#YAinMay – My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann

Welcome to #YAinMay, where every Monday this month, I review a Spring 2020 release. I’m sure that the current landscape isn’t what these authors could’ve predicted that their books would be published in, but as with everything else, all we can do is make it the best we can. 

In that spirit, the first book I chose is one I received an ARC of from Bookmarks, my favorite independent bookstore. I’m not sure how they chose to send me the ARCs that they did, but it must have been telepathically. There couldn’t have been a better choice for me. 

My Eyes Are Up Here is a June 23rd, 2020 release from Dutton Books, and is a “razor-sharp debut about a girl struggling to rediscover her sense of self in the year after her body decided to change all the rules.” 

Here’s the publisher’s summary: 

If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on excelling at math or negotiating peace talks between her best friend and . . . everyone else. She wouldn’t spend any time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head. But you can’t play volleyball inside your head. Or go to the pool. Or have confusingly date-like encounters with the charming new boy. You need an actual body for all of those things. And Greer is entirely uncomfortable in hers. Hilarious and heartbreakingly honest, My Eyes Are Up Here is a story of awkwardness and ferocity, of imaginary butterflies and rock-solid friends. It’s the story of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world.

Warning:  I’m going to be discussing the book’s strong themes of body image and the objectification of young women, through the lens of my own experience. If that makes you at all uncomfortable, feel free to come back next week for a discussion on different topics. 

The first thing I want to say is that “hilarious and heartbreakingly honest” is the best descriptor there is for this wildly wonderful book. I don’t think I’ve read a book with that kind of comedically sarcastic voice in a long time. There’s a saying in writing that voice can’t be taught, but I think Laura Zimmerman could teach a seminar on the subject. In my mind, a strong voice comes from knowing the character inside and out. This book shows that Greer is known, seen, and beloved by the person who created her. All of the characters are. Jackson, the precious love interest that changes everything. Maggie, the best friend so filled with existential rage that she may or may not try to stage a mutiny over the school musical. Jessa, the volleyball player who’s trying to single handedly end Greer’s self-imposed ban on sports. Well, it’s not self-imposed, totally. It’s Maude and Mavis imposed. For those who haven’t read the back cover copy, those are the names of Greer’s breasts. Even just reading the back cover, this was where Greer had me. Even her explanation of the names later on in the book is hilarious. 

On a serious note, though, this was a smart move. In terms of body image, personifying the thing you hate most is a way to separate yourself from it. Greer does this because people don’t see beyond her chest, making it feel like that’s all she is. If she gives them names, and personalities almost, then they become less the dominating part of her, and more something that is entirely their own. 

Greer is fiercely intelligent, and she sees her femininity as detracking from that. Who could blame her, when her anatomy is a topic of conversation in AP Calc? It doesn’t matter that she aces everything. It doesn’t matter that she is the tie-breaker when the two smartest kids in class get different answers on homework. What matters is what she’s hiding under oversized grey fleece. That spirit is so relatable to so many young people, who have to overcome objectification to realize that they’re more than their bodies. 

I’ve done everything else Greer does over the course of the novel. Hiding under too-big clothes. Obsessing over how I’m being stared at. Hearing giggles around me and knowing exactly what they’re about. The general paranoia of feeling disproportionate and just completely wrong. It’s all there, and it’s all so, so real. 

This novel is such a timely example of how young women are objectified, and how jarring the experience of suddenly growing from scrawny to shapely is. It’s a weird and deeply personal time of transition, and I’m so glad to see it depicted in a YA novel. This story is so important, and I look forward to seeing it find the readership it’s destined to help. 

I give this book a well deserved six out of five stars. It’s already on the favorites shelf. 

You can pre-order My Eyes Are Up Here now! 

For reference, let me explain my rating system: 

  • 1 Star: Not for me. 
  • 2 Stars: Eh, it was okay. 
  • 3 Stars: Liked it. 
  • 4 Stars: Loved it. 
  • 5 Stars: Wouldn’t change a thing. 
  • 6 Stars: Going on the favorites shelf immediately. 

Come back next week for the next installment of #YAinMay!

On The Ambiguous Ending

Last night, one of my favorite shows aired its series finale. Something lesser known to people outside my inner circle is that I am irrevocably obsessed with network television. As a writer, I like to think that I’ve learned nearly as much from TV as I have from books: about plot, character development, and dialogue for sure. I’ve studied CBS programming long enough that I could write a dissertation on all the shows they should never have cancelled. 

God Friended Me is one of those shows. Besides the fact that it was uplifting and emotionally resonant without being dark, it was a masterclass in the craft of writing. Yes, we as viewers knew that Miles was always going to get a friend suggestion from the God account. We knew he was going to keep helping them until whatever problem they had was resolved. It’s the same kind of formulaic as a police procedural, where one minute in they have a new case and a Gibbs “grab your gear” moment, and fifty-seven minutes in the case is solved and we’re staying tuned for scenes from their next episode. The spine behind the typical police procedural is the idea that crime is never going to stop. The characters fight an uphill battle against lawlessness, and the show can go on forever. The reason behind God Friended Me’s difference was the ambiguity of its spine. At its core, this show is about finding out who is behind the God account and why they picked Miles to do their bidding. That thread was running through each and every one of the show’s forty-two episodes.

Now, here’s where I’m going to talk about the ending. So, if you’re interested in feeling the gut-wrenching emotion of the finale on your own, avert your gaze.

In the last minute of the show, we see Miles on top of a mountain in the Himalayas. As the screen fades to black, we still don’t know who’s behind the God account. We were steps away, just a few trudges through the Himalayan snow. The last words were “she’s waiting.”

And it was perfect. To me, there is magic in ambiguity. There’s a multitude of worlds that live in negative space. 

Here’s what I love about an ambiguous ending, no one is wrong. Whoever people think is behind the God account is behind the God account. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but writers aren’t God. We aren’t these all-knowing beings that withhold information because it gives us a sense of power. Okay, maybe some of us are, but I’d like to think that the majority of us aren’t. What we do is put our stories into the world, and make them strong enough to tell themselves. 

Spoiler Alert: Rainbow Rowell’s novel (and future movie) Eleanor and Park does this beautifully. At the end of the book, there is a piece of mail received with a certain number of words written on it. The words are never revealed, and Rainbow Rowell has stated on many occasions that she’s never spilling what they are. The reason I love this so much is that I personally have at least three different ideas of what those words could be, and if Rainbow ever made this grand announcement revealing those all-important words, I’d be wrong at least twice. If the movie tries to tell me what those words are, we’re going to have a problem. 

One of the most iconic YA novels of our generation, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, has a subplot surrounding Hazel’s need to know what happens to a character in her favorite book after it ends. She goes all the way to Amsterdam to find the reclusive author, because she just has to know. Spoiler Alert: He’s a really awful person, and he won’t tell her. Should he have been a decent human being? Definitely. Should he have given her an answer? I don’t think so. 

See, after the book ends, it’s my belief writers don’t know anymore than readers. We have our own ideas, our own thoughts and opinions, but they don’t matter anymore than that of someone who read the book once and hated it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the occasional tweet from my favorite authors confirming that their characters are still happy and living their lives. Even if those authors didn’t tweet those things, it would be okay because their characters are just as happy living their lives in my mind. If we’ve done our jobs, we don’t need to write these overly conclusive endings. They write themselves in the minds of those who consume the content we put into the world. 

If characters don’t jump off the page and live with readers long after they’ve closed the book, then was the book even worth reading? They need to haunt our dreams and be the reasons behind our smiles. I talk about the characters in my favorite books like they’re living, breathing beings because to me they are. They’re real, and they’re as much mine as anyone else’s. I take them with me long after the book is shelved or the show disappears into oblivion, no longer a blissful part of my Sundays. 

That’s what God Friended Me did right. As long as I don’t know who is behind the God account, I can keep thinking about it. I can keep carrying Miles, Cara, Rakesh, and the rest of these incredible characters with me until I figure it out. Then, I can change my mind and start all over again. Next Sunday, when something is on CBS in its spot, I can imagine Miles still out there walking the streets of New York and making people’s lives better. God Friended Me was a story of miracles, and because of the way their brilliant writers and producers chose to end it, those miracles didn’t end on that mountain. 

The beauty of an ambiguous ending is that everything isn’t taped shut into a cardboard box for storage. Instead, everything is laid out perfectly behind the veiled plastic of a photo album, waiting for the people who love it to remember exactly the way they felt in the moments pictured. Waiting for those people to pick it up and carry it with them until they’re ready to put it down. 

Who Wants A Blind Date With A Book?

Last fall, my cousin and I went to the Festival of Books and Authors in Downtown Winston Salem, and I fell in love with Bookmarks. Part independent bookstore, part magical wonderland, the place is amazing.

Right now, in the time of COVID-19 and the shutdown of every non-essential business in the state, independent bookstores are hurting. All of publishing is, and I want to help in anyway I can. I recently ordered a couple of books from their online website, and the Bookmarks staff were so incredibly nice.

See this sign? It was outside of Bookmarks when I was there last September. Eerie, almost. Isn’t it?

It gave me an idea. One of the greatest parts of Bookmarks is their Blind Date with A Book wall. Craft paper wrapped books with bullet points of information, but no title. You pick one, pay for it, and enjoy your new blind date.

So, what I want to do is recreate this experience. The first ten people to fill out the following information in the message section of my CONTACT form will receive a book hand-selected by me and sent to their address directly from Bookmarks.

P.S. I would LOVE to do this with KidLit, so if there is a child in your life who could use a picture book, middle grade, or YA novel, feel free to submit their information here!

Here’s what I need to know:

  • Favorite Genre:
  • Favorite Authors:
  • Any Books You’ve Enjoyed Recently:
  • Any other categories, tropes, or interests you have in regards the book you’d like to receive.
  • And, if you’re filling out the form for a child, please let me know their age/reading level.

Happy reading!

How I Got My Agent

When I first thought about writing this post, the first answer to the customary How I Got My Agent question was just…the same way everyone else did. But once I thought about it, I realized that’s really not the answer at all. 

I have a treasure trove of thoughts, feelings, and generalized rambling to put here, but the first thing I want to say is that I could never have expected to be a Twitter pitch party success story. That idea was so far out of the realm of possibility that I considered not even participating in the pitch party that actually landed me my agent. Before we get to that, though, we need to cover the reality of what happened before that fateful like of a tweet. 

Picture this, it’s 2015. Seventeen year old me has recently graduated from high school, and had written a book that she thought was the most spectacular piece of literature the world had ever seen. I recently found a list of 100 YA agents I’d printed out back then. It had different colored highlighter smudged all over it, and some names crossed off. Even I couldn’t make sense of it, and the book wasn’t even YA. I was actually that stupid. Obviously, that was not an agent-landing manuscript. 

Fast forward to September, 2019. I’d written another book. There’d been two in between my first book and this one, but I loved this one the most. It took me over a year to write the first draft, and it was so vulnerable, so honest. I didn’t know how anyone could tell me no. Well, I got plenty of no’s. Nearly 100 rejections on that book alone. It was crushing, and awful, but I kept going. I queried and queried and queried, getting these glimpses of positive feedback but ultimately very few bites. Now, here’s where things get difficult. For me, the key to the querying process was the balance between being determined to never quit, and knowing when to pull a manuscript out of the trenches and start the process over when I had a new one ready. That point came when I got extensive feedback on a full request. I knew then that the book, as beloved and personally impactful as it was, needed a lot of work. So, I pulled it, and I dove headfirst into the project I started drafting right after I began querying. 

By November 1st, the first day of National Novel Writing Month, I had a detailed outline, moodboards, character sheets, everything. I threw myself into that book and I barely came up for air until I had almost 60,000 words. I didn’t quite hit the 50K goal for NaNoWriMo, but the draft came together by January. I had it edited by late February, and I was ready to query. 

I compiled a list of an initial thirteen agents to start with, and I was determined to get responses from them before I queried more, because I wanted to take this process slower than I had the last time I queried. I sent six queries out on Leap Day, because it felt lucky. Waking up the next day to a full request was the moment I knew this time was going to be different. Obviously, a full request doesn’t mean an offer. No amount of full requests does, but this was progress. It took months before I got a full request last time, so this felt like a definite step forward. 

The following Thursday was #PitMad. For those of you who don’t know, PitMad is a pitch party where authors condense their query letters into succinct pitches that fit into a single tweet. Then, throughout the day, agents and editors like tweets from authors they’d like to see material from. The day before PitMad, I hadn’t decided if I was going to pitch or not. I’d done pitch parties before, and gotten absolutely no response. On a whim, I decided to draft a pitch or two, just to see how they turned out. I liked them enough that I scheduled them to post while I was at work the next day. Then, Wednesday night, I saw other people posting moodboards of books they were planning to pitch, as an “everyone look out for this” kind of announcement. My moodboards had never seen the light of day, so I posted one, talking about my plan to pitch my book the next day. That tweet garnered a reply from Emmy Nordstrom Higdon, Associate Agent at The Rights Factory, and my eventual agent. They requested material even before PitMad, and even though I got other likes during the pitch party, this was the one that set the ball rolling. I had a full request from them by Sunday, and two weeks later, I had an offer. 

It was wild. I was used to querying being a slow process, a form rejection every couple of days, and some nice feedback in between. This all moving so fast was completely unexpected. The part that felt so radically different to me were the responses from agents I nudged with an offer of representation. I got emails back in record time, with compliments and wishes that they’d had more time to devote to a potential new project. Even a couple “can’t wait to see your book on the shelves.” These were agents I’d admired since I’d begun querying years ago, even people who had rejected me before. Getting that positive encouragement from them was an incredible way to end a querying journey that managed to span five years. 

When we do the math, it was 5 manuscripts, 3 rounds of querying, hundreds of rejections, and one moodboard that landed me an agent. So, my path to being agented probably wasn’t exactly like anyone else’s, but there are some components to querying that are pretty much universal. Persistence, anxiety, frustration, and hopefully, eventually, this feeling of exhilaration that a years long goal is finally within reach. For me, that was all more than worth it. 

I am so beyond excited to work with Emmy, and join the #SpineSquad and The Rights Factory team. I can’t wait to move into this next phase of my writing journey. 

12 Days of Collabmas: An Interview with My Cowriter

Here we are, the finale of the series. Elizabeth and I wanted to interview each other, because beyond it sounding fun, it was an opportunity to dig a little deeper and ask each other the kinds of questions we normally wouldn’t in casual conversation. We’ve both really enjoyed doing this series, and we hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about who we are as writers and how our collaboration works.

M: Have you ever collaborated with anyone else? This question feels strange, like I’m asking if you’ve ever cheated on me, but I’m genuinely curious. 

E: I did a collaboration forever ago with another fanfic writer, back when I was writing in the Harry Potter fandom. So I’d had a little experience when you asked me to cowrite. I enjoyed it, but it was one of those situations where our styles just didn’t match well at all.

M: Why do you think collaboration is done so commonly in fanfiction, but done rarely in original fiction?


E: Fandom is such a community environment that I think people are a lot more willing in general to reach out to one another in that context. Everyone has a shared interest to bond over, so conversations are easy to start. Plus, there is no money to be made or career to be advanced in fanfiction (in most cases, anyway.) Since it’s just for fun, I think people are more willing to experiment with new ways of writing.

M: Do you think collaborating is easier in a fanfiction setting, where characters and dynamics have already been established, or do you think it’s easier to start from scratch?

E: I definitely think it’s easier with fanfiction because there is so much that neither writer has to explain at the outset. You both already know the world you’re writing in. You already know the characters, love them, and want the best for them. Plus, fanfiction works are usually responses to something the writer didn’t like or wants to change about the source material. When you’re both passionate about “fixing” things that made you sad or angry, the ideas tend to come easier since you’re fueling each other’s fire. However, I do think it’s a lot more fun and rewarding to build a whole new world with a cowriter.

M: Do you think that starting from a fanfiction background helped you as a writer at all? Did it give you a different perspective?

E: It helped me see the importance of representation. A huge reason people write fanfiction in the first place is because they want to see a character or storyline that reflects their experience. Characters that look and think the way they do, or that go through similar experiences. For example, I’m a sci-fi and fantasy fan, but the female characters in those genres are often not great. So when I do see a female character who has an actual story arc and personality traits beyond “swings a sword” or “is attractive”, I’m listening. I feel connected to something, like there are other people out there who just might understand me. Fanfiction helped me realize just how important that feeling is to all of us, how much we need it. It’s why humans have told stories since the beginning of time. I want to give someone that feeling with my own stories, someday.

M: Is there a part of collaboration you don’t like? Please feel free to say that I am the part of collaboration you don’t like, I promise I’ll understand. 🙂

E: It’s not you at all! There isn’t much about it that I don’t like, obviously, but it is sometimes a high-pressure situation. I try to come up with all these perfect ideas or suggest deadlines I know I can’t meet. Sometimes my failures are more embarrassing when another writer has a front-row seat to them. But we’ve been at it for so long now that I can recognize all that as a growth opportunity. And I’m okay with being a disaster in front of you now.

M: When you think of the highlights of our collaborative career, what comes to mind? Do you have a favorite character or story we’ve done?

E: I love all the characters we developed for Kindred, our dystopian YA novel project. They are loveable wrecks, each in their own ways, and I can’t wait to start getting to know them even better.

M: Am I as annoying to you as I am to myself? Don’t answer that.

E: We’re equally annoying 🙂

M: What is your best piece of collaboration advice to those who’d like to try it out?

E: Remember how important it is to be open about your insecurities. It will help you and your cowriter grow closer, as well as improving the work. Cowriting is about testing your limits and growing as a writer, but that can only happen if you are up front about how you need to improve. Plus your cowriter will probably offer you reassurance and/or tough love, both of which you’ll need at some point.

Thank you so much for sticking around to the end of the series! Feel free to share any collaboration questions/thoughts/feelings you have with us on Twitter @MarissaEller and @EWestcoatWrites!

12 Days of Collabmas: What It’s Like to Work With Me

Hi! I’m Elizabeth, the cowriter that Ris has been referencing in all these posts over the past few days. I’m here because we thought that if we were going to talk about cowriting, then we needed to give each other’s readers an inside look at what it’s really like to work together.

Marissa makes the whole process of creating a story so much easier because she generally has a pretty good idea of where she wants the plot to go. She’s good at creating momentum in a story, which is FANTASTIC news for me. I love worldbuilding and playing around in universes of my own creation. But creating a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end? Not always my strong suit. I’m usually the one with notes about characters’ personalities and quirks, while she comes in with ideas about where the characters will go and what they’ll do. Our stories benefit so much from her vision, and I feel like I’ve gained so much skill in plotting and outlining from working with Marissa. 

I’ve talked on my blog about how I see Marissa as the more organized mind of the two of us, but we do get into this zone sometimes where we both throw out ideas and let things flow together. It’s my favorite part of our whole process, and it usually comes right at the beginning. We do a big brain dump of all our ideas for the story. It’s mostly incoherent and yet we both feel like we’re on the same page the entire time. And then we take a few days to shape it into a real outline. That’s how we ended up with the plans for Kindred, a dystopian YA novel that Marissa came up with the idea for. And that’s another cool thing about working with her; any time we’ve done any successful collab, the initial idea was always hers.

Lastly, she’s always cool if I lose track of time or let life things get in the way of writing sometimes. We both have lives and we don’t get upset if one of us has to cancel plans or be late with an update. She is so supportive of the non-writing things I do with my life, and I always want her to be successful in her non-writing things. We’ve come to a stage where we are friends first and collaborators second. Ris just finished her manuscript of her first YA novel! I couldn’t be more proud of her! And I was honored to watch from the sidelines and beta read when she asked. She’s about to graduate with her MFA and she was offered a job she was really hoping to get. I’m so excited to see where life takes her next. I guess that’s become my favorite thing about working with Ris; being a proud big sister whenever she does something awesome, and sometimes even getting to be a part of it.

12 Days of Collabmas: How to Find The Right Cowriter

I’ll be honest with you, when Eliza and I were planning out this series, this was the post I was most concerned about. Finding the right cowriter is the trickiest part. If I’d decided to message someone else on a whim years ago, I would probably be writing a very different series. I’d probably be as collaboration-phobic as anyone else. 

For one thing, I think finding the right cowriter is a lot of luck. That being said, your perfect cowriter probably isn’t very far from you right now. Maybe not in terms of physical space, but you probably run in some of the same circles. The first tip I have for finding a good cowriter is just immersing yourself into the writing community. Don’t just dive in and ask someone you found on Twitter if they want to write something with you. Follow them. Learn what they enjoy writing and what they’re good at. What their style is. That’s another way fanfiction and fandom helped bring Eliza and I together. I’d read everything she’d ever posted, and I was following all of the insightful and hilarious things she was posting on her blog back then. I didn’t know her, but I knew her content. By absorbing what she was putting out into the world, I got a sense of who she was. If you’re looking for a cowriter, that’s the place to start. Learn what their opinions are. What they’re reading. What genres they write in, and what they’re working on. How they feel about oxford commas. I’m just kidding, I don’t even know what Eliza’s oxford comma opinions are. But seriously, it sounds creepy, but getting an idea for who they are as a writer from afar is the best judge of a good cowriter. 

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be this perfect relationship, however. You might find that the person you admire so much as a writer is better suited to be a beta reader or critique partner than a cowriter. That’s okay too. The key is just to try. A simple I would love to work with you sometime goes a long way, in whatever way that takes shape for you. You’ll eventually build this group of writers that become like a baseball team of friends, everyone plays a different position, but they all still go to bat for you when you need them. 

There’s one more tip that I’d like to offer. It helps to find writers outside your own genre. For example, Eliza is Tolkien reincarnated, and I don’t have a fantastic bone in my body. Everything I do is rooted in the world we live in, and when I write with her, it usually goes something like “but what if we added magic” and I love it. She thinks of things that I absolutely never would have in a million years, and it adds so much to anything we’re working on. You have to step outside of yourself to collaborate with someone in this way, so you might as well reach out to someone who doesn’t write exactly the same way you do. 

That being said, eventually, in good collaboration, your ideas will blend together so much that you won’t remember who came up with what. In our first story, I couldn’t tell you who named our OC, or who decided to give him a dog named after a sculptor/ninja turtle. Unless someone’s having an emotional breakdown (I know that definitely came from me) or talking to animals (probably Eliza’s idea,) it really is such a melting pot of influences that I couldn’t pick myself out of anything we’ve done. I reread our first multi-chapter story a few days ago, and if we hadn’t labeled the chapters we’d written in the author’s notes, I genuinely would not have been able to pick out my own writing. 

So here’s my best advice. Try. Write with people. Make stuff that might be garbage. It might take time, and some stumbling along the way, but you could fall into a cowriting relationship that means the world to you. And you just might create characters and worlds you’d die for.

12 Days of Collabmas – Why Bother?

Why write with a cowriter? Well, to be honest, I wanted to write with a cowriter because I was tired of myself. Writing is solitary by nature, and as introverted as I was, I was tired of my entire writing world consisting of just my own mind. That’s the main reason I reached out to start collaborating, but here is my take on the reasons Elizabeth shared in yesterday’s post, and the reasons I kept going. 

Connection

When you’re working with the right person, collaboration is addictive. You start getting ideas, and then feel that they’d be stronger with their spin on them. Elizabeth was right in saying that I approached cowriting with a wall up, just because like I said before, my entire writing world was just in my mind, and letting someone into that was risky at best. That’s why I employed my risk and run life philosophy. To my surprise, Eliza was the perfect person to write with. We have this twin mind connection that I don’t think I could replace if I tried. 

Letting someone into your writing world is a definite risk, it’s handing them your heart and letting them throw it around like a football. But if they don’t drop it? You’ll be counting down the minutes until you can pry your ribs open and share the burden of your heart with someone else. 

Accountability

I can’t count how many times I’ve been meaning to write and I’ve ended up taking a nap instead. I rarely do that when Eliza is depending on me. There’s a certain kind of motivation that comes with cowriting that’s invaluable. If you’re on your own, somehow your self-imposed deadlines don’t feel like they matter as much. I hear it from classmates in my MFA program all the time. They started the program to force themselves to write on deadlines. I was already used to that process, because I’d been cowriting with Eliza for over a year when I started. She says I’m the organized one, a title I am equally surprised by and appreciative of. The practice I’ve gotten in structure through cowriting with Eliza have allowed me to succeed in my formal writing program, and finish my novel. No matter what I have going on, I’m always up to write. I wouldn’t be that way if I hadn’t spent a summer of late nights finishing a fandom-saving story with Eliza. 

Confidence

Confidence is not my area of expertise. It probably never will be. That being said, the confidence it requires to share your ideas when they’re in their rawest, least polished form is great practice for writing and publishing. My first workshop in my MFA program, I was a shaky mess the entire week. Everytime I wanted to lose myself to panic, I had the same thought. Eliza likes it, it can’t be that bad. Nearly every story I posted for workshop during my entire program, she gave her stamp of approval on. From the biggest ideas to the most stupid, Eliza’s been there for every one. Every emotional breakdown I’ve had during the process of writing my first book. Every weird flash fiction piece I’ve written that doesn’t make any sense. 

Beyond that, she’s been there for everything that’s happened in my life for the past three years. I can’t promise that cowriting will lead to this one-of-a-kind friendship you’ll never find with anyone else, like it did for me, but if you can push yourself through the risk and the vulnerability, it just might be worth it.

12 Days of Collabmas: The Origin Story

Welcome to the 12 Days of Collabmas!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, two women were entirely obsessed with one nerdy TV show. That long time ago was 2016, and that far away galaxy was Tumblr, a site that is truly not of this realm.

Fanfiction was where my writing story began. I loved a TV show so much that my head was filled with situations to put those characters in, and I had to write them down to get any semblance of peace. Little did I know, that began an existence with a brain haunted by fictional characters, some I borrowed and some I created, and a life full of a lot less peace.

Still, I was addicted from the first moment I wrote that probably terrible story. From then on, I threw myself head first into fandom. I read, I wrote, I made friends. The instant gratification of posting a story and racking up likes, comments, and reblogs was thrilling. The more I wrote, the more I loved it. My follower count grew, and I started getting anonymous prompts in my inbox. People wanted more.
Eventually, I got bored. I vividly remember sitting on the floor in my living room, thinking I wanted to write something, but not knowing what. It was my first true taste of writer’s block, and I felt as if I were creatively dying. Like everything I’ve done since, I decided to take a risk and run. I zipped a message to a friend I barely knew, asking if she wanted to collaborate on a story. Then, I threw my phone across the room. I’d read plenty of these stories, where two writers wove their styles and their ideas together, and the concept was fascinating to me. I was still in my writing infancy, and the idea of making myself available to someone else’s thoughts and opinions was terrifying. That’s why I did it.

Soon, Elizabeth wrote back, and I remember it well. She said something like, a collab is just what I need. It was the first time I thought huh, I guess we were on the same page. Let me tell you, though, it was far from the last. Elizabeth and I aren’t on the same page, we literally write the same book.

After that first story, we became better friends, and we’d show each other our new stuff before we’d let other eyes see it. So when that season of our beloved show ended in an unbearable injustice, the first thought I had after I have to fix this was I need her help.
We spent six hours on Google Docs chat that next day plotting out a story that turned out to span the show’s entire summer break. It was one of the most popular stories in our fandom, and we had people hanging onto our every word. We fixed the whole mess before the show’s writers could. Spoiler alert: They didn’t ever fix it, they made it worse. The point is, we spent months writing thousands of words together, and we realized we’re much more alike than different.

Our show ended so badly that we didn’t even attempt to fix it. By then, we’d moved on to our own original work. She’s writing her alien sisters, and I’m writing my ensemble cast of chronically ill teens. We’ve only met in person twice, most recently at a conference in August, where I got to hand her a physical copy of the first draft of my first book. She’s a few hundred miles away, but she’s still the first person who sees anything my mind conjures up. We stumbled upon the ideal collaboration, that set us up for years of friendship and thousands of words. Elizabeth and I thought that this kind of collaborative friendship was something worth sharing, so here we are.
We’re doing this series because we want to share our experience being cowriters and friends, how we’ve each grown since that first collab story, and why collaboration between writers is something to be admired, not feared.

Keep checking out our sites for the rest of our Collabmas posts! You can read Elizabeth’s companion to this post here.

Why I Write

A couple of weeks ago, I had an assignment for one of my classes where I had to write an essay on why I write. We’d read this beautiful essay by Terry Tempest Williams on the same topic, and I was both scared and inspired. Inspired, because any writer reading that essay would be, and scared, because I felt as if my own reasons for writing were sophomoric and nowhere near as enlightened and emotive as Williams’. 

In writing this essay, I learned, not for the first time, to never underestimate my own emotions. Eventually I’ll come to terms with the fact that emotive should’ve been my middle name. Anyway, since this turned out to be something I actually like, I thought I’d post it here. 

So, this is why I write. 


When I think about why writing is the center of my world, it’s almost ironic that the words that come to mind aren’t my own. The first example is a quote from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, where the protagonist, a writer, is being asked why she writes. In the classroom around her, answers are flying. People are saying many of the same things Williams did in his essay, the kind of poignant and inspired answers you’d expect from fictional undergraduates in creative writing. Her answer, though, is my favorite. She writes to disappear. That’s the best answer I could give, I think. I write because fiction is a portal from this world to another. It’s a way to exist without occupying physical space. I write because it’s a way of being seen without being looked at. 

Another example that comes to mind is from Flannery O’Connor: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Writing is the way I compartmentalize everything in my brain. My thoughts are just on automatic direct deposit to a blank Word document. I write because for me, there’s just no other way to process things. There’s no other way to live. What good is pain if we can’t turn it into something new? That’s what writing is, pain recycling. 

Despite the pain, the real reason that I write is because I can’t not. It’s a compulsion, a required part of my day like sleeping or breathing. When I don’t write, I experience what Edgar Allan Poe would call “periods of horrible sanity.” I’m not me if I don’t write. I’m not human. I’m not sure writers are all human in the first place, there’s at least part of our brains or souls that live floating in the cosmos somewhere. That’s another reason I write, to connect with the part of me that isn’t rooted in the Earth. 

I write because there’s a power in fiction that I’ve never felt in anything else. I write because I read “Annabell Lee” in eighth grade and I haven’t been the same since. I write because it’s the closest thing to magic that I, a mere mortal, have ever felt. It’s the ability to change the world with just clicks of your fingertips against computer keys. It’s wanting to pull out your hair, and lying on the floor just to watch the ceiling fan turn, and remembering every sound and smell. It’s visceral, and horrible, and painful. It’s sitting in front of a notebook and letting yourself bleed. Writing is physical silence and emotional negative space. It’s a kind of pain you want to stay in forever. 

I write because writing is as much a part of me as anything else. In the same way that I’m a daughter, a sister, and a friend, I’m a writer. Success or failure, laughing or weeping, brave or cowardly, no matter what, that’s something that will never change. Someone who knew both writing and death all too well, Ernest Hemingway, said it best: “Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure only death can stop it.”