NaNoWriMo 2018! Post 2

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Wow! I didn’t expect such positive reactions to the last NaNo post! It makes me feel really good, since I didn’t think anyone would care much about it at all.

That said, I guess I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and continue the story where I left off in the last post.

(If you’re just now joining me, hello! You can get caught up by reading the first part of the story here.)

 

“The Society is fine,” Irena lied. “But they’re sending me on a really big commission, and I wanted to sort of see you first.”

Her mother fluffed a pillow and sat on her couch. She patted the spot next to her, gesturing for Irena to come sit. “Is it a dangerous commission?”

Irena joined her on the couch. “It could be, because they’re sending me to an integrated city, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” She gave her mother a tight grin, hoping it was at least a little convincing. “But it’ll pay really well, and the actual reason I decided to come over here was to tell you what I plan to do with the money.”

Her mother’s smiled faded a little, and her brows knitted in slight concern.

Irena continued. “I want to use the money to visit Kyra Forest, to visit my father.”

Her mother’s face softened, though the concern didn’t completely fade from her countenance. She placed her hand on Irena’s and looked as if she wanted to say something but didn’t know where to begin. Irena waited patiently. The evening light dwindled, and her mother turned on the lamp on the side table next to her. The bulb flickered to life behind it’s pink, rose-shaped lamp shade, bathing that corner of the room in its soft, warm glow.

“What brought this along?” her mother asked once she found her voice.

“He sent me a letter,” Irena replied. “I’m not sure how he figured out where I lived, though. I was thinking maybe he’d contacted you, too.”

Her mother said nothing for a while, though she looked deep in thought. Her eyes misted over, and she looked down at her lap. “I haven’t heard from him in twenty-five years.” She sniffed and wiped her face, smearing a little bit of the kohl lining her eyes. “I wonder how he found you.” She sniffed again. “What did the letter say?”

That he misses me, loves me, tried everything he could to find me…” Irena let her voice trail off and paused to gauge her mother’s reaction. It was clear to her that if her father had truly done everything in his power to contact his daughter, then he must have sent a number of letters to her mother. At some point, he must have made a trip to Wyrria — at least that’s what made sense to Irena. So what had stopped him? Had someone or something turned  him away? In the silence that followed, her mother remained quiet.

Irena continued. “He didn’t really abandon us, did he?”

Her mother closed her eyes and shook her head. “No, Irena. He loved you so much. He never would have left us.” She looked her daughter in the eye and sighed deeply. “No, he didn’t abandon us, dear heart. That was my story when I returned home.”

“Your story?” Irena frowned.

“I needed something plausible.” Her mother shrugged helplessly. “I was twenty, a child. And I had the nerve to run off with a fairy, and then we had you. It just went against the values my parents had taught me all my life — values their parents taught to them and values I tried to teach to you all on my own.”

Irena’s heart sank to her stomach.

“I’m a Wyrrian elf first and everything else second, Irena. I didn’t have a choice.”

“You didn’t have a choice?” Irena stood up. Even though she’d suspected such was the case, she knew she’d need time to process this, and she couldn’t it here. “Since your Wyrrian values are so important to you, aren’t you going to stop me from seeing him?”

Her mother looked up at her and shook her head. “No. You’re very nearly an adult now, and I don’t want to step in the way of you making your own decisions. But be wary, Irena. There are consequences for Wyrrians who stray. I was lucky to have been accepted when I returned home, and you know I’ll always love and accept you. But others… won’t be so kind.”

One corner of Irena’s mouth rose in a joyless smirk. “And that’s why you left and took me away from my father?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.” Her mother’s kohl-streaked face in the pinkish red lamp light was a pitiful sight. It didn’t feel right to leave her mother like this, not after a six-hour ride, and not after her first visit home in months. But she needed to at least take a walk to clear her head a little. Not far from the cottage lay a path that circled a pond and a small field of lavender. It was one she’d often strolled on as a child.

“Mother, I’m going to walk the path a little. When I come back, why don’t we have some tea?”

 

Chapter 2

Irena’s carriage arrived at the campus temple a little after five in the morning. Hanna was waiting for her, sitting on the steps and reading a book by candlelight. When Irena stepped off the carriage, they locked eyes. As Irena had suggested, Hanna had left her gray robe at home and instead wore a drab, brown dress that looked more like a sack than clothes, but it looked comfortable and practical for travel.

“This is your first commission, isn’t it, Hanna?” Irena said as the coachman unloaded her luggage.

The girl nodded mutely. Even in the dark, Irena could tell Hanna was nervous.

“Have you ever been on a train?”

Hanna shook her head. When she spoke, her voice came out hoarse. “My family would never be able to afford those.”

The first trains, powered solely by steam, had always been a luxury. Since Air Elementalists began harnessing lightning to help power the engines some then years ago, steam-powered trains remained an extravagance reserved for the well off, but the electro-steam hybrids were reserved for the very rich… which, luckily for them, included the White Reaper Society.

Irena grinned. “Well, you’re in for a treat.”

*

Irena was amazed that the Society had booked for them a double-decker hybrid. Seats were so hard to come by since only really half of them were ever available. The only beings wealthy enough to afford the top seats were vampires — not the relatively newly turned, but the ones who’d been dead long enough to amass hundreds of years of wealth. As they waited in line to board the train with their tickets, it was all Irena could do to keep her composure. This wouldn’t be her first train ride, but it would be her first time on a double-decker. Beside her, Hanna openly gawked at her surroundings. All campuses of the White Reaper Society were tucked away from the bigger Wyrrian towns, so it was likely that she’d only ever seen elves, or an occasional fairy. Here, the passengers leaving the train included dwarves, humans, vampires, weredragons, werecats, and werewolves, most of whom were boarding an open-roofed tour bus that would take them around the nicest spots in town.

Hanna tapped Irena on the shoulder. “Is… is this safe?”

“What do you mean is this safe?”

“I mean,” Hanna looked around conspiratorially and lowered her voice in case someone might hear her, “I mean will we be safe?”

Irena laughed. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never been to an integrated city before, so I’m excited. It’ll be an adventure.”

She hoped she sounded convincing. Her greatest fear was getting lost in a district in which no one spoke passable Elvish, in a place where all the signs were written in Vampyric or Felidaen. But, again, Elvish was the official language in all of Rowanston, so what was the likelihood of that happening?

[[To be continued!]]

GoFundMe, to help me cover the costs to publish my anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

Twitter: @BGBFS

Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi

Website

 

 

Thoughts on institutionalized creative writing…

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Literary Magazines

This post is going to seem a little more informal compared to the others because this wasn’t planned in the least. I happened to come up with this idea for a blog post while researching graduate school options…

So, let’s go back to the academic year 2008-2009. I was 16 years old and simultaneously a junior in high school and (technically) a freshman in college (I was a full-time college student at this point — I took absolutely no high school classes and all my college classes counted doubly for high school and college credit.)

This was when I took my first creative writing class. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but this is when I truly fell in love with the idea of being a writer and an author as a young adult. This was also the beginning of a long period of confusion.

It wasn’t until later that I realized academic English departments aren’t exactly huge fans of genre fiction (in general). They frown on fantasy, science fiction, and horror — the three genres I loved to write and would have loved to study more in school. Unfortunately, other than the one Sci-fi and Fantasy Lit course my university offered, which I also took when I was 16, what we mainly studied was literary fiction.

I can certainly appreciate lit fic. It’s artsy. It’s all about craft. But, after a while, it can get profoundly boring.

I graduated with my BA when I was 20.

I’m 26, and I’m just now starting to realize just how behind I am on fantasy and science fiction. And I began to realize this after watching vlogs and joining writing groups. Fellow writers and readers would talk about their favorite fantasy and science fiction writers, and I would have no idea who they were. I didn’t even hear about Ursula Le Guin until I was 24. I didn’t learn who Brandon Sanderson was until a month ago.

And to be honest, I (largely) blame the academic institutions teaching creative writing.

Wanting to write and submit genre fiction was beaten out of me pretty early on, and pretty much all we studied was literary fiction. I was told that I wouldn’t get accepted into MFA programs, nor would my stories be accepted into literary magazines, unless I wrote literary fiction. So that’s what I wrote. (Of course, I still wrote my genre fiction on the side. I just didn’t know where I could submit it.)

I got the impression that academia doesn’t think genre fiction is smart. It’s not considered to be as clever as literary fiction, which I think is bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my experiences in undergrad or grad school. I read some pretty great stuff — in both undergrad and grad school — such as Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Sea Oak by George Saunders, Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov, and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, which have all become some of my favorite works of fiction of all time.

But Oryx and Crake will always hold a special place in my heart because it gave me hope. It’s a work of speculative fiction that had earned a spot in academic studies. It’s good and smart enough to be studied in the classroom. Atwood doesn’t like to call it science fiction, but it totally is. It 100% is. And that was my hope.

I studied this book in grad school for an Atwood independent study with the English department head (who is one of my favorite people on the planet, but who also told me she dislikes things like dragons and magic — that broke my heart), and I got so inspired. If Atwood could simultaneously write genre and literary fiction, then, damn it, so could I!

But how?

Each story I wrote attempting to marry genre and literary fiction turned out to be a Frankenstein’s monster of a mess — definitely nowhere near Atwood’s level of expertise.

Eventually, I gave up on thinking my writing would ever be good enough to enter an MFA program. Well, more like, I psyched myself out and found reasons not to apply to any MFA programs. The problem now was — what to do?

For a while, I continued trying to submit my stories to literary magazines, in vain (though I did manage to  get two of my horror flash fiction pieces published on an award-winning horror website — that was cool). And notable fantasy/sci-fi magazine don’t really accept unsolicited works.

I entertained the idea of using my Japanese language skills to be an interpreter or translator. I danced in ballroom competitions and showcases for two years. But writing was always in the back of my mind, and abandoned and unfinished stories nagged at me.

Then there came a period of two years (2013-2015) where I tried to get my first novel published — first traditionally, then via self-publishing… which is not a topic that was ever touched on throughout my entire schooling. No one ever taught us how to publish! We learned how to write query letters to editors of literary magazines, but no one had ever taught us the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing. No one had ever taught us about agents. No one had ever taught us about hiring professional editors and cover designers. I had to learn all of this myself, mostly through trial and error. And there was a hell of a lot of error.

Anyhow, I published my first book in 2015 and had completely put MFA programs out of my mind forever. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until within the past year or so that I finally started to see teaching (at the college level) as something I’d be into. As an English major, I was vehemently against the idea of teaching, and my aversion to this idea only grew as people would say stupid shit to me like, “Oh, you’re majoring in English. So you’re going to be a teacher, right?” And I would retort, quite indignantly, “No. I’m going to be a literary editor.

SIGH.

Anyway. It’s 2018, and I’ve been getting that academic itch. I graduated with my MA in English literature three years ago, and ever since I’ve started teaching Comp I at a university (this is my first semester!), I’ve been thinking more and more about how happy I’d be teaching creative writing at a university.

Since I already have a Masters, I figured, why have two Masters degrees under my belt when I could just go for my PhD? (That’s right. A PhD in creative writing.) But then I ran into the same problem. Would my writing be good enough? Submitting to these programs is hella expensive. Would it even be worth it to waste the money? I have such precious little money, living paycheck to paycheck as I am now. I’ve been told I should at least apply to six programs. If I save and tighten my belt a little (and ask for a little help), I could maybe afford to apply to two or three programs. I’m currently leaning more toward getting my MFA, mainly because there are way more of them to choose from, but that doesn’t make any of those problems go away.

I could apply to three MFA programs, and then what? Not only are most of my stories genre fiction, but MFA programs receive hundreds of applications a year. I know Brown University receives upward of a thousand. And yet, these programs only choose maybe three or four fiction writers.

Three or four out of hundreds.

Will I actually be accepted? Or will I have wasted a bunch of money on a dream that could never be?

But I can’t teach creative writing at the college level without at least an MFA under my belt, so I have to at least try… right?

 

GoFundMe, to help me cover the costs to publish my anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

Twitter: @BGBFS

Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi

Website