Why Write: A Kristinish Kick-Off

As the responses to the Why Write genre questions have trickled and poured in, I’ve been thinking a lot about genre and why I define myself as a fantasy writer.

And of course, if I ask other writers to torture themselves with difficult questions, it’s only fair that I try to do the same. But since I’m queen of this little corner of the internet, I get to take a slightly different approach to the process.

I can’t quite remember how my love affair with fantasy started.

I embrace my own nerdiness.

Actually, that’s not true. I remember exactly how it started, but I can’t remember which particular book kicked it off. It was either Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, first of the Harper Hall of Pern trilogy,  or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight, first in the Dragonlance series—yes, novels based on Dungeons and Dragons modules. I was a nerd in the womb, I suspect.

I was between eight and ten years old.

Barbarians are sexy.

I don’t actually remember which of these books I read first, but I vividly remember coming across Dragonsong in the library of my gifted program. I read it in a couple of days, and then, completely book hungover, wandered down to my fantasy-loving older brother’s room in search of other dragon-filled reading material.

There, on his crowded bookshelves, I found the entire Harper Hall trilogy.

I was a goner after that. I think Dragonlance must have come next; Pern was my gateway drug. From that time on, I read mostly fantasy. I went through that long dragon phase, and after that it was King Arthur, and for awhile it was epics, and lately it’s been urban fantasy.

In discussing Why Write shenanigans on Twitter, I found myself saying, “The need to write is a part of me, like my blood type. I couldn’t not write. But what genre to write—that was more like choosing a friend or a lover. It’s part of me, but it could change.”

For me, that’s true. Maybe some day I’ll write historical fiction. I’ve always thought I might like to try. Or perhaps someday my fantasy tales will cross into horror. But for now, I want to write all across fantasy: epic, urban, romantic.

And in the coming weeks, I’ll tell you why.

Look for a Why Write post from Emmie Mears on Wednesday!

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Defining Moments

I can remember every defining moment in my writing career.

1. At 8 years old, I started writing a story about a foal named Midnight. He was black (obviously), and I drew all the pictures in the book myself. I don’t really remember what the book was about, but Midnight sure had some great adventures.

2. At 10 years old, I started scribbling my second book in a little floral-covered notebook. It was pretty heavily influenced by both Braveheart and Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Sometime in the next few years, it turned into a big, epic fantasy, separated from its two parents by a big dose of Anne McCaffrey. I started writing it in a GIANT binder that I carried around with me so that I could write in my free time. All my elementary school friends read it as I wrote it, and I like to think they enjoyed it.

3. After transferring to a new school at 13, I tried to keep up my old habits. I broke out the big binder in class, and a popular girl named Devon, with those late-90s skunk highlights, asked what it was. I told her, and she made fun of me. I put the binder away… for the next five years.

4. In college, I returned to my creative writing–at least in my mind. I was writing on my computer by then, and when my roommate came in one night, she asked what I was doing. “Writing my fantasy book,” I said. “Oh!” she said, surprised. “I’ve just… never seen you actually doing it.” And she was right, because even though I thought of myself as a writer, I never actually did it anymore. But I started again.

5. I told my adviser, junior year, that I was thinking of becoming a reporter because I wanted to be a writer. She said to me, “You know, reporting isn’t writing.” I shrugged it off and became a reporter anyway, but I always remembered that bald statement which is, arguably, true.

5. In Berkeley, California, three years later, I said to my now-husband, “You know, I think I’d like to quit reporting and start really writing. On my own.” He said something semi-dubious, like, “Oh… but what would you write?” I said, “Fiction!” Being the wonderful man he is, who knows what my real dream is, he said, “Oh! You should definitely do that.” So I started writing The Radiometry Conspiracy.

6. In Chimayo, New Mexico, two years later, I finally did quit reporting, and later the next year, I finished that book. I quickly realized it was unpublishable, so I started a new book. One that was funny and smart, and I thought I could probably sell it.

7. On August 30, I sent my first query.

That brings us up to now, after nearly twenty years of hoping and dreaming. I’m still working on querying agents, and still getting as promising results as I could hope for without becoming an overnight success. Monday I got a heart-breaking rejection on a full submission, and I decided to bail on writing the sequel to Shaken until I knew what the future might hold. I handled the full-rejection pretty well, and started plotting a completely new book that very evening. But last night I got a very fast rejection on a query to an agent I didn’t even really love.

And something snapped. I cried and cried and cried. I sat up till 1 a.m. wondering if I’m making the right choice, continuing to pursue a path that is difficult and thankless and–worst of all–unpaid. If I just settled down and went back to reporting, or even took a retail management job, the husband and I could afford to buy a house, have kids, and, well, live a normal life with vacations and bills and hobbies in our free time.

I sat in bed, crying, and wondering if last night was another defining moment: the moment I would give up.

But there was a tiny part of me that just kept insisting that I have other submissions out, other queries out, other stories to tell, and it refused to stop thinking about the new book. So eventually I came to the conclusion that if last night was a defining moment, I wouldn’t know it until later. I went to sleep.

This morning, I sent off some more queries. I did some more plotting. I also got another request.

Maybe last night was a defining moment, but probably not. I’m still here, still dreaming, still writing. I won’t know till later… but there will be a later.

The Tales We Tell Ourselves

I’m a chronic daydreamer.

Most of us probably are—especially you fellow writers who are reading this. What is plotting, after all, but daydreaming with direction? And you non-writers, ever sing at the Grammies in the car or compete on Iron Chef while you’re cooking dinner?

If you said yes, you’re probably a daydreamer. That, or you’re far more busy-and-important than I realized, and congrats to you.

So, should you see me at the gym, huffing as a trot around the track, know that I’m winning the Boston Marathon or fleeing demons with Sam and Dean Winchester.

I’ll break up the fight, boys! … if I can just get around this bend in the track fast enough!

But the funny thing about all these imaginary lives we paint for ourselves is that, done with intent, is called visualization, a sports, creative, or general self-help practice that, “seek[s] to affect the outer world by changing one’s thoughts and expectations.” (Incidentally, this definition sounds uncannily like Aleister Crowley‘s definition of magic, which he defines as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” Don’t ask me how I know these things.)

Our daydreams arguably have the power to change our lives.

That’s pretty intense, so here’s some LOLcat positive thinking:

Keep dreaming, kitty.

While you probably can’t imagine yourself into singing at the Grammies, especially if, like me, you can barely warble along in tune. But you can visualize yourself learning to sing stronger, taking voice lessons (preferably with a deaf kindergarten teacher), and singing proudly (or just loudly) in church. Or you visualize yourself learning to chop onions with gusto rather than that tentative mushing-gesture so many of us make with our dull knives.

For me, it’s the dream of writing a strong query letter and getting my book sold. I’ve been visualizing this image so hard it’s a wonder it’s not projected on my living room wall.

Last night, though, the image of a stack of replies from agents that just have “HAHA NO” written on them in red crayon and yet another trunk manuscript. Followed rapidly by full-time work at some corporate store and a life of waiting to get home so I can watch more of Sam and Dean Winchester and then go to the gym to imagine myself chasing demons with them.

I have a pretty vivid imagination.

It seems that if positive thinking can help us reach our goals, negative thinking can stop us from dreaming at all. So how do we stop our daydreaming from turning into pipe dreams? How do we stop the negative visualization once it starts?

I have to stop obsessing about the negative immediately, or I get sucked into a whirlpool of depression and blame that’s as ugly as it is unpleasant. (It usually looks like tears and the binge-eating of M&Ms. Crying while eating: not a happy combination.) I have to distract myself, and this typcally involves picking up a book to distract myself or even picking up my own book to remind me that it’s not that bad.

After all, the best possible outcome (international bestseller à la  J. K. Rowling) is just as likely as the worst possible outcome (living in a ditch with a possum who spurns my love). And I might as well dream for the best.

“When I think something nice is going to happen I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation; and then the first thing I realize I drop down to earth with a thud. But really, Marilla, the flying part IS glorious as long as it lasts. . . it’s like soaring through a sunset. I think it almost pays for the thud.” Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

How about you, readers? How do you stop yourself from imagining the worst? What’s your happiest daydream? How do you get there?

Wedding Lessons I Learned… From My Own Wedding

In case you don’t know, I got married a couple weeks ago. And now that I have some distance from the event, I can share some of my hard-earned wisdom.

1. Learn to pick your battles. Realize that every time you point out something that doesn’t look the way you expected or doesn’t play out how you anticipated—even if it’s something tiny, and you’re just pointing out your surprise—people will try to fix it for you. Be aware of this, and keep your mouth shut, or you may end up with people running around trying to fix something you just don’t care about.

2. If you’re getting married outdoors during an unusually hot summer, get a full updo. I had my heart set on a half-up, half-down look, and it turned out just beautifully… six hours before the ceremony. By the time we’d finished the pre-ceremony photos, the curls were coming out and I found myself standing in front of the bar mirror with a curling iron, making the futile effort to fix my limp hair, while the bartenders were setting up cases of wine all around me. And by the time the reception rolled around, there was sweat dripping from the ends of my hair. I repeat: get an updo.

3. Roll with the punches. We had a brief music mishap right before the ceremony, and I had terrifying visions of having to throw a hissy fit, refusing to walk down the aisle, until the right song was playing for me. I was too hot and dazed to worry, really, and the music got sorted out: everything turned out okay. Sometimes you just have to let things go and know that they’ll work out all right in the end. And if something goes wrong, only you will know that it did. (Unless it’s obvious: see #5.)

4. Expect everything to be a blur. As the bride (or the groom, or whatever), you planned out every detail of this wedding… and on the day everything finally comes together, you’ll probably be too nervous/excited/busy/hungover from the previous night’s festivities to actually observe the beautiful day you planned. I wasn’t hungover (I swear!), but I was ridiculously nervous about the whole thing coming off without a hitch and so busy getting beautiful and having my photo taken, that, at the end of the night, I said, “I feel like I didn’t even get to attend my own wedding!” Apparently this is normal.

5. Laugh. This one is definitely the most important, and I’ll give you very specific reasons why. My husband and I did our cake cutting without a hitch: he neatly sliced us a huge piece of cake, and we opted to feed it to each other nicely. After that, a cater-waiter appeared like magic to take care of the rest of the serving. Delighted, we scampered back to the head table to enjoy our delicious dessert.

Now, just so you know going into this story, the cake was one of my very favorite parts of the wedding. It was iced to look like a birch tree with green leaves, each layer was a different flavor (the top, which we sliced, being my favorite: white chocolate raspberry sour cream cake), and cake toppers handmade to look like little owls.

DSCN0141

Adorable, right?

We were enjoying our cake, chatting and laughing, and feeling glad we weren’t in the giant cake-scrum, when there was a squealing noise and a crash. We all looked up, puzzled, and could only see people milling around. I briefly remember seeing one of my girlfriends staring at me in horror, and then she appeared at my side like she’d Apparated.

“It’s okay,” she said. “The owls are okay, and you got your piece of cake.”

“What…?” I said eloquently, still confused.

At that moment, the crowd parted, silence fell, and everyone turned to look at me. I could see the wreckage of our cake on the floor. I covered my mouth with a hand, and a million thoughts ran through my head: I’ll always be the bride whose cake got destroyed; no one is going to get any dessert; we paid an unholy amount for a cake that’s now on the floor; AAAHH EVERYONE IS STARING AT ME, I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!

I had a sudden moment of clarity. I could cry, I realized, and a part of me really wanted to, and there would be a lot of drama and catering minions running to Kroger for more cake. Or I could laugh, and the whole thing could get blown off.

I opted to laugh. The tension eased palpably. It turns out that only the top, most delicious layer was destroyed, and we still had plenty of cake. The owls survived. People started telling stories of the cake that tried to run away. And instead of being the bride who cried, I’m the bride who laughed.

So there you have it. Above all else, laugh.

Summertime

Today marks the Summer Solstice.

Who wouldn’t love to welcome summer at Stonehenge?

This is the longest day of the year, and the start of summer. It’s funny—it’s always struck me that we should mark summer from the days getting longer, not the days reaching their longest and then starting to wane.

Summer is not my favorite season. I love tomatoes, yes, and green leaves and watermelons and fireworks and lightning bugs and the smell of fresh-cut grass and all the other things that come with summer. But I don’t like heat. I much prefer a crisp autumn evening or that first morning in spring when you realize the birds are singing again.

Still. It’s the halfway point in the year. How far have you come since the Winter Solstice last December? I, obviously, have gotten married. I’ve seen my friends welcome new life into the world. I’ve worked hard, played hard, and embraced new people in my life. Those are all good things.

And think: this is just the halfway point. What have you half-finished? I have querying and publication decisions ahead of me, and more life decisions, I’m sure. And this is just one year amid all the years. What else lies ahead?

But today isn’t the day to think about those things. Today, you should walk outside and feel the sun on your face. Look at the growing things around you: really look at them. Are there tomatoes in your garden? Is the grass by the highway turning brown? It’s time to notice the fullness of life. Have a cook-out with your friends. Watch the sunrise or the sunset. Relive your childhood and run through the sprinklers. Let the summer into your heart.

What does summer mean to you?

The Audacity to Try

Last week when I wrote about The Good Wife, I forgot to mention how the sheer audacity of the writers takes the show from good wholesome legal drama and transforms it into a daring, even shocking show that keeps viewers too enthralled to think about what they’re seeing.

At one point in the show, Eli Gold discovers that his client’s competition in an election had a boob job. They leak it to the press, write a goofy song about how she got bigger boobs… and then discover that she had a breast reconstruction after recovering from breast cancer.

Oops.

But the sheer audacity of that moment makes it great. It’s not maudlin: there’s no awkward acceptance and apology. There’s just, “Oh sh*t!” and the recovery from a real, incredible mistake.

If only we real people had the audacity to dive into our actions and then accept our mistakes with such gusto.

We writers can’t say we aren’t brave. It takes courage and audacity to try a nontraditional career, to say, “This is what I want to do,” and pursue it without regard to its practicality.

But how many writers will give up because it’s hard, because they think they don’t have time, because they got a rejection notice? It would be easy, even smarter to give up, but think of all the wonderful stories that would have gone unpublished if their writers hadn’t had the balls to keep going.

Most people—certainly most women—know the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Did you know that Ulrich is a feminist and a Mormon, and was once denied the opportunity to speak at Brigham Young University women’s conference? Although the board of trustees did allow her to  speak more than a decade leader, she was once thought too outrageous to speak to young women of her own tradition.

It takes audacity to say you want to be a writer, but it takes courage to keep saying it when other people tell you can’t. Pat yourself on the back today, writer. Remind yourself just how wild, crazy, hopelessly hopeful, and damned courageous you are.

The Best Laid Plans

I got so much work done yesterday revising and replotting that I decided to run my errands last night so I would have an entire day free to work again today. I also had planned a very exciting blog post, some research for a project I have to present this weekend, and who knows what other productive tasks I could accomplish.

Then my boss called at about 10:45.

“Uh, yeah,” she said. “You were supposed to open the store today.”

Picture me like this:

*headdesk* (Though I am happy I got to share that video with you.)

This was extra-double-bad because my fiance and I share a car, and about ten minutes earlier, he had taken it to work. I was stranded, the bus only runs about once an hour, and the store—right on the town square—was standing dark and empty. Lucky for me, my fiance is a nice guy, so he turned around to come back and pick me up. He sat on the couch and watched me scamper around, putting my gungy hair in a ponytail, packing some bread and butter to eat for a “nutritious” combination breakfast and lunch, and generally acting like a complete idiot.

Five hours later, I shuffled up the steps to our apartment, ponytail sagging and tote bag overflowing with my laptop power cord and the empty bags from my “lunch.” My feet hurt because I chose to wear ridiculous knee-high boots with my gypsy skirt (fondly known by my fiance as the “crazy bag lady skirt”), my nose is running like a faucet because I’m still not over the bronchitis of doom, and the only thing I’ve eaten all day is said bread and butter and a handful of honey-roasted peanuts.

As I carried those idiot boots over one arm, tote bag slung over the other arm, my fiance said, “Now you really look like a crazy bag lady.”

It’s just been one of those days, readers. You know the ones. Somehow everything you planned goes up in smoke, your hair resists every effort to look nice, you realize you’ve been wearing your shirt inside out all day, the car won’t start when you’re already running late, the cat throws up on the carpet right where you first step out of bed, the toast burns, and you really wish you’d just shut your cellphone off and stayed in bed.

Lucky me, though, I have a job I love and awesome readers like you. And as Kristen Lamb said yesterday, a writing career is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have to work on a lot more than character arcs and subplots. Today was just a long-run day, and I’ll be the stronger tomorrow for it.

But if you’ll excuse me for now, I’m going to watch that chipmunk video about a dozen more times and help myself to a beer. And then this evening I’ll get some of the work I had planned done, because writing is totally worth looking like a crazy bag lady.