A Day in the Life of Paper Lantern Lit Co-Founder Lexa Hillyer

Note from Adam: Every month Pub(lishing) Crawl will be inviting a different member of the publishing industry (agents, editors, assistants, publicists, community managers, bloggers, etc.) to share a day in their life! Today we’re hosting Lexa Hillyer, co-founder of the literary development company Paper Lantern Lit and debut author of the forthcoming Proof of Forever (June 2nd, 2015 from HarperTeen)

Wednesday March 11

3:45 am. My husband Charlie’s alarm goes off and he gets up to leave for an early catering gig. He is probably going to be setting up a fancy breakfast at Bloomberg Philanthropy or something but who knows, because he also does things like $150,000 40-person 6-year-old birthday parties at the Carlyle. Hashtag richpeople. I mercifully hear none of this because of the powerful earplugs wedged deep into my skull.

7:34 am. My alarm goes off. My fetus, Fritz, kicks. She gets feisty when I lie on my back. I check email and read the Skimm on my phone in bed. Am oddly happy Pharrell Williams is being sued for blurred lines by the Gaye empire because that song is a rip-off.

Then I reread the email my agent sent me late last night, telling me I have a brilliant mind. This is like sucking in oxygen. Even though my therapist says I really need to work harder on internal validation after I cried in her office yesterday saying, “no one appreciates me” and then realizing “it’s no one’s job to appreciate me!” I briefly told her that I was considering checking out adoption agencies, divorce attorneys, and grad schools in California. My therapist thinks I use humor to mask anxiety. Slow clap.

I send off several other emails—I like to keep my inboxes below 50 items with fewer than 5 of them unread at a given time. I’m a tad OCD like that. I get up and organize Charlie’s desk for him (see, OCD?) and then peek into the now-empty study, the walls of which Charlie has covered with primer so we can turn it into a nursery. He still has to finish all the corners with a brush, as I pointed out yesterday. Primer is cool. It’s a clean slate. Even a messy primer job.

Bathroom reading: article on remote writer’s retreats in Poets & Writers. Humpback whales following a kayak. The writers were worried about capsizing and the tour guide told them not to freak out. Later they found out whales capsizing kayaks is in fact kinda common. I’m freaked out and thrilled by this concept. I feel seriously moved and I decide I need to go to Alaska stat. One writer describes the landscape there as all image, morphing mirage… except it has a body too, just like “ice is a body… until it melts.” This seems profound. I decide to quickly scrub the inside of the toilet because I’m feeling really good about how organized and on top of things I am.

I start to think about whether Fritz has a soul and what souls are all about as I turn on the shower because, um, it’s really sort of seeming like spring today so I feel like I have a reason to live/shave my legs. Afterwards I wage battle with my leggings which have decided they’re the clothing form of a boomerang. Then I blow the giant pile of dust off my sneakers. Look, today is a new day and I’ve decided I’m going to stick to the vow I told my therapist about: walking every morning.

I put on this new sweater which in the store yesterday I thought said “look at me, I’m pregnant and I still know how to have fun” but this morning says “I am a giant hand-knit hot-air balloon.” Also, coat does not fit over said sweater. I spend like a century trying to figure out what to do about this situation.

I put on 2-minutes worth of make-up and start to feel more human. I have lots of thoughts about how I’m a terrible, failed feminist while doing so.

Before leaving, I open up my computer and go straight to my running to do list which I keep in a word document. I delete “pilates arms” from today’s list and replace with “power walk.” Look, something’s gotta give.

8:30am. My “late” alarm goes off. This is the one I often sleep in until because in addition to being a bad feminist I’m also a lazy horrible pregnant slacker. I better leave the house. I drink some water and Fritz starts kicking again. I love it when she does that. My legs hurt from being shaved for the first time in a month. Spring. SIGH!

I have a hard time doing anything that doesn’t have a goal attached so I decide this power walk is also a mission to get breakfast for me and for my employees who are coming over for a brainstorming session in an hour. Maybe this will make them shower me with praise and adulation and drown out my therapist’s observations.

My single friend begins texting me as soon as I walk out the door about her date from last night. This fills me with joy because nothing is better than vicarious dating. I ask her if she’s going to move to LA and become a TV writer. It seems like a good call. We’re so over publishing, right? Hashtag overit.

I get to Union Market in about 8 minutes. Not exactly the workout I was hoping for but I go in anyway and it smells like heaven inside, so I feel that all is right in the universe. I try and get a lot of fruit but also end up picking out pastries and a donut. I can’t help it. I’m just so nurturing and motherly. I am going to be a great parent.

9:05am. I am now lugging an incredibly heavy tote bag full of groceries. I am pretty much the definition of an Olympic athlete. I turn up my earphones and am energized by the song that comes on until I realize it’s a Pharell Williams song. Oh well. I don’t even feel that bad for now.

9:10am. I walk into Henry’s Local to get an iced tea—I have serious back-to-back meetings today which means I need caffeine even though I’m not supposed to because it makes Fritz even fritzier—and run into Kamilla there, a PLL Assistant Editor who is due at my house by 9:30, which is unfortunate because I was going to buy their hardboiled eggs but I don’t want her to see me buying hardboiled eggs (hashtag patheticandlazy!) so I just get the iced tea.

At home, I put on a pot of water and get out my own eggs to boil so that they can get to room temp so they won’t crack when they go into the pot. I’m immensely proud of myself for knowing about that. It’s physics!

9:28am. The buzzer goes off. It’s Kamilla.

9:34am. Oh crap, the eggs! They’re fine, but one did crack. Effin’ physics.

Alexa, our star student fellow from CUNY arrives shortly thereafter—she’ll be taking notes and helping brainstorm. I give Alexa and Kamilla some hand-me-downs first. We talk about Kamilla’s boyfriend and roommates and why Alexa is so “hot-librarian” today, and also generally analyze the concept of sheer pantyhose.

9:50am. I have by now set out an amazing array of breakfast items—yogurt, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, pastries, muffins, bagels, two types of cream cheese, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and medium-boiled eggs. I feel like a god. However, we’re now 20 minutes into the meeting and have yet to begin brainstorming the plot for the third book in the Legacy of Kings series by Eleanor Herman—Reign of Serpents—which is what we’re here to do. We begin brainstorming.

My coworkers interrupt to tell me my boobs look bigger. External validation! 

At some point we decide that Aristotle is probably hanging out on a hippie island with a cult during this book, likely wearing an outfit that closely resembles the new sweater I have on. Kamilla and Alexa nod in agreement. Kamilla adds, narrating the gesture I’m making: “they are likely dancing with little cymbals.”

We get super excited about one of the characters’ plotlines: Cynane, Alexander the Great’s seriously bad-ass half-sister (she’s real and she really was bad-ass!) is by this point in the series on the brink of marrying a crazy dude. A handmaiden asks Cynane whether everything’s taken care of for her wedding night and she’s like “oh don’t worry, there will be blood on the sheets” but she’s not talking about her virginity, she’s talking about her EVIL PLOT TO KILL HER FIANCE ON THEIR WEDDING NIGHT. We then repeat the phrase “there will be blood” several times, feeling clever. That Cynane. What a murdering warrior chick! And that’s just act one.

We figure out all the plot beats for her arc after that (no spoilers!), and move on to conquer two other characters’ plotlines. We realize Alexander needs to find his low point here, and also that Jacob (fictional) needs to lose his virginity so he can become a real man. We invent a whole new character stemming from this need. She’s an oracle. We haven’t decided on her name yet so we just keep referring to her as “young hottie oracle.” She’s going to get crushed by a falling temple but don’t worry, Jacob will save her! Oh and double-don’t worry because he’s still really in love with Kat (this is not a spoiler either.) We just need him to realize that the hard way (aka the fun way) by sleeping with the wrong person.

We also need a placeholder nickname for the new advisor to Prince Cleitus of Illyria, so I fondly dub him “Mr. Horse Balls” which actually makes a lot of sense in context, if you ask me. In this book, Prince Cleitus will be modeled a bit after the Roman Emperor Caligula, so, Mr. Horse Balls really seems like the sort of nickname he’d make up for an advisor he admired. Mr. Horse Balls is going to be somewhat like Little Finger from Game of Thrones, except there will be a big exciting twist at the end of the book. I am so excited about this twist. All three of us start squealing uncontrollably.

Meanwhile Persian princess-to-be Zofia is “bereft as f*ck” we decide, after losing everything. Luckily she will look into the big watery brown eyes of the Pegasus and rediscover hope. (Yup, there will be a Pegasus in this series so y’all better keep on reading!) We also decide that the Pegasus should be wounded—we don’t need him (her?) to be wounded but like, don’t you think it’s otherwise overly convenient during a time when it took seven weeks to travel a single foot across the desert that Zo happens to have all of a sudden discovered a bad-ass flying creature and is like “well I’ll just hop on this thing’s back and get wherever I want!”? Plus, it’s all the more compelling when creatures are wounded, I announce.

12:03pm. Tara & Rhoda arrive for the weekly production status meeting so we put away our Reign of Serpents notes, after bragging about how much we accomplished. We have thoroughly plotted half of a seriously epic book in just over two hours. I am pleased to see Tara is wearing a shirt I handed down to her. It is lacy and you can see her bra, but since it used to be mine, I consider it work-appropriate. Also because let’s face it, my bra is showing, too. They begin eating all the breakfast leftovers and oohing and ahhing over the Proof of Forever scrapbook I made, which I left out on the table for just this reason. We discuss Sex Criminals, a comic book about people who have the ability to stop time via sex so they can rob banks, that’s going to be adapted for TV. Rhoda’s really into this. Also, she got a new haircut.

We start out our meeting by going through our project status chart, which generally takes seventy-five hours or at least one. Regarding an author and her lack of social media savvy, Rhoda points out: “yeah, she may not even have a track pad on her computer.” We nod. This is a really sage point. It makes moving that cursor around even more difficult! I then admit I’m confused about the whole private versus public tweeting thing, so we spend some time making sure I get it, because I’m the boss so I should get it.

I’m really married to the concept of cucumber yogurt even though I never eat it, I realize as I begin to put in a Seamless order for lunch.

“You don’t get it because you’re a feminist,” I tell Rhoda at one point regarding our marketing strategy around another title.

12:46pm. Charlie arrives home from work and pretends to not be listening in on our meeting from the bedroom where he sits down at his desk to do Important Mysterious Husband Things like Edit a Short Film about Woodworking for a Contest or Check Facebook.

In order to get to an important point I’m making about ghostwriters, I tell a long-winded story about my chemistry lab partner in high school. It’s both relevant and colorful. Look, I need to keep these people entertained somehow.

1:16pm. Our family-style Mediterranean lunch order arrives. Charlie gets in the shower. Luckily he brings clothes in there with him so he won’t have to walk around in front of my entire staff in a towel and they don’t have to be exposed to the truth about how hairy he really is.

Twice, the phrase “what if we get sued?” comes up—regarding totally separate endeavors. To both, I reply, “Let them try.” I’m hoping everyone gets my 50% seriousness.

We discuss potential graphic design interns. One clearly has a stronger eye with regards to photography, the other is better with actual graphics.

Tara: Can I hire both of them?

Me: We’re not paying them, so yes, of course. I have an announcement to make—all of you have my permission to hire as many unpaid people as you want. Please no one tell our accountant I said this.

We finally finish the project status updates and several other updates regarding new initiatives for our digital imprint, The Studio, initiatives we need to end because they are riddled with annoying logistics, and small topics like “hey where’d that galley go,” and “look how bad this comp title looks,” and “lets drum up more engagement on Goodreads.” Then we have another epic brainstorm, this time about the political motivations of a character in one of our other fantasy projects. We realize we need to cut the magic hourglass—it’s no longer relevant. What a relief! We spend about 30 minutes talking in circles and then finally the answer gels and we’re all triumphant. We’ve gone deep. We’ve reached new levels. It feels good. On that note, it’s 2:57. Meeting is officially over but I’m still singing “Mr. Horse Balls” and everyone has their face on the table at this point, except for Charlie, who is napping in the other room.

3:15pm. Everyone finally trickles out except Tara because we have to do photoshop and internet stuff together. I decide to use this opportunity to read her the first page of my current WIP, under the guise of justifying the title. She tells me she loves it, which gives me just the external validation I needed. We move on to actually doing work. I tell her this should only take us 10-15 minutes.

5:15pm. It has been two hours. Together Tara and I just designed a cover for one our STUDIO e-books using Photoshop after getting extremely anal about font spacing. We painstakingly copied the template we recreated for another title in the series, only to realize that we don’t want to be so slavish to the template after all. It also occurred to us that even though we didn’t decide to put a filter on it, it helped to further saturate and darken the background photo. We gave each other a giant, dorky high-five once this was completed, then moved on to making tweaks to the new studio website (NOW LIVE!!!!). We decided to rewrite some descriptive copy for the first book in the Sin & Honey novella series (officially announced on RT.com!!!!) because, frankly, it sucks—the copy not the novella, which is scintillating and wonderful. There is sex, and there are lots of goats—not in the same scenes.

Charlie is suddenly awake and running around in flannel and telling me stuff that I’m not listening to. “Wait, what?” I ask as he’s about to walk out the door.

“Don’t forget about Seth’s birthday party tonight.” This is a guy he knows from the Food Film Festival.

“Will there be food?”

“Babe, it’s at a barbeque restaurant. Try not to spoil your appetite. I’ll be home by 7:30 and then we can go over together.”

Tara leaves, and I think about how lucky I am to have this job. We got a lot accomplished today, both difficult business decisions and truly exciting creative ones. Hashtag notoveritafterall.

My mind feels super active and tired at the same time. My doctor says I’m low on iron. I eat another bagel with cream cheese as well as the rest of a cheese Danish. You just TRY and spoil this appetite, I think. I contemplate a nap but instead take a break to check emails. We’re going to Boulder soon and need to make some plans. I Google what to do in Boulder and it looks like a lot of the suggestions involve drinking beer or hiking, neither of which are up my alley these days (have I mentioned I’m 6.5 months pregnant?) This is probably a good thing because I can plan to write like half a novel while I’m there, or at least a couple thousand words of my big exciting hush-hush WIP.

Some friends are planning my baby shower so I send them my registry. There are lots of items involving woodland creatures on there.

Then I reply to a colleague regarding a drafted email to a lawyer, suggesting we play hardball with the numbers but in such a way so as not to get sued. Getting sued by lawyers seems like a bad thing. Apparently I’ve changed my tune since lunchtime regarding legal matters.

After perusing her resume again, I email a writer about a new project to see if she’d be interested in trying out for it. I get an out of office response.

I send out a few reminder emails to my employees about various tasks even though I just saw them earlier today. Because, I’m a boss. I need to stay on top of things.

I’ve received a note from another author regarding her most recent 1099 and I then write to our accountant to inquire what we can do to resolve the issue. This reminds me of another accounting issue so I send her a separate email about that, too. And I wonder why these accountants charge us so much money… We only email them about five times a day!

5:54pm. I realize I was supposed to book a sonogram but the hospital unit’s appointment desk closes at 5. Dammit! I move “book sonogram” to tomorrow’s to-do list. (This is what I did yesterday as well.) But tomorrow there will definitely be time because that is how tomorrows work.

I then type up assignments for all the employees and send them around.

6:23pm. I decide to compromise on the nap idea by getting into bed with my computer. It’s sunny and warm out—I can tell through the windows—and I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get in a longer walk this morning. But lying down sounds really good right now. I’m very lucky I work from home. Hashtag independentbusinessowner. I still have a few emails that really need to get out the door today, though, including one to a UK agent about a contract I’ve recently finished drafting, one to PLL’s agent Stephen Barbara regarding an announcement we’d like to submit to PW, one to a publisher about some e-book timing issues, and one to a potential new Middle Grade author who is waiting on an offer from us. I send all of these out.

7:08pm. I get an automatic e-notice that a contract signing process has been initiated by an employee. Given that this is something I sent a reminder about an hour ago, I realize I have caught her out on the fact that she hadn’t initiated the process before now. I feel smug but don’t mention it because that would make me a dick. Good thing these kids’ve got me as a boss! I think.

I also realize Charlie will be home in ten minutes to pick me up for that bbq party thing and he said I didn’t have to change but I suddenly have a panic attack about showing up in public in this hippie santa claus-esque sweater. My solution is to take a ten-minute nap but Fritz’s solution is to start kicking like crazy.

7:45pm. Charlie rolls in and says “we gotta go” 87 times. I ask him if I look like a hippie santa claus and he says “a beautiful hippie santa claus, yes.” We go to the thing. I am dreading not knowing people but it turns out to be great. There’s a live band, plenty of mac & cheese, cronuts—aka the last things I need right now but hey, hashtag eatingfortwo—and people who already have kids to give us random advice about daycares. Everyone’s asking Charlie about when he’s going to finally set up a website for his woodworking business. I keep saying “see, Babe?” because it’s important to remind men that their wives are always right.

10:15pm. We finally say our goodbyes but Charlie wants to stop at his woodshop to finish finishing a table, since we’re in Redhook anyway. I decide to stay in the car and check my emails. There’s one about the PW announcement, which has some great points from Stephen. So I share with my employees and then realize I didn’t contextualize some stuff so then there are two or three more emails about it but all in all this is a good thing because we like it when Stephen is excited about something. A friend in LA—okay it’s Lauren Kate, the author of the mega-successful internationally bestselling series, Fallen—has emailed about this Proof of Forever scrapbook I’m making (did I mention how pretty that thing is?) It involves photos of authors when they were fifteen. She’s sending me hers, soon. She and I have known each other since we were little baby editorial assistants at HarperCollins in 2003. I write her back and I decide to quote Shakespeare because it’s 10:30pm and I’m sitting in a car in Redhook in a deserted alley so it seems like a thing.

I also tell her I’m about to book a trip to LA so we can meet with our new film representation and talk about larger co-development strategies. So, I’m wondering if I can stay at her house. They have a sweet pool I can’t wait to float my belly in.

10:34pm. Charlie gets back in the car finally. I say “does Nat’s dog live in the woodshop?” “Yes,” he says. “Like, lives there, and not with Nat?” “Yes,” he says again. “So does Bones just poop all over the shop and stuff?” “Yup, all over,” Charlie says. “Like just in Nat’s room or everywhere?” “Wherever she feels like,” he says. “Oh, Bones,” I say, but what I’m really thinking is: woodworkers.

Then I start mulling what I’m going to wear tomorrow because I have a coffee with a UK publisher and it would be very nice to impress her so she’ll acquire tons of our titles. I make a note to stuff a galley of Proof of Forever as well as Legacy of Kings into my bag tonight so I don’t forget them.

10:56pm. We get home and Charlie wants to show me the woodworking short film he made yesterday and edited today for that contest thing. It’s very good and I’m super proud of him.

We get into bed and I can feel Fritz kicking. Then I get a tweet from my good friend and fellow YA author Rebecca Serle, demanding to know what she needs to do in order to get a galley of my forthcoming debut, Proof of Forever. I respond, “I’m making you wait forever so I can prove that forever exists.” I even put a period before her twitter handle, just like my employees taught me to earlier today, so that everyone else in the world can enjoy my cleverness and wit. Adam Silvera favorites my tweet within seconds. See? You can teach an old dog new twitter tricks.

Fritz kicks again.

I turn out the light. In the darkness I turn to Charlie and say, “Do you want to hear the Publishing Crawl post I’ve been working on, chronicling my entire day?” He pretends to be asleep. Hashtag marriage.

        

3 Responses to A Day in the Life of Paper Lantern Lit Co-Founder Lexa Hillyer

  1. Julie
    Julie Mar 27 2015 at 6:01 pm #

    Lexa, thank you so much for being our guest here at PubCrawl! Your day sounds CRAZY busy–thanks so much for taking the time to join us. 🙂

  2. Amie
    Amie Mar 27 2015 at 9:31 pm #

    I am beyond exhausted just reading this! Thanks so much for sharing your day with us! (Validation! Validation!)

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