Friday, March 24, 2017

Summer Lane: The Journey of The Collapse Series (How I Found Myself Here!)

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be where I am right now in life, I would have laughed. Please understand, I wouldn't have laughed because I'm a scoffer, or anything short of a dreamer...but because sometimes, life surprises you. 

Let's get personal. A lot of people ask me when I decided to "become a writer." The truth is, nobody decides to "become" one. They either are or they aren't. For me, I chose to pursue the craft of writing professionally when I was 13. I was a young writer already, but professional? Hardly. I was a child! Yet that's when it started. To put it plainly, it was the best opportunity afforded me at that point in my life, and I chose to go after it with extreme aggression. I dedicated my entire being to reading and learning, to sharpening my skills. Let me note here that part of the learning process was feeling the blunt and necessary sting of rejection from magazines and publishers over and over again. 

First PR photo, barely 19 years-old. Original cover for debut novel.
At first, I'd cry every time I was rejected. Then, gradually, I realized that every "no" was merely one step closer to a "yes," - or at least a better opportunity. Besides, as time marched on, and the thousands of pages poured out of me, I became a stronger writer, wiser and more knowledgeable. I learned so much about the publishing business itself. I studied it for years, absorbing everything I could, like an optimistic sponge. I remember being positively overjoyed when, at the age of 17 (and still a Senior in High School), I landed my first paying freelance job as a writer. I was making pennies per word, and the work was difficult. Very difficult and never-ending. But it was a job - and more importantly, it was a writing job. From there, I went on to hundreds of more journalistic freelance jobs, writing everything from eBooks and product catalogs to travel articles, movie reviews and collegiate essays. By the time I was 18, I had already written thousands of professionally published articles - all of them ghostwritten and credited to someone else's name. 

My passion project of 2015.
It didn't matter: I was getting paid to write and to learn - therefore, I was happy. I went on to hold positions at small publishing houses as a publicist (both a freelance publicist and a staff publicist), a staff journalist, and a magazine co-founder (at the time, a big deal for me!). I began to be hired locally to teach creative writing programs to both classrooms and individual students. My resume and experience were both growing rapidly. By the time I was 19, I had more experience working in publishing than a lot of veterans did. I'd done every odd job, every small job, and every unwanted task out there. I wasn't afraid to take any job, and I think that really helped me improve myself. 

While I was working during this time, I had a small online magazine called Writing Belle, where I played around with book reviews for fun. When I was done with High School, I sharpened it a little and began featuring and interviewing other authors as a sort of internship for myself: a way to grow my journalism skills and circle of author friends at the same time. By 2012, I had a substantial group of writing peers and a relatively loyal reader base - both of whom were curiously awaiting my debut novel (I had always planned to release a novel, but I wasn't sure when). 

The Sequel. June 2013.
Writing Belle gave me the platform I needed, and in January 2013, I released my debut novel, State of Emergency. I'll be honest: while I had an entire array of stories for this universe in my head, I honestly didn't expect for the first installment to be anything more than a standalone novel. I ended the book on a cliffhanger, with the assumption that if I had enough readers and interest, I would publish the sequel. When I first released the book, I barely publicized it, wanting to merely watch how it performed on the merit of its story-line alone. Busy with other writing work, the mid-January release was relatively mediocre (certainly not bad - I sold a few hundred copies right off the bat, which surprised me!), and I didn't think much of it. But in February, I suddenly realized that I had buoyed in sales, and that I was sitting on bestseller lists on Amazon - a surprise to me! I remember the shock. TOTAL, UTTER, SHOCK. I couldn't believe it. I was suddenly receiving fan mail, and people were telling me how much they wanted me to write the next book. SO I DID. 

After the second installment (State of Chaos), my audience had grown by a few thousand. I was gaining traction - not losing it! The stories were popular, and suddenly, I was dropping other writing jobs simply so I keep up with the demand of readers who wanted the next installment. With the third book, State of Rebellion, my life changed: I was a full-time novelist and a #1 bestselling author. I began publishing other stories (The Zero Trilogy, The Bravo Saga, etc.) that I had always wanted to write, and now I had an audience to read them. After I sold my first 100,000 copies, I remember thinking, "I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe I've come this far!" It was a sort of dreamy haze, a funnel of disbelief. Was I really doing this? Yes, I was! 

I would by lying if I said that my own life experiences haven't heavily shaped my novels. Collapse itself is a showcase of loss and pain, and the spirit of human perseverance, the ability to fight back, and to conquer evil with love. I write about this because I've seen it...and to an extent, we all have. When Cassidy has felt pain, I've felt pain. When she's wanted vengeance, I've wanted vengeance. When she's wanted love, I've wanted love. In some ways, she and I are parallels - in other ways, she's so different than me, the person I want to be, the imaginary version of myself, the one who is strong and afraid of nothing. I think that's the appeal of Cassidy Hart, to be honest: she's just like us. All of us. 

Cassidy Hart is my hero, because she has been my undying friend and companion through some pretty rough patches in life. Cassidy herself has been an idea for many years, long before I ever published Collapse. She simply didn't develop properly until then. Much of her journey has been my own. When I published State of Emergency, I also met my future husband, and my love and affection for him helped me to better understand Cassidy's love and affection for Chris Young, the kind of love that you would die for. There's also the saying that you should never annoy the writer, or they will put you into a book and kill you! Funny, yes. True? In some instances, yes. Writers channel pieces of their own life and frustrations into their books - it's often so disguised that you can't see it, but we know. 

So here I am. The final installment of the Collapse Series will be releasing in just a few months. Since 2013, I have released 16 publications in the Collapse universe, and State of Hope will be the 17th. After this, I will have more authorial journeys to take, but the original series - the story of Collapse and the long, uphill journey it took to get here in life - will always reign supreme in my heart. If you're a writer (or anything else!), I encourage you to really give it your best shot. Don't be discouraged. If you have a good story, and you have talent, you will find just have to be willing to sacrifice for it. 

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Get fictional - it's fun! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again soon!