Monday, March 23, 2015

Liars, Inc. Twitter Party

Hi guys! Most authors do an in-person launch of their books. Back when I released my first work-for-hire book in 2012, I was kind of uncomfortable with the idea. I didn't have a lot of relatives or bookish friends who lived nearby, didn't know many other authors, and hated the idea of getting up in front of even a few people and talking about myself and my book.

No disrespect for people who do this, as it's the norm and I know I'm the weird one. But thinking about a launch brought me nothing but stress. It made me SAD, and sad is not what you're supposed to be for your book release.

So yeah, instead of in-person launch, I threw a #VenomReleaseParty on Twitter. It was a huge success and had the added bonus of allowing readers from all over the globe to join in the fun. And I didn't have to worry about who showed up or what to wear. It was the best time ever and I've been doing it ever since.

The LIARS, INC. Twitter release party will be under the hashtag #LiarsIncBook, on Tuesday 3/24, from 6pm to 7:30 pm US/Pacific. That's a start time of 7pm Mountain, 8pm Central, 9pm Eastern. If you're thinking of joining in from abroad (all contests are international!), here's a time zone converter to help you out. You'll want to choose US/Pacific 6pm for the pre-conversion time. 

The party will be hosted by the fabulous Ensconced In Lit (@CAhnBooks) who you might remember as the #MysteryTwitterTheater victim ;-)

Wait, did someone say contests? Does that mean prizes?

The prizes:

PRE-PARTY PRIZE: I'll do a search of #LiarsIncBook sometime during the day on 3/24. One person who has tweeted about the party (using the party hashtag) and is using the book's cover for a Twitter avatar will be randomly selected to win a signed finished copy.

CONTEST #1: Answer a question. Random winner wins LIARS signed swag

CONTEST #2: Answer a question. Random winner wins LIARS signed swag

CONTEST #3: First to answer a trivia question wins Max's adjustable-fit shark's tooth necklace:

CONTEST #4: Caption a pic to win CATALYST (or CONTROL) by Lydia Kang. Winner is best caption or else a random selection from our top 3-5 choices if we can't decide.

CONTEST #5: Ensconced and I will be asking you to "get creative" to win a copy of THE CEMETERY BOYS by Heather Brewer. Winner is best entry or else a random selection from our top 3-5 choices if we can't decide. More info at party. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have an idea of what I mean by "get creative."

CONTEST #6: Scavenger hunt for a LIARS, INC. Senior Investigator Prize Pack, which includes a signed hardcover, a T-shirt (to wear while investigating), a notebook (for writing down your clues), and a mini-flashlight (for exploring those dark and creepy places). Winner is person with most objects turned in the quickest. More info at party. Ensconced in Lit and I will be judging these and our decision is final.

If you've never attended a Twitter party before, it can be a bit confusing to keep up with the nonstop tweets. Here are some tips, many of which I lifted straight from an old post of Ensconced's :-)

Tips for the party:

1. You should have a twitter account.

2. You should be following both @CAhnBooks and @pstokesbooks to ensure that we see your tweets and that we can contact you with prize information. 

3. After each comment, you should end it with #LiarsIncBook or else we won't see it. (Capitalization doesn't matter.)

4. If you want to ask me a specific question, you can @pstokesbooks, but put a period before your @ sign so that way everyone at the party will see your question. That cuts down on me trying to answer ten different people who all ask "Where did you get the idea for the book?" and similar.

5. I will miss a lot of your questions during the party--I can only tweet so fast--but if you do ask me a question with an @ sign, I promise I will answer you by the next day. (And if I don't, re-ask, because it means somehow your tweet got eaten.)

6. If you win a prize, we'll be sending you a google document to fill out. Ensconced will confirm your prizes after the party!

7. The EASIEST way to follow a twitter party is to hook up your account to a chat program. I use All you have to do is put #LiarsIncBook at the top of the page where it says "Enter hashtags." It should prompt you to link up your twitter account. Say yes. Then you should be good to go! The other nice thing about this is that you don't have to type the hashtag after each comment, the program automatically does it for you. And you don't have to search for the hashtag, it automatically just follows the convo.

8. To those poor souls who don't have a twitter account. It's totally EASY. Get a twitter account! I finally got one for my blog, and it took literally seconds to set up. I'm so sorry, but if you don't have a twitter account, you won't be eligible for the prizes.

Questions? Put them in the comments :-)

Friday, March 20, 2015



Okay. Here's the setup. On Thursday night, YA blogger Ensconced in Lit was murdered. Yep, now she's Ensconced in Death. Her body was discovered on Twitter. I don't know exactly how that works either, but the word on the street is that Twitter is magic and if we can discover who killed her ASAP, then she can be brought back to life just in time to assist with the #LiarsIncBook Twitter party, on Tuesday 3/24 at 6pm Pacific time. I totally need her help and miss her like crazy, so don't fail me, okay? Click here to read what the Ghost of Ensconced has to say about the crime.

Like basically everything else fun, the MTT images were made by a #LoyalLiar. Thanks Eli!

The motive for the crime seems pretty clear: a super-epic LIARS, INC. prize pack was stolen off her person sometime between the hours of 5pm and 11:59pm on Thursday, March 19th. What's LIARS, INC.? Oh, you're new here! Hello :-) It's a murder mystery novel written by me and published by HarperTeen. It's great for teens and adults, guys and girls. Basically All the People :D But I might be biased.

LIARS, INC. prize pack includes a hand-painted LIARS tote bag from Pivot Book Totes,
a signed finished copy of the novel, a notebook for writing down all your clues, a mini flashlight
for investigating in dark places, a crime scene lanyard so no one crosses you while you’re
hunting for evidence, crime scene candy, bookmarks, postcards, magnets, and special mystery gifts.

Unlike what you see on TV, the detectives working the case won't let me snoop around the crime scene or handle all the evidence, so I've been gathering clues on my own. I've also been getting tips from informants I have at the police station and the medical examiner's office. I'm going to share my clues and tips with all of you so that you can help me figure out who the killer is!

In addition to the murderer, you'll also need to figure out where the actual crime was committed, and what the murder weapon was. So basically, this will be somewhat like an online game of Clue/Cluedo. The first person to correctly deduce all three pieces of information will win the super-epic LIARS, INC. prize pack, plus awesome mystery gifts.

Here's how it works:

The game officially starts Saturday 3/21 at 0900 Pacific time. I will be tweeting tips and clues on Twitter under the #MysteryTwitterTheater hashtag. Some of the suspects might also be tweeting, but as they are all #LoyalLiars, you can't trust anything they say. The clues will be discovered and posted at random intervals throughout the day, like real detective work. (Except nothing like real detective work, probably). You might need to click "all" or search with my twitter handle to make sure you don't miss any clues. Each night before I go to sleep, I'll post a clue round-up at the bottom of this post. Assuming it takes you guys more than one day, that is :-)

How to win: When you think you know who the killer is, where the crime happened, and what the murder weapon is, go to this form and enter your information. But you can only enter once and you can't change your answers, so you'd better be sure you're right. Accusing someone of a crime is a big deal.

More details: This game is open to US and international players, ages 13 and up. Everyone with a valid Twitter account can play--even the murder suspects. I mean, the best way to prove your innocence is to find the real killer, right? That's what Max from LIARS, INC. is hoping anyway! The game will end when someone wins or at 11:59 pm Pacific on Mon March 23rd. If no one wins, I'll give the prize pack away at my Twitter party via a different contest. But let's get real. Twitter wins all my games in like ten minutes, so I am confident someone will win this one too :)

If you're hopelessly lost about how it's going to play out, you can post questions in the comments, but once the first couple of clues are released, that might make things more clear. Again the clues will be released first on Twitter and posted here on the blog as a courtesy at the end of each day.

Small print stuff: I will send first-class international or priority domestic, but I'm not responsible for undelivered mail. If the prize is lost, I will attempt to replace the book and some of the swag, but that's the best I can do. Ensconced in Lit is not responsible for anything. Sometimes in contests like these, the clues are open to misinterpretation or things aren't exactly black and white. I'll do my best not to trick anyone, but all decisions about the winner are final and not subject to appeal.

Let's check out our suspects:

So far, local detectives have not been able to verify any of their alibis, but thanks to my excellent stalking, er, research skills, I've collected some basic information on each of them. I don't know how helpful it'll be, but it's a start.

Nurse Pili is 5'3" with curly black hair. She wears a size 6.5 shoe and is allergic to cats and ash trees. She's a former ballerina and swimmer and is never without her wristwatch. Pili lists traveling as one of her hobbies, along with reading Agatha Christie books and watching crime TV shows. As a nurse, Pili has great manual dexterity, detailed medical knowledge, and access to drugs. Click here to read Nurse Pili's whereabouts during the time the crime was committed.

Jessica is 5'3" with brownish-plum hair and size 7 shoes. She has a script tattoo on her left inner forearm and you'll rarely catch her without fresh nail polish and lipstick. Jessica wears cherry almond hand cream and according to her social media she's a good climber, who also enjoys yoga and traveling. Jessica says she didn't do it. Read her alibi here and decide if you believe her.

Ri is 5'1" with black hair. She wears a size 6 shoe and is always seen with red lipstick on and ink stains on her hands. She lists photography, skiing, and watching crime shows as her hobbies, but I have it on good authority that she's also good at archery and knows how to pick locks. Also I saw somewhere that she self-identifies as Slytherin...Click here to read Ri's super-vague explanation for why she can't be the killer.

Zachary is 5'10" with brown hair and wears size 10.5 shoes. He's often seen sporting a class ring with an Alexandrite gem and has a trident tattoo on his upper left arm. Zachary enjoys reading, archery, and fencing, and the word on the street is that's he's also an excellent marksman. I met him once and he didn't seem like a killer, but then again I'm a horrible judge of character. Click here to read his dubious alibi for where he was the night of the crime.

Jamie Justice is 5'4" with dark brown hair and size 8 shoes. She's allergic to cats, hay, and mold, but has a fluffy white dog that likes to shed all over her clothes. Jamie is extremely quiet and extremely neat, except for her messy desk. Perhaps most suspiciously, Jamie and Ensconced know each other in real life, so Jamie would know how to track Ensconced down easier than any of our other suspects. Click here to see where Jamie Justice says she was the night Ensconced was killed. (And is it just me, or does that dog totally look like an accomplice?)

Isabel the Invisible is 5'5" inches tall with curly brown hair and size 9 shoes. She's often seen wearing a theater mask ring and some of her friends told me she's an accomplished eavesdropper. She also talks very fast and prides herself on being good at following people without being seen, going far as to list stalking as one of her hobbies. Click here to see why Isabel claims she's not the murderer.

Ohana Reads is 5'10" tall with straight dirty blonde hair and size 10 shoes. She is allergic to dogs and is often seen wearing plaid and sporting henna tattoos. Ohana Reads describes herself as aggressive and competitive. Siri told me that Ohana once asked her where she could bury a body. Here's what Ohana Reads has to say about her whereabouts the night of the murder.

Stabby Stacee is 5'9" tall with black hair and black cat-eye Ray Ban glasses. She wears a size 9 shoe and is covered with tattoos, including images from Doctor Who. She always wears a Return to Tiffany sterling silver choker. She often wears Lola by Marc Jacobs perfume and has a Master's Degree in Forensic Science, so basically she knows how to kill people and get away with it. Click here to read her sketchy explanation for why she couldn't be the killer.

@JaimeArkin is 5'8" with brownish red hair and size 10.5 shoes. She allergic to cats but has them anyway (me too!) so she's usually covered in cat hair and also always wears a watch. @JaimeArkin can swear like a truck driver and claims to be both an excellent PhotoShopper and judge of character. She has a tattoo on her left wrist and lists planning as one of her hobbies. She also has a twin sister. Click here to read @JaimeArkin's questionable alibi for the night of the murder.

Here are the possible murder weapons:

Your mission: to determine if Ensconced was:
  1. poisoned with hemlock coffee
  2. strangled with a computer cord
  3. bludgeoned with a big book
  4. mauled by a trained attack cat
  5. shot with Chekhov's gun
  6. stabbed with a sharpened pencil

And here are the three possible locations:

The library has a quiet room, computer area, attached elevator, 
and parking garage. Plenty of spots for a killer to hide!

The local bookstore doesn't seem like a crime scene, but look,
a trained attack cat is just waiting to greet unsuspecting visitors.

This all-night coffee shop has an indoor and outdoor seating section,
and it always too busy for staff to keep track of people coming and going.



Again, once you think you know for sure, here's the link to the form for you to submit your entry.

I'll give you the info I know so far as "starter clues" for Friday.

  • This mystery has no "shocking twists." There is only one killer, one murder weapon, and one location, all of which are listed above. And I'm the only one with the answers >:)
  • The body was found hidden on Twitter, but detectives are positive Ensconced was killed elsewhere, and they are looking into three places she might have gone.
  • Time of death has been estimated to be between 5pm and midnight on March 19th.
  • A few strands of dark hair were discovered on Ensconced's clothing. Forensic investigators are currently working to determine if the hairs belong to Ensconced or to the killer.


1. An MD confirmed both Nurse Pili and Jamie J have severe cat allergies. Neither could've killed w/ an attack cat. #MysteryTwitterTheater

2. Police confiscated laptops from several suspects. Both @jaimearkin and Ri were missing their power cords. #MysteryTwitterTheater

3. The bookstore doesn't allow ANY food or drink inside, so no one could've used coffee as a murder weapon there. #MysteryTwitterTheater

4A. The bookstore clerk told me he remembers Ensconced coming in "sometime after dinner" on Thursday night. #MysteryTwitterTheater

4B. He saw her talking to a woman but can't remember what she looked like, just that she kept checking her watch. #MysteryTwitterTheater

4C. Potentially useful info: Library hours: 9am-9pm Bookstore hours: 10am-10pm Coffee shop hours: Open 24 hours #MysteryTwitterTheater

4D. Possibly useful info: Here's a pic of Ensconced and me from last summer. #MysteryTwitterTheater

5. The library parking garage was closed all week for renovation. There's no way Ensconced or anyone else was in the garage. #MysteryTwitterTheater

6. Both entrances to the library have metal detectors, meaning no one could've sneaked a gun inside. #MysteryTwitterTheater

7. A criminal background check reveals that Stabby Stacee got kicked out of SDCC for fighting w/ another blogger... #MysteryTwitterTheater

8A. A criminal background check reveals Nurse Pili was once accused of slipping Benadryl into a patient's coffee. #MysteryTwitterTheater

8B. Nurse Pili denied the accusations and was found innocent of the crime. #MysteryTwitterTheater

9A. A criminal background check reveals Isabel the Invisible was once kicked out of the mall for suspicious loitering #MysteryTwitterTheater

9B. (just because I forgot to # it, not because it's related to 9A.)
After speaking with each suspect, the police psychologist determined NONE of them would ever use a book as a weapon. #MysteryTwitterTheater

10A. My source says the librarian said no one could've brought a cat in the library w/o a security guard noticing. #MysteryTwitterTheater

10B. But when cops questioned the security guards, one admitted to leaving his post from 8-8:30 PM for a sandwich. #MysteryTwitterTheater

11A. The coffee shop has security cameras overlooking the patio and back entrance. Footage is currently under review #MysteryTwitterTheater

11B. Here's the current view of the patio camera: #MysteryTwitterTheater

12A. BREAKING NEWS: I've just been informed that Chekhov's gun is not a real gun!… #MysteryTwitterTheater

12B. Click that link in 12A and learn stuff :) I *thought* that gun looked fake! It's definitely not the weapon. #MysteryTwitterTheater

13A. My source rode the elevator down w/ the detectives as they left the police station for the night. #MysteryTwitterTheater

13B. He heard them say that according to friends, Ensconced had been receiving threatening phone calls from a woman. #MysteryTwitterTheater

14A. The bookstore manager said that Isabel the Invisible had been banned from the bookstore a few weeks ago. #MysteryTwitterTheater

14B. She was banned for reorganizing the whole YA section by spine color. She definitely hasn't been around. #MysteryTwitterTheater

15. A late phone call confirms that Zachary was at a book signing in Oregon on the night of 3/19. Alibi verified. #MysteryTwitterTheater

16. So the detectives have gone to sleep for a few hours. Let's call this a #MysteryTwitterTheater break. I think we've earned it. Reconvene at 9C tomorrow

Again, if you have questions, put them in the comments. Happy investigating!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Finding Happiness as a Writer: TAKE A BREAK

Time for a happiness hiatus! No, don't stop being happy. Just go take a break and do something fun. Yes, even you high-sacrifice writers. Especially you high-sacrifice writers. No, not after you finish that chapter. Not after you turn in your revisions. Not after you figure out a new title for your 2016 fluffy romance. [That last one might just be me.]

Let's say there's an asteroid rocketing toward Earth at this very moment and it's now or never. Go do that thing you've been wanting to do, whether it's telling that guy you like him [good luck], ordering the pickled duck brains [I hope that's not a real thing] or going kite-boarding in the Columbia Gorge [see you there, maybe!]

I'm sort of happiness-challenged at the moment, so I'm taking a break too. I think I'm just completely drained of fuel. Pre-release is tiring! So I'm going to do something fun and blog about my favorite TV shows for writers. Hey, that's another way you could take a break and even kind of consider it working! #WinWin :) So yeah, if you're not up for risk-taking, kick back and relax with some quality television...

First, no need to reinvent the wheel, so here's Shae's post on why you clearly need to be watching The 100. I looooove The 100, and Shae hits on every reason why it's totally worth checking out.

Bellamy and some random girl from The 100. You can tell I'm a nurse because
my first thought when I saw this was: "Ooooh. Nice veins."

And here's Christina's post on the best TV shows for YA/NA readers. Many of these are Korean. All I have to say to that is 예, which is "yes," but is pronounced sort of like "neeeh", so it sounds like "no." Korean is tough. I think I only learned about 200 words in an entire year of living there, most of which had to do with food. But check out Christina's post and broaden your horizons already :-)

I stole this image from Christina's post. I hope she doesn't send me a yelly email O.O

And then here are some additional shows I recommend for you, especially if you're a writer:


Pretty Little Liars: 
We all know the story right? Four girls from different cliques are bonded by their friendship to Queen Bee Allison, who alternates between being kind and less-than-kind to keep them caught in her web. When Allison is murdered, a mysterious A starts sending all of the girls texts, blackmailing them and threatening to expose all of their dark secrets. The girls band together to fight back, but A is all-knowing and seemingly everywhere. It's a little campy and over-the-top, but Aria, Spencer, Hanna, and Emily all feel both flawed and endearing--and the show is compulsively watchable because you just have to know who A is. I've only seen a couple of seasons, but apparently it's still as addictive as ever. Bonus factors: Aria's wardrobe, Caleb.

Orphan Black:
Orphan Black will hook you from the first five minutes of Episode 1 and never let you go. Teeming with action--car chases, fight scenes, gun battles, etc.--the plot will keep even the biggest adrenaline junkie wired, and every episode manages to end with a cliffhanger that makes you desperate to tune in again. But the real beauty of Orphan Black lies in the amazing character relationships between the main character and her brother and "sisters." And holy hell, you won't believe how many different characters Tatiana Maslany can pull off convincingly. I suspect she might not be completely human ;-) Bonus factors: heady philosophical questions, sisterly love, Paul

How to Get Away With Murder:
Viola Davis knocks it out of the park and a few blocks down with her portrayal of cunning attorney and law professor Annalise Keating. In addition to a weekly procedural angle where Annalise and five of her law students work on interesting cases most lawyers would consider hopeless, there's also an overarching storyline that involves a pair of murders. Someone is a killer and every single character here seems guilty of something. The legal aspects might be fudged a little but the mystery is incredibly addictive and at the completion of Season One I can see this was tightly plotted from the get-go. Super-impressive. Bonus factors: tons of diversity incorporated in a non-agenda-ish way, parallels to LIARS, INC ;)


Veronica Mars:
You guys probably know that the creator of Veronica Mars and cool dude who brought us the movie is Rob Thomas--no not the lead singer of Matchbox Twenty--the YA author who wrote Rats Saw God, among other awesome books. So it only makes sense that the dialogue is this series that features plucky but untrusting and emotionally scarred Veronica would be stellar. Thomas's characters don't just sound like real teens. They sound like real teens you wish you could be saying things you wish you had said. Bonus factors: LoVe, more LoVe.

Friday Night Lights:
Don't mess with Texas, and definitely don't mess with Texas football. Back when I used to go to a lot of conferences, multiple editors recommended this series as a must-watch for writers trying to craft authentic high school dialogue. Sixty-three Emmy nominations and an 8.7 rating on IMDB can't be wrong. Check this one out even if you're not into sports. Bonus factors: realistic portrayal of sports, well-rendered and believable characters.


Dead Like Me:
What's worse than being an eighteen-year-old girl whose life is suddenly and unexpectedly snuffed out by a flaming toilet seat that falls from the space station? Getting the nickname Toilet Seat Girl in the afterlife. Georgia Lass wasn't doing much with her life when it ended, and now she's a grim reaper who doesn't even get paid for putting in long hours guiding souls. This urban fantasy show has fun world-building, but what really makes it shine are the reapers and the way they interact with each other and the dead--especially in Season One. Bonus factors: Mandy Patinkin, hella catchy theme song

Homeland wasn't even on my radar until someone told me Claire Danes played a bipolar CIA agent. My CIA-wannabe book-gf in LIARS, INC. has a personality disorder with some overlap in symptoms, and since I've always wanted to write a spy-themed companion novel, I decided to check out this show just to see how the psychiatric issues are handled. OMG, you guys. The characters here (mostly Carrie and Brody) are amazing. They are so flawed and lifelike and utterly compelling. Sure there's cool espionage stuff and high-action scenes too, but Danes and Damian Lewis make this show. Bonus factors: more Mandy Patinkin, fair and balanced portrayal of both sides


Grey's Anatomy:

This is only show on the list with less than an 8.0 rating on IMDB, and a 7.7 going into its eighth season is pretty dang good. I feel like Grey's gets a bad rap as a "chick show" or soap opera or something, but here's why it's fab:

The writing: Voice-overs usually make me crazy, but each episode's intro and fade out narrative generally contain some of the most moving prose.
The characters: They're mostly doctors so they're all smart, but they also manage to all feel different without being "types." And they grow. I've watched them develop and change from Season One.
The dialogue: It might have lost a little something with the exit of the wonderful Sandra Oh, but the interactions here feel genuine and thought-provoking.
The plot: Shonda Rhimes and crew combine the most high-profile and interesting surgical cases with personal issues ranging from PTSD to abortion to infidelity to terminal illness, usually without making any of it feel outlandish or melodramatic.

So Firefly was pitched to me by a guy who didn't know better as a "space western." Ugh--that sounds like the worst show in the world. I don't like space and I HATE westerns. So I probably never would have watched this if said guy hadn't basically forced me to when I was stuck at O'Hare waiting for a delayed flight. Thanks for dropping the ball, United--Firefly is brilliant!

The writing: Joss Whedon is a genius. Enough said.
The characters: Just your garden variety of space outlaws--a smuggler, an intergalactic courtesan, a doctor, a pastor, whatever the hell Jayne is.
The dialogue: "Can we get to the sexin' up part already?" Quit making me laugh, Jayne!
The plot: I don't even remember if there was an overarching plot beyond "Don't get caught" (the whole River thing I guess?) but the mini-plots and subplots were all so fantastic that it was more than enough.

The Blacklist:

I was intrigued by The Blacklist promos before the show even started, but I never bothered watching it because it looked like just another FBI crime show. Dude, this show is so much more than the usual law enforcement procedural. Special Agent Elizabeth Keene starts her job as FBI profiler and is immediately tasked to a black ops division after a criminal informant named Red Reddington asks to work with her. Red is shady and duplicitous, but he's also protective and kind...and keeping secrets.

The writing: If you can make a fluffy, nice girl like me fall in love with root for a balding hit man and go "awww" at the tender gesture of sending someone a severed head in a box, you're doing it right.
The characters: Red Reddington is horrible, but he's also complex, layered, kind, redeemable. The verbal and emotional dance he and Keene do--strictly platonic--from week to week is the main reason I keep coming back.
The dialogue: Goes from being witty to hilarious to incredibly poignant. The Blacklist makes me gasp and laugh and weep in the span of minutes.
The plot: Like Gray's Anatomy, this show keeps interest levels high by featuring the most interesting and unusual types of criminals in a weekly procedural format, and also incorporating an overarching storyline involving Liz, Liz's husband, Red, and some of Red's criminal acquaintances. Yeah, it can be a little over-the-top, but a realistic FBI show would probably be as dull as a realistic surgical one.

So those are a few of my picks, but I don't watch much TV and I don't have cable, so I realize they're all pretty mainstream. I know there's scads of good stuff out there I've never heard of. Your turn--share your favorite shows in the comments and tell what you like about them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Finding Happiness as a Writer: ESTABLISH A SUPPORT NETWORK

If you’re new to FHaaW, you might want to check out the whole series.

It doesn't really matter if you're high or low control or information or any of that stuff I talked about back at the beginning of the series. Everyone needs support sometimes. It's like that great philosopher Hugh Grant said in the movie About a Boy: "No man is an island." [Yeah, I know Milton or Donne or somebody said that first, but it's just more memorable to me in Hugh's lilting accent. #SorryNotSorry You should totally watch that movie if you haven't. It gave me all the feels.]

Moving on--Less-than-ideal support networks:
  • 95% cats
  • 95% other writers 
  • 95% internet people
  • 95% spouse
Cats might mean well, but they sleep too much and they tend to be shitty conversationalists. However, the word on the street is that having a pet makes you happier. Pets lower blood pressure and cause people to live longer. [Well, provided your pets aren't like mine and trash the living room when you're sleeping and develop bizarre psychiatric illnesses requiring hundreds of dollars of veterinary care when you leave town >_<]

We are here for you, Human. Just speak quietly so you do not wake us up.

But seriously, the best support networks are like...good movie collections. They're diverse in scope and include small doses of reality mixed with larger amounts of comfort and escapism. I know that comparison is really random, but I'm writing this late at night and it's been several hours since I've had coffee, so bear with me. 

Ideally, you want to surround yourself with both writers and non-writers. Writers are great because they understand the finances and disparity and uncertainty of the publishing industry. Writers understand why you check your Amazon rankings forty-two times a day even though your book is still a month away from release and those numbers don't mean much anyway. Writers get why you're sad that your book is spine out at B&N instead of stacked on a table next to Divergent. They can relate to the fears you have that will leave non-writers scratching their heads.

But non-writers are great too, because they're not neurotic and jaded. Non-writers will be quick to point out "Holy crap! Your book is in B&N! Do you know how many people dream about that? You are a rock star!" If you write a book and it makes it to the shelves at B&N, that is actually pretty frickin' awesome and those of us who have made it there should probably take a moment to reflect on that. *takes moment* And if your books aren't in B&N or you're not published yet, the amazing thing is that the shelves at B&N await you. It can happen. It happens to people every week, so why not you? The only way it definitely won't happen is if you quit trying.

I’m not married so maybe I shouldn’t say it’s a bad idea for your spouse to be your whole support network, but that just feels dicey to me. Writing comes with a lot of stress and gripes, but no organized happy hour to vent them. Putting all that (or 95% of it) on one person feels like a recipe for divorce expecting too much.

Writer message boards and online groups/communities can be phenomenal sources of support as well. Some boards have writers from all different stages of publication so when you have questions you can find someone willing to answer them. Sometimes there are even agents and editors on the boards to give you industry insight. The problem is that sometimes these boards can feel like just a huge collection of everyone else’s good news. Because let's face it, just like on FB, we're more likely to post good things than bad. If you’ve just gotten your seventeenth rejection from an agent or editor, reading about everyone else's preempts, movie deals, and starred reviews might be really discouraging.

And then sometimes the boards can flip the other way and turn into an endless horror story of bad reviews, low sales, books getting canceled, getting dumped by publishers, etc. Getting a faceful of bad news all at once can also be psychologically damaging, especially if you are a low-information person. So a good rule of thumb for participating in online and in-person writing communities is this: if doing it is making you feel like crap, quit doing it. In fact, that’s kind of a good rule of thumb for life in general.

**Warning about writer forums** If you're in a writer forum and you don't personally know everyone in the group, please know that the YA publishing community is very tight and you might be interacting with editors, agents, publicists, and other industry employees who are posting and/or writing books under pen names. I know there are still people who don't know I wrote work-for-hire as Fiona Paul. I know one editor who writes under three different pen names. I know there's at least one high-profile NYC agent in a group I'm part of who secretly writes under a pen name. Not that any editor or agent is going to betray your writer-forum trust, but how terrible would you feel to be venting about something someone at your publisher did and then find out his/her best friend/spouse/assistant read it? 

Definitely make use of the bigger groups to get your questions answered, to network when it comes to marketing and promo, and to commiserate and congratulate each other in personal and professional events. But for more emotionally-charged things, I recommend you either join a smaller author group or create your own informal group. I'm a member of the YA Valentines, a fourteen-person author group, and we've all gotten to know each other throughout the past couple of years to the point where our forum is a very safe place for all of us. 

I also send a lot of informal emails to a couple of writers I was lucky enough to meet on tour. The three of us have exchanged emails for years now, and whenever I write one I just cc the other and it's like the three of us are having an ongoing conversation about publishing and life. Like with the Vals, these are people I trust completely. Writing success is a cyclical thing, so inevitably one of us will be selling while the next is struggling while the third is taking a life-break or whatever, but we just kind of take turns supporting and cheerleading for each.

The thing with depending solely on internet people, even awesome ones like I've mentioned above, is that they're internet people. They have their own lives with spouses and kids and jobs and hobbies and those things are always going to come first. You really need to have someone you know will be there in a crisis (a real crisis, not the one where you find out your local library only has one copy of your book and no one has requested it.) So even though I kind of suck at it myself, I recommend building a support network that's a blend of real-life people, electronic people, writers, and non-writers. And cats, for bonus points :D

My friend feels your pain.

The most important quality these people should have is that they don't make you feel bad about yourself. Let's go back to my random movie collection metaphor. Building a good collection isn't just about picking movies that make you smile and feel happy or comforted. It might also be about getting rid of some of the movies you have that aren't a good fit for you any longer. Maybe you don't want to watch that depressing downer of a movie that makes you cry. See where I'm going with this?

We're done, Hachi. All you do is make me cry and cry and cry.
(I'm still kinda mad at my mom for making me watch this.) 

Yep, I'm saying should quit the people who make you feel like crap too. Well, technically you have four choices:
  1. Grin and bear it. I don't recommend this. Life isn't kindergarten. We don't all have to hold hands and sing songs. Everyone is someone else's fingernails on the chalkboard, even me. It's okay for you not to like someone, even if you can't exactly put into words the reason why. Bottling up frustration or anger is only going to give you high blood pressure and/or explode out of you at the worst possible moment.
  2. Tell the offender they're upsetting you, that it makes you feel lousy when they [condescend to you/brag about themselves/talk about how they suck even though they're way more successful than you are/judge you/put down your writing/act like you're crazy to want to be a writer/etc.] and ask if they can try not to do it. Note that you’re calling out a behavior here, not a person. But also note you're essentially asking someone to change in order to save your friendship. It's hard for people to change.
  3. Ask for space. Maybe you've been spending too much time with this person and you just need a break. There's nothing wrong with saying, "I'm feeling stressed. I just need some time to myself." If they're really a true friend, they should respect your wishes and still welcome you back if you choose to return.
  4. Walk away. You don’t have to do this in spectacular fashion with a huge confrontation. Just stop showing up where they do, become too busy for their crit group, be a little slower to respond to their emails, mute them on social media if you need to. And know that it’s okay. You are not a bad person if you don't like everyone. You're just human. Human is good...almost as good as being a cat ;)
Which of the above options you choose should depend on how much you want to keep the offender in your life and whether they're being hurtful on purpose or inadvertently.

If you think someone is belittling you or condescending to you on purpose in order to make you feel small, I would cut that person out of your life without a second thought. And there are writers like this out there. I was in a really harsh critique group when I first started out. It was like everyone took turns telling everyone else how their writing was so terrible they had no chance of ever being published. You stay in a relationship dynamic like that long enough, one of two things happens—you either become a victim or a bully.

But sometimes people can make you feel like crap unintentionally. I had a friend tell me “Wow, all you do is complain. It's like you're totally ungrateful of all the good things in your life.” And honestly, that was a light bulb moment for me, because I had been downplaying my successes and focusing more on my problems with this person because I didn’t want to come across like "Hey, look at me. My life is awesome!" during a period when I knew she was feeling discouraged. I was trying to commiserate with some of the issues she was having, but it turns out I made her feel worse by not acknowledging what I had.

Sometimes it's not intentional or unintentional. Sometimes they're not doing anything--it's just you. I had a friend in nursing school who just inexplicably stood up in the middle of our weekly study group after I answered a question and was like "I just...every word out of your mouth makes me feel terrible." And then she started crying and ran out of the room. And so then I started crying because I was so shocked. And so our mutual friend talked to both of us and I was like "What did I do? What can I do to fix it, C? I really like her. I never meant to make her feel bad." And C was like "You can't fix it, because you didn't do anything wrong. She's stressed about stuff and resents the fact that you're working and still getting really good grades. But that's her problem, not yours."

So yeah, sometimes it's you. But that doesn't change the fact that if you need to walk away then you need to walk away.

Feeling smooshed? It's okay to ask for space.

I know there are some people reading this who will think the option of just quietly walking away is cowardly, that people should be able to talk about problems in a friendship. Again, I guess it depends. If this is a real-life friend you've known for years or someone you're dating/having sex with, yeah, I think you owe it to them to be honest even if it's hard.

But if this is someone you only know through a writer's forum or crit group, there's no need to spill your guts if doing that will stress you out. Some of us are very comfortable with confrontation and others will do anything to avoid it.  People are different--we can't expect everyone to be like us just because that's what we prefer.

Some people, if they forced to choose between suffering in silence and a big drama-filled confrontation, will choose suffering. I don’t want you ever to choose suffering. So walk away, if you need to, temporarily or permanently. Whatever it takes for you to feel better. At the end of the day, the number one person in your support group isn't a friend or a cat or a spouse--it's you. Take care of yourself <3