Saturday, March 17, 2018

STRICKEN: One Year Later

Stricken came out exactly one year ago today... It's so hard to believe that my little story has been out there this long already! The last 365 days just flew by. 

In recognition of this wonderful event's first anniversary, I would like to share something with all of you... 

The *real* story behind Stricken - when I came up with the original idea, when its original 207K draft was finished, etc. - and the rest of the journey to being accepted by eXtasy Books in 2016. It's a little long, and may seem disjointed by times, but please... Enjoy.

Stricken's Cover Page, Manuscript Version

Originally published in Facebook on February 28, 2017
Edited version for Blogger Copyright 2018 V.J. Allison

When I first came up with the idea for this particular story in 2010, it was quite different than it is today. Yes, the principle of the story was identical - two extremely different people falling in love and facing a lot of adversity - but the evolution of the story line, the characters and everything else in the last seven - almost 8 - years still blows me away.

The original version of Stricken covers 15 years from Chapter 1 to the Epilogue, with a 6-year gap between Part 1 and Part 2, and another six-year gap between the ending and its epilogue. Its original name was No Regrets. It covered the blossoming romance from the time the two main characters met to six years after their marriage, and even a lot of stuff that happened after their “happy ever after”. It was a hefty read at over 207,000 words, and about 400 pages. Its first draft was finished October 30, 2012.

I think my biggest mistake was thinking that just because I did things differently, I would be grabbed up by a publisher in no time. I was arrogant, and overconfident in my work. I thought I knew it all about editing, proofing and everything else. I didn’t have a beta reader either, and that’s something essential to an aspiring or newbie author to my understanding.

It started going out in 2013, not even four months after its first draft was completed. For a newbie, this is not enough time to get things perfected. One needs practice, and it’s rare that a publisher will take on a person with their first attempt at writing a book.

I got rejections galore. How many is between myself and a select few. No one told me why it wasn’t what they wanted, other than it was “too long”, or my style wasn’t right for them.

Finally, in January of 2014, an editor for a publisher in Indiana (one of the best in the genre at that time) took the time to give me a personal rejection note. She gave me a few examples of what I was doing wrong - tons of repetition (think descriptions of a person’s voice, eyes, etc), and that I had a lot of passive scenes - unneeded stuff that didn’t move the story forward.

Her kind words made me look at the story with new eyes. I went through it, noted a few things and decided it was time to work on something else - a story that *was* up to publisher’s standards - and to try honing my natural talent to a fine edge. I also joined a couple of writing forums at her suggestion and decided to get some people in as beta readers. People who I trusted, yet knew the craft of writing, or were just voracious readers like myself.

(((You have to be able to take constructive criticism - good and bad - in order to improve and grow as a writer. If you cannot take things professionally and get offended if someone doesn’t like your stuff or tells you a way to improve it, you will never make it as an author, and more than likely, never get published.)))

“Away to Me” was written in less than 3 months, and although it may never see the light of day publishing wise, it’s still a cute story in my opinion.

Meanwhile, “No Regrets” sat on my hard drive, gathering dust for a while. I can’t remember how it came about, but one of my old school chums wanted to read it and I let her. She liked it and gave me a lot of suggestions on how I could improve it.

I wasn’t sure, but did write down her suggestions, just in case. I really wanted that story out there. The characters were still in my head, clamoring for me to get their story out there, somehow.

Even though it was suggested by some that I self publish "No Regrets" in the original format, I decided not to.

I'm glad I didn't. It would have marked the end of my career as an author. Self published works have to be *perfect* - from its storyline to the editing, as well as the blurb and the cover. If anything seems out of place, it's less likely that readers will purchase any of your books in the future, no matter if they are polished to perfection or not. (Thank you to the gang at my closed writing forum for those words of wisdom!)

I decided to rewrite the entire thing, from start to finish. “No Regrets” was finally yanked out of cold storage and looked at again. At 207 K, it was twice the length of the average romance or erotica novel. I had to do a lot of trimming. I was also seeing spots where it didn’t make sense, or it was too confusing. Thanks to the kind editor, and my school chum, I was seeing the passive areas, and other mistakes started showing up a lot easier.

I think a third of the story was passive areas. Another ten percent of it was repetitive stuff. All of those were immediately eliminated.

Next to go was having it all in one volume. It was broken into two parts, and each was given a designation. “Hearts Awakening” would cover the first half of their story, from the time they met to a year after their breakup, and “Hearts Remembering” would cover becoming face to face again and their subsequent journey toward happy ever after.

It wasn’t until about twenty false starts that I realized that working it as two books wasn’t going to work either, especially after advice about “keeping it under 6 months” came from that old school chum.

Besides, romance novels generally have a happy ever after or happy for now ending. Part One was *not* a happy ending. It was sad, and really not for the romance market as we see today.

It was late in 2014 that I decided to eliminate the first half of the story, and only write from their meeting up years after the break up to their happy ever after.

I also started thinking about how plausible a lot of the things were, like how the breakup came about, and everything else related to it. That was changed. It’s now extremely plausible and flows so much better.

I eliminated a few of the characters too, as well as changed one around to something else, and added a new one. This had been pretty illogical in the first incarnation.

Instead of starting off exactly where Part 2 originally started, I went with something else, a much better hook. Something that would make you wonder what the hell was up with that and why they broke up in the first place.

I admit, I did copy and paste somethings from the original into the updated version... The original wasn’t all bad, and some of it turned out to be some of the most memorable lines I’ve written to date.

However, I’d say about 80% of this was me pounding on the keyboard, writing it from scratch but with the timeline and their personalities handy, just to keep myself on track.

It was finished in February 2015, after I decided to eliminate the epilogue. It wasn’t going to add to it, only drag things down. It also left the option of having this as a standalone book instead of a series or duology.

I think the year I took off after its revised first draft was done was the best thing for it. When I took it out of “storage” in early 2016, I could see a lot of the problems with editing and so forth and set out to get those corrected. Thanks to my best friend Heather, we managed to polish it to a shine. I dubbed it “Hearts Remembering” and decided who would get it first.

It went to a publishing house that was supposed to reply to me in three months or less. 

It was rejected at the five-month mark, which wasn’t unexpected. By that time, I was used to rejections, so it was just another publisher knocked off the list, and a mental note of they were not the right one for me after all.

I set off to find another reputable publisher, one that accepted stories less than 90 thousand words, and had some really rough language into it.

I was looking at one in particular, an American press, but there was a Canadian one that kept bringing me back. Finally, I decided to research this particular house and see if my little story would meet submission guidelines.

I sent it to them on a whim the first week of October 2016, after changing the name to “STRICKEN” at the last minute. (((Yes, it is named after the song by Disturbed. Once you read the story, listen to the second verse of the song. You will get why I chose that name for my first book.)))

That “Canadian House” was eXtasy Books, in British Columbia, on the opposite coast...

I didn’t expect much, and decided to focus on Halloween Havoc, which was coming up in a few weeks.

October 29, 2016 is a day I will never forget. I was giving myself a manicure with purple polish, and I got an email from the Acquisitions Editor at eXtasy Books. I suspected another rejection and opened it.

I had to read it at least six times before it sank in.


Seriously? They liked it?

My book. Really?

No way.


I signed the contract in November of 2016, and things went from there – editing, approval of the cover, revisions galore, and finally, approving the final copy just a couple of hours before the book went LIVE.

Stricken came out on March 17, 2017, as an e-book on eXtasy Books’ website, and was released on other e-book sites like Amazon and Kobo on March 26, 2017.

When I first came up with the idea for this story in 2010, it wasn’t supposed to be this short - under 60K word count - or only cover 6 months. All loose ends were supposed to be somewhat tied up at the end. Instead there, are still a few questions... But they are not to be answered now, if ever.

I look back at the last six and a half years, and I’m still shocked that all of the work for that story is finally done. I’ve had the two mains in my head for years, and it’s not easy letting them out into the wide world. It just amazes me how much this story has evolved, same with my writing. I think if I hadn’t written its original version or the ABOMINATION ("Family Portraits" - it was written as a sequel for the original version of Stricken, but it will *never* see the light of day, it is HORRIBLE!), I wouldn’t have learned anything, nor would I be the author I am today. 



I am still in shock that despite everything - health problems (occipital neuralgia, diabetes, anemia, and everything else), trying to run a house, taking care of a child on the autism spectrum, and so many other things - I still managed to write this book (twice!), edit it, get rejections galore, and STILL found a publisher that loved it! 

This was done writing part time - think maybe one or two days a week if I was lucky - and while fighting an occipital neuralgia flare up every day I was writing and when I wasn't. I wasn't going to let something like my neuralgia - which is extremely painful and debilitating - keep me from reaching my dream of having one book published by a traditional house in my lifetime.

No excuses. Either do it or stop writing completely. 

I chose to keep going.

I am to keep going even with my occipital neuralgia worsening to the point of needing nerve blocks so I can at least function.

I will never give up on getting another book finished and published. Nor will I give up on improving my skills as an author, or stop writing the love stories I want to give to my fans.

Once again, I would like to thank eXtasy Books for giving me a chance. ♥

Have a great weekend everyone! Don't forget to check out the amazing authors at eXtasy Books and Devine Destinies... You may find a new favorite! ;) 

I leave you with the song that gave me the name for my first book - "STRICKEN" by Disturbed. I think David Draiman has some of the best pipes in the business... I adore this band!


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Posture Perfect

Things have been so crazy here! First of all, it's March Break, and that means I'm dealing with a goofy teenager all day instead of only part of it. Hubby had a mishap and that means I've been in charge of taking care of HIS end of things like shopping and such as well as my own stuff. 

PLUS we had a nor'easter here on Tuesday, and the power went out at 7 p.m. that day... It didn't come on again until 11:20 this morning. That's over 40 hours without power, folks! 

I did get in some reading while the power was out... Two books, but this is the one I really want to show off:


Heh. YES, it does have a LOT more than the movie did, and I am grateful for it. It explained and showed stuff that should have made the final cut. 

Overall, I think I actually liked the book better, despite it being one of Mark Hamill's best performances to date. 


The first round of nerve blocks wore off around 2 weeks after I got them... So that meant another trip in to see my specialist, on February 14th.

Four weeks, one day later, I'm still pain free for the most part. Now I do have a sinus headache and some shooting pains associated with nerves in my face, but that is *nothing* compared to what I've gone through with the occipital neuralgia. 

I'm so darn grateful for the nerve blocks because I don't think I could have managed everything that's happened the last two weeks without some sort of relief from the neuralgia. That stuff is PAINFUL. 

In between things, I've still managed to get some work done on the first book of the "Something About" series (edits, and revisions, plus a LOT of eliminating!), plot a few things for Fourteen (companion book to another one) AND start looking for ideas for books 2 and three of the "Something About" series.

PHYSIOTHERAPY - I started on February 13th, and it's not just acupuncture as the specialist ordered. Apparently if one slouches, it pulls on the muscles that are around the C2 vertebra, where the occipital nerves exit the spinal column, which can compress the nerves and therefore aggravate the occipital neuralgia to the point where one cannot function.

So..... I'm now doing resistance training to strengthen the muscles in my back, and I am now in the middle of training myself to hold my back and neck perfectly straight when I'm sitting or standing/walking. 

It IS helping, a LOT. Or I think it is. It's kind of hard to tell when the nerve blocks are still working... LOL

In conjunction with the physiotherapy and nerve blocks/injections, I made a huge decision about something a couple of weeks ago.........

I chopped off my hair. 

(Did some of you faint?)

Seriously. It was waist length, straggly, thin, fine and FRIED from the medications I'm on as well as being dyed so many times. I used a TON of conditioner every time I washed my hair. It tangled easily, felt hot and heavy, and was driving me bananas... Despite how thin and fine it really is. 

It also made my occipital neuralgia go crazy when I pulled it back into a ponytail, because it pulled on the scalp, and therefore aggravated the nerves. Having it short makes it so much easier to get the injections, not so much hair to wade through either.

Today, I went to the salon and a good friend of ours, Susie, cut it for me. We were not sure what to do with it first - she and the other girl in there (another longtime pal of ours named Crystal) just about fainted when I said I wanted it SHORT. We talked it over for a few minutes, and settled on an angled bob. 

If anyone watched Orphan Black, look at Rachel's hair. That's an angled bob, and I loved her hairstyle. That's exactly what I have now, except mine isn't as thick as hers was.

It needs another dye job, due to the amount of roots I'm showing, but overall, it's awesome. and I love it. 


Side view!

Just for reference, here's a before photo, from last year...

Note how my ponytail is ultra thin in that one (ironically from a year ago on Saturday...)

I feel so much LIGHTER! I think I lost about a foot of hair, and about a pound or two from my head alone. It feels so much better too, no dead ends, no broken parts, no fried areas, nothing but soft, healthy and easy to maintain hair. 

I don't know if my mom saw the photos on Facebook or not, but I'm betting she's going to be shocked. I've had long hair as long as I can remember... The shortest it's been since I was a toddler was when I was 12, it was about shoulder length then. It's been longer than that for over 30 years now.

It was past time for a change. Way past it.

I'm glad I did it. No more fried hair for this little metal chick!

On a final note, a HUGE CONGRATS to my friend Maggie. YOU DID IT GIRL! (She knows what I mean!)

I leave you with my favorite song by Heart. "Alone".