Tag Archives: writing

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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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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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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Happy Half Birthday TPaL!

The Patchwork Girl

A sketch from the original TPaL manuscript

 

Six months ago, today, was the official release of my first (and only, so far) independently published novel, The Poppet and the Lune. Far from its roots as a free weekly web serial, the story has been polished and primped, the words carefully wrapped and transformed, into A Real Book.

When I began to write and post the story of the patchwork girl and Faolin, I had only one thing in mind: I wanted to tell a good story, simply for the fact that that is what I love to do. At the time, and even not until recently, I did not realize how much this act would mean to me. When the web serial was “launched,” quietly, in the middle of the night, halfway around the world where I was studying abroad in Oxford, I was embarking on my own journey. More than just the incredible challenge of providing reliable quality content two or three times a week–I was putting myself out there, to a world that had yet to vet my skills. I was something of a big fish in a small pond called Buffalo, leaping into the ocean called The Internet.

I was in new territory, literally and figuratively. Writing TPaL was unlike anything I have ever experienced, and all the while I was in a country that was not my own, meeting new people, seeing new and far off places. I was discovering how self-reliant I could be, how unexpectedly brave.

Like the patchwork girl, I was, and I am, learning. I am made from the pieces of those who have come before, as we all are to some extent.  I have my mother’s tenacity, and my father’s serenity; my generation’s academic/economic frustration, but my peers’ unflappable hope. We have all the history and advances of the world behind us, rising up like an ocean’s wave to propel us forward on our travels–if we don’t let it overcome us. The key is, we must make all of those pieces come together as one, and claim them for ourselves.

On this half-birthday, I want to take the opporunity to thank those of you out there who have helped me get to where I am. These past six months, I have recgognized how tremendously fortunate I am, and not just because my friends and loved ones support me. I am fortunate because I am surrounded by people who are constantly rising victorious from the tumult of life. Like Faolin, I am in awe of these people who seem so brave, so fearless. They inspire me to bravery, to face a world and a career that is uncertain. Even in their moments of weakness they are an inspiration, because they remind me that we are actually very much alike.

And to everyone who has taken the time to read The Poppet and the Lune, and who has helped spread the word, or left a review, or pointed out a typo on page 2, or helped me choose the best cover, or long ago commented on the web serial asking what happens next?! Every single one of you has helped make these past six months (and the year before that) an incredible journey.

Thank you, all of you.

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