Well I've been horrible at The Blogging lately, hm? But, I've been super great at... Life?
We got married in the beginning of August -- in a bookstore, of course -- and our honeymoon was full of climbing, zip lining, rope coursing, and, naturally, a lot of laughter.
Right after our honeymoon, I started my new, additional full time job, in earnest: being a personal trainer is amazing so far. I remain in a state of awe that I'm getting paid to be in a gym all day. What?! (If you wanna train with me remotely, hit me up!)
And now? Back at the #authorlife grind!
Whether you're local to D.C. or to my own city, stop on by for good conversation and loads of queer literature!
So, first off:
#OutWrite Literary Festival, Washington D.C.
Reading: Between Worlds. 10am. Saturday, August 4th.
Don Sakers, Genevieve Iseult Eldredge, Racheline Maltese, and me!
Moderated by Rob Gates.
Panel: Writing Nonbinary Characters. 11am. Saturday, August 4th.
Racheline Maltese, Brit Mandelo, Carmen Phelps, Xemiyulu Manibusan, and me!
Moderated by A.M. Dellamonica.
Panel: Worldbuilding for Experts and Beginners.
12pm. Saturday, August 4th.
Kosoko Jackson, Alexis Smithers, Marcos Gonsalez, and Melissa Scott.
Moderated by... me!
And, at FlameCon back in NYC, Marcos and I are back for more shenanigans!
FlameCon, New York, NY.
Panel: Too Gay for This Shit: YA/Comic Crushes and Our Mental Health.
12:15-1:00pm. Sunday, August 19th.
Marcos Gonsalez and me (the dream team!!!)
Whether it's finding gentle models of masculinity (T'challa, anyone?) or fanboying over trans Peter Parker head canons and Storm's obvious need for her own movie, our queer comic and YA literature crushes sustain our mental health, even when the rest of the world feels like it's caving in. In this panel, we'll discuss (and invite the audience to share) the intersections of our queer joy and queer pain. We'll explore the ways that fictional representation (and lack thereof) can both hold our mental health together and tear it apart as we navigate queer mental health communities through representations of comic and YA fiction queerness.
Come nerd out with us: I'll see you there.
JP: First thing I need to know -- because I have a copy of your beautiful book in front of me right now -- is who created this gorgeous cover art?
RR: My dear panita and constant collaborator, Félix Adorno created it with a little help from Adriana Adorno, his sister, chef and also illustrator. Félix is a graphic designer, musician, and programmer from Puerto Rico- now based in Miami. What I love about his work is that he is a deep thinker. Part of the process with him is to have philosophical conversations, constant debrief on metaphors and allegories and
U.S.S.R poster design appreciation sessions -his passion-. In the case of The Maladjusted, we researched and got into in-depth discussions on real and figurative black holes.
JP: The book is structured almost as a series of discrete, yet skillfully connected, snapshot-like scenes from Paliedemes' life. How did these scenes come to you? Did you write them in order, or stitch them together? A combination?
RR: It was a combination. One of the most important premises of the novella is that after getting struck by lighting, Paliedemes' mind starts to work chaotically. The structure of the book mirrors Paliedemes thought processes. The borders between memories, events, written materials, and coma dreams are very porous. The fragmentation also permitted me to incorporate different styles of writing I was working at the time. I put everything together using a montage technique, but once the book was getting a more definitive structure, I started to work in orderly sequences.
JP: What was it like working with Tania (Molina) and David (Skeist) to make sure that your distinct narrative style remained consistent throughout? What things would you want people reading THE MALADJUSTED in English to know about what might have been lost in translation?
RR: Tania is my life partner and the mother of my daughter Micaela, so she knows me very well and understands my ways and personal expressions. She is Puerto Rican as well, so she is also very knowledgeable on the slang used in the original. She did the first draft. Her goal was to keep the unique rhythms and to some extent my syntaxis. David is a U.S. American, so his task was first, to revise Tania's version and, second, to work with us adapting particular, hard to translate expressions. It was a gratifying process because our sessions were like advance translation classes in which we will get into the complexities and contradictions of both languages. Because of that, it took us a lot of time to finish the translation. We were getting sidetracked all the time. Of course, some words or expressions probably got "lost" but I feel that, although faithful, the English version is its own thing. I don't have significant concerns over it.
JP: You write such incisive lines, sometimes within a mere paragraph of a segment. One moment that particularly struck me was: "[My father] has scars that look like they're from vampires or desert cacti. My life goes on peacefully." The stark contrast between these lines is a beautiful gut punch. As a writer and a thinker, how do you know when to deploy such blunt yet beautiful contrasts?
RR: In the case of that line, I was trying to reproduce the writing of a younger, teenage Paliedemes. Sabatar, his father, is a Vietnam veteran probably with what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and very real scars from the violence he experienced. Paliedemes is trying to understand the circumstances that led to these mental and physical scars. Also, he is tracing a line between his father and himself. He grew up on the island, far from the war zone and he knows, even at his age, that there is no way he could understand what his father went through. As a writer, I wanted to foster these contrasts. The novella is full of disasters and dark mindscapes, but among it, there are recurrent beautiful moments.
JP: Talk to me, if you don't mind, about Marcia. It is she, alone, who stands in the storm at the end of the novel: what would you want your readers to know about her that didn't make it into the novel?
RR: Marcia is a brave, passionate but she is ultimately lost. The novella is full of people taking the wrong turn. All the characters are experiencing the storm alone in some way. Paliedemes is in his car heading towards Marcia to join her in the kidnapping of Galíndez. Meanwhile, Marcia is anxious looking at the storm through the window trying to get a hold of the unknown. The novella has an open ending like most current series on TV. I love the idea of finishing with the crossroad: the multiple possibilities of action. I already wrote and published a sequel to The Maladjusted. It is called "Los ajustes" as of now it is not translated into English yet, but all there is to know about the whereabouts and backstories of these characters and all the loose ends that the first novel left -on purpose- is there.
Be sure to order your copy of Rojo's magnificent novel here:
I've been overwhelmed by so much in the past month.
From my book tour -- which I will write about, but have yet to fully process (spoiler: it was a delightful whirlwind and resulted in huge and exciting life decisions) -- to life... just... happening... it's been nonstop.
The sensation of being swept along, as my mom says, 'by the seat of my pants', is constant and intense, these days. But I'm getting a grasp on it. I'm getting to love it.
Because I met incredible people last month; I did things I never thought I could do, emotionally, physically. I've endured the kind of grief I haven't had to feel in years, and I've been trying to live up to the word I have permanently inked on my forearm.
I'm going to get another tattoo, soon. Because life, sometimes, can use some markers along the way; for a sense of stability, joy, remembrance. For mourning and hope.
And something that's been buoying me, even as I scrape my way back to a steady routine? (Something, that is, aside from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and old episodes of Grey's Anatomy?)
Fan art of LUNAV.
I can't even believe it's out there, in the world. The book, and the beautiful pieces that incredible artists are bringing into the world to go with it?
It's still surreal saying it, so I'll try it again:
There's starting to be LUNAV fan art out there in the world -- much of it by the wonderful solaert, whose delightful depictions of Evelyn and Sadie are available on all kinds of merch through redbubble (LUNAV sweaters and tanks, anyone?) -- and I have to say, I'm overwhelmed.
I'm especially overwhelmed, this week, by a beautiful piece of high school AU art by the brilliant cassiebones (whom, I know, is available for commissions!!!).
Like I said on my Instagram, Cassie has an uncanny knack for capturing Sadie's Utter Gayness™ and Osley's quiet patience for her shenanigans.
And what a way to bring Osley -- a rabbit in LUNAV -- into human form! Que (genderqueer pronouns like they/them!) is speaking in ASL to honor the fact that que communicates nonverbally as a rabbit. I absolutely love that: I think that kind of creativity and earnesty with representation (especially in visual art) is so gorgeous, and I'm tremendously grateful to Cassie for that. And, by the way, Osley's shirt says "save the forest."
Because of course it does ;)
I'll write more, later, about things I've learned on tour, and I'll get back into the swing of writing tips and youtube posts.
But for now?
I'm leg pressing 728 pounds and I'm letting myself ease back into the rigor of the writing part of the writing world. It's a rigor that I love, that I miss; and that I'll be fully immersed in again very, very soon.
And I'm enjoying the heck out of LUNAV fan art.
Waiting for my third flight in less than 24 hours?
More likely than you think. Why?
This book tour has been incredible. I'll write more about it on the flip side -- I'm excited to share stories and videos (including me driving a remote control BB8 around my friend's living room floor -- it was amazing) and things I've learned with you!
But for now, a little bit of what's next: CLEXACON!!!!
First up, the panel on mental health and poor queer representation in the media! I'm so honored to be joining the brilliant folks I'll be joining, including one of my favorite authors, CB Lee!
Next up, also on Friday in the Sylvia Rivera Room, but this time at 6:00pm, the Sapphic Fan Fiction panel!! It shall be amazing and comb through the different reasons we write wlw fan fic, how it's changed us, and how it heals us.
I cannot wait -- see you there! And, if you can't be there in person, don't worry: there will be videos and photos and remember -- you aren't alone and you are so loved, wherever you are right now!
On Thursday, March 22nd from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, we will have a literary celebration – complete with snacks and drinks (and, I’ve been told, some glitter!) – at Books of Wonder in NYC, the same children’s bookstore where I proposed to my lovely fiancée!
Come for the conversation (and noms) and leave as the first people to read LUNAV: it doesn’t come out until March 26th, so those in attendance will be the first to crack open the pages of Sadie’s dragon-filled world!
Another bonus: with every purchase of LUNAV, attendees will receive a free digital copy of LOST BOY, FOUND BOY, my queer sci-fi retelling of Peter Pan!
For those of you in NYC, the details are as follows:
Thursday, March 22nd, 2018, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Books of Wonder (@booksofwonder) 18 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011
Free snacks and drinks available!
Either way, I’ll meet you in Lunav, in Neverland; somewhere in the pages!
Writing LUNAV took me about three years, give or take: that time frame includes at least five full rewrites.
Writing LOST BOY, FOUND BOY -- which is literally a fourth the length of LUNAV -- took me a full year, most of which was time during which it just sat, partially done, in my notebook, antagonizing me.
The plot for LOST BOY, FOUND BOY hated my guts. Hardcore.
With LUNAV, I wrote chaotically. I wrote scene after disconnected scene, and then -- hence all the rewriting -- figured out what shape my plot wanted to take and wove them together.
With LOST BOY, scenes wouldn't come to me. I knew where I wanted to go, plotwise. I knew the elements I wanted to include. I knew what Peter's main emotional journey was going to be, I knew the subplots. I knew how the lesbians were going to fall in love. I knew everything about the damn thing.
Except I couldn't, for the life of me, write it.
Because the plot hated my guts.
But I had secret weapons. Granted, it took me a year to figure them out, but when I did?
Score one for Jenn, score zero for that pesky plot.
What were my secret weapons, you might ask? Read on, dear reader. Read on.
1. Call a Truce (aka, take a break)
As writers, we often feel like we've failed when we take a break from our characters, our worlds. We feel like we're letting someone -- or the entire world -- down. We feel like not writing means we're not worth it as people.
But you are -- we are -- worth it, even when we're not writing, I promise.
Given that we often feel those things, though, it's tempting -- and I tried to do this so many times -- to say "oh look, I gave it a break: I didn't think about or look at my draft all weekend." And good try, but... no.
Gotta be longer than that.
To really cleanse our minds, we've gotta turn to different projects: and sometimes, those projects are best not being writing at all. For me, it's the gym (it's always the gym, for me). It's also fan fiction (lots and lots of fan fiction).
I put LOST BOY down for, oh... eight months? I had no choice. I kept trying to force it, and the more I tried, the worse it got.
I only came back to it when...
2. Talk it Out (with a reader, not a writer)
For me, a friend who's not a writer was actually most helpful. That's not a knock on my wonderful writer friends! It's just... the friend who isn't a writer listened to me moaning about LOST BOY, and the fix was pretty immediate.
She tilted her head and pursed her lips and said the most obvious thing in the world: obvious to her as a potential reader, not as a fellow writer empathizing with my pain about pacing and point of view and other such plot agonies.
As a potential reader, she shrugged her shoulders and made a passing statement that not only transformed and clarified how I was thinking about the project, but that also renewed my passion to dive back into a project that had been causing me so much emotional grief.
Suddenly, the project was new again; suddenly, I liked it again. Don't underestimate the power of liking what you're working on. It's so important, every time.
And, for those of you who're wondering: all she said was, "okay, so Tink is the computer." And... it all went from there.
3. Set a Liveline (get it?)
A liveline for yourself, you know... a deadline, except without... death.
Seriously, though: for me, telling my editor (or someone else to whom you feel accountable) that I was working on this project and could send it to him by xx date really lit a fire under me. And, because I'd set the date myself, it was something that I felt in control of, something that I was excited for.
Saying to myself, "okay, you've marinated on this project for almost a year now; you've had a truly transformative conversation about it (in addition to a lot of non-transformative conversations about it!), and now you're excited about it again. Great! So... finish it by this date."
For me, it was invigorating and exactly what I needed.
You might notice that very little of this was about the plot itself. And that's intentional. So much of writing is in our own minds, in our own senses of self-worth; in our own feelings. Yes, it's a craft, and there are lots of craft-oriented strategies -- storyboarding comes to mind, as I've written about on here before -- but there's something about addressing our emotions as writers that, to me, is extremely helpful in the actual writing process.
What about you? How do you get through when your plot hates you?
"I want to write, but everyone's writing is better than mine, so why should I bother?"
"I have this fan fiction/novel/short story all written, but I don't want to share it with anyone because I know it's terrible."
"I started to write something, but I can't keep going because it's just so bad that it feels pointless."
I hear variations of these statements all the time, whether from students or readers or friends. Heck, I say variations of these statements all the time myself.
And when I think about what to say to people who say this to me, who ask me what to do about it, two things occur to me:
(1) When we tell this to other people, often what we're looking for is simple: validation. A refutation of our statement. When we say "everyone's writing is better than mine," we often want the person we're talking to to say, "no, don't be silly, your writing is great!"
And we deserve that validation, that support, that encouragement to keep going even when we get down on ourselves, even when things feel bleak. We all deserve that, whether it's about writing or anything else in life.
But that leads me to my second thought:
(2) Who are we competing with, anyway? Yes, there are people in the world who write so much better than we do. There are people in the world who don't write as well as we do, or who don't write at all. That's okay! There's always going to be difference in writing styles and opinions of what makes something "good," anyway.
Not to mention: there are books published by big five presses that are just so bad!!! Especially when they're put up against so many works of fan fiction that people, often young people, toil over for hours and hours and hours, with no financial reward and no recognition from publishing houses.
Because here's the thing: whether you're a highly successful published author or you write fan fiction in the dead of night, or you just dream of one day getting your ideas out on paper, you're going to think other people's writing is better than yours. And that's good! It helps us learn, it makes reading pleasurable, and it gives us something to strive for.
For me, this dilemma takes me to the gym.
When I watch people lifting more than me, banging out pull ups and variations thereof that I am nowhere near being able to do, I have to keep one thing in my mind: yet, yet, yet, yet.
I can't lift that much yet.
I can't do those pull ups yet.
It doesn't mean I should stop working out because people are at different stages of their training than I am, because I admire other people's power and strength. It means that I can learn new things from watching how other people train; I can incorporate different techniques into my own regiments; and it means I can make more specific goals based on what I want for myself.
Because everyone wants different things for themselves, in writing and in gymming (and, you know... in life).
I'm good in the gym. I work hard, I play hard, and I'm devoted to my own personal goals.
I'm (and this is harder for me to say) good at writing. I work hard, I play hard, and I'm devoted to my own personal goals.
Significantly, I'm gentle with myself on both fronts. Self-care and recovery are just as important to my gym and writing routines as my actual training and writing times are.
So, everyone's writing might be better than mine. And some days, that makes me internalize things like "I'm terrible" and therefore "I'm worthless," and whooooo, there goes my depression spiral.
But what's important for me -- and might be for you, too! -- is to try and remember that we're all, always, practicing. We're all, always, growing.
The world needs your voice. If it's not where you want it to be yet, surround yourself with people who support you, who validate you: who remind you that it's okay to not be everything you want to be right now, because you'll get there. Keep going. Keep writing, keep training. Keep loving yourself.
You've got this! And you know what? So do I.
Even when your writing is better than mine.
So, it's the new year.
And you've promised yourself you're going to finish that novel, flesh out that short story, develop that video game... except your characters seem to hate you. They won't tell you about their lives and even if you have the best idea for a plot, they keep shrugging their shoulders in the ultimate expression of meh.
Except you really need them to work with you. You really do.
So you keep trying to force them to muddle through the plot you have planned, or you keep trying to cajole them into revealing where they want to go and who they want to have a torrid love affair with next.
I've been there. Trust me. I know. Writing LOST BOY, FOUND BOY was a year-long exercise in, "seriously, Peter? Talk to me, man. Tink? What about you? No? Why? Why do my characters all hate me."
If you're anything like me, you might want to take a break from your actual narrative at this point and spend some time getting to know your characters better. Chances are, once you do, they'll help you bust through any plot devices you're having trouble with, because they'll be that much more multi-dimensional.
So, without further ado: 5 things you need to know about your characters (that you'll probably never even tell your readers: not explicitly, anyway).
1. What do they want in this scene?
Yes. In every. Single. Scene.
What do they want? Why do they want it?
In every. Single. Scene.
It's okay if your character doesn't know: hell, we often don't know what we want, or why we want it, in the scenes of our everyday lives. But as the author, you should.
2. What Hogwarts House are they in?
And be careful, here. Hogwarts Houses are always super interesting to me: the only reason Harry wasn't in Slytherin, remember, is because he chose not to be. You can choose, at the tender age of 11.
So, the question gets more complicated: would the House you think your character would be in now be different than what it would have been or will be when they're eleven? Why? What changed? What stayed the same?
Not a Harry Potter person? No judgment (mostly). The basics here are about knowing what qualities your characters value in themselves and what they value in other people. Does your character think it's better to be kind or to be correct? To have lots of friends or to have a small handful of intimate chosen family? To be on the front lines or in the background? Where are the complexities? The 'yes ands'? The conflicts of values?
This is where your characters get rich in development.
3. What do they do in their down time?
In book cultures of chosen ones and plucky teens saving the world, we often forget the mundane, the "boring", the "oh my Rao I just want to go home and sleep."
Forget what they need to do to survive, for a moment: what do your characters do to thrive?
Or, what would they do if they weren't wrapped up in whatever intensive plot you have lined up for them?
4. Why do they like (or dislike) x person?
We love chemistry in our books, don't we? Two characters meet eyes across the room, and bam. An OTP is born.
And I'm all for that. I'm all about that.
But what sparks that chemistry (or the hatred, or the ambivalence, etc.) between two characters? What, indeed, keeps it going (or not)?
Sometimes, my favorite questions about my characters are the simplest ones. Someone asked me the other day, "What does Evelyn like the most about Sadie?" And I had to scratch my head and think about it for a hot minute. Hell, I'm still thinking about it.
Because it was a beautiful question. And I can write an entire prequel and/or sequel as an answer to it. Make sure those things shine through, even if you're not writing about them explicitly.
5. What is x's relationship with y?
What I mean by that is this: imagine a scene with four characters in it. Let's choose mine, for funsies. Sadie, Evelyn, Zaylam, and Jorbam.
Sadie and Evelyn are dating each other (or at least, they want to; even if they won't admit it yet). Zaylam, Sadie, and Jorbam are hatchling mates who grew up together.
And, Sadie is the POV character.
What about how Jorbam and Evelyn interact? Jorbam and Zaylam, when Sadie isn't there? Evelyn and Zaylam? The three of them, without Sadie?
Fleshing out relationships between multiple characters, in multiple combinations -- even if you don't give a massive amount of tangible detail to your readers about these "side" relationships -- is extremely, extremely important, and it makes for a much richer narrative.
My favorite scene in all of the Harry Potter series, for example, is a small one, an almost insignificant one, in THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. Ginny is sitting on the floor in the common room, reading a newspaper with her back against Harry's knees. Some of her brothers are there, too, playing wizards' chess. They're all teasing each other and having side conversations with each other and something about Harry having a hipogriff tattoo. They're all doing their own things: but they're doing it, intimately, together. It warms my heart, every time.
Similarly, my favorite scenes in Grey's Anatomy are ensemble scenes: I love the relationships that aren't the main focus of the show. Alex and Cristina. George and Cristina. (I just really love Cristina, okay?) Burke and Alex.
So, like in HARRY POTTER, one of my favorite Grey's scenes is a really basic one. An ensemble scene, where they're all studying for their boards, and they're all having side conversations and little nervous and excited mannerisms. They're all living their own, full, independent lives, and you can tell from how they're all doing their own thing: but they're doing it together.
It's those little things -- those tiny interactions between characters whose relationships aren't what the story is about -- that can make or break rich worlds and sweeping plots.
Build them out, even if it's just in your own notebook or google doc of character files.
It'll show up in your writing. I promise.
Pro tip: these questions are especially important for characters who aren't your POV (point of view) characters. Make sure you're always, always, always thinking about the motivations and backgrounds of your "side" characters and love interests. Even if you don't go out of your way to explicitly tell your readers about it: trust me. They'll know.
And your stories will be all the richer for it.
I have a feeling this is going to get long, so the tl;dr right away: this is an absolutely spectacular book. As someone with BPD, depression, and anxiety, this book... it was so, so, so healing, not to mention an absolutely gorgeous piece of writing. Please read and share widely; Sarah Moon's YA debut makes me yearn to read everything else she will ever write.
Sparrow -- both the girl and the novel -- takes readers on an immensely raw, immensely empathetic journey that feels, at its core, deeply authentic, deeply unique, deeply immersive. Sparrow's narration is compelling for so many reasons, not the least of which because her grow is subtle, immense, and believable.
The community she struggles to forge -- because social anxiety and a deep sense of alienation from the people around her is a tremendous part of this book -- is absolutely beautiful, as is the character herself.
It's too rare that we get to see Black girls in literature loving and making rock music; too rare that their sadness in literature is not because of slavery or the grief of a civil rights movement; too rare that Black girls get to simply *be*, and get to *heal*, but not because they were made to by the artificially-imposed constraint of an uncomplicated happy ending.
Not once did this novel feel exploitative or the kind of "torture porn" that often occurs when authors try and fail to write a book centralizing mental health struggles and extreme alienation. At every moment, it felt real and believable; at every moment, I felt so much of what Sparrow felt, both for her and within myself.
When Sparrow cried, I cried. When Sparrow lost, I lost. When Sparrow sang, I sang (badly). When Sparrow spoke, I felt like I could, too, speak, and maybe even be heard. When Sparrow felt the stirrings of hope within her for the first time in too long, I felt hope warming me, buoying me, taking me on this marvelous journey toward both self and community.
By nature, I love books; by nature, I am grateful for books. But this book? I am uniquely grateful for this work of art.
My only sadness about this book is that I can only give it five stars.
cross-posted from my Goodreads account.