Tessa Two

An unedited, free association type of an entry written after a night of babysitting: 

We lie in the bed together. We are both named Tessa. One of us is seven and small. She calls her hair golden, but I call it yellow to tease her. One of us is tall and big and twenty four. My hair is brown and she says it’s uneven in the back. She lost her father when she was six. I lost my father when I was fifteen. I can’t help but compare us, as we lie in her mother’s bed. Will she be like me? Will she be lost and lazy and dream of a better life where her father’s still alive? A life where she gets what she wants and fights for what she deserves? Will she be a child for much too long, refusing to claim her adulthood? Will she not love easily? Will her infrequent connections shock her again and again?

As we lie in the bed together, she tells me stories about her father. How he broke his nose twice. She can’t remember the name of the sport. I think it is football. She tells me how he tried to walk across a tightrope made of string. How his next door neighbor always caused trouble. My father had one of those too. The words come easily for her. I think she’s told them many times. There is a tone of reverence and repetition, added since his death. She speaks with fondness and love and sadness and many more things that I’m much too old to understand.

As I lie in the bed I realize that when she is my age, she won’t remember her father, at least not the way she does now. He will be a few images, perhaps a scent. The stories might still be there, but they won’t be from him. They’ll be from her mother, from his friends. And they won’t come easily. It is hard for me to listen to her speak. That aching fact of fleeting memory. I lose mine more and more every day. I want to tell her mother to record her sharing these stories, so that she’ll know there was a time and place when they were in her directly from him. Perhaps that is just for the taller, uneven haired of the Tessa’s. Perhaps it is better if he just fades away.

Earlier that day she had me open her father’s closet. She ran her hands on his bathrobe. She never says she misses him or that she is sad. Just facts. This is his closet. His robe is soft. He died. He broke his nose. When we are lying in bed together she asks for stories about my broken bones, about my scars. I show her the big one on my knee. It’s got a great story to go along with it. She falls asleep as I tell it. I watch her for a moment. What was she really asking, I begin to wonder. To see my hurt? To see my pain? Is she that much like me? A name, a loss, a gender and she will live out this path? She wakes up when I try to leave the bed and asks to hear the story again. I start for the beginning. It is easy to remember this tale of a painful moment. As I talk about bones shifting and panicked mothers, she is lulled to sleep. The words fall from my mouth and surround her, like so many pillows for her to rest amongst. Pain. Dark. Sullen. I know this ground, this girl. I know this story. I’ve told it again and again. 

How it Feels to Write a Book in Pictures

 

The process of writing my book takes me on a roller coaster ride of feelings on a daily basis. Up, down, over there. My writing makes me feel a whole lot of things. These are some of them.

I am often very confused. But at least I’m aware of that…..Image

 

 

 

I have mastered the art of procrastination. And am proud of that fact. Image

 

When I think I’m close to something amazing and beautiful, I’m really very, very far away. 

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Usually I feel like no one else in the world will ever understand this book, but it makes perfect sense to me. 

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Some days I feel great, but mostly I feel like this….. Image

 

Still, whenever anyone tells me to take my time, try to find another career path, I laugh and say this:

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A First Sentence

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’m gonna move on like I never left (with one quick parentheses to say I’m going to try and post more).

Tonight I am working on the first sentence of my book. Yikes. Exclamation mark. Holy crap. The task is difficult and makes me feel a whole lot of feelings. One of them is total excitement. “You go, Tessa,” I say to myself. “Thank you,” I reply. “I do go.”

Schizophrenia aside, I’m happy to have reached this place in my writing. When I first started working on this book, I planned to write it from the beginning to the end with very little jumping around. That is not how it worked out. Some days I felt up for the challenge of plot driving dialogue, other days it was descriptive scenery. Some days I felt so unmotivated, I had to allow myself to write the really exciting, juicy, awesome parts. For example, when my main character (whose name is Javin) meets my very favorite character (Layla). That scene was so much fun to write I almost felt guilty, like I should have saved it for the very end and really earned it.

Anyways, I am at a point where I have various scenes written from all over the timeline. Now I need to put them together seamlessly. And this requires knowing exactly what happened in the past. So it is time to start at the beginning. The very beginning.

I’ve always consider the first sentence to be super important. Sure, I’ll keep going if the first sentence is just okay or even bad. But if it is great, I read with extra hunger. Growing up, my mom and I would spend afternoons reading first sentences to each other from our favorite books.

Now the first sentence for this book can’t just be interesting or poetic. It has to be functional. It has to really throw you into the scene. My book takes place in another world (it’s technically fantasy because it doesn’t take place on Earth (writing that sentence made me laugh for some reason) but I would consider the content to be more light science fiction) and so I need the first paragraph to be simultaneously modern, effective in showing this is a different world, original and (I think) action based.

Gulp!!

Hopefully I’ll have a first paragraph to share shortly….. If not I will be in a ball under my desk.

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In other super related news, here are some first sentences from some of my fav books that do an awesome job of throwing you head first into new worlds. And yes, that gigantic stack of books is currently threatening to fall on me as I type. I live for danger!!!!

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”  1984, George Orwell

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

“The predicted cataclysm, the Wasting, has come and- it seems- gone: pollution, exhaustion and inevitable wars among swollen, impoverished population have devastated the world, leaving it to the wild weeds. Who has survived?” The Slave and The Free/The Holdfast Chronicles: Walk to the End of the World, Suzy McKee Charnas ——— While this book has too many titles, it does such a great job of setting the tone. While this very direct, almost journalistic style of writing isn’t for every book, its works so well for this novel.  

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course she did. This is the day of the reaping.” Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins ———- This isn’t one of my all time fav lines, but I really respect what Collins does here. The entire book is so plot focused, the writing really falls away (which is an amazing feat). This is actually a first paragraph, but it sets up the rest of the book so quickly that I had to include it. Aren’t you just dying to know what the reaping is? 

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.” The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien ——– Special magnificence. Awesome. 

“The King of the Enchanted Forest was twenty years old and lived in a rambling, scrambling, mixed-up castle somewhere near the center of his domain.”  Searching for Dragons, Patricia C. Wrede ——– What a whimsical tone to set for the book. It works because the rest of the book is light and filled with humor. The next first sentence is by the same author (same series) and strikes that same “winking at itself” tone.

“Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable. The climate was unremarkable.” Dealing with Dragons, Patricia C. Wrede —– normally I don’t like geographical first sentences, but these are great.

“‘We should start back,’ Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. ‘The wildings are dead.’” Game of Thrones George R.R. Martin ——- I used to dislike books that started with dialogue, I thought they were too action driven, but they are really, really growing on me. In fact my current favorite first sentence for my book is dialogue…..

“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.” The Golden compass, Philip Pullman —- Ugh, sooo good! One of my all time favorites for throwing you into a new world. 

These are some other first sentences from favorite books:

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling —— It’s amazing how J.K. Rowling allows/helps her audience to grow with the books. The writing style of the first book is so much lighter, more whimsical than the later books. Compare this to Deathly Hollows:

“The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.” Deathly Hollows, J.K. Rowling. —– It is so stark in comparison to her first book. It matches the serious nature of the content. 

“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.” The Giver, Lois Lowry —– Not just frightened, but beginning to be frightened. Such a deliberate but delicate touch. 

“Not long ago in a large university town in California, on a street called Orchard Avenue, a strange old man ran a dusty shabby store.” The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatley Snyder

“Through the small tall bathroom window the December yard is gray and scratchy, the trees calligraphic.” A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers —– This is my all time favorite first sentence!!! I just love it. It really resonates with me and my writing style. I remember reading this book after going through a pretty hardcore memoir phase. I had written all these short stories about my life and I read this book and simultaneously loved it and was so jealous. Unique beauty crazy.

Farther from shore, nearer to death. With every pull of her paddle, Kate recalled the much repeated warning about these waters.” The Merlin Effect, T.A. Barron

“‘I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.’” Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card —-These dialogue ones are great when they work. You are not even thrown into the world, you’re just there. My opinion on them has totally changed.

“Claudia knew she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.” The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Franweiler, E.L. Koingsburg — I love this book, but I wish the title was shorter. I can never remember Mrs. Basil’s last name!

“The rabbit had been run over minutes before.” Sabriel, Garth Nix —– short, sweet and really introduces the theme of death (which is a biggie in the book).

Here are some unremarkable lines from some remarkable books. Let me emphasize that I love these books, really love them. I wouldn’t change a thing! But the first lines don’t make me swoon.

“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.” The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis,

“A lone red deer was grazing across the glen, swaying through the deep tangle of heather that covered the hillside.” Fire Bringer, David Clement-Davies

“Each year, at the end of March, a great fair was held in Cria, the capital of Galla.” Wild Magic, Tamora Pierce

How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?

How long does it take to write a book? In college I used to put off papers. I was an English major and by senior year I could write a decent five page paper in an hour. Two hours if you count the research. During one finals week, I wrote a 25 page paper in eight hours. I can type 93 words a minute, but of course that doesn’t include thinking and feeling and plotting and coffee breaks. So how long does it take to write a book? I’ve often heard a year is a safe bet. But I wrote a 25 page paper in eight hours and I got an A minus. I had the outline and just wrote it. Why can’t I just sit still for a week and write the book? Okay, forget a week. How about a month? Why is this taking me so long!!!

Actually, I’m pretty sure I know the answer. Uncertainty. Questioning. Netflixs.

I sat down to write today. I had my iced coffee and my laptop. I had some great music. I was in my favorite café. I stretched my fingers out over the keys and I felt frozen. I kept re-reading what I had already written and changing it. My mind was filled with so many questions, so much uncertainty that it immobilized me. What if I’m making the wrong decision? What if I work on this book for another four months and realize that I made the wrong choice about the plot? What if the book would be better if this happened or that had happened or that other thing? I wish I knew what was to come with a precise confidence. I wish I felt completely sure of where this book will go. Silly, isn’t it? I am in control of the story line. I am in control of the characters. But what if I mess it up? What if I write the story and it isn’t good enough? Not for them, but for me. And for them too. What if it isn’t the best that I could have done? 

If only I could write this book in a month, in a week. Then it wouldn’t matter. My choices could be wiped away and I could just start again. Rah, rah. I just have to keep reminding myself that doing something is better than nothing. That nothing is a waste of time. That nothing goes nowhere.

And so I’m off to write. 

Procrastinating by Writing 10 Things That Stop Procrastination

Right now I am super super procrastinating instead of working on a freelance writing assignment. I should be working on the plot for this Australian, murder-mystery, ghost novel. As I am trying to work on it, three different thoughts keep coming into my head, one after another.

1. I am way too good of a writer to be working on these plots. It is a waste of my precious time.

2. I am a super lazy laze-about who can’t get anything done. This is why you have no money. If you were such a good writer, this would take you no time at all.

3. I wonder what exists online today? Maybe it is funny.

I went with number three. Still, I couldn’t just completely waste my time. So I decided to write about procrastinating super hard and what actually helps me to write, conditions that encourage me to get stuff down, be creative and stay focused. Number one has got to be actually liking what I’m writing. Really, really important. Really, really not Australian mystery novels.

1. Cold Weather. My brain doesn’t work in the heat. My body doesn’t work in the heat. If I manage to crawl through the humidity of summer to a cafe, it takes me many minutes of simply cooling down before I can start working. Overheating engine style. Instead, picture coming into a cozy cafe, the chilly wind blowing you through the door. Your grey sweater is soft. You can actually feel the first sip of your latte warming your body. Are you gonna go play outside? No! You’re going to write, because it is gorgeous inside not outside. You also might want to get another latte. Damn you summer!

2. Words. Images. Feelings. This is the big one. Did you hear what your uncle just said about his childhood? Did you see that adorable old man drinking his tea? Did you see how softly that woman strokes her own cheek? Did you feel how slimy that lotion was? Did you eat a really good sandwich? I declare thy inspiration!

3. Coffee. I never drank coffee until last year when I quit my 9-5 job and started writing. Before then I didn’t care if I was tired and not fully there. Comatose was best. Now I need energy, my mind needs to be sharp, snap, spin, slice and skim latte.

4. Cute Boys. Oh Tessa, so shallow. So very shallow. Sometimes when I get stuck, I like to be able to look up and see a cute boy looking at me. I smile. He smiles. Then I get back to writing, filled with a new energy. I may even incorporate a character with brown hair, a little scruff, and that look I can’t define. That I want to get to know you look. That is one of the many reasons I love Cafes. See? So so very shallow.

5. A laptop. I wish I was the kind of writer that could plop down with a pen and paper. My hand cramps within minutes. My scrawl is illegible. My spelling is atrocious. I lose the papers.

6. No internet. “Internet is the end of all creativity,” she says as she writes her blog. But I/she is mostly referring to the huffingtonpost and pleated-jeans.

7. Music. An amazing playlist or song can transport you and inspire you. It can help you to feel an emotion and translate that feeling into words. If you don’t have spotify, you should do yourself the biggest favor in the world and get it. Everyone should love spotify! Pet peeves are things that you get irrationally angry about, super mad with no real reason to be that way. My two pet peeves are people that don’t/refuse to recognize how amazing spotify is and cyclists that don’t follow the rules of the road. NERD RAGE!

8. Big Hair. The curly and bigger my hair is, the more ideas there are in my brain. I don’t know why. That is just how it works.

9. Drawing. Often when I get stuck, I pull out a piece of paper and a black, inky pen with a very sharp tip. I’m not a great artists by any means, but I do love to draw, doodle, sketch, all of which can help me find a new way to look at my writing and help me re-focus.

10. Cafes. Writing can be very solitary. It helps to be surrounded by people, even when you’re not actually interacting with them. Also see 3 and 4.

I could keep going, but i’ll cap it at 10. What things help you to keep writing, to be inspired? Anything you super disagree with (as long as it’s not spotify)?

Bathtub Senses

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No, not there. I could still hear the noise in the living room. No, not up here. I could still hear my aunt cleaning the stove from my brother’s room, the sound of scraping metal and idle chatter. No, not even here. My room was too close to that room, forbidden to me by gates and walls and moats and guards. But in the bathroom, but in the tub. There is a certain quiet that comes over you underwater. It isn’t cold if you keep the water hot. It isn’t noisy if you keep your ears below. The sound is faint, coming in echoing waves as the liquid sloshes back and forth.

This morning I woke to sun streaming in through my window. The air was cool, but my body felt warm under the covers. I kept my eyes closed and marveled at how calm it was. More than quiet, that morning was absent of any sort of sound. It was a moment that you’d never remember. All those times you fell asleep. All those times you brushed your teeth. But even in that place, there was something that needed tending. An itch, loudly stuck in that part between skin and flesh. If only I had left it alone. If only I hadn’t concentrated on it. If only it didn’t need to be dug into with sharp claws, ripped to shreds with jagged teeth and swallowed raw in bloody chunks.

The day before that day, I had held his hand while we lay on the couch. That day the hand was still there but I was afraid to touch it. Many days after that, I didn’t even recognize him, although they said that he turned out really well. They were very proud of their work and he looked different enough that I wasn’t repelled. I didn’t throw up like my sister. We had given them a picture, but he looked off. For one brilliant moment I realized they had gotten it wrong. It was some man that had his nose and wore his glasses, the ones with salsa dance patterns on the band, but he didn’t have his eyes or his mouth or his hair line. Still, as I reached out someone called my name and I let that take me away.

Even here, submerged in water, there is that noise. It seems to be somewhere specific. Underneath my hair but above my chin. I wrap myself in a big towel, but it is too soft. I put on jeans, but he wore jeans. I take them off, but I realize that he too had skin.

Later that night, I am sitting in front of the TV. My legs are up on the table, covered in a lime green blanket. I’m eating ice cream and watching a lion chase down its prey. Sweat streaks down its hunches and its breath comes hot in its throat. It brings its prey down in one bounding leap, with one arching back. It may have soft skin, it may have soft hair, but the body is still warm when we eat into its flesh.

Everyone has gone. Even the aunts who bake, the grandmothers who hug so fiercely they squeeze the tears out, the neighbors who look awkward and the friends who want to go downstairs and play. They will all be back tomorrow; in fact they may have never left. They may have spent the night huddled in the back hallway, trying not to make a sound.

But I get to make sound. I get to laugh. Loudly. I get to feel like a miracle as laughter fills the room. My sister bursts into the den, she looks wild and wary.

“Is everything alright?” She asks me concerned, her eyes flickering to the TV. “I thought I heard laughter.”

We stare at each other for a moment. Then we both begin to howl, hanging onto each other’s bodies, wolves in the long night baying at nothing more than the moon and the sky and the sun and the stars.

The Fox and the Badger (on the nose)

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“Hello?” said the fox.

“Go away,” said the badger.

The fox ignored him. He moved slowly through the dark room, his orange body slight in the blackness. The cabin had not always been there, but the fox had only heard of those times. For as long as he could remember it had stood empty in the woods, a shelter on especially cold nights. It was dark in the cabin, even for the fox. He couldn’t see the walls or even the little window he knew was in the corner. He wondered as he walked. Perhaps the walls had disappeared into the night. Perhaps they had fallen quietly and slowly onto the mossy ground. He wondered if the walls would lie there for an age, while he kept walking. The roots of the trees would grow through them and the grass would slowly spawn over the walls. And still he would not stop, unsure of where the end was in such a dark, black world.

After a moment, the fox could see the badger, lying still in the corner. He could smell the badger was alive, but he stared out into space like a meal. Perhaps, the fox thought, the badger was also taken by the peculiar darkness of this night. Perhaps he too thought the walls had vanished and the world had ceased to exist.

When he reached him, the fox pushed his nose against the badger. He could smell hair and berries, the kind of friend flesh he shouldn’t eat and a soft, sleepy smell he thought might be sadness. “You’re better off,” the fox said quietly and nudged him with his nose. A piece of fur stuck to the damp tip.

The badger didn’t say anything, but turned his head slightly up. He rolled one eye to look at the fox. In the darkness, his eye was the moon.

“Well, I think so anyways.” The fox lowered his gaze. He had been hoping his words would be enough.

The badger lowered his head. “Leave me be.”

The fox was silent for a moment. Perhaps he should go. The night was ready for hunting and the new spring wind made his prey careless. Instead he lay down next to the badger and put his head on his paws. It wasn’t so dark now, he thought. If he squinted he could see the wooden walls and even the outlines of trees through the small, square window. He wondered if the badger, who had been here for hours, could see the grain of the wood and the leaves on the trees. “What can you see?” he asked. The fox moved his body closer to the badger’s. His long tail draped over his friend’s legs.

The badger breathed in deeply. His body rose with the air. “I only see her.”