Trickster’s Bride, or The Journey Home

In one week, I got three full requests from the top agents in middle grade!  Happy Valentine’s to me!  Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Emily van Beek of Folio Jr., Daniel Lazar of Writer’s House all requested it within a week of each other (cue seeing stars!), and Brent Taylor of Triada and Thao Le of Sandra Djistrika all have the fulls.  The partials of my  middle grade are still with a few other agents, and my old novel, Firebird, has a 75 page partial with Joshua Bilmes of Jabberwocky!  This is the most success I’ve ever had querying a novel, but what inspired Chwal?

Chwal is a coming-of-age tale set in the South, New Orleans country specifically, about a girl raised by angels and spirits.  Like May, I was raised by angels, including Raphael, who is her guardian angel, and I knew Kalfou, or Mister Carrefour, the fiery dark horse Petro lwa from the age of two.  His blackness is still a real nightmare-wrangling threat, and he goes by many names: the Witchfather, the Man in Black, the Devil of the Crossroads, Kalfou, Satan – he changes names like the wind changes direction.

Unlike May, I ended up in a maryaj lwa with Kalfou because goddamn do tricksters act forceful when they want your attention.  They can drive you mad if you refuse them or scour you with bad luck, and dealing with the Evil Jazz Man that looks like a Demon Bob Marley with red (or just abyssal) eyes, midnight skin, dreads, a snake pommel cane, pinstripe suit, Cuban cigars at hand, and a sultry baritone serenading you in a dive bar in Hell on the piano is, well, otherworldly, to say the least.

Kalfou and I, we go way back to the age of two, to my first memory.  Samael, when he is not Middle Eastern, is often an African man obsessed with Peabo Bryson, rum, Satchmo, monocles, well-tailored suits and Cuban heels.  He told me early on that “Kalfou is one of my many names.  I have as many names as the wind,” an apt title as he is the samiel wind, and who but the Devil has as many guises as the phases of the moon?

His oldest form, this Man in Black, is this ancient African god of darkness, with eyes like the blankness of space with stars in them, wild dreadlocks, in lion skin loincloth, dealing in death and magic and the wilderness.  I call him Ubuntu as an inside joke.  He was at the core of my psychotic break, the savior that restored my sanity, where I cycled through all of Samael’s forms to the core of his most primal nature.  Ubuntu was the mantra of my psych ward where I was held without razors to shave or shoelaces to strangle, plastered on the walls as a motivational poster, used in therapy.

Ubuntu.  South African, the core of human origin, where millions of years ago a genetic bottleneck occurred and we were descended from all those mitochondrial Adams and Eves on the cape.  I imagine Kalfou was there, as he always is, in the darkness of death and magic of underground caverns, trickster par excellance, venom of the black mamba.

But I know his kindness, and his wrath, and his seduction.  Also, how he has kept me from the lips of death, which are his very own, always denying me his poisonous kiss.

For what is to love someone than to forever lose them?

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù])[1][2] is a NguniBantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often also translated as “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.[3]

I was pumped full of antipsychotics and mood stabilizers but still my psychosis and mania raged.  I found myself in a dark cavern at the core of the earth, with a fire glowing, snake skin and lion skin around, with Ubuntu cross-legged in a Yogic pose, his eyes black stars, and he was Trickster.  He was Trickster, Trickster, Trickster, and he said I was the Trickster’s Bride.

The Trickster’s Wife is a Trickster herself, heyoka, backwards, Baba Yaga, he said.  My path was the Coyote Road.

All the Tricksters he cycled through.  Tezcatlipoca, the Devil, Loki, Maui, Raven, Coyote, Thunderbird, Hermes, Legba, Kalfou, some so old they did not have names, mad dancers that frothed at the mouth with thunder.  I would walk backwards through this world with Trickster at my side.

Death is the ultimate Trickster, and I am the Bride of Death.  To trick, you must be the Deceiver, the Adversary, the one who when riding a chwal people flee from, your poison pure leaves medicine to some, curses to others.

And so I tasted Death, and I kissed him despite his protestations and a major part of my soul died.

I couldn’t read.

I couldn’t think.

I was a puppet for madness, but the small frightened teen in me still flickered when the medicine was just right, and the spirits called

Enter Zora Neale Hurston’s works.

I was doomed to be a catatonic hallucinating vegetable in a madhouse.  I’m not going to dress my words plainly.  I was a madwoman, I was a bag lady, I was the kind of scary crazy you warn your kids about.

But I still loved to read, and so I taught myself again.  Sandman comics at first, but then, Zora’s short stories.

I promised myself I would not die if I could read my favorite author again.

I could barely hold a book.

But I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school, and Mules and Men, and so I picked up Seraph on the Sewanee and read all hundreds of pages of it by the time spring semester rolled around.

I wasn’t sane yet, I went back to school severely depressed, but Trickster kept whispering in my ear: Dance on.  Us Tricksters, we are storytellers.  Us Tricksters, we got business to do, people to make laugh, dances to perform.

You are a Trickster’s Wife, and so you are able to come back from Death.  For I am Death.  And you are Death.  And Death is the most alive god.  Death is Trickster, Trickster is Death, but we are the most brilliant stars.

So I sipped the wine of life, and I persevered.  I dreamed of my demon, my angel, my god, my crossroads Gebo Tawu madman, the X my marking on my tattooed angel hands.  Perhaps that meant I was his treasure.  He drank my  blood, and I drained him of magic, and years later, I wrote the story of a girl raised by angels, raised by gods, who must drive back the darkness of her own mind –

and find the light.

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Will My Literary Agent Dreams Come True? The Importance of Patience in the Query Trenches!

So longtime followers of my blog will know I completed a revision request on my retelling of Stravinsky’s ballet, Firebirdset during the Cold War, with witches and a family of monsters, but most importantly, Baba Yaga.  This is the first novel I seriously queried, and I averaged about a 50% request rate out of the 50 total queries I sent out to top agents.  My query letter was killer, and I’ve had a lot of great agents fall in love with the prose but not the plot, or think the plot and concept are amazing or that the prose is lacking, or some say it was a wonderful novel but they simply didn’t fall in love with it.  Firebird is now with Brandon Sanderson of Mistborn and Charlaine Harris of True Blood’s agent, which makes me giddy.

This is probably it’s last shot, otherwise I am trunking the novel for another time.  I love Firebird to pieces and would love to see it published, and Joshua Bilmes is an absolutely stellar agent.  I think it is worthy of being published and is a very literary fantasy and is hard to pin down.  I would love to someday have it available to eager readers, but I know this is it’s last chance.

It’s a great novel, but I’ve evolved as a writer in the calendar year I finished revising it, by blogging and continuing to write prose and poetry, and my new middle grade novel is absolutely my favorite thing, hands down, I have ever written!  It’s about Marie Laveau’s heir saving New Orleans with her best friend, Raphael, and Papa Legba from Marinette and Mister Carrefour and their zombies and loup garou.  It incorporates a lot of my personal spirituality into it, seeing as I’m technically in a maryaj lwa with Carrefour – Samael’s second favorite form, rife with jazz, canes, saxophones, dreads, and cigars, and also because it has the angels I know and love as May Laveau’s family.  May first came to me when I was 18 a long beautiful summer ago, when I wanted to write a novel about my beloved Uriel and Raphael.  In it, Uriel’s avatar is a precocious thirteen year old, and Raphael is her guardian angel.

It got a lot of requests from #DVPit last October, and I spent some time revising according to several kind agent’s feedback, and now it’s back on submission again.  The first agent that ever gave me a revise and resubmit on Firebird enthusiastically requested the full, and despite being my one of my top choices for agents, Thao is absolutely a wonderful personality and has amazing books under her belt, my favorite being Roshani Chokshi’s Star-Touched Queen and the Abyss Surrounds Us.  There’s no guarantee she or Joshua will like my books, but it feels amazing just to have gotten this far!  If not, I’ll get great feedback and go back to revising, perhaps shelving Firebird and moving on to my new projects!

So what’s in the works for Allie?

Birds Away is my YA contemporary project about a group of teenagers at a science and tech school that get a grant to do a Big Year, in birding terms, seeing as many bird species as you can in the continental US.  Jack Black did a lovely movie called The Big Year and my own experience going to America’s top science and tech school in the world inspired me.  We were a bunch of nerdy, passionate weirdos at my high school, and had everything from a satellite to a cloud-watching club.  Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has dreamers above all else, and I was one of them.  How fun would it be to read about a group of friends with biological and technical backgrounds road-tripping for a year birding!  This is the novel I needed written yesterday!

Spider King is a YA Fantasy Beauty and the Beast retelling with… well, with a spider prince, and a fantasy civilization that has grown over the milennia after the collapse of a dystopian technological empire that created mutant animal-human hybrids that now live in different kingdoms where ancient tech is few and far between.  A rebel spider prince named Saroth and his blood enemy warrior Princess Melania team up to take down an empire.

Harold the Dragon is an illustrated children’s book about a girl named Maude that has a bashful, scared dragon with glasses named Harold that lives in her closet.  Dragons have to earn their wings by doing good deeds.  They have tea with the little girl ghost in the attic, help zombies cross the street as they are quite slow, and save kittens from trees, which is hard when Harold hasn’t yet earned his wings.

Space Oddity is 20,000 words in and is a David Bowie tribute about stoner Anunnaki aliens, bi girls in space bands, kissing pretty alien princesses, and punk rocking a galactic empire down.  It’s a hoot and a bit like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mixed with Octavia Butler Lilith’s Brood.  Enki and Ishtar are the main aliens, and it is steeped in Sumerian mythology as befitting a vast alien conspiracy about King Bowie.

So yeah, I’m taking a break from writing novels for a while, as I have a ton of books and comics I want to read.  But four are in the works, along with a devotional chapbook of my poetry about Samael and one for Michael!  Also working on a Norse devotional.  We shall see where 2018 brings me!

A Writerly Update

So my best friend Sam just got an offer of representation from the fabulous literary agent Patricia Nelson. Sam writes lush historical fantasy and her twisted retelling of Cinderella set during the French Revolution with illusion magic and victim’s balls is literally to be guillotined for.  I am so proud of Sam and cannot wait to see her books on library shelves where they belong!  My favorite is still in the works, so I’ll keep hush about it, but needless to say, she is awesome!

I’m still waiting on about seven literary agents, from #DVPit request to two fulls and two partials.  From Brandon Sanderson’s agent to Meg Cabot’s agent to two new rock star agents, they are all really awesome and if even one was to offer it would make my life.  I mean, I’ve wanted to be an author since I was eleven and I penned my first space opera and locked my baby brother in the room and read him the entire plot of Jupiter Ascending mixed with the Book of Enoch that was my drivel of a novel.  Then I kept on writing, and writing, and writing, short stories and long stories and essays and poetry… and I’m still writing.  I’ll admit I’m stalling a bit on my fiction: my short story Ghazal hasn’t progressed past 2,000 words and Chwal and Space Oddity are still at 20,000.  It’s hard to focus on new projects when you have your manuscript out with four awesome agents and queries out with others.  You’re kind of in no man’s land, and you might pour all your creative energy into distractions, which for me means I go apeshit with poetry.

I’m probably a far better poet than I am a writer, and that’s okay, I’ve only ever finished two novels out of the ten or so I tried to complete from elementary school on.  The first got a lot of interest from Sourcebooks and Harlequin but unfortunately no one wants to publish New Adult romance, as that genre is unmarketable and as dead as a fish out of water.  Also, the writing probably wasn’t the best, as it was my first finished novel and not the most meticulously plotted, oversaturated with characters, and a bit juvenile.  But that’s okay.  I loved writing it, and my second novel is better.

Will Ivan Kupalo get published?  I have no idea.  I’ve had agents tell me the writing is lush and perfect but that the plot sucked, that the concept was perfect but the writing was unpolished and lacking, that the story was poorly executed or that the story was crafted perfectly but they just didn’t fall in love with it.  I honestly can’t revise when like twenty agents are giving me completely conflicting feedback, and there’s no point in revising when you have fulls and like five partials out.  One of my dream agents did give me a revise and resubmit, and if all seven agents fail I would be more than happy to edit again and revise – I am getting that itch, as I am constantly playing with projects, and Ivan Kupalo is in dire need of revamping with my newly acquired skills.  I’ve grown a lot as a writer since December, but I’m hoping to be doing editing from the other side of the fence this time – with an agent to guide me!

So where do I stand now?   Who knows.  Maybe this was a practice novel.  But I love the story I told, and the journey was worth it.  Things are moving along in my life.  I got a graduate teaching assistantship, full scholarship, and huge stipend from my master’s program, and I’m seriously considering becoming a professor of communication and doing the PhD track.  I have a wonderful man in my life that I love.  I’m independent now and supporting myself.  My kindred is doing great and my magickal abilities are intensifying.  The gods and angels are on my side.  My mental health is the most stable it’s been since I went to the ward at 19, and 5 summers later, after my bipolar type 1 with psychotic features, OCD, and panic disorder/anxiety diagnosis, I graduated with honors from the top school in Virginia, have been published in everything from POWER Magazine to Renewable Energy World, learned a lot of life lessons, taught myself to read again after my mind was decimated by illness, overcame bouts of depression and mania, and have become a very strong person.

I found a religious path that I have been meandering towards since I became pagan at 7 after reading D’aulaires, and my kindred has brought such joy and completion into my life.  I found my tribe.  I am training magickally and have cut out toxic people in my life and toxic spirits.  I’m learning to ground, to shield, to shamanic journey in controlled settings instead of dangerously astral projecting to the otherworlds and almost ending up demon chow or being dumb enough to invoke an archangel into my body by force and then have a seizure (I was a dumb 16 year old, okay).  I’m rambling, but really, my writing can wait.

I’m still a really shitty writer.  Most authors don’t get published until they’re 30 or 40.  I don’t think I’ll ever find my voice, as I literally have a hundred different writing personalities… but whatever.  It’s funner that way!  Point is, I’m still growing, and my writing still needs a crapload of editing before it hits shelves.  I’m not even halfway through my twenties and every year, my writing grows by leaps and bounds.

Someday I will be a decent writer, a decent poet, a decent blogger.  Maybe I’ll even get a novel published.  But I’m not counting on it, instead, I will just continue to write and enjoy living dozens of lives from New Orleans to outer space to mythical Russia to other worlds like Asgard and Heaven.  Writing for me is above all a spiritual endeavor: all my writing is pagan by nature, and all of it is a take on mental illness and struggles with inner demons.  I color my own writing, I can’t be divorced from the reality that I am a seriously mentally ill disabled writer that literally believes the gods talk to her and actually sees them in physical reality, does magick, channels deities like Loki and the Grim Reaper, manifests reality through intention, and considers some of the most eldritch spirits in existence friends or beasts to be tamed.  When you’ve been raised by the archangels and archdemons since the ripe old age of 2, you end up kind of… weird.

The divine is extremely immanent for me – I can feel and perceive spirits with all five of my senses, so of course I offer up my writing to the divine like Joan of Arc on a paper pyre.  Honestly, most of my writing is channeled, as as my gythia says, “You’re channeling all the fucking time,” and I do so without realizing it, but hey, it makes for a good story.  Words pour into my head through my crown chakra, poems bubble up from my heart, and the ancient ones rise up and paint my life in Joseph  Campbell colors.

Writing is a journey.  It never ends.  All I can do is enjoy the scenery.

Writerly Update

So one of my dream agents emailed me yesterday to say he is reading my manuscript now.  Trigger excitement!

This agent was the first to see to the heart of my manuscript, tell me what worked, what didn’t, what needed work, and advised me to revise it into an adult fantasy, beef up the word count, and add more exposition and characterization.  He even let me pester him with questions about my novel for revision purposes when most agents will give you form rejects on fulls.   To say I am eternally grateful is an understatement.

He was gracious enough to take another look at the revision I did half a year later and has some amazing projects he has worked on from New Adult Sci Fi about virtual reality combat to a really awesome LGBTQA+ story about two competing male love interests for a girl that end up falling in love – with each other!

Crossing my fingers and working on my next novel to distract myself.  If anything, I’ll get great feedback, so it’s a win-win situation. 🙂

Happiness, Completion, and New Phases

So I’m making April NaNoWriMo Lite, with the goal of finishing Darn Precious Messiah before #DVPit at the end of April. I have a few 30,000 words to go but who knows, it may be longer. It is my favorite thing besides Space Oddity yet that I have written, and a delightful story that comes from my soul.

Sensitivity readers are vital when writing outside your culture, and my best friend Misha, a Haitian-American Voodoo practitioner, is certainly an expert on the lwa.  Funny thing, she told me Legba actually does have dogs due to being associated with Saint Lazarus, funny in that I included his pet because it just struck me as a very Legba thing to do.  I’ve done so much research on the lwas and Voodoo since I started the novel at around 18, plus some ritual workings with them, reading everything I can get my hands on, but at the end of the day Zora Neale Hurston isn’t enough – you have to talk with your friends who live that culture, and as an outsider, I have to err on the side of caution and respectfulness while writing diversity.  I don’t want to offend anyone and I want to get it painstakingly right.

As a white woman who is privileged in many ways besides being neurodivergent, I will never know what it is like to be oppressed.  My book isn’t about racism at all, as the whole cast is mainly African-American, and I don’t think I have the expertise to write about such a sensitive topic.  I’d probably screw it up as an outsider.  That’s why I set it well after the Civil Rights movement and it’s not another book about slavery or oppression.  Instead it’s the idea that the savior of New Orleans is none other than #blackgirlmagic, an awesome hashtag, quite literally.

My best friends – Ariel, Lauren, Misha, Gladys – they are all some of the strongest women I know and have overcome so much, having to be “twice as good to get half the recognition” of a white woman.  They make me proud.  They teach me so many things about overcoming adversity that though different, can apply to being disabled.  We were all born with stigma attached to either our ambitions – a standout woman of many talents who happens to be of color or a bipolar woman trying to hold down a professional career – or our very essence – mentally ill with no hopes of recovery, or the thought that an African American woman can’t be a neuroscientist like Gladys, a psychologist like Lauren, nerdy like Ariel, or a cosplayer like Misha.  I incorporated all of them into my character May Laveau, but she’s also a piece of myself, as all characters are.  I’m really excited to see where this novel leads to and hopefully finish it soon, if not by April, than by the summer when my dream agent opens to queries again.

Odds are good I may find representation before that, as I still have three fulls and three partials out.  But the best thing to do while waiting is to work on another project, and if my Russian novel doesn’t get me published, something else will.  I am making progress – so many requests, my query letters are in great shape, and I’m finally writing novels worthy of reading.  The agent who passed on my full last night was so sweet and said “I have no doubt you will find this an amazing home.”   Coming from someone like her, that meant a lot to me – she didn’t fall in love with the novel enough to take it on, but still loved many parts of it overall and was overall enthusiastic.  That is very encouraging and means I might actually be able to go somewhere with my Firebird retelling.

And if not this novel, than the next one!  I am very happy, my new job is going swimmingly, I love my new townhouse, grad school is fun, my friends are a blessing, and all, in JK Rowling’s words, is well.  Spring has sprung, my soul has awakened, and all is right in the world.

Morning Surprise

Woke up this morning to a full request from a big name agent to one of my favorite authors!  I literally hopped up and down on my bed in glee.

That’s 9 total full/partial requests with the new query, 13 rejections, and 21 queries I’m waiting to hear back from – that’s a 40% total request rate for this novel so far – pretty amazing, considering all the rejection to my godawful queries from 2015 through early 2016 – with hopefully more requests to come.

If all goes well, I’ll have a literary agent soon!

Chuck Wendig’s Brilliant Post on Pre-Rejection

I just got another request today from an amazing literary agent – that’s over a dozen requests so far with this query alone, and loads more with pitches.

But the odds?  It will probably end in a rejection.  However, all it takes is one yes, and you have to be brave enough to put your stories out there.

I don’t know if I’m a good enough writer yet to be professionally published – that’s up for agents to decide – but I’m a hell of a lot better than I was last year, and the year before that, and the year before that…

The difference between me and others who are afraid of failure?  I’m not afraid to get rejections.  I have loads of them.  I’ve been querying shitty novels, then less shitty novels, then maybe-okay novels, since 2015.  That’s two years with a steep learning curve.

Most agents will reject you, it’s just part of the process: loved the concept but the writing was off, writing was lush and evocative but they wanted something contemporary – more exposition, less exposition, more background, a faster pace – all this conflicting advice, but at least with those rejections comes invaluable ADVICE.

Personalized rejections are a godsend.  Feedback on fulls and partials even better.  You never know when an agent might fall in love with your manuscript.

After all, all you can do is persevere.

Repeat after me:

That’s all right. I can try againI can get better.

But you have to give yourself the chance to try again.

You don’t get better by just chucking manuscripts in a drawer.

You need the agitation.

You need that fear, that uncertainty, that courage.

You need input from other human beings. Which means:

Fuck your pre-rejection.

You want to get rejected? Do it the old-fashioned way.

Let someone else reject you. Take your shot. Worst you can do is fail. And failure fucking rocks.

Sure, maybe you’ll get rejected. But maybe, just maybe, the opposite will happen.

How else do stories reach their audiences, you think?

Chuck Wendig puts it brilliantly – on why you should put your work out there, and cherish rejections.