(Does this qualify as proof of life?)
On many days, I write the same way I prepare for a hike: with structure and the appropriate equipment for the journey. The same items within the same space:
Water. The right playlist at the right volume with the phone resting in the lap of the Jedi panda on the shelf. The faux birch tree, lit in its serene LED glory. The diffuser puffing eucalyptus or lavender, alternating between hums and silence (I haven’t ventured to try the other scents). Whatever confidence I can muster.
Water. First-aid kit. LifeStraw. Gaiters. Rain jacket. Snacks. Sandwiches. Extra shirt. Extra socks. Hiking poles. Hat. External battery. Map. Headlamp.
A mindful entrance into the room. A look toward those objects that give me confidence, that keep me company. The ADK High Peaks trail guide, which has not failed me yet. My book cover, the perpetually-falling protagonist suspended among the clouds on the wall.
Trade flip-flops for hiking shoes. Lace them up tight. Clip the hydration pack belt. Lock the car. Feel confident of an adventure and fearful of what’s to come. From this distance, this early in the morning, it can’t be that bad. Spray yourself down with bug spray. Lift the pencil at the trail register.
Accept that all of the friendly objects and soft smells and gentle lights in the world cannot, as it turns out, put your fingers to the keyboard. You have to do that.
This book scares you. The prospect of not knowing what to write scares you more. It’s like your exercise activities: if you’re going slower than you feel you should be, the self-berating begins. This is why you need structure. This is why you set the timer and then jump in.
Name (or group leader). Number of people in party. Destination. Time in. You already know the signing out will be the sweetest part of the day. If it’s early in the season, you’re excited to start moving. If it’s Giant after the Lower Great Range, you’re especially nervous as you duck under the branches and plunge into the forest to begin. Are you really willing to do this again? After last time?
This story keeps prodding at you. A plot twist sends you accidentally knocking into a recycling container (maybe it was too far out into the street, okay?). On the good days, you remember why you loved writing as a kid, why it was the only major you were confident you wanted to pursue in college and later into grad school, why it’s the only topic you’ve consistently wanted to teach despite all of those mental what-if forays.
The thing is, the body forgets the pain, and soon enough, you’re scrambling up the slides, the valley waking up behind you, the clouds inverting and drifting below you. You jog right up the bare rock, feeling the rush of achievement. You’re getting stronger. You know more now, but you’re equipped for this.
Then there are the wrestling days. A Lower Great Range process:
You’ve left the flatness of Lake Road and your legs are already burning. How are they hurting this much four miles into the hike? Don’t you run? Don’t you train? How come you’re not in shape for this? What have you been doing wrong? Why do you keep doing it wrong? If you can’t do this, how much worse will the rest of the day be? Where is the wind?
Writing this book becomes a solo hike, really. Because writing, like the mountains, forces you to turn inward.
Am I brave enough?
Am I strong enough?
Can I handle the road ahead?
And for a while, the answer to the last question was no. Because as you learned from Lower Wolf Jaw, there’s always more elevation to lose. So I took myself off of the trail. Logged out of Twitter for two? Three? years. Didn’t let myself get out of sight of the car, really.
Out here, virtually alone, convinced you’re getting closer to the sky and yet every turn in the trail reveals more trees, it’s easy to pause. To hope that this time, you’ll have the strength you need to push through. Dimly, you fear what the descent will be like. But that’s a problem for the later you. Present you still needs to push through.
You keep going. You go until you ascend into Algonquin rain or Whiteface winds or Rocky Peak Ridge storm clouds. You go until you find that Iroquois moment – the resounding beauty. Even those moments don’t last forever; a clear view on the summit reveals the miles back. You take what you can.
Are you ready?
Will you ever be ready?
Are you willing?
You decide that you are.
I chatted with my good friend Professor Labs about the intersection of writing, hiking, and teaching (with some hints about what I've been working on!). You can listen to it here.
Here we are, friends!
I've been part of this rodeo from Day 1. Back in 2012, as we wondered if the end of days was approaching, I entered Pitch Wars with a book I loved but knew needed that extra push. Out of the slush I was picked. Over the course of several weeks, my mentor and I worked to make my novel and pitch stronger than ever.
Now? That book is published. And ever since that first year, I've returned to mentor.
This year, I'm back with a partner in crime -- the fantastic Katrina Emmel, who was actually one of my alternates back in 2014! We work fabulously together, and we're ready to have you join #TheSquad.
I'm a college writing professor, gymnastics coach/judge/enthusiast, and an editorial literary assistant for PS Literary. I also hold an MFA from Stony Brook University. I'm represented by Tina Wexler of ICM Partners, and my debut novel, LESSONS IN FALLING, released this February. Along with YA, I've also published numerous essays and short stories.
Why I love Pitch Wars and keep coming back for more:
The rush when the sub window opens. The flutters in your belly when you fall in love with a manuscript. The turning of the wheels when you come up with ideas for how to make it even stronger. The thrill of the agent round. And most importantly, the relationships with fellow writers that turn to lasting friendships. No matter where we're at in the journey, we're all in this together.
You want us to mentor you because...
We have first hand insight into all aspects of the publishing industry, from the very first query to having a book on shelf. We’ve been through the ups and downs and we’ll be here to support and guide you after the agent round concludes. We both work in writing and publishing, and what's better than two sets of eyes?
What you can expect from #TheSquad:
-Track Changes from both of us on your manuscript.
-An in-depth edit letter highlighting your novel's strengths and areas for revision.
-Help with your pitch, query letter, and synopsis.
-Brainstorming and support!
What I'm looking for:
Contemporary young adult and new adult that encompasses any of the following (bonus if it's more than one!)
-All of the athletes
-Vividly rendered settings (I just returned from the Southwest -- swoon)
-Diversity in all forms
-Awesome voice -- even the mundane moments are awesome
-Multiple POVs/time shifts/unusual structures
-Romance (doesn't need to be the main plot)
-Crackling wit and humor
-Dark and controversial (so long as it doesn't make Katrina cry too hard)
-Unpredictable outcomes (I’m tough to surprise. I challenge you to do it!)
Not for me:
-Classical musician plots (I used to lie about my assigned twenty minutes of practicing the violin every day. Sorry!)
-Grandparents revealing deep-dark family secrets
-Stereotypes (the dumb football player, the popular cheerleader)
-Conflict that centers around a misunderstanding that could have easily been avoided/cleared up, unless it’s done for comedic effect
-Secrets without stakes
Faves include: Kill the Boy Band (humor), I’ll Give You the Sun (multi-POV/time shifts/awesome writing/characters coming through darkness), A Matter of Heart + Lessons in Gravity + The Outer Banks Sports Academy series (sportsing + characters making tough decisions), Tiny Pretty Things (Pretty Little Liars vibes in an authentically-rendered dance world), Damage Done (SO DARK/SO TWISTED), old-school Sarah Dessen a la Keeping the Moon, Dreamland, Just Listen, This Lullaby
We'll make a great team if you...
-Are enthusiastic about revisions.
-Have an open mind in regards to changes.
-Have a sense of humor (work hard, play hard!).
-Are serious about your writing journey; perhaps you’ve queried before, or you’re ready to jump in. You’re so close that you can taste it. You just need that push.
-Have the ability to take feedback and run with it.
When I'm not reading/writing/wasting time on the Internet, I enjoy...
Gymnastics, teaching, running/fitness, yoga, country concerts, road trips, The Office, college basketball, hiking, taking artsy photos of the ocean, tacos.
Want to learn more?
Head over to Katrina's blog to see what she's dying to read!
Let's be friends!
Lost? Confused? Scared? Curious? Hit me up on Twitter: @DianaMarieGal or on Instagram: @dianagallagherbooks, where you'll see me attempt to use filters for dramatic effect.
Aaaaand if you're made it this far, the magical scavenger hunt word/punctuation you're looking for is:
We can't wait to read your words!
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Lessons in publishing
Back in 2009, as an assignment for a summer writing workshop, I wrote a chapter about a girl who couldn't pass her road test. I had no idea where the story would go. Today, it's a published novel.
There was quite a bit I didn't know back then. The publishing process, for example, was an entirely a mystery, and all I knew was that I wanted to be a part of it.
Even so, research can't prepare you for everything. I had no idea how hard it would be to write something new after the novel was under contract, or how much editing goes into the manuscript after it's sold (spoiler: a lot). There was so much I couldn't have anticipated, either. You name it, it's probably happened in this winding publishing journey of mine.
There have also been the gratifying milestones, such as receiving the advance copies and seeing that the book, well, looked like a book and no longer like a Word document. Like an awesome book trailer and Publishers Weekly calling the book "satisfying." Like my friends and family members, near and far, who have been nothing but supportive.
And here we are today. Here's the story of a girl finding her way in the world.