Monday, January 16, 2017

What are you? Where are you from?

I've been wrestling with a lot of demons lately. I haven't always understood what they are, so it's made the work of wrestling so much harder. It's hard to fight invisible beasts with virtually no weapons. But I am in the early stages of beginning to understand them. I am beginning to see them. And the place of beginning is important.

Let me go back a few days. Last week, for a staff training, the subject was equity in the classroom. And we had to start by examining our own biases. We took an online test given by Harvard. Here is the link if you're so inclined: Online Implicit Bias test

Anyway, after figuring out how to take the test, I learned, not surprisingly that I'm not biased at all in favor of whites, rather I'm more so toward people of color. The accuracy of the test, though for me I think it was accurate, could be up for debate, but that's not what this post is about. It's food for thought, if nothing else.

The aha for me was when we started talking about microaggression which I knew about from so many twitter conversations and threads. I knew all the major categories of microaggressions and I was able to recognize problematic speech with relative ease. So none of this was new.

It happened towards the end of the meeting. There were two questions

  1. If you are not a POC, write down one unintentional microaggression you've made.
  2. If you are a POC, share a story or personal experience of something that has happened to you.
Then we were supposed to post them around the room, then walk around and read them. (They were anonymous.) I walked around expecting to see more stories like mine. (I'll share what I wrote in a moment.) Instead, I saw one post it after another with stories of things done or seen unintentionally. I thought "Where are all the experiences like mine?" Then a friend, totally innocently, made a comment "I know which one is yours." I was like "Really?" They said "Of course."

The following was what I wrote on the post it:

People assuming I speak Spanish.

But that still wasn't an aha. I sat down and started really LOOKING around the room. And I NOTICED something. Most everyone in that room was white, Matter of fact, there were only maybe 6 POC, myself included. Out of a staff of maybe 40? 50? There were 6 of us. Still, this was not the aha. 

Next, we were told to come up with one way we might combat a microaggression against us or others. I couldn't think of what to say in reference to my post it note. Finally, I responded to my table group, "I guess what I would say don't assume because someone is Mexican that they speak Spanish." Still not the aha, but getting close. 

So the conversation turned into talking about how just because someone looks a certain ethnicity, don't assume anything. Then I said, "Like when people ask where I'm from. Or 'What am I?' or 'What's your background.'" The people at the table looked at me. They nodded. I said, "I get asked that ALL THE TIME." They nodded. They asked me, " don't like that? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?" And you know...I have NEVER been asked that question. And I had to think about it. And you know what? I didn't/ I don't. It DOES make me uncomfortable. It makes me feel othered. It makes me feel like and KNOW there's an obvious difference between me and them. They asked "Why?" I told them that I don't ever ask a white person that. Then I realized...WHITE PEOPLE DON'T GET ASKED THAT. And when they do, it's because of an accent or because they asked first. Usually. 

THAT WAS THE AHA. My whole life I just assumed everyone was asked that. They are not. I AM asked that because I am brown. Plain and simple. And in that second, I understood microaggressions. Because they are not intended to be hurtful. But as a POC, you get those comments and questions ALL THE TIME. So when it comes, you are not at all surprised.

Real conversation I have with people REGULARLY.
"What are you? I mean, what's your background? 
Me: "ummmm, Portuguese, Native American, Welsh....and Mexican."
Them: "Oh, wow. You don't LOOK Mexican."
Me: *thinks is that a compliment? A put down? What exactly does "looking like a Mexican mean?"

There are so many things wrong with this conversation. One...what are you? Really? I am human. Thanks. Two: Why? Does it matter? I am American. Thanks. Three: I am sorry I am not wearing a damn sombrero or picking strawberries so you can correctly identify me as what you believe a Mexican looks like.

I know...I KNOW, it's not meant to hurt. I know it's curiosity. (which honestly is problematic at best. Like..." are so exotic and different! Like the bearded lady at a carnival!")  I know  the intent isn't harmful, but if you're white? You don't know what it's like to be asked this all the time. To be made to feel like less than because of your skin. 

Then the next aha came. I have been burying these feelings MY ENTIRE LIFE. I have lived my life with my white mom (single parent) in a white middle class community. I have lived my life seeing myself as white. I have actively worked to hide my Hispanic heritage. I purposefully learned French in school rather than Spanish. I couldn't wait to change my name from Billa (no one EVER said it correctly.) I have done everything to be like one of the people I saw around me my whole life. And it's only lately I have realized why, Why I was so ashamed of that part of me. Why I have always wanted to be that white blonde, blue eyed, freckled skinny girl on every magazine cover, in every movie, in every TV show. Because that's who I always saw around me. My friends were white. My mom is white. My boyfriends and husband were all white. I wanted to be white my entire life. 

Because living in Southern California, I heard what people said about Mexicans. I SAW people make fun of them. The stereotype was all around me, Mexicans are either gang-bangers, immigrant farmers, or the people who clean your house. I distanced myself because I didn't want to be stereotyped. But what I didn't realize, what I am starting to understand now? It never mattered how white I tried to make myself, how like "them" I saw myself as, when people look at me, they see brown. They see someone who they wonder "What are you?" about. The implied statement there? "You're not like us."

I understand my insecurities better all of a sudden. They've become clear. I've lived my life comparing myself to the concept of "whiteness" because in American culture, at least until recently? White is best. And after this election, I'm realizing...there's a lot of people in this county that don't like me simply because I'm Hispanic. They assume things when they look at me. 

It's likely that things that have happened to me, that I've internalized, have been microaggressions. I've thought something was wrong with me as a person. Not once considering the very real possibility that it was racially driven. When you spend a lifetime judging yourself against a standard that you'll never be, it takes a toll on your self esteem. 

Add to that, the boyfriends I've had that have said "You are so amazing, and I SHOULD want to be with you, there's nothing wrong with you...but..." Then they turn around and date girls who look very much the opposite. Blond, redhead, freckles, blue eyes,very white girls. Some even that treat them poorly. But they'd rather have them than me. I think about the times I was never introduced to their friends. How hidden I was kept. And I am not saying it's all about race...but it could be. For some more than others. 

The reality is that I have seen myself white, even though I am not. So I have been blind to things I am starting to realize were always there, I just didn't recognize it for what it was. Instead I blamed myself. 

Then I wonder, how many times have I been passed up for things because of my race?  How many times was I ignored or not taken seriously?  Not even because people are racist, but because we live in a society where people will validate and recognize things in a white person before recognizing those same things in a POC. Because we are raised in a society that whitewashes everything. People have never questioned it, they just internalize it without thinking about it. And if you're white, it isn't a problem? Why are people so mad about things these days? But if you're a POC, you will never fit in. You will be the outsider, even when statistically, you aren't. That's what happened to me. I am a product of being a brown person raised in a white culture.

The other day my daughter said to me, "My friend asked what I was today. ('s happening to her too) and I said Mexican." My response (I am embarrassed now to admit) was "But you're Irish too. At least half." (It speaks volumes that I wanted her to answer with that because I am afraid of her being teased or harassed for saying Mexican. I was trying to protect her.) Her response to me was, "Well, I am going to say Mexican because I like that better." And you know what? That gives me hope. That kids being raised today have a chance at being more open to others. No one should be afraid of who they are. Ever.

I am working on that myself. For the first time ever, I am embracing my Hispanic background. I am Mexican. Not even just a little. I am a LOT Mexican. Like...50% And though I am fighting (even right this moment) everything that has been inadvertently taught to me, that I should be embarrassed or hide this part of me, I will fight it with every fiber of my being. There is NOTHING wrong with being Mexicans. Mexicans can be and do anything. I am not a stereotype. 

I'm learning Spanish for the first time. I will own my skin. Brown is beautiful. I will not be made to feel less than for being born a Latina. Yes, I am American. But I am a hell of a lot more than that.

So what's the take home? Well...if you're white? Think about the things you say to POC carefully. YOU may think it's not a big deal, but to a POC, it is. That's what a microaggression IS. 

The fact that I have had to wait DECADES to be asked, "Does it make you uncomfortable when I ask were you're from?" Well...there's a LOT of work still yet to be done in regards to race.

Happy MLK day. We are only just beginning. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

It's been a year.

It's been a year. Never have words meant so many things in one small statement. At least to me. It's like 2015 chewed me up and spit me out, then 2016 decided to pick me up and toss me in a dumpster fire. Just to name a few things:

Dec 2016: I was still reeling from a breakup that literally shredded my heart to pulp. It forced me to look at myself honestly. To ask myself the hard questions. Why had I invested so completely in someone who never felt the same? Why had I allowed myself to become so little regarded, that I put his needs in front of my own? Why was I constantly the giver in that relationship, settling for meager scraps of attention? And why had I let this become a pattern in most of my relationships to the point of mental anguish and emotional abuse? Which kind of leads me into the next big revelation I had.

Without going into specifics (which I just won't), I found that I had not been being my true self these past 4 years. And honestly, probably long before that. Being in a marriage that wasn't working, followed by a relationship with someone who was unavailable in a host of different ways changed who I was. I wasn't being true to myself and because of that, I was so much more vulnerable.

When I look at the sum of all I have written, they all  have a common theme. Appreciation. Being Noticed. Needing affirmations. And I've come to realize that is for a reason. If I have a love language, or in character arc terms a motivation that drives all my actions, it's that I want to be noticed. Appreciated. Liked. A presence who would be missed. I think that's why social media is such an addiction for me. It fills me with the illusion that I am noticed. Every like or comment back makes me feel like, "See? People SEE me."

Now I'm not saying people on social media aren't real, I have met many of them and they are very real and wonderful people. Some have become my best friends. BUT, I think I've finally learned that it's unhealthy to link your self worth to whether or not you get retweeted or someone "likes" what you said. That my value should in no way be formed by how many followers I have. A year ago if a "friend" unfollowed me, I was crushed. I would cry for hours and wonder why I wasn't good enough for them. I wondered what I did wrong and if I could make it better? Why don't they like me or value me anymore? Maybe I am not valuable? It would send me into a depression.

For this reason, I did a few things I regret. One: I rarely spoke up about things that were important to me. Because what if someone I liked, got mad at me? Or worse, unfollowed? Or unfriended? Or whatever un you can think of? What if my boyfriend (at the time) didn't agree? What would he think of me? Would he dump me? Now I know in hindsight, this is ridiculous. If that is how a person would react, then of course, I shouldn't want to be with them. But motivation is to be liked. (Note: even writing this right now gives me anxiety because what if he reads this and gets mad and hates me...which I KNOW is irrelevant, but still here I am,)

But my point is some of the topics I never spoke up about are ones that now, in light of the events since November 8th, I can't keep quiet about. I held in my politics, my values, because at the time, the person I loved had very strong politics and was very vocal about it. So I listened to the jokes about Obama, and the "libtards," feminists, and social justice warriors, and I didn't disagree. I listened to remarks about women and objectification and I remained silent. I let other people's view of the world color my own. And I am embarrassed. And sorry.

Second: I went along with the thought that it wasn't "as bad as people were saying." I compromised what I believed. Love and attention are powerful drugs, especially when it had been denied for so long,  I was so hungry for it. Starving, actually.

When you are dying of malnutrition and you finally get something to eat, you don't pay so much attention to what it is you're filling your stomach with, you just consume it and wait for more. And that's how I was. I yearned for the attention from social media, the accolades of being "shipped," how everyone rooted for us, the constant filling the void in my heart with what I thought was real. The feeling like I belonged somewhere. Even if it was in cyberspace. It was all so intoxicating. Which meant when it ended, it left me a mess. I considered taking my own life. I went back to self harm. I drank a lot. I really self destructed. To say I was devastated is putting it mildly.

Now, here we are. End of 2016. My grandma passed away. My ex's father (who felt like family) passed away. My mom had heart surgery and almost died. And there is a new development in her health which I will keep quiet for now. I am realizing, thanks to 2016, what is truly important. Those life events put other things in perspective. What's an unfollow or a lack of likes when compared to what is real and present? Who cares how many followers you have when the people around you are ceasing to exist? I've learned to place importance...on other things. My priorities have shifted. And I no longer have time to waste caring about whether someone in another part of the country whom I have never met, and probably never will, likes me or not. It's freeing in many ways. I was getting tired of always trying to be "nice" so no one would dislike me.

It's like my life for the past few years is a metaphor for America. Complacency. The thought that "it's not that bad." America is paying the price for it's silence to injustice. It's the dawn of 2017. A scary one. And I know better now. I know I won't keep my ideals and beliefs silent. I won't put up with intolerance. I see what's going on in the world and I refuse to look away. This election taught me a lot.

Racism exists. And it's way more rampant than I believed.
Misogyny exists. And it's way more rampant than I believed.
Sexism exists. Classicism exists. Bigotry exists. Marginalization exists. Lack of representation exists. And they are all way more rampant than I believed. The list goes on.

So, because I have kept quiet for far too long, because I've cared about being liked far too long, because I have accepted that my self worth was to be determined by anyone else but me, for FAR TOO LONG...

I am no longer staying silent.

Inevitably I will say things people disagree with. They may even unfollow. Or unfriend. Or un whatever. But no longer will I accept that those people are somehow better or smarter or more important or more anything than me.

It's 2017, I believe we should help others. I believe we should listen more and talk less. I believe we are in for the fight of our lives. I believe in women's rights. I believe health care shouldn't be limited by how much money you make or what job you have. I believe the 2nd amendment is not some ticket to carry high powered assault rifles. It needs to be amended. I believe a woman should be able to say what is done to her body. Period. I believe  government should have ZERO say in that. I believe if you want an educated populace, it damn well better be supported. I believe it's none of government's business who loves or marries whom. I believe we are built on a nation of immigrants and that's our biggest asset. I don't believe any one religion is better than or more right than any other. I believe (KNOW) climate change is an actual real thing and denying it exists doesn't make it less true. I believe our country is not perfect, but it's still pretty damn great. Like no again necessary.

I will never again allow anyone else to dictate my beliefs. Albeit my boyfriend, by best friend, a colleague, family, whoever, I will say what I believe even if it's the opposite of what they believe. If they truly care, they will know and understand that my beliefs are no less valid or important than theirs. They won't belittle or make fun of others just because they disagree. And if they do, I won't put up with it. It's non negotiable to treat others with respect.

No one knows how long they've got left. A day. A month. A year. A decade. Life is too short to compromise yourself or your worth.This is what I've learned in 2016.

Short Story: Do Reindeer Fly In Space

I figured I would resurrect my science fiction Christmas story since I hadn't read or posted it in a while. So, in an homage to my favorite science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, here is Do Reindeer Fly In Space?

Fun fact, the title is a shout out to Philip K Dick, another one of my favorites, who wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

Here it is. Hope you enjoy. Merry Christmas.

Do Reindeer Fly in Space?
by Carey Torgesen
December 8, 3013
Holly Shepard gazed out of the window counting stars silently, her eyes reflecting the sparkle from a nearby sun. From behind her, the clanging of pots and pans woke her from her reverie. She blinked rapidly, then turned around and watched absentmindedly as her mom cleaned the dishes.
“There’s the automatic clean cabinet for that, dear.” Mr. Shepard wrapped his arms around Mrs. Shepard and nuzzled her neck.
“Oh, I know, but I still like doing things the old-fashioned way.” Her brown curls fell across her shoulder as she kissed him lightly on the cheek and resumed her self-mandated chore.
“Hey kiddo, whatcha doing?” Mr. Shepard scuttled over to the table where Holly sat drawing doodles on her holographic workpad with her index finger.
“Umm, trying to come up with some sort of myth to research. And I can’t find anything good. Everyone took the good ones.” Holly’s bottom lip stuck out.
“How about Zeus?”
Mr. Shepard furrowed his brow. “What about the boogeyman?”
“Dad,” Holly said in a singsong voice.
“Okay? What about Isis? Hera?” His eyes widened and he snapped his fingers. “I got it! The tooth fairy!”
Holly sighed. “Dad. No. No. And Puhlease.”
“Well, sorry kiddo. Looks like you’re outta luck. Your good ol’ Dad is tapped out of ideas. I guess your thirteen-year-old mind is gonna have to go it alone.” Mr. Shepard ruffled Holly’s hair again, and headed to the sleep quarters.
“Mom? Can I head down to the data library? Maybe I can find something there.”
“Sure, hon. Just be back before the night sensors go on.”
Holly closed her pad and made her way toward the learning quarters. Why had Mr. Camden made such a big deal about this assignment? Who cared about silly old myths? After all, they were long forgotten for a reason. But still, if she was going to have to do this lame assignment, she wanted hers to be “oh my gosh I’ve never heard that myth before, it’s incredible” so her peers would be impressed. She had to be the best. She had to be noticed. Because it was always Holly who was forgotten.
When all the kids shared what they did over New Moon break, Mr. Camden skipped right over her. When everyone had to get a partner for the gravitational pull experiment in science, Holly was the one who had to go ask Ms. Cooper to assign her to a group because everyone had already paired up. Not to mention, being one of the only “One Born” kids on the entire space ship was not just mildly embarrassing, it was downright awful. So this assignment had to be good. No, scratch that. This assignment had to make miracles happen. Sadly, Holly had lost faith in miracles. To her, they were just another myth people talked fondly about.
Pressing her fingerprint into the scanner, she waited for the alarm system to disengage so the door would slide open. After the familiar whoosh of the door, Holly stepped inside, holding her breath as she made her way to the back of the room. The initial shock from the smell of the dingy past always turned her stomach. But once she got acclimated after a minute or two, the smell was tolerable. In this room, among the digital libraries and the electronic artwork displays, they held on to relics from yesteryear. She followed the smell, old wood and must, to the very back where shelves and shelves of hard backed paper bound by glue and time huddled together. Books, they had called them.
Holly stood on her tippy toes, attempting to stand as tall as she could in order to read the words in gilded gold and black ink on each of the bindings. The Pearl. Gulliver’s Travels. 1984. Frankenstein. Words she’d never heard before danced before her. What was an Othello? And why would someone spend however many pages there were talking about one?
She walked along the wall, brushing her fingers along every shelf until she found one that seemed to be different from the rest. The words, scrawled in metallic red, almost gleamed at her, as if calling out to her.
Twas the Night Before Christmas,” she read. She turned her head to the side and examined the words, trying to glean meaning. “The night before what?” she asked herself aloud.
She pulled at the book, making sure the stacks of books on top of it didn’t collapse in a heap of destruction. The front of the book was golden with a picture of some old man in a weird red outfit. His cheeks were way too pink and he was way too close to a burning fire to be believable.
“This is a myth if I’ve ever seen one.” Holly laughed to herself. Sliding onto the floor, she crossed her legs crisscross style and opened the book, the binding cracking as she did so.
Turning the pages, she read as a poem seemed to progress from just words to a story. A man, whose sole purpose was to bring to children all over what it was they longed for most. And these kids, they asked for things and got them, just like that. It seemed absurd. And kind of ridiculous. The idea of wanting something was hard to fathom. Nobody wanted anything anymore. They all had what they needed. And if something wasn’t needed, then why would you want it?
Holly thought and thought about what she would “want” if she could ask for it. Thing was, the only thing she wanted, the only thing that mattered, was to be noticed. Ever since she could remember, she never felt like people saw her. Even her parents were too busy with their own lives to see Holly. So, if there was this guy, and he could deliver anything people wanted, how would he deliver noticing? It wasn’t exactly the kind of thing you could wrap in a tidy package presented with a shiny bow.
Holly closed the book and held it to her chest. She had found her myth.
 December 9, 3013
“So, I think I know what I’m doing my assignment on,” Holly mentioned while scooping up her eggs and bacon with a slice of toast.
“That’s nice dear.” Mrs. Shepard relaxed in the massage chair and closed her eyes, sighing contentedly every so often.
Just then, Mr. Shepard walked into the kitchenette, folder in hand, dressed in his work uniform. “Hey there, kiddo. Morning.” He pinched her cheek and gave a quick kiss to her mom, waved to them both, then disappeared into the transporter.
When she got to school, she looked around and watched as all her classmates buzzed about their chosen myth. The best ones had been taken. And here she was, book in hand, with some obscure thing no one had ever heard of.
At lunch, she joined Jackson, her one and only friend she’d had since her First-Year class, and laid the book on the table in front of him.
“What’s this?” He mumbled with a full mouth of hash.
“It’s my myth. It’s about a thing called Christmas.” She anchored her hair behind her ear and pointed to the man on the cover, “And that guy there? His name is Saint Nick. Also called Santa Claus.”
Jackson’s blond eyebrow arched almost completely covered by his floppy bangs. “What is a who now?”
“It’s this guy,” she opened the book and shuffled to a page where it showed Saint Nick with a bag full of gifts, one in his hand which he was placing under a green tree filled with lights and baubles of all kinds. “And he delivers to people what they want. Things they’ve wished for all year long.”
Jackson’s face wrinkled, his lip curling. “What? What would a person wish for?”
“I don’t know,” Holly said innocently, “What would you wish for if you could have anything?”
Jackson’s face went blank. A few minutes later, he shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I’d want some playing cards.”
“What? Why?”
“I don’t know,” Jackson shrugged, “I’ve seen them in some of the digital catalogs from a long time ago. People used to play games with them. They looked kinda cool. I guess if I could have anything, I’d wish for a pack of playing cards.”
Jackson stood up, and motioned for the mechanical cleanup crew to take his plate and utensils. “Well, I gotta head to Ms. Clemson’s history class. See ya later, Holly.”
That night, after thoroughly researching just exactly what playing cards were, Holly hunted through the surplus quarters and found a ream of paper and some wax coloring tools and stayed up half the night fashioning a set of playing cards to give to Jackson.
What if this myth, this Christmas, was resurrected? What if for her assignment, she brought it back? Holly smiled at the thought of making Jackson smile. Her heart warmed at the very idea of anonymously giving her one true friend, the thing he wished for.
 December 10, 3013
Pushing through the throng of kids, Holly peered over a shoulder to see what the commotion was about. There, on the table, wrapped in gold leaf paper, was a small box adorned with a card which read: To Jackson, From: Saint Nick.
Holly beamed. Jackson sat at his desk looking around. His eyes met Holly’s and she winked knowingly. He looked back down at the box, a goofy grin pasted on his face, picked up the gift and carefully peeled back the paper bit by bit. Holly tried to stand higher and higher on the balls of her feet with each agonizingly slow rip. She chewed on her upper lip. He was purposely going this slow just to tease her.
Opening the box, Jackson gasped as he pulled out the stack of paper, each one decorated by hand with numbers and shapes: hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades.
“What is that?” One chubby kid asked in a high-pitched squeal.
“I don’t believe it! They’re playing cards.”
“What do you do with them?” Another kid asked.
Jackson shrugged. “You play with them, games and stuff.”
“What kind of games?” Someone else from the back asked.
“I don’t know exactly, but I guess I’ll research and find out.”
“Cool,” the chubby kid said.
In minutes, the crowd had dispersed. Holly just stood there, hands wrapped in one another, staring at her shoes. “So, you like them, then?”
“Like them? They’re awesome, Holly. Thanks.”
“Why are you thanking me? I didn’t give them to you,” Holly said matter of factly.
“What? Yes you did. The conversation we had at lunch? Now I have the thing I said I wished for? Please. I know it was you.”
“Hey, I’m just saying Saint Nick knows all. And he probably knew you wanted those. Thank him.” Holly smiled.
“Ok, yeah. Sure. Saint Nick.”
December 11, 3013
“Holly Shepard. You’re up.” Mr. Camden stood by his desk, his auburn hair neat and tidy, and motioned for her to stand up and head to the front of the class.
Holly nervously stood, held the book close to her heart where it had burrowed in and taken a hold, and shuffled to the front, feeling everyone’s eyes on her. She wanted to be noticed, but not in the “we’re all watching and judging you” kind of way.
She stopped, turned, and bit her upper lip; her cheeks reddened and her heart raced.
“We’re ready when you are, Holly,” said Mr. Camden.
Really? Because Holly would never be ready.
“So, my myth is about a tradition from the old days, back on a place called Earth.” She stopped, glanced over at Mr. Camden searching for some reaction. But he just stood there, aloof, stoic as always.
“Uh,” she continued, “So, the myth goes that there’s this man who lives in a place called the North Pole, and all year long he watches all the boys and girls on Earth and taking notes on if they are naughty or well behaved. Then, every year, on December 24th, he would ride in a sleigh pulled by animals called reindeer, and they would fly him all over the place. And he would bring gifts to everyone. He would give them what they wished for most. And the next morning, everyone wakes up and opens their gifts and spend time together.”
Holly looked over at Mr. Camden again hoping she’d said enough. Judging by his confused expression, she guessed she hadn’t. “Ok, then. Anyone have questions for Holly?”
Every hand in the room shot up and Holly shrunk back in fear. She didn’t quite know what to do. She pursed her lips and called on the kid in the front row, his name was Willum she remembered.
“So, you’re saying this guy flew with animals…in the sky? And gave every person on Earth gifts?” Willum laughed uncontrollably. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
The classroom erupted in laughter.
“It is not!” Holly yelled. “It’s sweet and kind. It’s about people giving to one another because they care about them. It’s about love and hope and family. It’s about being together. And being noticed.” Holly barely felt the tears rolling down her cheek, but she knew they were there. Her mouth tightened and she glared at Mr. Camden who stood there like a statue, not doing anything.
Holly booked out of the room, ran down the hall and into the nurse’s office. Feigning illness, she asked to go home. When her parents got home, she stayed in her bed with the covers drawn. She never wanted to go back there again.
December 12, 3013
Holly decided to stay home from school. She remained in her bed all day long, reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas from cover to cover, repeatedly.
December 15, 3013
Holly woke up, and got ready for school. She got dressed in her school uniform like she did every day. She wrapped a red ribbon around her ebony locks like she did every day. And she ate breakfast—toast, eggs, and bacon—like she did every day.
But when she got to school, Holly saw something she did not see every day. As she entered Mr. Camden’s class, there, on three desks, were gifts wrapped in gold leaf paper adorned with red bows. Each had a tag labeled with someone’s name (Lily, Brutus, and Geoffrey) and all said From: Saint Nick.
Holly’s stomach tightened. Was this some kind of mean joke? Were they taunting her? Making fun of something she suddenly held so dear? And why didn’t Mr. Camden do something about it?
Red faced, Holly clenched her fists and marched to her seat and sunk down in the chair. She would not let them get to her.
But to her surprise, Lily, Brutus, and Geoffrey ran to their desks, shredding the paper and tearing into the gifts. One was a pencil set. One was a bracelet made out of odd knick knacks, and one was a set of magnets. Each child held their gift in their hands and beamed, sheepishly looking around trying to figure out who had given them the lovely surprises.
And something else was different too. When a few kids walked by Holly’s desk, they smiled at her and said “hello”.
Was the Christmas myth spreading?
December 16, 3013
Holly’s jaw dropped when she walked in to Mr. Camden’s class. On every single desk, including Mr. Camden’s, lay a bright red and white striped cane smelling of peppermint, ornamented with a ribbon. They all had a tag which said: From Saint Nick.
 December 17, 3013
Walking with Jackson through the halls to the lunch quarters, Holly noticed a strange smell. It was sweet with hints of cinnamon. She didn’t know quite what to make of it until they turned the corner. Right there, in the middle of the lunchroom, on a table, was the most beautiful array of gingerbread houses. It was an entire city made of gingerbread. Or at least what Holly imagined a city might look like. She’d only seen them in the history films.
Candy crusted walls, brick and mortar made of chocolate bars and icing, it was more breathtaking then Holly could have ever dreamed. It looked exactly like one of the pages in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. A Christmas miracle was happening.

December 18, 3013
Holly jumped out of bed, eagerly throwing on her school uniform. Barely sweeping a brush through her hair, even forgetting the red ribbon which usually held her locks, she flew into the kitchen, stuffed the toast and eggs in her mouth, and rushed out the door. She wondered what today would bring. Each day bested the one previous. What would she see today? People dressed like elves? Mistletoe? Stockings hung by imaginary mantles?
With long strides she hurried through the hall, her head whipping from side to side waiting to be shocked and surprised by some new thrill of Christmas cheer.
But her hopes sunk lower and lower the closer she came to the classroom. Nothing was new. Nothing had changed. Her pace slowed, and her smile vanished.
“It couldn’t last forever,” she said to herself.
She reached for the scanner to open the classroom door when she heard something coming from the other side. She lowered her hand, cocked her head to the side, and leaned in, trying to identify what it was exactly. Something like…music. She leaned in closer. Singing. It was definitely singing. And it wasn’t just one person. It was a group of people. A large group of people.
She grinned as she scanned her finger and the door opened.
“Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.” Everyone in the class was in a circle hovering around a holographic piano which played a tune. And they were all singing. Mr. Camden looked over at Holly, smiled brightly, and walked over to her, placing a piece of paper in her hand. She looked down at the paper and noticed words. Lyrics, she thought.
Holly squeezed in next to Willum, who turned and nodded, and she started singing with them.
December 19, 3013
Holly walked through the hallway to class with Jackson. They marveled as day by day, the space ship, once cold and gray, transformed into a living, breathing Christmas postcard. The walls were covered in gold leaf paper, bells hung intermittently from the steel rafters, and hundreds of twinkling lights raced and sparkled in random patterns reflecting off the shiny floor giving the ship a candlelit glow. Holly’s heart swelled with pride and happiness.
 December 22, 3013
A loud click was heard over the intercom, followed by some static and then a voice. “Good morning, fellow citizens, do we have a treat for you. Would all citizens on the C Deck come and meet in the commons. Would all people on the C Deck please report to the commons. Thank you.”
“I wonder what’s going on?” Mr. Shepard said, his work folder in his hand. He’d almost missed the announcement by being in the transporter.
“I’m not sure, but we’d better hurry up. It must be important,” Mrs. Shepard tidied her hair and put on her heels.
Holly followed her parents’ fast clip, making their way past the halls and lunch quarters to the Great Common Room. Once there, the large room was already packed with people, all crowding around the stage area, where the President and captain of the Infinity Starship stood. She tapped the clear computer screen in front of her and her image projected large and three dimensional above everyone’s heads.
“Good morning all, I know this is quite unprecedented. But it has come to my attention that certain things have been occurring on this ship lately. Cookie houses, carols, gifts, traditions of a generation long since passed. At first, I grew concerned with this sudden interest in traditions which really have no place here anymore. But I ignored it, hoping it would go away. But, it didn’t. Instead it became a contagion, spreading. I intended on immediately putting a stop to it because some old traditions can be dangerous. But then I noticed something. The people around me, smiled more. I heard laughing more often. And people generally seemed to be listening to each other more. Reaching out. So I let it continue. Then, the other day, my son came to me, and asked me what I would wish for if I could have anything. I told him, the only thing I wanted was more time at home with him, his sister, and their father.”
The President paused, sniffled, and patted her rosy cheeks. “And the next day, he’d arranged with the Co-President, for me to have a day off. He planned activities for us to do. For the first time in years, I spent the entire day with my family. It was a dream come true. I realized, though we have come far from the world of our ancestors, this tradition, Christmas it’s called, should be brought back. So, I’m giving to you the gift I was given. Time off from your jobs, from school, from your community responsibilities to take care of your first responsibility, your family. So, from now on, December 24th and 25th will be holidays. And you will all be given the time to spend at home. Merry Christmas.”
The image of the President dissolved and she waved from the stage and blew air kisses into the audience. Everyone around Holly cheered. She looked up at her parents, who were looking at each other, then down at her, and then they smiled and joined hands.
Holly had never felt so happy.
 December 23, 3013
Jackson nudged Holly. “You did this.”
“What do you mean?” Holly asked, concerned she was getting blamed for something.
“This.” Jackson fanned out his arms, motioning toward all the decorations and people who moved about them smiling and humming jolly holiday tunes. Adults had now gotten into the gift giving spirit. Everyone everywhere had arms filled with small packages, some clearly unwrapped and some on their way to some lucky recipient. None of the gifts were extravagant. Just simple things, given to people to in efforts to make them feel appreciated and loved. A locket here, a paper bouquet there, and sometimes even a simple handmade card. Thing was people were thinking about each other in a way they hadn’t thought about others in years. Maybe even centuries.
“All I did was research a myth.” Even though a part of her knew he was right, Holly wasn’t so bold as to take credit for such a miracle.
“You brought back Christmas. Before you, no one even knew what Christmas was. Now, look around you Holly. It’s amazing.”
Holly fought back a wide smile. “Maybe it was Saint Nick that brought it back.”
Jackson rolled his eyes. “Yeah, ok. Saint Nick.” He chuckled.
 December 24, 3013
Holly got up and stayed in her bed clothes. She scuttled to the kitchen and was stunned at what she saw. There, in the corner of the kitchen which adjoined to the family quarters, was a tall man-made metallic tree, complete with glass ornaments and a shiny gold star at the top. Underneath the fake branches were three gifts wrapped up and arranged neatly. Holly gasped and giggled and twirled around. From behind her she heard stifled laughter. She turned to see her parents, still holding hands and watching Holly gaze at the tree.
“Mom. Dad. Did you do this?” Holly skipped over to her parents and threw her arms around them both, attempting to hold them both in one single show of affection.
“We sure did, Holly. We wanted you to have what you wished for,” Mr. Shepard said. “Your very own Christmas. And look,” Mr. Shepard pointed to the book laying open on the table which had been Holly’s nightly read since the day she’d found it. Holly looked at the open page, a tree exactly like the one standing not two feet in front of her, and she glowed with joy.
Though it wasn’t exactly what she wished for, it was close enough for her.
 December 25, 3013
Holly jumped on her parents’ bed, plopping right in between the two sleeping mounds.
“It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas! Time to get up and open presents.”
With a wrinkled brow and a scowl, Mr. Shepard glared at Holly. “Can you give us five minutes to get up and ready before you maul us?”
Mrs. Shepard grumbled.
“Fine. Just five minutes.” Holly climbed over her dad, then hopped and skipped into the family quarters. She sat with her legs crisscrossed and stared at the presents just wondering what they could be.
Five minutes passed and as promised, her parents had come out, with robes over their bedclothes, and sat down. Holly grabbed each present and read the tag aloud.
To Beverly Shepard, From: Saint Nick. She passed the gift to her mom.
To Jeremy Shepard, From: Saint Nick. She passed the gift to her dad.
Then she finally grabbed the last gift. To Holly Shepard, From: Saint Nick. Seeing those words, with her name attached, even though she knew very well there was no Saint Nick, made her heart skip. She hugged the gift. She didn’t even need to open it. She could have held it forever just as it was and it couldn’t have been any more special. Holly was sure of that.
First Mr. Shepard opened his gift. A knitted blanket in his favorite color, crimson.
Then Mrs. Shepard opened her gift. A new dress, a black evening shift with gloves.
Holly hesitated. Whatever was inside wasn’t near as important as what she had right now; time with her family. It was all she’d ever wished for. Almost.
“Go on, Holly. Open it.” Mr. Shepard said.
Holly pulled at the paper carefully, trying to breathe in every moment, every feeling of this day, her very first Christmas ever. Inside the paper was a box. She lifted up the lid. Inside the box, was a journal. On the front, in silver scrawled etching it said: Holly Joy Shepard, our One Born. She picked it up carefully, opened it, and flipped to the first page.
July 16, 3000. Our baby girl was born today. She is the most beautiful thing we’ve ever laid eyes on. We are so lucky. I love our family.
Holly’s breathing hitched. It was a book. About her.
She flipped through more pages.
Today Holly lost her first tooth and Today Holly went to her First Year class. It is very lonely around here. I miss her. Pages and pages of events, both major and minor were all chronicled almost daily. Holly flipped to the one of the last completed pages.
December 8th Today Holly went down to the old data library to do some research. She seemed kind of sad. I wish I could take away all her unhappy thoughts. I know I don’t say it much, but Holly is the best thing that ever happened to me. And I love her so much.
A tear welled up in Holly’s eye and her throat tightened. She clenched her jaw and stole a look at her parents. Her mother and father had taken turns writing in the book. Some entries showcased the rounded bubble script of her mom, some the harder, straighter lines from her dad.
She turned to the final entry. It was dated December 24, 3013. Last night. One sentence was all that was written. One sentence that said so much.
Our amazing Holly singlehandedly brought back Christmas.
It was at that moment, Holly realized she’d gotten exactly what she wished for so many weeks ago. Undeniably, her parents had noticed her. All these years. Every single day.

It was a very, Merry Christmas indeed.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

On which I confess my crippling doubt

Confession time: Whenever I am asked, "How's writing?" I kind of shake my head and shrug and say, "Fine." But here is what is behind that shrug.

Writing is hard. It's soul crushing. It's almost as bad as getting your heart ripped out and stomped on by someone who you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with. Almost. Maybe it's equal. (Not that I know about heart break like that. Nope. Not me. Certainly not recently.)

It's like if you were to bare your soul and body and put it on display on a big screen in the middle of Times Square just to have people pass by and say "NOPE." Like...every day. For years. My skin is becoming a massive blanket of steel and yet, sometimes...the water from my tears seep in and corrode the soft interior I'm trying to protect.

And these past few months, I've been blocked. Like SEVERELY blocked. I have NO words in me anymore. I think the hundreds of "no's" are starting to chip away at me. The doubt is crippling. Like what if none of the stories I have to tell matter to anyone but me? What if I'm not cool enough or battered enough or loud enough or talented enough or SOMETHING enough?

I've been thinking about quitting. About throwing in every metaphorical towel there is to throw. I'm flagging writing for unnecessary roughness and pass interference. I'm in the 4th down and it's time to punt or go for it or maybe just call a damn time out and watch a Budweiser commercial. I don't know. Why am I using football references? Well, it IS Sunday after all.

It's hard to hear agent after agent say how talented you are, how wonderful the words are, how your premise is amazing, and yet...not interested. I have written 3 full novels. I have 2 half finished ones that may or may not ever be finished. I have written a dozen short stories.


I have doubts that I'll ever find an agent. And I know there are other ways to self publish and all that, but that's not the road I want to go down, for lots of reasons.

Lately, I wake up and feel like a fraud. Like I am not a "real" writer. And even though some friends will say "You are! You don't have to be published!", I can't help the way I FEEL. But still...all I feel like I am doing is writing an extended essay or creative writing prompt for some teacher who is never going to see it.

And I really hate talking about it, complaining. It's something I keep to myself for the most part. I just want to feel like it's real. And lately, for me, I am not sure if it ever will be. Maybe it's just another dream like having a big family or being a size 2 (hell, I'll take a 6) or being in love again. Something I aim for, try like hell to attain, but will always be just close enough to feel, but far enough to be unreachable.

It's been over 5 years since I finished my first book. 9 since I started. And I am no closer to my goal then I was when I first started. Or at least it certainly doesn't feel that way.

So, where does that leave me? I am not sure. I don't know if I have enough heart left to feel it break with every new rejection.And yet, my brain is still working like mad, trying to come up with another idea. Another premise. Hoping maybe this one will be THE one.

Because, at the end of the day, I keep going for that last minute touchdown. I want to be the comeback team. The underdog who made it from the 2nd string to the star quarterback. I want to be able to one day post here and say...I have an agent. A deal. A book.

I don't know if that will ever happen. Or if I'm strong like hell for continuing to try or stupid for letting myself believe that it's possible. So, in case you were wondering, or wanted to ask how my writing is going...there it is. so very hard.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cover Reveal for Kelly Charron's PRETTY WICKED

Hi readers,

It's been a while since I've posted. Too long. But today I'm back for great reasons! My dear friend, Kelly Charron has written a book called PRETTY WICKED and OMG it looks fantastic. It's totally my jam. Suspense. Page turning. Secrets.  Murder. It has it all! I want this book in my hands. And you should too!

So when she asked if I would do a blog for her cover reveal? First I was like this:

And then like this:

Then I said, "DUH, of course I do!"  And now COVER REVEAL day is upon us and I am so jazzed to share this with you all. But what is PRETTY WICKED? Read on, my friends and bibliophiles.


The daughter of a local police detective, fifteen-year-old Ryann has spent most of her life studying how to pull off the most gruesome murders her small Colorado town has ever seen.

But killing is only part of it. Ryann enjoys being the reason the cops are frenzied. The one who makes the neighbors lock their doors and windows on a hot summer’s day. The one everyone fears but no one suspects.

Carving out her own murderous legacy proves harder than she predicted. Mistakes start adding up. And with the police getting closer, and her own father becoming suspicious, Ryann has to prove once and for all that she’s smarter than anyone else—or she’ll pay the ultimate price.

*warning – some graphic content
Pretty Wicked is a mature YA novel intended for ages 16 and up.

So without further adieu, if you want to see this AMAZING cover (it is so creepy and good)








Want to know more about PRETTY WICKED and Kelly? Keep reading. 

Praise for Pretty Wicked:

“This creepy novel places you inside the mind of a twisted teen killer, which is even more unsettling because of how familiar and normal she seems. Be prepared to leave the lights on and look at the people around you in a whole new way.”

-Eileen Cook | Author of WITH MALICE

“Dark and haunting, this witty thriller with its petite feminine anti-hero is an American Psycho for teens. Be prepared to sleep with the lights on.”

-Lisa Voisin | Author of THE WATCHER SAGA

"Pretty Wicked is fresh, thrilling, and deeply haunting. I've never read anything like it! The story escalates from page one and will leave your pulse pounding as you wonder just how far Ryann will go. 5/5 stars."

-Tiana Warner | Author of ICE MASSACRE & ICE CRYPT

Do you want to read an excerpt? Of course you do. Here you go:

Excerpt from Pretty Wicked:

I heard the bell ring in the distance. Lunch was over. I leapt up to go when I was struck with panic. What if someone had seen me walk out there with Veronica? No one could know what I’d done. My breath hitched.

I ran as fast as I could back to the yard and to the first teacher I saw.

“Mrs. Hopkins! Come quick, Veronica’s really hurt!” I pretended to be hysterical so effectively that she couldn’t understand me the first few times.
She bent down so we were at eye level. “Where?”

“We went into the woods at the far end of the property. I’m sorry. I know we’re not allowed, but she fell and she’s not moving! You have to hurry!” I sobbed, shoulders shaking, snotty nose. I don’t know how I’d managed to look so distraught, but I nearly convinced myself.

Mrs. Hopkins turned to a kid named Austin, who was in the grade ahead of me. “Go get Mr. Chute. Tell him to call 911 and to come out and meet me in the woods.”

Austin, who was paper white, nodded and took off like his ass was on fire.

I ran back with Mrs. Hopkins to the rocks where I’d left Veronica. She was in the exact position I’d left her. Thankfully there was no miraculous recovery waiting for us.

After she was taken away in an ambulance, Mrs. Hopkins and Mr. Chute walked me back and called my parents.

My dad showed up to the school, hugged me, and told me how brave I was.

After my mother had finally stopped fussing and checking on me every twenty minutes, I sat on my bed and thought about Veronica. It would be weird not to see her in class every day or hang out with her at lunch, not that we hung out that much. I was usually with Bao-yu anyway, but sometimes she came along. Maybe now B and I would be better friends. She wouldn’t have to share me anymore.

I wondered what I was feeling—if I was missing Veronica. But I didn’t think that’s what it was. The twinge in the bottom of my stomach didn’t have the achy hollowness that people refer to as a pit. It was more like butterflies.

Where to get it: 
Link for Amazon:
amazon: Buy Pretty Wicked
Goodreads: Pretty Wicked

Author Interview: 

1) What inspired you to write such a dark character?
I’ve always been fascinated with psychology and human motivation. Whenever I read a novel or watched a movie or television show, I was drawn to the villain. I wanted to understand what made them act the way they did––delve into what happened in their lives or minds to make them the person they had become.

When there was the odd story from the “villains” point of view, it seemed to characterize them as “misunderstood” and usually spun them into a likeable character who was the hero of that new version of the story. I wanted to write something unique and portray the villain realistically. What would the story look like if they were a true villain? I got the idea for a teenage serial killer who was unapologetic about who she was and what she wanted and thought it was really interesting to explore what her point of view would be if she drove the story and the “villain” was the detective trying to stop her.

2) Is this your first novel?
Pretty Wicked is the second book I wrote and the first to be published. I have been writing for ten years. My first book was a YA urban fantasy that took me seven years to complete because I kept stopping for huge chunks of time while I completed my degrees (English Lit and Social Work). I finally got serious about writing in 2013 and have just completed my fourth novel.

3) Why did you choose to self-publish?
I did query it to literary agents and received a lot of positive praise for the book. In the end I kept hearing the same feedback: it’s a fascinating concept, the writing and voice are great, but we don’t think we can sell such a dark book to a publisher. I completely understand this. I know this book is going to be very polarizing. People will either love the concept or hate it. So far I have had overwhelmingly encouraging feedback from readers who understand that this is a fictional story that is trying to do something different from most novels. There was some interest from small publishers but the wait times were longer than I was comfortable with. I decided if I wanted to see this book out in the world I was going to have to do it myself. It was an intimidating process, but luckily I have an amazing and brilliant support group who helped me along the way.

4) What genres do you write in?
Psychological thriller, urban fantasy, and horror. I have two YA urban fantasy books, though one may never see the light of day. It’s my first book and would need to be rewritten before I decide its fate. The second (currently titled Wilde Magic) is the first in a planned series that I am very excited about.
Here's a short blurb:

The novel follows fifteen-year-old Ainsley Davenport as she moves from her life in Maine to attend a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts after her widowed mother marries a wealthy man that she can’t stand. At Ashbury Academy, Ainsley meets a group of students whom she finds more sophisticated and exciting than any kids she’s ever encountered. Ainsley is pulled into a world of wealth and extravagance, but it isn’t long before she realizes some things aren’t adding up and there is more to Ashbury than meets the eye. One of the oldest covens in history, The Wildes, is hidden beneath the school grounds. Magic is alive and well, and the coven is actively training new witches in this secret enchanted society. Ainsley soon recognizes that she may be in over her head when she uncovers secrets that she was never meant to know. The magical kind. The deadly kind.

5) Is Pretty Wicked a standalone novel?
The Pretty Wicked series will continue with adult books. The sequel, Wicked Fallout, is currently going through editing and the third book in the series is brewing in my mind. I have some very fun ideas for Ryann.

Wicked Fallout takes place twelve years later when Ryann is 27 years old. That’s all I can say right now as to not reveal spoilers.

6) Ryann is not a very likable character. Do you like her?
I actually do. I really enjoyed writing her. I don’t agree with anything she does at all! In that sense, Ryann is deplorable! But what I like is her humor and wit and the way she owns who she is. She was a fun character to write because she is so different to most characters out there. It’s like when you see a Hollywood actor discuss their favorite roles. Often they say the villain roles were their preferred because it was more fun and exciting to play. There are forbidden elements that make it a bit more exciting than the standard hero. It’s no different for me as the writer.

7) What is your writing process?
I have a day job so writing usually happens in the evenings and on weekends. I work in a school so I am fortunate to have shorter days, two vacation break periods, and summers off which really help me carve out the time needed.

On a writing day (Saturday or Sunday) I will get up, shower, eat breakfast, procrastinate with some TV and then get to it. I’ll make a coffee and park myself on my couch (even though I have a beautiful desk in an actual home office). I’ll write for about 2-3 hours (about 1500-2000 words on average). I may do another session later that evening if I’m really inspired. I watch a lot of television and read widely to inspire my creativity and ideas.

I also have an amazing group of friends who are writers as well and we meet up to have writing and brainstorming sessions, which is fantastic!

Author Bio and Contact Information:
Kelly Charron is the author of YA and adult horror, psychological thrillers and urban fantasy novels. All with gritty, murderous inclinations and some moderate amounts of humor. She spends far too much time consuming true crime television (and chocolate) while trying to decide if yes, it was the husband, with the wrench, in the library. She lives with her husband and cat, Moo Moo, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Connect with her:

Sign up for her mailing list or check out upcoming books at:
Kelly Charron's Twitter
Kelly Charron's Facebook 
Kelly Charron's Goodreads Page

Friday, February 26, 2016

Blog Series: Manuscript Mistakes: Starting in the wrong spot

Manuscript Mistakes: Starting in the Wrong Spot

I’ve been interning for an agent for over 6 months. I’ve read a ton of manuscripts and overall, most of them are just not ready for representation. I’ve wanted to share my experience with writers for a long time, but life gets in the way, you know?
So, I will do my best to capture the things that I have been seeing in manuscripts over time. In order to really do this blog justice, I will take on the mistakes one by one, so I can really explain each. Today’s post is really nothing new, but it bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating. Start your story in the right place.
So here's what reading has been like for me. I get a manuscript. I read the query (it’s great to paste it into the manuscript you send to agents). I dive in and hope for the best. I’m wanting every story to be THE story. I want to say “I saw that story when…” I want to turn every page with excitement for what’s to come. I really do. And so do agents, by the way. But what happens most of the time is as this: I read the first chapter and it’s pretty good. Then I read the second. The third. Soon, I find I am 40-50% of the way into the story and yet nothing has really HAPPENED.

I should clarify, it’s not that things aren’t happening per se. It’s that the MAIN CONFLICT has yet to present itself. There are all these little tiny conflicts, but they really aren’t moving the story forward. They aren’t adding anything really to the plotline. It’s like the character going through their days and nights and weeks but there’s nothing at stake. There’s no drama to keep me invested. At this point, most readers (and agents) have probably put your novel down, away, sent the rejection. But as an intern, unless it’s awful (and I have read a few that I really couldn’t finish), I need to read the whole thing. So I soldier on, even though it’s a painfully slow read.

In my reader’s report, I end up saying things like “this story got interesting at 60%” or
“the story didn’t need the first ten chapters.” I know, as a writer you feel like “No, this stuff that happens all matters!” But you really have to look at it objectively and ask “Is there anywhere else readers can get this information without giving it to them here?” or “Does this scene REALLY need to be here?” In general, your inciting incident should be within the first two or three chapters. And you have to critically examine your story…is that chase scene REALLY the inciting incident? Is that death of random character REALLY what motivates your main character? Does it change your main character’s entire world? If that scene DIDN’T happen, would your story still be the same?
I’ll give an example that everyone knows. Hunger Games. The inciting incident is NOT Katniss volunteering, or the game itself. It’s when Prim’s name is pulled. If that hadn’t happened, the entire story would not have occurred. Prim’s name being pulled happens within the first 10% of the story. We don’t need to see Katniss’ life beforehand, how her father died, how her family is. We get that threaded within the memories and flashbacks she has during the games. Sure, it’s important information, but it’s not THE STORY. It builds character and reveals motivation, but it’s not why we care about Katniss. We care because she takes her sister’s place, even when she is certain she will die.
That point MUST be within the first few chapters of your story. YOUR event that propels the main character in action. And you MUST look for that moment with a critical eye. You have to detach yourself from your story. Here’s a tip: when you are finished with your story, take your first 25 pages, paste it into a new document and see if you can identify the inciting incident. Have others read it and see if THEY can find it.
The other thing I have to do as an intern is write a synopsis for every manuscript I read. I have become a pro at ferreting out the main story from the side stories. So, here is the other tip. Write a short (2-3 sentence) paragraph of every chapter. Stick to the main story and the main characters. In general, while I am writing the synopsis, I skim back through every chapter and ask myself “What is the conflict in this chapter? What happened? What did the main character do or learn? How did it move the story forward?”
It’s at this point where it becomes really clear what chapters moved the story along and which chapters were just existing. Every scene should mark a change in a character. Every. One. Otherwise, why does that chapter matter? It could be beautifully written. Funny. Interesting. But if nothing HAPPENS in it, throw it away. OR revise it to make it MEANINGFUL.
In most manuscripts I read, I see interesting chapters in the beginning, followed by *sad tuba* chapters in the middle to the end. It’s like they forgot how to create page turning conflict all the way through. I find myself forgetting what the story is even supposed to be about. What was the character motivation through the entire story? Again, it’s like the character is doing things, but none of those things are cohesive to one main goal.
Writers remember: every story is about someone who wants something, tries to get that thing, and either does or doesn’t. And that ONE THING is the conflict. “How do I get this thing? Even when obstacles are in my way?” should be the central question threaded through EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER. If not, you're not creating a story that’s moving. Don’t just have conflict; have conflict that matters to the END GOAL.
In short, make your MAIN conflict clear within the first few chapters (as long as they aren’t 20 page chapters). Write a 2-3 sentence summary of each chapter when you are finished (or go over it in your head at the least) and ask “How does this chapter add to the main conflict and move the story forward or help the main character get closer to their end goal?” Then separate the first few chapters and see if you and other readers get the same information about the conflict from the first 25 pages or so. Make every conflict matter.
How do YOU make sure the main conflict is threaded through every scene?

Next up on Manuscript Mistakes: Flat characters