Dec 22, 2010

pressing on.

Last week was, well, hard.
On Monday I got an email from an agent who had my full manuscript. She said that there had been a reader in her agency who loved it and that she was going through it herself. She complimented me on my manuscript's voice and asked me if it was still available. At this point I squealed. Agents are hard to come by, but they're pretty necessary if you want to publish your work with any significant publishing houses.
Come Saturday I receive the rejection.
Somewhere deep down, I guess I was bracing myself for it. I knew it was coming, but I'd hoped against all hope that it wasn't.
She said that she loved the voice and the story. There were three specific points that kept her from falling head over heels in love with the project as a whole though. If I decided to revise the story, she said, she would be willing to read the manuscript again.

At least I've gotten some feedback. Right now I'm writing a new rough draft of a different novel... but I'm going to take some time off around Christmas and look at the revision suggestions. Especially before I send out any more queries.

Nothing worth having is easy. That's what you have to tell yourself I guess.

Dec 14, 2010

short story time!

In an effort to bring a more creative streak to the blog, I've decided to, every once in a while, post flash-fiction pieces/short stories. I've asked my husband, a budding photographer who's blog can be seen here, to take a photo to accompany said story. Sometimes the photo will be inspired by the story (as it was today) and sometimes just the opposite shall occur. So sit back, relax and enjoy!


Something lurked in the garden.
My parents didn’t believe us. None of the adults did. Mom was too busy with her book clubs and tea parties and Dad was never even home to hear about it. Only Jeremy and I ever went behind the house.
The garden came with the house. I remember walking through the rooms. They were empty. The bare wood of the floor reflecting sunbeams and dust motes. The realtor’s voice echoed against the freshly painted walls as she showed Mom and Dad the original moldings from the 1700’s. The house felt big to me. Too big. There was so much space you could get lost in it.
But behind the house—that was even stranger. It was a wilderness within the city—held back only by the stone walls surrounding it. I remember thinking how it was very green. We didn’t walk back there during the viewing. The realtor only paused by the bay windows and pointed beyond their warped glass.
“And here we have what was once an English garden. It covers about half an acre and is included in the price of the house.” She smiled, but her words were stiff from rote memorization.
Mom and Dad nodded. They didn’t even give the garden a second look.
When we first moved in the house was a chaos of boxes and displaced furniture. Mom made us go play outside. The fresh air would do us good, she said after she took away my Xbox controller, run around and explore like normal boys.
It was a hot day, even in the shade of the garden. I could see the sweat sprouting beneath Jeremy’s bangs. I felt its salty stick on my own skin.
“How long you think it’s been like this?” my brother asked as he swatted a vine away from his face.
If I’d been a few years younger I would have pretended we were lost in the Amazon rainforest. Instead I was fifteen, bored and disgruntled. I reached out and shredded some leaves off of a nearby bush.
“Who cares?” The handful of leaves became emerald confetti as I tossed it in the air for entertainment.
We walked because we had nothing else to do. Mom had forbade us to return to the house until lunch. We had two hours to kill. Jeremy and I started hacking through the tangles of branches and leaves. Occasionally we found relics of the garden’s past. A rusty sundial. The 19th century version of a garden gnome. A fountain with water still sitting in its basin.
I kept expecting to run into the wall. Yet each tear of branches gave way to another bush. The house had long disappeared from our view. Only wild brambles of roses long untended rose up around us.
“We should go back,” I told Jeremy after an hour.
He agreed with a wordless nod. I could tell by the look on his face that he found the situation just as odd as me. Yet to say anything about it seemed silly.
We backtracked our trail of destroyed vegetation. Dismembered branches snapped and cracked under the weight of our steps. We kept silent as we walked. Our strides grew longer and quicker.
But the house didn’t reappear.
It was as though the garden had become a maze, swallowing us and locking us into itself. No matter how far we walked, or where we turned, our parents’ new mansion didn’t emerge.
“What the hell is going on?” At thirteen, Jeremy was just starting to flex his potty-mouth outside our parents’ presence.
“This is weird,” I muttered. “I thought this was only half an acre.”
“I mean, you can see the whole garden from the street! This makes no sense—“ Jeremy turned to face me and his sentence stopped short. His face grew as pale as an unmarked sheet. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open.
His scream shook the garden. It rattled my chest and caused me to freeze. I couldn’t move. I could only stand and stare at him.
When the sound of his terror died, I finally turned. There was nothing there. Only the still, broken forms of old rose bushes. Signs of our trail. I looked back, only to find that Jeremy had run.
I dashed after him. Fear had exploded in my heart as suddenly and devastatingly as a nuclear weapon. If something had terrified my brother that bad, it was worth being scared of. Jeremy was always a few steps ahead of me. We ran for what seemed like miles. My face started to throb from the lashing of passing thorn bushes. My breath grew heavy.
When the house finally came into sight, I couldn’t really believe it. Jeremy was already up the steps and half collapsed on the old wooden porch. His face was even whiter than before and he was shaking. He jerked back when I approached, his eyes as wild and wheeling as a hunted deer’s.
“What’s wrong, Jeremy? What did you see?” I crouched down and reached toward him.
He shook his head quickly and scrambled toward the door. By the time I stood up to follow him he was already gone. Disappeared up the stairs to his room.
He never spoke of the garden or what he saw there. His bedroom window always had a blind and he never set foot behind the house again.
I didn’t go in the garden either—but I still watched from the window. Sometimes at night, I saw things. Shadows. Forms of people and creatures that weren’t supposed to be there. I never got a good look at them, but a sickness would always steal my stomach at the sightings. Their dark shapes always grow very still once they realize I’m watching. I know, somehow, that they’re there waiting. Waiting for us to go back into the garden, to return into their strange, eerie world of green.

photo courtesy of david strauss c2010

it's the little victories-

Writing is full of rejection. Rejection from agents. Rejection from journals. Rejection from readers. It seems that around every corner is another rejection, another disappointment. A story will be out on submission for months-sometimes even over a year-only to be turned down by an editor who "really liked it but not enough to publish it."
It's all very disheartening at times.
That's why, when there's a victory, no matter how little, it's an amazing thing.
Last year, when I had first moved to Korea, I was stranded in my apartment one Saturday, with nothing to do but write. I'd heard through the grapevine that there was a flash fiction horror story contest. The piece (no more than 1000 words) had to be themed around one of the four elements.
I sat down and wrote about fire. And cannibalism. It was my first venture into horror ever. The piece was either genius or crap. I couldn't tell. So, my breath held, I pressed SEND.
A day or so later I got an email from the editor. He loved it. Wanted to print it.
And I couldn't wipe the grin off of my face.
A few days ago (about a year after the acceptance letter) I received a package in the mail. Containing this:

My name was on the back, in tiny block letters. It meant that an impartial someone had read my story and loved it. It meant my writing was good enough to put into this book! It didn't matter to me that it was only available on Lulu, or probably only read by the other authors featured in the anthology! It was a symbol. A stepping stone. A glimmer of light through all the hundreds upon hundreds of hours of laborious, unrewarded work.
It's the little victories that give you the strength to go on, to keep writing through the avalanche of rejections. Keep slogging and one day you'll get there.

Dec 9, 2010

sometimes i write poetry.

are we more than circus trainers?

trust is
resting your head
in the lion’s mouth

begging him
not to bite

its so easy to feel
enamel, sharp white
crushing through
your temple

trained but not

savannah lingers
on his breath
the place his pride
still lurks
golden and graceful

still you pray
let this one
be a lamb

Dec 4, 2010

mosaic: art and community

A few nights ago, I visited a dear friend's art show. I've never been one to frequent such events, which is a bit surprising, since I grew up in a town where galleries and exhibits are as common as palmetto bugs. As I was there, viewing dear friend's bright, colorful paintings and listening to a band of *ahem* questionable talent, I realized something.

Artists need each other.

Perhaps this idea isn't groundbreaking or profound, but it's something I've learned the value of, over and over again, in the past year.

When you're a student, particularly at an art school, community is incredibly easy to have. In fact, it's impossible not to have. My high school was overflowing with artists and talent. You couldn't walk down the halls without hearing Pachelbel's Canon coaxed out of a cello or walking through a skit performed, written and directed by the eccentric drama majors. Inspiration and accountability were built in to our curriculum. We thrived off of each other, off of the dozens of different art forms that sprung to life around us. Band, piano, drama, studio art, dance, writing, vocal... It was a bohemian artist's paradise. Yet we were so young, so ignorant of the real world, that we took it for granted.

College, while not as communally artsy, offered more focused community. My writing classes were all workshops, which meant that we had to read and critique each others work on a regular basis. This only served to hone our work. A fresh set of eyes is imperative to any story. An author needs critiques and opinions outside of herself (or himself) to create a story of any worth. College provided this, in a mandatory setting. Our professors warned us, at the beginning of every semester, that this was something rare. That we needed to treasure it.

"In the real world, there aren't workshops," they said, "You have to seek out critique partners like you're stalking a deer."

And now I'm out of such rigid, cohesive community. Outside of school, you have to create your own. So that's what I did. I found a critique partner. I joined Querytrackers and participated in their writing forums. I read blogs of authors like Maggie Steifvater and agents. I started frequenting Twitter. I forged my own community. Of course, this takes a certain amount of work and effort. It's no longer just handed to me as it was in school. I have to seek it out. I have to want it.

Artists need each other for inspiration and accountability. When I go to my friend's art show, or my brother's poetry reading, I'm refreshed. Something about being around others' art drives me in my own projects. I can't afford to be a hermit.

PS. check out dear friend's art here.

Dec 2, 2010

random thought of the day

maintaining a good blog is as much work as taking care of dreadlocks: a deceptive amount.

back in the dreadlock days

Dec 1, 2010

the man with the whip

For the past three months, I have been unemployed. Usually this statement would elicit a myriad of different emotions: despair, worry, doubt... Fortunately, for me, the circumstances are voluntary. My one fear, though, in days of worklessness, is that my writing would suffer.

But how? You might ask. With all the free time in the world, you could write so much. Get so much done.

You would think, wouldn't you?

See, for me, writing is about discipline. Discipline usually goes hand in hand with routine. To do something well, you must do it often. To do something often, you must set aside specific times to do said thing. Quiet times, exercise, writing--all of these require discipline. The same standard is true with any art form.

As John Gardner once said in his wonderful book On Becoming a Novelist (and I'm paraphrasing because all of my books are still tightly packed in about a dozen boxes): Behind every successful author is a man with a whip.

The man with the whip makes me get up a few hours early each morning and shuffle to my laptop, where-- with crusty eyes-- I type out yet another two pages to a seemingly endless rough draft. The man with the whip makes me read my manuscript a 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th (etc) time and make endless revisions to characters and scenes. The man with the whip pushes my past the agent rejections and those fruitless hours of drafting and editing.

The man with the whip is cruel--but I couldn't survive without him. Well, my characters and plots couldn't survive without him. It is because of this man with the whip that in the past two weeks, instead of sitting on the couch watching Lost and Firefly reruns, I've been unleashing 10,000 words of my latest project. I could rest on the laurels of my latest full manuscript request, but that little bugger just keeps nudging me. In my head he's waving a rather threatening set of cat o'nines, and I'm dashing ahead of him as far as I possibly can.

So my advice? If you want to be successful in anything, whether it be art, music, writing, academics, cooking... Find your inner man with the whip. Sounds so masochistic doesn't it? Perhaps every artist has a bit of a masochistic streak. Why else would we pour so much time and effort and sweat and pain into something that might never see the light of day?

There's tons more to be said about discipline and anti-procrastination and how it's beneficial to life and writing-- but for now, I'll just leave you with this:

color didn't come through. pretend my hair is brown.

Nov 30, 2010

the journey.

Please bear with me as I figure out what this blog is going to be. It really is a trial by error sort of project--an attempt to gather an audience of like minded-folk. Or just cool people who want to read what I write.
This being said, I have a few ideas of the general direction I wish the blog to go. I want this to be a place where I can chronicle my writing journey as it will be in the next few weeks, months, years. I'd also love to share my latest good reads, reflections on general life, advice from other authors... Pretty much anything that strikes my fancy.
That being said, I wish to chronicle a bit of my writing journey. Give a bit of background information if you will.

I don't remember a time when I wasn't writing. Even before I could spell words like "adventure" and "cliff" I was jotting down the stories that took place in my head. I literally used whatever I could find to write in: a trippy Lisa Frank notebook (remember those?) or my dad's old tax records book. Most stories featured talking animals. I wrote creative essays in elementary school that made my teachers shake their heads and wonder exactly what was laced in my cereal.
Along with the love of writing stories came, logically, the love of reading them. I haunted the public library whenever the chance arose, checking out glossy yellowed volumes of Nancy Drew and discovering treasure like Brian Jacques's Redwall series and Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy.
I think I first got serious about writing after reading Ella Enchanted,  the Cinderella story retold by Gail Carson Levine. The whimsy and voice of this re-envisioned Faerytale inspired me to write my first piece of writing of any significant length. What emerged from my fourteen-year old pen was a sixty page Cinderella of my own, and an unquenchable passion to write more.
I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.
budding 16-year-old writer
Then I went to an art magnet for my junior and senior year of high school. My major? You guessed it: creative writing. For two years I honed my craft, getting my feet wet with the workshop style of reading and critiquing my peers' work. There were talented writers in my school, girls who had a striking, powerful sense of voice, even at the age of seventeen. I reveled in their company, soaking up all I could from these students who had attended the school since 6th grade. Our final year of high school was dedicated to, and swallowed by our senior thesis. The goal? Write a 100 page book in six months. It sounds easy now, but to a seventeen-year-old loaded with Honors Physics and AP English, the task seemed a bit daunting. As it turned out, the project was easy for me. I passed the 100 page mark before three months. All in all, I wrote 240 pages for my thesis. It was the longest project I'd ever written.
It was also the first project I'd ever seriously considered trying to publish. Of course, when I was in middle school I had grand visions of getting my work snatched up by publishers and being recognized as some sort of child prodigy. This, sadly, did not come to pass. Once I'd finished my thesis, which I'd come to know and love as Shadows Fall, I began to research that painful, drudging process known as querying.
 yes, my thesis was *gasp* self-published. i had no choice in the matter.
I sent one query to the Donald Maass Literary Agency. They rejected it. Not that I blame them. It was awful.
I also sent the whole whopping manuscript to three different publishing houses which happened to accept unsolicited submissions. I ended up hearing back from two. One an entire year and a half later. Both declined.
So began the college years. I entered my school with the vague notion that I would major in Communications, since that was a degree that could secure me a good job at the end of my studies. As my freshman year progressed, I began to realize that such a major was, (no offense Communications majors) well, drab. Creative writing was what made my blood flow. It shot fire into my thoughts.
I took a leap of faith, walked into the English department, and signed my future away to the Creative Writing major.
Writing in school is falsely and alluringly safe. There are assignments. There are deadlines. There are people who read your stories. There are people who talk about your stories to you.
It's nothing like the real world. Outside of workshop, the only assignments and deadlines are self-imposed. Critique partners can be found on the internet, but they aren't being graded to read your stuff. Writing in the real world takes grit and discipline. It takes a real, true passion.
I realized this my senior year of college. I decided to write novels again, something I'd abandoned after high school due to my demanding academic and social schedule. So, I did what my writing professor Bret Lott told me to do. I woke up every morning and wrote for an hour.
The day before my college graduation, I finished my 400 page urban-fantasy novel Aftersight. Over the summer I cleaned it up and began querying. I queried long, wide and far. But the project just wasn't ready. By the time I realized this, I'd already written a 300 page sequel, unqueryable without the first one's success.
So I decided to start another project. On the cold, early spring mornings in Seoul, South Korea (where I was teaching English), I would wake up, write for an hour and then drag myself off to an eight hour workday. When I got home at night, if I still had the energy, I would write what came to be Godmother. I searched the internet for critique partners and found a few willing participants. With their comments, I embarked on about three months full of edits.
And now I'm querying. As well as working on my next project.

So really, this blog is just leaping in to chronicle the middle of what has already proved to be a long, and at times frustrating journey. Of course, I'm sure I'll go into more of these in detail as I expound upon the disciplines of writing, etc. Please, dear reader, if there's something you would like to see in this blog, comment and let me know. I'll probably try to humor you.

Nov 28, 2010


I have decided--being a hardworking and aspiring writer--that it would be most beneficial to start chronicling my journey, not just through art, but through life.

First. Who am I?

The long answer? I'm a Jesus-freak, a writer, a traveler, a lover, a wanna-be crafty/artsy/hipster, a lover of T.S. Eliot, a chai-drinker, a thrift-store enthusiast.

Short answer: I'm Ryan.

Welcome to my blog.