12 Tips to Help Balance Teaching and Writing Life (kind of)

 
Teacher-1.jpg

I am asked this question by teachers ALL. THE. TIME:

"How do you balance writing novels with teaching high school English full-time? What's your secret?"

I tend to look over my shoulder and think, Are you talking to me? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! There is no balance. There is only do.

"But online you look like you have it together."

Yes. Social media isn't reality. It's a daily struggle.I think it's important to establish why I write because I would not torture myself with my schedule if it weren't a high need (not a want) in my life.

Writing keeps me sane. Writing is where I find my solitude and escape.  My favorite part about writing is planning structure, seeing what happens, and editing for clarity and emotional impact. That same passion translates to being a good teacher since my favorite part of teaching is planning lessons that will make students think and adapting for clarity and impact.

Writing for teens while teaching teens is a powerful alliance. My students keep me connected to the current generation. As a young adult author, I read a ton of YA books to keep current with the industry. In the classroom, that knowledge helps me recommend books to my students. Students also take my writing advice more seriously now that I'm a published author since they know it's coming from an authentic place. Win-win.

However, teaching can be an energy-sapping monster. In case you think my teaching schedule is probably light and full of highly motivated students, and that's how I manage, I assure you, it isn't. I teach at a large urban high school, and I have hundreds (yes, plural) of students in my English classes this year, including a wide range of reluctant readers as well as AP Language and Composition students. Yikes.Here's what I've learned, what I've tried, and where I've failed, to inspire and provide, uh, a reality check. (Some of my advice will work with anyone struggling to write with a demanding, full-time day job.)

Tips to help balance teaching and writing (kind of):

boundary-line.jpg

1. A teacher's workday must have an end, and you must draw that clear boundary line. Say that mantra to yourself every freaking day. Does it make you tear up a little with stress relief? You cannot work on lesson plans, grading papers, emailing parents, filling out administrative paperwork, etc. throughout the day and into the deep recesses of the night. It isn't human, and you will become a worse teacher, not a better teacher, for it.

Give yourself a mental clocking out time.  Draw a boundary line based on your time, not tasks remaining. Either go to school early or stay late, but don't do both. I shut off my teacher brain at 6 pm the latest no matter what. I often go for a walk after my teaching day ends to clear my head and transition to home.At least twice a month, I preserve one day off from teaching, writing, and social media that I call a "me" day to just be. It helps me recharge fully since writing and social media also have no clear end times.

2. Sunday nights are for recharging, not for grading or writing. I learned this one the hard way. I used to cram in extra grading and writing on Sunday nights, but then I paid for it all week. If you stay up late on a Sunday night doing work, your internal stress levels never get a chance to rest and reset for the next week. Sunday nights should be for relaxing and recharging. Read for pleasure. Spend time with family. Remember what's important to you.

3. Set aside a dedicated day and time for your writing, probably either one hour before teaching or one hour in the evening. Or dedicate two hours every Saturday and Sunday to write.  Most people can write between 500-1000 words in an hour. So minimum, in less than a year, you'd write the rough draft of a novel.I write 500 words, or for one hour (whichever comes first) at night during the school year. I take a week off writing when grades are due for report cards. I originally started the Twitter Writing Challenge group to keep me accountable and motivated, although I haven't been as active with them since I found that posting a public, daily word count when an editor/agent is waiting for my work is way too much pressure for me. I know many writers with busy day jobs who joined the #5amWritersClub on Twitter for motivation.

You might be thinking, "But I'm so tired. Teaching wipes me out." Yup. Do you know you are at your most creative when you are exhausted because your critical brain is too tired to argue against your ideas? Teachers should be primed for creative things since we're so damn tired!

(Heads up, though: If you are a new teacher, please give yourself a few years before adding professional writing goals to the mix. Your first three years of teaching are vital to learn how to be an effective teacher long-term, and you need to focus all your energy to building those skills first so you can rely on them later. I've been teaching for almost twenty years, and it still isn't easy to manage both.)

4. Keep a written record of your progress for tangible accountability. It's too easy to put off writing and not see the negative, cumulative effect it's having on your goals. I use Pacemaker to set private, daily word count goals and full draft deadlines. It adjusts when I don't write and recalculates an end goal (much like an amortization calculator for debt.) It's highly encouraging to me to see my progress and failure in real numbers.I also stay accountable through my local critique group meetings once a month. If you are serious about writing, you need a trusted audience of people willing to read early pages and give you honest feedback while you return the favor. If you are writing for children and teens, SCBWI has great resources for finding an open critique group by region. That's how I found my group. I also know some writers who use Critique Circle online.

5. Start a bullet journal. You need a good calendar system for school, family, and writing deadlines and goals. The best thing I ever did was start a bullet journal at the advice of a writer friend when I published my first book. I couldn't manage all the details for different tasks and deadlines.  If you find you have lists and sticky notes everywhere, it's time for a bullet journal.It's a way to organize lists, notes, and deadlines without losing anything. It's gets the daily and future clutter out of your head. It's better than a calendar or agenda because you create it as you go, and it expands with all the aspects of your life. The key is the table of contents (or index) you build for quick access later. I'm telling you, it's cathartic not to have to remember everything anymore. Some people get fancy with their journals, but I am not artistic, and I really don't have the time. I have one bullet journal for tracking my teaching, writing, and family long-term commitments and daily to-do lists, and other random ideas that pop into my head. It handles it all. There are a ton of videos out there, but here's a basic video to get started

.6. Delegate, then let it go. One problem teachers have by profession is we are oh so helpful... so bloody helpful and accommodating that we often take on too many tasks out of kindness to others while not paying attention to our needs.Are there tasks that aren't worth your writing time that you can let go or pay someone else to do? How many things do you do for other people when they are fully capable of doing it themselves? Are you a parent? Do you still do everyone's laundry even though they are old enough and fully capable?Stop.Will your place be messier? Yes. Let it go. Do you want to write?

You aren't any less of a parent or friend or spouse if you make other people more self-sufficient. You are helping them become stronger, more reliable people who see you respecting your needs and your dreams. My kids are older (age 21 and 13), so this is easier for me than it may be for you if you have young children.The key is not to delegate tasks and then become passive aggressive and micromanage them. The key is to delegate and let things fail. That's the only way others will take on the task themselves, knowing you won't rescue them in the end.

Delegate in your classroom as well. Students want to help you. Give them classroom roles, make them classroom helpers for extra credit. Save energy for important tasks, like instruction, feedback, and grading, and set up processes in your classroom where students help students.

7. You need a number one supporter. You need the emotional support of others to be a writer. Writing is fun, but writing is hard. It requires sacrifice, creative bravery, and personal discipline. You need at least one person in your life who is always rooting for you through the ups and downs. My hubby is absolutely my number one supporter. He has never, ever questioned or complained about my writing time, traveling to book events, or meeting with my monthly critique group. Quite the contrary. He has always known that writing is the absolute one personal thing I need in my life.

8. Use your school vacations and summers for writing marathons. This is prime time writing, where I try to get ahead of my writing schedule. Writing helps recharge my creative batteries. I do not grade papers during vacations since that would suck the life out of me. These vacations are to recharge from the stress of teaching, not time to "catch up" with unrealistic grading practices.

9. Use technology to write and teach. Teachers have a lot of typing to do, and sometimes my hands and wrists get tired. Since I write my novels in scenes, I love using the program Scrivener for rough drafts (it has separate folders for each scene and compiles everything into Word later). I paid for the additional app so I can dictate words into my phone, and it will save to Dropbox and update to Scrivener on my laptop.  It's not perfect (it's often confused by my lingering Boston accent), but when I'm exhausted, it's better than typing. Plus, I can use the app on the go, so if I'm waiting for my daughter to get out of practice, I can still work on my novel.

This year I plan to incorporate more technology, peer editing, and verbal feedback on student writing assignments since my class numbers are so high, with mini-lessons to address common issues.  I won't put feedback on final drafts, only a score.  Also, to the English teachers out there, pep talk: You are not hired to be the personal editor of each student. You are supposed to be teaching them to edit. Those two things are not the same.Remember this: The best teachers stay student-focused, not paperwork-focused.

10. Be aware of your physical body.  Be aware of how physical you are during the day when teaching. Since writing is sedentary, you have to manage your physical movement when teaching without wearing yourself thin. If your physical body is exhausted, you will come home and sleep instead of write. I have a joint and muscle pain issue, where I get really sore and stiff if I sit or stand for long, so I have to stay aware and change my physical position every twenty minutes, or I will pay for it later. I alternate as much as possible during the day so my physical exhaustion won't increase my mental exhaustion and stop me from writing at night.  I use the body scan on the Calm app for a twenty-minute daily meditation to check in with my body and stress levels. I also go for walks to break up my day. This year I'd like to get back into early morning yoga as well. I love Yoga with Adriene videos.

11. To avoid writer's block, try writing based on your daily emotions.  If I have a funny experience teaching, I work on a humorous scene in my novel. If I have a sad experience, it's tear-jerker time. If I have a frustrating day, it's time for a battle scene. This works best if you have a plot outline of scenes to complete.

12. ...or try ending midscene. This really works for me. When I'm writing at night and on a roll, I cut myself off at a time limit, not when I finish a chapter or a scene. I limit myself to one or two hours max, then I end midscene, even midsentence. That way I get enough sleep to function properly, and I'm dying to get back to writing the next night. (See more on my writing process here.)

Do you have any additional tips on balancing teaching and writing? I'd love to hear them.

P.S. I forgot coffee and dark chocolate. Can't survive without those!

 

CONSIDER releases in Germany and upcoming writing projects

 
Germany cover of CONSIDER!

Germany cover of CONSIDER!

Great news! The German foreign rights for the Holo Series sold to Arena publishing in Germany. The German edition of Consider will be available in hardcover and ebook starting March 2018, and Contribute should be available in Sept 2018.

I love the German cover of Consider, and I cannot wait to see the cover design for Contribute. It's mind-blowing to see my imagination translated and sold in other countries.

What am I working on next? I've been busy writing a new, young adult novel for my agent unrelated to the Holo Series. Can't say too much other than it's a contemporary DNA thriller about four teens. Hoping to finish it within theyear and see if it can find a publisher. After that project, I plan to write a contemporary middle-grade idea that I've been dying to get on paper. It's full of heart and has a quirky main character I adore.

That's all the news I have so far. Back to writing!

P.S. If you haven't written a quick review of CONSIDER or CONTRIBUTE on Amazon and/or Goodreads, please do. One sentence is all it takes, and it really helps small press books find their audience. Thanks!

 
 

It's book release day for CONTRIBUTE!

 
Contribute-Cover-photo.jpg

I'm so excited to announce that Contribute has officially released today! The sequel to Consider and the conclusion to the Holo Series brings many mixed emotions since my debut year was a long, winding journey. There were times I wasn't sure if book 2 was ever going to see this day. And here we are. Series done. :)

It's weird writing a series. It still feels like my characters are alive (well, the ones who survived--spoilers!) and they've been put on pause. At the same time, there's a giant sense of relief to have reached this point, to let them go creatively and discover new characters and new stories. The best way to get over an old love is to find a new love. Isn't that what they say? I'll be spending the next year working on a new YA project (top secret for now, sorry. You'll be the first to hear details when I can share, so stay tuned).

To the readers out there, I want to say thank you for sticking with me and giving my debut series a chance.

***To celebrate publication week, some giveaways!***Check out the flash giveaway on Twitter:

FLASH GIVEAWAY to celebrate my book release! Today only: RT & follow to win a signed copy of CONSIDER+CONTRIBUTE, plus some extra swag! pic.twitter.com/hNEZigEq5N

— Kristy Acevedo 📝 (@kristyace) July 11, 2017

CONTRIBUTE-Book-Launch-invitation.png

On Goodreads, there are two separate giveaways for each book. Both end July 17th.Enter Consider Goodreads GiveawayEnter Contribute Goodreads GiveawayFinally, if you're local, please come celebrate this Saturday, July 15 from 2-4pm at Barnes & Noble in Dartmouth, MA. More details here!

 

Advice to Young Writers

 
advice.jpg

A common question I've been asked by teens, teachers, and parents is what advice I have for young writers. I usually only have time at events for a quick response: "Read a lot. Write a lot." While that's the truth, there's so much more.To the young writers out there, some advice:

1. As a high school English teacher myself, I have to admit to you that, unfortunately, your English classes in high school did not prepare you to write fiction. Learn from the pros. Read Stephen King's On Writing as a starting point. For editing advice, try Cheryl B. Klein's Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults. Also, authors often share free tips online about the craft of writing. Attend book events and talk to authors. Take classes in writing fiction. Watch great television, movies, and attend theatre. There are phenomenal scripts behind those works, with excellent storytelling, dialogue, and character building.

2. Read widely across genres to develop flexibility and range as a writer. Read the classics as a foundation to see where literature has been, but read contemporary works to see how we've grown.

3. Learn vocabulary. Words are your paint. Big, small, doesn't matter. Variety is key. Learn how to play with the cadence of language, how sentence structure, length, and sound affect a story.

4. Learn grammar so you don't make editors run from you. You can break grammar rules for stylistic reasons once you know the rules. You don't need to be perfect, no one is perfect, but the more you know, the easier editing will be.

5. Enjoy writing. It doesn't get better than this, even once you are published. Savor those moments of creative bliss when you fall into a rough draft and lose yourself to timelessness. Bask in the creative zone, a magical place where you get to reset the world and populate it with people and problems and solutions. You are a writer in this place, a magical keeper of secrets and lies and doors and keys. Practice developing characters, plots, style, and voice. Try writing fanfiction as practice since you won't have to build original characters or setting along with plot. Wattpad and other places are fine if you want to post your work for an audience, but please don't expect to be discovered that way. Publishers almost never want work that has been previously published online.

6. Learn to use Microsoft Word. It's the industry standard for submissions. You might be using Google Docs, Pages, a notebook, or even your cell phone to write and/or dictate notes. Eventually, you will have to transfer all files into a Word doc, so might as well get used to it.

7. Learn how to do real research, not MLA academic research. Writers have to research the weirdest facts to make their stories work. Real research means researching online, talking to experts, and asking the right questions to solve a problem.

8. Experience life. Be curious and open-minded. Meet people unlike yourself. Listen. Develop your empathy for the human condition. This is the stuff dreams and books are made of.

9. Get to know yourself deeply because it will show on the page even if you are writing fiction. Try keeping a journal. Your most painful, embarrassing, joyous memories will help you connect with readers. Writing is about using language to transfer emotional resonance regardless of plot. It's about getting your audience to feel something. Tapping into those same emotions from your experiences will make the writing feel authentic.

10. Don't rush. Think of yourself in training for the writing Olympics. You will need determination, patience, and resilience. Each story you write presents a new challenge and teaches you how to be a better writer. When I was in elementary school, I wrote poetry in journals. In eighth grade, I tried writing my first horror story, Bloody Revenge (I was on a Stephen King and Dean Koontz reading kick), and I quit writing after the third chapter. I had no idea how to make a novel work. My debut novel, CONSIDER, was the fifth manuscript I've written. Those earlier manuscripts developed a different set of writing techniques in me. Some stories also need more time to marinate than others. The best way to learn how to write is to write.

11. On that same note, they say it takes over 10,000 hours to master a craft.  You have to be willing to put in the work.  Can you commit to doing that on your own, with no one telling you to get it done? Self-motivation and commitment is key, even over talent.

12. Learn how to accept critique. Writing a rough draft is solitary work. Publishing is a team sport. Find yourself a trusted writing group for feedback.  Think of all critique as a gift to make your writing better.  If your final, polished draft gets picked up by a publisher, it will go through several more editing passes, including content editing and copy editing. You might be asked to delete a chapter, a character, fifty pages. You have to learn how to take feedback and apply it.

13. Keep your social media clean. Seriously. You should do this anyway for employability in any field. Being an author makes you a public figure and a role model if you are writing for children and teens.

14. Get used to talking in front of people. I know, I know, many writers are introverts by nature so this one's tough. Figure out what will make you the most comfortable speaking to people.

15. Plan for your writing career, including a separate day job. Unless you have a financial support system (family or spouse willing to pay your bills) you need to plan to have a day job that provides the income and stability writing doesn't provide. Traditionally published writers get paid once or twice a year, and amounts are unpredictable and unreliable. Hard to budget. The average yearly income of writers is currently around 48K. Writers also do not receive workplace health insurance. Of course, you could be the writer that hits it big time, but chances are that will still take many years and/or may never happen. Write because you can't see your life complete without having written.

16. If possible, get training in graphic design, website design, social media marketing, photography, and/or freelance taxes. All of these come in handy when becoming an author. If you don't have these skills, you may have to pay others to do these tasks for you.

17. Learn how to multitask and stay organized. Once you become a published writer, you will be balancing multiple projects, editing one while writing the next, and keeping up with the business side of publishing, never mind if you also have a day job. Learn how to write professional emails. Get yourself a professional email account with your name. Gmail is fine.

18. Once you have a viable, polished draft, you will need to learn how to write a query and a five-page synopsis of your book, including spoilers. Join a professional writing group like the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Meet other writers, editors, and agents in person. I always thought "networking" was this adulting thing where people got together in serious dating mode, talked terms and exchanged contact info. It’s not. Networking is simply meeting people in the industry. That's it. Don't go into those moments thinking you are selling your work. Just be human.

19. Avoid scams. Many writing contests and vanity presses only want your money and will do nothing to help your career.  Rule: You should never pay money to a publisher, they should be paying you. If you'd like to self-publish someday, please do it when you are older and ready. It can cost a lot of money without return. Publishing is a business completely separate from creative writing.  If you aren't good at sales and marketing, and you don't have a lot of upfront money to spend, don't self-publish. Also, don't sign a book contract without an agent or a literary contract lawyer/consultant going over it first. DON'T DO IT. If you want a career in traditional publishing, you need a reputable literary agent to protect your interests. They will typically earn 15% of your sales, and they are worth every penny. A good literary agent can help with long-term career planning, they have access to publishing houses that are closed to queries from writers (usually the houses which offer higher advances), and they can sell sub rights for you, such as film rights.

20. Keep yourself healthy, mentally and physically. Develop coping skills for stress. Writing is roller coaster of a career. Once your work is published, you have to learn to deal with harsh criticism. Not everyone will like you or your story. Some will hate it. Some will think it's the worst thing they ever read. You will never survive in the business side of writing if you can't block out critics.

Still with me? Good. I think you're ready. Go write.

 

Save the Date: CONTRIBUTE Book Launch Party on July 15, 2017

 
CONTRIBUTE-Book-Launch-invitation.png

CONTRIBUTE, the sequel to CONSIDER, officially releases on July 11th. Finally!

Locals, come celebrate with me at the CONTRIBUTE Book Launch Party on Saturday, July 15, 2017 from 2-4pm at Barnes and Noble in Dartmouth, MA. Open to the public. Click here to RSVP on the Facebook invite page!

This is also a Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech High School Book Fair day. B&N will donate a portion of any store sales to support GNBVT school library and summer reading program. Just mention it at the register!

GNBVT students will be running the following events:

1-2 pm Face painting and crafts

2-4 pm CONTRIBUTE Book launch party: Q&A, Book series secrets, and book signing. And free cake, of course!

Consider and Contribute books will be available for purchase at the event. Hope you'll come out and bring a friend!

 

Book an Author Visit with Me

IMG_4267-225x300.jpg

I've been getting lots of inquiries about author visits. So exciting!

As a high school English teacher for almost two decades, I love talking to people about books and writing. I'm in the process of printing my full author visit brochure, so in the meantime, here is a chart of my author visit offerings and fees to answer any questions. Click here for info and pricing chart. Thanks! (Note to Southeastern MA & RI schools, libraries, and book clubs, please email me for special local pricing discounts.)

Anxiety in CONSIDER

Consider Book

Consider Book

Readers have been asking me lots of questions about the main character in CONSIDER, Alexandra Lucas, and her generalized anxiety and panic attack disorder. I love hearing that people are connecting to her character and sharing their personal struggles with me.

I wanted to share a guest post I wrote on the subject of anxiety for YA Interrobang on why I decided to write a main character with anxiety who becomes a hero. Read the post here.

It's so important to talk openly about mental health issues and advocate for those who need help. I'm here. Talk to me.

CONSIDER Chapter 1 Free Preview (part 2)!

 
 

I hope you've enjoyed what you've read so far of Chapter 1. (If you haven't read the first part of the chapter yet, click here.)

HERE'S THE REST OF CHAPTER 1. Enjoy!

(Chapter 1 continued)

If I could take the idea of technology and somehow turn it into a living thing, it would look like this thing. The size of a doorway, it glows a deep electric blue, the center shimmering like a metallic, moving liquid. Like something has punched a hole into the fabric of the universe.

“No one knows what’s going on,” Rita reports from my phone. I hadn’t realized she was still talking, and she’s not an easy person to ignore. “Eyewitness reports rolling in. They’ve appeared all over the world."

“We’re near one now,” I manage to say. It takes more effort than I expect to speak. “I think the train stopped”—I take a breath—”since it’s close to the tracks.”

“No way.” She pauses. “Take a picture.”

“I’ll call you back.” I hang up without listening for her response. My heart and lungs compete in a death match for my attention. I relay the jumbled information to Dominick and other passengers. Most people aren’t bothering to listen; faces are glued to phones and thumbs are doing the communicating.

An MBTA conductor’s voice booms over the crackling loud speaker: “We’ve been advised to stop travel at this time. Please remain calm and exit the train when the doors open. Alternative transportation will be provided shortly.”

One lady weeps. Another blesses herself with the sign of the cross and kisses a gold crucifix dangling from her necklace. She grips it so hard I’m afraid it’s going to puncture her palm. Others stare out the window at the oval phenomenon hovering near the tracks in front of the train. Some hold up their phones to capture it on video.

My stomach churns like an angry ocean. I step away from the windows and take in a deep breath for a count of five, hold it for a count of two, and let it out slowly in another five like I’ve been trained to do when my anxiety escalates. I repeat the ritual, but it’s not designed for actual moments of terror. Dominick notices and squeezes my hand. My prescription beckons me from my purse, but two pills in one night is already pushing it.

A woman around my mother’s age bursts into a fit of angry tears. Her traveling companion rubs her shoulders. I try not to stare.

Police officers, firefighters, and ambulances arrive and form a barrier around the supernatural occurrence. An army of city buses charges over the dark horizon and lines up in an abandoned lot to carry us to our destinations. My escape route from the mass of bodies surrounding me.

“Holy crap,” another teenager says, holding the visor of his Red Sox hat. “Holy crap.“

“Open the goddamn door,” the old man in the corduroy coat yells. “Let us out of here!”

My feelings exactly. I focus on breathing again and visualize my safe space. Island. Hammock. Book to read. Dominick catches me rocking back and forth. I stop and feign coolness even though I’m ready to ignite.

“Are we gonna die?” a little boy asks his dad. The father lifts him onto his shoulders and says firmly, “Not on my watch.”

I catch Dominick staring at the boy and the father. It must be hard for him. I squeeze his hand again, and my own worries sink from the surface.

Two high-pitched beeps fill the train before the automatic doors open. People file out in clusters. I’m not sure if we are being rescued or trading one bad situation for something worse. It seems wrong to leave the train in the middle of the tracks.

We have to pass the thing in order to cross the tracks and reach the buses. As we approach, no one talks. The danger creates a type of reverent silence.

What if I accidentally fall inside? What if it’s a black hole and it swallows us all? What if it’s an alien-powered vacuum cleaner and we’re the dirt?

Up close, other colors swirl inside of it, embers of green, silver, and a bright darkness. My eyes can’t seem to focus on the depth. It’s like watching a 3D movie without the glasses. Except instead of the 3D images projecting forward, the colors are falling inward. Like an enormous, ridiculous, technological bellybutton.

The crowd fades into the periphery, and I forget about my own safety. The blue glow illuminates Dominick and me. Maybe it’s the medication talking, but it’s like I’ve walked onto the set of a great sci-fi moment, and my brain can’t figure out if this is supposed to be scary or amazing.

It’s both.

“This is like something outta Stephen King” he says.

Doctor Who. It has a happier ending,” I joke back nervously. My pill has definitely kicked in. Like a warm invisible blanket has wrapped around my organs.

The crowd inches forward since no one wants to pass it. People continue to hold up their cell phones and take videos. The cops try to herd us over to the buses. Dominick squeezes my hand tighter. It keeps me grounded.

Then Something pushes through the blue fire in the oval.

The cops draw their weapons. Some people scream and run. I don’t. Dominick pulls my hand to move, but I pull back. I’d like to credit my compulsion to stay on curiosity or stubbornness, but more likely it’s the result of my meds dulling my reaction time.

The Something looks like a transparent human in a gray uniform. I can’t take my eyes off it.

“Hello,” it announces to the crowd. “We’ve come to save you.”

First contact. Binge-watching thousands of hours of sci-fi shows has trained me for this moment. I want to say, “Greetings from Earth, live long and prosper,” or stick my pointer finger out at it and ask, “Phone home?” but my stomach has swallowed my voice, a first for me.

“Freeze!” yell several cops at once. “Hands up!”

It reaches into its translucent coat pocket. And they open fire.

Dominick forces me to the ground and lays his body on mine. I watch over his shoulder as the bullets pass right through the ghostly figure. The transparency gradually fills in, gaining weight and dimension, yet the bullets still have no effect on its now opaque body. It’s the most advanced holographic image I have ever seen. More like an actual person than a projection of light.

The cops realize their error and cease fire. They shout at everyone to evacuate to the buses immediately for our own safety. Dominick pulls me up from the ground and straightens his glasses. I know I should leave, but my brain still wants to know what’s going on. Ambiguity breeds anxiety.

The androgynous hologram holds out one hand like a mime and reveals a slip of paper the size of a sticky note. Everyone stops to watch. It’s not a trick; we aren’t under a type of mind control or magical spell. Our instincts simply recognize the moment as one for history, regardless of the consequences.

The paper unfolds to form a three-dimensional image of Earth. The hologram sets it on its palm, and the paper Earth begins to rotate. Then in a calm, emotionless voice, it announces:

“We are humans from a parallel future in the year 2359. We are here to save you. In six of your calendar months, a comet will destroy your planet. This is your known destruction; there is no way to prevent it."

The paper Earth silently ignites into a fireball, and then all traces of it vanish before our eyes. “We have opened five hundred vertexes across your planet to send you to our time and dimension. We have enough space to accommodate all who wish to join us. Simply walk through one person at a time. It is your individual choice. Please bring minimal personal items. You will be given all the resources needed to live here.

“We apologize for using images as representatives, but we can only carry physical beings in one direction. Our images are equipped to answer your questions using our standard database responses available in multiple human languages.

“This automatic message will repeat once a day at each vertex location. You have approximately four thousand three hundred ninety-four hours to decide. The vertexes will remain open until then.

“Consider. Save your people. Save yourself before it is too late.”

The crowd stands like a dangling participle, confused, pointless. Sweat beads down my spine, and my pulse pounds behind my eardrums. Everything around me seems muffled, slow.

A bearded man from the horde breaks the silence and shouts at the hologram, “Who are you?”

I can’t believe he asked that question. Wasn’t he paying attention?

The hologram responds, “We are humans like you.”

“Humans, my ass. This is alien invasion shit.”

The hologram responds, “We do not understand.”

The crowd laughs uneasily. “They’re not as smart as they think,” a woman whispers to Dominick and me.

I can’t laugh with them. A question burns inside my head, but my mouth battles with my mind for freedom and words. I take a deep breath and let loose. “Why should we believe you?” I yell out over the crowd.

The hologram responds, “You have no other options.”

                 (End of Chapter 1)

1610012_orig

1610012_orig

Excerpted from CONSIDER by Kristy Acevedo. Copyright ©2016 by Kristy Acevedo. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.CONSIDER hits shelves April 19, 2016. Please add it to your Goodreads!

Available now for pre-order!

See the

pre-order free gift and giveaway

while supplies last!

button-indiebound

button-indiebound

amazon buy button

amazon buy button

barnes-and-noble-button_raannt

barnes-and-noble-button_raannt

Blackstone audio

Blackstone audio

The Chapter 1 full preview of CONSIDER is HERE! Enjoy!

Consider Book

Consider Book

CONSIDER by Kristy Acevedo

Chapter 1

Day 1-August

When the Boston outbound T screeches to a stop, I lose my grip on the silver pole and slam into Dominick. His black rimmed glasses twist on his face, but he retrieves my purse from the floor before straightening them.“

You okay?” he asks and hands me my bag.

I nod and try to act nonchalant as I glance out the dark windows at the distant headlights of highway traffic. The train has stopped somewhere after the North Quincy station.

My mind begins to calculate and unravel in a spiral of possibilities. Could be a suicide. Or a terrorist attack. Maybe a car exploded. With babies inside. Decapitated. And one survivor, the driver, left screaming on the side of the road. Little bloody hands and feet scattered on the tracks. Tiny severed toes.

I fish in my purse for my anxiety meds and pop one little white savior.

“Seriously?” Dominick asks. “You already took one at the concert.”

“It wore off.” I swallow before he makes me feel guilty.

Other passengers mutter about the delay, and each complaint seeps into my skin and mingles with my fears. "I knew we shouldn’t have taken the train.”

“Cheaper than parking at the Garden. Plus, no traffic.”

“Except we’re stuck.” Dad wanted me home by 11:00, and my phone says it’s already 9:45. If we don’t get moving soon, I’m never going to make it home in time.

The image of tiny severed toes repeats in my brain.

“Why do you think the train stopped?” I ask. “You think someone pancaked on the tracks?”

“No, no. Probably something electrical. Happens all the time.”

Pancaked. Brain oozing on the tracks. A mother with a spatula and tears.

I swallow hard and cross my arms over my chest. I bet it’s a suicide. Or a terrorist attack.”

“No, it’s nothing. It’ll be fine.” He moves in closer and brushes my neck with his fingertips. “Plus, I love being stuck with you. Too bad you need drugs to be stuck with me. Stop worrying.”

He always takes my anxiety personally. Like being with him should be a magical cure since he cares. But telling me not to worry is like telling me not to breathe. It’s like tickling someone to cure depression.

To escape the gruesome images in my head, I trace the pale scar on Dominick’s middle knuckle with my pointer finger, the scar he got trying to gut a striped bass for the first time with his father. He tucks one of my golden brown curls behind my ear. His thumb slides down my neck and runs along the strap of my sundress, sending shivers across my shoulders even though the air conditioner is malfunctioning as usual. His touch brings me out of my head and back into my body. I wish we were alone.

“I can’t believe we only have a few weeks left of summer,” he whispers.

I peck his cheek. “I know. It went by so fast.”

We both know what we’re not saying. Senior year. Pressure’s on. We started dating in April of our junior year, and only four months later, we already have to make major college decisions that could pull us apart. It’s time to start my slow transformation into Alexandra Lucas, Kick Ass Lawyer, and I’m afraid to let anything distract me from that future. Even him. It’s hard enough for me to stay focused.

A sweaty man to my left bumps me with his shoulder and apologizes. His body odor absorbs my oxygen and makes my stomach twist. I lose focus on Dominick. To ground myself, I stare at the rainbow swirl pattern on the seats, the fake marbled black and white floor. The air becomes too heavy to breathe, too thick for my lungs to process.

What if I’m being poisoned by everyone’s carbon dioxide? The intense urge to pry the doors open or claw my way out of the tinted windows for fresh air builds inside me. Ativan, please don’t fail me now. It usually takes ten minutes or so to kick in, so until it does, I need to focus on anything other than the fact that I’m trapped in a hot, crowded train.

Think positive: At least we're not stuck underground. Maybe I should pick a fight with Dominick. Arguing cancels out my anxiety. That’s why I’ll make an amazing defense lawyer, arguing my way to mental health while helping the underdogs of the world get a break for once.

My cell phone blares the Twilight Zone theme song, snapping me into the moment. A shriveled woman sitting behind me jumps and mutters, “Jesus,” so I silence my phone before answering.

Rita Bernardino’s name appears on the screen under a picture of the three of us at our annual beach bonfire. My best friend never calls. Only texts. She doesn’t wait for hello.

“Alexandra?” She only ever calls me Alex.

“What’s going on?” I ask, then mouth Rita’s name to Dominick. He raises one eyebrow behind his glasses and makes a goofy face by touching his tongue to his nostril. Wish I had time to take a photo so I could remember him like that.

“Did you see the news?” she continues in rapid speech.

“No, I’m stuck on the train with Dominick. What’s wrong?”

Rita starts screaming facts that don’t register in my brain. In the last ten minutes—over three hundred so far—

“Wait, slow down. What are you talking about?”

Sitting across from me, an elderly man wearing a corduroy coat much too heavy for early August rises from his seat. He points his arthritic finger at something beyond the window glass ahead of the train. “God have mercy on us,” his voice cracks.

People jump from their seats and crowd the windows. Dominick pulls me closer as we fight for a view. Rita continues yelling nonsense into my ear.And then I see it. The train didn’t stop for a suicide. Or a terrorist attack.

It’s something. Else.

If I could take the idea of technology and somehow turn it into a living thing, it would look like this thing. The size of a doorway, it glows a deep electric blue, the center shimmering like a metallic, moving liquid. Like something has punched a hole into the fabric of the universe.

“No one knows what’s going on,” Rita reports from my phone. I hadn’t realized she was still talking, and she’s not an easy person to ignore. “Eyewitness reports rolling in. They’ve appeared all over the world."

“We’re near one now,” I manage to say. It takes more effort than I expect to speak. “I think the train stopped”—I take a breath—”since it’s close to the tracks.”

“No way.” She pauses. “Take a picture.”

“I’ll call you back.” I hang up without listening for her response. My heart and lungs compete in a death match for my attention. I relay the jumbled information to Dominick and other passengers. Most people aren’t bothering to listen; faces are glued to phones and thumbs are doing the communicating.

An MBTA conductor’s voice booms over the crackling loud speaker: “We’ve been advised to stop travel at this time. Please remain calm and exit the train when the doors open. Alternative transportation will be provided shortly.”

One lady weeps. Another blesses herself with the sign of the cross and kisses a gold crucifix dangling from her necklace. She grips it so hard I’m afraid it’s going to puncture her palm. Others stare out the window at the oval phenomenon hovering near the tracks in front of the train. Some hold up their phones to capture it on video.

My stomach churns like an angry ocean. I step away from the windows and take in a deep breath for a count of five, hold it for a count of two, and let it out slowly in another five like I’ve been trained to do when my anxiety escalates. I repeat the ritual, but it’s not designed for actual moments of terror. Dominick notices and squeezes my hand. My prescription beckons me from my purse, but two pills in one night is already pushing it.

A woman around my mother’s age bursts into a fit of angry tears. Her traveling companion rubs her shoulders. I try not to stare.

Police officers, firefighters, and ambulances arrive and form a barrier around the supernatural occurrence. An army of city buses charges over the dark horizon and lines up in an abandoned lot to carry us to our destinations. My escape route from the mass of bodies surrounding me.

“Holy crap,” another teenager says, holding the visor of his Red Sox hat. “Holy crap.“

“Open the goddamn door,” the old man in the corduroy coat yells. “Let us out of here!”

My feelings exactly. I focus on breathing again and visualize my safe space. Island. Hammock. Book to read. Dominick catches me rocking back and forth. I stop and feign coolness even though I’m ready to ignite.

“Are we gonna die?” a little boy asks his dad. The father lifts him onto his shoulders and says firmly, “Not on my watch.”

I catch Dominick staring at the boy and the father. It must be hard for him. I squeeze his hand again, and my own worries sink from the surface.

Two high-pitched beeps fill the train before the automatic doors open. People file out in clusters. I’m not sure if we are being rescued or trading one bad situation for something worse. It seems wrong to leave the train in the middle of the tracks.

We have to pass the thing in order to cross the tracks and reach the buses. As we approach, no one talks. The danger creates a type of reverent silence.

What if I accidentally fall inside? What if it’s a black hole and it swallows us all? What if it’s an alien-powered vacuum cleaner and we’re the dirt?

Up close, other colors swirl inside of it, embers of green, silver, and a bright darkness. My eyes can’t seem to focus on the depth. It’s like watching a 3D movie without the glasses. Except instead of the 3D images projecting forward, the colors are falling inward. Like an enormous, ridiculous, technological bellybutton.

The crowd fades into the periphery, and I forget about my own safety. The blue glow illuminates Dominick and me. Maybe it’s the medication talking, but it’s like I’ve walked onto the set of a great sci-fi moment, and my brain can’t figure out if this is supposed to be scary or amazing.

It’s both.

“This is like something outta Stephen King” he says.

Doctor Who. It has a happier ending,” I joke back nervously. My pill has definitely kicked in. Like a warm invisible blanket has wrapped around my organs.

The crowd inches forward since no one wants to pass it. People continue to hold up their cell phones and take videos. The cops try to herd us over to the buses. Dominick squeezes my hand tighter. It keeps me grounded.

Then Something pushes through the blue fire in the oval.

The cops draw their weapons. Some people scream and run. I don’t. Dominick pulls my hand to move, but I pull back. I’d like to credit my compulsion to stay on curiosity or stubbornness, but more likely it’s the result of my meds dulling my reaction time.

The Something looks like a transparent human in a gray uniform. I can’t take my eyes off it.

“Hello,” it announces to the crowd. “We’ve come to save you.”

First contact. Binge-watching thousands of hours of sci-fi shows has trained me for this moment. I want to say, “Greetings from Earth, live long and prosper,” or stick my pointer finger out at it and ask, “Phone home?” but my stomach has swallowed my voice, a first for me.

“Freeze!” yell several cops at once. “Hands up!”

It reaches into its translucent coat pocket. And they open fire.

Dominick forces me to the ground and lays his body on mine. I watch over his shoulder as the bullets pass right through the ghostly figure. The transparency gradually fills in, gaining weight and dimension, yet the bullets still have no effect on its now opaque body. It’s the most advanced holographic image I have ever seen. More like an actual person than a projection of light.

The cops realize their error and cease fire. They shout at everyone to evacuate to the buses immediately for our own safety. Dominick pulls me up from the ground and straightens his glasses. I know I should leave, but my brain still wants to know what’s going on. Ambiguity breeds anxiety.

The androgynous hologram holds out one hand like a mime and reveals a slip of paper the size of a sticky note. Everyone stops to watch. It’s not a trick; we aren’t under a type of mind control or magical spell. Our instincts simply recognize the moment as one for history, regardless of the consequences.

The paper unfolds to form a three-dimensional image of Earth. The hologram sets it on its palm, and the paper Earth begins to rotate. Then in a calm, emotionless voice, it announces:

“We are humans from a parallel future in the year 2359. We are here to save you. In six of your calendar months, a comet will destroy your planet. This is your known destruction; there is no way to prevent it."

The paper Earth silently ignites into a fireball, and then all traces of it vanish before our eyes. “We have opened five hundred vertexes across your planet to send you to our time and dimension. We have enough space to accommodate all who wish to join us. Simply walk through one person at a time. It is your individual choice. Please bring minimal personal items. You will be given all the resources needed to live here.

“We apologize for using images as representatives, but we can only carry physical beings in one direction. Our images are equipped to answer your questions using our standard database responses available in multiple human languages.

“This automatic message will repeat once a day at each vertex location. You have approximately four thousand three hundred ninety-four hours to decide. The vertexes will remain open until then.

“Consider. Save your people. Save yourself before it is too late.”

The crowd stands like a dangling participle, confused, pointless. Sweat beads down my spine, and my pulse pounds behind my eardrums. Everything around me seems muffled, slow.

A bearded man from the horde breaks the silence and shouts at the hologram, “Who are you?”

I can’t believe he asked that question. Wasn’t he paying attention?

The hologram responds, “We are humans like you.”

“Humans, my ass. This is alien invasion shit.”

The hologram responds, “We do not understand.”

The crowd laughs uneasily. “They’re not as smart as they think,” a woman whispers to Dominick and me.

I can’t laugh with them. A question burns inside my head, but my mouth battles with my mind for freedom and words. I take a deep breath and let loose. “Why should we believe you?” I yell out over the crowd.

The hologram responds, “You have no other options.”

                 (End of Chapter 1)

Excerpted from CONSIDER by Kristy Acevedo. Copyright ©2016 by Kristy Acevedo. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.CONSIDER hits shelves April 19, 2016. Please add it to your Goodreads!

1610012_orig

1610012_orig

button-indiebound

button-indiebound

amazon buy button

amazon buy button

barnes-and-noble-button_raannt

barnes-and-noble-button_raannt

Blackstone audio

Blackstone audio

Avoiding Writer's Block: My Writing Process

writers-block

writers-block

As I'm writing the first draft of Contribute, Book 2 of the HoloSeries, several people have asked me, "Aren't you nervous? You have a deadline with a publisher now. What if you get writer's block?"

Okay, first, Are you kidding me? Thanks for the confidence killer. Second, no. I don't get writer's block. (Stop giving me the finger.) My creative writing process prevents me from getting stuck, and maybe it will help you, too.

Here's my overall writing process for the most part:

1. Come up with a shiny new idea and characters for a manuscript. Ideas usually come to me during walks, drives, or in the shower. Basically when I'm not trying. I keep a file of ideas for when I'm ready to start a new project. When I choose a project, I first visualize major characters and names. Some writers use Pinterest, but I like using an actual corkboard over my desk where I hang images that appeal to me. Feels more tangible.

2. Free write for 50-100 pages or so. (I do 20k for YA.) This is judgment free, creative writing time. You don't have to think chronologically. Write whatever comes to you. Leave spaces to separate different scenes and thoughts. Let your characters interact with each another for the first time. Hear their voices. Write the opening scene. Write the last scene. Write the turning point. Write something funny. Write something heartbreaking. No rules. No fear. This is all about getting thoughts on paper.  You are testing voice, character, and plot during this phase to find out what will work. Explore and let your creativity loose. Free writing gives you the freedom to be creative. It lets characters grow and change and bring you places without fearing that you'll hit a dead end. I have discovered many creative subplots in free writing sessions that I wouldn't have thought of if I had been following a strict outline from the start.

*Warning: There's a possibility that half of these 100 pages will not be used in your book. I promise this is not a waste of time. It helps to get bad ideas on paper and realize what doesn't work before you write the entire novel. You don't want to discover you've relied on a crucial moment or character that needs to be cut or changed, causing a plot avalanche. A major overhaul after 400 pages is the real time waster.For example, when free writing for Consider, Book 1 of the series, my main character actually had an older, pregnant sister living in California. Within twenty pages of free writing, I knew this choice wasn't working. By changing the sister character to Benji, an older brother in the military, I got so much more conflict out of the story, and he has become a crucial character in Books 1-2. I wouldn't have discovered him without free writing, and the series wouldn't be the same.

3. Outline the major plot points and any subplots that have come up during free writing. Your free writing should give you plenty of insight and fodder for creating a working outline. Be as detailed as possible. If you still don't have an answer for a plot hole, write "plot hole" in the outline. Knowing what's missing is different from discovering it later.

4. Make a major, "To Write" list by scene. Include subplot scenes if you know them. Label them accordingly. (For example, these were my first three scenes for Consider):

Scene 1: Train scene with first vertex sighting

Scene 2: Bus scene conversation w/ Alex and Dominick

Scene 3: Hospital scene with Hazmat workers

5. Write your first draft by scene, using your "To Write" list as a checklist.This is my secret to never getting writer's block. I do not necessarily compose scenes in chronological order. First, I sift through the 100 pages of free writing and reuse any material that works. I finish those scenes and check them off the list.Then each day I look at my "To Write" list and choose a scene based on how I'm feeling.  Why would I force myself to write a tragic scene if I'm in a good mood? Nope, that's a comedy scene day. Granted, eventually I face the last few random scenes that I've avoided, but usually the sheer joy of almost being finished gets me through those moments.

6. Reread the manuscript and add any necessary connecting scenes, especially quieter, reflective moments. Those tend to be missing from the outline.

7. Reread the manuscript for continuity and make an "Editing" task list.  Then edit following the list. Reread with a notebook nearby and take notes on any sections that need revising, or print the manuscript and write notes directly on it. Composing out of order can often mess with time sequencing, so be sure to edit for time and season. Character arc issues also need addressing.

8. Reread and edit for language. Many writers spend too much time crafting gorgeous sentences and falling in love with the sounds of language while writing their first draft.  Unless I'm writing poetry, I prefer to get anything down on paper first and tweak for language later. Otherwise, the whole process slows down, and it can takes years to finish a draft. Plan the forest before tracing the veins of a leaf on a tree.

9. Have beta readers/critique group provide feedback, and implement those changes. Do not skip this step. I know you're excited to be near the finish line, but do not start sending out queries thinking that your manuscript is amazing and clear. You need readers. What is clear to you may not be clear to them. Whatever they say, take it in. Use their feedback. You spent a lot of time and effort on your manuscript. Make it the best story it can be.

10. Celebrate that you finished a working, viable manuscript. Query. Take some time off. Do something nice for yourself.  Then start thinking about that next, shiny new idea.

*I'd love to hear from you. What's your writing process?