Category Archives: writing

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?

Presenting THE TOWER (Book 2 in the Arcana Series) – Cover Reveal!

tower teaserI have been sitting on these covers for months because A) I can’t write book descriptions to save my life–and you have to have the book description for the cover reveal, obvs.–and B) it took me forever to figure out when a realistic release date might be for this novel, in the midst of a very hectic, very crazy summer (August 11! Be there or be square!).

But here it is! Today! A cover reveal! It’s happening!

Are you ready?

Well, hold your horses. Before we do this…do you remember the covers for The Hierophant? That’s right, there were two. Because I got sassy and decided that I wanted a different cover for the ebook (because I REALLY LIKE MAKING COVERS, OKAY?).

Well, because I started this trend with the first book in the series, I felt obligated to continue it. And that’s fine, because I LOVE the covers I came up with for The Tower.

So instead of just one, you’re actually getting TWO cover reveals today. ;D

But first, THE DESCRIPTION:

Ana Flynn just made a deal with the Devil, but she hasn’t lost her soul—yet.

In exchange for bringing her best friend back from the dead, Ana has no choice but to return to the hellish world of Sheol—a world that has been the backdrop to all of her nightmares since she narrowly escaped it, well over a year ago. But this time, Ana is trapped in a sentient prison school that defies the laws of space and time, a place her new demonic classmates call the Tower. And once you enter the Tower, there is only one way out: graduation.

While Ana wants nothing more than to return to what’s left of her life back home, her freedom can only come at a price: in order to graduate, she must find a way to face her greatest fears, and embrace the dark magic of Sheol—a magic that will transform her, forever.

Ana was human when she entered the Tower. Will she leave a monster?

Eh? Ehhh? :D

Ok, now…onto the cover reveal(s)!

Ready?

READY?

PRESENTING…

THE TOWER

BOOK II IN THE ARCANA SERIES

ebook cover:

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000446_00061]

and print:

The Tower Print FINAL image only

TA DA! :D

I’m super proud of both of these covers and the feats of Photoshop that I had to perform to make them happen. Troubleshooter is my middle name! (Actually it’s not, it’s Claire, hence why my books don’t say “Madeline Troubleshooter Franklin” on the covers.)

And just so you can see the FULL glory of these beasts, here they are next to their predecessors:

ebook covers

print covers

Eh? Ehhhhhhh? :D (Picture me as the annoying artist at a gallery trying to get your attention so I can point out every single deliberate artistic choice I made ;p I’m just SUPER PROUD OF THESE COVERS, OKAY?) I can’t wait to get my hands on the print copies and hold them side by side… *DEEP SIGH OF LONGING*

I’d love to hear what you think about the covers and the description for The Tower! You can contact me here, tweet at me @madelineclaire_, or hop on over to my Facebook page to say hello!

That’s it for now, folks!

* * *

Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to find out about new releases! No spam, I promise! :D

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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

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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Spring, Sprang, Sprung

woof

Look how happy this guy is about SPRING!

It’s officially SPRING! No, don’t look at the snow outside. Or the thermometer. Or the clouds obscuring the precious, golden, lemony sunlight… it is officially spring!

JUST GO WITH IT.

Spring, like many things in our calendar and in our world, is rife with symbolism and meanings that have been liberally applied by human beings since the dawn of time (or at least our cognition of time). Spring is a time of rebirth, regeneration, healing, cleaning, growing. It’s a time of fertility and creativity. It’s a time of resurrection. So it’s the perfect time for me to begin my new life focused on my writing career, instead of merely focusing on survival (this is my last day working full time at my soul/time-sucking day job).

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had some major setbacks in the past year, and I’ll be the first to take responsibility for those setbacks, too. But I’m here, now. In this new place in time, I’ve made choices, taken chances, and given myself permission to move forward on a basis of courage, hope, and dreams alone. And I couldn’t be more excited, more proud, or more terrified.

Yes, there is a lot of fear surrounding this. Will I get writer’s block? Will I run out of ideas? Will I accidentally fall under an ancient Egyptian curse that makes my fingers disintegrate every time they touch a keyboard? Maybe. Maybe I’m not good enough, and not brave enough, and not really “meant to be” a writer.

But my fears change nothing. Maybe I will have another existential crisis. Maybe I will fail, and fail, and fail. Maybe I will even give up. But I already know, no matter what, that I will keep crawling back, bloody and bruised and broken, because my dreams refuse to die–no matter how much I smother, bludgeon, and burn them.

And so, maybe, just maybe, I will succeed.

But it’s really hard to publicly admit that I believe I will succeed. Isn’t that messed up? And yet, I wonder if that’s the real magic, and real courage: daring to believe that you might just be as great as you can imagine yourself to be; refusing to believe in the lie of perfectionism; refusing to buy into a world that doesn’t want you to celebrate the fact that you are fucking awesome, and you have got so much to give.

So I’m gonna own that. I’m doing this crazy, risky, wild thing by making less money and spending my life savings to allow me to stay home and write–but I’m doing it because I believe in myself. I believe in my ability to write, and my ability to break hearts, and my ability to make people cry, and my ability to tell a damn good story.

I believe I will succeed.

Call me crazy, but it’s true.

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Confession, and a free short story

I have a confession to make: a computer program is responsible for the every day happiness I’ve experienced for the past three years. That’s because three years ago today, that computer program told me I might be romantically compatible with a man who lived 2.5 hours from me. I took a look at his picture, clicked a few buttons, and have never looked back.

That’s right. I met my husband through an online dating site. *blushes*

We live in a strange new age where that actually happens pretty frequently–more and more people are connecting online and finding their true friends, their soul mates. It makes sense, as society expands into the ethernet that we would have to expand dating/mating customs to there as well. Sounds kind of sci-fic when you look at it that way. I look at it from an anthropological mindset, and find it fascinating.

But regardless of how I met my half of my OTP, I love him in ways that are both mind blowingly profound and vomit-inducingly adorable. We are the perfect partners in crime–he makes me laugh when I’m anxious and sad, and I’m willing to dive to catch him when he falls/passes out at the altar at our wedding (yes that really happened). We can both talk for hours about the spiritual implications of The Dark Crystal, the perfect balance of flavors in Thai hot and sour soup, and why Wax Work and Wax Work II: Lost In Time are the most perfect horror films of all time.

You done good, compatibility robot/program. You done good.

Anyway, on to the second part of this post, the free short story!

Two months after I met my husband, I did something I had never done before: I wrote a short story for him, as a birthday gift. I was inspired by strange dreams I’d had since I’d met him, odd pseudo-memories of other lives I may or may not have lived. And he had asked me once, half asleep and maybe dreaming, “Where do I know you from?”

And that was all the inspiration I needed for this story, which I’m posting here for free in honor of the many freak occurances that led us to each other.

I hope you enjoy it :)

A Lover and its Ghosts

Somewhere there’s an ocean,
salty dark and deep,
that swallows stars into its heart,
and lulls the sky to sleep.
There swims a single memory,
amidst the floating lights
like lanterns lit for long lost souls
as naked as the night;
It weaves between the luminescence,
dances on the crests
of waves too far from salt-stained shores
that catch what comes to rest.
But sometimes when the moon is full
and galaxies align,
reflecting on the ocean
one can glimpse amidst the brine
the sight of what has lingered there,
more brilliantly than most
the memory of what once was:
a lover, and its ghost.

-M.C.F. Nov. 2010

 

1

Where do I know you from?

 

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A New Note on Writer’s Block

Rusty, aka: Lord Rusticus

Well, it’s been a while since I posted here, but I have Explanations. The biggest one being that it’s summer, and I feel like every free moment is booked from June to October. The other big reason is that we got a dog just after my birthday! So I’ve been busy calming our resident cats, training our new pup, and trying to deal with his previously undiscovered allergies that are making him scratch all the hair off his head. Oof. He’s like a fluffy little old man, except he’s hyperactive and chews on everything (like the six pairs of  shoes we’ve had to throw out). But we love him!

The other big thing keeping me away from this blog? I’ll admit it: writer’s block. That thing I don’t really believe in. But let’s call this Advanced Writer’s Block, Code Orange. I wasn’t quite at the quitting stage (Code Red), but I was definitely in the “will I ever write again?” stage. It wasn’t that I was uninspired, or out of ideas, or believed my writing was bad. It was beyond all the normal things that once kept me from writing, long ago before I called them out as frauds. It wasn’t any kind of belief in lack that was a problem–it was a belief that there was too much. I had too many choices, too many questions–but there was lack, too, I guess, because I didn’t know myself well enough, or my story well enough, to know how to resolve my concerns.

Ultimately, it wasn’t about any of those things though. It was about fear, of making the wrong choice, of wasting time and effort. And even beyond that, it was something more: I was putting too much pressure on myself to write the “best book EVAR.” And even beyond that, the pressure was there because, essentially, I hate my day job, and it was also there because I hate false hopes, hate getting so far as to have lots of agents (I’ve lost count now) request the full manuscript only to pass a few weeks later. I’d reached my limit of stagnation and disappointment, and I was depressed. (Actually, I had “severe anxiety” for three months, but that was basically just me, doggedly determined to Solve All The Problems)

Anyway, I could go on and on psychoanalyzing myself here, but who cares? The point is actually something much easier to digest: I have got a lot of experience under my belt when it comes to creative recovery, overcoming blocks, and understanding how the artist’s mind works and surprises us. I know a lot of tricks, and I know a lot about my own creative habits, and I know a lot about how to avoid the common pitfalls of Doubt. But even with all that I know and all that I’ve experienced? Writer’s block still got me. Like a virus that’s mutated to become immune to antibiodies, my ego ramped up its bullshit to weasel through my wall of well-grounded ambition, and then proceeded to kick me in the teeth.

It’s more than that, though. It’s not just that the insidious part of my ego that likes to kick me into place has adapted–it’s that I, myself, have grown and changed, by leaps and bounds, as a person. Emotionally, mentally, creatively, I’ve grown in depth and width and height, but consciously I have not yet stretched my awareness to cover my new borders. I don’t really understand myself as well as I thought I did, because I’ve changed shape. That’s why, when looking at an old manuscript and a partially finished rewrite, I had no idea how to proceed. Of course, I love the old version. But the new version is amazing too. And both are very different. How can I choose what to keep, what to change?

The thing is, the story I loved several years ago when I wrote that novel is still a story I love, but no longer a story I can tell. My shape has changed–my stories have changed with it–and in order to tell the story I want to tell, I have to explore this new creature I’ve become, get used to my skin, my height, my voice. So,  I guess this whole period of anxiousness and sadness and crippling indecision was/is actually just growing pains.

I’m not quite there yet. I’m not entirely certain who I have, or will, become, but I’m finding my footing more and more each day. The smoke and debris are clearing from my head, and I’m beginning to make out the shapes and sounds of the new stories I’m carrying in my heart, incubating, until I’m ready to put them onto paper.

I’m also trying to learn patience, because god DAMN it I want those stories ready to be written.

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Abusing the Use of Sexual Assult in YA

If you haven’t seen this article on The Victimization of Lara Croft, read it. It brings to mind an issue I have, specifically about YA novels, that has been bugging the hell out of me lately: there is too much god damn sexual assault.

Before you get upset and say “it’s a real thing and YA needs to address real things!” hear me out: Yes, YA is doing a bang-up job at addressing real things, and yes, sexual assault is real. For all the women I know, the majority of us have either been sexually assaulted, harassed, or straight up raped. I know how real this thing is, and that’s why the common and complete mishandling of this highly sensitive subject pisses me off. 

I’m not saying all, but if you read a handful of YA from the past few years with female protagonists and romance, just like in real life, 1 in 4 females will be a victim of sexual assault. The abundance isn’t what pisses me off, but how it’s most commonly used in the context of the story: aside from stories where rape and the emotional fall-out is the prime conflict throughout the book, almost every single time a female protagonist is sexually assaulted, she is then rescued by her romantic interest. Not only is that probably never going to happen, because most girls aren’t semi-stalked by their teenage dreamboats, but that course of events makes the female protagonist into a victim, and her romantic interest a hero. It artificially deepens the bond between them by taking a serious trauma, something with long-lasting psychological and emotional effects, and romanticizing it.

Pardon me, but what the fuck, people? 

Forgetting the fact that this is a widely overused trope, it’s also insensitive as hell, completely dismissing the fact that it’s not healthy or expected that a girl would fall in love with her rescuer, and for many people who have experienced emotional trauma of any kind, that is a potential problem: it’s called erotic or romantic transference, and it’s like an inverse Florence Nightengale effect–patient falling in love with therapist, or rescued falling in love with rescuer. Girls who experience sexual trauma are much more likely to form unhealthy dependencies and attachments to romantic or sexual partners, and even develop romantic feelings for people they don’t actually love or probably shouldn’t fall in love with. Likewise, some women have a hard time developing romantic feelings for anyone, ever, because their ability to trust the human race (and in particular, men) has been shot to hell.

The scary thing is, as both readers and writers we’ve created this trope unconsciously–making the female protagonist incapable of defending herself by making her a victim of sexual assault does two easy things: makes her vulnerable and desirable. Weird, huh? That’s our reaction, for the most part: this person had such a strong reaction to this character that they tried to violate her, and now she’s a little more interesting to us, too.

I’m not a proponent for invulnerable characters by any means–Superman is boring and his superness causes many a plot hole. Sure, I love a strong female protagonist, but what makes them real and what makes their strengths even cooler is that they are not perfect. They do have weaknesses, weaknesses that they often overcome or come to terms with–that’s called the character arc. But I’ve never read a non-rape-issue YA novel where the protagonist was sexually assaulted and actively overcame the traumatic effects of it, because for the most part those are glossed over or not even mentioned. Yes, it’s a big deal at the time, or maybe there is some obvious residual fear if the actual character who assaults the protagonist doesn’t go away, but for the most part it goes like this: set up, assault, rescue, love, no psychological or emotional repercussions whatsoever.

I admit it’s possible that a character is strong enough, mentally and emotionally, to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and go on about their lives as if nothing ever happened, but we’re talking YA, which means teenage girls without well-defined senses of themselves as sexual beings, and…well, good luck selling that line.

As writers, we need to try harder, not just for the audience but for the dignity of our stories, to avoid abusing sexual assault as a vehicle for character appeal. As readers, we should be wary of our own reactions to this trope–it’s natural to want to protect a girl who has been victimized, but don’t be complacent about this form of emotional manipulation. If the author wants you to care about their main character, demand female protagonists who are made appealing to the reader because they are intelligent, insightful, hilarious, brave, brutally honest–anything besides so hot and vulnerable you either want to rape or protect her.

This is a touchy subject, I know–hell, discussing YA is a touchy subject in general these days. Feel free to yell at me and tell me I’m wrong, because truly, I would love to hear what anyone else thinks about this subject.

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