Well, This Sucks

So . . . shitty news. Specifically, on the writing front.

Turd the First: the publisher I submitted my novel to sent me a rejection letter last week. They were pretty awesome about it, made it clear that it probably wasn’t because I suck at what I do, but it was still a form-letter and it absolutely sucks.

I’m still hurting about this one. I wrote that novel specifically for this open call. I knew it was kind of a long shot, but still. I hoped.

Regardless, I’m not giving up on it. I’ll need some time to feel shitty about it, but then I plan on re-reading, revising if needed, and sending it somewhere else. Maybe some other publisher will be interested in it. I can’t say “it doesn’t hurt to try” because, actually, it does hurt, but I’m gonna try anyway.

Turd the Second: apparently Torquere LLC, the publisher that first told me “yes” and published my short story “Closer”, is going under. There has been a lot of talk over several months that’s made me uneasy, but I chose to have faith in the owners and editors. I decided to move forward with the contract I signed. It turns out that that was probably a mistake.

This makes me feel absolutely heartsick. I feel like I was taken advantage of, because I was so very, very new to the publishing world. This, combined with the rejection, has me wondering if my dream of being a writer is laughable. The idea of submitting my works to other publishers and finding out later that they’re untrustworthy is not only exhausting, it’s disheartening.

I don’t know what, exactly, my next move will be here. I’ve contacted someone in the industry with experience, and plan on reaching out to others. I’m going to try and get more information before deciding what my next move is. The only thing I know for sure, though, is that I won’t stop writing. I can’t. I’m simply not capable of it.

I might, however, take a bit of a break from it. Just for a little while. Maybe. More because I have a lot of other things going on in my life right now — upcoming holidays, the anniversary of Motherunit’s expiration, sorting out my health — than because of this whole debacle, but still. Putting pressure on myself to write when I’m overtaxed and my heart isn’t in it is a bad idea.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

It’s Official

I’m a writer. Not just in the sense of “this is who and what I am” but also in the sense that I HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED. There is a career trajectory, now.

Which. Exciting! But also scary. I haven’t heard back on the book, but I’ve had a piece of poetry published in ImageOutWrite Vol. 5, and a piece of my short fiction was just published by Torquere. The short story is part of the Harvest Moon anthology.

Getting here wasn’t easy. There were a lot of speed-bumps and obstacles along the way, and I know that this is just the beginning. I have to hope that my writing catches people’s attention, and that I can build a readership. I have to keep writing, even when my insecurities whisper that I can’t do this, that the publications I have only happened through luck, that I’m not actually that good. I have to keep telling the stories that make my heart sing, even when it would be easier to follow trends and convention.

But you know what? For right now, I’m just going to celebrate a little.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

Writing Confession:

I have never, ever, not once in my life, written a second draft. I honestly do not understand the concept.

Looking through most writing guides, you hear over and over again that “good writing is rewriting” and that you should expect most of your first draft to be shit. That the second draft is where you fix plot holes, cut out unnecessary scenes or chapters, where you fix problems with your structure and add more to the parts that are lacking. It is, supposedly, where you do “the real work” and where your piece of fiction or poetry becomes more authentically you.

And, uh. I’m looking around thinking, You people don’t this on the first go-round?

Because here is the thing: by the time I sit down and start writing a story, I already know what kind of story I want to tell. I know what I want to make my readers feel. I know what structure I will use to achieve that, because I’m all about letting form follow function. Certain stories have more impact when told in a non-linear fashion, where other stories benefit from the crisp minimalism provided by drabble sets. Other stories are better told in past or present tense. Depending on what kind of story I’m telling, on who the characters are and what the primary conflict is, I might write from one character’s perspective, or two, or even head-hop. But I know all of this before I set the first word on the page.

Because by the time I sit down to write a story, I have pages upon pages of notes. I have notes about character backstories and world-building. I have a plot outline. I have a timeline to refer to, if the story is taking place over a number of days (or even weeks, or months) and the passage of time is important in the story. I have answered questions about potential plot holes. I have presented the basic idea to my writing friends, and then answered their questions in my pages of notes. I have usually brainstormed three different endings, and made notes about how each will play out and what it would mean to the story as a whole.

I take days to create an entire world inside my head before I set my fingers to my keyboard and start setting it free. I re-write as I go — I might change a particular sentence or paragraph five times before I move on. I go back and re-read, adjust word choices and tweak dialogue and cut sentences when I’m still in the middle of the project. I am ruthless as I write. Description is kept to a minimum — if it’s not important to the character whose head I’m writing from, then it doesn’t need to be there. Every interaction and scene has to serve at least two of the following purposes: 1) furthering the plot/ developing the primary conflict; 2) development of one or more characters in the scene; 3) exposition; and 4) drawing connections between cause and effect, past events in the story and the present moment, and/or between characters. Ideally, it should be doing all four.

So maybe the real reason I have never written a second draft is that, really, I’ve never written a first one.
~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

Fiction: What it’s Worth

Mermaid scales were easy. It was the matter of a moment to brush a few from my tail and tip them into your cupped palm. The herbs I left you to gather. The land is your home, and you’ve known magic since before you drew breath. I knew you’d find what you needed.

The other things, though. The ones I promised to get for you, those I left to retrieve with the promise to be back in time. The full moon was just two days’ away, and the spell needed the right amount of moonlight to work. I flicked water at you and told you to have a little faith in me.

I did not tell you I feared that I would fail. Didn’t tell you that I had to make promises to the squid in exchange for his ink, or that I was afraid of the ghosts in the shipwreck I searched to find you the finger bone of a drowned sailor. I did not tell you that I fought with my sister, because she did not believe any human was worth the palmful of sand from the ocean floor I gathered for you. I didn’t tell you of the hours it took to find the grumpy old crab a new shell before he would let me have his old one.

I did not tell you any of these things, because the moment you shed your dress on the beach after completing the potion to lie beside me in the wet sand as the magic took hold and fashioned you a tail was worth it. Being able to kiss you under the waves and have your breathlessness be from my lips and not the need for air was worth it. Being able to show you the world I grew up in, with all its dark, dangerous beauty and bright colours and happy memories was worth it. I would have paid that and more to be able to look down at you, sleeping peacefully in my arms and know that I can sleep, too, and that we will both still be here when we wake.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

Random Research

The weird thing about writing a book is all the random details that you end up needing to research or double-check. Like. It got a little ridiculous.

The list of things I researched while writing The Novel include:

  • Ancient Egyptian temple practises, and the role of women in organized religion
  • Staples of an ancient Egyptian diet
  • Seasonal weather patterns in Austin, Texas
  • Hair and costume choices in belly dancers, including cultural vs. competitive variations
  • Voodoo Doughnut (pastry shop)
  • Schedules past and present for SXSW
  • The Black and White Years (band)
  • Inner-city high schools in Austin
  • The closest Starbucks to James Bowie High School
  • The driving distance, in hours, from New Orleans, Louisiana to Austin, Texas
  • The advertising industry
  • Majors offered at University of Texas
  • Sports programs at University of Texas
  • Gender-neutral names
  • Popular names for girls born in the 1860s

. . . and last, but not least, binding practises as they relate to gender-fluidity. Suffice to say, writing The Novel was an interesting ride.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

Inspiration

So, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, things have been pretty quiet on the Hangover front until very recently. There’s a reason for that, and it’s this: I’ve spent most of the last three months writing a novel, and I didn’t have a lot of creative energy to spare for blogging.

But, well. The going has not been easy, or fast. I actually had to take a couple weeks, and leave it alone. I’ve come back to it recently, and after (binge-) watching Sense8, I’ve realized something that has filled me with an overwhelming desire to write, and to finish my story.

Art has value. It impacts other people. It stirs up emotion and maybe, if you’ve done something right, you’ve made people think about the things that matter (and perhaps pissed someone off).

I forgot about that. For me, writing my book has been about me, about fulfilling a dream and doing something worthwhile until my grad ceremony and pursuing something that I am so passionate about it’s actually a part of me. It’s felt like giving birth.

But I managed to lose sight of the fact that, if this story is my baby, I’ll have created something that will take on a life of its own. Something that’s capable of reaching out and touching other people. Something that will have value apart from me, something that might just matter (maybe even a lot, if I manage to do this right) to other people.

Because when I started writing, I wasn’t trying to do something special. I wasn’t trying to be trendy, or controversial. All I tried to do, and all I continue trying to do, is use lies to tell a truth. Because that’s what the best fiction is: lies that tell us something true. And in my pursuit of that, in trying to find the right lies to chase down a truth, in getting so caught up in the parts that make up the whole, in the technical things — does this dialogue sound right? is my characterization off? what is driving this scene? have I overused a certain word? do I have enough description? too much? — I couldn’t see the big picture.

I’m telling something true.

My main character is a demon, bound in a human body. And she refuses to let what she is dictate who she is. What she is shapes her life, yes. But she lives on her own terms. And there is a cost to that.

Another major character is an immortal witch. She’s lived so long that she is sliding toward apathy; it’s hard to continue to find meaning, and she can’t make herself knowingly walk into death. There isn’t much she hasn’t been in the course of her very long life, but “white” makes the list.

There is an abusive father. A loving, wonderful (but imperfect) single mother. A character who is outside the gender binary. Sexuality and sexual orientation that is complicated and messy. Moral ambiguity. Attempted sexual assault. Rage. Humour. Feeling lost.

And there is truth in all of these.
~
I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

Fiction: Here Comes the Bride

For most people, birth and death are the bookends to their lives; the first and final pages of their life’s story. Not me.

My experiences with these two were very different. My mother’s pregnancy was easy, since it was her sixth. But it seems that her good luck didn’t hold—somehow, I died. I didn’t stay that way for long, surrounded by doctors and nurses in the hospital. It was less than a minute by all accounts. Even still, Mom claims it was the most terrifying moment of her life, joking that I was the baby to turn her hair grey. It wasn’t surprising that Mom called quits on having kids after that.

As for me . . . I was an odd child. Maybe it was because I was the youngest—as the baby of the family, I grew up with five older sisters that teased me, babied me, got protective over me, and completely sold me down the river in turns. Maybe it was my dad’s fault; Mom certainly liked to blame him. Or maybe I was just born a pint-sized weirdo and grew bigger.

I can only say that now, looking back. When I was younger, I had no idea that there was anything different about me. Growing up, I hung around at the park after school, played on the soccer team, and joined the reading club at the school library. I was around other kids a lot, but I guess I never paid quite enough attention. That changed when I was about eleven.

That was when I noticed that even though I was talking and playing and going to public school like most other kids in my neighbourhood, I didn’t exactly have friends. I remember asking a classmate if I could come over after school with the other girls and boys, but when he asked his mom, she told him no—there was something about me she couldn’t put her finger on, but didn’t like. I wasn’t meant to hear the last bit.

After that, I tried pretty hard to be liked. When it didn’t work out for me, I tried to seem cool—you know, that mysterious loner kid. Now that I managed to be good at. It probably helped that I had a pet cemetery in my backyard, full of miniature tributes to the three hamsters, two budgies, kitten, puppy, and gerbil that had died on me as a kid. By the time I was thirteen, I’d decided that other people could keep their tame animals—at least I didn’t have to clean up critter crap. My goal was also helped along by the fact that my house gave off creepy vibes. There was no reason that it should, no distinctive feature you could single out as creepy, but it still had that haunted feel.

Of course, I played up the cool angle every way I could—you survive high school by any means necessary. For me, it meant resigning from sports teams. Jocks were cool, yeah, but it was a popular kind of cool—not the mysterious, silent, loner kind that a former dork like me might actually be able to achieve. I found my dad’s old jacket and took to wearing it all the time. It was huge, the black leather worn thin in some places, and it probably didn’t look all that great. But I liked it. In addition to my dad’s jacket, my quest to carve out an identity for myself in high school also led me to paint on raccoon eyes with the help of eyeliner. My mom pitched a fit—makeup was not allowed in our house, and certainly not on her baby. That was one of the times my oldest sister was really awesome—she was my dealer of illicit substances. Kohl, in my case.

And thus World War III broke out over eyeliner. Given the way I was babied by everybody, you couldn’t blame me for wanting to get the hell out of dodge once I’d graduated high school. I mean, when you have older sisters, your privacy is zero, your dates are pre-screened and threatened to within an inch of their lives, the concept of “your stuff” is pretty fluid, and you will always be seen as the helpless baby that came home from the hospital wrapped in a fuzzy knitted blanket. Even knowing that, the way my sisters hovered over me was stifling; it was like having six moms.

It wasn’t until later that I started to understand why they were always shrieking like sirens—I had a few close calls as a kid. A fall off the monkey bars when I was seven, complete with landing on my head, had my sister Ruby in hysterics because she thought it’d killed me. When I was twelve, I was hit by a car while riding my bike. At fifteen, I ended up with bacterial meningitis. Obviously I was insanely lucky to come out of all that none the worse for wear. I figured I was owed the good luck, having been born last into such a big family. It never occurred to me that my luck could ever run out or change.

And, of course, it ran out at the worst possible moment—as soon as I’d moved away for college. Once my family was a two-hour drive away, Murphy’s Law arrived to smack me around. First of all, my roommate managed to contract the plague (not the actual plague, but something close), and was sick all over our dorm. After realizing that he had gone to the hospital, I found out that there’d been a screw-up with my tuition payment, and had to spend three very long days running between my college’s Business Office and the local branch of my bank. There may or may not have been a whiny phone call to Mom in between trips. After all that junk was finally dealt with, the work load began kicking my butt.

Finally, it was October, and even though my birthday was coming up—on the 13th—I was alone in my dorm room, dreading the midterms that were rapidly approaching instead of looking forward to turning eighteen. My friend Kira came by—because I did manage to make one of those, despite my best efforts—and she decided to drag me out. I didn’t bother fighting her, because that would just have been an exercise in futility.

That night was weird, though. I couldn’t shake the unsettled feeling I had; the kind of not-right that you just can’t find words for. For a while I ignored it, convinced that I was just in a mood. When the feeling persisted despite the drinks and good company, I mentioned it to Kira, but she didn’t notice anything off. Once, I thought I felt that prickle you get when someone’s staring a hole in the back of your head, but no one was looking in my direction.

By the time I went to sleep that night I’d forgotten all about it. New town, strange places, funky moods, they can all make you twitchy over nothing. I figured it was nothing. I forgot all about it for the next few days, until Kira asked me to visit the local graveyard with her. I rolled my eyes, but agreed. Halloween was coming up, and there were much weirder—and less legal—things she could be asking me to take part in. Like a séance, or egging her ex’s house.

But when we got there, my good mood disappeared like a pickpocket in New York City—Kira had invited other people to this little rock garden rendezvous. While she ran ahead to meet her friends, I lagged behind. Suddenly, this didn’t seem so fun anymore.

Once we were actually inside and running round in some demented scavenger hunt—whoever found the oldest headstone won—I changed my mind. I mean, yeah, the place was still kind of creepy, but not because it was full of dead people. Instead, it was creepy because it was . . . welcoming, somehow. By the time we’d have to leave or get arrested for trespassing, I didn’t want to go. The cemetery was peaceful, and quiet, and the weather was still nice, and how had I never noticed how pretty this place was before? Kira ended up dragging me out by my belt-loops, laughing.

After that, I tried to focus on the good stuff rather than freaking out over tests that weren’t here yet. It was a great plan, but it didn’t work so well. There was this tension in my gut that just wouldn’t go away; something that was gnawing at me. It kept me from sleeping right. And of course, when you don’t sleep right, you get twitchy. I started jumping at every loud noise and staring at every odd-shaped shadow. I was the definition of paranoid.

The day before my birthday, I came down with a horrible case of the stomach flu. I ended up camped out on the bathroom floor with a blanket wrapped around me, just so I didn’t have to move to upchuck. By about eleven-thirty at night, my stomach finally stopped trying to escape my body. After I kept some water down, I hauled my ass off the tile and flopped on my bed, absently noticing that my cactus had died. I was feeling drowsy and hoping I might sleep when my guts started gurgling again. I groaned, but decided to step outside for a few minutes in the desperate hope that fresh air might make me feel better.

When I got outside, the chilly breeze felt good. I leaned against the warm bricks of my dorm building and just breathed. I was outside longer than I thought, because I heard the clock tower clang out midnight. “Happy birthday to me,” I grumbled, “now if I can just stop puking, I might be able to enjoy being eighteen.”

“I wouldn’t count on that.”

My neck snapped around so fast I nearly gave myself whiplash trying to find who the low mutter belonged to. I stared, unmoving and silent, not wanting to give myself away. With how sick I’d been, I could maybe fight off a baby kitten if I had the element of surprise. This was not a good time for trouble to find me.

But when the silence simply stretched on the uncertainty got to me. I had to know if the random commenter was still there or not. “You have a name?” I called out, trying to sound stronger than I was.

“Oh, I have many names . . . but the only one you need to call me is ‘love’,” was the rasping reply.

It was creepy, and I didn’t like being creeped out. “What the hell do you want?” I yelled, anger lending my voice strength. I started edging back towards the door, fumbling for my keys.

“I’ve simply come to claim what’s mine,” the slithering voice replied. Before I could retort or book it back inside, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned in time to see the owner of that rattling voice step out of the shadows. I froze.

They weren’t overly tall, about equal to me in height, but they were covered from head to foot by black fabric. It should have been hysterical—someone dressed in a Grim Reaper getup to pull a Halloween prank. But this was no prank. Masks didn’t have eye-sockets that glittered and spat sparks. Skeleton-gloves didn’t include broken, blood-crusted fingernails and decaying flesh. And no person would ever smell like that for the sake of a costume. That smell—liquefied fat and disintegrated muscle and melted skin—that smell was unmistakable.

“You smell like death,” I muttered, breathing into the blanket I was still wrapped in.

“And the Beloved shall know thee, and call thee by name,” it hissed, triumph and possessiveness tainting the syllables.

“Don’t call me beloved! I don’t know you!” the words spilled, garbled, from my mouth as I rushed to deny the claim.

“You’ve been mine since the day your mother squeezed you from her body,” Death sneered. It took a moment—a short eternity—before the statement clicked. I understood, even though I desperately didn’t want to.

“No, no—the doctors brought me back. I was only technically dead for a few seconds!” I protested frantically. I was shivering, and it had nothing to do with the temperature or being ill.

Death’s grin was disturbingly gleeful as the sickly fires of Hell danced in empty eye-sockets. “No, they didn’t.”

I thought I felt sick before, but it was nothing compared to this. I felt my body go cold, felt my heart stop and my lungs shrivel. My skin seemed to shrink and crack, and in some places it barely clung on. My fingernails were suddenly black and broken. I felt something moving through my veins, so slowly and unevenly that it couldn’t be blood. Against my better judgement, I looked down and understood: maggots. I felt my gorge rise. I was a walking corpse. It was as if I had suddenly switched bodies—my living, breathing, whole one exchanged for the revolting putrescence of one several weeks dead.

“What have you done to me?” I whispered, suddenly hoping for all I was worth that this was nothing more than one of my annoyingly-frequent nightmares.

But the next thing that happened wasn’t me coming awake, panicking, in my bed. Instead, Death stalked closer. I wanted to back up—the stench was awful—but I couldn’t seem to move. I was paralyzed, and Death was mere inches away from me and misting foul breath into my face. “Made sure you aren’t late to the wedding, of course.”

“What wedding?” I mumbled through numb lips, unable to understand anything when every inch of skin I had left was crawling at Death’s insistent closeness.

“Our wedding, love. I told you—you’ve been mine since you refused to draw breath. Think of your little resurrection as our betrothal ceremony. I’ve always been coming for you.” Death’s tone was nauseating.

“No! I didn’t sign anything or agree to jack. There has to be some way out of this.” I stared at the mouldering skull as the sickening face turned away. “There is, isn’t there? There’s a way out of this that you don’t want me to know!” I hollered, the relief making me giddy.

My moment of lightheartedness was short-lived. She—it was a she, the hood had fallen back from long, straw-like hair clinging to broken patches of scalp, the robes parting to reveal half-melted mounds of slimy fat that might once have been called breasts—she turned back to face me, and wrapped skeletal hands about my face. “There is no way out of the wedding,” she snarled venomously, “but if you leave me, it will be only after I have an heir.”

In the space of a breath, comprehension slammed into me like a Mack truck. I turned away, retching up nothing but curdled bile. If I were ever to be free of Death—of her throat-clogging reek and her malice and dark joy in young lives cut short—I was going to have to sleep with her. What was worse, I was going to have to find a way to enjoy it if I were to impregnate her worm-riddled womb with an heir and win my freedom. As she dragged me down to hell where Lucifer awaited us at the altar, I couldn’t decide which was worse—being claimed by Death, or the price I would have to pay to be free of her.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.