So, these past couple months have been a whirlwind. Can you believe we’re already at the end of February?! I’m lucky that the New Year energy has actually carried through until now. Just yesterday I managed to go bouldering properly for the first time in about five years. I’m still sore, but I would love this to become a regular thing. #fitnessgoals! Continue reading
Originally published in Headwaters 2011, the UNCA Creative Arts Magazine.
When I was a child, we attended mass every Sunday, arriving early so that my mother could prepare for the scripture readings. Always as we entered, the colors and smells of the church would overwhelm me: the white altar, the golden tabernacle, the heady odor of incense and of the wine that I was not yet allowed to take—more than a metaphor, the real blood of Christ. But then we would sit and my legs would itch, and I would wonder why anyone ever bothered with church.
My father cared little for the faith. He was there because my mother was there. He only listened when she read. Her strong voice, shaped and accented with the dark tints of her native tongue, would rise to fill the nave, and while I was too young to understand the meaning of the verses in full, this was the voice that had read me bedtime stories, and it soothed me.
I left the faith when I was sixteen. It ended when my religion teacher made a comment about homosexuality—about how their love was less pure: that it was not what god intended. I asked him how he could possibly know exactly what god intended. When he couldn’t answer, I politely told him I would not be taking my Confirmation and walked out of the classroom.
Mother shook her head when I told her. I wish you could see what I see. Then she pulled me into a hug and told me that it didn’t matter. So long as I believed in something—the sky, the stars, the possibility of good—she would be proud.
I was twenty three when we found her unconscious in her bedroom. I had awoken to the sound of my father crying into the telephone, yelling at someone for an ambulance. It took a moment for me to realize what was happening; even then, I didn’t understand until I walked into the bedroom and saw her lying there, her eyes blank, not breathing.
I began to scream.
My father dropped the phone in frustration, and I could hear the dispatcher asking if he was still there. I picked it up.
Can you do CPR?
The dispatcher told me how to find her sternum, how to place my hands. Push down two to three inches, firmly. I felt her ribs break under my palms.
I never heard the sirens, but I suddenly found myself pulled out of the way by the EMT. They loaded her into the ambulance, and my father drove us to the hospital in silence. After an hour of waiting, the doctor came in to talk to us. He told us they had managed to restore her heart beat, but that her brain was damaged beyond repair. She was gone. He asked my father whether they should keep her on the machines.
Her funeral was held in the new church that I had never seen built—the church that she and my father had donated to, after I had left the faith. It was the first time in seven years I had stepped foot into a Catholic place of worship. The smell of incense was overwhelming, the carpets red as the communion wine. When time came for the sacrament, I remained seated—I was a child once more, unworthy of the saving graces of communion. I fidgeted in my seat, my legs itching with the effort of sitting.
I waited for her voice to comfort me.
In honor of the inauguration of our president-elect, human-hating alien swampbeast Donald Trump, I’m here with six ways to approach any dystopian future you may be imagining for your sci-fi works and/or depressing reality this coming year. Continue reading
Ten days in, it’s STILL a new year, and that means new goals, new missions, new inspirations, and hopefully keeping your motivation the whole year long. But as a writer, it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply making the resolution to “write more,” which rarely manages to actually motivate us to do anything more than stress about about how much we’re not writing. Continue reading
We’re already more than a week into the 50,000 word writing challenge madness that is NaNoWriMo, and that means that plots are picking up, rising actions are building, and characters are reacting to crises of conscience with all the subtlety and skill of a Walking Shovel of Death. It also means that your word count is probably behind, and you might soon be ready to start weeping in a corner.
Just informed that I got a place in the Writer’s Voice contest run by Brenda Drake & Co (more info here). So, the blog’s coming out of retirement, and I’m posting my query and the first 250 words of my middle grade contemporary fantasy novel, BETWIXT, both for the contest and for your reading pleasure 🙂
In the small Appalachian town of Candle Creek, the boundaries are clear, yet Elsa Roberts still manages to get tangled in them. As a scholarship student at the prestigious Candle Creek Day School, the public schoolers at her church can’t trust her. At the private school, she’s been labeled “trouble” since the day she punched Izzy Whittaker in the glasses (even though Izzy deserved it). And it doesn’t matter how much Mamá tries to convince her otherwise; Elsa already knows that the kids of Candle Creek will never accept her as one of their own.
And so, she escapes her thirteenth birthday party, crossing a bridge into the wood beyond. There, she finds Aza, a spirit trapped by an ancient curse, who gives her the acceptance she has always craved, and who tells her that she can be a hero.
But the wood beyond is full of danger as well as wonder, and when Elsa sets out to slay a dragon and break an enchantment that threatens to destroy her family, she releases monsters that she never could have imagined. Caught between the dark forces of ancient magic and the very human monsters of Candle Creek, Elsa must find the power to reshape the boundaries of her world, or risk losing her place in it forever.
A middle grade novel that combines fantasy elements with the bittersweet realities of modern middle school, BETWIXT is a story about a girl growing up stuck between worlds, between communities, between histories. Complete at 70,000 words, it is available upon request.
1 | The Wood Beyond
Elsa Roberts was fleeing her birthday party.
She had to climb down the oak tree to do it. Her bedroom was in the attic of the house, three stories up, and the only way for her to escape the party unnoticed was to clamber over her window seat and onto the sill, her fingers clinging to the top of the window frame as she stepped across the two-and-a-half-foot gap to the oak tree’s nearest branch. In jeans and sneakers, it was a feat that made Elsa’s heart pound, no matter how many times she managed it.
Of course, she wasn’t wearing jeans or sneakers. She’d already put on her dress.
There was no time to change into anything more practical. She’d taken too long getting ready, and Mamá would soon come up to check on her. And so, with the late August breeze grabbing at her skirt and the branches trembling beneath her feet, she scrambled out her window and into the old oak, scuffing her shoes against the rough trunk as she lowered herself through the branches. She dropped into the backyard, pausing just long enough to catch a glimpse of the guests through the downstairs windows.
Elsa ducked behind the oak before anyone could think to look outside. At the other end of the yard, a weeping willow tree bent over the path into the woods: a path that led to the Candle Creek, to a bridge that Elsa had never dared to cross—
Not until today.
I’ve recently been told that I can be quite a frustrating person to take walks with. I will admit I’m easily distracted—after all, if you’re going to walk somewhere for fun, what’s the point in walking briskly, hands in pockets, eyes on the ground in front of you to make sure you don’t step in anything nasty? Especially when there are so many things you can see on walks: the engraved facades of old, crumbling buildings, the tiny yellow flowers just starting to bloom in the sidewalk planters, odd-shaped clouds and curious pigeons. In fact, just looking UP when you walk can be heavenly—so many people forget to look up these days, though that might have something to do with the fact that it tends to make you bump into things (other pedestrians, random trees, the person you’re accompanying, etc.).
Which brings me to this week’s trope:
Though Luna Lovegood may perhaps be the most well-known (and best-loved) example of this trope, Cloudcuckoolanders can be found in every corner of literature, from the titular protagonist of Don Quixote, to Spinelli’s Stargirl, and in fact, the trope name comes from Aristophanes’ The Birds, where Cloud Cuckoo Land was an impossible perfect city in the clouds—and the Cloudcuckoolander has always embodied that wonderful, tragic mixture of idealism and impracticality.
That said, it’s all too easy to make the Cloudcuckoolander outright clueless or ignorant, rather than merely different. And at times, such as when such a character is shoe-horned into the role of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, they can suffer every character’s worst curse: flatness. There are too many instances where a Cloudcuckoolander’s oddness becomes their only dimension, the author sacrificing the character’s humanity in favor of an oddball characature or stereotype.
Still, there’s always been something inherently endearing about the free-spirited Cloudcuckoolander. After all, each and every one of us has a unique and entirely individual way of looking at and interacting with the world. The Cloudcuckoolander merely takes the most exaggerated combination of these differences, allowing us to examine how looking at the world differently can give us insights, or isolate us: how different ways of seeing the world lead to different ways of relating to the world, as well as our actions within it.
In terms of my writing this week, the Cloudcuckoolander trope has been a main focus. I’ve been working on the second draft of my NaNoNovel, and among all the major changes I’ve been implementing in order to strengthen the characters and better develop the plot, I’ve found that one of my minor characters is becoming more important to the narrative. And working with her character was proving extremely difficult until I realized that her Cloudcuckoolander nature had to be balanced by her less savory character traits (namely, her propensity for lying).
Because it doesn’t matter how distracted we get by the clouds or the flowers, whether we see the world in black or white or shades of grey or in a particularly vivid hue of violet: the key to characters, in both fiction and real life, will always be our conflicting depths.
This week’s trope is brought to you by truth in television.
My week’s been a lovely mixture of waiting-for-Godot -type existential angst (while recovering after last week’s maelstrom of finishing things) and more nerve-wracking anxiety concerning every and all things that are my life.
In short, I’ve ended up in the place between things, and it’s a very unpleasant place to be.
In television and serial narrative, the Filler Episode (usually fluff, sometimes just a one-off monster-of-the-week type thing) is used to pad out the series, to space out plot progression, to give the audience breathing room between the ramping stakes and escalating conflicts. They may be extremely light on plot and are those episodes which contribute little or nothing to the main arc of the series.
And yet, while filler may be an undesirable side effect of needing 12 issues per volume, or 26 episodes per season—a demand of media convention and expectation rather than a narrative necessity, there is something to be said for breathing:
“One reason that people have artist’s block is that they do not respect the law of dormancy in nature. Trees don’t produce fruit all year long, constantly. They have a point where they go dormant. And when you are in a dormant period creatively, if you can arrange your life to do the technical tasks that don’t take creativity, you are essentially preparing for the spring when it will all blossom again.” –Marshall Vandruff
The truth of it is, I’ve reached a milestone at this point. And though I need to recover, though I need time to breathe and live and BE: to allow the stakes to stand, the action to calm—while I do need time to refresh, it doesn’t feel so much refreshing as frustrating.
In short: My life right now is a badly done filler episode. Let’s hope next week brings back the plot.