2020 was, to put it lightly, a helluva year in many, many ways. It was filled with change and tragedy, anxiety, isolation, but most importantly for me, an intense creative drive to keep moving forward while the world seemed to hold still.
I think the featured photo captures the mood of the year for me quite well. I spent most of 2020 working my office day job from home, which became a welcome lifestyle change when eliminating the usual commute allowed me to gain back almost an hour each day and save a lot more than I expected on gas money. I adjusted to hermit life quite well and was very comfortable in the quiet and solitude, and there’s been a lot of snuggle/bonding time with Calypso when she permits it (if you’re a cat owner, you understand).
As someone who has struggled with my skin for my entire teenage and adult life, I actually welcomed the normalcy of mask wearing and the freedom of leaving the house without a layer of makeup coating my face. I stopped stressing so much about the tedious tasks to “stay pretty” and became more comfortable with just being myself, in my own skin, without the constant worry of being judged since I wasn’t going anywhere. I like to hope that I’ll be strong enough to continue this self-positivity mindset when life returns to normal. That’s not to say I’m ready to ditch the makeup anytime soon when the masks are no more, but I think just being less concerned about how I look and more concerned about how I feel.
I can’t say I fell into the stereotypical norms that many other homebound nonessential workers did. I didn’t binge-watch Netflix since I was so busy with my own projects, and I didn’t work on improving my cooking skills (A: no time for that, B: tiny kitchen, C: if you know me at all, then you know cooking and baking are not my strong suits and really don’t interest me… I love to eat good food, hate to spend so much time and energy and dirty dishes cooking it!) Didn’t reorganize the house, although I did do a better job maintaining the garden this year than I have in the past. At least it wasn’t an overgrown forest of weeds by the time fall arrived!
Now, let’s look at all the adventures I embarked on for 2020!
Wednesday, January 08, 2020
The year started out in the right direction with an exciting development for A Fallen Hero—#bookstagrammer and reviewer Lauren Gantt ranked it in her Top 10 List of 2019! Lauren wrote, “This was one of the more surprising placements on this list. When I was first contacted about reviewing this book, I was interested in the story but had reservations since I hadn’t seen much conversation around it. I’m so glad that I gave it a go because it was a wonderful ride. It’s such an interesting story concept and, despite being over 450 pages, I felt like I flew through it. I never wanted it to end and I already can’t wait for the sequel to come out later this year.”
AFH was part of a fierce competition for AllAuthor’s Cover of the Month contest! Although it didn’t make the coveted Top 3, it did end the month with 444 votes, cementing its place as one of the finalists out of more than 200 entries.
Saturday, February 15, 2020
On a cold afternoon, I met up with my friend and former coworker from my bakery days a decade ago to capture my author headshot for the upcoming sequel Phantom’s Mask. We trekked through snowy Bendix Woods and had an all-around fun day, although my fingers were absolutely frozen and it was starting to snow when we finished the shoot. This was, obviously, before COVID lockdowns had started and before masks and social distancing were recommended.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
In preparation of the sequel’s summer release, I created a pronunciation guide for the WOTR series. The video covers the following words: Avilésor, Cröendor, kálos, Amínyte, Tarrow, weir, Azar, Hassing. (I suppose, considering I still hear all sorts of different attempts at my last name, that I should mention it’s no-ee. Like snowy. Not specifically in the video, but now you know!)
March 26, 2020
On the Cobblestone Road celebrated its fourth anniversary! To celebrate, a special release titled Project Alpha | Finn’s Story was published on the blog. This unique look into Finn’s perspective at the AGC prior to his induction in Project Alpha is a sneak peek from the prequel to the War of the Realms series, which is in progress but still a long ways away from publication.
Saturday, March 28, 2020
My line editor, Nikki of NAM Editorial, finally returned the sequel’s manuscript after running into a few unexpected COVID-related delays that put the project a little behind schedule. Here is what she had to say upon completing her edits!
Friday, April 03, 2020
The new pin designs for Book II: Phantom’s Mask were revealed! Following in line with Book I, two of the pin designs were the eye featured on the cover and the title of the novel. In addition, the new set includes the Alpha symbol, a Chronicles of Avilésor design, and a black-and-silver ribbon for the Safe Haven campaign, which… if you haven’t read Book II yet… will make sense when you read it. As of now, these collectible pins are available exclusively through me and can be purchased at most of my signing events, depending on the venue and regulations.
Thursday, April 09, 2020
AFH scored an impressive 5-star review from Literary Titan! This was a particularly exciting accomplishment because it qualified the novel to be entered into their book award contest.
Sunday, May 03, 2020
The award resulted in a surprisingly stressful decision about how to add the medallion to the book cover. I went back and forth, took votes from friends, family, and social media, and was frustrated when the results came back in a 50/50 split about which design was best.
In the end, I went with my gut feeling. What also factored into my decision (that I couldn’t share with most of the voters) was a side-by-side comparison of Book I’s cover next to Book II’s. At the time, I hadn’t yet revealed the new cover.
Monday, May 18, 2020
I was thrilled to learn that a local book club was interested in reading AFH! After wrestling with the persistent frustration of being unable to schedule book signing events in the midst of COVID, I was more than happy to sign a stack of novels and meet with the moderator (my former English teacher) to exchange for payment and have the books distributed among the members.
Later in the summer, I had a blast joining the book club virtually after they’d finished so I could answer their questions about the story and the writing/publishing process. They also presented some interesting fan theories!
Saturday, May 23, 2020
I received the first shipment of the Avilésor candle by Old Soul Artisan! This was a project that had been months in the works. The founder of the company, after reading AFH, created a unique fragrance based specifically on the Chronicles of Avilésor series. After going back and forth discussing preferences and hashing out the details, I had received a test sample and given it my seal of approval; this was the first time seeing the real product in its proper package presentation, although at the time of the unboxing video, it wasn’t available for online purchase yet.
Thursday, May 28, 2020
LAUNCH DAY! The Avilésor candle went live for purchase! I was so excited to see this project come to fruition. Harmony, the founder and owner of Old Soul Artisan, was great to work with, and she let me name the candle and write up the product description on the website. For more information about our collaboration, check out the blog post!
Saturday, June 06, 2020
Possibly the most bizarre thing to happen to me in 2020… my mom and I were driving home from Michigan City after picking up sushi for dinner, and while I was watching out the window, I did a double take and sat straight up. A very familiar piece of art on a lamp post had caught my eye, but I needed a few seconds to process why it was so startlingly familiar to me. “That’s my raven!” I blurted when it finally clicked.
Naturally, my mom was perplexed by the outburst since she’d been speaking and I had interrupted mid-sentence, and I couldn’t get a more intelligible explanation out. “That’s my raven! Over there! We have to pull over!”
So here’s the story if you’re as confused as we were; in 2019, I had submitted several pieces of artwork and photography to a competition for the Uptown Arts District of Michigan City, IN. But I was never contacted afterward, so after a few months of waiting, I figured I must not have been a winner and forgot about it. Turns out, my artwork “The Raven” did indeed make the cut, and it had been hanging on the corner of Pine and 8th St. for almost a year before I happened to spot it by pure chance. What a trip!
Tuesday, June 09, 2020
Finally, the proof copy of the sequel arrived! With a planned publication date of 07.08.20 and the proof copy being delayed for over a month due to high volume and backed up production as the distributor struggled to accommodate the new COVID safety protocols, I think it goes without saying that I was starting to panic by the deadline steadily creeping closer and closer. Here’s the very first look at the cover of Phantom’s Mask!
Wednesday, June 29, 2020
PM started out strong with a fabulous five-star editorial review from the Prairies Book Review a week and a half before publication day. The sequel was praised as “an absolute stunner” and went on to say, “The brilliant second installment in the Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series shows Noë at her most inventive, bringing out her ability to combine paranormal science fiction elements with deep human sentiment… this novel should be on the top in its genre.”
Wednesday, July 08, 2020
Somehow, miraculously, after working long nights with very little sleep for a month straight to review the proof copy and make final edits, I made my target publication date for the hardcover, although online retailers didn’t technically make the book available for purchase until the following day. The 7/8 combination was important to me, as the first book had been published on 8/7, and those numbers hold a special meaning in the series. But finally, after the big push toward the end, Phantom’s Mask was ready for readers!
Friday, July 10, 2020
Who said anything about slowing down now that Book II was out? A couple of days later, I found out that three of my poems submitted to the Indiana Poetry Archives earlier in the year had been accepted and were in the process of being digitally uploaded for public access.
Friday, July 17, 2020
The ebook version of Phantom’s Mask became available for online purchase.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Inspired by my experience with the local book club earlier in the summer, I published a series of discussion questions specifically geared toward book clubs on my website. These questions were developed in a joint effort with my former teacher who had served as a book club moderator. Topics are broken up into chapter groups available as PDFs to download and/or print for an easily accessible resource designed to spark conversations about the War of the Realms series.
Friday, August 07, 2020
Happy book birthday, AFH! The debut novel turned 2 years old on this day!
Friday, August 14, 2020
AFH was released as a free ebook download on NetGalley for the first time. I had an interesting, albeit mixed experience, which I wrote about in this blog post. The novel was available on the site for one month. It may return to NetGalley for Round 2 sometime in the future, although as of now, I don’t plan to release any other books in the series on NetGalley. The WOTR series really does need to be read in order, so I don’t want readers downloading Book II and being lost with all the characters after missing the earlier plot points and introductions.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
My creative nonfiction piece titled “Privileged” was published in Flying Island Literary Journal. The work was a solemn reflection of my emotions and thoughts as I prepared to attend my very first protest and faced the simple and seemingly inconsequential dilemma of selecting which shoes to wear:
“Today, I stared at the slip-on sandals by the door, and I realized this small, insignificant act—choosing a pair of shoes for the day—was a privilege I didn’t realize I had. I’ve never before had to think, Are these shoes practical? Can I run away from danger if I need to? Privilege, I realized, is putting on a pair of shoes without taking a second thought to ponder how fast you can run in them.”
COVID and printing issues caused some delays with the publication of the Voices II literary journal, so I can’t attest to the official date, but I was excited to add two more publications to my repertoire: my poem “Rejection Letter” and short poetic prose piece “The Rose & the Onion.” The second volume of the literary journal was published by the Sandcastle Writers of Lubeznik Center for the Arts and made available in the gift shop sometime in the late summer / early fall.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Literary Titan rated PM five stars in an editorial review, writing, “Phantom’s Mask by Sara A. Noë is a fascinating product of a wild imagination… Fans of the first book in the series A Fallen Hero will be more than pleased with this followup. Sara A. Noë continues to plumb the depths of her characters in Phantom’s Mask and readers will be delighted by it.”
This 5-star review qualified the sequel for entry into the book awards!
Saturday, August 22, 2020
After yet another round of intense formatting and proofreading, the paperback version of PM joined the hardcover and ebook and officially became available for online purchase.
Tuesday, September 01, 2020
Less than two months after its initial publication, PM followed in its predecessor’s footsteps and received the Literary Titan Gold Book Award! Thankfully, there was no dilemma this time about how to redesign the cover since that had already been addressed with Book I earlier in the summer.
Saturday, September 05, 2020
On a windy Saturday morning, I set up my display table outside the Co-Op Shoppes on State Street in La Porte, IN for my first book signing of the year! In the midst of the pandemic, it certainly looked different than any other signing I’ve done. Outdoors was a must, as I wanted to take every precaution for my own safety as well as the safety of my assistants and guests.
Rather than resent having to wear a mask for the event, I fully embraced it and decided to cosplay as Cato from the books. It became a marketing strategy since the very same mask I wore happened to be the one I had photographed and then Photoshopped onto the back cover of PM.
The event had a good turnout, despite the pandemic, and the mayor even stopped by, purchased a copy to support me, and posed for a photo (socially distanced, of course)!
Sunday, September 13, 2020
Following the award earlier in the month, Literary Titan published their second interview with me. I discussed Cato’s past, the inspiration for the series, and what to look forward to in Book III.
Saturday, October 10, 2020
Book signing #2, and the last one of the year. I set up shop outside of HotSpot Café in downtown La Porte, once again dressed in Cato’s Alpha uniform. But this time, I wasn’t the only one in costume; I fit right in with the trick-or-treaters who started meandering from shop to shop a couple of hours after the event began.
Sunday, October 18, 2020
I launched my first clothing design! After a surprising struggle to find a black, sleeveless shirt with the white Alpha symbol on the chest for my cosplay outfit, I had decided to make my own. I noticed that a lot of YouTube influencers use a print-on-demand company called Teespring for their brands, and so I created an account and released the Project Alpha Collection.
Friday, November 27, 2020
I was able to check “first podcast interview” off my to-do list, along with so many other firsts throughout the year! Looking back really did stun me… from the candle collab, to the sequel publication, to the merchandise launch, and now a podcast interview! I think 2020 was simultaneously the longest and shortest year of my life!
I had a lot of fun talking to Kimberly Grymes of The Plum Report! We discussed the writing and publishing process of the CoA series, plus a plethora of other topics! Catch the podcast episode HERE.
Monday, November 30, 2020
Just in time for the holiday season, I added a new merch design to my Teespring store. Kit is a fan favorite from the series and was just begging to be on a T-shirt, blanket, hoodie… you get the idea! You can learn more about the design behind the Kit Collection with this blog post.
So… what does 2021 hold for me? I honestly have no idea! The sky is the limit! While I’d love to commit to Book III: Blood of the Enemy‘s release, that’s just not something I can guarantee right now. As it was, I almost didn’t make my target publication date for Book II with all of the COVID-related delays. There are too many variables, and I’m not close enough to the editing phase yet to officially announce a target release date. But my goal is to have the first draft finished by the end of the year at the very least! A lot of brainstorming has been going on in my head and just hasn’t been translated yet to the pages, but I hope to turn my focus back onto the manuscript this winter. I’ll also note that Book III’s current word count stands at just over 140k words, so don’t panic; it’s not like I’m starting from scratch on Page 1. For comparison, Book I was about 154k and Book II was approximately 195k. I don’t know what Book III’s final count will look like, so I’m not able to say exactly how far along I am yet. My best guess, as of right now, is that it will fall somewhere between the first two books in length.
Stay tuned for another merchandise design coming soon! I’m really hoping that the vaccine rollout happening right now will mean I can travel to book signings again in the summer/fall. In the meantime, though, I’m still doing a ton of work behind the scenes with my website SEO development, third book, and various creative outlets to diversify my platforms and potential income.
(Speaking of which, I’ve started 2021 with a more focused push on my YouTube channel, so please subscribe if you haven’t already! It’s become a new way to showcase my photography, which has been taking a backseat to my writing over the last couple of years, but I also do book-related unboxings, announcements, and reveals, plus maybe some more attempts at doing readings this year.)
Happy 2021! May the odds be ever in your favor…