Here it is, my first draft. I is it story shaped? I guess. Is it a good story?
Still, here ya go:
The Power Of
I hang in the clear air like glass, arms outstretched, head thrown back, eyes closed. The blood-red country is behind me – Sleeping Bear Cliffs, I never saw it. But the sleeping make good witnesses.
Under me the iced-over ocean, blue and white and inviting.
I dream of the wind in my hair. The flutter of fabric on skin as I plunge towards the water.
There is nothing. There is silence and absolute stillness.
If I turn around now, walk back on the icy air, Hamir will forgive me. I press my lids closer, press my lips shut tight as well. He cannot touch me here, encased in the sky, in his siblings’ realms. Which doesn’t mean he won’t try.
When I open my eyes he stands before me, unperturbed by the drop under his feet. “Do you really want to end it like this?” Disappointment drips from his words into the long fall below us.
“I’d prefer it’d never started,” I reply. “But that is beyond both of us.”
He reaches to touch my face but of course he can’t. So for a moment his hand hangs there uselessly and awkward before he drops it again. “You have changed your mind before. So If you reconsider…” He shrugs as he walks around me, back towards the rusty red cliffs.
But I don’t want to reconsider. I want to fly, fall and drop into the endless seas. I want the cold black water to embrace me and wash everything away.
Instead I hang in the sky. Motionless.
Below me the shoals of ice thaw, the ocean roils and clouds roll overhead. The night sky turns, parades its constellations before my eyes. How long will it take? His siblings are not ready to betray him yet, to let me fall free and take his wrath.
I sigh in seasons.
It’s the boredom that always got me before. After sleeping it off for a few decades, your brain perks up. My limbs grow numb, little needles prickle under my skin. For a while, it is a distraction. So is the flight of birds that paint strange symbols onto the sky, irreverent and foreboding.
How long until the mortifying stillness breaks me? I watch the shadows creep over the cliffs. After all this time I still can’t see the sleeping bear. The ocean freezes solid until it thaws and reaches up over the rock towering split like a castle with the darkest blue. I feel its siren song in my heart and cannot follow.
Only the tears that make it over the edge of my chin are free. They streak towards oblivion in sleek silver lines and my unbridled envy follows until it is bounced back from the hard blue surface.
Immortals have no concept of time, this I know first hand. But I know it and I feel it tug at my soul with each passing second. An everlasting plucking that grows with each beat until the vibrations encompass the whole world.
Of course I can always go back. The sky blushes pink at the thought.
Beloved of the gods is not a blessing. The words of my Oma echo in my head and how I laughed them away in the elation of being chosen. Hamir is a god of love. I cannot be more blessed. And oh, how he loves me. Like a favourite mug. He loves me. Like a special stone found on a beach. He loves me. Like a wind-up toy that won’t stop barrelling over the edge of the table. He loves me.
And oh, how I loved him – with the brightness of the sun at noon, the stuttering beat of my fumbling heart. I loved him with selfless devotion to a greater good, beyond the edges of myself, across the shards of my soul broken over benign condescension.
All my love, Hamir took gladly. Leeched me dry and moved on to the others when I needed to refill. An endless cycle and each time his hand descended on my shoulder my heart would leap nevertheless, plummeting itself eagerly into another breach.
Being loved by the gods is no good at all. My Oma was right. But once they love you, that’s it. They may let you slip, like the stone from its shelf, tumbling away for a bit until they pick you up again and put you in the place they designed.
A house is built on the tip of the cliffs and tumbles into ruin. Human feet carve paths into the landscape. Below me the ocean rolls from foaming white into still black. At night the stars are tilted back where they began on their axis.
It has been a long time since last Hamir stood before me, eyes soft and pleading. Come back. All will be forgiven if only you come back.
But my heart is a sore, ashen and empty. Returning won’t fill it. The love of Hamir himself cannot unbreak it.
Sometimes all you can do is draw a line and refuse to cross it. Sometimes inertia is the only action you can take. So it’s what I do. Refuse to return. Endure the denial of escape.
I dream Hamir stops visiting me and then he does. But still I am not free. I am not to be beyond his reach. Such is the loyalty of the immortal siblings. If he can’t have me, nobody shall, not even death.
A soft touch on my shoulder startles me from empty contemplation back into the bitter blue sky.
“What are you doing here?” A small child stands before me, brown eyes intent on answers.
“I am waiting for the gods to release me.” The truth stopped hurting a long time ago.
“There are no gods.”
I wonder if anybody told Hamir. He must have laughed to hard. “There have always been gods,” I say. “There will always be gods.”
“We’re here for you,” the child says as if that is an answer and gestures around us.
The mountain fortress below is peppered with windows now. People scurry over the sand between it and the cliffs like ants. I try to twist and look behind me but I cannot. Cities mirror in the child’s eyes.
“But what about the gods,” I return to the topic pricking my skin.
“Which gods?” They ask back. “There is only you.”
I swallow the laughter. “What about Hamir? Oloku, Sali, Jena, Le-“
“Those names mean nothing,” the child interrupts me, their brown eyes almost translucent with backlighting. “Only you stayed. You protect, your gaze forever on the telltale sea. You hear our pleas. You guard the coast.”
I can’t reply. I’m sorry for those people. Nothing that happened was due to me, any saving accidental, no greater power watching over their lives. “But where did the gods go?” I want to know.
“Nobody knows.” The answer is accompanied by a careless shrug. “They must have left before we arrived. But they are gone. We never saw an any of them. Never hear their names. They have no altar or shrine.”
“But if the gods are gone,” I hesitate to form the thought, “who holds me up in the sky?”
“I don’t know,” comes the reply. “Who does hold you up in the sky?”
My last blog entry really got me thinking. A lot of things came together, and I am still sorting through the wild knots. But what is becoming clear that I cannot just write my experiences and expect to be understood.
If I tell my story in the traditional way by showing, the neurotypical reader doesn’t see me. Accordingly, how can a neurotypical agent or editor? If I just tell my story without explanations, the NTs won’t get it. This is where the dreaded “cannot relate” comes into play.
This experience of having to explain myself in order to be understood correctly, also informs my reading habits. (And how I consume media in general.) If you show me a thing without explanation, I assume my initial reading will be off. And I have to manually calibrate to an NT reading. For me, the creator chose a way of displaying things that leaves unquestionable openings to change the reading later on.
I can never believe you are telling me the truth about a character or a situation if you only show it to me. Hence, every piece of media is chock full of subtext and possibilities. What is going on behind the layers of masking I am shown? How do the actions relate in a system of reference that is not neurotypical?
To apply that to Heater Girl – if the book only shows the events (girl under heater, doesn’t come out until left alone), NTs will assume a need for attention. NDs may also assume a need for attention because we are very good at learning what the “correct” reading of a situation is from NTs. (If we don’t, we die.)
Without the explanation form inside the girl under the heater, this reading will stand. Other actors my bring up the ND reading as an option, but our NT habits are either hard to break, or dangerous to break. Usually, we just don’t.
This is why I have to tell readers what is going on. For those who don’t know and for those who don’t believe it. Only by saying “this is what is happening here” can I be sure the events aren’t misread in a NT way. This is how I make sure you get to see what happens behind the layers of masking. And to do that, I have to break the accepted form of writing which says: “show, don’t tell” what’s going on.
Right now, it feels like a vicious cycle. I can write to expectation and won’t be seen. My being and existence is overwritten by NT readings and interpretations. Or I can write against expectation and not ben seen either because the manuscript goes nowhere. Because it is not written correctly. Because my characters are not relatable, make no sense.
I have no solution or even conclusion. This is how things are right now. I am invisible even in my own words.
My mum kept telling a story about me in kindergarten. You see, I was a quiet child and usually unproblematic to handle, invisible. But in kindergarten, oh in kindergarten I was an attention whore.
As soon as I was dropped off, I’d crawl under the heater and wouldn’t come out. No amount of coaxing or bribing would work. I would stay put. Only when left alone I would finally get bored and leave my hiding place in search for more attention.
I believed that story.
And why not. I don’t remember this. I remember nothing from kindergarten. And what sane person would crawl under a heater anyway? What reason could there be, if not having the kindergarten teachers give you their undivided attention in the attempt to lure you out?
Today I look at the poor little critter trying to find some peace and quite under a heater, trying to process too many things going on at once. She’s overwhelmed and nothing will change that – except leaving her alone. Once little!Mel has calmed down, she can face the world again.
Who gets to tell my story?
For the longest time, my mum did. And I echoed the story, trying to find the charm in it. Because it had to be charming, didn’t it?, to bear repeating? I understand the desire to have one-on-one interactions. Crowds are noisy and complicated. And while I crave attention, I also want to be safe when receiving it.
Today I have accepted that there is only so much interaction I can stomach. (Masking is exhausting.) I worked on a fair for six hours this Saturday and slept off the exhaustion for most of the remaining weekend. People are too much. Even when I love them and love being around them, they are A Lot. I need a break.
I didn’t intend this to be be about writing. But I’m a writer; it’s what I do. And these days I am writing my own story. The story where I am lying under the heater overwhelmed. My characters are allowed to be like me. They act like me, think like me, perceive like me. They most definitely express themselves like me.
I didn’t always put it into my stories on purpose. But I think all my protagonists have it because I wrote them to be normal like me. (gigglesnort) When I write today, I know my protagonist will be neurodivergent. (On top of being an enby, bitches love enbies! It’s me I’m bitches). And I lean into it. On the page, I can be perceived safely – ticks, tells, and stims.
I hear that this is wanted, that my voice is important and needs to be heard. People like me want to see themselves, people not like me need to see us to understand us. And yet, I so often get the feeling that it’s not not what publishing wants at all. They want the little attention whore, the motives they understand.
As soon as I stop explaining myself, I am automatically read like the attention seeking version of my story. If I show you who I am, you see something else. (This ties in closely with my problems of Show Don’t Tell As described in Lies, lies everywhere and my I Don’t Believe You blog posts.)
I cannot exist as myself and not be misread. I cannot write myself and not be misread. As soon as I stop explaining myself, I am no longer playing the game correctly. A little girl huddling up under the heater is not an active protagonist. She has no agency. Unlike her little twin that is making others do her bidding, who has an effect on the outside world instead of the other way round.
The world has an effect on me more often than I can affect it. Being left alone when overwhelmed is a comfort-fantasy. Being helped through the pain is a power-fantasy and one I am only now learning to write. Stars know if I ever get to a place where I can live it.
Does this bode well for my books?
What can I say…
…my mum tells this little story about me – about her little attention whore that was otherwise so perfectly invisible.
Branka looked back into the chaotic apartment. It seemed that nothing was where it belonged, not even the floors and lamps.
You can’t leave like this.
For a moment she considered cleaning up, putting everything where it belonged, the books on the shelves, the laptop on the desk, the broom in the closet. But how would she handle the floors? Or the lamps?
One of them still swung slightly as if there was a breeze it knew about and Branka didn’t. She watched the hypnotic movement for a while. Back and forth, back and forth, the motions becoming ever so much smaller. A shade hung askew, another was missing, probably lost in the chaos and broken.
It is not your chaos, she told herself. Not your plates shattered all over the kitchen floor, not your curtains hanging ripped and tattered, not your vase, the flowers crushed and the water dripping from the windowsill into the carpet. It is not your carpet, either. Get a grip, Branka. Leave.
She didn’t move. Why are all the glasses broken? Why didn’t one cup remain whole? She couldn’t see the shelves from where she stood, but she remembered. Tilted, ripped out, some of the cutlery stuck in the walls. If she cleaned up the mess, would she have to smooth down the holes? Fill them in? Paint them over? Would that work?
And then? The pens back into their holders. The paper could be stacked, some of it smoothed out again. Righten the TV, put the remote beside it. But what good would it do? It is not your TV, she told herself. It is not your remote. What are you even doing here?
I was living here.
And what good did that do?
Branka looked at a trail of crisps leading from the middle of the room to nowhere. There was a broken bowl somewhere around here, wasn’t there? She couldn’t remember.
But I lived here, she wanted to say. I should know.
And what good would that do?
What good is talking to myself?
Branka ran a hand through her hair. It was wet, tangled and starting to clot. A shower, after all the cleaning, that would be it. Even if the shower curtain lay on the floor now, some towels were jammed into the toilet, the mirror broken, shining pieces of silver all over the apartment. Slivers lined with red.
It is impossible to tidy up everything, she told herself. And who had tidied up after the big bang anyway? Nobody, that’s who.
Leave it, Branka, leave it like this.
But her eyes were roving across the scene, fitting things into their places in her mind as they went. Righten the vase and smooth out the petals of the flowers. Scoop up the water from the carpet with the hands and return it into the vase. Scoop up the blood with the hands from the carpet and return it to the body.
Due to recent developments, I need to get a few things off my chest. Pitch events are a time of high-strung nerves. I like to pretend I’m cool, but I’m really not.
I’ve done a lot of such events – PitMad, PitchDIS, DVPit, genre specific events, publisher specific events. If it’s out there, I’ve done it. I started doing pitch events at the end of 2020 which, I understand, is a bad thing to start anything in tradpub.
It’s probably telling on how things went considering that now my reactions to a Like on a tweet are:
Who of my dear friends doesn’t know it’s pitch day?
Which schmagency is out fishing for customers now?
Wait, what? The fuck you mean an actually legit like?!?
Sad but true.
This is how it goes inside my head.
Did I get many agent Likes for my participation? Nope.
I got likes from an indie publisher that I really appreciate. Unfortunately, they were looking for a stand-alone romance with spicy bits, which my manuscript is very much not. And while I do write spice when I want to, I’m pretty sure I put the necessary amount of explicit into each book I write. And sometimes, that amount is none. And that’s that for the book.
I got likes from schamgencies. One event we formed a club of authors who got our pitch liked by the same vanity press that was out in full force on a discord. I think we all made it into the club.
I get likes from people who don’t know what a pitch event is or how it works. After looking at their profiles, I decide if they would benefit from having things explained to them or if it’s just the way life goes.
tl;dr I don’t expect anything legit to come from a pitch event. I am not cool about it after all this time. Hope is a bitch that won’t give up. 🤷♂️
Did I get a legit like this time around?
Was it an agent on my radar? No. Did I go to research them immediately? Yes. And, ngl, I was doing very badly because the agency website and I will never be friends. 🤷♀️
I wasn’t really questioning that I wasn’t finding info immediately. My head was already going: heh, just another of those, just what I have to live with because I can’t not do pitch events even if they make me sad and empty.
Surprise, though. After poking some more holes into the internet, I found the info. And it was all legit. What’s more, I read their mswl during my agent trawls. I read it so they’re looking for a sub-genre my manuscript is not. I mention that in the query, because nobody needs to waste no time on a clear non-fit.
Am I excited? I don’t know. I know how many queries and agent can get that is not a big amount of queries at all and how overrun agents can get opening for just a few days. It’s hard. The competition is high. There’s so many manuscripts out there that deserve to be books.
On top of the regular, I am scared the manuscript isn’t the sub-genre the agent is looking for; I’m scared they hate the voice once exposed to it for longer than a tweet; I’m scared I’m trespassing on the territory of the diverse where I am not enough to be included.
But yeah, hope that little bitch. If it wasn’t for her I sure wouldn’t have even sent the query. Also, it feels really good to be seen. There always seems to be so little agent interaction at such events. (Disappointing, but understandable when they’re already drowning in their regular subs.)
Which brings me to an unexpected disk horse.
Side Subject: OMFG, an agent like 500 pitches!
Yeah, that’s probably the end of tradpub as we know it. 🙄
In the overall numbers-game of queries an agent can receive, that is not a lot. In the amount of work rolling towards that agent now, it is still a lot. If they spend only 5 minutes per query, that’s a full work week. And many agents spend more time on a query (unless it’s clearly not a fit).
Am I flabbergasted? Yes.
Pitch Likes were sold to me as golden tickets. A red carpet rolled out right to the top of the submission pile.
That doesn’t mean everybody has to or does use them like that. (I have also been informed that on average only LESS THAN half the liked stories are submitted. Like, le what?!?! 😱 this doesn’t compute in my little hamster brain. You like my pitch and are legit, you gotta run if you want to escape my manuscript. (Blacklisted agents exempt 😅))
For the statistics, I think Queries George* should not be counted if they distort the results. My 3.2 maths brain cells that love statistics won’t allow it.
On the other hand, if one agent going beyond by making sure they build a diverse list can skewer the results of an event committed to doing exactly that – halt die Welt an, ich will aussteigen
*Correction! Queries George isn’t even alone?!? The line between “normal” and “outlier” in the data I refer to is in a place that makes no sense to me. I have no idea how the data is being processed any longer but my 3.2 maths brain cells hate it here.
Seems you really can’t trust any statistics you didn’t forge yourself. 🙃
Go Queries Georges! Take tradpub to the diversity it should be at. 🥳
Writing advice – I really would like to write sarcasm laden essays on most of it. So, I’ll start here.
I am almost 40 years old with a demanding full-time job I love. The time I spend reading can be measured in thimbles.
Does that mean that I can’t write?
Fuck you, it does.
I won’t have anybody tell me I can’t write. I bloody well can and will. Actually, I do.
So what. Am I a mysterious creature of legend?
What I am is 40 years old with a reading history as long as god’s proverbial arm. I know my grammar and spelling. I know my style and though I am not always happy with it, it is distinct. And my ultimate struggle will always be plot.
To get back to that intrusive piece of advice. What it completely fails to take into consideration is that there are stories in many more mediums that just writing. At least it is taking fanfic and such into account because it doesn’t tell you what to read. Go read a cookbook.
But we are surrounded by stories in so many other forms. Comics, movies, series, audio dramas, podcasts, games. Hell, take theatre. Tweets and tumblr posts can gear up to be a story. And you know how much I consume of those?
Just because it’s a game , doesn’t mean I won’t see the gaping plotholes. I can appreciate the characters in a podcast, there is definitely still prose to be found in audio dramas. Listen, if you want to learn writing dialogue, plays can be your best friend.
I’m not saying you never have to have read to writer. I am certain it helps. But don’t let anybody tell you that stories is only what is written.
I’m not sure this has anything to do with my being a frothing mass of angry nd. Maybe it does. I cannot say because I have no framework of reference. Guess I am not (yet) moving in all the right circles for me.
Of course, this was once more sparked by Craft in the Real World my Mathew Salesses. There is a part where he speaks about Chinese traditions in storytelling. That has nothing to do with my own storytelling. Some things stood out for me simply because I want them in my stories. The ones I write as much as the ones I read.
Explicit emotions, wanting to make the reader feel something. Purposeful lack of interiority. Romantic irony. Directly addressing the audience or at all times an awareness of the audience and the structure surrounding story telling with all its participants.
I have never put names on these things except for myself and always as ways I deviate from correct writing. It is on me that I don’t understand why a protag’s head can’t just be empty, its last brain cell being squizzly squiggly fucking bendy and gallivanting around on a perpetual 404-error.
That the protag shouldn’t be addressing the audience (in)directly. Like, am I the only one who does this? Talk to my imagined audience in my head, performing on a stage of my own making as if I’m in a live feed?
That direct and unabashed emotions are the food for the soul my heart hungers for. Why would a metaphor transport the point better? Emotions are raw and leave you vulnerable. Why should I put up walls around that again when I just chipped them away carefully?
These are things I like. (along with free-floating dialogue, no descriptions, and info dumps). But they are branded as Bad Writing. When truly, they may all just be part of a different tradition. Maybe I just don’t know because all I get is western style stuff.
I grew up not questioning it. Writing craft advice was The Gospel. It was me that didn’t get it. Somehow I managed to not get the basics of writing, my fave pastime of all time. But try as I might, I could not like what that advice produced in my hands. It was obvious, that I was the problem.
Tell you what? I will be a fucking problem.
I was taught there is a right way to write, and now I begin to understand it is just one tradition. A dominant tradition people are loth to let go. Hell if I know why. Maybe it is easier to judge stories following a pattern. If it strays, it is a bad story. Easy.
If you have different right ways to tell a story, this becomes increasingly difficult. Not only are you expected to understand the different ways (but do you have to? Can’t you just enjoy?) The possibility to be “wrong” increases. You are prone to make mistakes.
I can see where this is making a lot of people very uncomfortable. Can’t say I care, though. I have been made very uncomfortable approaching the subject from the other side for a long time. How about we meet in the middle?
Or better yet, yeet those preconceptions into the sun where they belong. Embrace the multitude of traditions and writing styles. Celebrate them merging into a kaleidoscopic flux of self-renewing creativity.
Not everything that can come from this will be gold. But let’s be honest. How much is getting published these days that isn’t gold either?
The one thing I know now is that traditional western story telling can never meet all my narrative needs. It was not made to. It does not have to.