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.