Two Years, Chopped Hair, Urgent Care, SCBWI, Shelving M3 = Roller Coaster Week

Hi friends,

I have so much to catch you up on. This week has been a stressful roller coaster ride. It started off on a good note. I celebrated my 2 year anniversary with Michael by recreating our first date (it's now become a tradition of ours).



To see how it unfolded last year and how our relationship began, click here.

He surprised me greatly by getting me a guitar and I, him, with a symbolic ring he's always wanted.


I don't have a good singing voice, nor am I skilled in music, but growing up music became a part of my life. I played flute for three years, piano for two, and learned some chords on the guitar by my ex-boyfriend in high school and it stuck through college. I was never really that good though, but I enjoyed putting simple melodies together and writing lyrics, but when I moved to Seattle, I literally gave away all my belongings, including my guitar and put it in the past. So it was very thoughtful that Michael had thought to give me a piece of California, and a creative part of me back.

What a wonderful way to start the week!

But unfortunately, work has been pretty busy, and I found myself pretty stressed with all that I needed to do, not just in my work life, but personal and writing life as well. I was overwhelmed by all the stuff I had to do and the non-progress in M3. It drove me insane. Why couldn't I get this story out as I did M2? Was life really so busy and chaotic that I couldn't handle it all? Would I have to give something up?

This overwhelming feeling festered within me, and I had hoped that maybe the SCBWI conference this weekend would give me some sort of direction in my writing life. As for the work and personal, I would just have to trudge through it. So I rush ordered my business cards and put on my can-do attitude.


But my attitude about work didn't change. I'm the kind of person that likes to get my stuff done so when software issues or last minute changes come my way, it ruffles my feathers a bit. But I had planned it out and I would finish my project by Friday.

On Thursday I had a haircut scheduled during my lunch break. I was long overdue for one, and had planned to keep my length and get my split ends trimmed, but when I sat in the salon chair, that overwhelming feeling came over me again. The reflection in the mirror looked so haggard, so sloppy, so stressed. "Just chop it all off," I told my stylist, not wanting another worry, no how matter infinitesimal it was.

And so she did.


With the weight from my hair off me, I was starting to feel better. More refreshed. I could handle the three facets of my life. Surely I could. I was a new woman now!

And then that night I got sick. A severe allergy attack. I couldn't sleep all night. And come morning, I wasn't any better. I was worse. I called in sick to work. I would not finish my project. That devastated me. Like I said, I pride myself in getting my work done, especially when I made promises to meet certain deadlines. Then I broke out into a fever. I started crying. Whatever this illness was, it didn't seem likely that I would be able to make it out to dinner that night with a friend and to a writer's networking cocktail hour like I had planned. Would I even be well enough to make it to the SCBWI conference the next day?

When Michael got home from work he took me to urgent care. Turns out my severe allergy attack turned into a sinus infection. I'd never had a sinus infection before so this pain was new to me and unbearable. The doctor prescribed me a nasal spray along with some other suggested OTC drugs. I went home, followed the directions, but didn't feel any better. I tossed and turned all night, getting snippets of sleep, and improved enough that I could rally myself and go to the conference.


I'll make another lengthier post about my experience as a first time conference attendee, but long story short, it made me realize that M3 needed to be put on pause. Perhaps I was overthinking it which stunted my progress. Or maybe I had fallen out of love with it after taking too many breaks with traveling and moving. Or maybe, M3 wasn't ready to be written and wasn't fully yet realized. Maybe it's one of those stories that takes years to cook, a story that I'll come back to, adding some spice, adjusting the taste, until I get it just right.

For now, M3 will be shelved, and I'm moving onto my next idea. 

It's been a roller coaster week filled with many ups and downs, twists, and turns. I was never one for roller coasters so I'm kind of glad to be off the ride now. I think it's time to leave the amusement park and get back to the steady humdrum of life.

Have you ever had a roller coaster kind of week? Comment below!

Yours truly,

Michelle


Asia Vacation: Day 4

Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Happy New Year!


February the 19th marked my 4th day in Vietnam! And better yet it was the holiday. The new year is like the biggest holiday in the culture. It's equivalent to the American Thanksgiving. All about family, food, celebration, and hope for the year to come. I was beyond excited since it was my first time ever celebrating in the homeland with the extended family.

My sisters and I all woke up and got dressed in traditional Vietnamese dresses and met the rest of the family at my grandpa's house. My mother had rented a van for the day to take us to the temple, the village where she grew up, and then onto Hue.


The main temple in Da Nang sits alongside the water facing the city. With the temple and neck bending monuments, it's a very beautiful and serene place to be--but not on the holiday. It was buzzing with people. We quickly went around saying prayers before going crazy with photos.











After that it was off to my mom's home village Vinh Hien. We had gone there too during my first trip, but going again, with fresh eyes it really struck a chord within me. This little town is based off one little dirt road with little houses pressed against each other. There are no streetlamps, no gutters. Just yellow sand and dirt, with the exception of green rice paddies in the distance.





We passed by my mother's old house, the school she had gone too, and houses where she remembered her friends. It was a very different upbringing than the opportunity she had given us in the states. As a sign of respect, my mother paid visits to relatives and friends, and those that had passed by going to their gravesites.


It was hard not to imagine my mom as a young girl just like the little kids I had seen the day before. Odds stacked against her. Living in conditions we hadn't. No power, no electricity, no creature comforts. It makes me respect her even more.


Our final and last stop was Hue to see the imperial palace. It was huge. Bigger than I remembered my first time around. Here there were a lot of tourists from many different places as well as locals. The city was bustling with people.







 






 


Michael and I walked side by side holding hands and it was the first time that we got more than the occasional glances. People were staring and it made me uncomfortable. It wasn't like it was rude stares or anything, more like curiosity. I could only imagine what they thought: mail order bride. Ha! I brushed it off and made the most of it. When we got back to the Van, I knocked out, and before I knew it we were back in Da Nang at my grandpa's house for dinner.

[[photo credit: all amazing and clear photos were taken by Michael. All the fuzzy ones were from yours truly on my iphone :P]]

Guest post, promotion, and splurges. Not a bad way to end twenty-three.

A great big, giant, thank you to Michelle Athy at 'The Sunflower's Scribbles' for giving me the opportunity to guest post on her blog! If you haven't read it yet, you can find out how I got into writing here.

In other good news that happened yesterday, I got a promotion and raise at work! There's nothing like doing a good job and being rewarded for it. And yes, this finally means I can take this 'entry level' label off me. As a reward to myself, I went on a trip to the bookstore in search of a good read and found these two, that were highly recommended to me.


As of late I've been rereading books on my kindle (hence no new book reviews!), so I'll try and start up again with these two. And what are books without a beverage to go with it? As another splurge I got ceremonial grade matcha and set from PANATEA. How do you like your tea? Straight up or latte form? I'll take both!


And as a way to top off the day, Michael and I had drinks to cheers my awesome day. This is definitely not a bad way to end my last few days being 23.

Cinderella movie, and heading into revision mode.

Hey, you know that Cinderella movie that opened this weekend? Yeah? Go see it now! This remake is stunningly cinematic, the acting heartfelt (it got me teary twice!), and the music emotionally balanced. When it was over, I found myself surprised by how much I loved it. Considering how you know how it goes and ends, you would think their wouldn't be anything surprising about it at all. Yet somehow it made me feel like six year's old again, watching it for the very first time, and to me, that's some serious movie magic!









And those costumes! Ahhh! Everything was so beautiful, and the cast so perfect. I'm really glad Disney kept the story like its original. I'm getting tired of all those reimaginings. This just makes me even more excited for the 'Beauty and the Beast' remake with Emma Watson. That's my favorite Disney movie ever.

Okay now that my fangirling moment is over, I guess I should do a writing update on M3 (though I kinda just want to write a fairytale myself now). Pumping out the first draft, was well eh, painful. So I printed it out, did a read-through and made serious notes with the help of cocktails, fries, cookies, and ice cream. Not the best writing diet!




After posting on IWSG this month and getting encouraging feedback, I've decided to change a major component of my story which will mean serious revisions. So yeah, going into a second draft revision mode. I'm going at a snail's pace compared to last year's M2, but I have a pretty good excuse with the move and all ;)


Now go see Cinderella! It's Michelle-approved!

Asia Vacation 2015: Day 1

My Asia trip came and went! I still can't believe it's over. I'm still suffering from vacation hangover.

[[To recap, this was a family vacation to visit my relatives in Da Nang, Vietnam for ten days. Afterwards, my two sisters, Michael, and I spent 4 days in Seoul, South Korea instead of dealing with the originally planned 12-hour layover.]]


For our first day in Da Nang, my grandfather (on my mom's side) hosted a ceremony (an offering to the ancestors), which really turns out to be a huge feast for those alive. With everyone all in one place, it was a good place to start reconnecting with family I hadn't seen since our first trip in 2009. If you didn't know, my mom is the oldest out of nine kids! Only 2 out of the 9 kids are in the U.S., so you can bet the family gathering was a big one!


Going into it, I was really nervous. With so many people, it was daunting trying to remember everyone's name. Not to mention, I also brought Michael with me. What would they think of me dating a white American instead of a Vietnamese American? Of course my mom approves, but how often did my relatives in Vietnam interact with foreigners? Then of course, I was so embarrassed about my language skills. Vietnamese is a difficult language for me to speak considering I grew up in the U.S., where I hardly ever interact with people in Vietnamese.


One thing I should have known, was how welcoming my big family was and all the worrying was for naught. They greeted us with open arms, and though it was difficult for Michael and I to fluently communicate, I realized genuine communication comes from within: whether it's the look in someone's eyes, a smile on the lips, or the position of one's body.


And did I mention the food was amazing? I mean check out that spread!


After the big feast, a few of us went to the beach. Soft sand, blue waters, and the sun. Just as I remembered it. One thing I didn't remember? How salty the water was! Good thing I only like to walk in water and not swim.


To end the night, we had a big celebration for my sister's 28th birthday!


M2 Wrap-Up

From the movie 'Stuck in Love'
Above all, I am a hopeless romantic. I try to be a realist, but anyone who knows me, knows I am not. There's no fault in being a hopeless romantic though becuase it's gotten me to where I am now: finished with M2 (for now at least).

When I wrote the draft of M1, I knew something was off. It turned out horrible like most first novel attempts. Though I was passionate about being a writer, I wasn't passionate about the story.

M2 was different. I loved the story. I loved the magic. And I loved the characters. Though it was hard, I kept at it, revision after revision. It made me into a hopeless romantic again. Now that M2 has met my vision, it's time to submit to #PitchWars, and if that doesn't happen, time to query. I'm hoping I can find someone who sees my story and wants to build it up even more. If M2 has more room to grow, I would love the guidance to take it there.

In the meantime, here's a quick recap of M2's journey from start time to now:

  • Mid October 2013 - I started writing the first draft of M2 and finished mid December, clocking in at about 74,000 words in two months. You can read my lessons after the first draft here.
  • January 2014 - I began the second draft of M2 and finished by the first week of March. 85,000 words in another two months. Check out my M2 post here.
  • April 2014 - I revised my third draft for my YA workshop course at Hugo House. I was only about 2/3 done when the course began, but completed it a week after it ended in June. Draft three totaled approximately 80,000 words.
  • June 2014 through July 2014 - I worked with my CP's (critique partner) feedback and completed my fourth revision that I sent over to my beta readers.
  • Mid August 2014 - Completion of revision five based on feedback from Betas.

Beta Feedback So Far

As you guys know, the past three months I've been working diligently with my YA workshop critique partner to nail down my plot points and character motivation. Before leaving to Walla Walla two weeks ago I sent my fourth draft of M2 to four betas and my sisters to read. So in total I ended up with six readers! It was more than I intended since I didn't think my sisters would read it (but I am grateful they did!). As of now I've gotten feedback from 3 out of 6 and am expecting the rest of the feedback by Monday.

This is great news! It gives me time to polish up my manuscript before #PitchWars. And if I don't make it to #PitchWars, then I'll be ready to face the query trenches this fall.

Back to the feedback. Yesterday night I went out to dinner with Cristine to catch up and discuss my manuscript. Afterwards we came back to my apartment for wine and to hear Michael's thoughts on it too.


Along with my sister's notes I received this past weekend, there seems to be an agreement on a chapter that caused confusion and a desire for a more fleshed out ending. Thank the heavens, because these two main issues are totally fixable and won't cause ripple effects throughout the rest of the story or the subplot. Aside from other great little suggestions for tweaks here and there, I think the story line and pacing is pretty solid. So THANK YOU Dao, Cristine, and Michael. You have provided me with such invaluable insight and support. I can't wait to hear back from the other betas either as I know their comments will be just as important.

Since this is the first time I've shared my whole manuscript (not in a classroom/workshop setting), I just want to take a moment and smile until my cheeks hurt because this is a small victory. I can hardly believe that just a year ago I gave up on M1 and unplugged from writing for awhile.  Now in just ten months I've started a completely new manuscript (M2), gone through four revisions, and am now going onto my fifth revision before submitting to contests or querying.