Updated: Mar 11, 2021
Hello my darlings ♡ Welcome to my blog! If you’ve found your way here, thank you so much for following me on my writing journey. It means the world to have you engage with me as I pave my way to publication. This post is something I’ve been wanting to write forever now, and I’m so delighted to share it with you. I believe when you reach a certain point during whatever path you’re on, it’s important to reflect on what brought you to where you are. For me, I am currently querying my first novel, LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA. It has been such a challenging and reflective time for me, filled with mixed emotions and uncertainty. Regardless of the “bad days” when I am met with rejection after rejection, I am still so proud of myself for making it to this point. And believe it or not, there are “good days” too (like landing a spot on the Top 25 Pitches list for PitMad, and receiving full requests from agents I’m really excited about). And in those moments of success and fulfillment, I am always reminded of what started it all.
Like most writers, I’ve always loved English. However, I fell in love with language before I fell in love with storytelling. I think what triggered my love for the sound of words was getting my heart broken . . . by my first love, by my family, by my friends at the time. Literature, lyrics, prose . . . those were the only things that made me feel whole. When I had nothing, I found comfort in how words fell off the tongue like honey and wine. It was like a secret language that only I could hear, which evoked a euphoria unlike anything else. When I’d read books like Romeo & Juliet or The Great Gatsby, I could feel myself turn pink with a warm glow. The prose from those stories struck me like a cord. It brought me to life. But there was one writer who shaped me above the rest, and she wasn’t even an author. She was a musician.
Lana Del Rey.
Do I even have to say more?
I fell in love with Lana unlike any boy I’d loved before. Her lyrics seemed to understand me in a way no one else did and I resonated with her as if she were my best friend. I think my true awakening was listening to her music. It was enchanting. Her songs told stories and I’d paint them in my mind. I’d imagine myself as the main character of her songs and daydream about my downfall in a poetic, romantic way. It all seems very melodramatic now, but she is the main reason I decided I wanted to be a writer.
I started with writing poetry, getting in touch with language and rhythm, familiarizing myself with how different words sounded next to each other. I think the biggest reason my prose is so lyrical now is because I was a poet before I was a fiction writer. But I didn’t want to just write poetry. I wanted to be an artist. I wanted be be like Lana. Her music wasn’t just music in my eyes. It was an aesthetic, a feeling, something so perfectly her that no one else could imitate it. Not even me.
I fell in love with fairytales next. I vividly recall one sunny afternoon with my best friend, Sydney. We had spent the day at the beach, and when we came home, she read me fairytales on her bedroom floor. I remember wanting to escape, wanting to live in a dark and beautiful world where I was an enchantress and no one could hurt me. But I also fell in love with the lighter stories too. I wanted to be a princess. I still do. I wanted sweet days and sunshine and a prince charming who wouldn’t break my heart. Sometimes I would even think to myself . . . what if I’m supposed to be a princess on another planet?
Honestly, that was the first seed for LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA.
More thoughts came soon after:
. . . What if my true love is already dead and he’s waiting for me on the other side? The side where I’m a princess! And on that other side, I’d be mind numbingly gorgeous! . . .
. . . Or, what if my true love has been dead for years and years, and only visits me as my guardian angel! We could never be together if that’s the case though, now could we? And that’s why I’m *doomed* to be single forever!!! . . .
But in the back of my mind, I always thought that idea was quite romantic. A guardian angel watching over me, in love with me. That’s why he never lets anything bad ever happen to me. He’s someone to protect me, someone to shield me from all the darkness I’ve been battling.
And then came the dreams.
I had a series of dreams every day for a week straight. It was always the same thing. I’d be drowning. I could feel myself dying, struggling to breathe. For some reason, the water was always beautiful, and I was strangely aware of that even while I was suffering. But then, this handsome man would reach down and save me, pulling me towards the surface. However, when we’d brake the water, I’d be in a different world. My dream world! The world where I was a princess, and I was beautiful! But most importantly . . . the world where I was reunited with my guardian angel.
I knew I had to write this story. I had to! Only . . . I didn’t know how. I wasn’t ready. It was one of those concepts that felt too big to pull off in the way I imagined it. But I also knew that this was the story of my heart. It was rooted in my traumas, something beautiful birthed by all my darkness. Only, I was 16. I hadn’t learned how to properly feel all the things I felt. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t understand me. But I knew I wanted to write about this beautiful girl from my dreams, filled with emotion and chaos and . . . love. At the end of the day, she was always filled with love.
I wasn’t bold enough to write the story of my dreams. And so . . . I daydreamed about it instead. I fell in love with the aesthetic of the story. I imagined the world first. I imagined her beauty. . . all of her dresses . . . her handsome guardian angel. I became obsessed with wanting to live inside my tumblr page @bambi-la-bella. I created mood boards. I imagined worlds within those photographs. I dreamt of her adventures. I created scenarios in my head.
My writing has always been vivid and cinematic. I have Tumblr to thank for that. I always knew my aesthetic was meaningful in some sort of way, and I wanted my art to reflect it through and through. Present day, I’m building a whole brand surrounding my aesthetic and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
At the time, I still never felt like I could be a writer. Not the kind of writer I wanted to be. I didn’t think I could create fantasy or fairytales. I did try my hand at storytelling though. But I never touched LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA. I would always write these shitty John Green inspired contemporaries about manic pixie dream girls and runaway teens who’d road trip across the world, escaping their problems instead of confronting them. I’d write about girls like Effy Stonem and Alaska Young, who were broken and beautiful, but not in the way my dream girl was . . . unlike her, they were missing one thing. They weren’t filled with love. I didn’t know how to channel it. I didn’t know how to love myself. All I knew was that I was destructive. I was chaos incarnate. And I wanted to be free.
Senior year, I gave up on writing for good.
I was extremely lost when I began college. It’s not something I want to get into, but I was so empty. Waking up every morning hurt. My second semester of freshman year, I decided to join a sorority. I was looking for friends, looking to feel like I belonged to something special. Only, I didn’t feel like I belonged . . . not really. I didn’t feel like myself. I don’t even really think I knew who I was at the time.
But then I came across Gabriella Demartino, and everything changed.
If you don’t know who Gabi is, she’s an American YouTuber who celebrates all things vintage, glam, and girly. I instantly became obsessed with her life and style. I began dressing like her, doing my makeup like her, embracing things I actually loved. She made me realize I didn’t care about raves or frat parties. I wanted to go to tea. I wanted to watch the Nutcracker Ballet and go vintage dress shopping. I wanted sleepovers with champagne and Audrey Hepburn films on repeat. In my greatest fantasies, I imagined shopping at Chanel, living in Paris, dining at Laduree! . . . Gabi made me realize I wanted to create a life worth living. I wanted to be me. I wanted to be the girl from my dreams from that once upon a time.
One winter day, Gabi posted this video she created for Christmastime. It was inspired by The Princess and the Pauper, and the whole aesthetic was so whimsical to me. I wanted to live in that story. I wanted to twirl around in a lacy dress and munch on sugar cookies. I wanted to fall asleep by the fire with a ribbon in my hair and play dress up in her walk-in closet. I wanted to create something just like it. I wanted to . . . I wanted to write. After two years, I wanted to write.
Here’s the tea . . . when I began writing LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA (which back then was called SWEET ROSE), I was working at a dead end job. And when I say dead end, I mean DEAD. END. We had no manager. Our shop owner rarely ever stopped by. Nobody really cared about what we were supposed to be doing (we were a bunch of 18-20 year olds with no supervision) . . . and there was a computer. Right where the cash wrap was. I was alone during my shift. We had no customers that day. And so, I began to write . . . and write . . . and write. I wrote until I had my very first chapter about Lila Rose Li. Everything I’d learned in high school culminated to this very moment. My lyrical prose. My aesthetic. And my story (which at the time was VERY different).
I was extremely proud of my first chapter! I wanted to share it with the world! I . . . I wanted to become an author.
I wanted to become an author.
That was always a dream I had in high school, but I never thought that it would ever come true. Instead, I was in a sorority, trying to be someone I wasn’t . . . studying fashion, which I was failing at and hated . . . but most importantly, I wasn’t being true to myself. Being an author was a dream I had that felt exclusively . . . mine.
I decided to take the whole writing thing seriously. And to do so, I told my friends so that they could hold me accountable. “Hey, I want to be a published author!” I said one day. I’m not sure if anyone actually took me seriously at the time, but I let them read my writing as I go, excited that I was writing for someone other than myself. However, Sydney would critique me as I went, which made me realize . . . oh shit. I’m still not ready to tell this story the way I want. Will I ever be ready? HOW will I ever be ready?
And so, I took the biggest risk I could. The year before I was supposed to graduate college, I decided to change my major to Creative Writing. My mother cried. She thought I was being absolutely ridiculous. She told me she’d never believe in me until I proved myself to her. I was a disgrace. I was the dishonorable child who didn’t care what mom and dad thought. It’s true. I didn’t care. I’d risk it all to become the writer I always dreamt of being. Even if that meant my family hated me.
Despite the discourse with my family, this is still probably my favorite part of the journey — being a creative writing major, finding my people, my voice, and my best friend: @chloegracewrites ♡ It started with dinner parties with classmates I’d met in CW 301. We’d sit around a cheese plate, drink wine, and talk about our story ideas. It was the most wonderful time of my life. I finally felt like I fit in somewhere after searching forever. But when I met Chloe . . . I can’t even tell you how it changed my life.
The day I met her I felt like we were two halves of a whole. We bonded over our love for Laini Taylor, and eventually had our first “creative writing date” where we just gushed about writing instead of actually writing. Most of my brainstorming was done with her. She helped me realize ideas I hadn’t even fully formed yet. In fact, I plotted the concept for my final version of LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA with her just about a year ago (In August, when I started my final draft). When I think of becoming a serious writer, I think of Chloe. I think about how she pushed me and how she was the only one out of my peers I trusted to make me better. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
A lot happened before I actually started to get . . . good.
I’m not going to lie, when I first started my creative writing classes, I thought I was hot shit. Unlike my peers, I already had a style. I had a story and an aesthetic and I had a voice. Only . . . I didn’t realize that voice wasn’t good. I used to cry every time we had workshop. I didn’t understand that my peers were just trying to make me better. It wasn’t until my teacher turned mentor (let’s call him MDL) lit a damn fire beneath my ass. He returned my first writing assignment to me. I was less than enthused by the grade. Of course, I cried. I cried and cried and was probably known as the girl who cried! But above all, I was pissed! I wanted to be better than this. I knew I was better than this!
I thought about my parents. I remembered everything I sacrificed for my dreams. I thought of quitting my sorority, of quitting fashion, of leaving all my friends behind to follow my own path . . . but most importantly, I remembered that I wanted to be a writer. And if I wanted to be a writer, I sure as hell had to take things seriously.
My inner Slytherin LEAPED out. I was vicious when it came to perfection. I would accept nothing less. In the end, I still cried. But I cried like Azula in the last episode of ATLA: upset that I didn’t win, upset that I wasn’t perfect. My obsession was sick, and yet . . . I was oddly proud of myself. I knew I’d stop at nothing to become the best writer I could be. I wrote twice every day: once in the morning, and once at night. Mind you, I had a job, went to school, and worked an internship at the time. Eventually, one of my professors broke me. He deemed me emotionally unstable. He called me a distraction to the rest of the class because of my perfectionism. And just like that, I realized how insane I’d gotten and how obsessed with perfection I’d become. But even then, I was thankful. When I got kicked out of class, I scrapped my whole novel for the third time and began again.
Another fire was lit, and I was going to prove him wrong.
I decided I wanted to go to grad school to get my MFA in Childrens and Young Adult Writing at the New School in New York. Partially because this professor told me I wasn’t a “serious enough writer” for grad school and that I “needed help.” Boy did that make me mad! I’ll show you, I said to myself. I worked twice as hard, but this time, without the tears or self destruction. You know that scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Miranda tells Andrea “you’re not working hard enough” after Andrea bent over backwards for her job? Well I had that moment too. And just like Andrea, I collected myself, and worked harder than hard.
And boy, did I work hard as hell.
Remember that other professor, MDL? Oh yeah. By the end of the year, he went from being critical of my writing to praising it. He even offered me a mentorship (mind you, this was super cool because he’s an award winning author). I won’t give away too much, but I am so thankful for his guidance. By the end of that semester, one of my peers had told me something I’d never forget. She said, “You know Kiana, I’ve always admired how seriously you take criticism. I’m impressed with how hard you work to become the best writer you can be.” I was so proud of myself in that moment.
That summer, August to be exact, my novel was no longer SWEET ROSE. It was no longer DEVIL’S ROSE, or DEVIL’S ROSE 2.0. It was . . . LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA. I remember blurting out my ideas for the rewrite to Chloe and having them not make sense out loud. She seemed to understand me though. For some reason, I think she always has, even when I don’t think I make any sense at all. We talked over my plot, and when I sat down to write . . . it felt like the story I always wanted to tell.
A year after my chaotic semester of getting kicked out of class with a permanent W on my transcript, I no longer felt the need to go to grad school. To my surprise, I was proud of how I’d evolved (plus COVID happened lol). However, all of that hard work from last year still paid off. I got accepted anyways with 50% of my tuition covered by a merit scholarship based on my application alone (BASED ON MY OPENING CHAPTERS OF LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA)!!! I was in disbelief! Take that Mr. Professor Who Said I Wasn’t Serious Enough For Grad School!
By the time I finished writing my novel in May of 2020, I felt like my story was a work of art. It was my story. The story of my heart. And I had finally created the version of it I’d always dreamed of. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Flashback to March of 2020, my life began to change even more. I joined writing Twitter pre-COVID, and found my community. With the pandemic going on, I began to create a lot of online friendships. I was connecting with so many other writers, and I learned a lot from them all.
But my most successful online friendship wasn’t found through Twitter. It was on Tumblr. I was convinced I had met my soulmate: @wistful-giselle ♡
Speaking to Giselle felt like every Lana Del Rey song I’d ever listened to. It felt like reading Romeo & Juliet and The Great Gatsby for the first time again. She spun poetry unlike anything I had ever read (and is a great inspiration behind my prose). She reminded me that my writing isn’t just about the story . . . it’s about the language too. She inspired me to make sure every page was perfumed and lyrical, and before sending my novel out to readers, I did one big revision with her in mind. I wanted to impress myself, but I also wanted to impress her. She was the most talented writer I had ever met.
Giselle ended up being the first person to ever read my novel from start to finish (and in a single sitting too). For that, she holds a special place in my heart.
Then came my beta readers. Another person read it all in one sitting: Chloe. Then another. And another. And another. In total, five people read my entire novel in one whole sitting. I was speechless. I still am. Even my CPs flooded me with praise and compliments. I didn’t realize it at the time, but within two weeks, I thought that I was ready to query because of the successful response I had.
I believed in myself and in my eyes, I thought my novel was perfect (especially because of the validation from readers). Looking back on it now, I’m not entirely sure I was ready. I think that perhaps I was overly confident. Maybe, I still am.
I started querying in July of this year. I cannot even speak to the amount of rejections I received between now and then. People told me I was ready. They said that agents would swoop me up immediately. In fact, I thought I’d be agented in about a week or so! Boy was I wrong. That’s not how things work at all.
This part of my journey is probably the darkest. I don’t think I was ever really prepared for it. Rejection, after rejection, after rejection came. I started to lose hope after only a month. I was confused. I didn’t understand what was wrong with my novel. I still don’t really understand it. LOVE LETTERS TO THE SEA is everything I ever wanted it to be. It’s everything I worked so hard at perfecting. It’s just like how I feel about Lana’s music: so perfectly me that nobody else could ever imitate it. I love my story. I think I always will.
I know I might appear to be doing well on social media to some of you despite all of the rejections. To people who don’t know the details of my life, I probably even seem successful. During SFFpit, I was the top tweet of the whole contest with over 300+ retweets and 7 requests (there were more, those were just the ones that I was interested in).
In the end, they were all rejections.
I never wanted anyone to know that. I’m so thankful for my following, I don’t want to let anyone down. But at the end of the day, I also want to be authentic with my audience. I want you to know that even I fail.
In March of 2020, I started with 200 followers on my Twitter account. By September of 2020, I’d grown my following to 1,000+ followers, which I am so thankful for. I know that number may not seem like a lot to some people, but as someone who has never had a rapidly growing following, it means the world to me. I love everyone who supports me more than they’ll ever know.
I see everything. I notice how many of you there are who tell me you can’t wait to see my book on the shelves. I see your praise and encouragement and support. I read all of your messages. I respond to every one, or at least I try. Sometimes I don’t feel like I deserve it. But I am so, so thankful for it all. It’s the reason I keep believing in myself, even in my darkest hours.
All I’ve ever wanted is to feel seen.
And I do. I feel seen by all of you. But I also feel like a fraud sometimes. The truth is, even I get rejections. A lot of them. More than you would think from the outside looking in. And yeah, it hurts. It hurts because I love my story. It hurts because I believe in myself. It hurts because you believe in me too.
So why aren’t I there yet?
I don’t think I’ve ever felt true heartbreak until now. Querying is the most vulnerable, brutal thing I’ve ever put myself through.
But it does get better. There are some good days too. You might think I’m just being dramatic since the present day marker of this journey actually ends on a very happy note. But that’s the thing about querying. It’s up and down, up and down. It’s unpredictable and scary and it takes a lot of guts to do.
This post is getting long, so I’m not going to go into detail about pitch contests. All you need to know is that I participated in a huge contest called PitMad, and to my surprise, I made it into the top 25 tweets of the contest with 400+ retweets and about 8 agent requests.
And even more surprising, I f*cked up my queries on accident and still received several fulls 3 days later (lol). My point is, maybe it’s not all about being “perfect”. Maybe it’s about having a story you love and believe in and finding the right match for it. 90% of my rejections are based on my story “not being the right fit.” It doesn’t mean my story is bad. It just means I haven’t found the right person to represent me. I know I have a strong story that I love deeply and that others love deeply too. It wasn’t until my fulls started coming in that I began believing in myself again. Thankfully, I have a group of wonderful people who never once stopped believing in me, even when my light dimmed out. (you know who you are ♡).
I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t even know if my fulls will turn into offers. All I can do is believe in myself and know that my story is good enough for someone to want to represent it. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, I can always revise. Sometimes I forget that we never really stop growing. There is always room to evolve.
Maybe I was right to believe in my novel so fiercely. Maybe I was wrong. Honestly, only time can tell. I have a hopeful feeling about my recent requests and I am very excited about the agents viewing my work. But I also know how devastating querying is. I don’t want to let myself down. Falling from grace and reaching my lowest lows has taught me that I’m not perfect. In fact, there’s no such thing as perfect. I am constantly evolving, and this isn’t the end of my journey.
It’s just the beginning.