Hello, friends. Emma here. I am 100% terrified for you to hear today’s episode because this week Elsie and I talk about how I finished a novel recently and am trying to get it published. Ahh!!!!!
I talk about Stephen King’s book, On Writing, quite a bit. If you are interested in writing fiction, I highly recommend reading this (or listening to the audio version).
We mention our friend and past agent Lindsay and her e-course on How to Write and Pitch a Book Proposal, which is super helpful if you are looking to get your book published.
Thank you to everyone who has sent me (and the team) emails at podcast AT abeautifulmess DOT com and for all of your support as I’ve been working on this project. It really has meant the world to me! -Emma (& Elsie)
You’re listening to the A Beautiful Mess podcast. And I have some big news. I finished the first draft of my book and I mailed Elsie a copy. It was both thrilling and pretty much terrifying. So today’s episode is all about the book I wrote and questions that we’ve heard listeners ask about the process.
Ok, so Emma finished a quarantine novel. So, OK, Emma, has it always been your dream your whole life to write a book? To write a novel?
No. I’ve had a lot of dreams over my whole life. I wish I was the person who was like I wanted to do this when I was a kid. But I’m pretty sure as a kid I wanted to be either a mermaid or a lawyer. (laughs) So I don’t feel like…I’ve really been on track for anything.
OK, so not a lifelong dream. OK. So when did you first know you wanted to write a novel?
I just…I’ve always loved reading, so I struggled with reading as a kid, like in Early Elementary and I had to get a lot of extra help from my teachers, especially my first grade teacher. Mrs. Wildermith — shout out to all the great teachers out there, please. So, yeah, once I finally felt like I could read, I remember the first book I ever read quickly. It was the very first Harry Potter, the Sorcerer’s Stone or The Philosopher’s Stone, depending on where you live.
What grade were you in?
It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade. So I had read books before that. Like I have other little books I remember from when I was a kid and like, you know, things. But that was the first one that I like, stayed up late because I had to read one more chapter and you know, all that.
Yeah. And I was like, oh, I’m good at reading. I read this book so fast. And ever since then I’ve been a really big reader. And so anyway, over time I, I’ve…the idea that I could write a book and be a part of that community of authors who have kept me entertained and inspired my whole life. Like joining…joining their ranks. Sounds like such a cool, like as cheesy as this sounds, like a such a cool honor and to imagine someone who might like stay up late because they have to read one more chapter of my book because they’re escaping or they’re having their time off or they’re enjoying something on their vacation or whatever they’re doing. You know, reading’s like a different thing for lots of different people. But to think of that, my book doing that for someone, just sounds like magic, truly. So that really was it. I was like. I would love to, you know, join this guild.
You did it sister.
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Well, not not quite yet. But I did write a book.
Ok. I feel like writing your first novel is on so many people’s bucket list and you have actually checked that off now. Yeah, she mailed it to me two days ago. I got it in the mail and it was probably most exciting mail package I’ve ever gotten. So, OK. I was hoping that you could describe to us what your quarantine life was like writing this novel, because I think it sounds very romantic. I was, you know, quarantining with two little kids and waking up at five fifteen a.m. every day, so. Yeah. So I just want to know everything about how your world was during that time. How many months did it take?
Of writing the book?
So I went to look back because I actually don’t remember. I feel like I wrote like easily half of it or more during. I mean, we’re still kind of quarantining. So if it feels like I’m talking about a pandemic in the past tense and I don’t I recognize it’s not over. I just simply mean my town, Springfield, Missouri, everyone was working from home, if they could all of like. April and May, a little bit before that, too. Yeah. And then still some now.
I feel like it was March through May. And then now is like the modified quarantine where most cities you’re going places and living life a little bit more normally. But also so many things still aren’t open. Yeah.
You’re right. It’s going to be I think that whenever it first started we thought, oh, this will be two weeks or a couple months and now it’s like, okay, yeah. Into the next year is to be this way and it kind of is what it is. So anyway, right back to, you know, back to quarantine novel.
I derailed this.
Paint me a picture of your romantic novel writing lifestyle.
Yeah. So I was writing the book before, you know, we all started working from home. I always work from home. And for the most part, I usually don’t write during my work day. And sometimes I will like for an hour, like if I get everything done, I might. Or if I wake up early in the morning, I might a little bit. I’m pretty random about it, but I don’t usually write during my workday and it’s simply because I don’t really consider the novel part of my job right now.
You know, that would be awesome if it was one day. But at the moment, nobody has paid me anything to write that novel. So. I don’t really work on it during my workday very much, but one thing I do often do during my workday is take a walk. And it was finally starting to warm up where I live during the months that my husband and I were both staying home and working. So when I would go on a walk by myself, that’s definitely a time where I come up with most of my ideas, generally in life. But definitely a lot of the ideas for this book happened when I was on walks in my neighborhood.
That’s so cool. When spring was blooming Emma’s novel was blooming in her brain.
I finally figured out the ending.
I didn’t know it for a long time.
So cool. OK. So walk us through the process of the first time you got the idea and then kind of the different steps of creating a story because it’s a fictional story. Oh. Do you want to explain a little bit about like what the book is?
Yeah. Yeah. So I’m currently calling it Cloud Nine. It’s the title of the book that might change. I don’t know. But for the rest of this episode, I’m going to call it Cloud Nine. And I’ve started the process of sending out, like query letters to agents. And so I thought I would just read you what I put. I only sent two e-mails. But what I’ve…usually you have to give a quick synopsis of what your book is so that they know generally what it is. So here’s what I put in those e- mails.”Cloud Nine would probably fall into the young adult category. 13 year old Darcy is once again at her family’s annual vacation to Cloud Nine Family Ranch and Recreation, a resort in southwest Missouri when things begin to fall apart. Someone is sabotaging the ranch. And she, along with her grandmother, Lula, are determined to find out who. The story is about growing up, grieving the loss of childhood, female friendship and horseback riding.
Ah! I love it. It’s nostalgic. So Cloud Nine is the…it really is a real place and it’s where we spent our childhood summers growing up.
Yes. Yes. And there’s a lot in the book about the real place. There’s also…I very much fictionalized the Cloud Nine Resort, like the Cloud Nine in the book is very different from the real one. But still it is in southwest Missouri, which is where I grew up and where I currently live. And that was another piece of the book to me was I really wanted it to be kind of a love letter to southwest Missouri, to the Ozarks, because I think it’s really a beautiful place. And we do have like artists and writers from here, but not tons. And I also feel like so many books and movies and things that I’ve enjoyed over the years tend to take place on the coast, which is really cool. But I just really loved the idea of showcasing how beautiful, and I think magical, the Midwest is. So that’s definitely kind of a character in the book is just the Midwest.
I love that. We definitely had a magical childhood going to Cloud Nine with our grandma would take us sometimes by herself, and sometimes we would go with our parents and sometimes our aunts and uncles would take us. It was just kind of like a group family thing. You go with different people and is it okay if I say some of my memories about it?
So OK. Horseback riding. Very big deal.
BFD. It’s like the biggest thing of the whole time. Like everything is leading up to that. Also they had movies they played at night in this kind of like pavilion and you would get to, you know, get like ice cream or mozzarella sticks or some kind of little like bar food type of treat to enjoy that. And also, they had this weird little thrift shop where I remember we would go in and buy like painted seashells or there was there was definitely like used clothes in there and things like that, which we’ve always had a fascination for that kind of thing. Also swimming in the creek. So, yeah, it was a very nostalgic, magical place for our childhood.
I can tell you haven’t read it yet. And I must say, I think you’re going to love it. That’s all in the book.
I’m so excited. I wanted to, actually I wanted to read it before we recorded this. So forgive me.
No I mean, it’s a book. It’s not like super short. It takes a minute to read it. I understand…
I’ll do a follow up after I’ve read it.
It’s good. (laughs)
So we’ll come back to that. OK. So tell us a little bit more about the writing process, how you got the ideas and sort of like what were the roadblocks along the way?
Yeah. Where I started with this one was I wanted to write a mystery book that revolved around a 13 year old and her grandmother. That was it. That was the whole premise. I just thought that sounded funny and sweet and could be kind of…it’s just a fun dynamic because we’ve all been a 13 year old before, whether you were a girl or not. We’ve all been 13 before. And someday I will be a grandma age. I don’t know if I’ll be a grandma. But I’ll be grandma age. And I just think it’s fun to see those two different walks of life, because in some ways they’re so different and in some ways they’re kind of, could be the same person, too. So anyway, so that was where I started, was I knew I wanted to do that. And so then it was, well, where would a young girl and her grandmother be? When would they spend a large amount of time, enough time to solve a mystery? And I thought, oh, summer vacation, because, you know, that’s when we would spend time with our grandmas. So that’s kind of was the jumping off point. And yeah, there’s a mystery. Like I said, it’s also has a little bit of a love story between the 13 year old and a boy she meets. And it’s also very much about like I said, female friendship. And just a lot of the things you go through when you’re growing up and you’re trying to discover what kind of person you want to be, what kind of woman you want to become. And trying to understand adults around you. And like, starting to see those different levels that you don’t when you’re a little kid, you don’t see all of that. And then you start to see this world as you age. And I just think that’s kind of interesting. So anyway, so yeah. I read Stephen King’s book on writing as I was getting ready to work on this, because I was like, I really know how to write. I mean, I write blog posts, but that’s pretty different. And, you know…
Say what his book is first for people who don’t know.
It’s called On Writing, and it’s for people who want to become writers. So it’s just Stephen King’s advice. If you want to become a fiction writer, read this book.
I just added it to my audio book queue I’m so excited.
Yeah. And he reads it. So it’s really fun to listen to because he’s just I know he’s a funny guy. So it was very enjoyable. But anyway, he talks about writing like you are uncovering a fossil. So it’s like it’s already there and you’re just discovering it. Of course, you are also writing it. You’re the author and you’re making it up. But he says it’s more like you’re kind of leaving space to let it reveal itself to you. So I was really just trying to do that as I was writing. So I had a premise and then I had like an outline for the first half of the book, but I literally didn’t even know…
So when you started writing you didn’t know what the ending was going to be?
I didn’t know what the ending was gonna be until basically the end. I was I really I didn’t even know who was behind the mystery, like who the villain was. I didn’t know. And I was doing this kind of weird exercise where I would just pick someone new all the time. And I would think, well, if it was them, why, I would try to ground that in reality. Like, oh, if it was this person, why would they do that? What would be their motivation? What would bring them to a space in their life? Or they would want to do something like this and just try to ground it in reality. You know, in something truthful, something real, even though it is fiction. And so I was kind of doing that exercise as I was going on all my walks around the neighborhood. And anyway, in the end, I did have to pick someone. But yeah I didn’t really know the ending for a long, long time. And I thought it was fun. It felt like being a writer, but also kind of a reader. I was just very much trying to uncover a fossil like my friend Stephen King told me to.
Yes, I wanna be friends with Stephen King, too.
I know. I feel like if he read my book, he’d be like, “Hmmm, OK, well,”
Don’t sell yourself short. He would be proud.
OK, we’re gonna take a short break and then we’ll be right back.
Hey, friends, it’s Emma. I wanted to take a quick minute to talk about something near and dear to my heart: soup. That’s right. If you’ve been following our blog for any amount of time, then you’ve likely seen me talk about soup and share recipes for homemade soups, as well as ways to enhance store-bought options. One of my favorite store bought brands is Progresso. I love the variety of flavors, including tomato, basil, green split pea, broccoli cheese
with bacon, and so much more. I also love the different options they offer, including a line of organic soups as well as vegetable classics. Now, here’s something you might not know. Progresso is a part of the General Mills family. And in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, General Mills has developed a manufacturer to donate initiative that will provide five million dollars worth of food for Feeding America to distribute within its network of 200 food banks. That’s right. Five million dollars worth of food. That’s pretty amazing, but that’s not all. The General Mills Foundation has donated five million in charitable gifts to ensure that the most vulnerable children have access to meals amid school and community program closures due to the pandemic, which was one thing that was heavy on my heart when COVID 19, first started and we saw schools closing because there’s a lot of children that receive some of their best meals from schools. Anyway, it’s contributions like these that are exactly why we love working with General Mills brands like Progresso. And if you want to learn more about these programs or any other information, you can visit www.generalmills.com
Yeah, it’s all felt really, it was very fun. I loved writing it. I loved being in a different world and escaping and doing that. But I also have not thought too much about the process of letting people read it and starting to send it to agents, because it is really terrifying. We were kind of talking about this, but I checked my word doc where my book lives right now. And it says that I started in August of 2018. And I was shocked when I saw that because I was like that was so long ago. I can’t believe it took me that long because I’ve it feels to me like I wrote this book in about five months. But according to my word doc, it’s been a couple of years almost. And I really think I spent the first year basically just telling myself I shouldn’t be allowed to write a book. Like I pretty much was like talking myself out of it for the first year.
Why? What was your brain saying to you?
Just because I thought, It’s not going to be any good. It’s gonna be, you know, a waste of people’s time. You know, people are going to make fun of it and write you bad reviews if it ever came out and…or no one will ever publish it. And it will just be this dorky…I mean, surely you’ve we’ve all had a friend before who is doing something and they weren’t good at it. And it’s a very embarrassing thing to, you know. And I was like, oh, is this gonna be another one of those moments in my life where I want to do this thing, but I’m not good at it and everyone has to see me be not good at it. And, you know, it’s awkward. And I think after a while, though, I mean, obviously, I. I got through that portion.
Yes you did, Sister.
And decided whatever, I’m just going to write it.
I’m so proud of you because, yeah. I’m sure a lot of great stories get caught in that phase of insecurity. I’ve felt that way before, too. I think it’s a very relatable thing. Anytime you try to do something big or something you’ve never done before, you know, your brain’s telling you don’t even try because it’s not going to work, you know?
So I’m so glad that you didn’t let that stop you.
Yeah. I mean, I did for a while, but I’ve pushed through and I don’t…I can’t really. You know. Yeah.
But you just took the hand of Stephen King and kept going.
I was like “Stephen King said I could do it!” Actually he didn’t but I just pretend. Yeah. I also, I was trying to think about like, oh, if somebody else was going through that, what would…what could I tell them that might be helpful. You know, because I, I know what it feels like. I’ve done that and I would probably do it again. So is there anything that I could say that would be helpful? And I was just thinking about that. I was like, you know, really my best advice is to do what I do whenever I have to, like, do something scary, like ride a rollercoaster. I hate roller coasters.
I hate roller coasters, too.
I hate them. I know people love them. I hate them. If I never had to ride another one, that would be amazing. But I have friends who enjoy them and I have nieces who like them. So from time to time, I must…I find myself on a roller coaster. And here’s what I do to get on: I don’t think about it. I don’t look at the roller coaster, when I’m in line. I think about what I’m going to eat as a snack later. And whenever it’s time to get on, I think all I’m doing right now
is taking a couple steps and stepping on to the little seat area. And now I’m just sitting in the seat and now I’m just putting the seat belt on. That’s all I’m doing right now.
That’s what I do when I go to the gynecologist. Just, yeah. Go there and let it happen and get it over with. Right?
Yep. And you’re just like, I’m just driving my car there. That’s all I’m doing right now. You just focus on the one little thing right in front of you and not the rest of it. So whenever I’ve sent my book out to friends, that’s what I do each time. So everyone’s like, are you scared? You’re handing out copies and letting people read it? And I’m like, I mean, I don’t think about it. All I think is right now I’m making copies and now I’m putting it in an envelope. Like I just don’t think about it because I can’t, it’s too scary. So I just take one little step in front of me and I don’t think on the rest. And I think if you do that then you can get somewhere, you can get, you know, get yourself on that roller coaster. But, you know, it’s just one step.
You don’t need to over think about what people are going to think about your book. That’s not even helpful. So.
Yeah, not really. It’s not really. Yeah, but I actually have had about three friends now who’ve already finished the book and they’ve sent me their notes. And of course they’re all super nice because they’re all my friends and I expect everyone will be even if they didn’t like it. But I think they did genuinely like it. I think they really did enjoy it. And they gave me lots of really helpful notes that I’ve incorporated into the first draft. So it’s slowly becoming a second draft I guess.
That’s so exciting. So where do you feel that you’re at in the publishing process so far?
Yeah, I have about 12 first readers and I’m getting notes from them. So I’m basically trying to, you know, make the book better, turn it into a second draft headed toward a final draft. And then I’m also trying to get an agent to represent the book to be published. So I’ve sent a couple of emails, which, by the way, and I guess this is a little salesy, but I’m just gonna go for it. We have an E course written by our agent Lindsay, who is our agent for our first three books, she does a lot of nonfiction and other works. And she wrote an E-course about pitching your book idea. And it’s really helpful if you’re doing nonfiction. But if you’re a novel writer, it’s got really great stuff in it, too. So anyway, if you’re interested, that is available and I follow that formula.
We will link that in our show notes at abeautifulmess.com/podcast this episode.
Yes. But yeah I’m following her formula of how to send out my first letters to agents and things like that. So we’ll see. And then to distract myself, I’m kind of starting my second book. I’m in the research/outline phase.
Okay so how much are you going to tell us about the second book?
Well, I’ve told you about it. So you kind of know. But I was like, so Cloud Nine is definitely if it was a movie, it would be rated PG-13. It’s very lighthearted. If you’re in middle…you could give it to your middle school kid to read. It’s very…it does have some more mature themes a little bit. You know, it’s PG13, not PG, but it’s a very lighthearted, fun read. It would be a great book to take on vacation. It’s definitely going to make you feel good. It’s just a fun one. My next book is kind of the opposite. It’s very dark. It’s a thriller. It’s a crime thriller. It’s yeah, it’s it’s really dark. I think people will really, really hate the villain because she does something that I think a lot of people can’t stand. So, yeah, I can’t really say too much about it because one, I haven’t written very much of it yet. I just have a lot of loose ideas. And I also don’t wanna spoil it because it is a thriller which usually if you enjoy thrillers, I do, they usually have some kind of twist where you weren’t expecting a certain character to be a certain way or something or someone’s involved that you didn’t see coming or whatever. So, you know, and it’s no fun if you already know what the twist is. That’s what’s fun about a thriller. It’s thrilling because you don’t know. So I’m like, oh, don’t ruin it because I already have told you about it. I told Trey about it. So you guys kind of know what it is and where it’s gonna go.
I can say that it’s going to make a great movie and I’m just going to put it out there to the universe. This is gonna be a great movie.
I think it will be a really fun book. But I will say I am mostly in the research phase and then a little bit of outlining. I’ve done a lot of research on poison. My Google search is strange right now. (laughs) Yeah, but I also am like kind of it’s not as fun of a world to escape to as Cloud Nine was.\.
Becuase that’s from your childhood.
Yeah. And it was just lighthearted. And I think I think I am, you know, like everyone going through lots of feelings right now. And so it doesn’t feel as fun to write this one. But I’m really interested in exploring some of the themes. So I’m going to get there. But it’s not as fun. It doesn’t feel like an escape,in the same way that Cloud Nine was.
That makes sense. I think it’s very cool that you’re already jumping into a different category and sort of like creating space for yourself as an artist. I think that’s a very cool thing to do.
Thanks. Yeah. That was part of it is I was like, I don’t really want to write a sequel. I want to try something else and see if it suits me or see if you know.
It’s just like trying on a piece of clothing. Like you’re like “I’ve never worn a blazer before. I think I’ll try one on and see.” So I’m like, that’s kind of what I’m doing right now is because I really enjoy reading thrillers, but I didn’t know if I could…I’m not a very dark person. I’m definitely more of a dorky person. So I’m like, oh, we’ll see. I don’t know, see if I have this in me.
That’s true. There’s a little bit of Pam Beasley in Emma. We always say that.
But yeah, I’m so proud of you. And I know everyone is and we’re all cheering you along and it’s just so cool. You know, that only six months ago you were talking about your New Year’s goals and you’ve achieved one. A big one.
Yeah, I, I really was kind of like looking at my list during, you know, heavy quarantine time, I guess, and being like, well, what can I do on here? Because some of these things have felt a little like they’ve changed or like a lot of our perspectives have changed and our priorities have changed. But I was like, oh, I still want to do this. And this is very much a stay at your house. Work on it by yourself thing. So great. I’ll work on this. So I did.
Yeah. I think there is definitely like several different types of quarantine people and the productive quarantine person was one, you know, and then there was like the other the other ones of us who were not so productive. But it’s definitely cool to hear your story about being super productive during, you know, several months of isolation. It’s very artistic. Like whenever you hear of a record being written in a cabin. I feel like it’s like one of those stories. I’m very attracted to it. It’s romantic.
Thank you. That’s funny because it really didn’t feel like that. It very much felt like, you know, I just was not alone. Like my husband was working from home, too. And normally I work alone. So to me, it just felt like a strange…it felt like working in a fog, which I think a lot of people are feeling that in different ways.
Yeah. So it didn’t feel very romantic. It felt very like, well, here’s something I can do. I’ll do that. But I do really. I definitely enjoy writing. I didn’t know if I would because you never really know until you try something. But I definitely really, really did. I think it’s really fun. At first I was like, oh, this feels like, tedious. This isn’t going to be for me. And then it felt like at a certain point the snowball started rolling down the hill or like my muscle got strong
enough that I was finally like, okay, I got this. I get it. I know what kind of headspace I need to be in to do this.
You got in the zone!
Yeah. I finally did. Took me apparently two years. But it’s magic.
So whether or not it gets published, which hopefully it will. And we’ll do an episode about that. But no matter what, you have to promise right now for all of our readers that you’ll come do a chapter reading episode, because I think that would be such a fun episode.
Oh, I would love to. I also have been thinking about if it did get published, like, would I read the audio?
You have to read your own audiobook. Everyone agrees, right? It’s better if the author reads their own book if they at all can.
That’s where I land is. I’m like I really enjoy hearing the author read it and I don’t really want to do it. I feel like my voice, I’ve always thought my voice was kind of like deep and monotone, so I’m like, I don’t know. (laughs) And I also, there’s all these different characters and I’m like…
You’ll be fine.
Yeah. Well anyway, I am kind of like I think I probably should because I’m listening to a book right now and the author is not reading it and I must admit…
In fiction books. Okay. I don’t listen to a lot of fiction books. Do they usually have different voices for different characters? Because that’s how it was in the new Margaret Atwood novel. That’s like the only fiction book I’ve listened to in recent or maybe ever. They had different actors doing the different voices. Is that normal?
I don’t know. I also don’t listen to a lot of fiction. I usually read it and I listen to nonfiction. So I really don’t know. I’m not I’m not at all an expert. So it’s been quite a while since I listened trying to remember the last fiction I listened to and I don’t even know it was so it’s been awhile.
We’ve been listening to lots of self-help books. So we’re going to do a self-help episode again. Is there a better word than self-help since that’s kind of cheesy for the category?
I mean, we thought about just calling it nonfiction just because some of it is like it. Yes, it is about self- improvement, but not in the traditional sense that people might be thinking. So I think it’s just…
Enriching in some way.
Yeah, enriching in some way. I don’t really have a good word for it, though.
Yeah, we’re going to do another one of those soon and we can link back to the last one in the show notes. But I, I love doing those episodes because it’s just fun. Like talking about what you’re reading.
Well, thanks for telling us about your quarantine novel. I am really, really, really inspired.
Yeah. Thanks for wanting to talk to me about it. And also, a lot of people have, you know, sent us emails, which is email@example.com or left us comments in various places, including my own personal Instagram, just
saying that they’re basically rooting for me and, it really does mean a whole lot. I’m a pretty like in real life, I’m of a fairly reserved person. So…
She’s private as hell, everyone.
So it’s just really, it really does mean a lot to me. I don’t know if that always comes off, so I just wanted to say it. It really is very, very kind. And a lot of people have already been doing that. So it means a lot to me.
Well, thanks so much for listening Emma’s episode about her quarantine novel. And we will definitely keep you updated on how and when you can read it.