Why I stay to watch the credits

First, I’m lucky enough that Fernie Brae exists right here in my own Portland, OR. Second, thanks to a new friend connection, I was lucky enough to score a last-minute spot to an event that made my heart soar. Two nights ago, Fernie Brae hosted a Q&A panel with artists who worked on the incredible new series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Design Supervisor, Toby Froud (yes, The Toby Froud), and artists Maeve Callahan, Ben Adams, and Elsa Dye. There were Thra-ian? Thra-ish? treats, the making-of documentary playing in the background before the panel, nerds galore, exclusive photos from the design studio and filming set, a lot of laughs, and immeasurable magic. I came away with a lovely new brass and paua shell ring, a copy of A.C.H. Smith’s novelization of The Dark Crystal film, signatures and words of encouragement from the four panelists, and more effervescent inspiration than my cup could hold.

I am smiling at the camera, holding a book, standing in front of a wooden sign that reads "The Fernie Brae: A Magical Gallery"

I’ve been unsure whether to connect or draw a hard line between the two worlds of what I write: Middle Grade and Young Adult novels on the one hand, my blog about Muppet songs and my Fraggle Rock comics on the other. Inner Critic/Monkey Mind/whatever-you-want-to-call-it says, Serious Writers who are trying to get their novels into the world through Traditional Publishing don’t write fanfiction or fan blogs. Serious Agents and Serious Editors in Serious Traditional Publishing automatically dismiss such nonsense and such nonsensical people.

Well, Inner Critic can eat my Fraggle tail, because we know this isn’t true.

Remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, spin-offs, sequels and prequels of old favorites—The Dark Crystal, Star Wars, She-Ra, Twin Peaks, every superhero movie ever, even the Archie comics for crying out loud—are so abundant that it’s hard to keep up. Reviving old fandoms sells, and industry professionals are well aware of this. And in every single case, someone has to write them.

When these revivals are written, produced, and crafted by true fans, it shows; nowhere have I seen it show so brilliantly as it does in Age of Resistance. The artists I saw on Friday confirmed: everyone working on this series was a genuine, awe-filled, geeky, dedicated fan.

In truth, there is no hard line to be drawn between serious art and fanfiction; as Reddit and Tumblr have taught us, many works we consider classics are fanfiction. There is no hard line I can draw between the stories and characters that come to life in my head. Gaudiloquence, Wembley, Jacinda, Deet. It’s all the same, all worthy of my time and attention and love.

When I asked the panelists how someone can transition from scribbling fan comics at home to working on The Real Thing™, their advice was mostly the same: keep going, keep making more, keep putting yourself out there, keep networking (“keep believing, keep pretending…”). Isn’t that how the advice usually goes?

Q: You make art! I make art, too! How do I art?
A: Art more.

Reading this sentiment in an interview online makes me smile and think, “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks, I needed that.” Hearing it in person from Toby Friggin’ Froud makes me dance my way home while I listen to covers of Fraggle Rock songs.

When I see an incredible movie in the theater, one that makes me laugh and cry and cheer and believe, I stay to watch the credits. I go from reading each name to letting them wash over me, letting the scrawl overwhelm me with humbled awe and appreciation. How many human beings it takes, all working in different ways on different pieces, yet with the same vision in mind, to create something so extraordinary! 

And if they, why not me?

So be prepared for website updates as I fully integrate all that I write, all the stories that come bubbling out of me, into a more cohesive picture of what writer Beth Anna Cook has to offer.

How Do You Know?

[When I started drafting this post, I switched from my regular writing station on Pandora to my Christmas station, and the first song it played was the one with my heroine’s name. The Latin version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” sings Gaudé, which is Gaudiloquence’s nickname. I take this as an excellent sign.]

 

I’ve going back through Gaudiloquence and the Frozen Story, reading it aloud to a dear friend. It’s one of the sweetest sorts of intimacy, letting someone I deeply care about see my heart made verbal. I melt every time they laugh or ask me to keep reading.

I’ve read through it several times on my own since I began querying, not to revise or look for flaws, but just to enjoy the story. I think that’s a good sign, when I still love reading through my favorite scenes (the forest of magical creatures, and the temple of the patron saint of breakfast) and ache with empathy for my heroine on her journey. And each time I’ve read through, I’ve felt confident in all the work I put in—another huge thank you to my friend and unofficial editor, Cecilanne—and believed it was as good as I could make it, apart from catching and fixing the occasional typo.

This time, however, I began to see patterns. I’d think, Oh, I should fix that sentence, no big deal. But then I’d think the same thing later down the page. And then again on the next page. And the next.

I don’t know if it’s just the clarity that comes with time and distance from the last time I edited it, or if I’ve learned more in the meantime, but probably both. I can do better.

It’s a strange feeling: knowing there’s a chance that one of the Thanks But No Thanks I’ve gotten could have been a Yes if I’d sent my manuscript later, after this new round of editing I’m undertaking. There’s frustration, certainly. And something similar to regret, but not quite, because I can’t regret any part of my process when I’ve done my best each step of the way.

The prevailing feeling is one of hopeful opportunity. It’s easy to lose confidence when the rejection emails keep coming in. But this perspective helps me know that not only am I a good enough writer already, I keep getting better. I will keep getting better as long as I keep writing (and reading).

This year, two of my writer friends have decided that they’re done with pursuing traditional publishing, and both will be self-published authors by the end of the year. I find this tremendously inspiring, and I admire their tenacity and talent more than I can say. And, naturally, it makes me question yet again whether traditional publishing is the right path for me or if I should follow my friends’ example and get Gaudé out into the world through self-publishing.

Much like the question of How Do You Know when your manuscript is ready to query, the question of How Do You Know if you should self-publish is rarely, if ever, clear and simple. I don’t know how I know that I should keep editing and querying for a while, just that it feels like the right next step. Much like the little thrill of hearing my heroine’s name sung in a reverent and ethereal song, I trust that feeling.

What it feels like to be writing again

Escaping the August heat by inching my way into the cold waters of the Quarry to float on an inner tube. Connecting with new and old friends in the water. Knowing I might get sunburned but not wanting to leave to reapply. Talking in British accents for no reason.

The strawberry sencha is finally back in stock at the Montavilla Townshend’s (oh btw I I moved back to Portland).

Moving back to Portland.

Planning my dream bedroom, perfectly furnished and color-coordinated room, but also knowing how long it’s going to take me to actually create it, investing in one piece of real grownup furniture at a time. Thinking it can’t be that hard to spray paint a mirror frame gold. Hoping my cat won’t claw up the purple bed canopy.

Go-kart racing where I’m not trying to win, I’m just not trying to crash into the bumpers and wondering how bad it is that I keep hitting the bumpers but having too much fun to really care.

Being surprised at how I do actually feel a little bit better when I make the bed.

Carrying around my little green-and-gold notebook from a dear friend, ready to capture magical thoughts that float by.

Confronting my fear of cooking without a recipe, just trusting my instincts, tastes, and culinary school training from a lifetime ago.

Making myself do my physical therapy, even when I have a severe case of the Don’t Wannas, because I love myself enough to invest in my future health. Still listening to my You Got This playlist even after PT is over.

Finding a box of treasures I’d forgotten about or never knew existed.

Why did I start a Muppet blog?

I haven’t been “writing” in the traditional sense much lately.

After getting Gaudiloquence as good as I can get it (for now), I knew it was time to once again tackle the long, difficult process of revising  one of my rough drafts. I chose Princesses in the Trees, a speculative fiction about 12-year-old Jacinda who gets sick of being a street urchin in the city and join a group of girls who live in tree houses in the forest and call themselves princesses.

And I got stuck at every. Single. Turn.

Big-picture plot. Worldbuilding. Character development. Research. Everything had me freezing up in fear of failure, of getting it wrong, of not being good enough.

Except blogging about the Muppets.

I’ve had this idea for years—to blog about the songs of the various Henson projects, providing lyrics and analysis and general silliness—but I never acted on it until recently. Princesses in the Trees wasn’t getting me anywhere, and I figured if I still have this idea and it won’t go away, and if still no one else seems to be doing it, then I’m the one that’s supposed to do it.

And somehow it’s the easiest thing in the world. I get to watch my favorite movies and shows. I get to obsessively pick at them to get the lyrics exactly right. I get to talk about why I love it all and what it means to me.

I’m sure it would seem a frivolous, childish waste of time to a lot of folks. But, for whatever reason, this is what’s allowing me to write right now. I forget the fear of writing and remember the joy. And I’m grateful for that.

So if you feel so inclined, come check out Our Melody.

Going Forward

At the PNWA conference this summer, I attended a presentation called “What to Expect When You’re Publishing.” I asked the presenter a question that’s been gnawing at me for years…

How do you know? We’re told that you should only start querying agents when your novel is as good as it can possibly get. But we’re also told that, if it gets picked up by an agent and an editor, you’ve got to be on board with making both big and small changes to your manuscript. But if changes need to be made, then it wasn’t as good as it could possibly get, was it? So how do you know? How do you know when it’s ready?

She replied, “If you ever figure that out, please let me know.”

This morning I sent my manuscript to the (so far) few agents who’ve requested the full thing. It was terrifying, and I probably should have paused to eat something more substantial than sixteen ounces of Earl Grey and a granola bar. But I think it’s a good sign that as I was going through, trying to pick out any remaining typos, I got caught up in the story and reread my favorite scenes for the millionth time.

In my I-actually-get-paid-for-this world, my job at the Writing Center at Evergreen sent me and a few of my amazing colleagues to the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing. We attended dozens of fascinating presentations by folks from college writing centers around the country, handed out a couple dozen copies of the latest Inkwell, and came back brimming with ideas for our own Center. I meant to write about that experience sooner, and at greater length…

And then the election happened.

I won’t post solely about politics on this blog, but I’ll say this: our politics are deeply personal because they are a reflection of our values. As a writer, my work is also inextricably linked with my values.

As a writer and a human being, this is my promise to you: I value social justice above my own personal feelings, or even my career. Where I hold privilege, I will listen to those who are marginalized and try to use my privilege to amplify their voices and protect their human rights. Where I am marginalized, I will prioritize self-care and ask for help when I need it.

I promise I will never stop learning or trying to do better.

Making Something: “Solidarity in Fiction”

Yesterday, I was halfway through facilitating the second and final day of our annual staff retreat when the new Inkwells arrived. I forgot how exhausted and stressed out I was; instead, I shrieked and pranced. Finally.

Inkwell is the annual publication written and edited by the staff of the Writing Center where I work. This is my third Inkwell article, but each year that excitement of seeing it in print for the first time is like Christmas morning. And each year I’ve been more proud of my new article than the one before.

The process of creating Inkwell, from brainstorming to holding the finished product, takes an entire year. But this article had an especially long percolation period before I was ready to put these thoughts on the page. I also tried out a hybrid writing style that was new for me; this nonfiction exploration of fiction-writing as a person with privilege is interspersed with bits of fiction that I hope one day make it into my retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

Once during the writing process when a friend mentioned my article from the pervious year, it took me several frightening minutes to remember what the heck that article had been about—I’d been so deeply absorbed in the work of writing this new piece that my brain simply couldn’t access that old file. (I eventually did remember—I’d written about the passive voice. And zombies.)

I hope someday soon I’ll be able to share a PDF of this new article. But my boss insists it needs to go beyond Inkwell, get picked up by a bigger publication, and reach a much wider audience. I glow when she says that.

In the meantime, here’s a tiny glimpse of the shiny new feather in my cap!

Update, 2/11/17: Here’s the PDF of “Solidarity in Fiction,” finally!

PNWA 2016

I knew I’d go back to the PNWA conference again this year. I didn’t have an agent, so I needed to pitch my book again. I wanted to make new friends and reconnect with the ones I’d made last time. I missed the electricity of three wonderful days in the company of hundreds of fellow word nerds.

And then I learned I was a finalist in the literary contest! (cue prancing and cavorting)


I spent way more money on the conference and hotel than a broke girl with two jobs should, and I didn’t regret it. I wore the finalist ribbon on my name tag with pride. I hugged my friends. I got blisters from my new shoes. I handed out business cards. I networked on behalf of a friend who couldn’t make it. I learned about edit letters, ARCs, blog tours, and other industry jargon. I learned how to find the right contests and podcasts. I heard my query letter read aloud by a panel of agents, and when they praised it I glowed and whispered “oh my god oh my god oh my god.” I got fifteen new Twitter followers. I stayed up to help my friend and hotel roommate brainstorm edits for a piece that would be due in two days. I lay on the couch in the cool, quiet bookstore to rest my injured back, and no one looked at me weird or asked me to sit up. I sipped chardonnay and mimed silliness at my friends beyond the glass wall while I waited for the awards dinner to begin.


I thrived in my element and came home fully charged with optimism, determination, and passion. Thanks for everything, PNWA.

For Give

A lot can happen in seven months. When I last wrote in September, I went away for five blissful days at my summer camp for grownups. When I came back, everything changed very suddenly and painfully.

During the months of recovery, I tried a few times to get back into the habit of writing every day—sometimes with success, sometimes not. Every time I swore it would be easier; I’d already gotten into the habit once, so getting back into the habit should be easy, right? Nope. Every time it’s like trying to move rusty gears that let out a high-pitched scream: No, don’t make me do it! It’s scary!

And I can’t berate myself for that fear. I can’t shame myself for letting the need to write fall by the wayside in order to take care of my other needs, which have far more obvious and immediate ramifications if I don’t.

Please read this beautiful piece, Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice Is Wrong. A friend sent it to me a while ago, and I keep coming back to it whenever I need it. This morning, I really needed it. I’m letting it begin with forgiveness.

I’ve never really liked that word, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, but I can come up with a different word later for what you do for other people who’ve wronged you and aren’t sorry.

For now, I’m just embracing this word that I don’t like and breaking it down: for give. Fore give? Either way, it’s the give that’s important. Let it be a gift. Your old self is feeling guilty and you give her a gift that says It’s OK. I love you. I’m going to take care of you. Come along with me, please. I can’t do this without you.

What is that gift? What does it look like? I suppose it depends on the situation. It might be a vacation, or a third cup of tea, or something pretty you’ve been wanting, or a nap, or a love note, or a terrible movie you secretly love. It is not a push out the door, at least not for me. There’s a time and a place for tough love, and this isn’t it. The gift comes first and is purely love.

Then comes the hard work.

That’s the push out the door, the getting up at 6:00, the morning yoga, the two pages a day. The hard work can only be done after the forgiveness. After the gift. It’s like trying to move ahead in a relationship in the middle of the fight. If you continue churning along at full speed, there will be only resentment. Stop. Give the gift. Remember love. Rekindle tenderness. Reconnect. Then do the hard work.

So what does the hard work look like for me? Writing. Camp NaNoWriMo should help me finish this revision of Gaudiloquence and the Frozen Story. With the help of my Passion Planner, I’ll break down my larger goals into smaller, more manageable ones. Bit by bit. Bird by bird.

Summer ILC Week, 10 and beyond: My last quarter at Evergreen

In 2010 I had lots of grownup firsts: moved out of my mom’s house, got my first full-time job, and fully supported myself. It felt good and necessary, and I’m glad I had the experience. I did data entry job for a company that sold carpets and window treatments. Not thrilling, but I’m great at organizational stuff, and I loved my color-coded spreadsheet that I updated daily. Bringing order to chaos is deeply satisfying to some part of my brain.

I remember one of the higher-ups saying with a certain amount of pride that she never saw the sun in winter because she worked so much—she’d leave work at 8 or 9 pm. And I thought, “But… you work for a company that sells carpets and window treatments.” We didn’t save lives or make art or help the environment. We were big and corporate and boring. And maybe that woman did love her job, but I didn’t love mine. I knew I needed to get out of there, go back to college, and get my bachelor’s degree.

In the fall of 2012, I came to Evergreen to learn how to save the world. What I ended up learning instead was how to save myself.

I intended to focus on international studies, but my youthful, enthusiastic hubris was dismantled in my first program, Public Health and Economic Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. I learned how to deconstruct and reexamine the ownership and production of knowledge, as well as my own motivations and capacity for doing good. Before I could help anyone else, I had to take responsibility for myself, starting with my education. But how? My plan had crumbled to dust.

The evaluation I received in this program began with the line, “Beth is a writer.” In the wake of my personal, academic, and professional confusion, I made the best decision I’ve made in my time at Evergreen: I returned to the one thing I was not confused about—writing—and became a peer tutor at the Writing Center.

I began listening to and engaging with writers, supporting them in reclaiming their own authorship and authority. In the invaluable workshops by the Writing Center staff, we explored the space where writing and social justice meet, helping me become increasingly aware of and passionate about anti-oppression issues.

I still yearned to be of service in the world, searching for a career that would help me focus my energy into purpose. When I examined the evils in the world, writing children’s novels seemed like a selfish, shallow career choice. What right did I have to sit back and tell magical stories while the whole world was screaming?

It seemed that whenever I asked this question, I always received the message that stories matter. I listened to my own heart while volunteering at Lincoln Options Elementary School, feeling completely at home in a children’s library. I listened to my peers when they told me how my work touched them. I was learning writing skills to hone my craft, but I was also feeding my soul. The stories that live inside me fuel me forward, give me purpose, and inspire those around me. My new goal at Evergreen was to find—or perhaps create—a way to merge these two needs: to be of service, and to write.

I always loved my job as a tutor, but I knew from the beginning that it was temporary. At the same time, I wondered what path my eventual career would take—what I would do to pay the bills.

The answer came on an ordinary Friday at work. After three particularly inspiring sessions working on Inkwell, our annual publication, I thought, “You know, my job is just about perfect.” There was only one thing missing: working with kids, the audience and inspiration for my stories. Suddenly my two questions merged into one answer: I knew I wanted to keep doing exactly what I’d been doing all along, to work with young writers the same way we do at the Writing Center.

With this new goal in mind, I studied subjects seemingly irrelevant to my major (like art and religious history) with the eye of a writer. I took that class as research for Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins, but I also gained a deeper understanding of my role as a storyteller in the greater cultural narrative of whose stories we tell and how we tell them. I knew that my writing could be a force for good in the world—an opportunity to invite my young readers to examine the dynamics of power and oppression and imagine new worlds of possibilities.

This last quarter has been one of the most deeply satisfying experiences of my time here. I’ve been learning my new job as Assistant to the Director at the Writing Center while taking my first steps into trying to become a published novelist. I now know for sure that it is possible to do meaningful, important work in a job I love, am good at, and that pays the bills (or will someday when I can find one full-time job that meets all these criteria) while still finding the time to do what a professional novelist does—write every day.

Evergreen gave me the space to embrace my confusion and trust my intuition. It gave me the resources to pursue my interests with a renewed joy in learning for the sake of learning. It gave me the environment of passionate, supported freedom that led me to the clarity of purpose I needed. I found the best ways to support myself in my lifelong learning process, and through that strength I am better able to send out ripples of passion and purpose to those around me—to save the world, one writer at a time.

Summer ILC: Weeks 8 & 9: Social media is a strange, terrifying, and magical land

I was an 80s/90s kid, so I grew up with the Internet. I remember the dial-up sounds of connecting to America On-Line back when the Internet was nothing but chatrooms and email. I laughed at the original Hamster Dance. I loved Neopets and LiveJournal, my first exposures to massive online communities.

Somewhere in adulthood, my exploration and embrace of new online communities lessened. Moving from MySpace to Facebook was the last major bandwagon I hopped on, and I stayed there happily for years. I swore I would never join Twitter. I didn’t understand reddit (still don’t). I’m not on Instagram. I only joined Pinterest recently. Same with Twitter, and that was out of necessity for professional networking.

And I’m constantly astounded. I’d been on Twitter for a week when someone at the PNWA conference recognized me from a retweet. People I’d never heard of began following me. I’m like a newb in an MMO but there’s no FAQ page—I just have to figure everything out on my own.

“What is #PitchWars?” I wondered. “What is #MSWL? Who is Franzen and why does everyone I respect seem to hate him? What are the #HugoAwards, and who are the #SadPuppies?” I found the answers.

But I’m learning quickly that if I actually read every tweet and accompanying article, I’d never have time for anything but social media—I’d never write. Which people do I let my eyes skim past? Which articles do I bookmark for later? Which rabbit holes do I let myself fall down?

Half the people I see walking around this magical land are people I’ve never heard of, and the other half are celebrities I’ve admired for years. And they’re right there—I can reach right out and talk to them, though they probably won’t talk back.

Except sometimes they do. When The Bloggess followed me back, I just about fainted. Neil Gaiman retweets worthy causes all the time, just to boost the signal—because he can.

Across thousands of miles, we connect with family, friends, and complete strangers. We find that we are not alone. (Cue You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) debuting at #3 on the NYT bestseller list.)

If this is like an MMO, that means I get to create my avatar however I want. I’ll gain experience, buy cool armor and weapons, and make friends—all of which will help me when I am inevitably beset by trolls.

“Your generation would probably ‘livetweet’ the apocalypse” you say, and you laugh
You mean it as an insult, and I understand,
Or you don’t
because the word lies awkwardly on you tongue, stumbles as it leaves your lips, air quotes visible
You meant it as an insult, so you don’t understand, when I look into your eyes and say “Yes”
Because we would.
It would be our duty, as citizens on this earth
to document it’s end the best way we know
and if that means a second by second update
of the world going up in flames, or down in rain, or crushed under the feet of invading monsters
so be it.
It would mean a second by second update of
“I love you”
“I’m scared”
“Are you all right?”
“Stay close”
“Be brave”
It would mean a second by second update of the humanity’s connection with one another,
Proof of empathy, love, and friendship between people who may have never met in the flesh.
So don’t throw the word ‘Livetweet’ at me like a dagger, meant to tear at my ‘teenage superiority’
Because if the citizens of Pompeii, before they were consumed by fire,
had a chance to tell their friends and family throughout Rome
“I love you”
“I’m scared”
“Don’t forget me”
Don’t you think they’d have taken the chance?

(Source: herrsassyfras on Tumblr)