Saturday, November 16, 2013

We all have those days

I wrote 583 keepable words today.

I wrote 729 that I deleted.

I'm not sure how many I deleted yesterday. Or the day before.

I've been trying to start a novella. It hasn't been going well. I kept doing this thing, where I'd get an idea, well, a piece of an idea, and start writing. I'd get a couple hundred words in, and then kaput. My brain would sabotage me. "You've already done this." "Someone else has already done this, and better." "There's nothing here." "This is overdone." 

And things would just go flat.

I have seven different openings.

I've saved the openings. Most of them are, after all, things I am genuinely interested in, and you never know when you see a spark that you didn't see before.

The thing that finally worked, is I found a character. Her voice is in my head, and I want to know what happens next. And parts of those other ideas will probably find there way into this story.

Here is the thing about writing: some days suck. It's like life that way. 

It doesn't mean you aren't a writer. It doesn't mean you won't find your story.

Keep trying.

I wrote 583 keepable words today.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sam I Am, 30 May 1998 - 1 November 2013

My darling pug, Sam I Am, died today.

I'd known him since the day he was born - his parents were my Mom's and sister's pugs. I had thought I was going to keep his sister, but one day I was sitting in the kitchen, and he walked up to me and laid his head on my foot, and that was that.

He'd been my friend my entire adult life. He came with me from Texas to Minnesota for law school, and then grad school. He moved with me to New York, and then back to Minnesota. He really liked riding in the car, thank goodness. He was there through relationships, and there when they ended.

He had a terrific grin, and was a total flirt. His favorite thing in the world was meeting people. He loved to listen to audiobooks, and had favorites - Seamus Heaney's Beowulf, and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. (This meant Sam got starstruck the first time he met Neil, and sat on Neil's feet, so his new friend couldn't leave.) He also loved to listen to "Dude Looks Like  Lady" with my brother Joe. He was clearly a pug of varied and eclectic tastes.

He was a sweet, sweet boy, who had been patient and brave through a lot of difficult recent health issues. If I could have given him forever, healthy and safe, I would have. My friend Maria said she was raising a glass to the dogstar tonight in his memory, and that is how I will think of Sam I Am. Shining.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Problem of Obscurity

Yesterday, the longlist for the Young People's Literature category of the National Book Award was announced. I think it's a great list, full of interesting choices. A columnist for The Atlantic Wire, however, found the list to be too obscure. Which is also an interesting choice, especially considering that two of the authors listed as names we shouldn't worry if we don't recognize, Meg Rosoff and Gene Luen Yang, are both winners of the Printz award, a fairly major award for YA lit. Yang was even previously nominated for the National Book Award. Names that are perhaps obscure for a casual reader should not be so for a columnist writing on the awards.

A couple of years ago, at Stonybrook University, I taught a course on The Fantastic as Place. It tended to be a course that was fairly full of SFF readers, so I opened the semester by asking which writers on the syllabus people were familiar with. Everyone had read JK Rowling, nearly everyone had read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. About 3/4 of the hands went up for Neil Gaiman. About a fifth of the class had read Joe Hill, Lev Grossman, Cat Valente, China Miéville. No one had read Emma Bull's War for the Oaks.

I mention this because I got tagged in a brief online discussion of obscure books in SFF last night, and I started thinking about the nature of obscurity. My gut feeling is that while Emma Bull is not among the most well-known of SFF writers, many people working in the field have heard of her, and those who know the history of the field know the connection between War for the Oaks and the genre of Urban Fantasy. My other gut feeling is that people newer to the field, or more casual SFF readers - much like my students - have no idea who she is. I think both things are fine. (I also think it's a terrific book, and it wound up being one that my students liked best, so maybe pick it up if you haven't yet.)

(I should, at this point, also mention that in another class I taught, The Dream as Literary Form, fewer than 1/5 of the students had heard of Neil Gaiman. Obscurity, like so much else, is in the eye of the beholder.)

I get really uncomfortable talking about obscure books, obscure writers. Especially because I think that much of obscurity is about context. In the wider anglophone reading world, if you're not JK Rowling, Stephen King, Dan Brown, or Nora Roberts, you are likely an obscure author to some extent. There are people you will have heard of if you work in the field or study its history - people you will find extremely influential - that people outside of the field will have no idea about. This is fine - it means there is always cool stuff for us to discover.

But my real discomfort about obscurity discussions is when it gets used like a knife. "If you haven't read x, you don't really belong here." "I've never heard of y, so clearly they aren't important." "The Top Ten Writers You MUST Read" except that list hasn't been updated in the past twenty years, because God forbid someone tell us that our influences have become obscure. Because maybe that means we have.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

World Fantasy Nomination

Today was already a good day. My Mom is in town, visiting. It has been a lovely visit. And we went for dinner at my favorite sushi restaurant, and had a glorious evening. We drove home with the windows down and Springsteen turned up loud. 

I got home, turned on Twitter, and discovered that my story, "Breaking the Frame," had been nominated for a World Fantasy Award. I burst into tears of utter shock and happiness.

Mom came back over, and she brought champagne. 

As Tuesdays go, this one didn't suck.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The truth in the lies

I have a pile of words on the desk in front of me. Most of them are other people's - books I want to read because in my head there is some sort of connection between them, and the book I am working on. Well, I'm not quite working on it yet. Some of those words are mine, the printed out draft of my book in progress, and the notebook where the roughest version is scribbled, and the pages of revision notes I've made for myself.

You may notice that instead of working on that revision, I am writing this post.

I have been reading a lot of memoirs lately, because I am very interested in the process of honesty in writing. This may be odd, coming from a fiction writer, and a speculative fiction writer at that - I get paid for making things up, after all - but I believe that, at a certain level, to be good, a piece of writing has to be true. Not mimetic, but true.

I was talking with one of my friends this weekend, and mentioned feeling very emotionally strange recently. I get teary, it seems, at the least thing, which isn't customary for me. She asked me what I was writing.

And that's it, of course, and it's also the reason that I keep finding things to do, rather than picking up the pen and that stack of paper (my kitchen cupboards need cleaning, I know they do.) It's not nonfiction, what I'm writing, but there are parts in it that are requiring me to look back at moments that were hard. To live in past relationships and places that I walked away from on purpose. And if it's going to be good, if it's going to be true, I have to be honest about those emotions.

Which is a hard thing to do. Because I want to protect myself from the hurt, but if I do that, I can't write this book. I need to write this book.

My kitchen may get very clean in the process, but I need to write this book, and to write it honestly. To put the truth in. To make it matter.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On the occasion of finishing a draft

One of the tags on this blog is "the words on the page are the only ones people can read." I don't have it as an affirmation for others. I have it as a reminder to myself.

I have a problematic relationship with perfection.

When asked, I say that I began writing five years ago, when I applied to Clarion. This is exactly true - my application portfolio was made up of the second and fourth short stories I ever wrote. (I wrote four, and picked the two best.) But I had tried a couple of times - once in college, and once just after law school - to write a novel. 

I don't have the pages anymore, or if I do, I haven't refound them, so I don't know how far I got. But both times, I stopped writing when I stopped feeling like I knew what happened next. You see, I thought that's how writers worked - they got a story in their head, and then they told it, beginning to end. If I couldn't do that, obviously, I wasn't a writer.

I know. I know. And maybe there are some writers who do work that way. And I am happy for them. But I was so convinced I had to be perfect the first time out, I let that get in my way. I let it paralyze me, and keep me from trying.

The hardest thing for me, once I did start really writing, was letting go of the need to get things perfect in order to keep writing. I mean, I know all the things I need to say to myself, that finished is better than perfect, that sometimes you need to write the bad stuff to get to the good, that that's what revisions are for. That no one will ever see the shitty first (and second and seventh) draft unless I let them.

I know these things, but it's hard. When I feel the story going wrong, when I doubt my words, I shake and I sweat and I get sick to my stomach, sure that whatever talent or luck I had before has left me. I go and run until my head clears, or until I'm exhausted. 

The first time I finished a book-length draft, I printed the manuscript out, and set it up on the table, ready to read through and revise. I heard a funny noise, and I turned around to see that one of my cats had climbed onto the table, and was peeing all over the manuscript. I have no idea why. For a moment I lived in a metaphor. 

(One of my friends said exactly the right thing: "Well, Kat, there's your worst ever review sorted, then.")

I finished a book-length draft yesterday. As yet, no one has peed on it.

Five years ago, when I started writing, I couldn't have written this draft. Not for the "I'm a better writer now, and I needed to be better to write this story" reason, though I do feel both of those are true. But because the draft is full of holes - scenes that are noted only in brackets of [x needs to happen here], or scenes that are just dialogue. I already have notes to myself of things that I need to fix, and once I finish typing everything out of my notebook, and going through all the notes I wrote to myself while writing, there will be more. It's such a hot mess of a draft it's not even going to my agent or my beta readers before it goes into revisions. But I'm proud of myself for scrawling "ENDS" after the last sentence, and, more importantly, I trust myself to be able to fix the things that need fixing when I do revise.

Not more or less proud than I was the first time I did this. Just happy to recognize that sometimes things change, and that I was able to let them.

Monday, July 1, 2013

On not naming names

One of the reactions I've seen to the recent discussions of sexual harassment at SFF cons is the question of why don't people report - why don't the people who are harassed or the people who witness it name names? After all, so the conversation goes, it seems like the harassers have histories - they've been doing this for years, if you know about it enough to tell your friends and make rescue plans, why not say the names in public, and protect future victims?

It's a conversation whose heart is, I firmly believe, in the right place, and a conversation that makes me deeply uncomfortable. It is shifting the responsibility away from where it belongs - on the creeps, on the harassers - and putting it on the victims. They didn't speak up, they didn't report, so they share responsibility for every victim after them.

No. Wrong.

When someone has been sexually harassed, their responsibility is to themself. They may choose to report, either to con staff or to the harasser's employer, or both. They may choose to report to the police. They may choose to get far away from the harasser, and surround themself with friends for the remainder of the con. They may choose to leave the con. They may do a combination of those things, or none of them. But we do not get to decide how they act, and we do not get to judge their choices.

And if you witness an act of sexual harassment, the proper response is not to pressure the victim into reporting, but to support the victim, in whatever response they choose. Third party reporting (where you were not the victim, but a witness) may be possible, but do not name the victim's name if they do not want it to be revealed. Even if you are acting with the best of intentions  - protection of potential future victims - you are not helping the current victim by taking away their choice again.

Because let's not kid ourselves: there are consequences for naming names. Last year, at ReaderCon, Genevieve Valentine was sexually harassed. She reported her harasser, and she named him publicly. Genevieve is an established, award-winning writer. She is someone with power in the field. Yet, in this post, "Dealing With It" she talks about the consequences for reporting. Not only did she have to deal with the usual kind of bullshit - the discussion of her appearance, her clothing, her behavior, all of them being evaluated so that the crowd could decide whether she was "really" harassed (even though her harasser admitted the actions) - she received death threats. 

Death threats.

Really, the wonder isn't that more people don't name names. It's that anyone is brave enough to at all.

Again, I am closing the comments.

Friday, June 28, 2013

I don't take my sword to work

The SFF internet pretty much exploded this morning, after Elise Matthesen was brave enough to speak out about her experience of being sexually harassed by editor James Frenkel at the most recent WisCon. Here's the link to the post at Whatever. (It appears at many of the larger SFF blogs.) Elise originally did not name Frenkel, but it was later announced elsewhere, and she confirmed that he was the person being spoken about.

Like many of the women in my field, I talked about my experiences with harassment at cons on twitter. I haven't been to a con yet where I haven't been harassed, either by fans, or by other professionals in my field. It's a thing. It happens. It happens everywhere. I originally wasn't going to blog, because I didn't want to distract from Elise's post. But then an entire conversation grew, and Cherie Priest and Maria Dahvana Headley wrote about their experiences as well.

So I'm writing to say that my experience is much like theirs  - the hand that slides down to the ass during a group photo, but now is when we're supposed to be smiling. The person who decides we're not done having a conversation, so he follows me into the women's bathroom (I stood in the doorway, shaking, speaking as loud as I could. I've taken off one of my high heel shoes, and am holding it like a weapon. Thankfully, another pro on his way to the men's room interrupted.) The person who follows me onto the elevator, and follows me off. The guy who pulls the top of my dress off my shoulder so he could read my tattoo. The guy who attempts a quid pro quo - he'll get me published, if...

The first time I got a verbal list of "don't be alone with these guys" was at Clarion. And by "these guys" I mean other professionals. When I go to cons now, my friends and I have hand signals, code words, that will let our friends know we need rescuing. Because here is one of the truths about cons - when I attend, I attend as a writer. I often have panels, readings, sometimes signings. I am there to be accessible to fans, to editors who might want to commission a story. I am there to be nice. 

Nice ladies don't stomp on the foot of someone whose hand has "slipped" onto their ass during a group photo. Bitches do. If we rescue ourselves, we do so with the knowledge that there might be trouble.

I smile a lot. I make conversation with people. I dress up, and wear makeup. I've been told all those things are invitations, coming from a pretty girl.

It becomes a danger on two levels - if I tell him no and leave, will he follow me and make things worse? If I tell him no and leave, have I messed up part of my career? Five years in, the second question worries me less than it did in the beginning, but the fact that it lingers is a problem.

The other reason that I'm writing is because a couple of the responses I got to my comments on twitter included suggestions that maybe I (or other women writers) should just bring swords to cons. I'm KatWithSword there, so it's not a completely out of the blue response, I'm sure it was mostly a way of adding levity to a tense discussion, and I don't mean to call anyone out. But it is not my job to defend myself from harassment. I shouldn't have to carry a weapon to feel safe when I go to work. None of us should.

NB: You lot are generally great. But I have work to do, so I'm closing the comments.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Five Years

I never did take those trapeze lessons.

It's not even a regret, not really. I had all these outside plans, things I was going to do during my free time at Clarion. One of them was take trapeze lessons. My friend Sarah was reasonably local to the area (I stayed with her for a few days before the workshop started), and she took a trapeze class, and it sounded fun. (Also, it sounded terrifying, but so did pretty much everything else I was going to do that summer - drive halfway across the country to live with 17 people I'd never met and learn how to write.)


It's been five years. If we were traditionalists, we'd give each other wood. The modern gift is silverware. I'm not sure quite how five years of giving each other stories fits with either, but that's what we've done. Stories and plays and poems and dances and five years of making lives art. 


I applied to Clarion because my life basically exploded. All of a sudden, I didn't know who I was, or what I was doing. If I had actually thought I had a chance, I wouldn't have tried. (I know. My logic could use some work.) Thinking back, I'm still not quite sure what I was expecting. Probably that it would be something like school. It wasn't. 

But I got to Clarion, and while I was there, I learned how to write. And how to rewrite. How to pick stories apart, exquisite corpses on anatomists' tables, and how to reanimate them. How to kill darlings and when to close doors and at least ten stupid plot tricks. I learned that even a seagull will not eat a squid patty, and that, at some point, everyone will write a story with tentacles in.

I remember the first time a writer I admired told me I could write. I remember the first time a writer I admired told me I could write better, and that that was the moment I knew I was a writer.


I often think about my writing process as working without  a net. Like, if I just fling myself through space hard enough, with enough belief, I can keep myself up through sheer force of will.

I remember a conference, with one of my instructors, where I said that. And said that I was scared. Scared of falling. And being scared of falling had made my writing tentative, had made it less. I knew that.

The hardest thing I do is open the page and jump. And I never did take trapeze lessons. Still, somehow, I learned to fly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A manifesto to myself

Be braver.

Think about the art that inspires you. Words, music, movement, sculpture, images. It's not safe. It's not ordinary. It pushes right up against the edge of disaster. 

Do that.

The people who make the art that matters to you, they get criticized. They are not perfect. Sometimes they are not even likable. Worry less about being liked. Worry more about failing, because you were worried about being liked. If no one says you're doing it wrong, you're not doing anything that matters.


Matter to yourself. 

Dream bigger.

Scare yourself. If you're not afraid of what you're doing, pick a different project. 

Fail. Fail better.

Make art.

Be braver.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Ocean, at the end.

There's a thing I do, when people ask me which Neil Gaiman book they should read first. I start running through the catalogue in my head. If I don't know them at all, I recommend one of the short story collections, Smoke and Mirrors, or Fragile Things. I talk about how Neverwhere has some of my favorite characters and a huge heart, but American Gods is more technically impressive. The Graveyard Book is flat out lovely, but not everyone can get past the scary opening. Stardust for the people who need the magic but can't handle the scary bits. And, well, Sandman is this great and astounding thing, but there are people who will not read graphic novels.

Not that it's a problem, to have a wide and varied list of works to recommend, but with The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil has written his best book yet, one I'll happily recommend to everyone.

[Much in the way that Aslan is not a tame sort of lion, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not a safe sort of book. But this is a safe sort of review. No spoilers.]

Ocean is being marketed as a book for adults, but it has a child protagonist. And one of the things the book is very much about is the power of childhood. I don't mean that in the twee, fetishization of ignorance and innocence way that means drawing a sepia-toned veil over the difficult bits. I mean that Ocean engages with the idea that being a child is a different sort of thing - you see the world differently than your parents do. Perhaps for the first time you are having a world outside of that of your parents, with things you do that they don't know about, and that there is a power in that. Time moves differently - it stretches and condensces around events. The barrier between what actually happened and what you imagined, or what could have happened, becomes thin. Permeable. Things can pass between. In Ocean, what passes between is the mythic, the numinous, and as you might guess, things like that are not always nice.

There are difficult bits in Ocean, and there is no veil drawn over them. They are faced head on, by the child at the heart of the story who wants to see, and wants to know, who asks the questions when an adult might turn away because it is easier not to look.

It can be a heartless, monstrous thing to be a child. It can be a heartless, monstrous thing to be an adult, as well, and Ocean asks us to look at both, to live in the spaces between and on the margins, and think about those different kinds of monsters, the ones we live with, and the ones we make. It is an acknowledgement that as much as childhood is a kind of power, it is not an absolute one, and adulthood is a kind of tyranny. Sometimes it is a benevolent one. Other times, it is not.

The other tyranny at play is that of memory. Ocean opens with the child narrator as an adult, and as the story goes on, it becomes clear that he has misremembered some key things that happened to him as a child, key things associated with the three Hempstock women, who live at the end of the lane, one of whom, Lettie, was his best friend when he was a child. Memory shifts and changes. Story, so Ocean tells us, is true. Even when it seems impossible. It's in the impossible where we discover who we really are.

When I was a child, I lived in stories. Stories I told myself, or stories other people had written. It was the best sort of magic, and in some ways truer than the things that actually happened. I think that, as adults, it becomes harder for us to find stories that we can live in. Some of us keep looking for that magic. In The Ocean at the End of the Lane - a book I first read a year ago, and that I have lived in since - Neil Gaiman has found it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When bad things happen to good characters

There was a thing that happened on a television show this weekend. No, I'm not going into specific detail (though, really, how you can cry spoilers when the book that the show is based on was published 13 years ago is a thing I do not undertand, and also, Romeo and Juliet die at the end), but yes, I am talking about Game of Thrones, and yes, people died in a violent and perhaps unexpected and unfair manner.

The reactions to this event, both those of the "OMFG what just happened?! GRRM is a murderous rat bastard!!1!" and the "what does this mean about the craft of fiction" were very interesting to me, especially as someone who bounced off the second book in the series twice and has never seen the show, and so had no emotional involvement in any of the specific characters affected.

To understand why bad things happen in fiction, we first have to understand the idea of stakes. No, not the vampire-slaying kind. But the idea that if there is no possibility that something can go wrong, it won't matter when something goes right. Now, the something that can go wrong doesn't need to be violent death. It can be the threat of being grounded for sneaking out of the house, or a souffle that falls at a key dinner, or the circumstances that thwart true love. But at some point, there needs to be the very real chance that your characters don't get what they want. They need to have something at risk, and it needs to be something that matters.

I point this out because often when a writer talks about doing something bad to her characters (sometimes killing them), the response is, well why did you do it, then? You're the writer, just don't write the scene. Even Martin, in this interview (don't click the link if you don't want to be spoiled on the specifics of a scene that was published 13 years ago) has said it was the hardest scene he ever had to write, that he loved those characters too. But if the characters we love are immune from potential consequences, then those story-lines have no (or lesser) stakes. 

There is also the idea of whether or not the consequences are earned in the world of the story - are the stakes appropriate? Does the bad thing that happened to the character resonate? The death of the character, the frustration of their desires, has to matter. It has to serve the story.

In the same interview linked in the above paragraph, Martin talks about how part of the reason he does kill off the characters he does, is to subvert the expectations of the reader. Stories often follow patterns - we know, for example, if what we're reading is a romance, or a revenge tragedy. So he kills characters to break that pattern. Which, I actually think is an earned consequence. Subverting the expectation of the reader, telling them that they are not in the kind of story that they think they are can be a very powerful storytelling technique.

What I wonder is, is what happens when the subversions become their own expectations? I mean, the snark is out there - GRRM can't use twitter because he's killed all 140 characters. Joss Whedon will find the character you love best, and kill them  for sport. So it's not that readers (or viewers) know the story pattern, and are surprised when it is subverted, but that they know a particular writer's story pattern, and the subversion travels full circle to become the expected.

Again in the above-linked interview, Martin says that when a character is killed, the reader should grieve, should care. And we should - the writer should grieve her character, the reader grieve the loss. And this is where we are back to stakes. If we never worry that something bad can happen to a character, we will never worry on their behalf, no matter what kind of physical or emotional jeopardy it seems they are in. We stop caring, because we know everything will be fine. The flip side of that is, of course, that if bad things happen all the time, and to all the characters, we become numb, we become immune to the grief and the loss, because we never risked getting attached in the first place.

Monday, June 3, 2013

"There was blood on the stage."

The summer issue of Subterranean is out, and I am very pleased that my story, "Stage Blood," is in it. It's my story about what might happen if Bluebeard were a magician, and bits and pieces of it have been floating around in my head since a particularly magical dinner at the 2011 World Fantasy Convention.

It was somewhat tricky to write - this is the first time I have ever finished a draft, got feedback, then closed the file and started again from a blank page. It was also my fastest sale ever - about 20 minutes from hitting send to getting a contract. Stories are weird.

For those of you interested in this sort of thing, I listened to Amanda Palmer's "The Killing Type" somewhat obsessively on repeat while writing this. I would also recommend her song,  "The Assistant," as an eerily apt soundtrack.

Thanks for reading. I hope you like it.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Hamlet days

"Oh God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable,
Seems to me all the uses of this world!"

     Hamlet, I.ii.134-36

Today I am having a day where writing is hard. I know exactly the scene I need to be writing, and writing it is like pulling teeth.

I just looked at that sentence and hated it, by the way. Cliché, and an uninteresting one. Boring verbs. It is indeed that sort of day.

I've written. I'm pretty much doing a full-out cheerleading routine for myself after each sentence, but there are more words on the page now than there were this morning, and there will be more before I go to bed tonight, and probably most of them won't be crossed out, and when I type the draft into the computer, I probably won't even remember how hard it was to get those words down.

Bad days happen. Days where it feels like you can't write, or that everything you write sucks, or that it's boring, and been done before. Someone on twitter asked what do I do when that happens, hence my posting this blog.

So. What do I do on the days writing is hard?

First, I try to work through it. Here's the thing. I am fortunate enough to have the problem of deadlines. Not everything I write is commissioned, but much is. So in many cases, someone is waiting for the thing I am writing. I believe in meeting my deadlines (some of which are also contractual obligations) because I believe that is the professional thing to do, and also because that is how I get paid. Sometimes working through the suck means turning to another project temporarily, and letting my mind clear that way. Sometimes it means reminding myself that what I am writing is a draft, and thus, it is okay to suck - expected even! - and that I will fix things in revisions. I'd say 80% of the time this works. It doesn't mean that the writing suddenly becomes fun - the day is usually still a slog, but I get done what I needed to do.

If I can't work through it, I look around for something I can do that's necessary work, but isn't writing - cleaning the house, going to the grocery store. Baking. (Okay, maybe that one's not necessary.) Going for a run. Sometimes just the mental break from the project is enough to let me come back to it with fresh eyes, plus there's the bonus that I did something I needed to do. I'd say this gets me through about another 10% of the crap.

The remaining 10%, the days where I can't shake the demons and doubts, where I feel that I'm untalented and that every sale and decent review has been a fluke, and will never be repeated, I give myself permission to take the day off and wallow. To put on my sweats, and eat the brownies I just baked, and read comfort books or marathon my favorite episodes of Doctor Who. I embrace the terrible, horrible, no good, very-bad day. Oddly enough, it helps.

The other thing that helps is realizing that everyone has bad days, days when the writing is hard, when we have cases of the doubts and donwannas. Everyone. Even your very favorite writer. Even when they were writing their very best book. So know that it's okay to have a hard day, to have doubts, to be certain all your words are wrong. Maybe you will cross them out. You will write the better ones later.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Don't do anything I wouldn't do

Writers are not their characters.

Not unless they are writing autobiography, and by autobiography I mean a story that explicitly in words presents itself as autobiography. Even then, what you are likely to get is a version of the writer on the page, not the truth entire.

We are not our characters. They are not us.

Oh, sure. We've written them. They wouldn't exist without us, and they would exist differently if written by someone else. There are pieces of each of us inside all of the characters we've written, and pieces of other people, too. We steal from everywhere. But we are not our characters, even if we share a name, a hair color, a gender with the person on the page. Even if we are writing in first person.

I had a conversation recently about my story, "The Face of Heaven So Fine." "I don't know if I could have written that story in first person. I mean, the sex and the cutting." "You get that it's fiction, right?" "Yes, but it's you."

No, but it's not.

I write in first person a lot, though not exclusively, and I nearly always write with female leads. Which means this isn't the first time that I've had a variation on this conversation. I would have thought that the fact I write fantasy would have exempted me from it, (I mean, my first published story was about a woman who disappears into the books her lover writes, which, if that had been autobiographical, I think would have made a paradox that would have prevented me from ever writing it) but no. Especially when I write "I," the assumption is that I'm the one in the story.

I recently wrote a story about a serial killer. In first person. That's not me, either.

I get the desire to find writers in their works - I come from literary academia, where sometimes, that's the entire focus. What do we know about the writer and her life, and where do we see that manifest in her fiction? And we all know that piece of writing advice: "Write what you know." So we assume all fiction is drawn from life, and if all fiction is drawn from life, then clearly the writer must be in there.

And clearly we are. But just as clearly, we are not. Shakespeare was never a teenage girl. King is not a murderous clown. Rowling is not... well, actually she might be a wizard. But I hope you see my point. If all we put on the page is miniaturized versions of ourselves, we will very quickly run out of stories to tell. If we've done our jobs, our characters are more than their creators. Let them be.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Letting the days go by

I've been watching, from a strange sort of time-stuttered distance, over the course of visits to their house, as the son of two of my dear friends has learned to crawl, and as he is getting ready to walk. The most interesting thing for me has been to watch the expressions on his face, these looks of deep concentration, as he tries to tell his body what to do, and frustration, when sometimes it doesn't, quite. And then the big, still mostly toothless, grin of utter delight when everything works.

When I first started keeping this blog, one of the things I talked a lot about was writing. It made sense - I started blogging not too long after I started writing seriously, and, like any other new skill, I was really excited about the things I was learning. Also, one of the things that was so helpful to me when I began writing was the blogs of other writers. They were places to go to learn about things like beta readers and word count and what to do on the days you realized that you needed to cut 30,000 words from your book because you took a wrong turn.

Reading about writing not only was one of the ways I taught myself to be a better writer, it was one of the ways I felt like I had a community - these other people, people with actual publication credits and books on shelves - we did the same things, we had the same kind of bad days, we celebrated the same kind of victories. So when I figured something out, figured it out in a way that I could articulate it enough to write about it, posting it on my blog felt, in some weird way, like I was participating in that writerly community, like I was maybe leaving a path of pebbles for the next set of people.

It's been about five years since I started writing seriously. (I attended Clarion five years ago next month, so that's where I count from.) I'm not sure what I am now, but I'm not a newbie anymore. I am sure that I'm a better writer than I was then. And I talk about writing much less.

Part of that is my own reluctance to talk about ongoing projects. Oh, sure, I'll rant about a bad writing day or exalt when I've figured something out on twitter, but I'm much less comfortable posting extended thoughts on works in progress. I think because I've learned how much projects can shift and change, and I don't want the memory of someone saying "Oh, that sounds cool" to make me reluctant to cut a part that really needs to come out.

But also because writing has become more muscle memory for me. I don't mean to say that it's easy. It's not. Nor am I always convinced that what I am doing is OMGTheBestEVER. (Honestly, I don't think I've ever been convinced of that, even when I am proud of the finished project.) But I have a much better idea of how the pieces of stories ought to work, and how to make characters that breathe, and how to incorporate tone and voice. My brain knows how to do those things now, so I have to think less about how to do them. I feel like maybe I've learned to walk.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Circles of Literary Hell

"But, you don't actually think that's good, do you?"

It was usually Harry Potter they were asking about. It's the kind of question you get asked when you're a writer, and the kind of question you get asked even more when you're a literature professor.

I always watched to see if they were surprised or disappointed when I said yes, not only did I like the Harry Potter books (and I do - I usually reread the series once a year), but that I also thought they were good. I've taught the books at two different universities. 

(We all understand that there is a difference between liking a book and thinking it is good, right? And that we can acknowledge a book is good without liking it, and that just because we don't like it doesn't mean it's not good? We get all that, right? Excellent.)

Though now that I'm not teaching, the question takes on an expectation of professional jealousy. Like, what do I think about E.L. James, or Stephenie Meyer, and doesn't it bother me that they sell all those copies when "good" writers don't?

I use the scare quotes for a reason.

You may have noticed that Dan Brown has a new book out, and so the literati are yet again having convulsions over the fact that he is going to sell eleventy million copies, and make approximately a bazillion dollars, and that this is clearly horrid, because he can't actually write, and really, wouldn't it be better if someone actually good made those sales and that money.

Look, Dan Brown is not my kind of writer. I don't like his prose on the sentence-level (and sentence-level prose is something that matters to me as a reader) and if you ever want to see me go into a wild-eyed and snarly-haired rant, do ask me about the portrayal of medieval history and theology in The DaVinci Code. But the fact that he (or James, or Meyer, or fill in the name of whatever writer we're collectively grumpy about this week) is going to sell all those copies doesn't bother me in the least. In fact, as a writer, I find it very interesting, because clearly he is doing something in his writing that a lot of people respond to. 

When we read, we read for any number of reasons. Maybe we read for beautiful prose, or for hot sex, or to watch clever people solve mysteries, or to educate ourselves, or to scare ourselves silly, or because of great characters, or a fast-moving plot. Maybe we look for a combination of those things. And writers tend to have different things that they are interested in doing in their writing, sometimes even from book to book. There isn't a magic formula for success - either critical or financial. If there were, we'd get the checklist with our editorial notes.

And I have a real problem with this idea that only what is "good" deserves financial success, or that something is off when what is "not good" sells eleventy billion copies.  Because I think there is a judgment implied there that carries over to the reader - like, we can dismiss the thoughts of Twilight fans, because we've already decided we can dismiss Twilight.

One of the best undergraduate papers I ever received was a comparison of lycanthropy in Twilight and in the lais of Marie de France. It is - and I know this is going to shock some of you - possible to like to read a wide variety of books from a wide variety of writers. People read for all sorts of reasons.

I'm not saying that I think writers and books should be immune to criticism, that we cannot rigorously discuss the flaws in a work. I absolutely think we should have those discussions. But I think they should be discussions based on the actual works, not our perceptions of what they will be, or must be. And that we should be very careful in our evaluation of a book (or of anything else), not to imply that there is a right way to respond to it, that there is something lacking in a reader who actually thinks it's good.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The end. And where we start from.

I keep thinking about what I want to come here to say. I used to blog fairly regularly. Never every day, but a few times a week. And then this year, it's been almost not at all. Nearly a month since I posted last, and only two posts all of last month.

And some of that is the feeling that I'm on the internet all the time, babbling away on twitter and posting things on tumblr and what do I have left over to say, anyway? Like, maybe I shouldn't be talking here unless there's something important, which is kind of ridiculous, because this is my blog, and I'm the person who decides what gets said here (or not) and when. But there you go.

And some of it was finishing a book which was written in a voice that is very different to the tone of the blog, and when I was finishing it, it felt like that was the only voice left in my head. I could barely even talk to my friends, because all the words I could think of were words for the book.

And some of it was, my God, this was a tough winter. Maybe you don't understand why I'm saying that now, now when it's May, and quite thoroughly spring, but let me tell you that it was snowing last week. Even here, that doesn't happen, and there was this sense of being out of time and elsewhere, and a longing for green and warmth and light. And it was a tough winter personally, and for people I loved. And those aren't the sort of things we are supposed to talk about, you know? No one wants to read about your troubles. Don't whine.

I am so envious (speaking of thoughts and feelings we're not supposed to discuss) of the people who seem (because it is always seem, there is always a filter) able to say anything anywhere. To speak, without worrying about what people will think, and say. Or to worry about it, and have the ability to say, fuck you, and speak anyway.

And so here I am. And it's spring, I think. And I've started a new book, and one of the things that matters very much in it is who gets to speak, and about what, and how seriously are they taken when they do.

So maybe I'll stop worrying so much, and talk. Or maybe I'll keep silent, but the silence will be mine.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I read banned comics

Edited to reflect new information: Based on this statement, it seems like Saga #12's unavailability through the app store was not a result of any action by Apple, but a result of Comixology misunderstanding Apple's policies. I am very glad to learn this. I have crossed through my earlier, incorrect text.

Issue 12 of Saga, the very smart comic written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples comes out today. If you're not already reading it, I highly recommend you do so. It's great. Although, even if you are reading it, as of this writing, you cannot buy it through the comics app in Apple's iStore because it has a frank depiction of male-on-male gay sex.

Let's get the boilerplate out of the way. No creator is owed a space to sell their work. Apple is completely within its rights to decide what to carry. They need not have a good reason, or any reason - the app store is not a constitutionally protected free speech zone. Apple is within its rights to make the choice it has.

I am within mine to say what an idiotic and small-minded choice it is.

Apple, you see, has had no problem carrying the other issues of Saga, which contain frank visuals of sex and violence. They also carry other images of sex, sometimes quite graphic, and simultaneously violent. For example, please see the following for the contrast. (Note: this link goes to an NSFW image of nonconsensual sex, as well as the contested panel from Saga.) So clearly, the problem isn't with sex, the problem is with a specific kind of sex - consensual, male, homosexual sex.

Which makes Apple's decision gross and offensive. (And also, inconsistent, because, as of this writing, you can buy the issue in the iBooks part of the store. Inconsistent bigotry just looks stupid.)

I first learned about book banning when I was in grade school. I was reading a magazine, probably Seventeen. I don't remember the precise details of it, but I do remember that the book in question was Romeo and Juliet. Which clearly, one ought not read because teenage sex and suicide. Teenage marital sex, but you know, details. It was a safe book to write a don't ban books article on, because what kind of an idiot wants to ban Shakespeare?

But I was upset about it, especially since the article also mentioned book burnings, and that seemed really, really bad. So I talked to my Mom, and I went to the library, and checked out a ton of banned books. Lots of Judy Blume, and S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, and Fahrenheit 451. The Diary of Anne Frank.  I had already read Romeo and Juliet. I am proud to say these books helped make me the person I am today. 

(Even after playing my Cyndi Lauper cassette multiple times, I still couldn't figure out what was so naughty about "She Bop," which had also been mentioned in the article. I was precocious  in a very limited sort of way.)

Look, you don't have to like everything. You are within your rights to find art everywhere on the scale from bad to tasteless to offensive to obscene. You need not ever spend your money to support art or artists that you don't like or agree with. I have a very low personal tolerance for on-screen violence. Even in a film like Kill Bill, where it is purposefully over the top, and stylized, and clearly part of Tarantino's artistic vision, I can't watch. But I shouldn't get to say that just because it makes me feel uncomfortable, you don't get to watch it either. No one should get to say that.

Art should be one of the things that makes people uncomfortable. That challenges, that calls into question, that makes big claims. And sometimes, that discomfort is going to be powerful. Sometimes, it's going to be ugly and offensive. Sometimes, it will be just plain gross. As a creator, as someone who makes her living making art, it is my responsibility to support the right of other creators to make their art, no matter what it says. We don't just get to support the speech that is nice, that is pretty, that we agree with. Because then the question becomes, who decides? And we discover that we live in a world where two penises in proximity is just too much to handle.

Please consider supporting art and the first amendment by supporting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

And the lingering of winter

It's grey outside, and rainy. Cold, too, with snow in the forecast. Not today, but the next three days. It won't stick, I know, but still. Snow, and no sign of green or bud.

Winter is worse in February, of course, where the snow does stick, where my eyes freeze shut when I walk the dog. But that is February, and while I dislike that cold, it's this part of winter, when it has gone on far too long, when it seems like spring never will arrive, when I think seriously of buying a plane ticket I can't afford to my parents' in New Hampshire - New Hampshire! - because it will feel like spring there, where winter hurts. I am depleted. There is nothing left.

Through much of this winter, I have been working on a book. Rewriting it, so that I could show it to beta readers, and now revising it. I am pretty much immersed in the process - I occasionally surface to faff about on twitter, or do other work, or buy groceries, or walk Sam, but mostly, it's me and the pages, and I don't get to come out until they're all good.

They will be. Soon.

I get bad at taking care of myself when I'm this deep in a project. I forget that coffee is not the only food. I don't return phone calls or emails. I cancel plans. I become like winter, grey and clinging, and no new green or flowers.

Winter is not a good season to live in, creatively. You discover there is nothing left. 

We learn, as writers, as artists, as people who make things, how to make our own spring. For me, much of that creative spring is found in the art of others - books and poetry and music and photography, and all the different things that help me see the beauty and the strangeness in the world. That make a space in my head where mystery can live. Which sounds very "let the muse come," but it isn't that. It's the artistic equivalent of taking care of myself, of remembering that vegetables are a food, and that I'll feel much better if I go for a run. If I don't remember to look outside of myself, I become like winter.

I am ready for the thaw.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"And both will be exalted"

"The Art of Asking." It's the title of the TED talk that Amanda Palmer gave, talking about the relationship between musician and fan. It's a great talk, and Amanda says a lot of things that are well worth listening to and thinking about.

(Watch it. Really.)

One of the things that really resonated with me in her talk was the idea that there is a connection between the artist and the fan, that when that connection is made, it's a way of seeing each other. It kept calling to mind this quote from the novel Howards End, by E. M. Forster:

"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer."

Here is Forster himself, talking about writing novels. Two things from this brief excerpt stuck out for me. When he explains why he stopped writing, he says that part of the reason was "the social aspect of the world changed very much." And when he talks about what is in his writing, he says, "and anyone who has read my books will see what I high value I attach to personal relationships."

Here is one more thing I want to add to this mix of things that I am thinking about, in terms of art and connection. It's Chuck Wendig's post in response to Amanda's talk, where he ponders whether the philosophy she's set out can work for writers as well:

"The audience is empowered. The artist is among them, not outside them.
We must make the connection easy. The bridge must be a short walk from audience to artist, from creator to collaborator. We all have to be a simple tweet away. A digital handshake, an invisible high-five. Stories that are not scarce or hidden but set on the box in the town square for all to see. Is that enough? Too much? Is that right for everybody? Wrong for too many?"
If you're reading this hoping I'm going to tie all these things up together and give you an easy answer, probably you should stop now. There aren't any easy, one-size-funds-all, answers here.
Part of why I make art is to connect with people. I sit down at my desk and write because I believe that I have a story that is worth telling, and that only I can tell that story in that particular way. I publish my writing because I want to share those stories, because I feel that in them, I can make some sort of connection with the people who read them. I believe that, because that is how art affected me, how art continues to affect me. I have been moved to tears - of sorrow and of joy - by book and film and painting and sculpture and dance and music. Art matters deeply to me. It is a thing that helps me reach outside of myself, to be bigger and better than I was before.
The social aspect of the world has changed. The artist is among the audience. I see you. You see me.
When I had my first signing, I had been a published author for less than 24 hours. And it wasn't for a novel. It was for a short story, "A Life in Fictions," in the anthology Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. The event was at Columbia University, and it was a reading with Neil, and Joe Hill, and Jeffrey Ford, and Walter Mosley, and Larry Block. And me. When the reading was over, I was so sure no one would want me to sign the book (as one of my friends said, "Kat, you're the only one in here I've never heard of."), I went straight back to the green room to thank the organizers. Except there was a woman (Teresa Jusino, who I will always remember as being the first person I ever signed a book for) waiting for me in the hall. And someone else who stopped me later. And a man on the stairs, who said, "I thought maybe you didn't want to talk to anyone."
I did. I just didn't know anyone wanted to listen. The social aspect of the world has changed. 
The thing about asking, is that by asking, you're saying what you do has worth. I have never doubted that art matters, matters a lot, can honestly save a life, but it is hard for me to say that  my art matters when saying that it matters is attached to saying, "give me money or other non-monetary support, and help me make it." It's not that I don't believe artists should get paid - I do! Believe me. I don't send my work to markets that don't pay professional rates, and I believe those stories are worth the checks I deposit. But saying "here is this thing, and I wrote it, and it's on my blog, and if you like it, maybe you could pay me so I can eat and have coffee and also an apartment and health insurance? Or even if you can't pay me now, maybe later? Or send cookies, or a nice letter?" that's a scarier kind of asking. That's saying, "this matters because it matters."
I don't know if the kind of asking that Amanda talks about translates for a writer, is the other thing. Maybe it does - the social aspect of the world has changed. The artist is among the audience. Maybe there should be a traveling group of writers who go from city to city and tell stories, like musicians on tour. I'd sign up. I use social media all the time to tell people their work has mattered to me. I buy music direct from the artists. I've donated to writers who have been going through difficult times.
And yes, I know I could self-publish. I know I could crowdfund. But I don't want to be my own publisher (and editor, and cover designer, and copy editor, and pr person, and and and). And those things don't solve all the problems. Not everyone is online (most of my work is, and my Mom prints out copies of my stories to send to my grandparents, who want to read me, and can't unless they have physical copies.) Not everyone can afford an ereader. Self-publishing and crowdfunding don't get my work into bookstores, into libraries. I want to write. I want to connect.
Which I guess brings me back to the question Chuck asked: How do writers and storytellers ask for your attention and your help?
How can we better connect? How can we see each other?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sweeney in New York

One of my favorite figures from myth is poor mad Sweeney, who angered a priest, and got cursed into being a bird.

You know, like this:

"My curse fall on Sweeney
for his great offence.
His smooth spear profaned
my bell's holiness,

cracked bell hoarding grace
since the first saint rang it - 
it will curse you to the trees,
bird-brain among the branches."

Seamus Heaney, from "Sweeney Astray." (Sadly hard to find in the States, worth whatever you have to pay to get a copy.)

Or maybe you recognize him here:

"The circles of the stormy moon
Slide westward toward the River Plate,
Death and the Raven drift above
And Sweeney guards the horned gate."

T.S. Eliot, from "Sweeney Among the Nightingales"

Buile Suibhne, or The Madness of Sweeney, is a terrific story, a national epic, like Beowulf. I love all the pieces of it.

And so I wrote a story, about poor Mad Sweeney, and took him across the sea to America, to New York City. It's called "Painted Birds and Shivered Bones," and it is out today, in the Spring issue of Subterranean. Thank you to Bill, for asking me to try my hand at writing something longer, to Geralyn, who knitted me the Scarf of Encouragement, to Birdy, whose cover of "Terrible Love" I listened to on constant repeat while writing this. Thank you to my beta readers, and to my excellent agent Joe, who took me for soup dumplings once I had sold this. Thank you to Seamus Heaney, who first introduced me to Sweeney, and to Neil Gaiman, who was the reason my students had any clue at all who Sweeney was when I taught the poem.

I hope you like it.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

That has such people in't

The internet can be a strange place. Every place can be, of course, and maybe I'm wrong to think of the internet as somehow separate. But. Still.

I don't have any alerts set up. Not for my name, not for my stories, not for anything I've been involved with. I don't vanity search. I do, occasionally, read my reviews, but even that tends to be something I'm careful about. I avoid these things because, honestly, I feel like there's some sort of unspoken internet rule that as soon as you set these things up, the universe will slap you - the first review you find will be bad, the first mention will be something hurtful. And I know how I am, and I know how my brain works, and so I know that I am much better off missing the good stuff, if it means that I also miss the bad.

And we hear all the time "don't read the comments" "don't feed the trolls" "avoid the bottom half of the internet." There is, it seems, something in the fact that the interface is a screen, not a face, that allows people to be crueler here than they would be in physical life.

Though, sometimes, we are cruel face to face, too.

I was walking my dog this morning and a man I had never met before blocked my way on the sidewalk. "Your dog looks old," he said. "You should put it to sleep."

I'd like to say that I was tough, that I was a badass, that I said something cutting, and punched him for good measure. But my dear cat died in November, and it has been an awful few months for beloved pets among my friends and family, and so I did not act like a badass. Instead, I grabbed Sam I Am into my arms, and burst into tears.

And then I came inside and told twitter. 

And the internet was collectively awesome.

Maybe it doesn't seem a big deal, to type "hugs" or "I'm sorry" or "that guy was a jerk" in response to someone. But seeing a timeline fill up with collective support, it's kind of great. And in this instance, it was a really clear reminder that, even though there are cruel people in the world, there are also kind ones, that people can act from love, too.

So thank you, to everyone who took a moment to be kind today. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This must be the place

The first time I cried while reading Sarah McCarry's extraordinary debut novel, All Our Pretty Songs, was on page six. It wasn't even at a sad part. It was a small scene, the kind of beat that in the hands of a lesser writer would have barely registered. It was a moment in a friendship, the friendship of the narrator and Aurora, and McCarry's writing made me recognize that moment in a visceral, physical way. I had had that friendship. I had been that girl.

In a way, reading All Our Pretty Songs was, for me, like coming home. Home had turned slantwise and strange, and there were shadows in corners, and voices in hallways that I didn't recognize, but this was a place that I knew. Yet for all of that recognition, for all of the layers of references - and this is a book that is steeped in mythology, both ancient and modern - this was a story that felt fresh. The people living in McCarry's world make their own stories.

I could tell you the easy, elevator pitch version - this is the Orpheus myth, set in the modern Pacific Northwest. And it is that, and very well done indeed. But it is also a book that is deeply about the nature of friendship. It is also a book that is deeply about the nature of art, and the sacrifices that are necessary to make art, and how those sacrifices, those choices, have ripples that push out from the moment the choice is made. McCarry's language is wonderful - precise and evocative. She conjures place and character so strongly I would only have been a little surprised had the pages actually bled.

There are books that you come across sometimes that you recognize as friends, that you feel like were written just for you. All Our Pretty Songs is one of those books for me. I already want to reread it. It's the sort of book I will buy multiple copies of, and press upon my friends. It's incredibly powerful, and somehow, it is home.

All Our Pretty Songs will be out in July. You can pre-order it here, and I strongly suggest that you do.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Oz Reimagined out today!

I am very excited that Oz Reimagined, a fabulous anthology edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, is out today. As you may have guessed from my excitement, I have a story in it. It's called "A Tornado of Dorothys," and it is clearly the most awesome title I have ever come up with. I only hope the story is worthy of it.

The anthology is full of amazing writers and beautifully illustrated by Galen Dara. I'm thrilled to be part of this project.

Here is a link to all of the places where you can buy Oz Reimagined, should you be so moved. You can also buy "A Tornado of Dorothys" as a kindle single, if that's your preference. The site that I linked to also has all sorts of interesting things, like interviews with all of us, so you can spend lots of time in our versions of Oz.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Paper hearts and glitter glue

Valentine's Day was hard for me when I was a kid. I was awkward and shy. I was no good at kickball and too good at reading. If it wasn't a year where the teacher made people bring Valentine's for everyone, I usually got, like, three. And if we had to bring Valentines for everyone, I got the ones that were unsigned. No special conversation hearts from secret admirers, no handmade cards exploding in paper lace and glitter.

And I wanted them. With all the yearning in my heart, I wanted, so badly, just one year, to have that Valentine that told me I was special. To not go home with yet another reminder that I was me.

High school was easier. I had friends. There were no great and public Valentine exchanges, so there wasn't the obvious stigma of the empty decorated mailbox that said you weren't worthy of love. We could send carnations to people, to be delivered in class. I never got one from that person, whoever that person was that year, but you know what? The only time I was ever brave enough to send one to that person, I wasn't brave enough to actually sign my name. 

When we put that much weight on it, saying "I love you" can be so very hard.

Saint Valentine is the patron saint of, among other things, beekeepers. This seems so very right to me, especially on this day that ought to be beautiful, and often hurts. Love is honey, and love is sting.

Valentine's Day is, of course, a day that, in its worst forms, has very little to do with love. It is full of trappings and things, of requirements that take the place of feelings. But in its best form, it is a day where love is celebrated, and there is beauty in that. Of course love shouldn't be celebrated only once a year. Of course a fancy meal or expensive flowers shouldn't take the place of kindness, of support, of things that actually speak love. Giving those things, in the expectation that they will be rewarded with an act of complicated lingerie is not, in fact, love.

But perhaps we need a day where we have permission to send that secret carnation, even if we aren't brave enough to sign our names on it. Perhaps we need a day that allows us to revel in the excess of love in all of its forms.

Because life can be hard, and life can be lonely, and love is fucking amazing. I don't just mean the kind of love that leads to hot sex, though that kind is great, too. I mean all the kinds of love - the kind words and outstretched hands. The moments where we say to other people, "you are not alone here because I stand with you." The love of a friend who always picks up the phone. The love inherent in seeing someone and knowing them. The love of just because, of shared laughter, of dancing to the same favorite song. 

And so: I love you, I love you, I love you.