This is the story of the most amazing thing that happened to me while I was chasing my dream of becoming a published author, with a special guest appearance by Chloe Neill.
2011 was a rough time for me. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I had been dating a guy for years who abruptly left me in a financial lurch. I had very few options, the best of which was to move back to my hometown. So, at twenty-six-years-old, I packed my things and travelled three hours away from a great city I couldn’t afford to live in and a great job I couldn’t afford to give up – all to move in with my parents.
I felt like a failure.
I was an adult. I’d had a plan for my life, and this was not the way it was supposed to go. Instead of being the successful, career-driven woman in a happy relationship I had planned to be, I had no money, no job, no car, mounting debt, and nothing more to my name than a handful of clothing and my dog.
But as I slowly began to accept what had happened, I slowly realized I really never had the things I thought I had lost. My career wasn’t all that successful and my relationship hadn’t been all that happy. I’d built the life that society wanted me to have, not what I did, and it left me bitchy, stagnant, and passionless.
As I searched for a job and ways to move forward with my life, the spent the days stitching the broken pieces of my life back together. At night, however, the feelings of failure and hopelessness returned. I didn’t know who I was anymore or what I wanted in life.
While I needed to do some serious soul-searching, I also needed to escape.
Through my life, I’ve found that only two things let my busy brain truly zone out and forget about life for a while: reading and video games.
I didn’t have money for video games, so those were out the window. I didn’t have money for books either, but I had my (parents) address, which was enough to check out some books from the local library.
I told the librarian I needed a fantasy novel that was lighthearted and fun, like the Sookie Stackhouse series.
“Have you read the Chicagoland Vampires series by Chloe Neill?” she asked.
I had not and so I left the library with the first three books of the series in my hands.
They were exactly what I needed.
They were fun and entertaining, and deeply engrossing. They were my nightly escape as I worked to get myself back on my feet.
A few months later I landed a good job with a fantastic company. I’d never been happier at work. I slowly chipped away at my debt and saved up enough to buy a car and then a down-payment for a house of my own.
I was determined to make 2012 a wonderful year, to balance the shitshow that was 2011. I spent my nights soul-searching, asking myself, if you only had this year to pursue your dreams, what would they be?
I dabble with a few things. I considered going back to school to get my masters in psychology. I thought about taking up art again. Maybe I would finally sit down and write a novel cover to cover. They all seemed like good directions, but nothing was fully grabbing me.
I discussed the issue with a trusted friend, someone I’d known since childhood.
“I want to find my passion in life and pursue it,” I told him, “but I have a lot of interests and I’m having trouble choosing just one.”
“I don’t want to sway you,” he said, “but you light up when you talk about writing. Maybe explore that some more.”
So I did.
I gave myself one year, to the end of 2012, to make some “serious progress” on the writing front. If nothing had happened by then, or I wasn’t feeling that passionately about it anymore, I’d walk away and find something new.
On December 31, 2012, one day before my self-imposed deadline, I had my first publication: a short story in the digital magazine, Daily Science Fiction – a “pro-level” market for science-fiction and fantasy writers.
I was hooked.
I dove head-on into writing, spending every night, weekend and holiday either writing or learning how to write better. I wrote a lot of short stories and got a few more published. I started researching novels, how to write them, how they were different than short stories, and how to get them published.
That’s when I realized that if I was ever going to write fiction full-time, I’d have to write books – and even that would be a stretch financially.
As I was slowly learning how to write novels, there was this character in my head who wouldn’t shut up, who didn’t have a book or a home yet, who swore a lot and wanted to hit things. Finally, I came across a concept for a book – futuristic VR eSports – where this character would be right at home.
“PUT ME IN, COACH,” she practically screamed.
Some of you reading this now know that character as Kali Ling.
As soon as I put her and that story concept together, it exploded. I wrote ten thousand words in three nights. I couldn’t stop thinking about this story all day while working at my regular job. Flashes of scenes and lines were coming to me almost unstop and I found myself scribbling down notes on post-its and stuffing them into my purse until I could get home.
That novel, which later became known as ARENA, poured out of me over the course of a few months. Afterwards, I spent the next several editing, sending out to beta readers, and learning how to craft a query letter.
After a handful of rejections, I signed with my agent Leon Husock, and three weeks, we later had a book deal with Ace, a sci-fi and fantasy imprint of Penguin Random House. This was 2014.
The next year was spent on editing the novel and prepping for its release. I was living a dream, my dream.
On day, in the summer of 2015, while I was finishing up work on ARENA and starting its sequel GAUNTLET, my phone pinged. It was an email from my editor at Penguin.
“Great news!” she wrote. “Another author likes your book and wants to put on quote on it.”
When I got that email, I sat on my bed and cried for an hour – not tears of misery but of joy. Seeing Chloe’s name on my phone, knowing she had read my book when I’d read her books at the lowest point in my life – truly represented how full circle my life had come.
I had worked hard over the years, giving up socializing, dating, television, and several other enjoyable activities, just to pour more time into my writing. I had achieved my dream, and Chloe Neill had been there at the beginning and at the end.
That was when I realized I’d done it.
I’d found my passion. I had the life I always wanted – really, truly wanted. Most of all, I was happy.
Here’s something no one ever tells you: happiness takes work. It’s not something that’s just handed to you. You need to go out there, figure out what makes you sing, and then take it for yourself.
It took me a broken relationship, no money, and the shame of “starting over” to realize that real happiness comes from growing as a human being and challenging yourself every day.
I’ve had moments where I’ve questioned my happiness and my direction in life, especially when my publisher dropped my Arena series. Instead of giving up, I’m now spending my days pouring everything into my dream novel – the one I always wanted to write but never thought I’d be good enough.
Now, anytime in the future where I’m questioning my happiness, I know to step back, evaluate my situation and re-center my trajectory toward where I truly want to be.
Or, you know, I’ll just ask Chloe Neill what to do.