salted caramel sauce, fantastic books, and challenging your craft through writing
|Nov 7|| 4|
Hii! It’s my first newsletter!! Thank you so much for subscribing, so many of you did in the first day alone! The way these newsletters are going to work is that they’re going to be packed in the best of ways. It has sections so you can read a bit every day, what you need when you need it (or, all in one go!). And if you love it, please do share about it and let me know your thoughts!!
In order, what you can expect:
Updates on my agenting + writer life
a yummy recipe
books + tv show recs
writing pep talk!
links from around town
Basically all of my fav topics, minus, fries and wine… couldn’t quite figure out how to embed those, but you can def read the books / watch the shows I rec while eating fries and drinking wine.
It’s November!? WHAT. I’m fine. You’re fine. We’re all good. (not)
It’s been five months since I became an agent. I had no idea where life would take me when I left my editorial job last December, but I’m so glad I made that step—I love that I get to work more closely with authors and that I get to spend more time with my own writing. I’ve signed 10 amazing clients, so I’m feeling pretty happy with my list as is. Two of my clients already had book deals and those debut novels published with much acclaim: Crier’s War + Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. I’ve also done two amazing book deals (one announced, one not), with more to come this year (fingers crossed…knock on wood), and I’m over the moon.
What am I looking for in my query inbox? In general, I know it when I see it but I do feel I’m looking for less fantasy (I get so much of it, which is great, but I’d like to see other things like I’m craving romcoms and romance novels for all ages as well as horror elements across genres (go dark, but I want to be left with hope…even if the tiniest morsel).
Second, my own writing. Well, I’m going to be talking more about that in today’s craft, pep talk section, but it’s going really well. I’ve pushed through a lot of fears over the past year, and I’ve become stronger and more resilient as a result.
Here’s a snippet from the YA fantasy novel I’ve been working on, that I was revising yesterday. Underworld Book as I’ve called it a few times online. I rarely talk about things that haven’t sold and are still in progress (because details change so much in revisions!), but I’m nearing the end of this revision round and finally know what this book is truly about. I often send the book in chunks and my agents loved part one (they basically had no additional notes on it) so I can’t wait to finish revising and send them the rest.
That’s from the first part of the book, from one of my three POV characters. I have two characters written in first present and one in third past, Favre. She’s the antagonist, or one of them. She’s a fallen angel and a sorceress of sorts who, as a young girl, gave up her wings to follow the woman she was in love with down to earth. She grew up on all the stories about girls who get saved by their true love and live happily ever after and would be the first to tell you that’s not her tale. So, her character arc is like a fairy tale gone wrong. And now she wants revenge on the descendants of those who, in her mind, caused everything to go wrong (my other two POV characters). There’s a lot throughout this book about who we are when the things/labels/people we thought defined us are taken away… I wrote this book for my teen self but it has become just as much for me now.
Those revisions aside, I just wrapped up the second pass of A Phoenix First Must Burn (!!!)—my #BlackGirlMagic anthology that y’all all have definitely pre-ordered, right? It’s out March 10, 2020 (in the US + UK), and I’m so excited. Do save those receipts because there will be a pre-order campaign. I helped Penguin Teen choose the swag you’ll receive and let me tell you, it’s amazing. I’ll also be doing some events to promote the book, but more on all that early next year.
As promised, baked goods.
Or, a yummy sauce.
I love baking. I was my Granny’s little helper growing up, it’s my hobby, my stress relief, all the things, and I love trying new recipes often with the help of my own helper, my 16yo sister <3.
This is one of my FAVORITE recipes. Originally from The Brown Eyed Baker, which I adore, but modified. I use it all the time in apple tarts and pies, drizzled over ice cream, on a spoon… It’s, of course, salted caramel.
I make a large batch before Thanksgiving (for my fav: salted caramel apple pie!). Sometimes I gift it, and then the rest I put in jars so that I have it year-round.
Hair a mess, happy as can be.
I like my salted caramel sauce just a *little* toasty. I LOVE that slight-toast flavor and smell. But listen this is not a thing to make while multi-tasking. Okay, I suppose you’re not me who almost burnt down her apartment in the two seconds it takes to open a bottle of wine, still… keep an eye on it.
2 cups white sugar
12 tablespoons of butter (room temp…cut into cubes)
1 cup of heavy cream (room temp)
1 tablespoon of a flaky sea salt (I rarely use a full tablespoon more like I add/stir/taste repeat until it’s the right amount for me.)
Basically you’re going to do the sugar first, in a pan, medium-high heat…it’s gonna get clumpy and that’s fine, just keep whisking until it fully melts to a deep reddish-brown, amber color and it’s gonna smell toasty. Like your kitchen will smell amazing. Do not multitask at this point because I have gone through like 3 batches so fast here—it can burn so fast. Add the butter, it’ll probably bubble up, just calmly whisk until smooth. If you feel like it’s getting too hot at any point during the recipe, modify the heat. Then you add the salt. And like I said most recipes call for a tablespoon but I’m all about tasting as you go, if it’s too salty it’s gross so add a little bit and then taste and modify as needed.
Let cool, put into cute jars! Perfect to gift and store in the fridge for all your late night snacking. YAY.
I got books.
BOOKS I’VE RECENTLY FALLEN IN LOVE WITH
Been reading a lot of romance. I HIGHLY recommend Sarah MacLean’s books (Akshaya Raman rec’d it, she has the best book taste). Recently had a cold for over a week and was like will I ever be better again I need pure fun to distract me, so I read 5 of her books while recovering. Brazen and the Beast (#2 of The Bareknuckle Bastards (best series title!)) is one of my favs and since it just came out this summer, I’m mentioning it here. You have this woman who wants to run (& should be running) her father’s business now that he’s retired but she’s a woman so he’s like no, imma give it to your idiot brother so she’s like imma prove myself but first I have to lose my virginity so that I’m properly ruined and there’s no future for me as a married woman so that you give me the business and y’all…it’s so damn good. It’s sexy and hilarious. I was CRACKING UP. The dude is a total bad boy with a heart of gold. And her best friend is a very gay lady who deserves her own book.
Second, Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust. I loved her first book, it’s a feminist queer girl Snow White retelling. And then her editor sent me GST, her second novel, and I was blown away. It’s like Laini Taylor a la Daughter of Smoke and Bone re: language mastery. So impressed. Part fairy tale, takes inspiration from Persian myths, and so much badass girl who will make her own way. It’s about a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch, who lives hidden safe only in her gardens (as she can touch plants), who discovers what power might lie in such a curse... This is one of my fav early (non-spoilery) snippets:
Soraya bent down, digging with her hands into the soil to create a home for her new rose. From the corner of her eyes, she saw the beetle still making its laborious way across the garden. Soraya watched it, this intruder to her sanctuary. And then she reached out and brushed one tip along its smooth back.
The beetle stopped moving, and Soraya went back to her work.
I was SCREAMING. By that point, which is the end of chapter one, I was in love. I even loved the prologue, and I usually hate prologues—but this prologue is up there with my immense love for The Cruel Prince’s prologue. One of my most enjoyable reads in a while. The (STUNNING) cover reveal post includes an except of the prologue, so def check it out. It’s out next June and you can pre-order now.
BOOKS I JUST RECEIVED
Got ARCs of Lori M. Lee’s Forest of Souls (first in a series, yay!) and Shveta Thakrar’s Star Daughter (a debut! a standalone!) last week. Not only are both covers STUNNING, but I’ve read versions of both and they’re as beautiful inside out. Definitely support these two 2020 YA fantasy titles (by two women of color!!).
BOOKS I’M HIGHLY ANTICIPATING
I am a big Julie C. Dao fan. Yes, she’s a friend. But I also really love her writing (I don’t think you need to love someone’s writing to be friends but of course it’s amazing when that happens). Her third book, Song of the Crimson Flower takes inspiration from Vietnamese folklore and, though a standalone, includes some favorite characters from her previous novels (I love standalone novels set in the same world!!). Just published this Tuesday. Read this fab review of it here then go get it!
I recently re-read Tasha Suri’s adult fantasy novel Empire of Sand—there is truly nothing else in the market like what she’s doing. And, I’m so excited that her next adult fantasy book, Realm of Ash, is out next week. It’s also a standalone novel set in the same world, but they don’t have to be read in order! (That said, Empire of Sand is on Kindle sale for $2.99.) It follows Arwa—a woman whose blood has power, a disgraced prince, and the journey they have to undertake to save their empire that’s both plagued with a curse and secrets. Much like the first book I’m expecting examinations of how loss affects our life (Arwa is a widow), romance, amazing magic and world-building as well as lots of hope. And I’m certain it will deliver.
Writing breaks are important! It’s character building inspiration, okay!
The Protector on Netflix. Perfect combo of a non-white/western chosen one tale, lost artifacts quests, secret orders, and history affecting the present day, all set in Istanbul (the show is Turkish and has 2 season up, with 3 + 4 in the works).
The Hookup Plan. THE BEST friendship show/romcom. Girl gets setup on a date by her friends so that she can get over her ex…only to find out that her friends purposefully hired a male escort. It surpasses every comp you’re thinking of to become something wholly original while playing into fav tropes, of course. Her friends have their own arcs too. Also, it’s set in Paris <3. (Yes, I discovered it while in Paris, and season 2 is up now).
Peaky Blinders. Just started last month. One of the best written shows. Cillian Murphy is gorgeous. The women are so well-crafted. Gangsters. Romance. Gangsters. Family Drama. Sibling angst. Starts just after WWI. Really shows the affect of war on people + a family + society. So good. It’s up on Netflix, too. 5 seasons currently, it’s expected to have at least 7. And it’s British (yes, lol, I barely watch American shows).
Schitt’s Creek OMG I JUST STARTED AND AM OBSESSED. Okay probably most of you are already watching this but also… if not, dooo it. I’ve found my clone in David.
Pep Talk Time
Or, writing and doing the things that scare you.
Alright so it’s NaNoWriMo. No, I’m not participating. I don’t write books in a month, it makes me anxious to try (so don’t feel bad if it’s not for you!), but I am a strong believer of dream it, make time to do it, and I love that NaNoWriMo embodies that. So I hope this is inspirational for all you writers out there to never give up. Also, if you’re looking for something more low-key than NaNoWriMo check out Claribel Ortega’s #FinishURBookFall (+ pre-order her book…I worked on it as one of my first editorial projects, so trust me you want it!).
If you ask me when I started writing, I’ll say I’ve been writing forever. It really does feel like that. Some of my earliest memories are of me writing, they’re of me creating worlds and telling stories. Writing is this beautiful, both intimate and public, thing that you can pour your entire soul, your entire essence and being into. But then, as I’m sure many of you have learned, publishing is a business. And that becomes so clear the moment you write that first batch of query letters and send them out and then oh, no one wants your story. At least that’s what it can feel like, right?
But sometimes the business side of the industry becomes clear before that moment. When you’re online, when you’re so excited about your idea and then see a tweet that says, fantasy is crowded and hard to sell, paranormal is dead and never coming back, YA sci-fi is impossible to break-out. And you’re like, oh, but that’s what I’m writing. So, does no one want my story?
My friends know me as someone they can come to for real talk that ends in hope, like I’m going to call you out when you mess up and I’m not going to lie when things will be hard, but I’m always going to tell you to pursue your dreams and that I believe in you. It’s so fascinating to me…weird, how I can give that love to others…how it’s easy for many of us to pass along that same hope and realness but not keep it for ourselves.
I started querying in 2012. I wrote a book. I revised that book and then I was like okay it’s amazing and I queried it. A lot. No one wanted it. I’m not even sure if I received a single personalized rejection for it. Hilariously, years later, through a series of events when I was talking to an agent when I was an editor she found one of my old queries in her inbox and was like this is formatted so well, pitch sounds great, whatever happened with it? Well, I trunked it.
It was this story that held so much of me and I trunked it because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you have something you love that you tried to revise that you sent out again and again but no one wanted. You’re supposed to say your goodbyes, put it away, and move on. Right?
So, I did, move on. Two more times.
Each time, I wrote a book I really believed in. I revised it until critique partners and beta readers thought it was ready and then I sent it out into the world.
The second book I wrote got into Pitch Wars. I was so freaking excited. Like well, surely this is it. I revised with my mentor and then nothing. Not a single request.
I nearly gave up then. So many people had told me that that was the one. I even had someone who read it draw me fan art of the main character, I mean when I say I thought that book would be published I really did. I again felt like no one wanted that story, plus the market for kidlit sci-fi was apparently hard, and so after a while I gave up.
The third one was like actually really great, but guess what? Paranormal had just happened so guess what… Well, I actually got full requests this time but ultimately everyone passed. Love your writing, paranormal is dead, they kept saying. Send me what you write next.
At this point I actually did stop writing for over a year. I was just so over it. I was like, clearly my shit is shit.
During that time, while also trying to balance a hard job I got this idea for a book. I was really nervous because, well, I seemed to have the bad luck of always writing in the wrong genre at the wrong time and here I had this idea for a fantasy (which is a staple genre even if “crowded”) but with vampires (a dead one). So I was like okay, if I’m going to do this I have to level up my craft. I went back through all my past rejections, combed through for any with any feedback and tried to find the commonalities between them and spent time working on my craft to improve in those areas. Ultimately, that book idea frightened me, I didn’t want to take a chance, I was like no way I can do this. I’m writing something else that I love, but isn’t as close to my heart, and I’m going to query that.
Fast forward: Went to a conference as an editor, met an agent there, we got to talking and through a series of events (basically lots of talking about horror and vampires and books), he asked about my writing and I sent him the book I was going to query but, on a whim, I also sent him part of the vampire fantasy (the book I was too scared to write & query). He loved it. He signed me. It took me five years to get an agent.
That was two and a half years ago. In that time, I became an acquiring editor, A Phoenix First Must Burn sold, parted ways with that agent (I talk about that here), signed with new agents, became disillusioned with the book industry (felt like the industry didn’t want the oftentimes queer and poc books I wanted to edit + became depressed), left my job to write full time, had to do lots of anthology story edits + write my own story and intro for the anthology, came to terms with the person I am and want to be, and started a new job (i.e. reentered the book industry on my own terms). So, to say I’ve been working on this book constantly throughout that time is quite a massive lie. But I have been working on it and I’m nearing the end of this revision round, which I think is truly close to the end, and I’m in love with it.
It is without a doubt the most ambitious thing I’ve written to date. I could’ve easily given up on it. When I parted ways with my first agent and queried again, the first response I got from my query letter was love your writing…can you write something else (without paranormal elements). Ultimately, the agents I signed with were the last ones to offer and they had the most notes and they loved it and the prospect of working with me—I could feel that love.
I’m so glad that I did sign with them because this book is so different from even the version I queried, it’s stronger in every way, it’s much closer to the vision I first had of it. In part, because my skill level was not where it needed to be when I started writing it.
I taught myself how to write this book.
I became the writer this book needed me to be.
This book made me the writer I am today.
I think that for too long I let others tell me what I could achieve. I let others say things like, oh this isn’t selling well and because of that I believed less in those books and when I got passes (or didn’t get Pitch Wars requests) it only served to reinforce the idea that those books were a “hard sell” that I should write something else and so I did.
With A Phoenix First Must Burn, I had no idea if such a thing would be desired, I was definitely scared it wouldn’t be. I had that idea a long time ago. But I pushed it off until finally I decided that if I wanted something like that in the world I would need to do it myself. And I think that desire, how much I believed in it, how much I felt my younger self needed it, became infectious in that my passion spread to others, to the now contributors, to my then agent, to the editors I spoke to who offered on it. We sold that anthology at a massive auction, and that gave me the confidence to quit a job that I felt trapped and held back in, to take a leap of faith (it is important to add that the main reason I felt comfortable leaving my good salary and amazing health care insurance job is because I only have to take care of myself..if you want to talk writing full time, I have thoughts, ask me on Twitter).
I can’t guarantee that you believing in yourself will yield instant results, but I can say that if didn’t start ignoring what others had to say and start listening to me, I wouldn’t be where I am now. And I’m really happy about where I am now. I don’t feel as rushed as I used to, I’m taking the time I need to take, it took me five years to get an agent and six to find the right ones and, looking back at that, it was worth it. Everything I’ve written up to now, has only made me stronger.
Too often we stop ourselves before we start.
Too often, we’re in a rush to get published that we forget that our job is to improve, to challenge ourselves, to write seemingly impossible things—to write books that scare us.
Everyone’s path is quite different. You’re going to see a lot of friends get published, get things you want before you. It hasn’t been easy for me at many times because of that. I felt slow…behind. I felt like things in my work and personal life were slowing me down. But that’s just life. As a writer, we have to learn to write around life vs. shaping our life around writing. You can’t just stop living and write. Your writing will suffer. Been there, done that.
I used to ask myself why I didn’t start something else, something easier, something that could’ve been published by now. (Haha, is any book ever truly easy?) But something easier wouldn’t be this book I love so much that I even on my bad days, I want to work on. Want to work on is key because sometimes I don’t actually work on it—sometimes my anxiety is flaring and I want to but I can’t write. Sometimes I just want to sit and watch tv or read or spend time with family/friends. There’s this misconception that we always have to be writing, that we should feel guilty for not writing. I learned to forgive myself for not writing and that may have been when I was the strongest of all. I forgave myself for breaks, I learned to release that guilt. Breaks are the underrated part of the writing process. Embrace them, take them often before you burn out (trust me, I’ve been there too).
I observe so many writers talking about the books of their heart. The books they will write later in their career after building a fan base after their publisher can’t so no to their “very weird” idea. I worry that there’s a danger in later and after. It can become a false promise, a dream never fulfilled. Yes, there’s a benefit in honing your craft, in waiting until you’re ready. (I still have stories I’m waiting to write or rewrite.) But also, sometimes you have to leap and stop standing in your own way. How do you know when? Trust your gut. The voice deep down where your true desires lie.
So much can change with “the market” in a year or two, so much can stay the same. Don’t write to trends, but also don’t not write a book because it’s trendy now and you’re afraid it won’t be when you’re done. Yes, industry people on Twitter might be saying your genre is “crowded” but that doesn’t mean you give up on your book, it means you write a stronger, better book. It’s possible my book won’t sell, but it’s given me the confidence to believe in writing and that has been invaluable. The next thing I write will be even better than this.
I think that sometimes we’ll always have our fears. But we owe it to ourselves, to our stories, to the person we’re writing for (which may be yourself, for me it often is) to write that scary thing anyway. To embrace our fears, to say I see you I recognize you and I am afraid of all of those things and so much more but I love this book I believe in it and I need to write it no matter the outcome. So come and sit beside me—if you don’t want to leave, fine, but I’m not either.
Eventually that fear will hear you. It will become smaller, grow quieter in your head as you write that book you’ve desired, the one you always knew you could.
I’m writing the book I couldn’t give up on, a book that often still scares me, that in many ways changed my life. I so hope that you write yours and that you never give up on it—or yourself.
Post from around town.
Leigh Bardugo did this badass interview on Bustle, for Ninth House’s publication, and it’s a must read. This quote is a sampling of what’s in store; it gave me all the best feels.
I don't believe that I should have to put [my trauma] on display to justify writing a novel. I'm disturbed by the performances we require of women authors.
It’s NaNoWriMo, so more pep talks are always great. Here’s one from Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s both funny and moving, it’s her Ted Talk on your creative genius, and it’s my go to when I’m feeling down.
This Dan Levy GQ profile is everything. He talks about working on his craft and his writing fears and how he ended up doing Schitt’s Creek. (Thanks for sending, Stephanie Stein! She’s an excellent editor to follow on Twitter btw!)
Writing is a process, brainstorming, breaks and rewriting are all part of that! (This one’s from Claribel Ortega, thanks!!. Again a must follow…she keeps it real and actively posts about her own writing process)
That’s it! Thanks for reading! See ya next month! In the meantime, I’m around for questions, book + tv show gushing, and all the things.
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