Tag Archives: werewolf story

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.

 

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.

Transitional New Year

Once I went on a tour of a butterfly sanctuary. Jewel-bright insects of all shapes and sizes meandered through the air beneath the glass ceiling of the habitat as the tour guide explained the facts of the butterflies’ brief lives. He pointed out a chrysalis.

“Everyone knows that caterpillar makes a cocoon, and after a while, a butterfly emerges,” he said. “What most people don’t know is that, in order to become a butterfly, the caterpillar’s body LIQUEFIES.”

Here he paused for dramatic emphasis, but he really didn’t have to. My eyes were already bugging out of my head (no pun intended) as I stared at the hard and withered-looking chrysalis. I was horrified and delighted in equal measures. I spent the rest of the day repeating this fact to anyone who would listen to me. It’s still one of my favorite nature facts, just because it really doesn’t seem like it should be possible at all. Complex bodies shouldn’t be able to disintegrate and reconstitute into something else entirely, should they? Yet the evidence was all around me, wings flexing lazily, no trace of the gooey mess they had once been.

I’ve thought about the liquefied pre-butterflies a lot this year. Obviously, their behavior is driven by instinct, and I know better than to anthropomorphize bugs to the point where I project existential angst onto them. Still, the whole liquefaction deal can’t exactly be pleasant, can it? You spend all that time chowing down on leaves and either camouflaging or looking poisonous (successfully, if you’re lucky), then suddenly: bloop. Life is a weird time for caterpillars is basically what I’m saying here.

I sympathized with this weirdness in 2015. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was a bad year. It was just kind of bizarre. I spent a lot of time feeling as muddled and discombobulated as caterpillar soup. “Quarter-life crisis” became a fixture of my vocabulary. It was the first full year of my life not spent as a student, and with that structure gone, I felt strangely diffuse. It was a year of impermanence: I started it in the middle of Hermit Life, then moved home for a month, then became an AmeriCorps member. That chapter of my life will end in two months, too. In that way, I’ve ended 2015 the same way I began it: without knowing what comes next.

A quick consultation with Google has informed me that some cells survive the liquefaction stage of metamorphosis. They’re called imaginal discs and they are the foundation on which the adult body will be built. This is almost unbearably poetic and I can’t resist running with the symbolism for a moment here. Those of us who are lucky will have some imaginal discs of our own, the constants that survive whatever unforeseen changes we’re forced to go through.

Good family and good friends are the most important constants a person can have, and I’m grateful to say I have both. Even if I’m flailing about in a sea of existential confusion, they’re never confused about who I am. I hope that they would count me among their constants, as well.

Another imaginal disc that is as hardwired into my being as a butterfly’s antennae is my writing. There have been plenty of times this year when I didn’t really feel like a real writer. I’ve been pretty isolated from the literary world, which is something I want to work on this year. I’m no longer attending degree-mandated workshops and readings. Meanwhile, in the “hurry-up-and-wait” career path of a writer, I’ve been squarely in the “wait” portion all year. Which is normal. Which I’ve always known is how things work. Which I accepted a long time ago.

Which is still hard sometimes.

However! I grew so much as a writer this year. Werewolf story and I continued wrestling one another until finally we were dancing. I tackled the challenge of being a writer with a non-writing 8-to-5 job and, even though it proved to be predictably exhausting, I got some pretty great work in during my lunch breaks, if I do say so myself. Even if my passion was invisible to most of the people around me for many months, it was still there. It was becoming something.

I’m so goddamn proud of werewolf story. I did right by my monsters. I let them become something, too.

The caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly metaphor for growth is very old and tired, but once you know the gruesome biological details, it seems even more appropriate. That in-between stage can be very disorienting. But this year, I will continue building myself around my imaginal discs, the parts of me that always were and always will be. That way, whatever emerges from my uncertainty will be a self that I will recognize and like. Anyone else who had a weird 2015, and I know a lot of you did, I believe that you can do the same!

So that’s enough navel-gazing for now. (It’s New Year’s, I’m allowed.) Another one of my resolutions is to blog more, so hopefully this dusty old page will see a lot more of me in 2016. I hope there will be some exciting things to report!

 

 

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.

Story Origins II, or How Grad School And Also The Entire Sociopolitical Setting Of My Life Produced Some Awesome Werewolves

LONG TIME NO SEE, BLOG. Figuring out my new job and whipping werewolf story into shape have left me with little time for literally anything else. I’m trying to nail down the whole work-life balance thing, I swear. I’m just . . . not very good at it yet. I’m assuming I’ll get it right just about the time my AmeriCorps term ends. Although I have gone swimming (and introduced a friend to ~the Atlantic Ocean~) so I haven’t taken my beach-side location totally for granted. (Beach writing is still the best.)

Meanwhile, I’m a third of the way into The Readable Draft of werewolf story (so far, it’s still worthy of that title), and I’m looking forward to finally sharing this work with some people. Werewolf story doesn’t really have a romantic origin story; I just needed a new project to work on for school. I needed to write a proposal and I didn’t have any ideas yet. I sat down in the living room of my Cambridge apartment with a sketchbook, stared at the wall, and thought, “Well, what are things that I like?” The obvious and immediate answer was “werewolves.” I began to meditate on the concept of lycanthropy while I drew random things in my sketchbook. Before long, I had two pictures of two very different girls, and I knew that they were both werewolves. (Artistically, both of these pictures are super ugly. I’m pretty decent at drawing from life, but awful at sketching from my head. But that’s not the point.)

I immediately wrote down two pages of intro material in a voice that is hilariously different from what I wound up with. But I had two characters and the barest foundation of world-building. By the time I wrote my proposal, I had not much else (though I pretended I did, and luckily that paid off in being paired with a great mentor). The first draft, naturally, was horrific. I guess about 1.5 scenes have sort of remained from then, albeit still heavily altered? That seems to be my average for that sort of thing. But in that one draft, werewolf story had gone from a project I needed for my degree to a book-to-be that I loved.

Werewolf story and story are so technically different that I really didn’t get to coast much on what I’d learned from writing story. Instead, werewolf story has sort of been “Teach Yourself to Write a Novel: Take Two.” But I’ve been thinking a lot how, for all their differences, they’re both super, super obviously from the pen of an American millennial. Story has always been my way of working through questions I had when I myself was a teenager, whereas werewolf story is clearly a product of the concerns of my mid-twenties. (Or at least it’ll definitely be obvious to the people who know me; sometimes when I’m revising, I can’t help but think at myself, “oh, YOU WOULD.”) I’ve realized that a central question in both of them (though I approach it in very different ways) is “can I still do good if I’m a product of a bad system?”

Spoiler alert: I believe the answer is yes. I wouldn’t write about it if I didn’t.

So I shall continue being exhausted and worried and confused like a proper millennial, but I will remind myself that even though I don’t really feel in charge of my own life very often these days, I am in charge of the stories I tell. Which, to me, is sort of the same thing.

Spring contentment

So you know all of that stuff I was whining about in my last entry? Well, it’s been (temporarily) resolved! And there was much rejoicing throughout the land. By which I mean I rejoiced, and so did all the people who no longer have to listen to me having daily existential crises. I am currently sitting at my kitchen table (what’s up, Habitat for Humanity ReStore) in my new apartment, exactly one week out from beginning a new job working with homeowners still rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. A great deal of frustrating paperwork is in my future, and I’m pretty pumped about it. The job itself will only last for ten months, but I’ll be leaving with that magical entity known as EXPERIENCE. Hopefully some people will have moved back into their houses in that time, too, which is definitely the most exciting part of this venture.

Meanwhile, the latest draft of werewolf story is going well. I feel like with each passing draft of any project, I sink deeper into new emotional territory for my characters, to the point where all previous drafts suddenly seem terribly shallow. Also, now that I’m thinking about it, I always also worry that I won’t be able to sustain the heightened intensity. This morning, I was wondering if I’d dialed things up to 11 too soon, but now I realize that I thought the same thing at the start of the most recent rewrite of story, and that was not the case. So I’m going to stop worrying about that now. That’s a relief! Thanks, blog therapy!

Now I’ll just have to make sure I make plenty of time to write despite the longer hours I’ll be working soon. This will definitely be challenging, but I do have a few things going for me. One: my apartment gets a ton of light, which makes it ideal for a solar-powered creature such as myself. (I’m blissfully in love with this apartment.) Two: my new job is literally across the street from the ocean, which means BEACH WRITING, WOO.

If I let myself, there are a thousand things I can start fretting about with regards to writing and the new job and Health Stuff (always the Health Stuff, sigh), but I’ve done so much fretting in the last two months that I just refuse to do it right now. Right at this moment in my life, I am listening to music and looking out the window at a cherry tree that’s about to bloom. There is a basil plant on the table, books on my shelves, and monster teens in my head. I have a helping people job and a place to call my own. I haven’t cracked the whole future plans thing yet, but the present is pretty damn good.

Onwards and . . . well, somewhere

Now that hermit life is coming to an end, I am naturally feeling reflective. A short but important phase of my life will soon be over. It is, notably, the last phase of my life that came pre-planned, which means that on top of reflective, I am also feeling utterly terrified. When experiencing either of those emotions, I find it is a good idea to make lists. So here is a list of things I accomplished during hermit life:

  • I got an agent! A really cool agent whom I will hopefully get to meet in person after hermit life. This happened at the beginning of hermit life, which I took as a sign that this whole weird live-in-the-woods idea was the right thing to be doing, because I am extremely prone to magical thinking. This was also the crowning achievement of 2014, which I’m beginning to think of as “the year I made a lot of really cool things happen.”
  • I completed a set of revisions for story at the behest of said agent. I absolutely marathoned that work, which made me feel busy and slightly frantic and very writerly. I love the feeling of making a story I love better.
  • I submitted myself to getting my ass kicked by werewolf story enough times that it finally got tired and allowed me to wrestle it into a draft that I can (finally) work with. I finished this draft last week, thereby completing my Last Writing Goal of Hermit Life.
  • I survived a mouse infestation, a poor dying snake, the absence of all sunlight for the entire month of December, unbearably cold temperatures, getting my car stuck in a snow bank (twice), my pipes freezing (twice), and the aforementioned six-month-long ass kicking by werewolf story.

Here is a list of things I did not accomplish during hermit life:

  • Figuring out what I’m going to do after hermit life.

So, whoops.

In my defense, it’s not for lack of trying. I have submitted oh so very many job applications, and I will be continuing to do so as soon as I finish this blog post. (And actually, I can also add “went to a ridiculous amount of trouble to get to an interview that turned out to be a complete bust” to the list of things I survived.) I am trying awfully hard to mold a shape for my immediate future. But unfortunately, at the moment, it remains a void.

So this means that Awkward Home Summer will have a reprise in Awkward Home Early Spring, but while I hope a new job comes quickly, if it doesn’t, I won’t be waiting around too long to move somewhere else. I’ll need to, because in a lot of ways, hermit life was completely successful. I knew that I needed some time away from the world after grad school, that I wasn’t yet ready to take on all aspects of Real Adulthood. I am now, though. I want a semi-permanent place to live (or at least general location), a social life again, a love life even, and a non-writing-paid-job that I feel is contributing to the world in some positive way. I’m ready. But all of these new beginnings sort of hinge on finding the last item in that list, and that’s what I haven’t managed to do yet.

It is very frustrating to be ending something without beginning something else.

And I know it will happen, because something has to happen and I’m going to make it happen. I just don’t know when. So that’s unpleasant. Also, the “positive contribution” part is another thing I hate waiting on, as you’ve probably gleaned from my last post if you read it or from my general desperate existential anxiety if you’ve had any sort of conversation with me in 2015. In a beautiful ideal world, I would be a paid writer with time to do volunteer work, but writing + paid job + substantial volunteer work = no sleep for Kathleen, so I’m trying to squish the last two parts of that equation together. (General plea: if you know any nonprofits or really positive for profits looking for entry level workers remotely near New York or Philly or anywhere in New Jersey or I’ll take some Connecticut too, and you can put in a good word for me because I have literally zero networking connections, let me knooooow.) (I’ll love you for eternity and be forever in your debt if you know of something even tangentially related to the environment.) (Or schools, too.)

So that’s where I am: frustrated and anxious about all areas of my life — except for writing. And that’s where I find comfort, because I knew I wouldn’t switch it. I couldn’t switch it, because I could not possibly be content about any aspect in my life if I’m not giving my all to writing. While I always wish I had more time to write, I know that I have spent hermit life working as hard as I could to produce work I am very proud of. In the void of my future, I at least have a direction for werewolf story (research computer hacking, plant biology, and corporate accounting, and then start a new draft that (sob!) cuts one of the secondary characters). And no matter what I wind up doing next, I have other stories waiting for me to write them.

Writing what I know, apparently

“Write what you know” is one of the first things writers learn to unlearn. Lots of common writing advice out there isn’t actually so spectacular, and even the good advice doesn’t work all the time. Dismantling bad habits and faulty preconceptions is as much a part of becoming a better writer than building up your skills. It’s certainly harder.

To be honest, though, I don’t know if I ever really had to unlearn “write what you know.” I was never interested in writing what I knew in the first place. Case in point: in third grade, I wrote a story for Writing Workshop called “Lilly and the Blinding Light.” It was, theoretically, a mystery, although it failed at being so on every conceivable level. (There was no solving of anything. The criminal just kind of revealed himself for no reason. Also his threatening note read like one of those superstitious chain emails — “if you don’t do X, Y bad thing will happen because magic and also I said so” — although I don’t think I really had much exposure to those as a third grader, so apparently I came up with that level of ridiculousness all by myself.) As a character, however, Lilly was important for one profound reason: she wasn’t at all like me.

There is a scene that takes place in Lilly’s kitchen, where she asks for the same sandwich she eats every day, which in hindsight I blatantly ripped off from Harriet the Spy. However, I made sure that the food Lilly asked for was food I myself did not like. I remember writing this and being thrilled with the fact that this character was different from me, that she was her own person who I had made up. This summer, I discovered a sequel to this story, which I have no recollection of writing whatsoever, in which Lilly is a raging jerk to her stepfather. Here again, she was different: I do not have a stepfather, and if I did, I would like to think I wouldn’t be so mean to him for no reason. Lilly apologizes for her behavior at the end, so I must have deliberately chosen to have her act poorly. Having a character make mistakes I had not made and liking things I did not like and having triumphs I had not had — well, that’s what made writing fun!

As I got older and better at plots (marginally) (I mean eventually I get there but first drafts still have echoes of Lilly in them), I also began to realize that it was important that I not always write what I know, because that was how I learned things. For example, Beidrica in story is my basically my polar opposite. When it comes to how we interact with the world, we have almost nothing in common. In fact, a lot of the things she does and believes are things that I hope to dismantle in my own society. But through writing her, I developed an insight into the terror and guilt of having to turn your back on a dogma that has guided your life. I am relieved that I was raised in a way that ensured I would never have to face that particular brand of terror and guilt. I think it is important that I can now understand it, though, not because these emotions excuse my character’s or any real world people’s actions, but because they must be acknowledged in order for there to be any change. I sincerely hope one day story and its sequels will be part of the public discourse on acknowledging the difficulty and also the necessity of rejecting harmful jingoism and exceptionalism. If someday it is, then it will be because I did not write what I knew.

Another reason it has been important that I do not always write what I know is that I obviously want to represent many different types of people in my fiction. Diversity in YA and children’s lit is very important to me, and frankly there are plenty of characters out there who already match my demographics. We really don’t need many more of them. Of course, while I am not writing what I personally know from my own experiences, I am trying, to the best of my ability, to absorb and apply the knowledge of other writers and theorists and thinkers through the ages who have expressed their own thoughts about race, gender, disability, sexuality, and even trauma. Not writing what you know isn’t the same as inventing unrealistic experiences of important matters. It’s a lot of work to not write what you know, and it should be. (I think telling a worthwhile story should be hard, and that part of why “write what you know” doesn’t work is because it’s too easy.)

So there’s all that.

But then sometimes I find myself kind of, well, writing what I know. It even happened once with Beidrica. I don’t even remember how many drafts ago, but I had written a scene where Beidrica is just heaping responsibilities, including literally impossible ones, onto her shoulders, thinking about how she couldn’t possibly let herself off the hook for things going wrong in the world — even when she had absolutely no control over them. I meant to show how heavy the burden of her ideology was becoming, but then I took a step back and started laughing. We may not have arrived at that feeling for the same reason, but for once I knew exactly what Beidrica felt because I had felt it too.

I wonder, does everyone react to personal epiphanies by letting out an unhinged laugh and saying, “okay fine yeah I GET IT”?

With werewolf story, not all of my write what you know moments have been so accidental. Millie and I are very different, but we share a lot of the same frustrations. Central to the entire story is the question of “how could I possibly make anything any better”? Millie has a lot of reasons to ask this that don’t match my reasons, but the longing and doubt inherent in the question are things that we share. As a result, there are some scenes that, when my loved ones finally read them, will probably make them laugh and say “YEAH YOU WROTE THIS.” But I also hope that those scenes will really resonate with people. And I don’t want them to resonate to a greater extent than any of the parts where I’m not writing what I know, per se — I hope everything feels true and right — but the flipside of the ease of writing what you know is the vulnerability of it.

Especially because I don’t have the answer to that question yet. But maybe if I can figure it out for Millie, then I will also know it for myself.

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!

Next Round

I am covered in mosquito bites.

I have already complained about this on multiple social media platforms, but dear god, it bears repeating. There are SO MANY. I keep finding more, even though I got back from my annual rural family vacation yesterday. The vast majority of them are on my feet, also known as the worst possible place for mosquito bites. I am contemplating turning my feet in for an updated model, for mine are clearly ruined forever.

I have no one but myself to blame for the millions of mosquito bites on my person. It’s possible that I went traipsing through the woods without bug spray. Wearing flip-flops. In my defense, I had intended to just walk up and down the road, but was distracted by a forest trail that I hadn’t been in yet. And while it was probably still a lapse in judgment to walk that way, it was a very nice trail, and I was far removed from practical matters at that particular moment in time. I was thinking about werewolf story, which I had just re-outlined.

The third draft is officially underway!

I enjoy third drafts. I consider them the “first good drafts.” This doesn’t mean that it’ll be the last draft by any means (I’m currently querying draft six of story). But now is when the story I really want to tell will start to reveal itself. I’m feeling good about the outline and the first four chapters that now exist. Also, werewolf story finally has a tentative title?!?! Which I’m not going to put on here yet, because it’s less than a week old and we mustn’t be hasty. But I think I’m feeling good about that, too. I suppose I can deal with having acquired several thousand mosquito bites while thinking about this book. Benadryl and werewolves will get me through this trying, itchy time.