From 2015 to 2016

Here we are again at the end of another year. Every year I like to look back on what I did and look forward to what comes next; these posts are tagged annual review if you want to go back in time. This past year has been a major one for me, both personally and professionally, and while I can’t say I loved 2015, I believe it will become (in hindsight) a valuable one.

Things Published in 2015

This year was my first year of being published in adult fiction. First, in June, my short story “The Cure” (a horror/historical/fantasy mashup) was published at Interfictions, and you can still read it for free.

Then, starting in late October, Tremontaine launched. Tremontaine is a serialized ebook that releases weekly, like a TV show (but for your kindle or iphone), and is written by a team of writers including me. Based on Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint and related novels, it’s an adventurous tale of swordplay and drawing room intrigue, and it was my first experience collaborating with a group of writers to write fiction.

When 2015 began I hadn’t yet begun working on Tremontaine, but by now the first season has already been completed behind the scenes. Episodes will continue to release through January. I’m more than a little stunned that we managed to pull together thirteen episodes, each around 14,000 words, in such a short amount of time! I’ve discovered that it is genuinely amazing to be able to bounce ideas off a group of writers who are all working toward the same goal and developing the same characters. The serialized format is also a lot of fun for me because I love plot, and serializing a story means you’re constructing a series of cliffhangers and plot twists. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of challenges inherent in it (there are), but I enjoyed the challenges and feel that it has made me a stronger writer.

In the nonfiction realm, I had a nonfiction essay published in a major venue this year: a book review in the New York Times. This was a dream of mine and I’m really proud of it.

I had an essay published in The Horn Book as well, titled “Reimagining the World,” in which I share my thoughts on my artistic goals. It’s online here if you want to read it.

On my own for Diversity in YA, I wrote a series of posts on Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews. I’m very proud of this piece too, as I’ve heard from people throughout publishing who have read it and thought about it.

The State of My Writing

The majority of what I wrote in 2015 was also published in 2015, due to the incredibly fast turnaround time on Tremontaine. This is unusual, because mainstream, print publishing is so much slower. But I did write a few other things that have not been released yet, including two nonfiction essays. Nonfiction, in fact, kind of came back to me in 2015, knocked on the door of my brain, and said, “Hey, remember me? You used to write my stuff a lot more.” I’m not talking about blogging, but about longform or more structured, essay-type nonfiction. I really enjoy writing this stuff, and one of my goals for the future is to figure out how to do it more.

I’ve also been working on the novel that I recently sold, A Line in the Dark. (Hey, I sold a new novel in 2015! Woohoo!) It’s not coming out until 2018, which may seem really far away to you but to me, who has to write the thing, seems quite soon. This novel is a mystery, and since I’m a lifelong mystery reader, I want to get it right. Not that I ever don’t want to get things I write right, but since I’m such a fan of mysteries, I guess I feel a particular kind of responsibility about this.

It may come as a surprise to you that I don’t actually read much fantasy or science fiction. I have read more of it in the past, particularly when I was a teen, but for the majority of my life I’ve read crime fiction. Recently, I’ve been reading more literary fiction, too, something I used to dislike vehemently, but am now more interested in. I don’t know what changed, but something has. I anticipate that this novel is going to reflect some of the change in my personal reading tastes, and I expect that means it will feel different than my previous novels. Of course, I think every one of my books feels different from the previous ones, so take that with a grain of salt.

Writing this book also feels significant for me because, well, remember last year when I said I finished writing a contemporary realistic novel? Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a home for it — yet. The process of submitting that novel to publishers has been a difficult experience. It has shown me that many publishers expect me and my books to fit into particular boxes, and the size and scope of those boxes is limited by the degree of my commercial success. There are boxes for what “YA” is. There are boxes for what they think “a Malinda Lo novel” is. And yes, there are boxes for “diversity” that even I was shocked to learn exist. The problem is, I don’t seem to be able to fit into those boxes very well, probably because they’re not boxes of my design. (The other problem is: The System that designs those boxes.) But I’ve learned that in order to be able to define my own box (or to explode it entirely), I need to change certain things. I need to sell more books, and I need to level up in my craft.

This marks a distinct change in the way I think about my career. I mean, I’m thinking of it as a career now, as opposed to a dream. At the same time, I’m learning how to balance that career stuff with my artistic goals. This is something I do not know how to do very well. I suspect it is always going to be a challenge, but plenty of things get easier the longer you do them. Hopefully this will, too. I know that self-publishing is always an option for me, and someday I may go that route, but right now I’m focused on maintaining and growing a career in traditional, mainstream publishing, while staying true to my ideals.

So: sell more books and level up. That’s what I’m trying to do with A Line in the Dark. No pressure, right? I am very glad that I’ve found an editor and publisher who I believe is going to help me do that.

I’m laying all this out there to tell those of you who are aspiring writers or who are struggling in your own careers: I’ve been there. This last year has often felt like an uphill battle for me, but writing is what I’ve wanted to do my entire life, so I’m going to keep doing it. Since 2009 when my first novel debuted, I’ve had four novels published, half a dozen short stories, and contributed to a serialized fiction startup. I’m only now starting to get an idea of what the long game is. There’s a lot more strategy involved than I thought, and I thought I was pretty well-informed. At the same time, you have to keep your finger on the pulse of your artistic ambition, and not let it be pushed aside entirely in favor of profit. I think it’s a constant negotiation, and in a way, I’m grateful that this year forced me to face it.

More Personally

Related to the career stress, and also due to major transitions in my personal life (I moved from California to Massachusetts, for example), this last year was also the year I finally faced the fact that I have a serious problem with anxiety. Technically, I have generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve been clinically depressed several times in my life, but my depression has come and gone. My anxiety is always with me. In fact, I’m particularly anxious about the possibility of becoming depressed again. (My anxiety does not make sense. It just is. Aggressively.)

In order to learn how to manage my anxiety, I’ve gone back to therapy; specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy. I’ve never done this type of treatment before, and it’s markedly different than the psychotherapy I’ve had in the past. I know that medication is also an option, but because I’ve been on medication in the past and it hasn’t worked well for me, I’m focusing on CBT right now. I know that it’s working. I feel much better than I did three months ago, and I’m learning all sorts of skills to manage my anxiety. It’s not exactly fun, but I’m optimistic that I’m going to be able to have a life in which I live with anxiety but it does not control everything I do.

For those of you who deal with anxiety and depression: I’ve been there, too. I’m still there. I also want to note that I’m 41 years old, and it’s taken me all 41 of those years to get to this point where I am consciously facing my anxieties. I’ve never done this before. I’ve tried many different methods of dealing with it in my life, but never this one. I think I was not prepared until now to do this. If you’re struggling with it too, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s a very hard thing to deal with, and you have to take the steps you’re able to take when you’re ready to take them.

Coming up in 2016

I am, honestly, really excited about 2016. I won’t have much new fiction published in 2016, but the last of my three Tremontaine episodes is episode 12, and that will be out in a few weeks.

Later in 2016, I will have a nonfiction essay published in an anthology about writing. I don’t have all the details on when that will be released yet, but I’ll post here when I know more. I’m also hopeful that I will have additional nonfiction published somewhere on the internets.

Mostly, 2016 is going to be about writing new things. I have two projects ongoing, and one on the back burner. First, of course there’s A Line in the Dark, which will take up the majority of my year. Second, I’m working on a collaborative nonfiction project that I am so excited about! It’s very meaningful to me and my fingers are crossed that everything goes right for it. Third, I have an adult fiction project that I’ve been thinking about and researching forever. I have no idea if I’ll have time to get to that in 2016, but I hope so.

Last but not least, one of the things I’ve realized I want to do more of is mentor and coach young writers, particularly those who are minorities. I’m committed to supporting the movement in diversity, which is really a movement toward equality for those of us who have never been given seats at the big table. In 2016 I’m going to do this two ways. First I’m going to be mentoring a really talented young writer for We Need Diverse Books; that announcement will be going up soon.

Second, I’m going to be teaching at the Alpha Workshop, which is a 10-day-long science fiction, fantasy, and horror workshop for young writers (ages 14–19). It will be held July 21–31, 2016. I would have killed to go to something like Alpha when I was in high school, and I especially encourage writers who are of color, queer and/or disabled to apply. There are scholarships! Apply for those too, and please don’t self-reject. I can’t wait to meet you, Alpha 2016ers!

Happy new year, everyone, and I hope that 2016 will bring you lots of joy and fulfillment.