She Breathes Fire

  • Hello from Heathrow!

    Dia duit a chairde!

    I am writing to you from Heathrow airport, which might just be the most posh department store I’ve ever been in and, mercifully, has free wifi. Which is blessing, apparently. O’Hare wanted me to pay for their stupid wifi. Even the plane wanted five bucks from me. So bless you, England, for recognizing that internet access is an inaliable right. Even if the only charge station around here is not working at all and my phone is dying so I have to use my emergency extra battery. There are also showers here? Which I might totally take this airport up on I feel so gross after that 8 hour flight.

    Anyway! I’m on a trip guys! A few months ago, I got a scholarship to the Yeats Summer School, where I’ll get to sit through seminars and lectures and poetry readings. You guys have no idea how excited I am. For another two weeks, I’m a student, and an explorer, and I’m going to be breathing the same air as the characters of my novel.

    Because that’s what this is, first and foremost, research for my novel. Something to get me out of this 8:30-5 rut I’ve pushed myself into and get myself back on track. I’ve been trying to do too much with my novel, I think, and while it’s good to write out of my comfort zone once and a while (I’m realizing every day how little I know about the ‘poetry world’ and it’s contentions and cliques and whatnot, but then my main character is just a little bit doe-eyed and would probably only be dimly aware of all of that herself), it’s got me paralyzed to the point where I have literally written no more than a page and a half of the bloody thing since I graduated. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t written—I’m one step closer to having my unicorn story right where I want it, I’ve got another short story or two in development, and I’ve started another novel because that’s just who I am as a person.

    See how easily I get sidetracked? This is research, which means I need to chronicle and take pictures of absolutely everything so I can remember them later. So, this is my chronicle. Day 1 of 15 days abroad. Expect lots of pictures, lots of effusive exclamation points and me being generally overexcited.

    My flight leaves for Dublin in 4 hours, and I cannot wait to get started.

  • It's Over, and it's Just Begun.

    Exactly sixteen days ago  today, I turned in my thesis.

    Hold your applause and your back pats though, gentle readers. It's not done, yet. It's just off to my thesis advisor and my other readers, and will return to me with notes, so I can tidy the draft up and make it all nice when I turn it into the library, to be immortalized forever in some dusty basement bookshelf. Even then, the novel won't be finished.

    You see, my thesis is only the first nine chapters of the damn thing, maybe the first third, if I'm lucky. Still miles to go before I can call this draft done. Novels are hard, gentle readers. Anyone who has ever attempted one can tell you that. Writing is damn hard work, not just on your body as you're stuck in a rickety office chair, or bent over your laptop, but on your mind, and on your social life. As much as we by turns hate and love the solitude of writing, it is not good to be alone all the time. Something I found out the hard way, over the dreaded summer of 2014.

    Thank all that is good and holy that I have my cat. Make fun if you must, but her soft paws and warm purring body fulfills my daily requirement for physical contact (since I haven't had a date in two years. Probably high time I rev up the old OK Cupid account, but I'm just not all that motivated.) Thank all that is good for my roommate, Arnecia, who is a fellow writer and someone I think I can safely call one of my best friends. Thank the universe for my writing group, for the wider Chicago writing community. I've been to more readings this last month than I think I have all year, and each one manages to refresh and inspire me, and drain my wallet a little every time I HAVE to buy someone's book. I dropped sixty dollars on Saturday at the Goreyesque reading, and I almost dropped twenty on a Marlon James book last night.

    Thank everything holy for NaNoWriMo, which starts TODAY. I am going to try and attempt it again. I have a novel to finish after all, and it is a fantastic way to blend being social with actually Getting Shit Done. But even that's going to be on the back burner until I can fulfill the next highest item on my checklist: finding a goddamn job.

    ONCE AGAIN I am trying to find a source of income. And I am so not motivated. I've been working since I moved out of my parent's house, little grunt jobs that just pay the bills and keep me alive, and I am exhausted of that. I want a job that I don't dread going to every day. Hell, I'm exhausted by just applying to jobs like that. But then, I've only got so much left of my loans that I'd probably take anything that comes my way. So hey, if you have a grunt job that you wouldn't mind filling with a budding novelist (w/ an impending MFA), you know where the contact button is.

    Either way, wish me luck or mourn for me. I'm heading off into the Real World.

  • So Jobs Do NOT Grow on Trees

    Well, the semester's over, dear friends. Has been for almost a month now. But nothing seems to be letting up in any direction. I'm moving within the next month, and while I've found a work study position at the school (30 hours a week whooo!) the quest for finding a Full Time Job is not going well. I've had one interview so far, for a teaching position it turns out I didn’t even want, and I've been to two staffing agencies. One that stopped calling me back, another that I'm hoping to get some actual work through, since they do anywhere from Freelance to Fulltime.            

    It seems like this business really is all about who you know. The place I'm moving into (3 bedrooms off the Kedzie Orange Line, so if anyone needs a roommate towards the beginning of July, hit me up) is owned by the parents of a friend of mine, and the job I currently have is only mine because I know the guy who runs the place. Don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly grateful for all their help. I'd be back in Wisconsin by the end of the month, murmuring nonsense into computers if I didn't have their help. I just wish that the industry, all the industries, really could be on merit. I mean, as an editor of my age, I don't think I'm doing so bad.            

    True, my portfolio could be a little thicker, especially on publications— two short stories, five or so poems, assorted articles and reviews— but I feel confident in my editing experience. I headed a literary magazine for three years in undergrad for gods' sake, am editing two literary magazines right now, and I had an internship at an indie publisher for almost a year. Not to mention the novels and countless short stories I've run through for my friends free of charge, from in-depth story building stuff to grammatical once-overs. Short of packing up and moving to New York and sorting mail at Penguin-Random House, there are very little avenues I have available. And I do not have the disposable income to live in New York without several full-time jobs.            

    It's just frustrating. You feel like you're barely treading water, and no matter how much you flail, no matter how much of your dwindling oxygen you use to shout towards shore, no one's throwing you a life preserver. Maybe they're all currently in use, sure, but that doesn't enter your head when your lungs are burning.            

    They tell me this is what your 20s are like. That you just have to keep working, keep plugging away. These are your hustle years. But all this hustling, all this barely keeping afloat, if that, is exhausting. I can only hope it's bringing me closer to land.

    Ye gods and little fishes this is depressing. I hope you're at least getting your Schadenfruede on reading this, because just writing it makes me want to scream until the windows shatter. But it's gotta get better soon. Soon I'll be back to using way too many capitals and freaking out about meeting an author I adore, or about finally placing this short story I've been working on for years. Probably. Everything is some measure of probably.  

  • I'm Back from AWP!

    Well, I have been for a few days, but let's just pretend it's still Sunday night.            

    Holy hell what a rush. It was a three day (five with travel) whirlwind of books and authors and discussions and signings and panels and drinking and sharing a king-sized bed with two people.

    AWP, for those of you who don't know, is the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, which I guess should probably by AWWP, but whatever. The condensed it. It's held once a year in some city in the US, and if you're in a writing/English program it's only like 45 bucks. Or it is if your school doesn't pay for you. Mine did, and all I had to do was sit at a booth for two hours and shove Hair Trigger down the throats of passersby (which is a different post. Or rant.)

    If you follow me on Twitter, you've seen all the highlights, including the terminal hell that was the 10 HOUR BUS RIDE back from Minneapolis. Because the coordinator of the trip couldn't be bothered to book us an Express Bus like on the way there. But I'll recap it for you, in case you are a dinosaur who is somehow okay with following blogs but not with the tweeting.            

    So I had to get up at the crack of 5 AM (which is 7 hours earlier than I ever want to get up) in order to make the bus. Not just because I was terminally anxious about missing the bus most of my friends were taking all the way up there, but because I had to stop at a friend's place to pick him up. Do you call it that if you're just taking the train together? Whatever, I had to drop off my keys at his place so his partner could take care of my cat. He did a fantastic job by the way. My cat usually sulks for hours if I leave her alone for more than two days, and she was out to see me almost immediately when I got home. I don't know what you did, Michael, but you're a miracle worker, and don't take it personally if she never came out to see you when you were there.            

    The CTA was actually fast for once (probably because it was so early in the morning) so we got to the station a full half hour before the bus loaded, and there was time to get coffee. 8 hours and two bathroom stops later, we were in Minneapolis. I got to have dinner with my aunt, and I tried Vietnamese food for the first time. My aunt, who adopted two lovely Vietnamese kids (who are in high school now, which is terrifying) was able to break down the menu for me, so I could probably even order it on my own. Instead of being terrified of ordering something that would be too spicy, or I'd get tired of eating, like I am with Indian and Ethiopian food.            

    The next day was panels. So many panels. Where to find jobs after your MFA, the "gentrification" of the MFA program, stuff about freelancing, how to tweet/effectively use social media as a literary magazine, unlikable characters, and SO MUCH MORE. Thank all the gods above and below AWP had an ap to organize all the panels and readings and offsite events. I skipped out on a kick-ass poetry panel to go to a networking thing around four, but like three other people showed up. I can't entirely blame them, since it was freaking HAILING outside (I even got ice in my eye) but at least I got to warm up with cheap whiskey. And that started off my drinking for the day.            

    You tend to drink a lot at these things. Especially since AWP has these little parties every night of the conference, and they have free drinks for the first hour of it or so. We went to that the first night. The lines were so long though that as soon as you got your drink you basically had to go to the end of the line if you thought you wanted another one. But I had an early night that night. I still thought that I was going to be up for the nine o'clock panel the next day. Which I totally didn't make. It was fine—I would have had to skip out anyway to get something signed by Kelly Link—and Oh MY GOD, guys, I met Kelly Link. If you don't know who she is, rectify that. Especially if you like fantasy/science fiction or speculative, whatever the hell we're calling it now that uses fantastic tropes but focuses more on character than plot. She writes beautiful short stories in that genre, better even then Karen Russell, who was the keynote speaker, and Oh my god I MET HER TOO and got Vampires in the Lemon Grove signed.            

    The next two days were mostly about the Book Fair. It was this beautiful, full convention hall of books and publishers and MFA programs and literary magazines and small presses and it took so long to meander through all, what 18 rows? So many rows. I tried to mitigate my time to literary magazines that I want to get into, since I'm already in an MFA program and my thesis isn't close to being done so I'm not allowed to look at presses. Still, I came back with a crapton of gear and only managed to get rid of like ten of my own business cards. So if anyone wants one...

    And somewhere in all of that I got to catch up with an old high school friend, who is making quite the name for herself in Pennsylvania or wherever. She runs a small press, so, small plug here, if you have a Young Adult book with an LGBTQA protagonist, you should head on over to oktopusink.com (and no that's not a typo, it's spelled with a K) and look at their guidelines. As far as I know they're still accepting submissions. Because we need Diverse Books goddammit!            

    But anyway, I learned so much and AWP was so fun and I definitely recommend going. Even if networking isn't your thing (like it isn't mine. I hope I made a good impression on some people, anyway). It'll be in LA next year, so there probably won't be hailing in the middle of the conference, thank god, it'll just be harder for me to get to. Gotta start saving for that plane ticket now.*

  • Book Recommendations

    I was recently asked on tumblr what my favorite books were in the Urban Fantasy genre, which is like my favoritest genre ever, so I had to reel myself back and think about it for a moment. Give it some perameters. Okay, so Urban Fantasy is a genre that evolved out of the 80s (pretty much starting with the shared world of Border Town, of which the original stories-- collected by Terri Windling-- and is really hard to find, but a recent anthology can be found here) and, obviously takes place in a city, hence the "urban" but in recent years has become a sort of mishmash of modern fantasy and detective/noir novels. A lot of seedy underbellies, but run by demons or faeries for example. It doesn't neccesarily have to take place in this world, or even in this time period-- Glen Cook's Garrett P.I, for example, takes place in a more traditional fantasy world, while say the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger is set in the Victorian Era (and definitely steampunk) but with vampires and werewolves and is set in London, so is both urban and fantasy.

    Genre designations are weird. And mostly arbitrary, and meant for the marketing of books. You know, if you liked X, Y, and Z, you'll love THIS. 

    But that's how book recommendations work, right? And dissecting genre titles is a whole 'nother blog post, which I may get to sometime. I really have a geek-on for genre theory-- my undergraduate thesis was on the marganalization of the Fantastic Genres (horror, science fiction, fantasy) and why that's bullshit, even though my advisor insisted on calling it an apology for genre fiction-- and if you let me ramble, I might just give you my entire thesis again. 

    But this is a Recommendation list, not a thesis, so without further ado, I present to you my favorite Urban Fantasy novels, all set in a world recognizable as ours or with very few historical differences, in the modern era. 

    HERE ARE SOME BOOK RECS:

    The Dresden Files - Jim Butcher. Set in Chicago, this is pretty much classic urban fantasy (which as a genre takes modern fantasy and smooshes into noir). Harry Dresden, PI and Wizard, doesn’t do birthdays or love potions, but he can and will stand up to the nastiest stuff the NeverNever has to offer armed only with a snarky comment and his blasting rod. Begins with Storm Front, but really gets good around Grave Peril/Summer Knight. There are currently 15 books in the series, and the first two have been turned into comic books. The 16th book is coming out who knows when, because Butcher is in the process of launching another series. 

    Nightside - Simon R. Green. London contains a secret, a square mile of otherwordly city called the Nightside, where it’s always three in the morning, gods and demons and stranger things walk around without need for concealment, souls can be bought by street vendors and normal people are prey or worse. Our protagonist, John Tyler, isn’t exactly a PI, but he’s got a knack for finding things. Armed only with his mysterious Gift and his ability to bluff, John will get to the heart of every matter, whether his client wants him to or not. Begins with Something from the Nightside, contains 13 books total. He also has other series, but they’re all in the same vein, with the same voice, so they’re not as worth checking out (especially the Ghost Hunter ones. Blech), though I do think his Secret History Series is pretty good.

    October Daye Series - Seanan McGuire. “Toby” Daye is a changeling, half-human and half-fae, her mysterious mother has vanished into Faerie, and she’s up against a world that sees her as lesser. Oh, and she spent the last ten years as a fish. But she’s still who the Faerie court turns to in times of crisis, to track down murderers, rescue kidnapped children and put the monsters back in their places. Starts with Rosemary and Rue, currently contains 8 books with the 9th coming out later this year. She has another series: the InCryptids that looks pretty good, but I haven’t had time to check out.

    So, those three are my favorites of all time, and since typing out these paragraphs are exhausting, I’m just going to list the rest:

    The Hollows - Kim Harrison. Starts with Dead Witch Walking, contains 13 books.

    Retrievers - Laura Anne Gilman. Starts with Staying Dead, contains 6 books total, and a short story collection.

    Connor Gray - Mark Del Franco. Starts with Unshapely Things, contains 6 books.

    Mercy Thompson - Patricia Briggs. Starts with Moon Called, currently has 8 books.

    Courts of the Feyre - Mike Shevdon. Starts with Sixty-One Nails, has 4 books total.

    Women of the Otherworld  - Kelley Armstrong. The world the popular SciFi channel show Bitten (which is also really good) is based on! Starts with Bitten, and has 13 books total, a short story collection, and quite a few floating short stories that have been published on her website.

    Walker Papers - C.E Murphy. Starts with Urban Shaman, and has 9 bookstotalShe also wrote the Negotiator Trilogy, which I think is pretty okay, but every time I try to read it I never get past the first book.

    Now those are all series. I also have a list of standalone novels:

    Kraken - China Miéville

    War for the Oaks - Emma Bull

    American Gods - Neil Gaiman (though I guess Anansi Boys is considered a sequel? I’ve only read this one.)

    Disagree with me? Think I left something off the list, either through ignorence or sheer malice? Feel like just recommending more good books for me? Come yell at me in the comments, or hit me up on tumblr or twitter or whatever. I'm always looking for new books or to tell a random stranger why they're wrong. 

  • It's 1 am, and I'm too excited to sleep.

    So, it's a new Semester, new awesome things are happening, and I’ve got to tell you everything strangers on the internet. 

    The first story I ever got paid for was published yesterday. WHAT.            

    I know, you’re like Klinzing— that’s what I call myself in my head when I need to reel it in— Klinzing, calm your shit. It’s not like you’ve never been published before. What about those poems, and whatnot under your “My Work” tab, (which you’ve really got to change, honey, it’s so boring)? What’s so special about this that you’re freaking out and dancing in a public place and vomiting it all over every social media platform you have an account on?            

    Um, did you not freaking hear? I GOT PAID FOR IT. And it’s not just an online magazine. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I edit for two of those right now, and online literary magazines are FANTASTIC for exposure, and because no matter how much they love you, your Significant Other and relatives aren’t going to track down a printed copy at some specialty bookstore to read your stories. And your cat sure as hell don’t care. BUT. This magazine is actually an eBook. On Amazon. There’s a link right HERE if you are too lazy to stop reading this and click the “My Work” tab (which, you’re right, totally needs a new name). And if you don’t love me enough to shell out 2.99 for an eBook, you never loved me at all, and I’m sorry to say that we have to break up right now.            

    Okay. That’s one piece of news. The next one is that I get to start my super serious tutoring gig at the school on Friday, five hours a week, actually tutoring this time. Not as exciting, but money can be exchanged for food and books and rent, so I’m pretty psyched.            

    One last thing, which is almost as awesome as the first, is that I’ve been asked to write for Literary Chicago. No, not the walking tour. This super cool WEBSITE that keeps all Chicagoans up to date on literary events in the city, explores the best places to snuggle up with a mocha whatever and get some writing done, reviews books, basically anything the would-be writer needs to survive the harsh January hellscape that is trying to live as a writer well, anywhere. But specifically Chicago. My bio will go up as soon as I get around to writing it, and ay first article, on a local reading series-slash-open mic, will probably be out sometime in February/early March. With more to follow. If my thesis ever stops grinding my face into the dirt.            

    Making a living as a fledgling writer is absolutely Sisyphean (try saying that six times fast) but they tell me it can be done. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a real job before I graduate. Keep your fingers crossed for me, complete strangers.

  • “I dream too much, and I don’t write enough, and I’m trying to find God everywhere.”

    Anis Mojgani
  • 2015. The Year of Writing Groups and Getting Crap Done.

    Happy New Year, every one!            

    It’s almost the end of the seventh day of 2015, here in Chicago, which, incidentally, my half birthday. And despite all the awfulness going on in the world, and my own depression which causes me to keep a cat’s hours (which are other blog posts entirely) this year has been a productive one. I haven’t been writing every day, but according to my word count spreadsheet— which is apparently one of the essential motivators in my writing live— I have written over seven thousand words. I’ve restructured the first chapter of my novel, and rewritten it for the fifth time. I’m reading the books I bought for research over a year ago. I’ve gone to the gym twice this year, remembered to eat about twice a day, and have just started season four of Castle. I’m even tweeting almost every day (@dantealicheery, if you want to follow me. I do follow back, on occasion).            

    And the reason for all of this, I think, is that even though the semester is over, and I don’t have a job or classes to get me out of the apartment or force me to keep normal people hours, I’m not isolated. I’ve joined, or helped start, two writing groups. They’re critique groups, ostensibly. All of us working on a novel, wanting outside opinions so we can be sure what we want to get on the page is actually getting across. And most of us are grad students, so we actually know what we’re doing.

    But it’s not just for critique. It’s for support. It’s for companionship. It’s to make sure words are actually getting on the page. We’ve only been at this a few weeks (three meetings for one group, two for another) meeting once or twice a week in coffee shops and libraries and people’s homes, and I already feel that these are completely essential to my life as a writer, and my own wellbeing.            

    As opposed to my last large break from school, last summer, in which I didn’t get anything done after mid-July, I discovered a startling obsession with death, and my depression became so pronounced my Dad noticed. Again, other blog posts. Poems I may write eventually. But I bring it up now to mark the change. Its winter, for Christ’s sake, it’s dark and gloomy and cold and I can’t walk the two blocks to the gym without getting snow in my shoes. By all accounts, my depression should be worse. And yet, and yet. I’m actually feeling better than I did during the Summer when I was taking classes. Almost better than I did during the Fall Semester, which included one of the best classes I had taken at Columbia, and one of the worst, as well as working two jobs and I discovered my love of editing all over again.            

    Maybe it’s because I know all these people, and so attending is like hanging out with my friends with the bonus of getting their view on the sex scene that had me doing mental gymnastics for like three hours, broken up with many, many coffee breaks, (and I get to read their novels too!) but as of right now, I am swearing by them. Writing groups that form outside the restraints of a Writing Workshop or a college class are the greatest thing since space heaters and the internet, and by Jove if I’m not going to strive to be a part of one for the rest of my writing life.

  • Writing Every Day, Day who knows.

    Writing every day is so hard, yo. I mean, difficult as something really, really difficult. Sisyphean, even. There were days over the summer when I didn’t even turn on my computer, because if I didn’t turn on my computer, I wouldn’t have to write. Right? So there were entire days that I went without the internet. In the middle of summer. When I had nothing else to do anyway. Procrastination, thy name is novelist. And I didn't even get anything else done, because I told myself that writing came first. That had to happen before I could go outside, or wash my dishes or do that load of laudry I've been meaning to do for the past three weeks. Not a good way to go about it.

    All told, I think I may have written 20 thousand words over the entire summer? Maybe? Something like that. Anyway, it was nowhere near my goal, and I am nowhere near the end of my novel. How did I do it when I participated in NaNoWriMo all those years ago? Was it the forum support? Being able to punch in my word count at the end of every day and watch the little counter fill up, simultaneously giving me a thrill and a sense of accomplishment and being able to show it off? Or was it that I was just less terrified, because it could be as terrible as I wanted, because no one was going to read it. Especially not someone I look up to, like a professor or my thesis advisor. Maybe that’s it. Have I forgotten how to write shitty first drafts? Just tell myself the story and trust that I can come back and make it better?

    Maybe I just need to brush up on my Lamott then, and everything will come flooding back and all will be right with the world. Or maybe it’s the whole writing chronologically thing that has me tripped up. It could be any number of things, but all I know is that writing this little rant to myself (and you, dear readers) is happening easily, while chapter ten of my novel is sitting open in another tab, 1.4 words in, gathering dust. Either way, it’s time to stop procrastinating. I guess.

    Writing every day part two. This time, it's personal.

  • Writing Every Fucking Day, Day One

    Motivation is hard.            

    You don’t need me to tell you that, because I’m sure that getting out of bed in the morning is just as difficult for you as it is for me, and if you’re one of those blissful few that get up with a song in your heart and sit down in front of your computer before your coffee is even finished brewing and merrily type away, please don’t talk to me. Because for the most part, writing is like trying to pull my uvula out through my nose.            

    Unless I’m in one of those inspired states and absolutely euphoric with it, of course, but those happen so rarely that I feel like I have better odds of getting struck by lightning on a cloudless afternoon in the middle of my own apartment than I do of achieving that writer’s Nirvana, and if I waited for one of those, I would never get anything done. And then I’d have nothing to turn in to class and I’d remain one of those people who calls themselves a writer and never actually writes. And I live in constant terror of that actually becoming the case and having to work some telemarketing job that I hate for the rest of my life. I might still have to (it is hella hard to make a living wage off writing), but at least if I’m a writer who writes then I’ll feel like I’m accomplishing things, right?            

    Also my thesis needs to be done-done as of Spring 2015, because Future Me cannot afford to have me continue to spend 10k a semester doing nothing.            

    So, new plan. I am writing EVERY DAY for the REST OF THE SUMMER. The plan is this: I must put down at least a thousand words, from the time I get up in the midmorning (11 is usually standard) to whenever I get a thousand words. It can be on any project, and yes, this blogpost counts right now, because I am lazy slob and I still haven’t gotten showered or dressed and I should probably get to the library today so I can renew my library card. And so far this means I’ve written almost four hundred words. Suck it, self-imposed goals.            

    I mean, I don’t ever think I’ll become one of those crazy morning people— I’m nocturnal, as my father was before me and going to bed before three in the morning is fucking hard— but hopefully I can make this writing thing a little less like trying to do my own throat surgery.            

    Maybe I’ll turn this blog into a daily word count diary thing, so you can all laugh at my pain. At least then someone will find this amusing.            

    (BTWs, word count on this post is 478 words. As that Big Time Rush song so cheerfully intones: Halfway there muthafuckas!)