Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Guilt Complex of Healing

Like so many people I know, women in particular, I like to fix things. I like to be of service. It's the instinct that draws me to the medical profession—what could be more rewarding than a career dedicated to healing those who are injured, ill, or vulnerable?

And more than anything, I want to heal the people I care about. I wish I could siphon away the pain of trauma, loss, and injury. When a friend comes to me with a problem, this instinct to help kicks in.

It happened earlier this week, when someone I care for told me of an experience that has changed and damaged her profoundly. It was a story I'm all too familiar with—a story that has, in different forms and variations, shaped my life and those of my female friends on many levels. Despite this familiarity, there was still a moment of crushing realization. I lost my breath. My muscles tensed up. This friend spoke in raw, anguished words of the anxiety that now plagues her, the detachment, and the fears—irrational out of context, and yet so inevitable in light of her situation. I wondered what I should share with her. I wondered how much to ask, and how much to reveal. I struggled to frame my words of comfort in empathy, without patronizing, minimizing, or appropriating her story, a story that is uniquely hers and yet is so intertwined with those of other women.

I've been in this position before, several times, but one time in particular stands out. A friend came to me in a state of immense pain and despair. She had endured abuse beyond imagining, abuse few people can begin to understand, and in my desperate desire to help her I found myself crippled by guilt. Guilt because I did not have the power to mend the wounds left by such deep and pervasive trauma. Guilt because I could do nothing to slow the deterioration of her health, the health of a body permanently damaged by years of physical, mental, and sexual torture. Those months left me doubting the capacity of the human soul to truly heal. In her wounds, I felt I had seen pure evil for the first time with my own eyes.

But in the end, it wasn't my guilt or shame to bear. I am not deficient for my inability to heal my friend—the body and mind are endlessly complex, and the deepest, most multi-layered injuries cannot be mended in weeks or months. Likely they cannot be mended by a single person. For someone like me, the cultivation of realistic expectations in this regard is not always easy. Even knowing it wasn't possible, I wanted to fix her trauma. I wanted to disperse that pain out into the universe.

But it isn't possible. First and foremost, I must maintain my own health. So many people I know (women mostly, although I'm sure it's also true of some men) feel they must sacrifice personal health in order to care for children, spouses, family, or friends. We pour all our energy into tending others, leaving nothing left over, then berate ourselves when we feel our efforts are deficient in some manner. This guilt is not ours. This guilt belongs to the people who hurt others.

So as I support my friend in the coming weeks, this is my goal. I will do what I can to ease her pain, and to listen with empathy. But I will not shoulder the burden of guilt. I will not blame myself for being unable to wash away the effects of traumatic stress.

I will heal in whatever capacity I am capable, and that is enough.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Oh hey I'm in India

Dear Blogosphere,

Oh how I miss you! I am posting this from my bed in Jaipur. I should be preparing for the presentation I have to give in Hindi tomorrow on methods for HIV treatment and prevention, but hey, procrastination is good too.

Some crazy things have happened this past year, things that have taken up my time and made it difficult to blog regularly. Things like moving across the country and living in India and being a sort of grownup and all that. Sometimes you just have to live, and not worry about writing it all down. But as my senior year (!) kicks off, I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things. I've been reading so many books and writing so many books lately, and it just feels so great. Yay creativity. Yay books.

I really don't have much more to say right now, besides the fact that I'm in India and there's a monsoon and I will probably make a fool out of myself tomorrow night performing a Bollywood dance for a cultural show. Life is pretty good.

Monday, March 25, 2013

There's tape on my shoe

Is there an award for the worst blogger in the history of the universe? If so, I should win it. I've been neglecting this site big-time, but there are reasons, and life is crazy, and I am crazy, so it's all good :).

Some things have happened in 2013:

-I'm revising a new book! I love it so much. I love the characters, and the storyline, and pretty much everything else (yes, I am in that book-honeymoon phase where it's all shiny and new). My CPs (Liesl, Kristen, Courtney, Chersti, Celesta, and Melanie) gave me lots of notes, and my agent gave me lots of notes, and then I wallowed in misery because I thought the book sucked and I should just eat ice cream for the rest of my life and give up. But then I contemplated, and contemplated some more, and I realized their notes were absolutely spot-on. I know exactly how to fix the story now, and it's so much better! Yay. Revisions are awesome! (Except when they're not. Which is most of the time. But everything is awesome in the book-honeymoon phase.) So I'm going to finish that up, and then it's time for submission to editors.

-I'm going to India for the summer to study Hindi.

-A friend of mine is very sick. It's a hard time for her, and a sad time. Sometimes the moroseness of the situation creeps in and I just can't bring myself to work.

-School. Lots of school.

-Painted some fingernails.

-Watched Land Before Time.

-Built a snowman.

-Did handstands in weird places.

-My friend saved someone's life with mouth-to-mouth. The police officers told her she was a hero. She told them she wanted to go back to bed. Priorities.

-Met my long-lost twin.

-Bought a bikini in January, just to rebel against Utah weather.

-Met people. Liked people. Loved people. Best part, right?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tips from the freelance trenches

So I've been stuck in the freelance trenches these past few months, pouring over my clients' wonderful manuscripts. Some are amazing. Some still have a ways to go before they're ready for publication. At any rate, here are some common problems I see in the manuscripts I read (most of which are YA fantasy):

*Also, congrats to Danielle Jensen and Katie Williams, two clients who signed with agents recently!*

-Uneven distribution of writing. Let me explain: I receive a manuscript that weights in at 130,000 words. However, the most important parts of the manuscript (world, characters, etc) remain underdeveloped. Instead, all those extra thousands of words are allocated to unnecessary description, exposition, and repetition.

-Length. If you're writing YA, you should aim for under 100,000 words. Your chances of selling increase exponentially if you can get the story under 90k, and at any rate, most stories don't actually need all those extra words anyway. You can sell a long book, it's just much harder.

-Basic grammar/punctuation. Doesn't matter how awesome your story is - no agent will take on a writer who can't use proper grammar. Master the basics before you start pursuing publication.

-Contrived love triangles. Guys, love triangles are very, very hard to do well. A lot of the manuscripts I see employ a love triangle not because it benefits the story, but because the author wants to fit the mold of current YA literature.

-Disappointing climaxes/climaxes with no emotion. Basically, even if you have an awesome physical climax, that climax falls short if it doesn't resonate emotionally with the reader or challenge your character mentally.

-Heavy-handed messages. Self-explanatory.

-Flat characters. Also self-explanatory.

-Distancing words (words that distance the reader from the main character). In the sentence "She saw him walking down the sidewalk," the words "she saw" are distancing. "He walked down the sidewalk" eliminates this extra layer.

I'll have more of these later, but for now, I should probably pay attention to my Anthropology teacher :). Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Contest winner, one month late

So to all of you who entered my last ARC contest, I must apologize profusely for being so late in posting results. Some personal issues have come up in my life, and I found myself unable to blog for the past couple months.

At any rate, I am back now, hopefully for good (although that's what I said last time :)). And the winner of the ARC is...






David Powers King!

Yay David! He was my first ever blog follower, you know :). I will send you an email to get your address!!!

Thanks to everyone who entered, and sorry for being such a bad blogger.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

ARC Giveaway! Venom by Fiona Paul

So I know I've been MIA for a while, but things have just been too crazy! I'm hoping to get back into blogging as the year goes on. For now, I've decided to host an ARC giveaway to help launch the new Facebook page for Teen Eyes.

The prize: An ARC of Venom, by Fiona Paul.

Love, lust, murder, mayhem and high society converge in one thrilling debut
Cassandra Caravello has everything a girl could desire: elegant gowns, sparkling jewels, invitations to the best parties, and a handsome, wealthy fiancĂ©—yet she longs for something more. Ever since her parents’ death, Cassandra has felt trapped, alone in a city of water, where the dark and labyrinthine canals whisper of escape.

When Cass stumbles upon the body of a murdered woman—with a bloody X carved across her heart—she’s drawn into a dangerous world of secret societies, courtesans, and killers. Soon, she finds herself falling for Falco, a poor artist with a mischievous grin . . . and a habit of getting into trouble. Will Cassandra find the murderer before he finds her? And will she stay true to her fiancĂ© or succumb to her uncontrollable feelings for Falco?

Beauty, romance, and mystery weave together in a novel that’s as seductive and stunning as the city of Venice itself.

The rules: 
You MUST like the Teen Eyes Facebook page. This gives you +1.
You MUST comment on this post with your points added up, for another +1. 

+1 for Tweeting.
+1 for Facebooking.
+1 for blogging.

This contest closes on October 13th, 2012.

Hope some of you decide to enter! 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Win a critique by moi

Yes, it's finally here! The moment you've all been waiting for!!!

Haha not really, but I still think it's pretty cool that the wonderful Krista Van Dolzer is hosting me over at her blog, Mother Write Repeat. I am offering a 20,000 word In-Depth Critique from Teen Eyes to my favorite entry. All you have to do is post the first 250 words of your story, along with a one sentence pitch.

Should be fun. If you're interested, pop on over and check out the contest. Authoress and Brenda are hosting the other Teen Eyes editors.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Winners!!! Plus a CP retreat

The winner of THE DIVINERS is:

Kathryn Purdie!

And the winner of THRONE OF GLASS is:

Sophia Chang!

Yaaayyyyy *throws confetti*

Thanks to everyone who entered! I'll be emailing the winners shortly to get their addresses. Imma have another giveaway later this week, so stay tuned!

This past weekend, my critique partners and I rented a room at the Alta Lodge so that we could have some undisturbed writing time. Although I didn't get much done on my own story, we spent a bunch of hours working through Melanie's plot and helping her brainstorm ideas for her characters and world building. By the end of the retreat, Melanie had an entire outline written up for her new story. She came so far this weekend and I'm super excited to see the finished product!

Our room

View from our room

Not only was it nice to get away for a while, especially in mountains where it's mercifully cool, but I feel like our retreat helped me to understand the power of brainstorming. Sometimes, you just need to talk things through with other people who understand your writing. Critique groups are invaluable. They can help you at every stage of the writing process - drafting, revising, or even outlining, in Melanie's case. 

Plus we got to eat Cafe Rio, and who doesn't love Cafe Rio?

Anyways, I'm off to go work my little butt off, because I have a 20-page paper due tomorrow that I haven't started. Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Guys! Guys! I am so excited to share this with you! As some of you are probably aware, my friend and critique partner Liesl sold her debut MG novel RUMP to Random House last year. It comes out April 2013, and today is the big cover reveal! I love this cover so much. Liesl is also holding an ARC giveaway, so hop on over to her blog and enter!











Isn't it pretty? I love love love love love it! Congrats, Liesl! I read this book long before it sold, and it's perfect for MG readers, boys and girls alike. So everyone go enter!!!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Unreliable memories

The other day, I was flipping through a book about writing by Gail Carson Levine. In it, she talks about the importance of writing things down during childhood. One particular quote from this book really struck me. I haven't been able to find it online, and I don't own the book, but in essence she talks about the mindset of childhood and how we lose that mindset during our passage into adulthood. Adolescence is a bridge that every human must cross, and the bridge burns behind us. Once we reach the other side there is no going back. 

Sure, we all have memories. We all remember being seven, and ten, and thirteen, and sixteen. But never again will we be able to insert ourselves into that childhood/teenage mindset. Now, I am still a teenager, and thus I still have access to the mindset of my YA characters. But that soon will change. With time, I will no longer be able to think and feel like a teenager thinks and feels. Having a memory of childhood just isn't the same.

As writers, we strive to recreate these mindsets as best we can, although it will never be possible to recapture childhood. During my last few years as a teenager I've done my absolute best to write everything down. I record my feelings and my petty desires and all the ups and downs of high school/early college. Hopefully, in a few years, I will be able to look back on these writings and use them in my professional work. 

But what about those people who are already adults, who have crossed that bridge? What if you possess no written recordings of your thoughts as a child? Many of us don't think to save these childhood scribblings, and thus we lose this temporary window to our younger selves. This is why it is so, so important to integrate yourself with your target audience. If you are writing for teens, you cannot expect to rely solely upon your memories, because memories do not really allow you to think like a teenager. When a frustrated thirteen-year-old yells "You don't understand!", in many ways, they're right. Yes, we were all thirteen at one point in our lives, but that bridge is gone. We cannot fully understand what it's like to be thirteen because we do not have the power to shift into the mindset of a child. 

So you must take every opportunity possible to spend time with your target audience. Really listen to them, and take the time to ask about their thoughts and feelings. If you compile your own memories with these careful, thoughtful observations, you can craft a character who is as close to a real teenager as possible.