Tag Archives: Misbegotten Creatures

Notebooks

So it’s … not August. There goes that particular New Year’s resolution. Most of them took less time for me to break, though, so I still choose to be impressed with myself. (So there.) Also, I was studying for the GRE, so there was that.

(For those of you who may be wondering, yes, I have already gone to grad school, but I never had to take the GRE, so I had to take it to go on back. Which made me feel some kind of way, as I’m sure you can imagine. But the multiple choice part went well, and hopefully the essays did, too!)

Anyway, while I was camped out at my parents’ house studying, my parents were going through old stuff in their basement. Though my apartment is pleasantly airy, I have approximately two centimeters of storage space here, so a lot of my old stuff is still living there. They asked me to go through some of it to see if anything could be donated to the upcoming VNA sale. (Hometown shout out — I remember when people used to cut class to go to opening day of the VNA sale. Honestly, some of the teachers didn’t even mind. Even more of the teachers didn’t mind if students cut class for the soccer team’s empanada sales, as long as they brought some back to share.) Whether or not any VNA customers will want a bunch of DVD box sets for TV shows I don’t care about anymore or the entire CD collection of a teenager circa 2004 is an entirely different question, but they’re there now if anyone does.

What I didn’t get rid of were my boxes of first draft notebooks. Pretty much the entirety of THE CHILDREN WAR’s first draft was written longhand, and that first draft was long. It was also remarkably bad. I’d like to say that’s because I’d never written a novel before, but honestly I’m not sure if my first drafts have actually gotten any better since then. So I have no intention of actually reading these notebooks, but I also don’t want to throw them out. How delightful was it to flip through and spot bygone characters (some of whom I’d completely forgotten existed) and old spellings? How great was it to see my old writing exercises exploring my characters’ pasts? I will never probably never again write anything at such a leisurely pace and with such a tolerance for pure self-indulgence. That’s not to say that I didn’t take it seriously; I definitely did. But I knew that I was traveling without a map, and the best way to do that is to investigate every walkway, no matter how seemingly unimportant.

Much of the first draft of MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES was represented in the notebooks, as well. I didn’t write all of that longhand, mostly because I had actual grad school deadlines to meet with it. But I remember taking a notebook down to the Charles River and glaring at the geese as I tried to figure out how to make that story work. (I didn’t figure that out for a few more years.) The margins are crowded with notes to myself that seemed important at the time but generally weren’t. Some more beloved cut characters live in those pages. Maybe they’ll find new life in a future project, or maybe they only existed to teach me things about the characters who did make the final cut.

To my mom’s delight, I found some ancient Judas story pages (EVENTUALLY, MOM). There was even some old work on middle-grade story; I sometimes forget that this is by no means a new project. In fact, I workshopped my first outing with my main character in undergrad. I spent a semester working with the story in grad school, but then werewolf story came along and took over for the next couple years. I was actually annoyed about it at the time. I wanted to keep working on middle-grade story, but the requirements of the program wouldn’t allow it. Obviously, I’m happy with the way things worked out now. Werewolf story was a book that I needed to write at the time in my life when I wrote it, and I’m very proud of the way it turned out.

I’m glad I saw those old notebooks again, because they reminded me of a few things. First of all, they reminded me to write longhand when I get stuck. Why on earth have I not been doing this with middle-grade story lately?? I focus better writing longhand, partially because I don’t have to use the old distraction box (a.k.a. my laptop) to do it, and possibly also because my thoughts and my writing are more evenly paced than my thoughts and my typing. (That was a humblebrag about how fast I type, or possibly how slow I think? I’m not sure I humblebragged right.) Also, seeing words and worlds spilling across a page in my own handwriting pleases me.

That was another thing that the notebooks reminded me to do: enjoy the ride. Every word of those notebooks was written with love, even when I felt like throwing said notebooks into the river with the geese. Having a physical reminder of the joy of writing was something I needed right now. It’s been a weird … three years … personally and professionally, not to mention politically. Honestly, it’s been getting to me. I’ve spent most of this summer exhausted, castigating myself for self-perceived laziness that I know I don’t actually possess. I’ve had a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. Not always a great combination.

But I’m doing it. Slowly and without a lot of tangible outcomes, but still. I’m constantly engaged in labors of love, just as I have been since the first time I touched pen to paper. I’m not saying those notebooks completely cured me of every envy or frustration or anxious negativity of 2017, but they were a balm to my striving soul. Hey, you make up people and places and turn them into language, they said to me. That’s cool and weird. Keep doing it. Have fun.

So that’s what I’m doing.

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Writing villains under Trump

(Content notice: this post contains a description of being followed by a street harasser.)

So it’s been a Month, nationally speaking. Right now, every website I go to is screaming at me about the Paris Accord. My brain is kind of always screaming about the Paris Accord, so it’s nothing I’m not used to on one level. And hey, as of this writing, nothing’s official-official. Maybe we’ll stay in? And if we don’t, then at least that means we won’t be sabotaging everyone else?

Yeah, I know, not much of a bright side. But it’s all we have to work with right now. That and constant constant constant constant political pressure from all of us. Miles to go before we sleep and all that.

Hmm. Thus far, the tone of this blog post is a little wearier than I intended it to be. I am tired, but I’m nowhere near giving up on believing in all the things humanity is capable of achieving. I’m honestly not. Like, this is not a bad zombie apocalypse drama. The answer to “but do we deserve to survive?” is still a resounding yes. It will always be yes, and the people who believe in that yes will always keep fighting. Listen: there are a lot of us, in my country and everyone else’s. We’re tired, but we don’t give up.

Of course, there are those other people. The ones who necessitate the fighting. A couple of months ago, I wrote about good guys and bad guys. I was focused on the former, but man there have been a lot of the latter hanging around lately, haven’t there? Big-time bad guys in charge. Small-time bad guys coming out of the woodwork. The other week, a man followed me in his car and called obscene things out the window at me. When I detoured away from him, he waited for me to reemerge so he could continue. His voice was very, very calm. After the second time I turned, he didn’t follow. A block later, the feeling returned to my fingers as I stopped hyperventilating.

Of course that could have happened under any other president. But that experience just felt like it fit into a pattern. Even now, I want to downplay what happened: he didn’t get out of the car, he didn’t touch me, he didn’t follow me home. So no big deal, right? I probably wasn’t in real danger. But as brief as that encounter was, it felt like real danger, and that was the point. That man tried to scare me, and he succeeded.

I don’t get that. I fundamentally don’t understand what it feels like to want someone to be terrified. I also don’t understand what it feels like to have access to a whole world’s fear — fear of environmental degradation, fear of crushing poverty, fear of escalating wars — and just not care. What is it like to see someone who is afraid and not want to comfort them?

Don’t get me wrong, I know how it happens. I know there are a million different sociological and psychological forces that can bleed the empathy out of a person. A man who takes pleasure in scaring a woman doesn’t empathize with that woman because he fundamentally does not see her as human. Insert a bunch more isms, blow it up on a national scale, and you have a group of rich, white men who don’t care about the fear of everyone else in the same way that I don’t care how the huge spider who hung out in my apartment for a few days felt. I just wanted it to leave me alone and not interfere with my life.

But knowing how people become that way is not the same thing as understanding what it’s actually like to see other people as inconvenient spiders. I guess their lack of empathy is the limit of my own. I can digest and comprehend all of the sociopolitical reasons, but on a purely emotional level, I still keep coming up with “but why?

Honestly? I’m okay with that. I do think it’s absolutely important to be able to intellectually understand the forces that drive the people who do harm in the world. Hiding from that will never be a good idea. But I don’t think gazing into the abyss necessarily requires diving in headfirst. I’m not going to be playing Donald Trump or scary-car-guy in a movie any time soon.

I do, however, write villainous characters. The main antagonists of THE CHILDREN’S WAR, MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES, and middle-grade story are different in a lot of ways, but they all essentially boil down to hunger for power. I’d be interested to hear if anyone ever wrote a bona fide villain who didn’t. (I do know that some antagonists are motivated by other things, but of course not all antagonists are villains.)

So I’ve made these people up. I know their backstories. I know the sociopolitical forces (and grievous personality flaws) that have made them who they are. But I don’t emotionally connect with them the way I do with all of my other characters. I don’t feel what they feel. I don’t know how.

In MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES, one of my characters is an empath who literally (like, on a brain chemistry level) feels the emotions of everyone in his immediate vicinity. (It’s one of the crueler things I’ve done to a character, though there is some steep competition in that regard.) Spoiler alert for a book that doesn’t exist in the world yet: the antagonist does wind up in his radius at a certain point. Actually, now that I think about it, he also is around street harassers in another scene, so he fits this blog post doubly well. His reaction to both of these situations is total scorn.

Of course, I’m just guessing, because I can’t do what he did. I can’t emotionally get inside their heads. But I stand by my guess. Power-hungry villains are interesting because of the effect they have on other characters, but I don’t think they’re very interesting in and of themselves. Donald Trump does not fascinate me. If you can kind of think of the president as the protagonist of the country’s story, then the plot is certainly off the rails, but the character development is shit. How does a character grow if they don’t care? How am I supposed to get invested in a character who is not invested in anyone else?

Waste of time, if you ask me. Maybe that means my villains will be flat. I hope not: I work hard on their dialogue and try to make them compellingly menacing. (Based on Trump and scary-car-guy, maybe I’ve been putting too much thought into the dialogue. Neither of them really seem to.) But the interesting people are the ones who care. So go forth and be interesting.

Life in Marble

Well, the New Year’s resolution to blog more clearly hasn’t been working out so well. :/

In my defense, life has been hectic and odd since my last post. Yeah, I know, what else is new? I’m sure everyone’s heard the oft-told historical tidbit that Michelangelo could envision his entire sculpture when he looked upon an untouched block of marble. Well, my life is still mostly uncarved, and I don’t have Michelangelo’s power of foresight. But I’m chipping away anyway.

The job situation has been rather an adventure this year, but the good news is all of the teaching experience I’ve gained has been really great and helpful for moving forward. It feels really good to be able to say that I know I want teaching to be my long-term day job. And if I may be taking a circuitous route to actual job permanence and/or security (ha haaa), at least I know that’s only because I have an extra consideration when planning my future: writing. It always comes first, even when it doesn’t feel like it — i.e., when I can barely squeeze an hour in because of various other life factors. But I’m juggling all these life factors specifically because I’m trying to find a path that intellectually, emotionally, and temporally (hardest one) allows me to be a better writer.

The stress of uncertainty has been getting to me a lot lately, but I’ve been looking at it all wrong. I’ve not only been searching for a writing-friendly life, but also a life where I get to help people on a daily basis, and those aren’t the easiest conditions to fill! Just because I haven’t been able to completely crack that particular code yet doesn’t mean I’m not a functional adult. What my continued quest to do so does prove is that I’m really freaking dedicated to not just the act of writing, but also the values and passions that inform every story I write.

Sooo that was a pretty important personal revelation. Uh, thanks for sharing in that with me. ANYWAY, and update on writing: I recently finished the first draft of middle-grade story, hooray! (And a full two weeks before my self-imposed deadline, which, given what this summer looked like, is a minor miracle.) It went exactly how I thought it would, which is to say endlessly frustrating. But I got to know my protagonist and several other key characters very well, which is (in my process, at least) the point of a first draft. I even wrote like  5 or so scenes that may survive into the next draft! Not too bad for the queen of the blank page rewrite.

While middle-grade story sits in a corner and thinks about what it’s done, I’m now embarking on some (more) revisions for MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES. I’ve jokingly (“jokingly”) referred to MC as the therapy book, because writing it forced me to deal with some Issues. But after speaking with my agent (nearly two years in and still not tired of saying that), I understand that pushing myself a little bit further is necessary — but also doable. Which is something to be proud of, I think. I realize that’s kind of vague, but suffice to say I’m happy with this development and am excited to improve this manuscript that means so much to me.

And of course there are many more things happening right now, but I’ll leave it there for now. I will continue to update this blog (hopefully more often…) as I keep carving out a life for myself. Even though I can’t imagine the end result yet, I have a feeling I’m going to love it.

But Just You Wait

The line between a diary and a blog can be a thin one. As you can tell by the time between my posts on here, I’m not very good at blogging in general yet, and while I journaled for a while as a kid, my efforts would always trail off. I’ve always been far more motivated to write fiction, but sometimes I think I could stand for addressing my mental state in writing somewhat more directly, as opposed to foisting it all off on my poor characters (sorry, darlings). It’s been a very introspective year for me. I’ve been discovering a lot of important things about myself, which has been accompanied by all the hysteria-edged agony that self-discovery usually carries with it. I recently wrote down a bunch of these frustrations and mood swings and intended to post them here, but then I realized: nope. That’s a diary entry, not a blog post. It was useful to me, but surely not interesting to literally anyone else.

So there’s another self-discovery. I’ve always considered myself a bit of an oversharer, but apparently I do have some boundaries. Good to know.

However, one thing that I did talk about in that diary entry was my current all-consuming love of the musical HAMILTON. If you haven’t listened to the soundtrack, go and do so right this very instant. I’ll wait. . . . Welcome back. I’m going to assume two and a half hours have now passed and that your life has been completely transfigured by this mind-blowing masterpiece. Everyone who has listened to HAMILTON, please share all of your thoughts and feelings about it with me. I’m not kidding at all.

The HAMILTON soundtrack came at exactly the right time for me. I recently became the sole case manager at work, since my coworker’s term ended and the person set to replace her rescinded at the last minute. Literally a day before this happened, I finished the most recent draft of werewolf story. My media consumption always sees a brief uptick in the weeks after finishing a draft, since I like to take a brief brain break before starting in on the next one. Of course, due to the doubling of my work load, my “brain break” has been anything but. Yet that’s exactly why the media I’ve consumed in the last three weeks has been so important. With my own quarter life crisis raging, I’ve clung onto the stability that a really, really good story can provide.

It may seem odd to consider something that’s made me cry as much as HAMILTON as a mood stabilizer. (“It’s Quiet Uptown,” oh my god, don’t even look at me.) But hey, that’s what Aristotle was on about with that whole catharsis thing, no? Not to defer too much to old dead dude philosophers, but it’s true that borrowing the troubles of fictional (or in this case, fictionalized historical) characters has always been an important way for me to deal with my own. It’s not just about emotional purgation, though; I also need to borrow the Deep Thoughts of a good story when my mind is overrun with self-absorbed worries. HAMILTON has me covered there, too, with all its themes about the ways personal legacies and national identities are formed and skewed by history (which people who’ve read story will recognize as My Favorite Topics).

None of these observations about the healing powers of stories are new, as evidenced by the fact that I cited freaking Aristotle. I’ve known how much I need stories since I knew anything about myself at all. But in the last few weeks, I’ve rediscovered it. I’ve read five books back to back. Two were rereads (Melina Marchetta’s FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK and Kristen D. Randle’s THE ONLY ALIEN ON THE PLANET) and three were books I picked up for the first time (Nancy Farmer’s THE EAR, THE EYE AND THE ARM, E. Lockhart’s WE WERE LIARS, and Jacqueline Woodson’s HUSH). I couldn’t put any of them down. Meanwhile, HAMILTON has been my constant chores-and-commuting soundtrack. (“The Battle of Yorktown” is better than a shot glass of straight caffeine for morning commutes. You just have to be careful not to start speeding.) I have needed and been grateful for every word (and in HAMILTON’s case, every note) of these works of art.

I’ve taken a longer break than usual between drafts this time. Usually I’m back to the grindstone within about a week and a half. It’s been three weeks now, and I’m just getting ready to get down to work now. There are a few reasons for this. One is that werewolf story has been a very personal and difficult project in a lot of ways. I often jokingly refer to it as “the therapy book,” in keeping with the Intense Work On Myself that has characterized my mid-20s. I kind of needed a long time to exhale after this draft. The more straightforward second reason, obviously, is the whole doubling of the workload at the day job situation. I am a tired little writer person over here, friends.

The third reason, though, is something that a lot of writers-with-day-jobs will recognize. I won’t be able to read as much once I’m back to my work-write-repeat schedule. I mean, at least I still have to clean and commute, so I still get to listen to HAMILTON one million more times. But reading is one of the greatest joys of my life, and I don’t get to do nearly as much of it as I’d like. World’s tiniest violin? Maybe. But sometimes I really do need those mood stabilizing effects of a good story that I didn’t have to put all the hard work into writing.

Still, if reading is joy, then writing is more than joy. It’s everything. It’s the love of my life. And I will pick myself up out of my exhaustion and existential meebling to keep doing it, because I want to produce stories that have the same effects on others as other people’s stories have on me. I want to strike cathartic wounds into people’s hearts, so that my readers look up from my words feeling both cleaner and fuller. I want to dash away their personal anxieties by occupying them with the Deep Thoughts I’ve poured into my books. I want to exercise their souls.

My best friend was instrumental in much of the development of werewolf story, a.k.a. MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES. She already knows it’s dedicated to her, although she didn’t get to read it until I finished the most recent draft three weeks ago. The revisions she suggested were spot on, because she is a wildly talented editor and knows exactly how to make books better. The personal reactions she told me? Those were nothing short of life-affirming. Apparently, the desires I listed above are not pipe dreams. I can write stories that are important to other people. Not only that, I can write stories that are important to the people that are important to me. Can you imagine anything better? I can’t. Quietly, in the midst of a strange and confusing year, one of my dreams came true.

I may be tired and worried and frustrated, but I’m going to make the rest of my dreams come true, too. I may have to go back to reading at a snail’s pace for a while, but only because, to quote HAMILTON, I’ll be writing “like I need it to survive.” Because I do. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Holiday thoughts

Hello for the first time in a shamefully long time, blog! In my defense, it has been a VERY cloudy early winter in Hermit Land, and I am a solar-powered life form. All of my hastily dwindling energy has been going to typing (because I’m paid to) and writing (because I need to) with none left for anything else, including coming up with a coherent topic for this entry. But I wanted to check in, so this will probably just be a disjointed list of recent thoughts.

Draft four of werewolf story is going pretty well, though this is definitely where my desperation for sunlight is felt most keenly. Every word that I manage to eke out is written in direct defiance of the featureless gray sky. That is … not an enormously fun way to write. BUT I PERSEVERE, etc., etc. All my characters are generally angrier and jerkier at the beginning this time around, and I promise that’s on purpose and not just a reflection of my mood while writing them, although hey, maybe that’s actually helping. I would make a silver lining pun, but when the entire sky is ONE BLOCK OF CLOUD, there are no linings to turn silver. I’m going to stop complaining about the weather now.

I’m going public with werewolf story’s title, because it’s gone from “maybe????” to “I actually really like this”: Misbegotten Creatures.

I feel like I can’t say much more about werewolf story right now without explaining everything I’ve done in this draft so far, so suffice to say that I am in that state of being in deep and aching love with my protagonist. I love her so much. SO MUCH. She’s gonna be such a good monster, you guys. She’s always fought against being a monster, but one of the last chapters I’ve written has her monstrosity fighting her right back, yet not fighting against her, but instead fighting to be with her, and I’M SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS. Monsters monsters monsters monsters!

Speaking of monsters, I’ve recently read Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, and I am in agony waiting for the last one. That is some prime monster material there. I want to write a paper about them, though I should wait until the fourth book comes out to do that. Unnervingly, mystically, transcendentally powerful teens who are so bad at feelings = literally everything I love about YA fantasy. Also Stiefvater’s prose, pacing, and plotting are so perfect that if I think about it too long I will probably cry in despair. Teach me your ways, O Wise One!

Aaaaand speaking of perfect books and transcendence, I just reread William Nicholson’s Wind on Fire trilogy, and I cannot express how much I need everyone in my life to read them. They are very difficult to describe, because I’ve really never read anything else like them. The story begins with young twins seeking to restore the ancient “voice” to a strange statue called the Wind Singer, which they hope will break their city’s cycle of examinations and rankings and deep, unhappy selfishness. The scope only gets grander from there, and yet they stay so intimate as we follow the twins and their loved ones through “the time of cruelty” to the hope of a peaceful homeland. The world building and characters are phenomenal. Nicholson absolutely does not pull his punches, so there are are scenes of terror and violence and emotional anguish, but there’s also whimsy and wonder and beauty. Every time I reread them, I sob hysterically through the last 100-ish pages of the last book while also feeling — well, transcendent. Just read them already.

I will be spending the next few days with my family, and I am very excited about this. My sister, her fiance, and her dog will be here soon (I hope very soon, because we’re waiting for them to eat lunch and I’m hungry), and there will be many, many more relatives tomorrow and then again on Saturday. If you’re celebrating Christmas, I hope you have a great holiday. If you celebrate Hanukkah, I hope you already had a great holiday. If you’re not celebrating anything in particular, I hope you have a great week, and that we will all have a happy New Year!