Monthly Archives: June 2014

Think Big

I’m getting close to the end of the second draft of Werewolf Story, which is super exciting. For me, second drafts are still For My Eyes Only. Third drafts actually resemble books. So the second draft is still a bit of a mess, but a mess much closer to what the final product will be than the first draft was (lol first drafts). I have almost all the pieces now. I know these characters; I know their story. Now it’s time to tell it in a better and better and better way.

Putting my goal in indelible internet-ink: a query-able draft by the end of this year.

Putting my hubris in indelible internet-ink: I can totally do that.

One thing I do have to figure out is how best to describe that feeling. You know the one, or I hope you do. That feeling where every nerve is alive with purpose and love and a joy so great it feels like anguish. Which, looking over that last sentence, is as good a description as any, but how do I infuse my character’s narration with that feeling? How do I let it run over every action at this point in the book? And another thing feeling — the feeling of wanting something so badly you think you might die of it, except the wanting would never let you die. (I know that feeling well. It’s how I feel about having a writing career.)

Those feelings are big. They’re uncontainable. One word for them is hallelujah, which is why I have the last line of Leonard Cohen’s song tattooed on my body. (With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.) I like big feelings. I equate them with monsters. Monsters are too big. They spill over. They expand to fill and reveal all dark spaces with the light they have within them. People are afraid of monsters because dark spaces are meant to stay dark. We’re not supposed to see what’s there.

But I want to see, because I want to write about it. I want to describe the triumph of joyful monsters.

I’m feeling overly philosophic perhaps because I’m dealing with some Health Stuff. Health Stuff sometimes makes me feel rather small, like I’m a being confined to inches of discomfort or pain. But I’m not. I mean, I give much worse than I’ve got myself to my characters, and they still manage to be glorious, enormous, transcendent monsters.

Another phrase that I will tattoo on my body at some point: watch me. I mean this the way it’s used in Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, where it comes to signify the defiant drive to be the best version of oneself.

I will write monsters, and I will become one. Watch me, hallelujah.

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The Evolutionary Ladder vs. the Adolescent Ecological Niche

So I am not a biologist, but I am twins with one (sort of), so I’m qualified to make the extended metaphor I’m about to make by the transitive property of rhetorical devices. Or something. You know that famous picture of the evolution of man, from monkey to upright caveman? And how that’s 100% not how evolution works? Monkeys are not humans that somehow missed the evolution boat. Every species evolved to fit a particular ecological niche. Evolution is not a movement from objectively worse/primitive thing to better/sophisticated thing. Instead, it’s a series of changes that produce organisms best suited to their environment at that time as that environment changes, too.

I think this is perhaps a good way to think about being an adult engaging in media for children and adolescents. I’m a day late and a dollar short responding to the dreadful Slate article by Ruth Graham entitled “Against YA.” It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and lots of people have already said all sorts of insightful things about, essentially, how utterly wrong Graham’s argument (that adults who read YA should be embarrassed by consuming media that she believes is intellectually inferior because she believes teenagers are intellectually inferior) is, was, and always will be. I mean, when you read the article, it’s just plain old snobbery, and I think even most people who didn’t spend the last three years of their lives getting degrees in children’s lit would agree.

The thing is, I think that though most people would not be quite so maddeningly smug about it, many adults do fall victim to some of the thinking in that article — namely, that teenagers are underdeveloped, unfinished humans, just waiting to add a few more years onto their age, when the oven timer of life will go off and they will emerge from the oven of adolescence as a complete product. In this way of thinking, teenagers are less complicated and less sophisticated than adults, and therefore so are their thoughts, their opinions, their desires, and their media. 

However, just as a monkey is not an unfinished human, a child or adolescent is not an unfinished person. (I am not trying to call children and adolescents monkeys. Just work with me here.) Their thoughts, opinions, and desires are no less complex and real than those of adults, and therefore their media shouldn’t be any less complex, either. And a lot of it isn’t, because luckily a lot of media creators know this. Graham, by her own admission, hasn’t read much YA, and she isn’t going to. In her mind, there is a media ladder: first rung for children’s lit, next for YA, and last for adult. Like the oft-cited evolutionary ladder, however, this is a completely erroneous way of looking at change. Of course people change as they grow up. I am not the same person as I was when I was 15. I’m very glad that the changes that have taken place over the last ten years have happened. But that doesn’t mean 25-year-old Kathleen is more complex than 15-year-old Kathleen was. I’m just in a different place in my life. A different ecological niche, if you will.

Evolution and aging are both subject to linear time, but that doesn’t mean either is a straight line of progress or improvement. Adolescents are not half-baked adults. They are adolescents. They are very good at being adolescents. They are not waiting to come into personhood; they’re already there. Adults who engage in adolescent media, meanwhile, are not walking backwards down their developmental ladders. They’re just reading about fully formed people in a niche of life that the adults themselves no longer fit. Nothing embarrassing about that.

This metaphor is really just my way of saying treat children and adolescents like people, for the love of all things holy. Snobbery is not attractive in any stage of life, and there’s nothing sophisticated about an adult who doesn’t know how to respect other people.

Life after school

I have been a student for as long as I can remember. I took no time off in between high school and college or college and grad school. Since it’s only the beginning of June and I wouldn’t be in class right now anyway, it hasn’t quite hit me yet that I’m not a student anymore. I expect I’ll have some sort of deep existential crisis in September when, for the first time ever, I will not be starting a new semester. But at least then I’ll be in a short-term hermit in New Hampshire, which I’m hoping will have a soothing effect on any crises, existential or otherwise.

One part of not being a student anymore has hit me, though. The future used to be parsed out to me in neat little segments. Next up: four years of high school. After that: four years of college. Then three years of grad school. Now?

A summer back in the hometown. The rest of the year hermiting (can’t wait!). And then . . . just future. One giant mass of it.

Depending on what on earth I decide to do after hermit life, maybe there will be some little sections. But for the most part, it’s just future becoming present becoming past. A past that I hope I can be proud of, as I am for my student past. I just don’t know what it’ll be yet.

Of course there’s one thing that I hope my future and my future past will contain: published books, with my name on them. So that’s why my current giant mass of present is write, write, write, write, write.