On Why I Write YA

Saturday, June 23, 2012

why I want to write YA

Beware, friends! This post is SERIOUS. And DARK. And yet so very, very TRUE.

As you surely know by now, my first book is in print. It's basically a grab bag of all the things I like: romance, magic, horses, fuzzy woodland animals, pretty clothes from long ago, adventures, submarines, sea monsters, ghosts, fancy jewelry. Although there's an overall theme of easy things are worth nothing, it's not meant to be deep, and it's clearly an indulgent sort of a read. An escape. Fluff.

But I'm not all fluff, kids.

Sang is not the darkest world in my head. My life now appears easy, but it's been a long fight to get here. One of my goals as an author is to publish YA books for and about teens, not only because I enjoy reading them and writing them, but also because I hope to find ways to connect with kids who might be having some of the same struggles that I did in high school.

I was a geek back when being called a geek was considered shameful. I was smart and shy and socially awkward, and I was bullied horribly in middle school. To this day, the smell inside a bus makes me sick to my stomach. Although I hit my stride in high school and found strong friendships and  mentors, there were dark patches that I mostly kept to myself. The only way I could cope was by writing poetry and painting, alone in my room. I still have all my poems in their original notebooks, along with song lyrics and quotes and things that made me feel connected to something, anything, when I was floundering. When I had no voice, I whispered to myself.

This blog? Isn't the kind of place I can share those experiences. The stories need to be told, but they're the sort of stories that can only be shared with real, live human beings, when you can look into their eyes and say, This happened to me. It might be happening to you. But it's going to be okay one day, if you just hang in there. Because just as I couldn't tell people about it then, I find it hard to speak about it now, to put things in print where someone could contest it or argue it or in any way lessen what occurred. 

You seemed so normal. 
You seemed happy. 
You got good grades. 
You never told anyone. 
You were fine.

When someone tells you their secrets, those are the wrong things to say, folks.

All around us, strangers are silently carrying burdens that we can't begin to understand. We pass on the sidewalk, share elevators, hold the door to the bookstore with a smile, and we have no idea what dragons are curled around the hearts of people we've never met, quietly squeezing or fanning a flame or waiting for the right moment to strike. I learned long ago that surviving is sometimes the best way to fight back, that living is the best revenge. But that's not enough.

My goal is that my words will one day be in the hands of kids like I used to be-- kids who need first an escape and second, the knowledge that the person who wrote them was a victim, too. That no matter what people do to you, if you can live past it and get stronger, you can kick a bunch of ass. That the pain, as they say, will one day be useful. That dark places breed fabulous monsters, and you can bridle them and ride them down whichever paths you choose.

Sometimes, when the worst finally happens-- that's when you realize you're free.

It gets better, y'all. I promise. I hope one day we'll get to trade stories.
 

On Writing: 10 Tips for Your First First Draft

Sunday, July 8, 2012

10 Tips for Barfing a Book

I tend to think of my first drafts like barf.

That is to say... they come out fast and furious in one big, violent rush that I can't really stop. And what comes out is messy, chunky, and made of lots of disparate elements blended ungracefully together.

Oddly enough, the final book, I hope, is more like a five-course meal. That starts as barf and gets edited, rearranged, and polished until it's presentable. And the great thing about barfing is that anyone can do it!

So here's my guide to barfing out a first draft.*

1. DON'T LOOK BACK. If you reread what you wrote yesterday or the paragraph you just finished, you might find yourself caught in an endless loop of polishing. Barrel firmly forwards, willy-nilly and pell-mell, even if you know you'll have to change something later. First drafts are skeletons. You can add muscle and skin to pretty it up later. Even Stephen King admits his first drafts suck.

2. DON'T BE SCARED TO MESS UP. Here's the big secret: YOU'RE GOING TO MESS UP. Probably a lot. I do. Don't let it stop you. You can change point of view or tense half-way through your draft. You can change *anything* at any time, right up until your work is in print. Accept that mistakes, typos, and major draft surgery are part of the process. Fix it on the second draft.

3. IF YOU GET STUCK, DROP A GUMDROP AND KEEP GOING. If I'm not sure about something, can't get a scene to work, or need to do some more research, sometimes I'll just mark it with [need more] or [insert party scene here] or [kill him somehow and make it good] and keep going. Don't get hung up on something you can fill in later, when you've got it all figured out. That's how Hansel and Gretel got out of the forest, right?

4. BE SELFISH. If you feel passionate about writing, then carve out what you need. Time, space, all the Hershey's Kisses. For at least a little while, the people who love you should honor and understand your need to pursue your goal. Yes, it will grate on their nerves if it goes on too long, but the first draft is the most crucial part. You might need to stay up late writing instead of watching Game of Thrones or go out for a few hours in the afternoon to write. It's okay. Everyone deserves space to pursue their dreams.

5. HAVE A PLAYLIST. I have an album or playlist for every single book or novella I've written. I keep them on Spotify, and when I'm stuck or getting ready to pound out a scene, I listen to it. The playlist is thematically or dramatically related to the story and drops me right back into that world. I do a lot of problem-solving in the car while rocking out or in the bathtub while trancing out. Trust the playlist.

6. DON'T LET ANYONE READ ANYTHING UNTIL IT'S DONE AND POLISHED. Don't let your significant other, critique group, writing partner, or online friends read ANYTHING, EVER. The slightest nose wiggle or indifferent shrug can kill your passion for a story. Get the first draft out, then give yourself at least one more draft to polish it before letting that baby deer wobble out into the world.

7. MEDITATE. Not in lotus position or anything. Sometimes, when a writer starts out fast and furious and then rolls to a halt, it can mean that they haven't thought through the story far enough. Think about it as you fall asleep, as you wake up, while driving. Take notes. Imagine the scene, possibly even outline it before you write it. If you don't know where you're going, you don't know how to get there.

8. MAKE EACH SCENE YOUR FAVORITE. You know how there are some scenes in books that you just skim through, and it feels like the writer was just filling in space to get to the exciting/juicy scene after it? You don't want to do that. There should be something in each scene that you look forward to writing, whether it's snappy dialog or intriguing world-building or the first whiff of a later twist. If the scene is boring for you to write and edit, your readers will get bored, too.

9. SET UP IDEAL CONDITIONS. My recipe for 10,000 words per day involves getting dressed up in a pretty skirt and heels, going to a favorite coffee shop, putting in noise-canceling earbuds and my playlist, ordering coffee and a treat, and writing uninterrupted for as long as possible. Your recipe may be totally different, but once you know what it is, set up your opportunities to optimize output as often as possible. And don't waste your time trying to work in uncomfortable or annoying conditions. Set yourself up for success!

10. BE OPEN TO POSSIBILITY. Sometimes the best characters walk in out of nowhere and steal the scene. Sometimes your character makes a decision you weren't expecting, and it changes the entire course of the story. Sometimes you discover something entirely new during dialog. Let it happen. Your subconscious is brilliant and will feed you lines from offstage, if you let it.

Go forth and barf!

On Writing: How to Kill Your Darlings

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Kill Your Darlings

Sorry, honey. But the tighter you clutch it, the more it needs to go. You have to kill your darlings if you want to move forward as a writer. Here's how.

1. BUT THIS IS WHERE IT HAS TO BEGIN. Really? Says who? What would happen if it started earlier? Faster? Did you start with a dream, a character looking in the mirror, or a scene that involves disgusting bodily functions? Are you completely unwilling to compromise that first line at all? If so, you probably need to kill it. Resave your doc and start hacking.

2. BUT THIS IS THE PERFECT METAPHOR. Um, guess what? No one really cares. Being cute/clever doesn't win over the reader. Type the word "like" into the Find search box and see if you can slice out any of that gristle. Of course, *I* don't have to-- my agent murders them all like a badger at a kitten tea party.

3. BUT I CAN'T LET THAT CHARACTER SUFFER. You want to hear a book idea that never sold? "The perfect girl lived a happy life and got everything she wanted. The end." If you want the reader to care about your protagonist, she has to be just as flawed and strange as the rest of us. Don't make her a pariah, but make sure she has quirks, fears, struggles, and secret pain. And then see what else you can throw at her. Suffering makes us unique and ties us together, and we don't tend to like people who avoid the Noid of Turmoil.

4. BUT I NEED THIS SCENE. I see. You need it. But why? Because it moves your plot and character arc forward as no other scene can, or because it's cute or pretty or clever or came to you in a dream? If a scene isn't working and you keep trying to force it like a falling Tetris block, it might need to go. Or maybe that block fits somewhere else. The point is, if it sticks out like a sore thumb, prune it.

5. BUT THE NAME IS CLEVER. Oh, honey. No. You may not name your angel-masquerading-as-a-teen Michael Gregori. You are disallowed from calling a vampire Vlad or Spike. You are strictly forbidden from naming the villain Cruella deVil. I mean, seriously, do you think some poor woman gave birth to a chubby, yummy baby and said, "YOU WILL ONE DAY BE CRUEL, CRUELLA. MUAHAHA!" No. A name may "sound" good or dark or have a nice ring to it, but you're not fooling anyone anymore. Adolf and Damian were once really popular names and didn't take on nefarious feels until society dubbed it so. Most guys are actually named John or Jack or Steve. True story.

6. BUT THAT'S NOT THE WAY THE STORY GOES. Guess what, buttercup? If an agent wants to see revisions or an editor buys your story, things are going to change. How much do you want to move forward? What sacrifices are you willing to make? If you're not willing to change something for an agent, how willing will you be when an editor tells you flat-out that they require further changes to your precious angel? As I see it, once someone has sent me a check, I no longer own the story. They're my boss, and I have to make them happy, and if that means my heroine is now named Helga and she has a magical wooden leg, SO BE IT. If you don't want to play by those rules, I suggest you never try to have a book traditionally published and just write because you love it, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

7. BUT WHAT IF I CUT OUT THE WORDS AND THEY'RE GONE FOREVER AND IT'S NEVER THAT GOOD AGAIN AND WOE? Um, that's why you save the old draft and rename it before making changes. Hell, email it to yourself, if you're paranoid. Then start over fresh, bravely slicing paragraphs and giving yourself vast tracts of white space to fill with shiny new words. I've written ten books in three years now, and here's the honest-to-God truth: I've never once gone back to the original after making revisions. Throw your old shoes in the closet, lace on the new pair, take off running, and never look back.

8. BUT THIS IS HOW IT ENDS. Really? Show me where that's carved in stone. There are infinite ways to end a story and infinite ways to write those endings. What the writer wants to say isn't always what the reader wants to hear, and the ending will majorly determine if someone who finishes this book will pick up your next book. If an agent, editor, or writer you trust suggests a different way to end your book, at least consider it. It's easy to cling to the ending, just as it's easy to cling to the beginning.

9. BUT YOU SAID WE WERE DONE. Bad news. One round of revisions is rarely enough. Sometimes, the first big revision doesn't fully knit the story together. Sometimes, it just shows you how messed up things really are. And sometimes, like me, you rush through it and get sent firmly back with a smacked nose to do the dirty work. Even if your first big, painful, surgical, messy revision fixes things, you'll still have to go in repeatedly to smooth things over and pretty them up. And then come the copy edits. Heaven help you.

10. BUT EVERYONE WILL LOVE IT. Let me kill this darling for you right now: not everyone will love your book. Some people will probably hate it. Many people will feel indifferent, won't finish it, or will find things about it that make them squawk vehemently in their reviews. Kill the darling within you that wants to be universally liked. Kill the part of you that lets other people determine your value based on the number of roses or bullets or kissy-lips they give you on their blog. Kill that soft, squishy place in your heart that actually reads the one-star reviews. Kill that last darling, darling, and you'll be free.

On Writing: 10 Tips from Awesome 80s Movies

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Breakfast Book Club: Or, How 80s Movies Can Help You Write


I like 80s movies. I like writing. Here are 10 quotes to help you land the giant airplane of words on the foamed runway of victory without using that pesky autopilot.

1. Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn. ~Better Off Dead
So... that's how first drafts happen.

2. Looks like I picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue. ~Airplane!
If you're doing something difficult like writing or revising, now is not the time to go on a diet or start a new exercise regimen. Focus on one thing at a time. Note: This is why I talk a lot about cupcakes while I'm writing.

3. When I'm around you, I find myself showing off, which is the idiot's version of being interesting. ~LA Story
If you're showing off in your writing, people will notice. If your writing is excellent, nothing will stand out. Aim for Unconscious Competence, as described in this great article on rejection by a respected kidlit agent.

4. I am looking for a 'dare to be great' situation. ~Say Anything
Some people wait for "the one". The perfect idea, the perfect character. But any character or situation can be great, if you make it so. The writing is the most important part.

5. In this life, there are nothing but possibilities. ~Empire Records
Your story can go any direction at any time. If it's getting stale, introduce a new character, a new secret, a new revelation. Don't box yourself in by becoming to dedicated to one idea or destination. Don't force it.

6. The next time I have to come in here I'm crackin' skulls. ~The Breakfast Club
a) So... that's how revision happens.
b) There should always be a threat hanging over your characters' heads. Secrets that could be revealed. A crazy wife in the attic. A ticking clock or looming doom will up the energy and keep the characters and the readers guessing.

7. Mopery is exposing yourself to a blind person. ~Revenge of the Nerds
That is, know your audience. Romance readers won't want a complex description of an electric generator. Science fiction readers won't want to know how many grommets are on the corset. Amish love story readers won't want a grisly murder. Don't waste your time on things that will bore or disinterest your readers.

8. "Rue the day?" Who talks like that? ~ Real Genius
Word choice is tantamount to voice. A Russian aristocrat from the 1890s won't say, "Yeah, I guess I'm alright, but whatever." When you're writing and revising dialog, try reading it out loud to make sure the words would really be part of that character's vocabulary and voice. When in doubt, google a phrase to see when it came into common usage.

9. You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ~The Princess Bride
Having Thesaurus.com on your dashboard is a great boon to writers, but make sure you really, truly know what a word means before you proudly tuck in a fifty-cent term. Know the difference between your/you're, their/they're/there, and lay/laid/lie. When in doubt, look it up. One wrong word can pull the reader entirely out of your story and give them reason to doubt you.

10. Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. ~Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Action is great. Energy moves the story. But make sure you add in quiet moments for your characters to process what's happenings. During the big fight scene is not the place for your protagonist to contemplate her relationship with her mother, but maybe just afterward, when she's in the hospital, would be a better time. Knowing why a character feels the way they feel helps us connect with them.

On Writing: Everybody Gets Rejected

Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Rejection: Or, Everybody Gets Punched in the Grief Bone

In exploring some writing themes this week, I've been asked one question several times:

How do you deal with rejection, and how do you keep going when you want to quit?

It's a good question, but a painful one. Here's the honest truth:

If you want to be published, you are going to be rejected A LOT.

First by agents. Then by editors. Then by readers and book bloggers.

So here's how I deal with it.

1. Separate yourself from your work.
When people offer criticism of your story or novel, they are not criticizing *you*. Learn to embrace criticism, consider it carefully, and use it to improve your writing.

2. SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM YOUR WORK.
I'm really serious about this one. Until you've made this mental leap, you don't need to bother trying to get published, whether traditionally or via self-publishing. You'll just make yourself miserable.

3. Never, ever respond to rejection with anger.
If you're prone to knee-jerk reactions, put a brick on your knee. You will never get an agent, sell a book, or find new readers by being a defensive jerk. You're never going to change someone's mind on the internet. Responding to an agent's rejection with an inflammatory email doesn't just blackball you from that agent; publishing is a small world, and word gets around. And responding to negative book reviews is like rolling around in chum and jumping into a shark tank.

4. When possible, use rejection to your advantage.
If you are very lucky and getting close, an agent might offer some advice on your writing. And this is great! Remember that these people spend all day reading books. Although opinions may vary, they know their stuff. I even thanked some of the agents who rejected me in the Acknowledgments of my first book. If your agented book gets to the submission table and the editor is kind enough to explain why they didn't buy it, pay very close attention. No matter how talented you are, there's always something about your writing that can be improved.

5. But! Try to avoid reading negative book reviews.
At first, I read the one-star reviews, hoping to find ways to improve my next book. But, honestly, by the time someone gives you a bad review, their complaints are more painful than uplifting and about something that you can't change, like your book cover or, say, the fact that vampires are *so* done. And negative reviews can sometimes criticize the writer instead of the writing, which will feel like a personal attack, even if it isn't one. I believe that once the book is out in the world, reviewers have every right to say whatever they wish... just please don't tell me about it, because it makes me feel terrible.

6. If it makes you feel better, look at the Amazon or Goodreads reviews for your very favorite book.
Chances are, thousands of people hate it. That always makes me feel better. I mean, there are people out there who didn't finish Outlander or thought it was the worst book ever written. Of course people are going to hate my book! No matter how good your writing might be, it still comes down to personal taste.

7. When all else fails, inch towards daylight.
I borrowed this concept from fantasy writer Matt Stover. No matter how bad the situation is, you can probably move one inch, right? Rejection is like that. When I was querying, I sent out a new query every time I received a rejection. It made me feel like there was one more bit of hope out in the world. And when I finally realized that my first book was dead in the water, I opened a blank document and started writing the next book. Any forward motion is better than holding still.

8. Remember that every writer has been rejected.
Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer-- every writer who now lives in their own castle has been rejected by agents and editors, often dozens of times. Publishing is finicky and strange and random. I've never heard of a single writer who struck it big with their first query, their first book, and their first huge sale. Most "instant success" stories involve years of hard, thankless toil and a box (or inbox) full of form rejections.

9. Never make major decisions based on rejection.
If you're going to give up writing, don't do it because of rejection. If you're going to self-publish, don't do it because you're sick of being rejected. Do it because you want complete creative control of your story and are willing to do the work and do it right, hiring a professional editor and cover artist. Don't quit your job or break up with someone or do anything major right after being rejected. Rejection destroys your ability to look at the big picture unemotionally and make informed decisions.

10. Don't think it gets any easier.
Rejection never gets easy. I still cry when I get big edit letters outlining how flawed my books are and how much work they still require. I have books my agent doesn't like enough to move forward. I have books go out on submission and not sell. Revising is always hard. Hitting DELETE always makes me wince. When I'm sitting at a book signing, and someone stands in front of me and picks up my book and then puts it right back and doesn't even make eye contact, it's like being punched in the grief bone.

Every stage of a writing career involves being rejected, and that's why the list goes right back to #1:

SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM YOUR WORK.

On Writing: When to Give Up

Monday, July 16, 2012

How to Know When Your Rejection Bladder is Busted


What happens when you want to give up?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you're trying to decide how badly you want to be traditionally published.

1. Do you want this?

2. Do you really, really want this? So badly that it obsesses you?

3. If you quit, would you miss it? Would you hate yourself? Would you worry that you had given up just before you finally made that breakthrough?

4. How far are you willing to go? Will you take a class? Find a critique partner or group? Go to a conference? Pay a professional editor? Buy some books on writing? Read some blogs? Spend more time reading?

5. Have you taken a really good look at why your query or story isn't working? Have you requested and received criticism? Have you applied it? Are you still making the same mistakes?

6. If you're querying, have you exhausted the entire pool of agents? Have you submitted your work to small and large presses that accept unagented work? Did any agents offer to look again after a requested revision? Are there any other contacts or avenues you can try, like signing up for pitch sessions at a conference?

7. If you have answered yes to every question, have you started writing your next book?

The bald truth is that getting published is hard as hell. It takes work. You have to write millions of words. You have to read thousands of books. You have to take classes and read books on craft and plot and do internet research. You have to open yourself up to criticism, knowing that the criticism is going to hurt your ego. You have to constantly strive to perfect your writing and know that wherever you are in your journey, there's always something new to learn.

You will see people succeed all around you. You will walk into bookstores and instead of thinking, "Yay, books!", you will think, "These guys are lucky bastards." Even if those lucky bastards spent ten years getting their first book on shelves and ten more years getting noticed, you will see only their success, never their struggle.

You will feel inadequate.

But.

When you're in the depths of despair, there's always hope. I found my hope by sending out queries. Each time I received a rejection, I sent another query out into the world. Another little packet of hope. Hope might be different for you-- a short story bought, a kind word from a critique group, a good story idea that keeps you busy. That little spark of hope is what keeps you going.

So here's what you need to decide: Will you ever forgive yourself if you give up now?

If the answer is no, keep going.

On Writing: Writer's Block, as Explained Through The Office

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On writer's block, or GIVE ME ALL YOUR INVISIBLE GUNS, MICHAEL

Someone asked penmonkey extraordinaire Chuck Wendig how to get over performance anxiety as a writer. You can see the full question and Chuck's brilliant answer here, on terribleminds.com. I had the same problem for.... oh, fifteen years or so. Here's how I got over it, in one simple phrase.

Don't write THE story; write A story.

Oh, that's not enough? Here's an object lesson from pop culture. Watch this 11-second clip.

That's Michael Scott from The Office, explaining why he ruins every single scene in his improv class by crashing through an invisible door with an invisible gun and going into FBI stand-off mode. No one else can tell an interesting story because Michael always wants to tell THE MOST EXCITING STORY because he's worried that without invisible guns, he'll be powerless. So the teacher confiscates all of his invisible guns.

So let's assume WRITING THE WORLD'S BEST STORY = Michael busting into a room with guns. Or, in the case of a writer, a golden gun. Because we all want to write the perfect story, right?

I would like to join Chuck in collecting all of your invisible guns.

Let's break it down.

1. THERE ARE INFINITE GREAT STORIES THAT DO NOT INVOLVE GUNS.
Put 100 people in a room. Tell them, "A normal boy named Harry goes to a new school and something weird happens. Write a story." You will get 100 vastly different stories. Harry will be different. His new school will be different. The weird thing that happens will be different. What will set the stories apart won't be the concept--it'll be the writing. J.K. Rowling didn't do anything new-- she just did it really well. And without a single gun.

2. THE WRITING, NOT THE GUN, MAKES THE STORY AMAZING.
Just as an improv scene's success is based on the actor's skills and experience and not the invisible gun, the writing is more important to a story than the subject. You must write stories in order to improve as a writer. It doesn't matter how great your story idea is. It's not going to be THE perfect story. It's not going to be a bestseller. It's not going to sell for a bajillion dollars. You have to write a lot of crap before you get even close to that, so you might as well assume you're going to write crap for a while. Adding a gun isn't going to make your crap look like gold.

3. BEAT YOUR GUN INTO A PLOWSHARE AND GET TO WORK.
Go to writing groups. Go to critique groups. Do flash fiction. Challenge yourself to tell 140-character stories on Twitter. Force yourself to share your stories publicly, as the public can always tell crap from gold. Sacrifice your work and your pride and learn, bit by painful bit, to accept criticism. Everyone starts writing crap. No one gets to start at the front of the line. Get used to the idea that there are tons of stories out there, waiting to be told, and that none of them are THE ONE. You don't see Eddie Izzard or Louis CK pulling out an invisible gun every five minutes during their stand-up routines, do you? No.

4. LEARN TO RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU HAVE UNEARTHED GOLD WITH YOUR GUN-PLOW.
Maybe you have a flash fiction piece that received some favorable comments. Maybe you sold a short story. Maybe someone in your writing group said something nice about a sentence or a character. Figure out what made that story or character work. Maybe you're good at humor, action, deep characters, clever twists. DO THAT THING MORE. That right there? That's your real weapon.

5. REMEMBER THAT GOLDEN GUNS BEGIN AS LUMPS OF GOLD.
Let's say you've internalized 1-4. You're getting pretty good at this writing thing. You have a great idea, a character and a story that excite you. You have the raw materials to make that golden gun. Should you sit down at the keyboard and think OMIGOD, THIS HAS TO BE PERFECT?

NO. Because nobody makes a golden gun on the first try.

Just remember that the first draft is going to be crap. You can always go back and fix it, polish it up, add more elements to your story. It's never too late to change something or, hell, rip the entire thing to shreds and start over. Lots of great and published writers do this with every book. I saw no less than 3 traditionally published, well-known writers bemoaning their huge revision letters on Twitter just this morning.

Great writing takes time. Great stories take time and reworking. Your story doesn't have to be perfect after the first draft, your second draft... or your seventeenth draft. Ask me how I know.

In conclusion, NO ONE WINS BY STARTING OUT WITH A GUN.

Now forget being perfect and go write A story, ANY story. YOUR story.
 

Dear Creepers: Don't Tell Me How to Lace My Corset

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See that pic of me at FandomFest? I look pretty happy, right?

That's because I was. Then.

I'd just stood in a circle with John Scalzi, Gail Martin, and Kalayna Price, talking to authors I admire about things that make my brain spark. It was the end of an amazing day at an amazing con, and everything had gone well, and I was 100% happy.

And then I walked out the door.

And there was this guy.

He seemed mostly drunk. He was dressed like Jimmy Buffet. And he wanted to teach me how to lace my corset. I was doing it all wrong, he said. Women lined up outside of the Renfaire, asking him to lace them in, he said. He was an expert, he said. His fingers hovered about two inches away from my laces, and I froze inside like a deer somehow sensing the rifle aimed and waiting.

Would he touch me? Why wasn't he reading my social signals-- and those of my female friend-- that his attention was unwanted?

I stepped back. Made a joke. Explained that I was perfectly happy with my corset. That I didn't really need help, thanks. That I had somewhere I needed to be.

But he kept talking. Kept explaining. Acted fatherly and kind. Stepped closer into my space but never touched me.

In short, whether he meant to or not, he preyed on me perfectly, never taking that one extra step that would make it seem more than reasonable to rap his knuckles and holler for one of my bouncer-type buddies to come haul his ass away. Made it seem like he was performing a public service, was a friendly guy who only meant well. Even told me he wasn't actually a creep.

When I finally explained that I had to go and escaped, my friend Carol expressed her shared shock. Turns out she felt the same way I had, that the guy never really crossed that line between "annoying drunk guy" and "dangerous, pushy, predator". That she wanted to smack his hand, too. And yet neither of us did.

And now, when I read about the Readercon fiasco (read about it from Scalzi himself, who has all the relevant linkies), I'll admit it: I'm kind of pissed. At him, and at myself. I wish I would have been more assertive, more brave. Wish I would have stopped thinking "I want to be perceived as a polite author" and started thinking "I am uncomfortable, and whether or not he's actually touched me, it's not okay." Wish I had been more clear in my expression of distaste instead of trying to be nice. But society has always told me to be a polite Southern girl, and knowing that everything I do in public is now part of my "brand" as an author tells me not to offend anyone, if I can help it.

So here's your warning, creepers: You don't get to push into my space anymore. You don't get to let your finger hover an inch from my chest as you try to explain something pertinent to costuming. You don't get to brush off my social signals like I'm being silly or fussy. From here on out, I'm carrying a fan or a wand or a parasol, and I won't hesitate to rap your knuckles and treat you like a dog sniffing around my skirts. Because that's what you're doing, and I know that you know it. You know just how far you can go before getting in trouble, because you do it a lot, I bet. You're not going to get away with it if I'm there, not with me or my friends.

And if we are friends? I'm not going to smack you for hugging me. But I am going to smack you if you don't keep an eye on women being preyed on by seemingly polite creepers. If you like girls in corsets and short skirts and fishnets and costumes, and if you want to look at them at cons, then it's your responsibility to make sure they feel comfortable when dressing that way.

Otherwise, it's muumuus and creeper-whacking sticks for everyone.

If Not Now, When?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

how much do you want it?

When I was a kid, I was horse-crazy, but I never really got to live my dream until we were in South Carolina, when I bought my own rangy little mare, made horse friends, and pretty much blissed out on horseback whenever possible. Then we moved back to Georgia, where boarding a horse = a monthly car payment, and I sold my mare. Ever since then, it's like a little piece of my heart has been missing, like just thinking about horses makes me feel depressed.


This past week, horses came up in discussion with my husband, and I made my usual sad sigh and said something pathetic, like, "I'm so happy, and I have everything I've ever wanted in life... except horses."

And his eyebrows drew down. "So have them," he said with his usual bluntness.

"I can't. It's not the right time."

And he stared at me and said, "If not now, when?"


At first, I was defensive. I don't know when! Later! When there's more money! When I sell a million books! It costs too much! I have to take care of the kids! I need to spend my extra time writing!

His eyebrows drew down further.


"If you really want it, you'll make it happen."

I just stared at him for a moment. And then it really sunk in.

He was right. I was making excuses.

And I needed to stop whining about why I couldn't ride horses and figure out how to make it happen.

I bet there are plenty of people out there who say they want to write a book but never do because they don't have time, or they're too tired, or they have to work, or whatever reason. Or maybe they want to go to the gym, or take a pottery class, or go back to school, or learn a new language. Our brains are wily and self-defensive, and, yes, lazy. We can convince ourselves of anything, give ourselves reasons not to pursue the things we say we want.

Yes, horseback riding in my area is extremely expensive, and I don't have aspirations of showing or going to the Olympics. But I took a look at my budget and decided that there were things I could sacrifice, if I wanted it badly enough. That maybe looking forward to riding every couple of weeks would be more important to me than costuming or My Little Ponies or pretty shoes or another cupcake.

And it's kind of ridiculous, but as I pulled up to the barn gate, I had to wonder-- was I making a mistake? Was it a waste of money? Was I too old to do something that so clearly had no ultimate goal? Was I wasting my family's resources and time?

The second I was on Vic's back, I knew. Anything that makes me feel that fulfilled and happy, inside and out, is worth it. The way I feel after riding-- it's better than yoga, better than massage, better than the gym, better than a day at the spa. It's pure bliss, and the effects reach into the rest of my life, making me into a more positive person and making me feel more connected to myself and my family.

So, still on my horsey high and already starting to ache a little, I want to urge everybody to look hard at that thing you're always denying yourself, the thing that makes you sigh. That thing you've always wanted to do, whether it's travel or education or an indulgence. And ask yourself these two questions.

How much do you want it? 
and
If not now, when?

I wish everyone in the world could feel as happy as I feel right now.

Dear Creepers: Let's Talk About Our Rights

Friday, August 10, 2012

dear creepers: Let's talk about our rights.

Part 2 in the Creeper, No Creeping discussion.

First, some women were harassed at ReaderCon, and things got ugly on the internet. The uproar from women who have been creeped at cons, combined with the verbal smackdown of men who will no longer stand by and watch women be creeped, made a difference: the ReaderCon creeper received a lifelong ban.

And this is great. Yay!

There have been several amazing blog posts about how women feel victimized, how creepers can stop making people feel this way, and how society and con society in general should stop letting these things happen.

This is also great. Further Yay!

And then came... THE COMMENTS.

Then came the Creeper Apologists.

Guys starting with "I'm not a creep, BUT..." or "my friend is a really nice guy, it's just..." or guys who want to jump in about gender, sexuality, spectrum disorders, awkwardness, depression, or how they have a right to ogle things clearly put there to be ogled because they paid just as much to get into the con as the girl in the Slave Leia chains.

And here's where it's no longer great.

Here's the thing, Sassy Commenter Guy *and* Creeper Guy: 

 

IT'S NOT ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL.


It's not about science, evolution, society, jiggly bits, costuming choices, spectrum disorders, fandom, or how well you write an argument in a blog post comment. It's about the fact that if I am uncomfortable, I have a right to respond to that discomfort in a way that may, in fact, make the other person equally or more uncomfortable.

It's about the fact that I have a right to unapologetically say NO that negates all your other rights.

It's about the fact that I don't owe you anything.

It's about the fact that cons, fandom, and geekness aside, no one owes you any respect that you don't earn.

It's about the fact that if you can break the social contract, so can I.

I personally believe that people are one step removed from the animal kingdom, and as such, we have millions of years of instinct and biology working against our ability to hold a fragile tea cup and discuss gender politics using three-syllable words. I know hetero males are hard wired to look at boobs. I know long hair on a woman is nature's billboard telling you LOOK, A HANDLE FOR IMPREGNATING! And I know that the only rules that keep you from violating me in a back alley are the goodness of your heart, your mama's teachings, and a social contract that neither of us ever actually signed.

I mean, I get that.

But you know what? There's a side of that social contract you forget.

The side where I never signed anything saying how I would respond to you.

If you touch me, lean in, say something skanky, I have a right to do the following:

1. Speak or shout at any volume to tell you that I am uncomfortable.
2. Call you a creep, a perv, or a jerk.
3. Tell everyone I know that you are trouble with a capital T.
4. Call a more chivalrous dude to come stand near me and stare at you and tell you to back off and/or physically threaten you, if I feel that your physicality has put me in danger.
5. Tell someone in authority that I think you might be dangerous.
6. Step back. Hold a hand up. Smack whatever part of you touches me.

That's the thing about the social contract: just as I cannot control what you do, you can't control what I do.

So, yes, you may be within your rights as a biological being to do whatever it is that you're doing that makes me uncomfortable. Your brain may work differently. You may know all sorts of laws and arguments. As a bag of meat/upright ape walking around, I acknowledge that. I might even understand it, from a scientific and psychological viewpoint.

But don't forget my rights. Don't forget that I have power, too. Don't forget that I have a right to make you uncomfortable, whether through shaming or intimidation or using whatever laws or muscle I have to keep you away from me.

Ladies, when a man tries to make you feel bad because you called him a creeper or told him he was making you uncomfortable, please remember that his feelings belong to him. Creepers deserve to feel bad. Creepers deserve to be called out. Creepers need to know when what they're doing makes you feel like a victim. And if creepers disagree?

WHO GIVES A CRAP?

So here's the deal. You hold up your end of the bargain, and I'll hold up mine. 

*


Links:
dear creepers, part 1 : don't tell me how to lace my corset

a fantastic post by author Jim C. Hines, which includes links to 3 more amazing blog discussions

On Depression

Friday, August 17, 2012

on depression

Depression is a nosy neighbor that sneaks in the back door, uninvited.

There is nothing wrong. Nothing. You can't complain. You can't put your finger on it. There's no machine to rage against. And yet everything is annoying, everything slightly chafes. You want to connect with people, but you can't. They say the wrong things, even when they're trying to say the right things. You wait for the phone to ring, and when it does, you don't answer it. When it's sunny, you hide behind dark curtains. When it's raining, you wish you could escape the pervasive hammering of raindrops, the feeling that if it keeps raining like that, the house will begin to leak and fall apart. You keep waiting for things to break, for anything to break, for the moment when something gives you an excuse to cry, because that would feel better than waiting to cry.

You get angry with yourself. This feeling is stupid. It's fleeting, self-indulgent, meaningless. There is, you repeat, nothing wrong. You hurt, but you can't pinpoint where or why. You think you might be starting to get sick, but maybe you just can't breathe properly. Your stomach hurts, but you don't know why. Maybe it was that salad you ate, except you haven't eaten salad, because you keep forgetting to eat. You wait all day to go to bed and sleep, but when the time actually comes, sleep retreats, just out of reach, as far away as the stars that you've forgotten to look at because you don't want to go outside.

You get caught in loops. The same websites. The same songs. The same pajama pants for days on end. You try to remember what you had for dinner last night. You try to remember the last time you felt joy. The laundry piles up in endless cycles that seem meaningless until you're out of something you need. Dust dances in sunbeams, but instead of dusting, you close the curtains.

That's the thing about depression, dark patches, bad days-- they defy reason. They can last five minutes or five years. You are smart enough to know that none of it matters, that it's totally ridiculous. You know that it's chemical, or hormonal, or part of your cycle as a human or an artist, but that doesn't stop it from dragging you down into paralysis. That doesn't stop it from hurting. That doesn't stop the thick knot in your chest that steals your breath and words. And so you keep trudging through, taking care of everyone, doing what you have to do, hitting your deadlines. But inside, you're just a sucking, infected wound that never quite heals.

The bad news: depression happens in a place no one else can see.

The good news: It will get better.

*

A Rant: What Makes You Beautiful?

Friday, August 24, 2012

a rant: what makes you beautiful?

I'm going to quote the lyrics of two songs I heard while driving this morning. If you will, indulge me and read them. Singing along and bopping your head are optional.

 

Just leave with me now. Say the word and we’ll go

I’ll be your teacher. Ill show you the ropes

You’ll see a side of love you’ve never known

I can see it going down, going down

 

In my head, I see you all over me

In my head, you fulfill my fantasy (my head)

You’ll be screaming no (my head)

In my head, its going down (my head)

its going down (my head)

In my head. Yeah. In my head. Oh yeah

(by Jason Derulo)

 

*

 

If only you saw what I can see

You'll understand why I want you so desperately

Right now I'm looking at you and I can't believe

You don't know

Oh oh

You don't know you're beautiful

Oh oh

That what makes you beautiful

(by One Direction)

 

*

 

Do those two snippets make anyone else FURIOUS?

 

Let's ignore the singer, the genre, and the music. Let's forget that both songs can easily get stuck in your head all day. The tunes are undeniably catchy--that's why they're on the radio constantly. 

 

The problem, for me, is the words.

 

The first song assumes the girl is naive and ignorant, and that the singer is going to teach her everything she needs to know, which apparently includes fulfilling his fantasy, going down, and screaming no.

 

Think about that for a second.

 

The singer is saying, right there, that he's going to make a girl scream NO. Like that's a good thing.

 

He's saying that her function is to fulfill his fantasy. And that "a side of love (she's) never known" mainly involves being the object of his fantasy. That song doesn't say a single thing about what *she* wants, about her needs or dreams. Just his.

 

And then you get to the next song, which is even newer and more unavoidable. If your kids listen to the radio, it's impossible to miss. They even play it in the mall. And the main thrust of the song is that the girl in question is lovable  because she doesn't know she's beautiful. That what makes her attractive is her insecurity and weakness. That he's totally turned on by her good looks, but what really gets him off is that she doesn't know how beautiful she is.

 

Sweet baby jebus, what kind of damaged waifs are our girls supposed to be, to appeal to mainstream boys? Beautiful, but can't be aware of it. Naive. Willing to learn. Willing to be the man's fantasy. And this is what we're pumping into the airwaves: the message that knowing your own value is unattractive.

 

Now, I'm sure that if I spent an entire day listening to the pop station, I could find hundreds of lyrics about what makes a woman attractive. And I bet the only ones that involve women being strong, independent, brave, or "wrong in all the right ways" are written by... WOMEN. And it makes me so, so angry. That our society's music is used as a weapon against the female psyche, reinforcing younger and younger that the woman's self-confidence is negligible and that if she wants to be loved, she needs to be whatever the man wants.

 

And I bet you can guess where I'm going with this topic. I'm not going to get into politics, but I will say that women are currently being sent a very pointed message, and I will respond at the polls. I can't be surprised that the old, rich men who make the laws would benefit by keeping women just as insecure, quiet, and objectified as possible. Let the men make the rules. Let the men decide what you need to be, what's best for you. Don't define or enjoy your own sexuality; just be the man's fantasy. And in this case, the man's fantasy is that we'll be shamed or cowed into letting them take control of our rights.

 

Just shut your pretty mouth. The men will show us the ropes.

 

Guess what, guys who want an insecure woman who knows her place?

 

Screw y'all. 

 

I'm not that kind of girl. And I'm not going to raise that kind of girl.

 

My next book is about a powerful woman claiming what's hers. She's willing to do whatever it takes to save her family and her country. Along the way, she falls for an equally strong man who loves her ferocity and supports her endeavors. May we all find a man like that, a man whose fantasy is a woman at the height of her powers who doesn't need anyone's permission to kick ass.

May we all be that woman.

 

On Suicide, From Someone Happy to Have Failed

Friday, September 14, 2012

Suicide Prevention Week - from someone who's happy to have failed


Many people will tell you that I'm not a very serious person.

I hit my deadlines, I produce a lot of work, and I'm very professional. But on the whole (heh heh-- on the hole!), I can be very childish and silly. As in, wears ridiculous hats and owns every season of Family Guy, Futurama, and Robot Chicken silly.

But I'm going to be very serious now, because suicide is a serious topic. And because I used to be very, very serious. And very, very depressed.

I had some troubled times as a teen, which I've alluded to in past blog posts. I won't get into specifics, but let's just say that beneath the artistic Valedictorian exterior, there was a lot of pain. I started reading books that focused on heartbreak and hopelessness-- like The Yellow Wallpaper and The Awakening. I watched The Piano. I spent a lot of time sitting in my car, alone, crying and listening to depressing music and writing poetry.

And then I went to France when I was seventeen, the summer before my Senior year. It was an exchange trip, and I was to stay a month with a family in Toulouse. They were wonderful, warm, giving people, and they treated me like their fourth daughter. I had this weird mixture of homesickness and longing and hope and  hopelessness that all came to a head during a trip to the beach. My French family was settled under an umbrella, each person happily doing their own thing, and I looked out at the ocean and realized that I was the only one who wasn't happy, who wasn't capable of happiness.

I couldn't take it anymore, whatever it was.

So I walked out into the ocean. And kept walking. Then started swimming. Then kept swimming.

At 34, it's hard for me to remember what that version of me was thinking, was feeling. I remember noting that this was what Edna Pontellier did in The Awakening, that it was a soft, sweet, poetic way to leave a world that brought me mostly misery and anxiety. I swam farther and farther from shore, and my smooth strokes turned to tired dog paddling. And then I just gave up and sank.

I remember how peaceful it was underwater for just a moment, dark and bubbly and calm. And then I couldn't hold my breath any longer, and without my mind's buy-in or my heart's agreement, my body began to fight back. The world went from poignant serenity to thrashing terror, waves pounding, salt burning my eyes and nose and throat and lungs.

In a heartbeat, the world twisted. I wanted to live, even if it hurt like hell.

I was so far from shore; even now, I can see it, how far and hazy it was. The people playing in the shallow water were mere smudges, and no one knew where I was. I was exhausted, half-filled with water, my limbs numb. But I kept churning, my nose barely out of the water, inch by inch, until I was at that point where the waves stop trying to punish you and start trying to call you home. They washed me back onshore when I had nothing left, and I sprawled on the sand sobbing, surrounded by vacationers who had no idea that I'd just undergone the first major turning point of my life.

I dragged myself to the family umbrella, where Maman asked me how I was.

"Magnifique," was all I could say.

I was magnificent.

I was alive.

And I started to notice things. Small things. The air on my drying skin. The sun on my dark hair. The vibrant shade of red in the umbrella. The scent of suntan lotion rising from everyone's skin. I realized I was starving, had never been so starving, and that whatever I ate next would be the most wonderful thing I'd ever eaten. One day, I would watch Fight Club and hear Tyler Durden talk about how tomorrow would be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. And I would laugh, because I knew that feeling exactly.

That day, I asked the family to stop by a stationery store, and I bought a journal and a package of Sharpies. And I started a book called I LOVE in which I wrote I LOVE and described something small that made life worth living. I love the feel of grass under bare feet. I love the perfection of slipping under cool sheets. I love the taste of the fried haddock and rice I ate that night, sitting at a table on a boardwalk in Biarritz while the family asked me why I was so happy all of a sudden, almost like a different person.

I'd like to say that from that day on, everything was easy. But that was the summer before I was stalked and raped, my next major turning point as a person. But because I'd survived that day, I was able to survive being attacked. I knew I wanted to live and would do anything to stay alive. And I knew, after that, that things would get better, if I just kept living. So I started my second I LOVE journal, which is pictured up above.

My point is this: suicide is serious, and no matter how normal or successful or beautiful or smart or happy someone seems on the outside, that doesn't mean they haven't considered it. Or tried it.

I used to be ashamed. I used to try to forget that it happened, but I know now that it's part of what made me who I am. I'm an artist and a writer, and depression has always been a looming threat in my life, something that sneaks in no matter how well I guard myself. But I've never returned to that dark place, never considered wanting to end it all.

Whatever it is.

So maybe that's why I don't take anything seriously. I live in the moment, choosing to focus on the sweetness of the cupcake or the beauty of the music or the leaves crunching under my favorite boots. I don't look to the past and mull over what I might have had or what might have happened differently. I don't worry about the future. I just live, right now, in the best way that I can.

If you're depressed, if you're suicidal-- you're not alone. Please go here and find help. Tell someone. It doesn't have to be your mom or your dad or your significant other. It can be a volunteer on a phone hotline, or a stranger on tumblr. Find help, even if it's just to talk about it, to say it out loud and know that someone you've never met desperately wants you to live and thinks that you matter. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Asking for help, reaching out to another human being, is one of the bravest things on earth.

I once thought there was nothing worth living for, and I have never, never been so wrong.

You're not alone.

On Writing: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the Stoic Warrior Poet

After reading this article on Cracked breaking down the reasons that Zooey Deschanel might be beautiful and adorable but is definitely not awkward or geeky, I couldn't help contemplating how the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girlpresents in men.

As I see it, the MPDG is the 21st century version of a muse. She's gorgeous but quirky, insightful but childlike, and never, ever sticks around for the happily ever after--aka, long enough to get boring/quotidian. She appears in the life of a guy who's either mid-crisis or floundering or half-asleep and shakes him out of his doldrums with her beautiful eccentricity. She leaves him changed and bittersweet in a way that allows the real, true Woman to walk in the door at just the right time.

In short, she's an object, a creature of male fantasy, a vehicle to something better. Her function is to awaken the sleeper.

So what I want to know is: what is the male version of the MPDG? 

Because I'm pretty sure that a dude with all of these qualities would not have the same appeal to women. For example, remember Duckie from Pretty in Pink? He was cute, quirky, intelligent, fearless, filled with love and possibility and tenacity. And although women everywhere swore he was adorable, no one ever called him sexy. Or swoony. Or handsome.

He was fun. Sweet. Cute.

These words? Are romance doom.

No one gets a fire in their loins for cute. Even Molly Ringworm chose the smoldering, standoffish, rich dude. No matter what they say, I don't think that, subconsciously, women want to be worshiped like that. They want to be chased like wobbly dibatags by lions with soft paws hidden under extendable claws.

So although your mileage my vary and different strokes for different folks andplease don't attack Delilah for averring something, I believe that the male version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the Stoic Warrior Poet, sometimes known as the Sparkly Vampire Manboy.

If the idea of this trope is to shake up a person's status quo and make them feel more alive so that they're more open to leveling up as a human being, a woman's biology simply isn't programmed to swoon for a Manic Elfin Dream Boy, a skinny little Ducky or Doctor Who. In her churning cesspit of pheremones, a woman craves a cave man, a beast, a man who will protect her and be entirely competent when it comes to helping her and her offspring survive. But in our world, when any doof in flip-flops can go to WalMart for a steak, our brains tend to forget about that part and lead us to guys who make great friends and loving fathers. And thence, I believe, many women are missing something they crave, deep down, but aren't always aware of.

So our hormones and instincts want a cave man. Fine. But our hearts want romance and poetry and pretty words and soulful eyes, not being raped from the behind in an alley. So these two basic desires are really difficult to come by... because they're entirely opposite. When a man's dinosaur brain wants a fertile woman, that need is expressed by eyes that rove to boobs and butts and facial symmetry-- things that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl has, because she's *always* gorgeous. Add in some intelligence, quirk, and an ability to swig beer and make insightful comments on whatever game or band the guy also likes and you've got your MPDG.

But while a woman's dinosaur brain wants to be protected and carry viable offspring, she doesn't actually *want* to be an object of lust solely for her body. She wants to be respected, understood, adored. She wants power and equality in the relationship. Or so she thinks. Because if there's one thing the men of romance books and movies show, it's that women really dig 100% confident guys who kill things. And that's where Edward, Christian, James Bond, Tony Stark, Khal Drogo, and the dude from Desperado come in. They'll kill something that's trying to hurt you, throw you against the wall for a smoldering interlude, and then write a song about it.

Boom. All your needs, met. And they all have money to take care of you, should that interlude actually satisfy nature's urge and produce the children his dinosaur brain wants and his dude-groin fears. Stoic Warrior Poet always comes with built-in monetary security. Don't worry your pretty little head.

And yet all these characters have an unnatural sensitivity that goes against their forceful nature and allows women to accept all the bad things they do. Edward and Christian (whom some posit as the same person, really) are creepy-ass, super-rich stalkers with man-boy issues, but they play the piano and express their tenderness through twisted acts of physical and emotional tenderness. Khal Drogo, Desperado, and James Bond are basically murderous savages who draw their women into their worlds, hardening them and strengthening them like an annealed blade. Tony Stark is a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist, and yet one woman is able to cancel out the playboy part. Because she's simply that special.

The point is that these guys? They change in one way only: by loving a sensitive woman, they open like barb-wire flowers in one small area of tenderness, but on the whole, they stay the same. Their stability as a trope allows their women to change, to become strong and fearless in a way that your average stay-at-home-mom can't. These dudes are a springboard to awaken women to the passion they've forgotten, repressed, or lost.

Basically, the Stoic Warrior Poet awakens the woman with near-forceful passion that rides the line between rape and acceptance with a precision that's hard to duplicate in real life.

If you sit in a bar and watch human behavior as the flaneur, Wild Kingdom style, the dance is beautiful and fascinating. I was in a bar last weekend and couldn't figure out why so many pretty, dude-seeking girls were wearing dork glasses, tights, flats, high-waisted pants, or tent-shaped dresses, which seems like the equivalent of trying to catch fish with packets of used cat litter. And then I read the Cracked article today and realized that women are actively trying to emulate the Manic Pixie Dream Girl style. That they *want* to be that muse, that adorkable fawn of a girl who dances in and garners every eye, but not because she's a vapid bitch in a skin-tight dress. Because she has some interior magic that makes her special. And I think that some guys are starting to catch on to a more traditional expression of masculinity, Mad Men-style. I still don't understand the hipster boys, though.

And of course, the interesting part is that the few lucky people who function as Stoic Warrior Poets or Manic Pixie Dream Girls in real life naturally attract the opposite sex with a fearful magnetism. You can't fake this shit, to be honest. Zooey Deschanel isn't adorkable; she's beautiful and knows exactly what she's doing. In the movies, it's easy to craft a character who serves as a journey instead of a destination, a conveyance instead of a living, breathing person. But in real life, each angle of the trope must be met 100% or the approach will appear disingenuous and lopsided. And, honestly, kind of lame.

Either you've got it, or you don't, and halfway only counts in horse shoes and NaNoWriMo.

So, in conclusion, instead of dreaming of these fairy-tale concoctions of impossible people waking us up from our everyday lives, let's just set our damn alarms and put in the work. Sitting in a bar, watching people wearing wedding rings chat with eyes ablaze, all I could think was that finding a MPDG or SWP is a lot like standing at the edge of a cliff. It's exciting. It's dizzying. You get a trill in the pit of your stomach. And right after you jump off the cliff, it would be really, super-awesome-fun for the first five seconds. But, eventually, you're going to splatter against the rocks far below.

There's a reason that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl dances right back out of your life.

She's supposed to.

On Writing: Let Me Inspire You

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What I wish I'd said at the Crossroads Writers Conference

I'll admit it: my Talk Block at the Crossroads Writers Conference could have been better. In part because it was my first time there and what I'd planned didn't gel as well with what I found I wanted to say. But if I had it to do again-- and if they'll let me back through the door again next year-- here's what I would want to say.

*

WHAT I WISH I'D SAID AT CROSSROADS WRITERS CONFERENCE


For just a moment, I want you to forget that Amazon exists and simply think about a peach.

I want you to forget about 50 Shades of Grey and advances and agents and editors and SEO and Twitter followers and and blog tours. Because that's not what we're here for. That's not the important part of what we do-- of writing. That's like dreaming of a can of slimy peaches in Costco when you're holding a seed in your hands in a beautiful grove, standing over a hole you dug yourself, ankle-deep in dew.

Only an asshole would focus on a can.

If you want to be published, there's no secret formula that you're going to find here--or at any conference or seminar, no matter how much you pay. Because the secret isn't a secret: you have to work your ass off for a long time, develop a thick skin, put yourself out there, never stop learning, and never give up. You have to write every day, be obsessed, put in the work.

But hearing that doesn't get anyone excited. That's like telling you how the cannery works. No one cares about cans, and no one cares about canneries.

The most important thing that happens is that there is a seed, and the seed grows.

That seed is your idea. It can come from anywhere-- something that happened in real life, a dream, something you read online. It might hit you like a tornado and wreck your life, or it might sneak in, unannounced and insidious, like termites. It might seem ridiculous or impossible at first; the best ideas often do. You can't go find it, though. It has to come to you.

The good thing is that if you're curious-- and every writer I know is deeply curious-- there's a good chance the ideas will come. But you have to be open to it, sensitive to it. The ideas sneak in when you're unfocused. You could go for a hike and step on twenty peach pits and never look down. But if you want to write, you have to train yourself to respond to odd little pings. Characters in the coffee shop, or words in other people's books, or that niggling little thought you had in the shower. And when you find a little seed, you have to at least write it down, maybe think about it for a minute. It might not stick, and it might not go anywhere. But the more seeds you collect, the better the chance that your subconscious will start turning one over and over, contemplating the possibilities of what could grow from that bizarre, wrinkled piece of nothing.

I love my subconscious. If I could, I would kiss the damn thing. If I just step out of my way and stop saying no to things, the answers somehow rise to the surface. Sometimes I have to go driving with the right music or take a long bath, but with the right prompts, what's supposed to happen, happens. Your brain wantsit to happen. It's almost looking at a Magic Eye poster. But instead of relaxing your eyes, you relax your brain.

The point is that just as a tree can't grow overnight, stories take time and lots and lots and lots of thought. You might get a crazy-good hook in your head-- it's like Twilight for narwhals! But that's not enough. You have to know where it starts, where it stops, and a few mile markers in between. You have to know these characters like they're annoying neighbors. I write romance, and while I'm writing, I'm always crushing on the male lead, trying to make myself swoon with everything he says. So this is the part where you take the seed and plant it. Water it and fertilize it. Tend it carefully. Don't let a day-- don't let an hour-- go by when it's not with you, on your mind. Even if it's just one page, one sentence, one word a day, even if it's just some notes on a future scene-- write it.

The first thing you will do is bang out 10 fierce pages like you're being chased, like you're on fire. All 10 pages will probably suck. Don't let that stop you. It's going to suck for a good, long while. Just keep typing, straight on through, with idiotically dogged determination. To me, a first draft is a lot like barfing. You just get it all out, as much as you can, as fast as you can. Worry about fixing it later. But you can't fix an empty page, so you might as well fill the blank space. Just glorify in the mess. Spread it around. You're going to have to get back in there and pull the guts apart, anyway.

I heard so many people at Crossroads ask how to keep going at this point, and here's the ugly secret: for me, the middle of the book is an enormous pain in the ass. I like the beginning, that electric scene where the heroine meets the hero, the slow burn to the first kiss and the sweet fire of the bow-chicka-wow-wow, and then the climactic end. I don't like writing the piddly in-betweens, and sometimes I'l even put a *** and write "insert character building here" or "talking scene where we learn about tragic past". And then I move on to the next scene that excites me in the moment, because maintaining that excitement is the only way to slog through the swamp. Or orchard. Or Costco.

Call it whatever you want. You just have inch toward daylight, as Matt Stover says.

And some people will tell you to keep your eye on the prize, whether that's typing THE END or mailing that paper baby off to your dream agent. But I think that's bad advice.

Forget the end. Keep your eye on the seed.

Never stop thinking about the seed that excited you about the story in the first part. Roll it around in your mouth a little. Whether it's the world or the characters or the twist at the climax, there was something that moved you so much as a conscious being that it elevated you above your basic dinosaur-brain functions and told you to do this ridiculous, awesome, painful, troublesome, heartbreaking, exhausting, sleep-depriving, family-annoying thing. Keep it in your pocket like a worry stone. Listen to the songs that make you feel it. Immerse yourself in what you're creating.

And if you do that *and* you put your ass in the chair every day and write, you will eventually type THE END.

Will it be any good?

No, it will not.

Even Stephen King admits that his first drafts suck. I don't let *anyone* see anything until my third draft, and nothing hits my agent's desk until at least the fifth. And then, do you know what happens?

She takes three months to read it and sends back a six-page edit letter so honest and brutal that it often reduces me to tears.

For three days, I rant and rage and balk like a mule.

And then I usually realize she's right and figure out how to fix it, because writers are often blind to their own faults. When I think she's wrong, I lay out the most logical argument possible and promise to send her cupcakes.

But as I'd like to encourage you to finish your first book, I'm not going to talk about revision, because that's honestly the hardest part. To follow the analogy here, if the seed is the story idea and the tree is the book you're writing, then here's how revisions work. You stand back and admire your tree for five minutes to six weeks. Then you go over every single leaf hunting for blemishes, turn every single peach. You throw away the rotten ones. Mark the green ones. Trim the bum twigs. Scream and jump up and down because you set out to grow a plum tree instead. Cut off half the branches and rearrange them and sew them back on with a needle and no thimble until your hands are a bloody mess. Maybe set fire to the damn tree.

Forget I said that. 

Just remember the beautiful tree, hung with golden peaches. Remember the seed. Keep it close. Treasure it. Nurture it. Worship it. Love it.

No matter how many books I write, the feeling of finding a seed, the electricity of falling in love with an idea,  never gets old.

You are filled with boundless possibility. All you need is time and hard work to turn it into something amazing. But all of the work comes later. There are no Costcos, no cans, no peaches, no trees...

...without that seed.

On Writing: How to Manage Your Expectations at Cons

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

THIS CON IS DEFECTIVE: or, how to manage your expectations as a writer

What, you mean that you went to a writers conference, but your wildest dreams didn't come true?

Yeah. Sorry about that. Mine, neither. Not yet.

See, I went to a fantastic writers conference a few weeks ago and enjoyed the hell out of myself. I came home inspired and reinvigorated, ready to dig my thumbs deep into the fried chicken thigh of writing and pry out the deliciously greasy bits. Who could ask for anything more than chicken and transcendence?

Lots of people, actually.

When you're on Twitter and Facebook and connecting with people after a conference, you can't help making note of the feedback. And while most of what's being said about this particular con is overwhelmingly positive, I've seen a few complaints that people didn't get the answers they'd hoped to find. And I'm somewhat annoyed, because you can't blame the con for your false expectations. I mean... if you walk into a Bojangles and ask for caviar, you're bound to be disappointed, but that doesn't mean you should go whining about it on Yelp.

Here's the thing: you can't worry about getting published/getting a million hits on your blog until you've perfected your craft-- until your writing is really damn good, and you're plugged into your muse, and you're networking, and you're constantly working your ass off. The people you admire in the writing world did not start last week and rise to stardom yesterday. It's taken them years, sometimes decades, to get where they are.

And they're all going to tell you the same thing: there is no one secret to success.

Life as a writer is about hard work, time, tenacity, embracing failure, taking risks, and never giving up. You apply that to your writing, and then to your editing, and then to your querying. And then to everything you do, ever.

You don't get to skip to the front of the line just because you went to a conference.

Most of the questions I heard during Q&A sessions weren't about how to improve one's writing and perfect one's craft. They were about how to get MORE STUFF. How do I get blog hits, magazine gigs, an agent, a sale, self-publishing success? Gimme, gimme, gimme. And, yes, these are questions asked by everyone who wants to be a writer. I would *still* like to know how to sell more books and get more deals and anthologies.

Believe me-- I feel your frustration. When you're still writing on your own, for yourself, hoping to get somewhere, you want the answers to the next step so that your current situation feels viable. After all, if you can't eventually level up, why are you working so freaking hard right now? You want to see success waiting on the horizon. You need something to run toward, proof that your blood and sweat and inky tears will be worth something, someday. You're looking for outside validation.

But you're not going to get that at a conference dedicated to insight and motivation.

So, here's my advice: when you pay to go to a conference, be realistic about your expectations.

If you want someone to critique your writing, go to a retreat or hire an editor or find critique partners.

If you want to connect with agents/editors and discuss your query, go to a con with agent pitch sessions.

If you want inspiration/a kick in the pants, go to a con that specializes in just that.

Do your research, and be honest about the return you expect on any investment in writing help, because anyone who promises you success/answers is probably lying to get your money.

And if, after all that, you're still not getting the answer to your particular questions, find the people at the conference who came the closest to satisfying your curiosity and ask more specific questions. Find their websites or blogs, stalk them on Twitter, whatever. They didn't purposefully disappoint you, and most people remember what it's like to feel lost and are glad to offer their encouragement and help, if not their agent's cell number.

The hardest part about writing is that you have to do it by yourself. No one can force you. No one can give you ideas, stick your butt in the chair, or make you do the research that will help you reach your goals. You have to want it, chase it, long for it, and dedicate yourself to it.

And believe me-- you can get a helluva lot done, standing in this line, waiting your turn.

***

 

Looking for a writers conferences? Here's a list on Wikipedia. 

Looking for resources on how to get published? Here's what I used.

Looking for the water cooler for other people waiting in line? It's called Twitter.

 

A Portrait of the Author Over 3 Years

Monday, October 29, 2012

a portrait of the author over three years

When I looked at today's date, I had an odd little twinge of deja vu. Something in my brain pinged about Gmail, and that's when I realized that it was around this time three years ago when I opened my authorly email address and sent out my very first query letter. Thus began an hour's worth of scouring my Sent Mail folder to see what I've been working on.

Here's the madness of creation. I haven't included data on various drafts, revisions, PR stuff. Just books started, abandoned, finished, sold. Busy busy busy.

Sent first query for FERRYTALE: October 25, 2009 (to Joanna Stampfel-Volpe)
Sent last query for FERRYTALE/abandoned: December 25, 2009
Request for more: 12+
Offers of representation: 0
Briefly believe I have a pub offer, which is actually a vanity press: January 15, 2010
Number of queries sent for FERRYTALE: 53
(quirky, mythology-based romance)

Sent first query for SCRITCH: January 13, 2010 to Elana Roth
Number of queries sent for SCRITCH: 64
First agent phone call: March 23, 2010
Number of agent offers: 2
Number of times SCRITCH went on submission: 2
Officially shelved after going to the table twice: February 2011
(middle grade adventure, The Borrowers x Labyrinth)

Finished frst draft of BLUD (working title of Wicked as They Come): May 26, 2010
Sent WICKED AS THEY COME to agent: July 5, 2010
Sent revision of WICKED AS THEY COME to agent: September 20, 2010
WICKED AS THEY COME goes on submission: January 5, 2011
WICKED AS THEY COME sells at 3-way auction: February 14, 2011
WICKED AS THEY COME publishes: March 27, 2012
WICKED AS THEY COME + book 2 sell to Bastei Lubbe in Germany: May 8, 2012
(steampunk paranormal romance, 110k)

Finished first draft of THE PSYCHOPOMP OF UMBRA: August 10, 2010
UMBRA goes on sub, doesn't sell, is shelved: December 2011
(creepy middle grade adventure)

Finished first draft of ATTACK OF THE BATSH*T BIMBOS: September 18, 2010
ATTACK shelved; agent didn't like: April 18, 2011
*Note: I love this book and want to make it into a graphic novel.
(teen geek zombie farce)

Started PRETTY LITTLE THINGS GO BOOM: December 14, 2010
Abandoned PLTGB at 150 pages: January 26, 2011
*Note: Loved the idea, didn't spend enough time on plot and character.
(YA superhero farce)

Started BLACK PARADE: April 11, 2011 (abandoned at 20k)
*Note: Might finish one day.
(contemprary YA, girl sent to Blud world)

Started ROSE THE SUNBEAR: May 3, 2011
Finished ROSE THE SUNBEAR: May 3, 2012
*Note: Birthday gift for my husband, agent hasn't seen. Considering another edit and sub.)
(middle grade mythological)

Started LOVE YOU FOREVER (Ink & Bone): April 13, 2011
Finished first draft of INK & BONE: May 18, 2011
Submitted INK & BONE to agent after major revision: October 25, 2011
Shelved; author and agent unable to agree after another major revision: July 2, 2012
*Note: THIS IS THE BOOK OF MY HEART. It's going to be sold, one day, no matter what.
(YA ghost thriller/suicide/issues/romance)

Started SPARROWHAWK: May 24, 2011
Abandoned SPARROWHAWK at 58 pages: August 16, 2011
*Note: Love the concept/imagery/characters, didn't pay enough attention to plot. May finish one day.
(alt history YA based on Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty + goblins)

Started HIS GOLDEN EYES: STEAMPUNK ROBIN HOOD: September 30, 2011
Finished first draft HIS GOLDEN EYES: December 31, 2011
*Note: In edits.
(romance)

Started PAYBACK/DEBT-FREE AMERICA: October 20, 2011
Finished first draft of PAYBACK: November 11, 2011
*Note: Agent has  not seen. Needs editing.
(YA pre-dystopian)

*ADDENDUM February 17, 2013: SOLD! to Simon Pulse in two-book deal, 10/31/13.

Started writing THE MYSTERIOUS MADAM MORPHO: January 25, 2012
Finish first draft of THE MYSTERIOUS MADAM MORPHO: February 13, 2012
To editor: March 12, 2012
E-published: October 2, 2012
(Blud e-novella #1.5, 34k)

Started writing WICKED AS SHE WANTS: February 16, 2011
Back into WICKED AS SHE WANTS: March 13, 2012
Finished first draft of WICKED AS SHE WANTS: April 19, 2012
Publishing date: April 2013
(paranormal romance Blud #2)

Started first draft of SERVANTS OF THE STORM: July 23, 2011
Finished first draft of SERVANTS OF THE STORM: August 7, 2011
Sent SotS to agent: November 25, 2011
Finished big revisions on SotS and sent to agent: May 30, 2012
SotS goes on exclusive submission to S&S: June 19, 2012
SotS sells to Simon Pulse: June 27, 2012
SotS publishing date: August 2014
(creepy YA paranormal)

Started THE PECULIAR PETS OF MISS PLEASANCE: June 9, 2012
Finished THE PECULIAR PETS OF MISS PLEASANCE: July 25, 2012
Publishing date: April 2013
(Blud e-novella #2.5, 37k)

Started BLUD 3: June 24, 2012

Started THE THREE LIVES OF LYDIA: August 15, 2012
Finished TTLofL: August 25, 2012
Publishing date: August 2013
(Blud short story, 10k for CARNIEPUNK! anthology)

Started SELECTION: October 21, 2012
Currently at 24k
(gritty scifi, male protag)

On Writing: On the Topic of Virgins

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

on the topic of virgins

Currently on the table: the third e-novella in the Blud series.

Dreaming up a new story is one of my very favorite things to do. For a novella, I get to cram all the swoon, spark, smut, adventure, and excitement into 30,000+ words as possible. It's a challenge-- and a joy.

The first task is to settle on a heroine and hero who are uniquely suited for each other. I've known the hero in this one for a while, and I'm excited to bring Marco Tarasque to the page. But the heroine is just beginning to solidify. When I'm cogitating, I consider a wide range of characters, switching them out of that empty spot like paper dolls, seeing who fits best with the character that first leaped into my mind. And while considering likely partners for Marco and considering the world of Sang, I noticed something interesting about my Blud heroines: out of all 6 stories, only one lead character is a virgin-- and that one is far from a swooning flower.

In the romance biz, virgins are common currency. There's a certain delicious push and pull to a powerful, older alpha male and a wide-eyed girl waiting to be awakened to her power, beautiful and ripe for the picking. And of course there's a precedent for the lure of purity in nature and in history, where males instinctually know that a virgin will bear their young exclusively. Even if a virgin is plucky or rebellious when clothed, she's still going to be pliable and innocent in the bedroom, which is considered desirable. As the stand-in for the romance reader, a virgin provides an opportunity to hearken back to that first thrill of sexual knowledge, but always after submitting completely to a hero who has complete mastery of her pleasure.

But you know what?

I think virgins in romance books are overrated.

While there's something to be said for purity, for waiting, for making sure that it's the right time and the right guy and the right circumstances, I'll tell you a secret: I lost my virginity early, and I'm damn glad I did. My first was a thoughtful, gentle boy who cared deeply for my feelings and comfort, and even if I knew at the time that he wasn't "the one", I knew that it was a safe place, a safe time for me to give up that vulnerability and gain the confidence and knowledge of a woman. I wasn't waiting for perfection, and I wasn't expecting halos of light and angels singing and little birds with flowery garlands. I didn't expect to feel different afterwards, to be fundamentally changed. But I was, and I learned it the next year when I was stalked, cornered, and raped.

If I had waited longer, as society tells me to, then my first experience would have been one of pain, fear, and cruelty. I might have been damaged beyond repair. As it was, I survived, and I healed, and I was grateful that my first time was gentle and slow and well within my power, my choosing, that there was a precedent for love and tenderness.

And while romances featuring virgins almost always have a hero who is gentle and kind with his lady love, I like to write a female lead with a little life under her belt. I find women with power, with a past, far more interesting. And the kind of heroes I write would rather tempt and woo an experienced woman into opening up than court and overpower a sweet young thing who is easily controlled or characterized by her naivete. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with virgins, because obviously we've all been there. And I'm not saying that virgins can't be fierce, powerful, and passionate. And I'm not saying I'll never write a virgin heroine, because I have and surely will again.

I've simply realized that I would rather focus on passion and mutual joy than awkwardness and pain when writing that first, thrilling meeting of bodies. My heroines don't need a dominating father figure to open their eyes to sexuality; they need an equal partner who gives them a reason to let someone in.

And so, as I prepare to write about Marco and Ginger in the caravan, I look forward to crafting a heroine with a past, with a spine of steel, with a sense of adventure and a control of her own sexuality. She won't choose to fall in love because he's an ideal man, a rich vampire, an earl, or some other unattainably perfect deflowering machine that she's unable, in her naivete, to resist. She's going to fall because something in him speaks to something in her, creature to creature. She's going to fall because she wants an adventure. In short, she's going to fall because she damn well wants to.

Some women don't need to be awakened; they need an equal to dream alongside them.

***

NOTE!
If you disagree or would like to contest a point, PLEASE DO. Just because I admitted vulnerability doesn't mean you have to say something nice or hold your tongue. This is my opinion only, and I understand that much of it comes from my experience. Polite, thoughtful dialog is *always* welcome.

On Writing: The Second Book Slump

Why is this taking so long?
Why does this draft feel so unpolished?
What is another synonym for "darkly"?
How many times can you idiots smile, smirk, and nod?
What if my readers hate it and come after me with pitchforks?
WHEN WILL THE LINE EDITS EVER END?

I've asked myself these questions every day this week. I carry the red binder under my arm, a purple pen holding my place and a mini comic of Axe Cop marking my husband's place. He's not done yet. And neither am I.

Your first book is like your first child: it's your world, the sun around which you orbit. You pamper it, watch it sleep, joyfully clean up after it again and again, pass it around proudly to everyone you know. If you're lucky enough to get an agent, it goes back and forth for cuts, revisions, more cuts, further polishing. In short, until your first book sells, it's the only thing that matters.

But once you're under contract, the process changes.

Your second book? It's like your second child.

The deadline sneaks up faster than anticipated. You go into labor early, wishing for one more week as you expel it forcefully. And then you stare at it. Was the first one prettier? Mine was.

The second book is important, but it's not the sun. It's just another moon you tug around with you. You still have to take care of the first book, plus all those other responsibilities that have developed. Marketing, social media, blog posts, interviews, spreadsheets, conferences, possibly some e-novellas, which are basically the new puppies of your family. Not as important as the children, of course, but if you neglect them, they'll destroy everything you love.

My first book was written in three months and polished for a year before selling. It went through two major revisions with my agent-- the kind where you cry, fight it, throw the manuscript, slash things with your red pen, and murder characters you thought were imperative. And then we did two rounds of line edits. And that's before it went out on sub and sold and landed in the editor's capable hands for further fussing.

My second book... did not get to learn baby sign language and go to music classes. It's lucky if I'm carrying it right side up. I wrote it in a month and a half. Didn't have time to send it to betas. The agent gave it a quick read and said, "It'll get fixed in edits." The editor asked for one big revision with no major changes and one secondary revision.

And now I'm carrying it around like a frachetty toddler, trying desperately to dab all the applesauce out of its neck folds before anyone can see it and judge me. The first book made me proud; the second book is still a bit of a hot mess, and it's taking longer to clean it up.

Second Book Slump is a thing. A real thing. A thing authors fear.

If people liked your first book, you want them to like your second book. It needs to have enough in common with the first book to inspire the same love, but is has to be different enough to give them a new experience, one they'll keep coming back to for your third book. So the same, but different, and preferably of a higher caliber, stylistically, because you've grown as a writer since then.

Easy right?

Uh, hopefully. I'll tell you next April.

So my advice to you is this: Enjoy the first book. Give yourself more time than you need on the second book. Start early. Love it, no matter how it looks and acts compared to your first book, because it'll be with you forever. And take a risk, because there's nothing worse than a boring second book that's clearly intimidated by its big sister.

And be kind to yourself. It's easy to forget those tearful moments with your first book, when you cradled it close and thought, "I'm not up to this. Who handed me this gift, and why did they think I was capable of helping it reach its potential? I should probably have gotten a hamster. Or, um, written a haiku."

You did it once. You'll do it again. It's going to take time and hard work, but it's going to be worth it. 

Because if you think the second one is tough, just wait for the third. Books, like children, don't get any easier. But we love them, even if they're impossible.

Because they're impossible.

 

On Writing: The Power of Your Subconscious

Friday, January 4, 2013

on writing: let the old man in

The dream: I was in a dark basement, the sort of thing you see in a Saw movie, where everything is gray and black and filthy and broken and caked in gunk. I was naked, thrown into a shower stall. The water was freezing, sputtering, harsh. Doubled over with cold, coughing, terrified, I wanted nothing more than to escape. The shower door rattled and opened-- it was an old man dressed in rags, and I foot-pushed him away and slammed the door again, wrapping my arms around myself and crying. He'd be back. No matter how many times I shoved him away and slammed the door, he kept coming back.

The reality: I opened my eyes. The water in the bathroom was running, spluttering: my husband in the shower. I was cold: when he'd left the bed, he'd taken one of my blankets with him. The light was gray: halfway between night and morning. I was filled with dread: that old man, in the dream, something waiting just outside the door. And I was angry: I didn't want to be awake at all, but I couldn't get back to sleep.

I pulled up the covers, rearranged the cat on my legs, and stared at the dust on the ceiling fan. I need to clean it off, but I dread it, and I never notice it unless I'm awake in bed at just the right time.

And finally, I knew who that old man was.

He was the giant edit letter waiting for me downstairs. The one I've been foot-pushing out of my mind for weeks. The one that just really wants to open the door and get clean already, even if it hurts.

The one that I've been dreading.

So, as I lay there, my subconscious still ripe and sleep-warm, I just let him the hell in.

Within minutes, it all came together. The questions I've been pondering, the major changes that have needed revising, the mythology. An entire world that had previously been interesting little bits that didn't quite fit together: they merged into one understanding.

I have a nine-page edit letter, three pages of personal notes, and 230+ pages of manuscript.

And, thanks to one annoying dream and subsequent wake-up, I can codify it all into one sentence.

I spent my morning playing God. And it felt good.

That's one of the biggest lessons I've had to learn about writing: sometimes, you can't force it. But you can't just sit around and wait for it, either. You have to be ripe, you have to let it work itself out. You have to put away the anger and just let things in. You have to face your fears, even if that means opening the door for them.

Sometimes, you have to let the old man in.

* * *

 

Note: I do not, in general, advocate letting creepy old men into your shower, nor am I a big fan of being naked in dank Saw basements that offer neither hot water nor skin-friendly soap products. 

 

It's a metaphor.