BY ANNA J. STAINSBY ONLINE DIRECTOR
I wasn’t sure whether Daniella Beça would be as open in person as she is on paper.
Though her work discloses her innermost feelings to thousands, dissecting relationships, talking about the hardships of moving on, and the viscerality of love and heartbreak, for some reason, I expected a writer hiding behind her work- letting it speak for itself- unwilling to delve into the subject matter in the light of day.
Armed with questions and awe about her debut book, I’m Not Blue Anymore, we met at I Deal Coffee in the West End in Toronto on a Sunday morning. In writerly fashion (or at least a trait that I believe to be one possessed by most writers: punctuality) we both showed up twenty minutes early, and she welcomed me to one of her favourite coffee shops with a hug.
Face to face, not hiding behind a screen or a manuscript- Beça was as candid as her prose to me, for all intents and purposes, a stranger. Whether her openness blossomed after years of sharing real life stories with strangers over the internet or if it is truly innate to her, one thing quickly became clear: Beça was about to give us one good and honest story.
During her first year at university (Beça graduated from Ryerson University with an English degree back in June) she started a blog, My Composition Notebook, to keep busy and distract her from the fact that she was bored in courses that had nothing to do with her major.
“Originally I wanted to be a Lena Dunham kind of voice. I wanted to be a funny blogger because I didn’t have any emotions then. I didn’t at all. I remember tweeting once “I’d rather have an A than a bae.” It was the dumbest thing.” she laughs. “I think I was the funny blogger until I experienced this tiny bit of heartbreak that was really nothing, and then I thought, maybe I’ll write about that.”
And that’s what started it all. One heartbreak that I’m sure Beça now sees as a gift- one that allowed her to find her voice and subject matter. It was at that point that she started to allow herself to feel as much as possible, and to relay it to an audience that would grow much faster than Beça could have ever anticipated.
“I didn’t realize how many people were going to come and read it. There was this one post where I wrote in blue ink on a wall and turned that into a blog post and so many people started flocking. That was the post that I hoped no one would read and it was the one that everyone and their mom read and came to me about it. I have photos of people with a teardrop rolling down their face reading that post. Ever since then I wanted to do it more, and put all my emotions and feelings out there.
For four years, My Composition Notebook grew, featuring not only Beça’s work but guest writers’ as well, who delved into heartbreak, relationships, and healing on her platform. But her impending graduation and the anxiety that comes with it made Beça itch for more.
“When I got to 4th year I started panicking- like I hadn’t done anything during university. I never did something where I felt like I really learned something. I was in English and studying so many books and I thought- Okay, produce one.”
When I ask Beça about the inception of her project, she brings me further back than this epiphany of needing to create a book.
Back in 2014, she was gifted a blue journal by a friend. Blogging had sidetracked her from journaling but she quickly became consumed by it, throwing and pasting things inside it, writing in it obsessively. When she endured another heartbreak, this time more intense than the first, she had a plan- something that seems to be a recurring theme with Beça- step 1: endure heartbreak, step 2: produce art.
“It was just like my heart’s really broken, let me take this to Portugal and seclude myself for like 6 weeks and write in it. And that’s what I did.”
It wasn’t something that was ever supposed to be read by anyone. In fact, she omitted names and specific details for the sake of privacy just in case it was ever picked up by anyone but her.
Image courtesy of @theresbianca
“I was writing it in my little small town in Portugal. It’s funny because now I can’t write in that town without someone coming to me going- what are you doing?” she says, sipping on her tea. “That summer everyone was kind of curious about that journal.” She describes the river where locals hang out, but no one sits and certainly, no one writes. “There was a lot of joy in writing about my grandmother, my family, personal things… I’d forgotten how it felt to write and think that nobody was going to see it.”
Then, she put it away for a year.
Beça had other projects to keep her busy at the time. She has a 300 page novel sitting on her desk and other manuscripts, some that she says she’d like to “come back to when I’m 30 and have nothing to do.” But when the thought of publishing one became more real, there were none of the completed ones that she wanted to publish anymore, or at least not yet.
“Somewhere along the lines I started thinking that it could be something, but every time I got close to doing it I kept going- no, this is a journal, no one should read your journal.” she says.
And somewhere between fear and anxiety, Beça silenced the voice that told her to no long enough to craft a book out of her journal. She took out every single page out of its binding at laid them out flat on the ground, picking and choosing what people would get to see. The process resulted in two piles: one that would create the innards of I’m Not Blue Anymore, and another that Beça got to put away- both physically and emotionally. She tells me that there was a lot more in the original journal that was cathartic, but that ultimately had to be put away. Some was too personal to see the light of day, and some simply didn’t fit in the vision of the book.
“It became such a thin book. I thought why don’t I make this book as emotional but quick as I can make it. Like- this is what I went through- the hurting, and the healing part.”
Jokingly, amongst friends, Beça picked up the journal one day and, in reference to her old self contained within the confines of blue leather, “I’m not blue anymore!”
“They all thought it was a good title for a book. I thought it was cliché but it was true. I’m not that blue journal anymore… At the time of publishing I was a tiny black Moleskin that had to-do lists and little poetry pieces. I didn’t want to keep tying myself back to those old pieces anymore. I wanted to close that chapter in the form of putting that book out there and hoping it helps other people.”
When it was ready, she started shopping the journal around, sending it to about 30 publishers.
“The only one I heard back from essentially wanted to change my entire manuscript to their liking. The word vampire came up at some point.” Beça still cringes at the thought.
It was when she read that Rupi Kaur, the famous poet from neighbouring Brampton, initially self-published her best-selling collection of poetry, Milk and Honey (which has since been picked up by Andrews McMeel) that she pulled the trigger.
Afraid that someone would tell her not to publish it, Beça chose to forgo an editor, and to self-publish on her own terms. When I ask her about the process she opens with a sigh.
“It almost didn’t happen like 35 times.” she explains all the obstacles she had to face- issues with formatting, images, the fact that she did the entire project on Microsoft Word. “Every time it would happen I would give up. Like- I’m not publishing this year.”
“I remember them asking what paper I wanted. I said- regular paper?” Apparently that isn’t an option. Instead, Beça was offered 20 cream, 30 cream, 40 cream, 20 matte, 30 matte, 40 matte… words she delivers with the same confusion and anxiety that they prompted months ago. “I felt like I knew absolutely nothing.”
After working through technical issues, multiple drives to Markham to the printing press, and delays that Beça now knows better to avoid by implementing a stricter and earlier deadline (next time, she wants her books a month before the launch- NOT 24 hours prior) the launch of I’m Not Blue Anymore arrived.
“It was at Boehmer. It was very simple. There was food, there was drink, and then there were the books. I spent the first hour saying hi to everyone, talking to people I hadn’t seen in forever, thanking them… I made a speech about the book and then my sister- who is a genius- was like, “Now, the author is going to sit and sign books for an hour!” I was like – I get to sit? Everyone comes to me now?”
The event was private- something that some of Beça’s followers were disappointed by- but it was kept such for the sake of nerves, and for the writer’s own fear of disappointing.
“I didn’t know what expectations people had about this book because if people were waiting on something bigger and better… this was just my first run at self publishing. I wanted it to be a really intimate thing of close family and friends.” she says. Candidly she reveals that it’s in those moments that you realize who shows up and who doesn’t. “People that had said “Oh, I want to be the first to buy your book!” you haven’t heard anything from them.”
At some point during the launch, Beça hid in a corner and finally flipped through the pages, soaking in the piece of work she could finally hold in her hands. Ever so humbly she tells me that in that moment she thought to herself- “This isn’t bad. It could’ve been worse for someone who didn’t know what cream paper was.”
Many people asked her why she did it- publish such a vulnerable piece of writing to have friends and family read only to realize they never knew the weight of the emotions Beça was carrying alone with her journal. To her, it was just something, a process, a journey that had to end by putting it out into the world.
“After four years it was so amazing to see a tangible piece of work that was my own. I was so happy to add author to my resume and give them to people. It’s so surreal to me to see people posting the book. My friends in Portugal have them, someone in England bought one, it’s so weird to me… the book is in places I would have never imagined it to be.”
Without the support of a publishing house, the success of I’m Not Blue Anymore is the fruit of Beça’s labour. After the launch, she used Instagram to repost readers’ shots of the book and Twitter to thank buyers. In this day and age, a strong social media presence is not only necessary but vital for a successful writing career.
“If I wasn’t writing or selling books I would have deleted social media so long ago. Now the industry really cares about analytics, what you’ve done out there, and what you’ll do for them.”
But word is mouth also accounted for a lot of sales, and a lot of press. After the event, “it went everywhere”, Beça says, “People I hadn’t spoken to in years came to me about the book.”
She’s still trying to strike a balance between efficiently promoting her book and not inundating timelines and feeds with self-promo. A few weeks after launching I’m Not Blue Anymore Beça went on holidays to Portugal with friends to unwind, unplugging even from her own book for a while.
“I didn’t want to be in everybody’s face. When I was in Portugal my friends were like- you’re not marketing your book enough. I was like, I’m on vacation! I just spent the last month putting it everywhere!”
Now that she’s back, she’s focusing on trying to get the book on shelves, approaching independent book stores who carry self-published works. If even one place wants it, she says, that’s enough for her.
Although this will be the first fall that she doesn’t go back to school, she has a to-do list that rivals the ones she had as a university student. Her lifestyle blog is under renovation, prepping for a relaunch, she has another book coming out in the fall, and another in May or June. There are a few night classes that she’s eyeing at U of T- a marketing one and an illustration class that she wants to take to be able to include artwork in future works- that will help better her career. From here on out she wants to focus on fiction- her next book is a collection of short stories with pieces of poetry thrown about. The books will get bigger and if all goes to plan, Beça will move over to traditional publishing when the time and the fit is right.
But for now, she doesn’t want to stop publishing. Why should she? The industry is changing and writers are following suit. At only 22, Beça’s already riding a new wave in the literary world. We just can’t wait to see where it takes her, and for the content it’ll make for us to read.