Just One Word

In 2015, I ditched the practice of resolutions for the impending new year, and instead came up with one word to carry me through the entire year. Back then it was CREATE, and create I did. Then in 2016, I chose BELIEVE, and that word, more than anything, helped me complete the first draft of Dream Catchers, which I carried into 2017 with the hopes of making it, and myself BETTER. All three of these words became a sort of mantra that helped me get through the rough writing days, the rejections, and life in general. And here I am in 2018 with a finished book in the query trenches, and a new word to carry me through the year. That word is...

PERSEVERANCE!

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In years past, I'd always found it somewhat difficult to choose one word, knowing how important it would be to me. But this year as many of you might know, I got to see Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen, rounding out an outstanding year filled with Broadway shows. And in the beginning of Act II within this show, there is a song, which seemed to be in my head more often than others this year, most specifically:

"It just takes a little patience. It takes a little time. A little perseverance, and a little uphill climb."

It took completing NaNoWriMo, and writing about that experience here, to ensure the word perseverance remained stuck in my head. So far, it's been a rather fitting word. Maybe, you're wondering: how does this fit?

Well, I ended 2017 with 117 rejections, many of which came from agents. Going into 2017 with a goal of 50 rejections, I never thought I could survive that many, and yet, more than doubled, I can tell you I've done more than survive, because I'm not giving up. I know this will be the year some of my favorite poems will be published. I know I will find an agent. I know I will get that elusive book deal that seems like more of a mirage from the query trenches than anything tangible. I suppose that sense of perseverance has always been with me, and now, it is stronger than ever. 

So what comes next? 

I'll keep querying. I've already sent my first query of 2018, and I am hopeful for a positive response. I've started to submit new poems to new publications, and I'm still writing. I already have five rejections, and it feels like accomplishment this early into January. And while I don't have a list of resolutions, I do have a list of goals I'm hoping to accomplish this year, and this month, some of which have already been completed, others which feel a bit more difficult, and require more time. One of these goals, however, is very near to being completed, and as such, I'm excited to share it with all of you! 

Beginning this February, I will be unveiling my new author website! After much research, I have decided to find a new home for my site using Squarespace, which will mean a new minimalistic design, with much of the same content I've developed here over the past four years, plus more, including collaborating with other writers and bloggers! I will be making an official announcement when the time gets closer with links for the new home of KAYLA KING BOOKS. I am hoping this will be one of many changes in 2018 that bring me that much closer to making my dream a reality. After all this, I have known struggle, I've tried to find courage, and now I will hold tight to the idea of perseverance for the rest of 2018! 

All best,Kayla King.png

These Are a Few Of My Favorite Reads

Last year around this time, I set a Goodreads goal of reading 100 books. All this time later, I can't say I achieved this goal. And maybe any other year, this would have been more of a disappointment, but in the past year I've faced more rejection and accomplishment than I ever expected. Maybe those things happened at the cost of not reading as voraciously as I have in the past, but that doesn't mean I love reading or books any less.

 

In fact the 52 books I did read, helped me appreciate the craft and writing and helped me fall in love with reading all over again! 

 

 

What follows are my favorite books from 2017:

 

1.) The Careful Undressing of Love by corey ann haydu

This was the first book I read in 2017, and it set high standards. With beautiful, lyrical writing, and heartbreaking characters, this promised a great year of reading.

 

2.) The Secret Lives of People in Love by simon van booy

I remember texting the best friend asking if he'd ever had a sentence break him, because I was breaking beneath the beauty of this short story collection.

 

3.) Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Though this was technically a reread, I did listen to the audiobook version for the first time and Lin Manuel Miranda brought this story to life. 

 

4.)The Collected Poems: Sylvia Plath by sylvia plath

Starting the Plath Poetry Project in April, I used this collection as a road map month by month. Though there's not much left of Sylvia's last year, there are more than enough poignant poems within this collection.

 

5.) Heartless by MARISA meyer

This is one of those audiobook listens I now need to own in hard copy because I can't wait to read this again. Taking all my favorite things: Wonderland, retellings, and villain backstories; this story was one I haven't forgotten!

 

6.) We Are Okay by nina lacour

Fun fact: this is one of the comp. titles I've used for my book while out in the query trenches! Nina's work was all at once heartbreaking and reviving, and this, too, is another audiobook I *need* to own!

 

7.) Caraval by stephanie garber

Filled with fun, adventure, and illusion, I'm thrilled to know the sequel will be coming soon. This was another fantastic audiobook listen that truly took me into the world of Caraval!

 

8.) Ten Miles One Way by patrick downs

This was the first book I started after moving this year, and it was one I anticipated because I loved the freshman novel by this author (Fell of Dark). However, I finished this book beside the best friend while on the subway heading to the Cloisters in NYC. As the characters traversed a city, so did I, and I couldn't imagine reading this haunting book any other way.

 

9.) Rome: Poems by Dorothea Lasky

Though originally a birthday gift for the best friend, it is currently living on my shelf. I found within this poetry collection, a narrative voice similar to my own, and I continue to reread it now because it gets better each time.

 

10.) Like Water by rebecca podos

While reading this book, I had so many thoughts of, "just one more chapter," and then, all too soon, I was finished. It was a book that demanded to be read and felt and I haven't forgotten Vanni or her summer at Mermaid Cove.

 

11.) Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them: Illustrated edition by newt scamander/j.k. ROLLING, illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill

Loved the movie. Loved the audiobook. But there is something about the illustrations that really brought Newt's work to life!

 

12.) Turtles All the Way Down by john green

I must confess I was nervous to read this for fear I wouldn't like it as much as John Green's other books. But this story made it's way to the #2 spot in my John Green favorite ( 1.) Looking For Alaska, 2.) Turtles All the Way Down, 3.) Will Grayson Will Grayson, 4.) The Fault in Our Stars).

 

13.) Warcross by marie lu

Another audiobook that succeeded to transport me both with narration and storytelling. While I'm not a gamer by any means, there was still so much to enjoy from this book, as well as a nod to Lu's Legend series, which I devoured many years before.

 

14.) A History of the Unmarried by Stephen S. Mills

While I've also read this before, I'd never read it straight through, but rather read sporadically. Perhaps organizing my own poetry collection inspired me to read this the way Mills intended. Maybe not. Either way, this is another brilliant poetry collection.

 

15.) Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi

I’m embarrassed to say this is my first Tahereh Mafi book I’ve ever read, but rest assured, it will not be my last. I can’t wait to read the companion, Furthermore. Mafi brings readers into a world of the macabre with just enough humor to get through the brutality and honesty of loss and living after grief. 

 

16.) Harry Potter: A Journey Through the History of Magic by british library

One of my favorite Christmas gifts from my sister, I was most astonished by the story behind J.K. Rowling being picked up by Bloomsbury. Currently in the query trenches, Rowling's struggle resonated with me beyond the pages of this book.

 

17.) The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

Fun fact: this is the other comp. title I'm using for my book, which is currently in the query trenches. Ancrum's work is haunting, beautiful, and human. I can't wait to see more from this author in the future!

And I can't wait to see what's in store for this new year of reading! 

Want to know more about the books I read in 2017? Be my friend on Goodreads

All best,Kayla King.png

A Little Perseverance

Today is the last day of National Novel Writing Month. Though I managed to reach the 50,000 word goal two days prior to this post, I still wanted to commemorate this ending.

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In years past, I’d always wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo. But alas, other writing projects seemed to dominate my Novembers, and I never felt I could properly commit, and so, I never took part in the magic and insanity that is writing 50,000 words in a month. 

Until now.

For those of you following my journey to publication, you will know I am currently in the query trenches with the novel I conceptualized during graduate school. With that project done, and waiting for agent responses growing by the day, I knew I needed a distraction. This realization occurred last month and afforded me the time to take part in Preptober to get myself ready for the official start date of NaNoWriMo. I took the month of October to begin outlining for a somewhat new work-in-progress; BOOK ONE in the Falling series demanded to be written again. This time I knew it would be better. 

I originally wrote the first book in this series back in 2012, and it was the first novel I wrote. But long before that, I’d written a short story, and from those fourteen pages came the formation of this projected pentalogy, which I outlined in a British literature class during my undergrad. It’s been eight years since I first delved into this world, and it remains one of my greatest loves, and favorite escapes. This story is the one I took to grad school, too stubborn to let go my first semester, and then later set aside to begin the Dreamer Duology. In the three years I spent writing my other novel for grad school, I never gave up on the Falling series. Though I wasn’t writing in that world every day, I spent that time getting to know my characters better, and brainstorming all that will come to pass over the course of these five books. 

And now, at the end of NaNoWriMo, I have 51,032 words of this new draft, and it’s just as magical as I remember all those years ago. 

Before undertaking this challenge, I feared (what I now know was somewhat irrational) that I couldn’t write another book. Maybe other writers experience this same thing after working on one project for multiple years. You see, the novel I’m querying was not easy to write, and if you ask those closest to me, they might mention the toll completing this novel took on me and my writing.  Now that’s not to say I don’t love that book. I wouldn’t be querying agents with it now if I didn’t adore what I’d written. But the actual process was difficult. And through it, I’d started to doubt the magic of writing. 

But I digress. 

Starting this newish project for NaNoWriMo proved that writing and drafting are still magic, and not just because there is a fair bit of fantasy within this WIP. Writing this story reminded me how extraordinary it feels to get swept up into a world crafted entirely from your own mind. And while there were days more difficult than others this month, days when I did not write a single word, I still achieved that 50K goal. 

I think it is a common misconception that writers need to write every day to be writers. Frankly, that’s bullshit. Most writers, myself included, have day jobs, which pay bills and student loans. And we have family and friends and pets and other obligations, which sometimes prevent the act of writing every day from actually happening. But through NaNoWriMo, I discovered there is a difference between writing every day and writing consistently. Though I went four consecutive days without writing, those days away were much needed to prevent creative burnout and to brainstorm a rather difficult chapter. But still, my mind never left this fictional world I so love. 

As I scroll through the 183 pages I managed to complete thus far, I know I’ve tackled something important. I also discovered a new tool to help drafting, which was born out of my proclivity toward visual learning. With the help of Pinterest (which for those interested in what inspires my many fictional worlds, you can follow my book boards HERE) I created inspiration boards for each chapter, which are pictured below! In doing so, I had to narrow down what I was trying to accomplish most, which helped in the process of outlining, all while keeping me on task. 

And with the help of friends cheering me on from near and far, a fantastical Spotify playlist curated the month before, and many cups of coffee, I have a start to a story I’d always hoped to return to one day. 

I’m not sure where the querying process will take me in the months to come, but with the start of this newish story, I now have an escape for when rejection feels too real or the world feels too wrecked. I’ll make my art. I’ll write my stories. And with a little perseverance, and a little uphill climb (and maybe, even the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack), I’ll write the next 50,000 words. 

All best,Kayla King.png

The Beginning Of Interesting

When thinking about what I would write this week, I knew I wanted to try to get back to that enamored feeling I once had for my book. That's not to say I don't love my book, because I do. But I also worry about its future sometimes, too. This feeling of love that I have now is absolute and unwavering; I'm not sure there is anything this story could do to make me give up on it or its eventual place on bookshelves. Together we've been through a master's degree. We've been through the good writing days and the bad writing days and the ones, which felt better than anything. And we're still a team. 

It wasn't until last night, however, that I had a desire to dive back into my archives and relive the initial excitement I had for this story.

And what, you might be asking, happened last night?

I received an email from the agent who had my full manuscript, which informed me she would be passing on my book. I'm not going to say this was an easy email to read, especially because there was no concrete feedback to implement in further revisions. But alas, the letter was incredibly kind, as you'll see below: 

Hi Kayla, 

Thanks for sending along Dream Catchers. I really appreciate your patience these past few weeks while waiting for a response. 

There's some great prose in these pages--in fact, the quality of writing is far better than most of the material that crosses my desk. And I found Camryn to be a sympathetic protagonist. It's with regret, though, that I must admit that I ultimately didn't fall in love with the manuscript as much as I had hoped. For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, the story itself just didn’t completely capture my imagination as much as I had hoped. Kayla, in spite of this manuscript's strengths, I'd better bow out. I suspect that, based on my above reservations, I just wouldn't be the best advocate for the project. 

Thanks so much for contacting me, though, and for giving me this opportunity! It is much appreciated, and I'm sorry to be passing. This is such a subjective business--I'm sure another agent will be a better fit. Thanks again, and all the very best of luck in your search for representation.

So what does this mean? For now, it means I'm still searching for representation. It means this agent was not the one for me and my work. And in this business, it is about finding a literary agent willing to support you and your words for an entire career. An agent has to be completely enamored, which unfortunately, this agent didn't have those necessary feelings of love for my book.

I'm not going to say I didn't hope for the best; I never wanted this agent to be my 70th rejection of the year. Sometimes I do, however, wish I didn't have to write so much about rejection. But such is the life of a writer, and I don't want to shy away from the truth or lie about my journey. Because that's exactly what this is: a journey. I want my candor along the way to ensure I remember every step until I make this dream a reality. And if such honesty helps another writer in the tumultuous query trenches, that would be something, too. 

But, I digress.

Three years ago, I stayed up until 4:30 AM writing something new, though the story of Dream Catchers wasn't entirely new at that point. I once wrote a flash fiction piece about a girl in a strange shop with a secret. Fast forward to a lunch with my sister wishing we could all be paid in dreams, and my obsession with dreaming as currency took hold; this was the original concept for my story, though it's come a long way from that idea. And in searching back through my archives, I found an email sent to my grad school mentor for my second semester in which I wrote to tell her that despite there only being a week until my submission deadline, I would be changing my thesis.

Up until this point I had been incredibly stubborn about moving on from a story I'd worked on since high school. But to get the most out of the program, I knew I needed to start fresh, and the idea for Dream Catchers had sat with me all summer. I remember being at LeakyCon during a panel about diversity, knowing that this story was one I wanted to pursue. And then the first line appeared in my mind one day while waiting for coffee. The windows were down, my sister was driving, and summer was turning to fall. I texted that line to a peer. I took notes. I showed the best friend. I wrote, and I sent that email. In it I said:

"I stayed up until 4:30 this morning working on this. And the result is 12 new pages and a story I think is fun and daring, adventurous, and experimental. But I love it!"

Now my book is 363 pages, 92,000 words, and after all this time, I still believe those words to be true. Looking back at that first chapter, I see how much has changed. This isn't the same idea I pitched to my mentor three years ago, but it is the story I conceived a year late during my last residency of grad school with a different mentor. And part of that first line I so loved is now the last line of the first chapter. The book is about dreaming, but also much more. And I'm not saying the character I have now is any more perfect than that same girl I wrote about three years ago. My protagonist, Camryn, is still incredibly flawed, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But that's okay. That's the way it should be. 

Upon dreaming up this post, I put away the notebooks and drafts and ideas from so long ago. And I realized just how much I refuse to put away the dream that this book will be published one day. Maybe it's the stubbornness or strength bred into me from my earliest beginning. Maybe it's that line from a song I sang every year for ten years: "Don't ever give up. Don't ever lose the dreams that you dream every day. Don't ever lose heart. Know who you are. And live your own life your way;" I still remember them. Though whatever the reason, this rejection is not cause to give up. I've written before that only time will tell the future of this book and my career as a published author. And that's true. This time when I refuse to abandon my creativity despite the fact that querying is not easy, that is the time Elizabeth Gilbert writes about in Big Magic: 

"DON'T ABANDON YOUR CREATIVITY THE MOMENT THINGS STOP BEING EASY OR REWARDING. BECAUSE THAT'S THE MOMENT WHEN INTERESTING BEGINS."

This, as she says, is "the moment when interesting begins." 

All best,Kayla King.png

Only Time Will Tell

One week ago, I was watching the episode of Parks and Recreation where Andy and April drive to the Grand Canyon, and "All Will Be Well," by The Gabe Dixon Band plays on the radio. As I sat constructing a chapter by chapter breakdown of editorial notes, I knew that everything I needed to accomplish would happen, that eventually, all would be well.

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And what was I trying to accomplish?

Well, rewind back to the day before.

I sat beside by brother as we binge-watched Riverdale, and my phone buzzed with a new email, and I ignored it for a few minutes as that current episode wrapped up. And then I saw the sender of the email, and my heart beat a bit faster. I looked at the agent's name, and braced myself for the rejection.

Upon opening the email, I discovered it wasn't a rejection, but rather a request to send my full manuscript for consideration! Maybe most people would've screamed something profane, or exclaimed their exhilaration, but in that moment, I couldn't say anything. The tears filled my eyes, but I didn't actually cry. I was too stunned. My brother asked me what was wrong, and I passed him my phone, and though he doesn't quite understand the query process, he said "Congratulations."

Now the first thing I did was reread the email, just to make sure it was real. I needed the verification that after reading only the first five pages of my manuscript, plus my query letter, that this agent really wanted to move forward and read the rest of my novel. The words were still there, and I knew I needed to call my mom and my best friend, but neither answered. I left one rather shaky voicemail, and sent a few texts with the same request to "please please please call me." They both thought something horrific had happened. They both called back. They both were just as ecstatic. And I reminded them both that this could still mean rejection, because it might. But in that moment, I knew it was still a huge step toward publication. 

That day the best friend and I talked for two and a half hours, and he mentioned his amazement at how grounded I stayed through it all; knowing the chance of rejection was still viable. And since receiving the exciting email, I have gotten a rejection from another agent, sent without personalization, but kind all the same. The first thing that came to mind after this long-winded phone call was my dissatisfaction with the overall end of the book, because I wasn't sure how it would lead into the second book within this duology. And just as the excitement dissipated, the stress took hold in its familiar place. 

My anxiety appeared based on the fact that I have a penchant for perfection. It is, I believe, my biggest flaw. I feared the fact that my book still wasn't perfect, and knew I needed to make adjustments, even minor, before sending this off to the agent. In the meantime, I let all the other important people in my life know what was happening, and they offered congratulations, and I existed in a kind of haze the rest of that first day. 

By Friday, I'd made it to the end of the book. I had a shower epiphany. I knew what final bit had to be added to the finale. I didn't change the last line, because that was what I wanted from the start. But I found a small way into what comes next for my story in BOOK TWO, and it felt right. I wrote the words. I texted the best friend about the ending. He read. I wrote. The day went on. 

At 4 PM I started reading my novel through from the beginning. I luxuriated in the fact that I'd finally killed the darling paragraph that opens the novel, in exchange for something that reads much more clean and offers higher stakes for the story. I read each chapter out loud to try and catch as many typos as possible. And somehow, even after the hundreds of times I've read through this manuscript, there were still stupid errors. (I'm still wondering if I will ever get credit on Goodreads for the many times I've read through my own book). I read straight through until 2:30 AM when my voice started to crack, and the view of my computer screen blurred through the veil of exhaustion. I slept four hours. I woke, and finished the read through. I compiled the manuscript from Scrivener into a word doc, and began the arduous process of formatting for submission with the updated word count, title, page numbers, etc., and ensured each chapter started on its own page. I finished the last of this from the back seat of my sister's car as we drove toward our hometown for the morning. As we made it back to the place I grew up, the place my story was born, I realized there wasn't anything left to do but send this back to the agent. 

And I did. 

Now it's been a few days since submitting, and all that's left to do is wait.

I hate waiting. But like that song reminds: All will be well. You can ask me how, but only time will tell.

Only time can tell what will happen with this agent and the future of my book. 

Now a week later, I can't say I've learned how to combat my perfectionism, but I can say I let go of the idea that my work is perfect in time to send this whole manuscript. Sometimes all we can do is let things go without knowing what will come back. I'm not sure if this will bring me an offer of representation, or a rejection. But I do know this is one step closer to my dream, and maybe, all really will be well. Until then...

All best,Kayla King.png

Now It's Nostalgia

Since Sunday, I've been immersed in the idea of nostalgia. After receiving an email from MockingHeart Review, I immediately had the "better luck next time" kind of thought. As I've said before, I'm accustomed to rejection. But this was no rejection. My poem, "How to Heal a Snake Bite," will be published next month in the last issue of 2017 by MockingHeart Review. And what's more, the lovely editor said my poems (even the ones not accepted) touched her greatly. Her words took me back to the beginning of this poem's journey.

I was there, in that Williamsburg coffee shop where I first wrote this strange poem. Back before the revisions. Back before I submitted to five other publications who've all rejected this poem. There was the bitter scent of espresso, and the just-barely-there hum from the city beyond the patio of Black Brick. There was the best friend sitting across from me. There was the rest of the day we spent exploring, and the photos I took, and the memories I made. Looking back, I suppose I'd call this feeling now nostalgia, but then I just called it perfection. 

So now it is almost a full year later, and this poem will be published! Since diving back into the world of poetry, I've been struck often by uncertainty; unsure if I'd found the right words or tone or voice, though I enjoy writing them immensely. But this acceptance is validation that my words mean something, that the act of writing poetry has helped more than just myself.

The world of poetry is strange. On one side, I have my beloved favorites: Sylvia Plath and Tennyson, Jack Spicer and Stephen Mills, and then there are the typewriter poems and the Tumblr poets and their words are just as important. We are in this unique place where poetry can be anything. No more are the days of Ginsberg having to fight to demolish the expected, no more do we forget women's voice in poetry like too many did when seeing Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath together. Times are different. Poetry is different. And I'm not so sure us poets need the validation when it feels so delicious to destroy ourselves on the page, to permeate those same pages with a prose poem, or a couplet, or a strange twist of words. 

But publication feels pretty damn good! Sharing work is what juxtaposes these poems against our secrets still hidden in iPhone notes or journal pages or whispers before bed. But writing is still writing. Words are still words. And soon you will be able to read this completed work.

Until then, I'd like to remember that perfect day at Black Brick with the words of this poem barreling through me to the page. I'm still not sure where they come from sometimes. And I'd like to remember that conversation between myself and the best friend where we both discussed losing a story, and wondering who might've found it next. Because maybe we were too busy. Maybe it wasn't right for us in that moment. And I'm not sure what it was about sitting behind that small coffee shop visiting the best friend for the first time in NYC that helped me find this strange poem. 

I'd also like to note what happened after the joy and excitement from that email. As I readied to send an updated bio and author photo to MockingHeart Review, I realized I had to make sure this piece wasn't still out to other publications. In the world of writing and submitting, simultaneous submissions are not discouraged. In fact, literary magazines and presses understand it might take thirty rejections before your work ever finds a home. But they also expect you to withdraw your work upon publication. Now being an old-school, pen and paper loving person that I am, I had to go back through my archives to find where I'd sent this poem. Along the way, I did find the page where I'd written this (October 4, 2016), and I found many other things. I also discovered that "How to Heal a Snake Bite" was rejected everywhere else it'd been sent, and so withdrawing was a non-issue.

But I didn't let this go as an unlearned lesson. I've since created my own color-coded spreadsheet to keep track of publications I'd like to submit to in the future, places still pending, rejections, and those three acceptances I've had so far this year. It's currently four full pages, and getting longer. And even looking at all those red rejections contained therein, it is astounding to see all the places I've submitted in 2017. And sure the rejection list continues to grow (I'm currently at 49!), but so does my list of publications!

Maybe I'll look back on this acceptance a year from now and be taken back to the exact moment I opened the email. Nostalgia is a fickle fiend, which too often tricks us into heartbreak. But sometimes she's good and kind and perfect and reminds us all how wonderful we can be, and how much we have to be grateful for now. 

*Update: As of August 31, 2017, you can read "How to Heal a Snake Bite" published at MockingHeart Review

Into the Trenches

Leading up to this point in my writing career, I always knew I would submerge myself into the murky waters of traditional publishing. It's taken research and advice from my grad school mentors, and what's more, it's been coming to terms with the fact that this journey is far longer than many understand, for the waters of traditional publishing to become a bit more clear. And after all of this research, preparation, and waiting, I've finally thrown myself into the query trenches. 

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Last Monday, I submitted to the first agent, and yesterday, I submitted to ten more, including my #1 pick. This isn't to say I felt ready in the moment, because hitting send on those emails was one of the most terrifying experiences in my life as a writer. But I did it, because that is the next step. Going into this process, I know what usually happens now--rejection. 

I look back a year ago when I last wrote about rejection (which you can read HERE) but since then, I've become more accustomed to being rejected. From the beginning of this year, I set a goal of 50 rejections for 2017. At the end of last year, I had a total of 36, and now it's August, and I'm already at 44 rejections for this year, which means I will probably exceed my goal of 50. But that doesn't horrify me, because it means I am being aggressive about sending out my work, taking leaps, and putting myself out there to the publishing world. And no, it's not always easy, but that's okay. 

Now, less than 24 hours since sending out my queries, I keep rereading my first "rejection." I thought it would be more of a soul-crushing experience, and once I have a few more book rejections, that feeling might change. But right now, I have a personalized rejection, which for those outside the realm of writing and querying, is something to be proud of.

Most agents when passing on work will send a form rejection to expedite the process. But this agent personalized mine, offering words of encouragement about my dialogue and concept, which he found "really intriguing." He even offered me the opportunity to resubmit pending significant revisions.

At this point, I am confident in my first chapter, but am waiting to hear back from my lovely BETA readers to see if this is a recurring problem. Either way, whatever I choose, it is thrilling to think someone took the time to read and respond to my work. I'm sure this will be the only one I hear from for a bit since most agents say they take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 4-8, sometimes even 12 weeks to respond. And they might send a form rejection after all that waiting, but it doesn't matter, because I believe in this book and this process and the future of my publishing career.

Staying positive through this really helps, I promise. But there have been a few other things, which have helped along the way:

1.) Support:

First and foremost, I must once again share my thanks for the ever-amazing army of supporters (who I wrote about HERE)Even from within the query trenches, they're still going above and beyond to support me and this book. They are reading my words, sharing their thoughts, and offering me their guiding light from near and far away. 

2.) Organization:

We now live in a time where resources such as Query Tracker exist! For any writers out there nearing the query process, I suggest you use this free service to help organize (and research) the many agents you will be sending your work to in the future. There is an option to add agents to your list while keeping updated on the query as the days pass. It shows when certain agents are closed to queries, and will even show the success and failure rate of other writers querying their work. 

3.) research:

I don't know what I would've done without Manuscript Wish List: both the website and the hashtag. Many of the agents I've submitted to have been ones I found using #MSWL on Twitter. Here agents will tweet about their must have books, and I found many tweets, which seemed to correlate with what I was writing. By using the website Manuscript Wish List, writers can either search certain agents or just go through the alphabetical directory to find specific information based on what agents may or may not be looking for, what genres they represent, and how to query them. It is a great resource, which can help writers personalize their queries to agents. 

For those non-writers who've been following along on my journey, I hope my time into the trenches has taught you just a snippet about the arduous process of traditional publishing, and I hope it helps you understand the magic and madness of being a writer. 

And for those of you struggling through writing your queries, I suggest using Writer's Digest Successful Queries series to help you write a letter that will stand out from the slush pile. But for any of this to happen, you need to finish that book. So finish it! Stop waiting to be ready, because as Lemony Snicket says:

"If we wait until we're ready, we'll be waiting for the rest of our lives."

To all you readers who are also writers, I believe in you. I believe you can do this, and I can't wait to read your books someday. And I can't wait for you to read mine! Until then...

Out Of the Mind; Onto the Page

From the moment I wished the best friend a happy birthday today, I knew I would write about him, amongst other writerly things. You see, reader, the best friend is sometimes a writer, and sometimes he's my editor, too. We have a great working relationship because we have a best friendship, which has lasted eleven years now. And the wonderful thing about this best friend is the way he continues to inspire and motivate me and my writing. He is adventurous, brave and kind, quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and filled with more humor than I'll ever possess; he's my spirit animal. 

 

Earlier this year, I wrote a stream-of-consciousness story for One For One Thousand entitled, "Twentysomething", and you can read that story HERE. After reading this piece about Snapple and bus rides, the best friend suggested we each send an SOC every day consisting of a minimum of 200 words. We started off really well. Some pieces were short, and others were longer. Life got in the way, as life often does, and we no longer send an SOC every day. But we are still writing them. And two days ago we had hours worth of texts that were only SOC bits, which have crafted a kind of story we might finish someday. Someday. Maybe. 

As usual, I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with my writing journey. You see, in grad school, I always loved the pressure of a timed writing session. Don't ask me why, because I'm still trying to answer that question. When I look back, I think, perhaps, the timed sessions allowed me to think of only the work at hand, to keep myself out of my own head, and to write for the sake of writing. All those times produced poignant writing (just ask my MFAmily), and all those times were stream-of-consciousness. For those who don't quite know what I'm talking about when I say SOC, it's the kind of writing, which happens when you write and write and write without stopping, without rereading, without thinking ahead of the word or the sentence you're completing. Sometimes this kind of writing produces gibberish, and sometimes it captures magic. I've found this to be true the past few months as the best friend and I have traded these small stories back and forth. 

One of my favorite SOCs happened after reading the best friend's at 3am before falling back to sleep.

The words of his writing became enmeshed in my dream, and when I woke, I started a response based on that dream. When I sent mine, the best friend couldn't believe I'd written it half-asleep at 4am, and because of its potency and poetic perfection, I have a hard time believing it, too. Because there are days when the writing is grueling. It feels forced. My elbow aches as I type and delete and retype. And then there are small moments like the aforementioned where I know I'm a writer. I think people like myself who produce whole words from nothing, we need those magical and mystical times to get through the hard days. 

So what has stream-of-consciousness continued to do for me, and what can it do for you?

Well, in the former aspect, I have found a voice clear from outside influence, and a sharpness I so love. Many of my poems I've since submitted for possible publication have come from these moments of SOC. And I know these strange writing prompts keep the best friend and I connected though we live hours away. In his writing, there are knockout lines, which take my breath, and hold me hostage for a moment or more. That's something about us writers; we appreciate the power of poignant writing. And I am constantly reminded of the best friend's goodness. Last year I quoted lines from "For Good," on his birthday, and this year I'm further convinced of our truth in that song. I know how lucky I am to have the gift of writing, but what's more, to have my person. He is a fierce friend, a ferocious wanderer who often wishes to bring me some of the joy he finds in the unknown. He's a Leo--through and through. And I appreciate him every day, but especially today as he finds the other side of 25. 

Now in the latter aspect of stream-of-consciousness writing, I hope you find your fears and your passions brought out on the page. Even for you non-writers out there, I think the act of unspooling yourself in words can be cathartic and help you discover hidden truths you didn't know existed within you.

I've been playing around with this idea of truth lately in my poetry and the collection I'm building from therein, and in doing so, I've been trying to be more honest with others and myself. I guess, in that respect, I am a Cancer--through and through. But whether you tend to bottle up emotion, wallowing in the ephemeral beauty of denial, or even hate the idea of writing, the benefits of stream-of-consciousness might be your new found best friend. All you have to do is put pen to paper, and let the words flow. 

Ready?  Set.  Go.

It Takes a Kingdom

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that it takes a village to raise a child, but I promise you, it takes a kingdom to raise a book. Now I've written here many times that I *finished* my novel. And I'm not going to say that any of those parts of my journey were not exciting, because they were. But I'm here to say I *actually* have a finished novel. My novel.

How do I know this is THE completed draft?

After sending the document to my Kindle, (which not only worked as an extra editing technique, but also made my book seem real) I read and read and didn't have anything more to add.

Now I'm not going to say I didn't find any stupid mistakes, though, after all this time, I was hoping the writing would be perfect. Oh, what a fool I still am sometimes! But what I did discover is that this feels and reads like a real book. And I had a thought of, "wow, I wrote this. I actually write THIS book." I'm not only proud of all I've accomplished, but I'm proud of the writing, the story, and the actual book. 

Maybe you're wondering what this has to do with my journey as a writer, and the journey of this book, so I'll tell you. It takes real commitment and courage, not just creativity to write a book. And sometimes I forget that a non-writer might not understand what this experience is like from day to day to month to year. It took someone talking about "real" jobs and expectations and frankly, not understanding anything I do, to prove my own resilience and my own determination to make the dream of publishing this book a reality.

Now I'm used to rejection. Really, I am. But these words from someone I love and respect hurt more than I thought. I went back to my computer that night, and reread my words. I typed END OF BOOK ONE, and I sent the draft to be spiral bound for someone else to read. And at that point, I knew the support I gave myself was enough. 

The next day, however, I posted a picture of my book on my Kindle. I didn't want to forget the excitement of reading this straight through for the first time without a red pen. It was just me and my characters and the words I'd so lovingly crafted and killed and reconfigured to be the best they could be to tell this story.

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My aunt was the first to comment on the post. She'd volunteered to read the pages that night even though she's not much of a reader, and the gesture was so heartwarming because she's been with me on this journey for the past three years. She was there to road trip for residencies in New Hampshire. She's listened to me prattle on about possible plot points, and she even brought champagne when I finished my final chapter a few months ago. She's amazing.

And then a childhood friend (Jess, I'm talking about you!) wanted to read the pages. And then my cousin (Lindsey--this is you!) also wanted to read. And all at once, the people with whom I'd found a real kinship in grad school started volunteering to beta read my book. One even wanted to see a chapter from a peer workshop, which still exists, but is much better now. And she reminded me of my army of supporters, my kingdom of people willing to love this book, to love me and my writing; they believe this will be published someday. 

Before this day, however, I had other support, too. My mentor from grad school had already helped with my query letter. She is amazing, and she is the reason this book is what it is today. The best friend called and talked for a few minutes and helped me see how Chapter Seven could be better, and now it is. My other two best friends from grad school (Erin & Alicia, this means you!) have the pages and they, too, have been my strength through these many months, nay years, of writing this book.

I have my mom who taught me to be a reader first and who's let me be the person I needed to be to write this book. And there are others, too, who I knew would read this, including friends who are more like family (Amanda Maher, I'm talking about you!), and people who I've never met who remind me that my story idea is intriguing and as someone said, "impressive." Then there are the wonderful members of my 1:1000 family who will be reading this in their own time, and who continue to cheer me on from different states and countries and time zones! 

But my people, my tribe from grad school (Mell & Erika & Meg & Amanda) were the people who reminded me it takes more than a village to raise a book. It takes a whole fucking kingdom. And their support means the world to me. 

Now this wasn't the post I was planning for this week, but I never want to forget the way it feels to be loved and appreciated and uplifted from the brutality of rejections and revisions and editing to this feeling of absolute belief that I can do this!

And I can. 

I believed it so long ago, and now I'm making it happen with the support of my kingdom of writers and readers and kind souls who are here to raise this project to be a real book you might get to read someday. All that's left is to finish the synopsis (insert dread), revise the query letter one more time, and then throw myself into the query trenches. Until then...

Enemies Of the Every Day

As a writer, and as a person, I grapple with self-doubt, as I'm sure is true for many of you. But Sylvia Plath reminds me to move past this enemy I face every day to find the words, which want to be written. One of the ways I've been tackling my own self-doubt as a writer has been to find my way back to poetry. And the Plath Poetry Project has helped me do just that!

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My calling to be a writer did not begin with fiction (unless you count that story from second grade about a turtle becoming king, or the other more fantastical tales I signed in crayon), but instead, began with poetry. I can still recite my first limerick I crafted, and still remember the moment I felt like a real poet.

In middle school, the mother of a childhood friend who lived at the end of my street was killed in a car accident, and the only way I could think to process the news was to write a poem. Now many might think the moment this poem was published was the time I felt like a real writer, and maybe for some the validation of seeing their words in print is that moment. I know all these years later the first time I did see my words published by an online magazine that, yes, it was an incredible feeling.

But the moment when I realized my words could help someone other than myself, is the moment I felt called to the page. That same childhood friend read the poem I'd written at her mother's funeral. I still remember the sound of my words from her mouth, voice so small; too young to have had to deal with such a thing. 

Now fast forward. I am a writer. And while I love writing, really I do, there are some days, which are difficult. There are moments when the creativity isn't there, when the excitement is just out of reach; the times of day when I stare in front of a blank page hoping something will happen. And if I'm being honest, these are the days, which scare me the most. These are the days when I wonder if I am really a writer. For those non-writerly folk out there, this might seem completely nonsensical, and I assure you, it is, but I'm not sure how quite to explain where the writing comes from.

Alas, I digress.

It is in these times when I feel self-doubt more than anything else, which never makes the writing any easier. Sometimes our own self-doubts outweigh our self-worth, but still, we must continue onward. 

While I mentioned writing poetry in middle school, I must also admit I wrote many a melancholic poem in high school as well. When I took Experimental Writing for the first time, however, I abandoned poetry for a new love of fiction! I started a book, which I am still working on today, some eight years later, and I started another book, which I refuse to ever look at again. And sure there were some poems here and there. I took a poetry class in my undergrad. I discovered that I am a writer who cannot resist the trappings of lyrical language. Through all of this, I never felt like a poet, not the way I had all those years before. I didn't feel like I had found my voice as a poet like I had in writing fiction. 

The Plath Poetry Project, however, helped me find my way back to poetry. It helped me find my voice. I've been following along with this writing challenge since April and have completed twelve poems in the past few months. My poem, "Sacrament," was featured in the first retrospective of this project, and you can read that work HERE.

Now you might be wondering what this Plath Poetry Project is all about. The home page asks:

"What is the relationship between discipline, inspiration, and external pressures?"

The project serves to help writers answer this question. By following the writing Plath produced in her last year of life, I have been writing a poem (sometimes more than one) each day Sylvia wrote a poem, taking inspiration from the work she created. Not only has this project helped me feel closer to one of my favorite writers, it also brought me back to poetry. It helped me cultivate a pamphlet of poems, which has since been submitted for a contest, so keep your fingers crossed for me! 

Two nights ago, I finished my latest poem for this challenge, and I was reminded that self-doubt is indeed the worst enemy to creativity. Since I've stopped doubting my ability to write poetry, to have a unique voice, to actually sit and write, I have felt more creative. And on the days when the words aren't quite there, I still find myself drifting toward a line or two that might grow to be something more.  

I am hoping when I check back in at the end of this project that I can say I successfully wrote all 67 poems, just as Plath did in her last year of life. I find myself wondering more and more what kind of work we might've had from Sylvia today. But the thought is wishful thinking. It comes and goes. I open up to a blank page, and I wonder, and I write. 

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Do Better

It's the eve of my 25th birthday, and I've felt so much building to this point; the quarter life crisis, the paralysis of this place in my life, etc. I don't have a name for it, though I named a story with a similar sensibility, "Twentysomething,"  because that felt most true. 

Here's the thing: I think it's difficult talking about the trying times in our lives when we're in the trenches. In retrospect, they seem easier, maybe even manageable, because we've already made our way through them. But in the moment, the dark days seem darker, and the world seems scary.

I could tell you about the months of feeling incomplete and nowhere near enough of the person I used to be. I could tell you a story about moving an hour away from my hometown and living out of boxes for a month. But what I want you to remember is not so much that I lived in a mess, but that I was a mess. I found myself feeling bitter, not better. Now, I feel like life is too difficult some days to not be on the verge of greatness.  And there is the moment before coffee when the world still feels impossible, but I face it; I'm stubborn I suppose. 

I was recently told that maybe, it was time to give up on my dream. It was in the moment, but still the words existed. They were real. And if I were someone else, maybe I'd have listened. But like I said, I'm stubborn. I'm a dreamer. I'm a writer.

But you know this. There are certain things you know from this blog, and other things you'll never know. I'm hoping to share more of the unknown with all of you. 

I'm going back to my weekly posting schedule to keep the moments of this journey clear, and here's what you can expect in the posts to come:

1.) Stream-of-consciousness writing, and how it's helped me find consistency

2.) Writing along with the Plath Poetry Project

3.) Completing my first poetry collection

4.) Tour of the writing cave

5.) Querying process

6.) And more!

So. Much. More.

There are too many things I want from this life. I want work I love, and I want my words to find their place in the universe. I want to read a book and love it. I want to love reading again. I want to love the days while they're happening. I want to find happiness. 

And there are too many words, and not enough time; the minutes move by, and I'm almost 25. 

One thing I know for sure: I used to believe in putting good into the universe. But maybe it's just giving good to yourself.

So be good to yourselves. 

Be messy.

Be kinder. 

Be better.

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Finis

This time last week, I was handing over the *finished* draft of my manuscript to the best friend. I had spent the days leading up to that moment inputing the last of my hard-copy edits, and writing a few new chapters to fill remaining holes in the narrative. The process was extensive, and without the best friend's looming departure back to NYC, I'm not sure I would've finished in time. Since writing "End of Book One" two months ago, I have been editing and polishing words I'd already written. And I'm not sure the act of revision will ever not seem strange.

I wrote the last words. I printed the draft. I even added a faux cover just to make it seem a bit more official. And with the pages in the envelope, I had an overwhelming sense of excitement and terror. Now I know the best friend will be honest and will read these pages with care. He has been my editor since the moment I started writing. He was the first person to read my first book all those years before. He read this book back when it was only 100 pages of my thesis, which needed to be edited overnight. And now I am excited for him to read where I've taken this book, and also terrified that it won't live up to the years of work I've already put into the writing. But I suppose being a writer is like that most days; always teetering between fear and fragility and obsession and love. Or at least that has been my experience with writing. 

This same day, the lovely ladies at Hooked to Books sent me the loveliest of gifts; a signature pen, which this writer will put to good use. And it felt like a sign that I was really done. The kindness was too much. Too often, as writers, we do the work alone, and we forget there are other people in the world. But this gesture reminded me that there is support beyond the writing and the world crafted in the mind and put down on the page. 

Maybe this doesn't feel noteworthy, or rather, blogworthy to those reading from a different time or place. But as I compile names of possible agents and rework the synopsis and try to craft a query letter that will stand out amidst the slush pile, I'm not sure I want to forget any part of this process, which is why I am committing it to the memory of this blog. 

I've since sent the manuscript to my two other best friends, and I know they, too, will handle this work with care. They will also be honest and critical and everything else we were taught to be in our time in the MFA. They understand the work and edits and the writing better than most. They are my people. They once again reminded me that this process doesn't have to swallow me up alone. 

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The Careful Undressing of Curses

Corey Ann Haydu's newest novel, The Careful Undressing of Love, offers an interesting premise: the girls of Devonairre Street are cursed. Any boy they love is destined to die. We are introduced to Lorna, one of the Devonairre Street girls for whom this curse is part of every day life. And to make matters in this book even more complicated and intriguing, these girls live in an alternate version of the Brooklyn we know. 

Haydu gives us a world in which Times Square was bombed in 2001, the Twin Towers still stand, and the world crumbles and rebuilds in much the same way our world has in the aftermath of 9/11. This works as a significant underlying disturbance to the other moving pieces within this novel, and is handled with the understanding that one event has the power to incite change. As someone who was young when the Twin Towers fell, I've had to live through such changes; our world is also one which exists in the after.

Instead of studying the who and the why of such events in a history book, Haydu's characters must study the history of those "Affected." This small change to the realities of our world depicts a poignant look at history, and a way to further alienate the main protagonist, Lorna, as she deals with the death of her father from the tragic bombings. She must live with the notion that she is now one of the Affected, whom people study and memorize and remember. Such is a difficult idea to live with in a world where devastation is commonplace, where lemons are used to handle grief, and where tea is to be consumed with more honey than anything else. But even those things can't keep bad things from entering the lives of those who live on Devonaire Street. After all:

 "we can't stop the world from happening."

Haydu's literary realm is an odd world that is not quite magical realism, but which exists with a touch of those elements. While the premise is enough to intrigue any reader, the world building is rich, and real enough to feel like home. Haydu's characters are flawed and flirt wth the idea of love despite the fact that any boy a Devonairre Street girl falls in love with is then fated to die. It happened to Lorna's father, and her best friend's dad, and her other friends as well. Death has taken husbands and boyfriends, etc. But the curse doesn't feel real to the girls growing up in a world of after until a local love and friend to all on Devonairre Street is killed.

The reality of the curse seems justified. 

And still Lorna doesn't believe. Lorna doesn't want to believe. She has her garden and her mother and her friends and her boyfriend who she-doesn't-love-but-maybe-sort-of-could-love. It is all complicated in the best way. And through all of the many complications within the outside forces, i.e. the curse and the bombings, there are still the complications of the human heart. Most profoundly, Haydu writes:

"Maybe you never know if you're in love or not...Maybe no one knows, and we all wander around talking about it like it's something tangible and knowable, but actually we're all full of it. Maybe even the people who say they're in love are wondering is this what they meant?"

 

While Haydu writes with this same kind of philosophical musings in her characater, Lorna, this style never feels out of place. The Careful Undressing of Love is a literary YA novel with a lyrical language, which puts many adult works of fiction to shame. There is an essence of wondering about life and the world and love that we have all felt within our youths, which, perhaps, carry into the people we become as adults. Because there is such a lush and luxurious writing style within this novel, this will appeal to both young adult audiences and those older. After all, the best books in the world have been written about death and love and this book combines both aspects of life with a devastating sense of wisdom that only comes from losing those we most love. 

And then there are the girls (and boy, they are LornaCruzCharlotteDelilahIsla), and they offer the best that an ensemble cast of characters can: variety, authenticity, and more truth than can be handled in one sitting.

While I easily could have finished this book in one night, it was the kind of novel that I wanted to savor for fear that another of its kind won't reappear any time soon.

Then there are the mothers of these girls and the mother to them all, Angelika, who keeps the rules of Devonairre Street so they may never forget the men and the love and the curse that tears both things from them in time.

There are the rules: honey cake and shared birthdays and long hair and honey in lavender tea, gardens and benches and lemon trees. Lemons for grieving and wool to keep out heartbreak and love and loss. Skeleton key necklaces provide them with literal keys when they can't seem to find the key to the curse. They can't seem to break the cyclical nature of love and death and dying and loss and mourning the love. Though they try to fill those spaces with donuts for anniversaries and red and white braided bracelets,  whiskey and wine, music and memories and pictures; all the items they must keep for fear they might forget. It is enough to make one's head spin, but which Haydu writes into perfect clarity. Of course wool must be worn to funerals, and of course lemons must be offered to those suffering a doomed and damaged heart.

Then there are lines that break hearts beyond the page:

 "There is a quietness that is quieter than other silences. There is a line between what feels crazy and what feels acceptable, and when it's blurry, the world is a scarier place. There is a time of night when you haven't slept and anything seems possible. There is a kind of sadness that feels so heavy and tight that you would do absolutely anything to not carry it anymore."

 

Much of the book is composed of soul-searing prose that is so beautiful it has the power to break the reader. And there is more to learn about Lorna and the Devonairre Street girls between the pages of Corey Ann Haydu's newest novel, The Careful Undressing of Love

Writing this review, I'm listening to Lana Del Rey's song This Is What Makes Us Girls because it puts me back into Haydu's world of curses and love and loss.

At times heartbreaking and inspiring, this brilliant novel is sure to keep readers thinking about the cursed girls of Devonairre Street long after the story is finished. 

Birthday Letter

Dear Sylvia,

Your once beloved beau wrote a final collection entitled Birthday Letters that I have yet to read. But I read that today it is your birthday, (though it is actually October 27th) and I might never read those poems because I didn't love Crow the way I wanted to, and I suppose this is because your voice, your poetry, has already possessed me. 

Though you're gone, I said a small, "Happy Birthday," just because. But this wasn't enough, because you were a poet and I am writer and I think it is only in the written word that you will feel the sentiments of that birthday wish. 

And I wonder what you might've written had you found a way to bottle your illness long enough to make it to today's medicine. I would say today's understanding, but such a thing doesn't seem to exist now. And I wonder if you would've marched last Saturday, the taste of disgust like the bitterness of pills left on the tongue too long without water to ease them down. Would you have plastered a poster with images of bees because your father was Otto, King of the Bees, and he'd taught you long ago that the Queen was meant to be more? More than rights stripped away and choices provided by men who will never know what it is like to feel the moon of a womb or the wane of loss. Would you sit at your computer and vomit a compendium of poetry about the plight of womanhood amidst today's technology and jarring juxtaposition between all we have accomplished and all we choose to forget?

I've wondered a great many things about you. 

Sometimes, I think I feel your darkness. And maybe it isn't mine to claim, though that sort of depressive darkening runs in my blood from a paternal place. Maybe this is the same darkness, which ran in your veins, like ink that takes more than just black to be created; you add the blues and the purples, the bruises no one will ever see because all they know is black and white. Maybe that substance, whatever you'd like to call it now, floats in the ether of creation before making us into these people, these writers of words and dreams and draconian dependencies that keep us chained to the pen and the promise of splitting our souls for others. Sometimes we call it love or burden or beauty or art. 

Oh, Sylvia, I want to open to the pages I've annotated with my own thoughts, but I've left your work at home in exchange for a new novel, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, and a book of poetry called Beautiful Zero. And I never thought I would miss your collections so much because they have been too many places with me. 

You do not come to people lightly. It is full on obsession and love because there is something within you that we understand. When you took your life, maybe you erupted into particles reincarnated within us all. 

I remember that one poem you wrote, and imagine the people around you as the thoughts filtered in.

I remember my poetry professor from my undergrad who never talked about you, and I wonder why. Because he talked about Dickinson and Pound and recited the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and he brought the works of Spicer into my life, and Spicer wrote about Lorca and Alice, but never about you. But you were there in that collection from the Strand, and the dolphin seemed to resurrect you in writing, and you were there in The History of the Unmarried, and I cried a little at the idea of death in that one poem because Mills is scared of the way it might separate him and his love and their love seems more understandable because he writes about movie theaters and Gap sweaters. And maybe I don't want to understand you and Ted because I don't want to see myself in you. And Ted. And the way that one writer broke my heart with the things he'd text and the way he understood my madness and my mind until one day he didn't. We didn't. We never will, and the what if is poetry he will never understand.

There was another poetry professor I had, and he, too, left you off the syllabus because, maybe, you were too much woman for him to handle amidst the poems of woods and nature that bowed down to men and ignored the sacrifice of Mother Earth. And that same professor had a bit of an accent, and he asked us every class what we had observed that day. He was trying to make us better writers. Better poets.

And here is what I've observed from my seat on this train: the sound of the cards on the table and the love in the sound of the father's voice. (I remember a similar sound, but I don't.) (Not quite.) The young girl sings. I don’t know the song, but the music sounds like the in-between of childhood and adulthood; something she will hear in the car twenty years from now making her remember this trip to NYC with her father. He sings with her, both so off key that the moment becomes perfect in the imperfection.

I think that is what you would write about today if you were here; perfect must be flawed or else our eyes would be burned by the sight of the godliness. The sacrament of a song that is not real could be Holy under the right circumstances. And maybe you would write a poem in which this father tells his girl that she is enough, because she is. Explanation drives the narrative.

Maybe he will discuss the female circumstance of having a voice and not using it, because his wife grew up in a traditional household, and maybe she voted for he who must not be named, but the father doesn't hate her. He can't hate her. But he can't understand her either. And maybe he won't say this to his daughter, because maybe, it is about the things we say and the things we don't. 

When the girl frowns at her thin arms, and the way she can't lift her suitcase into the overhead compartment, admitting this makes her feel weak, the father will explain that being slight is nothing she can control, but that one day she might be filled with enough power to paper her walls in poetry. And dreams. Because in the end those are the same thing. And he will smile at the way she sings her own song because that means she is enough. 

You were enough, Sylvia.

Enough for all of us who read your words. Enough for yourself. And your poetry exists as a reminder of the way "Lady Lazarus" and "Ariel" broke through the barriers to be a force, not a frailty.

In these tumultuous days, with grey skies overhead that look too much like nature in mourning, your brashness is something to bring us back to bone, to remind us we are strong. And maybe they would call you nasty, tweet at you with little regard for the things you've endured. And maybe some would just say, "Happy Birthday." I can only leave these possibilities as wonderings in a post you will never get to read. 

Be Better

I was meant to write a post with a similar title just after the new year. But alas, life has already gotten in the way. The post I'd planned to pen had to do with hope and belief and the word better.

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You see, for the past two years, I've chosen a word instead of a list of resolutions. The new year hasn't been about changing myself, but rather, my outlook. And this year, I chose the word better because it has such a prominent place within BOOK ONE of my Dreamer Duology. 

That post was delayed because I finally finished the novel! And I wasn't sure I would return to this word or this post until the moment I opened my journal to a bee sketch from two weeks ago.

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I am writing this now from the same chair at the same Starbucks where I completed this novel exactly two weeks ago. Two and half years after I began this strange story for graduate school, I completed the chapters, and wrote the words: END OF BOOK ONE, which have been four of my favorite words written the past month. 

So I finished my novel. 

You might be wondering what happens next, or maybe you are some future version of me returning to this post to remember what it felt like to have this story as only your own (hi, future Kayla). 

For the past two weeks I've been editing, which has meant red pens and reading whenever I can find the time. These edits were done long hand on a printed version of the manuscript. Now I am putting the edits back into the document. It's a rather arduous task, but one that is necessary to my process. 

When this is complete (and I can read this story throughout without an eye twitch from stupid mistakes and plot holes and syntax and character arcs and motivations and everything that culminates in the magic of storytelling) I will send this off and away to New York City so that the best friend can read this whole thing through. And I'll share with a few others who I trust with this story. 

While they read, I might finally tackle that TBR pile that has grown too precarious in the past two and a half years since I started this story. But I will also be researching agents that are looking for a story like mine. I will write the much dreaded query letter. And then I will take the next step. I will send the novel out into the world, and see where my words take me. 

But for now, the scent of fresh ground coffee smells like possibility and endings, because when I took that deep breath after finishing this book, coffee was all I could smell. 

And now, maybe, you're left wondering about that bee sketch. I can tell you honey bees play a prominent part in my novel, as do many other things. I can tell you I wrote the last chapter of this novel to Amber Run's new single, Fickle Game, and that the middle was produced with the Strumbellas in my ears and wine in my veins. I can tell you I cried writing a chapter and cried when I wrote the last chapter. But I don't want to tell you too much about this novel, because I am hoping you will get to read it someday.

While the following quote is spoken by my wonderfully broken protagonist, it was written by me, and I suppose there must be some truth in such a sentiment:

 "I’ve always been wonderful at writing endings, but have never been good at goodbyes."

Though the ending to this book was much more difficult to write than any other I've written before, it is true that I've never been good at goodbyes. I can't imagine what it will be like when BOOK TWO  in this duology is written and comes to a close, when I have to leave my world of dreamers behind in exchange for new characters and new worlds and new words. But for now, the journey persists, and the writing persists. 

And through the possibility of perseverance I will be better. 

I hope you will, too. 

The Edge of Something Real

Tina Sears' debut novel, The River's Edge, is the kind of story that will bring readers to the edge of something real. Following the protagonist, Chris Morgan, during the summer of 1976, this novel is at times bright with the beauty of first love, friendship, and family, while maintaining a sense of secretive danger, which is compelling. 

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While the beginning of the novel introduces young adult readers to a time they may not know, Sears has painted such a realistic picture of summer in the 70s that may juxtapose the experiences of readers. But through these differences of time and place there is still the beautiful, but untouchable mean girl (Julie), the sweet boy next door (Reds), and a cast of other characters who offer a sense of escape for Chris as the summer carries on. Stakes are set high, because Chris must hide a dangerous secret from both family and friends. 

Tina Sears brings readers to the edge of childhood innocence and takes them across the line into the brutality of sexual assault. Such is handled with tact and care. In the vein of Ellen Hopkins, this debut author tackles topics which (still) too often appear as taboo within the YA literary world. Sears is unafraid to show the monsters in real life, but does so with careful consideration for her main character, Chris. This is not the kind of book that is gratuitous by any means, yet it shows just enough of the disturbing side of family secrets and sexual assault to convince the reader that Chris's fear is justified throughout the story. 

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Life continues on even as tragedy happens, just as it does in the real world beyond these pages. Chris's parents are struggling with the idea of divorce back home, her mother on the verge of her own darkness and depression. And then there is Reds, who is such a welcomed breath of innocence in a story that loses such to the act of violence. 

Throughout this summer of dance marathons and underage drinking, falling in love, and drowning in darkness, there is the river. The unpredictable way it flows forward, waters raging, serves as a sort of metaphor within the story. Chris's life becomes unpredictable, her own self raging at the fact that something has been stolen by someone she trusts. And we learn what has been taken can't be given back.

Despite the realization of what sexual assault takes from a person, especially one so young, there is also the revelation that there is bravery in overcoming such scars:

"We all have our scars to carry with us. Scars are a sign of bravery."

Throughout the course of this stark and authentic narration told from Chris's first person point of view, the reader grows closer to the urgency and terror that she feels, which only pushes the story forward at a fast-paced speed. While the content may disturb, readers will need to know that Chris is going to be okay. 

This is the kind of novel that offers an extra element of poignancy because of the times in which it is told. Without cell phones and other such technology there is the added element of isolation that takes Chris on the path to awakening. Such seems to be understood by the author and used as a tool to bring a story of this caliber to light. 

Perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins, this novel is one filled with sweetness and sensibility, terror, truth, and above all else, bravery, and love. Chris is the kind of character who can help victims of similar situations to feel connected, while also bringing empathy to readers who may not understand such horrors.

The River's Edge is a haunting novel, which resonates long after the last page. Tina Sears is an author to watch in the future for further works that will contribute the same catharsis to our ever-darkening world. 

All best,Kayla King.png

Haunted

I'm not sure I've put much thought into the things that haunt me. Too often, these things appear in my writing as if by chance, or perhaps fate, if you're so inclined to believe in such a thing. I'm sure it has more to do with the fact that the written word has always been easier for me than anything else. I look at the stories we all have to tell and often wonder what separates writers from other people.

Maybe this is because I am a writer. 

Two weeks from today will mark the twenty-eighth anniversary of the day my maternal grandmother was shot and left for dead. In what has come to be known as a warning tale for other relators and an end to realtor safety in our small town, is something that is more than just a tale told to pass the time. This is my history. This is my real life. 

This year, my grandmother's attacker, E. Beauford Cutner, is up for parole, and this fact not only terrifies her, but our entire family. While discussing petitions and reasons for why this criminal should not be granted the freedom he tried to take from my grandma all those years before, she marveled at the way I was able to explain my frustration and anguish over what is happening. And I know that the words I spoke were easier for me to speak to her than anyone else. I know she wishes I could write her story as it really happened, and while I'm no genie nor djinn, I would like to grant her such a wish. But I'm not sure she realizes her story, the amazing, resilient person she has become, is already there in my writing. 

I know it's not the same as writing a biography based on her bravery. While I would describe myself as a fiction writer, I find my own anguish and obsessions within my fiction. There is an essence of myself on every page because I am the writer and the creator and though I am not the characters, they are part of me. 

Within the DREAMER DUOLOGY, my current WIP, I am trying to figure out what happens to a world when safety is obliterated, when fear sets in, when lives are at stake.

I look back at the way my family survived my grandma's attack along with her; rebuilding the people they were to become the guardians and healers and protectors they needed to be: for themselves, for their children. I grew up in a house that valued text messages and phone calls to relay locations and destinations because my mother wanted us all to be safe. And I'm sure many parents would be the same way, but for us, it feels like we know evil exists in the world, and so, we all must be guarded against such things and persons. 

Now this kind of conscientious life has allowed me to create a character traversing a dangerous landscape. And there is a violent act that mirrors my own thoughts about what happened to my grandmother all those years ago. Though I was not yet born, the stories of this have been relinquished, and to me, sometimes, the stories mean more because that is a language I speak well. 

Helping my grandma organize her thoughts for her victim letter, which she will be presenting to the parole board soon, made me see that much of what she has to discuss is the idea of the unknown, the fear of the the what if; too many possibilities to name. And I realized that all writing deals with the unknown.

Writers take a blank page and fill it, often before they know what needs to be there to make the story feel right or perfect, which any writer will tell you never happens upon first draft. If anything, the what if is a feeling, a need to figure things out, and I know for me and my family, we are hoping to figure out what life will be like if this man does gain parole. 

Fortunately, we have time on our side. And I have my words to help me figure this all out. I am called to the page, much like other people are called to protect or to heal or to lead.

Writing is my life. 

My family is my life.

When I think about the way E. Beauford Cutner shot my grandma three times, in the head and the neck, leaving her for dead; the moment in which I might never have had the chance to meet this wonderul woman, I am haunted by what could have been. 

Like any writer, I am haunted by stories.

I am leaving this here as a way to explain to my grandmother, and maybe, even you, for not being able to write her story the way it deserves to be told. It is something I can't forget, something I can't fathom.

Too often, I think the difficult things fossilize within us until they're ready to escape. For now I hope the words I've taken from her experience, this unending work ethic she's given me, the times I've pondered the meaning of saftey and fear and fate, will all help me finish my novel. 

 

* 2018 update: E. Beauford Cutner is once again up for parole.

Please help us to keep this man where he belongs by signing our petiton HERE!

All best,Kayla King.png

Fangirling Over Fangirl

I just finished Rainbow Rowell's young adult novel, Fangirl, and I'm so sad it's over. Reading this book was like finding a piece of sea glass on the beach when you're not looking, like wishing on a fuzzy dandelion and having your wish come true. It was completely unexpected, but so rewarding in the end. Picking up this book, I knew it would be good; I'd already madly in love with Eleanor and Park when I read it back in January.

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There was something about Cath, Wren, Reagan, and Levi, which made them seem so real despite the fact that they are just characters in a book. They are flawed, imperfect, and speak their minds honestly. And for the short time I spent with them in this fictional world, they were like my best friends. I connected with Cath as a writer and lover of a fandom, which many people often snub. But luckily, like Cath, I've found friends who support my love of all things nerdy. I have family to supports me, too, and a love for the stories I've read, and the stories in my head. 

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I can't wait to go back and read this lovely piece of YA lit. again, but I'm also saddened because I'll never have the unknowingness the next time around. There is something so perfect and magical about reading a really good book for the first time. But there's also something wonderful about reading your favorite book again and again because you never read it the same way, even if the book doesn't change. You're the one who's changed. And because you've changed, there are certain lines you pay more attention to, which make you smile a little brighter, phrases to break your heart, and scenes that still make you cry. 

I think that's the beauty of all books. Having the ability to go back and spend time with some of your favorite people in worlds you enjoy is important to stay positive, to have faith in this world when bad things happen. And for me, it's even more important because it shows words and stories are still important, making me believe my words and my stories are important. too. And I can't wait to share them with the world. But until then, I think I'm going to fall into fictional place I love!

Waves. Words. Writing.

Leading up to leaving for Myrtle Beach a few days ago, I tried to get all of my work done so I wouldn't have anything to do while on vacation. I succeeded for the most part. And even though I finished my current submission for grad school, I felt words building within me today as I walked down the beach. It was beautiful; calm. The only sounds were the gulls and the waves lapping at the shore. Even with all of the white noise, my brain seemed loud. Not with worries, nor mindless prattle, but rather lines for stories and poems.

 

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I suppose Eugene Ionesco was right. I guess a writer never really has a vacation. And I know that even when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing. I guess that just makes me a writer.

It's so easy sometimes to get caught up in all of the stress and deadlines, which go along with writing in grad school. But then there are days when the words are just there, when the story is so deep it might as well be 20,000 leagues beneath the sea. And I understand why people talk about the mystery and vastness of the ocean sometimes. Looking at the tumbling topaz waves makes me believe in the possibility of life, in the possibility of things, which seem impossible in the world. I suppose that's what I'm trying to find in myself, and in my writing. So for right now, I'll enjoy these waves, the sound of words in my head, and the feeling that comes with filling a blank page with writing.

All best,Kayla King.png

Finding Strength and a Mighty Pen

It seems it's been more than a month since I've written here, which feels strange. I guess it's not that I didn't have anything to write about. If anything, I've had too many thoughts as of late, and I haven't been sure how to write them. So I kept those thoughts close, guarded like secrets.

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I guess I should start by saying that I completely massacred BOOK ONE, and brought it back to life. At first, it was scary. But then, it wasn't. Tearing apart my own world made it that much easier to rebuild. Maybe it wasn't so bad because I wanted to experiment. Or maybe it's because I've gotten good at rebuilding things. Either way, BOOK ONE is better than I ever could have imagined!

Want to know the best part?

I finally know what it's all about. And not just BOOK ONE. I know the theme for each book AND the series as a whole. When people ask (and they do ask) what it's all about, I can finally explain it without rambling and sounding like I don't actually know the answer. And this realization has helped me put the pieces of this book back together!

Looking back over the past two months, I'm not really sure how I got through them. I guess when we look back at the difficult things in our life we're not sure how we've made it. Maybe we're all stronger than we ever believed. And maybe, all you invisible readers out there don't know why you're so strong. But lucky for me, I do. Every day, I strive to be as strong as my maternal grandmother. She's amazing, which makes it hard to believe anything could ever break her. And I think that's what everyone in my family and community believed, too. And I think we all still believe that even though she's been diagnosed with breast cancer.

I kind of hate that word: cancer. It doesn't even sound good in my mouth. But I guess, if I've learned anything through this, it's that my grandmother IS breakable. We all are. But she has the strength to put herself back together again. I think that's astounding. And even with this diagnosis, she is still the same wonderful person. In trying to wrap my mind around all of this, of course I've been writing about it, even if I haven't been writing about it here. 

Writing is the only thing, which gets me through the ins and outs of life. And I suppose, unknowingly, I started this new, memoir-ish kind of project, but I'm not quite ready to write about that yet, either. I am, however, going to try to keep my updates more frequent, because I wouldn't want to forget any of the crazy, amazing, labor-intensive last months in my first semester at SNHU. I have just two more submissions, and then residency, which I can't wait for! But right now, I must go! I'm leaving for Myrtle Beach tomorrow and have nothing packed.

May my pen be mightier...

All best,Kayla King.png