Goodbye to Strange Chemistry

Today was a crummy day. Yesterday was a crummy day, too, because I was privy to some information that didn't hit the airwaves until this morning:

Strange Chemistry is shutting its doors.

Yep, you read that right. Effective immediately, my imprint will no longer be in the publishing business. (In case you missed the press release, you can read it here.)

To say I am saddened by this news would be an understatement. I feel absolutely deflated, and my heart goes out to every single person--author and staff member--who was affected by this decision.

ESSENCE--which slipped out of the gates barely two weeks ago--will be the last novel Strange Chemistry ever publishes.

I have to admit I am not 100% surprised by this news. Four weeks before my debut, my team broke the news to me that my sequel had been cancelled and ESSENCE would only be available as an eBook. I didn't realize the enormity of the issue at the time (and naturally took the news personally), but today, every other outstanding Strange Chemistry sequel or trilogy has been cancelled, and the rest of the summer and fall debut authors will no longer see their work in print (under the Strange Chemistry name, anyway).

Why? This is a tough damn business, and it seems like Strange Chemistry was unable to carve out a niche in the young adult market.

This is NOT because Strange Chemistry doesn't care about its authors.

I have read some truly mean comments on Twitter today, and--while I appreciate everyone's outrage over our displacement--I do want to say publicly that my heart goes out to all the staff members who have worked so hard on my behalf. They have believed in me from Day One, and I know they are just as shocked and saddened and hurt by this as the rest of us.

Sometimes, life just slaps you in the face. And I know we are all feeling the burn of this today.

In some ways, I am one of the lucky ones. I was able to grieve about the loss of my sequel last month, and my first book was published two weeks ago. (It will continue to be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.) And although I have been working on my sequel for the past year or so, I never really intended ESSENCE to be part of a series, so I am comfortable with the way my story now ends.

Most of all, I have decided I will not let this setback define me.

Sure, I got angry and upset when I heard the news. And I felt cheated. I cried and sank to the floor and wondered if my steadfast determination to become an author was quickly turning into a delusion. I thought about the disappointments and failures I have experienced leading up to this moment, and I wondered what the point of this whole thing was anyway.

Publishing is a dying industry, right? And no matter what you write, people are going to say terrible things about it (and you) on Amazon and Goodreads. Why pour your guts into something if all it brings you is heartbreak?

But then I remembered something. (Actually, I didn't remember it. My amazing agent Hannah Bowman did. Have I mentioned how much I love her lately?)

I didn't get into writing because I wanted to get something from it. I got into writing because it's part of my heart, and I can't imagine my life without it.

So... In spite of all the setbacks, in spite of the uncertainty, and in spite of the fact that I'm not entirely certain what's going to happen to ESSENCE next... I'm not quitting.

I will continue to write, and I will continue to spin stories that make my soul come alive. I pray my family of Strange Chemistry authors does the same, because I truly believe the world needs to hear our stories. And selfishly, I want all of us to rise from these ashes like goddamn phoenixes. (Sorry for the curse word. Think it's justified.)

I will write an ESSENCE novella if my heart requires it, and I will move on to another project that may or may not be read by a single other human being. And you know what? I will be so damn proud of that book, regardless of its final outcome.

Just like I'm proud of ESSENCE, and just like I'm proud and thankful for the time I got to spend with my Strange Chemistry team. Caroline Lambe is one of the most amazing people I have encountered in a very, very long time, and Michael Underwood and Jonathan Richardson brighten my day every time I interact with them. When Amanda Rutter believed in me enough to offer me a contract and called ESSENCE "simply superb," it made my entire summer. And when Lee Harris went to bat for me and my cover art, I could have hugged him.

Today is a crummy day.

But it's not the last day.

You can count on that.

"Path to Publication" Recap

(Photo Courtesy of mendhak)

Wow, I can't believe my debut novel ESSENCE is out in the world! I also can't believe I have successfully completed my nine-part "Path to Publication" series. I hope you have enjoyed it; it has certainly been a (cathartic) pleasure to write.

In case you missed any of my posts, here is the full list of links and topics. Hopefully they will help convince you to likewise never give up on your dreams.

As Anais Nin once said, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."

Have a wonderful day!

The Path to Publication, Part Eight: Diving Back In

(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)

Thank you for tuning in to the eighth installment of my running series, “The Path to Publication.” When we last left off, I had just turned down a literary contract from my dream agent (Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates) because I wanted to finish my new project ESSENCE instead of submitting my first project THE MERMAID GENE. This is one of the scariest decisions I had ever made in my entire life, but deep in my gut, I knew it was the right decision.

THE MERMAID GENE was my first book, and although I loved it, I could now see that it had its share of rookie mistakes. The beginning dragged, the tense was wrong, the main characters were too perfect... I had followed a trend and written THE MERMAID GENE for a very specific audience, and that self-consciousness shined through on almost every page.

ESSENCE wasn't like that. ESSENCE was grittier, and it was also more intense. It dealt with serious issues like cult brainwashing and peer pressure, and it starred characters who weren't always right. They made mistakes, and they bumbled through their journeys the way people who have been controlled their whole lives often do. They trusted the wrong people, they made questionable choices, and they sometimes hurt each other.

ESSENCE's main characters scared me, because they weren't like me.

At the end of the day, however, I was proud of myself for having the courage to write them, and I ended up loving them more than many of THE MERMAID GENE's characters, because they were real. And they were flawed. And they wanted nothing more than to rise above their circumstances and succeed despite all the odds stacked up against them.

So... I turned down that literary contract from Hannah Bowman, and then I proceeded to hyperventilate for about a month. I panicked and second-guessed myself, and my creativity died entirely.

And then one day... I just got over it. 

I wanted to write ESSENCE because I loved it. I wanted Hannah to love it, too, but I knew I couldn't write it for Hannah, or for my friends and family, or for anyone else. I had to write it for me, and I had to believe in it. Even if no one ever wanted to buy it or read it, I could still look back at that manuscript and say I had given it my all.

So I did. I spent the next few months telling my story, and I abandoned my usual plotting approach in favor of a breathless sort of free-writing I still don't completely understand. And at the end of it--right in the middle of June 2012--I had a book.

I can't express to you how nervous I was when I finally hit "send" on this email:

Hi Hannah, I hope you are doing well. I have just completed my ESSENCE revisions, and I have attached my manuscript for your review. Here is a more fleshed-out version of the novel's pitch:

Neutrality is the key to longevity.

This is the only truth sixteen year-old Autumn [Grace] has ever known. She lives under the control of San Francisco’s cult-like Centrist Movement—a new spirituality that claims emotional experiences lead to Essence drain and early death.

Autumn has learned to suppress her feelings, but her younger brother’s death brings her faith into question. While illegally sprinting through a condemned park, she encounters Ryder [Stone]—a free-spirited Outsider who claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic. From his headquarters in the abandoned remains of Yosemite National Park, he says he can prove it.

Joining Ryder’s community means abandoning her family, giving up her identity and forsaking everything she has ever believed in, but Autumn is determined to find the truth—even if she risks losing herself in the process.

The novel is 82,000 words now--about 8,000 less than my first draft. (I know there are some quasi-dystopian elements to the plot, but I have tried hard to distinguish it as a "cult book" instead of a dystopian novel. ESSENCE reminds me more of an adventure novel like Alex Garland's THE BEACH, with a free-spirited clan and the illusion of paradise.)

Thanks again for how supportive and approachable you have been during this whole process. Please let me know if you have any questions, and like I said, if you want ESSENCE, it's yours. I won't even write a query letter.

Have a great morning.


And then... The waiting began.

Tune in next time for the FINAL installment of "The Path to Publication" to see what happened next!

The Path to Publication, Part Seven: Believing in Yourself

(Photo Courtesy of Jennifer)

Thank you for tuning in to the seventh installment of my running series, “The Path to Publication.” (Did you miss my first six posts? Scroll to the bottom for links to check them out!

In my earlier "Path to Publication" posts, I discussed writing my first novel THE MERMAID GENE, querying that novel, signing with the wrong literary agent and getting dropped as her client within the first four and a half months of our contract. Last week, I recounted my decision to eat a big ol' piece of humble pie and tell the other literary agent whose offer of representation I had declined (in favor of the agent who dropped me) what a huge mistake I had made by going elsewhere.

I don't think I expected to hear back from Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates. She had graduated into a powerhouse agent in just a few short months, and she already had five clients and two six-figure deals under her belt. She was currently taking the literary world by storm, and I figured I had already ruined any chance I had of ever speaking to her again.

But I emailed her anyway, and I told her she had been the right choice all along. I also told her I was working on a new project, and I would be honored if she would accept another query from me when I finished.

But Hannah surprised me. Not only did she respond to my email, but she asked me what happened to THE MERMAID GENE. We set up a phone call, and after a few conversations back and forth, she told me she still believed in me--and THE MERMAID GENE--enough to send over a contract and try to submit it again. (!!!)

She was realistic about our chances, however. THE MERMAID GENE had already been rejected several times, so she felt like only five or six remaining editors would be willing to look at it. Also, the manuscript would require some work. A lot of work, actually, so I would need to be willing to pour my guts into it and understand that all my work may end up being for nothing.

Or, she said, I could work on my new project ESSENCE. That story seemed to already have a grip on me, and its chances in the marketplace were probably much better, It was brand-new, and its bridges hadn't already been burned like THE MERMAID GENE's had. Also, the cult book market wasn't nearly as crowded as the paranormal market, so if we ended up selling ESSENCE, it would probably have the potential for a much stronger, more impactful debut.

However, Hannah cautioned, the market was shifting away from YA paranormals, so if I wanted to catch the paranormal boat, I needed to do it now. That meant I couldn't choose ESSENCE and then return to THE MERMAID GENE later. I needed to either choose THE MERMAID GENE now or say goodbye to it--probably forever.

Also, she was willing to send me a literary contract for THE MERMAID GENE that day, but she couldn't very well sign me for an unfinished manuscript, so if I chose ESSENCE, I would need to go it alone. And when I finished ESSENCE, she would agree to take a look at it, but she wouldn't promise anything more than that. She may end up hating it, and I may end up without an agent and without the possibility of ever finding a home for THE MERMAID GENE.

So... I took a deep breath and weighed my options, and then I made one of the scariest decisions I have ever made in my entire life:

I told her I believed ESSENCE would be a better book, and I wanted to focus my attention on finishing it. 

If she wanted it when I was done, it was hers. If not, I completely understood her decision to pass.

She respected my answer--admired my bravery, I think--and she told me she looked forward to hearing from me in a few months. I thanked for her time and consideration, and I told her I REALLY hoped we could work together someday.

And then you know what I did? I hung up the phone and proceeded to hyperventilate. And then I went home and stared at my computer screen, and then writer's block seized me and I didn't write another word of ESSENCE for almost a month.

I HAD JUST TURNED DOWN A LITERARY CONTRACT. I had just turned down an honest-to-goodness, real-life literary contract (from my dream agent)--and I had no idea if I was even capable of completing ESSENCE, much less making it into something Hannah (or anyone) would ever want to read. I had just killed THE MERMAID GENE, and I had absolutely no idea if I would ever have anything to show for it.

I was terrified, but I remember being proud of myself, too. I knew the decision to pursue ESSENCE was the right decision, even if it wasn't the easy one. ESSENCE was a better book than THE MERMAID GENE, and it had the potential to be a so-much-stronger debut (if I could pull it off).

At the end of the day, I knew I would respect myself a million times more for having the courage to believe in ESSENCE--instead of just jumping to sign a contract for a project that wasn't quite right.

But... That didn't stop the anxiety nor the crippling panic that made my creativity die on my page. ESSENCE had been progressing beautifully, but now it felt dead in the water. I hadn't anticipated THAT.

So what happened next? Please tune in next time time to find out!

The Path to Publication, Part Six: Eating Some Humble Pie

(Photo Courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh)

Thanks so much for tuning in to the sixth installment of my running series, “The Path to Publication.” When we last left off, I had just poured my heart into my first novel THE MERMAID GENE only to sign with the wrong literary agent and find myself dropped as a client within the first four and a half months of our contract.

To say I was devastated would be an understatement. In between tears of frustration and grief, I questioned why I'd ever wanted to do this in the first place.

In that moment, I also realized I had two choices. I could retreat back into my corner and let this setback define me, or I could make the decision to rise above it.

The only problem was, I didn’t have anything to rise above it with.

THE MERMAID GENE was basically dead in the water. More than 20 YA publishers had already theoretically rejected it, and that meant only a handful of potential publishers remained. (I say theoretically because… Well, forget it. That part of the story is beside-the-point.) Suffice it to say, THE MERMAID GENE’s chances did not look good.

I had also started a new project a few months prior, but I was only about two-thirds of the way through with it, so it looked like I was back to Square One again. And needless to say, Square One was a very sad and hopeless-looking place.

But there was this niggling sense of wrongdoing I couldn’t shake. And after much thought, I finally pinpointed it: I had chosen the wrong literary agent. And even if the first agent who offered me a contract for THE MERMAID GENE never responded to my apology, she needed to hear it.

So I sat down and stared at my computer for awhile. And then I finally wrote this email:

Dear Hannah Bowman c/o Liza Dawson Associates:

Hi Hannah, it's Lisa [Ann O’Kane] from last fall. I am writing you today to let you know that I definitely made the wrong choice when I accepted representation for THE MERMAID GENE from the other agency instead of from you. (Turns out that sometimes when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)

Things did not work out with the other agency the way I had planned, and I will soon be looking for representation again. I am in the process of writing my next novel (a YA coming-of-age set in Yosemite that hopefully combines Alex Garland's THE BEACH with Maurice Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE), and I would be honored if you would consider another query from me when I am finished.

(This is me with my tail between my legs.)

I hope all is well with you, and I hope to be ready to submit again by mid-summer. Thanks again for your enthusiasm about THE MERMAID GENE; I can appreciate now more than ever what an amazing agent you would have been if I had made the correct choice the first time around. Have a great afternoon.


I don’t know what I expected to happen next. I think I thought I would never hear from Hannah again, but she surprised me by responding two days later with this email:

Hi Lisa,

Thanks for getting in touch. I'm sorry to hear the other agency didn't work out for you.

I would definitely love to see your next project whenever it's finished. Is this [references an idea I mentioned to her in the fall], or is it a new project?

Out of curiosity, are you still looking for new representation for THE MERMAID GENE, or has it already been submitted to too many editors?



This is the moment when I wanted to crawl up inside of myself and die. Even after I’d walked away and signed with another agency, Hannah still remembered the dumbass ideas I’d referenced during our first conversation. She also still believed in my damn mermaid book enough to want to consider giving it another chance.

So what happened next?? Please tune in next time to find out!