Monthly Archives: April 2013

the juvenilia files: His Irish Bride, chapter 1

Note: This is a new and maybe recurring feature wherein I return to the trove of writing I churned out as teenager with the time-hardened eye of a 23-year-old. It won’t be pretty. But you might laugh.

Imagine, if you will, a sixteen-year-old girl who has:
1. A unexplainable passion for the Middle Ages
2. No actual, factual knowledge of the Middle Ages
3. Literary ambition
4. Never kissed a boy

If this sounds like a recipe for the Greatest Romance Novelist Ever, you would be wrong. But that didn’t stop me from trying.

In the November of my sixteenth year, I rolled up my unfashionable sleeves and tried to bang out a romance novel about, for reasons I cannot remember, Medieval Ireland. I did not know what I was doing on any front of this endeavor. I had Google everything from “Norman military hierarchy” to “herbal remedies for bleeding” to “how do you French kiss.”

His Irish Bride (I know) stalled at 16,000-some words, the first few you will see annotated below. I never submitted it anywhere (or even finished it), but it did end up being useful later.

But first: the story.

Chapter One
Ireland, 1203

I have no idea why I picked this year. I think I wanted it to be after the Norman invasion, but I don’t think 16-year-old me put together just how after 1066 this setting would be. Also, real talk: I could not point to Ireland on a map. Continue reading

how is story formed

The last book I wrote took shape behind a very un-peek-behindable curtain, for reasons of personal sanity and also laziness. But the more I’ve begun to hang out with writers, the more I want to talk about writing (and also write, duh). And even though many, many others have written longer and better about how to write, my dear friend (and totally accomplished writer) Simi asked me the other day for tips on, you know, actually starting a novel. In response, I wrote her a novel’s worth of information, and now I’ve adapted it to share with you.

And! I’m starting my next book, so I’ll have lots of bare-laying to do in the coming weeks. We’ll see this thing through together, you and I. Sharing is good for you!

So: write a novel. What’s the worst that could happen?

No, I’m serious. I need to know—you need to know—in the universe of your fiction, what is the worst thing that could happen.

Got an answer? You’ve got a story.

Continue reading

you’re so young you’re so goddamned young

(Optional soundtrack for this post may be found here or here).

I’ve been 23 years old for almost half a year now, and I think Blink-182 was on to something.

On one side of it, 23 is a lot of years: I have a college degree, a job with a paycheck, and more than one nice pair of pants. I pay taxes*, I make budgets, and I can drive three and a half hours to a writers’ retreat all by my lonesome. I have come far enough in life that there exists a place where I used to be, and find myself giving advice to people (plural!) whose present situation is my past.

Most critically, though, I write books. Have written, am writing, whatever—I have picked a career and God-damned if I’m not in it for the long haul.


But on the other side, 23 is so little. I sleep in my childhood bedroom. I don’t pay the heating bill. I can’t rent a car. I get called “young lady” by my so-called peers in the business of book-writing as they dispense advice in a patronizingly royal we: “We can’t give up! We all have to keep writing!”

Lady, I know. I’ve kept writing since I was 16. You want trunked manuscripts? I’ve got six. I might have been born yesterday but that doesn’t make me stupid. It doesn’t make me some kind of wunderkind, either; I’m not trying to posit myself as an under-appreciated prodigy here. I don’t want to whine. I just want to work.

Back in the days (daze?) of employment-hunting, my mantra was this: if the worst thing they can say about you is that you’re too young for the job, then the best is yet to come. Time heals all ills, and no more so than when you’re afflicted with youth.

My point (or my hope, or my belief) is this: age should be neutral. Your work and the quality thereof is the only thing that counts and the only thing you should count on.

Last night, my mother and I were commiserating over our respective places in time. “You’re closer to the beginning of your life, and I’m closer to the end,” she said, one of those double-edged statement that cut at each of us in opposite ways. I said what I thought without thinking about it and spit out one of those dumb-but-true truths:

“We’ve both got tomorrow. That’s all you need.”

*or, okay, I will have paid taxes as of tonight. This is why god invented e-filing.

editrix of the trade


Think back to any “E! True Hollywood Story” you’ve ever seen (because I know you’ve seen them). You know how there’s always that grainy, talent-show clip of a six-year-old Christina Aguilera belting out a song onstage at her elementary school, and then a quick cut to a talking head of a parent or friend who’s all, “we knew from the very beginning she would be a singer”? I think these moments happen for those of us less glamorously gifted, too.

Mine would be when, at age seven-ish, I was flicking through the manuscript for a book my mom was working on illustrating about princesses having a slumber party. After hearing a story of fantastic beasts evidently too scary for sheltered royal progeny, one of the princesses was said to gasp thusly: “What DRAGON?”

Cue me: “Shouldn’t it be ‘WHAT dragon?'”

An editor is born!

This humble-bragging anecdote is just a lengthy, lede-burying lead-in to the fact that I’ve just (well, a month ago) completed editing My Novel. Since that first incidence of precocious pedantry, I’ve gone on to edit plenty of things–the high school lit mag, endless cover letters, a handful of news articles, and even manuscripts–but never anything so long and so very my own.


If you’ll recall from this fall’s FAQ, I absconded to Canada with the a project of writing a book, which I did. I had a schedule, which was to write 2,800 words a day, and I mostly succeeded, because I had nothing else to do and I was determined to see this thing through. It hit 78,000 words, I hit the end, and then I started another one, because I still had a month and a half left in my new lease on life and also on sublet apartment. I left the book alone, like you’re supposed to, and waited.

I don’t (or don’t here, anyway) talk about my fiction writing much, because…it’s scary! I don’t know. For some reason I’m the proverbial open book about my Real World, whether I’m sobbing in nice restaurants or weathering a long-distance relationship or thinking about the future where my parents are dead and I don’t know how to get my car repaired. But when it comes to letting people in on my Fake World, the one that I built in my head out of gumpaste and papier-mâché and dreams in Old French, I seal off.

For the creative process, the generative part, I think this is a good thing–no matter how crazymaking the lonely days of French-Canadian composition were at the time. But for editing, and especially after editing, you’ve got to start letting other people in.


So I emailed copies to trusted friends, printed the damn thing out, and slapped it in a plastic binder, ready for the evisceratory rage of the red pen. And you know what? Weren’t so bad. Were, actually, kind of fun. Kind of a relief to see that hey, the book is Not Terrible. Kind of reassuring to see that, with the benefit of a break, my future-self could pick up and refine the threads and themes and know what and when to slash. Kind of thrilling, too, to think that “WHAT dragon?” was a question more rhetorical than I realized at the time–a calling to my calling.

The book is 81,000 words long. It is funny and it is sad and it is Pretty Good, if I do say so myself. It is being looked at by experts, really, and it is in God’s hands, figuratively. It is finished in the sense of done and finished in the sense of slicked over with metaphorical polish, but either way, I’m the one who finished it.

Edited to add: My sainted mother managed to track down the page in question. Behold: