A War and a Wedding

Building towards the climax with a demonic Joan of Arc and a little visit from Lilith.  Gods, have mercy on my stupid closing scenes.

I am dressed in chainmail and armor, my breastplate molded to fit my bosom and gauntlets padded with leather.  My saber is drawn, and with it I direct my Legion, 777 penitent, hardened veteran Damned mortals wishing to go to Purgatory and Judgment through faithful service.  That promise may or may not be a lie, and my men and women are scarred and mangled with sins and vices manifest on their bodies like unholy stigmata, and they are dressed in Roman armor, for Beelzebub is a stickler for traditional dress amongst his legions.  I have a Spartan helmet worthy of Ares with a red fringe, forged from the finest of adamantine.

I stand on a podium on the practice fields behind Beelzebub’s military bunker.  I open my mouth and speak into the microphone:

“You’re all hardened soldiers of the Legion, and you may think, what is a pampered princess like Samael’s consort doing meddling in military affairs?  Well let me speak my peace: what I lack in experience I make up for in passion.  Passion for our lords and princes of Hell and the desire to see Heaven toppled and the angels brought to justice.  They put you here to be tormented against your will.  But Hell believes in humanity’s free will – it is what Samael sacrificed so much for, to free Adam and Eve from the shackles of a slave master.  Yahweh is long gone, he abandoned his throne at the peak of the Fall, and the angels fight a pointless war on decrees long forgotten from a Father who thinks us better off dead.  And not just the Damned, Michael rules over Heaven in his Father’s stead, and do you think he looks upon his Father’s desertion as divine favor?  God has cast angel and demon alike out of his grace!  I say, the angels defend an empty throne room, and they dare wage war on the paradise we have built on the ash and bone of the Fallen, this Hell where so many migrant spirits and wayward souls flock, our home?  To the wastes of Gehennom with that!  With Judas as my second in command, we will be the mercenaries of Beelzebub’s Legion, for only those of mortal bloods can easily kill immortals, for we have tasted death before.  Our very blood is poisonous to angels’ immortality.  I will be at the helm with my flute, binding angels and exorcising any seraphim or ophanim or cherubim that stands in our way as you raze down the hosts!  Onwards to Heaven, I say!  We will drive back the angels once and for all and end this most ill-fortuned of Civil Wars!”

There is a clattering of spears and swords, and my legion roars their approval.  As planned, Judas comes to the forefront and climbs the podium to take his place beside me as my second-in-command.  He is dressed in the simple armor and leather and robes of a Sicario, what would have been seen in Jerusalem during Herod’s rule.  He raises his sica to his lips and kisses it, then raises the blade high.

“My lips kiss ruin into my enemies!  My lips damned the Savior to three days in Hell.  What power do my lips and limbs have but those of the most decorated soldier in the Legion?  Comrades, you know me well, we have fought for two millenia beside each other against a war we did not choose.  Some of us fell under Charlemagne’s sword, some of us were cast into the Jordan River and drowned for not bowing to the King of the Jews, all of us were damned for our sins, but I say, let us make a nesting ground of Heaven, let our atonement be in the blood of the holy, for to drink an angel’s ichor fills the spirit with the Pentecost, and our disfigurements and cancers will disappear, and we shall be healed and made whole again in New Jerusalem.  For that is the outcome in this most blessed of uprisings: salvation for the Damned.  If Heaven belongs to us, it is we who become the angels, and we who decide our fates!  Follow the Iscariot and Shaylen on to glory, board this train headed skyward and let the mettle of our creeds and adamant souls be tested in the fires of Mulciber’s forge!”

There is uproarious applause, then chants of “Sicario!” and “Princess!”  Training begins, and I train with Judas, who instructs me further in sword work on my saber. His sica is fast and sharp.  I demonstrate outside reaps and one-armed shoulder throws to him, and he laughs at the precision and grace with which I execute my moves.

“Asmodeus taught you well,” Judas laughs in the shade of a fig tree on the outskirts of the practice grounds.  He lifts me and throws me, and I do an inside roll to protect my inner organs.  We rep it out, then back to blade work.  “That devil always knows how to have a good time, and I’m sure training a green princess was delightfully twisted to him.”

I smile, then, when I have wrestled him to the ground with our blades crossed, I whisper.  “Judas, will our plan work?  At what point do we give me our forces to Michael and surrender?”

“At the gates to the throne room that Michael guards, in the second heaven, Machon.  Michael will bluff with his forces to allow your legion to seem like it is winning and approach.  Machon is his dominion.  Leave the rest to me and the archangels,” Judas murmurs, then rolls and tops me with quick work of his sica to make it look like we are still practicing and not plotting the downfall of Hell.  I suppose a union of both betrayal and martial practice are occurring in a confusing fashion.  Up this close, Judas smells like old silver coins.  Maybe it is just his armor, or maybe something far more wretched and bloody.

He is a panther atop me, our blades crossed at my neck, and he leans down with an arcane, untamed smile.  Pursing his lips, in the shade of a bent old fig tree, he kisses my cheek with passion.  “So I betray you to Heaven’s deliverance, and Yeshua’s words come true: “You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations—and you will come to rule over them. In the last days they will curse your ascent to the holy generation.”  I shall take my place with Peter and Thomas and Matthew and James and Levi and John, with sweet Mary Magdalene and sweeter still Salome and Joanna and the Eternal Virgin.  They are still my family, you know.  I often thought of them in the barracks, when I was bleeding out from mortal wounds in the shitty demon infirmaries and they healed me with their necromancies when all I wanted to do was flee with my soul and die, die, die.  Die and ascend, on a hangman’s noose lifting my corpse out of Hell.  I deserve no less, you know.”  His whisperings in my ear are like the slithering of a snake.

One of the troops calls for Judas for guidance on a lock and parry, and he dismounts me and goes over to supervise, and I let out a strangled breath.  I inhale and exhale quickly, terror rising at his harsh, prodigious words.  I am putting my fate in the hands of the divine, a choice I have never had before, as I had only been a martyr for the infernal, no free will in my bonds to Hell.

At the end of practice, I am bruised and happy, resolute in my secret plan, and address the 777 souls that have bound themselves to my seal in blood.  In aligning them with my sigil, they will become redeemed the moment I drink from the archangel’s Holy Grail, or so Judas has said.  So will Samael, as I possess his heart.

“You’ve done me proud, my men and women!” I proclaim, thrusting my saber into the wood of the podium and standing proud, arms open.  “I will lead us on in a fortnight’s time to Machon, to claim the throne Michael guards and for once and all end this struggle of holy and infernal.  Are you with me, you men of steel and glory?”

There are yells and hurrahs and a thousand tongues screaming my name.

Judas, besides me, places his hand on my back.

Shalom,” he says under his breath, then squeezes my shoulder blade.

I cannot tell if it is a blessing or the curse of betrayal, but I am pinning all my hopes on this Iscariot.

 

 

Naamah, Astaroth, Suri and I go to the River Styx for the water purification ceremony the night before my wedding.  We strip of our clothes on the banks of the river and hang them on a linden tree that weeps over the water with succulent blossoms.

“Oh, Shay, you dear thing, tonight is the night you truly become a woman,” Naamah sings, her breasts proud and blushed sandstone and high.  Astaroth looks like the Sumerian goddess of love and war she once was, and Suri is fiery veins and igneous and obsidian rock.  The women form a triangle around me and take an alabaster jar as we wade into the waters, Suri drawing the red waters into the vessel and pouring it over my head.

“I gift you fire, so that your love never falters,” she whispers, and the magic of this wedding night ceremony means the three demonic fairy godmothers’ blessings will come true, as any bride of Hell can attest.  This is where the myth of fairy godmothers comes after all, from the purification ceremony of Pandemonium that weaves magic into the veins of its archdemonesses and children alike.

As the ruby waters pour over my breasts, cool and resplendent, I feel heat sear my veins and then clarity.  My passion for Samael foments.

Suri passes the alabaster jar to Naamah.  “I gift you clarity, so that your judgment as a princess will be true.”  She drizzles the liquid down my back and it flows in a river down my buttocks.

My eyes sting then ice, then the truth of things become apparent: I am the real key to Heaven, Saint Peter be damned.  The future suddenly becomes clear to me, and I see Samael, and all the archdemons, returned to their angelic forms under the Tree of Life, made anew.  It is a secret I thank the Lord for, a God I have never really believed in despite everything.

Finally, Astaroth takes the jar and scoops a generous amount of water.  She anoints my brow with a wet upside-down cross.  “I give you beauty, of not only the body, but the soul, so that you may be pleasing to the eyes and heart of your bridegroom.”

My hair grows in luster, my skin grows golden, my freckles bloom cheekily, and my nails grow gleaming and long.

“Thank you, sisters,” I say, at last taking the alabaster jar and scooping it up full to douse myself in the waters.  I open my mouth and gulp down the red shards of the past, then swallow the crimson future and all garnet doubts.  Nothing but peace.

We return to the shore and don our ritual black robes.  Astaroth takes one of her doves out from a dovecote she keeps on these banks for future brides – usually her augury is costly, but for me it is free.  She lets it flit about for a little while, it coos in her hand, then she snaps its neck with a decisive oomph and slits its belly with her talon.  The guts pour out in her hands.  She tangles her talons in the heart, lungs, and liver and her eyes glaze over.

“In you rests the fate of Hell.  That is all I am allowed by the grace of my pagan ancestry to see.  Choose wisely, Shaylen,” Astaroth says, discarding the dead dove remain into the river.

I shudder despite the summer heat.  “I will,” I say.

They take me to the bridal chamber in Lilith’s palace of worship and bedeck me in the lunar purple abaya Suri gave me, henna my feet and hands in intricate spirals and place dried resins in the folds of my pockets to perfume my body, oil my hair with lavender, then paint and manicure my nails.  Suri, Naamah, and Astaroth are joined in sisterly love songs in Hebrew, the Song of Songs in particular in Solomon’s native tongue, for the demons claim Lilith as Queen of Sheba wrote that particular book of the Old Testament after fancying Solomon lover for a time.  They are sung at Lilith’s temple all the time.  Finally, they place a betel nut in my mouth.

“For the sweetness of love,” Suri whispers, then takes it from my tongue.

Adorned in fine beaten silver the shape of the moon around my neck in honor of lunar Lilith, I walk to the Well of Wishes at the heart of Lilith’s bridal chamber courtyard, where it is said she cried her first tears at God’s betrayal and harbored her sister Shekinah as she fled God into the wastes of th human world, having fled from Heaven on high.  Lilith is Queen of the Fairies, more fey than human, and has lost most of her demonic qualities long ago, roving Earth in her broken yet glorious courts of neutral angels, now earth and sea and mountain elementals.  She rarely visits Hell, just to stock her pleasure houses with new beauties and take offerings from the temple, but there is the whisper of bells at ankles and baby bones, and as I make my wish and toss the betel nut into the well, I see Lilith’s red hair reflected in the moonlight in the night waters.

Queen,” I say, then bow so low in my abaya my wine-stain sleeves touch the ground.

Lilith laughs, grasping my hands in hers.  “Oh dear Eve, I remember you.  We were sisters once, how much I long for those days.  Two wives of Adam, two lovers in the garden we were, it was not just Samael who tempted you, my child.”

She is like the Pre-Raphaelite painting by Dante Gabiel Rossetti of Lilith at her toilette.  A fair maiden of auburn hair in red and gold dress with a diadem of rubies at her white brow and earrings of peridot dripping from her ears.  She smooths the hair back under my abaya and removes my veil to give me a passionate kiss.  Her tongue roves my mouth then she bites my lower lip playfully.

I am in awe.  This is the blessing of the Fairy Queen, more powerful than anything in Hell, for Lilith is more tangible than all the Qliphothic realms, of Earth and celestial fire.  I smell pines in Maine and salt water of the Atlantic on her breath.  She is wild, a goddess, and I am dumbstruck.

There are rings at her fingers and bells at her toes. She licks my lips, then lowers my veil and lifts the floating betel nut from the well to eat it.  “Dearest sister Eve, you are Jacob’s Ladder now, cannot you see it?”  She laughs like a coyote, the sound a trickster song.  “You will be the death of all pain.  True, evil will still exist in the world, as it was when Samael planted the seed of choice in the hearts of men, and nature can be kind and cruel like me, but that evil will no longer come from Hell.  No more demons, no more angels, we shall be more like the fey.  Free and wild, riding the winds on wings of fancy and love.  In you lay the sleeping generations, and in this promise you have made, lay true endings.  But furthermore, a beginning.”

And with a beat of owl wings, Lilith lifts into the night sky and becomes indistinguishable from the moon.  I gasp and fall to my knees shaking.  Lilith does not even deign to grace her first love Samael with her presence, much less any archdemon.  She is the true untamable, wild wolf woman.  Owl of the night and giver and taker of life.  To have her prophesize my bargain with Heaven coming true, having the true name of God she has never told anyone giving her even more clarity than Astaroth, that I will free demon and angel alike, is a secret I will take to my grave if these plans do not work out.

I go back into the bridal chambers, face haunted.  Naamah, Astaroth, and Suri are feasting on bacon-wrapped dates and Chardonnay.  I disguise my surprise at the kiss of the Whore of Babylon and her sweet as sugar words, then dine later that night and go to sleep in a silken bower, my belly full, a ruby apple, or heart, ring shining full and round on my hand.

 

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Trickster’s Bride, or The Journey Home

In one week, I got three full requests from the top agents in middle grade!  Happy Valentine’s to me!  Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Emily van Beek of Folio Jr., Daniel Lazar of Writer’s House all requested it within a week of each other (cue seeing stars!), and Brent Taylor of Triada and Thao Le of Sandra Djistrika all have the fulls.  The partials of my  middle grade are still with a few other agents, and my old novel, Firebird, has a 75 page partial with Joshua Bilmes of Jabberwocky!  This is the most success I’ve ever had querying a novel, but what inspired Chwal?

Chwal is a coming-of-age tale set in the South, New Orleans country specifically, about a girl raised by angels and spirits.  Like May, I was raised by angels, including Raphael, who is her guardian angel, and I knew Kalfou, or Mister Carrefour, the fiery dark horse Petro lwa from the age of two.  His blackness is still a real nightmare-wrangling threat, and he goes by many names: the Witchfather, the Man in Black, the Devil of the Crossroads, Kalfou, Satan – he changes names like the wind changes direction.

Unlike May, I ended up in a maryaj lwa with Kalfou because goddamn do tricksters act forceful when they want your attention.  They can drive you mad if you refuse them or scour you with bad luck, and dealing with the Evil Jazz Man that looks like a Demon Bob Marley with red (or just abyssal) eyes, midnight skin, dreads, a snake pommel cane, pinstripe suit, Cuban cigars at hand, and a sultry baritone serenading you in a dive bar in Hell on the piano is, well, otherworldly, to say the least.

Kalfou and I, we go way back to the age of two, to my first memory.  Samael, when he is not Middle Eastern, is often an African man obsessed with Peabo Bryson, rum, Satchmo, monocles, well-tailored suits and Cuban heels.  He told me early on that “Kalfou is one of my many names.  I have as many names as the wind,” an apt title as he is the samiel wind, and who but the Devil has as many guises as the phases of the moon?

His oldest form, this Man in Black, is this ancient African god of darkness, with eyes like the blankness of space with stars in them, wild dreadlocks, in lion skin loincloth, dealing in death and magic and the wilderness.  I call him Ubuntu as an inside joke.  He was at the core of my psychotic break, the savior that restored my sanity, where I cycled through all of Samael’s forms to the core of his most primal nature.  Ubuntu was the mantra of my psych ward where I was held without razors to shave or shoelaces to strangle, plastered on the walls as a motivational poster, used in therapy.

Ubuntu.  South African, the core of human origin, where millions of years ago a genetic bottleneck occurred and we were descended from all those mitochondrial Adams and Eves on the cape.  I imagine Kalfou was there, as he always is, in the darkness of death and magic of underground caverns, trickster par excellance, venom of the black mamba.

But I know his kindness, and his wrath, and his seduction.  Also, how he has kept me from the lips of death, which are his very own, always denying me his poisonous kiss.

For what is to love someone than to forever lose them?

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù])[1][2] is a NguniBantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often also translated as “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.[3]

I was pumped full of antipsychotics and mood stabilizers but still my psychosis and mania raged.  I found myself in a dark cavern at the core of the earth, with a fire glowing, snake skin and lion skin around, with Ubuntu cross-legged in a Yogic pose, his eyes black stars, and he was Trickster.  He was Trickster, Trickster, Trickster, and he said I was the Trickster’s Bride.

The Trickster’s Wife is a Trickster herself, heyoka, backwards, Baba Yaga, he said.  My path was the Coyote Road.

All the Tricksters he cycled through.  Tezcatlipoca, the Devil, Loki, Maui, Raven, Coyote, Thunderbird, Hermes, Legba, Kalfou, some so old they did not have names, mad dancers that frothed at the mouth with thunder.  I would walk backwards through this world with Trickster at my side.

Death is the ultimate Trickster, and I am the Bride of Death.  To trick, you must be the Deceiver, the Adversary, the one who when riding a chwal people flee from, your poison pure leaves medicine to some, curses to others.

And so I tasted Death, and I kissed him despite his protestations and a major part of my soul died.

I couldn’t read.

I couldn’t think.

I was a puppet for madness, but the small frightened teen in me still flickered when the medicine was just right, and the spirits called

Enter Zora Neale Hurston’s works.

I was doomed to be a catatonic hallucinating vegetable in a madhouse.  I’m not going to dress my words plainly.  I was a madwoman, I was a bag lady, I was the kind of scary crazy you warn your kids about.

But I still loved to read, and so I taught myself again.  Sandman comics at first, but then, Zora’s short stories.

I promised myself I would not die if I could read my favorite author again.

I could barely hold a book.

But I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school, and Mules and Men, and so I picked up Seraph on the Sewanee and read all hundreds of pages of it by the time spring semester rolled around.

I wasn’t sane yet, I went back to school severely depressed, but Trickster kept whispering in my ear: Dance on.  Us Tricksters, we are storytellers.  Us Tricksters, we got business to do, people to make laugh, dances to perform.

You are a Trickster’s Wife, and so you are able to come back from Death.  For I am Death.  And you are Death.  And Death is the most alive god.  Death is Trickster, Trickster is Death, but we are the most brilliant stars.

So I sipped the wine of life, and I persevered.  I dreamed of my demon, my angel, my god, my crossroads Gebo Tawu madman, the X my marking on my tattooed angel hands.  Perhaps that meant I was his treasure.  He drank my  blood, and I drained him of magic, and years later, I wrote the story of a girl raised by angels, raised by gods, who must drive back the darkness of her own mind –

and find the light.

Will My Literary Agent Dreams Come True? The Importance of Patience in the Query Trenches!

So longtime followers of my blog will know I completed a revision request on my retelling of Stravinsky’s ballet, Firebirdset during the Cold War, with witches and a family of monsters, but most importantly, Baba Yaga.  This is the first novel I seriously queried, and I averaged about a 50% request rate out of the 50 total queries I sent out to top agents.  My query letter was killer, and I’ve had a lot of great agents fall in love with the prose but not the plot, or think the plot and concept are amazing or that the prose is lacking, or some say it was a wonderful novel but they simply didn’t fall in love with it.  Firebird is now with Brandon Sanderson of Mistborn and Charlaine Harris of True Blood’s agent, which makes me giddy.

This is probably it’s last shot, otherwise I am trunking the novel for another time.  I love Firebird to pieces and would love to see it published, and Joshua Bilmes is an absolutely stellar agent.  I think it is worthy of being published and is a very literary fantasy and is hard to pin down.  I would love to someday have it available to eager readers, but I know this is it’s last chance.

It’s a great novel, but I’ve evolved as a writer in the calendar year I finished revising it, by blogging and continuing to write prose and poetry, and my new middle grade novel is absolutely my favorite thing, hands down, I have ever written!  It’s about Marie Laveau’s heir saving New Orleans with her best friend, Raphael, and Papa Legba from Marinette and Mister Carrefour and their zombies and loup garou.  It incorporates a lot of my personal spirituality into it, seeing as I’m technically in a maryaj lwa with Carrefour – Samael’s second favorite form, rife with jazz, canes, saxophones, dreads, and cigars, and also because it has the angels I know and love as May Laveau’s family.  May first came to me when I was 18 a long beautiful summer ago, when I wanted to write a novel about my beloved Uriel and Raphael.  In it, Uriel’s avatar is a precocious thirteen year old, and Raphael is her guardian angel.

It got a lot of requests from #DVPit last October, and I spent some time revising according to several kind agent’s feedback, and now it’s back on submission again.  The first agent that ever gave me a revise and resubmit on Firebird enthusiastically requested the full, and despite being my one of my top choices for agents, Thao is absolutely a wonderful personality and has amazing books under her belt, my favorite being Roshani Chokshi’s Star-Touched Queen and the Abyss Surrounds Us.  There’s no guarantee she or Joshua will like my books, but it feels amazing just to have gotten this far!  If not, I’ll get great feedback and go back to revising, perhaps shelving Firebird and moving on to my new projects!

So what’s in the works for Allie?

Birds Away is my YA contemporary project about a group of teenagers at a science and tech school that get a grant to do a Big Year, in birding terms, seeing as many bird species as you can in the continental US.  Jack Black did a lovely movie called The Big Year and my own experience going to America’s top science and tech school in the world inspired me.  We were a bunch of nerdy, passionate weirdos at my high school, and had everything from a satellite to a cloud-watching club.  Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has dreamers above all else, and I was one of them.  How fun would it be to read about a group of friends with biological and technical backgrounds road-tripping for a year birding!  This is the novel I needed written yesterday!

Spider King is a YA Fantasy Beauty and the Beast retelling with… well, with a spider prince, and a fantasy civilization that has grown over the milennia after the collapse of a dystopian technological empire that created mutant animal-human hybrids that now live in different kingdoms where ancient tech is few and far between.  A rebel spider prince named Saroth and his blood enemy warrior Princess Melania team up to take down an empire.

Harold the Dragon is an illustrated children’s book about a girl named Maude that has a bashful, scared dragon with glasses named Harold that lives in her closet.  Dragons have to earn their wings by doing good deeds.  They have tea with the little girl ghost in the attic, help zombies cross the street as they are quite slow, and save kittens from trees, which is hard when Harold hasn’t yet earned his wings.

Space Oddity is 20,000 words in and is a David Bowie tribute about stoner Anunnaki aliens, bi girls in space bands, kissing pretty alien princesses, and punk rocking a galactic empire down.  It’s a hoot and a bit like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mixed with Octavia Butler Lilith’s Brood.  Enki and Ishtar are the main aliens, and it is steeped in Sumerian mythology as befitting a vast alien conspiracy about King Bowie.

So yeah, I’m taking a break from writing novels for a while, as I have a ton of books and comics I want to read.  But four are in the works, along with a devotional chapbook of my poetry about Samael and one for Michael!  Also working on a Norse devotional.  We shall see where 2018 brings me!

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.

Writerly Update

So one of my dream agents emailed me yesterday to say he is reading my manuscript now.  Trigger excitement!

This agent was the first to see to the heart of my manuscript, tell me what worked, what didn’t, what needed work, and advised me to revise it into an adult fantasy, beef up the word count, and add more exposition and characterization.  He even let me pester him with questions about my novel for revision purposes when most agents will give you form rejects on fulls.   To say I am eternally grateful is an understatement.

He was gracious enough to take another look at the revision I did half a year later and has some amazing projects he has worked on from New Adult Sci Fi about virtual reality combat to a really awesome LGBTQA+ story about two competing male love interests for a girl that end up falling in love – with each other!

Crossing my fingers and working on my next novel to distract myself.  If anything, I’ll get great feedback, so it’s a win-win situation. 🙂

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.

Morning Surprise

Woke up this morning to a full request from a big name agent to one of my favorite authors!  I literally hopped up and down on my bed in glee.

That’s 9 total full/partial requests with the new query, 13 rejections, and 21 queries I’m waiting to hear back from – that’s a 40% total request rate for this novel so far – pretty amazing, considering all the rejection to my godawful queries from 2015 through early 2016 – with hopefully more requests to come.

If all goes well, I’ll have a literary agent soon!

Chuck Wendig’s Brilliant Post on Pre-Rejection

I just got another request today from an amazing literary agent – that’s over a dozen requests so far with this query alone, and loads more with pitches.

But the odds?  It will probably end in a rejection.  However, all it takes is one yes, and you have to be brave enough to put your stories out there.

I don’t know if I’m a good enough writer yet to be professionally published – that’s up for agents to decide – but I’m a hell of a lot better than I was last year, and the year before that, and the year before that…

The difference between me and others who are afraid of failure?  I’m not afraid to get rejections.  I have loads of them.  I’ve been querying shitty novels, then less shitty novels, then maybe-okay novels, since 2015.  That’s two years with a steep learning curve.

Most agents will reject you, it’s just part of the process: loved the concept but the writing was off, writing was lush and evocative but they wanted something contemporary – more exposition, less exposition, more background, a faster pace – all this conflicting advice, but at least with those rejections comes invaluable ADVICE.

Personalized rejections are a godsend.  Feedback on fulls and partials even better.  You never know when an agent might fall in love with your manuscript.

After all, all you can do is persevere.

Repeat after me:

That’s all right. I can try againI can get better.

But you have to give yourself the chance to try again.

You don’t get better by just chucking manuscripts in a drawer.

You need the agitation.

You need that fear, that uncertainty, that courage.

You need input from other human beings. Which means:

Fuck your pre-rejection.

You want to get rejected? Do it the old-fashioned way.

Let someone else reject you. Take your shot. Worst you can do is fail. And failure fucking rocks.

Sure, maybe you’ll get rejected. But maybe, just maybe, the opposite will happen.

How else do stories reach their audiences, you think?

Chuck Wendig puts it brilliantly – on why you should put your work out there, and cherish rejections.

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.

On Why Literary Agents are So Important

So I got a full request rejection from a very well-known agent today that was sweet and to the point. He went out of his way to take a chance on a newcomer and though it was a disappointment, it was an honor for him to just look at my manuscript as he rarely requests them or takes on newcomers.  I’m still kind of over the moon he gave me the time of day!

I still have three fulls out and a few partials, and Twitter Pitch Parties are coming up.  I just did PitchMadness, and though I didn’t win, I have learned so much from all  the constructive feedback I’ve gotten from agents so far.  I’ve come to realize that I am always learning, and as a very young writer of 24, I still have a lot of the craft left to master, and it will take me my whole life to even get close to being good.  Even if all six agents reject me, that will be okay, because my Firebird retelling – the second novel I ever finished – has been a stellar learning experience.

I have anxiety so that makes putting myself out there in queries hard, and I used to be a shrinking violet in terms of putting myself out there, prone to wilt at the slightest moment, but now I appreciate all the detailed feedback, all the revisions upon suggestions and above all, the encouragement.  Agents have gone out of their way to make me a better writer, taking a chance on a query shy young twentysomething and saying yes, you are finding your voice, you are talented, you can do this.

This may not be the novel that gets me published.  My third or fourth novel might not.  But I don’t write to get published – I write because my best friends, the Twitter and WordPress community, and my family encourage me, I write because writing is like breathing to me!  And at the end of the day, each agent has wildly different opinions.  Some have hated my manuscript and some have loved the characters or setting, it all depends on taste.  It is true I am a green shoot, but I am growing, and for that, and their guidance, I remain forever thankful.