My friend Katherine Cowley has a story coming out in the Steel and Bone anthology,
and asked if she might do a guest post about differences in the way we think and how
those differences can be our greatest strengths. She has some beautiful things to say, and
I'm happy to have the opportunity to host them here. Hope you enjoy. Art: “Color Cave in the Sea of Synesthesia” by garlandcannon via flickr, Creative Commons license All of us have differences, things that set us apart. It’s a common observation that in high school people either hide those differences to try to fit in, or they flaunt then. High school and its social angst aside, our differences can be frustrating, even challenging.
A few years ago I was part of a writer’s group. We spent hours every month at Whole Foods discussing writing and life. Our conversations touched on things which helped me through some of my later struggles. Many in the group had experienced depression at one point or another, a mental illness that is more common among artistic people than among the general population.
(According to Swedish researchers, it’s even more common among writers).
One of my friends spoke of her struggles with anxiety and described her panic attacks.
About six months later, I was at home, stressed, and suddenly my heart started pounding uncontrollably. I couldn’t breathe, my body shook, and I felt like I would die. Because of my friend, I knew it wasn’t a heart attack: it was a panic attack. It was also in my writer’s group that I first heard of synesthesia—a condition shared by three of those in the group.
Art: Synesthesia by FitoComics via Deviant Art, Creative Commons license According to Science Daily, synesthesia is “a neurological condition in which two or more bodily sensations are coupled.” There are currently more than sixty known types of synesthesia. By some estimates, one percent of the population has some form of synesthesia. One of the common forms of synesthesia relates to color. Someone might associate each letter or number with a different color (“A” might always look red). In some forms of synesthesia, different numbers inhabit different spaces, and could be perceived as closer or farther. Other people with synesthesia hear shapes or taste sounds. Recent research demonstrates that “synesthetes have stronger connections between different brain areas…Those connections lead to a triggering effect, where a stimulus in one part of the brain would cause activity in another.” When I started drafting “The Clockwork Seer,” I never set out to write a character with synesthesia. It was not in my outline. But as soon as I wrote the first paragraph I realized that synesthesia was what made Medina different than those around her, more so than being a seer and having a typewriter in her hip. Because of her synesthesia, she connects people, experiences, and emotions with tastes and smells. And because Medina has synesthesia, whenever her clairvoyance strikes it overwhelms her, the images, tastes, smells, and sounds becoming so magnified as to be crippling. As a result, her friend the Tinker installed clockwork parts in Medina’s body which dampen the effects of her visions. Medina lives on a large, highly populated island, isolated from the mainland. Due to geography and perhaps geology, most of those living on the island finds themselves with an island gift, though Medina has one of the larger ones. One of the perennial questions on the island is are these gifts, or are they actually curses? Medina tends to side with the curses theory. At the beginning of “The Clockwork Seer” she wishes that she were normal, that her visions would leave her alone so she could live a normal life. And don’t we all at times?
Art: Microglacier by Jason Samfield via flickr, Creative Commons license I spent several years suffering from depression of different levels of severity. I remember giving my toddler a box of yarn to play with (in other words, tangle). I would curl up under a table and cry for hours, wishing the pain would go away, that I could be normal, or at least even a glimpse of who I used to be. Depression treatments, books, speaking with a counselor, and medication, are all a bit like Medina’s clockwork parts, and make it possible to survive with a mental illness. Yet Medina’s synesthesia and clairvoyance are only partly curses. They are a beautiful component of her, which give her advantages. It is the same with depression and other mental illnesses. A 2003 study by researchers from the University of Toronto and Harvard showed that creative people “appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment” and less able to ignore or shut out stimuli. That’s a trait that is also associated with psychosis, yet can be beneficial for a writer or artist. Psychology professor Jordan Peterson explains, "The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities." Creative people have much higher rates of bipolar disorder or manic depression, but this also gives them a larger emotional range which studies propose may aid in creativity
(a different study proposes a genetic link between these disorders and creativity).
Art: Intermezzo Abstract by Peter & Ute Grahlmann via flickr, Creative Commons license One researcher, Simon Kyaga, explained, "If one takes the view that certain phenomena associated with the patient's illness are beneficial, it opens the way for a new approach to treatment. In that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost.” One of my good friends can’t write when she is taking depression medication. The medication eliminates the emotional range she needs for her stories, and her drive to write. Other friends manage their illnesses and write better when they are taking medication. While I am grateful I no longer face depression on a daily basis, I can’t look at my experiences with depression from an attitude of regret. They are part of who I am. Depression made me willing to put my characters through hard things, it taught me about emotion and desire, and it gave me a need to write and make meaning out of life. I still have days when I wake up and can feel the chemical imbalance in my body. I feel worthless, even though cognitively I know it is not true. On some days I feel depressed even when I practice dozens of self-treatment approaches that normally work on me. On very hard days, I remind myself, “I feel deeply. I embrace every feeling, every experience, for it will help me tell stories.” We can flee from the things that make us different and try to hide them from others or ourselves. Or we can let our differences be a part of us—manage them, prevent what is preventable, cure what is curable, but realize that the things that give us struggle can give us much more than just that.
One of the reasons I love being a part of the anthology Steel and Bone is that each of the stories addresses things that make people different. It’s a common trait in the steampunk genre as a whole. Yes, there are standard steampunk tropes: cool, steam-powered machinery, gears and gadgets, punked-out Victorian costumes, automatons and the like. Yet steampunk also addresses deep, rich questions: Can I control my fate or overcome my circumstance? Am I my limitations? What sacrifices are necessary for progress? Is the status quo the ideal? When I write and read steampunk, it gives me hope that my differences will not cripple me, and that perhaps I can use them to my own advantage. Steel and Bone is a collection of steampunk short stories and novelettes. It will be released on Saturday, June 27th, 2015, as both a print book and an ebook, and is available for preorder.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
There’s this binary that gets tossed around a lot in the writing community. Often I’m asked: are you a planner, or a discovery writer? Are you a gardener, or an architect? Are you an outliner, or a pantser?
I usually tell people, I’m a hybrid. But what I want to say is, no. I don’t respond to any of those metaphors. Believe me, I’ve tried. I plan a lot, but not very well. I discover a lot, but I can’t write a story without a road map, and a lot of what I discover really sucks. If those are the only two ways to write, well. I don’t know what it is that I do, but it’s not that. I once heard Shannon Hale say that for her, first drafts are filling up the sand box to make sand castles with later. That one hits closer for me, but it’s still too…pretty. My process? It ain’t pretty.
And then yesterday, while I was digging through a piece of crap first draft, I finally thought of a metaphor I respond to.
I am a dumpster diver.
I’m not joking.
I outline. My outline is a lot like the process by which things get into the garbage in the first place. I think these things will be useful. I design them carefully. And then I throw them into a huge dumpster-sized pile, and let’s be honest. Most of the things in that dumpster are utter garbage.
But that’s okay. A good dumpster diver knows that you don’t need to take home half the heap to be successful. You just have to find the pieces that are truly useful.
So I go diving in my pile of crap. I leave behind a lot of stuff–sometimes the grand majority of the heap. I find the things that are truly useful, and then I try to find more things that go with them.
And then I throw out a lot of those things, too.
This is why my writing group is invaluable to me: they are my appraisal team. Keep this, not that. Love this, hate that. Sometimes I can tell they are stressed by the amount of crap in the drafts that they read. But I’m not stressed about it. I’m no more attached to my drafts than people normally are to things they’ve put in dumpsters. It’s not like I have to publish it like that. Like any good dumpster diver, I know how to leave the crap behind.
And I do. Somewhere at the end of this long winnowing process I end up with a book full of things that are good and useful. Things that contribute. Things that can stay. But, like dumpster diving, it’s a long, messy, and sometimes miserable process to get my work where I want it to be. It would be so much cleaner and more efficient to be a gardener or an architect or some other respected profession.
But the good news is, to the reader, the writing process doesn’t matter. All that matters is the end product. And my books get there, eventually. And while my process is a true and utter mess, I still produce books faster than most of the gardeners and architects I know.
Excuse me, please. I have a dumpster to fill.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
This weekend I’ll be at the Life, the Universe and Everything Symposium in Provo, Utah. This is my home convention, and also my favorite. If you’re in the neighborhood and of the writerly or fannish persuasion, it’s well worth the effort to attend. They put me on some gaming panels this year, which I am SUPER excited about.
Here are my events:
3:00 PM GMing: Keeping your players from wanting to kill you
2:00 PM Writing Dramatic Scenes
10:00 AM YA Protagonists
12:00 PM Are you ready for an agent?
5:00 PM The Magic of Minis
I won’t be at the mass signing, but I will have a few copies of my books for sale. If you’re at LTUE, please come say hi!
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
I must admit to some bias on this one: I’ve loved all Natalie’s books, and I think you should go read them right now. Simultaneously. Also, I received an e-copy ahead of release, in exchange for a review. But if the reason you haven’t tried Natalie’s work yet is that you’re into contemporary and not spec fic, you’re in luck, because Fish Out Of Water is awesome.
My brief review:
Fish Out of Water is about many things–racism, romance, growing up–but at its core, it’s a book about family. What I loved most about it was the way that every person in Mika’s family is treated with compassion by the narrative. There are no villains here, just people trying to love one another even–and especially–when it’s not easy.
What makes the book work is Mika’s character–she’s as complex as the book’s themes: passionate, confused, angry, prideful, and always, always sympathetic. Mika has to deal with hard issues–like her grandmother’s racism and illness–and she manages to do so tenaciously while also tripping over her own flaws. It’s a tough balance, but Natalie manages to strike it just right–neither preachy nor light minded, but real.
If you’re into that sort of thing, you should read it. It’s a good one.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
When I was doing one of the rewrites of Giftchild, I was struggling with a key scene between Penny and Rodney. As I was trying to figure it out, I did a writing exercise, where I wrote the fallout of that scene from Rodney’s perspective. I was trying to get into his head, to figure out what he was thinking, since Penny wasn’t doing a great job of predicting it from her own perspective, but I still wanted the reader to ultimately understand where Rodney was coming from.
That writing exercise is here. Spoilers abound, so if you haven’t read the book, I suggest you do that first. For those of you who have, this takes place as Rodney is leaving Penny on the bleachers.
The post is password protected. The password is spoilers.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
My new release GIFTCHILD is, at its core, a romance. But it didn’t start out that way.
I first had the idea for the book when I was looking at an adoption website. I was linked by a friend who had just launched a profile there–a friend who had gone through years of infertility and the pain of not knowing when or if she and her husband would ever be able to have a child. She wasn’t the first friend I’d watched go through this, and the number of profiles on the website attested that she was far from alone.
The profiles for prospective adoptive families were lovely on the surface. Some of them already had older children, and some did not. All were trying to put their best selves forward, presenting beaming photos of family celebrations, in the hopes that a birth mom would pick them to adopt her baby.
But despite the best efforts of the families, the profiles didn’t feel happy to me. When I looked through them, all I could see was the pain. Of course they tried to sound hopeful, but behind the hope was a thinly-veiled ache at the trauma they’d been through–the inability to have the children that they so wanted to have. I was familiar with the pain, not personally, but from the experiences of friends. And I thought back to propaganda I’d seen about how wonderful adoption was, and while I believed that was true in a way, it also felt true to me that every single person involved in most adoptions will experience profound pain. The birth mother at separation from her child. The adoptive parent at the uncertainty of ever being able to have a child. The child at separation from his or her biological parent. Adoption may be a wonderful solution, and is certainly a miracle in many cases, but the problems it solves are heart wrenching, and the whole process is far from simple.
I wanted to get at that pain. I wanted to explore it. So I did what I always do when something disturbs me. I put a teenager in it, and wrote a book.
That first draft was about Penny and her sister, who desperately wanted to adopt. In later revisions it became her mother instead, because it was more powerful for Penny to live inside the problem, and a mother-daughter relationship has many more complications than a sibling relationship.
But as I worked through revisions, something happened that never happens to me. I’ve never been the writer whose characters take over and do things I don’t want them to. Quite the opposite–I’m painfully aware that if I want my characters to do something, I have to motivate them all on my own. But this time, one character overstepped the role that I’d originally intended for him.
Rodney wanted the story to be about him.
Here’s the thing about birth fathers–they are so often overlooked, both socially and legally. Clearly not every birth father cares and is involved, but perhaps more of them are than are often given credit. Here I was doing the same thing–I needed Rodney to provide the child for my book, but the more I wrote about him, the more his relationship with Penny became the story.
And so, I had to rewrite it again, putting my high concept idea into the background, and letting Penny and Rodney be the core of the novel. I’m so very glad I did. Rodney and Penny’s romance story is my favorite thing I’ve ever written. It exists, like its concept, in a messy space, full of hurt, but also of love and hope.
I hope that you’ll share it with them.
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.
My contemporary YA novel, GIFTCHILD, officially releases today!
AND, if you buy the paperback today, you can use the Amazon code HOLIDAY30 to take 30% off. (This works on any one book today on Amazon. Just saying.)
I am so excited to share this book with you. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be blogging about the idea behind it, and the drafts that went into it including some deleted scenes. But for today, I’m just going to leave you with the cover and the blurb:
Penny adores her best friend Rodney. He’s always there for her, and she knows they’d be the perfect couple—except that they’re still in high school, and she’s watched too many friends go through painful breakups. Besides, Penny has bigger things to worry about—like her mother, who desperately wants to have more children.
After an endless string of miscarriages and failed adoptions, Penny’s mother is ready to give up hope. But Penny has the perfect plan: if she gets pregnant, she can give her mother the baby she’s always wanted. Penny’s sure this is the right thing to do, but only after she sets her plan in motion does she realize that sex will change her relationship with Rodney—in ways that she never expected. And the more she tries to fix things for her mother, the more she risks losing everything she wants for herself.
All Penny wants is for the people she loves to be happy. So why isn’t anything going the way that she planned?
Mirrored from Janci Patterson.