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!~~
Oh my gosh.
NOTHING LEFT TO BURN WILL BE PUBLISHED BY RAZORBILL!
How do I even articulate myself right now?
NOTHING LEFT TO BURN (previously known around here as AFOT 1), the book I started writing when I was 13. The book I first queried at 14. That I revised and rewrote and revised and rewrote and put away and gave up on and picked back up again some thirty times. That first received agent interest at 15, and then again at 17, and again at 21, and finally at 23, which led to me signing with the inimitable Sarah Davies–who continued fighting for this book when I was close to caving, collapsed, eating tear-soaked cookies on my studio rug.
And Razorbill! You guys, Razorbiiiiiilllllllll, oh my, an imprint of Penguin Random House, but more importantly, an imprint that’s been publishing books I’ve been DEVOURING since I was a pre-teen.
Can I please go back to 2006 and tell fourteen-year-old me?
I’ve been holding tight to this incredible news since March 1st, after a sleepless night, after jumping at a call from my agent and hearing “you’re going to be published,” after being in such confusion and glee I couldn’t quite cry though I’d been so sure I’d cry and yes fine I did eventually cry (and later sobbed), after calling my mom and my dad, after sleeping for some forty minutes (because my body shut down at the shock) and then somehow managing to teach and not shout at my students to shut up shut up shut up you guys shusssssshhhhhhhh it’s happening!!!!, after devouring a giant sushi boat with my boyfriend in celebration, and subtweeting about the news, and watching Sideways and opening a bottle of delicious wine despite the near-rancid cork.
how many times am I going to post a variation of this photo? I DUNNO. this is a face of a sleep-depreived someone who, mere hours before, learned her dream was happening! and also yay SUSHI!!!
In March 2006, I finished the first draft of the first version of this absurd little book about passion/obsession and first love/lust and Orange County and FIRE (!!!!!). In March 2016, I sold it to a dream imprint and landed with a kick ass editor (we bonded over Gilmore Girls within minutes of our call, and later our shared crush over my very own fictional character *swoon*).
Over ten years. I’ve been pushing and running and kicking and dreaming for over ten years. If you count my kindergarten declaration that I wanted to be a writer, then, well, even longer.
I’m so, so glad I didn’t stop writing (and rewriting).
It feels mighty fine to finally share the news. Hopefully I’ll be sharing even more soon. And perhaps elaborating on what it took to get from there to here, and the work that comes next.
What comes next? I start writing and revising books FASTER.
Some related posts:
- how it took a decade to find my agent
- a post-rejection blog
- rewriting a yr-long plot into 24 hrs
- basically I’m saying the same thing in every entry, but there you go
It’s a warm January. A mild winter. We haven’t had a below 40 day yet and I want it. My students tell me shhhh, they tell me not to jinx it. But below 40 here is normal for winter. Not 20F. Not -2F. Not the smell of wet trees at 11 PM in late January. I crave normal, or rather the idea of it. And I want proof that Alaska isn’t already thawing. That the world isn’t melting. I want the freeze in my eyes, my nose, on my teeth. It feels like something special. Wakes me up.
I’m writing something new and it’s so odd to be writing something new. Attempting to write something new. That’s not true. I’ve written so many new things this past year but nothing big, nothing that feels so heavy it’s hard to think, difficult to see its core.
So much is happening. This spring will be rapid, rough, so light. It’s getting brighter every day. And every day, I wish I knew what to say that would articulate the change.
On Wednesday, I spoke on the phone with someone new. A business call that had me waking by the hour beforehand, a call that had me falling out of bed faster than I have since September. For the first few minutes, we small chatted about Alaska. Every phone call with someone new outside out of Alaska ends up entailing some talk of Alaska. This is especially true with customer service reps. When will the sun set? When does it rise? Is it dark all the time? How cold is it? What happens to the light? Why do you live there? Why?
The person I talked to Wednesday, not a customer service rep, this person who was so nice, she asked me about Alaska and I laughed and I said, “I don’t think I really like Alaska.”
And that’s not totally true. I’m infatuated and confused. I’m angry, exhausted. My nervous system is charred by the seasons’ swings that aggravate my own. I’m in love with the challenge and the extremes. I’m broken. Stuck on repeat: stating the same things. I’ll try to not write about Alaska and the weather and the light the next time I post an entry.
But this new class I’m teaching? It’s a challenge too, but oy. My students (and me!) are rising to the occasion. I never thought I’d stay up late to read student writing, but that’s already happened more than once and it feels good.
I was fourteen when I sent out my first query letters. There’s a photo of the moment floating around on some hard drive somewhere: me at the UPS store in Rancho Santa Margarita, holding the stiff envelopes addressed for various literary agents in New York. I probably look annoyed, a forced smile, posing to appease my mom. I’ve always felt shy about this process–afraid to share the good or admit the bad. Even now, it feels weird to explain.
I’ll hyperlink to past entries in an attempt to make sense of what I’ve said here previously, in an attempt to connect the tangents of the last four years.
Anyway. Every agent I queried that round said no.
And every round after, too.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
(This, I guess, inspired me to write my personal statement for my grad school apps on how I THRIVE on noes–which was extraordinarily cheesy but finally landed me a Yes.)
Fifteen years old, I revised. I tried again. No and no and no. I revised some more. I tried again. A full request. A no. I edited and tweaked and turned sixteen and left high school. I wrote another book, finished it at seventeen while living in Berkeley. A double request followed. An almost yes, a summer of edits with an agent, an ultimate confusing no. I revised again and turned eighteen and moved to Colorado. A partial request. A no. I wrote some more, aside from two revisions on my second book, always working on that first manuscript. Nineteen, living in Humboldt County, I rewrote the beginning. A fire, a wildfire, but I let it die too fast.
I moved back to Colorado Springs to attend Colorado College. My focus was on school, not writing. The book was in the drawer. But then, my first summer after CC, I had a sinus surgery and rewrote it from word zero during my month on the couch. I was lazy. I followed the same plot and fell into the same holes. I went back to school. A writing conference that next summer. A full request I was hush about. I spent June and July and August revising like a fool for that request–switching from past tense to present, digging deeper but not deep enough. I knew this even when I clicked send. I was wrung out. I started my senior year at Colorado College and had some moving/Faulkner/flood panic attacks and wrote some weird short stories for workshop and drove around town alone when it all felt like too much.
Another no. This one felt big. A big no. It also felt inevitable. I blogged about it and then shook it off. I went back to writing. It was thesis season. This was last year. I thought I’d write my third book. I was ready to put my eight-year mess aside. But then the fire came. Ideas on ideas on ideas on how I could fix my old story. An understanding of the story, the REAL story. By December, I was in mad dash of rewriting. Real rewriting. Not following the same plot, the same scenes, but dealing with something almost entirely new. The fire from Humboldt County chasing me through all of the winter and spring.
I “finished” the draft and submitted the thing to my professor. It was my senior thesis. Fresh work. A new book inspired from the bones of that book I started when I was thirteen. I graduated and moved home and spent the summer rewriting the end, because I knew the end was limp. I cut the last ten-thousand words. Started in again. My goal was to finish and query before the end of August, before I moved to Alaska for grad school. I did, within a day of my deadline.
And then I didn’t move to Alaska, so I had time. I submitted the manuscript to Pitch Wars and made it in (!) and spent September and October gently revising under the nurturing guidance of Rachel Lynn Solomon. I was her alternate. And then the showcase happened. Requests! What! Within a single weekend, an agent read the book, and a phone call was scheduled. I read that email on my phone while on the drive home from San Jose with my parents. It was late and we were somewhere in Central CA. My dad insisted we stop for sugar. Starbucks was the first place we saw. They made me pose for photos. I couldn’t stop smiling and messing with my hair and it was weird and, I swear, my dad and I weren’t intentionally matching.
Then, a few days later, the call. The Call. An offer. Shock. I’m still in shock. It still doesn’t feel real.
Two weeks followed. More offers–from the Pitch Wars requests and the queries I’d sent out after the contest. On air. I was on fucking air. It’s the weirdest feeling: being wanted, hearing good things said about your book, speaking with people who believe in the story. It was the spin of all spins. I cried over the decision, but, somehow, I knew who I’d sign with early on: the agent who would challenge me the most, cultivate not just this book but my career, who gave me chills during our first call.
I accepted an offer of representation from Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency in the backseat of my mom’s car, parked in front of the UPS store where I sent out my first queries at fourteen. This–the circularity–was not intentional, wasn’t something I realized until days after, but I love it. Ending the query trudge where it began.
It still doesn’t feel real. My having an agent. Sarah Davies being my agent. Finally (FINALLY) making it over this hurdle. I’ve been jumping at it for almost nine years. And it feels so good. It feels right.
I don’t have the exact number of queries I sent out or rejections I received between now and when I was fourteen (somewhere around a hundred). I lost count of the revisions (the lame attempts and painfully thorough) and the endless editing rounds and the critiques from friends and the cut chapters and the versions of the manuscript lost to laptop crashes. But I don’t think those numbers matter. Albeit some extended breaks for the sake of sanity and education, I simply didn’t stop writing. That’s how I’m here. I wrote and I rewrote even more and, you know, I’m so happy it played out the way it did.
I’m so, so happy.
So much is happening, and it’s weird to be exposed, to share this, to not be so ambiguous. It’s weird that my mom shared this news on Facebook before I had the chance to even shoot out a tweet and people I’ve never met know. And gosh gosh gosh I’m happy and also scared and nervous and thrilled to see what happens next. A succession of THINGS. This. The past month. This whole autumn. And what waits. Revisions with Sarah. Hopefully kicking Lyme disease in the ass. Moving to Alaska. New friends, new important people in my life. In some ways, a new life (with the same head, same me). Grad school and teaching (?!). Going out on submission (!!!!). Writing a second (well, technically, third/fourth) book sometime SOON.
What then? WHAT THEN! What is happening?
I do not know, but I like it.