The good and bad of The Queen of England: Coronation.

First of all, the book is finished!  Like, really and truly done.  I’ve sent it off to be formatted, which means publishing is imminent (I’m thinking August 1st, as I’ll be away at the end of next week and believe that it’s rude to my book to press ‘publish’ and then dash off to Amsterdam to ignore it for 5 days).

As I read through the Queen, I realize I wanted to complete a bit of mindfulness/reflection.  Throughout the process, I don’t think I’ve been as fair as I could’ve been to myself (or my book).  So, I’ve been writing novels since roughly 2004 or so.  And, let’s face it, my first efforts were a bit basic.  When I started the Queen, I specifically wanted to take on certain specific challenges.  Was I successful?  I guess only time will tell.

So, as someone who literally just finished reading this manuscript, what’s good?  What’s not-so-good?

  • Diversity!  When I started a book set in Victorian England, I knew this topic was going to be an uphill battle, however, I tried my best.  I’ve included a bi-racial prince, a young man with a disability (not that it slows him down in the slightest), a gay character, and a female love interest for my female protagonist.  Now, I realize I do not deserve any awards for adding these elements, but it was important for me to a least try and include something more obvious than a bunch of straight white people running around.  Future books will see other important characters of different backgrounds.
  • All the ladies!  While probably not entirely in line with historical accuracy, I wanted women to have positions of power (besides the obvious Queen of England).  Women of all ages drive much of the trilogy, and that was something I consciously decided on.  Don’t worry, the lads have their time, but women are mainly driving the (omni)bus.
  • It moves.  If there is a hallmark of my novels, it’s that they read ‘fast.’  I started reading my book on Wednesday (sent to my Kindle), and at close to 80,000 words (yes, a few too many for traditional YA, but that’s the beauty of self-publishing), I’m already 45% through (and this is having to stop every few pages for the most minor of changes).  While I’m sure there’s a subplot of two I could’ve tightened up, I think it would be easy to read this book in a day or two.
  • Growth.  I’d like to believe there is some development in a few of the characters (most especially the protagonist).  At a minimum, Queen Juliette is not the same person she is at the start of the book.
  • It’s engaging.  I think the book pulls an audience in.  Hopefully, it maintains their interest.
  • There are a few funny and memorable lines.  As an author, it’s always fun to stumble over a sentence and be all, “I wrote this?”

Now, certainly no book is perfect, and here’s what I think still needs work (even though I am totes going to get this thing published because enough already).

  • I wish more of my scenes passed the Bechdel test.  Even as hyper-aware as I am of it, and as much as I’ve tried to include women (of all ages and backgrounds), there are a number of scenes which don’t pass… At least in this book.  In Books 2 and 3 I do much better.  My defense — if I have any — lies in the fact that the Queen is mainly surrounded by men, such that when she is around other young women she has to get a few things off her chest.  I really can’t blame her.
  • I still love adverbs.  My undying love of many words that end in -ly can be seen as weak writing, but I can accept this fate.  Let’s just call it ‘my style.’
  • I will forever need work on my physical descriptions of characters.  Forever and ever.  It’s tough because I can picture them so well, but I guess readers can’t really see into my brain.  #authorproblems
  • More steampunk elements.  Having read a great deal of steampunk literature in the past two years, I know it can be done very well and that it can be quite distracting.  While my novel actually qualifies more as gaslamp fantasy, steampunk is a much more broadly known and accepted term.  I already fear the Goodreads reviews of ‘THIS ISN’T STEAMPUNK.’  While I do love the world building of some authors, for me, I feel the novel has a good balance of some alternate history, steampunk-ish details, and the supernatural.

Phew.  Okay, I’ll take today off and get cracking on editing Book #2 tomorrow!

‘Cooking’ a book.

I do love Chuck Wendig’s insights.  When I stumbled across on this (semi) recent post, it rang completely true with me.  For example, I currently have two novels which are ‘cooking’ — one, The Queen of England: Ascension (still not sure about this title, but I’m getting there) and two, A.U., an unwritten adult contemporary novel I would publish as Ann Benjamin.  These two projects are in very different stages of the writing process.  Book 3 of my trilogy is a finished rough draft (completed in May 2017).  I haven’t thought that much about it since the end of May.  I don’t plan on thinking about it again until maybe August, or even later.  I could look at it now, but I would rather push forward for the second draft of Book 2 (it just makes sense to go chronologically).  Does it mean I love Book 3 any less?  It does not.  Am I procrastinating a bit?  Sure, but I’ve got plenty on my plate at the moment and am happy to let the book more or less exist in my outer consciousness for awhile.

A.U. (working title) is an idea I came up with last year.  Like two other books, it’s really just floating around in my head.  I’ve verbalized the plot to a few people (who showed interest), but that’s as far as the process has moved.  I’ve managed to start pulling a few titles I need to read as research, and have thought of what the first chapter might sound like, but not too much more.  Although, funnily enough, I can already picture exactly what the cover of the book is going to be.  When will I start this one?  I do think I’ll get going at some point in 2017.  Perhaps, even, my first attempt at NaNoWriMo.

Mr. Wendig reveals that he’s had a project simmering for 3 years, which seems entirely fair.  Sometimes life gets in the way.  Sometimes characters get in the way.  Or, as Elizabeth Gilbert explained once, sometimes ideas/creative energy are meant for other authors.  As entertained/successful as I want to keep my muse, I have to respect that ideas I have and have done nothing with might go back into the ether (including, but certainly not limited to the Count of Monte Cristo project, an adaptation I’ve had since roughly 2002).

Stephen King, in ‘On Writing’ uses the ‘put it in a drawer’ analogy for this theory.  Although I see other authors pushing out books with frightening speed, for me, I need books to go in the imaginary drawer (be it Google Drives or somewhere in my brain) for a certain amount of time.  I usually know when it’s time to come out.

(I totes look like this when I’m cooking (or writing)).

How long do you ‘cook’ creative projects for?  Do have one longer than 15 years?  Please make me feel better.

On being precious, or, a bad case of fear and the ‘what ifs?’

Ugh. Please, not this.


As you are probably aware, I have a completed book ready to publish (actually, I have four that are finished and awaiting further editing, but I digress).  While I thought The Queen of England: Coronation was done previously, now I think it’s ready.  While I’m not 100% enamored with the cover, I do believe that it’s good enough to get the job done.  The real problem?  This is what I’ve been working on since I left the ‘real world’ last year.  This is THE thing I said I was going to do.  This is more than my other books, all of which were written, edited, and published while I was working full time.  In my mind, there has always been so much more pressure on the Queen trilogy.

It’s not a big secret that I’ve always wanted to support myself through my writing.  Not wildly successful, but enough that would justify this break I’m having with traditional employment.  I want to be proud of myself when I log into my Amazon author page and see there are plenty of pages read and books bought.  I want to see reviews (good or bad).  I would love to see fan art or fan fiction (yes, really).  I want to see people add my book on Goodreads.  I don’t care about awards, but I do want Juliette to find an audience with someone (I think she deserves that much).  I’ve read plenty of YA to know where I fit into the pack, but I also know I am not the worst (nor am I the best).  I am someone who, on paper, should have some success.  But…

What if I don’t?

What if it fails?

What if it fails epically?

What if no one buys it?

What if people hate it?

What if I’ve been wasting my time?

Do I deserve to call myself an author if no one reads my stuff?

What if the money I’ve put towards editors, etc. have been for nothing?

Yes, of course, I was always going to write this book, but what if writing (for me) will never amount to more than an (expensive) hobby?  What then?  Will that be enough for me?

At what point do I say, ‘no one wants to read what you’re writing, so just stop it already?’ (Probably my biggest fear).

The worst part is, of course, there are no answers to any of these questions.  I won’t know until I publish, but until I publish, then they are not possible.  I have Schrodinger’s manuscript at the moment (if you will).

I still can’t pick a specific day to publish, but I think it will be this month.  I’m not sure if I will feel relief or disappointment or (what I’m really hoping for) motivation to continue on and be excited about publishing the remainder of the series.

Out of jail.

The year is over, as is the wait.

I am out of Amazon jail and hope to remain that way (at least I can get the Queen published).

I don’t have super high hopes for what my inclusion back into KDP Select means or how it’s going to completely impact my sales, but I am glad that more readers will now have access to my books.

And on that note, I feel the correct celebration is one for my most recent protagonist, Liz, and the opening of the Museum of Ice Cream — a location she definitely would’ve visited in Los Angeles (well, when she wasn’t so comfortable tucked away at the Winchester).tumblr_oh35m8gto21u9ooogo1_540

One Year Later.

So, in November 2015, I wrote a list of goals for my ‘sabbatical’ year in 2016 (yup, that’s just how Type A I am).  Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that a year ago was my last day at NYUAD.  I thought it would be fun to dust off the original post and see what I had accomplished and where things were different.

  1. Edit 1st draft The Queen of England: Coronation
    1. Complete!
  2. Edit final draft The Queen of England: Coronation (to be complete at 75-80k)
    1. Complete!
  3. Publish The Queen of England: Coronation (and all that goes with it!)
    1. Nope.  Because of a number of reasons, I’m sticking to the fact that the book is nearly in its final form, but not completely there.  I have also not done nearly enough to support the book for marketing and promotion,
  4. Complete rough draft The Queen of England: Grand Tour (60K minimum, 15K complete).
    1. Complete!
  5. Edit 1st draft Lucky Penny (35-40k)
    1. Lol.  I didn’t even open the project once.
  6. Complete 1st draft The Queen of England: Grand Tour (pending time, energy and motivation)
    1. By December I was at least 100 pages into the first draft and as of now, am closing in on the completed first draft.
  7. Start rough draft A.U. (pending time, energy and motivation)
    1. Another lol — how much writing was I going to do exactly?  This will most likely be a project I get to later this year.
  8. Update all YA projects with back material
    1. Complete!
  9. Update Room 702/Life After Joe with back material
    1. Complete!
  10. Finish the pilot of DINKs (25-30 pages, screenplay)
    1. Lol, j/k.  Another one not opened.
  11. Drabbles for the Queen trilogy (January 2016).
    1. Complete!
  12. Maybe come up with a new cover for The Line (celebrating 10 years in February!).
    1. Realized the book is actually celebrating ten years THIS year and have not done anything.
  13. Follow up on the 94176128391 websites, articles and posts I have tagged to follow up as research, etc.
    1. Mostly, yes.

Overall, I think I was realistic in what I could accomplish.  While I didn’t start some projects, I did begin another manuscript that’s not even on the list (The Queen of England: Rogue Nation) and made it 20K in.  This is of course not including the thousands of words I dedicated to my food blog, A to Za’atar.  November 2015 Courtney just didn’t really know how things were going to go, and that’s totally fine.  While I won’t make specific predictions for this year, I predict finishing Queen #3 and starting A.U. (something I’m really looking forward to).  I also could make some progress on an unpublished (but complete) novel I co-wrote with a friend (Take One! at Mulholland High).  I’d like to continue my food and travel writing and work on getting paid more.  Let’s see!

  1. 60kgs and under – my new permanent weight class.
    1. LOL.  I’ve definitely not been keeping it tight.  Part of it is dining out so often, and part of it is sheer laziness.  Although I have been going to Flywheel, there is definitely more that I can do.  The struggle continues.
  2. Move and set up of our new place in Dubai.
    1. Complete!  (Even if we just recently finalized everything, it’s still before the year mark).
  3. Household maintenance (as a stay at home wife/author, I completely accept this responsibility.  My inner feminist is a bit hesitant about not having a regular paycheck, but as a partner, I accept that this is a good balance – one only made possible by Hubs working full time.)
    1. Easier than I thought.  Honestly, we’re still making lunches and dinners, and I’m happy to coordinate most of the traditionally ‘female’ endeavors in our life.  It’s worked well for us, so I’m still not in any hurry to go back to a regular job (I like my current situation just fine and am super privileged and lucky to have the choice).
  4. Online course, better website management, and other social media type skills (analytics, SEO and other terminology I shouldn’t be scared of).
    1. Still gun shy on this one.  I usually make some small amount of progress, only to get beat down by some frustratingly difficult thing that I keep not understanding (and everyone else seems to have no trouble with).
  5. 20% increase in ‘new’ traffic and followers across all social media (Pinterest, Twitter, blog, Tumblr).
    1. Maybe?  I’m not sure why I made this a priority.  Yes, things are tipping up, and that has got to be enough.
  6. Regular flossing.
    1. Uh… Next question.
  7. Beating insomnia once and for all.
    1. Sort of?  I have significantly limited how often I take any OTC (or any other) sleep aid.  Do I still have nights where it takes me 2+ hours to fall asleep?  You bet.  More days are a ‘win’ than not, but I still wish it was easier for me to pass out every night.
  8. Do something with the boutique villa hotel idea thing.
    1. A non-starter, but hey, it’s still fun to get a crazy idea with friends now and then…
  9. New hobby or skill (I’m thinking guitar lessons or getting back into fencing or salsa dancing).
    1. While technically not a skill, the past year was very positive for two reasons I would categorize here: K9 Friends (where I volunteer once a week in the office) and a new best friend (Zoe).  I’ve also done my best to maintain many friendships from my NYU days (let’s face it, when we get older, some things are just easier not to put effort into, and I think it’s easy to get lazy with friends).  Hopefully, some new skill is on the horizon, but with everything above, it’s all about finding the right balance.

If I look back at the last year, there was a lot of positive things happening — trips, books, friends, new endeavors.  I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t publish the Queen in 2016 (which weighs on me more than I wish it did).  And yet, 2017 already shows a ton of promise.  I’m still diligently working on my books, and the food blogging thing is bringing in all sorts of unique opportunities (that I get to share with Hubs and friends).  Other than Trump destroying a country I once knew and respected, I’d say things look great.