Interview with Kit Frick: Debut Novelist, Poet & Word Genius

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Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. Her debut young adult novel is See All the Stars (Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, August 14, 2018), and her debut full-length poetry collection is A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press, September 4, 2018).

Hi, Kit! I’m so glad you agreed to do this interview!

So **cracks knuckles** let’s get this started!

Intense and volatile female friendships are a major theme in your book. What inspired this? Also, what are some of your favorite books (or other media)that explore this topic?

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KIT: It’s been my experience—and the experience of many women in my life—that friendships between women in adolescence and early adulthood are rarely simple. They’re intense—intensely good, intensely close, intensely consuming, intensely critical,intensely imbued with meaning, intensely fraught with the trappings of personal identity formation and navigating an often unforgiving social world.

The friendships between Ellory and Ret (and among Ellory and Ret and their other friends) in See All the Stars are by no means autobiographical, but those character relationships do feel very personal to me, as the nuances of the friendships that populated my high school and young adult years are still so vivid, even today. I think this is the case for many women—current teens and young adults and fully-adult-adults. We feel those friendships deeply. They’re heightened in both our experience and our memory.

There are so many rich, nuanced fictional representations of friendships among teen girls in books and other media. A few YA novels that really get at the heart of things are Always Forever Maybe by Anica Mrose Rissi, Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul, and A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo. One adult novel that absolutely knocked my socks off for its portrayal of a volatile teen girl friendship is Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman. On television, an evergreen favorite (of yours and mine!) is My So-Called Life, and more recently I’ve loved Pretty Little Liars for its heightened—and at times hyperbolic—yet still identifiable portrayal of a friend group with high highs and very low lows.

SEE ALL THE STARS is set in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and having lived near there myself, I really appreciated all the regional details that you included! For you, to what extent does setting influence storytelling?

KIT: I’m so thrilled you connected with the central Pennsylvania setting! I find setting to be extremely important as a writer; writing setting is almost like writing another character. For See All the Stars, I chose a setting that was “teenage-adjacent” for me; in other words, I grew up in Pittsburgh, which is in southwestern PA, and I wanted to be able to tap into that Pennsylvania landscape for my debut without tying myself too closely to the “reality” of my own adolescent stomping grounds.

So far, I’ve chosen settings with which I have a personal connection for all my projects. My second book is set primarily in West Virginia, in a fictional region of the panhandle modeled closely after Fayette County, PA, which is geographically very nearby despite being in a different state, and there are also a few scenes in Pittsburgh! My work-in-progress is set in New York City, where I live now, and south Florida, where I’ve spent

quite a bit of time visiting family. I’ve stayed close to my personal experience in all these books so that I can bring in the details that will bring the setting vividly to life on the page, and also so I can allow the setting to have its influence on the characters and how they move through the world.

Ah, very exciting to hear about these new settings! I’m super fascinated by Florida, which I’ve found to be such a fascinating mix of urban and depressed spaces within some amazing natural beauty.

Okay, next question…

I was really struck by how beautifully written your book was, so I was delighted to discover that you also have a book of poetry scheduled to come out this fall. Do you find that there are synergies for you writing in these two literary forms? Do you see yourself ever writing a YA novel in verse?

KIT: Thank you so much! And yes, my first book of poetry, A Small Rising Up in the Lungs, releases this fall from New American Press, which is very exciting.

I developed an ear for diction and tone through studying poetry—both through reading and writing. In some ways, the two forms require very different compartments of my writer’s “toolbox.” When I’m plotting and structuring a novel, I’m using my creative brain in a very different way than when I’m drafting a poem. But when it comes to sentence-level concerns (how a sentence sounds, how it works with the sentences that precede and follow, how the choice of a specific verb or modifier can work to create mood or suggest a specific understanding) that’s where my brain is tapping into my poetic background.

And I love YA novels in verse! I recently got my hands on an advanced copy of Juleah del Rosario’s 500 Words or Less, which is coming out in September from Simon Pulse, and it’s sooooooo good! Whether or not I will attempt to “combine forces” and write my own novel in verse remains to be seen, but I can’t say I’ve never thought about it!

The road to being published is a long and complicated one for many writers. Now that you’re on the verge of your novel being launched, what have been some of your favorite moments in your debut journey?

KIT: There have been a lot of amazing moments along the way. Most days I’m still
pinching myself. It’s a classic answer, but receiving that offer of representation from my agent, Erin Harris, was the first amazing milestone moment. I was at work, at my former job at NYU, and I almost started crying at my desk. Then receiving the offer of publication from my editor, Ruta Rimas at McElderry, a few months later was surreal. For that one, I was at a writing residency at the MacDowell Colony, without any cell service and very limited internet, so just connecting with my agent and future publisher about the offer was a kind of epic feat. From there, the day the initial cover design landed in my inbox, the day the book went up for pre-order, connecting with all the amazing authors in my debut group—like you!—and attending launch parties for fellow debuts, learning the book would be sold in-store in Target, receiving those first excited emails from readers … It’s been an amazing whirlwind.

Last—but not least!—can you tell me anything about your next project?

KIT: My next book is a YA thriller about two girls under unbearable pressure from their families and communities—and what happens when they decide to stop compromising. I just reviewed my copyedits and got them turned in, which means the manuscript is being typeset now, which is very exciting. It’s scheduled to come out in summer 2019, also from Simon & Schuster/McElderry Books, and I’ll be able to share a lot more about it later this year!

Thanks so much, that sounds utterly tantalizing!

Want to learn more about Kit? Go to her website or follow her on social media at:

Twitter    Instagram   Pinterest   Facebook

Want to go ahead and order a copy of SEE ALL THE STARS? Here are a bunch of options:

Acknowledgements, Part II

So, I wrote my official acknowledgements quite a long time ago, in a giddy rush of caffeine and sugar. I thanked a lot of people, including my family, my agent, my editor, and my writing teachers and friends. It was fun.

But, that was a while ago.

And now on this day, my launch day, I have more people that I want to thank. And so I’m going to.

Regina: My cover is amazing. It just is. It’s so amazing that I was a little paranoid about it being changed, especially since I knew a bunch of people that had happened to. So, now that take backs officially can’t occur, thank you so much. I have lost track of how many times people have exclaimed over my cover, and I love it so much.

Electric Eighteens: I literally cannot imagine what this experience would have been like without you guys. I’ve learned so much from you all, and I’m (platonic-ally) a little in love with every last one of you and your brilliant books.  I’ve been lucky enough to meet a number of you, and that’s been wonderful too. Special shout outs to Dana, friend and fellow thriller writer and X-Files appreciator, Kit, who has great taste in Mexican food and who writes so well it kills me a little inside, Samantha, who is delightful and the best bookstore wing-person ever, and Kelly and Erin who got me rewatching My So-Called Life, which has been weird and wonderful and so very plaid-filled. Also, to all the Chicago Electrics, Maddie, Gloria, Samira, and Beth: It’s been so lovely getting to know you guys. (Also, Jessica, you’re not a Chicagoan but you are a Studio Story-er so you get honorary membership. 🙂 )

Caleb, Kara, and Karen: You guys were so incredibly generous with your time and your praise. I’m pretty sure at least two of you were literally  not in the country at the time when you were asked to read my book, and you said yes anyway. And the things you wrote about my book mean so much to me, they really do. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Michelle and Patricia from Flying Fantastic Book tours: Thank you so much for contacting me about taking my book on a blog tour. It was such a great experience, and really made the week before my book launch so positive.  Many thanks also to all the bloggers who participated in the tour, I really appreciate it.

To all other bloggers who have taken the time to review my book: Thank you so much. Those of you who enjoyed it: I’m so thrilled by your reviews.
Those of you who did not enjoy it: Fair enough, it’s not going to be a bull’s eye for everyone, and I appreciate you giving it a try.

Allison: I feel very lucky to have you as my publicist, and it was lovely meeting you. (Also, I still can’t believe that I have a publicist!)

Booksellers who’ve been nice to me in any shape or form: You guys are great. It’s been so wonderful to meet you, to hear from you, to have you be kind and patient as I nervously tried to tell you about my book. I’ve bought a lot of books from you all this year, but I wish that I could have bought even more. (The Book Cellar has a particularly special place in my heart, but Chicago is jam packed with amazing indie bookstores, and I feel so very lucky to live in this city.)

Librarians: You’ve been so lovely as well. I became a librarian in large part because I really like hanging out with librarians, and you continue to reinforce that decision with your generosity of spirit and full throttle enthusiasm for books.

It’s been amazing, guys.

You’ve been amazing.

Thank you.

Interview with Regina Flath, Book Cover Designer Extraordinaire

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Sometimes you get lucky. Like when you include an incredible book cover, SUICIDE NOTES FROM BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, as an example of the aesthetic you’d love for your book and then a few weeks later your editor tells you that book’s designer, Regina Flath, will be working on your cover.

So who is Regina Flath? She’s an award winning book designer and illustrator, with a BFA from the University of the Arts, and she is currently a Senior Designer at Random House Children’s. She’s also the-host of Which Witch is Witch, a podcast about witches in pop culture. Covers of hers that you may recognize include, among many others, THIS MORTAL COIL, DIARY OF A HAUNTING, WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI, and AFTERWORLDS.

And, fortunately enough for me, she’s agreed to answer some questions about her work, including how she approaches her design work, some of her favorite recent covers by other designers featuring protagonists of color, and who she’d want on her (hypothetical) heist team.

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What impresses me the most about your work, is that not only are your covers stunning, they are in many cases wildly different from one another. How do you approach cover design for an individual title, and how do you keep expanding your design horizons?

Thank you! Each book is it’s own little world; when I get assigned a title, I try to dive in as much as possible, reading the early manuscript if it’s available, or the detailed synopsis. From there, how I approach concept differs depending on the genre and specific needs of the book. I may write out notes to myself as a read the manuscript for ideas of imagery or themes, I may jump right into looking at stock imagery, or I might sketch several thumbnails in sharpie to hash out an idea that would be executed by an artist or photographer or typographer. As far as expanding horizons, I’m always on the lookout for inspiration. It might be a movie I see or a subway poster or a random tumblr meme. My husband is also an artist who has vastly different tastes than I do, so I often find myself inspired by whatever art he’s looking at, since it’s usually not something that would be on my radar at all.

Recently you learned that someone literally got a tattoo of your cover art from the book WE ARE THE ANTS. Have there been other notable highwater marks in terms of fan or author reactions to your covers?

Probably the most moving fan reactions have been to WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI. I got several emails from fans saying how important it was to them to see themselves on a cover and that really made me feel like I had made a difference. That said, author reactions always make my day. Once I had an author write to me that his cover was so exciting for him because it visually communicated a theme in the book that he hadn’t considered as a possible cover direction and we got to have a whole dialogue about the themes in the book. That made my overachieving, AP English teen self immensely happy!

In addition to designing covers, you’ve illustrated multiple children’s books. Which came first for you, illustration or design?

Definitely illustration. My degree is in illustration and for a while I planned to be a full time freelance children’s book illustrator. Once I realized I would lose my mind if I worked mostly by myself, I changed my plan to in-house design. I started designing picture books and middlegrade but YA quickly became my passion and I’ve been doing YA exclusively for over 5 years.

If you could design the cover for a special anniversary edition of your favorite book from childhood, which book would you choose and why?

Absolutely THE SECRET GARDEN. I have a British edition given to me by an aunt when I was 8 or 9 and I remember distinctly it was that hard bound, rough front, ribboned, and illustrated with color tip-ins book that made me decide I HAD to work on books for my profession. I still have my copy.

Your website bio mentions that you’re a friend to imaginary creatures everywhere, but let’s get specific. Which imaginary creature is your daemon/patronus and which one would you invite to your party only because its mom made you?

Well Buzzfeed just confirmed for me that my patronus is Manananggal, the Filipina vampire-like witch creature that feeds on blood and can separate her torso from her body and fly. As you do. The creature likely to end up at my party because MY mom made me invite it would likely the nuno sa punso. Growing up it was very important to establish good relationships with the nunos because otherwise they’d curse you.

You’ve designed a number of incredible covers for YA thrillers. The cover of my book, THE WINDOW, manages to be very striking, and also more than a little unnerving, without being at all violent or graphic. Did the concept and visuals for it evolve as you worked on it, or did you have this vision for it right from the start?

When I read THE WINDOW, it was a very early draft and I had a COMPLETELY different idea of how the book would end (lots of twists and turns in the story!) so I wanted to be sure whatever I had happening in the imagery wouldn’t give anything away. I knew I wanted to use window imagery and I knew I wanted to nest the window into the title and I didn’t want to show 2 girls. In my head it was important that the viewer didn’t know who was looking out the window. I did a lot of research to find the image that worked well for my vision and for the tone of the book. Initially, I had different windows and things happening with shadows and much more fleshed out imagery but as I played with the design I realized that a more spare approach would be more unsettling. So while I knew from the beginning the concept for the window in the title, the imagery changed as I worked quite a bit.

You have a short deadline and you have to power up. What snacks do you procur for during, and what is your celebration meal afterwards?

I’d definitely have smartfood popcorn and beef jerky; I’m a savory snack kind of girl. And cans of plain seltzer, lol! Celebration meal would be duck breast, mashed potatoes, and garlic green beans. And tiramisu for dessert!!

YA publishing is starting to try to move away from being so heavily weighted towards pasty people writing about other pasty people, and there have been some incredible covers over the last year or two featuring models/illustrations of protagonists of color. Do you have any personal favorites, and also any specific hopes for how representation will expand in publishing and cover design?

Yes! I love being a part of the movement toward more diversity on covers. As a mixed Filipina/American (or hapa), it’s been important to me morally as well as personally to make sure that diversity is represented well on covers. My current favorites are definitely DREAD NATION, THE HATE U GIVE (such clever type lock up as well!), and my top favorite right now is TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE. It’s so beautiful and I’ve been trying to do the pattern-over-figure thing in a design for YEARS. I’m so jealous (in a good way) with how that cover was executed!

Your picture book debut was illustrating a book called EMILY GRACE AND THE WHAT-IFS: A STORY FOR CHILDREN ABOUT NIGHTTIME FEARS. What is the first and last movie or book that gave you nightmares, and what common source of fear leaves you “meh”?

First nightmare books were definitely RL Stine, though I continued to read them constantly. I actually designed several bind ups for RL Stine and that was one of my career highlights. Last nightmare movie was Quarantine. There’s a weird attic scene that messed me up for weeks!! In general, most common fears are meh to me but I get freaked by a jump scare every time. Also, I spend a lot of my life seeking out ways to face my fears. For instance, I’m terrified of falling, which is how I started doing aerial arts like lyra and silks. Rolls, drops, and tricks that require all my body weight on one arm, leg, or whatever are still scary but I do them often enough that I’ve gotten comfortable in the fear place. I find it helps me to be less panicked when I’m scared because I’m just so used to being uncomfortable in that way.

Last, but not least, Ocean’s 8 is coming out soon. Who would be on your heist team, and what role would you yourself play?

That’s a BIG question and depends a lot on what we’re heisting. But if we narrow the scope to casting from my officemates, I would say Alison, our art director, is definitely the mastermind. Ray, the other senior designer is the hacker/gadget guy (he’s always optimizing our systems at work, lol). Angela, the associate art director would be the femme fatale/distraction. And I would probably be the roper or the conman since I tend to have the most success talking editors into my crazier ideas, ha!

Thanks, Regina! This was a lot of fun!

The final countdown

Publishing is this funny process where everything seems to either take forever or sneak up on you (and sometimes both, which makes no sense but is still very much how it feels).

On April 3rd my book will come out. And then on April 6th, I’m going to have my book launch, which means I’ll get to hang out with friends and family and other lovely book people, and also (hopefully!) eat a piece of cake with art from my cover on it.

It feels weird. But nice. But weird. But nice.

I got to travel to NYC a few weeks back. I went to Random House, had lunch with my editor and a bunch of lovely Random Housers, and I met my agent for the first time. I also got to meet a whole slew of other YA and MG debut authors that I’d previously only interacted with online. It was all just really, really great.

I keep thinking back to those few days that I had there, and how this book is really the accumulation of a lot of work from a lot of people. Which is funny because writing feels like, and in many ways is, such a solitary endeavor and yet publishing is very much not.

I don’t know. My book is going to go out into the world, and I know that while some people may like it, others will probably loathe it. But hopefully at least a few will love it.

Anyway, it’s almost time for it to go out and find its people.

Good luck, book.

 

Interview with Bridget Smith, Best Agent

Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary is my agent, and obviously that fact alone means I find her delightful and fascinating. However, she is also incredibly cool even by less biased standards. Before becoming an agent, she evaluated short story submissions for Tor.com, and worked at a secondhand bookstore, and while she was at Brown University, where she studied anthropology and archaeology, she was a radio DJ and on the varsity fencing team. Other fun facts include that she initially planned to become a marine biologist, she once performed an experiment in microgravity at NASA, and that she currently has a podcast Shipping and Handling, with Jen Udden of Barry Goldblatt Literary.

So here we go…

You’ve been an agent for 5 years now at Dunham Literary. What have been some of your favorite experiences in that time? 

Seeing the incredible covers my clients have gotten, holding a book I helped bring into the world for the first time, and best of all, meeting someone for the first time and hearing how much they loved a book by one of my clients. There’s nothing that makes it feel real like encountering a reader by chance.

What has surprised you most about the world of publishing?

I am not sure this was exactly a surprise, but it was certainly a delight when I realized that all the networking I needed to do involved talking to other people who love books about books we both loved. What better job could there be?

What books, not represented by you, would you have channeled your fencing skills and dueled over because they were so good? 

Well. Leaving out the ones I actually HAVE fought over – which is between me and the authors and the agents who beat me, a.k.a. my nemeses – and the smash hit answers (CHIME and CODE NAME VERITY and THE RAVEN BOYS), some recent titles I would have loved the chance to rep: GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Jaye Robin Brown and KISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb, both of which are thoughtful and complex depictions of the interiority of teenage girls; and THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker, which is just a stunning and original historical fantasy.

You are the casting director for Indiana Jane, a film that centers on a brilliant female archaeologist, who travels the globe, expands our knowledge of the ancient world, and does not leave behind only rubble in her path. Who do you cast as the lead, where does she go, and what answers does she seek?

I have spent a truly absurd amount of time running through options on this: Hayley Atwell, Naomie Harris, Sigourney Weaver, Lucy Liu, every one with a different vibe and different quest. But I think I will go with my first idea: Katee Sackhoff, who has not gotten a role worth her talents since Battlestar Galactica, and whom I’d love to see kick ass & crack wise across the Mediterranean, where she would both discover the source of the Atlantis myth and understand why the story matters more than the facts.

Since you once wanted to become a marine biologist, which marine animal (or what about oceans) would you most like to study? 

I was extremely into whales as a kid. An orca was basically the only thing I was ever able to draw, and I have vivid memories of getting into a fight with a boy in my class over whether blue whales or dinosaurs were bigger. (I was right.) I think if I could have continued studying animals I might have kept up my interest through college, but they withhold the interesting stuff until you’ve gotten through things like “measuring salinity” and “understanding chemistry.” But in the meantime, I can still have that feeling of looking out over the water, smelling the salt air, and seeing the world go on forever. It doesn’t make me feel small: it makes me feel infinite.

You have a podcast and you were a radio DJ in college. What do you see as being particularly special about the audio medium? 

There’s a particular kind of intimacy to audio. When I worked at the radio station, I constantly had my iPod or dock tuned in: I’d wake up to it, listen to it walking home from the gym, play it in the background while doing homework. And there’s really nothing like hearing your friend’s voice in your ear when you can just listen and not have to engage or come up with something witty to say. That’s part of what Jen and I are going for with the podcast. Conferences are a great way for writers to meet agents, but everyone’s a little on edge there: this is a way for us to share information in your home, where you feel comfortable, and in a situation where you don’t have to worry about impressing us.

Audio books—what’s your stance, and if you are a fan, what kind of books do you feel translate particularly well into audiobooks?

Despite what I said above, I am actually not a fan – I don’t process extended speech that well, so it requires a supreme effort to focus on them, which I’m led to believe is the opposite of what audiobooks are good for. I’ve struggled with the few I’ve done on road trips, so I can only imagine how many mental distractions I’d have while cooking or running or riding the subway. And it’s so much harder to get back on track! But when I’ve been tempted, it’s for full-cast recordings and celebrity memoirs narrated by their authors. I mean, if Tina Fey or Mindy Kaling wants to tell me a story, I want to listen.

Manuscript wish list: Anything that you are really hoping to see right now?

Right now, I’d love an intimate historical set in an unusual time period (any age group), an f/f YA contemporary that’s funny and warm, and adult science fiction that feels like Lois McMaster Bujold.

Shamelessly self-serving question: It once came up that you’d talked about my book with an editor at a cocktail party, and I found that image super charming and basically peak NYC publishing.  So, what kind of cocktail would you say THE WINDOW is? Also, for the under 21 crowd, what snacks do you recommend while reading it?

Is a Dark & Stormy too cliché? A little sweet, with a little bit of a bite. And of course, for a thriller, I’d have to go with popcorn – though I recommend keeping it on a flat surface so you don’t spill it everywhere when you have to flail at Jess’s terrible life choices!

Dark & Stormy sounds just about perfect! And I have to say that now I am officially pining for a film with Katee Sackhoff, Hayley Atwell, Naomie Harris, Sigourney Weaver, and Lucy Liu ALL in it, because that would be epic. Hollywood, please make this happen.

Thanks so much, Bridget! 

On being young and scared

Writing a novel can bring things back. I’m not usually an essay writer, and so this came out sideways, in third person.

Anyway, here it is.

You will be eighteen years old and watching a sitcom in your boyfriend’s apartment when his phone rings. It’s for you. This won’t concern you— unexpected phone calls won’t yet trip the panic button inside of you.

On the other end of the line a story will come first, some context— how he hadn’t wanted to worry you, hadn’t thought it was anything serious, how the checkup had been scheduled before a dental appointment. You’ll remember the part about the dental appointment later— a sign that no one had seen this coming.

He’ll then continue on, and tell you he was wrong about it not being serious. That it looks like cancer, although tests will have to be done to confirm. Which means it is cancer, because otherwise he wouldn’t have called. He would have waited. Yours are not a people inclined to melodrama or false alarms.

You will hang up the phone and sit in shock, your boyfriend beside you on the couch. You’ll both sit very still. Neither of you know how to handle something like this. You’ve both been lucky that way, that you don’t have a precedent. Minutes, hours, later you’ll still be on the couch when someone rings the buzzer of the apartment, a guy looking for your boyfriend’s roommate. The roommate isn’t home, but the guy will ask to come up and wait for him to show up. Your boyfriend will look at you—a quick decision is needed so you shrug, unsure of how else to handle this, and then your boyfriend buzzes the guy up.

The three of you will all sit in silence in the living room, television still on. You’ll suspect he thinks he’s interrupted a fight, seeing the both of you so tense. You will not know what to say. You will not be ready to tell people yet and besides, you don’t know this guy that well.

Several weeks later, you’ll get another call. This time you’ll be watching the film Almost Famous. You’ll always think of it as the second call even though there have been plenty of calls in between. Initially, you’ll not understand the purpose of it, and you’ll start babbling on about a part-time job you just accepted. Then you’ll learn that the results of the tests have come back early.

The biopsy has confirmed the cancer.
It has spread into four of his lymph nodes.
He’ll say that it’s stage two.

After the call, you’ll go onto the internet and find that with that level of lymph node involvement, it’d actually be classified as falling on the dark side of stage three. You’ll feel that he misrepresented this information, and you’ll be angry about that. He is a doctor. He is your father. It should be him, not the internet, that provides you with the correct barometer for how scared you should be.

Anger will be the clearest emotion you have, a bright light amid the fog of confusion and sadness.

You will never finish watching Almost Famous. You will never watch Kate Hudson’s star making turn. You don’t hold her presence in your living room that day against her—she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the following months, you will have many conversations about him with other people. During these conversations you’ll be either coldly, disturbingly rational or you’ll break down completely. Sometimes you’ll rapid cycle and do both in the course of a short conversation. You’ll prefer it when you remain dispassionate, proud of yourself for being grown up and pragmatic, not realizing how extremely young you must sound.

Never health conscious before, you’ll experience a version of hypochondria, both on behalf of yourself and those you love. Everything is a symptom that should be paid attention to. He is a doctor and yet he misread the signs. It’ll be clear you should have been more on top of things, made a checklist of necessary exams. He’d made a mess of it, getting the test at fifty-one rather than promptly on his fiftieth birthday, when he should have sandwiched it between his morning eggs and his cake in the afternoon. You will not make the same error. You’ll notice everything and save everyone. Especially him. Especially you. You’ll point out the liver spots on his hands, thinking they could be cancer as well, from all those years spent under raw Australian skies. You will talk in too much detail about your own bodily functions until you are gently asked to stop.

You will stop talking but won’t stop looking. There is a history of cancer in your family now—there are no excuses for overlooking anything.

You’ll have these all these thoughts, do these things, and yet simultaneously operate on autopilot, continuing with plans made under very different conditions. You will do a summer internship in another state and then study abroad, in the far north of Scotland. You’ll be unsure of whether a good person would have made such choices.

On one grey Scottish day, after months of being away from everyone you love, you’ll call the study abroad program’s administrator to inquire about coming home early. You’ll believe yourself to be prepared to talk about this in a sensible, matter of fact way. Instead you lose it completely, sobbing into the phone. You’ll end the call, ashamed of your outburst, ashamed of your decision to come in the first place. Ultimately, you’ll stay for the full length of the program.

You’ll be spared the full weight of your guilt, because your father does not die, not when you are away in a grey, castle-filled land, and not after you come back either.

The program administrator, the one who you sobbed at on the phone, you’ll avoid forever, not turning in requested forms after you return.

You will never again be okay with receiving calls at unexpected times.

Fashion

I learned recently that my eleven year old niece is into fashion, both in terms of her own personal style and in terms of designing clothes, and I think that’s fantastic.

My thirteen year old self, however, would not have approved. Back then, I thought that fashion was girly and frivolous and vain. Fashion was, for me, very much tied to being female in all the worst ways. It was the mid-90s and I lived in Seattle, and wearing baggy jeans and flannel shirts, loose not fitted, was all the rage and this suited me very well. Capital “F” fashion though was totally gross—it involved paying too much for clothes and wearing heels and being egotistical, and thinking about stuff that didn’t matter, and I was too smart for that. The idea of designing clothing wasn’t really any better, I thought it was just something people did to feed the consumer machine, not an actual art form itself.

There was a feminist side to it, certainly. I was a teenage feminist (now an adult feminist!) and I had some reasonable misgivings about how fashion vaulted the ideal of the stick figure body, and often favored the uncomfortable over the easily wearable. However, there was also some pretty deep misogyny in the mix. Fashion was girly, and a lot of the boys I knew thought it was stupid, so it probably was stupid. Being not girly was a point of pride, and also made life easier in the nerd-y circles in which I traveled.

Now I binge watch Project Runway, and watch with fascination as the designers come up with new designs to meet the often slightly wacky challenges. I feel like I understand more what fashion can be, and how important it can be to feel control over how you present yourself to the world. Do I wear interesting clothing myself? Mostly no, but I appreciate it. And I hope that my niece can enjoy it as the art form it can be, without ever feeling embarrassed about being “girly” or vain.

Writing: Not going fast. Still figuring stuff out. I’ve been at least spending more time on it though, which will hopefully pay eventually.

Reading: I’m currently reading My Favorite Thing is Monsters, which is an incredible graphic novel that makes me want to go back to school and figure out the whole crosshatching thing which I never really managed to get. It’s just a gorgeous book, and I heard the author, Emil Ferris, be interviewed the other day and she’s pretty fascinating as well.

Naviety

I used to think being naive was more of a personality trait than anything else. I was naive about things because I was an introvert, a perpetually slightly out of it person who as often as not didn’t get the joke. Now I think it’s mostly a symptom of privilege.

I got to be naive, because I didn’t really suffer from it. People were gently amused by me and all the things I missed, and I got to stay in my own little world without any real consequences.

I went to college early but I didn’t really have to grow up fast. Instead, I got to muddle my way through things, and the walls that I bumped into along the way were highly padded and so did no real damage. I got to believe highly idealistic things about the world and not be sharply corrected.

I was lucky. I was privileged.

I am lucky. I am privileged.

My naivety was/is a luxury.

Writing notes: I’m starting to get very cautiously excited about my work-in-progress. It’s going to be a long road to figure some of it out, but I’m beginning to see the edges better, or at least some interesting shapes in the middle.

Reading notes: I’m in the middle of A Study in Charlotte, which I’m really enjoying. It’s been a good month for books. I read three by Chicagoan (or recently Chicagoan) authors: In the Grip of It, by Jac Jemc, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, by Megan Stielstra, and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby. All of them different, all of them excellent.

My dog’s name: An overly long response to a question you didn’t ask

When I named my* dog Max, I did not realize that I was giving him one of the most common dog names in America. I just thought Max was a good name, a thought apparently shared by 97.23% of the other dog owners in the country. The place where he goes for boarding refers to him as “Max the corgi” to distinguish him from all the other, lesser, Maxes that they have there.

Max’s original name,  his baby puppy name, was Blue. Which is a perfectly good name, and highly appropriate since he is a blue merle in terms of coloring. Yet, Blue simply was not meant to be his name—while an accurate physical descriptor, it’s no more his rightful name than “Fox Ears” or “Raccoon Eyes” or “So Beautiful It Hurts My Soul To Look at Him” (SBIHMSTLAH).  Blue is the name of a long-eared, sorrowful-eyed, slightly sleepy kind of dog that sleeps on porches and meanders around fields and is typically found in the southern states. Max is not that dog. He is a big-hearted, short-legged, Napoleonic kind of dog. He is regal and ridiculous in equal measure—a lover of blankets and napping and his people.

I am not sure why I gravitated towards the name Max, other than the universe apparently shoving all dog owners in that direction for the last decade or so. Thinking back, I can come up with only two people associations that I have with the name. One was a snobby rich boy in fifth grade who had good hair and who’d apparently briefly had a thing with a friend of mine before I met her (don’t ask me what “a thing” means for a fifth grader, I didn’t even know at the time). The other was, of course, Lorelei’s fiance on Gilmore Girls, who was completely charming and delightful and to this day I wish that he and Lorelei had gotten married and had a lot of beautiful, brunette children. Luke is fine,  but he is no Max (don’t try to fight me on this one, you won’t win).

In conclusion (sort of): Max is totally fine human name, but somehow a much superior dog name. And Max is the best Max that there ever was, human, dog or otherwise.

Writing notes: It’s been going slow. Two steps forward, two steps back.

Reading notes: I read The Sun is Also a Star and I loved it so very much, and it was only through very, very strict self-control and possibly some inner arm pinching that I didn’t full-on cry on the train as I finished reading it. I’m now reading Eleanor by Jason Gurley which I’m enjoying so far.

*Husband would say “our” dog. But this is my blog so you get my version of it here.

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A well turned handle, a lush glaze

Something I am surprisingly good at: Hand building small ceramic animals.

Something I am surprisingly terrible at: Making anything out of clay that is even vaguely functional.

The later, sadly, is the stone cold truth. I took throwing in college and the professor teaching the class was completely fascinated by exactly how thick and lopsided my pots were. They were so heavy and misshapen that even my incredibly sweet and charming parents, who were cheerleaders for all of my artistic endeavors, did not really know what to say about or do with the ones I gifted them.

The great tragedy of it all is that while I enjoy making ceramic animals, I don’t particularly need to have many of those around, whereas my appetite for beautiful ceramic mugs and bowls is unlimited. There is something miraculous about a beautifully glazed and wrought mug, and I drink a lot of tea so I use mugs all the time. ALL THE TIME. If I’m not careful then mugs begin to cover all of the surfaces in my apartment—congregating in little clusters on the coffee table, my desk, side tables, and if let out too long I suspect that they then begin forming coalitions.

All that is to say, I end up spending way too much money on beautiful, handmade mugs because I can’t make them myself and they make me very, very happy.

Reading: I’ve finished March: Book 1 and am partway through March: Book 2. Book 1 was amazing and Book 2 seems on track to be incredible as well. I think we are in a time when it is important to be reminded of how courageous people can be, even in the face of sickening discrimination and sheer cruelty, and also of the great power and value of storytelling.

Writing: I just sent back first pass pages for my manuscript, and I’m now trying to figure out a good way back into another project that I’d been working on but that had stalled a little.