What feels like failure, might just be life setting you up to follow dreams you never knew you had.
For most of my life I thought I wanted to work in fashion. As a kid I was obsessed with old movies and endlessly tried to re-create costumes from the likes of My Fair Lady and White Christmas. As I grew older, I became obsessed with models, designers and Vogue Magazine. I imagined someday making playing dress-up my career. I wanted to be a designer.
After graduating from UCLA with a BA in Communication Studies (my parents insisted I get a “practical” degree) I attended FIDM, obtained a Professional Designation in Fashion Design and ultimately landed my dream job as an assistant designer for an Old-Hollywood-inspired lingerie brand that was starting a dress line. Though the job was not always (almost never) glamorous, and my fragile confidence faltered under the criticisms of a cut-throat industry (I had to stop watching Project Runway—it reminded me too much of work), it sent me all over the world from New York to China. I had the pleasure of seeing my designs sold in stores like Nordstrom and Anthropologie. I got to play dress-up for a living. I got married, bought a house—things were going great—until the economy tanked. The dress line went under and my position was absorbed by a larger company during a merger where I was asked to start designing lingerie.
At the new company, it quickly became apparent my design skills weren’t going to cut it. I didn’t know what I was doing, and at a time when everyone was getting laid-off, I always felt like I was on the chopping block. Miraculously, they didn’t fire me. Instead, they suggested I put my “practical” college degree to work (okay Mom and Dad—you were right!) and start the In Bloom Intimates eCommerce website. Building an online business was as foreign to me as lingerie-design though, and as I learned the ins and outs of SEO and PPC and social media, I still wasn’t meeting expectations. The sales figures were never good enough. No matter how hard I tried, I was failing. My self-worth was non-existent, and I hit an all-time low when Google accused me of selling mail order brides and banned me from advertising (for life!).
The economy was in crisis, my husband had taken a huge pay cut, and we had just bought a house. I needed my job. I needed a non-Google way to drive traffic to the website, so I did the only thing I hadn’t tried: I started a blog.
The problem was, I had no idea what to write about lingerie. We sold predominantly bridal lingerie and I knew I wanted to use wedding keywords to drive traffic, so ultimately, I decided to write about a girl who worked for In Bloom Intimates who was engaged. The blog would be her live wedding journal. As I started to write, though, I realized I couldn’t plan her wedding without knowing how she fell in love with the groom--who was this guy anyway?
And it began.
Relying heavily on my personal experiences for inspiration, I started to tell Olivia Bloom’s story. My husband, Jason, was immersed in the Los Angeles music scene and in the years post college we’d had a backstage view as some of our friends went on to become world famous musicians. Thanks to my shyness, I was adept at hiding in corners of celebrity-filled rooms I felt I didn't belong in.
Jason himself was the bass player in an indie-rock band called The Remainers. They were kind enough to let me use their lyrics for the fictional band Berkeley & the Brightside. With them on board, I realized telling this story was an opportunity to not only showcase In Bloom, but to promote all the creative people I was a fan of.
Over the course of nine months I posted two chapters a week and tweeted (with a little help from some friends) in real time as nine of the characters. I hosted weekly contests where readers could design outfits for Liv to wear (the winning outfit was written into the story and the “designer” won lingerie). I overcame paralyzing shyness long enough to email the artists whose music I was incorporating into the blog and ask them to cross-promote. Most of them never responded, but the singer Sara Bareilles (she was one of the friends who "made it" and I still can't believe I gathered enough courage to ask her for help) was kind enough to tweet about it. I’m pretty sure she’s the only reason readers found me at all.
As I wrote, my fears and dreams poured onto the page. Life was hard and I needed a fairy tale.The story took over. It started waking me at all hours, demanding to be told. I was giddy, I was excited, and I always longed to be in my fictional world. As Berkeley Dalton fell in love with Olivia Bloom, I fell in love with writing. I found something I didn’t know I was missing: my passion.
I finished writing the "Bloom Blog" in November 2011 and decided to re-write it as a novel with the intention of self-publishing it. All my research into self-publishing suggested I first hire an editor, but the truth was, as much as I loved the Bloom Blog, I wasn’t sure anyone else did. I had a handful of dedicated readers—my aunt in Pittsburgh was the motivation that kept me posting every week even when I was too afraid and embarrassed to go on—and one miraculous night when I was certain I couldn’t write another word I received an email from a stranger (!!!) telling me how much she was enjoying the story—but I wasn’t sure I was ready for professional opinions. I was terrified the editor would tell me I wasn’t any good, that I should give up, that this new-found love would be taken from me.
In March of 2012 I gave up fear for lent. I wasn’t in the habit of participating in lent, but that year, I felt it had to be done. On the day I gave up fear, a freelance book editor I had been cyber-stalking tweeted that she was open to submissions. Before I could think too much, I took a deep breath and emailed her.
I’m so glad I did.
With her guidance, and after lots of rewriting and waiting (Oh! The waiting…), I ultimately signed a three-book deal with Entangled Publishing. In Bloom was published in February 2014 and the subsequent books, Blushing and Believe, followed in 2015 and 2016.
When I was little and infatuated with dress up, I don’t think it was as much about the clothes as it was the story they told, their ability to transform a moment, define a time, an experience. Maybe I was using them to be someone else, to have a different story. I think I’ve always wanted to live a thousand lives… and maybe it took an unexpected twist in my path to show me what I couldn’t see…that I’ve found just the way to do it.