Struggling with Tragedy

I wanted to write a post about writing, about publishing, about editing. I have an update on that front, and I try to treat this blog not as my personal diary, but as a place to share my writing journey specifically. And I will share my editing/publishing update. But it will have to be in another post.
Three days ago, two bombs went off in Copley Square in Boston, MA at 2:50 pm ET. I was in my office when it happened, several cities away, worrying about a client crisis that in retrospect, wasn’t much of a crisis at all.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the Boston Marathon bombing since it happened. I’m not inspired to write, I’m having problems concentrating at work, and I find myself fighting back tears at totally inappropriate times.
I don’t know why I’m so affected by this tragedy. It’s objectively upsetting, but there are lots of tragic events that are upsetting. When soldiers or innocent civilians die in warfare, that is upsetting. When people die in a natural disaster, like the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, that is upsetting. But none of those tragedies felt personal.
The Boston Marathon bombing feels personal.
I do not live in Boston, though I know several people who do. My former colleagues work in an office on Boylston Street, which runs through Copley Square. My college roommate and her boyfriend live in downtown Boston, and her boyfriend ran the marathon on Monday. He’s a serious athlete and a talented runner, and finished well before the blasts went off. My former colleagues are rattled but fine.
As many of you know, I’m a New Yorker, or I am as of three years ago (I’m originally from a snooty town in Connecticut, for those of you who care). Boston is the closest big city to NYC, and I’ve been there often; in fact, I was there two weeks ago on business. Jon Stewart, of Daily Show fame, described the relationship of our cities best:
…New Yorkers and Boston obviously have kind of a little bit of a competition. Often, the two cities accusing each other of various levels of suckitude. But it is in situations like this that we realize it is clearly a sibling rivalry, and that we are your brothers and sisters in this type of event. 
 These bombs did not go off in my city, but they very well could have. Everyone’s aware of that–if you go to Grand Central, the train station is crawling with uniformed men and women carrying serious-looking guns. There are cops in NYPD blue at every intersection. It could have been us, and we are afraid.
Two Novembers ago, the runners in the New York marathon came over the Queensborough bridge and passed through 59th Street. I’m not a runner — in fact, I loathe running — but I came out to watch as a spectator. I live right around the corner from the bridge, and the marathoners run through here every year. It’s either mile 13 or mile 16 (I can’t recall which) — the middle of the race, and far from the most exciting — but there’s an amazing energy in the atmosphere that’s indescribable. There’s a relationship between the spectators and the runners, though we are strangers to each other. And though I may not be a runner, I am always inspired by the men and women who push their bodies to the limit. I’m a powerlifter myself, and I imagine that crossing the finishing line of any marathon is as incredible a feeling as lifting hundreds of pounds. It’s not just the endorphin rush; it’s the sense of accomplishment. 
In writing fiction, the experts say to give the antagonist a motive. Nobody’s pure evil, they say. Every evil act must be rationalized. But then something like the Boston Marathon bombing happens, and I cannot fathom a possible rationale. If I were the editor of this story, I would call for a rewrite. This atrocity is too evil, too illogical, I would say. It doesn’t make any sense. Don’t murder the 8 year old child, the beautiful, smart young women with their futures ahead of them. Your readers won’t be able to bear it.
Perhaps the reason the bombing feels so personal to me is the advent of technology. During 9/11, we saw the towers burn and collapse from afar. The screams were muted, the dead and dying out of sight. 9/11 felt personal to me, too, but I knew people who worked in the World Trade Centers, and my father was scheduled to leave on a plane from NYC that day. I could see the smoke from the pile of rubble where the towers used to be from my hometown beach across the ocean.
But thanks to smartphones and social media (thanks might be the wrong phrasing), anyone can relive the horror of the Boston Marathon. There are countless videos of raw footage on the internet, personal accounts and eyewitness photos.You can watch the orange fireball burst through the crowd and you can hear the sonic boom of the explosion. You can see the trail of blood across the sidewalk and you know the faces of the victims, and you’ve seen up-close shots of their missing limbs and shrapnel-torn bodies.
I’m still grappling with my feelings about the whole event. I’ve both lost my faith in humanity and regained it. Lost because I wanted to believe that humanity was not capable of such pointless evil. The Boston Marathon is a truly global event, attended by runners and spectators from around the world. The bomb did not just strike Americans that day; it struck people of every nationality. One of the three people who died was from China, attending Boston University to pursue a graduate degree in statistics. All of China mourns her loss, as do we. The world mourns with us. I don’t know what the bomber’s intended outcome was, other than to strike fear into our hearts. But to what end? The Boston Marathon is supposed to be a joyous event, a celebration of the enormous potential of humanity. Why would anybody want to ruin that? The man or woman who did this to the city of Boston is not human, no matter what is in his/her DNA. 
But something amazing happened in the midst of all this tragedy. Cops, bystanders, amateurs, ordinary people became heroes in the wake of the blast. When a bomb goes off, the logical reaction is to run away. But these heroes ran to the aid of the victims who were caught in the blast. They removed debris and fencing out of the way in record time. They made makeshift tourniquets out of waist belts and clothing and used napkins from Starbucks to staunch victims’ bleeding.  Those tourniquets saved lives, doctors at Boston hospitals said. Uninjured runners, who’d already run over 20 miles, kept running all the way to the hospital so that they could donate blood. So many volunteers donated blood that the Red Cross tweeted “thanks” and said they had sufficient supplies to treat every bomb victim.
One of my favorite pictures from the marathon is of former New England Patriots (to my non-American readers, the Patriots are one of the best football teams in the NFL) player Joe Andruzzi rescuing a woman who could no longer walk.
These people, these heroes, are a testament to man’s potential for good. They restore my faith in humanity. It is cruelly unfair that the actions of one evil human (although perhaps more if this is a coordinated act of terror) can offset the goodness of so many others. I try to avoid profanity in this blog, but here I think it is warranted: I hope they make the fucker who did this pay.
I’m sorry for the off-topic ramble, but as much as I want to share my latest Paladin update, I had to write this first. It’s somewhat cathartic to put my pen to paper (or my, er, keyboard to MS Word). This blog will resume normal programming tomorrow when I give you another very big update on publishing/editing Paladin. Thanks for bearing with me on this one.

Forging a new path

Once again, I owe you all an apology for taking such an insanely long time to write a new blog post. To those of you who blog every day AND write your story, kudos to you. You’re a far better [wo]man than I.
I tend to write these things in a sort of stream of consciousness, since I don’t really have that luxury with my attempts at novel writing, so bear with me. My thoughts are not entirely organized, perhaps because I’m on the precipice of a very major life decision.
Those of you who follow me on Wattpad/stalk my news feed (no judgment — I assure you I stalk yours) may have seen a few of my comments back to readers regarding self-publishing. And those of you who read my last blog post probably sensed that I was at least considering self-publishing.
Well, this article in Salon sold me on it. In his aptly titled article, “Self-Publishing is the Future — and great for writers,” Hugh Howey, a very successful self-published author–or Indie author as the cool kids call it these days–talked not just about his journey to success but shared stories of many other successful self-published writers. And he shared some pretty interesting insights:
Your book might be in the top 1 percent of what readers are looking for — whether by the magic of your plot or the grace of your prose — in which case you are far better off self-publishing. You’ll make more money sooner, and you’ll own the rights when it comes time to negotiate with publishers (if you even care to.)
Do I think Paladin is in the top 1 percent? I don’t know, but I’m hoping that the number of reads I’ve gotten on Wattpad are an indication that it might be. Howey then goes on to say:

If, on the other hand, your work isn’t in the top 1 percent, it won’t escape the clutches of the slush pile. Your only hope in this case is to self-publish. Which means there isn’t a scenario in which I would recommend an author begin his or her career with a traditional publisher. 
Wow. That’s a pretty bold statement to make. And he goes on to back it with a lot of logic. You can keep a greater share of the royalties. You can price your book at whatever you want–dirt cheap, if that’s what you think will win over readers. You don’t have to deal with the stodginess of traditional publishing.
The book that Hugh Howey found success with was not his debut novel, and maybe mine won’t be either. Success in publishing these days, at least in the Indie community, is very dependent on your book going viral. It’s hard to predict what will and won’t go viral. A good story helps–that top 1 percent Howey mentions–but it also comes down to timing and sheer dumb luck. Maybe Paladin won’t be a huge commercial success…but maybe Uriel will be.
I’m going to be honest–if Random House came to me tomorrow and said, “Sally, we want to publish Paladin”, I’d jump on the deal in a heartbeat. But as there’s a slim chance of that happening, I’m starting to think that self-publishing is not so bad an alternative. At the end of the day, it may be my only option–and better, I think, to keep writing, to keep improving, to keep learning, than spend my days twiddling my thumbs, waiting for an agent to get back to me (if any agents I queried happen to read this post, please do get back to me!).
Do I think that all 50,000 readers who read Paladin from start to finish will buy my book, even if I price it at 99 cents? Do I think that even half will purchase it? I’m a realist–the answer to that is no. I don’t anticipate that publishing Paladin will start paying the bills–although I do hope some of my readers decide to show their support, either by purchasing a copy, writing a review, or simply recommending it to a friend.
So here’s my game plan. Over the next 3-4 weeks, I’m going to be editing the crap out of Paladin and formatting it for publishing as an ebook on Smashwords and Amazon. I’ve got the talented Hayley John, who made my cover for Blue Sun, painting me a custom cover (the Paladin cover I have on Wattpad I do not have the rights to publish). I’ve written an extended epilogue, and if I have time, I may write a bonus scene or two. I’m also going to attempt to figure out how the heck to market this thing. If, by some miracle, an agent gets back to me with interest during that period of time, I will put my publishing plans on hold. But from here on out, I’m going to move forward as though I’m aiming to self publish Paladin during the first week of May.
This isn’t an easy decision for me, but I think it’s the right one. I’ll keep those of you who are interested abreast of the publishing date – hope you’ll buy a copy!

Getting the word out there.

Happy Saturday, y’all! In the, er, 8 days since we last met (and by “met” I mean my last blog post), not all that much has happened on the writing front, unfortunately, and I confess I’m growing impatient — I’d take a definitive “No” over an I-don’t-know. I did hit 2.4 million reads on Wattpad (which is awesome, i.e. you guys are awesome). I’ve been getting about 100K new reads every day since Paladin was featured a little over 2 weeks ago.
I’m beginning to seriously consider the self-published route, for a few different reasons. For one thing, Paladin is my debut novel…and hopefully not the best book I’ll ever write. Am I wasting my time trying to get my first attempt at writing a novel published? I’ve read in a hundred different blogs that your first book is crap; it’s the second book that sells.
But I’ve put so much time and energy into Paladin, and I really do believe in it. Heck, I’m somebody’s favorite author! The primary benefit of self publishing, as far as I see it, is then this whole publishing business is done and over with. I can stop editing (I think I’ve seriously spent like, 200 hours editing this thing); I can start thinking about the sequel to Paladin or a new series entirely. I’m itching to write something new (although a new world has yet to pop into my head, which scares me a little).
The thing is, self publishing would be taking a huge risk. I’d have to invest some of my own money–and let me tell you, I’m not rolling in dough–and a lot of time. I would need to find a cover artist (and likely pay them), and if I were to produce hard copies (vs. ebooks) of Paladin, the money would come out of my own pocket. I would need to either hire a copy editor ($$$) or go through the whole novel again with a fine tooth comb…which will take me another 20 or 30 hours. Any way you slice it, the journey to getting published will take a loooong time.
But what I think will be the biggest time suck is getting the word out there. I’ve got an amazing 2,400 followers on Wattpad — and presumably significantly more readers than that — but not all of my followers and readers are going to want to purchase my book. The biggest mistake I think authors on Wattpad make is that they only focus on the Wattpad community. Us Wattpadders are accustomed to reading books for free, and actually paying for a book is a cultural shift that authors are trying to force down Wattpadders’ throats. (Don’t get me wrong — when Paladin is published, I’ll ask you to buy my book. But I won’t condemn you if you don’t. You’ve already paid me in encouragement, and that counts for a lot).
The real opportunity lies with the readers who haven’t already read Paladin–and I think limiting myself to the Wattpad community would be silly. There are 5 million registered users on Wattpad…but there are over 7 billion people in the world! Okay, that’s a bad comparison, because the whole world isn’t literate, or fluent in English, or flush with money in order to purchase a book, but you get my point. The world is changing, too — ecommerce (in other words, online sales) is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2016 and Juniper Research forecasts that purchases via mobile devices (tablets, smartphones) will outpace shopping on desktops. Research also shows that YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world, after Google.
Why am I citing all these random stats? It impacts how us authors (and publishing houses) have to target potential readers. Advertising your book in a newspaper or on the side of a bus? So 1990. Authors need to find a way to tell the new reader about their book. The new reader is digitally-savvy, likely on their mobile more often than their laptop, and consuming information via lots of different channels — Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads. Maybe Wattpad.
So what the heck does all this have to do with self publishing vs. traditional publishing? Well, if I self publish, I have to do all my advertising myself! And what used to be pretty straightforward–send your book out to a few review blogs, maybe fork out some $$$ for an advertisement in the newspaper or an online news site–is now super complicated. To really get the word out there, you need to have a presence and strategy on all those different channels (mobile, Internet, traditional, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad, YouTube, etc.). Multimedia is the wave of the future. Unfortunately for me, I’m a technological dunce.
At the Digital Hollywood panel I spoke at last week, Brittany Geragotelis talked about the makeover videos she posts on YouTube, to tie into the magical makeover her main character gets in her book (seriously, check them out). Another great example of creative marketing for books is what the folks at Rigler Creative  are doing — they’re launching a new book review web series on YouTube aimed at 11-16 year olds (the lower spectrum of a YA audience) called “Best Friends Book Club“. Each week, they air a 3-5 minute segment featuring four teenage hosts who review a YA book in an informal talk show setting. The series is syndicated on Tumblr and Wattpad.
I checked out the first episode, which premiered today. The four teenage hosts–who are way cooler than I was at their age–reviewed The Journeys of John and Julia, which you can actually read here on Wattpad (it’s also available in print and as an ebook on Amazon). I have yet to read the book, but did notice that each chapter has a little video embedded in the page. I didn’t even know you could do that on Wattpad!
Anyway, here is the first video — it is adorable.
Long story short, if I self publish, I won’t be able to do this stuff…at least not without paying someone to do it for me. I lack the technological know-how, and frankly, the time, to put something this elaborate together. The other big issue for me is that I really want an editor from one of the Big Six publishing houses to rip into my book. I feel like traditional publishing would get Paladin to the next level.
I have no immediate plans to take action either way. I feel like I should at least get rejected before I make the decision to go the self publishing route. For now, I’ll just sit back and wait…and wait…and wait.

Digital Hollywood Content Summit

Helloooo, readers!  I have been absolutely remiss in keeping you guys updated. I don’t really have an excuse, other than 1) I’m recovering from a horrible cold and 2) ironically (after my last post on the blog), I am now dating someone who is not Braeden or Tristan. I find him distracting.
Let’s get the super quick writing updates out of the way. I’m hopped up on cold medicine, so I find it incredibly amusing to give you an update in the form of a sports scoreboard.
Agents Pitched: 4
Responses: 2
Rejections: 1 
Requests for more: 1
So the good news is that one of the four agents I pitched expressed interest in reviewing a partial manuscript. The bad news is, I’m now back in waiting mode. According to the experts at Wattpad (and by experts I mean the professional writers community), it could take anywhere from 1 – 3 months before I hear back from the agent with my partial. Time to pitch some more agents, methinks.
On to bigger and better (well, more interesting, at least) things…As a lot of you know, yesterday I was a speaker at the Digital Hollywood Content Summit here in New York City. Below is the (unflattering) photographic evidence:

The name of my panel was…brace yourself…Fiction and Non-fiction in New Forms: Authors and Technologists Discuss Online Publishing and Using New Tools for Storytelling. It’s a World of Boundless Possibilities, Time for a Deep Dive!

…Longest panel name ever. A point the moderator (the fabulous Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, unfortunately not in this photo) brought up as well. Directly to my left is author Brittany Geragotelis, who you might be familiar with from Wattpad. Her story is pretty amazing — after 9 years of rejections from traditional publishers and literary agents, Britt decided to publish her story, Life’s a Witch (which I’m reading on my Kindle now), to Wattpad. Within a year of publishing, she had 18 million reads. That’s crazy! I’m excited to be nearing 2 million with Paladin. Anyway, long story short, many of her fans started asking her where they could buy her book…and of course she had no answer, since Wattpad is free. She self-published, actually, before landing a book deal with Simon & Schuster, a Big Six publisher. Not just any book deal, mind you — a three-book deal for six figures. That’s a lot of money, people, even if you live in overpriced NYC! 
On the opposite side of the table from me is Jacob Lewis, the CEO and founder of, a site that is somewhat similar in nature to Wattpad. Like Wattpad, writers can publish their work to Figment and still retain ownership of their work. Figment describes itself as “a community where you can share your writing, connect with other people who love to read, and discover new stories and authors.”  Interestingly, during the panel discussion, Jacob said Figment has more content than it does readers. Figment seems to have a lot of strong relationships with big name publishers and authors, and they often have “Spotlight Books” that are new releases from these folks. Jacob is the former managing editor of The New Yorker and an editor for Conde Nast portfolios before starting up Figment. He also mentioned that he self-published a book, which he described as a “fucking nightmare”<–that’s a direct quote, and a particularly interesting insight for me, as I’m considering going this route with Paladin.
The panel ended up focusing primarily on how to use nontraditional platforms like Wattpad and Figment as a marketing platform. According to both Britt and Jacob, publishers are paying a lot more attention to websites like Wattpad and Figment these days, and consider them a viable tool for reaching an audience and building a fan base.  Publishers see a lot of value in having a large and vocal Wattpad fan base.
Britt said her publisher, Simon & Schuster, has a good relationship with the folks at Wattpad (by “folks” I mean the Eva Lau’s and Maria Cootauco’s of the site) and they encourage her to regularly engage with her Wattpad fans.  She wrote a 90-page supplement exclusively for Wattpad (and free, obviously) after her book had been traditionally published — and her publisher loved that she did this, and better yet, that they didn’t have to pay her for it!
But how do you convert your Wattpad fan base — who is accustomed to reading for free — into a paying readership? That challenge is something else we discussed, and I mentioned a few anecdotal examples of authors I’ve seen struggle to translate their success into $$$.  Britt said that she and her publisher are fully aware that it’s unlikely that all 18 million of her readers will go out and pick up her book. Part of that is because many Wattpadders are young and don’t have access to a credit card, so their parents serve as a barrier to making the purchase. The other battle to wage — and perhaps an easier battle to win — is that of readers who’ve already read your book for free. Why should they now pay for a copy?
What Britt does is try to appeal to them as a writer. Wattpadders understand how much effort goes into writing a book…months and months if not years of work. Don’t you deserve to be rewarded (financially) for your work?
On that note, one of the audience members, a film producer, asked Britt and me if we’d ever considered going the kickstarter route — in other words, raising funds through crowdsourcing to support our writing. Both Britt and I responded in the negative — Britt because self-publishing via CreateSpace is free, so really there is no need for outside funding, and me because I’m clinging on desperately to the hope of traditional publishing.
The film producer then made this point: publishing a book might be free, but you don’t get any money for writing it…at least not until after it’s published. In that regard, it’s absolutely impossible to make a living as a full-time writer unless you’ve got a few published books behind you.
The truth is, for the time being, I don’t want to be a full time writer — but that’s a whole post in and of itself. Britt does…well, is, a full time writer, but has the benefit of that six figure book deal to support her. Definitely food for thought though, for those of you who are interested in pursuing writing as a full time career. 
The panel was 45 minutes in length, so I could go on forever about the various insights discussed, but in an effort to avoid boring you to death and to minimize my ramblings while on cold medication, I’ll just recap a few quick additional points of discussion:
  • Both Britt and I think responding to comments and messages — every message you receive — is the best way to build a fan base on Wattpad.
  • Britt is all in favor of multichannel marketing — she drives her readership to her various social platforms, like her website, Wattpad, Twitter, and even YouTube (her fiance is a social media guru so together they’ve made some cool makeover-focused videos that tie into her book)
  • Jacob says the Big Six publishers will soon become the Big Three. We already saw Random House and Penguin merge; expect HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster to merge in the next year or so.
  • We discussed paying attention to publishing trends — for instance, paranormal romance is very in right now. Personally, I think it’s important to not get too caught up in trends, because they can be fleeting. I figure it takes one to two years to write a book…do you think if you start writing a Hunger Games-esque dystopian today it will still be cool in 2015? I don’t know.

And with that, I am going to rest my weary head (I’m really milking this sick thing for all I’ve got). At some point, there may be a podcast available, which I will share with anyone who is interested. You know I love hearing from you, so if you have any questions or comments about anything in this blog post (or anything in general), type away in the comments section below!

Hipsters and Obsession


Last Saturday, I went to Williamsburg for a friend’s birthday. For those of you who aren’t from New York, Williamsburg, in the Brooklyn borough of NYC, is the hipster capitol of the world. (See the Urban Dictionary definition of hipster if you don’t know what that is). I am not a hipster. I am a nerd. We are an entirely different breed of human.

I never feel like I fit in when I go to Williamsburg. I don’t own skinny jeans or ironic T-shirts or thick-framed eyeglasses without lenses. I can’t name obscure bands from the 80’s and no one has ever described me as effortlessly cool. 

Behold. The Hipster.
On Saturday, I made one concession to hipsterhood–I wore a vampy shade of red lipstick that is basically the uniform for Williamsburg female residents. But despite my efforts to blend in with the crowd, this weekend I felt even more like an anomaly. You see, something’s happened over the past few months. 

All of my friends are in relationships. In varying degrees of relationships, it’s true–some have been dating their boyfriends for years, others are just at the onset of a new relationship, and a few are somewhere in the middle. Regardless, on Saturday night I found myself at a table surrounded by couples. How the hell did this happen?

And in fact, my friend asked me, “So what’s been going on with you, Sally? Any updates in your love life?”

To which I had to respond, “Well, no.”

“Why?” she asked me, as though my answer were offensive. 

I said, rather defensively, “I’ve been too busy. I’ve been working on my book.”

I realized something in that moment, as soon as the words left my mouth. I do have a boyfriend. I have two. You may have met them–their names are Braeden and Tristan. They’re smokin’ hot.

Over the past few months, I have spent far more time with Braeden and Tristan–Sam, too–than I have my real, flesh-and-blood friends. I spent more time trying to describe the way Braeden looks with his shirt off than fantasizing about my hot Irish neighbor upstairs (don’t worry; he doesn’t read this) or my secret Wattpad lover (he does). I swear, I’ve dreamed about the characters in Paladin. They’re with me every second of the day.

I’m not trying to say that this is a good thing. It’s probably unhealthy, and it’s not something I think I can successfully explain to someone who doesn’t write. I don’t know if I can successfully explain it at all. Hell, maybe I am crazy.  

When I first started writing Paladin back in October 2011, writing was a hobby. I wrote on the weekends, an hour or two here and there during the week, because it felt good to write for pleasure again. I had never attempted to write a novel before and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing (still don’t). It was a time of experimentation and learning.

But then the story took on a life of its own, especially the last few months I was writing it. It was like I was possessed. Whenever I wasn’t at the office, I had to write. I didn’t care if it was 5:00 am in the morning and I had to be up for work at 8:00. The story of Paladin was trying to burst out of my skull and I couldn’t put it to paper fast enough. I wanted desperately to get to that happy ending that was playing like a movie on repeat inside my head.

I wonder if writing will always be like this for me–all consuming and compulsive. I wonder if I will always feel so attached to my stories–Paladin is like the result of a 15 month pregnancy. It is my beautiful baby (you should see the fathers). And I wonder if other writers, or artists, feel this obsession with their work. Does your story control you, or do you control the story? 

Paladin Exclusive: Revised Chapter 1

Many of my readers know that I really disliked the first chapter of Paladin. After all, I started writing Paladin 15 months ago, and my writing style has since changed and–hopefully–improved. I’m not a big fan of the prologue and first chapter that are up on Wattpad right now. To me, there’s one especially glaring issue–Millie and Sir Daniel are the stars of Chapter 1, but they don’t have a part in the rest of the story. Why should they be the characters who open the book?

Since I needed to provide Chapter 1 for the book contest I entered (more on that in a post later this week), I tried to rewrite it. I rewrote Chapter 1–just Chapter 1–six times. And each one was worse than the last.

The version below is the chapter I ended up submitting (attempt #7). Now, I expect some of you aren’t going to like it–it’s definitely very different from the first chapter I have on Wattpad now. But it does successfully get rid of Millie and Sir Daniel, who really are not at all integral to the story.

This is not the full first chapter–I kept some stuff from the original that I’m not showing here, since you all have already read it. Basically the only things that are going away are the prologue and the bit with Sir Daniel and Millie. Everything else is unchanged.

So, enjoy this Paladin exclusive! Also, if you haven’t already, visit/like my Facebook author page.

Chapter 1

She fidgeted, waiting for her name to be announced. The name she gave them, not the name she was given.

“Sam of Haywood!”

When she didn’t move, someone shoved her to the front. She’d have to remember she was Sam now, not Samantha. It would take some getting used to.

“William of Gwent!”

Sam craned her neck, trying to catch a proper glimpse of her opponent. He was a big lad, with a girth that bordered on fat. His eyes were small and mean, and betrayed no sign of intelligence.

Sam stepped out into the arena, and a few of the boys guffawed. They elbowed William in the ribs and she heard one say, “This one’ll be easy.”

She scowled. Let them laugh. William of Gwent might be twice her size, but she would still defeat him. He lumbered across the grassy field with all the grace of a drunken elephant.

Five swords–not practice swords, but real metal blades of varying lengths and styles–had been laid out in the middle of the field for Sam and William to choose from. Sam tested the balance of each sword until she settled on one she liked, a wide blade with a cat’s head pommel. William chose the greatsword, a hefty, two-handed weapon that weighed nigh on two stone. She smirked. It was a powerful sword–if you knew how to use it.

The officiating Paladin called out from behind the low wooden barrier, “Swords at the ready!” Sam and William raised their blades to the on-guard position. “You know the rules by now. First to draw blood will be declared the winner. If you lose, you’re out. Go home. Better luck next year. Are we clear?”

Sam nodded. The rules were harsh but fair; outside of the training yard, there were no second chances. Demons didn’t care if you were having an off day or if you allowed yourself to be distracted; they would kill you regardless. Sam had encountered a demon once in her eighteen years, and she had nearly died for it. The Trials, in comparison, were lenient.

“Alright, lads,” said the Paladin. Sam would have to get used to that, too; no one would ever again call her Lady. “You may begin!”

Sam studied her opponent. He had a brutish strength–she could tell by the ease with which he carried the greatsword–but his form was poor. She would wait him out, let him attack her first, and then find the holes in his armor.

“Oi, pretty boy!” William heckled. Sam raised an eyebrow at the insult. That was a new one for her. He hawked a wad of spit onto the ground. “Let’s get this over with, pretty boy.”

“You flatter me, with all your talk of prettiness,” she said. She wasn’t pretty, never had been, but she made for a convincing boy. “I’m starting to think you like me.” His face went purple with rage, and Sam choked back a laugh. Sparring with words was almost as much fun as sparring with swords, and she’d had little opportunity to practice.

Incensed, William charged her, swinging his greatsword wildly. Sam sidestepped, and he sailed past her, plunging headfirst into the wooden barricade. He fell backwards onto his backside, and the arena burst into laughter.

Good gods, this was going to be easier than she had thought. “Paladin, does it count as my win if he’s bleeding of his own accord?”

 “I’m tempted to say yes,” the Paladin said through clenched teeth. “But no, finish it properly.”

William rose unsteadily to his feet, using his greatsword as an anchor. His face, red and round as it was, looked remarkably like a tomato. She felt a little sorry for him.

Not sorry enough to let him win. Sam wanted more than anything to be a Paladin. Their name was synonymous with bravery, and there were no better fighters. “My turn,” she said, feinting to the left, then circling under his sword.

Barely, William managed to parry her. He slashed at her torso, connecting with air as Sam danced out of the way. She rapped him on the knuckles with the flat of her blade, and the greatsword fell out of his grasp. Fighting a smile, she pressed her sword point into the underside of his chin.

“Win for Sam of Haywood!”

Sam trudged back to where the rest of the trainee candidates stood waiting, while a shamefaced William exited himself from the premises. It was too early to celebrate–there must have been fifty boys remaining, and they were just the Eastern swordsmen. The Trials were also being held throughout the West, North and South of Thule; each regional Trial was separated by class of weapon.  Only a hundred new trainees would be accepted in total–less if the level of talent was found lacking.

Her new name was called half a dozen times more. Sam sliced and slashed–and on occasion–blocked her way to victory after victory. The guffaws that had greeted her first few bouts disappeared like a hazy memory.

They would never guess now that the loose tunic and ill-fitting breeches hid a girlish figure. The nose she hated, her father’s nose, saved her face from overt femininity. Lady Samantha was buried beneath three yards of binding fabric and the unflattering trainee topknot. But her best disguise was this: no man would admit, even to himself, that a woman had defeated him.­­­

Sam had visions of what would happen if, gods forbid, she was found out. “Off with her head!” seemed a bit farfetched; her head was worth far more attached. The Duke of Haywood would pay whatever sum to keep her alive–grooming another heir would take too much effort. No, more likely she would be returned to her father, the duke, and they would let him deal with her. He would consign her to a lifetime of needlepoint and embroidery and a marriage she didn’t want. Sam preferred the guillotine.

She was getting ahead of herself. She wasn’t a Paladin, not even a trainee, not yet. She could lose her next fight and go home to Haywood on the morrow.

“Sam of Haywood!”

Her name called again. Sam pushed to her feet, pacing to stave off the stiffness of aching muscles. She wasn’t accustomed to fighting for so many hours on end, and would suffer for it by nightfall. It would be a pleasant suffering, a physical reminder of her accomplishments.

Her new opponent, a tall, lanky boy, had a long reach and chose a longsword to lengthen it. He was a solid swordsman; his grip and stance seemed natural. She’d watched some of his fights, too. He wasn’t flashy, but he was more than passable. Sam was better.

The Paladin repeated the rules of the duel for the thousandth time, and then: “You may begin!”

Sam lashed out first, swiping at his shoulder. He blocked and parried, and then swung again. The reach of his sword was too long, and she had to duck underneath it. She regained her footing and slid her sword along the inside of his blade, narrowing the distance between them. Up close, like this, Sam’s shorter sword held the advantage.

A glint of gold caught the corner of her eye, and her head, involuntarily, turned toward it.

There he stood, just beyond the wooden barrier, like a ghost from the past. Paladin Tristan Lyons. He could ruin everything.

Sam faltered, and her opponent’s sword caught the sleeve of her shirt.

“Halt!” yelled the officiating Paladin.

Shite. Sam pushed back her sleeve. “The skin’s unbroken, Paladin. No blood.” Her heart beat like a humming bird’s. She’d almost lost. How could she have let herself get distracted? Gods, and in front of him, no less. Whether he recognized her or not, he’d think her a bumbling idiot.

“Swords at the ready!” Sam raised her sword. “Begin!”

She shifted on the balls of her feet, ready. Her opponent’s blade moved by the tiniest fraction, and Sam attacked, hitting the outer edge. She swung again, and again, battering his sword. She faked to the right then thrust to the left, scouring his side. More than the fabric ripped; red dribbled from a shallow gash.

“Win for Sam of Haywood!”

She’d won, thank the gods. Had Tristan Lyons seen it? She shaded her eyes with her hand, scanning the small crowd behind the barrier for a crop of golden hair.

He was gone, as if never there.


Thank you to everyone who voted on their top three favorite quotes! I would not have been able to make a decision without your help.

Without any further ado, the quotes I will be providing Wattpad for my featured spot are…

#5. I owe humanity a debt, for what I am and what I’ve done.

#12. Friends didn’t eat friends, even if they were a little deranged

#17. If this were a fairy tale, I’d be my own damned knight.

As a special thanks, I will be sharing the never-before-posted new first chapter of Paladin on the blog later today.

Your help needed!


Happy Friday, dear readers! Man oh man, what a week it’s been. I survived my first full week at my new job, I discovered my new regular bar (karaoke, check! hot Irish bartenders, check!), I found Nemo…

No, not that Nemo. This Nemo:

Richard Perry/The New York Times

I’m sorry, fellow New Yorkers, I am underwhelmed. There’s barely enough snow for a snowball fight.

But I haven’t sunken so low in my new blogging career (har, career. Like I make money doing this) that I’m going to devote an entire post to the weather, unless we get another Frankenstorm. No, today I need your guys’ help on something.

So most of you probably don’t know that Paladin has been selected to be a “Featured” story on Wattpad. As background for the one person who reads this blog who isn’t from Wattpad and isn’t also my mother, featured stories are hand-selected by the Wattpad editorial staff. According to Wattpad, “To be considered for featured placement, the story must be complete and full-length (30 pages). Other factors taken into consideration: should have a strong and unique plot, no major spelling and grammatical errors, and should be well written.”

I’m pretty excited about it–I know there are readers who only read from the featured list, and in general it’s great visibility since Wattpad promotes featured stories through their various social channels–and I’m rubbing my hands together in eager anticipation of the new readers and reads Paladin will get. Mwahahaha.

Here’s what I need you for, Paladin fansthe powers that be at Wattpad have asked me for two things: 1) a 100-character–yes character, not word–teaser/description of the story and 2) three quotes from the story. I’ll figure out the first part–eventually–but I would love your input on the quotes.

They didn’t give me a specific character limit on the quotes, but they did say they the shorter the better. I’m trying to keep them to under 200 characters, in case Wattpad wants to use them for social media purposes. Which is too bad, because I tend to write in long sentences vs. short ones, which makes finding good quotes tricky!

I’ve pulled, with the assistance of Mommy Slater (my secret editor, consultant and #1 fan), some quotes from the manuscript that I’m thinking about including. Which three of the below do you like best? Remember, I can only give Wattpad three! And if there’s a quote that you like better than these, by all means suggest it!

  1. It’s strange, thinking your life is going to turn out one way, then finding yourself headed in an entirely different direction.
  2. Braeden began contemplating death, and he couldn’t be sure if their demise or his own was preferable.
  3. Braeden dragged his dagger along the length of his forearm, drawing a thin line of blood.
  4. What blood runs through your veins doesn’t matter to me.
  5. I owe humanity a debt, for what I am and what I’ve done.
  6. I don’t feel I should have to ask for permission to follow my heart, though I find myself begging for yours.
  7. Your father slept with women who couldn’t say no to him any more than they could say no to paying their taxes.
  8. Hunger makes thieves out of most men.
  9. His hand twitched at his side, his fingers curling into claws, eager to rip away the flesh that contained his inner monster.
  10. The demons fell on them in droves, colliding with one another for a chance to taste human flesh.
  11. I can handle myself. Go find your own demons to kill.
  12. Friends didn’t eat friends, even if they were a little deranged.
  13. “You should have killed me.” He brushed his thumb against her cheek. “But I’m glad that you didn’t.”
  14. This — thing — between them didn’t smolder; it burned like fallen leaves set aflame.
  15. I would rather bleed until my body is dry and empty than draw a single drop of your blood.
  16. Love is a fickle thing, but fear will never desert you.
  17. If this were a fairy tale, I’d be my own damned knight.
  18. He was beautiful to watch, a whirlwind of man and sword, blood spraying in a never-ending spiral as he moved.

Freakin’ Out


So the title of this blog post is a reflection of what I’m doing right now: I’m freakin’ out. Not in an omg-I-just-effed-up kinda way, but in a holy-!@#$-this-is-awesome kinda way*. It’s an important distinction.

As to the source of my freak out–last night I got home from welcome drinks with my new coworkers (I just started a new job last Wednesday) to a private message in my Wattpad inbox:

Hi Sally, I work for a company that books panelists for the Digital Hollywood conference. Our next one is March 5-6 and we wanted to see if you would be on a panel about modern book publishing and reaching your audience. As you can see we are currently booking the panel (we have a few TBDs to fill....)

It’s probably worth reiterating that when I’m not moonlighting as a wannabe author, I work in public relations. Part of my job is vetting speaking opportunities for my clients, so of course when I receive a speaking opportunity myself the first thing I think to do is vet the event. I conveniently forgot that a) I’m not the CEO of a company and b) I’m not a renowned expert on anything. I don’t need to be vetting opportunities.

But while I was still pretending to be this vastly important person who gets asked to be a guest on panels all the time (I also conveniently forgot that the last time I was asked to be a panelist was, oh, never), I did some research on the Digital Hollywood conference…

Holy shit (shite? should I just make that my permanent staple?). This event is LEGIT.

I was looking through some of the previous guests they’ve had attend this thing, and they’ve had some seriously big names. People like the founder of Wikipedia, the EVP of Sales of Photobucket, the president of Scholastic Media…and you can see the March 5-6 conference’s impressive lineup in this link.

So this leaves me scratching my head. How the heck do I fit into this event? I mean, I know me. I hang out with myself everyday and I can tell you that I’m really very normal (well, normal in the sense that I’m not Mark Zuckerberg. Otherwise I’m arguably very weird). It’s not like you hear the name “Sally Slater” and you’re immediately filled with recognition (although let’s be real, my parents gave me a bad ass name). I feel like I just won the lotto, and you know how those stories always end.

But I’m no dummy–this is a great opportunity and there’s no way I’m passing it up. The conference and the panel itself are sure to be filled with folks in the publishing industry and I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of interesting people. Besides, I’m a total ham: I love talking to people. Stage fright shmage fright. This will be fun.

I did ask the event organizer why he chose little ol’ me to be on this panel, because in all seriousness I’m beyond flattered and am super excited, and I’m also a little shocked. He explained to me that my success on Wattpad with Paladin is an interesting and relevant addition to the conversation on modern book publishing. I can kind of see that–I recently attended a panel on book publishing myself, and while the panelists provided a lot of insight on the differences between traditional and self publishing, writers’ communities like Wattpad, Figment, Authonomy, etc., didn’t come up at all.

And sites like Wattpad are increasingly relevant, I think. According to their blog, Wattpad surpassed 10 million uploaded stories in 2012. I think Amazon Kindle–and don’t quote me on this–only has around 2 million e-books. Although as a caveat to those numbers, not all 10 million (and probably not even half) uploads on Wattpad are completed stories. 

But what does success on Wattpad really mean? I’d like to think that the traction I’ve gotten is a result of Paladin being a good story. Certainly, publishing houses are paying more attention to the website–all of you on Wattpad have probably seen the advertisements for Simon & Schuster’s What the Spell?, which originated as a Wattpad story. Most of the books that do get traditionally published have upwards of 10 million reads (meanwhile I’m stuck around 1.2 million). And I hate to say it, but some of the books that have millions upon millions of reads are not good books. I think Wattpad can be about good stories, but it’s also somewhat of a popularity contest. Which is funny, because I’ve never been the popular kid before. I was always the popular kids’ nerdy friend, or alternatively, the loser. I doubt I’ve changed my stripes.

I’ll have to give some thought over the coming weeks as to what I’m going to talk about on this panel, especially as it relates to publishing. Would you consider having a completed book on Wattpad “being published”? Up until now, I haven’t, but now I’m not so sure.

*I really love portraying swear words as numbers and symbols. I have no objection to using actual swears, but I’m obsessed with !@#$. Well, that and the word “shite”.

Recommended Reads


I am a book addict. There, I said it.

I got in the habit of reading on a daily basis two decades ago. My parents forbade me from watching TV except when I was sick, so books were my refuge. Twenty years later, I live on my own so I can watch TV (woohoo!), but I still read daily. I usually read a book every day. Sleep is sacrificed in the name of getting to the end of a particularly enthralling novel.

So I figure I’ve probably read somewhere around 7,000 books by this point, and of course I don’t remember each and every single one of them. But there are some books that have made me laugh, made me cry, and touched me in ways that have stuck with me beyond a single reading.

I’ll probably do more of these posts as I find new loves, but here are a few of my favorites:

Tamora Pierce’s “Song of the Lioness” series (and also her Immortals series) is an all-time favorite, and obviously a huge influence on my own writing. Both “Song of the Lioness” and “Immortals” are set in the medieval-esque world of Tortall and feature strong, believable female heroines with unique gifts. In “Song of the Lioness”, we get to know Alanna, a pert redhead who trades places with her twin brother for a chance at becoming a knight. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the series introduced me to my first love triangle, featuring George, the King of Thieves, and Prince Jonathan of Tortall. It’s funny — when I first read the books, Jonathan was my favorite, but now I find George the far more compelling character.

Dealing with Dragons, and the entire Enchanted Forest chronicles, is an oldie but a goodie. In most fairy tales, the dragon steals away the princess, and then it’s up to some bumbling knight or prince to rescue her. Not so in Dealing with Dragons – Princess Cerise, our heroine, runs away from home and offers herself up to the dragon. Much hilarity and adventures ensue, as well as some romance once you get to the second book in the series. Princess Cerise is a pretty cool princess, and her dragon, Kazul, is even cooler.

Love, love, love this book. Too bad the movie was awful. Ella Enchanted is the best Cinderella retelling out there. At birth, Ella is given the gift of obedience at birth from the fairy Lucille — except the gift turns out to be more of a curse. She has to obey everything — if someone told her to jump off the bridge, she would.

But for the ultimate obedient girl, Ella is pretty feisty, and finds loopholes in her curse. Of course, her life gets complicated when her father remarries, and she’s stuck with an evil stepmama and eviler stepsisters.

And then there’s Char…one of my first literary crushes. Obviously Char is short for Prince Charming, and he is that, but in a totally appealing, non-slimy way. But Ella is really the hero of this tale, and it’s she who always saves the day.

We’re into the world of adult fantasy now. Ilona Andrews — who is actually the duo team of Ilona and her husband — is my current favorite author. It’s very hard for me to talk about Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series without squeeing like a fangirl. 

The story is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic Atlanta. The world alternates between waves of magic and tech – when tech is up, electricity and cars function, and magic loses its potency. When magic is up, anything that requires technology fails, and crazy monsters rise up from out of nowhere. 

There are vampires – but not like any vampires you’ve ever seen before. They don’t sparkle; they’re vile, mindless creatures that are piloted by necromancers known as The People. And there are shapeshifters, too – were animals who can shift between animal and man and somewhere in between.

Kate is a bad ass mercenary fighter who is a lot more bad ass than she lets on — but she has her reasons for hiding the extent of her abilities. She is a funny, sarcastic, and incredibly strong woman who is also somehow vulnerable. I have a total girl crush on her. But my crush on Curran, the Beast Lord (basically the head honcho of the shapeshifters in Atlanta), is much bigger. He’s my #1 book boyfriend.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is a relatively recent discovery. I just had to look at the amazing cover to know that I’d love it.

Ismae is a sister in the convent of St. Mortain, serving the god of Death. She must carry out the will of her god, killing those who bear his mark. In other words, she’s a holy assassin. 

One of her missions takes her to the high court of Brittany, and she finds herself embroiled in court politics that are pretty deadly. Of course, romance unfolds, or I wouldn’t like this book :) 

The ultimate! No recommended reads list would be complete without a mention of Harry Potter. I worship the ground J.K. Rowling walks on (let’s just pretend that adult book she wrote where she described a condom as a gossamer cocoon never happened).

I actually saw her once, right around the time that the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, came out. I was in Edinburgh Castle, in Scotland (which looks a great deal like Hogwarts), looking at all the cool weapons in the armory, when children appeared dressed in wizard’s robes. Yes, wizard’s robes. So I asked the kids, “Where are you going?”
They laughed and replied, “To Hogwarts, of course!”

Yeah. That actually happened. Anyway, turns out they were a group of specially selected kids who got to hang out with J.K. and listen to her read her new book. Super jealous. But I did catch a glimpse of her coming into the castle. 

So that’s all for now! I’ll likely post individual book reviews as I stumble across new goodies (although it’s been a while since I’ve read anything great).

What books stick out in your mind? Got any great recommendations that I absolutely have to check out?

*Here are some other favorites:

  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
  • The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
  • Firelight by Kristen Callihan
  • The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
  • Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind
  • Polgara the Sorceress by David & Leigh Eddings
  • Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance
  • The Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward (guilty pleasure!)
  • Unraveled by Courtney Milan (historical romance)