Category Archives: musings

Burning Bright in a Garbage Fire World

I recently attended and returned from my second residency at VCFA (and my first winter residency). It was in many ways even better than the first residency, and in some ways it was less, but it was incredible to be surrounded by so many creative, insightful, inspiring people, especially after the year we’ve all had.

snidelyUpon returning from VCFA, I crash landed back into reality with severe withdrawal from the community there, compounded by the horrific garbage fire political state of the US. There’s so much evil in the world, so much evil on our own home soil, and I have no idea where to begin. As an artist, I feel alternately useless, misplaced, and occasionally hopeful. I want to create stories that make a difference, but it feels too late, doesn’t it? We have so many good stories that already make a difference…but they didn’t make enough of a difference. Fuck, we even have straight up historical facts that are being ignored in favor of these “alternative facts,” gaslighting to the extreme. As a woman of Jewish heritage, I cannot ignore the way Muslims are being vilified, refugees being denied entry, and so many people buying into the disgusting hate and fear mongering tactics being employed by the real terrorists: the GOP and DJ Tr*mp.

But I don’t want to talk politics. I want to talk solutions. I want to talk passion and art and unstoppability.

And yet it’s hard to create when people are dying, or going to die. It’s hard to write stories when the story you’re living makes no sense whatsoever.

But I keep trying, like my fellow students and fellow writers and artists. We keep trying, keep thinking, keep writing and creating, even if it’s crap. Even if it goes nowhere. Even if it fails. Because merely trying to create is an act of defiance in the world today. Following your vocation is an act of rebellion. Refusing to buy into the idea that art is not important is an act of resistance.

Burning bright enough to outshine the garbage fires all over this country and this world is an act of heroism.

So on the mornings when I don’t feel like waking up early to write before work, I think of Princess Leia and Anne Frank and my favorite novelists, and I haul my ass out of bed to create something, even if it’s going to suck. In the evenings when I’m worn out from a long day at the office and being inundated with bad news from the world, I buckle down and get to work on my reading, finding new and different inspiration wherever I can get it, lapping up the dregs even from weak-ass Wikipedia articles or a single line of text in an otherwise useless essay. And when I can brain no more, I take care of myself by letting myself play. I knit, small simple projects that remind me I am capable, I can finish things, I deserve that little burst of dopamine at the crossing of the finish line.

And I reach out to my people when it feels like too much, like dopamine is not enough, like creating is a selfish, useless act. I reach out to friends and colleagues, even when it’s scary, even when I’m ashamed. Because human connection is essential, even for us introverts. Belonging is essential, even to us anxious, socially awkward outsiders. Community is essential, especially in these harrowing times when reality feels like a Snidely Wiplash cartoon, too comically villainous to possibly be real. Someone needs to ground us, and we need to ground each other, when the going gets bat-shit insane.

I don’t really know what this blog entry is about, only that I’m scared and anxious and also trying to be brave, and I think a lot of you are, too. Take care of yourself, and reach out, and reach back when people reach out. Find the thing that makes you burn a little brighter than the garbage fires in this world. Create because it’s your mother fucking right, not to prove your worth to anyone. Defy, resist, rebel. Be the change. Love more fiercely than ever before. Dare something worthy. Dare greatly. Be the man in the arena. Be the still small voice. Fight back. Take time to heal. Make yourself heard. Uplift the voices of others. Care for yourself. Rinse, repeat.

Just don’t give up, no matter what you’re fighting for. Don’t give up.

We have a lot of work to do.

Thoughts from the Inside of an Egg

(Yeah yeah I haven’t updated in ages. 2016 sucked, end of story.)

Kinder SURPRISE

No, not that kind of egg. (I wish!)

Of all the slang to come about in the last decade, “no chill” has bee the best phrase to apply to my general state of existence. I’ve always been an excitable, overly anxious person, over-thinking, over-processing, to the point of wild emotional instability. I hide it well, I think. People tell me that I seem really laid back, but they don’t see the cartoonish gears spinning out of control inside my head.

Thankfully, over the last few months, I’ve developed some chill (thanks, modern medicine!). I feel like I’m on the brink of being able to actually navigate the sheer terror I feel every time I think about certain things. It’s nice.

Unsurprisingly, I can spin this into something negative if I look at it too closely. Having no chill seems to have been what made me passionate and daring; having no chill pushed me to try insane creative tactics, to self publish, to put my writing before everything that held no value to me. And by that, I mean my anxiety made me passionate and brave. My anxiety fueled me. Most of the progress I’ve made as a human being has been urged on by anxiety and the existential dread that initiated it–the unsolvable problem of being.

Did my anxiety help me? Sure.

Do I want my anxiety back? Lord no.

I’m in a liminal place (“liminal” is one of my favorite words, by the way). I’m no longer what I was, and not yet what I am becoming. If we’re gonna talk phoenix cycle again (one of my favorite metaphors!), I’m an egg. Out of the ashes, thank god, into the egg. I’m a goopy substance swirling inside my shell, coalescing into an embryonic state. It’s cozy here, even if it is a fragile state of being.

And I do feel the fragility at my edges, that eggshell wall holding me together, threatening to spill me out. But inside, at my core, I’m a sunshine yellow glob of delicious possibilities. What’s interesting about this whole “having some chill” thing, is that I can now experience the idea of that eggshell cracking, maybe even leaking, and I’m not entirely afraid. I can sit with that discomfort, and know I will survive.

Most of the time.

Sometimes, like last night, I think about how hard it’s been for me to write this past year (2016 was a creative failure for me) and the shell caves in around me, threatening to spill every drop of pre-embryonic me out into the frying pan of existence. I think about showing up to residency tomorrow feeling like a total fraud, like a total failure, like someone who has lied to themselves their whole life and is just now realizing they do not have what it takes to make their dreams come true–someone who maybe doesn’t even know what their dreams are any more.

And that’s actually true. I’m a millennial, after all. We were taught from infancy to shoot for the moon and, at worst, we would land among the stars. No one prepared us for the sub-zero vacuum of the light years between.

But I am still a sunshine yellow glob of possibilities. I’m probably benefiting even more from my education than I would be if I were in a solid state. Maybe that’s the secret to finding your chill: try not to be so solid all the time. Experiment with being pre-embryonic. Entertain the possibility that you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.

Anyway…just some thoughts from the egg.

I’m off to VCFA tomorrow for my second residency/the beginning of my second semester…wish me luck and a stellar immune system!

I’m floating in a most peculiar way.

image courtesy of bowiesongs.wordpress.com

(This is not a memorial post or an obituary. There are hundreds, thousands of those published by now. This is a personal reflection on what David Bowie meant to me, individually. Your mileage may have varied.)

It took me a while to get my thoughts around David Bowie’s passing. See, he was an unusual important figure in my life–not unusually important, but important in an unusual way. A hero of mine? Maybe a little. A favorite musician? Among several. But his influence and importance did not begin there.

I didn’t relate to Sarah. I related to the Goblin King–strange, outcast, scheming. Always wanting what he cannot have. Desperate for a certain kind of love. And yet, so undefined, so ready to absorb all of our projections onto his character. Vague, but limitless. Dreamlike. Sure, a character created by Terry Jones and Dennis Lee, but brought to life by the man himself.

And when I was older and I had the world of music at my fingertips, it was not his rock ‘n’ roll suicide that captured my attention, it was the words of an artist, plunging deep into my unconscious mind. Don’t think you knew you were in this song, and this is your shadow on my wall, and

Cold winter bleeds on the girders of Babel
This stone boy watching the crawling land
Rings of flesh and the towers of iron
The steaming caves and the rocks and the sand.

But it wasn’t like with other music. It wasn’t like listening to the Flaming Lips or Beck or Weezer or whoever I was into back in the day. It always felt like there was a message there, scraps of messages, maybe, trapped beneath the surface of every verse in every song. Not messages to me, per se, but to the world.

One of my friends once told me they couldn’t “get into” David Bowie because his songs and his lyrics just seemed “so random.” And I get that. I really do. But to me, nothing in any of his work was either random or obtusely deliberate. It seemed, to me, that he always captured the essence of what he was going for…it was just never the thing you expected, or necessarily felt completely comfortable with. It’s easy to write an album of love songs, but it takes passion and guts to write and album about “the Ritual Art-Murder of Baby Grace Blue: A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle,” that “centers on the characters of a dystopian world on the eve of the 21st century.”

If ever there was a modern vessel for the muses, David Bowie was it. Even knowing he was facing death, David Bowie turned his fear and his thoughts into art, and made his death a part of it in a tasteful, impressive way. I cannot think of a more badass–or more comforting–way to leave this world. In many ways, David Bowie’s way of approaching, planning, and experiencing death may be one of the most inspiring things he’s done.

Death and I have an agreement. I do not hate death. I do not fear death. I do not pretend to like it or that I do not grieve when the ones I care about pass away, but I do not blame death for my grief, because grief comes from loving, not from loss. So I am not devastated by David Bowie’s passing, even though he was hugely influential in my inner creative live and during my formative years. Rather, I am happy to celebrate his life, and his acceptance of his own death, by taking up the gifts he gave us–his music, his videos, his films–and letting them remind me of my work and re-fuel me as an artist.

Rest in Peace, David Bowie. The world is better for having known you.

2015 Year In Review!

2015! What a Year! Let’s take a look.

As 2015 dawned, I was working full-steam ahead on a little sequel that would be known TOWER-smallas The TowerWhile that took up most of my creative attention for the first few months, come spring I found out I was among the ten incredible writers selected to attend Nova Ren Suma’s Young Adult Novel Writing Workshop at Djerassi! Basically my head exploded and I rode that high until halfway through summer. <3

In the meantime, I was finishing up edits on The Tower AND working with the incredible Maria Marquis on the audiobook version of GHOST CITY. I also started work on the novel that I brought with me to the workshop, (working title:) SAVAGE CASTLE, which I discovered was Too Fast, Too Furious a pace for me to continue with that precious gem. I know myself, I know my stories have a longer gestation period than some, and I conceived the idea and churned out the first 75 pages way too quickly (as much as I am still in love with the words I’ve written and the idea of the book) without letting all of it take firm root in my head and my heart. (Soon, though. Soon.)

ghost city audiobook imageOver summer, I attended Nova Ren Suma’s Djerassi workshop where I got to meet not only the author of my favorite YA novel to date (who is also an amazingly lovely person! Er, Nova is, not her book. That would be weird, if her book was also a person. Although…*jots down story idea*), but also nine other incredible and talented lady authors whose books I can’t wait to read when they are published! I had the thrilling, if harrowing, experience of doing my first reading (public speaking, blech), and the invaluable experience of talking about craft and industry with other authors from around the world.

Then BAM–the Ghost City audiobook was released!

BAM–The Hierophant read-along! 15 poorly planned days of insanity wherein I revealed read-along-rounded2little known facts and insights about The Hierophant, and even somehow got over my fear of being on video and posted a few vlogs where I got to read from the book and ramble about what I liked about writing it.

BAM–The Tower – Book II in the Arcana Series was released! Finally, after two years of writing and revising and editing until my brains fell out, my very first sequel was set loose upon the world.

AND THEN…rest. Lots of rest. Because it turns out I can’t keep up with the pace I was setting for myself in writing/publishing, in addition to working a full-time job.

And then…some sadness, too, because I made the mistake of comparing myself and my process and my speed of writing to that of other writers, faster writers, more accomplished writers.

And then…some writer’s block, as well, because what I want my books and my writing to be does not fit into the molds that others have shown me, and when I ignore the wild, outrageous ideas that inspire me to write, I end up listless, lost, disconnected from the story (and ignoring wild, outrageous me is specifically why I haven’t been able to work on SAVAGE CASTLE, something that’s only obvious to me now as I type this).

In short, 2015 was a very busy year that started with a bang and ended with a much-needed nap. But I’m slowly getting back on track, I think, reminding myself to trust the story, to trust the little inspirations that come along the way, and stop thinking about what one “can” and “can’t” do when writing a novel, or a sequel, or within the nebulously defined category of “young adult.”

So what am I working on, now that the bleak fog of writer’s block has finally lifted? As promised, finishing up the first draft of Book III in the Arcana Series is my main focus for the time being (when I’m satisfied with it, I will announce the title! Oooh what tarot card could it be??!!). I don’t want to be a mean author and make people wait years for another sequel. But after that, SAVAGE CASTLE has my full attention. I have…*strong feelings* about that book and, without putting too much pressure on myself, I know I need to get that novel written, for myself, as much as for my career.

It’s true, those novels are two utterly different creatures, but they both possess a different part of my heart. And I dare to hope that, someday, they might touch the hearts of a few other people, too.

So that’s it for 2015! Happy New Year everyone! May 2016 be a year of incredible stories for all of us. :)

 

Happy New Year

It’s still the beginning of the academic year for lots of people. It’s the beginning of Persephone’s descent into the Underworld. It is the end of the Days of Awe–the stretch of days between Rosh Hashannah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur. To me, it feels like new beginnings.

Maybe it’s because these past ten days were the holiest days of the year for my ancestors. Maybe it’s because I am winding down from the riot of spring and summer, into the magic and quiet of autumn and winter. Perhaps I have not quite begun the actual descent into Hades, but I am on my way through the wilderness, to the entrance to the world below. I feel like I am on a pilgrimage, but with only a vague idea of my destination.

~*~

I’ve taken September off from writing. It felt like the right thing to do, when certain projects had obviously become too fraught with anxiety–when my creative self could not hear itself speaking through the clamor of outside voices. This is what happens, every time, when I worry too much about the “rules” of writing and publishing, or what other people say I can and cannot do. I have a bad habit of always believing other people know better than I do, and while it is excellent to be open to new ideas, it is never a good idea to let outside influence undermine your internal guidance.

I’ve lost the thread of too many good projects that way. Now, I am taking September to clear out those instructive voices, to reconnect with that part of myself that remembers why I write stories in the first place. I am taking the time to read books and cook good food, to explore new ideas and opportunities, and to reestablish a place for spirituality in my life. Writing will always be my most sacred act, but sometimes it loses its sacredness when it is tied up in earnings and reviews and the expectations of others. There must be other places for spirituality to shine through, safe spaces that have nothing to do with birthing stories into the world.

But what I have re-learned this month, as I have re-learned again and again in my life, is that some stories–the best stories, even–are for yourself. And some of those stories you need to keep to yourself–at least for a little while. For any kind of magic (and writing novels is the greatest kind of magic I know), there is power in containment, in holding a secret in your heart and your hands, feeling it take on shape and form. The stronger your knowing of the soul of that story before you bring it into the world, the easier it will be to feel your way through the telling of it. The stronger your knowing of the soul of the story, the easier it will be to know good advice when you hear it, too.

~*~

So what is the (writing) plan, now?

I flatter myself to think that some of you may be interested in knowing something about when you can expect Book 3 in the Arcana Series. ;) I can’t say anything definitive at this point other than it is coming. Unofficially, the plan is to have it out around this time next year. But a lot can happen in a year, and in fact I am expecting quite a bit to happen in the coming year (some of it writing-related, some of it life-related), so I won’t make any promises I can’t keep.

What I can promise is that I love this series, and I love you guys, and my pen will not rest until the entire story is told!

~*~

Happy new year, peeps. I know it’s a few months early for most of you, but I just love a chance for new beginnings, don’t you?

Some Good News! And Some Philosophical Rambling About Making Art.

After months of waiting with bated breath (okay, bated breath was really just the last few days before I got the email), I finally received word that I have been accepted into Nova Ren Suma’s YA novel-writing workshop at Djerassi! I’m incredibly honored and grateful for the opportunity to work not only with an author that has deeply inspired me as a writer and as a person, but also to be working with 9 other talented writers! I’m looking forward to some inspiring people and conversations, and learning whatever I can from each and every person present. My brain is ready for your wisdom! And I guess to share whatever wisdom I might have (lol).

I’ve said it a million times before, but one of the reasons why I continue to work towards having a traditional publishing experience is because I want to always be working towards becoming the best writer that I can possibly be. I hope that, with the right agent and editor, I can learn and grow as a writer and a storyteller. Lessons from the traditional publishing world are one of the few unexplored frontiers for me, as someone who’s been a self-proclaimed writer since before I could spell my own name. You see, (and you’ll have to pardon the unintentional humblebrag) all my life I’ve had the unsatisfying experience of being a “really good writer for my age” when I was younger or “extremely talented.” Which means that, in every creative writing class and every writing workshop, even up to an agent-fishing-type conference just a few years ago, I’ve always been a big fish in a small-to-medium pond, and the focus was always on teaching those smaller fish. That’s awesome when two agents are fighting over you at a conference–not so great when all the full manuscript requests over the years never seem to pan out.

I’m lucky. I know I’m a good writer. I believe in that wholeheartedly, even when I also know that what I’m writing is shit (I know I can fix it. Revision is glorious). Just having that in my core belief system puts me miles ahead of a lot of creative types. But I know I have plenty left to learn, that my writing can always be even better, that there will never come a day when I am done perfecting my voice, my craft, my process, my method.

I am not a religious person, but for me, everything in life rests on a spiritual foundation. Every choice I’ve made; every relationship I keep or dissolve; the food I eat, the products I buy; the way I see everything in the entire world–it all comes down to the things that I believe in, deeply, when nothing else can be known for certain. Choosing to self publish, despite the criticism I knew it would invite, was based on those core beliefs (and a handful of editors validating my work but telling me, essentially, “as good as it is, no publisher will take a chance on something so strange.”). I love the freedom of self publishing, the possibilities it presents, and, you know 70% royalties on ebook sales doesn’t hurt either.

But I didn’t do it for money. I did it because unpublished novels that I know are good feel like deaths in the family–far worse than an abandoned manuscript that wasn’t ever going to get better. And besides, just because a novel doesn’t necessarily have a broad appeal doesn’t mean it’s not a great novel with the potential to change someone’s life.

Admittedly, that sounds really defensive. I’m not here to defend my choice to self-publish my early work in this ever-changing landscape of publishing. But consider this: have you ever loved the shit out of something no one in your life had ever heard of, that never gained in popularity (or if it did it took a very long time)? Have you ever loved a person that no one else even notices, or wanted to get to know the super shy kid in class that everyone else ignores? Have you ever found an old book at a used book store, a novel or a book of poems, or found a piece of art and fallen completely in love with it and then found out there is ZERO information on that poor author/artist who probably died in obscurity?

Okay, well, maybe you have and maybe you haven’t. These probably aren’t universal experiences. Maybe there are just some people who live a kind of universal experience themselves, and there’s nothing obscure about them. Hipsters weep for them, and chances are good that they probably wouldn’t like the books I’ve self-published. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But let’s be honest–the mark of a great piece of art, including fiction, is that it speaks to us. And the more people a work of art speaks to, the greater it is, in history and theory. And, also, let’s be more honest: the more people it speaks to, the more appealing it is to anyone who stands to profit from representing it.

How to appeal to the masses (or a large enough mass to make your art lucrative, anyway) is probably the hardest thing for any artist to learn, if indeed it is something that you can learn. Some people have it–some people, who probably already enjoy things that appeal to larger groups of people, naturally tell stories that fit into that world and appeal to those masses. For other people, like myself, we tend towards things that may be excellent, but unmarketable. Remarkable, but strange. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, since my whole life people have repeatedly told me the things I say and do are “lol so weird” and my response has always been “Really? That’s weird? Not the spoon cult I started in eighth grade, or the comics I used to draw about my sociopathic alter ego?”

I don’t know if you can actually learn how to write stories that appeal to more people–and if you can, I don’t know that it would actually serve your writing. I’ve experienced myself, and heard countless tales from other authors, how writing for mass appeal can cause devastating depression and creative blocks. But I do believe that as we grow into our art, we connect more and more with that deep undercurrent of raw humanity that lies at the foundation of all creativity. I believe that if we follow our hearts and hone our craft and keep writing our words, no matter what, that the stories we write will naturally evolve into things that are bigger than our quirks and fascinations, our talent and our vision. A great story–and great art–is always much more than the sum of the artist’s parts.

Anyway. I’m finishing the second draft of The Tower and starting the outline for my next stand-alone YA novel, I’ve got an AMAZING narrator contracted for the Ghost City audiobook, and I’m really looking forward to the conference in June. So that’s where I’m at right now. :D

2015: The Empress (Part 2)

(For Part I, click here)

The Empress

image courtesy of paranormality.com

All my life I’ve been enchanted by the mystical, mythical world. I love, even if I do not wholeheartedly believe in, the idea of fortune-telling and psychics and second-sight. (You may have gathered that from my tarot-based book series.) I’ve even joked with my friends that I collect psychic readings, from Lily Dale, to Salem, to any psychic fair that passes through town. I don’t rely on them for anything but entertainment, but they do satisfy some deep, eternal sense of wonder that I’ve both carried and contained for all of my adult life.

One of my favorite forms of divination outside of tarot is numerology. Like astrology, numerology uses things like your birthdate to determine where you’re at and where you’ve been and where you’re probably going. It’s based on an idea that humans and all things go through maturation cycles, and this rotating cycle of 9s permeates your days, weeks, months, and years. Last year was a 2 personal year for me–The High Priestess, as it relates to tarot cards–a year of inaction and solitude, of internal processing and development. I can’t argue with that description.

This year is a 3 personal year for me–The Empress. A year of abundance and expansion, of creativity and vitality, being physical and sensual, and social. I felt this year creeping in towards the end of 2014, when I started my new kick boxing class and my new writing regimen, and when all of a sudden I realized I was financially solvent for the first time since my ex moved out. And as 2014 drew to a close I began working on a project that had been escaping my grasp for almost two years. Even before 2015 rolled in, I’ve had this feeling–this knowing–that 2015 is going to be one hell of an amazing year.

2014 was long, dark, and agonizingly slow, but those slow dark moments forced me to take a hard look at the way I want to live my life versus they way I thought I *should* live my life. And in 2014, I effectively banned that word from my reasoning vocabulary. “Should,” I have decided, is the most dangerous and destructive word in the English language.

So what changed, really, from 2013 to 2015? Just this one thing: I realized, deeply and profoundly, that happiness is a choice that we have the power to make, every day. I realized that relying on circumstances and other people to dictate my emotions was the essence of powerlessness, of giving my power away. I learned that trying to be someone and create something that others wanted, that didn’t line up with what I wanted, could never bring lasting happiness. You can’t please everyone all of the time. You can’t even please a few people all of the time. And it’s not your job to please anyone but yourself, anyway.

And as selfish as that sounds, this has been a year where I’ve felt more compassion, more empathy, more patience, love, and understanding than ever before. Because if I choose not to let the actions and words of other people derail me from my choice of happiness, then I have no other choice but to love them just as they are, right where they are, regardless of how they’ve reacted to me. When you stop giving people the power to hurt and upset you, it suddenly becomes so much easier to accept them as they are.

But more importantly, with love comes forgiveness and healing–and with all of that, comes hope. And when you have hope? It’s so much easier to keep choosing happiness.

So if 2014 was, for me, the ash-phase of the Phoenix cycle…then 2015 is definitely the year I rise again. And this year I rise as something more than I was before, something powerful, in command of my own destiny: this year, I am the Empress.

So it’s a little late, but happy 2015, everyone!

 

fancy-horz

 

PS: If you’d like to calculate your personal year for 2015, here’s how! Take you’re birth month and day, and add the numbers together until you get a single digit, like so:

(May, 17) 5+1+7=13 –> 1+3=4

Then do the same with the current year: (2015) 2+0+1+5=8

Then add the totals together until you get a single digit: 4+8=12 –> 1+2=3

Viola!

Video et Videor – To see and to be seen.

When you write a story, you know its insides as well as its skin color, its height, the shape of its mouth and its eyes. A lot of people burn through books these days and walk away with a photograph in their mind of what the story looked like, memories of the feelings that it gave them, maybe a smear of its blood on their lips or a few bruises where the story tried to open them up and slip inside. But it’s rare that people really see the bones.

But then sometimes a person reads your book and they have no bruises, because the had no resistance to its punches. They let the story move inside of them, meanwhile slicing through to the heart of the story itself. They peel back the skin, examine the muscles, the connective tissue, the organs, the waste. They bite into the marrow of the story, the place where fantasy turns back to reality, and they understand the ineffable, the seed power that spouted into the novel before them.

I got an email this morning that told me the reader had done that. (I would post it here, except that it’s spoiler-heavy) I felt at once totally naked, totally free, and totally understood. The things he saw in The Hierophant were not projections, as sometimes happens when you hand a story over to the world. They are genuinely there, carefully cultivated and hidden in the text, the characters, and the metaphor of fantasy. And he told me he recognized them. And there is nothing quite as empowering as the feeling of being seen and understood.

On the outside, it is easy to pitch my novel as a paranormal fantasy adventure complete with magic and demons and true love. But let’s be honest: those books are a dime a dozen these days, especially in YA. So I have always wanted nothing more than to tell people about the soul of it–the secrets of it–the things that, even though it is a fantastical story, can be taken away into the “real world.” I want the jacket blurb to talk about Ana and Kyla’s amazing friendship; about Ana’s relationship with her ancestors and her desire to belong somewhere without changing who she is; about how Ana’s father is only human, doing the best he can; about how we each choose and learn to bear our crosses differently.

But that’s the point of the novel, isn’t it? To express those things that can’t be said in just a few words. To express those things that must be said with story.

And if I tell you about it, well, that ruins the magic of discovering it for yourself, doesn’t it?

;)

 

fancy-horz

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Why YA?

Okay, let’s just say it: YA books tend to be a controversial topic. There’s controversy over what’s “appropriate” for young adults, what defines young adult, whether or not YA is a genre or an audience, or just a way of saying “hey the MC is between 13 and 20!” and even that age range is debatable. And a question I often hear from people who don’t read YA is “why would an adult want to write for teens?” Usually, there is an implication that YA is less-than adult fiction, or that the author has some serious hang-ups about their glory days.

I’m not going to address any of that because I’m certainly not an authority, and frankly I hate labels so I’m not going to defend or define any of them. What I will discuss is how and why I came to write stories of the YA variety.

First, let’s start with a little history of my writing. I’ll fast forward through a handful of years of unintentionally plagiarizing other great works while I was in elementary school–okay. Now I’m in 5th grade, officially in middle school as far as my school district is concerned. I’m devouring (adult) science fiction novels and writing a sprawling, epic space opera called Light Shadows (how original :p). It seems to be about the adults, because that’s what I’m used to reading about, but it quickly becomes about a child they discover in the wilderness and her mysterious connection with one of the adults. Her connection to the MC shapes the next three novels, also about young people in relation to the original main characters.

Deeming myself “not quite ready” to take on the epic after several failed drafts, at 20 years old I write a different novel for National Novel Writing Month–my first novel in first person. I’m caught up in narrative technique and experimentation, and though I’m focusing on unreliable narration and the art of ambiguity, what I end up with is a story about fraternal twins growing up during and post WWII, and the ways in which their various caregivers spectacularly fail them.

At 21, I decide to tackle the first book in that space opera saga, Renaissance. It ends up being about the original MC at 15 years old, and I rename the saga The Lotus Children.

That summer I go to a Renaissance Festival (ironic?) and have my palm read by a woman dressed like an old gypsy fortune teller, and she tells me that whatever work I do has to do with children. She says I don’t work with children exactly, but I do indirectly. Whatever it is I’m doing, she says, keep it up. I’m good at it–I’ll be successful.

I have no idea what she means, until I tell my best friend (YA author Sarah Diemer!), and she says “well, she means your writing, obviously. You always write about kids. Didn’t you realize that?” No, I had no idea. But looking back, she was right.

So, basically, I write YA because I’ve always written about young adults (although at that point in life I had no idea that YA even existed, let alone had its own section at the book store). Plain and simple.

The not so plain and simple? I am a huge defender of respecting the autonomy and intelligence of young people. I’m almost ten years past my high school graduation, but I still feel the same way now that I felt all throughout childhood: young people do not get the respect they deserve, and are unfairly asked to demonstrate respect for figures who have done nothing to deserve it. (If you want me to cite real life examples, let me know and I’ll do a whole other blog post that is sure to amaze and entertain. I HAVE STORIES.)

So I write about young adults who overcome great obstacles, and who demonstrate passion, wisdom, and complexity of reason, because I know that young adults are equally, if not more so, capable of those things as adults are.

Fact: authority, like respect, is given, not taken. I have never been what I’d consider a troublemaker (because if you never get caught you never get in trouble!), but I have always had a problem with the idea of “authority.” I was a moderately well-behaved child, and I had and have a healthy respect for my elders, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t talk back when I thought they were wrong. The same thing went with teachers at school. If you’re going to punish me for something I didn’t do, you’re damn right I’m going to protest, and hell no I’m not going to keep quiet and be obedient. Obedience is for dogs. If you want my respect, you earn it, and part of that is showing your respect for me and my peers.

The great lie that schools and parents often try to perpetrate is that adults are better than children–that adults know more, have experienced more, are always correct, and should always be deferred to. That’s some bullshit right there. All an adult is, is a child plus more years. Don’t more years equal more experience, you might wonder? No, it means different experience, which can be found in people of the same age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc., and makes none of those people more deserving of respect than the others.

And that’s why as a child, and now as an adult, I hate/d to see young people discriminated against, portrayed as problems to be addressed rather than human beings to be considered.

Now, I’m not saying that kids are perfect and don’t need supervision or guidance. What I’m saying is that young people deserve the same respect that they’re asked to give. Treat them as individuals, not clay to be molded into a preferred and pleasing shape. And in books meant for the young adult audience, don’t think so hard about your readers being “young” and worrying about what’s “appropriate.” Stop trying so hard to send the right message. Obvious life lessons/moral stances are obvious.

Admittedly, when I sat down to write The Hierophant (what I suppose is my first “official” YA novel), I did have two intentions in mind: I wanted to write a book with a female protagonist that didn’t annoy me or piss me off, and a book that I would have loved to have read as a teenager. I wanted to tell a story that entertained fantasy while highlighting some of the very real struggles we go through as young adults, struggles that can often continue on into adulthood, if not the rest of our lives. Ana, the main character, is trying to accept the fact that she sees the world differently from her peers, and she can’t change that. She wonders what wisdom her extended family might have passed onto her, if she had known them. And she’s trying to reconcile her desire for connection and belonging, while at the same time feeling the need to protect herself, and spare the ones she loves, by being alone. Now more than ever, in a world where we are both more connected and more separate than ever before, I think her struggle is something many of us can relate to–even if we don’t see demons lurking in the shadows.

But ultimately? I wrote The Hierophant because I loved it. I fell in love with the characters, with the worlds they traveled between, and the stories they lived as everything unfolded in my mind and on the page. And that’s the same reason why I write anything, regardless of the age of the protagonist, or the age of the intended audience: because I love it.

<3

fancy-horz

The Hierophant – Book I of the Arcana Series – is coming June 18, 2013!

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Rambling: On Milestones, Stories, and Happily Ever After

Bear with me, this might get strange.

So, as a writer and a reader, I think a lot about imaginary people, and I think a lot about story, and what aspects appeal to humans, and how, when things are taken too far, maybe people sometimes expect real life to be like stories, which isn’t impossible, but unlikely. And I think sometimes about these characters that go through so much and finally achieve their huge, massive goal—and then what? What drives them forward? Do they get their happily ever after? Or does the story go on? Or rather, do they begin a different story?

Happily ever after is widely accepted as a myth these days, because we know that time and life doesn’t stand still. You can’t stay at the top forever. Problems arise, solutions must be sought. Stories must be lived.

Anyway, I think about that a lot: what are the characters’ lives like after the story ends?

And then I hit my own milestone/climax-resolution on Thursday. I finished the first draft of GHOST CITY, the first novel I’ve started and finished since 2010 when I posted the last chapter of The Poppet and the Lune (unless you count my massive rewrite of a novel that came before TPaL). I felt like I should have been more exuberant, more over the moon for my accomplishment. I had to check to make sure I wasn’t suppressing the vulnerable state of joy in favor of the safety of doubt (as I do). I wasn’t. I was excited, but no more excited than I’d been the days before. I’m excited for the book! But the story goes on, well after the first draft, as any writer knows. And I’m more excited to move forward onto the next stage of crafting this story than I am excited that I finished one stage of it.

It’s a little bit like me getting fired. I’m far more excited and enthusiastic about being free and living my life as I’ve dreamed, than I am excited to be free of my terrible day job.

That’s not to say that when I do finish a final, polished, ready-for-submission draft that I won’t be exploding with joy, but that’s a slightly larger milestone to meet.

Relief is more the feeling I had Thursday. I was relieved that I made it through the whole thing. I was relieved that I had it in me, another story, another novel. I was relieved that my decisions about the novel, whether they were the “right” ones or not, were good decisions. I was relieved that I could do it. I can do it. I can write novels, and more than just the ones I’ve already written.

I have a feeling I will feel that same relief with the first draft of every novel I will ever write. And I’m okay with that.

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