Long time, no…read?

Hi there.

Once again, it’s been a while.

I’m working on a new project now. A short story collection. I won’t say too much about it here, but I would like to say a little about what the process of working on it has given back to me.

I spent a very long time working on the novel I wrote prior to what I’m writing now. Years of developing the characters, the story, and improving my skill as a writer led to the completion of a project I was very proud of. But I made a big mistake: I hung all of my hopes on that one book. I went on submission with it for quite some time, but no dice. I actually have a pretty good understanding of why my novel hasn’t been picked up, and I don’t have any negative feelings about it. However, when you pour so much of yourself into something that doesn’t go as far as you had initially hoped, it can make you a little gun-shy when it comes to starting something new. I finished the book in August 2017. I did of course go back through it to make edits and small revisions before submitting it as part of my doctoral thesis in October 2018. But after that, I wasn’t able to finish another story for quite some time. It took until March 2020 for me to begin a new story that I would actually complete.

Creating anything takes a lot out of you. But it takes even more to put that thing you created in front of new sets of eyes and wait for someone to give it the green light. If anyone reading this right now is going through that process right now, don’t be discouraged. This is all part of it. And it’s OK to take some time between projects to re-evaluate where you are. You’re allowed to REST before starting something new. It took a long time for me to stop feeling guilty about not yet feeling up to following through on a new story. In fact, I often feel guilty anytime I’m in transition. I always feel like I should be farther along my path to success, and I forget to be grateful for what I already have. I forget to be happy that I’m back with people I’ve missed and love very much. I forget to appreciate the unique opportunity I’ve been given to grow and change in a loving environment. Not everyone has those things.

But now that I’ve spent some time working through some of my more anxiety-producing thoughts and feelings, I’m in a much better headspace. I am now quite near the end of something new that excites me and feels good to work on. I’m back to enjoying the process again, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Not only that, but I am glad to have that first submission period under my belt. Now I’m a little wiser and even better prepared to dive back in when the time comes.

I just wanted to come back here and tell you that, in case these are words you needed to read.

Have a great weekend, you creator of things.

X

Come to Me, Be at Peace.

Here’s a bit of isolation…something I wrote, hahaha. I’m not sure it can rightly be called poetry. I just enjoy getting my thoughts out this way sometimes.

Come to Me, Be at Peace.

Be at peace, child
For the world is empty at your touch
We regret all we have done
It was not meant
Open your mouth
Let echoes warble from within
Awaken sleeping Grendel
Let him stay near
Warmed by a matted suit
Of fur and red blood
Let him teach you
The Shaper’s ways
We will tear the flesh of unbelieving folk
We will curse the dying blooms
We will stretch our clawed fingers
To the sky and snatch
What birds we can
Dip them in stardust and myths of love
Between gods and goddesses
We will crush their necks between our teeth
And hum
We will seek the unchanging winds
We will seek the white noise of thought
We will heed nothing
We will be
We will be
We will be

27/4/2020

For some reason, being trapped in my flat made me think of Grendel as he is characterized in John Gardner’s novel of the same name. This “poem” isn’t directly inspired by that story; it’s moreso a collection of images called up by my memory of how it felt to read that book. Reading Grendel’s story from his perspective, imagining his delight in the life he leads–simultaneously owning nature while existing as its willing pawn–is definitely in my top five reading experiences. It made me feel wild and want to live with an abandon I wasn’t sure I was capable of. I imagine most of us will live a little more wildly once lockdown ends.

I’ve already been making plans with friends.

X

When solitude turns.

I love being alone. However, in the midst of enforced isolation, I now take less and less pleasure in it.

It makes sense. No one wants to do something just because they have to. Half the fun of being alone when you don’t have to be is knowing that you could be doing a million other things with a million other people, but choosing to spend that time with yourself. I’m still grateful to be in a position of relative freedom. I can do what I want when I like, and there’s nothing like that. I’ve discovered, though, that with an abundance of time comes mental pickiness. I could’ve read at least ten books in the time I’ve been sequestered on my own, but I’m finding it hard to get through even one. Friends of mine have said the same thing. Now that we have all this time, none of us wants to do the things we used to struggle to find time for. It’s as ridiculous as it is logical. These activities are no longer treats of stolen time we get to indulge in around the planned mundanities of life. The indulgent has become mundane.

What, then, is the antidote?

Well… for me, it’s been the things that, if life were normal, I would have to do. Writing, for example, is something I would and will do no matter what. I need to keep writing if I don’t want to wake up one day to find I’m suddenly terrible at it. But other things like searching for and doing jobs definitely keep me tethered to reality even though reality has changed. I may not always remember what day it is, but I make a point each day of being productive in big and small ways. Doing the dishes. Working on commission. Cleaning the cat-box and sweeping up after. Each activity is a peg that keeps the tent from blowing away.

What’s keeping you sane these days?

X

The Winning Days.

The other day, I revisited the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever To Tell, an album I’d loved in high school. Every song sounds like it was recorded in someone’s garage. It’s messy, screamy, and frenetic with the occasional moment of quiet. It’s the perfect reflection of the hormonal roller coaster I was on at the time. Even now, I can listen to it and remember how free I felt jumping around the living room of our 2-bedroom apartment when my mom wasn’t home, fists mauling the air, before drinking a bunch of Monster or Red Bull to calm down (because back then, energy drinks made me sleepy).

Listening to Fever To Tell sent me down a high school/undergrad music rabbit hole. I listened to the other Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums I’d loved (Show Your Bones, and It’s Blitz!), then on to The Vines’ album Winning Days, with its psychedelic beauty. It’s always been one of my favorites to harmonize to. I used to lay on my back on the floor, breathe out the notes and watch them float up to the ceiling. Then an old favorite I’d almost forgotten about: Hot Hot Heat. You’ve probably heard the song “Bandages” about a billion times; it’s been used in commercials and to make grocery shopping slightly more interesting. The albums Make Up the Breakdown and Elevator were in constant rotation in my room, my car, and my mom’s car whenever I rode with her, much to her chagrin.

Music has always been incredibly important to me. But these albums, and this period, marked the first time I consciously thought of certain albums as part of my identity. Unlike middle school, where the main objectives were to make my friends laugh and escape the notice of bullies, high school was about figuring out how to separate who I had decided I was from the mass of my peers while forging connections with other kids whose weirdness complemented mine. I miss hearing a song and knowing it was a piece of me. I miss gathering tunes like seashells to complete my Who Am I? tapestry. I miss believing there would be a moment in the future when that tapestry would be complete.

It was strangely comforting to think I would someday be a finished, unchangeable version of myself. Comforting because it meant knowing something, anything, for sure. Of course now, the idea of such an existence horrifies me. I’m so grateful that the process of growing and changing won’t stop until I’m dead. And even then, everyone’s ideas of me will continue to grow and change as the stories of those who knew me and the stories I’ve written all meet and overlap for the first or the hundredth time. People will learn things they never knew and a new tapestry will form.

For now, I can take comfort in the knowledge that those pieces of me from years ago are still there, shining in the dark to guide me back to myself when the path ahead gets hard to see. Hearing the song “Amnesia” puts the same beatific smile on my face that its victims wear in films and soap operas. Maybe they’re remembering something, too. Something more important than their names.

X

Time Hole.

I definitely didn’t think the order to stay indoors would effect me as much as it has. I like hanging out with my friends, but I also really love spending time on my own. Maybe it’s an only-child thing? Actually, it’s probably an introvert thing. Or both. Anyway, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. But I nearly had a conniption when I woke up yesterday and realized it was already Wednesday. I actually struggled to remember what I had been doing the day before.

I said in my last post that I teach ESL online. However, I haven’t had any classes in the last few days. I’m still quite new to the platform, so it’s less likely that I’ll get booked to teach, which means I’ve mostly been left to my own devices each day. One thing this period of self-isolation has taught me: I need to get better at managing my time. It’s easy to do when I’ve got something to plan my day around (like teaching). But sometimes, when I don’t have a plan for the day, I end up sitting in the middle of the room thinking about all the things I want to get done… and doing none of them. Or only doing bits and pieces for a few minutes at a time before saying, “I’ll just watch a YouTube video,” and the next time I look at the clock it’s 5 hours later.

Today, the things I want to do are:

1. Read. Right now, I’m reading You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, by Alexandra Kleeman. I was soooo excited back in February when I finished a book in a day and a half because it felt like an important part of me had come back. Now, in the midst of self-isolation, I’ve reverted to being scatter-brained and reading only a few pages at a time before my shamefully short attention span expires and it’s YouTube time. I am determined to finish this book before Saturday ends.

2. Write. I’m working on a new short story, which is exciting. I’ve also started a new novel, but I want to see where the short goes first. It’s hard to explain how delighted I am by the discovery that I can actually write more things, hahaha. I’ll probably write a post delving into this more deeply because… Yowza, what a feeling.

3. Exercise. In my YouTube trawling, I’ve found some great videos of exercises you can do at home and NOT in front of a massive window where strangers on the street can walk by and watch you drown in your own sweat. I really want to take advantage of this.

4. Organize my stuff. I have piles of clothes. I also have a broken dresser, no wardrobe, and a gang of moths who truly don’t want me to have nice things. I also have a cat who likes to sleep in said dresser on top of my clothes. Last week, he threw up in there and it was the grossest wake-up call EvAr. I’ve found hiding places for some of my clothes, but not all of them. I also have bags full o papers (old mail/manuscript pages/notes/useless garbage) and the tiniest goddamned shredder known to man. I also-ALSO have piles of books lying around, but no extra shelf space at the moment. Why stuff? How can fix? I need to buckle down and Marie Kondo my life.

5. Write a blog post. Hey! I did one!

Really though, I know it’s no crime not to get everything on your to-do list finished. Especially in a time of global crisis. In fact, this is probably the perfect impetus for all of us to figure some things out. And if figuring things out means falling into a time hole where nothing and no one exists for a while, do it. Who knows… it might help.

How are you getting on during all of this? I hope you and yours are safe, healthy, and able to remember what day it is.

Talk soon.
X

I’m Baaaack…

Hello, World. It’s been a really long time.

Over and over, I’ve toyed with the idea of blogging again, but somehow felt I should have more to show for myself if and when I did. The briefest rundown of what’s happened in my life since my last post is this:

  1. I got a literary agent.
  2. The novel I wrote is currently on submission to publishers.
  3. I no longer work at Foyles.
  4. I am an ESL teacher.

My literary agent is actually a former Foyles co-worker. She told me when we both still worked there that she was planning to start her own literary agency. She also asked if she could take a look at my book when it was finished. I told her sure, and continued to write. When I did finish the book, I queried a bunch of established agents because I thought that would give my book the best possible chance. I liked my co-worker, and her taste in books, but wondered if we might get shut out by publishers because of her newness to the field. However, after receiving a few rejections, I decided to formally query her. I did want to know her opinion of the book even if we didn’t end up working together in the end. She ended up being the first agent who seemed to be as excited about my book as I was. When we had our first meeting as agent and potential client, I felt like we clicked. She understood my vision for the novel and already had plans in place for it. That was when it hit me that working with someone new could be really great. Not only was her enthusiasm encouraging, but she had a modest enough number of clients that I didn’t have to worry about getting lost in the shuffle. Also, she seemed nearly as hungry for the success of my book as I was, which is a great quality for an agent to have. As of now, we’re still plugging along together, and I’m very grateful to have met her as a fellow bookseller.

So my novel is on submission. My story is a tricky one, so I’d already anticipated this part of the process taking some time. And with the current state of the world, I imagine it will take even longer. But that doesn’t trouble me. Every story needs the right home, and however long it takes to find that home, it’ll be worth it.

I was in the UK on a student visa. Near the end of the time I’d been allotted, I applied for (and was granted) a year-long extension. However, that ended without me securing sponsored employment. And without permission to remain, I couldn’t continue working at Foyles. So I’m in the UK as a visitor now. As it is, visitors from the US are allowed to be in the UK for up to six months at a time, so here I am. I’m still job-hunting (another thing made difficult by the current state), but in the meantime, I’m doing a bit of ESL teaching online with a US-based company. I’m also looking into freelancing in whatever way I can. So yeah… keep those fingers, arms, eyes, toes….whatever you’ve got… crossed for me to find sponsorship, plz? Kthx.

Oh and also, I’m working on something new. I don’t know how it is for you other writers out there, but I had a serious crisis of confidence as my time on submission lengthened. It created a creative block in my mind. Writing is the thing (along with reading) that has defined me for most of my life. But not having the story I’d worked so long and hard to tell get snapped up immediately made me wonder if I should even continue (despite knowing that the nature of the story in question precludes this). I know this seems to directly contradict what I said a couple paragraphs back, but I was experiencing both points of view simultaneously. I never stopped wanting to write, and I whole-heartedly believe in finding the best home for a story, but at the same time, it’s always going to be at least a little discouraging not to have someone grab you by the shoulders and scream “THIS IS WONDERFUL! I WANT TO PUBLISH THIS!” It’s par for the course, this fluctuation between confidence and fear. It’s part of what makes this line of work challenging and exciting. And the hurdles make it all the more satisfying when you finally pick up a pen or sit at a keyboard and start to feel your fingers flying as fast as they can to get the words down.

I hope all of you are well, and that I can get back to making this a regular thing. I mean, what better time is there?

Stay safe, y’all.

X

 

The Antihero.

I’ve already mentioned my obsession with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency here. A recent episode, the fourth in the second season, had the primary villain saying something quite interesting to a character he was trying to persuade to join him.The woman he hopes to convince says that she never meant to get mixed up in all the crazy stuff that’s been happening. That she’s a “nice person.” The villain’s response?

“NO YOU’RE NOT! No. You’re. Not. The wand wasn’t drawn to you because you’re nice. You’re far better than nice; you’re interesting.”

I can’t get that sentence out of my head. You’re far better than nice; you’re interesting. If you’ve written a compelling story, these words likely describe your protagonist. Gone are the days when all heroes are weirdly god-like beings who can do no wrong. This is the heyday of the antihero.

An antihero is defined as the protagonist or hero of a tale who may possess some, but not all of the qualities typically associated with the heroes of old. Courage, physical strength, empathy, mercy, and even sometimes a random, unknown something that makes them The Chosen One. There are more, but you get what I mean. The hero is an all-around “good” person whose every quality except maybe one are traits that the general populace would consider desirable.

The antihero might have one or two of those traits, but their actions aren’t driven by a need to “do the right thing.” They do what they do because they want to. They might have a personal vendetta against someone who wronged them in the past. They might want money, power, fame, a fresh start, or simply to be left alone by society. Heck, they might do whatever they do just because it feels good to them, including murder. This puts the antihero perilously close to crossing the line into villain territory, which is exactly what makes them so interesting. Their motivations are not always clear. The means used to reach their goals are not always above board. They are muddled. They are complicated.

Like us.

While the hero reflects what we aspire to, the antihero reflects what we are (with maybe an upgrade or two). Which makes them easier to identify with and root for than your run of the mill hero. What’s there to care about when you’re following the adventures of someone who always wins? It’s true that, if written well, even stories starring classically heroic protagonists will put you in suspense. But there’s something terrifying and exciting when you know the character you’re reading about could fail miserably, or that them reaching their goal could spell absolute doom for every other character.

The antihero factors more into their decision than whether or not something is “right.” In fact, they may not care enough or at all about the consequences of their actions… unless those actions further complicate their own lives. They might accomplish great things, things they’ve always wanted, only to be haunted by those same accomplishments. One of my favorite antiheroes is Victor Frankenstein, a scientific genius who succeeds in creating life from death, but must immediately face the many anxieties associated with creation, foremost of these the responsibility of the creator for their creation (and in this case, the creation’s horrific actions) despite existing apart from it.

Who are your favorite antiheroes?

Writing Wednesday: When Language Imitates Life.

Heyyyyyy, everybody!

Today’s topic is…well…y’all can read.

What I mean by language that imitates life is words put together in such a way that you immediately recognize the emotional experience they’re meant to portray. One of my favorite things about reading is recognizing a character’s emotional experience as my own. When I can point at the page and say “I know exactly what that’s like!” That’s a golden moment, one that I try to produce in my stories as often as possible. That, to me, is what makes a story immersive. People connect with what they know, and it’s the writer’s job (however fantastic the tale) to give the reader an entry point into the story, a foothold.

For my critical bit, I am (re)reading a bunch of Stephen King. I’ve begun with The Shining, a book I’ve actually never read before. In Chapter Four, Jack Torrance’s son, Danny (who is waiting outside for his dad to get home), has his first vision of the awful events to come at the Overlook Hotel. As the vision fades, Jack’s VW pulls into view, and Danny is still utterly shaken by what he saw in his mind.

He went to his daddy and buried his face in Daddy’s sheepskin-lined jacket and hugged him tight tight tight.

Not only does the lack of punctuation in the sentence add to the sense of urgency Danny feels — the words staggering one after another toward some invisible exit — but the repetition in the end — “tight tight tight” — drives home the reality of Danny’s desperate relief at seeing the man he loves most and views as his protector right there in front of him in the aftermath of a hideous vision. This is a thing that Stephen King is REALLY good at. He infuses his stories with bits of emotion that seem pulled directly from the fabric of reality. And the moment is so small, but it’s something any person who is coming down from indescribable fear in the arms of a loved one can relate to. Especially as a child (that “tight tight tight” immediately says “under-the-age-of-ten” to me).

Here’s another one from the end of one of my favorite novels, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves :

     Fern stood heavily and came to me. She placed her own large hand opposite mine, fingers curling slightly, scratching, as if she could reach through and take the poker chip. I signed my name again with my free hand, and she signed it back with hers, though I couldn’t tell if she’d remembered me or was simply being polite.
     Then she rested her forehead on the glass. I did the same and we stood that way for a very long time, face-to-face. From that vantage point, I could see her only in teary, floating pieces —
     her eyes
     the flaring of her nostrils
     the sparse hairs on her chin and rimming her ears
     the tiny rise and fall of her rounded shoulders
     the way her breath painted and unpainted the glass

This is one of the only moments in a novel that has ever made me cry. Everything about this evokes movements and emotions one would recognize, especially considering the characters involved (one of whom, Fern, is *spoiler* a chimpanzee). Fern “standing heavily”, her fingers “curling slightly” are recognizable to anyone who has seen a chimpanzee move. What follows is an emotionally familiar moment: the narrator making herself known — baring herself in a way — and, after receiving a response, being hopeful and unsure about what that response means. Then — THEN — the “teary, floating pieces.” UGH! THIS is something that anyone who has ever cried (aka most humans) and tried to see through their tears, will recall. You catch a detail here, another one there… And the fact that each detail is begun in lower case & without punctuation which, similarly to the Stephen King excerpt, implies a lack of a clear beginning or end to the details given, conjures up what the world is like through the blur of tears. Through that lens, every detail you catch is equal. And then Fern’s breath “painting and unpainting” the glass…

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I mean, c’mon, people.

What are your favorite recognizable moments in fiction?

Writing Wednesday: The Return?

Hey hey hey, y’all!

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I know I haven’t been here for quite a while but I got some requests for Writing Wednesday to be brought back (OK…I got one, but that still counts!) and after some consideration, I thought why not see how it feels to dip my toe back into the blogging world? I enjoyed connecting with people here. In fact, I really missed it. 🙂 So how has everybody been?

As far as writing news, I’ve got some…(wait for it…): I FINISHED MY BOOK!

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I actually finished it on August 30th around 7:30 pm BST. I thought for sure I’d be rolling around on the floor in tears as soon as I typed the last punctuation mark, but I actually didn’t know how to feel to be honest. I’ve given so much time to writing, developing, and thinking about those characters, their voices, and that world that when it was over, I felt spent and a little sad. The sadness was actually due in large part to the story not ending the way I thought it would. After I wrote what turned out to be the final words, I started to write more, towards the ending I’d had in mind for so long. But it felt wrong. I hit delete until I was back at what became the true ending, and I said (out loud) “This is how it ends?”

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Just like many milestones reached by normal folk, there’s no fanfare. No party-hat-wearing weirdo jumps out of a closet to shower you in confetti and hand you a golden statuette to commemorate your achievement. It’s a day like any other. Except it’s not. You exist in a liminal space between triumph and disbelief because you’ve accomplished your goal but…how can it possibly be over? (And of course this process is nowhere near over. There’s still edits and revisions to make, agents to query, and lots more waiting to be done even after a publisher agrees to take on your project. But finishing the book is the most important step in the process. Without a finished product, none of that other stuff can happen. So this first step is momentous.)

Certain passages keep popping into my mind, sections I know I’ll choose to read if the novel is picked up and I’m invited to share it with others. In the meantime, though, I’ve put the novel away in order to focus on the critical part of my thesis (for any newbies, I’m currently in a Creative Writing PhD program, which my novel will be submitted as part of). I’ve been reading and rereading literary criticism having to do with the horror genre (which is where my novel fits). I’ll return to the novel in December to make my second pass, and in January I’ll (hopefully) be ready to start querying agents. This is all tentative, by the way. I also work in retail and we’re getting closer and closer to the worst time of the year so it’s only gonna get harder to stay on schedule, and I’ve missed all my self-imposed deadlines up to this point so I’m not exactly optimistic… But I’m gonna try!

In other not-news, I’m pumped for season 2 of Stranger Things and I’ve gotten waaaayyy into Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency in the last week (just in time for its season 2 premiere last weekend!). It’s so. Good. Please watch it if you’re into crazy sci-fi stories starring weirdos who have no idea what they’re doing. It’s the best ever. Really.

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I hope you’re well! See you back here next week!

Some Stuff I’ve Learned…

Hi there.

I haven’t been here for a while. I’ve been working (retail — *screams*), writing, and living life.

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I recently read some good writing advice in the Guardian. If you didn’t know, they have a weekly series on the highs, lows, & challenges different writers experience called “My Writing Day.” The latest installment was written by Maggie O’Farrell and includes some real gems, for instance:

“…you will need scaffolding to build your writing inside but must remember to take it down at the end.

It’s a solace, when you are cutting great swaths through your paragraphs, to think of them as a necessary but disposable part of construction. The tricky bit is working out what is scaffolding and what is brickwork.”

I’ve been working on finishing this book and every word has felt essential to me. But it’s absolutely true that some of it will be discarded, either by my say-so or by my editor’s/publisher’s. I’ve tried my best to make every word count, but in the end, not every word will be necessary. I’ve written what I believe a reader will need to know in order to understand this world I’ve created, but once I’ve finished the story and take a step back from it, some things will undoubtedly stand out as being superfluous.

The same is apparently true of people. Some you think are necessary, but in the end they’re only there for a season. They’re there to show you something you weren’t aware of. This all sounds pretty mysterious, doesn’t it? I’m just speaking in platitudes — don’t mind me.

I’ve been listening to great music (shout-out to Solange Knowles, Anderson.Paak, and Ry X … hooray for music that hits you in the heart with brass knuckles), and rediscovering great films (I went home for Thanksgiving and watched the LOTR trilogy on the plane for the first time in years. I bawled my friggin eyes out — SO good), and reading my buns off. If you haven’t, please check out Saga, Sweet Tooth, The Wicked + The Divine (if I could have a soulmate that wasn’t an actual tangible thing, it would be this story), and Black Hole — all of which are graphic novels. I’ve also been taking more risks lately; I’m trying to resurrect an older version of myself. Wish me luck.

Anyway, I may or may not make a triumphant return to this space. If I can come up with some stuff worth telling y’all, then I’ll be here sharing it. I hope you are well and living wonderful lives.

Happy Monday ❤