Coming soon, in 2020!
I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. Mostly, I would just draw pictures and follow my mother around the house and tell her the stories I’d come up to go along with them and be ecstatic when they went on the fridge. I was also a voracious reader, but I was never content to only read; I always wanted to create. I didn’t know what writing was, really; I just knew I had stories to tell.
Writing wasn’t about plotting or world building when I was young; I just wanted to put all my ideas down.
I used to write stories for my friends and then leave them on cliffhangers for weeks while I figured out what came next.
In high school, I was the editor for the paper and wrote several articles. I created “Stickman! The Series!” which was an ongoing comic I passed out to various people in my classes. It was filled with dark humor and constantly skirted the safety of a PG-13 rating in every issue. By the end of my senior year, I was making a handful of photocopies in the library because people I’d never even met before had read it and wanted more.
“Hello dear sailor, I’m a siren, here to kill you.”
“Kill me? Why?”
“It’s what I do. I gotta be me.”
(10th grade humor. You’re welcome.)
But through all of this, I never once had much doubt about my ability to write. It was just something I did.
Writing was as much a part of me as breathing. But without knowing why, I knew I wanted to get better. So I started researching how to write. And this is where I hit my first real hurdle and my lack of skills became self-evident. My talents were raw; they were unformed clay next to master sculptures. I saw the divide, and for the first time, it bothered me that I wasn’t a better writer. It was like seeing color when I never even knew I was colorblind to begin with. But I was still excited to dive in and learn, so I did. I started reading everything I could find on how to be a better writer.
But the more I learned about writing, the harder it became to write. As technical concepts starting taking root, it felt like my knowledge was actually ruining my ability.
Before, I wrote what I wanted, completely in the dark as to whether it was good or not. But the more I took in, the less the words seemed to flow.
No one ever tells you that self-doubt isn’t just a natural instinct you get handed the first time you put a pen to paper. It’s a creeping sensation that comes out of nowhere. Like walking into a classroom you’ve been in a hundred times before and realizing that something seems different. The desks have been rearranged. You’re not by the window anymore. You have a new seating chart and your buddy is this prick that constantly asks what you’re working on and then compares it to everyone else’s work to make you feel bad.
And when you start to understand the technicalities of what you’re doing (or not doing, as the case may be), writing isn’t “easy” anymore. It’s not comfortable. It’s not fun. It’s a jerk that looms over you and keeps whispering, “Just quit already.”
So what happened? How did you get dejected from Paradise and sent crashing into this new world? Are you actually a bad writer?!
The moment you become self-aware, your brain is not going to take it easy on you. Suddenly, all those books you loved before aren’t just for you to enjoy. They’re also a model of everything that you aren’t, and that you may never be. And when you compare yourself to them, you’ll feel incredibly foolish for even trying.
By the time I graduated, I was exhausted from “creating” on demand. I shelved many of the books I’d started because I literally got sick of them. I was tired as hell of writing. I had more doubts about my abilities than when I’d started. I was scared of what would happen when I actually finished my novels. When I tried to publish. Would everyone hate it? Would they tell me that my efforts were incomprehensible garbage?
This fear compelled me to quit writing for a little while. I threw myself into work instead and got a position as an editor with several indie publishers. I doubted myself for choosing writing as a college major. I wrote only enough to keep the hinges oiled, and considered jobs outside of my field. But then I got a job with an online magazine as an editor and writer. Inside, I hoped the writing portion wouldn’t come, and for a few months, I got my wish. I was a writer who was afraid to write. The fear of how I would be received had crippled me.
The first time I was assigned an article, I had a full-blown panic attack. I had to get up and walk away from the computer because I was petrifiedof writing again, especially for a widespread audience. My biggest writing credits at this point were publications in my college newspaper and some minor poetry anthologies.
But I knew, under the fear, that I wanted to do it. And that I wasn’t going to let anyone—least of all me—ruin it. I decided, pass or fail, it wouldn’t be because I gave up.
I wrote the article. It took hours. I hated every minute of it. I was convinced it was the worst drivel I’d ever produced. But when I was done, I realized that I’d written. I’d gotten through it, and I could breathe again. Sending it in to the editor was like a weight lifting off my chest. Then came the next assignment. And the next. And before I knew it, I was writing 4-5 articles a day on a variety of topics. And so I stopped focusing on the technical aspects of how to “craft” everything. I focused instead on the writing. I had a job to do; I had to produce. So even if it still terrified me, I did it.
Before I knew it, I had written over 200 articles.
And while this was going on, I discovered the drive to just sit and write. I stopped self-editing so much; stopped telling myself I couldn’t do it. I let the technical aspects I’d learned guide me, but I put down the story I wanted to tell (reminding myself every time that I could edit later), and suddenly, writing was happening again.
I think I repeated Terry Pratchett’s quote, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story,” like a mantra, whenever I felt like I couldn’t make it.
In late 2015, two years after graduation, I finished writing my first soft sci-fi novel, Mercury in Retrograde. I edited it for months, waffled on my resolve, and then finally wrapped it up and researched query letters. And even though I felt that same doubt that said I wasn’t any good, or that no one would like it, I sent it out. I cried because I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever done.
Just over a year later, it was published. And just over a year after that, it got silver in a book awards contest. And even now, knowing what I know, the voice in my had still tells me that it’s not good enough. That I’m not good enough.
The hardest part of writing is the deceptive idea that it should be easy. That it should always feel fun, and that if you’re struggling, it’s because you’re a hack. But this simply isn’t true.
Writing is an exercise. A mental one, sure, but you’re working out muscles you may not even know you have yet. It’s going to hurt quite a bit before it gets better. And just like anything in life, you can either use it to make you stronger, or you can cave in and let it smother you.
Don’t focus on your fears. Focus on what you can control. Don’t wait for inspiration; make inspiration happen. Sit down, write that novel.
Don’t worry about what people will think of your book. Write the story that you want to tell; edit it later.
The voice in the back of your head is never going to be satisfied, even when you exceed what you thought was ever possible.
So don’t let it stop you.
So I’m awful at updating my site and various social media accounts, and I figured it was high time I started to jump on that bandwagon a little bit more.
I’ll have a couple pieces of exciting news coming up soon, and in the meantime, I’ll leave this here! I got the confirmation a couple of weeks back that the reviewer from Reader’s Favorite loved Mercury in Retrograde and wanted to give it a rave review, which is awesome.
Interesting and frustrating fact: Amazon doesn’t allow professional reviewing companies to leave reviews on either your Amazon or Goodreads pages… but this bad boy is on my Barnes & Noble page and a couple others I can’t recall right now. Books-A-Million? Maybe. I don’t know.
“Helena, please, just get your coat like the man told you to.” My mother whispered to me.
I nodded slowly and went to the closet, my hands shaking as I reached forward and took the coat off of the peg. I turned and looked over at the soldiers, holding my father up and securing his hands behind his back. The barrel of an assault rifle was pressed up against his neck and his eyes were glazed over. They’d put enough tranquilizers into him to down an elephant—but he stood—although groggily at best.
“Hurry it up girl,” one of the soldiers snapped at me. I quickly put on the coat, watching as they let my mother move slowly over to button the snaps. She refused to meet my eyes, the tears down her face evidence enough as to the fear that we all felt. She smoothed over the coat as they yanked her back to her feet, another soldier grabbing me by the arm and pulling me along painfully. I cried, uncertain of why they were there.
I had been sleeping upstairs when I heard the smash of windows below and my mother had started to scream. My father had rushed out, thinking only to protect us, but it was like they had been waiting for him. Two men with tranquilizer guns had fired on him as he let out a throaty war-cry. He had still managed to kill at least one of them before the drugs had kicked in. In fear, I had wanted to stay in my room, but when I heard my father’s shout, instinct to protect my family had taken over. I had run out, trying to see what happened but there had been a guard waiting to intercept me. He had hit me over the head with the butt of his rifle and I screamed when he dragged me up by my hair and nearly threw me down the stairs where I had fallen to the feet of another soldier. This man appeared to be in charge, quickly issuing orders with the bearing of a man who expects to be heeded. He angrily told the soldier who had hit me to be more careful, but it was no use. We were all treated roughly while they told us to be still and to listen very closely to what they said. We had been instructed that if we tried to run away, they would tranquilize us, and if we tried to fight, or turn, they would kill us. I didn’t understand what they were saying. Turn? Turn where?
My mother and I were shoved outside while the soldiers struggled to move forward with my father’s nearly 300lb weight strapped between them. He was 6’5”, 280lbs, and was what my aunt Naira described as ‘built like a tank’. To see him powerless while we were in danger was the most frightening thing that I had ever witnessed. All I had wanted was for him to suddenly shrug off the effect of the drugs and save my mother and I but instead, he was shoved to his knees onto the pavement and we turned as a helicopter began to alight in the center of our impromptu crowd.
All around us, houses were being raided in the same manner as ours, our neighbors pushed out in the streets by men dressed in black. It seemed random, since only a few of the neighbors on each side of the road had been taken outside. The rest of the houses were untouched, though curious onlookers were peering through blinds or opening doors and being instructed to return inside.
“Oh god, they’ve found us,” my mother whispered behind me. I turned and stared at her, wishing that she could tell me what was happening. The helicopter finished its descent and landed, while a man dressed in a dark blue suit dropped out of the chopper and began to walk towards a group of the soldiers who were waiting to receive him. After they were certain the area was clear, the helicopter lifted and sailed away, and the soldiers gathered us together, shoving us around the man in the suit. He held up his hands for silence, though no one was speaking.
Around me, I could hear the sad whimpers of confused children as the man held our attention. He looked down at us reassuringly, with a warm smile on his contrastingly cool features. I looked around, seeing several neighbors that I recognized, and after a minute, I realized that it wasn’t just random neighbors like I had thought—these were all of the members of my family.
We had all moved to the same town, same block, really. Family was one of the most important things to us, and we all grew up knowing each other, spending every birthday over at each relative’s house. Even after some of my older cousins had gone to college, they had returned to the area after graduation. I had always thought it was normal, until this moment. In this moment, it disturbed me that we were so close. I felt my blood going cold. Something was far more wrong than I had thought. The suited man cleared his throat.
“You are all aware, I’m certain, of why you’ve been brought here.” He said. I noticed that many of the people around me shifted uneasily. We were surrounded on all sides by soldiers, all of which had switched from assault rifles to tranquilizer guns.
“As of this moment, the governor has decided that any unregistered Lycanthropes are hereby considered threats to humanity and any and all citizenship statuses or privileges are revoked. Any family members or relative associates are considered to be Lycanthropes as well until verified by a state selected physician that your blood is wholly human. You are all wards of the state now, and you are under arrest.”
With that, I felt the sting of a needle going deep into my neck. My mother called out for me and I fell to the ground, sleep consuming me.
When I woke up, we were in the back of a truck. Around me, people slept, heavily sedated. Across from me, a girl, younger than me, had the dart still sticking out of her neck. I began to cry, and reached a hand up, only to find that my wrists were encircled in metal cuffs. My face, too, was caught behind a cruel leather mask. I touched the muzzle fearfully, my mind unbelieving as I scraped over the metal buckles on the back.
My head felt like it was swimming but I forced myself to sit up, nearly vomiting in the process. My mother was beside me, still asleep. I pressed against her cautiously, but she did not wake up. To her right were three people, and one to my left, still asleep.. There were six people sitting on the opposite bench across from me. The truck’s interior was dark except for a dim overhead light. There were people here that I didn’t recognize, and I didn’t know where my father was. I started to whine softly, and a woman reached across with her cuffed hands and pulled me over to her.
“Don’t let them know you’re awake.” She hissed, her voice buffering the muzzle, which looked odd on her beautiful features. I quickly quieted, feeling my eyes widen in disbelief. She sighed, letting me go. “They put us back asleep if they know we’re awake. I think the ride is going to be for a while, because you’ve been out for two days.” She said a bit more gently. I started at this. I’d been asleep for two days? Where were they taking us?
“What are they going to do? Why are we here?!” I demanded in a whisper. She slumped back against her seat, anger and hatred filling her dark eyes.
“Because they want to find all of our secrets and turn us into goddamned experiments,” she said, her voice catching. I shook my head, confused. Why would anyone want to make me into an experiment? She looked at me in surprise. “They never told you, did they? Jesus Christ, you’re gonna be in for a surprise little girl. I can’t believe your parents wouldn’t say something. How old are you anyway?” she asked, shock evident in her voice. I mumbled that I was thirteen, and she laughed with a harsh snort. “Guess you’ll find out what soon enough,” she said, a bit too loudly.
The truck slowed and stopped abruptly, and she shoved me back to the bench. “Pretend to be asleep!” she hissed, and I slammed against the bench, forcing my face into my mother’s shoulder, hoping that my breathing would slow. My pulse was hammering in my throat, and I knew that they would open the doors soon. I could make a dash for it, and—no. I couldn’t leave my mother to these people.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was more scared of what would happen if I was out there on my own, rather than locked in here, at least safe for the moment. I heard the lock sliding back on the door and tried to calm down. I didn’t want to be knocked out again. The drugs made me feel woozy and sick to my stomach. The rocking motion of the van sent waves over me as the two drivers stepped into the back, their boots clanging heavily against the metal floor.
“I know one of you is awake, so you may as well just tell us now, or else we’ll just spike every damn one of ya.” The first guard spoke. I slid open one eye just enough to see the man speaking. He was a soldier—that much was apparent. In his hand was a tranquilizer gun, but the man behind him, also a soldier, was holding a very different sort of gun, his finger easing along the trigger. I gulped, fear filling my chest and squeezing like a vice.
I saw the woman across from me look over at me, and she shook her head, signaling for me not to move. I saw her close her eyes in pain, and I recognized the decision in her face. She was either going to escape now or die trying. I wasn’t sure how I recognized that feeling, but some internal part of me, something far away and yet painfully accessible had made me aware of it. I felt my hands beginning to shake. The first guard turned on a flashlight, and I snapped my eyes shut as the beam scanned over me. I silently prayed that he would not see my shaking.
After a cursory scan around the interior, he turned around and shrugged to the other guard.
“C’mon, I don’t have time for this. We’ve still got almost 5 hours until we reach the drop point.” He said with disdain. The second soldier lowered his weapon and turned to leave the truck. He jumped down and moved out of the way for the first soldier, and I saw a blur to my left as the woman lunged forward, knocking him out of the truck and hissing with pain as they rolled onto the ground. The first guard cried out as he went spiraling through the dirt and she gained her legs, kicking them into the ground and sprinting away.
The guard with the gun was fumbling to remove the safety on the clip as the second guard pulled up the tranquilizer. She was almost a hundred yards away by now, heading straight for the line of the forest, her dress whipping around her.
“Shoot her! Shoot the bitch!” the guard on the ground screamed. His gun had jammed and he was smacking the butt into the ground to loosen the dart inside. The second soldier took aim, leveling the weapon on her heart. I felt tears welling up as my brain screamed for me to knock the guard down, hit him, do anything, to keep her from being killed. He took the shot while I sat, frozenly trying to convince myself to move. It seemed like an eternity as I watched her back press forward, her chest leaping with the impact. She crumpled to the ground, still weakly trying to pull herself forward, just trying to make it to the woods. The guard with the tranquilizer ran over and grabbed the gun from his compatriot.
“Dammit you idiot! I meant somewhere non-fatal! What the fuck, man?! They’ll kill us for this! You know they said to bring everyone alive!” he screamed. The second guard pointed out with a whimper that she was still alive, and the angry guard backhanded him. They glared each other down for a moment, until they realized that she was still trying to crawl away from them. He threw the weapon back at the guard and pointed to the woman, trying to force herself back to her feet.
“Go and take care of her. We can’t tell them you shot her, so just go and finish her off and re-do the manifest showing that we were only carrying eleven passengers, not twelve. If they find out, it’s on your head, man.” With that he closed the door with a solid thud.
I felt my whole body quivering not just in fear, but also in guilt. I felt like her death was my responsibility. I could have stopped them, and instead I just sat there, watching her die. I covered my ears with my hands, but it didn’t block out the sound of the gunshot that came shortly after. I cried piteously, fearful to make any noise and tears blurring my vision. My brain felt numb, like what I was seeing wasn’t actually happening in front of me.
After a moment I tried to compose myself and undo the muzzle, but there were tiny locks on the two straps behind my head, and so I just tried to pull it off instead. I was more scared than I had ever been in my life. Who muzzled people?! Why was I locked in the back of a truck? I had just seen someone get shot to death and her memory erased. The more resistance the muzzle offered, the more my panic grew until I was nearly clawing my face to get it off. I hadn’t even realized that they had stopped driving again until I saw the first guard in front of me, and he knelt down so that his eyes were level with my own.
Just like the barrel was level with her heart
I felt my breath catching as he leaned forward, his hand wiping away an errant tear.
He smiled at me and I squeezed my eyes closed, unable to help the hot, shameful burst of urine as it flooded my lap. I shook in fear and embarrassment and the guard laughed, pointing out my shame to the other soldier who shook his head, irritation in his eyes. The guard stopped laughing and told the other to bring him a vial of the tranquilizer. He took a needle out of his pocket, and the other guard handed him the vial, which he then expertly filled with the liquid. I forced my quaking to slow, and tried to sound brave.
“Where are we going? Where’s my daddy?” I asked, my voice a whimper. The guard shook his head, pulling my arm forward.