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Three Years

On this day three years ago, Magic Inc. Book One was published. Today, I finished major edits on Book Two. Onto a last round of proof-reading. And then, formatting. And finally, publishing. Scary.

Inspirational Quotes and Comfort Zones

I think I have an issue with "inspirational" quotes. Sure, some of them are great. Some of them reach straight into your heart and make you feel less alone. Some have the opposite effect. At least for me. I get so upset when I see quotes like, "Nothing ever grows in a comfort zone." Or, "Do things before you're ready." While these quotes must resonate with some people (which is fine), both of these ring false to my experiences. And they've only made me feel even more isolated.

With my anxiety, the world constantly drains me. Any little step out in it is exhausting. It doesn't get better by continuing to go out. If I push myself too hard, I just hit a point in which I am too overwhelmed to function. Anxiety is not always beaten by repeatedly putting yourself into stressful situations. After thirteen years, leaving the house is still just as stressful and draining as it ever was, so I have to make decisions about what's worth the loss of energy. What social things are worth the anxiety. And some things definitely are worth it. There have been times when I really wanted to do something badly enough and gave myself enough time and preparation to really and truly be ready. Did "ready" mean I wasn't scared? No, I was still terrified. But something told me it was the right moment. That I was ready. And I trusted that inner voice, while still respecting my limitations. I made the uncomfortable as close as it could be to comfortable. (Even if that was still "barely tolerable".) And it was draining. And it was worth it, for the most part.

But that doesn't mean the only time you grow is by leaving your comfort zone. If I didn't have a (tiny) safe space in which to do my work, I would never progress. Guess where I do all of my best writing? At home. At my desk. In my safe space. This is where I, through writing, feel like I grow the most as a person. If I kept pushing myself in the traditional ways the world wants me to, I would not only have no energy for writing. I would emotionally crash. I would stay sick and stagnant, just getting by. My work only progresses when I’m feeling safe and well enough to write. To dive into my deep inner world. To bloom in my own garden.

Obviously, I'm not saying don't ever leave your comfort zone. Sometimes it's important to take steps into new things, if they are really what YOU want. And not what others are pressuring you to do. But there is such a thing as being ready. Knowing yourself well enough to know when and where to make tentative steps forward is important. WHEN YOU ARE READY. Because that knowing does exist somewhere deep inside of you. It's usually the doubts and anxieties of the mind that cloud your judgements more than anything else.

I think our culture so heavily favors external success that we forget that growing can also be a quiet, internal experience. Growth is not always about flashy outer success. I think we also tend to glamorize the idea of "the struggle". The "push yourself until you succeed" mindset. Force success. And that does work sometimes. For some people. But to me, that is the extrovert way. And I prefer the introvert way. Where you can grow just as much from facing your inner demons as your external ones.

What I'm suggesting is a balance. Because sometimes you grow from experiences... and sometimes you grow from introspection. From giving yourself a safe place to think things over. To figure yourself out. It doesn't have to be one or the other. I think most of what bothers me about quotes like this is how absolute they tend to sound. Everyone has different experiences, limitations, and things that do and don't work for them. When you distill the human experience down to a sentence or two, you're bound to oversimplify. Which leads you to reach some and alienate others. And maybe I'm in the smaller group of the two. Maybe my viewpoint is so rare that it might as well be nonexistent.

I'm sure I'll still be posting the occasional inspirational quote. And you're welcome to do the same, of course! Maybe we'll relate to each other's, or maybe not. I think it's worth remembering that not everyone's path is the same. And that's okay. Our differences can sometimes be a beautiful thing. But I'll still be here, growing flowers and trees in my comfort zone. Because that matters, too.

7 Most Influential Books

I was tagged by a friend to do a daily Facebook post about a favorite or influential book. I set up seven days of posts on my author page to honor my most influential books and series, and I thought I'd share my answers in a blog post as well. Links lead to Goodreads.

(Little reminder that you can follow me on Goodreads while you're there.)

1. Harry Potter
Let's go for the obvious. Before Harry Potter, I was not a reader. After Harry Potter, I loved reading and writing. Maybe I would've found my way to both eventually. (I always did like making up stories.) But everything fell into place for me the night nine-year-old Valerie couldn't get to sleep and finally picked up the "strange" wizard book her aunt had gifted her for Christmas.

2. The Princess Diaires
It's a little harder for me to go back to this series now compared to other old favorites. But the books were fun and full of pop culture references, and Mia was an inspiring young activist as well as being a reluctant princess. Book Mia was also a vegetarian, and reading these books at 12-13 is what prompted me to become one, myself. Sixteen years later, and I haven't regretted that choice for a moment.

3. The Mediator
Just hearing about this book from Mallory got my imagination dancing. An attractive teenage ghost hanging around in your room? It was from these thoughts that the original concept of my ghost muse, Morgan, was born. And while most of you will not read Spun of Silver for a very long time, suffice it to say, ghost Morgan was life changing. He made me dream of having a real life soulmate. I didn't actually read the the first Mediator book until almost a year later when Tiffany started talking about it. (Well, the fifth book, actually... blame badly designed covers for the three of us thinking Haunted was a standalone.) But this series had a profound impact on my life in so many ways. It was also my most recommended/loaned out book of my high school days.

No, NANA is not a novel series. It's a series of manga (Japanese comics). However, the impact this story had on me and my writing cannot be denied. Characters' lives tangling so beautifully and painfully. The idea that friendship soulmates could be as powerful as romantic ones. And the beautiful artwork. I still often think in Ai Yaazawa's style. And I am still waiting, hoping, praying that she returns to finish this gorgeous story.

5. Twilight
Yes, I know. And no, I don't particularly care. Number 5 on my most influential book list is Twilight. After my panic attacks led to my leaving school, I struggled with a period of depression so bad that I couldn't even bring myself to read. I've always seen stories unfold visually in my head, and that dark period left my head cloudy and disconnected. I could process words, but I couldn't feel them. And that made reading seem pointless. When I was recommended Twilight, I finally found a book I was wrapped enough in to start seeing again. The idea of vampires had always intrigued me, but more than that, I loved the idea of soulmates that was in the Twilight series. No, it's not a perfect story. Some of Edward's more troubling behaviors are a little over-romanticized, even in interviews with Stephenie. (I honestly prefer Carlisle and Esme's love story.) But I love these characters and this world so much. I regret sometimes the popularity this series found, because it led to people to polarize into giggling fangirls and haters. I was neither. But this series was important to me, and I won't hide that fact

6. Guardians of Time
Another recommendation from a friend, this series has time travel and a strong emphasis on soulmates. I read this series around the time I was starting to form solid plans for my The Timeline universe. After playing with the idea of soulmates in my stories for years, they became a main component in my universe as a whole. I've been meaning to reread this series for ages.

7. The Truth About Forever
While I did read a few contemporary/realistic books in my youth, I mostly stuck to fantasy and paranormal. I found the idea of most books without fantasy elements to be "boring". (I even read Sarah Dessen's first two books years before and was not impressed.) But enough people on LiveJournal were recommending Sarah Dessen's books to me that I eventually gave in. When I read The Truth About Forever, it was the attention to characters that I found the most compelling. I loved the book so much that I immediately jumped into Sarah's next book, Just Listen, after finishing. These two books made me realize that I found characters to be the most important part of any story, not the plot or lore. I've probably read as many realistic books as fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal in the years since. And you might notice that in my own books that while magic is an important element, it is only really there to serve as the background to a story about characters and emotions.

Video Game Meme

Stolen from Tumblr, because I never get to talk about video games here anymore. Video games have influenced my writing so much, and I want them to be recognized as a total valid way to tell a story. Novels are not inherently better than any other art form. Every medium has it's own magic. Sorry I have to turn everything too serious. This was supposed to be fun.

Favorite game from the last 5 years? ‒ Final Fantasy XV, or maybe Persona 5, but I haven’t finished that yet. Also, Mario Odyssey and Super Mario 3D World? I’m bad a choosing one favorite. (And don’t get me started on all the great remasters!)

Most nostalgic game? ‒ Super Mario RPG. Anything NES/SNES Mario related, but that especially. I cannot accurately tell you how much I love SMRPG without embarrassing myself.

Game that deserves a sequel? ‒ Also Super Mario RPG. At least in terms of what I don’t know we’re getting. I enjoy Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi, but they don’t quite compare.

Game that deserves a remaster? ‒ Also Super Mario RPG. My answers are getting boring, but... I just want something, something SMRPG related. But I’ll add on all the Shadow Hearts games. And Final Fantasy VI, so I can finally play it.

Favorite game series? ‒ Kingdom Hearts.

Favorite genre? ‒ JRPGs.

Least favorite genre? ‒ Shooters.

Favorite song from a game? ‒ I have a lot of video game soundtracks. Eternity ~Memory of Lightwaves~ is probably my most played song, since I used it for Dreaming in Shadow’s soundtrack. Also, Simple and Clean & Passion. And basically anything from Final Fantasy X.

Favorite character from a game? ‒ Yuna from Final Fantasy X.

Favorite ship from a game? ‒ Tidus/Yuna. Or Yuri/Alice from Shadow Hearts.

Favorite voice actor from a game? ‒ I haven’t really thought about this much. Which characters has Crispin Freeman voiced lately? I like Lightning’s voice a lot. (Final Fantasy XIII)

Favorite cutscene?Suteki da Ne. Yuna’s dance. 1,000 Words. Or Sora giving up his heart to free Kairi’s.

Favorite boss? ‒ Ansem at the end of Kingdom Hearts.

First console? ‒ SNES. There’s a really goofy picture of my shocked/blissed face at Christmas.

Current console or consoles? ‒ PS4 & PS3 & PS2 & Switch are all hooked up to my TV right now. I also have the Wii U around to finish a few things. And a charging Vita and 3DS. I almost exclusively play The Sims 2 on my PC, but I do have a Steam account with some games.

Console you want? ‒ I have the modern consoles I want right now, but I would love to have a working SNES, N64, and Genesis some day.

Place from a game that you’d like to visit? ‒ Macalania Woods in Final Fantasy X. Uh, also... Nimbus Land or Star Hill from Super Mario RPG?

Place from a game that you’d like to live in? ‒ Maybe Rose Town from Mario RPG?

Ridiculous crossover that would never happen but would be super fun? ‒ Kingdom Hearts visiting Super Mario RPG world.

Book that would make a good game? ‒ Divergent? I’m not sure. I'm still waiting for a truly great Harry Potter game.

Show/movie that would make a good game? ‒ Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly.

Games you want to play? ‒ Kingdom Hearts 3. And sooo many others!

Have you gotten 100% completion in a game? ‒ I got a Platinum in LEGO Harry Potter 1-4. I came close to getting everything in my original Kingdom Hearts save, which got tragically deleted before I could finally beat Sephiroth. (But let's be honest... that probably wasn't going to happen.)

Have you cried over a game? ‒ Almost every single game with a story?

What power-up or ability would you want in real life? ‒ Yuna’s summons.

Intuition and That "Right" Feeling

So, I finally worked on Book Two again. Thursday evening, I got most of Chapter 25 written. I fit in almost everything from my notes and previously written sections, but something felt like it was missing. I don’t usually reach the end of a chapter with that feeling anymore. I stressed over it that night. Was I only feeling weird because I didn’t want the book to end? One more chapter, and it would be over. Or was there really something missing?

I got varying advice from people. Some saying to come back to it later or in second draft. Some saying it always feels like you could add more. These were good encouragements, and it’s great to relate to other writers. But I’m used to that “right” feeling. Not “perfect”, because there’s no way to achieve that, especially in a first draft. (Though I’m basically doing first and second draft on chapters right now.) A “this is as good as it needs to be right now” feeling. I bring in finished chapters to my weekly therapy sessions, and Jill is the first person I show anything to. And it didn’t even feel ready for that.

And that’s how I knew I wasn’t ready to leave it alone yet. That and the anxiety buzzing around my head for leaving it unfinished. But I did think I needed to come back fresh. This was a key part of every conversation I’d had. I didn’t know how long that would take. But it turned out to be only about 17 hours.

Friday afternoon, I dove back in. Separated out the parts that felt like they moved too fast from one thought to another. Read it from the beginning and filled in the spaces when it felt appropriate and put other parts back together the way they were when it worked. The writing flowed well. And this time, when I got to the end, it felt “right”.

I’ve struggled the last couple of years with trusting my intuition. With trusting in my stories. Self-doubt has made me second guess myself so often. How will readers see this? Are these feelings really mine or just the anxiety’s? And I had to confront that here. At first, I couldn’t tell if it was my own heartbreak over the ending getting in the way or my intuition telling me something. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. This time, I think both parts were speaking to me. Yes, I was heartbroken over finishing the second to last chapter. But something also felt off. I separated the two voices, and followed my intuition. And after the fixes, I felt really good about moving onto the final chapter.

Or... I did for about twenty minutes. Nothing totally eclipsed that “right” feeling. I still knew I’d done well with Chapter 25. But the anxiety caught back up to me. I felt like a stone dropped into my stomach. One more chapter. How can that be possible?

Battling self-doubt and anxiety is a never-ending battle. But I hope you’re able to identify the quiet voice of your intuition in all the noise. I believe in you!

A to Z Bookish Survey

I've recently been obsessed with watching through BookTuber Super Space Chick's backlog of videos. I love that she is so bright and positive during a time where book discussion has gotten so bleak and negative. She is also interested in a lot of the same books as I am. I just watched her answers to this A to Z Bookish Survey, and I thought it would be nice to answer more questions about books and reading here. Please feel free to take! Please also be aware that these are just my opinions based on personal enjoyment of books and reading. I never claim to rate or recommend things objectively.

Author You’ve Read the Most Books From:

If we're talking re-reads, J.K. Rowling is my most read author, easily. But for most read unique books, Meg Cabot takes the prize. According to Goodreads, I've read 20 of her books. What's great about Meg Cabot is that she's shown talent for writing in a wide variety of genres. My favorites from her are The Mediator series and The Princess Diaries series.

Best Sequel Ever:

I don't know if it's the best ever, but Where She Went by Gayle Forman comes to mind. I didn't think I would love the follow-up as much as I loved If I Stay, but I might've liked it even more! Definitely a short series that I absolutely loved.

Currently Reading:

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray. It's a Sci-Fi YA about jumping between parallel universes, and it's really cool so far!

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Water. I mean, I don't really drink anything except water and tea and smoothies. But mostly water.

E-Reader or Physical Book:

I prefer physical books, for sure. But I'm pretty much always reading a print book and an ebook at the same time these days. I just spend more time with the print book I'm reading.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School:

Thanks for the reminder that I never dated in high school. Or ever. This is really difficult. If we go recent, I guess maybe Josh Sanderson from To All the Boys I've Loved Before or August Flynn from This Savage Song. But I haven't finished either of those series, so don't quote me on that. Also from a series I need to finish, Aiden St. Delphi from The Covenant series. But he's not in high school, so I don't know if that counts.

Glad You Gave This Book a Chance:

This Savage Song wasn't really on my radar, but a friend gifted it to me for Christmas, and I ended up really enjoying it.

Hidden Gem Book:

Griffin & Sabine! I talked a lot about this series in my last survey, but yeah. Still really in love with these books.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life:

This might be cliché, but... picking up Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone for the first time at 9-years-old and discovering that I actually loved reading.

Just Finished:

Falling for the Wrong Guy by Sara Hantz. It was cute romance, with some serious subjects, but the pacing felt way too fast in a lot of places. Characters changed their minds so quickly. But I still enjoyed it, overall.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

Horror. I don't mind slightly creepy stories, but no gore. I have a weak stomach. I also don't like erotica. If there's a really good story that happens to have sexual bits, I can usually deal. And I sometimes even enjoy slightly sensual stuff. But yeah, flat out erotica with little else to offer is a big no for me at this point.

Longest Book You’ve Read:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (870 pages)

Major Book Hangover Because Of:

I'm not actually sure what this means? Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma left me traumatized, with a shattered heart. And four years later, that book still haunts me.

Number of Bookcases You Own:

Three. Two upstairs, one in the basement for kids books. I need more shelves and have nowhere to put them.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

Any of the Harry Potters. Especially the first three. I think I've read them too many times to count.

Preferred Place to Read:

In bed. I don't really have free access to the rest of the house most of the time.

Quote That Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels from a Book You’ve Read:

I struggle with quotes, actually. I love them in the moment, but they don't often stick with me. I've been thinking about this quote a lot recently, though. Because I've been going back and forth between anxious intensity and depressive numbness.

"You do care," said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. "You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”

Reading Regret:

I don't often regret reading a book. I mean, sometimes there are books I felt like I wasted my time on, but it's not a huge regret. I guess I regret that leaving high school early and never going to college led to me missing out on the chance to read and learn to appreciate more Classics. Yeah, I could try reading them on my own, but I just don't know if I could get the same meaning out of them. I struggle with adult fiction.

Series You Started and Need to Finish (All Books are Out in Series):

So many. Ugh. I think I most want to finish The Covenant series, The Mortal Instrument series, and The Sweep series right now. But also, The Lunar Chronicles. And the Monsters of Verity series. And the Shatter Me series. And the Delirium Series. And the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series. Eek! I'll stop there before you get tired of reading.

Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books:

I'll try to give some choices I haven't mentioned yet. The Truth About Forever & Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. And The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

I'm not sure if I'm unapologetic about anything these days. Closer inspection brings out issues with everything. No story is perfect. And while I do very much like focusing on the positive, I don't think that means we should just completely ignore problems. The closest obvious choice for me is Harry Potter. It's been utterly huge in my life, and I honestly don't know where I would be without it. But yes, I acknowledge that it has its issues just like anything else.

Very Excited for This Release More Than All the Others:

I'm not actively craving many books that aren't already out, but Someday by David Levithan.

Worst Bookish Habit:

You might be able to guess this from earlier answers, but I am absolutely awful about finishing series these days. Even if I'm in love with the first book in a series, I find myself starting something else and getting distracted. I also tend to hoard experiences I think I will love for some unknown time I will "need" them more. This does work out with astonishing synchronicity sometimes. But other times, that just leads me to miss out on the excitement I had built up.

X Marks the Spot: Start at the Top Left of Your Shelf and Pick the 27th Book:

My top shelf has mostly thick books, so I only counted 24. But if I continue my counting to the next shelf, Impossible by Nancy Werlin. Which I remember really enjoying at the time, but it didn't really stick with me. *Shrug*

Your Latest Book Purchase:

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider.

ZZZ-Snatcher Book (Last Book That Kept You Up WAY Late):

I very rarely read past 9PM. But the last book I struggled to put down was Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I just had to know!

Planting Trees of Words

So, I still didn’t make any progress with Magic Inc. this week, but I did spend a little time typing and revising Miss Masquerade. It went well. How much easier it is to revisit and reword something else than to work on writing the ending chapters of Book Two. The ending that will break my heart and put me at risk of being ever closer to releasing my next book. The book I’m scared the world will either hate or ignore, with no room in-between. That’s what my anxiety tells me. That my writing is either worthless or worthy of hate. That people will cut down the tree I planted with heart and soul and watered with every fragile, broken part of me.

Still, it’s funny how I relate better to Sapphira now than I did when writing the first draft. Her apathy. The fragile numbness she uses as a shield. It’s much easier to keep living if you don’t feel anything. I’ve never been able to not feel. Everything cuts me too deeply. But I’m more numb now than I used to be. The nature of the world has made me fear again. Made me afraid to love. Afraid to love myself. Afraid to love others. Afraid to believe in the saving power of love I’ve always sworn by. (Because another birthday is approaching and love still hasn’t come to save me. Or come to make me want to save myself.) And afraid to love my writing. My world. My former secret place. Publishing has, in some ways, taken all the joy out of writing from me. The fear has struck so hard that I'm nearly numb to everything else.

And yet... I watched this video today. It made me cry and think deeply about creating and sharing ourselves through art. I feel like maybe it was trying to tell me something important. I remember when I used to be more than willing to break myself open for my writing. And I knew then that not everyone would understand. How could I not know that after growing up with bullying the way I had? But it didn't matter. I had to tell my stories anyway. It hurt more not to. Now I've become too accepting of the numbness if it protects me. Now I cut down my own trees of words before they've even had time to grow. And I'm not sure how to stop.

I think it's all connected. My fear of love and my fear of baring my soul in writing. I used to love with abandon, too. Nothing ever came of it. And I'm glad. I want to wait for the right person. I don't want to get entangled in something that will ultimately be unfulfilling. So, it's better that my heart doesn't escape as easily as before. But I have to put my love somewhere. I have to put my heart back into my work. Until the right person shows up to earn it.

I want to plant my trees with hope and not fear. Not for anyone else. But welcoming of anyone else who's willing to love them.
Magic Inc. began its life as my little secret world. An escape from the cruelty of my classmates and the loneliness of school life. This world blended some of my reality with my wildest imaginings. What if I were friends with the most popular girl in school? What if I were magical? What if I were special? What if there was a place I could escape to? What if I had someone to love and care for me (aside from family)? What if I belonged somewhere?

This secret world carried me through all my schooling years. It grew and developed with me. At times, it changed. My attentions shifted. But most things stayed the same. Magic Inc. always felt like a better, safer place for me than the real world. As I began writing fanfiction, some of my world leaked into my writing. But Magic Inc. still remained mostly private until the spring of 2010. By this time, I had been writing several other books that connected to the same universe as Magic Inc. And I had realized it was time to actually write *my* story.

This was even more difficult than I expected. Because Jane *is* me. Her experiences and feelings are almost entirely my own. And I knew some readers would not understand her. I was an extremely sensitive child. Growing up, both peers and adults questioned the intensity of my emotions and affections. I was, at the same time, an overly mature child and an overly innocent one. Jane's dreams and longings may read as "too old" for her age, but this is how I truly felt as a child. I *didn't* feel like I belonged at school. As children often do, I longed to be an adult. This is not unusual. But I also ached for a more mature connection. I think that's why I always got along better with my teachers than my peers.

But what I really craved was romantic love. From age nine and on, I would fall desperately, obsessively in love. And yes, I do call it love. Was it exactly the same as love between two adults in an actual relationship? No. But then, I think every love is different. That doesn't make it any less real. What Jane feels is completely based in the reality of what it felt like to be young and in love. To want to find wholeness in the arms of the right person.

You might not be able to relate to Jane's story. And that is completely okay. But I do believe there are other kids, teens, and adults who will be able to relate to the intensity of her passion and struggles fitting in with the world around her. Sharing a story is a very vulnerable process for any writer, and when it is based so totally on your own experiences, it can almost paralyze you with fear. As I prepare to finish Jane's next adventure, I want to thank everyone who has let her into their lives so far and anyone who will do so in the future. Thank you for treating her kindly.