a tentative beginning

Olive snapped the goggles around her head and looked around. The room warped at the edges where the lenses met the hard plastic side and melded the edges of chairs and walls into a colorful blur.

“Perfect,” she said, to no one in particular. “I love them.”

The optician smiled. “Those are great for sports.”

“Olivia doesn’t play sports,” her mother said, trying on a pair of huge round sunglasses and inspecting herself in the mirror. “She’s just messing around. Olive, stop wasting time and try on some real glasses.”

“I’m not wasting time. These are what I want.” She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. The goggles made her eyes look huge, like an owl’s, and the elastic around her head bunched her hair and made her ears stick out. “We’ll take them, please.”

He looked at her mother as if for help. “Would this be in addition to a normal pair of glasses? Your eyesight has remarkably improved since we last saw you, so you really don’t need–”

“I do.” She beamed. “I’m very clumsy. It’s for my own protection, really. See?” She held up her current glasses, held together at the center with duct tape, a crack down the right lense.

Her mother tried on a pair of black cat-eye sunglasses. “If you don’t stop it I will buy them and you’ll be stuck with them.”

“Good,” Olive said, taking them off and putting her old glasses back on. They hung crooked from one ear. She handed the goggles to the optometrist. “This is what  I want, thank you so much.”

Her mother sighed and replaced the sunglasses. “Do you really want to go to school like this?” she said, walking over and inspecting the goggles. She pressed them to her face, the band dangling below her chin. “Like you’re going snorkling? You want everyone to see you looking like this every day for the rest of your junior year?”

“You know I don’t care about popularity. Just let me get them. It’s what I want. Please?”

“Fine. We’ll get them, and no crying to me later when you come to your senses.” She handed over her credit and insurance cards. “When will they be ready?”

“In about two days,” the optician said, walking with Olive’s mother to the counter. “I’ll give you call when you can pick them up.”

Olive stayed where she was, alone by the racks of glasses. She pushed her broken glasses up her nose. In the corner of her eye, past where the lens ended, she saw lidless eyes staring out from the frames, red eyes slicked with pus and dripping lazy viscous slime, eyes with veins bulging and pulsing like a heartbeat, eyes stacked six feet up the wall, blinking and watching her, maggots wiggling their way out of corneas.

“Olive, are you coming?”

She jerked her head around to see her mother standing by the entrance. “Yeah, of course,” she said, trying to sound chipper. “Let’s go. Do you want to get lunch?”

On controlling narratives

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately.

Mainly because I finally joined Instagram. I try to tell myself it’s not because I can’t resist the siren call of random likes from strangers (that’s a lie). It’s mainly an experiment. I’m fascinated with how social media can present your best self to the world, how it can allow you to control your narrative. It’s creating a fantasy and selling it as truth.

Facebook, for me, is as close to the truth as I get on social media. I post the silly, unflattering, badly lit pictures and my rare status updates are usually my being pissed off at some world event. But my Instagram quest is to seize my narrative with an iron grip and create something patently false with just a veneer of reality. My happiest, best, healthiest, most wonderful self.

I started at about 2006 and worked my way to the present, posting a lot on slow work days. I posted a huge amount of Peace Corps photos, beautiful sweeping mountain views, wild animals, me with big smiles in exotic locals. There are so many pictures of me hiking up mountains that it appears I must be a serious mountain climber.

In reality, Peace Corps was an ordeal of crushing loneliness and loss of purpose and sometimes fear, punctuated with small moments of joy. I got amoebic dysentery, twice. I had terribly painful cystic acne that looked like the peaks of red mountains across my face. I was attacked with a knife and sliced in the hand, then improperly stitched up without meds in a tiny, dirty emergency room filled with other, much more badly injured people. All those mountains? I was either driven up most of the way or suffered wet, miserable exhaustion. On the way up one in the rain, someone fell to his death at the top and my screaming muscles were deeply relieved that we were forced to turn around, and then I felt guilty that my relief came because a young man died.

Yes, I swam in the clear blue ocean. I lived next to an active volcano. I jumped off of a bridge. I met a boy and rode on the back of his motorcycle down a dark road with liquid black mountains around us and felt truly alive. I did the great things the pictures show. But those things were just a sliver of something in a yawning mass of two years of my life wasted, holed up in my tiny apartment and feeling utterly, brutally alone.

In Instragram I am joyful, and you are envious of my life.

And now, after 136 posts spanning 8 years, I’ve reached the present. A photo of me at my bachelorette party, beaming, but what the photo doesn’t show is that it was just me and my matron of honor, because I didn’t have any other friends who would celebrate with me. I had a wedding party of one – just her. Zombie runs and traveling and beach trips, but none of it shows the heavy stress of my job and the worry over an uncertain future. I look happy and healthy, but I’m actually on multiple medications for pain that, after numerous doctor’s visits, no one seems to be able to fix. Because of this, I haven’t been the gym in months, and I’m gaining weight. My pants don’t fit anymore. My face has rounded out, so the pictures of myself I can choose from are fewer and fewer. I’m always in pain. Smiling holiday photos don’t show the weight of fear that I live under due to extreme family issues I can’t get into on the internet. Suffice to say, I’m scared every day.

Still, the pictures don’t lie. I am happy as well. Life is that two-way street. I’m blissfully happy in my marriage. We have a wonderful, snuggly little rescue dog. We decorated our apartment for Christmas and have a huge live tree in the tiny space. We cook dinner together every night and spend too much time at the dog park. I had a beautiful wedding and amazing honeymoon. I’m ridiculously close to my parents. My job is steady and pays well.

With the exception of this rant, the internet only shows the good. The envious. And I kind of love that. I like that strangers might see my life and think it looks beautiful. That I can create a world where my pain doesn’t exist. It’s incredible. In this world, I am flawless, and so is my life, a neverending trip and sunset and #love.

An interview with me!

Oh my goodness, it seems that somehow I forgot to post my interview with Cosmic Driftwood! That’s what happens when life sends you across the country multiple times in a few weeks.


Talking about writing–S.S.Evans

Ta da! Another interview! It’s almost like I’m organized or something.

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing S.S. Evans, an author, nerd, foodie, and country girl trapped in Washington, DC. She can often be found hanging out longingly at the dog park without a pet. When not writing fiction, she is a producer for an international news network and dabbles in the occasional freelance article. She spent two years working in Agriculture for Peace Corps Ecuador and came out of it with great stories and physical scars. She has a BA in Writing and Spanish from the University of Pittsburgh.

Thanks, Sarah, for volunteering your brain to science…er, for showing up for an interview!

You started out writing fanfiction. I didn’t, but reading it was one of the things that started me writing again. I’m not even sure I can articulate what it sparked, other than a sense of…liberation, maybe. A thrill from the energy of the writers there?

In any case, I just got Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, out of the library, and I read the acknowledgments first, as I usually do, and she says this: “Also: I decided to write this book after reading a lot (I mean, a lot) of fanfiction. Reading fic was a transformative experience for me–it changed the way I think about writing and storytelling, and helped me more deeply understand my own intense relationships with fictional words and characters.”

So, tell me, what has fanfiction done for you as a writer? Technique, content, anything that feels of importance to you–I want to hear it all.

I love talking about fanfiction. I consider it the best tool for an aspiring writer, for multiple reasons. First, you get a reader base. That is a huge plus for a first time writer, knowing that hundreds of people from around the world are reading your words. You get reviews, and followers – there is nothing like the jump you feel getting a new review in your inbox. You have a community of people cheering you on, reading every chapter, giving advice. It makes you want to write more, it makes you feel connected in a way that writing solo doesn’t. Plus, the readers are strangers – I know personally I’m fine with strangers reading my writing but I cringe when a friend wants to read it. There’s no inherent judgement because all those people don’t know you, your face or past or personality. All they know are the words you write. It’s freeing.

And if you’re reading fanfiction – leave reviews. Some authors will respond and get to know you and you can start a dialogue. Same with when you receive reviews – write back, thank them, let them know you care. You can foster a real community and make friends and personally connect with people who are passionate about your writing. It might even help you find a great beta reader.

And that leads to a tip: Get a beta reader. You can find them on all fanfiction websites (Fanfiction.net, Archive of Our Own, etc). It’s someone who, for free, will edit your stories. Pick someone whose writing you admire, if you can, and who is part of the fandom you’re writing for. And listen to them. It’s hugely helpful to have that gentle voice critiquing your spelling and prose and even plot, especially if you’re just starting out.

Also: Write a lot, then update slowly, maybe about once every week or two. Leave people wanting more!

But here’s why it’s really helpful: Practice. So many hours of writing practice. You already have a world and characters set up for you. Want to see something happen in the show that didn’t? Want to add a new character into the mix and see how that changes existing dynamics? Want characters to hook up? Want to write them all in high school? Write it! Have fun! Go crazy! But whether they’re all now gay/werewolves/teens/gay werewolf teens, focus on still making it feel like the show/movie/book you love.

Focus on the cadence of the characters’ speech and make sure your writing reflects it. Make it match – how they move, how they express themselves. Is the character gruff? Don’t make them too effusive. Is the character relationship-adverse? Don’t make them fall in love immediately and become super lovey-dovey. Work within the framework to make something new. I’m not often a slash fan, but some of the best fic I ever read was slash that took the time to make me believe that these two seemingly straight characters would fall in love. It felt real, and it worked.

Also, pet peeve time, if you want a write a story where you want the villain to win and the good guy to lose, don’t make the canonically good guy a mustache-twirling, drunken rapist villain and the bad guy a misunderstood passionate lover. Just don’t. You can make it work while still keeping their basic personalities intact. I promise. (I’m looking at you, Phantom of the Opera fandom).

At the end of the day it’s just practice, practice, practice. The world is already set up for you. The characters are already fully fleshed out. All you have to do is play with them, so by the time you’re ready to write your own story, you’ll have pesky things like voice, dialogue, movement, and story structure all figured out.

Another thing that interests me is authorial reaction to fanfiction. To me, one of the fundamental lessons of writing for publication is that your world, your characters, cease to be yours, at least in the way they are when you hide away and write for yourself. My assumption is that choosing to write as a fan in someone else’s world is an expression of love for someone’s creation. Do you think that’s true? What drew you to the worlds you wrote (write?) in?

It drives me crazy when authors don’t like fanfiction, or even worse when they won’t allow it. I loved The Dragonriders of Pern growing up but I never liked that Anne McCaffrey had problems with people writing fanfiction. Fanfiction is a labor of love, and fandom fosters interest in your world and characters that would otherwise dull with time. When people can write and talk about their fandom, they buy more books, they make cosplay and attend conventions, they want products and signatures and photos – they’re making you money! They are putting money directly into your pocket and you deny that because of some idea of purity of story.

Here’s the thing: Once you put your story out into the world, it ceases to be yours. It will never be yours again. Every single person who reads it will take something different away, and it won’t be what you intended. Authors who go on record saying people are interpreting their books wrong don’t get it. What the author meant to say doesn’t matter all. It’s all in the interpretation, and you can’t tell someone they’re doing it wrong.

So let people play! Why wouldn’t you get joy out of seeing people love your work? My greatest dream would be to have a panel at a con and see people dressed as my characters. There is so much love out there and people are bursting to share it. It’s the best thing about the internet.

A good example is Supernatural, a show I’ve written copious amounts of fanfiction for: It should have ended years ago. It’s pretty much dead on its feet now (sorry, SPN fans, you know it’s true). It was just a little show about two dudes in an old car fighting monsters with often-cheesy dialogue, but the fandom took hold of it and now it won’t die. It’s been on ten years! Fans will not let it go and they’re so, so passionate that the show keeps getting renewed. Those actors and writers are kind and interact and cater to their fans, and it puts money in their pockets.

I write fanfiction for different reasons. I wrote Supernatural fanfiction because I wanted to add a female into a completely male cast and play with how that would affect the world, and also because I wanted to try my hand at writing dialogue in very specific character voices, a realistic relationship, action, and end-of-the-world stakes. I wrote my biggest Phantom of the Opera fic because I wanted to write something gritty and dark and awful to counteract all the “abduction is love” fanfics that dominate the fandom. I wrote a quick Thor fanfic because I felt that his time on earth was too short to make any sort of realistic difference to his personality, so I juxtaposed a long period of time with a very short story. I got something different out of each of my fics, but they all helped to make me a better writer.

Ah, too many things to talk about and too little time! That’s the trouble with these interviews–I want the chance to discuss much more than time allows.

So, what was the point at which you decided that you wanted to work on your own world and characters? Was the story something you’d carried with you for a while, or something completely new?

I started writing fanfic when I was 14, a long time ago. I’d been writing short little stories of my own since I was a kid, but my first real attempt at a book came when I was about 19 or so. That book was inspired by a dream. It never saw the light of day, but it’s dear to my heart and gave me the gumption and the knowledge that I could write a whole book and actually finish it. During and after that I wrote a lot of fanfiction, especially when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and had little to do. It helped me shape some ideas and improve my writing so I could start on something real.

My latest book, Left of West (represented by the wonderful Alice Speilburg of Speilburg Literary), came out of that time period. I’d actually played with ideas before I left for Peace Corps – it was a very different book then, fantasy but very political. Over about two years things shifted in my mind and I dropped the politics and settled into urban fantasy. I always wanted to write a story with group dynamics, something I wasn’t good at – fanfiction helped with that. Writing a team of already existing characters in fandom allowed me to figure out how to write my own group of disparate people thrown together. I also figured out, after I wrote pure escapist fanfiction with a smartass, asskicking heroine, that that wasn’t what I wanted to convey in my books. I didn’t want my books to be straight wish fulfillment.

I wanted to write something that usually wasn’t seen – I didn’t want to follow the status quo. I knew from the beginning that I wanted characters that were not idealized – no sexy, asskicking heroine, no super hot mysterious dude, no love triangle. That shaped a lot of my ideas. I wanted a weak, average heroine who felt real, who makes terrible mistakes, and who could really grow and change without romance, so she could focus on her own wants and needs. I wanted the mysterious dude to be flawed, often wrong, and an asshole. The person would have been the third wheel in the love triangle, the upbeat best friend boy, is still an upbeat best friend – but the frivolity is a mask and he’s struggling with his own inner cowardice. The adorable child character is a rotting corpse. Another main character is a sickly doppelganger of the heroine. The final battle is less about fighting external enemies and more about defeating that terrible voice in your head that tells you’re worthless.

It’s everything I practiced – gritty writing, fleshed out characters, group interaction, worldbuilding, everything. It came together into a book that I’m really proud of, and I don’t think I could have done any of it without fanfiction.

Read the rest at her blog!



Can I get a resounding huzzah?


The Best of the Best: Fanfiction

I’ve been reading fanfiction since I was old enough to use the dial-up connection on my dad’s hulking old office computer.  I remember opening multiple windows of everything I’d want to read, then checking each one as they slowly loaded, the color and text slowly inching their way down, AIM a steady presence on the right hand of the screen. Now, I’m only one person with a few specific reading interests, but out of thousands of stories and authors over many, many moons, these are the ones that still exist today and really stood out as something better than just fanfiction, as something truly inspired.

I’m only including finished stories here – there are several wonderful ones that were never finished and I don’t want to tease anyone.


Even after all these years, the top to me is still Tales From The House of the Moon, by Resmiranda. So much more than an Inuyasha fanfiction, this story made me gasp, cheer, laugh, ugly-cry, and fully believe a couple that otherwise would never have worked. Even if you’ve never watched the anime, give it try – it’ll grab your hearstrings and not let go until it’s 3AM and you’re still reading.


Since we’re talking about anime, here’s two utterly amazing Sailor Moon oneshots by Dejana Talis:

Oak Evolution: Sailor Jupiter isn’t quite sure she wants to give up being Kino Makoto.

Misconception: It’s Crystal Tokyo, but Small Lady was never born. Instead, another lives in her shadow.


Moving on to Phantom of the Opera, the best of the best is Quiet2885, whose stories only get better and better. Each Erik and Christine is distinct, something that’s incredibly hard to pull off when writing variations of a well-trod story. Check out them all, but for a dystopia or supernatural/horror twist, I’d recommend Shadow Government and Accompaniment respectively.  For something gentler, try When All Is Lost and its accompanying vignettes. Just lovely.


For a serious, adult twist on a campy movie, Underground, a Labyrinth fanfiction by Team Bonet, is the way to go.


When it comes to Supernatural, I’m not usually a Dean/Cas fan, but Hatteress is so good it makes me blush. Start with Tripping and work your way thru the ‘verse.


For a crossover, Unique by claudiapriscus is a fantastic Supernatural/Dexter story. Naturally Dexter thinks Dean is a serial killer. Things don’t go well after that.


And on the subject of crossovers, Dust in the Wind is by livejournal user lyra_wing and is a Supernatural/American Gods oneshot that always stuck with me.


I know there were others throughout the years, but these are the ones I still have floating around. All are worth a read. And any recommendations are always welcome!

Crowdsourcing Horror Stories

I’m dreaming up another book and I’ve decided on something a bit strange for me:  Horror

I say strange because I am the world’s biggest wimp. The dark is a nightly foe and falling asleep is almost always preceded by moments of intense fear even if I haven’t watched/read/imagined anything scary. I assume this is a combination of an overactive imagination and my sleep disorder, but the point is, in that place between sleep and wakefulness, I am always afraid.

I figured that might make me an expert at horror.

I started to think about this last Halloween, when creepypastas began popping up all over my usual website haunts. They scared the shit out of me. And I kept reading.

I love the Cthulhu mythos and its idea of madness. I love the idea of tackling and amping up the anxieties of puberty with the supernatural. And I love the idea of writing something truly unsettling, something that doesn’t pander to teens, something that might make them feel at night the way I always do.

I want to collect people’s scariest stories – “true” ones, ones you heard about online, ones you don’t usually see represented in Steven King novels or jump-scare flicks. I know no one reads this blog yet because come on, there’s not much to read. But if anyone does:

What really scares you? What gets into your bones and waits there quietly until you’re trying to fall asleep at night?

Please, tell me.

Super quick reviews!

I read four books in the month of February, mostly due to the fact that I was overseas and, when not working, I was very bored.

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson: B+. Solid and engaging, very human characters, but the point of the novel didn’t show up until about 9/10ths of the way and then was over as quickly as it had appeared. And what was up with that ending?

Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson: A-. Not only fun and a thrillride, but a great glimpse into Middle Eastern cultures and mythology. Though I did find Vikram’s character arc very unbelievable.

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker: A. Meticulously researched and detailed, with two very different but empathetic leads. Dragged a bit on getting to the plot, but satisfying once it got going.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: B-. Yes, I’m way behind reading this book. The descriptions and worldbuilding were beautiful. The characters were thin as paper, and the fact that no one realized that the duel wasn’t a friendly competition made them look monumentally stupid. I didn’t believe the love story at all. But damn do I want to visit that circus!

Hey nonexistant readers! Any thoughts?

Book Reviews: Love Minus Eighty and Dracula in Love

Two books with Love in the title, one that I read in several days because I adored it and one that I read in several days because I skimmed huge chunks and realized belatedly that (the worst insult ever), I had read it before and forgotten. Both attempted to be about interpersonal relationships, but only one managed to feel real. Both even had relationships with people who were kind-of-sort-of dead. A talking head versus an immortal dude.

Love Minus Eighty, by Will McIntosh

I adored this book. The funny thing about the two books I recently read are that I don’t usually do romances, but the premise of this drew me in. A future where, if you die hot and young and female, you might be cryogenically frozen in a “dating center” where rich men wake up just your reanimated head once in a while to see if your dirty talking skills are good enough for them to pay to get you revived. It’s brutal and horrific, but its twisted logic – at least the women get a chance to live again! – is what makes it so heartbreaking.

The thing is, the “bridesicles” aren’t really the point. The idea anchors the plot, but it’s the richly developed world and intricate interpersonal relationships that keep the story going. The technology is at times just a few steps ahead of our own – you can “pop in” a screen anywhere, listen to anyone’s conversation in a public place, and if you want to live a public life you can let people see you 24/7, gaining more followers as you manufacture drama to keep them interested. It’s just a little above our current culture, where people instagram every meal and tweet their bowel movements and sometimes livestream their every move.

The book manages to simultaneously show the shallowness of technology while not being too heavy handed. Instead of tech becoming smaller and smaller, the “systems” people wear are their literal clothing, showing everyone exactly how state-of-the-art they are. Shoes glide on the sidewalk to make walking easier, but only in rich “high town” which hovers above the rest of the masses and casts its shadow over this future New York City. People can use their systems to filter reality to exactly what they want it to be – make themselves appear skinnier or prettier to others, filter out bad smells and broken-down buildings, even filtering the homeless – literally erasing them from view. Everything is beautiful when everything is fake.

The world is richly developed with hints of history that leave you wanting more. Like the briefly mentioned “ten percenters,” the grandparents of current characters: ten percent of their generation was born with extreme handicaps due to an additive in ice cream. Or the walled-off city which no human can set foot in. Or the fact that they all live crammed in cities, with only the desperately poor and those wanting a “raw life” without technology surviving in the abandoned countryside. You could write a hundred books about this world, and I wish he would.

The characters are deeply flawed, human and likeable. I think people will most be able to relate to Veronika, who feels so small and unimportant in her technologically-driven life that she takes to haunting a bridge in her spare time, desperate to save someone attempting suicide just so that she can connect with another person and feel good about herself. She finds a man even worse off then her and makes herself his Manic Pixie Dream Girl, showing him the world so that she can see herself reflected in his eyes. She feels very broken and very real, but as she builds herself and figures herself out it’s like watching someone finally grasp some larger truth.

I’m not going to get into the plot itself, because I want you to read the book. And please do, really. Read it. I rarely get so excited about a novel.



Dracula in Love, by Karen Essex

This book disappointed me. That’s the best word I can use: disappointed. You start off so strong, Karen! Where did it all go wrong?

There are two major flaws in this book. First, Karen Essex doesn’t know what story she wants to tell or what book she wants to write. Second, she falls into the classic pitfall of wanting so badly to make a villain sexy that she, quite literally, de-fangs him.

I’ll admit one embarrassing truth before starting this review: I read (re-read, actually, though I didn’t realize it at the time) this book because I seriously love the Dracula TV show with Jonathon Reese Myers. I love the anachronistic outfits, the gorn, the scenery chewing, and even JRM’s perpetually just-finished-weeping eyes. I was never a vamp fan because they’re usually either too evil to be sexy or too de-fanged to be sexy, but this show walks the line – I get to see him sex up AND rip the heads off people, so I’m cool.

Karen Essex didn’t want to write a book about Dracula. She wanted to write multiple books: a sexy immortal love story, a historical drama, a book exposing the horrors of ye olde asylums and how women were treated in late 1800s. Was it a book about love, about feminism, horror, fantasy, romance, or a world changing from the old to the new? All of these should have been separate books, but they were crammed into one. None of these really intersected with the idea of vampires or the original Stoker novel, except in the names of characters. Everything is changed to make Dracula and Mina flawed heroes and everyone else either bumbling or evil. The ending is rushed and feels forced. And the biggest problem, spoiler alert:


Not really. The whole back story is so convoluted and out of place with the rest of the novel that it felt like I was stepping suddenly out of a Gothic horror and into a YA fantasy. I guess the real question is: Why can’t we have vampires and their fangs too?

Also, she describes him going down on her as like a “lamprey.” Google lamprey right now. I’m totally serious, please, do it. Just do it.

I’ll end on that lovely note.

On Fanfiction and Thor

It’s no secret that I’m a huge proponent of fanfiction – as a writing tool, a way to express yourself, a way to play with existing characters and practice writing voice, action, and plot. It’s also fun as hell. This was written about a year ago, after watching the first Thor movie. Writing this also gave me the name for the second book in my duology.

He finds that there are sweeter things than mead and glory and the fierce bright colors and rich textures of Asgard. Oneshot, two pages.

Fire in the East