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Friday, January 13, 2017

It's Been A Long Ride...The Real Story of Fearless

Fearless is two today. Like all milestones in our professional lives, it seems those two years have passed both slower, and faster than they actually have. That contradiction: you run, run, run to get somewhere, and when you look back, can't believe you haven't come very far at all. But then there's the fact that Fearless is a whopping 738 pages, so maybe that's enough to count as progress all on its own. I'm a pessimist, I can't help it. But when I take moments, like now, to step back and look at the way this book has affected my life, it's staggering. It's...unbelievable, really, that a shy girl from Nowhere, GA gets emails from readers in Europe, and Australia, and Asia. Crazy to think that these characters have taken on a life of their own, and have touched people half a world away. I am humbled, and stunned, always, when I hear anyone say something nice about my work. It has been a busy, crazy, wonderful two years.

But the story of Fearless goes back farther than that, really.

It's a story I've been advised not to tell. A story I've kept quiet. For the most part. But over the past two years, I've come to realize that advice wasn't necessarily meant to help me. So I'm going to tell it. Just this once. Just to set the record straight.

Back before the indie publishing revolution, before writers had a chance to put their voices out into the market when and how they wanted, there was only one path to publishing - the traditional route. And it was brutal. You wrote a book, spent months perfecting it, queried agents...and were rejected. Again, and again, and again. I started college summer semester after I graduated from high school, and I wanted to do two things with my future: train horses, and publish books. I was an econ major, and I quickly realized that was waaay too much math for my writing-wired brain. A friend at work put me in contact with a published romance writer friend of hers, and we communicated for a while via email. I asked her this: If I want to be an author, shouldn't I swap my major and concentrate on English?

Her answer surprised, and disappointed me: She said no. Stick to a business degree of some sort. If you've got raw writing talent, and you commit yourself to learning every possible thing you can about the craft, you're going to need that business degree when you get into the publishing world. You can't just be a talented writer; you have to be able to look out for your own business interests too. So I stuck to the business plan (I swapped to management, which was a good decision, it turned out, now that I'm running my own business).

In 2008 I started querying a manuscript - the first version of God Love Her, as it turned out. I was rejected by a dozen agencies...but it was an encouraging rejection, in some ways. I'd been told at writing conferences that it was almost impossible to get a manuscript request from an agent. You had to rub elbows at conferences and get to know them before they were willing to read a single line of your work. Well, those dozen agencies....EVERY ONE OF THEM ASKED FOR MY MANUSCRIPT. They all told me no, but they said it this way: you're a talented writer, and there's potential here, but I don't know how you'd fit in with the other books we represent.

So I was an odd ball. Not exactly a news flash.

I shopped the book around for a while, and then grew discouraged. I was going to have to write a new book, and try that one. And then likely another...and another...My confidence had taken a hit.


Oh no. Not that. Anything but that! Fanfiction is THE f-bomb in the writing community. Don't say it, don't think it, don't even suggest you used to write it! Ahhh!

Well, I wrote it. Get over it.

I was looking for a way to get my writing into the hands of readers. I wanted unfiltered, honest feedback. Fanfiction was enthusiastic, authentic, and not tainted by competition (not at that time, anyway). If you ask someone at a conference to read your work, they see you as competition and treat you as such. But in the anonymous world of fanfic, readers just want to read a good story. I was watching this show that I was enjoying (I'll let you guess the show), and I thought, what the hell? Let's just see. The reader/writer community was extremely small for this show back in 2009, and I figured there was a good chance someone would click on my work. I posted the first few chapters of a story that featured an original character named Holly who was being abused by her father.

I cried when I read the first reviews for that story. People liked my work. People who didn't know me, had never met me, who had no idea how badly I wanted to be published, really liked what I'd written. I'd never experienced anything like it.

So when that one was finished, I wrote a new story. This one featured an original character named Maggie...who gave birth to a daughter named Ava. I was still in school, and didn't have time to work on an original novel. So I turned the stories into a series. I made some wonderful friends in other writers, and loved the heck out of my time in fandom. For the first time, I was around people who loved storytelling the way I did, and we encouraged one another. It was so good.

In early 2010, I took a deep breath and started a story that took Ava from secondary character to lead. It was very controversial. Some people hated it. And some people LOVED it. It threw canon out the window, swerved in its own direction, and became the start of a new fandom trope. It was called Fearless. And it got A LOT of attention. It was also plagiarized in earnest, in some pretty sad and hilarious ways.

That story. When I look back at the old files, I laugh at my amateurish writing. I cringe a lot. But it was a turning point. That story proved that I could do this.

Pure things never seem to last, though, and such was the case with this particular fandom. It got mean and competitive. Other writers were messaging me and telling me my story wasn't as good as they'd been told, and that I should read their work instead. Fat chance. I lost interest with the show, graduated college, and no longer enjoyed fandom as a whole. It was time to let it go, and return to original projects.

In 2012, when I was trying to get my book Keep You published, the indie scene BLEW UP. Rather than keep seeking permission, I decided to go it alone, and just click "publish." I did, and I didn't look back, putting out both the Walker and Russell series.

But Fearless was about to return to me, in a strange way. In the spring of 2014 I lost my beloved dog Riddick. He was my dog in a way that I know no other dog will ever be; I could think it, and he would do it. A gesture, a quick word. He was amazingly intelligent, aggressive, protective, terribly loyal. Sometimes I swore he could read my thoughts. He died too soon, and suddenly, of a genetic heart defect at age 8. Losing him was hard. I couldn't write, and I couldn't sleep.

And then I got this email.

From someone in fandom. She asked me, unbelievably, if I was "done" with my old story Fearless. If it was "up for grabs."

What. The. Hell.

A quick internet search revealed that there was a whole indie book genre centered around what had once been taboo fanfiction: MC Romance. And that old club-daughter-lifetime-protector trope was everywhere. Everywhere.

Back before I published Keep You, my mom, wise woman that she is, asked if maybe I could take my original characters from fanfic and write something original around them. I declined. I was tired of that genre, number one, and it didn't feel genuine, number two. I wanted to write something wholly original, something that didn't carry the taint of fanfiction.

But in that moment, depressed about my dog, pissed off as hell by that email, I made a dangerous decision. Those girls? Holly, Maggie, and Ava? They were mine. As were my story ideas. I'd spent more than a year dreaming them up and putting them on paper. They were MINE, and I wasn't going to let them sit in the shadows because at one point they'd been attached to fanfic.

I started writing the new Fearless that day. It had to be different, I knew, so different. It had to stand totally on its own, go places I'd never dreamed it would. It had to be better than my old efforts in every single way. I was neck-deep in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and I wanted to go to NOLA. I watched a Swamp People marathon and wanted to hunt gators. I wanted a male lead who made a statement, who wasn't like anyone or anything out there.

And then there was Mercy.

In a handful of months I wrote a massive book that was not a biker romance fantasy, but a drama of outlaw proportions. I serialized it at first so I could slap a copyright on it; after all, someone was asking if they could "use" my old ideas. I'll tolerate a lot of BS, but not that. Never that. My response was to write an intricate, genre-defying book. In that sense, I'm very proud of what I accomplished. For anyone who's said it doesn't "fit" - it wasn't supposed to.

The last two years have been educational. I've learned that writing, like horseback riding, like working in an office, like all areas of life, has both its light and dark sides. My attitude here in this segment of the world is the same as it is everywhere: I am shy, and I am quiet, and I never want to hurt anyone. But I'm not going to roll over and let someone hurt me. The most important thing is to write the best books I possibly can. Sometimes, like now, when all I want to do is let it go and venture into other genres, I have to go back and remind myself that this book was worth the hassle and the wait. These characters were worth it. And you, my kind readers, have made all of it worthwhile.

My message, to any hopeful writers who might be reading this: don't ever, ever let someone discourage you. Whether it's an agent, the person at a writing conference who wrinkles her nose when you say you're self-published, a fanfic writer who insists she's better than you, someone who tells you not to admit to writing fanfic, a fellow author, a blogger...not anyone. THERE IS NO WRONG WAY to start your writing career. Don't let anyone shame you. And when they tell you that you don't fit the mold...just smile. Because THAT is the BEST compliment you can get. Their way isn't the only way.

Show mercy where you can; where you can't, don't. Be true to your own vision. Never shy away from a challenge. Be fearless, always.


  1. Thank you so much for the amazing enjoyment of reading Fearless.

  2. I've probably said this a gazillion times and I'll say it again. You write like no other. I think I mentioned before, your words flow. Flow so smooth like a warm blanket wrapped tight. I live in Singapore and I'm 23 and in uni and working. I came across your work 2 years ago and fearless was the first of your work I've had the pleasure of reading. It was righteous. It still is. I devoured that. Got my sister to snarf that down. She thanked me and couldn't get over your writing, still can't. I've got my other friend to read your work and she's said the same thing - your book, your writing make us feel. Feel so deep, fluidity is off the charts. I try, when I'm free, to go to your page every other day if not every day. Reading what you have to share with us and loving it every bit of it. Your writing, your books have been with me through whatever I have been through and it's sublime. Thank you for giving us Ava and Mery, Ghost and Maggie. I could go on. Just thank you for writing and being pure you. Xo

  3. I am so glad that you listened to your own heart and creative force because I would never have had the joy of reading all of your Lean Dog stories. Your stories stay in the very crowded morass that is my mind and I love every thought, every image, every smile and every tear that they have given me. Never stop writing!!

  4. I found you through that fan fiction, where Ava took the lead... One day it was just gone with a note saying it was being published and I followed you right to Amazon lol