said, but I do know things changed after that. Anthony stopped talking to me like he used to. Eventually he even stopped asking me about the school work. A girl named Allison started coming over just to ask him questions. She was a cheerleader. She was beautiful and tiny and wore lots of makeup. She and Anthony went to the 8th grade dance together like every stereotype in the book. I went to the dance with my friends and hid under tables from the tuba player who wanted to dance with me.

I moved four months after that. I have no idea what happened to that sweet boy, but I hope he stayed sweet despite how easy it would be for him to change. Even if he did change, I'm grateful that, at least to me, he was the kindest boy I knew in junior high. That meant everything to this nerd girl.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

High School Art! From Me!

So my parents have been going through their storage room, and my mom sent me an email last night with the question, "Do you want this?" I clicked, and there was this picture. My face broke out in a huge smile, because I've actually tried to find this poster I drew for years! I'd been able to locate another, unfinished one this size, but not this "crowning masterpiece" of my high school art pieces.

It's hard to tell from this picture, but the poster you're looking at is about 3 foot by 4 foot big. And I used Prismacolor pencils for the whole dang thing. You can kind of see in the starry background the pencil lines, and boy does that bring back memories. I think I went through two full black Prismacolors to finish off that brackdrop! It took forever.

What's funny is that I still remember the basics of this story I'd never written. I'd do that a lot in high school—draw a whole cast of characters repeatedly, but never actually write their story down past general ideas. This one was about Cruit (the girl in the purple dress/cape ensemble), who discovered she possessed magic in a world where it had been lost for thousands of years. SUPER original, right? Haha.

I have no idea what the pendant was for.

I'm pretty sure the guy with the red headband was a pirate.

The girl with red, short hair was a traveling fortune teller.

Pretty sure one of those other girls is a princess, because every fantasy story needs a princess.

Oh! And the girl with the wavy hair was the mute sidekick!

Man, I would like to say my characters aren't nearly as weird/random as they used to be, but they are. I guess that's comforting, to have some kind of signature trait in all my work. But anyway, I thought I'd share this piece with you because it's a fun glimpse into my life as a teen. This is pretty much what I did all the time—whether it was big pieces like this or sketches in class when I was supposed to be taking notes, I lived my life partially in my own worlds. Much like I do now.

I don't regret a thing.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Showers Are For Losers

Right now, I really regret making that little countdown widget on my sidebar, because every time I see it my heart beats a little faster. I mean, I'm UNDER 30 days now. How the crap? I need more time! There's so much I still need to do, and it feels like the hours keep slipping out of my hands.

What's it like being a month from debut? It's kinda like being in survival mode. There's promotion, marketing, and networking to do on top of other writing obligations and deadlines. Pretty much everything that isn't necessary starts falling to the wayside. Like showering. And making a nice dinner. And cleaning. My house is a disaster. My kids are living on Pop Tarts. My poor husband barely sees me, since I'm holed up in my room writing/drawing/answering interview questions/freaking out.

And then your mind starts playing tricks on you. Will anyone even BUY this book? Why are you working so hard when no one will care? How in the world did you used to think someone would pay money for your stories? WILL ANYONE BUT YOUR MOM BE AT THE LAUNCH?

*deep breath*

Sometimes I want to throw in the towel and let the whole thing pass by quietly, like a cat slinking through a back alley. If I don't make a big deal out of this, then it won't hurt so much if I don't succeed, right? That's always been my first instinct. Don't care—caring hurts and expectations are dangerous and just move on before you're in too deep.

I hate this part of me. Because I worked almost eight years for this moment, and now that it's breathing down my neck I'm scared to death of it instead of celebrating it. As if being excited will somehow jinx the whole thing.

I hope that when the day arrives I will be past this. I hope that I'll be able to find my book on a shelf and that I will FEEL something. I hope that something will be positive. I hope that, even though so much of this journey hasn't gone the way I hoped, that I will be proud of what I've accomplished. I hope that the day my book comes out will be a big deal. At least to me.

Hope. It's what writers live on, isn't it?

Monday, April 15, 2013

All Day Q&A!

Time for my only regular feature—the Q&A! Ask any question you'd like to in comments, and I will answer as soon as I can. All types of questions are welcome. You may ask more than one. If you prefer to ask on Twitter, go for it (the reply just won't be as long). I will answer all questions that are sent in before I wake up tomorrow morning:)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

When The Writing Challenges Are All Mental

The truth of the matter is that I'm freaking out, guys. This is to be expected, of course, with my first novel debuting in less than 40 days, but annoying nonetheless. I've been pretty open about my struggles with anxiety, and one of the most frustrating things about it is not being able to STOP. That's why it's a disorder, after all. Normal people can stop freaking out—when you have an anxiety disorder, you can't.  (So if you ever get the urge to tell a person with anxiety to just STOP freaking out, don't. We really, really wish we could. I promise.)

My meds help, but there is this threshold of stress that I reach where the anxiety outweighs my body and the medication's ability to contain my excessive angst. This is rather inconvenient, seeing as those moments are usually moments I need to be composed and focused and generally not crazy-looking. Like, say, when I have to promote my book plus working on a tight deadline or—please just kill me now—speak at my own impending launch party (preferably sans passing out).

I'm trying my utmost best not to freak out by doing all the things I know help my anxiety levels, like exercising and cooking and talking with friends and watching mindless reality TV. I am trying to stay out of negative thought patterns and focus on work. I am trying to eat nutritious meals so my body is at its strongest to combat stress. I am trying to stay away from any place where I may see publishing news/reviews/etc that may trigger insecurity and fear of how my book will fare out there. Trying, trying, trying.

I get so tired of trying to contain my stress levels. It feels like my whole life right now. It's frustrating as hell. (You know I'm annoyed when I start using such scandalous words as "hell.")

The worst thing is that all this gets in the way of my creative process. Oh, I know what happens in this WIP of mine. Technically, I should be able to write the rest of this thing with no stopping I have the story so firm in my head...and yet every day is a challenge. Just the thought of opening the WIP fills me with anxiety, not because of the words but because of how I FEEL about myself as a writer. When I get particularly stressed an anxious, I start thinking things like:

I will never get this right.

I'm a horrible writer, no matter how hard I try.

This story is just plain stoopid. Yes, spelled that way. It's too stoopid to deserve proper spelling.

No one will care.

And if they do, they'll just hate it.

I will never write a better book than the ones I've already written, so why keep going?

Super negative thought patterns, right? And I know that, too, but again it's part of that whole disorder thing. Knowing you're being irrational and not being able to just STOP. It takes so much work to quell that horrible inner dialogue. So much work to keep going forward when all you hear is those lies in your head. Some days are better than others. Some are much worse than others. I never know which I'm going to get.

So when all the writing challenges are in your head, what do you do? I wish I had all the answers to that question, but I don't. I have learned to accept that not all the things my brain tells me are true things, that sometimes I have to rely on the good opinions of my closest friends until I believe it myself. Those poor friends, they must get tired of saying, "IT'S GOOD. SHUT UP. KEEP GOING." But they do it, and I'm ever grateful for it.

I've also learned to STOP working when I'm having a super bad day, because everything I work on will just be tainted by that anxiety and I'll push myself into a panic attack. And I usually have to flee from social media because it's so easy to start reading everything as, "Everyone is more important and funnier and cooler and smarter and more talented than I can ever hope to be why do I even bother?" Comparison is certainly a deadly thing to an anxious personality.

Being okay with slow work days is also something I've gradually come to embrace. Sometimes I just have to be happy with the page I wrote, instead of worrying over the seven I couldn't manage. And I've especially come to understand that I can in no way feed my inner critic with criticism that comes from outside. I already beat myself up enough without reading reviews—I already believe too often that I'm a terrible writer and my books are drivel. There's no need to search for other people who may agree with that.

And most of all, I have learned to keep going. Even when it's annoying and exhausting and seems impossible. Having anxiety makes some aspects of my life so much harder than they should be, but I decided many years ago that I wouldn't let it stop me from doing what I most wanted to do. And this whole author thing is what I love even though my personal challenges sometimes get in the way.

If you got this far, thanks for reading. I think I mostly had to write this for myself after a long day of mental warfare.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It's Giveaway Time Again!

TRANSPARENT comes out in about 6 weeks, so this is going to be one of the last giveaways I've doing. Wow, that's kinda weird. Time is going to fly from here on out.

So I've done blog contests and one on Twitter—that means it's time for a Facebook contest! It's very simple: Like my author page on Facebook, and you'll be entered to win 1 of 2 prize packs.

Prize: Either a signed US ARC or UK finished copy of TRANSPARENT, plus a Pop Tart charm, pair of kooky sunglasses, and bookmarks.

Deadline: Sunday, April 7th, at midnight Mountain Time. Winners will be drawn on Monday.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Write For RPG, Pass Go, Collect 200 Nerd Points

I've been sitting on several secrets, but today I finally get to tell one! And I cannot begin to tell you how freaking excited I am to be involved in this on any level.

I get to be a writer for Torment: Tides Of Numenera! It's an RPG (role playing game), which if you don't know is kind of like a book as video game. RPGs follow specific characters, they have a storyline, they are my favorite kind of game hands down.

So when Adam Heine approached me about the possibility of joining this team many months ago, of course I jumped at the chance. Even though I had no idea what the project was at the time. Or if I'd actually end up on the team. I mean, teen-me had often dreamed of writing or designing for an RPG—how could I pass up even the smallest chance? I knew it might be a long shot, but I'm in publishing and very used to long shots.

InXile began their Kickstarter for Torment: Tides Of Numenera almost a month ago, and it was the record breaking earner on the site until that pesky Veronica Mars movie came along. When I saw the Torment art and read about the concept I couldn't help but salivate. This is the kind of game I feel privileged to be involved with. It is deep and character-based and full of potential awesomeness. Not only that, but I'll get to work with incredibly talented writers. Like, um, Patrick Freaking Rothfuss. For reals. Whenever I think about this game I have to restrain myself from squealing.

So yay! The news is out! If you feel like donating to the Kickstarter, there are some pretty awesome rewards. And if not, that's cool, too. But the game only gets better and better the more they have to invest in it. I can't wait to see it all come together.