Waking up from writing

This summer I was tasked with rewriting one of my old manuscripts. For those of you who have read my drafts along the way, it was yet another rewrite of Kricket. I have no idea what draft number I’m on with this thing. I wrote the first draft in 2010, and it’s been a pain in my ass ever since.

My publisher and I decided it was time to revisit this story, which I shelved in 2015 after splitting with my agent. My wonderful editor sent me the suggested changes at the beginning of this summer. One of the suggestions was to rewrite it in first person. I agreed with her assessment and got started.

As I rewrote it, I found plot problems and fixes everywhere. I ended up scrapping about 75% of the original book. Meanwhile, my kids were home all day and we had company in and out all the time. It was nearly impossible to get it together.

And then I was given a deadline. Obviously I needed that to happen so I would get my work done. But I still struggled with time management because it was SUMMER. I plugged along as best I could, but I couldn’t really hit it until school started back on September 5 (which was only a half day because of course it was). Meanwhile, my deadline was September 12. I wrote when I could, but progress was slow.

My editor took pity on me and granted my request to move the deadline to September 19.

I spent every day from September 6 to September 19 doing nothing but writing except when I slept. Before this writing frenzy, my personal word count record for one day’s work was 2,000. Now that record is 6,000. I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of. I went days without showering, I didn’t cook, I didn’t grocery shop, I didn’t clean (but I don’t do a lot of that anyway). I did enough laundry to keep us in clean underwear, but I cut it close more than once. I didn’t have time to obsess over daily news. It was glorious.

The manuscript is out of my hands once again. I don’t know if the overhaul puts the manuscript where it should be. I only spent two days on plot editing, so it could go either way.

I emerged from the writing frenzy on Monday night to an unexpected sadness. I had to get back to my responsibilities again. I had to grocery shop, answer emails, and get back in the gym. I started reading the news again.

It’s easier for me to live my life in fiction, constantly thinking about my story instead of reality. I have to walk out into the sun sometimes to exercise, to see friends, to help my kids with homework. But I think it’s time for me to spend more time in my world of make-believe.

 

 

Guest post by Amanda Mills: Screw you, comfort zone

Most of my life I have struggled with depression. This sentence is very uncomfortable to me for 2 reasons: 1. “Struggled with” sounds so dramatic and trite, but there have been times when it really was a struggle; and 2. I have never really opened up about it like this. Sure, I may have mentioned to my close friends that I was feeling depressed, but only the very closest to me know how deep it truly runs. Now I’ve decided it’s time to start talking about this. Stop brushing it under the rug, or hiding it by saying “feeling blah” or “in a funk”. No. I am depressed – I am not SAD, I am DEPRESSED. And I have dealt and do deal with many different kinds of symptoms – from excessive crying to feeling nothing; from excessive sleeping to staying up all night; from excessive eating to… well… more excessive eating. I have had suicidal thoughts, I have wanted to simply not exist, I have felt everyone was laughing at me, and I have felt like the ugliest, dumbest, most awkward person on earth. Take any random combination of any of these symptoms, throw in some momentary feelings of bliss and exuberance, and that pretty much sums up what I experience on a regular basis.
Depression doesn’t take just one form. In the same person it can take MANY forms, the symptoms can vary drastically in severity, and you don’t necessarily always experience symptoms. So you can see how hard it is to understand depression. There are times when I feel truly happy. It can last for a few minutes, hours, or even a day. I don’t know where it comes from, but it both gives me hope and crushes me when it leaves. When it’s gone all I can think about is how I used to feel happy and now I don’t anymore, so I must be broken. And the only way to “fix” myself is to pretend to be happy, to try to get it back and to avoid talking to others about how awful you feel. “Fake it till ya make it.” Anyone living with depression has surely heard that, and many have adopted it as a way to fit themselves into “normal” society. It is how I hold conversations with acquaintances and strangers. It is how I work in an office full of people. It is how I go to parties and events.
Right now I am just trying to recognize and understand what is happening in my brain. 20 years ago I suffered a major nervous breakdown and I have dealt with functioning depression since then, but last year some of the more severe symptoms started returning. So for the first time in 20 years I am once again on psychotropics, much to my disdain but very much necessary. Through all this I am trying to be aware, to make sure I don’t lose sight of myself – the true me and not the depressed me. Because I am still me and I am still here. Even though some days I don’t even feel human, I keep faith that I am still in there somewhere, and all of this is just bad chemicals in my brain. And some day I will wake up and not feel this way. I live for those days.
Some days I wish I could care less, feel less. Today I wish I could care more – to feel something. I pretend to be happy about things like camping, boating, soaping, because I know I enjoy those things, and I want desperately to feel excited about doing them. But honestly I would rather stay in bed and sleep. A lot of times our loved ones can take that feeling personally – like they aren’t enough to keep us in the game. I can see how that would seem to be offensive. But it isn’t about them. I am the only one that can keep me in this game. And I have to do that. So I wake up, convince myself that getting out of bed is the right thing to do, put forth an effort in my appearance – hair, makeup, clothes – so no one will know what is really going on inside. So I don’t hurt my family’s feelings. So my friends don’t ask me what’s wrong. Because I only have ome answer to that question – me.
If you’re reading this and experience the same thing, I am writing this so you know you are not alone. Thanks to others’ stories I know I’m not the only one who goes through this, and it is through their strength and bravery that I have decided to start sharing. Functioning depression is a real thing, it’s a serious thing, and it isn’t something we need to keep stepping around. Because the less we address it, the less we discuss it, the more alone we all feel. And when our family feels like we’ve turned our backs on them, and our friends feel like we’re shutting them out, we need each other. We need to know there are others out there in these dark holes, trying to figure out what acting “normal” entails, wondering if we will ever truly feel like we have a place in this world.
I’m pretty sure I have a place in this world, even if I can’t see it. I exist, so I take up a place, and it is my place. I am trying to do the best I can with what I’ve been given. Some days that’s not good enough for others, most days it’s not good enough for me. But my story isn’t over yet. As long as I get out of bed each day I will continue to consider that one of my greatest accomplishments.
(P.S. – I have been sitting here for several minutes with my mouse pointer over the “Publish” button, my heart racing. The thought of putting all this out there for everyone to read is tightening my chest and closing up my throat. I have read, re-read, and re-re-read these paragraphs. Good Southern Girls don’t air their dirty laundry. A Lady doesn’t discuss such personal matters on social media. But this has been on my mind for a while, and something in my soul is saying it is necessary. It is time to talk. It is time to stop being silent.)

Lightwood: greed in gritty Florida

I have been a fan of Steph Post since I read her debut A Tree Born Crooked a couple of years ago. With her sophomore novel Lightwood, Post reminds us that she is an amazing talent who has claimed her position in the southern noir genre.

Judah Cannon is released from prison, and there’s no one there to pick him up. He’s disappointed but not surprised. His life has never been fairy tale.

He walks to the bar he frequented as a younger man, where he runs into his best friend/unrequited love interest Ramey.  Seeing Ramey gives Judah a rare glimpse of optimism. Maybe he can have a normal life.

But Judah’s father Sherwood won’t allow it. He needs Judah for the family business. The same business that landed Judah in prison.

Judah doesn’t see denying Sherwood’s request as an option. So he goes along with the “simple” heist. But before he can settle in with Ramey and the newly acquired cash, Judah and the Cannons find themselves involved with a ruthless biker gang and a lunatic Pentecostal preacher named Sister Tulah. When Judah’s little brother Benji becomes the innocent victim of the Cannon’s greed, Judah makes it his mission to get revenge on everyone involved.

The setting is so strong you almost feel sweaty reading about the oppressive Florida heat.  All of the characters, even the ones who are only bit players, are fully formed and genuine.  Though Judah and Ramey are the obvious protagonists, it’s impossible not to become invested in each character’s fate.

Post’s stories are rich with family legacy and personal struggle. A Tree Born Crooked was Post’s introduction, and Lightwood is evidence that Post is headed for a long, successful career.

Laura Albert: Liar, Genius, or Both?

The documentary opens with a dewy-eyed Winona Ryder on the microphone at some event, gushing about her love for JT LeRoy. But who is JT LeRoy?

I remember hearing about literary darling JT LeRoy some time in 2001 from one of my friends who is more aware of artistic trends than I’ve ever been. The buzz was interesting even in Arkansas. LeRoy’s novel Sarah, meant to be an autobiographical account of his truck-stop prostitute mother, was published 1999. JT claimed to be a former prostitute himself, pimped out by his mother to men who preferred “boy-girls”. He was HIV positive and a former heroin addict. With his emergence onto the literary and Hollywood scenes, it had the makings of a fairytale. And that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

The character of JT LeRoy came from the mind of Laura Albert. She was depressed and called a suicide hotline. “Terminator” spoke to Dr. Owens, and Laura presents it like she was a conduit to this troubled young man who needed his story heard. According to Albert, she started calling suicide hotlines and pretending to be a boy when she was a young teen living in an abusive environment. She felt she got more support when she presented the trauma as if she were a boy.

Dr. Owens suggested that Terminator start keeping a journal to deal with his feelings. Along with Dr. Owens’ help, Laura learned that Terminator’s real name was Jeremy.

Meanwhile, he/she managed to reach out to Dennis Cooper and land his agent Ira Silverstein. Silverstein felt that he had found a fresh, new voice.

LeRoy initially refused to do readings, claiming that he was too shy. So other people would join in to read for him. But eventually that wasn’t enough. So Laura Albert enlisted her boyfriend’s sister, Savannah Knoop to play JT. Savannah had an androgynous look, and Laura added giant sunglasses and a blonde wig to complete the costume. Laura added the characteristic of trans to JT’s story. The high voice and hairless face were attributed to hormone therapy.

Laura always felt like an outcast, and now she was suddenly a star. Only no one knew it. And she was still struggling with her weight and self-esteem, along with childhood trauma. To insert herself into the JT LeRoy narrative, she started speaking with a British accent and presented herself as JT’s assistant and best friend, Speedie. Geoff, Laura’s partner and Savannah’s brother, was a part of JT’s entourage as well. He went by the name Astor.

JT LeRoy’s rise was fast and furious. He became a star- a society darling, fashion icon, literary star. And that’s when Albert’s make-believe character really became self-aware. Or she put it, “her Barbies came to life.” Which was a strange way to put it since she mutilated her Barbies as a child. Savannah got to hang out with actors, rock stars, authors, directors. Gus Van Sant hoped to adapt one of JT’s books.

jtwinona

A raccoon penis bone-a reference to truck stop prostitutes-became the symbol of JT’s cult. There is a photo of U2’s The Edge wearing one on a necklace. LeRoy’s champions included Bono, Billy Corgan, Courtney Love, Michael Pitt, and Eddie Veder.

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (LeRoy’s second release) was made into a movie that got into Cannes. Savannah (as JT) is invited to sit on a panel, while Laura and Geoff had cameos in the film but they were cut.

Rumors flew that Dennis Cooper or Gus Van Sant wrote the books, but eventually people started to realize that it was probably Speedie pulling the strings. A high school friend of Geoff’s was eventually the whistle-blower.

New York Magazine’s Stephen Beachy broke the story in 2005. Celebrities came to JT’s defense. More stories followed, but Albert dug her heels in, other than admitting the truth to Billy Corgan and David Milch.

But once a photograph of Savannah surfaced, denial was no longer an option. Savannah and Laura were determined to stay quiet, to not give the media what they wanted. But Geoff spilled everything.

Laura Albert insists that JT LeRoy was never a hoax. JT LeRoy was very much real to her without being a physical presence. And that’s perhaps where the lines got blurred. She didn’t write the stories of JT LeRoy knowing that she would have to produce a real person. But when the time came, she did so instead of admitting the truth.

Each book was categorized as fiction, but was understood to be based on JT LeRoy’s life. So yes, she was deceitful. But she also gave the people what they wanted. Though it’s obvious that JT LeRoy’s backstory helped Laura Albert get the work published, she insists that wasn’t her intention.

In Author: The JT LeRoy Story we get Albert’s story firsthand. From her troubled youth all the way to the make-believe that got away from her. It’s interesting to watch, though somewhat voyeuristic considering that much of the material focuses on recorded phone conversations in which celebrities didn’t know they were being recorded.

lauraalbert

The question remains: was JT LeRoy an elaborate hoax or a work of fiction that came to life?  Given Albert’s history with telling the truth, this documentary does not give a satisfactory answer.

 

 

 

 

Anxiety is clogging my brain

I’ve been blocked lately. Historically I don’t stay blocked long, but this time is different. I wish there was some kind of Miralax for the writer’s soul.

It started in October. I had overdosed on news and my creativity started to suffer. I eventually turned a corner in November and started up again. But lost it all in January. Sometimes the words come to me, but not consistently enough to finish anything as quickly as I’d like.

Fortunately the work I have created doesn’t go away. It waits for me while I stare at the blank page or binge watch TV in the name of dissecting story arcs. Honestly though, I don’t know where most of my time goes. It’s slipping away without leaving clues that it was ever here.

I’m currently in a workshop led by the amazing Ariel Gore. Ideas seem to be loosening up again. And May is usually a creative month for me. Hopefully it’s time to turn things around. But first I really do have to turn off the news. I have to let go of the threat of nuclear war, the dissolving relationships with our allies, the civil rights issues, and the threats to the first amendment. But if I do that, I’m not being a responsible citizen. So maybe I just need to compartmentalize. I need to shove all of my worries in a drawer in my brain until writing time is over every day.

Writing is extremely therapeutic for me. So not writing only makes the stress worse. If I’m not thinking about story ideas, I’m mentally listing the items we need for our make-believe basement bunker.

So I’m going to just keep trying. Every single day. My voice isn’t gone, it just needs some help getting out.

Gearing up for a Panda party!

On the Bricks was released by Pandamoon Publishing out of Austin. One of the things that makes Pandamoon different from larger publishers is that we are a close-knit group. This includes the authors, editors, publishers, artists, and PR staff. Thanks to the internet we interact daily. And now, several of us are taking it to real life.

This weekend we are meeting at C2E2 in Chicago. C2E2 is a fan convention for comic books, graphic novels, video games, pop culture, etc. On the Bricks is not typical con fare. But I couldn’t miss the opportunity to hang out with my fellow Pandamoon authors. If I sell a few books, that will be a bonus.

We’re also having a pitch party, so if you’re in the Chicago area and would like to pitch your book in person, stop by on Friday or Saturday. Or just stop by to meet some awesome authors and buy a few books. I’ll be at booth 142 with David Valdes Greenwood, Christine Gabriel, Elgon Williams, Alisse Lee Goldenberg, Meg Bonney, and Dana Faletti. See you in Chicago!

 

It’s a Pitch Party in Chicago, y’all!

Where: C2E2 Booth 142, Pandamoon Publishing, South Building at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. (Note: Ticket to convention required, purchased separately)

When: April 21 1PM & 4PM; April 22 1PM & 4PM; April 23 11AM & 1PM

How: Sign-up starts at 10AM each day; maximum 20 pitches per slot. Stop by Booth 142 and sign up for one slot only. If you are signing up for a different day, you must show your pass is good for that day. When all slots are filled, sign-ups end.

What: Pitch your novel in a genre represented by Pandamoon Publishing. (No plays, screenplays, poetry collections, manuals for auto repair, etc.) You have only 2-3 minutes so be sure to include: your genre, title, logline, plot summary in 50 words or less, and hint of your personality!

Why: The aspiring author with the best pitch from each session will be invited to directly submit the full proposal to Pandamoon Publishing without waiting for the annual submission window to re-open.

Does a pitch party really work?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But it will never work for you if you don’t try.

Not ready to pitch yet? Come listen to others and prepare for your chance in the future.

I borrowed this post from DVG Books & Plays. I encourage you to hop over there and check out his fabulous content.

See you in Chicago!

xo

SGSC

Girls can murder, too

Murder Girls by Christine Morgan completely took me by surprise, and I love that. It came to my attention because it was edited by my internet-bestie (she might not feel the same way so don’t tell her I said that) Melodie Ladner. Melodie writes Facebook status updates that make me spit my coffee at the screen in fits of surprise laughter. So I was interested to read the work she edited.

There are five protagonists (or antagonists, depending on how you look at it). Having so many could have been confusing, or their differences could have been stereotypical like the Spice Girls. No offense to you Spice Girl fans, but you know what I mean. One’s cute, one’s athletic, one’s a stuck-up bitch. But somehow, Christine Morgan pulls this off. The characters are very different from one another, but in ways that you and I are different from our friends. And after the first chapter it’s easy to remember who is who.

Murder Girls is a satirical coming-of-age story. These five young women are figuring out how they want to live, and how they want to kill. It’s often cringe-inducing, but there’s enough dark humor sprinkled in to bring relief.

The premise is a little out there. But believing that all five girls would go along with the decision to murder is easy once you get to know them. And Morgan makes sure you get to know them all without force-feeding their stories. The setting descriptions are rich, and the scenes are easy to visualize, even when you’re rather not.

Murder Girls is a fun, suspenseful read that leaves you wanting more.

 

Find your inner pretentious dish

What pretentious hipster food is lurking in your soul? Find out here!

Select the food assigned to your birth month-

January: Julienned

February: Tempura-battered

March: Truffle-infused

April: Curried

May: Twice-baked

June: Capicola-wrapped

July: Locally-sourced

August: Artisanal

September: Moroccan-spiced

October: Pureed

November: Cocoa-crusted

December: Braised

fancyfood.jpg

Next find the date of your birth-

1.     Pancetta

2.    Gouda

3.    Brussels sprout(s)

4.    Asparagus

5.    Duck confit

6.    Goat cheese

7.    Lentils

8.    Scallop(s)

9.    Filet

10.   Parsnip(s)

11.   Short rib(s)

12.   Hearts of palm

13.   Daikon radish

14.   Bone marrow

15.   Quail egg

16.   Calamari

17.   Camembert

18.   Kale

19.   Orecchiette

20.  Pork belly

21.   Brioche

22.  Chorizo

23.   Fennel

24.   Lobster

25.   Tuna

26.   Plantain(s)

27.   Parsnip(s)

28.   Duck bacon

29.   Soft-shell crab

30.   Lamb

31.   Brie

fancyfood2

And the first letter of your first name-

A: With raspberry coulis

B: Drizzled with Nutella

C: With crème fraiche

D: Au Gratin

E: A l’orange

F: Carbonara

G: With hollandaise

H: With root vegetable remoulade

I: Pops

J: Flatbread

K: With roasted shallots

L: Ravioli

M: With balsamic reduction drizzle

N: On a bed of micro greens

O: With garlic aioli

P: Soufflé

Q: Sliders

R: Waffles

S: Skewers

T: Croquettes

U: Crepes

V: Meatballs

W: Quiche

X: Crostini

Y: Tart

Z: Tacos

I’m a Moroccan-spiced duck confit soufflé. Now that I know, I can fix all of my problems.

This friggin’ day

I went to bed last night with high hopes for my Tuesday. The kids went back to school Monday from Christmas break, and I was riding high on my newly rediscovered independence and I had plans. But since it’s winter in Michigan, no plans are ever safe.

The snow day call came in at 6:07 am. Since they usually call around 5:00, I felt that the call that allowed me to sleep until my normal time was a good sign. I was so naïve back then.

snowsucks

Around 8:00 I sat down to make calls to rearrange appointments and plans, only to find out when I opened my laptop that my hard drive had completely crapped out. I panicked, just like any normal writer who isn’t great at backing up her work would do.

Then my darling puppy Bernie stole part of my breakfast. And the kids wanted to play video games. And it was only 8:04.

It was soon time to take the dog outside again, where I promptly slipped on the ice and fell on my back. It took a few seconds of cursing before I could pick myself up off the driveway, but I did it. Mostly because it was too cold to lay there and feel sorry for myself.

gpolar-bear-slipping-on-ice
I looked just like this.

I decided that no matter what I really wanted to keep one of my appointments, so I texted my wonderful sitter who came to over to rescue me. Fast forward a few hours and I had signed a lease on a cooperative work space so I can shift my productivity into high gear. I was feeling great about that when I took my laptop to my husband so he could take it to his guy for repair. Soon after, I received a call that all was not lost. Yay, again!

By the time I was headed home about an hour after I told the sitter I would be back, I was feeling okay about life and unexpected snow days. But then I walked in to learn that Bernie had ripped down a curtain and shredded it while I was away. By that point, all I could do was laugh.

The moral of the story is: my kids are going to school tomorrow whether it’s open or not.