Hi. I moved. I mentioned I was moving, right? Only an hour south but that hour south has made all the difference. My backyard is a forest, and that forest has trails that lead to a beach or lead to more trees. It’s quiet. It’s so quiet, and it rains ever so slightly more. A hush exists. Strangers smile. My neighbor offered me an ice pack when I fell down my spiral stairs, when she heard my thuds and cry, and that was the strangest warmth. And, oh, driving home means taking the 101 north, and life is always something special when home entails the 101 north (hi, Humboldt). And from the 101, my exit is dark. I have to use my brights and squint and drive real slow as I weave through trees, it’s something like a maze that I learned within a day but it feels safe, protected, beautiful. And yes, I’m so dramatic, but when I enjoy the immediate commute to and from home, I know I’m lucky. This element reminds me of Colorado Springs, when I took the long way home through Garden of the Gods; when I lived in Chipita Park, curving up the mountain pass about Manitou every day. It was a balm. After the exhaustive six months in Renton, to have my home be a balm feels so strange and lovely.
But, oh my, February was weird. Is February ever not weird? A rapid attempt of settling, of organizing, of finding a new work rhythm–all cut off by a quick trip to Utah. And then, the last full week, last week, an utter slam: strep throat, hip woes, falling down my stairs, my Mini (finally) breaking down, and a stomach bug. Last week nearly did me in. But I saw my family this month, I fell more in love with where I live, I saw a concept for Nothing Left to Burn’s book cover (!!!!), and–on many days when it felt improbable–I got myself up from the floor. I want to better focus on the good. I have a home, a workspace, a forest, health and support. And while, yes, simultaneously I feel like I’m in the thick of something–life heavy in ways that are both private and hard to articulate–it’s okay. The future of my life in Olympia isn’t stable when I so desperately want it to be. I’m living month to month, living on hope and dumb luck. And that’s fine. It’s only temporary. And I’m here now.
I am lucky. So I’ll hope and push for that luck to continue.
What I’m working on in March: the next round of NLTB edits, a meaty freelance project (I hope!), two proposals and WIP drafting, lovely Indiana visitors, the onslaught of longer days that March always thrusts onto me (I take it personally), and the continued intention of taking care of myself before anything else.
I hope you find your way outside this month. I’ll be right here.
Things are strange and wonky and as I enter the new year and try to lift up from the last six months, I need to remember the ways in which 2016 was kind–
So, the good that happened in 2016, accompanied by photos from November and December:
I started blogging again. I switched my domain back to heatherezell.com–coming out hiding–making a blog that goes back to my 2008 tangents public. Perhaps a silly, horrifying choice but hey. Here I am. Thank you for reading. Go back and see how I was at seventeen if you so desire.
Nothing Left to Burn was acquired by Razorbill at Penguin Random House. After ten years of work and trial and rejections, my lifelong dream came true, is coming true.
I finished another graduate semester at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I knew it’d be my last semester at the start of it, but I went in strong and finished strong. Thanks UAF (and Fairbanks) for the strange and exhilarating and painful and glorious experiences.
I taught a course of my own design: Academic Writing About Literature: Growing Up During the Apocalypse–a study of YA trauma and resilience. This course, aside from the book deal, was the highlight of my spring, and perhaps the whole year. It reaffirmed my absolute love of teaching. I worked with incredible students who challenged me and inspired me and I think I challenged them, too. I miss teaching in a classroom. I miss my students.
Finally, finally, after a decade of floundering, I was diagnosed that led to proper treatment, the right medication, and feeling hope, clarity, and safety in my mind. Bipolar II and PTSD. It still feels strange to accept those diagnoses, to work with these tools of labels. But I am working, trying–with a psychiatrist, with a therapist–I’m working to find some level of calm.
The Rumpus (one of my longtime beloved online journals) published my personal essay on my above mentioned lifelong struggle with mental illness, and particularly the two years leading up to my being diagnosed bipolar II. I’m rather proud of the essay. I wrote the first draft when I was hitting rock bottom in Alaska and was finally acknowledging that I needed help. You can read it here.
In May, I drove from Fairbanks, Alaska to Trabuco Canyon, California in a packed to the brim Mini Cooper. Down the Alaska Highway–through the enchanting Yukon and the outrageously beautiful British Columbia.
All the snow the fell in 2016 was a balm, in both Alaska and Washington. The rain, too.
From June to August, I drafted an entirely new book. This was and is a Big Deal. While I occasionally wrote short stories and creative essays (all for school), I’d been solely revising and rewriting Nothing Left to Burn since… 2011 (with some one or two year long breaks). I often regret not drafting other books–my tunnel vision, my obsession, my losing the sense of flowing into a first draft. But NLTB revisions and rewrites were all I could mentally manage with my time, with my frequent moves, with my completing my undergrad in two absurd years. So, last spring, last spring when I drafted a new novel, it was an absolute release.
And that new book: I’m proud of it, now working on further developing it, making a revision plan. It is a challenging and weird and sometimes painful book, and I don’t know if it’ll be the “next” book or if it’ll ever sell but I’m in love and proud.
Oh, and in 2016, I finally learned to outline. In December, when I took a break from my NLTB revision, I started a blueprint for an Alaska-set novel and ahhhhh! That’s all I will say.
Pitch Wars! I mentored in Pitch Wars and it was both rewarding and fun. It reminded me of passion for teaching, mentorship, editing, and working on projects outside my own. And I made new friends and have had the pleasure of watching them gain success and growth as authors.
And following that, in late November, I was hired as an author coach at Author Accelerator. I am utterly thrilled and may have cried when I learned I was joining the team.
In September, I came out. Hi, I’m bisexual. This was something I denied and ignored and refused to accept as a teen. And something I dismissed during undergrad, telling myself that it didn’t matter, I was taking those years to be solo and learn how to depend only on me, why make a fuss, etc. And something, over the last two years, desperately wanted to acknowledge and not keep hidden but didn’t know if I could and should, as it still often felt it was irrelevant because of my being in a relationship with a male. But it does matter. It was painful to keep that part of me hush. I let it impact my writing, my characters. I let it impact my identity, myself. It was damaging to lie and say I was straight. And it felt and feels so good to be out and honest with who I am, my whole self.
I moved to Washington State–something I’ve been attempting and planning and getting distracted from doing (hey Colorado, how are you?) for YEARS. And while I’m moving out of the Seattle area next week (goodbye city life, hello quieter and cheaper and closer to forest trails land), I’m so so so happy that I pushed to move the PNW.
All of the wonderful moments with pup, Bellatrix, and the glimmer of hope of moving her up to Washington to live with me. My previous blog goes a tad too into that but, my gosh, as she gets older, our bond only deepens.
I took risks. I quit jobs that were damaging to my physical and mental health. I chose to pursue freelance and editing (interested? email!) and tutoring, and–while I’ll probably have to supplement with some out of the house part-time work soon–it finally feels like I’m on the right track work wise. My health is far more stable. Retail schedules will never be a good choice for me.
I finished my first for-publication revision and signed my Penguin Random House contract and received my first paycheck as an author. It was strange. It is strange. It is exhilarating.
When I was at the lowest of lows, I asked for help–more than once. I aggressively pursued recovery for things I’ve refused to acknowledge for since I was teen. In 2016, I started taking care of my whole self. I also learned to take days off, to accept down days, to take longer baths, and not hate myself for relaxing. What a concept.
I spent weeks with my family and strengthened those relationships and didn’t go crazy for the two months my boyfriend and I spent living in my parents’ house (!).
And so much more. But these were the highlights, the moments and events that stick out in warmest ways. And I have hope and optimism and thrilling intentions for 2017. It’ll be okay.
Wishing you warmth.
I was asked what I’d wish I’d known before my black lab entered my life. She arrived only three months old in August 2007. I was fifteen and now I’m twenty-five. Easy math: she’ll be turning ten this spring.
The number one thing I wish I’d known: how fast ten years can pass.
This question is surprisingly emotional. Only a few logistics and dangers come to mind, the puppy proofing, the big dog proofing, the mistakes: those matter so little. My family has always been rather lax with rules, since my childhood Golden Retriever–a dog that fled the house whenever the door opened and was fed donuts daily by constructor workers. We’re admittedly not the best with the training–easily swayed by our dogs’ happiness; those moments of glee win over rules. We are a dog trainer’s nightmare.
Of course there are safety things I wish my family had known: the danger of ocean waves; her allure to anything edible, including dog-treat-like pain killers (she survived an entire bottle–it’s still a mystery how she got into the high cabinet); how she won’t simply chew a bone but eat it down to its marrow, making herself sick.
But what has been most surprising, most important, is my black lab’s impact on my life.
The timing of this question–what I wish I’d known–is spot on. Once again, I’m separated from my beloved Bellatrix. She’s in California, at my parents’ house, and I’m in Washington state. My biggest want is to spend her final years with her, which is implausible and selfish. We also have a relaxed Bichon Schitzu mut in our home, one year her elder. Leonardo will surely outlive Bella. And they’re pals, despite their different temperaments. What would I be doing to these dogs if I separated them, if I took Bella from the house–a house that is large, open, with a yard that looks out to valleys, mountains, a national forest? The home she knows.
I’m convinced she won’t mind too long: I’m her mom, I take her on hikes, I give her constant love. But this isn’t the topic of this post–my desperation for more time with her–so I’ll save that tangent for another time.
Regardless, thank you Puppy Spot for asking me to participate in this gathering of blogs dedicated to pup times, for initiating my reflection.
NOTE: this is not a paid sponsored post but rather an eager YES I want to contribute volunteer post. I’m not being paid to give a shout out to Puppy Spot but rather wring this blog because I (obviously) love to talk about my dog and I appreciate what Puppy Spot offers. If you would like to discover a new loved one, check out their available puppies, and read up on their fabulous (and important) No Puppy Mill Promise.
Excuse me as I will absolutely get sentimential.
///what I didn’t know when Bella(trix), my black lab, arrived.
Hide the macadamia nuts. When Bella snags a newly opened bottle from the cupboard and devours it, she’ll lose control of her back legs. Your parents will think she’s paralyzed, dying, and will carry her down the stairs using a towel. She’s unable to stand, to sit, to move, to respond. Your parents won’t call you until they find the destroyed macadamia nut container and turn to Google, when the vet deems her okay. You will cry regardless.
In her early days, she will help you recover from anorexia. When she is still being kenneled at night, you will hear her crying as you cry and bring her to your bed. She will nuzzle you to sleep. She will calm you, give you the love you don’t think you deserve. In her early and mid and later days, she will be the force that pulls you out of the dark. A reason to keep trying, move forward.
She will maybe save your life in so many damn subtle and large ways.
One day, when you’re on a walk–she’s one, maybe two–two dogs on extending leashes will bound to her. She’s on your leash and you’ve trained her well on walks. She stays by your side. But the other dogs, fully grown, fast and thrilled, they will jump onto Bella before you can pull her away. She’s already shy. The dogs will hump her, try to play. Bella will whine, whimper, let out a howl, and try to escape, claw to you. You will sob as you try to end it. The owners of the other dogs will laugh it off, apologize, ignore your eyes. You calm Bella down, nuzzle her face, and let the moment pass. Continue the walk. Shake it off.
From that walk on, the only other dog Bella will trust is Leonardo–the shitzu mix she shares a home with. At dog parks and beaches, she keeps her distance. She will always prefer humans. When other dogs enter the house, she’s not aggressive (she will never be aggressive) but dubious, timid, sad–keeping a distance, only stepping in when she feels small Leo is at risk.
This one is hard for you to admit: technically Bella was a birthday gift to your brother and is not technically your dog but his or at the very least the family’s dog. (Shhhhh.) Even at age twenty-five, you will generally refuse to accept this as fact.
Because when you’re home, you and Bella spend every moment together–her following you like a shadow–she will pick up pieces of your personality. Or maybe you will pick up pieces of hers. Your family and friend are dubious about what came from who. You both share an affinity for hanging out on the floor (okay, she often chooses the couch but still), bouts of hyperness followed by exhaustion, you don’t like being left alone but rather be near the chaos to observe from afar, your shy around crowds of new people, both empathetic to a fault and cry too easily, introverts who crave attention and give too much love. You both press your face against the faces of those you love. And, fine, are both a wee bit bratty and entitled when it comes to best sitting spot in the house.
When your younger brother and dad innocently, playfully, toss her into the pool as a puppy, they ruin her the possibility of her every willingly swimming in it again. You will spend years trying to lure her out with treats and patience. She won’t go past the second step.
But days where the temperature peaks past 95 degrees, you’ll look out a window and see her–your pool-fearing dog–relaxing on the top step of the pool. And occasionally, randomly, she’ll prance inside with her belly and legs soaked wet.
Because of your tendency to press your face into her face, she will attempt to do this with every other family member and frequent house visitor. And if someone is sitting on the floor, or really sitting anywhere, she will try to cuddle real close. You will be blamed and you will not care.
As soon as you pull out a suitcase, her mood will plummet. She will nestle in a corner, on a bed or your folded pile of to-be-packed clothes, and stare at you with the saddest eyes. She knows what it means.
She will do anything and everything to obtain food. She will steal an apple from the fruit bowl and raw steak out of the sink. She will find the boxes of expensive holiday toffee in the closet and eat every last piece. Chocolate does not make her sick. It’s a mystery–how she snags food your family now ensures to hide, put up, put away.
Your dad admittedly offers her his breakfast plate for her to lick clean. This will drive you crazy. But after her weeklong stay at the animal clinic after a surgery, when the vet happily proclaims he gave her a McDonald’s egg sandwich every morning, you will be annoyed and amused and you father will be vindicated.
Her guilt is palpable. Especially after food stealing. She will hide, duck her face, hurry outside. She’ll watch your face from afar, your energy, waiting for the punishment to end.
When you return home–because after your first year and half together, you develop an addiction to sporadic moving–she will tackle you and love-nip your face and cry whimper joy. You will live for these moments.
After you have a surgery, or when your simply very sick, she will know. She will be tentative around you, removed from her normal eagerness. She won’t hop onto you bed but wait for your beckoning. She will lick your face so carefully, nudge her head against your chest. She knows. And when you’re having an episode, when you’re in absolute distress, sobbing, unable to breathe, she can be in another part of the house, outside even, and know this too. She’ll find you. Sit with you. Wait it out. Let you sob into her belly.
After you free her from her kennel mid-night when she is still a puppy, she won’t go near that kennel again. When it’s brought into the house, she will stay several feet away, watch it carefully. She will only go inside when you crawl in too and with a treat.
When you are away–in Colorado Springs or Berkeley or Humboldt County or Alaska, at college, an extended vacation, a random move–your heart will break every day because of how much you miss her. You will become a crazy dog lady. Have you ever missed anyone like this? You will pester your mom for photos and videos and you will sob. Knowing you’ll see Bella again will be your calm.
The ocean is not Bella’s friend. When she is brought to the dog beach a fourth time, she will be infatuated with the waves. She will walk out too deep. She is seven years old and her hips and knees are already weakened, damaged even, from a puppyhood of “dog dancing” (we were young and dumb–me and my siblings) and her jumping near back flips for food and simply being alive–and, at that beach, a series of strong waves will slam her, drag her backside to the sand. You will see a video of the exact moment and your stomach will sink. Her legs under her, her hip yanked to the side. After, she doesn’t care that she’s in pain. That she’s injured. She continues her ocean dance and beach frolicking. She will come home with a limp and bounce around the house, still gleeful. You will try to tell yourself it’s okay.
Three months later, you will demand a vet visit despite the cost. Her limp is worse and she’s developed a tremor. The vet first thinks it might be cancer and your heart shatters. But, ultimately, you learn she has torn ligaments, a faulty joint, other horrifying terms. She needs an intensive surgery. Metal in her knees, her hips. She might not survive. Your heart breaks again. You’re told she’ll probably need a second one on her other back leg in a few years. This expensive surgery. This pain.
She has the surgery. She heals. Her nights spent away from the house, at the hospital, are too quiet. As soon as she is brought home, she fights the concept of not walking on her own, not running. Using a sling, you will help her outside to use the bathroom. She will whine like there’s nothing worse in the world when she’s confined to a small room so she doesn’t hurt herself. She will heal. Two months later, you’re walking with her, running with her through the hills and valleys that make your home. Two years later, you’ll notice an occasional small limp and wonder. You and your family are mindful, watching closely.
But you’ll always resent the ocean.
One day, you will write a blog post dedicated to her, and you will cry as you type and gather photos. You are as dramatic as her.
She will become a spoiled queen. Your family can’t resist. Since your first dog, pups have been allowed on beds and couches. And Bella is the worst–believing she’s entitled to sofa space and pillows, and perhaps you enable this by your preference for the floor below her.
When you realize she is nine years old and has outlived your childhood dog, you will start reconciling her limited time. You will consider the span of her life. Of what she has given, taught. You will make plans for her time ahead. You will cry and then get up and remember there is still time.
At some point, you will consider her a part of you. She has developed you, taught you how to grow from a broken teenager to who you are now. This black lab that you initially avoided. Every day away from her hurts. She is your baby. Your patronus, a bone, your best friend–the only one who understands you so completely. She has seen you at your very worst. She has watched you self destruct. She has watched you love. She has taught you how to love.
You never expected her to teach you how to love yourself.
///the history of her arrival, because (DUN DUN DUN) I initially resented Bella’s presence in my home (childhood dog dies, cat appears, bella arrives, anorexia relapse, cat disappears, anorexia recovery, letting bellatrix in) .
In April 2007, when I was fifteen, my childhood Golden Retriever died. It was unexpected. We’d found a tumor two weeks earlier and the vet removed it. His surgery went well and he was at doggy recovery daycare. That’s what we knew. Our family dog, only seven years old, was going to live and was recovering well.
We weren’t alerted when his stitches opened up, when they put him back on the table to fix it. We weren’t asked permission for his going back under anesthesia. My mom received a call on our way to pick him up and take him home: our dog was dying, our dog was on life support. Dying. Dead. The anesthesia had been too much too soon. Should they keep him on the breathing tube and wait for us to come say goodbye?
My family–my dad, me and my mom, my older sister–found our way to the vet hospital. I think my younger sister and brother were there too. No. My young brother was at science camp. He’d come home days later to learn his dog was dead. We surrounded the table. My giant lion, my hero was barely there, if at all. His breathing artificial. A pump. In and out, in and out. I don’t remember much. I remember the sobbing. All of us crying. I remember the vet offering to refund the surgery, offering a free cremation and memory box. All on the house. I remember my dad crying over a bitter chuckle of a no shit.
I was fifteen. I was in an emotionally abusive long distance relationship. I was trying to self-recover from an eating disorder. That dog had been my life support when I was on bedrest because of health issues as a child and a preteen–when I relied on writing fan-fiction and him at my side, in bed with me, to keep me company. His death was a shock I couldn’t digest.
But that same night, on a phone call with my boyfriend, walking walking walking because my dog had just died, walking sobbing walking seeking comfort from a nineteen-year-old boy who couldn’t provide it, a tiny cat jumped out of the bushes. My childhood home is across the street from a national forest. Cats disappear all the time. Cats shouldn’t wander the hills. And that cat, actually a kitten, was skinny, bony, purring as she followed me home down the hill.
My boyfriend said not to touch her and I maybe said fuck you.
I brought the kitten inside, posted lost cat signs, and ultimately named her Shadow. She behaved like a dog. Needy, loving, sensing my mood swings. She slept in my bed and purred relentlessly. I didn’t care that I have a slight cat allergy. I was convinced my Golden Retriever had sent her to me. It was all too connected–her arriving the night he died.
And then that August, when I returned from a trip in Colorado, a new puppy was in the house. She was a Black Labrador and I resented her. It was too soon for another Retriever and this black lab liked to chase my kitten around the house, out of the house, chase her outside where cougars and mountain lions roam free. My brother had named the dog Bella and I resented this too. Twilight was all the rage and Bella has always been a common dog name.
I relapsed hard in the months that followed. Anorexia. My boyfriend started using heroin. My parents announced a separation. I left high school and worked a morning shift at a grocery store thirty minutes west that required a 4 a.m. alarm. I was now sixteen. My cat no longer stayed in my room at night but roamed free in the evenings until the early mornings. I loved her but I was cold, couldn’t love, didn’t want love, only wanted to empty out. She spent the nights outside, and Bella slept in a kennel. As I ate my dry toast before work, Shadow would paw at the back door. It was a morning ritual–me letting her in, me heading to work, me dropping a pound a day.
Why didn’t I keep her inside? I knew cats couldn’t survive outside.
The morning Shadow didn’t paw and purr at the back French door, I stared at the glass. I threw my toast in the sink. I ignored Bella’s whines from the kennel in the garage and drove to work. I never saw Shadow again. I lost thirty-six pounds that same month.
I don’t remember my interaction with Bella in the months that followed. I was skittish, absorbed in my eating disorder. I spent all my time at home in my room, the door locked. I don’t remember much in general. On New Years, I told my boyfriend we both needed to work on ourselves, goodbye for now. I visited my sister in Spain for two weeks and lost more weight. I ate too much guacamole at my family’s Super Bowl party and made myself sick. Why don’t I remember my interactions with Bella? She was a doll of a puppy. She was there. Did I hold her? Did I walk her? I must have. I went on a lot of walks.
That March, I went to treatment for anorexia. I started healing. My parents had ended their separation in December, and my family was healing too. But I was sixteen and it was spring, I was wounded, and too fast, I was out of treatment. Without its support, I was alone. I spent my night’s sobbing in my bed and–because my room was directly over the garage–hearing Bella’s cries from her kennel. I ached. I’d been turned inside out. I missed my childhood dog. The forty-five pounds I’d lost were halfway back and my writing was stalled. Bella’s nightly crying spiraled up through my carpet as I cried.
But finally, one spring night, I left my bedroom and went to the garage. I opened the kennel and cried into Bella’s face. She licked me, nuzzled me. Together, quietly, we treaded upstairs to my bedroom and curled into each other in my bed. She pressed her nose into my cheek and I sobbed. She slept in my bed from that night on. And when insomnia hit, we went on sunrise walks. I held her. She was my baby, my best friend, my therapy, my light. I renamed her Bellatrix.
When she first arrived in August 2007, I was too hurt, on the cusp of relapse, of my life turning in out itself. I didn’t feel deserving of love. I didn’t want a dog to make me feel better, feel warm, beloved. I didn’t want a dog to stay alive for–that dog, my golden, had so recently died. But when I let Bellatrix into my life, when I brought her up to my room, my recovery took a pivotal turn. I healed.
And she reminds me why I stay proactive with my mental health to this day, and she will continue to in memory when her time ends. I’ll say it again and again: I never thought a dog would teach me how to love myself, but that is exactly what Bella did. If I’d known sooner, I would have treasured her early puppy days, would have let her in right away.
This year. That spring. This summer. This fall. We all ache and are fighting and I don’t know what to say. The past week–it’s been similar to when my aunt died. I wake gutted, deep. It hits me every hour and I cry. I get through the day okay, I make it past sunset, only to collapse. Sometimes I don’t think I’ll be able to stand again.
But this is different from my aunt’s death. It’s take so much to reconcile that–how this is harder to move on from than a loved one’s passing. I knew she was going. She had fought and won for a decade. She was in a pain. I knew she was going to die months before, and I’d somehow left Alaska soon enough to say goodbye. And I knew my mom, my family, me–we’d heal, prevail, move on in small ways gradually.
But this. I didn’t expect this. We. New tragedies and damaging news hit every day. People are dying. And me, my family. We are privileged. We are white. While my personal financial situation is in shambles, my parents are well off and stable. I am educated and straight passing and have a safety net: I can return to my childhood home if necessary. But I’m also queer, have an invisible and chronic physical illness, bipolar, losing insurance in eight months, and a woman. And still, I am so so so safe in comparison to so many others.
My heart breaks more every day. I want to make it stop: what’s happening, what’s happened. I can’t begin to understand.
I don’t know how we’ll heal, how we’ll move on beyond raising our voices, refusing compliancy, fighting, making phone calls and writing letters, doing at least one thing each day to refuse to accept that this our new normal. The hate. I don’t know when we’ll get a reprieve, and that’s–that’s horrifying.
Too many have spoken far more eloquently, powerfully, bravely, inspirationally on this election than me. Too many are fighting stronger, louder. I have so much respect, so much love. I try to let those emotions overpower the fear and anger. I’m fighting too. I’m making plans. I’m listening. I’m trying. I am. And I’m tending to my heart. And I hope your tending yours too.
This is not to trivialize the events unfolding. This is not to say “it’ll all be okay”–I’m not sure this is a fact these days, at least for so many in this country. This is–this is my way of coping, of saying I love you.
Because I do: I write with love. I write hoping that whoever you are, you are okay. You are not alone.
And yet I don’t know what to say beyond sharing fragments and thoughts that are helping me get up each morning and do my work, take care of myself, keep hope, keep working. it warms me in the tiniest of bits and I hope it warms you, maybe, too.
my heat pad, pressed to my heart.
the puget sound rain, drizzle, relentless, secure.
wood burning in the fireplace, breaking the cold.
me finding calm in watching the flames.
my revision, the highest stakes deadline of my life.
receiving comfort from my editor, a dream come true
–it’s hard to wrap my head around a lifelong goal, dream,
coming to fruition in the admits of all this pain but it’s real–
I must focus on that.
i must allow myself to celebrate.
growing an orchard every day in my Forest app,
losing myself in the words.
cutting off my internet for hours at a time.
thank you Stay Focused, the silence, the silence.
i am wanting to fight, to be active,
but I must also respect the quiet.
the quiet strengthens me.
my new bookshelf:
my one splurge from the first third of my book advance.
imagining moving all of my other books still in California,
filling my apartment with a wall of books–
–and yet, all the while,
my wander lust/moving love kicking in, my ache for the outside.
can you believe I’m looking into moving again?
(yes, if you know me, yes you can).
reading in bed, snuggled warm
the gentle reminder that I’m not a city dweller.
looking at the olympic peninsula, san juan islands,
the coast, the mountains.
cheaper rent and possibilities.
room for my black lab to move to me for her final days–
my baby, my pup–does she even have two more years?
planning to celebrate her days,
her and me, in these wet forests, the mountains, and trees.
chicken and dumplings.
tacos filled with avocado and salsa and sour cream. that warmed tortilla.
mashed potatoes and roasted chicken. pork loins and sage gnocchi.
pizza. chocolate. endless chocolate. buttered toast with sea salt.
feeding myself, even without an appetite.
feeding myself because it’s no time to starve,
no time to self sabotage or relapse
to go into default habits.
it’s time to stay strong. rise up.
hot salt baths.
yoga by the fire.
the lack of beastly wildfires.
reminding myself that there’s no reason
to live in a city if the city isn’t offering you work
and if the city is more than you can afford
and, though you absolutely adore the particular city,
you much rather be lost somewhere you can walk outside and be outside
–the hope and dream of that.
every place I’ve lived has offered immediate access to outside, to quiet:
trabuco canyon, humboldt county,
colorado springs, chipita park, fairbanks.
not so much berkeley when I was seventeen,
but even berkeley had trees in which
i could get lost within walking distance from my studio.
renton–i love it’s proximity to seattle and montains and water–
but I feel severed. i need my open roads,
my immediate walks from home.
the hope of that in my near future: it helps.
i also don’t like the name renton.
books. thank you books.
what I’ve done lists instead of to do lists.
i went to the emergency room in late october,
or maybe mid-october.
my mind wasn’t right and i was scared
–it wasn’t okay,
though I said it was okay after the time.
i still wasn’t being honest.
after my last blog post, I was so far from honest.
leaving my job at b&n within a week of the er visit.
this soothes me: the bravery of that action.
i wasn’t being honest with myself before.
i sound so flakey, but I’m not. i’m not a quitter.
my therapist gave me a talking to and
I walked out of her office and made the call.
taking control of this short life.
hugging the man i love.
i am a fighter.
i have been fighting since the first grade.
i am loud and adamant.
when i get an idea, a dream, I work for it.
i’m stubborn. i don’t quit.
i find the paths that I need to make it work,
listening, learning, growing.
i’m a work in progress. i’m writing.
hearing, pausing. patience and love,
so much love. connection.
with myself, my heart,
with those I love and those I don’t know, with you.
knowing I’ll see my family soon, california, my dog.
showing up. doing the work, the tending.
rising up. I’m here. I’m here. I’m here.
I love you. take care of you.
I’m an open book. But that’s kind of a lie. When life has shifted, I put the blog on maintenance mode–not wanting the pressure of new posts, not wanting to be found, not wanting to explain a change or failure, not wanting peers at my new undergrad to discover I was a high school drop out, what have you. That’s been the trend: I’m back with BIG NEWS! But then I’m gone again.
But I do share a lot. I was open about deferring graduate school and leaving graduate school. I try to be open about my mental health. I’ve blogged endlessly about writing rejections. I’ve rambled and published private interior monologues that no eighteen-year-old should ever feel safe to give to the world. And so, this past month, I’ve been thinking about what I share and what I don’t. The way I’ve curated my life’s dramatics online. The move there, the away from there, this big downfall, the big hurrah. And as September fell apart, week by week, my bizarre social-media trained brain thought: what do I do with this?
This is my attempt at better honesty. Too many superiors have told me I’m too honest. I’m fighting back. I’m sharing. This will probably be longer than anyone will read, and that’s fine. This is for me.
September: I started training to teach ESL. I was thrilled, timid, horrified, under qualified but eager to get back in a classroom. From the get-go of being hired, I was honest about my chronic health issues and the upcoming time demands of my NLTB revision. From as early as May, I was misled on the hours and expectations. In September, I signed an At Will contract, and yet–not even a full week later–my bossfriend walked me into a corner and demanded that if I remained past that day, I had to commit to staying on until February. And that the job would only get harder. And that he didn’t think it was a good idea.
He asked: when was the last time you wrote? are you sleeping? will your quality of lesson plans remain this high? how bad was your pain this morning? He also said he hired me to have someone to vent to, that I should be careful of him taking advantage of our friendship, that that that–look, I’m good at pretending I’m a high functioning, good-feeling, pain-free creature. But I told the truth. I trusted him and was honest, which led to him saying weighted, implication-heavy lines and me trying to say that I’m good to teach at high pain, it’s the only way I’ve taught, I was only being real, I won’t let you take advantage of me, listen, please–
And it’s funny because, earlier this summer, that same bossfriend made fun of me for being too honest in my resume. Lie more, he said. You’re being too honest, he said. And then I was honest with him in person, because that’s who I am, and then I was unemployed.
I didn’t quit. I wasn’t laid off. I was walked outside and sat on the grass and given forty-five minutes to decide how I wanted to proceed with my life. I took the riskier of the two very risky options.
I leased my apartment, bought my furniture, MOVED to Seattle under the pretense of that job and its income. Under a salary that gave me heart eyes. Under the assumption that it’d work perfectly with both my health and my writing, and I’d be teaching. TEACHING.
I was ready for the guilt of walking away from the teaching opportunity and the income, but not the depth of it. I’m not solo. I cosigned a lease with my partner. I moved with someone I love, telling him that my job would keep us comfortable while he looked for work. Who the hell does what I did? Who quits her job a month after moving to a new, competitive, expensive city when her partner is still struggling to find work?
I did that.
But I’m not a quitter. I didn’t quit. I took a different direction. I honored my health and the guttural feeling that the situation with my bossfriend would only escalate. And we talked about it, me and my partner. He knew the circumstances of the job were breaking me. I did what was right for me. For me and those potential students and for our relationship because fuck did that situation–
So, in September, I started training for a new job and then I no longer had that job and then I was hired for another job and then I quickly quit that job. That job was a bad idea: a graveyard on-call shift for a caregiving company. It was a job I applied to without a cover letter after I drove home newly unemployed--but I’m not unemployed, I write, I have a book, I’m being paid by a Big 5, and I edit and have invoices, I’m not unemployed–and I accepted that job like a child, desperate, needing to make rent, only to days later realize, shit. I’m a bipolar insomniac and, when I don’t take the pills I need to sleep, I deteriorate and become episodic. And shit, I can’t take sleeping meds while on call. And shit, when I don’t sleep I don’t write and my health crumbles andandnandnandand–I quit that job and apologized to the sweet women who hired me and they were thankful for my honesty. And then I applied to more jobs, more mindfully.
Whenever I drive into Seattle, I cry. Whenever I drive out, head to my home with its tree and wood-burning fireplace , I cry more. Let me stay here. Please let us stay here. I hold my breath and wish it to the Puget Sound, to Mercer Island, to the persistent rain and thick trees. Let us stay.
A local Barnes and Noble hired me the first week of October, which feels funny, strange. As a teen, it was a dream job. As a twenty-five-year-old signed author grad school drop out who aches to teach and aches to be around books, it will do just great. Glorified retail in a corporation that’s clawing to stay afloat, god bless it. It’s part time, so there’s still space for my freelance editing and my NTLB revision. And, unlike with teaching, I don’t bring buckets of work home for me (don’t let me think about this too much because I missteachinggivemeaclassroomnow). Again, I was honest when filling out paperwork: I disclosed my having a mental health disability. For the first time ever, I’ve asked to not work a specific shift on a certain day because I don’t trust my brain to stay/feel safe outside of my home on November 8.
Let’s see if my honesty bites me in that regards.
It was strange. September. Being hired. Being fired. Quitting. Being angry at my body, that I can’t do all that I want to do. Coming out to family and friends and twitter, because, hey, I’m bi. That also happened in September: coming out. Unemployment. Realizing that because neither I nor my partner have actually been HIRED since leaving school we aren’t eligible for unemployment. Applying for food stamps. Feeling like a weight on Washington State. Wanting to stay here. Wanting to stay here. A lease. No money–
Tucking in my pride. Breathing it in. Accepting that this is okay.
And it’s interesting because I didn’t want to share any of this. I didn’t want to share the mundanity of looking for work, of losing work, of the depression that swells when you let people down, when you watch someone you love apply day after day after day and get a close close call and then silence and silence–and okay, retail for me now, okay, okay, okay, it’s not ideal for where I want to go, it’s not teaching: it’s accepting a position you’re not so head over heels for but enjoy and can manage and do well and will pay the bills.
You want more honesty?
When my bossfriend gave me those forty-five minutes to decide whether I’d stay and teach ESL at a high-impact pace, I imagined myself sticking it out and how I would write about it months later. The grind. The pain. The pride of of announcing to the world that I threw myself into teaching this scary thing (for which I have no qualifications–bossfriend was also training me to lie to the government in January) and how I embraced my students and the prep work and the classroom, and I revised my debut with Penguin, rocked my revision, and I freelanced edited because it makes me happy, and I even still exercised and meditated!!! I imagined that scenario. How it’d look in words, my being like, well that was a fucking mess and led to a total collapse, but hey, resiliency!
That is not resilience. That is ignoring your instincts, your body, not listening to your soul.
And see, sharing that I left a complicatedly fraught job that would have been harmful to my physical and mental health, as well as to my deadlines–to my writing, my passion–that I left a coveted teaching job with a weird bossfriend situation in which I was being taken advantage of, a job that paid so much (!) after moving to a new city while my partner is still unemployed–that I left that “dream” teaching gig out of fear of collapse–that I left because I felt uncomfortable with the demands my bossfriend was putting on me–
It’s less glamorous. But it’s honest, so.
One my first day at B&N, I referenced in a tweet that I am now working at B&N, and that was an emotional release. A hey, yeah, I’m not teaching and I’m back in retail at minimum wage and I also write books and now I get to sell books I love and books by friends and I have a relatively stable source of (low) income. I’ll have time to write. I’ll have time to maybe reapply to MFA programs so I can teach college-level in a safe environment at some point (BECAUSE TEACHING: LET ME TEACH! AND ACADEMIA? WTF WHY DO I MISS THE EXHAUSTION OF BEING A STUDENT?), so I can continue to my studies. I’ll have time to help other writers further develop their manuscripts. I’ll have time to tutor. I’ll have time to write the last few scenes of the muddy book I drafted this summer. I’ll have time for this and that–
Ha, look. Somehow, I’m already spreading myself too thin.
That first imaginary blog post: the one of me sharing how I did all that I did despite my health being in shambles and my deadlines tight and having no experience teaching ESL? You know that aforementioned imaginary tale–how I did it and that and this and that and that to? Here’s the thing, I love HAMILTON. Obsessed. Have one-woman acappella shows in my apartment on the regular. But god damn–fuck the Hamilton complex. Fuck the notion that we must do it all, do it fast, get it done get it done, no breaks, no self care, write like we’re running out of time. This notion is so prevalent on YA twitter and hell yes it can be inspiring but it also can be damaging and I am so so so tired of catching myself getting into that mindset of IMRUNNING OUTOFTIME NEEDTOWRITE MORE OH YES ANOTHER JOB OH YES GIVEMEMORETIME OH I NEVER HAVE ENOUGH TIME I NEED ANOTHER HOUR NOW, PLEASE, CAN I BORROW ANOTHER HOUR?
So even though I’m only working in retail, these days I’m trying to repeat “take a break” again and again–to honor the spoons I have. I’m going to remain too honest because fuck anything less. Support those I love. Do my work. Truthfully, as I can. Take the less impressive routes if they’re the best routes. Stay calm. Don’t spend money I don’t yet have and, always, consider the why behind my shame, the why behind my resistance to share one story and not another.
And all the while, I’ll hope I can stay. Dear Washington State, let me stay. I could make this a Hamilton pun, but I’ll resist. Because god damnit enough with the premature goodbyes.
One last thing. Heather of last year: you already know you will miss teaching, but you have no idea how deep the pulse will go, you will miss teaching as bad as you missed Colorado at age fifteen. Yeah. At that severity. You will miss your infuriating students, miss grading until your wrist goes numb, miss walking into that classroom off of a bad morning and leave it gleaming and on a high, miss the stories your students tell you, miss their thank yours, miss their essays that make you cry because THEY LEARNED AND THEY TRIED AND, SOME STUDENTS, THEY JUST NEED TO BE HEARD TO FIND THEIR VOICE AGAIN–you will fucking ache to teach again at a horror you can’t prepare for–also, be more patient on your roadtrip out of Alaska. Chill the fuck out on those dirt roads, okay?
Where does a summer go?
Grief. Saying goodbye. Watching grief manifest in others, settle, find a place.
Spending every moment possible with my dog, the love of my life, my baby, the girl who saved my life when I was sixteen. Bellatrix. I need to bring her to Seattle. I’m done with this being apart thing. She’s my love.
Time with family,with my one-year-old niece, on boats in Newport Harbor, in the backyard by the fireplace. Hiding in bed with a book, and then another book, so many books, so much decadent reading. Afternoon glasses of cold wine. A sprained ankle that had me on my back for a week.
Visiting a dear friend in LA. I’ve known her for over for ten years now, how is that possible? Visiting LA. Aching at the dryness, the drought, the smog, the desperation for rain.
Speed drafting a nearly-whole book. Lurking around its critical setting point. Hiking in a dress and sandals on hot dirt, through spiky brush. The energy, the thrill. A new story. A new world. New heartbreak. Falling in love with writing, with drafting, all over again.
Living with my parents and my boyfriend and my younger brother. When will I ever live with my younger brother (or my parents) again? Missing my young brother before I even departed. Why can’t I find a photo on my phone of my younger brother from this summer?
Another roadtrip. My dear car pulling through, making it, still clunking along. Back up the coast. Back north. The road and the road and the road and the road. 2 full driving days is much gentler than 2 weeks.
Moving. Again. I was dubious but we made it happen. By the beginning of July, I’d signed a lease. On August 1st, we moved in. I now live in Washington State. I’m twenty-five minutes from downtown Seattle.
Whenever I go out, whenever I drive into the city, drive anywhere, I’m struck. How do I live here? How can I possibly live here?
I love it here.
My birthday. That happened. 25. Mid-twenties. I’ve never liked birthdays, mostly because August is hot and sweaty and bright and during family trips to desert lakes. This was my favorite birthday. I ate chocolate and read and went for a walk and it was cloudy and kind of chilly and simple. I still cried. I always do.
The act of settling. Chicken and dumplings in early-August because of the Seattle chill. Nesting. Furnishing a home on the strictest of budgets. Unemployed since May, resources dwindling. But I had a couch and a desk and a chair and a dresser and a bed and a bed-frame within three days. Thank you, Craiglist. And boyfriend from lugging it all up the stairs.
I have a balcony that faces a tree and lush living room carpeting to sprawl out on. I call the tree my tree. While in Indiana, I kept saying I miss my tree. My tree. It’s already turning. September is tomorrow. My tree will lose its leafs soon, I think.
FaceTiming with my dog. Sobbing about my dog. Missing my dog.
Seeing my grandpa during an 8 hour layover in Utah. I haven’t seen my grandpa since my grandma’s funeral. Seeing my grandpa and feeling that swell of joy, comfort, of coming home.
Pitch Wars. So much Pitch Wars. 142 submissions in my inbox within three days. The swell of reading. The honor. Being on the other side of what I fought against for ten years of querying. Understanding what all those agents meant when they said this is good, this is great, but I didn’t fall in love, I didn’t connect. Also falling in love and connecting with multiple books, but only being able to give one a yes.
My god, the joy of giving that one a yes–it was and is very real.
Two weeks in Indiana after only two weeks after moving. Indiana, hot and bright and muggy and, goodness, that humidity. Two weddings. Both so different, so lovely. All along, a violent head cold that turned into a violent ear infection. Meeting friends that weren’t my friends before. Seeing a family that has accepted me, perhaps only tolerates me, a family I adore.
Savoring Indiana’s particular beauty. The silence of it. All the bright green, those forests, those cornfields. The country. Those storms, my goodness, those storms.
Jet skiing for the first time since I was under ten. Jet skiing during twilight, the sun setting, the wind and water a relief from the oppressive heat. For an hour, feeling like I was on vacation.
Signing my contract with Penguin Random House after nearly six months of waiting. The 2013 merger and new boilerplates were the blame of the delay. It doesn’t matter. The delay ended and I got it. My contract. A book contract. It’s signed: my book will be a book and, if it’s not made into a book, bad shit will happen, so it’ll be a book. A dream come true: signing my name on a contract with the Penguin Random House logo in the lefthand corner. What. What is my life? What? I’ve imagined that moment since I was thirteen and actively started writing YA. I was even giddier than I anticipated.
Coming home. Feeling like this is a home. I guess I attach myself to places easily, but then again Washington has felt like a home since my first visit when I was seventeen. Or, really, since I first read about it in detail at fourteen, and discovered a place unlike Southern California, where it frequently rains, where it’s green and there’s both water and mountains and it rains and rains and rains. Okay, I guess I have Twilight to thank. No shame.
Coming home. Surviving perhaps one of the most bonkers summer of my life.
My first semester of grad school, I took Forms of Creative Nonfiction. Apart from blogging and an accidental memoiristic short story I wrote in undergrad, I had little experience writing creative nonfiction. The class was intensive, invigorating–my favorite part being the weekly creative samples.
In one particular instance, I was told to write a narrative “about a conflict from three different voices.” I can’t recall the specifics. I think one voice was supposed to be my own, close and intimate, revealing. The other empathetic to the others, and the third removed, report-like. I might be remembering this all wrong; it doesn’t matter.
I’ve never been good at following rules: I showed up to call with a two part narrative. The first part was from my perspective, my voice, closer to how I journal than anything else. The second part was third person, with the close interior from my dad’s perspective. A creative essay depicting a conversation in a crowded car about me and mental illness and Snapchat. In class, the professor and a fellow grad student read this essay out loud. I scratched my hands and listened. Outside, it was -40F with an extra windchill. And after class, I walked home, my own words itching.
A year later, I returned to the essay. A year later, I knew I wasn’t staying in Alaska, wasn’t staying in the program, and I figured I ought to submit something somewhere while I was in grad school for an MFA. And, hey, while I’m at it, why not go for the flipping moon? I’ve always loved The Rumpus. And when I thought of this little sad essay, I thought of the Rumpus. I could only submit it to The Rumpus. It was a long shot, an improbable shot; immature and native. A whatever. My I love you, The Rumpus, read my whiny writing, thanks, please.
So, on a Saturday night after midnight, I submitted the essay to The Rumpus. I woke the following Monday morning with an email from Tracy Strauss. She liked my essay. Would I be interested in doing a revision?
I am always interested in a revision.
We did a week of back and forth of edits, some big, some tiny. Within days, the essay was officially accepted. And now, some two months later, the end result is published at The Rumpus. My first piece of creative nonfiction published. I doubt it’ll be the last.
Please read it here:
I’m proud of “Nothing’s Changed” and I’m scared of it and I’m screaming to the skies that it exists and it takes me back to the episodes of Alaska, to what I lost and gained and forgot. I’m medicated now. We’re still figuring it out. I’m safe. I think I’m safe. My psychiatrist in Fairbanks quit on me a week after The Rumpus accepted the essay for publication, which felt funny, felt ironic. But I’m stable, mostly. I have an appointment set for once I arrive in Seattle. Though in some ways, it does feels too late. What could I’ve stopped, calmed, had I not waited until it got so bad that I was scared of my own brain?
Would it be weird if I did a sort of acknowledgements now?
Thank you, Tracy Strauss. For your elegant, keen eye, and for hearing my voice and giving me a platform to tell this story. Thank you, Daryl Farmer, for pushing me to write outside my normal genre, allowing me to bend rules, and reading my work out loud in class–along with Whittier Strong–in such a way that I couldn’t get the words out of my head, in such a way that I was led back to it.
And I’m grateful to my mom and dad, who have always listened, who have never doubted. I’m thankful to my dad especially, in regards to “Nothing’s Changed.” The revised, published version doesn’t include his side–the bits of his life that aren’t mine to share, his love and patience and understanding and urgency to defuse a wound, all the elements and more that make him such an incredible father.
Maybe this is cheating but I’m compelled to share the original ending to “Nothing’s Changed”–an essay that was once two parts and now is only one. Sharing the original final overly-dramatic paragraph in honor of my dad who has seen me at my worst, and supported me even from there, who has loved me and held me even when flailing.
Like I said, fuck the rules. Here’s to breaking them.
He understands the pain is real, that something isn’t right. But when driving a full car down the I-5 on Thanksgiving Eve, he only wants to laugh. Wants to warm what’s frosting in the back. He doesn’t want a reason for the middle sister to cry, so he tries a joke instead. He understands we hurt, I hurt. The thing is, though, he’s only seen possession of a diagnosis worsen scars. It’s just a word, he says. It’s only a word. You’re human. You’re human. You’re human. This is his way of saying we’ll be okay. I’ll be okay. This is his way of saying, it’s okay, you’re still you, you’re here. You’re safe. You’re human, he says. He’s saying, you’re doing just fine, he’s saying, you’re doing great. You’re human. I love you. I hurt too sometimes. We’re okay.
Cheers to The Rumpus and mental illness awareness. Cheers to stable days and the hope of better health care, the hope of sanity, the hope of peace.
Hello, hello, hello! IT’S FINALLY TIME FOR PITCH WARS TO GO INTO BEAST MODE!
As a Pitch Wars 2014 Alternate Alum (did I order those words right?), I’m THRILLED to finally pay it forward as a 2016 YA Mentor. Pitch Wars drastically changed my life by leading me to a book deal and connecting me to an incredible community of writers, many I now have the privilege to call close friends.
PITCHWARS PITCHWARS PITCHWARS OH GOODNESS.
I’m excited. Are you excited? If you want a relentlessly enthusiastic mentor who may overuse capitalization, hey hey, I may be your girl… If you write YA. I’m only accepting YA!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go over the logistics.
WISH, WISH, DO YOU WISH TO READ MY WISH LIST?
- Contemporary is my first true love. Give me your gritty, raw contemporary YA. Yes, please. That said, I’d also LOVE (love love love) to find thrillers, urban fantasy and light fantasy, speculative fiction, horror/paranormal, and magical realism in my inbox. Am I being greedy? Maybe. So what.
- In all genres, I like it dark and layered and surprising and weird.
- You’ll have me salivating if your story is firmly grounded in our world with subtle questions of surreal, magic, absurd, whatever. Psychological elements are welcome and if you can scare me, bravo.
- If your novel has an unreliable and/or unlikeable narrator, I WANT IT NOW. But even more so, voice voice voice. I want to be hooked on the first page by your narrator’s voice, whether it’s with humor or pain or a bizarre view of the world.
- I crave a story with HIGH STAKES that keep your characters in near constant momentum. I want to see fresh ideas and twisty spins on the norm.
- Who do I wanna meet? Characters I’ll fall in love with, who I’ll hate, who feel as real my brother. Characters who are problematic and deeply flawed but are trying, who try and fail or try and prevail.
- I lean towards the literary but I’m also a lover of novels that straddle the cusp of literary and commercial (what silly terms these are! if you can blast through them–go, go go go). I ache for prose that has me reaching for a pen to underline. Give me that subtle lyricism.
- WEIRD structures! OH GOODNESS WEIRD STRUCTURES (ie. non-linear, backwards, dual POV, whatever). I like them. I’m way into them. I’m no master, but they are my jam.
- I like my books like I don’t like my life: MESSY. Tough subjects, taboos, and social issues such as (but not limited to) eating disorders, assault, drug abuse, mental illness, etc. If it’s heart breaking and handled with grace, send it my way.
- This should go without saying but yes, yes, yes to diversity; I’m particularly keen to see more f/f representation on the page.
- Make me cry. Okay, well, that’s easy. Make me laugh in between crying? YOU’RE RARE AND A GEM AND SEND IT TO ME.
- Visceral settings! OH MY DO I LOVE A STRONG SENSE OF PLACE. I want to know where it is, know the taste of the air and the scent of the trees. I want to be compelled to Google the setting, look for it on a map, and if it’s fictional, be convinced otherwise.
- If your book has a layer of romance that isn’t the main focus, glorious. But main focus or not, I want to see deep relationships that evolve and grow and burst. I love slow-burning romance and I’m intrigued by borders–by the difference between love and obsession, friendship and lust, and all those boundaries that so often blur.
- Have a somewhat apocalyptic setting that’s not THE PLOT but is still intertwined with the characters’ everyday? SEND IT TO ME. I love to see weather playing more of a role than background–interfering with everyday life, with how characters behave, enraging the atmosphere.
Okay. That was a lot but, hey, now you know how to truly pique my interest!
I am NOT the best mentor for high fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. LET ME READ IT SOMEDAY (I devour all of it) but you deserve a mentor who knows those ropes better than me.
…Still with me?
SOME OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS THAT MATCH MY WISHLIST
- Anything by Courtney Summers
- Anything by Laurie Halse Anderson, particularly Wintergirls
- The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
- Pointe by Brandy Colbert
- The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
- Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
- Beware the Wild by Natalie Parker
- Dare Me and The Fever by Megan Abbott
- This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
- The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry
- Far From You by Tess Sharp
- Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw
- Nearly Gone and Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano
- Wicked Lovely, et all. by Melissa Marr
- White Oleander and Paint it Black by Janet Fitch
Ignore the fact that a few listed are not YA, also this list is SO not close to complete.
SOME OF MY FAVORITE TV SHOWS
(though I admittedly don’t watch much TV at all–feel free to recommend some show to me!)
- Gilmore Girls
- Breaking Bad
- Skins (UK)
- Jessica Jones
And if you can comp the movie Swiss Army Man (2016), YOU BETTER AS HELL SEND THAT BOOK TO ME.
MENTEE, MENTEE, WHO WILL BE MY MENTEE?
You are dedicated, self disciplined, and ready to push yourself past your limits while having a good time. You think your manuscript is nearly there but know it’s not perfect and recognize it may need some serious revision time. While you know the heart beat of your novel, you’re open minded to new ideas, dramatic cuts, extreme changes. You care. I’ll never demand you agree or complete a specific edit, but I do want you to think it through and be ready to answer questions! You must believe in your writing, be committed to your manuscript, know your story’s core. You’re ready to work. Seriously. You might not “win” Pitch Wars, might not even receive an agent offer, but your manuscript WILL be stronger and primed for querying.
Also, obviously, I would love it if your friendly! Like, not weirded out if I constantly announce that I’m sending you hugs and tweet at you on a regular basis.
MENTOR, MENTOR, HOW AM I A MENTOR?
I love and care with full force. I don’t do a thing half-hearted and if I choose you and your manuscript, you can bet that I will give you all that I have to help you, push you, to better develop your novel into a work of dynamite. You can bet that my feedback and critique letters will be just as !!!!!enthuuuusiaastic!!! as this blog post. I will fangirl like no other. But I will NOT sugarcoat and I won’t shy away from telling you WHAT I LOVE AND WHY I CHOSE YOU AND OH MY GOSH LET’S GET THIS THING OUT TO THE WORLD, just as I won’t hesitate to tell you what’s not working. I want your novel to GLOW and be sharp and tight and rock it at the agent round and subsequent submissions.
I’ve been on the receiving end of many editorial letters, so I know how difficult it can be to approach revisions (I still struggle! I still struggle A LOT!). As your mentor, I promise that I’ll be here to support you, to help you get off the floor, talk through the roadblocks and more.
We will communicate primarily via email and, if you’re into it, text messages and/or some form of instant messaging (Gchat, Skype, etc.). I’m not a huge fan of phone calls or video chats, but if you feel it’d be helpful–or we just get super pumped and need to shout and cheer together–that’s definitely an option.
Also I have a dog named Bellatrix who I very much I adore and I think it’s important that you know that!
STILL WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT ME?
Writing and reading (particularly YA) have been my ultimate passions for over a decade. I’ve been working with critique partners and editing and querying off and on since my middle school fan-fiction days. I wrote my first novel at thirteen, revised for an agent at fifteen, wrote a second book at sixteen, and–though I didn’t sign with an agent until some eight years later–I was constantly learning through the thick of it.
If you go back through my posts here on this wee site of mine, you can read about my various detours of the long haul journey. But, ultimately, after battling as a Pitch Wars alternate in 2014, I signed with my agent Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary, and we sold my debut, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, to Marissa Grossman at Razorbill Penguin last March.
(I’m still very much celebrating and, if the premise intrigues you, it’d make me smile if you added it on Goodreads!)
I earned my BA from Colorado College in English and Creative Writing, where I was known for my lengthy, enthusiastic feedback letters. I’ve completed 3 semesters of an MFA in Creative Writing, which is more noteworthy not for the graduate workshops but for the experience of teaching composition (which I LOVED) and tutoring at the campus writing center. I know how to work with all writers, all ages and levels, both in terms of idea and approach but also the technical and the flow. Starting in September, I’ll be teaching ESL in the Seattle area.
Wanna know non-professional me? Peruse my Twitter, my Instagram, whatever. Say hi. Though I’m often shy, I love love love new friends and adore being a part of the Pitch Wars community. You can also email me at email@example.com.
Some trivia: I’m addicted to moving, a spoonie, don’t have a spleen, love tattoos and piercings (though my acquisition of them has slowed since entering my twenties), miss Alaska already, crave rain more than any weather (though a good snow storm does compete), have wild insomnia, prever -30F degrees to 80F, must live near mountains, adore hiking when my body is cooperating, completed my Bachelor’s degree in 2 1/2 years, started writing seriously after a fabulous stint of Harry Potter fan-fiction, lovelovelove ballet even if my floor work is atrocious, drink too much coffee, have an obsession/irrational fear with natural disasters, potentially allergic to the sun (or so I say), and am often too hyper.
Long story short: if you have a YA manuscript that’s compelling and you’re ready to work with a mentor who is eager and honored to dig into your work, do consider submitting to me!
THIS AUTUMN IS GOING TO BE MAGIC.
~~Please be sure to check out EVERY FABULOUS YA MENTOR’S BLOG BEFORE YOU SUBMIT!~~
June, June, what are you?
I’m proud of my work in June. I’m devastated by June. Nation-wide, global-wide, June hurt.
June–there were only a few days of June Gloom in Orange County. A few days where, when I woke early enough, fog gripped the canyon hills and blurred out the lower valley. As a teenager every June morning–no, almost every morning apart from those in July and August–were drenched with that fog, that glorious gloom. This month, we only had a single morning where I couldn’t see beyond my backyard’s turquoise metal gate. That was my favorite day to write.
I’m finally writing again. Did I mention I’d kind of unwillingly stopped?
I think I hinted, referenced, evaded the topic. Alaska wrung me out dry. Alaska inspired and aggravated. In Alaska, I was diagnosed with bipolar II and PTSD (which I wrote about while in Alaska, and that essay will be published by the Rumpus some week soon). In Alaska, I only wrote if it were required or NOTHING LEFT TO BURN revisions. I don’t need to keep discussing how my mental state was in Alaska, how my body and brain conspired, how the sun kept me spinning in the worst way. I’ve already explained.
I attempted to start my “next book” back in September. I wrote what I thought was a novel outline, play scenes that sketched its core. It was more of a short story than anything and people liked it. I attempted to start planning, because I was told by important people that I needed to outline, to learn from the mess I’d made in the early days of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. I was told I shouldn’t start drafting until I knew the heart of my new book, until I knew the end, every twist. This froze me. This had me on the floor, making notes with arrows, making notes that stated I don’t know. Attempting to change my writing process while being out on submission and receiving rejections and then having the dream come true, all the while my mind cracking every day, all the while trying to fix my brain, was a lethal combination. Long story short: I didn’t write much. I was stuck. I was cold.
There is a strange, heavy sense of shame when you sell a book after having not written a fresh word in what feels like years. I will never let myself feel that again. I’m a writer, even if I’m not writing. Even if I’m in a drought–that’s okay. I’m a writer.
So, in May, I left Alaska with what I called a “muddy rambling novel plan” (which really is a glorified term for a messy, playful synopsis), but I felt as if I had nothing. As if my brain had shattered so terribly up north that I’d lost the spark. I would never write again.
Instinctually, I knew this wasn’t true. I was hopeful. I was eager. I was ready to move, to drive those 3000 miles, to find my discipline and love for writing again. But I was scared. God, I was scared.
The first day in June, a week after I’d returned to California, three days after I visited her, cried and told her I love you, thank you, I love you, my aunt passed away. She fought breast cancer for over some twelve years. Half of my life. My aunt who said why not? why the hell not? when she heard that I wasn’t going to apply to Colorado College because I didn’t feel I was equipped, didn’t feel worthy, didn’t feel I had a shot of ever being accepted. My aunt who loved fiercely, who was so intimidating with her strength and grace and elegance and determination. My aunt passed away and, it’s strange, because my greatest fear for the last two years was that she’d go while I was in Alaska before I had a chance to say goodbye.
This is why I went home for Thanksgiving. To say goodbye, to see her. But I was too scared to say goodbye. Just as I was too scared to say goodbye to Alaska, the friends there. And this is sounding selfish, like I think my aunt held on for me to get there in time, which is by no means the case at all. Coincidence is all it is. I’m so incredibly lucky, and it’s so odd, that I was so fixated on saying goodbye adequately in May, only to have to say goodbye in the truest of ways on the first day of June. Say goodbye to my aunt. Say goodbye and watch my mother’s heart break.
June. June. What did June do?
The hurt. The grief. The losses. The what the fuck is happening to this world.
On the twenty-ninth day in May, I stared at the four pages of my next novel’s unfinished planning ramble and I cried. My mom poured me a glass of wine. My mom, who has shouldered this month, this month of losing her sister, the past four months of being at her dying sister’s side, my mom who has given and given and given, this month, this past year. Serving others. Sacrificing her time, her writing, her healing. My mom poured two glasses of wine and she forced me to talk about my writing and I cried.
We talked and she asked questions and I cried and I retreated to my room and, dun dun dun, I opened up a new document. I wrote. I played. I screamed a fuck you to thorough planning, to total I know it all outlining. That’s not how my brain works and I’m not interested in doing it one specific way. I wrote. I fell in love with the story. I fell in love with writing again. The discovery. The surprise. I channelled fourteen-year-old me: the girl writing in between homework sessions, writing when sick, writing as both an escape and a form of play. June hurt in so many ways. So I adjusted my mindset, reprogrammed the approach, and I let writing messy–playing with this new weird muddy story–be my play, my solace.
I had to allow writing to again be an act of healing.
And when I hit 20k words this past weekend, when I started to feel my wobbling, I reopened that planning ramble. I filled in more details and I expanded. This is how I will write this book. Discovery. Some planning. Fucking up. Outlining. Re-channeling. I’m expecting to start the next BURN revision in two weeks and I’m aiming to finish this zero draft by then, so I have it, so my brain has something more to focus on than this tired, sad world. Because writing gives me hope. This zero draft will suck. No one will see this draft, except maybe my boyfriend who read that accidental short story in October, maybe my mom who is my greatest reader. But, ultimately, I will outline this next book through the zero draft. I will write. I will rewrite. I will write.
I have many more novels in me, novels that will fail and instruct me, and novels I’ll be proud of and hold close. And I’m promising myself this: I’ll write in the way my mind demands. I will write it my way and it’ll be just fine. Because why not? Why the hell not?
My aunt will never see my first book, or any of my books, in print.
We’re all so ready for June to end. We’re all so wrung out by 2016. I want to hug and spread love and cry with those who hurt. I do that sometimes. And I write. I write not for my career as an author or because it’s what’s expected of me as a debut author. I write because it’s how I say goodbye, how I understand the hurt that festers, how I listen, how I calm myself so I can be here.
My mom sent photos as I wrote this. She’s in Big Sur at Esalen, at a writing retreat with Cheryl Strayed, Steve Almond, other incredible heart healing writers. A retreat that she was signed up for last year, but her granddaughter was planned to arrive that week (and she did–my niece’s turns one tomorrow), so she cancelled. A retreat that she was on the waitlist for this year, that she thought there was no way for her to go because her oldest sister was dying of cancer and she needed to be near. Esalen called my mom the week her sister died. She was off the waitlist. My mom, who I haven’t seen take a day for herself this entire month, a day to spend in bed, or in her garden, a day of quiet to try to heal. I told my mom go. Please go. Go to the coast, go write, be selfish, give yourself this gift.
My mom is in Big Sur for the week. She says she not working on her novel but writing about her sister. She says she’s skipping assigned reading and listening to women play the guitar under the stars, talking to other writers in the hot springs. My mom will end June there, spend the first morning of July there.
July, let us heal and write. Let us move and act on our pain and listen better and continue to say goodbye.
We did it. The roadtrip. 3,434 miles. Google Maps says that’s 59 hours of driving. We estimated 2 weeks, anticipated 10 days but in the end made it in 8, with one full day break. We drove. It hurts my brain and my hips to really think about the distance. My poor car needs an oil change, a total check up. My poor car? She didn’t quit. We drove with such risk. No spare, despite knowing the poor road conditions and the car’s heavy load and there often being no towns–no passing cars–for hours and hours and hours.
In Beaver Creek, Yukon, a man told us he got a flat. His friends from Anchorage were driving it up to him because the nearest full-serving tireshop was in Fairbanks. After that exchange, I drove with a clenched jaw until we reached a real big city that had to have my tire size. Fairbanks was six hours, seven, eight, ten hours, two days, three, four days away.
This roadtrip was different than the one we completed in August, when it was California to Alaska and not Alaska to California. August was planned so that we only drove every other day. On off days we wandered cities or hiked, moved our bodies, drank with friends. In August, we skipped most of the Canadian drive and instead took a four-day ferry and slept on the desk in a tent. Driving driving driving every day with no friend retreats is a different thing.
This roadtrip was glorious, painful, whatever. We did it. I’m so happy we did it, made it, left, drove the roads that people dream of crossing.
Even after getting into that packed Mini Cooper for 7 days straight to drive all day–sometimes not seeing other cars for hours, sometimes driving on unpaved road that hurt my bones–after becoming dull to music, dull to crying, dull to unfathomable sights and endless mountains that still had me keening despite my being so dulled, even after giving in to Outlander on audiobook–even after hearing I had a reason to get to California sooner to say goodbye to someone I love–we were still alert, sort of smiling. Or at least I was. Maybe because I’d just had my first coffee of the morning.
At some point, I think as early as the first day, I stopped taking photos of everything that made me squeal. I became more selective with what I chose to capture and tried to let go, be there, wherever I was. On some days, I hadn’t slept and it hurt to sit because my knees are bad and sitting in my car requires very bent knees. On all days, I drank more coffee than I ever have and ate at least two roadside soggy sandwiches.
I’m already missing it, at least glimpses of it. I’m already nostalgic. I still haven’t washed my car. I’m driving around shiny south OC in a dirt-covered Mini with Alaska plates and a giant cargo box on top. There may be some pride involved with my procrastination to wash it.
And when I finally drove south enough for a real night? The first night it got dark-dark? Like not just a dim twilight but I CAN’T SEE OUTSIDE IT’S DARK AND LOOK STARS dark, on day 3 or 4, I don’t know, I howled so happy, so relieved.
The next day, we drove through sun and rain and snow. The Northern Rocky Mountains, a touch of home. Connected to Colorado. I’m too sentimental. I called it a blizzard. Regan laughed at me and we argued about the snows of Indiana versus those of Colorado and then we just drove through the snow until we reached the end of the day’s road.
Southern British Columbia is a damp dream. Like Scotland. Or maybe I only think that because we were listening to Outlander as we made our way through it, I don’t know. But we were through the worst of the drive, the most remote, the risky portion, and it felt so good on the eyes and mind. The rain. All that rain. It only made my car more muddy.
If you have the option, drive the Sea to Sky Highway. But please, take a piss before speeding through the bulk of the curving knuckle-gripping mountain way. Don’t make my mistake. Or do. I have no regrets. It was mesmerizing. It was home. Go through Whistler (because at this point you’ll have no choice) and be confused by the sudden affluence, by its comforting similarities to Park City.
Vancoooooooouver! I love you, I do. I have since 2014 (or really 2010 when I did my first Vancouver research) and still do.
In Vancouver, we stayed at a harbourfront hotel. A treat for making it through Yukon, through British Columbia. A farewell to British Columbia. It was nice.
The next day, I started paying rent in Seattle–a storage unit, in which we emptied half of the car into, I put much of my life into. A commitment to Washington. We were only in the city for a few hours. There was an urgency to go further south, to finish the drive. We stayed in Portland with friends. The next day, we drove 10 hours to the Bay Area, to my older sister, to my darling niece.
We took our first day off. A day off from driving before the last final stretch. It was a delight. I wore a dress and boots, not my jeans and a beanie and some grimy tee. We drank wine and I played with my niece and we just fucking relaxed.
And then, the next day, 7 hours down the 1-5, through Los Angeles rush hour traffic, then then then then, the roadtrip was complete. Over. A little over a week doesn’t sound that long but time warped up there on the Alcan, somewhere between the Yukon and British Columbia. I live in California now, for a few months. I’m writing every day. I’m sleeping and healing and will be seeing too many doctors next week and next month.
Why the hell am I already nostalgic for the roadtrip?
What is happening in Alaska? What’s Alaska?