Tag Archives: Sky Child

Well, Bless My Soul

So. It sure has been a long time since I’ve blogged!

Full transparency, I’m mostly popping back on here because I’m getting up on the ol’ querying horse again, and if anyone actually follows up on the “you can find me online” paragraph, I don’t want them to think that I died a year and a half ago and they’re receiving queries from a ghost. (Although that would be a decent marketing angle …) I feel like 2020 either made people become even more terminally online or made them abandon the internet entirely; somehow, I think I managed to do both? But yeah, sharing my thoughts with the world lost a bit of its appeal due to *all-encompassing gesture*. I do, however, still exist, and I’ve got some updates:

  • I passed my qualifying exams and my dissertation proposal hearing, so I’m a PhD ~*~candidate~*~ now. Living that ABD life by waiting impatiently for my IRB proposal to be processed so I can begin my dissertation research.
  • As previously mentioned, I’m now querying middle-grade story (aka SKY CHILD). Appreciate your thoughts and prayers, etc.
  • I’m working on a new YA manuscript tentatively titled OUR NECROPOLIS. I’m attempting some very fancy POV tricks that half the time are super fun and the other half make me want to pitch my laptop out the window.
    • I love it.
  • And finally, the best update and the saving grace of my personal 2020: Turns Out I’m Bi! Who knew? Not me! Even better, turns out that I have excellent taste in women as evidenced by my wonderful, wonderful girlfriend.
    • Happy belated Pride!

So that brings us back to this blog post. I feel like half the posts on this site are me making plans for what I’m going to write on here and then not doing it, so I’ll refrain from that this time. Instead, I want to talk about hobbies, passion, creativity, and productivity – and how this past year has shifted my mindset about all of them.

2020 was the least creative year of my adult life. It wasn’t the least productive; see above bullet point about exams. I read a truly outrageous amount of academic literature and produced painstakingly planned, drafted, and reworked exam papers – and I did a damn good job, if I do say so myself. But after mid-March, I wrote very little fiction. Once a habitual early riser, my quarantine sleep schedule shifted to accommodate the hours of mindless YouTube I’d watch until I was exhausted enough to sleep without lying awake thinking about the state of the world. I’d then wake up later in the morning than I had since college, mad at myself for “wasting” valuable daylight time. (I still haven’t successfully pushed this schedule back to where it was in the Before Times.)

Conventional wisdom for unpublished writers is that you have to treat your writing like a job until it is a job – all while having another job that actually pays you in money. And I have, for a long time. I would bristle if anyone referred to my writing as a “hobby.” First of all, hobbies imply fun, and writing isn’t always. Don’t get me wrong, I love it – and I have little patience for writers who only ever complain about how much they hate writing – but a lot of the time you’re chipping away at the block of marble with little to show for it except sore arms and, well, just slightly misshapen marble. If I only wrote when it was purely fun, I would never even get to a second draft. Secondly, and more importantly, hobbies don’t have an end goal. I write to complete stories that can turn into books. I’m out here trying to get published, but hobbies are … unproductive.

So no, writing has never been my hobby; it’s my passion. Passion is much more important, much more serious, much more justifiable. Why else would I do something so hard and for (thus far) so little reward?

Besides, passion implies a drive, a need. Passion is what creative people have when they create. Creativity plants worlds in my head, and passion coaxes them into bloom. I have always been creative, have always been passionate. That’s how people described me as a child. That has been my identity since I can remember.

And then 2020 rolled around, and I wasn’t creative or passionate at all.

This has happened before, at various points in the winding, pothole-ridden mountain road that is my mental health journey. But it had been a while, and I had started the year – the new decade – with such lofty goals that I was sure I could achieve. Many of those goals were academic, and I met those ones. I was so much luckier this past year than many other people were. I didn’t lose anyone to the pandemic. I kept my paycheck. I worked on things I cared about, and even produced some good pieces of writing.

But the writing wasn’t stories. I had no stories in me.

On New Year’s Eve, my girlfriend and I watched Pixar’s Soul. I had just finished my exams about two weeks prior. I’d exchanged Christmas presents in my driveway with my masked family before we retreated to our respective houses to eat dinner together via Zoom. The numbers were sky high again, but vaccines were on the horizon, and the worst outcome of the election had been avoided. The mixture of uncertainty, fear, relief, and tentative hope felt oddly appropriate for New Year’s Eve. It was less a celebration than a long exhale, and I was glad to share it with my girlfriend, especially because we had just exchanged our first “I love you’s” on Christmas Eve.

And then Soul came out and hit me over the head with a baseball bat.

If you haven’t watched it (you MUST), Soul is about Joe, a music teacher with much grander ambitions. He’s a creative person, a passionate person. And then he falls down a manhole and dies.

Except, hey, wait! He didn’t achieve all the things that his creativity and passion demand of him yet! He can’t die!

In his refusal to bow to fate, Joe winds up the unwitting mentor to an as-yet-unused soul who doesn’t see the appeal of this whole life-on-Earth thing. Seems like way more trouble than its worth, and besides, she’s never clicked with any of the myriad available passions in the pre-Earth training grounds. So what would even be the point?

It would have been easy (especially for a Disney-owned property) to turn this premise into a tale about finding your dreams and following them, but that’s not what this movie does. Speaking to one of the otherworldly beings that govern the souls, Joe makes a remark that conflates a soul’s “spark” (or passion) with their purpose, and he is laughingly corrected: “A spark isn’t a soul’s purpose.” This barely computes for him; surely everyone needs a raison d’être. Nope, says Soul. The “être” part is raison enough. Later in the movie, another musician, wiser than Joe, gives him some food for thought: “I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older fish and says, ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’ ‘The ocean?’ says the older fish. ‘That’s what you’re in right now.’ ‘This?’ says the younger fish. ‘This is water. What I want is the ocean.’”

Yeah. Still not over that one. Probably never will be.

I’ve written a lot more this year than I did last year. OUR NECROPOLIS, as you may have gleaned from the title, is about, uh, death, so it’s proving cathartic if nothing else. It’s populated with a bunch of scared, snarlingly angry characters who don’t know what to do with all their excess love, and getting to put jokes and curses in their mouths and grace in their deeds gets me through all the why-won’t-this-marble-turn-into-a-real-shape parts of writing. 2021 has many of the same horrors in it that 2020 did, so I’m still scared and snarlingly angry, too. But as my creativity returns, I’m also showing myself some of that grace.

Passionate and productive aren’t the same thing, and hobby isn’t a dirty word. Do I still want my writing to lead to something? Of course I do; I wouldn’t be putting myself through querying again if I didn’t. I want kids to read my books. I truly believe there are people out there who will find them meaningful, and I want to provide some young people with the comfort and joy that my favorite books gave me growing up. (And, if anyone’s still reading from the “you can find me online” paragraph, I’ve always been fantastic with a deadline; just ask my dissertation committee.) But until then, I’m not wasting time if I sleep late or watch YouTube. I’m not falling down on the job if I prioritize fun over the hustle. I can enjoy my stories more if I’m not mad about what the world hasn’t given me yet, and if my creativity flees again, I can trust it to come back eventually without worrying about losing my identity as a passionate person. I think I’ll be a better writer for all of that, but that isn’t even the point. The point is I’ll appreciate the ocean I’m already in.

A Cup of Kindness

Why, hello! I haven’t blogged since August!

This semester has truly been the most exhausting and hectic academic term of my life. I started off with back-to-back illnesses (food poisoning followed immediately by an interminable chest cold), then had a perfect storm of time consuming coursework and travel (a really fun Monday night Camden/Tuesday morning New Brunswick/Tuesday night Camden schedule), two conferences (one international), lots of grading, and quite a few brand new (to me) theories that took just my whole entire brain to understand. Plus, you know, the annual energy-sapping effects of the ol’ seasonal affective nonsense. I feel like I’ve been sprinting flat out since Labor Day.

I’m still really glad I’m in this program. So that’s a nice sign.

One oft-repeated truth about grad school is that it’s isolating, and that’s been especially true this term, just because I haven’t had time to do anything. This has been frustrating, because I think I’m actually becoming less of an introvert as I get older? I definitely couldn’t do Hermit Life again. But luckily the combined circumstances of next term look like they won’t be QUITE as intense as this one (please let me not have just jinxed that), so I’m looking forward to communicating with other human beings on a more regular basis. Part of that mission includes reviving this ever-neglected blog, at least throughout winter break. I’m excited to talk about some of the highs of this past term (guest lecturing! Monsters conference in Prague!), as well as more media, writing, children/childhood, and current event thoughts. I sometimes joke (“joke”) that I am 100% Strong Opinions By Volume, and I’ve accumulated a lot of pent-up opinions to share over the past few busy, somewhat lonely months. (Shout out to any of my fellow Childhood Studies colleagues reading this, especially my astonishingly wonderful cohort, for being there and keeping me functional since September. Literally don’t think I could do this if I didn’t enjoy being around you all so much.)

But first, as is traditional, for my last post of the year (and decade!), I wanted to do a little round up of media that I was grateful for over the past year, plus a little bit of my own writing. The first part of this post will be very easy; despite the dearth of posts on this blog over the last year, I did manage to review three of my favorite viewing experiences of 2019 (Schitt’s Creek, Rocketman, Hadestown). Another movie favorite from the beginning of this year was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which I went to see as a 30th birthday present to myself. All of these stories make me fall further in love with our messy human condition, which is all I really want a story to do; as I mentioned in my Rocketman review, I’m always after Big Emotions in fiction.

Two of my guiding principles as a writer and a person are that a) fondness may seem quiet and soft but is actually deeply profound and sustaining and b) despair is the death of creativity. Therefore, while a story can have moments where it is as dark as dark can be (see: Hadestown and also most of what I write), ultimately cynicism will never a good story make, so you always need to give characters and audiences something to care about and keep caring about. To reiterate my Hadestown review, the things and people we care about don’t necessarily fix or save our world, but that’s never what made them matter in the first place. Human connection, art, storytelling, celebration, love — they matter in their own right. To continue that thought, I think we need all those things to sustain us if we’re going to engage in the work of fixing and saving. I know I do. So I guess that’s what I was after in this last year of the decade, and what I’ll be taking into the new one: stories that remind me of the things that matter most, so I can happily continue to care, create, and contribute to the world’s well-being in whatever small ways that I can.

A small extra note about Schitt’s Creek, just because it’s the story that fully dominated my 2019: I’ve been joking (again, “joking”) that that show is responsible for a good 70% of my mental stability as a graduate student, and goddamn am I grateful for it. Anyone who hasn’t watched it yet and is dealing with literally any form of stress in your lives, do yourselves a favor and indulge in this Absolute Delight of a show. I’m so pumped for the sixth season, and yet I’ll be ridiculously distraught when it ends, even though I respect the hell out of Dan Levy for giving his story a proper ending. (I respect the hell out of all of Dan Levy’s storytelling decisions. I can only humbly pay fealty to the undisputed king of slow-burn showing-not-telling character development.) I entitled my review of that show “Disasters Learning To Love,” and I can only hope to find more stories with that most evergreen of meaningful plots in 2020.

Sadly, I don’t have much in the way of book recommendations from this year — which is not to say that I didn’t read novels that I enjoyed, but I didn’t happen on any Big New Favorites. (I did get quite a few books for Christmas, though, so watch this space.) (Also, Anna, if you’re reading this, I am going to read Gideon The Ninth over break, you don’t need to yell at me again.) I did get to write about plenty of books that I care about this year, though. The highlight was definitely talking about monstrous doubling in Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona, Patrick Ness’s Release, and Eden Robinson’s Trickster series, all of which I could not recommend highly enough. That paper, which is the one I presented in Prague, was entitled “With Love from Self to Self: Monstrous Doubling and an Ethics of Care in Adolescent Literature.” I talked about this pattern I’ve been noticing in stories with sympathetic monsters in which the trope of the monstrous body splitting, duplicating, fragmenting, or containing multiple disparate aspects is used as a means of exploring a sort of desperate (and sometimes defiant) self-care in the face of a hostile society.

It’s no accident that this concept appeals to me so much, since I’ve actually written it myself, in MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES. It was exciting to realize that multiple authors whom I really admire are playing with similar ideas and to analyze what these narratives have the potential to communicate about the needs of marginalized young people. I closed that talk out by saying, “Monstrous care from self to self is not sufficient on its own; instead, it is the beginning of the story. It is the first acknowledgement, extended from within, that marginalized, scapegoated, and unstable selves are worth caring for and caring with.” So that’s another guiding thought I’m taking with me into the new year.

Finally, re: my own writing, since this is ostensibly a writing blog: I’ve officially been Writing Seriously (i.e., trying to write novels worthy of publication in a methodical manner) for a little over a decade. If you’d told 20-year-old me that I still wouldn’t actually be published at this time, she’d have been, uhhh … really sad. A lot of things haven’t exactly gone right in my writing career, and I’ve been dealing with the frustration, jealousy, and disappointment of that for a while now. But if things had gone differently, who knows if I’d be getting my PhD right now? I might have just kept on with a day job I liked less, instead of pursuing this additional path. In that case, who knows if I’d be living in a place I really like, so close to my sister and my NEPHEW, who is the most perfect thing to happen in 2019? I can’t take a peek into those alternate universes, but I do know that I’m doing work that I really like, and I’ve learned so much in the last three semesters, and all of it’s going to make my future writing better. Plus, I want the ’20s to be a decade of prioritizing relationships, and so I’m glad to be near my family. So I’ll continue to Write Seriously and embrace all the other opportunities and connections that crop up along the way.

Meanwhile, to everyone who’s read any of my writing (creative, academic, or sporadically blogged) and enjoyed it over the past 10 years, thank you so much. It means the absolute world to me when I find out I’ve written something that’s made another person happy. And you know what? I’m good at it. I’ve worked hard enough in the 2010s to have earned the right to say that. So, beneath the cut, please enjoy a selection of some of my favorite scenes from stories I’ve written this decade. Happy New Year to all!

Continue reading A Cup of Kindness

Multitasking

Happy almost 2019! This was a year of many changes in my life, as you may gather from the embarrassing dearth of actual posts on this blog. Didn’t exactly nail that particular 2018 New Year’s resolution. But 2018 was nothing if not a learning experience for me, and I will be taking what I learned into a hopefully slightly more work-life-writing balanced 2019.

By far the biggest change in my life this year was getting accepted to and embarking upon a PhD program in childhood studies. This is probably a decision I could have/should have made earlier in my life, but see aforementioned learning experiences, I guess. The first semester was INTENSE (everyone promises it will be the most intense, and I’m holding them all to that), but it was also such a welcome change after working jobs that really weren’t right for me over the previous four years. Even when academic work is ridiculously hard, it still feels like what I want to be doing (it’s like writing in that way). This also marks the time I’m being paid to do something I fully want to do, so that’s certainly an exciting development!

Still no one is paying me to write things, but, as ever, I’m working on that. I completed my first middle-grade manuscript this year (for varying definitions of “completed,” of course; revise til publication or death is my motto). I really enjoyed working on SKY CHILD. A good antidote for writing career dissatisfaction is to just write something your 12-year-old self would’ve been super into.

I also had my first publication this year, albeit not a creative one: my paper “Beyond the Collapse of Meaning: Narratives of Monstrosity in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials” appeared in University of Toronto Quarterly’s special edition on monsters. I actually had a really good first experience with academic publishing, which is saying a lot considering the first notes I received basically boiled down to “so you’re gonna need to redo this.” (They worded it very gently and helpfully, though.) Also I love the idea that maybe someone might cite me when writing a paper about HDM and/or monsters. Maybe someone already has! Maybe some student out there happened upon my paper while listlessly scrolling through Project MUSE and thought “finally!” (or at least “eh, that’ll work”). All of these scenarios delight me, so I’m going to believe that they’re true.

In the world at large, 2018 was often … rough. As a consequence, so was/is my anxiety. But another development this year was that I found a new therapist once I moved to South Jersey, like the good millennial that I am. I don’t particularly want to say anything else about that, but it felt like something I should acknowledge in a post about this past year, because I don’t want to only talk about having anxiety when it’s not really that present in my thoughts. So people dealing with their brains, I’m here with you and for you! Being a scared person and being a good, kind, interesting, original person are not mutually exclusive. I should know.

(In werewolf story, a minor antagonist tries to make my protagonist feel bad about herself by asking her how she can be so clever and calculating after a bunch of really awful crap went down. “Shouldn’t you be horrified?” She tells him that she’s always horrified, but “I’ve learned to multitask.” So here’s me, terrified and fabulous, multitasking.)

I hope that everyone who reads this blog has had a wonderful holiday season and will have a great New Year! I know that in 2019, I will be doing a lot of work that I really love, and I’m so lucky and grateful that that’s a guarantee in my life. I look forward to sharing it with you!

Now, as is becoming traditional, I’d like to leave you with a little fiction excerpt to close out the year. In honor of completing a working middle-grade manuscript this year, I figured I could share something from that story! Unlike the previous two New Year’s Eve excerpts, this is actually taken from the manuscript itself. Perhaps some of you will recognize my Ninna from Writing II at Simmons; literally everything about the plot has changed since then, and she herself has become considerably pricklier, but she definitely still loves flying. For 2019, I hope you all find and/or nurture the things in your life that make you feel as free.

 

The city of Zimbir awaited a hero. For nearly one hundred reigns, great princes and leaders had gone forth to fulfill their destinies and returned victorious to take their places on the throne. These men relied on their strength, their wits, and the favor of their patron god — usually Zaluru, God of Storms, who understood power. It was Zaluru who had revealed the trials of the First King Nameshda after the waters of the Deluge receded, and Zaluru who had told Nameshda how and where to build the high walls that enclosed the great city. Ever after, Zaluru’s champions had defeated monsters, discovered treasures, and brought great glory to Zimbir.

But these heroes did not come along very often. All of the kings of the past century had earned their throne simply by being the brother or son of the previous king. Now, the people of Zimbir were hungry for proof that the age of heroes was not yet over.

Ninna ignored the people of Zimbir whenever possible.

“Ninna?”

Unfortunately, she could not ignore her mother. Ninna turned wearily as Sunemi opened the bedroom door without knocking, narrowing her dark eyes as she took in the almost-finished clay bird in her daughter’s hands.

“I assume this means you have finished your homework,” Sunemi said, in a voice that meant she assumed the opposite.

“Mm.” Ninna turned back to her bird. She swiped her thumbnail along its tail, giving texture to the earthen feathers.

“Ninna, it’s late.”

“Good night, then,” Ninna said pointedly.

There was a pause in which an argument may have started, but Sunemi just sighed and said, “Clean your hands before you go to bed. I won’t scrape clay from the linens again.”

When the door closed, Ninna relaxed her shoulders, and her wings made a shushing noise as they slid along the mud brick floor. She completed the finishing touches on her bird and carried it to the window to dry alongside its flock. A dozen little figures stared up at the sky, their wings readied for flight. A careless observer might believe they were flesh instead of clay, and that they were simply waiting for the right moment to leave the windowsill behind.

Ninna washed the clay from her hands in the small basin she had used to wet her latest project. Her homework tablet, dry and unmarked, lay abandoned in the corner. The flames from her clay lamps illuminated her bed, clothing chest, and little table, which was cluttered with more creations: a bird’s nest with eggs, a mouse that Ninna had studied when it scurried into the room, and a handful of votive figures ready for dedication. If only Ninna had been born to unwinged artisans; then her station would match her skills. Yet if she had, she would not have been quivering in anticipation of what she was about to do next.

Ninna snuffed the lamps and flopped onto her bed, leaning her chin on her hands. Unwilling to close her eyes and accidentally fall asleep, she stared into the darkness. Finally, she heard the soft, dull thud of hooves outside her window. She smiled and threw off her bed linens. As quietly as she could, she crept into the cool hallway, down the stairs, and through the kitchen. She paused, straining her ears for any sounds of wakefulness above her, then felt for the lacquered wood of the back door and pushed, letting the starlight in to pool around her feet.

All of the fashionable houses had walled back courtyards surrounded by palm trees: a miniature city for each winged noble. Ninna’s house, so small and far down the Great Hill, could not necessarily be called fashionable, but it at least had the courtyard and trees. The flowers around the central shrine were muted shades of purple in the darkness. The moon was at the half; the mortal world never kept the Moon Goddess Sueniti’s interest for long, and she had begun to turn her face away. Still, her light was bright enough to allow Ninna to pick her way past the garden and shrine to open the back gate.

As expected, a lamassu was waiting for her, his black eyes glinting in the moonlight. His powerful bull body was still and relaxed, and the fierce face, framed by his thick, curling black hair and beard, could almost but not quite be described as human.

Ninna whispered, “Come in, my heart.”

The lamassu smiled. The expression sat strangely on his face, giving it a lopsided cast that most would have found unnerving, but Ninna knew not to fear. The gods had sent the lamassu after the Deluge to protect the hapless humans. The spirit beasts rarely took interest in individual people, but this one had shown up on the day of Ninna’s birth and had never really left. When she was too small to realize how presumptuous it was to name a lamassu, she had begun calling him Lugu, after his crooked smile. Lugu didn’t seem to mind.

Presently, Lugu walked into the courtyard and knelt by the wall. Ninna didn’t need his help anymore, but she stepped onto his broad back anyway, careful not to tread upon his small wings. She held her balance as he rose to his full height, and from there, it was easy to pull herself up onto the wall. The tops of the rough bricks pressed the remnants of the day’s warmth into the soles of Ninna’s bare feet.

Ninna tied her thick hair away from her face with a scrap of fabric, feeling the wind shift around her. Her wings responded, spreading out to her sides and pivoting minutely to catch the air. Ninna tucked her elbows in, grasped her wrists in front of her —

And jumped.

After one, two, three wing beats, Ninna took her place high above the courtyard and just below the tops of the palm trees. By day, a coiled thing lived inside her chest, but every night when she took to the sky, it finally unfurled.

The sky was hers, and hers alone.

The wind, cool and sweet as river water, flowed around her. The hem of her nightdress flapped around her knees. Ninna closed her eyes and waited for that perfect moment when she couldn’t tell where her body ended and the sky began. She felt as invisible as the air. When her eyelids fluttered open again, she realized that she had drifted well outside the confines of the courtyard and had almost reached the branches of the palm trees. Dipping her right wing, she turned into the wind.

The maneuver was less graceful than Ninna would have liked, though at least now she could turn without plummeting. She flapped clumsily, rising and falling like a toy boat in a swinging bucket, and landed heavily back inside the courtyard.

“I’m getting better, aren’t I, my heart?” she said.

Lugu didn’t answer. Lamassu never did. He rustled his own wings and looked towards the sky, yet he remained on the ground, and would forevermore. His wings were too small and weak to carry him, like the wings of all other spirit beasts — and humans. Except for a single set.

Zimbir awaited a hero, but it did not know that one had already been born.

 

End of Act I

Two days ago, I “finished” middle-grade story (a.k.a. SKY CHILD). Finished is in scare-quotes because, ideally, people will eventually tell me to do more things to this manuscript, because, ideally, someday someone will want to publish it. So it’s really no more finished than story or werewolf story (THE CHILDREN’S WAR and MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES, respectively), but it has joined those two manuscripts for my own definition of “books I have written.” So. I’ve written three books in my twenties. That’s sure not nothing.

I remain determined to see each of these manuscripts through to publication. This is not an easy thing to want or believe in, but I do want it, and I do believe. I don’t know if that makes me naive, stubborn, or brave. Maybe there isn’t really a difference among them when it comes to ambition and art.

But really, I’ve never chosen easy things to want or believe in. I’m starting a PhD program in a week and hope for a career in academia. I want to be a mother one day. With my work, I want to help make the world a better place, which requires the belief that the world can be a better place. I think I’ll have to be naive, stubborn, and brave to pursue all three of those goals.

I don’t know what the next “____ story” will be, but I don’t expect to last more than a week without a new project lined up. I do know that I’m starting several new chapters in my own story, and I’m excited to see what they look like. I’d like to start a new chapter for this blog, too, which I have severely neglected this year. I think I’ve said all I really need to say about myself for a while, so I’d like to write about other topics that people would be interested in hearing about. I’ll periodically ask for suggestions on Twitter and Facebook, and I hope you’ll throw some out there.

I spent a lot of my twenties “finding myself” (which is my family’s preferred euphemism for “flailing around in life”). I think (hope) I can now consider myself more or less found, and I really want to go forth into my thirties finding my place in a community. So I’d like to make all aspects of my life, including this blog, more of a conversation. I look forward to continuing that conversation with all of you soon!