newsletter issue #14 - the discomfort of emotions and happy halloween!
Happy Halloween, which is simply the peak of American culture, no notes. The weather has gotten softer, chillier, and grayer, so consider leaving a cup of hot chocolate outside your door for the writers and readers in your lives.
And to Brazilian readers, congratulations!
Being in this swampy time of drafting-revising is always so uninteresting in terms of updates because I really cannot say anything.
I’ve talked before about how Monsters Born and Made was built out of questions once I had the initial idea of monstrous beasts in the seas: where did the monsters come from? Do they come on land? How’s their interaction with the people? Do they fight? Who fights? Who wins? How do they win?
And more importantly: why? Why do these creatures exist? Why do some people fight and some don’t?
I’m having the same kind of epiphany for Book 2 [accidentally typed and deleted the title, lol], which is always exciting. And I think Koral might get a small justice in Kar Atish that changes nothing for her except naming her pain and giving her an understanding, which will suffice because she will never get any tangible justice in Sollonia.
Years ago, when I first pursued traditional publishing I wanted to write stories with big visuals and set pieces. I would think of what a scene’s colors would look like, what a big battle would sound like. All of it inspired by the music of Hans Zimmer and John Williams. That’s the kind of story that had made home in me.
But as I continued to write, and fail to get published, I also grew. My experiences changed, my life changed. I came to terms with myself in a way I hadn’t before and that changed my storytelling too.
I still prefer watching big visuals–although I think if Princess Rhaenys had to give Meleys a concussion by breaking through the roof, she should have a more solid reason to back away, like perhaps Sunfyre showing up for Aegon, which would have escalated the situation enough for Rhaenys to want to de-escalate.
This scene reminded me of one of my shelved manuscripts that I routinely look up, trying to solve the puzzle of it still because I am interested in some themes that I haven’t been able to replicate since. It has spectacular fantasy elements, a two-headed dragon, some cool Naga mythology, a young reluctant but good-hearted king, a thief, and a rebel. Some of you who have followed me on Twitter for a while might remember when I entered #DVPit with that book.
It came so close. But ultimately didn’t, of course. And I think writing and publishing Monsters Born and Made might have unlocked why.
It relies too much on spectacle. In the name of emotions, it focuses too much on the abstract range of human emotions than the very deep and personal emotion of a single character.
Which, I believe, is what I did right with Monsters. When I say this, I don’t mean that everyone else will also see it that way. If anything, this kind of vulnerability often makes an enemy of the reader. We don’t really like vulnerability that is too strong because it becomes a mirror we can’t look at for too long.
Monsters holds that mirror for too, too long. It’s a single POV of a girl filled with so much rage it has started spilling out and darkening everything around her. And her mind, with its undiagnosed list of mental illnesses, is such a convoluted, messed up place. She has a thousand thoughts at once. And to deal with them, to stop herself from going mad, she must forcibly keep her focus on one thing to the detriment of all else. Even logic and personal safety.
She’s just one girl, in a world constrained to claustrophobia, and she can’t stop because she’s so, so scared.
And because the narrative is so deep inside her, there’s no pause, no relief from her feelings, no place to stop and say that something is deeply wrong.
Sollonia itself, though exaggerated for fiction but also in many ways subdued, is also a reality for more than one kind of community. And I don’t believe I could sanitize the narrative to make it more palatable for a western audience.
It is an incredibly uncomfortable thing.
I couldn’t write Koral of Sollonia when I was younger–possibly because I was too afraid of my own mind then. I still am. I just have found now that, in this part of my artistic career, I am deeply interested in the earnest truth of a character, especially ones that will not be categorized one way or another, ones that seem fickle and frightening, because that is their life.
Dark Descents and Monstrous Bodies: Writing Under the Influence of East-Asian Horror: Author Judy I. Lin (The Book of Tea Duology) wrote about growing up in Taiwan and the influence of East Asian horror in her writing. And if you haven’t yet checked out her debut duology, you really should!
Oprah’s Book Club Author Jarvis Jay Masters on How Writing Has Given Him Freedom and Power: An incredible short essay about putting truth on paper as it introduces us to Jarvis Jay Masters who has written an autobiography dealing with his days on death row as an innocent man.
The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton: This is a perfect moody and atmospheric read for these fall-to-winter days. This book follows Nor Blackburn in the PNW with a history of witches, which I think encapsulates everything as far as spooky recs go. But also, Walton has a way with words and I think if you like Maggie Stiefvater or Rachel Griffin, you’ll like this book too. CW for self-harm.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: This is my annual October read, and no matter how many times I’ve read it, it still holds up as the perfect haunting, scary read. I love the protagonist, Eleanor, and see so much of myself in her–which is why I both hate the ending and love what Nell got out of it. CW for abuse and suicide.
Love and light. Take care <3