10 October 2016

In honor of #WorldMentalHealthDay...

I decided to share a little bit about my current novel.

The project I’m working on right now is by far the most personal book I’ve written so far. It’s mostly inspired by my love for music (esp punk rock, classic rock, etc.) but it also delves deeply into my own struggles with mental illness.

Although this may make them “unlikeable,” my characters are not perfect, neurotypical heroes who are comfortable in their own skin. They are broken, flawed, and not always “logical.” They don't make the best decisions. One heavily suffers from anxiety/PTSD/depression and is in therapy as a result of a tragic family event. The other has similar problems but copes through far less healthy ways (drinking, etc.) I started writing this book because I was inspired by books, like THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, that presented mental illnesses in a raw, honest way. I was inspired by stories like this because they don’t “idealize” or make jokes about mental illness…they present it as a “norm.” And most importantly, books like this present the message of hope. My book, like THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, is a novel about survival. Like Charlie, my characters (spoiler alert) DO NOT kill themselves at the end of the book. They are struggling, LGBTQ teens that do relapse, yes, but they rediscover their love for life through their music, friends, families, etc. and in the end, choose to live. 

I grew up in communities that mostly turned a blind eye to mental illness. There was the occasional talk about a girl slitting her wrists or a boy “acting out” or people “not coming to school” but mostly, mental illness was seen through a huge stigma and/or treated as a “shame” to the family. As a result, so many of my friends and loved ones suffered (still suffer) through mental illness in silence. Some only just recently realized the causes of their suffering. Many are still not aware, and for a few, it was too late. When I was a child, I lost my paternal grandmother to mental illness. More recently, I lost a friend. And I’m so afraid that I’ll lose more.

Just as much as we need diverse books with characters of different racial/sexual/ethnic/religious/etc backgrounds, we need more books out there that don’t present “neurotypicality” as the “norm.” Just like there needs to be more than WASP, heterosexual heroes in literature/movies/etc, there needs to be more representation of mental illness in fictional characters…especially in the books/movies/etc that our children read/watch while growing up.

So even though it’s sometimes hard for me to write such a deeply personal novel, I write because it’s my attempt of making a difference. Although it’s uncertain whether or not it’ll ever be published (I’m working on revisions with my agent right now), I keep trying because if it makes even one person feel less alone and brings him/her hope despite his/her struggles with mental illness, then everything will be worth it.

Happy #WorldMentalHealthDay, everyone. Remember you are loved. <3

15 September 2016

I have an agent!

Wow, it's been THREE YEARS since I last wrote on this blog. I usually do most of my social posting on Tumblr these days, but I thought posting this news on the Blog would be more appropriate since this was the medium I started posting about my writing (EIGHT years ago!).

So, yes. I have news.

I am now represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary!

It's been a week since I received the offer but I am honestly still in a daze. How did it happen? Well...

My story is pretty atypical. For one, I started querying when I was in eighth grade as part of a research project in English class. The assignment was for us to research a topic of our choice for fifteen hours and present our findings to the rest of class at the end of the school year. And since by then, I had completed and finished revising my first novel (which I did after receiving comments from my then beta-readers--the few friends from school who knew of my "writing obsession"), I chose to research the publishing industry and query my manuscript as part of the process.

"It'll be easy!" thought Middle School Me. "People get published all the time!"

2008 me had no idea what I was in for. By freshman year of high school, I'd received countless rejections (some of which were actually pretty encouraging...I'd mentioned my age in my queries --which isn't always recommended--and was lucky enough to receive words of encouragement from the super-nice agents I submitted to) and was working on a new manuscript. After that, I fell into sort of a pattern. Try to get as much writing done as possible while still doing well in school, get feedback from critique partners (I got proper ones around 2011) and beta readers (I'm fortunate to have friends that read my writing and supported me--STILL support me--along the way), revise rewrite revise, and finally unleash my current project into the query trenches. This continued for the next eight years.

It was definitely a learning process. I'm mostly self-taught in terms of writing (and English in general) so every book I wrote was another form of practice. Whether it be plot or voice or pacing or world building, I like to think that I learned a new lesson with each trunked manuscript. Don't get me wrong...I poured my HEART into every single novel I wrote. I always hoped that every novel would be the One. And honestly when I was querying my current novel, THE ROCKET BABY DOLLS, I was too scared and worn out to hope. Sure, I had a feeling this one was different than the others. And yes, I desperately hoped this one would be the One as well, but after eight years of writing/querying six completed manuscripts, drafting who-knows-how-many query letters, and getting I-don't-even-want-to-think-how-many rejection letters, I was burned out. Almost mechanically, I sent out queries for RBD this summer, not expecting much.

And then the requests came in. Out of 47 queries (the first one of which I sent in June), I received 6 full requests and 1 partial request. This was the best that one of my novels has ever done, so I was ecstatic. But also really, really scared. Because what if this one wasn't the One, either? What if, after all this initial love, it'd still turn out to be nothing?

So when Penny asked to chat on Tuesday, September 6th, 2016, I wasn't sure if that email was real. I remember coming back from a morning of park-hopping while playing PokemonGO, all sweaty and ready to take a shower, when I checked my email.

I yelled out, "WHAT?!" because that was the only reaction I could muster at that point, and went to take a shower so I could think more clearly. I finished and came back out. Rechecked my phone. The email was still there. IT WAS REAL. I started panicking to hilarious results. I freaked out at my writer friends through Twitter DM. They freaked out. I freaked out at my boyfriend, who'd always been my first reader as I was drafting my current MS and then read the entire thing AGAIN (after I revised) on one plane ride to Shanghai over the summer. He was pretty amused:

Little did I know that apparently he was freaking out
as much as I was...he just didn't want to show it. Lol, men.
The next 48 hours was a panicked mix of researching questions for the Call (even though I wasn't sure if this was THE Call, I wanted to be ready), going to work, and failing to sleep.

When the morning finally came, I was more or less ready but still a nervous wreck.

Then, Penny called. At first, my fear/anxiety only escalated as she suggested some major changes in my manuscript. "Oh," I thought. "Darn, this must just be a Revise and Resubmit." 

We finished discussing her suggestions. There was a long pause. Although I agreed with her suggestions, my heart felt like it was being squeezed to a pulp since I was pretty sure this wasn't THE Call. My brain was trying to figure out a non-awkward way to end our phone call (thank her for the comments and wish her a nice day, maybe?) when my mouth blurted out, "Wait, so, sorry. I'm confused as to what this is. Is this a Revise and Resubmit? Or are you offering representation?"

After a pause, she clarified. She was OFFERING REPRESENTATION under the condition that I revise/rewrite. I wanted to scream:

Thankfully, I didn't (out loud, anyway). Instead, since I tend to babble when I'm anxious, I launched us into a pretty crazy 48 minutes of talking about the most random things, from our respective PokemonGo adventures to my future project ideas to the actual things we were supposed to talk about (submission/editorial strategies/agency policy, etc). It was pretty awesome. I remember remarking to Penny that I never thought the Call could be this fun. And when I recounted our conversation to my boyfriend later, he remarked, "Wow, you sound like you want to marry her."

And it was true in the sense that it felt like after long years of waiting and trying, I'd finally met the One (agent). In the eight years that I queried and sent my novels to agents, I NEVER thought that I would meet an agent that I was this compatible with. When I was serious and had questions about the industry and her agency, Penny had all the right answers (or at least, the answers I was hoping for.) When I needed a break to talk about other, sillier things like a guy trying to use PokemonGo as part of a pick-up line in Japantown, Penny not only laughed with me but also made me laugh with her own stories.

Not only that but she was extremely passionate about not just my current MS but my future ones. She was actually so intensely passionate that I accidentally laughed in response...not because I was laughing at her (although I may have given that impression...sorry, Penny >_>) but because it was just so unreal to find someone that was so in love with my writing. After eight years of hearing agents tell me that we "weren't a good fit," it felt unbelievable. It was literally a dream come true.

So I'm happy that this morning, I officially accepted her offer of representation. I'm so excited to be working with her and to see where this journey will take me next. I've been querying for almost a third of my life, lol...so you can definitely say I'm thrilled to finally move on to the next step.

I want to wrap things up by thanking everyone that has been part of my long journey. Thank you to all my friends over the years (you know who you are) that not only didn't run away from "that weird, loud girl that writes books" but also fully supported my writing by making time out of your busy schedules to read/offer feedback/sanity checks/etc. Thank you for believing in me when I didn't believe myself.

Thank you also to the so many wonderful people I've met in the Twitterverse. Mainly, the YA Misfits  (esp Chessie, Dahlia, and Marieke) for reading and giving the most amazing notes on my current and/or past projects. (And just being really good + supportive friends, in general). I still remember how things were when we first started the group and now look at us! We've all really come a long way.

I really could have not done this without all of you. Thank you <3

19 August 2013

Productive Procrastination: Gender-bending Rock Bands

Due to recent, very unfortunate events in my personal life, I've been finding it harder to work on my novels (or at least write as many words as I used to on a daily basis), and it's been more of a challenge than ever to sit down in front of a blank page without thinking about the past.

And since my latest work in progress is about a boy who finds love and a purpose in life through being in a garage rock band (tentatively titled: The Rocket Baby Dolls, or as I like to call it on Twitter, #RockBandNovel), I turned to music for inspiration and hopefully also motivation. But the longer I listened to certain songs that were on my WIP's playlist, the more I wished that certain songs were sung by male artists rather than female so they could better fit my novel (which has a male protagonist as well as a male lead singer in the band within the story). So after a few minutes of wandering about on the Internet, I figured out how to make female singers sound male (without making them sound like complete aliens) using a program called Audacity.

This is what Audacity looks like, opened up.
And yes, this is a screenshot from my computer.
The general rule of thumb, I discovered, is that if you decrease pitch (using the effects in Audacity) by 20%, this makes a female artist sound male (with a little adjusting that could make the final percentage between 17 and 25, depending on the original voice of the individual). Do the opposite (increase pitch by 20%), and you could, theoretically, make a male artist sound female.*

The video below was the end result of my experimentation. I also ended up gender-bending songs by male artists, just to see what they'd sound like. Some songs turned out better than I thought they would, while others didn't really sound that great at all. Please take a listen down below. Featured bands include: The Civil Wars, Metric, The Killers, and more. These are all songs that are in my WIP's playlist, which I will also share on this blog after it's finalized.

Although the experimentation might not be directly related to writing my novel (ie: messing around with people's voices won't get words written on the page), I feel like it's helped a lot in terms of developing its "sound," since one of the challenges I face with this particular manuscript is putting into text what is essentially a very aural world (due to the fact that the readers won't be able to actually hear what the band or any other musical event in the story sounds like.) And the better I develop the "sound" of this novel, the better I will be able to put into words what I hear in my mind. Additionally, like with every WIP, just thinking about the characters and the plot while listening to the different versions of the songs really helped me focus on the ideas I have for this project.

Here's hoping that this inspiration is enough for me to get out of my slump and finish writing.

But in the meantime, I hope you guys found my experimentation to be interesting! If you have any more questions on "gender-bending" music or would like to listen to more of the gender-bended songs in the video (or have requests for another song that you'd like to be gender-bended), please feel free to comment below or send me a tweet! :)

*I say theoretically because I found it much harder to make male artists sound female. I sometimes completely failed no matter how hard I tried (see: Julian Casablancas, the lead singer of the Strokes, in the video above...and the female version of the Smiths was such a catastrophic failure that I didn't even dare include them in this, haha) and had to experiment more with the pitch percentage (which ended up being anything from 15 to 35) on the other songs. It might work better with other artists but the ones I chose were only ok at best (although the Killers ended up sounding surprisingly good.)

13 August 2013

Write on Con is finally here AND DiversifYA!

Hi guys, in case you didn't know about it, Write On Con, the awesome online and totally free kidlit writer's conference, is finally here! YAY! I've posted the query and sample pages of CROWNFALL over at the forums (updating the links because they changed since the last time I posted them) here. I'd really appreciate it if you guys took a look at it and told me what you think. Also, if you're over at WOC, yourself, don't hesitate to say hi! I'm willing to check out your posts too if you want feedback. :)

Another thing: I got interviewed by my fellow YA Misfit, Marieke, over at DiversifYA about being an Asian American writer! (You can check it out here.) This is my first time actually extensively talking about my background and how it relates to writing so I hope it's helpful and gives you an insight on what it's like to be an Asian American (I also give tips on how to write diverse characters in general).

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to stalking the forums at Write On Con. Hope to see you there and happy Tuesday! Have a great rest of the week, you lovely people. :)

04 August 2013

That time of year again...Write On Con 2013!

Hi, all, there's still a couple of days until the actual conference starts but I just wanted to let you guys know that I posted the query, 1st 250 words, and 1st 5 pages of CROWNFALL on the forums. I'd appreciate any feedback you may have and feel free to let me know if you've posted on the forums as well! I'll be happy to return the favor. :)

This is my third time attending the conference and as always, I'm excited for the ninjas and other really helpful resources. If you have never been to Write On Con, do check out the info here!

29 July 2013

Back to Writing and the CROWNFALL Playlist!

After taking a several-month long break in which I wrestled with personal things (namely, my thoughts about writing and whether or not I wanted to be a writer), I've finally started writing again just this past month. I admit, it was a very hard battle but I was eventually inspired by not writing to continue writing again. This includes: revisiting my favorite books, reading (stalking) blogs of authors I love such as Veronica Roth and Maggie Stiefvater, and watching old (and new) movies.

These things inspired me for the last couple of months by helping me realize the power of great storytelling and got me excited again about characters/world-building/etc. This also enabled me to find it within myself that yes, I still had stories that I wanted to tell and would never leave me alone when I'm lying in bed at night, stories that would revisit me in my dreams, and stories I wanted to make into reality.

And I decided to continue writing.

So, I'm back, a little behind on everything, yes, but still trekking. I finally finished up revisions for the MS I finished last year and started a new project the day after. The new MS (tentatively called CROWNFALL), is a YA Romantic Thriller, and was actually the one I was thinking about for the entire year but never really worked on it because I didn't know how to start.

But thanks to a nifty software called Write or Die (I credit my good friend Chessie for this), I finally told myself to WRITEWRITEWRITE and it surprisingly got me a beginning that (after a few tweaks) allowed me to not only continue the story but help me put the final pieces to the world of the novel.

I mentioned a few things about the MS earlier in the year but it's changed considerably since then. I started it a week ago and am already about 26 K in.

I'm keeping the details about it a secret (besides the genre) for now but in the meantime, I invite you to listen to the playlist for CROWNFALL below. I hope you enjoy and happy writing!

Crownfall by Lyla Lee on Grooveshark

27 December 2012

I'm baaaack....sort of

Hi, blogosphere, I'm back. Not sure if anyone noticed that I was gone but basically, I wasn't able to blog much in the last few months because the first semester of college was a little more challenging than I expected and whenever I did have time to blog, I blogged over at the YA Misfits blog. (Speaking of which, it's my turn today and I just posted the playlist for my WIP. Come say hi!)

But I also wouldn't be lying if I said that I was sort of intentionally avoiding the blogosphere/Twitter/etc recently. Why? I was sort of burned out. Not because I was over-working myself (although this does happen a lot more frequently than I'd like), but because after some time, it felt like I was falling into the same routine over and over again. Writing a novel, revising and rewriting it, querying it only to find out that my genre is too over-saturated or something like that, waiting on partials/fulls only to get nothing but rejections, starting over with a new novel, etc.

After five years of being in the query trenches, everything just starts looking like the same thing...

Now, I'm not saying that I'm an exception to the norm. I know many other writers who are (or have been) in the same situation as I am and I know this is normal and even the disillusionment/depression is normal and are all just part of the process. But still, there comes a certain point when...I guess what I'm trying to say is that I needed a break. A couple months of not worrying about submissions and revisions and just focusing on schoolwork. I'm still technically on that "break," since I haven't touched my manuscripts since the school year started.

Will I ever go back to writing? Well, yes. It's not that I don't enjoy writing. I've wanted to be a writer ever since I was in fourth grade and it's a dream that I've kept going all throughout my life. But I just needed a break from all the stressors that come with it and just focus on being nothing but a normal college student.

So I guess the most appropriate question is, when I will go back. And the honest answer to that question is: I don't know. A part of me knows that I should just quit complaining and go back to working on my novels, already, but I think I still need a little bit more time before I go through another round of revisions with my previous WIP (Point Blank) and start writing my new one (Hemlock).

A little bit more time of doing nothing but worrying about grades (which come out tomorrow--eek!), watching the movies I've always wanted to watch, and reading the books I've always wanted to read.

And technically, I'm currently forming the plans for my new WIP (which always takes a couple months before I actually start writing), so I guess I am still working on a novel. I'm just taking a really long time to do it.


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