Looking for Grit

Back when I was first trying to become an author—a long time ago, just after I graduated from Emerson—I wrote a book that was in the vein of the Judy Blume novels I’d loved as a kid. It was called Nick Terpiccio, Eighth-Grade Hero and was light and funny. I duly combed my reference books of agents (I said it was a long time ago!) and mailed off queries (yes, in the post). I had some nice responses, all saying I had talent but this wasn’t for them. But the response that stuck with me was one from an agent who said my book simply didn’t have enough grit.

Book needed more Jeff Bridges apparently.

It tackled no issues, really. The main character wasn’t battling drugs or dealing with abuse. Nick’s biggest problems were that his two best friends were fighting, and that he liked a girl. Bubble gummy stuff, I suppose, but the novel was meant to be fun and upbeat.

The agent’s letter went on to more or less say “kids these days” (and this was the early aughts) wanted “edge.” I remember that word distinctly. And I guess that must be true because it seems dark books are popular. Angst is in. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. (This article suggests it might be.) It’s just not what I write, really.

The article linked above talks about YA books featuring black protagonists being shot, kids being abused, etc. The stance is that not all kids deal with this stuff, and even if they do, why would they want to read about it? Shouldn’t reading be an escape? Well, yes and no. I think we read for a lot of reasons, often subconsciously. Escapism is one reason, but we also read to know we’re not alone. When we talk about “representation” in literature, we mean seeing people like us. Straight white people don’t have a problem with that since most books have straight white characters. But people of color, people with different sexualities, people with complicated blended families or whatever—they have trouble finding themselves in popular books. That’s starting to change, but when you consider the vast number of books, it’s just a tiny drop in the bucket.

Still, it might be a valid question to ask, “But even when diversifying characters, do they always have to be in gangs or doing drugs or sexually abused?” The article above asks more broadly (and I’m paraphrasing): Why not depict a happier, more hospitable world? Well, readers aren’t stupid. They’ll find a happy-go-lucky world to be fake and therefore won’t invest as fully*. They want complicated worlds and complicated characters. They want the book to reflect what they know because that’s how they’ll connect and identify. Sure, the world may not be as bad as some of the dystopian novels out there, but it’s easy to imagine things going in that direction. And it’s just as easy for us to feel relieved that, hey, at least we’re not living in that world.

*Unless it’s Stepford. Then we’ll know what kind of book we’re in.

I fear I’m starting to ramble. Let me condense my thoughts here. 1. I once wrote an MG book that was considered too happy. 2. I read an article that suggested YA literature isn’t happy enough. 3. Even though I don’t write dark, angsty books, I can see why they might be popular and that they have a legitimate point of view on the world.

This is the world we live in, after all, and while it’s nice to read fluff sometimes, there’s nothing to be gained by hiding our heads in the sand, either. And to only produce happy-go-lucky books for kids would be doing just that. Though I think a few happy-go-lucky books would be good. Anyone want Nick? (Just kidding, I don’t even still have the manuscript. Remember floppy disks? Yeah, neither does my computer.)

You Know You’re In an M Pepper Langlinais Novel When

My son was trying to figure out what would make the list. But my books are all so different! There are some things that are in most but nothing, really, that is in all. Does that make me inconsistent? Or just original?

Still, I wanted to try.

  • You are in a big manor house of some kind.
  • Someone nearby is gay. Maybe more than one person, but at least one. Might even be you!
  • You need to solve a mystery or complete a quest.
  • A supernatural or magical element may appear.
  • Snark. You or someone near you has it.

August, Die She Must

I can’t say I won’t be sorry to see the back end of August. While the month started nicely enough with a trip to Santa Cruz, it has dragged on with ear infections, a perforated ear drum, and a scratched cornea. It’s like my body’s warranty ran out and I started falling apart.

The kids are finally back in school, which will allow me to return to a writing routine. I hope. Depending on how many more doctor appointments I have!

By the way, today is the last day to pick up Brynnde for free over on Amazon. So grab it now if you haven’t already!

Back to School Means Back to Work

Today is the first day of school where we live. Seems like we start later than most other places. I really enjoy this time of year because, after a summer of the kids being home, I finally have the house to myself again. And all the writing that I didn’t get done due to other activities and/or constant interruptions can now be tackled.

Of course, today is also the day our painters decided to start painting the house. Well, they’re power washing it now. Which doesn’t make for quality quiet time. But I think I can work through it. After all, I’m still deaf in my left ear, so the noise is only half as obnoxious as it might normally be.

Reflection

I started out writing short stories. I’ll admit they aren’t my strong suit, but at the time they felt like a testing ground and less of a commitment than entire novels. One of my earliest stories was published in Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine (now defunct) in 2004, and that gave me the courage to keep writing.

I put that story in the anthology The World Ends at Five, which I first published in 2008 then republished a few years ago. I think my favorite story in the collection is “Raising the Ruins,” which is told from the point of view of a Jewish-Japanese woman dealing with the loss of her culture because Japan has sunk beneath the waves and her mother is dead. Of course, I am not Japanese, and I’m only Jewish by marriage, so I’m sure some people would find the fact I wrote the story problematic. But I enjoyed exploring the themes of how we connect to our heritages, particularly if and when they are diverse. I myself grew up Creole and . . . Well, I don’t know what to even consider the other side, but my parents came from two very different backgrounds, and I am the result of their struggle to compromise and make something cohesive. Whether they succeeded is still a matter of debate.

I’m not sure why I chose Jewish and Japanese when I wrote “Raising the Ruins” all those years ago except that I very much admire the Japanese culture (what I know of it), and found the touchstones for it and Judaism easier to express in a story than Creole and mutt. I have since started a story called “Voodoo Lessons” that will more explore my Creole heritage; I don’t know yet whether it will be a short story, novella, or novel.

When I look back at The World Ends at Five I both think that the stories are better than I remember, and that they still show the marks of a writer finding her voice and learning her trade. But I’m not ashamed of them. At least one of them found professional publication elsewhere, which is worth being proud of. And I’m able to read the fairy tale “A Tale of Two Queens” to my kids’ classes; it is the only story I’ve written that is suitable for that. (I originally wrote it as a birthday gift for a friend and co-worker.)

Not sure what brought this one to mind today. Guess I was feeling nostalgic.

Winning the [Ear] Lottery

A week ago, I lost hearing in my left ear. Honestly, it just felt muffled, like when you change elevations. But nothing I did could clear it. So I went to the doctor.

She looked in my ear and told me it appeared my eardrum had ruptured.

She wanted me to see an ENT, but of course they couldn’t get me in until yesterday. So for a week I’ve been deaf in one ear, and I’ve also had to take antibiotics because my ear started weeping. Ugh. That, in turn, led to ear pain and jaw pain and a swollen lymph node. I couldn’t chew, so I had to eat only soup and other soft foods like pasta.

It’s been a blast.

The ENT first gave me a hearing test, which I felt was kind of dumb since it was more than clear I can’t hear out of one ear. The test confirmed this. But it also made clear that (a) my right ear works beautifully, and (b) the problem with my left ear is not permanent. The bone and nerves are fine. It’s the middle ear that has an issue.

Finally, they actually looked in my ear. And it turns out I’d won the lottery. I have an ear infection AND a perforated eardrum. So they sucked gunk out of my ear, then put more gunk into my ear to clear the infection. I have to walk around with this gunk in my ear for a week. Then I get to go back to the ENT and have them suck it out. Hopefully that’s all that will be required. They can’t get a good look at the eardrum until this bit is taken care of. Once it is, they’ll be able to tell whether the eardrum is healing on its own (which is most likely) or will need to be patched.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, I’ve lost a week to having earaches that felt like someone was stabbing me in the ear with a screwdriver. (And now the inside of my ear is crazy itchy, but there’s nothing I can do about it.) The sum total is that I’ll probably have to push back Faebourne‘s release again. Sigh. It’s a mess, I’m a mess, the world is a mess. Best laid plans and all that. But I don’t want to release a half-baked book, so I’m going to take my time and do it right. I thank you for your patience and promise it will be worth it in the end.

Do You Believe in “Meant to Be”?

I’m not talking love, though I guess one could also apply this in that direction. What I’m focused on here is whether I’m “meant” to ever have a literary agent.

I’ve had agents, is the thing, and it’s never worked out. So I’m starting to think maybe I’m just not meant to have one.

The first one was a well-known screenwriting agent who agreed to handle some options for me, but he scared away the directors who wanted my script, so nothing ever came of it.

The second was an agent who admittedly mostly dealt with actors and “personalities.” I was her first writer—she’d been wanting to add a writer to her stable, she told me—and she didn’t really know what to do with me or my work. She was a great cheerleader but no more useful than that.

And the third sent my manuscript to only one place before giving up and telling me she just didn’t have the time.

Maybe I’m just not good enough to attract better agents. But I also have to wonder if maybe I’m just meant to go this alone and continue to self-publish. Am I wasting time and energy looking for a champion and hoping for a bigger, better deal? Maybe it’s time to shrink those dreams down to pocket size and learn to be happy with what I have.

International Cat Day

Crowley

I’ve owned a lot of cats in my life. Socks, Whiskers (aka “Grizz”), Precious, Clotilde, Smudge, Armand (aka “Chook”), Tapette à Mousche (aka “Choo Choo”), Loki, Byron . . . That’s not even all of them. And I’ve loved every last one of them, but you know how these things go—some pets and people leave a deeper impression on you than others. You form a closer bond.

Currently we have two black cats, Crowley and Minerva. Crowley is two and Minnie is three, though we got Crowley first. He was rescued from under a bush, not properly weaned, and he still nurses on my arm, by which I mean he kneads and sucks on my bare forearms. Hurts like the dickens, but I’m unwilling to deprive him. That probably makes me a bad mama.

Crowley is named for the character in Good Omens, though when people hear his name they more often think of the television show Supernatural. Or so I’m told. I don’t watch it. (*gasp*)

Minerva

Minerva, meanwhile, is named for Professor Minerva McGonagall. We got her on Hallowe’en eve, so it seemed appropriate. She, too, was rescued from shrubbery, but she was already 6+ months old at that point. The people who’d found her couldn’t keep her because the wife was allergic, and they were worried the cat would get run over by a car. So we took her in.

Because Crowley was so young when we adopted him, he’s really never known any other life. Minnie, however, had been on her own for quite some time, and it was a difficult adjustment. She lived under my daughter’s bed for several months, only coming out at night to eat and use the litter box. Eventually, she’d stay out longer. Emerge earlier. And now she’s quite comfortable being around us, though she will only allow my daughter to pick her up, and she still sleeps at night in my daughter’s room. I have to schedule Minnie’s vet appointments around my daughter’s schedule because she’s the only one who can get Min into a carrier.

Crowley is my cat. I call him, “my baby,” and have as deep an affection for him as any pet I’ve ever owned. And I’ve had a lot of pets in my life. I love Minerva, too, of course, but we haven’t bonded in quite so strong a way. Crowley brings me toys when he wants to play. He follows me upstairs when it’s bed time. Sleeps beside me. Minnie . . . tolerates me. She lets me pet her. She’ll accept treats and will sometimes play if I dangle a toy in her direction. But she’s closest to my daughter and husband. I’m a distant third.

Anyway, it being International Cat Day, I thought I’d share my two sweeties. Do you have cats or other pets? What are their stories?