EWF Unpacking: Polish Your Pitch and Publishing Masterclass

I’ve been pretty dilatory about posting up these notes, but I’m slowly getting them out there! Here’s some more useful wisdom from the Emerging Writers’ Festival!

I took very few photos at the festival, but I did manage to get this one of my name tag and my awesome shoes.

I took very few photos at the festival, but I did manage to get this one of my name tag and my awesome shoes.

Polish Your Pitch - Class by Jennifer Baker (publishing professional of 16 years, host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, contributing editor to Electric Literature, essayist)

I have pages and pages of notes from this class taught by Jennifer Baker, including some very specific suggestions she made for a story I’ve been trying to pitch. Here are some of the highlights though:

  • First, follow the rules on pitching. Actually read the publication’s submission guidelines and make sure you know what type of work they’re working for. It’s a waste of your time and theirs if you pitch something that doesn’t follow their guidelines and/or is just totally wrong for their publication.

  • Your article topics need to be specific and interesting. Your goal is to get a “I haven’t heard this before” from the person you’re pitching to. If you’re writing on a common topic, make sure to specify what makes your spin different and unique.

  • If you can’t find a person’s name or can’t figure out how they identify, it’s okay if you just say “Dear Editor.” Just don’t make assumptions!

  • The editor is coming at your piece with a few things in their minds: “Can you do the thing you’re saying you can do?” “Is it worth my time and effort to pay you?” “Is the structure and voice of the piece there?” You want to be able to answer all these questions in your pitch. The more fleshed out and structured the idea, the less work the editor needs to do to get it up to par.

  • If someone rejects your pitch, don’t take it personally! Jennifer said: “As an editor, I have rarely ever NOT taken a pitch because of someone’s bad writing. I don’t believe in bad writing, but I do see unfocused writing.”

Publishing Masterclass - Class by Jane Friedman (20 years of experience in publishing industry, author of The Business of Being a Writer and The Authors Guild Guide to E-Publishing)

I actually had to leave this class 1/3 of the way through to go volunteer for the festival in another location, but I still learned SO MUCH. I’m really glad I got to go for at least that much.

I found this sweet pupper hanging out in Old Town Alexandria near the festival while walking between events one day. <3

I found this sweet pupper hanging out in Old Town Alexandria near the festival while walking between events one day. <3

  • To submit to publishers, you need:

    • A finished manuscript for a fiction book

    • A book proposal for a nonfiction book

    • For a memoir, you probably should have both a finished manuscript and a book proposal, as some publishers will want one or the other and plenty will want both.

  • Before you submit, you need to make sure your manuscript or proposal is the best you can make it. You need to resolve all the problems or hire someone to do it for you. No one EXPECTS you to hire an editor for revisions, but it’s certainly an option.

  • If you want a large/mid-size publisher, it’s a good idea to get an agent.

  • It’s really important to define the genre of your book so you can find the correct agents and publishers. This can be hard since some book genres are pretty nebulous.

    • For example, “Literary fiction” is sometimes publisher code for “will not sell.” However, once it makes the best seller list, a literary fiction book’s genre tends to magically change to “mainstream fiction.” (There are no particular requirements for either of these genres).

    • You can sometimes get away without picking a genre for your book by comparing it to another work instead, but that doesn’t always work.

  • Hard to sell works: Poetry, collections, multi-genre work, “hard to categorize” books

    • Even if your work is “hard to categorize,” just label it something. People run in the opposite direction at the sound of “hard to categorize.” “If you don’t know, they won’t know either.”

  • Projects that are more commercially viable:

    • Fiction - Genre, commercial, or mainstream narratives of about 80,000 words. You can go as low as 50,000, but that’s as low as you can go. Once you reach 100,000, you’ll get some pushback about it being too long or needing more editing.

    • If you’re trying to get a nonfiction book published by a large publisher, you need a platform. Your visibility and authority can matter as much as the content. They expect you to bring the audience to the publisher, not vice versa.

      • if you’re a journalist or professor or have some sort of career that gives you credibility on a topic, that can help you with your nonfiction author platform.

  • Less commercially viable projects:

    • Narratives that are 120,000+ words.

    • Children’s picture books, cookbooks, travel, short fiction, essay collections, poetry, anthologies of any kind

Emerging Writers Festival Unpacking: Keynote, Fiction Intensive, and Against the Algorithm

So going over all my notes from the Emerging Writers Festival is helping me recap everything I learned and make sure I put it into practice in my own writing life and practice. In addition, I’m hopeful this might be helpful for others who weren’t able to attend some of the sessions, for whatever reason.

So here are some tidbits and wisdom from the first few sessions I attended at the festival!

Catherine Chung and Tayla Bruney

Catherine Chung and Tayla Bruney

The Keynote with Catherine Chung. She talked about her second novel, The Tenth Muse, with moderator Tayla Burney (a journalist and book reviewer for the Washington Post. She also writes a weekly email newsletter of author events and literary happenings around DC called Get Lit DC; you can subscribe to that here).

  • Cathy said that she had to rewrite her novel several times. “I had to let my narrator have this amazing life. I found sometimes I was the oppressive societal force holding my protagonist back.”

  • She said that she’s had writing retreat experiences where they just feed and house you and you just write all day. “It’s the most quixotic, ecstatic writing experience where you never have to leave the world you’re writing in. It ruins you for life.”

  • At one point, the company she worked for actually did a Christmas skit making fun of her ambition to be a writer. [Isn’t that SO SCREWED UP, seriously??]

  • “Writing rules are silly.” One professor claimed that if you don’t write every day you’re not a writer, but she said that while she was researching for her second novel, there were maybe years where she went without writing. She’s clearly still a writer.

  • For her first novel, she wrote all the time and threw out at least 1,000 pages as part of her process. It seemed like she was just accumulating pages and then throwing them away. But eventually it all came together and she figured out the structure. Her second novel was more structured from the beginning and was a different beast entirely.

  • A friend gave her a headsup before her novel came out: “Every writer gets depressed when their book gets published,” regardless of how well it does in the world or anything. Because you’re going from living entirely in your head to releasing it and waiting to hear what people think of it. Waiting is a terrible feeling. So ahead of her second novel’s release, Cathy decided just not to care.

  • She named the protagonist of her second novel Katherine as a joke, since so many people thought her first novel was an autobiography. However, it kind of backfired because many people still thought her second novel’s protagonist was autobiographical. At one point her wikipedia said that she was a 74-year-old woman; she was kind of sad when it got corrected.

From novelist Catherine Chung’s Fiction Intensive Workshop:

  • Cathy talked a bit about how she found it really interesting to see what people believe and what they don’t believe, as all of fiction is about making things up that people go along with. Sometimes we’re willing to believe the most ridiculous things, and in the current political climate, there’s a constant debate about what is true and false. What determines the stories we believe? What determines the stories we tell and are allowed to tell? (I believe most of the statements in this paragraph are actual quotations from her, but I didn’t notate it well enough in my notes to know for sure, so I’m paraphrasing a bit.)

  • “When you figure out the technical parts of a story, everything else falls into place” – who is the narrator, the audience, what is the shape of the audience.

  • She had us do an exercise where we wrote a letter to someone close to you in which you told them something you’ve never told before. As Cathy said, this premise sets up the central tension of a story from the very beginning. “There’s a reason you haven’t told them this thing before, and there’s a reason you’re telling them now. There’s a potential of how it will change everything.” When there’s an audience member for a story that’s very specific, it puts the tension of the story at the forefront. She pointed out that we don’t usually think about the fact that the speaker in a story is different from the author, and the intended audience and the actual audience are not always the same. Once she started thinking about this, it helped her unlock some things she’d been working on for her first novel.

  • Cathy said her first and only college writing professor said you have to be absolutely subjective about everyone you write. You have to be able to see it from their side, no matter how horrible they are. But you also have to be absolutely objective about yourself.

Against the Algorithm Panel with Lupita Aquino (co-founder and co-moderator of the LIT on H St Book Club at Solid State Books, instagram book reviewer), Amanda Nelson (executive editor of Book Riot), and Kendra Winchester (co-founder of the Reading Women podcast). My notes from this were scribbled into a tiny notebook I bought last minute at Old Town Books while my laptop was charging, so they may not be as detailed or as…in complete sentences as other notes. :)

Panelists gave some great advice about the dos and don’ts of author marketing:

  • Lupita - Engage with people before asking them for a favor or a review. And pay attention to what types of books people are into.

  • Kendra - She suggests engaging in Middle Reader Thursday or other events designed to bring attention to your books. There are lots of hashtags and discussions out there particular to specific genres. You can even reach specific agents this way sometimes. She also suggests you experiment with your marketing; don’t be afraid to be imperfect.

  • Amanda - Be a community member before you start asking for stuff. Find book writers that write about your genre and reach out to them directly. Writers LOVE to hear from authors.

I basically didn’t take any photos on the Saturday of the writing festival at all except this one.

I basically didn’t take any photos on the Saturday of the writing festival at all except this one.

  • Regarding diversity in publishing and books:

    • Amanda - publishing as an industry is overwhelmingly white women at lower levels and white men at the higher levels. The inherent structure is racist and sexist. Her company has a diversity mandate where 30% of their reviews have to be of works by POC authors. They’re very strict about it

    • Lupita - Online, you notice the diversity issues more. We need the options.

    • Amanda- If you say “I just want a good story,” you're saying you just want to read what’s marketed to you. And those books are by authors who are overwhelmingly white, male, and cisgendered.

    • Kendra- You have to work to find the books sometimes and represent them. We need to see more people with disabilities in them. We need more than just Darcy’s cousin and a woman in the attic. She suggests following amazing women as well to learn from them.

    • Moderator Allison Punch - wants to make a distinction between what’s getting buzz and what’s actually written. People of Color have always been writing; we’re just now hearing about them.

  • What they do to help underrepresented authors

    • Amanda - Donates ad campaigns to some independently published books.

    • Kendra - a snowball effect can really help.

    • Amanda - looks out for debut authors in her marketing and tries to promote them.

    • Kendra - Points out that she thinks it’s unfair to debut authors that we expect them to be perfect. They need room to grow and become better.

  • If you want to become a book reviewer on social media

    • Kendra - be consistent with your postings

    • Amanda - have an interesting angle to it. Don’t just post a photo of fairy lights as your cover picture. Like she follows an instagram that only posts library books - she loves that, as it brings out books that are older. Do something unique.

  • How to support books besides tweeting and reviews:

    • Amanda - pre-orders! for libraries even, creates buzz

    • Kendra - create an evergreen post of a list of books - one of their most popular posts ever still is about Muslim women authors.

    • Lupita - pre-order giveaways

    • Amanda - pre-ordering from independent bookstores

  • Pitching to reviewers

    • Kendra - be specific and complimentary. Show familiarity with the reviewer’s work and guidelines.

  • To avoid drama on social media

    • Lupita - Set boundaries - practice self care

    • Kendra - ignore the drama and go to the people that support you

    • Amanda - Remember your job and ignore the rest. Avoid the petty crap.

The Inaugural Emerging Writers Festival in Old Town Alexandria!!

The last two weeks or so have been really rough, so I was really excited to attend my first writers festival in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia this past weekend!

It was the inaugural festival and was hosted by Old Town Books, which opened last year and is run by a bunch of really wonderful people with great ambitions and thoughts for the reading and writing communities! (I wrote a while ago about attending my first book club meeting there; the next one is in September and features the book “Coastalegre,” which is loosely based on Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter. As an art lover, I deeply appreciate this.)

This is a photo gallery, so you can click through and look at more than just like, my face and this one panel pic. I actually was so absorbed in all the speakers that I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I thought, but I got a good amount anyway. :)

I had so much fun and I learned a ton! I attended numerous classes and panels and volunteered at two of them. Honestly, I did WAY more than I even realized, once I started writing all these things down. I also met just a ton of wonderful writers at different points in their careers, which was so wonderfully inspiring.

  • Keynote Conversation with Catherine Chung, author of The Tenth Muse

  • Fiction Craft Intensive with Catherine Chung

  • Against the Algorithm Panel with Lupita Aquino, Amanda Nelson, and Kendra Winchester (all bookternet reviewers and leaders)

  • Polish your Pitch with Jennifer Baker (publishing professional of 16 years, host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, contributing editor to Electric Literature, essayist)

  • Publishing Masterclass with Jane Friedman (20 years of experience in publishing industry, author of The Business of Being a Writer and The Authors Guild Guide to E-Publishing)- I had to leave this early to go volunteer at the merch table, but the first hour was AMAZING and so useful.

  • Talk and signing with Tope Folarin (author of the novel A Particular Kind of Black Man, short story author)

  • Apply Yourself Panel - with Hannah Bae, Jennifer Baker, and Caits Meissner (PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program director, author), Kris Zory-King moderating

  • Writing the Personal Essay with Hannah Bae, journalist and essayist

  • The Path to the Debut Novel with Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek

I was honestly going to write a whole blog post about ALL the things I learned in ALL the classes, but I just…do not have time fo rthat today. So i think I’m going to spread it out in more bite sized pieces, one or two classes a past for a while. I honestly gained so much useful knowledge

The Vanguard: My Current #WIP and Some Cool Ancient Civilization Facts!

My current work in progress (WIP)is “The Vanguard: The Cats that Conquered Egypt.” This is about the Battle of Pelusium, which took place in 525 BCE between the Ancient Egyptians and Persians. Legend has it that the Persians put cats (and other animals, although this part gets left out of a lot of retellings) on the battlefield before them in order to discourage the Egyptians from attacking; the Egyptians at that time held cats sacred and actually put to death anyone who killed a cat, even if it was by accident.

When Cambyses attacked Pelusium, which guarded the entrance into Egypt, the Egyptians defended it with great resolution. They advanced formidable engines against the besiegers, and hurled missiles, stones, and fire at them from their catapults. To counter this destructive barrage, Cambyses ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises, and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold sacred. The Egyptians immediately stopped their operations, out of fear of hurting the animals, which they hold in great veneration. Cambyses captured Pelusium, and thereby opened up for himself the route into Egypt.

Polyaenus - Strategems, VII.9 (Published 163 A.D.)

Realistically, this almost certainly didn’t happen and if anything like it DID happen, the Persians probably just painted cats and/or Egyptian gods on their shields. But it’s a great story, and I do love my cat legends.

This is the African Wildcat. From what I’ve been reading, this is probably what ancient Egyptian cats looked like. Honestly, it’s probably what ALL cats looked like at that time. But for the sake of differentiating them in my head, I’ve been envisioning just Bahadur (Persian cat) as an African wildcat (i haven’t been able to find ANY descriptions of cats in ancient Persia because than I just pull up “Persian cats,” which probably didn’t develop until like, the 1700s).

This is the African Wildcat. From what I’ve been reading, this is probably what ancient Egyptian cats looked like. Honestly, it’s probably what ALL cats looked like at that time. But for the sake of differentiating them in my head, I’ve been envisioning just Bahadur (Persian cat) as an African wildcat (i haven’t been able to find ANY descriptions of cats in ancient Persia because than I just pull up “Persian cats,” which probably didn’t develop until like, the 1700s).

The story starts about a year or so before the battle and tells the background leading up to the battle from the point of view of two cats. One cat, Bahadur (this is Farsi for “fighter”), lives in the royal palace kitchens in Persepolis, Persia, and ends up befriending an Egyptian woman who is sent to the Persian King as a decoy wife (he had asked for the current pharaoh’s daughter in marriage; he actually sent the PREVIOUS pharoah’s daughter instead, which Cambyses took as a grave insult). The other cat, Nedjem (which actually just means “sweetie” - Egyptian cats weren’t usually given individual names), is the in-house cat in the Department for the Protection of Cats (Upper Egypt branch) in Thebes. This government agency (which actually existed, although we have no idea what it was actually called or how exactly it functioned) existed to prevent the exportation of cats out of Egypt. I’ve also put them in charge of punishing people who hurt or kill cats, as it makes sense to me, but I have no actual evidence that this was the case.

I had planned on publishing this on Amazon in July but it’s actually still not finished, for a few reasons. The primary reason is that my face and head have hurt for most of the last month, which made it harder for me to like, concentrate on anything, and I’ve had to spend a lot more time at various doctors’ offices lately than I’d like. Ends up I have a deviated septum which is causing all the problems and I’m getting a septoplasty next Wednesday for it. Yay. PLUS, this story has honestly just been a lot more complicated and interesting and difficult than I thought it would be. It’s turned from a short story into more of a novella, as it’s over 14,000 words now and I still have a few more chapters to write.

So since the story itself isn’t quite out yet, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tidbits I’ve learned in my research.

It’s unlikely that cats in ancient Egypt actually looked like an Egyptian Mau looks like now, but they’re so pretty, and I love them, so I’m imagining Nedjem as a Mau. :)

It’s unlikely that cats in ancient Egypt actually looked like an Egyptian Mau looks like now, but they’re so pretty, and I love them, so I’m imagining Nedjem as a Mau. :)


There’s evidence that every cat in Ancient Egypt was considered a demi-god. Mere humans couldn’t own a cat, and all cats were under the guardianship of the pharaoh.

Diodorus Siculus wrote “Whoever kills a cat in Egypt is condemned to death, whether he committed this crime deliberately or not. The people gather and kill him. An unfortunate Roman, who accidentally killed a cat, could not be saved, either by King Ptolemy of Egypt or by the fear which Rome inspired.”

Instructions for the deceased were written on the inside of sarcophagi. These would remind the soul of who they’d been in life and what to do in the afterlife.


Ancient Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, the world’s oldest monotheistic religion. Zoroastrians consider both water and fire life-sustaining, so they generally pray in the presence of some form of fire. They did not build temples, altars, or statues of their god. As they conquered numerous other countries, they allowed them to keep their temples and practice their religions, but did not build any new ones. It’s believed that the tenets of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) were all shaped by Zoroastrianism, as it established the idea of one god, heaven, hell, and a judgment day. It’s still practiced today, particularly in India.

Oh fun fact - “Magi” literally refers to priests of zoroastrianism. So the three Magi were three…priests of zoroastrianism. I thought all this time it was just a fancy word for “wise men.” That must be a thing they just tell you at church.

Zoroastrians didn’t really like cats - it was sad they were created by an evil spirit and there were numerous supersitions against them- but plenty of ancient Persians kept cats as pets anyway. At one point, there was a prince who loved his cat so much that petitioners would write out their requests and tie them to the cat’s collar so he’d have to see them!

My First Book Club Meeting! (Mostly Dead Things, By Kristen Arnett)

Mostly Dead Things
By Kristen Arnett

My sister’s family visited DC from Texas not too long ago. After a very hot morning wandering around Mount Vernon (the historical site, not the neighborhood), John and I took them to Virtue Grain and Feed in Old Town Alexandria for lunch. My sister suggested we check out the bookstore right next to it afterward, and I am SO glad she did!

I discovered three things on that visit. 1. Old Town Books is cute and fun. 2. They have book clubs! Which I decided immediately to join. and 3. They’e hosting an Emerging Writer’s Festival in August (that I knew I HAD to be part of).


I’ve actually been meaning to read more fiction for a while now. I generally gravitate toward nonfiction books, usually history or self help. If I DO read a fiction book, it’s probably a Tamora Pierce novel or historical fiction set around the English Renaissance (Tudor Times are MY JAM), or maybe Jane Austen. I also regularly act in Shakespeare plays, although I’m not sure how much that counts towards reading. But since I’m writing fiction now, I clearly need to read more of it. I wasn’t sure where to start though, which is why I was so happy to learn about Old Town Books’ book club! I figured this was a perfect way to discover new fiction and make new literary friends while also overanalyzing stories (which is one of my favorite things).

My first meeting was this last Saturday! This is the first book club I can actively remember going to, honestly. And it was delightful! We discussed “Mostly Dead Things,” by Kristen Arnett. It’s a wonderfully wacky book about how a family moves on after their paternal figure’s suicide. He was a taxidermist, as is the narrator Jessa-Lyn, and the book explores this craft in a really fascinating, realistic, and occasionally gory way. The narrator’s mother starts to work through her grief by making art in the form of sexually explicit taxidermy scenes, which leads to her meeting an art gallery owner and creating her own full art exhibit. The narrator ends up in a twisty relationship with the gallery owner, Lucinda, and shenanigans continue from there. It’s also a beautiful exploration of the nature of grief and family. It’s a tough read at times, just because it’s so emotional and raw, but I really enjoyed it and I greatly enjoyed talking to other book fans about it. My friend Arielle came along with me and we had a good time!

Also there was a dog. A DOG. All bookstores need dogs.


The author Kristen Arnett joined the meeting after a bit and we got to ask her some questions! She had some really thoughtful answers. She also talked about how she fit her writing into her life with her full-time job as a librarian - basically, she committed to writing 1,000 words every day Monday-Friday. She didn’t have to write on the weekend, but if she did, that was cool too. I’ve found this mindset really inspiring and have made a similar commitment in my own life (using the Momentum habit tracking app).*

Afterward, Kristen signed books for everyone. She had the coolest way of doing so too - she put hearts into various portions of the title on the title page! I really appreciated the extra effort she put into making the autograph experience more unique and it gives me ideas for the future. :)

I can’t wait for next month’s meeting! I haven’t figured out what the book is yet, but I keep checking their website obsessively and someday I’ll know!

*I previously used the Habitbull habit tracking app, but I switched to Momentum to save money. It’s a very similar set up and only cost $5-6 instead of the $20 per year for Habitbull.

"Purr Like an Egyptian": Inspiration from Daphne Du Maurier and Ancient Egypt

Have I mentioned that my cats-taking-over-Memphis story "Purr Like an Egyptian" will be in Grumpy Old Gods Volume 2? It's open for Pre-orders now and will publish on August 9! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07VJZVM5C

This was the first short story I’d written since…high school? Junior high? I just heard about the submission prompt and I was instantly captivated; I HAD to write a story for it.



We’re looking for stories about mythical Gods who are waning, reborn, retired, or otherwise AWOL from their assigned post.

We invite you to re-imagine old myths, mine your local retirement home for things that tickle your fancy, and invite your Muse to go wild.  The only requirement is that the god or goddess in question (or whole pantheon if you so choose) must be retired, retiring, waning in power, or ignoring their responsibilities. Bonus points for good humor.

I mean, how amazing is that? I came up with the idea to use Bastet, the Egyptian Goddess of cats, pretty easily, and I knew I wanted her to run a cat cafe. The idea of all the cats migrating to Memphis to be near her developed more slowly over time.

Once I did get that idea though, I knew I wanted to look to Daphne DuMaurier’s The Birds, which has a similar premise, only much more frightening. I tried to get across a similar, but more modern, depiction of animals taking over a town. In addition, my intro was a direct homage to the story’s beginning.

The Birds:

On December the third, the wind changed overnight, and it was winter. Until then the autumn had been mellow, soft. The leaves had lingered on the trees, golden-red, and the hedgerows were still green. The earth was rich where the plow had turned it.

Purr Like an Egyptian:

On March 10th, Tennessee finally realized it was spring and the temperature rose 20 degrees. Everywhere in town smelled damp, like fresh sod, green and expectant.

So my opening is a bit more folksy to bring across the humor of the piece, but you get the idea.

I also specifically picked out names for everyone in the story that had an extra layer of meaning for anyone who bothered to look into it. In the story, Bastet’s human form goes by Nenet Elmasry. Nenet means “divine, spiritual,” and “Elmasry” literally means “The Egyptian.” Her husband, Sef, is the human form of Ptah, the god of craftsmen. His physical description matches Ptah’s - hairless and wearing a skull cap. “Sef” literally means “yesterday.”

I also used to have a cat character named Aten who was intended to represent the divine cat aspect of Ra, who was strongly associated with Bastet, but I ended up cutting him out during the editing process. We just didn’t need another cat around, particularly one with more of an obscure origin. Aten means “sun,” which referenced Ra as the sun god.

On Being Ill, with Rachael and Virginia

While on the subject of chronic pain, it appears I might have an even newer, funner type. :/

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been feeling pretty terrible for the past ~5 weeks at this point. I’ve been having a ton of painful sinus pressure, headaches, and fatigue, along with fun spats of dizziness, lightheadness, blurry vision, and nausea. I’ve seen my general practitioner twice in the past month; he said my sinuses were inflamed, so we assumed it was a sinus infection. I’ve tried three different antibiotics and a course of oral steroids.

This photo meme of my cat wearing a tie has nothing to do with this post but look how charming he is!

This photo meme of my cat wearing a tie has nothing to do with this post but look how charming he is!

I still feel awful, so I went to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor yesterday. Dr. Sharma looked around in my nose with a scope and told me that there’s actually no sign of a sinus infection at all, or any sign of what is actually causing the pain. He posited that it might be a side effect from one of my medicines, so he started looking around online for those, but didn’t find anything that seemed to fit. His next suggestion was to wait a few weeks before I get a head CT, but it’s been so long and this is really affecting me so badly at this point, that I just asked if we could do the CT now. I’ve got an appointment next Wednesday.

This constant pain in my maxillary sinuses and head is really starting to take a toll. I’ve had way more trouble this month focusing on work than I usually do. I’ve taken off more sick days than I have in years (although of course not as much as I’d like, because I can’t actually afford to take off that many days), and I haven’t been writing as much on my short stories or on this blog as I’d like. And now on top of that, I’m worried about what it might be that’s causing all this. It might be like, sinus headaches or something simple I can treat relatively easily and quickly. Or it might be something more serious (my mother helpfully informed me shortly after I relayed this information to her that two members of my family have died from brain aneurysms in the past. So comforting, right?).

I’m rather nervous about it all, and my nerves are already frayed from ~35 days of sinus pain and headaches, but I’m trying not to google symptoms any more and just be patient. I may need to meditate and read a lot more over the next couple days to keep my mind off of it. Because even if the CT doesn’t give me a definitive diagnosis, it will at least be helpful for ruling out options.

It all makes me think of Virginia Woolf. In 1925, when she was in bed recovering from suffering a nervous breakdown, she wrote “On Being Ill, a beautiful essay on the nature of illness that was published by T.S. Eliot in The Criterion. In it, she asks, how can something so common and universal be so little written about?

Her opening sentence can be a little hard to read, as it just keeps going and going, but it is so beautiful when you actually parse it out and examine it [line breaks mine]:

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings,

how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us in the act of sickness,

how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers

when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm chair and confuse his ‘Rinse the mouth—rinse the mouth’ with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us

—when we think of this an infinitely more, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.

Then she continues:

Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia; lyrics to toothache.

But no; with a few exceptions De Quincey attempted something of the sort in The Opium Eater; there must be a volume or two about disease scattered through the pages of Proust—literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and, save for one or two passions such as desire and greed, is null, and negligible and non-existent.

And so she continues. You should go read the whole thing, it’s great.

I would like to write such wonderful odes to sickness. I think I will at some point. I feel I am getting better at writing all the time; already, just looking at stories from a few months ago, I see the things I would change or phrase differently now. I see how I would tighten a chapter or make a story beginning more interesting. I will write such things soon, but for now, I am behind on a short story I wanted to have finished, polished, and published online by now, so I should go work on that. But yet my head aches so, even with loads of ibuprofen and sudafed, and it is difficult for me to remember from moment to moment what I should be doing.

The “On Being Ill” essay was actually the first one to really get me to understand “creative nonfiction” as a concept. I learned about it from “Reading Like a Writer,” by Francine Prose, which helped me really start to think about the craft of my writing. That section actually helped “Estate Sale,” which was my first real attempt at creative nonfiction. I tried to emulate a lot of the imagery filed sentences and careless grammar that Woolf uses. This book also fed into my short story “The Caterer,” as it was what inspired the first and second person POV.

I don’t exactly know where I’m going with this post. I’m essentially saying I plan to write something epic and beautiful about illness someday, but not right now. This is but a Tribute .

Story Ideas from History and Dreams

So I keep a note on my phone called “story ideas” that I just fill with different ideas as they strike me. Sometimes these are from dreams, often they are from books or history podcasts, some are just thoughts that come to mind that I have to get down on a page /right then/ or I’ll forget them!

Numerous of these scribbled ideas have turned into future stories. I had the idea for Most Horrible probably…a year and a half before i actually started turning it into a one act play? The entire concept of “Big Dave’s Goliath” came from a simple fact I had scribbled down- that various popes had ordered the removal of all the penises from the nude statues in the Vatican museum. When I came across the call for submissions for “Big,” which asked for stories around something or someone gargantuan, the idea of a giant replica of Michelangelo’s David, and the shenanigans that ensue when someone vandalizes the statue by cutting off its genitalia, came into being. True, it’s totally absurd (and that story was HIGHLY influenced by the over the top style of Carl Hiaasen), but it was really fun to write! And now it’s published in Colp: Big. :)

Here you can see notes on one of my history story ideas and one of my dreams!

Here you can see notes on one of my history story ideas and one of my dreams!

The Caterer and the Vanguard (current work in progress) both were inspired by historical legends chronicled in “100 Cats Who Changed Civilization,” by Sam Stall. John gave it to me last December just as a fun gift; he had no idea what it would lead to! Hah. I have numerous other ideas for the AntiquiCats series originating from that book and other cat history sources online.

Here’re two snippets of my current “story ideas” note, featuring a few of my favorite ideas.

So Leichenhauses were WAITING MORTUARIES for people who were scared of being buried alive (circa 1800s). After death, the bodies would be set out and have like, strings tied between their bodies and either a bell or a harmonium or whatever. Then someone would sit up with the bodies and listen for movement noises. Bodies actually move a lot while they’re decomposing, so it must have been quite frightening! They were also viewed as a common tourist destination? It sounds utterly fascinating. I REALLY want to write a story set in one at some point and just haven’t found the right plot yet. I first heard about these from the brilliant Stuff you Missed in History Class podcast called “Not Dead Yet - Safety Coffins and Waiting Mortuaries.”


I’ve also gleaned several ideas from a book I’m currently reading - Black Tudors, by Miranda Kauffman. It’s very good but very dense and academic, so I’ve been reading it off and on for MONTHS. I’ll finish it some day.

How I Got Back Into Writing Seriously

The Lifelong Dream

Honestly, I cannot remember a time when I have not wanted to write and be an author. Some of my earliest dreams and goals as a child involved writing as a career. My family LOVES books; literally every room in my parents’ house except the bathrooms have bookshelves and books in them. It was a wonderful place for a child to grow up. I eagerly read as many books as I could; they fascinated me and brought me to a whole other world. I wanted to make those worlds myself.

And in elementary school I did. I was always writing stories or poetry or songs or whatever. My output turned into mostly just poetry over time, as I discovered journalism and imposter syndrome. For a long time, I felt that nonfiction journalistic writing was the only thing I could do. Fiction seemed too hard. I tried doing National Novel Writing Month several times and never managed to finish; this made me feel like a failure. I had lots and lots of ideas written down in various places, but none of them ever came to fruition. I’d start and stop and get distracted and frustrated. For a while I had resigned myself to not really being a writer. I did do some writing and research on marital surnames, and had an inkling to turn it into a nonfiction book, but I wasn’t following through on any of it.

I usually write at the kitchen table these days, surrounded by books and journals.

I usually write at the kitchen table these days, surrounded by books and journals.

The Turning Point

So fast forward to my 30th year of life, when I finally got on a combination of treatments that actually treated my depression successfully. This really changed my life in so many ways. I had a focus and a determination that I hadn’t had previously; my depression was no longer a barrier dropping in front of me, but a curtain pulled to the side. I could see it and respect it and treat it carefully, but I could walk through it without a problem.

When my beloved Shakespeare troupe Britches and Hose announced that they were holding a New Works Festival and needed submissions of original one acts, I decided that it was time to take one of my favorite ideas and turn it into a play. That’s how “Most Horrible,” a one-act prequel to Hamlet set in Purgatory began. I was so excited and motivated by this success that I continued on - and turned the play into a project for National Novel Writing Month in November. I finished up the novel by the end of January (I have, of course, decided to add in a whole new historical context and many more subplots, so I have major edits and revising coming up, but that’s another issue).

Since NaNoWriMo had worked so well for non-depressed Me, I decided to set monthly goals for myself. January’s was finishing the novel, February’s was working on my nonfiction book proposal. I didn’t really have any plans to write short stories until I came across a fascinating writing prompt on the Internet - calling for short stories about Grumpy Old Gods, gods that in some way were shirking their duty. I was so excited about this concept that I outlined and wrote “Purr Like an Egyptian” fairly quickly, in only a week or two! And it felt so good to have a project wrapped up and submitted so quickly, that I decided I’d dedicate March to writing more short stories and poetry to submit to various magazines and publications. That’s how I also wrote “Big Dave’s Goliath” and “The Caterer.”


So here we are now. “Purr Like an Egyptian” was just accepted for publication in Grumpy Old Gods Vol. 2 and will be coming out later this month. “Big Dave’s Goliath” was published recently in Gypsum Sound Tales’ Colp: Big. I’ve also had a few literary nonfiction pieces published as well - on Talking Soup and The Drabble.

I also tend to write with my own personal demigod in my lap. (I’m writing a lot about ancient Egyptians lately- cats WERE their demigods)

I also tend to write with my own personal demigod in my lap. (I’m writing a lot about ancient Egyptians lately- cats WERE their demigods)

“The Caterer” was rejected, but I invested a lot of time into revamping and revising it to make it better, and then published it myself on Kindle Direct Publishing as an experiment. I’ve enjoyed the writing and promoting process for my own ebook so much that I am now writing another story in the series, with plans for more! Once I finish and publish my second volume (“The Vanguard”), I plan to get back to “Most Horrible” and revise it to add in the Danish reformation (no biggie, right?).

It’s a lot of work, as of course I have a full time job as a trademark examining attorney at the USPTO, participate in Shakespeare plays with my friends, and occasionally like to have some downtime to spend with my husband, but it’s been so worth it. I don’t know if I’ll ever make much money from it or if it will ever be my full-time career, but writing brings me so much joy on a regular basis that I don’t know if I even care anymore. I love coming up with titles for my stories. I love outlining a plot. I love all the research - from Egyptian goddesses to drones, to Ancient Persia and the Tower of London.

I just love writing. And I won’t let myself forget that again.

"The Caterer" is Free on Amazon July 16-17!

So my ebook short story The Caterer: How a Cat Survived Richard III is free today and tomorrow (July 16-17) on Amazon. You can get that here at http://tinyurl.com/thecaterercat . So if you haven’t downloaded it yet, now’s a good time to do so! It really helps drive up the ranking of the book and get it more exposure and attention. Reviews are greatly appreciated as well. :)

The next story in the series is called "The Vanguard: The Cats Who Conquered Egypt" and focuses on the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE, through the eyes of two cats. I plan to publish that in late July! :)