Not-Writing

Left-Handed Lyfe

No blogs or writing for a while – this time because I broke my arm! My right arm no less, my dominant one. The fates are not with my creative desires, either, I guess. On the plus side, for years I’ve wanted the patience to rewire my brain and train myself to be more ambidextrous. Now’s my chance! Or, alternately, I won’t do a goddamn thing for a month and a half.

Percy Jackson it is, then.

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The Questioning Quest

Since I’m not doing anything but waiting for this trip to end so I can resume my normal life, I’ll just answer even more questions. I know I’m not a real author, but hell – get to know me! Why not? Well, there’s a lot of reasons why not, but too bad. On to the questions!

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Um . . . I went to Palestine after reading Joe Sacco’s Palestine? As a Neruda fan, I tried to go to Chile, but lost a drunken, late-night bet and consequently bought tickets to Peru instead. Does that work?
What is the first book that made you cry?
Oh, I remember this well: Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows, age 9. I had to stop reading because I could no longer see the words on the page. I had no fucking idea what was happening to me.
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Prolly killin’ trees. #I’mFromOregon I’m also not a huge fan of the heavy emphasis on genres that takes place – I view it as limiting and creatively stifling to aspiring writers. But I’m not sure that’s an ethical issue so much as me being annoyed that I can’t fit my writing into a marketable genre.
Does writing energize of exhaust you.
Depends 100% on whether or not I like what I’m writing.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Mine involves an impenetrable wall of secrecy, but with most of the other writers I know, I’d say a lack of thorough editing.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
I’m gonna go with help.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Moodswings?
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Absolutely! I’ve gone years at a time unable to find a book that holds my interest. My own imagination is almost always a far more entertaining place for me than those of others. That may sound arrogant, but do note the “for me” stipulation. My imagination probably sucks for everyone else.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Every day of my life. Still undecided.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I highly doubt I’ll ever have readers, so I’m gonna say I’m totally original, bro. Super unique.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I think there are MANY writers who don’t feel emotions strongly. In my experience, emotions aren’t much help.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
My husband writes. In fact, we pretty much got married because of shockingly similar plot points & overlapping character names. Having similar life goals was nice, too, I guess. He is largely responsible for the fact that I write anything coherent & readable at all. Before meeting him, my story was purely a private indulgence. My BFF also writes. She has the kind of belief in & passion for writing that makes you feel like it’s something proper to do, rather than a dark secret fetish that you must hide in the underworld while lying about who you are to the whole world. Can’t say no to that.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I’m doomed to connectivity.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Psst. It’s not actually a sin.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Dude, if I ever published a book I think my process of writing would degrade into bourbon on the rocks & an early but happy death.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
A lap top? Coffee? Bourbon on the rocks?
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Neil Gaiman comes to mind. For the most part, though, it’s gone the other way.
What did you do with your first advance?
Bourbon. Rocks. Right?
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Have you ever traveled abroad?
What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
My husband knows about a thing that lists all the publishing companies and their specialties. That sounds pretty damn important to me.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Not a novel, but I once read some really impressive Star Wars fanfiction. For real, it was better than almost anything I’ve ever read.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I kill the main character.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A ghost.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Endless blushing, flubbing of words, and a slow death from one-by-one admitting the life-long crushes I harbor on them.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
7000.
What does literary success look like to you?
Aside from bourbon on the rocks? Being read and appreciated by a small handful of strangers who happen to make really good fan-art.
What’s the best way to market your books?
A couple of weeks ago, my plan involved illustrating, self-publishing & selling my book alongside my art at events like Short Run or Linework, but as of late I’ve been too painfully aware of how shitty my drawings are. That means I have no plan and I’m screwed. So, yeah.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I take in information via a relentless, overwhelming, uncontrollable osmosis, and there is no end in sight.
Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
. . .
DMTAyahuasca-1024x678
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters of the opposite sex?

Subtly communicating that, because gender is a social construct, my boys shouldn’t be written off as unrealistically effeminate; they are foreign. And anything having to do with sex. Sex is just gross.
How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
Countless lifetimes in this cursed Samsara that I’ve yet to escape.
How many hours a day do you write?
Roughly three, on average. Unless I’m traveling, when it’s zero and all I can think about is throwing myself from this 17th floor hotel window.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
I don’t generally write about my life, unless it’s in a journal or this blog or something. In which case: young adulthood. And whatever you call my present age. Adult adulthood?
What did you edit out of this book?
Believe it or not, there was originally even more suffering. Really, so much is left out, so as not to overwhelm: multiple languages, cultural details, characters (most notably my main character’s little sister. She’s fucking amazing, but didn’t influence what I isolated of the plot, so I had to drop her), landscape quirks (about 10,000 Bermuda Triangles), flora & fauna (!DEADLY SPIDERS!), religious traditions, foods, sub-plots mostly revolving around nomads, wildly convoluted unexplained supernatural phenomenon of all sorts, regional histories & previous political structures — basically, everything one would dream up in 20 years of surreal world building. It’s all still there, in my head, in my heart. It’s still real to me. But it had to go. I mean, a book is only a book. Honestly, I’m just writing about some ill-fated kid.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, and everything Richard Brautigan ever wrote.
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
My take: play it safe by keeping it weird.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I change them constantly until for some inexplicable reason one of them sticks. And once The Sticking takes place, no amount of second-guessing can change it. I use several character names that I don’t like, but those are their goddamn spaceman-fucking names.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
Astronaut. j/k my eyesight & math both suck. I worked in childcare for ages before becoming a stay-at-home mom and witch.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
If such things existed, I would *say* I wouldn’t read them, but then I would. Obsessively. While drinking. And because I hate myself, I would over-focus on the bad ones and repeat their words in my head until they coalesced into a crushing migraine.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Surely I do this by accident. Sometimes even I stumble upon secrets I didn’t realize I hid.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Any scene that sets the scene. You know how beginnings are the hardest part of a book to write? Well, in truth, every book has a billion tiny beginnings scattered all over the place. They’re all the hardest part.
Do you Google yourself?
I hate myself. Yes.
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
It’s tough one, but I think I’d be willing to part with my crippling self-loathing. Trade?
What are your favorite literary journals?
Emo songs.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Now or then? What parameters are we talking about here? In preschool I was crazy about Carl Sandburg’s The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle and Who Was in It as well as Max Velthuijs’ The Painter And The Bird. As an older kid I dove headlong into popular adult lit, for some baffling reason reading Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels like 10 times in 5th grade alone. I don’t recall being super into books for kids my own age, aside from Mary Downing Hahn’s Wait Till Helen Comes. I loved ghost stories, especially ones that involved death by drowning or fire – *BIG* props if somehow both played a role. Now days, though, my favorite kids books are more in the neighborhood of Colin Meloy’s Wildwood Chronicles.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Knowing that everything I create is a toxic vat of vomit bound to poison everyone it comes in contact with and destroy all that is good in the world.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
My husband definitely does. My parents don’t. They don’t seem to know what the fuck writing even is. What they believe it is, they support. What it actually is, they are repulsed by and always have been. Or maybe they’re just repulsed by my inner worlds. Either way, growing up was AWESOME!
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
Having just one truly supportive person would have made a big difference. Imagine if all the energy I spent frantically hiding my creative output was instead channeled into MORE creative output?
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Between 20 and 30 years.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
This might come as a surprise to whoever thought this was a worthy question, but people aren’t actually machines. Please, let me know if you discover EVEN ONE SINGLE GODDAMN THING that can be sustained at a consistent pace indefinitely.

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15 Questions

I found this questionnaire on We Heart It, my go-to site for feeling bad about my artwork. I’m proud (?) to say that I’ve been a member since its inception. As an early-adopter of absolutely nothing, this is noteworthy. They’ve recently spoiled this previously images-only site by adding “articles” such as the one I’ve pulled these questions from. I usually rage against the fact that I’ve lost my quiet corner of the internet (even writers – perhaps especially writers – can overdose on words), but today I will hypocritically utilize the words I’m so annoyed with. Maybe it will remind me that I enjoy stories (or anything):

1- How did you begin writing?
When I was 1 and a half, I was given a little chalk board that I could carry around with me. I stopped doing anything but writing and drawing right then & there. My parents assumed I had a dysfunction of some kind. Still not clear if they they were right or wrong.
2- Who is your favorite author?
Historically, this has been Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, though honestly I don’t think I read enough to know. I feel like my favorite author remains yet undiscovered, definitely by me, perhaps by the whole world.
3- Where do you get your ideas from?
Dreams, hallucinations, overheard conversations, wishes, music, a particularly relentless spiritual entity.
4- What is your favorite book?
Again, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve read it yet. I enjoy the speed and humor of a lot of popular fiction, but I’m often uninspired by and annoyed with the subject matter. If anyone knows of a super profound, deeply nuanced, poetic and timeless book that is written for teen-aged girls, hit me up.
5- Which themes do you write about?
Death, disease, denial, political strife, public transportation, architecture, weather.
6- Have you ever had writer’s block?
How is this even a question.
7- What is your favorite book quote?
I don’t have one. I kill other people’s darlings as well as my own.
8- Do you write fanfiction or original stories?
Originals, though I often want to write fanfic. Especially cross-over fanfic. Colonel Aureliano Buendía is totes team Edward. Gregor Samsa & The Half-Blood Prince. 50 Shades of Dorian Gray.
9- What was the hardest scene you’ve ever had to write?
Any scene with dialogue.
10- Do your family/friends know that you’re a writer? No – why not? / Yes – do they support you?
It’s a mix. Until my late 20’s, it was almost universally no (due to a deep sense of shame). Now it’s largely a yes, though no one has really read what I write. Sometimes someone will say they have, which makes me nervous & confused until I realize they are talking about things that I don’t consider writing. Like this. The only thing that I really consider “writing” is Farewell, Everything. All in all, my friends & husband are supportive, but my parents? Not so much. My sister is neither here nor there. My kids are the least supportive of all.
11- Have you ever written a book? No – why not? / Yes – how long on average does it take you to finish one?
I’ve written Farewell, Everything three or four times in totally different ways. It takes anywhere between a month and two years to actually get it all out, depending on whether or not its November and whether or not I’m a mom. It’s taken 20 years, however, for me to figure out how to write it right.
12- What is the biggest challenge you face/faced as a writer?
Aggressively hating everything I make.
13- Do you make your writing public?
lol no r u crazy
14- What are the perfect conditions to write?
In a coffee shop, alone, headphones on.
15- Why do you write?
To appease the otherworldly being that has been holding a cosmic gun to my head for most of my life telling me I can either write his story or die.

Not-Writing

Not Dead

I’ve forgotten how to write.

It took me five minutes to write that sentence.

As it turns out, there is no need for weekly word counts while I travel because, lo and behold! there are no words to count. My story is bloodcurdlingly shitty anyway and I’m thisclose to deleting it all, plus myself for bonus points. I’m having a really miserable trip & am still four days from home. I’ve been so depressed that I honestly considered reading YA fiction. I took my kids into a bookstore & the baby pulled a Percy Jackson book off the shelf & I was like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ In the end, I just let her chew it up while I scowled out the window at the rapidly degenerating mirage of capitalist success, understanding in the marrow of my bones the full scope of injustice leveraged against the masses, contemplating death.

Anyway, I’m still alive.

smh

Not-Writing

Turning 35: The Saga Continues

It’s gotta be really common for people to hate their birthday. I sure fucking do. It’s my least favorite day of the year (aside from the entire month of January, that crap sack from hell). I haven’t had a party since I turned 12. I’ve tried, but the let-down of inviting 30 people and only having 1 show up isn’t really worth the emotional risk. I’ve had so many bad birthdays – truly laughable in many cases, locked out in the rain, turned away at bars, rejected by dates, bullied to tears, grandparents face-down dead on their living room floors, just absurdly bad birthdays. Consequently, the superstition is strong with this one. I try my best to not expect or even do anything on my birthday.

I can’t lie – I wish that my birthday was a cause for celebration. Being literally incapable of celebrating your own birth isn’t super life-affirming or anything; it doesn’t make you feel particularly welcome on earth. But I feel a little optimistic about 35, even if today specifically sucks. According to many sources, this is the age when women become obsolete. We’re now medically regarded as too old to safely procreate, for one. Don’t believe the celebrity hype, if you get knocked-up after 35, your doctor will treat you like you got knocked-up at fucking Chernobyl. Consequently, our sex appeal tanks (celebrities get an extension), which for me is crazy liberating, both as an asexual and as someone who never had any sex appeal to begin with. Of course, women over 35 are also expected to completely vanish from the face of the earth, but that was already my whole M.O. anyway so I’m golden.

Another plus to this age is that people often stop acknowledging their birthdays. Hell, some people remain 35 for years. Now that certain circles view it as “rude” to ask my age, I feel like the whole world is fully on board with not acknowledging my birthday. It’s now a group effort. Safety in numbers, right?

I wrote my 35 Things I Learned By 35 list over a week ago both because I knew that on my birthday proper I’d either be in a bad mood or dead. What I didn’t think to add at the time was the disclaimer that just because I learned these things doesn’t mean I’m any good at applying them. I know this shit, but I still suck mercilessly at all aspects of life. Maybe I can add a #36: You never actually get better at living, you just get less perfectionist about it.

At least I hope so.

I also wrote a second list, a list of goals. I’m not going to edit it, even though now I’m in my shitty birthday mood & therefore embarrassed by and disinterested in goals. I’ll just put it here so I can revisit it when I’m 40, understand how much I’ve failed, and hate everything. I’ve never aimed to do anything by a certain age before. The people I’ve known who set themselves up in this way are far more often than not discouraged and disappointed. So I’ll do it. I hate to think about all the suffering I’m missing out on.

5 Things To Do In The Next 5 Years

  1. Get over this worthless anxiety and either make some damn friends or stop feeling so desperate for human contact to validate me.
  2. Learn to communicate honestly. Be brave with my truth.
  3. Develop enough confidence to say nice things about myself, especially in front of my daughters.
  4. Gain some level of financial independence.
  5. Publish a book. Maybe even sell some art work. Have something to show for myself.
  6. Bonus: stay 35.
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Trope Valley and the River of Clichés

I never know what time of day it is anymore, so I stay up all night reading bullshit. Last night I dove headlong into the Sea of Stereotypes. It began innocently enough, quietly musing over how cool it would be to have fan artists (modern da Vincis hidden among us) draw my characters and maybe even put them into compromising positions with one another. Leave it to fangirls to make characters fuck that barely even speak to one another. Some people are just really damn imaginative.

(I’m still asexual. Never think otherwise.)

But then, of course, my storm cloud of a brain stepped in all like: “Gurl, you’re never gonna get published. And if you do, you’ll never be popular. And if you are, it won’t be with the right crowd for slash fiction, obscure shipping, and anime-inspired soft-core porn.”

But I’m older now. I’ve been 35 for like an hour, so I’m mature AF. “Fuck you brain,” I said, calmly adulting my way out of decades of deeply ingrained mental habits. “Surely there’s fan art for, say, 100 Years of Solitude.” Spoiler alert: No. No, not so much. Which is fine cause I’m not exactly of that caliber either. At any rate, one thing led to another, and the next thing I knew it was 1 in the morning and I was stuck at the bottom of the Trope Well like an insomniac, self-sabotaging Baby Jessica.

Sorry. Too soon?

Anyway, the list of tropes tied to good ‘ol Cien Años (my favorite book – or at least it was before I turned 35 and became a real woman) had me wondering why we’re not taught to break literature down in this way in school. It’s either the wretchedly banal, did-you-even-read-this shit of public education (Where did the main character go that Tuesday?) or some ill-conceived looting & pillaging campaign driven by a biased mad professor with a mansplaining problem (What was the author really saying when they said “it was rainy?”)

I just had to tear into my own story from this angle. The only problem is that it’s fucking IMPOSSIBLE to grasp the sheer quantity of tropes that exist. As I complained to a friend via email: “I’m breathing tropes right now. The walls of this house are made of tropes and so is the entire universe.”

I managed to find a couple obvious ones.
Scenery Porn
Anyone Can Die
Grey and Gray Morality
Author Vocabulary Calendar (“incredulous” and “ameliorate” need some love)
Everybody’s Dead, Dave (I have an entire sub-chapter titled Everybody’s Dead #NoShame)
Bathos
Fantastic Racism
Villains Out Shopping

My main character is a Woobie (arguably a Jerkass Woobie) and a Tramp who Looks Like Cesare.

Another character is an Affably Evil, Well-Intentioned Extremist.

I learned three lessons from scrounging up these tropes:
1) There is literally no way on your life to avoid utilizing these things. They are the archetypes that define our fucking reality. I mean, my own kid is a fucking trope. Just trust me on this one. So let’s stop using “trope” as a flat-out bad word. It’s a tool that serves, and is so embedded in our conscious & subconscious that to avoid tropes entirely would ultimately result in not having a story at all. The best you can do is use them well & combine them creatively.
2) This is an incredible way to explain a story’s essence without giving away spoilers! Or being too vague! I mean, I tried to figure out what to read after Lincoln in the Bardo and, based on conventional tags alone, the internet was coming up with some pretty damn irrelevant shit. No thank you, I’m not interested in reading a biography on U.S. Grant. Can you please just recommend something where all the characters are dead?
3) I forgot the third thing

Rather than painstakingly swim through the tsunami of trope options available on the internet, I hastily scratched down some elements of my story that are surely somewhere on that site in one form or another:

The runaway
Street musician
Magical house
La Resistance!
Person who doesn’t know they’re famous
Person who foreshadows / warns but just seems mean
slicked-back-hair smug guy
Waaaaay too many chance encounters
Shadow of mortality hanging over everything
Seeing what others can’t & seeming crazy for it
Genocide (how passé!)
Evil empire
Ambiguous ending
Secret family members
Bromance
Disaster at a party
Desperate mother
Pushy grandmother
“Ya just gotta get out more, bro”
Really well-developed train system
Bumbling law enforcement
Helpful ghost

Aw man, and so many more. Just so many more. I’ll need another 35 years for this shit.

By then I’ll be fucking enlightened.

Not-Writing

35 Things I Learned by 35

  1. Everyone is different. No one comes from the same circumstances, has the same experiences, carries the same burdens, or seeks the same joys. Remember this, always.
  2. Know who you are & own it. You cannot change your  fundamental temperament, you can only find ways to make it work. (I wrote “woke” on accident there – that too.)
  3. Read long, philosophical articles and books that make you feel good. Intellectually arm yourself against the myth of a black and white world. Reality is nuanced and exploring that at depth will make you smarter, kinder, and way less anxious.
  4. Forgive yourself. Go easy on yourself. Try to let go of guilt. You are not actually responsible for all the evils of the world, and beating yourself up only makes you weaker in fighting against them.
  5. If you feel disenchanted, inject magic into the world yourself. Sanctify found objects. Use strange words. Go to antique stores. Turn everything into a mystery, a story. Don’t rely on anyone else to do this for you.
  6. You are not your family of origin, or even the family you create in adulthood. You are an individual. Do things that celebrate this.
  7. Objectively examine your pains and regrets. Learn everything you can from and about them, and apply this knowledge in your dealings with others. Especially your children. Do whatever you can to ensure they don’t repeat what you did wrong. Let them make new, original mistakes.
  8. The old writer’s adage “show don’t tell” applies in real life, too. Don’t tell people that you write. Show them your writing. Don’t tell people you care. Show them. Don’t overwhelm people trying to describe your thought process or your motivations – just be yourself & they’ll figure it out.
  9. Take care of yourself. Keep your body & your house clean. Make beauty with these things. It will help when you feel overwhelmed.
  10. Don’t try to fix the problems of others, be they personal, systemic, cultural – you name it. Just listen. Hold space. You will never know how to help best without being told. And maybe your help isn’t even needed. When it is, though, be generous, and don’t judge.
  11. A person’s worth has nothing to do with their income. Homeless people deserve conversation, smiles, spare change. So do those who seem to have everything (well, maybe not the spare change).
  12. Think about death. Acknowledge it, deeply. It puts things in perspective.
  13. Everything really does happen for a reason. Life just unfolds slowly. Nothing that happens in the future can happened without the things that happened in the past.
  14. Clarity matters just as much as poetry. If not more.
  15. Avoid exposing yourself to people who don’t care about you. That’s right, I’m lookin’ at you, social media.
  16. Surrender to whatever is happening at any given moment. Fighting against it will only create frustration, anxiety and depression. Things will change, good or bad. They always do. Be patient with time.
  17. Share your passions. It is the only way you will ever connect with others. Even if that hasn’t come to pass yet, it is your only chance.
  18. Don’t turn to others for guidance. Be accepting with yourself, and your inner-guidance will kick in. You know what you need.
  19. Look at the sky, especially at night. Keep track of the stars. This will ground and inspire you.
  20. What you fear about the future is probably worse than how it will be. People of the past would have been terrified if someone described the present to them, but living it doesn’t feel all that bad. Don’t ruin a perfectly fine time by imagining a bad one.
  21. Stretch. A lot. Otherwise you will feel super old.
  22. Do whatever you can to fully experience The Now. Go slow. Feel deeply. Someday this will be behind you, and you will miss it.
  23. If someone makes you jealous, pay attention. You can find clues therein as to what you truly want in life.
  24. Amazing things happen when you stop trying to force them to happen.
  25. Think about what you liked to do as a child. Do that. That’s what you’re meant to do.
  26. Cook for yourself. Who cares if your husband or kids or friends won’t eat it. Do it for you.
  27. Focus more on process and experience than outcome and product. Don’t let capitalism fool you. Learn to identify harmful cultural messages and subvert them in your personal life as well as in the public sphere.
  28. You’re probably wrong about everything. Don’t let that get you down, though. Life would be boring if you knew it all.
  29. Faith in invisible things isn’t something you can control. If you try to switch it off when you have it, you will become crazy and angry. If you try to force it when you’re inclined towards a more material worldview, the same will happen. Believers and non-believers should focus less on those uncontrollable things and more on just being good people.
  30. You have to fully embrace who you are in order to be truly giving and kind, otherwise you may just be seeking validation from others.
  31. Don’t hold too tightly to past selves, goals, philosophies, or cute little bungalows. Losing something you once cherished doesn’t make you less whole. Let yourself grow.
  32. Get excited. Be passionate. Live for that butterfly flip-flop feeling in your gut that happens when you hear a really good song. Find it in as many things as possible.
  33. Being alone is actually a blessing. Away from prying eyes, you’re free to experiment in ways that will help you to find yourself.
  34. Look for signs. They’re totally there, and they can show up in the funniest ways. Everything is a metaphor for everything.
  35. You are in control of much more than your think. Be brave. Take the reins.