Guest Author Post: How Robin Puelma Became a Writer

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I was in third grade when I published my first book. Self published, let’s say. Yes, it was a class project, but I remember thoroughly loving the process. Writing a story; drawing the pictures; and then turning it into something I could hold. (The story? About gummy bears. Riveting, I know.)

My love of writing books didn’t return until college. However, my addiction to story telling waxed ever since the third grade. I honed that skill through drawing. I drew everything. And every day. Sitting in my room, sketch pad and pencils in my lap, I labored over creating new things. For years, I wanted to be an animator. I dreamed of art school and toured Disney animation studios with mouth ajar.

But my love of drawing wavered in high school. I received a discouraging comment from an art teacher, and for some reason, I let that cast doubt. My confidence slipped. Yes, I have no one to blame but me—if I wanted it badly enough, I would have shoved that comment aside and pressed on. But I like to think my creative story didn’t end there—instead, it shifted.

Enter freshman year English class at Pepperdine University. Having never taken an AP or Honors class in my life, I was intimidated sitting in an English class where most of the students had. The first essay we wrote, I labored over. And labored over. Until, I realized, I was enjoying the process. Writing. Creating a narrative. Crafting sentences. It was like art all over again—except this time, with my words. And surprisingly, others enjoyed my craft too.

College introduced me to my new creative story. I was, however, a neophyte. I had never written monologues or screenplays or short stories. But I was desperate to learn. So, I wrote. And wrote badly. I received all kinds of feedback from professors and students—some positive, others constructive. All it did was drive me to write better. Write more. Constantly. I reacted so differently than I did with my art teacher’s comments that it solidified something in my mind: with art, I must not have wanted it enough. With writing? I wanted it. And wanted it badly.

During college, I read Harry Potter and knew my life would never be the same. Story telling through novels became a magic I could never live without. So I began to create my own stories. My own characters. My own books. The Missing Crimoire was largely dreamed up in my college dorm room.

Four years later, I graduated with a degree in writing—yes—but more importantly, with a passion for the craft that would change me forever. Ever since, I’ve called myself a writer.


Robin Puelma is my wife’s lifelong best friend. I’ve had the privilege of knowing her for 15 years. Robin and I have shared a love for similar books and movies since we first met. Her editing gifts include feedback on a story’s characters, pacing, and dilemma, to name a few. My stories have greatly benefited from her thoughtful, creative eye.

She published The Missing Crimoire and The Naming of Colton BlackHer characters and worlds will suck you in. If you haven’t checked out her books yet, you need to!

Want to know more about it her? Be sure to check out her blog. You can also find a post there on how I became a writer.

What about you? If you’re a writer, how did you get started? Do you have a writing buddy?

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First Rejection Letter

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Over my past twelve years of writing as a hobby, I’ve received over 100 rejection letters or emails. I wrote or emailed publishers my picture books and novels. None of them are as memorable as my first rejection. In 2008, I sent my first version of VERVE STONES to several publishing houses.

To prepare, I bought a book at Barnes and Noble about how to submit a children’s book. I researched synopses, cover letters, and query letters. All these were new terms for me. Each one took me a month to write.

Every publisher requires something different for a submission. One might want a query letter and the first three chapters of a manuscript. Another needs a synopsis and cover letter. The next will read a query and the first ten pages. You get the idea. Most only read them if sent by mail. A few via email.

Sometimes the publishing houses will mail rejection letters in self-addressed stamped envelope prepared by the submitter. Usually in three to six months. Less use emails. Some inform submitting authors that their answer is no if three months pass. Many publishers only review submissions from agents, which is a whole nother beast.

When I finally dropped off an armful of letters and envelopes at the post office, I wanted to throw a party. From that moment on, I checked the mail every day. Twice on Saturday. I refreshed my email page every hour. No joke. I filled my free time daydreaming about a publisher calling me to offer me a hundred times the normal $5,000 authors received when they signed a new contract.

Around that time the final HARRY POTTER book released. I read an article wondering where the next HARRY POTTER book would come from. I vowed it would be VERVE STONES. I still feel that way.

Finally, I received my first rejection in the mail! To this day it is my only personalized letter. A nameless employee at Houghton Mifflin wrote out, Dear Mr. Aries, double underlined, thank you, sorry, and every success. My favorite part of the postcard-sized rejection is a handwritten message in the bottom corner that says, “Great writing & pace. Best of luck with Spoon!”

I’m still waiting to get my stories published with a publishing house. I’ve moved on to self-publishing, which has its pros and cons. But whenever I’m feeling like a crummy writer who will never become a full-time author, I repeat, “Great writing & pace. Best of luck with Spoon!” as a mantra to keep myself motivated.

Do you have your own rejection story? What keeps you going when you feel discouraged?

Top 5 Hooks

Way back in 2008, my friend Megan agreed to read through an early version of VERVE STONES. Her being an avid reader, and an English language arts teacher, made her a perfect first editor. She singlehandedly helped me slog through my rookie writing woes. Her feedback aided my skills in character development, flashbacks, and my all-time nemesis the comma. Her comments allowed me to create a much improved story.

Megan’s revision I struggled with most of all needing a hook. A narrative hook is the opening of a story that “hooks” or grabs the reader’s attention so that he or she will keep reading. (Sorry, can’t hold back my teacher mode.) I remember reading the first page in every book I ever read on Amazon.com. Or wanted to read. My research eventually led me to create, “The man had no face,” as my first line in VERVE STONES.

These are my top five favorite hooks I discovered. Today, I use four of these as examples when I teach narrative writing to my third grade class. May these hooks encourage your own writing as much as they did mine!

Savvy by Ingrid Law

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The fact that I needed to reread the first sentence to fully grasp why her family needed to move inland makes this an unforgettable hook.

 

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events) by Lemony Snicket

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This is an outstanding hook because of its use of reverse psychology.

 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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This fearful hook is intensified with an ominous picture.

 

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

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After reading the first two pages, I was so hooked I immediately bought a copy of this book.

 

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

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Stating the simple fact of going to the grocery store and with the, “Wait, what?” moment makes this hook perfect.

 

Bracing Myself for February

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My mom died on February 15, 2015. Hard to believe it’s been nearly three years. Missing her comes in waves, chance moments, and random memories. A few of these times bury me. Most of them leave me in a gloomy mood.

Mom died at the age of 57 from an aggressive case of Huntington’s Disease. Mom loved family, friends, baking, gardening, sunbathing, reading, and visiting our family’s cabin. My friends insisted we hang out at my house because of Mom. She kept a spotless home, the cupboards were filled with snacks, and a fire blazed in the stove ten months a year. The lemon bars, fresh bread, cookies, cinnamon rolls, banana bread, and various others baked goods cooling on our counter didn’t hurt either.

My sister, Chrissa, and I learned to adore sweets, family time, and holidays from Mom. Mom loved Christmas most of all. Each December, the three of us would drive through town hunting for decorated houses, watching Christmas movies, and helping her fill bags of baked goods to be given as presents.

Like I mentioned above, Mom loved to read. Mystery and Romance were her preferred genres. She always had a book in hand at home, at the cabin, or on vacation. I won’t say her reading directly influenced me to write. I can say Mom would’ve loved reading my sorties. I’m certain NINTH NIGHT would be her favorite. The story is a romantic mystery that is set in Cannon Beach, a place she enjoyed to vacation.

I survived her passing because she accepted Jesus as her savior. During the weeks, days, and hours leading to her death, I repeated, “New body in Christ,” each day I witness HD deteriorate her body. The promise that I’d see Mom in heaven kept her death from crushing me. Barely. The same promise allows me to move forward each day without her in my life. Or my daughter’s life.

Miss you, Mom!
PS If you wish to donate to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America just click the link.

No Excuses

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Writing a blog takes time away from writing. If I get 20 minutes to write on a work day, I do not want to waste it on a blog. My blog is super boring because of this. Dustin told me I needed to write blogs that were more personal to gain more readers. Of course, he’s correct.

I never want to lose out on creating and editing stories. Also, I am sensitive of my less than perfect editing skills. I’ve produced short, sweet, and boring blog posts for years. Ahh! All excuses! I have a No-Excuses sign on my wall in my classroom. I point to it daily with the 26 third graders I teach. Time for me to take my own medicine. Gulp.

Anyone Else Feel This Way?

No matter how many times I send them to Dustin, Dawn, Taylor, or Robin. No matter if it’s a first or final draft. I always think my latest draft is perfect. This draft is a best seller. I justify my overactive pride with the fact I’ve been writing for a hobby since 2006. My skills have improved immensely. I’ve finally figured out this writing thing. Then a friend returns the draft with more red text than black.

I crash back to earth a few days later. I read their comments first. Try to take in everything without getting upset. Some feedback is in areas I knew needed to be fixed. Most are changes I never noticed. Ones that totally enhance the story. Or edits which keep me from writing like one of my third graders.

What I’m trying to say is thank you to my friends who edit my drafts. Without you, VERVE STONES, NINTH NIGHT, UNDER, and BACK OF BEYOND would never exist!

Venting

Plugging away on BACK OF BEYOND. To be honest, I’m feeling frustrated. It’s been almost three years since I self-published VERVE STONES. I wrote over half of BACK OF BEYOND years before that date. I desperately want to finish. My students, friends, and family keep asking me if I’m finished yet. I can see the end of the draft even if not far, far off.

Self-publishing takes me a very long time. Especially because my AMAZING FRIENDS have to take time out their own busy lives to edit my work. My manuscripts always require a great of improvements. Staring at the incredible cover by Jake doesn’t help either.

I daydream about being an author full time. Writing for hours each day instead of minutes. Having editors to burden with my drafts instead of friends. Being able to finish several other picture books, stories, and series I started and never have time to write. My job, friends, family, and God come before writing. I will keep praying this can be my job instead.

Time to get back to work.