March 2017: the Happenings

Hi all! I decided to start a new feature wherein I use this blog to round up all my writing-related news each month--and, perhaps most importantly, to talk about all the great books I read every month in my quest to read 70 books this year (I know, it's not THAT much for a writer, but, I work full-time, so cut a girl some slack). 

March 2017 is a particularly splendid month to start, given that I recently announced that I've placed my first collection of short stories with the publisher JournalStone, and that it will be coming out in May! The book is called Speaking to Skull Kings; it contains ten reprints and two original stories, and you can preorder it here. I wrote all these stories between 2012 and 2014, a time in my life when I was obsessed with abandonment through death or otherwise. In those years, my beloved grandmother, who made peanut butter sandwiches for the squirrels so they wouldn't starve in the snow, died before my eyes at my parents' house; my other grandmother died four months later. My first boyfriend, who I'd dated for four years, dumped me; subsequent adventures in dating proved no less painful. My college friends left Boston, and I made new friends and they left too. I was in this crucible when I crammed all these emotions into fever dreams of old Europe and haunted New England and wrote these stories. They are laced with all the feelings that made me into a (sort of, loosely speaking) grownup. I hope you enjoy them. 

In other news: I placed two stories this month. The first, Seven Steps to Beauty for a Girl Named Avarice, is coming out in John Joseph Adams' Nightmare sometime later this year. This story is a twisted fairytale that I will synopsize thusly: "What if witches, but also murder?" But really, this story stemmed from me mulling on female beauty standards, and the trope of the old witch woman losing her beauty and committing magic crimes to get her beauty back and then getting punished hard for it, and the way that ladies' bosoms are always shifting beneath their dresses in fiction, even now in the year of our lord 2017. This is my give-no-fucks story and I hope you will give no fucks too and read it. 

The second story, Evangeline and the Forbidden Lighthouse, lives very close to my heart, and is perhaps one of my favorite stories I've ever written. Oh, and it got me into Clarion last year! It takes place in a seaside community on the coast of Maine, a part of the world where I've spent much of my life, and it tells the story of a friendship between a girl who vacations at the beach every summer and a girl who lives there year-round. It's about this fraught, intense relationship between the two girls, and the sea, and growing up and fate and choice and of course ocean magic. The story will appear in Interzone in May of this year, which, I would just like to point out, is a magazine that once published Angela Carter.

On the non-fiction side of the tracks, my interview with Loren Coleman of the International Cryptozoology Museum went up in the Financial Times this month. You can read it here. Loren is a fascinating fellow: since the age of 14, he's been researching, writing about, and chasing cryptids (animals unknown to science, such as Bigfoot or the yeti). I spent about three hours with him at his museum up in Portland, Maine last October, during which we talked about topics ranging from the Feejee mermaid to the creepy clown epidemic of 2016. 

Finally, I read six books, many of which I loved!

First, Alexander Chee's Queen of the Night, a meta-opera Second Empire/Third Republic Paris extravaganza of intrigue and brothel and velvet. My Clarion friends described this book to me as "Emily catnip," and boy, were they right. This book is so over-the-top that it makes Phantom of the Opera look like a restrained, hyper-realistic work of minimalism. By which I mean I LOVED it.

Second, Leaving Lucy Pear, by Anna Solomon, a historical novel about two women's interconnected lives in 1920s Massachusetts. Points for portraying the travails of New England assimilationist Jews and for dealing with oft-untouched historical topics such as contraception, sexuality, and mental illness. Points off for not being weird enough for me, and for a pretty problematic plot twist. Overall, though, a perfectly pleasant read.

Third, Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay, which is Gay's new short story collection. I loved this book, as I love pretty much everything Gay touches. It was funny, and heartbreaking, and so compulsively readable, and the characters were so human. Highly recommend. 

Fourth, Margaret the First, by Danielle Dutton, a stylized account of the life of Margaret Cavendish, an influential female writer of the 17th century. This book is another one of those historical novels that's written with inventive prose and deep interiority; Wolf Hall comes to mind as another one in this category. I found the book perfectly enjoyable, and it certainly deals with an important topic, but also, I finished it like two weeks ago and can barely remember it, so that probably doesn't say great things about it. 

Fifth, In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders. Confession! I had never read George Saunders until I opened this tome! I wasn't sure if I was going to like it, and to be honest, the first story did nothing to assuage my fears. But I'm pleased to report that I did, in the end, like it! George Saunders can write a mean dystopia-that's-hilarious-but-also-makes-you-want-to-cry. It is a skill I greatly admire in an author. 

Finally, Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh, a "literary thriller" about a misanthropic 24-year-old woman living in a small Massachusetts town in the 1960s who gets sucked into a CRIME. I'm not sure what a "literary thriller" is--I think it's just, like, a thriller, but it's okay for literary people to like it? Whatever, marketers. Anyway, I won't hold that label against it: Eileen was great. I loved reading about a female character who was really, truly, deeply unlikeable, who was 24 and unmarried and didn't have her shit figured out at all. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Read the book. You'll see what I mean. 

Anyway, that's all this month, my friends. Here's to surviving and fighting the current political climate, to good books and spring.  

 

 

 

Behind the scenes with Irmela Mensah-Schramm

My article about Irmela Mensah-Schramm, a Berlin woman who's spent the past thirty years altering and removing rightwing graffiti in Germany, came out in the Financial Times today. Although I wrote in the article about the challenges that Irmela faces in the course of her missions, I didn't have the opportunity to describe the encounters that I personally witnessed during the afternoon I spent with her, and how she responded to altercations with irate bystanders and with the police (spoiler alert: she responded with nothing short of sheer badassery).

I met Irmela in Zehlendorf, an upper-class former-West neighborhood, all villas and apartment blocks hastily erected in the 1950s to accommodate the American military members living near the airbase there. She's a short woman with white bobbed hair, glasses, and a canvas tote bag on which she's written "Gegen Nazis" (against Nazis) in Sharpie. She immediately brought me and my husband Nate (the photographer) to a scrawled marker pen message on a column in a walkway next to the subway station: "Islamismus muss raus." (Islamism must go). Smiling and chatting, Irmela brandished her own pen and changed the graffiti to say "Islamophobia must go." To tackle another "Islamismus muss raus" on a nearby street sign, she clambered up on a cement wall. "Not bad for a seventy-year-old, eh?" she said, grinning.While Irmela was removing and altering these Sharpied messages, I noticed she was attracting dirty looks from several of the people passing through the walkway. She ignored them, for the most part, rolling her eyes at me when she received one particularly foul grimace.

Once she'd finished with the anti-Islam graffiti, Irmela asked us to take the bus with her to another part of Zehlendorf, where she'd heard someone had spray painted "Merkel muss weg" (Merkel must go, a rightwing slogan) on a cement wall. En route, she showed us a stack of photographs of all the graffiti she'd found lately, as well as pictures of her cats and pictures of her favorite flowers she'd seen that spring.

We hopped off the bus on the side of a road running parallel to the highway leading out of Berlin. The road cut through one of the birch and red-pine forests on the city's western edge, with high-rise apartment buildings along one side. On the far side of the highway, we could see the now-decommissioned checkpoint that had divided West Berlin from East Germany in the days of the wall.

Irmela pulled out her pink spray can and bent to work. She explained that she was changing "Merkel muss weg" to "Merke! Hass muss weg!" (Remember! Hate must go!) But while she worked, a middle-aged man in a black jacket appeared from the park around the high-rise apartment building. "What are you doing?" he asked her. He threatened to call the police. He aggressively asked me who I was, why I was taking notes, why Nate was taking pictures. He threatened her.

And she did not care.

She told him to call the police. "They know who I am," she proclaimed. She waved him off, kept spraying. Another woman pulled off the highway to scream at us and take pictures, presumably for evidence. Unfazed, Irmela finished what she was doing and led us into a pedestrian tunnel under the highway off-ramp. As we walked through, she noticed another, "Merkel muss weg" on the cement wall. She pulled out her spray can.

Then the police officer showed up.

He asked what we were doing, why we were vandalizing the tunnel. He took all of our identification cards (Irmela threw hers on the ground at his feet instead of handing it to him). He escorted us out of the tunnel. He told me that it angered him personally that Irmela had defaced the tunnel, since it's very expensive to clean off graffiti. "Then where were you when this said 'Merkel muss weg?'" Irmela shouted at him.

The officer called for back-up, two younger officers in a car. Nate texted four of our friends: "We are about to be arrested. Call us in an hour to make sure we're not in jail." After some confusion, some frenzied radioed conversations, the older officer left, leaving his two colleagues to deal with us.

And over the course of the next ten minutes, I watched Irmela completely and utterly charm them.

She showed them her photographs of the graffiti she had defaced. She pushed them, kindly but firmly, into saying what they thought of each of the defacements. "Should I have vandalized this slogan?" she asked. "How about this swastika? What do you think? Come on, you agree with me, don't you?" I watched the officers' body language relax into sympathy and identification. "All right, personally, I agree with you," one of them finally conceded. "I just have to do my job."

They eventually let all of us go, but told Irmela they would have to send her a fine in the mail. We climbed on the bus to the next subway station, Irmela excited but unfazed. She grabbed both our hands and squeezed tight before we caught the train back to East Berlin and home.

Over the course of the summer, Irmela and I stayed in touch as I finished the article; she told me about the other graffiti she's found, the "Fuck Asyl" (fuck asylum seekers), the new "Merkel must go," the swastikas and the 88, which is a neo-Nazi symbol for the Heil Hitler salute.

Germany is, for obvious reasons, a country that understands the dangers of the creeping and insidious power of fascist and xenophobic discourse. "Citizens! Do not allow the intellectual and soulful climate of our country to once again become poisoned by right-wing nationalist ideology!" read a sign outside an art school in Dresden that I saw earlier that spring. Germany also understands the power of stickers, stamps and other ephemera to influence public opinion and political discourse; I learned about Irmela in the first place at an exhibit at the German History Museum about that very subject. Irmela is an example of someone who understands all of this and who long ago decided that she cared more about shaping this discourse than about following the law or even her own personal safety. She refuses to take the safe road, to defer to any authority other than her own system of graffiti removal and alteration that she designed thirty years ago. She started seeing these symbols, and now, she can't stop.

Chiral Mad 3

Guys, I'm late to the party here, but the anthology Chiral Mad 3 hit Amazon and bookshops on March 28. The anthology contains my story "The Black Crow of Boddinstraße," one of the first pieces I wrote after moving to Berlin in 2014. It's the story of a Nebelkrähe (gray and black crows that you often see picking through trash or fluttering around Berlin) looking for a home during one of those impossibly dark, why-do-we-live-so-far-north German winters. Also the Nebelkrähe might be a ghost, obviously, because it's pretty impossible for me to write a story without at least one ghost or haunting. I didn't make this lamp for my old apartment for nothing:

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But I digress. Go forth, check out the anthology and its impressive lineup!

This is the right way to LARP the Victorian era

So I think we can all agree: it's kind of the worst that that couple who's chosen to live in the 19th century haven't acknowledged that the Victorian era was rife with social problems, racism, poverty, sexism, and all that decidedly non-cosplay-worthy stuff.

But I'd also like to point out that, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Chrismans have chosen to embrace all the LAMEST parts of Victorian times, while ignoring all the awesome parts. Let me put it this way: when I read Victorian novels, I don't read them for their celebration of virtuous bourgeois morals.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if I were going to LARP the Victorian era, it would look something like this:

Portraits of his first wife hang all over the manor. When I hurry through the halls at nights, the portraits' eyes follow me.

Once I'm out from under my governess' thumb, I'll start wearing bloomers and reading shocking novels, like a regular Gibson Girl.

I wander the cliffs by the seawalk on foggy nights, crying out for my lost lover. As the years go by, I start to wonder: was he ever a man, or was he always a ghost?

Absinthe.

The plucky journalist knocks on my door, requests an interview. "Aren't you worried that your involvement with the suffragette movement will damage your reputation?" she asks. It's only after we become fast friends that I discover that she has a terrible secret of her own.

The cemetery calls my name at night. I've started to answer it.

I take a hansom cab to the East End. I'm late for a mysterious meeting at an opium den in the docklands.

The spiritualist's eyes widen, fearful, when she touches my hand.

Vivisection.

Dracula.

Sale: Hungry Ghosts to Black Static

I'm so pleased to announce that I've sold my short story "Hungry Ghosts" to the superb British horror/dark fantasy market Black Static. This is my first sale of 2015 and the first time I've sold a story that takes place in my homeland (my homeland referring in this case to the forests of northern New England).

The story is currently slated for release in March, both in print and online. It's a story about alienation and fitting in (or not) and family curses and the particular nature of New England ghosts. The haunted house in the tale--all faded wallpaper and creaking floorboards--is based on a house where I once lived, outside Boston. I hope you all like it (the story, not the house. The house was both a miserable and magical place to live).

Sale: The Emerald Coat and Other Wishes

I'm excited to announce that my short story "The Emerald Coat and Other Wishes" will appear in the spring 2015 issue of Interfictions Online: A Journal of Interstitial Arts. Interfictions and the Interstitial Arts Foundation promote exactly the sort of art and literature that I'm interested in: unclassifiable work that straddles boundaries. Besides, Interfictions produced several great anthologies and now publishes fabulous authors in its online magazine, so I'm quite excited to contribute to it.

I found the inspiration for this story over the summer while reading about the dark side of Victorian fashion: garments that poisoned their owners because they were treated or manufactured with arsenic or other poisons. The result is a tale about museums, London, death, World War I, family curses, immortality, and, of course, the dark side of Victorian fashion. You know. The usual.

Sales: The City Dreams of Bird-Men & Speaking to Skull Kings

I'm pleased to close out the month of May by announcing two more sales. "Speaking to Skull Kings," a strange slipstream-y dark fairytale about two lost children in the woods, will appear in Betwixt Magazine in July 2014. And "The City Dreams of Bird-Men," a dark fantasy set in early modern Prague and involving bones, plague and heartbreak, will appear in Fantasy Scroll Magazine, a new market that's already published lots of award-winning and exemplary authors. I'm very excited to have found a home for both of these stories, and to appear in these exciting new markets.

Sale: Not the Grand Duke's Dancer

I'm quite happy to announce that my short story "Not the Grand Duke's Dancer" will appear in issue #5 of The Dark, an online magazine of dark and strange fiction. This is my first Odyssey story to find a home-- the story began its life as a much shorter piece that I read at the Odyssey Science Fiction and Fantasy Slam. This is a tradition at the workshop where halfway through the hectic six weeks of writing and critiquing, Odyssey students take a break to road trip from Manchester, N.H. to a Barnes and Noble in Nashua, N.H., where they read flash fiction pieces. This was one of my first experiences reading my writing out loud, and while it was nerve-wracking (my parents were there!), I do think it's an essential skill for any writer to develop. At any rate, when I returned home from the workshop, I expanded the piece to its current form, and here we are.

This story contains many of my favorite things: bones! Train travel through Europe! A veiled reference to Rasputin! It also switches settings quite a few times in its 3400 words. I'm a very visual person/writer, and I love designing sets and settings and scenery for my stories. When I was writing this story, I referenced several places and cities that I've visited. As a preview of the tale, I thought I'd include some of the photos that I used to write the story:


Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, an important setting in the story.

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DSC01153

Also pictured: 18-year-old me, imagination whirring, no doubt. 

Hot air balloons rising over Stockholm. This image has always stuck with me--I took this picture on a lazy summer evening, at about 9 p.m., because it stays light quite late in Scandinavia in the summer. I was sitting with one of my best friends by the water, eating violet ice cream. I'm glad I was able to insert such a happy memory into a story.

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муми 023

A view of Munich. One pivotal scene in this story takes place in a cursed church in Munich, which I based on the Frauenkirche, the church on the left in this picture, which has several interesting legends attached to it.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Highgate Cemetery in London, which I visited when I was studying abroad in London, because I do love visiting cemeteries (to no one's surprise). Karl Marx is buried here, and many people believe it inspired several scenes in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

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Of course, this story isn't all fun and games and frolicking through Europe on a magical tour. I also drew on negative and bittersweet experiences--especially those involving relationships-- to write this story. Which just goes to show you that the old cliche is true: no experience is ever wasted for a writer.

Anyway, I'm pleased this story found a home, and I hope you enjoy it when it comes out in August.

Sale: The Rondelium Girl of Rue Marseilles

So very pleased to announce that Michael Bailey of Written Backwards has accepted a story of mine, "The Rondelium Girl of Rue Marseilles," for his upcoming horror/science fiction anthology Qualia Nous. Michael Bailey is the editor extraordinaire behind Chiral Mad 2 (my first professional sale) and I'm honestly so excited to appear in another of his anthologies, alongside other Chiral Mad 2 authors and plenty of other wonderful writers.

I came up with the idea for "Rondelium Girl" while reading The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era, a history book that I reviewed for the Christian Science Monitor while wearing my journalist/book critic hat. In the book, author Craig Nelson mentions an American dancer, Loie Fuller, who was famous in Belle Epoque Paris for performances that incorporated billowing phosphorescent veils. At one point, Fuller asked Marie and Pierre Curie for advice on creating "butterfly wings of radium" for her performances. Well, at the phrase "butterfly wings of radium," my imagination was off to the races. You'll have to read the story to find out which direction I headed off in (hint: it includes nostalgia and regret and mad science and chestnuts).

Here's one of the reference images I used while writing, a painting of Loie Fuller by Austrian artist Koloman Moser:

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Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 11.53.32 PM

And here's the Bois de Vincennes, a large park on the eastern side of Paris (its western counterpart is the more famous Bois de Boulogne) and an important setting in the story.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here's to spring and story sales and the dollar oysters and gin & tonic that I'm going to go consume tonight to celebrate!

Apply to Odyssey. Now.

A year ago today, I was sitting at my desk in my old office, obsessively checking my email as the work day wound down. I had applied early decision to the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and according to the website, on Feb. 28 I'd find out whether my application had been accepted early or held over for the regular decision period in April. How would I find out, I wondered? A phone call? An email? A letter waiting for me in my mailbox when I returned to my apartment that night? AN OWL?! 

At last, at nearly 5 p.m., my stomach roiling, I clicked over to my Gmail tab and saw I had three emails. From Odyssey leader Jeanne Cavelos. I had gotten in. I had gotten in! I raced out to the office parking lot to call my dad and tell him the good news, and for the first time in my post-college young professional life, I found myself crying tears of joy in my office parking lot.

Now, a year later, I can say with confidence that leaving my job, my apartment, and my life in Boston for the summer to attend Odyssey was one of the best decisions--if not the best decision--I've ever made. Here's how Odyssey works: you spend six weeks living at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., taking classes, writing, and critiquing your classmates' work. At Odyssey, I learned more about writing than I ever thought possible. I met wonderful guest authors. I made friends who I still critique with, rant about rejection letters to, go to for writing advice. At Odyssey, I barely slept or worked out or ate anything but bacon and kettle corn for six weeks, but it was all worth it.

Thanks to Odyssey, I have the tools I need to become the writer I want to become. Yes, there's still a long road ahead, but if it weren't for Odyssey, I wouldn't even be on that road.

So if you're at all serious about writing, you should apply to Odyssey. You can find all the information here. The early application deadline has already passed, but regular applications aren't due until April 8. I realize that not everyone is 24 years old and has the flexibility to pick up and leave for the summer, but if you are in a place in your life where you can, do it. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Chiral Mad 2!

This week, I had the exhilarating experience of seeing a short story of mine in print for the first time. Chiral Mad 2 was released on Dec. 13, and while my copy hasn't arrived yet, I was able to take a look at my aunt's copy, which arrived when I was staying at her house on Tuesday. I can't wait for my own copy to arrive so I can read all the stories, but for now: this book looks glorious, and I am so excited that my story is part of a collection with so many talented and wonderful authors. Last Christmas season, I was scribbling the first draft of "Henley House" in my notebook in a cafe in Copley Square; this Christmas, I get to see it in this book. I can't think of a more fitting end to what has surely been the craziest and most eventful year of my life thus far.

In other news: the Kickstarter for Steampunk World, which will include my story The Firebird, was fully funded last week! But the fundraising continues--the editors have set several stretch goals, which include the possibility of a volume two and interior illustrations for the book (read more about the stretch goals at editor Sarah Hans' blog). The editors have offered some great backer rewards, so check it out if you are so inclined.

Sale: The Firebird

Today I found out that my short story "The Firebird" will appear in the forthcoming anthology Steampunk World, edited by Sarah Hans. The philosophy behind this anthology is that steampunk should be more inclusive and not simply focus on Victorian England. And while anyone who knows me knows I have some serious Victorian England love, I also completely agree that steampunk--and every genre, for that matter--should branch out and focus on other cultures and settings. So I was very excited to hear about this anthology, and I am even more excited to learn that my story is going to be a part of it.

firebird
firebird

This news was especially exciting for me because "The Firebird" is my first published story that takes place in Russia. I've been fascinated by Russia since I was a child, and my first trip overseas was on a three-week Russian exchange program in high school. This story takes place in the city where I stayed on that exchange program. Veliky Novgorod is one of the oldest cities in Russia, situated on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow. It's ringed in by a kremlin, presided over by the gold domes of St. Sophia Cathedral. The image to the right is a postcard I purchased when I first visited eight years ago, showing St. Sophia's. The image above the postcard is a word cloud I made of "The Firebird" (by "I," I mean Wordle). The story takes place in the later years of the Russian Revolution, and involves revenge, romance, a Russian countess with a jewel-encrusted brass bird tail,  a revolver-cuff, and lots of snow. To write it, I read the book Former People, by Douglas Smith, an account of what happened to various members of the Russian nobility during and after the Revolution. I gathered plenty of fascinating details from that book for this story, and I would encourage anyone who's interested in this period to read it.

At any rate, I'm very excited for this story to appear in Steampunk World. The anthology is being funded by a Kickstarter campaign; more details on that to follow.

Write for your life

The first of the month just passed, which meant it was time to make my monthly story list. I've been making lists of all the final and rough drafts I want to complete every month, to keep myself on track for my goal of sending 20 completed stories out to market by the new year.

These lists represent something that I've realized about writing this past year: writing is a job. Not a hobby. Not a bohemian art best pursued in a coldwater garret. It's a career like any other, except it's much harder and far more competitive than most careers.

It took me some time to realize this. For most of my life, I thought I could write during summers home from college or here and there for an hour or two after work. I didn't understand that if I wanted a career in this field, I needed to invest the time and resources that I would have invested in any other potential career. If I'd decided I wanted to be, say, a social worker, I would have quit my job as a journalist and gone back to school for social work. But for some reason I was dense about the time and commitment it takes to become a writer.

Unfortunately, society at large seems to have a tenuous grasp on this notion of writing-as-career. Writers who have "made it" enjoy tremendous cultural cache, but new writers often must face the fact that some of our acquaintances, friends and family simply don't care or understand what we do with our time. For example: I applied to the Odyssey Writing Workshop in winter 2013 to figure out if I actually wanted to pursue a career as a fiction writer. When I was accepted into the workshop, I began to make plans to leave my journalism job. I received a variety of responses from the people in my life. The majority were quite supportive, but a few implied that I was throwing away my journalism career and turning my back on my responsibilities. Others congratulated me in an odd way: they lauded me for leaving my job to go "be young," as I had started working right after college and never had the chance for a free-spirited phase. I think some of these well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning people thought that Odyssey was the equivalent of a six-week basket-weaving camp, not an intensive program that, to me, was the equivalent of going back to school for a career change.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what these naysayers think or how they perceive the choices writers must make to build fulfilling and productive careers. What's important is that you view writing as your career, and that you are willing to invest the necessary resources in it.

(A caveat: for some people, writing is a hobby, something they do when they're feeling inspired or want catharsis. That's absolutely fine. But if you want to write as a career, you cannot treat it as a hobby).

So if I could give advice to anyone who's where I was a year ago: spend time writing, revising and submitting. Self-identify as a writer. Apply to Odyssey, Clarion, or another intensive workshop. Ignore the people who accuse you of eschewing the responsibilities of adulthood to go pursue some hobby. Writing is a career. Invest in it.

Philadelphia & the importance of travel

Besides writing and reading, traveling is probably the most important activity for my writing career. Anyone who knows me knows I love to travel--I'm always packing up my ridiculously oversized hiking backpack for a weekend trip to a different city in the Northeast or for some European extravaganza. But although I love to travel, I don't equate it with going on vacation: for me, traveling is part of my work, an opportunity to overload my senses with new places, buildings, natural vistas, people, food, etc., then go back to my hotel/hostel/friend's couch at the end of the day and scribble new story ideas and observations in my notebook until I collapse into sleep. I think some people view traveling as a frivolous activity, but for me, it's an integral part of my writing process. I'm a visual, setting-oriented writer, and I don't think I would have written 90 percent of the fiction words I've written if I hadn't invested so much time and money in traveling over the years.

On that note, I visited Philadelphia for the first time last weekend, to spend time with my dear friend Laura who moved there for graduate school and to see the city. While there, I visited two museums: the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Mutter Museum.

At the UPenn Museum, my friend and fellow Odfellow Brad Hafford showed me around the collections. I learned about the culture of ancient Ur and about Ur's tombs, such as the "great death pit" where archaeologists found dozens of bodies of people who may or may not have committed suicide so they could journey to the after life with their queen. Naturally, these tombs, combined with the culture's overall aesthetic (limestone statues, ram's heads on the arms of throne chairs, make-up pigment stored in shells, lapis and carnelian cloak-pins) gave me an idea for a story called Girl Guards of the Afterlife, which I will be working on this week.

The next day it was off to the Mutter Museum, the famous museum of medical oddities that I had been waiting forever to attend. This 19-century-style museum features cramped shelves and rooms full of objects of the macabre, creepy and just plain gross variety.

I saw a liver that had been mutilated by a corset; the body of the Soap Lady, a woman whose body turned entirely to soap after she died; the largest skeleton on display in North America; dozens and dozens of white polished inner ears displayed in tiny bell jars; and, perhaps the most macabre part, fetuses with birth defects, all floating in glass jars and displayed in one corner of the museum's downstairs room.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the wall of skulls, collected by a 19th century scientist in Eastern Europe. Each of the skulls had a placard describing what was known about these people before they shuffled off their mortal coils. Some of my favorites:

-Prague, age 19, suicide by potassium cyanide because of unfaithfulness of his mistress. -Famous criminal, guilty of many atrocities, captured with his band of 10 and hanged in a castle. -Ravenna, age 20, embroiderer in silk, died of tuberculosis.

Needless to say, I came up with some story ideas at the Mutter Museum as well.

I spent the rest of the weekend strolling the streets of Philadelphia with my lovely friends. Philadelphia's City Hall has ravens on it! Ravens, I tell you! (They're up around the base of the tower, in case you can't tell from this picture).

So yes, this is why I travel: because it invariably piques my imagination and leaves me pondering new story ideas on the bus/train/airplane/car ride home.

Of course, it's not always practical to live the life of a traveler: we all have homes, and responsibilities. But I think it's possible to live as a traveler even in your own city: keen observation, curiosity and a sense of adventure can turn up inspiration in even the most familiar of places.

Hello to the wide world of blogging

I can no longer contain myself: it's time to start blogging.

I've wanted to start a blog about my nascent writing career for awhile, but the time never seemed right. It's easy to stumble into the rabbit hole of productive procrastination (and I am quite the expert on procrastination) and spend too much time blogging about writing and not enough time actually writing.

But at the same time, blogging can be a great way to keep in touch with other writers. I also think it's important for writers to chronicle our careers, to talk about the pitfalls and successes and truths of the trade. A year ago,  I was determined to embark on a fiction writing career but had few connections, no beta readers, no guarantees I was going to get into a workshop for the summer of 2013, and no idea how to push forward with my career. Reading blogs by other writers in various stages of their careers was invaluable for me as I sorted out how to proceed into the mysterious world of fiction writing.

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So I weighed these pros and cons, and decided I would allow myself to start blogging when I made my first pro-rate short story sale. And, lo and behold, at the beginning of the month Michael Bailey of Written Backwards bought my short story "A Guide to Etiquette and Comportment for the Sisters of Henley House" for the Chiral Mad 2 anthology. I am, needless to say, extremely excited about this, and I've decided that now is finally the right time to start blogging.

On this blog you can expect to read about my fiction writing career; thoughts about the art and craft of writing (especially the three-act structure. I have MANY thoughts about the three-act structure); my travels and how they inspire my fiction; books I'm reading; my obsession with the darkly beautiful and the macabre; and, occasionally, my other interests: fiber arts and running.

So welcome! Let us embark on this strange and haunting journey together.