The Night is Full of Haints

There’s a blackness that coats Snake’s Hollow, like night left her shawl over the entire town.  It is thick, it is alive, and to breathe it in is to choke down smoke and the ripe red cayenne peppers left in rum at the peristyle.

Call the blackness an omen, call it sin.  Out of all the humans in my small Louisiana home, only I can see it.

The night is full of haints, the church bells toll on their own, and sometimes, you gotta feed the crossroads.  That’s what the blackness brings – loup garou, zombies, the Petro Nation – and they stay away because of Raff and Papa Leggie, always on the town’s edge, but someday, they’ll come marching right on in.  That I know for sure, that it’s only a matter of time before your shadows catch up with you

Tonight I’m gonna meet them.

The blackness snakes across the woods like Spanish moss then enter people’s dreams every night, and my God-fearing granmamma makes a sound in her sleep that could curdle milk.  When I was younger, barely in elementary school, Raff would cover me with his old white wings and sing me to sleep in the tongue of angels, and the next day in church Papa Leggie would have ten more lines on his bark whorl face.  Leggie and God, they’re poker buddies, so Raff tells me.

I wonder if they gamble over which town’s turn it is to vanish into the blackness next.

Winter down here is chill and muggy, and maybe I’m riled up on Maya Angelou’s poetry that sweet momma loves to read to me before our dinner prayers, but I’m brave, and Raff is asleep on the roof, and not a soul is awake in this silly town.  They’re all tired out from church where they tried to get slices of salvation just like apple pie, and they’re clearly ain’t enough to go around like at church picnics, or the damn shadows wouldn’t be here watching me.

At the end of Still I Rise tonight, momma said “Be brave May Octavie Laveau, be strong, ‘cause this world will beat stubborn women down, and you ain’t worth anything if you ain’t stubborn as a mule.”  I wish I was like Storm in X-Men and could clear this place of the darkness, but it’s more than weather.

The blackness is in the bones of this town, fabled for Calf Springs that will heal and Snakes Springs that will curse.  There are so many heroes in my comics and movies – Leia, Nubia, Black Panther, Vixen – and I got a cape and light-up plastic light saber from a few years ago from when I still used to play make believe.  I put them on as a shield of sorts, full of sweet childhood memories, then crawl out the window, onto the gutter, and down the widow’s walk –

Wings in my face, strong hands at my waist.  I’m hauled from the widow’s walk back into my room like a lil girl picking flowers.

Raff just popped up like a daisy from a grave.  Jack’s rabbit if he ain’t fast as a hare.  I could have sworn I lulled him to sleep with momma’s chocolate chip cookies.  No one can see Raff ‘cept me, and he’s been with me since birth.  Love him but he’s a pain in my tush sometimes.

His scarred face is all stern, and he sits me down on my bed and dang it am I in for a talking.

“May!  What did I tell you about going out at night?  It’s too dangerous for you to even fathom!  I didn’t raise you to lose you, girl.”  His voice gets all gentle in the end, and he scratches his shaved curls.

I squint at Raff in the darkness of my room.  He’s got skin brown as me, and I used to not believe that he was an angel when I was younger.  I would say angels were only blonde women that played harps flying round the manger of baby Jesus, but Raff has a flaming sword and ain’t very good with babies.  He thinks they’re cute and all, but he’s been a bachelor since Literal Day 1.

“You didn’t raise me to be a scaredy cat either, Raff.  I’ve seen the Baron come down at fetes and watched my uncle get ridden by Ogou and swallow fire.  There’s a magic to my town, a curse of some kind that only I can see, and I’m going to save it.  I won’t let Snake’s Hollow be another of Leggie’s bets.”

“Legba isn’t trying to gamble Snake’s Hollow away, May,” Raff sighs, sitting down next to me.  “He’s trying to protect it.  We all are.”

The blackness exhales outside my window – it always comes at the stroke of 3:00 AM, the witching hour, then leaves by dawn, and the sun is coming up.  The howls of the loup garou on the bayou kept me awake all night.  When it breathes, it sounds like the whistle of a ghost train, and when it leaves, it’s like a tea kettle burning.

Raff makes the sign of the cross, only his fingers draw holy fire on the air, and the cross floats to me where it kisses my heart.  Blessings from angels never hurt, but I ain’t in needof  his protection.  I need his answers.

“You’re funny, Raff, you ain’t a proper man, and you ain’t a good angel.  Angels don’t lie, after all.”

Raff narrows his sunny yellow eyes, the irises an unearthly amber.  “What am I lying about?”

“Bets.  The lwa make bets all the time.  Leggie’s a trickster, after all.”

“Legba loves you, May.  He’s keeping the blackness away.  We all are.  Now go to bed.  You got school tomorrow.”  He hugs me then takes off my cape and tries to tuck me in.

“I don’t need you pulling the blankets up Raff, I’m eleven, not seven.”

Raff smiles like river pearls are in his mouth, then laughs.  “’Night, May-flower.”  He climbs up onto the roof and soon I can hear him snoring like a foghorn.

I watch the blackness until dawn drives it out.

The night is alive in Snake’s Hollow.

In the dark, the Dead have names.

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A Writerly Update

So my best friend Sam just got an offer of representation from the fabulous literary agent Patricia Nelson. Sam writes lush historical fantasy and her twisted retelling of Cinderella set during the French Revolution with illusion magic and victim’s balls is literally to be guillotined for.  I am so proud of Sam and cannot wait to see her books on library shelves where they belong!  My favorite is still in the works, so I’ll keep hush about it, but needless to say, she is awesome!

I’m still waiting on about seven literary agents, from #DVPit request to two fulls and two partials.  From Brandon Sanderson’s agent to Meg Cabot’s agent to two new rock star agents, they are all really awesome and if even one was to offer it would make my life.  I mean, I’ve wanted to be an author since I was eleven and I penned my first space opera and locked my baby brother in the room and read him the entire plot of Jupiter Ascending mixed with the Book of Enoch that was my drivel of a novel.  Then I kept on writing, and writing, and writing, short stories and long stories and essays and poetry… and I’m still writing.  I’ll admit I’m stalling a bit on my fiction: my short story Ghazal hasn’t progressed past 2,000 words and Chwal and Space Oddity are still at 20,000.  It’s hard to focus on new projects when you have your manuscript out with four awesome agents and queries out with others.  You’re kind of in no man’s land, and you might pour all your creative energy into distractions, which for me means I go apeshit with poetry.

I’m probably a far better poet than I am a writer, and that’s okay, I’ve only ever finished two novels out of the ten or so I tried to complete from elementary school on.  The first got a lot of interest from Sourcebooks and Harlequin but unfortunately no one wants to publish New Adult romance, as that genre is unmarketable and as dead as a fish out of water.  Also, the writing probably wasn’t the best, as it was my first finished novel and not the most meticulously plotted, oversaturated with characters, and a bit juvenile.  But that’s okay.  I loved writing it, and my second novel is better.

Will Ivan Kupalo get published?  I have no idea.  I’ve had agents tell me the writing is lush and perfect but that the plot sucked, that the concept was perfect but the writing was unpolished and lacking, that the story was poorly executed or that the story was crafted perfectly but they just didn’t fall in love with it.  I honestly can’t revise when like twenty agents are giving me completely conflicting feedback, and there’s no point in revising when you have fulls and like five partials out.  One of my dream agents did give me a revise and resubmit, and if all seven agents fail I would be more than happy to edit again and revise – I am getting that itch, as I am constantly playing with projects, and Ivan Kupalo is in dire need of revamping with my newly acquired skills.  I’ve grown a lot as a writer since December, but I’m hoping to be doing editing from the other side of the fence this time – with an agent to guide me!

So where do I stand now?   Who knows.  Maybe this was a practice novel.  But I love the story I told, and the journey was worth it.  Things are moving along in my life.  I got a graduate teaching assistantship, full scholarship, and huge stipend from my master’s program, and I’m seriously considering becoming a professor of communication and doing the PhD track.  I have a wonderful man in my life that I love.  I’m independent now and supporting myself.  My kindred is doing great and my magickal abilities are intensifying.  The gods and angels are on my side.  My mental health is the most stable it’s been since I went to the ward at 19, and 5 summers later, after my bipolar type 1 with psychotic features, OCD, and panic disorder/anxiety diagnosis, I graduated with honors from the top school in Virginia, have been published in everything from POWER Magazine to Renewable Energy World, learned a lot of life lessons, taught myself to read again after my mind was decimated by illness, overcame bouts of depression and mania, and have become a very strong person.

I found a religious path that I have been meandering towards since I became pagan at 7 after reading D’aulaires, and my kindred has brought such joy and completion into my life.  I found my tribe.  I am training magickally and have cut out toxic people in my life and toxic spirits.  I’m learning to ground, to shield, to shamanic journey in controlled settings instead of dangerously astral projecting to the otherworlds and almost ending up demon chow or being dumb enough to invoke an archangel into my body by force and then have a seizure (I was a dumb 16 year old, okay).  I’m rambling, but really, my writing can wait.

I’m still a really shitty writer.  Most authors don’t get published until they’re 30 or 40.  I don’t think I’ll ever find my voice, as I literally have a hundred different writing personalities… but whatever.  It’s funner that way!  Point is, I’m still growing, and my writing still needs a crapload of editing before it hits shelves.  I’m not even halfway through my twenties and every year, my writing grows by leaps and bounds.

Someday I will be a decent writer, a decent poet, a decent blogger.  Maybe I’ll even get a novel published.  But I’m not counting on it, instead, I will just continue to write and enjoy living dozens of lives from New Orleans to outer space to mythical Russia to other worlds like Asgard and Heaven.  Writing for me is above all a spiritual endeavor: all my writing is pagan by nature, and all of it is a take on mental illness and struggles with inner demons.  I color my own writing, I can’t be divorced from the reality that I am a seriously mentally ill disabled writer that literally believes the gods talk to her and actually sees them in physical reality, does magick, channels deities like Loki and the Grim Reaper, manifests reality through intention, and considers some of the most eldritch spirits in existence friends or beasts to be tamed.  When you’ve been raised by the archangels and archdemons since the ripe old age of 2, you end up kind of… weird.

The divine is extremely immanent for me – I can feel and perceive spirits with all five of my senses, so of course I offer up my writing to the divine like Joan of Arc on a paper pyre.  Honestly, most of my writing is channeled, as as my gythia says, “You’re channeling all the fucking time,” and I do so without realizing it, but hey, it makes for a good story.  Words pour into my head through my crown chakra, poems bubble up from my heart, and the ancient ones rise up and paint my life in Joseph  Campbell colors.

Writing is a journey.  It never ends.  All I can do is enjoy the scenery.

Churning Literary Butter

So my manuscript is with 11 amazing agents right now – 3 fulls and 7 partials ranging from 10-50 pages. I just got a lovely rejection from a great agent saying there was nothing wrong with my manuscript, just that he didn’t click and had to be very selective in taking on clients, which made me feel great, as instead of getting feedback to improve on as I was in 2016, that means my manuscript is at the point where I just need the right agent to come along and fall in love with it, like the Taylor Swift song, where some literary magic happens. One agent from #DVPit has already said they were immediately sucked in to the first twenty pages and had a mighty need to read the rest and extended me a full request this weekend, almost overnight, and she is oodles of awesome. I’m pretty excited about that one. 🙂

My top picks are Brandon Sanderson’s agent, Meg Cabot’s agent, a new agent at Aevitas that seems like my spirit animal, and a former St. Martin’s Press Editor that is amazing and fun. All the rest are amazing too – I only query agents I think would be good fits for me.

So I still have eleven shots at making this manuscript work, which is more than the two I had in February. Doing revisions for the first two agents opened the door to so much possibility. And I’m ready to play with Ivan Kupalo again, to make it even better. I think chances are pretty good that I have a shot at a literary agent – the rejections I’ve gotten (3 out of 15 so far) have all been complimentary and one Big Name Agent with lots of six figure deals even asked for me to resubmit if I ever revised the beginning. It was good to put away Ivan Kupalo and work on Chwal, and I’m hoping to finish Chwal for Pitch Wars in August. But I might go with Space Oddity because that is such a fun manuscript.

I am so grateful to all these amazing literary agents that have cheered me on and believed in me, even if they ultimately did not take me on. When I cried at my first full rejection from Neil Gaiman’s agent at the tender age of 21, at 24 I take rejections with gusto and save them in an email folder so I can carry around a bag of them like Meg Cabot does (she actually hides it under the bed), maybe frame them on my wall (especially the one from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s agent on the full he got back to me in six days, haha).

Something magic is afoot. My second short story may soon be getting published by Pantheon Magazine as it moved past the fiction team and is under consideration by the editors. Simon and Schuster just requested my romance novel. I finally feel like I’ve got novel-writing a little bit figured out, and I’m barely 24. If you had told the 21 year old who had never completed a novel in her life that in three years time she would have gotten full or partial requests from the top ten fantasy agents in the business she wouldn’t have believed you. My dreams are so close to fruition, and at Beltane’s balefire I pulled an envelope with my future Tarot card – 8 of Cups, the wish card – your dreams are close at hand.

My dreams are so close. Like stars I can pluck from the sky. And it all happened because I worked through writing horrible stories since the age of 11 onwards to ones I’m proud of now. I wrote horrible query letters for two years before I learned how to actually write something that didn’t give agents a gag reflex. I blame youth and stupidity. 😛

So basically I’m just really excited. I’m going to let Ivan Kupalo rest and I’m kind of actually hoping for a conditional R&R or editorial agent as I would love to rework some bits and bobs after having not touched it since January. In the interim I have two novels to work on, flash fiction, short stories, and reams of poetry.

Even if I never get an agent, I’ll still be happy, because writing is like breathing to me.

And that’s enough to churn butter.

Waiting and Excitement

So I just got another partial request for my manuscript – meaning Ivan Kupalo is with five agents total, with about a dozen queries waiting on a response.  That’s three fulls and two partials out, and #DVPit is coming up on Wednesday.  This will be my first time pitching the revised manuscript as Adult, not YA, so we’ll see how that goes!

I’m really excited about all the fulls I have out and am obsessively checking my email only to find spam – I can’t help it!  I hope at least one literary agent falls in love with Ivan Kupalo as much as I loved writing it, but it’s okay if they don’t, I have three other projects I want to write Space Oddity first (1/4 of the way done), then Birds Away and Spider King.

Also Simon and Schuster just requested my romance novel, so we’ll see how that goes.  It’s also with St. Martin’s Press.

Things are looking exciting, and my friend said this really good quote with writing:

If things are getting hard, it means you’re close to success.

Ghazal

Ghazal preens his coal black feathers, a runt of a roc, and my bosom friend.  We sit on the sandstone cliff face above the blossoming desert, my abaya whipping in the dawn’s wind.

“Habibi, you are lost in your mind,” Ghazal sings, looking out at the goats that climb the acacia trees and eat leaves too high up for ants to dream of.  “Rani, look – the griffins come flocking to feast on fresh meat.  The phoenixes are rising – feel the stirring of djinn on the winds.  The world awakes, but you are in dreamland, writing of rajs and saqis and the love between man and immortal.  We must eat more than your pretty poems.  Come, mount my back, let us hunt.”

I smile up from my airy perch on a boulder and pack my quill, ink pot, and notebook into my camelskin bag.  “You are right, Ghazal.  What would I do without you, dear one?  Though you are my wings, you keep me grounded.  Let us get breakfast.”

I fasten the stirrups along his beak and put the saddle at the downy ridge where his feathers fan out along his neck.  Ghazal is my bonded pair, my means of surviving this flourishing backwater, a land of spirits and ghosts and so many gossamer stories.  I found him as a small girl in my father’s kingdom, and I rode him away from my forced marriage to a cruel raj to this hideaway in the desert, seeking the sweetness of freedom.

I mount Ghazal and pull on the reins.  We jet into the sky and the sylvan dakinis sing as they sit on clouds.  I can hear the hum of djinn far below at their markets at the bottom of the cliff we make our home, and by now the goats are falling to the griffins in purple and blue and scarlet blood.  Some djinn ride camels and herd phoenix flocks, scouring the sand for gems and lost treasure, for I live in a place where many people come to hide things, but the spirits take all.

My midnight black beauty finds a leopard hiding in a hollow by a watering hole.  Ghazal strikes with his beak, a sharp snap of the neck, then picks up the cat in his talons.  Another leopard falls.  Two are enough meat for both of us to be made into jerky for later and breakfast for now, and the djinn always love their skins, which we can sell for fresh fruit and more ink for my poetry.

I skin them later at our wind worn hut and Ghazal helps carry the hides down to the djinn market.  We buy pomegranates and Ghazal swallows them in his gullet whole.  I use the husks to perfume my roc down pillow, and that night, as the Milky Way stretches out like a sleeping woman, I sing my poetry to my angel of a bird and we dance by a campfire, bellies full, hearts aflame.

I never wanted to be a princess anyway, and I was born for the wild lands, where spirits roam and true poets find inspiration.  My couplets and verse are carried by dakinis on the wind, by peris who come in caravans rich with silk and saffron, and I am growing quite famous in the human world, so the djinn tells me.

Rani of the Ruins.  Queen of Poetry.  Roc Rider.

Happiness, Completion, and New Phases

So I’m making April NaNoWriMo Lite, with the goal of finishing Darn Precious Messiah before #DVPit at the end of April. I have a few 30,000 words to go but who knows, it may be longer. It is my favorite thing besides Space Oddity yet that I have written, and a delightful story that comes from my soul.

Sensitivity readers are vital when writing outside your culture, and my best friend Misha, a Haitian-American Voodoo practitioner, is certainly an expert on the lwa.  Funny thing, she told me Legba actually does have dogs due to being associated with Saint Lazarus, funny in that I included his pet because it just struck me as a very Legba thing to do.  I’ve done so much research on the lwas and Voodoo since I started the novel at around 18, plus some ritual workings with them, reading everything I can get my hands on, but at the end of the day Zora Neale Hurston isn’t enough – you have to talk with your friends who live that culture, and as an outsider, I have to err on the side of caution and respectfulness while writing diversity.  I don’t want to offend anyone and I want to get it painstakingly right.

As a white woman who is privileged in many ways besides being neurodivergent, I will never know what it is like to be oppressed.  My book isn’t about racism at all, as the whole cast is mainly African-American, and I don’t think I have the expertise to write about such a sensitive topic.  I’d probably screw it up as an outsider.  That’s why I set it well after the Civil Rights movement and it’s not another book about slavery or oppression.  Instead it’s the idea that the savior of New Orleans is none other than #blackgirlmagic, an awesome hashtag, quite literally.

My best friends – Ariel, Lauren, Misha, Gladys – they are all some of the strongest women I know and have overcome so much, having to be “twice as good to get half the recognition” of a white woman.  They make me proud.  They teach me so many things about overcoming adversity that though different, can apply to being disabled.  We were all born with stigma attached to either our ambitions – a standout woman of many talents who happens to be of color or a bipolar woman trying to hold down a professional career – or our very essence – mentally ill with no hopes of recovery, or the thought that an African American woman can’t be a neuroscientist like Gladys, a psychologist like Lauren, nerdy like Ariel, or a cosplayer like Misha.  I incorporated all of them into my character May Laveau, but she’s also a piece of myself, as all characters are.  I’m really excited to see where this novel leads to and hopefully finish it soon, if not by April, than by the summer when my dream agent opens to queries again.

Odds are good I may find representation before that, as I still have three fulls and three partials out.  But the best thing to do while waiting is to work on another project, and if my Russian novel doesn’t get me published, something else will.  I am making progress – so many requests, my query letters are in great shape, and I’m finally writing novels worthy of reading.  The agent who passed on my full last night was so sweet and said “I have no doubt you will find this an amazing home.”   Coming from someone like her, that meant a lot to me – she didn’t fall in love with the novel enough to take it on, but still loved many parts of it overall and was overall enthusiastic.  That is very encouraging and means I might actually be able to go somewhere with my Firebird retelling.

And if not this novel, than the next one!  I am very happy, my new job is going swimmingly, I love my new townhouse, grad school is fun, my friends are a blessing, and all, in JK Rowling’s words, is well.  Spring has sprung, my soul has awakened, and all is right in the world.

On Imposter Syndrome, Brokeness, and Beauty

I am, to date, my most successful at querying since I started at 22, so from 2015-2017 at a ripe old 24 years of age I’ve learned a few tricks.  I have three fulls out right now with stellar agents and three partials with top notch, six-figure-and-above dealmakers that would be dreams to work with.  If any were to offer, it would make my life, though the chances of course are slim.

It’s only been nine days since I queried my top batch of agents and I got three requests so far, with dozens more who have yet to respond.  I have never, in two whole years, ever been this successful.  Still, I wonder – am I imagining this?  Am I an imposter?  Does my writing, well, suck?

I know I’m young.  I’m barely out of college, still in grad school, and still developing my voice, or voices, seeing as I seem to have Multiple Persona Disorder when it comes to writing..  Agents have given me great feedback, but many times, they tell me they love the premise, or that I have a great concept, but that something just didn’t work.  The execution was rough.  I need more characterization.  The writing was lush and evocative, but I’m not quite there yet.  Needs more background, less background, more exposition, more action, less detail, more detail – rarely do two agents think alike!

My Firebird retelling has truly been a labor of love, and I look back at my ten paragraph queries from two years ago and the teensy awful 50,000 word manuscript it used to be and think, how could I have been so damn naive and unsavvy!  And oh god, how could I have sent this off to those patient as saints agents???

I’m not a natural at this, I’m basically a stick in the mud, who only learns when she gets hits on the head a lot.  Agents made my manuscript what it is today, and they made it that way through suggestion and rejection.  It’s the best it’s been, and while it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written (those projects are still unfinished 😉 ) it’s pretty damn solid by my own meager standards.  Which are probably not enough to get published at this rate, but at least I’m creative.

And still, I always think I suck.  That I got these requests on accident.  That agents loathe my writing and think what I create is trash.  That out of the seven requests I have out right now, they will all end in scathing rejections, even though that has never in my life happened.  Agents have only ever, at worst, given form rejects.

I’m just so used to being broken mentally, I think my writing is broken too.  That there is some piece of storytelling craft that I am missing because hey, I have OCD, manic depression, psychosis, and a host of other disorders, and under a CT scan my brain would have a shrunken prefrontal cortex and scars from manic and depressive episodes.

It ties into my extremely bad anxiety and panic disorder, bolstered by mixed episodes that combine the loveliness of suicidality with depression and crippling panic attacks/obsessive thinking and intrusive thoughts to self harm and mutilate, or just jump in front of that car, and the truth is, querying and putting myself out there is not mentally healthy for me.  It makes me unstable.  I’m managing a brand new job, a new townhouse with great roommates, a disorder where I can’t even look at alcohol, have to be in bed by 10 pm, not even drink frigging grapefruit juice, which I love, and one that ends with 1 in 4 people committing suicide.  Chances are high I won’t live past 25, and that was the date I set in my mind at the ripe old age of 15 when I realized life as a mentally ill person with snowflake diagnoses was, well, hell.

But I’m over exaggerating, and rambling, and because I’m broken, sometimes I can’t see beauty.

I’m as stable as I’ve ever been, making a great salary in a great city with a great boyfriend, working for an organization that is amazing and saves so many of my favorite animals and aids communities around the world, doing amazing work that helps people, when I may not ever be able to help myself, at least I stopped rhino poachers or saved endangered lemurs and birds or gave people with no livelihoods hope.

I am whole in so many ways, and because of that, I think it’s okay to take a break from this whole publishing quest.  I have half a mind to rescind all my full and partials and just become a hermit like the Tarot card, but I know that’s just a kneejerk reaction that is from my impulsive self-destructive craving for death and mayhem.  I have a huge Thanatos drive.  I have wanted to die so many times that perhaps a part of me has died already.  I die a bit every time I finish a story, it’s like another piece of my heart has been taken from me and eaten.  I serve my heart up on a plate for onlookers who judge its merits, when really, they’re judging my soul.  And it sometimes hurts.

I know you’re not supposed to take literary rejection personally, and I usually don’t, but sometimes, in my moments of weakness, I circle back to the thought that I’m a shit writer.  That all my successes, however small, so far have been flukes.  That my poetry is trash.  That I am trash.  I have such a low opinion of myself that sometimes I think I’d be bettering the world if I dove headfirst into the subway.  I have to stand far away from the oncoming trains, because almost every time, I have the urge to jump, even when everything is going right in my life.

Maybe it was the stress of my dad being hospitalized this weekend that made me reevaluate my creative aspirations, the thought that the person I hold dearest besides my mom could be ripped away from me by something as cruel as death, that spurred me to feel unstable.  Usually I’m the first to put myself out there, first to volunteer, to lead a class discussion or group project, I reach for the stars, and figure hey, if I fail, at least I can say I tried.

But it always circles back to the imposter syndrome.  I was trying to enjoy Girls last night, one of my favorite shows, when Hannah Horvath was interviewing a female writer, and part of it just made me cry.  All my efforts felt futile – Hannah is a struggling writer, always reaching so high but failing, not realizing what she already has, and maybe a part of me felt like I was, in a sense, this TV character I loathed.  Maybe I always see the glass half-empty.  And my mood swings be damned, I’m elated one second and terrified or a soul sucking black hole the next, even though I’m on five different medications, see a therapist once a week, abstain from even Mike’s Hards, have never so much as smoked or toked once, live a straitlaced boring existence where I do everything right, break and break and break again as I try to appear stable and sane, when inside I am mad.

Inside, I will always be damaged, but in ruin is beauty, and the cracks in my mind let the light slip through.  So persevere on I do, and no, I will never give up.

Only a sane person would.

Space Oddity: Chapter 2

Synopsis:

Ziggi is a manic pixie dream girl that went on a bender and never recovered.  At least, that’s what her bandmates think.  Pink-haired with a moonbow on her butt, Ziggi is your average punk barista searching for meaning in suburbia.  Too bad her artistic roommate Cyrus turns out to be an alien who, when not smoking weed, is busy manipulating Ziggi’s genome in order to accelerate humanity’s evolutionary conga line.  Oh yeah, and he’s been at it for centuries, meddling with human biology so long the Sumerians started a religion after him.  At least he makes a mean fettucine alfredo?

After a concert goes sour, Ziggi and Cyrus blast off into space in Cyrus’ VW Beetle when Ziggi tries to turn off the radio.  Stranded on a spaceship suited for amphibians, not punks, Ziggi learns that her new tenant Cyrus, real name Enki, isn’t remotely human.  Gone are his good looks, replaced by tentacles and, well, he basically looks like a sewer mutant.  To complicate things, Enki is the heir to the Milky Way’s dysfunctional overlords, the Anunnaki: shapeshifters who feed off information.   In order to sexually mature, Enki has to shepherd humanity into his parent’s galactic dictatorship via good old genetic manipulation.  Too bad he would rather make trippy artwork or eat pot brownies.  A leader Enki is not, thus he is stuck in perpetual puberty, with the crown always just out of reach.  No wonder he likes to get high.

As Enki gives Ziggi a tour of his spaceship, she is thrust into a world of intergalactic intrigue where the universe is in turmoil, thanks to Enki’s ruthless parents.  Opposed to Enki’s genetic tinkering is his sister Ishtar who, though against interfering with species’ evolution, will do anything to take the throne.  Soon the Brood come, and Ziggi, Enki and Ishtar are sold to the highest bidder, who happens to have a personal vendetta against the Anunnaki.  Assassination plots are hatched, space pirates abound, and Ziggi discovers her talent for survival.  She’s not alone for long, however, as her bandmates soon wind up in space, stranded on an outlaw planet after they got caught in Enki’s tractor beam.  Forced to battle in interspecies cage matches and entertain their captors, Ziggi and her friends struggle to find a way out of the gladiator ring.  Their solution?  Form a space band, Anunnaki included, and rock their way to freedom.

Music is Ziggi’s ultimate salvation, and soon entire galaxies are salivating over her riffs.  But will her new supernova stardom be too hot to handle?  What about Enki’s despotic family?  And what will Enki do when he runs out of weed?  In this spoof of alien conspiracies, all these questions, and more, are answered in this Bowie-inspired mix of Lilith’s Brood and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Enki ascends to the throne, having overthrown his parents, and Ziggi, now a cosmic rock star, can finally quit her job at Java Lava and move on to bigger, better things, namely a record deal.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Smoke hung like a veil over the Black Cat as my hands worked a riff on my Gibson.  Carlos anchored the song with his bass line, and Spike drummed like an earthquake god.  Cyrus stood on the fringes, taking a drag from something that was decidedly not a cigarette.

Riff finished, I sang the bridge, then belted out the chorus three more times, summoning a chaotic picture of middle class ennui in the audience’s mind.  The mosh pit moved in frenzy as we performed the final piece from our concept album about midlife crises and the 99%’s suburban discontent.  Spike drummed on his cymbals, the lights flashed, and Carlos let his final note echo.  I strummed my guitar once more, then moved into a harmonic that played like a ghost across the room.  

The crowd cheered.

“Thanks,” I said, breathless, into the microphone.  “You guys are great.  I want to bottle your blood and sell it or something.  You’re that fucking sweet.  Like Pepsi or pixie dust or, or just like, I don’t know, hot chocolate spiked with rum-”

Carlos edged over to the microphone, bass over his shoulder.  “That’s Ziggi, alright, with her vampire blood shit – she’s a parasite.  Be careful or she’ll sip you right up.”  He slung an arm around me.  “CDs are at the back, next to the band patches.  Buy them, please, and feed me.  Playing makes me hungry.”

Someone threw a hamburger at Carlos.  He caught it, shrugged, and bit in.  Ketchup clung to his lip.

“Gimme that – you don’t know who or where in the hell it’s from,” I said.  

I took the half-eaten hamburger and threw it back at the audience.  The crowd hooted.  

The floor cleared.  We worked with tech backstage to dismantle our set.  I put my electric blue Gibson back in its case.  The Gibson, christened Orpheus, was my college graduation present.  Spike hauled my amp into his van.  Cyrus pocketed bits of trash from the crowd: a dysfunctional lighter and used earplugs.

We crammed into Spike’s van to drive back to Spike and Carlos’s townhouse in Arlington for an after-party.  Spike was at the wheel, and Carlos sat shotgun, with Cyrus and me in the back.  My roommate, dressed in a white jumpsuit, smelled pleasantly of rain.  His pot smoke refused to cling to him.  Instead, it coated me, like disgusting perfume from a sewer full of junkies.  

I tried to sit as far away from Cyrus as possible.  

Carlos put on the Dead Kennedys’ “I Fought the Law” cover.  “This is my jam,” Carlos said, his labret piercing flashing in the streetlights.  He sang along: “I BLEW GEORGE AND HARVEY’S BRAINS OUT WITH MY SIX GUN!/I FOUGHT THE LAW AND I WON!”

“Shut up, man,” Spike said, then changed the track to the Pogues, cutting Carlos off mid-lyric.  Some song from Rum, Sodomy, & the Lash played.  Dirty Old Town or something.  I was too buzzed off performing to tell.

Carlos slumped back in his chair.  “Fuck you, Spike-up-the-ass.”

Spike rolled down the window, letting the October air chill the car.  “Don’t start this, man.  We both know the Clash’s version is better.  The Dead Kennedy’s can’t sing covers for shit.”

Carlos blew air through his teeth.  “What, and Shane MacGowan doesn’t sound like a wino?  Screw your tastes and screw your van.  It smells like smegma.”

Spike arched his brows.  “You know what smegma smells like?  How many dirty dicks have you sucked?”

Carlos lit a cigarette.  “I only suck clean dicks.”  Carlos took a drag, then glanced back at Cyrus.  

Cyrus hummed along to ‘Dirty Old Town,’ oblivious to Carlos’s attraction.  

That was another thing about Cyrus – none of us could figure out my roommate’s orientation.  Maybe he was sapiosexual, if that was even a thing and not a 4chan joke – we were just plebs too dumb for his artistic genius.  In the few weeks that I had known him, Cyrus had spoken of no significant other, but with his dramatic flair for dress, long hair, and androgynous looks, I suspected he might have something going on.  Despite his sex appeal, Cyrus was sexless, showing no interest in anyone and continually laughing off Carlos’s advances.  Perhaps he was married to his art.  That, or his weed.

“Hey, Ziggi, maybe you should grow a cock,” Spike said, speeding past a yellow light.  “It would hit two birds with one stone, solving your lack of a boyfriend and curing Carlos’s lust.”

I curled my lip.  “I’m gonna pretend you didn’t just suggest I become a dude.  God knows you two have enough testosterone for this whole band.”

“Speaking of the band, I think we should change our name.  ‘Iguana Knees’ is too grunge, and we’re not grunge,” Spike said.

“That’s our problem.  We never fucking know what genre we are,” Carlos said.

I looked at the silent Cyrus, and my ankle throbbed.  “Hey, I like our name.”

Cyrus looked at me, breaking his reverie.  “I think ‘Iguana Knees’ suits your aesthetic.”

“Fuck.  We dabble in so many styles, we’re unclassifiable,” Carlos blew smoke out the window.  “We’re punk one week, then glam the next.  Remember that time I dressed up like David Bowie in Labyrinth for that set we wrote about Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market?  Jareth or whatever, and Ziggi looked like friggin Sarah Brightman from Phantom of the Opera.  That was miles away from our new album about a suburban couple’s breakdown.  One’s Fairport Convention and the other’s Green Day.  I say we pick a genre and stick with it.”

“Hell no,” I said.  “Why limit ourselves?  Labels create sterility.  Anyways, we’re not trying to go mainstream.”

“Not now, but eventually,” Spike said.  “Right now we only have niche appeal.  How are we supposed to market ourselves if we don’t know what genre we are?”

“We’ll figure it out,” I said.  “You can’t just choose these things, they come to you, like the Oracle of Delphi.  We’re kinda like modern prophets of music, that’s our thing: the voice of our generation, or at least Millennials in the DC suburbs.”

“Right…”

We pulled into Spike and Carlos’s driveway and got out into the autumn-spiced night.  They lived in a tree-lined cul-de-sac in an area halfway between projects and a youth mecca.  The housing was cheap compared to most places in Arlington, filled with twenty-somethings and young families just starting out.  

We settled into their living room with beers and popped an old DVD of Mystery Science Theater 3000 into the TV.  Cyrus sat in a bean bag on the floor while my band and I sank into the single threadbare couch.  

The imprisoned character and his robot sidekicks of the cult TV show were spoofing a B-movie about hostile aliens.  The actors playing the aliens were poorly made-up, with green rubber lizard masks, and the 70’s special effects were laughable.  We munched on popcorn between sips of beer, chatting over the narration.  

Only Cyrus was quiet, his eyes glued to the screen.  He seemed almost solemn.  The movie ended, and Spike turned off the TV.

“Man,” Carlos said, “screw aliens.  They creep the shit out of me.”

I kicked my legs up on the table made of wooden crates.  “Yeah?” I said.

Carlos nodded.  “I used to watch the X-Files, and it messed me up.  I was convinced that aliens were real, and that they had nothing better to do than abduct me and probe my ass.”

“I’m pretty sure aliens don’t want anything to do with a crusty bassist’s butt.”  Spike downed the last of his beer.

Carlos punched Spike, knocking his empty beer can to the floor.  “I’m not crusty, man.”

I laughed.  “You two are idiots.  God, maybe we should make our new EP about aliens.  No, alienation.  Crust punks and their fight against the man.”

“I’m not crust punk, and the only dude I want to fight is the idiot sitting next to me,” Carlos said, ribbing Spike.

“Don’t touch me.”  Spike laughed.  “I mean, look in the mirror – you’re an anarchist, you play a jacked up bass, and you listen to crap like Venom and Motörhead, and you think the best fucking place in the world is dirty-ass Richmond.  You’re crusty.”

“Yeah, fine, maybe, but you make it sound like my skin is flaking off and I haven’t showered in twenty years,” Carlos said.  He looked at me.  “Ziggi, that EP sounds like trite bullshit.”

I frowned.  “You always shoot down my ideas.  What’s your damage?  Why can’t we put a fresh spin on it?”

Carlos shook his head.  “I don’t know, it’s just so overdone.  The world doesn’t need more angry white twenty-somethings railing against the establishment.”

Spike snorted.  “Isn’t that what we do?  Admit it, we’re derivative.”

Frustration flared in my gut.  “No, we’re not!  We’re more original than 99% of the crap that’s out there.  People hear the Iguana Knees, and it means something to them!  Think of our fans!  What we stand for!”

Carlos squinted.  “Iguana Knees.  That name’s like a stink bomb going off in my head.  Can’t we be Wombat Attack Squad or something?”

“You always go back to Wombat Attack Squad, don’t you?” Spike said, amused.

“Wombats don’t attack things, Car, but iguanas have knees,” I said, tired of my band-mate’s nonsense.  

“How do you know they don’t attack things?” Carlos said, crossing his arms.  “Have you ever seen a wombat?  I sure haven’t.  They could be badass.  With hidden superpowers, like me.  Don’t underestimate a wombat.”

“Wombats are herbivores, they have no need to attack things, save grass,” Cyrus said.  He took a drag from his blunt, then pulled out the broken lighter he’d collected from his pocket and flicked it repeatedly.  No flame came on, but he was still enthralled.

Carlos narrowed his eyes.  “I don’t buy that,” he said.  “Ugh.  Why can’t we ever agree on anything?  We can never go on tour like this.”

I nearly choked on my stale beer.  “Us?  Go on tour?  With what money and what roadies?”

“See?” Carlos said.  “You say I don’t agree with you, but you always hate my ideas, whether it’s about going on tour or how awesome wombats are.  You’re like the band dictator.”

“I am not!” I said.  “Spike, back me up.”

Spike shrugged.  “I’m too drunk to deal with you guys.”

“Cyrus?” I asked.

Cyrus bit his lower lip.  “I think your tour will come to you when you need it most.  Maybe now’s not the time.”

“See?” I said.  “The stoner sage agrees.”

Carlos looked like he had a sour taste in his mouth.  “Fine, whatever, have it your way.  We can keep our shitty name and stay in the shitty suburbs and keep working our shitty jobs, living our small lives and never doing fucking anything.”

I flinched.  “I’m not the villain.  Come on.  I’m just trying to do what’s best for us!”

“We don’t need mothering,” Carlos said, refusing to meet my gaze.

I sagged.  “Fine, if that’s what you think of me, I guess I’ll just go.  Cyrus?”

Cyrus pocketed his lighter.  “Alright.”

Spike stood, placing his hand on my shoulder.  “Don’t leave.  Car’s just being a tool because he’s drunk off his ass.  You’re both oversensitive when you’re tipsy.”

I shrugged off his hand.  “Whatever.  I’m tired anyways.”

Cyrus followed me outside like a shadow.

“Screw what Carlos thinks,” I said, looking at the stars.  The lone lemon tree by the cracked driveway was bent with age and wind.

Cyrus dropped his smoked blunt and put it out with the heel of his shoe.  “I think your ideas are valid.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

We drove back to Centreville in Cyrus’ VW beetle on I-66.  I was still waiting on my parent’s spare truck to be fixed at the autobody shop before I could drive it.  Until then, I was dependent on Cyrus and the subway for rides.

Cyrus flipped through the radio stations until he settled on classic rock.  I sat there, doubting the validity of my ideas and my place in the band, despite Cyrus’ reassurance.  I finally broke the silence:

“Do you think I’m full of crap?  Are my ideas stereotypical?  I mean, I know I’m a caricature.  I’m a pink-haired barista named Ziggi Moondust Collins in a band that’s falling apart.”  I watched the moon sail across the sky, feeling empty.

Cyrus pulled into our apartment’s parking lot.  “I don’t think so.  You should let go of your worries,” he said, his voice soothing.  “Both you and Carlos just drank a bit too much.”

“Forget an EP about alienation.  Maybe I should just write about aliens.”

The radio began to play David Bowie’s “Starman.”

I gave a deflated laugh.  “What, is the radio psychic?  I was probably conceived to this song, fuck.”  

I reached for the dashboard, squinting in the darkness to see which button to press to turn off the music.  My index finger made contact with a red triangle-

“Ziggi, no, not that button!” Cyrus said.

I pressed it.  “What are you talking about?”  

A great clamor came from the VW beetle’s engine.  A white light pulsed on the dashboard, and my seat plunged backwards, taking me with it.  The windows darkened and the car thrust upwards, like the wheels had turned into rockets.  We shot off the ground, into the air, careening past the trees.

“What the heck?”

Cyrus cursed, gripping the steering wheel hard as he navigated us through the air.  “I can explain.  Actually, it might be a bit difficult.”

We hit turbulence.  

“Oh god, oh my god!”  I hyperventilated.

The radio became static, then was replaced by a voice speaking in a sonorous language.  I shrieked as the sound’s pressure made my eardrums near-rupture.  

“Whoops,” Cyrus said.

A holographic screen appeared in front of him.  Cyrus furrowed his brow and turned a hovering dial.  The screen enlarged, and foreign script scrolled across it.

The radio’s voice grew in volume.  It seemed to be asking a question.

Cyrus bit his lip, pressed another button, then replied to the radio’s query in the same language, so unnatural when it came from a human throat.

My stomach fell into my lap.  I screamed, vomited, then screamed some more, my puke flying around the car-turned-spaceship.  The velocity built, and my vision blackened.

Cyrus held my hand.  “Ziggi.  Ziggi?  It’s okay.  You’re safe.  I’m so sorry.  I shouldn’t have let you press the launch button.  This is all my fault.”

Launch button?” I said, then vomited again.  My head spun, and the force of us flying through the air was like being pressed to death.

Cyrus wiped vomit from my brow.  “It might be easier on you if you sleep this one out.  Your body’s fragile.  I’ll explain everything once you wake up.”

“What?  No.  No!”

He pressed a button on the holographic screen and a fine mist seeped from the air conditioning vents.  I inhaled the mist and was instantly calmed.  Drowsiness lumbered into my brain and sat at the crown of my head.  Sleep dragged me down through its depths.

On Killer Query Letters

So that’s my third manuscript request in four days.  Clearly, all it took was a query letter revamp, a hook, and instead of going months between full requests, I have a 50% success rate with full or partial requests for my novel.

What changed?

I added a hook:

A Cold War fairytale.  A family of Russian monsters.  A bastard prince.  A witch Kaschei the Deathless covets like a golden firebird.

My story is multilayered: a story set during Ivan Kupalo, a retelling of the myth behind the Ivan da Marya flower where a sister of night falls in love with a son of fire, a reimagining of  Stravinsky’s Firebird ballet in which the firebird – this time a witch – saves herself and her beloved prince – and her entire kingdom – from Kashchei the Deathless.

My comp titles are UPROOTED meets DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE.  My query letter used to be ten paragraphs of rambling trash.

You’ve seen me struggle with this, when I started posting the very first chapters of my novel at 21 on this blog in 2014 to the great novel overhaul of 2016 where I added 30,000 words to my manuscript and major edits and plot points to the framework of the story.

None of that mattered if I couldn’t sell it.  If I didn’t have a hook.

Now the novel is with seven agents, and only a year ago I couldn’t get a single one to look at it.  I’m beyond proud of myself, but I’ve racked up my fair amount (a lot) of rejections from being young, naive, and a shittier writer than I am now.

A writer that didn’t know how to make something sound marketable.  Someone that didn’t know the very genre she was writing in, just writing something from her heart that she loved, because she believed in the story of her favorite characters, and because it was, beyond all else, fun.

I think good things are coming.  I really do.  I’ve spent enough time with shitty periods in my life – suicide, depression, panic attacks, constant drowning anxiety that doesn’t let you breathe, PTSD, night terrors, the rollercoaster of mania and crash that comes afterward, getting laid off, not once, but twice within two years due to company downsizing, losing 50 pounds, dealing with toxic people that were driving me mad.

I am a walking pill that never stopped writing.  I slept on that fairy hill and went mad.  I ate the fruit of the underworld and now my soul is unearthly.  I have been through the harrows of hell that is mental illness, been hospitalized with no hopes of recovering, clawed my way up through thorazine drips and antidepressants and antipsychotics and intrusive thoughts of cutting off my toes, biting off my tongue, driving into that tree, and despite all expectations – nay, promise to myself – that I would die when I was 25 – I’m 24 and now I actually want to live.  Now I actually believe in myself.

I think I can be a real writer.  I’ve given up over a decade of my life to this craft, spent days mourning rejections on full manuscripts, written the same damn story over and over again until I got it right.

I put the madness of a crazy, violent brain under wraps and only let the demons inside me come out in dreams, in sick visions and violent delights as my mind rapes itself.

I did all the shadow work, ran for 5 years from him, learned to grow a spine and not be a doormat, and never did I stop writing.

I didn’t stop when I tried to drown myself.

I didn’t stop when I was in the mental ward, grip on reality nonexistent, devils and angels seeking me out and driving me insane.

When I was manic, I wrote.  When I was depressed, I poured all that pain into my writing.  When I was barely alive, catatonic and bloated with drugs I wouldn’t give a horse, I put pen to page and raged.

My writing is an act of resistance.

An act or rebellion.

The pulse of my blood.

My declaration that I am alive, not a slave to my diseases, but master of them.

There’s a reason my query letter is killing:

Because I have already died a million times.

State of the Querying Union

So I woke up this morning to the best news of my life – a full request from one of the best literary agents in the industry, someone who I never in my wildest dreams would imagine being granted the pleasure of sending my materials too.  Yesterday was amazing too, as a wonderful new literary agent who worked as an acquiring editor for a major speculative publishing house also requested my manuscript.  Sitting pretty, my manuscript is now with six agents – three at the top of their game and three stellar ones that are up and coming.  To say I am over the moon is an understatement, and it is all thanks to the amazing feedback I got from two agents in particular who helped shape my Firebird retelling into the 80,000 word creation it is now – my finest work to date.  Through Beth Phelan’s #DVPit contests to #PitchMadness, #PitMad, #SFFPit and other online contests, I have learned so much and met so many writing friends.  In only the past two years – since 2015 to be precise at age 22 – I went from a naive writer that couldn’t write a query to save her life to one that has learned from the grace of mentors and lovely feedback from agents and friends how to craft a novel, sell it, and publish poetry and short stories in some of my favorite literary magazines, anthologies, and journals.  I have grown so much from senior year of college, when I finished my first novel at the ripe age of 22, to now at 24 still growing ever stronger as a writer and chasing threads of dreams across the page.  I have been rejected about a hundred times, with monster queries and stories that did not deserve to see the light of day.  Now I have two novels that are polished that I love and am working on my dream projects, a Zora Neale Hurston inspired novel about Marie Laveau’s heir in Snake’s Hollow, Louisiana, and a punk space opera about a David Bowie cover band in space, complete with stoner aliens.

Just two months ago I was laid off and working on revisions, at a loss to where my life is going.  Now I am getting straight As in graduate school, have my dream job saving lions, elephants, and rhinos with my writing, and a literary agent is just around the corner.  My dreams have, for the most part, come true – I have found a spiritual family in my Heathen kindred and am now a gythia-in-training and learning to control my spiritual powers and work with my beloved kindred members on environmental service projects and rituals that make me a better person, my best friends are all so successful, from having gotten into Cornell’s Ecology Doctorate Program to U Michigan’s Corporate Psychology Doctorate program, from Georgetown Law School to Columbia Law School, raises around the board, jobs in Penguin Random House, and many with stellar novels that will hit shelves someday soon to much fanfare.  I am blessed with a family that has supported me through the low points of bipolar disorder and struggles with psychosis, mania, anxiety, OCD, panic disorder, depression, and suicide.

Life handed me a tarnished spoon when I was born in terms of mental health, but I was also blessed with a silver tongue and gods and spirits that have helped me through the highs and lows of my life.  Same goes for my friends and family, scattered across the US and the world, and without everyone’s support – including you, lovely readers, I would be half the woman I am today.

So here’s to future successes and failures, and whatever may come.  I’m excited for the ride.