[In Other Words] Roadblocks and writer’s block

In completely obvious news: writing is hard.

In elaboration of the completely obvious news, part of it is the general paranoia I have of just being one tiny fish in a very big pond.  The ebook market is ridiculously huge right now; I’ve heard statistics along the lines of 10k new things released on KDP in a single day.  And when you hear something like that, it’s a whole lot of good lord how do I even compete? :(

I mean, I have vaguely done it before in a non-pay sort of way; I was never a BNF in fandom, but I had a very nice and very friendly following that helped me feel a lot better about my writing when I was in the young and extremely self-conscious stage of my writer life.  I am super-grateful to those people even now!  But the pond is much bigger now and my personal stakes feel a whole lot higher.

A couple of years ago (more like five or six at this point, sob), I had this epiphany that helped me calm down a great deal about my writing.  When I was much younger and first starting out, I was really extremely invested in validation from my readers.  Even now a nice comment will make my day!  But when I was younger it was a thing; it was a personal issue; it was like if I didn’t get [x] amount of comments, I had totally failed as a writer.  My one consolation is that I never went down the road of holding my writing for ransom, which I have seen happen before (the whole “I want [x] amount of comments before I post the next part!” phenomenon) — no, I just made myself personally very sad, and anyone who was close enough to me to talk to me regularly got the brunt of a lot of that.  I do regret that.

But then, like I said, a few years ago, it was like something just flipped in my brain.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care any more about comments; I still super incredibly appreciate the nice things people have said to me about my writing. I have saved pretty much every single piece of commentary I have gotten, because when I am having a bad day I like to go back and reread them and cheer myself up.  But it no longer became a desperate craving need to get comments; it was simply a feeling of “well, I enjoyed writing this, and I’m glad I did it; I hope you the reader enjoy it too.”

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve come back full circle with my original writing, though — and then I wonder if it’s not that, it’s simply because I care about these characters a lot more than I ever did for the fandoms I wrote for.  I still liked them, I was still invested in their stories, but they were always someone else’s creations, to be given back at the end of the day.  Now that I am regularly writing original fiction, I am infinitely more invested in these characters, and I want them to flourish and I want them to be widespread.  I want them to be read, and I want to find myself another little niche of people whom I can write things for, who will trust when they see my name on something, that it is something I have worked hard on and will be an entertaining story.  Maybe not deep literature, maybe not anything incredibly proud, but an entertaining story that pleased you to read.

I was telling my roommates the other day that I don’t want the money so much (though admittedly it is an extremely nice bonus, and I am incredibly grateful for that) as the readers; I want to be able to reach a wider audience and I want to be able to at least be considered readable and worth the couple of dollars people have to pay for it.  That’s part of why I have tried to archive all of my original fiction from Imaginary Beasts and Shousetsu*Bang Bang; that’s part of why I’d like to write snippets and freewrites for this blog as a regular ongoing thing.  For now, though, I’m working on a much longer story — one that has a bigger scope, world, and cast than I have dealt with in a long time — and part of me is afraid that by taking the time for that (and it could be at least three or four months), I am going to lose what traction I have with the tiny niche of selling I have done now.

On the other hand, I am definitely in for the long haul; I don’t intend to get halfway through and just give up.  At this point, I think this hobby is so ingrained in me that I would go completely stir-crazy without it.  (At the very least, I would drive my roommates up the wall going on about missing it.) If I lose it, I will just try my hardest to build it up again.  And maybe cross my fingers that I’ll just suddenly be able to pour out 5k words a day that are usable and viable and don’t need to be culled on the editing room floor, haha.

(I really want to make it, guys; I really want to just be able to steadily sell and succeed.  Wish me luck.)

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[In Other Words] Social links, level up!

I think ultimately one of my biggest faults is that it’s very easy for me to fall out of touch with things — people, the world, my immediate surroundings.  (I am not actually being facetious when I talk about running into walls.  On one memorable occasion it was a telephone pole.  Ow, by the way.)  It’s really easy for me to get distracted with small things and suddenly weeks later I realize I’ve left something I meant to do fall by the wayside, and there’s no one to blame but myself.  The internet is both really good and really bad for me in that sense; it’s a lot easier to get in touch with people again, but it’s also a lot easier to just get flat-out distracted.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I think about five or six things at a time, but frankly, it only takes two or three before I’m confused, haha.

As I get older (and though I’m in the middle-older range compared to my friends, I actually very rarely feel old; it’s nice) I want to get better at that.  So I’m putting an effort into that, just like I have been with this new attempt at a More Responsible Schedule (today is day five and I’ve done pretty good on all points so far!  I’m proud of me).  I’ve picked up twitter again and will be cross-posting stuff on this blog to my tumblr.  I’m undecided about LJ/DW because that just starts to sound like spamming, but I have to admit, I will miss my icons. (sadface)    I’d like to at least keep posting links to new stuff here, but we’ll have to see how things go.

With that in mind, I am @nekokoban on Twitter, and my tumblr is tumblr incognita. Please feel free to add me or not as you wish!  ♥

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[In Other Words] Progress

On June 1st, I started a novel!

Or at least, it is something I hope will become a novel, and it currently sits at around 15.7k words — there’s been some beginning foreshadowing to the overall plot (and subplots), and establishing the main character and his family (as well as his love interest, let’s be honest), and it still all feels very much like a beginning more than anything else.  It’s the expansion of a Shousetsu Bang*Bang story I wrote yonks ago (August-ish 2011, to be precise!) for the Hot For Teacher issue.  It was called Lessons Learned, which admittedly was not the best title ever, but I find titling a story a whole lot harder than writing it, haha.  At the time I wrote this, I was mostly aiming to fit the criteria for SSB*B, which was that it had to have a minimum wordcount (1500 words) and had to include an explicit sex scene.  I succeeded, obviously, since it made it to the public issue, but at the time I was vaguely dissatisfied because there were a handful of scenes that I had to cut out for lack of time, and also lack of connection to the “payoff,” as it were.

At the heart of the original story is a young noble heir who doesn’t particularly want his position and the weight of expectations on him, and the mysterious and sexy new tutor he picked up.  Originally the main character is twelve when he meets the tutor, though nothing happens until he officially comes of age.  (The nice thing about fantasy worlds is that I can determine the rules of things.  I have issues with the argument of historical accuracy when applied to fantasy fiction, but that’s something for another day.)  Certainly he and his tutor continue their affair, but as the story stands, there were things I wanted to flesh out and explore and a couple of months (at the time, with the writing habits I had) was just not enough to get to where I wanted.  So I cut things and I bandaged the edges and I submitted it.  People responded favorably, for which I was (and still am!) glad, though a few people seemed to pick up on the fact that I had something bigger in mind.  So I thought to myself, just because that part of the story was done didn’t mean I had to be.  I could do something with it!  I could make it into something bigger and bolder and maybe better!  So I wrote myself some notes, the beginning of an outline, and resolved to come back to it.

Fast-forward almost two years, oops.

Winter’s story never really left me for long, though I obviously spent a lot of time dabbling in other places and writing other things, meeting other characters and getting things settled there.  So I resolved to actually do something with my notes this time, and I sat down for my nightly writing session with the ambition of writing the whole story.  At this point there’s not a whole lot that really resembles the initial story — Winter himself is still the same, and so is Frest, but I juggled ages around, I introduced the family members that are far more influential on Winter’s life than his father (which is to say, his mother and his sister) and slipped female characters into the story, which pleased me greatly.  It’s still a love story between a boy and his tutor, but there’s more to it now, and I have my fingers crossed that I’ll really get there.  Maybe even in a two-month time period, as long as I don’t let myself slack off.  Novels are long and intimidating and I am not going to lie and say I’m not daunted, but I’m interested, I’m excited, and I’ve got my fingers crossed. \o/

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[In Other Words] A real adult schedule!!

When I was a kid, I had this idea that creativity was just something that happened to you — you just saw down and there it was, like a wellspring ready to be tapped.  And if it wasn’t there, well, good luck in actually getting anything done.  Somehow I parsed the idea of writing as something that would be easy and fast — I liked to tell stories, after all!  I liked to make things up and be creative and use whatever resources I had to make a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.  And I guess when I was a kid, this was sort of the case; it certainly was easier to write often and write a lot.

Then I hit high school and a lot of academic pressure was on; my parents were pushing me hard to make the Very Very Best Grades I could possibly make, because the family expected me to go to an Ivy League and of course that was going to happen because I was a smart girl!  I could do anything and go anywhere I wanted!*

* I did put my foot down about Ivy Leagues fairly early on.  They’re prestigious and they probably would have looked good on my first resume, but I am also pretty sure I would have exploded from stress before the end of my first year.  Just, blort!  And there’d be no more me, just a vibrating ghost of sheer frustration.

After that, writing became harder to maintain and keep up with.  I sort of got into the swing of things again in college, because I was in a science major and while there were labs to be attended and completed, after my freshman year there was very little in the way of long papers or critical analysis or essays.  The longest paper I ever wrote in college was 10 pages double-spaced for a freshman English course; everything went down from there.  So I had the time to write more, and I did write more, though not nearly as much.  Then I graduated and I began working full time and boy howdy, that was when everything slowed to a grinding halt.  I was still writing, I was still completing things, but it was harder and a lot like pulling teeth.  I’d tell myself it was all right to skip [x] night because I was tired, or [y] day because I had things to do, but in reality, even with the tired and the things to do, there was a lot of free time I was just kind of letting slip by.

I think if I really regret anything, it would be that; I am not the worst at discipline (though neither am I the best), but when I let myself go, I really just sort of let things go.  Now, though, I have goals!  and ambitions! that I would like to see fulfilled, and as much as I thought things would just magically happen as a kid, as an adult (or would-be adult), I find it’s a lot easier and I’m a lot more likely to get things done if I actually schedule my fun time.  I think as a kid I would have protested that; part of me still protests that.  But I average something like six hours between getting home and going to bed, and in that time I usually have to a) feed myself/roommates, b) feed the cat c) make lunch for the next day, d) write e) shower f) other.  I’d like for “other” to include things like doing the dishes so the sink doesn’t become gross and start reading regularly again.

So I have a schedule!  I have a plan!  Today I attempt to begin implementing it!  Wish me luck.

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[In Other Words] Happy Friday!

First and foremost: thank you so much to everyone who took a look at my stuff!  I am extraordinarily grateful and a little overwhelmed that anyone period would take a look, and each and I would hug each and every single one of you if I could.

(Or, you know, if hugging is not your thing, cookies or banana trifle can be offered instead.)

I am very slowly (very slowly) trying to dip my feet into the wider world of publishing, both the self-pubbing thing and looking into smaller presses that are aligned with the sort of thing that I am interested in writing.  It’s really intimidating, frankly, because I am, at my core, a ridiculously shy person.  I don’t know if anyone whom I’m friends with would believe that, but my shyness is the sort that stands there and trumpets loudly in an attempt to distract the audience from shaky foundations with bluster and bravado.  It’s a little different from confidence, because I do think I am a decent writer (though naturally with lots of room to grow and improve), and I do my damn best to make sure a story is readable and entertaining before I put it out there.

But actually selling my efforts — waving the Banner Of Me to catch someone’s attention?  That’s difficult.  I’m the person who would rather keep my mouth shut and smile rather than make someone else feel obligated; I can fake it if I have to, but talking myself up is one of the hardest things I have ever attempted.  I really want very much to be able to reach more people with my writing (because for me, at least, it’s a given that I will continue to do so; after this many years, I think it’s a habit that’s here to stay) — I don’t need or want the glamor, I just want to be able to write stories that are read and enjoyed.  No high literature or deep vast meaning, just an entertaining time and a fond memory in its aftermath.

So once again, thank you to everyone who has read, who has commented or bought or otherwise given me a chance.  I feel extremely lucky, and I hope you’ll keep giving me more chances in the future. ♥

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[In Other Words] New Story — In His Proper Place

I published a new story today!

In His Proper Place (Amazon | Smashwords), which is a m/m romance novella about a lord and his butler. The lord is older and (so he thinks) wiser; the butler is much more willing to be daring and damn the consequences. The lord’s wife finds the whole thing quite amusing, mostly at her husband’s expense.  Somewhere along the way, they manage to figure things out.  There are some sexy parts, but mostly it’s a love story, in its quiet way. I started it on a whim and it ended up being about 25K words, which I don’t think is too shabby.

Please check it out if you think it’s something you’d be interested in; if it isn’t, but you know someone who might want to take a look, please send them to the proper place! (rimshot)

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[In Other Words] Desensitization

Sometimes I have to take a step back and look at how my time on the internet (and most particularly in fandom) has really kind of desensitized me to a lot of things that are generally frowned on — not to say that I condone a lot of these things in real actuality and life, but in fiction, I have reached a point where it takes a genuine lot to shock me in terms of violence or gore or sex.  I have friends whom I respect as people who like some really “awful” things in the grand scheme of the world, and it hardly even begins to bother me.

But then I’ll go to a different forum — like the KDP writer’s forums, or other, less fandom-populated boards — and it’s … not exactly like the proverbial splash of cold water, but it does sort of throw one for a loop.  People talk about how their readers criticized them for being too detailed in a grim scene, that the reader didn’t need that sort of depth of following a character’s struggles through a difficult time.  Meanwhile, if I rewindow to my plurk timeline, people are talking about a visual novel where one of many bad endings involve a messy and unhappy death for the protagonist — not just in written detail, but with full-color illustrations!  And I always have this moment of cognitive dissonance where I have to consider that the “safety” of fandom has basically meant that as long as it’s fiction, I can turn a blind eye to a lot of terrible things.*

* This is not to say that I am completely immune to things.  In all honesty, I am one of those people who can get entirely too invested in the stupidest things.  In high school, when they would show us the shock videos against drinking and driving, complete with the photos of accident victims, I very nearly had a panic attack there in the auditorium.  I am not ashamed to say that I outright begged my teacher to let me skip it when my schedule just happened to be structured so that I would have to see it twice in a day.  For fiction, I still vastly side-eye underage stuff, and narratives that endorse behaviors as healthy, or as acceptable because they are the norm.  If I, as a reader, read something and think, “this is not the narrator, this is the author saying these things and believing them,” beyond whatever constrictions of character voice and unreliable narrators give, then I definitely do not give things a pass.

On the other hand, though, this sometimes leaves me at a loss of what to do about the things I write.  At the risk of sounding like one of those special stars for everyone! people, I really dislike forcing myself to write in a single genre box; sometimes I want to write eldritch horrors, sometimes I want to write a quiet romance, and sometimes I want to write both together.  Sometimes I want to write something that I am reasonably certain my friends would enjoy, but the greater world would look at and believe that I condone these things, rather than want to explore something through the lens of fiction.  Most of the time I end up writing these things, but once they’re done and as polished as they can be, that’s when I’m at a loss, because what do I do with this?  If (completely nonhypothetically; this is done with its revisions and as ready for the world at large as it can be) I write a story about an unreliable narrator watching his stepfather abuse his brother and eventually take (bloody) justice into his own hands — only to imply at the end that he is on the cusp of following in the dead man’s footsteps — what do I do with a story like that?  Sure, there’s an audience for that out there somewhere, but that’s not my normal audience.

Honestly, I can’t with any confidence say what I want my “normal audience” to be.  All conventional wisdom I have seen about self-pubbing boils down to “build a solid base and they will come; build a solid base and then advertise yourself and be true to those roots.”  And there are people who primarily write erotica (which I sort of have done to date, though I feel like I probably stray more towards hardcore in softcore romance than anything else), people who primarily write horror, and people who write thrillers and fantasy and sci-fi — in the traditional world of publishing, you don’t see a whole lot of crossover of genres.

But in fanfic, where I got started, you had the freedom to do that sort of thing all the time.  You could build yourself a name in fandom because you had the umbrella of the canon, rather than the genre.  And in some ways, I think I’ve been spoiled by that — fandom taught me that there’s very little that won’t find an audience out there somewhere, and that if you write it, they will come.  (Just like they say about self-pubbing, though that’s a much, much bigger pond with sharks in the water.)  So if the whim takes me and I decide, “I want to write a story where a character observes abusive incest and doesn’t realize how unreliable he himself is becoming,” I do that; and if I decide, “I want to write a story where a man quietly realizes he’s falling in love with someone who is utterly unsuited for him, but loves him honestly back,” I do that.  And what that shows about me as a writer to people who don’t know me, I honestly don’t know.  I don’t want to be someone who strangles the stories she wants to tell because they don’t fit her “image,” but does that mean I don’t create an image, period?  Instead of seeming like someone with varied interests and tastes and likes to explore a lot of different things, do I just seem indecisive and careless, flinging myself blindly onto a shock bandwagon and then off again onto the coattails of this genre or that subject?

Honestly, I don’t know that answer.  And to be fair, I’ve only really been considering it for the past six months, since I started self-pubbing.  To date I have eight stories available, and most of them are under 20k words.  That’s not really enough to really establish anything, except that at I am at least trying to do more than simply “publish story and expect things to happen.”  Ultimately, I don’t really care if I can’t make a living off my writing — just as long as there are people out there who are reading and enjoying.  If I could build even a small group of people who could trust me no matter what topic/genre I choose to write, that would be pretty fabulous.

Who knows if that will happen!  But hey, I can always dream.

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[In Other Words] My Pace

I think, if I were to pick my number one method of self-sabotage, it would be my short attention span.

My personal story isn’t too different from a lot of writers (would-be or otherwise) that I know, in that I was telling stories at a very young age — what started out as epic and convoluted fantasies involving plastic dinosaurs, Korean Barbie knockoffs, and my various stuffed animals (narrated diligently into a cassette recorder, and boy doesn’t that date me?) became actually writing things down, and that’s where my proclivity stayed.  Beyond fanfic, though, it took me years before I could actually make my whole way through a story, beginning-middle-end.

The problem wasn’t always having ideas, because those I had (and still have, let’s be honest) by the dozen — the problem was having the discipline and attention to actually keep going through a story until its end.  I can’t do detailed outlines, because then I feel like I have already written the whole story and I’m stuck with just a skeleton; I can’t skip around because if I write the “fun” parts, I’ll never get through the necessary bridging pieces.  I like to think that as I get older, I’m getting better at it, though how true that actually is, I’m not honestly certain.  There is certainly more than enough free time in my day to get more done — that’s in between working full-time and doing the majority of the cooking.  I can, when I sit down and dedicate myself, write about a thousand words in forty-five minutes, and I’m given to understand that’s not too shabby.

But I have other hobbies too — I like cooking, I play games, I badger my roommates into going out to eat, because that’s definitely my most expensive hobby.  (Oops.)  I read; I look at pictures of cute animals; I do a dozen little timewaster things that all add up, and sometimes I will catch myself thinking, “Man, I really should be writing instead.”

I’m really afraid of burnout, though; writing is definitely a thing that I love to do with my all of me, but — and maybe it’s because of that whole attention span problem — I can get burned out easily.  More frightening than that, I’ve seen other friends attempt to dedicate themselves to things and completely wreck themselves for a once-beloved hobby; I’ve seen people swear off something they loved to do because they pushed themselves too hard with no sort of middle ground, and ended up crashing spectacularly.  And I know that’s kind of against a lot of advice blogs I have seen, especially in regards to writing or art — you do have to keep pushing yourself, they say; you have to push yourself to your limits and beyond or else you’ll never get anywhere with it.  There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to do this too, you have to strive to make your own success.

And you know, I don’t think that’s wrong, either, but — I also think that sort of thing applies best to a certain kind of person, and I don’t think that’s the type that I am.  I love writing, and I love telling stories, and I think I’m not too bad at it, overall.  But I don’t have it in myself to pour my all of me recklessly and desperately into something; I like safety nets and having Plans B-D.  I want very much to continue with this writing habit and share my stories in any way I can — I’m excited for each and every sale (though I don’t have many) because it signifies that someone is reading something I wrote!  And that is the most exciting thing.

Except, at the same time, I don’t want to sacrifice the other things I do in my day.  I mean, I’d love it if I could be self-sufficient selling my writing alone; I don’t think there’s any writer who wouldn’t be thrilled with that.  But like I said, I prefer my safety net (especially with my family’s history of health ailments), and I like my other hobbies too.  I feel like they give me a more well-rounded approach to the world; I feel like my writing is more interesting for not being the only thing in my life.

So I write about a thousand words a night (more on the weekends usually, depending on how busy those are); I have a resolution to write 365k words this year, and I’m already over halfway there.  I’m not producing dozens of dozens of stories, though maybe one a month isn’t a super terrible pace.  (Of course that does depend on the length of the story itself; most of what I have up on Amazon and Smashwords average about 4k to 8k, though the last two have been significantly longer, and the one that I have in-progress right now just broke 20k words.)

I still have a large number of stories in my head, and sometimes I get fussy because I’d rather be working on them, I want to work on something else, I don’t want to keep plugging at the thing that was so new and shiny when I first started it.  But I guess with age comes more discipline, so even if I still waste a lot of time in an evening playing dumb flash games or going out somewhere, I’m still getting things done.

I’m glad for that.

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the woods behind the house (a story)

We walk on the path behind the house
with its wide, wide,
W I D E
windows, all open, like eyes.
Duck and don’t meet them.
Don’t let them see you seeing.
(There are hungry shadows.)
(Their teeth are sharper than ours.)
We walk on the path behind the house
with my hand in yours,
with your hand in mine,
and the wide wide windows
stare after us as we go.
(Once they were us.)
(Sometimes they look at remember.)
Into the woods we go,
the deep, deep,
D E E P
dark and quiet woods behind the house,
which smells like dirt and things that are living
(and things that are dead).
(There are skeletons buried here.)
(Do not go looking for them.)
Into the woods with go,
with leaves in our hair,
with leaves under our feet,
and the deep deep dark
watches us as we go.
(They have eaten us before.)
(Our blood is in their teeth.)
I will take the knife and put it in your hand
and its sharp, sharp,
S H A R P
edge gleams like bright silver.
It has a home inside of me,
like once it was inside of you.
(Once I thought we could leave.)
(But leaving is only temporary.)

Return what was once mine to me.
And we will start once more
on the path behind the house.

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[In Other Words] I wrote what I felt and got a hangover instead

Today I gave myself a feelings hangover over a story I’m writing — less because of the content (though it is probably the most hardcore and dubious thing I have ever written) and more because when I ran it by my beta team, the initial response from both of them was that it was too derivative of a story.  Which, I think, on one hand, is not necessarily a bad thing — I got my start with fanfic and I still write it now and then (as evidenced by numerous entries in this blog) — but was really the last thing I wanted to hear for this particular story.  I ended up thinking so hard and getting so invested in trying to fix it that I ended up with a headache, sore eyes, and that queasy-vague feeling that upright wasn’t really the position I wanted to be in.

(Hello; how’s this for a first non-fiction post for this blog.)

At this point, I’m honestly not sure how much of this story is salvageable — or even if it is something I want to share beyond a carefully-controlled group of people.  It’s the sort of thing that covers a lot of stuff I absolutely recoil against in real life but really enjoy exploring in fiction.  While I don’t outright try to embrace going against the status quo, or writing/exploring things for their shock value, I’ve never really wanted to stay in a particular genre of writing, either.  I think there are certain reoccurring elements that I return to a lot in terms of setting and style, but honestly, I tend towards short stories over novels, and I think part of that is because I can dabble in a lot of genres at once.  I don’t honestly know how this looks to someone who just stumbles across my stories on Amazon, especially if I decide to publish the one I’m currently working on, because it is pretty downright dark and focuses on several touchy subjects together.

To date my Amazon collection are a few erotic m/m stories, a couple paranormal erotica m/f stories, and one strange fairytale beast that I would classify as a love story and a horror story both.  I’ve heard people discuss using different pen names for writing in different genres, and while I can see the wisdom of that, I also am not sure how much I want to follow on that.  Maybe it’s because I got my start in fandom, where the people I generally interacted with did run the whole gamut from humor to erotica to sometimes the outright bizarre or dark.  I don’t really want to separate out what I write into categories — for one thing, I’m not really sure that Amazon would allow me that many pen names. ;)

So yeah, at this point, I’m still dealing with a lot of trial and error in how I handle everything.  I don’t particularly think I will be one of the raging success stories — but I think if I could make someone feel as intensely as I do writing (like with that story today, the one I am slowly hammering more details into, the one that may or may not ever see the light of day), I think that’d be more than good enough for me.

… that’s a pretty trite paragraph to end this entry with, but what can I say?  Sometimes the trite derivative thing works best.

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[In Other Words] Adulthood is a many-peculiar thing

When I was a kid, I genuinely believed adulthood was some magical point in my life (I had arbitrarily decided 27, because at the time 27 seemed like a really long way off, and surely by then I would be all the things I thought I would become) where some switch flipped and I would stop liking “childish” things (as deemed by my parents) and stop being lazy; I would gladly clean and cook and work and do all the things that I was meant to do, and my hobbies would be staid and calm and easy to handle on a few hours at a time.  I’d read more, and I’d write no-nonsense literary things sometimes, and I’d occasionally watch TV.  I wouldn’t be interested in surfing the internet; I wouldn’t want to play video games or go shopping or read comics; I would be An Adult and that would be the end of that.

In retrospect, I can look back and tell it was because my parents were — and still are — very practical and no-nonsense people.  Mom’s hobbies are gardening and romance novels — which she herself always disclaimed as silly and told me I shouldn’t read (though whether it was because she didn’t want me to read the florid dirty bits or not, I’m not sure); Dad’s are science and math and deep thought (he likes to sit with a beer in His Chair for hours, and even if the TV is running, he’s not really paying attention; he likes the background noise).  They were both hard workers when they were part of the 9-6 crowd; they were and are always practical people.  We didn’t go on fancy away vacations or even pay much attention to popular culture — my parents both came from poor backgrounds and were determined to make a better life for themselves and for me here in the US.  Dad liked to say, when I was in college, that my graduation present wouldn’t be a new car (which I never asked for) or anything like that, it would be to be debt-free.

(Even then, I thought that was the far better present.  In some ways I am very much my parents’ daughter.)

My friends’ parents were always more relaxed, and honestly, my parents had their vices that didn’t really fit with my idea of Adulthood, but that didn’t really change my impression that someday, someday, I’d become a responsible person who would do her chores and keep her room clean and not waste hours on the computer doing absolutely nothing of any real worth.  I held onto that idea through college, because that was my first real test and taste of the real idea of Adulthood — I had chosen to go to the University of Washington in Seattle, which was a far cry from my childhood home in Austin, Texas.  I wouldn’t be able to just call my parents up and have them show up to help me if I needed it (like the horror stories I’d heard about people who’d let themselves go once they were in college) — they’d help me, of course, if I needed it, but in the every day stuff, I would be on my own.  My half of my dorm room started out neat, but slowly became more and more of a disaster area — I’m lucky I had roommates that were either tolerant of me, not around very often, or friends who just made fun of it (affectionately, I’m sure, but there’s a grain of truth in the fact that I am a tremendous slob).  And I still continued to think that someday I would be an Adult and then I’d take care of everything properly and on time.  No procrastinating until the last day to do things; no being lazy until I was panicking for being behind.

I graduated still thinking this, living in a rented house with four friends and working my Real Adult Job! with my room still a minor disaster area and grumbling in my heart about doing the dishes and how much I missed a proper dishwasher.  (At one point I even caught myself hesitating over a pair of CDs I wanted and realizing, to my bemused horror, that I was waiting to ask my parents for permission, as if it was still money that I had received from them, to be subject to their approval or otherwise.)  I moved out of that house and into an apartment with a friend from college and it was more of the same, especially with the dishes.  I moved into an apartment by myself and all that having a room to myself meant was that my stuff had even more space to spread out all over.  I got a cat and I was better about keeping his litterbox cleaned than my bedroom.  I bought a condo (with help and advice from my parents — most of the down payment money came out of an account that they had set up for me at birth, and which was handed over to me when I turned 21, but they did gift me money to help with it) and I have a significant other and roommates who pay me rent.  I still have the cat.

I still have the vaguely disastrous mess all over the place, and the kneejerk protest in my heart when I have to do dishes or take out the trash and recycling; I spent most of today out at the University Street Fair (love it! ♥) and then playing a silly farming game.  I haven’t done my daily writing — and honestly, most of the time, my daily writing happens in the last hour before I have to shower and get ready for bed (which is usually later than it should be).  I’m proud of myself for managing to keep my kitchen sink empty and (relatively) clean for about a week and a half now.  I’m almost thirty and I still play video games and read comics and write genre-focused stuff (no fancy literature for me, it seems) and sometimes I spend an entire weekend doing nothing of worth.  There are weeks where we eat or order out over 50% of the time.  That magic switch I imagined in my childhood is apparently an entire lie.

On the other hand, I have a full-time job with benefits, which is a pretty amazing thing in this day and age — one that I enjoy with decent pay and managers I respect and trust — I have a mortgage, I have a significant other, I bought a brand-new washer and dryer the other year when the old ones died.  My cat is fat and happy and healthy.  I’m fat and happy and healthy.  I’m writing regularly and managing to finish things, even if that’s at a slow pace, and even if I am just one of hundreds of thousands (of millions?) of people who are dabbling in the ebook self-pub market.

It’d still be nice if I could get the gumption to do my cleaning without a lot of internal whining and procrastinating, but as far as Adulthood goes, I like what I ended up with a lot better than what I imagined all those years ago.

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[D.Gray-Man] Letters Home

Dear Mother,

I have just received my proper uniform — can you imagine! Your Andrew, a man in an armed service, though certainly not the sort that either of us might have imagined, when I was a child playing soldiers. It is certainly not as fine as the uniforms of the Exorcists, as far as I have seen, but it is very comfortable, and the material is both soft and fine. There is a cloak of wool that has a hood, and it is remarkably good at keeping out the cold and wet; I am very grateful for it, with the coming of the English winter.

Please remember your Andrew fondly, Mother, for today, he begins on his road to being a true hero. Perhaps in a few years the war will be over, and I will be able to return. They have promised me a pension that would make Old Ivers down the road green with envy, him in his fine house and his six-horse stable. I am looking forward to that, and I will accept your boxing my ears for my pride. I will be glad to be able to take care of the all of you.

Give my love to Da and the rest.

Your loving son,
Andrew

Dear Mother,

Today they are sending us to help out with a situation in America. I have never been there before, but I have heard they are both very rude and very friendly. I do not know which it will be, so I shall have to wait and see what happens when I get there.

Pray for me.

I hope that the money arrived safely. I know that the landlord gets foul-tempered when we are anywhere close to on time, as opposed to a week early. If it is not, I hope you have the sense to complain. They promised me that you would be provided for, and if you are not, then what am I doing here that is going back on their word, and that is not the sort of behavior you would expect from the Church. Please give my love to Da and the brats. I hope to be home for Christmas.

Your loving son,
Andrew

Dear Mother,

My group managed to make it all back entirely in one piece. That sounds quite dramatic, doesn’t it? But it was really a very quiet sort of mission. I have heard of worse, especially when it is something that they will actually send an Exorcist for. This was no such thing; we were simply sent to research the rumors of something strange in a mountain village. It turned out to be nothing more than a few drunks telling stories and being too embarrassed to recant them when they were sober.

I hope it is because you prayed for me. Did you? My heart felt lighter the whole time.

We are going to a pub tonight. The team leader is treating us. They have said they would like to see how much it would take me to get drunk. Please do not tell Father Smith, as I know that he would not approve. I will raise a toast to you and Da tonight, I promise.

Your loving son,
Andrew

Dear Mother,

I met an Exorcist face to face today, for the first time. She wasn’t any older than me. In fact, I think she might have been younger than me. She was very pretty, actually, but she was an Oriental woman, and I know that you do not think very highly of those. She gave me coffee and smiled. It has been a long time since I have seen a pretty girls mile. Do you think Oriental women have souls, the way the English do? She is an Exorcist, after all; perhaps God made an exception for her.

I regret to mention I did not get her name, but I am not sure you would be interested to hear it. She was very kind, though, and her manners were good. You would approve of them, I think. Please do not tell Da, as I have kept my hands & others to myself.

They are sending us out on another mission soon. I have heard the members of my unit talking. It sounds like we might be going with an Exorcist this time. Right now, though, everything is a rumor, and I am content to not assume just yet.

Please, please pray for me. I want to come home for Christmas.

I will write again when I return. I will make sure that it goes out with the compensation they are sending to you; I hope that it will be enough, with Christopher’s cold and the rent.

Your loving son,
Andrew

Dear Mother,

Did you know, when Grandda’s Akuma attacked the farm, I never really saw it up close? I remember you screaming and Da yelling; I remember having to herd the children away so that we could hide. I remember looking through the window and seeing it, and I thought that it looked so much like Grandma that I would have been entirely fooled. I would have greeted her and then she would have gutted me.

The Akuma that we dealt with was no such thing, this time.

It had — oh, Mother, I don’t know that I could describe it in a way that would be fitting for your eyes. It had two heads; it had completely shed any semblance of being a human being. Whatever soul it might have once been, that thing’s long gone to dust now, God or the Devil take it! The Millennium Earl is surely an emissary of Satan, if not one and the same. I still feel a chill in my bones even trying to remember the shape of it, bulbous and swollen and the color of a three-week bruise in the sky …

Three of my friends are dead now. It happened so fast that I didn’t even realize it until their blood was upon it. We have been forbidden to send away to let their families know, just in case. The funeral will be soon; I have heard that other groups are returning with their numbers reduced as well. The Akuma are getting fiercer, I have heard; they are more determined to rend and tear; they are “leveling up,” as they refer to it.

I saw the Exorcist who gave me coffee the other month; she was so swathed in bandages that I thought it was a marvel that she was still in one place. She wept for us — not my group, not just them, but for the Finders that had been with her. I think that perhaps, even if she is not an Englishwoman, she must certainly have a proper gentle soul.

I swear to you, though, I swear, I shall be utterly certain to make sure that you will hear tell. I will not be buried in their dark narrow graveyard; I will come to my homeland for my final rest.

The hour is growing late, and I do not know if I am able to sleep, but I will try. Please give my love to Da and the children; please give me your prayers.

Your loving son,
Andrew

Dear Mother,

I wonder if this will be the end. We have been barricaded in this little house for hours now; possibly days. The Exorcist with us has been killed. It was horrible — I have learned so many things about the way a man’s bones may grind before they pop and shatter, and I pray that this is a knowledge that will never go beyond myself and those in my unit.

Our leader is dead as well. He was taken out so fast — one moment he was speaking to us, and then his head was split cleanly in half. Before he fell our Exorcist was moving, and though he fought hard and desperately, in the end …

God in Heaven save us, I do not want to die. Mother, sweet Mother, please, if God truly is there in His Heaven and can hear the cries of His children, please be thinking of me in this instant, and please give me your prayers, for I do not know how long we can hold out — our radio is destroyed, our golem has been shattered, and we have nothing between us and the demon outside but thin walls of wood, and I can hear the claws scratching to be let in.

Dearest Mother, please give your prayers to your poor Andrew, so he can come home again.

Your loving son———

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under all that cold

On Tuesday evenings they have story time. If she is very good and if the weather is not too cold (it makes her brother’s knees ache, and he cannot sit for very long that way if the snow has piled too thick on the windows, seeping in), then after everything has been put away and things are quiet and still, then she picks a book from their small collection and brings it over to her brother. He always pretends to be surprised, though he smiles at her with all the warmth she has come to expect from him.

“What’s this?” he asks. It is the first line of their ritual, the signal that he is willing, that he is willing and they may proceed.

She hands the book to him. Right now, they are working through a collection of fairytales, and she has memorized nearly all of them now, but they are too precious to rush. When he takes it, she says to him: “It’s story-time. Will you please read to me?”

Then he smiles, the expression making his entire face crinkle up into something gentle and soft. During the day, during the rest of the week, he is always so stern that sometimes she forgets that this is her brother, the gentle person who has always been by her side, even after all the world fell apart outside. But when he smiles, she remembers, and she climbs up to sit, half on his lap and half in his chair, tucked up nice and neat against his side. He is never very warm, even at the best of times, but she puts her head against his chest and she can hear the steady rumble of his heartbeat and it comforts her.

He opens the book and puts a hand on her shoulder, and the other he uses to prop the book up. She holds the other end; this way it’s collaborative. It is her job to listen, and to turn the pages when he reaches the end of one.

And then he reads to her. His voice is soft enough that all the rough edges are smoothed away. He reads steadily and without hesitation; the words are so familiar that they slide off his tongue without effort. There are so few books in their collection that she has come to know all of them well, but even so, she cannot make herself actually stop with this. As long as there is this, on Tuesdays, she can tuck herself up and feel comforted.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a princess in a splendid castle, who had everything she could wish for. But even so, she was unsatisfied with her life.

This is one of her favorite stories. The spoiled princess sets off on a journey to find what she is missing in her life, only to discover that the special treasure — the one that eludes her despite her wealth and power — is love. She rescues a prince who tells her that he loves her — for you are fair and you are wealthy, and I think that the two of us could always be comfortable with our lives together — but her journeys have changed her, and in the end she returns to her home and sees how her servants smile and her people rejoice to see her, and she realizes that she did, in fact, have love; she had simply blinded herself to it, and she lives happily ever after.

It’s a nice story. Sometimes she tries to imagine it — to live somewhere splendid and beautiful, to live where food isn’t a struggle every day (every other day, sometimes, when the cold is particularly bad for a long stretch of time), or somewhere that doesn’t have cold seeping up from all the places where their patchwork walls don’t quite succeed in sheltering them. She thinks about how it would be if they could live somewhere that doesn’t make her brother’s bad knee ache, or where she doesn’t sometimes wake to see her breath misting in the air, her throat dry and aching. No matter how hard she tries, though, she can’t quite actually envision it. The cold is too much a part of what she knows, weighing heavy and white and stretched in her vision. The sun sometimes seems like a fairy tale in and of itself, too vague and brilliant to really solidify in her vision.

Even though she can’t imagine it though, she still sometimes likes to try. She listens to her brother read the familiar words. And the princess set out into the world, for it seemed foolish to her that there could be anything she was missing, but she could feel it there, weighed in her heart. She took a dress of silver, a bag made of gold, and a staff of the diamond shine of stars, and she set out on her journey. Far and wide she traveled, and people watched her go with awe in their eyes, for she was a lovely princess and she walked with the same grace as the distant winds.

Sometimes, if the day had been hard (all of the days were hard, even if the snow was soft and heavy, always piling deeper and deeper), she would fall asleep to the sound of his voice, low and steady, pitched so that it wouldn’t crack, even on the sharp edges of fricatives. If she is tired (and she is often tired), she lets her head come to rest on his chest, and she closes her eyes, and she dreams of a world where the sun is shining and the snow has melted away to a carpet of green. She dreams of having a dress of silver, a bag of gold, and a staff of the diamond shine of stars, and this she would turn and give to her brother, by her side.

These are for you, she says, for love.

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warning

there is a place behind the house
where the trees grow close together and their branches twist like clasping arms
(if you listen to the wind you can hear voices for real, not just the pretend ones that mimic talking)
(they tell each other stories and they sing songs together and you can’t understand the words, but they make your throat hurt just to hear)
if you go there when the moon is full — never mind how mother scolds or father forbids — you will see something grand
if you are brave enough, if you are clever enough, if you walk barefoot through the brambles and the grass under the full moon, you will see ladies dancing
they are all beautiful
of course they are beautiful, but there is something more to it than that, if you are willing to look
(not many people are; most people end up quiet and afraid instead)
they are all tall, and some are lean and some are not, but they are all graceful as they move together, her arm in hers and in hers but also in hers
there are twigs in their hair, which is long and soft, like the gossamer of spiderwebs
if you are quiet you can watch them dance for hours
if they hear you, though …
you might be bold and you must be clever, for they are an old race and it has been many years since they have had a child of their own
(for you and i are children to them; even our grandparents are children, in their eyes)
they are hungry mothers; they are empty-armed and savage-eyed; they are wailing in the wind for what they cannot have
if they hear you, if they see you, then they will chase you
and you must run
(do not think to stay, for if you do and if they catch you, you will no longer be yourself)
you must run without looking back, for to do that is to pause, and to pause is to court capture
their arms are long and their fingers are thin; they are good for grasping and for pinching and digging in deep
run through the brambles and do not let them stop you; do not let the pain slow you down
(they are coming, they are singing, they are howling their names to the wind)
if you make it back — if you cross the threshold made of the wood of their sisters, they will stop
they will stop but their voices will still call to you, hungry and wanting, all through the cracks in the walls; their fingers will dig in deep and they will croon that they have a name for you, something new, something grand, if only you would step forward and take it
(do not step forward to take it)
for the whole of the night they will try to court you, you who are a child to them; you who are an infant in the eyes of something old and strange in the world — they will cry and they will call
do not look through your windows, do not look at their faces; do not be seduced by their dancing
in the morning they will go back to the forest, where it is quiet and dark
and where the trees lace their branches together like arms in an embrace
they will go back, and you must never go there again; carry bread and salt and silver in your pocket and pray that when night falls again and for all the rest of your years, no matter how far and wide you travel, you will be beyond a threshold, out of the reach of the hungry dark
they will remember you
they are waiting

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a love letter

In a world that is dark and quiet and built only of two people (you and me), let us bring a single spark.

Let us take the knives of our words and our experiences, the trappings of our lives that have brought us on separate journeys to this shared point. Let us find the places where things are soft and stretched and open, so that the cut can be clean and easy and maybe (maybe) painless at first.

In time it will hurt. In time there will be rough edges, the sharpness of infection that spreads and stretches its spiderweb fingers until it touches the horizon and the wide spreading sky. Let us gather that up in our hands until they are overflowing, until we are so full that we cannot conceive of more, and yet it comes and it comes and it will not stop coming.

Let us take all of these things, and then let us put lights in this world. Not too many, not too bright; there are some things that are better and kinder when they cannot be seen clearly. In some places let us make the place as bright as the day, little places to show the things that we must: our honesty, our loves, our selves.

But let the light fade as it stretches. Let it gently shift into shadow, so that things are softened and shaded. We can adjust the angles if we need to later. Right now, let us just make sure that these places still exist. Both of these things are important. We need to pay attention to that.

Once that is done — once we are settled and we have built out this framework, this skeleton of touches and smiles and interaction, then we can create something more. This is where the skin is exposed; this is where we can slice through into muscle and bone and excavate what we can of what came before, so that new pieces may be laid into place. You will smile at me and I will call your name, and together we will bring together the materials we need to make something grand.

And it will be grand. It will be glorious; it will be the sort of thing that rises high and proud and will burn like phoenix fire, so that even if — when — if someday the heart goes dim and the flames die back, there will still be embers. There will be places that have burned so deeply that they are not even scars, but part of the landscape itself, carved in so deep that they cannot be separated. Maybe there was a time when these things were different, but after us, we will no longer be able to remember that.

We will build something that reaches straight into heaven. We will not stop building until the day we abruptly do, when everything begins to crumble under our feet and everything stable is suddenly ash and dust. Even then, sometimes, if you turn your face to the sky and close your eyes, you will be able to see it. The ghost will linger.

This is what we will make together, in this quiet soft place. There will be times for noise and for commotion — we cannot exist only in soft breaths and muffled heartbeats, but we cannot exist without these things either. I will put down a pillow and you will bring a blanket and our feet will touch and our hands will be distant, but it will still be a place of you and of me, it will be separate entities that have come together in a single identity.

I will sing for you, I will put my heart gently down in a silk-lined box and I will take yours and put it into my breast instead. We will manage this without anesthetic and it will not hurt except for in a fierce glad way. These are the first sparks of the empire that will be ours. (May it last a thousand years and more.)

Let us continue to build on it. I do not like the idea of coming apart. There is always the potential for things to fall apart; I have known that for years, and the knowledge is easy as my own heartbeat. (My heart is easy, but it always breaks.) Instead of that, I want to build as a means to creation, not destruction. My disasters are such quiet things, but I still remember each one.

I do not want this to be one.

Give me your hand. In this quiet dark place built for only two people (only you and me), let us make a miracle.

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