year at a glance: forthcoming things, reads I loved & on learning to revise

2016 was…

Well, this is a bookish blog; so I will focus on the bookish side of things…

In March this year two books of mine have sold to Erin Stein of Imprint/Macmillan. I’ll never forget the whiplash-fever sensation hitting me on a Saturday morning when I woke up to an email from my amazing agent that had ‘offer’ in its subject line and started with ‘you will be pubbed!!!

At the time, I described my emotions to my agent as being in Surreal-Land – and now, months on, I still feel that way... It’s not a bad feeling:) I know there are more of these adrenaline-filled moments to come (I’m looking forward to seeing my book’s cover, for one), but the instant I knew this was all happening for real is going to stay with me.

Then came the middle of the year and I received the long-awaited editorial letter for my first book, What the Woods Keep. (The Woods is to be my debut once it’s finalised.) I was a jumping bunny full of excitement, not quite believing my eyes: but yes this was real, my editorial letter was really here. It was time to get back to work. I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy ride, but was ready to jump back into the world of Hayden, my protag, to flesh out her journey, her personality, her struggles, relationships...

Credit: @katyadebecerra 

I was never labouring under illusion that writing is by any extent ‘easy’, but working on revisions for What the Woods Keep has shown me exactly how hard it is. Writing a book and revising a book are two completely different things and I’m still not quite sure which one is more labour-intensive. The process of revising WTWK has pretty much re-wired my brain. I learnt to let go (and delete), to see things from a different perspective, to understand how the agency of my protagonist affects her decision-making... Revising is an eye-opener that exposes things that sometimes we, writers, take for granted, like those a priori ideas that we think are clear to everyone but really they aren’t.

Then I had to travel overseas to see my family in-law in the month before the revisions were due. That meant I had to work non-stop whenever I had a moment. I became a frequent customer in a local Starbucks and drank so much of their coffee that relatives and friends started gifting me Starbucks money cards so I could buy more coffee.

Credit @katyadebecerra 2016. Here's me renamed by the Starbucks baristas of Bakersfield, CA

I’m yet to find out what my publisher thinks of my revisions but judging on a personal level, I’m happy with the work I’ve done. While it’s difficult to judge quality of your own writing, I think the book has improved tremendously without losing its atmosphere or purpose.

Another ‘Wow’ moment for me this year was when I (accidentally) discovered I had a Goodreads author profile with both of my forthcoming books listed… Yay!

Now that I’m waiting for my editors’ feedback on the revised What the Woods Keep, I’m working away on a brand new project that’s now at nearly 50,000 words. As with my other two books, this one took a while to conceptualize but I’m finally almost there…

And then of course, there are my reading highlights. As it’s become customary for me, I reflect on my year by reflecting on the books I’ve read. This year, once again, I’ve made an effort to step outside of my ‘comfort zone’ and read outside my ‘go-to’ genres (that would be supernatural and urban fantasy). This year, in particular, my focus was on the contemporary YA. This type of YA is definitely something I don’t read enough of. But more on that in a bit…

My Goodreads account tells me I’ve read 60 books this year.

2016 was the year I’ve finally read Albert Camus’s The Stranger; Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys series and Leigh Bardugo’s The Grisha trilogy. As the latter two have made a lot of waves in the YA books community, I’m so glad I finally took the plunge… Sometimes I’m late to the ‘party’ where literary hype is concerned, but it doesn’t make the surrender experience any less enjoyable. Besides, it’s great to be reading a series after it’s all been published so I don’t have to suffer in wait for the next book to come out…

This year I’ve also read some very neat creative non-fiction (Samantha Ellis’s How to be a Heroine and Lee Koffman’s The Dangerous Bride); the greatest illustrated encyclopedia of monsters I’ve ever laid my hands on (John Landis’s Monsters in the Movies) and some badass crime fiction (Sara Blaedel’s The Forgotten Girls and Tana French’s In The Woods).

Two amazing horror/supernatural YA books get a special mention from me this year: Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls and Kali Wallace’s Shallow Graves. I had shivers crawling over my skin while reading these… And what about that opening chapter of Shallow Graves? What the f*ck was that, Kali Wallace? What kind of an evil genius ARE YOU?

Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants was a mind-blowing debut, a book written as a multimedia document, drawing on linguistics and physics which was all YES PLEASE and MORE for me. I was actually thinking recently about Sleeping Giants again after watching Arrival. The latter reminded me of Neuvel’s debut novel in more ways than one: both deal with the topic of ‘first contact’, though in different ways, both elaborate on geo-political complexities of the modern world when speculating what comes next and, in my view, do justice to the idea of how a first contact scenario would unfold today, should an alien starship land on Earth.

The best YA contemporaries I’ve read this year are E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars and Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar, while Melissa Grey’s epic The Girl at Midnight was my favorite urban fantasy.

I’ve also forayed into graphic novels this year and enjoyed tremendously the first book of the iZombie series. In fact, I enjoyed iZombie so much that I’m planning a visit to my local graphic novel shop in the near future to buy more of iZombie. Plus I’ve already gotten the first season of the eponymous TV show ready to be watched.

My top reads this year? All of the above... but two books deserve a special mention!

Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff and Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf.

Just wow! Both books surprised me (and I'm not easily surprised), both got me hooked from page one, and both had raw-power female protagonists who were smart and alive. I don’t normally throw around expressions like tour de force, but these two were just that.

As you can gauge from my books selections this year, the majority of my reads were authored by women… And I’m so thrilled to see so many female-identified authors totally dominating the YA field! Reflecting on my reading experience over the years, I find the situation so much better now in terms of gender representation in literature. Of course, there’s still a long way to go: school and university programs continue to be overwhelmed by male-authored ‘classics’ while female-identified writers are still appallingly less likely to be critically acclaimed or nominated for ‘serious’ literary awards, less likely to be included in ‘best of’ collections etc. (For example, both short story collections I'm currently reading are 75-80% dominated by men authors, both are edited by male writers… My rhetorical question is: Why? How is this still the case? Where are all the women?) 

But still… remembering the books I came to adore as a child/teen, books that shaped me, that impressed me, were all exclusively written by men. These books’ protagonists were also exclusively male. With the exception of Nancy Drew and my beloved Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia, I didn’t have any good examples of female protagonists when I was growing up. So Holden Caulfield was it for me: I loved all the snark and the ridiculous headwear but couldn’t really identify with a rich spoilt boy’s experiences. Even the idea of running away from home was unthinkable! Girls inhabiting Holden’s world were unfamiliar ghosts I couldn’t relate to (of course, his treatment of women is another issue in need of critique). Now… 90-95% books I read are written by female-identified authors and their protagonists are usually female. I love the first tense female POV narration and can't get enough of it!

So here it is… my 2016 at a glance… I hope yours was filled with great books too and I can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring.


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