Why I Write

ink jar and quills (image by Charles Stanford)
(image by Charles Stanford)

I have been dealing with what I’ll call anxiety induced malaise of late.

As such, my creative work has stalled.

There is a school of thought out there that says anxiety, depression, and the like drive the creative person to make better art. I’m not going to say this is 100% wrong. When a person is sensitive and able to feel things deeply, that can be a gift. I have experienced that. However, it can also be paralyzing. Lately, I have been paralyzed.

I have especially struggled with my writing. I had a number of projects in the works, but suddenly that shifted. One novel I was working on (a sort of companion to Sideshow) seemed frivolous and unnecessary. Another novel seemed precious and overwrought. You get the picture. Each time I sat down to work, it all seemed to be without purpose. I wanted to do something important, but nothing seemed important enough, so I did nothing.

I’ve been here before. It’s far from the first time. I have always been a person deeply affected by the world around me and my effect on it (or lack thereof). I often struggle with being productive when I think that what I’m doing isn’t useful or helping anyone, and at times, it paralyzes me. Who am I? What do I have to give? When I run through my talents, I usually find myself coming up sort (blame the anxiety and some lingering threads of that teenage angst), but there is one thing that still remains: stories.

I write historical fiction not simply because I love history.  I do love history, but more importantly, I love the stories of history. So often in a history class we are taught to memorize names and dates, but we see these people as far away and nothing like us when in reality, we have so much in common with them and knowing their stories helps us to see that. Knowing their stories helps us to understand our own world as well.

When I wrote Sideshow, I initially struggled with trying to explain why I set the book in the in the time period that I did. The 1950s are a polarizing time to write about. They are so easy to romanticize, what with the poodle skirts and roller skating car hops and the birth of the American teenager, but under the surface of all that, there is a lot going on, most of which would bubble over quite fiercely in a short amount of time. I wanted to address these issues in a story of what is often portrayed as an “idyllic” time. I wanted to write a story that talked about some of the parts of that time that still ring true in our world today.

Additionally, I included the flashbacks because just as I do not exist solely in 2017, but also in 1992, 2001, 1988, 2010, etc as the years I lived through helped shape who I am today, the same is true for the people of the past.

Take for example the flashback to the incident with Abby’s mother. This is a history that Italian-Americans did not often talk about or acknowledge to their descendants. I myself had to learn about something similar happening to one of my own ancestors from archival documents and not from anyone in my family. This story as well as the others included in Sideshow were important to me because just as these events shaped Abby’s perception of her own identity, there were events happening in the world around me that I knew where shaping the identities of myself and everyone else for years to come.

So…the telling of stories…

It may not be much, but this is what I have give the world. So…I suppose I must find a way to continue.

Are some of my projects frivolous or precious? Yeah, probably.

Do I feel weird mentioning them on social media when so many more important things are happening? Definitely.

Do I think my words are even close to enough to change anything? No. Not really.

But deep down I know it is one of the few things I have that can help anyone (as self-centered as that may seem), so I have to keep trying.

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My pencils outlast their erasers. [Deleted Scenes!]

“I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” —Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right. —Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

I strongly believe in the rewrite. I think I may have driven more than one editor insane by how strongly I believe in it. Sometimes, to me at least, the first half of the writing process is about scribbling things down as you find and sort the story, then the second half is making sure that the words are exactly right to convey that story. For some stories the first half is a much longer journey than the second one. That was the case for Sideshow.

If I gave you the following one sentence summary: “Detroit 1955: A young pregnant waitress on the run joins a traveling carnival to hide from both her father and her boyfriend’s killer.” Would you even think for a moment that this was from the snowflake outline (the method I use for diagramming my initial novel ideas) of Sideshow?

Sideshow went through many, many , many changes before it made it’s way to the publisher and even more before it actually went to print. This didn’t shock me at all. It happens all the time with my work and I’m sure a lot of writers will agree.

And all of this is a long, roundabout way of saying that today we have deleted scenes! I’ve selected a few of my favorite scenes that were cut from Sideshow during the process of writing and rewriting. Enjoy! (and maybe if you ask really nicely I’ll share the “alternate ending” or rather the ending I never finished because it went off the rails.)

Italian Cookies

1st we have the original end to Abby and Suprema’s first date in which they run into Abby’s Aunt Teresa. Ultimately, I didn’t feel that it was necessary to actually introduce this character (yet) and that she was more impactful off the page.

Abby stood up from the table and offered her arm to Suprema. They started for the door, but were stopped in their tracks as a well dressed woman in a circle skirt bustled in, arms full of packages. Something familiar in her face caught Abby’s eye and she continued to watch as the woman made her way to the counter and set her packages down. “I’ve got another 4 dozen of the seed cookies here,” she said in a light airy way that seemed calibrated to hide an accent. Even that sounded familiar to Abby.

“Right, Signora Holland,” said the woman behind the counter. “And I’ve got your money here for them, just a minute.”

“Therese, please,” she asked, trying to sound friendlier while still effecting the right vowels. “I’m Therese here, Maria.”

Maria frowned, but she nodded and hurried away from the counter.

“Do you know her?” Suprema asked, her voice gently, but prodding. Only then did Abby realize that not only she was holding onto her arm much too tightly, but she was also blocking the aisle.

“I-I think so,” she whispered. “I think she might be my aunt.”

When Maria had handed Abby’s Aunt Teresa the money, she turned to go. Abby wanted to duck behind a booth, but there was no time. Teresa turned directly toward Abby and Suprema and put her hand to her heart with a small gasp. “Ninfa?” Her accent was back in its rightful place.

“Abby,” Abby corrected, still holding tightly to Suprema’s arm. She needed something, anything, to ground her.

“What are you- When did you- How did-?” She trailed off, glancing around the restaurant. The rest of the patrons were all looking pointedly at their lunches, pretending not to hear. She looked Abby over, examining every inch of her. “You look so much like your mother. I thought I was seeing a ghost.”

“I’ve been told that,” Abby said, trying to keep a frown from flitting onto her face.

“It’s been a long time.” Teresa fidgeted as she looked around the restaurant, not daring to look at Abby for too long.

“It has.” Abby looked right at her taking her in. She barely remember her from her youth. It had been ages since she had last laid eyes on her and even those memories were quite hazy.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the- Well, you know. The timing was bad for traveling. Things are different for me now. I’d just remarried. He’s English, and he wasn’t ready, well, to meet my family.” She pointedly met Abby’s eye as if suddenly trying to send her a secret signal.

Abby looked away so that she couldn’t see it, as if that could keep her from understanding it. She didn’t want to admit that she knew exactly what her aunt was trying to say, but she did. “Oh,” was all she could say in response.

“If you need anything though, anything at all.” Teresa began to reach out and take her niece by the hand, but was unable to complete the action. Abruptly she retracted and sped out the door without another word.

Abby remained frozen to the spot until Suprema lightly touched the back of her hand and startled her from the trance. “So that was your aunt?” she asked in a tentative voice.

“I don’t really know,” Abby said. Her eyes were stinging and she knew that she had to fight the tears back as hard as she could. “I guess not.”

Suprema frowned, a knowing expression on her face. It was a look that Abby could read with ease. She had seen it on the faces of so many of the other carnival workers: a defiant understanding of loneliness. “Come on then,” she whispered, sounding suddenly firm and resolute. “We don’t need her.”

lets spend the afternoon in a cold hot air balloon

2nd is another favorite of mine: the hot air balloon. This was one of the first scenes I wrote and I still love it. Originally, hot air balloons played a large roll in the plot, however, when I started researching I quickly learned that hot air ballooning was not really a recreational activity until well into the 1960s (Seriously, I didn’t believe it either, but it’s true!). Oops. So all of that had to go, but I still think this little scene had some lovely magic.

Abby’s eyes lit up as she watched the world below drift away. She had always imagined that something like this would terrify her, but instead she felt exhilarated. The carnival, the city, everything became small and suddenly manageable, as if by changing her perspective, she could now take on the world. Finally Della’s comment about being born on the ground made sense.

“Suprema, this is…This is incredible. How often do you come up here?”

“Not often. Only when I really need to think about something.”

Below, the roofs of houses, the highways, the river, looked like a child’s drawing. Abby squeezed her eyes shut, trying to fix the image in her mind.

“You aren’t scared are you?” Suprema asked, genuine concern in her voice.

Abby shook her head. “I’m trying to remember this moment.”

“Don’t. You’ll miss it.” She slipped her arm around Abby’s waist and Abby automatically leaned into her. The pair stayed that way, silently watching the scenes of the city play out beneath them, until, eventually, Suprema broken the silence. “I don’t want you to leave.”

Abby looked up, suddenly taken aback. “You’d be the only one.”

“That’s not true. We all care about you, Abby. You’re one of us.”

The scoff escaped before Abby could corral it. “Far from it. Della made that painfully clear.”

“Della,” Suprema scoffed as well. “What does Della know?”

Before Abby could intercede on Della’s behalf, Suprema had continued. “I know I’m not…my opinion doesn’t count for much, but…I want you to stay. I need you to stay.”

Abby watched her eyes. The usual sadness was there, but there was something more behind them, something hopeful and warm. Abby had seen it a few times before, but this time it was different, it shone. “Why?” she said, pulling out of Suprema’s embrace.

“You’re nice,” Suprema began. “Phebe adores you. Vinnie practically wants to adopt you.”

“They’ve all gotten along fine before now. They’ll get along fine after I go home.”

“There’s also…” Suprema hesitated and looked around as if she might see a stowaway on the balloon eavesdropping on their conversation. “Well, there’s also the fact that I love you.”

This, Abby had not been expecting. She stared hard at Suprema’s face, the warm look in her eyes growing to almost a beacon. “You-”

“Was it not obvious?”

Without stopping to breath, Abby threw her arms around Suprema. The basket of the balloon tossed just a little, but neither of them seemed to mind. “No,” Abby whispered. “No, it wasn’t obvious.”

Suprema brushed a strand of Abby’s hair from her face and gazed at her. “I’m not very good at-”

Abby shook her head. “You don’t need to explain.” Then she kissed her. The thrill of being miles above the earth could not even begin to compare to the thrill of that one kiss.

To read how it really goes, pick up a copy of Sideshow from Interlude Press.

Not a stand alone piece in any way…

The next installment of Season of the Witch, “Daughter of Detroit” is out for edits right now. I’m pretty excited about it. I really enjoy Clarissa as a character. I feel like her out-of-time disconnect really speaks to me. Like many of the Season of the Witch characters, Clarissa has a hard time connecting with the world around her, but unlike many of those other characters, Clarissa desperately wants to. She wants to be part of the world and finds herself ill-equipped to do so. (A lot like someone else I know. *whistles innocently* but that’s another blog post for another day.)

What I’m pondering today before I dive into edits and try to make my self imposed deadline, is one observation my boyfriend made: “Well, it’s not a stand alone piece in any way.”

Which is completely true. It’s not a stand alone piece. It hasn’t been for awhile.

Season of the Witch has been slowly moving away from being stand alones since I decided to write a sequel to Jaclyn of the Lantern. Even Jaclyn, though, benefits greatly from the added knowledge acquired by reading on. Since Red, when the series diverged from the originally planned six novellas to a much more extended set of episodes, I have known quite well that the stories in the series are all part of a greater mythology, a larger artistic work that hopefully, one day, will be collected into a single tome (Hence the Patreon, which hints at this goal. I would love to make said collection an illustrated and unique work of art, but that’s way down the road). The fact that the pieces are not stand alone is not a failing, but it makes me wonder though if I need to rethink my release structure. I mean, it is a -huge- experiment after all. Sometimes, I think I’m flailing around in the dark with this self publishing thing.

As things currently stand, I put out an installment once every few months by publishing it on Smashwords. I do this so that I can get the largest amount of formats for the smallest investment. By using this method, it creates a separate “book” for each installment, which I don’t necessarily mind. I started doing this with Jaclyn because at that time the plan was six stand alone novellas, but I’ve kept it up because as of right now I’m not aware of a more effective method, and besides, in my mind, it adds something to the endeavor. I jokingly call Season of the Witch my “comic book project” for this reason. But is this really best? Or is it just confusing to people who come to the project expecting full length stories, only to find something a lot more episodic than what they were after? Is there a release structure that would be more indicative of what the series truly is?

I’ve been thinking a lot about comics and sequential art lately…

Or do I just think too much?

Goal Lists are Goal Lists, Belated or Not

Okay, so it’s a almost two weeks late at this point, but here we go! It’s a post that will probably be of no interest to the majority of you, but will hold me accountable to my goals (and who knows maybe you all will hold me accountable too): Housekeeping, [Writing] Resolutions and Goals for 2015!

Every so often I make about a million new years resolutions or write up a 101 in 1001 (which I’m actually considering doing again this year because I made a -few- too many new years resolutions), but then I forget to stick with them. Whoops. Then for a few years I don’t make any because “haha! Look at us fools and our arbitrary concept of time!” *shrugs* Anyway, I feel like this year you get the best of both worlds. I made a ton of resolutions and I’m writing them out two weeks late because…well… we’ll blame the arbitrary concept of time. I won’t bore you with all of them (at least not until I get the latest 101 in 1001 sorted out), but I figure this is as good a place as any to be accountable to writing goals.

  1. Submit and display more of my work publicly. 2014 ended on a bit of a high note for me. One of my short stories was accepted by Interlude Press for their Summer Love anthology. This was big news; partially because they’re a lovely bunch of people and they accepted my work, but also because it was the first thing I had submitted to a journal or anthology call since 2008. Yep… Rejection scares terrifies leaves me cowering in the corner of my room weeping before I’ve even submitted anything. It’s a tough world out there. This year, I’m going to try to choke down the fear and put more out there. Maybe There will be rejections. That’s a given in the creative world where everything one does is so utterly subjective. Still, if I don’t put myself out there, there’s also 0% chance that I will get to hear the worlds “Congratulations!”
  2. Speaking of rejections…last year I got a lot of “this isn’t for me”s in regard to The Black Guard Chronicles, which is unfortunate, but with the help of some lovely editors and workshoppers, I think I’ve got a plan of rewrite action, so I will be putting a lot of energy this year into getting those rewrites done and maybe someday Dosia and her crew will see the light of day.
  3. Season of the Witch seems to be moving along nicely, which I am definitely proud of. The seventh installment is on tap for my birthday (!) and the eighth (which features Clarissa – I bet you all thought I forgot about her, didn’t you?) should be available in mid April. I hope to release two, if not three, additional volumes this year, as well as begin work on a print edition. Now, of course, I shall shamelessly plug the patreon. I will continue Season of the Witch through to its natural end and all ebook versions will be free no matter what, but your support means the world to me and allows me to do more with the world.
  4. I will learn more about marketing this year…and actually implement what I learn. In the past, my marketing of my own work hasn’t been great. I tend to rely heavily on passive discovery, which I don’t really think works as well as I would like. Actually, I think this accounts for the lags in some areas (*cough*WDYSSAY?*cough*). This year, I want to try more active marketing, but don’t worry, I’m not going to be spamming you with “support my patreon!” “buy my book!” everyday. Anxiety gnaws at me even thinking about it.
  5. Finally, behind the scenes-wise, I’m playing around with a few new ideas, but nothing’s concrete enough yet to make a definite decisions. Just keep your eyes peeled.
  6. Oh! Also! I will update here more often. Maybe some stories. Maybe some poems. Maybe just some musings from yours truly. I promise this is actually going to happen this time.
stay tuned for the 101 in 1001

Powering through moments of Self-Doubt

TW: I wrote this to discuss a anxiety spiral I deal with.

 

I sometimes get these weird moods when it comes to my writing. I refer them as my “Fitzgerald Fits” because the first time I read a biography about everyone’s second favorite alcoholic expat author I really recognized a lot of his complaints and concerns (definitely not all of them, but…I’m tangenting now…) They’re something I’m sure every writer gets from time to time, though. Let me break it down for you.

  • Halfway through a project I start to worry about it, doubt it, wonder if it’s actually coming along the way I envision
  • I start looking at other things I’ve done and the poor response, low readership numbers, etc (assumed or actual, keep this in mind. Anxiety is a lying liar and tells me things sometimes that aren’t necessarily true.)
  • I decide, “Well, if I’m not popular, that’s okay. Lots of great writers weren’t popular in their life time, but they wrote works that stood and shaped our society.” (In keeping with our Fitzgerald theme, I often remind myself about how during most of his life Gatsby was his poorest seller.)
  • Then I look at my work again and decide that it’s not literary enough, serious enough, important enough, to stand this required test of time. I mean…A LOT of what I write has supernatural elements. Beyond Frankenstein  and Dracula how much of the cannon really does?
    • Well, Wuthering Heights kinda does…and Shakespeare…I suppose. Okay, I’m making myself feel a lot better, actually, wow…
    • But still, I start telling myself how I’m not like those great authors. My work doesn’t have those lasting, serious elements.
    • Well, at least my early work doesn’t. I’m only in my late 20s. I’ve got time to write my masterpiece!
  • Someone posts something online charting the relative age that authors wrote their first masterpiece. I ignore the actual ages and see how often it was their first or second book. Often it was. Anxiety makes me pretend that the nature of the publishing industry in different time periods has nothing to do with this.
  • Anxiety tells me I’m too old to write anything great or accomplish anything because I’m no longer an ingenue and the world keeps looking toward younger and younger people for genius. And, of course, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
    • I’m really close to 30!
  • The panic spiral continues for awhile until I decide to just power through the project I was halfway done with. I reread what I’ve written, decide to change some things here and there, but usually I do get excited about it again!
  • Process starts over at the first point at least two more times  on average before I finish the project, with other nuanced and project specific steps added it.

It’s a struggle that I think a lot of those in creative professions can relate to and I don’t have the answer*. I can spout empty platitudes about how you should “write the story you want to tell” and ignore any other considerations, but that’s not going to stop you or I for doubt our talents or whatever else we’re doubting. The only thing I can direct you to is the penultimate point, the one where I decide to power through. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some people can’t reread their own work without trashing it. I am lucky to not be that way (I think it comes from being trained as an archivist…aka another story about lack of fulfilled ambitions, but we’re not going there today)…most of the time. There’s something that works for you too. I promise you’re a better artist than your brain thinks sometimes. I believe in you.

A Super Cool Birthday Present for Me!

I had been working on a post more generally about this being the 28th anniversary of my birth, but that will have to wait. I have some great news!

My novel, What Does Your Smile Say About You? has been chosen for publication on JukePop Serials!

Now, some of you may be wondering what that means, so I’ll give you a quick overview: JukePop is a fun, new publishing mechanism that curates and manages serials (stories released chapter by chapter — much in the way good ole Charlie Dickens once did it). On JukePop readers cast votes (helping the authors get rewards) and can communicate with the authors about the stories.

That’s why I choose JukePop as a mechanism for WDYSSAY? Smile has been described as “Game of Thrones in sweater sets”. It’s the story of four competing sororities at a small liberal arts college and what happens to them over one contentious pledging period. Sure, we are squarely set in the Chick Lit genre here and I am proud of that. I think there’s something to be said about a diverse cast of girls who I assure you will be doing more than just in-fighting against a rather inconsiderate house ghost. But the thing about WDYSSAY? is this: I want to hear from you, my readers, about the story, and your input will be what make it a success.

The first chapter is live, so head on over and check it out: What Does Your Smile Say About You?

My Epiphany Gift To You

The snow has piled up out there and the wind chill is around 40 below. I can’t think of a better time to curl up with the latest installment in the Season of the Witch series: Bethania’s Broomsticks!

BethaniaCover

In 2013, Alice Peralta is having some trouble with her son (namely remembering where he came from). While in 1277, Bethania Peralta attempts to escape the wrath of her father by joining forces with the infamous Witch of Winter. Along the way, the two women learn a great deal about themselves and what they have in common.

In keeping with the theme of Season of the Witch, this novelette explores the story of La Befana with a touch of Roman and Alpine mythology.

Check it out. I think you’re going to love it.