Art, the Messenger

I discovered the video “To This Day,” based on a poem by Shane Koyczanwhen reading the blog Synapsis & Synopsis. This well-designed animation tells a clear, powerful story in an aesthetically pleasing way, while sending a strong, accessible message.

Haven’t we all dealt with bullying at one time or another in our lives? If not bullying, exactly, we certainly have all had to find and make friends, enter or leave social groups, and learn how to participate in social dynamics.

This video moved me because of the experiences I have had in my life, and for the messages I would like to send with my own work. My novel features a college girl who must learn to navigate the treacherous social situations in her sorority. Female relationships often include bullying/cyberbullying and back-stabbing while women vie for popularity, and my book incorporates these themes. I know as an artist you cannot control how your work will be viewed or the impact it will have. However, my hope is that the young women who read this book will reconsider how they treat each other. I hope they might change their views and actions, and try to boost each other up, rather than tear each other down.

Recently I picked up Tammara Webber‘s Easy at the library. While the book prominently features a love story, there were several elements of confidence and learning to stand up for oneself, emotionally and physically. The protagonist experiences near-rape within the first few pages of the book, and she spends most of the book in fear of her attacker. *Spoiler alert* She takes self defense classes and ultimately triumphs–in a final confrontation with her attacker at the end of the book, she not only fends him off, she uses her new skills to give him a bloody nose. I had no doubt that she would stand up to him in court. At the close of the book, I enjoyed the way her love story reached a happy ending, but I was more impressed by the way she had grown. 

Easy

In the pages following the story, there were discussion questions. One of them was, “Did reading Easy make you want to learn self-defense?” and my answer was a resounding YES. I absolutely felt a heightened sense of awareness of the issues women who have experienced rape face and wanted to take action to protect myself. I haven’t signed up for self defense classes yet, but I have become much more aware of the message “90 percent of self-defense involves reducing the risk of attack in the first place.”

Visual media and the written word are two powerful forms of art. The video moved me and strengthened my desire to impact the conversation on bullying among women. The book inspired me to take action and change the way I live my life. This kind of impact is what I aspire to in my own work.

I am, first and foremost, a Creator.

“Do what you love.”

This mantra, instilled in me by my mother, is one of the many reasons I’m grateful for her guidance. She’s said this to me many times over the years, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have chosen to be a writer without her support. Not that doing what you love is easy, but it’s much more fulfilling. I know this because I’ve done things I haven’t loved. No matter how hard it can be to sit down and set my fingers to the keyboard, it always leaves me feeling like I’ve accomplished something—the gratification of a creator.

Indeed, creativity breeds inspiration, and vice versa. The creative mind is always at work. Some days, I will sit down to write and not notice the time passing, and I’ll look up and five hours have passed and thousands of words have flown from my fingers. These days are rare, unfortunately. More often I’ll slog through an hour or two and need something to recharge. Sometimes the simple acts of walking the dog or doing the laundry will clear my mind and allow my subconscious to solve the problems of plot or character or dialogue. I have noticed, however, that working on other creative tasks feeds my writer’s mind. And so, in between writing, I create other things.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to do what I love.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to do what I love.

IMG_1965

I couldn’t say exactly how this works, or why, I just know that it does. Sometimes I worry that I’m procrastinating. I ask myself: wouldn’t my time be better spent at the computer? But I’ve tried that, too, and you can’t force creation, only encourage it. There’s common advice in the writing world, in which you set aside your work for a given amount of time before going back to revise. Some say a month, some a year. For me the time varies and I always wish it were shorter. One of the things I’m learning as a writer is finding the best ways to encourage my creation.

Sculpey dragon. A reminder that I hold the key to my imagination in my hand.

Sculpey dragon. A reminder that I hold the key to my imagination in my hand. 

Also between writing, I’m still researching away. My phone call with the agent last week went very well—not only did he give me some invaluable advice (formatting is crucial, and the 25-lines per page rule should most definitely be followed, for example), he agreed to read the manuscript. Draft 6 is “done,” and I think I may finally have achieved the triumphant end. Of course, now that I have this opportunity, I feel like I need to revise it at least fifty more times. I have a week and half to nitpick, and then it’s time to take a deep breath and send it off.

A Tricky Spot

Yesterday my aunt asked, “How’s the novel going?” And I had to answer, “Well… at the moment… it’s kind of… not.” I’m feeling incredibly frustrated about my ending. After finishing the last draft, I felt that I had gotten pretty close to writing what I wanted to write. But now I’m dealing with this central dilemma: writing what I want to write, versus what I want to read. Or versus what my readers want to read. This is another thing that hasn’t changed since I started writing this book.

Traditionally, young adult books have triumphant endings, where the protagonist overcomes, and when I put these down I have that warm fuzzy satisfied feeling. Often when I read literary fiction I find myself slogging through, sometimes forcing myself to digest the next word and the next word, but when I finish the book I’m left thinking, wanting to talk about it. As is common in literary fiction, the current ending of my book is very dark. So, the opposite of traditional YA.

As my sister put it, you’ve put yourself in a tricky spot. Do literary fiction and young adult overlap? Is it possible to write literary fiction about sorority life? Another question I’ve been asking from the beginning, with no clear answer.

A successful writer friend of mine told me about an emerging genre called “New Adult,” which apparently targets the demographic my novel is about/for, and addresses the coming-of-age between adolescence and true adulthood. (See the wiki article, a site for NA writers called NA Alley, and an article on the Huffington post.) She suggested I read best sellers in this genre, paying attention to how those authors did their endings. A trip to the library the other day produced a stack of books, still labeled YA (most of the best sellers were checked out, so I’m on the waiting list). Hopefully this will get the creative juices flowing…

Library Books

Did I mention it’s my birthday? I don’t like to think that another year has come and gone, and I still haven’t finished/published this book! But then again, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than writing, rewriting, reading, rewriting… and I’m in this, no matter how many birthdays it takes. I’m celebrating with friends and family later on, but at this moment there’s nowhere I’d rather be than on my couch, at my computer, writing on my birthday.

happy bday

A lovely Valentine’s-themed birthday gift from my incredibly sweet and caring aunt, who remembers the special days of everyone in the family and always sends us holiday gifts, too.

The Space Between

The truth is, between the holidays, traveling to Yosemite for 5 days and Michigan for 10, and getting knocked out for a week and a half by the flu, I haven’t been writing. I don’t mean just not working on the novel, I mean not writing at all. Not even journaling.

I’ve written a ton of thank you notes, sure. This does not count.

thank you notes

For the first week it was nice. A well-deserved, much needed break. By week three I was starting to get the itch. And now I’m on the verge of despair. What’s happened to me? What am I doing? Why am I not doing this?

This morning, at the suggestion of a member of my writers’ group, I wrote a 100-word flash fiction entry for a website that features, you guessed it, 100-word stories. Oh, it felt good. The usual voices were there – This is crap! What are you doing? You call this writing? You call this fiction? You call this a story?? The voices are always loudest when I go back after not writing for a while. They’re loud, too, when I start something brand new.

But the loudest voice of all? That was the one that screamed, One hundred words? Good job, good start, but not enough! KEEP WRITING!

Flash Finalist

The Writer Unboxed Flash Fiction contest has completed. One of the members of my writers’ group (Andrea’s blog here) won second place! I have been kicking myself for not posting on my social networks, asking people to vote. While previous weeks’ winners were determined by votes and judges, the final round was votes only. My excuse is I was too busy finishing draft 3 of my book (and then reveling in having finished it). When I decided to become a writer, I thought I would sit by myself in my room at my computer all day. I discovered that writing, like many professions, is buoyed by community. As a fellow writer friend said, “You can’t write in a vacuum.” I did, however, place as a finalist in the contest! Big thank you to those who “liked” the story below, based on this image:

Wool reached out, like fingernails scritch-scratching, irritating the back of her neck. The long jacket served her purpose tonight. She made her face pretty, so they would choose her from among the wandering hookers, wearing little in the cold.

She undid the man’s belt buckle in an alley. She opened her coat so he could see her, bare, before he went. Humans. The looks on their faces when they could not understand. Rancid sores, oozing, trailed over her. Buboes, ruptured. When closed, the coat covered the stink.

A little nibble. Small bite? She sank thirteen rows of tiny, pointed teeth into his earlobe while he screamed. Soon his whole ear was gone. He bled out.

No matter. He would serve her just as well dead.

The sickness she left in him would spread. Corpses, souls, waiting for Him, yearning for Him. She would deliver this world to Him.

Death would be proud.

Perhaps He would take her in His arms, tell her that she was His favorite. Hunger, whose kills were slow but many, and Despair – the suicide rate arced ever up – would no longer satisfy Him.

But when she returned home, Love was in His bed.

“Darling,” He said, running thin bone fingers along her cheek, “Without Love to couple the humans, there would be no souls to take.”

She wept. He said, “Balance, my dear Pestilence.” He returned to bed Love.

The look on her face was much like that of the man, when she opened her coat.

Flash Fiction: Like

Ladies and Gentlemen, another honorable mention in the Writer Unboxed flash fiction contest! Thank you so much for all the support!  See my story from last week, and Debbie Ohi‘s prompt image, below. To help me in this week’s contest, go here, scroll to find my story (under Taylor Ross, begins “Wool reached out, like fingernails scritch-scratching…”) and hit the “like” button! Thanks!

 

“Why?” Amanda flung her hand out across the counter, swiping everything to the floor. Six beer bottles shattered.
Why was her husband in a coma? Or why did he drink and drive? Or why did he drink at all?
His daughter had married an alcoholic. Nathan blamed himself for that, as he did every hardship in his daughter’s life.
She put a hand out to steady herself on the tiles. The other went to her face. The short, wracking sobs were almost silent.
Nathan walked over, rested a calloused palm on her delicate sweater. He knew when he lifted his hand the fabric would cling to the rough edges of his skin. Her sobs quieted.
“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” Amanda said. Her voice was low, bitter. “Do you know my friends keep saying that?”
Nathan stood still, waiting. The man had only been in a coma for three days.
But good things did come out of bad, sometimes.
“When your mother…” Nathan cleared his throat. His Mirabelle. Amanda had never known her mother.
“It’s okay, Dad.” Amanda brushed her tears away before his could start. She knelt to pick up the broken glass. He felt her sweater tug at his skin.
Amanda put the biggest pieces in the garbage, fetched the dustpan, and began to sweep the smaller pieces. She brushed most of it into the bin. Nathan caught her hands as she turned back to get the rest.
“You wore a good disguise.”

 

Getting My Flash Fiction On

A good friend and member of my writers’ group, Andrea (her blog here) introduced me to an ongoing flash fiction contest at Writer Unboxed. Seven weeks of mini-contests, where writers have 72 hours to generate a 250-word (or less) story based on a visual prompt created by Debbie Ohi. Winners of each week will be entered in a final round, from which three finalists will be selected toward 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. Last week, I received honorable mention! Big thanks to all those who “liked” my story. Visual prompt and my story below. To help me in this week’s contest, go here, scroll to find my story (under Taylor Ross, begins “‘Why?’ Amanda flung her hand out across the counter…”) and hit the “like” button!

When you are a little girl, you’re afraid of simple things. Spiders, the dark, monsters. You are afraid of your parents dying and your brother putting a snake in your bed. As you get older you are afraid of things that are more complex. Like what will happen if the girls at school decide you’re not popular, or if the boys decide not to like you. Or what will happen if they do decide to like you. All of your relationships are complicated. Your friendships, when you have to decide whether or not to tell your best friend what your other best friend did with her boyfriend. Your relationship with your mom, whose hugs you used to love, but who says, “Honey, are you putting on padding?” when she hugs you now. Your relationships with boys, which becomes your relationships with men, even though you think they will probably always be boys, when you go through break-ups and wonder if it will ever work out. When you are grown up you are afraid of being alone. Even when you find someone and he is not a boy but a man, the man of your dreams, and he loves you. You are afraid you will never love yourself enough. And you long for those times when you were a little girl, afraid of simple things, and you curled up and tried to fit yourself in the space where the floor met the wall.

Getting over the Hump

The key to this, I think, is allowing myself the time I need. Work on other things, perhaps. It’s hard to dissuade the nagging feeling that I should be able to speed up the process.
I’ve been reading some inspiring articles. Useful during this slump I’m in. Remember: failure is a pathway to success, doubt is a tool. Be the artist that I am.