Monthly Archives: October 2014

in which my book gets a new title

When I was a kid, my family got a dog, a big, broad-shouldered Alaskan malamute who came to us from the shelter with the name Dozer.

“Dozer?” we all said.

“Yes,” they told us. “Because he’s built like a boulder and enjoys barreling into people’s legs with the force of a Medieval battering ram.”

“We’ll take him,” we said.

And take him we did. But the name Dozer had to go. As nutburgers as this dog was, he was not a Dozer. It just didn’t feel right.

So we decided to call him Babe. That lasted approximately twenty minutes, at which point he decimated my mother’s garden with unbridled and unapologetic enthusiasm. “Not Babe,” we said.

Then we called him Yoda, because he had a wrinkly forehead, and because the MT and I were both in the throws of what we now call The Star Wars Years1. But this dog, we soon discovered, was not wise in a Yoda-esque sense. Instead, his intelligence was more of the Anakin Skywalker variety—keen and cunning and often involved working the system and operating outside the law. Rising bread dough left on a counter that we assumed was far out of his reach? Reachable. Lunch left overnight in a zipped backpack? Unzipped. Rat poison cleverly hidden in the back garden? Found2.

Then he ate my Queen Amidala action figure, a final gesture of defiance against his namesake. “Not Yoda,” we all said.

So we decided to call him Max. I don’t remember why. Max. Max. We said it a lot and called him a lot and got used to the sound of that name on our tongues.

“Max,” we said and somehow it just fit.

Like dogs, all books need a name. A good name, a name that is representational of the story within them and just feels right. And like dogs, sometimes you have to go through a few names for a book before you land on the perfect one.

The original title of my novel, THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING, was not quite right. It was cool sounding, but not quite right for this book and how my publisher wants to position it. I know, I know, it’s hard to say goodbye to an old, familiar title3 but I think we have a newer, sleeker, sexier title that I am really excited about.

Which is the main point of writing this—my book has a new title! And I get to share it with you now! The book, formerly known as THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING, will now be called….

THIS MONSTROUS THING

Creepy, right? It sounds very Gothic and dark and a little chilling, which is about how I would describe my book. I’m still turning it around in my mouth and my brain and trying to get used to it, but I’m excited. Damn that’s gonna look good on a cover.

And much like Max4, it just sort of…fits.

  1. It was also about the time that MT dressed up as Yoda for Halloween and was so dedicated to the outfit that she asked my mom to sew together the fingers on her green gloves so she’d only have three, just like Yoda. All our pictures from that Halloween have the MT flashing the perpetual Spock fingers.
  2. This happened twice. And that dog survived. He was apparently made of steel. Perhaps we should have named him Indestructible.
  3. I’m primarily mourning the loss of the companion cookbook I was going to write, THE SHAODW BOYS ARE BAKING.
  4. Rest in peace, old boy. You were a king among psychotic, manic dogs with anger management issues.
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The Road Thus Far: Being On Submission

Welcome back to the Road Thus Far, an honest chronicle of what happens after you sell your debut novel.

Things in novel land have been going well lately. Some big exciting things are beginning to happen, things beyond just me staring at a computer screen, so this is all starting to feel alarmingly real. At this point, around a year before publication, I am starting to see marketing plans, cover ideas, and jacket copy. I also got my author photo sorted, which is a whole other blog post.

But this week, I am going to back track and talk about what it’s like to be on submission.

If you are not a writer currently chasing publication, you might not know what it means to be  ‘on submission’. Submission is the term for the period of time while your manuscript has been submitted to publishers—either by you or your agent—and is being considered by editors for actual publication. It is essentially the step before the signing of the book contract, and involves a lot of waiting, obsessive email checking, and alternately playing out worst case scenarios and dreamy fantasies about seven figure book deals and bestsellers. And then it usually involves a lot of rejection, and hearing all the reasons your book is not suitable for publication.

In short, submission SUCKS. It sucks. It never gets better, it never gets easier, it just sucks.

I struggle with bad anxiety. My mother likes to remind me that everyone has anxiety, but I’ve also polled enough people in my life to know that my anxiety often goes above most definitions of normal. It can be overwhelming and impossible to deal with. It can also be irrational, merciless, and consuming.

When my novel went on submission in May of this year, I knew exactly what to expect because I’d already done it once before—I’d had another novel on submission for almost a year with dozens of publishers.

And none of them wanted it.

It was crushing. And made it incredibly difficult to access my rational side when my second book went out.

After two weeks of being on submission and being so anxious about it that my anxiety started to manifest in physical symptoms, I decided I needed to do something. A technique that sometimes works for me when I deal with anxiety is writing letters from my rational self to my irrational self. It gives me a chance to unapologetically access the calm pieces of my brain and let it speak to the part of me that is freaking out.

So this is the letter I wrote to myself while I was on submission, with the note “read this if your book doesn’t sell” on it. Obviously my book did sell, but I still read it when I am freaking out sometimes, because there are things in it that apply to absolutely every step I have gone through—from being a first drafting, clueless writer to querying for an agent to submission to now going through the perils that accompany a book coming out. I hope other writers—no matter where you are in the process of writing or publishing—will find something in it. Or at least know you are not alone in your crazy.

Dear Self,

So your manuscript didn’t sell.

Knowing you, you are distraught over this and throwing yourself a big old pity party. Justified. You can be upset for like two minutes. Okay, maybe twenty minutes. But then you have to get up, turn off the sad music, and listen to me, rational Mackenzi, who you are currently incapable of accessing.

Does it suck that your book didn’t sell? Yes.

But here’s what that does not mean:

  1. It does not mean that this is a bad manuscript or that it was a waste of time and emotional energy to write it. Think about what you learned from working on it. SO MUCH. You will never be as bad as you were before you wrote this book. You are getting better with every book you write.
  2. And on the note of getting better, not selling does not mean you are a bad writer.
  3. This does not mean you will never, ever be published.
  4. You are not letting anybody down because this book didn’t sell. Not your agent. Not your professors. Not your critique partners or writing group.
  5. And not yourself either, because you wrote the best book you could write. You pulled no punches and took no prisoners. Not selling does not change this or cancel out the hard work or lessen in any way that this is the best work you can create at this point in your life.
  6. You aren’t accountable to anyone, unless you let this stop you.
  7. Sometimes books sell in two days. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes they never sell. Sometimes great writers have long and winding paths to seeing their words in print. The amount of time you are on submission or the number of manuscripts it takes is not a reflection of the quality of that work or your talent.
  8. Market trends and in-house factors suck, but are also totally valid and out of your control. Sometimes awesome books don’t sell for reasons that have nothing to do with their awesomeness.
  9. YOU DO NOT SUCK! As a writer or a person. It is so easy and comfortable to believe you do. Far easier than having confidence in yourself. Also remember that you have so much time to pursue this dream, or you will die young and this will be published posthumously and you will become a NYT Bestseller and you will be remembered as a tragic, misunderstood young genius. Win-win. This is not the last good idea you will ever have. This is not the only project you will ever care about. This is not the only thing you will ever be proud of creating.

Not selling does not equal failure. Not trying again or letting yourself fall apart over this does.

Chin up, sunshine. It will happen.

Love, Rational Mackenzi

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in which I travel to Switzerland

Hullo, I have returned! Did you miss me? Or maybe the more appropriate question should be, did you notice I was gone?

If you follow me on any other social media or know me at all in real life, you will recall that I spent that last few weeks of blissful Alpine joy in Switzerland.

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My long-suffering roommate Marx and I wanted to celebrate the completion of our respective graduate degrees, and Marx had some well-placed connections to free lodging there so we ended up spending a couple of weeks traveling from one end of the country to the other.

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Switzerland is great, my friends—natural, rustic beauty like you can’t process and everything’s so freaking quaint it looks like Disneyland, but real!—but more than that, traveling is great. I haven’t been on a trip like this, with just me and a passport and a backpack—since I lived in England. And it reminded me how utterly sensational it is to go somewhere new and experience new places and people who don’t speak the same language as you or share the same culture or life experiences or view from their backdoor.

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I chose this picture with me in it just to prove I did not Google “Gorgeous pictures of Switzerland” and then paste them here.

Travel wrap up blogs are always the hardest for me to write. Mostly because traveling is a tremendous experience. It fills you up and overwhelms you with the vastness of everything. There should be a million things to say, but instead I sit down to write and all I can think to say about Switzerland is the same things I was saying while I was there, which can mostly be summarized as “HOLY CRAP LOOK AT THOSE MOUNTAINS. LOOK AT MORE MOUNTAINS! AND THAT COW IS WEARING A BELL!”

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So Switzerland. It was sensational. We saw Zurich, Lucerne, Berne, Gruyere, Schynige Platte, Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Montreux, Laussane, Geneva1, and a host of other peaks, valleys, and scenic overlooks in between. Lots of hiking. Lots of train and cable car and cogwheel railroad riding. Lots of cheese and chocolate eating. Lots of ogling the Alps and meandering through countryside and struggling to process the beauty and listening to the cows jingle like wind chimes.

And now we return to reality2.

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  1. Stay tuned for a coming photo essay/sort of normal essay/basically a blog post about Geneva, which is the city where my novel is set and where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, the book upon which mine is based.
  2. Sorry for all the pictures3.
  3. I am not sorry.
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